Origen’s commentary on the book of Romans is hard to come by. We do not have the original greek; what we have is a Latin translation of it completed by Rufinus of Aquileia. But his translation strikes one as Origen’s work in style. It is very much an accurate translation.
Origen of Alexandria (184-253ad) was eventually condemned as a heretic by the Catholic Church, and although considered an early church Father, he was never considered a saint. He does have an extreme allegorical interpreting style, and was influenced by Gnostic thought… I wouldn’t do everything Origen does.. 🙂 Nonetheless, his commentary on the Book of Romans is a classic that is very valuable in studies of the history of the Christian church. I have selected the portion of his commentary on chapter 14, which is relevant to this blog topic. Again, this commentary is hard to come by… enjoy!
“Obviously he is saying through this that there should be no dissension among believers on account of foods”
“Resolve this, not to create stumbling blocks or hindrances for brothers through observance of foods. We have already spoken above about a stumbling block, or a hindrance. A hindrance is something found lying on the road on which one is traveling, against which the feet of the those climbing or going along strikes. This, then, is what they suffer who have only recently entered upon the road of faith. They stumble by the contentions, acts of negligence, contempt, and pride of those in front of them and, having been battered by their examples, they are turned away from the faith”
“For foods that God has created, when consumed either in ignorance or simplicity, were not able to make a human being common and unclean”
“But to him,” he says, “who thinks something is common, to him it is common”; that is, he who thinks something to be unclean as he reflects upon it in his heart and who admits the observance of the distinction, as he also says in what comes next, “But he who makes distinctions is condemned if he eats, because it is not from faith. ”
“Though he had defined by an apostolic dogma through the Lord Jesus that nothing should be considered common or unclean of its own nature, and though he had granted absolute freedom to the faithful in respect to the use of foods, on the other hand he trims back the license of freedom toward the edification of brotherly love ”
“But true observance exists when food is consumed in such a way and when all things are done in such a way that it may not be said of such persons, “Whose God is the belly.”380 For it is fitting to abstain from every food that desire and lust employ, that pleasures procure, that excess contrives. For we must not only pay attention to what sort of foods we use but also how much and at what time and how sparingly we use them. For this is how all things are clean to clean minds”
“Would you like to be taught more eminently still concerning clean and unclean things, that they are not said about bodies but about spirits and minds? … it is the thought and the mind that fail to perceive correctly what defiles the man, not the kind of foods…”
- Receive the one who is weak in. faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. One believes that he can eat all things; he who is weak eats vegetables.”
(2) Above, as well, the Apostle has mentioned weakness of faith where he says of Abraham, “Though he was nearly one hundred years old, he was not weak in faith.” In those passages we explained this weakness of faith with whatever was able to occur to US. But also, now he speaks about one who is weak in faith, whom he says is weak in that he does not believe he can eat all things, but his faith is so small that he considers that the only food appropriate for him is vegetables. This can seem to have been said to those who had believed from the Gentiles who were exalting themselves in the freedom of faith, whereby they were not believing that anything was common or unclean, in opposition to those who believed from the circumcision who were still observing the distinction of foods according to the tradition of the law, so that he would seem to be rebuking and admonishing them, to prevent them from insulting those for whom the long held custom of observing the distinction between foods was still causing a certain degree of hesitation.
(3) He is, therefore, commanding him who is weak in this faith in this way to be received instead and not to be rejected nor to be judged as an unbeliever. For it is one thing to be an unbeliever and something else to be weak in faith. For one who does not have faith is called an unbeliever; but one who hesitates in some aspect of the faith is weak in faith.
- So then, the Apostle brings the body of the Church together in peace and says: Let not him who eats despise the one who does not eat; and let not him who does not eat judge the one who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? He stands or falls to his own master; but he will stand; for the Lord is able to make him stand. Obviously he is saying through this that there should be no dissension among believers on account of foods. But Paul seems to have uttered these things with a still profounder meaning. For to those who come from the circumcision, the law did not command anything about eating vegetables that would seem to fit what he says, “He who is weak eats vegetables.” From this it is established that he is discussing these matters with respect to the food of the Word and he calls “weak in faith” him who is not so perfected in his senses that he can take in every kind of food of the Word of God, as the Apostle also says elsewhere, “Solid food is for the perfect, for those who have the senses trained for the ability of taking in, for distinguishing good from evil.” And again, he says to others, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet capable of it.” And shall we be so inept as to think that the Apostle, who was sent to proclaim the Word of God, carried milk with him that he was giving to the Corinthians to drink? But obviously he is declaring these things about the quality of the Word and therefore says: If anyone is weaker in senses and thus is not of perfect faith so that he would grasp the Word concerning the more concealed mysteries, he ought not be provoked to quarreling over opinions through these matters, which he cannot understand.
(2) He says, “For one believes he can eat all things.” Through these things Paul is not urging disciples to eat everything, nor is he a master of palate and throat. Instead he is doubtless speaking about those whose faith is perfect and is not hindered by any distinctions in the Word of God, about those whom elsewhere the same Apostle calls spiritual, when he says, “The spiritual man examines all things.” He, then, is the one concerning whom he says here, “One believes he can eat all things.” After all, the Lord was saying even to the apostles before they received the Holy Spirit, “I still have much to say to you; but you are not capable of hearing these things now. But the Paraclete will come, the Spirit of truth, and he will teach you all things.” These, then, are the “all things” that one who, because of the perfection of faith, has shown himself capable of the more concealed Word through the grace of the Holy Spirit believes he can eat.
(3) Nevertheless, even the weak has something to take in from the Word of God and it is a certain form of the Word that the Apostle has here called “vegetables,” which does not so much render the sense of the hearer robust and strong as sustain and keep from dying. For in many passages Holy Scripture speaks of the inner senses of the soul as of outer members of the body; and just as we have repeatedly taught that the inner man is described as seeing, hearing, and walking, so also now the inner man himself is said to be able to perceive in every food, if he is perfect, or to eat vegetables, if he is weak.
