Origen (185 – 254)
The Divine Art of the Creator is Hidden in Creation
The divine art that is manifested in the structure of the world is not only to be seen in the sun, the moon and the stars; it operates also on earth on a reduced scale. The hand of the Lord has not neglected the bodies of the smallest animals – and still less their souls – because each one of them is seen to possess some feature that is personal to it, for instance, the way it protects itself.
Nor has the hand of the Lord neglected the plants of the earth, each of which has some detail bearing the mark of the divine art, whether it be the roots, the leaves, the fruits or the variety of species. In the same way, in books written under the influence of divine inspiration, Providence imparts to the human race a wisdom that is more than human, sowing in each letter some saving truth in so far as that letter can convey it, marking out thus the path of wisdom. For once it has been granted that the Scriptures have God himself for their author, we must necessarily believe that the person who is asking questions of nature, and the person who is asking questions of the Scriptures, are bound to arrive at the same conclusions.
~ Commentary on Psalm 1, 3 (PG 12, 1081). In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p. 217.
God’s Invisible Nature is Perceptible through Creation
The apostle Paul teaches us that God’s “invisible nature” has been “clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). He shows us that this visible world contains teaching about the invisible world, and that this earth includes “images of celestial realities…” It could even be that God who made the human race “in His own image and likeness” (Genesis 1:27) also gave to other creatures a likeness to certain celestial realities. Perhaps this resemblance is so detailed that even the grain of mustard seed has its counterpart in the kingdom of heaven. If so, by that law of its nature that makes it the smallest of seeds and yet capable of becoming larger than all the others and of sheltering in its branches the birds of the air, it would represent for us not a particular celestial reality, but the kingdom of heaven as a whole.
In this sense it is possible that other seeds of the earth also contain an analogy with celestial objects and are a sign of them. And if that is true for seeds, it must be the same for plants. And if it is true for plants, it cannot be otherwise for animals, birds, reptiles and four-footed beasts…. It may be granted that these creatures, seeds, plants, roots and animals, are undoubtedly at the service of humanity’s physical needs. However they include the shape and image of the invisible world, and they also have the task of elevating the soul and guiding it to the contemplation of celestial objects. Perhaps this is what the spokesman of Divine Wisdom means when he expresses himself in the words: “It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements; the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternation of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts, the powers of spirits…, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots; I learned both what is secret and what is manifest” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-21). He shows thus, without any doubt, that everything that is seen is related to something that is hidden. That is to say that each visible reality is a symbol, and it refers to an invisible reality to which it is related.
~ Commentary on the Song of Songs, 3 (GCS 8,208-9. In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p.220-1.
Dominion through the Holy Spirit
The saints and all who preserve the blessing of God in themselves exercise dominion over these things [of creation] guiding the total man by the will of the spirit. But on the other hand, the same things which are brought forth by the vices of the flesh and pleasures of the body hold dominion over sinners.
~The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 71. Commentary on Genesis, Homily 1:16, p. 69. Trans. Ronald E. Heine. The Catholic University of America Press, 1981.
Release from the Ancient Curse
If you look to our Lord Jesus Christ of whom it is said: “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world,”… you will find him to be the one who truly has given rest to men and has freed the earth from the curse with which the Lord God cursed it.
~ Commentary on Genesis, Homily II:3. In The Fathers of the Church, Vol. II, Trans. Ronald E. Heine, CUA Press, 1982, p. 79.
Meaning of the Ancient Tabernacle in Relation to the Cosmos
If anyone should give his attention to these matters [regarding the form of the Hebrew tabernacle given to Moses on Mount Sinai and the exodus out of Egypt into the desert] in the order of their sequence and spiritually fulfilling each [requirement], that man can consequently attain to the contemplation and understanding of the ancient holy tabernacle.
