Erythraean Sibyl, who pointed in a Prophetic Acrostic at our Lord and
his Passion. The Acrostic is "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour,
however, is to derive even from foreign sources a testimony to the
Divine nature of Christ. For on such testimony it is evident that even
those who blaspheme his name must acknowledge that he is God, and the
Son of God if indeed they will accredit the words of those whose
sentiments coincided with their own. The Erythraean Sibyl, then, who
herself assures us that she lived in the sixth generation after the
flood, was a priestess of Apollo, who wore the sacred fillet in
imitation of the God she served, who guarded also the tripod
encompassed with the serpent's folds, and returned prophetic answers to
those who approached her shrine; having been devoted by the folly of
her parents to this service, a service productive of nothing good or
noble, but only of indecent fury, such as we find recorded in the case
of Daphne. On one occasion, however, having rushed into the sanctuary
of her vain superstition, she became really filled with inspiration
from above, and declared in prophetic verses the future purposes of
God; plainly indicating the advent of Jesus by the initial letters of
these verses, forming an acrostic in these words: JESUS CHRIST, SON OF
GOD, SAVIOUR, CROSS. The verses themselves are as follows:
Earth's oozing pores shall mark the day;
Earth's heavenly king his glories shall display:
Sovereign of all, exalted on his throne,
Unnumbered multitudes their God shall own;
Shall sea their Judge, with mingled joy and fear,
Crowned with his saints, in human form appear.
How vain, while desolate earth's glories lie,
Riches, and pomp, and man's idolatry!
In that dread hour, when Nature's fiery doom
Startles the slumb'ring tenants of the tomb,
Trembling all flesh shall stand; each secret wile,
Sins long forgotten, thoughts of guilt and guile,
Open beneath God's searching light shall lie:
No refuge then, but hopeless agony.
O'er heaven's expanse shall gathering shades of night
From earth, sun, stars, and moon, withdraw their light;
God's arm shall crush each mountain's towering pride;
On ocean's plain no more shall navies ride.
Dried at the source, no river's rushing sound
Shall soothe, no fountain slake the parched ground.
Around, afar, shall roll the trumpet's blast,
Voice of wrath long delayed, revealed at last.
In speechless awe, while earth's foundations groan,
On judgment's seat earth's kings their God shall own.
Uplifted then, in majesty divine,
Radiant with light, behold Salvation's Sign!
Cross of that Lord, who, once for sinners given,
Reviled by man, now owned by earth and heaven,
O'er every land extends his iron sway.
Such is the name these mystic lines display;
Saviour, eternal king, who bears our sins away.
It is evident
that the virgin uttered these verses under the influence of Divine
inspiration. And I cannot but esteem her blessed, whom the Saviour thus
selected to unfold his gracious purpose towards us.
Prophecy respecting our Saviour was not the Fiction of any Member of
the Christian Church, but the Testimony of the Erythraean Sibyl, whose
Books were translated into Latin by Cicero before the coming of Christ.
Also that Virgil makes mention of the same, and of the Birth of the
Virgin's Child: though he spoke obscurely of this Mystery from Fear of
the Ruling Powers.
who admit that the Erythraean Sibyl was really a prophetess, yet refuse
to credit this prediction, and imagine that some one professing our
faith, and not unacquainted with the poetic art, was the composer of
these verses. They hold, in short, that they are a forgery, and alleged
to be the prophecies of the Sibyl on the ground of their containing
useful moral sentiments, tending to restrain licentiousness, and to
lead man to a life of sobriety and decorum. Truth, however, in this
case is evident, since the diligence of our countrymen has made a
careful computation of the times; so that there is no room to suspect
that this poem was composed after the advent and condemnation of
Christ, or that the general report is false, that the verses were a
prediction of the Sibyl in an early age. For it is allowed that Cicero
was acquainted with this poem, which he translated into the Latin
tongue, and incorporated with his own works. This writer was put to
death during the ascendancy of Antony, who in his turn was conquered by
Augustus, whose reign lasted fifty-six years. Tiberius succeeded, in
whose age it was that the Saviour's advent enlightened the world, the
mystery of our most holy religion began to prevail, and as it were a
new race of men commenced: of which, I suppose, the prince of Latin
poets thus speaks:
Behold, a new, a
heaven-born race appears.
And again, in
another passage of the Bucolics:
sound a loftier strain.
