Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XXIII.—Of the anger of God and the punishment of sins, and a recital of the verses of the Sibyls respecting it; and, moreover, a reproof and exhortation
Chap. XXIII.—Of the Anger of God and the Punishment of Sins, and a Recital of the Verses of the Sibyls Respecting It; And, Moreover, a Reproof and Exhortation.
But because it is related by most learned men that there have been many Sibyls, the testimony of one may not be sufficient to confirm the truth, as we purpose to do. The volumes, indeed, of the Cumæan Sibyl, in which are written the fates of the Romans are kept secret; but the writings of all the others are, for the most part, not prohibited from being in common use. And of these another, denouncing the anger of God against all nations on account of the impiety of men, thus began:—“Since great anger is coming upon a disobedient world, I disclose the commands of God to the last age, prophesying to all men from city to city.”
Another Sibyl also said, that the deluge was caused by the indignation of God against the unrighteous in a former age, that the wickedness of the human race might be extinguished:—“From the time when, the God of heaven being enraged against the cities themselves and all men, a deluge having burst forth, the sea covered the earth.”
In like manner she foretold a conflagration about to take place hereafter, in which the impiety of men should again be destroyed:—“ And at some time, God no longer soothing His anger, but increasing it, and destroying the race of men, and laying waste the whole of it by fire.”
From which mention is thus made concerning Jupiter by Ovid: 1787 —“He remembers also that it is fated that the time shall come in which the sea, the earth, and the palace of heaven, being caught by fire, shall be burnt, and the curiously wrought framework of the world 1788 be in danger.”
And this must come to pass at the time when the honour and worship of the Supreme shall have perished among men. The same Sibyl, however, testifying that He was appeased by reformation 1789 of conduct and self-improvement, added these things :—“But, ye mortals, in pity 1790 turn yourselves now, and do not lead the great God to every kind of anger.”
And also a little later:—“He will not destroy, but will again restrain His anger, if you all practice valuable piety in your minds.”
Then another Sibyl declares that the Father of heavenly and earthly things ought to be loved, lest His indignation should arise, to the destruction of men:—“Lest by chance the immortal God should be angry, and destroy the whole race of men, their life and shameless race, it is befitting that we love the wise, ever-living God the Father.”
p. 279 From these things it is evident that the arguments of the philosophers are vain, who imagine that God is without anger, and among His other praises reckon that which is most useless, detracting from Him that which is most salutary for human affairs, by which majesty itself exists. For this earthly kingdom and government, unless guarded by fear, is broken down. Take away anger from a king, and he will not only cease to be obeyed, but he will even be cast down headlong from his height. Yea, rather take away this affection from any person of low degree, and who will not plunder him? Who will not deride him? Who will not treat him with injury? Thus he will be able to have neither clothing, nor an abode, nor food, since others will deprive him of whatever he has; much less can we suppose that the majesty of the heavenly government can exist without anger and fear. The Milesian Apollo being consulted concerning the religion of the Jews, inserted these things in his answer:—“God, the King and Father of all, before whom the earth trembles, and the heaven and sea, and whom the recesses of Tartarus and the demons dread.”
