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2. The system of Origen.680680See the treatises of Huëtius (1668) reprinted by Lommatzsch. Thomasius, Origenes 1837. Redepenning, Origenes, 2 Vols. 1841-46. Denis, de la philosophie d’Origène, Paris 1884. Lang, Die Leiblichkeit der Vernunftwesen bei Origenes, Leipzig, 1892. Mehlhorn, Die Lehre von der menschlichen Freiheit nach Origenes (Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, Vol. II., p. 234 ff.). Westcott, Origenes, in the Dictionary of Christian Biography Vol. IV Möller in Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, 2nd ed., Vol. XI., pp. 92-109. The special literature is to be found there as well as in Nitzsch, Dogmengeschichte I., p. 151, and Ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, 5th ed., p. 62 f.
Among the theologians of ecclesiastical antiquity Origen was the most important and influential alongside of Augustine. He proved the father of ecclesiastical science in the widest sense of the word, and at the same time became the founder of that theology which reached its complete development in the fourth and fifth centuries, and which in the sixth definitely denied its author, without, however, losing the form he had impressed on it. Origen created the ecclesiastical dogmatic and made the sources of the Jewish and Christian religion the foundation of that science. The Apologists, in their day, had found everything clear in Christianity; the antignostic Fathers had confused the Church’s faith and the science that treats of it. Origen recognised the problem and the problems, and elevated the pursuit of Christian theology to the rank of an independent task by freeing it from its polemical aim. He could not have become 333what he did, if two generations had not preceded him in paving the way to form a mental conception of Christianity and give it a philosophical foundation. Like all epoch-making personalities, he was also favoured by the conditions in which he lived, though he had to endure violent attacks. Born of a Christian family which was faithfully attached to the Church, he lived at a time when the Christian communities enjoyed almost uninterrupted peace and were being naturalised in the world; he was a member of a Christian Church where the right of scientific study was already recognised and where this had attained a fixed position in an organised school.681681See his letter in Eusebius, H. E. VI. 19. 11 ff. He proclaimed the reconciliation of science with the Christian faith and the compatibility of the highest culture with the Gospel within the bosom of the Church, thus contributing more than any other to convert the ancient world to Christianity. But he made no compromises from shrewd calculation: it was his inmost and holiest conviction that the sacred documents of Christianity contained all the ideals of antiquity, and that the speculative conception of ecclesiastical Christianity was the only true and right one. His character was pure, his life blameless; in his work he was not only unwearied, but also unselfish. There have been few Fathers of the Church whose life-story leaves such an impression of purity behind it as that of Origen. The atmosphere which he breathed as a Christian and as a philosopher was dangerous; but his mind remained sound, and even his feeling for truth scarcely ever forsook him.682682In the polemic against Celsus it seems to us in not a few passages as if the feeling for truth had forsaken him. If we consider, however, that in Origen’s idea the premises of his speculation were unassailable, and if we further consider into what straits he was driven by Celsus, we will conclude that no proof has been advanced of Origen’s having sinned against the current rules of truth. These, however, did not include the commandment to use in disputation only such arguments as could be employed in a positive doctrinal presentation. Basilius (Ep. 210 ad prim. Neocaes) was quite ready to excuse an utterance of Gregory Thaumaturgus, that sounded suspiciously like Sabellianism, by saying that the latter was not speaking δογματικῶς, but ἀγωνιστικῶς. Jerome also (ad Pammach. ep. 48, c. 13), after defending the right of writing γυμναστικῶς, expressly said that all Greek philosophers “have used many words to conceal their thoughts, threaten in one place, and deal the blow in another.” In the same way, according to him, Origen, Methodius, Eusebius, and Apollinaris had acted in the dispute with Celsus and Porphyry. “Because they are sometimes compelled to say, not what they them selves think, but what is necessary for their purpose; they do this only in the struggle with the heathen.” 334To us his theory of the world, surveyed in its details, presents various changing hues, like that of Philo, and at the present day we can scarcely any longer understand how he was able to unite the different materials; but, considering the solidity of his character and the confidence of his decisions, we cannot doubt that he himself felt the agreement of all essential parts of his system. No doubt he spoke in one way to the perfect and in another to the mass of Christian people. The narrow-minded or the immature will at all times necessarily consider such proceedings hypocrisy, but the outcome of his religious and scientific conception of the world required the twofold language. Orthodox theology of all creeds has never yet advanced beyond the circle first mapped out by his mind. She has suspected and corrected her founder, she has thought she could lop off his heterodox opinions as if they were accidental excrescences, she has incorporated with the simple faith itself the measure of speculation she was obliged to admit, and continued to give the rule of faith a more philosophic form, fragment by fragment, in order that she might thus be able to remove the gap between Faith and Gnosis and to banish free theology through the formula of ecclesiastical dogma. But it may reasonably be questioned whether all this is progress, and it is well worth investigating whether the gap between half theological, clerical Christianity and a lay Christianity held in tutelage is more endurable than that between Gnosis and Pistis, which Origen preserved and bridged over.
