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The Epitome of the Divine Institutes

Addressed to His Brother Pentadius.

The Epitome of the Divine Institutes

Addressed to His Brother Pentadius.

Although the books of the Divine Institutions which we wrote a long time since to illustrate the truth and religion, may so prepare and mould the minds of the readers, that their length may not produce disgust, nor their copiousness be burthensome; nevertheless you desire, O brother Pentadius, that an epitome of them should be made for you, I suppose for this reason, that I may write something to you, and that your name may be rendered famous by my work, such as it is. I will comply with your desire, although it seems a difficult matter to comprise within the compass of one book those things which have been treated of in seven large volumes.2 For the whole matter becomes less full when so great a multitude of subjects is to be compressed within a narrow space; and it becomes less clear by its very brevity, especially since many arguments and examples, on which the elucidation of the proofs depends, must of necessity be omitted, since their copiousness is so great, that even by themselves they are enough to make up a book. And when these are removed, what can appear useful, what plain? But I will strive as much as the subject permits, both to contract that which is diffuse and to shorten that which is long; in such a manner, however, that in this work, in which truth is to be brought to light, matter may not seem to be wanting for copiousness, nor clearness for understanding it.3

First a question arises: Whether there is any providence which made or governs the world? That there is, no one doubts, since of almost all the philosophers, except the school of Epicurus, there is but one voice and one opinion, that the world could not have been made without a contriver, and that it cannot exist without a ruler. Therefore Epicurus is refuted not only by the most learned men, but also by the testimonies and perceptions of all mortals. For who can doubt respecting a providence, when he sees that the heavens and the earth have been so arranged and that all things have been so regulated, that they might be most befittingly adapted, not only to wonderful beauty and adornment, but also to the use of men, and the convenience of the other living creatures? That, therefore, which exists in accordance with a plan, cannot have had its beginning without a plan: thus4 it is certain that there is a providence.

Another question follows: Whether there be one God or more? And this indeed contains much ambiguity. For not only do individuals differ among themselves, but also peoples and nations. But he who shall follow the guidance of reason will understand that there cannot be a Lord except one, nor a Father except one. For if God, who made all things, is also Lord and Father, He must be one only, so that the same may be the head and source of all things. Nor is it possible for the world5 to exist unless all things be referred to one person, unless one hold the rudder, unless one guide the reins, and, as it were, one mind direct all the members of the body. If there are many kings in a swarm of bees, they will perish or be scattered abroad, while

If there are several leaders in a herd, they will contend until one gains the mastery.7 If there are many commanders in an army, the soldiers cannot obey, since different commands are given; nor can unity be maintained by themselves, since each consults his own interests according to his humours.8 Thus, in this commonwealth of the world, unless there were one ruler, who was also its founder, either this mass would be dissolved, or it could not have been put together at all.

Moreover, the whole authority, could not exist in many deities, since they separately maintain their own duties and their own prerogatives. No one, therefore, of them can be called omnipotent, which is the true title of God, since he will be able to accomplish that only which depends upon himself, and will not venture to attempt that which depends upon others. Vulcan will not claim for himself water, nor Neptune fire; nor will Ceres claim acquaintance with the arts, nor Minerva with fruits; nor will Mercury lay claim to arms, nor Mars to the lyre; Jupiter will not claim medicine, nor Aesculapius the thunderbolt: he will more easily endure it when thrown by another, than he will brandish it himself. If, therefore, individuals cannot do all things, they have less strength and less power; but he is to be regarded as God who can accomplish the whole, and not he who can only accomplish the smallest part of the whole.

