Seeing God and Living

Theophilus, a late second-century bishop of Antioch, attacked pagan idolatry and expounded his views on the visibility of God in his apology Tp Autolysis (his only certain surviving writing}. In this work, Theophilus begins by setting out thc occasion of thc dialogue, Autolycus has boasted of his gods of wood and stone, carved or cast, and scornfully asked Theolophilus to "show me ytw god.'* In response, Theophilus impugns Autolycus s character, saying that God 15 seen only by those who are pure in heart (Matt 5:8), who have cleansed themselves from all sins, impurities, and evil occupations (adultery* robbery, slander, envy, panden n ^ ,i :i d sí i f( i n ii ■. £ ) ni \ t hese a re a b le t< i be h( )ld God, wit h purified "eyes of the soul," Iniquities cloud the internal eyes of sinners like a cataract, and prevent ihem from perceiving the light, oj seeing God,

But, when asked how ( kkI will appear to Orte Once Jil.- or she achieves this sight, I heophilus answers w th a long discourse on tin- folly m-1 image worship and the utter inadequacy of any description of the I Ji1. im1. This description had much in common with the writings of [lit Stoics and of Philo, and it incorporates both negative terminology and well-known tilles fur the Divine Being. For example, he begins: "The appearance of tïud i-- ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be ■-•.■en bv eyes of flesh. I'<ir in glory he i;- incomprehensible in greatness unfathomable, in Ik'ljí 111 ineonecivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable." Following Mil-, he lums to the descriptif names one could to God, including I \i'nr. Word, Mind, Spirit, Wisdom, Strength, Power, Providence, K i 11 l; -dorn, I ord, ludge, Father, and Fire. Each ol these titles, according to Theophilus, refers to a particular aspect of God's being, "f i^u," for i nslancc refers lu G otTi wörk, iind I ire, j noticeably Stûie burrowing, to

God's anger.

However, Theoph i lui continues following the precepts of Faul and eeboing lI:l- arguments of Irenaeus though ( lud ls invisible to the esternal eye, God can be perceived in "lu- world—through Gods work. One -ran -Lv trod providence and mighty deeds in Mil1 evidence of nature and in the fact of o lit's very exisleni:e. And furthermore, il an individual recognises ihin, and live* rightcouslyt then he or she will '■lv God—after dying and bein^ r.i-.-l-lI in the flesh. For only thc immortal may behold the immortal. Thus, again sounding much like Irenaeus, I heophilus describes an end time vision, when tta- mortal will conte m plate the divine in its full glory. I heophilu*, however,docs nut claim ilii^ beatific vi^i^n to be the cause of immortality (as Irenaeus does), but r.í i her ii will be the neipdr of immortality, which i1- itself thc reward lnr righteousness 1111L1 purification of the stiul from all iniquities).

l ike all the < )t h er l ' h rist ian apologists, Theophilus art acks the im ages lit the pagan gods, raying that ii is absurd to think that human^ might shape worthless materials in hi im-ages o i I lie gcids that could merit sac r i fices or rece i ve p ra ye rs Further, Ii e points out, t li e sto r ics t< >1 d about these gods clearly show that they are no more than human beings, elevated erroneously to Lhe status of gods, I lowev* r. in the midst of his account of creation, he digresses Clearly aware that God is presented i:i Genesis as having human characteristics he rç« gnixe* that hi- must clarify how 11iL1 invisible and uncirtumscribable God could !>l described walking around Eden and calling out to Adam, [ticophilus explains that ii was God s Word who''assumed the person of the Father and Lord alL" who went to the garden in lliu guise of God ,uid talked with Adam and Eve In addition, the voice thai Adam h ea nt I was none fit he r than t h l-


voice of the Word who ta Go¿ and is generated fron God. This Word i:. il", wlitrcvt : . i n : L lui .inv purpove chat t^xl ■ 11 -. 11 is able i" -k both seen and beard in that designated piare. Theophilus is careful to specif) thai the Word is not likeothej ,Lsonsut the gods^ begotten through sexual intercourse, but it was the''firstborn" of creation and the eternal j si m til i i-: iJ, Itv- wlii ch I'.gS tame I] I " ■ í.L!íÍ Hi CTlLe. I 11 i 11 C lu.ü¡ H of his argument regarding I Ik- appearance of the Logos lo ^dam and I ■. l-. tine -..m assume l h ¡»i Fhcuphilus. like Just in, bd i eves that ihtWonl ¡h the vis:hie form of God, and the Divine Heing who car interact v. ith human beings, ajid the < >ne who appears to the prophets, sometimes in human guise even prior to the incarnation, "

