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Origen and Origenism

Daniel J. Castellano

Part II - Controversy between St. Jerome and Rufinus (400-402)

(2009)

2.1 Rufinus' Apology in Two Books (400)
2.2 St. Jerome's Apology against Rufinus (402)
2.3 Assessing the Polemic

From an ecclesiastical perspective, the Origenist controversy was resolved by the papal, patriarchal and imperial decrees that condemned the doctrines found in Origen's Peri Archon. The dispute between Rufinus and St. Jerome persisted, however, as the friends of Rufinus circulated his Apology in two books (400), which defended his handling of Origen's text, while accusing St. Jerome of having held Origenist doctrines. Now that Origenism was condemned as heresy, St. Jerome felt compelled to defend himself against the accusations in Rufinus' diatribe, of which he became aware in early 402. In response, he wrote a polemical defense in three books, now known as the Apology against Rufinus.

Many discussions of the second Origenist controversy have focused almost entirely on this late exchange between Rufinus and St. Jerome, as though the fate of Origenism in the Church were decided by a personal quarrel. In fact, chronology shows that judgment against Origenism had been rendered prior to St. Jerome's spirited self-defense against Rufinus. The violent, acerbic tone of Contra Rufinum, which has scandalized more sanguine generations, is best understood in the context of the seriousness of the charges that had been laid against him. This can be better grasped if we first examine Rufinus' Apology in two books.

2.1 Rufinus' Apology in Two Books (400)

St. Jerome wrote the first two books of his Apology against Rufinus without having the full manuscript of Rufinus' Apology in two books, but he was aware of its general content, and would learn its specifics before writing his third book. We shall therefore review Rufinus' treatise at this point, showing how its content could elicit such a severe reaction from St. Jerome, who was accused, among other things, of espousing doctrines that were condemned by Pope and Emperor.

Book I

As in his letter to the Pope, Rufinus opens the first book of his extended Apology by declaring his own orthodoxy. He states the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and affirms that the dead are resurrected not as phantoms, but in "these very bodies of ours in which we live and in which we die." The flesh sown in corruption will rise incorrupt, in accordance with the faith of the Apostle. (1 Corinthians 15:42)

Rufinus, offended that St. Jerome has faulted him for translating Origen, counters with a blistering attack that accuses Jerome of having espoused the same views of Origen that he condemns in others. This tactic will be employed at great length in later parts of the treatise.

Without presuming to judge Origen's personal orthodoxy ("I am not now acting on Origen's behalf, nor writing an apology for him"), Rufinus undertakes to explain why he translated Peri Archon and how he understood its doctrine. He explains that Macarius, while preparing a treatise against fatalism, inquired as to the opinions of Origen on the matter of divine Providence. Rufinus answered that the Apology for Origen, which he ascribed to St. Pamphilus the Martyr, had addressed this issue. After much perseverance on the part of Macarius, Rufinus finally consented to translate the Apology for Origen and Peri Archon into Latin, though he was out of practice for that sort of work.

Each translated work had a preface by Rufinus. In the preface to the Apology for Origen, the translator gave a statement of faith expounding his own orthodoxy, adding that, while he found nothing in the original or translated document contrary to the faith, if other men should find otherwise, this in no way implicated the orthodoxy of the translator. A similar statement preceded his now infamous translation of Peri Archon.

Rufinus reveals his approach to translation when he states:

I had found that in these books some things relating to the faith were set forth in a Catholic sense, just as the Church proclaims them, while in other places, when the very same thing is in question, expressions of a contrary kind are used. I had thought it right to set forth these points in the way in which the author had set them forth when he had propounded the Catholic view of them: on the other hand, when I found things which were contrary to the author's real opinion, I looked on them as things inserted by others, (for he witnesses by the complaints contained in his letter that this has been done), and therefore rejected them, or at all events considered that I might omit them as having none of the "godly edifying in the faith."

We see here that Rufinus has mutilated or even omitted any heterodox content, albeit not with intent to deceive. The translator held the nave view that any heterodox statements in Origen must be inauthentic, so he omitted them. In some cases, Rufinus rephrased Origen's text to make it comport with ecclesiastical definitions of doctrine, justifying this on the grounds that in other passages Origen treated the same subject in an unequivocally orthodox sense.

Rufinus emphasizes that he did not omit material simply because he found it to be heterodox, but because he sincerely believed it to be a later insertion contrary to the opinion of Origen. However, except for cases where the excised material explicitly contradicts other statements by Origen, we are left little indication of Rufinus' basis for making such a determination.

One instance where Rufinus does explain his translation method gives us strong reason to lack confidence in its accuracy. Rufinus quotes his preface:

Wherever, therefore, in his works we find erroneous definitions of the Trinity as to which he has in other places expressed his views in accordance with the true faith, we have either left them out as passages which had been falsified or inserted, or else have changed the expression in accordance with the rule of faith which the writer again and again lays down.
... I have made the sentence plainer by adding the fuller expression which he had given of the same thing in some of his other works which I had read. I did this simply in the interests of clearness. But I have expressed nothing in my own words; I have only restored to Origen what was really Origen's though found in other parts of his works.'

Rufinus actually uses excerpts from other works of Origen to recast seemingly heterodox statements in an orthodox light, on the grounds that these are unequivocally Origen's true opinions, whereas the statements in Peri Archon are to be attributed to later insertion by heretics, or to the author's imprecision of language due to haste. Rufinus thinks this method is completely legitimate, since he is using actual words from Origen, albeit from other works. As a purported translation of a document, of course, this is a barbarous approach, but Rufinus thinks it suffices to express the author's "true opinions," as if these remained fixed throughout his life and in all his works.

Angered that Jerome and his allies have accused him of promoting heresy, Rufinus contends that Origen's doctrine is misrepresented by them. In the first chapter of Peri Archon, for example, Origen says that God's nature is invisible, not in denial of the Incarnation, but speaking of the proper Divine Nature only. Further, Rufinus claims, it is unjust that a translator should be accused of espousing the original author's doctrine, and especially that he should be accused publicly without first being consulted privately. This latter claim has merit, as we have noted the several instances in the Origenist controversies when private correspondence was made public, sabotaging what might have been a peaceful resolution between the old friends Rufinus and Jerome.

Tragically, events have developed to a point where grievances are aired out in the open, and accusation is met with counter-accusation in writing, as the parties are too geographically dispersed to meet with each other privately. Rufinus accordingly devotes the remainder of his Apology - the second half of the first book and the entire second book - to an extended accusation against St. Jerome, impugning the bulk of his life's work. The diatribe begins with an ironic charge that Jerome is as "guilty" as Rufinus of translating Origen, perhaps even espousing some of the heterodox doctrines in Peri Archon. It then expands into a critique of St. Jerome's method of translation, his orthodoxy, his character, and even his translation of the Scriptures! Anyone who reads this polemic can easily understand why St. Jerome responded with severity, as he was explicitly accused of heresy and fraud. We will cover only a few salient points below.

Rufinus identifies several places in Jerome's work where the saint defends Origen and praises him. In his preface to the commentary on Song of Songs, St. Jerome calls Origen a teacher second only to the Apostles, while in his commentary on Ephesians, he makes a statement apparently suggesting that women will become men and men will become as angels after the Last Judgment, losing their fleshly natures. If this is not heterodox, it is at least a very careless statement, Rufinus argues, so it is hypocritical for Jerome to accuse Rufinus of heresy when he has never made a comparably careless or heterodox statement in his works.

