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The first-ever English translation of Origen's extant homilies on Judges
In his General Audience of May 2, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI praised Origen for his "primordial role" in the history of lectio divina, the prayerful reading of Scripture. He explained that Origen approaches Scripture reading not as "mere study" but as the pathway to knowing Christ and "falling in love with him." Origen's nine extant ...
The first-ever English translation of Origen's extant homilies on Judges
In his General Audience of May 2, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI praised Origen for his "primordial role" in the history of lectio divina, the prayerful reading of Scripture. He explained that Origen approaches Scripture reading not as "mere study" but as the pathway to knowing Christ and "falling in love with him." Origen's nine extant homilies on Judges exemplify this approach.
In them, Origen calls his audience to participate in a loving relationship with Christ through interaction with Scripture. Delivered sometime between 238 and 248, these homilies expound on themes extracted from Judges 2-7. Some of the homilies focus generally on God's redemption of Israel through judges after each cycle of sin, enslavement, and repentance, while others stress that victory belongs to God alone through events such as the defeat of the Midianites by Gideon's meager army of 300 men, Gideon's test with the fleece, and the murder of the Philistine general Sisera by the woman Jael. The homilies brim with hope in Christ's ultimate victory over sin and death, a hope that is specific to the individual believer but accessible only within the Church.
Origen applies his allegorical method of Scriptural interpretation to these passages, sometimes drawing faith-enriching meaning from the literal (somatic) sense as well as from one or both of the two figurative (psychic and pneumatic) senses. Using both allegory and typology, Origen shows his audience God's abundant mercy and grace, the power of Scripture to assist in the battle against sin and the promotion of virtue, and the church leader's duty to walk his flock through thetransforming terrain of Scripture toward likeness to and union with Christ.
Largely because of early controversies over Origen's legacy, these homilies are extant only in Rufinus's fourth-century Latin translation, but his ability to capture Origen's meaning and spirit is well documented. This is the first-ever English translation of Origen's homilies on Judges.
Concerning what is written in the Book of Judges: "And the people served the Lord all the days of Jesus, and all the days of the elders, as many as lived a multitude of days after Jesus, who experienced all the great works of the Lord that he did for Israel."
INDEED, THE LECTOR of the present reading recited as follows: "And the people feared the Lord all the days of Jesus," but we have, "And the people served the Lord all the days of Jesus, and all the days of those elders who lived longer days after Jesus." Accordingly, it is necessary to understand that every single one of us proves to himself that he is either in good days or in bad, and proves that he possesses either "the days of Jesus," that is, the days of the just, or the days of the wicked. For if we comprehend "the true light that enlightens every man coming into this world" and we offer our souls to it in order to be enlightened, or if "the sun of justice" rises up within us and "illuminates the world" of our soul, then we also possess the "days of Jesus" Christ, the days of salvation. But if someone offers his soul in order to receive that light which "will be extinguished," the light contrary to truth, and is illuminated by it, he also will himself possess days, but evil ones. He will not be in the days of Jesus, but he will be in the days of Manasseh or in the days of the Pharaoh or in wicked days of some other kind. Accordingly, therefore, in the days of the unjust and wicked King Ahaz [Uzziah], Isaiah could not see a vision. He could not "see the Lord of Hosts sitting upon the throne, high and lifted up." But from the moment that vile king died, whose "days" were "evil," then the prophet was able to see a vision of God.
Also, do you wish to know why those days, when in Scripture they are said to be of that kind or the other kind, would not refer to the lifetime of that very one discussed, that is, the time of his [Jesus'] bodily presence? Hear what the prophet foretold about the days of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Justice will rise up in his days, as well as an abundance of peace, until, by reason of which, the moon should be no more." So, if we accept this, that "the days" in which the Savior remained on the earth were days "of justice" and "peace," then how will we explain that days "of justice" rose up for those who crucified him and who did not accept his coming and pledge faith in him? Or how will there seem to have been "an abundance of peace in his days" among those who handed him over to death by means of false accusations? How will days "of justice" and days "of peace" seem to have arisen for those in whose minds the darkness of injustice and rage dwelled? And, again, if what is written should refer to those days which the Savior lived out in the flesh-"Justice will rise up in his days, as well as an abundance of peace"-then, since the present days are not those days, consequently "his justice" does not rise up nor is "an abundance of the peace" of Christ found among the faithful and religious now. Rather, every single person acquires by virtue of his actions and way of life more "days" for himself either of injustice and war or "of justice" and "peace."
