Origen De Principiis 3.3

Chapter 3. On Threefold Wisdom.

1. The holy apostle, wishing to teach us some great and hidden truth respecting science and wisdom, says, in the first Epistle to the Corinthians: We speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of the world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of the world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. In this passage, wishing to describe the different kinds of wisdom, he points out that there is a wisdom of this world, and a wisdom of the princes of this world, and another wisdom of God. But when he uses the expression wisdom of the princes of this world, I do not think that he means a wisdom common to all the princes of this world, but one rather that is peculiar to certain individuals among them.

And again, when he says, We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory, we must inquire whether his meaning be, that this is the same wisdom of God which was hidden from other times and generations, and was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets, and which was also that wisdom of God before the advent of the Saviour, by means of which Solomon obtained his wisdom, and in reference to which the language of the Saviour Himself declared, that what He taught was greater than Solomon, in these words, Behold, a greater than Solomon is here, — words which show, that those who were instructed by the Saviour were instructed in something higher than the knowledge of Solomon.

For if one were to assert that the Saviour did indeed Himself possess greater knowledge, but did not communicate more to others than Solomon did, how will that agree with the statement which follows: The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment, and condemn the men of this generation, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here? There is therefore a wisdom of this world, and also probably a wisdom belonging to each individual prince of this world. But with respect to the wisdom of God alone, we perceive that this is indicated, that it operated to a less degree in ancient and former times, and was (afterwards) more fully revealed and manifested through Christ. We shall inquire, however, regarding the wisdom of God in the proper place.

2. But now, since we are treating of the manner in which the opposing powers stir up those contests, by means of which false knowledge is introduced into the minds of men, and human souls led astray, while they imagine that they have discovered wisdom, I think it necessary to name and distinguish the wisdom of this world, and of the princes of this world, that by so doing we may discover who are the fathers of this wisdom, nay, even of these kinds of wisdom. I am of opinion, therefore, as I have stated above, that there is another wisdom of this world besides those (different kinds of) wisdom which belong to the princes of this world, by which wisdom those things seem to be understood and comprehended which belong to this world. This wisdom, however, possesses in itself no fitness for forming any opinion either respecting divine things, or the plan of the world’s government, or any other subjects of importance, or regarding the training for a good or happy life; but is such as deals wholly with the art of poetry, e.g., or that of grammar, or rhetoric, or geometry, or music, with which also, perhaps, medicine should be classed. In all these subjects we are to suppose that the wisdom of this world is included.

The wisdom of the princes of this world, on the other hand, we understand to be such as the secret and occult philosophy, as they call it, of the Egyptians, and the astrology of the Chaldeans and Indians, who make profession of the knowledge of high things, and also that manifold variety of opinion which prevails among the Greeks regarding divine things. Accordingly, in the holy Scriptures we find that there are princes over individual nations; as in Daniel we read that there was a prince of the kingdom of Persia, and another prince of the kingdom of Græcia, who are clearly shown, by the nature of the passage, to be not human beings, but certain powers. In the prophecies of Ezekiel, also, the prince of Tyre is unmistakeably shown to be a kind of spiritual power. When these, then, and others of the same kind, possessing each his own wisdom, and building up his own opinions and sentiments, beheld our Lord and Saviour professing and declaring that He had for this purpose come into the world, that all the opinions of science, falsely so called, might be destroyed, not knowing what was concealed within Him, they immediately laid a snare for Him: for the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers assembled together, against the Lord and His Christ. But their snares being discovered, and the plans which they had attempted to carry out being made manifest when they crucified the Lord of glory, therefore the apostle says, We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, who are brought to nought, which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

3. We must, indeed, endeavour to ascertain whether that wisdom of the princes of this world, with which they endeavour to imbue men, is introduced into their minds by the opposing powers, with the purpose of ensnaring and injuring them, or only for the purpose of deceiving them, i.e., not with the object of doing any hurt to man; but, as these princes of this world esteem such opinions to be true, they desire to impart to others what they themselves believe to be the truth: and this is the view which I am inclined to adopt. For as, to take an illustration, certain Greek authors, or the leaders of some heretical sect, after having imbibed an error in doctrine instead of the truth, and having come to the conclusion in their own minds that such is the truth, proceed, in the next place, to endeavour to persuade others of the correctness of their opinions; so, in like manner, are we to suppose is the procedure of the princes of this world, in which to certain spiritual powers has been assigned the rule over certain nations, and who are termed on that account the princes of this world. There are besides, in addition to these princes, certain special energies of this world, i.e., spiritual powers, which bring about certain effects, which they have themselves, in virtue of their freedom of will, chosen to produce, and to these belong those princes who practise the wisdom of this world.

There being, for example, a peculiar energy and power, which is the inspirer of poetry; another, of geometry; and so a separate power, to remind us of each of the arts and professions of this kind. Lastly, many Greek writers have been of opinion that the art of poetry cannot exist without madness; whence also it is several times related in their histories, that those whom they call poets were suddenly filled with a kind of spirit of madness. And what are we to say also of those whom they call diviners, from whom, by the working of those demons who have the mastery over them, answers are given in carefully constructed verses?

