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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: The Gods Human at First.  Who Had the Authority to Make Them Divine? Jupiter Not Only Human, But Immoral.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XIII. 1011 —The Gods Human at First. Who Had the Authority to Make Them Divine? Jupiter Not Only Human, But Immoral.

Manifest cases, indeed, like these have a force peculiarly their own.  Men like Varro and his fellow-dreamers admit into the ranks of the divinity those whom they cannot assert to have been in their primitive condition anything but men; (and this they do) by affirming that they became gods after their death. Here, then, I take my stand. If your gods were elected 1012 to this dignity and deity, 1013 just as you recruit the ranks of your senate, you cannot help conceding, in your wisdom, that there must be some one supreme sovereign who has the power of selecting, and is a kind of Cæsar; and nobody is able to confer 1014 on others a thing over which he has not absolute control. Besides, if they were able to make gods of themselves after their death, pray tell me why they chose to be in an inferior condition at first? Or, again, if there is no one who made them gods, how can they be said to have been made such, if they could only have been made by some one else? There is therefore no ground afforded you for denying that there is a certain wholesale distributor 1015 of divinity. Let us accordingly examine the reasons for despatching mortal beings to heaven. I suppose you will produce a pair of them. Whoever, then, is the awarder (of the divine honours), exercises his function, either that he may have some supports, or defences, or it may be even ornaments to his own dignity; or from the pressing claims of the meritorious, that he may reward all the deserving. No other cause is it permitted us to conjecture. Now there is no one who, when bestowing a gift on another, does not act with a view to his own interest or the other’s. This conduct, however, cannot be worthy of the Divine Being, inasmuch as His power is so great that He can make gods outright; whilst His bringing man into such request, on the pretence that he requires the aid and support of certain, even dead persons, is a strange conceit, since He was able from the very first to create for Himself immortal beings. He who has compared human things with divine will require no further arguments on these points. And yet the latter opinion ought to be discussed, that God conferred divine honours in consideration of meritorious claims. Well, then, if the award was made on such grounds, if heaven was opened to men of the primitive age because of their deserts, we must reflect that after that time no one was worthy of such honour; except it be, that there is now no longer such a place for any one to attain to. Let us grant that anciently men may have deserved heaven by reason of their great merits. Then let us consider whether there really was such merit. Let the man who alleges that it did exist declare his own view of merit.  Since the actions of men done in the very infancy of time 1016 are a valid claim for their deification, you consistently admitted to the honour the brother and sister who were stained with the sin of incest—Ops and Saturn. Your Jupiter too, stolen in his infancy, was unworthy of both the home and the nutriment accorded to human beings; and, as he deserved for so bad a child, he had to live in Crete. 1017 Afterwards, when full-grown, he dethrones his own father, who, whatever his parental character may have been, was most prosperous in his reign, king as he was of the golden age. Under him, a stranger to toil and want, p. 143 peace maintained its joyous and gentle sway; under him—

“Nulli subigebant arva coloni;” 1018

“No swains would bring the fields beneath their sway;” 1019

and without the importunity of any one the earth would bear all crops spontaneously. 1020 But he hated a father who had been guilty of incest, and had once mutilated his 1021 grandfather. And yet, behold, he himself marries his own sister; so that I should suppose the old adage was made for him: Τοῦ πατρὸς τὸ παιδίον—“Father’s own child.” There was “not a pin to choose” between the father’s piety and the son’s. If the laws had been just even at that early time, 1022 Jupiter ought to have been “sewed up in both sacks.” 1023 After this corroboration of his lust with incestuous gratification, why should he hesitate to indulge himself lavishly in the lighter excesses of adultery and debauchery? Ever since 1024 poetry sported thus with his character, in some such way as is usual when a runaway slave 1025 is posted up in public, we have been in the habit of gossiping without restraint 1026 of his tricks 1027 in our chat with passers-by; 1028 sometimes sketching him out in the form of the very money which was the fee of his debauchery—as when (he personated) a bull, or rather paid the money’s worth of one, 1029 and showered (gold) into the maiden’s chamber, or rather forced his way in with a bribe; 1030 sometimes (figuring him) in the very likenesses of the parts which were acted 1031 —as the eagle which ravished (the beautiful youth), 1032 and the swan which sang (the enchanting song). 1033 Well now, are not such fables as these made up of the most disgusting intrigues and the worst of scandals? or would not the morals and tempers of men be likely to become wanton from such examples? In what manner demons, the offspring of evil angels who have been long engaged in their mission, have laboured to turn men 1034 aside from the faith to unbelief and to such fables, we must not in this place speak of to any extent. As indeed the general body 1035 (of your gods), which took their cue 1036 from their kings, and princes, and instructors, 1037 was not of the self-same nature, it was in some other way 1038 that similarity of character was exacted by their authority. But how much the worst of them was he who (ought to have been, but) was not, the best of them? By a title peculiar to him, you are indeed in the habit of calling Jupiter “the Best,” 1039 whilst in Virgil he is “Æquus Jupiter.” 1040 All therefore were like him—incestuous towards their own kith and kin, unchaste to strangers, impious, unjust! Now he whom mythic story left untainted with no conspicuous infamy, was not worthy to be made a god.



Comp. The Apology, c. xi. [p. 27. Supra.]




This is not so terse as Tertullian’s “nomen et numen.”






In cunabulis temporalitatis.


The ill-fame of the Cretans is noted by St. Paul, Tit. i. 12.


Virgil, Georg. i. 125.






Jupiter’s, of course.


The law which prescribed the penalty of the paracide, that he be sewed up in a sack with an ape, a serpent, and a cock, and be thrown into the sea.


In duos culleos dividi.


De quo.


De fugitivo.


Abusui nundinare.


The “operam ejus”=ingenia et artificia (Oehler).


Percontationi alienæ.


In the case of Europa.


In the case of Danäe.


Similitudines actuum ipsas.


In the case of Ganymede.


In the case of Leda.














There would seem to be a jest here; “æquus” is not only just but equal, i.e., “on a par with” others—in evil, of course, as well as good.

Next: Gods, Those Which Were Confessedly Elevated to the Divine Condition, What Pre-Eminent Right Had They to Such Honour? Hercules an Inferior Character.

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