1. The upshot of the previous discussion
SOME people believe in the existence both of good and of bad gods. Others take a better view of the gods, and ascribe to them so much praise and honour that they cannot bring themselves to believe that there can be such a thing as a bad god. Now those who have asserted the existence of good gods and bad gods,1 have applied the name of gods to demons also, while sometimes, though more rarely, speaking of gods as ‘demons’. In fact they admit that Jupiter himself, the king and leader of the gods, in their view, was called ‘demon’ by Homer.2
As for those who assert that there can only be good gods, whose goodness far excels anything that is called goodness in man, they are rightly disturbed by the actions of the demons, which they cannot deny, and consider it impossible that such things could be done by gods, whom they hold to be good. So they are forced to postulate a difference between gods and demons. All that they disapprove of, with good reason, whether in the evil activities or in the degraded passions where the hidden spirits display their power – all this they attribute to the demons, not to the gods. On the other hand, they hold that ‘gods never have direct contact with men’3 and therefore suppose that these demons are established midway between men and gods, to carry men’s requests to the gods and to bring back the benefits the gods have granted. This is the view of the Platonists, the most eminent and celebrated of the philosophers. And it is with them, because of their superiority to all the other thinkers, that we decided to discuss the question whether the worship of a plurality of gods is of any value for the attainment of blessedness in the life after death. Thus in the preceding book we observed that demons rejoice in such things as are detested and condemned by men of virtue and wisdom, in the blasphemous, outrageous, criminal fictions of the poets, invented not about any mere human being but about the gods themselves, and in the abominable and legally punishable violence of magic arts. And we asked how it could be that such demons should be able, as being reputedly closer to the gods and more friendly with them, to bring good men into the favour of the ‘good gods’. And our finding was that this was utterly impossible.
2. Are there any good demons who might assist the human soul to attain felicity?
This present volume will have to fulfil the promise given at the end of the last book, and contain a discussion of the distinction (if any is admitted to exist) between different kinds of demons. We shall not treat of any distinction between gods, since the Platonists insist that all gods are good, nor of the distinction between gods and demons. There is, according to them, a vast interval separating men from gods, while the demons are situated in between the two. We shall be concerned with the distinction among the demons, as far as is relevant to the question before us. Now it is with many people a commonplace that there are good demons and bad demons. And whether this opinion is also held by the Platonists, or whether by any other philosophical school, we must certainly not omit to discuss it. We should not let anyone imagine that so-called ‘good demons’ are to be courted, on the assumption that their mediation can assure him that reconciliation with the gods (all of whom he believes to be good) on which he has set his heart. Such a man might suppose that he would be able to enter into fellowship with the gods after death; but in fact he would find himself in the toils of malignant spirits, the victim of their deception, far astray from the true God, with whom alone, in whom alone, and through whom alone, the soul of man, the rational and intelligent soul, can attain to felicity.
3. Apuleius attributes reason, but not goodness, to the demons
What then is the distinction between good demons and bad? Apuleius the Platonist describes the demons in general, and writes at length about their bodies of air. But he has nothing to say about the virtues of their character, with which they would have been endowed, if they had been good. Thus he was silent about the essential condition of felicity; but he could not suppress the proof of their wretchedness, since he admits that their mind, which in his account made them rational beings, far from being steeped in virtue and thus protected against any surrender to irrational passions of the soul, was itself in some measure liable to disturbances, agitations, and storms of passion, the normal condition of foolish minds. These are his words on the subject:
It is from this collection of demons that the poets generally select their characters when, without departing much from the truth, they give a fictitious picture of the gods as haters or lovers of particular men: when they represent them as raising some people to prosperity and bringing to others frustration and affliction. Hence the gods are shown feeling pity and indignation, anguish, joy and every facet of human emotion; being subject, like men, to such agitation of the heart and turmoil in the mind they are tossed about on the stormy waters of their imaginations. All these squalls and tempests banish them far away from the tranquillity of the gods of heaven.4
There is no uncertainty in those words. It is not any of the lower parts of the souls of the demons that Apuleius describes as agitated as if by raging seas and storms of passion; it is their mind, the faculty that makes them rational beings. And therefore they are not worthy of comparison with wise men who, even under the conditions of their present life, offer the resistance of an undisturbed mind to those disturbances of the soul from which human weakness cannot be exempt, and do not allow themselves either to command or to commit any act which strays from the path of wisdom or transgresses the law of justice. It is the foolish and the lawless among mortals that these demons resemble, not in their bodies but in their characters. I might say that they are worse than such men, inasmuch as they are older in wickedness, and incapable of being reformed by the punishment they deserve. And so they are tossed about on what Apuleius calls the raging sea of their minds. Only truth and virtue can offer a centre of resistance against turbulent and degraded passions. And there is no truth or virtue in the constitution of their souls.
4. The opinions of Peripatetics and Stoics about the passions
Two opinions are found among the philosophers concerning these agitations of the soul, which the Greeks call pathê, while some of our Latin authors, Cicero for example,5 describe them as disturbances, others as affections or affects, or again as passions, the word used by Apuleius, which is closer to the meaning of the Greek term. Now these disturbances (or affections or passions), according to some philosophers, befall even a wise man, though with him they are restrained and subjected to reason, and the predominant intellect as it were imposes laws on the passions, which keep them within strict bounds. This opinion is held by the Platonists and the Aristotelians – Aristotle being a disciple of Plato who founded the Peripatetic school. Others, the Stoics among them, refuse to admit that passions of this kind can conceivably befall a wise man. Now Cicero, in his work On the Ends of Good and Evil, proves that the opposition between Stoics and Platonists (or Peripatetics) is really a quarrel about words rather than things. For example, the Stoics refuse to give the name ‘goods’ to what they call material and external ‘advantages’. According to them there is no ‘good’ for man except virtue, meaning the art of the good life, which exists only in the soul. The other side called them quite simply ‘goods’, in conformity with the normal usage, but they regarded them as goods of small or infinitesimal value in comparison with virtue, the practice of the good life. The result is that both sides attach the same value to ‘goods’ or ‘advantages’, in spite of the different terminology; the Stoics are only indulging in the pleasure of linguistic innovation on this point. And it seems to me that in the question whether passions of the soul can befall the wise man, the dispute is a matter of words rather than of things. In my opinion, the Stoic view of the matter is identical with that of Platonists and Peripatetics, in respect of the objective reference of their statements, as opposed to the sound of their words.
