Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Origen on Jacob's Vision


As my study is all consumed by two subjects: Origen and Jacob's Vision, I thought it would be interesting to see where they interconnect.

It was always going to be a one way street. Origen was a mighty exegete, his commentaries volumious and formidable. He did complete a commentary on Genesis, but it has long disappeared. He did, however, comment on the exact verse in question in his (arguably) most famous work Against Celsus.

Celsus, too, 
agreeably to the opinion of Plato, 
asserts that souls can make their way to and from the earth through the planets; 
while Moses, 
our most ancient prophet, 
says that a divine vision was presented to the view of our prophet Jacob,
-a ladder stretching to heaven, 
and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, 
and the Lord supported upon its top,
obscurely pointing, 
by this matter of the ladder, 
either to the same truths which Plato had in view, 
or to something greater than these. 
On this subject Philo has composed a treatise 
which deserves the thoughtful and intelligent investigation of all lovers of truth.
Origen, Against Celsus, Book VI, Chapter 24

So, Origen here actually agrees with Celsus; that Jacob's ladder is a means so 
"that souls can make their way to and from the earth through the planets". 
Note later he states:
"or to something greater than these."
What this is he does not go on to explain, but one can surmise it is the heavenly realm, unity with God, oneness with the Father. 

The Philo writing he mentions is worth investigation. It comes from his book On Dreams.

The ladder therefore in the world which is here spoken of in this symbolical manner, 
was something of this sort. 
But if we carefully investigate the soul which exists in men, 
the foundation of which is something corporeal, 
and as it were earth-like, 
we shall find that the foundation to be the outward sense; 
and the head to be something heavenly, 
as it were the most pure mind. 

But all the words of God move incessantly upwards and downwards through the whole of it, 
dragging it upwards along with them whenever they soar aloft, 
and separating it from whatever is mortal, 
and exhibiting to it a sight of those things which alone are worthy of being beheld; 
but yet not casting it down when they descend. 
For neither is God himself, 
nor the word of God, 
worthy of blame. 
But they join with them in their descent, 
by reason of their love for mankind and compassion for our race, 
for the sake of being their allies and rendering them assistance, 
in order that by breathing in a saving inspiration 
they may recall to life the soul which was still being tossed about in the body as in the river. 
But the angels
-the words of God-
move about in the minds of those persons who are still in a process of being washed, 
but who have not yet completely washed off the life which defiles them, 
and which is polluted by the contact of their heavy bodies, 
making them look pure and brilliant to the eyes of virtue.   
On Dreams, Book I, Chapters 146-7

This certainly fits in with Origen's concept of the "incarnate word". 

More on that later.

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