Commenting on Ephesians 1:4 ("...as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy..."), Jerome has said that those who seek "to vindicate the justice of God" interpret the passage by saying that people had merit from the beginning because their souls existed from the beginning, before they were cast down into the world. Rufinus observes that this phrasing seems to suggest that those who do not hold this opinion of pre-existent souls fail to vindicate the justice of God.

Elsewhere in the same book, Jerome speaks more explicitly of the pre-existence of souls as an opinion held by some, yet he does not immediately condemn it, as is his wont when an opinion is heretical. Apparently, he does not regard this opinion as heresy, and he may even support it, as he adduces several quotes from Scripture in its favor. (Ps. 120:5, Rom. 7:24, Phil. 1:23, Ps. 119:67, Ps. 90:1-2) Rufinus notes that Origen, whom Jerome accuses of heresy regarding the pre-existence of souls, was more cautious in asserting this opinion, saying, "I do not decide, but only suggest..." and "If this seems to any one more probable...". Although Rufinus' contention that St. Jerome personally held the doctrine of pre-existent souls is specious, this is not essential to his argument that Origen's statements on the matter are hardly more heretical than Jerome's, as they merely describe a possible opinion and the evidence in its favor, without asserting it as doctrine.

Less persuasive is Rufinus' argument that Jerome makes out the devils and apostates to receive a "reward" at the Judgment, when it is clear that Jerome is ironically speaking of their just deserts or punishment. Rufinus also faults Jerome for saying that the devils will be subject to God's will, speciously contending that this an assertion that the devils will repent. So eager is Rufinus to defend Origen from the charges of heresy, that he magnifies the faintest evidence that Jerome might have also held the condemned Origenist opinions. Despite his protestations to the contrary, it seems that Rufinus is quite concerned with defending Origen and not just himself.

Rufinus is on more solid ground when he contends that Jerome has introduced novel doctrine in his idea that our souls in the hereafter may rise and descend under various grades of principalities and powers. Not only is such a doctrine foreign to the first four hundred years of Christian teaching, but it appears to be contrary to the faith that teaches our fate after death is decided entirely by this life.

Jerome comments on Ephesians 3:15 ("That he might create in himself of two one new man, so making peace") that this verse not only refers to the union of Jews and Gentiles, but also means that man, once reconciled, is "to receive the same form which the angels now have and he has lost." Here Jerome has apparently imputed to the Apostle what he now condemns as heresy, the belief that the human soul formerly had the angelic nature. Further, Jerome claims that St. Paul only insinuates this unspoken doctrine, employing a tactic that he finds blameworthy in others.

Commenting on Ephesians 4:3, St. Jerome suggests, "But certainly it is possible that there is a deeper meaning, namely, that in the consummation of the world, all things are to be restored to their primitive condition, and that then we shall all be made one body, and formed anew into the perfect man...". This bears striking similarity to the Origenist doctrine of apokatastasis, or restoration of all things. Rufinus tries to show that Jerome held a version of this doctrine no different from that which he later condemned as heresy. He quotes Jerome at length, including this passage:

Every one, according to the measure of his faith and his recognition of the Son of God (it is called recognition because he first knew him and afterwards ceased from knowing him), will receive his proper place, and will begin to be what he once had been: not that, according to another opinion which is a heresy, all will be placed in one condition, that is, all restored to the condition of angels, but that every member will be perfected according to its measure and office: for instance, that the apostate angel will begin to be that which he was originally made, and man who had been cast out of the garden of Eden will be brought back to cultivate the garden again. But all these things will be so constituted that they will be joined to one another by mutual love, each member rejoicing with its fellow and being gladdened by its advancement; and so the church of the first born, the body of Christ, will dwell in the heavenly Jerusalem which the Apostle in another place calls the mother of the Saints.

Although Jerome explicitly denies that all are "restored to the condition of angels," contrary to Rufinus' earlier accusation, there are other assertions here that are disturbing. First, he says "that the apostate angel will begin to be that which he was originally made," and further that "all these things," apparently including the devil, "will be so constituted that they will be joined to one another by mutual love...". This seems to be an endorsement of the heretical doctrine that the devil will be reconciled to the God.

In various forms, the doctrine of apokatastasis (where all things will be restored at the Last Judgment to their original glorified state) was held not only by Origen, but several eminent Church Fathers, including Clement, Gregory of Pontus, Gregory of Nazianus, and Didymus the Blind. Rufinus does not discuss whether any of these men believed that even the devil will be saved, but he says that if such men may have erred, they ought to be allowed to recant this opinion as did Jerome. Indeed, Rufinus claims that Origen repudiated this blasphemous opinion in a letter to Pope Fabian, so he ought not to be condemned on this account.

Book II

The second book of Rufinus' Apology opens with a denial that the author is part of any secret Origenist society that falsifies oaths. Rufinus says Jerome is apt to see conspiracies everywhere, as evidenced by the scandalous things he has said of clerics, virgins and widows. This opening volley is the beginning of a sustained attack on Jerome's character and life's work.

Rufinus comments on Jerome's famous dream, in which he was chastised by Christ for being a "disciple of Cicero," so that the saint vowed never to study pagan literature again. Despite this vow, Jerome continued to boast of such learning, which included his reading of the infidel Porphyry's introduction to logic. It is inconsistent, Rufinus argues, for Jerome to condemn Origenism as heathenish while espousing authentically heathen learning.

In fact, Rufinus finds neither Origen nor Jerome to blame if they use heathen learning to vindicate God. In particular, he sees nothing wrong with the doctrines of pre-existent souls or apokatastasis (in the sense that all men, not demons, will eventually be healed after eons of punishment), if these are advanced to vindicate the justice of God against heathen arguments. (Bk. II, Sec. 9 (2)) Rufinus indicates that the apologetic context of such doctrines legitimizes their authors' intentions. Later Catholic commentators have made similar appeals, for example, when interpreting the work of St. Augustine, who seems to undervalue the role of free will at times, only because he is addressing the heresy of Pelagianism.

At this point, Rufinus turns to a direct attack on Jerome's faith and character. From his Jewish teacher Baranina, whom Rufinus derides as "Barabbas," Jerome evidently learned to hope only in the resurrection of natural flesh, not of spiritual bodies. From Porphyry, he "gained the art of speaking evil of Christians," defaming clergy of every order. He even claims that Jerome has violently denounced St. Ambrose of Milan, calling him a "croaking raven."

More pertinently, Rufinus cites many instances where Jerome praised Origen in glowing terms, even to Pope Damasus. He praised Origen's commentaries on Matthew, Luke and John, which, according to Rufinus, contain all the condemned doctrines of Peri Archon. It is hypocritical, Rufinus contends, for Jerome to criticize him for similar praise, especially when Rufinus denies that he has ever held the Origenist heresies.

Rufinus repeats his claim to have imitated Jerome in his translation method. For example, when translating Origen's commentary on Luke, Jerome skips over some erroneous statement about the Son, while adding some words to the expression about the Spirit for clarity. Jerome says word for word translation is foolish, so he leaves out words or adds glosses as needed. For example, when Origen says the two seraphim of Isaiah 6:2 are Christ and the Holy Spirit, St. Jerome adds the gloss, "And do not think that there is any difference in the nature of the Trinity, when the functions indicated by the several persons are preserved." Rufinus claims to have done no differently than Jerome, "cutting out words or bending them into a sounder meaning." Here we see the perennial translator's difficulty in balancing fidelity to the original text with clarifying the meaning in the secondary language. Rufinus' examples cross the boundary between translation and commentary, so he seems to accuse St. Jerome of falsifying Origen to make him sound orthodox.

