Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Origen of Alexandria
“What must we do?” (Lk: 3:10)
The baptism that Jesus gives is a baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire. Baptism is one and the same no matter who receives it, but its effect depends on the recipient’s disposition. He who is portrayed as baptizing in the Holy Spirit and in fire “holds a winnowing fan in his hand which he will use to clear his threshing floor. The wheat he will gather into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with fire that can never be quenched.”
I should like to discover our Lord’s reason for holding a winnowing fan and to inquire into the nature of the wind that scatters the light chaff here and there, leaving the heavier grain lying in a heap—for you must have a wind if you want to separate wheat and chaff.
I suggest that the faithful are like a heap of unsifted grain, and that the wind represents the temptations which assail them and show up the wheat and the chaff among them.
When your soul is overcome by some temptation, it is not the temptation that turns you into chaff. No, you were chaff already, that is to say fickle and faithless; the temptation simply discloses the stuff you are made of.
On the other hand, when you endure temptations bravely it is not the temptation that makes you faithful and patient; temptation merely brings to light the hidden virtues of patience and fortitude that have been present in you all along.
“Do you think I had any other purpose in speaking to you,” said the Lord to Job, “than to reveal your virtue?”
In another text he declares: “I humbled you and made you feel the pangs of hunger in order to find out what was in your heart.”
In the same way, a storm will not allow a house to stand firm if it is built upon sand. If you wish to build a house, you must build it upon rock. Then any storms that arise will not demolish your handiwork, whereas the house built upon sand will totter, proving thereby that it is not well founded.
So while all is yet quiet, before the storm gathers, before the squalls begin to bluster or the waves to swell, let us concentrate all our efforts on the foundations of our building and construct our house with the many strong, interlocking bricks of God’s commandments. Then when cruel persecution is unleashed like some fearful tornado against Christians, we shall be able to show that our house is built upon Christ Jesus our rock.
Far be it from us to deny Christ when that time comes.
But if anyone should do so, let that person realize that it was not at the moment of his public denial that his apostasy took place. Its seeds and roots had been hidden within him for a long time; persecution only brought into the open and made public what was already there.
Let us pray to the Lord then that we may be firm and solid buildings that no storm can overthrow, founded on the rock of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
On Luke's Gospel 26, 3-5: SC 87, 340-342
Origen (183-253), one of the greatest thinkers of ancient times, became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria at the age of eighteen. In 230 he was ordained priest by the bishop of Caesarea, His life was entirely devoted to the study of scripture and he was also a great master of the spiritual life. His book On First Principles was the first great theological synthesis. Many of his works are extant only in Latin as a result of his posthumous condemnation for heterodox teaching. Nevertheless, in intention he was always a loyal son of the Church.
Edith Barnecut, OSB
**From Saint Louis University