Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lactantius: Chap. XVI.—Of the mind and its seat
Chap. XVI.—Of the Mind and Its Seat.
That the nature of the mind is also incomprehensible, who can be ignorant, but he who is altogether destitute of mind, since it is not known in what place the mind is situated, or of what nature it is? Therefore various things have been discussed by philosophers concerning its nature and place. But I will not conceal what my own sentiments are: not that I should affirm that it is so—for in a doubtful matter it is the part of a foolish person to do this; but that when I have set forth the difficulty of the matter, you may understand how great is the magnitude off the divine works. Some would have it, that the seat of the mind is in the breast. But if this is so, how wonderful is it, that a faculty which is situated in an obscure and dark habitation should be employed in so great a light of reason and intelligence; then that the senses from every part of the body come together to it, so that it appears to be present in any quarter of the limbs! Others have said that its seat is in the brain and, indeed, they have used probable arguments, saying that it was doubtless befitting that that which had the government of the whole body should especially have its abode in the highest place, as though in the citadel of the body; and that nothing should be in a more elevated position than that which governs the whole by reason, just as the Lord Himself, and Ruler of the universe, is in the highest place. Then they say, that the organs which are the ministers of each sense, that is, of hearing, and seeing, and smelling, are situated in the head, and that the channels of all these lead not to the breast, but to the brain: otherwise we must be more slow in the exercise of our senses, until the power of sensation by a long course should descend through the neck even to the breast. These, in truth, do not greatly err, or perchance not at all. For the mind, which exercises control over the body, appears to be placed in the highest part, the head, as God is in heaven; but when it is engaged in any reflection, it appears to pass to the breast, and, as it were, to withdraw to some secret recess, that it may elicit and draw forth counsel, as it were, from a hidden treasury. And therefore, when we are intent upon reflection, and when the mind, being occupied, has withdrawn itself to the inner depth, 1916 we are accustomed neither to hear the things which sound about us, nor to see the things which stand in our way. But whether this is the case, it is assuredly a matter of admiration how this takes place, since there is no passage from the brain to the breast. But if it is not so, nevertheless it is no less a matter of admiration that, by some divine plan or other, it is caused that it appears to be so. Can any fail to admire that that living and heavenly faculty which is called the mind or the soul, is of such volubility 1917 that it does not rest even then when it is asleep; of such rapidity, that it surveys the whole heaven at one moment of time; and, if it wills, flies over seas, traverses lands and cities,—in short, places in its own sight all things which it pleases, however far and widely they are removed?
And does any one wonder if the divine mind of God, being extended 1918 through all parts of the universe, runs to and fro, and rules all things, governs all things, being everywhere present, everywhere diffused; when the strength and power of the human mind, though enclosed within a mortal body, is so great, that it can in no way be restrained even by the barriers of this heavy and slothful body, to which it is bound, from bestowing upon itself, in its impatience of rest, the power of wandering without restraint? Whether, therefore, the mind has its dwelling in the head or in the breast, can any one comprehend what power of reason effects, that that incomprehensible faculty either remains fixed in the marrow of the brain, or in that blood divided into two parts 1919 which is enclosed in the heart; and not infer from this very circumstance how great is the power of God, because the soul does not see itself, or of what nature or where it is; and if it did see, yet it would not be able to perceive in what manner an incorporeal substance is united with one which is corporeal? Or if the mind has no fixed locality, but runs here and there scattered through the whole body,—which is possible, and was asserted by Xenocrates, the disciple of Plato,—then, inasmuch as intelligence is present in every part of p. 297 the body, it cannot be understood what that mind is, or what its qualities are, since its nature is so subtle and refined, that, though infused into solid organs by a living and, as it were, ardent perception, it is mingled with all the members.
But take care that you never think it probable, as Aristoxenus said, that the mind has no existence, but that the power of perception exists from the constitution of the body and the construction of the organs, as harmony does in the case of the lyre. For musicians call the stretching and sounding of the strings to entire strains, without any striking of notes in agreement with them, harmony. They will have it, therefore, that the soul in man exists in a manner like that by which harmonious modulation exists on the lyre; namely, that the firm uniting of the separate parts of the body and the vigour of all the limbs agreeing together, makes that perceptible motion, and adjusts 1920 the mind, as well-stretched things produce harmonious sound. And as, in the lyre, when anything has been interrupted or relaxed, the whole method of the strain is disturbed and destroyed; so in the body, when any part of the limbs receives an injury, the whole are weakened, and all being corrupted and thrown into confusion, the power of perception is destroyed: and this is called death. But he, if he had possessed any mind, would never have transferred harmony from the lyre to man. For the lyre cannot of its own accord send forth a sound, so that there can be in this any comparison and resemblance to a living person; but the soul both reflects and is moved of its own accord. But if there were in us anything resembling harmony, it would be moved by a blow from without, as the strings of the lyre are by the hands; whereas without the handling of the artificer, and the stroke of the fingers, they lie mute and motionless. But doubtless he 1921 ought to have beaten by the hand, that he might at length observe; for his mind, badly compacted from his members, was in a state of torpor.
In altum se abdiderit. [An interesting “evolution from self-consciousness,” not altogether to be despised. In connection with the tripartite nature of man (of which see vol. iii. p. 474), we may well inquire as to the seat of the ψυχὴ and the πνευ̑μα, severally, on this hint.]296:1917
Intenta discurrit. [2 Chron. xvi. 9; Zech. iv. 10.]296:1919
Aristoxenus, whose opinion has been mentioned above.
Next: Chap. XVII.—Of the soul, and the opinion of philosophers concerning it
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