The Two Most Crucial Requirements for any Theologian According to Origen


Back in my 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, since in most cases I didn’t really care to whom the Holy Spirit gave the text; in the end, God was the author.

I was also annoyed at some of the premises used to reject apostolic authorship. For example, it was widely held by modern scholars that St. Paul couldn’t possibly have been the author of 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.g., 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 early eras as “primitive.” So Paul’s authorship was questioned by many in those days.

John’s gospel was also 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 the view of the Bible experts who equated wisdom with scholarly credentials. That God could somehow give a profound vision and an infused mysticism to the early Apostles was almost completely 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 where John “got all this,” Origen in effect sets forth the two most crucial requirements for a theologian:

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, the two most crucial reasons for John’s mystical heights. John had mystical vision and saw the Lord in the loftiest way because he knew and experienced the heart of the Lord, knew and experienced the love of the Lord, and had Mary for his Mother.

John was a brilliant theologian and possessed deep insight, less because he knew books, and more because he knew the Lord, heart to heart; he experienced the love of God and loved him in return.

Second, surely and truly, Mary’s role in John’s insight 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 hearth, at the Last Supper must have been able to pray and converse with her.

Speculation you say? Perhaps. But it is 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 reached the loftiest heights.

And what of you and me? How will we gain insight into the Lord, and the truth of his Gospel? By books and learning?  By studying Greek? By reading commentaries? Sure, all well and good. But these things are best at telling you what the text is saying. It takes a deep relationship with the Lord to see Scripture’s mystical meaning. And Mary’s beautiful intercession and motherly promptings help things to soar, for she herself pondered all these things and reflected on them in her heart.

Want to be a great theologian? Study for 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.

Step two, entrust your study and reflection to Mother Mary. No one loves and understands Jesus like his Mother Mary. Ask for her intercession and help and she will show you the heart of her Son.

Jesus gave John two gifts: his heart and 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 and the gift of his mother.

Consider well the admonition of one of the most learned men who ever lived, Origen: 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!)

23 Replies to “The Two Most Crucial Requirements for any Theologian According to Origen”

  1. If all Christians would appriciate the two great gifts of Jesus, His heart and His mother.

  2. Thank you Msgr. Charles Pope. This is a great insight. Recently I also kept thinking that Jesus, if He ever desires human glory He would have spare time to write His own story, but as true as He was/is–the Son of God–He wants to leave memory by His own Person rather than words alone. In so doing, the search for Him and finding Him must come through faith, faith that is not in the abstract term (or as the world says ‘blind faith’) but in the inner being i.e. the heart that seeks to love the way He does through His great faith He had in the Father ( He says once ‘I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me’). So I believe the written account of His life and His Blessed life is not not only to show the world who He is but also to convince the mind that seeks the truth. And show that both love and truth are one and the same. In seeking one, the other revealed.
    Anyway, I too agree that “No one can apprehend the meaning of it [the Word of God who become one of us] except he that has lain on Jesus’ breast [one listen the heart beat] and received from Jesus Mary [the Church] to be his mother also.” God speed

  3. Dear Msgr, your insight as a seminarian was certainly right on. Complementing Origen, St Thomas makes this his very first statement in the Summa Theologica: “Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.” In others words, true theology begins with belief, not doubt. As true love is always grounded on belief, not doubt.

    On a point of method: modern scripture scholarship fashions itself as modern scientific endeavor. Of course, modern science is methodologically skeptical–it begins and ends with the idea that it can be wrong (except for global warming ; > o ) and must be open to disconfirmation. Modern scientific methodology, therefore, cannot possibly be used as a theological tool without denying the first premise of true theology–Faith. This really is so reasonable, once one thinks about it. God will only give insight about Himself to those who are willing to Trust Him as a first principle of their life and of their knowledge.

    Thanks for all of your great insights. They really ground me in my Faith and remind me of the great things i learned from the faith-filled teachers i had many years ago.

