Support Site Improvements

The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

Matter is not uncreated, or the cause of evil. From Book VII. of the Præparatio Evangelica of Eusebius of Palestine

1. I suppose you are aware that two uncreated things cannot exist together; though you seem to assume that they can, and to put the assumption in the forefront of your argument, when you say that one of two things must be admitted, either that God is separated from matter, or, on the contrary, that He is united to it. Now, if any one would maintain that God is united to matter, this is saying that there is one uncreated substance; for each of these two uncreated substances will be a part of the other, and, as they are parts of one another, they will not be two uncreated, but one, consisting of different parts. We do not because a man has different parts divide him into many created substances, but, as reason demands, we say that a single being, a man with many parts, has been created by God. Similarly, of necessity, if God is not separated from matter, we must allow that there is one substance, and that uncreated. But if any one will say that God is separated from matter, there must be something between the two which also proves their separation; for it is impossible to arrive at any idea of distance between two objects, unless there be a third to form the basis of measurement. And this holds good not only of a single substance, as in the present case, but of any number you please; for our argument respecting the two uncreated substances must be no less sound if we suppose that there are three. For we should ask respecting these, whether they are separated from one another, or whether, on the contrary, each is united to its neighbour. If any one decides to assert the union, our reply will be the same as before; if, on the other hand, he holds to the separation, he will have to face the question of the necessary separating medium. And should any one thereupon say that there is a third account which may be fitly given of the uncreated substances, viz. that God is neither separated from matter nor united with it, but is, as it were, locally in matter, or matter in God, let me tell him, and it is the gist of the whole argument, that if we say matter is the place of God, we must of necessity affirm that He is finite and circumscribed by matter. He must, moreover, like matter, be subject to irregular disturbance; He cannot stay in one place, nor abide self-dependent, inasmuch as that wherein He is contained is carried first one way, then another. Besides this, it follows that we must affirm God to be in the lower forms of being. For if matter ever was unordered, and God of His own free choice ordered it with a view to progressive development, there was a time when God had no order of His own, and we might fairly ask whether God filled matter, or was in a part of it. If any one prefers to say that God was in a part of matter, he makes God infinitely smaller than matter: if a part really contained the whole of God. If he says that God is in all matter and pervades the whole of matter, let him tell us how God worked on matter. Either there was some contraction of God before He worked on that from which He withdrew, or He worked at Himself as well as the matter, because He had no place to withdraw to. If any one will maintain that matter is in God, we must similarly inquire whether we are to suppose that God stood apart from Himself, and as living creatures are in the air, that He split up and divided Himself to receive the things in Him, or whether matter is in Him locally, like water in earth. If we say that matter is in Him like birds in the air, we are bound to admit that God is divisible; if we say that matter is in God as water is in earth, and if matter was in a state of confusion and disorder, and, moreover, contained even evil things, we must of necessity allow that God was the place of disorder and of evil, which does not seem to me consistent with piety, but to be rather dangerous. For you postulate the existence of matter, so that you may not have to admit that God is the Author of evil, and in your determination to avoid this error, you affirm that He is a receptacle of evil. If you told me that what you see in created substances leads you to suppose that matter was originally uncreated, I should have had many arguments to prove the impossibility of this conclusion; but as you say the origin of evil is the cause of such a supposition, I must, I think, proceed to inquire into the nature of evil. For once it is clear how evil comes to exist, and, if because matter is subject to God, we cannot possibly deny that He was the cause of evil, there will, I think, be an end of your supposition.

2. Do I understand you to say that unqualified matter is co-existent with God, and that out of it He created the world?

It seems so to me.

So, then, if matter had no qualities, and the world was made by God, and qualities are in the world, God is the Maker of the qualities.

Just so.

But I think you said before that nothing can possibly come out of nothing. Please tell me, therefore, whether you think that the qualities of the world have not sprung from already existing qualities.?

It seems so.

And that these qualities are quite distinct from the substances?


