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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Manichæan Controversy.: Chapter 9

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 9.—The Manichæan Fictions About Things Good and Evil are Not Consistent with Themselves.

14.  I have said these things to make you cease, if that is possible, giving the name of evil to a region boundless in depth and length; to a mind wandering through the region; to the five caverns of the elements,—one full of darkness, another of waters, another of winds, another of fire, another of smoke; to the animals born in each of these elements,—serpents in the darkness, swimming creatures in the waters, flying creatures in the winds, quadrupeds in the fire, bipeds in the smoke.  For these things, as you describe them, cannot be called evil; for all such things, as far as they exist, must have their existence from the most high God, for as far as they exist they are good.  If pain and weakness is an evil, the animals you speak of were of such physical strength that their abortive offspring, after, as your sect believes, the world was formed of them, fell from heaven to earth, according to you, and could not die.  If blindness is an evil, they could see; if deafness, they could hear.  If to be nearly or altogether dumb is an evil, their speech was so clear and intelligible, that, as you assert, they decided to make war against God in compliance with an address delivered in their assembly.  If sterility is an evil, they were prolific in children.  If exile is an evil, they were in their own country, and occupied their own territories.  If servitude is an evil, some of them were rulers.  If death is an evil, they were alive, and the life was such that, by your statement, even after God was victorious, it was impossible for the mind ever to die.

15.  Can you tell me how it is that in the chief evil so many good things are to be found, the opposites of the evils above mentioned? and if these are not evils, can any substance be an evil, as far as it is a substance?  If weakness is not an evil, can a weak body be an evil?  If blindness is not an evil, can darkness be an evil?  If deafness is not an evil, can a deaf man be an evil?  If dumbness is not an evil, can a fish be an evil?  If sterility is not an evil, how can we call a barren animal an evil?  If exile is not an evil, how can we give that name to an animal in exile, or to an animal sending some one into exile?  If servitude is not an evil, in what sense is a subject animal an evil, or one enforcing subjection?  If death is not an evil, in what sense is a mortal animal an evil, or one causing death?  Or if these are evils, must we not give the name of good things to bodily strength, sight, hearing, persuasive speech, fertility, native land, liberty, life, all which you hold to exist in that kingdom of evil, and yet venture to call it the perfection of evil?

16.  Once more, if, as has never been dep. 74 nied, unsuitableness is an evil, what can be more suitable than those elements to their respective animals,—the darkness to serpents, the waters to swimming creatures, the winds to flying creatures, the fire to voracious animals, the smoke to soaring animals?  Such is the harmony which you describe as existing in the race of strife; such the order in the seat of confusion.  If what is hurtful is an evil, I do not repeat the strong objection already stated, that no hurt can be suffered where no good exists; but if that is not so clear, one thing at least is easily seen and understood as following from the acknowledged truth, that what is hurtful is an evil.  The smoke in that region did not hurt bipeds:  it produced them, and nourished and sustained them without injury in their birth, their growth, and their rule.  But now, when the evil has some good mixed with it, the smoke has become more hurtful, so that we, who certainly are bipeds, instead of being sustained by it, are blinded, and suffocated, and killed by it.  Could the mixture of good have given such destructiveness to evil elements?  Could there be such confusion in the divine government?

17.  In the other cases, at least, how is it that we find that congruity which misled your author and induced him to fabricate falsehoods?  Why does darkness agree with serpents, and waters with swimming creatures, and winds with flying creatures, though the fire burns up quadrupeds, and smoke chokes us?  Then, again, have not serpents very sharp sight, and do they not love the sunshine, and abound most where the calmness of the air prevents the clouds from gathering much or often?  How very absurd that the natives and lovers of darkness should live most comfortably and agreeably where the clearest light is enjoyed!  Or if you say that it is the heat rather than the light that they enjoy, it would be more reasonable to assign to fire serpents, which are naturally of rapid motion, than the slow-going asp. 168   Besides, all must admit that light is agreeable to the eyes of the asp, for they are compared to an eagle’s eyes.  But enough of the lower animals.  Let us, I pray, attend to what is true of ourselves without persisting in error, and so our minds shall be disentangled from silly and mischievous falsehoods.  For is it not intolerable perversity to say that in the race of darkness, where there was no mixture of light, the biped animals had so sound and strong, so incredible force of eyesight, that even in their darkness they could see the perfectly pure light (as you represent it) of the kingdom of God? for, according to you, even these beings could see this light, and could gaze at it, and study it, and delight in it, and desire it; whereas our eyes, after mixture with light, with the chief good, yea, with God, have become so tender and weak, that we can neither see anything in the dark, nor bear to look at the sun, but, after looking, lose sight of what we could see before.

18.  The same remarks are applicable if we take corruption to be an evil, which no one doubts.  The smoke did not corrupt that race of animals, though it corrupts animals now.  Not to go over all the particulars, which would be tedious, and is not necessary, the living creatures of your imaginary description were so much less liable to corruption than animals are now, that their abortive and premature offspring, cast headlong from heaven to earth, both lived and were productive, and could band together again, having, forsooth, their original vigor, because they were conceived before good was mixed with the evil; for, after this mixture, the animals born are, according to you, those which we now see to be very feeble and easily giving way to corruption.  Can any one persist in the belief of error like this, unless he fails to see these things, or is affected by your habit and association in such an amazing way as to be proof against all the force of reasoning?


Footnotes

74:168

  [The text has asinum in this sentence but aspidem in the next.  The former is a mistake.—A.H.N.]


Next: Chapter 10

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