(4) But in order to create harmony between the perfect and the imperfect in the Church, between, as it were, the dishonorable and the honorable members in the body,”‘ and that there might not be any dissension among them, he says, “Let not him who eats despise the one who does not eat; and let not him who does not eat judge the one who eats.” This is what he also says elsewhere, “For the eye cannot say to the hand: You are not necessary to me; and the head to the feet: I do not desire your service. But, the members of the body that appear to be less honorable are much more necessary. And therefore, he is instructing those whose faith is so great that they could eat all things and receive every form of the Word not to become arrogant and despise those who are inferior; and on the other hand, he commands those who are incapable of more perfect doctrine not to judge those whose sense is more capacious and whose intellect .is more eminent. For, by a perverse arrangement, those who are inexperienced make it their habit to judge those. who are experienced, and the lazy judge those who are zealous. But sometimes even those who have received certain initial stages of knowledge become puffed up and exalted over against those who seem to be less capable.
(5) On that account, then, with a rebuke stemming from his apostolic authority, Paul reprimands the insolence of both parties and says, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? He stands or falls to his own. master.” What he says, “he stands or falls,” he says according to the thought of the one whom he is rebuking. For even the less experienced, if he sees anyone sensing something more profound, and that he himself is unable to take hold of it, he judges him to have fallen away from the state of faith. And on the other hand; those who are puffed up because of knowledge and who do not behave with love, as Paul commands, imagine similar things concerning those who are less experienced. And that is why he has taken away the right of a brother to judge his brother. He admirably says, “another’s servant,” for the Lord says, “You are all brothers.” “All,” that is, all creatures; and there is only one Lord, Christ Jesus, who is “Lord of all, rich toward all.” At the same time he also reveals the ineffable goodness of God when he says of him who seems to have fallen away, even if he may have truly fallen away, “God is able to make him stand.” For “the Lord raises up those who have been dashed down.”294
- The one judges alternate days; but another judges every day. Let each one be convinced in his own mind. We have said above that, according to the sequence of the apostolic letter, these things appear to be dealing with self-control and freedom in respect to foods. Because the calling that is in Christ acknowledges no foods as common or unclean, but thought of self-control persuades one to abstain even from things that are lawful. For it is not, as he himself says elsewhere, that because all things are lawful they are, therefore, likewise all beneficial or all edifying. Yet the reason for abstinence is diverse owing to a vow and the purpose of one who takes the vow. For one judges and distinguishes among the spirits in such a way that he demands abstinence every day, that is, during the continuous period of his life. But another pledges a certain period, as by the profession of a vow, in which he gives according to the senses of each one free opportunity, whether one should take up permanent or temporary abstinence. But he promises that both are borne and accepted by the Lord, and for this reason he goes on to say:
- 38. He who regards the day, regards it for the Lord; and he who eats, eats for the Lord; for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not eat, does not eat for the Lord and gives thanks to God. Thanks are returned to God by both; by the one on account of the benefit of self-control, by the other on account of the freedom to eat. But we showed previously that the Apostle’s meaning is found, by using a spiritual exposition, to be profounder than an account of material foods holds. In accordance with what we have dis-cussed above, concerning those for whom one judges every “day,” but the other judges alternate days, we can perceive the following: Every chapter in the Holy Scriptures in which the doctrine of piety and faith is contained may be called “day.” For it truly is day, because it enlightens the mind; because it puts the darkness of ignorance to flight; because it contains within itself Christ, who is the sun of righteousness. If there is anyone, therefore, who expends so much effort and study in the books of Holy Scripture that he investigates and distinguishes every “day” and every sense of Holy Scripture so that not a single jot or tittle of the law passes over him, he will seem to judge every day. But the one who is not so great in ability will grasp alternate senses, that is, a few from the many, and if not those that are sufficient for the fullness of knowledge, at least those that are adequate for the essence of faith. Both, then, should give thanks to God according to the Apostle’s counsel: the one because he regards every day and because he eats all things, i.e., because he recognizes and understands all things; and the other because, although he may not eat all things and grasp all knowledge, nevertheless he is saved by the brief confession of faith.303 And this is why even the one who does not eat all things and does not take in knowledge of everything is still said to give thanks to God.
- For none of us live to himself, and no one dies to himself; for if we live, we live to the Lord; f we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived, so that he might be Lord of the dead and the living.
(2) In the exposition of this epistle, we have repeatedly spoken about what it means to live in Christ and what it means to die in Christ. We did this especially in that passage where we attempted to explain the Apostle’s words in which he says, “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live together with him.” If, then, we call to mind what was said in that passage, from those things the words the Apostle has set forth in the present passage will become clearer and more lucid, how none of us lives to himself and no one dies to himself. For no one provides a pattern of death for himself, but he takes it up from Christ, who alone has died to sin, so that he too, by imitation of him, can become estranged from sin and dead to it. Moreover, we do not have the pattern of life from ourselves, but we have received it from the resurrection of Christ, as the same Apostle says, “In order that, as Christ rose again from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also you might walk in newness of life.” So then, the newness of life by which we live in Christ through faith in his resurrection is attributed to the Lord, since it receives a commencement from him, not from us. And for that reason, “whether we live, we live to the Lord; whether we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” He calls “death” that by which we have died to sin, as we have said, having been buried together with Christ and baptized into his death. And he calls “life” that by which we have become estranged from this world and, as he himself says, we who are alive from the dead live not to ourselves, i.e., to the flesh, but to God, in accordance with what he adds in what follows. “For to this end,” he says, “Christ died and lived, so that he might be Lord of the dead and the living.”
