Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7: 7.01.06 Lactantius - Divine Institutes 2 - Ch 8-12

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Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7: 7.01.06 Lactantius - Divine Institutes 2 - Ch 8-12

TOPIC: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7 (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 7.01.06 Lactantius - Divine Institutes 2 - Ch 8-12

Other Subjects in this Topic:

Lactantius (Cont.)

The Divine Institutes. (Cont.)

Book II. (Cont.)

Chap. VIII. - Of the Use of Reason in Religion; And of Dreams, Auguries, Oracles, and Similar Portents.

It is therefore right, especially in a matter on which the whole plan of life turns, that every one should place confidence in himself, and use his own judgment and individual capacity for the investigation and weighing of the truth, rather than through confidence in others to be deceived by their errors, as though he himself were without understanding. God has given wisdom to all alike,73 that they might be able both to investigate things which they have not heard, and to weigh things which they have heard. Nor, because they preceded us in time did they also outstrip us in wisdom; for if this is given equally to all, we cannot be anticipated74 in it by those who precede us. It is incapable of diminution, as the light and brilliancy of the sun; because, as the sun is the light of the eyes, so is wisdom the light of man’s heart. Wherefore, since wisdom - that is, the inquiry after truth - is natural to all, they deprive themselves of wisdom, who without any judgment approve of the discoveries of their ancestors, and like sheep are led by others. But this escapes their notice, that the name of ancestors being introduced, they think it impossible that they themselves should have more knowledge because they are called descendants, or that the others should be unwise because they are called ancestors.75 What, therefore, prevents us from taking a precedent76 from them, that as they handed down to posterity their false inventions, so we who have discovered the truth may hand down better things to our posterity? There remains therefore a great subject of inquiry, the discussion of which does not come from talent, but from knowledge: and this must be explained at greater length, that nothing at all may be left in doubt. For perhaps some one may have recourse to those things which are handed down by many and undoubted authorities; that those very persons, whom we have shown to be no gods, have often displayed their majesty both by prodigies, and dreams, and auguries, and oracles. And, indeed, many wonderful things may be enumerated, and especially this, that Accius Navius, a consummate augur, when he was warning Tarquinius Priscus to undertake the commencement of nothing new without the previous sanction of auguries,77 and the king, detracting from78 the credit due to his art, told him to consult the birds, and then to announce to him whether it was possible for that which he himself had conceived in his mind to be accomplished, and Navius affirmed that it was possible; then take this whetstone, he said, and divide it with a razor. But the other without any hesitation took and cut it.

In the next place is the fact of Castor and Pollux having been seen in the Latin war at the lake of Juturna washing off the sweat of their horses, when their temple which adjoins the fountain had been open of its own accord. In the Macedonian war the same deities, mounted on white horses, are said to have presented themselves to Publius Vatienus as he went to Rome at night, announcing that King Perseus had been vanquished and taken captive on that day, the truth of which was proved by letters received from Paulus79 a few days afterwards. That also is wonderful, that the statue of Fortune, in the form80 of a woman, is reported to have spoken more than once; also that the statue of Juno Moneta,81 when, on the capture of Veii, one of the soldiers, being sent to remove it, sportively and in jest asked whether she wished to remove to Rome, answered that she wished it. Claudia also is set forth as an example of a miracle. For when, in accordance with the Sibylline books, the Idæan mother was sent for, and the ship in which she was conveyed had grounded on a shoal of the river Tiber, and could not be moved by any force, they report that Claudia, who had been always regarded as unchaste on account of her excess in personal adornment, with bended knees entreated the goddess, if she judged her to be chaste, to follow her girdle; and thus the ship, which could not be moved by all the strong men,82 was moved by a single woman. It is equally wonderful, that during the prevalence of a pestilence, Æsculapius, being called from Epidaurus, is said to have released the city of Rome from the long-continued plague.

52 Sacrilegious persons can also be mentioned, by the immediate punishment of whom the gods are believed to have avenged the injury done to them. Appius Claudius the censor having, against the advice of the oracle, transferred the sacred rites of Hercules to the public slaves,83 was deprived of his eyesight; and the Potitian gens, which abandoned84 its privilege, within the space of one year became extinct. Likewise the censor Fulvius, when he had taken away the marble tiles from the temple of the Lacinian85 Juno, to cover the temple of the equestrian Fortuna, which he had built at Rome, was deprived of his senses, and having lost his two sons who were serving in Illyricum, was consumed with the greatest grief of mind. Turullius also, the lieutenant of Mark Antony, when he had cut down a grove of Æsculapius in Cos,86 and built a fleet, was afterwards slain at the same place by the soldiers of Cæsar. To these examples is added Pyrrhus, who, having taken away money from the treasure of the Locrian Proserpine, was shipwrecked, and dashed against the shores near to the temple of the goddess, so that nothing was found uninjured except that money. Ceres of Miletus also gained for herself great veneration among men. For when the city had been taken by Alexander, and the soldiers had rushed in to plunder her temple, a flame of fire suddenly thrown upon them blinded them all.

