Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VII/Lactantius/A Treatise on the Anger of God Addressed to Donatus/Chap. IX
Chap. IX.—Of the Providence of God, and of Opinions Opposed to It.
When the philosophers of former times had agreed in their opinions respecting providence, and there was no doubt but that the world was set in order by God and reason, and was governed by reason, Protagoras, in the times of Socrates, was the first of all who said that it was not clear to him whether there was any divinity or not. And this disputation of his was judged so impious, and so contrary to the truth and to religion, that the Athenians both banished him from their territories, and burnt in a public assembly those books of his in which these statements were contained. But there is no need to speak respecting his opinions, because he pronounced nothing certain. After these things Socrates and his disciple Plato, and those who flowed forth from the school of Plato like rivulets into different directions, namely, the Stoics and Peripatetics, were of the same opinion as those who went before them.
Afterwards Epicurus said that there was indeed a God, because it was necessary that there should be in the world some being of surpassing excellence, distinction, and blessedness; yet that there was no providence, and thus that the world itself was ordered by no plan, nor art, nor workmanship, but that the universe was made up of certain minute and indivisible seeds. But I do not see what can be said more repugnant to the truth. For if there is a God, as God He is manifestly provident; nor can divinity be attributed to Him in any other way than if He retains the past, and knows the present, and foresees the future. Therefore, in taking away providence, he also denied the existence of God. But when he openly acknowledged the existence of God, at the same time he also admitted His providence for the one cannot exist at all, or be understood, without the other. But in those later times in which philosophy had now lost its vigour  there lived a certain Diagoras of Melos, who altogether denied the existence of God, and on account of this sentiment was called atheist; also Theodorus of Cyrene: both of whom, because they were unable to discover anything new, all things having already been said and found out, preferred even, in opposition to the truth, to deny that in which all preceding philosophers had agreed without any ambiguity. These are they who attacked providence, which had been asserted and defended through so many ages by so many intellects. What then? Shall we refute those trifling and inactive philosophers by reason, or by the authority of distinguished men, or rather by both? But we must hasten onwards, lest our speech should wander too far from our subject.
- [A beautiful formula of the history of Greek philosophy.]
- [Vol. vi. p. 421.]
- [Vol. vi. p. 421.]