To dispense with the tedium of a detailed demonstration, I shall confine myself to one most cogent piece of evidence. In his work entitled Attic Nights, Aulus Gellius,6 a writer of polished eloquence and multifarious erudition, tells the following anecdote.7 He once found himself on a sea voyage in the company of a well-known Stoic. When the ship began to pitch dangerously on a stormy sea beneath a lowering sky (I am condensing the detailed and copious narrative of Gellius) the philosopher turned pale with fright. This was noticed by those present, who were curious to observe, even when death was imminent, whether a philosopher would be disturbed in soul or not. Once the storm had passed, and restored confidence afforded the opportunity for conversation, and even raillery, one of the other passengers, a rich and self-indulgent Asiatic, hailed the philosopher with a jibe at his terror and pallor, in contrast with the speaker’s own unshaken intrepidity in the face of impending destruction. The Stoic replied with the retort given in a similar situation by Aristippus8 the Socratic to a man of the same type who had made the same remark: ‘You were quite right not to be worried about the life of a contemptible scoundrel: but I was bound to be afraid for the life of Aristippus.’ This reply put the rich man in his place. But later on Gellius asked the philosopher, with no intention of criticizing him, but simply for information, what really was the reason for his panic. The Stoic was ready to instruct a man who betrayed such an ardent thirst for knowledge, and he immediately produced from his baggage a work of Epictetus9 the Stoic, an exposition of doctrines in harmony with the principles laid down by Zeno and Chrysippus, whom we know as the originators of Stoicism.10 Gellius tells us that he read in that book that the Stoics had concluded that there are certain mental phenomena, to which they give the name of ‘fantasies’, which we cannot control. We cannot decide whether they will happen, or when they will happen. When these are brought on by circumstances of overwhelming terror they are bound to disturb even the mind of a philosopher, so that, for a moment, he experiences the panic of terror or the anguish of grief. It is as if these passions are too quick for the functioning of his intellect and reason. This does not mean that his intellect forms any judgement on the evil, or that his reason approves those reactions or consents to them. It is this consent, they insist, that is under our control, and this, according to the Stoics, is the difference between the attitude of a wise man and a fool. The soul of the fool gives way to these passions and accords them the consent of his mind, while the wise man’s soul, although it cannot help experiencing these emotions, still keeps its mind unshaken and holds firmly to its right decision about what aims it ought, in reason, to pursue, and what it should reject.
Such is the teaching which Gellius read, according to his own account, in the book of Epictetus, where the author expresses ideas based on the principles of Stoicism. I have expounded the teaching to the best of my power, less attractively, no doubt, than Gellius, but more succinctly, and, I fancy, with greater clarity.
On this showing there is little or no difference between the opinions of Stoics and of other philosophers on the subject of the disturbances – or passions – of the soul. Both sides champion the mind and the reason against the tyranny of the passions. And the meaning of the Stoic assertion that passions do not touch a wise man is probably that passions in no way cloud with error that wisdom in virtue of which he is wise, nor can they undermine and overthrow it. However, they do happen to his soul, but that is because of circumstances which the Stoics call ‘advantageous’ or ‘disadvantageous’, being unwilling to describe them as ‘good’ or ‘evil’. For, to be sure, if the philosopher in the anecdote had attached no importance to all that he felt he was going to lose in the shipwreck, including his life, and his material existence, he would not have dreaded the danger to the point of betraying his fear by turning pale. Yet it was possible for him to experience that emotion, while retaining in his mind the fixed conviction that life and material existence, which were threatened by the violence of the storm, are not ‘goods’ of the same order as justice; they cannot determine the goodness of their possessor.
The Stoic insistence that such things are not to be called ‘good’, but ‘advantageous’, should be regarded as a quibble about words, not a question of the realities they signify. What does it matter whether they are more properly called ‘goods’, or ‘advantages’, seeing that Stoic and Peripatetic alike turn pale with dread at the prospect of their loss? There is a difference of terminology, but an identical judgement of value. Both schools certainly maintain that if they were urged to any disgraceful or criminal act by a threatened danger to these ‘goods’ or ‘advantages’ as the only way to ensure their retention, they would prefer to lose all that guarantees the life and health of the physical body rather than commit any violation of justice. Thus the mind in which this principle is fixed does not allow any of those disturbances to prevail in it against reason, even though they may occur in the lower parts of the soul. On the contrary, the mind exercises dominion over them. Far from consenting to them, it resists, and by that resistance establishes the reign of virtue. Virgil describes Aeneas as such a man when he says
Unmoved his mind: the tears roll down in vain.11
5. For Christians, the passions offer a training in virtue, not an inducement to sin
It is not at this point necessary to expound in copious detail what is taught about these passions in the divine Scriptures, which contain the syllabus of instruction for Christians. Scripture subjects the mind to God for his direction and assistance, and subjects the passions to the mind for their restraint and control so that they may be turned into the instruments of justice. In fact, in our discipline, the question is not whether the devout soul is angry, but why; not whether it is sad, but what causes its sadness; not whether it is afraid, but what is the object of its fear.
To be indignant with the sinner with a view to his correction, to feel sorrow for the afflicted with a view to his release from suffering, to be afraid for one in danger so as to prevent his death – those are emotions which, as far as I can see, no sane judgement could reprove. The Stoics, to be sure, are in the habit of extending their condemnation to compassion;12 but how much more honourable would it have been in the Stoic of our anecdote to have been ‘disturbed’ by compassion so as to rescue someone, rather than by the fear of being shipwrecked! Far more creditable, more humane, and more in harmony with the feelings of true religion was the sentiment expressed in Cicero’s praise of Caesar, ‘Of all your virtues, none was more admirable, none more attractive, than your compassion.’13 What is compassion but a kind of fellow-feeling in our hearts for another’s misery, which compels us to come to his help by every means in our power? Now this emotion is the servant of reason, when compassion is shown without detriment to justice, when it is a matter of giving to the needy or of pardoning the repentant. Cicero, with his unique mastery of words, did not hesitate to call compassion a virtue, while the Stoics did not scruple to class it as a vice. Yet, on the evidence of the book of that notable Stoic, Epictetus (a book based on the principles of Zeno and Chrysippus, the founders of that sect) even the Stoics admit passions of this kind into the soul of a wise man, while insisting that such a man is free from every vice. From this one must conclude that they do not regard them as vices when they occur in a wise man in such a way as to have no power against his strength of mind and his reason. The Stoic position would then be identical with that of the Peripatetics and even the Platonists; and, as Cicero says, ‘It is high time that these linguistic disputes were left to torment those poor little Greeks who are more devoted to controversy than to truth.’14
There is another question which merits examination. Are we to suppose that our experience of such emotions, even in the practice of good works, is one of the disabilities involved in this present life? Do we then assume that the holy angels feel no anger when they punish those who are consigned to them for punishment by God’s eternal law? That they come to the help of the wretched without feeling compassion for their wretchedness, and have no fear for those whom they love when they rescue them from danger? Certainly, we follow the conventions of human language in applying to the angels the words denoting these passions, but this is perhaps because of the analogy between their actions and those of men, not because they are subject to the infirmity of our passions. In the same way, God is described in Scripture as showing anger though in fact he is not troubled by any passion. The word ‘anger’ signifies that his vengeance is effected; it does not mean he is himself affected by any storm of emotion.