There are also found dreams which seem to show the power of the gods. For it is said that Jupiter presented himself to Tiberius Atinius, a plebeian, in his sleep, and enjoined him to announce to the consuls and senate, that in the last Circensian87 games a public dancer had displeased him, because a certain Antonius Maximus had severely scourged a slave under the furca88 in the middle of the circus, and had led him to punishment, and that on this account the games ought to be repeated. And when he had neglected this command, he is said on the same day to have lost his son, and to have been himself seized by a severe disease; and that when he again perceived the same image asking whether he had suffered sufficient punishment for the neglect of his command, he was carried on a litter to the consuls; and having explained the whole matter in the senate, he regained strength of body, and returned to his house on foot. And that dream also was not less wonderful, to which it is said that Augustus Cæsar owed his preservation. For when in the civil war with Brutus he was afflicted with a severe disease, and had determined to abstain from battle, the image of Minerva presented itself to his physician Artorius, advising him that Cæsar should not confine himself to the camp on account of his bodily infirmity. He was therefore carried on a litter to the army, and on the same day the camp was taken by Brutus. Many other examples of a similar nature may be brought forward; but I fear that, if I shall delay too long in the setting forth of contrary subjects, I may either appear to have forgotten my purpose, or may incur the charge of loquacity.

Chap. IX. - Of the Devil, the World, God, Providence, Man, and His Wisdom.

I will therefore set forth the method of all these things, that difficult and obscure subjects may be more easily understood; and I will bring to light all these deceptions89 of the pretended deity, led by which men have departed very far from the way of truth. But I will retrace the matter far back from its source; that if any, unacquainted with the truth and ignorant, shall apply himself to the reading of this book, he may be instructed, and may understand what can in truth be “the source and origin of these evils;” and having received light, may perceive his own errors and those of the whole human race.

Since God was possessed90 of the greatest foresight for planning, and of the greatest skill for carrying out in action, before He commenced this business of the world, - inasmuch as there was in Him, and always is, the fountain of full and most complete goodness, - in order that goodness might spring as a stream from Him, and might flow forth afar, He produced a Spirit like to Himself, who might be endowed with the perfections of God the Father. But how He willed that, I will endeavour to show in the fourth book.91 Then He made another being, in whom the disposition of the divine origin did not remain. Therefore he was infected with his own envy as with poison, and passed from good to evil; and at his own will, which had been given to him by God unfettered,92 he acquired for himself a contrary name. From which it appears that the source of all evils is envy. For he envied his predecessor,93 who through his stedfastness94 is acceptable and dear to God the Father. This being, who from good became 53 evil by his own act, is called by the Greeks diabolus:95 we call him accuser, because he reports to God the faults to which he himself entices us. God, therefore, when He began the fabric of the world, set over the whole work that first and greatest Son, and used Him at the same time as a counsellor and artificer, in planning, arranging, and accomplishing, since He is complete both in knowledge,96 and judgment, and power; concerning whom I now speak more sparingly, because in another place97 both His excellence, and His name, and His nature must be related by us. Let no one inquire of what materials God made these works so great and wonderful: for He made all things out of nothing.

Nor are the poets to be listened to, who say that in the beginning was a chaos, that is, a confusion of matter and the elements; but that God afterwards divided all that mass, and having separated each object from the confused heap, and arranged them in order, He constructed and adorned the world. Now it is easy to reply to these persons, who do not understand the power of God: for they believe that He can produce nothing, except out of materials already existing98 and prepared; in which error philosophers also were involved. For Cicero, while discussing the nature of the gods,99 thus speaks: “First of all, therefore, it is not probable100 that the matter101 from which all things arose was made by divine providence, but that it has, and has had, a force and nature of its own. As therefore the builder, when he is about to erect any building, does not himself make the materials, but uses those which are already prepared, and the statuary102 also uses the wax; so that divine providence ought to have had materials at hand, not of its own production, but already prepared for use. But if matter was not made by God, then neither was the earth, and water, and air, and fire, made by God.” Oh, how many faults there are in these ten lines First, that he who in almost all his other disputations and books was a maintainer of the divine providence, and who used very acute arguments in assailing those who denied the existence of a providence, now himself, as a traitor or deserter, endeavoured to take away providence; in whose case, if you wish to oppose103 him, neither consideration nor labour is required: it is only necessary to remind him of his own words. For it will be impossible for Cicero to be more strongly refuted by any one than by Cicero himself. But let us make this concession to the custom and practice of the Academics,104 that men are permitted to speak with great freedom, and to entertain what sentiments they may wish. Let us examine the sentiments themselves. It is not probable, he says, that matter was made by God. By what arguments do you prove this? For you gave no reason for its being improbable. Therefore, on the contrary, it appears to me exceedingly probable; nor does it appear so without reason, when I reflect that there is something more in God, whom you verily reduce to the weakness of man, to whom you allow nothing else but the mere workmanship. In what respect, then, will that divine power differ from man, if God also, as man does, stands in need of the assistance of another? But He does stand in need of it, if He can construct nothing unless He is furnished with materials by another. But if this is the case, it is plain that His power is imperfect, and he who prepared the material105 must be judged more powerful. By what name, therefore, shall he be called who excels God in power? - since it is greater to make that which is one’s own, than to arrange those things which are another’s. But if it is impossible that anything should be more powerful than God, who must necessarily be of perfect strength, power, and intelligence, it follows that He who made the things which are composed of matter, made matter also. For it was neither possible nor befitting that anything should exist without the exercise of God’s power, or against His will. But it is probable, he says, that matter has, and always has had, a force and nature of its own.106 What force could it have, without any one to give it? what nature, without any one to produce it? If it had force, it took that force from some one. But from whom could it take it, unless it were from God? Moreover, if it had a nature, which plainly is so called from being produced, it must have been produced. But from whom could it have derived its existence, except God? For nature, from which you say that all things had their origin, if it has no understanding, can make nothing. But if it has the power of producing and making, then it has understanding, and must be God. For that force can be called by no other name, in which there is both the foresight107 to plan, and the skill and power to carry into effect. Therefore Seneca, the most intelligent of all the Stoics, says better, who saw “that nature was nothing else but God.” Therefore he 54 says, “Shall we not praise God, who possesses natural excellence?” For He did not learn it from any one. Yes, truly, we will praise Him; for although it is natural to Him, He gave it to Himself,108 since God Himself is nature. When, therefore, you assign the origin of all things to nature, and take it from God, you are in the same difficulty: -