Rufinus takes care to repudiate the Origenist doctrines, without acknowledging that Origen held these heresies. "Whether what is uncatholic is his own or, as I think, inserted by others, God only knows: at all events these things, when brought to the standard of the faith and of truth are wholly rejected by me." He translated Origen at a time when it was permissible to do so, but if now Origen and his works are to be condemned, Rufinus says, so should Jerome and his works which contain the same doctrines! He explicitly accuses Jerome of holding Origenist heresies, not merely praising Origen. Attempting to turn the tables, he exhorts Jerome to repent of his past heretical statements.

Recognizing that St. Jerome denies that St. Pamphilus authored an apology for Origen, Rufinus demands that Jerome cite specific passages that are inconsistent with the martyr's authorship. If he did not write the apology, St. Pamphilus at least endorsed Origen's works, as he took care to preserve these in the library at Caesarea. In any case, Rufinus regards the authorship of the apology for Origen as a "superfluous" question, since the apology quotes Origen directly, and does not depend on the apologist's authority for its argument. Instead, its citations of Origen establish that the doctor of Caesarea did not hold many of the heresies that had been imputed to him.

Not content with defending Origen and himself, nor even with defaming the character and orthodoxy of Jerome, Rufinus now attacks the saint's opus magnus, his revision of the Vulgate. As Jerome challenged the merits of translating Origen from Greek into Latin, Rufinus challenges the much greater "audacity" of replacing the Septuagint Old Testament with a translation of the Jewish Scriptures. Although there have been many Jewish converts to Christianity who could have made such a translation, none of them dared to alter the Scriptures as they were handed from the Apostles. Jerome, instead, has made "havoc" of the Scriptures:

For what can we call it but havoc, when some parts of it are transformed, and this is called the correction of an error? For instance, the whole of the history of Susanna, which gave a lesson of chastity to the churches of God, has by him been cut out, thrown aside and dismissed. The hymn of the three children, which is regularly sung on festivals in the Church of God, he has wholly erased from the place where it stood.

Rufinus believes in the tradition of the miraculous authenticity of Septuagint translation. He also invokes apostolic authority, reasoning that St. Peter would not have given the Church the Septuagint if he knew that the Jewish texts were truer. After all, he and the other Apostles could speak in all tongues by the Holy Spirit. If Peter was illiterate, Paul certainly could have undertaken the effort of translating the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, the Apostles and their successors forsook this course of action, so Rufinus finds it shameful that the Old Testament of apostolic heritage should be replaced 400 years later by a translation influenced by an unbelieving Jew.

Rufinus offers that Jerome, in criticizing his translation of Origen, is doing no worse than he has done in disparaging the holy translators of the Septuagint. By introducing a new edition of Scripture, Jerome is violating his own advice not to introduce new doctrines needlessly. His revision of the Bible has already been scandalous to the heathens:

Is it not evident, how greatly the grounds for the heathens' unbelief have been increased by this proceeding? For they take notice of what is going on amongst us. They know that our law has been amended, or at least changed; and do you suppose they do not say among themselves, "These people are wandering at random, they have no fixed truth among them, for you see how they make amendments and corrections in their laws whenever they please," and indeed it is evident that there must have been previous error where amendment has supervened, and that things which undergo change at the hand of man cannot possibly be divine.

Any amendment to Scripture compromises its claim to divine authority, according to Rufinus. He also faults Jerome in particular for excising parts of the Book of Daniel, including the story of Susanna, thereby making a mockery of what had been taught in churches for four centuries.

Every one has been under a mistake who thought that Susanna had afforded an example of chastity to both the married and the unmarried. It is not true. And every one who thought that the boy Daniel was filled with the Holy Spirit and convicted the adulterous old men, was under a mistake. That also was not true. And every congregation throughout the universe, whether of those who are in the body or of those who have departed to be with the Lord, even though they were holy martyrs or confessors, all who have sung the Hymn of the three children have been in error, and have sung what is false. Now therefore after four hundred years the truth of the law comes forth for us, it has been bought with money from the Synagogue. ... that it was not a gourd but an ivy plant under whose shade Jonah rested; and that, when our legislator pleases, it will no longer be the shade of ivy but of some other plant.

Since Jerome has revised the Christian Scriptures to match the Hebrew, Rufinus argues, he evidently assumes that the Scriptures of the unbelieving are more authentic. Origen, by contrast, showed how the Jews had emended the Scriptures, and noted what they had changed, not in approval, but as a general notes the movements of the enemy. As Jerome has dared to change the words of Holy Scripture, he has no right to complain of how Rufinus reworded Origen.

Following this scathing condemnation of St. Jerome's Vulgate, Rufinus faults Jerome for airing this controversy in the open, instead of reproving his friend in private. We have noted that St. Jerome did indeed offer reconciliation in a letter that was never delivered. Due to this communication failure, Rufinus believes Jerome has succumbed to the "lust of detraction," thereby scandalizing Christians. Rufinus believes that Jerome's accusations have driven him "to the wretched necessity of recrimination." Tragically, both parties think the other is guilty of unprovoked personal attacks. Such misunderstandings can unfortunately arise between men of good character, even with the advantages of modern communication, as occurred in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, where there were mutual accusations of conspiracy and fraud from two men of exceptional honesty and character.

We have noted St. Pammachius' role in obstructing friendly communication from St. Jerome to Rufinus, scandalized as he was by Rufinus' attacks on Jerome's orthodoxy. Though many modern commentators have found fault with Pammachius' behavior in the Origenist controversy, even Rufinus admitted him to be a "saintly man." Indeed, he urged Pammachius not to be led astray by partisan feeling or Jerome's invective. Jerome, for his part, says Rufinus, should have urged Pammachius to reserve judgment instead of inciting him to condemn Rufinus.

Rufinus concludes his apology with the strange defense that speculation about created beings does not affect faith in the Deity. To modern Catholics, it is obvious that doctrines about angelic and human souls are relevant to divine faith, but in Rufinus' time, formally defined dogma pertained principally to the Deity directly, making plausible the strange argument that doctrines about angels and human souls are not matters of faith. In summary, Rufinus has attempted to turn Jerome's accusations of Origenism against him, and he argues that if the books of Origen are to be condemned, so too should those of Jerome.

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2.2 St. Jerome's Apology against Rufinus (402)

Rufinus' Apology in two books was circulated among his disciples, and word soon spread about its accusations against St. Jerome. In response, St. Jerome prepared a lengthy defense that has come to be known as the Apology against Rufinus (Contra Rufinum), due to its sharply worded counterattacks against his accuser. Most commentators have found the violence of Jerome's words to be morally objectionable, but several considerations must be borne in mind. First, Rufinus had accused St. Jerome of heresy, which was punishable by excommunication, and of falsifying the Scriptures, an equally grave charge which would have discredited the Vulgate. These were hardly accusations that could be safely ignored without response. Second, the Origenist heresies that Jerome violently attacks had already been condemned by virtually every major ecclesiastical and civil authority in Christendom. Third, the first two books of the Apology against Rufinus were written before Jerome could obtain a full manuscript of Rufinus' Apology, so he knew of the accusations only by word of mouth and from some written excerpts. The third book was written after he finally received a manuscript of Rufinus' treatise, as well as a hostile letter from his accuser. These considerations, along with the cultural fact that blunt confrontation was more customary in those days, do much to account for St. Jerome's severity in this work. While it can hardly be denied that he was argumentative, he was not an indiscriminate detractor, as can be seen in his correspondence with St. Augustine, where he is respectful even when he strongly disagrees.

