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The Proœmium.—Motives for Undertaking the Refutation; Exposure of the Ancient Mysteries; Plan of the Work; Completeness of the Refutation; Value of the Treatise to Future Ages.

We must not overlook2323    Some hiatus at the beginning of this sentence is apparent. any figment devised by those denominated philosophers among the Greeks. For even their incoherent tenets must be received as worthy of credit, on account of the excessive madness of the heretics; who, from the observance of silence, and from concealing their own ineffable mysteries, have by many been supposed worshippers of God.2424    An elaborate defence of this position forms the subject of Cudworth’s great work, The True Intellectual System of the Universe. We have likewise, on a former occasion,2525    This statement has been urged against Origen’s authorship, in favour of Epiphanius, who wrote an extended treatise on the Heresies, with an abridgment. expounded the doctrines of these briefly, not illustrating them with any degree of minuteness, but refuting them in coarse digest; not having considered it requisite to bring to light their secret2626    That is, their esoteric mysteries, intended only for a favoured few, as contrasted with the exoteric, designed for more general diffusion. doctrines, in order that, when we have explained their tenets by enigmas, they, becoming ashamed, lest also, by our divulging their mysteries, we should convict them of atheism, might be induced to desist in some degree from their un10reasonable opinion and their profane attempt.2727    One ms. has—“the profane opinion and unreasonable attempt.”  But since I perceive that they have not been abashed by our forbearance, and have made no account of how God is long-suffering, though blasphemed by them, in order that either from shame they may repent, or should they persevere, be justly condemned, I am forced to proceed in my intention of exposing those secret mysteries of theirs, which, to the initiated, with a vast amount of plausibility they deliver who are not accustomed first to disclose (to any one), till, by keeping such in suspense during a period (of necessary preparation), and by rendering him blasphemous towards the true God they have acquired complete ascendancy over him, and perceive him eagerly panting after the promised disclosure. And then, when they have tested him to be enslaved by sin, they initiate him, putting him in possession of the perfection of wicked things. Previously, however, they bind him with an oath neither to divulge (the mysteries), nor to hold communication with any person whatsoever, unless he first undergo similar subjection, though, when the doctrine has been simply delivered (to any one), there was no longer any need of an oath. For he who was content to submit to the necessary purgation,2828    “To learn” (Roeper). and so receive the perfect mysteries of these men, by the very act itself, as well as in reference to his own conscience, will feel himself sufficiently under an obligation not to divulge to others; for if he once disclose wickedness of this description to any man, he would neither be reckoned among men, nor be deemed worthy to behold the light, since not even irrational animals2929    “And those that are irrational animals do not attempt,” (or) “because irrational,” etc. The last is Sancroft’s reading; that in the text, Roeper’s. would attempt such an enormity, as we shall explain when we come to treat of such topics.

Since, however, reason compels us to plunge3030    “Ascend up to” (Roeper). into the very depth of narrative, we conceive we should not be silent, but, expounding the tenets of the several schools with minuteness, we shall evince reserve in nothing. Now it seems expedient, even at the expense of a more protracted investigation, not to shrink from labour; for we shall leave behind us no trifling auxiliary to human life against the recurrence of error, when all are made to behold, in an obvious light, the clandestine rites of these men, and the secret orgies which, retaining under their management, they deliver to the initiated only. But none will refute these, save the Holy Spirit bequeathed unto the Church, which the Apostles, having in the first instance received, have transmitted to those who have rightly believed. But we, as being their successors, and as participators in this grace, high-priesthood, and office of teaching,3131    This passage is quoted by those who impugn the authorship of Origen on the ground of his never having been a bishop of the Church. It is not, however, quite certain that the words refer to the episcopal office exclusively. as well as being reputed guardians of the Church, must not be found deficient in vigilance,3232    The common reading is in the future, but the present tense is adopted by Richter in his Critical Observations, p. 77. or disposed to suppress correct doctrine.3333    It might be, “any opinion that may be subservient to the subject taken in hand.” This is Cruice’s rendering in his Latin version. A different reading is, “we must not be silent as regards reasons that hold good,” or, “as regards rational distinctions,” or, “refrain from utterances through the instrument of reasoning.” The last is Roeper’s. Not even, however, labouring with every energy of body and soul, do we tire in our attempt adequately to render our Divine Benefactor a fitting return; and yet withal we do not so requite Him in a becoming manner, except we are not remiss in discharging the trust committed to us, but careful to complete the measure of our particular opportunity, and to impart to all without grudging whatever the Holy Ghost supplies, not only bringing to light,3434    Another reading is, “bringing into a collection.” by means of our refutation, matters foreign (to our subject), but also whatsoever things the truth has received by the grace of the Father,3535    Or, “the Spirit.” and ministered to men. These also, illustrating by argument and creating testimony3636    Or, “indicating a witness;” or, “having adduced testimony.” by letters, we shall unabashed proclaim.

In order, then, as we have already stated, that we may prove them atheists, both in opinion and their mode (of treating a question) and in fact, and (in order to show) whence it is that their attempted theories have accrued unto them, and that they have endeavoured to establish their tenets, taking nothing from the holy Scriptures—nor is it from preserving the succession of any saint that they have hurried headlong into these opinions;—but that their doctrines have derived their origin3737    Or, “a starting-point.” from the wisdom of the Greeks, from the conclusions of those who have formed systems of philosophy, and from would-be mysteries, and the vagaries of astrologers,—it seems, then, advisable, in the first instance, by explaining the opinions advanced by the philosophers of the Greeks, to satisfy our readers that such are of greater antiquity than these (heresies), and more deserving of reverence in reference to their views respecting the divinity; in the next place, to compare each heresy with the system of each speculator, so as to show that the earliest champion of the heresy availing himself3838    Or, “devoting his attention to;” or, “having lighted upon.” of these attempted theories, has turned them to advantage by appropriating their principles, and, impelled from these into worse, has constructed his own doctrine. The undertaking 11admittedly is full of labour, and (is one) requiring extended research. We shall not, however, be wanting in exertion; for afterwards it will be a source of joy, just like an athlete obtaining with much toil the crown, or a merchant after a huge swell of sea compassing gain, or a husbandman after sweat of brow enjoying the fruits, or a prophet after reproaches and insults seeing his predictions turning out true. In the commencement, therefore, we shall declare who first, among the Greeks, pointed out (the principles of) natural philosophy. For from these especially have they furtively taken their views who have first propounded these heresies,3939    The chief writers on the early heresies are: Irenæus, of the second century; Hippolytus, his pupil, of the third; Philastrius, Epiphanius, and St. Augustine, of the fourth century. The learned need scarcely be reminded of the comprehensive digest furnished by Ittigius in the preface to his dissertation on the heresies of the apostolic and post-apostolic ages. A book more within the reach of the general reader is Dr. Burton’s Inquiry into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age. as we shall subsequently prove when we come to compare them one with another.  Assigning to each of those who take the lead among philosophers their own peculiar tenets, we shall publicly exhibit these heresiarchs as naked and unseemly.

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