In fact, listen to the prophet saying, "For those who fear my name, the sun of justice will rise up," so that, without doubt, he may make for them "days of justice," that is, "days of Jesus." Moreover, he says of the wicked that "the sun of justice" will set for them, without doubt for those in whom justice is asleep. In them and for them the darkness of injustice has risen up. But, similarly, do you want to learn from the prophet who they are who possess "an abundance of peace"? Hear how he says in the Psalms: There is "great peace for those who love your name, and there is no stumbling-block for them." Therefore, "the days of justice and an abundance of peace will rise up for those who love the name of the Lord."
But even the impious possess their own light, from which without doubt "days of evil" rise up for them. Now, do you also want this to be proven to you from the Scriptures? Listen to what is written: It is said, "The just will always have light, but the light of the wicked will be extinguished." You see, therefore, that the "light of the wicked" is a certain kind that "will be extinguished," but it is "the light of the just" that continues "into eternity." And I do not know if anyone believes so foolishly as to suppose that there is some essential light that may be said to be, on the one hand, "of the wicked" and, on the other hand, "of the just." That certainly cannot be in any way true. For the light of the world created by God is one, which shines for all in common and equally. But as we explained above, it is to be understood that our soul either is "illuminated by the true light" that will never be "extinguished," that is, Christ, or, if that light does not possess in itself what is eternal, without doubt it [the soul] is illuminated by that temporary and extinguishable light, by that one "who transforms himself into an angel of light" and illuminates the heart of the sinner with a false light, so that those lights that are present and transitory may seem to him to be good and very bright. By that light they are illuminated who say that pleasure is the greatest good. By that light they are illuminated who search for wealth and worldly honors and earthly glory, as if it is the age of eternity now. Therefore, they also are "in the days" of his light that "will be extinguished" (for all the things that they do, desire, and long for will be extinguished). The heretics also are illuminated by this light, proclaiming "a knowledge falsely named." Illuminated from this source, Marcion calls the God of the Law just but not good.
Accordingly, if we have understood correctly what are the days that are illuminated by our Lord Jesus Christ, "the true light," and what are the days that are illuminated by him "who transforms himself into an angel of light" and whose light "will be extinguished," we also can properly understand those "days of Jesus" about which it is said that "the people served the Lord all the days of Jesus." For it is certain that he who possesses in himself "the days of Jesus" "would serve the Lord." Nor can it happen that somebody, possessing in himself "the days of Jesus" and "the light" of Christ, would serve the Devil or would serve avarice. Nor can it happen that someone would be illuminated by the light of truth and would serve falsehood. Nor can the one illuminated by the light of sanctification be devoted to lust and impurity. Indeed, even the Apostle declares as follows: "For what does justice share with injustice? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? Moreover, what agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does the believer share with the unbeliever?"
Accordingly, let us pray that Christ, who is "the true light," may make good days in us always, and that we may never possess in ourselves-by the Devil illuminating us-"the evil days" about which the Apostle says, "Buying back time because the days are evil." For we possess "evil days" when we search for carnal instead of spiritual things, earthly instead of heavenly things, transitory instead of eternal things, present instead of future things. When, therefore, you see that desires of this kind rise up in you, be assured that you are standing "in evil" and wicked "days." And indeed, for that reason, devote yourself to prayers so that you may be freed from "the evil day," and, just as the Apostle says, so that you may be snatched up out of "the present evil age." For in the manner in which we spoke above, not only do the "days" become "evil," but also the "age" becomes "evil."
