BOOKS: BIBLICAL STUDIES (1500BC-AD70) / EARLY CHRISTIAN PRETERISM (AD50-1000) / FREE ONLINE BOOKS (AD1000-2008)
“Why need I mention the prophecies concerning Christ, as for example that Bethlehem should be the place of His birth, and Nazareth the place of His bringing up, and the marvellous works He did, and the manner of His betrayal by Judas who was called to be an Apostle? For all these are signs of the foreknowledge of God. But the Saviour Himself also says, “When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then ye shall know that her desolation is at hand”;549 for He spake beforehand what afterwards came to pass, the final destruction of Jerusalem. ”
Origen consulted scrolls found in caves near Jericho for his “Hexapla,” a comprehensive redaction of the Hebrew Scriptures completed in the first half of the third century C.E.
In the . . . edition of the Psalms . . . [Origen reported] again how he found one of [the translations] at Jericho in a tunnel in the time of Antoninus the son of Severus. Eusebius Auncient ecclesiasticall histories … (London, 1585) Printed book. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
Is Origen and Origenism anathematized? Nope.
Pope Benedict XVI on Origen: He was a true teacher. I invite you to welcome the teachings of this great teacher of the faith into your hearts.
Catholic Encyclopedia – Were Origen and Origenism anathematized? Many learned writers believe so; an equal number deny that they were condemned; most modern authorities are either undecided or reply with reservations. Relying on the most recent studies on the question it may be held that:
F.W. Farrar “The more merciful opinions on some of these subjects, though notorious, and though even by that time they had been continually discussed, were not condemned by the first four General Councils; were in the case of the two Gregories never condemned at all; were not (as I shall endeavour to show) distinctly condemned (as his other errors were) even in the case of Origen; did not so much as come into discussion (as is sometimes falsely asserted) at the Fifth Oecumenical Council; and were spoken of at first, even by those who did not share in them, with perfect calmness and toleration.” “Mercy and Judgment” Cite
Philip Schaff “Did the Fifth Synod examine the case of Origen and finally adopt the XV. Anathemas against him which are usually found assigned to it? It would seem that with the evidence now in our possession it would be the height of rashness to give a dogmatic answer to this question. Scholars of the highest repute have taken, and do take to-day, the opposite sides of the case, and each defends his own side with marked learning and ability. To my mind the chief difficulty in supposing these anathematisms to have been adopted by the Fifth Ecumenical is that nothing whatever is said about Origen in the call of the council, nor in any of the letters written in connexion with it; all of which would seem unnatural had there been a long discussion upon the matter, and had such an important dogmatic definition been adopted as the XV.” Cite
Roger Pearse “Now I was under the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the Council of Constantinople held by Justinian had condemned Origenism, and perhaps anathematised Origen himself, depending on some text-critical questions. To pronounce a man anathema 300 years after he died in the peace of the church, and died moreover from the effects of torture in confessing Christ, would be morally wrong of course.” “I don’t believe that an individual can validly be anathematised three centuries after he died a confessor’s death. All Byzantine synods seem to me to be a mixture of politics and theology.” Cite
(On the Coming of Christ)
“We do not deny, then, that the purificatory fire and the destruction of the world took place in order that evil might be swept away, and all things be renewed; for we assert that we have learned these things from the sacred books of the prophets…And anyone who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I think after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of Jerusalem take place.” (Contra Celsum, 4.21,22; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 505, 506.)
“Now in these it is recorded, that “when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed about with armies, then shall ye know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” But at that time there were no armies around Jerusalem, encompassing and enclosing and besieging it; for the siege began in the reign of Nero, and lasted till the government of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, but in reality, as the truth makes clear, on account of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”
(On The Significance of A.D. 70)
“If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure” (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol 4)
“And a sign that she has received the bill of divorcement is this, that Jerusalem was destroyed along with what they called the sanctuary of the things in it which were believed to be holy, and with the altar of burnt offerings, and all the worship associated with it. And a further sign of the bill of divorcement is this, that they cannot keep their feasts, even though according to the letter of the law designedly commanded them, in the place which the Lord God appointed to them for keeping feasts; but there is this also, that the whole synagogue has become unable to stone those who have committed this or that sin; and thousands of things commanded are a sign of the bill of divorcement; and the fact that “there is no more a prophet,” and that they say, “We no longer see signs;” for the Lord says, “He hath taken away from Judaea and from Jerusalem,” according to the word of Isaiah, “Him that is mighty, and her that is mighty, a powerful giant,” etc., down to the words, “a prudent hearer.”
Now, He who is the Christ may have taken the synagogue to wife and cohabited with her, but it may be that afterwards she found not favour in His sight; and the reason of her not having found favour in His sight was, that there was found in her an unseemly thing; for what was more unseemly than the Circumstance that, when it was proposed to them to release one at the feast, they asked for the release of Barabbas the robber, and the condemnation of Jesus? And what was more unseemly than the fact, that they all said in His case, “Crucify Him, crucify Him,” and “Away with such a fellow from the earth”? And can this be freed from the charge of unseemliness, “His blood be upon us, and upon our children”? Wherefore, when He was avenged, Jerusalem was compassed with armies, and its desolation was near, and their house was taken away from it, and “the daughter of Zion was left as a booth in a vineyard, and as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, and as a besieged city.” (Matthew, Book 2., sec. 19.)
“For it is indeed manifest that when they beheld Jesus they did not see who he was, and when they heard him they did not understand from his words the divinity that was in him and which transferred God’s providential care, hitherto exercised over the Jews, to his converts from the heathen. Therefore we may see that after the advent the Jews were altogether abandoned.. considered their ancient glories, so that there is no indication of any divinity abiding amongst them For what nation is an exile from their own metropolis, and from the place sacred to the worship of their fathers, save the Jews only? And these calamities they have suffered because they were a most wicked nation which, although guilty of many other sins, yet had been punished so severely for none as for committed against our Jesus.” (Contra Celsus, 2.8)
“But if “the children of Israel are to sit many days without a king, or ruler, or altar, or priesthood, or responses;” and if, since the temple was destroyed, there exists no longer sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, it is manifest that the ruler has failed out of Judah, and the leader from between his thighs. And since the prediction declares that “the ruler shall not fail from Judah, and the leader from between his thighs, until what is reserved for Him shall come,” it is manifest that He is come to whom (belongs) what is reserved–the expectation of the Gentiles. And this is clear from the multitude of the heathen who have believed on God through Jesus Christ. (Principles, 4:1:3)
“This Jew of Celsus continues, after the above, in the following fashion: “Although he could state many things regarding the events of the life of Jesus which are true, and not like those which are recorded by the disciples, he willingly omits them.” What, then, are those true statements, unlike the accounts in the Gospels, which the Jew of Celsus passes by without mention? Or is he only employing what appears to be a figure of speech, in pretending to have something to say, while in reality he had nothing to produce beyond the Gospel narrative which could impress the hearer with a feeling of its truth, and furnish a clear ground of accusation against Jesus and His doctrine? And he charges the disciples with having invented the statement that Jesus foreknew and foretold all that happened to Him; but the truth of this statement we shall establish, although Celsus may not like it, by means of many other predictions uttered by the Savior, in which He foretold what would befall the Christians in after generations. And who is there who would not be astonished at this prediction:
“Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles;” and at any others which He may have delivered respecting the future persecution of His disciples? For what system of opinions ever existed among men on account of which others are punished, so that any one of the accusers of Jesus could say that, foreseeing the impiety or falsity of his opinions to be the ground of an accusation against them he thought that this would redound to his credit, that he had so predicted regarding it long before? Now if any deserve to be brought, on account of their opinions, before governors and kings, what others are they, save the Epicureans, who altogether deny the existence of providence? And also the Peripatetics, who say that prayers are of no avail, and sacrifices offered as to the Divinity? But some one will say that the Samaritans suffer persecution because of their religion.
In answer to whom we shall state that the Sicarians, on account of the practice of circumcision, as mutilating themselves contrary to the established laws and the customs permitted to the Jews alone, are put to death. And you never hear a judge inquiring whether a Sicarian who strives to live according to this established religion of his will be released from punishment if he apostatizes, but will be led away to death if he continues firm; for the evidence of the circumcision is sufficient to ensure the death of him who has undergone it. But Christians alone, according to the prediction of their Savior, “Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake,” are urged up to their last breath by their judges to deny Christianity, and to sacrifice according to the public customs; and after the oath of abjuration, to return to their homes, and to live in safety. And observe whether it is not with great authority that this declaration is uttered: “Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father who is in heaven. And whosoever shall deny Me before men,” etc. And go back with me in thought to Jesus when He uttered these words, and see His predictions not yet accomplished.
Perhaps you will say, in a spirit of incredulity, that he is talking folly, and speaking to no purpose, for his words will have no fulfillment; or, being in doubt about assenting to his words, you will say, that if these predictions be fulfilled, and the doctrine of Jesus be established, so that governors and kings think of destroying those who acknowledge Jesus, then we shall believe that he utters these prophecies as one who has received great power from God to implant this doctrine among the human race, and as believing that it will prevail. And who will not be filled with wonder, when he goes back in thought to Him who then taught and said, “This Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles,” and beholds, agreeably to His words, the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in the whole world under heaven to Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish alike? For the word, spoken with power, has gained the mastery over men of all sorts of nature, and it is impossible to see any race of men which has escaped accepting the teaching of Jesus.
