BOOK II (41 TO 78)

41. Was it for this He sent souls, that they which shortly before had been gentle and ignorant of what it is to be moved by fierce passions, should build for themselves markets and amphitheatres, places of blood and open wickedness, in the one of which they should see men devoured and torn in pieces by wild beasts, and themselves slay others for no demerit but to please and gratify the spectators,(1) and should spend those very days on which such wicked deeds were done in general enjoyment, and keep holiday with festive gaiety; while in the other, again, they should tear asunder the flesh of wretched animals, some snatch one part, others another, as dogs and vultures do, should grind them with their teeth, and give to their utterly insatiable(2) maw, and that, surrounded by(3) faces so fierce and savage, those should bewail their lot whom the straits of poverty withheld from such repasts;(4) that their life should be(5) happy and prosperous while such barbarous doings defiled their mouths and face? Was it for this He sent souls, that, forgetting their importance and dignity as divine, they should acquire gems, precious stones, pearls, at the expense of their purity; should entwine their necks with these, pierce the tips of their ears, bind(6) their foreheads with fillets, seek for cosmetics(7) to deck their bodies,(8) darken their eyes with henna; nor, though in the forms of men, blush to curl their hair with crisping-pins, to make the skin of the body smooth, to walk with bare knees, and with every other kind of wantonness, both to lay aside the strength of their manhood, and to grow in effeminacy to a woman's habits and luxury?

42. Was it for this He sent souls, that some should infest the highways and roads,(9) others ensnare the unwary, forge(10) false wills, prepare poisoned draughts; that they should break open houses by night, tamper with slaves, steal and drive away, not act uprightly, and betray their trust perfidiously; that they should strike out delicate dainties for the palate; that in cooking fowls they should know how to catch the fat as it drips; that they should make cracknels and sausages,(11) force-meats, tit-bits, Lucanian sausages, with these(12) a sow's udder and iced(13) puddings? Was it for this He sent souls, that beings(14) of a sacred and august race should here practise singing and piping; that they should swell out their cheeks in blowing the flute; that they should take the lead in singing impure songs, and raising the loud din of the castanets,(15) by which another crowd of souls should be led in their wantonness to abandon themselves to clumsy motions, to dance and sing, form rings of dancers, and finally, raising their haunches and hips, float along with a tremulous motion of the loins?

Was it for this He sent souls, that in men they should become impure, in women harlots, players on the triangle(16) and psaltery; that they should prostitute their bodies for hire, should abandon themselves to the lust of all,(17) ready in the brothels, to be met with in the stews,(18) ready to submit to anything, prepared to do violence to their mouth even?(19)

43. What say you, O offspring and descendants of the Supreme Deity? Did these souls, then, wise, and sprung from the first causes, become acquainted with such forms of baseness, crime, and bad feeling? and were they ordered to dwell here,(20) and be clothed with the garment of the human body, in order that they might engage in, might practise these evil deeds, and that very frequently? And is there a man with any sense of reason who thinks that the world was established because of them, and not rather that it was set up as a seat and home, in which every kind of wickedness should be committed daily, all evil deeds be done, plots, impostures, frauds, covetousness, robberies, violence, impiety, all that is presumptuous, indecent, base, disgraceful,(1) and all the other evil deeds which men devise over all the earth with guilty purpose, and contrive for each other's ruin?

44. But, you say, they came of their own accord not sent(2) by their lord. And (3) where was the Almighty Creator, where the authority of His royal and exalted place,(4) to prevent their departure, and not suffer them to fall into dangerous pleasures? For if He knew that by change of place they would become base--and, as the arranger of all things,(5) He must have known-or that anything would reach them from without which would make them forget their greatness and moral dignity,--a thousand times would I beg of Him to pardon my words,--the cause of all is no other than Himself, since He allowed them to have freedom to wander(6) who He foresaw would not abide by their state of innocence; and thus it is brought about that it does not matter whether they came of their own accord, or obeyed His command, since in not preventing what should have been prevented, by His inaction He made the guilt His own, and permitted it before it was done by neglecting to withhold them from action.

45. But let this monstrous and impious fancy be put(7) far from us, that Almighty God, the creator and framer, the author(8) of things great and invisible, should be believed to have begotten souls so fickle, with no seriousness, firmness, and steadiness, prone to vice, inclining to all kinds of sins; and while He knew that they were such and of this character, to have bid(9) them enter into bodies, imprisoned in which,(10) they should live exposed to the storms and tempests of fortune every day, and now do mean things, now submit to lewd treatment; that they might perish by shipwreck, accidents, destructive conflagrations; that poverty might oppress some, beggary, others; that some might be torn in pieces by wild beasts, others perish by the venom of flies;(11) that some might limp in walking, others lose their sight, others be stiff with cramped(12) joints; in fine, that they should be exposed to all the diseases which the wretched and pitiable human race endures with agony caused by(13) different sufferings; then that, forgetting that they have one origin, one father and head, they should shake to their foundations and violate the rights of kinship, should overthrow their cities, lay waste their lands as enemies, enslave the free, do violence to maidens and to other men's wives, hate each other, envy the joys and good fortune of others; and further, all malign, carp at, and tear each other to pieces with fiercely biting teeth.

46. But, to say the same things again and again,(14) let this belief, so monstrous and impious, be put far from us, that. God, who preserves(15) all things, the origin of the virtues and chief in(16) benevolence, and, to exalt Him with human praise, most wise, just, making all things perfect, and that permanently,(17) either made anything which was imperfect and not quite correct,(18) or was the cause of misery or danger to any being, or arranged, commanded, and enjoined the very acts in which man's life is passed and employed to flow from His arrangement. These things are unworthy of(19) Him, and weaken the force of His greatness; and so far from His being believed to be their author, whoever imagines that man is sprung from Him is guilty of blasphemous impiety, man, a being miserable and wretched, who is sorry that he exists, hates and laments his state, and understands that he was produced for no other reason than lest evils should not have something(20) through which to spread themselves, and that there might always be wretched ones by whose agonies some unseen and cruel power,(21) adverse to men, should be gratified.