  4. You are right. The problem with modern “theology” and with Protestantism in general (in my view), is that they view the Bible so literally and statically (who wrote what, when and why), they forget that behind the writing and the important teachings and miracles was a very real human man in the Person of Christ who lived for 30 years in obscurity before preaching for 3 years. They also ignore the fact that Mary, His mother, also a very real human woman, was very much a part of His life. She didn’t make appearances randomly, and they ignore the fact in between His preachings and His miracles, He likely confided much in her, and being His mother, she probably asked many questions! There’s a whole conversation missing from the Wedding of Cana, for example. We don’t know what she said to Him that convinced Him to turn the water into wine. But she must have said something. So I hardly consider it “speculation” that after Christ’s death, His mother spoke at length to John, her newly adopted son. In fact, it has to be reality, since they too were very real people living their lives in ministry after the death and resurrection of her Son. It only makes sense then to approach the Bible knowing that there is much in it that is missing, which is why we have a living, growing, but theologically unchanging Church, whose foundations are Scripture and Tradition. Perhaps you could go more in depth on the lives of these individuals? The Bible only says so much since the focus really is on the Good News. Thanks, Msgr!

    1. The Holy Virgin Mother of God said two things at the wedding feast of Cana

      1) “They have no wine.”
      2) “Do whatever He tells you.”

      She knew exactly how to pray. Indicate the need and allow God to do His work. She knew that her Son the Divine person with two natures, that of God and that of man would handle the situation in the best interests of those for whom she as interceding. Would that we would turn to such love for and confidence in God.

  5. Thank you Msgr. Pope! You have no idea how much my soul was in need of this insight! May God bless you for your faithfulness in passing it on!!!

  6. Amen! Your thoughts remind me of Pope Benedict’s explanation of exegesis by reading in faith in his forward to his book, Jesus of Nazareth. Thanks for a great post!

  7. Thank you, Msgr. Pope. I needed to read that. The Rosary has been my school of Mary since 2001.

  8. Monsignor,

    Awesome article.
    Maybe we should have a relook at Origen for sainthood.


  9. The academic viewpoints which seem to have displeased you seem to be, at least somewhat, isolationistic in their technique of study to what may well be arrogance.
    How could a simple fisherman have such mystical insights and know the means to express them so well? Firstly I do not negate the part of Ruach Hodesh, the Holy Spirit, who so well guided the early apostles and led them through the paths which God knows so well how to straighten. Psalm 5:8 Psalm 27:11 Psalm 107:6&7 Proverbs 3:6 Proverbs 4:11
    To make a living by fishing may seem so simple to those who have not done it, or who have fished recreationally, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
    Going out in weather where the sports fisherfold stays home and dealing with wind and wave is part art and part science. The mechanical devices on a boat of the First Century Anno Domini may have been simple but survival; as well as success in yielding an abundant catch: requires skillful use of these devises through a degree of understanding. And, while the early stages are largely subjective, the objective view must increase to broaden the benefits of the experiential aspects of the initial encounter.
    Knowing where the fish will be in the body of water is also important because, while there are guidelines, the involvement of several factors in a change of weather patterns must be carefully analized, as well as sensed in a sort of right brain engagement. After all the variations in a weather change might not be quite the same as the last time such a change occured.
    All of this could well sow the seeds of an upcoming spiritual awakening and contribute to its growth as it sets the stage for three years in the company of the Son of God. Of course the seeds outcome would vary according to the fruitfullness of the soil.
    Not to put down an academic approach though. Luke showed how well that could illustrate the lessons of His ministry to scholarly people – many of whom likely would have bennifitted from Luke’s Gospel rather than John’s. Four Gospels from four viewpoints seems a very comprehensive presentation that reaches to a broader spectrum of people.
    May as well attribute Einstein’s theories to someone else. Reports are that he didn’t do well in school and ended up being given a very general science course which only gave an overview, with physics being the least stressed. He seemed, to me, to have self educated in physics when working in the Austrian patent office where he began with simple physics. Inventions must be assessed. Will they do what the inventor has claimed? To some degree, how do they do that? Well, a lever within a mechanical device doesn’t multiply strenth by magic. If the end that applies force only moves a fifth as far as the end where the force is applied then the way in which force is multiplied (by five) becomes obvious. Practical trumps fanciness – as Daniel illustrated in the first chapter of … well … Daniel.
    Seems so, to me, a likening that interacting with a constantly shifting environment where fish move to survive as they fulfill their place in the food chain, then that interaction would provide a basis of a spiritual awareness such as John so well illustrated. Peter too – sometimes in a hard core practical way. I was very struck by 2 Peter 2:10-12. Appears to be a good illustration of fear of comparison being expressed through tyranny of the masses.
    NB In proof-reading I was going to change “fisherfold” into “fisherfolk” but it may have to do with a sheep fold and be akin to (metaphorically speaking) to a Freudian slip.
    Then again, if this opinion of mine seems somewhat superficial and in-applicable then maybe I’m getting a tad overly high assessing of my grasp of the Mysteries which are infinite.

