Another interesting fragment from Origen on Genesis

In the Patrologia Graeca 12, col. 93-4, we have a further interesting fragment of Origen’s thought on Genesis 1:22.

The PG is a reprint of the Delarue edition, and these Selecta in Genesim are extracted from the medieval Greek bible commentaries, or catenas (=’chains’), which were made up of quotations from earlier authors on each verse in turn, strung together in a chain.  Here is one:

And God said, “Let us make man in our own image and likeness”.  The first thing to discuss is whether this “image” means in body [ἐν σώματι], or in mind [ἐν πψχῇ]. 

And first let us consider the passages made use of by those who assert the former; among whom is Melito, who left works in which he asserts that God is corporeal.  For when they discover the members of God named, the eyes of God looking down at the earth,[1] and his ears listening to the prayers of the just,[2] and the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma,[3] and the mouth of the Lord has spoken this,[4] and the arm of God, and the hand, and the feet, and the fingers; at once they suppose that these [passages] teach about nothing else than the form of God. 

For in what way, they say, did God appear to Abraham, Moses, and  to the saints, if he did not have a form?  and if he had a form, what form, if not human? and they heap up a thousand places, in which the members of God are named.

Against these it is necessary to reply firstly from the words of scripture. 

And we oppose to these, who know nothing beyond the letter, the words of scripture contrary to their opinion, from Zechariah: the seven eyes of the Lord range through the whole world.[5] Because if God has seven eyes, while we have only two, we were not created in his image. 

And neither are we provided with wings, as is said of God in the 90th Psalm: Under his feathers we will shelter,[6]  Because if God has feathers, but we are animals without feathers, man was not made in the image of God.

And in what way can heaven, which is spherical and revolves constantly, be the throne of God, as they suppose?  More, in what way is earth his footstool? 

Let them tell us. 

For is it possible that of the body, which extends from the knees to the soles of the feet, understanding the distance which there is between heaven and earth, when the earth is in the middle of the whole universe, and is upheld by Him, as is shown by geometrical demonstrations, the soles of God’s feet are among us, or among the antipodeans [αντιχθοσι]?

And after a few more rhetorical questions of the same kind, he finishes with:

And in what way can it be said that those who suppose these things are not stupid? 

It’s an interesting point.  The scriptures are inspired, but Jesus told parables, so that human beings could understand profound truths, and God uses this poetic language similarly, not to reveal that He has wings (!) but to teach us things not otherwise easy to express in human language.

I learn from the footnote 30 in the PG that this whole fragment is given by Theodoret in his Questiones on Genesis, Q. 20.

Likewise footnote 31 discusses the reference to Melito, the impeccably orthodox 2nd century Christian writer.  It seems that Origen had in mind the lost work of Melito, Περὶ ἐνσωμάτου Θεοῦ, and supposed that this meant that Melito was one of those who stated that God was corporeal — some misunderstanding of Stoic terminology is probably involved here — while in reality the title should be understood On the incarnation of God.  Since Origen wrote only 40-50 years after Melito, I wonder whether Origen had ever read the work, or whether it was already scarce?

  1. [1]Ps. 100:6.
  2. [2]Psalm 33:16.
  3. [3]Gen. 8:21
  4. [4]Isaiah 1:20
  5. [5]Zechariah 4:10.
  6. [6]Psalm 91:4, He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; Origen used the LXX Greek text, but modern editions of the Psalms number these differently.

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.