Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Constantine/The Oration of Eusebius/Chapter XIII

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Chapter XIII.

1. And now let us proceed to explain the reasons for which this mighty Word of God descended to dwell with men. Our ignorant and foolish race, incapable of comprehending him who is the Lord of heaven and earth, proceeding from his Father’s Deity as from the supreme fountain, ever present throughout the world, and evincing by the clearest proofs his providential care for the interests of man; have ascribed the adorable title of Deity to the sun, and moon, the heaven and the stars of heaven. Nor did they stop here, but deified the earth itself, its products, and the various substances by which animal life is sustained, and devised images of Ceres, of Proserpine, of Bacchus,[1] and many such as these.

2. Nay, they shrank not from giving the name of gods to the very conceptions of their own minds, and the speech by which those conceptions are expressed; calling the mind itself Minerva, and language Mercury,[2] and affixing the names of Mnemosyne and the Muses to those faculties by means of which science is acquired. Nor was even this enough: advancing still more rapidly in the career of impiety and folly, they deified their own evil passions, which it behooved them to regard with aversion, or restrain by the principles of self-control. Their very lust and passion and impure disease of soul, the members of the body which tempt to obscenity, and even the very uncontrol[3] in shameful pleasure, they described under the titles of Cupid, Priapus, Venus,[4] and other kindred terms.

3. Nor did they stop even here. Degrading their thoughts of God to this corporeal and mortal life, they deified their fellow-men, conferring the names of gods and heroes on those who had experienced the common lot of all, and vainly imagining that the Divine and imperishable Essence could frequent the tombs and monuments of the dead. Nay, more than this: they paid divine honors to animals of various species, and to the most noxious reptiles: they felled trees, and excavated rocks; they provided themselves with brass, and iron, and other metals, of which they fashioned resemblances of the male and female human form, of beasts, and creeping things; and these they made the objects of their worship.

4. Nor did this suffice. To the evil spirits themselves which lurked within their statues, or lay concealed in secret and dark recesses, eager to drink their libations, and inhale the odor of their sacrifices, they ascribed the same divine honors. Once more, they endeavored to secure the familiar aid of these spirits, and the unseen powers which move through the tracts of air, by charms of forbidden magic, and the compulsion of unhallowed songs and incantations. Again, different nations have adopted different persons as objects of their worship. The Greeks have rendered to Bacchus, Hercules, Æsculapius, Apollo, and others who were mortal men, the titles of gods and heroes. The Egyptians have deified Horus and Isis, Osiris, and other mortals such as these. And thus they who boast of the wondrous skill whereby they have discovered geometry, astronomy, and the science of number, know not, wise as they are in their own conceit, nor understand how to estimate the measure of the power of God, or calculate his exceeding greatness above the nature of irrational and mortal beings.

5. Hence they shrank not from applying the name of gods to the most hideous of the brute creation, to venomous reptiles and savage beasts. The Phœnicians deified Melcatharus, Usorus,[5] and others; mere mortals, and with little claim to honor: the Arabians, Dusaris[6] and Obodas: the Getæ, Zamolxis: the Cicilians, Mopsus: and the Thebans, Amphiaraus:[7] in short, each nation has adopted its own peculiar deities, differing in no respect from their fellow-mortals, being simply and truly men. Again, the Egyptians with one consent, the Phœnicians, the Greeks, nay, every nation beneath the sun, have united in worshiping the very parts and elements of the world, and even the produce of the ground itself. And, which is most surprising, though acknowledging the adulterous, unnatural, and licentious crimes of their deities, they have not only filled every city, and village, and district with temples, shrines, and statues in their honor, but have followed their evil example to the ruin of their own souls.

6. We hear of gods and the sons of gods described by them as heroes and good genii, titles entirely opposed to truth, honors utterly at variance with the qualifies they are intended to exalt. It is as if one who desired to point out the sun and the luminaries of heaven, instead of directing his gaze thitherward, should grope with his hands on the ground, and search for the celestial powers in the mud and mire. Even so mankind, deceived by their own folly and the craft of evil spirits, have believed that the Divine and spiritual Essence which is far above heaven and earth could be compatible with the birth, the affections, and death, of mortal bodies here below. To such a pitch of madness did they proceed, as to sacrifice the dearest objects of their affection to their gods, regardless of all natural ties, and urged by frenzied feeling to slay their only and best beloved children.

7. For what can be a greater proof of madness, than to offer human sacrifice, to pollute every city, and even their own houses, with kindred blood? Do not the Greeks themselves attest this, and is not all history filled with records of the same impiety? The Phœnicians devoted their best beloved and only children as an annual sacrifice to Saturn. The Rhodians, on the sixth day of the month Metageitnion,[8] offered human victims to the same god. At Salamis, a man was pursued in the temple of Minerva Agraulis and Diomede, compelled to run thrice round the altar, afterwards pierced with a lance by the priest, and consumed as a burnt offering on the blazing pile. In Egypt, human sacrifice was most abundant. At Heliopolis three victims were daily offered to Juno, for whom king Amoses, impressed with the atrocity of the practice, commanded the substitution of an equal number of waxen figures. In Chios, and again in Tenedos, a man was slain and offered up to Omadian Bacchus. At Sparta they immolated human beings to Mars. In Crete they did likewise, offering human sacrifices to Saturn. In Laodicea of Syria a virgin was yearly slain in honor of Minerva, for whom a hart is now the substitute. The Libyans and Carthaginians appeased their gods with human victims. The Dumateni of Arabia buried a boy annually beneath the altar. History informs us that the Greeks without exception, the Thracians also, and Scythians, were accustomed to human sacrifice before they marched forth to battle. The Athenians record the immolation of the virgin children of Leus,[9] and the daughter of Erechtheus.[10] Who knows not that at this day a human victim is offered in Rome itself at the festival of Jupiter Latiaris?

