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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:
Life and Works of Rufinus with Jerome's Apology Against Rufinus.: Origen's Hexapla--Its object.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

36. But Origen also, you will tell us, in composing his work called the Hexapla, adopted the asterisks, 2990 taking them from the p. 477 translation of Theodotion. How is this? You produce Origen sometimes for condemnation, sometimes for imitation, at your own caprice. But can it be admitted as right that you should bring in the same man as your advocate whom just now you were accusing? Can you take as an authority for your actions one whom you yourself have previously condemned, and to the condemnation of whom you stirred up the Roman senate? You ought to have made provision for this beforehand. No man begins by cutting the trunk of a tree when he is intending to lean against it; and no man first impugns the faith of another and then invokes his faith in his own defence. Whether Origen did as you say or not, makes no difference to you. If you wish that his case should be a precedent for yours, read over your judgment upon him, and see what you have said. You used the expression: “This is not clearing yourself but only seeking abettors of your crime.” Apply this to yourself; your business is not to seek abettors of your crime, but to find means of justification for your conduct. However, let us see whether anything of the kind was done by Origen whom you make both plaintiff and defendant. I do not find a single passage which he translated from the Hebrew. How then can your action and his be said to be alike? What he did was this. He proved that apostates and Jews had translated the writings which the Jews specially read: and, since it would frequently happen in the course of discussion that they falsely asserted that some things had been taken out and others put in in our copies of the Scriptures, Origen desired to shew to our people what reading obtained among the Jews. He therefore wrote out each of their versions in separate pages or columns, and pointed out by means of certain specified marks at the head of each line what had been added or subtracted by them; and he merely put these marks of his in the work of others, not in his own; so that we might understand not what we ourselves but what the Jews believed to have been either removed or inserted. This was no more than what is done in the army when a list is made out containing the names of the soldiers. If the captain wishes to see how many of them have survived after an action, he sends a man to make inquiry; and he makes his own mark, a (θ) (theta), for instance, as is commonly done, against the name of each soldier who has fallen, and puts some other mark of his own to designate the survivors. Do you suppose that he who makes one mark against the name of a dead man and another of his own against that of a survivor, will be thought to have done anything which causes the one to be dead and the other to be alive? He has only, as is well understood, marked the names of those who have been killed by others, so as to call attention to the fact. Just in the same way, Origen pointed out by certain marks of his own, namely, the signs of asterisks and obeli, 2991 which words had been, so to speak, killed by other translators, and those which had been superfluously introduced. But he put in no single word of his own, nor did he make it appear that the certainty of our copies was in any point shaken; but those things which, as the actual words run, seemed wanting in plainness and clearness, he showed to be full of the mysteries of a spiritual meaning. What comfort then can the conduct of Origen give you in this matter, when your work is shown to be quite unlike his, and when all your labour is spent upon making one letter kill the next, whereas his endeavour, on the contrary, is to vindicate the Spirit which giveth life?



The asterisks denoted that the words to which they were attached were added, and the obeli (†) that something had been subtracted. See Jerome’s Preface to the Books of Kings in this Series.


Stars and spits.

Next: St. Paul's method of dealing with erring brethren.

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