I The Concern of Theoretical Reason in the Peri Archon
Heidegger's project of overcoming metaphysics was strongly influenced in its initial form by Luther's polemic against the distorting objectification of Christian truth in medieval scholasticism. Indeed the young Heidegger accuses Greek philosophy itself of a distorting theoretism. His later appreciation of the Pre-Socratics and of Aristotle's phenomenological insight caused him to modify this accusation, though he may never have overcome a certain dismissiveness towards Platonism and toward Christian metaphysical theology. Nonetheless, even in its simplest initial formulation, there is considerable truth in his claim that the dominance of the theoretical concern in the West has repressed other forms of thinking, and blinded us to phenomena which do not come into view in the perspectives of scientific reason. In the Samos colloquium the disclosive power of Logos was rightly celebrated, but did its occlusive potential receive due attention?
Many nineteenth-century theologians, notably Ritschl and Harnack, pursued the topic of the repressing or distorting role metaphysical reason has played in Christian tradition. Heidegger's sensitivity to the inadequation of metaphysics to the properly philosophical task of thinking being was nourished by this theological climate, as the following remark shows:
The dominance of theoretical cognition as the authentic criterion of all knowledge is so strong in the history of our culture that even the phenomenon of faith is viewed in terms of the phenomenon `cognition'. A look at the history of theology shows that fundamental distortions arise from this. (Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe 17:123; such remarks may owe something to the subterranean influence of Nietzsche's friend Overbeck; see Martin Henry, Franz Overbeck: Theologian?, Berlin, 1995)
Certain works in the history of theology mark thresholds in the advancement of the theoretical concern within theology: Origen's Peri Archon, Augustine's De Trinitate, Anselm's Cur Deus Homo, Aquinas's Summa Theologiae. Critical theology poses to these works the question: to what degree is the Logos prevalent in them in concord with the inner intelligibility of the biblical revelation; to what degree does it impose on the biblical phenomena an inappropriate order? Of course this critical question has itself to be constantly refined as new aspects of both the Greek Logos and the biblical Word, and of their tense interplay, are brought into view.
Origen sets many of the ground rules of Christian systematic theology, at least in its pre-Reformation forms. His theology is firmly based on the Church's kergyma, the depositum fidei. From this starting-point of faith, theological intellectus aims at the following achievements:
(1) It seeks to penetrate the teaching intellectually, by showing the inner reasons of the Church's declarations:
The holy apostles in preaching faith in Christ transmitted very clearly to all believers - even to those who seemed lazy about the investigation of divine knowledge - those things which they saw as necessary. But they left the reason of their assertions to be investigated by those who would have merited the higher gifts of the Spirit and received the grace of speech, wisdom and knowledge from the same Spirit. (PA I Preface 3)
Theological insight is not an extraneous luxury, but intrinsic to the perfection of Christian life. Christians who lack it are not yet pneumatikoi (cf. I Corinthians 2). Later generations will differentiate between scientific, intellectual insight and spiritual, contemplative intellectus fidei. Even in comparison with Augustine, Origen seems to bask in an innocent intellectualism. Yet equally distorting is the anti-intellectualist reaction (Tertullian to Kierkegaard) which surrenders the ideal of a Logos at the service of Spirit. In the philosophical traditions of Buddhism, critical reason is encouraged to deploy its resources fully, though at the highest level a nonconceptual grasp of truth is the goal. Reason points beyond itself to an intuitive realisation of the truths it has conceptually discerned. Reason is employed to dissolve rationalist fixations and there is no hostility to reason as such. Christian theology needs to rediscover such a positive rapport with Logos, not by subordinating the existential stance of biblical faith to a higher intellectual insight, as Origen tended to do, but by lowing the intellectus fidei to emerge within the existential horizon of faith itself. Augustine could serve as the model for this, despite the partial frustration to which his ontological framework condemned his quest for intellectus.
