Thursday, June 17, 2010

Origen and the Marcosians

I live in Seattle and as I think everyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I find it impossible to get a lot of important texts owing to the fact that the university libraries here do not specialize in Patristic writings. Nevertheless, sometimes you get very lucky with the sources that are available to you. That's what happened to me the other day when I checked out the only copy of Origen's Homilies on Luke available in the library, which happened to be a French translation.

It turns out that the book is actually better in many ways that the English translation by Leinhard. Just glancing through the French footnotes I noticed that Origen's Homily on Luke 32 contains what is the clearest expression of the Marcosian concept of ἀπολύτρωσις when we read his explanation of Luke

Thereupon, "he came to Nazareth, when he had been reared, and, according to custom, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. And he opened the scroll and found the place where it is written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. For this reason he anointed me.'" [Lk 4.16-18]. It was no accident that he opens the scroll and finds the chapter of the reading that prophesies about him. This too was an act of God's providence. For Scripture says, "A sparrow does not fall into a net without the Father's willing it," [Mt 10.29; Lk 12.6; cf. Commentary on John 20.36.333] and, "The hairs of the head" of the apostles "have all been counted." [Lk 12.6-7]. So perhaps this too should be thought to have happened not by accident or by chance, but by the providence and disposition of God. Precisely the book of Isaiah was found, and the reading was no other but this one, which spoke about the mystery of Christ: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; for this reason he anointed me." For it is Christ who says these words.

So we should consider what those things are that he spoke through the prophet and later proclaims about himself in a synagogue. He says, "He sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor." [Lk 4.18] The "poor" stand for the Gentiles, for they are indeed poor. They possess nothing at all: neither God, nor the law, nor the prophets, nor justice and the rest of the virtues. For what reason did God send him to preach to the poor? "To preach release to captives.'' [Lk 4.18] We were the captives. For many years Satan had bound us and held us captive, and subject to himself. Jesus has come "to proclaim release to captives, and sight to the blind.'' [Lk 4.28] By his word and the proclamation of his teaching the blind see. Therefore, his "proclamation" should be understood ἀπὸ ϰοινου not only of the "captives" but also of the "blind." [Lk 4.18]

"To send broken men forth into freedom. . . ." [Lk 4.19] What being was so broken and crushed as man, whom Jesus healed and sent away? "To preach an acceptable year to the Lord. . . ." [Lk 4.19] Following the simple sense of the text, some say that the Savior preached the Gospel in Judea for only one year, and that this is what the passage "to preach an acceptable year of the Lord and a day of retribution" means. But perhaps the divine word has concealed some mystery in the preaching of a year of the Lord. For, other days are to come, not days like those we now see in the world; there will be other months, and a different order of Kalends. Just as those will be different, so too will there be a year pleasing to the Lord. But all of this has been proclaimed so that we may come to "the acceptable year of the Lord," when we see after blindness, when we are free from our chains, and when we have been healed of our wounds.
[Origen Homily on Luke 32.3 -5]

All the commentators it seems have noticed that this passage is connected with a gnostic heresy mentioned by Irenaeus. Leinhard simply says of the passage that it derives from "a Gnostic interpretation of Lk 4.29, which Irenaeus had already refuted; cf. Against the Heresies 2.22.1" and again "The Kalends were the first day of each month in the Roman calendar. Origen does not explain here what this future calendar is." But he lacks the imagination it seems necessary to put all the pieces together.

I have to go out now but I will add to this commentary later. It is enough to say that Origen's explanation of the 'acceptable year' is obviously more correct than Irenaeus's many confusing statements as Origen correctly connects the statement to the concept of the Jubilee when slaves receive their 'release.' The idea was properly understood by the Marcosians too. The two are connected obviously because the Marcosians (viz. 'those of Mark') are merely a hostile witness of Irenaeus to the very same Alexandrian tradition that Origen belonged and interpreted Isa 61.2 in the traditional manner shared by the Evangelist himself.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.