According to the Fathers
Before we continue with our treatment of the truth of divine inspiration as set forth in the Reformed Confessions, we wish to call attention to this doctrine as set forth by the Fathers of the early Christian Church (the church during the early years of the New Dispensation).
Theophilus occupies an interesting position, after Ignatius, in the succession of faithful men who represented Barnabas and other prophets and teachers of Antioch, in that ancient seat, from which comes our name as Christians. He was one of the earliest commentators upon the Gospels, if not the first; and he seems to have been the earliest Christian historian of the church of the Old Testament. Little is known of the personal history of Theophilus of Antioch. He was undoubtedly born a pagan, and owed his conversion to Christianity to the careful study of the Holy Scriptures. He succeeded to the bishopric of Antioch in the eighth year of the reign of Marcus Aurelius, that is, in A.C. 168. He is related to have died either in A.D. 181, or in A.D. 188—some assigning him an episcopate of thirteen, and others of twenty-one, years.
In connection with the truth of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, Theophilus did not write too much; at least; not mu.ch is recorded of him. This is probably due to the fact that the truth of divine inspiration was not much in dispute in that early day. Writing on the inspiration of the prophets by the Holy Spirit, he writes as follows: “But men of God carrying in them a holy spirit and becoming prophets, being inspired and made wise by God, became God-taught, and holy, and righteous. Wherefore they were also deemed worthy of receiving this reward, that they should become instruments of God, and contain the wisdom that is from Him; through which wisdom they uttered both what regarded the creation of the world and all other things. For they predicted also pestilences, and famines, and wars. And there was not one or two, but many, at various times and seasons among the Hebrews; and also among the Greeks there was the Sibyl; and they all have spoken things consistent and harmonious with each other, both what happened before them and what happened in their own time, and what things are now being fulfilled in our own day; wherefore we are persuaded also concerning the future things that they will fall out, as also the first have been accomplished.” page 97, Vol. II; The Ante-Nicene Fathers. It is evident from this quotation that Theophilus believed in the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
We also wish to quote from Origen, from Vol. IV of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Origen belonged to the great Alexandrian school. The rise and rapid development of this school, and the predominance of it were imparted to it by the genius of Clement. Origen was his pupil, and succeeded him at the surprising age of eighteen. Alexandria was called “the mother and mistress of churches,” in the benign sense of a nurse and instructress of Christendom, not its arrogant and usurping imperatrix.
Of this ante-Nicene period (the period before the Council of Nicea, 325 A.D.), it is said, we believe justifiably, and we quote: “Justly has it been urged that to those whose colossal labors during the ante-Nicene period exposed them to hasty judgment, and led them into mistakes, much indulgence must be shown. The language of theology was but assuming shape under their processes, and we owe them an incalculable debt of gratitude: but it was not yet molded into precision, nor had great councils, presided over by the Holy Ghost, as yet afforded those safeguards to freedom of thought which gradually defined the limits of orthodoxy. To no single teacher did the Church defer. Holy Scripture was the grand prescription, against which no individual prelate or doctor could prevail, against which no see could uplift a voice, without chastisement and subjection . . . . . But before the great Synodical period (A.D. 325 to 451), while orthodoxy is marvelously maintained and witnessed to by Origen and Tertullian themselves, their errors, however serious, have never separated them from the grateful and loving regard of those upon whom their lives of heroic sorrow and suffering have conferred blessings unspeakable. The Church cannot leave their errors uncorrected. Their persons she leaves to the Master’s reward: their characters she cherishes, while their faults she deplores.” And to this is added the following: “The great feature of the ante-Nicene theology, even in the mistakes of the writers, is its reliance on the Holy Scripture. What wealth of Scripture they lavish in their pages! We identify the Scriptures by their aid; but, were they lost in other forms, we might almost restore them from their pages.”
Philip Schaff describes Origen as follows in his “History Of The Christian Church,” Volume II, 786ff.: “ORIGENES, surnamed “Adamantius” on account of his industry and purity of character, is one of the most remarkable men in history for genius and learning, for the influence he exerted on his age, and for the controversies and discussions to which his opinions gave rise. He was born of Christian parents at Alexandria, in the year 185, and probably baptized in childhood, according to Egyptian custom which he traced to apostolic origin. Under the direction of his father, Leonides, who was probably a rhetorician, and of the celebrated Clement at the catechetical school, he received a pious and learned education. While yet a boy, he knew whole sections of the Bible by memory, and not rarely perplexed his father with questions on the deeper sense of Scripture. The father reproved his curiosity, but thanked God for such a son, and often, as he slept, reverentially kissed his breast as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Under the persecution of Septimius Severus in 202, he wrote to his father in prison, beseeching him not to deny Christ for the sake of his family, and strongly desired to give himself up to the heathen authorities, but was prevented by his mother, who hid his clothes. Leonides died a martyr, and, as his property was confiscated, he left a helpless widow with seven children. Origen was for a time assisted by a wealthy matron, and then supported himself by giving instruction in the Greek language and literature, and by copying manuscripts.
“When his labors and the number of his pupils increased, he gave the lower classes (Origen had been appointed president of the catechetical school of Alexandria, at the age of eighteen years, left vacant by the flight of Clement) of the catechetical school into the charge of his pupil Heraclas, and devoted himself wholly to the more advanced students. He was successful in bringing many eminent heathens and heretics to the Catholic church (not to be confused with the later Roman Catholic Church—H.V.); among them a wealthy Gnostic, Ambrosius, who became his most liberal patron. . . . .His mode of life during the whole period was strictly ascetic. He made it a matter of principle to renounce every earthly thing not indispensably necessary. He refused the gifts of his pupils, and in literal obedience to the Savior’s injunction he had but one coat, no shoes, and took no thought of the morrow. He rarely ate flesh, never drank wine; devoted the greater part of the night to prayer and study, and slept on the bare floor.”
Origen was persecuted for his views. In the Decian persecution he was cast into prison, cruelly tortured, and condemned to the stake. Although he regained his liberty by the death of the emperor, yet he died some time after, at the age of sixty-nine, in the year 253 or 254, at Tyre, probably in consequence of that violence. He belongs, therefore, at least among the confessors, if not among the martyrs. He was buried at Tyre. He was the greatest scholar of his age, and the most gifted, most industrious, and most cultivated of all the ante-Nicene fathers. Even heathens and heretics admired or feared his brilliant talent and vast learning. His knowledge embraced all departments of the philology, philosophy, and theology of his day. With this he united profound and fertile thought, keen penetration, and glowing imagination. As a true divine, he consecrated all his studies by prayer, and turned them, according to his best convictions, to the service of truth and piety. According to Philip Schaff, he is certainly guilty of teaching things that are contrary to orthodox Christianity. Among these departures are his extremely ascetic and almost docetistic conception of corporeity, his denial of a material resurrection, his doctrine of the pre-existence and the pre-temporal fall of souls (including the pre-existence of thehuman soul of Christ), of eternal creation, of the extension of the work of redemption to the inhabitants of the stars and to all rational creatures, and of the final restoration of all men and fallen angels. Also in regard to the dogma of the divinity of Christ, though he powerfully supported it, and was the first to teach expressly the eternal generation of the Son, yet he may be almost as justly considered a forerunner of the Arian heteroousion, or at least of the semi-Arian homoiousion, as of the Athaniasian homoousion.
Writing on the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, Origen writes as follows, Vol. IV, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 348 ff.: “Since, in our investigation of matters of such importance, not satisfied with the common opinions, and with the clear evidence of visible things, we take in addition, for the proof of our statements, testimonies from what are believed by us to be divine writings, viz., from that which is styled the New, and endeavor by reason to confirm our faith; and as we have not yet spoken of the Scriptures as divine, come and let us, as if by way of an epitome, treat of a few points respecting them, laying down those reasons which lead us to regard them as divine writings. And before making use of the words of the writings themselves, and of the things which are exhibited in them, we must make the following statement regarding Moses and Jesus Christ,—the lawgiver of the Hebrews, and the Introducer of the saving doctrines according to Christianity. For, although there have been very many legislators among the Greeks and Barbarians, and teachers who announced opinions which professed to be the truth, we have heard of no legislator who was able to imbue other nations with a zeal for the reception of his words; and although those who professed to philosophize about truth brought forward a great apparatus of apparent logical demonstration, no one has been able to impress what was deemed by him the truth upon other nations, or even on any number of persons worth mentioning in a single nation. And yet not only would the legislators have liked to enforce those laws which appeared to be good, if possible, upon the whole human race, but the teachers also to have spread what they imagined to be truth everywhere throughout the world. But as they were unable to call men of other languages and from many nations to observe their laws, and accept their teaching, they did not at all attempt to do this, considering not unwisely the impossibility of such a result happening to them. Whereas all Greece, and the barbarous part of our world, contains innumerable zealots, who have deserted the laws of their fathers and the established gods, for the observance of the laws of Moses and the discipleship of the words of Jesus Christ; although those who clave to the law of Moses were hated by the worshippers of images, and those who accepted the words of Jesus Christ were exposed, in addition, to the danger of death.” The Lord willing, we will quote more from Origen in our following article.