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Christians Observe the Sky but do not Worship it


Against Celsus, V, 10-13

In quarrel with the pagan philosopher Celsus, Origen explains that Christians neither despise celestial bodies nor devalue their role of natural signs. However, they do not worship them because they believe only in their Creator and his Logos. The provident guide of the world should be ascribed to no creature but to God alone. As for the relevance the stars and celestial bodies, Origen reminds its biblical foundation and contextualizes it in a proper hermeneutics.

Chapter 10

[…] For it is written in the book of Deuteronomy: “And lest you lift up your eyes unto heaven, and when you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, should be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord your God has divided unto all nations unto the whole heaven. But the Lord has taken us, and brought us forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as you are this day.” The Hebrew people, then, being called by God a “chosen generation, and a royal priesthood, and a holy nation, and a purchased people,” regarding whom it was foretold to Abraham by the voice of the Lord addressed to him, “Look now towards heaven, and tell the stars, if you are able to number them: and He said to him, So shall your seed be;” and having thus a hope that they would become as the stars of heaven, were not likely to bow down to those objects which they were to resemble as a result of their understanding and observing the law of God. For it was said to them: “The Lord our God has multiplied us; and, behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.” In the book of Daniel, also, the following prophecies are found relating to those who are to share in the resurrection: “And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that has been written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and (those) of the many righteous as the stars for ever and ever,” etc. And hence Paul, too, when speaking of the resurrection, says: “And there are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” It was not therefore consonant to reason that those who had been taught sublimely to ascend above all created things, and to hope for the enjoyment of the most glorious rewards with God on account of their virtuous lives, and who had heard the words, “You are the light of the world,” and, “Let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father who is in heaven,” and who possessed through practice this brilliant and unfading wisdom, or who had secured even the “very reflection of everlasting light,” should be so impressed with the (mere) visible light of sun, and moon, and stars, that, on account of that sensible light of theirs, they should deem themselves (although possessed of so great a rational light of knowledge, and of the true light, and the light of the world, and the light of men) to be somehow inferior to them, and to bow down to them; seeing they ought to be worshipped, if they are to receive worship at all, not for the sake of the sensible light which is admired by the multitude, but because of the rational and true light, if indeed the stars in heaven are rational and virtuous beings, and have been illuminated with the light of knowledge by that wisdom which is the “reflection of everlasting light.” For that sensible light of theirs is the work of the Creator of all things, while that rational light is derived perhaps from the principle of free-will within them.


Chapter 11

But even this rational light itself ought not to be worshipped by him who beholds and understands the true light, by sharing in which these also are enlightened; nor by him who beholds God, the Father of the true light — of whom it has been said, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Those, indeed, who worship sun, moon, and stars because their light is visible and celestial, would not bow down to a spark of fire or a lamp upon earth, because they see the incomparable superiority of those objects which are deemed worthy of homage to the light of sparks and lamps. So those who understand that God is light, and who have apprehended that the Son of God is “the true light which lights every man that comes into the world,” and who comprehend also how He says, “I am the light of the world,” would not rationally offer worship to that which is, as it were, a spark in sun, moon, and stars, in comparison with God, who is light of the true light. Nor is it with a view to depreciate these great works of God's creative power, or to call them, after the fashion of Anaxagoras, “fiery masses,” that we thus speak of sun, and moon, and stars; but because we perceive the inexpressible superiority of the divinity of God, and that of His only-begotten Son, which surpasses all other things. And being persuaded that the sun himself, and moon, and stars pray to the Supreme God through His only-begotten Son, we judge it improper to pray to those beings who themselves offer up prayers (to God), seeing even they themselves would prefer that we should send up our requests to the God to whom they pray, rather than send them downwards to themselves, or apportion our power of prayer between God and them. And here I may employ this illustration, as bearing upon this point: Our Lord and Saviour, hearing Himself on one occasion addressed as “Good Master,” referring him who used it to His own Father, said, “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God the Father.” [Matthew 19:17] And since it was in accordance with sound reason that this should be said by the Son of His Father's love, as being the image of the goodness of God, why should not the sun say with greater reason to those that bow down to him, Why do you worship me? “for you will worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve;” for it is He whom I and all who are with me serve and worship. And although one may not be so exalted (as the sun), nevertheless let such an one pray to the Word of God (who is able to heal him), and still more to His Father, who also to the righteous of former times “sent His word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.


Chapter 12

God accordingly, in His kindness, condescends to mankind, not in any local sense, but through His providence; while the Son of God, not only (when on earth), but at all times, is with His own disciples, fulfilling the promise, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” And if a branch cannot bear fruit except it abide in the vine, it is evident that the disciples also of the Word, who are the rational branches of the Word's true vine, cannot produce the fruits of virtue unless they abide in the true vine, the Christ of God, who is with us locally here below upon the earth, and who is with those who cleave to Him in all parts of the world, and is also in all places with those who do not know Him. Another is made manifest by that John who wrote the Gospel, when, speaking in the person of John the Baptist, he said, “There stands one among you whom you know not; He it is who comes after me.” And it is absurd, when He who fills heaven and earth, and who said, “Do I not fill heaven and earth? Says the Lord,” is with us, and near us (for I believe Him when He says, “I am a God near at hand, and not afar off, says the Lord”) to seek to pray to sun or moon, or one of the stars, whose influence does not reach the whole of the world. But, to use the very words of Celsus, let it be granted that the “sun, moon, and stars do foretell rain, and heat, and clouds, and thunders,” why, then, if they really do foretell such great things, ought we not rather to do homage to God, whose servant they are in uttering these predictions, and show reverence to Him rather than His prophets? Let them predict, then, the approach of lightnings, and fruits, and all manner of productions, and let all such things be under their administration; yet we shall not on that account worship those who themselves offer worship, as we do not worship even Moses, and those prophets who came from God after him, and who predicted better things than rain, and heat, and clouds, and thunders, and lightnings, and fruits, and all sorts of productions visible to the senses. Nay, even if sun, and moon, and stars were able to prophesy better things than rain, not even then shall we worship them, but the Father of the prophecies which are in them, and the Word of God, their minister. But grant that they are His heralds, and truly messengers of heaven, why, even then ought we not to worship the God whom they only proclaim and announce, rather than those who are the heralds and messengers?

Chapter 13

Celsus, moreover, assumes that sun, and moon, and stars are regarded by us as of no account. Now, with regard to these, we acknowledge that they too are “waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God,” being for the present subjected to the “vanity” of their material bodies, “by reason of Him who has subjected the same in hope.” But if Celsus had read the innumerable other passages where we speak of sun, moon, and stars, and especially these —“Praise Him, all you stars, and you, O light,” and, “Praise Him, you heaven of heavens,”— he would not have said of us that we regard such mighty beings, which “greatly praise” the Lord God, as of no account. Nor did Celsus know the passage: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who has subjected the same in hope; because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” And with these words let us terminate our defense against the charge of not worshipping sun, moon, and stars. And let us now bring forward those statements of his which follow, that we may, God willing, address to him in reply such arguments as shall be suggested by the light of truth.

Translated by Frederick Crombie, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.(Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Source for the English Digital text: