In the first book of our answer to the work of Celsus, who had boastfully entitled the treatise which he had composed against us A True Discourse, we have gone through, as you enjoined, my faithful Ambrosius, to the best of our ability, his preface, and the parts immediately following it, testing each one of his assertions as we went along, until we finished with the tirade1 of this Jew of his, feigned to have been delivered against Jesus. And in the second book we met, as we best could, all the charges contained in the invective1 of the said Jew, which were levelled at us who are believers in God through Christ; and now we enter upon this third division of our discourse, in which our object is to refute the allegations which he makes in his own person.
He gives it as his opinion, that “the controversy between Jews and Christians is a most foolish one,” and asserts that “the discussions which we have with each other regarding Christ differ in no respect from what is called in the proverb, ‘a fight about the shadow of an ass;’”2 and thinks that “there is nothing of importance3 in the investigations of the Jews and Christians: for both believe that it was predicted by the Divine Spirit that one was to come as a Saviour to the human race, but do not yet agree on the point whether the person predicted has actually come or not.” For we Christians, indeed, have believed in Jesus, as He who came according to the predictions of the prophets. But the majority of the Jews are so far from believing in Him, that those of them who lived at the time of His coming conspired against Him; and those of the present day, approving of what the Jews of former times dared to do against Him, speak evil of Him, asserting that it was by means of sorcery4 that he passed himself off for Him who was predicted by the prophets as the One who was to come, and who was called, agreeably to the traditions of the Jews,5 the Christ.
But let Celsus, and those who assent to his charges, tell us whether it is at all like “an ass’s shadow,” that the Jewish prophets should have predicted the birth-place of Him who was to be the ruler of those who had lived righteous lives, and who are called the “heritage” of God;6 and that Emmanuel should be conceived by a virgin; and that such signs and wonders should be performed by Him who was the subject of prophecy; and that His word should have such speedy course, that the voice of His apostles should go forth into all the earth; and that He should undergo certain sufferings after His condemnation by the Jews; and that He should rise again from the dead. For was it by chance7 that the prophets made these announcements, with no persuasion of the truth in their minds,8 moving them not only to speak, but to deem their announcements worthy of being committed to writing? And did so great a nation as that of the Jews, who had long ago received a country of their own wherein to dwell, recognise certain men as prophets, and reject others as utterers of false predictions, without any conviction of the soundness of the distinction?9 And was there no motive which induced them to class with the books of Moses, which were held as sacred, the words of those persons who were afterwards deemed to be prophets? And can those who charge the Jews and Christians with folly, show us how the Jewish nation could have continued to subsist, had there existed among them no promise of the knowledge of future events? and how, while each of the surrounding nations believed, agreeably to their ancient institutions, that they received oracles and predictions from those whom they accounted gods, this people alone, who were taught to view with contempt all those who were considered gods by the heathen, as not being gods, but demons, according to the declaration of the prophets, “For all the gods of the nations are demons,”10 had among them no one who professed to be a prophet, and who could restrain such as, from a desire to know the future, were ready to desert11 to the demons12 of other nations? Judge, then, whether it were not a necessity, that as the whole nation had been taught to despise the deities of other lands, they should have had an abundance of prophets, who made known events which were of far greater importance in themselves,13 and which surpassed the oracles of all other countries.
In the next place, miracles were performed in all countries, or at least in many of them, as Celsus himself admits, instancing the case of Aesculapius, who conferred benefits on many, and who foretold future events to entire cities, which were dedicated to him, such as Tricca, and Epidaurus, and Cos, and Pergamus; and along with Aesculapius he mentions Aristeas of Proconnesus, and a certain Clazomenian, and Cleomedes of Astypalaea. But among the Jews alone, who say they are dedicated to the God of all things, there was wrought no miracle or sign which might help to confirm their faith in the Creator of all things, and strengthen their hope of another and better life! But how can they imagine such a state of things? For they would immediately have gone over to the worship of those demons which gave oracles and performed cures, and deserted the God who was believed, as far as words went,14 to assist them, but who never manifested to them His visible presence. But if this result has not taken place, and if, on the contrary, they have suffered countless calamities rather than renounce Judaism and their law, and have been cruelly treated, at one time in Assyria, at another in Persia, and at another under Antiochus, is it not in keeping with the probabilities of the case15 for those to suppose who do not yield their belief to their miraculous histories and prophecies, that the events in question could not be inventions, but that a certain divine Spirit being in the holy souls of the prophets, as of men who underwent any labour for the cause of virtue, did move them to prophesy some things relating to their contemporaries, and others to their posterity, but chiefly regarding a certain personage who was to come as a Saviour to the human race?
And if the above be the state of the case, how do Jews and Christians search after “the shadow of an ass,” in seeking to ascertain from those prophecies which they believe in common, whether He who was foretold has come, or has not yet arrived, and is still an object of expectation? But even suppose16 it be granted to Celsus that it was not Jesus who was announced by the prophets, then, even on such a hypothesis, the investigation of the sense of the prophetic writings is no search after “the shadow of an ass,” if He who was spoken of can be clearly pointed out, and it can be shown both what sort of person He was predicted to be, and what He was to do, and, if possible, when He was to arrive. But in the preceding pages we have already spoken on the point of Jesus being the individual who was foretold to be the Christ, quoting a few prophecies out of a larger number. Neither Jews nor Christians, then, are wrong in assuming that the prophets spoke under divine influence;17 but they are in error who form erroneous opinions respecting Him who was expected by the prophets to come, and whose person and character were made known in their “true discourses.”
Immediately after these points, Celsus, imagining that the Jews are Egyptians by descent, and had abandoned Egypt, after revolting against the Egyptian state, and despising the customs of that people in matters of worship, says that “they suffered from the adherents of Jesus, who believed in Him as the Christ, the same treatment which they had inflicted upon the Egyptians; and that the cause which led to the new state of things18 in either instance was rebellion against the state.” Now let us observe what Celsus has here done. The ancient Egyptians, after inflicting many cruelties upon the Hebrew race, who had settled in Egypt owing to a famine which had broken out in Judea, suffered, in consequence of their injustice to strangers and suppliants, that punishment which divine Providence had decreed was to fall on the whole nation for having combined against an entire people, who had been their guests, and who had done them no harm; and after being smitten by plagues from God, they allowed them, with difficulty, and after a brief period, to go wherever they liked, as being unjustly detained in slavery. Because, then, they were a selfish people, who honoured those who were in any degree related to them far more than they did strangers of better lives, there is not an accusation which they have omitted to bring against Moses and the Hebrews, – not altogether denying, indeed, the miracles and wonders done by him, but alleging that they were wrought by sorcery, and not by divine power. Moses, however, not as a magician, but as a devout man, and one devoted to the God of all things, and a partaker in the divine Spirit, both enacted laws for the Hebrews, according to the suggestions of the Divinity, and recorded events as they happened with perfect fidelity.
Celsus, therefore, not investigating in a spirit of impartiality the facts, which are related by the Egyptians in one way, and by the Hebrews in another, but being bewitched, as it were,19 in favour of the former, accepted as true the statements of those who had oppressed the strangers, and declared that the Hebrews, who had been unjustly treated, had departed from Egypt after revolting against the Egyptians, – not observing how impossible it was for so great a multitude of rebellious Egyptians to become a nation, which, dating its origin from the said revolt, should change its language at the time of its rebellion, so that those who up to that time made use of the Egyptian tongue, should completely adopt, all at once, the language of the Hebrews! Let it be granted, however, according to his supposition, that on abandoning Egypt they did conceive a hatred also of their mother tongue,20 how did it happen that after so doing they did not rather adopt the Syrian or Phoenician language, instead of preferring the Hebrew, which is different from both? But reason seems to me to demonstrate that the statement is false, which makes those who were Egyptians by race to have revolted against Egyptians, and to have left the country, and to have proceeded to Palestine, and occupied the land now called Judea. For Hebrew was the language of their fathers before their descent into Egypt; and the Hebrew letters, employed by Moses in writing those five books which are deemed sacred by the Jews, were different from those of the Egyptians.
In like manner, as the statement is false “that the Hebrews, being (originally) Egyptians, dated the commencement (of their political existence) from the time of their rebellion,” so also is this, “that in the days of Jesus others who were Jews rebelled against the Jewish state, and became His followers;” for neither Celsus nor they who think with him are able to point out any act on the part of Christians which savours of rebellion. And yet, if a revolt had led to the formation of the Christian commonwealth, so that it derived its existence in this way from that of the Jews, who were permitted to take up arms in defence of the members of their families, and to slay their enemies, the Christian Lawgiver would not have altogether forbidden the putting of men to death; and yet He nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to any one, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatever. Nor would the Christians, had they owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not to allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors. And truly, if we look a little deeper into things, we may say regarding the exodus from Egypt., that it is a miracle if a whole nation at once adopted the language called Hebrew, as if it had been a gift from heaven, when one of their own prophets said, “As they went forth from Egypt, they heard a language which they did not understand.” (cf. Psa_81:5)
In the following way, also, we may conclude that they who came out of Egypt with Moses were not Egyptians; for if they had been Egyptians, their names also would be Egyptian, because in every language the designations (of persons and things) are kindred to the language.21 But if it is certain, from the names being Hebrew, that the people were not Egyptians, – and the Scriptures are full of Hebrew names, and these bestowed, too, upon their children while they were in Egypt, – it is clear that the Egyptian account is false, which asserts that they were Egyptians, and went forth from Egypt with Moses. Now it is absolutely certain22 that, being descended, as the Mosaic history records, from Hebrew ancestors, they employed a language from which they also took the names which they conferred upon their children. But with regard to the Christians, because they were taught not to avenge themselves upon their enemies (and have thus observed laws of a mild and philanthropic character); and because they would not, although able, have made war even if they had received authority to do so, – they have obtained this reward from God, that He has always warred in their behalf, and on certain occasions has restrained those who rose up against them and desired to destroy them. For in order to remind others, that by seeing a few engaged in a struggle for their religion, they also might be better fitted to despise death, some, on special occasions, and these individuals who can be easily numbered, have endured death for the sake of Christianity, – God not permitting the whole nation to be exterminated, but desiring that it should continue, and that the whole world should be filled with this salutary and religious doctrine.23 And again, on the other hand, that those who were of weaker minds might recover their courage and rise superior to the thought of death, God interposed His providence on behalf of believers, dispersing by an act of His will alone all the conspiracies formed against them; so that neither kings, nor rulers, nor the populace, might be able to rage against them beyond a certain point. Such, then, is our answer to the assertions of Celsus, “that a revolt was the original commencement of the ancient Jewish state, and subsequently of Christianity.”
But since he is manifestly guilty of falsehood in the statements which follow, let us examine his assertion when he says, “If all men wished to become Christians, the latter would not desire such a result.” Now that the above statement is false is clear from this, that Christians do not neglect, as far as in them lies, to take measures to disseminate their doctrine throughout the whole world. Some of them, accordingly, have made it their business to itinerate not only through cities, but even villages and country houses,24 that they might make converts to God. And no one would maintain that they did this for the sake of gain, when sometimes they would not accept even necessary sustenance; or if at any time they were pressed by a necessity of this sort, were contented with the mere supply of their wants, although many were willing to share (their abundance) with them, and to bestow help upon them far above their need. At the present day, indeed, when, owing to the multitude of Christian believers, not only rich men, but persons of rank, and delicate and high-born ladies, receive the teachers of Christianity, some perhaps will dare to say that it is for the sake of a little glory25 that certain individuals assume the office of Christian instructors. It is impossible, however, rationally to entertain such a suspicion with respect to Christianity in its beginnings, when the danger incurred, especially by its teachers, was great; while at the present day the discredit attaching to it among the rest of mankind is greater than any supposed honour enjoyed among those who hold the same belief, especially when such honour is not shared by all. It is false, then, from the very nature of the case, to say that “if all men wished to become Christians, the latter would not desire such a result.”
