Origen on Matthew 400



"Again I say unto you that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them." The word symphony is strictly applied to the harmonies of sounds in music. And there are indeed among musical sounds some accordant and others discordant. But the Evangelic Scripture is familiar with the name as applied to musical matters in the passage, "He heard a symphony and dancing." For it was fitting that when the son who had been lost and found came by penitence into concord with his father a symphony should be heard on the occasion of the joyous mirth of the house. But the wicked Laban was not acquainted with the word symphony in his saying to Jacob, "And if thou hadst told me I would have sent thee away with mirth and with music and with drums and a harp." But akin to the symphony of this nature is that which is written in the second Book of Kings when "the brethren of Aminadab went before the ark, and David and his son played before the Lord on instruments artistically fitted with might and with songs;" for the instruments thus fitted with might and with songs, had in themselves the musical symphony which is so powerful that when two only, bring along with the symphony which has relation to the music that is divine and spiritual, a request to the Father in heaven about anything whatsoever, the Father grants the request to those who ask along with the symphony on earth,--which is most miraculous,--those things which those who have made the symphony spoken of may have asked. So also I understand the apostolic saying "Defraud ye not one the other except it be by agreement for a season that ye may give yourselves unto prayer." For since the word harmony is applied to those who marry according to God in the passage from Proverbs which is as follows: "Fathers will divide their house and substance to their sons, but from God the woman is married to the man," it is a logical consequence of the harmony being from God, that the name and the deed should enjoy the agreement with a view to prayer, as is indicated in the word, "unless it be by agreement." Then the Word repeating that the agreeing of two on the earth is the same thing as the agreeing with Christ, adds, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name." Therefore the two or three who are gathered together in the name of Christ are those who are in agreement on earth, not two only but sometimes also three. But he who has the power will consider whether this agreement and a congregation of this sort in the midst of which Christ is, can be found in more, since "narrow and straightened is the way that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it." But perhaps also not even few but two or three make a symphony as Peter and James and John, to whom as making a symphony the Word of God showed His own glory. But two made a symphony, Paul and Sosthenes, when writing the first Epistle to the Corinthians; and after this Paul and Timothy when sending the second Epistle to the same. And even three made a symphony when Paul and Silvanus and Timothy gave instruction by letter to the Thessalonians. But if it be necessary also from the ancient Scriptures to bring forward the three who made a symphony on earth, so that the Word was in the midst of them making them one, attend to the superscription of the Psalms, as for example to that of the forty-first, which is as follows: "Unto the end, unto understanding, for the sons of Korah." For though there were three sons of Korah whose names we find in the Book of Exodus, Aser, which is, by interpretation, "instruction," and the second Elkana, which is translated, "possession of God," and the third Abiasaph, which in the Greek tongue might be rendered, "congregation of the father," yet the prophecies were not divided but were both spoken and written by one spirit, and one voice, and one soul, which wrought with true harmony, and the three speak as one, "As the heart panteth after the springs of the water, so panteth my soul alter thee, O God." But also they say in the plural in the forty-fourth Psalm, "O God, we have heard with our ears." But if you wish still further to see those who are making symphony on earth look to those who heard the exhortation, "that ye may be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment." and who strove after the goal, "the soul and the heart of all the believers were one." who have become such, if it be possible for such a condition to be found in more than two or three, that there is no discord between them, just as there is no discord between the strings of the ten-stringed psaltery with each other. But they were not in symphony in earth who said, "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ," but there were schisms among them, upon the dissolution of which they were gathered together in company with the spirit in Paul, with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, that they might no longer "bite and devour one another so that they were consumed by one another;" for discord consumes, as concord brings together, and admits the Son of God who comes in the midst of those who have become at concord. And strictly, indeed, concord takes place in two things generic, through the perfecting together, as the Apostle has called it, of the same mind by an intellectual grasp of the same opinions, and through the perfecting together of the same judgment, by a like way of living. But if whenever two of us agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of the Father of Jesus who is in heaven, plainly when this is not done for them of the Father in heaven as touching anything that they shall ask, there the two have not been in agreement on earth; and this is the cause why we are not heard when we pray, that we do not agree with one another on earth, neither in opinions nor in life. But further also if we are the body of Christ and God hath set the members each one of them in the body that the members may have the same care one for another, and may agree with one another, and when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, and if one be glorified, they rejoice with it, we ought to practise the symphony which springs from the divine music, that when we are gathered together in the name of Christ, He may be in the midst of us, the Word of God, and the Wisdom of God, and His Power.


