Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. VI.—Of divine testimonies, and of the Sibyls and their predictions
Chap. VI.—Of divine testimonies, and of the sibyls and their predictions.
Now let us pass to divine testimonies; but I will previously bring forward one which resembles a divine testimony, both on account of its very great antiquity, and because he whom I shall name was taken from men and placed among the gods. According to Cicero, Caius Cotta the pontiff, while disputing against the Stoics concerning superstitions, and the variety of opinions which prevail respecting the gods, in order that he might, after the custom of the Academics, make everything uncertain, says that there were five Mercuries; and having enumerated four in order, says that the fifth was he by whom Argus was slain, and that on this account he fled into Egypt, and gave laws and letters to the Egyptians. The Egyptians call him Thoth; and from him the first month of their year, that is, September, received its name among them. He also built a town, which is even now called in Greek Hermopolis (the town of Mercury), and the inhabitants of Phenæ honour him with religious worship. And although he was a man, yet he was of great antiquity, and most fully imbued with every kind of learning, so that the knowledge of many subjects and arts acquired for him the name of Trismegistus. 37 He wrote books, and those in great numbers, relating to the knowledge of divine things, in which be asserts the majesty of the supreme and only God, and makes mention of Him by the same names which we use—God and Father. And that no one might inquire His name, he said that He was without name, and that on account of His very unity He does not require the peculiarity of a name. These are his own words: “God is one, but He who is one only does not need a name; for He who is self-existent is without a name.” God, therefore, has no name, because He is alone; nor is there any need of a proper name, except in cases where a multitude of persons requires a distinguishing mark, so that you may designate each person by his own mark and appellation. But God, because He is always one, has no peculiar name.
It remains for me to bring forward testimonies respecting the sacred responses and predictions, which are much more to be relied upon. For perhaps they against whom we are arguing may think that no credence is to be given to poets, as though they invented fictions, nor to philosophers, inasmuch as they were liable to err, being themselves but men. Marcus Varro, than whom no man of greater learning ever lived, even among the Greeks, much less among the Latins, in those books respecting divine subjects which he addressed to Caius Cæsar the chief pontiff, when he was speaking of the Quindecemviri, 38 says that the Sibylline books were not the production of one Sibyl only, but that they were called by one name Sibylline, because all prophetesses were called by the ancients Sibyls, either from the name of one, the Delphian priestess, or from their proclaiming the counsels of the gods. For in the Æolic dialect they used to call the gods by the word Sioi, not Theoi; and for counsel they used the word bule, not boule;—and so the Sibyl received her name as though Siobule. 39 But he says that the Sibyls p. 16 were ten in number, and he enumerated them all under the writers, who wrote an account of each: that the first was from the Persians, and of her Nicanor made mention, who wrote the exploits of Alexander of Macedon;—the second of Libya, and of her Euripides makes mention in the prologue of the Lamia;—the third of Delphi, concerning whom Chrysippus speaks in that book which he composed concerning divination;—the fourth a Cimmerian in Italy, whom Nævius mentions in his books of the Punic war, and Piso in his annals;—the fifth of Erythræa, whom Apollodorus of Erythræa affirms to have been his own countrywoman, and that she foretold to the Greeks when they were setting out for Ilium, both that Troy was doomed to destruction, and that Homer would write falsehoods;—the sixth of Samos, respecting whom Eratosthenes writes that he had found a written notice in the ancient annals of the Samians. The seventh was of Cumæ, by name Amalthæa, who is termed by some Herophile, or Demophile, and they say that she brought nine books to the king Tarquinius Priscus, and asked for them three hundred philippics, and that the king refused so great a price, and derided the madness of the woman; that she, in the sight of the king, burnt three of the books, and demanded the same price for those which were left; that Tarquinias much more considered the woman to be mad; and that when she again, having burnt three other books, persisted in asking the same price, the king was moved, and bought the remaining books for the three hundred pieces of gold: and the number of these books was afterwards increased, after the rebuilding of the Capitol; because they were collected from all cities of Italy and Greece, and especially from those of Erythræa, and were brought to Rome, under the name of whatever Sibyl they were. Further, that the eighth was from the Hellespont, born in the Trojan territory, in the village of Marpessus, about the town of Gergithus; and Heraclides of Pontus writes that she lived in the times of Solon and Cyrus;—the ninth of Phrygia, who gave oracles at Ancyra;—the tenth of Tibur, by name Albunea, who is worshipped at Tibur as a goddess, near the banks of the river Anio, in the depths of which her statue is said to have been found, holding in her hand a book. The senate transferred her oracles into the Capitol.
The predictions of all these Sibyls 40 are both brought forward and esteemed as such, except those of the Cumæan Sibyl, whose books are concealed by the Romans; nor do they consider it lawful for them to be inspected by any one but the Quindecemviri. And there are separate books the production of each, but because these are inscribed with the name of the Sibyl they are believed to be the work of one; and they are confused, nor can the productions of each be distinguished and assigned to their own authors, except in the case of the Erythræan Sibyl, for she both inserted her own true name in her verse, and predicted that she would be called Erythræan, though she was born at Babylon. But we also shall speak of the Sibyl without any distinction, wherever we shall have occasion to use their testimonies. All these Sibyls, then, proclaim one God, and especially the Erythræan, who is regarded among the others as more celebrated and noble; since Fenestella, a most diligent writer, speaking of the Quindecemviri, says that, after the rebuilding of the Capitol, Caius Curio the consul proposed to the senate that ambassadors should be sent to Erythræ to search out and bring to Rome the writings of the Sibyl; and that, accordingly, Publius Gabinius, Marcus Otacilius, and Lucius Valerius were sent, who conveyed to Rome about a thousand verses written out by private persons. We have shown before that Varro made the same statement. Now in these verses which the ambassadors brought to Rome, are these testimonies respecting the one God:—1. “One God, who is alone, most mighty, uncreated.”
This is the only supreme God, who made the heaven, and decked it with lights.2. “But there is one only God of pre-eminent power, who made the heaven, and sun, and stars, and moon, and fruitful earth, and waves of the water of the sea.”
And since He alone is the framer of the universe, and the artificer of all things of which it consists or which are contained in it, it testifies that He alone ought to be worshipped:—3. “Worship Him who is alone the ruler of the world, who alone was and is from age to age.”
Also another Sibyl, whoever she is, when she said that she conveyed the voice of God to men, thus spoke:—4. “I am the one only God, and there is no other God.”
I would now follow up the testimonies of the others, were it not that these are sufficient, and that I reserve others for more befitting opportunities. But since we are defending the cause of truth before those who err from the truth and serve false religions, what kind of proof ought we to bring forward 41 against them, rather than to refute them by the testimonies of their own gods? p. 17
[See vol. i. p. 289 note 2, this series.]15:38
The Quindecemviri were the fifteen men to whom the care of the Sibylline books was entrusted. At first two (Duumviri) were appointed. The number was afterwards increased to ten, and subsequently to fifteen. It appears probable that this last change was made by Sulla.15:39
[i.e., Counsel of God. See p. 14 supra, and 16 infra.]16:40
[Concerning the Sibyls, see also, fully, Lardner, Credib., ii. 258, 334, etc. On the use here and elsewhere made of them by our author, Ibid., p. 343, and iii. 544; also pp. 14 and 15, supra.]16:41
[Vol. ii. cap. 28, p. 143.]
Next: Chap. VII.—Concerning the testimonies of Apollo and the gods
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