“You pay your debt by borrowing,109 Geta.”

For while simply changing the name, you clearly admit that it was made by the same person by whom you deny that it was made.

There follows a most senseless comparison. “As the builder,” he says, “when he is about to erect any building, does not himself make the materials, but uses those which are already prepared, and the statuary also the wax; so that divine providence ought to have had materials at hand, not of its own production, but already prepared for use.” Nay rather it ought not; for God will have less power if He makes from materials already provided, which is the part of man. The builder will erect nothing without wood, for he cannot make the wood itself; and not to be able to do this is the part of human weakness. But God Himself makes the materials for Himself, because He has the power. For to have the power is the property of God; for if He is not able, He is not God. Man produces his works out of that which already exists, because through his mortality he is weak, and through his weakness his power is limited and moderate; but God produces His works out of that which has no existence, because through His eternity He is strong, and through His strength His power is immense, which has no end or limit, like the life of the Maker Himself. What wonder, then, if God, when He was about to make the world, first prepared the material from which to make it, and prepared it out of that which had no existence? Because it is impossible for God to borrow anything from another source, inasmuch as all things are in Himself and from Himself. For if there is anything before Him, and if anything has been made, but not by Him, He will therefore lose both the power and the name of God. But it may be said matter was never made, like God, who out of matter made this world. In that case, it follows that two eternal principles are established, and those indeed opposed to one another, which cannot happen without discord and destruction. For those things which have a contrary force and method must of necessity come into collision. In this manner it will be impossible that both should be eternal, if they are opposed to one another, because one must overpower the other. Therefore the nature of that which is eternal cannot be otherwise than simple, so that all things descended from that source as from a fountain. Therefore either God proceeded from matter, or matter from God. Which of these is more true, is easily understood. For of these two, one is endued with sensibility, the other is insensible. The power of making anything cannot exist, except in that which has sensibility, intelligence, reflection, and the power of motion. Nor can anything be begun, or made, or completed, unless it shall have been foreseen by reason how it shall be made before it exists, and how it shall endure110 after it has been made. In short, he only makes anything who has the will to make it, and hands to complete that which he has willed. But that which is insensible always lies inactive and torpid; nothing can originate in that source where there is no voluntary motion. For if every animal is possessed of reason, it is certain that it cannot be produced from that which is destitute of reason, nor can that which is not present in the original source111 be received from any other quarter. Nor, however, let it disturb any one, that certain animals appear to be born from the earth. For the earth does not give birth to these of itself, but the Spirit of God, without which nothing is produced. Therefore God did not arise from matter, because a being endued with sensibility can never spring from one that is insensible, a wise one from one that is irrational, one that is incapable of suffering from one that can suffer, an incorporeal being from a corporeal one; but matter is rather from God. For whatever consists of a body solid, and capable of being handled, admits of an external force. That which admits of force is capable of dissolution; that which is dissolved perishes; that which perishes must necessarily have had an origin; that which had an origin had a source112 from which it originated, that is, some maker, who is intelligent, foreseeing, and skilled in making. There is one assuredly, and that no other than God. And since He is possessed of sensibility, intelligence, providence, power, and vigour, He is able to create and make both animated and inanimate objects, because He has the means of making everything. But matter cannot always have existed, for if it had existed it would be incapable of change. For that which always was, does not cease always to be; and that which had no beginning must of necessity be without an end. Moreover, it is easier for that which had a beginning to be without an end, than for that which had no beginning 55 to have an end. Therefore if matter was not made, nothing can be made from it. But if nothing can be made from it, then matter itself can have no existence. For matter is that out of which something is made. But everything out of which anything is made, inasmuch as it has received the hand of the artificer, is destroyed,113 and begins to be some other thing. Therefore, since matter had an end, at the time when the world was made out of it, it also had a beginning. For that which is destroyed113 was previously built up; that which is loosened was previously bound up; that which is brought to an end was begun. If, then, it is inferred from its change and end, that matter had a beginning, from whom could that beginning have been, except from God? God, therefore, is the only being who was not made; and therefore He can destroy other things, but He Himself cannot be destroyed. That which was in Him will always be permanent, because He has not been produced or sprung from any other source; nor does His birth depend on any other object, which being changed may cause His dissolution. He is of Himself, as we said in the first book;114 and therefore He is such as He willed that He should be, incapable of suffering, unchangeable, incorruptible, blessed, and eternal.

