Salvian, On the Government of God (1930) pp.37-65. Preface and Book 1
Preface, to Salonius : That the salutary purpose of the present work should atone for its lack of the vain adornments of rhetoric
Book I : The government of God proved by the general conviction of mankind, and by his judgment recounted in the books of Moses
[Translated by Eva M. Sanford]
TO THE HOLY BISHOP SALONIUS, SALVIAN SENDS GREETINGS IN THE LORD
Practically all men who have chosen some form of literary composition as a fitting expression of their native genius have taken especial pains, whether they were writing of useful and worthy matters, or of useless and unworthy, to lighten the order of their discourse by the brilliance of their language and to illumine by their style the questions under discussion. It is to style therefore that the majority of writers on secular topics, whether in prose or verse, have paid most attention, not considering sufficiently the necessity of choosing subjects worthy of approbation, provided that whatever they said was either chanted in smooth and elegant verse, or narrated in distinguished prose.1
These authors have sought their own ends, and looking toward their individual praise rather than the benefit of others have not tried to be considered salutary and helpful, but rhetorical and eloquent. Therefore their writings are swollen with vanity, infamous for their falsehood, smeared with filth, or vicious because of their obscene subjects. Trafficking in such unworthy fashion to purchase praise for ingenuity seems to me less a glorification than a condemnation of one's genius. Since we, on the other hand, are lovers of deeds rather than words,2 we seek utility rather than applause. |38
It is not, then, for vain and worldly adornments that we solicit praise, but for salutary prescriptions. Our writings, trifling though they are, shall present no vain lures but actual remedies, calculated not to please idle ears but to benefit the minds of the sick. So do we hope to gain our full reward from heaven.
Now if this healing grace of ours cures the unfavorable opinion of our God held by certain men, it will be no small reward that I have thus aided many. But if no such benefit accrues, the very fact that I have tried to be of service may not be unfruitful. For a mind devoted to a good work and a charitable aim, though it has not achieved full success in its undertaking, is still rewarded for its good intent. At this point then I shall begin. |39
1. By certain men God is said to be careless and neglectful of human actions, on the ground that he neither protects good men nor restrains the wicked; and they claim that this is why at the present time the good are generally wretched and the wicked happy. Since we are dealing with Christians the Holy Scriptures alone should be sufficient to refute this charge. The many who are still somewhat infected by pagan unbelief may perhaps be convinced by the testimony of the greatest pagan philosophers. Let us, then, prove that not even these men had any conception of a God careless and neglectful of the world, though they had no means of really knowing God, since they were outside the true faith and were ignorant of the law through which he is apprehended.
Pythagoras the philosopher, whom Philosophy herself regarded as her master, said in his discourse on the nature and beneficent works of God: "The Soul moves to and fro and is diffused through all parts of the world, and from it all living creatures receive their life..." 3
How then can God be said to neglect the world for which he so far shows his love that he extends his own being through its whole mass? Plato and all the Platonic school confess that God is the controller of all things. The Stoics testify that he remains always as steersman within that which he guides. What truer or more religious conception could they have had of the loving care of God than this comparison with a helmsman? For they clearly understood that as the helmsman never takes his hand from the tiller, so God |40 never in the slightest degree withdraws his care from the world; and as the pilot catching the breezes, avoiding rocks, watching the stars, is completely absorbed, body and soul, in his task, so our God never turns his most gracious eyes from the whole extent of the world, nor takes away the guiding power of his providence, nor removes the indulgence of his most kindly love. Whence comes also that ancient mystic saying by which Maro wished to prove himself no less philosopher than poet: "For God makes his way through all lands and the paths of the sea and the high heavens." 4 Tully also says: "Nor indeed can God himself, who is known by us, be known in any other way than as a mind loosed and free and separated from all mortal matter, understanding all things and moving them." 5 Elsewhere he states that nothing is more immediately present than God;6 by him the world is necessarily ruled. God, therefore, is neither subject nor obedient to any natural force; he himself rules all nature. Unless forsooth we are led by our great wisdom to believe that he, by whom we say all things are ruled, at the same time both rules and neglects them! Since even men outside our faith have been compelled by sheer necessity to say that all things are known by God and are moved and ruled by him, how is it that some now think him careless and neglectful of the world? Is it not he who comprehends all creation by the fineness of his perception, moves it by his strength, rules it by his power, and protects it by his kindness?
I have told you what men preeminent alike in philosophy and eloquence have thought of the majesty and government of the most high God. Moreover, I have cited the noblest masters of both these supreme arts expressly to facilitate my proof that all others have either agreed, or, if they have disagreed, have done so without any authority. And, in fact, I can find none who have differed from this |41 judgment, except for the delirious ravings of the Epicureans and certain of their imitators.7 These last have associated God with carelessness and sloth, just as they have linked pleasure with virtue ---- so it appears that those who entertain this idea are likely to follow the vices of the Epicureans along with their opinion and doctrine.
2. I do not think that we need also use the divine word to prove so obvious a case, especially since the sacred writings furnish such abundant and open refutation of all the claims of ungodly men that, in meeting those of their vile charges which follow, we shall be able to refute more fully those already mentioned. They say that God neglects us entirely, since he neither restrains the wicked nor protects the good, and therefore in this world the condition of the better men is substantially the worse. They contrast the poverty of good men with the wealth of the wicked, their weakness with the strength of the wicked, their constant grief with the others' perpetual joy, their misery and mean estate with the honors and prosperity of sinners.
