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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

What is “much speaking,” and what are the “many books”? The whole inspired Scripture is one book. From the Introduction to Volume V. of the Commentaries on John

1. Since you are not content to have taken up your present work as God’s task-master over me, and expect me even when away to devote myself mainly to you and to my duty towards you, I in turn, if I decline the labour, and shun the danger to which they are exposed at God’s hands who give themselves up to writing on Divine subjects, might find support in Scripture for refusing to “make many books.” For Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, “My son, beware of making many books: there is no end: and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” If the words before us had not a hidden meaning which we do not even yet clearly understand, we should have expressly broken the commandment through not being on our guard against “making many books.”

Then, after saying that he had written four full volumes on a few passages of the Gospel, he proceeds thus:—

2. As far as the words go there are two possible meanings of the precept, “My son, beware of making many books”; firstly, that one ought not to have many books: secondly, that one ought not to compose many books; and if the first is not permissible, the second is certainly not; though if the second is permissible, the first is not certainly so; either way the lesson appears to be that we ought not to make too many books. And, keeping to what has now occurred to me, I might send you the passage which I have quoted, as my apology: I might make the most of the fact that the saints have never had leisure for composing many books, and, accordingly, cease to compose any more to be sent to you, as we agreed. You would perhaps be so struck by what I said that you would let me have my way. But since a man should investigate Scripture with a good conscience, and not hastily claim to understand the meaning because he grasps the literal sense, I cannot bear to offer an unreal apology, which you might turn against me if I were to break our agreement. First, then, seeing that history seems to support what Solomon says, inasmuch as no saint has published numerous volumes and expressed his thoughts in many books, something must be said about this. And he who chides me for going on composing more books will tell me that the famous Moses left only five.

Then, after enumerating Prophets and Apostles, and showing how each of them wrote but a little, or not even that, he continues:—

3. Again, though I have said all this, my head swims, and I turn dizzy at the thought that in obeying you I may have disobeyed God and not imitated the saints. I trust I shall not do wrong, if in my heartfelt affection for you, and earnest desire in nothing to give you pain, I plead my own cause and base my defence on these grounds. First of all, we adduced the words of Ecclesiastes, “My son, beware of making many books.” Side by side with this I place the saying of the same Solomon in the Proverbs, “In the multitude of words thou shalt not escape sin, but if thou refrain thy lips thou wilt be discreet,” and I ask if the mere speaking many words is much speaking, even if a man speak many holy and saving words. If this be so, and he who discusses many profitable things indulges in a “multitude of words,” Solomon himself did not escape the sin, for “he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” How can teaching be effective without many words of the simpler kind? Wisdom herself tells the perishing, “I prolonged my words unto you, and ye did not regard.” And Paul appears to have continued preaching from morn until midnight, until Eutychus borne down with deep sleep fell down and alarmed the audience, who thought he was dead.

4. Well, then, if it be true that “in a multitude of words thou wilt not escape sin”; and if it be also true that neither Solomon sinned though he spake many words about the above-mentioned subjects, nor Paul, though he continued teaching until midnight, we must inquire what “a multitude of words” is, and then pass on to consider the meaning of “the many books.” The whole Word of God, I say, the Word which was in the beginning with God, is not “a multitude of words,” for it is not “words”; there is one Word which may be regarded from many points of view, and each of these meanings is a part of the whole Word. But as for words other than this Word, which profess to describe or relate anything whatsoever, though we may believe them to be words respecting truth,—what I am going to say will sound still more paradoxical,—not one of them is a word, but each of them words. For the unit can nowhere be found, nor can harmony and unity, but because they are torn with mutual conflict their unity has perished; and they are split into many parts, perhaps infinitely numerous; so that, according to this, we may say that he who utters anything whatsoever contrary to godliness speaks much, while he who speaks the things of the truth, even though he speak so exhaustively as to omit nothing, even speaks one word, and the saints, making the one Word their constant aim, do not fall into the vice of much speaking. If, then, whether there be or be not “much speaking” depends on the doctrines and not on the number of the words, see whether we cannot say the whole range of sacred teaching is one book, and all other teaching many books?

