Friday, July 06, 2007

"Like a Gleaming Flash": Matthew 6:22-23, Luke 11:34-36 and the Divine Sense in Origen

"Like a Gleaming Flash": Matthew 6:22-23, Luke 11:34-36 and the Divine Sense in Origen

Hauck, Robert J
While the modern maxim says that the eye is the window of the soul, Jesus said that the eye is the lamp of the body. This essay relates one of the more opaque Gospel sayings to one of the distinctive themes of Origen's spiritual theology. In his interpretation of Jesus' saying that "The eye is the lamp of the body," Origen finds a reference to the mind, which serves as eye of the soul. In the context of Hellenistic theories of vision, which represent the eye as a light-emitting organ, Origen argues that the mind reaches out its ray to coalesce with the light of the Logos to produce vision for the soul. His interpretation provides insight into his understanding of how the divine sense works and its role as a faculty of spiritual perception.

Origen of Alexandria is one of the founders of Christian spiritual theology, and his doctrine of the divine senses provides a unique and influential contribution to that tradition. Origen believed that the soul has spiritual senses analogous to the five physical senses. Through these spiritual senses, the soul perceives divine rather than physical truths. This notion has provided both a fertile field for the development of mystical theology, and has stimulated a number of questions about his thought.

In a similar vein, Jesus' parable about vision in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:22-23; Luke 11:34-36) proves to be both puzzling and stimulating. Jesus' proverbial statement that the eve is the lamp of the body flies directly in the face of the modern maxim, which asserts that the eye is the window of the soul. In what way can the eve be considered a lamp, and what kind of light might it provide? How did people in the prescientific world of antiquity understand this passage? This essay examines Origen's interpretation of this passage and argues that it contributes to a fuller understanding of his view of the divine sense of vision and how it works. The parable also provides an example of how this passage was interpreted in early Christianity.

The Eye is the Lamp of the Body

In what is a Q-logion (Matthew 6:22-23; Luke 11:34-36), Jesus says that the eye is the lamp of the body. The two canonical versions1 of the saying are:

Matthew 6:22-23: The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Luke 11:34-36: Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. It then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.

Modern commentators have struggled with this passage, at least partly because it does not harmonize with contemporary understandings of the physics and physiology of vision.2 For moderns, the eye is the window of the soul, since we know that the eye contains a lens which acts as a window to transmit light from outside the body to the interior of the eye.3 Often, modern interpreters have simply adapted the ancient proverb to modern understandings, and Jesus' lamp becomes the modern window. Barclay, for example, says:

The eye is regarded as the window by which the light gets into the whole body. . . . If the window is clear, clean, and undistorted, the light will come flooding into the room, and will illuminate every corner of it. . . . So, then, says Jesus, the light which gets into any man's heart and soul and being depends on the spiritual state of the eye through which it has to pass, for the eye is the window of the whole body.4

According to Mounce, "In the physiology of Jesus' day the eye was thought of as a window that brought light into the body."5

Recent critical scholarship has, however, changed the context for interpreting this passage. Hans Dieter Betz bas argued that this saying presupposes ancient theories of vision that provide a setting far different from those provided by modern optics and physiology. Betz surveys Greek philosophical treatments of vision and notes two dominant views. Parmenides, Empedocles, and Plato hold the "extramission" view in which vision occurs through an effluence from the body-light flows out from or through the eye to the object. The "intromission" theory, depending on Democritus, holds that atoms flow from the object into the eye. Betz concludes that the Jesus saving implicitly rejects the latter view and presupposes the former.6 The definition of the eye as a lamp reflects what can thus be considered the proverbial notion that light flows out from the eyes-the eye is a lamp because, like a lamp, it produces and emits light.

Dale Allison, in response to Betz, agrees that the context for the saying and its proverbial quality are ancient understandings of the eye as a light-producing organ. It is analogous to the sun, and its flashing gaze is similar to flashes of lightning or the rays of the sun.7 The glowing eyes of animals at night, the gaze as a beam directed at the object, and the dangerous sweep of the evil eye all reflect this view. However, he argues that this should not be limited to the Greek philosophical tradition. Rather, there is a wide background in antiquity in general, and in biblical and other Jewish literature in particular, of viewing the eye as a source of light. According to Allison, as a Q-logion, the earliest form of this saying accepts the extramission theory of vision as a commonplace-the eye is a lamp that produces and transmits rays or beams of light from inside out.8 As Via says, the statement "the eye is the lamp of the body" would strike the ancient reader as both a truism and a scientific fact: "This reader would experience a succinct statement of conventional wisdom, one accorded in a straightforward way with the current theory of vision. The eye in fact is a lamp."9


