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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 28

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 28.—That the Doctrine of Varro Concerning Theology is in No Part Consistent with Itself.

To what purpose, then, is it that this most learned and most acute man Varro attempts, as it were, with subtle disputation, to reduce and refer all these gods to heaven and earth?  He cannot do it.  They go out of his hands like water; they shrink back; they slip down and fall.  For when about to speak of the females, that is, the goddesses, he says, “Since, as I observed in the first book concerning places, heaven and earth are the two origins of the gods, on which account they are called celestials and terrestrials, and as I began in the former books with heaven, speaking of Janus, whom some have said to be heaven, and others the earth, so I now commence with Tellus in speaking concerning the goddesses.”  I can understand what embarrassment so great a mind was experiencing.  For he is influenced by the perception of a certain plausible resemblance, when he says that the heaven is that which does, and the earth that which suffers, and therefore attributes the masculine principle to the one, and the feminine to the other, not considering that it is rather He who made both heaven and earth who is the maker of both activity and passivity.  On this principle he interprets the celebrated mysteries of the Samothracians, and promises, with an air of great devoutness, that he will by writing expound these mysteries, which have not been so much as known to his countrymen, and will send them his exposition.  Then he says that he had from many proofs gathered that, in those mysteries, among the images one signifies heaven, another the earth, another the patterns of things, which Plato calls ideas.  He makes Jupiter to signify heaven, Juno the earth, Minerva the ideas.  Heaven, by which anything is made; the earth, from which it is made; and the pattern, according to which it is made.  But, with respect to the last, I am forgetting to say that Plato attributed so great an importance to these ideas as to say, not that anything was made by heaven according to them, but that according to them heaven itself was made. 292   To return, however,—it is to be observed that Varro has, in the book on the select gods, lost that theory of these gods, in whom he has, as it were, embraced all things.  For he assigns the male gods to heaven, the females to earth; among which latter he has placed Minerva, whom he had before placed above heaven itself.  Then the male god Neptune is in the sea, which pertains rather to earth than to heaven.  Last of all, father Dis, who is called in Greek Πλουτων, another male god, brother of both (Jupiter and Neptune), is also held to be a god of the earth, holding the upper region of the earth himself, and allotting the nether region to his wife Proserpine.  How, then, do they attempt to refer the gods to heaven, and the goddesses to earth?  What solidity, what consistency, what sobriety has this disputation?  But that Tellus is the origin of the goddesses,—the great mother, to wit, beside whom there is continually the noise of the mad and abominable revelry of effeminates and mutilated men, and men who cut themselves, and indulge in frantic gesticulations,—how is it, then, that Janus is called the head of the gods, and Tellus the head of the goddesses?  In the one case error does not make one head, and in the other frenzy does not make a sane one.  Why do they vainly attempt to refer these to the world?  Even if they could do so, no pious person worships the world for the true God.  Nevertheless, plain truth makes it evident that they are not able even to do this.  Let them rather identify them with dead men and most wicked demons, and no further question will remain.



In the Timæus.

Next: Chapter 29