Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. X.—Of the world, and its parts, the elements and seasons
Chap. X.—Of the World, and Its Parts, the Elements and Seasons.
Now, having refuted those who entertain false sentiments respecting the world and God its p. 57 Maker, let us return to the divine workmanship of the world, concerning which we are informed in the sacred 247 writings of our holy religion. Therefore, first of all, God made the heaven, and suspended it on high, that it might be the seat of God Himself, the Creator. Then He founded the earth, and placed it under the heaven, as a dwelling-place for man, with the other races of animals. He willed that it should be surrounded and held together by water. But He adorned and filled His own dwelling-place with bright lights; He decked it with the sun, and the shining orb of the moon, and with the glittering signs of the twinkling stars; but He placed on the earth the darkness, which is contrary to these. For of itself the earth contains no light, unless it receives it from the heaven, in which He placed perpetual light, and the gods above, and eternal life; and, on the contrary, He placed on the earth darkness, and the inhabitants of the lower regions, and death. For these things are as far removed from the former ones, as evil things are from good, and vices from virtues. He also established two parts of the earth itself opposite to one another, and of a different character,—namely, the east and the west; and of these the east is assigned to God, because He Himself is the fountain of light, and the enlightener 248 of all things, and because He makes us rise to eternal life. But the west is ascribed to that disturbed and depraved mind, because it conceals the light, because it always brings on darkness, and because it makes men die and perish in their sins. For as light belongs to the east, and the whole course of life depends upon the light, so darkness belongs to the west: but death and destruction are contained in darkness. 249 Then He measured out in the same way the other parts,—namely, the south and the north, which parts are closely united with the two former. For that which is more glowing with the warmth of the sun, is nearest to and closely united with the east; but that which is torpid with colds and perpetual ice belongs to the same division as the extreme west. For as darkness is opposed to light, so is cold to heat. As, therefore, heat is nearest to light, so is the south to the east; and as cold is nearest to darkness, so is the northern region to the west. And He assigned to each of these parts its own time,—namely, the spring to the east, the summer to the southern region, the autumn belongs to the west, and the winter to the north. In these two parts also, the southern and the northern, is contained a figure of life and death, because life consists in heat, death in cold. And as heat arises from fire, so does cold from water. And according to the division of these parts He also made day and night, to complete by alternate succession with each other the courses 250 and perpetual revolutions of time, which we call years. The day, which the first east supplies, must belong to God, as all things do, which are of a better character. But the night, which the extreme west brings on, belongs, indeed, to him whom we have said to be the rival of God.
And even in the making of these God had regard to the future; for He made them so, that a representation of true religion and of false superstitions might be shown from these. For as the sun, which rises daily, although it is but one,—from which Cicero would have it appear that it was called Sol, 251 because the stars are obscured, and it alone is seen,—yet, since it is a true light, and of perfect fulness, and of most powerful heat, and enlightens all things with the brightest splendour; so God, although He is one only, is possessed of perfect majesty, and might, and splendour. But night, which we say is assigned to that depraved adversary of God, 252 shows by a resemblance the many and various superstitions which belong to him. For although innumerable stars appear to glitter and shine, 253 yet, because they are not full and solid lights, and send forth no heat, nor overpower the darkness by their multitude, therefore these two things are found to be of chief importance, which have power differing from and opposed to one another—heat and moisture, which God wonderfully designed for the support and production of all things. For since the power of God consists in heat and fire, if He had not tempered its ardour and force by mingling matter of moisture and cold, nothing could have been born or have existed, but whatever had begun to exist must immediately have been destroyed by conflagration. From which also some philosophers and poets said that the world was made up of a discordant concord; but they did not thoroughly understand the matter. Heraclitus said that all things were produced from fire; Thales of Miletus from water. Each saw something of the truth, and yet each was in error: for if one element only had existed, water could not have been produced from fire, nor, on the other hand, could fire from water; but it is more true that all things were produced from a mingling of the two. Fire, indeed, cannot be mixed with water, because they are opposed to each other; and if they came into collision, the one which proved superior must destroy the other. But their substances p. 58 may be mingled. The substance of fire is heat; of water, moisture. Rightly therefore does Ovid say: 254 —“For when moisture and heat have become mingled, they conceive, and all things arise from these two. And though fire is at variance with water, moist vapour produces all things, and discordant concord 255 is adapted to production.”
For the one element is, as it were, masculine; the other, as it were, feminine: the one active, the other passive. And on this account it was appointed by the ancients that marriage contracts should be ratified by the solemnity 256 of fire and water, because the young of animals are furnished with a body by heat and moisture, and are thus animated to life.
For, since every animal consists of soul 257 and body, the material of the body is contained in moisture, that of the soul in heat: which we may know from the offspring of birds; for though these are full of thick moisture, unless they are cherished by creative 258 heat, the moisture cannot become a body, nor can the body be animated with life. Exiles also were accustomed to be forbidden the use of fire and water: for as yet it seemed unlawful to inflict capital punishment on any, however guilty, inasmuch as they were men. When, therefore, the use of those things in which the life of men consists was forbidden, it was deemed to be equivalent to the actual infliction of death on him who had been thus sentenced. Of such importance were these two elements considered, that they believed them to be essential for the production of man, and for the sustaining of his life. One of these is common to us with the other animals, the other has been assigned to man alone. For we, being a heavenly and immortal race, 259 make use of fire, which is given to us as a proof of immortality, since fire is from heaven; and its nature, inasmuch as it is moveable and rises upward, contains the principle of life. But the other animals, inasmuch as they are altogether mortal, make use of water only, which is a corporeal and earthly element. And the nature of this, because it is moveable, and has a downward inclination, shows a figure of death. Therefore the cattle do not look up to heaven, nor do they entertain religious sentiments, since the use of fire is removed from them. But from what source or in what manner God lighted up or caused 260 to flow these two principal elements, fire and water, He who made them alone can know. 261
Apos. Const. (so-called), book ii. cap. 57. See Bingham, book viii. cap. 3, sec. 3; also vol. ii. note 1, p. 535, this series, and vol. iii. note 1, p. 31. So Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine, and later Fathers. Bingham book xiii. cap. 8, sec. 15.]57:249
[In baptism, the renunciations were made with face turned to the west. Bingham, book xi. cap. 7, sec. 4.]57:250
Spatia; an expression derived from the chariot-race.57:251
A play upon the words Sol, the sun, and solus, alone.57:252
Antitheus, one who takes the place of God: as Antichrist, ἀντίχριστος, one who sets himself in the place of Christ.57:253
Metamorph., i. 430.58:255
Sacramento Torches were lighted at marriage ceremonies, and the bride was sprinkled with water.58:257
The living principle.58:258
Eliquaverit. “strained off,” “made liquid.”58:261
[So Izaak Walton: “Known only to him whose name is Wonderful.”]
Next: Chap. XI.—Of living creatures, of man; Prometheus, Deucalion, the Parcæ
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