  10. Can you know Father how much sharing this story from your 25 year old self has acted as a salve. I hear them, the learned, whether in teaching or pulpits, lessons or homilies, and it feels like an assault. the ineffable beauty of the truth you here describe sets free the soul, and they wish to steal it all away; they assume the mantle of the egalitarian and they wish to tear down the silly myths and such, but they are slowly but surely destroying our hope. I read your words and all of a sudden I felt for a moment the burden carried every single day; I want to believe – I do believe, what you have written here is simply TRUE, but they all say no. There is a famous experiment in psychology in which a person is placed amongst confederates and is shown several lines one of which is clearly longer, everyone in the room is asked to identify the longest line and they all pick a shorter line, many times the person tested would go along with the crowd even though it was clearly wrong, not to conform necessarily, but because they assumed something was wrong with their perception; reading your anecdote, i realized how much i feel like that person. I know that the mystery and ineffable beauty of Sacred Scripture is real, the ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila is real, but everyone who is supposed to know, even Priests, say no, don’t take that so seriously, don’t ponder the mystical union with Christ, don’t you see that this Gospel is about the here and now. Father they break my heart, but your simple story today has given me strength. thank you. Peace.

  11. A Million Thank you in our Lord Jesus Christ, Msgr. Pope. What a perfect time chosen by The Perfect Father asking HIS sons to be Perfect as HE is through the Ruach Hodesh, the Holy Spirit!!!! After starting some theological studies in fragments though, informally in 1985-86, it was now I have been being completely moved by the TRINITARIAN God and have just begun a formal Theological Program. This insight comes at the most appropriate time as in all humbleness I consider myself being called by God so many years back, but kept running away like ‘Jonah’. Finally it was in the deepest darkness as in the belly of a fish, I heard it and resolved that …’No more running away’.. and by His immense grace and by the beautiful maternal presence and intercession of Mother Mary, I am commencing my journey formally in ‘Spiritual Theology’ which is moving from pedagogy to mystagogy, the deepest yearning since many many years. Now it is the appropriate time and God has spoken thru’ you Rev. Msgr. Pope to arm me with the very very imminent weapons in this journey towards ‘The TRUTH’. After readings the various scholarly dissertations with so called insights which disproves and looks at many of the Church’s teachings besides scriptures in the said perspective of scientific methodology, it was a pain in my heart many a times. Hence I ardently pray thus to grow only as close as His grace allows to grasp the inexhaustible richness and glory dwelling in HIS Son Jesus Christ to which He has called everyone Baptised person, which is the our Heavenly fathers’ delight. Thanks once again!

  12. Beautiful reflections, Monsignor! Also, I appreciate all of these responses from the readers.

    I was blessed to attend a talk given by a missionary last night, and he, too, had much to say about our Blessed Mother that was so insightful. He talked about her role as the Queen Mother, and what the Old Testament has to say about that role. I strongly recommend that readers look into the role of the Queen Mother in the Old Testament.

    Myself, in meditating on the rosary, have come to appreciate that for many YEARS, no one was able to even come near, hold, or touch Jesus without His mother’s permission or knowledge. That is to say, nobody had direct access to the Lord of the Universe; it was necessary to go through Mary.

  13. Msgr, I can’t even begin to tell you how encouraged I am by this post and that you really get it. Taking an OT and NT class at our Athenaeum in Cinci this year has been one of the most difficult and trying experiences I have had since becoming Catholic 9 years ago. Pray for me as I battle this hysterical criticism that seems ubiquitous. I asked the professor who he thought the disciple that Jesus loved was. He said that he didn’t know. I said that it is very odd that the Apostle John is never mentioned by name in the entire Gospel. He had never thought of that and thought that he was. Then couldn’t find the passage and realized that it was simply a reference to the ‘sons of Zeb..’. I was unprepared and still too schocked to take up the argument any further or I believe I would have pinned him to the wall about John at the foot of the cross. It makes me so crazy angry when they attack the scriptures that I make myself a poor servant of the truth.

    1. You certainly have my prayers. I too am convert, and it felt like I found the pearl of great price when I fell in love with the Church, but to hear the learned ones tell it I actually just happened to discover a mere peice of sand with some calcium build up around it. The words they speak are foolish, and your heart speaks true.

