Saturday, October 08, 2005

Lactantius, Demons and Evil

The modern-day logician Alvin Plantinga skillfully has demonstrated the logical possibility that demons (i.e. unclean spirits or impious angels) are the explanatory causes for both moral and natural evil. The intricacies of his argument for the logical possibility that unclean spirits possessing free will bring about evil have been rehearsed elsewhere in sufficient detail.[1] For now, it will suffice to note that Lactantius most likely would have concurred with Plantinga respecting the possible malevolent activity of impious angels. For he affirms that demons evidently rouse the irreligious to persecute Christians since these deviant angels abhor God’s truth.[2] God the Father admittedly tolerates persecution, leading the unjust to conclude that worshiping the Father is vain.[3] But Lactantius is persuaded that those persons who esteem hallowed service to God valueless are unwittingly overlooking the ultimate depth of human existence. The viewpoint espoused in Divinae institutiones is that the raison d’etre of human subsistence is spiritual; immediate goods on earth matter little as respects one’s soul (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Lactantius consequently argues that the soul God has bequeathed to mortals, for this reason, is unobserved by human eyes. Moreover, so are its eternal goods.[4] A quote that Lactantius dubiously attributes to Euripides sums up his evaluative view of the physical over against the spiritual: “What here are thought ills are in heaven goods.”[5] These sentiments hearken back to the Pauline exhortation: “Keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth” (Colossians 3:2).[6] All such views anticipate the Thomist insistence that no created good qualifies as the utmost good (summum bonum).

[1] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 58-62.

[2] DI 5.21.3-6.

[3] DI 5.21.7.

[4] DI 5.21.8-11. Lactantius contends that virtue is the soul’s chief good.

[5] See Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 312. They point out that Lactantius gives the (Euripidean) verse in Latin trimeter, namely,.

[6] ta anw froneite mj ta epi tjv gjv.

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