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Home > Fathers of the Church > Contra Faustum (Augustine) > Book XXI

Contra Faustum, Book XXI

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Faustus denies that Manichæans believe in two gods. Hyle no god. Augustine discusses at large the doctrine of God and Hyle, and fixes the charge of dualism upon the Manichæans.

1. Faustus said: Do we believe in one God or in two? In one, of course. If we are accused of making two gods, I reply that it cannot be shown that we ever said anything of the kind. Why do you suspect us of this? Because, you say, you believe in two principles, good and evil. It is true, we believe in two principles; but one we call God, and the other Hyle, or, to use common popular language, the devil. If you think this means two gods, you may as well think that the health and sickness of which doctors speak are two kinds of health, or that good and evil are two kinds of good, or that wealth and poverty are two kinds of wealth. If I were describing two things, one white and the other black, or one hot and the other cold, or one sweet and the other bitter, it would appear like idiocy or insanity in you to say that I was describing two white things, or two hot things, or two sweet things. So, when I assert that there are two principles, God and Hyle, you have no reason for saying that I believe in two gods. Do you think that we must call them both gods because we attribute, as is proper, all the power of evil to Hyle, and all the power of good to God? If so, you may as well say that a poison and the antidote must both be called antidotes, because each has a power of its own, and certain effects follow from the action of both. So also, you may say that a physician and a poisoner are both physicians; or that a just and an unjust man are both just, because both do something. If this is absurd, it is still more absurd to say that God and Hyle must both be gods, because they both produce certain effects. It is a very childish and impotent way of arguing, when you cannot refute my statements, to make a quarrel about names. I grant that we, too, sometimes call the hostile nature God; not that we believe it to be God, but that this name is already adopted by the worshippers of this nature, who in their error suppose it to be God. Thus the apostle says: "The god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not." 2 Corinthians 4:4 He calls him God, because he would be so called by his worshippers; adding that he blinds their minds, to show that he is not the true God.

2. Augustine replied: You often speak in your discourses of two gods, as indeed you acknowledge, though at first you denied it. And you give as a reason for thus speaking the words of the apostle: "The god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not." Most of us punctuate this sentence differently, and explain it as meaning that the true God has blinded the minds of unbelievers. They put a stop after the word God, and read the following words together. Or without this punctuation you may, for the sake of exposition, change the order of the words, and read, "In whom God has blinded the minds of unbelievers of this world," which gives the same sense. The act of blinding the minds of unbelievers may in one sense be ascribed to God, as the effect not of malice, but of justice. Thus Paul himself says elsewhere, "Is God unjust, who takes vengeance?" Romans 3:5 and again, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For Moses says, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Observe what he adds, after asserting the undeniable truth that there is no unrighteousness with God: "But what if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and that He might manifest the riches of His grace towards the vessels of mercy, which He has before prepared unto glory?" etc. Here it evidently cannot be said that it is one God who shows his wrath, and makes known his power in the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and another God who shows his riches in the vessels of mercy. According to the apostle's doctrine, it is one and the same God who does both. Hence he says again, "For this cause God gave them up to the lusts of their own heart, to uncleanness, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves;" and immediately after, "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections;" and again, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind." Here we see how the true and just God blinds the minds of unbelievers. For in all these words quoted from the apostle no other God is understood than He whose Son, sent by Him, came saying, "For judgment am I come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind." John 9:39 Here, again, it is plain to the minds of believers how God blinds the minds of unbelievers. For among the secret things, which contain the righteous principles of God's judgment, there is a secret which determines that the minds of some shall be blinded, and the minds of some enlightened. Regarding this, it is well said of God, "Your judgments are a great deep." The apostle, in admiration of the unfathomable depth of this abyss, exclaims: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" Romans 11:33

