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A Plea Regarding Christians

by Athenagoras, the Athenian

a Philosopher and a Christian839839The word "plea" in the title is sometimes wrongly translated (as by the Latin) "legation" or "embassy." While this is the original meaning of the Greek word presbeia, it is used here in the derived sense of a "plea" or "apology." Owing to the difficulties of the text it has seemed inappropriate to mark every emendation. Only where the text and meaning are in serious doubt has this been noted. Where, moreover, a significant lacuna appears it has been indicated thus: . . . . 


To the Emperors Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, conquerors of Armenia and Sarmatia, and—what is more important—philosophers:


1. In your Empire, Your Most Excellent Majesties, different peoples observe different laws and customs; and no one is hindered by law or fear of punishment from devotion to his ancestral ways, even if they are ridiculous. A citizen of Troy calls Hector a god, and worships Helen, taking her for Adrasteia. The Lacedaemonian venerates Agamemnon as Zeus, and Phylonoë, the daughter of Tyndareus, under the name of Enodia. The Athenian sacrifices to Erechtheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites and celebrate mysteries in honor of Agraulus and Pandrosus, whom they imagine guilty of impiety for opening the box.840840According to the myth, Athena hid the child Erichthonius in a chest, which she gave to Agraulus and her sisters, instructing them not to open it. Stirred by curiosity, they opened the box; whereupon they were driven mad by the sight of Erichthonius’ serpentine body. In brief, among every nation and people, men perform whatever 301sacrifices and mysteries they wish.841841The point is that each city worshiped its local heroes and divinities, some of whom were universalized by identification with the Olympian gods. The Egyptians reckon among their gods even cats, crocodiles, serpents, asps, and dogs. And to all these cults both you and the laws grant toleration. For you think it impious and wicked to believe in no god at all; and you hold it necessary for everyone to worship the gods he pleases, so that they may be kept from wrongdoing by fear of the divine. [With us, on the contrary, although you yourselves are not, like the crowd, led astray by rumors, our name is the object of hatred. But names do not deserve to be hated. It is wrongdoing which merits penalty and punishment.]842842This section appears to be out of place.

Accordingly, while everyone admires your mildness and gentleness and your peaceful and kindly attitude toward all, they enjoy equal rights under the law. The cities, according to their rank, share in equal honor, and the whole Empire through your wisdom enjoys profound peace.

But you have not cared for us who are called Christians in this way. Although we do no wrong, but, as we shall show, are of all men most religiously and rightly disposed toward God and your Empire, you allow us to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted, the mob making war on us only because of our name. We venture, therefore, to state our case before you. From what we have to say you will gather that we suffer unjustly and contrary to all law and reason. Hence we ask you to devise some measures to prevent our being the victims of false accusers.

The injury we suffer from our persecutors does not concern our property or our civil rights or anything of less importance. For we hold these things in contempt, although they appear weighty to the crowd. We have learned not only not to return blow for blow, nor to sue those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one cheek to offer the other also, and to those who take away our coat to give our overcoat as well. But when we have given up our property, they plot against our bodies and souls, pouring upon us a multitude of accusations which have not the slightest foundation, but which are the stock in trade of gossips and the like.

2. If, indeed, anyone can convict us of wrongdoing, be it trifling or more serious, we do not beg off punishment, but are prepared to pay the penalty however cruel and unpitying. 302But if the accusation goes no farther than a name—and it is clear that up to today the tales about us rest only on popular and uncritical rumor, and not a single Christian has been convicted of wrongdoing—it is your duty, illustrious, kind, and most learned Emperors, to relieve us of these calumnies by law. Thus, as the whole world, both individuals and cities, shares your kindness, we too may be grateful to you, rejoicing that we have ceased to be defamed.

It does not befit your sense of justice that others, accused of wrongdoing, are not punished before they have been convicted, while with us the mere name is of more weight than legal proof. Our judges, moreover, do not inquire if the accused has committed any wrong, but let loose against the name as if it were a crime. But no name in and of itself is good or bad. It is by reason of the wicked or good actions associated with names that they are bad or good. You know all that better than anyone, seeing you are versed in philosophy and thoroughly cultured.

That is why those who are tried before you, though arraigned on the most serious charges, take courage. For they know that you will examine their life and not be influenced by names if they mean nothing, or by accusations if they are false. Hence they receive a sentence of condemnation on a par with one of acquittal. We claim for ourselves, therefore, the same treatment as others. We should not be hated and punished because we are called Christians, for what has a name to do with our being criminals? Rather should we be tried on charges brought against us, and either acquitted on our disproving them or punished on our being convicted as wicked men, not because of a name (for no Christian is wicked unless he is a hypocrite), but because of a crime.

It is in this way, we know, that philosophers are judged. None of them before the trial is viewed by the judge as good or bad because of his system or profession, but he is punished if he is found guilty. (No stigma attaches to philosophy on that account, for he is a bad man for not being a philosopher lawfully, and philosophy is not responsible.) On the other hand, he is acquitted if he disproves the charges. Let the same procedure be used in our case. Let the life of those who are accused be examined, and let the name be free from all reproach.

I must at the outset of my defense beg you, illustrious Emperors, to hear me impartially. Do not prejudge the case through being influenced by popular and unfounded rumor, 303but apply your love of learning and of truth to our cause. Thus you will not be led astray through ignorance, and we, disproving the uncritical rumors of the crowd, shall cease to be persecuted.

Statement of the Charges

3. Three charges are brought against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts,843843I.e., cannibalistic feasts, from the legendary banquet where Atreus, in order to avenge the rape of his wife by his brother Thyestes, slew the latter's children and served them to him. and Oedipean intercourse.844844I.e., incest, from the legend of Oedipus Rex, who unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. If these are true, spare no class; proceed against our crimes; destroy us utterly with our wives and children, if anyone lives like a beast. Beasts, indeed, do not attack their own kind. Nor for mere wantonness do they have intercourse, but by nature's law and only at the season of procreation. They recognize, too, those who come to their aid. If, then, anyone is more savage than brutes, what punishment shall we not think it fitting for him to suffer for such crimes?

But if these charges are inventions and unfounded slanders, they arise from the fact that it is natural for vice to oppose virtue and it is in accord with God's law for contraries to war against each other. You yourselves, moreover, are witness to the fact that we are guilty of none of these things, since it is only the confession of a name that you forbid. It remains for you, then, to examine our lives and teachings, our loyalty and obedience to you, to your house, and to the Empire. By doing so you will concede to us no more than you grant to our persecutors. And we shall triumph over them, giving up our very lives for the truth without any hesitation.

Reply to the Charge of Atheism

4. We are of course not atheists (I will meet the charges one by one)—and I hope it does not sound too silly to answer such an allegation. Rightly, indeed, did the Athenians accuse Diagoras845845Melian poet of the fifth century B.C. of atheism, since he not only divulged the Orphic doctrine as well as the mysteries of Eleusis and of the Cabiri and chopped up a statue of Heracles to boil his turnips, but he proclaimed outrightly that God simply did not exist. In our case, 304however, is it not mad to charge us with atheism, when we distinguish God from matter, and show that matter is one thing and God another, and that there is a vast difference between them? For the divine is uncreated and eternal, grasped only by pure mind and intelligence, while matter is created and perishable.

If we shared the views of Diagoras when we have so many good reasons to adore God—the order, harmony, greatness, color, form, and arrangement of the world—we should rightly be charged with impiety and there would be due cause to persecute us. But since our teaching affirms one God who made the universe, being himself uncreated (for what exists does not come into being, only what does not exist), and who made all things through his Word, on two scores, then, we are treated unreasonably—by being slandered and by being persecuted.

What Poets and Philosophers Have Taught

5. The poets and philosophers have not been viewed as atheists because they speculated about God. In connection with those whom popular opinion ignorantly calls gods, Euripides expresses his embarrassment thus:

"If Zeus dwells in heaven

He should not deal out misfortunes."846846Literally, "He should not make the same man unfortunate."

But when he gives his view about him who can intelligently be known as God, he says:

"Do you see him above who embraces

The boundless sky and the earth with his humid arms?

Consider him Zeus: regard him as God."847847The Greek is ambiguous, and Athenagoras doubtless misconstrued Euripides who meant: "Do you see the boundless ether above, embracing the earth with its humid arms? Consider this Zeus: regard this as divine." The epithet "humid" refers to the ancient belief that the universe was surrounded by water.

In the case of the former gods he recognized no underlying reality to which the title "god" might be applied. "For who Zeus is, is only a matter of words."848848A fragment from Euripides. This seems to be what Athenagoras understood by the line. It is more generally translated, "Who Zeus is I know only from hearsay." He saw too that they were not given their divine names because of real deeds they 305had done; and, since they lack reality, what are they more than names?

But the latter God he recognized from his works, understanding that what is seen points to what is invisible. . . . Him, then, who is the source of creation and who governs it by his Spirit, he grasped was God. And Sophocles agrees with him, saying:

"In truth there is one God, one alone,

Who made the heaven and the wide earth."849849Not a genuine fragment of Sophocles.

