Mercy And Judgment by Canon F.W. Farrar

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MERCY AND JUDGMENT

CHAPTER XI.

ORIGEN AND CHURCH COUNCILS.

"Nos quid Scriptura doceat novimus; conciliorum decreta si cum Scriptura non consentiunt merito rejicimus." — DIETELMAIR, De Decensu Christi ad Inferos, p. 22.

That Origen held the ultimate restitution of all mankind is freely admitted.

His view — which was only a part of one comprehensive philosophy — was as follows: - God's purpose in creation was good, and it is His will to restore His universe to its pristine order. Hence, since we have all sinned, we must all, more or less, suffer beyond the grave. But our sufferings are only intended as means to win us back. Their sole end and aim is our amelioration. Hence they are not "endless," though they are called aeonian.*(1) They may last for thousands of years, but they will terminate at last. After the intermediate state, after the burning of the world, after the rising of our heavenly bodies, will follow the condition of blessedness, which will be higher and lower in proportion to the purity of heart and knowledge of God to which we shall then have attained, and which will continue until we have reached our fulfillment. Such was the hope which Origen was led to entertain by his profound trust in God and his profound knowledge of Scripture. But he ever humbly admitted that only a few dim glimpses into the future were vouchsafed to us, so that it is well not to speak too much, but to praise God in the silence of the spirit.*(2)

*(1) onomazomenwn aiwniwn kolasewn. - C. Cels. iii. 499.

*(2) See Guerike, De Schol. Alex. ii. 162, and especially Redepenning, l. 183, ii. 447, where he refers to the numerous original passages.

Dr. Pusey, like Picus of Mirandola, Merilinus Genebrardus, and others before him, has quoted other passages and expressions which seem to adopt the current views. The fact that such passages can be adduced from Origen's writings is alone an overwhelming answer to many previous pages of Dr. Pusey's book. It shows that a use of the common scriptural expressions, and particularly of the word aionios, did not necessarily involve an acceptance of what Origen, like other great Fathers, regarded as the misinterpretation to which those expressions were subjected. "Origen," said St. Jerome , "was not a fool. He cannot urge direct contradictories."*(1) Such passages, as Petavius says, "either prove nothing whatever, or have no reference to mankind." As for the adjective aionios ("eternal"), which Origen applies to the fire of hell, it is nothing to the purpose. He might have called it so with reference to the devil; or have interpreted it in his own sense, since he always makes "eternal" mean "eternal in its own range," i.e. lasting until the Day of Judgment*(2); or again he might have said that the fire was "eternal," but that all who entered it were not doomed to remain therein for ever; or, once more, that though the penalty of "eternal fire" was incurred, it need not necessarily and in all instances be actually inflicted.

*(1) Jer. Apol. 2.

*(2) See Petav. De Aug. iii. vi. 12. "Atque nihil hoc genere defensionis levius est…Nam omnia fere loca quae a Merlino et Genebrardo ex Origene deprompta sunt, aut nihil efficient omnino aut ad hominess minime referuntur, velut quod inferorum ignem aeternum vocat Origenes, nihil hoc est," &c.

Origen, says Dr. Pusey, "laid down beforehand, as the rule of faith, 'that only was to be believed as truth which is in no way out of harmony with the ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.'"*(1) That he did so is a strong proof that he was well aware that the doctrine of restitution was "in no way out of harmony with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition."

*(1) De Princip. i. Praef. n. 2.

But then — it is urged — Pamphilus, St. Jerome, and others defended Origen on the ground that many of his opinions were only put forth unsystematically, speculatively, as opinions, "lest they should seem altogether unconsidered." Dr. Pusey, after Wetstein, shows that he often uses the phrases "perhaps," it seems to me," and similar expressions of uncertainty.*(1) In this Origen shows his wisdom. The wisest teachers regarding the future are those who repudiate untenable dogmatism, not those who themselves dogmatise. He held his opinions as opinions,*(2) and no one has a right to assert as being "of faith," matters that belong only to the range of probability, matters on which the Church has laid down no authoritative dogmas. Origen, in his doctrinal teaching, not only professed to be, but was — and was for centuries — regarded as a true son of the Church, of which he was also a most distinguished ornament, and he could not, therefore, have thought that he was transgressing any doctrinal teaching of the Church even when he went so far as to write that "he who is saved is saved through fire, that if, perchance, he has any alloy of lead in him, the fire may purge and melt it out, in order that all may be made pure gold."*(3)

*(1) "Quaesita tantum atque projecta ne penitus intractata viderentur." — JER. Ep. lix. Ad Avit.