But now the conclusion, with which Tully finished the sentiment, is much more absurd.115 “But if matter,” he says, “was not made by God, the earth indeed, and water, and air, and fire, were not made by God.” How skilfully he avoided the danger! For he stated the former point as though it required no proof, whereas it was much more uncertain than that on account of which the statement was made. If matter, he says, was not made by God, the world was not made by God. He preferred to draw a false inference from that which is false, than a true one from that which is true. And though uncertain things ought to be proved from those which are certain, he drew a proof from an uncertainty, to overthrow that which was certain. For, that the world was made by divine providence (not to mention Trismegistus, who proclaims this; not to mention the verses of the Sibyls, who make the same announcement; not to mention the prophets,116 who with one impulse and with harmonious117 voice. bear witness that the world was made,118 and that it was the workmanship of God), even the philosophers almost universally agree; for this is the opinion of the Pythagoreans, the Stoics, and the Peripatetics, who are the chief of every sect.119 In short, from those first seven wise men,120 even to Socrates and Plato, it was held as an acknowledged and undoubted fact; until many ages afterwards121 the crazy Epicurus lived, who alone ventured to deny that which is most evident, doubtless through the desire of discovering novelties, that he might found a sect in his own name. And because he could find out nothing new, that he might still appear to disagree with the others, he wished to overthrow old opinions. But in this all the philosophers who snarled122 around him, refuted him. It is more certain, therefore, that the world was arranged by providence, than that matter was collected123 by providence. Wherefore he ought not to have supposed that the world was not made by divine providence, because its matter was not made by divine providence; but because the world was made by divine providence, he ought to have concluded that matter also was made by the Deity. For it is more credible that matter was made by God, because He is all-powerful, than that the world was not made by God, because nothing can be made without mind, intelligence, and design. But this is not the fault of Cicero, but of the sect. For when he had undertaken a disputation, by which he might take away the nature of the gods, respecting which philosophers prated, in his ignorance of the truth he imagined that the Deity must altogether be taken away. He was able therefore to take away the gods, for they had no existence. But when he attempted to overthrow the divine providence, which is in the one God, because he had begun to strive against the truth, his arguments failed, and he necessarily fell into this pitfall, from which he was unable to withdraw himself. Here, then, I hold him firmly fixed; I hold him fastened to the spot, since Lucilius, who disputed on the other side, was silent. Here, then, is the turning-point;124 on this everything depends. Let Cotta disentangle himself, if he can, from this difficulty;125 let him bring forward arguments by which he may prove that matter has always existed, which no providence made. Let him show how anything ponderous and heavy either could exist without an author or could be changed, and how that which 56 always was ceased to be, so that that which never was might begin to be. And if he shall prove these things, then, and not till then, will I admit that the world itself was not established by divine providence, and yet in making this admission I shall hold him fast by another snare. For he will turn round again to the same point, to which he will be unwilling to return, so as to say that both the matter of which the world consists, and the world which consists of matter, existed by nature; though I contend that nature itself is God. For no one can make wonderful things, that is, things existing with the greatest order, except one who has intelligence, foresight, and power. And thus it will come to be seen that God made all things, and that nothing at all can exist which did not derive its origin from God.

But the same, as often as he follows the Epicureans,126 and does not admit that the world was made by God, is wont to inquire by what hands, by what machines, by what levers, by what contrivance, He made this work of such magnitude. He might see, if he could have lived at that time in which God made it. But, that man might not look into the works of God, He was unwilling to bring him into this world until all things were completed. But he could not be brought in: for how could he exist while the heaven above was being built, and the foundations of the earth beneath were being laid; when humid things, perchance, either benumbed with excessive stiffness were becoming congealed, or seethed with fiery heat and rendered solid were growing hard? Or how could he live when the sun was not yet established, and neither corn nor animals were produced? Therefore it was necessary that man should be last made, when the finishing127 hand had now been applied to the world and to all other things. Finally, the sacred writings teach that man was the last work of God, and that he was brought into this world as into a house prepared and made ready; for all things were made on his account. The poets also acknowledge the same. Ovid, having described the completion of the world, and the formation of the other animals, added:128 -

“An animal more sacred than these, and more capacious of a lofty mind, was yet wanting, and which might exercise dominion over the rest. Man was produced.”

So impious must we think it to search into those things which God wished to be kept secret! But his inquiries were not made through a desire of hearing or learning, but of refuting; for he was confident that no one could assert that. As though, in truth, it were to be supposed that these things were not made by God, because it cannot be plainly seen in what manner they were created! If you had been brought up in a well-built and ornamented house, and had never seen a workshop,129 would you have supposed that that house was not built by man, because you did not know how it was built? You would assuredly ask the same question about the house which you now ask about the world - by what hands, with what implements, man had contrived such great works; and especially if you should see large stones, immense blocks,130 vast columns, the whole work lofty and elevated, would not these things appear to you to exceed the measure of human strength, because you would not know that these things were made not so much by strength as by skill and ingenuity?

