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    ORIGEN’S PART IN PAGANIZING THE CHURCH

    Of all the disciples of the new Platonic philosophy, Origen was by all means the greatest, both in learning, according to the popular standard, and in the position which he held in the church. His education was completed under Clement of Alexandria and Ammonius Saccas. At the age of eighteen he was advanced to the position of head of the catechetical school at Alexandria, succeeding Clement. Murdock says that “he was in general orthodox, according to the standard of that age,” which is not a very high rating. Killen rightly calls him “the father of Christian mysticism;” and Waddington says that he was the founder of the scholastic system of theology.SOOCC 52.1

    His direct teaching inculcated many errors; but his views in regard to the Scriptures tended to undermine the whole fabric of Christianity.SOOCC 53.1

    His idea was that “as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.” The “corporeal” sense, which is the simple meaning of Scripture, he did not wholly despise, but he built the most on the “psychical” sense, or the soul, and the “spiritual sense,” neither of which could be deduced from the words. This “spiritual” sense which Origen lauded was not that understanding of the Scriptures which the Holy Spirit alone can reveal, but that which was evolved solely by human speculation. It was arrived at by the method adopted by Ammonius in common with other pagan philosophers, of evolving some notion from one’s “inner consciousness,” and then making the Bible responsible for it. But we shall let Origen explain himself, as he does in the following lucid (?) passage:—SOOCC 53.2

    “But as there are certain passages of Scripture which do not at all contain the ‘corporeal sense’ (as we shall show in the following paragraphs), there are also places where we must seek only for the ‘soul,’ as it were, and ‘spirit’ of Scripture. And perhaps on this account the water vessels containing two or three firkins apiece are said to lie for the purification o the Jews, as we read in the Gospel according to John; the expression darkly intimating, with respect to those who are called (by the apostle) ‘Jews,’ secretly, that they are purified by the word of Scripture, receiving sometimes two firkins, i. e., so to speak, the ‘psychical’ and ’spiritual’ sense; and sometimes three firkins, since some have, in addition to those already mentioned, also the ‘corporeal’ sense, which is capable of (producing) edification. And six water vessels are reasonably (appropriate) to those who are purified in the world, which was made in six days—the perfect number.”—Origen de Principiis, book 4, chapter 1, section 12.SOOCC 53.3

    Of course, in order to get this “psychical” and “spiritual” sense out of the Bible, that is, to get out of it something that was never in it, much violence had to be done to the sacred record. Origen paved the way, not only for the reception of his vagaries, but for the utter disuse into which the Bible very soon fell, by boldly declaring that the Bible contains many falsehoods. In the following passage the italics are ours:—SOOCC 54.1

    “But since, if the usefulness of the legislation, and the sequence and beauty of the history, were universally evident of itself, we should not believe that any other thing could be understood in the Scriptures save what was obvious, the word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and offenses, and impossibilities, should be introduced into the midst of the law, and the history, in order that we may not, through being drawn away in all directions by the merely attractive nature of the language, either altogether fall away from the (true) doctrines, as learning nothing worthy of God, or, by not departing from the letter, come to the knowledge of nothing more divine. And this also we must know, that the principal aim being to announce the ‘spiritual’ connection in those things that are done, and that ought to be done, where the Word found that things done according to the history could be adapted to these mystical senses, he made use of them, concealing from the multitude the deeper meaning; but where, in the narrative of the development of supersensual things, there did not follow the performance of those certain events, which was already indicated by the mystical meaning, the scripture interwove in the history (the account of) some event that did not take place, sometimes what could not have happened; sometimes what could, but did not. And sometimes a few words are interpolated which are not true in their literal acceptation, and sometimes a larger number. And a similar practice also is to be noticed with regard to the legislation, in which is often to be found what is useful in itself, and appropriate to the times of the legislation; and sometimes also what does not appear to be of utility; and at other times, impossibilities are recorded for the sake of the more skillful and inquisitive, in order that they may give themselves to the toil of investigating what is written, and thus attain to a becoming conviction of the manner in which a meaning worthy of God must be sought out in such subjects.”—Ib., section 15.SOOCC 54.2

    This theory, it will be seen, makes the Scripture interpreter the sole judge of what is “worthy of God,” so that the ultimate authority is not the Scriptures, but the interpreter. But Origen thus continues in the next section:—SOOCC 55.1

    “It was not only, however, with the [Scriptures composed] before the advent [of Christ] that the Spirit thus dealt; but as being the same Spirit, and [proceeding] from the one God, He did the same thing both with the evangelists and the apostles,—as even these do not contain throughout a pure history of events, which are interwoven indeed according to the letter, but which did not actually occur. Nor even do the law and the commandments wholly convey what is agreeable to reason. For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.... And what need is there to say more, since those who are not altogether blind can collect countless instances of a similar kind recorded as having occurred, but which did not literally take place? Nay, the Gospels themselves are filled with the same kind of narratives; e. g., the devil leading Jesus up into a high mountain, in order to show him from thence the kingdoms of the whole world, and the glory of them. For who is there among those who do not read such accounts carelessly, that would not condemn those who think that with the eye of the body—which requires a lofty height in order that the parts lying (immediately) under and adjacent may be seen—the kingdoms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians, and Parthians, were beheld, and the manner in which their princes are glorified among men? And the attentive reader may notice in the Gospels innumerable other passages like these, so that he will be convinced that in the histories that are literally recorded, circumstances that did not occur are inserted. And if we come to the legislation of Moses, many of the laws manifest the irrationality, and others the impossibility, of their literal observance.”SOOCC 55.2

    Much more of a similar nature might be quoted, but this is sufficient to show Origen’s estimate of the Scriptures, and to indicate the nature of his interpretation. If the reader now recalls the statement of Mosheim, that “Origen unquestionably stands at the head of the interpreters of the Bible in this century,” he will know that the Bible was not very highly honored in the third century A. D.SOOCC 56.1

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