But observe what he alleges as a proof of his statement: “Christians at first were few in number, and held the same opinions; but when they grew to be a great multitude, they were divided and separated, each wishing to have his own individual party:26 for this was their object from the beginning.” That Christians at first were few in number, in comparison with the multitudes who subsequently became Christian, is undoubted; and yet, all things considered, they were not so very few.27 For what stirred up the envy of the Jews against Jesus, and aroused them to conspire against Him, was the great number of those who followed Him into the wilderness, – five thousand men on one occasion, and four thousand on another, having attended Him thither, without including the women and children. For such was the charm28 of Jesus’ words, that not only were men willing to follow Him to the wilderness, but women also, forgetting29 the weakness of their sex and a regard for outward propriety30 in thus following their Teacher into desert places. Children, too, who are altogether unaffected by such emotions,31 either following their parents, or perhaps attracted also by His divinity, in order that it might be implanted within them, became His followers along with their parents. But let it be granted that Christians were few in number at the beginning, how does that help to prove that Christians would be unwilling to make all men believe the doctrine of the Gospel?
He says, in addition, that “all the Christians were of one mind,” not observing, even in this particular, that from the beginning there were differences of opinion among believers regarding the meaning32 of the books held to be divine. At all events, while the apostles were still preaching, and while eye-witnesses of (the works of) Jesus were still teaching His doctrine, there was no small discussion among the converts from Judaism regarding Gentile believers, on the point whether they ought to observe Jewish customs, or should reject the burden of clean and unclean meats, as not being obligatory on those who had abandoned their ancestral Gentile customs, and had become believers in Jesus. Nay, even in the Epistles of Paul, who was contemporary with those who had seen Jesus, certain particulars are found mentioned as having been the subject of dispute, – viz., respecting the resurrection, (Cf. 1Co_15:12 sqq.) and whether it were already past, and the day of the Lord, whether it were nigh at hand (Cf. 2Th_2:2) or not. Nay, the very exhortation to “avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing, have erred concerning the faith,” (Cf. 1Ti_6:20) is enough to show that from the very beginning, when, as Celsus imagines, believers were few in number, there were certain doctrines interpreted in different ways.33
In the next place, since he reproaches us with the existence of heresies in Christianity as being a ground of accusation against it, saying that “when Christians had greatly increased in numbers, they were divided and split up into factions, each individual desiring to have his own party;” and further, that “being thus separated through their numbers, they confute one another, still having, so to speak, one name in common, if indeed they still retain it. And this is the only thing which they are yet ashamed to abandon, while other matters are determined in different ways by the various sects.” In reply to which, we say that heresies of different kinds have never originated from any matter in which the principle involved was not important and beneficial to human life. For since the science of medicine is useful and necessary to the human race, and many are the points of dispute in it respecting the manner of curing bodies, there are found, for this reason, numerous heresies confessedly prevailing in the science of medicine among the Greeks, and also, I suppose, among those barbarous nations who profess to employ medicine. And, again, since philosophy makes a profession of the truth, and promises a knowledge of existing things with a view to the regulation of life, and endeavours to teach what is advantageous to our race, and since the investigation of these matters is attended with great differences of opinion,34 innumerable heresies have consequently sprung up in philosophy, some of which are more celebrated than others. Even Judaism itself afforded a pretext for the origination of heresies, in the different acceptation accorded to the writings of Moses and those of the prophets. So, then, seeing Christianity appeared an object of veneration to men, not to the more servile class alone, as Celsus supposes, but to many among the Greeks who were devoted to literary pursuits,35 there necessarily originated heresies, – not at all, however, as the result of faction and strife, but through the earnest desire of many literary men to become acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity. The consequence of which was, that, taking in different acceptations those discourses which were believed by all to be divine, there arose heresies, which received their names from those individuals who admired, indeed, the origin of Christianity, but who were led, in some way or other, by certain plausible reasons, to discordant views. And yet no one would act rationally in avoiding medicine because of its heresies; nor would he who aimed at that which is seemly36 entertain a hatred of philosophy, and adduce its many heresies as a pretext for his antipathy. And so neither are the sacred books of Moses and the prophets to be condemned on account of the heresies in Judaism.
Now, if these arguments hold good, why should we not defend, in the same way, the existence of heresies in Christianity? And respecting these, Paul appears to me to speak in a very striking manner when he says, “For there must be heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you.” (1Co_6:20) For as that man is “approved” in medicine who, on account of his experience in various (medical) heresies, and his honest examination of the majority of them, has selected the preferable system, – and as the great proficient in philosophy is he who, after acquainting himself experimentally with the various views, has given in his adhesion to the best, – so I would say that the wisest Christian was he who had carefully studied the heresies both of Judaism and Christianity. Whereas he who finds fault with Christianity because of its heresies would find fault also with the teaching of Socrates, from whose school have issued many others of discordant views. Nay, the opinions of Plato might be chargeable with error, on account of Aristotle’s having separated from his school, and founded a new one, – on which subject we have remarked in the preceding book. But it appears to me that Celsus has become acquainted with certain heresies which do not possess even the name of Jesus in common with us. Perhaps he had heard of the sects called Ophites and Cainites, or some others of a similar nature, which had departed in all points from the teaching of Jesus. And yet surely this furnishes no ground for a charge against the Christian doctrine.
After this he continues: “Their union is the more wonderful, the more it can be shown to be based on no substantial reason. And yet rebellion is a substantial reason, as well as the advantages which accrue from it, and the fear of external enemies. Such are the causes which give stability to their faith.” To this we answer, that our union does thus rest upon a reason, or rather not upon a reason, but upon the divine working,37 so that its commencement was God’s teaching men, in the prophetical writings, to expect the advent of Christ, who was to be the Saviour of mankind. For in so far as this point is not really refuted (although it may seem to be by unbelievers), in the same proportion is the doctrine commended as the doctrine of God, and Jesus shown to be the Son of God both before and after His incarnation. I maintain, moreover, that even after His incarnation, He is always found by those who possess the acutest spiritual vision to be most God-like, and to have really come down to us from God, and to have derived His origin or subsequent development not from human wisdom, but from the manifestation38 of God within Him, who by His manifold wisdom and miracles established Judaism first, and Christianity afterwards; and the assertion that rebellion, and the advantages attending it, were the originating causes of a doctrine which has converted and improved so many men was effectually refuted.
