Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Epistle to Gregory and Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John.: Chapter II
2. How the Prophets and Holy Men of the Old Testament Knew the Things of Christ.
“And this is the witness of John.” 4812 This is the second recorded testimony of John the Baptist to Christ. The first begins with “This was He of whom I said, He that cometh after me,” and goes down to “The only-begotten Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared him.” Heracleon supposes the words, “No one has seen God at any time,” etc., to have been spoken, not by the Baptist, but by the disciple. But in this he is not sound. He himself allows the words, “Of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace; for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” to have been spoken by the Baptist. And does it not follow that the person who received of the fulness of Christ, and a second grace in addition to that he had before, and who declared the law to have been given by Moses, but grace and truth to have come through Jesus Christ, is it not clear that this is the person who understood, from what he received from the fulness of Christ, how “no one hath seen God at any time,” and how “the only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father” had delivered the declaration about God to him and to all those who had received of His fulness? He was not declaring here for the first time Him that is in the bosom of the Father, as if there had never before been any one fit to receive what he told His Apostles. Does he not teach us that he was before Abraham, and that Abraham rejoiced and was glad to see his day? The words “Of his fulness all we received,” and “Grace for grace,” show, as we have already made clear, that the prophets also received their gift from the fulness of Christ and received a second grace in place of that they had before; for they also, led by the Spirit, advanced from the introduction they had in types to the vision of truth. Hence not all the prophets, but many of them, 4813 desired to see the things, which the Apostles saw. For if there was a difference among the prophets, those who were perfect and more distinguished of them did not desire to see what the Apostles saw, but actually beheld them, while those who rose less fully than these to the height of the Word were filled with longing for the things which the Apostles knew through Christ. The word “saw” we have not taken in a physical sense, and the word “heard” we have taken to refer to a spiritual communication; only he who has ears is prepared to hear the words of Jesus—a thing which does not happen too frequently. There is the further point, that the saints before the bodily advent of Jesus had an advantage over most believers in their insight into the mysteries of divinity, since the Word of God was their teacher before He became flesh, for He was always workp. 351 ing , in imitation of His Father, of whom He says, “My father worketh hitherto.” On this point we may adduce the words He addresses to the Sadducees, who do not believe the doctrine of the resurrection. “Have you not read,” He says, 4814 “what is said by God at the Bush, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” If, then, God is not ashamed to be called the God of these men, and if they are counted by Christ among the living, and if all believers are sons of Abraham, 4815 since all the Gentiles are blessed with faithful Abraham, who is appointed by God to be a father of the Gentiles, can we hesitate to admit that those living persons made acquaintance with the learning of living men, and were taught by Christ who was born before the daystar, 4816 before He became flesh? And for this cause they lived, because they had part in Him who said, “I am the life,” and as the heirs of so great promises received the vision, not only of angels, but of God in Christ. For they saw, it may be, the image of the invisible God, 4817 since he who hath seen the Son hath seen the Father, and so they are recorded to have known God, and to have heard Gods words worthily, and, therefore, to have seen God and heard Him. Now, I consider that those who are fully and really sons of Abraham are sons of his actions, spiritually understood, and of the knowledge which was made manifest to him. What he knew and what he did appears again in those who are his sons, as the Scripture teaches those who have ears to hear, 4818 “If ye were the children of Abraham, ye would do the works of Abraham.” And if it is a true proverb 4819 which says, “A wise man will understand that which proceeds from his own mouth, and on his lips he will bear prudence,” then we must at once repudiate some things which have been said about the prophets, as if they were not wise men, and did not understand what proceeded from their own mouths. We must believe what is good and true about the prophets, that they were sages, that they did understand what proceeded from their mouths, and that they bore prudence on their lips. It is clear indeed that Moses understood in his mind the truth (real meaning) of the law, and the higher interpretations of the stories recorded in his books. Joshua, too, understood the meaning of the allotment of the land after the destruction of the nine and twenty kings, and could see better than we can the realities of which his achievements were the shadows. It is clear, too, that Isaiah saw the mystery of Him who sat upon the throne, and of the two seraphim, and of the veiling of their faces and their feet, and of their wings, and of the altar and of the tongs. Ezekiel, too, understood the true significance of the cherubim and of their goings, and of the firmament that was above them, and of Him that sat on the throne, than all which what could be loftier or more splendid? I need not enter into more particulars; the point I aim at establishing is clear enough already, namely, that those who were made perfect in earlier generations knew not less than the Apostles did of what Christ revealed to them, since the same teacher was with them as He who revealed to the Apostles the unspeakable mysteries of godliness. I will add but a few points, and then leave it to the reader to judge and to form what views he pleases on this subject. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, 4820 “Now, to him who is able to establish you according to my Gospel, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but is now made manifest by the prophetic Scriptures and the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For if the mystery concealed of old is made manifest to the Apostles through the prophetic writings, and if the prophets, being wise men, understood what proceeded from their own mouths, then the prophets knew what was made manifest to the Apostles. But to many it was not revealed, as Paul says, 4821 “In other generations it was not made known to the sons of men as it hath now been revealed unto His holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and members of the same body.” Here an objection may be raised by those who do not share the view we have propounded; and it becomes of importance to define what is meant by the word “revealed.” It is capable of two meanings: firstly, that the thing in question is understood, but secondly, if a prophecy is spoken of, that it is accomplished. Now, the fact that the Gentiles were to be fellow-heirs and members of the same p. 352 body, and partakers of the promise, was known to the prophets to this extent, that they knew the Gentiles were to fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ. When this should be, and why, and what Gentiles were spoken of, and how, though strangers from the covenants, and aliens to the promises, they were yet to be members of one body and sharers of the blessings; all this was known to the prophets, being revealed to them. But the things prophesied belong to the future, and are not revealed to those who know them, but do not witness their fulfilment, as they are to those who have the event before their eyes. And this was the position of the Apostles. Thus, I conceive, they knew the events no more than the fathers and the prophets did; and yet it is truly said of them that “what to other generations was not revealed was now revealed to the Apostles and prophets, that the Gentiles were fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers in the promise of Christ.” For, in addition to knowing these mysteries, they saw the power at work in the accomplished fact. The passage, “Many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things ye see and did not see them; and to hear the things ye hear and did not hear them,” may be interpreted in the same way. They also desired to see the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, and of His coming down to carry out the design of His suffering for the salvation of many, actually put in operation. This may be illustrated from another quarter. Suppose one of the Apostles to have understood the “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter,” 4822 but not to witness the glorious bodily appearing of Jesus to the faithful. which is promised, although He desired to see it and suppose another had not only not 4823 marked and seen what that Apostle marked and saw, but had a much feebler grasp of the divine hope, and yet is present at the second coming of our Saviour, which the Apostle, as in the parallel above, had desired, but had not seen. We shall not err from the truth if we say that both of these have seen what the Apostle, or indeed the Apostles, desired to see, and yet that they are not on that account to be deemed wiser or more blessed than the Apostles. In the same way, also, the Apostles are not to be deemed wiser than the fathers, or than Moses and the prophets, than those in fact who, for their virtue, were found worthy of epiphanies and of divine manifestations and of revelations of mysteries.
John i. 19.350:4813
Matt. xiii. 17.351:4814
Mark xii. 20.351:4815
Rom. iv. 11.351:4816
Ps. cv. 3.351:4817
Col. 1:15, John 14:19.351:4818
John viii. 39.351:4819
Prov. xvi. 23.351:4820
Ephes. iii. 5.352:4822
2 Cor. xii. 4.352:4823
Lommatzsch omits οὐ before ἠκριβωκότα, but it is necessary to the sense.
Next: Chapter III
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: http://St-Takla.org / Contact us at