On Useless and Godless Opinions

Theophilus of Antioch (b.115 – d.181)

dumb_and_dumberFor it was fit that they who wrote should themselves have been eye-witnesses of those things concerning which they made assertions, or should accurately have ascertained them from those who had seen them; for they who write of things unascertained beat the air. For what did it profit Homer to have composed the Trojan war, and to have deceived many; or Hesiod, the register of the theogony of those whom he calls gods; or Orpheus, the three hundred and sixty-five gods, whom in the end of his life he rejects, maintaining in his precepts that there is one God? What profit did the sphaerography of the world’s circle confer on Aratus, or those who held the same doctrine as he, except glory among men? And not even that did they reap as they deserved. And what truth did they utter? Or what good did their tragedies do to Euripides and Sophocles, or the other tragedians? Or their comedies to Menander and Aristophanes, and the other comedians? Or their histories to Herodotus and Thucydides? Or the shrines and the pillars of Hercules to Pythagoras, or the Cynic philosophy to Diogenes? What good did it do Epicurus to maintain that there is no providence; or Empedocles to teach atheism; or Socrates to swear by the dog, and the goose, and the plane-tree, and Aesculapius struck by lightning, and the demons whom he invoked? And why did he willingly die? What reward, or of what kind, did he expect to receive after death? What did Plato’s system of culture profit him? Or what benefit did the rest of the philosophers derive from their doctrines, not to enumerate the whole of them, since they are numerous? But these things we say, for the purpose of exhibiting their useless and godless opinions.”

For all these, having fallen in love with vain and empty reputation, neither themselves knew the truth, nor guided others to the truth: for the things which they said themselves convict them of speaking inconsistently; and most of them demolished their own doctrines. For not only did they refute one another, but some, too, even stultified their own teachings; so that their reputation has issued in shame and folly, for they are condemned by men of understanding. For either they made assertions concerning the gods, and afterwards taught that there was no god; or if they spoke even of the creation of the world, they finally said that all things were produced spontaneously. Yea, and even speaking of providence, they taught again that the world was not ruled by providence. But what? Did they not, when they essayed to write even of honourable conduct, teach the perpetration of lasciviousness, and fornication, and adultery; and did they not introduce hateful and unutterable wickedness? And they proclaim that their gods took the lead in committing unutterable acts of adultery, and in monstrous banquets. For who does not sing Saturn devouring his own children, and Jove his son gulping down Metis, and preparing for the gods a horrible feast, at which also they say that Vulcan, a lame blacksmith, did the waiting; and how Jove not only married Juno, his own sister, but also with foul mouth did abominable wickedness? And the rest of his deeds, as many as the poets sing, it is likely you are acquainted with. Why need I further recount the deeds of Neptune and Apollo, or Bacchus and Hercules, of the bosom-loving Minerva, and the shameless Venus, since in another place we have given a more accurate account of these?  (Theophilus to Autolycus, Book III, 2-3)

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