But again, that it is not the fear of external enemies which strengthens our union, is plain from the fact that this cause, by God’s will, has already, for a considerable time, ceased to exist. And it is probable that the secure existence, so far as regards the world, enjoyed by believers at present, will come to an end, since those who calumniate Christianity in every way are again attributing the present frequency of rebellion to the multitude of believers, and to their not being persecuted by the authorities as in old times. For we have learned from the Gospel neither to relax our efforts in days of peace, and to give ourselves up to repose, nor, when the world makes war upon us, to become cowards, and apostatize from the love of the God of all things which is in Jesus Christ. And we clearly manifest the illustrious nature of our origin, and do not (as Celsus imagines) conceal it, when we impress upon the minds of our first converts a contempt for idols, and images of all kinds, and, besides this, raise their thoughts from the worship of created things instead of God, and elevate them to the universal Creator; clearly showing Him to be the subject of prophecy, both from the predictions regarding Him – of which there are many – and from those traditions which have been carefully investigated by such as are able intelligently to understand the Gospels, and the declarations of the apostles.
“But what the legends are of every kind which we gather together, or the terrors which we invent,” as Celsus without proof asserts, he who likes may show. I know not, indeed, what he means by “inventing terrors,” unless it be our doctrine of God as Judge, and of the condemnation of men for their deeds, with the various proofs derived partly from Scripture, partly from probable reason. And yet – for truth is precious – Celsus says, at the close, “Forbid that either I, or these, or any other individual should ever reject the doctrine respecting the future punishment of the wicked and the reward of the good!” What terrors, then, if you except the doctrine of punishment, do we invent and impose upon mankind? And if he should reply that “we weave together erroneous opinions drawn from ancient sources, and trumpet them aloud, and sound them before men, as the priests of Cybele clash their cymbals in the ears of those who are being initiated in their mysteries;”39 we shall ask him in reply, “Erroneous opinions from what ancient sources?” For, whether he refers to Grecian accounts, which taught the existence of courts of justice under the earth, or Jewish, which, among other things, predicted the life that follows the present one; he will be unable to show that we who, striving to believe on grounds of reason, regulate our lives in conformity with such doctrines, have failed correctly to ascertain the truth.40
He wishes, indeed, to compare the articles of our faith to those of the Egyptians; “among whom, as you approach their sacred edifices, are to be seen splendid enclosures, and groves, and large and beautiful gateways,41 and wonderful temples, and magnificent tents around them, and ceremonies of worship full of superstition and mystery; but when you have entered, and passed within, the object of worship is seen to be a cat, or an ape, or a crocodile, or a goat, or a dog!” Now, what is the resemblance42 between us and the splendours of Egyptian worship which are seen by those who draw near their temples? And where is the resemblance to those irrational animals which are worshipped within, after you pass through the splendid gateways? Are our prophecies, and the God of all things, and the injunctions against images,43 objects of reverence in the view of Celsus also, and Jesus Christ crucified, the analogue to the worship of the irrational animal? But if he should assert this – and I do not think that he will maintain anything else – we shall reply that we have spoken in the preceding pages at greater length in defence of those charges affecting Jesus, showing that what appeared to have happened to Him in the capacity of His human nature, was fraught with benefit to all men, and with salvation to the whole world.
In the next place, referring to the statements of the Egyptians, who talk loftily about irrational animals, and who assert that they are a sort of symbols of God, or anything else which their prophets, so termed, are accustomed to call them, Celsus says that “an impression is produced in the minds of those who have learned these things; that they have not been initiated in vain;”44 while with regard to the truths which are taught in our writings to those who have made progress in the study of Christianity (through that which is called by Paul the gift consisting in the “word of wisdom” through the Spirit, and in the “word of knowledge” according to the Spirit), Celsus does not seem even to have formed an idea,45 judging not only from what he has already said, but from what he subsequently adds in his attack upon the Christian system, when he asserts that Christians “repel every wise man from the doctrine of their faith, and invite only the ignorant and the vulgar;” on which assertions we shall remark in due time, when we come to the proper place.
He says, indeed, that “we ridicule the Egyptians, although they present many by no means contemptible mysteries46 for our consideration, when they teach us that such rites are acts of worship offered to eternal ideas, and not, as the multitude think, to ephemeral animals; and that we are silly, because we introduce nothing nobler than the goats and dogs of the Egyptian worship in our narratives about Jesus.” Now to this we reply, “Good sir,47 (suppose that) you are right in eulogizing the fact that the Egyptians present to view many by no means contemptible mysteries, and obscure explanations about the animals (worshipped) among them, you nevertheless do not act consistently in accusing us as if you believed that we had nothing to state which was worthy of consideration, but that all our doctrines were contemptible and of no account, seeing we unfold48 the narratives concerning Jesus according to the ‘wisdom of the word’ to those who are ‘perfect’ in Christianity. Regarding whom, as being competent to understand the wisdom that is in Christianity, Paul says: ‘We speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, who 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 this world knew.’” (1Co_2:6-8)
And we say to those who hold similar opinions to those of Celsus: “Paul then, we are to suppose, had before his mind the idea of no pre-eminent wisdom when he professed to speak wisdom among them that are perfect?” Now, as he spoke with his customary boldness when in making such a profession he said that he was possessed of no wisdom, we shall say in reply: first of all examine the Epistles of him who utters these words, and look carefully at the meaning of each expression in them – say, in those to the Ephesians, and Colossians, and Thessalonians, and Philippians, and Romans, – and show two things, both that you understand Paul’s words, and that you can demonstrate any of them to be silly or foolish. For if any one give himself to their attentive perusal, I am well assured either that he will be amazed at the understanding of the man who can clothe great ideas in common language; or if he be not amazed, he will only exhibit himself in a ridiculous light, whether he simply state the meaning of the writer as if he had comprehended it, or try to controvert and confute what he only imagined that he understood!