What can be
clearer than this? For he adds,
The voice of
Cuma's oracle is heard again.
referring to the Cumaean Sibyl. Nor was even this enough: the poet goes
further, as if irresistibly impelled to bear his testimony. What then
does he say?
circling years new blessings bring:
The virgin comes, with her the long-desired king.
Who, then, is
the virgin who was to come? Is it not she who was filled with, and with
child of the Holy Spirit? And why is it impossible that she who was
with child of the Holy Spirit should be, and ever continue to be a
virgin? This king, too, will return, and by his coming lighten the
sorrows of the world. The poet adds,
Lucina, greet the new-born child,
Beneath whose reign the iron offspring ends,
A golden progeny from heaven descends;
His kingdom banished virtue shall restore,
And crime shall threat the guilty world no more.
We perceive that
these words are spoken plainly and at the same time darkly, by way of
allegory. Those who search deeply for the import of the words, are able
to discern the Divinity of Christ. But lest any of the powerful in the
imperial city might be able to accuse the poet of writing anything
contrary to the laws of the country, and subverting the religious
sentiments which had prevailed from ancient times, he intentionally
obscures the truth. For he was acquainted, as I believe, with that
blessed mystery which gave to our Lord the name of Saviour: but, that
he might avoid the severity of cruel men, he drew the thoughts of his
hearers to objects with which they were familiar, saying that altars
must be erected, temples raised, and sacrifices offered to the new-born
child. His concluding words also are adapted to the sentiments of those
who were accustomed to such a creed; for he says:
Quotation from Virgilius Maro respecting Christ, with its
Interpretation, showing that the Mystery was indicated therein darkly,
as might be expected from a Poet.
A life immortal
he shall lead, and be
By heroes seen, himself shall heroes see;
evidently meaning the righteous.
The jarring nations he in peace shall bind,
And with paternal virtues rule mankind.
Unbidden earth her earliest fruits shall bring,
And fragrant herbs, to greet her infant king.
Well indeed was
this admirably wise and accomplished man acquainted with the cruel
character of the times. He proceeds:
uncall'd, full udders home shall bear;
The lowing herds no more fierce lions fear.
Truly said: for
faith will not stand in awe of the mighty in the imperial palace.
His cradle shall
with rising flowers be crown'd:
The serpent's brood shall die; the sacred ground
Shall weeds and poisonous plants refuse to bear;
Each common bush th' Assyrian rose shall wear.
Nothing could be
said more true or more consistent with the Saviour's excellency than
this. For the power of the Divine Spirit presents the very cradle of
God, like fragrant flowers, to the new-born race. The serpent, too, and
the venom of that serpent, perishes, who originally beguiled our first
parents, and drew their thoughts from their native innocence to the
enjoyment of pleasures, that they might experience that threatened
death. For before the Saviour's advent, the serpent's power was shown
in subverting the souls of those who were sustained by no well-grounded
hope, and ignorant of that immortality which awaits the righteous. But
after that he had suffered, and was separated for a season from the
body which he had assumed, the power of the resurrection was revealed
to man through the communication of the Holy Spirit: and whatever stain
of human guilt might yet remain was removed by the washing of sacred
Then indeed could the Saviour bid his followers be of good cheer, and,
remembering his adorable and glorious resurrection, expect the like for
themselves. Truly, then, the poisonous race may be said to be extinct.
Death himself is extinct, and the truth of the resurrection sealed.
Again, the Assyrian race is gone, which first led the way to faith in
God. But when he speaks of the growth of amomum every where, he alludes
to the multitude of the true worshipers of God. For it is as though a
multitude of branches, crowned with fragrant flowers, and fitly
watered, sprung from the self-same root. Most justly said, Maro, thou
wisest of poets! and with this all that follows is consistent.
But when heroic
worth his youth shall hear,
And learn his father's virtues to revere.
By the praises
of heroes, he indicates the works of righteous men: by the virtues of
his Father he speaks of the creation and everlasting structure of the
world: and, it may be, of those laws by which God's beloved Church is
guided, and ordered in a course of righteousness and virtue. Admirable,
again, is the advance to higher things of that state of life which is
intermediate, as it were, between good and evil, and which seldom
admits a sudden change:
harvests shall the fields adorn,
that is, the
fruit of the Divine law springs up for the service of men.
gropes shall blush on every thorn.
has it been during the corrupt and lawless period of human life.
The knotted oaks
shall showers of honey weep.
describes the folly and obduracy of the men of that age; and perhaps he
also intimates that they who suffer hardships in the cause of God,
shall reap sweet fruits of their own endurance.
