Friday, November 7, 2014

Origen and the Bridegroom

Another excerpt from Origen and Scripture by Peter Martens (earlier noted here). Chapter 8 is on the moral life of the scriptural exegete, as Origen saw it, and Martens discusses Origen's views on the need for moral excellence of the biblical interpreter, especially in regard to certain exegetical virtues (inquisitiveness, open-mindedness, watchfulness, and exertion), faith, and prayer. Origen believed that one should seek divine aid in understanding the scriptures, but this divine aid was sometimes elusive. Martens (p. 184) quotes a beautiful passage from Origen's first Homily on the Song of Songs in illustration of this point.
The Bride then beholds the Bridegroom; and He as soon as she has seen Him, goes away. He does this frequently throughout the Song; and that is something nobody can understand who has not suffered it himself. God is my witness that I have often perceived the Bridegroom drawing near me and being most intensely present with me; then suddenly He has withdrawn and I could not find Him, though I sought to do so. I long therefore for Him to come again, and sometimes He does so. Then, when He has appeared and I lay hold of Him, He slips away once more; and when He has so slipped away, my search for Him begins anew. So does He act with me repeatedly.

The "Old Testament" According to Origen

I've been reading Peter Martens 2012 monograph Origen and Scripture, an excellent account of Origen's encounter with scripture. The following passage comes from ch. 9, on the single message of the scriptures. Origen insisted--against some groups, such as gnostics--that both biblical testaments transmitted the same saving message.
Indeed, so concerned was Origen with the unity of this scriptural message that he could, on occasion, even balk at the twofold designation "Old" and "New" Testaments. In his ninth Homily on Numbers he remarks that the power of the gospel is also found in the law, its foundation, so that he does not give the name "Old Testament" to the law provided he understands it spiritually. "The law," Origen continues, "becomes an 'Old Testament' only for those who want to understand it in a fleshly way; and for them it has necessarily become old and aged, because it cannot maintain its strength. But," he strikingly concludes, "for us, who understand and explain it spiritually and in an evangelical sense, it is always new. Indeed, both are a 'New Testament' for us, not because of the age of time but because of the newness of understanding." (p. 203)