3. You cannot distinguish between what God does in mercy and what He does in judgment, because you can neither understand nor use the words of our Psalter: "I will sing of mercy and judgment unto You, O Lord." Accordingly, whatever in the feebleness of your frail humanity seems amiss to you, you separate entirely from the will and judgment of God: for you are provided with another evil god, not by a discovery of truth, but by an invention of folly; and to this god you attribute not only what you do unjustly, but also what you suffer justly. Thus you assign to God the bestowal of blessings, and take from Him the infliction of judgments, as if He of whom Christ says that He has prepared everlasting fire for the wicked were a different being from Him who makes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Why do you not understand that this great goodness and great severity belong to one God, but because you have not learned to sing of mercy and judgment? Is not He who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, the same who also breaks off the natural branches, and engrafts contrary to nature the wild olive tree? Does not the apostle, in reference to this, say of this one God: "You see, then, the goodness and severity of God: to them which were broken off, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness?" Romans 11:17-24 Here it is to be observed how the apostle takes away neither judicial severity from God, nor free-will from man. It is a profound mystery, impenetrable by human thought, how God both condemns the ungodly and justifies the ungodly; for both these things are said of Him in the truth of the Holy Scriptures. But is the mysteriousness of the divine judgments any reason for taking pleasure in cavilling against them? How much more becoming, and more suitable to the limitation of our powers, to feel the same awe which the apostle felt, and to exclaim, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" How much better thus to admire what you cannot explain, than to try to make an evil god in addition to the true God, simply because you cannot understand the one good God! For it is not a question of names, but of actions.

4. Faustus glibly defends himself by saying, "We speak not of two gods, but of God and Hyle." But when you ask for the meaning of Hyle, you find that it is in fact another god. If the Manichæans gave the name of Hyle, as the ancients did, to the unformed matter which is susceptible of bodily forms, we should not accuse them of making two gods. But it is pure folly and madness to give to matter the power of forming bodies, or to deny that what has this power is God. When you give to some other being the power which belongs to the true God of making the qualities and forms, by which bodies, elements, and animals exist, according to their respective modes, whatever name you choose to give to this being, you are chargeable with making another god. There are indeed two errors in this blasphemous doctrine. In the first place, you ascribe the act of God to a being whom you are ashamed to call god; though you must call him god as long as you make him do things which only God can do. In the second place, the good things done by a good God you call bad, and ascribe to an evil god, because you feel a childish horror of whatever shocks the frailty of fallen humanity, and a childish pleasure in the opposite. So you think snakes are made by an evil being; while you consider the sun so great a good, that you believe it to be not the creature of God, but an emission from His substance. You must know that the true God, in whom, alas, you have not yet come to believe, made both the snake along with the lower creatures, and the sun along with other exalted creatures. Moreover, among still more exalted creatures, not heavenly bodies, but spiritual beings, He has made what far surpasses the light of the sun, and what no carnal man can perceive, much less you, who, in your condemnation of flesh, condemn the very principle by which you determine good and evil. For your only idea of evil is from the disagreeableness of some things to the fleshly sense; and your only idea of good is from sensual gratification.

5. When I consider the things lowest in the scale of nature, which are within our view, and which, though earthly, and feeble, and mortal, are still the works of God, I am lost in admiration of the Creator, who is so great, in the great works and no less great in the small. For the divine skill seen in the formation of all creatures in heaven and earth is always like itself, even in those things that differ from one another; for it is everywhere perfect, in the perfection which it gives to everything in its own kind. We see each creature made not as a whole by itself, but in relation to the rest of the creation; so that the whole divine skill is displayed in the formation of each, arranging each in its proper place and order, and providing what is suitable for all, both separately and unitedly. See here, lowest in the scale, the animals which fly, and swim, and walk, and creep. These are mortal creatures, whose life, as it is written, "is as a vapor which appears for a little time." James 4:15 Each of these, according to the capacity of its kind, contributes the measure appointed in the goodness of the Creator to the completeness of the whole, so that the lowest partake in the good which the highest possess in a greater degree. Show me, if you can, any animal, however despicable, whose soul hates its own flesh, and does not rather nourish and cherish it, by its vital motion minister to its growth and direct its activity, and exercise a sort of management over a little universe of its own, which it makes subservient to its own preservation. Even in the discipline of his own body by a rational being, who brings his body under, that earthly passion may not hinder his perception of wisdom, there is love for his own flesh, which he then reduces to obedience, which is its proper condition. Indeed, you yourselves, although your heresy teaches you a fleshly abhorrence of the flesh, cannot help loving your own flesh, and caring for its safety and comfort, both by avoiding all injury from blows, and falls, and inclement weather, and by seeking for the means of keeping it in health. Thus the law of nature is too strong for your false doctrine.