If He is so mild, as the philosophers will have it, how is it that not only the demons and ministers of such great power, but even the heaven and earth, and the whole system of the universe, tremble at His presence? For if no one submits to the service of another except by compulsion, it follows that all government exists by fear, and fear by anger. For if any one is not aroused against one who is unwilling to obey, it will not be possible for him to be compelled to obedience. Let any one consult his own feelings; he will at once understand that no one can be subdued to the command of another without anger and chastisement. Therefore, where there shall be no anger, there will be no authority. But God has authority; therefore also He must have anger, in which authority consists. Therefore let no one, induced by the empty prating 1791 of the philosophers, train himself to the contempt of God, which is the greatest impiety. We all are bound both to love Him, because He is our Father; and to reverence Him, because He is our Lord: both to pay Him honour, because He is bounteous; and to fear Him, because He is severe: each character in Him is worthy of reverence. 1792 Who can preserve his piety, and yet fail to love the parent of his life? or who can with impunity despise Him who, as ruler of all things, has true and everlasting power over all? If you consider Him in the character of Father, He supplies to us our entrance to the light which we enjoy: through Him we live, through Him we have entered into the abode 1793 of this world. If you contemplate Him as God, it is He who nourishes us with innumerable resources: it is He who sustains us, we dwell in His house, we are His household; 1794 and if we are less obedient than was befitting, and less attentive to our duty 1795 than the endless merits of our Master and Parent demanded: nevertheless it is, of great avail to our obtaining pardon, if we retain the worship and knowledge of Him; if, laying aside low and earthly affairs and goods, we meditate upon heavenly and divine things which are everlasting. And that we may be able to do this, God must be followed by us, God must be adored and loved; since there is in Him the substance 1796 of things, the principle 1797 of the virtues, and the source of all that is good.
For what is greater in power than God, or more perfect in reason, or brighter in clearness? And since He begat us to wisdom, and produced us to righteousness, it is not allowable for man to forsake God, who is the giver of intelligence and life and to serve earthly and frail things, or, intent upon seeking temporal goods, to turn aside from innocence and piety. Vicious and deadly pleasures do not render a man happy; nor does opulence, which is the inciter of lusts; nor empty ambition; nor frail honours, by which the human soul, being ensnared and enslaved to the body, is condemned 1798 to eternal death: but innocence and righteousness alone, the lawful and due reward of which is immortality, which God from the beginning appointed for holy and uncorrupted minds, which keep themselves pure and uncontaminated from vices, and from every earthly impurity. Of this heavenly and eternal reward they cannot be partakers, who have polluted their conscience by deeds of violence, frauds, rapine, and deceits; and who, by injuries inflicted upon men, by impious actions, have branded themselves 1799 with indelible stains. Accordingly it is befitting that all who wish deservedly to be called wise, who wish to be called men, should despise frail things, should trample upon earthly things, and should look down upon base 1800 things, that they may be able to be united in a most blissful relationship with God.
Let impiety and discords be removed; let turbulent and deadly dissensions be allayed, 1801 by which human societies and the divine union of the public league are broken in upon, divided, and dispersed; as far as we can, let us aim at p. 280 being good and bounteous: if we have a supply of wealth and resources, let it not be devoted to the pleasure of a single person, but bestowed on the welfare of many. For pleasure is as short lived as the body to which it does service. But justice and kindness are as immortal as the mind and soul, which by good works attain to the likeness of God. Let God be consecrated by us, not in temples, but in our heart. All things which are made by the hand are destructible. 1802 Let us cleanse this temple, which is defiled not by smoke or dust, but by evil thoughts which is lighted not by blazing tapers 1803 but by the brightness and light of wisdom. And if we believe that God is always present in this temple, to whose divinity the secrets of the heart are open, we shall so live as always to have Him propitious, and never to fear His anger.
Note by the American Editor.
It is worth while to direct attention to (book vi. cap. 2) what our author has said of “true worship,” just now, when the most violent and persistent efforts are made to sensualize Christian worship, and to explain away the testimony of the Ante-Nicene Fathers on this important subject. The argument of our author, in its entire drift, is as applicable to our own times as to his; and, deeply as I value beauty in the public worship of God, I cannot, as a Nicene Catholic, do less than adopt the universal sentiment of the early Fathers as to the limits of decoration.
Metam., i. 256.278:1788
Moles operose laboret.278:1789
ἐλέει. Others read, ὦ μέλευι “O wretched.”279:1791
Hospitium, i.e., a place of hospitality.279:1794
Familia, “a household of slaves.”279:1795
Officiosa, i.e., familia.279:1796
Æterna morte damnatur.279:1799
Ineluibiles sibi maculas inusserunt.279:1800
Sopiantur, i.e., be lulled to sleep.280:1802
Destructilia. The word is used by Prudentius.280:1803
[See p. 163, supra. See note below.]
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