Hence, with regard to God's nature, which fills the universe with his beauty, Euripides teaches both the necessity of his existence and his unity.

6. Philolaus too, when he says that everything is enclosed by God as in a prison, teaches his unity and his superiority over matter. Lysis and Opsimus850850The three were Pythagorean philosophers. define God thus: the former says he is an ineffable number, the latter that he is the difference between the greatest number and the one below it. Since, then, according to the Pythagoreans, the greatest number is ten, that is, the tetractys which contains all the relations of arithmetic and harmony,851851I.e., by being the sum of one, two, three, and four. and the number next to it is nine, God is a unit, that is, one. For the greatest number exceeds that next to it by one. . . .

And now regarding Plato and Aristotle. But first let me note that in going through what the philosophers have said about God, I do not intend to give a full review of their opinions. For I know that as you excel all men in intelligence and imperial power, so you surpass all in your grasp of every branch of learning, mastering them all with more success than those who devote themselves exclusively to one. But as it is impossible without mentioning names to show that we are not alone in limiting the number of the gods to one, I shall rely on collections of maxims.

This is what Plato says: "To discover the creator and father of the universe is difficult, and when you have discovered him it is impossible to tell everybody about him."852852Tim. 28 C. In speaking thus, Plato views God as uncreated and eternal. And if he recognizes other gods, such as the sun, the moon, and the stars, he recognizes them as created, saying: "Gods that are sons of 306gods, I am their creator. I am the father of works which are indissoluble only so far as I will it, for all things which are composed are corruptible."853853Tim., 41 A. If, then, Plato is not an atheist when he considers the one uncreated maker of the universe to be God, neither are we atheists when we recognize and affirm him to be God by whose Word all things were created and by whose Spirit they are held together.

Aristotle and his followers introduce a single principle, a sort of compound being, composed of body and soul, and say that he is God. They imagine that his body is the ether, the planets, and the sphere of the fixed stars that are propelled in circles. His soul, on the other hand, is the principle whereby the body is set in motion. Though itself unmoved, the soul becomes the cause of the body's moving.

The Stoics, too, actually think God is one, though they multiply names for the divine by the terms they use for the variations of matter, which they say is permeated by God's spirit. For if God is a creative fire, methodically fashioning the world and embracing in himself all the seminal principles by which each thing is produced in accordance with fate, and if his Spirit pervades the universe, then in their doctrine he is one. He is called Zeus with regard to the fervid part of matter, and Hera with regard to the air; while his other titles similarly refer to each special part of matter which he pervades.

7. All philosophers, then, even if unwillingly, reach complete agreement about the unity of God when they come to inquire into the first principles of the universe. We too affirm that he who arranged this universe is God. Why, therefore, are they allowed to speak and write freely about God as they wish, while against us, who can adduce true proofs and reasons for our idea and right conviction of the unity of God, a law is put in force?

Here as elsewhere the poets and philosophers have proceeded by conjecture. They were driven each by his own soul and through a sympathy with the divine spirit to see if it were possible to find out and to comprehend the truth. They were able, indeed, to get some notions of reality, but not to find it, since they did not deign to learn about God from God, but each one from himself. For this reason they taught conflicting doctrines about God, matter, forms, and the world.

We, on the contrary, as witnesses of what we think and believe, have prophets who have spoken by the divine Spirit 307about God and the things of God. And you, who excel others in intelligence and in devotion to the true God, would surely admit that we should be acting unreasonably were we to abandon our belief in God's Spirit, which moved the mouths of the prophets like instruments, and to cling to human opinions.

Rational Proof for God's Unity

8. To grasp the rational basis of our faith, that from the beginning there was one God who made this universe, look at the matter thus. If there were originally two or more gods, they would share in one and the same being or else each would have an independent being. But for them to share in one and the same being is impossible, since, if they shared the same godhead, they would be alike; but because gods are uncreated they cannot be alike. For it is created things which resemble their patterns, but uncreated things are dissimilar, as they are not created by anyone or for anyone. And if, moreover, it is claimed that, just as hand, eye, and foot are constituent parts of a single body, so God's unity is made up from two or more gods, this is equally false. Socrates, indeed, was compounded and divided into parts, for the very reason that he was created and perishable. But God is uncreated, impassible, and indivisible. He does not, therefore, consist of parts.

But if, on the other hand, each god has an independent being, and the creator of the world is higher than created things and above what he made and arranged, where can a second god or other gods be? For if the world, being made spherical, is confined within the circles of the heaven, and if the creator of the world, though above created things, retains the world in his providence, what place is there for a second god or for others? For such a second god is not in the world since it belongs to another. Nor does he surround the world, since the God who is the creator of the world is above it. If, then, he neither is in the world nor surrounds it, seeing that all space around it is occupied by the creator, where can he be? Is he higher than the world and God: is he in and around another world? If so, then he is no concern of ours, for he does not control this world; nor does he have great power, for he dwells in a limited space. And if he is neither in another world (for all things are filled by the creator), nor around another world (for all space is occupied by the creator), then he does not exist; for there is nowhere where he can be.


What, moreover, would this second god have to do, seeing that another owns the world and that, while he is above the creator of the world, he is neither in the world nor around it? [Is there, then, some other place where he can stand—this god who has arisen in opposition to the true God? But God and what belongs to God are above him. And what place shall he have, seeing that the creator fills the regions above the world?]854854The sequence of thought is broken by this sentence which repeats the argument of the preceding paragraph and seems out of place here. Would he perhaps exercise providence? Certainly not, unless he were the creator. If, therefore, he does not create or exercise providence, and if there is no place where he can dwell, then from the beginning there has been one God and one alone, the creator of the world.

Proof from Scripture

9. Were we satisfied with such reasoning, one would think our doctrine was human. But prophetic voices confirm our arguments. Seeing how learned and well-informed you are, I suppose that you are not unaware of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets. Under the impulse of the divine Spirit and raised above their own thoughts, they proclaimed the things with which they were inspired. For the Spirit used them just as a flute player blows on a flute. What, then, did they say? "The Lord is our God: no other can be compared with him."855855Ex. 20:2, 3. Or again, "I am God the first and the last; and apart from me there is no god."856856Isa. 44:6. Similarly: "Before me there was no other god, and after me there shall be none. I am God, and there is none besides me."857857Isa. 43:10, 11. Then, concerning his greatness: "Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, or in what place shall I rest?"858858Isa. 66:1. But I leave it to you, when you come on their books, to examine their prophecies in more detail, so that you will have good reason to dispel the false accusations brought against us.

The Trinity

10. I have sufficiently shown that we are not atheists since we acknowledge one God, who is uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable. He is grasped only by mind and intelligence, and surrounded by light, beauty, 309spirit, and indescribable power. By him the universe was created through his Word, was set in order, and is held together. [I say "his Word"], for we also think that God has a Son.

Let no one think it stupid for me to say that God has a Son. For we do not think of God the Father or of the Son in the way of the poets, who weave their myths by showing that gods are no better than men. But the Son of God is his Word in idea and in actuality; for by him and through him all things were made, the Father and the Son being one. And since the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son by the unity and power of the Spirit, the Son of God is the mind and Word of the Father.

But if, owing to your sharp intelligence, it occurs to you to inquire further what is meant by the Son, I shall briefly explain. He is the first offspring of the Father. I do not mean that he was created, for, since God is eternal mind, he had his Word within himself from the beginning, being eternally wise.859859Logikos, corresponding to Logos, "Word." Rather did the Son come forth from God to give form and actuality to all material things, which essentially have a sort of formless nature and inert quality, the heavier particles being mixed up with the lighter. The prophetic Spirit agrees with this opinion when he says, "The Lord created me as the first of his ways, for his works."860860Prov. 8: 22.

Indeed we say that the Holy Spirit himself, who inspires those who utter prophecies, is an effluence from God, flowing from him and returning like a ray of the sun. Who, then, would not be astonished to hear those called atheists who admit God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and who teach their unity in power and their distinction in rank? Nor is our theology confined to these points. We affirm, too, a crowd of angels and ministers, whom God, the maker and creator of the world, appointed to their several tasks through his Word. He gave them charge over the good order of the universe, over the elements, the heavens, the world, and all it contains.

Christian Moral Teaching

Do not be surprised that I go into detail about our teaching. I give a full report to prevent your being carried away by popular and irrational opinion, and so that you may know the truth. Moreover, by showing that the teachings themselves, 310to which we are attached, are not human, but were declared and taught by God, we can persuade you not to hold us for atheists. What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? "I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust."861861Matt. 5:44, 45; Luke 6:27, 28.

Although what I have said has raised a loud clamor,862862Following a rhetorical device, Athenagoras imagines that his speech has been met by hostile gibes. permit me here to proceed freely, since I am making my defense to emperors who are philosophers. Who of those who analyze syllogisms, resolve ambiguities, explain etymologies, or [teach] homonyms, synonyms, predicates, axioms, and what the subject is and what the predicate—who of them do not promise to make their disciples happy through these and similar disciplines? And yet who of them have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? On the contrary, they ever persist in delving into the evil mysteries of their sophistry, ever desirous of working some harm, making skill in oratory rather than proof by deeds their business. With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbors as themselves.