The Christian system of Origen683683See, above all, the systematic main work “περὶ ἀρχῶν”. is worked out in opposition to the systems of the Greek philosophers and of the Christian Gnostics. It is moreover opposed to the ecclesiastical enemies of science, the Christian Unitarians, and the Jews.684684Many writings of Origen are pervaded by arguments, evincing equal discretion and patience, against the Christians who contest the right of science in the Church. In the work against Celsus, however, he was not unfrequently obliged to abandon the simple Christians. C. Celsus III. 78: V. 14-24 are particularly instructive. But the 335science of the faith, as developed by Origen, being built up with the appliances of Philo’s science, bears unmistakable marks of Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. Origen speculated not only in the manner of Justin, but also in that of Valentinus and therefore likewise after the fashion of Plotinus; in fact he is characterised by the adoption of the methods and, in a certain sense, of the axioms current in the schools of Valentinus and traceable in Neoplatonism. But, as this method implied the acknowledgment of a sacred literature, Origen was an exegete who believed in the Holy Scriptures and indeed, at bottom, he viewed all theology as a methodical exegesis of Holy Writ. Finally, however, since Origen, as an ecclesiastical Christian, was convinced that the Church (by which he means only the perfect and pure Church) is the sole possessor of God’s holy revelations with whose authority the faith may be justly satisfied, nothing but the two Testaments, as preserved by her, was regarded by him as the absolutely reliable divine revelation.685685In this point Origen is already narrower than Clement. Free judgments, such as were passed by Clement on Greek philosophy, were not, so far as I know, repeated by Origen. (See especially Clement, Strom. I. 5. 28-32: 13. 57, 58 etc.); yet he also acknowledges revelations of God in Greek philosophy (see, e.g., c. Cels. VI. 3), and the Christian doctrine is to him the completion of Greek philosophy (see the remains of Origen’s lost Stromateis and Hom. XIV. in Genes. § 3; Other passages in Redepenning II., p, 324 ff.). But, in addition to these, every possession of the Church, and, above all, the rule of faith, was authoritative and holy.686686We must here content ourselves with merely pointing out that the method of scientific Scriptural exegesis also led to historico-critical investigations, that accordingly Origen and his disciples were also critics of the tradition, and that scientific theology, in addition to the task of remodelling Christianity, thus began at its very origin the solution of another problem, namely, the critical restoration of Christianity from the Scriptures and tradition and the removal of its excrescences: for these efforts, strictly speaking, do not come up for consideration in the history of dogma. By acknowledging not only the relative correctness of the beliefs held by the great mass of simple Christians as the Valentinians did, but also the indispensableness of their faith as the foundation of speculation, Origen like Clement avoided the dilemma of becoming a heterodox Gnostic or an ecclesiastical traditionalist. He was able to maintain this standpoint, because in the first place his Gnosis required a guaranteed sacred literature which he only found in 336the Church, and because in the second place this same Gnosis had extended its horizon far enough to see that what the heretical Gnosis had regarded as contrasts were different aspects of the same thing. The relative way of looking at things, an inheritance from the best time of antiquity, is familiar to Origen, as it was to Clement; and he contrived never to lose sight of it, in spite of the absolute attitude he had arrived at through the Christian Gnosis and the Holy Scriptures. This relative view taught him and Clement toleration and discretion (Strom. IV. 22. 139: ἡ γνῶσις ἀγαπᾷ καὶ τοὺς ἀγνοοῦντας διδάσκει τε καὶ παιδεύει τὴν πᾶσαν κτίσιν τοῦ παντοκράτορος Θεοῦ τιμᾶν, “Gnosis loves and instructs the ignorant and teaches us to honour the whole creation of God Almighty”); and enabled them everywhere to discover, hold fast, and further the good in that which was meagre and narrow, in that which was undeveloped and as yet intrinsically obscure.687687The theory that justified a twofold morality in the Church is now completely legitimised, but the higher form no longer appears as Encratite and eschatological, but as Encratite and philosophical. See, for example, Clement, Strom. III. 12. 82: VI. 13. 106 etc. Gnosis is the principle of perfection. See Strom. IV. 7. 54: πρόκειται δὲ τοῖς εἰς τελείωσιν σπεύδουσιν ἡ γνῶσις ἡ λογικὴ ἧς θεμέλιος ἡ ἁγία τριὰς πιστίς, ἀγάπη, ἐλπίς. As an orthodox traditionalist and decided opponent of all heresy Origen acknowledged that Christianity embraces a salvation which is offered to all men and attained by faith, that it is the doctrine of historical facts to which we must adhere, that the content of Christianity has been appropriately summarised by the Church in her rule of faith,688688See the preface to the work. and that belief is of itself sufficient for the renewal and salvation of man. But, as an idealistic philosopher, Origen transformed the whole content of ecclesiastical faith into ideas. Here he adhered to no fixed philosophical system, but, like Philo, Clement, and the Neoplatonists, adopted and adapted all that had been effected by the labours of idealistic Greek moralists since the time of Socrates. These, however, had long before transformed the Socratic saying “know thyself” into manifold rules for the right conduct of life, and associated with it a theosophy, in which man was first to attain to his true self.689689From the conclusion of Hippolytus’ Philosophoumena it is also evident how the Socratic Γνῶθι σεαυτόν was in that age based on a philosophy of religion and was regarded as a watchword in wide circles. See Clem. Pædag. III. 11. 