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ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily
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Chap. xvii.—concerning the same opinion of the stoics, and concerning the hardships and disgraceful conduct of the gods.

On these accounts the Stoics form a different conception of the gods; and because they do not perceive what the truth is, they attempt to join them with the system of natural things. And Cicero, following them, brought forward this opinion respecting the gods and their religions. Do you see then, he says, how an argument has been drawn from physical subjects which have been well and usefully found out, to the existence of false and fictitious gods? And this circumstance gave rise to false opinions and turbulent errors, and almost old-womanly superstitions. For both the forms of the gods, and their ages, and clothing and ornaments, are known to us; and moreover their races, and marriages, and all their relationships, and all things reduced to the similitude of human infirmity. What can be said more plain, more true? The chief of the Roman philosophy, and invested with the most honourable priesthood, refutes the false and fictitious gods, and testifies that their worship consists of almost old-womanly superstitions: he complains that men are entangled in false opinions and turbulent errors. For the whole of his third book respecting the Nature of the Gods altogether overthrows and destroys all religion. What more, therefore, is expected from us? Can we surpass Cicero in eloquence? By no means; but confidence was wanting to him, being ignorant of the truth, as he himself simply acknowledges in the same work. For he says that he can more easily say what is not, than what is; that is, that he is aware that the received system is false, but is ignorant of the truth.7676     [Nat. Deor., liber i. 32.]   It is plain, therefore, that those who are supposed to be gods were but men, and that their memory was consecrated after their death. And on this account also different ages and established representations of form are assigned to each, because their images were fashioned in that dress and of that age at which death arrested each.  

Let us consider, if you please, the hardships of the unfortunate gods. Isis lost her son; Ceres her daughter; Latona, expelled and driven about over the earth, with difficulty found a small island7777     Delos.   where she might bring forth. The mother of the gods both loved a beautiful youth, and also mutilated him when found in company with a harlot; and on this account her sacred rites are now celebrated by the Galli7878     The priests of Cybele were called Galli.   as priests. Juno violently persecuted harlots, because she was not able to conceive by her brother.7979     Jupiter.   Varro writes, that the island Samos was before called Parthenia, because Juno there grew up, and there also was married to Jupiter. Accordingly there is a most noble and ancient temple of hers at Samos, and an image fashioned in the dress of a bride; and her annual sacred rites are celebrated after the manner of a marriage. If, therefore, she grew up, if she was at first a virgin and afterwards a woman, he who does not understand that she was a human being confesses himself a brute. Why should I speak of the lewdness of Venus, who ministered to the lusts of all, not only gods, but also men? For from her infamous debauchery with Mars she brought forth Harmonia; from Mercury she brought forth Hermaphroditus, who was born of both sexes; from Jupiter Cupid; from Anchises Æneas; from Butes Eryx; from Adonis she could bring forth no offspring, because he was struck by a boar, and slain, while yet a boy. And she first instituted the art of courtesanship, as is contained in the sacred history; and taught women in Cyprus to seek gain by prostitution, which she commanded for this purpose, that she alone might not appear unchaste and a courter of men beyond other females. Has she, too, any claim to religious worship, on whose part more adulteries are recorded than births? But not even were those virgins who are celebrated able to preserve their chastity inviolate. For from what source can we suppose that Erichthonius was born? Was it from the earth, as the poets would have it appear? But the circumstance itself cries out. For when Vulcan had made arms for the gods, and Jupiter had given him the option of asking for whatever reward he might wish, and had sworn, according to his custom, by the infernal lake, that he would refuse him nothing which he might ask, then the lame artificer demanded Minerva in marriage. Upon this the excellent and mighty Jupiter, being bound by so great an oath, was not able to refuse; he, however, advised Minerva to oppose and defend her chastity. Then in that struggle they say that Vulcan shed his seed upon the earth, from which source Erichthonius was born: and that this name was given to him from ἔριδος and χθσνός, that is, from the contest and the ground. Why, then, did she, a virgin, entrust that boy shut up with a dragon and sealed to three virgins born from Cecrops? An evident case of incest, as I think, which can by no means be glossed over. Another, when she had almost lost her lover, who was torn to pieces by his madened horses, called in the most excellent physician Æsculapius for the treatment of the youth; and when he was healed,  

“Trivia kind her favourite hides,

And to Egeria’s care confides,

To live in woods obscure and lone,

And lose in Virbius’ name his own.”8080     Virg., Æneid, vii. 774.  

What is the meaning of this so diligent and anxious care? Why this secret abode? Why this banishment, either to so great a distance, or to a woman, or into solitude? Why, in the next place, the change of name? Lastly, why such a determined hatred of horses? What do all these things imply, but the consciousness of dishonour, and a love by no means consistent with a virgin? There was evidently a reason why she undertook so great a labour for a youth so faithful, who had refused compliance with the love of his stepmother.  


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