*(2) "Certius tamen qualiter se habitura sit res scit solus Deus, et si qui Ejus per Christum et Spiritum Sanctum amici sunt." — ORIG. De Princip. I.

*(3) Orig. Hom. vi. in Exod.

Now surely it is a simple question of history — a question capable of final decision one way or the other — whether the ancient Church has ever categorically condemned the doctrine of Universalism, as it is expressed in this sentence. No loudness of mere assertion that she has condemned it can have a feather's weight in the discussion if, in point of fact, she has not.

And I undertake to prove that she has not so condemned it.

I will ask the reader carefully to bear in mind that this is a mere question of literary evidence which in no way affects me, or anything which I have said on the subject.

It in no way affects me (i) because I have never been able to embrace the dogma of Universalism, and (ii) because the only Councils of which the Church of England in any way acknowledges the authority are the first four Oecumenical Councils. Now no one has even pretended to say that one word was uttered against Origen, or one syllable decided against universal restoration, much less against the milder hope which repudiates the encroachments of popular religionism, at the Councils of Nice (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381), Ephesus (A.D. 431), or Chalcedon (A.D. 451).

It would indeed be strange if such had been the case. In the Council of Nice a prominent part was taken by Eusebius of Caesarea, the apologist of Origen; in the Council of Constantinople by St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Gregory of Nyssa, who, on the subject of restitution, leaned — the one somewhat indirectly, the other quite openly — to his eschatological opinions. The Council of Ephesus referred to the writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa (full as they are of Universalism) as the great bulwark of the Church against heresy!

At each, then, of the first three Great Councils, and probably at the fourth also, men were present and were received with honour, and held reputations for unblemished orthodoxy — men of whom some were canonized saints, and were regarded as bulwarks of the true faith — who on the subject of the final restitution of mankind agreed with Origen. But apart from this, let every unbiased reader observe the immense significance of the fact that Origen's views respecting Restorationism were perfectly well known, and were very widely shared even in the days of the Council of Nice. To St. Athanasius, for instance, as Patriarch of Alexandria, and as one who loved the name, quoted the writings, and admired the labours of Origen, his eschatological views were perfectly familiar, and it is certain that as a whole he did not approve of them; yet at no one of those Councils was the doctrine of endless punishment for any souls required as a matter of faith. Had the ancient Church regarded that doctrine as being so indisputable and so essential as many now suppose it to be, it is perfectly certain that they could not have been silent respecting it. The fact that the first four General Councils took no cognizance even of Universalism, though it was then widely prevalent, is an argument of overwhelming force in favour of those who maintain that even Universalism is permissible as a hope in the Christian Church, and that for nearly five centuries the Church never uttered respecting it any general and authoritative censure.

I have shown that in almost every age which has not fallen into "the deep slumber of decided opinions," — in the earliest ages, in the middle ages, in the dawn of the Reformation, in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, merciful views have been maintained which go much farther than those Catholic opinions which I have advocated. And yet I do not know of a single instance in which those views have been declared to be untenable, or in which those who have held them — being in some instances eminent bishops, archbishops, and theologians of our own and other Reformed Churches — have had their positions attacked or even threatened in consequence.*(1)

*(1) It need hardly be said that Mr. Maurice's loss of his professorship at King's College (in spite of the strenuous efforts of Bishop Wilberforce) was not due to any act of the English Church, but to the private decision of an irresponsible corporation. No one dreamt of disputing his position as Chaplain at Lincoln's Inn. He was subsequently appointed incumbent of Vere Street Chapel, and welcomed with enthusiasm as a religious teacher in the Professorship at Cambridge, to which he was appointed without protest.

