I admit it – I still enjoy the song ‘I’ll Fly Away‘ although it is generally discredited with the bad theology of escapism, a Platonic/Gnostic notion of what happens in the afterlife. We can pretend that such flights of fancy are new to Christian theology, as we do with most things which aren’t to our liking, but Origen speaks to the fact that he excepted a flight himself.
Origen (c.185-253), priest and theologian
Homilies on Saint Luke’s Gospel, no.15 (trad. SC 87, p. 233 rev.)
«Go in peace»
«A woman touched the tassel on Jesus’ cloak and she was cured.» (cf. Mt 9,20). If this woman gained so many benefits from touching the border of his cloak, what are we to think of Simeon who «took the child in his arms» and, holding him, gave himself up to rejoicing as he perceived that he was carrying the child who had come to «proclaim liberty to captives» (Lk 4,18) and that he himself was about to be set free from the constraints of the body? He recognized that no one could release someone from the prison-house of the body in hope of the life to come except he whom he held in his arms. And it was to him that he spoke, saying: «Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace. For so long as I was not holding Christ, so long as I was not cradling him in my arms, I was held fast and unable to escape from my bonds».
Moreover, not Simeon alone but the whole human race is to be understood by these words. If anyone leaves this world, if anyone is set free from prison and the place of captivity to gain the royal throne, he should take Jesus in his hands and wrap his arms around him; he should draw him wholly to his heart. Then, leaping for joy, he will be able to go wherever he wills.
Sounds pretty familiar to the tune above…
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)
- The Epistle of Jude in the Early Church (diglot.wordpress.com)