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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

A reply to the Greek philosophers who disparage the poverty of style of the Divine Scriptures, and allege that the noble truths of Christianity have been better expressed among the Greeks. They further assert that the body of the Lord was ill-favoured; with the reason of the different forms of the Word. From the treatise against Celsus, who wrote against Christians, Volumes VI. and VII

1. In beginning this sixth book, we desire, holy Ambrose, to meet the charges brought by Celsus against Christians, not, as might be supposed, what he has borrowed from philosophy. For he quoted numerous passages, mainly from Plato, making common property of such portions of the sacred Scriptures as might mislead even an intelligent reader, alleging that they have been “better expressed by Greeks, and without the violent expedient of a message supposed to come from God or from the Son of God.” Now we maintain that if the aim of those who represent the truth is to do as much good as possible to as many as possible, and out of love for men to win over to the truth, as far as may be, every single man, not only the quick and ready, but also him that is void of understanding: or, to put it another way, not Greeks only, nor Barbarians only,—and it is a mark of great humanity if a man is capable of converting rustics and ignorant folk,—it is obvious that a speaker must cultivate a style both popular and profitable, and such as will win everybody’s ear. And men who tell us that they say farewell to the ignorant as being no better than slaves, and to such as have no ear for the close connection of the words and the order of the incidents, and who therefore pay attention only to hearers who have had a literary and scientific bringing up, these men reduce the fellowship of the Gospel to very narrow limits.

2. I have said this in reply to the charge brought against the Scriptures by Celsus and others on account of their poverty of style, though that seems to vanish in the grandeur of the composition. For our Prophets, and Jesus and His Apostles had the insight to adopt a mode of delivery which not only conveys the truth, but can win the many, until they are drawn to be Catechumens and then, every one so far as he can, rise to the ineffable mysteries contained in the seemingly poor language. And if I may dare say so, the ornate and polished style of Plato and his imitators benefits only a few, if indeed it does benefit them; while the style of those who have taught and written less elegantly, but nevertheless with a direct and practical aim, keeping in view the wants of the greater number, has benefited many. At all events, you may see Plato in the hands of those who are regarded as literary men, but Epictetus is the admiration of the man in the street and of all who are inclined to improve themselves, for they are conscious of the benefits to be derived from his writings. We do not say this to disparage Plato, for the great world of men has found even him useful, but in order to show the meaning of those who said, “And my speech and my preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

3. For there is a demonstration of the Word, all its own, more Divine than the dialectic of the Greeks, which the Apostle calls “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power”; “of the Spirit,” because of the prophecies which are enough to convince the reader, particularly in things relating to Christ: and “of power,” because of the marvellous powers which one must be prepared to admit, as on many other grounds, so also, inasmuch as the traces of them are still preserved among those who live according to the intent of the Word.

4. Further, the Divine Word also asserts that what is said, although it be in itself true and most persuasive, is not of itself sufficient to reach man’s soul, unless a certain power from God be given to the speaker and grace be shed over his words, and effective speakers cannot have this grace without God’s help. At all events, the Prophet says in the 67th Psalm that “the Lord shall give a word to them that publish the tidings with great power.” Granting, then, that in some cases the Greeks have the same doctrines as ours, it by no means follows that even the same doctrines avail for winning souls and disposing them accordingly. Hence it is that the disciples of Jesus, unlearned and ignorant men as regards Greek philosophy, compassed many nations of the world, impressing each individual hearer as the Word desired, according to his deserts; for the hearers profited in proportion as their will inclined to receive the blessing.

5. Well, then, let the wise men of old be explained to those who can understand them. Let Plato, the son of Aristo, in one of his epistles express his views on the Chief Good, and let him maintain that the Chief Good is by no means communicable in words, but is acquired through much intercourse with it, and, kindled as it were from flaming fire, suddenly illuminates the soul. When we hear these things (for we are careful not to incur odium for anything that is well said, and if the enunciators of the truth are outside the Faith, we are studious not to vie with them, nor seek to upset sound sense) we admit that they are well spoken, “for God manifested it unto them,” and whatsoever else is good in their utterances. And this is why we say that they who have true conceptions of God, and do not lead a godly life worthy of the truth concerning Him, are liable to the chastisements of sinners. For this is precisely what Paul asserts concerning such men, viz. that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse; because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” They certainly do “hold down the truth,” as our Word also testifies, who think that “the Chief Good is not communicable in words,” and who say that “from much intercourse with the thing itself and from living with it, it suddenly, lighted as from flaming fire, illuminates the soul, and straightway nourishes itself.”

