Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Cont.)
Book XII. (Cont.)
33. Interpretation of “Tasting of Death.”
But we must seek to understand what is meant by “tasting of death.” And He is life who says, “I am the life,” (Joh_14:6) and this life assuredly has been hidden with Christ in God; and. “when Christ our life shall be manifested, then along with Him” (Col_3:3-4) shall be manifested those who are worthy of being manifested with Him in glory. But the enemy of this life, who is also the last enemy of all His enemies that shall be destroyed, is death, (1Co_15:26) of which the soul that sinneth dies, having the opposite disposition to that which takes place in the soul that lives uprightly, and in consequence of living uprightly lives. And when it is said in the law, “I have placed life before thy face,” (Deu_30:15) the Scripture says this about Him who said, “I am the Life,” and about His enemy, death; the one or other of which each of us by his deeds is always choosing. And when we sin with life before our face, the curse is fulfilled against us which says, “And thy life shall be hanging up before thee,” etc., down to the words, “and for the sights of thine eyes which thou shall see.” (Deu_28:66-67) As, therefore, the Life is also the living bread which came down from heaven and gave life to the world, (Joh_6:33, Joh_6:51) so His enemy death is dead bread. Now every rational soul is fed either on living bread or dead bread, by the opinions good or bad which it receives. As then in the case of more common foods it is the practice at one time only to taste them, and at another to eat of them more largely; so also, in the case of these loaves, one eats insufficiently only tasting them, but another is satiated, — he that is good or is on the way to being good with the living bread which came down from heaven, but he that is wicked with the dead bread, which is death; and some perhaps sparingly, and sinning a little, only taste of death; but those who have attained to virtue do not even taste of it, but are 468 always fed on the living bread. It naturally followed then in the case of Peter, against whom the gates of Hades will not prevail, that he did not taste of death, since any one tastes of death and eats death at the time when the gates of Hades prevail against him; and one eats or tastes of death in proportion as the gates of Hades to a greater or less extent, more or fewer in number, prevail against him. But also for the sons of thunder who were begotten of thunder, which is a heavenly thing, it was impossible to taste of death, which is extremely far removed from thunder, their mother. But these things the Word prophesies to those who shall be perfected, and who by standing with the Word advanced so far that they did not taste of death, until they saw the manifestation and the glory and the kingdom and the excellency of the Word of God in virtue of which He excels every word, which by an appearance of truth draws away and drags about those who are not able to break through the bonds of distraction, and go up to the height of the excellency of the Word of truth.
34. Meaning of “Until.” No Limitation of Promise.
But since some one may think that the promise of the Saviour prescribes a limit of time to their not tasting of death, namely, that they will not taste of death “until” (Mat_16:28) they see the Son of man coming in His own kingdom, but after this will taste of it, let us show that according to the scriptural usage the word “until” signifies that the time concerning the thing signified is pressing, but is not so defined that after the “until,” that which is contrary to the thing signified should at all take place. Now, the Saviour says to the eleven disciples when He rose from the dead, this among other things, “Lo, I am with you all the days, even until the consummation of the age.” (Mat_28:20) When He said this, did He promise that He was going to be with them until the consummation of the age, but that after the consummation of the age, when another age was at hand, which is “called the age to come,” He would be no longer with them? — so that according to this, the condition of the disciples would be better before the consummation of the age than after the consummation of the age? But I do not think that any one will dare to say, that after the consummation of the age the Son of God will be no longer with the disciples, because the expression declares that He will be with them for so long, until the consummation of the age is at hand; for it is clear that the matter under inquiry was, whether the Son of God was forthwith going to be with His disciples before the age to come and the hoped for promises of God which were given as a recompense. But there might have been a question — it being granted that He would be with them — whether sometimes He was present with them, and sometimes not present. Wherefore setting us free from the suspicion that might have arisen from doubt, He declared that now and even all the days He would be with the disciples, and that He would not leave those who had become His disciples until the consummation of the age; because He said “all the days” He did not deny that by night, when the sun set, He would be present with them. But if such is the force of the words, “until the consummation of the age,” plainly we shall not be compelled to admit that those who see the Son of man coming in His own kingdom shall taste of death, after being deemed worthy of beholding Him in such guise. But as in the case of the passage we brought forward, the urgent necessity was to teach us that “until the consummation of the age” He would not leave us but be with us all the days; so also in this case I think that it is clear to those who know how to look at the logical coherence of things that He who has seen once for all “the Son of man coming in His own kingdom,” and seen Him “in His own glory,” and seen “the kingdom of God come with power,” could not possibly taste of death after the contemplation of things so good and great. But apart from the word of the promise of Jesus, we have conjectured not without reason that we would taste of death, so long as we were not yet held worthy to see “the kingdom of God come with power,” and “the Son of man coming in His own glory and in His own kingdom.”
35. Scriptural References to Death.
But since here it is written in the three Evangelists, “They shall not taste of death,” (Mat_16:28; Mar_9:1; Luk_9:27) but in other writers different things are written concerning death, it may not be out of place to bring forward and examine these passages along with the “taste.” In the Psalms, then, it is said, “What man is 469 he that shall live and not see death?” (Psa_89:48) And again, in another place, “Let death come upon them and let them go down into Hades alive;” (Psa_55:18) but in one of the prophets, “Death becoming mighty has swallowed them up;” (Isa_25:8) and in the Apocalypse, “Death and Hades follow some.” (Rev_6:10) Now in these passages it appears to me that it is one thing to taste of death, but another thing to see death, and another thing for it to come upon some, and that a fourth thing, different from the aforesaid, is signified by the words, “Death becoming mighty has swallowed them up,” and a fifth thing, different from these, by the words, Death and Hades follow them.” And if yon were to collect them, you would perhaps find also other differences than those which we have mentioned, by a comparison of which with one another and right investigation, you would find the things signified in each place. But here I inquire whether it is a less evil to see death, but a greater evil than seeing to taste of it, but still worse than this that death should follow any one, and not only follow him, but also now come upon him and seize him whom it formerly followed; but to be swallowed up seems to be more grievous than all the things spoken of. But giving heed to what is said, and to the differences of sins committed, you will not I think, be slow to admit that things of this kind were intended by the Spirit who caused these things to be written in the oracles of God. But, if it be necessary to give an exposition clearer than what has been said of what is signified by seeing the Son of man coming in His own kingdom, or in His own glory, and what is signified by seeing the kingdom of God come with power, these things — whether those that are made to shine in our hearts, or that are found by those who seek, or that enter gradually into our thoughts. — let each one judge as he wills — we will set forth. He who beholds and apprehends the excellency of the Word, as tie breaks down and refutes all the plausible forms of things which are truly lies but profess to be truths, sees the Son of man, according to the word of John, “the Word of God,” coming in His own kingdom; but if such an one were to behold the Word, not only breaking down plausible oppositions, but also representing His own truths with perfect clearness, he would behold His glory in addition to His kingdom. And such an one indeed would see in Him the kingdom
of God come with power; and he would see this, as one who is no longer now under the reign of “sin which reigns in the mortal body of those who sin,” (Rom_6:12) but is ever under the orders of the king, who is God of all, whose kingdom is indeed potentially “within us,” (Luk_17:21) but actually, and, as Mark has called it, “with power,” and not at all in weakness within the perfect alone. These things, then, Jesus promised to the disciples who were standing, prophesying not about all of them, but about some.
36. Concerning the Transfiguration of the Saviour.
“Now after six days,” according to Matthew and Mark, (Mat_17:1-2) “He taketh with him Peter and James and John his brother, and leads them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them.” Now, also, let it be granted, before the exposition that occurs to us in relation to these things, that this took place long ago, and according to the letter. But it seems to me, that those who are led up by Jesus into the high mountain, and are deemed worthy of beholding His transfiguration apart, are not without purpose led up six days after the discourses previously spoken. For since in six days — the perfect number — the whole world, — this perfect work of art, — was made, on this account I think that he who transcends all the things of the world by beholding no longer the things which are seen, for they are temporal, but already the things which not seen, and only the things which are not seen, because that they are eternal, is represented in the words, “After six days Jesus took up with Him” certain persons. If therefore any one of us wishes to be taken by Jesus, and led up by Him into the high mountain, and be deemed worthy of beholding His transfiguration apart, let him pass beyond the six days, because he no longer beholds the things which are seen, nor longer loves the world, nor the things in the world, (1Jo_2:15) nor lusts after any worldly lust, which is the lust of bodies, and of the riches of the body, and of the glory which is after the flesh, and whatever things whose nature it is to distract and drag away the soul from the things which are better and diviner, and bring it down and fix it fast to the deceit of this age, in wealth and glory, and the rest of the lusts which are the foes of truth. For when he has passed through the six days, as we have 470 said, he will keep a new Sabbath, rejoicing in the lofty mountain, because he sees Jesus transfigured before him; for the Word has different forms, as He appears to each as is expedient for the beholder, and is manifested to no one beyond the capacity of the beholder.
37. Force of the Words “Before Them”
But you will ask if, when He was transfigured before those who were led up by Him into the lofty mountain, He appeared to them in the form of God, in which He formerly was, so that He had to those below the form of a servant, but to those who had followed Him after the six days to the lofty mountain, He had not that form, but the form of God. But hear these things, if you can, at the same time giving heed spiritually, that it is not said simply, “He was transfigured,” but with a certain necessary addition, which Matthew and Mark have recorded; for, according to both, “He was transfigured before them.” (Mat_17:2; Mar_9:2) And according to this, indeed, you will say that it is possible for Jesus to be transfigured before some with this transfiguration, but before others at the same time not to be transfigured. But if you wish to see the transfiguration of Jesus before those who went up into the lofty mountain apart long with Him, behold with me the Jesus in the Gospels, as more simply apprehended, and as one might say, known “according to the flesh,” by those who do not go up, through works and words which are uplifting, to the lofty mountain of wisdom, but known no longer after the flesh, but known in His divinity by menus of all the Gospels, and beholden in the form of God according to their knowledge; for before them is Jesus transfigured, and not to any one of those below. But when He is transfigured, His face also shines as the sun, that He may be manifested to the children of light, who have put off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light, (Rom_13:12) and are no longer the children of darkness or night, but have become the sons of day, and walk honestly as in the day; (Rom_13:13; 1Th_5:5) and being manifested, He will shine unto them not simply as the sun, but as demonstrated to be the sun of righteousness.
38. The Garments White as the Light.
And not only is He transfigured before such disciples, nor does He only add to the transfiguration the shining of His face as the sun; but further also to those who were led up by Him into the high mountain apart, His garments appear white as the light. (Mat_17:2) But the garments of Jesus are the expressions and letters of the Gospels with which He invested Himself. But I think that even the words in the Apostles which indicate the truths concerning Him are garments of Jesus, which become white to those who go up into the high mountain along with Jesus. But since there are differences also of things white, His garments become white as the brightest and purest of all white things; and that is light. When therefore you see any one not only with a thorough understanding of the theology concerning Jesus, but also making clear every expression of the Gospels, do not hesitate to say that to Him the garments of Jesus have become white as the light. But when the Son of God in His transfiguration is so understood and beheld, that His face is a sun, and His garments white as the light, straightway there will appear to him who beholds Jesus in such form Moses, — the law — and Elijah, — in the way of synecdoche, not one prophet only, but all the prophets — holding converse with Jesus; for such is the force of the words “talking with Him;” (Mat_17:3) but, according to Luke, “Moses and Elijah appeared in glory,” down to the words, “in Jerusalem.” (Luk_9:30, Luk_9:31) But if any one sees the glory of Moses, having understood the spiritual law as a discourse in harmony with Jesus, and the wisdom in the prophets which is hidden in a mystery, (1Co_2:7) he sees Moses and Elijah in glory when he sees them with Jesus.
