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Lactantius: Chap. V.—That God only, the creator of all things, is to be worshipped, and not the elements or heavenly bodies; and the opinion of the stoics is refuted, who think that the stars and planets are gods
Chap. v.—that god only, the creator of all things, is to be worshipped, and not the elements or heavenly bodies; and the opinion of the stoics is refuted, who think that the stars and planets are gods.
How much better, therefore, is it, leaving vain and insensible objects, to turn our eyes in that direction where is the seat and dwelling-place of the true God; who suspended the earth 156 on a firm foundation, who bespangled the heaven with shining stars; who lighted up the sun, the most bright and matchless light for the affairs of men, in proof of His own single majesty; who girded the earth with seas, and ordered the rivers to flow with perpetual course!“He also commanded the plains to extend themselves, the valleys to sink down, the woods to be covered with foliage, the stony mountains to rise.” 157
All these things truly were not the work of Jupiter, who was born seventeen hundred years ago; but of the same, “that framer of all things, the origin of a better world,” 158 who is called God, whose beginning cannot be comprehended, and ought not to be made the subject of inquiry. It is sufficient for man, to his full and perfect wisdom, if he understands the existence of God: the force and sum of which understanding is this, that he look up to and honour the common Parent of the human race, and the Maker of wonderful things. Whence some persons of dull and obtuse mind adore as gods the elements, which are both created objects and are void of sensibility; who, when they admired the works of God, that is, the heaven with its various lights, the earth with its plains and mountains, the seas with their rivers and lakes and fountains, struck with admiration of these things, and forgetting the Maker Himself, whom they were unable to see, began to adore and worship His works. Nor were they able at all to understand how much greater and more wonderful He is, who made these things out of nothing. And when they see that these things, in obedience to divine laws, by a perpetual necessity are subservient to the uses and interests of men, they nevertheless regard them as gods, being ungrateful towards the divine bounty, so that they preferred their own works to their most indulgent God and Father. But what wonder is it if uncivilized or ignorant men err, since even philosophers of the Stoic sect are of the same opinion, so as to judge that all the heavenly bodies which have motion are to be reckoned in the number of gods; inasmuch as the Stoic Lucilius thus speaks in Cicero: 159 “This regularity, therefore, in the stars, this great agreement of the times in such various courses during all eternity, are unintelligible to me with out the exercise of mind, reason, and design; and when we see these things in the constellations, we cannot but place these very objects in the number of the gods.” And he thus speaks a little before: “It remains,” he says, “that the motion of the stars is voluntary; and he who sees these things, would act not only unlearnedly, but also impiously, if he should deny it.” We in truth firmly deny it; and we prove that you, O philosophers, are not only unlearned and impious, but also blind, foolish, and senseless, who have surpassed in shallowness the ignorance of the uneducated. For they regard as gods only the sun and moon, but you the stars also.
