HOME CHAT NAB PRAYERS FORUMS COMMUNITY RCIA MAGAZINE CATECHISM LINKS CONTACT
 CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC DICTIONARY  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Home
 
Bible
 
Catechism
 
Chat
 
Catholic Encyclopedia
 
Church Fathers
 
Classics Library
 
Church Documents
 
Discussion
 
Mysticism
 
Prayer
 
Prayer Requests
 
RCIA
 
Vocations
 
Ray of Hope
 
Saints
 
Social Doctrine
 
Links
 
Contact
 







The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

A reply to those who say that the whole world, including man, was made not for man, but for the irrational creatures; for the irrational creatures live with less toil than men; further, that they are wiser than we are, and are both dear to God, and have a conception of God, and foreknow the future; wherein we shall also oppose transmigration of souls, and have something to say concerning augury and the trickery connected with it. From Book IV. against Celsus

1. He, Celsus I mean, then says, “But, not to confine my remarks to the Jews, for that is not my aim, but that I may deal with the whole of nature, as I promised, I will explain more clearly what I have said.” What modest man who reads this and is conscious of human weakness, would not shrink from the offensiveness of a man who promises to give an account of the whole of nature, and so pretentious as Celsus in daring to give such a title to his book? Let us see, then, what it is he promises to tell us about the whole of nature, and what light he throws upon the subject.

2. Well, he proceeds to blame us at great length for alleging that God has made all things for man. And, drawing on the stories of animals and the sagacity they show, he wishes to prove that everything exists no more for the sake of men than for the sake of the irrational creatures. Here he seems to me to talk like those men who from hatred of the people they dislike, blame them for the very qualities for which their own friends are praised. For as enmity so blinds these men that they are not aware of accusing their friends when they think they are abusing their enemies: the same way, Celsus in this confusion of thought has not seen that he is blaming the Philosophers of the Porch, inasmuch as not unwisely they give man the first place, and in general prefer rational nature to all irrational beings, and maintain that for the sake of the rational creation chiefly, Providence has made everything. And rational creatures, inasmuch as they are the leading objects of Providence, are regarded as children begotten; but irrational and lifeless creatures are like the after-birth. I moreover think that as in our towns the inspectors of provisions and of the market exercise their office only for the sake of men, but even dogs and other irrational creatures enjoy the abundance as well: so Providence chiefly provides for the rational creatures, but it follows also that the irrational creatures enjoy what exists for the sake of men. And as a man is in error if he says that the clerks of the markets provide no more for men than dogs, for that the dogs as well as men enjoy the abundance of what is on sale: so Celsus and they who are of his mind are much more guilty of impiety towards God, Who provides for the rational creatures; for they pretend to ask, “What more is done for man’s support than for plants, and trees, and roots, and thorns?”

3. For, in the first place, now more clearly showing his Epicurean views, he thinks that “thunder and lightning and rain are not works of God.” And, secondly, he says that “if one were to grant that these are works of God, they exist no more for us men than they do for plants, and trees, and roots, and thorns”; thus, like a true Epicurean, allowing that they are the result of chance and not designed by Providence. If they are no more useful to men than they are to plants, and trees, roots, and thorns, it is clear that they are not the gift of Providence, or that they come from a Providence which no more provides for us than for trees, or a root, or a thorn. But the impiety is obvious whichever way you take it; and it is silly to oppose such views by withstanding a man who accuses us of impiety; for any one may see, from what has been said, who it is that is guilty of impiety. Then he adds, “Even if you say that these (he clearly means the plants, trees, roots, and thorns) grow for men, what reason is there for saying that they grow more for the sake of men than for the sake of the wildest irrational creatures?” I wish Celsus would tell us plainly that the great variety in the produce of the earth is not the work of Providence, but that a fortuitous concourse of atoms is the cause of so many qualities, and that we are indebted to chance for so many kinds of plants, and trees, and grass, resembling one another; and that no reason designed them to begin with, and that they do not spring from an infinitely marvellous understanding. But we Christian people, who are dedicated to the service of the Creator of these things, the only God, even herein find motives for gratitude to the Maker of them all, because He prepared so fair a home for us, and, for our sakes, for the animals which serve us; “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread that strengtheneth man’s heart.” And if He also prepared food for the most savage beasts, it is no wonder; for these beasts, as some philosophers have maintained, were meant to be a training school for the rational creature. And one of our wise men somewhere says, “Say not, what is this? wherefore is that? for all things have been made for their uses”; and, “Say not, what is this? wherefore is that? for at time convenient they shall be sought out.”

4. After this, Celsus wishing to show that Providence has not made the things that grow upon the earth anymore for us than for the most savage beasts, says, “We wear ourselves out with unceasing toil, and yet with all our labour hardly get a living; but everything grows for the beasts without their ploughing and sowing.” He does not see that because God wished man’s intelligence everywhere to find a field for exercise, so that it might not remain idle and without some conception of the arts, He made man a creature of many wants, intending him to be driven by his very necessities to discover various arts, some for his sustenance, others for his protection. For it was better that men who were not likely to search and study Divine things should be in want, so that they should have to use their understanding in discovering these various arts, than that they should through abundance altogether neglect their understanding. One result of the scarcity of the necessaries of life was agriculture, another vine-dressing, another the different styles of gardening, another the crafts of the carpenter and the smith, which furnish tools to the arts which minister to man’s sustenance. And the want of protection brought weaving, which followed wool-carding and spinning, and also building; and thus man’s intelligence rose even to architecture. And the lack of necessaries led also to the transport of commodities from certain places, through seamanship and the shipmaster’s skill, to those who were without them; so that for these reasons, as well as others, a man might marvel at Providence for having made the rational creature, to its advantage, more necessitous than the irrational creatures. For the irrational creatures have their food prepared for them, because they have no means of cultivating the arts; and they have a natural protection, for they are covered with hair, or wings, or horny scales, or shells.

5. But some advocate of the dignity of man, he tells us, may object that the irrational creatures were created forman’s sake. “If any one should call us lords of creation because we hunt and feast on the other creatures, we will ask in return, Is it not nearer the truth to say that we exist for their sakes, because they hunt and devour us? The fact is we must have nets and weapons, and a lot of men, and dogs, to assist us in our sport, while nature gave them their own weapons as soon as they were born, thus making us an easy prey to them.” Now here, again, you see how the gift of understanding is a great help to us, and better than any weapon which the wild beasts seem to have. We, at any rate, though our bodily strength is far less than that of the animals, and very far less than that of some of them, gain the mastery over them through our understanding, and hunt even such huge beasts as elephants. Some animals which were intended by nature to be domesticated, we tame by our gentleness; but in dealing with those which cannot be domesticated, or which it would appear useless to domesticate, we consult our own safety, and when we like we keep them shut up, or when we want them for food we kill them, just as we do the animals that are not wild. So then, the Creator has made all things to serve the rational creature, and to be in subjection to his rational intelligence. We want dogs for such purposes as guarding the flocks, or cattle, or herds of goats, or our houses; and cattle for tilling the land; while we use other beasts for drawing vehicles or carrying loads. So we may say that lions and bears, pards and boars, and all such animals, are given to us to exercise and develop our manhood.

6. Then, in defiance of mankind, who perceive their own superiority over the irrational creatures, he says, “In reply to your contention, that God has given us the power to capture and make full use of the wild beasts, we shall take up this position. It is probable that before towns were built, or crafts invented, or such-like social arrangements were made, before weapons and nets were devised, men were carried off and devoured by the wild beasts, while the beasts were only by the rarest chance captured by men.” Now, in answer to this, observe that even though men capture the beasts and the beasts carry off men, there is a wide difference between men who prevail by intelligence, and the beasts whose savage and cruel nature gives them the mastery over men, and who do not use their intelligence to secure safety from them. When Celsus makes the remark about a time when there were no towns, nor arts, nor such means of social intercourse, he must, I think, have forgotten what he said before to the effect that “the world was uncreated and incorruptible, and that only the dwellers upon earth were exposed to deluges and conflagrations, and that their misfortunes did not end there.” As it is not for those who suppose the world to be eternal to talk of its beginning, so neither may they speak of a time when there were no towns of any sort and arts had not been discovered. Now, for argument’s sake, let us allow that he and we are herein agreed, though he is not at all consistent with himself in what he said before. But has this anything at all to do with men’s being at the first captured and eaten by the wild beasts, while as yet the beasts were not captured by men? Certainly, if the world came into being through the wisdom of Providence, and God is ruler over all, the small sparks of the human race must at first have been guarded by a higher power, so that at first there was intercourse between the Divine Nature and men. The poet of Ascra thought so, for he said—

“Then the feasts were common, and seats common,

To immortal gods and mortal men.”

7. And the Divine Word according to Moses, introducing the first men, makes them hear a more Divine voice, and oracles, and sometimes see the angels of God coming to visit them. It is surely probable that at the beginning of the world human nature received more assistance than afterwards; until such time as, having advanced in understanding, and the other manly qualities, and having discovered various arts, men were able to live independent lives, and did not continually need guardians and governors, with miraculous manifestation of the service rendered to the will of God. It is consequently false to say that at the beginning “men were caught and eaten by the beasts, but the beasts were hardly ever captured by men.” And this shows the falsity also of what Celsus thus expresses: “So that in this respect at least God subjected men to the beasts, rather than beasts to men.” For God did not subject men to the beasts, but God gave the beasts to be taken by the intelligence of men, and by the arts which intelligence suggests for their destruction. For not without God’s help did men devise the means of saving themselves from the beasts, and of maintaining their dominion over them.

