PHILADELPHIA SEMINAR ON CHRISTIAN ORIGINS
Volume 10 (1972-73), 5 meetings
Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel Of John
Co-chairs: Elaine Pagels, Barnard College; Howard C. Kee, Bryn Mawr College
Recording Secretary: Robert V. Hotchkiss
Corresponding Secretary: Peter G. Maurer
Prepared for free access on the Internet by Robert Kraft, copyright July 1996. Distribution and/or normal use with appropriate acknowledgement is permitted.
Howard Kee, Origen’s Exegetical Method as Demonstrated in Book I of the Commentary
Elaine Pagels, John the Baptist and the Prophets of Israel: Origen’s Exegetical Problem
Patrick Henry, The Samaritan Woman in Book 13 of the Commentary
Richard Norris , Origen on John 8
Panel Discussion: Redemption and Free Will According to Heracleon
Part 3 -- Membership List [not included in electronic version]
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Koetschau, Edouard. Origenis Opera Omnia. vols. i-xxxv. Berlin, 1831-48.
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Source Chretiennes. Origene Commentaire sur S. Jean. ed. C. Blanc.
Crombie, Frederick. The Writings of Origen. In the ANF 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1869.
Robinson, J. Armitage. The Philocalia of Origen. Cambridge, 1893.
Arnou, R. “Le theme neoplatonicien et la contemplation creatice chez Origene et chez S. Augustin,” Greg (1932) 124-136.
Balthasar, H. von. “Le Mysterion d’Origene,” RSR, xxvi, 1936, pp. 513-62.
________. Parole et mystere chez Origene. 1957.
Bardenhewer, Otto. Patrologie. third edition. Freiburg in Breisgau, 1910.
Bardy, G. “Les traditions juives dans l’oeuvre d’Origene”, RB, xxxiv, 1925, pp. 217-52.
________. “Origene et la magie,” RSR, xviii, 1928, pp. 126 ff.
________. Origene et I’aristotelisme. Melanges Glotz, Paris, 1932, I, pp. 75 ff.
________. “Aux origines de l’ecole d’Alexandrie,” RSR, xxvii, 1937, pp. 65 ff.
________. “Pour l’histoire de l’ecole d’Alexandrie,” Vivre et Penser, 2e serie, Paris, 1942, pp. 80-109.
________. Origene. (Les Moralistes chretiens. ) Paris, 2nd ed, 1931.
Barnes, W. E. “The Third Century and its Greatest Christian,” Origen: ExpTim 44 (1932-33) 295-300.
Bertrand, F. Mystique de Jesus chez Origene. Paris, 1951.
Bigg, C. The Christian Platonists of Alexandria. ed. 2. Oxford, 1913.
Borst, J. Beiträge zur sprachlich-stilistischen Wurdigung des Origenes. Kiss. Munster, 1913.
Cadiou, R. “Dictionnaires antiques dans l’oeuvre d’Origene,” REG (1.932) 271-285.
________. Introduction au systeme d’Origene. Paris, 1932.
________. La Jeunesse d’Origene. Paris 1935.
Chadwick, H. “Origen, Celsus and the Stoa,” JTS, xlviii, 1947, 34-49.
________. “Origen, Celsus, and the Resurrection of the Body,” HTR, xii, 1948, pp. 83-102.
Daniélou, J. Origene. Paris, 1948.
________. “L’Unite des deux Testaments dans l’oeuvre d’Origene,” RSR, xxii, 1948, rp. 27-56.
________. “Les sources juives de la doctrine des anges des nations chez Origene,” RSR, xxxviii, 1951 pp. 132-7.
Denis, M. J. De la Philosophie d’Origene. Paris, 1884.
Draeseke, J. “Das Johannesevangelium bei Celsus,” NKZ, ix, 1898, pp. 139-155.
Faye, E. de. Origene, sa vie, son oeuvre, sa pensee. (Bibliotheque de l’ecole des hautes etudes, sciences religieuses, 37, 43, 44) Paris, 1923-8.
Freppel, E. Origene. ed. 2. Paris, 1875, 2 vols.
Grant, R. M. The Letter and the Spirit. 1957, 90 ff.
Gross, J. Divinisation du chretien d’apres les Peres grecs. 1938.
Hanson, R. P. C. Allegory and Event: Origen’s Interpretation of Scripture. 1959.
________. Origen’s Doctrine of Tradition, 1954.
Harris, C. V. “Origen’s Interpretation of the Teacher’s Function” (Diss. Duke Univ. 1952).
Harnack, Adolf. Geschichte Der Altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius. 4 vols. Leipsig. 1893.
________. History of Dogma. Translated by Neil Buchanan and others. vols. i-vii (for Origen see vol. ii) London, 1896-99.
Herzog, F. F. Realencyklopadie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche. Enlarged ed. by A. Hauck. Article “Origenes” by E. Preuschen. Leipsig, 1904.
Hort, Fenton John Anthony. Six Lectures on the Ante-Nicene Fathers. London, 1895.
Huet, Peter Daniel, Bishop of Avranches. Origeniana. 4 vols. 1733. Reprinted in Migne, Origenes, vol. vii (PG Tomus XVII) and Lommatzsch, vols. xxii-xxiv.
Inge, W. R. Origen. (British Academy Annual Lectures on a Master Mind) London, 1946.
Kerr, G. T. The First Systematic Theologian Origen. 1958.
Kilpatrick, G. D. “A Fragment of Musonius,” CR (1949) 94.
Klostermann, E. “Origeniana,” in Neutestamentliche Studien G. Heinrici dargebracht, Leipzig, 1914, pp. 245-51.
________. “Ueberkommene Definitionen im Werdi des Origenes,” ZNW, xxxvii, 1938, pp. 54-61.
________. “Formen der exegetischen Arbeiten des Origenes,” TLZ, 1947, cols. 203-8.
Knox, W. L. “Origen’s Conception of the Resurrection Body,” JTS, xxxix, 1938, pp. 247-248.
Koch, Hal. Pronoia und Paideusis: Studien uber Origenes und sein Verhaltnis zum Platonismus. Berlin and Leipzig, 1932.
________. “Um Lebensgange des Origenes und Heraclas: ZNW 25, (1926) 278-282.
________. Article, “Origenes,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopadie, xviii, I (1939).
Koetschau, P. Origenes Werke, i-ii. Leipzig, 1899.
________. “Bibelcitate bei Origenes,” ZWT, xiiii, 1900, pp. 321-78.
________. “Des Origenes ausgewahlte Schriften aus dem Griechischen ubersetzt,´ (Bibliothek der Kirchenvater 48, SZ, 53) Munich, n.d. (1926-27).
Laeuchli, S. “Origen’s Conception of Symbolon,” AThR 34 (1952) 102-116.
Lebreton, J. “Origene: A Fliche,” in V. Martin, Histoire de 1’Eglise 2. Paris, 1946, 149-293.
Lubac, H. de. Hist. et esprit. L’intelligence de l’ecriture d’apres Origene. 1950.
Molland, E. The Conception of the Gospel in the Alexandrian Theology. Oslo, 1938.
Prestige, G. L. Fathers and Heretics. London, 1948, 43-66.
Prumm, K. “Mysterion von Paulus bis Origenes,” ZKT 61 (1937) 391-425.
Puech, H. C. “La mystique d’Origene,” RHPR, xiii, 1933, pp. 508-36.