6. Demons are at the mercy of passions
Let us postpone the question of the holy angels for the time being and notice how, according to the Platonists, these demons, located midway between gods and men, are tossed about on the waves of the passions. If they experienced these emotions while their minds remained free from their influence, and exerted mastery over the passions, Apuleius would not have spoken of them as ‘tossed about on the stormy waters of their imaginations, subject, like men, to such agitation of the heart and turmoil in the mind’.15 It follows that it is their mind that is affected, the superior part of the soul, the faculty that makes them rational beings, the place where virtue and wisdom, if they have any, exercises mastery over the turbulent passions of the lower parts of the soul by directing and controlling them. It is their mind, which, on the admission of this Platonist, is ‘tossed on those stormy waters’. Thus the mind of the demons is in subjection to the passions of desire, of fear, of anger, and the rest. Then is there any part of them free and capable of wisdom, which can make them acceptable to the gods, and of service to man by offering an example of morality? How can there be, if their mind is subdued under the oppressive tyranny of vicious passions, and employs for seduction and deception all the rational power that it has by nature, with all the more eagerness as the lust for doing harm gains increasing mastery?
7. According to the Platonists, the poets’ slanders of the gods refer to the demons
It may be objected that it is not the whole class of demons, but only the evil kind, to which this applies; that it is from this class that the poets have taken their characters, when, without straying far from the truth, they give a fictitious picture of gods as haters and lovers of men (these being the ‘gods’ who, in the words of Apuleius, ‘are tossed about on the stormy waters of their imaginations’). What are we to make of this? For when Apuleius made this remark he was describing the intermediate situation between gods and men held, in virtue of their bodies of air, by all the demons, not just by some of them, the evil kind.
According to Apuleius the effect of the poets’ fictions was to make some of these demons into gods, to give them the names of gods, and to distribute them to men as friends or foes, quite capriciously, thanks to the unrestricted licence of poetical fiction; whereas the gods, he maintains, are worlds apart from such demon morality in virtue of their situation in the heavens and their abundant felicity. Thus it is mere poetic fiction to give the names of gods to those who are not gods, and to portray them in mutual conflict on account of men for whom they feel the affection or dislike of partisanship. For all that, Apuleius declares that this fiction is not far from the truth, seeing that though they are given names of gods, to which they are not entitled, it is demons who are being presented in their real characters. In fact Apuleius asserts that Minerva, as Homer presents her, belongs to this class ‘when she intervenes to restrain Achilles in the midst of the Greek assemblies’.16 It was, he insists, a poetical fiction to say that she was Minerva; for he considers Minerva to be a goodess and sets her among the gods, whom he believes to be all of them good and happy in their ethereal abode on high, far from any intercourse with mortals. But he agrees that there was same demon supporting the Greeks against the Trojans and another demon helping the Trojans against the Greeks, whom the poet calls Venus, or Mars, using the names of gods whom Apuleius locates in heavenly abodes, taking no part in such activities, and that those demons fought among themselves in support of those whom they loved, and in opposition to those whom they hated. All this he admitted to be not far from the truth in the poet’s narrative. For these accounts were concerned with beings who were, on his showing, ‘subject, like men, to such agitation of the heart and turmoil in the mind, tossed about on the stormy waters of their imaginations’, so that their loves or hates could prompt them to act in favour of some and in opposition to others, without regard to justice, but at the bidding of partisan feeling, just as the members of the populace, who are the image of them, support their favourite wild beast fighters and charioteers. The chief anxiety of our Platonist was that the activities described by the poets should be attributed to these intermediary demons, and not to the gods whose names the poets misapplied.
8. Gods, demons, and men, as defined by Apuleius
But we must not too lightly pass over the actual definition of demons, given by Apuleius – a definition intended to include them all The demons, he says, are animals in respect of species; in respect of soul, liable to passions; in mind, capable of reason; in body, composed of air; in life-span, eternal.17 Now in all these five attributes thus listed, he has mentioned nothing at all which would suggest that the demons have something in common with good men which is not found in the bad. For he gives a somewhat extended description of man, to embrace him in a definition; he treats of him in his turn as being a creature made of earth on the lowest scale of existence, when he had previously treated of the gods of heaven, and so after allocating these two divisions of the universe, the highest and the lowest, he goes on to speak in the third and last place about the demons, who occupy the intermediate situation. These are his words:
And so we come to men, rejoicing in reason, endowed with the great power of speech; with immortal souls, but with physical frames destined for death; with minds unstable and unquiet, and bodies clumsy and vulnerable; diverse in character, but alike in error, persistent in daring, pertinacious in hope, ineffectual in their striving, dogged by ill-luck; individually mortal, yet perpetual as a whole species, one generation taking the place of another in continual exchange; their life a fleeting span, their wisdom slow in coming, but their death swift; their life full of complaining. Such are the inhabitants of the earth.
While saying so many things, which apply to most men, he certainly did not omit to mention something which he knew to apply to only a few. He mentioned this in speaking of ‘wisdom’, which is ‘slow in coming’. Had he omitted this element, he would have failed to give a complete description of the human race, for all his care and thoroughness. On the other hand, when he is concerned to emphasize the preeminence of the gods, it is felicity that he asserts as their pre-eminent quality; the felicity which they wish men to attain through wisdom.