The divine Scriptures speak about this tabernacle in many places. They appear to indicate certain things of which human hearing can scarcely be capable. The Apostle Paul especially relates to us certain indications of a more excellent knowledge about the understanding of this tabernacle, but, perhaps considering the weakness of his hearers, closes, as it were, those very things which he opens. For he says, writing to the Hebrews, “For a first tabernacle was made which contained the candlestick and the setting forth of loaves. This was called the Holy of Holies. After the second veil, however, is the tabernacle which is called Holy and contains the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant which contained the two tablets and the manna and Aaron’s rod which had blossomed” (Hebrews 9:2-4). But he adds these words: “which are not to be spoken of now” (Hebrews 9:5). Some take the words, “which are not to be spoken of now,” to refer to [the difficulty of explaining these things] … because of the greatness of the mysteries. But the Apostle does not leave us completely dejected [or without clue]. As is his custom, he opens a few things among many so that it might be closed to the indifferent, but might be discovered by those who seek and opened to those who knock. He repeats, therefore, about the tabernacle and says, “For Jesus has not entered into holy places made with hands, patterns of the true, but into heaven itself, that he may appear now in the sight of God through the veil, that is his flesh.” He, therefore, who has interpreted the veil of the interior of the tabernacle as the flesh of Christ, the holy places themselves as heaven or the heavens, the high priest as the Lord Christ, and says that he entered “once into the holy places after he discovered an eternal redemption,” from these few words, if anyone knows how to understand Paul’s meaning, he can observe how great a sea of understanding he has disclosed to us. But they who love the letter of the Law of Moses too much, but flee its spirit, hold the Apostle Paul suspect when he brings forth interpretations of this kind.
Let us see, therefore, if some of the holy men of old also did not hold an opinion of the tabernacle far different than those latter [men] now suppose. Hear how magnificently David, a distinguished man of the prophets, felt about the tabernacle: “While,” he says, “it is said to me day after day, where is your God? I have remembered these things, and I have poured out my soul in me, since I shall enter the place of the wonderful tabernacle, unto the house of God” (Psalm 41:4-50.
And again he says in the fourteenth Psalm, “Lord, who will dwell in your tabernacle? Or who will rest on your holy mountain? He who enters without a spot and works justice,” etc. What then is that “place of the wonderful tabernacle” from which one enters “the house of God,” because of whose memory his soul has been poured out in him and, as it were, has been dissipated in a kind of intolerable desire. Are we really to believe that the prophet, desiring that tabernacle which consisted of hides and curtains and goat-hair coverings and other common materials was poured out in soul and failed in his whole mind? Or certainly how will it be true to say about that tabernacle that only “the innocent in hands and pure in heart, who did not receive his soul in vain” (Psalm 23:4), will inhabit it, when the history of the kings transmits that the worst priests, “sons of pestilence,” have dwelt in the tabernacle of God and the ark of the covenant itself also was captured by foreigners and detained with the impious and the profane?” (1 Kings 4). From all of this it is evident that the prophet felt in a far different sense about this tabernacle in which he says that only “the innocent of hands and pure in heart, who did not receive his soul in vain, nor do evil to his neighbor, and did not accept reproach against his neighbor,” will dwell. It is necessary, therefore, that the inhabitant of this tabernacle which the Lord erected, not man, be such a person….
Is a way not yet opened to you from all these words by which you may leave earth behind, following the understanding of the prophet and Apostle and… with your whole mind and understanding, ascend to heaven and there seek the magnificence of the eternal tabernacle whose form is imperfectly represented on earth by Moses?
For thus also the Lord says to him, “See to it,” the text says, “you shall make all things according to the form which was shown to you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40). But the human mind, and especially ours, who know that we are the least or even nobodies in divine wisdom, can perhaps arrive at the point that it may perceive that these things which are introduced in the divine books are not said of earthly things, but of heavenly, and are forms… not of corporeal things, but of spiritual….
The whole people [in the original story of building the Ark of the Covenant] are ordered to construct the tabernacle, with each one contributing all he can, that in a certain sense all at the same time might be one tabernacle…. For God says to Moses that each one, “as it seemed good in his heart, should offer for the construction of the tabernacle gold, silver, precious stones, bronze, then in addition, linen, scarlet, blue, and purple, also red and blue hides of rams, and wood not subject to rot, and goats hair. Women wise in the skill of weaving are also required, and craftsmen who know how to prepare gold, silver, bronze and stones and to fashion wood with gold.
