ORIGEN produced, during his teaching career at Alexandria and Caesarea, the works of scholarship that proclaim him the most prolific writer and powerful intellect of the Early Church. He not only fathered, in his Principles, the first systematic summation of Christian theology in relate to Greek philosophy, but he also gave impetus to that “spiritual interpretation” of the Bible so fatefully employed by later exegetes. Something of his passionately allegorical, yet highly intellectualized, devotion to Christ and the Scriptures is here discernible. See Or.Wke.Gcs. IX, 41-43, III, 196-98, VII, 196-98, VI, 8-10. Translated passages are from R. B. Tollinton, Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies of Origen. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company, publishers. Pp. 45-46, 49-51, 142-45, 260-62 (Or.Hom.Tr.). Symbols in the introductions refer to the Bibliography.
THE GREATNESS OF THE SAVIOUR. IT EXTENDS EVEN TO PLACES AS REMOTE AS BRITAIN. IT ASCENDS HIGH AS THE HEAVENS, IT DESCENDS LOW AS HADES
(In Lucam. Hom. VI. From the Latin)
The greatness of our Saviour did not appear at the time when he was born, but now, after being apparently suppressed by His opponents, it has shone out. Consider the greatness of the Lord; the sound of His teaching has gone forth into every land, His words unto the ends of the world. Our Lord Jesus, who is the Power of God, has spread into all the world. He is present with us, according to what is read in the Apostle, When ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 5:4). The power of our Lord and Saviour is even with those who are cut off in Britain from our world, with the inhabitants of Mauretania, and with all under the sun who have believed in His name. Consider then the greatness of the Saviour, how it is spread all the world over, and of a truth not even yet have I set forth His real greatness. Ascend to the heavens and behold Him, how He has filled the heavenly places, for He has been seen of angels. Descend in thought into the depths, and you shall behold that He has descended even there. For, He that descended is the same also that ascended, that He might fill all things . . . that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth (Eph. 4:10; Phil. 2:10). Contemplate the power of the Lord, how it has filled the world, every place that is in heaven, on earth, under the earth; how it has gone right into heaven and ascended unto the heights. For we read that the Son of God has passed through the heavens. If you see these things, you will likewise realize that, He shall be great, is no passing observation but a word fulfilled in reality. Great is our Lord Jesus, present or absent. To this our gathering and assembly He has given a share of His might. Be it our prayer to the Lord God that each one of us may deserve to receive this. To whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
ALL SCRIPTURE, DOWN TO ITS MINUTEST DETAILS, HAS PURPOSE AND MEANING, WE FIND DIFFICULTIES AND STUMBLING BLOCKS, BUT THESE ARE DUE TO OUR OWN LIMITATIONS
(In Jerem., Hom. XXXIX. From the Greek)
If some times, as you read the Scriptures, you stumble over a thought, good in reality yet a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, lay the blame on yourself. For you must not give up the hope that this stone of stumbling and this rock of offence do possess meaning, so that the saying may come to pass, He that believeth shall not be put to shame (Rom. 9:33). First believe, and you shall find under the apparent stumbling block much holy benefit. If we were commanded to speak no idle word, as men who should give account of it in the day of judgment; and if, so far as our power goes, we make it our ambition to cause every word that proceeds out of our mouth to be effective both in us who speak and in those who hear; what are we to think about the prophets but that every word spoken by their mouth was effective? Small wonder if every word spoken by the prophets produced the proper effect of a word. Nay, I hold that every wonderful letter written in the oracles of God has its effects. There is not one jot or one tittle written in Scripture which for those who know how to use the power of the Scriptures, does not effect its proper work.
It is like the case of herbs; each has its power, whether for health of the body or for some other purpose. But it is not for every one to understand the purpose for which each herb is useful. This belongs to those who have acquired knowledge, the people who spend their time over herbs, so as to see at what time one is to be taken, to what part of the body another is to be applied, in what manner another is to be prepared, so as to be of benefit to the user. In this way the saintly man is a sort of spiritual herbalist, culling from the sacred Scriptures each jot, each chance letter, and discovering the force of the letter and the purpose for which it is of use, and that nothing written is devoid of meaning. If you like to hear a second illustration of this, each member of our body was made by the divine Craftsman 48 for some function. But it is not for all men to know what is the force and the use of each of the members, down to those quite unimportant. It is physicians who have had experience in dissections who can tell for what end each part, even the smallest, has been made by Providence to be useful. I pray you to think of the Scriptures as in this way all herbs, or as one complete body of the word. And if you are neither a herbalist of the Scriptures, nor a dissector of prophetic language, consider not that aught in Scriptures is without purpose, but blame yourself rather than the sacred Scriptures, when you fail to discover the meaning of what is written. This preface I make quite in a general sense, possibly of use in regard to the whole of Scripture, so that they who desire to devote themselves to study may be induced not to let a single letter pass without examination and enquiry.
THE CHIEFS ARE PUNISHED FOR THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE. WHO WOULD DESIRE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF HIGH OFFICE? EVEN GUARDIAN ANGELS ARE JUDGED BY THEIR NEGLECT OF THE SOULS COMMITTED TO THEIR CHARGE
(In Num. Hom. XX. 4. From the Latin)
And the anger of the lord was kindled against Israel, and the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the chiefs of the people and expose them unto the Lord over against the sun, and the anger of the Lord shall be turned away from Israel (Num. 25:3-4). It is possible that in discussing this passage we may give offence to some persons, but, even if we do, our obedience and service must be given to the words of the Lord rather than to the favour of men. Israel sinned, and the Lord told Moses to take all the chiefs and to expose them unto the Lord over against the sun. The people sins, and the chiefs are exposed over against the sun. They are led forth for investigation, so that they may be tested by the light.
