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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 5

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 5.—That There are Many Things Which Reason Cannot Account For, and Which are Nevertheless True.

Nevertheless, when we declare the miracles which God has wrought, or will yet work, and which we cannot bring under the very eyes of men, sceptics keep demanding that we shall explain these marvels to reason.  And because we cannot do so, inasmuch as they are above human comprehension, they suppose we are speaking falsely.  These persons themselves, therefore, ought to account for all these marvels which we either can or do see.  And if they perceive that this is impossible for man to do, they should acknowledge that it cannot be concluded that a thing has not been or shall not be because it cannot be reconciled to reason, since there are things now in existence of which the same is true.  I will not, then, detail the multitude of marvels which are related in books, and which refer not to things that happened once and passed away, but that are permanent in certain places, where, if any one has the desire and opportunity, he may ascertain their truth; but a few only I recount.  The following are some of the marvels men tell us:—The salt of Agrigentum in Sicily, when thrown into the p. 456 fire, becomes fluid as if it were in water, but in the water it crackles as if it were in the fire.  The Garamantæ have a fountain so cold by day that no one can drink it, so hot by night no one can touch it. 1501   In Epirus, too, there is a fountain which, like all others, quenches lighted torches, but, unlike all others, lights quenched torches.  There is a stone found in Arcadia, and called asbestos, because once lit it cannot be put out.  The wood of a certain kind of Egyptian fig-tree sinks in water, and does not float like other wood; and, stranger still, when it has been sunk to the bottom for some time, it rises again to the surface, though nature requires that when soaked in water it should be heavier than ever.  Then there are the apples of Sodom which grow indeed to an appearance of ripeness, but, when you touch them with hand or tooth, the peal cracks, and they crumble into dust and ashes.  The Persian stone pyrites burns the hand when it is tightly held in it and so gets its name from fire.  In Persia too, there is found another stone called selenite, because its interior brilliancy waxes and wanes with the moon.  Then in Cappadocia the mares are impregnated by the wind, and their foals live only three years.  Tilon, an Indian island, has this advantage over all other lands, that no tree which grows in it ever loses its foliage.

These and numberless other marvels recorded in the history, not of past events, but of permanent localities, I have no time to enlarge upon and diverge from my main object; but let those sceptics who refuse to credit the divine writings give me, if they can, a rational account of them.  For their only ground of unbelief in the Scriptures is, that they contain incredible things, just such as I have been recounting.  For, say they, reason cannot admit that flesh burn and remain unconsumed, suffer without dying.  Mighty reasoners, indeed, who are competent to give the reason of all the marvels that exist!  Let them then give us the reason of the few things we have cited, and which, if they did not know they existed, and were only assured by us they would at some future time occur, they would believe still less than that which they now refuse to credit on our word.  For which of them would believe us if, instead of saying that the living bodies of men hereafter will be such as to endure everlasting pain and fire without ever dying, we were to say that in the world to come there will be salt which becomes liquid in fire as if it were in water, and crackles in water as if it were in fire; or that there will be a fountain whose water in the chill air of night is so hot that it cannot be touched, while in the heat of day it is so cold that it cannot be drunk; or that there will be a stone which by its own heat burns the hand when tightly held, or a stone which cannot be extinguished if it has been lit in any part; or any of those wonders I have cited, while omitting numberless others?  If we were to say that these things would be found in the world to come, and our sceptics were to reply, “If you wish us to believe these things, satisfy our reason about each of them,” we should confess that we could not, because the frail comprehension of man cannot master these and such-like wonders of God’s working; and that yet our reason was thoroughly convinced that the Almighty does nothing without reason, though the frail mind of man cannot explain the reason; and that while we are in many instances uncertain what He intends, yet that it is always most certain that nothing which He intends is impossible to Him; and that when He declares His mind, we believe Him whom we cannot believe to be either powerless or false.  Nevertheless these cavillers at faith and exactors of reason, how do they dispose of those things of which a reason cannot be given, and which yet exist, though in apparent contrariety to the nature of things?  If we had announced that these things were to be, these sceptics would have demanded from us the reason of them, as they do in the case of those things which we are announcing as destined to be.  And consequently, as these present marvels are not non-existent, though human reason and discourse are lost in such works of God, so those things we speak of are not impossible because inexplicable; for in this particular they are in the same predicament as the marvels of earth.


Footnotes

456:1501

Alluded to by Moore in his Melodies:

          “The fount that played

In times of old through Ammon’s shade,

Though icy cold by day it ran,

Yet still, like souls of mirth, began

To burn when night was near.”


Next: Chapter 6

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