Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. III.—Of the truth of the Christian doctrine, and the vanity of its adversaries; and that Christ was not a magician
Chap. III.—Of the Truth of the Christian Doctrine, and the Vanity of Its Adversaries; And that Christ Was Not a Magician.
The desire of inventing, 938 therefore, and craftiness were absent from these men, since they were unskilful. Or what unlearned man could invent things adapted to one another, and coherent, when the most learned of the philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, and Epicurus and Zeno, themselves spoke things at variance with one another, and contrary? For this is the nature of falsehoods, that they cannot be coherent. But their teaching, because it is true, everywhere agrees, 939 and is altogether consistent with itself; and on this account it effects persuasion, because it is based on a consistent plan. They did not therefore devise that religion for the sake of gain and advantage, inasmuch as both by their precepts and in reality they followed that course of life which is without pleasures, and despised all things which are reckoned among good things, and since they not only endured death for their faith, but also both knew and foretold that they were about to die, and afterwards that all who followed their system would suffer cruel and impious things. But he 940 affirmed that Christ Himself was put to flight by the Jews, and having collected a band of nine hundred men, committed robberies. Who would venture to oppose so great an authority? We must certainly believe this, for perchance some Apollo announced it to him in his slumbers. So many robbers have at all times perished, and do perish daily, and you yourself have certainly condemned many: which of them after his crucifixion was called, I will not say a God, but a man? But you perchance believed it from the circumstance of your having consecrated the homicide Mars as a god, though you would not have done this if the Areopagites had crucified him.
The same man, when he endeavoured to overthrow his wonderful deeds, and did not however deny them, wished to show that Apollonius 941 performed equal or even greater deeds. It is strange that he omitted to mention Apuleius, 942 of whom many and wonderful things are accustomed to be related. Why therefore, O senseless one, does no one worship Apollonius in the place of God? unless by chance you alone do so, who are worthy forsooth of that god, with whom the true God will punish you everlastingly. If Christ is a magician because He performed wonderful deeds, it is plain that Apollonius, who, according to your description, when Domitian wished to punish him, suddenly disappeared on his trial, was more skilful than He who was both arrested and crucified. But perhaps he wished from this very thing to prove the arrogance of Christ, in that He made Himself God, that the other may appear to have been more modest, who, though he performed greater actions, as this one thinks, nevertheless did not claim that for himself. I omit at present to compare the works themselves, because in the second and preceding book I have spoken respecting the fraud and tricks of the magic art. I say that there is no one who would not wish that that should especially befall him after death which even the greatest kings desire. For why do men prepare for themselves magnificent sepulchres why statues and images? why by some illustrious deeds, or even by death undergone in behalf of their countrymen, do they endeavour p. 139 to deserve the good opinions of men? Why, in short, have you yourself wished to raise a monument of your talent, built with this detestable folly, as if with mud, except that you hope for immortality from the remembrance of your name? It is foolish, therefore, to imagine that Apollonius did not desire that which he would plainly wish for if he were able to attain to it; because there is no one who refuses immortality, and especially when you say that he was both adored by some as a god, and that his image was set up under the name of Hercules, the averter of evil, and is even now honoured by the Ephesians.
He could not therefore after death be believed to be a god, because it was evident that he was both a man and a magician; and for this reason he affected 943 divinity under the title of a name belonging to another, for in his own name he was unable to attain it, nor did he venture to make the attempt. But he of whom we speak 944 could both be believed to be a god, because he was not a magician, and was believed to be such because he was so in truth. I do not say this, he says, that Apollonius was not accounted a god, because he did not wish it, but that it may be evident that we, who did not at once connect a belief in his divinity with wonderful deeds, are wiser than you, who on account of slight wonders believed that he was a god. It is not wonderful if you, who are far removed from the wisdom of God, understand nothing at all of those things which you have read, since the Jews, who from the beginning had frequently read the prophets, and to whom the mystery 945 of God had been assigned, were nevertheless ignorant of what they read. Learn, therefore, if you have any sense, that Christ was not believed by us to be God on this account, because He did wonderful things, but because we saw that all things were done in His case which were announced to us by the prediction of the prophets. He performed wonderful deeds: we might have supposed Him to be a magician, as you now suppose Him to be, and the Jews then supposed Him, if all the prophets did not with one accord 946 proclaim that Christ would do those very things. Therefore we believe Him to be God, not more from His wonderful deeds and works, than from that very cross which you as dogs lick, since that also was predicted at the same time. It was not therefore on His own testimony (for who can be believed when he speaks concerning himself?), but on the testimony of the prophets who long before foretold all things which He did and suffered, that He gained a belief in His divinity, which could have happened neither to Apollonius, 947 nor to Apuleius, nor to any of the magicians; nor can it happen at any time. When, therefore, he had poured forth such absurd ravings 948 of his ignorance, when he had eagerly endeavoured utterly to destroy the truth, he dared to give to his books which were impious and the enemies of God the title of “truth-loving.” O blind breast! O mind more black than Cimmerian darkness, as they say! He may perhaps have been a disciple of Anaxagoras, 949 to whom snows were as black as ink. But it is the same blindness, to give the name of falsehood to truth, and of truth to falsehood. Doubtless the crafty man wished to conceal the wolf under the skin of a sheep, 950 that he might ensnare the reader by a deceitful title. Let it be true; grant that you did this from ignorance, not from malice: what truth, however, have you brought to us, except that, being a defender of the gods, you had at last betrayed those very gods? For, having set forth the praises of the Supreme God, whom you confessed to be king, most mighty, the maker of all things, the fountain of honours, the parent of all, the creator and preserver of all living creatures, you took away the kingdom from your own Jupiter; and when you had driven him from the supreme power, you reduced him to the rank of servants. Thus your own conclusion 951 convicts you of folly, vanity, and error. For you affirm that the gods exist, and yet you subject and enslave them to that God whose religion you attempt to overturn.
Hierocles, referred to in chapter 2.138:941
Apollonius, a celebrated Pythagorean philosopher of Tyana: his works and doctrines are recorded by Philostratus, from whom Lactantius appears to have derived his account. The pagans compared his life and actions with those of Christ. [See Origen, vol. iv. p. 591, this series.]138:942
Apuleius, a native of Madaura, a city on the borders of the province of Africa, he professed the Platonic philosophy. He was reputed a magician by the Christian writers. [Author of The Golden Ass, a most entertaining but often indecent satire, which may have inspired Cervantes, and concerning which see Warburton, Div. Legat., vol. ii. p. 177 (et alibi), ed. London, 1811.]139:943
With one spirit, “uno spiritu.”139:947
[But Apollonius was set up as an Antichrist by Philostratus as Cudworth supposes, and so other men of learning. But no student should overlook l.ardners valuable commentary on this character, and his quotations from Bishop Parker of Oxford, Credib., vol. vii. p. 486, and also p. 508, cap. 29, and appendix.]139:948
See book ii. ch. 23.139:950
Cf. Matt. vii. 15.139:951
Next: Chap. IV.—Why this work was published, and again of Tertullian and Cyprian
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