But See, when He is Reduced to Straits in the Argument...
-- 24. But see, when he is reduced to straits in the argument, he again makes an attack on me full of mist and wind, that the calm clearness of the truth may be obscured; and through the extremity of his want he becomes full of resources, shown not in say25. Then he continues in the same strain, and cries out: "What is that what if? what is that possibly? except the uncertain and wavering hesitation of one who doubts, of whom your poet says' --

What if I now return to those who say, What if the sky should fall?'" [2376]

Does he mean that when I said, What if the conscience of the giver be hidden from sight, and possibly be stained with guilt? that it is much the same as if I had said, What if the sky should fall? There certainly is the phrase What if, because it is possible that it may be hidden from view, and it is possible that it may not. For when it is not known what the giver is thinking of, or what crime he has committed, then his conscience is certainly hidden from the view of the recipient; but when his sin is plainly manifest, then it is not hidden. I used the expression, And possibly may be stained with guilt, because it is possible that it may be hidden from view and yet be pure; and again, it is possible that it may be hidden from view and be stained with guilt. This is the meaning of the What if; this the meaning of the Possibly. Is this at all like "What if the sky should fall?" O how often have men been convicted, how often have they confessed themselves that they had consciences stained with guilt and adultery, whilst men were unwittingly baptized by them after they were degraded by the sin subsequently brought to light, and yet the sky did not fall! What have we here to do with Pilus and Furius, [2377] who defended the cause of injustice against justice? What have we here to do with the atheist Diagoras, [2378] who denied that there was any God, so that he would seem to be the man of whom the prophet spoke beforehand, "The fool hath said in his heart there is no God?" [2379] What have we here to do with these? Why were their names brought in, except that they might make a diversion in favor of a man who had nothing to say? that while he is at any rate saying something, though needlessly, about these, the matter in hand may seem to be progressing, and an answer may be supposed to be made to a question which remains without an answer?


[2374] Lactantius, Divin. Instit. Book V. c. xv., tells us of the talents of Carneades, recording that when he was sent on an embassy to Rome by the Athenians, he spoke there first in defense of justice, and then on the following day in opposition to it; and that he was in the habit of speaking with such force on either side, as to be able to refute any arguments advanced by anybody else.

[2375] Ter. Heaut. Acts 4.scen. iii.[vers. 41.

[2376] Ter. Heaut. Acts 4.scen. iii.[vers. 41.

[2377] In de Civ. Dei, Book II. c. xxi., Augustin mentions L. Furius Philus, one of the interlocutors in Cicero's Laelius, as maintaining this same view. From the similarity of the name, it has been thought that here Furius and Pilus are only one man.

[2378] The Mss. here and below have Protagoras. Both were atheists, according to Cicero, Nat. Deor. I. i. 2, and Lactantius Divin. Instit. I. c. ii.; de Ira Dei, c. ix.

[2379] Psalm 14:1.

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