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Origen on Prayer
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CHAPTER XIII

THE LORD’S PRAYER—OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN

Our Father in Heaven. It deserves a somewhat careful observation of the so-called Old Testament to discover whether it is possible to find anywhere in it a prayer of one who addresses God as Father. For though I have made examination to the best of my ability, I have up to the present failed to find one. I do not say that God is not spoken of as Father or that accounted believers in God are not called sons of God, but that I have not yet found in prayer that confidence in calling God Father which the Savior has proclaimed.

That God is spoken of as Father and those who have waited on God’s word as sons, may be seen in many places, as in Deuteronomy, “You have forsaken God your parent and forgotten God your nourisher,” and again, “Is He not your Father himself that got you and made you and created you?” and again, “Sons who have not faith in them.” And in Isaiah, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me”; and in Malachi, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is my honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear?” So then, even though God is termed Father and their Sons who have been begotten by reason of their faith in Him, yet sure and unchangeable sonship is not to be seen in the ancient people.

The very passages I have cited since the subjection of those so-called sons, since according to the apostle “the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.” But the fullness of time is in the sojourn of our Lord Jesus Christ, when they who desire receive adoption as sons, as Paul teaches in the words, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery unto fear, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, wherein we cry ‘Abba Father’”; and as it is in the Gospel according to John, “To as many as received Him He gave authority to become children of God if believers on His name”; and it is by reason of this Spirit of adoption as sons, we learn in the Catholic Epistle of John regarding the begotten of God, that “Everyone that is begotten of God does no sin because His seed abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is begotten of God.”

And yet if we think of the meaning of the words which are written in Luke, “When you pray say: Father . . . ,” we shall hesitate to address this expression to Him unless we have become genuine sons in case, in addition to our other sins, we should also become liable to a charge of impiety. My meaning is as follows. In the first Epistle to Corinthians Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ save in a holy spirit, and no one that speaks in God’s spirit says ‘cursed be Jesus’ calling the same thing a holy spirit and God’s spirit.” What is meant by speaking in a holy spirit of Jesus as Lord is not quite clear, as countless actors and numbers of heterodox people, and at times even demons conquered by the power in the name, utter the expression.

No one therefore will venture to declare that anyone of these calls Jesus ‘Lord’ in a holy spirit. For the same reason, indeed, they could not be shown to call Jesus Lord at all, since they alone call Jesus Lord who express it from inward disposition in service to the word of God and in proclaiming no other Lord than Him in all their conduct. And if it be such who say Jesus is Lord, it may be that everyone who sins, in that he curses the divine Word through his transgression, has through his actions called out, “Cursed be Jesus.”

And accordingly, as the one type of man says “Jesus is Lord,” and the man of opposite disposition “Cursed be Jesus,” “so everyone that hath been begotten of God and does not sin” because he is partaker of God’s seed which turns him from all sin, says through his conduct “Our Father in Heaven,” the spirit himself witnessing with their spirit that they are children of God and heirs to Him and joint heirs with Christ, since as suffering with Him they reasonably hope with Him also to be glorified. But in order that theirs may be no one-sided utterance of the words “Our Father,” in addition to their actions they have a heart—a fountain and source of good actions—believing unto righteousness, in harmony with which their mouth makes acknowledgment unto salvation.

So then their every act and word and thought, formed by the only begotten word in accord with Him, imitates the image of the invisible God and has come to be “in accordance with the image of the Creator” who makes “the sun to rise upon evil men and good and rains upon righteous and unrighteous,” that there may be in them the image of the heavenly One who is himself also an image of God. Saints, therefore, as an image of an Image himself, a son, receive the impress of Sonship, becoming conformed not only to the glorified body of Christ but also to Him who is in that body, and they become conformed to Him who is in a glorified body through being transformed by the renewing of their mind.

And if such men through out the whole of life voice the words “Our Father in the Heavens,” plainly he that does sin, as John says in the Catholic Epistle, “is of the devil because the devil sins from the beginning” and just as God’s seed abiding in the begotten of God produces inability to sin in him who is formed in accordance with the only begotten Word, so the devil’s seed is in everyone that does sin, to the extent in which it is present within the soul—not suffering its possessor to have power to prosper. But since “for this end was the Son of God manifested that He might undo the actions of the devil,” it is possible, through the undoing of the actions of the devil by the sojourn of the Word of God within our Soul, for the evil seed implanted in us to be utterly removed and for us to become children of God.

Let us, therefore, not think that it is words we are taught to say in any appointed season of prayer. On the contrary, if we understand our former consideration of prayer without ceasing, let our whole life of prayer without ceasing speak the words “Our Father in the Heavens,” having its commonwealth in no wise on earth but in every way in heaven, which is God’s throne because of the foundation of the kingdom of God in all who wear the image of the Heavenly One and therefore become heavenly. When the Father of saints is said to be in the heavens, we are not to suppose that He is circumscribed by material form and dwells in heaven.

