Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Origen on the Natural Law: Contra Celsum, Part II

WHEN IN ROME ACT AS THE ROMANS DO, and when in a country that worships and tends to crocodiles, one ought to worship and tend to crocodiles. So argued Celsus, the consummate positivist, who never met a human law he did not like, and never met a divine law he liked. Celsus demanded the comfort and the ease of the relative, and shunned the discomfort and discipline that came with belief in the Absolute. For Celsus, there was nothing greater than human law, and so he invoked Pindar's old saw:

Νόμος ὁ πάντων βασιλεύς
θνατῶν τε καὶ ἀθανάτων
ἄγει δικαιῶν τὸ βιαιότατον
ὑπερτάτᾳ χειρί.

Law, the king of all,
of mortals and immortals,
guides them as it justifies the utmost violence
with a sovereign hand.

[Pindar, fragment 169a] "Pindar," Celsus said, "appears to me correct in saying that law is king of all things." "Let us proceed to discuss this assertion," Origen enjoins. "What law do you mean to say, good sir, is 'king of all things?'"
If you mean those which exist in the various cities, then such an assertion is not true. For all men are not governed by the same law. You ought to have said that "laws are kings of all men," for in every nation some law is king of all. But if you mean that which is law in the proper sense, then it is this which is by nature "king of all things;" although there are some individuals who, having like robbers abandoned the law, deny its validity, and live lives of violence and justice.
Contra Cels., 5.40. Christians do not find themselves in Celsus's quandary. "We Christians," Origen states in a twist of Pindar's poetry, "have come to the knowledge of the law which is by nature 'king of all things,' and which is the same with the law of God, endeavor to regulate our lives by its prescriptions, having bidden a long farewell to those of an unholy kind." Contra Cels., 5.40.

Origen depicted in Parchment

Origen re-addresses this theme in the eighth book of his work against Celsus. In Chapter 26 of Book VIII, Origen discusses the laws that require the worship of demons, laws which Celsus insists the Christians ought to recognize. Origen resists such a demand, and once against invokes the natural moral law as his justification.
[W]hat are the laws in accordance with which Celsus would have us propitiate the demons? For if he means laws enacted in states, he must show that they are in agreement with the divine laws [Εἰ μὲν γὰρ κατὰ τοὺς κειμένους ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι, κατασκευαζέτω ὅτι συνᾴδουσι τοῖς θείοις νόμοις]. But if that cannot be done, as the laws of many states are quite inconsistent with each other, these laws, therefore, must of necessity either be no laws at all in the proper sense of the word, or else the enactments of wicked men; and these we must not obey, for 'we must obey God rather than men.' [εἰ δὲ τοῦτο μὴ δύναται οὐ γὰρ κἂν ἀλλήλοις ταὐτὰ λέγουσιν οἱ τῶν πολλῶν πόλεων νόμοι, δηλονότι οὐδὲ κυρίως νόμους ἢ φαύλων νόμους, οἷς οὐ πιστευτέον·πειθαρχεῖν γὰρ δεῖ μᾶλλον θεῷ ἢ ἀνθρώποις.]
Contra Cels., 8.26 (quoting Acts 5:29)

Origen recognizes that for many reasons, including prejudice, there are many that will not listen to the Christian Gospel, and the divine verities therein contained. He however invokes the natural law as a means of dialog with the pagan of good will.
[O]n the common principles of humanity, we endeavor to the best of our ability to convince them of the doctrine of the punishment of the wicked, and to induce even those who are unwilling to become Christians to accept that truth. And we are thus anxious to persuade them of the rewards of right living, when we see that many things which we teach about a healthy moral life are also taught by the enemies of our faith. For you will find that they have not entirely lost the common notions of right and wrong, of good and evil [τὰς κοινὰς ἐννοίας περὶ καλῶν καὶ αἰσχρῶν καὶ δικαίων <καὶ ἀδίκων>].
Contra Cels., 8.52. Celsus himself, indeed, does recognize the desirability of a common law that bound all men of Asia, Europe, Libya, Greeks, and Barbarians, "all to the uttermost ends of the earth." But he judges this impossible, and those who would advance the possibility of a universal law reaching across all men are living a pipe dream. "Any one who thinks this possible, knows nothing," Celsus insists. Origen disagrees, but to disabuse Celsus of this opinion would require lengthy argument. Origen, however, tries to put the argument in a nutshell.

