Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. X.—Of vices and virtues, and of life and death
Chap. X.—Of Vices and Virtues, and of Life and Death.
Let us now in turn pass on to those things which are opposed to virtue, that from these also the immortality of the soul may be inferred. All vices are for a time; for they are excited for the present. The impetuosity of anger is appeased when vengeance has been taken; the pleasure of the body puts an end 1362 to lust; desire is destroyed either by the full enjoyment of the objects p. 207 which it seeks, or by the excitement of other affections; ambition, when it has gained the honours which it wished for, loses 1363 its strength; likewise the other vices are unable to stand their ground and remain, but they are ended by the very enjoyment which they desire. Therefore they withdraw and return. But virtue is perpetual, without any intermission; nor can he who has once taken it up depart from it. For if it should have any interruption, 1364 if we can at any time do without it, vices, which always oppose virtue, will return. Therefore it has not been grasped, if it deserts its post, if at any time it withdraws itself. But when it has established for itself a firm abode, it must necessarily be engaged in every act; nor can it faithfully drive away and put to flight vices, unless it shall fortify with a perpetual guard the breast which it inhabits. Therefore the uninterrupted duration 1365 of virtue itself shows that the soul of man, if it has received virtue, remains permanent, because virtue is perpetual, and it is the human mind alone which receives virtue. Since, therefore, vices are contrary to virtue, the whole systems must of necessity differ from and be contrary to each other. Because vices are commotions and perturbations of the soul; virtue, on the contrary, is mildness and tranquillity of mind. Because vices are temporary, and of short duration; virtue is perpetual and constant, and always consistent with itself. Because the fruits of vices, that is, pleasures, equally with themselves, are short and temporary, therefore the fruit and reward of virtue are everlasting. Because the advantage of vices is immediate, therefore that of virtue is future.
Thus it happens that in this life there is no reward of virtue, because virtue itself still exists. For as, when vices are completed in their performance, pleasure and their rewards follow; so, when virtue has been ended, its reward follows. But virtue is never ended except by death, since its highest office is in the undergoing of death: therefore the reward of virtue is after death. In fine, Cicero, in his Tusculan Disputations, 1366 perceived, though with doubt, that the chief good does not happen to man except after death. “A man will go,” he says, “with confident spirit, if circumstances shall so happen, to death, in which we have ascertained that there is either the chief good or no evil.” Death, therefore, does not extinguish man, but admits him to the reward of virtue. But he who has contaminated himself, 1367 as the same writer says, with vices and crimes, and has been the slave of pleasure, he truly, being condemned, shall suffer eternal punishment, which the sacred writings call the second death, which is both eternal and full of the severest torments. 1368 For as two lives are proposed to man, of which the one belongs to the soul, the other to the body; so also two deaths are proposed,—one relating to the body, which all must undergo according to nature, the other relating to the soul, which is acquired by wickedness and avoided by virtue. As this life is temporary and has fixed limits, because it belongs to the body; so also death is in like manner temporary and has a fixed end, because it affects the body.
Libidinis finis est.207:1363
Tusc. Disp., i. 46.207:1367
Ibid., i. 30.207:1368
[Tayler Lewis, Plato, etc., pp. 294–300; more especially, pp. 318–322.]
Next: Chap. XI.—Of the last times, and of the soul and body
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