Ante-nicene fathers



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While He Himself is still invisible.

Present in all His works, though still unseen,

He gives to mortals evil out of good,

Sending both chilling wars and tearful griefs;

And other than the great King there is none.

The clouds for ever settle round His throne,

And mortal eyeballs in mere mortal eyes

Are weak, to see Jove reigning over all.

He sits established in the brazen heavens

Upon His golden throne; under His feet

He treads the earth, and stretches His right hand

To all the ends of ocean, and around

Tremble the mountain ranges and the streams,

The depths, too, of the blue and hoary sea.”

And again, in some other place he says:—

“There is one Zeus alone, one sun, one hell,

One Bacchus; and in all things but one God;

Nor of all these as diverse let me speak.”

And when he swears he says:—

“Now I adjure thee by the highest heaven,

The work of the great God, the only wise;

And I adjure thee by the Father’s voice.

Which first He uttered when He stablished

The whole world by His counsel.”

What does he mean by “I adjure thee by the Father’s voice, which first He uttered? ”It is the Word of God which he here names “the voice,” by whom heaven and earth and the whole creation were made, as the divine prophecies of the holy men teach us; and these he himself also paid some attention to in Egypt, and understood that all creation was made by the Word of God; and therefore, after he says,” I adjure thee by the Father’s voice, which first He uttered,” he adds this besides, “when by His counsel He established the whole world.” Here he calls the Word “voice,” for the sake of the poetical metre. And that this is so, is manifest from the fact, that a little further on, where the metre permits him, he names it “Word.” For he said:—

“Take thou the Word divine to guide thy steps.”

Chapter XVI.—Testimony of the Sibyl.

We must also mention what the ancient and exceedingly remote Sibyl, whom Plato and Aristophanes, and others besides, mention as a prophetess, taught you in her oracular verses concerning one only God. And she speaks thus:—

“There is one only unbegotten God,

Omnipotent, invisible, most high,

All-seeing, but Himself seen by no flesh.”

Then elsewhere thus:—

“But we have strayed from the Immortal’s ways,

And worship with a dull and senseless mind

Idols, the workmanship of our own hands,

And images and figures of dead men.”

And again somewhere else:—

“Blessed shall be those men upon the earth

Who shall love the great God before all else,

Blessing Him when they eat and when they drink;

Trusting it, this their piety alone.

Who shall abjure all shrines which they may see,

All altars and vain figures of dumb stones,

Worthless and stained with blood of animals,

And sacrifice of the four-fooled tribes,

Beholding the great glory of One God.”

These are the Sibyl’s words.

Chapter XVII—Testimony of Homer.

And the poet Homer, using the license of poetry, and rivalling the original opinion of Orpheus regarding the plurality of the gods, mentions, indeed, several gods in a mythical style, lest he should seem to sing in a different strain from the poem of Orpheus, which he so distinctly proposed to rival, that even in the first line of his poem he indicated the relation he held to him. For as Orpheus in the beginning of his poem had said, “O goddess, sing the wrath of Demeter, who brings the goodly fruit,” Homer began thus, “O goddess, sing the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus,” preferring, as it seems to me, even to violate the poetical metre in his first line, than that he should seem not to have remembered before all else the names of the gods. But shortly after he also clearly and explicitly presents his own opinion regarding one God only, somewhere37 saying to Achilles by the mouth of Phoenix, “Not though God Himself were to promise that He would peel off my old age, and give me the rigour of my youth,” where he indicates by the pronoun the real and true God. And somewhere38 he makes Ulysses address the host of the Greeks thus: “The rule of many is not a good thing; let there be one ruler.” And that the rule of many is not a good thing, but on the contrary an evil, he proposed to evince by fact, recounting the wars which took place on account of the multitude of rulers, and the fights and factions, and their mutual counterplots. For monarchy is free from contention. So far the poet Homer.

Chapter XVIII.—Testimony of Sophocles.