39. Jesus Was Transfigured — “As He Was Praying.”
Then, since it will be necessary to expound the passage as given in Mark, “And as He was praying He was transfigured before them,”50 we must say that perhaps it is possible especially to see the Word transfigured before us if we have done the things aforesaid, and gone up into the mountain, and seen the absolute Word holding converse with the Father, and praying to Him for such things as the true High-Priest might pray for to the only true God. But in order that He may thus hold fellowship with God and pray to the Father, He goes up into the mountain; and then, according to Mark, “His garments become white and glistening as the light, so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.” (Mar_9:3) And perhaps the fullers 471 upon the earth are the wise men of this world who are careful about the diction which they consider to be bright and pure, so that even their base thoughts and false dogmas seem to be beautified by their fulling, so to speak; but He who shows His own garments glistering to those who have ascended and brighter than their fulling can make them, is the Word, who exhibits in the expressions of the Scriptures which are despised by many the glistering of the thoughts, when the raiment of Jesus, according to Luke, becomes white and dazzling. (Luk_9:29)
40. Discussion of the Saying of Peter.
But let us next see what was the thought of Peter when he answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles,” (Mat_17:4; Mar_9:5; Luk_9:33 etc.) And on this account these words call for very special examination, because Mark, in his own person, has added, “For he wist not what to answer,” (Mar_9:6) but Luke, “not knowing,” he says, “what he spake.” (Luk_9:33) You will consider, therefore, if he spake these things as in a trance, being filled with the spirit which moved him to say these things, which could not be a Holy Spirit; for John taught in the Gospel that, before the resurrection of the Saviour, no one had the Holy Spirit, saying, “For the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (Joh_7:39) But if the Spirit was not yet, and he, not knowing what he said, spoke under the influence of some spirit, the spirit which caused these things to be said was some one of the spirits which had not yet been triumphed over in the cross, nor made a show of along with them, about whom it is written, “Having put off from Himself the principalities and the powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in the cross. (Col_2:5) ” But this spirit was perhaps that which is called a stumbling-block by Jesus, and which is spoken of as Satan in the passage, “Get thee behind Me, Satan; thou art a stumbling-block unto me.’ (Mat_16:23) But I know well that such things will offend many who meet with them, because they think that it is opposed to sound reason that he should be spoken ill of who a little before had been pronounced blessed by Jesus, on the ground that the Father in heaven had revealed to him the things concerning the Saviour, to-wit, that He was verily Jesus, and the Christ, and the Son of the living God. But let such an one attend more exactly to the statements about Peter and the rest of the Apostles, how even they made requests as if they were yet alien from Him who was to redeem them from the enemy and purchase them with His own precious blood; or let them also, who will have it that even before the passion of Jesus the Apostles were perfect, tell us whence it came about that “Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep.” (Luk_9:32) But to anticipate something else of what follows and apply it to the subject in hand, I would raise in turn these questions, — whether it is possible for any one to find occasion of stumbling in Jesus apart from the working of the devil who caused him to stumble; and whether it is possible for any one to deny Jesus, and that in presence of a little maid and a doorkeeper and men most worthless, unless a spirit had been with him in his denial hostile to the Spirit which is given and the wisdom, which is given to those who are assisted by God to make confession, according to a certain desert of theirs. But he who has learned to refer the roots of sin to the father of sin, the devil, will not say that apart from him either the Apostles were caused to stumble, or that Peter denied Christ thrice before that well-known cock-crowing. But if this be so, consider whether perhaps with a view to make Jesus stumble, so far as was in his power, and to turn Him aside from the dispensation whose characteristic was suffering that brought salvation to men, which He undertook with great willingness, seeking to effect these things which seemed to contribute to this end, he himself also here wishes as it were, by deceit, to draw away Jesus, as if calling upon Him no longer to condescend to men, and come to them, and undergo death for them, but to abide on the high mountain with Moses and Elijah. But he promised also to build three tabernacles, one apart for