The Ancient Wisdom of Origen

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The Savior is also God; so also, since the Father is called omnipotent, no one ought to be offended that the Son of God is also called omnipotent," Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section Origen also compares the Son's relationship to the Father to one's own reflection in a mirror. The reflection is not an image of you because it is very much like you or chooses to imitate you.

Rather, the reflection is your image because it does exactly what you do. It does so because it is you. It is a projection of your very being. The reflection's motions really are your motions. It is not merely a close copy or a good imitation. The reflection is you visibly present in another location. Origen explains that:. How, indeed, can those things which are said by some to be done after the manner in which a disciple resembles or imitates his master, or according to the view that those things are made by the Son in bodily material which were first formed by the Father in their spiritual essence, agree with the declarations of Scripture, seeing in the Gospel the Son is said to do not similar things, but the same things," Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section In other words, Jesus doesn't "do what the Father does" the way a disciple imitates His master, nor does He merely do physically what the Father has already done or commanded spiritually.

Rather, Jesus action really is the Father's action! The Son and the Father are one in essence and Being. They are both Jehovah God, and there is but one Jehovah God. The second reference that the Watchtower publication uses to bolster their claim that Origen denied the deity of Christ is:. The Watchtower authors have misunderstood Origen's point. He is saying that those who worship the sun, moon, and stars are worshiping tiny, insignificant lights compared to the true, glorious light of the Father and the Son. Origen goes on immediately to say:. Again, we are to pray to the Son the Word as well as the Father.

The singular divinity of the Father and the Son surpasses all things. This passage is affirming rather than denying the deity of Christ. In Origen's typical imaginative and acontextual approach to applying unrelated Scriptures to his discussions, he allegorically applies Proverbs to Jesus, 5 just as a Jehovah's witness would do. However, he immediately goes on to explain:. For in that case he must say either that God was unable to generate Wisdom before He produced her, so that He afterwards called into being her who formerly did not exist, or that He possessed the power indeed, but—what cannot be said of God without impiety—was unwilling to use it; both of which suppositions, it is patent to all, are alike absurd and impious," Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section 2.

So, while Origen treating the text as an allegory identifies Jesus as the "wisdom" figure in the book of Proverbs, he is clear that this symbolic connection cannot be stretched to imply that Christ is a created being any more than one would say that God once did not have wisdom and only later acquired it. He also asserts that Christ is "without any beginning," 6 and was "never at any time non-existent. He explains:. And this is the idea conveyed by John when he says that 'God is light.

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If this be fully understood, it clearly shows that the existence of the Son is derived from the Father but not in time, nor from any other beginning, except, as we have said, from God Himself," Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section To Origen, Jesus is, in a figurative sense, "brought forth," by the Father, but one has to understand this as meaning that the Son has eternally "come forth" or derived His nature and being from the Father. The Son has always existed, and the Father has forever begotten Him.

Speaking of the Father, Son, and Spirit together, Origen notes:. Origen saw the Father, Son, and Spirit and their relationship to one another as surpassing time and beyond linguistic expression. Origen also understood the Holy Spirit to be a person, not a mere force or essence. He said, for example:. Origen speaks of the Holy Spirit as an eternal, divine person alongside the Father and Son, and believed that our redemption is dependent on this reality:.

For it is one and the same thing to have a share in the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, since the nature of the Trinity is one and incorporeal," Origen, De Principiis, Book 4, Section To Origen, the Trinity is not only a truth about God; it is a necessary truth of the Gospel. Origen does often use language that seems to rank the three persons, but in context, such expressions are dealing with the work of the persons and the scope of their distinct operation in creation. The Father and the Son exercise authority over all beings, including saints, sinners, animals, and even non-living things.

For it is the peculiarity of His grace and operations that we have been describing. Moreover, nothing in the Trinity can be called greater or less, since the fountain of divinity alone contains all things by His word and reason, and by the Spirit of His mouth sanctifies all things which are worthy of sanctification," Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 7. According to Origen, the Father gives existence to all things, and in this, His work is most glorious.