Origen's chief instrument for grasping the inner reason of doctrines is the notion of Spirit. He focuses the doctrine of God (PA I 1) through a defence of God's spirituality against Gnostics and Manicheans. This topic is ritually discussed in later theology (Thomas, ST I, q. 3, a. 1), but it soon lost the valency it had in Origen's time, when the idea of divine spirituality was a real conquest of thought. The explanatory value of spirit is seen at its most powerful in Origen's view of the incarnation. The eternal Logos is present in the hegemenikon of all rational creatures, but there is a specially close union between it and the soul of Christ, created at the beginning of time. That soul
from its creation and afterwards adheres to him inseparably and indissociably, as to the Wisdom and Logos of God, to truth and the true light, which it in its entirety receives entirely, and ceding to its light and splendour becomes one spirit with it in its principle, as the apostle promised to those who were to imitate this soul: `he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him' (I Cor 6.17). (PA II 6.3)
The soul of Christ is a mediating instance that cushions the shock of the conjunction of Logos and flesh in the incarnation. Later physicalist accounts of the incarnation (which tended to ignore the soul of Christ altogether, as in Athanasius, or even to deny its existence, as in Apollinarianism) lost this vision of the incarnation as a spiritual and intelligible process. For Origen, too, `the explanation of this mystery perhaps surpasses the celestial powers of all creation' (PAII 6.2), but at least he opens a path into the mystery which is luminously intelligible as far as it goes, and does not thrust us up against sheer paradox from the start. The recovery of such a spiritual understanding of the Incarnation in theologians like Schleiermacher went hand in hand with a rejection of the classical doctrine, but it is possible to interpret Chalcedon in terms consonant with the spiritual intelligibity of John 1.14.
(2) Theological reason fills gaps in the Church's teaching. The programmatic text quoted above continues:
Of other things they affirmed the existence, but remained silent about how and whence they exist, undoubtedly so that the most studious among those after them, who aspired to be lovers of wisdom, might have an exercise in which they could display the fruits of their gifts. (PA I Preface 3)
Again the theme of spirit clarifies the ontological status of these entities (the soul, angels, devils).
Origen is struck by the diversity of the universe (PA II 9.3), yet he sees the process of salvation as a recall of this diversity to ultimate spiritual unity. Diversity was not part of God's original creative intention:
When in the beginning he created what he wished to create, that is, rational natures, he had no other cause of creating than himself, that is, his goodness. Since he was himself the cause of what was to be created, in whom there is neither diversity nor change nor incapacity, he created all equal and similar. (II 9.6)
The diversity is explained by the free choice of creatures, a theory that is opposed to Epicurean ideas of chance and Stoic ideas of necessity:
Not seeing that the variety of this disposition was instituted by God from previous causes of free choice, they judged that all things that happen in this world are brought to pass by fortuitous motions or fatal necessity. (PA III 5.5)
Divine election is explained by reference to merits accrued in a previous life:
If he who purifies himself becomes an honorable vessel, or if he who is regards his impurity with unconcern becomes a vessel of shame, as far as these words go the creator is in no way responsible. (PA III 1.21, ll. 706-9)
If God loves Jacob and hates Esau, it is because of these pre-natal merits (PA II 9.5-8; III 3.5). It is not surprising that Origen has been seen as a Pelagian avant la lettre. What most obstructs a sense of the gratuity of salvation is his desire to find a rational explanation for everything.
In addition to its justice as a reward for previous merits, there is a divinely arranged order in the diversity of the cosmos, so that it has rational meaning not only in its efficient causes but also in its final causes. Structuring the entire cosmos and the history of salvation are the Platonist ordering schemes of egressus/regressus, participation, mediation, which serve to clarify even the distinct roles of Father, Son and Spirit (PA I 3.8). The Incarnation, too, is explained more in terms of cosmic order than as an event of grace. Its purpose is to teach obedience and `restore the laws' (PA III 5.6); its fits into a cosmic scheme as the `perfect restoration of all creation' (PA III 5.7). Christ saves us by reason: `persuaded by word and reason they assent to all that is good' (PA III 5.8).
