Melito, the Philosopher
I. A Discourse Which Was in the Presence of Antoninus Cæsar, and He Exhorted1 The Said Cæsar to Acquaint Himself with God, and Showed to Him the Way of Truth.
He began to speak as follows:–
"It is not easy," said Melito, "speedily to bring into the right way the man who has a long time previously been held fast by error. It may, however, be effected: for, when a man turns away ever so little from error, the mention of the truth is acceptable to him. For, just as when the cloud breaks ever so little there comes fair weather, even so, when a man turns toward God, the thick cloud of error which deprived him of true vision is quickly withdrawn from before him. For error, like disease2 and sleep, long holds fast those who come under its influence;3 but truth uses the word as a goad, and smites the slumberers, and awakens them; and when they are awake they look at the truth, and also understand it: they hear, and distinguish that which is from that which is not. For there are men who call iniquity righteousness: they think, for example, that it is righteousness for a man to err with the many. But I, for my part, affirm that it is not a good excuse for error that a man errs with the many. For, if one man only sin,4 his sin is great: how much greater will be the sin when many sin together!
"Now, the sin of which I speak is this: when a man abandons that which really exists, and serves that which does not really exist. There is' that which really exists, and it is called God. He, I say, really exists, and by His power doth everything subsist. This being is in no sense made, nor did He ever come into being; but He has existed from eternity, and will continue to exist for ever and ever. He changeth not, while everything else changes. No eye5 can see Him, nor thought apprehend Him, nor language describe Him; and those who love Him speak of Him thus: Father, and God of Truth.'
"If, therefore, a man forsake the light, and say that there is another God, it is plain from what he himself says that it is some created thing which he calls God. For, if a man call fire God, it is not God, because it is fire; and, if a man call water God, it is not God, because it is water; and, if he so call this earth on which we tread, or these heavens which are seen by us, or the sun, or the moon, or some one of these stars which run their course without ceasing by Divine command, and do not speed along by their own will, neither are these gods; and, if a man call gold and silver gods, are not these objects things which we use as we please? and, if he so call those pieces of wood which we burn, or those stones which we break, how can these things be gods? For, lo! they are for the use of man. How can they' escape the commission of great sin, who in their speech change the great God into those things which, so long as they continue, continue by Divine command?
"But, notwithstanding this, I say that so long as a man does not hear, and so does not discern or understand that there is a Lord over these creatures, he is not perhaps to be blamed: because no one finds fault with a blind man though he walk ever so badly. For, in the same manner as the blind, so men also, when they were seeking after God, stumbled upon stones and blocks of wood; and such of them as were rich stumbled upon gold and silver, and were prevented by their stumblings from finding that which they were seeking after. But, now that a voice has been heard through all the earth,6 declaring that there is a God of truth, and there has been given to every man an eye wherewith to see, those persons are without excuse who are ashamed of incurring the censure of their former companions in error, and yet desire to walk in the right way. For those who are ashamed to be saved must of necessity perish. I therefore counsel them to open their eyes and see: for, lo! light is given abundantly7 to us all to see thereby; and if, when light has arisen upon us, any one close his eyes so as not to see, into the ditch he must go.8 But why is a man ashamed of the censure of those who have been in error along with himself? Rather does it behove him to persuade them to follow in his steps; and, if they should not be persuaded by him, then to disengage himself from their society. For there are some men who are unable to rise from their mother earth, and therefore also do they make them gods from the earth their mother; and they are condemned by the judgments of truth, forasmuch as they apply the name of Him who is unchangeable to those objects which are subject to change, and shrink not from calling those things gods which have been made by the hands of man, and dare to make an image of God whom they have not seen.
