History and Spirit (de Lubac)

“The Law is spiritual.” This one sentence allows Origen to seek “mystical” meanings beyond that of the literal text–and in de Lubac’s hands he does a fairly impressive job. In many ways this work can be seen as a case study of de Lubac’s Medieval Exegsis (3 vols). Henri de Lubac’s argument is that the spiritual sense justifies the literal sense (de Lubac 121). Furthermore, “allegory” (whatever that word means) always has metaphysical and epistemological overtones. What you say about allegory will reflect what you believe about the soul and how you know that. As de Lubac will conclude, allegory is a “symbolic transposition” (437). All thought is mediated and “positioned” by figures. Allegory, although often abused, is simply a logical outworking of this truth.

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De Lubac’s Origen begins by noting correspondences between a trichotomous view of man and the 3-fold sense of Scripture. Man is body, soul, and spirit; not surprisingly, so Origen reads, so is Scripture. Up to a point, anyway. Scripture is unfolded as shadow, image, and truth (250). But we run into a small difficulty. The “three senses of Scripture” aren’t always locked in stone. Sometimes they can be “two senses.” When the mediating term is omitted, Scripture is elevated to the heavenly places. I think Origen paints himself into a corner here but we shouldn’t lose sight of his key epistemological insight: “Truth never appears to us completely free from figures” (253). If Scripture is mediated by figures, then there is nothing inherently wrong with allegory.

All of that is quite wonderful, but if the “mediating term” in Scripture is removed, does that mean the correspondence between Origen’s trichotomism (which I accept) and Scripture’s trichotomism breaks down? I think so. De Lubac leads to that conclusion but he refuses to draw it.

Origen doesn’t use the New Testament in exactly the same way as the Old Testament. There is a principle of New Testament operation: Christ’s actions are symbols of his spiritual operations (253). But “spiritual” doesn’t mean “not really real.” For Origen and Paul, “spiritual” mean eschatological newness (309). Jesus doesn’t explain the Old Testament; he transforms it (316).

De Lubac’s most fascinating chapter is on the relation between History and Spirit and the multiple modes of the Logos. In fact, that’s what the whole book should have been about. Origen’s Logos isn’t the same thing as Philo’s. De Lubac notes, “Philo’s Logos penetrates” into the multiplicity of matter, but Origen’s Logos speaks. He is “as much word as reason” (391).

And it is in this chapter where de Lubac most skillfully weaves together the logos of the soul with the Logos of Scripture. There is a “connaturality between Scripture and the soul” (397). The soul and Scripture “symbolize each other.” Origen applies this reasoning beyond the soul to the whole universe. Reality is an ordered hierarchy.

Conclusion

As wonderful as this book is, there are some negative points. It is about 100 pages too long (a problem with some of de Lubac’s writings). Further, de Lubac hasn’t fully escaped the prison cell of historical criticism, as he somewhat admits.

Readings in Christian Ethics (O’Donovan list)

Focusing mainly on more classical and patristic texts.  These are the texts in the O’Donovans’ work.  So, if you wanted to read in the patristic tradition and how earlier Christians engaged in political reflection, this is a good list.

Justin Martyr,

  •  First Apology. Sections 1, 2, 4, 10, 11.
  • Letter to Diognetus 5-7

Irenaeus of Lyons: Empire as a demonic force; Christ’s coming into the world was already an act of judgment (O’Donovan 16).

  • Against Heresies V.24-26.  Also contains some of his eschatology.

Tertullian. A strong rejection of military service, though Tertullian’s later arguments begin to shift…

  • Apology 4, 30, 38.
  • “Military Chaplet,” 11
  • Against Marcion, IV:16.

Clement of Alexandria: Contrary to Plato, philosophical kingship is already present because God manifested it in His Son (O’Donovan 31).

  • Stromateis I:24-28.

Origen

  • Against Celsus 8:68-75.

Lactantius: The meaning of property is given by the structures of community relations in which material goods are communicated (O’Donovan 47).

