Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chapter IV.—Of wisdom likewise, and religion, and of the right of father and lord
Chapter IV.—Of Wisdom Likewise, and Religion, and of the Right of Father and Lord.
By these things it is evident how closely connected are wisdom and religion. Wisdom relates to sons, and this relation requires love; religion to servants, and this relation requires fear. For as the former are bound to love and honour their father, so are the latter bound to respect and venerate their lord. But with respect to God, who is one only, inasmuch as He sustains the twofold character both of Father and Lord, we are bound both to love Him, inasmuch as we are sons, and to fear Him, inasmuch p. 104 as we are servants. 513 Religion, therefore, cannot be divided from wisdom, nor can wisdom be separated from religion; because it is the same God, who ought to be understood, which is the part of wisdom, and to be honoured, which is the part of religion. But wisdom precedes, religion follows; for the knowledge of God comes first, His worship is the result of knowledge. Thus in the two names there is but one meaning, though it seems to be different in each case. For the one is concerned with the understanding, the other with action. But, however, they resemble two streams flowing from one fountain. But the fountain of wisdom and religion is God; and if these two streams shall turn aside from Him, they must be dried up: for they who are ignorant of Him cannot be wise or religious.
Thus it comes to pass that philosophers, and those who worship many gods, either resemble disinherited sons or runaway slaves, because the one do not seek their father, nor the other their master. And as they who are disinherited do not attain to the inheritance of their father, nor runaway slaves impunity, so neither will philosophers receive immortality, which is the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, that is, the chief good, which they especially seek; nor will the worshippers of gods escape the penalty of everlasting death, which is the punishment of the true Master against those who are deserters 514 of His majesty and name. But that God is Father and also Lord was unknown to both, to the worshippers of the gods as well as to the professors of wisdom themselves: inasmuch as they either thought that nothing at all was to be worshipped; or they approved of false religions; or, although they understood the strength and power of the Supreme God (as Plato, who says that there is one God, Creator of the world, and Marcus Tullius, who acknowledges that man has been produced by the Supreme God in an excellent condition), nevertheless they did not render the worship due to Him as to the supreme Father, which was their befitting and necessary duty. But that the gods cannot be fathers or lords, is declared not only by their multitude, as I have shown above, 515 but also by reason: because it is not reported that man was made by gods, nor is it found that the gods themselves preceded the origin of man, since it appears that there were men on the earth before the birth of Vulcan, and Liber, and Apollo, and Jupiter himself. But the creation of man is not accustomed to be assigned to Saturnus, nor to his father Cœlus.
But if none of those who are worshipped is said to have originally formed and created man, it follows that none of these can be called the father of man, and so none of them can be God. Therefore it is not lawful to worship those by whom man was not produced, for he could not be produced by many. Therefore the one and only God ought to be worshipped, who was before Jupiter, and Saturnus, and Cœlus himself, and the earth. For He must have fashioned man, who, before the creation of man, finished the heaven and the earth. He alone is to be called Father who created us; He alone is to be considered Lord who rules, who has the true and perpetual power of life and death. And he who does not adore Him is a foolish servant, who flees from or does not know his Master; and an undutiful son, who either hates or is ignorant of his true Father.
Fear, in the language of the prophets often implies reverence of the divine majesty. Lactantius seems to refer to Mal. i. 6: “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?”104:514
Literally, runaways. The reference is, as before, to runaway slaves.104:515
Chap. iii. [p. 103].
Next: Chap. V.—The oracles of the prophets must be looked into; and of their times, and the times of the judges and kings
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