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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX:
Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.: Chapter XII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

12.  Things Clean and Unclean According to the Law and the Gospel.

And He called to Him the multitude and said unto them, Hear and understand, ” etc. 5432   We are clearly taught in these words by the Saviour that, when we read in Leviticus and Deuteronomy the precepts about meat clean and unclean, for the transgression of which we are accused by the material Jews and by the Ebionites who differ little from them, we are not to think that the scope of the Scripture is found in any superficial understanding of them.  For if “not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man, but that which proceedeth out of the mouth,” 5433 and especially when, according to Mark, the Saviour said these things “making all meats clean,” 5434 manifestly we are not defiled when we eat those things which the Jews who desire to be in bondage to the letter of the law declare to be unclean, but we are then defiled when, whereas our lips ought to be bound with perception and we ought “to make for them what we call a balance and weight,” 5435 we speak offhand and discuss matters we ought not, from which there comes to us the spring of sins.  And it is indeed becoming to the law of God to forbid those things which arise from wickedness, and to enjoin those things which tend to virtue, but as for things which are in their own nature indifferent to leave them in their own place, as they may, according to our choice and the reason which is in us, be done ill if we sin in them, but if rightly directed by us be done well.  And any one who has carefully thought on these matters will see that, even in those things which are thought to be good, it is possible for a man to sin who has taken them up in an evil way and under the impulse of passion, and that these things called impure p. 441 may be considered pure, if used by us in accordance with reason.  As, then, when the Jew sins his circumcision shall be reckoned for uncircumcision, but when one of the Gentiles acts uprightly his uncircumcision shall be reckoned for circumcision, 5436 so those things which are thought to be pure shall be reckoned for impure in the case of him who does not use them fittingly, nor when one ought, nor as far as he ought, nor for what reason he ought.  But as for the things which are called impure, “All things become pure to the pure,” for, “To them that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure, since both their minds and their conscience are defiled.” 5437   And when these are defiled, they make all things whatsoever they touch defiled; as again on the contrary the pure mind and the pure conscience make all things pure, even though they may seem to be impure; for not from intemperance, nor from love of pleasure, nor with doubting which draws a man both ways, do the righteous use meats or drinks, mindful of the precept, “Whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever other thing ye do, do all to the glory of God.” 5438   And if it be necessary to delineate the foods which are unclean according to the Gospel, we will say that they are such as are supplied by covetousness, and are the result of base love of gain, and are taken up from love of pleasure, and from deifying the belly which is treated with honour, when it, with its appetites, and not reason, rules our souls.  But as for us who know that some things are used by demons, or if we do not know, but suspect, and are in doubt about it, if we use such things, we have used them not to the glory of God, nor in the name of Christ; for not only does the suspicion that things have been sacrificed to idols condemn him who eats, but even the doubt concerning this; for “he that doubteth,” according to the Apostle, “is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” 5439   He then eats in faith who believes that that which is eaten has not been sacrificed in the temples of idols, and that it is not strangled nor blood; 5440 but he eats not of faith who is in doubt about any of these things.  And the man who knowing that they have been sacrificed to demons nevertheless uses them, becomes a communicant with demons, while at the same time, his imagination is polluted with reference to demons participating in the sacrifice.  And the Apostle, however, knowing that it is not the nature of meats which is the cause of injury to him who uses them or of advantage to him who refrains from their use, but opinions and the reason which is in them, said, “But meat commendeth us not to God, for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we eat not are we the worse.” 5441   And since he knew that those who have a loftier conception of what things are pure and what impure according to the law, turning aside from the distinction about the use of things pure and impure, and superstition, I think, in respect of things being different, become indifferent to the use of meats, 5442 and on this account are condemned by the Jews as transgressors of law, he said therefore, somewhere, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink,” etc., 5443 teaching us that the things according to the letter are a shadow, but that the true thoughts of the law which are stored up in them are the good things to come, in which one may find what are the pure spiritual meats of the soul, and what are the impure foods in false and contradictory words which injure the man who is nourished in them, “For the law had a shadow of the good things to come.” 5444



Matt. xv. 10.


Matt. xv. 11.


Mark vii. 19.


Ecclesiasticus 28.25.


Rom. 2:25, 26.


Tit. i. 15.


1 Cor. x. 31.


Rom. xiv. 23.


Cf. Acts xv. 20.


1 Cor. viii. 8.


The text is uncertain.


Col. ii. 16.


Heb. x. 1.

Next: Chapter XIII