22. But now I will turn the tables and put my accuser to the question. Tell me, O great master, if there is anything to blame in a writer, is the blame to be laid on one who reads or translates his works? Heaven forbid, he will say; certainly not; why do you try to circumvent me by your enigmatical questions? Am not I myself both a reader and a translator of Origen? Read my translations and see if you can find any one of his peculiar doctrines in them; especially any of those which I now mark for condemnation. When driven to the point he says:
“If you wish thoroughly to see how abhorent the very suggestion of such doctrines has always been to me, read my Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, and you will see from what I have written there what an opinion I formed of him from reading and translating his works.” 2858
I ask, can we accept this man as a great and grave teacher, who in one of his works praises Origen and in another condemns him? who in his Introductions calls him a master second only to the Apostles, but now calls him a heretic? What heretic, I ask, was ever called a master of the churches? “It is true, he replies, I was wrong about this but why do you go on bringing up this unfortunate Preface 2859 against me? Read my Commentaries, and especially those which I have designated.” Is there any one who will think this satisfactory? He has composed a great many books, in almost all of which he trumpets forth the praises of Origen to the skies: these books through all these years have been read and are being read by all men: many of these readers after accepting his opinions have left this world and gone into the presence of the Lord. They hold the opinion about Origen which they had learnt from the statements of this man, and they departed in hope that, according to this mans assurance, they would find him there as a master second only to the Apostles; but if we are to trust his present writings, they have found him in a state of condemnation, among the impious heretics and the heathen. Is this man now to turn round from his former contention, and to say, “For some thirty years I have been, in my studies and in my writings, praising Origen as equal to the Apostles, but now I pronounce him a heretic?” How is this? Has he come upon some new books of his which he had never read before? Not at all. It is from these same sayings of Origen that he formerly called him an Apostle and now calls him a heretic. But it is impossible that this should really have been so. For either he was right in his former praises, and his judgment has since been perverted by some kind of extreme ill feeling, and in that case no attention is to be paid to him; or else his former praises were mistaken, and he is now condemning himself, and in that case what judgment does he think others will pass upon him, when, according to the words of the Apostle, 2860 he passes condemnation on himself.
22 (a). But, “Surely,” he says, “this judgment is done away with since I have repented.” Not so fast! We all err, it is true, and especially in word; and we all may repent of our errors. But can a man do penance, and accuse others, and judge and condemn them, all in the same moment? That would be as if a harlot who had abstained from her harlotry for a night or two, should feel called upon to begin writing laws in favour of chastity, and not only to enact these laws, but to proceed to throw down the monuments of all the women who have died, because she suspected that they had led lives like her own. You do penance for having formerly been a heretic, and you do right. But what has that to do with me who never was a heretic at all? You are right in doing penance for your error: but the true way of doing penance is, not by accusing others but by crying for mercy, not by condemning but by weeping. For what sincerity can there be in penitence when the penitent makes a decree of indulgence for himself? He who repents of what he has spoken ill does not cure his p. 447 wound by speaking ill again, but by keeping silence. For thus it is written: 2861 “Thou hast sinned, be at peace.” But now you first bring yourself in a criminal, then you absolve yourself from your crime, and forthwith change yourself from a criminal into a judge. This may be no trouble to you who thus mock at us, but it is a trouble to us if we suffer ourselves to be mocked by you.
The words are not quoted literally from Jeromes letter to Pammachius and Oceanus (Ep. lxxxiv. c. 2) the passage referred to; but they give the sense fairly well. See also the letter to Vigilantius (lxi. c. 2).446:2859
Prœfati unculam. That is, the Preface to Origens Song of Songs, in which he says that Origen has not only surpassed every one else, but also in this work has surpassed himself.446:2860
Perhaps from 1 Cor. 11:29, Rom. 14:231 Cor. xi. 29, or Rom. xiv. 23447:2861
Possibly a kind of paraphrase of our Lords words to the woman taken in adultery. John viii. 11