  14. “Back in my Seminary days we would often study the question of authorship when it came to books of the Bible. . . . in most cases I didn’t really care to whom the Holy Spirit gave the text; in the end, God was the author.” How true Father, as the Catechism makes clear (CCC 105).

    But, how many today REALLY believe that God is the author of Sacred Scripture? REALLY believe it? How many biblical scholars and academics believe it? How many deacons, priests, bishops and Cardinals believe it? How many lay Catholics believe it? I’d venture to guess many fewer than we might think, especially among those in positions of power and influence.

    When the Bible is reduced to ancient human literature, and, for example, we discuss who wrote what and when with such vigor – as if, (1) these questions could be definitively answered, and (2) the answers would somehow be despositive of the text’s meaning and importance – it is much easier to reduce the Bible to merely human words, just another human philosophical system . . . just another human myth . . . words that we can then pick and choose to respect and honor, as it suits our own needs, desires, and mood.

  15. Thank you Monsignor.
    I have struggled with that very idea presented in my Scripture studies for a long time; that the authors of Scripture were other than those listed. I have always felt in my heart that the Gospel writers and St. Paul had been infused with grace and knowledge enabling them to understand more deeply the truths of Christ. St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, is proof that something powerful and life changing happened to him, enabling him to understand the mysteries of Christ more deeply than most humans.

  16. My favorite line from the “teachers of the faith” is; We really don’t know, but….. and they continue to push a false belief or tear down Mary or the Saints. My daughter is being Baptized and confirmed at Easter and this process of learning the Catholic faith in our Church is painful and I am frustrated with the arrogance. Sometime I wish to bail out, however I take great comfort in reading your post on the Catholic faith. Thank you for your love to God for it is a piece of religious sanity each day for it brings me closer to God, Christ and the Holy Ghost.

  17. I posted this on my facebook and got a swift response from one of my teachers at seminary. The basic premises of the argument was that this was arrogant and that this article does nothing to disprove the scientific approach and what was gleaned from it (in particular, the points about John’s Gospel not being written by him and the letters of Paul.) Of course, I gave a rebuttal, but it was this approach to scripture which ultimately lead me to question my time at the seminary and then leave. How could I possibly hope not to lead anyone astray if I myself was unsure of what I was learning. Worse still, Jesus didn’t make it sound like leading one of the little ones astray was going to be taken very lightly. When the scientific approach is used exclusively all sorts of things are put into doubt and I got to hear it first hand! The most interesting was that the feast of Holy Innocents is a celebration of the theology of a non-event. I ask anyone who is reading this to please pray for me as I look for a diocese that will send me to a seminary that will teach the Gospel and not doubt, as I haven’t had much luck.


    1. Funny how the term “arrogant” was used. I often find people used terms to describe others that are indicative of their own most basic struggles. Consigning the text to the Holy Spirit seems to my mind a less arrogant approach than to the merely human dimension. I do not reject all aspects of the Historical Critical Method, just its more extreme applications and its claim to be a one-stop shop in terms of “explaining” the text.

  18. Thank you Msgr Pope for your wonderful article and your spot on insights.
    It is strange indeed that Protestant scriptural scholarship over the last 500 years has given us on the one hand, the heresy of Sola Scriptura, and yet at the same time a flawed view of Sacred Scripture as something that amounts to nothing but a man made project, without any sure guidance from the Holy Spirit.
    These contradictory approaches have resulted in a rather schizophrenic viewpoint that is ultimately an unsustainable house of cards.
    God bless.
    Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

  19. Recently a man, who described himself as a Catholic, wanted to volunteer in our religious education program as a catechist. He stated that he did not believe the Bible was the revealed word of God and detailed the reason why the name, “Jesus,” could not be correct because some languages didn’t have sound, thus the letter, “J.” A lengthy lecture about this detail ensued during which I was mentally planning how to write a courteous e-mail to thank him for his offer but that it probably would not be a “good fit” in our catechetical program.
    Upon his exit I fashioned the e-mail to send the next day. Later in his response to my message he again turned to the name-of-Jesus fixation.
    The who-wrote-which Book of the Bible fuss is as irrelevant as the letter J problem; God inspired every word of the Bible; how different languages wrote or pronounced the name of Jesus pales in the light of the Son of God’s Incarnation and gift of salvation to us.
    The “tedium” needs to morph into “Te Deum laudamus.”

Comments are closed.