12. If we did not think that a God ruled over the human race, would we live in such purity? The idea is impossible. But since we are persuaded that we must give an account of all our life here to God who made us and the world, we adopt a temperate, generous, and despised way of life. For we think that, even if we lose our lives, we shall suffer here no evil to be compared with the reward we shall receive from the great judge for a gentle, generous, and modest life.

Plato, indeed, has said that Minos and Rhadamanthus863863Sons of Zeus, and just men who judged the dead. will judge and punish the wicked; but we say that, even if a man 311were Minos or Rhadamanthus or their father, he could not escape God's judgment.

Then there are those who think that life is this: "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die."864864Isa. 22:13. They view death as a deep sleep and a forgetting—"sleep and death, twin brothers"865865Iliad 16: 672. [as the saying goes]. And men think them religious! But there are others who reckon this present life of very little value. They are guided by this alone—to know the true God and his Word, to know the unity of the Father with the Son, the fellowship of the Father with the Son, what the Spirit is, what unity exists between these three, the Spirit, the Son, and the Father, and what is their distinction in unity. These it is who know that the life for which we look is far better than can be told, if we arrive at it pure from all wrongdoing. These it is whose charity extends to the point of loving not only their friends, for, the Scripture says, "If you love those who love you, and lend to those who lend to you, what credit is it to you?"866866Luke 6:32, 34. Since we are such and live this way to escape condemnation, can anyone doubt that we are religious?

These points, however, are trifles from a great store, a few taken from many, lest we should trouble you further. For those who test honey and whey judge by a taste if the whole is good.

The Problem of Pagan Sacrifices

13. Since many of those who charge us with atheism do not have the vaguest idea of God, being unversed in, and ignorant of, physics and theology, they measure religion by the observance of sacrifices, and charge us with not having the same gods as the cities. Heed what I have to say, Your Majesties, on both these counts. And first about our not sacrificing.

The creator and Father of the universe does not need blood or the smell of burnt offerings or the fragrance of flowers or incense. He himself is perfect fragrance. He lacks nothing and has need of nothing. But the greatest sacrifice in his eyes is for us to realize who stretched out the heavens in a sphere, who set the earth in the center, who gathered the water into seas and separated the light from darkness, who adorned the sky with the stars and made the earth bring forth all kinds of seed, who made the animals and fashioned man. When, therefore, we recognize God the creator of the universe, who preserves it and watches over it with the wisdom and skill he does, 312and lift up holy hands to him, what need has he then of a hecatomb?

"It is with sacrifices and humble prayer,

With libation and burnt offering that men implore [the gods]

And turn [their wrath], when any has offended or sinned."867867Iliad 9: 499–501.

What need have I of burnt offerings, when God does not need them? Rather is it needful to present a bloodless sacrifice, to offer a "spiritual worship."868868Rom. 12:1, or "reasonable service" (K.J.V.).

Belief in the Traditional Gods

14. Regarding their other charge, that we neither accept nor venerate the same gods as the cities, it is quite senseless. The very ones who accuse us of atheism for not acknowledging the same gods that they believe in are not agreed among themselves about the gods. The Athenians have set up Celeus and Metanira as gods; the Lacedaemonians, Menelaus—they sacrifice to him and keep his festival; the Trojans cannot bear his name,869869Because, being the husband of Helen and king of Lacedaemon, he led the Greek forces in the Trojan War. and worship Hector; the Ceans adore Aristaeus, imagining he is identical with Zeus and Apollo; the Thasians worship Theagenes, who committed a murder at the Olympian games; the Samians, Lysander for all his slaughter and wickedness! . . .870870The text which here includes the three names Alcman, Hesiod, and Medea is corrupt. The first two are a gloss on the story of Niobe. The Cilicians worship Niobe; the Sicilians, Philip the son of Boutacides; the Amathusians, Onesilus; the Carthaginians, Hamilcar.871871Hector, Lysander, Philip, Onesilus, and Hamilcar were military heroes. Aristaeus delivered the Ceans from a drought by erecting an altar to Zeus; hence the identification. The day is too short to enumerate the rest.

When, then, they fail to agree among themselves about their gods, why do they charge us with disagreeing with them? Take the case of the Egyptians, is it not ridiculous? On their high feasts in the temples they strike their breasts as if lamenting the dead and then sacrifice to them as if they were gods. And it is no wonder. They worship the brutes as gods, shave themselves when they die, bury them in their temples, and appoint days of public mourning. If we are irreligious for not worshiping the same gods as they, then every city and people is irreligious, for they do not all revere the same gods.


Idols and Idolatry

15. But grant that they worship the same gods. What then? Since the populace cannot distinguish between matter and God or appreciate the chasm that separates them, they have recourse to idols made of matter. Shall we, then, who can distinguish and differentiate between uncreated and created, between being and nonbeing, between the intelligible and the sensible, and who call these things by their proper names—shall we, just because of the populace, come and worship statues? If matter and God are identical, two names for the same thing, we are surely irreligious for not thinking that stones, wood, gold, and silver are gods. But if there is a vast difference between them, as great as separates the craftsman and his materials, why are we called to account?

It is like the potter and the clay. The clay is matter, the potter is an artist. So is God the creator an artist, while matter is subject to him for the sake of his art. But as clay cannot by itself become pottery without art, so matter, which is altogether pliable, cannot receive distinction, form, or beauty apart from God the creator. We do not, moreover, reckon pottery of more value than the potter, or bowls or vessels of gold than the artisan. If they have artistic merit, we praise the artist. It is he who reaps the renown for making them. So it is with matter and God. It is not matter which justly receives praise and honor for the arrangement and beauty of the world, but its creator, God. If, then, we were to worship material forms as gods, we should seem to be insensitive to the true God, identifying what is eternal with what is subject to dissolution and corruption.

16. Beautiful, indeed, is the world in its all-embracing grandeur, in the arrangement of the stars, both those in the circle of the ecliptic and those at the Septentrion, and in its form as a sphere. Yet it is not the world, but its maker, who should be worshiped.

For when your subjects come to you, they do not fail to pay their homage to you, their lords and masters, from whom they may obtain what they need. They do not have recourse to the magnificence of your palace. When they come upon the royal residence, they admire it in passing for its beauty and splendor; but it is you whom they honor in every possible way. You emperors, moreover, adorn your palaces for yourselves; but God did not make the world as if he were in need of it. For 314he is complete in himself, unapproachable light, perfect beauty, spirit, power, reason.

If, then, the world is an instrument in tune, moving in rhythm, I will worship not the instrument but him who makes the harmony, strikes the notes, and sings the accompanying melody. For the judges at contests do not disregard the lute players and crown the lutes. If, as Plato says, the world is God's artistry, I admire its beauty and am directed to the artist. Or if, as the Peripatetics say, the world is a substance and a body, we do not bow down to "the wretched and weak elements,"872872Gal. 4:9. neglecting to worship God who is the cause of the body's motion, and adoring passible matter instead of "impassible spirit" (as they call it). Or again, if someone thinks the parts of the world are powers of God, we do not worship and adore the powers, but their maker and Lord.

I will not beg of matter what it cannot give; I will not pass God by to worship the elements, which can do no more than they are bidden. For even if they are beautiful to behold as the work of their maker, yet are they by the nature of matter corruptible. Plato too bears witness to this view when he says: "For the being we have called heaven and earth shares in many blessings from the Father, but it still partakes of a body. Hence it cannot possibly be free from change."873873Politics 269 D. If, then, I admire the heaven and the elements for their artistry, I do not worship them as gods, for I know they are subject to dissolution. How much less can I call those objects gods, whose makers I know were men?

Recency of the Names and Statues of the Gods

17. Hear me briefly on this question. In making my defense I must give more detailed arguments to show that the names of the gods are quite recent, and their statues are, so to say, only of yesterday. You yourselves are thoroughly versed in these things since more than all others and in all details you are familiar with ancient writers.

I say, then, that it was Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod who gave both genealogies and names to those who are called gods. Herodotus testifies to this: "I think that Hesiod and Homer lived four hundred years before me, no more. It was they who devised a theogony for the Greeks, gave the gods their names, assigned them honors and functions, and described their 315forms."874874Herodotus, Hist. 2:53. Statues of gods, moreover, were unthought of before the plastic arts, painting and sculpture, were invented.

These arts came in later with Saurias the Samian, Crato the Sicyonian, Cleanthes the Corinthian, and a Corinthian girl. Drawing was invented by Saurias when he sketched a horse in the sun;875875I.e., drew its outline from a shadow. and painting by Crato when he traced the outline of a man and a woman in oils on a white surface. It was the girl who invented relief sculpture. When she fell in love with a certain man, she traced his outline on a wall while he was asleep. Her father was so delighted by the extraordinary resemblance that, being a potter, he embossed the sketch by filling up the outline with clay. The figure is still preserved in Corinth. After them Daedalus, Theodorus, and Smilis invented sculpture and the plastic arts.