Origen's interpretation of this passage provides us with both an engagement with ancient understandings of vision and an application of these understandings to the spiritual interpretation in which Origen is interested. It particularly allows us to see how contemporary understandings of vision inform his understanding of the divine sense. If the eye, which is a lamp, is a model for the eye of the soul, what does this tell us about Origen's understanding of the way the mind knows divine truth? Origen asserts three things about this passage.10 First, he makes clear that this saying should be primarily understood as referring to the relationship between the intellect and the soul rather than the eye and the body. Although Jesus' parable seems to rely on the function of the eye as a lamp or source of light, Origen asserts an allegorical meaning: by eye Jesus means mind,11 and by body he means soul. "In the strict sense," he says, "Scripture calls our mind an 'eye'" (Fragmenta in Lucam 79). Origen is willing, however, to interpret this passage as an allegory applying to the church. "Some say," he writes, "that the lamp of the body is the eye' refers to one who teaches the church" (Fragmenta ex commentariis in evangelium Matthaei 126). He gives it this meaning in his homilies on Joshua: in the new dispensation, he says, the Levites represent those perfect souls who illuminate others in the church. Laypeople should provide such wise teachers with the necessities of life so they have time for the law of God. Origen says:

And if they do not have time and do not devote their work to the law of God, you are endangered. For the light of knowledge that is in them will be obscured, if yon do not supply oil for the lamp. . . . And also this that the Lord said will he fulfilled in you: "For if the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness." You fulfill your duty; fulfill the commandment of God in relation to the service of the priest.12

In the Matthew fragments, however, Origen rejects this interpretation, since it fails to take into account the individual moral exhortations which follow in the Sermon on the Mount. He focuses instead on the application to the intellect in the individual soul: "Seek how," he says, "the body is now named the soul, and the eye is the mind" (Fr. Matt. 125). The intellect, Origen says, is the clear-sighted or perceptive faculty of the soul (Fr. Matt. 125, Fr. Luc. 78). And, he says, "you should not be surprised if in the verse, 'the lamp of the body is the eye,' we take the body as a figure for the soul" (Fr. Luc. 79).

So, first of all, Origen interprets this passage in terms of intellect and soul, rather than eye and body. Second, in interpreting this passage he argues that the intellectual eye, the mind, is indeed a lamp. His interest here is that the mind, like the physical eye, emits rays or beams that illuminate. If, as Jesus says, the whole body is full of light when the eye is sound, this is because, says Origen, the "body" (that is, the soul) is "illuminated by the lamp of the body" (Fr. Luc. 79). "Its [the mind's] rays can be compared to a lamp with a gleaming flash; the lamp illumines, but it does not dispel the darkness. For, illumination from the mind is like a gleaming flash, and the light in the body is like a lamp with gleaming rays" (Fr. Luc. 79).

This language of the eye as a lamp with gleaming rays places Origen's comments in the context of the Hellenistic philosophical discussion of vision. How sensation and perception are related to the movement from sensation to knowledge was one of the central issues in the development of Middle Platonism, as well as a significant area of debate between the Academy and the Stoa. Vision was a standard topic in the second-century handbooks of Platonism such as those of Alcinous and Apuleius.13 Embedded in this debate is the Platonic understanding that the eye is a light-emitting organ.

While Parmenides is the first to be credited with asserting that the eye is a lamp or source of light, it is Plato's treatment that is foundational for Middle Platonists in the second and third century.14 Plato describes the creation of the "light-bearing eyes" in the creation account in the Timaeus:

For [the gods] caused the pure fire within us, which is akin to that of day, to flow through the eyes in a smooth and dense stream, and they compressed the whole substance, and especially the center of the eyes, so that they occluded all other fire that was coarser and allowed only this pure kind of fire to filter through. So whenever the stream of vision is surrounded by mid-day light, it Hows out like unto like, and coalescing there with it forms one kindred substance along the path of the eyes' vision, wheresoever the fire which streams from within collides with an obstructing object without.15

Plato here expresses agreement with a common view, with foundations in Empedocles and Parmenides, that the eye or an organ within the body produces a ray or beam, and that vision occurs when the ray or beam from the eye meets that produced by an object. For Plato, sunlight is the other necessary ingredient, and when the three rays meet, an impression is conveyed to the soul by the eye. Theophrastus characterizes Plato's views in this way, "The organ of vision [Plato] makes to consist of fire; . . . assuming then that there is this effluence and that effluence and organ must unite, he holds that the visual stream issues forth for some distance and coalesces with the effluence, and thus it is we see."16 According to Beare, in this view:

Seeing takes place in the virtue of a coalescence between (a) the rays of the intra-ocular light emanating from the eyes to some distance into the kindred (illuminated) air; (b) that which, reflected from external bodies, moves to meet it; and (c) that which is in the intervening air, and which, owing to the diffusibility and nimbleness of the latter, extends itself in lines parallel with the fiery current of vision.17