(3) He says that Christ has died, doubtless by the dispensation of suffering; but he lived through the mystery of the resurrection. Whence also he has left a pattern for us, first of suffering and mortification, then later, as well, of resurrection and newness of life. But it may possibly trouble someone that the Apostle has said that the reason Christ died and lived was in order that he might be the Lord both of the dead and of the living, as if the one who gave this meant that unless he had died he would not have had lordship over the dead, and unless he had lived again after death he would not have held dominion over the living. But I think the following must be said in response to this. It is accepted that Christ’s dominion is over all creation in two ways. First, as the Creator of all things and bearing authority over all things, he holds all things under subjection by the force of his majesty and by the compulsion of power. In this way he exercises lordship not only over good and holy minds and spirits, but also over bad and apostate [spirits] and over those whom Holy Scripture has designated as evil angels. For it is on this account that he is also called “all-controlling,” or “Almighty,” according to what John depicts in the Apocalypse when he says, “These things says he who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This, then, is one way in which Christ has dominion over all.
(4) But there is another by which, as the good and the Son of the good Father, he does not want to influence rational spirits toward obedience to his law by compulsion, but he waits for them to come of their own accord, to seek the good willingly and not by compulsion. And he would rather persuade by teaching than by commanding, by inviting rather than compelling. It is for this reason, after all, that he thinks it worthy to go to death, so that he might leave behind a pattern of obedience and a type of dying for those who are willing to die to sin and to the vices. And it is on this account that the Apostle writes in the present passage that the reason he died and lived was that he might be Lord over both the living and the dead; of the living, actually, those who, by the pattern of his resurrection, lead a new and heavenly life on earth; of the dead, doubtless, those who carry around the mortification of Christ in their own body and who put to death their own members that are on the earth.
4o. But if these things are so: As for you, he says, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you despise your brother? Though a mortification of the flesh and the vices has taken place within you, this has not arisen from yourself, but has been given by the death of Christ; if there is newness of life in you, and though you walk on earth you have your conversation in heaven, you merited this from the resurrection of Christ. He has admirably expressed the disgrace of the vice of both with a vernacular designation, saying to the one, “Why do you despise?” and to the other, “Why do you judge your brother?” For those who seem to have advanced a little in knowledge customarily despise and regard as nothing those who are less capable of higher understanding. On the other hand, those who are inexperienced and unteachable are accustomed to judging, i.e., to finding fault with and condemning those who research matters higher and deeper than they themselves are capable of grasping or reaching. And this is why the Apostle, wanting to cut off the fault arising from both sides, commands the one group not to despise and look down at the inferior; but he orders the others not to judge themselves superior, since they lack the skill of judgment. So then, although he rebukes both, both the one who despises the inferior brother and the one who judges the superior, still, in order to show that the one who passes judgment is sinning more seriously than the one who despises a brother, he leaves behind the fault of contempt and emphasizes the presumption over a brother who is judged.320 And this is why in what comes next he adds:
- 41. For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, because every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God.” So then, each of us will render an account for himself to God. Let us, therefore, no longer pass judgment on one another; but judge this instead, not to put a stumbling block or a hindrance321 to a brother.
(2) Taking up the reasons why those who are judging their brothers are not judging rightly, he introduces the model of God’s judgment, which is right and just, and he says, “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of God,” in order, obviously, that the one who is judging his brother might know what a great crime of arrogance he is falling into, that he should seem to assume the judgment seat of God and to forestall the judgment of the Only-Begotten. But let. us see why the Apostle decides [to use] what he speaks of as “the judgment seat of God” and how it should be interpreted.
(3) For not only in this passage, but also when writing to the Corinthians, no less, he mentions the judgment seat of God where he says, “Therefore, let us strive, whether present or absent, to please him. For all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive for what he has done through the body, whether good or bad.” Moreover, in [the book of] the prophet Daniel we find certain things recorded concerning the kind of judging [it will be]. “I was watching,” I he says, “and behold, seats were set in place, and the Ancient of Days was sitting and his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like clean wool. His throne was a flame of fire, his wheels a burning fire. A stream of fire was flowing before him. A thousand thousands were serving him, and ten thousand ten thousands were attending before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”
(4) Also in the book of the Twelve Prophets it is said under a mystery that in the valley of Jehoshaphat the Lord will judge his people. Shortly after this he calls the valley of Jehoshaphat the valley of judgment. But to discuss each of these things that we have brought forward for the sake of comparison would seem lengthy. Yet when we compare what we have said the Apostle has written to the Corinthians with the present passage, or with the other things we have recalled written in the prophets, from all these things we see that the judgment of God is certainly declared to come. So that its form might become more familiar to human beings, the model of judgment has been adopted from those matters that take place among human beings, obviously, in order that we might know that just as the earthly judge ascends to a certain higher place, which is called the judgment seat, so that from there he might be higher and more eminent than the others who are to be judged, lest the supplications of the defendants or the legal petitions of the innocent escape his notice; thus we should understand also that Christ, the judge of all, by nature and majesty more eminent than all else, looks into the hearts and consciences of each one and manifests secrets and reveals things that are covered up, both so that he may bestow praise for good actions and so that the evil might receive the punishment they deserve.
(5) But if there remains a future judgment of God, and a judgment of such a nature that not only will each receive for his own actions, but also according to the Lord’s declaration an account will be rendered for every idle word, even the evil thoughts will be put to silence by the accusing conscience, and in all these matters each of us will render an account for himself to God. “Let us therefore,” he says, “no longer pass judgment on one another”; as he also says elsewhere, “And so, do not judge anyone before the time, until the Lord comes, who will bring to light the secrets of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of hearts; and then each one will have praise from God.” For in my opinion our heart will be laid bare before the entire rational creation, and its secrets will be revealed, or even manifested.