Since, in that case, as contained God will be formed to be less than the heavens because they contain Him, whereas the ineffable might of His godhead demands our belief that all things are contained and held together by Him. And, in general, passages which taken literally are thought by the simpler order of minds to assert that God is in space are to be otherwise taken in a sense more becoming to great spiritual concepts of God.

Such are those passages in the Gospel according to John: Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He should pass from this world to the Father, as He had loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end; and shortly after: knowing that the Father had given all into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was returning to God; and later: you heard that I said to you: I return and come unto you. If you loved me you would have rejoiced that I go to the Father; and again later; Now I return to Him that sent me and none of you asks me: Where do you return?

If these things are to be taken spacially, so also plainly is: Jesus answered and said to them, “If any one love me he will keep my word and my Father will love him and we shall come unto him and make abode with him.” But surely the words do not imply a spacial transition of the Father and the Son to the lover of the word of Jesus and are therefore not to be taken spacially.

On the contrary, the Word of God, in condescension for us and, in regard to His proper desert, in humiliation while among men, is said to pass from this world unto the Father so that we also may behold Him perfectly there in reversion to His proper fullness from the emptiness among us whereby He emptied himself—where we also, enjoying His guidance, shall be filled and freed from all emptiness. To such an end the Word of God well may leave the world and depart to Him that sent Him, and go to the Father! And as for that passage near the end of the Gospel according to John, “Cling not to me, for I am not yet gone up unto my Father,” let us seek to conceive it in the more mystical sense:

Let ours be the more reverent conception of the ascension of the Son to the Father with sanctified insight, an ascension rather of soul than of body. I think it right to have linked these considerations to the clause Our Father in the Heavens for the sake of doing away with a low conception of God held by those who think that He is in heaven spacially, and of preventing anyone from saying God is in material space since it follows that He also is physical, which leads to opinions most impious\—to belief that He is divisible and material and corruptible. For every material thing is divisible and corruptible.

Or else let them tell us, not on the strength of vague sensation but with a claim to clear understanding, how it can be of any other than a material nature. Since, then, in writings before Christ’s bodily sojourn there are also many statements which seem to say that God is in physical space, it appears to me to be not out of place to cite a few of them also for the sake of doing away with any doubt in those who, because they know no better, confine God, who is over all, within small and scanty space on their own scale. First, in Genesis it says Adam and Eve heard the sound of the lord God walking at evening in the garden, and both Adam and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God amid the wood of the Garden.

I shall put the question to those who not only refuse to enter into the treasures of the passage but do not so much as knock at all at its door, whether they are able to imagine the Lord God, who fills the heaven and the earth, who as they themselves suppose in the more physical sense uses heaven as throne and the earth as a footstool for His feet, as contained by so scanty a space in comparison with the whole heaven and the earth that a garden which they suppose to be material is not filled by God but so far exceeds Him in greatness as to hold Him even when walking while a sound from the tread of His feet is heard? Absurder still on their interpretation is the hiding of Adam and Eve, in fear of God by reason of their transgression, from before God amid the wood of the Garden.

For it is not even said that they merely desired to hide but that they actually hid themselves. And how is it in their view that God inquires of Adam saying: Where are you? I have discussed these matters at greater length in my examination of the contents of Genesis, yet here, too—in order not to pass by so grave a subject in complete silence—it will suffice if I recall what is said by God in Deuteronomy: I will dwell in them and walk in them. For as is His walk in saints such is His walk in the Garden also, since everyone that sins hides from God and shuns His oversight and renounces his confidence with Him. So it was that Cain also went out from before God and dwelt in the land of Nod over against Eden. In the same way, therefore, as He dwells in saints.

So also does He dwell in heaven (that is, in every saint who wears the image of the Heavenly One, or Christ, in whom all who are being saved are luminaries and stars of heaven, or else because saints are in heaven) according to the saying: Unto you who dwells in heaven have I lifted up my eyes. And yet the passage in Ecclesiastes: Be not in haste to utter speech before God, because God is in heaven above, and you on Earth below, means to show the interval which separates those who are in the body of humiliation from Him who is with the angels and holy powers who are being exalted by the help of the Word also and with Christ himself. For it is not unreasonable that He should be strictly at the Father’s throne, allegorically called heaven, while His church, termed Earth, is a footstool at His feet.

I have cited a few Old Testament utterances, thought to represent God in space, for the sake of urging the reader by every means within the power given me to accept the divine scripture in the higher and more spiritual sense whenever it seems to teach that God is in space. And it was fitting that these considerations should be linked to the clause Our Father in the Heavens inasmuch as it distinguishes the essence of God from all created beings. For it is upon such as do not share in that essence that a certain glory of God and a power from Him, an outflow of the deity, comes.

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