Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. VII.—Concerning the testimonies of Apollo and the gods
chap. VII.—Concerning the testimonies of apollo and the gods.
Apollo, indeed, whom they think divine above all others, and especially prophetic, giving responses at Colophon,—I suppose because, induced by the pleasantness of Asia, he had removed from Delphi,—to some one who asked who He was, or what God was at all, replied in twenty-one verses, of which this is the beginning:—“Self-produced, untaught, without a mother, unshaken,
A name not even to be comprised in word, dwelling in fire,
This is God; and we His messengers are a slight portion of God.”
Can any one suspect that this is spoken of Jupiter, who had both a mother and a name? Why should I say that Mercury, that thrice greatest, of whom I have made mention above, not only speaks of God as “without a mother,” as Apollo does, but also as “without a father,” because He has no origin from any other source but Himself? For He cannot be produced from any one, who Himself produced all things. I have, as I think, sufficiently taught by arguments, and confirmed by witnesses, that which is sufficiently plain by itself, that there is one only King of the universe, one Father, one God.
But perchance some one may ask of us the same question which Hortensius asks in Cicero: If God is one only, 42 what solitude can be happy? As though we, in asserting that He is one, say that He is desolate and solitary. Undoubtedly He has ministers, whom we call messengers. And that is true, which I have before related, that Seneca said in his Exhortations that God produced ministers of His kingdom. But these are neither gods, nor do they wish to be called gods or to be worshipped, inasmuch as they do nothing but execute the command and will of God. Nor, however, are they gods who are worshipped in common, whose number is small and fixed. But if the worshippers of the gods think that they worship those beings whom we call the ministers of the Supreme God, there is no reason why they should envy us who say that there is one God, and deny that there are many. If a multitude of gods delights them, we do not speak of twelve, or three hundred and sixty-five as Orpheus did; but we convict them of innumerable errors on the other side, in thinking that they are so few. Let them know, however, by what name they ought to be called, lest they do injury to the true God, whose name they set forth, while they assign it to more than one. Let them believe their own Apollo, who in that same response took away from the other gods their name, as he took away the dominion from Jupiter. For the third verse shows that the ministers of God ought not to be called gods, but angels. He spoke falsely respecting himself, indeed; for though he was of the number of demons, he reckoned himself among the angels of God, and then in other responses he confessed himself a demon. For when he was asked how he wished to be supplicated, he thus answered:—“O all-wise, all-learned, versed in many pursuits, hear, O demon.”
And so, again, when at the entreaty of some one he uttered an imprecation against the Sminthian Apollo, he began with this verse:—“O harmony of the world, bearing light, all-wise demon.”
What therefore remains, except that by his own confession he is subject to the scourge of the true God and to everlasting punishment? For in another response he also said:—“The demons who go about the earth and about the sea
Without weariness, are subdued beneath the scourge of God.”
We speak on the subject of both in the second book. In the meantime it is enough for us, that while he wishes to honour and place himself in heaven, he has confessed, as the nature of the matter is, in what manner they are to be named who always stand beside God.
Therefore let men withdraw themselves from errors; and laying aside corrupt superstitions, let them acknowledge their Father and Lord, whose excellence cannot be estimated, nor His greatness perceived, nor His beginning comprehended. When the earnest attention of the human mind and its acute sagacity and memory has reached Him, all ways being, as it were, summed up and exhausted, 43 it stops, it is at a loss, it fails; nor is there anything beyond to which it can proceed. But because that which exists must of necessity have had a beginning, it follows that since there was nothing before Him, He was produced from Himself before all things. Therefore He is called by Apollo “self-produced,” by the Sibyl “self-created,” “uncreated,” and “unmade.” And Seneca, an acute man, saw and expressed this in his Exhortations. “We,” he said, “are dependent upon another.” Therefore we look to some one to whom we owe that which is most excellent in us. Another brought us into being, another formed us; but God of His own power made Himself.
[1 John iv. 8. The Divine Triad “is Love.”]17:43
Subductis et consummatis.
Next: Chap. VIII.—That God is without a body, nor does he need difference of sex for procreation
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