(6) For there is a difference. For what is revealed seems to pertain to evil persons, concerning whom it is said, “For it will be revealed with fire.” The things that are manifested, on the other hand, pertain to the good. And that is why it is said, “For everything that is manifested is light.” And like books that have been written or tablets that have been inscribed, containing the written records of our actions and thoughts, they will be read, as we have said, by every rational creature. And I believe that this is what is indicated by Daniel when he says, “And the books were opened”; namely, those that are now rolled up and covered in our heart, containing the writings of what we do. They are etched in a certain alphabet of the conscience, yet are fully known to no one except God alone. So then, these books of our soul or pages of our heart will be opened in the presence of the throne of fire and the wheels of blazing fire and the river of fire that flows before the Ancient of Days. Even the angels will see these things and read them, and the thousand thousands of angels and the ten thousand ten thousands of attendants. And so, for our crimes in which now we are disconcerted to allow even one witness, then we shall have to endure the innumerable throngs of the heavenly powers as witnesses.
(7) But since Paul says, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God”; and since he associates himself with those who will stand before God’s judgment seat, who then is so self-deceived and misled that he imagines that he is not going to come to the judgment of Christ and to the judgment seat of his knowledge? Or who would not think that, for what he has done, whether rightly or even less rightly, he is going to be manifested? Personally, I do not think there is any difference between what he calls, in the present passage, “the judgment seat of God” and what he has recorded, When writing to the Corinthians, “the judgment seat of Christ.” The “judgment seat of Christ” and the “judgment seat of God” are identical terms, according to what the Savior says in the Gospels, “All that the Father has is mine”; and again, “Father, all that is mine is yours and all yours is mine.”
(8) If, however, someone thinks that the reasons for this variation in the words of Paul need to be investigated, since his writings do not contain one syllable that is superfluous, he could possibly say something like this: The name “Christ” is a designation pertaining to his unique character as the Word who was placed in flesh, and is a sign of the one who reconciles the world to God, just as the same Paul says, “For in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” But the postponement of our conversion and the negligence of our amendment lengthen out the periods of this reconciliation and make them longer. And until he renders all rulers and powers null and void and places the enemies under his feet and destroys the last enemy, death, he has to reign, in this way so that he might bring into effect the mystery of the dispensation he has taken up in the flesh and manifest the good on the one hand, and the blameworthy, that they may receive, each according to his own works. But when he will have handed over the kingdom to God, even the Father, i.e., when he has presented all who have been converted and amended as an offering to God and has completely fulfilled the mystery of the reconciliation of the world, at that time, they are now said to stand before the judgment seat of God, so that what follows might be fulfilled, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will be bowed before me and every tongue will confess to God.”
(9) Now every creature will bow its knee before God at the name of Jesus, through whom it has been reconciled to him, according to what the same Apostle says, “For at the name of Jesus will bow every knee of the heavenly, earthly, and infernal [beings] .” Obviously the Apostle has taken the statement that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess to God from the words of the prophet Isaiah. Yet this is not to be interpreted in a fleshly way, so that we should imagine that even the heavenly beings that he says bow their knee should be believed to do this with fleshly limbs. Are we to think, for instance, that the sun and the moon and the stars, and even the angels and whatever heavenly beings there are that might be named, worship while they are stooped over on their bodily knees? Or are we to suppose that they likewise confess to God with tongues of flesh and with that organ with which we humans speak; these beings of whom it is said that they are spirits and fire according to what the prophet says, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers burning fire”? And what knees are we to believe spirits have, or what tongue is to be looked for in the form of fire? Instead, “to bow the knee” is declaring that all things are subjected and are obedient to the worship of God.
(10) Still, I am troubled by these things that we have taken from the letter to the Corinthians, where he says, “So that each might receive his own for what he has done in his body, whether good or evil.” Has he said that each one would receive both good things for his goods and evil things for his evils because in all human beings it is necessary for there to be some good and some evil? Nor are any found among the good who do not have some evil as well, or alternately, among the evil who do not have something good as well, on account of the Scripture that says, “For an incorruptible spirit is in all things.” Or is he calling the good those to whom no evil should be ascribed, and the evil those to whom absolutely nothing good should be owed? But if we should think the latter, we shall appear to run contrary to plain reason. For as I have said, no one will be found who is so good that there is no unjust act of evil in him, as seems to be quite easily concluded from the examples of many saints. And, on the other hand, there is no one so bad, even if Judas himself be considered, who was impious beyond all impiety, that even he seems not to have some good. For when I overlook the things he was doing while he was among the apostles, as one of them, although even there even the evils were already mixed with his good deeds—for he was greedy for money—nevertheless the very fact that he was led by penitence to return the thirty silver pieces to the priests and said, “I have sinned by betraying just blood,”355 was something good.
(11) From all of which it seems to me that one and the same person cannot receive goods and evils simultaneously—for neither can anyone be sent at the same time to paradise, or into the kingdom of heaven, and into Gehenna— only in those in whom the evils had weighed excessively heavier is the reckoning of good not held; and in those in whom good deeds had weighed heavier, and in whom the repentance of conversion has obliterated the traces of the evils is the reckoning of evil not received.
(12) But that we may go back to the end and conclusion of the proposed section, since, he says, the truth of the judgment before God and before his Christ is so great, since the dragnet of the future examination will be so great he says, “Let us, therefore, no longer pass judgment on one another; but judge this instead, not to put a stumbling block or hindrance to your brother.” “Judge this,” that is, Resolve this, not to create stumbling blocks or hindrances for brothers through observance of foods. We have already spoken above about a stumbling block, or a hindrance.356 A hindrance357 is something found lying on the road on which one is traveling, against which the feet of the those climbing358 or going along strikes. This, then, is what they suffer who have only recently entered upon the road of faith. They stumble by the contentions, acts of negligence, contempt, and pride of those in front of them and, having been battered by their examples, they are turned away from the faith.
- I know and am confident in the Lord Jesus that nothing is common through itself except to him who thinks something is common, to him it is common. For if your brother is grieved for the sake of food, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not by your food cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. Do not, therefore, let your good be slandered. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteous-ness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this is pleasing to God and has been approved by men. And so, let us follow what pertains to peace and what pertains to edification among one another Do not for the sake of food destroy the work of God.
