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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 3

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 3.—How There is No Reason Which Can Be Shown for the Selection of Certain Gods, When the Administration of More Exalted Offices is Assigned to Many Inferior Gods.

 What is the cause, therefore, which has driven so many select gods to these very small works, in which they are excelled by Vitumnus and Sentinus, though little known and sunk in obscurity, inasmuch as they confer the munificent gifts of life and sensation?  For the select Janus bestows an entrance, and, as it were, a door 252 for the seed; the select Saturn bestows the seed itself; the select Liber bestows on men the emission of the same seed; Libera, who is Ceres or Venus, confers the same on women; the select Juno confers (not alone, but together with Mena, the daughter of Jupiter) the menses, for the growth of that which has been conceived; and the obscure and ignoble Vitumnus confers life, whilst the obscure and ignoble Sentinus confers sensation;—which two last things are as much more excellent than the others, as they themselves are excelled by reason and intellect.  For as those things which reason and understand are preferable to those which, without intellect and reason, as in the case of cattle, live and feel; so also those things which have been endowed with life and sensation are deservedly preferred to those things which neither live nor feel.  Therefore Vitumnus the life-giver, 253 and Sentinus the sense-giver, 254 ought to have been reckoned among the select gods, rather than Janus the admitter of seed, and Saturn the giver or sower of seed, and Liber and Libera the movers and liberators of seed; which seed is not worth a thought, unless it attain to life and sensation.  Yet these select gifts are not given by select gods, but by certain unknown, and, considering their dignity, neglected gods.  But if it be replied that Janus has dominion over all beginnings, and therefore the opening of the way for conception is not without reason assigned to him; and that Saturn has dominion over all seeds, and therefore the sowing of the seed whereby a human being is generated cannot be excluded from his operation; that Liber and Libera have power over the emission of all seeds, and therefore preside over those seeds which pertain to the procreation of men; that Juno presides over all purgations and births, and therefore she has also charge of the purgations of women and the births of human beings;—if they give this reply, let them find an answer to the question concerning Vitumnus and Sentinus, whether they are willing that these likewise should have dominion over all things which live and feel.  If they grant this, let them observe in how sublime a position they are about to place them.  For to spring from seeds is in the earth and of the earth, but to live and feel are supposed p. 124 to be properties even of the sidereal gods.  But if they say that only such things as come to life in flesh, and are supported by senses, are assigned to Sentinus, why does not that God who made all things live and feel, bestow on flesh also life and sensation, in the universality of His operation conferring also on fœtuses this gift?  And what, then, is the use of Vitumnus and Sentinus?  But if these, as it were, extreme and lowest things have been committed by Him who presides universally over life and sense to these gods as to servants, are these select gods then so destitute of servants, that they could not find any to whom even they might commit those things, but with all their dignity, for which they are, it seems, deemed worthy to be selected, were compelled to perform their work along with ignoble ones?  Juno is select queen of the gods, and the sister and wife of Jupiter; nevertheless she is Iterduca, the conductor, to boys, and performs this work along with a most ignoble pair—the goddesses Abeona and Adeona.  There they have also placed the goddess Mena, who gives to boys a good mind, and she is not placed among the select gods; as if anything greater could be bestowed on a man than a good mind.  But Juno is placed among the select because she is Iterduca and Domiduca (she who conducts one on a journey, and who conducts him home again); as if it is of any advantage for one to make a journey, and to be conducted home again, if his mind is not good.  And yet the goddess who bestows that gift has not been placed by the selectors among the select gods, though she ought indeed to have been preferred even to Minerva, to whom, in this minute distribution of work, they have allotted the memory of boys.  For who will doubt that it is a far better thing to have a good mind, than ever so great a memory?  For no one is bad who has a good mind; 255 but some who are very bad are possessed of an admirable memory, and are so much the worse, the less they are able to forget the bad things which they think.  And yet Minerva is among the select gods, whilst the goddess Mena is hidden by a worthless crowd.  What shall I say concerning Virtus?  What concerning Felicitas?—concerning whom I have already spoken much in the fourth book; 256 to whom, though they held them to be goddesses, they have not thought fit to assign a place among the select gods, among whom they have given a place to Mars and Orcus, the one the causer of death, the other the receiver of the dead.

Since, therefore, we see that even the select gods themselves work together with the others, like a senate with the people, in all those minute works which have been minutely portioned out among many gods; and since we find that far greater and better things are administered by certain gods who have not been reckoned worthy to be selected than by those who are called select, it remains that we suppose that they were called select and chief, not on account of their holding more exalted offices in the world, but because it happened to them to become better known to the people.  And even Varro himself says, that in that way obscurity had fallen to the lot of some father gods and mother goddesses, 257 as it fails to the lot of man.  If, therefore, Felicity ought not perhaps to have been put among the select gods, because they did not attain to that noble position by merit, but by chance, Fortune at least should have been placed among them, or rather before them; for they say that that goddess distributes to every one the gifts she receives, not according to any rational arrangement, but according as chance may determine.  She ought to have held the uppermost place among the select gods, for among them chiefly it is that she shows what power she has.  For we see that they have been selected not on account of some eminent virtue or rational happiness, but by that random power of Fortune which the worshippers of these gods think that she exerts.  For that most eloquent man Sallust also may perhaps have the gods themselves in view when he says:  “But, in truth, fortune rules in everything; it renders all things famous or obscure, according to caprice rather than according to truth.” 258   For they cannot discover a reason why Venus should have been made famous, whilst Virtus has been made obscure, when the divinity of both of them has been solemnly recognized by them, and their merits are not to be compared.  Again, if she has deserved a noble position on account of the fact that she is much sought after—for there are more who seek after Venus than after Virtus—why has Minerva been celebrated whilst Pecunia has been left in obscurity, although throughout the whole human race avarice allures a far greater number than skill?  And even among those who are skilled in the arts, you will rarely find a man who does not practise his own art for the purpose of pecuniary gain; and that for the sake of which anything is made, is always valued more than that which is made for the sake of something else.  If, then, this selection of p. 125 gods has been made by the judgment of the foolish multitude, why has not the goddess Pecunia been preferred to Minerva, since there are many artificers for the sake of money?  But if this distinction has been made by the few wise, why has Virtus been preferred to Venus, when reason by far prefers the former?  At all events, as I have already said, Fortune herself—who, according to those who attribute most influence to her, renders all things famous or obscure according to caprice rather than according to the truth—since she has been able to exercise so much power even over the gods, as, according to her capricious judgment, to render those of them famous whom she would, and those obscure whom she would; Fortune herself ought to occupy the place of pre-eminence among the select gods, since over them also she has such pre-eminent power.  Or must we suppose that the reason why she is not among the select is simply this, that even Fortune herself has had an adverse fortune?  She was adverse, then, to herself, since, whilst ennobling others, she herself has remained obscure.


Footnotes

123:252

Januam.

123:253

Vivificator.

123:254

Sensificator.

124:255

As we say, right-minded.

124:256

Ch. 21, 23.

124:257

The father Saturn, and the mother Ops, e.g., being more obscure than their son Jupiter and daughter Juno.

124:258

Sallust, Cat. Conj. ch. 8.


Next: Chapter 4

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