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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

Of the inspiration of the Divine Scripture; how it is to he read and understood; why it is obscure; and what is the reason of the obscurity in it, and of what is impossible in some cases, or unreasonable, when it is taken literally. From the work on “Principles,” and various other works of Origen

The following analysis of Origen’s scheme of interpretation may be useful to the reader:—

Interpretation

 

 

             

 

 

             

             

             

 

 

              Literal

(Body)

             

              Moral

(Soul)

             

              Mystical

(Spirit)

             

 

 

             

             

 

             

             

             

             

 

Actual

History.

                            Fictitious

History

Invented by the Holy Spirit to convey moral and mystical truths which earthly things could not sufficiently typify.

In the law some things were literally to be observed; others were in the letter impossible or absurd, but were intended to convey moral and mystical teaching.

             

              Allegory.

Prefiguring the history of Christ and His Church.

             

              Anagōgē.

Typifying the things of a higher world in which everything of this earth has its antitype.

 

1. Inasmuch as when we investigate matters of such importance we are not content with common notions and such light as is given by the things that are seen, we strengthen our position by the additional evidence of the Scriptures, which we believe to be Divine, viz. both that which is called the Old Testament and that which is called the New, and endeavour with the help of reason to confirm our faith. But as we have never yet discussed the Scriptures on the side of their Divine inspiration, let us bring together a few brief remarks concerning them, by way of showing upon what grounds we regard them as Divine. And before we proceed to make use of the text of the Scriptures and of what is revealed in them, a few particulars must be given concerning Moses and Jesus Christ—the lawgiver of the Hebrews, and the Author of the saving doctrines of Christianity. For of all the numerous lawgivers that have arisen among Greeks and Barbarians, we recall no one who could induce other nations to eagerly accept his tenets; and although the professors of philosophic truth made elaborate efforts to establish their doctrine on a seeming basis of reason, not one of them succeeded in introducing into different nations the truth which he supported, or in influencing considerable numbers of one nation. And yet the lawgivers would have liked, if it had been possible, to bind the good laws, as they appeared to be, on the whole human race, and the teachers would desire that what they imagined to be truth should be spread throughout the world. Conscious, however, that they would not succeed if they invited men of different languages and of many nationalities to observe the law they promulgated, and accept the instruction they gave, they did not even attempt this at first, for they shrewdly suspected that the attempt would end in failure. But in every land, Greek and Barbarian, throughout the world, countless adherents of our faith may be found who have abandoned their ancestral customs and familiar gods, to become zealous observers of the law of Moses and eager disciples of Jesus Christ; and this in spite of the fact that they who submit to the law of Moses are hated by the worshippers of images, and they who accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ are not only hated but are in peril of death.

2. And if we realise in how very short a time, notwithstanding the plots laid against the professors of Christianity, whereby some perished and others lost their possessions, the Word, though the number of the preachers was not great, has been everywhere preached throughout the world, so that Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish, submit themselves to the fear of God through Jesus, if, I say, we realise this, we shall not hesitate to say that there is something superhuman in the result. For Jesus taught with all authority and persuasiveness that the Word would prevail, so that one may reasonably regard His utterances as prophetic. For instance, “Before governors and kings shall ye be brought for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.” And, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not eat in thy name, and drink in thy name? And I will say to them, depart from me, ye that work iniquity. I never knew you.” It was perhaps reasonable to think that He spoke these things at random, and that they were not true; but when the things spoken with such authority came to pass, it is manifest that God really took our nature upon Him and delivered doctrines of salvation to men.

3. Need I add how it was foretold that the promised princes should depart from Judah, and rulers from between his thighs, at the coming of Messiah for whom it is reserved, viz. the kingdom, and at the advent of the Expectation of the Gentiles? For it is surely clear from history and from what we see to-day, that from the times of Jesus there have been none who called themselves kings of the Jews; for everything whereon the Jews prided themselves, I mean the arrangements of the temple and the altar, the performance of the service, and the vestments of the high priest, has been abolished. For the prophecy was fulfilled which says, “The children of Israel shall abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without altar, and without priesthood, and without Urim and Thummim.” And we turn the foregoing passage against our opponents, who, perplexed by what Jacob in Genesis says to Judah, allege that the Ethnarch sprung from the family of Judah, is the “governor of the people,” and that his seed shall not fail until the coming of Messiah of which they dream. For if “the children of Israel shall abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without altar, and without priesthood, and without Urim and Thummin”; and from the time when the temple was destroyed there has been no sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, it is clear that a prince has failed from Judah, and a ruler from between his thighs. And since the prophecy says, “A prince shall not fail from Judah, nor a ruler from between his thighs, until the things reserved for him shall come,” it is clear that He has come to whom the things reserved belong, viz. the Expectation of the Gentiles. And this is proved by the multitude of the Gentiles who have believed on God through Christ.

