This volume consists of the writings of Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Commodianus, and Origen. Tertullian takes up about 30% of this volume and is a continuation of Volume 3 of this series, which was entirely dedicated to his writings. He is considered the `father of Latin Christianity'. He lived from roughly 160 - 225 AD. His writings are mostly accepted as orthodox by traditional Christians, though he is joined the Montanist sect in later life, which is considered a heretical group. He is best known as the first Latin writer to use the term Trinity and define it in similar terms to what later became part of mainstream Christianity.
This volume mainly contains a bunch of his shorter works. Examples include discourses on the apparel of women, veiling of virgins, chastity, monogamy, modesty, and fasting. As noted in my review of volume 3, I personally found that most of his writings did not interest me much, especially compared with the writings of earlier writers in the first two volumes of this work. Much of it covered topics that are not of interest to modern readers. The only thing of interest that I found was that he considered the ‘Prophecy of Enoch’ to be genuine, which was later excluded from the canon. He is also a believer in free will.
The writings of Minucius Felix made up only 2% of this volume and consist of one work, Octavius. This work was written sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century and is considered a contemporary of Tertullian. It is a dialogue between a Pagan and a Christian and is an apologetic work not much different in tone than Tertullian’s works.
The writings of Commodianus made up only 2% of this volume and consists of instructions in favor of Christian Discipline. This was written in the middle of the 3rd century and was initially in the form of a poem but is presented here in the form of prose. It was interesting, and gives an interesting look at how early converts from Paganism were taught.
The rest of the volume, about 66%, is made up of a selection from the works of Origen. He thrived in the early 3rd century and was a pupil of Clement of Alexandria and wrote in Greek. He is a colorful character who castrated himself following Matthew 19:2. He was a very prolific writer and only a small portion of his works is included here. Most of his works are considered orthodox, but he had some views that were considered unorthodox that prevented him from becoming canonized as many other early church fathers were. These beliefs include the preexistence of the human soul, that the preexistent soul of Jesus was born of the Father before any other soul, that the resurrection is ethereal (not corporeal), and that everyone (including devils) will be restored through the mediation of Christ.
Besides the above, other interesting things he taught include that he believes in free will, but thinks that actions we took before our birth impacted our station in life. He believes in creation out of ‘shapeless matter’. He taught that God abandoned the Jews since they no longer have prophets nor miracles and says that traces of miracles were still seen to a considerable extent during his day, but does admit that they are diminishing. He says that Jesus is ‘a God next to the God and Father of all things’.
He also teaches that people are born innocent and become wicked through education, example, and surrounding influences. He also believes that men may become gods be partaking of ‘His divine nature’.
I found his description of the unity of the Father and Son interesting. He said: “We worship, therefore, the Father of truth, and the Son, who is the truth; and these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will.”
Overall, I found Origen to be a good read (much better than Tertullian). He is a good writer whose logic makes sense. Having said this, there is still a lot of boring material to go through that most people will not relate to. I continue to find the variety of early Christian beliefs to be very interesting.
on May 25, 2011
It's great to have these volumes available on the Kindle in such a well-presented format. I have just a few critiques: (1) It is difficult to tell which of the works you are currently reading because all you have to go by from the current screen on your kindle is the location number. You have to go back to the table of contents and bounce around to figure it out. Actual page numbers and headings tied to the Author, Work, and Chapter would be great. It would be even better if those headings were hyperlinks back to the table of contents.
Also, the footnotes are highlighted in a way that, on the iPod or iPad Kindle app, looks identical to the reader's own highlights.
on September 8, 2013
This is not a new book, but is part of an extensive set first published in the 19th century. I have not read all of it, but am working thru Origen's "Against Celsus." This reads well in the English translation, and gives us a vivid picture of anti-Christian polemic by a Greco-Roman pagan of the 2nd century, both from his own perspective and apparently from that of a Jewish informant. Origen answers well, though not necessarily how an orthodox Christian in the 21st century would answer in all places. Yet it is striking how well Origen understands both the Old and New Testament.
on April 1, 2015
Volume Four begins with "part four" of Tertullian's works, and not necessarily the best or most interesting:
On the Pallium. On the Apparel of Women. On the Veiling of Virgins. To His Wife. On Exhortation to Chastity. On Monogamy. On Modesty. On Fasting. De Fuga in Persecutione.
Of the two minor authors sandwiched between Tertullian and Origen (as another reviewer has pointed out, the two together make up less than four percent of the entire volume), Minucius Felix is much more interesting than Commodianus. His Octavius is a dialogue between a pagan and a Christian written in imitation of Cicero, and both sides are definitely heard from:
They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another. Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes. Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were at the bottom of it.
The remaining two-thirds of the volume are selected works of Origien:
Introductory Note. (worthwhile)
Prologue of Rufinus. (the fourth century translator of Origen from Greek to Latin)
Origen De Principiis.
A Letter to Origen from Africanus About the History of Susanna.
A Letter from Origen to Africanus.
A Letter from Origen to Gregory.
Origen Against Celsus.
This last work, like the Octavius above, is a debate between pagan and Christian philosopher, and abounds with references to exoteric and esoteric doctrines, such as:
... [W]hereas Moses, like a distinguished orator who meditates some figure of Rhetoric, and who carefully introduces in every part language of twofold meaning, has done this in his five books: neither affording, in the portion which relates to morals, any handle to his Jewish subjects for committing evil; nor yet giving to the few individuals who were endowed with greater wisdom, and who were capable of investigating his meaning, a treatise devoid of material for speculation.
... But he who deals candidly with histories, and would wish to keep himself also from being imposed upon by them, will exercise his judgment as to what statements he will give his assent to, and what he will accept figuratively, seeking to discover the meaning of the authors of such inventions, and from what statements he will withhold his belief, as having been written for the gratification of certain individuals. And we have said this by way of anticipation respecting the whole history related in the Gospels concerning Jesus, not as inviting men of acuteness to a simple and unreasoning faith, but wishing to show that there is need of candour in those who are to read, and of much investigation, and, so to speak, of insight into the meaning of the writers, that the object with which each event has been recorded may be discovered.