Origen, The 3rd Commandment, & the Pledge Of Allegiance

I find it so funny that Origen‘s orthodoxy is always up for debate, whether or not he was a universalist, what he believed about Scripture (was he an inerrantist?–that’s a silly question–he read a lot of the Bible allegorically). Such a constructive and eclectic Christian thinker deserves to be re-read and re-read time and again.

Why is it so important whether or not Origen is a heretic? I personally think that question is an abstract inquiry that leads may lead some of us to not look at some of his other works. Only historical fact important for me about Origen really is that Clement & Origen were 2 completely separate thinkers, with 2 vastly different approaches to Platonism and Christian theology.


Origen, traditionally considered a 3rd century...


I have previously blogged on my questions about the Pledge of Allegiance, noting my opposition to U.S. American civil religion under “god.” Which god? A god without a story? A god without a people? That makes no sense, no sense, especially in terms of the history or religions approach (if that’s your cup of tea).

Last night as I was reading through The Pliocalia, in chapter XVII, I noticed some similarities between Origen’s and Stanley Hauerwas‘ understanding of the 3rd Commandment, the order to not take YHWH’s name in vain. Origen disputes the idea that “it makes no difference what we call God”–something we hear from religious pluralists today. He goes on to contend that when we hear the name Zeus, that means we should understand the references to Zeus as Zeus, and the stories of the Greek pantheon therein. Origen gives examples from religions in Egypt (Africa) and India as well as Persia.

“we shall maintain that the name Sabaoth and Adonai, and whatever others are by Hebrew tradition regarded with great reverence, are not applicable to ordinary created things, but to a mysterious science of things Divine, related to the Creator.” […] Origen continues, “Our Jesus, too, keeps to the same philosophy of names [the Hebrew tradition], for His name has already been clearly proved to drive out countless demons from souls and bodies, powerfully working in the sufferers from whom the demons were expelled.” In other words, behind the power of naming, there is a story and a power (authority/execution of works) behind that very story. The power to name God, as Hagar did (as Delores Williams points out to us in Sisters In the Wilderness) is difficult work, one that requires revelation (Christ and Scripture), the Holy Spirit, and community (Church and World).

“We, too, really have such awe in naming God and His beauteous works, that we will not accept any fable as allegory which might injure the young.”-Origen

What the Pledge of Allegiance does to Christians then, is it compels us to name a godde and tell a story other than our own, one that keeps us away from praying and living out the peaceable kingdom of God. To wax Origen, the story of American exceptionalism in the name of god is a fable which might injure the young.

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5 thoughts on “Origen, The 3rd Commandment, & the Pledge Of Allegiance

  1. Optimistic Chad

    There is something powerful in here that I have been thinking of for some time. In a pluralist society, it simply doesn’t help to refer to YHWH as “God,” as though everyone knows what we mean by that. the name of God should be recovered, or we should, like many Hebrews, refer to some placeholder that is particular to our faith (the name, the presence, the One, great mystery spirit of wholeness, etc…)

    1. RodtRDH Post author


      Well, and from what I know, in Alexandria, there was a vocal population of Jews, and Origen and Clement (in my interpretation) were in dialogue with them.

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