"But I have to remark further, that the Sibyl9 also has said concerning them that it is the images of deceased kings that they worship. And this is easy to understand: for, lo! even now they worship and honour the images of those of Cæsarean rank10 more than their former gods; for from those their former gods both pecuniary tribute and produce accrue to Cæsar, as to one who is greater than they. On this account, those who despise them, and so cause Cæsar's revenue to fall short, are put to death. But to the treasury of other kings also it is appointed how much the worshippers in various places shall pay, and how many vesselfuls11 of water from the sea they shall supply. Such is the wickedness of the world–of those who worship and fear that which has no sensation. Many of them, too, who are crafty, either for the sake of gain, or for vainglory, or for dominion over the multitude, both themselves worship, and incite those who are destitute of understanding to worship, that which has no sensation.
"I will further write and show, as far as my ability goes, how and for what causes images were made to kings and tyrants, and how they came to be regarded12 as gods. The people of Argos made images to Hercules, because he belonged to their city, and was strong, and by his valour slew noxious beasts, and more especially because they were afraid of him. For he was subject to no control, and carried off the wives of many: for his lust was great, like that of Zuradi the Persian, his friend. Again, the people of Acte worshipped Dionysus,13 a king, because he had recently14 planted the vine in their country. The Egyptians worshipped Joseph the Hebrew, who was called Serapis, because he supplied them with corn during the years of famine. The Athenians worshipped Athene, the daughter of Zeus, king of the island of Crete, because she built the town of Athens, and made Ericthippus her son king there, whom she had by adultery with Hephæstus, a blacksmith, son of a wife of her father. She was, too, always courting the society of Hercules, because he was her brother on her father's side. For Zeus the king became enamoured of Alcmene, the wife of Electryon, who was from Argos, and committed adultery with her, and she gave birth to Hercules. The people of Phoenicia worshipped Balthi,15 queen of Cyprus, because she fell in love with Tamuz, son of Cuthar king of the Phoenicians, and left her own kingdom and came and dwelt in Gebal, a fortress of the Phoenicians, and at the same time made all the Cyprians subject to King Cuthar. Also, before Tamuz she had fallen in love with Ares, and committed adultery with him; and Hephæstus, her husband, caught her, and his jealousy was roused against her, and he came and killed Tamuz in Mount Lebanon, as he was hunting16 wild boars; and from that time Balthi remained in Gebal, and she died in the city of Aphiki,17 where Tamuz was buried. The Elamites worshipped Nuh, daughter of the king of Elam: when the enemy had carried her captive, her father made for her an image and a temple in Shushan, a royal residence which is in Elam. The Syrians worshipped Athi, a Hadibite, who sent the daughter of Belat, a person skilled in medicine, and she healed Simi, the daughter of Hadad king of Syria; and some time afterwards, when Hadad himself had the leprosy upon him, Athi entreated Elisha the Hebrew, and he came and healed him of his leprosy. The people of Mesopotamia also worshipped Cuthbi, a Hebrew woman, because she delivered Bakru, the paternal king18 of Edessa, from his enemies. With respect to Nebo, who is worshipped in Mabug, why should I write to you? For, lo! all the priests who are in Mabug know that it is the image of Orpheus, a Thracian Magus. Hadran, again, is the image of Zaradusht, a Persian Magus. For both of these Magi practised magic at a well which was in a wood in Mabug, in which was an unclean spirit, and it assaulted and disputed the passage of every one who passed by in all that country in which the town of Mabug is situated; and these Magi, in accordance with what was a mystery in their Magian system, bade Simi, the daughter of Hadad, to draw water from the sea and pour it into the well, so that the spirit should not come up and commit assault. In like manner, the rest of mankind made images to their kings and worshipped them; of which matter I will not write further.
"But thou, a person of liberal mind, and familiar with the truth, if thou wilt properly consider these matters, commune with thine own self;19 and, though they should clothe thee in the garb of a woman, remember that thou art a man. Believe in Him who is in reality God, and to Him lay open thy mind, and to Him commit thy soul, and He is able to give thee immortal life for ever, for everything is possible to Him;20 and let all other things be esteemed by thee just as they are–images as images, and sculptures as sculptures; and let not that which is only made be put by thee in the place of Him who is not made, but let Him, the ever-living God, be constantly present to thy mind.21 For thy mind itself is His likeness: for it too is invisible and impalpable,22 and not to be represented by any form, yet by its will is the whole bodily frame moved. Know, therefore, that, if thou constantly serve Him who is immoveable, even He exists for ever, so thou also, when thou shalt have put off this body, which is visible and corruptible, shall stand before Him for ever, endowed with life and knowledge, and thy works shall be to thee wealth inexhaustible and possessions unfailing. And know that the chief of thy good works is this: that thou know God, and serve Him. Know, too, that He asketh not anything of thee: He needeth not anything.