(3) This vision of cosmic order is part of the drive to system that animates Origen's thought. We witness here the very beginning of systematic theology, no doubt inspired by the systematisation of Platonism that was going on at the same time. The theologian traces the order of the divine mysteries, presenting them in a rounded ensemble. The individual donnees of the kerygma are filled out with connecting links to build up a true body of doctrine: `One should begin from these elements and foundations... if one wishes to perfect a system and body of doctrine (seriem quandam et corpus) from the reason of all these things' (PA I Preface 10).
A wide field for the exercise of theological intellectus is provided by Scripture, whose riddles are resolved by the spiritual, allegorical method of interpretation. Here again a word addressed to faith is altered into an enigma challenging theoretical comprehension, albeit a comprehension led by the Spirit and shaped by the doctrine of Christ who is to be encountered in the biblical text. The allegorical interpretation testifies to the illuminating power of the notion of Spirit. The spiritual person finds Christ in every page of the Old Testament, and by the same token uncovers the full intelligibility of the text. Unfortunately, this dazzling excess of light brings dangerous blind spots with it, failing to respect the integrity of the Jewish vision of God and the world.
The basic danger of theological system is that is acquires a self-sufficient momentum and a closure which militate against ongoing questioning openness to the realities with which faith is engaged, just as metaphysical reason, according to Heidegger, overleaps the phenomenon of world.
(4) Theological intellectus can resolve disputes about Christian truth by defining the basic doctrines more clearly; only then does one proceed to speculation on secondary matters: `it seems necessary to set down a certain line and clear rule of each of these, and then go on to enquire about the rest' (PA I Preface 2). The need to reply to heretics is an incidental circumstance that might have distorted the shape of the system. Indeed it does lead to some digressive polemic, against the Marcionite distinction between the just God of the Old Testament and the good God of the New Testament, for example. But on the whole the reply to heresy is a welcome occasion to fill out the lineaments of the system. The basic danger here is that the focus on correct doxa becomes a convenient substitute for the more originary authenticity of the believer's openness to the presence of God and the Gospel message.
(5) Theology also has an apologetic purpose, serving to make the Christian message credible (particularly to minds shaped by Platonic thought, which can serve as a propaedeutic to Christian understanding): `for those who seek in our faith for the reason of believing also' (PA IV 4.5). The danger of the apologetic enterprise is that it subordinates the authority of the biblical phenomena to the authority of the reason that would defend them. When faith and love are truly alive, one does not sit down to demonstrate calmly that they are eminently reasonable.
Origen's work signifies the full-scale entry of the philosophical Logos into Christian theology. Though he is also the first great biblical theologian and though he aims at a judicious reconciliation of the claims of faith with those of reason, nonetheless his thought also exemplifies the problems and tensions which will haunt the classic syntheses between metaphysical reason and biblical revelation. For a detailed illustration, I turn to Origen's comments on the Johannine Logos, particularly in his early period in Alexandria when his thought still had an uncompromisingly Platonist cast.
II Reason in Person: Tensions in Origen's Logos-Doctrine
At the centre of Origen's rationally constructed universe is a person, Jesus Christ, the Logos incarnate. If there are faults or flaws in his theology that offer an opening for deconstruction, they centre on the basic tension between the Logos as principle and the Logos as person - and even as a historical, human person.
Origen reduces the Gnostic pullulation of intermediary beings to a plurality of epinoiai connoting the various aspects of one, indivisible personal Logos. In doing so, he creates an interesting mobility among the names of Christ, grasping their concatenation in a rational way: 'It is not astonishing that since the Saviour is discerned as being many goods, he should contain some of these as first, some as second, some as third' (ComJn I 112). He opposes those who cling rigidly to the name `Logos' as if it were the proper name of the Son, even interpreting it in a literalist sense (ComJn I 125; 151; 266; 280). He refuses to `stop arbitrarily at the notion and appellation of Logos without grasping what can be grasped' (ComJn I 180).