So much then for the more common understanding of the two or three whom the Word exhorts to be in agreement. But now let us also touch upon another interpretation which was uttered by some one of our predecessors, exhorting those who were married to sanctity and purity; for by the two, he says, whom the Word desires to agree on earth, we must understand the husband and wife, who by agreement defraud each other of bodily intercourse that they may give themselves unto prayer; when if they pray for anything whatever that they shall ask, they shall receive it, the request being granted to them by the Father in heaven of Jesus Christ on the ground of such agreement. And this interpretation does not appear to me to cause dissolution of marriage, but to be an incitement to agreement, so that if the one wished to be pure, but the other did not desire it, and on this account he who willed and was able to fulfil the better part, condescended to the one who had not the power or the will, they would not both have the accomplishment from the Father in heaven of Jesus Christ, of anything whatever that they might ask.


And next to this about the married, I am familiar also with another interpretation of the agreement between the two which is as follows. In the wicked, sin reigns over the soul, being settled as on its own throne in this mortal body, so that the soul obeys the lusts thereof; but in the case of those, who have stirred up the sin which formerly reigned over the body as from a throne and who are in conflict with it, "the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh;" but in the case of those who have now become perfected, the spirit has gained the mastery and put to death the deeds of the body, and imparts to the body of its own life, so that already this is fulfilled, "He shall quicken also your mortal bodies because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you;" and there arises a concord of the two, body and spirit, on the earth, on the successful accomplishment of which there is sent up a harmonious prayer also of him who "with the heart believes unto righteousness, but with the mouth maketh confession unto salvation." so that the heart is no longer far from God, and along with this the righteous man draws nigh to God with his own lips and mouth. But still more blessed is it if the three be gathered together in the name of Jesus that this may be fulfilled, "May God sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." But some one may inquire with regard to the concord of spirit and body spoken of, if it is possible for these to be at concord without the third being so,--I mean the soul--and whether it does not follow from the concord of these on the earth after the two have been gathered together in the name of Christ, that the three also are already gathered together in His name, in the midst of whom comes the Son of God as all are dedicated to Him,--I mean the three,--and no one is opposed to Him, there being no antagonism not only on the part of the spirit, but not even of the soul, nor further of the body.


And likewise it is a pleasant thing to endeavour to understand and exhibit the fact of the concord of the two covenants,--of the one before the bodily advent of the Saviour and of the new covenant; for among those things in which the two covenants are at concord so that there is no discord between them would be found prayers, to the effect that about anything whatever they shall ask it shall be done to them from the Father in heaven. And if also you desire the third that unites the two, do not hesitate to say that it is the Holy Spirit, since "the words of the wise," whether they be of those before the advent, or at the time of the advent, or after it, "are as goads, and as nails firmly fixed, which were given by agreement from one shepherd." And do not let this also pass unobserved, that He did not say, where two or three are gathered together in My name, there "shall I be" in the midst of them, but "there am I," not going to be, not delaying, but at the very moment of the concord being Himself found, and being in the midst of them.


