Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part I: The Original Deities Were Human--With Some Very Questionable Characteristics. Saturn or Time Was Human. Inconsistencies of Opinion About Him.
Chapter XII. 976 —The Original Deities Were Human—With Some Very Questionable Characteristics. Saturn or Time Was Human. Inconsistencies of Opinion About Him.
Now, how much further need I go in recounting your gods—because I want to descant on the character of such as you have adopted? It is quite uncertain whether I shall laugh at your absurdity, or upbraid you for your blindness. For how many, and indeed what, gods shall I bring forward? Shall it be the greater ones, or the lesser? The old ones, or the novel? The male, or the female? The unmarried, or such as are joined in wedlock? The clever, or the unskilful? The rustic or the town ones? The national or the foreign? For the truth is, 977 there are so many families, so many nations, which require a catalogue 978 (of gods), that they cannot possibly be examined, or distinguished, or described. But the more diffuse the subject is, the more restriction must we impose on it. As, therefore, in this review we keep before us but one object—that of proving that all these gods were once human beings (not, indeed, to instruct you in the fact, 979 for your conduct shows that you have forgotten it)—let us adopt our compendious summary from the most natural method 980 of conducting the examination, even by considering the origin of their race. For the origin characterizes all that comes after it. Now this origin of your gods dates, 981 I suppose, from Saturn. And when Varro mentions Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, as the most ancient of the gods, it ought not to have escaped our notice, that every father is more ancient than his sons, and that Saturn therefore must precede Jupiter, even as Cœlus does Saturn, for Saturn was sprung from Cœlus and Terra. I pass by, however, the origin of Cœlus and Terra. They led in some unaccountable way 982 single lives, and had no children. Of course they required a long time for vigorous growth to attain to such a stature. 983 By and by, as soon as the voice of Cœlus began to break, 984 and the breasts of Terra to become firm, 985 they contract marriage with one another. I suppose either Heaven 986 came down to his spouse, or Earth went up to meet her lord. Be that as it may, Earth conceived seed of Heaven, and when her year was fulfilled brought forth Saturn in a wonderful manner. Which of his parents did he resemble? Well, then, even after parentage began, 987 it is certain 988 that they had no child previous to Saturn, and only one daughter afterwards—Ops; thenceforth they ceased to procreate. The truth is, Saturn castrated Cœlus as he was sleeping. We read this name Cœlus as of the masculine gender. And for the matter of that, how could he be a father unless he were a male? But with what instrument was the castration effected? He had a scythe. What, so early as that? For Vulcan was not yet an artificer in iron. The widowed Terra, however, although still quite young, was in no hurry 989 to marry another. Indeed, there was no second Cœlus for her. What but Ocean offers her an embrace? But he savours of brackishness, and she has been accustomed to fresh water. 990 And so Saturn is the sole male child of Cœlus and Terra. When grown to puberty, he marries his own sister. No laws as yet prohibited incest, nor punished parricide. Then, when male children were born to him, he would devour them; better himself (should take them) than the wolves, (for to these would they become a prey) if he exposed them. He was, no doubt, afraid that one of them might learn the lesson of his fathers scythe. When Jupiter was born in course of time, he was removed out of the way: 991 (the father) swallowed a stone instead of the son, as was pretended. This artifice secured his safety for a time; but at length the son, whom p. 141 he had not devoured, and who had grown up in secret, fell upon him, and deprived him of his kingdom. Such, then, is the patriarch of the gods whom Heaven 992 and Earth produced for you, with the poets officiating as midwives. Now some persons with a refined 993 imagination are of opinion that, by this allegorical fable of Saturn, there is a physiological representation of Time: (they think) that it is because all things are destroyed by Time, that Cœlus and Terra were themselves parents without having any of their own, and that the (fatal) scythe was used, and that (Saturn) devoured his own offspring, because he, 994 in fact, absorbs within himself all things which have issued from him. They call in also the witness of his name; for they say that he is called Κρόνος in Greek, meaning the same thing as χρόνος. 995 His Latin name also they derive from seed-sowing; 996 for they suppose him to have been the actual procreator—that the seed, in fact, was dropt down from heaven to earth by his means. They unite him with Ops, because seeds produce the affluent treasure (Opem) of actual life, and because they develope with labour (Opus). Now I wish that you would explain this metaphorical 997 statement. It was either Saturn or Time. If it was Time, how could it be Saturn? If he, how could it be Time? For you cannot possibly reckon both these corporeal subjects 998 as co-existing in one person. What, however, was there to prevent your worshipping Time under its proper quality? Why not make a human person, or even a mythic man, an object of your adoration, but each in its proper nature not in the character of Time? What is the meaning of that conceit of your mental ingenuity, if it be not to colour the foulest matters with the feigned appearance of reasonable proofs? 