47. But, you say, if God is not the parent and father of souls, by what sire have they been begotten, and how have they been produced? If you wish to hear unvarnished statements not spun out with vain ostentation of words, we, too,(22) admit that we are ignorant of this, do not know it;(1) and we hold that, to know so great a matter, is not only beyond the reach of our weakness and frailty, but beyond that also of all the powers which are in the world, and which have usurped the place of deities in men's belief. But are we bound to show whose they are, because we deny that they are God's? That by no means(2) follows necessarily; for if we were to deny that flies, beetles, and bugs, dormice, weevils, and moths,(3) are made by the Almighty King, we should not be required in consequence to say who made and formed them; for without incurring any censure, we may not know who, indeed, gave them being, and yet assert that not by the Supreme(4) Deity were creatures produced so useless, so needless, so purposeless,(5) nay more,, at times even hurtful, and causing unavoidable injuries.

48. Here, too, in like manner, when we deny that souls are the offspring of God Supreme, it does not necessarily follow that we are bound to declare from what parent they have sprung, and by what causes they have been produced. For who prevents us from being either ignorant of the source from which they issued and came, or aware that they are not God's descendants? By what method, you say, in what way? Because it is most true and certain(6) that, as has been pretty frequently said, nothing is effected, made, determined by the Supreme, except that which it is right and fitting should be done; except that which is complete and entire, and wholly perfect in its(7) integrity. But further, we see that men, that is, these very souls--for what are men but souls bound to bodies?--themselves show by perversely falling into(8) vice, times without number, that they belong to no patrician race, but have sprung from insignificant families. For we see some harsh, vicious, presumptuous, rash, reckless, blinded, false, dissemblers, liars, proud, overbearing, covetous, greedy, lustful, fickle, weak, and unable to observe their own precepts; but they would assuredly not be so, if their original goodness defended(9) them, and they traced their honourable descent from the head of the universe.

49. But, you will say, there are good men also in the world,--wise, upright, of faultless and purest morals. We raise no question as to whether there ever were any such, in whom this very integrity which is spoken of was in nothing imperfect. Even if they are very honourable men, and have been worthy of praise, have reached the utmost height of perfection, and their life has never wavered and sunk into sin, yet we would have you tell us how many there are, or have been, that we may judge from their number whether a comparison(10) has been made which is just and evenly balanced.(11) One, two, three, four, ten, twenty, a hundred, yet are they at least limited in number, and it may be within the reach of names.(12) But it is fitting that the human race should be rated and weighed, not by a very few good men, but by all the rest as well. For the part is in the whole, not the whole in a part; and that which is the whole should draw to it its parts, not the whole be brought to its parts. For what if you were to say that a man, robbed of the use of all his limbs, and shrieking in bitter agony,(13) was quite well, because in(14) one little nail he suffered no pain? or that the earth is made of gold, because in one hillock there are a few small grains from which, when dissolved, gold is produced, and wonder excited at it when formed into a lump?(15) The whole mass shows the nature of an element, not particles fine as air; nor does the sea become forthwith sweet, if you cast or throw into it a few drops of less bitter water, for that small quantity is swallowed up in its immense mass; and it must be esteemed, not merely of little importance, but even of none, because, being scattered throughout all, it is lost and cut off in the immensity of the vast body of water.

50. You say that there are good men in the human race; and perhaps, if we compare them with the very wicked, we may be led(16) to believe that there are. Who are they, pray? Tell us. The philosophers, I suppose, who(17) assert that they alone are most wise, and who have been uplifted with pride from the meaning attached to this name,(18)--those, forsooth, who are striving with their passions every day, and struggling to drive out, to expel deeply-rooted passions from their minds by the persistent(19) opposition of their better qualities; who, that it may be impossible for them to be led into wickedness at the suggestion of some opportunity, shun riches and inheritances, that they may remove(1) from themselves occasions of stumbling; but in doing this, and being solicitous about it, they show very clearly that their souls are, through their weakness, ready and prone to fall into vice. In our opinion, however, that which is good naturally, does not require to be either corrected or i reproved;(2) nay more, it should not know what evil is, if the nature of each kind would abide in its own integrity, for neither can two contraries be implanted in each other, nor can equality be contained in inequality, nor sweetness in bitterness. He, then, who struggles to amend the inborn depravity of his inclinations, shows most clearly that he is imperfect,(3) blameable, although he may strive with all zeal and stedfastness.

51. But you laugh at our reply, because, while we deny that souls are of royal descent, we do not, on the other hand, say in turn from what causes and beginnings they have sprung. But what kind of crime is it either to be ignorant of anything, or to confess quite openly that you do not know that of which you are ignorant? or whether does he rather seem to you most deserving of ridicule who assumes to himself no knowledge of some dark subject; or he who thinks that he(4) knows most clearly that which transcends human knowledge, and which has been involved in dark obscurity? If the nature of everything were thoroughly considered, you too are in a position like that which you censure in our case. For you do not say anything which has been ascertained and set most clearly in the light of truth, because you say that souls descend from the Supreme Ruler Himself, and enter into the forms of men. For you conjecture, do not perceives this; surmise, do not actually know it; for if to know is to retain in the mind that which you have yourself seen or known, not one of those things which you affirm can you say that you have ever seen--that is, that souls descend from the abodes and regions above. You are therefore making use of conjecture, not trusting clear information. But what is conjecture, except a doubtful imagining of things, and directing of the mind upon nothing accessible? He, then, who conjectures, does not comprehend,(5) nor does he walk in the(6) light of knowledge. But if this is true and certain in the opinion of proper and very wise judges, your conjectures, too, in which you trust, must be regarded as showing your ignorance.

