Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Minucius Felix/The Octavius of Minucius Felix/Chapter 19

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix
by Minucius Felix, translated by Robert Ernest Wallis
Chapter 19
155907Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix — Chapter 19Robert Ernest WallisMinucius Felix

Chapter XIX.—Argument:  Moreover, the Poets Have Called Him the Parent of Gods and Men, the Creator of All Things, and Their Mind and Spirit.  And, Besides, Even the More Excellent Philosophers Have Come Almost to the Same Conclusion as the Christians About the Unity of God.

“I hear the poets also announcing ‘the One Father of gods and men;’ and that such is the mind of mortal men as the Parent of all has appointed His day.[1]  What says the Mantuan Maro?  Is it not even more plain, more apposite, more true?  ‘In the beginning,’ says he, ‘the spirit within nourishes, and the mind infused stirs the heaven and the earth,’ and the other members ‘of the world.  Thence arises the race of men and of cattle,’[2] and every other kind of animal.  The same poet in another place calls that mind and spirit God.  For these are his words:[3]  ‘For that God pervades all the lands, and the tracts of the sea, and the profound heaven, from whom are men and cattle; from whom are rain and fire.’[4]  What else also is God announced to be by us, but mind, and reason, and spirit?  Let us review, if it is agreeable, the teaching of philosophers.  Although in varied kinds of discourse, yet in these matters you will find them concur and agree in this one opinion.  I pass over those untrained and ancient ones who deserved to be called wise men for their sayings.  Let Thales the Milesian be the first of all, for he first of all disputed about heavenly things.  That same Thales the Milesian said that water was the beginning of things, but that God was that mind which from water formed all things.  Ah! a higher and nobler account of water and spirit than to have ever been discovered by man.  It was delivered to him by God.  You see that the opinion of this original philosopher absolutely agrees with ours.  Afterwards Anaximenes, and then Diogenes of Apollonia, decide that the air, infinite and unmeasured, is God.  The agreement of these also as to the Divinity is like ours.  But the description of Anaxagoras also is, that God is said to be the motion of an infinite mind; and the God of Pythagoras is the soul passing to and fro and intent, throughout the universal nature of things, from whom also the life of all animals is received.  It is a known fact, that Xenophanes delivered that God was all infinity with a mind; and Antisthenes, that there are many gods of the people, but that one God of Nature was the chief of all; that Xeuxippus[5] acknowledged as God a natural animal force whereby all things are governed.  What says Democritus?  Although the first discoverer of atoms, does not he especially speak of nature, which is the basis of forms, and intelligence, as God?  Strato also himself says that God is nature.  Moreover, Epicurus, the man who feigns either otiose gods or none at all, still places above all, Nature.  Aristotle varies, but nevertheless assigns a unity of power:  for at one time he says that Mind, at another the World, is God; at another time he sets God above the world.[6]  Heraclides of Pontus also ascribes, although in various ways, a divine mind to God.  Theophrastus, and Zeno, and Chrysippus, and Cleanthes are indeed themselves of many forms of opinion but they are all brought back to the one fact of the unity of providence.  For Cleanthes discoursed of God as of a mind, now of a soul, now of air, but for the most part of reason.  Zeno, his master, will have the law of nature and of God, and sometimes the air, and sometimes reason, to be the beginning of all things.  Moreover, by interpreting Juno to be the air, Jupiter the heaven, Neptune the sea, Vulcan to be fire, and in like manner by showing the other gods of the common people to be elements, he forcibly denounces and overcomes the public error.  Chrysippus says almost the same.  He believes that a divine force, a rational nature, and sometimes the world, and a fatal necessity, is God; and he follows the example of Zeno in his physiological interpretation of the poems of Hesiod, of Homer, and of Orpheus.  Moreover, the teaching of Diogenes of Babylon is that of expounding and arguing that the birth of Jupiter, and the origin of Minerva, and this kind, are names for other things, not for gods.  For Xenophon the Socratic says that the form of the true God cannot be seen, and therefore ought not to be inquired after.  Aristo the Stoic[7] says that He cannot at all be comprehended.  And both of them were sensible of the majesty of God, while they despaired of understanding Him.  Plato has a clearer discourse about God, both in the matters themselves and in the names by which he expresses them; and his discourse would be altogether heavenly, if it were not occasionally fouled by a mixture of merely civil belief.  Therefore in his Timæus Plato’s God is by His very name the parent of the world, the artificer of the soul, the fabricator of heavenly and earthly things, whom both to discover he declares is difficult, on account of His excessive and incredible power; and when you have discovered Him, impossible to speak of in public.  The same almost are the opinions also which are ours.  For we both know and speak of a God who is parent of all, and never speak of Him in public unless we are interrogated.[8]

Footnotes edit

  1. Homer, Odyss., xviii. 136, 137.
  2. Virgil, Æneid, vi. 724.
  3. Some read, “For these things are true.”
  4. Virgil, Georgics, iv. 221; Æneid, i. 743.
  5. Otherwise, “Speusippus.”
  6. The ms. here inserts, “Aristoteles of Pontus varies, at one time attributing the supremacy to the world, at another to the divine mind.”  Some think that this is an interpolation, others transfer the words to Theophrastus below.
  7. Otherwise, “Aristo the Chian.”
  8. [See note on Plato, chap. xxvi.]