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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

Of Fate, and how though God foreknows the conduct of every one, human responsibility remains the same. Further, how the stars are not productive of human affairs, but merely indicate them; further, that men cannot attain to an accurate knowledge of these things, but that the signs are set by Divine powers; what is the cause of the signs. Astrology seems to have some elements of truth. From Book III. of the Commentaries on Genesis, “And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years.”

1. As regards the lights of heaven having been created for signs, to speak precisely, the sun, moon, and stars, this is a subject which we are bound to discuss; for not only do many nations, strangers to the Faith of Christ, err in the matter of fate, inasmuch as they think that all things happen, both earthly events in general and the incidents of every human life, and perhaps what befalls the irrational creatures, through the relation of the planets to the constellations of the Zodiac; but beside this, many who are supposed to have embraced the Faith are distracted at the thought that human affairs may be governed by necessity, and cannot possibly be otherwise than is ruled by the stars in their different groupings. And a consequence of this opinion is the complete destruction of Free Will; and a further result is that praise and blame are unmeaning, and the distinction between acceptable conduct and conduct deserving of blame is lost. And if this be so, there is an end of that Divine judgment which we preach; an end also of God’s threats of punishment awaiting sinners; an end, too, of a blessed future for those who have devoted themselves to the higher life: for there will no longer be any basis of reason for them. And if any one wishes to see the other consequences of holding these views, our faith will be vain, the advent of Christ of no avail, and the whole dispensation of the Law and the Prophets, and the labours of Apostles to establish the churches of God through Christ, of no avail; unless, forsooth, as these bold thinkers would have us believe, Christ also, inasmuch as His nativity was necessitated by the movement of the stars, did and suffered everything, not because the God and Father of All gave Him those marvellous powers, but because the stars bestowed them. Another result of their godless and unholy principles is, that believers are said to believe in God because they are compelled by the stars to believe. But we would ask our opponents to tell us what God meant by so making the world, that some men are effeminate creatures and lead lascivious lives through no fault of their own; while others, who are in the condition of wild beasts through the revolution of the whole heavens, because God so ordered the universe, abandon themselves to the most savage and inhuman practices, murders, and piratical outrages. And why need I speak of the incidents of human life, and the sins of men, in their countless variety? The champions of these noble principles may free their fellow-men from all guilt, but they make God the cause of all that is bad and blameworthy.

2. And if some of them, that they may seem to defend God’s character, shall say that there is a different God, the good God, Who has no control of these things, and attribute all such evils to the Creator; not even so will they succeed in showing, as they desire, that the Creator is just; for how could the Author of so many evils, as according to them He is, be reasonably thought just? In the second place, let us inquire what they will say about themselves. Are they subject to the revolution of the stars, or are they free men, and all their lives no way influenced thereby? If they shall admit that they are subject to the stars, it is clear that the stars gave them this impression, and the Creator will have suggested through the general movement of the stars the doctrine of the higher God they have imagined; but that they would deny. If they reply that they are not influenced by the Creator’s laws connected with the stars, that their statements may not be more than unverified assertion, let them endeavour to win our assent by some more forcible plea; let them show how to distinguish between the two kinds of mind, the one controlled by nativity and fate, the other free from their control. Any one who knows such men will be aware that if they are asked for a reason they will be quite unable to give it. In addition to what has been said, even the prayers we offer are superfluous; for if certain events must happen, and the stars create the necessity, and nothing contrary to their combination with one another can happen, it is unreasonable to expect God to give us this or that. Why need we further pursue the impiety involved in the doctrine of fate, a subject treated by many with too little consideration as a commonplace? Enough has been said to give some idea of it.

