Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Reformed Irenicism

The Difference between Christian and Non-Christian Religion (Part 2)

Chytraeus continues his exposition of non-Christian religion in answer to the question, “What is the difference between Christian and gentile religion?“. He grants that pagan philosophers achieved a certain kind of knowledge of God from the observation of nature, a knowledge that is general and relates to some of his primary attributes (wisdom, justice, etc.). They therefore enjoin his worship. But because their worship is not governed by the Word, they fall into manifold idolatries which are themselves against the very law of nature that taught them the existence of God in the first place. He ends with a quotation attributed to Pythagoras.

Etsi autem Cicero, Plato, Seneca & similes Ethnici saniores, ex lege naturae, & opificio mundi, agnoscunt, esse Deum, mentem aeternam, conditricem mundi, sapientiem, iustam, vindicem scelerum: & de officiis virtutum & externis moribus multa honestissime praecipiunt: tamen hi ipsi, cum non regantur verbo Dei, contra ipsius naturae iudicium, idolatricos monstrosae multitudinis deorum cultus retinent, & pariter creatorem mundi, Angelos bonos, daemones, diabolos & Heroas mortuos, DEOS nominant: & haec idola, ut lege & more quolibet loco recepta sunt, colenda esse sanciunt, sicut Pythagoras, summam religionis Ethnicae conplectens praecipit: ἀθανάτους μὲν πρῶτα θεοὺς, νόμῳ ὡς διάκεινται, τίμα.

Moreover, although Cicero, Plato, Seneca, and other gentiles of the more sensible sort similar to them recognize, from the law of nature and the craftsmanship of the world, that God exists, that he is an eternal mind, the establisher of the world, wise, just, the avenger of wickedness; and they most honorably command many things concerning the duties of virtue and external character; nevertheless, these very men, since they are not ruled by the word of God, maintain the idolatrous worship of the monstrous crowd of gods against the judgment of nature itself, and equally name as gods the creator of the world, good angels, demons, devils, and dead heroes; and they decree it to be necessary to worship these idols, as they have been received by some law and custom, just as Pythagoras, taking up the sum of gentile religion, commands:1 First of all honor the immortal gods, as they are fixed2 by custom3.

  1. A quotation of the first of the “Golden Verses of Pythagoras.”
  2. Or “ordered.”
  3. Or “law.”

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.