"Then came Peter and said unto Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" The conception that these things were said in a simple sense by Peter, as if he were inquiring whether he was to forgive his brother when he sinned against him seven times, but no longer if he sinned an eighth time, and by the Saviour, as if He thought that one should sit still and reckon up the sins of his neighbours against him in order that he might forgive seventy times and seven, but that from the seventy-eighth he should not forgive the man who wronged him, seems to me altogether silly and unworthy alike of the progress which Peter had made in the company of Jesus and of the divine magnanimity of Jesus. Perhaps, then, these things also border on an obscurity akin to the words, "Hear My voice, ye wives of Lamech," etc. If any one has already become a friend of Jesus so as to be taught by His spirit which illumines the reason of him who has advanced so far according to his desert, he might know the true meaning, therefore, in regard to these things, and such as Jesus Himself would have clearly expounded it; but we who fall short of the greatness of the friendship of Jesus must be content if we can babble a little about the passage. The number six, then, appears to be working and toilsome, but the number seven to contain the idea of repose. And consider if you can say that he, who loves the world and works the things of the world, and does those things which are material, sins six times, and that the number seven is the end of sin in his case, so that Peter with some such thought in his mind wished to pardon seven sins of those which his brother had committed against him. But since as units the tens and the hundreds have a certain common measure of proportion to the number which is in units, and Jesus knew that the number might be exceeded, on this account, I think, that He added to the number seven also the seventy, and said that there ought to be forgiveness to brethren here, and to them who have sinned in respect to things here. But if any one going beyond the things about the world and this age were to commit sin, even if it were trifling, he could not longer reasonably have forgiveness of sins; for forgiveness extends to the things here, and in relation to the sins committed here, whether the forgiveness comes late or soon; but there is no forgiveness, not even to a brother, who has sinned beyond the seven and seventy times. But you might say that he who has sinned in such wise, whether as against Peter his brother, or as against Peter, against whom the gates of Hades do not prevail, is by sins of this kind in the smaller number of the sin, but according to sins still worse is in the number which has no forgiveness of sins.


"Therefore I say unto you the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a certain king, wko wished to make a reckoning with his own servants." The general conception of the parable is to teach us that we should be inclined to forgive the sins committed against us by those who have wronged us, and especially if after the wrongdoing he who has done it supplicates him who has been wronged, asking forgiveness for the sins which he has committed against him. And this the parable wishes to teach us by representing that even when forgiveness has been granted by God to us of the sins in respect of which we have received remission, exaction will be demanded even after the remission, unless we forgive the sins of those who have wronged us, so that there is no longer left in us the least remembrance of the wrong that was done. but the whole heart, assisted by the spirit of forgetfulness of wrongs, which is no common virtue, forgives him who has wronged us those things which have been wickedly done against any of us by him, even treacherously. But next to the general conception of the parable, it is right to examine the whole of it more simply according to the letter, so that he who advances with care to the right investigation of each detail of the things previously written may derive profit from the examination of what is said. Now there is, as is probable, an interpretation, transcendental and hard to trace, as it is somewhat mystical, according to which, after the analogy of the parables which are interpreted by the Evangelists, one would investigate each of the details in this; as, for example, who the king was, and who the servants were, and what was the beginning of his making a reckoning, and who was the one debtor who owed many talents, and who was his wife and who his children, and what were the "all things" spoken of besides those which the king ordered to be sold in order that the debt might be paid out of his belongings, and what was meant by the going out of the man who had been forgiven the many talents, and who was the one of the servants who was found and was a debtor not to the householder, but to the man who had been forgiven, and what is meant by the number of the hundred pence, and what by the word, "He took him by the throat saying, Pay what thou owest," and what is the prison into which he who had been forgiven all the talents went out and cast his fellow-servant, and who were the fellow-servants who were grieved and told the lord all that had been done, and who were the tormentors to whom he who had cast his fellow-servant into prison was delivered, and how he who was delivered to the tormentors paid all that was due, so that he no longer owed anything. But it is probable also that some other things could be added to the number by a more competent investigator, the exposition and interpretation of which I think to be beyond the power of man, and requiring the Spirit of Christ who spoke them in order that Christ may be understood as He spoke; for as "no one among men knows the things of the man, save the spirit which is in him," and "no one knows the things of God, save the Spirit of God," so no one knows after God the things spoken by Christ in proverbs and parables save the Spirit of Christ, in which he who participates in Christ not only so far as He is Spirit, but in Christ as He is Wisdom, as He is Word, would behold the things which were revealed to him in this passage. But with regard to the interpretation of the loftiest type, we make no profession; nor on the other hand with the assistance of Christ who is the Wisdom of God do we despair of apprehending the things signified in the parable; but whether it shall be the case that such things shall be dictated to us in connection with this Scripture or not, may God in Christ suggest the doing of that which is pleasing to Him, if only there be granted to us also concerning these things, the word of wisdom which is given from God through the Spirit, and the word of knowledge which is supplied according to the Spirit.