4. The Song in Deuteronomy also contains a prophecy of the future election of the foolish Gentiles on account of the sins of God’s former people, and this has come to pass through Jesus only. “For they,” so the words stand, “have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God: they have provoked me to anger with their idols. And I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people: I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” We can very clearly understand how they who bore the name of Hebrews and provoked God to jealousy with that which is not God, and provoked Him to anger with their idols, were themselves provoked to jealousy and moved to anger with those which were not a people, the foolish people, whom God chose through the coming of Christ and through His disciples. “We see, then, our calling, that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the base things and things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that were before: and that Israel after the flesh may not boast before God.” For when the Apostle uses the word “flesh” he means “Israel.”

5. But what are we to say about the prophecies in the Psalms concerning Christ? Is there not a “song” entitled “For the Beloved”? The Beloved’s tongue is called “the pen of a ready writer”; He is fairer than the children of men, for grace is poured into His lips. A proof of the grace poured into His lips is the fact that though the whole period of His teaching was so short (He taught for something like a year and a few months), the world has been filled with His doctrine and with the religion which He brought. For “in his days righteousness hath sprung up, and abundance of peace to last to the end,” for this lasting to the end is the meaning of the phrase “the moon shall be no more”; and “He shall have perpetual dominion from sea to sea, and from the rivers unto the ends of the earth.” And a sign is given to the house of David; for the Virgin did bear; she both conceived and bore a son, and His name is Immanuel, which being interpreted is God with us. The prophecy is fulfilled, as the same prophet says: “God is with us; be wise ye nations, and submit; ye that are mighty submit.” We of the Gentiles who have been led captive by the grace of His Word have been conquered and have submitted. But even the place of His birth was foretold: “For thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come forth a governor, which shall be shepherd of my people Israel.” And the seventy weeks were fulfilled, as Daniel shows, when Christ the “governor” came. And, according to Job, He came who subdued the great sea-monster, and has given authority to His true disciples to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, being in no wise hurt by them. Let a man observe how the Apostles who were sent by Jesus to proclaim the Gospel went everywhere, and he cannot help seeing their superhuman daring in obedience to the Divine command. And if we inquire how it was that men when they heard new doctrines and strange words welcomed the Apostles, and in spite of their desire to plot against them were overcome by a certain Divine power guarding the speakers, we shall not disbelieve even if we are told that the Apostles did work miracles, God bearing witness to their words both by signs and wonders and by manifold powers.

6. But in thus briefly summarising the proofs for the Godhead of Jesus, and making use of the words of the prophets concerning Him, we are at the same time proving the inspiration of the Scriptures which prophesy of Him, and are showing that those writings which proclaim His coming and teaching were delivered with all power and authority; and we say that if they have prevailed over the election from the Gentiles, it is because they were inspired. But we must say that the divinity of the prophetic utterances, and the spiritual meaning of the law of Moses, shone forth by the dwelling of Jesus on earth. For there could be no clear proofs of the inspiration of the ancient Scriptures before the coming of Christ. But the coming of Jesus brought men who might suspect that the law and the prophets were not Divine to the plain avowal that they were written with help from heaven. And the careful and attentive reader of the words of the prophets, if his zeal be kindled ever so little by reading them, will through his own experience be persuaded that what we believe to be the words of God are not human compositions. And the light also of the law of Moses, though it had been hidden by a veil, shone forth when Jesus came; for the veil was taken away and the good things foreshadowed in the Scriptures were gradually revealed.

7. It would be a big undertaking to now recount the most ancient prophecies, so that in amazement at their Divine character, the doubter may with full conviction and concentrated purpose submit himself with all his soul to the words of God. If, however, the superhuman element in the Scriptures does not everywhere appear to strike the uninstructed, no wonder; for in the working of the Divine Providence throughout the whole world some things are very clearly seen to be providential, while others are so hidden as to seem to leave room for doubt as to whether God with His ineffable skill and power does order the universe. For the evidence of design in Providence is not so clear in things of earth as it is in the sun and moon and stars; and it is not so clear in the changes and chances of human affairs as it is in the souls and bodies of animals, certainly when the why and wherefore of their instincts, impressions, natures, and bodily structure have been ascertained by experts in these branches of knowledge. But as the doctrine of Providence is not destroyed by our ignorance in some particulars, when we have once for all admitted it, so neither is the Divine character of Scripture upon the whole impaired, because our weakness cannot in each phrase approach the hidden glory of the truths concealed in poor and contemptible language. For we have a treasure in earthly vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power of God may shine forth, and may not be thought to come from us men. For if the hackneyed methods of demonstration common among men, which we find on our library shelves, had prevailed over men, our faith would with good reason have been supposed to stand in the wisdom of men, and not in the power of God; but as things are, if a man will lift up his eyes, it will be evident that the Word and the preaching have influenced the multitude not by persuasive words of wisdom, but by demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Wherefore, seeing that a heavenly power, or a power even from above the heavens, urges us to worship the Creator only, let us, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, that is, leaving elementary instruction, endeavour to press on unto perfection, that the wisdom spoken to the perfect may be spoken also to us. For He Who has this wisdom promises to speak it among the perfect, a wisdom other than the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the ruler of this world, which is brought to nought. And this wisdom shall be plainly stamped on us, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, by the Scriptures of the prophets and the appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to Whom be the glory for ever. Amen.

8. Now that we have, as it were, just glanced at the inspiration of the Divine Scriptures, we must pass on to the way to read and understand them; for very many mistakes have been made, because the right method of examining the holy texts has not been discovered by the greater number of readers. Hardhearted and unlearned readers belonging to the Circumcision have not believed on our Saviour, because it is their habit to follow the bare letter of the prophecies concerning Him, and they do not see Him with their bodily eyes proclaiming liberty to the captives, nor building what they think the true city of God, nor cutting off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, nor eating butter and honey, and before He knoweth or preferreth evil choosing the good. They still suppose that prophecy declares that the four-footed animal, the wolf, shall feed with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the bull, and the lion feed together, and that a little child shall lead them; and that the cow and the bear shall be pastured together, their young ones being reared together, and that the lion shall eat straw like the ox. Because they saw nothing like this when He Whom we believe to be Christ dwelt on the earth, they did not receive Jesus, but crucified Him, maintaining that He had no right to call Himself Christ. And heretics when they read the words, “A fire is kindled in mine anger”; and, “I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and fourth generation”; and, “It repenteth me that I have anointed Saul to be king”; and, “I am God that maketh peace and create evil”; and in another place, “Shall evil befall a city, and the Lord hath not done it”; or again, “Evil is come down from the Lord unto the gates of Jerusalem”; and, “An evil spirit from the Lord plagued Saul”; and countless similar passages: when they read these, I say, they will not venture to deny the Divine origin of the Scriptures, but believing them to have come from the Demiurge, Whom the Jews worship, and holding that the Demiurge is imperfect and lacking in goodness, they suppose our Saviour while He dwelt on earth to have proclaimed a more perfect God, Whom, from different motives, they affirm not to be the Demiurge. And having thus once for all revolted from the Demiurge, Who is the only God uncreate, they have given themselves up to vain imaginations, inventing for themselves various theories, so as to account for the origin of things that are seen, and for the origin of others not seen, and all this is the offspring of their own fancy. And yet, as a matter of fact, the less sophisticated of those who in their self-confidence have left the Church allow no God greater than the Demiurge, and so far they are right; but their conception of Him is such as would discredit an extremely cruel and unjust man.

9. Now the only reason why all these of whom I have spoken entertain false and impious opinions, or ignorant views respecting God, appears to be that the Scripture on the spiritual side is not understood, but is taken in the bare literal sense. For the sake, therefore, of those readers who are persuaded that the sacred books are not human compositions, but that they were written and have come to us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father of All through Jesus Christ, we must point out what appear to be the right methods, while we keep to the rule of the heavenly Church of Jesus Christ in succession to the Apostles. And that there are certain mystic dispensations revealed through the Divine Scriptures has been believed by all who have studied the Word, even the simplest readers; but what these dispensations are, fair-minded and modest men confess they do not know. Anyway, supposing a man to be perplexed about the intercourse of Lot with his daughters, or the two wives of Abraham, or Jacob’s marrying two sisters, and the handmaidens who had children by him, these readers will say that here we have mysteries which we do not understand. But suppose the passage to be about the building of the tabernacle, feeling sure that the narrative is typical, they will endeavour to give each detail, as best they can, a spiritual meaning. So far as their conviction goes that the tabernacle is a type of something, they are not far wrong; but when on the strength of this they attempt in a way worthy of Scripture to define the particular thing of which the tabernacle is a type, they sometimes fail. And every ordinary story of marriage, or childbearing, or war, or any historical occurrences which would generally be regarded as such, they pronounce to be typical. But when they come to particulars, it sometimes happens, partly because they are not thoroughly familiar with the subject, partly because they are too precipitate, partly because, even if a man is well trained and deliberate, the things are extremely difficult to investigate, that certain points are not quite cleared up.

10. And why speak of the prophecies, which we all know to be full of enigmas and dark sayings? And, coming to the Gospels, if we are to find their exact sense, inasmuch as that sense is the mind of Christ, there is need of the grace given to him who said, “We have the mind of Christ, that we may know the things freely given to us by God; which things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth.” And who, again, can read the things revealed to John without astonishment at the ineffable mysteries therein concealed, mysteries, plainly enough, though a man does not understand what is written? As for the letters of the Apostles, could any critic find them clear and easily intelligible, seeing they contain countless things of the greatest importance and thronging thoughts, seen as through a lattice, and by no means easy of access? Wherefore, seeing that this is the case, and that vast numbers go wrong, it is somewhat dangerous when we read to lightly declare that one understands what requires that key of knowledge which was with the lawyers. And I wish they who will not allow that men had the truth before Christ came would tell us what our Lord Jesus Christ means by saying that the key of knowledge was in the keeping of the lawyers, for, according to our opponents, the lawyers had no books containing the secrets of knowledge, and complete mysteries. The precise words are these: “Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”

11. The right way, then, to read the Scriptures and extract their meaning, so far as we have been able to discover from examining the oracles themselves, appears to be as follows:—Solomon in the Proverbs gives a rule respecting the Divine doctrines of Scripture to this effect: “Do thou thrice record them with counsel and knowledge that thou mayest answer with words of truth to those who try thee with hard questions.” A man ought then in three ways to record in his own soul the purposes of the Holy Scriptures; that the simple may be edified by, as it were, the flesh of Scripture (for thus we designate the primary sense), the more advanced by its soul, and the perfect by the spiritual law, which has a shadow of the good things to come. For the perfect man resembles those of whom the Apostle speaks: “Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect; yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, which are coming to nought: but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory, from the spiritual law which hath a shadow of the good things to come. As man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so too does Scripture which has been granted by God for the salvation of men. And thus we explain that passage in The Shepherd,—a book which some treat with contempt,—in which Hermas is commanded to write two books, and then read to the elders of the Church what he has learned from the Spirit. “Thou shalt write two books, and give one to Clement and one to Graptē. And Graptē shall admonish the widows and orphans, Clement shall send to the cities abroad, and thou shalt read to the elders of the Church.” Graptē, who admonishes the widows and orphans, is the bare letter of Scripture; it admonishes those readers whose souls are in the stage of childhood, and who cannot yet call God their Father, and are therefore styled “orphans”; it moreover admonishes souls, no longer consorting with the unlawful bridegroom, but remaining in a widowed state because not yet worthy of the true Bridegroom. Clement, the reader who has got beyond the letter, is said to send what is said to the cities abroad, that is to say, the souls which have escaped from the bodily desires and lower aims. And next the writing is forsaken, and the disciple himself of the Spirit is bidden “read” to the wise and hoary-headed elders of the whole Church of God with the living voice.

12. But inasmuch as some Scriptures have not the “corporeal,” as we shall presently show, in such cases we must seek only the “soul” and the “spirit.” For instance, this may explain why the six waterpots of stone said to be set after the Jews’ manner of purifying, as we read in the Gospel according to John, contain two or three firkins apiece: the Word darkly hinting at those who were inwardly Jews, of whom the Apostle speaks—that these, forsooth, are cleansed through the word of Scripture, that Word sometimes containing two firkins, that is, if we may so say, the “soul” and “spirit” of the Word: sometimes three; for some Scriptures have besides these two also the “corporeal” part with its power of edification. As for the number, the six waterpots may reasonably refer to those who are being purified in the world, which was made in six days, six being a perfect number.

13. That we may profit by the primary sense of Scripture, even if we go no further, is evident from the multitudes of true and simple-minded believers. Let us, however, take what Paul says in the first Epistle to the Corinthians as an example of the higher “soul” interpretation. “It is written,” he says, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” Then, going on to explain this law, he adds, “Is it for the oxen that God careth, or saith he it altogether for our sake? Yea, for our sake it was written: because he that ploweth ought to plow in hope, and he that thresheth, to thresh in hope of partaking.” And, indeed, very many passages so interpreted as to suit the great body of believers, and edifying for those who have no ear for better things, have more or less the same stamp. But spiritual interpretation is for one who is able to show the nature of the heavenly things, of which the Jews after the flesh served the copy and shadow, and what the good things to come are of which the law is a shadow. And in general, according to the apostolic command, we must everywhere seek wisdom in a mystery, “even the wisdom which hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the world unto the glory of the righteous; which none of the rulers of this world knoweth.” The same Apostle, referring to certain incidents in Exodus and Numbers, somewhere says, “These things happened unto them by way of figure: and they were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come”; and he hints at the things of which they were figures, saying, “For they drank of a spiritual Rock that followed them: and the Rock was Christ.” And in the sketch of the tabernacle which he gives in another epistle he quotes the words, “Thou shalt make all things according to the pattern which was shewed thee in the Mount.” Again, in the Epistle to the Galatians, as it were reproaching those who think they read the law though they do not understand it, and giving his judgment that as many as think there are no allegories in what is written, do not understand, he goes on to say, “Tell me ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the freewoman. Howbeit the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh, but the son by the freewoman is born through promise. Which things contain an allegory: for these women are two covenants,” and so on. We must carefully note exactly what he says: “Ye that desire to be under the law”: not “Ye that are under the law”; and, “Do you not hear the law?”: the hearing in his judgment being the understanding and knowing. And also in the Epistle to the Colossians, where he epitomises the meaning of the whole giving of the law, he says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come.” Further, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, arguing concerning those of the Circumcision, he writes thus: “Who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” This will probably suffice to remove all doubts respecting the five books, called the Books of Moses, from the minds of those who really believe the Apostle to be a Divine man; but they may wish to learn whether the rest of the history is also figurative. Now we must carefully note that the passage in Romans from the third Book of Kings, “I have left for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal,” was taken by Paul as applying to the Israelites according to the election, for that not only have the Gentiles benefited by the coming of Christ, but also some of the holy race.

14. This being so, we must outline what seems to us the peculiarities involved in understanding the Scriptures. And what we have to show first is that the aim of the Spirit, Who, by the providence of God through the Word, Who in the beginning was with God, enlightens the ministers of the truth, the Prophets and Apostles, was chiefly directed to the unspeakable mysteries connected with men,—and by men I mean embodied souls, so that any one who is capable of instruction, if he will search the Scriptures, and will earnestly endeavour to fathom their depths, may be a partaker in all the decrees of His counsel. And as regards souls, inasmuch as without the rich and wise truth concerning God they cannot possibly reach perfection, things relating to God and to His only-begotten Son must be placed in the front rank, viz. His nature, in what sense He is Son of God, and for what reasons He humbled Himself and took upon Him our flesh and perfect manhood; further, how He works, for whom, and under what conditions. And, of necessity, if we want to know about kindred beings, and the other rational creatures, both those more Divine than humankind and those also who have fallen from bliss, and the causes of their fall, this should be introduced into Divine revelation; and, similarly, if we have to discuss the differences in souls, and how the differences have arisen; or inquire what we mean when we talk of the “world,” and ask how it came into existence. We have to learn, moreover, the origin of the great and terrible wickedness on earth, and whether it is found only on earth, or elsewhere as well.