Next the measurements of the courts are delivered. These courts are made secure, stretched out in curtains, erected on columns, made firm with bars, and stretched tight with ropes. There are, in addition, curtain places which are separated by veils. One is called the Holy Place and the other divided no less by a second veil is called the Holy of Holies. The ark of the covenant is placed inside. The cherubim stand over it with wings outstretched and touching one another. A kind of base and seat, as it were, is made for them from gold and placed there, which is called the place of atonement. The golden altar of incense is also there. Then in the outer place the golden candlestick is set in the southern part that it might face north…. And also the altar of whole burnt offerings is placed next to the inner veil. But why am I going through these things piece by piece? …
The reason for constructing the tabernacle is found already mentioned in the words above when the Lord says to Moses, “You shall make for me a sanctuary and thence I will be seen by you” (Exodus 25:8). God wishes, therefore, that we make a sanctuary for him. For he promises that if we make a sanctuary for him, he can be seen by us. Whence also the Apostle says to the Hebrews, “Follow peace and the sanctuary, without which no one will see God” (Hebrews 12:14). …
Each of us can also build a tabernacle for God in himself. For if, as some before have said, this tabernacle represents the whole cosmos, and each individual can also contain an image of the world, why cannot each one also complete a form of the tabernacle in himself? He ought, therefore, to apply the pillars of the virtues to himself, silver pillars, that is, rational patience…. And let him place that candlestick in the south that it may look to the north. For when the light has been lit, … it ought always to look to the north and watch for “him who is from the north.” … Let him have an altar of incense in his innermost heart also, that he may say, “We are a good odor of Christ.” And let him have an ark of the covenant in which are the tables of the Law, that “he may meditate on the Law of God day and night” (Psalm 1:2)….
But over and above all this splendor let him wear the adornment of the high priest. For that part which is the most precious in man can hold the office of high priest. Some call it the overseer in the heart, others rational understanding, or intellectual substance, but whatever it is called, it is that part of us in which we can have a capacity for God. Let that part in us, therefore, as a kind of high priest, be adorned with garments and costly jewels, with a long linen priestly garment…. If you, therefore, wish to perform the high priesthood properly for God, let the message of the Gospel and the faith in the Holy Trinity always be held in your breast…. In this manner, therefore, our inner man is adorned as high priest to God that he may be able to enter not only the sanctuary, but also the Holy of Holies; that he may approach the mercy seat where the cherubim are and thence God may appear to him. The sanctuary can be those things which a holy way of life can have in the present world. But the Holy of Holies, which is entered only once, is, I think, the passage to heaven, where the mercy seat and the cherubim are located, and where God will be able to appear to the pure in heart, because the Lord says, “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
~ Commentary on The Book of Exodus, “On the Tabernacle,” Homily IX:1-4, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 71, CUA Press, Washington, DC, 1981, pp. 334-344.
Men and Women Equal in the Sight of God
Sacred scripture does not set men and women in opposition to one another in respect to gender. Sex does not constitute any difference in the sight of God.
~ Homilies on Joshua 9 (GCS 8:356). In The Roots of Christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995, p. 292.
Two Kinds of Dominion
The saints and all those who preserve the blessings of God in themselves exercise dominion over these things guiding the total man by the will of the Spirit. But on the other hand, the same things which are brought forth by the vices of the flesh and pleasures of the body hold dominion over sinners.
~ Commentary on Genesis, Homily 1:16, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 71, CUA Press, Washington, DC, 1981, p. 69.
A Key Requirement for the Contemplation of Nature
Contemplation begins only after the completion of ascetical exercises (praxis), the aim of which is the achievement of interior freedom (apatheia); that is to say, the possibility of loving. Contemplation consists of two stages: direct communion with God is the aim, of course, but first we must come to ‘knowledge of creatures’ or ‘contemplation of nature’ (physike theoria), that is, the contemplation ‘of the secrets of the glory of God hidden in his creatures’.
~ Commentary on Psalm 1,3 (PG 12,1081) In Roots of christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995. p. 213.
