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Chapter IX.—On the World and the Movements of Rational Creatures, Whether Good or Bad; And on the Causes of Them.
1. But let us now return to the order of our proposed discussion, and behold the commencement of creation, so far as the understanding can behold the beginning of the creation of God. In that commencement,22242224 The original of this passage is found in Justinian’s Epistle to Menas, Patriarch of Constantinople, apud finem. “In that beginning which is cognisable by the understanding, God, by His own will, caused to exist as great a number of intelligent beings as was sufficient; for we must say that the power of God is finite, and not, under pretence of praising Him, take away His limitation. For if the divine power be infinite, it must of necessity be unable to understand even itself, since that which is naturally illimitable is incapable of being comprehended. He made things therefore so great as to be able to apprehend and keep them under His power, and control them by His providence; so also He prepared matter of such a size (τοσαύτην ὕλην) as He had the power to ornament.” then, we are to suppose that God created so great a number of rational or intellectual creatures (or by whatever name they are to be called), which we have formerly termed understandings, as He foresaw would be sufficient. It is certain that He made them according to some definite number, predetermined by Himself: for it is not to be imagined, as some would have it, that creatures have not a limit, because where there is no limit there can neither be any comprehension nor any limitation. Now if this were the case, then certainly created things could neither be restrained nor administered by God. For, naturally, whatever is infinite will also be incomprehensible. Moreover, as Scripture says, “God has arranged all things in number and measure;”22252225 Wisdom xi. 20: “Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight.” and therefore number will be correctly applied to rational creatures or understandings, that they may be so numerous as to admit of being arranged, governed, and controlled by God. But measure will be appropriately applied to a material body; and this measure, we are to believe, was created by God such as He knew would be sufficient for the adorning of the world. These, then, are the 290things which we are to believe were created by God in the beginning, i.e., before all things. And this, we think, is indicated even in that beginning which Moses has introduced in terms somewhat ambiguous, when he says, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.”22262226 Gen. i. 1. For it is certain that the firmament is not spoken of, nor the dry land, but that heaven and earth from which this present heaven and earth which we now see afterwards borrowed their names.
2. But since those rational natures, which we have said above were made in the beginning, were created when they did not previously exist, in consequence of this very fact of their nonexistence and commencement of being, are they necessarily changeable and mutable; since whatever power was in their substance was not in it by nature, but was the result of the goodness of their Maker. What they are, therefore, is neither their own nor endures for ever, but is bestowed by God. For it did not always exist; and everything which is a gift may also be taken away, and disappear. And a reason for removal will consist in the movements of souls not being conducted according to right and propriety. For the Creator gave, as an indulgence to the understandings created by Him, the power of free and voluntary action, by which the good that was in them might become their own, being preserved by the exertion of their own will; but slothfulness, and a dislike of labour in preserving what is good, and an aversion to and a neglect of better things, furnished the beginning of a departure from goodness. But to depart from good is nothing else than to be made bad. For it is certain that to want goodness is to be wicked. Whence it happens that, in proportion as one falls away from goodness, in the same proportion does he become involved in wickedness. In which condition, according to its actions, each understanding, neglecting goodness either to a greater or more limited extent, was dragged into the opposite of good, which undoubtedly is evil. From which it appears that the Creator of all things admitted certain seeds and causes of variety and diversity, that He might create variety and diversity in proportion to the diversity of understandings, i.e., of rational creatures, which diversity they must be supposed to have conceived from that cause which we have mentioned above. And what we mean by variety and diversity is what we now wish to explain.
