Greek philosopher, author of the True Discourse ('Αληθής Λóγος), the most important pagan intellectual opponent of Christianity before Porphyry; fl. second half of the second century a.d. No details on his life and place
of his activities are extant. The original text of the True Discourse (c. a.d. 178) is lost, but about nine-tenths of the treatise can be reconstructed with practical certainty from the extracts and arguments found in origen's elaborate refutation, Against Celsus (Κατἁ Κέσου) in eight books, composed nearly 70 years later (a.d. 246). Celsus was an adherent of Middle Platonism, but was, above all, a champion of Hellenic culture in all its aspects. In his polemic he showed a marked familiarity with the Old and the New Testaments and Christian teachings in general. However, he was not always aware of the precise differences between Judaism and Christianity, nor of those between Christian orthodoxy, heresy, and Gnosticism. While showing some appreciation for the Christian concept of the Logos and for Christian ethics, he rejected the Christian concept of God as the absolute Creator, and branded the teachings on the Incarnation and Crucifixion as absurd. He ridiculed likewise many of the Biblical narratives and miracles. On the political side, he accused the Christians of being unpatriotic because of their attitude toward the religious policy of the state. Celsus was not so much a philosopher as an ardent champion of Hellenism as expressed in a long and venerable tradition. On the twin pillars of logos and nomos, to which antiquity had given authority, he erected a philosophy of history. Christianity was rejected as being new and outside the
Hellenic tradition, indeed even a repudiation of it. This argument against Christianity was resumed by Porphyry and the Emperor Julian.
Bibliography: f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London 1957) 256. h. huhn, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer, and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 6:108–109. c. andresen, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d. ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 1:1630–31. Logos und Nomos: Die Polemik des Celsus wider das Christentum (Berlin 1955). j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1950), 2:52–57, with good bibliography. p. c. de la briolle, La Réaction païenne (6th ed., Paris 1942) 109–169.
[m. r. p. mcguire]
Celsus, a Middle Platonist (Origen wrongly called him an Epicurean) critic of Christianity, wrote the Alethes Logos (True doctrine) about 178 CE. We know the work—whose title derives from a Platonic expression (Meno 81a)—only through quotations in Origen's reply, Contra Celsum, composed seventy years later. Celsus began his work by assuming the character of a Jew and attacking Christian views from this standpoint. Then he proceeded on his own to demonstrate their inadequacy in relation to the basic axioms of contemporary philosophical theology, especially with regard to the doctrines of God and providence and poetic-philosophical inspiration; as a Platonist he found the Christian idea of the Incarnation both impossible and immoral. At the end of his work he urged the Christians to abandon their irrational faith and join him in upholding the state and its religion. After Christianity was recognized by the Roman government, Celsus's work was destroyed.
The theology of Celsus is based, in his own view, on an ancient tradition handed down, especially among oriental wise men, from remote antiquity. This tradition, the "true doctrine," informed him of the existence of one god known by many names and worshiped by all pious men. Such a "polytheistic monotheism," he believed, had been perverted or misunderstood, first by the Jews and then by the Christians. If they were to return to the tradition, they would abandon their irrational exclusiveness and would recognize the divine right of the one emperor. His work thus culminates in a theology of politics.
Origen's reply is important not only because in it his philosophical theology, developed earlier, is clearly expressed in relation to Celsus's views, but also because it shows the extent to which he agreed with Celsus in opposing more literal religious conceptions. Each held, for example, that his own authoritative traditions are to be understood symbolically, whereas the other's traditions must be meant literally. But Origen finally took his stand on the particularity of the Hebrew-Christian tradition, which Celsus found totally unacceptable.
Bader, R. Der Ἀληθησ̀ λóγος des Kelsos. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1940. Critical edition of Greek text.
Chadwick, Henry. Origen: Contra Celsum. Cambridge, U.K. Cambridge University Press, 1953. Translation with introduction and very full notes.
Robert M. Grant (1967)