This is the last in a three part series. See parts 1 and 2, and the intro.
This segment concludes Origen’s homily on Ps. 76. This is certainly not the only place we see Origen discussing the destiny of the human race, but it does offer a nice view into his theological method. First, as you can see from the many scriptural citations, Origen’s theology is deeply rooted in the biblical text. In these two paragraphs, he cites not only copiously from Psalm before him, but also draws from the prophets (Jonah), another Psalm, and two places in the New Testament. This may strike some as odd: I certainly wouldn’t think while reading this psalm that it had anything to do with eternal punishment. In our English translations, it seems much more natural to read it as simply a lament about this life: will the Lord continue to look away from his people? Origen has good reasons, in this case at least, for going beyond this age and considering others. Vs. 6 reads “I have pondered the ancient days, and I have remembered the eternal years.” The Greek Septuagint thus invites him to speculate on these “eternal years,” and furthermore to consider the following verses on God’s punishment as pertaining to the ages to come rather than only to this life. It’s important to remember that Origen knew is scripture extremely well. His theological and philosophical opinions will often look strange, but seeing the scriptural underpinning makes his views much more understandable.
Another key feature that we can see here is Origen’s approach to revelation and prayer. The psalmist had a profound revelation in prayer, as did Paul and John. Origen thus encourages us to “probe our spirit in the night” and “meditate on the ancient days” like the psalmist did. Not every revelation, however, can be shared. Just as Paul and John did not share the contents of their visions, so we should not make definitive statements on areas in which the scriptures are not clear. The proper course of action is instead a Socratic one: the “sage” must pose questions. Some truths are hidden for “those who fear God.” In doing so, Origen attempts to strike an exegetical and pastoral balance. He understands that declaring a blanket universalism would have negative effects in the moral lives of his students/parishioners. He also is well aware of the biblical passages that discuss punishment, and that to be punished by God is a truly fearful thing. On the other hand, he sees glimpses in scripture that suggest God’s punishment may be restorative rather than retributive, and he finds that compelling. In all things, though, he urges humility and prayer, which strikes me as sage advice even after all these years.
Rather, let us say, “Surely the Lord will not reject forever, nor refuse always to show his favor?” However, if God’s judgments are hidden from us, we should not simply assert that God will change his mind about our punishment. Instead, let us do as the Ninevites did and say, “Let us pray and fast. Who knows if the Lord will change his mind and turn away from his wrath?” (Jonah 3:9). Or, let us say, “Surely he will not cut off his mercy for ever, from generation to generation?” This is what I pondered, and this is what my spirit probed to find: will God, after giving us over to punishments, cut off his mercy from us, so that we’ll never be able to flee again to his mercy? will he cut off his mercy “from generation to generation” and forsake us? will God forget to show mercy? after leaving us to such a fate, one of pain and toil, will he proceed to forget us, and never again show mercy?
“And I have said, ‘now I have begun.'” (Ps. 76:11 LXX) After I have pondered all these things, I have said, “now I am beginning to understand.” His understanding, though, is private. Although he had gained understanding, he decided not to share it. Instead, though he had beheld the mystery, he concealed it, instead posing question. In doing this, he did as Paul and John did. Though Paul had heard “words unspeakable” (2 Cor. 12:4) and John had heard the “seven thunders” (Rev. 10:3-4), neither wrote down what they had heard. Therefore, it was better for him to hide the mystery, and for all who have received such revelation to say, “how great the magnitude of your goodness, Lord, which you have hidden for those who fear you” (Ps. 31:19/30:20 LXX), in Christ Jesus, to whom be glory and power forever and ever, amen.
An impromptu homily.