In the mid third centuryh Nova t i an offered his view of God's ineffii-bilily in his- treatise On the Trinity He, too, recognizcs that Scripture ofte n present s ( iod wit 11 h 11 : i '.i in form or c ha raC( erist i us, b i l I he ex p lai ns thai when the ancient text describes the tablets >n the law as "'written ■.-. ith the finder of i. h.^l" (E.tod 31:18), or a prayei thar asks ' ¡od to " indi ne you r ea r ... open your eyes" ( 1 Kgs 19:16}, it merely show s ho the people thought of God at that time, but docs not relied how God really was. t m;! was nevei limited, but human per<cption was But, after the coming of Christ, tilings changed; the faithful no longer imagine that they may confine ( iod in a temple or on a mountain. Quoting the Gospel of]ohn. Novatian asserts, "( !od is spirit; and those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth" (lohn LJ-1), I fence, when ^ rod i\ rihed -i\ having eyes ur ears, il merdv implie.s thai Cod h-cj anil hears all tilings. reference \o i !od's finger is really .i reference m God's will, an^-l .l mcnlion oí tlods -l-l-i is n. metaphor for ( nvl - ubiquitous presence and mi forth. By concession lo the needs of humanity, (iod may even be called 'spirit,'" light' or^love,*'but these are mere figures or analogies, not sufficient expressions of what t iu;¡ really jí.""

However, when Novatian addre-sscs a specific problem, like ih^ appearance of the :hree persons to Abraham or thu One who wrestled with [aenb. he seems I o adapl fertullian's pusilion and mainLains ill at Wind was iht Divine IVrson whu had the essential capability of being seen, and not the 1 ne fia ble God, Since Scripture surely cannot lie, he ¡u lílilí, [ru.i. Gud v. .i- seen, but "it UoE 'I It Fiithei H llo H ,i- seen, since In- never wat seen, but the Son, who Kis both been accustomed lo descend, and to be seen because He ha-^ descended.11' Moreover, he adds, that Ni s appearance was a concession to human frailty, that seeing the I )ivine Word was ,i step in the process or gradually being able one doy to see God lki> i s because ,Llhings :hal are great are dangerous if they are sudden," Nova t i an then compares the need l'or gradual adaptation lo the vision of Divine glory to the blindness experienced b> those canning imi lit p i : L h darkness " i ■ i ■- ^ rli<- hiighi light of day. The appcarancc nf th( Word in the prophets, in his view, ^.i-- a one step .iL a-time meajis of preparing humanity for .i 1'uture bealitic vision, as well as the means by which 11 ■ ë y might apprehend God m ihc meantime. Jacob could call the place that he wresüed with the angel, HL1 h< Vision of God ' (Feniel), but this identification could only refer his having seen God the Word or Christ (the Word made flesh)/ \nd while Tertullian speaks ol these manifestations oi'lho Word js the means by which God becomes accustomed to human appearance (and future incarnation), Novatian understands them .is .a way lor humans to become gradually accustomed to seeing Cod. Through these occasions. Novadan asserts, "the weakness and imperfection of the human destiny is nourished, led up, and i-l! i : <.'.1 ted by Ii im; ?n : ha t, bei nj; accusto r.i L'd lo Ionk n p< m 1 he Son, Li i nay one day be able to see hvô the Father himself also as he is,th,U it may not be stricken by his sudden and inferable brightness, and be hindered from l-í ng al de 1 o set' < ii id I Ji l' 1 '.i 111 l't. wht mi l :1 ha s a Iway S de ^ R.jd

Origen, no different from all these others, absolutely believed that invisibility was essential ici (.ind. along with incorporeity, immutability, and i ncornj srebe osibil ity. T his assertion of God's utter trail we nde i ice ( >f human sijdi^ or knowledge led < >rigen to be particularly cautious about speaking of God even as''spirit," since thit terminology might imply a kind of physií al or substantial L■*l^Lt-^.L■."■ In this respect. Origen sounds a bit like Novatian (who was his younger contemporary). Ln contrast to lusîin, Term!, or Nnvatian, however. Origen :i i ri L .l i ci [íi:jL the invisibility of God extended also to Llie Divine Word, who (in Origen's view) shared this essential characteristic ^ith the Unbegotten God, G i V L* ii his position on tin; matter {not n- mention his abhorrence oí pagan idol-1, Origin's example of two statues Eo answeT :1k1- question of whether God has a body or could be visible in any sense seems somewhat infelicitous. The analogy (see below ) come*. within Origin's clarification of the way humans are created after the Divine Image, however, and he uses il to demonstrate how an image func tions .i perceptible representation of an imperceptible model.

Origen .ilso sees ibe incarnation as Llie way God shows forth an other w i "-.l1 o i V i s ibl e, bu t also ui ibea ra bt e, d i^ j ne g] o ry. In la ngua -a I ea ri y rem iniscent or the myth oí the cave from Platos Republic" Origen explains that mortal eyes cannot [he light ol God directly bui require ao Intermediary brightness lii¿t L:.-,sisis them little by little, until they can beco m e ccu stomed to " I ^ : he lighi in i t s J ea rn ess" El ljl a um- o 11 i i :i i [ ed human abilities* Origen says, .i mediating image is necessary one that alone knows God ■ \L,itt 11:27) and that can express or reveal the form of God to those who are L .i i i.i 111L1 of it. And Lliis, Origen says, is why l\w author of Hebrews can call Christ the " brightness of God's glo ry," as welI as "the express image of God's substance or subsistence" (Heb kî).,: In ordei [(■■ make this principle more understandable, Origen nsv'.s .ji^ analogy that he acknowledges at both outset and conclusion is problematic, since it borrow s [Vom "[In; realm of material things":

TH E I m I ï : G L F COD A N D TH £ VI5 J B LE IM AC E ui suppo«. foi «ample, that thcie- ciislcd aslatuc -îi so ^ ^ to till the wtiL>k world. bul which on account of its immensity wjs imper-ceptibk m Jimme, an-d th-at anulhci staluc was made anularlo il in every di.ta¡ I. i n ■■ Iii of I i mhs .1 ml outline ¡ ¡ I íeatt \ -. Ln harm arid matt ri il, h-u1 "■■' ill ¡Ci oilmen«1 Mît, so thaï lh<m" who were 11.1 h I-.' Let perceive and ! i i.. .1.1 îht Linmuiiht Hint' clhüIJ -, .■: ,.L ¿nntldeni :1m îh^-y li.i.l m^îii Le wlvn they saw the -mall one, bctau&e ihi- prc-WTYrd every lint oíJimbi Jiid feature;. atuJ tile v*iy fitrm and material with an absolutely indislinjuishahle sitptrliirity."1

Origen defends his use of Mich an analogy, claiming its onl> purpose is

10 slmv. how the Son of God. being "brought wiihin the narrow aim-pass of human body," could become "jii express image of >■ iod's substance oi subsistence "(Heb 1:3), which cou Id not In- perceived in ík full glor) mi its "immense and im im':iIl- In ighiness.11 In terms very much like Kovatian's, ( )rigen asserts that ( rod is light and the onlj begotten Word is the 'hrighlness ot Iliai light,' whose purpose is to assist ^C3 that were in the 11 .=. i k to become gradually ad jus-led 10 and able Hi endure ihe source ofthat brightness.

Bol, he clarifies, 1 he divine iinage that humans see in f'hrinl i.L. n n1 in his physical appearance (hi-- human nature) but rathej through his

11 eee Is , which reveal lile works ul í. ¡ oh i :in t hçir I rar i:see nden t ma ien I y an d power.* Here Origen may have been thinking Mt Paul's, test regarding ihosc perishing lulk for whom the gospel is veiled: "In iheirc isc the god ■ ir this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the elm".- of ( hrist, who is the image of í rod— For ii is rlK" í ¡ui¡ who said/l et light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in oui hearts to give iIil1 IilJii of the knowledge of the çJimï of ( nid in the- face ot ;.hi ist11 \ 2 l \u 4:4, 6k IuLt Origen here echoes Irenaeus as well, who argued that one knows God not only by visions .in,I words tujl also i:i actual works.

Later in the treatise, ( i rigen refutes those who claim that the God of the Hebrew prophet.H and palriarchs i> lUsLÍiilL from and inferior to the Supreme God revealed by Christ. Like Iertullian, Origen candidly adtnits apparenl contradictions m Scripture thai arguably refer to iwo different God.n, one visible .l 11 ^ I theolher i n i > : . Ilm while Tertullian was more engaged with contradictions ^ - i 11. i n rhu- account of Moses request for ,i vision ot God's face, Origen expanded his discussion to examine the supposed dissimilarity between the God of the books of Moses and ihe Prophet-h -li:-.I the í-revealed in the New Testament -hor example, Origen juxtaposes the Fourth Gospel's claim that ""no one ever seen CkhJ' 1 futin 1:1 M wilh 1 l- stories of iiud'h appear anees ui Mosesand the others. Origen admits this apparent contradic-lion might support the assertion that the God whom Moses pro< laims

(the Creator) is visible! while the God whom Jesus teaches is invisible, tfut, he points outran utterly invisible God would have been invisible even to the Savior himself, a snag that would make it impossible for Jesus truthfully to say that no one has seen God except the one from Godt as in "he has seen the Father" (John 6:46), or that "whoever has seen me [ ¿i Es o J has seen the Father ' {John !4;9),'

As d result, Origen concludes, the language of seeing is not meant in a literal sense, but rather as a metaphor or an allegory. "We must suppose Moses to have seen God, not by looking at him with eyes oí flesh, but by understanding him with the vision of the heart and the perception of the mind, and in this pan onlyAnd here Origen restates his position thai God cari have 110 body that could be perceived or known but is inqorporeal and utterly outside human sen sate knowledge, ]esus" statement in Matthew's Gospel ("110 one knows the Father except the Son" Matt 11:27) in some sense clarifies the meaning of his statement in John, since the language of1'seeing" is equivalent to and best replaced by the language of''knowing" As he says, it isL one thing to see and be seen, another to perceive and be perceived, or to know and lo be known."" O ri gen's understanding of the power and nature of words as symbols, however, opens the way for a theology of image that will come to apply to things actually seen by the eye.

Origen might have made the same argument with respect to the whole text of John 1:18: "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known" (emphasis mine; Greek — exegesato, trails* "exegeted" or "interpreted"). This argument also allows the words preceding the claim of John 14:9 to explain its actual sense:11 If you know me, you will know (Greek = gnoses-the) my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. ... Have I been with you all this tinte, Philip, and you still do not %now me?" (John 14:7-8, emphasis mine)/1 Moreover, Origen argues that this non sigh ted "knowing?1 also characterizes the way humans encounter the whole Trinity, since the ability to be seen properly belongs only to corporeal bodies, which excludes the Divine Triad, which by its very nature "transcends die limits of visioil," Incorporeal and intellectual nature is only capable of knowing and being known. It is never seen, even bv itself.**

I sing the language of sight asa metaphor for intellectual perception s Origen interprets the of God's appearance to the Hebrew patriarchs allegorically, For example, in his fourth homily on Genesis, he gives the story of Abraham's divine visitation at Mamre a moral and mysücal meaning. He focuses on the differences between the wavs Abraham and Lot receive and treat their guests* the significance of the place name (Mambre, the name Origen uses, means ^vision" in "lour language" according to him), the symbolic rather than superficial meanings that one can draw from the fact that Sarah was standing behind Abra-


bailor that (!od speaks of''descending to the ljiit]liiti<-id" Sl?J.minh' and so fortli- Qrigcn is jpparently uninterested in the actual identity of the three mysterious guests. They obviously cannot he tiod, since all three Persons the Trinity are invisible." Similarly, in 1$! commentary pn the Songol St>n gi-, Ori yen suggests tfi:Lt the tifnegj I tie visit in Abraham I midday) denotes the soul's pursuit of the clear, bright Eight of knowledge (cf. Song 1:7)." Later, be identities the call of the lover to the Jove in llii; cleft* of (he rntk, "let me stfe youi fece" I Song 2:14K With Moses also in the shelter m the rock» where he could see Godbuck-since he was not allowed co see Clod's face* Hie bride pf the Song accorded something Moses wjis not until the transfiguration: -^he ma} contemplate the glory of God with "unveiled facc" ■cf. Kxod 34:33 35; 2 J Si 2 Cor )

Such intei^retajions ernei^ out of Origen's essential understanding of bow humans were created according to i!ilj image of kind and how they ■■vill be redeemed through clit renewal ul that crfig^tiaJ image. Ori p,cn s view, which was similar to that ot his Alexandrian predecessor Clement, was thai the ho man likeness to God was an invisible and bpriri t Ua I likeness, not an external or corporeal one. The divine likeness resides lji the inner person, which was made immortal, incorruptible, and invisible. To think otherwise would be to suppose impiously that *JL>d could look like lls or ha^e .1 human form. Ruih lie tkirifies, humanity was cn--atcd According Hie image ol God, the Savior* who is the "Iht- exact imprint of God's very being" 1 Heb 1:5), of the invisible God'