But if man, in whom nothing is perfect, nevertheless effects more by skill than his feeble strength would permit, what reason is there why it should appear to you incredible, when it is alleged that the world was made by God, in whom, since He is perfect, wisdom can have no limit, and strength no measure? His works are seen by the eyes; but how He made them is not seen even by the mind, because, as Hermes says, the mortal cannot draw nigh to (that is, approach nearer, and follow up with the understanding) the immortal, the temporal131 to the eternal, the corruptible to the incorruptible. And on this account the earthly animal is as yet incapable of perceiving132 heavenly things, because it is shut in and held as it were in custody by the body, so that it cannot discern all things with free and unrestrained perception. Let him know, therefore, how foolishly he acts, who inquires into things which are indescribable. For this is to pass the limits of one’s own condition, and not to understand how far it is permitted man to approach. In short, when God revealed the truth to man, He wished us only to know those things which it concerned man to know for the attainment of life; but as to the things which related to a profane and eager curiosity133 He was silent, that they might be secret. Why, then, do you inquire into things which you cannot know, and if you knew them you would not be happier. It is perfect wisdom in man, if he knows that there is but one God, and that all things were made by Him.

Chap. X. - Of the World, and Its Parts, the Elements and Seasons.

Now, having refitted those who entertain false sentiments respecting the world and God its 57 Maker, let us return to the divine workmanship of the world, concerning which we are informed in the sacred134 writings of our holy religion. Therefore, first of all, God made the heaven, and suspended it on high, that it might be the seat of God Himself, the Creator. Then He founded the earth, and placed it under the heaven, as a dwelling-place for man, with the other races of animals. He willed that it should be surrounded and held together by water. But He adorned and filled His own dwelling-place with bright lights; He decked it with the sun, and the shining orb of the moon, and with the glittering signs of the twinkling stars; but He placed on the earth the darkness, which is contrary to these. For of itself the earth contains no light, unless it receives it from the heaven, in which He placed perpetual light, and the gods above, and eternal life; and, on the contrary, He placed on the earth darkness, and the inhabitants of the lower regions, and death. For these things are as far removed from the former ones, as evil things are from good, and vices from virtues. He also established two parts of the earth itself opposite to one another, and of a different character, - namely, the east and the west; and of these the east is assigned to God, because He Himself is the fountain of light, and the enlightener135 of all things, and because He makes us rise to eternal life. But the west is ascribed to that disturbed and depraved mind, because it conceals the light, because it always brings on darkness, and because it makes men die and perish in their sins. For as light belongs to the east, and the whole course of life depends upon the light, so darkness belongs to the west: but death and destruction are contained in darkness.136 Then He measured out in the same way the other parts, - namely, the south and the north, which parts are closely united with the two former. For that which is more glowing with the warmth of the sun, is nearest to and closely united with the east; but that which is torpid with colds and perpetual ice belongs to the same division as the extreme west. For as darkness is opposed to light, so is cold to heat. As, therefore, heat is nearest to light, so is the south to the east; and as cold is nearest to darkness, so is the northern region to the west. And He assigned to each of these parts its own time, - namely, the spring to the east, the summer to the southern region, the autumn belongs to the west, and the winter to the north. In these two parts also, the southern and the northern, is contained a figure of life and death, because life consists in heat, death in cold. And as heat arises from fire, so does cold from water. And according to the division of these parts He also made day and night, to complete by alternate succession with each other the courses137 and perpetual revolutions of time, which we call years. The day, which the first east supplies, must belong to God, as all things do, which are of a better character. But the night, which the extreme west brings on, belongs, indeed, to him whom we have said to be the rival of God.

And even in the making of these God had regard to the future; for He made them so, that a representation of true religion and of false superstitions might be shown from these. For as the sun, which rises daily, although it is but one, - from which Cicero would have it appear that it was called Sol,138 because the stars are obscured, and it alone is seen, - yet, since it is a true light, and of perfect fulness, and of most powerful heat, and enlightens all things with the brightest splendour; so God, although He is one only, is possessed of perfect majesty, and might, and splendour. But night, which we say is assigned to that depraved adversary of God,139 shows by a resemblance the many and various superstitions which belong to him. For although innumerable stars appear to glitter and shine,140 yet, because they are not full and solid lights, and send forth no heat, nor overpower the darkness by their multitude, therefore these two things are found to be of chief importance, which have power differing from and opposed to one another - heat and moisture, which God wonderfully designed for the support and production of all things. For since the power of God consists in heat and fire, if He had not tempered its ardour and force by mingling matter of moisture and cold, nothing could have been born or have existed, but whatever had begun to exist must immediately have been destroyed by conflagration. From which also some philosophers and poets said that the world was made up of a discordant concord; but they did not thoroughly understand the matter. Heraclitus said that all things were produced from fire; Thales of Miletus from water. Each saw something of the truth, and yet each was in error: for if one element only had existed, water could not have been produced from fire, nor, on the other hand, could fire from water; but it is more true that all things were produced from a mingling of the two. Fire, indeed, cannot be mixed with water, because they are opposed to each other; and if they came into collision, the one which proved superior must destroy the other. But their substances 58 may be mingled. The substance of fire is heat; of water, moisture. Rightly therefore does Ovid say:141 -

“For when moisture and heat have become mingled, they conceive, and all things arise from these two. And though fire is at variance with water, moist vapour produces all things, and discordant concord142 is adapted to production.”

