Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XVII.—Of God, His care and anger
Chap. XVII.—Of God, His Care and Anger.
God, says Epicurus, regards nothing; therefore He has no power. For he who has power must of necessity regard affairs. For if He has power, and does not use it, what so great cause is there that, I will not say our race, but even the universe itself, should be contemptible in His sight? On this account he says He is pure 1741 and happy, because He is always at rest. 1742 To whom, then, has the administration of so great affairs been entrusted, 1743 if these things which we see to be governed by the highest judgment are neglected by God? or how can he who lives and perceives be at rest? For rest belongs either to sleep or to death. But sleep has not rest. For when we are asleep, the body indeed is at rest, but the soul is restless and agitated: it forms for itself images which it may behold, so that it exercises its natural power of motion by a variety of visions, and calls itself away from false things, until the limbs are satiated, and receive vigour from rest. Therefore eternal rest belongs to death alone. Now if death does not affect God, it follows that God is never at rest. But in what can the action of God consist, but in the administration of the world? But if God carries on the care of the world, it follows that He cares for the life of men, and takes notice of the acts of individuals, and He earnestly desires that they should be wise and good. This is the will of God, this the divine law; and he who follows and observes this is beloved by God. It is necessary that He should be moved with anger against the man who has broken or despised this eternal and divine law. If, he says, God does harm to any one, therefore He is not good. They are deceived by no slight error who defame all censure, whether human or divine, with the name of bitterness and malice, thinking that He ought to be called injurious 1744 who visits the injurious with punishment. But if this is so, it follows that we have injurious laws, which enact punishment for offenders, and injurious judges who inflict capital punishments on those convicted of crime. But if the law is just which awards to the transgressor his due, and if the judge is called upright and good when he punishes crimes,—for he guards the safety of good men who punishes the evil,—it follows that God, when He opposes the evil, is not injurious; but he himself is injurious who either injures an innocent man, or spares an injurious person that he may injure many.
I would gladly ask from those who represent God as immoveable, 1745 if any one had property, a house, a household 1746 of slaves, and his slaves, despising the forbearance of their master, should attack all things, and themselves take the enjoyment of his goods, if his household should honour them, while the master was despised by p. 274 all, insulted, and deserted: could he be a wise man who should not avenge the insults, but permit those over whom he had power to have the enjoyment of his property? Can such forbearance be found in any one? If, indeed, it is to be called forbearance, and not rather a kind of insensible stupor. But it is easy to endure contempt. What if those things were done which are spoken of by Cicero? 1747 “For I ask, if any head of a family, 1748 when his children had been put to death by a slave, his wife slain and his house set on fire, should not exact most severe punishment from that slave, whether he would appear to be kind and merciful, or inhuman and most cruel? “But if to pardon deeds of this kind is the part of cruelty rather than of kindness, 1749 it is not therefore the part of goodness in God not to be moved at those things which are done unjustly. For the world is, as it were, the house of God, and men, as it were, His slaves; and if His name is a mockery to them, what kind or amount of forbearance is it to give 1750 up His own honours, to see wicked and unjust things done, and not to be indignant, which is peculiar and natural to Him who is displeased with sins! To be angry, therefore, is the part of reason: for thus faults are removed, and licentiousness is curbed; and this is plainly in accordance with justice and wisdom.
But the Stoics did not see that there is a distinction between right and wrong, that there is a just and also an unjust anger; and because they did not find a remedy for the matter, they wished altogether to remove it. But the Peripatetics said that it was not to be cut out, but moderated; to whom we have made a sufficient reply in the sixth book of the Institutions. 1751 Now, that the philosophers were ignorant of the nature of anger, is plain from their definitions, which Seneca enumerated in the books which he composed on the subject of anger. “Anger is,” he says, “the desire of avenging an injury.” Others, as Posidonius says, describe it as the desire of punishing him by whom you think that you have been unfairly injured. Some have thus defined it: “Anger is an incitement of the mind to injure him who either has committed an injury, or who has wished to do so.” The definition of Aristotle does not differ greatly from ours; 1752 for he says that “anger is the desire of requiting pain.” This is the unjust anger, concerning which we spoke before, which is contained even in the dumb animals; but it is to be restrained in man, lest he should rush to some very great evil through rage. This cannot exist in God, because He cannot be injured; 1753 but it is found in man, inasmuch as he is frail. For the inflicting 1754 of injury inflames 1755 anguish, and anguish produces a desire of revenge. Where, then, is that just anger against offenders? For this is evidently not the desire of revenge, inasmuch as no injury precedes. I do not speak of those who sin against the laws; for although a judge may be angry with these without incurring blame, let us, however, suppose that he ought to be of a sedate mind when he sentences the guilty to punishment, because he is the executor 1756 of the laws, not of his own spirit or power; for so they wish it who endeavour to extirpate anger. But I speak of those in particular who are in our own power, as slaves, children, wives, and pupils; for when we see these offend, we are incited to restrain them.
For it cannot fail to be, that he who is just and good is displeased with things which are bad, and that he who is displeased with evil is moved when he sees it practised. Therefore we arise to take vengeance, not because we have been injured, but that discipline may be preserved, morals may be corrected, and licentiousness be suppressed. This is just anger; and as it is necessary in man for the correction of wickedness, so manifestly is it necessary in God, from whom an example comes to man. For as we ought to restrain those who are subject to our power, so also ought God to restrain the offences of all. And in order that He may do this, He must be angry; because it is natural for one who is good to be moved and incited at the fault of another. Therefore they ought to have given this definition: Anger is an emotion of the mind arousing itself for the restraining of faults. 1757 For the definition given by Cicero, “Anger is the desire of taking vengeance,” does not differ much from those already mentioned. 1758 But that anger which we may call either fury or rage ought not to exist even in man, because it is altogether vicious; but the anger which relates to the correction of vices ought not to be taken away from man; nor can it be taken away from God, because it is both serviceable for the affairs of men, and necessary.
Immobilem: not subject to emotions.273:1746
In Catal., iv. 6.274:1748
Paterfamilias, the master of a house.274:1749
[Cap. 15, p. 179, supra.]274:1752
[See p. 277, note 6, infra. But he should say indignation, not anger.]274:1753
Illæsibilis est. Others read “stabilis est,” he is firm. The reading of the text is confirmed by “læsio” in the next clause.274:1754
Inurit, “burns in.”274:1756
[See note 6, supra.]274:1758
[P. 260, etc., supra.]
Next: Chap. XVIII.—Of the punishment of faults, that it cannot take place without anger
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