In search of such intellectus of the names of Christ, he makes a distinction of reason between Wisdom and Logos, the former becoming the logical basis of the latter. In the Alexandrian tradition (Wis 9.1-2, Philo, Clement, Athanasius), Wisdom and Logos are identified and there is no question of establishing relations of priority between these biblical names of the Son, which enjoy a sacred status. But Origen boldly demystifies them, by treating them just like the other epinoiai, of which there are thousands in the Bible (ComJn I 236). Though only a handful - principle, Wisdom, Logos, life, truth (ComJn I 123) - concern the Logos in its eternity (the others being tied to the economy of salvation), still the meaning of such names as `Logos' is just as much to be inquired about as that of any other:
How arbitrary not to stop at the letter for each name, but to seek to understand why, for example, he is taken to be `door', in what sense `vine' and for what cause `way', and not to do the same when he is described as `Logos'! (ComJn I 154)
`Logos' had become the ultimate principle of the universe in Origen's culture, an idea as fundamental as `being' or `reality'. He shows his radicality as a thinker of archai by refusing to leave off from questioning when faced with this ultimate.
The rational ordering of the biblical names introduces a grave distortion in Origen's reading of the Johannine Prologue. Even if today some feminist exegetes find the traits of Sophia in the Johannine Jesus, it seems that John deliberately avoided using the title `Wisdom'. To sum up his contemplative insight into the meaning of Jesus Christ he chose the title `Logos'. What has taken flesh in the life, death and post-paschal and pneumatic life of Christ is nothing less than the eternal Word of God, proferred now at the heart of our history. In the body of the Gospel it is the title `Son' which predominates, and John seeks to enter into the mystery of the unity - or non-duality - of Jesus with the Father. The title of Logos permits the sketch of a wide cosmic and historical horizon as background to the manifestation of the Son. `Logos' suggests, from the start, an event of communication and revelation, and a personal presence: turned toward the Father (Jn 1.1), he makes known to us the secrets of the divine bosom (Jn 1.18).
Origen reinserts Wisdom in the Prologue by taking the word arch旭ｯ (Jn 1.1-2) as a synonym of Wisdom. Christ is arch旭ｯ, beginning, as Wisdom, not as Logos (ComJn I 118; 222). What comes first is divine wisdom, next comes the Logos who communicates this wisdom to creatures (ComJn I 289). Wisdom and Logos remain for Origen the names of a person. However this way of reading the Prologue places the emphasis on the principle-aspect of Wisdom, as cosmic foundation. It `preforms and contains in itself the species and reasons of all creation' (`species scilicet in se et rationes totius praeformans et continens creaturae', PA I 2.3; cf. ComJn 113-14). It is identified with the intelligible world of Platonism, interpreted as the set of ideas in the divine mind:
In that subsistent being of Wisdom was virtually present and formed all the future creation, whether the beings who exist in the first place, or the accidental and accessory realities, all preformed and disposed in virtue of foreknowledge. (PA I 2.2)
There is nothing Johannine about these values of rationality and cosmic preformation.
Against the tendency of several speakers at the Samos colloquium to read the Johannine Prologue as a Greek metaphysical text, one should note that while the choice of the resonant term `Logos' does build a bridge between believing contemplation of the Son and the Hellenistic construction of the meaning of the world, history and existence, of which the keystone was the notion of Logos, nevertheless John, unlike Philo, strips his presentation of the Logos of any element of metaphysical cosmological discourse recalling the Timaeus or Stoicism. If there is not a deliberate distancing of philosophy here, there is an indifference to it: ‘There is no real reason to suppose that the Gospel was influenced by any more Greek philosophy that what was already present in the general thought and speech of Palestine’ (R. Brown, The Gospel According to John (i-xii), Garden City, NY, 1966, p. lvii).