6. They who wrote such things concerning the Chief Good nevertheless go down to the Piræus that they may offer up a prayer to the goddess Artemis, and because they want to see how the national festival is kept by the common folk; and after so finely discussing the soul and surveying the conduct of a soul that has lived a good life, they forsake the greatness of the things which God manifested to them for mean and paltry conceptions, and pay a cock they owe to Asclepiost. And although they could imagine the invisible things of God and the eternal forms of Being from the creation of the world and things that are seen, from which they rise to intelligible things, and although they have no ignoble vision of His everlasting power and Godhead, they none the less become vain in their reasonings, and their heart, inasmuch as it is foolish, is overwhelmed with darkness and ignorance, so far I mean as concerns the service of God. And we may see men who pride themselves on wisdom and their knowledge of theology worshipping the likeness of the image of a corruptible man to show how they honour him; and we sometimes see them descending, like the Egyptians, to birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. And even if some do seem to have risen above this, they will nevertheless “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” Wherefore, because the wise and learned Greeks err in their religious observances, “God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame them that are wise; and the base things of the world, and the weak things, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he may bring to nought the things that are; and that truly no one may glory before God.” But our wise men, Moses the most ancient of them all, and the Prophets who came after him, knowing that the Chief Good is not at all communicable in words, and believing that God manifests Himself to fit and suitable persons, were the first to write that God appeared to Abraham, for instance, or to Isaac, or to Jacob. But Who He was that appeared, whence He came, and how, and for what object connected with mankind, they have left for those to investigate who can put themselves into God’s hands as did the saints to whom God appeared, for He was seen, not with their bodily eyes, but with the pure heart. As our Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see their God.”

7. As for the sudden kindling in the soul of a burning light as it were from flaming fire, the Word knew this before Plato, for, speaking by the prophet, He said, “Light up for yourselves the light of knowledge.” And John, who came long after, tells us that “What was in the Word was life, and the life was the light of men”; the true light which lighteneth every man as he cometh into the real “intelligible” world, and maketh him a light of the world. For this light shone in our hearts to give the illumination of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Wherefore a very ancient Prophet, who prophesied generations before the rise of the kingdom of Cyrus, for he was earlier than that monarch by more than fourteen generations, says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” and, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and light unto my paths”; and, “The light of thy countenance, O Lord, was lifted up as a banner over us”; and, “In thy light shall we see light.”1 And, urging us to come to this light, the Word in Isaiah says, “Shine, shine, Jerusalem; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord hath risen upon thee.”1 And this same Isaiah, prophesying of the coming of Jesus, Who turns men from the worship of idols and images and demons, says, “To them which sat in the region and shadow of death, to them did the light spring up.”1 And again, “The people which sat in darkness saw a great light.” Observe, then, the difference between Plato’s fine saying respecting the Chief Good, and what is said in the Prophets concerning the light of the blessed; and observe further that the truth in Plato concerning the Chief Good did not at all help his readers to attain to pure and undefiled religion; and, what is more, it did not benefit the philosopher himself who thus expounded the Chief Good. But the diction of the Divine Scriptures, poor as it is, has given inspiration to true readers—those who nourish this light with the oil spoken of in the parable, the oil which keeps alight the torches of the five virgins.

8. Now let us see what he has to say next. “They have,” he says, “a precept to the effect that we are not to avenge ourselves on any one who treats us with insolence and violence. Even if a man strikes you on the one cheek, you are, according to it, to offer him the other also. This is an old saw; it was well enough expressed before; the Christians have revived it in a rougher form. Plato makes Socrates say in his argument with Crito, ‘Then we must do no wrong. Certainly not. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all. Clearly not,’ ” and so on. Our reply to this and to all those passages which Celsus has made out to be common property, alleging, because he could not face the truth of them, that the same things have been said by Greek authors, is something like this. If the doctrine is serviceable and its purpose sound and wise, and it has been taught the Greeks by Plato or some other philosopher, and the Jews by Moses or some other Prophet, and Christians in the recorded sayings of Jesus or of one of the Apostles, we must not suppose that what is held by Jews or Christians is prejudiced by the fact that the same things have been said by Greeks, particularly if Jewish teaching can be shown to be older than Grecian. Nor, again, must we suppose that a given statement is by reason of the beauty of Greek phraseology of necessity better than what is expressed with less elegance and in simpler terms by Jewish or Christian authors, though we must bear in mind that the primitive language of the Jews, which the Prophets employed in the books which they have left us, is perpetuated in the Hebrew, and with a wise regard to the possibilities of composition in that tongue.