8. And these facts are confirmed by the testimony of the most approved philosophers. Diodorus, the epitomizer of libraries,[11] affirms that two hundred of the noblest youths were sacrificed to Saturn by the Libyan people, and that three hundred more were voluntarily offered by their own parents. Dionysius, the compiler of Roman history,[12] expressly says that Jupiter and Apollo demanded human sacrifices of the so-called Aborigines, in Italy. He relates that on this demand they offered a proportion of all their produce to the gods; but that, because of their refusal to slay human victims, they became involved in manifold calamities, from which they could obtain no release until they had decimated themselves, a sacrifice of life which proved the desolation of their country. Such and so great were the evils which of old afflicted the whole human race.

9. Nor was this the full extent of their misery: they groaned beneath the pressure of other evils equally numerous and irremediable. All nations, whether civilized or barbarous, throughout the world, as if actuated by a demoniac frenzy, were infected with sedition as with some fierce and terrible disease: insomuch that the human family was irreconcilably divided against itself; the great system of society was distracted and torn asunder; and in every corner of the earth men stood opposed to each other, and strove with fierce contention on questions of law and government.

10. Nay, more than this: with passions aroused to fury, they engaged in mutual conflicts, so frequent that their lives were passed as it were in uninterrupted warfare. None could undertake a journey except as prepared to encounter an enemy; in the very country and villages the rustics girded on the sword, provided themselves with armor rather than with the implements of rural labor, and deemed it noble exploit to plunder and enslave any who belonged to a neighboring state.

11. Nay, more than this: from the fables they had themselves devised respecting their own deities, they deduced occasions for a vile and abandoned life, and wrought the ruin of body and soul by licentiousness of every kind. Not content with this, they even overstepped the bounds which nature had defined, and together committed incredible and nameless crimes, “men with men (in the words of the sacred writer) working un-seemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due.”

12. Nor did they stop even here; but perverted their natural thoughts of God, and denied that the course of this world was directed by his providential care, ascribing the existence and constitution of all things to the blind operation of chance, or the necessity of fate.

13. Once more: believing that soul and body were alike dissolved by death, they led a brutish life, unworthy of the name: careless of the nature or existence of the soul, they dreaded not the tribunal of Divine justice, expected no reward of virtue, nor thought of chastisement as the penalty of an evil life.

14. Hence it was that whole nations, a prey to wickedness in all its forms, were wasted by the effects of their own brutality: some living in the practice of most vile and lawless incest with mothers, others with sisters, and others again corrupting their own daughters. Some were found who slew their confiding guests; others who fed on human flesh; some strangled, and then feasted on, their aged men; others threw them alive to dogs. The time would fail me were I to attempt to describe the multifarious symptoms of the inveterate malady which had asserted its dominion over the whole human race.

15. Such, and numberless others like these, were the prevailing evils, on account of which the gracious Word of God, full of compassion for his human flock, had long since, by the ministry of his prophets, and earlier still, as well as later, by that of men distinguished by pious devotion to God, invited those thus desperately afflicted to their own cure; and had, by means of laws, exhortations, and doctrines of every kind, proclaimed to man the principles and elements of true godliness. But when for mankind, distracted and torn as I have said, not indeed by wolves and savage beasts, but by ruthless and soul-destroying spirits of evil, human power no longer sufficed, but a help was needed superior to that of man; then it was that the Word of God, obedient to his all-gracious Father’s will, at length himself appeared, and most willingly made his abode amongst us.

16. The causes of his advent I have already described, induced by which he condescended to the society of man; not in his wonted form and manner, for he is incorporeal, and present everywhere throughout the world, proving by his agency both in heaven and earth the greatness of his almighty power, but in a character new and hitherto unknown. Assuming a mortal body, he deigned to associate and converse with men; desiring, through the medium of their own likeness, to save our mortal race.


  1. “Of Demeter, of Cora, of Dionysius.”
  2. “Athene…Hermes.”
  3. The word used here, ἀκρ€τεια, is the opposite of the famous philosophical word for self-control—ἐγκρ€τεια
  4. “Eros, Priapus, Aphrodite.”
  5. It is probably that “Melkathros” and “Usous” referred to in the Præp. Evang. 1. 10 (ed. Gaisford, Oxon. 1843, 1. p. 77 and 84). The same passage may be found with English translation in Cory’s Ancient Fragments, Lond. 1832, p. 6–7, 13.
  6. Dusaris was, it is said, equivalent to Bacchus.
  7. All the above names, excepting those specially noted, may be found in Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Biog. and Mythol.
  8. Corresponding nearly to our August. Key. Calendarium, in Smith, Dict. Gr. and R. Ant. p. 223.
  9. [Leus is said to have offered his three daughters, Phasithea, Theope, and Eubule; the oracle at Delphi having declared that the relief of the city from famine could only be effected by the shedding of the blood of his daughters by one of the citizens.—Bag.]
  10. [Alluding to the sacrifice of his daughter Chthonia by Erechtheus, son of Pandion; the Athenians having been promised victory, by the oracle, over the Eleusinians and their Thracian allies, on the condition of the death of a daughter of Erechtheus.—Bag.]
  11. Diodorus Siculus, whose work is mentioned elsewhere (Præp. Evang. 1. 6, ed. Gaisford, p. 40) as a “historical library.”
  12. Dionysius of Halicarnassus.