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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 14

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 14.—Of the Opinion of Those Who Have Said that Rational Souls are of Three Kinds, to Wit, Those of the Celestial Gods, Those of the Aerial Demons, and Those of Terrestrial Men.

There is, say they, a threefold division of all animals endowed with a rational soul, namely, into gods, men, and demons.  The gods occupy the loftiest region, men the lowest, the demons the middle region.  For the abode of the gods is heaven, that of men the earth, that of the demons the air.  As the dignity of their regions is diverse, so also is that of their natures; therefore the gods are better than men and demons.  Men have been placed below the gods and demons, both in respect of the order of the regions they inhabit, and the difference of their merits.  The demons, therefore, who hold the middle place, as they are inferior to the gods, than whom they inhabit a lower region, so they are superior to men, than whom they inhabit a loftier one.  For they have immortality of body in common with the gods, but passions of the mind in common with men.  On which account, say they, it is not wonderful that they are delighted with the obscenities of the theatre, and the fictions of the poets, since they are also subject to human passions, from which the gods are far removed, and to which they are altogether strangers.  Whence we conclude that it was not the gods, who are all good and highly exalted, that Plato deprived of the pleasure of theatric plays, by reprobating and prohibiting the fictions of the poets, but the demons.

Of these things many have written:  among others Apuleius, the Platonist of Madaura, who composed a whole work on the subject, entitled, Concerning the God of Socrates.  He there discusses and explains of what kind that deity was who attended on Socrates, a sort of familiar, by whom it is said he was admon p. 154 ished to desist from any action which would not turn out to his advantage.  He asserts most distinctly, and proves at great length, that it was not a god but a demon; and he discusses with great diligence the opinion of Plato concerning the lofty estate of the gods, the lowly estate of men, and the middle estate of demons.  These things being so, how did Plato dare to take away, if not from the gods, whom he removed from all human contagion, certainly from the demons, all the pleasures of the theatre, by expelling the poets from the state?  Evidently in this way he wished to admonish the human soul, although still confined in these moribund members, to despise the shameful commands of the demons, and to detest their impurity, and to choose rather the splendor of virtue.  But if Plato showed himself virtuous in answering and prohibiting these things, then certainly it was shameful of the demons to command them.  Therefore either Apuleius is wrong, and Socrates’ familiar did not belong to this class of deities, or Plato held contradictory opinions, now honoring the demons, now removing from the well-regulated state the things in which they delighted, or Socrates is not to be congratulated on the friendship of the demon, of which Apuleius was so ashamed that he entitled his book On the God of Socrates, whilst according to the tenor of his discussion, wherein he so diligently and at such length distinguishes gods from demons, he ought not to have entitled it, Concerning the God, but Concerning the Demon of Socrates.  But he preferred to put this into the discussion itself rather than into the title of his book.  For, through the sound doctrine which has illuminated human society, all, or almost all men have such a horror at the name of demons, that every one who before reading the dissertation of Apuleius, which sets forth the dignity of demons, should have read the title of the book, On the Demon of Socrates, would certainly have thought that the author was not a sane man.  But what did even Apuleius find to praise in the demons, except subtlety and strength of body and a higher place of habitation?  For when he spoke generally concerning their manners, he said nothing that was good, but very much that was bad.  Finally, no one, when he has read that book, wonders that they desired to have even the obscenity of the stage among divine things, or that, wishing to be thought gods, they should be delighted with the crimes of the gods, or that all those sacred solemnities, whose obscenity occasions laughter, and whose shameful cruelty causes horror, should be in agreement with their passions.


Next: Chapter 15

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