(2) We have said in other passages as well that in the Holy Scriptures what is not holy or clean is called common by a kind of vernacular designation. This designation, however, is more frequent in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament I do not recall if it is recorded anywhere.362 In the Gospels, for example, the Savior says, “For from the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, fornications, adulteries, thefts, false testimonies; and these are what make a man common. But to eat. with unwashed hands does not make a man common.”
(3) Although in many copies the Latins have rendered communicare [make common] with coinquinare [defile], and granted that the force may be the same, nevertheless the strict rendering of the word has “make common.” Moreover, in the Acts of the Apostles the Lord says to Peter, “What God. has cleansed, you should not call common.” I think, then, that the source from which this usage of the word has been derived is, for example, that the vessels of the temple that were set apart for service were called, doubtless, vessels of the Lord. But the other vessels were called common to distinguish them from these. In a similar way, in order to distinguish the foods that Scripture has set apart as clean and lawful to be eaten, all the rest have been called common. The Jews, however, being ignorant of the force of the word as to why a man whom they were accustomed to name as common should be called com mon, have held fast to the usage of the word with no understanding of its significance. For foods that God has created, when consumed either in ignorance or simplicity, were not able to make a human being common and unclean: But that human mind that has been set apart to God alone may deservedly be called clean; but the one that is estranged from God, because it is possessed not by one spirit but by many, on that account such a man is called common, as one who is a slave to many vices or demons, according to him who, when he was asked, “What is your name?” answered, “Legion; for we are many”; and according to what is said by the Savior, “When an unclean spirit has gone out of a man, it wanders through water-less places looking for rest. And finding none it returns and when it finds the house vacant, swept, and cleaned, it takes along seven other spirits more wicked than itself; and they enter and live in him.” It is hardly to be doubted that a man of that sort is called common, obviously because he has become a slave of all those evil spirits that live in him.
(4) Justly, then, knowing that this is the meaning of this word, Paul says, “I know and am confident in the Lord Jesus that nothing is common through itself.” For none of the things God has created is unclean of its own nature—for it is an established fact that everything created by the good God is good and clean. “But to him,” he says, “who thinks something is common, to him it is common”; that is, he who thinks something to be unclean as he reflects upon it in his heart and who admits the observance of the distinction, as he also says in what comes next, “But he who makes distinctions is condemned if he eats, because it is not from faith. For everything that is not from faith is sin.” Yet in these things, he has not excluded the distinction of the law, as though he were saying categorically that nothing of those things that the law has designated as unclean is common or unclean. For he has first told the reason why nothing should be called common through itself. “I know,” he says, “and am confident in the Lord Jesus.” In the Lord Jesus, then, nothing is said to be common “through itself,” that is, of its own nature; “but to the one,” he says, “who considers and who thinks something is common, to him it is common.”
(5) And you should not be surprised that the reflection of the mind makes food defiled that, of its own nature, is neither common nor defiled, though, on the contrary, simplicity of mind and the absence of scrupulosity of reflection, once every suspicion of contamination has been cast aside, absolves truly defiled food—for what is sacrificed to idols is truly defiled. And, again, even if the food is clean, nevertheless someone may come under suspicion, as would be the case when what has been sacrificed to idols is said to be defiled on account of a scrupulous conscience. “For if your brother is grieved for the sake of food, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not by your food cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.”
(6) Though he had defined by an apostolic dogma through the Lord Jesus that nothing should be considered common or unclean of its own nature, and though he had granted absolute freedom to the faithful in respect to the use of foods, on the other hand he trims back the license of freedom toward the edification of brotherly love and he says: Even though nothing is common and the use of all foods is freely conceded, nevertheless, if, for the sake of food that you consider to be lawful to eat, you cause your brother to stumble, who is not yet capable of this knowledge, you are no longer walking according to love nor are you showing in yourself the disposition of brotherly love. For what harm does it do you if, in order not to grieve your brother, you should abstain even from what is lawful? Surely there is no crime in your abstaining from what is lawful; but to him who makes distinctions in these matters and who considers them unlawful, use is defiled. “For the one who makes distinctions is condemned if he eats.” But if you should do [such a thing], assuredly you cause the ruin of your brother for whom Christ died, and you procure the causes for his destruction.
(7) But this same Paul speaks more eminently of these matters when writing to the Colossians: “Therefore, do not let any one judge you in matters of food or drink or in the matter of festivals, new moons, or a Sabbath. These are only a shadow of future things, but the body is Christ’s. Do not let anyone seduce you, insisting on self-abasement of heart and the religion of angels that he has seen, while being vainly exalted, being puffed up by his fleshly mind and not holding fast to the head.” And after a few words, “If then you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as those who live in this world, do you make distinctions: Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch? All these things lead to corruption by their very use in accordance with the precepts and teachings of men, which have indeed a reckoning of wisdom in the observance of religion and in the self-abasement through the severe treatment of the body, [but they are] not with any honor for the gratification of the flesh.” It is not a matter for the present work to discuss all these things in detail; for we are now attempting to explain what the Apostle is writing to the Romans.
(8) Nevertheless, what is being asserted in the present instance as well is a pattern: In connection with food or drink or outward observances of this sort, which are reckoned among the Jews as the religion of angels, we should not be judged by anyone. For they exalt themselves in these things that are seen, and they are puffed up over visible things. But this elation does not accord with the wisdom of the Spirit. but with the sense of the flesh. It is not concerning fleshly matters that it has been commanded, “Do not handle, do not touch, do not taste.” For all these things, i.e., fleshly things, have been given for this corruptible use, and what observance of purity can consist in corruption? The law prescribed these things concerning rational matters that, if they are unclean, truly are not to be touched or tasted, lest they should make us partakers of sin and of its uncleanness, abandoning the precepts of men and of doctrine. Yet they have transferred this spiritual sense to these fleshly and bodily matters that have a reckoning of wisdom in the observance of religion and the self-abasement of the body, but not when, on the occasion of observance of this sort, some honor among men and pleasures of the flesh are sought, while many select foods are sought out, for the sake of abstaining from a few.
