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Love Lifted Me. A Consideration of a Profound insight from Origen

August 28, 2013

082813Back in Seminary days we would often study the question of authorship when it came to books of the Bible. Especially in modern times there are extensive debates about such things. I remember being annoyed at the question in most cases since I didn’t really care who the Holy Spirit gave the text to, in the end, God was the author.

I was also annoyed at some of the premises used to reject authorship. For example, it was widely held by modern scholars that St. Paul couldn’t possibly be the author of the the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) since the description of the Church was “far too developed” to have been written prior to 65 AD. Never mind that the Acts of the Apostles describes many of the “dubious” hierarchal elements (presbyters (e.5. Acts 14:23), deacons (e.g. acts 6:3), and apostles (bishops). Never mind any of that, for us moderns there is the tendency to consider as “primitive” early eras. So Paul’s authorship was questioned by many in those days.

John’s gospel too was considered far too lofty by modern scholars to have been written by a “simple fisherman.” Where could this “unlettered man” have gotten such profound and mystical insights? Again, never mind that he may have been as old as 90 when he authored the gospel, and may have pondered it for some 60 years. Never mind that he lived for at least part of that time with the sinless Virgin Mary, who knew her son as no one knew him and saw him with sinless eyes. No, never mind the power of grace and infused vision. No, it was too much for many modern and rationalistic scholars to accept that a simple fisherman could pull it off. It must have been by some other more lettered man like “John the Elder,” or it must have been other smarter types in the Johanine community, or school that authored this.

Here too I was just a simple 25 year old seminarian but it seemed to me that far too many modern interpreters stressed only the human dimension of Revelation. Something more mystical was missing from their view. That God could somehow give a profound vision to the early Apostles, and an infused mysticism was almost wholly absent in their analysis. Even as a 25 year old I knew better than to exclude that. I was young, but had already experienced aspects of the charismatic movement where inspiration and gifts were to be sought and expected.

And had not Jesus himself said to the Apostles, But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you (Jn 14:26).

I recently came across a quote from Origen, the early 3rd Century Father, whose insight into John struck me as profound and telling, deeply faithful and challenging for every Christian. Pondering himself, where John “got all this” Origen says,

We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he that has lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus, Mary to be his mother also. (Origen, Commentary on John, 6)

There it was, the lynchpin, the truest answer. John had mystical vision and saw the Lord in the loftiest way because he knew and experienced the heart of the Lord, and had Mary for his Mother. John was a brilliant theologian and possessed of deep insight, less because he knew books, and more because he knew the Lord, heart to heart.

And how surely and truly Mary’s role in this cannot be overlooked. Think of the conversations she and John must have had, the mystical prayer she must have enjoyed, and shared with John, the memories and the things that only the heart of a sinless mother could see and know. How John must have marveled at the gift of her. And how he too, who had known the heart of the Lord, and rested at his heart, at the Last Supper must have been able to pray and converse with her.

Speculation you say? Perhaps. But a vision I share with the great theologian Origen. It was love that gave John insight, it was relationship with Jesus, and with Mother Mary, by Jesus own gift, that his mystical gospel took flight.

And what of you and me? How will we gain insight into the Lord, and the truth of his Gospel? Books and learning? Studying Greek? Reading commentaries? Sure, all well and good. But these things are best at telling you what the text is saying. But it takes a deep relationship with the Lord to see Scripture’s mystical meaning.

Study? Sure. But don’t forget to pray! Scripture comes from the heart of the Lord and it is only there, by entering the heart of the Lord, and living there through prayer that Scripture’s truest meaning will ever be grasped.

Having trouble getting there? No one loves and understands Jesus like his Mother Mary. Ask her intercession and help, she will show you the heart of her Son.

Jesus gave John two gifts: the gift of his heart, and the gift of his mother. And John soared to such places that people could ask, “How did he get all this?” But you know how.

He offers you and me the same. Do you want vision, do you want to appreciate the depths of scripture and all God’s truth? Do you want the eyes of your heart opened to new mysteries and mystical experience? Accept the gifts Jesus offers: the gift of his heart, the gift of his mother.

Consider well the admonition of one of the most learned men who ever lived:No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he that has lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also.

Here is Fr. Thomas Luis de Victoria at his most mystical: O Magnum Mysterium (O Great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals would witness the birth of Christ. O Blessed Virgin whose womb merited to carry the Lord Jesus Christ, Alleluia!)

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Comments (32)

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  1. JohnR says:

    Congratulations on an excellent, thought provoking article. It certainly rings true, to me.