999 Neither, on the one hand, do you mean Saturn to be Time, because you say he is a human being; nor, on the other hand, whilst portraying him as Time, do you on that account mean that he was ever human. No doubt, in the accounts of remote antiquity your god Saturn is plainly described as living on earth in human guise. Anything whatever may obviously be pictured as incorporeal which never had an existence; there is simply no room for such fiction, where there is reality. Since, therefore, there is clear evidence that Saturn once existed, it is in vain that you change his character. He whom you will not deny to have once been man, is not at your disposal to be treated anyhow, nor can it be maintained that he is either divine or Time. In every page of your literature the origin 1000 of Saturn is conspicuous. We read of him in Cassius Severus and in the Corneliuses, Nepos and Tacitus, 1001 and, amongst the Greeks also, in Diodorus, and all other compilers of ancient annals. 1002 No more faithful records of him are to be traced than in Italy itself. For, after (traversing) many countries, and (enjoying) the hospitality of Athens, he settled in Italy, or, as it was called, Œnotria, having met with a kind welcome from Janus, or Janes, 1003 as the Salii call him. The hill on which he settled had the name Saturnius, whilst the city which he founded 1004 still bears the name Saturnia; in short, the whole of Italy once had the same designation. Such is the testimony derived from that country which is now the mistress of the world: whatever doubt prevails about the origin of Saturn, his actions tell us plainly that he was a human being. Since, therefore, Saturn was human, he came undoubtedly from a human stock; and more, because he was a man, he, of course, came not of Cœlus and Terra. Some people, however, found it easy enough to call him, whose parents were unknown, the son of those gods from whom all may in a sense seem to be derived. For who is there that does not speak under a feeling of reverence of the heaven and the earth as his own father and mother? Or, in accordance with a custom amongst men, which induces them to say of any who are unknown or suddenly apparent, that “they came from the sky?” Hence it happened that, because a stranger appeared suddenly everywhere, it became the custom to call him a heaven-born man, 1005 —just as we also commonly call earth-born all those whose descent is unknown. I say nothing of the fact that such was the state of antiquity, when mens eyes and minds were so habitually rude, that they were excited by the appearance of every newcomer as if it were that of a god: much more would this be the case with a king, and that the primeval one. I will linger some time longer over the case of Saturn, because by fully discussing his primordial history I shall beforehand furnish a compendious answer for all other cases; and I do not wish to omit the more convincing testimony of your sacred literature, the credit of which ought to be the greater in proportion to its antiquity. Now earlier than all literap. 142 ture was the Sibyl; that Sibyl, I mean, who was the true prophetess of truth, from whom you borrow their title for the priests of your demons. She in senarian verse expounds the descent of Saturn and his exploits in words to this effect: “In the tenth generation of men, after the flood had overwhelmed the former race, reigned Saturn, and Titan, and Japetus, the bravest of the sons of Terra and Cœlus.” Whatever credit, therefore, is attached to your older writers and literature, and much more to those who were the simplest as belonging to that age, 1006 it becomes sufficiently certain that Saturn and his family 1007 were human beings. We have in our possession, then, a brief principle which amounts to a prescriptive rule about their origin serving for all other cases, to prevent our going wrong in individual instances. The particular character 1008 of a posterity is shown by the original founders of the race—mortal beings (come) from mortals, earthly ones from earthly; step after step comes in due relation 1009 —marriage, conception, birth—country, settlements, kingdoms, all give the clearest proofs. 1010 They, therefore who cannot deny the birth of men, must also admit their death; they who allow their mortality must not suppose them to be gods.
Agrees with The Apology, c. x.140:977
There is here an omitted clause, supplied in The Apology, “but rather to recall it to your memory.”140:980
Ab ipsa ratione.140:981
Insolescere, i.e., at the commencement of puberty.140:985
Lapilliscere, i.e., to indicate maturity.140:986
The nominative “cœlum” is used.140:987
It is not very clear what is the force of “sed et pepererit,” as read by Oehler; we have given the clause an impersonal turn.140:988
“Certe” is sometime “certo” in our author.140:989
That is, to rain and cloud.140:991
The word is “cœlum” here.141:993
i.e., as representing Time.141:995
So Augustine, de Civ. Dei, iv. 10; Arnobius, adv. Nationes, iii. 29; Cicero, de Nat. Deor. ii. 25.141:996
As if from “sero,” satum.141:997
See his Histories, v. 2, 4.141:1002
Antiquitatem canos, “hoary antiquity.”141:1003
Jano sive Jane.141:1004
Depalaverat, “marked out with stakes.”141:1005
Magis proximis quoniam illius ætatis.142:1007
Qualitas. [n.b. Our authors use of Præscriptio.]142:1009
Next: The Gods Human at First. Who Had the Authority to Make Them Divine? Jupiter Not Only Human, But Immoral.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: http://St-Takla.org / Contact us at