And I have not yet spoken of the observance49 of all that is written in the Gospels, each one of which contains much doctrine difficult to be understood, not merely by the multitude, but even by certain of the more intelligent, including a very profound explanation of the parables which Jesus delivered to “those without,” while reserving the exhibition of their full meaning50 for those who had passed beyond the stage of exoteric teaching, and who came to Him privately in the house. And when he comes to understand it, he will admire the reason why some are said to be “without,” and others “in the house.” And again, who would not be filled with astonishment that is able to comprehend the movements51 of Jesus; ascending at one time a mountain for the purpose of delivering certain discourses, or of performing certain miracles, or for His own transfiguration, and descending again to heal the sick and those who were unable to follow Him whither His disciples went? But it is not the appropriate time to describe at present the truly venerable and divine contents of the Gospels, or the mind of Christ – that is, the wisdom and the word – contained in the writings of Paul. But what we have said is sufficient by way of answer to the unphilosophic sneers52 of Celsus, in Comparing the inner mysteries of the Church of God to the cats, and apes, and crocodiles, and goats, and dogs of Egypt.
But this low jester53 Celsus, omitting no species of mockery and ridicule which can be employed against us, mentions in his treatise the Dioscuri, and Hercules, and Aesculapius, and Dionysus, who are believed by the Greeks to have become gods after being men, and says that “we cannot bear to call such beings gods, because they were at first men,54 and yet they manifested many noble qualifies, which were displayed for the benefit of mankind, while we assert that Jesus was seen after His death by His own followers;” and he brings against us an additional charge, as if we said that “He was seen indeed, but was only a shadow!” Now to this we reply, that it was very artful of Celsus not here clearly to indicate that he did not regard these beings as gods, for he was afraid of the opinion of those who might peruse his treatise, and who might suppose him to be an atheist; whereas, if he had paid respect to what appeared to him to be the truth, he would not have feigned to regard them as gods.55 Now to either of the allegations we are ready with an answer. Let us, accordingly, to those who do not regard them as gods reply as follows: These beings, then, are not gods at all; but agreeably to the view of those who think that the soul of man perishes immediately (after death), the souls of these men also perished; or according to the opinion of those who say that the soul continues to subsist or is immortal, these men continue to exist or are immortal, and they are not gods but heroes, – or not even heroes, but simply souls. If, then, on the one hand, you suppose them not to exist, we shall have to prove the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, which is to us a doctrine of pre-eminent importance;56 if, on the other hand, they do exist, we have still to prove57 the doctrine of immortality, not only by what the Greeks have so well said regarding it, but also in a manner agreeable to the teaching of Holy Scripture. And we shall demonstrate that it is impossible for those who were polytheists during their lives to obtain a better country and position after their departure from this world, by quoting the histories that are related of them, in which is recorded the great dissoluteness of Hercules, and his effeminate bondage with Omphale, together with the statements regarding Aesculapius, that their Zeus struck him dead by a thunderbolt. And of the Dioscuri, it will be said that they die often –
“At one time live on alternate days, and at another
Die, and obtain honour equally with the gods.”58
How, then, can they reasonably imagine that one of these is to be regarded as a god or a hero?
But we, in proving the facts related of our Jesus from the prophetic Scriptures, and comparing afterwards His history with them, demonstrate that no dissoluteness on His part is recorded. For even they who conspired against Him, and who sought false witnesses to aid them, did not find even any plausible grounds for advancing a false charge against Him, so as to accuse Him of licentiousness; but His death was indeed the result of a conspiracy, and bore no resemblance to the death of Aesculapius by lightning. And what is there that is venerable in the madman Dionysus, and his female garments, that he should be worshipped as a god? And if they who would defend such beings betake themselves to allegorical interpretations, we must examine each individual instance, and ascertain whether it is well founded,59 and also in each particular case, whether those beings can have a real existence, and are deserving of respect and worship who were torn by the Titans, and cast down from their heavenly throne. Whereas our Jesus, who appeared to the members of His own troop60 – for I will take the word that Celsus employs – did really appear, and Celsus makes a false accusation against the Gospel in saying that what appeared was a shadow. And let the statements of their histories and that of Jesus be carefully compared together. Will Celsus have the former to be true, but the latter, although recorded by eye-witnesses who showed by their acts that they clearly understood the nature of what they had seen, and who manifested their state of mind by what they cheerfully underwent for the sake of His Gospel, to be inventions? Now, who is there that, desiring to act always in conformity with right reason, would yield his assent at random61 to what is related of the one, but would rush to the history of Jesus, and without examination refuse to believe what is recorded of Him?62
And again, when it is said of Aesculapius that a great multitude both of Greeks and Barbarians acknowledge that they have frequently seen, and still see, no mere phantom, but Aesculapius himself, healing and doing good, and foretelling the future; Celsus requires us to believe this, and finds no fault with the believers in Jesus, when we express our belief in such stories, but when we give our assent to the disciples, and eye-witnesses of the miracles of Jesus, who clearly manifest the honesty of their convictions (because we see their guilelessness, as far as it is possible to see the conscience revealed in writing), we are called by him a set of “silly” individuals, although he cannot demonstrate that an incalculable63 number, as he asserts, of Greeks and Barbarians acknowledge the existence of Aesculapius; while we, if we deem this a matter of importance, can clearly show a countless multitude of Greeks and Barbarians who acknowledge the existence of Jesus. And some give evidence of their having received through this faith a marvellous power by the cures which they perform, revoking no other name over those who need their help than that of the God of all things, and of Jesus, along with a mention of His history. For by these means we too have seen many persons freed from grievous calamities, and from distractions of mind,64 and madness, and countless other ills, which could be cured neither by men nor devils.
Now, in order to grant that there did exist a healing spirit named Aesculapius, who used to cure the bodies of men, I would say to those who are astonished at such an occurrence, or at the prophetic knowledge of Apollo, that since the cure of bodies is a thing indifferent,65 and a matter within the reach not merely of the good,66 but also of the bad; and as the foreknowledge of the future is also a thing indifferent – for the possessor of foreknowledge does not necessarily manifest the possession of virtue – you must show that they who practise healing or who foretell the future are in no respect wicked, but exhibit a perfect pattern of virtue, and are not far from being regarded as gods. But they will not be able to show that they are virtuous who practise the art of healing, or who are gifted with foreknowledge, seeing many who are not fit to live are related to have been healed; and these, too, persons whom, as leading improper lives, no wise physician would wish to heal. And in the responses of the Pythian oracle also you may find some injunctions which are not in accordance with reason, two of which we will adduce on the present occasion; viz., when it gave commandment that Cleomedes67 – the boxer, I suppose – should be honoured with divine honours, seeing some great importance or other attaching to his pugilistic skill, but did not confer either upon Pythagoras or upon Socrates the honours which it awarded to pugilism; and also when it called Archilochus “the servant of the Muses” – a man who employed his poetic powers upon topics of the most wicked and licentious nature, and whose public character was dissolute and impure – and entitled him “pious,”68 in respect of his being the servant of the Muses, who are deemed to be goddesses! Now I am inclined to think that no one would assert that he was a “pious” man who was not adorned with all moderation and virtue, or that a decorous69 man would utter such expressions as are contained in the unseemly70 iambics of Archilochus. And if nothing that is divine in itself is shown to belong either to the healing skill of Aesculapius or the prophetic power of Apollo, how could any one, even were I to grant that the facts are as alleged, reasonably worship them as pure divinities? – and especially when the prophetic spirit of Apollo, pure from any body of earth, secretly enters through the private parts the person of her who is called the priestess, as she is seated at the mouth of the Pythian cave!71 Whereas regarding Jesus and His power we have no such notion; for the body which was born of the Virgin was composed of human material, and capable of receiving human wounds and death.
Let us see what Celsus says next, when he adduces from history marvellous occurrences, which in themselves seem to be incredible, but which are not discredited by him, so far at least as appears from his words. And, in the first place, regarding Aristeas of Proconnesus, of whom he speaks as follows: “Then, with respect to Aristeas of Proconnesus, who disappeared from among men in a manner so indicative of divine intervention,72 and who showed himself again in so unmistakeable a fashion, and on many subsequent occasions visited many parts of the world, and announced marvellous events, and whom Apollo enjoined the inhabitants of Metapontium to regard as a god, no one considers him to be a god.” This account he appears to have taken from Pindar and Herodotus. It will be sufficient, however, at present to quote the statement of the latter writer from the fourth book of his histories, which is to the following effect: “Of what country Aristeas, who made these verses, was, has already been mentioned, and I shall now relate the account I heard of him in Proconnesus and Cyzicus. They say that Aristeas, who was inferior to none of the citizens by birth, entering into a fuller’s shop in Proconnesus, died suddenly, and that the fuller, having closed his workshop, went to acquaint the relatives of the deceased. When the report had spread through the city that Aristeas was dead, a certain Cyzicenian, arriving from Artace, fell into a dispute with those who made the report, affirming that he had met and conversed with him on his way to Cyzicus, and he vehemently disputed the truth of the report; but the relations of the deceased went to the fuller’s shop, taking with them what was necessary for the purpose of carrying the body away; but when the house was opened, Aristeas was not to be seen, either dead or alive. They say that afterwards, in the seventh year, he appeared in Proconnesus, composed those verses which by the Greeks are now called Arimaspian, and having composed them, disappeared a second time. Such is the story current in these cities. But these things I know happened to the Metapontines in Italy 340 years after the second disappearance of Aristeas, as I discovered by computation in Proconnesus and Metapontium. The Metapontines say that Aristeas himself, having appeared in their country, exhorted them to erect an altar to Apollo, and to place near it a statue beating the name of Aristeas the Proconnesian; for he said that Apollo had visited their country only of all the Italians, and that he himself, who was now Aristeas, accompanied him; and that when he accompanied the god he was a crow; and after saying this he vanished. And the Metapontines say they sent to Delphi to inquire of the god what the apparition of the man meant; but the Pythian bade them obey the apparition, and if they obeyed it would conduce to their benefit. They accordingly, having received this answer, fulfilled the injunctions. And now, a statue beating the name of Aristeas is placed near the image of Apollo, and around it laurels are planted: the image is placed in the public square. Thus much concerning Aristeas.”73
Now, in answer to this account of Aristeas, we have to say, that if Celsus had adduced it as history, without signifying his own assent to its truth, it is in a different way that we should have met his argument. But since he asserts that he “disappeared through the intervention of the divinity,” and “showed himself again in an unmistakeable manner,” and “visited many parts of the world,” and “made marvellous announcements;” and, moreover, that there was “an oracle of Apollo, enjoining the Metapontines to treat Aristeas as a god,” he gives the accounts relating to him as upon his own authority, and with his full assent. And (this being the case), we ask, How is it possible that, while supposing the marvels related by the disciples of Jesus regarding their Master to be wholly fictitious, and finding fault with those who believe them, you, O Celsus, do not regard these stories of yours to be either products of jugglery74 or inventions? And how,75 while charging others with an irrational belief in the marvels recorded of Jesus, can you show yourself justified in giving credence to such statement as the above, without producing some proof or evidence of the alleged occurrences having taken place? Or do Herodotus and Pindar appear to you to speak the truth, while they who have made it their concern to die for the doctrine of Jesus, and who have left to their successors writings so remarkable on the truths which they believed, entered for the sake of “fictions” (as you consider them), and “myths,” and “juggleries,” upon a struggle which entails a life of danger and a death of violence? Place yourself, then, as a neutral party, between what is related of Aristeas and what is recorded of Jesus, and see whether, from the result, and from the benefits which have accrued from the reformation of morals, and to the worship of the God who is over all things, it is not allowable to conclude that we must believe the events recorded of Jesus not to have happened without the divine intervention, but that this was not the case with the story of Aristeas the Proconnesian.