There is, then, one God, perfect, eternal, incorruptible, incapable of suffering, subject to no circumstance or power, Himself possessing all things, ruling all things, whom the human mind can neither estimate in thought nor mortal tongue describe in speech. For He is too elevated and great to be conceived by the thought, or expressed by the language of man. In short, not to speak of the prophets, the preachers of the one God, poets also, and philosophers, and inspired women,9 utter their testimony to the unity of God. Orpheus speaks of the surpassing God who made the heaven and the sun, with the other heavenly bodies; who made the earth and the seas. Also our own Maro calls the Supreme God at one time a spirit, at another time a mind, and says that it, as though infused into limbs, puts in motion the body of the whole world; also, that God permeates the heights of heaven, the tracts of the sea and lands, and that all living creatures derive their life from Him. Even Ovid was not ignorant that the world was prepared by God, whom he sometimes calls the framer of all things, sometimes the fabricator of the world.10

But let us come to the philosophers, whose authority is regarded as more certain than that of the poets. Plato asserts His monarchy, saying that there is but one God, by whom the world was prepared and completed with wonderful order. Aristotle, his disciple, admits that there is one mind which presides over the world. Antisthenes says that there is one who is God by nature,11 the governor of the whole system. It would be a long task to recount the statements which have been made respecting the Supreme God, either by Thales, or by Pythagoras and Anaximenes before him, or afterwards by the Stoics Cleanthes and Chrysippus and Zeno, or of our countrymen, by Seneca following the Stoics, and by Tullius himself, since all these attempted to define the being of God,12 and affirmed that the world is ruled by Him alone, and that He is not subject to any nature, since all nature derives its origin from Him.

Hermes, who, on account of his virtue and his knowledge of many arts, deserved the name of Trismegistus, who preceded the philosophers in the antiquity of his doctrine, and who is reverenced by the Egyptians as a god, in asserting the majesty of the one God with infinite praises, calls Him Lord and Father. and says that He is without a name because He does not stand in need of a proper name, inasmuch as He is alone, and that He has no parents, since He exists of Himself and by Himself. In writing to his son he thus begins: To understand God is difficult, to describe Him in speech is impossible, even for one to whom it is possible to understand Him; for the perfect cannot be comprehended by the imperfect, nor the invisible by the visible.

It remains to speak of the prophetic women. Varro relates that there were ten Sibyls,-the first of the Persians, the second the Libyan, the third the Delphian, the fourth the Cimmerian, the fifth the Erythraean, the sixth the Samian, the seventh the Cumaean, the eighth the Hellespontian, the ninth the Phrygian, the tenth the Tiburtine, who has the name of Albunea. Of all these, he says that there are three books of the Cumaean alone which contain the fates of the Romans, and are accounted sacred, but that there exist. and are commonly regarded as separate, books of almost all the others, but that they are entitled, as though by one name, Sibylline books, excepting that the Erythraean, who is said to have lived in the times of the Trojan war, placed her name in her book: the writings of the others are mixed together.13

All these Sibyls of whom I have spoken, except the Cumaean, whom none but the Quindecemviri14 are allowed to read, bear witness that there is but one God, the ruler, the maker, the parent, not begotten of any, but sprung from Himself, who was from all ages, and will be to all ages; and therefore is alone worthy of being worshipped, alone of being feared, alone of being reverenced, by all living beings;-whose testimonies I have omitted because I was unable to abridge them; but if you wish to see them, you must have recourse to the books themselves. Now let us follow up the remaining subjects.

These testimonies, therefore, so many and so great, clearly teach that there is but one government in the world, and one power, the origin of which cannot be imagined, or its force described. They are foolish, therefore, who imagine that the gods were born of marriage, since the sexes themselves, and the intercourse between them, were given to mortals by God for this reason, that every race might be preserved by a succession of offspring. But what need have the immortals either of sex or succession since neither pleasure nor death affects them? Those, therefore, who are reckoned as gods, since it is evident that they were born as men, and that they begat others, were plainly mortals: but they were believed to be gods, because, when they were great and powerful kings, on account of the benefits which they had conferred upon men, they deserved to obtain divine hon-ours after death; and temples and statues being erected to them, their memory was retained and celebrated as that of immortals.

