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

Early Church Fathers  Index     

17.  Exposition of the Details in the Narrative.

Now bring together from the Gospels those who call Him Son of David, as she, and the blind men in Jericho; 5498 and who call Him Son of God, and that without the addition “truly” like the demoniacs who say, “What have we to do with Thee, Thou Son of God;” 5499 and who call Him so with the addition “truly,” like those in the boat who worshipped Him saying, “Truly Thou art the Son of God.” 5500   For the bringing together of these passages will, I think, be useful to you with a view to seeing the difference of those who come (to Jesus); some indeed come as to Him “who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh;” 5501 but others come to Him who “was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness;” 5502 and of these some with the “truly,” and some without it.  Further, observe, that the Canaanitish woman besought Him not about a son, whom she does not seem to have brought forth at all, but about a daughter who was terribly vexed with a demon; but another mother receives back alive her son who was being carried forth dead. 5503   And again the ruler of the synagogue makes supplication for a daughter twelve years old, as being dead, 5504 but the nobleman about a son as being still sick, and at the point of death. 5505   The daughter, accordingly, who was distressed by a demon, and the dead son sprang from two mothers; and the dead daughter, and the son who was sick unto death, sprang from two fathers, of whom the one was a ruler of the synagogue, and the other was a nobleman.  And I am persuaded these things contain reasons concerning the diverse kinds of souls which Jesus vivifies and heals.  And all the cures that He works among the people, especially those recorded by the Evangelists, took place at that time, that those who would not otherwise have believed unless they saw signs and wonders might believe; 5506 for the things aforetime were symbols of the things that are ever being accomplished by the power of Jesus; for there is no time when each of the things which are written is not done by the power of Jesus according to the desert of each.  The Canaanitish woman, therefore, because of her race was not worthy even to receive an answer from Jesus, who acknowledged that He had not been sent by the Father p. 446 for any other thing than to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, 5507 —a lost race of souls possessed of clear vision; but, because of her resolution and of having worshipped Jesus as Son of God, she obtains an answer, which reproaches her with baseness of birth and exhibits the measure of her worthiness, namely, that she was worthy of crumbs as the little dogs, but not of the loaves.  But when she with intensified resolution, accepting the saying of Jesus, puts forth the claim to obtain crumbs even as a little dog, and acknowledges that the masters are of a nobler race, then she gets a second answer, which bears testimony to her faith as great, and a promise that it shall be done unto her as she wills. 5508   And corresponding, I think, “to the Jerusalem above, which is free, the mother” 5509 of Paul and those like to him, must we conceive of the Canaanitish woman, the mother of her who was terribly distressed with a demon, who was the symbol of the mother of such a soul.  And consider whether it is not according to sound reason that there are also many fathers and many mothers corresponding to the fathers of Abraham to whom the patriarch went away, 5510 and to Jerusalem the “mother,” as Paul says, concerning himself and those like to him.  And it is probable that she of whom the Canaanitish woman was a symbol came out of the borders of Tyre and Sidon, of which the places on earth were types, and came to the Saviour and besought Him and even now beseeches Him saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David, my daughter is terribly vexed with a demon.” 5511   Then also to those without and to the disciples when necessary He answers and says, “I was not sent;” 5512 teaching us that there are some lost souls pre-eminently intellectual and clear of vision, figuratively called sheep of the house of Israel; which things, I think, the simpler who are of opinion that they are spoken in regard to the Israel which is after the flesh will of necessity admit, namely, that our Saviour was sent by the Father to no others than to those lost Jews.  But we, who can truthfully boast that “if we have once known Christ after the flesh, but now no longer do we know Him so,” 5513 are assured that it is pre-eminently the work of the Word to save the more intelligent, for these are more akin to Him than those who are duller.  