3. Here let us remind ourselves that we were examining the words, “Let the lights be for signs” when we came upon this discussion. They who learn the truth about things, have either been eye-witnesses and therefore give a good account of what takes place because they have beheld the suffering and the doing of those who do or suffer, or they get to know the circumstances by hearsay from informants not at all responsible for what has occurred. For we will agree on the present occasion to exclude the possibility that the doers or sufferers may themselves relate what they have done and suffered, and may acquaint any one who did not happen to be present with the facts. If, then, any one who gets the information from a person no way responsible for the events, on hearing that certain things have befallen or will befall certain individuals, does not bear in mind that his informant as to the past or future is no way answerable for any given occurrence, he will suppose that the informant has brought about or will bring about what he relates, but he will obviously be wrong in so doing; it is as though a man were to read a prophetic book in which the conduct of Judas the traitor is foretold, and having learnt what was to happen, were, on seeing it accomplished, to think that the book was the cause of what afterwards occurred, because the book showed him the future conduct of Judas; or, again, should imagine that not the book was the cause, but he who first wrote it, or He Who had the book written, God Himself, if we may so speak. Just as in the case of the prophecies concerning Judas, the passages themselves on investigation show that God did not produce the treachery of Judas, but that, foreknowing what would result from the wickedness of the traitor through his own fault, He only made it known: so also, if any one would go deep into the discussion of God’s universal foreknowledge, and into those things whereon, as it were, God stamps the proofs of His own foreknowledge, he would understand that neither is He Who foreknows at all the cause of what is foreknown, nor are those things which were stamped with the proofs of the foreknowledge of Him Who did foreknow.

4. That God knows long before every detail of the future, is, apart from Scripture, from the very conception of God clear to him who understands the power and excellence of the Divine understanding. If, however, we must prove this from the Scriptures, the prophecies are full of suitable illustrations; and, according to Susanna, God knows all things before they be: for she thus speaks, “O everlasting God, that knowest the secrets, and knowest all things before they be, Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me.” And in the third Book of the Kings even the name of a future king, and his acts, were thus prophetically described many years before the events took place. “And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he went up unto the altar which is in Bethel, which he made for the calves which he made.” Then, a little farther on, “And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel: and Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar by the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar! thus saith the Lord, Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he sacrifice the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall they burn upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken: Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the fat that is upon it shall be poured out.” And, a little farther on, it is shown that “the altar also was rent, and the fat poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the Word of the Lord.”

5. And in Isaiah, who lived long before the Babylonish Captivity, there is this prophecy concerning Cyrus by name, Cyrus king of the Persians, who lived some time after the Captivity, and assisted in the building of the Temple in the days of Esdras. There is this prophecy concerning Cyrus by name, “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loose the loins of kings; I will open the doors before him, and the gates of cities shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make mountains plain: I will break in pieces the doors of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, hidden riches of secret places will I lay bare to thee, that thou mayest know that I am the Lord, which call thee by thy name, even the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel my chosen, I will call thee by thy name and will receive thee.” This clearly shows, that for the sake of the people to whom Cyrus was a benefactor, God gave him, though he was unacquainted with the Hebrew religion, the rule over many nations; and we may also learn this from Greek historians who wrote the history of Cyrus, the subject of the prophecy. And again in Daniel also, at a time when Babylonian kings were on the throne, the kingdoms which should be after him are shown to Nebuchadnezzar. And they are shown by means of the image: the Babylonian kingdom being called gold, the Persian silver, the Macedonian brass, the Roman iron. And again, in the same prophet the affairs of Darius and Alexander, and the four successors of Alexander king of Macedonia, and Ptolemy, the ruler of Egypt, surnamed Lagos, are thus foretold: “And as I was considering, behold, an he-goat came from the west over the face of the whole earth; and the goat had a horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had the horns, whom I saw standing before the stream Ulai, and ran upon him in the face of his power. And I saw him close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns; and there was no power in the ram to stand before him: but he cast him down to the ground, and trampled upon him; and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and instead of it there came up four other horns toward the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a mighty horn, and waxed exceedingly great towards the south and towards the west.” Why need I mention the prophecies concerning Christ, as for example that Bethlehem should be the place of His birth, and Nazareth the place of His bringing up, and the marvellous works He did, and the manner of His betrayal by Judas who was called to be an Apostle? For all these are signs of the foreknowledge of God. But the Saviour Himself also says, “When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then ye shall know that her desolation is at hand”; for He spake beforehand what afterwards came to pass, the final destruction of Jerusalem.

6. Well, then, now that we have, not unseasonably, demonstrated the foreknowledge of God, if we are to explain how the stars are for signs, we must understand that the stars have their movements so regulated, those we call planets revolving the contrary way to the fixed stars, that observers may take and know the signs from the grouping of all those stars which have a special or general influence. And when I say “observers,” I do not mean men (for ability to really learn from the movements of the stars what will befall every individual soul with all its possibilities of doing or suffering, far transcends human capacity), but I refer to the Powers, which must for many reasons have this knowledge, as, so far as we can, we shall show in the sequel. But men being deceived by certain observations, or even by the teaching of Angels who have lost their proper rank, and, to the injury of our race, give some instruction about these things, supposed that they from whom they thought they received the signs were the original causes of the events which the Word says the signs indicate. We shall proceed at once to briefly discuss somewhat carefully as well as we can both the events and the supposed authors. These, then, are the problems which confront us—(α) How, if God knows from all eternity what we regard as done by the individual, Free Will is to be maintained; (β) in what way the stars are not productive of human affairs, but only indicate them; (γ) that men cannot have an accurate knowledge of these things, but the signs are shown to Powers superior to men; (δ) why it is that God has made the signs for the Powers to know, shall be the fourth point of investigation.

7. Well, then, let us look at the first. Many of the Greeks, handling the matter with caution, and supposing events to be ruled by necessity, and that man’s Free Will cannot be at all maintained if God foreknows the future, ventured to hold an impious doctrine, rather than admit, as they allow it to be, a glorious attribute of God, but one destructive of Free Will, and which therefore does away with the distinction between praise and blame, the acceptability of virtue and the censure of vice. They tell us that if God from everlasting knows that a certain person will be unjust, and will do certain unjust deeds, and if the knowledge of God be infallible, and if he that is foreseen to have such a character will certainly be unjust and will do these unjust deeds, his injustice is necessitated, and it will be impossible for his conduct to be other than what God knew it would be. But if his conduct could not be different, and no one is to be blamed for not doing impossibilities, it is no use for us to accuse the unjust. And from the unjust man and his unjust deeds they pass on to the other sins a man may commit, and, on the contrary, to what is considered upright conduct; and they say that consistently with God’s foreknowledge our Free Will cannot possibly be maintained.

8. Our reply will be as follows: When God planned the creation of the world, inasmuch as there is nothing without a cause, His thoughts traversed the whole course of the future, and He saw that when a certain thing takes place another follows, and if this occurs it will have its fitting result, and this supposed, something is its consequence; and going on thus to the end of all things He knows what will be, but is not at all the cause of the occurrence of any particular event. For as when we see a man reckless through ignorance, and in his recklessness foolishly venturing on a slippery path, we are not the causes of the man’s finding the path slippery, because we realise that the man will slip and fall: just so, we must understand that God having foreseen what every one will be like, also perceives the causes of his being what he is, and that he will commit these sins, or do these righteous deeds. And if we are bound to admit that the foreknowledge is not the cause of the occurrences (for though God knows before that a man will sin, He does not put a finger on him when he does sin), we shall make a still stronger statement, nevertheless true, that the future event is the cause of God’s peculiar knowledge concerning it. For it does not happen because it is known, but it is known because it will happen; and we must herein carefully distinguish. For if any one interprets the words certainly will be in the sense that what is foreknown will of necessity be, we do not agree with him; for we shall not say that, because it was foreknown that Judas would be a traitor, there was any necessity for Judas to be a traitor. At any rate, in the prophecies concerning Judas reproaches and accusations of Judas are recorded, which prove his guilt to every reader. Now no blame would have attached to him if he had of necessity been a traitor, and if it had not been possible for him to be like the other Apostles. And consider whether this is not shown by the following words which we shall quote: “Neither let there be any to have pity on his fatherless children. Because that he remembered not to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, and the broken in heart, to slay them. Yea, he loved cursing, and it came unto him; and he delighted not in blessing, and it was far from him.” If any one will explain the “certainly will be” as only meaning that some particular events will occur, but that things might have turned out differently, we assent to this as true; for God cannot possibly lie; and when things may possibly happen or not happen, we may contemplate either contingency.

9. We will put the case more clearly this way: If it is possible for Judas to be an Apostle like Peter, it is possible for God to think of Judas continuing an Apostle as Peter did. If it is possible for Judas to be a traitor, it is possible for God to contemplate his becoming a traitor. And if Judas proves to be a traitor, God by His foreknowledge of the two aforesaid possibilities (one only of which can be realised), inasmuch as His foreknowledge is true, will know before that Judas is going to be a traitor; but though God knows this, it might have been otherwise; and the knowledge of God would say, “It is possible for Judas to do this, but also possible for him to do the opposite; but of the two things possible I know that he will do this one.” If God were to say, “It is not possible for this man to fly,” and, predicting the future of another man, were to say, for instance, “It is not possible for him to be temperate,” the cases would not be parallel. For the man is not in the least qualified to fly, but he is qualified to lead either a temperate or a licentious life. Now, though there be this ability both ways, if a man does not give heed to admonition and instruction, he gives himself up to the worse; but he who seeks the truth and is resolved to live accordingly, gives himself up to the better. And one man does not seek the truth because he inclines to pleasure, while another man investigates it, being brought thereto, partly by common sense, partly by exhortation. The former, again, chooses pleasure, not because he is unable to resist it, but because he will not strive against it; and the latter despises it, because he sees the disgrace which often attaches to it.