I wish at the outset to ask those who mourn this state of affairs, or base their accusations on it, this one question: is their grief for the saints, that is, the true and faithful Christians, or for the false impostors? If for the false, it is a needless grief that mourns for the unhappiness of the wicked, since, to be sure, all evil men are made worse by success in their undertakings, and rejoice at the lucky turn of their folly. Yet they ought to be most wretched in order that they may cease to be wicked, that they may cease to apply the name of religion to their most evil gains and to bestow the title of sanctity on their sordid traffickings; in such a case, indeed, a comparison of the misfortunes of sinners with their misdeeds |42 shows that they are less unfortunate than they deserve, for the utmost misfortunes they can suffer leave them still less wretched than they are wicked. It is foolish to grieve for their lack of wealth and happiness. Far less should we lament in the case of the saints, for however unhappy they may seem to men who do not understand their condition, it is impossible for them to be otherwise than happy. Moreover, it is superfluous to think them wretched because of sickness or poverty or any like misfortune, in the midst of which they count themselves happy; for no man is wretched because of other men's judgment, but only in his own.8
So those who are truly happy in their own estimation cannot be unhappy through the false conception of any man; for none, I think, are more fortunate than those who live and act according to their own determination and vows. Religious men are lowly ----they wish to be so; poor ---- they delight in poverty; without ambition---- they spurn it; unesteemed ---- they flee from honors; they mourn ---- but they seek out occasion for mourning; they are weak ----nay, they rejoice in weakness. For the apostle said, "When I am weak, then am I strong." 9 Nor was this opinion held undeservedly by the man to whom God himself spoke thus: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." 10
It is useless for us to bemoan this affliction of bodily illness, which we know is the mother of strength. Therefore, whatever their sorrows may have been, any who are truly religious should be called happy, since amid any hardships or difficulties whatsoever none are happier than those who are what they wish to be. Although we all know individuals whose aims are vile and shameful, who think themselves happy in gaining their desires, yet in actual fact such men are not happy, because they ought not to desire what |43 they do. Moreover, the religious are happier than all others in this, that they have what they wish and at the same time cannot possibly wish for anything better than they have.11 So toil, fasting, poverty, humility and weakness are not burdensome to all who suffer them but only to those who are unwilling to bear them. For the mind of the sufferer determines whether his troubles are heavy or light to endure. Just as no task is so light that it is not heavy to the man who performs it unwillingly, none is so heavy that it does not seem light to him who performs it gladly.12
Or are we perhaps to think that it was a burden to those ancient patterns of virtue, the Fabii, Fabricii and Cincinnati, that they, who did not wish riches, were poor? 13 Remember that they directed all their efforts, all their labor, to the common good, and by their individual poverty contributed to the growing wealth of the state. Surely you do not think that it was with groans and sadness that they endured their famous life of rustic economy, when they ate their cheap country fare before the very fire over which they had cooked it, and delayed even this poor meal until evening? Did they take it ill that they were not piling up talents of gold in the pursuit of miserly wealth, when they were passing laws to restrict the circulation even of silver? Could men who judged a patrician unworthy of the senate because he had wished to increase his wealth |44 to the sum of ten pounds of silver possibly think it a penalty for their illicit greed that they had not their purses stuffed with gold? 14
In those days, I think, men did not despise humble ways of life, when they wore only one short and shaggy garment, when they were summoned from the plow to the dictator's fasces, and, on the point of winning fame in the consular robes, very likely wiped off their dusty sweat on those same imperial togas that they were about to don. In their time the magistrates were poor, but the state wealthy, whereas now the wealth of officials makes the state poor. What madness, I ask you, or what blindness, leads men to think that private fortunes can survive in the midst of the need and beggary of the state? Such were the ancient Romans; so they in their day scorned riches, though they knew not God, just as in ours men who follow the Lord still scorn them.
But why do I speak of those men who in their desire to extend the Roman power turned their scorn of private means to the public enrichment, and while individually poor still had abundance in the common wealth of the state? Even Greek philosophers without any interest in public gain, through sheer greed of glory have been known to strip themselves of almost all articles of common use, and, not content with this, have exalted their creed to the lofty pinnacle of contempt of suffering and death, saying that even in chains and punishment a wise man still is happy.15 They would have it that the power of virtue is so great that a good man can never fail to be content. If, then, certain wise men now think that those men were not unhappy, though they received no reward for their efforts but transient praise, how much more must religious and saintly men cease to be thought wretched, who both enjoy at this present time |45 the delights of their faith, and are to attain as well the reward of eternal blessedness?
3. One of those of whom we complain said to a certain holy man who followed the true doctrine, that is, that God rules all things and tempers his governance and guidance according to his knowledge of human necessities: "Why then, I ask, are you yourself infirm?" His line of reasoning, I suppose, was as follows: "if God, as you think, rules everything in this present life, if he dispenses all fortunes, then how is it that a man whom I know to be a sinner is strong and healthy, whereas you, whose sanctity I do not question, are infirm?"
