Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/On Idolatry/Sundry Objections or Excuses Dealt with

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Chapter V.[1]—Sundry Objections or Excuses Dealt with.

We will certainly take more pains in answering the excuses of artificers of this kind, who ought never to be admitted into the house of God, if any have a knowledge of that Discipline.[2] To begin with, that speech, wont to be cast in our teeth, “I have nothing else whereby to live,” may be more severely retorted, “You have, then, whereby to live?  If by your own laws, what have you to do with God?”[3] Then, as to the argument they have the hardihood to bring even from the Scriptures, “that the apostle has said, ‘As each has been found, so let him persevere.’”[4] We may all, therefore, persevere in sins, as the result of that interpretation! for there is not any one of us who has not been found as a sinner, since no other cause was the source of Christ’s descent than that of setting sinners free. Again, they say the same apostle has left a precept, according to his own example, “That each one work with his own hands for a living.”[5] If this precept is maintained in respect to all hands, I believe even the bath-thieves[6] live by their hands, and robbers themselves gain the means to live by their hands; forgers, again, execute their evil handwritings, not of course with their feet, but hands; actors, however, achieve a livelihood not with hands alone, but with their entire limbs. Let the Church, therefore, stand open to all who are supported by their hands and by their own work; if there is no exception of arts which the Discipline of God receives not. But some one says, in opposition to our proposition of “similitude being interdicted,” “Why, then, did Moses in the desert make a likeness of a serpent out of bronze?” The figures, which used to be laid as a groundwork for some secret future dispensation, not with a view to the repeal of the law, but as a type of their own final cause, stand in a class by themselves. Otherwise, if we should interpret these things as the adversaries of the law do, do we, too, as the Marcionites do, ascribe inconsistency to the Almighty, whom they[7] in this manner destroy as being mutable, while in one place He forbids, in another commands? But if any feigns ignorance of the fact that that effigy of the serpent of bronze, after the manner of one uphung, denoted the shape of the Lord’s cross,[8] which was to free us from serpents—that is, from the devil’s angels—while, through itself, it hanged up the devil slain; or whatever other exposition of that figure has been revealed to worthier men[9] no matter, provided we remember the apostle affirms that all things happened at that time to the People[10] figuratively.[11] It is enough that the same God, as by law He forbade the making of similitude, did, by the extraordinary precept in the case of the serpent, interdict similitude.[12] If you reverence the same God, you have His law, “Thou shalt make no similitude.”[13] If you look back, too, to the precept enjoining the subsequently made similitude, do you, too, imitate Moses: make not any likeness in opposition to the law, unless to you, too, God have bidden it.[14]


  1. Cf. chaps. viii. and xii.
  2. i.e., the Discipline of the house of God, the Church. Oehler reads, “eam disciplinam,” and takes the meaning to be that no artificer of this class should be admitted into the Church, if he applies for admittance, with a knowledge of the law of God referred to in the former chapters, yet persisting in his unlawful craft. Fr. Junius would read, “ejus disciplinam.”
  3. i.e., If laws of your own, and not the will and law of God, are the source and means of your life, you owe no thanks and no obedience to God, and therefore need not seek admittance into His house (Oehler).
  4. 1 Cor. vii. 20. In Eng. ver., “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”
  5. 1 Thess. iv. 11; 2 Thess. iii. 6–12.
  6. i.e., thieves who frequented the public baths, which were a favorite resort at Rome.
  7. The Marcionites.
  8. [The argument amounts to this, that symbols were not idols:  yet even so, God only could ordain symbols that were innocent. The Nehushtan of King Hezekiah teaches us the “peril of Idolatry” (2 Kings xviii. 4) and that even a divine symbol may be destroyed justly if it be turned to a violation of the Second Commandment.]
  9. [On which see Dr. Smith, Dict. of the Bible, ad vocem “Serpent.”]
  10. i.e., the Jewish people, who are generally meant by the expression “the People” in the singular number in Scripture. We shall endeavour to mark that distinction by writing the word, as here, with a capital.
  11. See 1 Cor. x. 6, 11.
  12. On the principle that the exception proves the rule. As Oehler explains it: “By the fact of the extraordinary precept in that particular case, God gave an indication that likeness-making had before been forbidden and interdicted by Him.”
  13. Ex. xx. 4, etc. [The absurd “brazen serpent” which I have seen in the Church of St. Ambrose, in Milan, is with brazen hardihood affirmed to be the identical serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness. But it lacks all symbolic character, as it is not set upon a pole nor in any way fitted to a cross. It greatly resembles a vane set upon a pivot.]
  14. [Elucidation I.]