Saturday, May 05, 2007


More Cicero

Early Christians rightly judged Cicero a righteous pagan. The following excerpt is from his De natura deorum (translation by Francis Brooks):


Now Cleanthes, who belongs to our own school, said that [idea] of [God] had been formed in men’s minds owing to four causes...As the fourth and most important cause of all he names the uniformity of motion, the revolutions of the heavens, the grouping of the sun, and moon, and all the stars, their serviceableness, beauty, and order, the mere appearance of which things would be a sufficient indication that they were not the result of chance. Just as a man going into a house, or gymnasium, or market-place, would find it impossible, when he saw the plan, and scale, and arrangement of everything, to suppose that these things came into being uncaused, but would understand that there was some one who superintended and was obeyed, so in the case of such vast movements and alternations, in the orderly succession of phenomena so numerous and so mighty, in which the measureless and infinite extent of past time has never deceived expectation, it is much more inevitable that he should conclude that such great operations of nature are directed by some intelligence.

Chrysippus, again, speaks in a way which, though his own mind is a very keen one, he seems to have learnt direct from nature, rather than to have discovered himself. “For if,” he says, “there is something in nature which the mind, the reason, the strength, and the power of man would be unable to produce, surely that which does produce it is higher than man; now the heavenly bodies, and all those phenomena which observe an everlasting order, cannot be created by man; consequently that by which they are created is higher than man. And what could you say this was rather than God? For if there [is] no [God], there can be nothing higher in nature than man, since he alone possesses reason, and nothing can surpass reason in excellence. But that there should be a man who thinks that in the whole universe there is nothing higher than himself shows senseless arrogance. There is, then, something higher, and therefore there is assuredly a God.” Is it the fact that if you saw a large and beautiful house, you could not be persuaded, even if you did not see the master, that it had been built for the sake of mice and weasels, and would you not present the appearance of downright imbecility if you supposed that all this adornment of the world, all this diversity and beauty of the heavenly bodies, all this might and amplitude of sea and land, were a dwelling-place belonging to you and not to the immortal [God]?...And yet, on the ground even of man’s intelligence, we ought to consider that there exists some mind of the universe, one that is keener than his and divine. “For whence,” as Socrates says in Xenophon, “did man get hold of the mind he has?”...

And the element which surpasses all these, I mean reason, and if we care to express it by a variety of terms, intelligence, design, reflection, foresight, where did we find, whence did we secure it? Shall the universe possess all other qualities, and not this one which is of most importance? Yet surely in all creation there is nothing nobler than the universe, nothing more excellent and more beautiful. There not only is not, but there cannot even be imagined anything nobler, and if reason and wisdom are the noblest of qualities, it is inevitable that they should exist in that which we acknowledge to be supremely noble. Again, who can help assenting to what I say when he considers the harmonious, concordant, and unbroken connection which there is in things? Would the earth be able to have one and the same time for flowering, and then again one and the same time in which it lies rough? Or could the approach and departure of the sun be known, at the time of the summer and winter solstice, by so many objects spontaneously changing? Or the tides of the sea, and of narrow straits, be affected by the rising or setting of the moon? Or the dissimilar movements of the planets be maintained by the one revolution of the whole sky? It would be certainly impossible for these things to come to pass in this way, with such mutual harmony amongst all parts of the universe, if they were not held together by one divine and all-pervading spirit...

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