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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:
Against the Heathen. (Contra Gentes.): Heathen defence continued. (2) 'The gods are worshipped for having invented the Arts of Life.' But this is a human and natural, not a divine, achievement. And why, on this principle, are not all inventors deified?

Early Church Fathers  Index     

§18. Heathen defence continued. (2) ‘The gods are worshipped for having invented the Arts of Life.’ But this is a human and natural, not a divine, achievement. And why, on this principle, are not all inventors deified?

What defence, then, what proof that these are real gods, can they offer who hold this superstition? For, by what has been said just above, our argument has demonstrated them to be men, and not respectable men. But perhaps they will turn to another argument, and proudly appeal to the things useful to life discovered by them, saying that the reason why they regard them as gods is their having been of use to mankind. For Zeus is said to have possessed the plastic art, Poseidon that of the pilot, Hephæstus the smith’s, Athena that of weaving, Apollo that of music, Artemis that of hunting, Hera dressmaking, Demeter agriculture, and others other arts, as those who inform us about them have related. 2. But men ought to ascribe them and such like arts not to the gods alone but to the common nature of mankind, for by observing nature 132 men discover the arts. For even common parlance calls art an imitation of nature. If then they have been skilled in the arts they pursued, that is no reason for thinking them gods, but rather for thinking them men; for the arts were not their creation, but in them they, like others, imitated nature. 3. For men having a natural capacity for knowledge according to the definition laid down 133 concerning them, there is nothing to surprise us if by human intelligence, and by looking of themselves at their own nature and coming to know it, they have hit upon the arts. Or if they say p. 14 that the discovery of the arts entitles them to be proclaimed as gods, it is high time to proclaim as gods the discoverers of the other arts on the same grounds as the former were thought worthy of such a title. For the Phœnicians invented letters, Homer epic poetry, Zeno of Elea dialectic, Corax of Syracuse rhetoric, Aristæus bee-keeping, Triptolemus the sowing of corn, Lycurgus of Sparta and Solon of Athens laws; while Palamedes discovered the arrangement of letters, and numbers, and measures and weights. And others imparted various other things useful for the life of mankind, according to the testimony of our historians. 4. If then the arts make gods, and because of them carved gods exist, it follows, on their shewing, that those who at a later date discovered the other arts must be gods. Or if they do not deem these worthy of divine honour, but recognise that they are men, it were but consistent not to give even the name of gods to Zeus, Hera, and the others, but to believe that they too have been human beings, and all the more so, inasmuch as they were not even respectable in their day; just as by the very fact of sculpturing their form in statues they shew that they are nothing else but men.


Footnotes

13:132

φύσις is here used in a double sense.

13:133

By Aristotle, Top. V. ii.–iv. where man is defined as ζῶον ἐπιστήμης δεκτικόν: compare Metaph. I. i. ‘All men by nature desire to know.’


Next: The inconsistency of image worship. Arguments in palliation. (1) The divine nature must be expressed in a visible sign. (2) The image a means of supernatural communications to men through angels.

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