Accordingly, if he had wished it to be understood that there are some good demons, he would have put into his description of them some characteristic which would suggest that the demons shared some portion of felicity with the gods, or some kind of wisdom with men. But in fact he mentions no good quality in them by which the good might be distinguished from the evil. Doubtless he was chary of expressing himself frankly about their wickedness, for fear, not so much of offending the demons themselves, as of offending their worshippers, who formed his audience; nevertheless he made clear, to the thoughtful readers, what they ought to think about the demons. For he made the gods, (who, he insisted, must all be understood to be good) completely aloof from the passions and, as he put it, the ‘storms’, which affect the demons. He united gods and demons only in respect of the eternity of their bodies, while expressly driving home the point that in soul the demons resemble men, and not the gods; and they resemble men not in the good quality of wisdom, of which men can have a share, but in the turbulent passions, which gain the mastery over the foolish and the wicked, but are controlled by the wise and the good – though they would prefer not to have them rather than to gain the victory over them. Now if he had wished it to be understood that the eternity which the demons share with the gods is an eternity of souls, not of bodies, he would not have excluded men from a share in it, because there can be no shadow of doubt that, as a Platonist, he believed the soul of man to be eternal. That is why, in describing this species of living beings, he ascribes to man ‘an immortal soul, but a physical frame destined for death’. It follows that if it is the mortality of their bodies that debars man from sharing the eternity of the gods, it must be the immortality of their bodies that entitles the demons to share it.
9. Can men receive the friendship of the gods through the mediation of demons?
What kind of beings are these mediators between gods and men through whom men are to canvass the friendly offices of the gods? They share man’s inferiority in respect of the better part of a living being, the soul; they share the superiority of the gods in respect of the lower part of a living being, the body. Now every living being, or ‘animal’, consists of a soul and a body. Of these two constituents the soul is certainly better than the body, however faulty and weak it may be, better even than the healthiest and strongest body, because its nature is more excellent, and the blemishes of vice cannot make it inferior to the body – just as gold, even if dirty, is valued above silver or lead, however pure. And these ‘mediators’ between gods and men, through whose intervention the human is joined to the divine, have an eternal body in common with the gods, but a corrupted soul in common with men – as if religion, by which men aspire to be united with the gods by the mediation of demons, were located in the body, not in the soul. What a wicked thing to do, to hang those spurious and deceptive mediators upside down! Or perhaps it was a punishment? Anyhow, they have their body, the lower part of their being, in the company of the higher powers, while their higher part, the soul, is with the lower creatures; united with the gods of heaven in virtue of their subordinate part, they are united in misery with men on earth in respect of the part which should command. For the body is undoubtedly a servant; as Sallust says, ‘Our soul is appointed to command, our body to obey.’18 And he adds, ‘One element in us we share with the gods, the other with the beasts,’ for he is speaking about man, who, like the beasts, has a mortal body. On the other hand, these demons, whom the philosophers have provided for us as mediators between ourselves and the gods, can indeed say of their soul and body, ‘One element in us we share with the gods, the other with men.’ But, as I have said, they have been tied up and suspended as it were topsyturvy, with their body, the servant, in the company of the blessed gods, and their soul, the master, in the company of wretched men; exalted in the lower part of their being, they are abased in their upper part. Hence even if one supposes that the demons share eternity with the gods, because their souls are never sundered from the body by death, as happens with terrestrial creatures, one should not think of their body as the eternal instrument of beings advanced to honour, but as the eternal chain that binds the damned.
10. The opinion of Plotinus that men are less wretched in their mortal bodies than demons in their eternal bodies
Plotinus is accorded the praise of having understood Plato more thoroughly than anyone else, at any rate in modern times. And when speaking of the human soul, he says, ‘The Father in his compassion made these fetters mortal.’19 That is, he considered that the very fact of man’s corporal mortality is due to the compassion of God, who would not have us kept for ever in the misery of this life. The wickedness of the demons was not judged worthy of this compassion, and in the misery of their condition, with a soul subject to passions, they have not been granted the mortal body, which man has received, but an eternal body. They would certainly have been happier than man, if they had shared man’s mortal body and the blessed soul of the gods. They would have been on an equality with man, if they had been counted worthy to share man’s wretched soul, but, at the same time, his mortal body – provided that they could have acquired some measure of piety, so that they might at least in death have rest from their sorrows. As it is, not only does the wretchedness of their soul prevent them from being happier than men; they are even more miserable than men because they are chained to the body for all eternity. For our Platonist did not want it to be supposed that demons could make progress in the practice of piety and wisdom and so turn into gods. He declared in unmistakeable terms that they are demons in perpetuity.
11. The notion of the Platonists that the souls of men, released from the body, become demons
Apuleius says also that the souls of men are demons.20 On leaving human bodies they become lares if they have shown themselves good, if evil, lemures or larvae, while they are called di manes, if it is not certain to which class they belong. Surely anyone can see, on a moment’s reflection, what an abyss of moral degradation is opened by this notion. It means that however wicked men have been, they will suppose that they are on the way to becoming larvae, or di manes, and they will become worse in proportion to their desire to do evil, believing that after their death some sort of sacrifice will be offered them, like the honours paid to the gods, to invite them to continue their evil work. According to Apuleius, larvae are malignant demons created out of men; but that raises another question. He also says that this is the reason why the blessed are called in Greek eudaimones;21it is because their souls, that is to say their demons, are good, which proves, he thinks, that the souls of men are demons.
12. The distinctive marks of demons and men, according to the Platonists
Our present concern is with those demons whose special characteristics have been listed by Apuleius, situated between gods and men, belonging to the ‘animal’ species, with a rational mind, a soul subject to passions, a body made of air, a life-span of eternity.22 Having located the gods in the heights of heaven and men on the earth, the lowest level of the universe, he concludes with these words:
You now have two classes of ‘animals’: the gods are vastly different from man in respect of their lofty abode, the perpetuity of their life, the perfection of their nature: there is no direct intercourse between gods and men, because of the immensity of the gulf which yawns between the highest and the lowest dwelling-places; and the life there above is eternal and unfailing, while here below it is fleeting and unreliable; and natures there are lifted up to felicity, while here they are forced down to sorrows.23
I find quoted here three pairs of contraries distinguishing the two extremes of being, the highest and the lowest. In other words, our author has repeated the three excellencies which he had already ascribed to the gods, to contrast them with three characteristics of mankind. The three attributes of the gods are these: the sublimity of their abode, the eternity of their life, the perfection of their nature. He has repeated these, in different words, so as to oppose to them three contrasting attributes of mankind. Previously he had said, ‘the sublimity of their abode’, now he speaks of ‘the immensity of the gulf which yawns between the highest and lowest habitations’. He had said, ‘eternity of life’; now we have, ‘the life there above is eternal and unfailing, while here below it is fleeting and unreliable.’ And for ‘perfection of their nature’ we read, ‘natures there are lifted up to felicity, while here they are forced down to sorrows.’ Thus he attributes to the gods three characteristics: a sublime abode, eternity, and felicity, and he attributes to men three contraries: a lowly abode, mortality, and misery.
