Lesson 8B Preview: Selections from Origen’s “De Principiis” and “Contra Celsum”; Rev. Marcelo Souza Lectures on “Alexandria, Origen, Persecution, Constantine, Arianism — Ancient Church History, An Overview”
Chapter I.—On God
1. I know that some will attempt to say that, even according to the declarations of our own Scriptures, God is a body, because in the writings of Moses they find it said, that “our God is a consuming fire;” and in the Gospel according to John, that “God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Fire and spirit, according to them, are to be regarded as nothing else than a body. Now, I should like to ask these persons what they have to say respecting that passage where it is declared that God is light; as John writes in his Epistle, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Truly He is that light which illuminates the whole understanding of those who are capable of receiving truth, as is said in the thirty-sixth Psalm, “In Thy light we shall see light.” For what other light of God can be named, “in which any one sees light,” save an influence of God, by which a man, being enlightened, either thoroughly sees the truth of all things, or comes to know God Himself, who is called the truth? Such is the meaning of the expression, “In Thy light we shall see light;” i.e., in Thy word and wisdom which is Thy Son, in Himself we shall see Thee the Father. Because He is called light, shall He be supposed to have any resemblance to the light of the sun? Or how should there be the slightest ground for imagining, that from that corporeal light any one could derive the cause of knowledge, and come to the understanding of the truth?…
Chapter II.—On Christ
1. In the first place, we must note that the nature of that deity which is in Christ in respectof His being the only-begotten Son of God is one thing, and that human nature which He assumed in these last times for the purposes of the dispensation (of grace) is another. And therefore we have first to ascertain what the only-begotten Son of God is, seeing He is called by many different names, according to the circumstances and views of individuals. For He is termed Wisdom, according to the expression of Solomon: “The Lord created me—the beginning of His ways, and among His works, before He made any other thing; He founded me before the ages. In the beginning, before He formed the earth, before He brought forth the fountains of waters, before the mountains were made strong, before all the hills, He brought me forth.” He is also styled First-born, as the apostle has declared: “who is the first-born of every creature.” The first-born, however, is not by nature a different person from the Wisdom, but one and the same. Finally, the Apostle Paul says that “Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God.”…
Chapter III.—On the Holy Spirit.
1. The next point is to investigate as briefly as possible the subject of the Holy Spirit. All who perceive, in whatever manner, the existence of Providence, confess that God, who created and disposed all things, is unbegotten, and recognise Him as the parent of the universe. Now, that to Him belongs a Son, is a statement not made by us only; although it may seem a sufficiently marvellous and incredible assertion to those who have a reputation as philosophers among Greeks and Barbarians, by some of whom, however, an idea of His existence seems to have been entertained, in their acknowledging that all things were created by the word or reason of God. We, however, in conformity with our belief in that doctrine, which we assuredly hold to be divinely inspired, believe that it is possible in no other way to explain and bring within the reach of human knowledge this higher and diviner reason as the Son of God, than by means of those Scriptures alone which were inspired by the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Gospels and Epistles, and the law and the prophets, according to the declaration of Christ Himself. Of the existence of the Holy Spirit no one indeed could entertain any suspicion, save those who were familiar with the law and the prophets, or those who profess a belief in Christ. For although no one is able to speak with certainty of God the Father, it is nevertheless possible for some knowledge of Him to be gained by means of the visible creation and the natural feelings of the human mind; and it is possible, moreover, for such knowledge to be confined from the sacred Scriptures. But with respect to the Son of God, although no one knoweth the Son save the Father, yet it is from sacred Scripture also that the human mind is taught how to think of the Son; and that not only from the New, but also from the Old Testament, by means of those things which, although done by the saints, are figuratively referred to Christ, and from which both His divine nature, and that human nature which was assumed by Him, may be discovered…
From Contra Celsum
…[Celsus] accuses [Jesus] of having “invented his birth from a virgin,” and upbraids Him with being “born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God.“…
After these points Celsus quotes some objections against the doctrine of Jesus, made by a very few individuals who are considered Christians, not of the more intelligent, as he supposes, but of the more ignorant class, and asserts that “the following are the rules laid down by them. Let no one come to us who has been instructed, or who is wise or prudent (for such qualifications are deemed evil by us); but if there be any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence. By which words, acknowledging that such individuals are worthy of their God, they manifestly show that they desire and are able to gain over only the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.”…
But as Celsus delights to heap up calumnies against us, and, in addition to those which he has already uttered, has added others, let us examine these also, and see whether it be the Christians or Celsus who have reason to be ashamed of what is said. He asserts, “We see, indeed, in private houses workers in wool and leather, and fullers, and persons of the most uninstructed and rustic character, not venturing to utter a word in the presence of their elders and wiser masters; but when they get hold of the children privately, and certain women as ignorant as themselves, they pour forth wonderful statements, to the effect that they ought not to give heed to their father and to their teachers, but should obey them; that the former are foolish and stupid, and neither know nor can perform anything that is really good, being preoccupied with empty trifles; that they alone know how men ought to live, and that, if the children obey them, they will both be happy themselves, and will make their home happy also. And while thus speaking, if they see one of the instructors of youth approaching, or one of the more intelligent class, or even the father himself, the more timid among them become afraid, while the more forward incite the children to throw off the yoke, whispering that in the presence of father and teachers they neither will nor can explain to them any good thing, seeing they turn away with aversion from the silliness and stupidity of such persons as being altogether corrupt, and far advanced in wickedness, and such as would inflict punishment upon them; but that if they wish (to avail themselves of their aid,) they must leave their father and their instructors, and go with the women and their playfellows to the women’s apartments, or to the leather shop, or to the fuller’s shop, that they may attain to perfection;–and by words like these they gain them over.”