"Who is this God? He who is Himself truth, and His word truth. And what is truth? That which is not fashioned, nor made, nor represented by art: that is, which has never been brought into existence, and is on that account called truth.23 If, therefore, a man worship that which is made with hands, it is not the truth that he worships, nor yet the word of truth.
"I have very much to say on this subject; but I feel ashamed for those who do not understand that they are superior to the work of their own hands, nor perceive how they give gold to the artists that they may make for them gods, and give them silver for their adornment and honour, and move their riches about from place to place, and then worship them. And what infamy can be greater than this, that a man should worship his riches, and forsake Him who bestowed those riches upon him? and that he should revile man, yet worship the image of man; and slay a beast, yet worship the likeness of a beast? This also is evident, that it is the workmanship of their fellowmen that they worship: for they do not worship the treasures24 while they are laid by in the bag, but when the artists have fashioned images out of them they worship them; neither do they worship the gold or the silver considered as property,25 but when the gravers have sculptured them then they worship them. Senseless man! what addition has been made to thy gold, that now thou worshippest it? If it is because it has been made to resemble a winged animal, why dost thou not worship the winged animal itself? And if because it has been made like a beast of prey, lo! the beast of prey itself is before thee. And if it is the workmanship itself that pleases thee, let the workmanship of God please thee, who made all things, and in His own likeness made the workmen, who strive to do like Him, but resemble Him not.
"But perhaps thou wilt say: How is it that God did not so make me that I should serve Him, and not images? In speaking thus, thou art seeking to become an idle instrument, and not a living man. For God made thee as perfect as it seemed good to Him. He has given thee a mind endowed with freedom; He has set before thee objects in great number, that thou on thy part mayest distinguish the nature of each thing and choose for thyself that which is good; He has set before thee the heavens, and placed in them the stars; He has set before thee the sun and the moon, and they too every day run their course therein; He has set before thee the multitude of waters, and restrained them by His word; He has set before thee the wide earth, which remains at rest, and continues before thee without variation:26 yet, lest thou shouldst suppose that of its own nature it so continues, He makes it also to quake when He pleaseth; He has set before thee the clouds, which by His command bring water from above and satisfy the earth–that from hence thou mayest understand that He who puts these things in motion is superior to them all, and mayest accept thankfully the goodness of Him who has given thee a mind whereby to distinguish these things from one another.
"Wherefore I counsel thee to know thyself, and to know God. For understand how that there is within thee that which is called the soul–by it the eye seeth, by it the ear heareth, by it the mouth speaketh; and how it makes use of the whole body; and how, whenever He pleaseth to remove the soul from the body, this falleth to decay and perisheth. From this, therefore, which exists within thyself and is invisible, understand how God also moveth the whole by His power, like the body; and that, whenever it pleases Him to withdraw His power, the whole world also, like the body, will fall to decay and perish.
"But why this world was made, and why it passes away, and why the body exists, and why it falls to decay, and why it continues, thou canst not know until thou hast raised thy head from this sleep in which thou art sunk, and hast opened thine eyes and seen that God is One, the Lord of all, and hast come to serve Him with all thy heart. Then will He grant thee to know His will: for every one that is severed from the knowledge of the living God is dead and buried even while in his body. Therefore is it that thou dost wallow on the ground before demons and shadows, and askest vain petitions from that which has not anything to give. But thou, stand thou up from among those who are lying on the earth and caressing stones, and giving their substance as food for the fire, and offering their raiment to idols, and, while themselves possessed of senses, are bent on serving that which has no sensation; and offer thou for thy imperishable soul petitions for that which decayeth not, to God who suffers no decay–and thy freedom will be at once apparent; and be thou careful of it,27 and give thanks to God who made thee, and gave thee the mind of the free, that thou mightest shape thy conduct even as thou wilt. He hath set before thee all these things, and showeth thee that, if thou follow after evil, thou shalt be condemned for thy evil deeds; but that, if after goodness, thou shalt receive from Him abundant good,28 together with immortal life for ever.