6. Looking at the flesh itself, do we not see in the construction of its vital parts, in the symmetry of form, in the position and arrangement of the limbs of action and the organs of sensation, all acting in harmony; do we not see in the adjustment of measures, in the proportion of numbers, in the order of weights, the handiwork of the true God, of whom it is truly said, "You have ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight"? Wisdom 11:21 If your heart was not hardened and corrupted by falsehood, you would understand the invisible things of God from the things which He has made, even in these feeble creatures of flesh. For who is the author of the things I have mentioned, but He whose unity is the standard of all measure, whose wisdom is the model of all beauty, and whose law is the rule of all order? If you are blind to these things, hear at least the words of the apostle.

7. For the apostle, in speaking of the love which husbands ought to have for their wives gives, as an example, the love of the soul for the body. The words are: "He that loves his wife, loves himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ the Church." Ephesians 5:28-29 Look at the whole animal creation, and you find in the instinctive self-preservation of every animal this natural principle of love to its own flesh. It is so not only with men, who, when they live aright, both provide for the safety of their flesh, and keep their carnal appetites in subjection to the use of reason; the brutes also avoid pain, and shrink from death, and escape as rapidly as they can from whatever might break up the construction of their bodies, or dissolve the connection of spirit and flesh; for the brutes, too, nourish and cherish their own flesh. "For no one ever yet," says the apostle, "hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ the Church." See where the apostle begins, and to what he ascends. Consider, if you can, the greatness which creation derives from its Creator, embracing as it does the whole extent from the host of heaven down to flesh and blood, with the beauty of manifold form, and the order of successive gradations.

8. The same apostle again, when speaking of spiritual gifts as diverse, and yet tending to harmonious action, to illustrate a matter so great, and divine, and mysterious, makes a comparison with the human body — thus plainly intimating that this flesh is the handiwork of God. The whole passage, as found in the Epistle to the Corinthians, is so much to the point, that though it is long, I think it not amiss to insert it all: "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. You know that you were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as you were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another various kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these works that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will. For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of you; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary; and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need; but God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it." 1 Corinthians 12:1-26 Apart altogether from Christian faith, which would lead you to believe the apostle, if you have common sense to perceive what is self-evident, let each examine and see for himself the plain truth regarding those things of which the apostle speaks — what greatness belongs to the least, and what goodness to the lowest; for these are the things which the apostle extols, in order to illustrate by means of these common and visible bodily objects, unseen spiritual realities of the most exalted nature.

