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Chapter 13.—Of the Revolution of the Ages, Which Some Philosophers Believe Will Bring All Things Round Again, After a Certain Fixed Cycle, to the Same Order and Form as at First.

This controversy some philosophers have seen no other approved means of solving than by introducing cycles of time, in which there should be a constant renewal and repetition of the order of nature; 543 and they have therefore asserted that these cycles will ceaselessly recur, one passing away and another coming, though they are not agreed as to whether one permanent world shall pass through all these cycles, or whether the world shall at fixed intervals die out, and be renewed so as to exhibit a recurrence of the same phenomena—the things which have been, and those which are to be, coinciding.  And from this fantastic vicissitude they exempt not even the immortal soul that has attained wisdom, consigning it to a ceaseless transmigration between delusive blessedness and real misery.  For how can that be truly called blessed which has no assurance of being so eternally, and is either in ignorance of the truth, and blind to the misery that is approaching, or, knowing it, is in misery and fear?  Or if it passes to bliss, and leaves miseries forever, then there happens in time a new thing which time shall not end.  Why not, then, the world also?  Why may not man, too, be a similar thing?  So that, by following the straight path of sound doctrine, we escape, I know not what circuitous paths, discovered by deceiving and deceived sages.

Some, too, in advocating these recurring cycles that restore all things to their original cite in favor of their supposition what Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes:  “What is that which hath been?  It is that which shall be.  And what is that which is done?  It is that which shall be done:  and there is no new thing under the sun.  Who can speak and say, See, this is new?  It hath been already of old time, which was before us.” 544   This he said either of those things of which he had just been speaking—the succession of generations, the orbit of the sun, the course of rivers,—or else of all kinds of creatures that are born and die.  For men were before us, are with us, and shall be after us; and so all living things and all plants.  Even monstrous and irregular productions, though differing from one another, and though some are reported as solitary instances, yet resemble one another generally, in so far as they are miraculous and monstrous, and, in this sense, have been, and shall be, and are no new and recent things under the sun.  However, some would understand these words as meaning that in the predestination of God all things have already existed, and that thus there is no new thing under the sun.  At all events, far be it from any true believer to suppose that by these words of Solomon those cycles are meant, in which, according to those philosophers, the same periods and events of time are repeated; as if, for example, the philosopher Plato, having taught in the school at Athens which is called the Academy, so, numberless ages before, at long but certain intervals, this same Plato and the same school, and the same disciples existed, and so also are to be repeated during the countless cycles that are yet to be,—far be it, I say, from us to believe this.  For once Christ died for our sins; and, rising from the dead, He dieth no more.  “Death hath no more dominion over Him; 545 and we ourselves after the resurrection shall be “ever with the Lord,” 546 to whom we now say, as the sacred Psalmist dictates, “Thou shall keep us, O Lord, Thou shall preserve us from this generation.” 547   And that too which follows, is, I think, appropriate enough:  “The wicked walk in a circle,” not because their life is to recur by means of these circles, which these philosophers imagine, but because the path in which their false doctrine now runs is circuitous.



Antoninus says (ii. 14):  “All things from eternity are of like forms, and come round in a circle.”  Cf. also ix. 28, and the references to more ancient philosophical writers in Gataker’s notes in these passages.


Eccl. 1:9, 10.  So Origen, de Prin. iii. 5, and ii. 3.


Rom. 6.9.


1 Thess. 4.16.


Ps. 12.7.

Next: Chapter 14