Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Against the Heathen. (Contra Gentes.): 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.
§19. 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.
For what other form do they give them by sculpture but that of men and women and of creatures lower yet and of irrational nature, all manner of birds, beasts both tame and wild, and creeping things, whatsoever land and sea and the whole realm of the waters produce? For men having fallen into the unreasonableness of their passions and pleasures, and unable to see anything beyond pleasures and lusts of the flesh, inasmuch as they keep their mind in the midst of these irrational things, they imagined the divine principle to be in irrational things, and carved a number of gods to match the variety of their passions. 2. For there are with them images of beasts and creeping things and birds, as the interpreter of the divine and true religion says, “They became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things, wherefore God gave them up unto vile passions.” For having previously infected their soul, as I said above, with the irrationalities of pleasures, they then came down to this making of gods; and, once fallen, thenceforward as though abandoned in their rejection of God, thus they wallow 134 in them, and portray God, the Father of the Word, in irrational shapes. 3. As to which those who pass for philosophers and men of knowledge 135 among the Greeks, while driven to admit that their visible gods are the forms and figures of men and of irrational objects, say in defence that they have such things to the end that by their means the deity may answer them and be made manifest; because otherwise they could not know the invisible God, save by such statues and rites. 4. While those 136 who profess to give still deeper and more philosophical reasons than these say, that the reason of idols being prepared and fashioned is for the invocation and manifestation of divine angels and powers, that appearing by these means they may teach men concerning the knowledge of God; and that they serve as letters for men, by referring to which they may learn to apprehend God, from the manifestation of the divine angels effected by their means. Such then is their mythology,—for far be it from us to call it a theology. But if one examine the argument with care, he will find that the opinion of these persons also, not less than that of those previously spoken of, is false.
Cf. Orat. iii. 16.14:135
This may refer to Maximus of Tyre (Saussaye, §11), or to the lost treatise of the divine Iamblichus Περὶ ἀγαλμάτων, which was considered worth answering by Christian writers as late as the seventh century (Philoponus in Phot. Bibl. Cod. 215).14:136
This is in effect the defence of the Scriptor de Mysteriis (possibly Iamblichus, see Bernays 2 Abhandlungen 1880, p. 37): material means of worship are a means of access directly to the lower (or quasi-material) gods, and so indirectly to the higher. Few men can reach the latter without the aid of their manifestation in the lower; πάρεστιν ἀ& 204·λως τοῖς ἐνύλοις τὰ ἄ& 203·λα (v. 23, cf. 14).
Next: But where does this supposed virtue of the image reside? in the material, or in the form, or in the maker's skill? Untenability of all these views.
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