See what is the lot of the leaders of the people; they are not only put on trial for their own offences, they are also compelled to give account for the sins of the people. Perhaps it is their fault that the 49 people offends. Perhaps they did not teach, they did not warn, they did not take the trouble to convict those who had been the first to do wrong, so as to prevent the spread of the malady to others. The performance of these duties is laid upon leaders and teachers. If through their inaction, through their lack of care for the multitude, the people sins, it is they who are exposed, they who are led forth to judgment. Moses, that is the Law of God, charges them with indolence and slackness; upon them shall the anger of the Lord be turned, and it shall cease from the people. If men thought of these things, they would never desire or intrigue for the leadership of the people. Enough for me to be tried for my own offences; enough for me to give account for myself and for my sins. What occasion is there for me to be exposed for the sins of the people as well? To be exposed over against the sun, before which nothing can be hidden, nothing kept dark?
But perhaps there is also some hidden and secret meaning in the passage, with further teaching for us than the common interpretation seems to possess. Possibly this passage also has reference to those princes of the people of whom we spoke a little earlier. For the angels shall come to judgment together with us, and stand for us before the sun of righteousness; perhaps some responsibility for our sins lies with them; perhaps they failed to pay sufficient care and attention to us; so as to call us back from the disease of our sins. Unless there had been some defect in them, which seemed to deserve blame on our account, the language of Scripture would never say to the angel of this or of that church, Thou hast — for instance — some who hold the teaching of Balaam; or, Thou hast left thy first love, or thy patience, or something else of the same kind, as we mentioned above, on account of which in the Apocalypse the angels of each church are blamed. For if, let us say, the angel who has received me, marked with the sign, from God, looks for a reward for my good deeds, it is certain he will also look for censure for those deeds of mine which are not good. That is why they are said to be exposed over against the sun, doubtless to make it clear whether it was through my disobedience, or through the angel’s carelessness, that sins were committed which led to my devotion to Baal-phegor, or to some other idol, according to the character of my sin. Now if my chief, I mean the angel assigned to me, did not fail but counselled me to right action, 50 and spoke in my heart, as he did through conscience calling me back from sin; whereas I, despising his advice and scorning the restraint of conscience, rushed headlong into sin, for me there will be the double penalty, both for despising my adviser and for offending in my deed. Nor should you feel any surprise if we say that angels come to judgment together with men, since Scripture says, The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders of His people and the princes thereof (Isa. 3:14). Thus the princes are exposed, and, if the fault be in them, God’s anger ceases from the people. We should have the keener vigilance over our actions, now that we know that not ourselves alone shall stand before God’s judgment seat for our deeds, but that the angels, as our chiefs and guides, shall also be brought into judgment on our account. Therefore it is that the Scripture says, Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves in all things. For they watch as those who shall give account for your souls. (Heb. 13:17).
THE SUN, MOON AND STARS CORRESPOND TO CHRIST, THE CHURCH AND THE SAINTS. THESE ILLUMINATE US, NOT ALL EQUALLY BUT EACH IN PROPORTION TO HIS CAPACITY TO RECEIVE ILLUMINATION
(In Gen. Hom. I. 7. From the Latin)
As the sun and the moon are said to be the great lights in the firmament of the heaven, so also in us are Christ and the Church. And as God set the stars also in the firmament, let us see too what stars there are in us, that is in the heaven of our heart. Moses is a star within us, which lightens and illuminates us by its influence. So are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and David and Daniel; so all of whom Holy Scripture has testified that they pleased God. For just as star differeth from star in glory, so does each of the saints shed his light on us in proportion to his greatness. And just as the sun and moon shed light on our bodies, so too are our minds enlightened by Christ and by the Church. It is 51 a condition of our being enlightened that we be not spiritually blind. The sun and the moon may pour their light on those whose bodily eyes are blind, but these have no power to receive their light. In like manner Christ bestows his light upon our minds, yet will He only give us real illumination if there is no sort of spiritual blindness to prevent this. And even if this should happen, still the first duty of the blind is to follow Christ, addressing Him and crying out, Son of David, have mercy upon us (Matt. 9:27). So from Him may they receive their sight and be able afterwards to be illuminated by the glory of His light.
Yet are not all who have sight illuminated by Christ in equal measure; each has illumination in proportion as he has capacity to receive the power of the light. The eyes of our body do not receive the light of the sun in equal measure, but the higher the levels to which one climbs, the more lofty the view point from which one watches the vista of the sunrise, the larger is one’s sense of the power of the sun’s light and heat. So it is also with our spirit; the higher and the further it goes in its approach to Christ, the more nearly it exposes itself to the glory of His light, the more finely and splendidly is it illuminated by His radiance. So He himself says by the prophet, Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you, saith the Lord (Zech. 1:3). Again He says, I am a God at hand and not a God afar off (Jas. 4:8). Yet we do not all come near to Him in like degree, but each in proportion to his own attainment. Either we come to Him with the multitudes, and he restores us through His parables, simply in order that we may not faint through long fasting on the road. Or else we sit ever at His feet, with a purpose we never relax, our one interest being to hear His word, never troubled over much serving but choosing the good part which shall not be taken from us. Certainly they who so draw near to Him secure a far larger share of His light. But if, like the Apostles, we never leave Him at all, but remain always by His side in all His afflictions, then does He in secret explain to us and open up what He had said to the multitudes, and sheds on us His light in greater radiance. And if a man be even so advanced as to be able to go up with Him to the mount, as Peter and James and John, he shall have the illumination not only of the light of Christ but even of the very Father’s voice.