Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Life and Works of Rufinus with Jerome's Apology Against Rufinus.: It is not permitted to you to be ignorant of such a matter which all the churches know.
10. Unhappy souls! stricken through with all these barbarisms as with so many lances! I doubt whether they had so much trouble when, according to the erroneous theory of Origen, they tell from heaven to earth, and were clothed in these gross bodies, as they have now in being knocked about on all sides by these strange words and sentences: not to mention that word of ill omen which says that they are infused through the channel of the human seed. I know that it is not usual in Christian writings to criticise mere faults of style; but I thought it well to shew by a few examples how rash it is to teach what you are ignorant of, to write what you do not know: so that, when we come to the subject-matter, we may be prepared to find the same amount of wisdom. He sends a letter, which he calls a very strong stick, as a weapon for the Bishop of Rome; and on the very subject about which the dogs are barking at him he professes entire ignorance of the question. If he is ignorant on the subject for which ill-reports are current against him, what need was there for him to send an Apology, which contains no defence of himself, but only a confession of his ignorance? This course is calculated to sow a crop of suspicions, not to calm them. He gives us three opinions about the origin of souls; and his conclusion at the end is: “I do not deny that I have read each of them, and I confess that I still am ignorant.” You would suppose him to be Arcesilaus 3105 or Carneades 3106 who declare that there is no certainty; though he surpasses even them in his cautiousness; for they were driven by the intolerable ill-will which they aroused among philosophers for taking all truth out of human life, to invent the doctrines of probability, so that by making their probable assertions they might temper their agnosticism; but he merely says that he is uncertain, and does not know which of these opinions is true. If this was all the answer he had to make, what could have induced him to invoke so great a Pontiff as the witness of his lack of theological culture. I presume this is the lassitude about which he tells us that he is exhausted with his thirty-years journey and cannot come to Rome. There are a great many things of which we are all ignorant; but we do not ask for witnesses of our ignorance. As to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as to the nativity of our Lord and Saviour, about which Isaiah cries, 3107 “Who shall declare his genp. 506 eration?” he speaks boldly, and a mystery of which all past ages knew nothing he claims as quite within his knowledge: this alone he does not know, the ignorance of which causes men to stumble. As to how a virgin became the mother of God, he has full knowledge; as to how he himself was born he knows nothing. He confesses that God is the maker of souls and bodies, whether souls existed before bodies or whether they came into being with the germs of bodies, or are sent into them when they are already formed in the womb. In any case we recognize God as their author. The question at issue is not whether the souls were made by God or by another, but which of the three opinions which he states is true. Of this he professes ignorance. Take care! You may find people saying that the reason for your confession of your ignorance of the three is that you do not wish to be compelled to condemn one. You spare Tertullian and Lactantius so as not to condemn Origen with them. As far as I remember (though I may be mistaken) I am not aware of having read that Lactantius spoke of the soul as planted at the same time as the body. 3108 But, as you say that you have read it, please to tell me in what book it is to be found, so that you may not be thought to have calumniated him in his death as you have me in my slumber. But even here you walk with a cautious and hesitating step. You say: “I think that, among the Latins, Tertullian or Lactantius held this opinion, perhaps also some others.” You not only are in doubt about the origin of souls, but you have only thoughts as to the opinion which each writer holds: yet the matter is of some importance. On the question of the soul, however, you openly proclaim your ignorance, and confess your untaught condition: as to the authors, your knowledge amounts only to thinking, hardly to presuming. But as to Origen alone you are quite clear. “This is Origens opinion,” you say. But, let me ask you: Is the opinion sound or not? Your reply is, “I do not know.” Then why do you send me messengers and letter-carriers, who are constantly coming, merely to teach me that you are ignorant? To prevent the possibility of my doubting whether your incapacity is as great as you say, and thinking it possible that you are cunningly concealing all you know, you take an oath in the presence of God that up to the present moment you hold nothing for certain and definite on this subject, and that you leave it to God to know what is true, and to any one to whom it may please Him to reveal it. What! Through all these ages does it seem to you that there has been no one worthy of having this revealed to him? Neither patriarch, nor prophet, nor apostle, nor martyr? Were not these mysteries made clear even to yourself when you dwelt amidst princes and exiles? The Lord says in the Gospel: 3109 “Father, I have revealed thy name to men.” Did he who revealed the Father keep silence on the origin of souls? And are you astonished if your brethren are scandalized when you swear that you know nothing of a thing which the churches of Christ profess to know? 3110
Of Pitane in Æolia, b.c. 316–241. Founder of the Middle Academy, half-way between the Platonic idealism and the scepticism of Pyrrho.505:3106
Of Cyrene, b.c. 214–124. Founder of the Third or New Academy, a disputant rather than a philosopher of fixed principles.505:3107
Is. liii. 8506:3108
John xvii. 6506:3110
Though Jerome here speaks as if the question had been determined by church authority, the perusal of his correspondence with Augustin (Jeromes Letters 126, 131, 134) shows that he was in the same perplexity as Rufinus, but less ingenuous in confessing it.
Next: As to translating the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν, it is not a question, but a charge that you unjustifiably altered the book.
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