X, Chapter XXVII
...It is not, then,
from Plato, but from your Chaldaean teachers you have learned to elevate
human vices to the ethereal and empyreal regions of the world and to the
celestial firmament, in order that your theurgists might be able to obtain
from your gods divine revelations; and yet you make yourself superior to
these divine revelations by your intellectual life, which dispenses with
these theurgic purifications as not needed by a philosopher. But, by way
of rewarding your teachers, you recommend these arts to other men, who, not
being philosophers, may be persuaded to use what you acknowledge to be useless
to yourself, who are capable of higher things; so that those who cannot avail
themselves of the virtue of philosophy, which is too arduous for the multitude,
may, at your instigation, betake themselves to theurgists by whom they may
be purified, not, indeed, in the intellectual, but in the spiritual part
of the soul.
Now, as the persons who are unfit for philosophy form incomparably the majority
of mankind, more may be compelled to consult these secret and illicit teachers
of yours than frequent the Platonic schools. For these most impure demons,
pretending to be ethereal gods, whose herald and messenger you have become,
have promised that those who are purified by theurgy in the spiritual part
of their soul shall not indeed return to the Father, but shall dwell among
the ethereal gods above the aerial regions.
But such fancies are not listened to by the multitudes of men whom Christ
came to set free from the tyranny of demons. For in Him they have the most
gracious cleansing, in which mind, spirit, and body alike participate. For,
in order that He might heal the whole man from the plague of sin, He took
without sin the whole human nature. Would that you had known Him, and would
that you had committed yourself for healing to Him rather than to your own
frail and infirm human virtue, or to pernicious and curious arts! He would
not have deceived you; for Him your own oracles, on your own showing,
acknowledged holy and immortal. It is of Him, too, that the most famous poet
speaks, poetically indeed, since he applies it to the person of another,
yet truly, if you refer it to Christ, saying, "Under thine auspices, if any
traces of our crimes remain, they shall be obliterated, and earth freed from
its perpetual fear." By which he indicates that, by reason of the infirmity
which attaches to this life, the greatest progress in virtue and righteousness
leaves room for the existence, if not of crimes, yet of the traces of crimes,
which are obliterated only by that Saviour of whom this verse speaks. For
that he did not say this at the prompting of his own fancy, Virgil tells
us in almost the last verse of that 4th Eclogue, when he says, "The last
age predicted by the Cumaean sibyl has now arrived;" whence it plainly appears
that this had been dictated by the Cumaean sibyl. But those theurgists, or
rather demons, who assume the appearance and form of gods, pollute rather
than purify the human spirit by false appearances and the delusive mockery
of unsubstantial forms.
Chapter XXIII: Of the Erythraean Sibyl, Who is Known to have Sung Many Things
about Christ More Plainly than the Other Sibyls
Some say the Erythraean
sibyl prophesied at this time. Now Varro declares there were many sibyls,
and not merely one. This sibyl of Erythrae certainly wrote some things concerning
Christ which are quite manifest, and we first read them in the Latin tongue
in verses of bad Latin, and unrhythmical, through the unskillfulness, as
we afterwards learned, of some interpreter unknown to me. For Flaccianus,
a very famous man, who was also a proconsul, a man of most ready eloquence
and much learning, when we were speaking about Christ, produced a Greek
manuscript, saying that it was the prophecies of the Erythraean sibyl, in
which he pointed out a certain passage which had the initial letters of the
lines so arranged that these words could be read in them: 'Ihsous Xristos
Qeou uios spthr, which means, "Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour."
And these verses, of which the initial letters yield that meaning, contain
what follows as translated by some one into Latin in good rhythm:
I Judgment shall
moisten the earth with the sweat of its standard,
H Ever enduring, behold the King shall come through the ages,
S Sent to be here in the flesh, and Judge at the last of the world.
O O God, the believing and faithless alike shall behold Thee
U Uplifted with saints, when at last the ages are ended.
S Seated before Him are souls in the flesh for His judgment.