"There is, therefore, nothing to hinder thee from changing thy evil manner of life, because thou art a free man; or from seeking and finding out who is the Lord of all; or from serving Him with all thy heart: because with Him there is no reluctance to give the knowledge of Himself to those that seek it, according to the measure of their capacity to know Him.
"Let it be thy first care not to deceive thyself. For, if thou sayest of that which is not God: This is God, thou deceivest thyself, and sinnest before the God of truth. Thou fool! is that God which is bought and sold? Is that God which is in want? Is that God which must be watched over? How buyest thou him as a slave, and servest him as a master? How askest thou of him, as of one that is rich, to give to thee, and thyself givest to him as to one that is poor? How dost thou expect of him that he will make thee victorious in battle? for, lo! when thy enemies have conquered thee, they strip him likewise.
"Perhaps one who is a king may say: I cannot behave myself aright, because I am a king; it becomes me to do the will of the many. He who speaks thus really deserves to be laughed at: for why should not the king himself lead the way29 to all good things, and persuade the people under his rule to behave with purity, and to know God in truth, and in his own person set before them the patterns of all things excellent–since thus it becomes him to do? For it is a shameful thing that a king, however badly he may conduct himself, should yet judge and condemn those who do amiss.
"My opinion is this: that in this' way a kingdom may be governed in peace–when the sovereign is acquainted with the God of truth, and is withheld by fear of Him from doing wrong30 to those who are his subjects, and judges everything with equity, as one who knows that he himself also will be judged before God; while, at the same time, those who are under his rule31 are withheld by the fear of God from doing wrong to their sovereign, and are restrained by the same fear from doing wrong to one another. By this knowledge of God and fear of Him all evil may be removed from the realm. For, if the sovereign abstain from doing wrong to those who are under his rule, and they abstain from doing wrong to him and to each other, it is evident that the whole country will dwell in peace. Many blessings, too, will be enjoyed there, because amongst them all the name of God will be glorified. For what blessing is greater than this, that a sovereign should deliver the people that are under his rule from error, and by this good deed render himself pleasing to God? For from error arise all those evils from which kingdoms suffer; but the greatest of all errors is this: when a man is ignorant of God, and in God's stead worships that which is not God.
"There are, however, persons who say: It is for the honour of God that we make the image: in order, that is, that we may worship the God who is concealed from our view. But they are unaware that God is in every country, and in every place, and is never absent, and that there is not anything done and He knoweth it not. Yet thou, despicable man! within whom He is, and without whom He is, and above whom He is, hast nevertheless gone and bought thee wood from the carpenter's, and it is carved and made into an image insulting to God.32 To this thou offerest sacrifice, and knowest not that the all-seeing eye seeth thee, and that the word of truth reproves thee, and says to thee: How can the unseen God be sculptured? Nay, it is the likeness of thyself that thou makest and worshippest. Because the wood has been sculptured, hast thou not the insight to perceive that it is still wood, or that the stone is still stone? The gold also the workman33 taketh according to its weight in the balance. And when thou hast had it made34 into an image, why dost thou weigh it? Therefore thou art a lover of gold, and not a lover of God. And art thou not ashamed, perchance it be deficient, to demand of the maker of it why he has stolen some of it? Though thou hast eyes, dose thou not see? And though thou hast intelligence,35 dose thou not understand? Why dost thou wallow on the ground, and offer supplication to things which are without sense? Fear Him who shaketh the earth, and maketh the heavens to revolve, and smiteth the sea, and removeth the mountain from its place–Him who can make Himself like a fire, and consume all things; and, if thou be not able to clear thyself of guilt, yet add not to thy sins; and, if thou be not able to know God, yet doubt not36 that He exists.
