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ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second
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Chapter V.—On Rational Natures.

1.  After the dissertation, which we have briefly conducted to the best of our ability, regarding the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it follows that we offer a few remarks upon the subject of rational natures, and on their species and orders, or on the offices as well of holy as of malignant powers, and also on those which occupy an intermediate position between these good and evil powers, and as yet are placed in a state of struggle and trial.  For we find in holy Scripture numerous names of certain orders and offices, not only of holy beings, but also of those of an opposite description, which we shall bring before us, in the first place; and the meaning of which we shall endeavour, in the second place, to the best of our ability, to ascertain.  There are certain holy angels of God whom Paul terms “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.”20222022    Heb. i. 14.  In the writings also of St. Paul himself we find him designating them, from some unknown source, as thrones, and dominions, and principalities, and powers; and after this enumeration, as if knowing that there were still other rational offices20232023    Officia. and orders besides those which he had named, he says of the Saviour:  “Who is above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.”20242024    Eph. i. 21.  From which he shows that there were certain beings besides those which he had mentioned, which may be named indeed in this world, but were not now enumerated by him, and perhaps were not known by any other individual; and that there were others which may not be named in this world, but will be named in the world to come.

2.  Then, in the next place, we must know that every being which is endowed with reason, and transgresses its statutes and limitations, is undoubtedly involved in sin by swerving from rectitude and justice.  Every rational creature, therefore, is capable of earning praise and censure:  of praise, if, in conformity to that reason which he possesses, he advance to better things; of censure, if he fall away from the plan and course of rectitude, for which reason he is justly liable to pains and penalties.  And this also is to be held as applying to the devil himself, and those who are with him, and are called his angels.  Now the titles of these beings have to be explained, that we may know what they are of whom we have to speak.  The name, then, of Devil, and Satan, and Wicked One, who is also described as Enemy of God, is mentioned in many passages of Scripture.  Moreover, certain angels of the devil are mentioned, and also a prince of this world, who, whether the devil himself or some one else, is not yet clearly manifest.  There are also certain princes of this world spoken of as possessing a kind of wisdom which will come to nought; but whether these are those princes who are also the principalities with whom we have to wrestle, or other beings, seems to me a point on which it is not easy for any one to pronounce.  After the principalities, certain powers also are named with whom we have to wrestle, and carry on a struggle even against the princes of this world and the rulers of this darkness.  Certain spiritual powers of wickedness also, in heavenly places, are spoken of by Paul himself.  What, moreover, are we to say of those wicked and unclean spirits mentioned in the Gospel?  Then we have certain heavenly beings called by a similar name, but which are said to bend the knee, or to be about to bend the knee, at the name of Jesus; nay, even things on earth and things under the earth, which Paul enumerates in order.  And certainly, in a place where we have been discussing the subject of rational natures, it is not proper to be silent regarding ourselves, who are human beings, and are called rational animals; nay, even this point is not to be idly passed over, that even of us human beings certain different orders are mentioned in the words, “The portion of the Lord is His people Jacob; Israel is the cord of His inheritance.”20252025    Deut. xxxii. 9.  Other nations, moreover, are called a part of the angels; since “when the Most High divided the nations, and dispersed the sons of Adam, He fixed the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.”20262026    Deut. xxxii. 8.  The Septuagint here differs from the Masoretic text.  And therefore, with other rational natures, we must also thoroughly examine the reason of the human soul.

3.  After the enumeration, then, of so many and so important names of orders and offices, underlying which it is certain that there are personal existences, let us inquire whether God, the creator and founder of all things, created certain of them holy and happy, so that they could admit no element at all of an opposite kind, and certain others so that they were made capable both of virtue and vice; or whether we are to suppose that He created some so as to be altogether incapable of virtue, and others again altogether incapable of wickedness, but with the power of abiding only in a state of happiness, and others again such as to be capable of either condition.20272027    [See note at end of chap. vi.  S.]  In order, now, that our first inquiry may begin with the names themselves, let us consider whether the holy angels, from the period of their first existence, have always been holy, and are holy still, and will be holy, and have never either admitted or had the power to admit any occasion of sin.  Then in the next place, let us consider whether those who are called holy principalities began from the moment of their creation by God to exercise power over some who were made subject to them, and whether these latter were created of such a nature, and formed for the very purpose of being subject and subordinate.  In like manner, also, whether those which are called powers were created of such a nature and for the express purpose of exercising power, or whether their arriving at that power and dignity is a reward and desert of their virtue.  Moreover, also, whether those which are called thrones or seats gained that stability of happiness at the same time with their coming forth into being,20282028    Simul cum substantiæ suæ prolatione—at the same time with the emanation of their substance. so as to have that possession from the will of the Creator alone; or whether those which are called dominions had their dominion conferred on them, not as a reward for their proficiency, but as the peculiar privilege of their creation,20292029    Conditionis prærogativa. so that it is something which is in a certain degree inseparable from them, and natural.  Now, if we adopt the view that the holy angels, and the holy powers, and the blessed seats, and the glorious virtues, and the magnificent dominions, are to be regarded as possessing those powers and dignities and glories in virtue of their nature,20302030    Substantialiter. it will doubtless appear to follow that those beings which have been mentioned as holding offices of an opposite kind must be regarded in the same manner; so that those principalities with whom we have to struggle are to be viewed, not as having received that spirit of opposition and resistance to all good at a later period, or as falling away from good through the freedom of the will, but as having had it in themselves as the essence of their being from the beginning of their existence.  In like manner also will it be the case with the powers and virtues, in none of which was wickedness subsequent or posterior to their first existence.  Those also whom the apostle termed rulers and princes of the darkness of this world, are said, with respect to their rule and occupation of darkness, to fall not from perversity of intention, but from the necessity of their creation.  Logical reasoning will compel us to take the same view with regard to wicked and malignant spirits and unclean demons.  But if to entertain this view regarding malignant and opposing powers seem to be absurd, as it is certainly absurd that the cause of their wickedness should be removed from the purpose of their own will, and ascribed of necessity to their Creator, why should we not also be obliged to make a similar confession regarding the good and holy powers, that, viz., the good which is in them is not theirs by essential being, which we have manifestly shown to be the case with Christ and the Holy Spirit alone, as undoubtedly with the Father also?  For it was proved that there was nothing compound in the nature of the Trinity, so that these qualities might seem to belong to it as accidental consequences.  From which it follows, that in the case of every creature it is a result of his own works and movements, that those powers which appear either to hold sway over others or to exercise power or dominion, have been preferred to and placed over those whom they are said to govern or exercise power over, and not in consequence of a peculiar privilege inherent in their constitutions, but on account of merit.

