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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:
Writings in Connection with the Manichæan Controversy.: Chapter 23

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 23.—The Anthropomorphites Not So Bad as the Manichæans.

25.  Compare, now, not spiritual men of the Catholic faith, whose mind, as far as is possible in this life, perceives that the divine substance and nature has no material extension, and has no shape bounded by lines, but the carnal and weak of our faith, who, when they hear the members of the body used figuratively, as, when God’s eyes or ears are spoken of, are accustomed, in the license of fancy, to picture God to themselves in a human form; compare these with the Manichæans, whose custom it is to make known their silly stories to anxious inquirers as if they were great mysteries:  and consider who have the most allowable and respectable ideas of God, —those who think of Him as having a human form which is the most excellent of its kind, or those who think of Him as having boundless material extension, yet not in all directions, but with three parts infinite and solid, while in one part He is cloven, with an empty void, and with undefined space above, while the region of darkness is inserted wedge-like below.  Or perhaps the proper expression is, that He is unconfined above in His own nature, but encroached on below by a hostile nature.  I join with you in laughing at the folly of carnal men, unable as yet to form spiritual conceptions, who think of God as having a human form.  Do you too join me, if you can, in laughing at those whose unhappy conceptions represent God as having a shape cloven or cut in such an unseemly and unbecoming way, with such an empty gap above, and such a dishonorable curtailment below.  Besides, there is this difference, that these carnal people, who think of God as having a human form, if they are content to be nourished with milk from the breast of the Catholic Church, and do not rush headlong into rash opinions, but cultivate in the Church the pious habit of inquiry, and there ask that they may receive, and knock that it may be opened to them, begin to understand spiritually the figures and parables of the Scriptures, and gradually to perceive that the divine energies are suitably set forth under the name, sometimes of ears, sometimes of eyes, sometimes of hands or feet, or p. 140 even of wings and feathers a shield too, and sword, and helmet, and all the other innumerable things.  And the more progress they make in this understanding, the more are they confirmed as Catholics.  The Manichæans, on the other hand, when they abandon their material fancies, cease to be Manichæans.  For this is the chief and special point in their praises of Manichæus, that the divine mysteries which were taught figuratively in books from ancient times were kept for Manichæus, who was to come last, to solve and demonstrate; and so after him no other teacher will come from God, for he has said nothing in figures or parables, but has explained ancient sayings of that kind, and has himself taught in plain, simple terms.  Therefore, when the Manichæans hear these words of their founder, on one side and border of the shining and sacred region was the region of darkness, they have no interpretations to fall back on.  Wherever they turn, the wretched bondage of their own fancies brings them upon clefts or sudden stoppages and joinings or sunderings of the most unseemly kind, which it would be shocking to believe as true of any immaterial nature, even though mutable, like the mind, not to speak of the immutable nature of God.  And yet if I were unable to rise to higher things, and to bring my thoughts from the entanglement of false imaginations which are impressed on the memory by the bodily senses, into the freedom and purity of spiritual existence, how much better would it be to think of God as in the form of a man, than to fasten that wedge of darkness to His lower edge, and, for want of a covering for the boundless vacuity above to leave it void and unoccupied throughout infinite space!  What notion could be worse than this?  What darker error can be taught or imagined?


Next: Chapter 24

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