2. "Therefore, the people served the Lord all the days of Jesus and all the days of the elders who lived after Jesus." Blessed is he who "in the days of Jesus serves the Lord," who is enlightened by his word and wisdom, who is illuminated by his commands, who receives from his teaching the light of knowledge. Still, secondly, in addition to him, he also is blessed who "serves the Lord in the days of the elders who lived after Jesus." Are not "the elders" who "lived" either with Jesus or "after Jesus" none other than the apostles, who themselves also illuminate our hearts with their writings and precepts and make certain days in us from that light which they themselves, after coming, took as a share from "the true light"? Accordingly, he who is illuminated and instructed by the precepts of the apostles and trained up by the apostolic examples to serve the Lord, he is the one who is said to "serve the Lord in the days of the elders who lived after Jesus." Moreover, do you wish to see why, just as the Savior "was the true light that enlightens every man coming into this world," the apostles also were "the light of the world"? In the Gospel it is written, with the Lord saying to them, "You are the light of the world." Even now the apostles are "the light of the world." Without doubt through their precepts and mandates they illuminate for us the "days" in which "we are to serve the Lord."
3. And, moreover, he said: "All the days of the elders who lived longer days after Jesus." This does not seem to me casually mentioned, that "the ancients" or those "of longer days" are said to be "the elders who lived after Jesus." Indeed, it is for God alone to know who "after Jesus" would have lived among "the elders," who would have made "a longer day," that is, who would have emitted from himself the greater light, whether Paul or Peter, Bartholomew or John. Nevertheless, the saints are called "those of longer days." But, on the contrary, at that time, when the world will be filled up with temptations, when, "with injustice increasing, the love of many will grow cold," and when "the Son of man comes, he will have difficulty finding faith upon the earth," at that time, it is not said that they are going to be "long" days, but, rather, they are said to be shorter, just as the Lord said, "If those days had not been cut short, not any flesh would be saved." Therefore, the evil days are said "to be cut short," but "the ancients" are the good days of much time and, in a certain measure, of great length, during which "we serve the Lord." Yet, see that he also pointed this out in the Gospel, that "For the elect those days will be cut short." Thus, "for the elect the evil days," the days of injustice and temptation, "will be cut short." And, as I believe, when once "the evil days" have begun to be cut short for the elect, they are always cut short and diminished until they are reduced to nothing and completely fade out and utterly disappear. On account of these things, I think there was also that one who said: "Let that day disappear on which I was born." So then "the evil days are cut short for the elect" and disappear, but the days of the holy elders are lasting and long.
Moreover, that which occurs to us while talking-and hopefully it has occurred by the Lord's prompting-what he said is not to be omitted: "The people served the Lord all the days of Jesus." He did not say "one" day has been of Jesus, but many are "the days of Jesus." Therefore, how many days do we count according to this order that we explained? I believe that in the same way one day of his is justice, another is sanctification, another is prudence, another is mercy, and likewise for every single good quality of the virtues they are counted as "the days of Jesus" during which "the Lord" is served, because by these virtues of the soul the Lord is pleased. Indeed, patience also is counted as a day of his, and gentleness and piety and goodness, and everything that pertains to a virtue you shall call a day of his. And so "during all the days of Jesus you will serve the Lord," that is, in all these virtues "you will serve the Lord." For the instruction of holy Scripture does not wish that you should possess in yourself some aspects of these virtues and neglect others, but that, adorned in all these virtues and invested in the performance of them, "you may serve the Lord." Moreover, in the same way, someone also possesses "the days of the elders" in himself and "serves the Lord in their days," when he is fulfilling what the apostle Paul says: "Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ."
