Reading: Unit 7 Lecture Transcripts

Unit 7 Lecture 1

In an article introducing us to the scholar and theologian Origen, Mark Galli of Christianity today says this.

"We who by our prayers destroy all demons which stir up wars, violate oaths, and disturb the peace are of more help to the emperors than those who seem to be doing the fighting."

This third century "religious fanatic" gave up his job, slept on the floor, ate no meat, drank no wine, fasted twice a week, owned no shoes, and reportedly castrated himself for the faith. He was also the most prolific scholar of his age (with hundreds of works to his credit), a first-rate Christian philosopher, and a profound student of the Bible.

Child prodigy Origen Adamantius ("man of steel") was born near Alexandria about A.D. 185. The oldest of seven children in a Christian home, he grew up learning the Bible and the meaning of commitment. In 202 when his father, Leonidas, was beheaded for his Christian beliefs, Origen wanted to die as a martyr, too. But his mother prevented him from even leaving the house—by hiding his clothes.

To support his family, the 18-year-old Origen opened a grammar school, copied texts, and instructed catechumens (those seeking to become members of the church). He himself studied under the pagan philosopher Ammonius Saccas in order to better defend his faith against pagan arguments. When a rich convert supplied him with secretaries, he began to write.

One of his most powerful works was his book on prayer. I want to read parts of it and make some comments as we go along.

Origen, in attempting to answer those who have said that if God is the One who has a plan for the universe and is all powerful, then what good are our prayers? Writes this

Again I believe the words of the prayer of the saints to be full of power above all when praying “with the spirit,” they pray “also with the understanding,” which is like a light rising from the prayerful mind and proceeding from his lips to gradually weaken by the power of God the mental venom injected by the adverse powers into the intellect of such as neglect prayer and fail to keep that saying of Paul’s in accordance with the exhortations of Jesus, “Pray without ceasing.” For it is as if a dart from the soul of the one who prays, sped by knowledge and reason or by faith, proceeds from the saint and wounds to their destruction and dissolution the spirits adverse to God and desirous of casting round us the bonds of sin.

Origen is telling us that in his view of prayer, it is the power of prayer that it is like a spear to destroy the evil spirits, the demons, who are intent on making us think that our sin has bound us to such an extent that God could not possibly care for us or do anything about our situation. So he is saying that our prayers are how we engage in the spiritual warfare that is necessary for us to be able to stand in the day of trial.

He continues

Now, since the performance of actions enjoined by virtue or by the commandments is also a constituent part of prayer, he prays without ceasing who combines prayer with right actions, and becoming actions with prayer. For the saying “pray without ceasing” can only be accepted by us as a possibility if we may speak of the whole life of a saint as one great continuous prayer.

I myself have had people ask me over and over again, how can Paul tell us to pray without ceasing – does he really think we do not have to eat, or work, or sleep? Origen points us to a proper understanding of that concept of the Apostle Paul when he says, When you pray and you seek to live by the virtue which God calls us to live, and when you pray and you obey the commandments of God, you are praying without ceasing. The whole life of a follower of Jesus is to be a life of prayer. So that our actions and our words, our thoughts and our attitudes, our inclinations and our energies are all to be focused on living as God desires of us. That, he says, is prayer without ceasing. That, to me is a wonderful way to see our lives as a force for God and his kingdom in our world.

Origen goes on,

If Jesus prays and does not pray in vain, if He obtains His requests through prayer and it may be would not have received them without prayer, who of us is to neglect prayer? Mark tells us that “in the morning long before daybreak he arose and went out and departed to a lonely place and there prayed.” Luke says: “And it came to pass, as He was at prayer in a certain place, that one of His disciples said to Him when He ceased, . . . and elsewhere: And He passed the night in prayer to God.” John records a prayer of Him in the words:

This may be one of the most significant of reasons as to why we should pray. Jesus did. In fact, as we read the Gospels, one of the most obvious things of the life of Jesus is that he and his father communicated. Jesus prayed and so should we. If we want to be like Jesus, we do well, as the disciples are reported to have done, ask Jesus to teach us to pray.

