Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Numbers 19 and Origen's De Principiis: Introduction through 1

Numbers 19 - This reading has to do with the preparation of “lustral water” which is necessary under the law for purifying or cleansing those who have had some kind of contact with death.  The water is made first of all by sacrificing an unblemished red heifer as a sin [hattat] offering, outside the camp, burning its remains with some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn, all suggestive of blood as is the color of the heifer.

The ashes from this burning are mixed with spring water as needed.  No man who contacts a dead body or human bone or grave can be made clean again without being sprinkled with this water. Early church fathers saw in the sacrifice “outside the camp” a “type” of Christ’s death outside the walls of Jerusalem; and the blood and ashes in the lustral water are a “type” of the waters of baptism; Hebrews 9:13 and 14—“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defined so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”

Origen (185-254 AD) - Scholar, theologian and Church Father, he was born in Alexandria into a Christian family. He was a prolific writer and it is interesting to read in detail the story not only of his life but of the controversies that simmered over his writings for centuries. He is not called a Saint in the Catholic or Orthodox Churches because of the lack of clarity over some of what he wrote and whether or not he actually propounded some of the ideas that later came into disrepute. He was trained in Hellenistic philosophy and studied under Ammonius Saccus, the same teacher who instructed Plotinus, the originator of what we now call Neo-Platonism.

Origen clearly was strongly influenced by Neo-Platonism. He became what people then called Allegorist; he took an approach to the Old Testament that was very much in vogue in the early days of Christianity – an approach that saw in it – and in the world – a prefiguration of what they so as fulfilled in Christ. The thinking of Christians like Origen was influenced in many ways by the Neo-Platonist thinkers. In opposition to Origen’s ideas were a group called in the Catholic Encyclopedia the Anthropomorphists. Interesting. The Treatise “De Principiis” or First Principles is a presentation of the Christian faith he saw as formed by the apostles and handed down. It was written around 230 AD.

De Principiis
1 – “All who believe and are assured that Grace and truth were obtained through Jesus Christ, and who know Christ to be the truth, agreeably to His own declaration, ‘I am the truth,’ derive the knowledge which incites men to a good and happy life from no other source than from the very words and teaching of Christ.”

And when we refer to the “words of Christ” we do not just mean the words he spoke when He was a man, “for before that time, Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets. For without the Word of God, how could they have been able to prophesy of Christ?”

Origen makes reference to the Epistle to the Hebrews for apostolic authority on Moses’ inspiration by Christ, and he ascribes the Epistle to Paul. The note indicates that Origen ascribes Hebrews to Paul since “the thoughts are the apostles; but the diction and phraseology belong to someone who has recorded what the apostle said.”

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