For the one element is, as it were, masculine; the other, as it were, feminine: the one active, the other passive. And on this account it was appointed by the ancients that marriage contracts should be ratified by the solemnity143 of fire and water, because the young of animals are furnished with a body by heat and moisture, and are thus animated to life.

For, since every animal consists of soul144 and body, the material of the body is contained in moisture, that of the soul in heat: which we may know from the offspring of birds; for though these are full of thick moisture, unless they are cherished by creative145 heat, the moisture cannot become a body, nor can the body be animated with life. Exiles also were accustomed to be forbidden the use of fire and water: for as yet it seemed unlawful to inflict capital punishment on any, however guilty, inasmuch as they were men. When, therefore, the use of those things in which the life of men consists was forbidden, it was deemed to be equivalent to the actual infliction of death on him who had been thus sentenced. Of such importance were these two elements considered, that they believed them to be essential for the production of man, and for the sustaining of his life. One of these is common to us with the other animals, the other has been assigned to man alone. For we, being a heavenly and immortal race,146 make use of fire, which is given to us as a proof of immortality, since fire is from heaven; and its nature, inasmuch as it is moveable and rises upward, contains the principle of life. But the other animals, inasmuch as they are altogether mortal, make use of water only, which is a corporeal and earthly element. And the nature of this, because it is moveable, and has a downward inclination, shows a figure of death. Therefore the cattle do not look up to heaven, nor do they entertain religious sentiments, since the use of fire is removed from them. But from what source or in what manner God lighted up or caused147 to flow these two principal elements, fire and water, He who made them alone can know.148

Chap. XI. - Of Living Creatures, of Man; Prometheus, Deucalion, the Parcæ.

Therefore, having finished the world, He commanded that animals of various kinds and of dissimilar forms should be created, both great and smaller. And they were made in pairs, that is, one of each sex; from the offspring of which both the air and the earth and the seas were filled. And God gave nourishment to all these by their kinds149 from the earth, that they might be of service to men: some, for instance, were for food, others for clothing; but those which are of great strength He gave, that they might assist in cultivating the earth, whence they were called beasts of burthen.150 And thus, when all things had been settled with a wonderful arrangement, He determined to prepare for Himself an eternal kingdom, and to create innumerable souls, on whom He might bestow immortality. Then He made for Himself a figure endowed with perception and intelligence, that is, after the likeness of His own image, than which nothing can be more perfect: He formed man out of the dust of the ground, from which he was called man,151 because He was made from the earth. Finally, Plato says that the human form152 was godlike; as does the Sibyl, who says, -

“Thou art my image, O man, possessed of right reason.”153

The poets also have not given a different account respecting this formation of man, however they may have corrupted it; for they said that man was made by Prometheus from clay. They were not mistaken in the matter itself, but in the name of the artificer. For they had never come into contact with a line of the truth; but the things which were handed down by the oracles of the prophets, and contained in the sacred book154 of God; those things collected from fables and obscure opinion, and distorted, as the truth is wont to be corrupted by the multitude when spread abroad by various conversations, every one adding something to that which he had heard, - those things they comprised in their poems; and in this, indeed, they acted foolishly, in that they attributed so wonderful and divine a work to man. For what need was there that man should be formed of clay, when be might he generated in the same way in which Prometheus himself was born from Iapetus? For if he was a man, he was able to beget a man, but not to make one. But his punishment on Mount 59 Caucasus declares that he was not of the gods. But no one reckoned his father Iapetus or his uncle155 Titan as gods, because the high dignity of the kingdom was in possession of Saturn only, by which he obtained divine honours, together with all his descendants. This invention of the poets admits of refutation by many arguments. It is agreed by all that the deluge took place for the destruction of wickedness, and for its removal from the earth. Now, both philosophers and poets, and writers of ancient history, assert the same, and in this they especially agree with the language of the prophets. If, therefore, the flood took place for the purpose of destroying wickedness, which had increased through the excessive multitude of men, how was Prometheus the maker of man, when his son Deucalion is said by the same writers to have been the only one who was preserved on account of his righteousness? How could a single descent156 and a single generation have so quickly filled the world with men? But it is plain that they have corrupted this also, as they did the former account; since they were ignorant both at what time the flood happened on the earth, and who it was that deserved on account of his righteousness to be saved when the human race perished, and how and with whom he was saved: all of which are taught by the inspired157 writings. It is plain, therefore, that the account which they give respecting the work of Prometheus is false.