4. "In the days," it is said, "of those elders who knew all the works of the Lord." Who is "he who knows all the works of the Lord," if not he who does them? Indeed, as it were, it was said of the sons of Eli that they were "sons of scorn, knowing not the Lord," not that they were ignorant of the Lord-since they undoubtedly also were teachers to the rest-but because to such a degree they acted as those act who do not know the Lord. In this way also what it says here must be heard: "they who knew every work of the Lord." And not only is it said, "they knew the work of the Lord," but it added, "they who knew every work of the Lord," that is, they who "knew" the Lord's work of justice and sanctification and patience and gentleness and piety. And everything that comes from the commands of God is called "the work of the Lord." But just as it is the work of the Lord, the work of the Devil is without doubt contrary to it. For it is certain that, just as justice is the work of God, so also is injustice the work of the Devil, and, just as gentleness is the work of God, so also would anger or rage be the work of the Devil. Accordingly, they are said "to have known" the work of God who do his work.
Yet, since it becomes even clearer from the authority of the Scriptures in what manner Scripture may be accustomed to saying "to know" or "to know not," see how it is written also elsewhere. It is said, "He who heeds a command will not know an evil word." Now, "he who heeds a command," can it happen that "he does not know evil words"? Indeed, he knows, but "to know not" is said because he guards against and avoids evil words. Moreover, what is said concerning the Lord and Savior himself is that "he did not know sin." It is certain that "to have been ignorant of sin" is said because he did not do the work of sin. Therefore, in this way, he also is said "to know the works of the Lord" who does "the works of the Lord." Yet he is ignorant of the work of God who does not do the work of God.
5. Moreover, how do we pass over what it added: "those who knew the great works of the Lord that he did for Israel"? What, indeed? Are there any small "works of the Lord" distinct from these ones that may be called "great"? I think that every work of God is indeed great. But, if they are compared to each other, the works of the Lord are said to be either great or small, according to the capacity of those to receive it, for whom the work is done. For example, he led the people of Israel out of Egypt "with a strong hand" and "with a raised-up arm." Having tormented Egypt with prophetic, heavenly signs, "he made a way in the sea." He gave manna to the people in the desert. "From the sky" he spoke to Moses. He gave the Law written "upon stone tablets." Are not these "great works of God"? But if you should compare to these things that work-that "God so loved this world that he gave his only Son" for the salvation of the world-you will find that all those deeds are small compared to the greatness of this work, which even we also must know and believe. And we must be engaged in "the works of the Lord" not carelessly, but faithfully and attentively, so that we also may be found to be "in the days of Jesus" Christ and "in the days of the elders," his holy apostles, with whom we also may deserve to receive participation in the heavenly inheritance, through our Lord Jesus Christ himself, "to whom are glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
On that which is written: "And Jesus, son of Nun, servant of the Lord, died."
ONCE MORE THE death of Jesus has been read aloud to us. And he, indeed the "son of Nun," that he "died" is not at all surprising. For he released to nature what was due. But because we had established that these things read about the son of Nun refer to our Lord Jesus Christ, it must be considered how it may fittingly be said also of that one: "Jesus died." Talking about this still according to the authority of Scripture, I think that in certain persons Jesus lives, but in certain persons he is "dead." Jesus lives in Paul and in Peter and in all those who can justly say, "I live, but no longer I, but Christ lives in me." And again he says, "But to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Therefore, in those kinds of persons Jesus is justly said to live.
But in whom is "Jesus dead"? Without doubt, in those who, for instance, by often repenting and again committing sin, are said to insult the death of Jesus, about whom the Apostle, writing to the Hebrews, says, "Those crucifying again the Son of God within themselves and making a public spectacle of him." Accordingly, you see that in sinners not only is "Jesus" said "to die," but also he is declared "crucified and mocked" by them. Moreover, reflect within yourself whether, when out of greed you plan and desire to lay waste to another's goods, you can say that "Christ lives in me." Or if you plan debauchery, if you are excited with anger, if you are inflamed with envy, if you are spurred on by jealousy, if you revel in drunkenness, if you are puffed up with pride, if you act with cruelty, in all these matters can you say that "Christ lives in me"? So, therefore, in this way, Christ "is dead" for sinners by virtue of the fact that in them nothing of justice is at work, nothing of patience, nothing of truth, and indeed nothing of all that is Christ.
Excerpted from HOMILIES ON JUDGES Copyright © 2010 by THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
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