9. Whoever, then, denies that our body and its members, which the apostle so approves and extols, are the handiwork of God, you see whom he contradicts, preaching contrary to what you have received. So, instead of refuting his opinions, I may leave him to be accursed of all Christians. The apostle says, God tempered the body. Faustus says, Not God, but Hyle. Anathemas are more suitable than arguments to such contradictions. You cannot say that God is here called the God of this world. And if any one understands the passage where this expression does occur to mean that the devil blinds the minds of unbelievers, we grant that he does so by his evil suggestions, from yielding to which, men lose the light of righteousness in God's righteous retribution. This is all in accordance with sacred Scripture. The apostle himself speaks of temptation from without: "I fear lest, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is in Christ." 2 Corinthians 11:3 To the same purpose are the words, "Evil communications corrupt good manners;" 1 Corinthians 15:33 and when he speaks of a man deceiving himself, "Whoever thinks himself to be anything, when he is nothing, deceives himself;" Galatians 6:3 or again, in the passage already quoted of the judgment of God, "God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient." Romans 1:28 Similarly, in the Old Testament, after the words, "God did not create death, nor has He pleasure in the destruction of the living," we read, "By the envy of the devil death entered into the world." And again of death, that men may not put the blame from themselves, "The wicked invite her with hands and voice; and thinking her a friend, they are drawn down." Wisdom 1:16 Elsewhere, however, it is said, "Good and evil, life and death, riches and poverty, are from the Lord God." Sirach 11:14 This seems perplexing to people who do not understand that, apart from the manifest judgment to follow hereafter upon every evil work, there is an actual judgment at the time; so that in one action, besides the craft of the deceiver and the wickedness of the voluntary agent, there is also the just penalty of the judge: for while the devil suggests, and man consents, God abandons. So, if you join the words, God of this world, and understand that the devil blinds unbelievers by his mischievous delusions, the meaning is not a bad one. For the word God is not used by itself, but with the qualification of this world, that is, of wicked men, who seek to prosper only in this age. In this sense the world is also called evil, where it is written, "that He might deliver us from this present evil age." Galatians 1:4 In the same way, in the expression, "whose god is their belly," it is only in connection with the word whose that the belly is called god. So also, in the Psalms, the devils would not be called gods without adding "of the nations." But in the passage we are now considering it is not said, The god of this world, or, Whose god is their belly, or, The gods of the nations are devils; but simply, God has tempered the body, which can be understood only of the true God, the Creator of all. There is no disparaging addition here, as in the other cases. But perhaps Faustus will say that God tempered the body, not as the maker of it, in the arrangement of its members, but by mixing His light with it. Thus Faustus would attribute to some other being than God the construction of the body, and the arrangement of its members, while God tempered the evil of the construction by the mixture of His goodness. Such are the inventions with which the Manichæans cram feeble minds. But God, in aid of the feeble, by the mouth of the sacred writers rebukes this opinion. For we read a few verses before: "God has placed the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased Him." Evidently, God is said to have tempered the body, because He has constructed it of many members, which in their union preserve the variety of their respective functions.

10. Do the Manichæans suppose that the animals which, according to their wild notions, were constructed by Hyle in the race of darkness, had not this harmonious action of their members, commended by the apostle, before God mixed His light with them; so that then the head did say to the feet, or the eye to the hand, I have no need of you? This is not and cannot be the Manichæan doctrine, for they describe the animals as using all these members, and speak of them as creeping, walking, swimming, flying, each in its own kind. They could all see, too, and hear, and use the other senses, and nourish and cherish their own bodies with appropriate means and appliances. Hence, moreover, they had the power of reproduction, for they are spoken of as having offspring. All these things, of which Faust speaks disparagingly as the works of Hyle, could not be done without that harmonious arrangement which the apostle praises and ascribes to God. Is it not now plain who is to be followed, and who is to be pronounced accursed? Indeed, the Manichæans tell us of animals that could speak; and their speeches were heard and understood and approved of by all creatures, whether creeping things, or quadrupeds, or birds, or fish. Amazing and supernatural eloquence! Especially as they had no grammarian or elocutionist to teach them, and had not passed through the painful experience of the cane and the birch. Why, Faustus himself began late in life to learn oratory, that he might discourse eloquently on these absurdities; and with all his cleverness, after ruining his health by study, his preaching has gained a mere handful of followers. What a pity that he was born in the light, and not in that region of darkness! If he had discoursed there against the light, the whole animal creation, from the biped to the centipede, from the dragon to the shell-fish, would have listened eagerly, and obeyed at once; whereas, when he discourses here against the race of darkness, he is oftener called eloquent than learned, and oftener still a false teacher of the worst kind. And among the few Manichæans who extol him as a great teacher, he has none of the lower animals as his disciples; and not even his horse is any the wiser for his master's instructions, so that the mixture of a part of deity seems only to make the animals more stupid. What absurdity is this! When will these deluded beings have the sense to compare the description in the Manichæan fiction of what the animals were formerly in their own region, with what they are now in this world? Then their bodies were strong, now they are feeble; then their power of vision was such that they were induced to invade the region of God on account of the beauty which they saw, now it is too weak to face the rays of the sun; then they had intelligence sufficient to understand a discourse addressed to them, now they have no ability of the kind; then this astonishing and effective eloquence was natural, now eloquence of the most meagre kind requires diligent study and preparation. How many good things did the race of darkness lose by the mixture of good!