8. The noble critic, overlooking the fact that so many philosophers bring Providence into their arguments and affirm that it does everything for the sake of the rational creatures, does his best to destroy their doctrines, which are of use in showing the agreement of Christian teaching and philosophy in these respects; nor does he perceive what an injury and hindrance it is to piety to accept the view that with God there is no difference between man and ants or bees. Because he does not observe this, Celsus says: “If men seem to excel the irrational creatures, inasmuch as they dwell in towns, and have some form of government, and magistracies, and authorities, it is nothing to the purpose, for ants and bees have all this as well. Bees, at any rate, have their queen with her followers and attendants; they have also their wars and victories and capture the vanquished; they have their towns and even suburbs, the division of labour, and courts for trying the idle and bad members of the community; anyway, they drive the drones away and punish them.” Now here, again, Celsus has not seen where the difference lies between what is accomplished by thought and reason, and what results from an irrational nature and a creature’s mere make. No original gift of reason in the creatures accounts for these doings, for they have not reason; but the Most Ancient One, He Who is both Son of God and King of the subject universe, has created an irrational nature which by its very lack of reason helps the creatures not deemed worthy of reason. Towns, then, arose among men along with many arts and a legal system; and forms of government, and magistracies, and human authorities, whether those which are properly so called because they secure good habits and activities, or those less properly so named, according as the former are imitated as far as possible; for it was by contemplating these habits and activities that legislators succeeded in establishing the best forms of government, magistracies, and authorities. But nothing like this can be found among the irrational creatures, though Celsus may transfer to ants and bees the names derived from reason, and institutions based on reason, “town,” “government,” “magistracies,” “authorities.” Even so we must not receive ants or bees, for they do not reason when they thus act; but we must admire the Divine nature, extending as it does to irrational creatures what I may call the imitation of the rational, perhaps to put rational creatures to the blush; so that when they look at the ants, they may become more diligent and may husband their own blessings better; and when they observe the bees, they may obey their authorities, and may take their share in such duties of government as tend to promote the welfare of the citizens.

9. Perhaps the so-called “wars” of bees are intended as a lesson in just and regular warfare among men, if the necessity should arise. And bees have no “towns” and “suburbs”; but their hives and hexagonal cells, their works, and their division of labour, are for the sake of men, who require honey for many purposes, for the healing of their bodies and for wholesome food. And we must not compare the treatment of the drones by the bees to the courts for prosecuting the idlers and bad characters in our towns, and to the punishments inflicted on them. But, as I said before, while we must admire the nature of the bees in these respects, we must allow that man is able to consider the details of everything, and to arrange everything, for he co-operates with Providence, and not only accomplishes the works of God’s Providence, but also those of his own foresight.

10. After speaking of bees, so that as far as possible he may disparage the towns, forms of government, magistracies, authorities, and patriotic warfare, not only of us Christians but of mankind generally, Celsus proceeds to introduce an elaborate eulogy of ants, in order that by thus eulogising the ants he may upset the superiority of man in the management of his food supplies, and show his contempt for the provision which man makes for his winter quarters, as being nothing more than the irrational foresight of the ants where Celsus thinks they show it. Would not Celsus, so far as it depends upon him, turn any one of the simpler sort, and such as are not qualified to look into things all round, from helping a heavily laden fellow-man, and from sharing his toil, by telling us that the ants when they see a fellow-ant labouring with a load help him to carry it? He who needs the instruction of the Word, and does not by any means give ear to it, will say, “It seems we are no better than the ants even when we help those who are weary with their heavy burdens; why go on doing so to no purpose?” Ants, indeed, since they are irrational creatures, would not be puffed up with pride because their works were compared to those of men; but men being able to learn through reason how their social life is belittled, might, if it depended on Celsus and his arguments, suffer injury; for Celsus does not see that in wishing to turn his readers from Christianity, he is also diverting the sympathy of those who are not Christians from the most heavily laden of his fellow-men. If he were a public-spirited philosopher, he ought not only to refrain from destroying at the same time both Christianity and the beneficent practices of human life, but he should, if possible, support the excellence which Christianity has in common with the rest of mankind. Supposing, however, that the ants do tear off the shoots of the corn they have in store, to prevent its swelling, so that it may last through the year for food, we must not imagine that this is the result of reasoning in ants, but must rather believe that Nature, mother of all things, has so constituted even irrational creatures as not to leave even the least without some trace of Nature’s reason. It cannot be that Celsus—in a moment of forgetfulness, for in many things he likes to follow Plato—wishes to indicate that all souls are of the same kind, and that the soul of man no way differs from that of ants and bees; that would be not only to bring down the soul from the vaults of heaven to the human body, but also to everything else. Christians will not assent to these views, for they have already grasped the truth that man’s soul was made in the image of God; and they see that it is impossible for a nature created in the image of God to altogether obliterate its characteristics, and take others, copies of I know not what, in irrational creatures.

