22. To begin. In the first book I take the words of Paul: 3042 “As he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and unspotted before him.” This I have interpreted as referring not, according to Origens opinion, to an election of those who had existed in a previous state, but to the foreknowledge of God; and I close the discussion with these words:
“His assertion that we have been chosen before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blemish before him, that is, before God, 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: and Jeremiah before his birth is sanctified, chosen, confirmed, and, as a type of Christ, sent as a prophet to the Gentiles.”
There is no crime surely in this exposition of the passage. Origen explained it in a heterodox sense, but I followed that of the church. And, since it is the duty of a commentator to record the opinions expressed by many others, and I had promised in the Preface that I would do this, I set down Origens interpretation, though without mentioning his name which excites ill will.
“Another,” I said, “who wishes to vindicate the justice of God, and to shew 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; and that it is to this that we may apply the Psalmists prayer, he being in this low condition and longing to return to his former dwelling place: 3043 “Woe is me that my sojourn is prolonged; I have inhabited the habitations of Kedar, my soul hath had a long pilgrimage.” And also the words of the Apostle: 3044 “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” and 3045 “It is better to return and to be with Christ;” and 3046 “Before I was brought low, I sinned.” He adds much more of the same kind.”
Now observe that I said “Another who wishes to vindicate,” I did not say “who succeeds in vindicating.” But if you find a stumbling block in the fact that I condensed a very long discussion of Origens into a brief statement so as to give the reader a glimpse of his meaning; if you declare me to be a secret adherent of his because I have not left out anything which he has said, I would ask you whether it was not necessary for me to do this, so as to avoid your cavils. Would you not otherwise have declared that I had kept silence on matters on which he had spoken boldly, and that in the Greek text his assertions were much stronger than I represented? I therefore put down all that I found in the Greek text, though in a shorter form, so that his disciples should have nothing which they could force upon the ears of the Latins as a new thing; for it is easier for us to make light of things which we know well than of things which take us unprepared. But after I had shewn Origens interpretations of the passage, I concluded this section with words to which I beg your attention:
“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 thy 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.”
Does any one dare, then, after this statement of my opinion, to accuse me of assent to the heresy of Origen? It is now almost eighteen years since I composed those books, at a time when the name of Origen was highly esteemed in the world, and when as yet his work the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν had not reached the ears of the Latins: and yet I distinctly stated my belief and pointed out what I did not agree with. Hence, even if my opponent could have pointed out anything heretical in other places, I should be held guilty only of the fault of carelessness, not of the perverse doctrines which both in this place and in my other works I have condemned.