4.  But that we may not appear to build our assertions on subjects of such importance and difficulty on the ground of inference alone, or to require the assent of our hearers to what is only conjectural, let us see whether we can obtain any declarations from holy Scripture, by the authority of which these positions may be more credibly maintained.  And, firstly, we shall adduce what holy Scripture contains regarding wicked powers; we shall next continue our investigation with regard to the others, as the Lord shall be pleased to enlighten us, that in matters of such difficulty we may ascertain what is nearest to the truth, or what ought to be our opinions agreeably to the standard of religion.  Now we find in the prophet Ezekiel two prophecies written to the prince of Tyre, the former of which might appear to any one, before he heard the second also, to be spoken of some man who was prince of the Tyrians.  In the meantime, therefore, we shall take nothing from that first prophecy; but as the second is manifestly of such a kind as cannot be at all understood of a man, but of some superior power which had fallen away from a higher position, and had been reduced to a lower and worse condition, we shall from it take an illustration, by which it may be demonstrated with the utmost clearness, that those opposing and malignant powers were not formed or created so by nature, but fell from a better to a worse position, and were converted into wicked beings; that those blessed powers also were not of such a nature as to be unable to admit what was opposed to them if they were so inclined and became negligent, and did not guard most carefully the blessedness of their condition.  For if it is related that he who is called the prince of Tyre was amongst the saints, and was without stain, and was placed in the paradise of God, and adorned also with a crown of comeliness and beauty, is it to be supposed that such an one could be in any degree inferior to any of the saints?  For he is described as having been adorned with a crown of comeliness and beauty, and as having walked stainless in the paradise of God:  and how can any one suppose that such a being was not one of those holy and blessed powers which, as being placed in a state of happiness, we must believe to be endowed with no other honour than this?  But let us see what we are taught by the words of the prophecy themselves.  “The word of the Lord,” says the prophet, “came to me, saying, Son of man, take up a lamentation over the prince of Tyre, and say to him, Thus saith the Lord God, Thou hast been the seal of a similitude, and a crown of comeliness among the delights of paradise; thou wert adorned with every good stone or gem, and wert clothed with sardonyx, and topaz, and emerald, and carbuncle, and sapphire, and jasper, set in gold and silver, and with agate, amethyst, and chrysolite, and beryl, and onyx:  with gold also didst thou fill thy treasures, and thy storehouses within thee.  From the day when thou wert created along with the cherubim, I placed thee in the holy mount of God.  Thou wert in the midst of the fiery stones:  thou wert stainless in thy days, from the day when thou wert created, until iniquities were found in thee:  from the greatness of thy trade, thou didst fill thy storehouses with iniquity, and didst sin, and wert wounded from the mount of God.  And a cherub drove thee forth from the midst of the burning stones; and thy heart was elated because of thy comeliness, thy discipline was corrupted along with thy beauty:  on account of the multitude of thy sins, I cast thee forth to the earth before kings; I gave thee for a show and a mockery on account of the multitude of thy sins, and of thine iniquities:  because of thy trade thou hast polluted thy holy places.  And I shall bring forth fire from the midst of thee, and it shall devour thee, and I shall give thee for ashes and cinders on the earth in the sight of all who see thee:  and all who know thee among the nations shall mourn over thee.  Thou hast been made destruction, and thou shalt exist no longer for ever.”20312031    Ezek. xxviii. 11–19.  Seeing, then, that such are the words of the prophet, who is there that on hearing, “Thou wert a seal of a similitude, and a crown of comeliness among the delights of paradise,” or that “From the day when thou wert created with the cherubim, I placed thee in the holy mount of God,” can so enfeeble the meaning as to suppose that this language is used of some man or saint, not to say the prince of Tyre?  Or what fiery stones can he imagine in the midst of which any man could live?  Or who could be supposed to be stainless from the very day of his creation, and wickedness being afterwards discovered in him, it be said of him then that he was cast forth upon the earth?  For the meaning of this is, that He who was not yet on the earth is said to be cast forth upon it:  whose holy places also are said to be polluted.  We have shown, then, that what we have quoted regarding the prince of Tyre from the prophet Ezekiel refers to an adverse power, and by it it is most clearly proved that that power was formerly holy and happy; from which state of happiness it fell from the time that iniquity was found in it, and was hurled to the earth, and was not such by nature and creation.  We are of opinion, therefore, that these words are spoken of a certain angel who had received the office of governing the nation of the Tyrians, and to whom also their souls had been entrusted to be taken care of.  But what Tyre, or what souls of Tyrians, we ought to understand, whether that Tyre which is situated within the boundaries of the province of Phœnicia, or some other of which, this one which we know on earth is the model; and the souls of the Tyrians, whether they are those of the former or those which belong to that Tyre which is spiritually understood, does not seem to be a matter requiting examination in this place; lest perhaps we should appear to investigate subjects of so much mystery and importance in a cursory manner, whereas they demand a labour and work of their own.

