Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VII/Lactantius/A Treatise on the Anger of God Addressed to Donatus/Chap. XI
Chap. XI.—Of God, and that the One God, and by Whose Providence the World is Governed and Exists.
Since it is agreed upon concerning providence, it follows that we show whether it is to be believed that it belongs to many, or rather to one only. We have sufficiently taught, as I think, in our Institutions, that there cannot be many gods; because, if the divine energy and power be distributed among several, it must necessarily be diminished. But that which is lessened is plainly mortal; but if He is not mortal, He can neither be lessened nor divided. Therefore there is but one God, in whom complete energy and power can neither be lessened nor increased. But if there are many, while they separately have something of power and authority, the sum itself decreases; nor will they separately be able to have the whole, which they have in common with others: so much will be wanting to each as the others shall possess. There cannot therefore be many rulers in this world, nor many masters in one house, nor many pilots in one ship, nor many leaders in one herd or flock, nor many queens in one swarm. But there could not have been many suns in heaven, as there are not several souls in one body; so entirely does the whole of nature agree in unity. But if the world
“Is nourished by a soul,
A spirit whose celestial flame
Glows in each member of the frame,
And stirs the mighty whole,”
it is evident from the testimony of the poet, that there is one God who inhabits the world, since the whole body cannot be inhabited and governed except by one mind. Therefore all divine power must be in one person, by whose will and command all things are ruled; and therefore He is so great, that He cannot be described in words by man, or estimated by the senses. From what source, therefore, did the opinion or persuasion respecting many gods come to men? Without doubt, all those who are worshipped as gods were men, and were also the earliest and greatest kings; but who is ignorant that they were invested with divine honours after death, either on account of the virtue by which they had profited the race of men, or that they obtained immortal memory on account of the benefits and inventions by which they had adorned human life? And not only men, but women also. And this, both the most ancient writers of Greece, whom they call theologi; and also Roman writers following and imitating the Greeks, teach; of whom especially Euhemerus and our Ennius, who point out the birthdays, marriages, offspring, governments, exploits, deaths, and tombs of all of them. And Tullius, following them, in his third book, On the Nature of the Gods, destroyed the public religions; but neither he himself nor any other person was able to introduce the true one, of which he was ignorant. And thus he himself testified that that which was false was evident; that the truth, however, lay concealed. “Would to heaven,” he says, “that I could as easily discover true things as refute those that are false!” And this he proclaimed not with dissimulation as an Academic, but truly and in accordance with the feeling of his mind, because the truth cannot be uprooted from human perceptions: that which the foresight of man was able to attain to, he attained to, that he might expose false things. For whatever is fictitious and false, because it is supported by no reason, is easily destroyed. There is therefore one God, the source and origin of all things, as Plato both felt and taught in the Timœus, whose majesty he declares to be so great, that it can neither be comprehended by the mind nor be expressed by the tongue.
Hermes bears the same testimony, whom Cicero asserts to be reckoned by the Egyptians among the number of the gods. I speak of him who, on account of his excellence and knowledge of many arts, was called Trismegistus; and he was far more ancient not only than Plato, but than Pythagoras, and those seven wise men. In Xenophon, Socrates, as he discourses, says that “the form of God ought not to be inquired about: “and Plato, in his Book of Laws, says: “What God is, ought not to be the subject of inquiry, because it can neither be found out nor related.” Pythagoras also admits that there is but one God, saying that there is an incorporeal mind, which, being diffused and stretched through all nature, gives vital perception to all living creatures; but Antisthenes, in his Physics, said that there was but one natural God, although the nations and cities have gods of their own people. Aristotle, with his followers the Peripatetics, and Zeno with his followers the Stoics, say nearly the same things. Truly it would be a long task to follow up the opinions of all separately, who, although they used different names, nevertheless agreed in one power which governed the world. But, however, though philosophers and poets, and those, in short, who worship the gods, often acknowledge the Supreme God, yet no one ever inquired into, no one discussed, the subject of His worship and honours; with that persuasion, in truth, with which, always believing Him to be bounteous and incorruptible, they think that He is neither angry with any one, nor stands in need of any worship. Thus there can be no religion where there is no fear.
- Virg., Æn., vi. 726.
- Persuasiove; most editions read “persuasione,” but the meaning is not so good.
- Sepulcra; others read “simulacra.”
- De Nat. Deor., i. 32. [See p. 29, note 2, supra.]
- Ibid., iii. 22.
- [P. 268, note 1, supra.]
- Memor., iv. 3.
- Lib. vii.
- Arbitrantur; some editions have “arbitrabantur,” which appears preferable.
- [“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. ix. 10). See p. 262, cap. 6, note 6, supra.]