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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:
Lactantius: Chap. XIX.—Of the affections and their use; and of the three furies

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chap. XIX.—Of the Affections and Their Use; And of the Three Furies.

When the Stoics attempt to uproot the affections from man as diseases, they are opposed by the Peripatetics, who not only retain, but also defend them, and say that there is nothing in man which is not produced in him with great reason and foresight. They say this indeed rightly, if they know the true limits of each subject. Accordingly they say that this very affection of anger is the whetstone of virtue, as though no one could fight bravely against enemies unless he were excited by anger; by which they plainly show that they neither know what virtue is, nor why God gave anger to man. And if this was given to us for this purpose, that we may employ it for the slaying of men, what is to be thought more savage than man, what more resembling the wild beasts, than that animal which God formed for communion and innocence? There are, then, three affections which drive men headlong to all crimes: (1) anger, (2) desire, and (3) lust. 1222 On which account the poets have said that there are three furies which harass the minds of men: anger longs for revenge, desire for riches, lust for pleasures. But God has appointed fixed limits to all of these; and if they pass these limits and begin to be too great, they must necessarily pervert their nature, and be changed into diseases and vices. And it is a matter of no great labour to show what these limits are. 1223 Cupidity 1224 is given us for providing those things which are necessary for life; concupiscence, 1225 for the procreation of offspring; the affection of indignation, 1226 for restraining the faults of those who are in our power, that is, in order that tender age may be formed by a severer discipline to integrity and justice: for if this time of life is not restrained by fear, 1227 licence will produce boldness, and this will break out into every disgraceful and daring action. Therefore, as it is both just and necessary to employ anger towards the young, so it is both pernicious and impious to use it towards those of our own age. It is impious, because humanity is injured; pernicious, because if they oppose, it is necessary either to destroy them or to perish. But that this which I have spoken of is the reason why the affection of anger has been given to man, may be understood from the precepts of God Himself, who commands that we should not be angry with those who revile and injure us, but that we should always have our hands over the young; that is, that when they err, we should correct them with continual stripes, 1228 lest by useless love and excessive indulgence they should be trained to evil and nourished to vices. But those who are inexperienced in affairs and ignorant of reason, have expelled those affections which have been given to man for good uses, and they wander more widely than reason demands. p. 186 From this cause they live unjustly and impiously. They employ anger against their equals in age: hence disagreements, hence banishments, hence wars have arisen contrary to justice. They use desire for the amassing of riches: hence frauds, hence robberies, hence all kinds of crimes have originated. They use lust only for the enjoyment of pleasures: hence debaucheries, hence adulteries, hence all corruptions have proceeded. Whoever, therefore, has reduced those affections within their proper limits, which they who are ignorant of God cannot do, he is patient, he is brave, he is just. 1229  


Footnotes

185:1222

[Rather, indignation, cupidity, and concupiscence, answering to our author’s “ira, cupiditas, libido.” The difference involved in this choice of words, I shall have occasion to point out.]  

185:1223

[Here he treats the “three furies” as not in themselves vices, but implanted for good purposes, and becoming “diseases” only when they pass the limits he now defines. Hence, while indignation is virtuous anger, it is not a disease; cupidity, while amounting to honest thrift, is not evil; and concupiscence, until it becomes “evil concupiscence” (επιθυμίαν κακὴν, Col. iii. 5), is but natural appetite, working to good ends.]  

185:1224

Desire. [See note 6, supra.]  

185:1225

Lust.  

185:1226

Anger.  

185:1227

[Quæ, nisi in metu cohibetur.]  

185:1228

[Assiduis verberibus. This might be rendered “careful punishments.”]  

186:1229

[Quod ignorantes Deum facere non possunt. In a later age Lactantius might have been charged with Semi-Pelagianism, many of his expressions about human nature being unstudied. But I note this passage, as, like many others, proving that he recognizes the need of divine grace.]  


Next: Chap. XX.—Of the senses, and their pleasures in the brutes and in man; and of pleasures of the eyes, and spectacles

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