11. Faustus has displayed his ingenuity, in the remarks to which I am now replying, by making for himself a long list of opposites — health and sickness, riches and poverty, white and black, cold and hot, sweet and bitter. We need not say much about black and white. Or, if there is a character for good or evil in colors, so that white must be ascribed to God and black to Hyle; if God threw a white color on the wings of birds, when Hyle, as the Manichæans say, created them, where had the crows gone to when the swans got whitened? Nor need we discuss heat and cold, for both are good in moderation, and dangerous in excess. With regard to the rest, Faustus probably intended that good and evil, which he might as well have put first, should be understood as including the rest, so that health, riches, white, hot, sweet, should belong to good; and sickness, poverty, black, cold, bitter, to evil. The ignorance and folly of this is obvious. It might look like reviling if I were to take up separately white and black, hot and cold, sweet and bitter, health and sickness. For if white and sweet are both good, and black and bitter evil, how is it that most grapes and all olives become black as they become sweet, and so get good by getting evil? And if heat and health are both good, and cold and sickness evil, why do bodies become sick when heated? Is it healthy to have fever? But I let these things pass, for they may have been put down hastily, or they may have been given as merely instances of opposition, and not as being good and bad, especially as it is nowhere stated that the fire among the race of darkness is cold, so that heat in this case must unquestionably be evil.

12. We pass on, then, to health, riches, sweetness, which Faustus evidently accounts good in his contrasts. Was there no health of body in the race of darkness where animals were born and grew up and brought forth, and had such vitality, that when some that were with child were taken, as the story is, and were put in bonds in heaven, even the abortive offspring of a premature birth, falling from heaven to earth, nevertheless lived, and grew, and produced the innumerable kinds of animals which now exist? Or were there no riches where trees could grow not only in water and wind, but in smoke and fire, and could bear such a rich produce, that animals, according to their several kinds, sprang from the fruit, and were provided with the means of subsistence from those fertile trees, and showed how well fed they were by a numerous progeny? And all this where there was no toil in cultivation, and no inclement change from summer to winter, for there was no sun to give variety to the seasons by his annual course. There must have been perennial productiveness where the trees were not only born in their own element, but had a supply of appropriate nourishment to make them constantly fertile; as we see orange-trees bearing fruit all the year round if they are well watered. The riches must have been abundant, and they must have been secure from harm; for there could be no fear of hailstorms when there were no light-gatherers who, in your fable, set the thunder in motion.

13. Nor would the beings in this race of darkness have sought for food if it had not been sweet and pleasant, so that they would have died from want. For we find that all bodies have their peculiar wants, according to which food is either agreeable or offensive. If it is agreeable, it is said to be sweet or pleasant; if it is offensive, it is said to be bitter or sour, or in some way disagreeable. In human beings we find that one desires food which another dislikes, from a difference in constitution or habit or state of health. Still more, animals of quite different make can find pleasure in food which is disagreeable to us. Why else should the goats feed so eagerly on the wild olives? This food is sweet to them, as in some sicknesses honey tastes bitter to us. To a thoughtful inquirer these things suggest the beauty of the arrangement in which each finds what suits it, and the greatness of the good which extends from the lowest to the highest, and from the material to the spiritual. As for the race of darkness, if an animal sprung from any element fed on what was produced by that element, doubtless the food must have been sweet from its appropriateness. Again, if this animal had found food of another element, the want of appropriateness would have appeared in its offensiveness to the taste. Such offensiveness is called sourness, or bitterness, or disagreeableness, or something of the kind; or if its adverse nature is such as to destroy the harmony of the bodily constitution, and so take away life or reduce the strength, it is called poison, simply on account of this want of appropriateness, while it may nourish the kind of life to which it is appropriate. So, if a hawk eat the bread which is our daily food, it dies; and we die if we eat hellebore, which cattle often feed on, and which may itself in a certain form be used as a medicine. If Faustus had known or thought of this, he would not have given poison and antidote as an example of the two natures of good and evil, as if God were the antidote and Hyle the poison. For the same thing, of one and the same nature, kills or cures, as it is used appropriately or inappropriately. In the Manichæan legends, their god might be said to have been poison to the race of darkness; for he so injured their bodies, that from being strong, they became utterly feeble. But then again, as the light was itself taken, and subjected to loss and injury, it may be said to have been poison to itself.

