De Moor IV:23: Against Gentile Polytheism

Now, this Unity is not only Specific, just as many things that are actually plural are sometimes said to be One, to the extent that they are apt to come together in the conception of the same species. Thus with respect to species there is only one human nature, of which we are all partakers; while we nevertheless possess a human essence diverse from the singular number: but in God Numeric Unity obtains, in accordance with which His Being is so singular that it admits absolutely nothing as similar to itself, and that is of the same common Essence with Him. Therefore, God possesses Numeric Unity, and that in such a perfect manner that nothing in the same sense is able to be called One except God. For example, the Sun is Singular in number in the world; the World is only One in number. But, that many Suns and Worlds of this sort are able to be created, is taught by the dependent and finite nature of the same, like all things depending upon an infinite principium; which nature, as it is capable of increase, so it contains nothing that is adverse to the production of another individual nature similar to itself. But Unity is applicable to God in such a way that God’s very infinite and independent Nature rejects a plurality of Gods: and so perfectly absolute Unity remains the special claim of God alone.

This is not hindered, α. by the Polytheism of the Gentiles, who were indeed enumerating thirty thousand Deities, among which Varro even numbers three hundred Joves. Thus HESIOD already sang, Operum et Dierum, verse 252,

Τρὶς γὰρ μύριοι εἰσὶν ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ Ἀθάνατοι.

For thirty thousand are the Immortal Gods upon the all-nourishing earth.

Of course, according to PRUDENTIUS, book I contra Symmachum, verses 297, 298:

Whatever marvel the earth produced, whatever marvel the sea, or,

Whatever marvel the earth, sea, and heaven produced,

They introduced, or, thought, it to be a God: hills, seas, rivers, flames.

TERTULLIAN, Apology, chapter XIV near the end: The Roman Cynic introduces three hundred Joves, or Jupiters, without heads, upon which words compare the Comments of HAVERKAMP.[1]

That the modern doctrine of God among the Gentiles of Malabar[2] has been miserably depraved, inasmuch as the learned among them do indeed confess One God most high; but in addition to whom they acknowledge and venerate so many great and minor Gods that their number rises to three hundred and thirty thousand: explains the reverend ZIEGENBALG,[3] in ’t eerst Vervolg van ’t Bericht der Deensche Missionarissen in Oust-Indien, pages 7-11.

For, this Polytheism, 1. the wiser among the Gentiles did not admit, whose testimonies for the Unity of God see gathered in MORNÆUS’[4] de Veritate Christianæ Religionis, chapter III; and LEYDEKKER’S de Veritate Religionis Reformatæ, book I, chapter I. Thus, for example, Pythagoras confesses ONE God, saying that He is incorporeal mind, in LACTANTIUS’ de Ira Dei, chapter XI, where from the Unity of God he disputes Polytheism. PLUTARCH, de placitis Philosophorum, book I, chapter VII, opera, tome 2, page 881: Θεὸν Σωκράτης καὶ Πλάτων τὸ ἓν τὸ μονοφυὲς, καὶ αὐτοφυὲς, τὸ μοναδικὸν, τὸ ὄντως ἀγαθόν. πάντα δὲ ταῦτα τῶν ὀνομάτων εἰς τὸν νοῦν σπεύδει. νοῦς οὖν ὁ Θεὸς, χωριστὸν εἶδος, τουτέστι τὸ ἀμιγὲς πάσης ὕλης, μηδενὶ παθητῷ συμπεπλεγμένον, Socrates and Plato say that God is that which is one and of itself, of a singular subsistence, perfectly good: all these various names center in mind; hence God is to be understood as that mind, which is a separate idea, that is to say, unmixed with any matter, and not mingled with anything subject to passions. 2. Neither does the multitude of Gentile Gods exclude One supreme God, whom they call the Father of men and of the Gods; when they subject the others to Him, and maintain that the others arose from Him, those very ones, whom they call Gods, they divest of divinity: thus Orpheus in CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA’S Protreptico, page 48,

Εἷς ἔστ᾽ αὐτογενής· ἑνὸς ἔκγονα πάντα τέτυκται.

There is one self-begotten: from one all the offspring arise.

MAXIMUS TYRIUS, dissertation I, or, what God is according to Plato,[5] page 5 m; he says that in this the men of the world come together, ὅτι Θεὸς εἷς πάντων βασιλεὺς καὶ πατὴρ, καὶ θεοὶ πολλοὶ, Θεοῦ παῖδες, συνάρχοντες Θεῷ, that there is one God, the king and father of all; and there are many gods, the offspring of God, ruling with God. ATHENAGORAS, Legatione pro Christianis, pages 6, 7, relating the opinion of Plato on this matter, writes: Φησὶν οὖν ὁ Πλάτων, τὸν μὲν ποιητὴν καὶ πατέρα τοῦδε τοῦ παντὸς εὑρεῖν τε ἔργον, καὶ εὑρόντα, εἰς πάντας ἀδύνατον λέγειν· ἕνα τὸν ἀγέννητον καὶ ἀΐδιον νοῶν Θεόν· εἰ δ᾽ οἶδεν καὶ ἄλλους, οἷον ἥλιον καὶ σελήνην καὶ ἀστέρας, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς γενητοὺς οἶδεν αὐτούς· θεοὶ θεῶν ὧν ἐγὼ δημιουργὸν, πατήρ τε ἔργων, etc., εἰ τοίνυν οὐκ ἔστιν ἄθεος Πλάτων, ἕνα τὸν δημιουργὸν τῶν ὅλων νοῶν ἀγέννητον Θεόν· οἶδε ἡμεῖς ἄθεοι, etc., Therefore, Plato says, To find out the Maker and Father of this universe is difficult; and, finding Him, it is impossible to declare Him to all, conceiving of Him as one uncreated and eternal God: And if he recognises others as well, such as the sun, the moon, and the stars, yet he recognises them as created; gods, offspring of gods, of whom I am the maker, and the father of works… if, therefore, Plato is not an atheist for conceiving of one uncreated God, the Framer of the universe, neither are we atheists. 3. Now, that error of Polytheism arose, a. From the multitude of the divine Names, Attributes, and Works, which the Gentiles, framing a conjecture about the power of God from their own power, were hardly able to admit all these to concur in one God, and to be administered by one God: hence they preposed a diversity of Deities, one for the heavens, another for the earth, another for the infernal regions, indeed others for almost all human affairs. SENECA, book IV de Beneficiis, chapters VII, VIII, has: “As often as you will, it is permitted to you differently to address this author of our affairs…. His appellations are able to be as many as His benefits. Our people think this author to be the Free Father,[6] Hercules, and Mercury…. Thus call this author nature, fate, fortune: they are all names of the same God, variously making use of His power.” b. But the same error was confirmed through the acknowledged, manifold misery of man, which compels him to seek help on every side, and for the remedy of which he judged one Deity hardly to be able to suffice. PLINY, Natural History,[7] book II, chapter VII near the beginning, says, “Fragile and laborious mortality, mindful of its infirmity, divided those into parts, so that one might worship in portions whom he especially needs.” To which, in order to confirm this error, he added, for the well-deserved affections of man, just as PLINY again admits, Natural History, book II, chapter VII, “This is a most ancient custom of referring favor to the well-deserving, that such might be reckoned among the gods; indeed, both the names of all the other God, and what things I have related above of the stars, arose from the merits of men:” compare CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA’S Protrepticum, page 16. And thus the little spark of light concerning the Unity of God surviving among the Gentiles was miserably covered and corrupted by errors; while Jove, their highest God, of whom they predicate all excellencies, they again depict otherwise as after the likeness of man sprung from parents, married, begetting children, the first among many deities of the same sort, and at the same time relate concerning him things shameful and base, of which an honest man would be ashamed: or by explaining his nature more philosophically, by the same they understand the Æther, or the Sun, or τὸ πᾶν, the whole, the world, or the Sould of the world, as a fiery force permeating all things; or the conceive of some Being, set in the highest above the other Gods, in such a way that at the same time they might consider that as altogether inactive, assigning the making and care of the world to many other Gods, whose various Ancestors they still also invoke, upon whom hence they also bestow their religious worship, with the supreme God altogether or almost passed over: see at greater length in LELAND’S de Nuttigheid en Noodzakelykheid van de Christelyke Ovenbaring, part I, section I, chapter I, pages 68-70, chapter II, pages 88-119, chapter III, pages 128-131, chapter IV, pages 147-174, chapter V, pages 177-185, chapter VII, pages 214-219, chapter XII, pages 361, 362, chapter XIII, pages 383-400, chapter XIV, pages 401-427, chapter XV, pages 438-443, chapter XVI, pages 458-462, chapter XVII, pages 482-484, pages XVIII, pages 506-534, chapter XIX, pages 549, 551. Against the Polytheism of the Gentiles see GROTIUS’ de Vertitate Christianæ Religionis, book IV, § 2-7.

[1] Siwart Havercamp (1684-1742) was a Dutch classicist.

[2] Malabar is a region on the south-western coast of India.

[3] Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719) was a Lutheran minister, and among the first Protestant missionaries to Indian.

[4] Philippe de Mornay (1549-1623), a Frenchman, was a politically active apologist for Protestantism.

[5] Maximus of Tyre (late second century AD) was a Greek rhetorician and eclectic philosopher. Throughout his Dissertations he emphasizes the unity of the Supreme Being, while acknowledging the reality of dæmons, that is, intermediate beings.

[6] That is, the god of wine, fertility, and freedom.

[7] Gaius Plinius Secundus, or Pliny the Elder (23-79), distinguished himself as a learned author, a celebrated Roman Procurator, and a courageous soldier. In his Natural History, Pliny in encyclopedic fashion attempts to cover the entire field of human knowledge as it stood in his day. It remains an invaluable resource in the fields of history, geography, literature, and Biblical studies.


Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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