Origen on the Inner Senses

From Origen: Spirit and Fire: A Thematic Anthology of His Writings
by Hans Urs von Balthasar. Chosen texts for Patrology Class. Each
section contains a summary and introduction from HUVB. I've included
both notes.

Spiritual Sense and Spiritual-Discernment

  1. Senses for God

    1. HUVB – Origen’s doctrine has remained a core element of all later mystical theology. An “inner” divine faculty of perception. Many of them coincide with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The divine WORD encounters the soul in such a variety of ways that it satisfies each “sense” in a different way.
    2. HUVB – Each sense contains a different mode of spiritual contact with the divine.
    3. O – Although Christ is one in substance, he gives himself in a different way to each, in accord with the need of each one in whom he works.
    4. O – Jesus is “true light” = eyes. Jesus is “WORD” = ears. Jesus is “bread of life” = taste. Jesus is “ointment” = smell. Jesus is “WORD became flesh” = touch. Once each sense has an encounter with Christ, it will no longer want anything of this world.
    5. O – Spiritual senses can decay and die as well… “taste death” (Mt 16:28).
    6. O – The perfect “have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14).
  2. The Spiritual Battle

    1. HUVB – Thee spiritual senses can also discern good from evil. This concept of “spiritual battle” comes, from the most part, from Origen. The battle is about the growth of the image of God in the soul.
    2. O – “Within you is the battle you are to fight; the evil structure which must be torn down is within; your enemy comes from your own heart… Weakness of soul brought to light by temptations… Only when we give into our disorders does the devil get involved.
  3. The Nature and Discernment of Spirits

    1. HUVB – Origen’s “rules for the discernment of spirits” –> anticipate St. Ignatius’ rules to an astonishing extent. This massively confirms the relation between Origen’s theological thought and the ascetic-mystical, inner, dramatic life.
    2. O – Consolation is the repose of the soul after labours… the recreation of the soul after labours.
    3. O – At all times we need the memory of God’s words (cf. Ps 119:55) but especially when darkness surrounds me and the walls hide me, when impure desire enters in and disturbs the higher part of the soul.
    4. O – For Christ wins over no one against his will, but only by persuasion, for he is the WORD of God.


  1. HUVB – “Hearing” is the inner readiness and “listening attitude” of the soul towards God for the inner dialogue which takes place without sound from the soul to God and from God to the soul. Sin causes deafness in the soul and silence from God; but quiet readiness brings about an ever more mysterious and close union with God. Nevertheless, this “hearing” can be kept up only when it is simultaneously action.
  2. O – Human beings have in the depth of their heart a bodiless voice which they, after recollecting themselves and after entering their chamber and closing the door of their senses, and being wholly outside the body, send up to him who alone can hear such a voice.
  3. O – How is God supposed to listen to us when we do not listen to him? How is he supposed to do what we want when we do not do what he wants?
  4. O – God speaks to us from inside our hearts, not outside our bodies.


  1. Inner Sight

    1. HUVB – We can see in 2 ways: (1) according to the flesh = sinful seeing-of-oneself in sensible things instead of looking through them to see God, (2) according to the Spirit.
    2. O – As human beings, all of us have within us both sight and blindness. Adam could both see and not see.
    3. O – The sight with which God is seen is not that of the body but of the mind and spirit.
  2. Faith, Deed and Vision

    1. HUVB – Vision is the unfolding of a faith that is already there. Faith becomes vision only when it is appropriated as deed. Sin kills the capacity to see the essential truth. The superiority of the Christian truth is its foundation in action.
    2. O – The fruit of works is the vision of being.
    3. O – Foundation = faith, building = hope, summit = love.
    4. O – Love is the spiritual knowledge of God.
  3. Faith as Seeing

    1. HUVB – Faith moves from a merely abstract “in something” to a concrete, self-giving believing “in someone”. Faith is grace and understanding is the reward of this grace.
    2. O –


  1. HUVB – Spiritual sense of touch progresses from an objective, sacramenal to a subjective personal “contact” with God. Concept of sacramental opus operatum. Real divine power dwells in baptismal water. Bodily healing = “sacraments” of spiritual healing.
  2. O – Jesus touched the children. Woman with hemorrhage touched Jesus.


  1. HUVB – Spiritual sense of smell = having a nose for the things of God. To smell out what is Christian from the things of this world. The fragrance of Christ flows out into the world only because, in the self-emptying of God, the jar of nard (his body) broke open (just like the word of God flows out into the world b/c spiritual blood flowed out from wounded side of Christ).
  2. O – Each virtue has its own proper fragrance which is the complement of the virtues & each vice stinks, as it is written: “My wounds grow foul and festering” (Ps 38:5).
  3. “We are the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor 2:15).


  1. HUVB – The spiritual soul tastes God’s spiritual sweetness, while sin makes this sweetness bitter.
  2. O – “How sweet are thy words to my taste!” (Ps 119:103).

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