It will of course be understood that I am not making the truth of any doctrine depend on the decision of Councils. I am only using the silence of the first four General Councils as evidence respecting the views of the Catholic Church as to what were, and what were not, regarded as open questions. The Church of England has expressly refused to bind herself by the decisions of any Council. She says, briefly and emphatically, that General Councils may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. The First Article of Henry VIII (1536) recognized the judgments of the first Four Councils against heresies, and in spite of the singularly contemptuous language about ecclesiastical gatherings used by the sainted president of the Second Oecumenical Council*(1), Cranmer in his Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum said that "we reverently accept the first four great Oecumenical Synods."

*(1) In the document signed by Cranmer and many bishops in the name of Convocation in 1536, the following words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus are quoted: "I think this…that all assemblies of bishops should be eschewed; for I have seen a good result of no synod, but an increase rather than a solution of evils; for love of controversy and ambition overcometh reason (think not that I write maliciously)." — BURNET, Hist. Of the Reform. App. iii. 5. Nor was this an isolated expression of his opinion penned in a passing fit of indignation. He repeats in verse what he has said in prose:

Oude ti pou sunodoisin omoqrono s essom egwge

chnwn h geranwn akrita marnamenwn

enq eri s , enqa moqo s te, kai aiscea krupta paroiqen

ei s ena dusmenewn cwron ageiromena. - Carm. X.

But if we "reverently accept" the first four, we do not in any way profess to be bound by the decisions of any others. Whether, therefore, Origen's Universalism was condemned by the Fifth General Council or by any number of provincial synods, is a purely literary question; for we recognize no ground whatever on which the ecclesiastics of the sixth century could claim any clearer illumination than those of the nineteenth. But, nevertheless, I maintain that it was no so condemned.

Do not let the reader be misled by the assertion that "Origenism" was condemned, or that "Origen" was condemned. That proves absolutely nothings as to this particular opinion; for this opinion was notoriously separable from Origenism. It was not what was meant by "Origenism". It was widely held by those who opposed Origen in everything else. If any one wishes to know what "Origenism" was, he was only to read the crude mass of fantastic opinions attributed to him in the canons of the "Home Synod". He will see at once that Universalism is a question which is barely so much as grazed — and that only by one single disputable word — in all those canons put together. I do not see how any one who has studied the literature of this controversy can fail to admit that "Origenism" meant primarily and mainly certain heterodox views about the mystery of the Trinity. It was these which were originally the question, and not Origen's eschatology — "the things which Origen had" (as Jerome asserts) "impiously said about the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."*(1) It was these asserted but unproved heresies which made Pachomius fling a volume of Origen into a river, and warn his monks against any study of his writings.*(2)

*(1) Jer. Apol. i.     

*(2) Acta Sanctorum, May 14. So far as I know, Pachomius (like Epiphanius) did not even allude to Origen's Restitutionism. The charge brought against Origen, &c., in the abjuration of the Popes is only that he adopted "Gentile fables" respecting God and all rational creatures. — Diurn. R. Pont. p. 312.

The reader may easily convince himself of this important fact if he will read Doucin's Histoire de l'Origenisme (1700). In that book from beginning to end there is no discussion of Origen's eschatology, and barely so much as an allusion to it.

The question of Universalism, as a general and independent hope for mankind alone, has never, so far as I am aware, been so much as submitted to any ancient or general council whatever. In cases where it has in some distant degree come under notice, it has always been mixed up with a multitude of other views, such as pre-existence, cycles of probation, the salvability of devils, and the insecure bliss of the saved. St. Augustine indeed asserts — without offering a shadow of proof — that "both for this and for other things, and most of all for the unceasing alternations of bliss and misery, &c., the Church has with reason rejected him (jure reprobavit Ecclesia)." But what is "this"? Not, as is often insinuated, the simple question of the ultimate salvation of all men, but for this Universalism together with the ultimate restoration of the fallen angels*(1). I am convinced that this addition to simple Universalism furnished the gravamen of the charge against Origen under this head*(2). I have shown already that as to simple Universalism St. Augustine uses language far more wavering and far less hostile than is generally acknowledged. Origen rested his opinion on this subject upon a number of texts, every one of which he quotes. It was on his part a perfectly loyal deduction from the oracles of God.*(3) If many of these are entirely beside the mark, the same is equally true of many of the texts urged on the other side. No one, I think who is at all acquainted with patristic exegesis will deny that, on the only principles of interpretation which were then recognized, the Fathers would have found it all but impossible to deny the relevancy and cogency of the texts on which the hopes of Origen were based.