All three books of the Apology against Rufinus were written in 402. The principal purpose of these books was to defend against Rufinus' various accusations against St. Jerome, especially that he had endorsed Origenist heresies. Ironically, while maintaining that St. Jerome espoused heretical Origenist doctrine, Rufinus contended that Origen himself was orthodox. This logical tension would be exploited by St. Jerome in his apology, as he argued that it was inconsistent for Rufinus to accuse Jerome of heresy and exonerate himself with reference to the same doctrines cited in Peri Archon.

When writing the first two books of his defense, St. Jerome did not yet possess a complete manuscript of Rufinus' Apology. His knowledge of its content was entirely dependent on the letter sent to him by St. Pammachius and on the memory of his brother Paulinian, who had seen Rufinus' text while staying in Italy. St. Jerome also had before him Rufinus' translations of Peri Archon and pseudo-Pamphilus' Apology for Origen, with prefaces. He also had a copy of Rufinus' letter of defense to Pope St. Anastasius, as well as the papal letters condemning Origen. All these documents have been discussed already.

Book I

Early in the first book, St. Jerome notes that until now he had "observed the laws of friendship, and defended myself without accusing my accuser." (I, 3) Yet even friendship, in his view, could not demand that he should be silent when openly accused of heresy, as was now the case. Jerome had long refrained from counterattack, seeking only "to heal my own wound." Now, however, Rufinus had gone out of his way in a lengthy work to compile contradictions and heresies from the life's work of Jerome. (I, 5) Naturally, this attack could not be passed over in silence.

In his defense, St. Jerome notes that he translated Origen's Peri Archon in order to correct Rufinus' translation and to clearly express the heretical teachings that Rufinus had obscured. In the preface to the translation, Jerome explicitly stated this purpose and identified the dubious doctrines as contrary to the faith. He can hardly be said to have endorsed Origen by translating this work, when he had done quite the contrary. Rufinus, on the other hand, sought to legitimize Origen's controversial work by obscuring its false doctrines, on the unfounded supposition that these were later additions to the text. He was therefore untrustworthy as a translator. (I, 7)

St. Jerome found that Rufinus was inconsistent in his approach to translation, in some places glossing over Origen's Trinitarian heresies to give them an orthodox meaning, while other heresies were either translated as they stood in the Greek or stated with even stronger wording borrowed from the books of Didymus. If Rufinus censored some Trinitarian heresies out of concern for scandalizing simple Christians, he ought to have censored the other heresies as well. In his prologue, Rufinus says he removed what was bad, which would seem to endorse what remained in the translation. (I,6-7)

Regarding the authorship of Pamphilus' Apology, St. Jerome says that this is but the first book of Eusebius' defense of Origen in six books. This first volume, supposedly written by St. Pamphilus, actually mentions the later books. (Rufinus' version, as was noted in Jerome's letter to Pammachus and Oceanus, even contains extensive excerpts from the sixth book.) In the second volume and later books, the author excuses himself for repeating what he had said in the first book. Are these later volumes also to be attributed to St. Pamphilus? What room, then, is there for Eusebius' authorship? In further support of his denial that St. Pamphilus wrote any part of the Apology for Origen, St. Jerome directly quotes Eusebius' biography of Pamphilus: "He himself, wrote nothing whatever of his own, except private letters which he sent to his friends, so humble was his estimate of himself." This biography was written after St. Pamphilus was martyred, so it would seem that he could not have been the author of the Apology or any other work. The venerable martyr is being calumniated by Rufinus, who attributes to him this defense of heresy, thereby leading faithful Catholics into confusion. (I, 8-10)

St. Jerome finds that Rufinus should not take personal offense when he condemns the Origenists, for he has said nothing against them that has not also been said by emperors, popes, patriarchs, and other bishops. Rufinus' attempt to characterize this dispute as Jerome's personal vendetta would require one to suppose that all these dignitaries were acting at Jerome's behest. Remarkably, not a few modern commentators have adopted this ridiculous proposition, supposing that Jerome and his friends had influence over popes and patriarchs, singlehandedly causing them to turn against Origen and his supporters. This irrational and counterfactual supposition is usually motivated by a passionate antipathy toward ecclesiastical authority and a desire to falsify orthodoxy. Whatever the merits the arguments of the Origenists may have, it is hardly credible that their condemnation by the entire Church was the result of the personal animus of some lowly monks. As St. Jerome says to Rufinus, "If I have got all this power, I wonder that you are not afraid of me." (I, 12)

St. Jerome explains that he did not regard the rabbi Baranina as his master; "I merely wished to illustrate my method of studying the Holy Scriptures by saying that I had read Origen just in the same way as I had taken lessons from this Jew." In other words, he studied Origen "not on account of his soundness in the faith but on account of the excellence of his learning." (I, 13) It was common for the Fathers of the Church to refer to Hebrew authorities on Scriptural points, taking advantage of their knowledge of the Hebrew language and traditional interpretations.

St. Jerome claims that he praised Origen only for his Homilies, before he knew of Peri Archon. He challenges Rufinus to identify any heretical opinion he may have held, and he will gladly renounce it. More likely, however, is that Rufinus has misunderstood Jerome's opinions, particularly in his Commentaries on Ephesians. (I, 14-15) Recall that Jerome had not yet received a copy of Rufinus' work, so he could not address its particular accusations on this matter.

Jerome had claimed that the Origenists swore false oaths, and he now adduces evidence of this practice from the fact that Origen allowed the use of falsehood. Following the example of Plato in the Republic, Origen says there are situations where necessity requires a man to lie. In such cases, falsehood must be used with great care, as you would "a stimulant or a medicine" (the same figure used by Plato), in order to achieve some great good. Thus, Jerome reasons, Origen's followers would not have scruples about lying if they thought it was for a greater good, and their oaths are not to be trusted. (I, 18)

St. Jerome had learned from his brother Paulinian about Rufinus' accusations that his Commentary on Ephesians contained heresy. Some specific accusations are now addressed. Interpreting St. Paul's words, "As he has chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and unspotted before him," the first book of Jerome's commentary says this assertion belongs "belongs to the foreknowledge of God, to whom all things which are to be are already made, and are known before they come into being. Thus Paul was predestinated in the womb of his mother...". After giving this explicitly orthodox opinion as his own, Jerome then refers to Origen's opinion in these words:

Another, who wishes to vindicate the justice of God, and to show that he does not choose men according to a prejudgment and foreknowledge of his own but according to the deserts of the elect, thinks that before the visible creation of sky, earth, sea and all that is in them, there existed the invisible creation, part of which consisted of souls, which, for certain causes known to God alone, were cast down into this valley of tears, this scene of our affliction and our pilgrimage...

"Another" refers to Origen, and "wishes to vindicate the justice of God," refers to Origen's subjective intent. Jerome clearly does not believe that Origen's opinion truly vindicates the justice of God, since it denies that God chooses men according to a prejudgment and foreknowledge, the opinion which Jerome explicitly held as his own in this same commentary. After giving Origen's opinion, Jerome reiterates the orthodox view:

The Apostle does not say 'He chose us before the foundation of the world because we were then holy and without blemish;' but 'He chose us that we might be holy and without blemish,' that is, that we who before were not holy and without blemish might afterwards become such. This expression will apply even to sinners who turn to better things; and thus the words remain true, 'In your sight shall no man living be justified,' that is, no one in his whole life, in the whole of the time that he has existed in the world. If the passage be thus understood, it makes against the opinion that before the foundation of the world certain souls were elected because of their holiness, and that they had none of the corruption of sinners. It is evident that Paul and those like him were not elected because they were holy and without blemish, but they were elected and predestinated so that in their after life, by means of their works and their virtues, they should become holy and without blemish.

