Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Origen – Scripture is sealed; the analogy of rooms and keys

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Origen – Scripture is sealed; the analogy of rooms and keys

From Commentary on the 1st Psalm as cited in The Philocalia of Origen

CHAP. II.That the Divine Scripture is closed up and sealed. From the Commentary on the 1st Psalm.

1. The Divine words say that the Divine Scriptures have been closed up and sealed with the key of David, and perhaps with the seal which is described as “the stamp of a seal, a hallowed offering to the Lord” [Ex. 28:32] — that is, with the power of God, Who gave the Scriptures, the seal being the emblem of power. Now John interprets the closing up and sealing in the Apocalypse, when he says:

7   And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth:
8   I know thy works: behold I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut.
[Rev. 3:7 f.]

And a little farther on:

1   And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and without, close sealed with seven seals.
2   And I saw another, a strong angel, proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3   And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look thereon.
4   And I wept because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look thereon.
5   And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and the seven seals thereof.
[Rev. 5:1 ff.]

2. As regards the sealing up only, Esaias [Isaiah] thus speaks:

11   And all these sayings shall be to you as the words of this book which is sealed, which men deliver to One that is learned, saying, Read this: and he saith, I cannot read it, for it is sealed:
12   and the book shall be delivered into the hands of a man that is not learned, saying, Read this: and he saith, I am not learned.
” [Isa. 29:11 f.]

For we must consider these things to be spoken not only of the Apocalypse of John and Esaias, but also of all Divine Scripture, which is beyond question full of riddles, and parables, and dark sayings, and various other obscurities, hard to be understood by men, whose ears can catch no more than the faint echoes of the Divine words. This was what the Saviour wished to teach us when He said, inasmuch as the key was with the Scribes and Pharisees who did not strive to find the way to open the Scriptures, “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.” [ Luke 11:51; cf. Matt. 23:14.]

Then, after topics of a different kind, Origen proceeds:—-

3. Now that we are going to begin our interpretation of the Psalms, let us preface our remarks with a very pleasing tradition respecting all Divine Scripture in general, which has been handed down to us by the Jew. That great scholar used to say that inspired Scripture taken as a whole was on account of its obscurity like many locked-up rooms in one house. Before each room he supposed a key to be placed, but not the one belonging to it; and that the keys were so dispersed all round the rooms, not fitting the locks of the several rooms before which they were placed. It would be a troublesome piece of work to discover the keys to suit the rooms they were meant for. It was, he said, just so with the understanding of the Scriptures, because they are so obscure; the only way to begin to understand them was, he said, by means of other passages containing the explanation dispersed throughout them. The Apostle, I think, suggested such a way of coming to a knowlege of the Divine words when He said, “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” [Cor. 2:13]

Much farther on, comparing the blessings addressed to individuals with those addressed to more than one, [See Chap. 8.] he says:—-

4. If the words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace, approved of the whole earth, purified seven times; [Ps. 12(11):7] it is just as true that the Holy Spirit has dictated them, through the ministers of the Word, [Cf. Luke 1:2] with the most scrupulous accuracy, lest the parallel meaning which the wisdom of God had constantly in view over the whole range of inspired Scripture, even to the mere letter, should escape us. And perhaps this is why the Saviour says, “One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” [Matt. 5:18] For if we study Creation we see that the Divine skill is shown not only in heaven, in the sun, moon, and stars, being everywhere evidenced in those bodies, but also upon earth no less in commoner matter: so that the bodies of the smallest living creatures are not scornfully treated by the Creator, much less the souls existing in them, each having some peculiar gift, something to ensure the safety of the irrational creature. And as for plants, neither are they overlooked, for the Creator is immanent in every one, as regards roots, and leaves, appropriate fruits, and varying qualities. So, too, we conceive of all that has been recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, believing that the sacred foreknowledge [Or, “providence.”] has through the Scriptures supplied superhuman wisdom to the race of man, having, so to speak, sown the seeds of saving truths, traces of the wisdom of God, in every letter as far as possible.

5. In truth, any one who has once accepted these Scriptures as coming from the Creator of the world, must be convinced that whatever difficulties confront those who investigate the story of creation, similar difficulties will also be found in the study of the Scriptures. There are, I say, in creation as well as in Scripture, certain problems which we men solve with difficulty, or even not at all; and we must not therefore blame the Maker of the universe because, say, we cannot discover why basilisks and other venomous creatures were created. In the contemplation of Nature it is an act of piety if a man who is conscious of human weakness, and recognises the impossibility of understanding the principles of the Divine skill, though pondered with all diligence, will ascribe to God the knowledge of these things. He will hereafter, should we be deemed worthy, reveal to us all the mysteries which now engage our reverent attention. Similarly, we should see that the Divine Scriptures also contain many mysteries of which it is hard for us to give an account. Anyway, let those who, after forsaking the Creator of the world and betaking themselves to a god of their own invention, make these professions, solve the difficulties we put before them; or, at least, after such strange impiety, let them see how they can with a good conscience uphold their speculations on the matters under investigation and the problems presented to them. For if the problems no less remain, though our opponents have forsaken the Godhead, would it not be far greater piety to be content with our conception of God, the Creator being contemplated through the works of creation, and to refrain from uttering godless and unholy opinions respecting so great a God?

Source: Origen, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (ed.), George Lewis (tr.). The Philocalia of Origen, [2.1-5] Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911. [pdf version]

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Written by John Uebersax

July 18, 2009 at 2:35 am

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