Thus images and statuary are of such recent date that we can name the artist of each god. The image of Artemis in Ephesus, the one of Athena (or rather of Athela,876876I.e., "unsuckled," for she sprang without a mother and in full armor from Zeus's head. for that is what those who speak in a more mystic fashion call her, and that was the name of the ancient statue made of olive), and another of Athena seated, are the work of Endoeus, a pupil of Daedalus. The Pythian god was made by Theodorus and Teleches. The Delian god and Artemis were fashioned by Tectaeus and Angelio. The Hera in Samos and the one in Argos are the handiwork of Smilis. The other images were made by Phidias.877877Text and meaning doubtful. The Aphrodite in Cnidus is a product of Praxiteles, while the Asclepius in Epidaurus is the work of Phidias.

In a word, there is not one of these statues but has been made by a man. If, then, these are gods, why did they not exist from the beginning? Why are they more recent than those who made them? Why did they need the aid of man and of art to come into existence? They are nothing but earth, stones, matter, and paltry art.

The Gods Were Created

18. Some, however, say that these are only statues, but that the gods, in whose honor they are made, are real. To them the processions to the images and the sacrifices have reference. These actions are directed toward the gods, since there is no other way of approaching them.


"The direct vision of the gods is hard to bear."878878Iliad 20: 131.

As a proof that this is so these people bring forward the powers which some of the images have. Come then, let us look into the power of their names. But before I proceed I would beg Your Most Excellent Majesties to excuse me if I adduce convincing arguments. It is not my first intention to unmask the idols; rather is it to refute the slanders brought against us. It is for that reason that I set forth the rationale of our principles. Would that you might by yourselves search out the heavenly Kingdom! For to you, father and son, all things are subject, since you have received the kingdom from above. For "the soul of the king is in God's hand," as the, prophetic Spirit says.879879Prov. 21:1. In the same way all things are subject to the one God and to his Word—to his Son, that is—whom we think of as inseparable from him.

This, then, I especially ask you to heed. The gods, as it is generally held, did not exist from the beginning. Each of them was created, just as we were. With this view everyone agrees. Homer, for instance, says,

"Oceanus, the father of the gods and Tethys their mother."880880Iliad 14: 201, 302.

Then take Orpheus.881881Legendary musician and prophet of Thrace, to whom is ascribed the verse comprising the doctrines and myths of Orphism. He was the first to give the gods names. He recounted their genealogies and their several exploits, and is viewed by our accusers as a rather reliable theologian. Homer mostly follows him, especially in his references to the gods. He asserts that they owed their origin to water: "Oceanus, who is the origin of everything." For, according to him, water was the beginning of everything.

From water mud was formed; and from these an animal was produced, a dragon that had on it a lion's head and a bull's head, and in between the face of a god. It was called Heracles and Kronos. This Heracles gave birth to an enormous egg, which through the power of its father got bigger and bigger and by friction was burst into two. The top part came to be the Heaven (Ouranos); the lower became Earth (). Thus there came forth a divine being with two bodies. Ouranos had intercourse with Gē and begat the females, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos,882882I.e., the Fates. and the males, Cottys, Gyges, and Briareus, all hundred-handed,883883I.e., the Giants. and the Cyclopes—Brontes, 317Steropes, and Arges. These he bound and hurled to Tartarus, because he had learned from the beginning that he would be dethroned by his children. Whereupon Earth in her rage gave birth to the Titans.

"The godlike Gaia bore sons to Heaven,

Who bear the name of Titans,

Because they took vengeance on the great starry Heaven."884884Fragment of Orpheus. There is a pun on "Titans" (Titēnas) and "took vengeance" (tisasthēn).

19. Such is the origin of their gods and of the universe. Now what are we to make of this? For each of the beings to whom they attribute divinity has had a beginning.885885The text of this sentence and the preceding one is corrupt. This is roughly the sense. If they did not exist before they were created (as those claim who attribute divinity to them), then they do not exist now. For either a thing is uncreated and eternal, or it is created and corruptible.

What I am saying is not at variance with what the philosophers say. "What is that which is eternal and has no origin; or what is that which is created and never truly existed?"886886Plato, Tim. 27 D. Plato is here discussing the intelligible and the sensible: He teaches that the eternal, the intelligible, is uncreated, while the sensible has a beginning and an end. In the same way the Stoics contend that the universe will be burned up and exist all over again; and so the world will have a new beginning.

Moreover, suppose we grant their thesis of two principles, one active and governing, which is providence, the other passive and changeable, which is matter. Then the world, even though subject to providence, cannot remain unchanging, because it is created. How, then, can the nature of the gods remain unaltered, when they do not have essential being but are created? And wherein are the gods superior to matter, since they derive their nature from water? But not even water, according to them, is the origin of everything. For what could be constituted from simple and homogeneous elements? Moreover, matter requires an artisan, and an artisan matter. Or how could statues exist without both matter and artisan? On the other hand, it is unreasonable that matter should be older than God: for the efficient cause must necessarily precede what is created.


The Forms and Exploits of the Gods

20. I would pass on to the other charges [our accusers bring against us], did the absurdity of their theology reach no farther than the statement that the gods derive their nature from water; for I have already shown that there is nothing created which is not subject to dissolution. But they go farther and describe their bodies. They speak of Heracles as a god in the form of a coiled-up dragon. Others are hundred-handed. The daughter of Zeus, born of his mother Rhea who is also named Demeter, has two eyes in their natural place and two others in her forehead. In addition, she has the face of an animal on the back part of her neck, and horns as well. Hence Rhea, terrified at such a monster for a child, fled from her and withheld her breast. For this reason she is mystically called Athela,887887I.e., unsuckled. though more usually Persephone and Kore. She must not, however, be confused with Athena, who is named "Kore" from her virginity.888888"Kore" means girl, damsel.

They have, furthermore, described their exploits with a wealth of supposed detail. They say that Kronos castrated his father, and hurled him out of a chariot. They tell, too, how he murdered his children and swallowed the male ones. Zeus bound his father and cast him into Tartarus, just as Ouranos did to his sons. He warred against the Titans for supremacy, and persecuted his mother Rhea for refusing to marry him. When, indeed, she became a dragon, he changed himself into one, bound her with the so-called Herculean knot, and raped her. The rod of Hermes is a symbol of that union. Then he raped his daughter Persephone, this time also taking the shape of a dragon. From her he had the child Dionysus.

In the light of these fables, I must say just this: what is so noble or valuable in these tales as to make us believe that Kronos or Zeus or Kore or the rest of them were gods? Is it the descriptions of their bodies? What man of judgment and reflection would believe a snake was begotten by a god? Yet Orpheus writes:

"Phanes begat another fearful offspring

From the sacred womb, a viper terrible to see,

With hairs on its head and with a face of beauty;

But the rest of its body was like a dreadful snake

From the top of the neck."


Or who would admit that Phanes himself, the first-born god who sprang from the egg, had the shape of a dragon or was swallowed by Zeus so that Zeus might be illimitable? If these so-called gods differ in no way from the vilest animals, then they are not gods, for it is obvious that the divine must be distinguished from what is earthly and derived from matter. And how could we pay them homage when they have the same origin as cattle, are shaped like the brutes, and are ugly as well?

The Passions of the Gods

21. Were they content to say that flesh, blood, procreation, and the passions of wrath and lust belonged to the gods, even then their opinions would have to be regarded as silly and ridiculous. For wrath, lust, passion, and procreation are not appropriate to God. Let them be corporeal; but they should at least be above rage and anger, so that Athena will not be seen:

"Angry with father Zeus, and a wild rage seizes her;"889889Iliad 4:23.

or Juno appear thus:

"Juno's breast could not contain her rage, and she spoke thus. . . ."890890Ibid., 4:24.

They should surely be above this kind of grief:

"O shame! It is a man dear to me that with my eyes I see

Pursued around the rampart, and my heart grieves."891891Ibid., 22:168, 169. The reference is to Hector.

For even men who give way to rage and grief I call dense and stupid.

When the father of men and of gods bewails his son thus:

"Woe, woe is me, that fate decrees that Sarpedon,892892A commander in the Trojan war, who was killed by Patroclus and mourned by his father Zeus. most dear to me of men,

Should be slain by Patroclus, the son of Menetius,"893893Iliad 16:433, 434.

and when he cannot by his lament ward off the danger:

"Sarpedon, son of Zeus; but Zeus does not defend his son,"894894Ibid., 16:522.

who would not accuse them of ignorance, who by such myths pretend to love God, but are rather atheists?


Or again, let the gods be corporeal; but surely Aphrodite should not be wounded in the body by Diomedes:

"Diomedes, the daring son of Tydeus, has struck me."895895Iliad 5:376. [Nor should Hephaestus be wounded] in the heart by Ares:

"Because I am lame, Aphrodite the daughter of Zeus

Ever dishonors me, and loves Ares the destroyer."896896Odyssey 8:308, 309. To clarify the text the name of Hephaestus has been inserted.

[Or again, should Ares whom Diomedes wounded]—he

"tore through the beautiful flesh"897897Iliad 5: 858. A lacuna in the text has been filled out with the reference to Diomedes.

[should Ares,] fierce in battle, and the ally of Zeus against the Titans, be weaker than Diomedes?