The Son gives rationality and wisdom to those creatures that possess them. In this way, Origen often refers to the Father as greater than the Son, and in turn the Son greater than the Spirit, but this has to do with the scope of their work and the breadth of their authority in their respective roles over creation. Origen is not saying that the Son or Spirit are inferior beings to the Father. Still, Origen's doctrine of the Trinity does seem to deviate from the orthodox, biblical doctrine of the Trinity in at least one meaningful sense.

Debunking Myths about Origen

Origen believes and puts great emphasis on an idea that the Son and Spirit are dependent on the Father as the true source of their being. With this understanding of charity Origen can then state:. All the same, you must understand that everyone who loves money or any of the things of corruptible substance that the world contains, is debasing the power of charity, which is of God, to earthly and perishable objects and is misusing the things of God by making them serve purposes that are not his; for God gave the things to men to be used, not to be loved.

An important aim of reading the Scriptures for Origen is to let the Logos bring order in our loves. Origen envisages the action of the Logos in the lives of readers as a 'dart of love' Isa ; see Lawson , notes 33 and In fact, he reads the last part of verse 5, o ti tetrwme,nh avga,phj evgw, I am wounded by love , also in that sense, as can be seen from the translations of Rufinus and Jerome, 'quia vulnerata caritatis ego'.

Origen thinks of the scene of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as the model for such experiences:. How blessed is it to be wounded by this dart! Those men who talked together, saying to each other: Was not our heart burning within us in the way, whilst he opened to us the Scriptures? If anyone has been wounded by our discourse, if any is wounded by the teaching of the Divine Scripture, and can say, 'I have been wounded by love,' perhaps he follows the former and the latter.

Furthermore, exploring the meaning of love is difficult. It is as difficult to fathom as God self, who is charity. Just as no one knows the Father except the Son and no one knows the Son except the Father, we are dependent on the Spirit, who 'goes about trying to find souls worthy and able to receive the greatness of this charity' Comm. Cant, Prologue 2 ; transl. How are the readers to understand the true image of love into which they are called to be transformed? We can see how Origen struggled to understand how God could be seen as love, because in his philosophical context God was seen as self sufficient and beyond any need or feelings or passions.

When I speak to a man and beg him for something, so that he may have pity on me, if he has no mercy he will not suffer nihil patitur for what I have said; if on the contrary, he is sensitive and there is nothing in him to harden his heart, he will listen to me and have mercy on me and his entrails shall quiver with my pleading. I want you to understand something similar regarding our Saviour: He descended to earth because he had mercy on the human gender, and so bore our passions before suffering on the cross and deigning to assume our flesh passiones perpessus est nostras, antequam crucem pateretur et carnem nostram dignaretur assumere.

If he had not suffered, he would not have come to share our human life. He suffered first and then he descended and revealed himself primum passus est, deinde descendit et visus est. Now, which was this passion he suffered for us? It is the passion of charity caritatis est passio. For the very Father, God of the universe, who is magnanimous, full of mercy and compassionate Ps ,8 , doesn't he also suffer in some way?

Do you ignore that, when he manages human realities, he suffers human passions? Verily the Lord, your God, assumed your manners mores tuos as a man would assume his son Dt 1, So God assumes our manners as the Son of God bears our passions. The Father himself is not impassible Ipse Pater non est impassibilis.

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If begged, he pities and condoles, he suffers for a certain charity patitur aliquid caritatis , and gets to conditions in which He cannot agree with the magnitude of his nature and, for our sake, he bears human passions et fit in iis in quibus iuxta magnitudinem naturae suae non potest esse, et propter nos humanas sustinet passiones.

He admits that God, out of mercy, exercising his liberty, surpasses the limits imposed upon him by the greatness of his being, since, for the economy, God becomes fit what is incompatible with the magnitude of his nature. Another question Origen had to struggle with was how God's love can be reconciled with the experience of suffering and the understanding of punishment.

Will God be able to bring all people to salvation? Will the punishment be effective and will all suffering and inequality between persons come to an end? Origen seems confident that all will be saved:. But in this purification which is obtained through the punishment of fire, how much time and how many ages of punishment may be required of a sinner, only he can know to whom 'the Father has given all judgment' Jn , who so loves his creation that for it 'he emptied himself of the form of God, taking the form of servant, humbling himself unto death' cf.

However, this knowledge may not be beneficial to all, as for some this foreknowledge may 'cause them to relax and no longer resist sin the way they should, since what was foretold would be happening in any case' Comm. Fragm ; transl. Origen concludes in that same passage, 'Thus it is fitting for us not to know whether we will turn out good or bad' Comm. It was seen that, for Origen, understanding the Scriptures for our times, particularly, understanding love, is a mighty struggle.

He struggled with the limitations that his culture was imposing on God and against the deviations in the understanding of love that he saw in his culture. From the point of view of our present culture, his understanding of love may be seen as suffering from otherworldliness and from a negative attitude towards the body and the whole material reality. Origen would certainly be the first to admit that he is still on the way, that he has not fully understood the implications of the challenge to become like God, to become assimilated to the Logos, the true image of God.

However, his insistence that we view this material world and the body as symbols of the divine and not as mere objects invites us to a nuanced assessment and may challenge and stimulate our own understanding. Origen lived at a time long before we became critically aware of the cultural differences between the world in which the biblical writings originated and the world of the present readers. At that time there was no vivid sense of the difference, or even tension, between what the text 'meant' and what it 'means'.

For Origen, as for all his predecessors, the focus was simply on what the text 'means. But, more than that, in Origen's view the 'letter' not only conveys a message, but it has to become a powerful and transforming 'dart of love', wounding the readers so that they 'will be kindled with the blessed fire of his love' Comm. Prologue 2; transl. Discovering these symbolic meanings in the words, sentences and scenes of the Scriptures emerges in the process of personal conversion and transformation.

Origen and The Holy Scriptures

Whilst Origen focuses on the personal ascent into the meaning and reality of love, we now realise more fully that this always takes place in interaction with our changing socio-cultural context, which itself is grappling with issues of equality, human rights, freedom and dignity of the person as dimensions of the meaning of love.

Presently, in our world and culture, humanity is still searching and struggling to figure out not only what a just human community is meant to be like but, beyond that, how to let this world become a loving community. In the vision of Origen, this is the ultimate aim of the study of the Scriptures. It is in the struggle with the words of the Scriptures as participants in the currents of our present socio-cultural context that we meet the Logos who leads us towards an ever fuller understanding of and participation in, the God who is love.

Alici, L. Rotelle ed. Brown, J. Murphy eds. Petersen eds. Roberts, J. Coxe eds.

Autumn / Winter 2017

Fitzgerald ed. McGuckin ed. Uti and Frui in Augustine', in F. Young, M.

References

Parvis eds. Sysling eds. Tardieu ed. Haase ed. Buttrick ed. Correspondence to: Paul Decock St. Received: 25 May Accepted: 09 Sept. Neusner , in fact, speaks about 'the always open canon' in rabbinical Judaism: 'The rabbi speaks with authority about the Mishnah and the Scripture. He therefore has authority deriving from revelation. He himself may participate in the processes of revelation there is no material difference.

Since that is so, the rabbi's book, whether Talmud to the Mishnah or midrash to Scripture, is torah , that is, revealed by God. It also forms part of the Torah, a fully "canonical" document So in the rabbi, the word of God was made flesh. And out of the union of man and Torah, producing the rabbi as Torah incarnate, was born Judaism, the faith of Torah: the ever-present revelation, the always open canon'.

Instead, the terms describe the biblical text as it is read by persons who are themselves undergoing the process of spiritual transformation Augustine's theological interpretation of Scripture is supported by the observation in De Magistro that ' At this point the treatise unfolds its essential point that Christ the inner teacher acquaints the soul with the realities behind all signs'.

De Magistro Inner experience fills out the meaning of the words, guided by the faith of the Church Cameron ; see De Doctrina Christiana , Prologue 3 and Alici We are not convinced by words, but by the things to which the words point; if we have no experience of these things the words will remain empty! Cox Miller refers also to Origen's comparison of the words of the Scriptures 'as goads, prodding the beast, the interpreter, to move in the nuanced world that they offer'. Candler has shown how, in the Middle Ages, understanding the Scriptures was seen as an 'ascent' of the readers in which they are not alone but are guided by a whole tradition of earlier readers.