*(1) This was a most undoubted part of Origen's system, and is always quoted by the ancients in connection with it. Jerome says that in one of his letters Origen repudiated as absurd the salvability of the devil (in Ruf. ii). This I cannot understand. If he ever did so his opinion must have changed.

*(2) Pascal clearly recognizes this fact. He says that the writings of Origen were condemned by several councils, and even by the Fifth General Council, as "containing heresies, and among others that of the reconciliation of demons at the Day of Judgment." — Provincial Letters, xvii. (De Soyres' edition, p. 365). What was then prominent in the minds of those Fathers who opposed Origen is obvious (see Epiphan. Ep. Ad Joan. Hierosol. 3; Theophilus, Paschal, 12; Jer. Ep. lix. Ad Avitum; Ep. lxi. ad Pammach.; Ep. Lxxv. Ad. Vigilant; adv. Pelag. i. 9; in Esaiam, xiv. 20; xxvii. 11; in Johan. iii. 6).

*(3) In different works Origen, in support of his eschatology, comments on Is. iv. 16; x. 17; xii. 1; xxiv. 22; xlvii. 14; Mic. vii. 9; Mal. iii. 3; Ps. xxx. 20; lxi. 2; cix. 1, 2; John x. 16; xvii. 21-23; Rom. xi. 32; I Cor. xv. 26, &c.

I do ask earnest attention to the fact that Epiphanius, who was the first to attach the name of "heretic" to the honoured name of Origen — a man in every respect his superior — does not mention his eschatology at all. Theophilus, eager as he was to injure Origen, does not say a word against his Restorationism as regards mankind, but only objects to the salvability of devils.*(1) The same is true of St. Jerome*(2), and Sulpicius Severus.*(3) Similarly in the remarks of Leo the Great*(4), in the Life of St. Saba by Cyril of Scythopolis, and even in Justinian's letter to the Home Synod, the prominent complaint is not against Origen's Universalism, but against his doctrine of the prae-existence of souls. Every fresh study of the original authorities only leaves on my mind a deeper impression that even in the fifth century Universalism as regards mankind was regarded as a perfectly tenable opinion.

*(1) Jer. Opp. i. 537 (ed. Vallars.), Mansi, Concil. iii. 971.

*(2) Jer. Ep. Xxxvi. (ad Vigilantium), and xxxviii. (ad Pammachium).

*(3) Sulp. Sev. Dial. i. 6, 7.

*(4) Leo, Ep. 35.

But Dr. Pusey says Universalism was separately condemned at the Synod of Diospolis (A.D. 415).

It would be a matter of very small consequence if it was; for all synods — which is saying a great deal — this is in every respect one of the weakest and least authoritative.

The Skynod of Diospolis was a mere meeting of fourteen country bishops at Lydda summoned to condemn Pelagius. There was not among them a single ecclesiastic with any great pretension to learning or eminence. Pelagius wrote in Latin, and the bishops only understood Greek. They were therefore unable to examine the writings which they were yet called upon to condemn. They were hoodwinked from to last by the "astute heresiarch." The unfortunate synod was even itself suspected of Pelagianism, since it recognized Pelagius as a member of the Catholic Church. It is impossible to read the story of this gathering of provincial clerics without a smile. It is impossible not to see that Pelagius was laughing in his sleeve at the good fathers who were not a match for him either in acuteness or in technical theological knowledge. His secret contempt for the incapacity of his judges breaks out when he promises to anathematize the holders of certain views if he may anathematize them "as fools, not as heretics". St. Jerome unceremoniously called it a synodus miscreabilis, and Neander says — very moderately — that those fourteen provincial bishops proceeded in an extremely superficial way.

