Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. X.—Of religion towards God, and mercy towards men; and of the beginning of the world
Chap. X.—Of Religion Towards God, and Mercy Towards Men; And of the Beginning of the World.
I have said what is due to God, I will now say what is to be given to man; although this very thing which you shall give to man is given to God, for man is the image of God. But, however, the first office of justice is to be united with God, the second with man. But the former is called religion; the second is named mercy or kindness; 1146 which virtue is peculiar to the just, and to the worshippers of God, because this alone comprises the principle of common life. For God, who has not given wisdom to the other animals, has made them more safe from attack in danger by natural defences. But because He made him naked and defenceless, 1147 that He might rather furnish him with wisdom, He gave him, besides other things, this feeling of kindness; 1148 so that man should protect, love, and cherish man, and both receive and afford assistance against all dangers. Therefore kindness is the greatest bond of human society; and he who has broken this is to be deemed impious, and a parricide. For if we all derive our origin from one man, whom God p. 173 created, we are plainly of one blood; and therefore it must be considered the greatest wickedness to hate a man, even though guilty. On which account God has enjoined that enmities are never to be contracted by us, but that they are always to be removed, so that we soothe those who are our enemies, by reminding them of their relationship. Likewise, if we are all inspired and animated by one God, what else are we than brothers? And, indeed, the more closely united, because we are united in soul rather than in body. 1149 Accordingly Lucretius does not err when he says: 1150 “In short, we are all sprung from a heavenly seed; all have that same father.” Therefore they are to be accounted as savage beasts who injure man; who, in opposition to every law and right of human nature, plunder, torture, slay, and banish.
On account of this relationship of brotherhood, God teaches us never to do evil, but always good. And He also prescribes 1151 in what this doing good consists: in affording aid to those who are oppressed and in difficulty, and in bestowing food on those who are destitute. For God, since He is kind, 1152 wished us to be a social animal. Therefore, in the case of other men, we ought to think of ourselves. We do not deserve to be set free in our own dangers, if we do not succour others; we do not deserve assistance, if we refuse to render it. There are no precepts of philosophers to this purport, inasmuch as they, being captivated by the appearance of false virtue, have taken away mercy from man, and while they wish to heal, have corrupted. 1153 And though they generally admit that the mutual participation of human society is to be retained, they entirely separate themselves from it by the harshness of their inhuman virtue. This error, therefore, is also to be refuted, of those who think that nothing is to be bestowed on any one. They have introduced not one origin only, and cause of building a city; but some relate that those men who were first born from the earth, when they passed a wandering life among the woods and plains, and were not united by any mutual bond of speech or justice, but had leaves and grass for their beds, and caves and grottos for their dwellings, were a prey to the beasts and stronger animals. Then, that those who had either escaped, having been torn, or had seen their neighbours torn, being admonished of their own danger, had recourse to other men, implored protection, and at first made their wishes known by nods; then that they tried the beginnings of conversation, and by attaching names to each object, by degrees completed the system of speech. But when they saw that numbers themselves were not safe against the beasts, they began also to build towns, either that they might make their nightly repose safe, or that they might ward off the incursions and attacks of beasts, not by fighting, but by interposing barriers. 1154
O minds unworthy of men, which produced these foolish trifles! O wretched and pitiable men, who committed to writing and handed down to memory the record of their own folly; who, when they saw that the plan of assembling themselves together, or of mutual intercourse, or of avoiding danger, or of guarding against evil, or of preparing for themselves sleeping-places and lairs, was natural even to the dumb animals, thought, however, that men could not have been admonished and learned, except by examples, what they ought to fear, what to avoid, and what to do, or that they would never have assembled together, or have discovered the method of speech, had not the beasts devoured them! These things appeared to others senseless, as they really were; and they said that the cause of their coming together was not the tearing of wild beasts, but rather the very feeling of humanity itself; and that therefore they collected themselves together, because the nature of men avoided solitude, and was desirous of communion and society. The discrepancy between them is not great; since the causes are different, the fact is the same. Each might have been true, because there is no direct opposition. But, however, neither is by any means true, because men were not born from the ground throughout the world, as though sprung from the teeth of some dragon, as the poets relate; but one man was formed by God, and from that one man all the earth was filled with the human race, in the same way as again took place after the deluge, which they certainly cannot deny. 1155 Therefore no assembling together of this kind took place at the beginning; and that there were never men on the earth who could not speak except those who were infants, 1156 every one who is possessed of sense will understand. Let us suppose, however, that these things are true which idle and foolish old men vainly say, that we may refute them especially by their own feelings and arguments.
If men were collected together on this account, p. 174 that they might protect their weakness by mutual help, therefore we must succour man, who needs help. For, since men entered into and contracted fellowship with men for the sake of protection, either to violate or not to preserve that compact which was entered into among men from the commencement of their origin, is to be considered as the greatest impiety. For he who withdraws himself from affording assistance must also of necessity withdraw himself from receiving it; for he who refuses his aid to another thinks that he stands in need of the aid of none. But he who withdraws and separates himself from the body 1157 at large, must live not after the custom of men, but after the manner of wild beasts. But if this cannot be done, the bond of human society is by all means to be retained, because man can in no way live without man. But the preservation 1158 of society is a mutual sharing of kind offices; that is, the affording help, that we may be able to receive it. But if, as those others assert, the assembling together of men has been caused on account of humanity itself, man ought undoubtedly to recognise man. But if those ignorant and as yet uncivilized men did this, and that, when the practice of speaking was not yet established, what must we think ought to be done by men who are polished, and connected together by interchange of conversation and all business, who, being accustomed to the society of men, cannot endure solitude?
[Φύσις κέρατα ταύροις
ὁπλὰς δ' ἒδωκεν ἲπποίς
τοι̑ς ἀνδράσιν φρόνημα, κ τ λ
Anacreon, Ode 2.]172:1148
Hunc pietatis affectum.173:1149
Conjunctiores, quòd animis, quàm quòd (others read “qui”) corporibus.173:1150
[Modern followers of Lucretius may learn from him:—
Denique cœlesti sumus omnes semine oriundi;
Omnibus ille idem pater est.]
Isa. 58:6, 7; Ezek. xviii. 7; Matt. xxv. 35.173:1152
Dum volunt sanare, vitiaverunt. There is another reading: “dum volunt sanare vitia, auxerunt,” while they wish to apply a remedy to vices, have increased them.173:1154
Objectis aggeribus. “Agger” properly signifies a mound of earth or other material.173:1155
[Gen. x. 32.]173:1156
Prater infantiam—others read “propter infans”—properly means, one unable to speak. [See fine remarks on language, etc., in De Maistre, Soirées, etc., vol. i. p. 105 and notes, ed. Lyon, 1836.]174:1157
A corpore, that is, from society.174:1158
Retentio. The word sometimes signifies a “withholding,” or “drawing back;” but here, as in other passages, Lactantius uses it to express “preservation.”
Next: Chap. XI.—Of the persons upon whom a benefit is to be conferred
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