Philo provides a representative example of this view. The sun, he says, "[surrenders] its power of burning hut [retains] that of giving light [so that it] might meet and hail its friend and kinsman, the light which is stored in the treasury of our eyes; for it is where these converge to meet and greet each other that the apprehension through vision is produced."18 As Theophrastus puts it, among the Platonists this becomes the "common and hoary doctrine" (Sens. 1.37). The handbook of Alcinous, contemporary with Origen, says, "Having placed upon the face the light-bearing eyes, the gods enclosed in them the luminous aspects of fire. . . . This flows out with the greatest ease through the whole of the eyes. . . . This becomes blended with the external light, like to like, and produces the sensation of sight" (Epit. 18). Apuleius likewise reports on the state of the question in these terms: "Or should we accept the view maintained by other philosophers that rays are emitted from our body? According to Plato these rays are filtered forth from the center of our eyes and mingle and blend with the light of the world without us; according to Archytas they issue forth from us without any external support" (Apologia 15).

Vision was important in subsequent philosophical debates, and in developments within Platonism.19 Aristotle rejected Plato's view, arguing that vision depends neither on light emitted from the eye, nor on a ray from the object entering it. Rather, it depends on the transparent medium between the eye and the object. The substance of the eye is moved by the object through the intervening medium.20 The Stoics, in large part following Aristotle, likewise saw perception as occurring in the medium between the object and the eye. For the Stoics, the medium is the pneuma, and pneuma, like fire, originates in the eye and emanates from it. In this view, pneuma from the eye makes contact with the intervening pneuma and transforms it into a sensory medium. Vision occurs by the activation of the pneuma by the flow from the eye. Mathematical theory about vision likewise reflected the notion that rays or beams are emitted by the eye. Euclid argued that rays emanate from the eye geometrically, forming a cone that has its point in the eye and its base at the object.21 Ptolemy developed this mathematical approach, describing the visual cone which results from the rays emitted from the eye. Whether visual theories at this time reflected Aristotelian or Stoic views based on the activation of the medium between the object and the eye, or Platonic theories about the coalescence of light emitted by the sun. the eye, and the object, they share the notion that streams, rays, or beams flow from the eye. The eye, many argue in the second and third centuries, is a lamp. And, for Origen, if the eye is a lamp for the body, the intellect which it signifies is the light-emitting lamp for the soul. When Origen applies Jesus' proverbial statement about the eve to the mind, he turns to the language of ray, beam, or flash.

Third, in addition to applying this passage to the soul, and arguing that the intellect is a lamp which illuminates it, Origen applies Jesus' saying to the "divine sense," In several places in his writings Origen asserts that wise and inspired people such as the prophets and the apostles possess a "divine sense" analogous to the physical senses, by which they perceive divine things. His proof text for this is Proverbs 2:5, which he quotes in Against Celsus, On First Principles, and elsewhere.22 When he comes to the language of vision in Luke, he quotes it here as well:

From them [the Scriptures] you will he able to avoid stumbling over the explanation of what "the body" means in the verse, "the lamp of the body is the eye," and in other passages like this one. In the Book of Proverbs, you will find the phrase, "divine sense-perception," recorded in a promise (as distinct from perception that is not divine) (Fr. Luc. 78).

Origen is usually credited with the development of this notion, and, as Rahner argues, his source for it seems to be biblical.23 Although the eve of the soul language is widespread through Platonism, Origen speaks of the divine sense in a distinctive way. The question remains whether he is simply extending Platonic metaphorical language about the eye of the soul, or whether he views the divine sense as a mental organ or faculty that has a role in the apprehension of intelligible truth. His interpretation of this saying of Jesus and his engagement here with contemporary understandings of vision suggest that he understands the divine sense as a faculty in the soul, and provides insight into his understanding of how it works.

For Plato, and for Platonists of Origen's day, the description of the eye as a lamp served as instructive analogy for nonphysical or intellectual perception. In Plato, Philo, Origen, and others, the illuminating power of the eye is analogous to the enlightening power of knowledge, and discussion of the perceptive ability of the senses serves as a means of understanding the cognitive power of the intellect. Since for Plato and Platonists. both vision and knowledge are based on the principle that like is known by like, vision is closely linked with knowledge. The illuminating and perceptive power of the eye served at least as a metaphor, and sometimes as a direct analogy, to the illuminating power of the Good in the intelligible universe, the enlightening power of the intellect in the soul, and the relationship between the intellect and the Good.

