Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. I.—The introduction, and exhortation to Demetrianus
Chap. I.—The Introduction, and Exhortation to Demetrianus. 1804
How disturbed I am, and in the greatest necessities, you will be able to judge from this little book which I have written to you, Demetrianus, almost in unadorned words, as the mediocrity of my talent permitted, that you might know my daily pursuit, and that I might not be wanting to you, even now an instructor, but of a more honourable subject and of a better system. For if you afforded yourself a ready hearer in literature, which did nothing else than form the style, how much more teachable ought you to be in these true studies, which have reference even to the life! And I now profess to you, that I am hindered by no necessity of circumstance or time from composing something by which the philosophers of our sect 1805 which we uphold may become better instructed and more learned for the future, although they now have a bad reputation, and are commonly reproved, as living otherwise than is befitting for wise men, and as concealing their vices under the covering of a name; whereas they ought either to have remedied them, or to have altogether avoided them, that they might render the name of wisdom happy and uncorrupted, their life itself agreeing with their precepts. I, however, shrink from no labour that I may at once instruct ourselves and others. For I am not able to forget myself, and especially at that time when it is most necessary for me to remember; as also you do not forget yourself, as I hope and wish. For although the necessity of the state may turn you aside from true and just works, yet it is impossible that a mind conscious of rectitude should not from time to time look to the heaven.
I indeed rejoice that all things which are esteemed blessings turn out prosperously to you, but only on condition of their changing nothing of your state of mind. For I fear lest custom and the pleasantness of these subjects should, as usually happens, creep by degrees into your mind. Therefore I advise you,“And repeating it, will again and again advise you,” 1806
not to believe that you have these enjoyments of the earth as great or true blessings, since they are not only deceitful because they are doubtful, but also treacherous because they are pleasant. For you know how crafty that wrestler and adversary of ours is, and also often violent, as we now see that he is. He employs all these things which are able to entice as snares, and with such subtilty that they escape the notice of the eyes of the mind, so that they cannot be avoided by the foresight of man. Therefore it is the highest prudence to advance step by step, since he occupies the passes on both sides, and secretly places stumbling-blocks for our feet. Accordingly I advise you, either to disregard, if you are able according to your virtue, your prosperity in which you live, or not to admire it greatly. Remember your true parent, and in what 1807 city you have given your name, and of what rank you have been. You understand assuredly what I say. For I do not charge you with pride, of which there is not even a suspicion in your case; but the things which I say are to be referred to the mind, not to the body, the whole system of which has been arranged on this account, that it may be in subjection to the soul as to a master, and may be ruled by its will. For it is in a certain manner an earthen vessel in which the soul, that is, the true man himself, is contained, and that vessel indeed not made by Prometheus, as the poets say, but by that supreme Creator and Artificer of the world, God, whose divine providence and most perfect excellence it is p. 282 neither possible to comprehend by the perception, nor to express in word.
I will attempt, however, since mention has been made of the body and soul, to explain the nature of each, as far as the weakness of my understanding sees through; and I think that this duty is especially to be undertaken on this account, because Marcus Tullius, a man of remarkable talent, in his fourth book on the Republic, when he had attempted to do this, concluded a subject of wide extent within narrow limits, lightly selecting the chief points. And that there might be no excuse, because he had not followed up this subject, he testified that neither inclination nor attention had been wanting to him. For in his first book concerning the Laws, when he was concisely summing up the same subject, he thus spoke: “Scipio, as it appears to me, has sufficiently expressed this subject in those books which you have read.” Afterwards, however, in his second book concerning the Nature of the Gods, he endeavoured to follow up the same subject more extensively. But since he did not express it sufficiently even there, I will approach this office, and will take upon myself boldly to explain that which a man of the greatest eloquence has almost left untouched. Perhaps you may blame me for attempting to discuss something in matters of obscurity, when you see that there have been men of such rashness who are commonly called philosophers, that they scrutinized those things which God willed to be abstruse and hidden, and investigated the nature of things in heaven and on earth, which are far removed from us, and cannot be examined 1808 by the eyes, nor touched by the hand, nor perceived by the senses; and yet they so dispute concerning the nature of these things, as to wish that the things which they bring forward may appear to be proved and known. What reason is there, I pray, why any one should think it an invidious thing in us, if we wish to look into and contemplate the system of our body, 1809 which is not altogether obscure, because from the very offices of the limbs, and the uses of the several parts, it is permitted us to understand with what great power of providence each part has been made?
[Of whom, infra.]281:1805
[Nostræ sectæ. Perhaps adopted pleasantly from Acts xxviii. 22.] i.e., Christians.281:1806
Virg., Æn., iii. 436.281:1807
i.e., have been initiated by baptism. [Philipp. iii. 20. Greek.]282:1808
[The argument from design is unanswerable, and can never be obsolete. The objections are frivolous, and belong to Ciceros “minute philosophers.”] Of whom, see Tuscal. Quæst., book i. cap. 23.]
Next: Chap. II.—Of the production of the beasts and of man
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