Who does not marvel at the depth of feeling of one who considers the merits and virtues of a godly man worthy of such great recompense that he thinks they should be rewarded in this present life by the fleshly strength of the body? I answer, therefore, not in the name of any one saint but of them all: "Do you ask, then, whoever you are, how it is that holy men come to be weak? My answer is brief: they make themselves infirm for the express reason that if they are strong, they can hardly be holy."16 I think that men gain strength entirely through their food and drink, and are weak through abstinence, thirst and fasting. Therefore it is not strange that those are weak who scorn the use of the means by which others are made strong. And there is good reason for such scorn, according to the words of the apostle Paul, when he said: "I keep under my body and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." 17 If the apostle himself considered the weakness of the body an end to be sought, who acts wisely in avoiding it? If the apostle feared the strength of the flesh, who rightly presumes to |46 be strong? This, then, is the reason why men who have given themselves over to Christ both are and wish to be weak. Far be it from us to think that holy men are neglected by God for the very reason for which, we trust, they are the more loved by him. We read that the apostle Timothy was most weak in the flesh.18 Was this a sign of God's neglect, or did Timothy through his weakness fail to please Christ, willing as he was to be weak in order to please him? Even so the apostle Paul, though Timothy was suffering from serious infirmities, yet permitted him to take and sip only a very little wine; that is, he wished him to have regard for his weakness but not so far as to attain full vigor.19 And why was this? What other reason could there be but that which he himself has given? "For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary," he says, "the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." 20
It was not without insight that a certain author 21 said in this connection that if the strength of the body prevents us from doing what we wish, the flesh must be weakened in order that we may achieve our desires. For he says: "The weakness of our flesh sharpens the vigor of the mind, and when our limbs are weakened bodily strength is transformed into spiritual virtue. Then our inmost parts no longer seethe with disgraceful passions, and secret desires no longer kindle a diseased mind; our senses do not roam wantonly over various enticements, but the soul alone exults, rejoicing in the weakness of the body as over a defeated adversary." |47
This, as I said, is the cause to which religious men ascribe their infirmities, and you, I think, can no longer deny its validity.
4. But perhaps they have, you say, other and greater sufferings, that is, they endure many hard and bitter trials in this life; they arc captured, tortured and butchered. That is true, but what are we to make of the fact that the prophets were led away into captivity and that the apostles also suffered torments? Surely we cannot doubt that God had the greatest concern for them, since it was for God that they bore these afflictions. But perhaps you claim this as an additional proof that God neglects everything that happens in this life and reserves his whole care for the judgment to come, since the good have always suffered, as the wicked have performed, all things evil. This idea does not seem to be that of an unbeliever, especially as it admits the future judgment of God. But we say that the human race is to be judged by Christ, while yet maintaining that now also God rules and ordains all things in accordance with his reason. While we declare that he will judge in the future, we also teach that he always has judged us in this life. As God always governs, so too he always judges, for his government is itself judgment.
In how many ways do you wish this proved, by reason, or by examples, or by authorities? If you wish it proved by reason, who is so lacking in ordinary human intelligence and so utterly averse to the truth of which we speak, that he does not recognize and see that the surpassing beauty of the created world, the inestimable grandeur of the heavens above and of the regions below are ruled by the same power that created them? He who devised their elements will himself be their governor. He will guide all things by a providence and reason consistent with the majestic power by which he founded them. And certainly, since even in those matters that are conducted by human activity, absolutely nothing exists without reason, and all things derive their security from providence, even as the body derives its life from the soul; so in this world not only |48 empires and provinces, civil and military affairs, but also the lesser offices and private homes, the very sheep and the smaller sorts of domestic animals are controlled by no other means than human ordinance and wisdom, as by a guiding hand on the tiller. All this beyond a doubt is in accordance with the will and judgment of the most high God, that the whole human race should govern the lesser parts, or limbs of the world, following the example of God's government of the whole body of the universe.
But, you suggest, in the beginning the governance of his creatures was so determined and arranged by God; yet after he had formed and perfected the whole scheme of things, he abdicated, and renounced the administration of earthly matters. I suppose you mean to imply that he fled from the idea of toil and repudiated it, that he sought to avoid the annoyance of constant effort. Or was it that, occupied with other business, he abandoned a part of his affairs, since he could not attend to the whole?
5. God then puts far from himself, you say, all thought of mortal men. In that case what rational ground is there for our belief in his divinity? What reason is there for worshipping Christ, or what hope of winning his favor? For if God in this life neglects the human race, why do we daily stretch out our hands toward heaven? Why do we pray so often for the mercy of God? Why do we hasten to the churches? Why kneel in prayer before the altars? There is no reason for praying if the hope of an answer to prayer is taken from us. You see what vain folly lies in the urging of this idea; truly, if it is accepted, nothing at all remains of our religion. But perhaps you take refuge in the argument that we honor God in the fear of a future judgment, and perform all the ritual of our daily worship to gain absolution on the judgment day hereafter. In that case, what was the meaning of the daily preaching of Paul the apostle in the church, and his command that we offer constantly to God our prayers, our entreaties, our requests and our thanksgivings? |49
What is the purpose of all this? What else than, as he himself says, "that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all chastity?" 22 For our present needs, as we see, he orders us to pray and beseech the Lord. Surely he would not command this if he were not sure that God hearkens to prayer. How can any one suppose that the ears of God are open for the granting of boons at some future time, but deaf and blocked against immediate petitions? Or what leads us when praying in the church to ask God for present safety, if we think that he does not listen at all to our prayers? In that case we should make no vows for our safety and prosperity.
Perhaps, to the end that the modesty of the request may win favor for the voice of the petitioner, we should rather pray thus: "Lord, we do not seek prosperity in this life, nor beseech you for immediate favors, for we know that your ears are closed to such petitions and that you do not listen to such prayers, but we ask only for those favors that shall be granted us after our death."
Granted that such a petition is not without value, on what rational basis does it rest? For if God is without interest in this life, and closes his ears to the prayers of his suppliants, then doubtless he who does not hear our present pleas is deaf also to our prayers for the future. Are we to believe that Christ listens or denies his attention according to the diverse nature of our prayers, that lie closes his ears when we ask for present boons, and opens them when we ask for blessings to come? But enough of this. The arguments are so stupid and frivolous that one needs to beware lest what is said for the honor of God seem injurious to him. For so great and terrible is the reverence due to his sacred majesty that we should not only shudder at the arguments of our opponents, but should also make our defence of religion with due fear and circumspection.
