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Origen De Principiis by Origen

Chapter V.--That the World Took Its Beginning in Time.

1. And now, since there is one of the articles of the Church which is held principally in consequence of our belief in the truth of our sacred history, viz. that this world was created and took its beginning at a certain time, and, in conformity to the cycle of time decreed to all things, is to be destroyed on account of its corruption, there seems no absurdity in re-discussing a few points connected with this subject. And so far, indeed, as the credibility of Scripture is concerned, the declarations on such a matter seem easy of proof. Even the heretics, although widely opposed on many other things, yet on this appear to be at one, yielding to the authority of Scripture.

Concerning, then, the creation of the world, what portion of Scripture can give us more information regarding it, than the account which Moses has transmitted respecting its origin? And although it comprehends matters of profounder significance than the mere historical narrative appears to indicate, and contains very many things that are to be spiritually understood, and employs the letter, as a kind of veil, in treating of profound and mystical subjects; nevertheless the language of the narrator shows that all visible things were created at a certain time. But with regard to the consummation of the world, Jacob is the first who gives any information, in addressing his children in the words: |Gather yourselves together unto me, ye sons of Jacob, that I may tell you what shall be in the last days,| or |after the last days.| If, then, there be |last days,| or a period |succeeding the last days,| the days which had a beginning must necessarily come to an end. David, too, declares: |The heavens shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old as doth a garment: as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end.| Our Lord and Saviour, indeed, in the words, |He who made them at the beginning, made them male and female,| Himself bears witness that the world was created; and again, when He says, |Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass away,| He points out that they are perishable, and must come to an end. The apostle, moreover, in declaring that |the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God,| manifestly announces the end of the world; as he does also when he again says, |The fashion of this world passeth away.| Now, by the expression which he employs, |that the creature was made subject to vanity,| he shows that there was a beginning to this world: for if the creature were made subject to vanity on account of some hope, it was certainly made subject from a cause; and seeing it was from a cause, it must necessarily have had a beginning: for, without some beginning, the creature could not be subject to vanity, nor could that (creature) hope to be freed from the bondage of corruption, which had not begun to serve. But any one who chooses to search at his leisure, will find numerous other passages in holy Scripture in which the world is both said to have a beginning and to hope for an end.

2. Now, if there be any one who would here oppose either the authority or credibility of our Scriptures, we would ask of him whether he asserts that God can, or cannot, comprehend all things? To assert that He cannot, would manifestly be an act of impiety. If then he answer, as he must, that God comprehends all things, it follows from the very fact of their being capable of comprehension, that they are understood to have a beginning and an end, seeing that which is altogether without any beginning cannot be at all comprehended. For however far understanding may extend, so far is the faculty of comprehending illimitably withdrawn and removed when there is held to be no beginning.

3. But this is the objection which they generally raise: they say, |If the world had its beginning in time, what was God doing before the world began? For it is at once impious and absurd to say that the nature of God is inactive and immoveable, or to suppose that goodness at one time did not do good, and omnipotence at one time did not exercise its power.| Such is the objection which they are accustomed to make to our statement that this world had its beginning at a certain time, and that, agreeably to our belief in Scripture, we can calculate the years of its past duration. To these propositions I consider that none of the heretics can easily return an answer that will be in conformity with the nature of their opinions. But we can give a logical answer in accordance with the standard of religion, when we say that not then for the first time did God begin to work when He made this visible world; but as, after its destruction, there will be another world, so also we believe that others existed before the present came into being. And both of these positions will be confirmed by the authority of holy Scripture. For that there will be another world after this, is taught by Isaiah, who says, |There will be new heavens, and a new earth, which I shall make to abide in my sight, saith the Lord;| and that before this world others also existed is shown by Eccelesiastes, in the words: |What is that which hath been? Even that which shall be. And what is that which has been created? Even this which is to be created: and there is nothing altogether new under the sun. Who shall speak and declare, Lo, this is new? It hath already been in the ages which have been before us.| By these testimonies it is established both that there were ages before our own, and that there will be others after it. It is not, however, to be supposed that several worlds existed at once, but that, after the end of this present world, others will take their beginning; respecting which it is unnecessary to repeat each particular statement, seeing we have already done so in the preceding pages.

4. This point, indeed, is not to be idly passed by, that the holy Scriptures have called the creation of the world by a new and peculiar name, terming it katabole, which has been very improperly translated into Latin by |constitutio;| for in Greek katabole signifies rather |dejicere,| i.e., to cast downwards, -- a word which has been, as we have already remarked, improperly translated into Latin by the phrase |constitutio mundi,| as in the Gospel according to John, where the Saviour says, |And there will be tribulation in those days, such as was not since the beginning of the world;| in which passage katabole is rendered by beginning (constitutio), which is to be understood as above explained. The apostle also, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, has employed the same language, saying, |Who hath chosen us before the foundation of the world;| and this foundation he calls katabole, to be understood in the same sense as before. It seems worth while, then, to inquire what is meant by this new term; and I am, indeed, of opinion that, as the end and consummation of the saints will be in those (ages) which are not seen, and are eternal, we must conclude (as frequently pointed out in the preceding pages), from a contemplation of that very end, that rational creatures had also a similar beginning. And if they had a beginning such as the end for which they hope, they existed undoubtedly from the very beginning in those (ages) which are not seen, and are eternal. And if this is so, then there has been a descent from a higher to a lower condition, on the part not only of those souls who have deserved the change by the variety of their movements, but also on that of those who, in order to serve the whole world, were brought down from those higher and invisible spheres to these lower and visible ones, although against their will -- |Because the creature was subjected to vanity, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected the same in hope;| so that both sun, and moon, and stars, and angels might discharge their duty to the world, and to those souls which, on account of their excessive mental defects, stood in need of bodies of a grosser and more solid nature; and for the sake of those for whom this arrangement was necessary, this visible world was also called into being. From this it follows, that by the use of the word a descent from a higher to a lower condition, shared by all in common, would seem to be pointed out. The hope indeed of freedom is entertained by the whole of creation -- of being liberated from the corruption of slavery -- when the sons of God, who either fell away or were scattered abroad, shall be gathered together into one, or when they shall have fulfilled their other duties in this world, which are known to God alone, the Disposer of all things. We are, indeed, to suppose that the world was created of such quality and capacity as to contain not only all those souls which it was determined should be trained in this world, but also all those powers which were prepared to attend, and serve, and assist them. For it is established by many declarations that all rational creatures are of one nature: on which ground alone could the justice of God in all His dealings with them be defended, seeing every one has the reason in himself, why he has been placed in this or that rank in life.