Here Jerome explicitly contradicts Origen regarding his interpretation of Ephesians, denying that it refers to unblemished pre-existing souls, but rather that it speaks of God's foreknowledge that they would be made unblemished at a later point in life. This passage serves as evidence that Jerome was critical of Origen's errors even eighteen years before the present controversy.

In another passage, St. Jerome speculated that angels might rise or fall in rank among "powers, virtues, principalities and dominions." This, however, does not entail espousal of Origen's heretical opinion that angels changed into men and men could be changed into angels.

Nonetheless, Jerome acknowledges that there was a tension between his lofty praise for Origen in some matters and his embarrassment about that same author's erroneous opinions. Jerome praised Origen by name when his opinion was sound, yet he mentioned his opinion only anonymously when it was in error. Thus, when commenting on the words, "That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus," St. Jerome gave first his own opinion, then the opposing opinion held by Origen, followed by that of Apollinarius. "As to the fact that I did not give their names, I must ask for pardon on the ground that it was done through modesty. I did not wish to disparage men whom I was partly following. and whose opinions I was translating into the Latin tongue." (I, 24) Both Origen and Apollinarius were accomplished exegetes, and there was much that was commendable in their writings. Jerome felt it would be incongruent for him to disparage the men to whom he owed a great debt in other parts of his work; thus he separated the erroneous opinions from their names. No one supposed that Jerome's reliance on the commentaries of Apollinarius (whose lectures he had attended) was an endorsement of his erroneous Christology (condemned as heresy at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381); neither could his use of Origen be fairly considered an advocacy of Origenist heresies.

St. Jerome now says he was wrong to refer obliquely to Origen as "the diligent reader," but should have said "the blasphemous reader." While we can accept Jerome's contention that he did not follow Origen into error, it would seem that he did not previously hold the opinion that Origen was unequivocally a heretic. Rather, it seems he considered him a Father of the Church who had been mistaken on several points of doctrine, but was on the whole praiseworthy. This is a reasonable position for him to have held, considering he was then ignorant of Peri Archon.

In the beginning of the second book of his Commentary on Ephesians, Jerome expounds the Apostles words: "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles." He first gives the literal sense, that St. Paul was in captivity in Rome, where he would be martyred. Then he gives the opinions of Origen and Apollinarius, without naming them.

Certainly we might adopt another sense, namely, that, since we find this body in several places called the chain of the soul, in which it is held as in a close prison, Paul may speak of himself as confined in the chains of the body, and so that he could not return and be with Christ; and that thus he might perfectly fulfil his office of preaching to the Gentiles. Some commentators, however, introduce another idea, namely, that Paul, having been predestinated and consecrated from his mother's womb, and before he was born, to be a preacher to the Gentiles, afterwards took on the chains of the flesh.

There is nothing heretical in either of these opinions. We may, with Origen, think of ourselves as bound to the flesh, until it is transformed by Christ into a glorified and incorruptible body. The flesh in its corrupted state does direct us away from Christ and toward sin. The opinion of Apollinarius is likewise consistent with orthodoxy, as he does not say that St. Paul existed in a bodiless form before conception, but only that he was predestined to become what he was.

The most significant of the disputed passages in Jerome's Commentary on Ephesians is where he describes Origen's doctrine of apokatastasis ("restitution of all things"):

And so in the restitution of all things, when Jesus Christ the true physician comes to restore to health the whole body of the Church, which now lies scattered and rent, every one will receive his proper place according to the measure of his faith and his recognition of the Son of God (the word 'recognize' implies that he had formerly known him and afterwards had ceased to know him), and shall then begin to be what he once had been; yet not in such a way as that, as held by another heresy, all should be placed in one rank, and, by a renovating process, all become angels; but that each member, according to its own measure and office shall become perfect: for instance, that the apostate angel shall begin to be that which he was by his creation, and that man who had been cast out of paradise shall be restored again to the cultivation of paradise... [emphasis added]

In this passage, St. Jerome compares and contrasts two heresies, which is why he refers to the bolded text as "another heresy." By implication, the rest of the passage (before and after the emphasized text), which is Origen's theory of apokatastasis, is the first heresy.

Rufinus had also cited a passage where Jerome appears to claim that women will become men and people will become angels:

Let us men then cherish our wives, and let our souls cherish our bodies in a way as that wives may be turned into men and bodies into spirits, and that there may be no difference of sex, but that, as among the angels there is neither male nor female, so we, who are to be the Angels, may begin to be here what it is promised that we shall be in heaven.

Here Jerome is speaking metaphorically, meaning that we should free ourselves from lust, treating our wives no differently than men, and acting as though our bodies were spirits. This same metaphor is used by Christ himself in the Gospel, saying that there is neither male nor female in the kingdom of Heaven, meaning there is no lust or carnal intercourse. The metaphorical intent of Jerome's comment is made clear by the words "we, who are to be the Angels, may begin to be here what it is promised that we shall be in heaven." Clearly, we do not literally become angelic or asexual in this life, so a metaphorical sense must be intended.

Rufinus attempted to characterize Jerome as a detractor who attacked all people indiscriminately, but Jerome challenges him to name a single person he has defamed. (Recall that St. Jerome had not yet received a copy of Rufinus' tract, which makes specific accusations.) He has only countered the attacks of Rufinus, and his current defense is against Rufinus alone, for he is his sole accuser.

Regarding Rufinus' claim that Jerome violated his promise to desist from reading profane books, the saint responds that he indeed has not read secular books since his dream, but he remembers well what he read in his youth. In any case, he is not bound by a promise made in a dream. Jerome points out that Rufinus and indeed all educated men are indebted to unbelievers in matters of learning, such as rhetoric and logic. There is no shame in following unbelievers in matters of secular learning, as long as we do not become their disciples in faith.

Book II

In the second book of the Apology against Rufinus, Jerome turns from his self-defense against the charge of Origenism to an attack on Rufinus' professions of orthodoxy and his other claims. This begins with a withering criticism of Rufinus' Apology to Pope Anastasius. Jerome finds Rufinus' excuse for not coming to Rome disingenuous. His mother and father are long dead, so the "parentes" he did not wish to desert would have been mere kinfolk, yet even these he left to live in Aquileia for two years. It is hardly credible that he is so exhausted from his prior travel that he cannot make an easy carriage ride to Rome.

St. Jerome mocks Rufinus' claim of being persecuted for the faith, quoted from his letter:

[Rufinus:] Although my faith was proved, at the time of the persecution by the heretics, when I was living in the holy church of Alexandria, by imprisonments and exiles, to which I was subjected because of the faith.

[Jerome:] I only wonder that he did not add "The prisoner of Jesus Christ," or "I was delivered from the jaw of the lion," or "I fought with beasts at Alexandria," or "I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." What exiles, what imprisonments are these which he describes? I blush for this open falsehood. As if imprisonment and exile would be inflicted without judicial sentences! I should like to have a list of these imprisonments and of the various provinces to which he tells us that he was forced into exile. (II, 3)

It is common for the heterodox, even today, to pretend to be victims or martyrs even though they have suffered no real hardship. Although scholars hostile to Christian orthodoxy have tried to characterize every suppression of heresy as persecution, St. Jerome's comment here reminds us that the rule of law obtained in such matters, and the punishments of imprisonment and exile could not be imposed without the authority of the civil government. Most often, heretics in this period suffered no penalty beyond the loss of clerical office or excommunication. Rufinus never suffered even these ecclesiastical penalties.

