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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 21

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 21.—Whether the Gods Use the Demons as Messengers and Interpreters, and Whether They are Deceived by Them Willingly, or Without Their Own Knowledge.

But herein, no doubt, lies the great necessity for this absurdity, so unworthy of the gods, that the ethereal gods, who are concerned about human affairs, would not know what terrestrial men were doing unless the aerial demons should bring them intelligence, because the ether is suspended far away from the earth and far above it, but the air is contiguous both to the ether and to the earth.  O admirable wisdom! what else do these men think concerning the gods who, they say, are all in the highest degree good, but that they are concerned about human affairs, lest they should seem unworthy of worship, whilst, on the other hand, from the distance between the elements, they are ignorant of terrestrial things?  It is on this account that they have supposed the demons to be necessary as agents, through whom the gods may inform themselves with respect to human affairs, and through whom, when necessary, they may succor men; and it is on account of this office that the demons themselves have been held as deserving of worship.  If this be the case, then a demon is better known by these good gods through nearness of body, than a man is by goodness of mind.  O mournful necessity, or shall I not rather say detestable and vain error, that I may not impute vanity to the divine nature!  For if the gods can, with their minds free from the hindrance of bodies, see our mind, they do not need the demons as messengers from our mind to them; but if the ethereal gods, by means of their bodies, perceive the corporeal indices of minds, as the countenance, speech, motion, and thence understand what the demons tell them, then it is also possible that they may be deceived by the falsehoods of demons.  Moreover, if the divinity of the gods cannot be deceived by the demons, neither can it be ignorant of our actions.  But I would they would tell me whether the demons have informed the gods that the fictions of the poets concerning the crimes of the gods displease Plato, concealing the pleasure which they themselves take in them; or whether they have concealed both, and have preferred that the gods should be ignorant with respect to this whole matter, or have told both, as well the pious prudence of Plato with respect to the gods as their own lust, which is injurious to the gods; or whether they have concealed Plato’s opinion, according to which he was unwilling that the gods should be defamed with falsely alleged crimes through the impious license of the poets, whilst they have not been ashamed nor afraid to make known their own wickedness, which make them love theatrical plays, in which the infamous deeds of the gods are celebrated.  Let them choose which they will of these four alternatives, and let them consider how much evil any one of them would require them to think of the gods.  For if they choose the first, they must then confess that it was not possible for the good gods to dwell with the good Plato, though he sought to prohibit things injurious to them, whilst they dwelt with evil demons, who exulted in their injuries; and this because they suppose that the good gods can only know a good man, placed at so great a distance from them, through the mediation of evil demons, whom they could know on account of their nearness to themselves. 319   If they shall choose the second, and shall say that both these things are concealed by the demons, so that the gods are wholly ignorant both of Plato’s most religious law and the sacrilegious pleasure of the demons, what, in that case, can the gods know to any profit with respect to human affairs through these mediating demons, when they do not know those things which are decreed, through the piety of good men, for the honor of the good gods against the lust of evil demons?  But if they shall choose the third, and reply that these intermediary demons have communicated, not only the opinion of Plato, which prohibited wrongs to be done to the gods, but also their own delight in these wrongs, I would ask if such a communication is not rather an insult?  Now the gods, hearing both and knowing both, not only permit the approach of those malign demons, who desire and do things contrary to the dignity of the gods and the religion of Plato, but also, through these wicked demons, who are near to them, send good things to the good Plato, who is far p. 159 away from them; for they inhabit such a place in the concatenated series of the elements, that they can come into contact with those by whom they are accused, but not with him by whom they are defended,—knowing the truth on both sides, but not being able to change the weight of the air and the earth.  There remains the fourth supposition; but it is worse than the rest.  For who will suffer it to be said that the demons have made known the calumnious fictions of the poets concerning the immortal gods, and also the disgraceful mockeries of the theatres, and their own most ardent lust after, and most sweet pleasure in these things, whilst they have concealed from them that Plato, with the gravity of a philosopher, gave it as his opinion that all these things ought to be removed from a well-regulated republic; so that the good gods are now compelled, through such messengers, to know the evil doings of the most wicked beings, that is to say, of the messengers themselves, and are not allowed to know the good deeds of the philosophers, though the former are for the injury, but these latter for the honor of the gods themselves?



Another reading, whom they could not know, though near to themselves.

Next: Chapter 22

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