1800 Year Old Letter, Still Great Advice to “Young Christian Intellectuals”

I read excerpts of this letter in The Fathers of the Church, a book by Mike Aquilina. Here is how Mr. Aquilina introduces it: “In an affectionate letter, Origen offers advice to a star pupil, who would one day be canonized and deemed a Church Father, St. Gregory of Pontus, often called “the Wonder-Worker.”

Origen wrote this letter around 230AD, almost 1800 years ago. In it, he tells St. Gregory to study the philosophy and knowledge of the Greeks and Romans so that he can then use that knowledge “for the preparation of the things which pertain(ed) to the service of God.” And ultimately that is what all knowledge is used for…to be a better follower of God.

I excerpted this letter as Mr. Aquilina does. Read the full text here. Bold is mine.

Greeting in God, my most excellent sir, and venerable son Gregory, from Origen…Your natural good parts might make of you a finished Roman lawyer or a Greek philosopher, so to speak, of one of the schools in high reputation. But I am anxious that you should devote all the strength of your natural good parts to Christianity for your end; and in order to this, I wish to ask you to extract from the philosophy of the Greeks what may serve as a course of study or a preparation for Christianity, and from geometry and astronomy what will serve to explain the sacred Scriptures, in order that all that the sons of the philosophers are wont to say about geometry and music, grammar, rhetoric, and astronomy, as fellow-helpers to philosophy, we may say about philosophy itself, in relation to Christianity.

Perhaps something of this kind is shadowed forth in what is written in Exodus from the mouth of God, that the children of Israel were commanded to ask from their neighbours, and those who dwelt with them, vessels of silver and gold, and raiment, in order that, by spoiling the Egyptians, they might have material for the preparation of the things which pertained to the service of God. For from the things which the children of Israel took from the Egyptians the vessels in the holy of holies were made — the ark with its lid, and the Cherubim, and the mercy-seat, and the golden coffer, where was the manna, the angels’ bread. These things were probably made from the best of the Egyptian gold…

Do you then, my son, diligently apply yourself to the reading of the sacred Scriptures. Apply yourself, I say. For we who read the things of God need much application, lest we should say or think anything too rashly about them. And applying yourself thus to the study of the things of God, with faithful prejudgments such as are well pleasing to God, knock at its locked door, and it will be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, To him the porter opens. And applying yourself thus to the divine study, seek aright, and with unwavering trust in God, the meaning of the holy Scriptures, which so many have missed. Be not satisfied with knocking and seeking; for prayer is of all things indispensable to the knowledge of the things of God. For to this the Saviour exhorted, and said not only, Knock, and it shall be opened to you; and seek, and you shall find, but also, Ask, and it shall be given unto you. My fatherly love to you has made me thus bold; but whether my boldness be good, God will know, and His Christ, and all partakers of the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. May you also be a partaker, and be ever increasing your inheritance, that you may say not only, We have become partakers of Christ, but also partakers of God.

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