3. Now we term world everything which is above the heavens, or in the heavens, or upon the earth, or in those places which are called the lower regions, or all places whatever that anywhere exist, together with their inhabitants. This whole, then, is called world. In which world certain beings are said to be super-celestial, i.e., placed in happier abodes, and clothed with heavenly and resplendent bodies; and among these many distinctions are shown to exist, the apostle, e.g., saying, “That one is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory.”22272227 1 Cor. xv. 41. Certain beings are called earthly, and among them, i.e., among men, there is no small difference; for some of them are Barbarians, others Greeks; and of the Barbarians some are savage and fierce, and others of a milder disposition. And certain of them live under laws that have been thoroughly approved; others, again, under laws of a more common or severe kind;22282228 Vilioribus et asperioribus. while some, again, possess customs of an inhuman and savage character, rather than laws. And certain of them, from the hour of their birth, are reduced to humiliation and subjection, and brought up as slaves, being placed under the dominion either of masters, or princes, or tyrants. Others, again, are brought up in a manner more consonant with freedom and reason: some with sound bodies, some with bodies diseased from their early years; some defective in vision, others in hearing and speech; some born in that condition, others deprived of the use of their senses immediately after birth, or at least undergoing such misfortune on reaching manhood. And why should I repeat and enumerate all the horrors of human misery, from which some have been free, and in which others have been involved, when each one can weigh and consider them for himself? There are also certain invisible powers to which earthly things have been entrusted for administration; and amongst them no small difference must be believed to exist, as is also found to be the case among men. The Apostle Paul indeed intimates that there are certain lower powers,22292229 Inferna. and that among them, in like manner, must undoubtedly be sought a ground of diversity. Regarding dumb animals, and birds, and those creatures which live in the waters, it seems superfluous to require; since it is certain that these ought to be regarded not as of primary, but of subordinate rank.
4. Seeing, then, that all things which have been created are said to have been made through Christ, and in Christ, as the Apostle Paul most clearly indicates, when he says, “For in Him and by Him were all things created, whether things in heaven or things on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or powers, or principalities, or dominions; all things were created by Him, and in Him;”22302230 Col. i. 16. and as in his 291Gospel John indicates the same thing, saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: the same was in the beginning with God: all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made;”22312231 John i. 1, 2. and as in the Psalm also it is written, “In wisdom hast Thou made them all;”22322232 Ps. civ. 24.—seeing, then, Christ is, as it were, the Word and Wisdom, and so also the Righteousness, it will undoubtedly follow that those things which were created in the Word and Wisdom are said to be created also in that righteousness which is Christ; that in created things there may appear to be nothing unrighteous or accidental, but that all things may be shown to be in conformity with the law of equity and righteousness. How, then, so great a variety of things, and so great a diversity, can be understood to be altogether just and righteous, I am sure no human power or language can explain, unless as prostrate suppliants we pray to the Word, and Wisdom, and Righteousness Himself, who is the only-begotten Son of God, and who, pouring Himself by His graces into our senses, may deign to illuminate what is dark, to lay open what is concealed, and to reveal what is secret; if, indeed, we should be found either to seek, or ask, or knock so worthily as to deserve to receive when we ask, or to find when we seek, or to have it opened to us when we knock. Not relying, then, on our own powers, but on the help of that Wisdom which made all things, and of that Righteousness which we believe to be in all His creatures, although we are in the meantime unable to declare it, yet, trusting in His mercy, we shall endeavour to examine and inquire how that great variety and diversity in the world may appear to be consistent with all righteousness and reason. I mean, of course, merely reason in general; for it would be a mark of ignorance either to seek, or of folly to give, a special reason for each individual case.