And if it is needful that we add testimonies concerning one God, even from the dramatists, hear even Sophocles speaking thus:—

“There is one God, in truth there is but one,

Who made the heavens and the broad earth beneath,

The glancing waves of ocean and the winds

But many of us mortals err in heart,

And set up for a solace in our woes

Images of the gods in stone and wood,

Or figures carved in brass or ivory,

And, furnishing for these our handiworks,

Both sacrifice and rite magnificent,

We think that thus we do a pious work.”

Thus, then, Sophocles.

Chapter XIX.—Testimony of Pythagoras.

And Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, who expounded the doctrines of his own philosophy, mystically by means of symbols, as those who have written his life show, himself seems to have entertained thoughts about the unity of God not unworthy of his foreign residence in Egypt. For when he says that unity is the first principle of all things, and that it is the cause of all good, he teaches by an allegory that God is one, and alone.39 And that this is so, is evident from his saying that unity and one differ widely from one another. For he says that unity belongs to the class of things perceived by the mind, but that one belongs to numbers. And if you desire to see a clearer proof of the opinion of Pythagoras concerning one God, hear his own opinion, for he spoke as follows: “God is one; and He Himself does not, as some suppose, exist outside the world, but in it, He being wholly present in the whole circle, and beholding all generations; being the regulating ingredient of all the ages, and the administrator of His own powers and works, the first principle of all things, the light of heaven, and Father of all, the intelligence and animating soul of the universe, the movement of all orbits.” Thus, then, Pythagoras.

Chapter XX.—Testimony of Plato.

But Plato, though he accepted, as is likely, the doctrine of Moses and the other prophets regarding one only God, which he learned while in Egypt, yet fearing, on account of what had befallen Socrates, lest he also should raise up some Anytus or Meletus against himself, who should accuse him before the Athenians, and say, “Plato is doing harm, and making himself mischievously busy, not acknowledging the godsrecognised by the state; “in fear of the hemlock-juice, contrives an elaborate and ambiguous discourse concerning the gods, furnishing by his treatise gods to those who wish them, and none for those who are differently disposed, as may readily be seen from his own statements. For when he has laid down that everything that is made is mortal, he afterwards says that the gods were made. If, then, he would have God and matter to be the origin of all things, manifestly it is inevitably necessary to say that the gods were made of matter; but if of matter, out of which he said that evil also had its origin, he leaves right-thinking persons to consider what kind of beings the gods should be thought who are produced out of matter. For, for this very reason did he say that matter was eternal,40 that he might not seem to say that God is the creator of evil. And regarding the gods who were made by God, there is no doubt he said this: “Gods of gods, of whom I am the creator.” And he manifestly held the correct opinion concerning the really existing God. For having heard in Egypt that God had said to Moses, when He was about to send him to the Hebrews, “I am that I am,”41 he understood that God had not mentioned to him His own proper name.

Chapter XXI.—The Namelessness of God.

For God cannot be called by any proper name, for names are given to mark out and distinguish their subject-matters, because these are many and diverse; but neither did any one exist before God who could give Him a name, nor did He Himself think it fight to name Himself, seeing that He is one and unique, as He Himself also by His own prophets testifies, when He says, “I God am the first,” and after this, “And beside me there is no other God.”42 On this account, then, as I before said, God did not, when He sent Moses to the Hebrews, mention any name, but by a participle He mystically teaches them that He is the one and only God. “For,” says He; “I am the Being; ”manifestly contrasting Himself, “the Being,” with those who are not,43 that those who had hitherto been deceived might see that they were attaching themselves, not to beings, but to those who had no being. Since, therefore, God knew that the first men remembered the old delusion of their forefathers, whereby the misanthropic demon contrived to deceive them when he said to them, “If ye obey me in transgressing the commandment of God, ye shall be as gods,” calling those gods which had no being, in order that men, supposing that there were other gods in existence, might believe that they themselves could become gods. On this account He said to Moses, “I am the Being,” that by the participle “being” He might teach the difference between God who is and those who are not.44 Men, therefore, having been duped by the deceiving demon, and having dared to disobey God, were cast out of Paradise, remembering the name of gods, but no longer being taught by God that there are no other gods. For it was not just that they who did not keep the first commandment, which it was easy to keep, should any longer be taught, but should rather be driven to just punishment. Being therefore banished from Paradise, and thinking that they were expelled on account of their disobedience only, not knowing that it was also because they had believed in the existence of gods which did not exist, they gave the name of gods even to the men who were afterwards born of themselves. This first false fancy, therefore, concerning gods, had its origin with the father of lies. God, therefore, knowing that the false opinion about the plurality of gods was burdening the soul of man like some disease, and wishing to remove and eradicate it, appeared first to Moses, and said to him, “I am He who is.” For it was necessary, I think, that he who was to be the ruler and leader of the Hebrew people should first of all know the living God. Wherefore, having appeared to him first, as it was possible for God to appear to a man, He said to him, “I am He who is; ”then, being about to send him to the Hebrews, He further orders him to say, “He who is hath sent me to you.”

