language, and so either reject the true doctrines absolutely, on the grounds that we learn from the scriptures nothing worthy of God, or else, by never moving away from the letter, fail to learn anything of the more divine element.47
Origen asserts that occasionally the Spirit wove fiction into the historical narratives, not just of the pre-Christian writings, but even of the gospels, so that sequences should follow the mystical events to which they point rather than earthly factuality. His illustrations begin48 with the narrative of creation, continue with the story ofJesus' temptation by the devil, and focus particularly on the Mosaic Law, some gospel teachings, and the Exodus. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Origen believed that most of the Bible had a perfectly satisfactory meaning to edify the simple-minded according to the letter.49 He takes a pride in the fact that, whereas philosophy could only make the elite good, Christianity was capable of bettering every human being.
Origen's approach to the scriptures is indebted to contemporary philosophical approaches to texts, as well as to the philological traditions already mentioned. Plato had attacked the poets for the immorality of their tales, and in his ideal state wanted to outlaw their educational use (Res. 10. 595AQ. But tradition prevailed, and people like Plutarch had developed ways of justifying the 'moral' use of literature in education.50 The stories could be exemplary, or they could be warnings. Teachers should always attempt to draw out the 'moral' of the story. By Origen's time, the influence of Stoic philosophy meant that philosophical teachers would, generally speaking, regard literature as allegorical, and that what Homer was really talking about were moral or philosophical truths.51 The exegete should tease out these hidden meanings as a way of teaching philosophy. Clement of Alexandria was entirely at one with Plutarch in thinking that all religious truth comes in symbols and riddles -for the divine is beyond human language and comprehension.52 The interesting thing about Origen is the degree to which he proves the point from the scriptures themselves. Later he would be condemned, at least in part, for his cavalier treatment of scripture - his propensity, through the means of allegory, to spiritualise away key elements of the over-arching Christian story, like the creation and paradise, the resurrection of the body and the kingdom of God.53
48 The illustrations form the bulk of Princ. 4.3.
50 Plut. Lib. ed. (Moralia ia-i4c) and Adol. poet. aud. (Moralia i4d-37b).
51 Lamberton, Homer the theologian.
52 Plut. Superst. (Moralia i64e-i7if); De Is. et Os. (Moralia 35ic-384c) and Def. orac. (Moralia 409e-438d). Cf. Clem. Al. Str. 5.4f.
53 Young, 'Fourth century reaction against allegory'.
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