However, such as it was, what took place as regards Origen in this "wretched synod" is simply this. Pelagius had taught "that in the Day of Judgment the wicked and sinners would not be spared; but would be burned up with eternal fires".*(1) This was charged against him as a heresy. His sole reply was that he meant it in the sense of Matt. xxv. 45, and that "if any one thought otherwise he [quoad hoc, of course] an Origenist." It is clear that much more must have passed; for a synod which could first entertain such a charge and then acquit the proposition of being heretical on such a defence, must have been incompetent indeed. But if Pelagius had tried, in his stern and gloomy doctrine, to represent as heretical and "Origenistic" the view of a "probatory fire" — of a punishment terminable for some, and even for the majority — "it is" (as Neander says) "doubtful whether the synod would have been so easily satisfied." Even the invidious and misleading word "Origenism" could not have frightened them out of these convictions. Nothing can show more decisively that the Church generally did believe in a terminable punishment for some, than the fact that Pelagius' words should have been brought before them as heretical. But if the authority of these fourteen accidental bishops — one of the very weakest and least influential synods which ever assembled — is to be taken as having the smallest importance as a condemnation of Origen in his heresies, then the same authority must be accepted as a rehabilitation of Pelagius in his heresies.

*(1) "In die judicii iniquis et peccatoribus non esse parcendum; sed aeternis eos ignibus esse exurendos." See supra, p. 283.

And this is to be described as an agreement of the East with the West in condemnation of Origen! We are to be overawed by the Synod of Diospolis, and to take no account of the fact that the two profoundest and most learned schools of Christian antiquity — the school of Alexandria and the school of Antioch — widely as they differed in other respects, yet agreed in holding wider hopes than are now held as regards the future of the lost!

For the condemnation of Origen in the East Dr. Pusey refers us to three other synods.

One is a synod of Alexandria, A.D. 401, consisting of Egyptian bishops, under the influence of Theophilus of Alexandria. In any case the opinion of such synods on dogmatic questions would be as indecisive as that of any diocesan synod in these days, especially if they were blindly following the lead of some one powerful bishop. But to say that it condemned "Origen" is to say nothing whatever as to the question now before us. The question which raged between Theophilus and the monks did not turn on Universalism at all, but was simply a question about Anthropomorphism (i.e. the question whether God was corporeal or spiritual), in which Origen was absolutely in the right, and Theophilus and his creatures hopelessly in the wrong.

Not a line exists to show that the synod condemned Origen's views about the future life. The same remark applies to the synods held by Epiphanius in Cyprus, and Anastasius in Rome*(1). The reader must be jealously on his guard against assertions that "Origenism" was condemned when they are meant to imply that the doctrine of man's final restoration was condemned. Restorationism, in every instance, was looked upon as a mere fractional element in a complex system of opinions with which it has not the least necessary connexion. And I repeat the remarkable fact that Epiphanius, though his narrow and bigoted literalism made him a tool in the hands of the bad Theophilus, yet, in all his assaults on Origen, says not a syllable against, and does not so much as barely name, the Restorationist dogma; while even Jerome, another hot denouncer of Origen, approached to that dogma far more nearly than those who quote his authority in order to condemn it. Origen's general opinions were "fagoted together by some malicious or quarrelsome readers of his works" in a way which would naturally mislead the ignorant and unsuspecting; and by his Universalism, when it was alluded to at all, was meant a notion that the devils would be saved, and that the lost would after long periods be delivered to try their fortunes again in various regions of the world.

*(1) Anastasius seems to have known nothing whatever about Origen (Ep. I. in Johan. Hierosol. A.D. 401) until he was stirred up by a Roman lady named Marcella, one of the widows who lived in constant communication with Jerome, who on his part had been stirred up by Epiphanius and Theophilus.

