I recently read the church father Origen’s “Treatise on the Passover”, as it is translated and annotated by Robert J. Daly, S.J. In this post, I’ll be drawing from Daly’s comments and some of what Origen says in his treatise to discuss Origen’s rejection of the idea that the Passover was a type of Jesus Christ’s passion.
Origen didn’t believe that the Passover was a type of Jesus Christ’s passion? That’s somewhat unusual for a Christian, isn’t it?
Maybe, but Daly says that, in Origen’s mind, there were differences between the Passover and the passion of the Christ. First of all, the Passover lamb was offered by people who were holy, whereas Jesus Christ was killed by criminals and the sinful. Second, according to Origen, the roasting of the lamb is fulfilled in the Christian life, not in Christ’s passion. Daly states that, for Origen, “the Christians, who have the true circumcision, eat the flesh (=Word of God), which is now possible because it has been roasted with the fire of the Holy Spirit” (pages 98-99). Origen contrasts these true Christians with the Jews, who symbolically “eat the flesh raw, following only the letter of Scripture”, and heretics, who symbolically cook the flesh with water rather than roasting it in that they “mix strange doctrine with the Scripture” (Daly’s words on pages 98-99). For Origen, the roasted lamb relates to how Christians partake of the Word of God, not Christ’s passion. And, third, Origen believed that Jesus regarded the serpent lifted up in Numbers 21, not the Passover, as the type of his passion.
Origen also takes care to clarify that the pascha (Greek for Passover) does not have its name because it relates to Christ’s pathos, or suffering. Rather, according to Origen, the feast in Hebrew is called fas, which has the meaning of “passage.” I like what Origen says on page 27: “And should one of us in conversation with Hebrew people too rashly mention that the passover takes its name from the suffering of the Savior, he would be ridiculed by them as one totally ignorant of the meaning of the word.” A know-it-all Christian being taken to school by a Jew who tells him that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I love it!
So the Passover means a passage. How does that relate to Origen’s understanding of the festival? On page 101, Daly says that Origen’s spiritual interpretation of the Passover is that Christ passed over to his Father (presumably after his resurrection), and that souls are saved through Christ (which may mean that they pass into a state of salvation).
I’m hesitant to say, however, that the sacrifice of Christ has nothing to do with Origen’s interpretation of the Passover festival, for Origen mentions it in his treatise, and he appeals to I Corinthians 5:7, which affirms that “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (page 28). Origen may be against limiting the Passover to the passion, as Daly says on page 87: “His apparent concern [is] to counteract an excessively narrow interpretation of the passover in terms of the passion…”