[Or again,]

"He raged, like Ares brandishing his spear."898898Ibid., 15:605.

Hush, Homer! Gods do not rage. You tell me, too, this god is bloodstained and the bane of men:

"Ares, Ares, bane of mortals, stained with blood."899899Ibid., 5:31.

You describe his adultery and his bonds:

"Scarcely had they reached the bed and gone to sleep, when round them both

The ingenious net of cunning Hephaestus fell

So that they could not move a limb."900900Odyssey 8: 296–298. Two stories are interwoven. Diomedes, who took a prominent part in the Trojan War, wounded both Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, and Ares, ally of Zeus, by the help of Athena. Hephaestus, the lame god of the forge, set a trap about his couch, capturing Aphrodite, his unfaithful wife, and Ares, her lover.

Do they not pour out at length such impious nonsense about the gods? Ouranos is castrated, Kronos is bound and hurled down to Tartarus, the Titans revolt, Styx dies in battle (they even represent the gods as mortal!), they fall in love with each other and with men:

"Aeneas, born of Anchises and divine Aphrodite,

When the goddess lay with a mortal in the gorges of Ida."901901Iliad 2:820, 821.

Are they not in love? Do they not suffer? If they were truly gods, desire would not touch them. . . . But even if a god takes 321flesh for a divine purpose, must he become a slave of lust like this:

"Never has such love for goddess or for woman

Filled my breast or overcome my soul.

Not even when I loved the wife of Ixion,

Or Dana with beautiful ankles, the daughter of Acrisius,

Or the daughter of the far-famed Phoenix,

Or Semele, or Alcmena in Thebes,

Or Demeter, the queen with the lovely tresses,

Or glorious Leto, or even thyself."902902Ibid., 14:315–327, a speech of Zeus to Hera.

He is a creature. He is corruptible. There is nothing divine about him.

These gods even hire themselves out to men:

"O halls of Admetus, where I endured

To be content with a menial table, though I was a god."903903Euripides, Alcestis 1, 2. As punishment for killing the Cyclopes, Apollo was banished from heaven and made to serve the table and tend the cattle of the mortal Admetus.

They even feed cattle:

"On coming to the land, I tended cattle for my host,

And looked after this house."904904Ibid., 8, 9.

Admetus, thus, was superior to the god. O prophet,905905The reference is to Apollo. who are wise and who foresee the future for others, you did not predict the murder of your beloved. But with your own hand you slew him, dear as he was:906906The boy Hyacinthus, loved by both Apollo and Zephyrus, was struck on the head and killed by a discus, hurled by Apollo at play. Out of jealousy Zephyrus (the West Wind) had diverted it to this end.

"And I had hoped that the divine mouth of Apollo

Had been full of truth and poured forth oracles."907907A fragment of Aeschylus.

Thus Aeschylus ridicules Apollo for being a false prophet:

"This god who sings, who is here at the feast,

Who says these things, it is he who has murdered

My son."908908Ibid. The lines are put into the mouth of Thetis and refer to Apollo's responsibility for the death of Achilles. See Plato, Republic 2. 383B.


The Natural Theology of the Myths

22. But perhaps this sort of thing is poetic license, and there is a natural explanation of it, such as this by Empedocles:

"Zeus is brightness, and Hera source of life, along with Aïdoneus

And Nestis who bathes with tears the eyes of mortals."

If, then, Zeus is fire, Hera the earth, Aïdoneus the air, and Nestis water, and these (fire, water, and air) are elements, then none of them—Zeus, Hera, or Aïdoneus—is a god. For the nature and origin of these elements is derived from God's separating matter into its different parts:

"Fire and water and earth and the gentle height of the air,

And love along with them. . . ."

How can anyone call those things gods which need love in order to exist and which collapse through discord? According to Empedocles, love is primary. Compounds are derived from it, and it is the governing principle. In this way, if we identify the power of the principle with the power of what is derived from it, we unintentionally equate God, who is uncreated, eternal, and ever self-harmonious, with matter, which is corruptible, fluctuating, and changeable.

According to the Stoics, Zeus is the fiery substance, Hera the air (you get this by doubling the name), and Poseidon is water.909909There are puns on all these names: Zeus from zeō (boil), Hera from aēr (air: if the name Hera is doubled [ēraēra] aēr appears in the middle), and Poseidon from posis (drink). Others give different natural explanations. Some hold that Zeus is the air and has a double nature, masculine and feminine. Others contend that he is the time of year which brings mild weather, whence he alone escaped from Kronos.910910There is a play on the word for "time" (chronos).

To the Stoics, however, we may reply as follows: You think that there is one God above, uncreated and eternal, and that there are a number of compounds into which matter is changed. You say, furthermore, that the spirit of God pervades matter and takes on different names in accordance with its variations. Hence the forms of matter constitute God's body. These forms and the names of God with them must eventually be done away with, since the elements will be destroyed by fire. Only the spirit of God will then remain. But who, in the light of this, 323would believe those bodies to be gods whose material changes end in destruction?

Then, again, there are those who say that Kronos is time and Rhea earth. (The myth goes that she became pregnant by Kronos and gave birth, and so is viewed as the mother of all; and that he bore children and devoured them.) They explain the castration [in the myth] as intercourse between male and female, which cuts off' the sperm and casts it into the womb and begets a human being who has sexual desire (i.e., Aphrodite) in himself. They further expound the madness of Kronos as the change of season, which brings destruction to animate and inanimate things alike. The bonds [of Kronos] and Tartarus911911The reference is to Kronos, whom his son, Zeus, bound and hurled into Tartarus. are time which changes with the seasons and disappears. To all this we reply: if Kronos is time, he changes. If he is the seasons, he alternates. If he is darkness or ice or moisture, they all pass away. But the divine is immortal, immovable, and immutable. Hence neither Kronos nor his idol is God.

And concerning Zeus again, if he is the air created by Kronos whose male part is Zeus as Hera is his female part (whence she is both his sister and his wife), then he is subject to change. If he is the seasons, he varies. But the divine never changes or alters.

But why should I trouble you further with such accounts? You are well acquainted with the views of those who adduce these natural explanations. You know what the different writers have thought about the nature of the gods. About Athena, whom they consider to be the wisdom which pervades all things. Or about Isis, who they say is eternal being from which all are derived and through which they continue to exist. Or about Osiris, who was murdered by his brother Typhon, . . . and whose limbs Isis searched for with her son Horus. On finding them, she buried them in a tomb which is still called "Osiriake."

Since these thinkers are forever concentrating on the forms of matter, they miss the God who is known only by reason. They make gods out of the elements or parts of them, at different times giving them different names. Osiris, for instance, is the sowing of the wheat. For this reason, so they say, when his members or the ears of wheat are discovered in the course of the mysteries, Isis is thus addressed: "We have found, we 324rejoice." Again, Dionysus is the fruit of the vine. . . . Semele is the vine itself, while the thunderbolt [of Zeus] is the sun's warmth.912912I.e., that ripens the vine.

In fact, those who make real gods out of the myths do everything rather than form a true theology. For they fail to realize that by the very defense they make of their gods, they only confirm the reproaches brought against them. For what have Europa, the Bull, the Swan, and Leda to do with the earth and the air, so that Zeus's foul intercourse with these women should represent the relation of the earth to the air? The greatness of God escapes them and they are incapable of exercising their reason, for they have no sympathy for the heavenly realm. Bound to the forms of matter, they fall so low as to deify the changes of the elements. They resemble a passenger who would take the place of the helmsman and steer the boat in which he sailed. And as a ship without its helmsman is no longer serviceable, no matter how well it is fitted out, so the elements, though set in careful order, are of no avail without God's providence. For a ship does not sail by itself, and the elements are not set in motion apart from the creator.

Why Some Statues Have Power

23. Since you surpass all men in understanding, you may ask, "Why is it that some of the idols have power, if the gods to whom these statues are erected do not exist?" For it is unlikely that lifeless and motionless images should have any power by themselves without someone being responsible.

We do not deny that in different places, cities, and nations; some mighty acts have been done in the name of idols. We do not, however, imagine that they are gods who bring about these effects, whether for the benefit of some or for the harm of others. Rather have we made a careful inquiry why it is that you think the idols have power, and who it is that do these things, masquerading under the names of the gods: In proceeding to show who they are that act in the name of the idols, and that they are not gods, I will have to avail myself of some testimonies from the philosophers.

The first of these is Thales. According to those who have studied him thoroughly, he distinguishes between God, demons, and heroes. God he recognizes as the cosmic Intelligence. By demons he understands beings with living souls. He thinks 325that heroes are separated souls of men, the good ones being good souls and the bad ones evil souls.

Plato, for his part, while not agreeing in other respects, also distinguishes between the uncreated God, the beings created by the uncreated to adorn the heaven (the planets and the fixed stars, that is), and the demons. Concerning the latter he does not himself claim a right to speak, but thinks it proper for us to heed what others have said about them.