Well, then, if God did not make the qualities out of existing qualities, and they have not come from the substances, because they are not substances, we are driven to the conclusion that they were made by God out of nothing. And this is why you seemed to me to urge in vain that we cannot possibly suppose that anything was made by God out of nothing. Let us look at the matter this way. Among ourselves we see men making various things out of nothing; out of nothing I say, though they certainly do seem to be creators in their own departments. Take architects, for example. They do not build cities out of cities, nor, similarly, temples out of temples. If because substances exist which are at their command, you suppose the architects to produce cities and temples out of existing things, you are mistaken, for it is not the substance which makes the city, nor the temples, but the skill in treating the substance. And the skill does not spring from any skill existing in the substances, but from a skill which has no existence in them. You may meet me with the objection that the artist out of the skill which he himself has makes the skill in the substance. It seems to me a fair rejoinder that the man’s skill does not arise from any previously existing skill. It cannot be that skill as a self-existent entity gives the skill; for it belongs to the class of accidents, and to those things which receive a real existence when they inhere in substance. You may have the man without the architect’s skill, but you cannot have the architect’s skill unless the man first exist; and we must therefore maintain that the various forms of human skill have nothing out of which they arise. Now, if we have shown that this is so with men, must we not much rather admit that God can make not only qualities out of nothing, but also substances? For if it is proved that anything arises out of nothing, it is also proved that the same holds good of substances.

3. But I know you are longing to investigate the origin of evil; I will therefore go on to the discussion of that topic. And I should like to briefly ask you, Do you regard evil things as substances, or qualities of substances?

I think it is right to say, qualities of substances.

But matter, you thought, was unqualified and unformed?

So I assumed when we began the discussion.

Well, then, if evil is a quality of matter, and matter was unqualified, and you affirm that God is the Maker of the qualities, it follows that God will also be the Creator of evil. Since, then, we cannot even thus avoid making God the cause of evil, it seems to me superfluous to make Him inseparable from matter. If you have any answer to this, pray say on. If we were disputing for victory, I should think the question of evil decided; but as we are making the inquiry more in a friendly spirit and to do one another good, I think we may re-open the discussion.

My aim and object must, I think, be very obvious, and you must be conscious how earnestly I desire in arguing not to score a victory on the strength of plausible lies, but by careful inquiry to point out the truth. And I am quite sure that you are so disposed. So please, therefore, without hesitation use such means as you consider best for the discovery of the truth, for by so doing you will profit not yourself only but me also, by showing me my ignorance. It seems clear to me that evil has a substantial existence, for I never see what is evil apart from substances.

4. Ho! Ho! If you say that things evil are substances, I must examine the meaning of substance. Do you think that substance is a kind of bodily compound?

I think so.

And the bodily compound is self-existent, needing nothing to give it existence?

Just so.

And do you think that evil things are a man’s actions?

It appears so to me.

And the actions then only begin when the agent is present?

Of course.

And if there is no one to act, there are no actions?

There cannot be any.

Well, then, if substance is a kind of bodily compound, and the bodily compound needs nothing to give it existence: and if evil things are a man’s actions, and the actions require some one to act, and when he acts they then begin to be, it follows that evil things are not substances. But if evil things are substances, and murder is an evil, murder will be a substance; murder, however, is a man’s action; murder will therefore not be a substance. If you mean that the things in action are substances, I agree; as, for example, the murderer, inasmuch as he is a man, is a substance; but the murder which he commits is not a substance, but something, done by the substance. Now we say that a man is sometimes bad because he commits murder, and sometimes, on the contrary, we call him good because of his well-doing; and these names are accidentally associated with the substance, though the accidents are not the substance itself. For neither is murder a substance, nor adultery, nor is any such like evil thing. But as the grammarian is so called from grammar, and the rhetorician from rhetoric, and the medical man from medicine, though neither medicine nor rhetoric nor grammar is a substance, and the substance takes its title according to its accidents, neither of which it is; in the same way, it appears to me, the substance receives a name from what are considered evil things, though it is neither one nor the other of them. Consider further, that if you imagine some other deity to be the cause of the evil which men do, he too, inasmuch as he acts in men, is evil because of the evil which he does. For the reason why he too is said to be evil, is that he is an author of evil; and what a man does, is not the man himself, but his actions, and it is from these the title “evil” is derived. If we were to say that a man is what he creates, and he creates murders, and adulteries, and thefts, and all sorts of such things, he will be all these. But if he is all these, and they exist only when they are being done, and have no existence when they are not being done, and if they are done by men, men will be the creators of them, and the causes of their existing or not existing. If you admit that these evil things are the man’s actions, it is what from what he does that he has the quality of evil, not from what he is as a substance. For we said that he is called evil from the accidents of the substance, which accidents are not the substance itself, as the medical man is so-called from medicine. And if every man is evil through his actions, and his actions have a beginning, he himself began to be evil, and these evil things, too, had a beginning. If this be so, the man was not evil when his wickedness began, nor can the evil attaching to him be unoriginate; we say it did originate with him.

