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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:
Lactantius: Chap. XIV.—Of the fortitude of the Christians

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chap. XIV.—Of the Fortitude of the Christians.

But this is true virtue, which the vaunting philosophers also boast of, not in deed, but with empty words, saying that nothing is so befitting the gravity and constancy of a wise man as to be able to be driven away from his sentiment and purpose by no torturers, but that it is worth his while 1020 to suffer torture and death rather than betray a trust or depart from his duty, or, overcome by fear of death or severity of pain, commit any injustice. Unless by chance Flaccus appears to them to rave in his lyrics, when he says,  

“Not the rage of the million commanding things evil;
Not the doom frowning near in the brows of the tyrant,
Shakes the upright and resolute man
In his solid completeness of soul.” 1021

And nothing can be more true than this, if it is referred to those who refuse no tortures, no kind of death, that they may not turn aside from faith and justice; who do not tremble at the commands of tyrants nor the swords of rulers, 1022 so as not to maintain true and solid liberty with constancy of mind, which wisdom is to be observed in this alone. For who is so arrogant, who so lifted up, as to forbid me to raise my eyes to heaven? Who can impose upon me the necessity either of worshipping that which I am unwilling to worship, or of abstaining from the worship of that which I wish to worship? What further will now be left to us, if even this, which must be done of one’s own will, 1023 shall be extorted from me by the caprice of another? No one will effect this, if we have any courage to despise death and pain. But if we possess this constancy, why are we judged foolish when we do those things which philosophers praise? Seneca, in charging men with inconsistency, rightly says the highest virtue appears to them to consist in greatness of spirit; and yet the same persons regard him who despises death as a madman, which is plainly a mark of the greatest perverseness. But those followers of vain p. 150 religions urge this with the same folly with which they fail to understand the true God; and these the Erythræan Sibyl calls “deaf and senseless,” 1024 since they neither hear nor perceive divine things, but fear and adore an earthen image moulded by their own fingers.  


Footnotes

149:1020

Tanti est…ne.  

149:1021

Horat., Carm., iii. 3, Lord Lytton’s translation.  

149:1022

i.e., of provinces.  

149:1023

Voluntate.  

150:1024

κωφοὺς καὶ ἀνοήτους.  


Next: Chap. XV.—Of folly, wisdom, piety, equity, and justice

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