"Concerning the other demons," he writes, "to tell and to know their origin is beyond our capacity. But we should trust those who have spoken about them before us, and who, they say, are descendants of the gods. For they obviously must have been well acquainted with their parents. We cannot, therefore, disbelieve the sons of gods even though they speak without plausible and convincing proofs. Rather must we, in accordance with custom, believe them, since they profess to speak about their family affairs. Let us then, hold their view of the origin of these gods, which we will now propound. Oceanus and Tethys were the offspring of Gē and Ouranos. From them came Phorcus, Kronos and Rhea, and the rest. From Kronos and Rhea came Zeus, Hera, and all those who are said to be their brothers. From them in turn came other descendants."913913Tim. 40 D–E.

Now Plato understood that God was eternal and to be grasped by intelligence and reason. He declared his attributes, how he is essential being, how he has a single nature and is the source of goodness, which is truth. He discoursed about the primal power, . . . [and said:] "All things encircle the King of the universe. They exist because of him and he is the cause of everything." He told further about a second and third cause, "the second surrounding the second realm, the third surrounding the third."914914Plato, 2 Epist. 312 E.

Would such a man imagine that to learn the truth of those beings which are said to be derived from sensible things, i.e., from the earth and the heaven, was something beyond his capacity? Certainly not. He was unable to admit or to teach that gods were born; and for two reasons he said that it was beyond his capacity to know or express anything about the origin of the other demons. It was impossible for him to imagine that the gods either begat or were begotten, since everything created comes to an end. It was even more impossible to change the opinions of the multitude who accepted the myths uncritically.


Plato makes this further statement: "Zeus, the great sovereign in heaven, driving his winged chariot, is the first to go forth, setting all things in order and giving heed to them. There follows him a host of gods and demons."915915Phaedr. 246 E. This does not have reference to the Zeus who is said to be born of Kronos. For in this passage the name is used of the Creator of the universe. Plato himself makes this clear. As he had no other way of addressing him, he used the popular title, not as if it were really appropriate for God, but for the sake of clarity. For it is not possible to explain fully about God to everyone. He also added the epithet "great," so as to distinguish the heavenly Zeus from the earthly, the uncreated from the created. The latter is younger than heaven and earth, and younger even than the Cretans who stole him away so he would not be slain by his father.916916According to a Cretan myth, the child Zeus was hidden in a cave in order that Kronos might not swallow him.

The Christian View of Demons

24. Since you have looked into all such arguments, why should I mention the poets or review other opinions? But let this suffice. Even if the poets and philosophers had not recognized the unity of God and explained these so-called gods sometimes as demons, sometimes as matter, and sometimes as men who once lived, would there be any good reason for persecuting us, because we distinguish between God and matter and between their essences?

We speak of God, of the Son, his Word, and of the Holy Spirit; and we say that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are united in power.917917Text and meaning doubtful. For the Son is the intelligence, reason, and wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit is an effluence, as light from fire. In the same way we recognize that there are other powers which surround matter and pervade it. Of these there is one in particular which is hostile to God. We do not mean that there is anything which is opposed to God in the way that Empedocles opposes strife to love and night to day in the phenomenal world. For even if anything did manage to set itself up against God, it would cease to exist. It would fall to pieces by the power and might of God. Rather do we mean that the spirit which inhabits matter is opposed to God's goodness, 327which is an essential quality with him and coexists with him as color is inseparable from a body and cannot exist without it. I do not mean it is a part of him, but it is a necessary accompaniment which is united and fused with him as red is with fire and blue is with the sky. This opposing spirit was created by God, just as the other angels were created by him and entrusted with administering matter and its forms.

For God made these angels to exercise providence over the things he had set in order. Thus, while he reserved for himself the universal and general providence over everything, the angels exercise a particular providence over the parts entrusted to them.

Just as men have free will to choose good or evil (for you would not praise the good and punish the wicked, if vice and virtue were not in their power), and some turn out diligent in the tasks you give them and others faithless, so it is with the angels. Some—and God created them with free will—remained obedient in the tasks for which they were made and appointed. But others violated their very nature and office. Among them was this prince of matter and its forms, and others who were set in the first firmament. (You will note that we say nothing without authority and speak only of what the prophets have told).918918The reference is to Gen. 6:1–4. These latter angels fell into lusting after virgins and became slaves of the flesh, while the prince of matter became negligent and wicked in managing what was entrusted to him. From those who had intercourse with the virgins were begotten the so-called giants. That even the poets have something to say of the giants should not surprise you. For worldly wisdom differs [from divine]919919Text and meaning doubtful. just to the measure that truth differs from plausibility. While the one is of heaven, the other is of earth; yet, according to the prince of matter himself, "We know how to tell many lies that resemble the truth."920920Hesiod, Theog. 27. The point is that the poets say some things about the giants which resemble the truth.

25. Those angels, then, which fell from the heavens, haunt the air and the earth and are no longer able to rise to heavenly things. Along with the souls of the giants, they are the demons which wander about the world. Of these there are two classes: the demons proper,921921I.e., the giants. who act in accordance with the natures they have received; and the angels, who act in accordance 328with the lusts they indulged. The prince of matter, moreover, as is clear from what happened, rules and governs in opposition to the goodness of God.

"Often has the thought crossed my mind

That either fate or a demon rules human affairs.

Beyond hope and beyond justice

It brings some to banishment from their homes,

But others to enjoy prosperity."922922A fragment of Euripides. The final line is corrupt.

If Euripides is left speechless by the fact that prosperity and adversity are beyond hope or justice, who, then, so runs earthly affairs that a poet can say:

"How then, when we see these things, can we say

That a race of gods exists or laws should be obeyed?"923923A fragment of an unknown tragedy.

It was this which led Aristotle to deny that the things below heaven are subject to providence. God's eternal providence, however, is equally over us all:

"Of necessity the earth, willing or unwilling,

Brings forth her produce and fattens my cattle."924924Euripides, Cyclop. 332, 333.

And in fact, not in fancy, God's particular providence is directed toward the deserving, while everything else is subject to God's providential law of reason according to the common nature of things. It is, however, the demonic movements and operations, coming from the opposing spirit, which produce these chaotic onslaughts. They affect men, some in one way, some in another. They influence them within and without, individually and by nations, separately and in common, both according to the principle of matter and to the principle of harmony with the divine.

For this reason some, who have no small reputation, have imagined that this universe was not constituted in an orderly manner, but is impelled by blind fate. They failed to recognize that there is nothing in the constitution of the whole world which is disorderly or neglected. Each part has its origin in reason, and hence none of them violates its appointed order. Man too, so far as his Maker goes, is a well-ordered being. With regard to the way he is born, it is one and the same for all. With regard to the constitution of his body, it does not overstep its appointed bounds. With regard to the end of his life, he 329shares this in common with all. But so far as their individuality goes, and in view of the influence exerted by the prince [of matter] and his demonic cohorts, men are driven in various directions, although they all share in a common reason.

26. It is, then, these demons we have been talking about that draw men to idols. They are eager for the blood of sacrifices and lick them up. But the gods in whom the crowd delights and after whom the statues are named were really men, as you can tell from the stories about them. The fact, however, that the demons operate under their names is clear from their individual acts. For some engage in castration, as the devotees of Rhea; others stab and slash, as those of Artemis. (Artemis of Tauris even murders all strangers!) But I will pass over those who lacerate themselves with knives and scourges of bones, and the various kinds of demons.

It does not belong to God to prompt acts contrary to nature. Rather,

"When the demon plots against a man,

He first impairs the mind."925925An unknown fragment.

God, on the other hand, is perfect goodness and is always doing good.

But the greatest proof that other beings are at work here than those to whom the statues are erected is afforded by Troas and Parium. The former place has statues of Neryllinus; a contemporary of ours. Parium has statues of Alexander and Proteus. Both the tomb and the statue of Alexander are still in the forum. The other statues of Neryllinus are public ornaments, if indeed you can ornament a city in that way: But one of them is thought to utter oracles and to heal the sick. It is for these reasons that the people of Troas make sacrifices to the statue, anoint it, and set a golden crown on it.

Regarding the statues of Alexander and of Proteus; the latter is also said to utter oracles. This Proteus, you know, is the one who threw himself into the fire near Olympia. In honor of the statue of Alexander ("O luckless Paris, so fair of form but slave of woman!"926926Iliad 3:39. This verse, referring to the Trojan Alexander or Paris, is mockingly introduced with Alexander of Abonuteichus (described by Lucian) in view.), public sacrifices and festivals are held as if to a god who heeds prayer. Are we then to say that Neryllinus, Proteus, and Alexander are responsible far these things that 330occur at their statues? Or shall we say the constitution of matter is responsible? But the matter is bronze. What can bronze do by itself—bronze which can be changed into another shape, as Amasis did with his foot pan according to the story in Herodotus?927927Herodotus, Hist. 2. 172. And what can Neryllinus, Proteus, and Alexander do for the sick? For whatever the statue is said to do now, it does while Neryllinus is living and even when he gets sick.928928It would seem that Neryllinus (whoever he was) was still alive. That is evidently the meaning of the phrase, "A contemporary of ours," used above. Proteus and Alexander had died around A.D. 170.