While the Logos of philosophy penetrates and sustains the cosmos, which to the mind of the Greeks remains a well-ordered and harmonious whole, in Jn 1.10 the `world' appears as something negative which opposes itself to the Logos. It is also instructive that the early Christian apologists... go outside the doctrine of John when they treat of the Logos... The Logos is used, as in Greek philosophy, though with a Christian colouring, to provide the starting-point for a general understanding of reality, including man and his nature. Nothing of the sort can be found in the restricted perspective of John, which is entirely concentrated on Christ as the Logos. (R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John I , New York, 1980, pp. 482-3)
Attempts to identify John's thought-world with that of Greek philosophy are undercut when his philosophical-sounding statements are replaced in their context, as mapped with reference to the rich Jewish background to the Gospel and an appreciation of its literary style and structure. The mystical depths of the Gospel cannot be grasped merely by supplementing the Greek Logos with contemplative interrisation. Our search to understand and articulate them is an ongoing one, which has led thinkers such as Dom Henri Le Saux to seek parallels in the Vedantic contemplation of non-duality. The classical metaphysical readings of the Gospel have barred access to an integral grasp of John's contemplative vision.
Having differentiated Logos and Wisdom, Origen restores to the former title some of its biblical resonance as a speech-event.
It opens to all other beings the reason of the mysteries and secrets, all contained without exception in the Wisdom of God; and thereby it is called Logos, for it is as it were the interpreter of the secrets of the mind. (PA I 2.3)
The theme of the Logos as messenger comes from Justin (Dialogue with Trypho 128.2) and Irenaeus (Against Heresies II 30.9; IV 6.5-6); it emphasises his character as a personal agent; but in the text just quoted the revelation the Logos brings is primarily a rational knowledge, rather than an intimate and spiritual acquaintance with the Father.
‘For Wisdom is discerned in terms of the constitution of the vision (theoria) and notions of the universe and Logos refers to the communication of what is envisioned to the logika' (ComJn I 111). Origen here has a relatively dynamic phenomenology of the arche – an activity of creative contemplation overflowing into an act of communication. But the event-character of the Johannine beginning is here reduced to a purely rational process, and subordinated logically to a metaphysical principle: the set of ultimate reasons which found the cosmos. The event of the living Word of God, as it addresses us in Jesus Christ, is brought under the authority of eternal principles. This intellectualist reading of Jn 1.1-2 is governed by the quest for the rational grounds of biblical assertions (PA I Preface 3). In John the relations between God, Logos, world and humans are seen as moments of a dynamic situation, the lived mystery of salvation, but in Origen it is a philosophical gnosis which prevails. His thesis of the eternal generation is a necessity of reason (as is that of the eternal procession of Nous in Plotinus), whereas in John the Son is eternally turned to God in a relation of love.
In making the Logos a person – far more than was the personified Wisdom of the sapiental literature, John tones down its principle-aspect. Origen, in contrast, insists strongly on Logos and Wisdom as cosmic principle, while stressing also their status as subsistent hypostasis. The personalisation of the Logos is foreign to Middle Platonism and Neo-Platonism, in which Nous and Logos remain impersonal principles or hypostases. Origen sees in the personal character of the arch旭ｯ the strong point of the Christian message. Wisdom is not merely `something that makes wise, presenting itself to and penetrating the minds of those who have become capable of receiving the faculties and the comprehension it gives', but rather `an animated wise being' (PA I 2.2). It is `an incorporeal hypostasis, living and as if animated, containing in itself all sorts of notions and the logoi of the universe' (ComJn I 244). Logos, though it contains the reasons of the created universe, is also an intimate presence to the soul, filling it with grace and spiritual wisdom:
Logos, because it takes away from around us all that is alogos and establishes us as truly logikoi, doing everything for the glory of God, even to eating and drinking, and accomplishing for the glory of God through the logos both the most common and the most perfect acts of life. (ComJn I 267)
The Middle Platonic Nous had a similar double function, but the biblical personalisation brings an existential surplus not easily recuperated under the philosophical rubrics of rationality and universality.