If, therefore, it is stupid and impious to believe that the divine love despises the care of human affairs, then God does not despise |50 it; moreover, if he does not scorn it, he governs; if he governs, he judges by the very exercise of his government, since there can be no rule without the constant exercise of judgment on the part of the ruler.
6. Perhaps some one may think a proof too insecure that rests on reason alone without the support of authority. Let us see how God has ruled the world from the beginning; for by demonstrating that he has always ruled the universe, we shall prove that he has at the same time exercised judgment.
What is the testimony of the Scriptures? "Therefore God formed man of clay and breathed into him the breath of life." And what followed? " He placed him in a paradise of pleasure." 23 What next? What else than that he gave him law, filled him with his commands, formed him by his instruction? But what happened then? Man transgressed the sacred ordinance, underwent judgment, lost paradise and suffered the penalty of damnation. Who can fail to see God as both governor and judge in this whole account? For he placed Adam in paradise in innocence; he expelled him in guilt. In Adam's establishment we see the divine ordinance; in his expulsion, the divine judgment. For when God set man in a place of delight, he ordained his way of life; but when he expelled him in guilt from that realm, he exercised judgment. This then is the story of the first man, that is, of the father.
What of the second, the son? "In process of time it came to pass," say the Holy Scriptures, "that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect." 24
Before I speak of the more obvious judgment of God, I think that even in the account just given there is a certain indication of |51 judgment; for in the act of receiving one brother's sacrifice and rejecting the other God gave a most open verdict as to the justice of the one and the injustice of the other. But this was not enough. Thereafter Cain paved the way for his later crimes by leading his brother into the wilderness; in the friendly protection of the desert he committed his murder. He proved himself at once the most wicked and most stupid of men, since he thought he had sufficient secrecy for the most evil and abhorrent act if he avoided the sight of men when about to commit fratricide with God as his witness.
Whence I think he had this same idea that is now so prevalent, that God does not behold things done on earth and does not see any of the acts of wicked men. Nor is there any doubt of this, since, when he was admitted to speech with God after the commission of his crime, he answered that he knew nothing of his brother's death. He was so sure of God's ignorance of his deed, that he thought the most deadly wrong could be hidden by a mere lie.
But the event proved other than he anticipated. For though he thought his fratricide unseen by God, his condemnation taught him that God had seen. I now have one question to ask of those who deny that human affairs are regarded by God or ruled or judged by him: are all the circumstances different in these accounts that we have given? For I think that he is present who is concerned in the sacrifice; he rules who rebukes Cain after his sacrifice; he is anxious who requires the victim of the murderer; he judges who condemns the wicked slayer by a just verdict.
In this incident, indeed, there is yet another point convenient to our argument. Surely we are not to wonder that holy men are now suffering certain hardships, since we see that God even at that time permitted the first of his saints to be most wickedly slain. As to the reason why he permits such actions, it is not within the power of human weakness to discover fully, nor is this a fit occasion for such discussion. For the present it is enough to prove that deeds |52 of this sort do not occur because of the negligence or inattention of God, but are permitted by the dispensation of his wisdom. Moreover, we can by no means call him unjust, for the will of God is the highest justice; nor does a divine action cease to be righteous because man is incapable of grasping the workings of the divine justice. But let us return to the main argument.
7. We have seen in the accounts already given that nothing is done without the care of God, but that some of these actions were so arranged by his divine wisdom, some endured by his forbearance, some punished by his sentence. Certain people, perhaps, think that these few cases do not sufficiently establish our contention; let us see if we can make it completely clear through the experience of all men.
When, therefore, the human race had increased and multiplied alike in numbers and in wickedness, as the Holy Scripture says: "God seeing that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, repented that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart, and he said: 'I will destroy man whom. I have created, from the face of the earth.' " 25
Let us consider how both the care of God and his severity are equally shown in the whole account. For first we read, "moreover God seeing"; secondly, "it grieved him at his heart"; and thirdly, "he said, 'I will destroy man whom I have created.'" In the first statement, that God sees all things, his care is shown; in the statement that he grieves is shown the terror of his wrath; that he punishes, his severity as a judge. "God therefore repented," says the Holy Scripture, "that he had made man on the earth"; this does not indicate that God is subject to repentance or any other emotion, but rather that the divine word, to further our understanding of the true meaning of the Scriptures, speaks to us in terms of human feeling and shows the force of God's anger under |53 the name of repentance; moreover, the divine wrath is the punishment of the sinner.
What followed then? When God saw that the earth was corrupt he said to Noah: "The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them: and behold, I will destroy them with the earth." 26 What happened next? "All the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the flood-gates of heaven were opened and the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights." 27 And a little later: "All flesh died that moved upon the earth." And again: "And Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark." 28
Now I wish to ask those who say that God neglects human fortunes whether they believe that at this time he cared for earthly matters and judged them? I think he not merely judged but gave a twofold judgment; for in preserving the good he proved himself a generous giver of rewards, and in destroying the wicked, a severe judge.
Perhaps these instances may seem to stupid wits to lack authority, since they happened before the Flood ---- in another age, as it were. As if we could assume that God was different at that time, and afterwards ceased to desire to exercise the same care for the world! Indeed, by the divine grace I could prove my statements by examples from all generations since the Flood, but their great number forbids. However, certain of the more important instances will suffice, for since God is undoubtedly the same in the greater and the lesser cases, the lesser may be inferred from the greater.
