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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

What is the dispersion on earth of rational, that is, human souls, indicated under a veil in the building of the tower, and the confusion of tongues thereat? Wherein we shall also treat of many lords set over the dispersed according to their condition. From Book V. against Celsus

1. Now let us see what Celsus says next. It runs thus: “The Jews having become a separate nation, and having made laws to suit their country, in still maintaining the authority of their laws, and guarding the national religion with all its peculiarities, are only doing what other men do; for every community cherishes its ancestral customs, once they are established, no matter what they are. And it seems to be a good thing, not only because the different peoples have had different ideas of laws and customs, and because of the necessity of guarding public institutions, but also because it is probable that different parts of the earth were originally assigned to different superintending spirits, and having been made into separate realms are that way administered. And, in fact, correct practice in the several instances would depend on the pleasure of these spirits; and it would be profanity to relinquish the original local usages.” What Celsus here really means to show is that the ancient Egyptians afterwards became a separate nation, the Jews, and that having made laws for themselves they observe them. And, not to repeat the exact words of Celsus already quoted, he says that it is best for them to keep to their ancestral religion, just as it is for the other nations which honour their own forms of worship. And he adduces a deeper reason to explain why it is best for the Jews to honour their own forms of worship, when he darkly hints that they whose lot it was to superintend the land of those for whom the laws were made, assisted the lawgivers in the several instances. He seems, then, to indicate that one or more beings watch over the country of the Jews and its inhabitants, and that the laws were made by Moses with their assistance.

2. “And they ought,” he says, “to keep their laws not only because different peoples have had different ideas of laws and customs, and because of the necessity of guarding public institutions, but also because it is probable that different parts of the earth were originally assigned to different superintending spirits, and having been made into separate realms are that way administered.” So, as if he had forgotten what he said against the Jews, he now gives them a share in the general distribution of praise to all who keep the ancestral usages; for he says, “And, in fact, in the several instances right practice would depend on the pleasure of the ruling spirits.” And observe whether he does not distinctly mean, if he can bring it about, to make a Jew live in the observance of Jewish laws and not forsake them, inasmuch as he would be guilty of profanity if he did forsake them; for he says, “It is profanity to relinquish the original local usages.” In reply, I should like to ask him and those who agree with him, who it was that originally assigned the different parts of the earth to the different guardian angels, in particular, the country of the Jews and its people, to the one or more angels whose charge they were. Did Zeus, as Celsus would say, assign the Jewish people and their country to one or more? And Did Zeus intend that the spirit to whom Judea was allotted should make the existing Jewish laws, or was this done against his will? That Celsus may answer, if he will, you see I am willing to put the whole thing in a nutshell. But if the parts of the earth have not been assigned to their guardian spirits by some one deity, it follows that each at random and with no one to direct him, took his share of the earth just as it happened; but this is absurd, and enough to overthrow belief in the providence of the Supreme God.

3. And let any one who chooses relate how the various parts of the earth, having been divided into certain realms, are administered by the spirits which have the oversight of them; but let him also tell us how it is that in the several communities the correct practice would depend on the pleasure of the ruling spirits; and whether, for instance, the laws of the Scythians, which allow the doing away with fathers, are right; or those of the Persians, which do not forbid marriages between mothers and their own sons, nor between fathers and their own daughters. And why need I take other instances from those who interested themselves in the laws of different nations, and go on to ask how, in the several communities, the laws are properly executed according to the pleasure of the ruling spirits? We shall be glad if Celsus will tell us how it is impiety to relinquish ancestral laws which allow the marriages of mothers and daughters, or make suicide by hanging a happy end of life, or affirm the perfect purification of those who give their bodies to be burnt, and through fire seek their release from life; and how it can be impiety to abolish laws, those of the Tauri, for instance, which enjoin the offering of strangers as sacrifices to Artemis, or those of certain Libyan tribes regarding the sacrificing of their children to Saturn. Celsus must, moreover, accept the consequence, that it is impiety for the Jews to break their ancestral laws which prohibit the worship of any other God than the Creator of the universe. And piety, according to him, will not be essentially Divine, but a matter of arbitrary institution; for with some it is piety to worship a crocodile, and with others to eat a portion of the objects of their adoration; others deem it piety to worship a calf, and others to regard the goat as a god. The result will be that the same man will be pious in regard of one set of laws, and impious according to a different set, which is an utter absurdity.

4. But they will probably reply that the pious man is he who keeps the customs of his own country, and that he is by no means to be taxed with impiety when he does not observe those of other countries; and again, that a man who is deemed impious by certain races is not impious when, according to the customs of his own country, he worships his own gods, but fights against and feasts upon the gods of those who have opposite laws. Now, consider whether these arguments do not exhibit great confusion of thought in respect of righteousness, and piety, and religion; for religion has thus no organic unity, no distinctive character of its own, no power to impress a religious stamp on those who act in accordance with it. If, then, religion, piety, and righteousness are relative only, so that piety and impiety are the same thing, inasmuch as they depend on varying relations and on the established laws, consider whether it does not follow that temperance will also be in the class of things relative, and courage, and prudence, and knowledge, and the rest of the virtues, which is the height of absurdity.

5. Celsus seems to think that the argument leads to the conclusion that “all men ought to live according to the customs of their country, and that they should not be blamed for so doing; but that Christians having forsaken their ancestral usages, and not being one nation like the Jews, are to be blamed for following the teaching of Jesus.” Let him then tell us whether men of a philosophic turn of mind, who have been taught to avoid superstition, are right in forsaking their ancestral usages and in going so far as to eat things forbidden in their own countries; or will they act unbecomingly in so doing? For if on account of their philosophy, and what they have learned in opposition to superstition, they do not keep their ancestral customs, but would eat of things traditionally forbidden, why should not Christians also, since reason persuades them not to concern themselves with images, and statues, or even with the works of God, but to rise above these and bring the soul near to the Creator, why should not they be free from blame when they are only doing what the philosophers do? If for the sake of defending his pet theory, Celsus or his supporters should say that even a philosopher will observe his country’s customs, it is time for philosophers to make a laughing-stock of themselves, in Egypt, for instance, by refraining from eating onions that they may observe their country’s customs, or certain parts of a carcase, head or shoulder, for example, that they may not transgress the traditions of their fathers. So then, also, if a man has been brought by the Word to worship the Supreme God, and out of regard for ancestral usage lingers somewhere down among the images and statues of men, and is not willing by deliberate choice to rise to the Creator, he would be like those who are acquainted with philosophy, but fear where no fear is, and count it impiety to partake of such food.

6. Enough has now been said to satisfy those who take their stand upon plain common-sense principles against the opinions of Celsus now before us; but as we think that some persons of a more critical temper will read what we write, let us venture to set forth a few of the deeper arguments, involving speculation of a mystical and esoteric nature, concerning the original distribution of various countries of the earth to various spirits who have the oversight of them; and, to the best of our ability, let us show that our argument is free from the absurdities recounted. Celsus really seems to me to have misunderstood some of the deeper reasoning concerning the distribution of the earth’s inhabitants, upon which even Grecian history touches in a way, when it represents certain of those who are accounted gods as having contended with one another for Attica, and in the poetical writings makes some of those who are called gods acknowledge that certain places are in a special sense their own. The history of barbarous nations, too, particularly that of Egypt, also indicates something similar in treating of the division of Egypt into what are called nomes, for it says that Athene to whose lot Sais fell is the same goddess that has Achaia. And the learned Egyptians will tell countless similar stories; but I do not know whether they include the Jews and their country in the distribution, and assign them to some spirit. But enough for the present, concerning what is said on these topics outside the Divine Word.

7. We say that Moses, who with us is regarded as a Prophet of God and His true servant, in the song in Deuteronomy, speaks as follows concerning the division of the earth. He tells us that “when the Most High separated the nations, when he scattered abroad the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the peoples, according to the number of the angels of God; and the Lord’s portion became his people Jacob; Israel the lot of his inheritance.” And the same Moses, in the book called Genesis, gives an historical account of the distribution of the nations, to this effect: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass as they journeyed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.” And a little farther on he says, “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do: and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city and the tower. Therefore was the name of it it called Confusion, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” And also in the book entitled “The Wisdom of Solomon,” where wisdom and the confusion of languages, whereby the division of the inhabitants of the earth has arisen, are discussed, this is what is said concerning wisdom: “Moreover the nations in their wicked conspiracy being confounded, she found out the righteous, and preserved him blameless unto God, and kept him strong in her tender compassion toward his son.”

8. Much might be said, and that of a mystical nature, about these things: with which agrees the saying, “It is good to keep close the secret of the king”; in order that the doctrine of the embodying of souls (not through transmigration) may not be wasted on everybody’s ears, nor holy things be given to the dogs, nor pearls cast before swine. For this is impious, and involves a betrayal of the secret oracles of the wisdom of God, concerning which it is well said, “A malicious soul wisdom shall not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin.” And it is sufficient to present as historical narrative the secret meaning of the seeming historical statement, so that they who can, may for themselves thoroughly investigate the subject.