52. And yet, lest you should suppose that none but yourselves can make use of conjectures and surmises, we too are able to bring them forward as well,(7) as your question is appropriate to either side.(8) Whence, you say, are men; and what or whence are the souls of these men? Whence, we will ask, are elephants, bulls, stags, mules,(9) asses? Whence lions, horses, dogs, wolves, panthers; and what or whence are the souls of these creatures? For it is not credible that from that Platonic cup,(10) which Timaeus prepares and mixes, either their souls came, or that the locust,(11) mouse, shrew, cockroach, frog, centipede, should be believed to have been quickened and to live, because(12) they have a cause and origin of birth in(13) the elements themselves, if there are in these secret and very little known means(14) for producing the creatures which live in each of them. For we see that some of the wise say that the earth is mother of men, that others join with it water,(15) that others add to these breath of air, but that some say that the sun is their framer, and that, having been quickened by his rays, they are filled with the stir of life.(16) What if it is not these, and is something else another cause another method, another power, in fine, unheard of and unknown to us by name, which may have fashioned the human race, and connected it with things as established;(17) may it not be that men sprang up in this way, and that the cause of their birth does not go back to the Supreme God? For what reason do we suppose that the great Plato had--a man reverent and scrupulous in his wisdom--when he withdrew the fashioning of man from the highest God, and transferred it to some lesser deities. and when he would not have the souls of men formed(18) of that pure mixture of which he had made the soul of the universe, except that he thought the forming of man unworthy of God, and the fashioning of a feeble being not beseeming His greatness and excellence?

53. Since this, then, is the case, we do nothing out of place or foolish in believing that the souls of men are of a neutral character, inasmuch as they have been produced by secondary beings,(1) made subject to the law of death, and are of little strength, and that perishable; and that they are gifted with immortality, if(2) they rest their hope of so great a gift on God Supreme, who alone has power to grant such blessings, by putting away corruption. But this, you say, we are stupid in believing. What is that to you? In so believing, we act most absurdly, sillily. In what do we injure you, or what wrong do we do or inflict upon you, if we trust that Almighty God will take care of us when we leave(3) our bodies, and from the jaws of hell, as is said, deliver us?

54. Can, then, anything be made, some one will say, without God's will? We(4) must consider carefully, and examine with no little pains, test, while we think that we are honouring God(5) by such a question, we fall into the opposite sin, doing despite to His supreme majesty. In what way, you ask, on what ground? Because, if all things are brought about by His will, and nothing in the world can either succeed or fail contrary to His pleasure, it follows of necessity that it should be understood that(6) all evils, too, arise by His will. But if, on the contrary, we chose to say that He is privy to and produces no evil, not referring to Him the causes of very wicked deeds, the worst things will begin to seem to be done either against His will, or, a monstrous thing to say, while He knows it not, but is ignorant and unaware of them. But, again, if we choose to say that there are no evils, as we find some have believed and held, all races will cry out against us and all nations together, showing us their sufferings, and the various kinds of dangers with which the human race is every moment(7) distressed and afflicted. Then they will ask of us, Why, if there are no evils, do you refrain from certain deeds and actions? Why do you not do all that eager lust has required or demanded? Why, finally, do you establish punishments by terrible laws for the guilty? For what more monstrous(8) act of folly can be found than to assert that there are no evils, and at the same time to kill and condemn the erring as though they were evil?(9)

55. But when, overcome, we agree that there are these things,(10) and expressly allow that all human affairs are full of them, they will next ask, Why, then, the Almighty God does not take away these evils, but suffers them to exist and to go on without ceasing through all the ages?(11) If we have learned of God the Supreme Ruler, and have resolved not to wander in a maze of impious and mad conjectures, we must answer that we do not know these things, and have never sought and striven to know things which could be grasped by no powers which we have, and that we, even thinking it(12) preferable, rather remain in ignorance and want of knowledge than say that without God nothing is made, so that it should be understood that by His will(13) He is at once both the source of evil(14) and the occasion of countless miseries. Whence then, you will say, are all these evils? From the elements, say the wise, and from their dissimilarity; but how it is possible that things which have not feeling and judgment should be held to be wicked or criminal; or that he should not rather be wicked and criminal, who, to bring about some result, took what was afterwards to become very bad and hurtful,(15)--is for them to consider, who make the assertion. What, then, do we say? whence? There is no necessity that we should answer, for whether we are able to say whence evil springs, or our power fails us, and we are unable, in either case it is a small matter in our opinion; nor do we hold it of much importance either to know or to be ignorant of it, being content to have laid down but one thing,--that nothing proceeds from God Supreme which is hurtful and pernicious. This we are assured of, this we know, on this one truth of knowledge and science we take our stand,--that nothing is made by Him except that which is for the well-being of all, which is agreeable, which is very full of love and joy and gladness, which has unbounded and imperishable pleasures, which every one may ask in all his prayers to befall him, and think that otherwise(1) life is pernicious and fatal.

56. As for all the other things which are usually dwelt upon in inquiries and discussions--from what parents they have sprung, or by whom they are produced--we neither strive to know,(2) nor care to inquire or examine: we leave all things to their own causes, and do not consider that they have been connected and associated with that which we desire should befall us.(3) For what is there which men of ability do not dare to overthrow, to destroy,(4) from love of contradiction, although that which they attempt to invalidate is unobjectionable(5) and manifest, and evidently bears the stamp of truth? Or what, again, can they not maintain with plausible arguments, although it may be very manifestly untrue, although it may be a plain and evident falsehood? For when a man has persuaded himself that there is or is not something, he likes to affirm what he thinks, and to show greater subtlety than others, especially if the subject discussed is out of the ordinary track, and by nature abstruse and obscure.(6) Some of the wise think that the world was not created, and will never perish;(7) some that it is immortal, although they say that it was created and made;(8) while a third party have chosen to say that it both was created and made, and will perish as other things must.(9) And while of these three opinions one only must be true, they nevertheless all find arguments by which at once to uphold their own doctrines, and undermine and overthrow the dogmas of others. Some teach and declare that this same world is composed of four elements, others of two,(10) a third party of one; some say that it is composed of none of these, and that atoms are that from which it is formed,(11) and its primary origin. And since of these opinions only one is true, but(12) not one of them certain, here too, in like manner, arguments present themselves to all with which they may both establish the truth of what they say, and show that there are some things false(13) in the others' opinions. So, too, some utterly deny the existence of the gods; others say that they are lost in doubt as to whether they exist anywhere; others, however, say that they do exist, but do not trouble themselves about human things; nay others maintain that they both take part in the affairs of men, and guide the course of earthly events.(14)

