Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. III.—Wisdom and religion cannot be separated: the Lord of nature must necessarily be the Father of every one
Chap. III.—Wisdom and Religion Cannot Be Separated: the Lord of Nature Must Necessarily Be the Father of Every One.
The worship of the gods, as I have taught in the former book, does not imply wisdom; not only because it gives up man, who is a divine animal, to earthly and frail things, but because nothing is fixed in it which may avail for the cultivation of the character and the framing of the life; nor does it contain any investigation of the truth, but only the rite of worship, which does not consist in the service of the mind, but in the employment of the body. And therefore that is not to be deemed true religion, because it instructs and improves men by no precepts of righteousness and virtue. Thus philosophy, inasmuch as it does not possess true religion, that is, the highest piety, is not true wisdom. For if the divinity which governs this world supports mankind with incredible beneficence, and cherishes it as with paternal indulgence, wishes truly that gratitude should be paid, and honour given to itself, man cannot preserve his piety if he shall prove ungrateful for the heavenly benefits; and this is certainly not the part of a wise man. Since, therefore, as I have said, philosophy and the religious system of the gods are separated, and far removed from each other; seeing that some are professors of wisdom, through whom it is manifest that there is no approach to the gods, and that others are priests of religion, through whom wisdom is not learned; it is manifest that the one is not true wisdom, and that the other is not true religion. Therefore philosophy was not able to conceive the truth, nor was the religious system of the gods able to give an account of itself, since it is without it. But where wisdom is joined by an inseparable connection with religion, both must necessarily be true; because in our worship we ought to be wise, that is, to know the proper object and mode of worship, and in our wisdom to worship, that is, to complete our knowledge by deed and action.
Where, then, is wisdom joined with religion? There, indeed, where the one God is worshipped, where life and every action is referred to one p. 103 source, and to one supreme authority: in short, the teachers of wisdom are the same, who are also the priests of God. 506 Nor, however, let it affect any one, because it often has happened, and may happen, that some philosopher may undertake a priesthood of the gods; and when this happens, philosophy is not, however, joined with religion; but philosophy will both be unemployed amidst sacred rites, and religion will be unemployed when philosophy shall be treated of. For that system of religious rites is dumb, not only because it relates to gods who are dumb, but also because its observance is by the hand and the fingers, not by the heart and tongue, as is the case with ours, which is true. Therefore religion is contained in wisdom, and wisdom in religion. The one, then, cannot be separated from the other; because wisdom is nothing else but the worship of the true God with just and pious adoration. But that the worship of many gods is not in accordance with nature, may be inferred and conceived even by this argument: that every god who is worshipped by man must, amidst the solemn rites and prayers, be invoked as father, not only for the sake of honour, but also of reason; because he is both more ancient than man, and because he affords life, safety, and sustenance, as a father does. Therefore Jupiter is called father by those who pray to him, as is Saturnus, and Janus, and Liber, and the rest in order; which Lucilius 507 laughs at in the council of the gods: “So that there is none of us who is not called excellent father of the gods; so that father Neptunus, Liber, father Saturnus, Mars, Janus, father Quirinus, are called after one name.” But if nature does not permit that one man should have many fathers (for he is produced from one only), therefore the worship of many gods is contrary to nature, and contrary to piety.
One only, therefore, is to be worshipped, who can truly be called Father. He also must of necessity be Lord, because as He has power to indulge, so also has He power to restrain. He is to be called Father on this account, because He bestows upon us many and great things; and Lord on this account, because He has the greatest power of chastising and punishing. But that He who is Father is also Lord, is shown even by reference to civil law. 508 For who will be able to bring up sons, unless he has the power of a lord over them? Nor without reason is he called father of a household, 509 although he only has sons: for it is plain that the name of father embraces also slaves, because “household” follows; and the name of “household” comprises also sons, because the name of “father” precedes: from which it is evident, that the same person is both father of his slaves 510 and lord of his sons. Lastly, the son is set at liberty as if he were a slave; and the liberated slave receives the name 511 of his patron, as if he were a son. But if a man is named father of a household, that it may appear that he is possessed of a double power, because as a father he ought to indulge, and as a lord to restrain, it follows that he who is a son is also a slave, and that he who is a father is also a lord. As, therefore, by the necessity of nature, there cannot be more than one father, so there can only be one lord. For what will the slave do if many lords 512 shall give commands at variance with each other? Therefore the worship of many gods is contrary to reason and to nature, since there cannot be many fathers or lords; but it is necessary to consider the gods both as fathers and lords.
Therefore the truth cannot be held where the same man is subject to many fathers and lords, where the mind, drawn in different directions to many objects, wanders to and fro, hither and thither. Nor can religion have any firmness, when it is without a fixed and settled dwelling-place. Therefore there can be no true worship of many gods; just as that cannot be called matrimony, in which one woman has many husbands, but she will either be called a harlot or an adulteress. For when a woman is destitute of modesty, chastity, and fidelity, she must of necessity be without virtue. Thus also the religious system of the gods is unchaste and unholy, because it is destitute of faith, for that unsettled and uncertain honour has no source or origin.
[Iidem sunt doctores sapientiæ qui et De. sacerdotes.]103:507
[The satirist, not Ciceros friend; Nat. Deor., iii.]103:508
Fathers in ancient times had the greatest power over their children, so that they had the right of life and death, as masters had over their slaves.103:509
Pater familias—a title given to the master of a household, whether he had sons or not; the slaves of a house were called familia103:510
It has been judged better to keep the words “slave” and “lord” throughout the passage, for the sake of uniformity of expression, though in some places “servant” and “master” might seem more appropriate.103:511
Among the Romans slaves had no prænomen or distinguishing name; when a slave was set at liberty, he was allowed to assume the name of his master as a prænomen. Thus, in Persius (Sat., v.), “Dama,” the liberated slave, becomes “Marcus Dama.”103:512
Thus the slave in Terence wished to know how many masters he had.
Next: Chapter IV.—Of wisdom likewise, and religion, and of the right of father and lord
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