Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Minucius Felix/The Octavius of Minucius Felix/Chapter 5

Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix
by Minucius Felix, translated by Robert Ernest Wallis
Chapter 5
155893Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV, Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix — Chapter 5Robert Ernest WallisMinucius Felix

Chapter V.—Argument:  Cæcilius Begins His Argument First of All by Reminding Them that in Human Affairs All Things are Doubtful and Uncertain, and that Therefore It is to Be Lamented that Christians, Who for the Most Part are Untrained and Illiterate Persons, Should Dare to Determine on Anything with Certainty Concerning the Chief of Things and the Divine Majesty:  Hence He Argues that the World is Governed by No Providence, and Concludes that It is Better to Abide by the Received Forms of Religion.

“Although to you, Marcus my brother, the subject on which especially we are inquiring is not in doubt, inasmuch as, being carefully informed in both kinds of life, you have rejected the one and assented to the other, yet in the present case your mind must be so fashioned that you may hold the balance of a most just judge, nor lean with a disposition to one side (more than another), lest your decision may seem not to arise so much from our arguments, as to be originated from your own perceptions.  Accordingly, if you sit in judgment on me, as a person who is new, and as one ignorant of either side, there is no difficulty in making plain that all things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled, and that all things are rather probable than true.  Wherefore it is the less[1] wonderful that some, from the weariness of thoroughly investigating truth, should rashly succumb to any sort of opinion rather than persevere in exploring it with persistent diligence.  And thus all men must be indignant, all men must feel pain,[2] that certain persons—and these unskilled in learning, strangers to literature, without knowledge even[3] of sordid arts—should dare to determine on any certainty concerning the nature at large, and the (divine) majesty, of which so many of the multitude of sects in all ages (still doubt), and philosophy itself deliberates still.  Nor without reason; since the mediocrity of human intelligence is so far from (the capacity of) divine investigation, that neither is it given us to know, nor is it permitted to search, nor is it religious to ravish,[4] the things that are supported in suspense in the heaven above us, nor the things which are deeply submerged below the earth; and we may rightly seem sufficiently happy and sufficiently prudent, if, according to that ancient oracle of the sage, we should know ourselves intimately.  But even if we indulge in a senseless and useless labour, and wander away beyond the limits proper to our humility, and though, inclined towards the earth, we transcend with daring ambition heaven itself, and the very stars, let us at least not entangle this error with vain and fearful opinions.  Let the seeds of all things have been in the beginning condensed by a nature combining them in itself—what God is the author here?  Let the members of the whole world be by fortuitous concurrences united, digested, fashioned—what God is the contriver?  Although fire may have lit up the stars; although (the lightness of) its own material may have suspended the heaven; although its own material may have established the earth by its weight;[5] and although the sea may have flowed in from moisture,[6] whence is this religion?  Whence this fear?  What is this superstition?  Man, and every animal which is born, inspired with life, and nourished,[7] is as a voluntary concretion of the elements, into which again man and every animal is divided, resolved, and dissipated.  So all things flow back again into their source, and are turned again into themselves, without any artificer, or judge, or creator.  Thus the seeds of fires, being gathered together, cause other suns, and again others, always to shine forth.  Thus the vapours of the earth, being exhaled, cause the mists always to grow, which being condensed and collected, cause the clouds to rise higher; and when they fall, cause the rains to flow, the winds to blow, the hail to rattle down; or when the clouds clash together, they cause the thunder to bellow, the lightnings to grow red, the thunderbolts to gleam forth.  Therefore they fall everywhere, they rush on the mountains, they strike the trees; without any choice,[8] they blast places sacred and profane; they smite mischievous men, and often, too, religious men.  Why should I speak of tempests, various and uncertain, wherein the attack upon all things is tossed about without any order or discrimination?—in shipwrecks, that the fates of good and bad men are jumbled together, their deserts confounded?—in conflagrations, that the destruction of innocent and guilty is united?—and when with the plague-taint of the sky a region is stained, that all perish without distinction?—and when the heat of war is raging, that it is the better men who generally fall?  In peace also, not only is wickedness put on the same level with (the lot of) those who are better, but it is also regarded in such esteem,[9] that, in the case of many people, you know not whether their depravity is most to be detested, or their felicity to be desired.  But if the world were governed by divine providence and by the authority of any deity, Phalaris and Dionysius would never have deserved to reign, Rutilius and Camillus would never have merited banishment, Socrates would never have merited the poison.  Behold the fruit-bearing trees, behold the harvest already white, the vintage, already dropping, is destroyed by the rain, is beaten down by the hail.  Thus either an uncertain truth is hidden from us, and kept back; or, which is rather to be believed, in these various and wayward chances, fortune, unrestrained by laws, is ruling over us.

Footnotes edit

  1. The ms. and first edition read “more;” Ursinus suggested minus instead of magis.
  2. This clause is otherwise read:  “Therefore we must be indignant, nay, must be grieved.”
  3. Otherwise for “even,” “except.”
  4. The reading of the ms. is “stuprari,” as above.  “Scrutari,” “sciari,” or “lustrare” and “suspicari,” are proposed emendations.
  5. Or, “although its weight may have established the earth.”
  6. Or, “although the moisture may have flowed into the sea.”
  7. Variously read, “is raised up,” or “and is raised up.”  The ms. has “attollitur,” which by some is amended into “et alitur,” or “et tollitur.”
  8. Either “delectu” or “dilectu.”
  9. Or, “it is extolled.”