An interesting quote from Origen on Genesis

I found a quotation attributed to Origen a few days ago, which I think we would all consider interesting.

For Origen all Creation was “one act at once,” presented to us in parts, in order to give the due conception of order (cf.Ps. cxlviii. 5).

Ps. 148:5 reads:

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

Did Origen say this?  If so, where?

My source is the DCB, vol 4, part 1, p.105:

One of the fragments of the Commentary on Genesis contains a remarkable discussion of the theory of fate in connexion with Gen. i. 16 (quoted by Euseb. Praep. Ev. vi. c.11, and given in Philoc. 23 [22]; comp. Euseb. l.c. vii, 20); and in the scattered notes there are some characteristic remarks on the interpretation of the record of Creation. (See notes on i. 26; ii. 2; iii. 21) For Origen all Creation was “one act at once,” presented to us in parts, in order to give the due conception of order (cf.Ps. cxlviii. 5).

Note that the version at CCEL proves to be a cut-down version — avoid! — which reads:

One of the fragments of the Commentary on Genesis contains a remarkable discussion of the theory of fate in connexion with Gen. i. 16; and in the scattered notes there are some characteristic remarks on the interpretation of the record. of Creation. For Origen all Creation was “one act at once,” presented to us in parts, in order to give the due conception of order (Ps. cxlviii. 5).

Where, I wonder, does Origen describe Creation as “one act at once”?  It isn’t quite clear from the DCB. 

Looking further up the page, the material on Gen. 1:2, Frag. of Tom. 3, Gen. 1:14, i.16 f., is referenced to “Huet i. 1-17” and “Delarue, ii.1-24.”  These are editions of Origen’s works, including catena fragments, as a useful article on the older editions makes clear,[1] and indeed I recall that Delarue turned up when we were working on Origen’s homilies on Ezekiel, where the material appeared in the PG 13.  Huet is Origenis opera exegetica, 2 vols, fol. Rouen, 1668; Delarue is 4 vols, Paris, 1733-1759.

 In Migne, PG 12, col. 91, begin “Selecta in Genesim”, essentially Delarue’s catena fragments I would guess. And our fragment appears in cols.97-98 B-C, in fact, on Gen. 2:2 (And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done):

Anyone care to give us a translation?  (You can click on the image to enlarge it).

UPDATE: See the comments for translations from B.R.Mullikan and Stephen C. Carlson.

  1. [1]Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, vol. 3, p.54, here.

8 thoughts on “An interesting quote from Origen on Genesis

  1. My Greek is probably too poor to be trusted, but here is what I made of it anyhow.

    and god brought an end in the sixth day to his work which he made. And whoever supports absurdly that god began with a division of more days to build up the structure (of things)—that he brought the created order into being in more days—they say that it comes from within all things, and hence by such a statement they arrange it: and because of such an account they think that the arrangement of the days was something said and having come about on its own (lit. and from becoming in itself). And from such a persuasion they would claim from the stated construction, with it: he himself spoke and they came to be: he himself brought them together and they were created.

    My guess is that this is against the day-age creation theory, such as what St. Augustine would later argue. but it hardly seems evidence that Origen thought creation was a single instantaneous act and abstracted for us into days.

    just my humble $0.02

  2. Here’s my attempt:

    “And God finished on the sixth day his work that he did.” In fact, some people assume it was strange for God to have completed the building in the manner of a builder who endured just as many days. They say that all things came to be at once and therefore this is what they maintain. But they suppose that it was for the sake of order that this is stated in the form of a list of days and what happened in them. They probably might use a text that maintains this, which is: “He uttered and they came to be; he commanded and they were created.”

  3. ” some people assume it was strange for God to have completed the building in the manner of a builder who endured just as many days” = Celsus [Contra Celsum Celsus 6.61] “Again, not understanding the meaning of the words, “And God ended on the sixth day His works which He had made, and ceased on the seventh day from all His works which He had made: and God blessed the seventh day, and hollowed it, because on it He had ceased from all His works which He had begun to make;” and imagining the expression,” He ceased on the seventh day,” to be the same as this, “He rested on the seventh day,” he makes the remark: “After this, indeed, he is weary, like a very bad workman, who stands in need of rest to refresh himself!” For he knows nothing of the day of the Sabbath and rest of God, which follows the completion of the world’s creation, and which lasts during the duration of the world, and in which all those will keep festival with God who have done all their works in their six days, and who, because they have omitted none of their duties, will ascend to the contemplation (of celestial things), and to the assembly of righteous and blessed beings. In the next place, as if either the Scriptures made such a statement, or as if we ourselves so spoke of God as having rested from fatigue, he continues: “It is not in keeping with the fitness of things that the first God should feel fatigue, or work with His hands, or give forth commands.” Celsus says, that” it is not in keeping with the fitness of things that the first God should feel fatigue.”

  4. Thank you everybody! (Stephan, I wasn’t sure which part of the text you translated?).

    @B.R.Mullikan: Thank you very much! The first to put his head over the parapet always has the hardest task in a translation!

    @Stephen C. Carlson: Thank you very much for your version too! That looks pretty good to me.

    So Origen is reporting an opinion, rather than putting one forward. That I had *not* grasped, and clearly neither had the DCB author. Still an interesting opinion, isn’t it?

  5. Yes, I think it’s pretty clear in the quoted extract that he’s reporting some others’ opinion, and the use of ὑπολαμβάνω suggests subtly that he doesn’t agree with it.

    My remaining concern is whether the catena compiler altered the wording. I wonder if the one of the new homily on the Psalms address Ps 148:5.

  6. Though we don’t have his whole homily on Ps. 148, he may well have addressed it elsewhere. In the homily I’ve been looking at on Ps. 76, he discusses the section just prior in Ps. 148 (he quotes up to τὸ ὕδωρ τὸ ὑπεράνω τῶν οὐρανῶν
    αἰνετάτω τὸ ὄνομα Κυρίου, Let the water that is above the Heavens praise the Lord). If I see anything about the time span of creation, I’ll note it.

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