(9) But true observance exists when food is consumed in such a way and when all things are done in such a way that it may not be said of such persons, “Whose God is the belly.” For it is fitting to abstain from every food that desire and lust employ, that pleasures procure, that excess contrives. For we must not only pay attention to what sort of foods we use but also how much and at what time and how sparingly we use them. For this is how all things are clean to clean minds; but to the defiled, as the Apostle says, and to the unbelieving nothing is clean.
(10) In this he is showing that even in respect to the foods that are named clean among the Jews, if anyone is defiled and unbelieving, they could not be clean to him. It will therefore follow that if things that are clean become unclean to those who are defiled, even things that are called unclean may become clean to the holy and to believers. “For they are sanctified through the Word of God and prayer, since all of God’s creation is good and nothing is to be rejected that is received with thanksgiving.“ But they are not sanctified through the prayer of anyone, but of those who lift up “pure hands without wrath and argument.” Would you like to be taught more eminently still concerning clean and unclean things, that they are not said about bodies but about spirits and minds? Listen to the statement of the Lord and Savior himself in the Gospel when he says, “It is not what enters the mouth that makes a man common, but what proceeds from the mouth; because from within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc.” Therefore, it is the thought and the mind that fail to perceive correctly what defiles the man, not the kind of foods, which may be of whatever kind and with one and the same outcome will satisfy a use of corruption. And no wonder if he sanctifies for Saints food that he consumes with the Word of God and prayer, seeing that even the garments with which he is clothed are holy. After all, Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons had received such great sanctification from his purity that when they were brought to sick bodies they were expelling diseases and restoring health. Now what should I say of Peter? Even the shadow of his body bore so much sanctification that whomever not he himself but only his shadow touched as he walked by was immediately alleviated from every infirmity.
(11) But we have digressed rather extensively from the discussion about clean and common foods in order to consider the Apostle’s meaning more deeply, as far as this is possible. But being mindful of the brevity we stipulated,389 let us bring this ninth book to its conclusion and commence the opening of the tenth and last book.
THE TENTH BOOK OF THE COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE ROMANS
THEREFORE DO NOT LET your good be reviled. For the, kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For whoever serves Christ in this is pleasing to God and approved by men.
(2) I ask how our good can be reviled. It is good to understand the law spiritually and to avoid as unclean and defiled foods the godless and absurd doctrines of the heretics and of those who are zealous for false philosophy. For this is what is decreed by the spiritual law. But suppose, for example, anyone from the Jews or those called the Encratites3 would like to believe in Christ, but he thinks that it is a matter of no small importance to observe self-control either in respect to their foods, which are prohibited by the law, or those that, as many think, must be rejected even by the authority of the Scriptures since they are opposed to chastity. Now if you put pressure on such a person to [take] foods that are common to everyone, and you tell him that otherwise he cannot be saved and cannot attain to the faith and grace of Christ, unless he consumes these foods from which he has fled, then truly the good of spiritual knowledge will be reviled, as he whom you are pressuring thinks that this faith is held among us, that we believe that no one can be saved except the one who eats swine flesh or other common and neutral foods of this sort.
(3) But to these things he adds, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Once again I passionately admire the wisdom of Paul, who keeps in check the faults of the present time by the authority of the future mystery and, as he establishes a model for the Church, he reveals the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. He says, therefore: What need is there to disturb fraternal peace and love so greatly for the sake of foods and the kinds of things we eat since the kingdom of God, for the sake of which we labor and strive, is established neither through foods nor through drink but these things are foreign to the kingdom of God and to that future way of life? For there, just as “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels of God,” so they consume neither food nor drink, but they are like the angels of God. Consequently, by an absolutely clear dogma and by an unambiguous declaration from the Apostle, it has been settled that in the kingdom of God bodily food and drink have no place, but righteousness and peace in the Holy Spirit. And he therefore urges that we train ourselves in these things and prepare here and now to have these goods and to possess that substance that can pass with us into the kingdom of heaven: peace and righteousness and if there are things of this sort that are procured through the Holy Spirit.
(4) These will be our food and substance in the kingdom of God. And, therefore, through these things he is teaching that care must not be exhibited over matters of bodily foods, which will be null in the future, but over the virtues, which would continue with us both in the present life and in the future kingdom of God.5 And this is why he says, “For the one who serves Christ in this is pleasing to God and approved by men.” This is what he says in another passage about himself, “Just as I also please everyone in everything, not seeking what is useful to myself, but what [is useful to] many.” For it is for this reason, even though he was an Apostle of Christ, that he became a Jew to the Jews, no doubt in order that by pleasing the Jews he might save them; and to those who were without law, he himself also became without law, so that by pleasing them he might save them.
(5) Now he speaks of pleasing men not thus, by falling in with their vices, but by enduring their weaknesses with patience. But let us not leisurely pass over even this that he says, “For he who serves Christ in this,” i.e., in the Holy Spirit, “is pleasing to God and approved by men.” To serve Christ in the Holy Spirit he is saying in accordance with what he also says elsewhere, “No one says, Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit.” Paul himself serves Christ in the Spirit, then, since, having received the grace of the Holy Spirit, he serves God the Word, he serves wisdom, he serves righteousness and all the virtues at the same time, which Christ is declared to be. And therefore whoever fulfills the will of God according to the word that he himself pronounced saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to him!” is said to please God in these things. Whoever, therefore, listens to God and serves Christ, in whom God is pleased, pleases God and is approved by men.
- And so, let us pursue the things of peace and the things of mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God on account of food.