1. These rules made the true “sage” 337abstain from occupying himself in the service of daily life and “from burdensome appearance in public”. They asserted that the mind “can have no more peculiar duty than caring for itself. This is accomplished by its not looking without nor occupying itself with foreign things, but, turning inwardly to itself, restoring its own nature to itself and thus practising righteousness.”690690 See Gregory Thaumaturgus’ panegyric on Origen, one of the most instructive writings of the 3rd century, especially cc. 11-18. Here it was taught that the wise man who no longer requires anything is nearest the Deity, because he is a partaker of the highest good through possession of his rich Ego and through his calm contemplation of the world; here moreover it was proclaimed that the mind that has freed itself from the sensuous691691Yet all excesses are repudiated. See Clem. Strom. IV. 22. 138: Οὐκ ἐγκρατὴς οὗτος ἔτι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἕξει γέγονεν ἀπαθείας σχῆμα θεῖον ἐπενδύσασθαι αναμένων. Similar remarks are found in Origen. and lives in constant contemplation of the eternal is also in the end vouchsafed a view of the invisible and is itself deified. No one can deny that this sort of flight from the world and possession of God involves a specific secularisation of Christianity, and that the isolated and self-sufficient sage is pretty much the opposite of the poor soul that hungers after righteousness.692692In many passages of Clement the satisfaction in knowledge appears in a still more pronounced form than in Origen. The boldest expression of it is Strom. IV. 22. 136. This passage is quoted above on p. 328.) Nor, on the other hand, can any one deny that concrete examples of both types are found in infinite multiplicity and might shade off into each other in this multiplicity. This was the case with Clement and Origen. To them the ethical and religious ideal is the state without sorrow, the state of insensibility to all evils, of order and peace — but peace in God. Reconciled to the course of the world, trusting in the divine Logos,693693See the beautiful prayer of the Christian Gnostic in Strom. IV. 23. 148. rich in disinterested love to God and the brethen, reproducing the divine thoughts, looking up with longing to heaven its native city,694694See Strom. IV. 26. 172: Origen’s commentaries are continually interrupted by similar outbursts of feeling. the created spirit 338attains its likeness to God and eternal bliss. It reaches this by the victory over sensuousness, by constantly occupying itself with the divine — “Go ye believing thoughts into the wide field of eternity” — by self-knowledge and contemplative isolation, which, however, does not exclude work in the kingdom of God, that is in the Church. This is the divine wisdom: “The soul practises viewing herself as in a mirror: she displays the divine Spirit in herself as in a mirror, if she is to be found worthy of this fellowship; and she thus discovers the traces of a mysterious way to deification.”695695On deification as the ultimate aim see Clem., Strom. IV. 23. 149-155: VII. 10. 56, 13. 82, 16. 95: οὕτως ὁ τῷ κυρίῳ πειθόμενος καὶ τῇ δοθείσῃ δι᾽ ἀυτοῦ κατακολουθήσας προφητείᾳ τελέως ἐκτελεῖται κατ᾽ εἰκόνα τοῦ διδασκάλου ἐν σαρκὶ περιπολῶν Θεός. But note what a distinction Clement makes between ὁ Θεός and the perfect man in VII. 15. 88 (in contradistinction to the Stoic identification); Origen does this also. Origen employed the Stoic and Platonic systems of ethics as an instrument for the gradual realisation of this ideal.696696 Gregory (l.c., c. 13) relates that all the works of the poets and philosophers were read in Origen’s school, and that every part of these works that would stand the test was admitted. Only the works of atheists were excluded, “because these overpass the limits of human thought.” However, Origen did not judge philosophers in such an unprejudiced manner as Clement, or, to speak more correctly, he no longer valued them so highly. See Bigg, l.c., p. 133, Denis l.c. Introd. With him the mystic and ecstatic as well as the magic and sacramental element is still in the background, though it is not wanting. To Origen’s mind, however, the inadequacy of philosophical injunctions was constantly made plain by the following considerations. (1) The philosophers, in spite of their noble thoughts of God, tolerated the existence of polytheism; and this was really the only fault he had to find with Plato. (2) The truth did not become universally accessible through them.697697See, for example, c. Cels. V. 43: VII. 47, 59 sq. He compared Plato and other wise men to those doctors who give their attention only to cultured patients. (3) As the result of these facts they did not possess sufficient power.698698See, for example, c. Cels. VI. 2. In contrast to this the divine revelation had already mastered a whole people through Moses — “Would to God the Jews had not transgressed the law, and had not slain the prophets and Jesus; we would then have had a model of that heavenly commonwealth which Plato has sought to describe”699699C. Cels. V. 43. — and the Logos shows his universal 339power in the Church (1) by putting an end to all polytheism, and (2) by improving everyone to the extent that his knowledge and capacity admit, and in proportion as his will is inclined to, and susceptible of, that which is good.700700 One of Origen’s