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On Nature
(Eus., Præp. Evang. xiv. 23-7)

(1) How shall we bear with them when they say that the wise and, for that reason, the good 92 productions of Creation are the results of chance coincidences?213213i. e. the results not of design but of the fortuitous intersection of lines of causation. Each of which as it came into being by itself appeared to Him that ordered it to be good and all of them together equally so.

For God “saw,” it says, “all things that he had made, and behold they were very good.”214214Gen. i. 31. And yet they take no warning from the small, ordinary instances at their feet, from which they may learn215215The argument appears to be that, as on a small scale design is “evident in the construction or repairing of a thing but is absent in its decay,” so the orderly creation and maintenance of the Universe on the large scale implies intelligent direction. that no necessary and profitable work is produced without design or haphazard, but is adapted to its proper purpose by handiwork, whereas when it falls into a useless and unprofitable state, it then breaks up and comes to pieces indefinite, and, as it chances, because the wisdom which was concerned in its construction no longer superintends and directs it. For a garment is not woven by the woof standing up without a weaver, nor yet by the warp weaving itself of its own accord: but when it is becoming worn out, the torn rags fall asunder. And a house or a city is built not by receiving certain stones which volunteer for the foundations and others which jump into the courses of the walls, but because the builder brings the stones that fit in the proper order: but when the building is thrown down, each stone falls to the ground just as it may. So, too, when a ship is being built, the keel does not set itself below, while the mast raises itself in the middle and each of the other timbers takes the place which it chances to of itself. 93 Nor, again, do the planks of a wagon—said to be 100216216Hesiod (Works and Days, 554) is meant, but of course 100 stands here, as elsewhere, for an indefinitely large number. in number—become fixed in the position which each found empty; but the builder in each case puts the timber together suitably. But if the ship, when it went upon the sea, or the wagon, when it was driven along on land, comes to pieces, the timbers are scattered wherever it may happen—in the one case by the waves, in the other by the violent rush.

In the same way it would befit them to say that the atoms also which are inoperative when they are at rest and not worked by hands, are also useless when they move at random.217217The point is that movement which is useful suggests design: but as the movement of the atoms is without design, it cannot be useful. For let these opponents of ours look to these viewless atoms of theirs and apply their minds to these mindless ones, not like the Psalmist who confesses that this was revealed to him by God alone: “Mine eyes beheld thy unfinished work.”218218Ps. cxxxviii. (cxxxix.) 16. Dionysius quotes the best text here of LXX, but his application is rather obscure. Apparently he means that the Epicureans claimed to know without either revelation or research what the Psalmist knew only by revelation from God. So, too, when they say that those fine webs which they speak of as being produced from atoms, are self-wrought by them without skill or sensation, who can bear to hear of these weaver atoms whom even the spider excels in skill when he spins his web out of himself.219219Dionysius says that even the spider has more notion of design than the atoms, but the sarcasm is not quite to the point.

(2) Who, then, is it that discriminates between the atoms, gathering or scattering them, and arranging some in this way to make the sun and others in 94 that way for the moon, and putting each of them together according to the light-giving power of each star? For the particular number and kind that made the sun by being united in a particular way would never have condescended to produce the moon, nor would the intertwinings of the moon atoms have ever become the sun. Moreover, even Arcturus, bright as he is, would never plume himself on having the atoms of Lucifer, nor the Pleiads those of Orion. For Paul has well distinguished when he says: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for star differeth from star in glory.”2202201 Cor. xv. 41. And if the combination of the atoms, as being soulless, was unintelligent, they needed an intelligent artist to put them together: and if their junction was without purpose and the result of necessity, they being void of reason, some wise herdsman drove them together and presided over them: and if they have been linked together voluntarily to do willing service, some wonderful master-craftsman assigned them their parts and took the lead; or, like an expert general, he did not leave his army disordered and all in a muddle, but disposed the cavalry in one part and the heavy armed troops apart, and the javelin men by themselves and the slingers where they ought to be, in order that those who carried the same weapon might help one another. And if they think this illustration ridiculous because in it I make a comparison of great bodies with small, we will come down to the very smallest.

[Eusebius’s extract breaks off here.]

(3) If the atoms have no ruler over them, to speak 95 to them or to choose or to arrange them, but they move, settling themselves of their own accord out of the big rushing tumult and producing a big uproar as they clash together, like coming to like without the Divine intervention of which the poet speaks,221221“God ever brings like to like.”—Homer, Od. xvii. 218, a proverb quoted both by Plato and Aristotle. and if they run and herd together, recognizing their kinsfolk, truly the republic of the atoms is a marvellous one, friends greeting and embracing one another and hasting to take up their abode in one habitation: some have rounded themselves off spontaneously into the sun, that mighty orb, that they may produce the day, and some perchance have flared up into the many pyramids222222Dionysius is probably thinking of Plato’s Timæus 56B, where the pyramid is said to be the geometrical shape of fire which is the principal constituent of the bodies of the stars (Professor H. Jackson). of stars that they may encircle the whole expanse of sky, while others are ranged around it, in order that they may—albeit undesignedly—form the firmament223223Dionysius is here referring to such a passage as Gen. i. 6 ff. No doubt the ancients thought the vault of heaven was solid, enclosing the atmosphere which covers the earth, and that the stars were either fixed upon it or moved in their courses on its surface. and arch the atmosphere over for the graduated ascent of the stars, and that the confederation of these helter-skelter atoms may choose their abodes and apportion the sky as homes and stations for themselves.

(4) So far are these deniers of Divine Providence from comprehending the invisible parts of the universe that they do not even see what is visible. For they appear not even to consider the ordered risings and settings of the sun, conspicuous though they be, let alone those of the other heavenly bodies; nor 96 yet to appreciate the assistance thus given to mankind through them, the day being lighted up for work and the night being darkened for rest. For man shall go forth, it says, to his work and his labour until the evening.224224Ps. civ. 23. But they do not even take note of its other225225i. e. the sun’s yearly (as opposed to its daily) course. revolution, by which it brings about the fixed times and fair seasons and the regular winter and summer solstices, under guidance of its component atoms. Yet however much these poor creatures dislike it, it is as the righteous226226“The righteous” here is a very unusual equivalent for “the Christians”: it is possible, however, that the translation is: “however much these men disagree, being but poor creatures, though righteous enough in their own estimate.” believe: Great is the Lord that made him: and at His word he hasteneth his course.227227Ecclus. xliii. 5. Do atoms, ye blind, bring you winter and rains, in order that the earth may produce food for you and all the animals upon it? do they introduce summer that ye may receive for your enjoyment the fruits of the trees also? then why do you not bow down and sacrifice to the atoms that are the guardians of earth’s fruits? ungrateful truly ye are, never offering them the smallest firstfruits of the many gifts ye have from them.

(5) The many-tribed and much-mixed populace of the stars which the much-roving and ever-scattered atoms composed have (they say) apportioned among themselves their places according to agreement, setting up, as it were, a colony or a community,228228The idea is of some stars being solitary, like a Greek or Roman colony (ἀποικία) with a constitution of its own, and of others grouping themselves into constellations or communities (συνοικία). The colony had a founder (οἰκιστής), the community or household would have some sort of controller (οἰκοδεσπότης). 97 without any founder or controller taking the lead over them: and they observe the duties of neighbourliness to one another by compact and peacably, not transgressing the original bounds which they accepted, as if they were under the jurisdiction of such atoms as had regal power. But the atoms do not rule; how could they, being of no account? Nay, listen to the Divine announcement (λόγια): “In the judgment of the Lord are his works from the beginning; and from the making of them he disposed the parts thereof. He garnished his works for ever and the beginnings of them unto their generation.”229229Ecclus. xvi. 26 f.

(6) What well-ordered phalanx ever traversed an earthly plain, no one stepping in front of others, nor falling out of the ranks, nor obstructing his comrades, nor falling behind them, in the way that the stars advance ever in regular order, shield locked in shield—that continuous, unwavering, unencumbered and unembarrassed host? Yet certain obscure deviations (we are told) arise among them through clashings and sideward motions:230230The natural motion of atoms was downwards, but there was also a slight sideward motion, and when they impinged a motion upwards by blows and tossings, and this produced the shape of things. But Dionysius here says, how is that theory consistent with the orderly march of the stars? and that they who devote themselves to their study can always tell the seasons and foresee the positions at which they will rise. Let, then, these cutters231231Dionysius here plays on the derivation of ἄτομοι, from τέμνειν (= to cut). of the uncuttable and dividers of the indivisible and combiners of the uncombined and discerners of the infinite tell us by what means occurs the encompassing journey round the heavens in company? it cannot be because a single combination 98 of atoms has been without purpose hurled as from a sling in this way, seeing that the whole encircling band goes on its regular rhythmic way and whirls around together; by what means those multitudinous fellow-voyagers proceed in company albeit they are without arrangement or purpose and unknown to one another? Well did the prophet include amongst things impossible and undemonstrable that two strangers should run in company: Shall two walk at all together, he says, unless they are acquainted?232232Amos iii. 3 (LXX). The A.V. and R.V. give the more exact meaning “agreed” to the last word.

(7) (That to work is not toilsome to God.)

To work and to administer and to benefit and to provide and the like are perchance vexatious to the idle and thoughtless and feeble and iniquitous, amongst whom Epicurus enrolled himself, when he conceived such ideas about the gods. But to the earnest and capable and intelligent and sober-minded, such as those who love wisdom (or philosophers) ought to be (and how much more the gods?), they are not only not unpleasing and irksome but rather most delightful and of all things most agreeable; for negligence and delay in doing something useful is a reproach to them, as the poet233233Hesiod, Works and Days, iv. 408 and 411. warns them,234234Viz. the heathen, to whom the poets were to some extent what the prophets are to us Christians. when he counsels: “Put not off till the morrow,” and further threatens them: “He that procrastinates hath ever to struggle against disasters,” while the prophet235235Jer. xlviii. 10. instructs us still more solemnly when he says that virtuous deeds are truly godlike, but he that despises them is 99 detestable: “for,” saith he, “cursed be he that doeth the works of the Lord negligently.” Consequently, while those who are untaught in any craft and are imperfect from want of practice and familiarity with the processes do find toil involved in their endeavours, those who make progress in it, and still more those who have reached perfection, are cheered by their easy success in what they aim at, and would rather accomplish and bring to completion the tasks they are accustomed to than have all the good things of mankind. At all events, Democritus himself, so they say, used to maintain that he would rather discover a single reason for a fact than gain the Persian kingdom;236236The happiness of the King of Persia was proverbial: see Hor., Od. ii. 12, 21, iii. 9, 4. and that though he seeks his reasons so vainly and unreasonably, starting as it were from a void beginning and a roving hypothesis and not observing that fundamental Necessity237237By “Necessity” here Dionysius means not “Fate” in the fatalist’s sense, but that supreme Will and Purpose of God, which is opposed to the Epicurean doctrine of chance. which is common to the nature of things existent, but considering his conception of senseless and mindless contingencies to be the highest wisdom of setting up Chance as the mistress and queen of things universal and even of things divine, and maintaining that all things occur through her, and yet warning her off from matters of human life and conduct and accusing those who give her precedence there to be devoid of judgment. At all events, at the beginning of the “Precepts,”238238The title here given (ὑποθῆκαι) is not given in the list of Democritus’s works, but the ὑπομνήματα ἠθικά may be meant. he says: “Men have fashioned the figure of Chance, as a cloke for their own folly: for by nature chance fights against judgement.” 100 Thus they (the Epicureans) have said that this very Chance, the great enemy of intelligence, yet has the mastery over it; or, rather, by utterly uprooting and abolishing the one, they set up the other in its place: for they sing not of intelligence as happy, but of chance as the equivalent of intelligence.239239It is impossible to reproduce the play upon words here, εὐτυχῆ τὴν φρόνησιν, ἐμφρονεστάτην τὴν τύχην. The reference seems to be to such poetical passages as Soph., O. T. 977 ff., and Eur., Alc. 785 ff., where the practical wisdom of leaving the future to take care of itself is extolled. So, then, those who superintend works of beneficence pride themselves in measures which advance the interests of their kind, some as rearers of families, some as directors of institutions, some as healers of men’s bodies, some as ministers of state, yes, and those who love wisdom (philosophers) and try hard to instruct their fellows, likewise give themselves great airs—unless Epicurus or Democritus will venture to maintain that philosophizing is mere vexation of spirit: but surely there is no pleasure they would prefer to it. For even though they reckon pleasure to be the absolute good, yet they will be ashamed to say that to philosophize (seek wisdom) is not one of the higher forms of pleasure.240240Epicurus himself contended that by ἡδονή (pleasure) he meant not sensual enjoyments so much as freedom from pain of body and from disturbance of soul (ἀταραξία), the source of which was largely in the exercise of the mind and will: see Zeller, Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics, pp. 473 ff. And as to the gods, about whom the poets among them sing as “givers of good gifts”241241The words quoted (δωτῆρας ἐάων) are a Homeric phrase, e. g. Od. viii. 325 and 335. and these philosophers combine respect with banter,—the gods neither give nor partake of any good things. And in what manner do they find evidence that 101 gods exist? for they do not see them before their eyes doing anything (even as those who admired the sun and the moon and the stars said they were called gods (θεοί) because they run (θέειν) their course); nor do they attribute to them any creative or constructive powers, in order that they make them gods from the word θεῖναι (set, i. e. make):242242The derivation from θέειν is proposed by Plato, Cratyl. 397 C: that from θεῖναι by Herod, ii. 52, and of the two the latter is the more likely (√θε) though Curtius suggests a root θες = to pray: see Peile, Introd. to Philology, p. 37 (3rd ed., 1875). and on that ground the Maker and Creator of all things is truly the only God; nor do they put forward their management or jurisdiction or favours towards men, in order that we may be induced to worship them from motives of fear or reverence.


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