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ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second
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Chapter III.—On the Beginning of the World, and Its Causes.

1.  The next subject of inquiry is, whether there was any other world before the one which now exists; and if so, whether it was such as the present, or somewhat different, or inferior; or whether there was no world at all, but something like that which we understand will be after the end of all things, when the kingdom shall be delivered up to God, even the Father; which nevertheless may have been the end of another world,—of that, namely, after which this world took its beginning; and whether the various lapses of intellectual natures provoked God to produce this diverse and varying condition of the world.  This point also, I think, must be investigated in a similar way, viz., whether after this world there will be any (system of) preservation and amendment, severe indeed, and attended with much pain to those who were unwilling to obey the word of God, but a process through which, by means of instruction and rational training, those may arrive at a fuller understanding of the truth who have devoted themselves in the present life to these pursuits, and who, after having had their minds purified, have advanced onwards so as to become capable of attaining divine wisdom; and after this the end of all things will immediately follow, and there will be again, for the correction and improvement of those who stand in need of it, another world, either resembling that which now exists, or better than it, or greatly inferior; and how long that world, whatever it be that is to come after this, shall continue; and if there will be a time when no world shall anywhere exist, or if there has been a time when there was no world at all; or if there have been, or will be several; or if it shall ever come to pass that there will be one resembling another, like it in every respect, and indistinguishable from it.

2.  That it may appear more clearly, then, whether bodily matter can exist during intervals of time, and whether, as it did not exist before it was made, so it may again be resolved into non-existence, let us see, first of all, whether it is possible for any one to live without a body.  For if one person can live without a body, all things also may dispense with them; seeing our former treatise has shown that all things tend towards one end.  Now, if all things may exist without bodies, there will undoubtedly be no bodily substance, seeing there will be no use for it.  But how shall we understand the words of the apostle in those passages, in which, discussing the resurrection of the dead, he says, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying which is written, Death is swallowed up in victory!  Where, O death, is thy victory?  O death, thy sting has been swallowed up:  the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.”20782078    1 Cor. xv. 53–56; cf. Hos. xiii. 14 and Isa. xxv. 8.  Some such meaning, then, as this, seems to be suggested by the apostle.  For can the expression which he employs, “this corruptible,” and “this mortal,” with the gesture, as it were, of one who touches or points out, apply to anything else than to bodily matter?  This matter of the body, then, which is now corruptible shall put on incorruption when a perfect soul, and one furnished with the marks20792079    Dogmatibus.  Schnitzer says that “dogmatibus” here yields no sense.  He conjectures δείγμασι, and renders “proofs,” “marks.” of incorruption, shall have begun to inhabit it.  And do not be surprised if we speak of a perfect soul as the clothing of the body (which, on account of the Word of God and His wisdom, is now named incorruption), when Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Lord and Creator of the soul, is said to be the clothing of the saints, according to the language of the apostle, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”20802080    Rom. xiii. 14.  As Christ, then, is the clothing of the soul, so for a kind of reason sufficiently intelligible is the soul said to be the clothing of the body, seeing it is an ornament to it, covering and concealing its mortal nature.  The expression, then, “This corruptible must put on incorruption,” is as if the apostle had said, “This corruptible nature of the body must receive the clothing of incorruption—a soul possessing in itself incorruptibility,” because it has been clothed with Christ, who is the Wisdom and Word of God.  But when this body, which at some future period we shall possess in a more glorious state, shall have become a partaker of life, it will then, in addition to being immortal, become also incorruptible.  For whatever is mortal is necessarily also corruptible; but whatever is corruptible cannot also be said to be mortal.  We say of a stone or a piece of wood that it is corruptible, but we do not say that it follows that it is also mortal.  But as the body partakes of life, then because life may be, and is, separated from it, we consequently name it mortal, and according to another sense also we speak of it as corruptible.  The holy apostle therefore, with remarkable insight, referring to the general first cause of bodily matter, of which (matter), whatever be the qualities with which it is endowed (now indeed carnal, but by and by more refined and pure, which are termed spiritual), the soul makes constant use, says, “This corruptible must put on incorruption.”  And in the second place, looking to the special cause of the body, he says, “This mortal must put on immortality.”  Now, what else will incorruption and immortality be, save the wisdom, and the word, and the righteousness of God, which mould, and clothe, and adorn the soul?  And hence it happens that it is said, “The corruptible will put on incorruption, and the mortal immortality.”  For although we may now make great proficiency, yet as we only know in part, and prophesy in part, and see through a glass, darkly, those very things which we seem to understand, this corruptible does not yet put on incorruption, nor is this mortal yet clothed with immorality; and as this training of ours in the body is protracted doubtless to a longer period, up to the time, viz., when those very bodies of ours with which we are enveloped may, on account of the word of God, and His wisdom and perfect righteousness, earn incorruptibility and immortality, therefore is it said, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

