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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 19

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 19.—Concerning the Interpretations Which Compose the Reason of the Worship of Saturn.

They said, says Varro, that Saturn was wont to devour all that sprang from him, because seeds returned to the earth from whence they sprang.  And when it is said that a lump of earth was put before Saturn to be devoured instead of Jupiter, it is signified, he says, that before the art of ploughing was discovered, seeds were buried in the earth by the hands of men.  The earth itself, then, and not seeds, should have been called Saturn, because it in a manner devours what it has brought forth, when the seeds which have sprung from it return again into it.  And what has Saturn’s receiving of a lump of earth instead of Jupiter to do with this, that the seeds were covered in the soil by the hands of men?  Was the seed kept from being devoured, like other things, by being covered with the soil?  For what they say would imply that he who put on the soil took away the seed, as Jupiter is said to have been taken away when the lump of soil was offered to Saturn instead of him, and not rather that the soil, by covering the seed, only caused it to be devoured the more eagerly.  Then, in that way, Jupiter is the seed, and not the cause of the seed, as was said a little before.

But what shall men do who cannot find anything wise to say, because they are interpreting foolish things?  Saturn has a pruning-knife.  That, says Varro, is on account of agriculture.  Certainly in Saturn’s reign there as yet existed no agriculture, and therefore the former times of Saturn are spoken of, because, as the same Varro interprets the fables, the primeval men lived on those seeds which the earth produced spontaneously.  Perhaps he received a pruning-knife when he had lost his sceptre; that he who had been a king, and lived at ease during the first part of his time, should become a laborious workman whilst his son occupied the throne.  Then he says that boys were wont to be immolated to him by certain peoples, the Carthaginians for instance; and also that adults were immolated by some nations, for example the Gauls—because, of all seeds, the human race is the best.  What need we say more concerning this most cruel vanity.  Let us rather attend to and hold by this, that these interpretations are not carried up to the true God,—a living, incorporeal, unchangeable nature, from whom a blessed life enduring for ever may be obtained,—but that they end in things which are corporeal, temporal, mutable, and mortal.  And whereas it is said in the fables that Saturn castrated his father Cœlus, this signifies, says Varro, that the divine seed belongs to Saturn, and not to Cœlus; for this reason, as far as a reason can be discovered, namely, that in heaven 279 nothing is born from seed.  But, lo!  Saturn, if he is the son of Cœlus, is the son of Jupiter.  For they affirm times without number, and that emphatically, that the heavens 280 are Jupiter.  Thus those things which come not of the truth, do very often, without being impelled by any one, themselves overthrow one another.  He says that Saturn was called Κρονος, which in the Greek tongue signifies a space of time, 281 because, without that, seed cannot be productive.  These and many other things are said concerning Saturn, and they are all referred to seed.  But Saturn surely, with all that great power, might have sufficed for seed.  Why are other gods demanded for it, especially Liber and Libera, that is, Ceres?—concerning whom again, as far as seed is concerned, he says as many things as if he had said nothing concerning Saturn.







Sc. Χρόνος.

Next: Chapter 20

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