main ideas, which we everywhere meet with, particularly in the work against Celsus (see, for example, VI. 2) is the thought that Christ has come to improve all men according to their several capacities, and to lead some to the highest knowledge. This conception appears to fall short of the Christian ideal and perhaps really does so; but as soon as we measure it not by the Gospel but by the aims of Greek philosophy, we see very clearly the progress that has been attained through this same Gospel. What Origen has in his eye is mankind, and he is anxious for the amendment not merely of a few, but of all. The actual state of things in the Church no longer allowed him to repeat the exclamations of the Apologists that all Christians were philosophers and that all were filled with the same wisdom and virtue. These exclamations were naive and inappropriate even for that time. But he could already estimate the relative progress made by mankind within the Church as compared with those outside her pale, saw no gulf between the growing and the perfect, and traced the whole advance to Christ. He expressly declared, c. Cels. III. 78, that the Christianity which is fitted for the comprehension of the multitude is not the best doctrine in an absolute, but only in a relative, sense; that the “common man”, as he expresses himself, must be reformed by the prospect of rewards and punishments; and that the truth can only he communicated to him in veiled forms and images, as to a child. The very fact, however, that the Logos in Jesus Christ has condescended so to act is to Origen a proof of the universality of Christianity. Moreover, many of the wonderful phenomena reported in the Holy Scriptures belong in his opinion to the veiled forms and images. He is very far from doing violence to his reason here; he rather appeals to mysterious powers of the soul, to powers of divination, visionary states etc. His standpoint in this case is wholly that of Celsus (see particularly the instructive disquisition in I. 48), in so far as he is convinced that many unusual things take place between heaven and earth, and that individual names, symbols etc. possess a mysterious power (see, for example, c. Cels. V. 45). The views as to the relationship between knowledge and holy initiation or sacramentum are those of the philosophers of the age. He thinks, however, that each individual case requires to be examined, that there can be no miracles not in accordance with nature, but that on the contrary everything must fit into a higher order. As the letter of the precepts in both Testaments frequently contains things contrary to reason (see περὶ ἀρχῶν IV. 2. 8-27) in order to lead men to the spiritual interpretation, and as many passages contain no literal sense at all (l.c. § 12), so also, in the historical narratives, we frequently discover a mythical element from which consequently nothing but the idea is to be evolved (l.c. § 16 sq.: “Non solum de his, quæ usque ad adventum Christi scripta sunt, hæc Spiritus sanctus procuravit, sed . . . eadem similiter etiam in evangelistis et apostolis fecit. Nam ne illas quidem narrationes, quas per eos inspiravit, absque huiuscemodi, quam supra exposuimus, sapientiæ sua arte contexuit. Unde etiam in ipsis non parva promiscuit, quibus historialis narrandi ordo interpolatus, vel intercisus per impossibilitatem sui reflecteret atque revocaret intentionem legentis ad intelligentiæ interioris examen.”) In all such cases Origen makes uniform use of the two points of view, that God wished to present something even to the simple and to incite the more advanced to spiritual investigations. In some passages, however, the former point of view fails, because the content of the text is offensive; in that case it is only the second that applies. Origen therefore was very far from finding the literal content of Scripture edifying in every instance, indeed, in the highest sense, the letter is not edifying at all. He rather adopted, to its widest extent, the critical method employed by the Gnostics particularly when dealing with the Old Testament; but the distinction he made between the different senses of Scripture and between the various legitimate human needs enabled him to preserve both the unity of God and the harmony of revelation. Herein, both in this case and everywhere else, lies the superiority of his theology. Read especially c. Celsum I. 9-12. After appealing to the twofold religion among the Egyptians, Persians, Syrians, and Indians — the mythical religion of the multitude and the mystery-religion of the initiated — he lays down exactly the same distinction within Christianity, and thus repels the reproach of Celsus that the Christians were obliged to accept everything without examination. With regard to the mythical form of Christianity he merely claims that it is the most suitable among religions of this type. Since, as a matter of fact, the great majority of men have neither time nor talent for philosophy, ποία ἂν ἄλλη βελτίων μέθοδος πρὸς τὸ τοῖς πολλοῖς βοηθῆσαι εὑρεθείη, τῆς ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῖς ἔθνεσι παραδοθείσης (l.c., 9). This thought is quite in the spirit of antiquity, and neither Celsus nor Porphyry could have any fault to find with these arguments in point of form: all positive religions have a mythical element; the true religion therefore lies behind the religions. But the novelty which neither Celsus nor Porphyry could recognise lies in the acknowledgment that the one religion, even in its mythical form, is unique and divine, and in the demand that all men, so far as they cannot attain the highest knowledge, must subject themselves to this mythical religion and no other. In this claim Origen rejected the ancient contrast between the multitude and the initiated just as he repudiated polytheism; and in this, if I see rightly, his historical greatness consists. He everywhere recognised gradations tending in the same direction and rejected polytheism.340
Not only, however, did Origen employ the Greek ethic in its varied types, but the Greek cosmological speculation also formed the complicated substructure of his religious system of morals. The Gnosis is formally a philosophy of revelation, that is a Scripture theology,701701Bigg (l.c., p. 154) has rightly remarked: “Origen in point of method differs most from Clement, who not unfrequently leaves us in doubt as to the precise Scriptural basis of his ideas.” and materially a cosmological speculation. On the basis of a detailed theory of inspiration, which itself, moreover, originates with the philosophers, the Holy Scriptures are so treated that all facts appear as the vehicles of ideas and only attain their highest value in this aspect. Systematic theology, 341 in undertaking its task, always starts, as Clement and Origen also did, with the conscious or unconscious thought of emancipating itself from the outward revelation and community of cultus that are the characteristic marks of positive religion. The place of these is taken by the results of speculative cosmology, which, though themselves practically conditioned, do not seem to be of this character. This also applies to Origen’s Christian Gnosis or scientific dogmatic, which is simply the metaphysics of the age. However, as he was the equal of the foremost minds of his time, this dogmatic was no schoolboy imitation on his part, but was to some extent independently developed and was worked out both in opposition to pantheistic Stoicism and to theoretical dualism. That we are not mistaken in this opinion is shown by a document ranking among the most valuable things preserved to us from the third century; we mean the judgment passed on Origen by Porphyry in Euseb., H. E. VI. 19. Every sentence is instructive,702702Note, for example, § 8, where it is said that Origen adopted the allegorical method from the Stoic philosophers and applied it to the Jewish writings. On Origen’s hermeneutic principles in their relation to those of Philo see Siegfried, l.c., pp. 351-62. Origen has developed them fully and clearly in the 4th Book of περὶ ἀρχῶν . but the culminating point is the judgment contained in § 7: κατὰ μὲν τὸν βίον Χριστιανῶς ζῶν καὶ παρανόμως, κατὰ δὲ τὰς περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων καὶ τοῦ θείου δόξας Ἑλληνίζων καὶ τὰ Ἑλλήνων τοῖς ὀθνείοις ὑποβαλλόμενος μύθοις. (“His outward life was that of a Christian and opposed to the law, but in regard to his views of things and of the Deity, he thought like the Greeks, inasmuch as he introduced their ideas into the myths of other peoples.”) We can everywhere verify this observation from Origen’s works and particularly from the books written against Celsus, where he is continually obliged to mask his essential agreement in principles and method with the enemy of the Christians.703703See Overbeck, Theologische Literatur-Zeitung, 1878, Col. 535. The Gnosis is in fact the Hellenic one and results in that wonderful picture of the world which, though apparently a drama, is in reality immovable, and only assumes such a complicated form here from its relation to the Holy Scriptures and the history of Christ.704704A full presentation of Origen’s theology would require many hundreds of pages, because he introduced everything worth knowing into the sphere of theology, and associated with the Holy Scriptures, verse by verse, philosophical maxims, ethical reflexions, and results of physical science, which would require to be drawn on the widest canvas, because the standpoint selected by Origen allowed the most extensive view and the most varied judgments. The case was similar with Clement before him, and also with Tertullian. This is a necessary result of “Scripture theology” when one takes it up in earnest. Tertullian assumes, for example, that there must be a Christian doctrine of dreams. Why? Because we read of dreams in the Holy Scriptures. The 342Gnosis neutralises everything connected with empiric history; and if this does not everywhere hold good with regard to the actual occurrence of facts, it is at least invariably the case in respect to their significance. The clearest proof of this is (1) that Origen raised the thought of the unchangeability of God to be the norm of his system and (2) that he denied the historical, incarnate Logos any significance for “Gnostics”. To these Christ merely appears as the Logos who has been from eternity with the Father and has always acted from the beginning. He alone is the object of the knowledge of the wise man, who merely requires a perfect or, in other words, a divine teacher.705705In c. Cels. III. 61 it is said (Lommatzsch XVIII., p. 337): ἐπέμσθη οὗν Θεὸς λόγος καθὸ μὲν ἰατρὸς τοῖς ἁμαρτωλοῖς, καθὸ δὲ διδάσκαλος θείων μυστηρίων τοῖς ἤδη καθαροῖς καὶ μηκέτι ἁμαρτάνουσιν. See also what follows. In Comment. in John I. 20 sq. the crucified Christ, as the Christ of faith, is distinguished from the Christ who takes up his abode in us, as the Christ of the perfect. See 22 (Lomm. I. p. 43): καὶ μακάριοι γε ὅσοι δεόμενοι τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ τοιοῦτοι γεγόνασιν, ὡς μηκέτι αὐτοῦ χρῄζειν ἰατροῦ τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας θεραπεύοντος, μηδὲ ποιμένος, μηδὲ ἀπολυτρώσεως, ἀλλὰ σοσίας καὶ λόγου καὶ δικαιοσύνης, ἢ εἴ τι ἄλλο τοῖς διὰ τελειότητα χωρεῖν αὐτοῦ τὰ κάλλιστα δυναμένοις. Read also c. Cels. II. 66, 69: IV. 15, 18: VI. 68. These passages show that the crucified Christ is no longer of any account to the Gnostic, and that he therefore allegorises all the incidents described in the Gospels. Clement, too, really regards Christ as of no importance to Gnostics except as a teacher. The Gospel too only teaches the “shadow of the secrets of Christ;” but the eternal Gospel, which is also the pneumatic one, “clearly places before men’s minds all things concerning the Son of God himself, both the mysteries shown by his words, and the things of which his acts were the riddles” (σασῶς παρίστησι τοῖς νοοῦσι τὰ πάντα ἐνώπιον περὶ αὐτοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ τὰ παριστάμενα μυστήρια ὑπὸ τῶν λόγων αὐτοῦ, τά τε πράγματα, ὦν αἰνίγματα ἧσαν αἱ πράξεις αὐτοῦ)706706 Comment. in Joh. I. 9, Lomm. I. p. 20. The “mysteries” of Christ is the technical term for this theology and, at bottom, for all theology. For, in respect of the form given to it, revelation always appears as a problem that theology has to solve. What is revealed is therefore either to be taken as immediate authority (by the believer) or as a soluble problem. One thing, accordingly, it is not, namely, something in itself evident and intelligible. No doubt the true theology based on revelation 343makes pantheism appear overthrown as well as dualism, and here the influence of the two Testaments cannot be mistaken; but a subtle form of the latter recurs in Origen’s system, whilst the manner in which he rejected both made the Greek philosophy of the age feel that there was something akin to it here. In the final utterances of religious metaphysics ecclesiastical Christianity, with the exception of a few compromises, is thrown off as a husk. The objects of religious knowledge have no history or rather, and this is a genuinely Gnostic and Neoplatonic idea, they have only a supramundane one.
This necessarily gave rise to the assumption of an esoteric and exoteric form of the Christian religion, for it is only behind the statutory, positive religion of the Church that religion itself is found. Origen gave the clearest expression to this assumption, which must have been already familiar in the Alexandrian school of catechists, and convinced himself that it was correct, because he saw that the mass of Christians were unable to grasp the deeper sense of Scripture, and because he realised the difficulties of the exegesis. On the other hand, in solving the problem of adapting the different points of his heterodox system of thought to the regula fidei, he displayed the most masterly skill. He succeeded in finding an external connection, because, though the construction of his theory proceeded from the top downwards, he could find support for it on the steps of the regula fidei, already developed by Irenæus into the history of salvation.707707See Nitzsch, Dogmengeschichte, p. 136. The system itself is to be, in principle and in every respect, monistic, but, as the material world, though created by God out of nothing, merely appears as a place of punishment and purification for souls, a strong element of dualism is inherent in the system, as far as its practical application is concerned.708708To Origen the problem of evil was one of the most important; see Book III. of περὶ ἀρχῶν and c. Cels. VI. 53-59. He is convinced (1) that the world is not the work of a second, hostile God; (2) that virtues and the works arising from them are alone good in the proper sense of the word, and that nothing but the opposite of these is bad; (3) that evil in the proper sense of the word is only evil will (see c. Cels. IV. 66: VI. 54). Accordingly he makes a very decided distinction between that which is bad and evils. As for the latter he admits that they partly originate from God, in which case they are designed as means of training and punishment. But he saw that this conception is insufficient, both in view of individual passages of Holy Scripture and of natural experience. There are evils in the world that can be understood neither as the result of sin nor as means of training. Here then his relative, rational view of things comes in, even with respect to the power of God. There are evils which are a necessary consequence of carrying out even the best intentions (c. Cels. VI. 53: τὰ κακὰ ἐκ παρακολουθήσεως γεγένηται τῆς πρὸς τὰ προηγούμενα): “Evils, in the strict sense, are not created by God; yet some, though but few in comparison with the great, well-ordered whole of the world, have of necessity adhered to the objects realised; as the carpenter who executes the plan of a building does not manage without chips and similar rubbish, or as architects cannot be made responsible for the dirty heaps of broken stones and filth one sees at the sites of buildings; (l.c., c. 55). Celsus also might have written in this strain. The religious, absolute view is here replaced by a rational, and the world is therefore not the best absolutely, but the best possible. See the Theodicy in περὶ ἀρχῶν III. 17-22. (Here, and also in other parts, Origen’s Theodicy reminds us of that of Leibnitz; see Denis, l.c., p. 626 sq. The two great thinkers have a very great deal in common, because their philosophy was not of a radical kind, but an attempt to give a rational interpretation to tradition.) But “for the great mass it is sufficient when they are told that evil has not its origin in God” (IV. 66). The case is similar with that which is really bad. It is sufficient for the multitude to know that that which is bad springs from the freedom of the creature, and that matter which is inseparable from things mortal is not the source and cause of sin (IV. 66, see also III. 42: τὸ κυρίως μιαρὸν ἀπὸ κακίας τοιυυτόν ἐστι. Öύσις δὲ σώματος οὐ μιαρά· οὐ γὰρ ᾗ σύσις σώματός ἐστι, τὸ γεννητικὸν τῆς μιαρότητος ἔχει τὴν κακιάν); but a closer examination shows that there can be no man without sin (III. 61) because error is inseparable from growth and because the constitution of man in the flesh makes evil unavoidable (VII. 50). Sinfulness is therefore natural and it is the necessary prius. This thought, which is also not foreign to Irenæus, is developed by Origen with the utmost clearness. He was not content with proving it, however, but in order to justify God’s ways proceeded to the assumption of a