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Excursus on the XV. Anathemas Against Origen.

That Origen was condemned by name in the Eleventh Canon of this council there seems no possible reason to doubt.  I have given in connexion with that canon a full discussion of the evidence upon which our present text rests.  But there arises a further question, to wit, Did the Fifth Synod examine the case of Origen and finally adopt the XV. Anathemas against him which are usually found assigned to it?  It would seem that with the evidence now in our possession it would be the height of rashness to give a dogmatic answer to this question.  Scholars of the highest repute have taken, and do take to-day, the opposite sides of the case, and each defends his own side with marked learning and ability.  To my mind the chief difficulty in supposing these anathematisms to have been adopted by the Fifth Ecumenical is that nothing whatever is said about Origen in the call of the council, nor in any of the letters written in connexion with it; all of which would seem unnatural had there been a long discussion upon the matter, and had such an important dogmatic definition been adopted as the XV. Anathemas, and yet on the other hand there is a vast amount of literature subsequent in date to the council which distinctly attributes a detailed and careful examination of the teaching of Origen and a formal condemnation of him and of it to this council.

The XV. Anathemas as we now have them were discovered by Peter Lambeck, the Librarian of Vienna, in the XVIIth century; and bear, in the Vienna ms., the heading, “Canons, of the 165 holy Fathers of the holy fifth Synod, held in Constantinople.”  But despite this, Walch (Ketzerhist., Vol. vii., p. 661 et seqq. and 671; Vol. viij., p. 281 et seqq.); Döllinger (Church History, Eng. Trans., Vol. v., p. 203 et seqq.); Hefele (Hist. Councils, Vol. iv., p. 221 sq.), and many others look upon this caption as untrustworthy.  Evagrius, the historian, distinctly says that Origen was condemned with special anathemas at this Council, but his evidence is likewise (and, as it seems to me, too peremptorily) set aside.

Cardinal Noris, in his Dissertatio Historica de Synodo Quinta, is of opinion that Origen was twice condemned by the Fifth Synod; the first time by himself before the eight sessions of which alone the acts remain, and again after those eight sessions, in connexion with two of his chief followers, Didymus the Blind and the deacon Evagrius.  The Jesuit, John Garnier wrote in opposition to Noris; but his work, while exceedingly clever, is considered by the learned to contain (as Hefele says) “many statements [which] are rash, arbitrary, and inaccurate, and on the whole it is seen to be written in a spirit of opposition to Noris.”312312    Hefele.  Hist. Councils, Vol. IV., p. 230, note.  In defence of Noris’s main contention came forward the learned Ballerini brothers, of Verona.  In their Defensio dissertationis Norisianæ de Syn. V. adv. diss. P. Garnerii, they expand and amend Noris’s hypothesis.  But after all is said the matter remains involved in the greatest obscurity, and it is far easier to bring forward objections to the arguments in defence of either view than to bring forward a theory which will satisfy all the conditions of the problem.

317Those who deny that the XV. Anathemas were adopted by the Fifth Synod agree in assigning them to the “Home Synod,” that is a Synod at Constantinople of the bishops subject to it, in a.d. 543.  Hefele takes this view and advocates it with much cogency, but confesses frankly, “We certainly possess no strong and decisive proof that the fifteen anathematisms belong to the Constantinopolitan synod of the year 543; but some probable grounds for the opinion may be adduced.”313313    Hefele.  Hist. Councils, Vol. IV., p. 223.  This appears to be a somewhat weak statement with which to overthrow so much evidence as there can be produced for the opposite view.  For the traditional view the English reader will find a complete defence in E. B. Pusey, What is of Faith with regard to Eternal Punishment?

Before closing it will be well to call the attention of the reader to these words now found in the acts as we have them:

“And we found that many others had been anathematised after death, also even Origen; and if any one were to go back to the times of Theophilus of blessed memory or further he would have found him anathematised after death; which also now your holiness and Vigilius, the most religious Pope of Old Rome has done in his case.”314314    Speech of Ascidas in the V. Session.  It would seem that this cannot possibly refer to anything else than a condemnation of Origen by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, and so strongly is Vincenzi, Origen’s defender, impressed with this that he declares the passage to have been tampered with.  But even if these anathemas were adopted at the Home Synod before the meeting of the Fifth Ecumenical, it is clear that by including his name among those of the heretics in the XIth Canon, it practically ratified and made its own the action of that Synod.

The reader will be glad to know Harnack’s judgment in this matter.  Writing of the Fifth Council, he says:  “It condemned Origen, as Justinian desired; it condemned the Three Chapters and consequently the Antiochene theology, as Justinian desired,” etc., and in a foot-note he explains that he agrees with “Noris, the Ballerini, Möller (R. Encykl., xi., p. 113) and Loofs (pp. 287, 291) as against Hefele and Vincenzi.”315315    Harnack.  Hist. of Dogma, Vol. IV., n. 249 (Eng. Trans.).  A few pages before, he speaks of this last author’s book as “a big work which falsifies history to justify the theses of Halloix, to rehabilitate Origen and Vigilius, and on the other hand to ‘remodel’ the Council and partly to bring it into contempt.”316316    Ibid., p. 245, note 2.  Further on he says:  “The fifteen anathemas against Origen, on which his condemnation at the council was based, contained the following points.…Since the ‘Three Chapters’ were condemned at the same time, Origen and Theodore were both got rid of.…Origen’s doctrines of the consummation, and of spirits and matter might no longer be maintained.  The judgment was restored to its place, and got back even its literal meaning.”317317    Ibid., p. 349.


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