11. And since Celsus says also that “when ants die the survivors choose a burial ground, and that there they have their family memorials,” I must answer that the more he praises the irrational creatures, so much the more, in spite of himself, he exalts the work of that reason which ordered all things, and shows the cleverness of man, which is able by reason to order the natural advantages of the irrational creatures. Why do I say “irrational,” seeing that Celsus thinks that the creatures so named by the general consent of mankind are not irrational? Nor does he who promised to discuss the whole range of nature, and boasted of his truthfulness in the title of his book, think that ants, at all events, are without reason. For he speaks of ants talking to one another, and makes the following remarks: “It really is a fact that when they meet they talk to one another, and this is why they never miss their way; so then they have a full measure of reason, and some general notions, and a voice, know what accidents are, and express what they mean.” It is indeed true that when two persons talk to one another they use a voice which expresses some meaning, and frequently describes what are called “accidents”; but would it not be very ridiculous to say we find that sort of thing in ants?

12. And he is not ashamed to add (that he may fully show the indecency of his opinions to those who shall come after him), ‘Come! if one were to look down from heaven upon the earth, what difference would there seem to be between the doings of us men and those of ants and bees?” Now picture a spectator looking down from heaven, as Celsus supposes, and seeing the doings of men and ants: does he look upon the bodies of men and ants, and not perceive that in men the ruling principle is rational and set in action by reasoning power, and that, on the contrary, in ants the ruling principle is irrational, set in action without the help of reason, by impulse and fancy, along with some secret contrivance of nature? But it is absurd to suppose that any one who saw from heaven what is done upon earth should wish to look upon the bodies of men and ants from such a distance, and not be much more desirous to see the nature of the ruling principles and the source of impulses, whether rational or irrational. And if he once sees the source of all impulses, he will of course see also the difference, and the superiority of man not only to ants but also to elephants. For the spectator from heaven will discover in the irrational creatures, whatever their size, no other principle than, if I may so call it, irrationality; while in the rational creatures he will see reason, the common property of all men, and of beings heavenly and Divine, and perhaps also of the Supreme God Himself; and it is on account of reason that man is said to have been made in the image of God, for reason is the image of the Supreme God Himself.

13. Next, as if he were doing his utmost to degrade the human race and make it resemble irrational natures, and as if he were reluctant to give up anything at all related of irrational creatures which shows their dignity, he says that some of them have magical powers as well as men; so that not even in this respect can men claim special distinction, or dream of having superiority over the brute creation. This is what he tells us: “If men pique themselves on magic, the fact is that serpents and eagles are wiser than men in this respect also; they, at all events, are acquainted with many antidotes and means of averting mischief, and specially with the virtue of certain stones in saving their nestlings; when men come upon these stones they think they have got hold of something wonderful.” Now, in the first place, I cannot understand how he applies the name “magic” to the, shall we say? experience, or kind of instinct the animals have in using the antidotes which nature provides, for the name has another familiar application; it may be that he forgets himself, and, like a true Epicurean, wishes to disparage the use of such arts altogether because it belongs to the profession of magic. However, let us grant that men do pride themselves on their knowledge of these things, whether they are magicians or not. Does it follow that serpents are wiser on this showing than men, because they use fennel to clear their sight and quicken their movements, the truth being that they take this natural remedy not because they calculate (the effect), but because they are so constituted? Men do not arrive at such methods, like serpents, through the mere promptings of nature, but partly by experiment, partly by reason, and sometimes by calculation and by following the rules of science. Even supposing that eagles do find and carry to the nest what is called the “eagle stone” to keep their nestlings safe, does it follow that eagles are wise, or wiser than men, who because they have the faculty of reason, discover by experiment what is given to the eagles as a natural remedy, and use it intelligently? Suppose that other antidotes come to be known by the animals, is this any proof that in them it is not nature but reason that makes the discovery? If reason made the discovery, there would not have been one discovery, or two or three, confined to snakes, and something different among eagles, and so on with the other creatures; the discoveries would have been as numerous as they are among men. But the fact that the remedies are exclusively adapted to the particular nature of each animal, shows that the animals have not wisdom or reason, but that for their good they are naturally disposed to such remedies through the creative power of the Divine reason.