Rufinus' profession of faith in the Trinity is irrelevant, for that doctrine has not been in dispute for a long time. Jerome finds a more germane question to be: "That soul which Jesus took upon him, did it exist before it was born of Mary? Was it created together with the body in that original Virgin nature which was begotten by the Holy Spirit? Or, when the body was already formed within the womb, was it made all at once, and sent down from heaven?" Jerome does not expect an answer, but he remarks: "If it existed before it was born from Mary, then it was not yet the soul of Jesus; and it was employed in some way, and, for a reward of its virtues, it was made his soul." (II, 4) This is the Origenist doctrine of human souls, applied to the soul of Jesus, showing how this doctrine is incongruent with the faith.

Jerome recognizes that Rufinus professes faith in the resurrection of the very flesh in which we live, yet even Origen did not quite deny this. Instead, Origen held that this resurrected flesh was not immortal, but would be gradually replaced by purely spiritual bodies, with no distinction between male and female. St. Jerome wishes to know if Rufinus also holds this opinion.

Rufinus' profession that the devil partakes of eternal fire is unconvincing to Jerome, for they both know that Origen understood "eternal fire" to mean the sinner's conscience. (II, 7) To those unfamiliar with the Origenist tendency to allegorize Scripture, St. Jerome may seem unjustifiably skeptical and contentious, but Rufinus and other sympathizers of Origen often did not use words according to their plain meaning.

It may seem strange to the modern reader that Jerome criticizes the barbarous Latin grammar used by Rufinus in his discussion of various opinions on the origin of the soul. St. Jerome does this not to be abusive, but to show how little Rufinus grasps of the subject about which he presumed to write, and then to show how this ignorance is implausible. Rufinus confessed to Pope Anastasius that he was ignorant on the matter. St. Jerome compares this nescience to the doctrine of philosophers who claim there is no certainty, thereby removing truth from human life, then tempering their agnosticism by professing "probable" opinion. Rufinus does not even profess what is probable, but simply says he does not know which opinion is true. St. Jerome finds such ignorance incredible in a theological writer: how can one know the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, yet not know about one's own birth? Perhaps to protect the orthodoxy of Origen, Rufinus falsely suggests that Lactantius may have believed the soul was planted at the same time as the body, yet here he is vague, seemingly ignorant of who held what opinion. Jerome finds it astonishing that Rufinus should think that no apostle or prophet has yet revealed the origin of souls, which is professed in all the churches. (II, 10)

Rufinus tried to distance himself from whatever was erroneous in Peri Archon, saying he was merely a translator. Yet in his own preface to the translation, he claimed to imitate Jerome's supposed method of emending the text so "that a Latin writer can find no word that is at variance with our faith." This would appear to imply that Rufinus excluded heterodox doctrine from his translation, yet there is much Origenist heresy in his version of Peri Archon, and now he disingenuously claims the role of an innocent translator. He told the Pope that he only emended passages that seemed inauthentic, or elsewhere had been said "in a catholic sense." In fact, Rufinus inserted glosses in his supposed translation, defending Origen's errors. For example, where Origen says the Son does not see the Father, Rufinus adds reason for this, using a comment of Didymus, yet inserting it as if it were part of Origen's text. Even if we accepted Rufinus' word on his translating method, it is not clear why he translated many of Origen's heresies into Latin. If it was to condemn him, then why does he praise him in the preface? Much more likely, Rufinus thought there was nothing offensive to the faith in what he translated, so he is implicated with Origen in the same error. (II, 11)

St. Jerome identifies the following heresies in Origen:

...that the Son of God is a creature, that the Holy Spirit is a servant: that there are innumerable worlds, succeeding one another in eternal ages: that angels have been turned into human souls; that the soul of the Saviour existed before it was born of Mary, and that it is this soul which "being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied itself and took the form of a servant;" that the resurrection of our bodies will be such that we shall not have the same members, since, when the functions of the members cease they will become superfluous: and that our bodies themselves will grow arial and spirit-like, and gradually vanish and disperse into thin air and into nothing: that in the restitution of all things, when the fullness of forgiveness will have been reached, Cherubim and Seraphim, Thrones, Principalities, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Archangels and Angels, the devil, the demons and the souls of men whether Christians Jews or Heathen, will be of one condition and degree; and when they have come to their true form and weight, and the new army of the whole race returning from the exile of the world presents a mass of rational creatures with all their dregs left behind, then will begin a new world from a new origin, and other bodies in which the souls who fall from heaven will be clothed; so that we may have to fear that we who are now men may afterwards be born women, and one who is now a virgin may chance then to be a prostitute. (II, 12)

Rufinus is challenged to identify a passage in any of Origen's books where these doctrines are contradicted. It is not enough to assert vaguely that he wrote elsewhere "in a catholic sense;" he should be able to identify specific citations.

Rufinus is not recriminated because he translated Origen, but because he translated a heretical work, without identifying its heresy as such. On the contrary, he sought to defend the heresy by attributing Eusebius' Apology for Origen to St. Pamphilus the Martyr, and emended the text in order to present the author more favorably, while retaining his errors.

Rufinus' claim that the offensive passages in Origen's work were added by heretics is untenable, as it denies the authenticity of a work without any evidence, a position that would make all literary scholarship worthless, and we could never know who wrote what. Further, the letter of Origen that Rufinus adduces as evidence that his works were corrupted does not prove any such thing. In this letter, Origen is contesting his excommunication by the bishop of Alexandria. Jerome gives the full context of the quote which Rufinus had omitted:

Now, because, through the fear of God, we are careful not to utter maledictions against any one, remembering that the words 'He dared not bring against him a railing accusation,' are spoken of Michael in his dealing with the devil; as it is said also in another place, 'They set at naught dominions and rail at dignities;' certain of these men who seek for matters of contention, ascribe to us and our teaching the blasphemy (as to which they have to lay to heart the words which apply to them, 'Neither drunkards nor evil speakers shall inherit the kingdom of God?'), namely, that the father of wickedness and perdition of those who shall be cast out of the kingdom of God can be saved; a thing which not even a madman can say."

Rufinus did not include the emphasized text in his citation of Origen. This text makes clear that Origen is referring to his practice of refusing to curse his enemies (the bishops) or even the devil, and this reticence is abused by some to accuse him of teaching that the devil will be saved. There is no indication here that his written works have been falsified by heretics, and it is misleading for Rufinus to use a truncated version of this excerpt to make that argument. (II, 18)

There is however, an instance where Origen did claim his words had been falsified. In a written Greek dialogue (no longer extant) between Origen and Candidus (a Valentinian heretic), Origen is portrayed as arguing (correctly) that the devil is not of an evil nature, but is of an imperishable nature, having sinned and fallen by his own free will. Candidus responds as if Origen had affirmed that the devil could be saved. Origen did claim that his position was misrepresented in this dialogue, but this does not imply that any of his numerous homiletical works were ever falsified, nor did he ever make such a claim.

Rufinus had written thus of the detractors of Origen:

But the fact is, the prompters of those who defame Origen are men who either make it a habit to discourse in the churches at great length or write books, the whole of which, both books and discourse are taken from Origen. To prevent men therefore from discovering their plagiarism, the crime of which can be concealed so long as they act ungratefully towards their master, they deter all simple persons from reading him.