Jesus, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah, as if one tabernacle would not have sufficed for the three, if it had been necessary for them to be in tabernacles and in the high mountain. And perhaps also in this he acted with evil intent, when he incited him “who did not know what he said,” not desiring that Jesus and Moses and Elijah should be together, but desiring to separate them from one another, under pretext of the three tabernacles.” And likewise it was a lie, “It is good for us to be here;” (Mat_17:4) for if it had been a good thing they would also have remained 472 there. But if it were a lie, you will seek to know who caused the lie to be spoken; and especially since according to John, “When he speaketh a lie he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar and the father thereof;” (Joh_8:44) and as there is no truth apart from the working of Him who says, “I am the Truth,” (Joh_14:6) so there is no lie apart from him who is the enemy of truth. These contrary qualities, accordingly, were still in Peter truth and falsehood; and from truth he said, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God,” (Mat_16:16) but from falsehood he said, “May God be propitious to Thee, Lord, this shall not be unto Thee,” (Mat_16:20) and also, “It is good for us to be here.” (Mat_17:4) But if any one will not admit that Peter spoke these things from any evil inspiration, but that his words were of his own mere choice, and it is demanded of him how he will interpret, “not knowing what he said,” and, (Luk_9:33) “for he did not know what to answer,” (Mar_9:6) he will say, that in the former case Peter held it to be a shameful thing and unworthy of Jesus to admit that the Son of the living God, the Christ, whom already the Father had revealed to him, should be killed; and in the: present case that, as having seen the two forms of Jesus and the one at the transfiguration which was much more excellent, being well pleased with that, he said that it was good to make their sojourning in that mountain, in order that he himself and those with him might rejoice as they beheld the transfiguration of Jesus and His face shining as the sun, and His garments white as the light, and, in addition to these things, might always behold in glory those whom they had once seen in glory, Moses and Elijah; and that they might rejoice at the things which they might hear, as they talked and held intercourse with each other, Moses and Elijah with Jesus, and Jesus with them.
41. Figurative Interpretation of the Same.
But since we have not yet spent our energy in interpreting the things in the place figuratively, but have said these things by way of searching into the mere letter, let us in conformity with these things, consider whether the aforesaid Peter and the sons of thunder who were taken up into the mountain of the dogmas of the truth, and who saw the transfiguration of Jesus and of Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory with Him, might wish to make tabernacles in themselves for the Word of God who was going to dwell in them, and for His law which had been beholden in glory, and for the prophecy which spake of the decease of Jesus, which He was about to accomplish; (Luk_9:31) and Peter, as one loving the contemplative life, and having preferred that which was delightsome in it to the life among the crowd with its turmoil, said, with the design of benefiting those who desired it, “It is good for us to be here.” (Mat_17:4) But since “love seeketh not its own,” (1Co_13:5) Jesus did not do that which Peter thought good; wherefore He descended from the mountain to those who were not able to ascend to it and behold His transfiguration, that they might behold Him in such form as they were able to see Him. It is, therefore, the part of a righteous man who possesses “the love which seeketh not its own” (1Co_13:5) to be free from all, but to bring himself under bondage to all those below that He might gain the more of them. (1Co_9:19) But some one, with reference to what we have alleged about the trance and the working of an evil spirit in Peter, concerning the words, “not knowing what he said,” (Luk_9:33) not accepting that interpretation of ours, may say that there were certain mentioned by Paul “desiring to be teachers of the law,” (1Ti_1:7) who do not know about what they speak, but who, though they do not clearly expound the nature of what is said, nor understand their meaning, make confident affirmations of things which they do not know. Of such a nature was the affection of Peter also, for not apprehending what was good with reference to the dispensation of Jesus and of those who appeared in the mountain, — Moses and Elijah, — he says, “It is good for us to be here,” etc., “not knowing what he said,”“for he wist not what to say,” for if “a wise man will understand the things from his own mouth, and carries prudence in his lips,” (Pro_16:23) he who is not so does not understand the things from his own mouth, nor comprehend the nature of the things spoken by him.
