Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. VIII.—Of the parts of man: the eyes and ears
Chap. VIII.—Of the Parts of Man: the Eyes and Ears.
Now I will show the plan of the whole man, and will explain the uses and habits of the several members which are exposed to view in the body, or concealed. When, therefore, God had determined of all the animals to make man alone heavenly, and all the rest earthly, He p. 289 raised him erect 1848 to the contemplation of the heaven, and made him a biped, doubtless that he might look to the same quarter from which he derives his origin; but He depressed the others to the earth, that, inasmuch as they have no expectation of immortality, being cast down with their whole body to the ground, they might be subservient to their appetite and food. And thus the right reason and elevated position of man alone, and his countenance, shared with and closely resembling God his Father, bespeak his origin and Maker. 1849 His mind, nearly divine, because it has obtained the rule not only over the animals which are on the earth, but even over his own body, being situated in the highest part, the head, as in a lofty citadel, looks out upon and observes all things. He formed this its palace, not drawn out and extended, as in the case of the dumb animals, but like an orb and a globe, because all 1850 roundness belongs to a perfect plan and figure. Therefore the mind and that divine fire is covered with it, 1851 as with a vault; 1852 and when He had covered its highest top with a natural garment, He alike furnished and adorned the front part which is called the face, with the necessary services of the members.
And first, He closed the orbs of the eyes with concave apertures, from which boring 1853 Varro thought that the forehead 1854 derived its name; and He would have these to be neither less nor more than two, because no number is more perfect as to appearance than that of two: as also He made the ears two, the doubleness 1855 of which bears with it an incredible degree of beauty, both because each part is adorned with a resemblance, and that voices coming from both sides 1856 may more easily be collected. For the form itself is fashioned after a wonderful manner: because He would not have their apertures to be naked and uncovered, which would have been less becoming and less useful; since the voice might fly beyond the narrow space of simple caverns, and be scattered, did not the apertures themselves confine it, received through hollow windings and kept back from reverberation, like those small vessels, by the application of which narrow-mouthed vessels are accustomed to be filled.
These ears, then, which have their name from the drinking 1857 in of voices, from which Virgil says, 1858“And with these ears I drank in his voice;”
or because the Greeks call the voice itself αὐδήν, from hearing,—the ears (aures) were named as though audes by the change of a letter,—God would not form of soft skins, which, hanging down and flaccid, might take away beauty; nor of hard and solid bones, lest, being stiff and immoveable, they should be inconvenient for use. But He designed that which might be between these, that a softer cartilage might bind them, and that they might have at once a befitting and flexible firmness. In these the office of bearing only is placed, as that of seeing is in the eyes, the acuteness of which is especially inexplicable and wonderful; for He covered their orbs, presenting the similitude of gems in that part with which they had to see, with transparent membranes, that the images of objects placed opposite them, being refracted 1859 as in a mirror, might penetrate to the innermost perception. Through these membranes, therefore, that faculty which is called the mind sees those things which are without; lest you should happen to think that we see either by the striking 1860 of the images, as the philosophers discuss, since the office of seeing ought to be in that which sees, not in that which is seen; or in the tension of the air together with the eyesight; or in the outpouring of the rays: since, if it were so, we should see the ray towards which we turn with our eyes, until the air, being extended together with the eyesight, or the rays being poured out, should arrive at the object which was to be seen.
But since we see at the same moment of time, and for the most part, while engaged on other business, we nevertheless behold all things which are placed opposite to us, it is more true and evident that it is the mind which, through the eyes, sees those things which are placed opposite to it, as though through windows covered with pellucid crystal or transparent stone; 1861 and therefore the mind and inclination are often known from the eyes. For the refutation of which Lucretius 1862 employed a very senseless argument. For if the mind, he says, sees through the eye, it would see better if the eyes were torn out and dug up, inasmuch as doors being torn up together with the door-posts let in more light than if they were covered. Truly his eyes, or rather those of Epicurus who taught him, ought to have been dug out, that they might not see, that the torn-out orbs, and the burst fibres of the eyes, and the blood flowing through the veins, and the flesh increasing from wounds, and the scars drawn over at last can admit no light; unless by chance he would have it that eyes are produced resembling ears, so that we should see p. 290 not so much with eyes as with apertures, than which there can be nothing more unsightly or more useless. For how little should we be able to see, if from the innermost recesses of the head the mind should pay attention through slight fissures of caverns; as, if any one should wish to look through a stalk of hemlock, he would see no more than the capability of the stalk itself admitted! For sight, therefore, it was rather needful that the members should be collected together into an orb, that the sight might be spread in breadth and the parts which adjoined them in the front of the face, that they might freely behold all things. Therefore the unspeakable power of the divine providence made two orbs most resembling each other, and so bound them together that they might be able not only to be altogether turned, but to be moved and directed with moderation. 1863 And He willed that the orbs themselves should be full of a pure and clear moisture, in the middle part of which sparks of lights might be kept shut up, which we call the pupils, in which, being pure and delicate, are contained the faculty and method of seeing. The mind therefore directs itself through these orbs that it may see, and the sight of both the eyes is mingled and joined together in a wonderful manner.
[An amusing persistency in the enforcement of this idea.]289:1850
Omnis. Others read “orbis.”289:1851
i.e., the head.289:1852
Cœlo. Some believed that the soul was of fire.289:1853
Foratu, “the process of boring;” foramen, “the aperture thus made.”289:1854
Hauriendis, from which “aures” is said to be formed.289:1858
Æneid, iv. 359. [The English verb bother (= both ear) is an amusing comment on the adaptation of ears to unwelcome voices.]289:1859
According to some, “talc.”289:1862
Cum modo: “in a measured degree.”
Next: Chap. IX.—Of the senses and their power
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