This statement also is untrue, that it is “only foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children, of whom the teachers of the divine word wish to make converts.”… After this it is superfluous for us to wish to offer a reply to such statements of Celsus as the following: “For why is it an evil to have been educated, and to have studied the best opinions, and to have both the reality and appearance of wisdom? What hindrance does this offer to the knowledge of God? Why should it not rather be an assistance, and a means by which one might be better able to arrive at the truth?”…
But let us look at what Celsus next with great ostentation announces in the following fashion: “And again,” he says, “let us resume the subject from the beginning, with a larger array of proofs. And I make no new statement, but say what has been long settled. God is good, and beautiful, and blessed, and that in the best and most beautiful degree. But if he come down among men, he must undergo a change, and a change from good to evil, from virtue to vice, from happiness to misery, and from best to worst. Who, then, would make choice of such a change? It is the nature of a mortal, indeed, to undergo change and remoulding, but of an immortal to remain the same and unaltered. God, then, could not admit of such a change.”…
Let us next notice the statements of Celsus, which follow the preceding, and which are as follow: “As the Jews, then, became a peculiar people, and enacted laws in keeping with the customs of their country, and maintain them up to the present time, and observe a mode of worship which, whatever be its nature, is yet derived from their fathers, they act in these respects like other men, because each nation retains its ancestral customs, whatever they are, if they happen to be established among them. And such an arrangement appears to be advantageous, not only because it has occurred to the mind of other nations to decide some things differently, but also because it is a duty to protect what has been established for the public advantage; and also because, in all probability, the various quarters of the earth were from the beginning allotted to different superintending spirits, and were thus distributed among certain governing powers, and in this manner the administration of the world is carried on. And whatever is done among each nation in this way would be rightly done, wherever it was agreeable to the wishes (of the superintending powers), while it would be an act of impiety to get rid of the institutions established from the beginning in the various places.”…
The remarks which we have made not only answer the statements of Celsus regarding the superintending spirits, but anticipate in some measure what he afterwards brings forward, when he says: “Let the second party come forward; and I shall ask them whence they come, and whom they regard as the originator of their ancestral customs. They will reply, No one, because they spring from the same source as the Jews themselves, and derive their instruction and superintendence from no other quarter, and notwithstanding they have revolted from the Jews.”…
A Fine Lecture from Rev. Marcelo Souza:
Click on Alexandria, Origen, Persecution, Constantine, Arianism” — Ancient Church History, An Overview for audio lecture by Rev. Marcelo Souza – Christ Reformed Church, Placentia, CA
A Quote for Your Consideration: “Against Arianism…the Nicene Council declared the the Son is ‘of one substance’ with the father…The meaning of these terms is not that the Son is of like essence with the Father…, but that the one and same essence, which exists but once in God, is alike that of the Father and of the Son…so that the Son is ‘God of God’ and ‘very God of very God.’ This doctrine is truly Scriptural, John 10, 30.” (John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, 153).
Questions for discussion:
1. Do Origen’s discussions of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit contain any ideas that are inconsistent with your understanding of the Trinity?
2. What did “Wisdom” mean to Origen? How did he integrate this concept into his Christology?
3. For Origen what knowledge is imparted by the “…visible creation and the natural feelings of the human mind…”?
4. Origen points out that Celsus enjoyed flinging “calumnies” at the Christians of his time. Which of these many calumnies have you heard echoed in modern attacks on Christians?
5. According to Origen, Celsus claimed if the Christ came down to earth “…he must undergo a change, and a change from good to evil, from virtue to vice, from happiness to misery, and from best to worst.” What was the philosophical premise, implied in this statement, that leads Celsus to his conclusion?
6. According to Rev. Souza, early Church Fathers considered the orthodox the “true Gnostics”. Why? What were the behaviors of these early Christians that distinguished them from the cultists that the Fathers felt justified their praise?
8. “What are the two aspects of Original Sin?” Souza asks his class, when summarizing from J.N.D. Kelly’s research on early theologians presented in his marvelous book Early Christian Doctrines. Rev. Souza goes on to answer his own question using Kelly’s insights. What is his answer? How has the Reformation transformed our thinking on this subject?