5. But since I must have proof from the Divine Scripture, consider whether my most striking way of presenting it is not to show that the account of Christ in relation to us is not contained in one book, if we take the “books” in the ordinary sense. It is described even in the Pentateuch; but also in each of the Prophets, and in the Psalms, and, generally, as the Saviour Himself says, in all the Scriptures, to which He refers us, bidding us “Search the Scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have eternal life: and these are they which bear witness of me.” If, then, He refers us to the Scriptures as bearing witness of Him, He does not send us to this or that particular portion, but to all the Scriptures that tell of Him, such as those which in the Psalms He called “the roll of the book,” saying, “In the roll of the book it is written of me.” If any one takes the phrase “in the roll of the book” to mean some one of the books containing the things concerning Him, I should like him to tell me why he prefers that book to any other. To justify any one in supposing that the word refers to the Book of the Psalms itself, he must point out that the words should have been “In this book it is written concerning me.” But the fact is that He says that everything is one roll, because the account of Himself which has reached us is summed up in one (statement, “I came to do Thy will”). And what, again, is the meaning of the book being seen by John written in front and on the back, close sealed: which no one could read or loose the seals thereof, except the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shall shut, and no man shall open? It surely is the whole of Scripture which is indicated by the “book”; written “in front” by reason of the easy, obvious interpretation: “on the back” because of the more remote and spiritual sense.

6. Besides this, we must closely observe whether it is any proof of holy truths being one book, and the opposite of these many, that for the living there is one book from which they who have become unworthy of it are blotted out, as it is written, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living,” while for those subject to judgment books are brought; for Daniel says, “The judgment was set and the books were opened.” To the unity of the Divine book even Moses testifies when he says, “If thou wilt forgive this people their sin, forgive them; and if not, blot me out of thy book which thou hast written.” I take the passage in Isaiah the same way; for it is not a peculiarity of his prophecy that the words of the book were sealed, and were not read by him that was not learned because he was not learned, nor by him that was learned because the book was sealed; but even this is true of all Scripture, which needs the Word that shut and will open; for “He shall shut and none shall open,” and once He opens no one can any longer associate darkness with His clear light; and this is why it is said that He shall open and none shut. And the very similar passage in Ezekiel about the book there spoken of, wherein was written “lamentations and music and woe.” For every book contains the “woe” of the perishing, and “music” for those who are being saved, and lamentations for those between these extremes. John, too, when he says that he ate one roll of the book, wherein were written things past and things to come, must have regarded the whole of Scripture as one book, very sweet as a man understands it at first and feeds upon it, but bitter when it is revealed to the self-consciousness of every one who has come to know it. To demonstrate this I will add an apostolic saying not understood by the followers of Marcion, who therefore reject the Gospels; for whereas the Apostle says, “According to my gospel in Christ Jesus,” and does not speak of gospels, they oppose us, and maintain that if there were several gospels the Apostle would not have used the word in the singular. They do not understand that as He is one, so the Gospel written by its many authors is one in effect, and the Gospel truly delivered by four evangelists is one Gospel.

7. Wherefore, if this has brought us conviction as to what the one book means, and what the many, I am now not so much concerned for the quantity of the copy as for the quality of the same, lest I fall into the transgression of the commandment, if I put forth anything as truth which is contrary to the truth even in a single detail of what is written; for I shall then prove myself to be a writer of many books. And just now, when, with a show of knowledge, men who hold false opinions are rising up against the holy Church of Christ, and publishing book after book which professes to expound the Gospels and apostolic writings, if we hold our peace, and do not meet them with the true and sound doctrines, they will prevail over gluttonous souls which, for want of wholesome food, rush to things forbidden, to utterly unclean and abominable meats. It therefore seems to me to be necessary, that he who can genuinely plead for the doctrine of the Church and refute the handlers of knowledge falsely so-called, should withstand the inventions of the heretics, opposing to them the elevation of the preaching of the Gospel, inasmuch as he is satisfied with the harmony of doctrines common to the Old Testament and to the New, as they are respectively called. At all events, you yourself, when advocates of the good cause were scarce, because you could not endure an irrational and commonplace faith, in your love for Jesus embraced opinions which you afterwards, when you had fully exercised the understanding given to you, condemned and forsook. This I say, according to my light, by way of excuse for men who can speak and write, and also by way of apology for myself, lest, perhaps, not being equipped as a man should be who is enabled by God to be a minister of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit, I too boldly apply myself to composition.

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