57. While, then, this is the case, and it cannot but be that only one of all these opinions is true, they all nevertheless make use of arguments in striving with each other,--and not one of them is without something plausible to say, whether in affirming his own views, or objecting to the opinions of others. In exactly the same way is the condition of souls discussed. For I this one thinks that they both are immortal, and survive the end of our earthly life; that one believes that they do not survive, but perish with the bodies themselves: the opinion of another, however, is that they suffer nothing immediately, but that, after the form of man has been laid aside, they are allowed to live a little longer,(15) and then come under the power of death. And while all these opinions cannot be alike true, yet all who hold them so support their case by strong and very weighty arguments, that you cannot find out anything which seems false to you, although on every side you see that things are being said altogether at variance with each other, and inconsistent from their opposition to each other;(16) which assuredly would not happen, if man s curiosity could reach any certainty, or if that which seemed to one to have been really discovered, was attested by the approval of all the others. It is therefore wholly(1) vain, a useless task, to bring forward something as though you knew it, or to wish to assert that you know that which, although it should be true, you see can be refuted; or to receive that as true which it may be is not, and is brought forward as if by men raving. And it is rightly so, for we do not weigh and guess at(2) divine things by divine, but by human methods; and just as we think that anything should have been made, so we assert that it must be.

58. What, then, are we alone ignorant? do we alone not know who is the creator, who the former of souls, what cause fashioned man, whence ills have broken forth, or why the Supreme Ruler allows them both to exist and be perpetrated, and does not drive them from the world? have you, indeed, ascertained and learned any of these things with certainty? If you chose to lay aside audacious(3) conjectures, can you unfold and disclose whether this world m which we dwell(4) was created or founded at some time? if it was founded and made, by what kind of work, pray, or for what purpose? Can you bring forward and disclose the reason why it does not remain fixed and immoveable, but is ever being carried round in a circular motion? whether it revolves of its own will and choice, or is turned by the influence of some power? what the place, too, and space is in which it is set and revolves, boundless, bounded, hollow, or(5) solid? whether it is supported by an axis resting on sockets at its extremities, or rather itself sustains by its own power, and by the spirit within it upholds itself? Can you, if asked, make it clear, and show most skilfully,(6) what opens out the snow into feathery flakes? what was the reason and cause that day did not, in dawning, arise in the west, and veil its light in the east? how the sun, too, by one and the same influence,(7) produces results so different, nay, even so opposite? what the moon is, what the stars? why, on the one hand, it does not remain of the same shape, or why it was right and necessary that these particles of fire should be set all over the world? why some(8) of them are small, others large and greater,--these have a dim light, those a more vivid and shining brightness?

59. If that which it has pleased us to know is within reach, and if such knowledge is open to all, declare to us,(9) and say how and by what means showers of rain are produced, so that water is held suspended in the regions above and in mid-air, although by nature it is apt to glide away, and so ready to flow and run downwards. Explain, I say, and tell what it is which sends the hail whirling through the air, which makes the rain fall drop by drop, which has spread out rain and feathery flakes of snow and sheets of lightning;(10) whence the wind rises, and what it is; why the changes of the seasons were established, when it might have been ordained that there should be only one, and one kind of climate, so that there should be nothing wanting to the world's completeness. What is the cause, what the reason, that the waters of the sea are salt;(11) or that, of those on land, some are sweet, others bitter or cold? From what kind of material have the inner parts of men's bodies been formed and built up into firmness? From what have their bones been made solid? what made the intestines and veins shaped like pipes, and easily passed through? Why, when it would be better to give us light by several eyes, to guard against the risk of blindness, are we restricted to two? For what purpose have so infinite and innumerable kinds of monsters and serpents been I either formed or brought forth? what purpose do owls serve in the world,--falcons, hawks? what other birds(12) and winged creatures? what the different kinds of ants and worms springing up to be a bane and pest in various ways? what fleas, obtrusive flies, spiders, shrew, and other mice, leeches, water-spinners? what thorns, briers, wild-oats, tares? what the seeds of herbs or shrubs, either sweet to the nostrils, or disagreeable in smell? Nay more, if you think that anything can be known or comprehended, say what wheat is,--spelt, barley, millet, the chick-pea, bean, lentil, melon, cumin, scallion, leek, onion? For even if they are useful to you, and are ranked among the different kinds of food, it is not a light or easy thing to know what each is,--why they have been formed with such shapes; whether there was any necessity that they should not have had other tastes, smells, and colours than those which each has, or whether they could have taken others also; further, what these very things are,--taste, I mean,(13) and the rest; and from what relations they derive their differences of quality. From the elements, you say, and from the first beginnings of things. Are the elements, then, bitter or sweet? have they any odour or(1) stench, that we should believe that, from their uniting, qualities were implanted in their products by which sweetness is produced, or something prepared offensive to the senses?

60. Seeing, then, that the origin, the cause, the reason of so many and so important things, escapes you yourselves also, and that you can neither say nor explain what has been made, nor why and wherefore it should not have been otherwise, do you assail and attack our timidity, who confess that we do not know that which cannot be known, and who do not care to seek out and inquire into those things which it is quite clear cannot be understood, although human conjecture should extend and spread itself through a thousand hearts? And therefore Christ the divine,--although you are unwilling to allow it,--Christ the divine, I repeat, for this must be said often, that the ears of unbelievers may burst and be rent asunder, speaking in the form of man by command of the Supreme God, because He knew that men are naturally(2) blind, and cannot grasp the truth at all, or regard as sure and certain what they might have persuaded themselves as to things set before their eyes, and do not hesitate, for the sake of their(3) conjectures, to raise and bring up questions that cause much strife,--bade us abandon and disregard all these things of which you speak, and not waste our thoughts upon things which have been removed far from our knowledge, but, as much as possible, seek the Lord of the universe with the whole mind and spirit; be raised above these subjects, and give over to Him our hearts, as yet hesitating whither to turn;(4) be ever mindful of Him; and although no imagination can set Him forth as He is,(5) yet form some faint conception of Him. For Christ said that, of all who are comprehended in the vague notion of what is sacred and divine,(6) He alone is beyond the reach of doubt, alone true, and one about whom only a raving and reckless madman can be in doubt; to know whom is enough, although you have learned nothing besides; and if by knowledge you have indeed been related to(7) God, the head of the world, you have gained the true and most important knowledge.