Medallion Possibly Depicting Origen

Origen again begins with the notion that all men are endowed by reason, and will therefore come under one law. The Stoics, Origen notes, say that the strongest element, that is, fire, prevails. For the Christian, the strongest element is the Word. And "our belief is that the Word shall prevail over the entire rational creation, and change every soul into his own perfection." Contra Cels., 8.72. There is no evil that the divine Logos cannot overcome, as "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 with him." Contra Cels., 8.72. With respect to the restauration of all things, in Christ, the instaurare omnia in Christo, Origen is exceedingly optimistic and ebullient, and the words that follow seem almost to suggest a universal salvation, that notion of apokatastasis which has been discountenanced by the Church.
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 arise 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 . . . .
Contra Cels., 8.72. Origen relies upon the prophetic testimony of the Jewish prophet Zephaniah and his eschatalogical vision: "Prepare and rise early . . . ." The confusion of tongues, and the pluriformity and the cacophony of religion and law, that came with Babel shall be undone.
Let them also carefully consider the promise, that all shall call upon the name of the Lord, and serve Him with one consent; also that all contemptuous reproach shall be taken away, and there shall be no longer any injustice, or vain speech, or a deceitful tongue. And thus much it seemed needful for me to say briefly, and without entering into elaborate details, in answer to the remark of Celsus, that he considered any agreement between the inhabitants of Asia, Europe, and Libya, as well Greeks as Barbarians, was impossible. And perhaps such a result would indeed be impossible to those who are still in the body, but not to those who are released from it.
Contra Cels., 8.72. Origen next takes up Celsus's suggestion that the Christians bind with the entire community, including the king, to help maintain justice, to defend the community against its internal and external foes. This is something Origen is willing to do. Christians are enjoined by their doctrine to contribute to their community, to render reasonable obedience to those in authority, and even offer prayers for their rulers. The contribution of the Christian, by prayer, by piety, by manner of living adds more in fact to the health and welfare of the state than if he fought the king's battles. "And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God." Contra Cels., 8.73. "Christians are benefactors of their country more than others. For they train up citizens, and inculcate piety to the Supreme Being; and they promote those whose lives in the smallest cities have been good and worthy, to a divine and heavenly city, to whom it may be said, 'You have been faithful in the smallest city, come into a great one,' where 'God stands in the assembly of the gods, and judges the gods in the midst;' and He reckons you among them, if you no more 'die as a man, or fall as one of the princes.' Contra Cels., 8.75.

Finally, Celsus criticizes the Christians because they seem to have a loyalty to the Church which divides their loyalty to the State, and prevents them from taking offices of the government. Origen insists that the Church is a supranational organization, a society "founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches." Contra Cels., 8.76. The ambitious are rejected as leaders in the Church, and efforts are made to encourage those who through excess modesty avoid positions of power. Whoever rules the Christians has knowledge of under whose authority he acts, and so recognize that he is "under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word." Contra Cels., 8.76. The leaders of the Christians do not follow the sirens of worldly policy, but rule in accordance with divine command. Understanding all this,
it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God— for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all— of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshipping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God.
Contra Cels., 8.76.

Unquestionably, Origen's notion of the natural moral law is both philosophically and Scripturally based. It borrows from Stoic and Platonic elements where they complement the essential Scriptural foundation of his thought. Though the Scripture gives witness to the natural moral law, it is something that is recognized by all men regardless of belief. The natural moral law contains within it, and may be said to be expressed by, the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. It is however to be found within man, written in his heart, part of his reasonable nature. It is administered by human conscience, and it is able to point out good from evil. Though the natural law is therefore a first grace, a natural grace, the natural moral law has its limit. Though derived from God as part of our created nature, its witness is natural, not supernatural. The righteousness of God, the merciful forgiveness for the law's violation, and the supernatural life and the promise of heaven that God offers in the Word of God made flesh is outside its auspices. Faith and grace must supplement the lack. In short, grace presupposes nature, and the supernatural life presupposes the natural law. The word (logos) of law, needs the Word (Logos) of God. The Word of God did not disdain the word of law. Indeed, the Word of God is the word of law as much as he his the Word of love.

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