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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 27

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 27.—Of the Impiety of Porphyry, Which is Worse Than Even the Mistake of Apuleius.

How much more tolerable and accordant with human feeling is the error of your Platonist co-sectary Apuleius! for he attributed the diseases and storms of human passions only to the demons who occupy a grade beneath the moon, and makes even this avowal as by constraint regarding gods whom he honors; but the superior and celestial gods, who inhabit the ethereal regions, whether visible, as the sun, moon, and other luminaries, whose brilliancy makes them conspicuous, or invisible, but believed in by him, he does his utmost to remove beyond the slightest stain of these perturbations.  It is not, then, from Plato, but from your Chaldæan teachers you have learned to elevate human vices to the ethereal and empyreal regions of the world and to the celestial firmament, in order that your theurgists might be able to obtain from your gods divine revelations; and yet you make yourself superior to these divine revelations by your intellectual life, which dispenses with these theurgic purifications as not needed by a philosopher.  But, by way of rewarding your teachers, you recommend these arts to other men, who, not being philosophers, may be persuaded to use what you acknowledge to be useless to yourself, who are capable of higher things; so that those who cannot avail themselves of the virtue of philosophy, which is too arduous for the multitude, may, at your instigation, betake themselves to theurgists by whom they may be purified, not, indeed, in the intellectual, but in the spiritual part of the soul.  Now, as the persons who are unfit for philosophy form incomparably the majority of mankind, more may be compelled to consult these secret and illicit teachers of yours than frequent the Platonic schools.  For these most impure demons, pretending to be ethereal gods, whose herald and messenger you have become, have promised that those who are purified by theurgy in the spiritual part of their soul shall not indeed return to the Father, but shall dwell among the ethereal gods above the aerial regions.  But such fancies are not listened to by the multitudes of men whom Christ came to set free from the tyranny of demons.  For in Him they have the most gracious cleansing, in which mind, spirit, and body alike participate.  For, in order that He might heal the whole man from the plague of sin, He took without sin the whole human nature.  Would that you had known Him, and would that you had committed yourself for healing to Him rather than to your own frail and infirm human virtue, or to pernicious and curious arts!  He would not have deceived you; for Him your own oracles, on your own showing, acknowledged holy and immortal.  It is of Him, too, that the most famous poet speaks, poetically indeed, since he applies it to the person of another, yet truly, if you refer it to Christ p. 198 , saying, “Under thine auspices, if any traces of our crimes remain, they shall be obliterated, and earth freed from its perpetual fear.” 428   By which he indicates that, by reason of the infirmity which attaches to this life, the greatest progress in virtue and righteousness leaves room for the existence, if not of crimes, yet of the traces of crimes, which are obliterated only by that Saviour of whom this verse speaks.  For that he did not say this at the prompting of his own fancy, Virgil tells us in almost the last verse of that 4th Eclogue, when he says, “The last age predicted by the Cumæan sibyl has now arrived;” whence it plainly appears that this had been dictated by the Cumæan sibyl.  But those theurgists, or rather demons, who assume the appearance and form of gods, pollute rather than purify the human spirit by false appearances and the delusive mockery of unsubstantial forms.  How can those whose own spirit is unclean cleanse the spirit of man?  Were they not unclean, they would not be bound by the incantations of an envious man, and would neither be afraid nor grudge to bestow that hollow boon which they promise.  But it is sufficient for our purpose that you acknowledge that the intellectual soul, that is, our mind, cannot be justified by theurgy; and that even the spiritual or inferior part of our soul cannot by this act be made eternal and immortal, though you maintain that it can be purified by it.  Christ, however, promises life eternal; and therefore to Him the world flocks, greatly to your indignation, greatly also to your astonishment and confusion.  What avails your forced avowal that theurgy leads men astray, and deceives vast numbers by its ignorant and foolish teaching, and that it is the most manifest mistake to have recourse by prayer and sacrifice to angels and principalities, when at the same time, to save yourself from the charge of spending labor in vain on such arts, you direct men to the theurgists, that by their means men, who do not live by the rule of the intellectual soul, may have their spiritual soul purified?



Virgil, Eclog. iv. 13, 14.

Next: Chapter 28

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