Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XV.—How they who were men obtained the name of gods
Chap. xv.—how they who were men obtained the name of gods.
Now, since it is evident from these things that they were men, it is not difficult to see in what manner they began to be called gods. 66 For if there were no kings before Saturn or Uranus, on account of the small number of men who lived a rustic life without any ruler, there is no doubt but in those times men began to exalt the king himself, and his whole family, with the highest praises and with new honours, so that they even called them gods; whether on account of their wonderful excellence, men as yet rude and simple really entertained this opinion, or, as is commonly the case, in flattery of present power, or on account of the benefits by which they were set in order and reduced to a civilized state. Afterwards the kings themselves, since they were beloved by those whose life they had civilized, after their death left regret of themselves. Therefore men formed images of them, that they might derive some consolation from the contemplation of their likenesses; and proceeding further through love of their worth, 67 they began to reverence the memory of the deceased, that p. 27 they might appear to be grateful for their services, and might attract their successors to a desire of ruling well. And this Cicero teaches in his treatise on the Nature of the Gods, saying “But the life of men and common intercourse led to the exalting to heaven by fame and goodwill men who were distinguished by their benefits. On this account Hercules, on this Castor and Pollux, Æsculapius and Liber” were ranked with the gods. And in another passage: “And in most states it may be understood, that for the sake of exciting valour, or that the men most distinguished for bravery might more readily encounter danger on account of the state, their memory was consecrated with the honour paid to the immortal gods.” It was doubtless on this account that the Romans consecrated their Cæsars, and the Moors their kings. Thus by degrees religious honours began to be paid to them; while those who had known them, first instructed their own children and grandchildren, and afterwards all their posterity, in the practice of this rite. And yet these great kings, on account of the celebrity of their name, were honoured in all provinces.
But separate people privately honoured the founders of their nation or city with the highest veneration, whether they were men distinguished for bravery, or women admirable for chastity; as the Egyptians honoured Isis, the Moors Juba, the Macedonians Cabirus, the Carthaginians Uranus, the Latins Faunus, the Sabines Sancus, the Romans Quirinus. In the same manner truly Athens worshipped Minerva, Samos Juno, Paphos Venus, Lemnos Vulcan, Naxos Liber, and Delos Apollo. And thus various sacred rites have been undertaken among different peoples and countries, inasmuch as men desire to show gratitude to their princes, and cannot find out other honours which they may confer upon the dead. Moreover, the piety of their successors contributed in a great degree to the error; for, in order that they might appear to be born from a divine origin, they paid divine honours to their parents, and ordered that they should be paid by others. Can any one doubt in what way the honours paid to the gods were instituted, when he reads in Virgil the words of Æneas giving commands to his friends: 68 —“Now with full cups libation pour
To mighty Jove, whom all adore,
Invoke Anchises blessed soul.”
And he attributes to him not only immortality, but also power over the winds: 69 —“Invoke the winds to speed our flight,
And pray that he we hold so dear
May take our offerings year by year,
Soon as our promised town we raise,
In temples sacred to his praise.”
In truth, Liber and Pan, and Mercury and Apollo, acted in the same way respecting Jupiter, and afterwards their successors did the same respecting them. The poets also added their influence, and by means of poems composed to give pleasure, raised them to the heaven; as is the case with those who flatter kings, even though wicked, with false panegyrics. And this evil originated with the Greeks, whose levity being furnished 70 with the ability and copiousness of speech, excited in an incredible degree mists of falsehoods. And thus from admiration of them they first undertook their sacred rites, and handed them down to all nations. On account of this vanity the Sibyl thus rebukes them:—“Why trustest thou, O Greece, to princely men?
Why to the dead dost offer empty gifts?
Thou offerest to idols; this error who suggested,
That thou shouldst leave the presence of the mighty God,
And make these offerings?”