And Dr. Pusey is surely mistaken in supposing that these synods were effectual even against Origen's real errors. "No one," says Dr. Pusey, "any more uttered them. The Church had rest. No one maintained, however hesitatingly, what the Church had condemned." This style of confident assertion is, I venture to think, far too common among theologians, and in these sentences Dr. Pusey contradicts the most positive testimony of contemporary authorities. The "Church" had not in any true sense spoken; and thousands maintained, quite unhesitatingly, the doctrines which are asserted to have been condemned. If Dr. Pusey means that no one any longer held Restorationism, he is confuted at once by the testimonies of St. Augustine and St. Jerome that "plerique" and "quam plurimi" (Enchir. 112) held it. If he refers to other real or supposed errors of Oirgen, he contradicts the contemporary testimony of Sulpicius Severus, who says "Whether it were an error, as I think, or a heresy as is thought (by others), it not only could not be repressed by many animadversions of priests, but it would never have been able to spread so far, had it not increased by controversy."*(1) Writing on Eschatology, St. Jerome says, "Nor am I ignorant how wide a difference of opinion there is among men…about the promises respecting future things, how they ought to be received."*(2) The certainty that these opinions were held is, on Dr. Pusey's own premises, a decisive proof that (i) either they had never been condemned by the Church at all, or (ii) that any censure which had been passed was regarded as non-authoritative.

*(1) Sulp. Sev. Dial i. 3. See too Isidore, iv. Ep. 163, &c.

*(2) Jer. Proaem. In lib. xviii. in Esaiam. Gieseler says that (long after the date of these synods) "Origen's opinions as to the duration of future punishments was so general, even in the West, and among the opponents of Origen…that it had become entirely independent of his system." — Eccl. Hist. I. 85. He refers to Jer. in Gal. v. 22; Eph. iv. 16; Ambrosiaster in Eph. iii. 10. Doucin admits that up to the middle of the fourth century Origen was regarded as a high authority on all matters of faith. — Hist. De l'Origenisme, p. 102. Elsewhere he uses these remarkable words, "Pourvu qu'on l'eut de son cote, on se croyait sur d'avoir la verite, tant son temoignage paroissoit alors decisive sur le premier et le plus profound de nos mysteres," p. 2.

But before I leave these synods it may be worth while to glance at the circumstances in which they originated, and at the person who was their chief promoter.

The man who did more to blacken the name and memory of Origen, and to attach to him the stigma of heresy respecting the nature of Christ — heresy from the charge of which for two centuries the greatest Fathers of the Church had defended him, and which great and good men like St. Chrysostom entirely refused to endorse — was one of the worst prelates and one of the worst men who disgraced the early part of the fifth century. It was Theophilus of Alexandria.

This man began the unworthy career — which gained him from his contemporaries such names as "the Trimmer" and "the Turncoat," the "Money-mad" and "the Stone-worshipper"*(1) — by being an avowed Origenist. His change of opinion, if change it was, was due, according to general testimony, to physical terror and to private malice. I can find no ancient or modern author who has a word to say in his defence. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, and all the ancient authorities pronounce the most unfavourable verdict on his conduct and motives. Gibbon calls him "an active and ambitious prelate, who displayed the fruits of rapine in moments of ostentation," speaks of his "dissimulation and violence," and attributes his attacks on St. Chrysostom partly to jealousy of Constantinople, and partly to personal exasperation against St. Chrysostom.*(2) Neander says that "little dependence could be placed on his principles, for worldly interests and passions had more power over him than principles and rational convictions." Bishop Rust calls him "proud, revengeful, covetous, crafty, and turbulent."*(3) Gieseler stigmatizes him as "ambitious and violent."*(4)

*(1) o amfallax, o koqorno s (Palladius). The latter nickname, which was also given to Theramenes, means a buskin which fits either foot. Palladius (ap. Montfaucon), xiii. 20. o crusomanh s kai liqolatri s. - ST. ISIDORE OF PELUSIUM, i. p. 152.

*(2) Decline and Fall, iii. 186, ed Milman.

*(3) The Phenix, i.

*(4) Eccl. Hist. i. p. 366.

When Epiphanius, a man who was too dull of intellect to understand Origen, had attacked his views — not as to the future, but respecting the spiritual nature of God — at Jerusalem, Theophilus, then an Origenist, appeared on the scene as a mediator, and on one occasion he publicly called Epiphanius an heresiarch.