9. If we must, however, show that when the doctrines are the same they are better expressed by Jewish Prophets or Christian oracles, let us, though the argument may seem strange, take an illustration in proof of our position from different kinds of food and their preparation. Suppose some wholesome and nutritious food to be cooked and seasoned a certain way, and let the partakers of it not be rustics, and the inmates of hovels, and poor folk who know nothing of such dainties, but only rich people accustomed to live delicately. And suppose myriads of persons to eat the same food not cooked that way, to suit the palates of acknowledged epicures, but to suit the tastes of the poor, of rustics, and the majority of men. Now, if we grant that the epicures alone gain health and strength from the food prepared one way, and that no ordinary person cares for such food, while whole multitudes of men thrive on the food cooked the other way, which set of cooks are we to regard as the greatest public benefactors on account of the wholesome food they provide? Shall we give the credit to those who cook to suit the learned few, or to those who cater for the masses? We may concede that whichever way the cooking is done, the food is equally wholesome and nourishing; humanity itself, however, and the public welfare teach us that a physician who takes thought for the health of the many, renders a greater service to the public than he who cares only for the health of the few.

10. If the illustration is understood, let us apply it to the quality of the rational food of rational creatures. And consider whether Plato and the wise men of the Greeks do not in their choice dicta resemble physicians who attend only better-class patients, while they despise the bulk of men. But the Jewish Prophets and the disciples of Jesus, bidding a long farewell to the embroidery of diction, and, as Scripture terms it, “the wisdom of men” and “wisdom after the flesh” (hinting at the tongue), would be like the cooks who take care, the quality of the food remaining the same, to prepare it the most wholesome way; they have at their command a style which reaches the masses of mankind, adapts itself to their speech, and does not by its strangeness close men’s ears to such discourses because they are unfamiliar. For if the real object of eating the rational food, if I may so speak, is to make the eater submissive and meek, must we not think that the Word which produces multitudes of forbearing and meek hearers, or sets them on the way to becoming so, is better prepared than that which makes a mere handful, to concede so much, forbearing and meek? And if Plato, a Greek, intended to benefit Greek or Syrian adherents by sound doctrine, he would take care to learn the languages of his future hearers, and, as the Greeks phrase it, would rather be a “barbarian” to do the Egyptians and Syrians good, than remain a Greek and be incapable of speaking anything of use to the Egyptians and Syrians. Just so, the Divine Nature taking thought not only for those who are reputed learned among the Greeks, but also for the rest of the Greeks, condescended to the ignorance of the majority of hearers, so that, employing words familiar to them, it might encourage the unlearned multitude to hearken; for after the first introduction they can easily endeavour to get a hold on the deeper truths hidden in the Scriptures. For even an ordinary reader soon discovers that many passages have a deeper signification than appears on the surface, a signification revealed to devoted students of the Word, and revealed in proportion to the time they spend upon the Word and to their zeal in putting into practice what they read.

11. So, then, it has been proved that if Jesus did, as Celsus alleges, speak somewhat roughly when He said, “To him that striketh thee on the one cheek, turn the other also”: and, “If any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also”: He has by thus speaking expressed and applied the precept to better purpose than Plato did in the Crito. The unlearned cannot in the least understand it there, and even they who have received a good school education before attempting the grave philosophy of Greece, can understand it only with difficulty. And we must further observe that the true teaching respecting forbearance is not “corrupted” by the poor diction in which it is conveyed; but even here Celsus slanders the Word when he says, “But as for those and all other corrupting precepts let the foregoing suffice.”

Again in Book VI., in reply to the statement of Celsus that our Lord’s body was unsightly, Origen writes thus:—

