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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 8

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 8.—How Apuleius Defines the Gods Who Dwell in Heaven, the Demons Who Occupy the Air, and Men Who Inhabit Earth.

The definition which Apuleius gives of demons, and in which he of course includes all demons, is that they are in nature animals, in soul subject to passion, in mind reasonable, in body aerial, in duration eternal.  Now in these five qualities he has named absolutely nothing which is proper to good men and not also to bad.  For when Apuleius had spoken of the celestials first, and had then extended his description so as to include an account of those who dwell far below on the earth, that, after describing the two extremes of rational being, he might proceed to speak of the intermediate demons, he says, “Men, therefore, who are endowed with the faculty of reason and speech, whose soul is immortal and their members mortal, who have weak and anxious spirits, dull and corruptible bodies, dissimilar characters, similar ignorance, who are obstinate in their audacity, and persistent in their hope, whose labor is vain, and whose fortune is ever on the wane, their race immortal, themselves perishing, each generation replenished with creatures whose life is swift and their wisdom slow, their death sudden and their life a wail,—these are the men who dwell on the earth.” 346   In recounting so many qualities which belong to the large proportion of men, did he forget that which is the property of the few when he speaks of their wisdom being slow?  If this had been omitted, this his description of the human race, so carefully elaborated, would have been defective. And when he commended the excellence of the gods, he affirmed that they excelled in that very blessedness to which he thinks men must attain by wisdom.  And therefore, if he had wished us to believe that some of the demons are good, he should have inserted in his description something by which we might see that they have, in common with the gods, some share of blessedness, or, in common with men, some wisdom.  But, as it is, he has mentioned no good quality by which the good may be distinguished from the bad.  For although he refrained from giving a full account of their wickedness, through fear of offending, not themselves but their worshippers, for whom he was writing, yet he sufficiently indicated to discerning readers what opinion he had of them; for only in the one article of the eternity of their bodies does he assimilate them to the gods, all of whom, he asserts, are good and blessed, and absolutely free from what he himself calls the stormy passions of the demons; and as to the soul, he quite plainly affirms that they resemble men and not the gods, and that this resemblance lies not in the possession of wisdom, which even men can attain to, but in the perturbation of passions which sway the foolish and wicked, but p. 171 is so ruled by the good and wise that they prefer not to admit rather than to conquer it.  For if he had wished it to be understood that the demons resembled the gods in the eternity not of their bodies but of their souls, he would certainly have admitted men to share in this privilege, because, as a Platonist, he of course must hold that the human soul is eternal.  Accordingly, when describing this race of living beings, he said that their souls were immortal, their members mortal.  And, consequently, if men have not eternity in common with the gods because they have mortal bodies, demons have eternity in common with the gods because their bodies are immortal.


Footnotes

170:346

De Deo Soc.


Next: Chapter 9

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