Origen’s Commentary on John 2.4

Bk 2.4

He was in the beginning with God. By his three foregoing propositions the Evangelist has made us acquainted with three orders, and he now sums up the three in one, saying, This (Logos) was in the beginning with God. In the first premiss we learned where the Logos was: He was in the beginning; then we learned with whom He was, with God; and then who He was, that He was God. He now points out by this word He, the Word who is God, and gathers up into a fourth proposition the three which went before, In the beginning was the Word, The Word was with God, and The Word was God. Now he says, He, this (Word) was in the beginning with God. The term beginning may be taken of the beginning of the world, so that we may learn from what is said that the Word was older than the things which were made from the beginning. For if in the beginning God created heaven and earth, but He was in the beginning, then the Logos is manifestly older than those things which were made at the beginning, older not only than the firmament and the dry land, but than the heavens and earth. Now some one might ask, and not unreasonably, why it is not said, In the beginning was the Word of God, and the Word of God was with God, and the Word of God was God. But he who asked such a question could be shown to be taking for granted that there are a plurality of logoi, differing perhaps from each other in kind, one being the word of God, another perhaps the word of angels, a third of men, and so on with the other logoi. Now, if this were so with the Logos, the case would be the same with wisdom and with righteousness. But it would be absurd that there should be a number of things equally to be called The Word; and the same would apply to wisdom and to righteousness. We shall be driven to confess that we ought not to look for a plurality of logoi, or of wisdom, or of righteousness, if we look at the case of truth. Any one will confess that there is only one truth; it could never be said in this case that there is one truth of God, and another of the angels, and another of man—it lies in the nature of things that the truth about anything is one. Now, if truth be one, it is clear that the preparation of it and its demonstration, which is wisdom, must in reason be conceived as one, since what is regarded as wisdom cannot justly claim that title where truth, which is one, is absent from its grasp. But if truth is one and wisdom one, then Reason (Logos) also, which announces truth and makes truth simple and manifest to those who are fitted to receive it, will be one. This we say, by no means denying that truth and wisdom and reason are of God, but we wish to indicate the purpose of the omission in this passage of the words of God, and of the form of the statement, In the beginning the Logos was with God. The same John in the Apocalypse gives Him His name with the addition of God, where he says: Revelation 19:11-16 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and He that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness does He judge and make war. And His eyes are as a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written which no one knows but He Himself. And He is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood, and His name is called Word of God. And His armies in heaven followed Him on white horses, clothed in pure fine linen. And out of His mouth proceeds a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations, and He shall rule them with a rod of iron, and He treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His garment and on His thigh a name written: King of kings, and Lord of lords. In this passage Logos is necessarily spoken of absolutely without the article, and also with the addition Logos of God; had the first not been the case (i.e., had the article been given) we might have been led to take up the meaning wrongly, and so to depart from the truth about the Logos. For if it had been called simply Logos, and had not been said to be the Logos of God, then we would not be clearly informed that the Logos is the Logos of God. And, again, had it been called Logos of God but not said to be Logos absolutely, then we might imagine many logoi, according to the constitution of each of the rational beings which exist; then we might assume a number of logoi properly so called. Again, in his description in the Apocalypse of the Logos of God, the Apostle and Evangelist (and the Apocalypse entitles him to be styled a prophet, too) says he saw the Word of God in the opened heaven, and that He was riding on a white horse. Now we must consider what he means to convey when he speaks of heaven being opened and of the white horse, and of the Word of God riding on the white horse, and also what is meant by saying that the Word of God is Faithful and True, and that in righteousness He judges and makes war. All this will greatly advance our study on the subject of the Word of God. Now I conceive heaven to have been shut against the ungodly, and those who bear the image of the earthly, and to have been opened to the righteous and those adorned with the image of the heavenly. For to the former, being below and still dwelling in the flesh, the better things are closed, since they cannot understand them and have neither power nor will to see their beauty, looking down as they do and not striving to look up. But to the excellent, or those who have their commonwealth in heaven, Philippians 3:20 he opens, with the key of David, the things in heavenly places and discloses them to their view, and makes all clear to them by riding on his horse. These words also have their meaning; the horse is white because it is the nature of higher knowledge (γνῶσις) to be clear and white and full of light. And on the white horse sits He who is called Faithful, seated more firmly, and so to speak more royally, on words which cannot be set aside, words which run sharply and more swiftly than any horse, and overhear in their rushing course every so-called word that simulates the Word, and every so-called truth that simulates the Truth. He who sits on the white horse is called Faithful, not because of the faith He cherishes, but of that which He inspires, because He is worthy of faith. Now the Lord Jehovah, according to Moses, Deuteronomy 32:4 is Faithful and True. He is