That Idols Are Not Gods

Author: St. Cyprian


Chapter 1

That those are not Gods who are worshipped by the populace is known from the following. There were once kings, who, because of their memory as kings, began later to be worshipped even in death. Thereupon, temples were established for them; thereupon, to retain the features of the dead by an image statues were formed, and men sacrificed victims and celebrated festal days giving them honor. Thereupon, these rites became sacred for posterity, which were taken up as consolations for those first concerned. Let us see whether this truth also holds in individual cases.

Chapter 2

Melicertes and Leucothea are plunged into the sea and later become divinities of the sea; the Casters die alternately that they may live; Aesculapius is struck by lightning that he may rise into a god; Hercules is consumed by the fires of Oeta that he may put off the man. Apollo tended the flocks of Admetus; Neptune built walls for Laomedon and the unfortunate builder received no wages for his work. The cave of Jupiter is seen in Crete and his tomb is pointed out, and it is clear that Saturn was driven into exile by him; from his hiding place Latium received its name. This one was the first to teach how to print letters and how to stamp coins in Italy. Hence the treasury is called Saturn's. He always was the cultivator of the rustic life, and so he is depicted carrying a sickle. Janus had received him, when driven into exile, in hospitality, from whose name the Janiculum was so called and the month of January was established. He himself is represented with two faces, because, placed in the middle, he appears to the year equally as it begins and as it recedes. The Mauri indeed manifestly worship kings and do not conceal this name by any covering.

Chapter 3

From this the religion of the gods is variously changed throughout individual nations and provinces, since not one God is worshipped by all, but the cult of its ancestors proper to each is preserved. Alexander the Great wrote to his mother that this is so in a famous volume, saying that because of fear of his power the secret about the gods as men, which was preserved in the memory of ancestors and kings, was revealed to him by a priest. From this the rites of worshipping and sacrificing have developed. But if the gods were born at some time, why are they not born today?--unless perchance Jupiter has grown old or the faculty of bearing in Juno has failed.

Chapter 4

But why do you think that the gods have power in behalf of the Romans, whom you see have availed nothing for their own (worshippers) against their arms? For we know that the gods of the Romans are indigenous. Romulus was made a god when Proculus committed perjury, and Picus and Tiberinus and Pilumnus and Consus whom Romulus wished to be worshipped as the god of fraud as if the god of counsels, after his perfidy resulted in the rape of the Sabine women. Tatius also invented and worshipped the goddess Cloacina; Hostilius, Pavor and Pallor. Presently Februss was dedicated by someone or other and the harlots Acce and Flora. These are Roman gods. But Mars is Thracian and Jupiter Cretan and Juno either Argur or Samian or Carthaginian and Diana of Taurus, and the mother of gods from Mt. Ida, and Egyptian monsters, not divinities, which surely, if they had had any power, would have saved their own and their people's kingdoms. Plainly there are also among the Romans conquered household gods, whom Aeneas as a fugitive conveyed here. There is also bald Venus, much more disgraced by her baldness here than by being wounded in Homer.

Chapter 5

Moreover kingdoms do not come into existence by merit, but they are varied by chance. Moreover the Syrians and Persians formerly held an empire; and we know that the Greeks and the Egyptians have ruled. Thus, with changes of powers time for ruling fell to the Romans also as well as to others. But if you should go back to their origin, you would blush. A people is gathered together from the vicious and the criminal, and, after an asylum was established, impunity from crime makes a large number; presently that the king himself may have the chief place in crime, Romulus becomes a parricide and, in order to form a marriage, he begins an affair of concord through discord. They steal; they rage; they deceive to increase the resources of the state; their marriages are broken agreements of hospitality and cruel wars with their fathers-in-law. Also the consulship is the highest step in Roman honors. So we see that the consulship began as did the kingdom; Brutus kills his sons that praise for the dignity may grow from the approval of the crime. Therefore, not from holy observances nor from auspices or auguries did the Roman kingdom grow, but it guards its appointed time with a definite limit. Moreover, Regulus observed the auspices and was captured, and Mancinus maintained his religion and was sent under the yoke; Paulus had chickens that fed and yet at Cannae he was slain; Gaius Caesar spurned the auguries and the auspices that restrained from sending ships to Africa before winter, and so much the more easily did he both sail and conquer.