13. If the demons are not happy like the gods or wretched like men, how can they act as intermediaries?
Apuleius gave the demons an intermediate position between gods and men in respect of these three pairs of contrary attributes. About their location in the universe there is no dispute. They are assigned a most appropriate place, midway between the heights and the depths. There remain the other two pairs, and here more careful attention is required, both to show that neither attribute is inapplicable to the demons, and then to assign them to the demons in such a way as their intermediate situation appears to demand.
Now it is impossible that neither attribute should apply. We can speak of an intermediate location as being neither the highest nor the lowest; but we cannot rightly say that the demons, being rational ‘animals’, are neither happy nor wretched like the plants which lack sensibility, or the beasts who lack reason. Beings whose minds are possessed of reason are of necessity either happy or unhappy. Again, we cannot rightly say that the demons are neither mortal nor immortal; for all living things either live for ever, or bring their span of life to an end in death. Besides, our philosopher has said that the demons have a ‘life-span of eternity’.
We must conclude that these intermediate beings have one of the two superior attributes and one of the two inferior. For if they had both of the superior, or both of the inferior, they would not be intermediate; they would either rise up to the higher position, or sink down to the lower. Now since, as has been shown, one of the opposed attributes of these two pairs must apply to them, they will preserve their intermediatestation by receiving one from the higher extreme and one from the lower. Accordingly, since they cannot have their eternity from below, where it is not to be found, that is the attribute they take from the higher side; and thus the only attribute they can have from the lower side to make sure of their intermediate state is misery.
Thus, according to the Platonists, the gods, who dwell on high, have the attributes of blessed eternity or eternal blessedness; men, who inhabit the lowest level of the universe, are characterized by mortal misery, or miserable mortality; the intermediate demons by miserable eternity, or eternal misery. As for those five distinctive marks24 in his definition of the demons, Apuleius has not used them to fulfil his promise to demonstrate the intermediate state of the demons. He states that they share three attributes with us men: membership of the animal species, possession of reason, susceptibility to passions; one attribute they share with the gods: eternal life; and one, the body of air, is their peculiar possession. How then could they be intermediate, if they have one attribute in common with the superior beings, but share three with the inferior sort? Is it not obvious that, in this case, they have abandoned their middle situation, and are forced down to the lower level?
But it is clear that they could be shown to be in a middle situation, even so, in that they have one peculiar attribute, their body of air – as at the two extremes, the gods have their ethereal bodies and men their terrestrial bodies, as their unique distinction; while two attributes are common to all three, namely, membership of the class of ‘animals’, and rationality. For Apuleius himself says, ‘You have two classes of “animals”,’ meaning gods and men, and the Platonists always represent the gods as endowed with reason. Two characteristics are left: the soul susceptible to passion, and eternal existence. The demons share the former with the lower beings, the latter with the higher, so that their middle state is equally balanced and is not lifted up to the higher level or pushed down to the lower. And this it is that constitutes the miserable eternity, or eternal misery, of the demons. The philosopher speaks of ‘a soul susceptible to passions’; he would have added ‘and wretched’, had he not been embarrassed by the thought of their worshippers. Furthermore, since the world is directed, as these philosophers themselves admit, by the providence of God and not by random chance, the misery of the demons would never have been eternal, had not their wickedness been great.
Therefore, if happy people are correctly called eudaimones,25 the demons, whom these philosophers have situated midway between gods and men, are not eudaimoncs. Then what place can be found for the ‘good demons’, so that, being stationed above men and below the gods they may afford help to the former and perform service for the latter? For if they are good and eternal, they are of necessity happy also. But eternal felicity precludes an intermediate state, because it brings them so close to the gods and separates them so far from men. So the philosophers will strive in vain to show how ‘good demons’, if they are immortal and happy, can really be established midway between immortal and blessed gods and mortal and miserable men. Since they have both felicity and immortality in common with the gods, and no community in those respects with men, who are both wretched and mortal, how can they help being far removed from men, and closely connected with the gods, rather than established midway between the two? In fact they could only be midway between them if they themselves, instead of sharing two attributes with one of the other classes, had one attribute in common with each of them. Thus man is an intermediate being, but intermediate between beasts and angels. A beast is irrational and mortal, while an angel is rational and immortal. Man is intermediate, inferior to the angels, and superior to the beasts; he is a rational and mortal animal, sharing mortality with the beasts, and rationality with the angels. And that is why, when we look for a mean between blessed immortals and wretched mortals, we have to find a being who combines happiness with mortality, or wretchedness with immortality.
14. Can man have genuine felicity, though mortal?
Whether man can be both mortal and happy is a vexed question. Some have formed a low opinion of man’s condition, denying that man is capable of felicity in this mortal life. Others26 have held a more exalted view of the human state, and have dared to say that those who are possessed of wisdom can be happy, though mortal. If that is true, why are such men not established as mediators between wretched mortals and blessed immortals, sharing felicity with blessed immortals and mortality with miserable mortals? For it is certain that if they are happy, they envy no one (for is anything more wretched than envy?) and, therefore, they will give to unhappy mortals all the aid in their power, to help them to attain happiness so that they may also be able to be immortal after death and join the company of immortal and blessed angels.
15. ‘The Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’
The more credible and probable position is that all men, as long as they are mortals, must needs be also wretched. If this is so, we must look for a mediator who is not only human but also divine, so that men may be brought from mortal misery to blessed immortality by the intervention of the blessed mortality of this mediator. It was necessary that he should not fail to become mortal, equally necessary that he should not remain mortal. He was in truth made mortal, not by the weakening of the godhead of the Word but by the assumption of the weakness of the flesh. But he did not remain mortal in that flesh which he raised from the dead. For the fruit of his mediation is just this: that those for whose liberation he was made a mediator, should not themselves remain for ever in death, even the death of the flesh. Thus it was necessary that the mediator between God and man should have a transient mortality, and a permanent blessedness, so that through that which is transient he might be conformed to the condition of those who are doomed to the, and might bring them back from the dead to that which is permanent. So it is that good angels cannot mediate between wretched mortals and blessed immortals, because they also are both blessed and immortal. On the other hand, bad angels could mediate, because they are immortals, like the gods, and wretched, like men. Utterly different from them is the good Mediator who, in contrast with the immortality and misery of the bad angels, was willing to be mortal for a time, and was able to remain in blessedness for eternity. Those immortals, in their pride, those wretches, in their wickedness, sought to seduce men into misery by their boast of immortality; to prevent this, the good Mediator by the humility of his death and the kindness of his blessedness has destroyed their power over those whose hearts he has purified, through their faith, and delivered from the filthy tyranny of those demons.