12. After this Celsus says, “Since there was a Divine Spirit in the body of Jesus, that body would of necessity vary at all events in some respects from other bodies, in size, or beauty, or strength, or voice; it would have some astonishing or attractive characteristics. For it is impossible that a body having more of the Divine Nature than other bodies should no way differ from any other; but the body of Jesus was not at all different; indeed, so they say, it was small, ill-favoured, and ignoble.” Now here again, it is clear that if Celsus wishes to disparage Jesus, he quotes the Scriptures as if he believed such of them as seem to him to justify the charge; but wherever, in the same Scriptures, any one might suppose the opposite of what constitutes the charge to be asserted, Celsus professes not to know it. We admit, then, that there are passages which speak of the body of Jesus as ill-favoured, but not ignoble, as our opponents maintain; nor is there clear evidence that it was small. The exact description given by Isaiah in the prophecy that He would not visit the many in a graceful form, or with surpassing beauty, runs thus: “Lord who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? for he grew up before him as a tender plant, as a root in a dry ground: he hath no form (nor glory: and we saw him and he had no form) nor comeliness; but his form was unhonoured, marred more than the sons of men”: Celsus noted all this, for he thought it would serve him in disparaging Jesus; but he paid no attention to the words of the 45th Psalm, the Psalm “for the Beloved,” how it is said, “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O Mighty One, in thy grace and beauty, and in thy majesty ride on prosperously.”

13. But maybe Celsus had not read the prophecy, or perhaps he had read it but was misled by interpreters who erroneously hold that it does not refer to Jesus Christ. Well, what will he make of the Gospel narrative in which we are told that He went up to a high mountain, and was transfigured before His disciples and appeared in glory; when both Moses and Elias also appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem? Or again, if the Prophet says, “We beheld him, and he had no form, nor beauty,” and so on, Celsus admits that the prophecy may be referred to Jesus, but it is a blind admission, for he does not see that the fact of a prophecy giving particulars of the form of Jesus, many years before His birth, is a strong confirmation of the truth that Jesus Who seemed to have no “form” was the Son of God. But if another Prophet says that Jesus had grace and beauty, why will not Celsus allow that this prophecy refers to Jesus Christ? Further, if it were possible to clearly gather from the Gospels that our Lord had no form nor beauty, but that His form was without honour, marred more than the sons of men, one might say that Celsus in his argument followed not the Prophets but the Evangelists. The fact, however, is that neither the Gospels, nor even the Apostles, give any intimation that He had no form or beauty; and it is obvious that Celsus is bound to admit the declaration of prophecy to be a true description of Christ; and this being so, there is an end to the disparaging statements concerning Jesus.

14. Again, we have the statement that “inasmuch as the body was tenanted by a Divine Spirit it must have varied at all events in some respects from other bodies, either in size, or voice, or strength, in astonishing or attractive characteristics.” How came Celsus to overlook the fact that our Lord’s body varied according to the capacity of the observers, and that a useful purpose was served when its appearance was such as was necessary for each individual? And it is nothing wonderful that matter, by nature mutable and variable and convertible to everything the Creator chooses, and receptive of every quality the Artificer desires, should sometimes have a quality corresponding to the description, “He hath neither form nor beauty,” and sometimes should be so glorious, astonishing, and marvellous, that the three Apostles who ascended the Mount with Jesus at the sight of such wondrous beauty fell upon their faces. But we shall be told that these are fictions, no better than fables, like the rest of the strange stories about Jesus.

15. Our answer is that to reconstruct almost any historical scene, even if true, so as to give a vivid impression of what actually occurred, is exceedingly difficult, and sometimes impossible. Suppose some one to assert that there never was a Trojan war, mainly on the ground that the impossible story of a certain Achilles being the son of a sea goddess Thetis and a man Peleus is mixed up with it; or that Sarpedon was the son of Zeus, or Ascalaphus and Ialmenus sons of Ares; or that Æneas was Aphrodite’s son: how could we dispose of such an objection? Should we not be very hard pressed to explain the strange blending of a fiction with the universal belief that there was war between Greeks and Trojans at Troy? Or let us suppose some one to doubt the story of Œdipus and Jocaste, and of their sons Eteocles and Polynices, because that a sort of half-woman, the Sphinx, is mixed up with the story; how should we clear up the difficulty? Well, the prudent reader of the narratives, who wishes to guard against deception, will use his own judgment as to what he will allow to be historical, and what he will regard as figurative; he will try to discover what the writers meant by inventing such stories; and to some things he will refuse his assent on the ground that they were recorded to gratify certain persons. And this we have premised, having in view the history of Jesus as a whole contained in the Gospels; for we do not invite intelligent readers to a bare unreasoning faith, but we wish to show that future readers will have to exercise prudence, and make careful inquiry, and, so to speak, penetrate the very heart of the writers, if the exact purport of every passage is to be discovered.