Make known to us, therefore, the mysteries of the stars, that we may erect altars and temples to each; that we may know with what rites and on what day to worship each, with what names and with what prayers we should call on them; unless perhaps we ought to worship gods so innumerable without any discrimination, and gods so minute in a mass. Why should I mention that the argument by which they infer that all the heavenly bodies are gods, tends to the opposite conclusion? For if they imagine that they are gods on this account, because they have their courses fixed and in accordance with reason, p. 48 they are in error. For it is evident from this that they are not gods, because it is not permitted them to deviate 160 from their prescribed orbits. But if they were gods, they would be borne hither and thither in all directions without any necessity, as living creatures on the earth, who wander hither and thither as they please, because their wills are unrestrained, and each is borne wherever inclination may have led it. Therefore the motion of the stars is not voluntary, but of necessity, because they obey 161 the laws appointed for them. But when he was arguing about the courses of the stars, while he understood from the very harmony of things and times that they were not by chance, he judged that they were voluntary; as though they could not be moved with such order and arrangement, unless they contained within them an understanding acquainted with its own duty. Oh, how difficult is truth to those who are ignorant of it! how easy to those who know it! If, he says, the motions of the stars are not by chance, nothing else remains but that they are voluntary; nay, in truth, as it is plain that they are not by chance, so is it clear that they are not voluntary. Why, then, in completing their courses, do they preserve their regularity? Undoubtedly God, the framer of the universe, so arranged and contrived them, that they might run through their courses 162 in the heaven with a divine and wonderful order, to accomplish the variations of the successive seasons. Was Archimedes 163 of Sicily able to contrive a likeness and representation of the universe in hollow brass, in which he so arranged the sun and moon, that they effected, as it were every day, motions unequal and resembling the revolutions of the heavens, and that sphere, while it revolved, 164 exhibited not only the approaches and withdrawings of the sun, or the increase and waning of the moon, but also the unequal courses of the stars, whether fixed or wandering? Was it then impossible for God to plan and create the originals, 165 when the skill of man was able to represent them by imitation? Would the Stoic, therefore, if he should have seen the figures of the stars painted and fashioned in that brass, say that they moved by their own design, and not by the genius of the artificer? There is therefore in the stars design, adapted to the accomplishment of their courses; but it is the design of God, who both made and governs all things, not of the stars themselves, which are thus moved. For if it had been His will that the sun should remain 166 fixed, it is plain that there would be perpetual day. Also if the stars had no motions, who doubts that there would have been eternal night? But that there might be vicissitudes of day and night, it was His will that the stars should move, and move with such variety that there might not only be mutual interchanges of light and darkness, by which alternate courses 167 of labour and rest might be established, but also interchanges of cold and heat, that the power and influence of the different seasons might be adapted either to the production or the ripening of the crops. And because philosophers did not see this skill of the divine power in contriving the movements of the stars, they supposed them to be living, as though they moved with feet and of their own accord, and not by the divine intelligence. But who does not understand why God contrived them? Doubtless lest, as the light of the sun was withdrawn, a night of excessive darkness should become too oppressive with its foul and dreadful gloom, and should be injurious to the living. And so He both bespangled the heaven with wondrous variety, and tempered the darkness itself with many and minute lights. How much more wisely therefore does Naso judge, than they who think that they are devoting themselves to the pursuit of wisdom, in thinking that those lights were appointed by God to remove the gloom of darkness! He concludes the book, in which he briefly comprises the phenomena of nature, with these three verses:—“These images, so many in number, and of such a figure, God placed in the heaven; and having scattered them through the gloomy darkness, He ordered them to give a bright light to the frosty night.”
But if it is impossible that the stars should be gods, it follows that the sun and moon cannot be gods, since they differ from the light of the stars in magnitude only, and not in their design. And if these are not gods, the same is true of the heaven, which contains them all.
Ps. cxlviii. 6: “He hath established them for ever and ever.”47:157
Ovid, Metam., lib. i. [79. Jussit et extendi campos, etc.].47:158
Ovid, Metam., lib. i. [79. Jussit et extendi campos, etc.].47:159
[De Nat. Deor., ii. cap. 21.]48:160
Exorbitare, “to wander from their orbits.”48:161
Deserviunt, “they are devoted to.”48:162
Spatium; a word borrowed frown the chariot-course, and applied with great beauty to the motions of the stars.48:163
Archimedes was the greatest of ancient mathematicians, and possessed in an eminent degree inventive genius. He constructed various engines of war, and greatly assisted in the defence of Syracuse when it was besieged by the Romans. His most celebrated work, however, was the construction of a sphere, or “orrery,” representing the movements of the heavenly bodies. To this Lactantius refers.48:164
Illa vera. [Newton showed his orrery to Halley the atheist, who was charmed with the contrivance, and asked the name of the maker. “Nobody,” was the ad hominem retort.]48:166
Next: Chap. VI.—That neither the whole universe nor the elements are God, nor are they possessed of life
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