9. Let us then conceive of all the dwellers upon earth as using one Divine language, and, so long as they agree with one another, as being kept in the use of that Divine language; and let us suppose that they do not move from the east, so long as they mind the things of the light and the brightness of the everlasting light. And let them, whenever they move from the east, minding the things alien to the east, find a plain in the land of Shinar: which, being interpreted, is “the shaking of teeth,” and symbolises their losing the means of their support; and there let them dwell. Then, inasmuch as they will to collect material things, and join to heaven things which have no such natural affinity, so that through the material things they may conspire against the immaterial, we will suppose them to say, “Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly.” When, accordingly, they harden and stiffen the clay and other materials, and determine to make brick into stone and clay into bitumen, and therewith build a city and a tower the top of which they expect to reach unto heaven, let them severally, in proportion as they have moved a greater or less distance from the east, and in proportion as they have made the bricks into stones, and the clay into bitumen, and have built with them, be delivered to angels of more or less severity, and of such and such dispositions, until they have paid the penalty for their audacity; and we will further suppose them to be severally led by the angels, who give them their own language, to various parts of the earth according as they deserve; some, let us say, to a scorching hot country, others to one so bitterly cold that it punishes its inhabitants, some to a land hard to cultivate, others to one not so hard, some to a land full of wild beasts, and others to one with not so many.

10. Next, if any one has the ability, let him, under the garb of history, in part literally true, in part conveying some secret meaning, see those also, who have preserved their original language because they have not moved from the east, but have stayed in the east, and have kept to the eastern language; and let him understand that these alone become the portion of the Lord and His people called Jacob, and Israel the lot of His inheritance; and let these alone be governed by a ruler who has not received his command that he may punish his subjects, like the other rulers. And let him who can, remembering that he is dealing with men, observe the sins committed in this commonwealth of those who constitute the special portion of the Lord, sins at first venial and such as do not make the offenders deserve to be quite forsaken, but becoming more abundant though still venial; and let our observer notice that this goes on for a long time, and that remedial measures are all the while applied, and that these same men at intervals turn again, and let him behold them, in proportion to their sins, forsaken and given up to the appointed rulers of the other countries, and when they have been a little chastised and have suffered punishment, having been, as it were, trained, let him behold them returning to their own home; and afterwards, let him see them delivered to harsher rulers, to use Scripture names, the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Then, in spite of the care taken of them, let him see them none the less multiplying their offences, and for that reason made a spoil by the rulers of the other nations, and scattered over the other parts of the earth. Now let us suppose that their ruler advisedly takes no notice of them when they are made a spoil by the rulers over the other nations, so that, as it were, avenging Himself, having acquired the right to detach from the other nations whom He can, He may reasonably do so, and may make laws for them, and show them the sort of life they have to live, intending to raise them to the level to which He raised those belonging to the former people who did not sin. And let those who have eyes to see such wondrous truths, hereby learn that He, whose lot it was to govern those who did not sin at the first, is more powerful than the other rulers: for He has proved Himself able to choose His men from all sides, make them revolt from their tormentors, being then under His laws, and lead them to live such a life as helps towards their former sins being no longer remembered. But, as we said before, we must be supposed to have a secret meaning in saying all this, it being our purpose to show the mistakes of those who allege that “the various parts of the earth were originally assigned to various spirits who had the oversight of them, were divided into realms, and are administered on that principle.” It was from these men Celsus borrowed the statements under discussion.

11. And whereas they who moved from the east were for the sins they committed given up unto a reprobate mind, and unto vile passions, and in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, so that having taken their fill of sin they might hate it, we shall not agree with the opinion of Celsus, “that right practice in the several instances depends on the spirits who have the oversight of the various parts of the earth”; but we even wish not to do their will and pleasure. For we see that it is piety to abolish original local usages by laws which are better and more Divine, which Jesus in the plenitude of His power inspired, delivering us out of this present evil world, and from the rulers of this world which are coming to nought; and that it is impiety not to throw ourselves upon the mercy of Him Who is seen and proved to be more mighty than all rulers, to whom God said, as the prophets foretold many generations before, “Ask of me and I will give thee nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” For He has become the “expectation” of us who from among the peoples have believed on Him and on His Father, God over All.

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