5.  Again, we are taught as follows by the prophet Isaiah regarding another opposing power.  The prophet says, “How is Lucifer, who used to arise in the morning, fallen from heaven!  He who assailed all nations is broken and beaten to the ground.  Thou indeed saidst in thy heart, I shall ascend into heaven; above the stars of heaven shall I place my throne; I shall sit upon a lofty mountain, above the lofty mountains which are towards the north; I shall ascend above the clouds; I shall be like the Most High.  Now shalt thou be brought down to the lower world, and to the foundations of the earth.  They who see thee shall be amazed at thee, and shall say, This is the man who harassed the whole earth, who moved kings, who made the whole world a desert, who destroyed cities, and did not unloose those who were in chains.  All the kings of the nations have slept in honour, every one in his own house; but thou shalt be cast forth on the mountains, accursed with the many dead who have been pierced through with swords, and have descended to the lower world.  As a garment cloned with blood, and stained, will not be clean; neither shalt thou be clean, because thou hast destroyed my land and slain my people:  thou shalt not remain for ever, most wicked seed.  Prepare thy sons for death on account of the sins of thy father, lest they rise again and inherit the earth, and fill the earth with wars.  And I shall rise against them, saith the Lord of hosts, and I shall cause their name to perish, and their remains, and their seed.”20322032    Isa. xiv. 12–22.  Most evidently by these words is he shown to have fallen from heaven, who formerly was Lucifer, and who used to arise in the morning.  For if, as some think, he was a nature of darkness, how is Lucifer said to have existed before?  Or how could he arise in the morning, who had in himself nothing of the light?  Nay, even the Saviour Himself teaches us, saying of the devil, “Behold, I see Satan fallen from heaven like lightning.”20332033    Luke x. 18.  For at one time he was light.  Moreover our Lord, who is the truth, compared the power of His own glorious advent to lightning, in the words, “For as the lightning shineth from the height of heaven even to its height again, so will the coming of the Son of man be.”20342034    Matt. xxiv. 27.  And notwithstanding He compares him to lightning, and says that he fell from heaven, that He might show by this that he had been at one time in heaven, and had had a place among the saints, and had enjoyed a share in that light in which all the saints participate, by which they are made angels of light, and by which the apostles are termed by the Lord the light of the world.  In this manner, then, did that being once exist as light before he went astray, and fell to this place, and had his glory turned into dust, which is peculiarly the mark of the wicked, as the prophet also says; whence, too, he was called the prince of this world, i.e., of an earthly habitation:  for he exercised power over those who were obedient to his wickedness, since “the whole of this world”—for I term this place of earth, world—“lieth in the wicked one,”20352035    1 John v. 19. and in this apostate.  That he is an apostate, i.e., a fugitive, even the Lord in the book of Job says, “Thou wilt take with a hook the apostate dragon,” i.e., a fugitive.20362036    Job xl. 20 [LXX.].  Now it is certain that by the dragon is understood the devil himself.  If then they are called opposing powers, and are said to have been once without stain, while spotless purity exists in the essential being of none save the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but is an accidental quality in every created thing; and since that which is accidental may also fall away, and since those opposite powers once were spotless, and were once among those which still remain unstained, it is evident from all this that no one is pure either by essence or nature, and that no one was by nature polluted.  And the consequence of this is, that it lies within ourselves and in our own actions to possess either happiness or holiness; or by sloth and negligence to fall from happiness into wickedness and ruin, to such a degree that, through too great proficiency, so to speak, in wickedness (if a man be guilty of so great neglect), he may descend even to that state in which he will be changed into what is called an “opposing power.”


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