61. What business of yours is it, He(8) says, to examine, to inquire who made man; what is the origin of souls; who devised the causes of ills; whether the sun is larger than the earth, or measures only a foot in breadth:(9) whether the moon shines with borrowed light, or from her own brightness,--things which there is neither profit in knowing, nor loss in not knowing? Leave these things to God, and allow Him to know what is, wherefore, or whence; whether it must have been or not; whether something always existed,(10) or whether it was produced at the first; whether it should be annihilated or preserved, consumed, destroyed, or restored in fresh vigour. Your reason is not permitted to involve you in such questions, and to be busied to no purpose about things so much out of reach. Your interests are in jeopardy,--the salvation, I mean,(11) of your souls; and unless you give yourselves to seek to know the Supreme God, a cruel death awaits you when freed from the bonds of body, not bringing sudden annihilation, but destroying by the bitterness of its grievous and long-protracted punishment.

62. And be not deceived or deluded with vain hopes by that which is said by some ignorant and most presumptuous pretenders,(12) that they are born of God, and are not subject to the decrees of fate; that His palace lies open to them if they lead a life of temperance, and that after death as men, they are restored without hindrance, as if to their father's abode; nor by that which the Magi(13) assert, that they have intercessory prayers, won over by which some powers make the way easy to those who are striving to mount to heaven; nor by that which Etruria holds out in the Acherontic books,(14) that souls become divine, and are freed from the law(15) of death, if the blood of certain animals is offered to certain deities. These are empty delusions, and excite vain desires. None but the Almighty God can preserve souls; nor is there any one besides who can give them length of days, and grant to them also a spirit which shall never die,(16) except He who alone is immortal and everlasting, and restricted by no limit of time. For since all the gods, whether those who are real, or those who are merely said to be from hearsay and conjecture, are immortal and everlasting by His good-will and free gift, how can it be that others(1) are able to give that which they themselves have,(2) while they have it as the gift of another, bestowed by a greater power? Let Etruria sacrifice what victims it may, let the wise deny themselves all the pleasures of life,(3) let the Magi soften and soothe all lesser powers, yet, unless souls have received from the Lord of all things that which reason demands, and does so by His command, it(4) will hereafter deeply repent having made itself a laughing-stock,(5) when it begins to feel the approach(6) of death.

63. But if, my opponents say, Christ was sent by God for this end, that He might deliver unhappy souls from ruin and destruction, of what crime were former ages guilty which were cut off in their mortal state before He came? Can you, then, know what has become of these souls(7) of men who lived long ago?(8) whether they, too, have not been aided, provided, and cared for in some way? Can you, I say, know that which could have been learned through Christ's teaching; whether the ages are unlimited in number or not since the human race began to be on the earth; when souls were first bound to bodies; who contrived that binding,(9) nay, rather, who formed man himself; whither the souls of men who lived before us have gone; in what parts or regions of the world they were; whether they were corruptible or not; whether they could have encountered the danger of death, if Christ had not come forward as their preserver at their time of need? Lay aside these cares, and abandon questions to which you can find no answer.(10) The Lord's compassion has been shown to them, too, and the divine kindness(11) has been extended to(12) all alike; they have been preserved, have been delivered, and have laid aside the lot and. condition of mortality. Of what kind, my opponents ask, what, when? If you were free from presumption, arrogance, and conceit, you might have learned long ago from this teacher.

64. But, my opponents ask, if Christ came as the Saviour of men, as(13) you say, why(14) does He not, with uniform benevolence, free all without exception? I reply, does not He free all alike who invites all alike? or does He thrust back or repel any one from the kindness of the Supreme who gives to all alike the power of coming to Him,--to men of high rank, to the meanest slaves, to women, to boys? To all, He says, the fountain of life is open,(15) and no one is hindered or kept back from drinking.(16) If you are so fastidious as to spurn the kindly(17) offered gift, nay, more, if your wisdom is so great that you term those things which are offered by Christ ridiculous and absurd, why should He keep on inviting (18) you, while His only duty is to make the enjoyment of His bounty depend upon your own free choice?(19) God, Plato says, does not cause any one to choose his lot in life;(20) nor can another's choice be rightly attributed to any one, since freedom of choice was put in His power who made it. Must you be even implored to deign to accept the gift of salvation from God; and must God's gracious mercy be poured into your bosom while you reject it with disdain, and flee very far from it? Do you choose to take what is offered, and turn it to your own advantage? You will in that case have consulted your own interests. Do you reject with disdain, lightly esteem, and despise it? You will in this case have robbed yourself of the benefit of the gift.(21) God compels no one, terrifies no one with overpowering fear. For our salvation is not necessary to Him, so that He would gain anything or suffer any loss, if He either made us divine,(22) or allowed us to be annihilated and destroyed by corruption.

65. Nay, my opponent says, if God is powerful, merciful, willing to save us, let Him change our dispositions, and compel us to trust in His promises. This, then, is violence, not kindness nor the bounty of the Supreme God, but a childish and vain(1) strife in seeking to get the mastery. For what is so unjust as to force men who are reluctant and unwilling, to reverse their inclinations; to impress forcibly on their minds what they are unwilling to receive, and shrink from; to injure before benefiting, and to bring to another way of thinking and feeling, by taking away the former? You who wish yourself to be changed,(2) and to suffer violence, that you may do and may be compelled to take to yourself that which you do not wish, why do you refuse of your own accord to select that which you wish to do, when changed and transformed? I am unwilling, He says, and have no wish. What, then, do you blame God as though He failed you? do you wish Him to bring you help,(3) whose gifts and bounties you not only reject and shun, but term empty(4) words, and assail with jocose witticisms? Unless, then, my opponent says, I shall be a Christian, I cannot hope for salvation. It is just as you yourself say. For, to bring salvation and impart to souls what should be bestowed and must be added, Christ alone has had given into His charge and entrusted(5) to Him by God the Father, the remote and more secret causes being so disposed. For, as with you, certain gods have fixed offices, privileges, powers, and you do not ask from any of them what is not in his power and permitted to him, so it is the right of(6) Christ alone to give salvation to souls, and assign them everlasting life. For if you believe that father Bacchus can give a good vintage, but cannot give relief from sickness; if you believe that Ceres can give good crops, Aesculapius health, Neptune one thing, Juno(7) another, that Fortune, Mercury, Vulcan, are each the giver of a fixed and particular thing,--this, too, you must needs receive from us,(8) that souls can receive from no one life and salvation, except from Him to whom the Supreme Ruler gave this charge and duty. The Almighty Master of the world has determined that this should be the way of salvation,--this the door, so to say, of life; by Him(9) alone is there access to the light: nor may men either creep in or enter elsewhere, all other ways being shut up and secured by an impenetrable barrier.

66. So, then, even if you are pure, and have been cleansed from every stain of vice, have won over and charmed(10) those powers not to shut the ways against you and bar your passage when returning to heaven, by no efforts will you be able to reach the prize of immortality, unless by Christ's gift you have perceived what constitutes this very immortality, and have been allowed to enter on the true life. For as to that with which you have been in the habit of taunting us, that our religion is new,(11) and arose a few days ago, almost, and that you could not abandon the ancient faith which you had inherited from your fathers, and pass over to barbarous and foreign rites, this is urged wholly without reason. For what if in this way we chose to blame the preceding, even the most ancient ages, because when they discovered how to raise crops,(12) they despised acorns, and rejected with scorn the wild strawberry; because they ceased to be covered with the bark of trees and clad in the hides of wild beasts, after that garments of cloth were devised, more useful and convenient in wearing; or because, when houses were built, and more comfortable dwellings erected, they did not cling to their ancient huts, and did not prefer to remain nuder rocks and caves like the beasts of the field? It is a disposition possessed by all, and impressed on us almost from our cradles even, to prefer good things to bad, useful to useless things, and to pursue and seek that with more pleasure which has been generally regarded(13) as more than usually precious, and to set on that our hopes for prosperity and favourable circumstances.

67. Therefore, when you urge against us that we turn away from the religion(14) of past ages, it is fitting that you should examine why it is done, not what is crone, and not set before you what we have left, but observe especially what we have followed. For if it is a fault or crime to change an opinion, and pass from ancient customs to new conditions and desires, this accusation holds against you too, who have so often changed your habits and mode of life, who have gone over to other customs and ceremonies, so that you are condemned by(15) past ages as well as we. Do you indeed have the people distributed into five(16) classes, as your ancestors once had? Do you ever elect magistrates by vote of the people? Do you know what military, urban, and common(1) comitia are? Do you watch the sky, or put an end to public business because evil omens are announced? When you are preparing for war,(2) do you hang out a flag from the citadel, or practise the forms of the Fetiales, solemnly(3) demanding the return of what has been carried off? or, when encountering the dangers of war, do you begin to hope also, because of favourable omens from the points of the spears?(4) In entering on office, do you still observe the laws fixing the proper times? with regard to gifts and presents to advocates, do you observe the Cincian and the sumptuary laws in restricting your expenses? Do you maintain fires, ever burning, in gloomy sanctuaries?(5) Do you consecrate tables by putting on them salt-cellars and images of the gods? When you marry, do you spread the couch with a toga, and invoke the genii of husbands? do you arrange the hair of brides with the hasta caelibaris? do you bear the maidens' garments to the temple of Fortuna Virginalis? Do your matrons work in the halls of your houses, showing their industry openly do they refrain from drinking wine? are their friends and relations allowed to kiss them, in order to show that they are sober and temperate?

68. On the Alban hill, it was not allowed in ancient times to sacrifice any but snow-white bulls: have you not changed that custom and religious observance, and has it not been enacted by decree of the senate, that reddish ones may be offered? While during the reigns of Romulus and Pompilius the inner parts, having been quite thoroughly cooked and softened, were burnt up in sacrificing to the gods, did you not begin, under king Tullius,(6) to hold them out half-raw and slightly warm, paying no regard to the former usage? While before the arrival of Hercules in Italy supplication was made to father Dis and Saturn with the heads of men by Apollo's advice; have you not, in like manner, changed this custom too, by means of cunning deceit and ambiguous names?(7) Since, then, yourselves also have followed at one time these customs, at another different laws, and have repudiated and rejected many things on either perceiving your mistakes or seeing something better, what have we done contrary to common sense and the discretion all men have, if we have chosen what is greater and more certain, and have not suffered ourselves to be held back by unreasoning respect for impostures?

69. But our name is new, we are told, and the religion which we follow arose but a few days ago. Granting for the present that what you urge against us is not untrue, what is there, I would ask, among the affairs of men that is either done by bodily exertion and manual labour, or attained by the mind's learning and knowledge, which did not begin at some time, and pass into general use and practice since then? Medicine,(8) philosophy, music, and all the other arts by which social life has been built up and refined,--were these born with men, and did they not rather begin to be pursued, understood, and practised lately, nay, rather, but a short time since? Before the Etruscan Tages saw the(9) light, did any one know or trouble himself to know and learn what meaning there was in the fall of thunderbolts, or in the veins of the victims sacrificed?(10) When did the motion of the stars or the art of calculating nativities begin to be known? Was it not after Theutis(11) the Egyptian; or after Atlas, as some say, the bearer, supporter, stay, and prop of the skies?

