Origen weaves together into a seamless continuity aspects of the activity of the divine Logos which are more sharply differentiated in Augustine: (1) its role as illuminating all rational creatures; (2) its appearances to the Patriarchs and Moses (the theophanies); (3) its indwelling in the souls of saints and prophets; (4) its presence in Jesus Christ. For Augustine (1) is a divine activity ad extra, effected by the Trinity acting inseparably, though it can be “attributed” to the Logos; (2) is a creation of visible signs by the Trinity which obscurely symbolizes one or the other divine Person: (3) is the result of a sending of the Son by the Father, and founded in the intra-trinitarian relation of Father and Son, which it manifests; (4) is also the result of a sending or mission, but this time the Son becomes man. Where Origen tends to see differences in degree, Augustine sees differences in kind between these modes of the divine Word’s presence (omnipresence, theophany, indwelling, incarnation). The contrast might be continued to embrace the role of the Son within the Trinity, in creation, and in the eschaton.
In this essay I shall try to discover what Origen and Augustine have to say on a narrow topic: the invisible coming of the Logos into the human mind, particularly insofar as this coming is the effect of a sending of the Logos by the Father, the “invisible mission”. In differentiating more sharply the various activities of the divine Logos Augustine momentarily gives high relief to this rather fragile theologoumenon, which never acquired a substantive place in Christian discourse. It may seem pointless to study closely such a minor topic; indeed the entire framework of the discussion may seem obsolete. Nonetheless, the contrast between Origen’s and Augustine’s remarks on the invisible mission sheds light on the problems arising in the attempt to think through the biblical revelation against a Greek metaphysical background. In equating the divine missions with manifestations of the divine processions to the human mind, Augustine comes as near as he can, from within the Nicene framework, to a close integration of the immanent and economic Trinity. He may be inspired by Origen in this insight. But the constraints of Nicene orthodoxy did not encourage him to build on it and it remains an isolated incident in his theology rather than a principle of theological reconstruction.
1. Origen’s Christology of continuity
The movement of advent which is characteristic of Origen’s Christology and which gives it a sweep and consistency not found in Augustine’s has biblical roots. Jesus is the one who comes, ho erchomenos (Mt 11:3, Lk 7:19, Rev 1:8, cf. Mt 3:11, Mk 1:7, Jn 4:25), and the one who is to come, in the parousia (1 Thess 4:15, Mt 24:27). “Alles an ihm ist Kommen” (F.-W. Marquardt, Das christliche Bekenntnis zu Jesus, dem Juden, Munich, 1991, II, 324). Origen is aware of this biblical characterisation of Jesus and of the divine Word. The phrase “the Word of the Lord came to Hosea” has a strong meaning: the Father sends his divine Logos to Hosea and to everyone who is saved (“Hosea” means “saved”). The majority interpret the phrase superficially, ignoring its reference to the mission of the Son (ComJn 2.4). The frequent word epidêmia, which Origen inherited from Pseudo-Hippolytus and Clement as a technical term for the Incarnation, conveys the dynamic picture of a king’s visit and sojourn among his people (see R. Cantalamessa, L’Omelia ‘In S. Pascha’ dello Pseudo-Ippolito di Roma, Milan, 1967, 190-5).
Though Origen contrasts the coming of the Logos to those in whom he was not previously present with his eternal being with the Father, even the latter has a dynamic aspect. The Logos is not an immobile hypostasis. He dwells “with God” (Jn 1:1-2) in a movement of turning toward the Father and depending on him. It is this abiding that makes him divine, by participation in the Father’s absolute divinity (ComJn 2.17), and in turn he divinizes lesser beings. “He is God from the fact of his being with Him”. This subordinationist schema has the merit of allowing the movement of the Logos to stamp even its intra-divine life. (G. Pelland, in A. Dupleix, ed. Recherches et Tradition, Paris, 1992, 189-98, says that Augustine never applies this Neoplatonist conversio-schema to the Son but only to the angels. However, when Augustine writes of the Son “hoc est illi videre quod esse” [In evang. Joh. 18.10] he makes a conversion of the Son toward the Father constitutive of his being.)
Cécile Blanc invokes Plato’s distinction between being and becoming here (Sources Chrétiennes 120 bis, 217); but this is misleading; Origen actually strains against Platonism here by his fidelity to the movement of the Johannine Prologue. Such partial resistance to Platonic structures of thought does not, however, fully succeed in rejoining the structure of the Johannine prologue as a sequence of contemplative statements unfolding not ontological or cosmological theses but phenomenological aspects of the event of God’s creative presence in the world. Origen tends to read the Prologue as expounding a series of principles deriving logically from one another (“beginning,” “Word”, “light”, “life”) rather than as a sequence of events apprehended contemplatively. Conversely, however, these habits of ontological construction are countered by the biblical sense of a God who comes and a Logos which acts. The tensions thus implanted in Origen’s writing make it a fecund site for theological deconstruction.
In Peri Archôn, the “special operation” of the Son concerns rational creatures. (The correlation of Father, Son and Spirit with being, rationality and holiness respectively seems to have inevitable subordinationist implications; see H. Ziebritski, Heiliger Geist und Weltseele, Tübingen, 1994. Augustine avoids these through the careful language of “appropriation” in the spirit of De Trin. 7.4-6, which excludes any real variety in the roles of Father, Son and Spirit apart from the missions; here the price of Nicene orthodoxy is a certain loss of colour and dynamism.) Just as being is a participation in God, “who truly is”, rational beings participate in the Logos: “omnes, qui rationabiles sunt, verbi dei, id est rationis, participes sunt et per hoc velut semina quaedam insita sibi gerunt sapientiae et iustitiae, quod est Christus” (1.3.6). The last three words here give the Stoic-sounding passage a dynamic twist, marking the irreducible Christian personalization of the Logos and the dimension of grace. Knowledge of moral good and evil comes at the age of reason; sin is inexcusable from the time “ex quo eis divinus sermo vel ratio ostendere coeperit in corde discretionem boni ac mali” (ib.). John 15:22, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin”, is taken to refer to the universal presence of the Logos in the rational conscience. Thus language used of the incarnational coming of Christ is transferred to the presence of Logos in all human minds; conversely, that universal presence is polarized toward the personal, gracious coming of Christ. In one place, Origen identifies the Logos with conscience, quoting John 12:48: “The word that I have spoken to you will be your judge”. But then he asks if it is correct to say that the logos in us is the same as the Logos that was in the beginning with God; the doubt is allayed by reference to Rom 10:6-8, “the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” , (ComJn 2.15). We notice here a tendency to identify the personal Logos with rationality as such; in later, Augustinian theology, divine wisdom is merely appropriated to the Son, and his title of Logos loses much of its weight in consequence; Nicene orthodoxy felt more at ease with the title “Son”; in any case Logos becomes merely “Word” in Latin.
In addition to their operationes speciales the Father and Son also exercise an inoperatio praecipua in regard to the sanctified; or perhaps we should see the inoperatio praecipua as simply the fullest form of the operatio specialis. (On the significance of this distinction between two levels of divine activity, see Ziebritski, 215-22; but H. Strutwolf, Gnosis als System, Göttingen, 1993, 229, denies there is any distinction.) “Est namque etiam dei patris quaedam inoperatio praecipua praeter illam, quam omnibus ut essent naturaliter praestitit”. The Father confers being on all, but in a special way on the saints, who participate in “He who is” while the wicked reject this participation and become “non-beings”. Having received being in their creation, they now receive being worthy of God: “ut hoc quod accepit a deo ut esset tale sit, quale deo dignum est”. The inoperatio praecipua of the Logos, now referred to as Jesus Christ, concerns the perfecting of the saints: “Est et domini Iesu Christi praecipuum quoddam ministerium in eos, quibus naturaliter ut rationabiles sint confert, per quod ad hoc quod sunt praestatur eis ut bene sint”. Thus perhaps “only the saint is rational (logikos)” and no one without faith in Christ can be said to truly have life. The qualitative difference between the Son’s two levels of activity is blurred when the language of the economy is applied to the universal activity of Logos. The Spirit’s operatio specialis is to sanctify, and the Father’s and Son’s operationes become praecipuae as they share this work with the Spirit. “Nihil in trinitate maius minusve dicendum est” (PArch 1.3.7), in the sense that all three are equally active in this saving work. The inoperationes praecipuae are approached in reverse order to the operationes speciales: it is because the soul is touched by the Spirit that its participation in the Wisdom of the Son is perfected and it is able to cleave inseparably to Him who is, the Father (1.3.8).
“The Logos that is among human beings, and in which our race participates as we have said, is spoken of in two ways: either according to the fullness of the conceptions which occur to all who have surpassed infancy, putting aside marvels, or according to the summit which is found only in the perfect” (ComJn 1.273). John 15:22 refers to the universal presence of the Logos in those who have reached the use of reason. John 10:8 (“All who came before me are thieves and robbers, and the sheep have not listened to them”) refers to his coming to the perfect. The incarnation is intended for the imperfect ones whose irrational part, symbolized by the “sheep”, cannot perfectly obey the Logos: “It is perhaps according to the former [the universal presence of the Logos in adults] that ‘the Word was made flesh’ but according to the latter [the presence to the perfect] that ‘the Word was God’” (ComJn 1.275). A direct illumination of the mind by Christ (by the Logos rather than the incarnate Christ), apart from any mediations, is the highest form of knowledge (ComJn 1.164-7). Here we see the Platonizing subjection of the incarnational economy to the “naked Logos” which is characteristic of Origen’s earlier writings (ComJn 6.179; 2.29, 33, 49-50).
The mission of the Son from the Father, both visibly in the incarnation and invisibly in the minds of Old Testament saints, would seem to belong to the register of his inoperatio praecipua as sanctifying the elect rather than to his general operatio specialis as enlightening all minds. It is rather risky to push this distinction too hard. A phrase like the following can cover both the universal enlightening wisdom and the special visitation t the saints: “each of the wise in so far as he has a capacity for wisdom, participates in Christ insofar as he is Wisdom”. What follows it, however, seems to fit only the elect: “Jesus is become for us that sanctification itself whence the saints are sanctified”. But Jesus is Wisdom absolutely, and is sanctification only “for us” (ComJn 1.246-50). To bring in the invisible mission in this immediate context would be misleading, especially as there is a risk of interference from the perspective of the remedial function of the Incarnation.
Wisdom 7:27b provides an image of what the Son’s invisible mission produces: “In every generation she passes into holy souls, and makes them friends of God and prophets”. “He visits some by an ineffable and divine power, or sends his Christ... He sees to it that through Christ and the constant coming (tês aei epidêmias) of the Logos we should receive intimacy with himself” (CCels 4.6. Wisdom 7:27, otherwise rarely quoted by Origen, occurs twice here; 4.3, 7). “The Logos comes to human beings who previously had no capacity to receive the visitation of the Son of God, who is Logos” (ComJn 2.8) We may deduce that the Logos graciously creates the capacity for his own reception. Innate rationality is neither the reception of the Logos in this particular sense, nor even the capacity for its reception.
This coming of the Logos to the saints is set against the background of his universal activity “enlightening every human being” (Jn 1:9). The incarnation of the Logos in Jesus of Nazareth is set against the background of both of these activities of the Logos. Correspondingly, faith in Jesus makes sense in the context of a universal opening of the mind to the Logos. John 1:9 is read as a universal law of being rather than a summary of the salvation events, a contemplative apprehension of what is afoot in them; here as elsewhere there is a slippage from John’s contemplative, phenomenological vision to a Platonist philosophical construction. Finding in John 1:9 an abstract ontological structure, Origen interprets the concrete events of salvation in light of this abstract law, which threatens to swallow up their particularity. However, his sensibility to the dynamic continuity and spiritual bearing of the events he distinguishes is a source of resistance to this threat.
A remarkable scenario is described in connection with the incarnation: “the creation begged to be delivered from the bondage of corruption... this action was in a sense incumbent on the Holy Spirit, but unable to take it up he proposed the Saviour as the only one capable of sustaining so great a combat; the Father, as having authority, sends the Son, and the Holy Spirit co-sends and escorts him, promising to come down in time to the Son of God and to collaborate in the salvation of men” (ComJn 2.83). This dramatic presentation brings out the distinctive nature of the incarnation as contrasted with the working of the immanent Logos in all rational beings: the Logos of reason, moral law and conscience has been unable to arrest the decay of humanity, now the Logos is sent to save them. But how does this square with the correlation of incarnation with the lower role of the Logos as universal reason as noted above? The role of the incarnate Logos is a merely remedial one, a corrective of the needy condition of the logos in the bulk of human beings: “for before the perfecting of the logos (reason) all is blameworthy in men, as being needy and lacking, and not perfectly obeyed by what is not rational in us” (ComJn 1.275). Contrary to what later theology would lead us to expect, the perfecting of logos is connected less with the incarnational economy than with a surpassing or bypassing of it, already accomplished in the case of some saints of the old covenant. The sending of the Logos to them is less a saving mission than the perfecting of their innate participation in logos.
Elsewhere, the Platonist tendency to think of the Gospel as merely an image for the simple, already surpassed in principle by the Old Testament saints, is contravened by a biblical emphasis on the unique kairos of Christ’s earthly coming. But even when Origen places the incarnational revelation at the summit of knowledge of the Logos, he is still claims that this was already experienced by the Old Testament saints. “There has been a spiritual visitation (noêtê epidêmia) of Christ, even before the visitation according to the body, for the more perfect who are no longer children under pedagogues and governors, and for whom the spiritual fullness of time has come, such as the Patriarchs, Moses the servant, and the prophets who beheld the glory of Christ” (ComJn 1.37).
It is not now for the first time that he who is in the bosom of the Father has made him known, as if none previously had been able to receive what he expounded to the apostles... “From his fullness we have all received” and “grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16) show that the prophets also were accorded the gift from the fullness of Christ and received the second grace after the first. Led by the Spirit, they too reached the vision of the truth, after being initiated through types... The most perfect and distinguished did not desire to see what the apostles saw; they contemplated it. But those who did not, like them, succeed in rising to the height of the Logos were filled with desire of the things made known by Christ to the apostles. (ComJn 6.15-16)
Commenting on the words: “unless it be that the spiritual visitation of Christ has already occurred for them and, already perfected, they have received the spirit of adoption” (ComJn 19.28), Blanc notes that Origen wavers between a total revelation received before the incarnation by the greatest of the saints of the old covenant and a new illumination granted them through the death and resurrection of Christ, as in ComMt 17.36). In an earlier text, Origen posits equality between the Old Testament knowledge of Christ and the Christian revelation; this is an over-reaction to Marcionism (ComJn 6.15-28; for Marcionism see 6.31). The apostles “did not know the realities any better than the fathers and prophets” (6.28). There is “no essential difference between the revelation to the prophets and that to the apostles… The spiritual law is not surpassed: by his earthly coming Christ has merely made available to all what was until then the privilege of some” (H. Crouzel, Origène et la “connaissance mystique,” Tournai, 1961, 310; see M. Canévet, “Une fausse symétrie: la venue du Christ chez les parfaits dans l’Ancien et le Nouveau Testament selon Origène, In Joh., I, vii, 3-40,” Gregorianum, 75, 1994, 743-9). In a later discussion (ComJn 13.315-19) this is corrected; “the spiritual Law, which hopes, is not the Gospel, even the temporal one, which possesses” (Crouzel, 302; see Blanc, SC 120bis, 401-2; SC 157, 23). The difference is less an evolution than a change of perspective. Or rather, Origen remains undecided on the issue (see H. de Lubac, Histoire et Esprit, Paris, 1950, 266-7). It should be noted that neither when he makes prophets and apostles equal nor when he subordinates the Old to the New does Origen leave behind the project of recuperating the Hebrew Scriptures for Christian theology in a way that scarcely does justice to the Eigenwert (H. Haag) of the First Testament.
The Old Testament advents of Christ comprise visible as well as interior missions: “Non est unus Domini mei Jesu Christi adventus quo descendit ad terras: et ad Isaiam venit, et ad Moysen venit, et ad populum venit, et ad unumquemque prophetarum venit; neque tu timeas: etiam si jam coelo receptus est, iterum veniet” (HomIs 1.5). The theophanies were appearances of Christ in his pre-existent human soul (SelGen 32.24). “The Logos was present to the Patriarchs, for it appeared in the theophanies; to the prophets, for it is that Word of God which was addressed to them... Moses saw God only through the aperture of the rock, the future incarnation of the Logos; the Logos showed itself to Jacob only as hidden in its human soul” (Crouzel, 303). The same interpretation of Exodus 33:20-33 is given by Augustine (De Trin. 2.27-31). But the theophanies, as Crouzel points out, are merely “temporary missions” as opposed to the lasting conjunction of the incarnation; though one may doubt if this contrast is firmly emphasized by Origen himself. The temporary character of the theophanies is also noted by Augustine (De Trin. 2.12). For Origen, it is the soul of Christ that appears in the theophanies, but it is not yet a human soul; “it has not yet left the angelic state of the pre-existing intelligences” (Crouzel, 303). (Athanasius denounces the idea that Christ’s soul pre-exists, Ep. ad Epictetum 8; it was redolent of an Arian middle stage between human and divine, and it undercut incarnational realism.)
Crouzel’s account of Origen’s “mystical knowledge” emphasizes the ascending movement of Platonic eros rather than the descending movement of agape. Focus on the texts which point to the salvific advent of the Word, sent from the Father might redress the balance. One could make more of the intelligible coming of the Word to the Old Testament saints. In his presentation of the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus Christ, Origen draws on both the ascending and descending perspectives: the incarnation is the supreme realization of mystical knowledge and the supreme visitation of the Logos to a human soul: “as man he is more adorned than any other man with the highest participation in the Logos-in-itself (autologos) and Wisdom-in-itself” (CCels 7.17; see also 5.39). “Apart from this man we would not have the capacity to receive the benefits of the Logos, remaining as he was in the beginning with the Father, God, and not assuming a man, the first of all and worthiest of all and more than all capable of receiving him purely. After whom we also will be able to receive him in his greatness and as he is, each according to the degree to which we make an ample space in our soul” (ComJn 10.26). Jesus is the model of participation in Logos and reception of the coming of Logos, enabling and encouraging other humans to open their hearts in the effort to become fully logikos.
Just as the universal participation of rational creatures was spoken of in the language of the Logos’s coming into the world, here the most concrete mission of the Logos is simultaneously the full attainment of participation. Is there a danger that the universal presence of the Logos, which already ensures “quod omnes homines non sunt extra communionem Dei” (PArch 1.3.6), anticipates the incarnational economy and renders it superfluous? As to the invisible mission of the Logos to saints and prophets, it differs only in degree of excellence from his presence in Christ, and Origen uses the same vocabulary of mission to describe it as he uses for the incarnation (see G. Aeby, Les missions divines de saint Justin à Origène, Fribourg, 1958, 167). Given Origen’s stress on the remedial status of the incarnation and the higher dignity of unmediated reception of the Logos, there is a danger that a Platonizing model of mystical knowledge may rob the incarnational economy of its centrality. The incarnation is the high point of the encounter of rational creatures with the God in whose image they are made. Yet the historical unicity and fleshliness of the incarnation is of less account to Origen than the invisible conjunction of the logikoi with the Logos that Jesus Christ, the logikos par excellence, enables.
The possibilities of an indwelling-Christology were blocked by the Photinian controversy of 351 which revealed the danger of a reduction of the incarnation to a mere indwelling of divinity in the man Jesus. Henceforth, orthodoxy sought to highlight the differences between incarnation and the coming of the Word to the prophets (see Hilary, De Trin. 10.21; Athanasius, Cont. Ar. 3.30-1; B. Studer, Zur Theophanie-Exegese Augustins, Rome, 1971, 35, 104).