C Hid in thick vapors, the while desolate lieth the earth.
P Rejected by men are the idols and long hidden treasures;
E Earth is consumed by the fire, and it searcheth the ocean and heaven;
I Issuing forth, it destroyeth the terrible portals of hell.
S Saints in their body and soul freedom and light shall inherit:
T Those who are guilty shall burn in fire and brimstone for ever.
O Occult actions revealing, each one shall publish his secrets;
S Secrets of every man's heart God shall reveal in the light.
Q Then shall be weeping and wailing, yea, and gnashing of teeth;
E Eclipsed is the sun, and silenced the stars in their chorus.
O Over and gone is the splendor of moonlight, melted the heaven,
G Uplifted by Him are the valleys, and east down the mountains.
O Utterly gone among men are distinctions of lofty and lowly.
I Into the plains rush the hills, the skies and oceans are mingled.
O Oh, what an end of all things! earth broken in pieces shall perish;
S Swelling together at once shall the waters and flames flow in rivers.
S Sounding the archangel's trumpet shall peal down from heaven,
W Over the wicked who groan in their guilt and their manifold sorrows.
T Trembling, the earth shall be opened, revealing chaos and hell.
H Every king before God shall stand in that day to be judged.
P Rivers of fire and brimstone shall fall from the heavens.
In these Latin
verses the meaning of the Greek is correctly given, although not in the exact
order of the lines as connected with the initial letters; for in three of
them, the fifth, eighteenth, and nineteenth, where the Greek letter G occurs,
Latin words could not be found beginning with the corresponding letter, and
yielding a suitable meaning. So that, if we note down together the initial
letters of all the lines in our Latin translation except those three in which
we retain the letter T in the proper place, they will express in five Greek
words this meaning, "Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour." And the verses
are twenty-seven, which is the cube of three. For three times three are nine;
and nine itself, if tripled, so as to rise from the superficial square to
the cube, comes to twenty-seven. But if you join the initial letters of these
five Greek words, 'Ihsous cristos Qeou uios swthr, which mean, "Jesus Christ
the Son of God, the Saviour," they will make the word ikdus, that is, "fish,"
in which word Christ is mystically understood, because He was able to live,
that is, to exist, without sin in the abyss of this mortality as in the depth
But this sibyl, whether she is the Erythraean, or, as some rather believe,
the Cumaean, in her whole poem, of which this is a very small portion, not
only has nothing that can relate to the worship of the false or reigned gods,
but rather speaks against them and their worshippers in such a way that we
might even think she ought to be reckoned among those who belong to the city
of God. Lactantius also inserted in his work the prophecies about Christ
of a certain sibyl, he does not say which. But I have thought fit to combine
in a single extract, which may seem long, what he has set down in many short
quotations. She says,
Afterward He shall
come into the injurious hands of the unbelieving, and they will give God
buffets with profane hands, and with impure mouth will spit out envenomed
spittle; but He will with simplicity yield His holy back to stripes. And
He will hold His peace when struck with the fist, that no one may find out
what word, or whence, He comes to speak to hell; and He shall be crowned
with a crown of thorns. And they gave Him gall for meat, and vinegar for
His thirst: they will spread this table of inhospitality. For thou thyself,
being foolish, hast not understood thy God, deluding the minds of mortals,
but hast both crowned Him with thorns and mingled for Him bitter gall. But
the veil of the temple shall be rent; and at midday it shall be darker than
night for three hours. And He shall die the death, taking sleep for three
days; and then returning from hell, He first shall come to the light, the
beginning of the resurrection being shown to the recalled.
use of these sibylline testimonies, introducing them bit by bit in the course
of his discussion as the things he intended to prove seemed to require, and
we have set them down in one connected series, uninterrupted by comment,
only taking care to mark them by capitals, if only the transcribers do not
neglect to preserve them hereafter. Some writers, indeed, say that the Erythraean
sibyl was not in the time of Romulus, but of the Trojan war.