Eminent theologian of the early Church, Origen was born in Alexandria, and became a brilliant philosopher and biblical exegete by the age of eighteen. He was the most prolific of the early Christian writers. Eusebius in his History of the Early Church lists over 2,000 articles and sermons which Origen authored. Early Christians considered Origen the “father of theology,” and he was the most influential of the Greek patristic writers. His writings outline the journey to knowledge of God as having three stages: the acquisition of the virtues which purifies the individual which eventually allows one to hear the “still, small voice”; the contemplation of nature by which one enters into dialogue with God; and finally for a few, “theologia,” which involves actual experience of the “Logos.” He teaches that knowledge of creation is like Scripture: both require ascesis and contemplation for depth of understanding, and both can lead to a full knowledge of God. Only a small number of his writings remain, largely because three hundred years after his death, some of his concepts were declared uncanonical and destroyed. Like most early Christians, much of his writing is based upon inspired knowledge and experience of Christ. He often uses creation as a fertile field for insight into the divine nature, and says that everything in creation represents some aspect of the nature of God. Among his controversial teachings is the concept that it is a necessity to affirm an eternal creation in order to affirm the immutable and eternal nature of the Creator-God. Origin was martyred during the Decian persecution after a period of prolonged and cruel torture.
The Beginning of Creation
There is a beginning in a matter of origin, as might appear in the saying, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This meaning, however, appears more plainly in the Book of Job in the passage, “This is the beginning of God’s creation, made for His angels to mock at” (Job 40:19). One would suppose that the heavens and the earth were made first, of all that was made at the creation of the world. But the second passage suggests a better view, namely, that as many beings were framed with a body, the first made of these was the creature called dragon, but called in another passage the great whale (i.e., “leviathan,” in Job 41:1) which the Lord tamed. We must ask about this, whether, when the saints were living a blessed life apart from matter and from any body, the dragon, falling from the pure life, became fit to be bound in matter and in a body, so that the Lord could say, speaking through storm and clouds, “This is the beginning of the creation of God, made for His angels to mock at.” It is possible, however, that the dragon is not positively the beginning of the creation of the Lord, but that there were many creatures made with a body for the angels to mock at, and that the dragon was the first of these, while others could subsist in a body without such reproach.
~ “The Beginning of Creation,” Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Book I:17. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IX. Ed. Allen Menzies. New York: Charles Schreibner’s Sons, 1906, p. 306.
Knowledge of Creation
Now among spiritual gifts there is one that is indeed the greatest of them all, namely that word of knowledge which is imparted by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:8)…. The supreme function of knowledge is therefore, to know the Trinity; and, in the second place, to know God’s creation, even as did he who said, “For He hath given me the true knowledge of the things that are…” (Wisdom 7:17).
~ The Song of Songs: Commentary and Homilies, Issue 26, Section II.5. Ed. R.P. Lawson. Paulist Press, 1957, p. 134.
The Diversity of the World Joins Together into One Nature
The world in all its diversity and varying conditions is composed not only of rational and diviner natures, but of dumb animals, wild and tame beasts, of birds and of all the things which live in the waters…. Seeing there is so great a variety in the world, and so great a diversity among rational beings themselves, what cause ought to be assigned for the existence of the world? But God, by ineffable skill of His wisdom, transforming and restoring all things, recalls those very creatures which differed so much from each other in mental conformation to one agreement of labor and purpose, so that although they are under the influence of different motives, they nevertheless complete the fullness and perfection of one world, and the very variety of minds tends to one end of perfection.
And although the world is arranged into different kinds of offices and conditions, nevertheless the whole world ought to be regarded as some huge and immense animal, which is kept together by the power and reason of God as one soul. This is indicated in sacred scripture by the declaration of the prophet, “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24), and again, “The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1).
~ De Principiis, Book II.1.1-3. Quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV. Eerdmans, 1994, p. 268-269.
Some Things in Creation are Hard to Understand
There are things in creation hard to understand, or even undiscoverable for human beings. We are not in consequence to condemn the Creator of the universe just because we cannot discover the reason for the creation of scorpions or other venomous beasts. The right thing for a man who is aware of the weakness of our race and who knows it is impossible to understand the reasons of God’s design even when most minutely examined, is to ascribe the knowledge of these things to God, who will later on, if we are judged worthy, reveal to us the matters about which we are now reverently in doubt.
