Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Ancients: Origen

For a long time I've been trying to prove God. I figure that if it is explained rightly, and humbly, Christianity will win. Sounds naive I guess. I suppose it is. I still believe it to some degree. The Scripture says the Spirit will guide into all truth and that he who has ears to hear should hear. But I'm not the Spirit, and I don't know much about ears. So I'm letting go.

In other words, I am remembering again that this is a faith.

A guy from the second century named Origen has been helping me come to grips with this.

Origen was a big fan of dialogue. He would meet philosophers in open conversation and listen to their view and present his own. In fact, in his books which argued against others he would "take great care to present the views of his opponent to his readers." This is back in the 2nd century. We tend to think of church history as replete with inquisitions, schisms, and heresy hunters. I suppose it is. But there are bright spots too.

As an old friend of mine was apt to point out to me a few years ago, Origen didn't get it ALL right, but here is some stuff that has really been interesting to me (from Robert Wilken's The Spirit of Early Christian Thought):

"Celsus had urged that the way to God was through the ascent of the mind.... In response Origen makes the extraordinary statement that the knowledge of God begins not with the ascent of the mind, but with God's descent to human beings in a historical person....

Some critics, notably Galen, had tried to brand the Christians as fideists because their teachings seemed to be based solely on faith....

'It is far better,' [acknowledged] Origen, 'to accept teachings with reason and wisdom than with mere faith.'... Even the Bible was a book to be argued from, not simply an authority to brandish when arguments failed....

[But] in the debate between Christian thinkers and their critics the central issue was where in the search for God reason is to begin....


For the Greeks, God was the conclusion of an argument, the end of a search for an ultimate explanation, an inference from the structure of the universe to a first cause. For Christian thinkers, God was the starting point, and Christ the icon that displays the face of God....

In the Bible God is the actor and revelation is the drama in which God acts and man responds. Origen called the knowledge of God 'reciprocal,' by which he meant that without love, there can be no knowledge of God... 'Our will does not suffice to give us a wholly pure heart. We need God to create such a heart.'"

If God can be proved, I'd say it is through love first, and reason second.

Even then, Christian reason can only point toward something revealed. And so it comes down to whether we trust this as revelation or as one more figment of someone's imagination.

That's what Origen thought happened to the philosophers. They came up with a pantheon and were left with self-worship, or at the very best, the worship of projections of their own minds; worship of an unknown God. Origen found it empty, and came to believe with Paul that the unknown had been made known in Christ. If not, there was nothing knowable.

But, reasonable as it was to him, it all came back to faith.

And that's what I find refreshing about Origen. He admitted it. I think modern Christians have put some good arguments for God out there and should continue to hold the faith up to inspection in every field and let it stand up for itself. But sometimes we claim too much. We act like we've proven it. In defending the faith with rationality we can ironically lose it altogether.

It is hard to let go of that rational certainty, but I don't trust reason like I used to. It is time to come back to faith. Faith and reason are not in antithesis; are not polarly opposed. But faith, hope and love come before reason every time.

1 comment:

Tony Tanti said...

No doubt, and all too often the reason comes without enough love.