The Implanted Desire for Us to Know

Origen of Alexandria (d. 254) was a brilliant teacher in the early church. It would take a whole book to explain his brilliance and list all his writings. Jerome (d. 420) said that Origen had great zeal in the study of Scripture. Jerome also said that Origen left “monuments of his genius” in his prolific writings – writings that are so numerous that no one has time to read them all! To be sure, some aspects of Origen’s teaching were criticized in his day and throughout church history. There are some troublesome spots in his writings. However, it’s not wise to completely dismiss and ignore Origen. He did write some very helpful things! I’ll give one example below that is found in De Principiis (On First Principles). In the following paragraphs Origen nicely explains how God created humans to be seekers of knowledge. Perhaps this is behind Augustine’s later phrase about our hearts being restless…?

…When our eye beholds the products of an artist’s labor, the mind, immediately on perceiving anything of unusual artistic excellence, burns to know of what nature it is, or how it was formed, or to what purposes it was fashioned. So, in a much greater degree, and in one that is beyond all comparison, does the mind burn with an inexpressible desire to know the reason of those things which we see done by God.

This desire, this longing, we believe to be unquestionably implanted within us by God; and as the eye naturally seeks the light and vision, and our body naturally desires food and drink, so our mind is possessed with a becoming and natural desire to become acquainted with the truth of God and the causes of things.

Now we have received this desire from God, not in order that it should never be gratified or be capable of gratification; otherwise the love of truth would appear to have been implanted by God into our minds to no purpose, if it were never to have an opportunity of satisfaction. Whence also, even in this life, those who devote themselves with great labor to the pursuits of piety and religion, although obtaining only some small fragments from the numerous and immense treasures of divine knowledge, yet, by the very circumstance that their mind and soul is engaged in these pursuits, and that in the eagerness of their desire they outstrip themselves, do they derive much advantage.

And because their minds are directed to the study and love of the investigation of truth, they are made fitter for receiving the instruction that is to come; as if, when one would paint an image, he were first with a light pencil trace out the outlines of the coming picture, and prepare marks for the reception of the features that are to be afterwards added, this preliminary sketch in outline is found to prepare the way for the laying on of the true colors of the painting. So, in a measure, an outline and sketch may be traced on the tablets of our heart by the pencil of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And therefore perhaps is it said, “Unto every one that hath shall be given, and be added.” By which it is established, that to those who possess in this life a kind of outline of truth and knowledge, shall be added the beauty of a perfect image in the future.

Origen, “De Principiis,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 298.

NOTE: The Logos 27volume set of the Ante/Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers is only $99. You can find some of Origen’s works in this set, along with a treasure trove of others (Augustine, Cyprian, Chrysostom, etc.).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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