Chapter XXII.—Studied Ambiguity Plato.

Plato accordingly having learned this in Egypt, and being greatly taken with what was said about one God, did indeed consider it unsafe to mention the name of Moses, on account of his teaching the doctrine of one only God, for he dreaded the Areopagus; but what is very well expressed by him in his elaborate treatise, the Timaeus, he has written in exact correspondence with what Moses said regarding God, though he has done so, not as if he had learned it from him, but as if he were expressing his own opinion. For he said, “In my opinion, then, we must first define what that is which exists eternally, and has no generation,45 and what that is which is always being generated, but never really is.” Does not this, ye men of Greece, seem to those who are able to understand the matter to be one and the same thing, saving only the difference of the article? For Moses said, “He who is,” and Plato, “That which is.” But either of the expressions seems to apply to the ever-existent God. For He is the only one who eternally exists, and has no generation. What, then, that other thing is which is contrasted with the ever-existent, and of which he said, “And what that is which is always being generated, but never really is,” we must attentively consider. For we shall find him clearly and evidently saying that He who is unbegotten is eternal, but that those that are begotten and made are generated and perish46 —as he said of the same class, “gods of gods, of whom I am maker”—for he speaks in the following words: “In my opinion, then, we must first define what that is which is always existent and has no birth, and what that is which is always being generated but never really is. The former, indeed, which is apprehended by reflection combined with reason, always exists in the same way;47 while the latter, on the other hand, is conjectured by opinion formed by the perception of the senses unaided by reason, since it never really is, but is coming into being and perishing.” These expressions declare to those who can rightly understand them the death and destruction of the gods that have been brought into being. And I think it necessary to attend to this also, that Plato never names him the creator, but the fashioner48 of the gods, although, in the opinion of Plato, there is considerable difference between these two. For the creator creates the creature by his own capability and power, being in need of nothing else; but the fashioner frames his production when he has received from matter the capability for his work.

Chapter XXIII.—Plato’s Self-Contradiction.

But, perhaps, some who are unwilling to abandon the doctrines of polytheism, will say that to these fashioned gods the maker said, “Since ye have been produced, ye are not immortal, nor at all, imperishable; yet shall ye not perish nor succumb to the fatality of death, because you have obtained my will,49 which is a still greater and mightier bond.” Here Plato, through fear of the adherents of polytheism, introduces his “maker” uttering words which contradict himself. For having formerly stated that he said that everything which is produced is perishable, he now introduces him saying the very opposite; and he does not see that it is thus absolutely impossible for him to escape the charge of falsehood. For he either at first uttered what is false when he said that everything which is produced is perishable, or now, when he propounds the very opposite to what he had formerly said. For if, according to his former definition, it is absolutely necessary that every created thing be perishable, how can he consistently make that possible which is absolutely impossible? So that Plato seems to grant an empty and impossible prerogative to his “maker,” when he propounds that those who were once perishable because made from matter should again, by his intervention, become imperishable and enduring. For it is quite natural that the power of matter, which, according to Plato’s opinion, is uncreated, and contemporary and coaeval with the maker, should resist his will. For he who has not created has no power, in respect of that which is uncreated, so that it is not possible that it (matter), being free, can be controlled by any external necessity. Wherefore Plato himself, in consideration of this, has written thus: “It is necessary to affirm that God cannot suffer violence.”