But let this Jew of Celsus, who does not believe that He foreknew all that happened to Him, consider how, while Jerusalem was still standing, and the whole Jewish worship celebrated in it, Jesus foretold what would befall it from the hand of the Romans. For they will not maintain that the acquaintances and pupils of Jesus Himself handed down His teaching contained in the Gospels without committing it to writing, and left His disciples without the memoirs of Jesus contained in their works. Now in these it is recorded, that “when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed about with armies, then shall ye know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” But at that time there were no armies around Jerusalem, encompassing and enclosing and besieging it; for the siege began in the reign of Nero, and lasted till the government of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, but in reality, as the truth makes clear, on account of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (Contra Celsus, 2.13)
“But when he goes on to say that “those who inflicted death upon Jesus suffered nothing afterwards through so long a time,” we must inform him, as well as all who are disposed to learn the truth, that the city in which the Jewish people called for the crucifixion of Jesus with shouts of “Crucify him, crucify him,” preferring to have the robber set free, who had been cast into prison for sedition and murder and Jesus, who had been delivered through envy, to be crucified, — that this city not long afterwards was attacked, and, after a long siege, was utterly overthrown and laid waste; for God judged the inhabitants of that place unworthy of living together the life of citizens. And yet, though it may seem an incredible thing to say, God spared this people in delivering them to their enemies; for He saw that they were incurably averse to any amendment, and were daily sinking deeper and deeper into evil. And all this befell them, because the blood of Jesus was shed at their instigation and on their land; and the land was no longer able to bear those who were guilty of so fearful a crime against Jesus. (Contra Celsus, 8.42)
(On Matthew 24:2)
(On The Faulty ‘Literal Method of Bible Interpretation‘)
“8. Having spoken thus briefly on the subject of the divine inspiration of the the Holy Spirit, it seems necessary to explain this point also, viz., how certain persons, not reading them correctly, have given themselves over to erroneous opinions, inasmuch as the procedure to be followed, in order to attain an understanding of the holy writings, is unknown to many. The Jews, in fine, owing to the hardness of their heart, and from a desire to appear wise in their own eyes, have not believed in our Lord and Saviour, judging that those statements which were uttered respecting Him ought to be understood literally, i.e., that He ought in a sensible and visible manner to preach deliverance to the captives, and first build a city which they truly deem the city of God, and cut off at the same time the chariots of Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; that He ought also to eat butter and honey, in order to choose the good before He should come to how how to bring forth evil.
They think, also, that it has been predicted that the wolf–that four-footed animal–is, at the coming of Christ, to feed with the lambs, and the leopard to lie down with kids, and the calf and the bull to pasture with lions, and that they are to be led by a little child to the pasture; that the ox and the bear are to lie down together in the green fields, and that their young ones are to be fed together; that lions also will frequent stalls with the oxen, and feed on straw. And seeing that, according to history, there was no accomplishment of any of those things predicted of Him, in which they believed the signs of Christ’s advent were especially to be observed, they refused to acknowledge the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ; nay, contrary to all the principles of human and divine law, i.e., contrary to the faith of prophecy, they crucified Him for assuming to Himself the name of Christ. ” (Principles, 4:1:7)
“Now the cause, in all the points previously enumerated, of the false opinions, and of the impious statements or ignorant assertions about God, appears to be nothing else than the not understanding the Scripture according to its spiritual meaning, but the interpretation of it agreeably to the mere letter.” (Principles, 4:1:8)
(On the Seventy Weeks of Daniel)
(On Luke 21:20)
(On the New Heavens and Earth)
And consequently they say, that after the resurrection there will be marriages, and the begetting of children, imagining to themselves that the earthly city of Jerusalem is to be rebuilt, its foundations laid in precious stones, and its walls constructed of jasper, and its battlements of crystal; that it is to have a wall composed of many precious stones, as jasper, and sapphire, and chalcedony, and emerald, and sardonyx, and onyx, and chrysolite, and chrysoprase, and jacinth, and amethyst. Moreover, they think that the natives of other countries are to be given them as the ministers of their pleasures, whom they are to employ either as tillers of the field or builders of walls, and by whom their ruined and fallen city is again to be raised up; and they think that they are to receive the wealth of the nations to live on, and that they will have control over their riches; that even the camels of Midian and Kedar will come, and bring to them gold, and incense, and precious stones. And these views they think to establish on the authority of the prophets by those promises which are written regarding Jerusalem; and by those passages also where it is said, that they who serve the Lord shall eat and drink, but that sinners shall hunger and thirst; that the righteous shall be joyful, but that sorrow shall possess the wicked.
And from the New Testament also they quote the saying of the Saviour, in which He makes a promise to His disciples concerning the joy of wine, saying, “Henceforth I shall not drink of this cup, until I drink it with you new in My Father’s kingdom.” They add, moreover, that declaration, in which the Saviour calls those blessed who now hunger and thirst, promising them that they shall be satisfied; and many other scriptural illustrations are adduced by them, the meaning of which they do not perceive is to be taken figuratively. Then, again, agreeably to the form of things in this life, and according to the gradations of the dignities or ranks in this world, or the greatness of their powers, they think they are to be kings and princes, like those earthly monarchs who now exist; chiefly, as it appears, on account of that expression in the Gospel: “Have thou power over five cities.” And to speak shortly, according to the manner of things in this life in all similar matters, do they desire the fulfilment of all things looked for in the promises, viz., that what now is should exist again. Such are the views of those who, while believing in Christ, understand the divine Scriptures in a sort of Jewish sense, drawing from them nothing worthy of the divine promises.” (Principles, 2.11.2)
(On James the Just)
“Sodom–The very term applied by Isa 1:10 to apostate Jerusalem (compare Eze 16:48).”
” also our–A, B, C, ORIGEN, ANDREAS, and others read, “also their.” Where their Lord, also, as well as they, was slain. Compare Re 18:24, where the blood of ALL slain on earth is said to be found IN BABYLON, just as in Mt 23:35, Jesus saith that, “upon the Jews and JERUSALEM” (Compare Mt 23:37,38)” (in loc.)
Christopher Love (1653)
Origen Adamantius was born of Christian parents, in Alexandria, A.D. 185. He was early taught the Christian religion, and when a mere boy could recite long passages of Scripture from memory. During the persecution by Septimus Severus, A.D. 202, his father, Leonides, was imprisoned, and the son wrote to him not to deny Christ out of tenderness for his family, and was only prevented from surrendering himself to voluntary martyrdom by his mother, who hid his clothes. Leonides died a martyr. In the year 203, then but eighteen years of age, Origen was appointed to the presidency of the theological school in Alexandria, a position left vacant by the flight of Clement from heathen persecution. He made himself proficient in the various branches of learning, traveled in the Orient and acquired the Hebrew language for the purpose of translating the Scriptures. His fame extended in all directions. He won eminent heathens to Christianity, and his instructions were sought by people of all lands. He renounced all but the barest necessities of life, rarely eating flesh, never drinking wine, slept on the naked floor, and devoted the greater part of the night to prayer and study. Eusebius says that he would not live upon the bounty of those who would have been glad to maintain him while he was at work for the world’s good, and so he disposed of his valuable library to one who would allow him the daily pittance of four obols (silver coins); and rigidly acted on our Lord’s precept not to have “two coats, or wear shoes, and to have no anxiety for the morrow.”1 Origen is even said to have mutilated himself (though this is disputed) from an erroneous construction of the Savior’s command (Matt. 19:12), and to guard himself from slander that might proceed from his association with female students. This act he lamented in later years. If done it was from the purest motives, and was an act of great self-sacrifice, for, as it was forbidden by canonical law, it debarred him from clerical promotion. He was ordained presbyter A.D. 228, by two bishops outside his diocese, and this irregular act performed by others than his own diocesan gave grounds to Demetrius of Alexandria, in whose jurisdiction he lived, to manifest the envy he had already felt at the growing reputation of the young scholar; and in two councils composed and controlled by Demetrius, A.D. 231 and 232, Origen was deposed. 2 Many of the church authorities condemned the action. In this persecution Origen proved himself as grand in spirit as in mind. To his friends he said: “We must pity them rather that hate them (his enemies), pray for them rather than curse them, for we were made for blessing, not for cursing.” Origen went to Palestine A.D. 230, opened a school in Cæsarea, and enjoyed a continually increasing fame. The persecutions under Maximinus in 235, drove him away. He went to Cappadocia, then to Greece, and finally back to Palestine. Defamed at home he was honored abroad, but was at length called back to Alexandria, where his pupil Dionysius had succeeded Demetrius as bishop. But soon after, during the persecution under Decius, he was tortured and condemned to die at the stake, but he lingered, and at length died of his injuries and sufferings, a true martyr, in Tyre, A.D. 253 or 254, at the age of sixty-nine. His grave was known down to the Middle Ages.
Professor Schaff on Origen
The historian Schaff declares: “It is impossible to deny a respectful sympathy to this extraordinary man, who, with all his brilliant talents, and a host of enthusiastic friends and admirers, was driven from his country, stripped of his sacred office, excommunicated from a part of the church, then thrown into a dungeon, loaded with chains, racked by torture, doomed to drag his aged frame and dislocated limbs in pain and poverty, and long after his death to have his memory branded, his name anathematized, and his salvation denied; but who, nevertheless, did more than all his enemies combined to advance the cause of sacred learning, to refute and convert heathens and heretics, and to make the church respected in the eyes of the world. Origen was the greatest scholar of his age, and the most learned and gracious of all the ante-Nicene fathers. Even heathens and heretics admired or feared his brilliant talents. His knowledge embraced all departments of the linguistics, philosophy and theology of his day. With this he united profound and fertile thought, keen penetration, and glowing imagination. As a true divine he consecrated all his studies by prayer, and turned them, according to his best conventions, to the service of truth and piety.”3
While chained in prison, his feet in the stocks, his constant theme was: “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” His last thought was for his brethren. “He has left the memory of one of the greatest theologians and greatest saints the church has ever possessed. One of his own words strikes the key-note of his life: ‘Love,’ he says again and again, “is an agony, a passion;’ ‘Caritas est passio.” To love the truth so as to suffer for it in the world and in the church; to love mankind with a tender sympathy; to extend the arms of compassion ever more widely, so as to over-pass all barriers of dogmatic difference under the far-reaching impulse of this pitying love; to realize that the essence of love is sacrifice, and to make self the unreserved and willing victim, such was the creed, such was the life of Origen.”4
He described in letters now lost, the sufferings he endured without the martyrdom he so longed for, and yet in terms of patience and Christian forgiveness. Persecuted by Pagans for his Christian fidelity, and by Christians for heresy, driven from home and country, and after his death his morals questioned, his memory branded, his name anathematized, and even his salvation denied. 5 There is not a character in the annals of Christendom more unjustly treated.