  2. Sally says:

    Be like Peter and jump out of the boat, and walk with Christ. It is only when we become distracted by the world around us and lose sight of God do we lose our faith. Thank you Msgr. Charles Pope, I think I am learning how to pray again with my Heart and not my head.

  3. Bill Foley says:

    Dear Monsignor Pope,

    Wonderful words re Mary and John. Also, people tend to forget that the initial spread of Christianity was really due primarily to the prayers of Mary and secondarily to the evangelizing efforts of the Apostles, St. Paul, etc.
    It has long been a teaching of the Catholic Church that the contemplative religious orders by their prayers and sacrifices bring down the rain of grace on the harvest.

  4. Dismas says:

    A few of my favorite things, maybe my most favorite. My favorite place to consider them is while praying the 4th Glorious Mystery, The Assumption. I love to consider (speculate) Mary and John living in Ephesus together after Jesus’ Crucifixion prior to Mary’s assumption. My favorite version of Ave Maria is also by Fr. Thomas Luis de Victoria.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXyqPDU0_fM

  5. Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    Msgr,
    My guess is that far too many of those who taught you in seminary believed themselves to be the authors of their finely-tuned intelligence.
    Your “problem”: you have too much common sense. You are a clear threat to this highly developed culture of ours.

  6. Pedro says:

    There is also the question about the “Epistle to the Hebrews” authorship. Following Wikipedia,

    “The authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews is uncertain. Although perhaps the most common theory through the ages has been that the apostle Paul is the author,[1] most modern scholars generally agree that it was not written by Paul.”

    Again, “modern schollars”…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorship_of_the_Epistle_to_the_Hebrews

    • Ben says:

      Yes, Pedro – modern ‘scholars’ again! The Church Fathers attributed Hebrews to St Paul, and I’ll stick with them, thanks very much.

      Just about the only thing I agree with Heidegger on is that the modern world is full of ‘academics’ and there are very few actual ‘scholars’ anymore. I would rather refer to these individuals as academics than scholars, as ‘scholarship’ denotes something much loftier and more rigorous than the kind of speculation they practice. They are interested primarily in academic tenure and their standing amongst their peers than striving for truth.

      Fr Pope: Another wonderful piece – thank you so much.

  7. Pedro says:

    I have sometimes thought about this three people who accompanied Jesus besides the cross: Mary, Mary Magdalene and John.

    I think the three had so powerful reasons to do it and not flying away, like the others, such a deep love: Mary, being his Mother and so faithful; John, being a teenager who had no doubts about Jesus, not like the “adults”; and Mary Magdalene, having been forgiven by the Lord, she had unconditional love for Him.

  8. teomatteo says:

    Was not John related to the High Priest or connected to the priestly network there in Jerusalem? I thought that he was at our Lords trial at the residence of Caiaphas. If so, would this fact not be a consideration that John was educated and not simply a laborer?

    • hard to say. modern notions about labor and education may not apply retroactively. even the factors of what it means to be educated may not apply. For example, being able to read and write are essential to being educated today. But then, these were skills, like stenography today.

  9. Vijaya says:

    Oh, I just love this post because I have seen the Lord do amazing things in my life. I do strive to understand, but one of the more profound things I have learned is the pleasure of being with our blessed Lord. Just being. I dare to place myself at His feet, my head in his lap. He is teaching me to love more (even when I don’t want to).

    Thank you so much for shining His light, Father. If I don’t meet you here on earth, I shall certainly meet you one day in heaven. And rejoice! God bless you.

    • Vijaya says:

      I forgot how much Mary has played a role in all this … until I prayed the rosary, I could not imagine myself at His feet. She literally took my hand and brought me to Him.

  10. Donna L. says:

    Thanks! I love this!

    Yes, a relationship with Mary is key. I have really been struggling with praying the rosary lately. I have been trying to pray simply – as a child to her mother – but I’ve read over and over that the rosary is a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare. A little off-topic, I know, but I seek a relationship with Our Blessed Mother that goes beyond a daily recitation of the rosary.

  11. I Like The Church Fathers says:

    “…I didn’t really care who the Holy Spirit gave the text to, in the end, God was the author.”

    I’m a little troubled by this comment, Monsignor.

    As I understand it, the position of the Church is that while the Bible was inspired directly by the Holy Spirit, God did not give the text “whole” to the authors. Various Biblical authors wrote under divine inspiration, but because it was these authors who actually put pen to paper, the Bible can and should be the subject of a broad range of exegesis, including even the historical-critical method.