14. If, indeed, I wished to join issue with Celsus on these lines, I might quote the words of Solomon in the Proverbs: “There be four things which be little upon the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their meat in the summer; the conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands at one word of command; the lizard taketh hold with her hands, and though easily taken, yet is she in the strongholds of kings.” But the words are not clear, and I therefore do not avail myself of them; in accordance with the title of the book (it is called “Proverbs”) I regard them as “dark sayings” and look for the meaning. For the inspired writers are wont to distinguish the many ways of conveying a deeper meaning than the literal, and one of them is the Proverb. Hence it is that even in our Gospels our Saviour is reported to have said, “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: the hour cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs.” Now it is not the ants we see that are wiser than the wise, but the ants proverbially indicated. And we say the same of the other animals. But Celsus thinks the books of Jesus and Christians are very simple common-place productions, and he supposes that they who treat them allegorically do violence to the meaning of the writers. Let this suffice to show how futile it is for Celsus to slander us; and let it be the reputation of his argument to prove that snakes and eagles are wiser than men.

15. And wishing to show at still greater length that even man’s conceptions of God are no more remarkable than the mortal side of his nature, but that some of the irrational creatures have thoughts of God, concerning Whom the acutest thinkers everywhere, Greek and Barbarian, have entertained such discordant opinions, he says, “If man because he has got hold of some Divine thoughts is supposed to surpass other animals, let me remind those who are of this opinion that many other animals will put in a claim to the same thing; and with very good reason; for what is more Divine than to foreknow and foreshow the future? Well, men learn the art from other animals, and specially from birds; and as many as profess to know what they point out are Soothsayers. Now, if birds, or any other oracular creatures gifted by God with foreknowledge, teach us by signs, it seems that they have naturally a closer intercourse with God, and are wiser than men and dearer to God. And intelligent men tell us that the birds have their assemblies, obviously more sacred than ours; and, further, that somehow or other they discover what the birds say, and that they give real proof of the discovery whenever they previously declare what the birds said, viz. that the birds would go away to some place and do this and that, and then show that the birds did go there and do what they foretold. And as for elephants, nothing could surpass their fidelity to oaths or be truer to Divine things, just because, I suppose, they have some knowledge of God.” Now, here observe how often he begs the question, and takes for granted what is still speculative matter, the fact being that both Greeks and Barbarians have either discovered, or learned from certain demons, the ways of birds and other creatures, from which they are said to derive their powers of divination. In the first place, it is open to question whether there is any such art of augury, and, in general, any basis for divination by means of animals, or not. Secondly, among those who admit that there is an art of divination through birds, it is not agreed as to why the divination takes that form; for some say that it is from demons or gods of divination that the animals receive their impulses, the birds to different flights and cries, the other animals to such and such movements; while others hold that the souls of these animals are more divine than others, and are adapted to the purpose; which is most improbable.

16. If Celsus wished to prove by the foregoing that the irrational creatures have a Divine nature and are wiser than man, he ought to have fully shown that there is such an art as divination; then, he should have more clearly shown how it can be defended; then have given clear grounds for rejecting the arguments of those who would do away with such arts; and, lastly, should have decisively upset the arguments of those who say that it is from demons or gods the animals derive their divination impulses. Then would be the time for dealing with the question, whether the soul of irrational creatures is more Divine than that of men. If he had thus shown a philosophic spirit in treating such important matters, we would have withstood his plausible assertions to the best of our power; we would have upset his statement that the irrational creatures are wiser than men, and we would have proved how false it is that they have more sacred conceptions of God than we have, and that they hold certain sacred assemblies. But, as things are, the man who reproaches us with believing in the Supreme God expects us to believe that the souls of birds have more divine and clearer conceptions than men. If this be indeed true, birds have clearer conceptions of God than Celsus has, and no wonder if they surpass Celsus who so belittles man. Celsus certainly does his best to make it look as though the birds have greater and diviner conceptions, I do not say than we Christians have, or the Jews, who use the same Scriptures as ourselves, but than even the Greeks had, who treated of God and the Divine nature, for they were men. So, according to Celsus, the race of divining birds, forsooth, understand the nature of God better than Pherecydes, and Pythagoras, and Socrates, and Plato. And it seems that we must go and be taught by the birds, in order that, as, according to Celsus, they teach us by means of divination what is going to happen, so they may also rid men of their doubts respecting the Divine Being, by passing on the clear conception of Him to which they have attained. It follows that Celsus, holding as he does that birds are superior to men, should go to the birds for instruction, and not to one of those distinguished Greek philosophers.