Eusebiues relates how Origen bore in his old age, as in his youth, fearful sufferings for his fidelity to his Master, and carried the scars of persecution into his grave. No nobler witness to the truth is found in the records of Christian fidelity. And, as though the terrible persecutions he suffered during life were not enough, he has for fifteen hundred years borne condemnation, reproach, and denunciation from professing Christians who were unworthy to loosen his shoe latchets. Most of those who decried him during his lifetime, and for a century later, were men whose characters were of an inferior, and some of a very low order; but the candid Nicephorus, a hundred and fifty years after his death, wrote that he was “held in great glory in all the world.”
This greatest of all Christian apologists and exegetes, and the first man in Christendom since Paul, was a distinctive Universalist. He could not have misunderstood or misrepresented the teachings of his Master. The language of the New Testament was his mother tongue. He derived the teachings of Christ from Christ himself in a direct line through his teacher Clement; and he placed the defense of Christianity on Universalistic grounds. When Celsus, in his “True Discourse,” the first great assault on Christianity, objected to Christianity on the ground that it taught punishment by fire, Origen replied that the threatened fire possessed a disciplinary, purifying quality that will consume in the sinner whatever evil material it can find to consume.
Gehenna Denotes a Purifying Fire
Origen declares that Gehenna is an analogue of the Valley of Hinnom and means a purifying fire6 but suggests that it is not prudent to go further, showing that the idea of “reserve” controlled him from saying what might not be discreet. That God’s fire is not material, but spiritual remorse ending in reformation, Origen teaches in many passages. He repeatedly speaks of punishment as aionion (mistranslated in the New Testament “everlasting,” “eternal”) and then elaborately states and defends as Christian doctrine universal salvation beyond all aionion suffering and sin. Says the candid historian Robertson: “The great object of this eminent teacher was to harmonize Christianity with philosophy. He sought to combine in a Christian scheme the fragmentary truths scattered throughout other systems, to establish the Gospel in a form which should not present obstacles to the conversion of Jews, of Gnostics, and of cultivated heathens; and his errors arose from a too eager pursuit of this idea.7”
The effect of his broad faith on his spirit and treatment of others, is in strong contrast to the bitter and cruel disposition exhibited by some of the early Christians towards heretics, such as Tertullian and Augustine. In reply to the charge that Christians of different creeds were in enmity, he said, “Such of us as follow the doctrines of Jesus, and endeavor to be conformed to his precepts, in our thoughts, words and actions; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed. we entreat. Nor do we say injurious things of those who think differently of us. They who consider the words of our Lord, Blessed are the peaceable, and Blessed are the meek, who will not hate those who corrupt the Christian religion, nor give contemptuous reproach
When a young teacher his zeal and firmness vindicated his name Adamantius, man of steel or adamant. Says De Pressense: “The example of Origen was of much force in sustaining the courage of his disciples. He might be seen constantly in the prison of the pious captives carrying to them the consolation they needed. He stood by them till the last moment of triumph came, and gave them the parting kiss of peace on the very threshold of the arena or at the foot of the stake.” One day he was carried to the temple of Serapis, and palms were placed in his hands to lay on the altar of the Egyptian god. Brandishing the boughs, he exclaimed, “Here are the triumphal palms, not of the idol, but of Christ.” In a work of Origen’s now only existing in a Latin translation is the characteristic thought: “The fields of the angels are our hearts; each one of them therefore out of the field which he cultivates, offers first fruits to God. If I should be able to produce today some choice interpretation, worthy to be presented to the Supreme High Priest, so that out of all those thinks which we speak and teach, there should be somewhat considerable which may please the great High Priest, it might possibly happen that the angel who presides over the church, out of all our words, might choose something, and offer it as a kind of first fruits to the Lord, out of the small field of my heart. But I know I do not deserve it; nor am I conscious to myself that any interpretation is discovered by me which the angel who cultivates us should judge worthy to offer to the Lord, as first fruits, or first born.”8
His Critics are his Eulogists
Origen’s critics are his eulogists. Gieseler remarks: “To the wide extended influence of his writings it is to be attributed, that, in the midst of these furious controversies (in the Fifth Century) there remained any freedom of theological speculation whatever.” Bunsen: “Origen’s death is the real end of free Christianity and, in particular, of free intellectual theology.” Schaff says: “Origen is father of the scientific and critical investigation of Scripture.” Jerome says he wrote more than other men can read. Epiphanius, an opponent, states the number of his works as six thousand. His books that survive are mostly in Latin, more or less mutilated by translators.
Eusebius says that his life is worthy of being recorded from “his tender infancy.” Even when a child “he was wholly borne away by the desire of becoming a martyr,” and so divine a spirit did he show, and such devotedness to his religion, even as a child, that his father, frequently, “when standing over his sleeping boy, would uncover his breast, and as a shrine consecrated by the Divine Spirit, reverently kiss the breast of his favorite offspring. As his doctrine so was his life; and as his life, so also was his doctrine.” His Bishop, Demetrius, praised him highly, till “seeing him doing well, great and illustrious and celebrated by all, was overcome by human infirmity,” and maligned him throughout the church.
Origen was followed as teacher in the Alexandrine school by his pupil Heraclas, who in turn was succeeded by Dionysius, another pupil, so that from Pantænus, to Clemens, Origen, Heraclas and Dionysius, to Didymus, from say A.D. 160 to A.D. 390, more than two centuries, the teaching in Alexandria, the very center of Christian learning, was Universalistic.
The struggles of such a spirit, scholar, saint, philosopher, must have been a martyrdom, and illustrate the power of his sublime faith, not only to sustain in the terrific trials through which he passed, but to preserve the spirit he always manifested–akin to that which cried on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
The Death of Origen
The death of Origen marks an epoch in Christianity, and signalizes the beginning of a period of decadence. The republicanism of Christianity began to give way before the monarchical tendencies that ripened with Constantine (A.D. 313) and the Nicean council (A.D. 325). Clement and Origen represented freedom of thought, and a rational creed founded on the Bible, but the evil change that Christianity was soon to experience, was fairly seen, says Bunsen, about the time of Origen’s death. “Origen, who had made a last attempt to preserve liberty of thought along with a rational belief in historical facts based upon the historical records, had failed in his gigantic efforts; he died of a broken heart rather than of the wounds inflicted by his heathen torturers. His followers retained only his mystical scholasticism, without possessing either his genius or his learning, his great and wide heart, or his free, truth-speaking spirit. More and more the teachers became bishops, and the bishops absolute governors, the majority of whom strove to establish as law their speculations upon Christianity.
His comprehensive mind and vast sympathy, and his intense tendency to generalization, caused Origen to entertain hospitality in his philosophical system many ideas that now are seen inconsistent and illogical; but his fantastic, allegorical interpretation of Scripture, his whimsies concerning pre-existence, and his disposition to include all themes and theories in his system, did not swerve him from the truths and facts of Christian revelation. His defects were but as spots on the sun. And his erratic notions were by no means in excess of those of the average theologian of his times.
A Christian Philosopher
Origen considered philosophy as necessary to Christianity as is geometry to philosophy; but that all things essential to salvation are plainly taught in the Scriptures, within the comprehension of the ordinary mind. “Origen was the prince of schoolmen and scholars, as subtle as Aquinas, as learned as Routh or Tischendorf. He is a man of one book, in a sense. The Bible, its text, its exposition, furnished him with the motive for incessant toil.” (Neoplatonism, by C. Bigg, D.D., London, 1895, p. 163.) The truths taught in the Bible may be made by philosophers themes on which the mind may indefinitely wander; and those competent will find interior, spiritual, concealed meanings not seen on the surface. Yet he constantly taught “that such natural attraction and similarities exists between Christianity and human reason, that not only the grounds, but also the forms, of all Christian doctrines may be explained by the dictates of philosophy. That it is vastly important to the honor and advantage of Christianity that all its doctrines be traced back to the sources of all truth, or be shown to flow from the principles of philosophy; and consequently that a Christian theologian should exert his ingenuity and his industry primarily to demonstrate the harmony between religion and reason, and to show that there is nothing taught it the Scriptures but what is founded in reason.”
A Bible Universalist
He held to the “most scrupulous Biblicism and the most conscientious regard for the rule of faith, united with the philosophy of religion.” He “was the most influential theologian in the Oriental church, the father of theological science, the author of ecclesiastical dogmatics. An orthodox traditionalist, a strong Biblical theologian, a keen idealistic philosopher who translated the content of faith into ideas, completed the structure of the world that is within, and finally let nothing pass save knowledge of God and of self, in closest union, which exalts us above the world, and conducts unto edification. Life is a discipline, a conflict under the permission and leading of God, which will end with the conquest and destruction of evil. According to Origen, all spirits will, in the form of their individual lives, be finally rescued and glorified (apokatastasis).” 9 Mosheim considered these fatal errors, while we should regard them as valuable principles. The famous historian assures us the Origen was entirely ignorant of the doctrine of Christ’s substitutional sacrifice. He had no faith in the idea that Christ suffered in man’s stead, but taught that he died in man’s behalf.
The Works of Origen
The known works of Origen consist of brief “Notes on Scripture,” only a few fragments of which are left; his “Commentaries,” many of which are in Migne’s collection; his “Contra Celsum,” or “Against Celsus,” which is complete and in the original Greek; “Stromata,” only three fragments of which survive in a Latin translation; a fragment on the “Resurrection;” practical “Essays and Letters,” but two of the latter remaining, and “Of Principles,” “De Principiis,” or nearly all the original Greek of this great work has perished. The Latin translation by Rufinus is very loose and inaccurate. It is frequently a mere paraphrase. Jerome, whose translation is better than that of Rufinus, accuses the latter of unfaithfulness in his translation, and made a new version, only small portions of which have come down to modern times, so that we cannot accurately judge of the character of this great work. A comparison of the Greek of Origen’s “Against Celsus” with the Latin version of Rufinus exhibits great discrepancies. Indeed, Rufinus confesses that he had so “smoothed and corrected” as to leave “nothing which could appear conflicting with our belief.” He claimed, however, that he had done so because “his (Origen’s) books had been corrupted by heretics and malicious persons,” and accordingly he had suppressed or enlarged the text to what he taught Origen ought to have said! And having acknowledged so much he enjoins all by their “belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” to make no further alterations! He reiterates his confession elsewhere, and says he has translated nothing that seems to him to contradict Origen’s other opinions, but has passed it by, as “interpolated and forged.” For the sake of “brevity,” he says he has sometimes “curtailed.”