¶ ἀλλ᾽ ἡμεῖς λέγωμεν,
μὴ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ἀπώσεται κύριος,
καὶ οὐ προσθήσει τοῦ εὐδοκῆσαι ἔτι; πλὴν
εἰ καὶ οὐκ ἀπέφηνε τὰ κρίματα τοῦ θεοῦ,
ἀλλ᾽ ἡμᾶς ὅπερ ἐποίησαν οἱ νινευῖται,
οὐκ εἶπαν μετανοήσει ὁ θεὸς, ἀλλὰ προσευχώμεθα
καὶ νηστεύωμεν. τίς οἶδεν
εἰ μετανοήσει κύριος, καὶ ἀποστρέψει τὸν
θυμὸν αὐτοῦ, ἢ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ ἀποκόψει
εἰς τέλος, ἀπὸ γενεᾶς εἰς γενεάν;
καὶ τοῦτο διελογιζόμην καὶ ἔσκαλλε
τὸ πνεῦμά μου. ἆρα ὁ θεὸς παραδιδοὺς
ἡμᾶς ταῖς κολάσεσι, τὸ ἔλεος
ἀποκόψει ἀφ᾽ἡμῶν, ὡς μηδέποτε
αὐτὸν παλινδρομῆσαι ἐπὶ τὸ ἐλεῆσαι
ἡμᾶς, ἀλλὰ ἀπὸ γενεᾶς εἰς γενεὰν
ἀποκόψας τὸ ἔλεος, καταλέιψει
ἠμᾶς, ἢ ἐπιλήσεται τοῦ οἰκτειρῆσαι
ὁ θεός; οἷον καταλιπὼν τοῖς πόνοις
καὶ ταῖς ἀλγηδόσι, μέλλει ἡμᾶς
ἐπιλανθάνεσθαι, καὶ μηδέποτε οἰκτείρειν;
¶ καὶ εἶπα νῦν ἠρξάμην. ὅτε
ταύτα πάντα ἐλογισάμην, εἶπα,
νῦν ἄρχομαι νοεῖν. ἐνόησε
καθ᾽αὑτόν. νοήσας δὲ, οὐκ ἔκρινεν
εἰπεῖν ὃ ἐνοήσεν. ἀλλ᾽ὥσπερ παῦλος
ἤκουσεν ἄρρητα ῥήματα, καὶ ἰωάννης
ἤκουσε τῶν ἑπτὰ βροτῶν, καὶ οὔτε
παῦλος ἔγραψε τὰ ἄρρητα ῥήματα,
οὕτε ἰωάννης τοὺς λόγους τῶν ἑπτὰ
βροτῶν, οὕτως καὶ οὗτος κλαύσας
καὶ ἐπαπορήσας, εἶδε τὸ μυστήριον, ἐπειδήπερ
κρεῖττον ἦν κρύπτειν αὐτὸ, καὶ
λέγειν πάντα τὸν νοήσαντα τοιαῦτα,
ὡς πολὺ τὸ πλῆθος τῆς χρηστότητος
σου κύριε, ἧς ἔκρυψας τοῖς φοβουμένοις
σε. ἐν χριστῷ ἰησοῦ ᾧ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος
εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων ἁμήν.
ὁμιλία σχεδιασθεῖσα. #END
2 thoughts on “Origen on the Ages to Come Pt. 3”
I find the tag at the end of the sermon very interesting. That would seem to indicate that this is not a sermon written by Origen, but rather notes/stenography of an extemporaneous sermon delivered by Origen. This, rather than Origen’s tailoring the language to a less educated audience, could account for the simplicity of the language. A note-taker/stenographer might not be concerned to jot down the niceties of various particles and might break complex periods into more straightforward sentences.
I hadn’t thought about a stenographer not recording precisely what was spoken. These four homilies on Ps. 76 are explicitly labeled as ὁμιλίαι ἐσχεδιασμέναι. We do know that Origen extemporized: in one homily in particular (I think the one on the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel) he asks the bishop which of the readings he should preach on. Eusebius also records that Origen allowed stenographers to record his sermons once he was an old man.
In this codex, I’ve only seen these 4 explicitly marked as extemporized. I wonder too whether all of the homilies we have belong necessarily in a liturgical setting, rather than a school setting. If Gregory Thaumatourgos’ Panegyric is to be believed, then Origen included exegesis as part of the curriculum in his school. This homily can be rather speculative, and the 3rd homily in this series certainly is (discussing the souls of waters, rivers, and storms). It strikes me as at least plausible that some of his school lectures might have survived, but it’s hard to say.