________. “Les nouveaux ecrits d’Origene et de Didyme decouverts a Toura,” RHPR, xxxi, 1951, pp. 293-329.
Redepenning, E. R. Origenes, eine Darstellung seines Lebens und seiner Lehre. Bonn, 1841
Scherer, J. Entretien d’Origene avec Heraclide et les eveques ses collegues sur le Pere, le Fils et l’Ame. (Publications de la societe Fouad I de Papyrologie, Textes et Documents, ix. ) Cairo, 1949.
Stelzenberger, J. Die Beziehungen der Frühcristlichen Sittenlehre zur Ethik der Stoa. Munich, 1933.
Westcott, B. F. “Origen,” Dictionary of Christian Biography 4, 96-142.
Chadwick, H. Contra Celsum (1965).
Crouzel, H. Origene et la ‘Connaissance Mystique’. 1959.
Quasten, J. Patrology II (1962)
RGG 3. “Origenes.”
Topic for 1972-73: Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.
Meeting of October 10, 1972; 7 p.m., Philadelphia Divinity School Library.
The initial session of the 1972-73 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Elaine Pagels. After customary introductions, the Seminar heard a presentation by Howard C. Kee of Bryn Mawr College, in the form of an outline distributed to the group along with a bibliography, inviting Commentary and discussion.
Origen’s Exegetical Method as Demonstrated in Book I of the Commentary, Howard C. Kee (Bryn Mawr)
“Origen, a Greek educated in Greek learning...hawked himself and his literary skill about; and while his manner of life was Christian and contrary to the law, in his opinions about material things and the Deity he played the Greek, and introduced Greek ideas into foreign fables. For he was always consorting with Plato, and was conversant with the writings of Numenius and Cronius, Apollophanes and Longinus and Moderatus, Nichomachus and the distinguished men among the Pythagoreans; and he used also the books of Chaeremon the Stoic and Cornutus, from whom he learnt the figurative interpretation, as employed in the Greek mysteries, and applied it to the Jewish writings.”
These snide remarks about Origen by Porphyry (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.19.7) give an accurate indication of the factors that shaped Origen’s intellectual approach to his task as a Christian teacher, and of the persons and philosophical movements which helped to shape his intellectual outlook. The basically Platonic worldview as influenced by Stoics and neo-Pythagoreans, and above all the employment of the figurative interpretative method are fundamental for an understanding of Origen as theologian and exegete. He synthesized the Platonic tradition as he knew it with the Christian tradition as he knew it.
Origen considered himself primarily as a teacher. Only after he was swamped with pupils did he agree to having his expositions of scripture written down and only very late in life did he allow stenographers to take down his sermons and public discourses. Even his great textual work, the Hexapla (with its offshoot the Tetrapla) was done to facilitate his exegetical teaching. Apart from his major polemical work (Contra Celsum) and his major systematic work (De Principiis), his writings were exegetical and expository, with homilies for the common believers and commentaries for the more serious students. Reports of the extent of his work run from 2000 (Jerome) to 6000 (Epiphanius) volumes or rolls. The best list of his works is found in Harnack, Geschichte der Altchristlichen Literatur, pp. 340ff. His commentary on John consisted of 32 books, not all of which are extant. Those books which survived are 1 (Jn 1.1), 2 (Jn 1.2-7), 4 (fragment), 5 (fragment), 6 (Jn 1.19-29), 10 (Jn 2), 13 (Jn 4), 19 (Jn 8.19-25), 20 (Jn 8.37-54), 28 (Jn 9.39-57), and 32 (Jn 13.2-33).
Origen’s Career, a Sumary
(1) Student (185-202) of secular and scriptural literature. Studied under Clement of Alexandria; depicted as venturesome and inquiring while still a child. Father martyred under Severus (203), and catechetical school was temporarily closed.
(2) Teacher (202-220) of the catechetical school at the invitation of Demetrius. Gave up secular teaching and sold personal library in exchange for a tiny pension. Rich widow became his patroness. Increasing number of pupils, including thoughtful pagans. Fame spread to other lands; journeyed to Rome and Palestine.
(3) Writer (221-231), a career made possible through the patronage of Ambrosius, a convert from Valentinianism (Hist. eccl. 6.23.1), who encouraged Origen to write commentaries, provided stenographers, copyists, and calligraphers. Began John Commentary in Alexandria; discouraged by the time he reached Bk. 5. Wrote 8 books on Genesis; 25 on the Psalms; 5 books on Lamentations.
(4) Exile (231-254), following his acceptance of ordination in Caesarea on his way to Greece (Hist. eccl. 6.31.4). He was forced to leave Alexandria and defamed by its bishop, Demetrius. Nevertheless, he was sought out by pupils from Palestine and from various parts of the Roman world. By dictation, he resumed writing, completing 32 books in all of the John commentary; the Hexapla, for which he had learned Hebrew earlier (De Princ. 4.3.14); Contra Celsum; Commentaries on Romans and Matthew; homilies. Persecuted during the reign of Decius (249); died in Tyre in 70th year (254).
Origen’s Intellectual Background and Orientation
(1) Platonism. Origen’s basic conception of God is taken over from Platonism as understood in second and third century Alexandria: God is identified as the Idea of the Good (hence no evil can be attributed to him); God is unchangeable (hence no anthropomorphisms); the human soul is related to the divine Nous (hence mystical experience and mythological formulation are necessary for man to move into fuller knowledge of God). Origen accommodates scripture to this idea of God, and is reluctant to speak of God’s love. His cosmology is derived from the Timaeus: the Logos is pervasive reason, as defined by later Stoicism. This denies the reality of the sensible world, which is but a “shadow” of the real world. The goal of human existence is to proceed to ever-increasing knowledge of God (hence paideusis); the goal of the cosmos is to move toward perfection of the good (hence pronoia, which is Origen’s version of eschatology). [See Hal Koch, Pronoia und Paideusis.] Note that Origen has no concern for sin, although he is troubled philosophically by evil.
(2) Gnosticism. The attribution of creation to a Second God by Marcion and the Gnostics required Origen to assert that the creation is the work of God, that it is moving toward perfection by his providence, and that humans participate in that movement without violation of the freedom of their wills. This is the central importance of paideusis; Origen does not speak of predestination at all, even in Pauline terms.
(3) The allegorical exegetical method. The method was developed by Philo of Alexandria, and was perfected into an intellectually respectable method by the first and second century Stoics and, archaists, who allegorized their own mythology. It was probably utilized by Pantaenus, and certainly by Clement. This method was ideally suited to achieve Origen’s purpose of showing that the true meaning of scripture is concealed behind the letter of the text. His linguistic skill aided his etymological interpretations of place and personal names in the scriptures. His Hebrew appears to have been learned from Christian teachers, and although he could use it, he much preferred the scriptures in Greek. It is not unlikely that Origen used allegorical exegesis in specific contrast to the more literal methods used by Jews of his time. [See N. R. M. De Lange, “Origen and Jewish Bible Exegesis,” JJS 22 (1971).]
(4) The Regula Fidei. Origen unswervingly committed himself to the Rule of Faith as he knew it, and would not contradict it. This acted as a brake on his Platonism, although in areas of doctrine not defined in the Rule (e.g. Christology, transmigration of souls) Origen strayed far from “orthodoxy” (De Princ. 4.2.7).