The Biblia Patristica gives 41 references to this verse in Origen's writings. On the form of the plural used by Origen, Crouzel asserts: 'he would certainly not have used the plural noes but noi'. Not all intelligences fell away from unity with God; first of all, there is the one assumed by the Logos Princ. It contains natural functions, which are not evil in themselves and can be spiritualised without being destroyed, when the intellect adheres to the spirit.

All that is clearly shown by Origen's reflections on the humanity of Christ. But to depart from good is nothing else than to be made bad. For it is certain that to want goodness bono carere is to be wicked' Princ. Crombie Whilst generally Origen will interpret the passions ascribed to God in the Scriptures in a metaphorical sense, ' Origin solves this problem by arguing that the "passion of charity" or "philanthropy" must belong to the pre-existent Logos. In fact, it is the very reason for the incarnation' Fernandez Eyzaguirre For instance, in Mating with Preliminary Studies : 'For some have been ensnared by the love of the lures of the handmaids and spurned the mistress Now philosophy teaches us control of the belly and the parts below it and control also of the tongue.

Such powers of control are said to be desirable in themselves, but will assume a grander and loftier aspect if practiced for the honour and service of God p. Origen follows this same line in Philocalia Origen clearly approached the Scriptures in the tradition of philosophy, as can be seen in his introductions to his commentaries.

They followed a pattern that was well established in the philosophical schools of Alexandria see Hadot ; Neuschfer ; and Heine Philo was for him and for Clement before him, an important example on how to relate philosophy to the Scriptures. As Torjesen reminds us, 'Knowledge has this mystical-contemplative character not only in Origen but within the Hellenistic world generally. Knowledge is only possible through similarity. Like is known by like'. The theme of Christ living in us Gl is very important for Origen. According to him, Christ must be born and develop in each of us: ' If the soul is to give birth to the Word, then Mary is the model: "And every soul, virgin and uncorrupted, which conceives by the Holy Spirit, so as to give birth to the Will of the Father, is the mother of Jesus" Fr.

A Collection of Patristic Studies

For who will understand these matters accurately must say truthfully, "But we have the mind of Christ, that we may know the graces that have been given us by God"' Comm. But if the writings of Paul were gospel, it is consistent with that to say that Peter's writings also were gospel and, in general, those which present the sojourn of Christ and prepare for his coming and produce it in the souls of those who are willing to receive the Word of God who stands at the door and knocks and wishes to enter their souls Comm.

This fact arises from the character of the biblical language itself with its polyvalence and obscurity of multi-layered significations, but it comes also from the fact that the very act of exposition is always to some extent contaminated by the imperfection of the expositor who is not yet without sin' Gorday This passage seems to be the source of the well known distinction in Augustine of uti and frui and which has aroused so much discussion until the present time: see De Doctrina Christiana 1, Origen's Greek text is no longer available to us.

Jerome's own translation of this line in what later became the Vulgate differs as it follows the Hebrew text available to him. Crouzel cautions interpreters of Origen on the issue of the apocatastasis : 'If Origen added anything to what Paul said in 1 Cor. Certainty about a universal apocatastasis would be in contradiction to the authenticity of the free will with which God has endowed mankind'. He concludes the discussion with words which confirm Origen's approach to the understanding of the Scriptures as a struggle and often tentative: 'A man as passionate about God and divine knowledge as Origen does not reach God by a system, but by all the means, intellectual and mystical, that are at his disposal, even if these means do not form a system ruled by rationalist logic and in the dark places of the faith that is ours he is not ashamed to feel this way.

But that groping is much more moving ad interesting than the best constructed systems' According to Crouzel : 'It is of the nature of created things that they must be left behind: the soul in its soaring must aim far beyond them. So it is insofar as we will to get beyond them that the created things show the Creator and arouse in us a desire for Him. Let it not be said that this attitude shows a contempt for created things: on the contrary it gives them their true value, an eternal value since the show the way to true eternity, instead of conferring on them, by taking them for something that they are not, an absolute and eternal status which they do not have.

Such is the sin of the idolaters All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. Services on Demand Article. English pdf Article in xml format Article references How to cite this article Automatic translation. Access statistics. Cited by Google Similars in Google. Introduction Reflecting on one of the great pioneers of biblical interpretation in the Early Church's approach to the Scriptures is no doubt a suitable way to honour the work of Professor Andries van Aarde, who, in our context, continued that passion and dedication.

The Scriptures as addressed to the present readers A first characteristic of the approach to the Scriptures in early Christianity was the conviction that the Scriptures are meant to speak to the actual readers and not just to a past generation. He continues: 'it is clear that the authoritative text being explicated was not considered inviolable but subject to the invasion of a tradition of interpretation which rendered it more comprehensible' and concludes: One may say that the entire corpus of Scripture remains open to these invasive procedures and strategic reworkings up to the close of the canon in the early rabbinic period, and so the received text is complexly compacted of teachings and their subversion, of rules and their extension, of topoi and their revision.

Fishbane This is also the way we have to understand the development of the Gospel material; the aim of the handing on of this material was not merely to preserve, but to make it 'present' in such asa way that it could serve the needs of the communities. This is beautifully expressed in the following midrashic comment from Eliyahu Zutta,II , quoted by Fishbane: When the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the Torah to Israel, He only gave it as wheat from which to extract flour, and as flax wherewith to weave a garment Origen reverts to similar images in his Homilies on Genesis when he takes the scene of Jesus breaking the bread as an image for the interpretation of the Scriptures: That is, unless the letter has been discussed and broken into little pieces, its meaning cannot reach everyone.

Heine Patricia Cox Miller also refers to the image of Christ harrowing hell in Origen's De Engastrimutho as an image for the interpreter of the Scriptures: 'However polysemous their potential, words are gates of brass that must be broken by active interpretation; unless so engaged, they remain like iron bars'. Here too, Paul's focus is on the meaning of the text for the present readers: these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

Heine Whilst the words of Scripture are hard to penetrate, they are nevertheless enlightening, healing and empowering energies in the lives of those who are properly disposed and approach the text with diligent labour. In his Homilies on Exodus, Origen compares the energies of the words of the Scriptures with those of seeds: I think each word of divine scripture is like a seed whose nature is to multiply diffusely Origen's 'Grand Narrative' or his Christian story of meaning Origen's approach to the reading and interpretation of the Scriptures is shaped by his understanding of their nature as the embodiment of the Logos.

The challenge of reading Origen's reading process Origen sees the Scriptures as the embodiment of the Logos. Torjesen The aim of the whole process of reading is participation or even identification with the Logos. For instance, Origen sees Solomon, the author of the Song of Songs, as having gone through such a process, as one who has been fully transformed into a participant in the love song of the Logos: And the fact that in the Song of Songs, where now perfection is shown forth, he Solomon describes himself neither as Son of David, nor as king, enables us to say further that, since the servant has been made the lord, and the disciple as the master, the servant obviously is such no longer: he has become as the lord.

Lawson This ascent from the literal Torjesen's steps 1 and 2 to the spiritual steps 3 and 4 is ultimately the work of God. He asserts that: The power of love is none other than that which leads the soul from earth to the lofty heights of heaven and that the highest beatitude can only be attained under the stimulus of love's desire. Lawson However, dealing with this God-given dynamism is both dangerous and difficult.


  1. Contra Celsum, Book III.
  2. Origen of Alexandria (185—254 C.E.).
  3. CHURCH FATHERS: Contra Celsum, Book III (Origen).
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  5. Christian Platonism | Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom;
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  7. Basic Equality and Discrimination (Applied Legal Philosophy).

Origen, therefore, exhorts his readers to pray: So that we, out of these things that have been written, may be able to make clear a wholesome meaning in regard to the name and nature of love and one that is apt for the building up of chastity. Lawson Origen is then at pains to distinguish passionate love from charity. With this understanding of charity Origen can then state: All the same, you must understand that everyone who loves money or any of the things of corruptible substance that the world contains, is debasing the power of charity, which is of God, to earthly and perishable objects and is misusing the things of God by making them serve purposes that are not his; for God gave the things to men to be used, not to be loved.

Lawson 26 An important aim of reading the Scriptures for Origen is to let the Logos bring order in our loves. Origen thinks of the scene of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as the model for such experiences: How blessed is it to be wounded by this dart! Lawson Furthermore, exploring the meaning of love is difficult.

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