10. To prove our point, that the foreknowledge of God really does not necessitate the things which it apprehends, we will further observe that in many parts of Scripture God commands the Prophets to preach repentance, not professing to know before whether the hearers will turn or abide in their sins. Thus in Jeremiah God says, “It may be they will hearken and repent.” If God thus speaks, it is not because He does not know whether they will hearken or not; but by this form of speech He shows, as it were, that they have equal ability to do one or the other; so that He may not, by announcing beforehand what He knows, make the hearers despond because of a seeming necessity, as if they had no power to turn, and His foreknowledge thus become, as it were, the cause of their sins. Or again, let us take the case of those who, because they do not know their goodness foreknown to God, may by striving and struggling against wickedness succeed in living a virtuous life. God will not have His foreknowledge become a cause of their slackness, inasmuch as, relying on the certain accomplishment of what has been foretold, they no longer stand firm against sin: for so the foreknowledge of their future goodness might prove a hindrance. Thus it is that God Who ordereth all things for the best, with good reason hides the future from our eyes. For the knowledge of the future makes us relax in the struggle against wickedness, and the apparent certainty of wickedness enervates us, and the result is that because we do not wrestle against sin we soon become subject to it. And at the same time it would be an obstacle in the way of a man’s becoming good and upright, if the knowledge that he will certainly some day be good reached him beforehand. For in addition to what we have, there is need of great earnestness and vigorous application if a man is to become good and upright; but the knowledge beforehand that a man will certainly be good and upright, weakens his habits of discipline. Wherefore it is expedient that we know not whether we shall be good, or whether we shall be bad.

11. And since we have said that God blinds our eyes with regard to the future, consider whether we can thus explain the question in Exodus, “Who maketh a man dumb and deaf, seeing and blind?” If we are to understand that God has made the same man blind and seeing, the man must see things present and be blind as regards things future; for we are not now concerned with the interpretation of the dumbness and deafness. That, however, many things for which we are responsible are caused by a multitude of things for which we are not responsible, even we will allow; if they had not occurred, the things I mean for which we are not responsible, certain things for which we are responsible would not have been done; but they have been clone in consequence of precedent events for which we are not responsible, though it was possible for us on the basis of the past to have acted otherwise than we did. If any one would have our Free Will detached from everything else, so as to make our voluntary choice independent of the changes and chances of life, he has forgotten that he is a part of the world, and subject to limitations as a member of society and a participant in the general environment. I think it has been shown with tolerable clearness, if briefly, that the foreknowledge of God does not necessitate what is certainly foreknown.

The same subject is further discussed in Book II. of the treatise against Celsus as follows:—

12. Celsus thinks that if a prediction comes to pass it is because the event was predicted. We do not grant this; we say that the Prophet is not the cause of the future event because he foretells its occurrence, but that the future event, which would happen even if it were not predicted, is the cause of his foretelling it, who has the foreknowledge. And the whole thing is in the foreknowledge of the Prophet; a given event may or may not come to pass; he knows which of the two it will be. Further, we do not say that he who foreknows destroys the possible alternative, and as it were declares, “This shall certainly be, and it is impossible that the event can be otherwise.” And something like what we have urged is applicable to the whole question of the foreknowledge of what is in our power, whether we look at the Divine Scriptures or at the narratives of the Greeks. And what the dialecticians call an “idle argument,” by which they mean a sophism, will be, if we are to believe Celsus, no sophism, though according to sound reason it is a sophism. That our point may be understood, I will use the prophecies of the Scriptures concerning Judas, or our Saviour’s foreknowledge of his being a traitor: and from the narratives of the Greeks, I will take the oracle addressed to Laius, for the present assuming it to be true, for that does not affect the argument. Well, then, at the beginning of the 108th Psalm, speaking in the person of Christ, the Psalmist says, “Hold not thy peace, O God, at my praise; for the mouth of the wicked and the deceitful man is opened upon me.” And if you carefully note what is said in the psalm you will find that as Judas is foreknown to be the betrayer of the Saviour, so he is also represented as being the cause of the betrayal, and worthy of the curses pronounced against him for his wickedness—let him suffer such and such things—“Because that he remembered not to do mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man.” He might then have remembered to do mercy, and he might have refrained from persecuting Him whom he did persecute, but though he might he did not, but betrayed the Saviour; so that he deserves the curses in the prophecy against him. And as regards the Greeks, we will similarly make use of what was said by the oracle to Laius, either in the precise words of the tragic poet, or in equivalent terms. This is what the oracle with its knowledge of the future told him:—