"Again, there are persons who say: Whatsoever our fathers have bequeathed to us, that we reverence. Therefore, of course, it is, that those whose fathers have bequeathed them poverty strive to become rich! and those whose fathers did not instruct them, desire to be instructed, and to learn that which their fathers knew not! And why, forsooth, do the children of the blind see, and the children of the lame walk? Nay, it is not well for a man to follow his predecessors, if they be those whose course was evil; but rather that we should turn from that path of theirs, lest that which befell our predecessors should bring disaster upon us also. Wherefore, inquire whether thy father's course was good: and, if so, do thou also follow in his steps; but, if thy father's course was very evil, let thine be good, and so let it be with thy children after thee.37 Be grieved also for thy father because his course is evil, so long as thy grief may avail to help him. But, as for thy children, speak to them thus: There is a God, the Father of all, who never came into being, neither was ever made, and by whose will all things subsist. He also made the luminaries, that His works may see one another; and He conceals Himself in His power from all His works: for it is not permitted to any being subject to change to see Him who changes not. But such as are mindful of His words, and are admitted into that covenant which is unchangeable, they' see God–so far as it is possible for them to see Him. These also will have power to escape destruction, when the flood of fire comes upon all the world. For there was once a flood and a wind,38 and the great39 men were swept away by a violent blast from the north, but the just were left, for a demonstration of the truth. Again, at another time there was a flood of water, and all men and animals perished in the multitude of waters, but the just were preserved in an ark of wood by the command of God. So also will it be at the last time: there shall be a flood of fire, and the earth shall be burnt up, together with its mountains; and mankind shall be burnt up, along with the idols which they have made, and the carved images which they have worshipped; and the sea shall be burnt up, together with its islands; but the just shall be preserved from wrath, like as were their fellows of the ark from the waters of the deluge. And then shall those who have not known God, and those who have made them idols, bemoan themselves, when they shall see those idols of theirs being burnt up, together with themselves, and nothing shall be found to help them.
"When thou, Antoninus40 Cæsar, shall become acquainted with these things, and thy children also with thee, then wilt thou bequeath to them an inheritance for ever which fadeth not away, and thou wilt deliver thy soul, and the souls of thy children also, from that which shall come upon the whole earth in the judgment of truth and of righteousness. For, according as thou hast acknowledged Him here, so will He acknowledge thee there; and, if thou account Him here superfluous, He will not account thee one of those who have known Him and confessed Him.
"These may suffice thy Majesty; and, if they be too many, yet deign to accept them."41
Here endeth Melito.
1"Which was delivered in the presence...and in which etc." This appears to be the sense intended, and is that given by M. Renan: "Sermo qui factus est." Cureton renders, "Who was in the presence, etc.," and supposes that Melito first saw and conversed with the emperor, and afterwards wrote this discourse. Melito speaks of it more than once as written. This view, however, does not dispose of that fact that Melito is here affirmed to have "exhorted (lit., said to) Cæsar, etc." It was clearly meant to be understood that the discourse, or speech, was spoken: the references to writing merely show that it was written, either before or after the delivery.
2Cureton: "passion." The word *** takes both meanings.
3Lit. "sojourn beneath it."
4Cureton: "act foolishly."
6Comp. Rom. 10:18
7Cureton: "light without envy." But the expression resembles the Gk. ἀφθόνως [aphthonos], ungrudgingly, without stint.
8Lit. "to the ditch is his way." Comp. Matt. 15:14
9See vol. i. p. 280, this series, where the following lines are quoted by Justin Martyr from the Sibylline Oracles:– "But we have strayed from the Immortal's ways, And worship with a dull and senseless mind Idols, the workmanship of our own hands, And images and figures of dead men."
10Cureton: "those belonging to the Cæsars." But the Cæsars themselves are clearly meant.
11Cureton: "sacks full." The first word is used of a leathern pouch or wallet, as in Luke 10:4 (Peshito) for πήρα [pera].