But since the lost sheep of the house of Israel, with the exception of “the remnant according to the election of grace,” 5514 disbelieved the Word, on this account “God chose the foolish things of the world,” 5515 namely, that which was not Israel, nor clear of vision, that He might put to shame the wise ones of Israel; and He called “the things which are not,” 5516 handing over to them an intelligent nation who were able to admit “the foolishness of the preaching,” 5517 and of His good pleasure saved those who believe in this, that He might refute “the things which are,” having perfected praise for Himself, “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” 5518 when they became hostile to truth.  Now, the Canaanitish woman, having come, worshipped Jesus as God, saying, “Lord, help me,” but He answered and said, “It is not possible to take the children’s bread and cast it to the little dogs.” 5519   But some one might inquire also into the meaning of this saying, since,—inasmuch as there was a measure of loaves such that both the children and the dogs of the household could not eat loaves, unless the dogs ate other loaves than those which were well made,—it was not possible according to right reason for the well-made loaf of the children to be given as food to the little dogs.  But no such thing appears in the case of the power of Jesus, for of this it was possible both for the children and those called little dogs to partake.  Consider, then, whether perhaps with reference to the saying, “It is not possible to take the bread of children,” we ought to say that, “He who emptied Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant,” 5520 brought a measure of power such as the world was capable of receiving, of which power also He was conscious that a certain quantity went forth from Him as is plain from the words, “Some one did touch Me, for I perceived that power had gone forth from Me.” 5521   From this measure of power, then, He dispensed, giving a larger portion to those who were pre-eminent and who were called sons, but a smaller portion to those who were not such, as to the little dogs.  But though these things were so, nevertheless where there was great faith, to her, who because of her base birth in Canaanitish land was a little dog, He gave as to a child the bread of the children.  And perhaps, also, of the words of Jesus there are some loaves which it is possible to give to the more rational, as to children only; and other words, as it were, crumbs from the great house and table of the wellp. 447 born and the masters, which may be used by some souls, like the dogs.  And according to the law of Moses it is written about certain things, “Ye shall cast them to the dogs,” 5522 and it was a matter of care to the Holy Spirit to give instruction about certain foods that they should be left to the dogs.  Let others, then, who are strangers to the doctrine of the Church, assume that souls pass from the bodies of men into the bodies of dogs, according to their varying degree of wickedness; but we, who do not find this at all in the divine Scripture, say that the more rational condition changes into one more irrational, undergoing this affection in consequence of great slothfulness and negligence.  But, also, in the same way, a will which was more irrational, because of its neglect of reason, sometimes turns and becomes rational, so that that which at one time was a dog, loving to eat of the crumbs that fell from the table of its masters, comes into the condition of a son.  For virtue contributes greatly to the making of one a son of God, but wickedness, and mad fury in wanton discourses and shamelessness, contribute to the giving of a man the name of dog according to the word of the Scripture. 5523   And the like you will also understand in the case of the other names which are applied to animals without reason.  Only, he who is reproached as a dog and yet is not indignant at being called unworthy of the bread of children and with all forbearance repeats the saying of that Canaanitish woman, “Yea, Lord, for even the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ 5524 table,” will obtain the very gentle answer of Jesus saying to him, “Great is thy faith,”—when he has received so great faith—and saying, “Be it done unto thee even as thou wilt,” 5525 so that he himself may be healed, and if he has produced any fruit which stands in need of healing, that this, too, may be cured.



Matt. xx. 30.


Matt. viii. 29.


Matt. xiv. 33.


Rom. i. 3.


Rom. i. 4.


Luke vii. 12.


Matt. ix. 18.


John iv. 46.


John iv. 48.


Matt. xv. 24.


Matt. xv. 28.


Gal. iv. 26.


Gen. xv. 15.


Matt. xv. 22.


Matt. xv. 24.


2 Cor. v. 16.


Rom. xi. 5.


1 Cor. i. 27.


1 Cor. i. 28.


1 Cor. i. 21.


Ps. viii. 2.


Matt. 15:25, 26.


Phil. ii. 7.


Luke viii. 46.


Exod. xxii. 31.


2 Sam. xvi. 9.


Matt. xv. 27.


Matt. xv. 28.

Next: Chapter XVIII