But though almost all nations are persuaded that they are gods, yet their actions, as related both by poets and historians, declare that they were men. Who is ignorant of the times in which Hercules lived, since he both sailed with the Argonauts on their expedition, and having stormed Troy, slew Laomedon, the father of Priam, on account of his perjury? From that time rather more than fifteen hundred years are reckoned. He is said not even to have been born honourably, but to have been sprung from Alcmena by adultery, and to have been himself addicted to the vices of his father. He never abstained from women, or males, and traversed the whole world, not so much for the sake of glory as of lust, nor so much for the slaughter of beasts as for the begetting of children. And though he was unvanquished, yet he was triumphed over by Omphale alone, to whom he gave up his club and lion's skin; and being clothed in a woman's garment, and crouching at a woman's feet, he received his task15 to execute. He afterwards, in a transport of frenzy, killed his little children and his wife Megara. At last, having put on a garment sent by his wife Deianyra, when he was perishing through ulcers, being unable to endure the pain, he constructed for himself a funeral pile on Mount Oeta, and burnt himself alive. Thus it is effected, that although on account of his excellence16 he might have been believed to be a god, nevertheless on account of these things be is believed to have been a man.

Tarquitius relates that Aesculapius was born of doubtful parents, and that on this account he was exposed; and being taken up by hunters, and fed by the teats of a hound, was given to Chiron for instruction. He lived at Epidaurus, and was buried at Cynosurae, as Cicero says,17 when he had been killed by lightning. But Apollo, his father, did not disdain to take charge of another's flock that he might receive a wife;18 and when he had unintentionally killed a boy whom he loved, he inscribed his own lamentations on a flower. Mars, a man of the greatest bravery, was not free from the charge of adultery, since he was made a spectacle, being bound with a chain together with the adulteress.

Castor and Pollux carried off the brides of others, but not with impunity, to whose death and burial Homer bears witness, not with poetical, but simple faith. Mercurius, who was the father of Androgynus by his intrigue with Venus, deserved to be a god, because he invented the lyre and the paloestra. Father Bacchus, after subduing India as a conqueror, having by chance come to Crete, saw Ariadne on the shore, whom Theseus had forced and deserted. Then, being inflamed by love, he united her in marriage to himself, and placed her crown, as the poets say, conspicuously among the stars. The mother of the gods19 herself, while she lived in Phrygia after the banishment and death of her husband, though a widow, and aged, was enamoured of a beautiful youth; and because he was not faithful, she mutilated, and rendered him effeminate: on which account even now she delights in the Galli20 as her priests.

Whence did Ceres bring forth Proserpine, except from debauchery? Whence did Latona bring forth her twins, except from crime? Venus having been subject to the lusts of gods and men, when she reigned in Cyprus, invented the practice of courtesanship, and commanded women to make traffic of themselves, that she might not alone be infamous. Were the virgins themselves, Minerva and Diana, chaste? Whence, then, did Erichthonius arise? Did Vulcan shed his seed upon the ground, and was man born from that as a fungus? Or why did Diana banish Hippolytus either to a retired place, or give him up to a woman, where he might pass his life in solitude among unknown groves, and having now changed his name, might be called Virbius? What do these things signify but impurity, which the poets do not venture to confess?

But respecting the king and father of all these, Jupiter, whom they believe to possess the chief power in heaven,-what power21 had he, who banished his father Saturnus from his kingdom, and pursued him with arms when he fled? What self-restraint had he, who indulged every kind of lust? For he made Alcmena and Leda, the wives of great men, infamous through his adultery: he also, captivated with the beauty of a boy, carried him off with violence as he was hunting and meditating manly things, that he might treat him as a woman. Why should I mention his debaucheries of virgins? and how great a multitude of these there was, is shown by the number of his sons. In the case of Thetis alone he was more temperate. For it bad been predicted that the son whom she should bring forth would be more powerful than his father. Therefore he struggled with his love, that one might not be born greater than himself. He knew, therefore, that he was not of perfect virtue, greatness, and power, since he feared that which he himself had done to his father. Why, therefore, is he called best and greatest, since he both contaminated himself with faults, which is the part of one who is unjust and bad, and feared a greater than himself, which is the part of one who is weak and inferior?

