In Wednesday's general audience Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to Origen of Alexandria, a third century historian and "one of the greatest writers" of Church history. The audience was held in St. Peter's Square in the presence of more than 25,000 people.
Origen, said the Pope, "took up the legacy of Clement and carried it towards the future in such an innovative way as to effect an irreversible turn in the development of Christian thought. He was a true master and an exemplary witness of the doctrine he transmitted."
The "irreversible turn" effected by Origen, said the Pope, substantially involved "grounding theology in the explanation of Scripture, in other words, the perfect symbiosis between theology and exegesis. Indeed, the characteristic of Origen's doctrine seems to lie in the constant invitation to pass from the reading to the spirit of Scripture in order to progress in knowledge of God.
"This 'allegorism' — to use the words of Von Balthasar — coincided with the development of Christian dogma through the teaching the Doctors of the Church who, in one way or another, learned the lesson of Origen. Thus tradition and Magisterium, the foundation and guarantee of theological research, come together as 'Scripture enacted'."
The Pope recalled how Origen's interests ranged from "exegesis to dogma, to philosophy, to apologetics, asceticism and mysticism" and represented "a fundamental and overall vision of Christian life."
However, the "inspirational core" of Origen's work is "his three-level reading of the Bible." The first reading had "the aim of better identifying the text and presenting the most trustworthy edition. This is always the first step," said the Holy Father, "knowing what is written and knowing what historical scripture initially and intentionally meant."
"In the second place, Origen systematically read the Bible minutely, broadly and profoundly," adding "philological and doctrinal notes. Finally, he dedicated himself to preaching the Bible, adapting himself to a truly assorted public."
Also in his homilies, Origen "took advantage of every opportunity to recall the various dimensions of meaning of Sacred Scripture;" meanings that "assist or express a journey of growth in the faith. There is a literal meaning, but the literal meaning hides profundities that do not appear at first view."
"This second dimension is the moral meaning: what we must do to live the Word." Finally, there is also a "spiritual meaning, in other words the unity of Scripture which, throughout, speaks of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit which helps us understand the Christological content, and so the unity of Scripture in its diversity."
On this subject, Benedict XVI explained how in his recently-published book "Jesus of Nazareth" he had "sought to show this multidimensional aspect of the Word of Holy Scripture, which must first of all be respected in a historical sense." Although "this sense is transcended by Christ in the light of the Holy Spirit."
Origen, the Pope continued, "effectively came to promote the 'Christian reading' of the Old Testament, responding brilliantly to the challenge of heretics, above all Gnostics and Marcionites who set the two Testaments against one another and even went so far as to reject the Old Testament."
"I invite you," the Holy Father concluded, "to welcome in your hearts the teaching of this great master of the faith. He reminds us that the Church is renewed and rejuvenated in a prayerful reading of Scripture and a coherent life commitment. We pray to the Lord to give us today thinkers, theologians and exegetes who may discover this multidimensionality, this permanent relevance of Sacred Scripture."