true also in respect of His relation to shadow, type, and image; for such is the Word who is in the opened heaven, for He is not on earth as He is in heaven; on earth He is made flesh and speaks through shadow, type, and image. The multitude, therefore, of those who are reputed to believe are disciples of the shadow of the Word, not of the true Word of God which is in the opened heaven. Hence Jeremiah says, Lamentations 4:20 The Spirit of our face is Christ the Lord, of whom we said, In His shadow shall we live among the nations. Thus the Word of God who is called Faithful is also called True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war; since He has received from God the faculty of judging in very righteousness and very judgment, and of apportioning its due to every existing creature. For none of those who have some portion of righteousness and of the faculty of judgment can receive on his soul such copies and impressions of righteousness and judgment as to come short in no point of absolute righteousness and absolute justice, just as no painter of a picture can communicate to the representation all the qualities of the original. This, I conceive, is the reason why David says, Before You shall no living being be justified. He does not say, no man, or no angel, but no living being, since even if any being partakes of life and has altogether put off mortality, not even then can it be justified in comparison of You, who art, as it were, Life itself. Nor is it possible that one who partakes of life and is therefore called living, should become life itself, or that one who partakes of righteousness and, therefore, is called righteous should become equal to righteousness itself. Now it is the function of the Word of God, not only to judge in righteousness, but also to make war in righteousness, that by making war on His enemies by reason and righteousness, so that what is irrational and wicked is destroyed, He may dwell in the soul of him who, for his salvation, so to speak, has become captive to Christ, and may justify that soul and cast out from her all adversaries. We shall, however, obtain a better view of this war which the Word carries on if we remember that He is an ambassador for the truth, while there is another who pretends to be the Word and is not, and one who calls herself the truth and is not, but a lie. Then the Word, arming Himself against the lie, slays it with the breath of His mouth and brings it to naught by the manifestation of His coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 And consider whether these words of the Apostle to the Thessalonians may be understood in an intellectual sense. For what is that which is destroyed by the breath of the mouth of Christ, Christ being the Word and Truth and Wisdom, but the lie? And what is that which is brought to naught by the manifestation of Christ’s coming, Christ being conceived as wisdom and reason, what but that which announces itself as wisdom, when in reality it is one of those things with which God deals as the Apostle describes, 1 Corinthians 3:19 He takes the wise, those who are not wise with the true wisdom, in their own craftiness? To what he says of the rider on the white horse, John adds the wonderful statement: His eyes are like a flame of fire. For as the flame of fire is bright and illuminating, but at the same time fiery and destructive of material things, so, if I may so say, are the eyes of the Logos with which He sees, and every one who has part in Him; they have not only the inherent quality of laying hold of the things of the mind, but also that of consuming and putting away those conceptions which are more material and gross, since whatever is in any way false flees from the directness and lightness of truth. It is in a very natural order that after speaking of Him who judges in righteousness and makes war in accordance with His righteous judgments, and then after His warring of His giving light, the writer goes on to say, On His head are many diadems. For had the lie been one, and of one form only, against which the True and Faithful Word contended, and for conquering which, He was crowned, then one crown alone would naturally have been given Him for the victory. As it is, however, as the lies are many which profess the truth and for warring against which the Word is crowned, the diadems are many which surround the head of the conqueror of them all. As He has overcome every revolting power many diadems mark His victory. Then after the diadems He is said to have a name written which no one knows but He Himself. For there are some things which are known to the Word alone; for the beings which come into existence after Him have a poorer nature than His, and none of them is able to behold all that He apprehends. And perhaps it is the case that only those who have part in that Word know the things which are kept from the knowledge of those who do not partake of Him. Now, in John’s vision, the Word of God as He rides on the white horse is not naked: He is clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood, for the Word who was made flesh and therefore died is surrounded with marks of the fact that His blood was poured out upon the earth, when the soldier pierced His side. For of that passion, even should it be our lot some day to come to that highest and supreme contemplation of the Logos, we shall not lose all memory, nor shall we forget the truth that our admission was brought about by His sojourning in our body. This Word of God is followed by the heavenly armies one and all; they follow the Word as their leader, and imitate Him in all things, and chiefly in having mounted, they also, white horses. To him that understands, this secret is open. And as sorrow and grief and wailing fled away at the end of things, so also, I suppose, did obscurity and doubt, all the mysteries of God’s wisdom being precisely and clearly opened. Look also at the white horses of the followers of the Word and at the white and pure linen with which they were clothed. As linen comes out of the earth, may not those linen garments stand for the dialects on the earth in which those voices are clothed which make clear announcements of things? We have dealt at some length with the statements found in the Apocalypse about the Word of God; it is important for us to know clearly about Him.