St. Jerome dares Rufinus to name those who "defame Origen." Are they not the bishops, patriarch, and councils of the Church? Will he claim that every eminent man who has called Origen a heretic is merely covering his plagiarism? Are they so unimaginative that they can preach nothing in their Churches save what Origen taught? Jerome here forcefully asserts the vigor of Catholic tradition and authority, which is independent of any individual theologian, however renowned he may be. (As a factual matter, Jerome notes that Origen did not write six thousand books, but less than two thousand, judging from the index given by Eusebius.)

St. Jerome admits that he originally accepted at face value that the Apology for Origen attributed to St. Pamphilus was indeed written by that martyr. However, by comparison with the works of Eusebius in the library at Caesarea, he found that this was largely a duplication of the first book of Eusebius' work, which, as noted previously, contained references to later books, and almost certainly was written by Eusebius himself. Jerome has now corrected his mistake. Previously, he had known of this work only by title and author, just as he had only heard of Peri Archon by Origen. Only when Rufinus published his translation did he see the content of this work, at which point he was prompted to seek a Greek manuscript in order to do a more accurate translation. When he praised Origen for his homiletic work, he was then ignorant of Peri Archon, so he was not praising Origen's work for the sake of excusing his heresies.

Jerome accuses Rufinus of circulating a fraudulent letter in which the saint supposedly retracts his translation of the Bible from Hebrew. The forgery was unskilled, as the writer utterly failed to imitate the writing style of Jerome. Rufinus has further accused Jerome of disparaging the Septuagint. On the contrary, St. Jerome replies, he has always held the seventy translators of the Septuagint in the highest esteem, as indeed he took care to bring their work to a Latin readership, and had long meditated on their version of the Psalms. He often referred to the Septuagint text in his Biblical commentaries.

It is true that Jerome criticized the Septuagint version of the Book of Daniel as an inaccurate translation, but in this he was only following the judgment of all the churches, east and west, who used the superior translation of Theodotion (2nd cent.). St. Jerome mentions in his preface to Daniel that the Jews did not accept the stories of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon as Holy Scripture, but he did not presume to agree with them on this matter. Indeed, the Vulgate retains these stories.

Lastly, St. Jerome defends his use of Hebrew Scriptures, noting that even Origen commented on the Hebrew versions at times. Further, the Hebrew version of the Scriptures is often quoted by the Apostles and the Evangelists, and even Our Lord Himself. The Septuagint is of great value, since it brought the Scriptures to the gentiles before the coming of Christ. Yet new translations from the Hebrew are not to be condemned, for they are not new inventions, but representations of the received divine books.

Book III

As noted previously, the first two books of the Apology against Rufinus were written before St. Jerome had received a copy of Rufinus' manuscript. Finally, Rufinus himself sent a copy of his Apology, accompanied by a vitriolic letter directly accusing Jerome of heresy and threatening that he possessed knowledge that could ruin him. It is in this context that we should examine the third book of St. Jerome's Apology.

Early in the third book, St. Jerome explains that his admonishment of Rufinus thus far has been public only because Rufinus had publicly accused him of heresy, and now brought forward even a legal case against him.

I confess, I immediately set to work to reply to the insinuations directed against me, and tried with all my might to prove that I was no heretic, and I sent these books of my Apology to those whom your book had pained, so that your poison might be followed by my antidote. In reply to this, you sent me your former books, and now send me this last letter, full of injurious language and accusations. My good friend, what do you expect me to do? To keep silence? That would be to acknowledge myself guilty. To speak? But you hold your sword over my head, and threaten me with an indictment, no longer before the church but before the law-courts. What have I done that deserves punishment?

St. Jerome insists that he sought only to defend himself, and solemnly affirms that he would not have broken silence had he not been accused.

I call Jesus the Mediator to witness that it is against my will, and fighting against necessity, that I come down into the arena of this war of words, and that, had you not challenged me, I would have never broken silence. Even now, let your charges against me cease, and my defence will cease. For it is no edifying spectacle that is presented to our readers, that of two old men engaging in a gladiatorial conflict on account of a heretic; especially when both of them wish to be thought Catholics. Let us leave off all favouring of heretics, and there will be no dispute between us. We once were zealous in our praise of Origen; let us be equally zealous in condemning him now that he is condemned by the whole world.

St. Jerome invites Rufinus to join him in condemning Origen's heresy just as unambiguously as they had praised him as an exegete. Of course, we have seen that Rufinus repeatedly refused to do this, because he did not believe there was any heresy in Origen. In this opinion, he was now opposed to the entire Church of the East and the West. His exchange of accusations with Jerome served only to give scandal to other Christians, a scandal that has resounded through the centuries and caused more than a few to mistakenly believe the condemnation of Origen was the result of a personal quarrel.

As St. Jerome understood all too well, Rufinus continued to believe that his translation of Origen taught altogether sound doctrine. Rufinus claimed in his preface to Peri Archon that he had removed what was bad, implicitly endorsing what remained. Far from being a neutral translator, Rufinus made a great effort to defend Origen's controversial doctrines, by propagating the Apology for Origen by pseudo-Pamphilus, and ascribing it to the martyr in order to lend it authority. St. Jerome repeatedly presses this point, because Rufinus has been evasive regarding his position on the orthodoxy of Peri Archon. Rather than condemn this work, Rufinus has chosen to deflect attention by pointing out how Jerome had praised Origen in the past. Unfortunately, many later scholars have been deceived by Rufinus' sleight-of-hand, focusing on St. Jerome's supposedly conflicted attitude toward Origen, as if there were anything contradictory in praising what was orthodox and denouncing what was heterodox.

Further in the third book, St. Jerome defends himself from various other accusations by Rufinus, including the allegation that he had left Rome for Bethlehem under shameful circumstances. He challenges Rufinus to produce any document of the Church in Rome or any other diocese supporting any charge against him. Notwithstanding the inability of any accuser of Jerome to produce such evidence, many later scholars have scurrilously imputed unspecified crimes to the saint, whose primary flaw seems to have been having defended himself too energetically. St. Jerome feels obligated to defend his orthodoxy, lest he should give cover for Origenist heretics who claim to be only following his opinions on Origen.

If you wish me to keep silence, cease from accusing me. Lay down your sword, and I will throw away my shield. To one thing only I cannot consent; that is, to spare the heretics, and not to vindicate my orthodoxy. If that is the cause of discord between us, I can submit to death, but not to silence. (III, 43)

For St. Jerome, the central issue is defending orthodoxy and denouncing heresy. His defense of himself is subordinate to this aim. If Rufinus could agree with him in denouncing the heresy in Origen, he would have no quarrel with him.

If you desire peace, lay down your arms. I can be at peace with one who shows kindness; I do not fear one who threatens me. Let us be at one in faith, and peace will follow immediately. (III, 44)

The Apology against Rufinus does not address Rufinus' accusation that Jerome was a detractor of St. Ambrose. Jerome's often hostile attitude toward Ambrose has so perplexed scholars that many have postulated some kind of personal animus or vendetta. Such a supposition, so contrary to the monastic humility exhibited by the saint in even his polemical writings, is unnecessary. The criticisms of Ambrose are best explained in terms of Jerome's literary enterprise of conveying Greek Biblical scholarship to the West. As Richard Layton discusses in "Plagiarism and Lay Patronage of Ascetic Scholarship: Jerome, Ambrose, and Rufinus" (Journal of Early Christian Studies (2002) 10:4, 489522), St. Jerome found that Ambrose had appropriated Greek scholarship in a superficial way, discouraging Latin readers from turning to unadulterated interpretations of Greek thought in all its vigor, such as Jerome sought to provide. Rufinus claimed that Jerome was no less guilty of plagiarism (furta, or theft) from the Greeks, but this critique misses the point. Ambrose's fault, in Jerome's view, was not that his work was derivative (there was no crime of plagiarism in the modern sense), but that he represented his sources badly, distorting them into a flaccid shadow of themselves. This did dishonor to the Greeks, and discouraged Latins from seeking their wisdom. As for Jerome himself, it was unfair for Rufinus to accuse him of ingratitude toward Origen, for as Rufinus himself admits, Jerome repeatedly praised the Alexandrian doctor in acknowledgement of his debt to him. However, as St. Jerome noted repeatedly, his praise of Origen as an exegete did not entail that he should defend his heretical opinions as well.