(2) He said above, “Pursue hospitality,” and here in a similar way, “Let us pursue the things of peace and the things of mutual edification.” And just as we showed there the manner in which hospitality is to be pursued, so also here we should understand how peace is to be pursued. For David too in like manner says, “Seek peace and pursue it.” Though the Latin manuscripts have “follow it,” nevertheless “pursue” is also written there. To me what appears to be made known in this is the following. Peace, he says, flees from human beings, as it were, when it has been disturbed and driven out by many who behave insolently and disruptively; in contrast, those who have learned Christ and serve him should pursue the peace that is fleeing and to call it back by every possible means. But he pursues peace who guards the things by which peace can be established, even with his own effort, with loss, with reproach too and, if necessary, even with danger to life and reputation. For these things preserve not only peace but also mutual edification. For he is edified who sees you seeking not merely what is beneficial to yourself but also what is beneficial to others. And in this way the edifice of the faith grows and the temple of God rises up from living stones, through the construction of love. And this is why he adds, “Do not destroy the work of God on account of food.” For he destroys the work of God and demolishes the edifice of love who, on account of immoderation with foods, places a stumbling block before brothers.
- All things are clean, but it is evil to the man who eats through an offense. It is good not to eat flesh and not to drink wine nor in what your brother is offended.
(2) What he has said, “All things are clean, but it is evil to the man who eats through an offence,” is similar to what he said above: “for nothing is common through itself, except to him who thinks something is common, to him it is common.” So then, according to their nature and the definition of creation, where everything that exists has been made by God, all things are clean, and there is nothing unclean or what is called common. He set down two reasons for which things that are clean may become unclean or things that are good may become evil. For in the present passage he says, “But it is evil to the man who eats through an offence.” Therefore, what is good of its own nature becomes evil because of the offence, i.e., because the brother is offended when you use these foods in which he experiences a stumbling block. There is another reason why that which of its own nature is not unclean becomes common or unclean: If anyone who deems it so in his own eyes thinks that it is common. So then, only to the one who thinks it so, does it become common or unclean. Clearly from these things the Apostle is teaching that uncleanness and defilement consist not in things or in essences, but in actions and thoughts less right. Although the law of Moses indicated that certain things were clean and certain things were unclean, in which he wanted to lay down certain distinctions so that the people who were being assessed under the law would seem to be distinguished from the other nations through observances of this sort, as long as that people was considered to be holy and separated from the other nations a distinction of clean and unclean things seemed likewise necessary, a distinction that would separate and distinguish God’s special people from the nations that the ignorance of God and the worship of idols were making unclean.
(3) But when the door of faith is opened to the nations and all are invited to God, all four-footed beasts and creeping and flying creatures are shown to Peter exposed in a sheet that had been let down from heaven and it is said to him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” Because he was mindful of legal observance, he responded to the Lord and said, “Never, Lord, because never has a common or unclean thing entered my mouth.” But by a heavenly pronouncement it is declared, “What God has cleansed, you should not call common.” So then, where all nations are cleansed from defilement through the knowledge of the faith, there also all food is purified by the word of the Lord and prayer. And on this account the Apostle says, “All things are clean”; only that that should be avoided whereby he records in what follows that the things that are clean should not once again become unclean to the one who eats through offending a brother.
(4) But what he now appends, “It is good not to eat flesh and not to drink wine,” would possibly seem contrary to what he had said earlier, had he not added, “nor in what your brother is offended.” For he has taught that eating or not eating flesh, or drinking or not drinking wine, is deemed neither evil nor good but neutral and indifferent. For even an evil man or a stranger to the faith is able not to eat flesh and not to drink wine, as it is certain many frequently do for the sake of idols. Occasionally it is reported that such an observance is kept even in the evil arts. Certainly, to observe these things is customary for not a few of the heretics, and we shall not immediately say: It is good for them that they do not eat flesh or drink wine. But clearly it truly is good not to eat flesh and not to drink wine that is no longer neutral or indifferent in that manner in which he has set forth in what follows, “in what the brother is offended.” For it is good not to put an offence or stumbling block before a brother. For on this account he also says elsewhere, “Be without offense, both to Jews and to Greeks and to the Church of God.” And let them see, therefore, if they are acting properly who, by every means, compel those who, for whatever reason, abstain from tasting flesh and wine, obviously in order for the suspicion to seem to be removed through this, [a suspicion] by which they are scrupulously thought to be clinging to the distinctions of foods.
(5) For surely they should pay attention to the fact that the Apostle has not said: It is good to eat flesh and to drink wine, but not to eat flesh and not to drink wine, if a brother is offended in this. So then, he did not want that, for the sake of those who judge that something is to be eaten, one who is offended by this should be compelled to eat; but, for the sake of the one who does not think something should be eaten, he orders even those who judge that it should be eaten to abstain. For surely it has to be feared lest perchance, once the wall of self-control has been broken down and license has been adopted, one might be sunk in the storm of gluttony and in the depths of excess and the shipwreck of chastity might follow in like manner. Therefore, everything ought to be done so that the work of God is not destroyed; and for that reason as well, one should eat if a brother is edified in this; and one should not eat if the work of God grows by this means; and one should drink, if by this means a brother makes progress in the faith; and one must not drink if, on this account, either you should incur a loss of love, or your brother, a forfeiture of faith.
- After these things he says: The faith that you have, have as your own before God. Here he is referring to that faith by which someone believes he can eat all things, as he said above, “One person believes he can eat all things”; doubtless, he who believes that nothing in God’s creation is common, that nothing is unclean. But it is sufficient for you, he says, to have such faith before God. Another person, however, even a stranger, must not on that account be compelled so that he would eat all things, he who does not yet have such faith that he believes that all things are to be eaten. But what he says, “Have it as your own,” curtails boasting, lest what we believe should lead to ostentation rather than virtue. But he has added, “Have it before God,” in order to show that it is enough for us to act, not that our faith be slandered among men, but that it be approved before God. It is much to have a faith that is approved before God. For before God even the faith of the apostles is judged small; this is why it is said to Peter, “[Oh you] of little faith, why did you doubt?” On that account, then, he is truly great whose faith is approved before God.
- Blessed is the one who does not judge himself in what he approves, But he who makes distinctions is condemned if he eats because this is not from faith. But all that is not from faith is sin.