But because I had said158 that the poets are not accustomed to speak that which is altogether untrue, but to wrap up in figures and thus to obscure their accounts, I do not say that; they spoke falsely in this, but that first of all Prometheus made the image of a man of rich and soft clay, and that he first originated the art of making statues and images; inasmuch as he lived in the times of Jupiter, during which temples began to be built, and new modes of worshipping the gods introduced. And thus the truth was corrupted by falsehood; and that which was said to have been made by God began also to be ascribed to man, who imitated the divine work. But the making of the true and living man from clay is the work of God. And this also is related by Hermes,159 who not only says that man was made by God, after the image of God, but he even tried to explain in how skilful a manner He formed each limb in the human body, since there is none of them which is not as available for the necessity of use as for beauty. But even the Stoics, when they discuss the subject of providence, attempt to do this; and Tully followed them in many places. But, however, he briefly treats of a subject so copious and fruitful, which I now pass over on this account, because I have lately written a particular book on this subject to my disciple Demetrianus. But I cannot here omit that which some erring philosophers say, that men and the other animals arose from the earth without any author; whence that expression of Virgil:160 -

“And the earth-born161 race of men raised its head from the hard fields.”

And this opinion is especially entertained by those who deny the existence of a divine providence. For the Stoics attribute the formation of animals to divine skill. But Aristotle freed himself from labour and trouble, by saying that the world always existed, and therefore that the human race, and the other things which are in it, had no beginning, but always had been, and always would be. But when we see that each animal separately, which had no previous existence, begins to exist, and ceases to exist, it is necessary that the whole race must at some time have begun to exist, and must cease at some time because it had a beginning.

For all things must necessarily be comprised in three periods of time - the past, the present, and the future. The commencement162 belongs to the past, existence to the present, dissolution to the future. And all these things are seen in the case of men individually: for we begin when we are born; and we exist while we live; and we cease when we die. On which account they would have it that there are three Parcæ:163 one who warps the web of life for men; the second, who weaves it; the third, who cuts and finishes it. But in the whole race of men, because the present time only is seen, yet from it the past also, that is, the commencement, and the future, that is, the dissolution, are inferred. For since it exists, it is evident that at some time it began to exist, for nothing can exist without a beginning; and because it had a beginning, it is evident that it will at some time have an end. For that cannot, as a whole, be immortal, which consists of mortals. For as we all die individually, it is possible that, by some calamity, all may perish simultaneously: either through the unproductiveness of the earth, which sometimes happens in particular cases; or through the general spread of pestilence, which often desolates separate cities and countries; or by the conflagration of the world, as is said to have happened in the case of Phaethon; or by a deluge, as is reported in the time of Deucalion, when 60 the whole race was destroyed with the exception of one man. And if this deluge happened by chance, it might assuredly have happened that he who was the only survivor should perish. But if he was reserved by the will of divine providence, as it cannot be denied, to recruit mankind, it is evident that the life and the destruction of the human race are in the power of God. And if it is possible for it to die altogether, because it dies in parts, it is evident that it had an origin at some time; and as the liability to decay164 bespeaks a beginning, so also it gives proof of an end. And if these things are true, Aristotle will be unable to maintain that the world also itself had no beginning. But if Plato and Epicurus extort this from Aristotle, yet Plato and Aristotle, who thought that the world would be everlasting, will, notwithstanding their eloquence, be deprived of this also by Epicurus, because it follows, that, as it had a beginning, it must also have an end. But we will speak of these things at greater length in the last book. Now let us revert to the origin of man.

Chap. XII. - That Animals Were Not Produced Spontaneously, but by a Divine Arrangement, of Which God Would Have Given Us the Knowledge, if It Were Advantageous for Us to Know It.

They say that at certain changes of the heaven, and motions of the stars, there existed a kind of maturity165 for the production of animals; and thus that the new earth, retaining the productive seed, brought forth of itself certain vessels166 after the likeness of wombs, respecting which Lucretius167 says, -

“Wombs grew attached to the earth by roots;”

and that these, when they had become mature, being rent by the compulsion of nature, produced tender animals; afterwards, that the earth itself abounded with a kind of moisture which resembled milk, and that animals were supported by this nourishment. How, then, were they able to endure or avoid the force of the cold or of heat, or to be born at all, since the sun would scorch them or the cold contract them? But, they say, at the beginning of the world there was no winter nor summer, but a perpetual spring of an equable temperature.168 Why, then, do we see that none of these things now happens? Because, they say, it was necessary that it should once happen, that animals might be born; but after they began to exist, and the power of generation was given to them, the earth ceased to bring forth, and the condition of time169 was changed. Oh, how easy it is to refute falsehoods! In the first place, nothing can exist in this world which does not continue permanent, as it began. For neither were the sun and moon and stars then uncreated; nor. having been created, were they without their motions; nor did that divine government, which manages and rules their courses, fail to begin its exercise together with them. In the next place, if it is as they say, there must of necessity be a providence, and they fall into that very condition which they especially avoid. For while the animals were yet unborn, it is plain that some one provided that they should be born, that the world might not appear gloomy170 with waste and desolation. But, that they might be produced from the earth without the office of parents, provision must have been made with great judgment; and in the next place, that the moisture condensed from the earth might be formed into the various figures of bodies; and also that, having received from the vessels with which they were covered the power of life and sensation, they might be poured forth, as it were, from the womb of mothers, is a wonderful and indescribable171 provision. But let us suppose that this also happened by chance; the circumstances which follow assuredly cannot be by chance, - that the earth should at once flow with milk, and that the temperature of the atmosphere should be equable. And if these things plainly happened, that the newly born animals might have nourishment, or be free from danger, it must be that some one provided these things by some divine counsel.