5. To those who fail to distinguish with care the different propositions of the context the Evangelist may appear to be repeating himself. He was in the beginning with God may seem to add nothing to And the Word was with God. We must observe more carefully. In the statement The Word was with God we are not told anything of the when or the where; that is added in the fourth axiom. There are four axioms, or, as some call them, propositions, the fourth being He was in the beginning with God. Now The Word was with God is not the same thing as He was, etc.; for here we are told, not only that He was with God, but when and where He was so: He was in the beginning with God. The He, too, used as it is for a demonstration, will be considered to refer to the Word, or by a less careful enquirer, to God. What was noted before is now summed up in this designation He, the notion of the Logos and that of God; and as the argument proceeds the different notions are collected in one; for the notion God is not included in the notion Logos, nor the notion Logos in that of God. And perhaps the proposition before us is a summing up in one of the three which have preceded. Taking the statement that the Word was in the beginning, we have not yet learned that He was with God, and taking the statement that the Word was with God it is not yet clear to us that He was with God in the beginning; and taking the statement that the Word was God, it has neither been shown that He was in the beginning, nor that He was with God.

Now when the Evangelist says, He was in the beginning with God, if we apply the pronoun He to the Word and to God (as He is God) and consider that in the beginning is conjoined with it, and with God added to it, then there is nothing left of the three propositions that is not summed up and brought together in this one. And as in the beginning has been said twice, we may consider if there are not two lessons we may learn. First, that the Word was in the beginning, as if He was by Himself and not with any one, and secondly, that He was in the beginning with God. And I consider that there is nothing untrue in saying of Him both that He was in the beginning, and in the beginning with God, for neither was He with God alone, since He was also in the beginning, nor was He in the beginning alone and not with God, since He was in the beginning with God.

6.  All things were made through Him. The through whom is never found in the first place but always in the second, as in the Epistle to the Romans, Romans 1:1-5 Paul a servant of Christ Jesus, a called Apostle, separated to the Gospel of God which He promised before by His prophets in Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, determined the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we received grace and apostleship, for obedience of the faith among all the nations, for His name’s sake. For God promised aforehand by the prophets His own Gospel, the prophets being His ministers, and having their word to speak about Him through whom. And again God gave grace and apostleship to Paul and to the others for the obedience of the faith among all the nations, and this He gave them through Jesus Christ the Saviour, for the through whom belonged to Him. And the Apostle Paul says in the Epistle to the Hebrews: At the end of the days He spoke to us in His Son, whom He made the heir of all things, ‘through whom’ also He made the ages, showing us that God made the ages through His Son, the through whom belonging, when the ages were being made, to the Only-begotten. Thus, if all things were made, as in this passage also, through the Logos, then they were not made by the Logos, but by a stronger and greater than He. And who else could this be but the Father? Now if, as we have seen, all things were made through Him, we have to enquire if the Holy Spirit also was made through Him. It appears to me that those who hold the Holy Spirit to be created, and who also admit that all things were made through Him, must necessarily assume that the Holy Spirit was made through the Logos, the Logos accordingly being older than He. And he who shrinks from allowing the Holy Spirit to have been made through Christ must, if he admits the truth of the statements of this Gospel, assume the Spirit to be uncreated. There is a third resource besides these two (that of allowing the Spirit to have been made by the Word, and that of regarding it as uncreated), namely, to assert that the Holy Spirit has no essence of His own beyond the Father and the Son. But on further thought one may perhaps see reason to consider that the Son is second beside the Father, He being the same as the Father, while manifestly a distinction is drawn between the Spirit and the Son in the passage, Matthew 12:32 Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him, but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, he shall not have forgiveness, either in this world or in the world to come. We consider, therefore, that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father. We therefore, as the more pious and the truer course, admit that all things were made by the Logos, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was made by the Father through Christ. And this, perhaps, is the reason why the Spirit is not said to be God’s own Son. The Only-begotten only is by nature and from the beginning a Son, and the Holy Spirit seems to have need of the Son, to minister to Him His essence, so as to enable Him not only to exist, but to be wise and reasonable and just, and all that we must think of Him as being. All this He has by participation of the character of Christ, of which we have spoken above. And I consider that the Holy Spirit supplies to those who, through Him and through participation in Him, are called saints, the material of the gifts, which come from God; so that the said material of the gifts is made powerful by God, is ministered by Christ, and owes its actual existence in men