8. After the Flood God blessed the generation of men, and when this blessing had brought forth an immeasurable host of men, God spoke to Abraham from heaven, ordering him to leave his own land and go to a strange country. He was called, he followed; he |54 was guided and established; from a poor man he became rich; from an obscure man, powerful. Though reduced by his journeyings to the lowest estate, he came to be most high in honor. Yet in order that the previous gifts of God to him should not seem undeserved generosity, he who rejoiced in prosperity was tested in adversity. Then came toil, danger and fear; he was vexed by travelling, worn out by exile, visited with shame, and deprived of his wife. God ordered him to sacrifice his son; the father offered his child, and so far as the resolution of his heart was concerned, performed the sacrifice. Again came periods of exile, again fear, the hatred of the Philistines, the rapine of Abimelech ---- many evils, yet compensated by equal consolations, for though he was afflicted in many things, yet was he rewarded for them all.
What conclusion are we to draw? In all the events which we have recounted, is not God seen examining Abraham, inviting and leading him, anxious for him, his sponsor, protector, benefactor, testing and exalting him, at once his avenger and his judge? Surely he examined him, for he chose him as the one best man of them all; he invited him, for he called him; he was his guide, leading him through in safety to unknown lands; anxious for him, for he visited him by the oak tree; his sponsor, in promises of things to come; his protector, guarding him among barbarous races; his benefactor, in that he enriched him; his examiner, in that he wished to test him by harsh trials; his exalter, for he made him powerful beyond all men; his avenger, for he avenged him on his adversaries; his judge, for in avenging him he exercised judgment.
Moreover, God at once added another item to this history when he said: "The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is grown great, and their sin is increased overmuch." 29 The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, he said, is grown great. He said well that sins cry out, for without doubt the cry of sinners is great, as it ascends from earth to heaven. Why does he speak of men's sins as crying out? |55 Certainly because he means that his ears are smitten by the cries of our sins, that the punishment of sinners may not be delayed. Truly, it is a cry, and a great cry, when the fatherly love of God is overcome by the cries of sin, so that he is compelled to punish the sinners.30
God showed how unwillingly he punishes even the worst of sinners, when he said that the cry of Sodom ascended to him. That is to say: "My mercy indeed persuades me to spare them; nevertheless the cry of their sins compels me to punish." When he had said this, what resulted? Angels were sent to Sodom; they set out, and entered the city; they were treated hospitably by the good and injuriously by the wicked; the wicked were blinded and the good saved. Lot, with his dear ones who honored God, was led out of the city; Sodom itself was burned with its wicked inhabitants.
I ask at this point whether it was in accordance with justice or contrary to it that God burned these wicked men? He who says that the Sodomites were unjustly punished by God accuses him of injustice; if, on the other hand, God justly destroyed those evil men, he judged them.
Surely he judged them, and indeed his judgment clearly foreshadowed that which is to come. For it is well known that in time to come Gehenna will be in flames for the punishment of the wicked, just as flames from heaven then consumed the city of Sodom and its neighbors. Moreover, God wished his immediate action to prefigure that coming judgment, when he sent Gehenna down out of heaven upon an impious people. So the apostle also says that God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by their overthrow, making them an example to those that hereafter should live ungodly lives,31 although his action on that occasion had in it more |56 of mercy than of severity. For that he so long delayed their punishment was due to his mercy; that he finally punished them, to his justice. So when God sent his angels to Sodom, he wished to prove to us that he is loath to punish even wicked men; to the end that when we should read what insults the angels endured from the people of Sodom, and see plainly the enormity of their crimes, the disgraceful character of their vices and the obscenity of their lusts, he might prove to us that he did not wish to destroy them, but they themselves forced their destruction on him.
9. I might mention countless further examples, but I am afraid that in my effort to give adequate proof I may seem to have composed a whole history. Moses pasturing his sheep in the desert saw a bush burning, heard God from the midst of the bush and received his commands. He was exalted in power and was sent to Pharaoh; he spoke with him, was scorned, but conquered. The Egyptian was struck down, Pharaoh's disobedience was smitten, and not in one way alone, but many, to the end that he should be tortured by a diversity of punishments in consideration of the greatness of his sacrilege. What was the outcome? Ten times he rebelled; ten times he was smitten. What is our conclusion? I think you must recognize that in all these cases God shows equally his care for human affairs and his judgment of them.
In Egypt, indeed, the judgment of God at that time was evidently not single but manifold. For as often as he smote the rebellious Egyptians, so often he judged them. But after the events already told, what happened? Israel was dismissed; after celebrating the Passover they despoiled the Egyptians and departed in wealth. Pharaoh repented, gathered his army, overtook the fugitives, encamped beside them, was separated from them by the darkness; the sea was dried up, Israel crossed over and by the friendly withdrawal of the waves was set free. Pharaoh followed, the sea rolled over him, and he was drowned by the engulfing waves. |57
I think that the judgment of God has been made clear in these events, and indeed not merely his judgment but also his moderation and patience. For it was due to his patience that the Egyptians in their rebellion were often smitten, to his judgment that for their persistent stubbornness they were condemned to death. Therefore, after this series of adventures the race of the Hebrews, victorious without warfare, entered the desert. They followed an uncharted course, pathless wanderers, with God to lead the way, honored by his divine comradeship, powerful through their heavenly leader, following a moving column of cloud by day, of fire by night, which took on shifting changes of color to suit the changing skies, that its dull obscurity might stand out in contrast to the strong light of day and its flaming splendor illumine by its clear glow the mists of night.
Add to this the springs that suddenly gushed forth, add the bitter waters given and changed, keeping their old appearance but changing their character. Add mountain peaks cleft open by streams gushing forth, dusty fields foaming with new torrents. Add flocks of birds sent into the camp of the wanderers, since God in his most indulgent love catered not only to the needs but also to the palates of his people; the food granted throughout forty years by the daily ministry of the stars, the dew of sweet morsels shed from the poles, offering abundance not merely for nourishment but for delight. Add that the men experienced in no part of their bodies the growth or losses natural to human beings, their nails did not grow, nor their teeth decay, their hair stayed always of one length, their feet were not worn by the march, their clothing was not tattered, their shoes not broken, and thus the honor granted to the men themselves was even sufficient to dignify their mean garments.32 Add to all this God descending to earth to instruct his |58 people, lending himself, God the Son,33 to earthly sight, the countless throngs of people admitted to familiar intercourse with him, waxing strong in the power of his sacred intimacy.
Add to this the thunders, the lightnings, the terrifying blasts of celestial trumpets, the fearful crashing over the whole sky, the poles rumbling with a holy sound, the fires, mists and clouds filled with the very presence of God, God speaking to man face to face, the law resounding from his holy lips, the letters inscribed in minutest accuracy on the stone page by the finger of God, the stone become a written scroll, the people learning and God teaching in a school of heaven and earth commingled, almost a union of men and angels.
For it is written that when Moses had taken the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to him: "Lo, now I come to thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee." 34 And a little later: "Lo, there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount." 35 Again: "And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount." 36 Again: "And the Lord talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man at his tent door. And the Lord spake unto Moses, face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." 37
In view of all this, does God seem to take any thought for men, giving them such great gifts, helping them so much, sharing his speech with a vile mortal, as if admitting him to converse in his |59 sacred fellowship, opening before him his hands filled with immortal riches, nourishing him with a cup of nectar, feeding him with celestial food? What greater care, I ask, could his guidance afford, what greater love could he show, than possession in the course of this present life of such a mirror of future blessedness?
10. Perhaps at this juncture you may answer that God did once exercise such care for men, but now does not at all. Why should we believe this? Because we do not now eat manna daily as the Israelites did? But we reap fields full of grain at the harvest. Because we do not catch quails that fly into our hands? But we devour all kinds of birds, cattle and beasts. Because we are not granted waters gushing from clefts opened in the rocks? But we pour the fruits of our vines into our wine cellars. I have more to add: we ourselves, who say that the children of Israel at that time were cared for by God but that we are neglected by him, would absolutely reject the choice of their condition if we could receive their past favors in exchange for our present benefits. For we should not be willing to lose what we now have in order to gain what they then enjoyed, not that we are better off than the Israelites were, but that they too, who were then daily fed by the ministry of the stars and of God, preferred the old accustomed fodder for their bellies to the favors they enjoyed. They were actually sad at their vile recollections of carnal foods, pining away with a vulgar yearning for onions and garlic, not because their former diet was more wholesome, but because they acted just as we do now. They loathed what they had and longed for what they lacked. We would rather praise bygone days than the present, not that we should prefer to revive the past if the choice were given us, but because it is a well-known failing of the human mind always to desire what it lacks, and, as the proverb says, "Another's goods please us, and ours please others more." 38 |60
To this may be added a trait shared by almost all, of being forever ungrateful to God, and all in turn are bound by the deep-rooted and inborn vice of belittling the blessings God gives, in order that they may not feel obliged to look on themselves as his debtors.
But enough of this: let us at last return to our original proposition. I think we have made no slight progress toward proving the point; still let me add one instance more, if you please, since it is better to prove a matter more fully than is necessary than to risk falling short of conviction.39
11. Freed from Pharaoh's yoke the people of the Hebrews transgressed near Mount Sinai, and were at once smitten by the Lord for their transgression. For it is written: "And the Lord plagued the people for their delusion concerning the calf which Aaron made." 40 What greater and clearer judgment could God give concerning sinners than that punishment should overtake them forthwith in the midst of their sin? Yet since all the people were guilty, why was not destruction visited on all alike? Surely because the Lord, loving them, smote some with the sword of his sentence, in order to correct the others by their example, and to prove to all at one time his censure in chastising their sin and his affection in pardoning them. For his censure was shown in the punishment, his mercy in the pardon, though disproportionately, for on that occasion he yielded more to mercy than to severity.
Surely then, since our most indulgent Lord shows himself always more prone to mercy than to punishment, even though in punishing a part of the Jewish host by his divine censure he gave some scope to judgment and severity, yet his love claimed the greater portion of the people ---- a special and peculiar act of mercy to countless |61 men that the punishment might not destroy all who were implicated in the guilt. But toward certain individuals and families, as we read, the censure of God was inexorable. Such an instance is that of the man who, when the people rested on the Sabbath day, presumed to gather wood and was killed. For although his action seemed harmless in itself, yet the observance of the day made it sinful. Or the time when two men were contesting with each other, and one, since he had blasphemed, was punished by death. For it is written: "Lo the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and this son of an Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp; and the Israelitish woman's son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him to Moses." And a little later: "And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be showed them. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 'Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp ; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.' " 41
Was not God's judgment immediate and manifest and his sentence pronounced as if the heavenly decision followed the forms of our legal procedure? First the man who had sinned was arrested, then he was led, so to speak, before the judge's seat, thirdly accused and then put into prison, lastly punished by the authority of the divine judgment; furthermore he was not only punished but punished in accordance with evidence given, so that God's justice and not merely his power was seen to condemn his guilt. This truly was meant as an example working toward the correction of all men, so that none should commit thereafter the deed which all the people had punished in one person. For this reason and by this judgment the Lord does all things now and has always done them, that whatever penalties individuals have to bear should work toward the correction of all. |62
So it was also when Abihu and Nadab, men of priestly blood, were consumed by fire from heaven, in whose case, to be sure, the Lord wished to show not merely judgment but judgment immediately impending. For it is written that when the fire sent by the Lord had consumed the burnt offering: "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them and they died before the Lord." 42 What else did he wish than to show his right hand stretched over us, and his sword ever threatening? For he punished the errors of the aforesaid men at once, in their very act, and the crime of the sinners was scarcely committed before punishment was exacted for their misdeeds.