5. This arrangement of things, then, which God afterwards appointed (for He had, from the very origin of the world, clearly perceived the reasons and causes affecting those who, either owing to mental deficiencies, deserved to enter into bodies, or those who were carried away by their desire for visible things, and those also who, either willingly or unwillingly, were compelled, (by Him who subjected the same in hope), to perform certain services to such as had fallen into that condition), not being understood by some, who failed to perceive that it was owing to preceding causes, originating in free-will, that this variety of arrangement had been instituted by God, they have concluded that all things in this world are directed either by fortuitous movements or by a necessary fate, and that nothing is within the power of our own will. And, therefore, also they were unable to show that the providence of God was beyond the reach of censure.

6. But as we have said that all the souls who lived in this world stood in need of many ministers, or rulers, or assistants; so, in the last times, when the end of the world is already imminent and near, and the whole human race is verging upon the last destruction, and when not only those who were governed by others have been reduced to weakness, but those also to whom had been committed the cares of government, it was no longer such help nor such defenders that were needed, but the help of the Author and Creator Himself was required to restore to the one the discipline of obedience, which had been corrupted and profaned, and to the other the discipline of rule. And hence the only-begotten Son of God, who was the Word and the Wisdom of the Father, when He was in the possession of that glory with the Father, which He had before the world was, divested Himself of it, and, taking the form of a servant, was made obedient unto death, that He might teach obedience to those who could not otherwise than by obedience obtain salvation. He restored also the laws of rule and government which had been corrupted, by subduing all enemies under His feet, that by this means (for it was necessary that He should reign until He had put all enemies under His feet, and destroyed the last enemy -- death) He might teach rulers themselves moderation in their government. As He had come, then, to restore the discipline, not only of government, but of obedience, as we have said, accomplishing in Himself first what He desired to be accomplished by others, He became obedient to the Father, not only to the death of the cross, but also, in the end of the world, embracing in Himself all whom He subjects to the Father, and who by Him come to salvation, He Himself, along with them, and in them, is said also to be subject to the Father; all things subsisting in Him, and He Himself being the Head of all things, and in Him being the salvation and the fulness of those who obtain salvation. And this consequently is what the apostle says of Him: |And when all things shall be subjected to Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject to Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.|

7. I know not, indeed, how the heretics, not understanding the meaning of the apostle in these words, consider the term |subjection| degrading as applied to the Son; for if the propriety of the title be called in question, it may easily be ascertained from making a contrary supposition. Because if it be not good to be in subjection, it follows that the opposite will be good, viz., not to be in subjection. Now the language of the apostle, according to their view, appears to indicate by these words, |And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him,| that He, who is not now in subjection to the Father, will become subject to Him when the Father shall have first subdued all things unto Him. But I am astonished how it can be conceived to be the meaning, that He who, while all things are not yet subdued to Him, is not Himself in subjection, should -- at a time when all things have been subdued to Him, and when He has become King of all men, and holds sway over all things -- be supposed then to be made subject, seeing He was not formerly in subjection; for such do not understand that the subjection of Christ to the Father indicates that our happiness has attained to perfection, and that the work undertaken by Him has been brought to a victorious termination, seeing He has not only purified the power of supreme government over the whole of creation, but presents to the Father the principles of the obedience and subjection of the human race in a corrected and improved condition. If, then, that subjection be held to be good and salutary 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 salutary 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.

8. 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. In a word, we men also, in training either our slaves or children, restrain them by threats and fear while they are, by reason of their tender age, incapable of using their reason; but when they have begun to understand what is good, and useful, and honourable, the fear of the lash being over, they acquiesce through the suasion of words and reason in all that is good. But how, consistently with the preservation of freedom of will in all rational creatures, each one ought to be regulated, i.e., who they are whom the word of God finds and trains, as if they were already prepared and capable of it; who they are whom it puts off to a later time; who these are from whom it is altogether concealed, and who are so situated as to be far from hearing it; who those, again, are who despise the word of God when made known and preached to them, and who are driven by a kind of correction and chastisement to salvation, and whose conversion is in a certain degree demanded and extorted; who those are to whom certain opportunities of salvation are afforded, so that sometimes, their faith being proved by an answer alone, they have unquestionably obtained salvation; -- from what causes or on what occasions these results take place, or what the divine wisdom sees within them, or what movements of their will leads God so to arrange all these things, is known to Him alone, and to His only-begotten Son, through whom all things were created and restored, and to the Holy Spirit, through whom all things are sanctified, who proceedeth from the Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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