17. But we must add a few remarks, out of many, in answer to the foregoing, for we wish to utterly refute the false opinions of Celsus and prove his ingratitude to his Maker; for Celsus, being a man, and being in honour, understandeth not; wherefore, he is not even like the birds and other irrational creatures which he considers to have the gift of divination; but yielding them the pre-eminence, he goes further than the Egyptians, who worship the irrational creatures as gods, and places himself, and, so far as he can, the whole human race, beneath the irrational creatures, for he believes that men have lower and meaner conceptions of God. Let our inquiry, then, be chiefly directed to the point whether there really is, or is not, an art of divination by birds, and the other animals believed to be “divining,” for both ways the argument is to be treated with respect; on the one hand, it presses us not to accept any such thing as divination, lest the rational creatures should forsake the oracles of demons and resort to birds; on the other hand, it brings much clear evidence to show that many people have been preserved from the greatest dangers because they believed in divination by birds. For our present purpose let us allow that augury is a reality: my object is to show any persons who are prepossessed in its favour, that even if this is conceded, the superiority of man over the irrational creatures, and over the very creatures with powers of divination, is incomparably great. Let me then say that even though there were in them a Divine nature capable of predicting the future, and so passing rich, that out of its superfluity it could disclose the future to any man who wished to know it, we must suppose that these creatures would much sooner know their own affairs. But if they knew their own affairs they would have taken care not to fly to any place where men set snares and nets to catch them, or archers make them a target and shoot them on the wing. And certainly, if eagles knew beforehand the designs upon their young ones, whether of serpents climbing to them and killing them, or of men trying to take them either for sport or to serve some other purpose, they would not have made their nests where they were likely to be exposed to these attacks; and, in general, not a single living creature could ever have been captured by men, inasmuch as it was more Divine and wiser than men.

18. Moreover, if birds of omen converse with one another; if, as Celsus says, the divining birds and the other irrational creatures having a Divine nature and conceptions of God, and having the knowledge of the future, disclosed this knowledge to others, the sparrow in Homer would not have made her nest where the serpent would destroy her and her little ones; and the serpent would not, as the same poet relates, have failed to guard itself against being caught by the eagle. Homer, that marvellous poet, thus tells the story of the sparrow—

“Behold a wonder! by Olympian Jove

Sent forth to light, a snake, with blood-red back,

Of aspect fearful, issuing from beneath

The altars, glided to the plane-tree straight.

There on the topmost bough, beneath the leaves

Cowering, a sparrow’s callow nestlings lay;

Eight fledglings, and the parent bird the ninth.

All the eight nestlings, uttering piercing cries,

The snake devoured; and as the mother flew,

Lamenting o’er her offspring, round and round,

Uncoiling, caught her, shrieking, by the wing!

Then, when the sparrow’s nestlings and herself

The snake had swallowed, by the God, who first

Sent him to light, a miracle was wrought:

For Jove, the deep-designing Saturn’s son,

Turned him to stone; we stood, and wondering gazed.”

Respecting the eagle he says—

“A soaring eagle in his talons bore

A dragon, huge of size, of blood-red hue,

Alive, and breathing still, nor yet subdued;

For, twisting backward, through the breast he pierced

His bearer, near the neck; he, stung with pain,

Let fall his prey, which dropped amid the crowd;

Then screaming, on the blast was borne away.

The Trojans, shuddering, in their midst beheld

The spotted serpent, dire portent of Jove.”

Shall we say that the eagle was a divining bird, but that the serpent, though the augurs make use of the creature, had not the gift of divination? The arbitrary distinction is easily refuted, and is not the supposition that both had the gift easily disproved? Would not the serpent, if he had possessed divining power, have taken care that the eagle did not treat him so? One might produce countless other instances to show that the animals have not in themselves a divining soul. But, as the poet says, and most men agree, “Olympian Jove himself sent him to the light”; and if Apollo also uses a hawk as his messenger, something symbolical is intended, for a falcon is said to be Apollo’s swift messenger.

19. Our view is that certain worthless demons (Titans or Giants, if I may say so), having sinned against the true God and the angels in heaven, and, having fallen from heaven, wallow in the grosser bodily existences and the unclean things of earth; they have some insight into the future, and inasmuch as they are not encumbered with earthly bodies, and are set on that sort of thing (for they desire to seduce the human race from their allegiance to the real God), they conceal themselves in the more rapacious and savage beasts, and others of a craftier kind, and make them at any time do what they choose; or they turn the fancies of such creatures to such and such flights and movements; so that men, caught in the snare of that divining power which is in the irrational creatures, may not seek Him Who embraceth all, nor try to discover the pure form of worship, but may sink by their speculations to the level of the birds and serpents upon earth, and still lower to foxes and wolves. For it has been observed by the experts that the clearest indications of the future are given through such creatures as these; it may be because the demons cannot so fully “possess” the gentler animals as they can the wild ones, which they closely resemble in wickedness, though the wickedness is not really wickedness in such animals.