12Lit., "they became."
13Cureton, without necessity, reads the word "Dionysius."
14Cureton renders "originally." But comp. Judith 4:3, where the same word answers to προσφάτως [prosphatos].
16Cureton's conjecture of *** or *** for *** has been adopted.
17Some have identified it with Aphek, Josh. 19:30. The rites observed here were specially abominable.
18Cureton: "the patrician." Dr. Payne Smith, Thes. Syr. s.v., regards the word as equivalent to πατὴρ τῆς πόλεως [pater tes poleos], pater civitatis, "a title of honour found in the Byzantine writers," and is inclined to think it a term belonging to the dialect of Edessa. A similar use of the same adjective is quoted from Buxtorf, Lex. Chald. Talm., p. 12: "'אַבַּיי cognomen R. Nachmanis, qui a celebritate familiæ sic cognominatus est, quasi Patritius." This view appears to be supported by the similar use of an adjective for a substantive above: "persons of Cæsarean rank," or "Cæsars."
19Lit., "be (or, get to be) with thyself." Cureton: "enter into thyself." The meaning appears to be, "think for thyself."
20Cureton: "Everything cometh through His hands." It should rather be, "into His hands," i.e., "He has power to do everything." See note 7, p. 725.
21Lit., "be running in thy mind."
22The text has ***, which M. Renan derives from the root *** and translates "commovetur." This, although correct in grammar, does not suit the sense. The grammars recognise the form as a possible Eshtaphel of ***, "tangere," but it is not found in actual use. Dr. Payne Smith thinks the right reading to be ***, which gives the required sense.
23Or, "that which is fixed and invariable." There seems to be a reference to the derivation of *** (truth) from ***, firmus (stabilis) fuit. Cureton has strangely mistranslated ***, by "that which, without having been brought into existence, does exist." The first *** is nothing but the sign of emphatic denial which is frequently appended to ***, and *** is the infinitive of emphasis belonging to the second ***.
24Cureton: "materials." The printed text has *** "drugs." The correct reading, there can hardly be a doubt, is ***.
25Lit., "the property of the gold or silver," if the word *** is rightly taken. Although no such derivative of *** is found in the lexicons, the form is possible from the Palel of that verb: e.g. *** from ***. See Hoffmann, Gram. Syr., sec. 87, 19.
26Lit. "in one fashion."
27Or, "of what pertains to it."
28Lit. "many good things."
29Lit. "be the beginner."
30Cureton is probably right in so taking the words, although the construction is not quite the same as in the similar sentence a little below. If so, for *** we must read ***.
32Lit. "into an insult of God." So M. Renan, "in opprobrium Dei." Cureton, admitting that this may be the sense, renders, "an abomination of God," and refers to the circumstance that in Scripture an idol is frequently so spoken of. But *** is not used in such passages (it is either ***, or, less frequently, ***), nor does it appear ever to have the meaning which Cureton assigns to it.
34Lit. "hast made it."
36Lit. "be of opinion."
37This seems preferable to Cureton's, "and let thy children also follow after thee." Had this been the meaning, probably the verb *** would have been used, as in the preceding sentence, not ***.
38So the Sibylline oracle, as quoted by Cureton in the Greek:– "And, when he would the starry steep of heaven Ascend, the Sire Immortal did his works With mighty blasts assail: forthwith the winds Hurled prostrate from its height the towering pile, And bitter strife among the builders roused."
39Lit. "chosen." The same expression, except that the similar *** is used for ***, occurs Sap. Sol. xiv. 6, as a translation of ὑπερηφάνων γιγάντων [huperephanon giganton], gigantes superbi. See Thes. Syr., s.v. ***.
40The ms. has "Antonius."
41Cureton, for the last clause, gives "as thou wilt," remarking that the sense is obscure. The literal rendering is, "if thou wilt," the consequent clause being unexpressed. "If you please, accept them," seems what is meant.
Keywords: ante-nicene fathers melito apology Antoninus Cæsar