Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

A reply to certain philosophers who say that it makes no difference whether we call Him Who is God over All by the name Zeus, current among the Greeks, or by that which is used by Indians, for instance, or Egyptians. Books I. and V. against Celsus

1. Celsus then says, “The goatherds and shepherds acknowledged one god, whether they call him the Most High, or Adonai, or the God of Heaven, or Sabaoth, or gave him some local designation to suit their fancy; beyond this they know nothing.” And he afterwards says, “It makes no difference whether we call the Supreme God by the name Zeus, which is current among the Greeks, or by some Indian name, for instance, or Egyptian name.” Now in answer to this we must remark that here we come upon a deep and mysterious subject, the nature of names. Shall we say, as Aristotle thinks, that names are arbitrarily given? or, with the Stoics, that they are natural, the first articulate sounds being imitative of what the names denote, so that they also acquaint us with certain principles of etymology? or, as Epicurus teaches, differing herein from the Stoics, are they “natural,” in the sense that primitive men broke into speech which varied according to their circumstances? If, then, in our leading argument, we are able to show the nature of powerful names, some of which are used by the wise men of Egypt, or by the learned Magi of Persia, or by the philosophic Brahmans of India, or by the Samaneans, and so in every nation; and if we succeed in making out that what is called Magic is not, as the Epicureans and Aristotelians suppose, incoherent from beginning to end, but, as the experts prove, is a well-compacted system, with words known to extremely few,—if, I say, we get as far as this, we shall maintain that the name Sabaoth, and Adonai, and whatever others are by Hebrew tradition regarded with great reverence, are not applicable to ordinary created things, but to a mysterious science of things Divine, related to the Creator of the universe. It follows that these names when uttered in their proper connection, and other names current in Egyptian of certain demons with particular powers only, and others in the Persian language of other spiritual beings, and so in every nation, can be applied to certain purposes. And thus it will be found that the demons to whom have been assigned different parts of the earth bear names according to the dialect of the place and nation. Any one, therefore, who has a nobler, even though it be but a slender, conception of these things, will take care to apply different names to different things, lest he fare no better than they who erroneously give the name of God to lifeless matter, or degrade the title “the good” by severing it from the First Cause, or from virtue and honour, and apply it to blind Plutus, and to the proportions of flesh and blood and bones required for health and strength, or to what is counted noble birth.

2. And perhaps it is no less dangerous to degrade the name of God, or the title “good,” to improper objects, than it is to change the names of God to suit some secret doctrine, and apply the names of the better to the worse, and of the worse to the better. I do not dwell on the fact that when we hear of Zeus it is implied that he was the son of Cronos and Rhea, and the husband of Rhea, and the brother of Poseidon, and the father of Athene and Artemis, and that he had intercourse with his daughter Persephone; or that when we hear Apollo’s name, we remember that he was the son of Leto and Zeus, and the brother of Artemis, and the half-brother of Hermes; not to mention all the other wonderful stories told us by the wise men whom Celsus approves, who are the authors of these opinions, and by the ancient theologians of Greece. Is it not unreasonable that Zeus should be his proper name, and yet that he should not have Cronos for his father and Rhea for his mother? And we must treat all the other so-called gods the same way. But the charge by no means attaches to those who, in accordance with some mysterious doctrine, apply the name Sabaoth, or Adonai, or any of the other names, to the (true) God. As soon as a man can philosophically explain the mysteries of names, he will make many discoveries respecting those given to the Angels of God, one of whom is called Michael, another Gabriel, another Raphael, the names being suitable to the service they render according to the will of the God of the whole universe. Our Jesus, too, keeps to the same philosophy of names; for His name has already been clearly proved to drive out countless demons from souls and bodies, powerfully working in the sufferers from whom the demons were expelled. And, treating of names, we must further observe that they who are familiar with the use of charms tell us that if we pronounce the same charm in its own language, it is possible to effect what the charm professes to do; but that if we change it into another tongue, no matter what, it may be found feeble and quite ineffective. The power of producing a certain effect is not therefore to be attributed to the actual meaning of the charm, but to the qualities and peculiarities of the sounds. We shall therefore on such lines as these defend the Christians for striving even unto death that they may not call God by the name Zeus, nor give Him a name in another tongue. For Christians in their confessions either employ the usual name God, without further definition, or they add, “The Maker of all things,” “The Creator of heaven and earth”—He Who to benefit mankind sent down such and such wise men, with whose names the name of God conjoined bestows a certain wonder-working power among men. Much more might be said on the subject of names as against those who think that the use of them is a matter of indifference. And if Plato is much admired for saying in Philebus, “My awe, Protarchus, in naming the gods is considerable,” for Philebus, who was arguing with Socrates, said that the true name of Aphrodite was Pleasure, ought we not much rather to approve the piety of Christians, inasmuch as there is not one of the names handed down in mythology which they apply to the Maker of the world?