■ind "the firstborn of all creation" !Col 1:15). AndT this is why lesus can say, "lie who I us seen me I us seen [|Lknpwn"| the Father" (John Smce anyone vho looks at an image of someone sees ihe or initial model, so ftlfO does anyone who sees Christ perceive God,

Such perception is ihe beginning of human spiriuiiil progress, which is the renewal of ihai inner, invisible imagegivtn 10 men jod women at iheir creation. Origen believes ihat |he thing one liuJiulis what urte becomes. If one contemplates (he image of God, one will gradually recover tlut likeness,. ll one tuens instead toward the Pevil, one ^vi)| become like the Devtl. Sin erases one's original image and begins to implant another, Understanding the dynamic power of vision is critical since human salvatiotf depends upon It. In his debute with die pagun Cetsus,Ori gen validates the theory of participation, so long a* the con tem plat ion ot sensible things leads to the contemplation of the intelligi hk world, However hi* pninis our, too often those who b.ive been enabled to form the materia lor sensible representations are drawn hack 1 o t hem and sli p back into the fortli^h ljt u n of * >ffer i ng veneration to c ™ -ated things, exchanging the sublime for rite base and making the truth of God into a lie.""

In a different homily on Genesis, Ongeii again lakes up llii* theme, citing the parable n| ihe woman ¡inti the coin ill ike 15i9- iO) and inter-

preiing ii .i^ .lu allegory of iJn- soul s loít image. Iii order to find that Inst coin í i IiL- image), the woman bad 1:0 li^hi a lamp and .sweep and dean her house (the soul}, removing the filth and rubbish that had been built l. p nil1: a long period of sloppy housekeeping. long as the inner person is covered wiih dirt or dust, the image is obscured an echo of E'.iul's promise in 1 Cor I 5:49: "Just .l-. we Iljvl' borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven"1"1 Here, Origens disparagement nt the materiality of human flesh in favor of recovering .l spiritual and incorporeal original verges on agreeing with ihr. Gnosti< repudiation of created matter V isibihty is a signal of the fallen state (ihe soul ' bound to the earthly body .l> .1 punishment}, and the progressive reversal of lluil condition makes humans more and more perfectly, invisibly spiritual Yet Origen refuses to specify ih,li in the end "bodily nainre" will perish, since he asserts "we believe that lo exist without material substance and apart from am association with .l bodily element is a thing that belongs only to the iljílli ü of ííod. I lut is of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," I lie perfected or spiritual nature ■u'il^ s-iill be bodily in some sense i.iuL no lunger visible tu [tie degree or in the same way that its lower form was,

Later in this same homily, Origen on again employs .01 analogy from i s Li a I art L*. ■ explain this progressive spiritual renewal of the origi nal image. En this case, however, rather than describing the I og**s as a smaller version of .in incomprehensibly enormous statue, Origen speaks of the ] ogos ,is the original of a painting as well ,is the jrl^t who paints n, and he c-nmpares the human soul to Lhf copy or reproduction.

because iln' painter is God, the image is indelible—it can be obscured bul cannot be destroyed, Humans paint over th.Li image with an earthly one made up of colors derived from lust, covetousness, rage, pridehand other sins, but once humans turn again toward their original, God -van remove those muddy ..11 ni reddish color-; like an restorer, uncovering and freshening Nie Ilimitions originals. 4

Origen's analogy does not mean to downplay lue human participa tum in this work of restoration, since the sinner both draws the image o I the HLearth I/"person over the original and must be engaged in cleansing the soul, guided by a vi-; i on o I the True Image. In thi1-. respect. Origen sounds rather likt- Fheopbilush who accorded Llie vision only to those whose righteousness allowed them to attain immortality. Origen's uie,L 01 spiritual renewal n grounded in moral conversion, aided by intellet -tual discipline and conforming l*.■ Scripture. However, Origen's process is more gradual. Those being converted 01 restored must always keep their (inner) eyeon the model. \nd the transformation from the muddy darkness of sin ¿\ií\ confusion to the clear radiance of divine likenets comes m stages, at least Lip to the point when the soul is finally able to withstand the full brightness or Iii1.i in1 glory. However, in contrast to Theophilus, Origcnh like Irenaeus, would s.iv that seeing ls itself trans-

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