At the time the Egyptian monks were divided into two parties. The Nitrian monks were Origenists, and one of their leaders was the venerable Isidore, who at that time had great influence over Theophilus. They were for the most part men of some intelligence and some culture. The Scetic monks, on the other hand, were mostly rude and uneducated peasants, and they hated Origen as the chief enemy of their "crass and sensuous method of apprehending divine things,"*(1) which was known as Anthropomorphism. Their fleshly notions as to the divine essence and the image of God in man were simply due to ignorance; and in 399, Theophilus, in one of his Epiphany-programmes, made an inopportune attack upon them. This threw them into such fury that they rushed in savage crowds to Alexandria and threatened Theophilus with death. Thereupon, being a man "with whom prevarication and falsehood cost but little," he contrived to soothe them by the hypocritic words, "In you I behold the countenance of God,"*(2) and yielded to their ignorant demand that he "should condemn the godless Origen," — of whom he had hitherto been a recognized defender, and whose writings these Scetic monks had probably never read, and had not in any case the requisite culture to understand.

*(1) Neander, iv. 472, 473.

*(2) Sozomen, H. E. vii. II.

If that had been all, Theophilus would have been the last man to find any difficulty in repudiating an enforced assent. But two other events — both supremely discreditable to him — made him henceforth an avowed foe to the memory of Origen and to the doctrines which he himself had hitherto maintained.

i. One of these arose from pique. Among the Nitrian monks was Evagrius of Pontus, a hermit, a deacon, an ascetic writer of wide influence, a pupil of the two Saints, Macarius of Egypt and Macarius of Alexandria, and an ardent Origenist. But the leaders of these Origenist monks at this time were the four "tall brothers" — Dioscurus, Ammonius, Eusebius, and Euthymius. Forcing them against their will into the active service of the Church, Theophilus made Dioscurus Bishop of Hermopolis and two of his brothers "stewards" of his Church. A short experience filled these honest men with profound disgust for the greed and hypocrisy of the Patriarch, and they begged leave to return to their desert cells. Divining their real motive — which was that they might not defile their souls any longer by contact with his sins — Theophilus was filled with fury, and determined on revenge.

ii. This rage was enhanced by his quarrel with his former friend, the aged Isidore. Is Isidore, being superintendent of an almshouse at Alexandria, received from a wealthy widow a gift of a thousand gold pieces to buy clothes for poor Alexandrian women, but under the express condition of not mentioning it to the Patriarch, whose greed she feared. Theophilus discovered the secret, and, disguising his spleen under calumnies procured the deposition and excommunication of this old man of eighty, who fled for refuge to the Nitrian monks.*(1)

*(1) Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis, Dial. de Chrysost. (Opp. xiii. Ed. Montfaucon); and the same facts are implied by Sozomen, H. E. viii. 12.

Since both the "tall brothers" and Isidore were now under their protection, Theophilus began to attack them by sending among them Anthropomorphite monks, who charged them with holding "the blasphemous opinions of Origen," and by stirring up Jerome and Epiphanius against them. After getting the writings of Origen condemned by his plastic local bishops, he launched the Praefect of Egypt on the poor Eremites with an armed band; and not content with breaking up the holy and peaceful retreats in which for years they had lived with God, he pursued them by encyclical letters, "dictated by violent passion and malicious cunning,"*(1) when they had fled for refuge to the care of St. Chrysostom.

*(1) Neander, l. c.

On their arrival at Constantinople of St. Chrysostom behaved to them with kindness, but with caution; and endeavoured to reconcile them with Theophilus. The monks, however, appealed to the Emperor Arcadius and Eudoxia, who appointed a synod, with Chrysostom as its president, to judge Theophilus. Theophilus had thenceforth but one object, namely, the ruin of St. Chrysostom.

He stirred up Epiphanius to go on a second encroaching and meddlesome expedition, into St. Chrysostom's diocese, to carry with him the "decrees" of the provincial synod of Cyprus which Epiphanius had, on this occasion, convened to condemn "Origen" and he demanded that the Patriarch of Constantinople should both sign these decrees and dismiss from his protection the Nitrian monks.