So here is man, in his mortality and misery, so far removed from the immortals in their felicity. What kind of mediation is he to choose to unite him to immortality and felicity? What he could find to delight him in the immortality of the demons is in fact nothing but misery; what he might have recoiled from in the mortality of Christ no longer exists. With the demons, everlasting misery is to be dreaded; with Christ, death is not to be feared, for death could not be everlasting, and the felicity which is to be welcomed is everlasting. For the being who is immortal and wretched intervenes simply to prevent one passing to a blessed immortality, since the obstacle that stands in the way, that is, the misery itself, always persists. But the one who is mortal and blessed interposed in order to make an end of mortality, and give immortality to those who were dead – as he showed by his resurrection – and to give to the wretched the happiness from which he himself had never departed.
Thus there is such a thing as a bad intermediary, who separates friends; very different is a good intermediary, who reconciles enemies. And the reason why there are many intermediaries who separate, is that the multitude of the blessed is made blessed by participation in the one God, and the multitude of evil angels – wretched because deprived of participation in him – rather opposes our approach to blessedness than interposes to help us thither, and even by its very multitude makes a kind of uproar, designed to make it impossible for man to reach that one good which can bring us happiness – that good for which we needed not many mediators, but the one Mediator who could lead us to it. And that Mediator in whom we can participate, and by participation reach our felicity, is the uncreated Word of God, by whom all things were created. And yet he is not the Mediator in that he is the Word; for the Word, being pre-eminently immortal and blessed, is far removed from wretched mortals. He is the Mediator in that he is man, by his very manhood making it plain that for the attainment of that good, which is not only blessed but beatific also, we have not to look for other mediators, through whom, as we may think, we can achieve the approach to happiness. God himself, the blessed God who is the giver of blessedness, became partaker of our human nature and thus offered us a short cut to participation in his own divine nature. For in liberating us from mortality and misery it is not to the immortal and blessed angels that he brings us, so that by participation in their nature we also may be immortal and blessed; it is to that Trinity, in which the angels participate, and so achieve their felicity. For that reason, when he ‘took the form of a servant’,27so as to be a mediator, and was willing to be ‘below the angels’,28 he remained ‘in the form of God’29 above the angels. In the lower world he was the Way of life, as in the world above he is the life itself.
16. The Platonists’ denial of contact between men and gods
There is no truth in the statement, ascribed to Plato by Apuleius,30 that ‘the gods have no direct dealing with men’, with the addition that the principal mark of their sublimity is that they are not denied by any contact with humanity. This amounts to an admission that demons are thus contaminated; it follows that demons cannot purify those by whom they are contaminated, and both parties become equally impure, the demons by contact with men, men by contact with demons. Otherwise, if demons can have contact and intercourse with men without incurring defilement, they are proved to be superior to gods, since the gods would be contaminated by this intercourse. For this is alleged as the principal mark of divinity, that the gods, in their sublimity, are aloof from human contact and cannot be contaminated by it.
Our philosopher assures us that when Plato spoke of the supreme God,31 the creator of all things, whom we Christians call the true God, his teaching was that God is the sole being who cannot be even remotely defined in words because of the poverty of human language. Yet it is just possible for men of wisdom, when, through a strenuous effort of the soul, they have withdrawn themselves from the body as far as may be, to receive an apprehension of this God, and for this illumination to shine on them at intervals, like a sudden flash of dazzling light in the depth of darkness.32 Then if God, who is truly supreme over all things, presents himself to the minds of wise men, when they have withdrawn themselves, as far as may be, from the body, revealing himself to the intellect in an ineffable manner (even if this happens only at intervals, and resembles a sudden flash of dazzling light) and if he can so present himself without possibility of contamination, why should they say that those other gods are established in a lofty dwelling, to prevent their pollution by human contact? Surely it would be enough merely to look at the stars whose light gives the earth illumination sufficient for its needs! The stars, according to our philosopher, are so many visible gods,33 and they are not contaminated by being seen; and the demons are not contaminated when men behold them, although they are seen from close at hand.
But perhaps it is by men’s voices that the gods might be contaminated, although not polluted by the glances of their eyes? Perhaps that is the reason why they employ the demons as intermediaries, so that they may have men’s words conveyed to them, while they remain far removed from men, completely sheltered from contamination? Is there anything to say of the other senses? The gods could not be contaminated through the sense of smell. If they were in the company of men, they could not be polluted by smelling the effluvia of living human bodies – any more than the demons, who are present, can be so polluted – if they are not contaminated by the stench of all those corpses in their sacrifices. As for the sense of taste, the gods have no need to restore mortal substance, so they are not likely to be driven by hunger to ask food from men. On the other hand, touching depends on them. For though, when we speak of contact, it seems as if it is touching that we have particularly in mind, the gods could, if they wished, have dealings with men only so far as seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard are concerned. What need of touching? Men would not dare to desire it, when they were enjoying the sight of the gods – or of good demons – and conversation with them. And even if their curiosity went so far as to wish for physical contact, how could any man touch a god – or a demon – against his will, seeing that he cannot touch a sparrow until he has caught it?
The gods, then, could have bodily contact with men by seeing and offering themselves to be seen, by speaking and listening. If, on the other hand, the demons have dealings with men, as I said above, without contamination, while the gods would be contaminated by such intercourse, that would imply that the demons are exempt from pollution and the gods are not. If, on the contrary, the demons also incur pollution, how can they help men to attain a blessed life after death? If they are contaminated themselves, they cannot purify men so as to bring them into fellowship with the unpolluted gods, between whom and men they have been set as intermediaries. Or if they do not confer this benefit, what use to man is their friendly mediation? Is it so that after death men may not pass over to the gods, by the aid of the demons, but may live in the company of the demons, equally polluted and equally deprived of happiness? Perhaps it may be suggested that demons act like sponges or something of that kind. They cleanse their friends, and in the process become as much dirtier themselves as men become cleaner by their ‘washing’. If so, then the gods have dealing with demons, more polluted creatures, while they have shunned the proximity of men to avoid contamination! Or is it that the gods are able to purify the demons, polluted by men, without incurring pollution, and yet could not do the same for men?