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2.3 Assessing the Polemic

Those who have patiently followed the apologies of both Rufinus and St. Jerome in detail should recognize by now that Rufinus was a slippery and evasive debater, and it required Jerome's razor-sharp criticism and biting wit (he repeatedly refers to the "Alexandrian prison" in which the self-proclaimed martyr Rufinus resided) to expose his disingenuous and inconsistent statements. To the more casual reader, Jerome's Apology against Rufinus may come across as an unfair and even paranoid diatribe, yet if we patiently follow the evidence, it should become clear that Rufinus was not a man to speak plainly, and he resorted to a vast repertoire of rhetorical tricks to deflect blame from himself to others, all the while never clearly renouncing Origenist doctrine. This sleight of hand has caused more than a few eminent scholars to lose sight of the target and direct their criticism instead toward the conduct of St. Jerome. Modern discourse all too often places a premium on pleasantness, even if it means that our speech becomes unclear and disingenuous. The tactic of Rufinus, portraying himself as a victim of intolerant detractors who have the audacity to state their positions clearly and expect others to do likewise, plays well to a modern audience. If the polemic had occurred today, Rufinus' doublespeak would have scarcely raised an eyebrow. In an age when clarity was more highly valued than subtlety, such evasiveness would not be allowed to pass without remark. To catch a rhetorician as slippery as Rufinus required nothing less than the hard-headed relentlessness of a St. Jerome.

Many scholars, especially in the Protestant tradition, have nonetheless taken Rufinus' bait, and have argued that Jerome himself was disingenuous in discussing his past treatment of Origen, even characterizing him as a former Origenist. The idea of delicately hemming and hawing was utterly contrary to the character of the saint, who was unabashedly blunt and frank. He plainly stated that he would have no difficulty renouncing a past opinion of his if it was in error; indeed, there was no penalty for heresy if an erroneous doctrine was recanted. St. Jerome's letters show a profound reverence for the faith of Rome, and a higher esteem for orthodoxy than for great learning. He understood better than most the distinction between following someone for the sake of learning and being a disciple in faith, since necessity often compelled him to turn to unbelievers for secular learning, and some of his great religious teachers stumbled into heresy (most notably, Apollinaris of Laodicea), yet he did not follow them in their errors when Rome pronounced against them. St. Jerome understood that even great men could fall into heretical opinions, and that we could admire them for what they did right without endorsing their errors. This was the case with Origen, whose exegetical works continued to be esteemed by St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and other Fathers of the Church long after the doctrines of Peri Archon were declared heretical.

For St. Jerome, submission to the authority of the Church took precedent over pride in one's theological opinions. In his correspondence with Pope Damasus, he always shows abject deference, and even when he strenuously disagrees with St. Augustine, he is mindful that he is but a lowly monk speaking to a great bishop. For example, he wrote to Augustine in 402:

Far be it from me to presume to attack anything which your Grace has written. For it is enough for me to prove my own views without controverting what others hold. But it is well known to one of your wisdom, that every one is satisfied with his own opinion, and that it is puerile self-sufficiency to seek, as young men have of old been wont to do, to gain glory to one's own name by assailing men who have become renowned. I am not so foolish as to think myself insulted by the fact that you give an explanation different from mine; since you, on the other hand, are not wronged by my views being contrary to those which you maintain. (Letter CII)

St. Jerome did not insist that everyone should agree with him, nor was he so fond of his opinions that he would not admit correction. On the contrary, he was consistently a man of the Church, submissive to ecclesiastical authority, and he expected others to show similar respect to the pronouncements of the Church. At the time of his polemical debate with Rufinus, Origenism was declared a heresy by the highest authorities in the Church, so St. Jerome did not hesitate to denounce the doctrines of Peri Archon and demand that Rufinus should do likewise. Indeed, St. Jerome had been willing to denounce Origen as soon as St. Epiphanius had brought his heresies to his attention. For Rufinus and many later commentators, this was an inexplicable reversal and betrayal of his former admiration of Origen and those of his school. For St. Jerome, this behavior was stalwart and consistent, as he had always valued the authority of the Church above his own scholarship and those of his teachers, however renowned they may be. Rufinus and his sympathizers, by contrast, have tended to love Origen's reputation more than the authority of the Church, and some have not hesitated to denounce the latter in order to save the former.

The behavior of St. Jerome regarding Origen is inconsistent only if we imagine that Christian theology should be defined by personalities, rather than the rule of obedience to the Church. St. Jerome, imbued as he was with the spirit of asceticism, understood the self-effacement a Christian scholar must practice if he is to remain orthodox. He must love the magisterium of the Church more than his own learning, or the renown of his masters. This is in sharp contrast with secular scholars, who constantly seek to earn renown themselves, especially by striking out on their own or bucking convention, for it is in such contrarianism that one may distinguish oneself. This is why secular scholarship in the liberal arts never arrives at any certain body of knowledge, for it is in the professional interest of each intellectual to overturn what has been established, and so make a name for himself. In the physical sciences, at least, this vain tendency is held in check by the observable facts of nature.

Regarding the charge that St. Jerome formerly held the heretical doctrines of Origen, we have seen the saint address the worst accusations of his harshest adversary. However, St. Jerome did hold a mild form of the doctrine of apokatastasis, the notion that all men will be restored to Christ at the Last Judgment, as did many other Fathers schooled in the East. These others, we shall see, such as St. Gregory Nazianus, cannot be properly impugned with the heresy of Origenism. Even Didymus the Blind, who did follow some of Origen's errors, did not follow him in all things, and expressly denied his Trinitarian and Christological heresies.

What, then of Origen himself? While the heterodoxy of Origen's opinions in Peri Archon was unquestionably established, the culpability of the person of Origen was less clear. In the fourth and fifth centuries, it was common to indiscriminately characterize as "heretics" both those who were formal heretics and those who merely held opinions that were erroneous in faith. It was not clearly established by any of the judgments against Origen whether the doctor of Caesarea had held these doctrines as part of his creed or merely advanced them as speculative possibilities. Pope St. Anastasius was unconcerned with such distinctions, as he wished only to correct the harm that the propagation of such doctrines under the name of Origen had caused. The only way to strip the Origenists of their claim that their doctrines had the authority of a Father of the Church was to condemn Origen in his person as a (material) heretic.

Long after the condemnation of Origen, orthodox commentators, including St. Jerome himself, continued to make use of his exegetical treatises. The venerable St. Augustine urged that Origen should be interpreted as generously as possible, given that speculative theology was then in its infancy. Nonetheless, such indulgence did not reverse the judgment against the doctrines of Peri Archon, which was confirmed by St. Augustine and other African bishops, condemning Origen in his person and in his works. A similar anathema was renewed by a council held in Rome in 494. Regardless of its tragic impact on the reputation of the Church's greatest exegete, the matter of Origenism was considered settled.

Continue to Part III


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