Chrysostom very properly refused to do either, not choosing to betray wronged men to unjust vengeance, and thinking it a sin and a bad precedent "that a person of so great learning and piety as Origen, and who had been so serviceable to the Church, who lived 200 years before, whose books no Council had condemned, should now be condemned by a small packed synod of his professed enemies."*(1) Whereupon Epiphanius — instigated by Theophilus, by the Empress Eudoxia (a strange judge of Origen!), by some courtiers, and some licentious priests who Chrysostom had been obliged to punish — recited the decrees of this synod before the people, obliquely censuring Chrysostom himself. After which, coming to a better mind and a fuller knowledge of the whole question, and perhaps a little touched in conscience by a sense of misdoing, Epiphanius prudently retired, and died on his way home.

*(1) Bishop Rust, l. c. Doucin (Hist. De l'Origenisme, pp. 237, 266) expresses astonishment (as well as he may) that for three centuries no one but St. Jerome and Theophilus disturbed the supposed heresies of Origenism. It would indeed be strange if these heresies were really chargeable on Origen. But Theophilus had his reasons for abandoning Origenism, and in eschatology St. Jerome was more than half an Origenist. Socrates (H. E. iv. 26) says that up to the fourth century Origen's name was glorious throughout the world.

Meanwhile Theophilus, by incessant intrigues, was enabled (A.D. 403) to convene at Chalcedon the worthless Synod of the Oak, where, supported by some partisans of his own, "and three or four fellow-workmen, or rather fellow-apostates,"*(1) he deposed Chrysostom, not for Origenism, which was not so much as mentioned in his case, but for such faults as eating alone and despising hospitality. He had the further wickedness to use the Empress's hatred against the Patriarch to get him condemned for high treason. Driven from Constantinople, Chrysostom was immediately recalled amid the tumultuous joy of the people, in consequence of an earthquake which had terrified the conscience of Eudoxia. The following year, however, the machinations of Theophilus triumphed, and St. Chrysostom was driven out to exile and death (A.D. 404). Not content with having thus blighted the life of a saint of God, Theophilus pursued his memory in "an enormous and horrible volume,"*(2) where among other names he calls him "the enemy of mankind," "prince of the sacrilegious," and an "impure demon," and charitably wishes that, if possible, some further punishment adequate to his crimes may be inflicted upon him. St. Jerome had the strange meanness to translate this performance, at the request of Theophilus, from Greek into Latin! And Theophilus himself, who professed such turncoat zeal against the heresies of Origen, afterwards (410) ordained Synesius a bishop, though that singular person was well known as a maintainer of Origenist and semi-pagan opinions!*(3) But the difference was that in the case of Synesius Theophilus had no private vengeance to pursue, and his assault on Origenism had merely been "a convenient means of gratifying his private passions."*(4)

*(1) St. Isidore of Pelusium, i. Ep. 152.

*(2) Facundus Hermian. Defens. Vi. 5, apud Gibbon, iii. 189.

*(3) Synesius, Origenis studiosissimus; Pagi, Crit. Hist. In Ann. Baronii, p. 108.

*(4) Neander, iv. 489. "The dogma of Origen," says Pagi, "had many, and those the most celebrated, defenders…And Theophilus was privately a most diligent reader of Origen, whom he publicly abused, and whom, though dead, he first deprived of Church communion, and devoted to curse." — In Baronium, Ann. A.D. 410, p. 103.

Thus, then, the first burst of fury against Origen was due to the revenge of an "impious dissembler" — Theophilus; and to the votaries of an ignorant heresy — that of the Anthropomorphites; aided by the rage of an adulterous Empress — Eudoxia. And, after all, this fury left untouched the one doctrine which is now almost exclusively connected with the name and memory of the hapless Origen! Such were the persons and these the decisions which, according to Dr. Pusey, "secured the faith."

"Non tali dextra, non defensoribus istis!"

 

*** END OF CHAPTER XI ***

 

 

ch. 1 ch. 2 ch. 3 ch. 4 ch. 5 ch. 6 ch. 7 ch. 8 ch. 9 pt. 1 ch. pt. 2 ch. 10 ch. 11 ch. 12 ch. 13 ch. 14

ch. 15 ch. 16 Last Page of Mercy and Judgment


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