5. I think, my friend, you have given a sufficient answer to your companion, and I thought you drew an excellent conclusion from his own premises; for, in truth, if matter was unqualified, and God was the Creator of the qualities, and the qualities are evil, God will be the Author of evil. We are agreed, then, that he has been well answered. But it seems to me false to speak of unqualified matter, for we cannot say that any substance whatsoever is without qualities; in fact the very affirmation that it is unqualified, and the description of matter thus given, point out a particular kind of quality. So, if you please, once more discuss the matter with me; for matter seems to me to have had qualities from all eternity; and if I maintain that evil is an effluence of matter, it is that God may not be the cause of evil, but matter the cause of all the evil in the world.

I am delighted with your ready acquiescence, my friend, and commend your earnestness in the discussion: for every one who is desirous to learn ought not to give a mere random assent to what is said, but should carefully weigh the arguments. For supposing one of two disputants to take up a false position, and thus lead his opponent to the conclusion he desires, that will not convince the man who hears him; but if there seems to be a good opening for a remark, the latter will make it on the spot; for one of two things will happen: he will either after hearing what has been said be absolutely benefited by his impressions, or he will convict his antagonist of not speaking the truth. And in my opinion you are not right in saying that matter was qualified from all eternity. For if this be so, what is there for God to create? If we say substances, we have admitted that they already existed; if, on the contrary, we say qualities, we have recognised their pre-existence also. So, then, if both substances and qualities are already in existence, it seems to me useless to call God a Creator. But that I may not seem to argue all on my own side, let me ask you a question: In what sense do you say that God was a “Creator”? Is it that He changed the substances so that they no longer were what they were before, but became something different? Or is it that He kept the substances as they previously were, but changed their qualities?

6. I do not suppose there was a change in the substances; that is to me an obvious absurdity; what I say is that there was a change of the qualities, and I maintain that in respect of them God is a Creator. For just as we may say that a house is built of stones, but cannot say that, because the stones have become a house, they do not remain stones in substance: for I maintain that the house is built in virtue of the quality of arrangement, the former quality of the stones having been of course changed; so, it seems to me, God, while the substance remained the same, created a change of its qualities, and I maintain that this change justifies us in saying that God made the world.

Well, then, since you say that a change of the qualities was brought about by God, I wish you would briefly tell me whether yon likewise think that things evil are qualities of the substances?

I think so.

And were these qualities themselves in matter from the very first, or had they a beginning?

I say that these qualities were eternally co-existent with matter.

But do you not say that God produced a change of the qualities?

Yes. That is what I say.

Was it for the better, or for the worse?

I think I must admit it was for the better.

Well, then, if the evil things are qualities of matter, and God changed its qualities for the better, we are bound to inquire into the origin of evil. For the qualities did not remain what they were by nature. If the qualities were not bad at first, and you say that through the change which God made, matter acquired its first bad qualities, God will be the cause of evil, because He changed qualities which were not bad, so that they became bad; or do you suppose God not to have changed the bad qualities into better ones, but that the only ones left, the indifferent ones, were changed by God for the sake of putting all in order?

That has been my view from the first.

7. How, then, do you account for His having left the qualities of bad things as they were? Do you say that He had the power to destroy them, but did not choose to do so, or that He had not the power? If you say that He could, but would not, you are bound to admit that He was the cause of these things: for though He had the power to abolish evil He allowed it to remain as it was, particularly when He began to work at matter. If He had not concerned Himself at all with matter, He would not have been the cause of those qualities which He allowed to remain; but since He worked upon a portion of it, and let alone another portion though He might have changed it for the better, it appears to me that He deserves blame, because He left part of the matter in its evil state, to the destruction of the part on which He worked. In truth, very great injustice seems to have been done to this part of matter; inasmuch as though He reduced it to order, it now partakes of evil. For if any one will carefully look into things, he will find that the present condition of matter is worse than that of the original chaos. Before it was differentiated, it had no perception of evil; but now every part of it has the perception of evil. Take man, for instance. Before he was fashioned, and by the Creator’s skill became a living creature, he had no natural participation in evil; but as soon as God made him a man, he became conscious of approaching evil; and what you say God intended for the benefit of matter is found to have done it more harm than good. If you say that the reason why evil was not stopped was that God could not remove it, you will affirm that God is impotent; and His impotence must either be caused by natural weakness, or be due to the fact that, as if He were the slave of some stronger power, He is overcome by fear. If you venture to say that He is weak by nature, you appear to imperil your salvation; and if you say that He is overcome by fear of some stronger power, you will be affirming that evil is mightier than God, inasmuch as it is strong enough to resist and overcome His will; and this seems to me an absurd statement to make about God. These things, which according to you are able to overcome God, must surely be the true gods, that is to say, if by God we mean Omnipotence.

8. And I should like to also ask you a short question about matter itself. Tell me, is matter simple or compound? for the difference in things brings me to this turn in the argument. If matter is simple and uniform, and the world is compound, and consists of different substances and commixtures, we cannot say that it is made of matter, because compound things cannot consist of one simple substance; for when we speak of “compound” we mean a mixture of several simple things. If, on the other hand, you say that matter is compound, you will certainly affirm it to be compounded of simple things; and if it is compounded of simple things, there was a time when these simple things existed apart from one another, and it was by their being compounded together that matter was made: and this shows that matter was created. For if matter is compound, and compound things consist of simple things, there was a time when matter was not, that is, before the simple things came together; and if there was a time when matter was not, and there never was a time when the uncreated was not, it follows that matter cannot be uncreated. But from your view it follows that there will be many things uncreated. For if God was uncreated, and the simple things of which matter is compounded were uncreated, there will not be two and only two uncreated. But do you think that nothing opposes itself?

That is my opinion.

But water is the opposite of fire?


And, likewise, darkness is the opposite of light, and heat of cold? And moisture of drought?

Just so.

Well, now, if nothing opposes itself, and the things I have mentioned are opposed to one another, it follows that they are not one and the same matter, nor made of one and the same matter. And I wish to ask you a question like the others: Do you admit that the parts of a thing are not destructive of one another?

I do.

And that fire and water, and the others I mentioned, are parts of matter?

Just so.

And do you not also agree that water is destructive of fire, light of darkness, and so on with all similar things?


If, then, the parts of a thing are not destructive of one another, and these things are destructive of one another, it follows that they are not parts of one another; and if they are not parts of one another, they will not be parts of one and the same matter. But in fact they will not be matter at all, because that nothing is destructive of itself, as is the case with opposites. For nothing is opposed to itself, opposites being by nature opposed to things other than themselves; as for example, white is not the opposite of white, but is said to be opposed to black; light, too, is shown not to be opposed to itself, but to darkness, and similarly with countless other things. So then, if matter is a single substance, it cannot be its own opposite; and if this doctrine of opposites holds good, it appears that there is no such matter.

The foregoing is taken from Book VII. of the Prœparatio Evangelica of Eusebius; being, as he says, the work of Maximus, a Christian writer of some distinction. But it has been discovered word for word in Origen’s discussion with the Marcionites and other heretics, Eutropius defending, Megethius opposing.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved