O N T H E
G O D S
Why we give worship to the Gods when they need nothing
This solves the question about sacrifices
and other rites performed to the Gods. The divine itself is without needs,
and the worship is paid for our own benefit. The providence of the Gods
reaches everywhere and needs only some congruity for its reception. All
congruity comes about by representation and likeness; for which reason
the temples are made in representation of heaven, the altar of earth, the
images of life (that is why they are made like living things), the prayers
of the element of though, the mystic letters of the unspeakable celestial
forces, the herbs and stones of matter, and the sacrificial animals of
the irrational life in us.
From all these things the Gods gain nothing; what gain could there be to God? It is we who gain some communion with them.
Concerning sacrifices and other worships,
that we benefit man by them, but not the Gods.
I think it well to add some remarks
about sacrifices. In the first place, since we have received everything
from the Gods, and it is right to pay the giver some tithe of his gifts,
we pay such a tithe of possessions in votive offering, of bodies in gifts
of (hair and) adornment, and of life in sacrifices. Then secondly, prayers
without sacrifices are only words, with sacrifices they are live words;
the word gives meaning to the life, while the life animates the word. Thirdly,
the happiness of every object is its own perfection; and perfection for
each is communion with its own cause. For this reason we pray for communion
with the Gods. Since, therefore, the first life is the life of the Gods,
but human life is also life of a kind, and human life wishes for communion
with divine life, a mean term is needed. For things very far apart cannot
have communion without a mean term, and the mean term must be like the
things joined; therefore the mean term between life and life must be life.
That is why men sacrifice animals; only the rich do so now, but in old
days everybody did, and that not indiscriminately, but giving the suitable
offerings to each god together with a great deal of other worship. Enough
of this subject.
That the World is by nature Eternal
We have shown above that the Gods will not destroy the world. It remains to show that its nature is indestructible.
Everything that is destroyed is either destroyed by itself or by something else. If the world is destroyed by itself, fire must needs burn of itself and water dry itself. If by something else, it must be either by a body or by something incorporeal. By something incorporeal is impossible; for incorporeal things preserve bodies - nature, for instance, and soul - and nothing is destroyed by a cause whose nature is to preserve it. If it is destroyed by some body, it must be either by those which exist or by others.
If by those which exist: then either those moving in a straight line must be destroyed by those that revolve, or vice versa. But those that revolve have no destructive nature; else, why do we never see anything destroyed from that cause? Nor yet can those which are moving straight touch the others; else, why have they never been able to do so yet?
But neither can those moving straight be destroyed by one another: for the destruction of one is the creation of another; and that is not to be destroyed but to change.
But if the world is to be destroyed by other bodies than these it is impossible to say where such bodies are or whence they are to arise.
Again, everything destroyed is destroyed either in form or matter. (Form is the shape of a thing, matter is the body.) Now if the form is destroyed and the matter remains, we see other things come into being. If matter is destroyed, how is it that the supply has not failed in all these years?
If when matter is destroyed other matter takes its place, the new matter must come either from something that is or from something that is not. If from that-which-is, as long as that-which-is always remains, matter always remains. But if that-which-is is destroyed, such a theory means that not the world only but everything in the universe is destroyed.
If again matter comes from that-which-is-not: in the first place, it is impossible for anything to come from that which is not; but suppose it to happen, and that matter did arise from that which is not; then, as long as there are things which are not, matter will exist. For I presume there can never be an end of things which are not.
If they say that matter will become formless: in the first place, why does this happen to the world as a whole when it does not happen to any part? Secondly, by this hypothesis they do not destroy the being of bodies but only their beauty.
Further, everything destroyed is either resolved into the elements from which it came, or else vanishes into not-being. If things are resolved into the elements from which they came, then there will be others: else how did they come into being at all? If that-which-is is to depart into not-being, what prevents that happening to god himself? (Which is absurd.) Or if god's power prevents that, it is not a mark of power to be able to save nothing but oneself. And it is equally impossible for that-which-is to come out of nothing and to depart into nothing.
Again, if the world is destroyed, it must needs either be destroyed according to nature or against nature. Against nature is impossible, for that which is against nature is not stronger than nature. If according to nature, there must be another nature which changes the nature of the world: which does not appear.
Again, anything that is naturally destructible we can ourselves destroy. But no one has ever destroyed or altered the round body of the world. And the elements, though they can be changed, cannot be destroyed. Again, everything destructible is changed by time and grows old. But the world through all these years has remained utterly unchanged.
Having said so much for the help of those who feel the need of very strong demonstration, I pray the world himself to be gracious to me.
Why there are rejections of god,
and that god is not injured
Nor need the fact that rejections of god have taken place in certain parts of the earth and will often take place hereafter, disturb the mind of the wise: both because these things do not affect the Gods, just as we saw that worship did not benefit them; and because the soul, being of middle essence, cannot be always right; and because the whole world cannot enjoy the providence of the Gods equally, but some parts may partake of it eternally, some at certain times, some in the primal manner, some in the secondary. Just as the head enjoys all the senses, but the rest of the body only one.
For this reason, it seems, those who ordained festivals ordained also forbidden days, in which some temples lay idle, some were shut, some had their adornments removed, in expiation of the weakness of our nature.
It is not unlikely, too, that the rejection of god is a kind of punishment: we may well believe that those who knew the Gods and neglected them in one life may in another life be deprived of the knowledge of them altogether. Also those who have worshipped their own kings as gods have deserved as their punishment to lose all knowledge of god.
Why sinners are not punished at once
There is no need to be surprised if neither these sins nor yet others bring immediate punishment upon sinners. For it is not only spirits who punish the evil, the soul brings itself to judgment: and also it is not right for those who endure for ever to attain everything in a short time: and also, there is need of human virtue. If punishment followed instantly upon sin, men would act justly from fear and have no virtue.
Souls are punished when they have gone forth from the body, some wandering among us, some going to hot or cold places of the earth, some harassed by spirits. Under all circumstances they suffer with the irrational part of their nature, with which they also sinned. For its sake there subsists that shadowy body which is seen about graves, especially the graves of evil livers.
On Transmigration of Souls,
and how Souls are said to migrate into brute beasts
If the transmigration of a soul takes place into a rational being, it simply becomes the soul of that body. But if the soul migrates into a brute beast, it follows the body outside, as a guardian spirit follows a man. For there could never be a rational soul in an irrational being.
The transmigration of souls can be proved from the congenital afflictions of persons. For why are some born blind, others paralytic, others with some sickness in the soul itself? Again, it is the natural duty of souls to do their work in the body; are we to suppose that when once they leave the body they spend all eternity in idleness? Again, if the souls did not again enter into bodies, they must either be infinite in number or god must constantly be making new ones. But there is nothing infinite in the world; for in a finite whole there cannot be an infinite part. Neither can others be made; for everything in which something new goes on being created, must be imperfect. And the world, being made by a perfect author, ought naturally to be perfect.
That the Good are happy,
both living and dead
Souls that have lived in virtue are
in general happy, and when separated from the irrational part of their
nature, and made clean from all matter, have communion with the gods and
join them in the governing of the whole world. Yet even if none of this
happiness fell to their lot, virtue itself, and the joy and glory of virtue,
and the life that is subject to no grief and no master are enough to make
happy those who have set themselves to live according to virtue and have
On The Gods and The World
Copyright ©1999 Roy George