Fall before time began (see below). The prevailing 344contrast is that between the one transcendent essence and the multiplicity of all created things. The pervading ambiguity lies in the twofold view of the spiritual in so far as, on the one hand, it belongs to God as the unfolding of his essence, and, on the other, as being created, is contrasted with God. This ambiguity, which recurs in all the Neoplatonic systems and has continued to characterise all mysticism down to the present day, originates in the attempt to repel Stoic pantheism 345and yet to preserve the transcendental nature of the human spirit, and to maintain the absolute causality of God without allowing his goodness to be called in question. The assumption that created spirits can freely determine their own course is therefore a necessity of the system; in fact this assumption is one of its main presuppositions709709See Mehlhorn, Die Lehre von der menschlichen Freiheit nach Origenes (Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, Vol. II., p. 234 ff.) and is so boldly developed as to limit the omnipotence and omniscience of God. But, as from the empirical point of view the knot is tied for every man at the very moment he appears on earth, and since the problem is not created by each human being as the result of his own independent will, but lies in his organisation, speculation must retreat behind history. So the system, in accordance with certain hints of Plato, is constructed on the same plan as that of Valentinus, for example, to which it has an extraordinary affinity. It contains three parts: (1) The doctrine of God and his unfoldings or creations, (2) the doctrine of the Fall and its consequences, (3) the doctrine of redemption and restoration.710710The distinction between Valentinus and Origen consists in the fact that the former makes an aeon or, in other words, a part of the divine pleroma, itself fall, and that he does not utilise the idea of freedom. The outline of Origen’s system cannot be made out with complete clearness from the work περὶ ἀρχῶν, because he endeavoured to treat each of the first three parts as a whole. Origen’s four principles are God, the World, Freedom, Revelation (Holy Scripture). Each principle, however, is brought into relation with Christ. The first part treats of God and the spirits, and follows the history of the latter down to their restoration. The second part treats of the world and humanity, and likewise closes with the prospect of the resurrection, punishment in hell, and eternal life. Here Origen makes a magnificent attempt to give a conception of bliss and yet to exclude all sensuous joys. The third book treats of sin and redemption, that is, of freedom of will, temptation, the struggle with the powers of evil, internal struggles, the moral aim of the world, and the restoration of all things. A special book on Christ is wanting, for Christ is no “principle”; but the incarnation is treated of in II. 6. The teachers of Valentinus’ school accordingly appear more Christian when contrasted with Origen. If we read the great work περὶ ἀρχῶν, or the treatise against Celsus, or the commentaries connectedly, we never cease to wonder how a mind so clear, so sure of the ultimate aim of all knowledge, and occupying such a high standpoint, has admitted in details all possible views down to the most naïve myths, and how he on the one hand believes in holy magic, sacramental vehicles and the like, and on the other, in spite of all his rational and even empirical views, betrays no doubt of his abstract creations. But the problem that confronts us in Origen is that presented by his age. This we realise on reading Celsus or Porphyry (see Denis l.c., p. 613: “Toutes les théories d’Origène, même les plus imaginaires, représent l’état intellectuel et moral du siècle où il a paru”). Moreover, Origen is not a teacher who, like Augustine, was in advance of his time, though he no doubt anticipated the course of ecclesiastical development. This age, as represented by its greatest men, sought to gain a substructure for something new, not by a critical examination of the old ideas, but by incorporating them all into one whole. People were anxious to have assurance, and, in the endeavour to find this, they were nervous about giving up any article of tradition. The boldness of Origen, judged as a Greek philosopher, lies in his rejection of all polytheistic religions. This made him all the more conservative in his endeavours to protect and incorporate everything else. This conservatism welded together ecclesiastical Christianity and Greek culture into a system of theology which was indeed completely heterodox. Like Denis, 346however, we may also, in accordance with a premised theory of method, set forth the system in four sections, viz., Theology, Cosmology, Anthropology, Teleology. Origen’s fundamental idea is “the original indestructible unity of God and all spiritual essence.” From this it necessarily follows that the created spirit after fall, error, and sin must ever return to its origin, to being in God. In this idea we have the key to the religious philosophy of Origen.
