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Of the Veracity of Origen.
AFTER having indulged your indolence, as you say, eighteen months, I am happy to find that, notwithstanding your opinion of my manifest insufficiency as your antagonist, (which, you observe, left you at liberty to indulge" your "indolence without seeming to desert" your "cause,”)* there was something in my Letters to you that has at length roused you to make a reply. To me this is a very high gratification; for, my predominant disposition not being indolence, I rejoice in any circumstance that contributes to keep the subject of our controversy in view; being confident, that nothing but a continued attention to it is requisite to a speedy decision in favour of the cause that I have espoused, which I cannot help considering as of the greatest importance to the cause of Christianity itself.
I should have been more pleased if you had pursued the discussion of every article in debate between us; but, as you have thought proper to confine yourself chiefly to what relates to the orthodoxy of the primitive Jewish church, I must do the same, first considering what you have advanced in order to impeach the veracity of Origen, and then the testimonies of Epiphanius and Jerome, as evidences of the existence of a whole church of orthodox Jews at Jerusalem after the time of Adrian.
"In the second book against Celsus," (to use your own words,)" near the beginning of the book, Origen asserts of the Hebrew Christians of his own times, without exception, that they had not abandoned the laws and customs of their ancestors, and that for that reason they were called Ebionites." This is also the appellation that he gives to all the Jewish Christians, of whom he makes two classes, one of them believing the miraculous conception of Jesus, and the other denying it; but neither of them admitting his divinity.
This testimony of such a person as Origen to the Unitarianism of all the Jewish, Christians in his time, goes so near to prove the Unitarianism of the great body of Jewish
Christians, and consequently of the Christian church in general, in the time of the apostles, that I do not wonder at your wishing to set it aside; and it is so full and express, that you have no other way of doing it than by maintaining that this most respectable man knowingly asserted an untruth. You even add that you would not take his evidence upon oath. Indeed, this writer was so circumstanced, in consequence of living so near Judæa, and sometimes in it, that he could not but have known whether there was any considerable body of Jewish Christians who believed the doctrine of the Trinity, and who had abandoned the customs of their ancestors, or not; so that, if what he asserted be an untruth, it must have been a wilful one, and (as serving the purpose of his argument) a deliberate one.
There are, however, some circumstances attending this charge of a wilful falsehood against Origen, that I should have thought might have made you pause before you had advanced it so confidently as you have done.
The general character of Origen makes the supposition highly improbable; for he was a man not more distinguished by his genius and learning, (in which he had confessedly no superior in the age in which he lived,) than he was by his integrity and his firmness in the cause of Christian truth; and when, in a subsequent age, his opinions were deemed to be heretical, his greatest enemies left his moral character unimpeached. In such esteem was he universally held, that, as Eusebius informs us, it was generally said of him, "As was his speech, such was his conduct; and as was his conduct, such was his speech:"+ his eloquence and the virtues of his life corresponding to each other. And yet this is the man whose evidence, because it makes against yourself, you declare that you would not admit. upon oath.
Had the testimony of Origen to the Unitarianism of the great body of Jewish Christians not been well founded, it was greatly to the purpose of many of the early writers (and particularly of Eusebius, who maintained the novelty of the Unitarian doctrine) to have refuted it. But neither Eusebius nor any other ancient writer, the most zealous for orthodoxy, and the most hostile to Origen on other accounts, has attempted it. Might it not have been expected
* Remarks, pp. 28, 30. (P.) Tracts, pp. 353, 355.
† Οἷον γεν τον λογον τοιονδε φασι τον τροπον και οἷον τον τροπον τοιονδε και τον λόγον ETTEDEIXYUTO. Euseb. Hist. L. vi. C. iii. P. 261. (P.)
of Eusebius in particular, that after he had copied Origen's account of the Ebionites, by dividing them into two classes, just as he had done, (viz. some of them believing the miraculous conception, and others not,) he would have added that, notwithstanding what Origen had said to the contrary, many of them had abandoned the law of Moses, and were believers in the divinity of Christ? But he has not done any such thing. He therefore must have known that he could not do it, and he was not disposed to tell a wilful lie in the case. Indeed, I am willing to think that few persons are so abandoned as to be capable of doing this.
With respect to this particular assertion concerning the state of the Jewish Christians in the time of Origen, it is so circumstanced, that, if he had even been capable of asserting a falsehood, this was the last that he would have had recourse to; because he was writing in a public controversy, in which he has insisted largely on this particular article, and insulted his adversary for his ignorance of a notorious fact. In this situation, he must have been nothing less than infatuated to have advanced what all his readers must have known to be false. A falsehood so circumstanced, and which must have been a wilful one, would have been so evidently ruinous to his credit, and so fatal to his cause, that he must have been a fool not to have seen it.
Besides, this particular circumstance, of the Christian Jews not abandoning the customs of their ancestors, was not of so much consequence to his general argument in defence of Christianity, but that he might very well have neglected it. Nothing, therefore, but a perfect confidence that what he did advance was true, could have led him to make any declaration on the subject.
