Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VII/Lactantius/A Treatise on the Anger of God Addressed to Donatus/Chap. VII
Chap. VII.—Of Man, and the Brute Animals, and Religion.
Though philosophers have often turned aside from reason through their ignorance of the truth, and have fallen into inextricable errors (for that is wont to happen to these which happens to a traveller ignorant of the way, and not confessing that he is ignorant ,—namely, that he wanders about, while he is ashamed to inquire from those whom he meets), no philosopher, however, has ever made the assertion that there is no difference between man and the brutes. Nor has any one at all, provided that he wished to appear wise, reduced a rational animal to the level of the mute and irrational; which some ignorant persons do, resembling the brutes themselves, who, wishing to give themselves up to the indulgence of their appetite and pleasure, say that they are born on the same principle as all living animals, which it is impious for man to say. For who is so unlearned as not to know, who is so void of understanding as not to perceive, that there is something divine in man? I do not as yet come to the excellences of the soul and of the intellect, by which there is a manifest affinity between man and God. Does not the position of the body itself, and the fashion of the countenance, declare that we are not on a level with the dumb creation? Their nature is prostrated to the ground and to their pasture, and has nothing in common with the heaven, which they do not look upon. But man, with his erect position, with his elevated countenance raised to the contemplation of the universe, compares his features with God, and reason recognises reason.
And on this account there is no animal, as Cicero says, except man, which has any knowledge of God. For he alone is furnished with wisdom, so that he alone understands religion; and this is the chief or only difference between man and the dumb animals. For the other things which appear to be peculiar to man, even if there are not such in the dumb animals, nevertheless may appear to be similar. Speech is peculiar to man; yet even in these there is a certain resemblance to speech. For they both distinguish one another by their voices; and when they are angry, they send forth a sound resembling altercation; and when they see one another after an interval of time, they show the office of congratulation by their voice. To us, indeed, their voices appear uncouth, as ours perhaps do to them; but to themselves, who understand one another, they are words. In short, in every affection they utter distinct expressions of voice by which they may show their state of mind. Laughter also is peculiar to man; and yet we see certain indications of joy in other animals, when they use passionate gestures with a view to sports, hang down their ears, contract their mouth, smooth their forehead, relax their eyes to sportiveness. What is so peculiar to man as reason and the foreseeing of the future? But there are animals which open several outlets in different directions from their lairs, that if any danger comes upon them, an escape may be open for them shut in; but they would not do this unless they possessed intelligence and reflection. Others are provident for the future, as
“Ants, when they plunder a great heap of corn, mindful of the winter, and lay it up in their dwelling;”
“As bees, which alone know a country and fixed abodes; and mindful of the winter which is to come, they practice labour in the summer, and lay up their gains as a common stock.”
It would be a long task if I should wish to trace out the things most resembling the skill of man, which are accustomed to be done by the separate tribes of animals. But if, in the case of all these things which are wont to be ascribed to man, there is found to be some resemblance even in the dumb animals, it is evident that religion is the only thing of which no trace can be found in the dumb animals, nor any indication. For justice is peculiar to religion, and to this no other animal attains. For man alone bears rule; the other animals are subjected to him. But the worship of God is ascribed to justice; and he who does not embrace this, being far removed from the nature of man, will live the life of the brutes under the form of man. But since we differ from the other animals almost in this respect alone, that we alone of all perceive the divine might and power, while in the others there is no understanding of God, it is surely impossible that in this respect either the dumb animals should have more wisdom, or human nature should be unwise, since all living creatures, and the whole system of nature, are subject to man on account of his wisdom. Wherefore if reason, if the force of man in this respect, excels and surpasses the rest of living creatures, inasmuch as he alone is capable of the knowledge of God, it is evident that religion can in no way be overthrown.
- The reason of man, man’s rational nature, recognizes the divine reason, i.e., God. [Confert cum Deo vultum et rationem ratio cognoscit. Hence Milton’s “human face divine.”]
- De Legibus, i. 8.
- Incondita, “unformed, or rude.” [See p. 77, supra.]
- [Vol. vi. note 3, p. 452, this series.]
- Ad lusum gestiunt.
- Virg., Æn., iv. 402.
- Virg., Georg., iv. 155.
- Conciliata sunt.