42. The Meaning of the “Bright Cloud.”
Next to these come the words, “While He was yet speaking, behold, also, a bright cloud overshadowed them,” (Mat_17:5) etc. Now, I think that God, wishing to dissuade Peter from making three tabernacles, under which so far as it depended on his choice he was going to dwell, shows a tabernacle better, so to speak, and much more excellent, the cloud. For since it is the function of a tabernacle 473 to overshadow him who is in it, and to shelter him, and the bright cloud overshadowed them, God made, as it were, a diviner tabernacle, inasmuch as it was bright, that it might be to them a pattern of the resurrection to come; for a bright cloud overshadows the just, who are at once protected and illuminated and shone upon by it. But what might the bright cloud, which overshadows the just, be? Is it, perhaps, the fatherly power, from which comes the voice of the Father bearing testimony to the Son as beloved and well-pleasing, and exhorting those who were under its shadow to hear Him and no other one? But as He speaks of old, so also always does He speak through what He wills. And perhaps, too, the Holy Spirit is the bright cloud which overshadows the just, and prophesies of the things of God, who works in it, and says, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased;” but I would venture also to say that our Saviour is a bright cloud. When, therefore, Peter said, “Let us make here three tabernacles,”51 ... one from the Father Himself, and from the Son, and one from the Holy Spirit. For a bright cloud of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit overshadows the genuine disciples of Jesus; or a cloud overshadows the Gospel and the law and the prophets, which is bright to him who is able to see the light of it in the Gospel, and the law, and the prophets. But perhaps the voice from the cloud says to Moses and Elijah, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased, hear Him,” as they were desirous to see the Son of man, and to hear Him, and to behold Him as He was in glory. And perhaps it teaches the disciples that He who was, in a literal sense, the Son of God, and His beloved in whom He was well-pleased, whom it behoved them especially to hear, was He who was then beheld, and transfigured, and whose face shone as the sun, and who was clothed with garments white as the light.
43. Relation of Moses and Elijah to Jesus. The Injunction of Silence.
But after these things it is written that, when they heard the voice from the cloud bearing testimony to the Son, the three Apostles, not being able to bear the glory of the voice and power resting upon it, “fell on their face,” (Mat_17:6) and besought God; for they were sore afraid at the supernatural sight, and the things which were spoken from the sight. But consider if you can also say this with reference to the details in the passage, that the disciples, having understood that the Son of God had been holding conference with Moses, and that it was He who said, “A man shall not see My face and live,” (Exo_30:20) and taking further the testimony of God about Him, as not being able to endure the radiance of the Word, humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God; (1Pe_5:6) but, after the touch of the Word, lifting up their eyes they saw Jesus only and no other. (Mat_17:8) Moses, the law, and Elijah, the prophet, became one only with the Gospel of Jesus; and not, as they were formerly three, did they so abide, but the three became one, But consider these things with me in relation to mystical matters; for in regard to the bare meaning of the letter, Moses and Elijah, having appeared in glory and talked with Jesus, went away to the place from which they had come, perhaps to communicate the words which Jesus spake with them, to those who were to be benefited by Him, almost immediately, namely, at the time of the passion, when many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep, their tombs being opened, were to go to the city which is truly holy — not the Jerusalem which Jesus wept over — and there appear unto many. (Mat_27:52-53) But after the dispensation in the mountain, when the disciples were coming down from the mountain in order that, when they had come to the multitude, they might serve the Son of God concerning the salvation of the people, Jesus commanded the disciples saying, “Tell the vision to no man until the Son of man rise from the dead.” (Mat_17:9) But that saying, “Tell the vision to no man,” is like that which was investigated in the passage above, when “He enjoined the disciples to tell no man that He was the Christ.” (Mat_16:20) Wherefore the things that were said at that passage may be useful to us also for the passage before us; since Jesus wishes also, in accordance with these, that the things of His glory should not be spoken of, before His glory after the passion; for those who heard, and in particular the multitudes, would have been injured when they saw Him crucified, who had been so glorified. Wherefore since His being glorified in the resurrection was akin to His transfiguration, and to the vision of His face as the sun, on this account He wishes that these things should then be spoken of by the Apostles, when He rose from the dead. 474