Tuesday 19 March 2013

God rules the world through wisdom (not power): another note on Origen

When talking about creation, Christians easily slip into the language of power and control. Feminist theologians in particular have been sensitive to the problems with such language, and have pointed out the incoherences of a picture in which God seems to be acting on the same plane as other powers. As though God were one agent competing with all the rest, so that an exercise of divine power would place corresponding limitations on creaturely agency. As though divine "action", in other words, were basically the same sort of thing as human "action" (except stronger). 

The thought of Origen – here as elsewhere – is uncannily prescient in its awareness of the way a language of power can lead to dead-ends in our understanding of God and creation. Origen is rather skeptical about the language of power, omnipotence, and control; as he sees it, the world is subject to God not through power but through Wisdom.

Fundamental to Origen's system is the belief that Wisdom (sophia) is in the beginning with God. She is eternally at God's side, rejoicing in God's presence (Proverbs 8:30-31). Eternally she contemplates the depth of the Father and shines out from the Father. God is light, and Wisdom is that light's brightness. Indeed where it was customary to regard "Word" as the primary title of the Son of God, Origen argues that the Son is called "Word" only in a secondary and derivative sense. "Word" – and other New Testament titles of Christ – describes Wisdom's relation to us once she has turned toward us in the history of redemption. The Son of God is Wisdom eternally and primordially, but subsequently becomes Word for our sake, in order to announce God's Wisdom to us (Commentary on John, 1.289). In relation to God, the Son is Wisdom; in relation to us, he is Word.

Using a classical Platonic metaphor, Origen argues that creation came into being according to an outline present in this divine Wisdom: "For I think that just as a house and a ship are built or devised according to the plans of the architect, the house and the ship having as their beginning the plans and thoughts in the craftsman, so all things have come to be according to the thoughts of what will be, which were prefigured by God in wisdom, 'For he made all things in wisdom' [Psalm 103:24]" (Commentary on John, 1.113). 

The world is a copy of eternal Wisdom. And once the world has come into being in this way, God continues to relate to it through Wisdom. All things are subject to God not because God is stronger (or needs to be stronger) than creatures, but because creatures are drawn from the pattern of God's Wisdom and continue to exist by participating in Wisdom. "The universe is held in subjection by reason and wisdom, and not by force and necessity" (First Principles, 1.2.10).

In an extended illustration, Origen likens Wisdom to an image in a mirror. The Father looks into the mirror and what he sees is the Son. Every time the Father moves, the image moves too in perfect synchronicity. "There is one and the same movement, so to speak, in all they do" (First Principles, 1.2.12). And what the Father sees is not simply the Son as a divine person, but the Son as Wisdom – as the personal, living architecture of creation. The Father contemplates the whole universe in the image of the Son, and each time the Father moves the whole universe (so to speak) moves with him. God rules the world, one might say, by knowing it – by contemplating the world in the mind of the Son/Sophia. Creation exists – at any moment – to the extent that God allows it to "share in the divine wisdom" (Commentary on John, 1.244).

What this demonstrates is that God's relation to the world does not need to be mediated by some additional thing called "power". God does not need to control the world. God looks the world into being. Or we might also say – since what God loves is Wisdom – God loves the world into being. The mode of God's relation to the world is sovereign, loving attention. It is as God looks at God that the architecture of creation shines in God's presence. Wisdom shines; in her all things become bright.

Be the first to comment

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.