What is more extraordinary still, you say, he himself contradicted his own assertion-at no greater distance than in the third section of the same book," where "the good father," as you ironically call him, "takes quite another ground to confute his adversary."* Certainly this must be thought to be, à priori, in the highest degree improbable.
I shall now consider this flagrant contradiction, by which this great man (for so all the world has ever called him) is supposed to confute himself, and so far to have lost all
• Remarks, p. 25. (P.) Tracts, p. 350.
character, that the Archdeacon of St. Alban's would not take his evidence upon oath; and I shall recite it in your own words.
"At no greater distance than in the third section of the same book, the good father takes quite another ground to confute his adversary. He insults over his adversary's ignorance, for not making the distinctions which he himself, in the allegation in question, had confounded. It is my present point,' says Origen, to evince Celsus's ignorance; who has made a Jew say to his countrymen, to Israelites believing in Christ, Upon what motive have you deserted the law of your ancestors? But how have they deserted the law of their ancestors, who reprove those who are inattentive to it, and say, Tell me, ye, &c.?' Then, after a citation of certain texts from St. Paul's epistles, in which the apostle avails himself of the authority of the law to inforce particular duties, which texts make nothing either for or against the Jew's assertion, that the Christians of the circumcision had abandoned their ancient laws; but prove only, that the disuse of the law, if it was actually gone into disuse, could not be deemed a desertion; because it proceeded not from any disregard to the authority of the lawgiver: after a citation of texts to this purpose, Origen proceeds in this remarkable strain: And how confusedly does Celsus's Jew speak upon this subject, when he might have said more plausibly, SOME of you have relinquished the old customs upon pretence of expositions and allegories. SOME again expounding, as you call it, spiritually, nevertheless observe the institutions of our ancestors. But SOME, not admitting these expositions, are willing to receive Jesus as the person foretold by the prophets, and to observe the law of Moses according to the ancient customs, as having in the letter the whole meaning of the spirit.'* In these words Origen con fesses all that I have alleged of him. He confesses, in contradiction to his former assertion, that he knew of three sorts of Jews professing Christianity; one sort adhered to the letter of the Mosaic law, rejecting all figurative interpretations; another sort admitted a figurative interpretation, con
-Και ὡς συγκεχυμενως γε ταυθ ̓ ὁ παρα τῷ Κελσῳ Ιεδαίος λεγει, δυναμενος πιθανώς τερον ειπειν, ότι ΤΙΝΕΣ μεν ήμων καταλελοίπασι τα εθη προφασει διηγήσεων και αλληγοριων ΤΙΝΕΣ δε και διηγεμενοι, ὡς επαγγέλλεσθε, πνευματικως, ουδεν ήττον τα πατρια τηρειτε· ΤΙΝΕΣ δε ουδε διηγέμενοι, βέλεσθε τον Ιησεν παραδέξασθαι ὡς προφητευθέντα, και τον Μωυσέως νομον τηρησαι, κατα τα πατρια· ώς εν τη λεξει έχοντες τον παντα τα TVEUμatos ver. [Horsley.] Origenis contra Ċelsum, L. ii. p. 59. Cantabrigiæ, 1658, 4to. (P.)
forming, however, to the letter of the precept: but a third sort (the first in Origen's enumeration) had relinquished the observance of the literal precept, conceiving it to be of no importance in comparison of the latent, figurative meaning."
This contains the whole of your curious reasoning, in which you suppose that Origen, in treating of the same subject, and in continuation of the same argument, has given you this pretence for impeaching his veracity, as you have done. But surely this writer, who must have known his own meaning, could not have imagined that he had really contradicted himself in two passages, not in different works written at different times, or in distant parts of the same work, (in which he might have forgotten what he had said in one of the passages, when he was writing the other,) but in the same work, the same part of the work, and in paragraphs so very near to each other. And I believe nobody before yourself ever imagined that there was any contradiction in them at all.
In the former he asserts, in general terms, without making any particular exception, that the Jewish Christians adhered to the customs of their ancestors; and in the latter, which almost immediately follows it, he says, that his adversary, who had asserted the contrary, would have said what was more plausible, (not what was true,) if he had said that some of them had relinquished their ancient customs, while the rest adhered to them; alluding, perhaps, to a few who had abandoned those customs, while the great body of them had not; which is sufficiently consistent with what he had said before. For inconsiderable exceptions are not regarded in general assertions. It would have been very extraordinary indeed, if no Jewish Christians whatever had abandoned the rites of their former religion, when in all ages some Jews, whether they became Christians or not, have done so. In like manner, it concerns me not, to assert that no individuals of the Jewish Christians embraced the doctrine of the Trinity, because my purpose is sufficiently answered if the great body of them, to whom the rest bore no sensible proportion, were Unitarians. And though there might be a few Jewish Christians who had deserted their former customs, which would have given Celsus a plausible pretence for making such a division of them as to make these one of
• Tracts, pp. 350–352.