Lactantius: Are You Going for the Straight Path?

Feast of St Ananias, Apostle of the 70, and St Romanos the Melodist

Lactantius_Square.jpegLET US leave to one side the inventors of this earth-based philosophy, who have nothing secure to offer, and go for the straight path. If I thought that they were sufficiently sound as guides to good living, I would both follow them myself and encourage others to do so. But since they disagree violently with each other, and often with themselves, their route is plainly not a straight one at all; they have each followed the path of their own liking, leaving a great confusion for those who seek the truth. We, however, who have received the sacrament of true religion have the truth by divine revelation, and we follow God as the teacher of wisdom and the guide to virtue: we therefore invite all people to the food of heaven with no distinction of age or sex; there is no sweeter food for the soul than the knowledge of truth. We have devoted seven volumes to asserting and illuminating this truth; it could involve an almost endless, an infinite labor, since anyone wanting to develop the discussion to the full would find such lavish abundance of material that his volumes would have no number and his flow of words no stop. We, however, shall manage it all in short form, because what we have to offer is clear and lucid (so much so, indeed, that it is surprising people found the truth so difficult to see, especially those with a reputation for intelligence), and our aim is anyway one of instruction, of redirecting people from the error that entangles them on to a straighter path.

If, as I hope, we achieve our purpose, then we can send them to the source of learning in all its richness and fullness and they can slake the thirst in their bellies and satisfy their ardor with great draughts of it; they will find everything is easy for them, all ready to hand and obvious, provided that in their aim of learning the teaching of wisdom they never tire of reading and listening. Many cling stubbornly to vain superstitions and harden themselves against plain truth; they do no favor to the religions they assert so perversely and even less favor to themselves. They have the straight path, and yet they go a roundabout, devious course, abandoning the obvious line and tumbling over the edge; they shun the light, and collapse blind and enfeebled darkness. They need advice, to cease the fight against themselves and to will their tardy release from long-standing error; if they eventually come to see why they were born, they will do so anyway. The cause of wickedness is ignorance of self. If a man can learn the truth and so sort out that ignorance, he will then know his life’s purpose and how he should be living. I can summarize this knowledge as follows: no religion should be adopted without wisdom in it, and no wisdom should be accepted without religion in it.

—Lactantius, The Divine Institutes

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