Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. X.—Of the advent of Jesus; Of the fortunes of the Jews, and their government, until the passion of the Lord
Chap. X.—Of the Advent of Jesus; Of the Fortunes of the Jews, and Their Government, Until the Passion of the Lord.
In the first place, then, men ought to know that the arrangements of the Most High God have so advanced from the beginning, that it was necessary, as the end of the world 555 approached, that the Son of God should descend to the earth, that He might build a temple for God, and teach righteousness; but, however, not with the might of an angel or with heavenly power, but in the form of man and in the condition of a mortal, that when He had discharged the office of His ministry, 556 He might be delivered into the hands of wicked men, and might undergo death, that, having subdued this also by His might, He might rise again, and bring to man, whose nature He had put on 557 and represented, the hope of overcoming death, and might admit him to the rewards of immortality. And that no one may be ignorant of this arrangement, we will show that all things were foretold which we see fulfilled in Christ. Let no one believe our assertion unless I shall show that the prophets before a long series of ages published that it should come to pass at length that the Son of God should be born as a man, and perform wonderful deeds, and sow 558 the worship of God throughout the whole earth, and at last be crucified, and on the third day rise again. And when I shall have proved all these things by the writings of those very men who treated with violence their God who had assumed a mortal body, what else will prevent it from being manifest that true wisdom is conversant with this religion only? Now the origin of the whole mystery is to be related.
Our ancestors, 559 who were chiefs of the Hebrews, when they were distressed by famine and want, passed over into Egypt, that they might obtain a supply of corn; and sojourning there a long time, they were oppressed with an intolerable yoke of slavery. Then God pitied them, and led them out, and freed them from the hand of the king of the Egyptians, after four hundred and thirty 560 years, under the leadership of Moses, through whom the law was afterwards given to them by God; and in this leading out God displayed the power of His majesty. For He made His people to pass through the midst of the Red Sea, His angel 561 going before and dividing the water, so that the people might walk over the dry land, of whom it might more truly be said (as the poet says 562 ), that “the wave, closing over him after the appearance of a mountain, stood around him.” And when he heard of this, the tyrant of the Egyptians followed with this great host of his men, and rashly entering the sea which still lay open, was destroyed, together with his whole army, by the waves returning 563 to their place. But the Hebrews, when they had entered into the wilderness, saw many wonderful deeds. For when they suffered thirst, a rock having been struck with a rod, a fountain of water sprung forth and refreshed the people. And again, when they were hungry, a shower 564 of heavenly nourishment descended. Moreover, also, the wind 565 brought quails into their camp, so that they were not only satisfied with heavenly bread, but also with more choice banquets. And yet, in return for these divine benefits, they did not pay honour to God; but when slavery had been now removed from them, and their thirst and hunger laid aside, they fell away into luxury, and transferred their minds to the profane rites of the Egyptians. For when Moses, their leader, had ascended into the mountain, and there tarried forty days, they made the head 566 of an ox in gold, which they call Apis, 567 that it might go before them as a standard. 568 With which sin and crime God was offended, and justly visited the impious and ungrateful people with severe punishments, and made them subject to the law 569 which He had given by Moses.
But afterwards, when they had settled in a desert part of Syria, the Hebrews 570 lost their ancient name; and since the leader of their host 571 was Judas, they were called Jews, 572 and the land which they inhabited Judæa. And at p. 109 first, indeed, they were not subject to the dominion of Kings, but civil Judges presided over the people and the law: they were not, however, appointed only for a year, as the Roman consuls, but supported by a perpetual jurisdiction. Then, the name of Judges being taken away, the kingly power was introduced. But during the government of the Judges the people had often undertaken corrupt religious rites; and God, offended by them, as often brought them into bondage to strangers, until again, softened by the repentance of the people, He freed them from bondage. Likewise under the Kings, being oppressed by wars with their neighbours on account of their iniquities, and at last taken captive and led to Babylon, they suffered punishment for their impiety by oppressive slavery, until Cyrus came to the kingdom, who immediately restored the Jews by an edict. Afterwards they had tetrarchs until the time of Herod, who was in the reign of Tiberius Cæsar; in whose fifteenth year, in the consulship of the two Gemini, on the 23d of March, 573 the Jews crucified Christ. This series of events, this order, is contained in the secrets of the sacred writings. But I will first show for what reason Christ came to the earth, that the foundation and the system of divine religion may be manifest.
The boundary of the age. Thus the Scriptures speak of the end of the world, the last days.108:556
An expression frequently used by the Fathers to denote the assumption of our nature by Christ.108:558
Seminaret, “sow” or “spread.” [I have put “sow” into the text, and brought down “spread,” for an obvious reason.]108:559
The patriarchs. The idea appears to be that Christians from the Gentiles, having succeeded to the privileges of the Jews, are, as it were, their posterity.108:560
The duration of the captivity in Egypt was two hundred and fifteen years. The period of four hundred and thirty years is reckoned from the call of Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees to the final departure from Egypt.108:561
The Angel of the Covenant, who so often presented Himself to the Hebrews. See Ex. xxiii. 20. [The Jehovah-Angel. Compare Justin, vol. i. pp. 223–226, and others passim, this series.]108:562
Virgil, Georg., iv. 361. He describes Aristæus as descending to the chamber of his mother Cyrene, in the depths of the river Peneus. The waters separate on each side to make a way for him, and then close over his head.108:563
Coeuntibus aquis, “meeting together.”108:564
See Ps. lxxviii. 24: “He rained down manna upon them to eat.”108:565
See Num. xi. 31.108:566
Some of the Fathers think, with Lacantius, that it was the head only, and not the whole figure, of a calf which they made.108:567
Apis is the name given by the Egyptians to the calf which they worshipped.108:568
The moral law had been already given to Moses on the mount before the making of the golden calf. The law here referred to may well be taken to express the burthensome routine of the ceremonial law, which Peter (Acts xv. 10) describes as a “yoke which neither their fathers nor they were able to bear.” [Our author expresses himself with accuracy: He subjected them by the oppressive ceremonial law to the moral law He had just given.]108:570
The Hebrews are said to have derived their name from Heber the descendant of Noah by Shem; or more probably from Abram the Hebrew, that is, the man who had crossed the river,—a name given to him by the Canaanites. See Gen. xiv. 13.108:571
There seems to be no authority for this derivation of the name. They were doubtless called Jews from Judah. As those who returned from the captivity at Babylon were principally of the tribe of Judah, though some from the other tribes returned with them, they were called Jews after the captivity.109:573
There appears to be no reasonable doubt that the day on which our Lord suffered was the 14th of Nisan, that is, April 7. See Gresswells Dissertations, vol. iii. p. 168; also Ellicotts Lectures on the Life of Christ [Gresswell is not to be too readily accepted in this. See the learned inquiry of Dr. Jarvis, of whom, vol. ii. p. 477.]
Next: Chap. XI.—Of the cause of the incarnation of Christ
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