~ Commentary on the Psalms, III. quoted by D. Wallace-Hadrill, The Greek Patristic View of Nature, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1968, pg. 114.
The Whole World is One Great Creature
As our one body is an organism made up of many members and is held together by one soul, so I am of the opinion that the whole world is a kind of huge immense living creature, which is held together by the power and reason of God as by one soul.
~ De Principiis II.1.3. Quoted in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV. Eerdmans, 1994, p. 269.
If You Obey God, Creation Serves You
Regarding the parting of the Dead Sea by Moses when the Israelites were fleeing the Egyptians
Notice the goodness of God, the Creator. If you obey his will, if you follow his Law, he compels the elements themselves to serve you even against their own nature.
~Commentary on Exodus, Homily V. Quoted in Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus. Ronald E. Heine. Catholic University of America Press, 2010. p. 282.
A Difference Between what God Creates and what He commands
“In the beginning God made heaven and earth.” Likewise Scripture says, “And God made two great lights.” And now again, “Let us make man.” The work of God is attributed to these alone, but to none of the others. Only heaven and earth, the sun, moon and stars, and now man have been made by God, but all the rest is said to be made by his command. From this, therefore, consider how great is man’s greatness, who is made equal to such great and distinguished elements, who has the honor of heaven for which reason also the kingdom of heaven is promised to him. …
I see, however, something even more distinguished in the condition of man, which is not said elsewhere. “And God made man, according to the image of God He made him.” We find this attribute neither to heaven nor earth nor the sun or moon.
We do not understand, however, this man whom Scripture says was made “according to the image of God,” to be corporeal. For the form of the body does not contain the image of God, nor is the corporeal man said to be “made,” but “formed,” as is written in the words which follow. For the text says: “And God formed man,” that is fashioned, “from the slime of the earth.”
But it is our inner man, invisible, incorporeal, incorruptible, and immortal which is made “according to the image of God.” For it is in such qualities as these that the image of God is more correctly understood.
~ The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 71. Commentary on Genesis, Homily 1:13, p. 63. Trans. Ronald E. Heine. The Catholic University of America Press, 1981.
An Allegorical Meaning in Dominion
These words (of Genesis 1:28) have already been interpreted in their literal meaning. But allegorically, those things no less of which we spoke above seem to me to be indicated in the fish and birds or animals and creeping things of the earth. I mean, either the things which proceed from the inclination of the soul and the thoughts of the heart, of those things which are brought forth from bodily desires and the impulses of the flesh. The saints and all who preserve the blessing of God in themselves exercise dominion over these things (of creation) guiding the total man by the will of the spirit. But on the other hand, the same things which are brought forth by the vices of the flesh and pleasures of the body hold dominion over sinners.
~ The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 71. Commentary on Genesis, Homily 1:16, p. 69. Trans. Ronald E. Heine. The Catholic University of America Press, 1981.
Nature and Scripture Offer the Same Conclusions
There is a parallel between nature and Scripture that is so complete, says Origen, that we learn the same things from one source as the other. This he says is true because of a common origin in the Word of God. This explains why “we must necessarily believe that the person who is asking questions of nature and the person who is asking questions of the Scriptures are bound to arrive at the same conclusions.”
~ Quoted by St. Maximus the Confessor, in Charles Upton, Who is the Earth: How to See God in the Natural World, San Rafael, 1997, p. 59.
Each Word of Scripture is Like a Seed
Each word of divine Scripture is like a seed whose nature is to multiply diffusely, reborn into an ear of corn or whatever its species be, when it has been cast into the earth. Its increase is proportionate to the diligent labor of the skillful farmer or the fertility of the earth. So, therefore, it is brought to pass that, by diligent cultivation, a little “mustard seed,” for example, “which is least of all, may be made greater than all herbs and become a tree so that the birds of heaven come and dwell in its branches.”
~ The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 71. Commentary on Exodus, Homily 1:1, p. 227. Trans. Ronald E. Heine. The Catholic University of America Press, 1981.