Says De Pressense: “Celsus collected in his quiver all the objections possible to be made, and there is scarcely one missing of all the arrows which in subsequent times have been aimed against the supernatural in Christianity.” To every point made by Celsus, Origen made a triumphant reply, anticipating, in fact, modern objections, and “gave to Christian antiquity its most complete apology. Many centuries were to elapse before the church could present to the world any other defense of her faith comparable to this noble book.” “It remains the masterpiece of ancient apology, for solidity of basis, vigor of argument, and breadth of eloquent exposition. The apologists of every age were to find in it an inexhaustible mine, as well as incomparable model of that royal, moral method inaugurated by St. Paul and St. John.”
An illustration of his manner may be given in his reference to the attack of Celsus on the miracles of Christ. Celsus dares not deny them, only a hundred years after Christ, and says: “Be it so, we accept the facts as genuine,” and then proceeds to rank them with the tricks of Egyptian sorcerers, and asks: “Did anyone ever look upon those impostors as divinely aided, who for hire healed the sick and wrought wonderful works?” If Jesus did work miracles it was through sorcery, and deserves therefore the greater contempt.” In reply Origin insists on the miracles, but places the higher evidence of Christianity on a moral basis. He says: “Show me the magician who calls upon the spectators of his prodigies to reform their life, or who teaches his admirers the fear of God, and seeks to persuade them to act as those who must appear before him as their judge. The magicians do nothing of the sort, either because they are incapable of it, or because they have no such desire. Themselves charged with crimes the most shameful and infamous, how should they attempt the reformation of the morals of others? The miracles of Christ, on the contrary, all bear the impress of his own holiness, and he ever uses them as a means of winning to the cause of goodness and truth those who witness them. Thus he presented his own life as the perfect model, not only to his immediate disciples, but to all men. He taught his disciples to make known to those who heard them, the perfect will of God; and he revealed to mankind, far more by his life and works than by his miracles, the secret of that holiness by which it is possible in all things to please God. If such was the life of Jesus, how can he be compared to mere charlatans, and why may we not believe that he was indeed God manifested in the flesh for the salvation of our race?” 10
The historian Cave says: “Celsus was an Epicurean philosopher contemporary with Lucian, the witty atheist, a man of wit and parts, and had all the advantages which learning, philosophy, and eloquence could add to him; but a severe and incurable enemy to the Christian religion, against which he wrote a book entitled ‘The True Discourse,” wherein he attempted Christianity with all the arts of insinuation, all the wicked reflections, bitter slanders, plausible reasons, whereunto a man of parts and malice was capable to assault it. To this Origen returns a full and solid answer, in eight books; wherein, as he had the better cause, so he managed it with that strength of reason, clearness of argument, and convincing evidence of truth, that were there nothing else to testify the abilities of this great man, this book alone were enough to do it.”
The Final Answer to Skepticism
Eusebius declared that Origen “not only answered all the objections that had ever been brought, but had supplied in anticipation answers to all that ever could be brought against Christianity.” Celsus, the ablest of all the assailants of Christianity, wrote his “True Discourse” about a century before Origen’s time. It is the fountain whence the enemies of Christianity have obtained the materials for their attacks on the Christian religion. In garbled texts, confounds the different heresies with the accepted form of Christianity, and employs the keenest logic, the bitterest sarcasm, and all the weapons of the most accomplished and unscrupulous controversy, and exhausts learning, argument, irony, slander, and all the skilled resources of one of the ablest of men in his assault on the new religion. Origen’s reply, written A.D., 249, proceeds on the ground already established by Clement: the essential relation between God and man; the universal operation of God’s grace; the preparation for the Gospel by Paganism; the residence of the genius of divinity in each human soul; the resurrection of the soul rather than of the body, and the remedial power of all the divine punishments. He triumphantly meets Celsus on every point, argument with argument, denouncement with denouncement, satire with satire, and through all breathes a supreme and lofty spirit, immeasurably superior to that of his opponent. He leaves nothing of the great skeptic’s unanswered.
Among the points made by Celsus and thoroughly disposed of by Origen were some that have in recent years been presented: that there is nothing new in Christian teaching; that the pretended miracles were not by the supernatural act of God; that the prophecies were misapplied and unfulfilled; that Christ borrowed from Plato, etc.
The First of Christian Theologians
The first system of Christian theology ever framed–let it never be forgotten–was published by Origen, A.D. 230, and it declared universal restoration as the issue of the divine government; so that this eminent Universalist has the grand pre-eminence of being not only the founder of scientific Christian theology, but also the first great defender of the Christian religion against its assailants. “De Principiis” is a profound book, a fundamental and essential element of which is the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union with God.
Origen’s most learned production was the “Hexapla.” He was twenty-eight years on this great Biblical work. The first form was the “Tetrapla,” containing in four columns the “Septuagint,” and the texts of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. This he enlarged into “Hexapla” with the Hebrew text in both Hebrew and Greek letters. Many of the books of the Bible had two additional columns, and some a seventh Greek version. This was the “Octapla.” This immense monument of learning and industry consisted of fifty volumes. It was never transcribed, and perished, probably destroyed by the Arabs in the destruction of the Alexandrian Library.11
Origen was of medium height, but of such vigor and physical endurance that he acquired the title Adamantius, the man of steel, or adamant. But he constantly wore a demeanor of gentleness and majesty, of kindliness and saintliness, that won all with whom he came in contact.
Quotation of Origen’s Language
The following statements from the pen of Origen, and summary of his views by eminent authors of different creeds, will show the great scholar’s ideas of human destiny. Many more than are here given might be presented, but enough are quoted to demonstrate beyond a peradventure that the great philosopher and divine, the equally great scholar and saint, was a Universalist. There is no little difficulty in reaching Origen’s opinions on some topics–happily not on man’s final destiny–in consequence of most of his works existing only in Latin translations confessedly inaccurate. He complained of perversions while living, and warned against misconstruction. 12 But no believer in endless punishment can claim the sanction of his great name.
Origen’s Exact Words
He writes: “The end of the world, then, and the final consummation will take place when everyone shall be subjected to punishment for his sins; a time which God alone knows, when he will bestow on each one what he deserves. We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through his Christ, may recall all his creatures to one end, even his enemies being conquered and subdued. For thus says Holy Scripture, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.’ And if the meaning of the prophet be less clear, we may ascertain it from the apostle Paul, who speaks more openly, thus: ‘For Christ must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet.’ But even if that unreserved declaration of the apostle do not sufficiently inform us what is meant by ‘enemies being placed under his feet,’ listen to what he says in the following words: “For all things must be put under him.’ What, then, is this ‘putting under’ by which all things must be made subject to Christ? I am of opinion that it is this very subjection by which we also which to be subject to him, by which the apostles also were subject, and all the saints who have been followers of Christ. For the word ‘subjection,’ by which we are subject to Christ, indicates that the salvation which proceeds from him belongs to his subjects, agreeably to the declaration of David, ‘Shall not my soul be subject unto God? From him cometh my salvation.'” “Seeing, then, that such is the end, when all enemies will be subdued to Christ, when death–the last enemy–shall be destroyed, and when the kingdom shall be delivered up by Christ (to whom all things are subject) to God the Father; let us, I say, from such an end as this, contemplate the beginnings of things.” “The apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, beings destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this.” De Prin. I, vi: 1, 2.
Unquestionably Origen, in the original Greek of which the Latin translation only exists, here used “aionion” (inaccurately rendered everlasting and eternal in the New Testament) in the sense of limited duration; and fire, as an emblem of purification, for he says:
“When thou hearest of the wrath of God, believe not that this wrath and indignation are passions of God; they are condescensions of language designed to convert and improve the child. So God is described as angry, and says that he is indignant, in order that thou mayest convert and be improved, while in fact he is not angry.” 13
Origen severely condemns those who cherish unworthy thoughts of God, regarding him, he says, as possessing a disposition that would be a slander on a wicked savage. He insists that the purpose of all punishment, by a good God, must be remedial. 14
Meaning of Aionios
In arguing that aionios as applied to punishment does not mean endless, he says that the sin that is not forgiven in the æon or the æon to come, would be in some one of the æons following. His argument that age (undoubtedly aion in the original, of which, unfortunately, we have only the Latin translation) is limited, is quite complete in “De Principiis.” This word is an age (saeculum, aion) and a conclusion of many ages (seculorum). He concludes his argument by referring to the time when, beyond “an age and ages, perhaps even more than ages of ages,” that period will come, viz., when all things are no longer in an age, but when God is all in all.15
He quotes the Scripture phrase “Forever and ever and beyond” (in saeculum et in saeculum et edhuc, forever and further), and insists that evil, being a negation, cannot be eternal.
Dr. Bigg sums up Origen’s views: “Slowly yet certainly the blessed change must come, the purifying fire must eat up the dross and leave the pure gold. One by one we shall enter into rest, never to stray again. Then when death, the last enemy, is destroyed, when the tale of his children is complete, Christ will ‘drink wine in the kingdom of his Father.’ This is the end, when ‘all shall be one, as Christ and the Father are one,’ when ‘God shall be all in all.'”
Origen never dogmatizes; rests largely on general principles; says that “justice and goodness are in their highest manifestations identical; that God does not punish, but has made man so that in virtue only can he find peace and happiness, because he has made him like himself; that suffering is not a tax upon sin, but the wholesome reaction by which the diseased soul struggles to cast out the poison of its disease; that, therefore, if we have done wrong it is good to suffer, because the anguish of returning health will cease when health is restored, and cannot cease till then. Again, that evil is against the plan of God, is created not by him but by ourselves; is therefore, properly speaking, a negation, and as such cannot be eternal. These are, in the main, Greek thoughts, their chief source is the Gorgias of Plato; but his final appeal is always to Scripture.”
