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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

Why it is that the Divine Scripture often uses the same term in different significations, even in the same place. From the Epistle to the Romans, Volume IX. on the words, “What then? Is the law sin?”

1. One term, law, may be used, but the scriptural account of “law” is not everywhere one and the same. A reader must therefore in every place consider with the utmost care first the literal meaning of the word “law,” then the special significance of it. This is only what we do with most other words; for there are other instances of equivocal scriptural terms, such as confuse readers who suppose that because the word is the same the meaning must be the same wherever it is found. Now the word “law” is intended to serve not everywhere the same purpose, but many purposes; we will, therefore, passing by the numerous passages requiring careful reasoning because they suggest an objection which calls for an answer, set forth all such as may effectually convince anybody that the word “law” has many meanings. As an illustration let us take what is said in the Epistle to the Galatians. “As many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one which continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” It is clear that we have here the literal law of Moses, enjoining on those under it what they are to do, and forbidding what they must not do. And we have no less clearly the meaning of the passage in the same Epistle, “The law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; and it was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator”; and of another, “So that the law hath been our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus.” And that “law” also denotes the historical writings of Moses we may gather from the passage in the same epistle—“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 the promise.”

2. I know that even the Psalms are called “law,” as is plain from the passage, “That the word may be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.” Nay more, the prophecy of Isaiah is called “law” by the Apostle, who tells us, “In the law it is written, By men of strange tongues, and by the lips of strangers will I speak unto this people; and not even then will they hear me, saith the Lord”; and this is in effect what I found in Aquila’s interpretation. The term is also applied to the more mystic and Divine sense of the law; as, for instance, “We know that the law is spiritual.” And besides all this, the Word sown in the soul, evidenced by the moral notions common to mankind, and in Scripture language “written in the heart,” enjoining what we have to do, forbidding what we must not do, is called “law.” This is proved by the following words of the Apostle: “For when the Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law, these, having no law, are a law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness therewith.” For the law written in men’s hearts and in Gentiles who by nature do the things of the law, is no other than the law of common morality by nature written in our. governing part, and day by day becoming clearer with the perfecting of reason. This is the meaning of law in the words, “Sin is not imputed where there is no law,” and in these, “I had not known sin except through the law.” For before the Mosaic law was given sin is found to have been imputed both to Cain and to the sufferers in the Deluge, and to the people of Sodom as well, and to countless others; and many came to know sin before the law of Moses was given. And do not be surprised if two meanings of the one word “law” are discovered in the same place; for we shall find this usage in other parts of Scripture; for example, “Say not ye, There are yet four months and then cometh the harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white already into harvest.” The word “harvest” is used twice, the first time of the “corporeal” harvest, the second time of the spiritual. And you will find a parallel also in the account of the healing of the man born blind. The man was literally blind, but the Saviour adds, “For judgment came I into this world, that they which see not may see; and that they which see may become blind.”

3. So, then, it is as true as ever that “apart from the law, the law of nature, a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” And we would tell those readers who shrink from admitting the double meaning of “the law,” that if we are to understand the same law to be referred to in both clauses, “But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested,” and “Being witnessed by the law and the prophets,” we must conclude that if the righteousness hath been manifested apart from the Law, it is not witnessed by the Law; and if it is witnessed by the Law, it hath not been manifested apart from the Law. The truth is that the law of nature by no means witnesses to the righteousness of God manifested by Jesus Christ, for it is inferior to that righteousness; but the Law of Moses, not the letter, but the spirit, does witness, as also the Prophets in accordance with the spirit of the law, and as does the spiritual word in them. The reader of the Divine Scripture must therefore carefully observe that the Scriptures do not invariably use the same words to denote the same things; and they make the change sometimes on account of the equivocal sense of a word, sometimes for the sake of the figurative meaning, and sometimes because the context requires a different nuance in some places from that which the word has in others. If we are well on our guard in all this we escape many blunders and false interpretations. We ought, then, to know that the word “see” does not always denote the same thing, sometimes being applied to bodily sight, sometimes to our understanding. Speaking generally, we ought to be aware that inasmuch as the purpose of the Spirit in the Prophets, and the Word in the Apostles of Christ, is to conceal and not plainly disclose the thoughts of the Truth, confusion arises again and again through the mere wording, and no close sequence of thought is preserved; the object being that even the unworthy may not to the judgment of their own soul discover the things which are thus for their good concealed from them. And this is often the reason why Scripture, as a whole, appears to lack orderly arrangement and consecutiveness, particularly, as we said before, the prophetic and apostolic writings; and in the apostolic writings, the Epistle to the Romans, wherein the functions of the Law are set forth in different terms, and applied to different circumstances. The result is that Paul in the composition of the epistle does not seem to be true to his aim.

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