14. Instead of one good and one evil principle, you seem to make both good or both evil, or rather two good and two evil; for they are good in themselves, and evil to one another. We may see afterwards which is the better or the worse; but meanwhile we may think of them as both good in themselves. Thus God reigned in one region, while Hyle reigned in the other. There was health in both kingdoms, and rich produce in both; both had a numerous progeny, and both tasted the sweetness of pleasures suitable to their respective natures. But the race of darkness, say the Manichæans, excepting the part which was evil to the light which it bordered on, was also evil to itself. As, however, I have already pointed out many good things in it, if you can point out its evils, there will still be two good kingdoms, though the one where there are no evils will be the better of the two. What, then, do you call its evils? They plundered, and killed, and devoured one another, according to Faustus. But if they did nothing else than this, how could such numerous hosts be born and grow up to maturity? They must have enjoyed peace and tranquillity too. But, allowing the kingdom where there is no discord to be the better of the two, still they should both be called good, rather than one good and the other bad. Thus the better kingdom will be that where they killed neither themselves nor one another; and the worse, or less good, where, though they fought with one another, each separate animal preserved its own nature in health and safety. But we cannot make much difference between your god and the prince of darkness, whom no one opposed, whose reign was acknowledged by all, and whose proposals were unanimously agreed to. All this implies great peace and harmony. Those kingdoms are happy where all agree heartily in obedience to the king. Moreover, the rule of this prince extended not only to his own species, or to bipeds whom you make the parents of mankind, but to all kinds of animals, who waited in his presence, obeying his commands, and believing his declarations. Do you think people are so stupid as not to recognize the attributes of deity in your description of this prince, or to think it possible that you can have another? If the authority of this prince rested on his resources, he must have been very powerful; if on his fame, he must have been renowned; if on love, the regard must have been universal; if on fear, he must have kept the strictest order. If some evils, then, were mixed with so many good things, who that knows the meaning of words would call this the nature of evil? Besides, if you call this the nature of evil, because it was not only evil to the other nature, but was also evil in itself, was there no evil, think you, in the dire necessity to which your god was subjected before the mixture with the opposite nature, so that he was compelled to fight with it, and to send his own members to be swallowed up so mercilessly as to be beyond the hope of complete recovery? This was a great evil in that nature before its mixture with the only thing you allow to be evil. Your god must either have had it in his power not to be injured and sullied by the race of darkness, in which case his own folly must have brought him into trouble; or if his substance was liable to corruption, the object of your worship is not the incorruptible God of whom the apostle speaks. 1 Timothy 1:17 Does not, then this liability to corruption, even apart from the actual experience, seem to you to be an evil in your god?

15. It is plain, moreover, that either he must have been destitute of prescience, — a great defect, surely, in the Deity, not to know what is coming; or if he had prescience, he can never have felt secure, but must have been in constant terror, which you must allow to be a serious evil. There must have been the fear at every moment, that the time might be come for that conflict in which his members suffered such loss and contamination, that to liberate and purify them costs infinite labor, and, after all, can be done only partially. If it is going too far to attribute this state of alarm to the Deity himself, his members at least must have dreaded the prospect of suffering all these evils. Then, again, if they were ignorant of what was to happen, the substance of your god must have been so far wanting in prescience. How many evils do you reckon in your chief good? Perhaps you will say that they had no fear, because they foresaw, along with the suffering, their liberation and triumph. But still they must have feared for their companions, if they knew that they were to be cut off from their kingdom, and bound for ever in the mass of darkness.