Those persons, too, whom they term Magi or Malevolent, frequently, by invoking demons over boys of tender years, have made them repeat poetical compositions which were the admiration and amazement of all. Now these effects we are to suppose are brought about in the following manner: As holy and immaculate souls, after devoting themselves to God with all affection and purity, and after preserving themselves free from all contagion of evil spirits, and after being purified by lengthened abstinence, and imbued with holy and religious training, assume by this means a portion of divinity, and earn the grace of prophecy, and other divine gifts; so also are we to suppose that those who place themselves in the way of the opposing powers, i.e., who purposely admire and adopt their manner of life and habits, receive their inspiration, and become partakers of their wisdom and doctrine. And the result of this is, that they are filled with the working of those spirits to whose service they have subjected themselves.

4. With respect to those, indeed, who teach differently regarding Christ from what the rule of Scripture allows, it is no idle task to ascertain whether it is from a treacherous purpose that these opposing powers, in their struggles to prevent a belief in Christ, have devised certain fabulous and impious doctrines; or whether, on hearing the word of Christ, and not being able to cast it forth from the secrecy of their conscience, nor yet to retain it pure and holy, they have, by means of vessels that were convenient to their use, and, so to speak, through their prophets, introduced various errors contrary to the rule of Christian truth. Now we are to suppose rather that apostate and refugee powers, which have departed from God out of the very wickedness of their mind and will, or from envy of those for whom there is prepared (on their becoming acquainted with the truth) an ascent to the same rank, whence they themselves had fallen, did, in order to prevent any progress of that kind, invent these errors and delusions of false doctrine.

It is then clearly established, by many proofs, that while the soul of man exists in this body, it may admit different energies, i.e., operations, from a diversity of good and evil spirits. Now, of wicked spirits there is a twofold mode of operation: i.e., when they either take complete and entire possession of the mind, so as to allow their captives the power neither of understanding nor feeling; as, for instance, is the case with those commonly called possessed, whom we see to be deprived of reason, and insane (such as those were who are related in the Gospel to have been cured by the Saviour); or when by their wicked suggestions they deprave a sentient and intelligent soul with thoughts of various kinds, persuading it to evil, of which Judas is an illustration, who was induced at the suggestion of the devil to commit the crime of treason, according to the declaration of Scripture, that the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray him.

But a man receives the energy, i.e., the working, of a good spirit, when he is stirred and incited to good, and is inspired to heavenly or divine things; as the holy angels and God Himself wrought in the prophets, arousing and exhorting them by their holy suggestions to a better course of life, yet so, indeed, that it remained within the will and judgment of the individual, either to be willing or unwilling to follow the call to divine and heavenly things. And from this manifest distinction, it is seen how the soul is moved by the presence of a better spirit, i.e., if it encounter no perturbation or alienation of mind whatever from the impending inspiration, nor lose the free control of its will; as, for instance, is the case with all, whether prophets or apostles, who ministered to the divine responses without any perturbation of mind. Now, that by the suggestions of a good spirit the memory of man is aroused to the recollection of better things, we have already shown by previous instances, when we mentioned the cases of Mordecai and Artaxerxes.

5. This too, I think, should next be inquired into, viz., what are the reasons why a human soul is acted on at one time by good (spirits), and at another by bad: the grounds of which I suspect to be older than the bodily birth of the individual, as John (the Baptist) showed by his leaping and exulting in his mother’s womb, when the voice of the salutation of Mary reached the ears of his mother Elisabeth; and as Jeremiah the prophet declares, who was known to God before he was formed in his mother’s womb, and before he was born was sanctified by Him, and while yet a boy received the grace of prophecy. And again, on the other hand it is shown beyond a doubt, that some have been possessed by hostile spirits from the very beginning of their lives: i.e., some were born with an evil spirit; and others, according to credible histories, have practised divination from childhood. Others have been under the influence of the demon called Python, i.e., the ventriloquial spirit, from the commencement of their existence.

To all which instances, those who maintain that everything in the world is under the administration of Divine Providence (as is also our own belief), can, as it appears to me, give no other answer, so as to show that no shadow of injustice rests upon the divine government, than by holding that there were certain causes of prior existence, in consequence of which the souls, before their birth in the body, contracted a certain amount of guilt in their sensitive nature, or in their movements, on account of which they have been judged worthy by Divine Providence of being placed in this condition. For a soul is always in possession of free-will, as well when it is in the body as when it is without it; and freedom of will is always directed either to good or evil. Nor can any rational and sentient being, i.e., a mind or soul, exist without some movement either good or bad. And it is probable that these movements furnish grounds for merit even before they do anything in this world; so that on account of these merits or grounds they are, immediately on their birth, and even before it, so to speak, assorted by Divine Providence for the endurance either of good or evil.

6. Let such, then, be our views respecting those events which appear to befall men, either immediately after birth, or even before they enter upon the light. But as regards the suggestions which are made to the soul, i.e., to the faculty of human thought, by different spirits, and which arouse men to good actions or the contrary, even in such a case we must suppose that there sometimes existed certain causes anterior to bodily birth. For occasionally the mind, when watchful, and casting away from it what is evil, calls to itself the aid of the good; or if it be, on the contrary, negligent and slothful, it makes room through insufficient caution for these spirits, which, lying in wait secretly like robbers, contrive to rush into the minds of men when they see a lodgment made for them by sloth; as the Apostle Peter says, that our adversary the devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. On which account our heart must be kept with all carefulness both by day and night, and no place be given to the devil; but every effort must be used that the ministers of God— those spirits, viz., who were sent to minister to them who are called to be heirs of salvation — may find a place within us, and be delighted to enter into the guest-chamber of our soul, and dwelling within us may guide us by their counsels; if, indeed, they shall find the habitation of our heart adorned by the practice of virtue and holiness. But let that be sufficient which we have said, as we best could, regarding those powers which are hostile to the human race.