Chapter XXIV.—Agreement of Plato and Homer.

How, then, does Plato banish Homer from his republic, since, in the embassy to Achilles, he represents Phoenix as saying to Achilles, “Even the gods themselves are not inflexible,”50 though Homer said this not of the king and Platonic maker of the gods, but of some of the multitude whom the Greeks esteem as gods, as one can gather from Plato’s saying, “gods of gods? ”For Homer, by that golden chain,51 refers all power and might to the one highest God. And the rest of the gods, he said, were so far distant from his divinity, that he thought fit to name them even along with men. At least he introduces Ulysses saying of Hector to Achilles, “He is raging terribly, trusting in Zeus, and values neither men nor gods.”52 In this passage Homer seems to me without doubt to have learnt in Egypt, like Plato, concerning the one God, and plainly and openly to declare this, that he who trusts in the really existent God makes no account of those that do not exist. For thus the poet, in another passage, and employing another but equivalent word, to wit, a pronoun, made use of the same participle employed by Plato to designate the really existent God, concerning whom Plato said, “What that is which always exists, and has no birth.” For not without a double sense does this expression of Phoenix seem to have been used: “Not even if God Himself were to promise me, that, having burnished off my old age, He should set me forth in the flower of youth.” For the pronoun “Himself” signifies the really existing God. For thus, too, the oracle which was given to you concerning the Chaldaeans and Hebrews signifies. For when some one inquired what men had ever lived godly, you say the answer was:—

“Only the Chaldaeans and the Hebrews found wisdom,

Worshipping God Himself, the unbegotten King.”

Chapter XXV.—Plato’s Knowledge of God’s Eternity.

How, then, does Plato blame Homer for saying that the gods are not inflexible, although, as is obvious from the expressions used, Homer said this for a useful purpose? For it is the property of those who expect to obtain mercy by prayer and sacrifices, to cease from and repent of their sins. For those who think that the Deity is inflexible, are by no means moved to abandon their sins, since they suppose that they will derive no benefit from repentance. How, then, does Plato the philosopher condemn the poet Homer for saying, “Even the gods themselves are not inflexible,” and yet himself represent the maker of the gods as so easily turned, that he sometimes declares the gods to be mortal, and at other times declares the same to be immortal? And not only concerning them, but also concerning matter, from which, as he says, it is necessary that the created gods have been produced, he sometimes says that it is uncreated, and at other times that it is created; and yet he does not see that he himself, when he says that the maker of the gods is so easily turned, is convicted of having fallen into the very errors for which he blames Homer, though Homer said the very opposite concerning the maker of the gods. For he said that he spoke thus of himself:—

“For ne’er my promise shall deceive, or fail,

Or be recall’d, if with a nod confirm’d.”53

But Plato, as it seems, unwillingly entered not these strange dissertations concerning the gods, for he feared those who were attached to polytheism. And whatever he thinks fit to tell of all that he had learned from Moses and the prophets concerning one God, he preferred delivering in a mystical style, so that those who desired to be worshippers of God might have an inkling of his own opinion. For being charmed with that saying of God to Moses, “I am the really existing,” and accepting with a great deal of thought the brief participial expression, he understood that God desired to signify to Moses His eternity, and therefore said, “I am the really existing; ”for this word “existing” expresses not one time only, but the three—the past, the present, and the future. For when Plato says, “and which never really is,” he uses the verb “is” of time indefinite. For the word “never” is not spoken, as some suppose, of the past, but of the future time. And this has been accurately understood even by profane writers. And therefore, when Plato wished, as it were, to interpret to the uninitiated what had been mystically expressed by the participle concerning the eternity of God, he employed the following language: “God indeed, as the old tradition runs, includes the beginning, and end, and middle of all things.” In this sentence he plainly and obviously names the law of Moses “the old tradition,” fearing, through dread of the hemlock-cup, to mention the name of Moses; for he understood that the teaching of the man was hateful to the Greeks; and he clearly enough indicates Moses by the antiquity of the tradition. And we have sufficiently proved from Diodorus and the rest of the historians, in the foregoing chapters, that the law of Moses is not only old, but even the first. For Diodorus says that he was the first of all lawgivers; the letters which belong to the Greeks, and which they employed in the writing of their histories, having not yet been discovered.