  • Divine Institutes III:21-22; V:5-7, 14-15; VI:10.

Eusebius: The Word (Logos) of God mediates the kingship of God.

  • Dedication Holy Sepulchre 16

Ambrose of Milan: emergence of episcopacy; renounced private property in favor of an “ecclesial sociology.”  Institutionalized charity.  Explores different forms of economic slavery (O’Donovan 69ff).

  • Epistle 75a, 1-8; 24-37.
  • Story of Naboth, 1, 2, 4, 11, 12, 36, 37, 52, 53, 63.
  • Letter 7:4-19
  • Letter 50
  • Duties of Clergy I:28-29; II:15-16

John Chrysostom: aesthetic of Christian government: “the drama of overcoming wrath with mercy” (O’Donovan 91). In giving charity, the giver reasserts the original community of goods.

  • 24th Homily on Romans
  • 17th Homily on the Statutes
  • 11th Homily on Acts
  • 12th Homily on 1 Timothy

Augustine: the law of Christ can be obeyed in time of war if the right attitude is sustained.   Civil justice prepares the way for penitence.  We must look behind the tasks of authority to the society that gives authority its rationale (O’Donovan 109).

  • On Free Choice of Will I:5
  • Against Faustus, 19:18, 19, 25, 26; 26: 74, 75, 76
  • Letter 153
  • Letter 93: 3, 5, 12
  • Letter 189
  • Letter 24
  • City of God II:20; IV:3-5; V:24-26; 14:28; 15:1, 2, 4, 5; 19:5, 7-15, 16, 20, 21, 24-27.

 

Origen and the Life of the Stars

Alan Scott sheds light on key problems in Hellenism by focusing on Origen’s view of the stars’ souls.  Ancient Greece certainly discussed the possibility that the stars are alive (and we will use the phrase” alive,” “intelligence,” and “souls” interchangeably in this review) but there was no consensus.

Plato

The presence of intelligence is the presence of a soul (Scott 9, cf. Soph. 249a4) and a mind must exist in the soul.  The universe, accordingly, must be ensouled since “mind was present in it.” aether: the body in which the soul operates.  The astral soul and aether co-operate.

A problem for later Platonists: if the “divine” is incorporeal, and if stars are divine, how can we see them in the heavens?  Jewish and Christian thinkers exploited this weak point.  The only way to respond to this criticism was to weaken the “divine claim” and see them rather as intermediate beings.

Origen

Scott argues against reading too much of any single school into Origen’s thought.  While he is close to Middle Platonism, for example, he was also very familiar with Jewish Apocalypticism and Gnosticism (54).

Philo

Philo’s sometimes wooden borrowing of philosophy allows us a “snapshot” of the Hellenistic classroom (63-64).

  • Earth is centre of cosmos
  • Yet Philo rejects the somewhat Stoic claim that the mind is material. The mind is neither pneuma nor matter.  
  • Stars are definitely living beings.
    • Ontologically superior to angels.
    • Not surprisingly, Philo was tolerant of those who worshipped heaven (something no biblical writer could say!), but elsewhere says it is wrong to do so (74).

“Philo is too good a Jew and too good a Platonist to take these arguments to their logical conclusions” (74).  Origen advances beyond Philo in seeing the possibility of evil in heaven.  

Heavenly Powers

Problem: how does the soul enter into the generative powers of the world?  Phaedrus said because of evil, whereas Timeaus said because of a good demiurge.  “The belief began to slowly evolve that the soul was joined to the body through the medium of an ‘astral body’” (77).  This became a major theme in Platonism after Iamblichus (79).

At this time Oriental sources entered Hellenistic thought, notably Mithraism, which taught that a gate corresponded to a planet (82).

However, once the idea of fate was firmly attached to the stars, and given that people have “bad luck,” many began to question whether the stars were truly benign.  This meant, among other things, that the neutral “daimons” in the heavenly realms could now be seen as demons in the traditional understanding (90-93).