Huet quotes Leontius as saying that Origen argued from the fact that aionion means finite duration, the limited duration of future punishment. Origen’s argument for the terminability of punishment was based on the meaning of this word aionios. 16 Surely he, a Platonist in his knowledge of Greek, should know its signification. 17
Origen on the Purifying Fire
On I Cor. 3:2, he says (Ag. Cels. V. xv.): The fire that will consume the world at the last day is a purifying fire, which all must pass through, though it will impart no pain to the good. In expressing eternity Origen does not depend upon aion, but qualifies the word by an adjective, thus:—ton apeiron aiona. Barnabas, Hermas, “Sibylline Oracles,” Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Theophilus and Irenæus all apply the word aionios to punishment, but two of these taught annihilation, and one universal salvation beyond aionion punishment.
God is a “Consuming Fire,” Origen thinks, because he “does indeed consume and utterly destroy; that he consumes evil thoughts, wicked actions, and sinful desires when they find their way into the minds of believers.” He teaches that “God’s consuming fire works with the good as with the evil, annihilating that which harms his children. This fire is one that each one kindles; the fuel and food is each one’s sins.” 18 “What is the meaning of eternal fire?” he asks: “When the soul has gathered together a multitude of evil works, and an abundance of sins against itself, at a suitable time all that assembly of evils boils up to punishment, and is set on fire to chastisement,” etc. Just as physicians employ drugs, and sometimes “the evil has to be burned out by fire, how much more is it to be understood that God our Physician, desiring to remove the defects of our souls, should apply the punishment of fire.” “Our God is a ‘consuming fire’ in the sense in which we have taken the word; and thus he enters in as a ‘refiner’s fire’ to refine the rational nature, which has been filled with the lead of wickedness, and to free it from the other impure materials which adulterate the natural gold or silver, so to speak, of the soul.” Towards the conclusion of his reply to Celsus, Origen has the following passage: “The Stoics, indeed hold that when the strongest of the elements prevails all things shall be turned into fire. But our belief is that the Word shall prevail over the entire rational creation, and change every soul into his own perfection; in which state every one, by the mere exercise of his power, will choose what he desires, and obtain what he chooses. For although, in the diseases and wounds of the body, there are some which no medical skill can cure, yet we hold that in the mind there is no evil so strong that it may not be overcome by the Supreme Word and God. For stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him; and this healing he applies, according to the will of God, to every man. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil, although as to the question whether it shall be so destroyed that it can never anywhere rise again, it is beyond our present purpose to say. Many things are said obscurely in the prophecies on the total destruction of evil, and the restoration to righteousness of every soul; but it will be enough for our present purpose to quote the following passage from Zephaniah,” etc. (Ag. Cels. VIII. 1xxii.)
Thus Origen interprets “fire” in the Bible not only as a symbol of the sinner’s suffering but of his purification. The “consuming fire” is a “refiner’s fire.” It consumes the sins, and refines and purifies the sinner. It burns the sinner’s works, “hay wood and stubble,” that result from wickedness. The torture is real, the purification sure; fire is a symbol of God’s service, certain, but salutary discipline. God’s “wrath” is apparent, not real. There is no passion on his part. What we call wrath is another name for his disciplinary process. God would not tell us to put away anger, wrath (Origen says) and then be guilty himself of what he prohibits of us. He declares that the punishment which is said to be by fire is understood to be applied with the object of healing, as taught by Isaiah, etc. (13:16; 47:14,15; 10:17). The “eternal fire” is curative.
Origen on Gehenna
Gehenna and its fires have the same signification: “We find that what was termed ‘Gehenna’ or ‘the Valley of Ennom,’ was included in the lot of the tribe of Benjamin, in which Jerusalem also was situated. And seeking to ascertain what might be the inference from the heavenly Jerusalem belonging to the lot of Benjamin, and the Valley of Ennom, we find a certain confirmation of what is said regarding the place of punishment, intended from the purification of such souls as are to be purified by torments, agreeably to the same,–‘the Lord cometh like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifies of silver and of gold.'” Ag. Cels., VI. xxvi.
Views of “Foolish Christians” on Fire
In reply to the charge of Celsus that Christians teach that sinners will be burnt up by the fires of judgment, Origen replies that such thoughts had been entertained by certain foolish Christians, who were unable to see distinctly the sense of each particular passage, or unwilling to devote the necessary labor to the investigation of Scripture. And perhaps, as it is appropriate to children that some things should be addressed to them in a manner befitting their infantile condition, to convert them, so such ideas as Celsus refers to are taught.” But he adds that “those who require the administration of punishment by fire” experience it “with a view to an end which is suitable for God to bring upon those who have been created in his image.” In reply to the charge of Celsus that Christians teach that God will act the part of a cook in burning men, Origen says,–“not like a cook but like a God who is a benefactor of those who stand in need of discipline of fire.” V. xv, xvi.
Origen declares that sinners who are “incurable” are converted by the threat of punishment. “As to the punishments threatened against the ungodly, these will come upon them after they have refused all remedies, and have been, as we may say, visited with an incurable malady of sinfulness. Such is our doctrine of punishment; and the instruction of this doctrine turns many away from their sins.” 19
Pamphilus and Eusebius in their “Apology for Origen” quote these words from him: “We are to understand that God, our physician, in order to remove those disorders which our souls contract from various sins and abominations, uses that painful mode of cure, and brings those torments of fire upon such as have lost the health of the soul, just as an earthly physician in extreme cases subjects his patients to searing or burning abnormal tissues.”
But Origen always makes salvation depend on the consenting will; hence he says, (De Prin. II, i:2), “God the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all his creatures through the indescribable plan of his Word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than to which the motives of his own mind led him.”
Origen teaches that in the final estate of universal human happiness there will be differing degrees of blessedness. After quoting I Thess. 4:15-17, he says: “A diversity of translation and a different glory will be given to every one according to the merits of his actions; and every one will be in that order which the merits of his work have procured for him.”
Mosheim and Robertson
Mosheim thus expresses Origen’s views: “As all divine punishments are remedial and useful, so also that which divine justice has inflicted on corrupted souls, although it is a great evil, is nevertheless designed for improvement in its tendency, and should conduct them to blessedness. For the tiresome conflict of opposite inclinations, the onsets of the passions, the pains and sorrows and other evils arising from the connection of the mind with the body, and with a perceptive soul, may and should excite the captive soul to long for the recovery of its lost happiness, and lead it to concentrate all its energies in order to escape from its misery. For God acts like a physician, who employs harsh and bitter remedies, not only to cure the diseased, but also to induce them to preserve their health and to avoid whatever might impair it.”20
The candid historian Robertson gives an accurate statement of Origen’s eschatology, with references to his works, as follows: “All punishment, he holds, is merely corrective and remedial, being ordained in order that all creatures may be restored to their original perfection. At the resurrection all mankind will have to pass through a fire; the purged spirits will enter into Paradise, a place of training for the consummation; the wicked will remain in the ‘fire,’ which, however, is not described as material, but as a mental and spiritual misery. The matter and food of it, he says, are our sins, which, when swollen to the height, are inflamed to become our punishment; and the outer darkness is the darkness of ignorance. But the condition of these spirits is not without hope, although thousands of years may elapse before their suffering shall have wrought its due effect on them. On the other hand, those who are admitted into Paradise may abuse their free will, as in the beginning, and may consequently be doomed to a renewal of their sojourn in the flesh. Every reasonable creature-even Satan himself-may be turned from evil to good, so as not to be excluded from salvation.” 21
Notwithstanding Robertson’s doubt, expressed elsewhere in his history, whether Origen taught the salvation of “devils,” Origen’s language is clear. He says: “But whether any of these orders who act under the government of the Devil will in a future world be converted to righteousness or whether persistent and deeply rooted wickedness may be changed by the power of habit into nature, is a result which you yourself, reader, may approve of;” but he goes on to say that in the eternal and invisible worlds, “all those beings are arranged according to a regular plan, in the order and degree of their merits; so that some of them in the first, others in the second, some even in the last times, after having undergone heavier and severer punishments, endured for a lengthened period, and for many ages, so to speak, improved by this stern method of training, and restored at first by the instruction of the angels, and subsequently by the powers of a higher grade and thus advancing through each stage to a better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal, having traveled through, by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers. From which, I think, this will appear to follow as an inference that every rational nature may, in passing from one order to another, go through each to all, and advance from all to each, while made the subject of various degrees of proficiency and failure according to its own actions and endeavors, put forth in the enjoyment of its power of freedom of will.” 22
The “Dictionary of Christian Biography”
Says the “Dictionary of Christian Biography:” Origen “openly proclaims his belief that the goodness of God, when each sinner shall have received the penalty of his sins, will, through Christ, lead the whole universe to one end.” “He is led to examine into the nature of the fire which tries every man’s work, and is the penalty of evil, and he finds it in the mind itself–in the memory of evil. The sinner’s life lies before him as an open scroll, and he looks on it with shame and anguish unspeakable. The Physician of our souls can use his own processes of healing. The ‘outer darkness’ and Paradise are but different stages in the education of the great school of souls, and their upward and onward progress depends on their purity and love of truth. He who is saved is saved as by fire, that if he has in him any mixture of lead the fire may melt it out, so that all may be made as the pure gold. The more the lead the greater will be the burning, so that even if there be but little gold, that little will be purified. The fire of the last day, will, it may be, be at once a punishment and a remedy, burning up the wood, hay, stubble, according to each man’s merits, yet all working to the destined end of restoring man to the image of God, though, as yet, men must be treated as children, and the terrors of the judgment rather than the final restoration have to be brought before those who can be converted only by fears and threats. Gehenna stands for the torments that cleanse the soul, but for the many who are scarcely restrained by the fears of eternal torments, it is not expedient to go far into that matter, hardly, indeed, to commit our thoughts to writing, but to dwell on the certain and inevitable retribution for all evil. God is indeed a consuming fire, but that which he consumes is the evil that is in the souls of men, not the souls themselves.” (Dr. A. W. W. Dale.)