Plato provides the examples on which later Platonists build. In the myths of the divided line and the cave, the sun rules over the visible world and makes knowledge possible through vision. The Good, or the forms, rule over the intelligible world, and make knowledge through the intellect possible. For Plato, "as the good is in the intelligible region to reason and the objects of reason, so is [the sun] in the visible world to vision and the objects of vision" (Respublica 508 D). In the myth of the cave, the light from the fire in the cave and the sun in the sky are representative of the intellectual light from the good which makes true knowledge possible. Socrates says, "When seen it [the idea of the good] must needs point us to the conclusion that this is indeed the cause for all things of all that is right and beautiful, giving birth in the visible world to light, and the author of light and itself in the intelligible world being the authentic source of truth and reason" (Resp. 517 C).

For Platonists, then, it is a commonplace that the mind is the eve of the soul.24 And, according to Dillon, for Middle Platonists after Alexander of Aphrodisias, light and its relation to vision was "used as analogy for the role of the Good (or in Alexander's theory, Nous) in the activation of the human intellect in its cognizing of True Being."25 To see the true, the real, the good, one must purify, strengthen, and elevate the eye of the soul so it can participate in the intellectual light which shines above it.

Philo exemplifies this approach well. He uses the language of vision to represent intellectual knowledge, and draws a parallel between the way the eye functions in relation to the visible world and the way the intellect functions in relation to the intelligible world. In vision, for Philo, light from the eye coalesces with rays from the sun, and "apprehension through vision is produced" (Deus 79). While this consists of a reception of light from the sun, it is also an extension of the light from the eyes. Hearing, says Philo, is "sluggish" and "womanish," but sight is active. "The eyes," he says, "have the courage to reach out to the visible objects and do not wait to be acted upon by them, and anticipate the meeting, and seek to act upon them instead" (De Abrahamo 150). For Philo, as for both Plato and Origen. this serves as a parallel to the way in which true knowledge is produced. The intellect is the corresponding faculty of intelligible perception. It receives light from above and in this reception knowledge of God is produced, which illumines the soul. Philo says:

For as sight holds the leading place in the body, and the quality of light holds the leading place in the universe, so too in us the dominant element is mind. For mind is the sight of the soul illuminated by rays peculiar to itself, whereby the vast and profound darkness, poured upon it by ignorance of things, is dispersed (Deus 45).

The "pure rays of wisdom" illumine the soul, "through which the sage sees God and his potencies." says Philo (Deus 3).

Celsus, the Platonist critic of Christianity to whom Origen replies in Against Celsus, holds a similar view of vision and true knowledge. Using the eye of the soul language, and drawing on the myth of the cave in the Republic, Celsus says:

Thought is concerned with what is intelligible, the eye that which is visible. Accordingly what the sun is to visible things, being neither the eyes nor sight, but the cause of the eye's vision and the existence of sight and the possibility of seeing visible things, and is in fact itself the thing which enables itself to be seen, this is what God is to intelligible things. He is neither mind nor intelligence nor knowledge, but enables the mind to think and is the cause of the existence of intelligence and the possibility of knowledge (Cels. 7.45).

Origen agrees with Celsus on this point: "We are careful," Origen says, "not to raise objection to any good teachings" (Cels. 7.46), although Origen asserts that the notion of the eye of the soul was introduced first by Moses rather than by the Greeks.26 In this framework, then, the eye is a lamp whose light combines with that of the sun and the object to produce perception. It is also a metaphor for the intellectual knowledge of the soul, where the good shines like the sun and produces knowledge of the real or the true. It is in this context that Origen interprets this saying: when Jesus says the eye is a lamp, Origen has both a physical and intelligible context in which to understand him.

Origen, Matthew 6.22-23, Luke 11.35, and the Divine Sense

How does Origen interpret the Gospel saving, and what does this tell us about the divine sense? Origen approaches this saying of Jesus in the context of contemporary theories of vision and his doctrine of the divine sense. The fragments that deal with this passage are closely related to other areas of his writings that deal with these topics, especially the discussion of vision in On First Principle, the use of the Proverbs passage on the divine sense, and the discussion of the divine sense in the Dialogue with Heraclides. Origen's primary interest is in the illumination of the soul and the role of the mind, in its character as a lamp, in obtaining knowledge and governing the soul and its passions. He applies this passage to the development of his notion of divine senses. The lamp/eye signifies the reasoning or intellectual part of the soul. The body is the "rest of the soul," its powers or faculties, including its passionate and appetitive parts. Just as the body has parts, says Origen, so the soul has powers, such as sight and hearing.27 The body, in representing the soul, represents this collection of faculties or senses. Origen applies to the Luke passage his scriptural warrant for his doctrine of the divine senses. Proverbs 2:5: "You shall find in Proverbs, the 'divine sense'" (Fr. Luc. 78). He invokes here his doctrine of homonomy: "Indeed," Origen says, "we find the powers of the soul are equated to the bodily parts by homonomy" (Fr. Luc. 78, my translation).28 The eye is indeed a lamp, which, as a part of its perceptive function, emits light and enlightens. However, the eye that he is interested in is the inner eye. What can be understood of the physical eye refers, by homonomy, to the intellectual or spiritual eye, the intellect in its perceptive function. In this sense, like the bodily eye, the intellect illumines the soul and its lower faculties. "Illumination from the mind," says Origen, "is like a gleaming flash" (Fr. Luc. 79).

For Origen, then, the mind, the perceptive faculty of the soul, operates like the eye by emitting intellectual light that illumines the soul and coalesces with the divine light from above. His treatment of this passage relies on-and contributes to-contemporary Platonic understanding of vision and cognition. The intellect, as a lamp, emits a ray, beam, or flash that enlightens the soul and coalesces with the divine light coining from above. As an eye/lamp, the intellect has the essential elements of vision. Origen, commenting on Jesus' command to set one's lamp upon a lampstand, refers to "those who have in their souls a clear-sighted mind that participates in him who says, "I have come into the world as light.' "29

This coalescence, in which like is known by like, serves as an explanation of the operation of the divine sense.30 Higher perception is the apprehension of truth in the intelligible realm by the intellect. The intellect is the cognitive faculty, receiving illumination from above and enlightening the soul. "To see and be seen," he says, "is the property of bodies; to know and be known is an attribute of intellectual existence."31 "The names of the organs of sense," he says, "are often applied to the soul, so that we speak of seeing with the eyes of the heart, that is, of drawing some intellectual conclusions by means of the faculty of intelligence" (De Principiis 1.1.9). Mental vision operates as a coalescence. In this case divine truth is the effluent which meets the intellectual rays of the mind and produces knowledge:

Each of the bodily senses is appropriately connected with a material substance towards which the particular sense is directed. . . . Does it not appear absurd then that these inferior senses should have substances connected with them, as objects towards which their activities are directed, whereas this faculty, the sense of the mind (mentis sensui), which is superior to them, should have no substance whatsoever connected with it? . . . They are unwilling to have it understood that there is a certain affinity between the mind and God, of whom the mind is an intellectual image, and that by reason of this fact the mind, especially if it is purified and separated from bodily matter, is able to have some perception of the divine nature (Princ. 1.1.7).

Origen agrees with Philo that the mind is the sight of the soul. For Philo, while the eye of the soul is incapable of gazing on the brilliance of God, the illuminating rays proceed from the mind and enable the soul to perceive intelligible and rational truths.32 For Origen, likewise, the direct radiance of God is too overwhelming for the eye of the mind. However, the Logos illuminates the mind with its rays, which coalesce with the rays reaching out from the intellect that is turned away from the darkness of the body, The intellectual eye is a lamp, albeit a small one: "When it strains after incorporeal things and seeks to gain a sight of them it has scarcely the power of a glimmer of light or a tiny lamp" (Princ. 1.1.5). Nevertheless, as a perceptive faculty, the intellect is the eye of the soul, or as Jesus put it, the lamp of the soul/body.

Like the bodily eye, the medium of the eye of the soul is light-although here it is the divine and intelligible light. Rather than physical light, the mind receives the illumination of divine wisdom. By means of a divine light it perceives divine truth. "Does it not then appear absurd," says Origen, "that these inferior senses should have substances connected with them, as objects towards which their activities are directed, whereas this faculty, the sense of the mind, which is superior to them, should have no substance whatever connected with it" (Princ. 1.1.7). Like physical vision, this perception has to do with light: "He is that light, surely, which lightens the whole understanding of those who are capable of receiving truth" (Princ. 1.1.1). The eye of the intellect is not capable of sustaining a vision of God, anymore than the physical eye can look directly at the sun. But the Son of God is himself that light which illumines the intellect, "This brightness [of the Son] falls softly and gently on the tender and weak eyes of mortal man" (Princ. 1.2.7).

As the eye's vision is enabled by the light of the sun, the intellect's knowledge of divine things is illumined by the light of the Son of God. "The sun s the light of the world perceived by the senses. . . . .The savior, on the other hand, is the light of the spiritual world, because he shines on those who are rational and intellectual, that their mind may see its proper visions."33 As the "light of the world," the savior "does not illuminate corporeal natures. He illuminates the incorporeal intellect with an incorporeal power, in order that each of us, being illuminated as though by the sun, may also be able to see other intelligible things" (Comm. Jo. 1.164, my translation). The savior, says Origen, "is the 'light of men' and 'true light' and 'light of the world' because he enlightens and illuminates the intellect of men" (Comm. Jo. 1.181). The intellect thus has the essential elements of vision. As a lamp it directs its ray or beam upward, away from the body, and it coalesces with the light of the Logos to produce knowledge and illumination.

This is the sense that Jesus' saying makes for Origen. Like the eye, winch Jesus said is the lamp of the body, the intellect is the perceptive Faculty of the soul. In the same way that the eye produces light that illuminates the body, so the intellect is an illuminating presence in the soul. "The enlightenment from the mind," Origen says on this passage, "is like a brilliant flash, and the light in the body is like a lamp with gleaming rays. The body is by nature darkness, a thing to be led where the mind wills" (Fr. Luc. 79).34

Modern commentators conclude that Jesus' use of what is either a proverb or commonly held knowledge-that the eye is the lamp of the body-turns the issue away from a Greek scientific or philosophical framework to a moral one.35 While Origen retains the moral concern, for him this is equally a spiritual question: how can the soul ascend to the knowledge of God? The soul must lift its eye away from the lower realities in order to receive the divine light from above, and extend its ray to meet the light of the Logos. Within the Middle Platonic context of how vision occurs, Origen reflects on how the divine sense works. Like the eye with its sight, the mind must maintain its ability to reach out its ray to meet the illumination from above.36 For him the moral imperative does not have to do with the health or wholeness of the physical eye, or even the moral disposition in relation to generosity or simplicity, but rather the strength and capacity of the intellectual eye. "When our mind is a lover of matter," says Origen, "then the light in us is darkness" (Fr. Matt. 128). The enlightening flash of the mind consists of the establishment of the rule of the intellect over the lower parts of the soul.

For, illumination from the mind is like a gleaming flash, and the light in the body is like a lamp with gleaming rays. The body is by nature darkness, a thing to be led where the mind wills. So, if the minds of those who are unlearned and ignorant, which are by nature light, are in fact darkness, then the whole body is too-that is, the passionate part of the soul, which is the spirited and appetitive part, and the darkness is much worse (Fr. Luc. 178).

The moral dimension certainly is present-the present age, Origen says, is night for the saints-but his solution is intellectual. In the present darkness, our "noetic nature must be a lamp" (Fr. Matt. 125).

One of the lingering questions regarding Origen's views of the divine sense is whether his understanding of this is metaphorical, that is, whether this is a way to illustrate intellectual knowledge of the intelligible world; or whether he thinks there are actually such faculties in the human soul.37 The catenae on the Matthew and Luke passages provide evidence that he considers the divine sense to be an actual faculty of the soul and a help in understanding how the divine sense works. Origen turns to contemporary theories of vision to interpret Jesus' language regarding the eye as a lamp. He uses the mechanics of vision and applies them to the divine sense in a concrete way. This provides us with additional insight into how the divine sense works. Bodily vision works by the communication of rays of light: the eye is a lamp, sending out its beams. The sun emits an illuminating beam, as docs the object of perception. The coalescence of these three sources of light produces perception of the physical object in the eye. Likewise, the mind is a lamp, and the object of its illumination is the "entire soul"-all of the powers or faculties of the soul. The light of the savior and the light of the intellect coalesce and produce knowledge and illumination for, as Origen says, the whole soul. As the eye is the lamp of the body, so the mind, the organ of the divine sense, is the lamp of the soul.

Origen's treatment of this passage sheds light on a number of theories of vision and their place in the development of Platonism in the second and third centuries. Further, his work highlights early approaches to interpreting this otherwise obscure Gospel saying. Perhaps most important, his treatment illuminates a key element of his spiritual theology. For Origen, the soul possesses a spiritual sense that sheds its bright light "like a gleaming flash" on its lower faculties and mingles with the light of the Logos from above, so that like might be known by like.

1 A version also appears in the Gospel of Thomas 24: "Whoever has ears, let him hear. There is light within a man of light, and he (or: it) lights up the whole world. If he (or: it) does not shine, he (or: it) is darkness." Translation by Thomas O. Lambdin, in The Nag Hammadi Library, ed. James M. Robinson (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1981).

2 Hans Dieter Betz notes that a moratorium on academic discussion of this passage was proposed by early twentieth-century German scholars, and that it was declared "the most difficult to interpret in the entire Gospel tradition." Hans Dieter Betz, "Matthew vi.22f and Ancient Greek Theories of Vision," in Ernest Best and R. Mcl. Wilson, eds., Text and Interpretation: Studies in the New Testament presented to Matthew Black (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 43.

3 The origin of the modern proverb is obscure. Jowett's translation of Plato's Phaedrus has Socrates referring to the eyes as the windows of the soul, but the Greek refers to an inlet or entrance rather than a window (Phaedrus 255C, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett, vol. 1 [New York: Random House, 1937]). Leonardo da Vinci says that the eye is called the window of the soul (Notebook 653). More importantly for English speakers, Shakespeare calls the eye the window of the heart (Love's Labour's Lost, V.2.848).

4 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, rev. ed. (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press, 1975), 245.

5 Robert H. Mounce, Matthew (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1985), 56.

6 Betz argues that the saying represents a Jewish critique of the philosophical theory of vision. It assumes the extramission theory, but rejects the notion that physiology alone allows the eye to see. Rather, it imposes a moral condition for vision. Betz, "Matthew vi:22f," 54.

7 Dale C. Allison, Jr., "The Eve is the Lamp of the Body (Matthew 6.22-23 = Luke 11.34-36)," New Testament Studies 33 (1987): 61-83.

8 Allison argues that "the eye is the lamp of the body" is a proverbial saying, and the moral exhortation of Luke 11:36 was added (even in Q) us an interpretation of the proverb. He says, "Luke 11:36 is evidence that at least the earliest interpreter of the saying about the eye as a lamp understood it in terms of the extramission theory of vision." Allison, "Eye is the Lamp," 79.

9 Dan Via, "Matthew's Dark Light and the Human Condition," in The New Literary Criticism and the New Testament (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1994), 356. See also Margaret R. Miles, "Vision: The Eye of the Body and the Eye of the Mind in Saint Augustine's De Trinitate and Confessions," Journal of Religion 63 (1983): 125-142.

10 Our knowledge of Origen's interpretation of this passage is fragmentary. His commentary on this saying is lost in both the Matthew and Luke commentaries, but appears as Greek fragments in the catenae. He also refers to it in his homilies on Numbers, Leviticus, and Joshua. The fragments used here for Matthew are fragments 125-128 in Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller, Origenes Werke, Zwölfter Band (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs Verlag, 1941). Fragments on Luke used here are fragments 78 and 79 in Origène. Homélies sur S. Luc, introduction, translation, and notes by Henri Crouzel, François Fournier, and Piérre Perichon, Sources Chrétiennes 87 (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1998). English translation of the Luke fragments, except where noted, is that of Joseph T. Lienhard, Origen: Homilies on Luke; Fragments on Luke, Fathers of the Church 94 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press of America, 1996). There are questions about the reliability of the catenae in general, including the Luke fragments. See, for example, Ronald E. Heine, "Can the Catena Fragments be Trusted?" Vigiliae Christianae 40 (1986): 118-134. Fournier likewise notes that it is difficult to establish the authorship of the Luke fragments (François Fournier, "Les Homélies sur Luc et leur traduction par Saint Jérôme," in Crouzel, Homélies sur S. Luc, 5-92). However, Fournier does include our fragments among those least doubtful, and Lienhard accepts them (Lienhard, Homilies on Luke, pp. xxxvi-xxxviii). The argument of this essay shows the coherence between the Luke fragments and other writings of Origen.

11 Origen often uses the terms nous (or intellect), the Stoic term hegemonikon, and dianoia (or reason) interchangeably. He means the governing or higher part of the soul, which rules the passions, but is distinct from the spirit. See Henri Crouzel, Origen, trans. A. S. Worrall (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper & Row, 1985), 89; Crouzel, Origène et la "connaissance mystique" (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1961), 382-395.

12 In Jesus Nave homilae xxvi 17. Translation is that of Barbara J. Bruce, Origen: Homilies on Joshua, ed. Cynthia White, Fathers of the Church 105 (Washington, D.C., Catholic University Press of America, 2002).

13 See Alcinous Didaskalikos [Handbook of Platonism] 18 (hereafter Epit.) and Apuleius Apology [Apologia] 15.11. English translations used here of Alcinous are from John Dillon, Alcinous: The Handbook of Platonism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). English translations of Apuleius are those of H. E. Butler, The Apologia and Florida of Apuleius of Madaura (Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1909).

14 See Robert M. Berchman, From Philo to Origen: Middle Platonism in Transition (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1984), 167-200; David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 1-17.

15 Timaeus 45 B. English translation of Plato's works used here is that of the Loeb edition: R.G. Bury, Plato (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975).

16 De Sensu [On the Senses] 1.5. English translation is from George Malcolm Stratton, Theophrastus and the Greek Physiological Psychology before Aristotle (New York: Macmillan, 1917).

17 Quoting Stobaeus. John I. Beare, Greek Theories of Elementary Cognition from Alcmaeon to Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), 44.

18 Quod Deus immutabilis sit [That God is Unchangeable] 79 (hereafter Deus). English translations of Philo are those of the Loeb edition: F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker, Philo in Ten Volumes (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954)

19 Berchman makes the argument that this is the determinative element in the development of Middle Platonism. From Philo to Origen, 187.

20 See Lindberg, Theories of Vision, 7-9. Lindberg notes the essential agreement between Plato and Aristotle on the necessity of a medium.

21 Rudolph Siegel, Galen on Sense Perception (New York: Karger, 1970), 30-36.

22 For a list of texts and excerpts see Karl Rahner, "The 'Spiritual Senses' According to Origen," in Theological Investigations 16 (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 81-103; and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Origen: Spirit and Fire, trans. Robert J. Daly (Washington, D.C.; The Catholic University of America Press, 1984), 218-257. For treatment of the divine sense in Origen, see also Berchman, From Philo to Origen, 169; Berchman, "Arcana Mundi between Balaam and Hecate: Prophecy, Divination, and Magic in Later Platonism," SBL Seminar Papers 28 (1989): 107-185; John M. Dillon, "Aisthêsis Noêtê: A Doctrine of Spiritual Senses in Origen and in Plotinus," in Hellenica et Judaica: Hommage à Valentin Nikiprowetzky, ed. A. Laquot, M. Hadas-Lebl, and J. Riauad (Leuven: Editions Peeters, 1986), 445-455.

23 See Rahner, "Spiritual Senses," 82-83. Dillon agrees that Origen's motivation in developing this doctrine is primarily exegetical, but argues that he also relies on Platonist speculation, perhaps going back to Philo (Dillon, "Aisthêsis Noêtê," 453-455).

24 Celsus provides a good example: "If you shut your eyes to the world of sense and look up with the mind, if you turn away from the flesh and raise the eyes of the soul, only so will you see God" (Contra Celsum [Against Celsus] 7.36). Henry Chadwick, Origen: Contra Celsum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965).

25 John M. Dillon, "Looking on the Light: Some Remarks on the Imagery of Light in the First Chapter of the Peri Archon," in Charles Kannengiesser and William L. Petersen, eds., Origen of Alexandria: His World and His Legacy (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 220.

26 See Crouzel, Connaissance, 153.

27 See Crouzel, Connaissance, 150.

28 Origen develops this notion fully in the Dialogus cum Heraclide [Dialogue with Heraclides], and uses it to explain the five divine senses that correspond to the physical senses (Dial. 16). For English translation, see Robert J. Daly, trans., Origen: Treatise on the Passover and the Dialogue of Origen with Heraclides, Ancient Christian Writers, no. 54 (New York: Paulist Press, 1992).

29 Fr. Luc. 121e, on Luke 8:16. For this fragment see Max Rauer, Origenes Werke, Neunter Band, Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1959).

30 Dillon notes that Origen is concerned with the unknowability of God, and hence modifies the Platonic view on the vision of God. Origen is reluctant to accept the Platonic view of the incorporeality of light. He is influenced by the simile of the sun and of the cave, but in his adaptation of Platonic doctrine preserves the inability of the mind's eye to gaze directly on God. Dillon, "Looking on the Light," 219-229.

31 De principiis 1.1.8. English translation is that of G. W. Butterworth, Origen: On First Principles (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973).

32 Philo, De Opificio mundi [On the Creation of the World], 71. See Dillon, "Looking on the Light," 227.

33 Commentarii in evangelium Joannis [Commentary on John] 1.160-161. English translation is that of Ronald E. Heine, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Books 1-10, Fathers of the Church, vol. 80 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989).

34 See Crouzel, Connaissance, 150.

35 Betz argues that the context is Greek, and Jesus introduces the moral setting. Allisun argues that the notion of the eye as source of light or fire is well established in Jewish literature in Jesus' time, and the ethical dimension is already in place. Betz, "Matt. vi.22f," 54-55; Dale C. Allison. Jr., "Eye is the Lamp," 69-71.

36 Scholars in the last century debated whether Origen should be seen primarily as a speculative philosopher who was interested in a philosophical system (see Eugene de Faye, Origen and His Work, trans. Fred Rothwell [New York: Columbia University Press, 1929] or a mystic focused on the soul's ascent to God (see Walther Völker, Das Vollkommenheitsideal des Origenes [Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1931]). Recent scholarship has noted that this polarization between philosophy and mysticism produces a false dichotomy, especially in relation to Christian and non-Christian thinkers of the second and third centuries. While this older debate is not the subject of this paper, the argument here shows that both philosophical and spiritual interests are in play. It attempts to demonstrate the way philosophical language used in contemporary debates is used by Origen to pursue his exegetical and spiritual interests, and indicates that Origen was both a Christian theologian and a philosopher.

37 See Rahner, "Spiritual Senses"; and Dillon, "Aisthêsis Noêtê", 443-455, and "Looking on the Light," 219-220. Both Rahner and Dillon tentatively argue that as this doctrine unfolds in Origen, he develops it into actual faculties of the soul.


* Robert J. Hauck is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University.

Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Fall 2006
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved


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