16. Had they not the charity to feel a kindly sympathy for those who were doomed to suffer eternal punishment, without having committed any sin? These souls that were to be bound up with the mass, were not they too part of your god? Were they not of the same origin, the same substance? They at least must have felt grief or fear in the prospect of their own eternal bondage. To say that they did not know what was to happen, while the others did, is to make one and the same substance partly acquainted with the future, and partly ignorant. How can you call this substance the pure, and perfect, and supreme good, if there were such evils in it, even before its mixture with the evil principle? You will have to confess your two principles either both good or both evil. If you make two evils, you may make either of them the worse, as you please. But if you make two goods, we shall have to inquire which you make the better. Meanwhile there is an end to your doctrine of two principles, one good and the other evil, which are in fact two gods, one good and the other evil. But if hurting another is evil, they both hurt one another. Perhaps the greater evil was in the principle that first began the attack. But if one began the injury, the other returned it; and not by the law of compensation, an eye for an eye, which you are foolish enough to find fault with, but with far greater severity. You must choose which you will call the worse — the one that began the injury, or the one that had the will and the power to do still greater injury. The one tried to get a share in the enjoyment of light; the other effected the entire overthrow of its opponent. If the one had got what it desired, it would certainly have done no harm to itself. But the other, in the discomfiture of its adversary, did great mischief to part of itself; reminding us of the well-known passionate exclamation, which is on record as having been actually used, "Perish our friends, if that will rid us of our enemies." For part of your god was sent to suffer hopeless contamination, that there might be a covering for the mass in which the enemy is to be buried for ever alive. So much will he continue to be dreaded even when conquered and bound, that the security, such as it is, of one part of the deity must be purchased by the eternal misery of the other parts. Such is the harmlessness of the good principle! Your god, it appears, is guilty of the crime with which you charge the race of darkness — of injuring both friends and enemies. The charge is proved in the case of your god, by that final mass in which his enemies are confined, while his own subjects are involved in it. In fact, the principle that you call god is the more injurious of the two, both to friends and to enemies. In the case of Hyle, there was no desire to destroy the opposite kingdom, but only to possess it; and though some of its subjects were put to death by the violence of others, they appeared again in other forms, so that in the alternation of life and death they had intervals of enjoyment in their history. But your god, with all the omnipotence and perfect excellence that you ascribe to him, dooms his enemies to eternal destruction, and his friends to eternal punishment. And the height of insanity is in believing that while internal contest occasions the injury of the members of Hyle, victory brings punishment to the members of God. What means this folly? To use Faustus' comparison of God and Hyle to the antidote and poison, the antidote seems to be more mischievous than the poison. We do not hear of Hyle shutting up God for ever in a mass of darkness, or driving its own members into it; or, which is worst of all, slandering this unfortunate remnant, as an excuse for not effecting its purification. For Manichæus, in his Fundamental Epistle, says that these souls deserved to be thus punished, because they allowed themselves to be led away from their original brightness, and became enemies of holy light; whereas it was God himself that sent them to lose themselves in the region of darkness, that light might be opposed to light: which was unjust, if he forced them against their will; while, if they went willingly, he is ungrateful in punishing them. These souls can never have been happy, if they were tormented with fear before the conflict, from knowing that they were to become enemies to their original principle, and then in the conflict were hopelessly contaminated, and afterwards eternally condemned. On the other hand, they can never have been divine, if before the conflict they were unaware of what was coming, from want of prescience, and then showed feebleness in the conflict, and suffered misery afterwards. And what is true of them must be true of God, since they are of the same substance. Is there any hope of your seeing the folly of these blasphemies? You attempt, indeed, to vindicate the goodness of God, by asserting that Hyle when shut up is prevented from doing any more injury to itself. Hyle, it seems, is to get some good, when it has no longer any good mixed with it. Perhaps, as God before the conflict had the evil of necessity, when the good was unmixed with evil, so Hyle after the conflict is to have the good of rest, when the evil is unmixed with good. Your principles are thus either two evils, one worse than the other; or two goods, both imperfect, but one better than the other. The better, however, is the more miserable; for if the issue of this great conflict is that the enemy gets some good by the cessation of mutual injuries in Hyle, while God's own subjects suffer the serious evil of being driven into the mass of darkness, we may ask who has got the victory. The poison, we are to understand, is Hyle, where, nevertheless, animal life found a plentiful supply of the means of growth and productiveness; while the antidote is God, who could condemn his own members, but could not restore them. In reality, it is as absurd to call the one Hyle, as it is to call the other God. These are the follies of men who turn to fables because they cannot bear sound doctrine.

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Source. Translated by Richard Stothert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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