But some one will say that these things are feigned by the poets. This is not the usage of the poets, to feign in such a manner that you fabricate the whole, but so that you cover the actions themselves with a figure, and, as it were, with a variegated veil. Poetic licence has this limit, not that it may invent the whole, which is the part of one who is false and senseless, but that it may change something consistently with reason. They said that Jupiter changed himself into a shower of gold, that he might deceive Danae. What is a shower of gold? Plainly golden coins, by offering a great quantity of which, and pouring them into her bosom, he corrupted the frailty of her virgin soul by this bribe. Thus also they speak of a shower of iron, when they wish to signify a multitude of javelins. He carried off his catamite upon an eagle. What is the eagle? Truly a legion, since the figure of this animal is the standard of the legion. He carried Europa across the sea on a bull. What is the bull? Clearly a ship, which had its tutelary image22 fashioned in the shape of a bull. So assuredly the daughter of Inachus was not turned into a cow, nor as such did she swim across, but she escaped the anger of Juno in a ship which had the form of a cow. Lastly, when she had been conveyed to Egypt, she became Isis, whose voyage is celebrated on a fixed day, in memory of her flight.

You see, then, that the poets did not invent all things, and that they prefigured some things, that, when they spoke the truth, they might add something like this of divinity to those whom they called gods; as they did also respecting their kingdoms. For when they say that Jupiter had by lot the kingdom of Coelus, they either menu Mount Olympus, on which ancient stories relate that Saturnus, and afterwards Jupiter, dwelt, or a part of the East, which is, as it were, higher, because the light arises thence; but the region of the West is lower, and therefore they say that Pluto obtained the lower regions; but that the sea was given to Neptune, because he had the maritime coast, with all the islands. Many things are thus coloured by the poets; and they who are ignorant of this, censure them as false, but only in word: for in fact they believe them, since they so fashion the images of the gods, that when they make them male and female, and confess that some are married, some parents, and some children, they plainly assent to the poets; for these relations cannot exist without intercourse and the generation of children.

But let us leave the poets; let us come to history, which is supported both by the credibility of the facts and by the antiquity of the times. Euhemerus was a Messenian, a very ancient writer, who gave an account of the origin of Jupiter, and his exploits, and all his posterity, gathered from the sacred inscriptions of ancient temples; he also traced out the parents of the other gods, their countries, actions, commands, and deaths, and even their sepulchres. And this history Ennius translated into Latin, whose words are these:-

"As these things are written, so is the origin and kindred of Jupiter and his brothers; after this manner it is handed clown to us in the sacred writing."

The same Euhemerus therefore relates that Jupiter, when he had five times gone round the world, and had distributed governments to his friends and relatives, and had given laws to men, and had wrought many other benefits, being endued with immortal glory and everlasting remembrance, ended his life in Crete, and departed to the gods, and that his sepulchre is in Crete, in the town of Gnossus, and that upon it is engraved in ancient Greek letters Zankronou, which is Jupiter the son of Saturnus. It is plain, therefore, from the things which I have related, that he was a than, and reigned on the earth.

Let us pass on to former things, that we may discover the origin of the whole error. Saturnus is said to have been born of Coelus and Terra. This is plainly incredible; but there is a certain reason why it is thus related, and he who is ignorant of this rejects it as a fable. That Uranus was the father of Saturnus, both Hermes affirms, and sacred history teaches. When Trismegistus said that there were very few men of perfect learning, he enumerated among them Iris relatives, Uranus, Saturnus. and Mercurius. Euhemerus relates that the same Uranus was the first who reigned on earth, using these words: "In the beginning Coelus first had the chief power on earth: he instituted and prepared that kingdom for himself together with his brothers."23

I have spoken of the religious rites which are common to all nations. I will now speak of the gods which the Romans have peculiar to themselves. Who does not know that the wife of Faustulus, the nurse of Romulus and Remus, in honour of whom the Larentinalia were instituted, was a harlot? And for this reason she was called Lupa, and represented in the form of a wild beast. Faula also and Flora were harlots, of whom the one was the mistress of Hercules, as Verrius relates; the other, having acquired great wealth by her person, made the people her heir, and on this account the games called Floralia are celebrated in her honour.

