Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. IV.—Of the weakness of man
Chap. IV.—Of the Weakness of Man.
They also complain that man is liable to diseases, and to untimely death. They are indignant, it appears, that they are not born gods. By no means, they say; but we show from this, that man was made with no foresight, which ought to have been otherwise. What if I shall show, that this very thing was foreseen with great reason, that he might be able to be harassed by diseases, and that his life might often be cut short in the midst of its course? For, since God had known that the animal which He had made, of its own accord passed to death, that it might be capable of receiving death itself, which is the dissolution of nature, He gave to it frailty, which might find an approach for death in order to the dissolution of the animal. For if it had been of such strength that disease and sickness could not approach it, not even could death, since death is the consequence of diseases. But how could a premature death be absent from him, for whom a mature death had been appointed? Assuredly they wish that no man should die, unless when he has completed his hundredth year. How can they maintain their consistency in so great an opposition of circumstances? For, in order that no one may be capable of dying before a hundred years, something of the strength which is immortal must be given to him; and when this is granted, the condition of death must necessarily be excluded. But of what kind can that be, which can render a man firm and impregnable against diseases and attacks from without? For, inasmuch as he is composed of bones, and nerves, and flesh, and blood, which of these can be so firm as to repel frailty and death? That man, therefore, may not be liable to dissolution before that time which they think ought to have been appointed for him, of what material will they assign to him a body? All things which can be seen and touched are frail. It remains that they seek something from heaven, since there is nothing on earth which is not weak.
Since, therefore, man had to be so formed by p. 285 God, that he should at some time be mortal, the matter itself required that he should be made with a frail and earthly body. It is necessary, therefore, that he should at some time receive death, since he is possessed of a body; for everybody is liable to dissolution and to death. Therefore they are most foolish who complain of premature death, since the condition of nature makes a place for it. Thus it will follow that he is subject also to diseases; for nature does not admit that infirmity can be absent from that body which is at some time to undergo dissolution. But let us suppose it to be possible, as they wish, that man is not born under those conditions by which he is subject to disease or death, unless, having completed the course of his life, he shall have arrived at the extremity of old age. They do not, therefore, see what would be the consequence if it were so arranged, that it would be plainly impossible to die at another time; but if any one can be deprived of nourishment by another, it will be possible for him to die. Therefore the case requires that man, who cannot die before an appointed day, should have no need of the nourishment of food, because it may be taken from him; but if he shall have no need of food, he will now not be a man, but will become a god. Therefore, as I have already said, they who complain of the frailty of man, make this complaint especially, that they were not born immortal and everlasting. No one ought to die unless he is old. On this account, in truth, he ought to die, because he is not God. But mortality cannot be united with immortality: for if a man is mortal in old age, he cannot be immortal in youth; neither is the condition of death foreign to him who is at some time about to die; nor is there any immortality to which a limit is appointed. Thus it comes to pass, that the exclusion of immortality for ever, and the reception of mortality for a time, place man in such a condition that he is at some time mortal.
Therefore the necessity is in all points suitable, 1826 that he ought not to have been otherwise than he is, and that it was impossible. But they do not see the order of consequences, because they have once committed an error in the main point itself. For the divine providence having been excluded from the affairs of men, it necessarily followed that all things were produced of their own accord. Hence they invented the notion of those blows and fortuitous meetings together of minute seeds, because they did not see the origin of things. And when they had thrown themselves into this difficulty, necessity now compelled them to think that souls were born together with bodies, and in like manner were extinguished together with bodies; for they had made the assumption, that nothing was made by the divine mind. And they were unable to prove this in any other way, than by showing that there were some things in which the system of providence appeared to be at fault. 1827 Therefore they blamed those things in which providence wonderfully expressed its divinity, as those things which I have related concerning diseases and premature death; whereas they ought to have considered, these things being assumed, what would be the necessary consequences (but those things which I have spoken are the consequences) if he were not liable to diseases, and did not require a dwelling, nor clothing. For why should he fear the winds, or rains, or colds, the power of which consists in this, that they bring diseases? For on this account he has received wisdom, that he may guard his frailty against things that would injure him. The necessary consequence is, that since he is liable to diseases for the sake of retaining his wisdom, he must also be liable to death; because he to whom death does not come, must of necessity be firm. But infirmity has in itself the condition of death; but where there shall be firmness, neither can old age have any place, nor death, which follows old age.
Moreover, if death were appointed for a fixed age, man would become most arrogant, and would be destitute of all humanity. For almost all the rights of humanity, by which we are united with one another, arise from fear and the consciousness of frailty. In short, all the more feeble and timid animals herd together, that, since they are unable to protect themselves by strength, they may protect themselves by their multitude; but the stronger animals seek solitudes, since they trust in their force and strength. 1828 If man also, in the same manner, had sufficient strength for the repelling of dangers, and did not stand in need of the assistance of any other, what society would there be? Or what system? What humanity? Or what would be more harsh than man? What more brutal? What more savage? But since he is feeble, and not able to live by himself apart from man, he desires society, that his life, passed in intercourse with others, may become both more adorned and more safe. You see, therefore, that the whole reason of man centres most of all in this, that he is born naked and fragile, that he is attacked by diseases, that he is punished by premature death. And if these things should be taken away from man, reason also, and wisdom, must necessarily be taken away. But I am discussing too long respecting things which are manifest, since it is clear that nothing ever was made, or could have been made, without providence. And if p. 286 I should now wish to discuss respecting all its works in order, the subject would be infinite. But I have purposed to speak so much concerning the body of man only, that I may show in it the power of divine providence, how great it has been in those things only which are easy of comprehension and open; for those things which relate to the soul can neither be subjected to the eyes, nor comprehended. Now we speak concerning the vessel itself of man, which we see.
[The disposition, even among men, to herd together in artificial societies, is instinctively repugnant to the stronger natures.]
Next: Chap. V.—Of the figures and limbs of animals
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