    The late Cardinal Dulles (hardly an opponent of Catholic tradition he!) wrote an excellent essay on this in the last years of his life. I’ll link to the whole article, but I think it’s worth highlighting a couple of excerpts:

    “In its treatment of inspiration and inerrancy, Dei Verbum 11 had manifested the Council’s recognition of the human input of the sacred writers, with all their personal and cultural limitations. Vatican II speaks freely, not only of God as the “author” of Scripture, but also of the human authors as “true authors.” In its treatment of inerrancy in Dei Verbum 11, the Council refrained from stating explicitly that every declarative sentence in the Bible is true. It says instead that the books of Scripture (in the plural) teach firmly and without error the truth that God wanted to commit to them for the sake of our salvation.” [pp. 21-2].

    “Scripture scholars, theologians, and pastors should not go their separate ways, ignoring or fearing one another. Catholic exegetes should be skilled in theological as well as in philological interpretation. Dogmatic theologians and pastors should be familiar with the findings of technical exegesis.” [p. 26].

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.scotthahn.com/download/attachment/2518

  12. kelso says:

    Thank you Monsignor for this erudite information. I have bookmarked it for my own future use. After learning my Faith better and reading a’Lapide’s commentaries I am astonished that liberal “exegetes” got away with so much “higher criticism” falsehoods in the seminaries — and from pulpits. The Apostles were not illiterate fishermen. Fishermen, we know five of them were, but hardly illiterate. Pious Jews attended synagogue instruction and services. They were, therefore, well acquainted with the scriptures, the Septuagint certainly. And, being from Galilee “of the gentiles,” and being businessmen, they had to speak Greek (the common language for dealing with the gentiles), as well as their native Aramaic. No doubt, too, they knew Hebrew, the mother tongue for Aramaic. Furthermore, Saint John’s father, Zebedee, as is assumed by unbiased scholars, must have done business with the priests in the temple because, as John relates of himself in his Gospel, he was “known to the high priest.” (John 18:15) Zebedee employed Saint’s Peter and Andrew.

  13. RichardGTC says:

    Blessed John Paul II said that when we go to Eucharistic Adoration we are imitating the the Apostle who rested his head against Jesus’ breast.

  14. GONZALO T. PALACIOS, Ph.D., C.U.A. 1070 says:

    Beautiful article, my sincere congratulations and thanks for sharing such intimate spiritual experiences. Once again I express my wish you would read my book on the Virgin Mary’s transcendental significance for humanity: “Regarding the Virgin Mary’s revolution, our choices are clear: {…} accept the guidance of Love or adopt idolatry as a religion.” (Epilogue). By the way, Monsignor Pope, I find it hard to believe that you were “a simple 25 year old seminarian”….Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D. C.U.A., 1970.

  15. Nathan says:

    Beautiful insight from Origen! Thanks for this.
    As one person already commented, the Church’s magisterium does ask us to dive into the very historical questions that biblical scholars are interested in. See, e.g., Dei Verbum 12 and Verbum Domini 32. As Pope Benedict put it in his first Jesus of Nazareth book, “Et incarnatus est – when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history. If we push this history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion….The historical-critical method – let me repeat – is an indispensable tool, given the structure of Christian faith…. This method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretative task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God.”
    Thus, while biblical scholars sometimes forget the important insights mentioned in this post, many other Catholics dismiss the Church’s teaching on the importance of historical criticism (which involves asking questions about things like the human authors’ setting in life). That some scholars do so with problematic assumptions is no excuse for ignoring the essential task. Origen, a great historical scholar, would no doubt agree.
    Thanks again

  16. Candida Eittreim says:

    Just give me the faith of a child. A faith in which i confidently go and rest in the heart of my Abba and feel His healing love. All i want or need is in these moments. Through that simple love, all the transcendent beauty and wisdom of Scripture becomes clear. You, Msgr. Pope, rest in the heart of Christ. God bless you.

  17. Boris says:

    Who is the painting by, please? I’ve never seen it. I do believe the artist should have been given credit. Thanks — very good article.

  18. susanna says:

    This is wonderful. Thanks!

  19. Kenneth D says:

    Yes Monsgnr; I completely believe this of Apostle John. In fact I once shared dat line of thought wt a group of believers, sounding so convinced abt it of de one who learnt frm d HEART OF JESUS and home with MARY. Now u confirm dat to me. May God’s name be praised!

  20. Gitanjali Sudhir says:

    Dear Msgr Pope:

    I was a bit taken aback by your opening sentence:
    “Back in Seminary days we would often study the question of authorship when it came to books of the Bible. Especially in modern times there are extensive debates about such things. I remember being annoyed at the question in most cases since I didn’t really care who the Holy Spirit gave the text to, in the end, God was the author.”

    Do do you mean to say your professors of Scripture failed to impress upon you that each writer possessed his specific charism, even while impacting upon your mind that God is the Universal Author?

    Perhaps, seminaries in that part of the world….Well, I must agree that you are a better judge than I am.

    Perhaps I could understand your excitement and enthusiasm…rearding what you mean to tell us.

    Yet, I would dare to read the writings of Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Francis as they individually are with their own personal take, nuances…

    So too, I would venture to appreciate Origen, Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, and all saintly souls that sit at the feet of the Lord with their own flavors.

    In fact, I enjoy being with Washinton’s Pope take as well as Vatican’s Pope – bifocally..

    GITA – Chennai – India

  21. Arline says:

    One only needs to know the story of Alfonse Ratisbonne and the intervention of Our Lady and the Miraculous medal to know that God can and does give infused knowledge. How sad that the leadership of our Church think their way of thinking is superior to the actual actions of God in our lives. Little wonder the numbers at Mass continue to shrink. So many of the priests and bishops try to attract people with novelties in the Holy Mass (acknowledging each other with applause and singing Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary; rock bands next to the altar;chatting in the pews, dancing in the liturgy etc. etc), when the real draw is the Real Presence. Entertainment is better left to professionals.

  22. James Mahoney says:

    From the Byzantine Catholic/Orthodox Liturgy:

    Pentecost Troparion:

    Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,
    Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise,
    by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit,
    and through them didst draw the world into Thy net.
    O Lover of mankind, glory be to Thee.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxXTF2lolqc

    And:

    Idiomelon of the Great Vespers of Pentecost Sunday:

    “The Holy Spirit provideth all things;
    He gusheth forth prophecy;
    He perfecteth the priesthood;
    He hath taught wisdom to the illiterate.
    He hath shown forth the fishermen as theologians.
    Heholdeth together the whole institution of the Church.
    Wherefore, O Comforter, one in essence and throne
    with the Father and the Son, glory be to Thee.”

    In summary, the faith of the Church enshrined in her Liturgy is that Christ has “shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit” and that the Holy Spirit has “taught wisdom to the illiterate” and “shown forth the fishermen as theologians.” Your common sense objections are indeed confirmed by the tradition of the Church!

  23. Tom Hanson says:

    I don’t care what you were trying to do in this blog, good as it is, I myself want to thank you for supplying a perfect example of why Greek, even Koine, is a much more precise and philosphical language than Latin. Without the definite article, which Latin lacks, we could be left with something like, ” of Scriptures Gospels first fruits,but of Gospels John” and all the possibilities for ambiguity, given manuscripts without word-spaces or even puncuation to clue the reader that a sentence has ended. A Latin teacher can then go on to talk about Cicero who tried his best at philosophical discourse to open Greek philosophy to the Italian world, but was left with overuse and strange use of pronouns many of which should best be translated into the article in English, depending on context. Truly splendid, for a purpose you didn’t intend. Thanks again.

  24. Matthew says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Great article as always. I have one concern. You mention Origen as a 3rd Century Father. Technically, this is not true. He is an early ecclesiastical writer. From what I read, some of his writings are heretical, although not most of them. Correct me if I am in error.

    In Christ,
    Matthew

    • Origen lived 185-254 AD and always wanted to be “a man of the Church” and died as such. Later, some of his teachings were condemned as heretical under the title of “Origenism” However, we ought to remember that in those early centuries, things were not as theologically clear as they would later be. Hence, most scholars would not classify Origen as a heretic per se, though some of his teachings did not endure later scrutiny. But Origen was not declared a heretic in his lifetime.

  25. Ann Schneider says:

    Jesus gave John two gifts: the gift of his heart, and the gift of his mother. And John soared to such places that people could ask, “How did he get all this?” BUT YOU KNOW HOW.

    Indeed. Thank you.

  26. Norman says:

    Good call Father; when I was an atheist studying psychology I realized just how many psychological facts that science received from the church prior to there being a word for “psychology”, I found lots of healthy psychological habits from ancient religions before such modern scientific psychological study even existed… This mystified me as it was quite clear that there was some sort of advanced information infused into humanity, which originated with 12 guys a long time ago, who attributed it to a Jewish guy with roots even further back, but each of those 12 all said the source was one man, who was God.

    This only made sense if Jesus was God, and a very important reason as to how I became a ‘theist’, on my way Home to the Catholic Church!…Now I help out with RCIA at my parish as I think this is the most important information I’ve discovered in my life, but like John- when people hear me speak they tell me I’m brilliant, just like John. Only I have zero education (outside of high school) and am very open about it, I just learned how to read when I was young and picked up an ancient book of wisdom at the age of 20, the rest is “well, what do you expect?”, when you come to know the Creator of Wisdom itself???