27. What then? In the first place, the irrational powers of the soul, which produce fantasies, bring forth all kinds of images. Some they derive from matter. Others they form and project by themselves. The soul experiences this especially when it partakes of the spirit of matter and is mingled with it. It then ceases to fix its eyes on heavenly things and on its creator. It lowers its vision to earthly things. In a word, it becomes just blood and flesh, and is no longer a pure spirit.

These irrational powers and fantasies of the soul produce visions marked by a passion for idols. A tender and susceptible soul which is ignorant of sound teaching and has no experience in it, having neither contemplated the truth nor reflected upon the Father and Maker of the universe, is easily impressed with false notions of itself. Hence the demons which haunt matter, eager for the smell and blood of sacrifices, and ready to lead men astray, avail themselves of these capacities for fantasy in the souls of the multitude. Occupying their minds, they pour visions into them, making it seem as if these came from the idols and statues. Moreover, in whatever ways the soul, because of its immortality, is moved by reason to foretell the future or to heal the present, the demons reap the glory of them all.

The Gods Were Originally Men

28. Perhaps it is necessary, in the light of what we have been saying, to add a word about the names of the gods. Herodotus and Alexander the son of Philip, in his letter to his mother, say that they learned from the Egyptian priests that the gods had once been men. Each of these authors, by the way, is said to have interviewed the priests in Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes. This is what Herodotus writes:


"They indicated, then, that those beings whom the statues represented were of such a nature that they were far from being gods. But before these men, they said, the Egyptians had gods for their rulers. They dwelt with men and one of them was always supreme. The last of these kings was Horus, the son of Osiris, whom the Greeks call Apollo. He deposed Typhon and became the last god to rule over Egypt. Osiris is called Dionysus by the Greeks."929929Herodotus, Hist. 2. 144.

The others, then, as well as Osiris, were kings of Egypt; and it is from them that the Greeks got the names of their gods. Apollo is the son of Dionysus and Isis. The same Herodotus writes, "They say that Apollo and Artemis were the children of Dionysus and Isis, and that Leto became their nurse and savior."930930Ibid., 2. 156.

These heavenly beings they had for their first kings. Partly because they were ignorant of true piety toward the divine, and partly in gratitude for their rule, they took them, along with their wives, for gods. "All the Egyptians sacrifice the steers if they are without blemish and the male calves. But they are not allowed to sacrifice the cows, as they are sacred to Isis. The statue of Isis is that of a woman with the horns of a cow, similar to the way the Greeks depict Io."931931Ibid., 2. 41.

Who could be more worthy of credence when they make such statements than those in the family succession? For they received, son from father, not only the priesthood but the history of it. It is not likely that the very priests who reverence the idols would be lying when they say the gods were originally men. Herodotus, indeed, might perhaps be put down as a romancer where he tells us that the Egyptians record their gods were once men, since he also said, "I do not intend to relate all that I heard of their sacred history, but only the names of the gods."932932Ibid., 2. 3. But since Alexander and Hermes, surnamed Trismegistus, and plenty of others whom I will not mention individually, claim a divine origin for their family, there is no reason whatever to dispute that the Egyptian kings were considered gods.

That the gods were originally men the most learned of the Egyptians indicate. While they regard the air, the earth, the sun, and the moon as gods, they consider the rest of the gods to have been mortal men and think of the temples as their tombs. Apollodorus takes this view in his work entitled On the 332Gods. Herodotus, furthermore, refers to their sufferings as mysteries. "I have already spoken of the way they celebrate the feast of Isis in the city of Busiris. After the sacrifice all the men and women—vast crowds of them—lament; but in what connection they do this, it would not be right for me to disclose."933933Herodotus, Hist. 2. 61. The reference here and in the two following citations is to Osiris. Had they been gods, they would have been immortal. But if people lament for them, and it is their sufferings which constitute mysteries, then they are men.

This same Herodotus further remarks: "In Sais, in the temple of Athena, there is a tomb erected in honor of the god whose name religious scruples forbid me to mention in this connection. It stands behind the sanctuary and extends the whole length of its wall. There is a lake there, which is beautifully encircled with a stone edging. Its size, I imagine, is that of the lake in Delos which we call The Circle. It is in this lake that the Egyptians at night perform representations of his passion, which they refer to as mysteries."934934Ibid., 2. 170. They show you there not only the tomb of Osiris, but also his mummy. "When a corpse is brought to them, they show the bearers wooden images of corpses, realistically painted. The most perfect of them is said to be that of the god whose name I must not, for religious reasons, disclose in this connection."935935Ibid., 2. 86.

29. The Greek poets and historians have this to say about Heracles:

"In his cruelty, respecting neither the vengeance of the gods nor the table

His host proffered him, he slew him forthwith,"936936Odyssey 21:28, 29.

i.e., Iphitus. Such a person deserved to go mad, and appropriately lighted a funeral pyre and burned himself to death.

Of Asclepius, Hesiod writes:

"The father of men and of gods

Was wroth, and hurling the dear son of Leto from Olympus

He slew him with the smoking thunderbolt,

Arousing anger . . ."937937A fragment of Hesiod. The end is corrupt.


And Pindar:

"But even wisdom is tied to gain.

The gold seen in the hand perverted even him with its splendid bribe.

Therefore the son of Kronos hurled from his two hands the thunderbolt

That destroyed forthwith the breath of his lungs.

The flaming thunderbolt brought death."938938Pyth. 3. 54, 55, 5'7, 58. Upon the death of her lover, Hippolytus, Artemis bribed Asclepius with gold to restore him. In succeeding, Asclepius was slain by Zeus for interfering with the established order of nature.

Had they been gods, they would not have hankered after gold:

"O gold, the fairest prize of mortals!

For neither mother nor children can offer equal delights;"939939A fragment of Euripides.

for the divine is in need of nothing and is above desire. Nor would they have died.

But if they are not gods, then they were originally men—and bad ones at that, being ignorant and slaves of money. Why should I speak at length recalling Castor or Pollux or Amphiaraus? They are thought to be gods; yet they were men, born of men, so to say, only the other day. Why should I mention them when Ino, despite her madness and the sufferings consequent upon it, is taken for a goddess?940940Because Ino had nursed Dionysus, Hera drove her mad. Whereupon she leaped into the sea with Melicertes, her son. Of her they say, "Wanderers on the sea invoke her as Leucothea."941941An unknown fragment. And of her son, "By sailors he is called holy Palaemon."942942An unknown fragment.

30. These people, then, detestable as they were and hating God, nonetheless got the reputation of being gods. The daughter of Derceto,943943A Syrian fertility goddess who, according to the myth, fell into a lake and was changed into a fish. Semiramis,944944An Assyrian queen of the ninth century B.C. She was renowned for military exploits and for building Babylon. Tended by doves at her birth, she was finally metamorphized into one. a lascivious and bloodstained wench, was hailed as a Syrian goddess. The Syrians even worship fishes because of Derceto, and pigeons because of Semiramis. (For according to the myth in Ctesias the impossible happened, and a woman was changed into a pigeon!) What 334wonder, then, that some should be called gods by their people on the ground of their rule and sovereignty? Hence the Sibyl (and Plato945945Phaedrus 244 B. mentions her) says:

"This was the tenth generation of mortal men

Since the flood came upon the first men.

Kronos and Titan and Japetus then ruled.

They were the excellent offspring of Earth and Heaven;

And men gave them these names when they named Earth and Heaven,

Because they were the first of mortal men."946946Orac. Sibyll. 3. 108–113.

What wonder, too, that others, such as Heracles and Perseus, should be called gods on the ground of their strength? and yet others, as Asclepius, on the ground of their skill?

Either their subjects accorded them this honor or else the rulers themselves seized it. Some got the title from fear, others from reverence. Thus Antinoüs947947Hadrian's favorite who was tragically drowned in the Nile and deified. had the good fortune to be thought of as a god because of the kindness of your predecessors toward their subjects. And those who lived later accepted these deifications uncritically.

"The Cretans always lie; for they, O King,

Have built your tomb, and you are not yet dead."948948Callimachus, Hymn. Jov. 8, 9. The first part of the first line is attributed to Epimenides the Cretan (cf. Titus 1: 12, 13). The verse refers to the tomb of Zeus, the Cretan Zeus being the personification of the cycle of the seasons.

While you, Callimachus, believe in the birth of Zeus, you disbelieve in his tomb. While you imagine you are hiding the truth, you actually proclaim, even to those who do not realize it, that Zeus is dead. If you see the cave, you call to mind the childbirth of Rhea; while if you see the coffin, you try to obscure the truth that he is dead. For you will not recognize that the only eternal God is uncreated.

Conclusion on the Charge of Atheism

Thus, if the myths about the gods, which the populace and the poets repeat, are false, to reverence them is superfluous. For these gods do not exist if the tales about them are untrue. 335If on the other hand, all these stories about the gods are true—their births, loves, murders, thefts, castrations, thunderbolts—then they no longer exist, since they have ceased to be, just as they originally had no being before they were created. And what good reason is there to believe some of the tales and to disbelieve others, since the poets told them in order to idealize their heroes? For surely those who so magnified them by their stories that they were taken for gods would not have invented their sufferings.