And in Book V., treating of the same subject, he says:

3. But since Celsus thinks it makes no difference whether we call the Most High Jupiter, or Zen, or Adonœus, or Sabaoth, or Amon, as the Egyptians do, or Pappæus like the Scythians, let us briefly discuss these points, and remind the reader of what was said above on this great question, when the language of Celsus invited us to the argument. We repeat, then, that the nature of names does not, as Aristotle thinks, depend on the arbitrary rules of those who give them. For the languages of men do not even originate with men, as is clear to those who can give attention to the nature of charms variously appropriated by the authors of the languages, according as the languages differ and the names are differently pronounced. We have already briefly discussed this, and have maintained that though they have a natural power in a given language, if they are translated into another language they lose the effect which they had in their own proper expression. And we find that the same peculiarity applies to man. Suppose some one to be called from birth by a Greek name; if we change the name into Egyptian, or Roman, or some other language, we could not make him do or suffer what he would if he were called by his original name. Nor even if we were to translate into Greek a name which was Roman to begin with, could we do what the charm professes to do if it keeps to the man’s first name! 4. Now, if what we have said respecting human names is true, what ought we to think of names which are some way or other traced up to the Divine nature? For instance, some new power is transferred to the Greek from the name Abraham, something is signified by the name Isaac, and something shown by the title Jacob; and if a man were to call upon or swear by the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, he would produce some effect, either through the nature of the names or their power, for even demons are vanquished and become subject to a man who uses this language. But if one were to say, “The God of the elect father of the sound,” and “the God of laughter,” and “the God of the tripper up,” the name thus used is as ineffective as any other ordinary name. Similarly, if we change the name Israel into Greek or some other language, we shall effect nothing; but if we keep it as it is, and use it in conjunction with such expressions as the learned think should be associated with it, there will be some result from the use of such language according with the professions of those who employ such invocations. And we shall say the same respecting the name Sabaoth, which is often found in charms, viz. that if we change the name into “The Lord of Hosts,” or “Lord of Armies,” or “Almighty” (for the interpreters take it differently), we shall effect nothing; but if we keep to its proper pronunciation, we shall, so the learned say, produce some effect, and the same holds good of Adonai. Now, if neither “Sabaoth” nor “Adonai,” when changed into what they appear to signify in Greek, produces any effect, how much less could they be efficacious among men who think it makes no difference whether we call the Supreme God Jupiter, or Zen, or Adonai, or Sabaoth!

5. Well, then, Moses and the prophets understanding these things and the corresponding mysteries, forbade any one who practised prayer to the Supreme God alone to take the name of other gods upon his lips, or remember them in a heart taught to be pure from all foolishness in thought or speech. And this is why we would rather endure every outrage than confess that Jupiter is God. For we do not suppose Jupiter and Sabaoth to be the same, nor do we regard Jupiter as at all Divine, but we think that some demon, friendly neither to man nor to the true God, rejoices in the name. And even if the Egyptians should offer Amon to us with threats of death, we will die rather than call Amon God, for the name is probably used in some Egyptian charms which invoke the demon. The Scythians may say that Pappæus is “the Supreme God,” but we shall not be persuaded; for though they employ the solemn title of “Supreme God,” it is only in a sense which pleases the demon to whom was allotted the Scythian desert with the Scythian race and language, not because Pappaeus is a proper name for God. Any one, however, who gives God His name in the Scythian language, or the Egyptian, or the language in which he has been brought up, will not commit sin.

6. We do not even like to call the sun Apollo, or the moon Diana; but worshipping the Creator with a pure worship, and praising His beauteous works, we do not pollute Divine things even so far as a name goes. We agree with what Plato says in the Philebus; he would not have Pleasure called a goddess: “So great is my awe, Protarchus, in naming the gods.” We, too, really have such awe in naming God and His beauteous works, that we will not accept any fable even as allegory, which might injure the young.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com