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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.—That Lucretius and Others Have Erred, and Cicero Himself, in Fixing the Origin of Wisdom.

Lucretius, accordingly, acts more correctly in praising him who was the first discoverer of wisdom; but he acts foolishly in this, that he supposed it to be discovered by a man,—as though that man whom he praises had found it lying somewhere as flutes at the fountain,412412     A proverbial expression, denoting an accidental occurrence.   according to the legends of the poets. But if he praised the inventor of wisdom as a god,—for thus he speaks:413413     Book v. 6.  —  

“No one, I think, who is formed of mortal body. For if we must speak, as the acknowledged majesty of the subject itself demands, he was a god, he was a god, most noble Memmius,”—

yet God ought not to have been praised on this account, because He discovered wisdom, but because He created man, who might be capable of receiving wisdom. For he diminishes the praise who praises a part only of the whole. But he praised Him as a man; whereas He ought to have been esteemed as a God on this very account, because He found out wisdom. For thus he speaks:414414     Book v. 51.  —  

“Will it not be right that this man should be enrolled among the gods?”

From this it appears, either that he wished to praise Pythagoras, who was the first, as I have said,415415     Ch. ii.   to call himself a philosopher; or Thales of Miletus, who is reported to have been the first who discussed the nature of things. Thus, while he seeks to exalt, he has depressed the thing itself. For it is not great if it could have been discovered by man. But he may be pardoned as a poet. But that same accomplished orator, that same consummate philosopher, also censures the Greeks, whose levity he always accuses, and yet imitates. Wisdom itself, which at one time he calls the gift, at another time the invention, of the gods, he fashions after the manner of the poets, and praises on account of its beauty. He also grievously complains that there have been some who disparaged it. “Can any one,” he says, “dare to censure the parent of life, and to defile himself with this guilt of parricide, and to be so impiously ungrateful?”  

Are we then parricides, Marcus Tullius, and in your judgment worthy to be sewed416416     The allusion is to the punishment of parricides, who were sewed into a bag with an ape, a serpent, and a cock, and thus thrown into the sea.   up in a bag, who deny that philosophy is the parent of life? Or you, who are so impiously ungrateful towards God (not this god whose image you worship as he sits in the Capitol, but Him who made the world and created man, who bestowed wisdom also among His heavenly benefits), do you call her the teacher of virtue or the parent of life, having learned417417     If any one has approached her as a learner.   from whom, one must be in much greater uncertainty than he was before? For of what virtue is she the teacher? For philosophers to the present time do not explain where she is situated. Of what life is she the parent? since the teachers themselves have been worn out by old age and death before they have determined upon the befitting course of life. Of what truth can you hold her forth as an explorer? since you often testify that, in so great a multitude of philosophers, not a single wise man has yet existed. What, then, did that mistress of life teach you? Was it to assail with reproaches the most powerful consul,418418     Marcus Antonius, who was consul with C. Cæsar in the year when Cæsar was assassinated. It was against Antonius that Cicero wrote those speeches full of invectives, which, in imitation of Demosthenes, he named Philippics.   and by your envenomed speeches to render him the enemy of his country? But let us pass by those things, which may be excused under the name of fortune. You applied yourself, in truth, to the study of philosophy, and so, indeed, that no one ever applied himself more diligently; since you were acquainted with all the systems of philosophy, as you yourself are accustomed to boast, and elucidated the subject itself in Latin writings, and displayed yourself as an imitator of Plato. Tell us, therefore, what you have learned, or in what sect you have discovered the truth. Doubtless it was in the Academy which you followed and approved. But this teaches nothing, excepting that you know your own ignorance.419419     This point is discussed by Cicero in his Academic questions.   Therefore your own books refute you, and show the nothingness of the learning which may be gained from philosophy for life. These are your words: “But to me we appear not only blind to wisdom, but dull and obtuse to those very things which may appear in some degree to be discerned.” If, therefore, philosophy is the teacher of life, why did you appear to yourself blind, and dull, and obtuse? whereas you ought, under her teaching, both to perceive and to be wise, and to be engaged in the clearest light. But how you confessed the truth of philosophy we learn from the letters addressed to your son, in which you advise him that the precepts of philosophy ought to be known, but that we must live as members of a community.420420     [Advice which he took to heart as a swinish debauchee.]    

What can be spoken so contradictory? If the precepts of philosophy ought to be known, it is on this account that they ought to be known, in order to our living well and wisely. Or if we must live as members of a community, then philosophy is not wisdom, if it is better to live in accordance with society than with philosophy. For if that which is called philosophy be wisdom, he assuredly lives foolishly who does not live according to philosophy. But if he does not live foolishly who lives in accordance with society, it follows that he who lives according to philosophy lives foolishly. By your own judgment, therefore, philosophy is condemned of folly and emptiness. And you also, in your Consolation, that is, not in a work of levity and mirth, introduced this sentiment respecting philosophy: “But I know not what error possesses us, or deplorable ignorance of the truth.” Where, then, is the guidance of philosophy? or what has that parent of life taught you, if you are deplorably ignorant of the truth? But if this confession of error and ignorance has been extorted almost against your will from your innermost breast, why do you not at length acknowledge to yourself the truth, that philosophy which, though it teaches nothing, you extolled with praises to the heavens, cannot be the teacher of virtue?  


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