For with what purpose in view did Providence accomplish the marvels related of Aristeas? And to confer what benefit upon the human race did such remarkable events, as you regard them, take place? You cannot answer. But we, when we relate the events of the history of Jesus, have no ordinary defence to offer for their occurrence; – this, viz., that God desired to commend the doctrine of Jesus as a doctrine which was to save mankind, and which was based, indeed, upon the apostles as foundations of the rising76 edifice of Christianity, but which increased in magnitude also in the succeeding ages, in which not a few cures are wrought in the name of Jesus, and certain other manifestations of no small moment have taken place. Now what sort of person is Apollo, who enjoined the Metapontines to treat Aristeas as a god? And with what object does he do this? And what advantage was he procuring to the Metapontines from this divine worship, if they were to regard him as a god, who a little ago was a mortal? And yet the recommendations of Apollo (viewed by us as a demon who has obtained the honour of libation and sacrificial odours77) regarding this Aristeas appear to you to be worthy of consideration; while those of the God of all things, and of His holy angels, made known beforehand through the prophets – not after the birth of Jesus, but before He appeared among men – do not stir you up to admiration, not merely of the prophets who received the Divine Spirit, but of Him also who was the object of their predictions, whose entrance into life was so clearly predicted many years beforehand by numerous prophets, that the whole Jewish people who were hanging in expectation of the coming of Him who was looked for, did, after the advent of Jesus, fall into a keen dispute with each other; and that a great multitude of them acknowledged Christ, and believed Him to be the object of prophecy, while others did not believe in Him, but, despising the meekness of those who, on account of the teaching of Jesus, were unwilling to cause even the most trifling sedition, dared to inflict on Jesus those cruelties which His disciples have so truthfully and candidly recorded, without secretly omitting from their marvellous history of Him what seems to the multitude to bring disgrace upon the doctrine of Christianity. But both Jesus Himself and His disciples desired that His followers should believe not merely in His Godhead and miracles, as if He had not also been a partaker of human nature, and had assumed the human flesh which “lusteth against the Spirit;”78 but they saw also that the power which had descended into human nature, and into the midst of human miseries, and which had assumed a human soul and body, contributed through faith, along with its divine elements, to the salvation of believers,79 when they see that from Him there began the union of the divine with the human nature, in order that the human, by communion with the divine, might rise to be divine, not in Jesus alone, but in all those who not only believe, but80 enter upon the life which Jesus taught, and which elevates to friendship with God and communion with Him every one who lives according to the precepts of Jesus.
According to Celsus, then, Apollo wished the Metapontines to treat Aristeas as a god. But as the Metapontines considered the evidence in favour of Aristeas being a man – and probably not a virtuous one – to be stronger than the declaration of the oracle to the effect that he was a god or worthy of divine honours, they for that reason would not obey Apollo, and consequently no one regarded Aristeas as a god. But with respect to Jesus we would say that, as it was of advantage to the human race to accept him as the Son of God – God come in a human soul and body – and as this did not seem to be advantageous to the gluttonous appetites81 of the demons which love bodies, and to those who deem them to be gods on that account, the demons that are on earth (which are supposed to be gods by those who are not instructed in the nature of demons), and also their worshippers, were desirous to prevent the spread of the doctrine of Jesus; for they saw that the libations and odours in which they greedily delighted were being swept away by the prevalence of the instructions of Jesus. But the God who sent Jesus dissipated all the conspiracies of the demons, and made the Gospel of Jesus to prevail throughout the whole world for the conversion and reformation of men, and caused Churches to be everywhere established in opposition to those of superstitious and licentious and wicked men; for such is the character of the multitudes who constitute the citizens82 in the assemblies of the various cities. Whereas the Churches of God which are instructed by Christ, when carefully contrasted with the assemblies of the districts in which they are situated, are as beacons83 in the world; for who would not admit that even the inferior members of the Church, and those who in comparison with the better are less worthy, are nevertheless more excellent than many of those who belong to the assemblies in the different districts?
For the Church84 of God, e.g., which is at Athens, is a meek and stable body, as being one which desires to please God, who is over all things; whereas the assembly85 of the Athenians is given to sedition, and is not at all to be compared to the Church of God in that city. And you may say the same thing of the Church of God at Corinth, and of the assembly of the Corinthian people; and also of the Church of God at Alexandria, and of the assembly of the people of Alexandria. And if he who hears this be a candid man, and one who investigates things with a desire to ascertain the truth, he will be filled with admiration of Him who not only conceived the design, but also was able to secure in all places the establishment of Churches of God alongside86 of the assemblies of the people in each city. In like manner, also, in comparing the council87 of the Church of God with the council in any city, you would find that certain councillors88 of the Church are worthy to rule in the city of God, if there be any such city in the whole world;89 whereas the councillors in all other places exhibit in their characters no quality worthy of the conventional90 superiority which they appear to enjoy over their fellow-citizens. And so, too, you must compare the ruler of the Church in each city with the ruler of the people of the city, in order to observe that even amongst those councillors and rulers of the Church of God who come very far short of their duty, and who lead more indolent lives than others who are more energetic, it is nevertheless possible to discover a general superiority in what relates to the progress of virtue over the characters of the councillors and rulers in the various cities.91
1 δημηγορίας: cf. book i. c. 71.
2 κατὰ τὴν παροιμίαν καλουμένης ὄνου σκιᾶς μάχης. On this proverb, see Zenobius, Centuria Sexta, adag. 28, and the note of Schottius. Cf. also Suidas, s.v. ονου σκια. – De la Rue.
4 διά τινος γοητείας.
5 κατὰ τὰ Ἰουδαίων πάτρια.
6 τῶν χρηματιζόντων μερίδος Θεοῦ.
7 ἆρα γὰρ ὡς ἔτυχε.
8 σὺν οὐδεμιᾷ πιθανότητι.
9 σὺν οὐδεμιᾷ πιθανότητι.
10 Psa_96:5, δαιμόνια, “idols,” Auth. Vers. We have in this passage, and in many others, the identification of the δαίμονες or gods of the heathen with the δαίμονες or δαιμόνια, “evil spirits,” or angels, supposed to be mentioned in Gen_6:2.
11 The reading in the text is αὑτομολεῖν, on which Bohereau, with whom the Benedictine editor agrees, remarks that we must either read αὑτομολήσοντας, or understand some such word as ἑτοίμους before αῦτομολεῖν.
12 Psa_96:5, δαιμόνια, “idols,” Auth. Vers. We have in this passage, and in many others, the identification of the δαίμονες or gods of the heathen with the δαίμονες or δαιμόνια, “evil spirits,” or angels, supposed to be mentioned in Gen_6:2.
13 τὸ μεῖζον αὐτόθεν.
14 μέχρι λόγου.
15 πῶς οὐχὶ ἐξ εἰκότων κατασκευάζεται.
16 καθ ὑπόθεσιν.
18 Τῆς καινοτομίας.
19 Προκαταληφθεὶς ὡς ὑπὸ φίλτρων τῶν Αἰγυπτίων.