70. But why do I speak of these trivial things? The immortal gods themselves, whose temples you now enter with reverence, whose deity you suppliantly adore, did they not at certain times, as is handed down by your writings and traditions, begin to be, to be known and to be invoked by names and titles which were given to them? For if it is true that Jupiter with his brothers was born of Saturn and his wife, before Ops was married and bore children Jupiter had not existed both the Supreme and the Stygian,(12) no, nor the lord of the sea, nor Juno, nay more, no one inhabited the heavenly seats except the two parents; but from their union the other gods were conceived and born, and breathed the breath of life. So, then, at a certain time the god Jupiter began to be, at a certain time to merit worship anti sacrifices, at a certain time to be set above his brothers in power.(13) But, again, if Liber, Venus, Diana, Mercury, Apollo, Hercules, the Muses, the Tyndarian brothers,(14) and Vulcan the lord of fire, were begotten by father Jupiter, and born of a parent sprung from Saturn, before that Memory, Alcmena, Maia, Juno, Latona, Leda, Dione, and Semele also bore children to Diespiter; these deities, too, were nowhere in the world, nor in any part of the universe, but by Jupiter's embraces they were begotten and born, and began to have some sense of their own existence. So then, these, too, began to be at a certain time, and to be summoned among the gods to the sacred rites. This we say, in like manner, of Minerva. For if, as you assert, she burst forth from Jupiter's head ungenerated,(1) before Jupiter was begotten, and received in his mother's womb the shape and outline of his body,(2) it is quite certain that Minerva did not exist, and was not reckoned among things or as existing at all; but from Jove's head she was born, and began to have a real existence. She therefore has an origin at the first, and began to be called a goddess at a certain time, to be set up in temples, and to be consecrated by the inviolable obligations of religion. Now as this is the case, when you talk of the novelty of our religion, does your own not come into your thoughts, and do you not take care to examine when your gods sprung up,--what origins, what causes they have, or from what stocks they have burst forth and sprung? But how shameful how shameless it is to censure that in another which you see that you do yourself,--to take occasion to revile and accuse others for things which can be retorted upon you in turn!

71. But our rites are(3) new; yours are ancient, and of excessive antiquity, we are told. And what help does that give you, or how does it damage our cause and argument? The belief(4) which we hold is new; some day even it, too, will become old: yours is old; but when it arose, it was new and unheard of. The credibility of a religion, however, must not be determined by its age, but by its divinity; and you should consider not when, but what you began to worship. Four hundred years ago, my opponent says, your religion did not exist. And two thousand years ago, I reply, your gods did not exist. By what reckoning, you ask, or by what calculations, can that be inferred? They are not difficult, not intricate, but can be seen by any one who will take them in hand even, as the saying is. Who begot Jupiter and his brothers? Saturn with Ops, as you relate, sprung from Coelus and Hecate. Who begot Picus, the father of Faunus and grandfather of Latinus? Saturn, as you again hand down by your books and teachers? Therefore, if this is the case, Picus and Jupiter are in consequence united by the bond of kinship, inasmuch as they are sprung from one stock and race. It is clear, then, that what we say is true. How many steps are there in coming down(5) from Jupiter and Picus to Latinus? Three, as the line of succession shows. Will you suppose Faunus, Latinus, and Picus to have each lived a hundred and twenty years, for beyond this it is that man's life cannot be pro longed? The estimation is well grounded and clear. There are, then, three hundred and sixty years garter these?(6) It is just as the calculation shows. Whose father-in-law was Latinus? Aeneas'. Whose father was he?(7) He was father of the founder of the town Alba. How many years did kings reign in Alba? Four hundred and twenty almost. Of what age is the city Rome shown to be in the annals? It reckons ten(8) hundred and fifty years, or not much less. So, then, from Jupiter, who is the brother of Picus and father of the other and lesser gods, down to the present time, there are nearly, or to add a little to the time, altogether, two thousand years. Now since this cannot be contradicted, not only is the religion to which you adhere shown to have sprung up lately; but it is also shown that the gods themselves, to whom you heap up bulls and other victims at the risk of bringing on disease, are young and little children, who should still be fed with their mothers' milk.(9)

72. But your religion precedes ours by many years, and is therefore, you say, truer, because it has been supported by the authority of antiquity. And of what avail is it that it should precede ours as many years as you please, since it began at a certain time? or what(10) are two thousand years, compared with so many thousands of ages? And yet, lest we should seem to betray our cause by so long neglect, say, if it does not annoy you, does the Almighty and Supreme God seem to you to be something new; and do those who adore and worship Him seem to you to support and introduce an unheard-of, unknown, and upstart religion? Is there anything older than Him? or can anything be found preceding Him in being,(11) time, name? Is not He alone uncreated, immortal, and everlasting? Who is the head(12) and fountain of things? is not He? To whom does eternity owe its name? is it not to Him? Is it not because He is everlasting, that the ages go on without end? This is beyond doubt, and true: the religion which we follow is not new, then, but we have been late in learning what we should follow and revere, or where we should both fix our hope of salvation, and employ the aid given to save us. For He had not yet shone forth who was to point out the way to those wandering from it, and give the light of knowledge to those who were lying in the deepest darkness, and dispel the blindness of their ignorance.

73. But are we alone in this position?(1) What! have you not introduced into the number of your gods the Egyptian deities named Serapis and Isis, since the consulship of Piso and Gabinius?(2) What! did you not begin both to know and be acquainted with, and to worship with remarkable honours, the Phrygian mother--who, it is said, was first set up as a goddess by Midas or Dardanus--when Hannibal, the Carthaginian, was plundering Italy and aiming at the empire of the world?(3) Are not the sacred rites of mother Ceres, which were adopted but a little while ago, called Graeca because they were unknown to you, their name bearing witness to their novelty? Is it not said(4) in the writings of the learned, that the rituals of Numa Pompilius do not contain the name of Apollo? Now it is clear and manifest from this, that he, too, was unknown to you. but that at some time afterwards he began to be known also. If any one, therefore, should ask yon why you have so lately begun to worship those deities whom we mentioned just now, it is certain that you will reply, either because we were till lately not aware that they were gods, or because we have now been warned by the seers, or because, in very trying circumstances, we have been preserved by their favour and help. But if you think that this is well said by you, you must consider that, on our part, a similar reply has been made. Our religion has sprung up just now; for now He has arrived who was sent to declare it to us, to bring us to its truth; to show what God is; to summon us from mere conjectures, to His worship.