(5) Inspiration of Scriptures. Origen was concerned to see value in all scripture, but especially in those passages which caused theological or logical difficulties, since these tended to discourage non-serious scholars. He saw no conflict between a theory of verbal inspiration and the problem of textual variants; his own practice was often to follow the text he liked best in that particular instance. The LXX itself was inspired (Hom. on Lk 35; Cant. 1; Philocalia).
Origen’s Exegetical Method (De Princ. 4)
Origen followed a 3-fold system of interpretation of scripture, in terms of body, soul, and spirit. The bodily interpretation was the obvious, literal one; the level of the soul was a middle level, often concerned with ethics; the spiritual interpretation utilized a full understanding of the mystery inherent in the text itself. Origen bases this system on Prov 22.20-21 (LXX), and finds an allusion to it in Jn 2.6, where the “2 or 3 measures” are taken to mean ways of interpreting scriptures. He finds precedent for his technique in Paul (1 Cor 9.9-10; Heb 8.5; Gal 4; Rom 9.4). Normally, Origen used only 2 meanings for a text -- the fleshly and the spiritual, and then discarded the first. For his purposes, impossible laws and incredible narrative were of great value, since they drove us back to the hidden meanings (De Princ. 4.3.1-2). Even in the gospels, the literal sense is to be taken as nonsense (4.3.3), and historical and geographic references are of little value. For Origen, the question is not what a text says, or what the writer intended to say, but what the Spirit says, which is what it really means.
Origen’s Exegetical Method in John, as seen in Book l
(1) The argument of Book 1: Origen begins disarmingly, on a matter seemingly irrelevant to the gospel. The church is, mystically speaking, the tribes of Israel as Rev 14 asserts; its priests are those who devote themselves solely to the service of God, or rather of his Word, and are therefore the interpreters of and students of scripture. Among these servants of the Lord, the most distinguished are the “high priests” (10), They offer the first fruits (aparxh), which are not the same as the first growth (prwtogonnhma). The latter is the law of Moses, but the former is the gospel (13). Therefore, the gospel is the first fruits of all scripture; of the four gospels, John is the first fruit (23): in it alone the deity of Jesus is expressed, and mystical communion with Jesus is described. The four are truly gospel because they announce directly the coming of Jesus (28). Since all scripture promises his coming, all are in a sense gospel, but it is John who enables us to perceive the gospel in the whole of scriptures (33). All the mysteries concerning Christ are discernible in John: the somatic gospel points to the Jesus who may be seen and heard, and who died; the spiritual gospel offers heavenly wisdom, and makes possible partaking of the Logos, which rose after it was made flesh, and returned to God, as it was in the beginning. Jesus is himself the gospel, but his coming makes gospel of the angels who announce his coming, and of all scripture, which becomes “the beginning of the gospel.” Origen prays for God’s aid by the Spirit to be able to unfold the mystical sense which is treasured up in the words of John (89).
Origen then lists various meanings for arxh: the chief is Demiurge, the instrument through which creation is accomplished; it is logically prior to all other names, Wisdom is the design by which all else came into being. “As Light, he illumines not bodies but the incorporeal intellect, to the end that each of us, enlightened as by the sun, may be able to discern the rest of the things of the mind.” As True Light (alhqinos), he enables men to see reality itself. Origen lists the titles or functions applied by John to Jesus; e.g. Bread, which means ethical studies that rejoice and satisfy; Vine, which offers mystical experience and inspires the heart. As Sword, Christ cuts the bond which joins body and soul; this is what is meant by being wounded by divine love (Cant 2.5). He concludes with Logos, which in man is his rationality, but points to his perfection. Logos is fragmentarily among men generally, but through Christ it returns to its source in God. Origen builds on the LXX of Ps 44(45).2 to show how Logos “belches forth” from the heart of God (280); it is thus in the arxh, with God and in all that he does.
(2) Controlling Ideas in Origen’s exegesis of John: First among all controlling ideas is the unity of God, derived from Plato. This is observed so strictly that no anthropomorphisms are allowed, nor is any mention of qualities or limitations to God (90 ff; 109 ff). The unity of scripture, from both Christian and Jewish tradition, implies that there is no difference between OT and NT for exegetical purposes (119 ff). The freedom of man is from Aristotle (190). The finding of a mystical meaning behind the letter of the text is from the methodological practices of Alexandria (261 ff). In all, nothing is affirmed in contradiction to the Rule of Faith (191 ff).
It is out of order to charge Origen with having no historical sense, or of exploiting scripture. His Platonic view of reality was the view of his time, and he found nothing unusual in accommodating the scriptures to it. In fact, he was using scripture precisely as it should be used in his time and place. Although his terminology was specifically Platonic, many of his views were broader than those ordinarily associated with Platonism. For his process, the Gospel of John was central, since the transcendental ideas of the gospel could easily be used to present his philosophical outlook. In modern times, much the same process has been utilized by Bultmann, who used this gospel as a means to reach his own existential philosophy.
The discussion following the presentation centered around the suggestion by several members of the Seminar that, in deliberate contrast to the Christological presentation of the Valentinians, Origen begins his analysis of the arxh with the earthly, i.e. Jesus, rather than the spiritual, i.e. Christ. Thus, it would be intended as an exegesis for all Christians, rather than for only the few. The logical progression, then, is from the human to the divine. In defense of this argument the following passages were cited: (a) the use of 1 Cor 2 (“Jesus Christ and him crucified”) in 1.58; 1.119-124; 2.29, as a call to the majority of believers, still “babes;” (b) the allusions to Hebrews in 1.255, indicating that the sacrifice of Christ was for all intellectual beings, including the majority; (c) allusions to the Apocalypse in 2.61, with its passion imagery.
Other members of the Seminar disagreed with this hypothesis, indicating that the logical progression of Book 1 is from the divine to the human; i.e. the Logos as the Word made flesh. The only available descriptives for the Logos, as used by Origen, are metaphorical ones, not human ones. The passion is important only for those still operating on the lower level of insight. The Logos has left the human level, where his main function was to return man back to his own place with God. The passion is a means of reconciliation, but is not as important as the fact of incarnation itself.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Secretary
Topic for 1972-1973: Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.
Meeting for November 28, 1972; 7 p.m., Philadelphia Divinity School Library.
The second session of the 1972-1973 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Howard Kee. After customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard a presentation by Elaine Pagels of Barnard College.
John the Baptist and The Prophets of Israel: Origen’s Exegetical Problem, Elaine Pagels (Barnard)
In his commentary on John, Book 2.133-229, Origen presents his own interpretation of John the Baptist and, by extension, the prophets of Israel. He sets his own theory in contrast to that of Heracleon and the Valentinians, whom he charges with an excessively deterministic anthropology: They say that if John was called from his mother’s womb, this means that he was pneumatic from the first, and thus predestined. Origen argues that this theory of predestination effectively denies God’s righteousness. For Origen, if God is just, then the basis for John’s special relation to God must be sought in “works done before this life,” or even in the possibility that John was an angel sent on a special mission, like Gabriel.
Origen, aware that such exegesis of John the Baptist would prove controversial, directly raises the hermeneutical question: how are the prophets to be interpreted? He contrasts his views to two conflicting interpretations: (1) the Valentinian view of Heracleon, who claims that the prophets of Israel operate wholly within the sense-perceptible region of immediate experience, the level of the demiurge (6.108-111). As such, the prophets cannot truly witness to Christ, who comes from the One beyond the demiurge. The true meaning of his revelation is beyond their comprehension (2.199). (2) the ecclesiastics, who attribute the prophets’ inspiration to God the father and creator, and interpret their role as “proclaiming the coming of Christ” (2.205). Origen sees that both gnostic and ecclesiastic Christians, despite their differences, agree on one point -- that the prophets stand in a position of spiritual inferiority to the apostles. For both groups, Israel’s faith was only a preliminary stage, in preparation for fulfillment in Christ. Origen objects to this assumption which underlies both exegeses.
The Ecclesiastical Typologists
Origen’s attack on the ecclesiastics is aimed at nothing less than the view of prophecy and fulfillment developed and proclaimed by such prominent Christian teachers as Ignatius, Justin, Hippolytus, Melito, and Irenaeus. Irenaeus declares that none of the prophets actually saw God himself. What they saw were only the “dispensations and mysteries” through which God would reveal himself fully in future time in Christ (AdvHaer 4.20.8-11). The prophets received “shadows” and “types,” and could not possibly have understood them fully before the prophesied event occurred (AdvHaer 4.26.1). This typological hermeneutic has as its theological premise that revelation occurs in and through the events of salvation history. Its method is to correlate event with event, prophecy with fulfillment, and type with truth (alhqeia), which is the fulfillment of the type in history. Thus, John the Baptist fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy of a forerunner; the type of Elijah is fulfilled in the reality (truth) of John.
Origen claims that the proponents of this theory have not thought out its implications. He asks, for instance, how Christians can claim (vs. the Valentinians) that the patriarchs indeed knew God, and not an inferior power, unless they acknowledge that they knew God through his son, the Logos, apart from whom no one knows the father (6.15-16). Likewise the prophets if they receive life from God, could only receive it from the one who is himself the “life” (6.19; 6.37). Origen insists that the greatest of the prophets know not only the future events of salvation history, but also the mysteries which such events convey concerning God himself. “Those who were perfected in earlier generations know, no less than the apostles, what Christ revealed to them, since the same teacher was with them as he who revealed to the apostles the ‘unspeakable mysteries of God’” (6.24). For Origen, the historical fulfillment was not the same as the understanding of it: it would be far better to understand an event of salvation history by the knowledge of the Logos than to live through the event itself without that full understanding.
With this argument, Origen denies the claim that Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Melito consider essential to Christian theology -- that historical events are the primary means of revelation. For Origen, the doctrine of the Logos means that the eternal Logos is the primary source of all revelation and that acts of salvation history are only relative to that source. Thus, the coming of John the Baptist, even seen in connection with Isaiah’s prophecy and the type of Elijah, remains a mere historical event, until the event is perceived as revelation by the self-manifestation of the Logos. The Logos can manifest himself in creation and in the rational structure of human nature as well as in historical events. While earlier apologists were content to proclaim the kerygma in terms of the acts of God which convey salvation to mankind, Origen feels that this can be misunderstood as a mere recitation of past events, unless the Christian can obtain spiritual insight into its meaning in terms of his own present experience. As one who is aware of the potential literalism of Christian profession, Origen comes to perceive the potential spirituality of the prophets of Israel.
The Gnostic Allegorists
In opposing the ecclesiastics, Origen appears to be putting himself on the side of the gnostics, who deny the historical sense of scripture, including the historical incarnation. Certainly, Origen shares many of the gnostics’ theological concerns. The Valentinians also criticized the “literalism” of the kerygma based on historical events. For them, the gospels, when read as the narrative of mere events, convey neither spiritual power nor meaning; the divine Logos cannot penetrate the merely “material.” Thus Heracleon, a Valentinian contemporary of Irenaeus and Tertullian, rejects the typology of the ecclesiastical writers; e.g. the typological interpretation of John the Baptist. Heracleon interprets the whole John the Baptist account as an allegory of the process of the transformation of human perception, in effect a description of the process of repentance and conversion effected through faith in Jesus as son of the demiurge. This transformation of the account from historical narration to a description of internal conversion is, however, valid only on the psychic level, and is of limited value. The true theological meaning, on the pneumatic level for the complete Christian, is that the story signifies the end of the old, material order ruled by the demiurge. It points to the awakening to recognition that Christ is more than “messiah” (the literal sense) or the “lamb of God” whose death on the cross offers forgiveness of sin (psychic sense), but is the one present “in spirit and truth.” For the gnostics, the passage must be interpreted on the two upper levels to have any meaning at all.
Origen, however, places his own exegetical technique in sharp contrast to that of the gnostics. He feels that if the ecclesiastics fail to understand revelation in its primary sense as enlightenment through the Logos, the gnostics equally fail to grasp the other meaning -- as revelation progressively in and through actual historical events. Origen insists, as do the ecclesiastics, on beginning with the actual historical level of interpretation. He criticizes Heracleon for not considering the variant descriptions of John the Baptist in the four gospels. Origen is so convinced that the evangelists could not err that he concludes that the different accounts must refer to different events (6.170-172). Likewise, Origen criticizes Heracleon for failing to note inaccurate textual citations of place names. These, too, must be reconciled to the geography of the area. Even passages which cannot be taken literally as actual history; e.g. when John contradicts the synoptics by placing the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, remain valid to Origen, because in such cases the historical account has been made subservient to the more important theological intention. The prime intention of the evangelists is to present “spiritual,” i.e. theological truth.
Origen’s chief criticism of Heracleon at this point is that the gnostic mistakes a fundamental point by ignoring entirely the historical dimensions of the narrative. For Origen, insofar as divine revelation is given in and through historical events, the understanding of such events must be the foundation for any sound symbolic interpretation.
Origen’s Exegesis: a Middle Way
Origen differs from the ecclesiastical apologists in his willingness to apply typology even within the OT narrative, rather than only from OT event to NT fulfillment. Thus, the type of the crossing of the Red Sea is fulfilled in the crossing of the Jordan; “religion had by this time grown clearer and had assumed a more appropriate form” (6.230). Although the move from spiritual immaturity to greater spiritual maturity is seen within the history of Israel, the process is not yet complete. The whole process of transition from Moses to Joshua is in turn a type of the future transition from John the Baptist to Christ. Within this limited scope, Origen agrees with other Christians that the whole history of Israel serves as a type of the “new people of God.”
Far from denying the actuality of biblical history or rendering it theologically irrelevant, Origen agrees that this history must be taken seriously as history, and that the revelatory events of history actually change the human capacity to receive divine revelation. The first task of exegesis is historical typology which, though necessary, is extremely limited, since it does not demonstrate how such past events become revelation in the present. To consider this, Origen utilizes “spiritual” exegesis; e.g. applying the account of John’s activity to the present experience of the believer. Thus, John symbolizes the human voice that prepares each believer to receive Christ; i.e. the catechetical teaching that precedes reception of the Spirit in baptism (2.224).
In his commentary on John, Origen attempts to revise the whole understanding of the exegetical process, refusing to identify himself with either the typological exegesis of the ecclesiastics or the allegorical exegesis of the gnostics. He is convinced that both traditions, especially in deprecating the revelation to Israel, fail to see that all revelation comes from one source -- the eternal Logos. While agreeing with the ecclesiastics that the Logos does reveal himself in and through actual historical events with their attendant typology, he rejects the assumption that such “salvation history” itself conveys theological meaning. In terms of the one revelation communicated through the Logos, Origen considers all scriptural narrative, the history of Christ as well as the history of Israel, to contain only “types and shadows” whose “truth” is realized only in the experience of those Jews and Christians who have recognized their relation to the eternal Logos.
