Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VII/Lactantius/The Divine Institutes/Book IV/Chap. XV
Chap. XV.—Of the Life and Miracles of Jesus, and Testimonies Concerning Them.
Having spoken of the second nativity, in which, He showed Himself in the flesh to men, let us come to those wonderful works, on account of which, though they were signs of heavenly power, the Jews esteemed Him a magician. When He first began to reach maturity He was baptized by the prophet John in the river Jordan, that He might wash away in the spiritual laver not His own sins, for it is evident that He had none, but those of the flesh, which He bare; that as He saved the Jews by undergoing circumcision, so He might save the Gentiles also by baptism—that is, by the pouring forth of the purifying dew. Then a voice from heaven was heard: “Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten Thee.” Which voice is found to have been foretold by David. And the Spirit of God descended upon Him, formed after the appearance of a white dove. From that time He began to perform the greatest miracles, not by magical tricks, which display nothing true and substantial, but by heavenly strength and power, which were foretold even long ago by the prophets who announced Him; which works are so many, that a single book is not sufficient to comprise them all. I will therefore enumerate them briefly and generally, without any designation of persons and places, that I may be able to come to the setting forth of His passion and cross, to which my discourse has long been hastening. His powers were those which Apollo called wonderful: that wherever He journeyed, by a single word, and in a single moment, He healed the sick and infirm, and those afflicted with every kind of disease: so that those who were deprived of the use of all their limbs, having suddenly received power, were strengthened, and themselves carried their couches, on which they had a little time before been carried. But to the lame, and to those afflicted with some defect of the feet, He not only gave the power of walking, but also of running. Then, also, if any had their eyes blinded in the deepest darkness, He restored them to their former sight. He also loosened the tongues of the dumb, so that they discoursed and spake eloquently. He also opened the ears of the deaf, and caused them to hear; He cleansed the polluted and the blemished. And He performed all these things not by His hands, or the application of any remedy, but by His word and command, as also the Sibyl had foretold: “Doing all things by His word, and healing every disease.”
Nor, indeed, is it wonderful that He did wonderful things by His word, since He Himself was the Word of God, relying upon heavenly strength and power. Nor was it enough that He gave strength to the feeble, soundness of body to the maimed, health to the sick and languishing, unless He also raised the dead, as it were unbound from sleep, and recalled them to life.
And the Jews, then, when they saw these things, contended that they were done by demoniacal power, although it was contained in their secret writings that all things should thus come to pass as they did. They read indeed the words of other prophets, and of Isaiah, saying: “Be strong, ye hands that are relaxed; and ye weak knees, be comforted. Ye who are of a fearful heart, fear not, be not afraid: our Lord shall execute judgment; He Himself shall come and save us. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear: then shall the lame man leap as a deer, and the tongue of the dumb speak plainly: for in the wilderness water hath broken forth, and a stream in the thirsty land.” But the Sibyl also foretold the same things in these verses:—
“And there shall be a rising again of the dead; and the course of the lame shall be swift, and the deaf shall hear, and the blind shall see, the dumb shall speak.”
On account of these powers and divine works wrought by Him when a great multitude followed Him of the maimed, or sick, or of those who desired to present their sick to be healed, He went up into a desert mountain to pray there. And when He had tarried there three days, and the people were suffering from hunger, He called His disciples, and asked what quantity of food they had with them. But they said that they had five loaves and two fishes in a wallet. Then He commanded that these should be brought forward, and that the multitude, distributed by fifties, should recline on the ground. When the disciples did this, He Himself broke the bread in pieces, and divided the flesh of the fishes, and in His hands both of them were increased. And when He had ordered the disciples to set them before the people, five thousand men were satisfied, and moreover twelve baskets were filled from the fragments which remained. What can be more wonderful, either in narration or in action? But the Sibyl had before foretold that it would take place, whose verses are related to this effect:—
“With five loaves at the same time, and with two fishes,
He shall satisfy five thousand men in the wilderness;
And afterwards taking all the fragments that remain,
He shall fill twelve baskets to the hope of many.”
