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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

When and to whom the lessons of philosophy may be profitable in the explanation of the sacred Scriptures, with Scripture proof. The letter to Gregory

1. Greeting in God, from Origen to my good lord and most reverend son, Gregory. Natural ability, as you know, if properly trained, may be of the utmost possible service in promoting what I may call the “object” of a man’s training. You, for instance, have ability enough to make you an expert in Roman law, or a philosopher in one of the Greek schools held in high esteem. I should like you, however, to make Christianity your “object,” and to bring the whole force of your ability to bear upon it, with good effect. I am therefore very desirous that you should accept such parts even of Greek philosophy as may serve for the ordinary elementary instruction of our schools, and be a kind of preparation for Christianity: also those portions of geometry and astronomy likely to be of use in the interpretation of the sacred Scriptures, so that, what the pupils of the philosophers say about geometry and music, grammar, rhetoric, and astronomy, viz. that they are the handmaidens of philosophy, we may say of philosophy itself in relation to Christianity.

2. Perhaps something of the kind is hinted at in the command from the mouth of God Himself that the children of Israel be told to ask their neighbours and companions for vessels of silver and gold, and for clothing, so that by spoiling the Egyptians they might find materials to make the things of which they were told for the Divine service. For out of the spoils which the children of Israel took from the Egyptians came the contents of the Holy of Holies, the ark with its cover, and the Cherubim, and the mercy-seat, and the golden pot wherein was treasured up the manna, the Angels’ bread. These things, we may suppose, were made of the best of the Egyptian gold. From the second best came the candlestick throughout of solid gold, standing near the inner curtain, and the lamps upon it, and the golden table upon which was placed the shew-bread, and, between the two, the golden censer. If there was any third- or fourth-rate gold, the holy vessels were made of it. And from the Egyptian silver, also, came other things; for it was through sojourning in Egypt that the children of Israel had abundance of precious material to make things for the service of God. And out of the clothing of the Egyptians probably came whatever was required, as the Scripture says, in the way of things embroidered or sewn together, the work of embroiderers with the wisdom of God, different garments being sewed together to make the veils and the curtains, both the outer and the inner.

3. Why need I digress further to show how useful the things brought from Egypt were to the children of Israel, things which the Egyptians did not use properly, but the Hebrews through the wisdom of God turned to godly purposes? The Divine Scripture knows, however, that some were the worse for the going down of the children of Israel from their own land into Egypt, and darkly hints that some do lose by sojourning with the Egyptians, that is to say, by lingering in the learning of the world after being nourished the law of God and the Divine worship of Israel. At all events, Hadad the Edomite, so long as he was in the land of Israel, and did not taste the Egyptian bread, made no idols; but when he ran away from wise Solomon and went down into Egypt, running away one might say from the wisdom of God, he became Pharaoh’s kinsman by marrying Pharaoh’s wife’s sister, and begetting a son brought up with Pharaoh’s sons. And so it happened that although he returned into the land of Israel, he returned to divide God’s people into two parts, and make them say over the golden calf, “These be thy Gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” And, taught by his experience, I beg leave to tell you that a man is seldom found who takes the useful things of Egypt, leaves that land, and provides for the service of God; but Hadad the Edomite has many a brother. These are they who with a certain Greek smartness propagate heretical opinions, and, as it were, make golden calves in Bethel: which being interpreted is “the house of God.” The word therefore seems to shadow forth the truth, viz. that these men set up their own inventions in the Scriptures—figuratively called “Bethel”—wherein dwelleth the Word of God. But the Word says that the other invention was set up in Dan. Now the boundaries of Dan are farthest off, and near those of the Gentiles, as is clear from the account given in the Book of Joshua, the son of Nun. So, then, some of these inventions are near the confines of the Gentiles—inventions, as we have interpreted, of Hadad’s brethren.

4. Do you, then, my lord and my son, chiefly give heed to the reading of the Divine Scriptures; do give heed. For we need great attention when we read the Divine writings, that we may not speak or form notions about them rashly. And as you give heed to reading the Divine volume with a faithful anticipation well pleasing to God, knock at its closed doors and it shall be opened unto you by the porter, of whom Jesus said, “To him the porter openeth.” And as you give heed to the Divine reading, seek, in the right way and with an unfaltering faith in God, the meaning of the Divine writings, which is hidden from the many. Be not content, however, with knocking and seeking; for prayer is the most necessary qualification for the understanding of Divine things, and the Saviour urged us to this when He said, not only, Knock and it shall be opened, Seek and ye shall find, but also, Ask and it shall be given unto you. I have ventured thus far in my fatherly love for you; if I have done well or not in venturing, God and His Christ, and he that partaketh of the Spirit of God and of the Spirit of Christ, alone can know. Mayest thou be a partaker, and ever increase the participation, that thou mayest say not only, “We are become partakers of Christ,” but also, “We are become partakers of God.”

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