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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:
Lactantius: Chap. XXVI.—It is divine instruction only which bestows wisdom; and of what efficacy the law of God is

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chap. XXVI.—It is Divine Instruction Only Which Bestows Wisdom; And of What Efficacy the Law of God is.

That, therefore, which they perceived to be justly required by the demands of nature, but which they were themselves unable to perform, and saw that the philosophers could not effect, is accomplished only by divine instruction; for that only is wisdom. Doubtless they were able to persuade any one who do not even persuade themselves of anything; or they will crush the desires, moderate the anger, and restrain the lusts of any one, when they themselves both yield to vices, and acknowledge that they are overpowered by nature. But what influence is exerted on the souls of men by the precepts of God, because of their simplicity and truth, is shown by daily proofs. Give me a man who is passionate, scurrilous, and unrestrained; with a very few words of God,  

“I will render him as gentle as a sheep.” 476

Give me one who is grasping, covetous, and tenacious; I will presently restore him to you liberal, and freely bestowing his money with full hands. Give me a man who is afraid of pain and death; he shall presently despise crosses, and fires, and the bull of Phalaris. 477 Give me one who is lustful, an adulterer, a glutton; you shall presently see him sober, chaste, and temperate. Give me one who is cruel and bloodthirsty: that fury shall presently be changed into true clemency. Give me a man who is unjust, foolish, an evil-doer; forthwith he shall be just, and wise, and innocent: for by one laver 478 all his wickedness shall be taken away. So great is the power of divine wisdom, that, when infused into the breast of man, by one impulse it once for all expels folly, which is the mother of faults, for the effecting of which there is no need of payment, or books, or nightly studies. These results are accomplished gratuitously, easily, and quickly, if only the ears are open and the breast thirsts for wisdom. Let no one fear: we do not sell water, nor offer the sun for a reward. The fountain of God, most abundant and most full, is open to all; and this heavenly light rises for all, 479 as many as have eyes. Did any of the philosophers effect these things, or is he able to effect them if he wishes? For though they spend their lives in the study of philosophy, they are neither able to improve any other person nor themselves (if nature has presented any obstacle). Therefore their wisdom, doing its utmost, does not eradicate, but hide vices. But a few precepts of God so entirely change the whole man, and having put off the old man, render him new, that you would not recognise him as the same.  



Terence, Adelphi, iv. 1.  


Perillus invented the brazen bull, which the tyrant Phalaris used as an instrument of torture. It was so constructed that the groans of the victims appeared to resemble the bellowing of the bull.  


The baptismal font. [i.e., as signifying Zech. xiii. 1.]  


See John i. 9.  

Next: Chap. XXVII.—How little the precepts of philosophers contribute to true wisdom, which you will find in religion only

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