Against Celsus is not the only important surviving book by Origen. Origen’s On First Principles is often called the first systematic Christian theology. It was written some time before 231. It is a bold and wide-ranging work, and in Origen’s day Christian theologians could speculate a fair amount.
But the curtain was brought down on this era of freedom by ecclesial-political events of the fourth century. While many still considered Origen a great scholar, the atmosphere was such that one might lose one’s church career if people thought you were too sympathetic to his views.
Among his admirers was the great scholar Jerome (translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible), but Jerome had do distance himself from Origen lest the heresy hunters get him. But still, people wanted to read Origen. Answering this need, Rufinus (d. 410) translated Origen’s On First Principles into Latin. Problem is, Rufinus systematically cut out and/or changed numerous passages that would not fit the new Pro-Nicene hegemony.
How do we know this? Because Rufinus tells us! He argues that heretics must have corrupted Origen’s works, since there just could not be a difference between those and the new catholic orthodoxy. Also, we have from other sources, e.g. letters of his contemporaries, the Greek texts of some of the cut and altered passages. In the excellent modern edition of the book, the editor-translator restores these to the text. Sadly, Rufinus’s Latin version is the only complete version we have of Origen’s book, so as it stands, the book is riddled with suspicious passages that don’t fit what we otherwise know about Origen, but which we have no textual grounds to correct. (On the whole crazy affair, see the above edition, pp. xxxi-lii.)
Here are some of the cut and restored passages; if you’re familiar with the “Arian” controversy and the trinitarian orthodoxy that coalesced and acquired the power of the Roman emperor at the end of the fourth century, you will not need an explanation why Rufinus cut them.
…the Saviour… is an image of God’s goodness, but not goodness itself. And perhaps also the Son, while being good, is yet not good purely and simply. And just as he is the image of the invisible God, and in virtue of this is himself God, and yet is not he of whom Christ himself says, ‘that they may know thee, the only true God‘; so he is the image of the goodness, and yet not, as the Father is, good without qualification. (On First Principles I.2.13, p. 27, bold added)
Now this Son was begotten of the Father’s will, for he is the ‘image of the invisible God’ and the ‘effulgence of his glory and the impress of his substance’, ‘the firstborn of all creation’, a thing created [Greek: ktisma], wisdom. For wisdom itself says: ‘God created me in the beginning of his ways for his works’… and I would dare to add that as he is a likeness of the Father there is no time when he did not exist. (IV.4.1, pp. 314-5)
But if the Father comprehends all things, and the Son is among all things, it is clear that he comprehends the Son. But someone will inquire whether it is true that God is known by himself in the same way in which he is known by the only-begotten, and he will decide that the saying, ‘My father who sent me is greater than I’, is true in all respects; so that even in his knowledge the Father is greater, and is known more clearly and perfectly by himself than by the Son. (IV.4.8, p. 324)
What do you see here?
- Is Jesus called “God” but is not the one true God, that is, the Father? And is Jesus caused to exist by God, and inferior to God in knowledge? (unitarian)
- Or is Jesus God himself? Or is Jesus just as divine as his Father, and like him somehow “within” the one true God, which is the Trinity? (trinitarian)