Marcus Tullius, who was not only an accomplished orator, but also a philosopher, since he alone was an imitator of Plato, in that treatise in which he consoled himself concerning the death of his daughter, did not hesitate to say that those gods who were publicly worshipped were men. And this testimony of his ought to be esteemed the more weighty, because he held the priesthood of the augurs, and testifies that he worships and venerates the same gods. And thus within the compass of a few verses he has presented us with two facts. For while he declared his intention of consecrating the image of his daughter in the same manner in which they were consecrated by the ancients, he both taught that they were dead, and showed the origin of a vain superstition. “Since, in truth,” he says, “we see many men and women among the number of the gods, and venerate their shrines, held in the greatest honour in cities and in the country, let us assent to the wisdom of those to whose talents and inventions we owe it that life is altogether adorned with laws and institutions, and established on a firm basis. And if any living being was worthy of being consecrated, assuredly it was this. If the offspring of Cadmus, or Amphitryon, or Tyndarus, was worthy of being extolled by fame to the heaven, the same honour ought undoubtedly to be appropriated to her. And this indeed I will do; and with the approbation of the gods, I will place you the best and most learned of all women in their assembly, and will consecrate you to the estimation of all men.” Some one may perhaps say that Cicero raved through excessive grief. But, in truth, the whole of that speech, which was perfect both in learning and in its examples, and in the very style of expression, gave no indications of a p. 28 distempered mind, but of constancy and judgment; and this very sentence exhibits no sign of grief. For I do not think that he could have written with such variety, and copiousness, and ornament, had not his grief been mitigated by reason itself, and the consolation of his friends and length of time. Why should I mention what he says in his books concerning the Republic, and also concerning glory? For in his treatise on the Laws, in which work, following the example of Plato, he wished to set forth those laws which he thought that a just and wise state would employ, he thus decreed concerning religion: 71 “Let them reverence the gods, both those who have always been regarded as gods of heaven, and those whose services to men have placed them in heaven: Hercules, Liber, Æsculapius, Castor, Pollux, and Quirinus.” Also in his Tusculan Disputations, 72 when he said that heaven was almost entirely filled with the human race, he said: “If, indeed, I should attempt to investigate ancient accounts, and to extract from them those things which the writers of Greece have handed down, even those who are held in the highest rank as gods will be found to have gone from us into heaven. Inquire whose sepulchres are pointed out in Greece: remember, since you are initiated, what things are handed down in the mysteries; and then at length you will understand how widely this persuasion is spread.” He appealed, as it is plain, to the conscience of Atticus, that it might be understood from the very mysteries that all those who are worshipped were men; and when he acknowledged this without hesitation in the case of Hercules, Liber, Æsculapius, Castor and Pollux, he was afraid openly to make the same admission respecting Apollo and Jupiter their fathers, and likewise respecting Neptune, Vulcan, Mars, and Mercury, whom he termed the greater gods; and therefore he says that this opinion is widely spread, that we may understand the same concerning Jupiter and the other more ancient gods: for if the ancients consecrated their memory in the same manner in which he says that he will consecrate the image and the name of his daughter, those who mourn may be pardoned, but those who believe it cannot be pardoned. For who is so infatuated as to believe that heaven is opened to the dead at the consent and pleasure of a senseless multitude? Or that any one is able to give to another that which he himself does not possess? Among the Romans, Julius was made a god, because it pleased a guilty man, Antony; Quirinus was made a god, because it seemed good to the shepherds, though one of them was the murderer of his twin brother, the other the destroyer of his country. But if Antony had not been consul, in return for his services towards the state Caius Cæsar would have been without the honour even of a dead man, and that, too, by the advice of his father-in-law Piso, and of his relative Lucius Cæsar, who opposed the celebration of the funeral, and by the advice of Dolabella the consul, who overthrew the column in the forum, that is, his monuments, and purified the forum. For Ennius declares that Romulus was regretted by his people, since he represents the people as thus speaking, through grief for their lost king: “O Romulus, Romulus, say what a guardian of your country the gods produced you? You brought us forth within the regions of light. O father, O sire, O race, descended from the gods.” On account of this regret they more readily believed Julius Proculus uttering falsehoods, who was suborned by the fathers to announce to the populace that he had seen the king in a form more majestic than that of a man; and that he had given command to the people that a temple should be built to his honour, that he was a god, and was called by the name of Quirinus. By which deed he at once persuaded the people that Romulus had gone to the gods, and freed the senate from the suspicion of having slain the king.
[Vol. ii. cap. 28, p. 143, this series.]26:67
Per amorem meriti. Some editions omit “meriti.”27:68
Æneid, vii. 133.27:69
Ibid., v. 59.27:70
Instructa. [Vol. ii. cap. 18, p. 137, this series.]28:71
[De Legibus, ii. cap. 8.]28:72
[Liber i. capp. 12, 13.]
Next: Chap. XVI.—By what argument it is proved that those who are distinguished by a difference of sex cannot be gods
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