“Beget not children in defiance of the gods;

For if thou shalt beget a son, thy son shall slay thee,

And all thy house shall wade through blood.”

Here it is clearly shown that it was possible for Laius not to beget children, for the oracle would not have commanded him to do what was impossible; but the begetting was possible, and neither alternative was compulsory. And the consequence of his not guarding against begetting children, was that through begetting he suffered what is related in the tragedy concerning Œdipus and Jocasta and their sons.

13. By way of illustrating the “idle argument,” that is to say, the sophistical form of reasoning, we may suppose the following argument to be addressed to an invalid in order to dissuade him from calling in the doctor: “If you are fated to recover from your sickness, whether you call in the doctor, or do not call him in, you will recover; but if you are fated not to recover from your sickness, whether you call in the doctor, or do not call him in, you will not recover; now either you are fated to recover from your sickness, or you are fated not to recover; it is therefore no good for you to call in the doctor.” Now a parallel to this reasoning is neatly drawn after this fashion: “If you are fated to beget children, whether you go with a woman, or whether you do not, you will beget children; but if you are fated not to beget children, whether you go with a woman, or do not go, you will not beget children: now either you are fated to beget children or not to beget them; it is useless therefore for you to go with a woman.” In this case, forasmuch as it is an utter impossibility to beget children without going with a woman, to go with a woman is not a useless procedure; and similarly, if there is but one road to recovery from sickness, and that is via the doctor’s skill, the doctor must be summoned; and it is false to say, “It is no good for you to call in the doctor.” Now I have gone into all these details on account of what our paragon of wisdom, Celsus, said: “Being God He foretold, and what was foretold must certainly have come to pass”; for if Celsus by “certainly” means “necessarily,” we shall not agree with him, for the event might not have happened. But if by “certainly” he means “will be,”—and there is nothing to prevent this being true, though the event might possibly not have happened,—my argument is as sound as ever; it does not follow that because Jesus truly foretold the traitor’s treachery, or Peter’s denial, He was Himself the cause of their impiety and unholy conduct. For, as we hold, He knew what was in man; and seeing the traitor’s detestable character, and also what through avarice and through want of a right and steadfast regard for the Master he would dare to do, after much besides, Jesus said, “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.”

From Book III. of the Commentary on Genesis:—

14. Now let us grapple with the question whether it is a fact that the stars are not in the least productive of human affairs, but only indicate them. It is quite plain that if the stars in a given position are thought to produce certain events in a human life—let us make that the precise point of the present inquiry—their position to-day, for instance, which concerns that one man, could not be understood to have, produced the past of some other person or persons; for whatever produces precedes the thing produced. But, according to the teaching of the professors of the art, things that happened before this grouping of the stars are generally thought to be declared. For they profess, once they have ascertained somehow or other the particular hour of any given man, to be able to find the elevation of each planet, or in what minutest part of the sign it appeared, and what sort of a star of the Zodiac happened to be on the eastern horizon, and what on the west, and which star was on the meridian, and which on the opposite meridian. And when they have placed the stars, whose position they think they have determined for themselves, and which are thus grouped according to the season of the nativity of the person, from the time of the birth of him concerning whom they are inquiring, they investigate not only the future, but also the past, and things before the birth and begetting of the person we are speaking of; what manner of man his father was, rich or poor, sound in body or maimed, of good or bad character, with much wealth or little, of this or that condition; and, similarly, respecting the man’s mother, and his elder brethren, if there happen to be any.

