Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XIX.—Of virtue and the tortures of Christians, and of the right of a father and master
Chap. XIX.—Of Virtue and the Tortures of Christians, and of the Right of a Father and Master.
But undoubtedly this is the cause 1047 why he appears to be foolish who prefers to be in want, or to die rather than to inflict injury or take away the property of another,—namely, because they think that man is destroyed by death. And from this persuasion all the errors both of the common people and also of the philosophers arise. For if we have no existence after death, assuredly it is the part of the most foolish man not to promote the interests of the present life, that it may be long-continued, and may abound with all advantages. But he who shall act thus must of necessity depart from the rule of justice. But if there remains to man a longer and a better life—and this we learn both from the arguments of great philosophers, and from the answers of seers, and the divine words of prophets—it is the part of the wise man to despise this present life with its advantages, since its entire loss is compensated by immortality. The same defender of justice, Lælius, says in Cicero: 1048 “Virtue altogether wishes for honour; nor is there any other reward of virtue.” There is indeed another, and that most worthy of virtue, which you, O Lælius, could never have supposed; for you had no knowledge of the sacred writings. And this reward it easily receives, and does not harshly demand. You are greatly mistaken, if you think that a reward can be paid to virtue by man, since you yourself most truly said in another p. 155 place: “What riches will you offer to this man? what commands? what kingdoms? He who regards these things as human, judges his own advantages to be divine.” Who, therefore, can think you a wise man, O Lælius, when you contradict yourself, and after a short interval take away from virtue that which you have given to her? But it is manifest that ignorance of the truth makes your opinion uncertain and wavering.
In the next place, what do you add? “But if all the ungrateful, or the many who are envious, or powerful enemies, deprive virtue of its rewards.” Oh how frail, how worthless, have you represented virtue to be, if it can be deprived of its reward! For if it judges its goods to be divine, as you said, how can there be any so ungrateful, so envious, so powerful, as to be able to deprive virtue of those goods which were conferred upon it by the gods? “Assuredly it delights itself,” he says, “by many comforts, and especially supports itself by its own beauty.” By what comforts? by what beauty? since that beauty is often charged upon it as a fault, and turned into a punishment. For what if, as Furius said, 1049 a man should be dragged away, harassed, banished, should be in want, be deprived of his hands, have his eyes put out, be condemned, put into chains, be burned, be miserably tortured also? will virtue lose its reward, or rather, will it perish itself? By no means. But it will both receive its reward from God the Judge, and it will live, and always flourish. And if you take away these things, nothing in the life of man can appear to be so useless, so foolish, as virtue, the natural goodness and honour of which may teach us that the soul is not mortal, and that a divine reward is appointed for it by God. But on this account God willed that virtue itself should be concealed under the character of folly, that the mystery of truth and of His religion might be secret; that He might show the vanity and error of these superstitions, and of that earthly wisdom which raises itself too highly, and exhibits great self-complacency, that its difficulty being at length set forth, that most narrow path might lead to the lofty reward of immortality.
I have shown, as I think, why our people are esteemed foolish by the foolish. For to choose to be tortured and slain, rather than to take incense in three fingers, and throw it upon the hearth, 1050 appears as foolish as, in a case where life is endangered, to be more careful of the life of another than of ones own. For they do not know how great an act of impiety it is to adore any other object than God, who made heaven and earth, who fashioned the human race, breathed into them the breath of life, and gave them light. But if he is accounted the most worthless of slaves who runs away and deserts his master, and if he is judged most deserving of stripes and chains, and a prison, and the cross, and of all evil; and if a son, in the same manner, is thought abandoned and impious who deserts his father, that he may not pay him obedience, and on this account is considered deserving of being disinherited, and of having his name removed for ever from his family,—how much more so does he who forsakes God, in whom the two names entitled to equal reverence, of Lord and Father, alike meet? For what benefit does he who buys a slave bestow upon him, beyond the nourishment with which he supplies him for his own advantage? And he who begets a son has it not in his power to effect that he shall be conceived, or born, or live; from which it is evident that he is not the father, but only the instrument 1051 of generation. Of what punishments, therefore, is he deserving, who forsakes Him who is both the true Master and Father, but those which God Himself has appointed? who has prepared everlasting fire for the wicked spirits; and this He Himself threatens by His prophets to the impious and the rebellious. 1052
Thus far he has refuted the arguments of Furius, the advocate of injustice. He now shows the reasons why Lælius, who was esteemed most wise, does not worthily maintain the cause of justice, i.e., because he was ignorant of heavenly wisdom. [See cap. xvii. p. 152, supra.]154:1048
De Republ., i. 3.155:1049
Vid. ch. xii.155:1050
[In focum. Here it means the brazier placed before an image.]155:1051
[Perpetually recurring are such ideas and interpretations of Gods warnings. Vol. iv. p. 542.]
Next: Chap. XX.—Of the vanity and crimes, impious superstitions, and of the tortures of the Christians
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