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.

6 thoughts on “Another interesting fragment from Origen on Genesis

  1. I happened to have Theodoret Q20 in Gen on my desk today! Yes, Origen is quoted, with Diodore and Theodore, at this point in PG, but recent editions of Th-et omit these quotes as being additions from catena-material.

  2. I am deeply envious! (Mind you, I’d want a PDF anyway: books like that are best in that form).

    Thank you very much for this insight. I would imagine that Quaestiones material was very prone to contamination in transmission, being designed for use rather than literary effect. It’s a form of technical literature, in a way.

    A query: did you have an edition on your desk, or the English translation? Does the latter contain the material?

    I am rather enjoying looking at the PG “selecta” material. It seems to have some surprisingly interesting stuff in it, on matters of contemporary interest! I wonder what else is in there! Must spend some more time browsing…!

  3. People who aren’t exposed much to poetry, or who for some reason think that the Bible doesn’t use poetic and rhetorical figures, can be very very literal in some very odd ways.

    Since schools aren’t teaching this stuff, I’m afraid churches will have to start stepping in.

  4. On my desk is a copy of PG80 (courtesy of Japanese Ministry of Education!!), and an ed. of Theodoret by J.F.Petruccione(text)/R.C.Hill (trans), from Cath.Univ.Press, 2007 (confusingly in a series “Library of Early Christianity” vols.1-2 – there is another series with same name!). They do NOT include the extra non-Theodoret material found in PG80. The intro makes some sense of the confusing history of the text.

  5. Thank you — that’s useful to know.

    I’ve often wondered about getting some printed volumes of the PG, to leaf through. I can’t really do that with a PDF.

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