I ask, therefore, what the art of magic could have contrived in this case, the skill of which is of avail for nothing else than for deceiving the eyes? He also, when He was about to retire to a mountain, as He was wont, for the sake of prayer, directed His disciples to take a small ship and go before Him. But they, setting out when evening was now coming on, began to be distressed through a contrary wind. And when they were now in the midst of the sea, then, setting His feet on the sea, He came up to them, walking as though on the solid ground, not as the poets fable Orion walking on the sea, who, while a part of his body was sunk in the water,
“With his shoulder rises above the waves.”
And again, when He had gone to sleep in the ship, and the wind had begun to rage, even to the extremity of danger, being aroused from sleep, He immediately ordered the wind to be silent; and the waves, which were borne with great violence, were still, and immediately at His word there followed a calm.
But perhaps the sacred writings speak falsely, when they teach that there was such power in Him, that by His command He compelled the winds to obey, the seas to serve Him, diseases to depart, the dead to be submissive. Why should I say that the Sibyls before taught the same things in their verses? one of whom, already mentioned, thus speaks:—
“He shall still the winds by His word, and calm the sea
As it rages, treading with feet of peace and in faith.”
And again another, which says:—
“He shall walk on the waves, He shall release men from disease.
He shall raise the dead, and drive away many pains;
And from the bread of one wallet there shall be a satisfying of men.”
Some, refuted by these testimonies, are accustomed to have recourse to the assertion that these poems were not by the Sibyls, but made up and composed by our own writers. But he will assuredly not think this who has read Cicero, and Varro, and other ancient writers, who make mention of the Erythræan and the other Sibyls, from whose books we bring forward these examples; and these authors died before the birth of Christ according to the flesh. But I do not doubt that these poems were in former times regarded as ravings, since no one then understood them. For they announced some marvellous wonders, of which neither the manner, nor the time, nor the author was signified. Lastly, the Erythræan Sibyl says that it would come to pass that she would be called mad and deceitful. But assuredly
“They will say that the Sibyl
Is mad, and deceitful: but when all things shall come to pass,
Then ye will remember me; and no one will any longer
Say that I, the prophetess of the great God, am mad.”
Therefore they were neglected for many ages; but they received attention after the nativity and passion of Christ had revealed secret things. Thus it was also with the utterances of the prophets, which were read by the people of the Jews for fifteen hundred years and more, but yet were not understood until after Christ had explained them both by His word and by His works. For the prophets spoke of Him; nor could the things which they said have been in any way understood, unless they had been altogether fulfilled.
- Cum primus cœpit adolescere.
- Not of His own flesh, but of human nature. Our Lord Himself gives a better explanation of His baptism, in His reply to the Baptist, who at first forbade him: “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. iii. 15).
- Compare Matt. iii. 17 with Ps. ii. 7.
- [“A brilliant dove” is the idea. Ps. lxviii. 13. Comp. Justin, vol. i. note 6, p. 243.]
- Pedum vitio afflictos.
- In eloquium sermonemque solvebat.
- Insinuabat auditum.
- Aspersos maculis, i.e., lepers.
- Except in the case of the blind man, whose eyes He anointed with clay. John ix. 9.
- Isa. xxxv. 3–6. The passage is quoted from the Septuagint. The authorized English version follows the Hebrew, “Strengthen ye the weak hands,” etc.
- Pusilli animi.
- Plana erit, “shall be intelligible.”
- Quantos secum cibos gestarent. See Matt. xiv.; Mark vi.; Luke ix.; John vi.
- Cophini. This miracle is always distinguished from the feeding of the four thousand by the use of this word. Thus Juvenal: “Judæis, quorum cophinus, fœnumque supellex.”
- Ad circumscribendos oculos. Cicero also uses the word “circumscriptio” to denote “fraud and deceit.”
- Pedibus mare ingressus.
- Matt. xiv. 24.
In solido. So Virg., Georg., ii. 231:—
In solido puteum demitti.”
- Virg., Æn., x. 765.
- Matt. viii.; Mark iv.; Luke viii.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii.
- Jacuerunt. [Elucidation II.]
- Interpretatus est.