Toward the end of Origen’s life (ca. AD 254), his patron Ambrose encouraged him to respond to a little book by an enemy of Christianity, Celsus. Celsus’ book was mockingly titled The True Doctrine and had been circulating for nearly seventy years before Origen’s response. Because Origen chose to respond to the book in a point-by-point fashion by quoting Celsus and then offering a response, we have the bulk of Celsus’ book, now lost. Though, this is a older translation, it still proves quite interesting (and perhaps bewildering) to modern Christians. What follows comes from Contra Celsum 8.73-75 which happens to be the very end of Origen’s total response.
73 In the next place, Celsus urges us
“to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.”
To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help,
“putting on the whole armour of God.”
And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle,
“I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;”
and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply:
“Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!”
And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army— an army of piety— by offering our prayers to God.
74 And if Celsus would have us to lead armies in defence of our country, let him know that we do this too, and that not for the purpose of being seen by men, or of vainglory. For “in secret,” and in our own hearts, there are prayers which ascend as from priests in behalf of our fellow citizens. And Christians are benefactors of their country more than others. For they train up citizens, and inculcate piety to the Supreme Being; and they promote those whose lives in the smallest cities have been good and worthy, to a divine and heavenly city, to whom it may be said,
“You have been faithful in the smallest city, come into a great one,”
“God stands in the assembly of the gods, and judges the gods in the midst;”
and He reckons you among them, if you no more
“die as a man, or fall as one of the princes.”
75 Celsus also urges us to
“take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.”
But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization, founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation— that is, the Church— rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy.
And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God— for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all— of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshipping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God.
Oh, that the church might again recover her true calling!