But who is able to make this provision except God? Let us, however, see whether the circumstance itself which they assert could have taken place, that men should be born from the earth. If any one considers during how long a time and in what manner an infant is reared, he will assuredly understand that those earth-born children could not possibly have been reared without some one to bring them up. For they must have lain for many months cast forth, until their sinews were strengthened, so that they had power to move themselves and to change their place, which can scarcely happen within the space of one year. Now see whether an infant could have lain through many months in the same manner and in the same place where it was cast forth, without dying, overwhelmed and corrupted by that moisture of the earth which it supplied for the sake of nourishment, and by the excrements of its own body mixed together. Therefore it is impossible but that it was reared by some one; unless, indeed, all animals are born not in a tender condition, 61 but grown up: and it never came into their mind to say this. Therefore the whole of that method is impossible and vain; if that can be called method by which it is attempted that there shall be no method. For he who says that all things are produced of their own accord, and attributes nothing to divine providence, he assuredly does not assert, but overthrows method. But if nothing can be done or produced without design, it is plain that there is a divine providence, to which that which is called design peculiarly belongs. Therefore God, the Contriver of all things, made man. And even Cicero, though ignorant of the sacred writings, saw this, who in his treatise on the Laws, in the first book,172 handed down the same thing as the prophets; and I add his words: “This animal, foreseeing, sagacious, various, acute, gifted with memory, full of method and design, which we call man, was produced by the supreme Deity under remarkable circumstances; for this alone of so many kinds and natures of animals, partakes of judgment and reflection, when all other animals are destitute of them.” Do you see that the man, although far removed from the knowledge of the truth, yet, inasmuch as he held the image of wisdom, understood that man could not be produced except by God? But, however, there is need of divine173 testimony, lest that of man should be insufficient. The Sibyl testifies that man is the work of God: -

“He who is the only God being the invincible Creator,

He Himself fixed174 the figure of the form of men,

He Himself mixed the nature of all belonging to the generation of life.”

The sacred writings contain statements to the same effect. Therefore God discharged the office of a true father. He Himself formed the body; He Himself infused the soul with which we breathe. Whatever we are, it is altogether His work. In what manner He effected this He would have taught us, if it were right for us to know; as He taught us other things, which have conveyed to us the knowledge both of ancient error and of true light.


73 Pro virili portione. The phrase properly denotes the share that falls to a person in the division of an inheritance, hence equality.

74 It cannot be forestalled or preoccupied.

75 Majores. There is a play upon the words for ancestors and descendants in Latin which our translation does not reproduce. The word translated ancestors may also mean “men who are greater or superior;” the word translated descendants may mean “men who are less or inferior.”

76 Exemplum, “an example for imitation.”

77 Until he had consulted auguries.

78 Elevans, “disparaging,” or “diminishing from.”

79 Paulus Æmilius, who subdued Macedonia.

80 Muliebre. Others read Fortunæ muliebris.

81 The name is said to be derived from monendo, “giving warning,” or “admonition.”

82 The youth of military age.

83 The circumstance is related by Liby, book ix. c. 29.

84 Prodidit, “betrayed.”

85 Lacinian, so called from the promontory Lacinia, near Croton.

86 The island of Cos lies off the coast of Caria; it had a celebrated temple of Æsculapius.

87 The Circensian games were instituted by Romulus, according to the legend, when he wished to attract the Sabine population to Rome for the purpose of obtaining wives for his people. They were afterwards celebrated with great enthusiasm.

88 Furca, an instrument of punishment to which the slave was bound and scourged.

89 The tricks of a juggler.

90 Most prudent.

91 Chap. vi., infra.

92 Free.

93 The Son of God, afterwards spoken of.

94 By perserverance. There seems to be a contrast between the Son, who remained stedfast, and the evil spirits who fell.

95 διάβολος, “slanderer or accuser.” The Greek and Latin words employed by Lactantius have the same meaning.

96 Providence.

97 Book iv. ch. vi., etc. [Deus, igitur, machinator constitutorque rerum, etc.]

98 Lying under; answering to the Greek expression ὑποκειμένη ὕλη, subject matter.

99 Not now found in the treatise which bears this title.

100 Capable of proof.

101 Materia; perhaps from “mater,” mother stuff - matter out of which anything is composed.

102 The moulder. The ancients made statues of wax or clay, as well as of wood, ivory, and marble.

103 Contradict.

104 Alluding to the well-known practice of the Academics, vix., of arguing on both sides of a question.

105 The founder or preparer of the material.

106 [Quam vim potuit havere nullo dante?]

107 Providentia.

108 Sibi illam dedit. There is another reading, illa sibi illam dedit, but it does not give so good a sense.

109 A proverbial expression, signifying “to get out of one difficulty by getting into another.” The passage in the text is a quotation from Terence, Phorm., v. 2. 15. [Not in some editions of