The only sources for obtaining a knowledge of the truth are the Holy Scriptures of both Testaments. No doubt the speculations of Greek philosophers also contain truths, but these have only a propædeutic value and, moreover, have no certainty to offer, as have the Holy Scriptures, which are a witness to themselves in the fulfilment of prophecy.711711The proof from prophecy was reckoned by Origen among the articles belonging to faith, but not to Gnosis (see for ex. c. Cels. II. 37); but, like the Apologists, he found it of great value. As far as the philosophers are concerned, Origen always bore in mind the principle expressed in c. Cels. VII. 46: πρὸς ταῦτα δ᾽ἡμεῖς φήσομεν οἱ μελετήσαντες μηδενὶ ἀπεχθάνεσθαι τῶν καλῶς λεγομένων; κἂν οἱ ἔξω τῆς πίστεως λέγωσι καλῶς. In that same place it is asserted that God in his love has not only revealed himself to such as entirely consecrate themselves to his service, but also to such as do not know the true adoration and reverence which he requires. But as remarked above, p. 338, Origen’s attitude to the Greek philosophers is much more reserved than that of Clement. On the other hand Origen assumes that there was an esoteric deeper knowledge in addition to the Holy Scriptures, and that Jesus in particular imparted this deeper wisdom to a few;712712See, for ex., c. Cels. VI. 6, Comment in Johann. XIII. 59, Lomm. II., p. 9 sq. but, as a correct Church theologian, he scarcely made use of this assumption. The first 347methodical principle of his exegesis is that the faith, as professed in the Church in contradistinction to heresy, must not be tampered with.713713Περὶ ἀρχῶν preface. But it is the carrying out of this rule that really forms the task of the theologian. For the faith itself is fixed and requires no particular presentation; it never occurred to Origen to assume that the fixing of the faith itself could present problems. It is complete, clear, easily teachable, and really leads to victory over sensuality and sin (see c. Cels. VII. 48 and cf. other passages), as well as to fellowship with God, since it rests on the revelation of the Logos. But, as it remains determined by fear and hope of reward so, as “uninformed and irrational faith” (πίστις ἰδιωτική and ἄλογος) it only leads to a “somatic Christianity” χριστιανισμός σωματικός). It is the task of theology, however, to decipher “spiritual Christianity” (χριστιανισμός πνευματικός) from the Holy Scriptures, and to elevate faith to knowledge and clear vision. This is effected by the method of Scripture exegesis which ascertains the highest revelations of God.714714On Origen’s exegetical method see Kihn, Theodor v. Mopsu. p. 20 ff., Bigg, l.c. p. 131 ff. On the distinction between his application of the allegorical method and that of Clement see specially p. 134 f. of the latter work. The Scripture has a threefold sense because, like the cosmos, alongside of which it stands like a second revelation, as it were, it must contain a pneumatic, psychic, and somatic element. The somatic or historical sense is in every case the first that must be ascertained. It corresponds to the stage of mere faith and has consequently the same dignity as the latter. But there are instances where it is to be given up and designated as a Jewish and fleshly sense. This is to be assumed in all cases where it leads to ideas opposed to the nature of God, morality, the law of nature, or reason.715715Origen noted several such passages in the very first chapter of Genesis Examples are given in Bigg, p. 137 f. Here one must judge (see above) that such objectionable passages were meant to incite the searcher to a deeper investigation. The psychic sense is of a moral nature: in the Old Testament more especially most narratives have a moral content, which one can easily find by stripping off the history as a covering; and in certain 348passages one may content oneself with this meaning. The pneumatic sense, which is the only meaning borne by many passages, an assertion which neither Philo nor Clement ventured to make in plain terms, has with Origen a negatively apologetic and a positively didactic aim. It leads to the ultimate ideas which, once attained, are self-evident, and, so to speak, pass completely over into the mind of the theologian, because they finally obtain for him clear vision and independent possession.716716Bigg, l.c., has very appropriately named Origen’s allegorism “Biblical alchemy”. When the Gnostic has attained this stage, he may throw away the ladders by which he has reached this height.717717To ascertain the pneumatic sense, Origen frequently drew analogies between the domain of the cosmic and that of the spiritual. He is thus a forerunner of modern idealistic philosophers, for example, Drummond: “To Origen allegorism is only one manifestation of the sacramental mystery of nature (Bigg, p. 134). He is then inwardly united with God’s Logos, and from this union obtains all that he requires. In most passages Origen presupposed the similarity and equal value of all parts of the Holy Scriptures; but in some he showed that even inspiration has its stages and grades, according to the receptivity and worthiness of each prophet, thus applying his relative view of all matters of fact in such cases also. In Christ the full revelation of the Logos was first expressed; his Apostles did not possess the same inspiration as he,718718See Hom. in Luc. XXIX., Lomm. V., p. 193 sq. and among the Apostles and apostolic men differences in the degrees of inspiration are again to be assumed. Here Origen set the example of making a definite distinction between a heroic age of the Apostles and the succeeding period. This laid the foundation for an assumption through which the later Church down to our time has appeased her conscience and freed herself from demands that she could not satisfy.719719Since Origen does not, as a rule, dispute the literal meaning of the Scriptures, he has also a much more favourable opinion of the Jewish people and of the observance of the law than the earlier Christian authors (but see Iren. and Tertull.). At bottom he places the observance of the law quite on the same level as the faith of the simple Christians. The Apostles also kept the law for a time, and it was only by degrees that they came to understand its spiritual meaning. They were also right to continue its observance during their mission among the Jews. On the other hand, he considers the New Testament a higher stage than the Old both in its literal and its spiritual sense. See c. Cels. II. 1-4, 7, 75: IV. 31 sq.: V. 10, 30, 31, 42 sq., 66: VII. 26.
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