16. Celsus, in fact, so that he may impeach the Word, appears to believe just as much as he pleases of what our Scriptures contain; but to avoid acknowledging the manifest Divinity proclaimed in the same books, he will not believe the Gospels: for any one who sees what lovers of truth the writers were, must, judging by the way they treat less important matters, believe them in things more Divine.

17. Now, if they had not been lovers of the truth, but, as Celsus supposes, had recorded fictions, they would never have told us of Peter’s denial or informed us that the disciples of Jesus were offended. For though such things did happen, who was there to prove the fact? And, really, these incidents would probably have been passed over in silence by men who wished to teach readers of the Gospels to despise death for the sake of confessing Christianity. But, as the case stands, seeing that the Word will mightily prevail over men, they gave these particulars, which, strangely enough, were destined not to injure the readers or afford a pretext for denial.

18. And the Word has a more mystic meaning also, for it shows that the different appearances of Jesus are related to the nature of the Divine Word, which does not appear the same to the many, and to those who can follow Him to the lofty mountain of which we have given an account. For in the eyes of those who are below and are not yet ready for the ascent, the Word hath neither form nor beauty; to such as these its form is without honour, and marred more than the words “born of men,” in the passage before us figuratively called “sons of men.” For we might say that the words of the philosophers, being “sons of men,” look far more beautiful than the Word of God preached to the many, which even draws attention to the foolishness of the preaching, and it is because of the foolishness of the preaching that men who regard the preaching only, say, “We beheld it, and it hath neither form nor beauty.” But for those who through obeying Him have received strength to follow Him even when He ascends the lofty mountain, He hath a Diviner appearance. And a man sees Him thus, if he is a Peter making room for the building of the Church within him through the Word, gaining such strength of character that no gate of hell shall prevail against him, inasmuch as he has been lifted up through the Word from the gates of death that he may declare all the praises of God in the gates of the daughter of Zion; and others see it thus also, men who have been born of words with a great voice, such as have the full tones of spiritual thunder.

19. And down below the Word has other garments; they are not white, they are not like the light; if thou shalt ascend to the lofty mountain, thou shalt see His light and His garments. The garments of the Word are the phrases of the Scripture; the Divine thoughts are clothed in these expressions. As then down below He looks different, but having ascended is transfigured, His face beaming like the sun, so it is with His clothing, so it is with His garments. When thou art below, they do not shine, they are not white; but if thou ascend, thou shalt see the beauty and the light of the garments, and shalt marvel at the transfigured face of Jesus. And consider whether the Gospels do not also give us the same teaching respecting Jesus. The particulars of His generation, His descent from Abraham and birth of the seed of David according to the flesh, is the Book of the generation of Jesus Christ; but as for the more Divine and more important things to be said concerning Him, and proclaimed by Him, John says, “I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.” For we must not, like some, admit that if the world cannot contain the books that should be written, it is because of the multitude of the writings, but rather that it is on account of the greatness of the incidents; their greatness is not only indescribable, but they cannot be proclaimed by fleshly tongue, nor be made known in the language and speech of men. This is why Paul, when he is about to learn things more Divine, leaves our world of earth and is rapt into the third heaven, that he may be able to hear the unutterable words thence proceeding. For we are told of what was said there and considered to be the Word of God, the Word made flesh, and who, as regards being God with God, emptied Himself. Wherefore we see the Word of God on earth, for that He became man, in human guise; for even in the Scriptures the Word became flesh that He might tabernacle among us. But if we recline on the bosom of the Word made flesh and are able to follow Him when He ascends the lofty mountain, we shall say, “We saw his glory.” Some perhaps who are not like those who lie upon His bosom and follow Him to the lofty mountain may say, “We saw his glory,” but they will not add “Glory as of an only-begotten from a Father, full of grace and truth”: for this language becomes John and such as are like him. And, according to a loftier interpretation, they who are able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus as He ascends, and is transfigured out of sight of earth, shall behold His transfiguration in every scripture; for instance, when Jesus shows Himself to the many, this is the function of the simpler diction; but when He ascends a lofty mountain and is transfigured, showing Himself to very few of the disciples, and to those who have become able to follow Him to the heights above, this is the work of the highest, sublimest sense, containing oracles of the wisdom hidden in a mystery, which wisdom “God foreordained before the worlds unto the glory of his righteous ones.”

20. But how can Celsus, and the enemies of the Divine Word, and such as do not investigate Christianity with a love of truth, know the meaning of the different appearances of Jesus? I refer to the different periods of His life, to anything He did before the Passion, and whatever happened after His Resurrection from the dead.

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