Lactantius (252? – 317)
The Reason for the World
Now let us seal the whole argument with a brief summarization. The world was made for this reason, that we might be born. We, in turn, are born, that we might know God, the Maker of the world and of us. We know, in turn, that we may worship. And again, we worship so that we may receive immortality as the reward of our labors — for the worship of God entails great labors indeed. And, in turn, we are recompensed with the reward of immortality so that, having been made like the angels, we may serve the Most High Father and Lord forever and may be an everlasting kingdom unto God.
~ The Divine Institutes, Book VII, Chapter VI. Similar translation in The Ante Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII. Eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994, p. 203.
Serving God in the World
We are born that we might contemplate the Maker of all things, that is that we may discern Him with our minds. So, if anyone should ask a man who is truly wise for what reason he was born, he will answer fearlessly that he has been born of the favor of God who has generated us so that we may serve Him. Now to serve God is nothing other than to behold how good are His works and to observe justice.
But if he had said that he was born to behold the world, he would not have fulfilled the function of man because the soul is of as much more worth than the body as God is greater than the world. The world then ought not to be beheld by our eyes because both are bodies, but God ought to be contemplated by our souls, because God, as He is Himself immortal, has intended the soul to last forever.
~ Divine Institutes, Book III, ix. Alternate translation in The Fathers of the Church, Volume 49, pp. 184-185. CUA Press, 2010.
Nature is the Work of God
There is nothing else in life on which our plan and condition can depend but the knowledge of God who created us, and the religious and pious worship of Him; and since the philosophers have wandered from this, it is plain that they were not wise. They sought wisdom, indeed, but because they did not seek it in a right manner, they sunk down to a greater distance, and fell into such great errors that they did not even possess common wisdom….
For they, either being ignorant by whom the world was made, or wishing to persuade men that nothing was completed by divine intelligence, said that nature was the mother of all things, as though they should say that all things were produced of their own accord, by which word they altogether confess their own ignorance. For nature, apart from divine providence and power, is absolutely nothing. But if they call God nature, what perverseness is it, to use the name of nature rather than of God? But if nature is the plan, or necessity, or condition of birth, it is not by itself capable of sensation; but there must necessarily be a divine mind, which by its foresight furnishes the beginning of their existence to all things. Or, if nature is heaven and earth, and everything which is created, nature is not God, but the work of God.
~ The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter XXVIII. In The Ante Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII. Eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994, p. 97.
Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius was born in North Africa and converted to Christianity during the reign of the vehemently anti-Christian emperor Diocletian. He is an eloquent speaker and writer whose writings remain significant because they provide perspective on the relationship between creation and humans, and because of the skill which he employs to refute the moral and philosophical basis for the pagan religions. To Lactantius the means to a true knowledge of God and creation is the universal religion called Christianity. He was the first person to attempt a comprehensive statement of Christian doctrine in Latin.
Human Purpose in Creation
You have been born for the sake of seeing the sky and the sun: who has led you to this spectacle, or what does your vision confer to heaven and the nature of things? To be sure, it is that you may praise this immense and marvelous work. Confess, then, that God is the establisher of all things who has brought you into this world a witness, as it were, and a praiser of His work so mighty. You believe it is great to see the sky and the sun. Why, therefore, do you not thank Him who is the Author of this benefit? Why do you not estimate with your mind the virtue, providence, and power of Him whose works you admire?
~ The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 47. The Divine Institutes, Book 3, Ch 9, p. 184. CUA Press, 2010.
Perspective on Earthly Concerns
It is fitting to proclaim again that verse from Persius, “O minds bent upon the earth and empty of heavenly things!” … (For those who fail to pray) why do you deprive yourselves of celestial benefits and of your own will fall prone to the ground? For you are turned into miserable ones of the earth when you seek below that which you ought to have sought on high. When you submit yourselves to the earth by itself, you submit yourself to what is lower and make yourself lowlier…. Therefore to despise and tread upon the earth is nothing else than not to adore images because they are made of earth; and likewise, it is not to desire riches and to spurn the delights of the body, since wealth and the body itself, whose hospitality we make use of, is of the earth. Cherish the living, that you may live.
~Divine Institutes, Book II, Chapter II. In The Ante Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII. Eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994, p. 42-43.