20. And nothing in Moses appears to me more marvellous than what I am about to mention. Because he understands the different natures of animals, and has either learnt from God the facts about them and the demons which have affinity with each, or has by exercising his own wisdom made the discovery, all the animals which he classifies as unclean are those considered by the Egyptians and the rest of mankind to be connected with divination, while those not so connected are, generally speaking, clean animals. Amongst the unclean Moses places the wolf, the fox, the serpent, the eagle, the hawk, and such-like. And, speaking generally, you will find, not only in the Law but in the Prophets, that these animals are taken to represent the worst qualities, while there is no instance of a wolf or a fox being mentioned in connection with anything good. There seems to be, then, a fellowship between such kind of demons and each kind of animals. And as among men some are stronger than others, and not at all on account of their moral character: so some demons in things indifferent may be stronger than others; and some of them may use certain animals to deceive men, according to the pleasure of him who in the words of our Scriptures is called “the prince of this world”; and different ones may show the future by means of another kind of animal. And observe that the demons are so filthy that even weasels are seized by them for revealing the future. Now judge for yourself which is the best view to take, that God over All, and His Son, impel the birds and other creatures for divination, or that they who give the impulse to such animals, and not to men, though men are present, are worthless, and, as our sacred Scriptures call them, “unclean” demons.

21. But if the soul of birds is really Divine because the future is foretold by means of them, must we not much more admit that wherever omens are received by men, the soul of the medium through which the omens are heard is Divine? According to such teachers as these, we must believe that the slave in Homer who ground the corn was “divine”; for, speaking of the suitors, she said—

“Would that they might eat their last meal here!”

She was “divine”: the great Ulysses, the friend of Homer’s Athene, was not “divine,” but understanding the omens given by the “divine” slave he rejoiced; in the words of the poet, “The noble Ulysses rejoiced at the omen.” Again, observe that if the birds really have a Divine soul and perceptions of God, or, as Celsus says, “the gods,” when we men sneeze, we sneeze, of course, because we have a certain divinity and divining faculty of soul. For many testify to this; and the poet accordingly says—

“Telemachus sneezed as the prayer was offered.”

Wherefore, also, Penelope says—

“Do you not see that my son sneezed as you spoke?”

22. The true God, however, in imparting a knowledge of the future employs neither irrational creatures nor ordinary men, but the holiest and purest souls of men, such as He inspires with prophetic power. And this explains why amongst the other wonderful precepts of the law of Moses we must place such prohibitions as “Ye shall not practise augury, nor observe birds.” And in another place, “For the nations, which the Lord thy God shall destroy from before thy face, will hearken to omens and divinations; but the Lord thy God gave not so unto thee.” And elsewhere, “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from among thy brethren.” On one occasion God wished by means of an augur to turn His people from the practice of augury, and therefore caused a spirit in the augur to say, “Surely there is no augury with Jacob, nor is there divination with Israel; at the due season shall it be told to Jacob and to Israel, what God will perform.” Just because we are acquainted with these and similar passages, we wish to observe the mystical command, “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” lest some demon usurp the throne of reason, or some hostile spirit turn our imagination to follow his desires. And we pray that “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” may shine in our hearts, the Spirit of God dwelling in our imagination and impressing on us the things of God; “for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

23. And we ought to know that the knowledge of the future is not necessarily Divine: for in itself it is a thing indifferent, and is found among both bad and good men. Physicians, at all events, by their medical knowledge know certain things beforehand, though they may be men of bad character; and so, also, shipmasters, though they may be rascals, know the signs of the weather, tempestuous winds, and atmospheric changes, through their peculiar experience and observation. I suppose no one will say that because they have this knowledge they are “divine,” no matter what rascals they are. So then, when Celsus says, “What can be pronounced more Divine than to foreknow and foreshow the future?” he implies what is false. It is also false that “many of the animals have claims to Divine conceptions,” for no irrational creature has a conception of God. It is also false that “the irrational creatures have a closer intimacy with God”; for the fact is that bad men, however high their attainments, are far from intimacy with God. We maintain that only the truly wise and the sincerely godly approach at all near to intimacy with God: such men as our Prophets and Moses, to whom on account of the great purity of his character the Word has borne witness, saying, “Moses alone shall draw near to God, the rest shall not draw nigh.” Is it not impiety for the man who accuses us of impiety, to say that “the irrational creatures are not only wiser than man, but are also dearer to God?” And who would not shrink from heeding a man who says that the serpent, the fox, the wolf, the eagle, and the hawk are dearer to God than human kind? He will have to admit that if these creatures are dearer to God than men, these same creatures are obviously dearer to God than Socrates, and Plato, and Pythagoras, and Pherecydes, and the other exponents of God and the Divine nature, whose praises he sang not long before. One might really offer up a prayer for Celsus, and say, “If these creatures are dearer to God than men, may you be as dear to God as they are, and may you come to resemble those creatures which, according to you, are dearer to God than men!” And let him not suppose that such a prayer is really an imprecation; for who would not pray that he may become altogether such as they who, he is persuaded, are dearer to God than others, so that he, like them, may become dear to God?

