Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. VI.—Of the error of Epicurus, and of the limbs and their use
Chap. VI.—Of the Error of Epicurus, and of the Limbs and Their Use.
I cannot here be prevented from again showing the folly of Epicurus. For all the ravings of Lucretius 1837 belong to him, who, in order that he might show that animals are not produced by any contrivance of the divine mind, but, as he is wont to say, by chance, said that in the beginning of the world innumerable other animals of wonderful form and magnitude were produced; but that they were unable to be permanent, because either the power of taking food, or the method of uniting and generating, had failed them. It is evident that, in order to make a place for his atoms flying about through the boundless and empty space, he wished to exclude the divine providence. But when he saw that a wonderful system of providence is contained in all things which breathe, what vanity was it (O mischievous one!) to say that there had been animals of immense size, in which the system of production ceased!
Since, therefore, all things which we see are produced with reference to a plan—for nothing but a plan 1838 can effect this very condition of being born—it is manifest that nothing could have been born without a plan. For it was previously foreseen in the formation of everything, how it should use the service of the limbs for the necessaries of life; and how the offspring, being produced from the union of bodies, might preserve all living creatures by their several species. For if a skilful architect, when he designs to construct some great building, first of all considers what will be the effect 1839 of the complete building, and previously ascertains by measurement what situation is suitable for a light weight, in what place a massive part of the structure will stand, what will be the intervals between the columns, what or where will be the descents and outlets of the falling waters and the reservoirs,—he first, I say, foresees these things, that he may begin together with the very foundations whatever things are necessary for the work when now completed,—why should any one suppose that, in the contrivance of animals, God did not foresee what things were necessary for living, before giving life itself? For it is manifest that life could not exist, unless those things by which it exists were previously arranged. 1840
Therefore Epicurus saw in the bodies of animals the skill of a divine plan; but that he might carry into effect that which he had before imprudently assumed, he added another absurdity agreeing with the former. For he said that the eyes were not produced for seeing, nor the ears for hearing, nor the feet for walking, since these members were produced before there was the exercise of seeing, hearing, and walking; but that all the offices of these members arose from them after their production. 1841 I fear lest the refutation of such extravagant and ridiculous stories should appear to be no less foolish; but it pleases me to be foolish, since we are dealing with a foolish man, lest he should think himself too clever. 1842 What do you say, Epicurus? Were not the eyes produced for seeing? Why, then, do they see? Their use, he says, afterwards showed itself. Therefore they were produced for the sake of seeing, since they can do nothing else but see. Likewise, in the case of the other limbs, use itself shows for what purpose they were produced. For it is plain that this use could have no existence, unless all the limbs had been made with such arrangement and foresight, that they might be able to have their use.
For what if you should say, that birds were not made to fly, nor wild beasts to rage, nor fishes to swim, nor men to be wise, when it is evident that living creatures are subject to that natural disposition and office to which each was created? But it is evident that he who has lost the main point itself of the truth must always be in error. For if all things are produced not by providence, but by a fortuitous meeting together of atoms, why does it never happen by chance, that those first principles meet together in such a way as to make an animal of such a kind, that it might rather hear with its nostrils, smell with its eyes, and see 1843 with its ears? For if the first principles leave no kind of position untried, monstrous productions of this kind ought daily to have been brought forth, in which the arrangement of the limbs might be distorted, 1844 and the use far different from that which prevails. But since all the races of animals, and all the limbs, observe their own laws and arrangements, and the uses assigned to them, it is plain that nothing is made by chance, since a perpetual arrangement of the divine plan is preserved. But we will refute Epicurus at another time. Now let p. 288 us discuss the subject of providence, as we have begun.
[Yet Lucretuis has originality and genius of an order far nobler than that of moderns who copy his follies.]287:1838
Ratio. Nearly equivalent its this place to “providentia.”287:1839
Summa. [Wisd. xi. 20.]287:1840
[The amazing proportions imparted to all things created, in correspondence with their relations to man and to the earth, is beautifully hinted by our author.]287:1841
[The snout of the elephant and the neck of the giraffe were developed from their necessities, etc. Modern Science, passim.]287:1842
[In our days reproduced as progress.]287:1843
Cerneret, “to see so as to distinguish;” a stronger word than “video.”287:1844
Præposterus; having the last first, and the first last.
Next: Chap. VII.—Of all the parts of the body
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