"The kingdom of heaven," He says, "is likened," etc. But if it be likened to such a king, and one who has done such things, who must we say that it is but the Son of God? For He is the King of the heavens, and as He is absolute Wisdom and absolute Righteousness and absolute Truth, is He not so also absolute Kingdom? But it is not a kingdom of any of those below, nor of a part of those above, but of all the things above, which were called heavens. But if you enquire into the meaning of the words, "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven," you may say that Christ is theirs in so far as He is absolute Kingdom, reigning in every thought of the man who is no longer under the reign of sin which reigns in the mortal body of those who have subjected themselves to it. And if I say, reigning in every thought, I mean something like this, reigning as Righteousness and Wisdom and Truth and the rest of the virtues in him who has become a heaven, because of bearing the image of the heavenly, and in every power, whether angelic, or the rest that are named saints, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come, and who are worthy of a kingdom of such a kind. Accordingly this kingdom of heaven (when it was made "in the likeness of sinful flesh," that for sin it might condemn sin, when God made "Him who knew no sin to be sin on behalf of us," who bear the body of our sin), is likened to a certain king who is understood in relation to Jesus being united to Him, if we may dare so to speak, having more capacity towards being united and becoming entirely one with the "First-born of all creation," than he, who, being joined to the Lord, becomes one spirit with Him. Now of this kingdom of the heavens which is likened unto a certain king, according to the conception of Jesus, and is united to Him, it is said by anticipation that he wished to make a reckoning with his servants. But he is about to make a reckoning with them in order that it may be manifested how each has employed the tried money of the householder and his rational coins. And the image in the parables was indeed taken from masters who made a reckoning with their own servants; but we shall understand more accurately what is signified by this part of the parable, if we fix our thought on the things done by the slaves who had administered their master's goods, and who were asked to give a reckoning concerning them. For each of them, receiving in different measure from his master's goods, has used them either for that which was right so as to increase the goods of his master. or consumed it riotously on things which he ought not, and spent profusely without judgment and without discretion that which had been put into his hands. But there are those who have wisely administered these goods and goods so great, but have lost others, and whenever they give the reckoning when the master makes a reckoning with them, there is gathered together how much loss each has incurred, and there is reckoned up how much gain each has brought, and according to the worthiness of the way in which he has administered it, he is either honoured or punished, or in some cases the debt is forgiven, but in others the talents are taken away. Well, then, from what has been said, let us first look at the rational coins and the tried money of the householder, of which one receives more and another less, for according to the ability of each, to one are given five talents as he has the ability to administer so many, but to another two as not being able to receive the amount of the man before him, and to another one as being also inferior to the second. Are these, then, the only differences, or are we to recognize these differences in the case of certain persons of whom the Gospel goes on to speak while there are also others besides these: In other parables also are found certain persons, as the two debtors, the one who owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty; but whether these had been entrusted with them and had administered them badly as being inferior in ability to him who had been entrusted with a talent, or had received them, we have not learned; but that they owed so much, we seem to be taught from the parable. And there are found other ten servants who were each entrusted with a pound separately. And if any one understood the varied character of the human soul and the wide differences from each other in respect of natural aptitude, or want of aptitude for more or fewer of the virtues, and for these virtues or for those, perhaps he would comprehend how each soul has come with certain coins of the householder which come to light with the full attainment of reason, and with the attention which follows the full attainment of reason, and with exercise in things that are right, or with diligence and exercise in other things, whether they be useful as pursuits, or in part useful and in part not useful, such as the opinions which are not wholly true nor wholly false.


But you will here inquire whether all men can be called servants of the king, or some are servants whom he foreknew and fore-ordained, while there are others who transact business with the servants, and are called bankers. And in like manner you will inquire if there are those outside the number of the slaves from whom the householder declares that he will exact his own with usury, not only men alien from piety, but also some of the believers. Now the servants alone are the stewards of the Word, but the king, making a reckoning with the servants, demands from those who have borrowed from the servants, whether a hundred measures of wheat or a hundred measures of oil, or whatever in point of fact those who are outside of the household of the king have received; for he who owed the hundred measures of wheat or the hundred measures of oil is not found to be, according to the parable, a fellow-servant of the unjust steward, as is evident from the question--how much owest thou to my lord? But mark with me that each deed which is good or seemly is like a gain and an increment, but a wicked deed is like a loss; and as there is a certain gain when the money is greater and another when it is less, and as there are differences of more or less, so according to the good deeds, there is as it were a valuing of gains more or less. To reckon what work is a great gain, and what a less gain, and what a least, is the prerogative of him who alone knows to investigate such things, looking at them in the light of the disposition, and the word, and the deed, and from consideration of the things which are not in our power cooperating with those that are; and so also in the case of things opposite, it is his to say what sin, when a reckoning is made with the servants, is found to be a great loss, and what is less, and what, if we may so call it, is the loss of the very last mite, or the last farthing. The account, therefore, of the entire and whole life is exacted by that which is called the kingdom of heaven which is likened to a king, when "we must all stand before the judgment-sent of Christ that each one may receive the things done in the body according to what he hath done, whether good or bad;" and then when the reckoning is being made, shall there be brought into the reckoning that is made also every idle word that men shall speak, and Guy cup of cold water only which one has given to drink in the name of a disciple.


And these things will take place whenever that happens which is written in Daniel, "The books were opened and the judgment was set;" for a record, as it were, is made of all things that have been spoken and done and thought, and by divine power every hidden thing of ours shall be manifested, and everything that is covered shall be revealed, in order that when any one is found who has not "given diligence to be freed from the adversary," he may go in succession through the hands of the magistrate, and the judge, and the attendant into the prison, until he pays the very last mite; but when one has given diligence to be freed from him and owes nothing to any one, and already has made the pound ten pounds or five pounds, or doubled the five talents, or made the two four, he may obtain the due recompense, entering into the joy of his Lord, either being set over all His possessions, or hearing the word, "Have thou authority over ten cities," or "Have thou authority over five cities." But we think that these things are spoken of as if they required a long period of time, in order that an account may be made by us of the whole times of the earthly life, so that we might suppose that when the king makes a reckoning with each one of his many servants the matter would require so vast a period of time, until these things come to an end which have existed from the beginning of the world down to the consummation of the age, not of one age, but of many ages. But the truth is not so; for when God wished all at once to rekindle in the memories of all everything that had been done by each one throughout the whole time, in order that each might become conscious of his own doings whether good or bad, He would do it by His ineffable power. For it is not with God as with us; for if we wish to call some things to remembrance, we require sufficient time for the detailed account of what has been said by us, and to bring to our remembrance the things which we wish to remember; but if He wished to call to our memory the things which have been done in this life, in order that becoming conscious of what we have done we may apprehend for what we are punished or honoured, He could do so. But if any one disbelieves the swiftness of the power of God in regard to these matters, he has not yet had a true conception of the God who made the universe, who did not require times to make the vast creation of heaven and earth and the things in them; for, though He may seem to have made these things in six days, there is need of understanding to comprehend in what sense the words "in six days" are said, on account of this, "This is the book of the generation of heaven and earth," etc. Therefore it may be boldly affirmed that the season of the expected judgment does not require times, but as the resurrection is said to take place "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," so I think will the judgment also be.