24. And wishing to show that the assemblies of the irrational creatures are more sacred than ours, Celsus ascribes what he relates, not to ordinary mortals, but to “intelligent” men; though in truth only the good are intelligent, for no bad man is intelligent. Well, he speaks after this fashion: “Intelligent men say that the creatures have their assemblies, obviously more sacred than ours; and that they somehow discover what is said and show that they actually have the knowledge, inasmuch as they announce beforehand that the birds said they would go away and do this or that, and then show that they did go away and do what they had already foretold.” In reality, no “intelligent” person tells such stories, and no wise man says that the assemblies of the irrational creatures are more sacred than those of men. If, however, for the sake of testing the statements of Celsus, we examine what they lead to, it appears, according to him, that the assemblies of the irrational creatures are more sacred than those of the venerable Pherecydes, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, and the Philosophers in general, which, on the face of it, is not only unseemly, but most absurd. But if we are to believe that certain men, who have derived their information from the inarticulate cry of the birds, announce beforehand that the birds will go to some place and do this or that, we shall maintain that the information has been given to men by demons through certain signs, for the purpose of men being deceived by demons, and their understanding dragged down from heaven and from God to earth and places lower still.

25. I do not know how Celsus came to hear tell of an oath being taken by elephants, and that they show more fidelity towards the Divine Being than we men, and that they have a knowledge of God. I know a good many marvellous stories about the animal and its docility, but I am not aware that any one has spoken of an elephant’s oaths, unless, perhaps, Celsus calls their docility and the sort of covenant they make once for all with men, the keeping of an oath; but that again is absurd. There are instances, though rare, of elephants, after seeming to be tamed, fiercely attacking men and killing them, and of their being therefore condemned to death as of no further use. And, to prove his point, as he thinks, that the stork has more piety than men, our opponent adduces what is related about its loving and cherishing its parents and bringing them food. I must therefore add that even this conduct of the storks does not proceed from a regard to what is right, nor from reasoning, but from nature, it being nature’s aim in fashioning them, to set an example in irrational creatures strong enough to shame men into showing gratitude to their parents. If Celsus had known the vast difference between doing these things with the aid of reason and doing them without the aid of reason, and by the mere impulses of nature, he would never have said that storks have more piety than men. Further, as if determined to uphold the piety of irrational creatures, Celsus adduces the fable of the Arabian creature, the Phœnix, which is said to visit Egypt at long intervals, and to bring its father, dead and buried in a globe of myrrh, and deposit the remains at the temple of the Sun. Now, even supposing what is here related to be true, it may be the result of natural processes; for Divine Providence has even in the different constitutions of living creatures given proof to man of the rich variety to be found in the ordering of the world, a variety extending even to the birds; and it brought into being a unique creature, not that men might marvel at the creature, but at its Creator.

26. To all this Celsus adds the following: “Just as all things have not been made for the sake of lion, eagle, or dolphin, so neither have they for the sake of man; but the aim was that this world, as God’s work, might be a complete and perfect unity; and this is why all the parts have been proportioned, not to one another, except in a secondary sense, but to the whole, and God cares for the whole; and Providence never forsakes it, nor does it degenerate, nor does God in process of time turn it again to Himself, nor is He angry on account of men any more than on account of apes or flies; nor does He threaten these creatures, each of which has in its turn received its appointed lot.” Let us, if only briefly, meet these allegations. I suppose I have already said enough to show how everything has been made for man, and for every rational creature; for it is chiefly on account of the rational creature that everything has been created. Celsus may tell us that the world exists no more for man than it does for the lion, or the other creatures which he mentions; but we shall maintain that the Creator has made these things not for the lion, the eagle, or the dolphin, but all things for the sake of the rational creature; and this is so, in the words of Celsus, “in order that this world may be, as God’s work, a complete and perfect unity”; for we must acknowledge the good sense of this. But God’s care is not merely universal, as Celsus thinks, but while He cares for the whole, He has a special care for every rational creature. And a general Providence will never fail; for it is His plan, even though there be a general deterioration because of the sinning rational portion, to purify all creation, and in process of time to turn it back to Himself. It is true that God is never angry on account of apes and flies; but inasmuch as men have transgressed the promptings of nature, He brings upon them judgment and chastisement, and threatens them through the Prophets and the Saviour Who came to save the whole human race; that through His threatening they who hear may be turned, and they who neglect the words intended to turn them may fitly pay the penalty which it is proper that God should, according to His own will, and as is expedient for the whole, inflict on those who need such painful treatment and correction. But our fourth book is now large enough, and we will therefore here end the discourse. God grant through His Son, Who is God the Word, and Wisdom, and Truth, and Righteousness, and whatsoever else the sacred Scriptures say of His Divinity, that we may begin the fifth volume to the profit of our readers, and finish it well, with the help of His Word abiding in our soul!








Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com