Friday, March 13, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Treatise VI On the Vanity of Idols

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Treatise VI On the Vanity of Idols: Showing that idols are not gods, and that God is One, and that through Christ salvation is given to believers

This treatise isn't as long as its ambitious title might make it sound. In fact, the point about idols is pretty simply dealt with: everyone knows those statutes that people worship and the stories that are told are stories about ancient kings and rulers that have been corrupted and twisted over time, not stories about actual gods. This is why each nation has its own gods and its own stories, and why none of those "gods" can actually help when that nation is being invaded by a mightier power.

Nor do these "gods" inspire virtue. If anything, the political history of the world teaches us about sin.
Kingdoms do not rise to supremacy through merit, but are varied by chance. Empire was formerly held by both Assyrians and Medes and Persians; and we know, too, that both Greeks and Egyptians have had dominion. Thus, in the varying vicissitudes of power, the period of empire has also come to the Romans as to the others. But if you recur to its origin, you must needs blush. A people is collected together from profligates and criminals, and by founding an asylum, impunity for crimes makes the number great; and that their king himself may have a superiority in crime, Romulus becomes a fratricide; and in order to promote marriage, he makes a beginning of that affair of concord by discords. They steal, they do violence, they deceive in order to increase the population of the state; their marriage consists of the broken covenants of hospitality and cruel wars with their fathers-in-law. The consulship, moreover, is the highest degree in Roman honours, yet we see that the consulship began even as did the kingdom. Brutus puts his sons to death, that the commendation of his dignity may increase by the approval of his wickedness. The Roman kingdom, therefore, did not grow from the sanctities of religion, nor from auspices and auguries, but it keeps its appointed time within a definite limit. Moreover, Regulus observed the auspices, yet was taken prisoner; and Mancinus observed their religious obligation, yet was sent under the yoke. Paulus had chickens that fed, and yet he was slain at Cannæ. Caius Cæsar despised the auguries and auspices that were opposed to his sending ships before the winter to Africa; yet so much the more easily he both sailed and conquered.
When there do appear to be supernatural forces at work, we can quiet easily see that they are demonic rather than divine. Whatever random or occasional powers seem to possess the pagan oracles or stone statues can be attributed to these, not least in their hostility to the true Gospel.

And what is that true faith and religion? First, that there is only One God, rather than many. The true God is not found in any temple or building, but rather is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient:
 He cannot be seen—He is too bright for vision; nor comprehended—He is too pure for our discernment; nor estimated—He is too great for our perception; and therefore we are only worthily estimating Him when we say that He is inconceivable. But what temple can God have, whose temple is the whole world? And while man dwells far and wide, shall I shut up the power of such great majesty within one small building? He must be dedicated in our mind; in our breast He must be consecrated. Neither must you ask the name of God. God is His name. Among those there is need of names where a multitude is to be distinguished by the appropriate characteristics of appellations. To God who alone is, belongs the whole name of God; therefore He is one, and He in His entirety is everywhere diffused. For even the common people in many things naturally confess God, when their mind and soul are admonished of their author and origin. We frequently hear it said, “O God,” and “God sees,” and “I commend to God,” and “God give you,” and “as God will,” and “if God should grant;” and this is the very height of sinfulness, to refuse to acknowledge Him whom you cannot but know
We can only understand God when He shows Himself to us in language we can understand, yet we also see that on some level all people instinctively understand this point. But the way God has been made clear to us is through Christ. Jesus was first announced to the Jewish people, but they refused to believe God's promises and only increased their rebellion. And so when Christ came the promise was taken from the Jews and given to the whole world--the promise that was fulfilled through His life, death, and resurrection.

And now, the whole world can see the truth of these promises and what Christ has done for us in the lives and sufferings of Christians.
 And that the proof might not be the less substantial, and the confession of Christ might not be a matter of pleasure, they are tried by tortures, by crucifixions, by many kinds of punishments. Pain, which is the test of truth, is brought to bear, that Christ the Son of God, who is trusted in as given to men for their life, might not only be announced by the heralding of the voice, but by the testimony of suffering. Therefore we accompany Him, we follow Him, we have Him as the Guide of our way, the Source of light, the Author of salvation, promising as well the Father as heaven to those who seek and believe. What Christ is, we Christians shall be, if we imitate Christ.
We are to be the witnesses of God's love--and God's coming judgment--for the world.

This short treatise is a bit scattered at times, but well worth reading!

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