5. Now, when we say that this world was established in the variety in which we have above explained that it was created by God, and when we say that this God is good, and righteous, and most just, there are numerous individuals, especially those who, coming from the school of Marcion, and Valentinus, and Basilides, have heard that there are souls of different natures, who object to us, that it cannot consist with the justice of God in creating the world to assign to some of His creatures an abode in the heavens, and not only to give such a better habitation, but also to grant them a higher and more honourable position; to favour others with the grant of principalities; to bestow powers upon some, dominions on others; to confer upon some the most honourable seats in the celestial tribunals; to enable some to shine with more resplendent glory, and to glitter with a starry splendour; to give to some the glory of the sun, to others the glory of the moon, to others the glory of the stars; to cause one star to differ from another star in glory. And, to speak once for all, and briefly, if the Creator God wants neither the will to undertake nor the power to complete a good and perfect work, what reason can there be that, in the creation of rational natures, i.e., of beings of whose existence He Himself is the cause, He should make some of higher rank, and others of second, or third, or of many lower and inferior degrees? In the next place, they object to us, with regard to terrestrial beings, that a happier lot by birth is the case with some rather than with others; as one man, e.g., is begotten of Abraham, and born of the promise; another, too, of Isaac and Rebekah, and who, while still in the womb, supplants his brother, and is said to be loved by God before he is born. Nay, this very circumstance,—especially that one man is born among the Hebrews, with whom he finds instruction in the divine law; another among the Greeks, themselves also wise, and men of no small learning; and then another amongst the Ethiopians, who are accustomed to feed on human flesh; or amongst the Scythians, with whom parricide is an act sanctioned by law; or amongst the people of Taurus, where strangers are offered in sacrifice,—is a ground of strong objection. Their argument accordingly is this: If there be this great diversity of circumstances, and this diverse and varying condition by birth, in which the faculty of free-will has no scope (for no one chooses for himself either where, or with whom, or in what condition he is born); if, then, this is not caused by the difference in the nature of souls, i.e., that a soul of an evil nature is destined for a wicked nation, and a good soul for a righteous nation, what other conclusion remains than that these things must be supposed to be regulated by accident and chance? And if that be admitted, then it will be no longer believed that the world was made by God, or administered by His providence; and as a consequence, a judgment of God upon the deeds of each individual will appear a thing not to be looked for. In which matter, indeed, what is clearly the truth of things is the privilege of Him alone to know who searches all things, even the deep things of God.
6. We, however, although but men, not to nourish the insolence of the heretics by our silence, will return to their objections such answers as occur to us, so far as our abilities enable us. We have frequently shown, by those declarations which we were able to produce from the holy Scriptures, that God, the Creator of all 292things, is good, and just, and all-powerful. When He in the beginning created those beings which He desired to create, i.e., rational natures, He had no other reason for creating them than on account of Himself, i.e., His own goodness. As He Himself, then, was the cause of the existence of those things which were to be created, in whom there was neither any variation nor change, nor want of power, He created all whom He made equal and alike, because there was in Himself no reason for producing variety and diversity. But since those rational creatures themselves, as we have frequently shown, and will yet show in the proper place, were endowed with the power of free-will, this freedom of will incited each one either to progress by imitation of God, or reduced him to failure through negligence. And this, as we have already stated, is the cause of the diversity among rational creatures, deriving its origin not from the will or judgment of the Creator, but from the freedom of the individual will. Now God, who deemed it just to arrange His creatures according to their merit, brought down these different understandings into the harmony of one world, that He might adorn, as it were, one dwelling, in which there ought to be not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay (and some indeed to honour, and others to dishonour), with those different vessels, or souls, or understandings. And these are the causes, in my opinion, why that world presents the aspect of diversity, while Divine Providence continues to regulate each individual according to the variety of his movements, or of his feelings and purpose. On which account the Creator will neither appear to be unjust in distributing (for the causes already mentioned) to every one according to his merits; nor will the happiness or unhappiness of each one’s birth, or whatever be the condition that falls to his lot, be deemed accidental; nor will different creators, or souls of different natures, be believed to exist.