Yet, of old
fraud some footsteps shall remain;
The merchant still shall plough the deep for gain:
Great cities shall with walls be compassed round,
And sharpened shares shall vex the fruitful ground:
Another Tiphys shall new seas explore;
Another Argo land the chiefs upon the Iberian shore;
Another Helen other wars create,
And great Achilles urge the Trojan fate.
wisest of bards! Thou hast carried the license of a poet precisely to
the proper point. For it was not thy purpose to assume the functions of
a prophet, to which thou hadst no claim. I suppose also he was
restrained by a sense of the danger which threatened one who should
assail the credit of ancient religious practice. Cautiously, therefore,
and securely, as far as possible, he presents the truth to those who
have faculties to understand it; and while he denounces the munitions
and conflicts of war (which indeed are still to be found in the course
of human life), he describes our Saviour as proceeding to the war
against Troy, understanding by Troy the world itself. And surely he did
maintain the struggle against the opposing powers of evil, sent on that
mission both by the designs of his own providence and the commandment
of his Almighty Father. How, then, does the poet proceed?
But when to
ripen'd manhood he shall grow,
that is, when,
having arrived at the age of manhood, he shall utterly remove the evils
which encompass the path of human life, and tranquilize the world by
the blessings of peace
sailor shall the seas forego;
No keel shall cut the waves for foreign ware,
For every soil shall every product bear.
The laboring hind his oxen shall disjoin;
But the luxurious father of the fold,
With native purple, and unborrow'd gold,
Beneath his pompous fleece shall proudly sweat;
And under Tyrian robes the lamb shall bleat.
Mature in years, to ready honors move,
O of celestial seed, O foster son of Jove!
See, laboring nature calls thee to sustain
The nodding flame of heaven, and earth, and main!
See to their base restored earth seas, and air;
And joyful ages, from behind, in crowing ranks appear.
To ring thy praise, would heaven my breath prolong.
Infusing spirits worthy such a song,
Not Thracian Orpheus should transcend my lays,
Nor Linus, crown'd with never-fading bays;
Though each his heavenly parent should inspire;
The Muse instruct the voice, and Phoebus tune the lyre.
Should Pan contend in verse, and thou my theme,
Arcadian judges should their God condemn.
Behold (says he)
how the mighty world and the elements together manifest their joy.
Things cannot have been spoken of a Mere Man: and that Unbelievers,
owing to their Ignorance of Religion, know not even the Origin of their
It may be some
will foolishly suppose that these words were spoken of the birth of a
mere ordinary mortal. But if this were all, what reason could there be
that the earth should need neither seed nor plough, that the vine
should require no pruning-hook, or other means of culture? How can we
suppose these things to be spoken of a mere mortal's birth? For nature
is the minister of the Divine will not an instrument obedient to the
command of man. Indeed, the very joy of the elements indicates the
advent of God, not the conception of a human being. The prayer, too, of
the poet that his life might be prolonged is a proof of the Divinity of
him whom he invoked; for we desire life and preservation from God, and
not from man. Indeed, the Erythraean Sibyl thus appeals to God: "Why, O
Lord, dost thou compel me still to foretell the future, and not rather
remove me from this earth to await the blessed day of thy coming?" And
Maro adds to what he had said before:
boy! with smiles thy mother know,
Who ten long months did with thy burden go.
No mortal parents smiled upon thy birth:
No nuptial joy thou know'st, no feast of earth.
How could his
parents have smiled on him? For his Father is God, who is a Power
without sensible quality, existing, not in any definite shape, but as
comprehending other beings, and not, therefore, in a human body. And
who knows not that the Holy Spirit has no participation in the nuptial
union? For what desire can exist in the disposition of that good which
all things rise desire? What fellowship, in short, can wisdom hold with
pleasure? But let these arguments be left to those who ascribe to him a
human origin, and who care not to purify themselves from all evil in
word as well as deed. On thee, Piety, I call to aid my words, on thee
who art the very law of purity, most desirable of all blessings,
teacher of holiest hope, assured promise of immortality! Thee, Piety,
and thee, Clemency, I adore. We who have obtained thine aid owe thee
everlasting gratitude for thy healing power. But the multitudes whom
their innate hatred of thyself deprives of thy succor, are equally
estranged from God himself, and know not that the very cause of their
life and being, and that of all the ungodly, is connected with the
rightful worship of him who is Lord of all: for the world itself is
his, and all that it contains.