Next we must speak in regard to this, "And when he had begun to reckon, there was brought unto him one which owed many talents." The sense of this appears to me to be as follows: The season of beginning the judgment is with the house of God, who says, as also it is written in Ezekiel, to those who are appointed to attend to punishments, "Begin ye with My saints;" and it is like "the twinkling of an eye;" but, the time of making a reckoning includes the same "twinkling," ideally apprehended, for we are not forgetful of what has been previously said of those who owe more. Wherefore it is not written, when he was making reckoning, but it is said, "When he began to reckon," there was brought, at the beginning of his making a reckoning, one who owed many talents; he had lost tens of thousands of talents, having been entrusted with great things, and having had many things committed to his care, but he had brought no gain to his master, but had lost tens of thousands so that he owed many talents; and, perhaps on this account, he owed many talents, seeing that he followed often the woman, who was sitting upon the talent of lead, whose name is wickedness. But observe here that every great sin is a loss of the talents of the master of the house, and such sins are committed by fornicators, adulterers, abusers of themselves with men, effeminate, idolaters, murderers. Perhaps then the one who is brought to the king owing many talents has committed no small sin but all that are great and heinous; and if you were to seek for him among men, perhaps you would find him to be "the man of sin, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against every God or object of worship;" but if yon seek him outside the number of men, who can this be but the devil who has ruined so many who received him, who wrought sin in them. For "man is a great thing, and a pitiful man is precious," precious so as to be worthy of a talent, whether of gold like as the lamp which was equal to a talent of gold, or of silver or of any kind of material whatsoever understood intellectually, the symbols of which are recorded in the Words of the Days, when David became enriched with many talents of which the number is mentioned, so many talents of gold, and so many of silver, and of the rest of the material there named, from which the temple of God was built.


Only, though he cannot pay the talents, for he has lost them, he has a wife and children and other things, of which it is written, "All that he has." And it was possible that when he had been sold along with his own, he would have prospered if some one had bought him, and, by his worth and the things that were his, have paid the whole debt in full; and it was possible that he might no longer be the servant of the king, but become that of his purchaser. And he makes a request that he be not sold along with his own, but may continue to abide in the house of the king; wherefore he fell down and worshipped him, knowing that the king was God, and said, "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all;" for he was, as is probable, an active man, who knew that he could by a second course of action fill up the whole deficiency of the former loss of many talents. And this truly good king was moved with compassion for the man who owed him many talents and then released him, having bestowed upon him a favour greater than the request which had been made; for the debtor promised to the long-suffering master to pay all his debts, but the Lord moved with compassion for him did not merely forgive him with the idea of receiving his own back as a result of his patience, but even entirely released him and forgave him the whole debt. But this wicked servant, who had besought his master to have patience for his many talents, acted without mercy, for, having found one of his fellow-servants which owed him a hundred pence, he laid hold on him and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay if thou owest." And did he not exhibit the very excess of wickedness who laid hold of his fellow-servant for a hundred pence, and took him by the throat and deprived him of freedom to breathe, when he himself, for the many talents, had neither been laid hold of, nor seized by the throat, but at first was ordered to be sold along with his wife and children and all that was his own; but afterwards, when he had worshipped him, the master was moved with compassion for him, and he was released and forgiven in regard to the whole of the debt. But it were indeed a hard task to tell according to the conception of Jesus who is the one fellow-servant who was found to be owing a hundred pence, not to his own lord, but to him who owed many talents, and who are the fellow-servants who saw the one taking by the throat, and the other taken, and were exceedingly sorry, and represented clearly unto their own lord all that had been done. But what the truth in these matters is, I declare that no one can interpret unless Jesus, who explained all things to His own disciples privately, takes up His abode in his reason, and opens up all the treasures in the parable which are dark, hidden, unseen, and confirms by clear demonstrations the man whom He desires to illumine with the light of the knowledge of the things that are in this parable, that he may at once represent who is brought to the king as the debtor of many talents, and who is the other one who owes to him a hundred pence, etc.; whether he can be the man of sin previously mentioned, or the devil, or neither of these, but some other, whether a man, or some one of these under the sway of the devil; for it is a work of the wisdom of God to exhibit the things have have been prophesied concerning those who are in themselves of a certain nature, or have been made according to such and such qualities, whether among visible powers or also among some men, in whatever way they may have been written by the Holy Spirit. But as we have not yet received the competent mind which is able to be blended with the mind of Christ, and which is capable of attaining to things so great, and which is able with the Spirit to "search all things, even the deep things of God," we, forming an impression still indefinitely with regard to the matters in this passage, are of opinion that the wicked servant indicated by the parable who is here represented in regard to the debt of many talents, refers to some definite one.

Origen on Matthew 400