Who could entertain such notions unless he were misled by the most deceitful of the demons? At this rate, if to see, or to be seen, brings defilement, there are gods who are seen by men – those gods whom Apuleius calls ‘visible’,34 the ‘shining lights of the world’35 and the other stars, while the demons are better protected than the gods from this contamination, since they cannot be seen, unless they wish it. Or if it is by seeing, not by being seen, that pollution is incurred, the Platonists have to deny that men are seen by those ‘shining lights of the world’ (whom they hold to be gods) although they extend their rays as far as the earth. And yet those rays are not polluted, although diffused over all those impurities. And would the gods be contaminated, if they were in contact with men, even if this contact were essential for bringing help to men? For the rays of the sun and the moon touch the earth, without any contamination of their light.
17. Christ the only sufficient mediator
It amazes me that such learned men, who have decided that all material things, discerned by the senses, are inferior in value to spiritual things accessible only to the intellect, should make any mention of physical contact, when the question concerns the life of felicity. What has become of that saying of Plotinus, ‘We must flee to our beloved country. There the Father is, and there is everything. Where shall we take ship? How can we flee? By becoming like God.’36 If man comes near to God in proportion as he grows more like him, then unlikeness to God is the only separation from him, and the soul of man is estranged from that immaterial, eternal and unchangeable being in proportion as it craves for things that are temporal and changeable.
For the cure of this condition we need a mediator, since there can be no direct meeting between the immortal purity on high and the mortal and unclean things below. But our need is not for a mediator with an immortal body, like the bodies on high, but with a diseased soul, like those below – for that disease would make him envious of our possible cure, and by no means ready to assist us towards health. We need a mediator linked with us in our lowliness by reason of the mortal nature of his body, and yet able to render us truly divine assistance for our purification and liberation, through the immortal justice of his spirit in virtue of which he has remained in his dwelling on high – not by spatial remoteness from us, but by his unique resemblance to God. It is unthinkable that God, who is incapable of defilement, should be afraid of contamination by the human nature in which he was clothed. For by his incarnation he showed us, for our salvation, two truths of the greatest importance: that the true divine nature cannot be polluted by the flesh, and that demons are not to be reckoned our superiors because they are not creatures of flesh. This mediator is, as the holy Scripture proclaims, ‘the mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus’.37 In respect of his divinity he is always equal to the Father, and by his humanity he became like us. But this is not the place to attempt (as far as our powers would allow) an adequate discussion of this doctrine.
18. The deceitful promises of the demons
Those pretended and deceitful mediators, the demons (whose misery and malignity – the result of the impurity of their spirit – is clearly shown by their achievements) use every effort to distract us and divert us from spiritual progress, helped in their deceit by the distances of material space and by the lightness of their bodies of air. They do not help us on the way to God; they prevent us from keeping to the way. This supposed ‘road to God’ through physical space is utterly mistaken; it leads men completely astray. It is not the road taken by righteousness, since it is not by physical elevation, but by spiritual – that is incorporeal – likeness to God that we must ascend to God. It is a road designed by the friends of the demons, which mounts through the levels of the elements, the demons of air being set midway between gods of the ether and men of earth. And these philosophers suppose that the chief advantage afforded the gods by this ‘road’ is that of being shielded from polluting contact with mankind by the distance that separates them.
Thus they believe that demons are contaminated by men rather than that men are purified by demons and that the gods themselves might be contaminated, were they not protected by the elevation of their abode. Who is unfortunate enough to believe that he can attain purification by this road, where we are told that men contaminate, demons are contaminated, and gods capable of contamination? Who would not choose that way where demons who contaminate are avoided, and where the God who cannot be polluted purifies men from pollution so that they may enter into fellowship with unpolluted angels?
19. The title ‘demon’ no longer has a good significance
But we should not like to appear to be disputing about words; and since some of these demonolators (to coin a word), including Labeo,38 claim that those whom they call ‘demons’ are identical with those called ‘angels’ by others, I see that I must say something about the good angels. Our opponents do not deny their existence, but they prefer to call them ‘demons’, rather than ‘angels’.
For our part, we abide by the language of Scripture, which is the basis of our Christian belief. And there we read of good and bad angels, but never of good demons. In fact, wherever this name is found in the books of the Bible, whether in the form daemones or in the form daemonia, it always refers to malignant spirits. And this way of speaking has been so generally adopted, that even among those who are called pagans, who maintain that it is right to worship many gods and demons, scarcely anyone would be so literary and pedantic as to bring himself to say, even to his slave, by way of a compliment, ‘You are possessed of a demon.’ He would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if he decided to say this to anyone it would inevitably be taken as a deliberate insult. Then why should we feel compelled to start by offending the ears of so many of our hearers, in fact almost all of them (who normally understand the term only in a bad sense), and then to go on to explain our meaning? By using the word ‘angel’ we can avoid the shock which the word ‘demon’ is likely to produce.
20. The meaning of the word ‘demon’
However, the actual derivation of the word ‘demon’, if we consult the divine Scriptures, teaches us something very well worth learning. The word ‘demons’ is Greek; and demons are so called because of their knowledge.39 Now the Apostle, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says, ‘Knowledge inflates: but love edifies.’40 The only correct interpretation of this saying is that knowledge is valuable when charity informs it. Without charity, knowledge inflates; that is, it exalts man to an arrogance which is nothing but a kind of windy emptiness. There is in the demons knowledge without charity, and so they are inflated; that is to say, they are so arrogant that they have done their best to obtain for themselves the divine honours and the devout service which they know to be due to the true God. They still pursue this aim as much as they can and wherever they can. Against this arrogance of the demons, to which mankind was enslaved as a deserved punishment, is set the humility of God, revealed in Christ. But the power of humility is unknown to men whose souls are inflated with the impurity of inflated pride. They resemble the demons in arrogance, but not in knowledge.
21. How God willed to be made known to the demons
The demons have also the knowledge which made them say, ‘What business have you with us, Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us?’41 Those words show clearly that they had so much knowledge, but lacked charity. They dreaded receiving their punishment from him; they did not love the righteousness that was in him. He made himself known to them to the extent he willed; and he willed to be made known to the extent that was fitting. But he was not made known to them as he is known to the holy angels; for the angels enjoy the participation in his eternity, in that he is the Word of God; to the demons he is known as he had to be made known to strike terror into them, for his purpose was to free from their tyrannical power (as we may call it) those who were predestined for his kingdom and glory, which is eternally true and truly eternal.
Therefore, he did not make himself known to the demons as the life eternal, and the unchangeable light which illuminates his true worshippers, whose hearts are purified by faith in him so that they see that light; he was known to the demons through certain temporal effects of his power, the signs of his hidden presence, which could be more evident to angelic senses, even those of malignant spirits, than to the weak perception of men. It is true that when he decided that those signs of power should be restrained, and when he concealed his real person more completely, the prince of the demons had doubts about him, and tested him to see if he were the Christ – in so far as he allowed himself to be tempted so that, under his control, the human nature which he wore might present an example for our imitation. But after that temptation, as the Scripture says, angels ministered to him42– good and holy angels, of course, and therefore striking fear and trembling into the impure spirits; and after that his greatness was increasingly made known to the demons, so that none of them dared to resist his commands, even though the weakness of his flesh might seem contemptible.
22. The difference between the knowledge of angels and the knowledge of demons
The good angels hold cheap all the knowledge of material and temporal matters, which inflates the demons with pride. It is not that they are ignorant of such things: it is because the love of God, by which they are sanctified, is dear. His beauty is not only immaterial, but immutable also and ineffable, and it inflames them with a holy love. In comparison with that beauty, they despise everything that is below it, everything that is other than that beauty; they despise even themselves, so that they may enjoy, to the full extent of their goodness, that good from which their goodness comes. And they have a surer knowledge even of those temporal and changeable things, just because they see their first causes in the Word of God, through whom the world was made. By those causes all things are ordained, though some of these things are approved, and some are reprobated.
In contrast, the demons do not behold the eternal causes of temporal events, the cardinal causes, so to speak, in the Wisdom of God, but they have much more knowledge of the future than men can have, by their greater acquaintance with certain signs which are hidden from us; sometimes they also foretell their own intentions. It is true that they are often deceived, while the angels are never deceived. It is one thing to conjecture temporal matters from temporal evidence, mutable things from mutable evidence, and then to interfere in events in a temporal and mutable fashion by the exercise of will and power; this is, in a restricted measure, permitted to the demons. It is a very different thing to foresee the changes of the temporal order in the eternal and unchanging laws of God, which live eternally in his wisdom, and, by participation in the Spirit of God, to know the will of God, which is supremely certain and supremely powerful; this privilege is granted, by a just distinction, to the holy angels. Thus they are blessed, as well as eternal. The good, which renders them blessed, is God, by whom they were created; and the participation in his life and the contemplation of his beauty is their never-failing joy.
23. The ascription of the title ‘gods’
The Platonists may prefer to call those good angels ‘gods’ rather than ‘demons’, and to include them among those whom Plato, their founder and master, writes of as having been created by the supreme God.43 They may do as they like; there is no need for us to engage in a tiresome dispute about words. If they mean that they are immortal, but, at the same time, created by the supreme God and that they are blessed, not by themselves, but through adhering to him who made them, then their meaning is the same as ours, whatever title they use. That this is the opinion of the Platonists, or at least of the better Platonists, can be proved from their writings. As for the actual title, the fact that they give the name ‘gods’ to creatures who are immortal and blessed in the above sense, there is here no dispute between us, simply because one can find in our sacred Scriptures such quotations as ‘The Lord, the lord of gods, has spoken,’44 and, in another place: ‘Give thanks to the God of gods,’45 and ‘a great king above all gods’.46 The passage where it says, ‘He is terrible above all gods’,47 is explained by what immediately follows, ‘Since all the gods of the nations are demons; but the Lord made the ‘heavens’.48 The psalmist says ‘above all gods’; but he adds ’of the nations’, meaning those whom the nations regard as gods, who are really ‘demons’: ‘terrible’ refers to the terror which made the demons say to the Lord, ‘Have you come to destroy us?’49 But ‘God of gods’ cannot be understood as meaning ‘God of demons’; and it is unthinkable that ‘a great king above all gods’ should mean ‘a great king above all demons’. The Scriptures also use the name ‘gods’ to describe men who belong to the people of God. I have said, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Highest.” ’50 Thus it is possible to take ‘God of gods’ as referring to ‘gods’ in this sense, and to interpret ‘a great king above all gods’ in the same way.
But it may be asked: If men are called ‘gods’, because they belong to the people of God – that people with whom God talks by the agency of either angels or men – are not the immortal beings much more worthy of that name? For they now enjoy that blessedness which men long to reach in their worship of God. The only reply is that it is not for nothing that in the holy Scriptures men are given the title of ‘gods’ more expressly than are those immortal and blessed beings, to whom, as we are promised, we shall become equal in the resurrection. Presumably the intention was to guard against the possibility that man, in his feebleness, might become unfaithful to God and presume to set up one of those angels as a god for us. There was less risk of this in the case of a man. And it was essential that men who belonged to God’s people should be called ‘gods’ with greater emphasis, so that they might have sure confidence that he was their God, who was entitled ‘God of gods’. For although the name ‘gods’ is applied to those blessed immortals who are in the heavens, they are not called ‘gods of gods’, that is, gods of men who have been given a place among the people of God, the men to whom it was said, ‘I have said, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Highest”.’ Hence the saying of the Apostle,
Although there are those who are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, there being many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’; nevertheless for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things come, and in whom we have our being; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things come into being, through whom we came to be.51
There is no need, then, of a long discussion about the name, since the facts are clear beyond any shadow of doubt. But there is another matter. We Christians say that it is from the company of these blessed immortals that angels have been sent to announce the will of God to men. The philosophers will not have it so. They ascribe this ministry not to those beings whom they call ‘gods’, that is, to beings who are both immortal and blessed, but to demons who are immortal, but whom they do not venture to call blessed – or at least, if they are both immortal and blessed, they are still good demons, and not gods, since gods (for them) have their dwelling on high, far removed from human contact. Here we may seem to have a dispute about names. But the name ‘demons’ is so detestable that we are bound to repudiate utterly its application to the holy angels.
And so we may end this book with this assertion. We know that immortal and blessed beings, by whatever name they are called, who for all that, are created beings, do not act as intermediaries, to bring to immortal blessedness wretched mortals, from whom they are separated by a twofold difference. On the other hand, those who are in an intermediate position, by sharing immortality with those above them and misery with those below, are more likely to grudge us happiness than to procure it for us, since their own misery is the due reward of their malice. Hence the supporters of the demons cannot put forward any sound reason why we should worship those demons as our helpers, seeing that we ought rather to shun them as deceivers. As for those good beings, who, because of their goodness, are happy as well as immortal, these philosophers reckon that they should be given the title of ‘gods’, and worshipped with sacred rites and sacrifices, in order that we may attain to a life of blessedness after death. But, whatever be the nature of those beings, and whatever be the name they deserve, they themselves do not wish that such devout homage should be offered in worship to any being other than the one God, by whom they were created, the God who imparts to them their happiness by granting them a share in his own being. This is a matter we shall, God helping us, discuss in detail in the next book.