Translation of Origen’s Language on
Crombie’s translation (Ante-Nicene Library, Edinburgh, 1872) thus renders Origen: “But as it is in mockery that Celsus says we speak of ‘God coming down like a torturer bearing fire’ and thus compels us unseasonably to investigate words of deeper meaning, we shall make a few remarks. The divine Word says that our ‘God is a consuming fire’ and that ‘He draws rivers of fire before him;’ nay, that he even entereth in as ‘a refiner’s fire, and as a fuller’s herb’ to purify his own people. But when he is said to be a ‘consuming fire’ we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God. And we assert that they are wickedness and the works which result from it, and which, being figuratively called ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ God consumes as a fire. The wicked man, accordingly, is said to build up on the previously laid foundation of reason, ‘wood, and hay, and stubble.’ If, then, any one can show that these words were differently understood by the writer, and can prove that the wicked man literally builds up ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,’ it is evident that the fire must be understood to be material, and an object of sense. But if, on the contrary, the works of the wicked man are spoken of figuratively, under the names of ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,’ why does it not at once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word ‘fire’ is to be taken, so that ‘wood’ of such a kind should be consumed? For the Scripture says: “The fire shall try each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work be burned, he shall suffer loss.’ But what work can be spoken of in these words as being ‘burned,’ save all that result from wickedness?” Ag. Cels: IV. xiii; xciv.
One of the unaccountable mysteries of religious thinking is that all Christians should not have agreed with Origen on this point. “God is Love;” love, which from its nature can only consume that which is harmful to its object,–Man, and not man himself.
Again, “If then that subjection be good and favorable by which the Son is said to be subject to the Father, it is an extremely rational and logical inference to deduce that the subjection also of enemies which is said to be made to the Son of God, should be understood as being also remedial and useful; as if, when the Son is said to be subject to the Father, the perfect restoration of the whole of creation is signified, so also, when enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the salvation of the conquered and the restoration of the lost is in that understood to consist. This subjection, however, will be accomplished in certain ways, and after certain training, and at certain times; for it is not to be imagined that the subjection is to be brought about by the pressure of necessity (lest the whole world should then appear to be subdued to God by force), but by word, reason and doctrine; by a call to a better course of things; by the best systems of training; by the employment also of suitable and appropriate threatenings, which will justly impend over those who despise any care or attention to their salvation and usefulness.” (De Prin. III, v). “I am of opinion that the expression by which God is said to be ‘all in all,’ means that he is ‘all’ in each individual person. Now he will be ‘all’ in each individual in this way: when all which any rational understanding cleansed from the dregs of every sort of vice, and with every cloud of wickedness completely swept away, can either feel, or understand, or think, will be wholly God; and when it will no longer behold or retain anything else than God, but when God will be the measure and standard of all its movements, and thus God will be ‘all,’ for there will no longer be any distinction of good and evil, seeing evil nowhere exists; for God is all things, and to him no evil is near. So, then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be reestablished in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that, when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, he who alone is the one good God becomes to him ‘all,’ and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but he himself is ‘all in all.’ And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be ‘all in all.'” Thus the final restoration of the moral universe is not to be wrought in violation of the will of the creature: the work of ‘transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all,” no “soul or rational existence is compelled by force against the liberty of his own will.” (DePrin. III, vi.)
Again: “Let us see now what is the freedom of the creature, or the termination of its bondage. When Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, then also those living things, when they shall have first been made the kingdom of Christ, shall be delivered, along with the whole of that kingdom, to the rule of the Father, that when God shall be all in all, they also, since they are a part of all things, may have God in themselves, as he is in all things.” Origen regarded the application to punishment of the word aionios, mistranslated everlasting, as in perfect harmony with this view, saying that the punishment of sin, “though ‘aionion,’ is not endless.” He observes further: “The last enemy, moreover, who is called death, is said on this account (that all may be one, without diversity) to be destroyed that there may not be anything left of a mournful kind, when death does not exist, nor anything that is adverse when there is no enemy. The destruction of the last enemy, indeed, is to be understood not as if its substance, which was formed by God, is to perish, but because its mind and hostile will, which came not from God, but from itself, are to be destroyed. Its destruction, therefore, will not be its non-existence, but its ceasing to be an enemy, and (to be) death. And this result must be understood as being brought about not suddenly, but slowly and gradually, seeing that the process of amendment and correction will take place imperceptibly in the individual instances during the lapse of countless and unmeasured ages, some outstripping others, and tending by a swifter course towards perfection, while others again follow close at hand, and some again a long way behind; and thus, through the numerous and uncounted orders of progressive beings who are being reconciled to God from a state of enmity, the last enemy is finally reached, who is called death, so that he also may be destroyed and no longer be an enemy. When, therefore, all rational souls shall have been restored to a condition of this kind, then the nature of this body of ours will undergo a change into the glory of the spiritual body.”
In “Contra Celsum” (B.VIII.), Origen says: “We assert that the Word, who is the Wisdom of God, shall bring together all intelligent creatures, and convert them into his own perfection, through the instrumentality of their free will and of their own exertions. The Word is more powerful than all the diseases of the soul, and he applies his remedies to each one according to the pleasure of God–for the name of God is to be invoked by all, so that all shall serve him with one consent.”
Mercy and Justice Harmonious
The heresy that has wrought so much harm in modern theology, that justness and goodness in God are different and hostile attributes was advocated, Origen says, by “some” in his day, and he meets it admirably (De Prin. II, v:1-4), by showing that the two attributes are identical in their purpose. “Justice is goodness,” he declares. “God confers benefits justly, and punishes with kindness, since neither goodness without justice, nor justice without goodness, can display the dignity of the divine nature.”
Origen’s Grand Statement
Origen argues that God must be passionless because unchanging. Wrath, hatred, repentance, are ascribed to him in the Bible because human infirmities require such a presentation. Punishment results from sin as a legitimate consequence, and is not God’s direct work. In the Restitution God’s wrath will not be spoken of. God really has but one passion–Love. All he does illustrates some phase of this divine emotion. He declares that with God the one fixed point is the End, when God shall be all in all. All intelligent work has a perfect end. Of Col. 1:20 and Heb. 2:19, he says: Christ is “the Great High Priest, not only for man but for every rational creature.” In his Homilies on Ezekiel, he says: “If it had not been conductive to the conversion of sinners to employ suffering, never would a compassionate and benevolent God have inflicted punishment.” Love, which “never faileth,” will preserve the whole creation from all possibility of further fall; and “God will be all in all,” forever.
Note.–Celsus seems to have been the first heathen author to name the Christian books, so that they were well-known within a century of our Lord’s death. We, undoubtedly, have every objection, advanced by him against Christianity, preserved in Origen’s reply. He not only attacks our faith on minor points, but his chief assaults are directed to show that the new religion is not a special revelation; that its doctrines are not new; that it is not superior to other religions; that its doctrines are unreasonable; that if God really spoke to men, it would not be to one small nation, in an obscure corner; that the miracles (though actual occurrences) were not wrought by divine power; that Jesus was not divine, and did not rise from the dead; that Christianity is an evolution. He took the same view as Renan, Strauss and modern “Rationalists,” charging the supposed appearance of Jesus after his crucifixion to the imaginings of “a distracted woman,” or to the delusions of those who fancied what they desired to see. Celsus sometimes selected the views of unauthorized Christians, as when he charged that they worshipped Christ as God. Origen’s reply proves that Christ was held to be divine, but not Deity. He says: “Granted that there may be some individuals among the multitude of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Savior is the most High God; we do not hold with them, but rather believe him when he says: “The Father who sent me is greater than I.” Had Christians then held Christ to be God, he could not have said this. Celsus was the father of “Rationalism,” and Origen the exponent of a reverent and rational Christian belief.
1 Eusebius Eccl. Hist. VI. Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Vol. IV, pp. 224-231, contains quite a full sketch of Origen’s life, though as he was not canonized he is only embalmed in a foot note.
Origen and Josephus
This post is the first of a series on Origen and Josephus. The question I’m pursuing is, what can Origen tell us about the famous references to Jesus and his brother James, a.k.a., James the Just, in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews?
Here is the latter of the two references, followed by Origen’s own three references to what Josephus had to say about James and Jesus.
Antiquities 20.9.1 §200-203
But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ [adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou], whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.17.
And this James is the one whom Paul says he saw in the epistle to the Galatians, saying: But I did not see any other of the apostles except James the brother of the Lord. And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ [adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou]. And the wonderful thing is that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.
Origen, Against Celsus 1.47.
For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer [Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless-being, although against his will, not far from the truth-that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus called Christ [adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou],–the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure.
Origen, Against Celsus 2.13.
But at that time there were no armies around Jerusalem, encompassing and enclosing and besieging it; for the siege began in the reign of Nero, and lasted till the government of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ [adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou], but in reality, as the truth makes clear, on account of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The simplest inference from Origen’s work is that by his time, the present reference to James and Jesus in Antiquities 20 was in existence and had prompted some Christian(s) to impute to Josephus the view that the war with Rome was punishment for the execution of James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” The premise here is that this view is much likelier to have been imputed to Josephus if his works mentioned this James than if his works did not mention him at all.
It’s possible that Antiquities 20 in Origen’s time contained no mention of this James, and that Christians on their own had developed traditions about how Josephus mentioned and praised James – to the extent of having Josephus attribute the destruction of Jerusalem to his execution. But a far better explanation for such traditions is that they were built upon certain elements in the current account, where Josephus recounts how the execution of Christ’s brother was punished, in a small way and by other human beings; and where Josephus states that some fair-minded Jews regarded the execution as unjust and sought a way to rectify the wrong. These “seeds” could build eventually into the tradition found in Origen, namely that Josephus witnessed to a severe punishment from God and to the fact that the Jews themselves knew the punishment to be just.
Such an account as exists today in Antiquities 20 must have gladdened Christians, some of whom would have felt that Josephus was a possible secret friend (or eventual convert) in a hostile world. Early Christians made such claims about Joseph of Arimathea, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, etc.
We can see the tradition building in this manner:
If Christians made up the traditions about Josephus without the current passage, proposed reconstructions of what Josephus originally wrote have little power to explain the later traditions. For instance, it’s doubtful that an original Josephan reference to “the brother of Jesus, son of Damneus” (this Jesus being the high priest who succeeds Ananus in the above-quoted passage) could have prompted a full-fledged belief that Josephus had extolled James the brother of Jesus. It seems far more likely that the later Christian traditions about Josephus’ attitude toward James started building whenever there appeared a Josephan reference to the Christian James.