Yet not only this was accomplished in their case, but much else besides, For, as in these men not a wicked intention but only a misguided impulse was punished, the Lord surely made clear what punishment any one would deserve who committed a sin through contempt of the divine power, since even those who had sinned only through thoughtlessness were struck down by God ---- or how guilty they would be who acted contrary to his command, when those who merely acted without his command were thus stricken. God also wished to further our correction by a salutary example, that all laymen should understand how much they ought to fear the wrath of God, since neither did the high priest's merits rescue his sons from instant punishment, nor did the privilege of the sacred ministry redeem them.
But why do I speak of men whose ill-advised action really did in some measure affect God and work injury to his divinity? Mary spoke against Moses and was punished; she was not only punished, but punished in due course of trial. For first she was called to justice, then accused, and thirdly chastised. In the accusation she |63 learned the full force of her sentence, and in her leprosy she paid full atonement for her crime ---- yet this punishment humbled not Mary alone, but Aaron as well. For, though it was unsuitable for the high priest to be deformed by leprosy, yet the correction of the Lord plagued him also. Nor was this all. In the punishment that Mary suffered, Aaron too was involved, as sharer in her guilt; Mary indeed was punished that Aaron might be put to confusion.
Furthermore, that we might recognize in the individual cases that the form of the divine judgment is inexorable, God did not even yield to the intercession of the injured party. For we read that the Lord spoke thus to Aaron and Mary:
"Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed. And behold, Mary became leprous, and white as snow: and Moses cried unto the Lord, saying: "Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee." And the Lord said unto Moses: "If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again." 43
These things that we have told should be sufficient for this division of the argument and for this part of our work; for it is an endless task to discuss all the cases; indeed, it would be overlong merely to enumerate them without any discussion. But let me add one more instance.
12. The people of the Hebrews repented having gone out of Egypt; they were struck down: then they grieved at the weariness and toil of the journey, and were afflicted: they desired flesh-meat, and were smitten. And because, eating manna daily, they desired to satiate the cravings of their bellies with illicit foods, they were sated indeed in their passionate greed, but tortured in that very satiety. "For while their food was still in their mouths," says the Scripture, "the wrath of God came upon them, and slew very many of them and smote down the chosen men of Israel." 44 |64
Og rebelled against Moses: he was blotted out. Korah taunted him: he was overwhelmed. Dathan and Abiram murmured against him: they were swallowed up. "For the earth opened and swallowed Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram." 45 Two hundred and fifty leaders of the people also, as the sacred narrative testifies, who were called upon by name to speak at the time of the council, rose against Moses. "And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them: 'Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?' " And what happened after this? "There came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense." 46
When such deeds were committed, heavenly mercy was of no avail. Correction was administered again and again, yet improvement did not follow. For just as we are chastised again and again, and do not improve, so they too, though constantly struck down, did not mend their ways. For what is written? "But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, 'Ye have killed the people of the Lord.' " 47
What happened then? Fourteen thousand seven hundred men were struck down at once and consumed by divine fire. Since all the multitude of the people sinned, why did not the punishment fall on all alike? Especially since, as I said before, no one escaped from Koran's sedition. Why did God on the former occasion wish all the assemblage of sinners to be killed, but at this time a portion only? Surely because the Lord is full of justice and mercy and therefore his indulgence causes many concessions to his love, and his discipline to his severity. And so on the one occasion he gave first place |65 to discipline that the punishment of all the guilty might redound to the general betterment; on the other he yielded precedence to mercy, that the whole people might not perish. Although he acted with such mercy, yet because the punishment so often repeated for a part of the people did not profit them, finally he condemned them all to death. This example should contribute to our fear and our correction alike, that we, failing to be improved by their example, may not come to be punished by a destruction like theirs.
There is no doubt what their end was. Although the whole race of the Hebrews went out of Egypt to enter the promised land, yet not one of them entered it save two holy men alone. For it is written: "The Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying: 'How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears this day, so will I do to you: your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness!'" What followed? "Your little ones," he said, "which you said would be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness." And what then? " All died and were struck down in the sight of the Lord." 48
What detail is lacking in this whole account? Would you see a ruler? Behold him, correcting present sins and disposing the future. Would you see a severe judge? Behold, he punishes the guilty. Would you see a just and loving judge? Behold, he spares the innocent. Would you see the judge of the whole world? Behold, his judgment is in all places. For as judge he accuses and as judge he rules; as judge he pronounces sentence; as judge he destroys the guilty, and as judge he rewards the innocent.
[Footnotes moved to the end and renumbered]
1. 1 As is usually the case with writers trained in the later Roman rhetorical schools, Salvian's disclaimer of any interest in rhetorical style leads him to use an elaborate phraseology in his preface, somewhat at variance with his usual simpler and more colloquial style.