15. Now, while the Spirit Who illumines the souls of the holy ministers of the truth had these and similar purposes in view, it was, secondly, His aim, for the sake of those who cannot bear the labour of investigating such mysteries, to conceal the foregoing doctrines in narrative form conveying an account of the visible works of creation, and of man’s creation, and of the descendants of the first man until they become numerous; and in other histories which relate the doings of righteous men, and the sins which they occasionally committed inasmuch as they were men, as also the wicked, licentious, overbearing behaviour of lawless and godless men. And, very strange though it may seem, by the history of wars and victors and vanquished, some of the ineffable mysteries are declared to those who have the ability to investigate these matters. And, still more marvellous, through the written law, the laws of the Truth are foretold; and all these subjects are linked together by the Divine wisdom with a power truly worthy of the wisdom of God. For it was the Spirit’s purpose to make even the vesture of things spiritual, I mean the “corporeal” part of the Scriptures, many ways not unprofitable, but capable of benefiting the majority of readers according to their capacity.

16. If the use of the Law had been everywhere made perfectly clear, and strict historical sequence had been preserved, we should not have believed that the Scriptures could be understood in any other than the obvious sense. The Word of God therefore arranged for certain stumbling-blocks and offences and impossibilities to be embedded in the Law and the historical portion, so that we may not be drawn hither and thither by the mere attractiveness of the style, and thus either forsake the doctrinal part because we receive no instruction worthy of God, or cleave to the letter and learn nothing more Divine. And this we ought to know, that the chief purpose being to show the spiritual connection both in past occurrences and in things to be done, wherever the Word found historical events capable of adaptation to these mystic truths, He made use of them, but concealed the deeper sense from the many; but where in setting forth the sequence of things spiritual there was no actual event related for the sake of the more mystic meaning, Scripture interweaves the imaginative with the historical, sometimes introducing what is utterly impossible, sometimes what is possible but never occurred. Sometimes it is only a few words, not literally true, which have been inserted; sometimes the insertions are of greater length. And we must this way understand even the giving of the Law, for therein we may frequently discover the immediate use, adapted to the times when the Law was given; sometimes, however, no good reason appears. And elsewhere we have even impossible commands, for readers of greater ability and those who have more of the spirit of inquiry; so that, applying themselves to the labour of investigating the things written, they may have a fitting conviction of the necessity of looking therein for a meaning worthy of God. And not only did the Spirit thus deal with the Scriptures before the coming of Christ, but, inasmuch as He is the same Spirit, and proceedeth from the One God, He has done the same with the Gospels and the writings of the Apostles; for not even they are purely historical, incidents which never occurred being interwoven in the “corporeal” sense; nor in the Law and the Commandments does the Spirit make the reasonableness altogether clear.

17. Anyway, will any man of sense suppose that there was a first day, and a second, and a third, evening and morning, without sun and moon and stars? and the first, as it were, even without a heaven? And who is so silly as to imagine that God, like a husbandman, planted a garden in Eden eastward, and put in it a tree of life, which could be seen and felt, so that whoever tasted of the fruit with his bodily teeth received the gift of life, and further that any one as he masticated the fruit of this tree partook of good and evil? And if God is also said to walk in the garden in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under the tree, I do not suppose that any one will doubt that these passages by means of seeming history, though the incidents never occurred, figuratively reveal certain mysteries. Moreover, Cain’s coming out from the presence of God, if we give heed, is a distinct inducement to inquire what is meant by “the presence of God,” and by a man’s “coming out from” it. Why say more? They who are not quite blind can collect countless similar instances of things recorded as actual occurrences, though not literally true. Why, even the Gospels abound in incidents of the same kind. We read of the Devil taking Jesus into a lofty mountain, that from thence he might shew Him the kingdoms of the whole world and their glory. Who but a careless reader of these things would not condemn the supposition that with the bodily eye, which required a lofty height if the parts down below at the foot were to be seen, Jesus beheld the kingdoms of Persia, Scythia, India, and Parthia, and the glory of their rulers among men? And, similarly, the careful student may observe countless other instances in the Gospels, and may thus be convinced that with the historical events, literally true, different ones are interwoven which never occurred.

18. And if we come also to the Mosaic code, many of the laws, so far as regards their bare observance, seem unreasonable, and others impossible. The prohibition of kites, for instance, as food is unreasonable, for no one in the direst famines would be driven to this creature. Children eight days old if not circumcised are ordered to be cut off from their people. If an express enactment respecting those children was indispensable, it is their fathers who should be ordered to be put to death; whereas the Scripture says, “Every uncircumcised male, who shall not be circumcised on the eighth day, shall be cut off from his people.” If you wish to see some impossible enactments, let us consider that the goat-stag is a fabulous creature. And yet Moses commands us to offer it as a clean animal; on the other hand, there is no instance of the griffin having been tamed by man, but the lawgiver, nevertheless, forbids it to be eaten. If we closely examine the famous ordinance of the Sabbath, “Ye shall sit every man in his house: let no man go out of his place on the seventh day,” we shall see that it cannot be literally kept; for no living creature can sit the whole day without stirring from his seat. And therefore in some cases they of the Circumcision, and as many as desire no more light than that of the mere letter, do not go to the root of things, and, for example, search for the meaning of what is said about the goat-stag, the griffin, and the kite; while in other cases they sophistically trifle with the words, and confront you with frigid traditions; as regards the Sabbath, for instance, they maintain that every man’s “place” is 2000 cubits. Others, among them Dositheus the Samaritan, condemning such an interpretation, think the person is to remain until the evening in the posture in which he was found on the Sabbath day. Nor can the command to carry no burden on the Sabbath be observed; and the Jewish teachers have accordingly gone very great lengths, pretending that a sandal of one kind is a “burden,” but not a sandal of another kind, the one being nailed, the other without nails; and, the same way, what is carried upon one shoulder is a “burden,” but by no means what is carried upon both.

19. If we similarly investigate the Gospels, what could be more unreasonable than the command which simple readers think the Saviour gave to His Apostles, “Salute no man by the way.” Again, what is said about the smiting on the right cheek is incredible; for when a man strikes, if he acts naturally, he strikes the left cheek with his right hand. And we cannot take literally the passage in the Gospel in which the right eye is said to cause one to stumble. For even granting the possibility of sight making any one to stumble, why, when the two eyes see, should we put the blame on the right eye. Would any man when he condemns himself for looking on a woman to lust after her, put the blame on the. right eye only, and cast it from him? Again, the Apostle lays down the law thus: “Was any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised?” Any one may see that the Apostle has something in view other than the literal context; for, in the first place, such an insertion when he is giving precepts concerning marriage and purity must appear unmeaning. And, in the second place, who will say that, in order to escape from the disgrace mostly connected with circumcision, a man does wrong in endeavouring, if he can, to become uncircumcised.

20. We have said all this for the sake of showing that the aim of the Divine power which gives us the sacred Scriptures, is not to select such things only as are presented in a literal sense, for sometimes the things selected taken literally are not true, but are even unreasonable and impossible; and further, that certain things are woven into the web of actual history and of the Law, which in its literal sense has its uses. But that no one may suppose us to make a sweeping statement and maintain that no history is real, because some is unreal; and that no part of the Law is to be literally observed, because a particular enactment in its wording happens to be unreasonable or impossible; or that what is recorded of the Saviour is true only in a spiritual sense; or that we are not to keep any law or commandments of His: that we may not incur such an imputation, we must add that we are quite convinced of the historical truth of certain passages; for instance, that Abraham was buried in the double cave in Hebron, as also Isaac and Jacob, and one wife of each of these; and that Sichem was given to Joseph for his portion, and that Jerusalem is the capital of Judea, wherein God’s temple was built by Solomon, and countless other statements. For those things which are true historically are many more than those connected with them which contain merely a spiritual sense. Again, take the commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother that it may be well with thee.” Would not any one allow its usefulness apart from any anagogical interpretation, and support its observance, seeing that even the Apostle Paul uses the express words? And what are we to say about the commands, “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not bear false witness?” Further, there are commands in the Gospel about which there is no doubt as to whether they are to be literally observed or not; for instance, that which says, “But I say to you, whosoever shall be angry with his brother,” and so on; and, “But I say to you, Swear not at all.” And we must keep to the letter of the Apostle’s words, “Admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be long-suffering towards all”; though among more eager students it is possible to treasure every detail as the deep wisdom of God, without rejecting the literal meaning of the command.

21. Still, there are places where the careful reader will be distracted because he cannot without much labour decide whether he is dealing with history in the ordinary sense, or not, and whether a given commandment is to be literally observed, or not. The reader must therefore, following the Saviour’s injunction to search the Scriptures, carefully examine where the literal meaning is true, and where it cannot possibly be so; and he must, to the best of his ability, by comparing parallel passages scattered up and down Scripture, trace out the prevalent sense of what is literally impossible. Since, then, as will be clear to readers, the literal connection is impossible, while the main connection is not impossible but even true, we must strive to grasp the general sense which intelligibly connects things literally impossible with such things as are not only not impossible, but are historically true, and capable of allegorical interpretation, no less than those which never literally occurred. For, regarding the whole of Divine Scripture, we hold that every portion has the spiritual meaning, but not every portion the “corporeal”; for the “corporeal” meaning is often proved to be impossible. The cautious reader must therefore very carefully bear in mind that the Divine books are Divine writings, and that there appears to be a peculiar way of understanding them, which I will now describe.

22. The inspired words relate that God chose out a certain nation upon earth, which they call by several names. The whole nation is called Israel, and also Jacob. But after the division in the time of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the ten tribes under him were called Israel, and the other two with the tribe of Levi, governed by kings of the seed of David, were known as Judah. And the whole country inhabited by the nation, and given to them by God, is called Judea; and of this Jerusalem was the metropolis, or mother city, that is to say, of numerous cities, the names of which dispersed in many parts of Scripture are included in one list in the Book of Joshua the son of Nun. This being so, the Apostle, raising our thoughts higher, somewhere says, “Behold Israel after the flesh,” implying that there is an Israel after the Spirit. And elsewhere he says, “It is not the children of the flesh that are children of God: nor are they all Israel which are of Israel. Nor is he a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter.” For if the judgment of the Jew depends on the inward state, we must understand that as there is a bodily race of Jews, so there is a race of those who are Jews inwardly, and that there are secret reasons for souls having this noble lineage. There are, moreover, many prophecies concerning Israel and Judah which relate the things that should befall them. Now, let me ask, do not such great prophecies written on their behalf, inasmuch as in the literal sense they are trivial and exhibit none of the lofty dignity of a promise made by God, require a mystical interpretation? And if the promises are spiritual, though expressed by means of things sensible, they also to whom the promises are given are not “corporeal.”

23. And, not to spend more time over the argument concerning the Jew that is one inwardly and the Israelite in the inner man, enough having been said for any but unintelligent readers, we return to our subject, and say that Jacob was the father of the twelve patriarchs, they the progenitors of the rulers of the people, and these again the ancestors of the rest of Israel. So, then, the “corporeal” Israelites are traced up to the rulers of the people, and the rulers to the patriarchs, and the patriarchs to Jacob and those still farther back; but as for the spiritual Israelites, of whom the “corporeal” were the type, do they not spring from the “hundreds,” the “hundreds” from the tribes, and the tribes from one man who had no such “corporeal” descent, but the better, he too being born of Isaac, and he of Abraham, all going back to Adam, who, as the Apostle says, is Christ? For all families in their relation to the God of All had their beginning lower down in Christ, Who being next to the God and Father of All, is thus the Father of every soul as Adam is the father of all men. And if Eve has been made by Paul to represent the Church, it is no wonder that Cain, who was born of Eve, and all after him who trace their descent from Eve, should be types of the Church, inasmuch as in a special sense they sprang from the Church.

24. If we are impressed by what has been said about Israel and the tribes and the hundreds, when the Saviour tells us that He was not sent save unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel, we do not take the words in the same sense as the Ebionites with their poverty of understanding (their poverty of intellect gives them their name, for “Ebion” is the Hebrew for “poor”), and suppose that Christ came chiefly to Israel after the flesh; for “it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God.” Again, the Apostle gives similar teaching concerning Jerusalem when he tells us that “the Jerusalem which is above, is free, which is our mother.” And in another epistle he says, “But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven.” If, then, Israel is a race of souls, and there is a city, Jerusalem in heaven, it follows that the cities of Israel, and, consequently, all Judea, have for their metropolis the heavenly Jerusalem. Accordingly, whatever is foretold or said respecting Jerusalem, if we listen to God as God, and hear Him speaking from the depths of His wisdom, we must understand that the Scriptures refer to the heavenly city, and the whole country containing the cities of the holy land. It may be that these are the cities to which the Saviour leads us up when He gives the command of ten or five cities to those who satisfactorily dealt with the pounds.

25. If, then, the prophecies respecting Judea and Jerusalem, and Israel and Judah and Jacob, inasmuch as we do not take them in the fleshly sense, suggest some such mysteries as the foregoing, it should follow that the prophecies concerning Egypt and the Egyptians, Babylon and the Babylonians, Tyre and the Tyrians, Sidon and the Sidonians, or any other nations, are not prophecies merely of the corporeal Egyptians, Babylonians, Tyrians, and Sidonians. For if there are “spiritual” Israelites, it follows that there are “spiritual” Egyptians and Babylonians. What the Prophet Ezekiel says cannot at all be made to suit Pharaoh, King of Egypt, a past or future human ruler of the country, as will be evident to close observers. Similarly, what is said about the ruler of Tyre cannot be understood of some future human ruler of Tyre. And the many passages relating to Nabuchadnosor, particularly in Isaiah, how can we possibly take them to refer to the man of that name? For the man Nabuchadnosor did not fall from heaven, nor was he Lucifer, nor did he rise early on the earth. And the sayings in Ezekiel concerning Egypt, to the effect that it would be desolate for forty years, so that the foot of man should not be found there, and that war should be so fiercely waged at some time or other that throughout the whole land blood should reach to the knees, what sensible person will understand them of Egypt that borders on the Ethiopians with their sunburnt bodies?

26. Perhaps, as they who leave the earth when they die the death of all men are dealt with in such a way that according to the deeds done in the body, if judged worthy of the place called Hades, they are assigned to different places in proportion to their sins: so they, if I may so speak, who die there, descend to this earthly Hades, being judged worthy of the different habitations, better or worse, throughout the world, and to have parents of different nationalities; so that an Israelite may perhaps fall among Scythians, and an Egyptian descend into Judea. But the Saviour came to gather together the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and as many of Israel did not submit to His teaching, the Gentiles also are being called.

27. These mysteries are, as we think, concealed in the histories. For “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” Let us consider then whether the obvious in Scripture, its superficial and easy meaning, is not like a field covered with all sorts of growths; while the secret things, not seen by all, but as it were buried beneath the things that are seen, are the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge: which the Spirit by the mouth of Esaias calls “dark,” “invisible,” “concealed.” They must be found out, though God alone can break in pieces the gates of brass which hide them, and shatter the iron bars upon the doors; so that all the statements in Genesis concerning different real varieties of souls, and as it were seeds of souls, more or less remote from Israel, may be discovered; as also what is meant by the seventy souls going down into Egypt, that there they may become as the stars of heaven for multitude. But since not all their descendants are the light of the world, for “they are not all Israel that are of Israel,” the seventy become even as it were sand by the sea shore that cannot be numbered.

From the 39th Homily on Jeremiah

28. And as all the gifts of God are vastly greater than the mortal substance, so also the true word of wisdom concerning all these, being with God Who caused all these things to be written, for the Father of the Word so willed, would be found in the soul which with all earnestness and with full consent has been thoroughly purified from human weakness in the apprehension of that wisdom. But if a man rashly enters on the subject, and is not aware of the mystery of the wisdom of God and of the Word Who was in the beginning with God and was Himself God, and that if we are to seek and find these things we must follow the instructions of the Word Who was also God, and conform to His wisdom, he must of necessity fall into fables and frivolous conceits and inventions of his own, for he exposes himself to danger for his impiety. We must therefore remember the admonition in Ecclesiastes to such readers: “Let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” And it is fitting to believe that not a single tittle of the sacred Scriptures is without something of the wisdom if God; for He Who gave me a mere man the command, “Thou shalt not appear before me empty,” how much more will He not speak anything “empty.” When the Prophets speak, it is after receiving of His fulness; and so everything breathes what comes of His fulness; and there is nothing in Prophecy, or Law, or Gospel, or Apostle, which is not of His fulness. And just because it is of His fulness, it breathes His fulness to those who have eyes to see the things of that fulness, and ears to hear the things of that fulness, and a faculty to perceive the sweet odour of the things of that fulness. But if in reading the Scripture thou shouldest sometime stumble at a meaning which is a fair stone of stumbling and rock of offence, blame thyself. Do not despair of finding meanings in the stone of stumbling and rock of offence, so that the saying may be fulfilled, “He that believeth shall not be ashamed.” First believe, and thou shalt find beneath what is counted a stumbling-block much gain in godliness.

From the Commentary on the 50th Psalm, in the allegorical treatment of the early portion of the history of Uriah

29. If the partly allegorical treatment of the history appears to any one forced, and therefore not to relieve the difficulties, we have obviously been speaking to no purpose, and we must look for some other suitable interpretation; unless, perchance, some reader by further labour may discover a way of putting everything right, explaining both the murder of the man and his evident kindliness, inasmuch as he was unwilling to go to his house and rest, when the people were in camp and struggling against the enemy. But I do not know how they who shun the allegorical interpretation, and think the narrative was written for its own sake, will reconcile themselves to the will of the Holy Spirit, Who thought such things deserving of record as justify the charge not only of licentiousness, but also of savagery and inhumanity being brought against David; for he dared to commit a crime against Uriah which would be extraordinary even in the case of a man of average morality. I should, however, say that as the judgments of God are great and cannot be expressed, and seem to be causes of the erring of unnurtured souls, so also His Scriptures are great and full of meanings, secret, spiritual, and hard to understand. They, too, cannot be expressed, and appear to cause the unnurtured souls of heretics to err by inconsiderately and rashly accusing God on account of the Scriptures which they do not understand, and by therefore falling into the error of inventing another God. The safe course is to wait for the interpretation of an explainer of the Word, and of the wisdom hidden in a mystery, which none of the rulers of this world knoweth, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested to the Apostles and those like them, both through the writings of the Prophets, and by the appearing to them of our Saviour the Word Who in the beginning was with God.

From the 5th Homily on Leviticus, near the beginning

30. Not perceiving the difference between visible and spiritual Judaism, that is, between the Judaism which is outward and the Judaism which is inward, godless and impious heresies forsook Judaism and the God Who gave our Scriptures and the whole Law, and invented a different God besides Him Who gave the Law and the Prophets, besides the Maker of heaven and earth. The fact is not so, however; but He Who gave the Law also gave the Gospel, He Who made things visible also made things invisible. And things visible are akin to things invisible; in such wise akin that the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made. The things of the Law and the Prophets which are seen are akin to the things of the Law and the Prophets which are not seen but are intelligible. Seeing, then, that the Scripture itself consists as it were of a body which is seen, and a soul therein apprehended by the reason, and a spirit, that which corresponds to the copies and shadow of heavenly things, let us call upon Him Who created Scripture with a body, soul, and spirit, the body for those who were before us, the soul for us, and the spirit for those who in the coming age shall inherit eternal life, and are destined to reach the heavenly, archetypal things contained in the Law; and then let us search, not for the letter, but for the soul of what we are considering. Then, if we are able, we will ascend also to the spirit, corresponding to the principles involved in the sacrifices of which we read.








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