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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 4

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 4.—Of the Diversity of Languages, and of the Founding of Babylon.

But though these nations are said to have been dispersed according to their languages, yet the narrator recurs to that time when all had but one language, and explains how it came to pass that a diversity of languages was introduced.  “The whole earth,” he says, “was of one lip, and all had one speech.  And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there.  And they said one to another, Come, and let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.  And they had bricks for stone, and slime for mortar.  And they said, Come, and let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top shall reach the sky; and let us make us a name, before we be scattered abroad on the face of all the earth.  And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.  And the Lord God said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do:  and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Come, and let us go down, and confound there their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.  And God scattered them thence on the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city and the tower.  Therefore the name of it is called Confusion; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth:  and the Lord God scattered them thence on the face of all the earth.” 873   This city, which was called Confusion, is the same as Babylon, whose wonderful construction Gentile history also notices.  For Babylon means Confusion.  Whence we conclude that the giant Nimrod was its founder, as had been hinted a little before, where Scripture, in speaking of him, says that the beginning of his kingdom was Babylon, that is, Babylon had a supremacy over the other cities as the metropolis and royal residence; although it did not rise to the grand dimensions designed by its proud and impious founder.  The plan was to make it so high that it should reach the sky, whether this was meant of one tower which they intended to build higher than the others, or of all the towers, which might be signified by the singular number, as we speak of “the soldier,” meaning the army, and of the frog or the locust, when we refer to the whole multitude p. 313 of frogs and locusts in the plagues with which Moses smote the Egyptians. 874  But what did these vain and presumptuous men intend?  How did they expect to raise this lofty mass against God, when they had built it above all the mountains and the clouds of the earth’s atmosphere?  What injury could any spiritual or material elevation do to God?  The safe and true way to heaven is made by humility, which lifts up the heart to the Lord, not against Him; as this giant is said to have been a “hunter against the Lord.”  This has been misunderstood by some through the ambiguity of the Greek word, and they have translated it, not “against the Lord,” but “before the Lord;” for ἐναντίον means both “before” and “against.”  In the Psalm this word is rendered, “Let us weep before the Lord our Maker.” 875   The same word occurs in the book of Job, where it is written, “Thou hast broken into fury against the Lord.” 876   And so this giant is to be recognized as a “hunter against the Lord.”  And what is meant by the term “hunter” but deceiver, oppressor, and destroyer of the animals of the earth?  He and his people therefore, erected this tower against the Lord, and so gave expression to their impious pride; and justly was their wicked intention punished by God, even though it was unsuccessful.  But what was the nature of the punishment?  As the tongue is the instrument of domination, in it pride was punished; so that man, who would not understand God when He issued His commands, should be misunderstood when he himself gave orders.  Thus was that conspiracy disbanded, for each man retired from those he could not understand, and associated with those whose speech was intelligible; and the nations were divided according to their languages, and scattered over the earth as seemed good to God, who accomplished this in ways hidden from and incomprehensible to us.


Footnotes

312:873

Gen. 11.1-9.

313:874

Ex. 10.

313:875

Ps. 95.6.

313:876

Job 15.13.


Next: Chapter 5

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