How One Early Church Father Coped With Paradox
Origen of Alexandria is known for “not taking Scripture literally.” That is, his interpretation of the Bible that he had was an allegorical style. However, I do not think that is the end of the story. In fact, I would say that another secret to understanding his reading of the text is his unique ability to reconcile apparent contradictions in Scripture (especially the New Testament). One of the passages that Calvinist Christians rely upon to silence critics of their vision of predestination is the Apostle Paul’s use of “the Potter” and the clay language. What is the clay to talk back to the Potter? What Origen creatively does is respond in kind, rejoindering that it was Moses who spoke back to God, and YHWH answered Moses with a Voice (The Plilocalia,XXI ,21). It is the person of “confidence, as a man [sic,] of faith and good life” who does not have to fear to go before the throne of the Creator. It is here that Origen argues in favor of God’s relationality as he sought to reconcile the paradoxical testimony of the Scriptures.
“Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”? or “Your work has no handles”?” Isaiah 45:9
“In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.”
Origen also makes use of the metaphorical language of “the Potter” and “the clay/vessel” by pointing out that Pauline theology not only has what seems to be a determinist bent, but that there is a choice given to each person, to clean themselves, as they become prepared to be used by God. This cleansing is what Christians call repentance, an important concept for free will theologians yesterday and today. Origen concludes that neither is the case that our choices help us to make progress apart from God or that God works unilaterally to make us advance in goodness, rather, it is God’s power with our choice, a both/and paradoxological tradition that free will theology has long held.