Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XVIII.—Of the patience and vengeance of God, the worship of demons, and false religions
Chap. XVIII.—Of the Patience and Vengeance of God, the Worship of Demons, and False Religions.
Some one will say, Why then does God permit these things to be done, and not apply a remedy to such disastrous errors? That evils may be at variance with good; that vices may be opposed to virtues; that He may have some whom He may punish, and others whom He p. 67 may honour. For He has determined at the last times to pass judgment on the living and the dead, concerning which judgment I shall speak in the last book. He delays, 352 therefore, until the end of the times shall come, when He may pour out His wrath with heavenly power and might, as“Prophecies of pious seers
Ring terror in the wildered ears.” 353
But now He suffers men to err, and to be impious even towards Himself, just, and mild, and patient as He is. For it is impossible that He in whom is perfect excellence should not also be of perfect patience. Whence some imagine, that God is altogether free from anger, because He is not subject to affections, which are perturbations of the mind; for every animal which is liable to affections and emotions is frail. But this persuasion altogether takes away truth and religion. But let this subject of discussing the anger of God be laid aside for the present; because the matter is very copious, and to be more widely treated in a work devoted to the subject. Whoever shall have worshipped and followed these most wicked spirits, will neither enjoy heaven nor the light, which are Gods; but will fall into those things which we have spoken of as being assigned in the distribution of things to the prince of the evil ones himself,—namely, into darkness, and hell, and everlasting punishment.
I have shown that the religious rites of the gods are vain in a threefold manner: In the first place, because those images which are worshipped are representations of men who are dead; and that is a wrong and inconsistent thing, that the image of a man should be worshipped by the image of God, for that which worships is lower and weaker than that which is worshipped: then that it is an inexpiable crime to desert the living in order that you may serve memorials of the dead, who can neither give life nor light to any one, for they are themselves without it: and that there is no other God but one, to whose judgment and power every soul is subject. In the second place, that the sacred images themselves, to which most senseless men do service, are destitute of all perception, since they are earth. But who cannot understand that it is unlawful for an upright animal to bend itself that it may adore the earth? which is placed beneath our feet for this purpose, that it may be trodden upon, and not adored by us, who have been raised from it, and have received an elevated position beyond the other living creatures, that we may not turn ourselves again downward, nor cast this heavenly countenance to the earth, but may direct our eyes to that quarter to which the condition of their nature has directed, and that we may adore and worship nothing except the single deity of our only Creator and Father, who made man of an erect figure, that we may know that we are called forth to high and heavenly things. In the third place, because the spirits which preside over the religious rites themselves, being condemned and cast off by God, wallow 354 over the earth, who not only are unable to afford any advantage to their worshippers, since the power of all things is in the hands of one alone, but even destroy them with deadly attractions and errors; since this is their daily business, to involve men in darkness, that the true God may not be sought by them. Therefore they are not to be worshipped, because they lie under the sentence of God. For it is a very great crime to devote 355 ones self to the power of those whom, if you follow righteousness, you are able to excel in power, and to drive out and put to flight by adjuration of the divine name. But if it appears that these religious rites are vain in so many ways as I have shown, it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, 356 or venerate the earth, or make over 357 their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law.
Jerome says “Great is the anger of God when He does not correct sins, but punishes blindness with blindness. On this very account God sends strong delusion, as St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, that they should believe a lie, that they all may be damned who have not believed the truth. They are unworthy of the living fountain who dig for themselves cisterns.”67:353
Virg., Æn., iv. 464. Some read priorum instead of piorum67:354
Addico, “to adjudge,” is the legal term, expressing the sentence by which the prætor gave effect to the right which he had declared to exist.67:356
[Let this be noted.]67:357
Mancipo. The word implies the making over or transferring by a formal act of sale. Debtors, who were unable to satisfy the demands of their creditors, were made over to them, and regarded as their slaves. They were termed addicti. Our Lord said (John viii. 34), “Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin.” Thus also St. Paul, Rom. 6:16, 17.
Next: Chap. XIX.—Of the worship of images and earthly objects
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