Toll Houses (!)

A common theme in later Platonic and Gnostic thought is the soul’s traveling through planets after death.  The Apocalypse of Paul (Nag Hammadi Library) has Paul passing through toll collectors (98).  Granted, there are huge differences between this and the later Russian Orthodox teaching of toll houses.

Clement

Clement believes there are angels who oversee the souls’ ascent (106). Clement holds that stars are governed by their appointed angels (55.1; cf. p. 108).

Origen and the Stars

Origen divides the soul with a highest sense–mind (nous).  This is fallen and capable of sin.  There is an unfallen portion called “spirit” (pneuma).  Origen is aware that many of his views are speculative, and he is not setting them forth as doctrine (122). He is “thinking out loud” in the face of very difficult problems.  And compared to the current Alexandrian cosmology, Origen’s is quite restrained (124).

Are the stars alive?

Origen tentatively answered “maybe.”  But before we judge him, we must see that his answers are based on terminology that both Christians and pagans accepted.  For example, only rational agents are self-moving.  This would appear that the stars are in some sense rational agents.  But Origen was also aware of Jewish Apocalyptic and he would have been on better ground had he said that “angels move the stars.”

This really isn’t that problematic.  Scientifically wrong, to be sure, but that’s all.  The problem came when Origen had to account for why some stars are greater than others.  And is answer, of course, was of some pre-temporal fall.  And that is problematic.

The Stars and the resurrection body

Origen is actually very careful on this point.  He affirms the resurrection body, but he knows, as does Paul in 1 Cor. 15, that it isn’t the same type of body we have today.  But perhaps he gets in trouble with his discussions of the “astral body.”  All Christians have to believe in the post-mortem existence of the soul.  This is a mode of existence that isn’t bodily yet which the soul is in one place at one time.  

Given both Scriptural teachings, logic, and the experiences of wise saints, we posit that the soul has an existence after death.  But how does it exist?  Does it recognize other souls?  Surely it does.  Is it omnipresent in the spiritual world?  Certainly not, for not even angels (who are bodiless) are omnipresent.  Therefore, there must be some sort of identifiable mode of existing that is bodiless.  Origen called this an “astral body.”  

Conclusion

Does Scott fully vindicate Origen?  Not quite, but he does alleviate a lot of problems.  Origen was very reticent about using philosophy.  He didn’t innovate but rather held to established, conservative opinions in the intellectual world (even if they were wrong in hindsight).

Gregory for Origen

I don’t think I am an Origenist.  I don’t think his protology survives Maximus’s deconstruction of it.  But I do think it is wrong of “Trad Fundies” to bash Origen as a “heretic” when few of the greatest fathers of the church would have done that.  This is from Christopher Beeley’s work on Gregory of Nazianzus.

origen

Gregory had a largely positive view of Origen.  

  • “From Origen Gregory learned the rudiments and the great heights of Christian theology, and he found in Origen a clear model of the spiritual and intellectual dimensions of his own life” (Beeley 7).
  • “During the first years of his return to Cappadocia, Gregory’s formation in strongly Trinitarian, Origenist Christianity seems to have been largely completed” (10).
  • “By habit, he would have continued to steep himself in the Bible and Origen” (16).
  • Gregory structured his “Five Theological Orations” along the same loci as Origen’s De Principiis (39).
  • “We may note that Gregory showed himself to be a more faithful disciple of Origen than either of his Cappadocian contemporaries” (75).
  • “Gregory is led by the Alexandrians, above all Origen, in the adaptation of certain Platonist themes for his Christian program” (78).
  • Adopts Origen’s dual hermeneutics (89).

origen1

I’m aware of the 5th councils condemnations of Origen.  I just don’t found them morally compelling.  Especially as they would have condemned the Cappadocians for not condemning Origen–and the excuse that the former didn’t live during the 5th council and so are excused is both ad hoc and probably false.  Justinian was nowhere near the theologian as Gregory.

David W. has a very good summary of the issues.