Scriptures: The Hidden Revelation of Christ

This is a sense-perceptible world and credence is given to that which is palpable. As St. Athanasius observes that the incarnation itself was an attempt by the Son of God to attract human senses. “Once the mind of human beings descended to perceptible things, the Word himself submitted to appear through a body, so that as human he might bring humans to himself.” (Inc. 16).[1] So in a world where tangibility takes precedence over contemplation, reading the Scripture itself becomes an act of resistance to the worldly wisdom. Scripture is a field in which lies hidden the treasures of divine mysteries reserved to be unearthed by the diligent and laborious rather than the slothful. The superficiality of words needs to be transcended for a subtler contemplation. As St. Gregory of Nyssa remarks; “Just as food not worked over is fit for beasts and not for man, so one could say that the inspired words, when not worked over by a more subtle contemplation, are food for irrational beasts rather than for rational men.” [2]

It is a characteristic of the Scripture to be veiled and it is only in Christ is it unveiled. Scripture itself corroborates this in multiple places which is beautifully combined by Origen. “According to the revelation of the mystery which has been hidden from eternity but is now manifest through the prophetic Scriptures, and through the arrival of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (On First Principles 4.1.7).[3] Scripture continues to remain veiled until it is read in the light of Christ as Scripture is the embodiment of the Logos himself. Thus St. Paul says; “To this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” (2 Cor. 3: 15-16).

Fr. John Behr elucidates this:
“That the veil was removed by Christ means that it is only in Christ that the glory of God is revealed and that we can discern the true meaning of Scripture, and that these two aspects are inseparable. The identity between Moses the man and Moses the text, whose face and meaning were hidden by the same veil, is paralleled by the identity between Christ, in whose face is revealed the glory of God, and the gospel which proclaims this. So, behind the veil is nothing other than ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’, himself the image of God, though this remains ‘veiled’ to those who reject the gospel. The revelation, the apocalypse, of God in Christ comes through the unveiling of the Scriptures, and the unveiling of our minds, blinded as they are, so that we can see the glory of God in Christ.” [4]

The Scripture is a place where the Word of God hides and reveals himself. That is the reason why St. Maximus remarks – “In the Scriptures we say the words are the clothes of Christ and their meaning is his body. The words veil, the meaning reveals. It is the same in the world where the forms of visible things are like the clothing, and the ideas according to which they were created are like the flesh. The former conceal, the latter reveal. For the universal creator and law-maker, the Word, both hides himself in his self-revelation and reveals himself in his hiding of himself.” [5]

Although all the Holy Fathers and Mothers are indubitably inspiring, I would like to particularly focus on Origen’s view on scriptures. I have been really enthralled by the way he deals with scriptures.  His impeccable scriptural exegesis transcends the realm of letters and leaps beyond, unveiling the mystery concealed in them. For Origen the hermeneutical task was not so much what the text meant to its contemporary readers but to penetrate through the literal meaning so as to reach the spiritual meaning. If one’s reading of the Scripture does not lead him to Christ then he would find in it only myths and fables. To be led to Christ necessitates the reading of the scripture in the light of the passion of Christ. Paul’s scriptural exegesis under Gamaliel never led him to Christ for then the cross of Christ was never his epistemological pivotal point of approaching the Scripture until his personal encounter with Christ. Scriptural exegesis is at the end of the day an attempt to understand the mind of God. Christ is the key which unlocks the embedded mysteries in the Scripture for “the garments of Jesus are the words and letters of the gospels in which he is clothed.” [6]

It is true that on the elementary level, scripture is a narrative. But then this narrative constitutes the economy of the Word. It is through the works of Christ that we come to know his divinity. In an epistemological level, economy precedes theology. As Francis Young explicates – “There is no possibility of “narrative” in theologia, but narrative constitutes oikonomia; one is in time, the other beyond time.” [7] Origen appropriates things from a two registers formula which envisions the earthly things as a shadow of heavenly realities. One invariably starts on the level of narratives but until it is transcended one does not mature spiritually as “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6). The process of reading and exegetic the Scripture are in fact our spiritual voyage from infancy to maturity. We start from being a disciple first, then a child, then a brother of Christ and then son of God.

As Origen writes in his commentary on John:
“But you must understand that it is not impossible to change from being a child of Jesus to becoming his brother, as, on the human level, it would not be possible for a child later to become a brother of him of whom he was first a child. After the Saviour’s Resurrection, these, at any rate, who were addressed as ‘little children’ become brothers of him who earlier called them little children, as if they were changed by Jesus’ Resurrection. This is why it is written, “Go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God.” ” [8]

So it is by the apocalyptic reading of the scripture hinged on the cross of Christ could we essentially understand the Word of God becoming flesh as was epitomized in the way of Emmaus when their “memory was scripturally mediated” by Christ. We as intellectual beings should not be fixated on sense-perception for the knowledge of God, as God cannot be seen but only known through contemplation. Even if we were to see the fleshly Christ we would not recognize him as the Word of God, as knowing Christ is an exegetical exercise. We actually “see” Christ by not seeing him. As St. Ignatius states: “Nothing visible is eternal; for our God Jesus Christ, is all the more apparent, since he is in the Father.” (Ignatius to the Romans. 3). Origen further reckons: “The apostles themselves saw the Word, not because they had beheld the body of the Lord and Saviour, but because they had seen the Word. If seeing Jesus’ body meant seeing God’s Word, then Pilate, who condemned Jesus, saw God’s Word; so did Judas the traitor, and all those who cried out, ‘crucify him, crucify him, remove such a one from the earth.’” [9]

In Christ

Dayroyo Fr. Basil

[1] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, John Behr trans. (Yonkers, New York: SVS Press, 2011), 85.

[2] Quoted in Mary Gerhart and Fabian E. Udoh eds. The Christianity Reader (London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 63.

[3] John Behr, trans. Origen: On First Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 245.

[4] John Behr, “Lifting the Veil: Reading Scripture in the Orthodox Tradition” in Sobornost 38/1 (2016), 75.

[5] Quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (New York: New City Press, 1995), 217.

[6] Origen, Commentary on Matthew Book 12: 38.

[7] Francis Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 143.

[8] Origen, Commentary on John Book 32: 371-373.

[9] Quoted in John Behr, “Lifting the Veil”, 87.


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