Chapter 6

Yet in all these affairs there is the principle of misleading and deceiving and leading the foolish and wasteful people astray by tricks that becloud the truth. They are impure and vagrant spirits, which, after they have been immersed in earthly vices and have receded from heavenly vigor because of earthly contagion, themselves ruined do not cease to ruin others, and themselves depraved to infuse the error of depravity in others. These demons the poets also know, and Socrates declared that he was instructed and ruled according to the will of a demon, and thence the Magi have power to cause dangers or mockeries, of whom the chief one,. Ostanes, both denies that the form of the true God can be seen and says that true angels stand by His throne. In this also Plato with like reasoning agrees, and, while maintaining one God, calls the rest angels or demons. Hermes Trismegistus speaks of one God, and confesses that He is incomprehensible and impossible of estimation.

Chapter 7

So these spirits lurk under statues and consecrated images; they inspire the hearts of seers with their afflatus; they animate the fibres of entrails; they control the flight of birds; they rule lots; they effect oracles; they always involve falsehood with the truth, for they are both deceived and deceive; they disturb life; they disquiet sleep; also these spirits creeping into bodies stealthily terrify minds; they distort the limbs; they break down health; they provoke diseases, so as to coerce people to worship them, so as to seem, when glutted with the steam from altars and the piles of cattle, by removing what they had constrained, to have affected a cure. This is a cure on their part: the cessation of injury to their worshippers, and they have no other desire than to call men away from God and to turn them from an understanding of the true religion to superstition with regard to themselves. Since they themselves are under punishment, (they have no other desire than) to seek companions for themselves in punishments, whom they will make by their error sharers in their own crime. Yet these (spirits), when adjured by us through the true God, immediately withdraw and confess and are forced to go out of the bodies which they have possessed. You may see them struck with the lashes of the unseen majesty at our voice and prayer, burned with fire, stretched out with the increase of a growing punishment, shriek, groan, implore, confess to their very listeners, who worship them, whence they come and when they depart, so that they either leap out at once or vanish gradually, according as the faith of sufferer gives aid or the grace of the healer draws near. Hence they force the populace to hate our name, so that men begin to hate us before they know us, lest they either be able to imitate us when we are known or not be able to condemn.

Chapter 8

Therefore, one is the Lord of all. For that sublimity cannot have a peer, since it alone holds all power. Let us borrow an example for the divine government even from the earth. When did an alliance of kinship ever either begin with trust and cease without bloodshed? Thus the brotherhood of the Thebans was disrupted, discord enduring even in death as their funeral pyres were in disagreement. And one kingdom does not take the Roman twins, whom one hospice took to womb. Pompey and Caesar were related, and yet they did not hold the bond of relationship in the urge for power. And you should not marvel at man, since in this all nature agrees. The bees have one king, and there is one leader among flocks, and one ruler among herds. Much rather is there one ruler of the world, who by His word orders all things, whatever exist, arranges them according to plan, accomplishes them by His power.

Chapter 9

This One cannot be seen, He is too bright to see; cannot be comprehended, He is too pure to grasp; cannot be estimated, He is too great to be imagined. And so we thus estimate God worthily, when we declare Him inestimable. Indeed what temple can God have, whose temple is the whole world? And when I as man dwell far and wide, shall I enclose the power of so great majesty within a small temple? He must be dedicated in our mind; He must be consecrated in our heart. You should not seek a name for God; God is His name. There is need of words there where a multitude is to be distinguished by the appropriate characteristics of designations. To God, who is alone, is the whole name of God. Therefore, He is one even wherever He is diffused. For even the populace naturally confesses God in many things, when the mind and soul of their author and origin are admonished. We hear it frequently said: 'O God' and 'God sees' and 'I commend to God' and 'God will render to me' and 'Whatever God wishes' and 'If God shall grant.' But what a height of sin is this--to be unwilling to acknowledge Him of whom you cannot be ignorant.

