Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XXIII.—Of giving precepts, and acting
Chap. XXIII.—Of Giving Precepts, and Acting.
If any one gives to men precepts for living, and moulds the characters of others, I ask whether he is bound himself to practice the things which he enjoins, or is not bound. If he shall not do so, his precepts are annulled. For if the things which are enjoined are good, if they place the life of men in the best condition, the instructor ought not to separate himself from the number and assemblage of men among whom he acts; and he ought himself to live in the same manner in which he teaches that men ought to live, lest, by living in another way, he himself should disparage 808 his own precepts, and make his instruction of less value, if in reality he should relax the obligations of that which he endeavours to establish by his words. For every one, when he hears another giving precepts, is unwilling that the necessity of obeying should be imposed upon him, as though the right of liberty were taken from him. Therefore he answers his teacher in this manner: I am not able to do the things which you command, for they are impossible. For you forbid me to be angry, you forbid me to covet, you forbid me to be excited by desire, you forbid me to fear pain or death; but this is so contrary to nature, that all animals are subject to these affections. Or if you are so entirely of opinion that it is possible to resist nature, do you yourself practice the things which you enjoin, that I may know that they are possible? But since you yourself do not practice them, what arrogance is it, to wish to impose upon a free man laws which you yourself do not obey! You who teach, first learn; and before you correct the character of others, correct your own. Who could deny the justice of this answer? Nay! a teacher of this kind will fall into contempt, and will in his turn be mocked, because he also will appear to mock others.
What, therefore, will that instructor do, if these things shall be objected to him? how will he deprive the self-willed 809 of an excuse, unless he teach them by deeds before their eyes 810 that he teaches things which are possible? Whence it comes to pass, that no one obeys the precepts of the philosophers. 811 For men prefer examples rather than words, because it is easy to speak, but difficult to accomplish. 812 Would to heaven that there were as many who acted well as there are who speak well! But they who give precepts, p. 125 without carrying them out into action, are distrusted; 813 and if they shall be men, will be despised as inconsistent: 814 if it shall be God, He will be met with the excuse of the frailty of mans nature. It remains that words should be confirmed by deeds, which the philosophers are unable to do. Therefore, since the instructors themselves are overcome by the affections which they say that it is our duty to overcome, they are able to train no one to virtue, which they falsely proclaim; 815 and for this cause they imagine that no perfect wise man has as yet existed, that is, in whom the greatest virtue and perfect justice were in harmony with the greatest learning and knowledge. And this indeed was true. For no one since the creation of the world has been such, except Christ, who both delivered wisdom by His word, and confirmed His teaching by presenting virtue to the eyes of men. 816
Ipse præceptis suis fidem detrahat.124:809
[See Augustine, quoted in elucidation, vol. vi. p. 541.]124:812
Abest ab iis fides.125:814
[What neither Platonists nor Censors, in their judgments, could effect by their sophia, the crucified Jesus has done by His Gospel. The impotence of philosophers as compared with the Carpenters Son, to change the morals of nations, cannot be gainsaid. See Youngs Christ of History ]125:816
Next: Chap. XXIV.—The overthrowing of the arguments above urged by way of objection
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