Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XXVII.—Of the wonders effected by the power of the cross, and of demons
Chap. XXVII.—Of the Wonders Effected by the Power of the Cross, and of Demons.
At present it is sufficient to show what great efficacy the power of this sign has. How great a terror this sign is to the demons, he will know who shall see how, when adjured by Christ, they flee from the bodies which they have besieged. For as He Himself, when He was living among men, put to flight all the demons by His word, and restored to their former senses the minds of men which had been excited and maddened by their dreadful attacks; so now His followers, in the name of their Master, and by the sign of His passion, banish the same polluted spirits from men. And it is not difficult to prove this. For when they sacrifice to their gods, if any one bearing a marked forehead stands by, the sacrifices are by no means favourable. 857“Nor can the diviner, when consulted, give answers.” 858
And this has often been the cause of punishment to wicked kings. For when some of their attendants who were of our religion 859 were standing by their masters as they sacrificed, having the sign placed on their foreheads, they caused the gods of their masters to flee, that they might not be able to observe 860 future events in the entrails of the victims. And when the soothsayers understood this, at the instigation of the same p. 130 demons to whom they had sacrificed, 861 complaining that profane men were present at the sacrifices, they drove their princes to madness, so that they attacked the temple of the god, and contaminated themselves by true sacrilege, which was expiated by the severest punishments on the part of their persecutors. Nor, however, are blind men able to understand even from this, either that this is the true religion, which contains such great power for overcoming, or that that is false, which is not able to hold its ground or to come to an engagement.
But they say that the gods do this, not through fear, but through hatred; as though it were possible for any one to hate another, unless it be him who injures, or has the power of injuring. Yea, truly, it would be consistent with their majesty to visit those whom they hated with immediate punishment, 862 rather than to flee from them. But since they can neither approach those in whom they shall see the heavenly mark, nor injure those whom the immortal sign 863 as an impregnable wall protects, they harass them by men, and persecute them by the hands of others: and if they acknowledge the existence of these demons, we have overcome; for this must necessarily be the true religion, which both understands the nature of demons, and understands their subtlety, and compels them, vanquished and subdued, to yield to itself. If they deny it, they will be refuted by the testimonies of poets and philosophers. But if they do not deny the existence and malignity of demons, what remains except that they affirm that there is a difference between gods and demons? 864 Let them therefore explain to us the difference between the two kinds, that we may know what is to be worshipped and what to be held in execration; whether they have any mutual agreement, or are really opposed to one another. If they are united by some necessity, how shall we distinguish them? or how shall we unite the honour and worship of each kind? If, on the other hand, they are enemies, how is it that the demons do not fear the gods, or that the gods cannot put to flight the demons? Behold, some one excited by the impulse of the demon is out of his senses, raves, is mad: let us lead him into the temple of the excellent and mighty Jupiter; or since Jupiter knows not how to cure men, into the fane of Æsculapius or Apollo. Let the priest of either, in the name of his god, command the wicked spirit to come out of the man: that can in no way come to pass. What, then, is the power of the gods, if the demons are not subject to their control? But, in truth, the same demons, when adjured by the name of the true God, immediately flee. What reason is there why they should fear Christ, but not fear Jupiter, unless that they whom the multitude esteem to be gods are also demons? Lastly, if there should be placed in the midst one who is evidently suffering from an attack of a demon, and the priest of the Delphian Apollo, they will in the same manner dread the name of God; and Apollo will as quickly depart from his priest as the spirit of the demon from the man; and his god being adjured and put to flight, the priest will be for ever silent. 865 Therefore the demons, whom they acknowledge to be objects of execration, are the same as the gods to whom they offer supplications.
If they imagine that we are unworthy of belief, let them believe Homer, who associated the supreme Jupiter 866 with the demons; and also other poets and philosophers, who speak of the same beings at one time as demons, and at another time as gods,—of which names one is true, and the other false. For those most wicked spirits, when they are adjured, then confess that they are demons; when they are worshipped, then falsely say that they are gods; in order that they may lead men into errors, 867 and call them away from the knowledge of the true God, by which alone eternal death can be escaped. They are the same who, for the sake of overthrowing man, have founded various systems of worship for themselves through different regions, 868 —under false and assumed names, however, that they might deceive. For because they were unable by themselves to aspire to divinity, they took to themselves the names of powerful kings, under whose titles they might claim for themselves divine honours; which error may be dispelled, and brought to the light of truth. For if any one desires to inquire further into the matter, let him assemble those who are skilled in calling forth spirits from the dead. Let them call forth 869 Jupiter, Neptune, Vulcan, Mercury, Apollo, and Saturnus the father of all. All will answer from the lower regions; and being questioned they will speak, and confess respecting themselves and p. 131 God. After these things let them call up Christ; He will not be present, He will not appear, for He was not more than two days in the lower regions. What proof can be brought forward more certain than this? I have no doubt that Trismegistus arrived at the truth by some proof of this kind, who spoke many things 870 respecting God the Son which are contained in the divine secrets.
Litant, a word peculiar to the soothsayers, used when the sacrifices are auspicious.129:858
Virg., Georg., iii. 491.129:859
Nostri, i.e., Christians.129:860
Depingere; to make observations on the entrails of the victims, so as to foretell future events.130:861
Prosecrârant. Others read “prosecârant,” a sacrificial word, properly denoting the setting apart some of the victim for offering to the gods.130:862
Præsentibus pœnis, “on the spot.”130:863
i.e., the sign of the cross, with which the early Christians frequently marked themselves. [So long as Christians were mocked and despised as followers of a crucified one, there was a silent testimony and bold confession in this act which must be wholly separated from the mere superstition of degenerate Christians. It used to mean just what the Apostle says, Gal. vi. 14. In this sense it is retained among Anglicans.]130:864
[See vol. iii. pp. 37, 176, 180, and iv. 189–190.]130:865
[The cessation of oracles is attested by Plutarch. See also Tertullian, vol. iii. p. 38, this series, and Minucius, vol. iv. p. 190. Demonology needs further exposition, for Scripture is express in its confirmation of patristic views of the subject.]130:866
There is probably a reference to Iliad, i. 221, where Athene is represented as going to Olympus:—ἡ δ' Οὔλυπόνδε βεβήκει130:867
δώματ' ἐς αιγιόχοιο Διὸς μετὰ δαίμονας ἄλλους
Ut errores hominibus immittant.130:868
Per diversa regionum. There is another reading, “perversâ religione”—by perverted religion.130:869
The reference is to necromancy, or calling up the spirits of the dead by magic rites.131:870
There is another reading: “qui de Deo patre omnia, et de filio locutus est multa;” but this is manifestly erroneous.
Next: Chap. XXVIII.—Of hope and true religion, and of superstition
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