Chapter 10

Now that Christ is, and how through Him salvation came to us, this is the plan, this the means. At first the Jews had favor with God. Thus at one time they were just; thus ancestors were obedient to their religious views. Hence the excellence of their kingdom flourished and the greatness of their race advanced. But afterwards having become undisciplined and puffed up with confidence in their fathers, when they contemned the divine precepts, they lost the favor that was granted them. How their lives became profane, what offense to their violated religion was contracted, they themselves also bear witness, who, though silent in voice, confess by their end; dispersed and straggling they wander about; exiles from their soil and climate, they are tossed upon the hospitality of strangers.

Chapter 11

Furthermore, God had predicted before that it would happen that, as the world passed on and the end of the universe was now at hand, God would gather to Himself from every nation and people and place much more faithful worshippers, who would draw from the divine gifts the favor which the Jews had lost by contemning their religious principles, after having received it. Therefore, as the ruler and master of this grace and teaching, the Word and the Son of God is sent, who is proclaimed through all the prophets as the Enlightener and Teacher of the human race. He is the power of God; He is the reason; He is His wisdom and glory; He enters into a virgin; the Holy Spirit put on flesh; God mingles with man. This is our God; this our Christ who, as mediator of the two, puts on man, to lead him to the Father. Christ wished to be what man is, that man might be able to be what Christ is.

Chapter 12

The Jews too knew that Christ would come, for He was always being announced to them by the admonishment of the prophets. But since His advent was signified as twofold, the one which would perform the office and example of man, the other which would confess God, not understanding the first advent which preceded hidden in the passion, they believe only the one which will be manifest in His power. Moreover, that the people of the Jews were unable to understand this was the desert of their sins; they were so punished for the blindness of wisdom and intelligence, that those who were unworthy of life had life before their eyes and saw it not.

Chapter 13

So when Christ Jesus according to the former predictions of the prophets by His word and the command of His voice drove demons out of man, released paralytics, cleansed the leprous, illuminated the blind, gave the power to walk to the halt, brought life back to the dead, compelled the elements to be servants unto Him, the winds to serve Him, the seas to obey Him, those of the lower regions to yield to Him, the Jews who had believed Him only a man from the humility of His flesh and body, thought Him a sorcerer from the freedom of His power. Hence their masters and leaders, that is those whom He surpassed in teaching and wisdom were so inflamed with anger and roused with indignation that they finally seized Him and handed Him over to Pontius Pilate who at that time was procurator of Syria for the Romans, and demanded His crucifixion and death by violent and stubborn approbations.

Chapter 14

He himself also had predicted that these would do this, and the testimony of all the prophets had thus preceded, that He should suffer, not that He might feel death, but that He might conquer it, and that, when He had suffered, He should return again to heaven to show the force of divine majesty. Thus the course of events fulfilled the prophecy. For when He had been crucified, forestalling the office of the executioner He of His own accord gave up His spirit, and on the third day of His own accord He rose again from the dead. He appeared to His disciples just as He had been; He offered Himself to be recognized to those who looked on and had been joined with Him, and conspicuous by the firmness of His corporeal substance He tarried for forty days, that they might be instructed by Him according to the precepts of life and learn what they should teach. Then, when a cloud had spread about Him he was raised up into heaven, that as victor He might bring to the Father the man whom He loved, whom He put on, whom He protected from death, soon to come from heaven for the punishment of the devil and the judgment of the human race with the strength of an avenger and the power of a judge; but the disciples scattered over the world, with their Master and God advising, gave out precepts for salvation, led man from the error of darkness to the way of light, endowed the blind and ignorant with eyes to recognize the truth.

Chapter 15

And that the proof might not be the less solid and the confession of Christ not be a matter of pleasure, they are tried by torments, by crosses, by many kinds of punishments. Pain, which is the witness of truth, is applied, so that Christ, the son of God, who is believed to have been given to man for life, might be proclaimed not only by the proclamation of the voice but by the testimony of suffering. Therefore, we accompany Him, we follow Him, we hold Him the Leader of our journey, the Source of light, the Author of salvation, as He promises heaven as well as the Father to those who seek and believe. What Christ is, we Christians will be, if we follow Christ.