3.  But, nevertheless, those who think that rational creatures can at any time lead an existence out of the body, may here raise such questions as the following.  If it is true that this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality, and that death is swallowed up at the end; this shows that nothing else than a material nature is to be destroyed, on which death could operate, while the mental acumen of those who are in the body seems to be blunted by the nature of corporeal matter.  If, however, they are out of the body, then they will altogether escape the annoyance arising from a disturbance of that kind.  But as they will not be able immediately to escape all bodily clothing, they are just to be considered as inhabiting more refined and purer bodies, which possess the property of being no longer overcome by death, or of being wounded by its sting; so that at last, by the gradual disappearance of the material nature, death is both swallowed up, and even at the end exterminated, and all its sting completely blunted by the divine grace which the soul has been rendered capable of receiving, and has thus deserved to obtain incorruptibility and immortality.  And then it will be deservedly said by all, “O death, where is thy victory?  O death, where is thy sting?  The sting of death is sin.”  If these conclusions, then, seem to hold good, it follows that we must believe our condition at some future time to be incorporeal; and if this is admitted, and all are said to be subjected to Christ, this (incorporeity) also must necessarily be bestowed on all to whom the subjection to Christ extends; since all who are subject to Christ will be in the end subject to God the Father, to whom Christ is said to deliver up the kingdom; and thus it appears that then also the need of bodies will cease.20812081    This passage is found in Jerome’s Epistle to Avitus; and, literally translated, his rendering is as follows:  “If these (views) are not contrary to the faith, we shall perhaps at some future time live without bodies.  But if he who is perfectly subject to Christ is understood to be without a body, and all are to be subjected to Christ, we also shall be without bodies when we have been completely subjected to Him.  If all have been subjected to God, all will lay aside their bodies, and the whole nature of bodily things will be dissolved into nothing; but if, in the second place, necessity shall demand, it will again come into existence on account of the fall of rational creatures.  For God has abandoned souls to struggle and wrestling, that they may understand that they have obtained a full and perfect victory, not by their own bravery, but by the grace of God.  And therefore I think that for a variety of causes are different worlds created, and the errors of those refuted who contend that worlds resemble each other.”  A fragment of the Greek original of the above is found in the Epistle of Justinian to the patriarch of Constantinople.  “If the things subject to Christ shall at the end be subjected also to God, all will lay aside their bodies; and then, I think, there will be a dissolution (ἀνάλυσις) of the nature of bodies into non-existence (εἰς τὸ μὴ ὄν), to come a second time into existence, if rational (beings) should again gradually come down (ὑποκαταβῇ).”  And if it ceases, bodily matter returns to nothing, as formerly also it did not exist.

Now let us see what can be said in answer to those who make these assertions.  For it will appear to be a necessary consequence that, if bodily nature be annihilated, it must be again restored and created; since it seems a possible thing that rational natures, from whom the faculty of free-will is never taken away, may be again subjected to movements of some kind, through the special act of the Lord Himself, lest perhaps, if they were always to occupy a condition that was unchangeable, they should be ignorant that it is by the grace of God and not by their own merit that they have been placed in that final state of happiness; and these movements will undoubtedly again be attended by variety and diversity of bodies, by which the world is always adorned; nor will it ever be composed (of anything) save of variety and diversity,—an effect which cannot be produced without a bodily matter.

4.  And now I do not understand by what proofs they can maintain their position, who assert that worlds sometimes come into existence which are not dissimilar to each other, but in all respects equal.  For if there is said to be a world similar in all respects (to the present), then it will come to pass that Adam and Eve will do the same things which they did before:  there will be a second time the same deluge, and the same Moses will again lead a nation numbering nearly six hundred thousand out of Egypt; Judas will also a second time betray the Lord; Paul will a second time keep the garments of those who stoned Stephen; and everything which has been done in this life will be said to be repeated,—a state of things which I think cannot be established by any reasoning, if souls are actuated by freedom of will, and maintain either their advance or retrogression according to the power of their will.  For souls are not driven on in a cycle which returns after many ages to the same round, so as either to do or desire this or that; but at whatever point the freedom of their own will aims, thither do they direct the course of their actions.  For what these persons say is much the same as if one were to assert that if a medimnus of grain were to be poured out on the ground, the fall of the grain would be on the second occasion identically the same as on the first, so that every individual grain would lie for the second time close beside that grain where it had been thrown before, and so the medimnus would be scattered in the same order, and with the same marks as formerly; which certainly is an impossible result with the countless grains of a medimnus, even if they were to be poured out without ceasing for many ages.  So therefore it seems to me impossible for a world to be restored for the second time, with the same order and with the same amount of births, and deaths, and actions; but that a diversity of worlds may exist with changes of no unimportant kind, so that the state of another world may be for some unmistakeable reasons better (than this), and for others worse, and for others again intermediate.  But what may be the number or measure of this I confess myself ignorant, although, if any one can tell it, I would gladly learn.

5.  But this world, which is itself called an age, is said to be the conclusion of many ages.  Now the holy apostle teaches that in that age which preceded this, Christ did not suffer, nor even in the age which preceded that again; and I know not that I am able to enumerate the number of anterior ages in which He did not suffer.  I will show, however, from what statements of Paul I have arrived at this understanding.  He says, “But now once in the consummation of ages, He was manifested to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”20822082    Heb. ix. 26.  For He says that He was once made a victim, and in the consummation of ages was manifested to take away sin.  Now that after this age, which is said to be formed for the consummation of other ages, there will be other ages again to follow, we have clearly learned from Paul himself, who says, “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us.”20832083    Eph. ii. 7.  He has not said, “in the age to come,” nor “in the two ages to come,” whence I infer that by his language many ages are indicated.  Now if there is something greater than ages, so that among created beings certain ages may be understood, but among other beings which exceed and surpass visible creatures, (ages still greater) (which perhaps will be the case at the restitution of all things, when the whole universe will come to a perfect termination), perhaps that period in which the consummation of all things will take place is to be understood as something more than an age.  But here the authority of holy Scripture moves me, which says, “For an age and more.”20842084    In sæculum et adhuc.  Now this word “more” undoubtedly means something greater than an age; and see if that expression of the Saviour, “I will that where I am, these also may be with Me; and as I and Thou are one, these also may be one in Us,”20852085    Cf. John xvii. 24, 21, 22. may not seem to convey something more than an age and ages, perhaps even more than ages of ages,—that period, viz., when all things are now no longer in an age, but when God is in all.

6.  Having discussed these points regarding the nature of the world to the best of our ability, it does not seem out of place to inquire what is the meaning of the term world, which in holy Scripture is shown frequently to have different significations.  For what we call in Latin mundus, is termed in Greek κόσμος, and κόσμος signifies not only a world, but also an ornament.  Finally, in Isaiah, where the language of reproof is directed to the chief daughters of Sion, and where he says, “Instead of an ornament of a golden head, thou wilt have baldness on account of thy works,”20862086    Cf. Isa. iii. 24.  Origen here quotes the Septuagint, which differs both from the Hebrew and the Vulgate:  καὶ ἀντὶ τοῦ κόσμου τῆς κεφαλῆς τοῦ χρυσίου φαλάκρωμα ἕξεις διὰ τὰ ἔργά σου. he employs the same term to denote ornament as to denote the world, viz., κόσμος.  For the plan of the world is said to be contained in the clothing of the high priest, as we find in the Wisdom of Solomon, where he says, “For in the long garment was the whole world.”20872087    Wisd. xviii. 24.  Poderis, lit. “reaching to the feet.”  That earth of ours, with its inhabitants, is also termed the world, as when Scripture says, “The whole world lieth in wickedness.”20882088    1 John v. 19.  Clement indeed, a disciple of the apostles, makes mention of those whom the Greeks called ᾽Αντίχθονες , and other parts of the earth, to which no one of our people can approach, nor can any one of those who are there cross over to us, which he also termed worlds, saying, “The ocean is impassable to men; and those are worlds which are on the other side of it, which are governed by these same arrangements of the ruling God.”20892089    Clemens Rom., Ep. i., ad Cor., c. 20.  [See vol. i. p. 10, of this series.  S.]  That universe which is bounded by heaven and earth is also called a world, as Paul declares:  “For the fashion of this world will pass away.”20902090    1 Cor. vii. 31.  Our Lord and Saviour also points out a certain other world besides this visible one, which it would indeed be difficult to describe and make known.  He says, “I am not of this world.”20912091    John xvii. 16.  For, as if He were of a certain other world, He says, “I am not of this world.”  Now, of this world we have said beforehand, that the explanation was difficult; and for this reason, that there might not be afforded to any an occasion of entertaining the supposition that we maintain the existence of certain images which the Greeks call “ideas:”  for it is certainly alien to our (writers) to speak of an incorporeal world existing in the imagination alone, or in the fleeting world of thoughts; and how they can assert either that the Saviour comes from thence, or that the saints will go thither, I do not see.  There is no doubt, however, that something more illustrious and excellent than this present world is pointed out by the Saviour, at which He incites and encourages believers to aim.  But whether that world to which He desires to allude be far separated and divided from this either by situation, or nature, or glory; or whether it be superior in glory and quality, but confined within the limits of this world (which seems to me more probable), is nevertheless uncertain, and in my opinion an unsuitable subject for human thought.  But from what Clement seems to indicate when he says, “The ocean is impassable to men, and those worlds which are behind it,” speaking in the plural number of the worlds which are behind it, which he intimates are administered and governed by the same providence of the Most High God, he appears to throw out to us some germs of that view by which the whole universe of existing things, celestial and super-celestial, earthly and infernal, is generally called one perfect world, within which, or by which, other worlds, if any there are, must be supposed to be contained.  For which reason he wished the globe of the sun or moon, and of the other bodies called planets, to be each termed worlds.  Nay, even that pre-eminent globe itself which they call the non-wandering (ἀπλανῆ), they nevertheless desire to have properly called world.  Finally, they summon the book of Baruch the prophet to bear witness to this assertion, because in it the seven worlds or heavens are more clearly pointed out.  Nevertheless, above that sphere which they call non-wandering (ἀπλανῆ), they will have another sphere to exist, which they say, exactly as our heaven contains all things which are under it, comprehends by its immense size and indescribable extent the spaces of all the spheres together within its more magnificent circumference; so that all things are within it, as this earth of ours is under heaven.  And this also is believed to be called in the holy Scriptures the good land, and the land of the living, having its own heaven, which is higher, and in which the names of the saints are said to be written, or to have been written, by the Saviour; by which heaven that earth is confined and shut in, which the Saviour in the Gospel promises to the meek and merciful.  For they would have this earth of ours, which formerly was named “Dry,” to have derived its appellation from the name of that earth, as this heaven also was named firmament from the title of that heaven.  But we have treated at greater length of such opinions in the place where we had to inquire into the meaning of the declaration, that in the beginning “God made the heavens and the earth.”  For another heaven and another earth are shown to exist besides that “firmament” which is said to have been made after the second day, or that “dry land” which was afterwards called “earth.”  Certainly, what some say of this world, that it is corruptible because it was made, and yet is not corrupted, because the will of God, who made it and holds it together lest corruption should rule over it, is stronger and more powerful than corruption, may more correctly be supposed of that world which we have called above a “non-wandering” sphere, since by the will of God it is not at all subject to corruption, for the reason that it has not admitted any causes of corruption, seeing it is the world of the saints and of the thoroughly purified, and not of the wicked, like that world of ours.  We must see, moreover, lest perhaps it is with reference to this that the apostle says, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal.  For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”20922092    2 Cor. iv. 18–v. 1.  And when he says elsewhere, “Because I shall see the heavens, the works of Thy fingers,”20932093    Ps. viii. 3. and when God said, regarding all things visible, by the mouth of His prophet, “My hand has formed all these things,”20942094    Isa. lxvi. 2. He declares that that eternal house in the heavens which He promises to His saints was not made with hands, pointing out, doubtless, the difference of creation in things which are seen and in those which are not seen.  For the same thing is not to be understood by the expressions, “those things which are not seen,” and “those things which are invisible.”  For those things which are invisible are not only not seen, but do not even possess the property of visibility, being what the Greeks call ἀσώματα, i.e., incorporeal; whereas those of which Paul says, “They are not seen,” possess indeed the property of being seen, but, as he explains, are not yet beheld by those to whom they are promised.

7.  Having sketched, then, so far as we could understand, these three opinions regarding the end of all things, and the supreme blessedness, let each one of our readers determine for himself, with care and diligence, whether any one of them can be approved and adopted.20952095    This passage is found in Jerome’s Epistle to Avitus, and, literally translated, is as follows:  “A threefold suspicion, therefore, is suggested to us regarding the end, of which the reader may examine which is the true and better one.  For we shall either live without a body, when, being subject to Christ, we shall be subject to God, and God shall be all in all; or, as things subject to Christ will be subject along with Christ Himself to God, and enclosed in one covenant, so all substance will be reduced to the best quality and dissolved into an ether, which is of a purer and simpler nature; or at least that sphere which we have called above ἀπλανῆ, and whatever is contained within its circumference (circulo), will be dissolved into nothing, but that one by which the anti-zone (ἀντιζώνη) itself is held together and surrounded will be called a good land; and, moreover, another sphere which surrounds this very earth itself with its revolution, and is called heaven, will be preserved for a habitation of the saints.”  For it has been said that we must suppose either that an incorporeal existence is possible, after all things have become subject to Christ, and through Christ to God the Father, when God will be all and in all; or that when, notwithstanding all things have been made subject to Christ, and through Christ to God (with whom they formed also one spirit, in respect of spirits being rational natures), then the bodily substance itself also being united to most pure and excellent spirits, and being changed into an ethereal condition in proportion to the quality or merits of those who assume it (according to the apostle’s words, “We also shall be changed”), will shine forth in splendour; or at least that when the fashion of those things which are seen passes away, and all corruption has been shaken off and cleansed away, and when the whole of the space occupied by this world, in which the spheres of the planets are said to be, has been left behind and beneath,20962096    Omnique hoc mundi statu, in quo planetarum dicuntur sphæræ, supergresso atque superato. then is reached the fixed abode of the pious and the good situated above that sphere, which is called non-wandering (ἀπλανής), as in a good land, in a land of the living, which will be inherited by the meek and gentle; to which land belongs that heaven (which, with its more magnificent extent, surrounds and contains that land itself) which is called truly and chiefly heaven, in which heaven and earth, the end and perfection of all things, may be safely and most confidently placed,—where, viz., these, after their apprehension and their chastisement for the offences which they have undergone by way of purgation, may, after having fulfilled and discharged every obligation, deserve a habitation in that land; while those who have been obedient to the word of God, and have henceforth by their obedience shown themselves capable of wisdom, are said to deserve the kingdom of that heaven or heavens; and thus the prediction is more worthily fulfilled, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth;”20972097    Matt. v. 5. and, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven;”20982098    Matt. v. 3. and the declaration in the Psalm, “He shall exalt thee, and thou shalt inherit the land.”20992099    Ps. xxxvii. 34.  For it is called a descent to this earth, but an exaltation to that which is on high.  In this way, therefore, does a sort of road seem to be opened up by the departure of the saints from that earth to those heavens; so that they do not so much appear to abide in that land, as to inhabit it with an intention, viz., to pass on to the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, when they have reached that degree of perfection also.


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