74. And why, my, opponent says, did God, the Ruler and Lord of the universe, determine that a Saviour, Christ, should be sent to you from the heights of heaven a few hours ago, as it is said? We ask you too, on the other hand, what cause, what reason is there that the seasons sometimes do not recur at their own months, but that winter, summer, and autumn come too late? why, after the crops have been dried up and the corn(5) has perished, showers sometimes fall which should have dropped on them while yet uninjured, and made provision for the wants of the time? Nay, this we rather ask, why, if it were fitting that Hercules should be born, Aesculapius, Mercury, Liber, and some others, that they might be both added to the assemblies of the gods, and might do men some service,--why they were produced so late by Jupiter, that only later ages should know them, while the past ages(6) of those who went before knew them not? You will say that there was some reason. There was then some reason here also that the Saviour of our race came not lately, but to-day. What, then, you ask, is the reason? We do not deny that we do not know. For it is not within the power of any one to see the mind of God, or the way in which He has arranged His plans.(7) Man, a blind creature, and not knowing himself even, can(8) in no way learn what should happen, when, or what its nature is: the Father Himself, the Governor and Lord of all, alone knows. Nor, if I have been unable to disclose to you the causes why something is done in this way or that, does it straightway follow, that what has been done becomes not done, and that a thing becomes incredible, which has been shown to be beyond doubt by such(9) virtues and(10) powers.

75. You may object and rejoin, Why was the Saviour sent forth so late? In unbounded, eternal ages, we reply, nothing whatever should be spoken of as late. For where there is no end and no beginning, nothing is too soon,(11) nothing too late. For time is perceived from its beginnings anti endings, which an unbroken line and endless(12) succession of ages cannot have. For what if the things themselves to which it was necessary to bring help, required that as a fitting time? For what if the condition of antiquity was different from that of later times? What if it was necessary to give help to the men of old in one way, to provide for their descendants in another? Do ye not hear your own writings read, telling that there were once men who were demi-gods, heroes with immense and huge bodies? Do you not read that infants on their mothers' breasts shrieked like. Stentors,(13) whose bones, when dug up in different parts of the earth, have made the discoverers almost doubt that they were the remains of human limbs? So, then, it may be that Almighty God, the only God, sent forth Christ then indeed, after that the human race, becoming feebler, weaker, began to be such as we are. If that which has been done now could have been done thousands of years ago, the Supreme Ruler would have done it; or if it had been proper, that what has been done now should be accomplished as many thousands after this, nothing compelled God to anticipate the necessary lapse(1) of time. His plans(2) are executed in fixed ways; and that which has been once decided on, can in no wise be changed again.(3)

76. Inasmuch then, you say, as you serve the Almighty God, and trust that He cares for your safety and salvation, why does He suffer you to be exposed to such storms of persecution, and to undergo all kinds of punishments and tortures? Let us, too, ask in reply, why, seeing that you worship so great and so innumerable gods, and build temples to them, fashion images of gold, sacrifice herds of animals, and all heap up(4) boxfuls of incense on the already loaded altars, why you live subject to so many dangers and storms of calamity, with which many fatal misfortunes vex you every day? Why, I say, do your gods neglect to avert from you so many kinds of disease and sickness, shipwrecks, downfalls, conflagrations, pestilences, barrenness, loss of children, and confiscation of goods, discords, wars, enmities, captures of cities, and the slavery of those who are robbed of their rights of free birth?(5) But, my opponent says, in such mischances we, too, are in no wise helped by God. The cause is plain and manifest. For no hope has been held out to us with respect to this life, nor has any help been promised or(6) aid decreed us for what belongs to the husk of this flesh,--nay, more, we have been taught to esteem and value lightly all the threats of fortune, whatever they be; and if ever any very grievous calamity has assailed us, to count as pleasant in that misfortune(7) the end which must follow, and not to fear or flee from it, that we may be the more easily released from the bonds of the body, and escape from our darkness and(8) blindness.

77. Therefore that bitterness of persecution of which you speak is our deliverance and not persecution, and our ill-treatment will not bring evil upon us, but will lead us to the light of liberty. As if some senseless and stupid fellow were to think that he never punished a man who had been put into prison(9) with severity and cruelty, unless he were to rage against the very prison, break its stones in pieces, and burn its roof, its wall, its doors; and strip, overthrow, and dash to the ground its other parts, not knowing that thus he was giving light to him whom he seemed to be injuring, and was taking from him the accursed darkness: in like manner, you too, by the flames, banishments, tortures, and monsters with which you tear in pieces and rend asunder our bodies, do not rob us of life, but relieve us of our skins, not knowing that, as far as you assault and seek to rage against these our shadows and forms, so far you free us from pressing and heavy chains, and cutting our bonds, make us fly up to the light.

78. Wherefore, O men, refrain from obstructing what you hope for by vain questions; nor should you, if anything is otherwise than you think, trust your own opinions rather than that which should be reverenced.(10) The times, full of dangers, urge us, and fatal penalties threaten us; let us flee for safety to God our Saviour, without demanding the reason of the offered gift. When that at stake is our souls' salvation and our own interests, something must be done even without reason, as Arrhianus approves of Epictetus having said.(11) We doubt, we hesitate, and suspect the credibility of what is said; let us commit ourselves to God, and let not our incredulity prevail more with us than the greatness of His name and power, lest, while we are seeking out arguments for ourselves, through which that may seem false which we do not wish and deny to be true, the last day steal upon us, and we be found in the jaws of our enemy, death.

Back to Volume 6 Index