20 Τὴν σύντροφον φωνήν.
21 Συγγενεῖς εἰσιν αἱ προσηγορίαι.
22 Σαφῶς ἐνργές.
23 [Gibbon, in the sixteenth chapter of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, quotes the first part of this sentence as proving that “the learned Origen declares, in the most express terms, that the number of martyrs was very inconsiderable.” But see Guizot’s note on the passage. S.]
26 στάσεις ἰδίας.
27 καί τοι οὐ πάντη ἧσαν ὀλίγοι.
29 The reading in Spencer’s and the Benedictine edition is ὑποτεμνομένας, for which Lommatzsch reads ὑπομεμνημένας.
30 καὶ τὸ δοκοῦν.
33 Τινὲς παρεκδοχαί. [He admits the fact, but does not justify such oppositions.]
34 πολλὴν ἔχει διολκήν.
36 τό πρέπον.
37 θείας ἐνεργείας.
39 τὰ τοῦ παλαιοῦ λόγου παρακούσματα συμπλάττοντες, τούτοις προκαταυλοῦμεν καὶ προκατηχοῦμεν τοῦς ἀνθρώπους, ὥς οὑ τους κορυβαντιζομένους περιβομβοῦντες.
40 οὐκ ἄν ἔχοι παραστῆσαι, ὅτι ἡμεῖς μὲν ἐν παρακούσμασι γενόμενοι τῆς ἀληθείας, ὅσοι γε πειρώμεθα μετὰ λόγου πιστεύειν, πρὸς τὰ τοιαῦτα ζῶμεν δόγματα.
41 προπυλαίων μεγέθη τε καὶ κάλλη.
42 τὸ ἀνάλογον.
43 [Clearly coincident with Clement and other early Fathers on this head.]
44 φαντασίαν ἐξαποστέλλειν τοῖς ταῦτα μεμαθηκόσιν, ὅτι μὴ μάτην μεμύηται.
47 ὦ γενναῖε.
52 ἀφιλόσοφον χλεύην.
54 The reading in the text is καὶ πρῶτοι, for which Bohereau proposes τὸ πρῶτον, which we have adopted in the translation.
55 We have followed in the translation the emendation of Guietus, who proposes εἰ δὲ τὴν φαινομένην αὐτῷ ἀλήθειαν ἐπρέσβευσεν, οὐκ ἄν, κ.τ.λ., instead of the textual reading, εἴ τε τῆς φαινομένης αὐτῷ ἀληθείας ἐπρέσβενσεν, οὐκ ἄν, κ.τ.λ..
56 τὸν προηγούμενον ἡμῖν περὶ ψυχής κατασκευαστέον λόγον.
57 Bohereau conjectures, with great probability, that instead of ἀποδεκτέον, we ought to read ἀποδεικτέον.
58 Cf. Hom., Odyss., xi. 303 and 304.
59 εἰ τὸ ὑγιὲς ἔχουσιν.
62 εἰ δὲ τὰ περὶ τούτου ἀνεχετάστως ὁρμῶν ἀπιστήσαι τοῖς περὶ αὐτοῦ;.
67 Cf. Smith’s Dict. of Biograph., s.v.
70 οἱ μὴ σεμνοί.
71 ὅτε διὰ τοῦ Πυθίον στομίου περικαθεζομένῃ τῇ καλουμένῃ προφήτιδι πνεῦμα διὰ τῶν γυναικείων ὑπεισέρχεται τὸ μαντικὸν, ὁ Ἀπόλλων, τὸ καθαρὸν ἀπὸ γηίνου σώματος. Boherellus conjectures τὸ μαντικὸν τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος τὸ καθαρον.
72 οὕτω δαιμονίως.
73 Herod., book iv. chaps. 14 and 15 (Cary’s translation).
75 Guietus conjectures, καὶ πῶς, ὦ λῷστε.
76 τῆς καταβαλλομένης οἰκοδομῆς.
77 τοῦ καθ ἡμᾶς δαίμονος, λαχόντος γέρας λοιβῆς τε κνίσσης τε.
78 ὡς οὐ κοινωνήσαντος τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ φύσει, οὐδ ἀναλαβόντος τὴν ἐν ἀνθρώποις σάρκα ἐπιθυμοῦσαν κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος.
79 Ἀλλὰ γὰρ καὶ τὴν καταβᾶσαν εἰς ἀνθρωπίνην φύσιν καὶ εἰς ἀνθρωπίνας περιστάσεις δύναμιν, καὶ ἀναλαβοῦσαν ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀνθρώπινον, ἑώρων ἐκ τοῦ πιστεύεσθαι μετὰ τῶν θειοτέρων συμβαλλομένην εἰς σωτηρίαν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.
80 μετὰ τοῦ πιστεύειν. Others read, μετὰ το πιστεύειν.
82 τοιαῦτα γὰρ τά πανταχοῦ πολιτευόμενα ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν πόλεων πλήθη.
83 φωστῆρες. [Phi_2:15. Very noteworthy are the details of this and the following chapter, and their defiant comparisons.]
89 εὕροις ἂν τίνες μὲν τῆς ἐκκλησίας βουλευταὶ ἄξιοί εἰσιν, εἴ τίς ἐστιν ἐν τῷ πάντι πόγις τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐν ἐκεινῇ πολιτεύεσθαι. Boherellus conjectures εὕροις ἂν ὅτι τινὲς μὲν, κ.τ.λ.
90 τῆς ἐκ κατατάξεως ὑπεροχῆς.
91 ὅτι και ἐπὶ τῶν σφόδρα ἀποτυγχανομένων βουλευτῶν καὶ ἀρχόντων ἐκκλησίας Θεοῦ, καὶ ραθυμότερον παρὰ τοὺς εὐτονωτέρως βιοῦντας, οὐδὲν ἧττόν ἐστιν εὑρεῖν ὡς ἐπίπαν ὑπεροχὴν, τὴν ἐν τῇ ἐπὶ τὰς ἀρετὰς προκοπῆ, παρὰ τὰ ἔθη τῶν ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι βουλευτῶν καὶ ἀρχόντων. Boherellus conjectures ῥαθυμοτερων.