That, therefore, we are not atheists, since we worship God the creator of this universe, and his Word, I have proved as best I can, even if I have not done the subject justice.

Two Further Charges

31. Our accusers have made up the further charges against us of impious feasts and intercourse. They do this to convince themselves that they have grounds for hating us. They imagine, moreover, that by fear they will either draw us away from our present mode of life or else, by the enormity of the accusations, render our princes harsh and implacable. But this is a foolish approach toward those who realize that of old, and not merely in our time, wickedness has a habit of warring against virtue, in obedience to some divine law and principle. Thus, for instance, Pythagoras with three hundred companions was put to the flames. Heraclitus and Democritus were banished, the one from the city of Ephesus, the other, charged with insanity, from Abdera. Finally, the Athenians condemned Socrates to death. And just as the virtue of these men suffered no whit from the opinions of the mob, so our uprightness of life is in no way obscured by the reckless calumnies of some persons. For we are in good standing with God.

Nonetheless, I will meet these charges too, although I am very confident that I have made my case by what I have already said. You, who are more intelligent than others, know that those who faithfully regulate their lives by reference to God, so that each of us stands before him blameless and irreproachable, will not entertain even the thought of the slightest sin. Were we convinced that this life is the only one, then we might be suspected of sinning, by being enslaved to flesh and blood and by becoming subject to gain and lust. But since we realize that God is a witness day and night of our thoughts and our speech, and that by being pure light he can see into our very 336hearts, we are convinced that when we depart this present life we shall live another. It will be better than this one, heavenly, not earthly. We shall live close to God and with God, our souls steadfast and free from passion. Even if we have flesh, it will not seem so: we shall be heavenly spirits. Or else, if we fall along with the rest, we shall enter on a worse life and one in flames. For God did not make us like sheep and oxen, a bywork to perish and be done away with. In the light of this it is not likely that we would be purposely wicked, and deliver ourselves up to the great Judge to be punished.

The Charge of Incest

32. It is nothing surprising that our accusers should invent the same tales about us that they tell of their gods. They present their sufferings as mysteries; and, had they wanted to judge shameless and indiscriminate intercourse as a frightful thing, they should have hated Zeus. For he had children from his mother, Rhea, and his daughter Kore, and married his own sister. Or else, they should have detested Orpheus, who invented these tales, because he made Zeus even more unholy and wicked than Thyestes. For the latter had intercourse with his daughter in pursuance of an oracle, and because he wanted to gain a throne and avenge himself.

But we, on the contrary, are so far from viewing such crimes with indifference949949Text and meaning doubtful. that we are not even allowed to indulge a lustful glance. For, says the Scripture, "He who looks at a woman lustfully, has already committed adultery in his heart."950950Matt. 5:28. We may look only on those things for which God created the eyes to be our light. For us a lustful glance is adultery, the eyes being made for other purposes. How, then, in the light of this and of the fact that we shall be called to account for even our thoughts, can it be doubted that we exercise self-control?

We do not have to reckon with human laws, which a wicked man may evade. (At the outset I assured you, Your Majesties, that our teaching came from God.) Rather do we have a law which requires us to have right relations with ourselves and with our neighbors.951951The text here is corrupt and obscure. Hence, according to their age, we think of some as sons and daughters. Others we regard as brothers and sisters, while we revere those who are older as we would 337fathers and mothers. We feel it a matter of great importance that those, whom we thus think of as brothers and sisters and so on, should keep their bodies undefiled and uncorrupted. For the Scripture says again, "If anyone kisses a second time because he found it enjoyable . . ."952952The source is unknown and the conclusion is wanting. Thus the kiss, or rather the religious salutation,953953The reference is probably to the kiss of peace in the liturgy. should be very carefully guarded. For if it is defiled by the slightest evil thought, it excludes us from eternal life.

33. Having, therefore, the hope of eternal life, we despise the enjoyments of the present, even the pleasures of the soul. According to our laws, each of us thinks of the woman he has married as his wife only for the purpose of bearing children. For as the farmer casts his seed on the soil and awaits the harvest without sowing over it, so we limit the pleasure of intercourse to bearing children.

You would, indeed, find many among us, both men and women, who have grown to old age unmarried, in the hope of being closer to God. If, then, to remain virgins and eunuchs brings us closer to God, while to indulge in wrong thoughts and passions drives us from him, we have all the more reason to avoid those acts, the very thought of which we flee from. For we center our attention not on the skill of making speeches but on the proof and lessons of actions. We hold that a man should either remain as he is born or else marry only once. For a second marriage is a veiled adultery. The Scripture says, "Whoever puts away his wife and marries another, commits adultery."954954Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11. Thus a man is forbidden both to put her away whose virginity he has ended, and to marry again. He who severs himself from his first wife, even if she is dead, is an adulterer in disguise. He resists the hand of God, for in the beginning God created one man and one woman. But the adulterer breaks the fellowship based on the union of flesh with flesh for sexual intercourse.955955Text and meaning doubtful.

34. Since we are such (and why should I speak of such degrading things?), our situation resembles that of the proverb, "The harlot reproves the chaste." Our accusers have set up a market for fornication, have established infamous houses of every sort of shameful pleasure for the young, and do not even spare the males, "males committing shocking acts with 338males."956956Rom. 1:27. In all sorts of ways they outrage those with the more graceful and handsome bodies. They dishonor God's splendid creation, for beauty on earth is not self-made, but has been created by the hand and mind of God. It is these people who revile us with the very things they are conscious of in themselves and which they attribute to their gods. They boast of them indeed, as noble acts and worthy of the gods. Adulterers and corrupters of boys, they insult eunuchs and those once married. They even live like fish. For they gulp down whatever comes their way. The stronger chase the weaker. That means they outrage human flesh, even while the laws are in force which you and your forefathers carefully enacted in view of all that is right. To these very laws they do such violence that the governors appointed by you over the provinces are not able to keep order. We, however, cannot refrain from turning the cheek when we are struck, nor from blessing when we are reviled. For it is not enough to be just—justice consisting in returning blows—but we have to be generous and to put up with evil.

The Charge of Cannibalism

35. Since this is our character, what man of sound judgment would say that we are murderers? For you cannot eat human flesh until you have killed someone. If their first charge against us is a fiction, so is the second. For if anyone were to ask them if they had seen what they affirm, none of them would be so shameless as to say he had.

Moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us. Since they know that we cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly, who of them would charge us with murder or cannibalism? Who among our accusers957957Text and meaning doubtful. is not eager to witness contests of gladiators and wild beasts, especially those organized by you? But we see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him. So we have given up such spectacles. How can we commit murder when we will not look at it, lest we should contract the stain of guilt? What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? For the same person would not regard the fetus in the womb as a living thing and therefore an object of God's 339care, and at the same time slay it, once it had come to life. Nor would he refuse to expose infants, on the ground that those who expose them are murderers of children, and at the same time do away with the child he has reared. But we are altogether consistent in our conduct. We obey reason and do not override it.

Relevance of the Doctrine of the Resurrection

36. What man, moreoever, who is convinced of the resurrection would make himself into a tomb for bodies that will rise again? The same persons would surely not believe that our bodies will rise again and then eat them as if there were no resurrection. They would not think that the earth will give back its dead and then imagine that it will fail to demand those entombed in them.

On the contrary, those who deny they will have to give account of the present life, be it wicked or good, who reject the resurrection and who count on the soul's perishing along with the body and, so to say, flickering out, are likely to stop at no outrage. But those who are convinced that God will look into everything and that the body which has aided the soul in its unreasonable lusts and passions will be punished along with it, they have no good reason to commit even the slightest sin.

But suppose someone thinks it sheer nonsense that the body which has rotted, decomposed, and been reduced to nothing, should again be put together. Those who do not believe this would be wrong in accusing us of wickedness. They should rather accuse us of folly. For we do not harm anyone by having mistaken opinions.

It would be out of place here to show that we are not alone in believing bodies will rise again. Many of the philosophers have taught this. But we do not want to seem to introduce matters beyond the scope of our present task. We will not discuss the intelligible and the sensible and their natures. Nor the fact that the incorporeal is prior to the corporeal, and the intelligible precedes the sensible. It is true, of course, that we first experience the sensible; but the corporeal owes its origin to the incorporeal by being combined with the intelligible. The sensible similarly owes its origin to the intelligible.958958Text and meaning doubtful. Even according to Pythagoras and Plato the dissolution of the 340body does not prevent it from being reconstructed with the very elements of which it originally consisted.


37. But we must defer our discussion of the resurrection. Now that I have disposed of the charges brought against us and shown that we are religious, kindly, and gentle in spirit, I beg you, grant your royal approval to my request. For in every possible way, by nature as well as education, you are kind, temperate, generous, and worthy of the imperium. And who, indeed, are more justified in getting what they ask than we? For we pray for your authority, asking that you may, as is most just, continue the royal succession, son from father, and receive such increase and extension of your realm that all men will eventually be your subjects. This is to our interest too, "so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,"959959I Tim. 2:2. and be ready to do all we are commanded.

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