to the Holy Spirit. I am led to this view of the charisms by the words of Paul which he writes somewhere, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 There are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit, and diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but it is the same God that works all in all. The statement that all things were made by Him, and its seeming corollary, that the Spirit must have been called into being by the Word, may certainly raise some difficulty. There are some passages in which the Spirit is placed above Christ; in Isaiah, for example, Christ declares that He is sent, not by the Father only, but also by the Holy Spirit. Now the Lord has sent Me, He says, Isaiah 48:16 and His Spirit, and in the Gospel He declares that there is forgiveness for the sin committed against Himself, but that for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit there is no forgiveness, either in this age or in the age to come. What is the reason of this? Is it because the Holy Spirit is of more value than Christ that the sin against Him cannot be forgiven? May it not rather be that all rational beings have part in Christ, and that forgiveness is extended to them when they repent of their sins, while only those have part in the Holy Spirit who have been found worthy of it, and that there cannot well be any forgiveness for those who fall away to evil in spite of such great and powerful cooperation, and who defeat the counsels of the Spirit who is in them. When we find the Lord saying, as He does in Isaiah, that He is sent by the Father and by His Spirit, we have to point out here also that the Spirit is not originally superior to the Saviour, but that the Saviour takes a lower place than He in order to carry out the plan which has been made that the Son of God should become man. Should any one stumble at our saying that the Saviour in becoming man was made lower than the Holy Spirit, we ask him to consider the words used in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where Jesus is shown by Paul to have been made less than the angels on account of the suffering of death. We behold Him, he says, who has been made a little lower than the angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour. And this, too, has doubtless to be added, that the creation, in order to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and not least of all the human race, required the introduction into human nature of a happy and divine power, which should set right what was wrong upon the earth, and that this action fell to the share, as it were, of the Holy Spirit; but the Spirit, unable to support such a task, puts forward the Saviour as the only one able to endure such a conflict. The Father therefore, the principal, sends the Son, but the Holy Spirit also sends Him and directs Him to go before, promising to descend, when the time comes, to the Son of God, and to work with Him for the salvation of men. This He did, when, in a bodily shape like a dove, He flew to Him after the baptism. He remained on Him, and did not pass Him by, as He might have done with men not able continuously to bear His glory. Thus John, when explaining how he knew who Christ was, spoke not only of the descent of the Spirit on Jesus, but also of its remaining upon him. For it is written that John said: John 1:32 He who sent me to baptize said, On whomsoever you shall see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, the same is He that baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It is not said only, On whomsoever you shall see the Spirit descending, for the Spirit no doubt descended on others too, but descending and abiding on Him. Our examination of this point has been somewhat extended, since we were anxious to make it clear that if all things were made by Him, then the Spirit also was made through the Word, and is seen to be one of the all things which are inferior to their Maker. This view is too firmly settled to be disturbed by a few words which may be adduced to the opposite effect. If any one should lend credence to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, where the Saviour Himself says, My mother, the Holy Spirit took me just now by one of my hairs and carried me off to the great mount Tabor, he will have to face the difficulty of explaining how the Holy Spirit can be the mother of Christ when it was itself brought into existence through the Word. But neither the passage nor this difficulty is hard to explain. For if he who does the will of the Father in heaven Matthew 12:50 is Christ’s brother and sister and mother, and if the name of brother of Christ may be applied, not only to the race of men, but to beings of diviner rank than they, then there is nothing absurd in the Holy Spirit’s being His mother, every one being His mother who does the will of the Father in heaven.

On the words, All things were made by Him, there is still one point to be examined. The word is, as a notion, from life, and yet we read, What was made in the Word was life, and the life was the light of men. Now as all things were made through Him, was the life made through Him, which is the light of men, and the other notions under which the Saviour is presented to us? Or must we take the all things were made by Him subject to the exception of the things which are in Himself? The latter course appears to be the preferable one. For supposing we should concede that the life which is the light of men was made through Him, since it said that the life was made the light of men, what are we to say about wisdom, which is conceived as being prior to the Word? That, therefore, which is about the Word (His relations or conditions) was not made by the Word, and the result is that, with the exception of the notions under which Christ is presented, all things were made through the Word of God, the Father making them in wisdom. In wisdom have You made them all, it says, not through, but in wisdom.