Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. IV.—Of God and his affections, and the censure of Epicurus
Chap. IV.—Of God and His Affections, and the Censure of Epicurus.
That which follows is concerning the school of Epicurus; that as there is no anger in God, so indeed there is no kindness. For when Epicurus thought that it was inconsistent with God to injure and to inflict harm, which for the most part arises from the affection of anger, he took away from Him beneficence also, since he saw that it followed that if God has anger, He must also have kindness. Therefore, lest he should concede to Him a vice, he deprived Him also of virtue. 1641 From this, he says, He is happy and uncorrupted, because He cares about nothing, and neither takes trouble Himself nor occasions it to another. Therefore He is not God, if He p. 261 is neither moved, which is peculiar to a living being, nor does anything impossible for man, which is peculiar to God, if He has no will at all, no action, in short, no administration, which is worthy of God. And what greater, what more worthy administration can be attributed to God, than the government of the world, and especially of the human race, to which all earthly things are subject?
What happiness, then, can there be in God, if He is always inactive, being at rest and unmoveable? if He is deaf to those who pray to Him, and blind to His worshippers? What is so worthy of God, and so befitting to Him, as providence? But if He cares for nothing, and foresees nothing, He has lost all His divinity. What else does he say, who takes from God all power and all substance, except that there is no God at all? In short, Marcus Tullius relates that it was said by Posidonius, 1642 that Epicurus understood that there were no gods, but that he said those things which he spoke respecting the gods for the sake of driving away odium; and so that he leaves the gods in words, but takes them away in reality, since he gives them no motion, no office. But if this is so, what can be more deceitful than him? And this ought to be foreign to the character of a wise and weighty man. But if he understood one thing and spoke another, what else is he to be called than a deceiver, double-tongued, wicked, and moreover foolish? But Epicurus was not so crafty as to say those things with the desire of deceiving, when he consigned these things also by his writings to everlasting remembrance; but he erred through ignorance of the truth. For, being led from the beginning by the probability 1643 of a single opinion, he necessarily fell into those things which followed. For the first opinion was, that anger was not consistent with the character of God. And when this appeared to him to be true and unassailable, 1644 he was unable to refuse the consequences; because one affection being removed, necessity itself compelled him to remove from God the other affections also. Thus, he who is not subject to anger is plainly uninfluenced by kindness, which is the opposite feeling to anger. Now, if there is neither anger nor kindness in Him, it is manifest that there is neither fear, nor joy, nor grief, nor pity. For all the affections have one system, one motion, 1645 which cannot be the case with God. But if there is no affection in God, because whatever is subject to affections is weak, it follows that there is in Him neither the care of anything, nor providence.
The disputation of the wise man 1646 extends thus far: he was silent as to the other things which follow; namely, that because there is in Him neither care nor providence, therefore there is no reflection nor any perception in Him, by which it is effected that He has no existence at all. Thus, when he had gradually descended, he remained on the last step, because he now saw the precipice. But what does it avail to have remained silent, and concealed the danger? Necessity compelled him even against his will to fall. For he said that which he did not mean, because he so arranged his argument that he necessarily came to that point which he wished to avoid. You see, therefore, to what point he comes, when anger is removed and taken away from God. In short, either no one believes that, or a very few, and they the guilty and the wicked, who hope for impunity for their sins. But if this also is found to be false, that there is neither anger nor kindness in God, let us come to that which is put in the third place.
[Ne illi vitium concederet etiam virtutis fecit expertem.]261:1642
[Disciple of Panætius the Rhodian, a Stoic, third century B.C.]261:1643
Verisimilitudine, i.e., likeness of truth.261:1644
Epicurus: it seems to be spoken with some irony.
Next: Chap. V.—The opinion of the Stoics concerning God; of His anger and kindness
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