Tatius consecrated the statue of a woman which had been found in the principal sewer, and called it by the name of the goddess Cloacina. The Romans, being besieged by the Gauls, made engines for throwing weapons of the hair of women; and on this account they erected an altar and temple to Venus Calva:24 also to Jupiter Pistor,25 because he had advised them in a dream to make all their corn into bread, and to throw it upon the enemy; and when this had been done, the Gauls, despairing of being able to reduce the Romans by famine, had abandoned the siege. Tullus Hostilius made Fear and Pallor gods. Mind is also worshipped; but if they had possessed it, they would never, I believe, have thought that it ought to be worshipped. Marcellus originated Honour and Virtue.

But the senate also instituted other false gods of this kind,-Hope, Faith, Concord, Peace, Chastity, Piety; all of which, since they ought truly to be in the minds of men, they have falsely placed within walls. But although these have no substantial existence outside of man, nevertheless I should prefer that they should be worshipped, rather than Blight or Fever, which ought not to be consecrated, but rather to be execrated; than Fornax, together with her sacred ovens; than Stercutus, who first showed men to enrich the ground with manure; than the goddess Muta, who brought forth the Lares; than Cumina, who presides over the cradles of infants; than Caca, who gave information to Hercules respecting the stealing of his cattle, that he might slay her brother. How many other monstrous and ludicrous fictions there are, respecting which it is grievous to speak! I do not, however, wish to omit notice of Terminus, since it is related that he did not give way even to Jupiter, though he was an unwrought stone. They suppose that he has the custody of the boundaries, and public prayers are offered to him, that he may keep the stone of the Capitol immoveable, and preserve and extend the boundaries of the Roman empire.

Faunas was the first in Latium who introduced these follies, who both instituted bloody sacrifices to his grandfather Saturnus, and wished that his father Picus should be worshipped as a god, and placed Fatua Fauna his wife and sister among the gods, and named her the good goddess. Then at Rome, Numa, who burthened those rude and rustic then with new superstitions, instituted priesthoods, and distributed the gods into families and nations, that he might call off the fierce spirits of the people from the pursuits of arms. Therefore Lucilius, in deriding the folly of those who are slaves to vain superstitions, introduced these verses:-

"Those bugbears26 the Lamiae, which Faunus and Numa Pompilius and others instituted, at these he trembles; he places everything in this. As infant boys believe that every statue of bronze is a living man, so these imagine that all things reigned are true: they believe that statues of bronze contain a heart. It is a painter's27 gallery; nothing is real, everything fictitious."

Tullius also, writing of the nature of the gods, complains that false and fictitious gods have been introduced, and that from thus source have arisen false opinions, and turbulent errors, and almost old womanly superstitions, which opinion ought in comparison28 with others to be esteemed more weighty, because these things were spoken by one who was both a philosopher and a priest.

We have spoken respecting the gods: now we will speak of the rites and practices of their sacred institutions. A human victim used to be immolated to the Cyprian Jupiter, as Teucer had appointed. Thus also the Tauri used to offer strangers to Diana; the Latian Jupiter also was propitiated with human blood. Also before Saturnus, men of sixty years of age, according to the oracle29 of Apollo, were thrown from a bridge into the Tiber. And the Carthaginians not only offered infants to the same Saturnus; but being conquered by the Sicilians, to make an expiation, they immolated two hundred sons of nobles. And not more mild than these are those offerings which are even now made