Chapter XXVI.—Plato Indebted to the Prophets.

And let no one wonder that Plato should believe Moses regarding the eternity of God. For you will find him mystically referring the true knowledge of realities to the prophets, next in order after the really existent God. For, discoursing in the Timaeus. us about certain first principles, he wrote thus: “This we lay down as the first principle of fire and the other bodies, proceeding according to probability and necessity. But the first principles of these again God above knows, and whosoever among men is beloved of Him.”54 And what men does he think beloved of God, but Moses and the rest of the prophets? For their prophecies he read, and, having learned from them the doctrine of the judgment, he thus proclaims it in the first book of the Republic: “When a man begins to think he is soon to die, fear invades him, and concern about things which had never before entered his head. And those stories about what goes on in Hades, which tell us that the man who has here been unjust must there be punished, though formerly ridiculed, now torment his soul with apprehensions that they may be true. And he, either through the feebleness of age, or even because he is now nearer to the things of the other world, views them more attentively. He becomes, therefore, full of apprehension and dread, and begins to call himself to account and to consider whether he has done any one an injury. And that man who finds in his life many iniquities, and who continually starts from his sleep as children do, lives in terror, and with a forlorn prospect. But to him who is conscious of no wrong-doing, sweet hope is the constant companion and good nurse of old age, as Pindar says.55 For this, Socrates, he has elegantly expressed, that ‘whoever leads a life of holiness and justice, him sweet hope, the nurse of age, accompanies, cheering his heart, for she powerfully sways the changeful mind of mortals.’”56 This Plato wrote in the first book of the Republic.

Chapter XXVII.—Plato’s Knowledge of the Judgement.

And in the tenth book he plainly and manifestly wrote what he had learned from the prophets about the judgement, not as if he had learned it from them, but, on account of his fear of the Greeks, as if he had heard it from a man who has been slain in battle—for this story he thought fit to invent—and who, when he was about to be buried on the twelfth day, and was lying on the funeral pile, came to life again, and described the other world. The following are his very words:57 “For he said that he was present when one was asked by another person where the great Ardiaeus was. This Ardiaeus had been prince in a certain city of Pamphylia, and had killed his aged father and his elder brother, and done many other unhallowed deeds, as was reported. He said, then that the person who was asked said: He neither comes nor ever will come hither. For we saw, among other terrible sights, this also. When we were close to the mouth [of the pit], and were about to return to the upper air, and had suffered everything else, we suddenly beheld both him and others likewise, most of whom were tyrants. But there were also some private sinners who had committed great crimes. And these, when they thought they were to ascend, the mouth would not permit, but bellowed when any of those who were so incurably wicked attempted to ascend, unless they had paid the full penalty. Then fierce men, fiery to look at, stood close by, and hearing the din,58 took some and led them away; but Ardiaeus and the rest, having bound hand and foot, and striking their heads down, and flaying, they dragged to the road outside, tearing them with thorns, and signifying to those who were present the cause of their suffering these things, and that they were leading them away to cast them into Tartarus. Hence, he said, that amidst all their various fears, this one was the greatest, lest the mouth should bellow when they ascended, since if it were silent each one would most gladly ascend; and that the punishments and torments were such as these, and that, on the other hand, the rewards were the reverse of these.” Here Plato seems to me to have learnt from the prophets not only the doctrine of the judgment, but also of the resurrection, which the Greeks refuse to believe. For his saying that the soul is judged along with the body, proves nothing more clearly than that he believed the doctrine of the resurrection. Since how could Ardiaeus and the rest have undergone such punishment in Hades, had they left on earth the body, with its head, hands, feet, and skin? For certainly they will never say that the soul has a head and hands, and feet and skin. But Plato, having fallen in with the testimonies of the prophets in Egypt, and having accepted what they teach concerning the resurrection of the body, teaches that the soul is judged in company with the body.




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