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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. XIV.—Of Noah the Inventor of Wine, Who First Had Knowledge of the Stars, and of the Origin of False Religions.

But afterwards God, when He saw the earth filled with wickedness and crimes, determined to destroy mankind with a deluge; but, however, for renewing the multitude, He chose one man, who,309309     The reading is quod, which in construction refers not to the preceding, but to the following substantive. Qui has been suggested as a preferable reading.   when all were corrupted, stood forth pre-eminent, as a remarkable example of righteousness. He, when six hundred years old, built an ark, as God had commanded him, in which he himself was saved, together with his wife and three sons, and as many daughters-in-law, when the water had covered all the loftiest mountains. Then when the earth was dry, God, execrating the wickedness of the former age, that the length of life might not again be a cause of meditating evils, gradually diminished the age of man by each successive generation, and placed a limit at a hundred and twenty years,310310     Lactantius understands the hundred and twenty years (mentioned Gen. vi. 3) as the limit of human life, and regards it as a mark of severity on God’s part. But Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and most commentators, regard it rather as a sign of God’s patience and long-suffering, in giving them that space for repentance. And this appears to be confirmed by the Apostle Peter, 1 Ep. iii. 20, “When once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.”   which it might not be permitted to exceed. But he, when he went forth from the ark, as the sacred writings inform us, diligently cultivated the earth, and planted a vineyard with his own hand. From which circumstance they are refuted who regard Bacchus as the author of wine. For he not only preceded Bacchus, but also Saturn and Uranus, by many generations. And when he had first taken the fruit from the vineyard, having become merry, he drank even to intoxication, and lay naked. And when one of his sons, whose name was Cham,311311     Ham.   had seen this, he did not cover his father’s nakedness, but went out and told the circumstance to his brothers also. But they, having taken a garment, entered with their faces turned backwards, and covered their father.312312     Gen. ix. 23.   And when their father became aware of what had been done he disowned and sent away his son. But he went into exile, and settled in a part of that land which is now called Arabia; and that land was called from him Chanaan, and his posterity Chanaanites. This was the first nation which was ignorant of God, since its prince and founder did not receive from his father the worship of God, being cursed by him;313313     This refers to that prophetic denunciation of divine judgment on the impiety of Ham, which Noah, by the suggestion of the Holy Spirit, uttered against the posterity of the profane man. Gen. ix. 25: “Cursed be Canaan.” The curse was not uttered in a spirit of vengeance or impatience on account of the injury received, but by the prophetic impulse of the Divine Spirit. [The prophet fixes on the descendant of Ham, whose impiety was foreseen, and to whom it brought a curse so signal.]   and thus he left to his descendants ignorance of the divine nature.314314     [Our author falls into a hysteron-proteron: the curse did not work the ignorance, but wilful ignorance and idolatry wrought the curse, which was merely foretold, not fore-ordained.]    

From this nation all the nearest people flowed as the multitude increased. But the descendants of his father were called Hebrews, among whom the religion of the true God was established.315315     Resedit.   But from these also in after times, when their number was multiplied exceedingly, since the small extent of their settlements could not contain them, then young men, either sent by their parents or of their own accord, by the compulsion of poverty, leaving their own lands to seek for themselves new settlements, were scattered in all directions, and filled all the islands and the whole earth; and thus being torn away from the stem of their sacred root, they established for themselves at their own discretion new customs and institutions. But they who occupied Egypt were the first of all who began to look up to and adore the heavenly bodies. And because they did not shelter themselves in houses on account of the quality of the atmosphere, and the heaven is not overspread with any clouds in that country, they observed the courses of the stars, and their obscurations,316316     Eclipses.   while in their frequent adorations they more carefully and freely beheld them. Then afterwards, induced by certain prodigies, they invented monstrous figures of animals, that they might worship them; the authors of which we will presently disclose. But the others, who were scattered over the earth, admiring the elements of the world, began to worship the heaven, the sun, the earth, the sea, without any images and temples, and offered sacrifices to them in the open air, until in process of time they erected temples and statues to the most powerful kings, and originated the practice of honouring them with victims and odours; and thus wandering from the knowledge of God, they began to be heathens. They err, therefore, who contend that the worship of the gods was from the beginning of the world, and that heathenism was prior to the religion of God: for they think that this was discovered afterwards, because they are ignorant of the source and origin of the truth. Now let us return to the beginning of the world.  


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