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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
THEOPHILUS: Chapter VIII.— Opinions Concerning Providence.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter VIII.— Opinions Concerning Providence.

And why should I recount further the vast array of such names and genealogies? So that all the authors and poets, and those called philosophers, are wholly deceived; and so, too, are they who give heed to them. For they plentifully composed fables and foolish stories about their gods, and did not exhibit them as gods, but as men, and men, too, of whom some were drunken, and others fornicators and murderers. But also concerning the origin of the world, they uttered contradictory and absurd opinions. First, some of them, as we before explained, maintained that the world is uncreated. And those that said it was uncreated and self-producing contradicted those who propounded that it was created. For by conjecture and human conception they spoke, and not knowing the truth. And others, again, said that there was a providence, and destroyed the positions of the former writers. Aratus, indeed, says: 560

“From Jove begin my song; nor ever be
The name unuttered: all are full of thee;
The ways and haunts of men; the heavens and sea:
On thee our being hangs; in thee we move;
All are thy offspring and the seed of Jove.
Benevolent, he warns mankind to good,
Urges to toil and prompts the hope of food.
He tells where cattle best may graze, and where
The soil, deep-furrowed, yellow grain will bear.
What time the husbandman should plant or sow,
’Tis his to tell, ’tis his alone to know.”

Who, then, shall we believe: Aratus as here quoted, or Sophocles, when he says: 561

“And foresight of the future there is none;
’Tis best to live at random, as one can”?

And Homer, again, does not agree with this, for he says 562 that virtue

“Waxes or wanes in men as Jove decrees.”

And Simonides says:—

“No man nor state has virtue save from God;
Counsel resides in God; and wretched man
Has in himself nought but his wretchedness.”

So, too, Euripides:—

“Apart from God, there’s nothing owned by men.”

And Menander:—

“Save God alone, there’s none for us provides.”

And Euripides again:—

“For when God wills to save, all things He’ll bend
To serve as instruments to work His end.”

And Thestius:—

“If God design to save you, safe you are,
Though sailing in mid-ocean on a mat.” 563

And saying numberless things of a like kind, they contradicted themselves. At least Sophocles, who in another place denied Providence, says:—

“No mortal can evade the stroke of God.”

Besides, they both introduced a multitude of gods, and yet spoke of a Unity; and against those who affirmed a Providence they maintained in opposition that there was no Providence. Wherefore Euripides says:—

“We labour much and spend our strength in vain,
For empty hope, not foresight, is our guide.”

And without meaning to do so, they acknowledge that they know not the truth; but being inspired by demons and puffed up by them, they spoke at their instance whatever they said. For indeed the poets,—Homer, to wit, and Hesiod, being, as they say, inspired by the Muses,—spoke from a deceptive fancy, 564 and not with a pure but an erring spirit. And this, indeed, clearly appears from the fact, that even to this day the possessed are sometimes exorcised in the name of the living and true God; and these spirits of error themselves confess that they are demons who also formerly inspired these writers. But sometimes some of them wakened up in soul, and, that they might be for a witness both to themselves and to all men, spoke things in harmony with the prophets regarding the monarchy of God, and the judgment and such like.



The following lines are partly from the translation of Hughes.


Œdipus Rex, line 978.


Il., xx. 242.


This verse is by Plutarch hesitatingly attributed to Pindar. The expression, “Though you swim in a wicker basket,” was proverbial.


Literally, “in fancy and error.”

Next: Chapter IX.—The Prophets Inspired by the Holy Ghost.

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