(2) Anyone is called blessed not merely if he does things that are appropriate, but also if he does not do things that are inappropriate; as, for example, he is called blessed “who does not depart to the advice of the wicked”; and he is no less blessed “who walks in the law of the Lord.” The one is blessed then because “he does not walk in the way of sinners,” the other because he walks in the way of God. So also in the present passage the Apostle says, “Blessed is the one who does not judge himself in what he approves.”
(3) But let us consider of whose work that blessedness might be. There are many who approve to do something good; for instance, those who, when they hear about the rewards for chastity, approve and resolve to live chastely; but with the passing of time, as either negligence sneaks in unawares or as lust gains the upper hand, that which they had approved as something to be observed is defiled and corrupted. And he is wretched, who was conquered in what he had determined to observe, and he judges and condemns himself. But blessed is the one who continues so fixed and constant in what he approves and has resolved upon, that in no respect he judge himself and in nothing does he find fault. But he is saying this even in the observance of foods, according to the rule that he had composed above, that if anyone who, through the knowledge of the spiritual law, approves all things to be eaten and that all things are clean, he should not once again judge himself and hesitate as to whether he ought to consume or not. For the one who makes distinctions in this manner, i.e., the one who doubts whether what he is consuming is truly clean or unclean, he himself on the basis of the very doubt of his own mind, is condemned, as his conscience accuses. He sets forth the reason for this condemnation too, when he says: because it is consumed not out of faith but out of doubt. And after these things he makes a general pronouncement over all [situations] when he says, “But all that is not from faith is sin.”
(4) With this statement he binds the negligent and slothful souls of these believers with a shorter chain, that they should do nothing without faith, say nothing apart from faith, and think nothing apart from faith; for you are sinning whether you have done, or spoken, or even thought something without faith. This is precisely what he says elsewhere, “Wheth-er you eat or drink or whatever else you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
(5) But someone may ask whether even the heretics should be believed to do the things they do from faith, since they do it according to what they believe; or, since the faith among them is null, all that they do should be pronounced to be sin, because it is not from faith. And I think what they possess is to be called credulity rather than faith. For just as false prophets are occasionally called prophets, by a false name, and false knowledge is called knowledge, and false wisdom is improperly called wisdom, so also the credulity of the heretics is called faith by a false name.”56
(6) For this reason one should consider whether perhaps even if what seems to be done among them as a good work is converted into sin, since it is not from faith, as was also said concerning a certain someone, “Let his prayer become sin.” Sometimes there is even a chastity that is not from faith, namely that of those “who pay attention to deceitful spirits and to teachings of demons, speaking by false hypocrisy, having a seared conscience, forbidding marriage and abstaining from foods, which God created.”58 Then false also is the faith of those who have “suffered a shipwreck in respect to the faith.” There is also a false wisdom, namely, that of this world and of the rulers of this world, a wisdom that will be destroyed.”
(7) For just as during the dark of night pirates make it their custom to kindle lights in shallow places at sea, among hidden rocks, so as to invite sailors to the shipwrecks of destruction under the hope of taking refuge in a safe harbor;”61 so also the light of false wisdom and false faith is kindled by the rulers of this world and by the spirits of this air, not through which men might escape, but through which they perish, as they navigate the waves of this world and the sea of life. It was concerning these pirates, I think, that even Job was saying, “The arrows of his pirates have come over me.” And surely it was also on this account that the Apostle himself says, “For even Satan himself transforms himself as an angel of light.” For that reason, then, those of us who navigate the waves of this life ought not to believe every light, i.e., every [kind of] wisdom; but, as the Apostle warns, [we ought to] test which spirits are from God.” And this is why we ought to implore the Lord’s help unceasingly and to hope that he will rescue us from the snare of the hunters” so that we might also say, “Our soul has been snatched like a bird from the snare of hunters; the snare was smashed and we were set free. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Footnotes (I have removed redundant footnotes to make for easier reading)
294. Ps 345.14. Here there seems to be another hint of Origen’s belief in a universal restoration.
- In Origen’s theology, the brief confession of faith is absolutely indispensable to attain salvation, complete faith is more, complete knowledge is still more. Cf. Heither in Origenes, Commentarii, 5:126 n. 84, and Schelkle, Paulus, Lehre); p. 78.
- The Migne text reads, “brother who judges.”
- Offensio vet scandatum.
- Mt 27.3-4. For other statements denying Judas’s total depravity, cf. Gels 2.11; Comm in, z 32.12; Comm in Gant 3.15.
356 Cf. 7.19.8-9, where stumbling block is interpreted in a positive sense, as something that comes through Jesus Christ and hinders men (like Paul) from continuing on the wrong road.
- Scandatunz. 8J9.Cf.1Tm4.1.
362 Cf. 3.2.6; 8.8.3 n. 189. The LXX consistently uses “profane” or “unhallowed,” not “common,” for things that are unholy and impure, as in Lv 10.10. Cf. TDNT 3:791.
- We recall that it was Rufinus’s intention to abbreviate the Cantmenlary. Cf. Preface of Rufinus (2).
- The word is transliterated from the Greek, “self-controlled.” According to Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.28.1 (ANF 1:353), the Encratites rejected marriage and the eating of flesh; they also denied Adam’s salvation. Their originator was Tatian (110-72), a disciple of Justin (110-65) who evidently feII into this heresy after his master’s death. Cf. Cels 5.65; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.29.
- For the linguistic distinctions referred to here, cf. 4.9.6 n. 322. Cf. Prine 1.2.13; Comm in. Cant Prologue 2.
- 1 Tim 4.1-3. Marcion’s followers are intended. Cf. 9.2.10 n. 64.
- The port of Alexandria, Origen’s home city, was well known for its sub-merged rocks that made for a narrow and difficult passage for mariners. On one side of the harbor was an island called Pharos, on which was built the famous lighthouse. Cf. josephus, War of the Jews 4.10.5.