We head back to Mark Galli’s article about Origen

This first Bible scholar analyzed the Scriptures on three levels: the literal, the moral, and the allegorical. As he put it, "For just as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so in the same way does the Scripture." Origen, in fact, preferred the allegorical not only because it allowed for more spiritual interpretations, but many passages he found impossible to read literally: "Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day … existed without the sun and moon and stars?" In any event, Origen's method of interpretation became the standard in the Middle Ages. Origen's main work, On First Principles, was the first systematic exposition of Christian theology ever written. In it he created a Christian philosophy, synthesizing Greek technique and biblical assumptions. Add to these massive works his homilies and commentaries, and it's clear why he was reputed to have kept seven secretaries busy and caused Jerome (c.354–420) to say in frustrated admiration, "Has anyone read everything that Origen wrote?"

Origen has always been controversial. His reported self-mutilation, in response to Matthew 19:12 ("… there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven….") was condemned as a drastic misinterpretation of the text. In Palestine he preached without being ordained and was so condemned by his bishop, Demetrius. When on a second trip, he was ordained by the same bishops who had invited him to speak the first time, Demetrius sent him into exile.

While some of his writings are thought to have been hypothetical, Origen did teach that all spirits were created equal, existed before birth, and then fell from grace. Furthermore, "those rational beings who sinned and on account fell from the state in which they were, in proportion to their particular sins, were enslaved in bodies as punishment"—some demons, some men, and some angels. He also believed that all spirits, even Satan, could be saved. "The power of choosing between good and evil is within the reach of all," he wrote.

Three centuries after his death, the Council of Constantinople (553) pronounced him a heretic: "Whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal … let him be anathema."

Some contend that Origen was merely trying to frame the faith in the ideas of his day; still his works were suppressed following his condemnation, so modern judgment is impossible

Despite such condemnation, Origen said, "I want to be a man of the church … to be called … of Christ." His book Against Celsus, in fact, is one of the finest defenses of Christianity produced in the early church. Answering the charge that Christians, by refusing military service, fail the test of good citizenship, he wrote, "We who by our prayers destroy all demons which stir up wars, violate oaths, and disturb the peace are of more help to the emperors than those who seem to be doing the fighting."

So Origen is one the most influential teachers to address the church in the early part of the third century. We give thanks for people like him who fearlessly challenged the rulers of his day in the name of Jesus.

Unit 7 Lecture 2

A famous sermon that comes down to us from Clement of Alexandria is one which addresses the text in the gospel of Mark where Jesus says to the rich young man that he is to go sell all he has and give to the poor and then come follow Jesus. It is far too long for me to repeat it here—which also tells us something about sermons in the late 100’s. So I will be giving you only a few excerpts of this sermon which will help us to learn something of the respect that was already present for what we call the New Testament gospels and how Clement understood his responsibility as the interpreter for his congregation.

Following an introduction to the topic of the Christian and wealth, Clement wants to have his hearers realize that this is not going to be an easy subject to address. One cannot simply take a few words and make them into a standard of conduct for all generations. We have to carefully examine the word of God to come to a deeper and more complete understanding of what the Scriptures say in their totality. He says,

May the Savior then grant to us that, having begun the subject from this point, we may contribute to the brethren what is true, and suitable, and saving, first touching the hope itself, and, second, touching the access to the hope. He indeed grants to those who beg, and teaches those who ask, and dispels ignorance and chases away despair, by introducing again the same words about the rich, which become their own interpreters and infallible expounders. For there is nothing like listening again to the very same statements, which till now in the Gospels were distressing you, hearing them as you did without examination, and erroneously through foolishness: 

And going forth into the way, one approached and kneeled, saying, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit everlasting life? And Jesus says, Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.  You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor your father and your mother. And he answering says to Him, All these have I observed. And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him, and said, One thing you lack. If you would be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he was rich, having great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and said to His disciples, How hard it is for those that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were overwhelmed at His words. But Jesus answered again, and said unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than a rich man into the kingdom of God And they were astonished out of measure, and said, Who then can be saved? And He, looking upon them, said, What is impossible with men is possible with God. For with God all things are possible. Peter began to say to Him, Look, we have left all and followed You. And Jesus answered and said, Truly I say to you, Whosoever shall leave what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for My sake and the Gospel’s, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brethren, with persecutions; and in the world to come is life everlasting. But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.

So in this section Clement is quoting from one of the gospels in order to gain an understanding of what God’s will is for those who would be followers of Jesus. He is using this in the year 180 already without any sort of hint that this is anything other than Scripture as far as he is concerned. He continues:

These things are written in the Gospel according to Mark; and in all the rest correspondingly; although perchance the expressions vary slightly in each, yet all show identical agreement in meaning.

But well knowing is own with divine and mystic wisdom, we must not listen to His utterances as though they are only fleshly; but with due investigation and intelligence must search out and learn the meaning hidden in them. For even those things which seem to have been simplified to the disciples by the Lord Himself are found to require not less, but even more, attention than what is expressed in a puzzling manner, because there is a surpassing superabundance of wisdom in them. And whereas the things which are thought to have been explained by Him to those within the church— those called by Him the children of the kingdom— require still more consideration than the things which seemed to have been expressed simply, and respecting which therefore no questions were asked by those who heard them.  But these are the ones pertaining to the whole design of salvation, and are to be contemplated with admirable and super celestial depth of mind. Therefore, we must not receive any of it superficially with our ears, but with application of the mind to the very spirit of the Savior, and the unuttered meaning of the declaration.

For our Lord and Savior was asked pleasantly a question most appropriate for Him—the one who is Life a question respecting life, the Savior was asked about salvation, the Teacher was asked about the chief doctrines taught, the Truth regarding the true immortality, the Word regarding the word of the Father, the Perfect regarding the perfect rest, the Immortal regarding the sure immortality He was asked respecting those things on account of which He descended, which He instils, which He teaches, which He offers, in order to show the essence of the Gospel , that it is the gift of eternal life. For He foresaw as God, both what He would be asked, and what each one would answer Him. For who should do this more than the Prophet of prophets, and the Lord of every prophetic spirit? And having been called good, and taking the starting note from this first expression, He commences His teaching with this, turning the pupil to God, the good, and first and only dispenser of eternal life, which the Son, who received it of Him, gives to us.

In the next few paragraphs Clement examines the answer Jesus first gave regarding several of the commandments and how the young man replied that he had kept them all. But the young man did not have an assurance that he had eternal life. So he had come to Jesus to ask what more he still needed. Clement continues:

Jesus, accordingly, does not charge him with not having fulfilled all things out of the law, but loves him, and fondly welcomes his obedience in what he had learned; but Jesus says that he is not perfect as respects eternal life, inasmuch as he had not fulfilled what is perfect, and that he is a doer indeed of the law, but he has been idle at the things which are true life. Those things, indeed, are good. Who denies it? For the commandment is holy, Romans 7:12 as far as a sort of training with fear and preparatory discipline goes, leading as it did to the culmination of legislation and to grace. Galatians 3:24 But Christ is the fulfilment of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes perform the Father's will.

If you will be perfect, as it says in Matthew’s gospel. Consequently he was not yet perfect. For nothing is more perfect than what is perfect. And in a divine manner the expression “if you will” showed the self-determination of the soul holding converse with Him. For choice depended on the man being free; but the gift on God as the Lord. And He gives to those who are willing and are exceedingly earnest, and ask, that so their salvation may become their own. For God compels not (for compulsion is repugnant to God), but supplies to those who seek, and grants to those who ask, and opens to those who knock.

Clement now moves to the crux of the matter as he sees it. And this point has been debated over the centuries, but always we come back to the fact that Clement had his finger on what is being taught in this story. He says:

If you will, then, and are not deceiving yourself, if you really make up your mind to acquire what you lack. One thing is lacking you—the one thing which abides, the good which is now above the law, which the law cannot give, which the law does not contain, the good which is the prerogative of those who live eternally. He quite surprisingly to us who hear it today had fulfilled all the demands of the law from his youth, and he had gloried in what was magnificent, That young man was not able to complete the whole with this one thing which was specially required by the Savior, so as to receive the eternal life which he desired. So the young man departed displeased, vexed at the commandment of the one who is life, the command which he has specifically asked. For he did not truly wish life, as he averred, but aimed at the mere reputation of the good choice. And he was capable of busying himself about many things; but the one thing, the work of life, he was powerless, and disinclined, and unable to accomplish. So also Jesus instructed him to leave his busy life, and cleave to Jesus himself and depend on the grace of Him who offered everlasting life.

So Clement is teaching his congregation that the issue is do we want to pursue eternal life by the outward keeping of the law or do we want to pursue it by cleaving to Jesus who gives the gift which cannot be earned by some sort of doing. He takes that apart for a few paragraphs. He is wondering out loud if those who even before the time of Jesus gave up their wealth were then welcome to eternal life.  Then he goes on like this:

Why then command as new, as divine, as alone life-giving, what did not save those of former days? And what peculiar thing is it that the new creature the Son of God intimates and teaches? It is not the outward act which others have done, but something else indicated by it, greater, more godlike, more perfect, the stripping off of the cravings from the soul itself and from one’s character, and the cutting up by the roots and casting out of what is alien to the mind. For this is the lesson peculiar to the believer, and the instruction worthy of the Savior. For those who formerly despised external things relinquished and squandered their property, but the passions of the soul, I believe, they intensified. For they indulged in arrogance, pretension, and pride in themselves, and they lived in contempt of the rest of mankind, as if teach one personally had done something superhuman. How could it be that the Savior would have ordered those destined to live forever an action which was injurious and hurtful with reference to the life which He promised? For although Jesus did command this to the young man, one, after ridding himself of the burden of wealth, may none the less have still the lust and desire for money innate and living; and may have abandoned the use of it, but being at once destitute of and desiring what he spent, may doubly grieve both on account of the absence of his goods, and the presence of regret. For it is impossible and inconceivable that those in want of the necessaries of life should not be harassed in mind, and hindered from better things in the endeavor to provide them somehow, and from some source.

Clement goes on for many pages more in this sermon. It gives us an idea of how the gospels were considered Scripture already in his day. While he does not use the term New Testament, one can readily see that Clement held the gospels and the letters of Paul to which he refers in honor as the word of God for the faithful person.


Unit 7 Lecture 3

Origen was a teacher in Alexandria Egypt at the beginning of the third century or the 200’s. He was the next famous teacher in Alexandria after Clement of Alexandria. Another great teacher was at work in what we call France today. In his day it was known as the province of Gaul in the Roman Empire. Irenaeus whose name means the peaceful one, was a great scholar and teacher of the church in the late 100’s who seems to have died sometime around the year 200. What Irenaeus is known for is the way he developed several of the Christian doctrines that have come down to us. His insights into how to state these things well has given the church much to learn over the centuries. One of his great books is called


In this book, Irenaeus addresses a man who wants to know how to walk in godliness. So Irenaeus takes it upon himself to help the man to know what the apostles taught those who in turn had taught him, We begin to see the way the God was providing for the handing on of the faith from one spiritual generation to the next. It begins this way:

Knowing, my beloved Marcianus, your desire to walk in godliness, which alone leads man to life eternal, I rejoice with you and make my prayer that you may preserve your faith entire and so be pleasing to God who made you. Would that it were possible for us to be always together, to help each other and to lighten the labor of our earthly life by continual discourse together on the things that profit. But, since at this present time we are parted from one another in the body, yet according to our power we will not fail to speak with you a little by writing, and to show forth in brief the preaching of the truth for the confirmation of your faith. We send you as it were a manual of essentials, that by little you may attain to much, learning in short space all the members of the body of the truth, and receiving in brief the demonstration of the things of God.

You notice that he is going to write a brief account of the preaching of the truth. In this letter or book, Irenaeus is not trying to be exhaustive in his teaching. Instead he is attempting to be short, to the point, and extensive in what he is instructing Marcianus.

This way leads to the kingdom of heaven, uniting man to God: but those ways bring down to death, separating man from God. Wherefore it is needful for you and for all who care for their own salvation to make your course unswerving, firm and sure by means of faith, that you falter not, nor be retarded and detained in material desires, nor turn aside and wander from the right.

Our author is interested in helping Marcianus to have a compendium of teaching so that he in turn can hand it on to still others.

In the next excerpt we find Irenaeus using a term which has come to have a great deal of meaning – he tells Marcianus that we all must hold to a rule of faith. In our own day we would call this the creed of the church. The rule of faith was a short way of explaining the heart of the truth of the Christian faith.

Now, … we must needs hold the rule of the faith without deviation, and do the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him as Lord and loving Him as Father. Now coming to a deeper understanding of the things of god are produced by faith: for Isaiah says: If ye believe not, neither shall ye understand. And faith is produced by the truth;…..

 Now faith occasions this for us; even as the Elders, the disciples of the Apostles, have handed down to us. First of all it bids us bear in mind that we have received baptism for the remission of sins, in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was incarnate and died and rose again, and in the Holy Spirit of God. And that this baptism is the seal of eternal life, and is the new birth unto God, that we should no longer be the sons of mortal men, but of the eternal and perpetual God; … for God is not ruler and Lord over the things of another, but over His own; and all things are God’s; and therefore God is Almighty, and all things are of God.

In the next paragraph, he goes on to speak of the creation of the world. He says,

For it is necessary that, things that are made should have the beginning of their making from some great cause; and the beginning of all things is God. For He Himself was not made by anyone else, and by Him all things were made. And therefore it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things, and made what was not that it should be, and who, containing all things, alone is uncontained. Now among all things is this world of ours, and in the world is man: so then this world also was formed by God.

Did you notice that he said, First of all. So this is the beginning spot of the Christian teaching – God is the creator of all that is. At one time, there was nothing, and now there is all that exists. God is the one who made it all. For Irenaeus, as he lays out the rule of faith, that is where one begins.

Thus then there is shown forth One God, the Father, not made, invisible, creator of all things; above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And, since God is rational,  therefore by (the) Word He created the things that were made; and God is Spirit, and by (the) Spirit He adorned all things: as also the prophet says: By the word of the Lord were the heavens established, and by his spirit all their power. Since then the Word establishes, that is to say, gives body and grants the reality of being, and the Spirit gives order and form to the diversity of the powers; rightly and fittingly is the Word called the Son, and the Spirit the Wisdom of God. Well also does Paul His apostle say: One God, the Father, who is over all and through all and in us all. For over all is the Father; and through all is the Son, for through Him all things were made by the Father; and in us all is the Spirit, who cries Abba Father, and fashions man into the likeness of God. Now the Spirit shows forth the Word, and therefore the prophets announced the Son of God; and the Word utters the Spirit, and therefore is Himself the announcer of the prophets, and leads and draws man to the Father.

Irenaeus makes sure that Marcianus knows that the order of the rule of faith or creed is important. He wants us to understand that the baptismal formula of being baptized into the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit is an important thing. We have to properly order our teaching so that our students as well, will understand that it is significant to keep the baptism formula intact.

This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up  all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.

And for this reason the baptism of our regeneration proceeds through these three points: God the Father bestowing on us regeneration through His Son by the Holy Spirit. For as many as carry (in them) the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son; and the Son brings them to the Father; and the Father causes them to possess incorruption. Without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word of God, nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit; and, according to the good pleasure of the Father, the Son ministers and dispenses the Spirit to whomsoever the Father wills and as He wills.

That is all we will be seeing and hearing from Irenaeus today. I would encourage you to seek out his works and to read his teaching. He is one of the great fathers of the church.


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