7. But even holy Scripture does not appear to me to be altogether silent on the nature of this secret, as when the Apostle Paul, in discussing the case of Jacob and Esau, says: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calleth, it was said, The elder shall serve the younger, as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”22332233 Rom. ix. 11, 12. And after that, he answers himself, and says, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?” And that he might furnish us with an opportunity of inquiring into these matters, and of ascertaining how these things do not happen without a reason, he answers himself, and says, “God forbid.”22342234 The text runs, “Respondet sibi ipse, et ait,” on which Ruæus remarks that the sentence is incomplete, and that “absit” probably should be supplied. This conjecture has been adopted in the translation. For the same question, as it seems to me, which is raised concerning Jacob and Esau, may be raised regarding all celestial and terrestrial creatures, and even those of the lower world as well. And in like manner it seems to me, that as he there says, “The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil,” so it might also be said of all other things, “When they were not yet” created, “neither had yet done any good or evil, that the decree of God according to election may stand,” that (as certain think) some things on the one hand were created heavenly, some on the other earthly, and others, again, beneath the earth, “not of works” (as they think), “but of Him who calleth,” what shall we say then, if these things are so? “Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” As, therefore, when the Scriptures are carefully examined regarding Jacob and Esau, it is not found to be unrighteousness with God that it should be said, before they were born, or had done anything in this life, “the elder shall serve the younger;” and as it is found not to be unrighteousness that even in the womb Jacob supplanted his brother, if we feel that he was worthily beloved by God, according to the deserts of his previous life, so as to deserve to be preferred before his brother; so also is it with regard to heavenly creatures, if we notice that diversity was not the original condition of the creature, but that, owing to causes that have previously existed, a different office is prepared by the Creator for each one in proportion to the degree of his merit, on this ground, indeed, that each one, in respect of having been created by God an understanding, or a rational spirit, has, according to the movements of his mind and the feelings of his soul, gained for himself a greater or less amount of merit, and has become either an object of love to God, or else one of dislike to Him; while, nevertheless, some of those who are possessed of greater merit are ordained to suffer with others for the adorning of the state of the world, and for the discharge of duty to creatures of a lower grade, in order that by this means they themselves may be participators in the endurance of the Creator, according to the words of the apostle: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.”22352235 Rom. viii. 20, 21. Keeping in view, then, the sentiment expressed by the apostle, when, speaking of the birth of Esau and Jacob, he says, “Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid,” I think it right that this same sentiment should be carefully applied to the case of all other 293creatures, because, as we formerly remarked, the righteousness of the Creator ought to appear in everything. And this, it appears to me, will be seen more clearly at last, if each one, whether of celestial or terrestrial or infernal beings, be said to have the causes of his diversity in himself, and antecedent to his bodily birth. For all things were created by the Word of God, and by His Wisdom, and were set in order by His Justice. And by the grace of His compassion He provides for all men, and encourages all to the use of whatever remedies may lead to their cure, and incites them to salvation.
8. As, then, there is no doubt that at the day of judgment the good will be separated from the bad, and the just from the unjust, and all by the sentence of God will be distributed according to their deserts throughout those places of which they are worthy, so I am of opinion some such state of things was formerly the case, as, God willing, we shall show in what follows. For God must be believed to do and order all things and at all times according to His judgment. For the words which the apostle uses when he says, “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour;”22362236 2 Tim. ii. 20. and those which he adds, saying, “If a man purge himself, he will be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, unto every good work,”22372237 2 Tim. ii. 21. undoubtedly point out this, that he who shall purge himself when he is in this life, will be prepared for every good work in that which is to come; while he who does not purge himself will be, according to the amount of his impurity, a vessel unto dishonour, i.e., unworthy. It is therefore possible to understand that there have been also formerly rational vessels, whether purged or not, i.e., which either purged themselves or did not do so, and that consequently every vessel, according to the measure of its purity or impurity, received a place, or region, or condition by birth, or an office to discharge, in this world. All of which, down to the humblest, God providing for and distinguishing by the power of His wisdom, arranges all things by His controlling judgment, according to a most impartial retribution, so far as each one ought to be assisted or cared for in conformity with his deserts. In which certainly every principle of equity is shown, while the inequality of circumstances preserves the justice of a retribution according to merit. But the grounds of the merits in each individual case are only recognised truly and clearly by God Himself, along with His only-begotten Word, and His Wisdom, and the Holy Spirit.
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