15. For the present let us allow, though we shall afterwards show that it is not so, that they do ascertain the true meaning of the position and relations of the stars; nevertheless, let us ask those who suppose that human affairs are necessitated by the stars, how such and such a position to-day can have produced previous events. For if this is impossible, even supposing that they discover the truth concerning those previous events, it is clear that the stars with their present movements in the heavens have not produced things past and gone before they took that position. And if any one, noting what is said about the future, should allow that they are correct, he will say that they are right, not because the stars cause the events, but only because they indicate them. And if any one alleges that the stars do not now cause past events, but that there were other groupings which were the causes of the nativity of the persons I have mentioned, but that the present grouping has only indicated them, and that future events are nevertheless shown by the present grouping at the nativity of such an one, let him show how we are to distinguish between our ability to prove the truth of certain things if the stars are causative, and of others if they are indicative only. If they cannot explain the difference, they will frankly concede that nothing human is caused by the stars, but, as we said before, some way or other indicated; as if one did not receive the knowledge of the past and future from the stars at all, but from the mind of God through some prophetic utterance. For, as we have already shown that the fact of God’s knowing the future conduct of every person does not disturb the argument respecting our Free Will, so neither do the signs, which God appointed to be indicative, interfere with our Free Will; but, like a volume of prophecy, the heavens as a whole, being as it were one of God’s books, may contain the future. And thus what is said by Jacob in the prayer for Joseph may be understood: “For I read in the pages of the sky what shall befall thee and thy sons.” Perhaps also the passage, “The heavens shall be rolled together as a book,” shows that the declarations therein indicative of the future shall be brought to completion, and, so to speak, fulfilled, as the prophecies are said to be fulfilled by the event. And thus the existing stars will be for signs, according as it is said, “Let them be for signs.” And Jeremiah, in order that he may bring us back to ourselves, and remove our dread of what is thought to be indicated by the stars, and perhaps supposed to come from them, says, “Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven.”

16. Now let us look at our second undertaking, and try to show how it is that the stars cannot be causative, though they may possibly be indicative. In the vast multitude of nativities we may possibly get at the incidents of one man’s life; but this is only an assumption; we concede the point that it is possible for men to gain a knowledge of them. For instance, our opponents say we may learn both from a man’s own nativity, and from the nativity of each of his brothers, if he has more than one, that he will suffer in a certain way, and will die a violent death through meeting with robbers. For they suppose that the nativity of each one includes the death of a brother at the hand of robbers, and likewise the nativity of the father and mother and wife and sons and domestics and dearest friends, and perhaps the nativity of the murderers themselves. How can a man then, whose future is involved in so many nativities, to make them this concession, be influenced by the position and relation of the stars at one nativity more than by those at the others? The statement that the position of the stars at a man’s own nativity has caused certain events, while their position at the nativities of the rest has not caused but only indicated them, is incredible; and it is as silly to say that the nativity of each one of them, severally, included a cause of the violent death of this one in particular, so that in fifty nativities, suppose, is included the death of this one person. I do not know how they will maintain that the position of the stars at the nativity of nearly everybody in Judea was such that they received circumcision on the eighth day, being mutilated in their parts, and ulcerated, and subject to inflammation and sores, and no sooner born than needing a doctor; while the position at the nativity of certain Israelites down in Arabia was such that they were all circumcised at the age of thirteen years, for this is what we are told about them; and again the position at the nativity of certain people in Etheopia such that they had their knee-pans taken away, while the Amazons had one of their breasts removed. How do the stars cause these effects in various nations? I suppose that if we give close attention to the subject, we shall not be able to state a single true and reliable fact about these things. And when we hear of so many ways of knowing the future, I am at a loss to understand how men can be so inconsistent as to deny the existence of an active cause in augury, and in sacrificial inspection, maintaining that they are only indicative, but will not allow that astrology also, and nativity casting, are only indicative. For if because a future event is known,—granting that it is known,—the source of the event is the same as the source of the knowledge, why shall events any more be caused by stars than by birds, and by birds, or by entrails of victims, more than by ruling stars? This will suffice for the present to upset the notion that the stars are causes of human affairs.

17. We conceded the point, for it does not interfere with the reasoning, that men can understand the positions of the stars in the heavens, the signs, and the things of which they are signs; now let us see if it is true. Well, then, the masters of this art say that any one who is going to accurately cast a nativity must know not only in which twelfth part of the Zodiac the star in question is, but also in what part of the twelfth part, and in which of its sixty parts; and the more careful calculators add, in which sixtieth of that sixtieth. And the observer, they say, ought to do this in the case of each one of the planets, investigating its relation to the fixed stars. He must, moreover, scanning the eastern horizon, observe not only which sign of the Zodiac is there, but also the part of the sign, and the sixtieth part of this part, whether the first or second sixtieth. How, then, since an hour, roughly speaking, is equivalent to half the twelfth part, can any one ascertain the sixtieth part, unless he has a corresponding scale for the division of the hours? For example, who could know that such an one was born at the fourth hour, plus half an hour, plus a quarter, plus an eighth, plus a sixteenth, plus a thirty-second of an hour? For they say it makes a great difference in the things indicated if there is an error, not of a whole hour, but even of a fraction of an hour. Anyway, in the birth of twins there is frequently only a momentary interval; and yet, according to them, the twins differ widely in their fortunes and performances, because they who were thought to have observed the hour were not quite correct as to the relation of the stars, and the part of the sign on the horizon. For no one can say to the thirtieth of an hour what the interval between the two births is. But let us allow that they are able to determine the hour.

18. There is a well-known theorem which proves that the Zodiac, like the planets, moves from west to east at the rate of one part in a hundred years, and that this movement in the lapse of so long a time changes the local relation of the signs; so that, on the one hand, there is the invisible sign, and on the other, as it were, the visible figure of it; and events, they say, are discovered not from the figure, but from the invisible sign; though it cannot possibly be apprehended. But let us grant that the invisible sign can be apprehended, or admit the possibility of getting at the truth through the visible sign; still even they will admit their inability to preserve in due proportion what they call the “blending” of the signs in these positions, for it often happens that the influence of a malignant star which appears is more or less weakened by the aspect of a more benign one; and again, that the weakening of the influence of the malignant star by the aspect of the benign one is hindered, because of some particular position and relation of the other, though it is indicative of evil. And I think that any one who studies the passages must despair of understanding such matters, inasmuch as the knowledge is not disclosed to men, but at the most only goes as far as the indication of events. And any one who has had actual experience will know that speakers and writers more frequently fail than succeed in their guesses at the truth. Wherefore Isaiah, believing that these things cannot be discovered by men, says to the daughter of the Chaldeans, who above all others were professors of the art, “Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, stand up and save thee; let them tell thee what shall come upon thee.” We are thus taught that the most learned in these matters cannot show beforehand what the Lord intends to bring upon every nation.

19. We have already given instances of the literal fulfilment of prophecy. And if Jacob speaks of reading in the pages of the sky what should befall his sons, and if any one on the strength of this should meet us with the objection that the contrary to what we say is proved by Scripture,—for we said that men cannot comprehend the signs, and Jacob says that he read in the pages of the sky,—our defence will be that our wise men, guided by a marvellous superhuman spirit, are not taught the mysteries by human skill but by the power of God; as Paul says, “I heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” For they know the alterations of the turning of the sun, and the change of seasons: the events of years, and the position of stars,” not from men nor through men, but because the Spirit reveals them, and reveals them clearly, as God wills, announcing the Divine purposes. And another way also Jacob was more than human, for he supplanted his brother, and confessed in the same book from which we quoted the words, “I read in the pages of the sky,” that he was commander-in-chief of the host of the Lord and had long ago gained the name Israel; all of which he acknowledges when ministering in bodily form, when the Archangel Uriel reminds him of it.

20. It now remains to inquire and show those who believe that the lights of heaven are set for signs, but have been misled by fanciful interpretations of the passages, why it is that God has made these signs in the sky. And we must first observe that if we believe the mind of God to be great enough to embrace the perfect knowledge of every individual existence, so that not the least ordinary occurrence escapes His Divinity, this belief involves the tenet, not demonstrably certain, but held as being consistent with the eternity of God’s understanding, which transcends all nature, that His knowledge is, as it were, infinite. In order, then, that superhuman beings, and also the holy souls which have escaped from the bondage of this present state, may by experience grasp this truth, God created in the heavens beings who have been taught and shall be taught, as well by the revolution of the heavens as by other means, to read the signs which God gives as if they were written and stamped on the face of the sky. And it is not surprising that God should create some one for the sake of a manifestation to the blessed, for the Scripture saith to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth.” For if Pharaoh was preserved for the sake of showing the power of God and publishing abroad His name in all the earth, consider what a marvellous manifestation of the power of God there is in the heavenly signs for all of them have been from everlasting to everlasting engraved in the book of the heavens, a book worthy of God. And, secondly, I conjecture that the signs are exposed to the Powers which administer human affairs, in order that they may only know some things, and effect others; just as in our books some things are written that we may know them, as, for example, the story of the Creation, or any other mystery, and others that we may know and do them, as, for instance, the commandments and ordinances of God. It is indeed possible that the writings of the heavens, which Angels and Divine powers can read well, contain some things to be read by the Angels and ministers of God in order that they may rejoice in their knowledge; and other things in order that they may receive them as commandments and do them.

21. And we shall not err if we maintain the analogy between the things in the Law and that which is written in the heavens and the stars. Even supposing that inferior energies, different from human kind, do bring about some of the events foreknown and indicated in the heavens, there is no necessity for supposing that they effect the results because they are reminded by the writings of God (in the heavens). Just as men when they act unjustly, effect the injustice through their own wickedness, not because they have learnt that God foreknows that some one will be unjustly treated by them; so the opposing Powers, though God foreknows the wickedness of the men and Powers who devise the detestable results, bring things to pass of their own shameful free choice. As regards the holy Angels, however, the ministering spirits sent forth to do service, it is probable that inasmuch as they follow the commands of God’s written law, they produce the better results in an orderly way, having regard to time, manner, and degree; for it is absurd to suppose that being Divine, they at random, and not deliberately, approach some transaction, for instance, with Abraham, and do something for Isaac, and deliver Jacob from danger, or impress the spirit of some prophet. In order, therefore, that they may not thus act at random or haphazard, they read God’s book; and thus they do the things belonging to them. And, as we said before, we, as regards our own conduct, or the working of the opposing Powers against us, act of our own free choice; when we sin, the choice is disorderly; when we do such things as are pleasing to God, the choice is disciplined; not however that we can dispense with Angels, the Divine Scriptures, or assisting saints.

And Clement of Rome in his argument with his father at Laodicea has some comments on the question before us—the passage occurs in The Travels,—which agree with the foregoing. Towards the end he speaks with great force on the seeming results of “Nativity,” Book x.

22. The Father.—Pardon me, my son, what you said yesterday was so true that I had no choice but to agree with you; but my conscience, like the weakness left by a fever, torments me with a lingering doubt, for I feel that everything in my nativity has come to pass.

I answered, consider with me, father, what the nature of Astrology is, and upon what grounds I give you my advice. If you meet with an astrologer, and begin by telling him that at a certain time you had poor luck, and ask him to be good enough to inform you what star was the cause of it, he will say that a malignant Mars or Saturn ruled the times, or that one of them was periodic, or that one of them regarded the particular year from the point of quadrature, or diametrically, or in conjunction, or centrally, or was retrograding, and no end of things besides. He will tell you that either an auspicious planet was not counter-acting a malignant one, or it was not observable, or was in figure, or was retrograding, or in eclipse, or in detriment, or was among the dim stars. And because there are many ostensible causes, he is still able to adapt his proofs to what he has been told by you. Now, if you afterwards go to another astrologer and tell him the opposite, viz. that at that same time you had a piece of good fortune, and ask him from what star of your nativity it has arisen, though you have deceived him, he is able, as I said before, out of many figures to find one, or two, or three, or more, which he will make out to be the true cause of your good fortune. For it is impossible that at any man’s nativity, at any hour, some of the stars should not be favourably placed, others unfavourably; for the circle admits of equal divisions, is diversified in contents, and admits of unlimited shuffling, so that any astrologer can say what he likes. We can sometimes make nothing of ambiguous dreams, but the event enables us to give them the most fitting interpretation. So it is with Astrology. Before the events it can tell us nothing certain, but when the facts are related the result clearly shows the cause. This is why in predicting the future they frequently err, and after the event blame themselves, and say, “It was this or that caused it, and we did not know.” As I said yesterday, the reason why the very learned astrologers err is that they do not know what is certainly the cause of a man’s nativity, and what is not certainly so, and what things we certainly long to do, and are not certain to do. The cause is clear to us who have learnt the secret, viz. that being free to exercise our faculties of reason we sometimes yield to concupiscence and suffer defeat, sometimes resolve to check it, and succeed. But astrologers, through not being acquainted with this very secret, though they have expatiated on the whole subject of man’s Free Will from the first, have fallen into the error of devising climacterics; for they regard our power of choice as a most obscure subject, as we pointed out yesterday. Now it is your turn. If you have anything to say in reply, please say it.

And the father answered with an oath, Nothing can be truer than your words.

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