2. 2 See Seneca De tranquillitate vitae I. 1, and IV. 1, infra. In these notes, references without title are to Salvian, De gubernatione Dei (On the Government of God): Ad ecclesiam refers to the treatise To the Church against Avarice; Ep. to the Letters.
3. 1 See Cicero De natura deorum I. 11. 27. Salvian, however, cited the passage from Lactantius Institutiones divinae I. 5. 17. The best discussion of Salvian's borrowings from Lactantius will be found in Zschimmer, Salvianus und seine Schriften, p. 62.
4. 2 Quoted by Lactantius op. cit. I. 5. 12 from Vergil Georgics IV. 221-222.
5. 3 Ibid. I. 5. 25, quoted from. Cicero Disputationes Tusculanae I. 27. 66.
6. 4 Cited by Lactantius op. cit. I. 5. 24 as from Cicero Do natura deorum, but the passage is not found there.
7. 5 The early Christian attitude toward the Epicureans was regularly hostile, in striking contrast to their ready recognition of the kinship between the Stoic philosophy and Christianity. The Epicurean denial of any divine government of the world was in itself sufficient to lead Salvian to condemn their doctrines.
8. 6 See Seneca De remediis fortuitorum XVI, end: "The happy man is not he who seems such to others, but to himself."
9. 7 II Corinthians 12. 10.
10. 8 Ibid. 12. 9.
11. 9 A conception of the religious life common throughout the Middle Ages, and mirroring for the saints in this life the future joys of paradise. Compare the familiar line from the hymn of Peter Damiani:
"Avidi et semper pleni, quod habent desiderant."
12. 10 See Salvian Ad ecclesiam IV. 9. 49: "Every command is hard that is given to unwilling men."
13. 11 These were among the best-known examples of early Roman virtue; cf. H. W. Litchfield, "National Exempla Virtutis in Eoman Literature," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, XXV (1914), 1-71. All these are cited in Valerius Maximus IV. 3-4, as examples of abstinence, continence and poverty, and were used by Christian writers from Augustine and Orosius to modern times to illustrate the same virtues. The contrast between Roman and Greek ambition which follows was also a commonplace before Salvian's time, and has been since.
14. 12 See the story of Cornelius Rufinus in Valerius Maximus II. 9. 4; Tertullian Apologeticum 6.
15. 13 A stock characteristic of the Stoic and the Epicurean sage: cf. Seneca Epistulae morales lxvi. 18; Cicero Disputationes Tusculanae II. 7. 17, De finibus 11. 27.
16. 14 See Salvian Ep. V. 3: "Although I do not think that even this infirmity of your earthly vessel has been harmful to you, for its strength, as you know, is always hostile to the mind; so that I am right in thinking you as much stronger now in spirit, as you have begun to be weaker in the flesh."
17. 15 I Corinthians 9. 27.
18. 16 In common with others of his time, Salvian used the term "apostle" more loosely than we do now.
19. 17 See I Timothy 5.23. An excellent example of Salvian's occasional readiness to distort Scripture for his purpose, perhaps justifiable in this case because of the frequent misuse of the same text by other authors, to support both sides of the same argument.
20. 18 Galatians 5.17.
21. 19 Salvian, in Ep. V. 4, his letter to "sister Cattura," in which he congratulates her not only on recovery from an illness but also on the illness itself, which had strengthened her soul at the expense of her body. See also note 14.
22. 20 I Timothy 2. 2.
23. 21 Genesis 2. 7-8.
24. 22 Ibid. 4. 3-5.
25. 23 Ibid. 6.5-7.
26. 24 Ibid. 6.13.
27. 25 Ibid. 7. 11-12.
28. 26 Ibid. 7. 21, 23.
29. 27 Ibid. 18.20.
30. 28 Rittershausen, Salviani opera (Altdorf 1611), ad loc, cites a verse listing the five sins that were proverbially said to cry for justice to heaven:
"Clamitat in caelum vox sanguinis, et Sodomorum,
vox oppressorum, viduae, pretium famulorum."
31. 29 II Peter 2. 6.
32. 30 Another instance of details added without scriptural authority: in fact the instances of leprosy and death among the Israelites during the march seem directly contradictory to Salvian's statements.
33. 31 Again an addition not justified by the words of the Old Testament. Salvian, in common with other early Christian writers, not infrequently names Christ when we should expect the name of God instead. And the "throngs of people" were expressly excluded from familiar intercourse with God; cf. Exodus 19. 21-24; 24. 1-2.
34. 32 Exodus 19. 9.
35. 33 Ibid. 19. 16.
36. 34 Ibid. 19.20.
37. 35 Ibid. 33. 9-11.
38. 36 Publilius Syrus, verse 28. Salvian's text here is influenced by Seneca De ira 3. 31. 1.
39. 37 Rittershausen, ad loc, cites the proverb: Superflua non nocent. The phrasing suggests a legal connotation, in connection with which he cites Paulus and Ulpian on the value of more than the required number of witnesses to a will, or more written evidence than is actually needed to prove a case.
40. 38 Exodus 32. 35.
41. 39 Leviticus 24.10-14.
42. 40 Ibid. 10.1-2.
43. 41 Numbers 12. 8-15, condensed. Note that Salvian uses the name Mary for the Biblical Miriam.
44. 42 Psalms 78. 30-31.
45. 43 Ibid. 106.17.
46. 44 Numbers 16. 3, 35.
47. 45 Ibid. 16.41.
48. 46 Ibid. 14. 26-29, 31-32, 37.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2005. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.
|Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts