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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

Gregory Nazianzen – Orations 39 & 40 (Intro)

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Gregory Nazianzen – Editors Introduction to Orations 39 & 40

The Oration on the Holy Lights was preached on the Festival of the Epiphany 381, and was followed the next day by that on Baptism. In the Eastern Church this Festival is regarded as more particularly the commemoration of our Lord’s Baptism, and is accordingly one of the great days for the solemn ministration of the Sacrament. It is generally called Theophania, and the Gospel in the Liturgy is S. Matthew iii. 13–17. The Sunday in the Octave is called meta ta phota (After The Lights), pointing to a time when the Feast was known as the “Holy Lights,” as seems to have been the case in S. Gregory’s day. This name is derived from Baptism, which was often in ancient days called Illumination, in reference to which name (derived from the spiritual grace of the Sacrament) lighted torches or candles were carried by the neophytes. It would appear that the solemnites of the Festival lasted two days, of which the second was devoted to the solemn conferring of the Sacrament. Accordingly we find two Orations belonging to the Festival. In the first [Oration 39], delivered on the Day itself he dwells more especially on the Feast and the Mystery of our Lord’s Baptism therein commemorated; and proceeds to speak of the different kinds of Baptism, of which he enumerates Five, viz.:—

1. The figurative Baptism of Israel by Moses in the cloud and in the Sea.
2. The preparatory Baptism of repentance ministered by S. John the Baptist.
3. The spiritual Baptism of water and the Holy Ghost given us by our Lord.
4. The glorious Baptism of Martyrdom.
5. The painful Baptism of Penance.

In speaking of this last he takes occasion to refute the extreme rigorism of the followers of Novatus, who denied absolution to certain classes of sins committed after Baptism.

In the second Oration [Oration 40], delivered next day, he dwells on the Sacrament of Baptism and its spiritual effects; and takes occasion to reprove the then still prevalent practice of deferring Baptism till the near approach of death. He likewise dwells on the truth that the validity and spiritual effect of the Sacrament is wholly independent of the rank or worthiness of the Priest who may minister it; and he concludes with a sketch of the obligations which its reception involves, with a very valuable exposition of the Creed, and of the Ceremonies which accompanied the administration of the Sacrament.

Source: NPNF07 (Schaff & Wace, eds.; Charles G. Browne & James E. Swallow, trs.)

Written by John Uebersax

January 11, 2009 at 10:58 am

Gregory Nazianzen – The Baptism of Christ – Oration 39

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Gregory Nazianzen – The Baptism of Christ – Oration 39

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honour to the body that is one with God.

Today let us do honour to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendour, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

via Universalis: Office of Readings.

Alternative source (complete, but not as good a translation): NPNF07 (Schaff & Wace, eds.; Charles G. Browne & James E. Swallow, trs.)

Written by John Uebersax

January 11, 2009 at 10:47 am

Gregory Nazianzen – God is Light – Oration 40

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Gregory Nazianzen – God is Light – Oration 40

Preached at Constantinople Jan. 6, 381, being the day following the delivery of that on the Holy Lights.

V. God is Light:  [1 John 1:5] the highest, the unapproachable, the ineffable, That can neither be conceived in the mind nor uttered with the lips, [1 Timothy 6:16] That gives life to every reasoning creature. [John 1:9] He is in the world of thought, what the sun is in the world of sense; presenting Himself to our minds in proportion as we are cleansed; and loved in proportion as He is presented to our mind; and again, conceived in proportion as we love Him; Himself contemplating and comprehending Himself, and pouring Himself out upon what is external to Him. That Light, I mean, which is contemplated in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Whose riches is Their unity of nature, and the one outleaping of Their brightness. A second Light is the Angel, a kind of outflow or communication of that first Light, drawing its illumination from its inclination and obedience thereto; and I know not whether its illumination is distributed according to the order of its state, or whether its order is due to the respective measures of its illumination. A third Light is man; a light which is visible to external objects. For they call man light because of the faculty of speech in us. And the name is applied again to those of us who are more like God, and who approach God more nearly than others. I also acknowledge another Light, by which the primeval darkness was driven away or pierced. It was the first of all the visible creation to be called into existence; and it irradiates the whole universe, the circling orbit of the stars, and all the heavenly beacon fires.

Source:  NPNF07 (Schaff & Wace, eds.;  Charles  G. Browne & James E. Swallow, trs.)

Written by John Uebersax

January 11, 2009 at 10:25 am