The discussion following the presentation was largely concerned with whether or not Origen succeeded in establishing a middle ground between gnostic and traditional exegesis. As far as the apologists go, Origen does appear to set himself apart from them in their interpretation of scriptural history. He specifically contradicts Irenaeus in insisting that revelation comes only from the Logos. For Irenaeus, the mysteries of the OT are types of events to come; for Origen, they are types of “truth,” which is not bound by events. Justin appears in the Dialogue to be a traditional typologist; however, in the first Apology, he may be leaning toward a theory somewhat compatible with Origen. Origen identifies himself with the ecclesiastical community, and does not contradict them on fundamentals. Instead, he speaks as being opposed to “simple-minded Christians,” i.e. those who do not grasp the full “spiritual” interpretation of the scriptures, although so far as they go in their typological schemata, they do well. In Book 10, on the Jewish Passover, Origen makes fun of the typological outlook, not excluding that of John and Paul.
In his opposition to the gnostics, Origen often seems to us to be providing only a better allegory, no more based in history than the gnostic. It must be remembered that as a product of his own times, Origen’s exegetical procedures are often in an uncomfortable relationship to his declared objective of using history to give perspective to his allegory. It may be that the factor which influenced his exegetical intentions was his going to Palestine and being impressed by the geography and the history behind it. Theologically, Origen seeks to take with full seriousness the idea of the Word made flesh. History is not only important, but the salvation events provide a normative perspective on other events. Because Christ himself came in a body (for Origen, an epistemological necessity), those who are alienated from the full perception of the Logos must first perceive him literally, in a body in history, and proceed from there to higher levels.
Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1972-73: Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.
Meeting for January 30, 1973; 7 pm, Philadelphia Divinity School Library.
The third session of the 1972-73 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Elaine Pagels. Following customary announcements and introductions, the Seminar heard a presentation by Patrick Henry of Swarthmore College.
The Samaritan Woman in Book 13 of the Commentary, Patrick Henry (Swarthmore)
Since Book 13 of Origen’s Comentary on John is not readily available, and there appears to be no published English translation, it would perhaps be best to begin with a summary of the most important chapters as they apply to this presentation based on the Greek text of A. E. Brooke (Cambridge, 1896).
1. Origen has dealt with part of the story of the Samaritan woman in Book 12, and will finish it in 13, beginning with Jesus’ response in John 4.13. This is his Second answer to her, designed to encourage her to ask for the living water, about which she had simply raised further questions in response to his first answer. No one who does not ask for a divine gift receives one, not even the Son. The Samaritan woman is persuaded to ask Jesus for the water, she being, as said before (Bk 12) an image of the heterodox busying themselves with the scriptures, when she hears the comparison of the two sorts of water.
3. What does it mean to say that one drinking of this water will thirst again? It means he will keep asking questions. Even if someone is persuaded by the plausibility of the things said, he will later find the same lack occurring in himself which he had before he learned these things. The water Christ gives becomes a “discovery fountain.” Perhaps the water can be said to leap up to the Father who is above eternal life: “For Christ is life, and he who is greater than Christ is greater than life.”
4. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness; the hart longing after the water-brooks; the fact that this entire scene takes place next to the spring of Jacob: all these indicate that we should drink from this spring so that we may thirst.
5. There is a clear difference between the benefit from the truth itself and that from the scriptures properly understood by reference to thirsting again. As for the divine mysteries, some cannot be contained in writing, some surpass the human voice, and even the more common things are beyond human telling. Origen considers all scripture to be the basic elements of and briefest introduction to all knowledge, if scripture is properly interpreted. The spring of Jacob = scripture; the water of Jesus = that which is above the things written. Only one who is likened to those things above can interpret them.
6. Consider whether it is possible for “human wisdom” to indicate not false dogmas, but the first elements of the truth directed towards those who are still men. The scriptures are an introduction, the spring of Jacob, from which we move on to Jesus, that he may give us the spring of living water which designates the things taught by the spirit,
7. The woman asks for the living water and thereby receives it. She will no more have to come to the spring of Jacob, but even without the water of Jacob she will be able to see the truth beyond the power of man, in the manner of angels.
8. The ruling law of the soul, to which each man submits himself, is the “husband.” The woman, in the moment she answers, forsakes the law to which she was bound. The law according to the letter has died, and the soul does not commit adultery by becoming bound to another husband, the law according to the spirit.
9. The five husbands represent the senses; the sixth represents an improper use of allegory and spiritual interpretation. When Jesus comes he leads us to the perception of the kind of husband to which we are bound; when the Lord and Word has come and talked with us, we deny that one which is our husband. For the first time, the woman speaks the complete truth; she had lied before.
10. Concerning Heracleon’s interpretation of these passages: if he means to make the distinction between knowledge in part and full knowledge, there is nothing to criticize; but if he means to disparage the OT, then he must be contradicted. He interprets the spring welling up to eternal life not unconvincingly as our obligation to pass on the benefits we have gained to others. Does he allow for free choice in the woman?
11. Heracleon says the husband of the woman is her plhrwma. Origen refutes this, and goes on to show what follows from Heracleon’s statements about the woman’s fornication with her 6 husbands if, as Heracleon holds, she represents the spiritual nature.
12-13. The woman sees there is something divine and superhuman in Jesus, but she does not recognize its extent, so she calls him a prophet. In this she represents heterodox opinion. Origen explains, with reference to Deut 27, the distinction between Gerizim and Zion. Even today the Samaritans and Jews say the sort of thing the woman says.
14. Significance of the addition of “and now is” to the second “the hour is coming”: one has reference to worship outside the body, where perfection is achieved; the other means we can worship in spirit and truth in Jerusalem.
16. Heracleon interprets the mountain as the devil or the world belonging to him, which was worshiped by all those before the law and by the Gentiles. He says Jerusalem is the creation or the creator worshiped by the Jews. The “spiritual ones” worship neither the creation nor the demiurge, but the Father of truth. Origen understands the mountain to represent the supposed piety of the heterodox, and Jerusalem to represent the ecclesiastical rule for the many, which the perfect and holy go beyond, although for the sake of benefiting some they become as Jews to the Jews. When perfection comes we will be sons. Origen notes that it does not say “worship God,” but “worship the Father.”
17. Salvation from the Jews: Origen criticizes Heracleon’s dependence on the Preaching of Peter. The Savior’s statement is directly opposed to the heterodox refusal to admit the God of the Jews.
18. Even those who now worship in spirit and truth sometimes do things that could be called “types” in order to be of service in leading others to the truth; e.g. Paul’s dealing with Timothy. The current worship in spirit and in truth is as through a mirror. Now we see primarily in spirit; then we shall see in truth, face to face.
19-20. Heracleon interprets salvation from the Jews as though the Jews were images of those in the plhrwma. Origen considers what Heracleon means by “seeking that which is lost.”
25. Heracleon says that those who worship the Father in spirit are of the same nature as the Father. Origen points out what follows from this, and then goes on to show how far removed even the Son is from the Father.
26. It is worth noticing that the woman finds the appearance of Christ announced in the law by itself: Gen 48.8, 10; Num 24.7-9, 17ff; Deut 33.7. Christ himself said Moses wrote concerning him.
28. Jesus’ talking with the woman instructs us that we must not disdain anyone, since all are made according to the image of God,
29-31. It is not beside the point that the evangelist put in the part about her leaving the jar behind; it illustrates her haste to share the good news-with her fellow citizens. There is a parallel to Rebecca at the well and to Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples on Easter, Origen considers Heracleon’s interpretation of the leaving of the jar,
33-34. Long discussion of various types of food suited to various individuals. Even Christ is in need of intelligible food, which he receives from the Father who alone is in need of nothing. Our goal is to reach the stage where we eat the same food as the Son of God, which in the passage under consideration the disciples did not know.
36. The unity of Father and Son resides in the unity of will; it is in virtue of the “one will” that the Son says, “I and the Father are one.”
37. Completion of the Father’s work has nothing to do with an original incompleteness, but rather with the recall of reasonable beings. The Savior completes the work in various ways appropriate to each being.
38. Heracleon says that the will of the Father is that men should know him and be saved, and it is for this reason that the Savior comes to Samaria; i.e. into the world. Jesus’ food then becomes the conversation with the woman -- a rather paltry and forced interpretation. Also, how can Heracleon say that the will of the Father was rest for the Savior? What about the agony of Gethsemane?
42. It is necessary to look up and see the logos of each thing, according to which God said that it was good. Disciples are asked to raise their eyes to the fields of the scriptures and to the fields of the logos of each being, in order to see the whiteness and brightness of the light of truth everywhere.
A. It is unfortunate that Origen’s introduction to the Samaritan woman is missing. Book 13 begins with John 4.13, with Jesus’ second answer to the woman. It is not unlikely that Book 12 tells what the woman was not, since Book 13 seems to be particularly restrained in both symbolizing and describing the woman, in marked contrast to Heracleon’s interpretation. Origen makes several points about the Woman:
1) Origen makes dramatic use of the woman, in opposition to Heracleon. For Heracleon, the woman is the spiritual person, while Origen sees her as the image of the heterodox opinion of scripture; i.e. of Heracleon’s own views. There are more quotes from Heracleon in Book 13 than elsewhere in the commentary, as Origen confronts his adversary with his own words.
2) The woman is seen in the process of growing. Morally, she speaks the truth for the first time (13.9), and spiritually, she sees something of who Jesus is (13.12).
3) The woman must necessarily be free -- to grow, to will, to decide for Christ (13.10). This contrasts with Heracleon’s position that she answered properly to Jesus because of her nature, and not her will.
4) The woman represents a human type -- the heterodox, and not some heavenly being (13.1). Specifically, she is literally a woman of Samaria (13.12-13), and reflects a controversy still going on in Origen’s day. She does not need to be allegorized beyond being everyman, in that she illustrates the process which everyone must go through in the salvation drama. In contrast to Heracleon, whose chief interest appears to be in the woman, Origen concentrates on the two springs -- Jacob and eternal life, and takes the woman more as an historical figure.
B. The allegory in Book 13 is so restrained that it opens the possibility that this might be an example of Origen’s level 2 interpretation, the level of the soul (De Princ. 4). Comm. Jo 13.28-29 seems clearly to be this sort of interpretation. Perhaps Book 13 is not so much the interpretation of scripture as a guide to such interpretation on an intermediate level as a means of achieving spiritual understanding. The exegesis is not terribly far-fetched.
Book 13 is fundamental to Origen’s notion of the Christian life as paideusis (education, growth) toward the goal of noesis (understanding). In terms of the former, the key term here is epaporeisis (raising additional questions; 13.l, 3). The well of Jacob, interpreted as the scriptures, has as its function that of leading Christians to thirst again, or to raise more questions. Thus to thirst again is to be encouraged (13.4, 5, 6, 26). There is a certain amount of ambiguity, however, as to the future need of scripture to the Christian. In 13.7 and 8, the woman passes beyond further need for the well of Jacob, and achieves a higher form of understanding. Does this mean, then, that in this life the Christian can reach the point of dispensing with scripture? Or is the use of scripture necessary as a concession to humankind in this world, but not beyond? Consideration of this raises a further question: could a Christian progress beyond the need for Jesus, as well as for the scriptures? The subordinationism expressed quite strongly in 13.25, 33-34, hints that the Christian could reach the same state of understanding as Jesus himself. Could the Son of God be primarily a teacher whose goal is to bring the pupil to where he can let him go?
This ambiguity seems to continue in Origen’s expression of the goal of the Christian. In CJ 13.42, he pictures the goal as the whiteness of the fields of the scriptures now illuminated by Christ, and the fields of the logos of each being. If this goal is imbedded in scripture, does this mean that progress from paideusis to noesis is in a continuum? The progress of the woman would seem to make it appear instead to be a rather large leap. CJ 13.33-34 speaks of the fulfilled Christian eating the same food as the Son of God, but in 13.25, Origen rejects Heracleon’s contention that this means the Christian is of the same nature as God. Origen’s feeling is that Heracleon makes the Christian’s progress too easy, overlooking the difficult progress even Christ had to make (e.g. Gethsemane). Heracleon fails to see that the woman still has things to learn.
The discussion following the presentation concentrated on several of the questions already raised:
1) It is perhaps asking too much of Origen to expect the consistency of scriptural interpretation which he sets forth in De Princ. 4. In Comm. Jo. 13, he does not appear to be consciously employing any particular level of interpretation, but is instead engaged in a polemic against Heracleon in which a particular spiritual (level 3?) interpretation seems at times to be appropriate. Indeed, he is utilizing a number of techniques: polarization, staging, playing with images -- all utilized against the views of Heracleon. It may be that the text reveals more of how Origen reacted to his enemies that of how he thought about the scriptures.
2) As to the place of scriptures and Christ in paideusis, the consensus of the Seminar was that Origen strongly implies the continued presence of these two factors in the life of the Christian even to the end. Perhaps some could go beyond them in this life, but they do not do so out of consideration for the rest of humanity (13.16). In 13.3. Origen is not so much stressing the subordination of the Son to the Father, as he is the Son as an instrument of redemption.
3) Origen’s exegesis stresses the idea of motion in the Christian life -- that of a continuum from this world to the next. The well of Jacob is seen as that which is written; the well of Christ is what cannot be written. Origen’s own writings would be in the first category; the process of growth he describes is in the second. A primary function of the Commentary on John is to attempt to convey this process to Christians, and to show the power available in continued growth.
Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1972-73: Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.
Meeting for March 13, 1973; 7 pm, Philadelphia Divinity School Library.
The fourth session of the 1972-73 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Elaine Pagels. Following customary announcements and introductions, the Seminar heard a presentation by Richard A. Norris of General Theological Seminary.
Origen on John 8, Richard A. Norris (General Theological Seminary)
Origen deals with John 8 in Books 19 and 20 of the Commentary on John. Book 19 treats of verses 19b-25, and Book 20 expounds verses 37-63. Like most of Origen’s exegesis, the section on John 8 contains a number of assorted observations and excurses. Book 19 opens with a brief Christological foray, observing that John 8.19b appears to be inconsistent with 7.28. Other topics: an allegorization of the temple treasury (19.7-8); why Jesus repudiates the charge that he has a demon, but not that he is a Samaritan (20.35); the difference between “seeing death” and “tasting death”; how it is possible to predicate the “death” of Jesus; the possible contradiction between John 8.50 and 5.22 (20.38). Like any competent exegete, Origen prefers the trees to forests, and enjoys the discovery of small points which adumbrate deep matters.