A personal, existential reason, a rational existence: the harmony seems perfect, but these expressions border on oxymoron; they touch on a basic antinomy of Western philosophy. At the very moment that he makes the Johannine Logos fall back into metaphysics, Origen, if only by his fidelity to biblical diction, betrays that the Logos remains irreducible to metaphysical understanding. The synthesis he creates is deeply reflected, but it remains vulnerable. The tension between biblical personalism and the Greek quest of principle condemns his writing to a constant to-and-fro between two registers, producing nuances and hesitations worthy of our patient interrogation. His predecessor Clement also failed to build a synthesis between the two sides of his thought: on one side, a good and loving God and a `good and gentle Logos' (Stromateis I 23.2); on the other an impassible God and a Logos who is cosmic principle. But Clement was less concerned with God as principle and with systematic mastery of the revealed data, hence the lesser interest for us of the fault-lines in his thought.
The tension between a concern with principles inspired by Platonism and a more event-oriented biblical thought traverses all of Origen's discourse on the Logos. The use of the word morphê in Phil 2.6-7 prompted him (in later texts) to emphasise the formative role of the Logos, which has both a cosmic and a spiritual aspect. The schema of matter informed by the Logos imposes a metaphysical structure on Johannine contemplation, as do the Platonist schemas of procession and participation, which play such a great role in cementing the ordered ensemble of truths envisaged in Origen's theological intellectus:
For how did what was created live, unless by Life? How could substances be rational, if Logos had not come first? Or how wise, if Wisdom did not exist? (PA I 2,4)
Here the contemplative, phenomenological meaning that the titles `Logos', `Life' and `Truth' have in John is occluded. One should not celebrate the epinoiai theory as if it opened a spiritual path to the heart of the New Testament. This would be to presume that metaphysical terms can always be adequate to the spiritual and existential upshot of the biblical kerygma, whereas in fact it may be that such terms will always fall short of it for essential reasons.
The titles concerning the saving work of Christ, such as `Resurrection' (Jn 11.25) and `Way' (Jn 14.6), are recalled to their fundamental reason: `this Resurrection exists in the Wisdom of God itself, his Logos and his Life'; `the Logos and Wisdom of God made itself Way: it is called Way because it leads to the Father all who follow it' (PA I 2,4). Here we do not have a contemplative discovery of the aspects of Christ, but a metaphysical explanation of various attributes of his being. This is not an innocent counterpart of John's contemplative perspective; it intrudes on this perspective and distorts what is at stake. The biblical notions of revelation and salvation do not match this rationally constructed scale of mediations.
Even when he relates the title of Logos to the prophetic word, Origen subordinates the latter to Platonist norms. I underline the expressions belonging to this metaphysical register:
This Logos of God, called faithful, is also called true; he judges and makes war with justice, having received from God the power to retribute and to judge, according to justice in itself and judgement in itself, each of the beings according to its merit. (ComJn II 51)
Here at the same time he speaks of the Logos in an over-personal way. The phenomenality of revelation risks being reabsorbed into the framework of a Platonist metaphysics while at the same time being shrunk to the proportions of pious convention. The equilibrium between piety and philosophy is at the expense of radicality on both sides, and of an integral sighting of the phenomena. ‘Christ, the Logos of God, was in Moses and the prophets. For without the word of God how could they have prophesied about Christ' (PA I Preface 1). The word as prophetic event is subordinated to one hegemonic meaning of word: the Logos; and this is strictly identified with the person of Christ. This Christocentrism is the unifying focus of Origen's thought, and it is thence that he reconstructs the Middle-Platonist world. But this overcoming of Platonism runs a double risk: that of shaping the revelation of Christ according to an extraneous Platonic schema, and that of reducing the reality of reason (logos) to a narrow focus on the person of Christ.
Origen loves to dwell on the mystery of the indwelling of God and Logos in the soul. Citing Jer 23.24, `Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord', he asks
whether these words refer to the fact that the Logos and Wisdom penetrate the whole world and that the Father is in the Son, or whether he who is the first to gird himself with all creation has, because his Son is in him, accorded the privilege of penetrating all creation to the Saviour, as being second after him and God, Logos... It is worth enquiring what is the force so great and so powerful that resides in the whole world. To dare say it is other than the Father and the Son is certainly not pious. (ComJn VI 202-3)
Here he sees the divine presence and indwelling as a cosmic principle (a distortion of the Johannine mysticism of indwelling), while at the same time reducing cosmic order to the proportions of personalised piety.
Origen reads the incarnation according to a Platonist hierarchy of the intelligible and the sensible, which risks causing him to miss its true phenomenality. The incarnation is integrated into a gnoseological schema, according to which the Logos takes diverse forms corresponding to the degree of knowledge of him that has been attained. The essence of the incarnation is revelation, which takes place essentially as a visitation of the mind by the Logos; if this inner revelation has occurred, the incarnation is dispensable. The visitation of the Logos to the soul, before the incarnation, is more fundamental and universal than his appearing in the flesh; the one taught directly by `the light of the intelligible world' (ComJn I 161) no longer needs intermediaries (ComJn I 165). Knowledge of the Logos incarnate is inferior to knowledge of the Logos in itself, as it was in the beginning and will be again at the end; the one who thus knows the Logos has already experienced inwardly the final consummation at the end of time (ComJn X 44-5). The ideal is to see `the Logos naked' (ComJn VI 179).
In contrast, `those who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified and who, thinking that the Logos made flesh is the whole of the Logos, know Christ only according to the flesh: such is the mass of those who are considered believers' (ComJn II 29); `those who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified and who see the Logos (only) as flesh' (ComJn II 33). The Logos made flesh is but a shadow of the Logos in its full personal reality. Note the Platonist expressions which show the inferiority assumed by its descent into the sensible world:
true, in opposition to shadow, type and image, such is the Logos in the open heaven; but on earth he is not such as in heaven, having become flesh and speaking through shadows, types and images. But the majority of those regarded as believers are the shadow of the Logos and not of the true Logos of God in the open heaven. (ComJn II 49-50)
In John, in contrast, to know the Logos made flesh is indeed nothing less than to know all of the Logos: it is a knowledge become at last concrete, integral, living (cf I Jn 1.1). Origen doesn't see what makes Jn 1.14 the climax of the Prologue. For him, the verse signifies not that God is manifested in an eminent way in human weakness and in history; rather it tells of divine condescension to the weakness of a believing perception not yet capable of conceiving the Logos in a spiritual way worthy of him. This gracious economy is often evoked in touching terms (ComJn XXXII 44-9), and Origen breaks out of the Platonic frame of thought in certain passages which speak of a stupefaction before the mystery of the Logos made flesh (PA II 6.2), or which evoke the phenomenon of Christ's self-abasement: `The goodness of Christ appeared greatest and most divine and truly in the image of the Father when he humbled himself' (ComJn I 231). Is this perspective reconcilable with his exegesis of I Cor 2.2 - `I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified' - that sees in it a tactical compromise, the limitation of knowledge to relatively low topic? Origen reads this text in the light of I Cor 3.1: `I could not address you as pneumatikoi' (see ComJn XIX 68), instead of referring to the verses which proclaim the triumph of the power and wisdom of God precisely in the Cross (1.17-25).
Origen can celebrate all the titles of Christ which are connected with the fleshly economy, and can even admit that Christ in his glory still carries some traces of his passage in the flesh: `if we one day reach the highest and most sublime contemplation of the Logos and the Truth, we will not entirely forget that we were introduced to it by his becoming in our body' (ComJn II 61). But note the contrast between the warm emphasis when this contemplation is in question and the timid litotes which concludes the sentence. A Platonic regressus underlies the representation of the exaltation of Christ: `the Logos has returned to his original state after having become flesh, gradually becoming lighter until he becomes as he was in the beginning, the Logos of God that is with the Father' (ComJn I 276). The proper destiny of the flesh is to be forgotten (but not abolished) in a spiritual contemplation.
One could seek to resolve the tensions we have picked out through a dogmatic and metaphysical reflection, retracing the path of later theological metaphysics. In Athanasius and his successors the conjunction of Logos and flesh is no longer discussed in terms of a Platonic hierarchisation, but rejoins a biblical appreciation of bodily and historical reality, while in Origen this hierarchy tends to blur the traits of incarnational thinking, causing him to lose its thread. (An ideal theology of the Incarnation should integrate the subtlety of Origen's spiritualising vision with the fleshly realism of Athanasius.) The harmony of a world of Logos (the harmony between intellectuality and spirituality, human reason and divine wisdom, creation and salvation) broke down as theologians carefully differentiated between theologia and oikonomia, the life of God in himself and his relations with the creation, increasingly restricting the scope of a discourse on Logos as cosmic principle. In Augustine, Verbum remains a name of the Son, but serves more to designate his intra-divine procession than his cosmic role. This role is linked increasingly to intra-divine Wisdom, and the Son is called Wisdom only by appropriation.
But instead of pursuing such metaphysical clarification, which takes us still farther from the Johannine world, a more therapeutic strategy is to take a `step back' (Heidegger) toward the base phenomena whence both John's vision and Origen's system were constructed. The double suspicion to which metaphysical language is exposed - since Luther in the name of faith, by Heidegger in the name of thinking - forbids us to see it only as a serviceable instrument of intellectus fidei. Even if we subordinate its role to a primary language of faith, metaphysical language projects horizons, ways of enframing the revealed data, which can occlude the phenomenality of salvation. The suspicion affects the entire tradition of metaphysical theology, and whatever the delicacy with which one handles it, this suspicion must entail a deep upheaval, from which may emerge a fruitful critical reappropriation of the tradition.
At the Samos colloquium several participants resisted the idea that there might be another order of intelligibility in Scripture, not reducible to the Greek metaphysical categories, or that the Logos of John 1.1-14 might be something quite other from the Logos (or logoi?) of Greek philosophy. But it seems to me that Greek and European thought, for all its aspiration to universality, retains a certain local, cultural flavour, as any human, historical construct must. I could not agree with Jeremiah Reedy that if one were to explicate the epistemology and ontology implicit in Scripture, one would find the categories of Aristotle (in Philosophy and Orthodoxy, ed. K. I. Boudouris, 1994, p. 250). Reedy's critique of my book Questioning Back (Minneapolis, 1985), though it signals some overstatements, seems to be based on a simple rejection of Heidegger, surely an inadequate response. Some theologians claim that those of Buddhism fit better. In the quantum world, dependent origination looks closer to common sense than hylemorphism. Better, though, to develop categories proper to the scriptural world itself.
The overcoming of the metaphysical reception of John must be backed up by a demythologisation of John's own representations, which might begin with banal reductive remarks, recalling that Jesus is a human person, subject to the contingences of historical existence. One might then attempt to see how his life, death and resurrection, with all that ties them to the whole of human history, can constitute a definitive revelation of God, a singular advent of God into history, and how from this starting-point one might legitimate a description of the Christ-event as incarnation of the living Word of God. This would entail regrounding the notion of Logos incarnate in the existence of this Jewish eschatological prophet who announced the Kingdom of God. To avoid the Nestorian danger one will stress that the ultimate identity of Jesus is that of the divine Logos, of which he presents the historical, personal face.
But such rethinking of John's message is impossible as long as the frameworks of thought erected by the Fathers remain unquestioned. As we bring to light the tensions inherent in the metaphysical reading of John, measuring the blindness that accompanies its insights, we clear the space for new categories that neither repeat the convenient rationalisations of metaphysical theology nor fall back on a dull, positivist rehash of biblical representations. Origen's particular problems belong to a world in which the Logos was a central reality. But even if these problems are archaic, the underlying tension between biblical imagination and metaphysical conceptuality persists. Thus, the interrogation of Origen is an exercise in critical genealogy which can shed light on the relations between Bible and metaphysics in the theological tradition and make our present dealings with metaphysical conceptuality freer and more adapted to the matter of faith.
Joseph S. O'Leary
Originally published in K. I. Boudouris, ed. The Philosophy of Logos, Athens, 1996.