When we ask what Origen can tell us about Josephus, an important issue is whether Origen provides actual citations, or some other witness to the text of Josephus.
It’s an open question whether Origen actually had a copy of Antiquities. He tells us that it was composed of twenty books and that the 18th book contained a passage about John the Baptist (Ant. 18.5.2). But he does not purport to quote that passage and his summary does not contain much detail; in fact what he does say of it seems to contradict the passage as it currently stands. He refers twice to the “two books on the Antiquities of the Jews”, but the content that he refers to is actually found in another work by Josephus, the two-volume Against Apion (see Against Celsus 1.16 and 4.11). And he imputes to Josephus a view about the destruction of Jerusalem that does not appear in Antiquities. The passage about James contains nothing, of course, about the war, but many other passages in Antiquities do contain the Jewish historian’s view about what caused that calamity (see e.g., Antiquities 20.8.5).
What is going on here? Could Origen have had a copy of Antiquities and still imputed that view to Josephus? What kind of reason would he have? Some scholars have suggested that Origen confused the account of James’ death in Josephus, which mentions a small punishment, with that of the second-century church historian Hegesippus, who wrote around the year 170 that Jerusalem’s destruction followed “immediately” upon the death of James. But that seems unlikely to me if Origen was familiar with the latter text or simply knew that it, or other Christian texts, contained the tradition about the war as punishment. Likewise, if Origen had a copy of Antiquities, he would have been even less likely to attribute the Christian traditions to Josephus, a Jewish historian.
Some have argued that Origen knew of or possessed a copy of one of Josephus’ works in which said views about James and the war had been inserted. But I doubt that new views were added to copies of Josephus’ works, partly because the copies we have show no sign of such an insertion, and chiefly because I do not see why many Christians at this time period would have bothered copying an immense work that was available through other means; this was not yet the time when all of Europe’s manuscripts were in Jewish or Christian hands and monks copied them.
I don’t know how many scrolls a work like Antiquities would have filled, or how long it would have taken anyone to transcribe or research it. Christians coming across references to Christian figures in large works would be less likely, I think, to copy the works whole than to copy the references and/or hand out their contents from memory.
Even today on Google you can find innumerable instances of the Christian references in Josephus’ works sooner than you will find the works in their entirety, though of course the latter is nonetheless very easy due to modern technology. That would not have been true in antiquity.
It would be the rare Christian who was interested enough in the entirety of Josephus’ works, and wealthy enough, to own full copies. Origen does not appear interested – in all his works he mentions Josephus only those few times already mentioned.
I think it’s likelier that Christians copied both Ant. 20 and, in their own manuscripts, imputed Christian views to Josephus; the Christian community must have talked and written about what non-Christians were saying just as interestedly as it does today. Origen, rather than working entirely from memory when reporting Josephus, probably had Christian manuscripts in front of him in which he found both references to Antiquities 20 and original commentary.
Origen might or might not have been able to confirm that such views were absent from Josephus’ known works. Perhaps he simply believed what the Christian writings implied or stated, namely that Josephus at some point in his life, and not necessarily in the works still known to Origen over a century later, had written such things. Origen does not, after all, state that anyone could look up Josephus’ views on James and the war, though he encourages his readers to look up what Josephus does say in Against Apion.
A similar process seems to have occurred in the next century, when Eusebius reported that Josephus attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the execution of James. Eusebius purports to quote Josephus, but against his usual practice he does not name the work or chapter:
Josephus at any rate did not hesitate to testify this also through his writings, in which he says: But these things happened to the Jews as vengeance for James the just, who was the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. For the Jews killed him even though he was a most just man. (Eusebius, History of the Church 2.23.20)
This is a very close match with Origen’s words in Against Celsus 1.47, quoted in Part 1 of this blog series. It seems that Eusebius is using Origen as a source. Eusebius then reproduces the Ant. 20 passage directly, naming the correct work and chapter; in this way, he preserved both Josephus and what Origen said about him. This would be in keeping with a common human tendency to harmonize and preserve (inoffensive) traditions rather than choose exclusively among them. And he, like the Christians of the second century (as I argue), copied Ant. 20 and transmitted in his own manuscripts the other traditions about Josephus.
Whatever Origen is referring to, he probably had it in front of him, if only for the general reason that writings about James and Jesus would not have escaped being passed around the Christian community. But there is a more specific indication that he is quoting rather than paraphrasing from memory, and we’ll get to that in Part 3.
Each of the three times that Origen refers to what Josephus wrote about James, he uses the phrase adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou. This is an exact match with the current text of Ant. 20 – rendered in William Whiston’s translation, quoted in Part 1 of this series, as “brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. More striking still is that Origen uses it each time when referring to what Josephus actually said. When offering what Josephus should have said, Origen’s language about Christ consists of these phrases: “Christ who was a prophet,” “not accepting Jesus as Christ,” and “conspiracy against Jesus.” When offering his own opinion about whose death caused the war, Origen refers to “Jesus Christ the Son of God.”
The situation with James is similar. Origen elsewhere identifies him by other means and in fact tends to reproduce whatever term is used by the writer he is referring to – for example by referring to Paul’s words about James and reproducing Paul’s phrase, “the brother of the Lord.” Origen does seem to report twice that Josephus called James “the Just”, which of course is not in Antiquities and may indicate what was in the developed tradition that served as Origen’s source. That scenario makes some sense, because a tradition that saw Josephus as ascribing great righteousness to James would naturally imagine him as employing the great address, James the Just.
It has been argued that Iesou tou legomenou Christou (“Jesus who was called Christ”) could be a Christian phrase because, though absent from the writings of the church fathers preceding Origen, it is found in the New Testament. The exact form of the phrase that Josephus and Origen use is not in the New Testament, but we do find slightly different forms. In Matthew 1:16, Iesou ho legomenos Christos (RSV translation, “Jesus the one called the Christ”) culminates the author’s famous genealogy, and in John 4:25 it appears without the name of Jesus, as an abstract reference to the Messiah, on the lips of the Samaritan woman during her interview with Christ. In Matthew 27:17 and 27:22, Pilate twice uses another form, Iesou ton legomenon Christon (in the RSV, “Jesus who is called Christ”). I am working without a knowledge of Greek, but a simple search of the Greek New Testament for legomenos, legomenon and legomenou turns up 22 references to names like Jesus Christ, Simon Peter, Thomas Didymus, Jesus Justus, etc., and place names like Golgotha. The same search in the longer Antiquities turns up 33 references, also including both personal and place names.
It is, in short, a common way of talking about people, and not just for a historian. Origen writes elsewhere (see Against Celsus 1.66 and 4.28) about the fact that Jesus is called “the Christ”; and Justin Martyr (First Apology, chapter 30) refers to Jesus as one whom Christians “call Christ.” This indicates that Christians, no less than a Jewish historian, could speak in an abstract tone about what Jesus was called.
However, when Origen refers to Josephus, he uses the exact words from Ant. 20. And he uses the same phrase in two separate works written years apart, so something in his mind always connects Josephus with the phrase. We have, in short, a number of indications that Origen is quoting something – either independent Christian writing, a Christian interpolation into the full work, or the original passage in the full work. As I’ve argued, it’s unlikely that he had the full work on hand, so he was probably quoting one or more independent Christian writings containing developed traditions about Josephus and the war.
How well, then, does Origen serve as a witness to the text of Ant. 20? Does the second-hand nature of his witness mean that he is possibly misrepresenting the text as it stood in his time? That is possible, but I’ll turn in Part 4 to the possible trajectories for interpolations and an authentic text.
Having found that Origen uses a phrase exactly like one in Antiquities 20, it is natural to ask if someone took his phrase and put it there. That indeed is one possible trajectory, and comparing it with other possible ones is our next task.
There are three basic scenarios.
1. An interpolation into Ant. 20 takes place after Origen.
An early interpolation is placed into one of Josephus’ works (e.g., Wars of the Jews). This interpolation uses convincingly non-Christian language, including a phrase about Christ that resembles some references [by non-Christian characters] to Christ in the NT, and a way of identifying James (without an honorific) that is unattested in Christian literature. This interpolation contains or gives rise to a tradition about Josephus’ admiration for James the Just. For some reason the interpolation, which does not appear in surviving manuscripts, is not preserved. But Origen picks up the phrases of the interpolation and attests to the tradition about Josephus, probably doing so second-hand. A new interpolation is then made into Ant. 20, prompted by Origen’s witness and based on his or the original interpolator’s phrasing. The interpolator does not try to restore, from Origen’s words, the putative Josephan discourse about James and the war; he chooses instead to interpolate a few words into an already standing sentence in Ant. 20, one which tells of a man who shares with James the Just a death by stoning, a commonly occurring first name, and possibly a brother bearing another such first name (depending on what is proposed for Josephus’ original composition). The interpolator is not dissuaded by any differences between the James in Ant. 20 and the Christian leader about whom many traditions have probably accrued (e.g., in Hegesippus). He simply believes that Josephus wrote in Ant. 20 about James the Just without recognizing him or knowing that his brother was actually Jesus Christ (against Origen’s testimony that Josephus knew who James the Just was). Or he intends to deceive others into accepting this bare reference as authentic and valuable – even though it does little to corroborate Origen’s story or his insistence that Jesus should have been Josephus’ main subject when searching for what caused the war. This interpolation is accepted widely and survives, eventually migrating into all the manuscripts.
2) An interpolation into Ant. 20 takes place before Origen.
Soon after the publication of Antiquities, a Christian scribe chooses to interpolate a few words into an already standing sentence in Ant. 20, one which tells of a man who shares with James the Just a death by stoning, a commonly occurring first name, and possibly a brother bearing another such first name (depending on what is proposed for Josephus’ original composition). The interpolator is not dissuaded by any differences between the James in Ant. 20 and the Christian leader for whom he probably has other traditions (if he did not himself invent the man). He simply believes that Josephus wrote in Ant. 20 about James the Just without recognizing him or knowing that his brother was actually Jesus Christ. Or he intends to deceive others into accepting this reference as authentic. He chooses language that will look like the authentic writing of a non-Christian: a phrase about Christ that closely resembles the speech of some non-Christians in the recently appearing Gospel of Matthew; and a way of identifying James (without an honorific) that is unattested in Christian literature. This interpolation is accepted widely, eventually migrating into all the manuscripts. It gives birth to Christian traditions about Josephus’ admiration for James the Just. Origen attests to these traditions and reproduces the phrases of the interpolation, probably doing so second-hand.
3) No interpolation takes place.
Josephus writes in Antiquities 20 about James and a certain Jesus “who was called” Christ. His short reference gives birth to Christian traditions about Josephus’ admiration for James the Just. Origen attests to these traditions and reproduces the phrases of the interpolation, probably doing so second-hand.
It should be noted that the first two options are not yet complete, because making them so would take us far afield from the topic at hand – Origen’s bearing on the Josephus question. But we can at least point to what is missing – and there are a few things, other than the lengthier explanations that would be needed for the various implausible items I’ve highlighted in each option.
Option #1 must also make a plausible case for the first of its two interpolations. This involves finding a good place for it in Josephus’ works, proposing the interpolator’s intention, describing how he changed the text, and giving some explanation for how and why all the subsequent manuscripts returned to the text as we see it today, presumably without any of the changes leaving a trace.
If option #1 is written without that prior interpolation, the scenario grows simpler in one sense, but another problem returns. The prior interpolation offered a simple way to explain the existence of Origen’s tradition about Josephus as well as each one of its details; without the interpolation we would need another solution (see Part 1).
We would also lose a simple explanation for Origen’s un-Christian way of identifying James. Origen’s accounts seem to credit Josephus with referring to James both as “brother of Jesus who was called Christ” and “the Just.” That is easily explained if Origen got the first phrase from an authentic or authentic-sounding passage in Josephus, and got the second one from a Christian tradition that interpreted Josephus as admiring James for being a just man. But if Origen had neither Ant. 20 nor a prior interpolation, then it becomes difficult to explain why he does not simply credit Josephus with using “James the Just” and leave it at that, instead of also invoking a phrase that would not express Josephus’ admiration and that would certainly not express Origen’s own attitude toward James. Indeed as Peter Kirby notes in his essay, “Testimonium Flavianum”, we lack another instance in ancient literature where an admiring Christian, when referring to James not in passing but as his subject, identifies James as “brother of Jesus.”
Finally, the first two scenarios must describe how the interpolator interacted with the original text of Ant. 20 – that is, how he regarded or disregarded the exact words that he found, and how plausibly he was able to add and delete words. This can be particularly complicated for Ant. 20, where we find a larger non-Christian story that is integral to Josephus’ narrative; it cannot easily be lifted wholesale out of the book as a Christian forgery. At best we are looking at an editing of an already standing sentence. Once that editing process is laid out, we would need a plausible explanation for how all of the changed or deleted elements were lost in the manuscript record.
What all three options are missing as I’ve written them out is a full defense of a proposed original text. The first two options do not even propose a particular original, and would need something like, “brother of Jesus, son of Damneus.” It goes without saying that the original needs to be explained as plausibly Josephan. In the case of the Damneus proposal it would be good to have a prior instance where Josephus refers to two brothers in like manner. A plausible original might be constructed, but one cannot be assumed.
Option #3 proposes that the current text is the original, and we have spent some time already looking at the plausibility of the phrase, “Jesus who was called Christ” (see Part 3). We found the construction to be plausibly Christian or Josephan, and a case for interpolation needs some probability that the construction cannot be Josephan.
Three other issues tend to be raised when this text is disputed as the original:
1. Would Josephus identify a man by his brother?
2. Would he place the brother’s name first?
3. Would he mention Jesus and his moniker without some previous fuller introduction?
Let’s turn briefly to a few verses from Josephus’ work.
Kirby cites Wars of the Jews 2.12.8 §247, where Josephus writes, “After this Caesar sent Felix, the brother of Pallas, to be procurator of Galilee.” Josephus refers to Felix as someone’s brother (he does so again in Ant. 20.7.1 §137), and never refers to Felix in the more typical convention as someone’s son. Felix’s brother Pallas is not mentioned before or after in the work, and Josephus does not even tell us that Pallas is “called” anything.
Josephus refers 25 times in Whiston’s translation of Antiquities to a man as “brother of” someone else. A case possibly similar to Jesus and James is in Ant. 18.9.1 §314, where Josephus introduces two brothers who were without a father; he refers shortly afterwards to one of them as “Anileus, the brother of Asineus” (Ant. 18.9.5 §342). But the most conspicuous example is Aaron, “the brother of Moses” (e.g., Ant. 20.10.1 §225), who is never known anywhere in Antiquities by a family relation other than his brother.
Indeed the James that Paul meets in Galatians 1:19 is one such man who lived in Josephus’ own time. He was known within his circle and probably to the public, not as the son of a named father, but as the brother of the man who began the sect in which he, James, was a leader.
As for placing the family relation first, Josephus does so commonly.Bernard Muller provides the following examples:
Wars 2.21.1 §585
Wars 6.8.3 §387
Ant. 5.8.1 §233
Ant. 10.5.2 §82
Ant. 11.5.1 §121
What we find in Antiquities 20 is characteristic of Josephus. The reader is left to decide which of the three trajectories is best.
Part 5 will be devoted to the Testimonium Flavianum.
Can Origen tell us anything about the famous reference to Christ in Ant. 18.3.3 §63-64, the Testimonium Flavianum? I think so, though what follows is surely indirect evidence. First, the passage in question:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
Origen says that Josephus did not believe “in Jesus as the Messiah,” which sounds as if Josephus has said enough to rule out the possibility. Origen says that Josephus admitted the link between the war and the righteousness of James “against his will,” which again suggests that Josephus has made clear that his will was non-Christian. Often it’s argued that Origen knew this about Josephus simply by reading the phrase, “Jesus who was called Christ.” But there is nothing derogatory about the phrase; and if Matthew, Justin and Origen himself could be Christians and refer to Jesus as one who is called Christ, then so could Josephus. The later traditions about Josephus’s admiration for James could surely have been taken to the next step, wherein Josephus was regarded as having a similar or better attitude toward one who was greater than James. Origen wants to take that next step, but why did not he or his predecessors do so? Perhaps it was simply common knowledge that Josephus was a Jewish historian who had never converted. But that did not ultimately prevent traditions about Josephus to proceed onward to his conversion.
Origen insists that Josephus “ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet.” He seems to presuppose that Josephus knew about the death. Now this could merely indicate Origen’s confidence that Josephus, at least as a Jewish historian, and particularly as one who knows of a Jesus “called Christ,” must have known about his execution. That is perfectly possible, but again we return to the probability that Origen did not have the full texts of Josephus on hand. From where, then, would he attain his confidence that Josephus could have written that Jesus was executed by the Jewish people, just as James was? If Origen observed that Josephus had merely named Christ in connection to James, why does Origen seem confident that Josephus knew more?
I suggest that Origen did witness Josephus mentioning the execution of Christ in an original form of the Testimonium, one that reached him second-hand. The Testimonium would have provided Origen with Josephus’ only thoughts on Christ – thoughts which made it clear that Josephus was not a Christian but which suggested to Origen that Josephus could be criticized for not even calling Christ a “prophet” or attributing the war to the “conspiracy” against him. The Testimonium’s phrase “wise man” might well have prompted Origen’s desire to see the acclamation of “prophet”; and the phrase, “at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us”, could evoke the Gospel imagery of a conspiracy.
In any case, whatever form of the Testimonium that Origen knew could not yet contain Christian-sounding phrases, because those would not have allowed Origen any certainty that Josephus did not accept Christ. Such phrases must have been inserted in copies unknown to Origen or postdating him, and these became the seeds of still later traditions about Josephus becoming a Christian. Probably Origen did find the phrase “called Christ” or its equivalent, given the statement that the tribe of Christians is named after the man. (Later, traditions about Josephus developed to the point that he became a Christian, as attested in the Testimonium’s phrase, “He was the Christ.”) Whatever he did find did not affirm Christ even as a prophet, so Origen chose not to quote it in his refutation of Celsus.
To be sure, this is all indirect evidence. When an author cites another, we have direct evidence of what the other says. When an author speaks about what another has not said, we have only indirect evidence that something deemed to be insufficient was said; it may be that nothing was said.
Due to all the arguments here offered, however, I am confident that such was not the case with Josephus and Jesus.
What do YOU think ?
Submit Your Comments For Posting Here
Date:06 Feb 2004Time:08:37:17
“It took nearly 2000 years for the physical sciences to return to the level of knowledge of the physical world known to the Ionian Greeks, recovering from the suppression that started with Sparta and ended with the Roman Catholic Church. Modern philosophy has yet been able to achieve the broad reach that it enjoyed within the Ionian culture and its greatest Christian teacher; Origenes.” – Shawn Murphy – www.origenes2000.org
Date:16 Mar 2004Time:15:30:07
As to the phrase this generation shall not pass, my opinion is that Mannassass caused the first desolation, and that Jeremiah as an eye witness to josiah’s last revival and subsequent decline was quoted by Jesus when he referred to the phrase known by us. This makes Jeremiah about 5 years old, at the start, at the fall about 36 years old.
Date: 16 Mar 2006
We that hold to the Knowledge of truth, the word of God in Christ Jesus know that the old world was destroyed by God in &0A.D.. All christians was delieved from the great warth of the Lamb. We know all men and women where saved by faith of God in Our Lord Jesus Chrsit.
Everyone was born again of water and Spirit (Jews and Gentiles). We know that Jesus Christ came the second time (70A.D.) in the clouds for salvation and all the see did see him, even those that pieced him. and there was wailing and gashing of teeth. Only those that where saved was left behind and all others perish, all where cased into the lake of fire.
All men with there women and chidren where saved from the second death, the lake of fireand under the New Testament in the preious blood of Christ. All we see today is all men and women, have become disobeyed to the New Testament, law of liberty. Many have fallen from grace. God will not make another coverant with man. The New Testament is God’s everlasting with all men in Christ Jesus. The Lord God Almighty and Lamb, everlating Father will not stop those that want to leave him.
We that stay faithfull to him (Christ)in this new heaven and earth without a sea, labour to be where he is, in all the glory of the Heavenly Father.