Nevertheless, the commentary on John 8 seems to hover around a single issue posed by the text in several slightly different forms. It is first raised in Comm. Jo. 19.11, in dealing with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, “you will look for me but you will die in your sin.” Origen finds this difficult to reconcile with John 8.30: “Many believed in him.” Why, if the Pharisees “look for” Jesus, would they necessarily die in their sin? Origen’s first attempt at a solution is to point out various senses of zhtein, but this does not go far enough. The same problem recurs later in chapter 9 where Jesus is addressing, not the hostile Pharisees, but “the Jews who had believed in him.” Of these “seed of Abraham,” Jesus says they are not sons of Abraham but sons of the Devil, intent on killing him.
It is tempting for a modern to see this as Origen wrestling with the problem of Judaism. In fact, he appears to be saying that although the Jews may be dying in their sin, “they have not yet lost their capacity to become sons of Abraham” (20.5). A careful reading of Origen, however, indicates that the Jews were not the prime interest of the exegete. He seems eager to establish that the phrase “seed of Abraham,” while pointing to a particular family of people, is nevertheless not indicative of either a problem or a privilege which is peculiar to only one such family. Origen almost instinctively universalizes the issues which he detects in the dialogue of Jesus with the Jews, and so treats the question of the “spiritual endowments” of humankind, and their significance in the history of salvation.
Such universalization by Origen came quite naturally to him in response to a similar treatment by Heracleon. Heracleon seems to have been somewhat anti-Jewish, but he too goes beyond his feelings about the Jewish people and uses John 8 to illustrate his doctrine of the “natures.” In commenting on John 8.47, Origen begins his exposition by directly attacking Heracleon’s “fantasy of the differences of ‘natures.’” Origen is reacting to an interpretation of John which seems to him to pervert a general truth about the relation of man to God and about the way of salvation, rather than to a question of the nature of the Mosaic dispensation. Origen wrestles with questions about the human condition: what it means to be “seed of Abraham,” “sons of Abraham,” “sons of the Devil,” or “sons of God.”
For these purposes, perhaps the most instructive single passage in Books 19 and 20 of the Comm. Jo. is Origen’s treatment of John 8.21: “I am going away. You will look for me, but you will die in your sin.” Since the gospel indicates these words lead to some kind of preliminary conversion, Origen faces the immediate question: what is presupposed concerning the human situation by the fact that seekers and believers can be condemned as “dead” or “dying”? In Book 19, Origen develops 3 related ideas:
1) He begins by noting that belief is not everything; it is those who know the truth who are set free. The same is true of seekers: the true seeking of Christ is not an external seeking, but happens when “we preserve the seeds of the truth which are sown in our souls and the first principles of the truth” (19.12). But even more, it becomes clear that with believing as with seeking, what is in question is not a journey, but an arrival. Arrest the journey at any point, and life has not been reached: “You will die in your sin.” Thus, Origen suggests that men are in via, and at any point on the way have both death and life as their companions. They may be dying in their sin even as they are seeking Christ (19.11-12).
2) For Origen, death can be taken in two senses. The one is biological death, which is not what Jesus is talking about here. The other is the death that is the result of sin. The dying of the seekers and believers is their captivity to sin, which is a moral condition. If such dying in sin is a state of moral being, it is not irremediable, and certainly does not reflect the “nature” of the people who are dying. A moral situation can be changed (19.13-14).
3) Origen’s third point is directed against the exegesis of Heracleon, who feels that the words “where I am going you cannot come” indicates that some are of an unredeemable nature (19.14). Pointing to the changes in the lives of the apostles, Origen counters with, “Those who are caught in ignorance and unbelief and in sins are able to come to the state of imperishability, if they change their ways: and such change is impossible for them” (19.21).
Thus Origen lays down his program for the exegesis of John 8: it is concerned with the interior, moral and spiritual, journeying of people on the road between death and life. He sets forth the nature of this journey through the use of a series of images, as well as by strict argument regarding certain large philosophical issues. This is found in Book 20.
The major image Origen uses is that of the contrast between the two expressions, “seed of Abraham” and “sons of Abraham.” Since the Jews are explicitly the seed of Abraham, but not necessarily his sons, it appears to Origen that seed refers to an as yet undeveloped potency, an innate capacity to become something, while a son is a fully developed, existent being who has realized that capacity. This innate capacity is the property of every person, and not a matter of heredity (20.3); it consists of “certain intelligibles or reason-principles” (20.4). The preservation and cultivation of these “seeds” involves doing Abraham’s works (John 8.40), not by reliving the patriarch’s life, but by attempting to copy the moral and spiritual shape of his life. People do the works of Abraham when they leave their own land and arrive at the land which is given “to the intelligible seed of our soul!’ (20. 10). Those who do not cultivate their intelligible, spiritual nature in this way are, for Origen, not sons of Abraham but sons of the Devil.
Origen sees no middle ground between these alternatives (20.10). Using a figure drawn from 1 Cor 15.49, he contrasts the image of the heavenly with the image of the earthly. Those who choose to carry out the desires of the Devil (John 8.44) are shaped in his image. Those who love God and have their treasure in heaven bear the image of the heavenly. To become a “son of Abraham” is to choose God rather than Satan, the heavenly rather than the earthly, the immaterial rather than the material, life rather than death.
In all this multiplication of images, Origen dwells systematically and regularly on a second theme: that the soul’s journey is pursued by means of its own choice. He also persists in the opinion that neither the image of the heavenly nor of the earthly belongs to man by nature. While no life is free from sin and its demonic influence, each soul also possesses within itself the “seeds” of the logos, which direct it to a heavenly destiny. The choice between them rests with man himself.
For all the eloquence of Origen’s argument and the niceties of his dialectic, something of Heracleon remains in his own exegesis. In the last resort, man is not related to the Devil in a way precisely parallel to his relation with God. While being “of the Devil” is a matter of one’s own choice, even for the Devil himself, it is not a matter of choice that men are creatures of God, or that man’s preeminent substance is in the image of the creator (20.22). Ultimately for Origen, man’s freedom is not, at least existentially, conceived as a neutral quality. It is the perpetual possibility of salvation, because it is a freedom “which belongs to the one who is after the image of the creator.”
Following the presentation, members of the Seminar developed several related issues:
As Origen sees Heracleon, the doctrine of “natures” is merely letting things become what they always have been; this segregation of natures permits no freedom at all. Heracleon, however, was following his own reading of Paul and John, and deducing the results of the pre-cosmic situation portrayed by them. For Heracleon, only the psychics had any freedom; the sons of the Devil and the sons of God are the results of eternal election.
There is a decided similarity between the arguments of Origen for human freedom and those of Pelagius. This is probably not accidental, since Pelagius had read Origen’s commentary on Romans. It is difficult to ascertain a concept of grace in Origen, at least in an Augustinian sense. However, there does seem to be a role for Christ in the salvation of man -- he breaks through man’s alienation to God by taking on flesh. A way is provided for salvation, although it appears to be progressive rather than instantaneous.
Origen confuses matters by using the idea of freedom in three different ways which are difficult to reconcile. Freedom is (1) neutrality which seems to be what is used in terms of John 8; (2) (tragic) changeability, a negative attribute; (c) nature, being what one is, not unlike the view of Plotinus. In the latter sense, it is difficult to separate nature and freedom. Further confusion in this matter is brought about by Origen’s doctrine of universal salvation in ages to come, so that eventually even the Devil no longer remains a son of the Devil. What is left of freedom here?
Robert V. HotchkisS, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1972-73: Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.
Meeting for April 24, 1973; 7 pm, Philadelphia Divinity School Library.
The final session of the 1972-73 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Howard Kee. Following extended discussion the Seminar determined that the topic for 1973-74 will be Exegesis of Genesis 1 in Jewish and Christian Sources. Co-chairmen will be Patrick Henry and Donald Winslow, tentative meeting dates are September 25, November 20, January 22, March 5, and April 23.
Prior to this meeting, copies of the final chapter of Elaine Pagels’ The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis (SBL Monograph 17, Abington, 1973) were distributed to a panel consisting of Patrick Henry, Howard Kee, Samuel Laeuchli, and Donald Winslow, and also were made available to members of the Seminar at the meeting. These five, the panel, and Dr. Pagels, led the Seminar in a discussion:
Redemption and Free Will According to Heracleon, the Panel
Although Heracleon, along with Origen, derives a doctrine of redemption from the gospel of John, the results are quite different. Heracleon’s doctrine is dependent on his Valentinian gnostic view of humankind, which sees three large anthropological groupings, expressed as topoi or geographical levels. Lowest are the hylics, concerned only with sense perception, worshipers of sense-perceptible things of the world; i.e. idolaters. The middle level are the psychics, who interpret sense perceptions in terms of rational and ethical categories, and who worship the creator who made the world. In terms of the church, these are ordinary Christians, the many. At the highest level are the pneumatics (gnostics), who have left behind rational and ethical systems, and who apprehend truth in symbols and myth. They recognize that the demiurge himself (the god of Israel) is but an image of the Father, something that the demiurge himself is quite late to discover. These are fulfilled Christians, the elect, products of divine grace.
In his exegesis of John 4, Heracleon posits two separate levels of redemption. John 4.46-54, the healing of the official’s son, is seen as a symbol of the healing of the psychic nature from the sickness of sins. The official who asks for healing is the demiurge (ruler of a small province -- the cosmos), who goes to the Savior to plead for salvation for incipient psychics from their death according to the Law (Rom 7). As in 1 Cor 15.53, the mortal then puts on immortality. In Valentinian terms, Jesus goes down to the hylic regions, healing and giving psychic forgiveness. Eventually, even the demiurge is converted to faith in the Savior, along with the whole plhrwma of angels.
The Samaritan woman of John 4.1-42 is a psychic who has already been released from her dying in sin by the signs and wonders of the Savior, She no longer has the sickness of sin; her problem is fornication. Her six husbands represent the six senses. She is one of the elect who has fallen into intercourse with the senses. Through dialogue with the Savior, she asks for release, and receives the spiritual and true worship of the Father. Thus, for Heracleon, she represents the elect, pneumatic church.
For the complete gnostic, only the first of the two levels of redemption can be called conversion. This is the psychic conversion to the state of forgiveness of sins, which is brought about by the redeeming death of Christ. The psychic Christian, now a recipient of the first baptism, is an ultimate inheritor of eternal life. Yet, his state is incomplete. The psychic has not yet recognized his original and ultimate place as one of the elect. He must be delivered from his ignorance of God and experience the ineffable in resurrection. This is the second baptism. For Valentinians, the 3 days of the resurrection image the 3 spiritual levels of humankind and the steps in redemption. The first day is hylic; the second day, brought about by conversion, is psychic; the third day, brought about by awakening/resurrection, is pneumatic. The awakening of the demiurge himself has become a paradigm for the psychic’s awakening, which begins with Christians themselves,
Unlike some other gnostics, Valentinians do not reject events/history as evil. Events are necessary, but only for preliminary Christians and on a lower level. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are valid for psychic Christians. However, in the pneumatic stage history is totally relativized and not necessary for the Christian. A similar viewpoint is applied to the interpretation of scripture. Here again there are 3 levels. The first and merely worldly level of scriptural interpretation is wholly irrelevant. The second level, for psychic Christians, involves history, morality, and ethics, and includes the teachings of most of the disciples, including Peter. The highest level of interpretation is the pneumatic, and is found among other places in the writings of Paul. Paul, who accommodated himself at times to the psychics in order to teach morality, can also be interpreted on the higher level, as he preaches wisdom among the elect. For the highest level of meaning, Heracleon interprets the text, and not the history behind it. The lower levels are ultimately hindrances, even though they tend to lead the Christian, even if unconsciously, to the highest level. It should be noted that the Valentinians did not appear to receive as scripture works outside of the recognized canon, although within the canon they restricted themselves to gospel and apostle. By no accident, Origen also uses a three-fold system of interpretation of scripture, and in very much the same way. However, Origen feels that all 3 levels have ultimate validity, and can operate simultaneously.
Heracleon uses a terminology of election to set forth the state of the true gnostics -- the pneumatics. This election is not quite the same as a substantive determinism (Bultmann), since the pneumatic does not really become anything different but only realizes what he already is and has been. Even though God wants his own to know him, the individual Christian must realize this himself. Just as the Savior was sent down to seek his own and bring them to knowledge, so also are the pneumatics sent to the psychics to preach the “presence of Christ.” Ultimately, at the fullness of time, the psychics will join the pneumatics, but it would be better for them to realize their own existence now and in this life rather than later. Although both Paul and John use the terminology of free will and determinism, making no attempt to reconcile them, the Valentinians were able to reconcile them quite easily: the two are not addressed to the same people. The psychics are those of choice, the pneumatics are the elect; the paradox is removed. Origen objected strongly to the Valentinian doctrine of election. He looked at the system from the eternal point of view and saw it as determinism. It is quite probable that Origen’s adamant insistence on free will, even to the point where he can be accused of having no doctrine of grace, stems from his polemic against Heracleon. The Valentinians appear to have no moral philosophy and no writings on ethics. This is the logical result of their rejection of systems built by ratiocination, in favor of direct apprehension of God. Other Christian communities had moralizers and philosophers; the Valentinians had neither. Following the advice of Paul, Valentinians would stay within the law and common practice, but only to accommodate the psychics who knew no better. The actual pneumatic life was on a higher plane, above moral or ethical criteria.
This lack of ethical or moral writings would seem to indicate that the Valentinians were not in any position of power within the church, and had no need to use the language of leadership. The striking lack of invective and aggressiveness in their teachings led Walter Bauer to posit just the opposite -- that the Valentinians were the party in power. However, it seems clear now that they were a minority and expected to remain such (“Many [psychics] are called but few [pneumatics] are chosen”). Valentinians felt themselves above polemic and invective, yet they seem to have been considered an active threat to the established church. They found themselves the object of bitter invective, even when their chief concern seems to have been to build bridges to the orthodox by using establishment texts and practices. Valentinians were able to accommodate other Christians, but the larger church could not accommodate them. Irenaeus and Origen shaped their arguments by combating Valentinian doctrines, but were not answered in kind. Yet, it must be considered that their threat was a real one. By refusing to recognize themselves as a challenge to the church, the Valentinians were undermining the established authority. By consigning the whole church to a psychic, incomplete level, they were thought to be invalidating the sacraments for the simple people, and relativizing the whole structure of leadership.
Perhaps a few thoughts would be in order on the philosophical source of Valentinian thinking. Heracleon’s techniques are not dissimilar from those of Philo, who reinterpreted to a higher level of meaning symbols which had become increasingly empty or neutral. This practice, also followed by the Stoics, could point to a background of middle Platonism. Such philosophical ties, however, could not be acknowledged or even recognized by the Valentinian gnostics themselves, since they rejected such endeavors as psychic and ultimately irrelevant.
Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary