Every one of us has two guardian angels, a good one encouraging, and a bad one tempting – patristic sources

Via Twitter I learn of this fascinating statement by Prof. Tom Ward:

I just learned through Peter Lombard (Sent II.XI) that Gregory of Nyssa and Origen thought that each human soul not only has a (good) guardian angel, but a (bad) tempting angel (=demon). I’d always thought this was just a cartoon thing.

I enquired about the source:

… the translator of Lombard (Silano), offers only this: “Gregory of Nyssa, De vita Moysi, following Origen, In Lucas, hom.12.”

Let’s look up the sources.  It’s good to have this here, since material is disappearing from twitter all the time at the moment.

Gary Hartenburg looked at the Gregory of Nyssa reference:

Gregory of Nyssa: there is a trustworthy teaching from the tradition that after the fall, God “appointed an angel with an incorporeal nature to help in the life of each person and…he also appointed the corrupter who, by an evil and maleficent demon, afflicts the life of man” (bk. 2, ¶45).

That’s from The Life of Moses, trans. Malherbe and Ferguson; p.165 n71 has a number of further references.

That footnote reads:

… The guardian angel is already in Hermas, Vis. 5.1-4. See Danielou, The Angels and their Mission according to the Fathers of the Church (Westminster, Md., 1957), pp. 68-82. The “two spirits” is in Hermas Mand. 5.1.1-4, Rabbinic speculation (G.F. Moore, Judaism, 1, pp. 479-493), the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 3-4); cf. the angels of God and of Satan in Barnabas 18. Philo, Quaes. Ex. 1.23, states, “Into every soul at its very birth there enter two powers, the salutary and the destructive.” See article on “Demon,” Dict. Spir. 3: 160-168.

However these references do not seem very relevant to our question of two angels, and neither of the Hermas references is relevant.

The Origen, Homilies on Luke, homily 12, (FOC translation by Thomas Scheck) reads:

4. It was indeed a great joy to these shepherds, to whom the care of men and provinces had been entrusted, that Christ had come into the world. The angel who administer ed the affairs of Egypt received a considerable advantage after the Lord came down from heaven, for the Egyptians could become Christians. It profited all who governed the various provinces, for example, the guardian of Macedonia, the guardian of Achaea. and the guardians of the other regions. It is not right to believe that wicked angels govern individual provinces, and good angels do not have the same provinces and regions entrusted to them. I think that what Scripture says about individual provinces should also be believed more generally about all people. Two angels attend each human being.  One is an angel of justice, the other an angel of iniquity.13 If good thoughts are present in our hearts and justice springs up in our souls, the angel of the Lord is undoubtedly speaking to us. But. if evil thoughts turn over in our hearts, the devil’s angel is speaking to us. Just as there are two angels for individuals. so. I believe, there are different angels in individual provinces, some good and some evil.

5. For example, very wicked angels kept watch over Ephesus, on account of the sinners who lived in that city. But, because there were many believers in that city, there was also a good angel for the church of the Ephesians. What we have said about Ephesus should be applied to all the provinces. Before the coming of the Lord and Savior, those angels could bring little benefit to those entrusted to them, and their efforts were not powerful enough to bring about success. What indicates that they were hardly able to help those under their charge? Listen to what we say.14 When the angel of the Egyptians was helping the Egyptians, hardly one proselyte came to believe in God. And this took place when an angel was administering the Egyptians.

In the same text, homily 35 contains this:

3.  I have to touch on some more hidden matters, that we might understand that the adversary is of one sort, while the three other persons—that is, the ruler, the judge, and the debt collector—are of another sort.  We read that the angel of justice and the angel of iniquity argued about Abraham’s salvation and his loss, as each of the camps wished to claim him for itself.  The condition is. of course, that someone should be willing to accept a writing of this kind.7

But. if it displeases anyone, he should go to the book entitled The Shepherd.  There he will find that two angels are present to every man: a wicked angel, who exhorts him to wrongdoing: and a good angel, who urges him to do everything good.8   Elsewhere, too. it is recorded that two angels attend a man. for good and for evil. The Savior, too, mentions the good angels when he says, “Their angels always see the face of my Father, who is in heaven.”9

You should also ask whether the angels of those who are little children in the Church “always see the Father’s face,” while others’ angels do not have the liberty to behold the Father’s face. For, we cannot hope that everyone’s angel always sees “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”  If I am in the Church, no matter how very little I am, my angel enjoys the liberty and the trust always to see “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”10

4. But. if I am an outsider, and not a member of that Church “that has neither spot nor wrinkle, nor anything of that sort.” and the facts prove that I am not a member of such a congregation, then my angel does not enjoy the trust of beholding “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”  For this reason the angels care for good people. They know that, if they guide us well and lead us to salvation, they too will enjoy the trust of seeing the Father’s face. If salvation is secured for men by their care and diligence, they always behold the Father’s face. So too, if someone perishes through their negligence, they realize that the matter is a danger to them.

A good bishop, the best steward of a church knows that, if the sheep of the flock entrusted to him are kept guarded, it is because of his meritorious service and virtue. Realize that the same is true of the angels.  If someone who was entrusted to an angel sins, the angel is disgraced. And the opposite is also true. If someone entrusted to an angel, even the least person in the Church, makes progress, it redounds to the angel’s glory. For, they will see “the face of the Father, who is in heaven,” not sometimes, but “always.”  Other angels never see it. For, according to the merit of those whose angels they are, the angels will contemplate the face of God either always or never, little or much. God has clear and certain knowledge of this matter. So does someone found to be instructed by Christ, rare as that is.

7. See J. T. Milik, “4 Q Visions de ‘Amram et une citation d’Origene,” Revue Biblique 79 (1972) 77-97, who studied an apocryphal writing from Qumran on Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron.  Milik believes that the text was translated into Greek and read by Origen, who alludes to it here. Hence “Abraham” is an incorrect reading for “Amram.”

8. Cf. Homily 12.4-6 and Hermas, Shepherd 36.2-10.

Which is certainly an interesting point of view!  Some of it is clearly coming from apocryphal literature.  But let’s look at the references to the Shepherd of Hermas.  A number of English translations are at the Early Christian Sources Project, here.  I’ve chosen the Synder translation.

Here’s Mandate 6, chapter 2 (= Shepherd, 36) (online here):

The two angels in man (36:1-10)

Mandate 6, Chapter 2

36.1. “Now hear,” he said, “about faith. There are two angels with man, one of righteousness and one of evil.” 2. “How then, sir,” I said, “will I know their powers, since both angels live with me?”

3. “Listen,” he said, “and understand. The angel of righteousness is delicate and modest and meek and quiet. So whenever this one rises up in your heart, he speaks with you at once concerning righteousness, sincerity, reverence, contentment, and every righteous deed, and every glorious virtue. Whenever all these things come up in your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you. So these are the works of the angel of righteousness. So trust this one and his works.

4. Now observe the works of the evil angel. First of all, he is ill tempered and bitter and foolish, and his works are evil, destroying the servants of God. So whenever this one comes into your heart, know him by his works” [cf. Matt. 7:16].

5. “Sir,” I said, “I do not understand how I will recognize him.” “Listen,” he said. “Whenever ill temper or bitterness comes over you, know that he is in you; then comes the desire for many affairs and the extravagance of many kinds of foods and intoxicating drinks, much carousing and various and unnecessary indulgences and desires for women, and covetousness and great arrogance and pretention and whatever things resemble and are similar to them. So whenever these things come to your heart, know that the angel of evil is in you.

6. So when you recognize his works, shun him and do not trust him, for his works are evil and harmful to the servants of God. Here you have the powers of both angels; understand them and trust the angel of righteousness. 7. But shun the angel of evil, because his teaching is evil in every case. For if any man is faithful and the thought of that angel comes to his heart, that man or woman will surely commit a sin. 8. But again, even if a man or a woman is very wicked, and there comes to his heart the deeds of the angel of righteousness, of a necessity he will surely do something good.

9. So you see,” he said, “that it is good to follow the angel of righteousness, to bid farewell to the angel of evil. 10. This commandment shows things concerning faith, so that you might believe the works of the angel of righteousness, and by doing them live to God, but believe that the works of the angel of evil are bad, so by not doing them you will live to God.”

Whoever knew that this cartoon trope goes all the way back to Hermas; indeed probably earlier?


Theotokos: Did Origen use the term “Theotokos” for Mary?

There are many websites online that suggest that Origen used the word “theotokos”, “Mother of God”, to refer to Mary the mother of Jesus.  Often the same references float around, or none are  given.  The term “theotokos” was a controversial one in the 5th century, and the determination of some people to use it was responsible for the Nestorian dispute that came to a head in the Council of Ephesus in 433 AD.

One lengthy example of the genre by E. Artemi may be found here. This is valuable because it does include some sort of references for the claims to ancient sources.[1]

The primary authority for the claim that Origen used the term “theotokos” is not in fact Origen himself.  The works of Origen are poorly preserved anyway.  Instead we have a passage in the 5th century writer Socrates.  In his Historia Ecclesiastica book 7, chapter 32, we read as follows (NPNF translation online here):

Origen also in the first volume of his Commentaries on the apostle’s epistle to the Romans,108 gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotocos is used.

108. Cf. Origen, Com. in Rom. I. 1. 5.

This sounds good.  Origen’s Commentary on Romans (CPG 1457) is extant, but poorly preserved.  The majority of it is in the ancient Latin translation of Rufinus.  There are also extracts of the Greek text, and a chunk that was found in a papyrus at Tura in 1941.   But if we go to the text as we have it, we find no such use of the term.  In the Fathers of the Church 103 translation, p.17, we find the plain statement by the editor in n.73:

The quotation is from Book 1 of the Commentary but does not correspond to Rufinus’s translation. Socrates is discussing the Nestorian controversy and claims that Origen had used the title theotokos, “mother of God” with reference to Mary in his Commentary. To Socrates this was proof of two things: The tradition supported the controversial title for Mary and Nestorius was not very well read in ecclesiastical literature.

Indeed book 1, chapter 1, has nothing at all about Mary.  Likewise if we look at the Sources Chrétiennes 532 edition, and examine book 1, chapter 1, section 5, there is nothing about Mary.

Yet the Artemi article states:

Origen also in the first volume of his Commentaries on the apostle’s epistle to the Romans, gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotokos is used.8

8. Origen of Alexandria, Commentary in Romans, I, 1. 5. See Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastic History, 7, 32, 2.

The reference given derives, no doubt, from the NPNF translation.  The same reference is often given.  But plainly it is false.

But Artemi is not done.  She then goes on to offer another reference, in a different work.

Origen underlines that the name Mariam is the name of Mary, who will be called Theotokos.6

6.  Origen of Alexandria, Homily on Luke, fragment 26,1, 41,1, 33, 2

This looks like it refers to three fragments rather than one.  The reference seems to be to CPG 1452, the Commentarii in Lucam which is fragmentary, and the CPG says that the material may be found in found in the PG 13:1901-1909, and PG 17:312-369, with modern Latin translation.

The CPG helpfully adds that “Fragment 26” is Eusebius, PG23:1341D-1344A.  PG 23 is Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms.  Here is the passage, in the commentary on Ps. 109, with the modern Latin parallel translation:

There is no mention of Origen in this.  Indeed whether this material is even by Eusebius may be questioned, for it is assembled out of catena fragments by a pre-modern editor.  Only the material on Ps.51-100 is certainly Eusebian.

Aliquo autem narrante novi, Hebraicam vocem hic Mariam meminisse: nam illud, “Mariam”, Mariae nomen significat; ita ut his nominatim Deipara commemoretur.

But I know in saying this, that we must keep in mind the Hebrew word “Mariam”: for that “Mariam,” signifies the name of Mary; so that the Mother of God should be remembered in this by name.

The last clause, referring to Theotokos, does seem a bit tacked on, subjectively.

The CPG tells us that Rauer in his GCS 49 edition of Origenes Werke IX (2nd ed., 1959), p.227-336, collected the fragments. Unfortunately I have no access to this.

But I did have access to the first edition (1930).  This was mainly concerned with the homilies – not the commentary – on Luke, preserved in an ancient Latin translation by St Jerome.  So I looked up “theotokos” in the list of words on p.320, and it gave me two references; to page 44. line 10 – which turned out to be the very same passage as  before, here assigned to Homily 6 (!); and p.50, line 9, where a chunk of Greek in homily 7 again does include the word.  In neither case does the passage appear in the parallel ancient translation by Jerome.  So it looks as if, for each homily, the editors have started by extracting Latin material from the manuscripts preserving Jerome’s translation, and then included whatever catena material parallelled it.  In both cases they have continued the catena extract beyond the end of the Latin version, because it may belong.

The edition is very hard to follow: what bit comes from what source?  I hope the second edition is better, but as I say, I don’t have access to it.

What do we make of this?  Well, very little.  This is the problem with catena fragments: they were extracted at a date not earlier than the 6th century, and adapted to fit into the “chains” of quotations.  The authorship of every one is doubtful, and it is often very unclear where the quote ends and another writer begins.  Also the catenas were edited at precisely the period when using the word “theotokos” was a mark of loyalty and failure to do so made a writer suspect.

To conclude, as far as I can see, there is no reliable evidence that Origen referred to Mary as the “Mother of God”.  The references offered are either non-existent, or based on texts composed from the 5th century onwards.

Update (21 Aug. 2023): Post title modified to link it to the other “Theotokos” posts.

  1. [1]Eirini Artemi, “The Modulation of the Term THEOTOKOS from the Fathers of 2nd Century to Cyril of Alexandria”, International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research 2 (2014), 27-30.  Online here.  The “journal” looks like a fake journal to me, but we are not using this as an authority, but a witness to the claims being made.”

Did Origen deny the idea that “there was a time when the Son was not”?

I came across an interesting claim on twitter here:

Origen anticipating & contradicting the Arian heresy 10yrs before Arius was born and 80yrs before Nicaea is Fire. “He who was a son according to the flesh came from the seed of David…According to the Spirit, however, he existed first & there was never a time when he was not.” …

It’s from Origen’s commentary on Romans 1, ch.5.

Pamphilus in his Apology (ch. 50) also quotes it in the Greek from Origen’s commentary on Hebrews. (tweet link)

It would be very interesting indeed if Origen explicitly rebutted one of the main claims of Arius a century later, that “there was a time when the Son was not.”  But did he?

There is an online copy of the Commentary on Romans, in preview here (Fathers of the Church 103, p.69, tr. Thomas P. Scheck), so let’s look at it.

5. Concerning his Son.83 He who was a son according to the flesh came indeed from the seed of David. Undoubtedly, he became that which previously was not, according to the flesh. According to the Spirit, however, he existed first, and there was never a time when he was not.84 It should be noted that [M849] he did not say, “who has been predestined Son of God…

83. Rom 1.3.
84. This formulation also occurs in Fr. in Heb 1.8 (= von Balthasar, Origen: Spirit and Fire, p. 77). The Greek formula is attributed to Origen by Pamphilus, Apology 1.3. Arius, whose teaching was condemned by the Council of Nicaea, 325, became infamous for his slogan, ἦν ποτε ὄτε οὐκ ἦν, “There was a time when he was not,” referring to the time before the Son was created. Origen’s expression clearly anticipates the Nicene and Athanasian definitions. Cf. Bigg, Christian Platonists, p. 167, “There is no shadow of a doubt that for Origen the Son is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father.” Cf. 10.8.5; 1.1.2; 1.2.9; 4.4.1.
85. Rom 1.4.

This is indeed what the text says.  The problem is that this portion of Origen’s Commentary on Romans does not exist in the original Greek, written before 250 AD.  It has reached us in Rufinus’ Latin translation, written around 400.  Rufinus was accused of attempting to rehabilitate Origen by mistranslation.  It is entirely possible that Rufinus introduced this phrasing, therefore (although I believe that these days the accusations against Rufinus are generally discounted).

How can we tell?

Well, let’s look at some of the other references.

There appears to be an error in the footnote here: Pamphilus, Apology 1.3 does not refer to these matters.  See below for this work.  But there is a problem here anyway – Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen has not reached us in Greek, but in a Latin translation by … Rufinus!  We’re back to square one.


In Hans Urs von Balthasar, Origen: Spirit and Fire. A thematic anthology of his writings, tr. R.J.Daly, 1984, we find this passage, attributed to Origen and supposedly from his lost commentaries on Hebrews:

123. If he is the invisible “image of the invisible God” (Coll: 15), I would like to venture the further affirmation that, as the likeness of the Father, there never was a time when he was not (cf. In 1:1-3). For when did God, who according to John is called “light” (1 In 1 :5), not have the “radiance of his own glory” (cf. Heb 1 :3), so that someone could dare to set the beginning of a Son who previously did not exist? When could the WORD whom “the Father knows” (cf. Mt 11:27; In 10:15), and who is the expression of the ineffable, unnamable and unutterable essence of the Father, not have existed? For they who dare to say that there was a time when the Son was not, should consider that they will also have to say that there was a time when there was no Wisdom, a time when there was no Life. But it is not right nor, because of our weakness, without danger to take it upon ourselves to separate God from his only-begotten Son, the WORD, who is with him eternally, the Wisdom in whom he takes delight (cf. Prov 8:30). For in this way God is not even considered to be eternally happy. 1

Daly adds, “1. This fragment probably comes, not from the lost commentary on Hebrews, but from the original Greek of PA 4, 1, 1. -R.J.D.”  (Pa = peri archon, On First Principles).

In the appendix, the source for section 123 is given as “Hebr. frag 1, 8 – Cramer VII, 361-362”.

But Cramer is a collection of materials from the Greek catenas in Paris.  Unfortunately the attributions of passages in the catenas are often wrong.  So this is not really evidence either!

None of this is very satisfactory, but I thought we might look at the French edition of the Commentary on Romans, as these often have good footnotes.  In the Sources Chrétiennes edition, SC 532, p.178-179, our passage is book 1, chapter 7, and it does indeed have an interesting footnote.

1. Qui filius secundum carnem quidem ex semine factus est David. Factus est autem sine dubio id quod prius non erat secundum carnem. Secundum spiritum vero erat prius et non erat quando non erat [1]. Observandum est enim quia non dixit: …

[1] Non erat quando non erat : Ce passage est cité et commenté par Pamphile dons son Apologie pour Origène, 52 (SC 464, p. 110) : « Il ‘fut fait’ ce qu’il n était pas précédemment, car il est evident que, selon la chair, il n’était pas antérieurement; selon l’esprit, en revanche, il était précédemment et il n’y avait pas de moment où il n’était pas. » Cetre formulation se trouve déjà dans le PArch I, 29 et IV 4, 1. C’est la première expression d’une formule qui sera utilisée lors de la controverse arienne, pour réfuter l’allégation que le Fils n’est pas consubstantiel au Père.

The SC confirms that we only have the Latin of Rufinus.  But it gives us a better reference for the Apology for Origen, section 52 of the SC edition (SC464).  In fact in section 51 Pamphilus tells us that what follows is from the Commentary on Romans.

Let’s take it from the FOC translation, also by Thomas P. Scheck:

46. PAMPHILUS. We have brought forth this single testimony concerning the deity of the Son of God from those books that his accusers especially rebuke. But doubtless in his other books as well he understands things in the same sense, nor does he contradict himself.

47. Concerning the fact that the Father is not prior to the Son, but the Son is co-eternal with the Father, he says the following in the first book of his Commentary on Genesis:

48. ORIGEN [12].156 For God did not begin to be the Father later, as though he were not the Father previously, as if he were impeded for certain reasons by which mortal men are usually impeded, so that they cannot immediately also be fathers from the time when they exist. For if God is always perfect, he does not lack the power by which he is a Father, and if it is good that he is the Father of such a Son, why does it matter or why would he deprive himself of this good and not become the Father immediately, if one can say it this way, from when he is able to be the Father? The same thing should likewise be said about the Holy Spirit.

49. PAMPHILUS. There is another testimony on the same subject in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews:

50. ORIGEN [13]. How else should one understand the “eternal light” except as referring to God the Father? But he, inasmuch as he is the light, never existed at a time when his radiance was not present with him—for a light without its radiance could never be conceived, which, if it is true, then there never was a time when the Son did not exist. But he was not unborn, as we have said of the eternal light. Otherwise, we would appear to be implying two principles of light. But, as the radiance of the unborn light, he was born of that light, having that same light as origin and source; yet there was not [a time] when he did not exist.

51. PAMPHILUS. There is another testimony on the same subject in the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans:

52. ORIGEN [14]. “Which he promised,” he says, “through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his Son, who was made according to the flesh from the seed of David”: that which previously did not exist “was made”; for it is clear that, according to the flesh, he did not previously exist; but according to the Spirit he existed previously, and there was never [a time] when he did not exist.

53. PAMPHILUS. The same thing is found in the first book of Peri archon, that the generation of the Son of God transcends any commencement: …

It’s easy to see from this why this view is attributed to Origen.  We do have the Greek of the Peri Archon, although I’m not going to look at it now.  But it’s saying, more loosely, the same thing in Pamphilus as the other sections.

But, as I remarked earlier, this is all Rufinus.  We do not have the Greek of Pamphilus’ book.


Update on my book, Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel

Long term readers may remember that, back in 2014, my company published a rather splendid item in book form, Mischa Hooker’s marvellous translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel, including the catena fragments, with facing Greek text; some 700+ pages of it.  This was the second volume in the Ancient Texts in Translation series, from Chieftain Publishing.  The hardback was very splendid; and the paperback is a solid item too.

Hard sell:  The book is available still on Amazon.com in hardback ($80) and paperback ($45); and Amazon.co.uk in hardback (£50) and paperback (£30).  Amazon don’t keep a lot of stock, naturally, but you can order any of these as all are in print.  Lead time is probably about a week when out of stock.  Please get your university library to buy it!

The idea behind creating paper books was always to sell enough copies to justify commissioning more academic translations, ideally to university libraries.  Once sales dried up, the book would be released onto the web in the public domain.  This was (and is still) always the intention.

It’s interesting to find that the book is turning out to be something of a slow burner.  Initial sales were not impressive.  Originally no English translation existed of these homilies.  But during the project, the excellent Thomas P. Scheck released one in the well-known Ancient Christian Writers series; and this naturally stole our thunder somewhat.  However he only included a translation of the 14 homilies from Latin, without the original language or the fragments.  Dr Hooker did take account of the Scheck version, which appeared when ours was almost complete.

But I find that the book has continued to sell!  In fact I was surprised to find that it made enough money last year, after three years, to justify keeping it in print for another year.  This was unexpected.

Today I learn that a new review of it has appeared, by Peter W. Martens, in the Society for Biblical Literature’s journal, the Review of Biblical Literature, and published 3rd Jan. 2018.  The review is accessible to SBL members here.

In fact this is the third review that has appeared (to my knowledge), the others being by:

  • Angela R. Christman, in: Journal of Theological Studies 68 (2017), 351-3 (see abstract).
  • L. Vianès, in: Revue de philologie, de littérature et d’histoire anciennes 88 (2014), 180-2.

I must confess to being encouraged by these.  With luck they will result in further sales.  The more copies that sell, the more I might feel inclined to do it again.  I do not believe that the Origen volume will ever recover the investment of money and time that I put into it (to say nothing of others); but if it comes anywhere near doing so, then that is all money to put into further projects.

But I still intend to release the results online.  I nearly did so this Christmas.  Maybe at the end of the year.


Origen, Commentary on Matthew, book 16 now online and in English

A kind message informs me that David Gohl’s translation of the remaining books of Origen’s Commentary on Matthew (which I discussed here) has now reached book 16.  He has translated this, and uploaded it for comment to Academia.edu here.

Excellent news!  Grab your copy while it’s hot!


Origen’s Commentary on Matthew – what exists in English?

The remains of Origen’s 25-book Commentary on Matthew appear in four volumes in the GCS series.  These are:

  • GCS 40 – “Origenes Werke X, Commentarius in Matthaeum I” – this contains the Greek text of books of books 10-17.  (I found a PDF on ScribD and uploaded it to Archive.org here; a DJVU file exists in Poland also)
  • GCS 38 – “Origenes Werke XI, Commentarius in Matthaeum II” – this contains the Latin Commentariorum series, a bunch of homilies all translated in some way from the commentary, covering much of the lost books. (DJVU here)
  • GCS 41.1 and .2 – “Origenes Werke XII, Commentarius in Matthaeum III” – this contains quotations in other early Christians works, plus fragments from catenas. (DJVU of part 1 here).

A text can also be found in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 13, reprinted from the 18th century edition of Delarue.

Finally we need to consider the edition of Lommatzsch (1831), which was used as the basis for the ANF English translation[1].

There is a complete German translation, in three large and expensive volumes, by H. J. Vogt: Origenes: Der Kommentar zum Evangelium nach Mattäus. Eingeleitet, übersetzt und mit Anmerkungen versehen. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1983–1993; Erster Teil: Buch X – XIII (= Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur. 18, Abt. Patristik). 1983, ISBN 3-7772-8307-X; Zweiter Teil: Buch XIV – XVII (= Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur. 30, Abt. Patristik). 1990, ISBN 3-7772-9011-4; Dritter Teil: Die Commentariorum Series (= Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur. 38, Abt. Patristik). 1993, ISBN 3-7772-9325-3.

A French translation of books 10-11 was published by Girod in the 1970s in the Sources Chretiennes series, but no more volumes appeared.

The English translation that floats around the internet is that of the Ante-Nicene Fathers series, reprinted and repackaged in heaven-alone-knows how many forms.  In this 1885 American edition, it is found in volume 9, online in PDF here (sometimes it is treated as volume 10).  I shall refer to the page numbers in this printed edition.

The translation was made by a certain John Patrick DD (p.409), minister of Greenside, Edinburgh (title page), and contains the following materials:

  • Extract from book 1 (p.411) – this is in fact quoted in, and so based on, Eusebius Church History book 6, chapter 25.  HTML here.
  • Extract from book 2 (p.412) – this is from the Philocalia of Origen, chapter 6.  HTML here.
  • Books 10-14 (pp.413-512) – these are from the Greek text.  HTML book 10 starts here.

The translator’s brief introduction makes plain that he knew of books 15-17, but ignored them.  Each book is around 50 pages of the GCS, and about 50 columns of Migne, so they are quite substantial.

The translator also ignored some extracts in Latin.  A second extract from book 1 is preserved in Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen, chapter 5, which exists only in a Latin version; but this is not translated by the ANF.  A chunk of book 7 is likewise preserved in Pamphilus, chapter 10.

Interestingly a portion of book 15 was translated in November 2007 by a certain Yoel Natan, using machine-translation, on this page.

Clearly there is a need for an English translation of the remaining material.  It seems a bit lengthy for me, but I have done no precise calculations.  It would be very nice to have it, though!

UPDATE (13/3/17): It seems that Justin Gohl has translated book 15, and has a version up at Academia.edu for comment!  Marvellous news!

UPDATE (21/11/17): And Dr Gohl has now translated and uploaded book 16 as well!

UPDATE (20/01/20): A new English translation has appeared: Ronald E. Heine, The Commentary of Origen on the Gospel of St Matthew, Oxford Early Christian Texts (2018), ISBN: 9780199669073.  Available here at Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.  The OUP page states that: “The first translation into English of the entirety of the Greek and Latin remains of the Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, including most of the fragments.”

  1. [1]So the PDF, p.294.

Origen: a very early copyist of Matthew made a mistake…

Alex Poulos has posted what may be the most interesting blog post that I have seen for a very long time: Textual criticism and biblical authority in Origen’s Homily on Ps. 77.  It’s the text and translation of the first section of Origen’s first homily on psalm 77, with comments.  And by golly it’s interesting!


We regularly say that the psalms with the prefix “of understanding” use this superscription to direct the listener to investigate carefully what has been said, as they need interpretation and explication, since every psalm with this prefix has dark sayings, riddles, and parables. This is indeed the case here, for we have the superscription, “of understanding, by Asaph” and immediately it says in the psalm, “I shall open my mouth in parables, I shall speak riddles as from the beginning.” (Ps. 77:2).

One must know that Matthew mentions this saying– writing about how the Savior spoke in parables, he said, “so that the passage may be fulfilled ‘I shall open my mouth in parables; I shall speak in riddles as of from the beginning’ or rather, ‘ <I shall declare things hidden> since the establishing of the world’. (1) Though Matthew paraphrased with those sorts of words what was said in this way here, there occurred a scribal error in the copies of the gospel, for it says, “so that what was said through the prophet Isaiah may be fulfilled, ‘I will open my mouth in parables’”.

It’s likely that one of the very first scribes found the text, “so that what was said through the prophet Asaph,” and supposed that it was an error because he did not realize that Asaph was a prophet. This caused him rashly to write “Isaiah” instead of “Asaph” because of his unfamiliarity with the prophet’s name.

And then he continues, with some very excellent thoughts about the scriptures, and how the devil attacks them, and uses them to attack us.  On this, Alex Poulos comments:

There’s quite a bit that’s fascinating in this passage. Origen has a problem: his copies of Matthew attribute this passage to Isaiah, when it clearly comes from the psalms. His solution is text critical: he posits an emendation to change the name from Isaiah to Asaph. He even goes a step further and speculates on the reason for the change: a scribe didn’t realize who Asaph was, and substituted the name of a prophet he did know.

The situation in the mss is quite different. All of the early minuscules simply say “the prophet” without specifying a name, with one notable exception: Sinaiticus. It seems likely, however, that “Isaiah the prophet” was the reading in all of Origen’s manuscripts, as he has to resort to emendation. Not only that, he supposes that it was one of the very first scribes that made the mistake (τὶς τῶν ἀρχῆθεν γραφόντων). Perhaps the “Isaiah” reading was widespread in Caesarea in the 3rd century. Someone who knows more about the textual history of Matthew can no doubt elucidate this better than I. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that the error arose because of the formulaic nature of the clause. Matthew cites Isaiah again and again; it would be quite easy for a scribe to insert the name by accident where it doesn’t belong. As one who’s memorized portions of Matthew, I can say that keeping straight the various subtle changes from one “fulfillment formula” to the next is not easy.

But I won’t steal Alex’s thunder – read it all.  It’s excellent stuff.  I’ve saved a copy locally, and I doubt that I will be the only one.

This is the first fruits of Marina Molin Pradel’s marvellous 2012 discovery of a bunch of previously unknown homilies by Origen in Munich (Ms. Monacensis Graecus 314) and the excellent decision by Lorenzo Perone to publish quickly in 2015.  Who can doubt that the words above are indeed the voice of Origen?

I think we must be grateful to Alex Poulos for sharing this – it is truly excellent stuff.


Origen, Homily 26 on Joshua and Matthew 27:25

Another of the last remaining references to Matthew 27:25 is found in the Homilies on Joshua by Origen, extant in a Latin translation-cum-paraphrase by Rufinus.  It is found in homily 26, and as this is short, I thought that I would post it here.  The translation is from the Fathers of the Church vol. 105,[1] and “Jesus” is of course the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua.  As usual, I omit the footnotes.

    *    *    *    *


Concerning why the rock swords were buried, and concerning the altar that the two and a half tribes that are across the Jordan erected [Jos.22]

It was said above that the sons of Israel gave a lot to Jesus on Mount Ephraim and that, when he had accepted the lot, “Jesus built a city there and dwelt in it.” But now Scripture repeats the same things again so that it may add this, that “in that city that he had built and in which he dwelt, Jesus concealed the rock swords,” that is, the knives made from stone, “with which he circumcised the sons of Israel in the wilderness.” Whence we also must repeat the exposition and explain what was added so that, God granting, the entire meaning of the Scripture may be completed.

And indeed we said above that even our Lord Jesus Christ asks us for a place he may build and in which he may live, and that we ought to become so clean of heart, and so sincere of mind, so holy in body and spirit, that he may both deign to ac-cept this place in our soul and to build it and dwell in it. And who do you think among all the people are so acceptable to God that they are worthy to be chosen for this? Or perhaps no individuals can be capable of this, but can the whole people and all the Church together barely be capable of receiving the Lord Jesus in themselves so that he may dwell in them?

Let us see, therefore, what is this place in which Jesus is bound to dwell. “In Mount Ephraim,” it says, that is, in the fruit bearing mountain. Who do you think among us are fruit bearing mountains, in whom Jesus may dwell? Surely those in whom exist “the fruit of the spirit: joy, peace, patience, love,” and the rest. Those, therefore, are the fruit bearing mountains who produce the fruit of the spirit and who are always lofty in mind and expectation. And although few are able to be like this, nevertheless, even if they are few, the Lord Jesus, who is the “true light” dwelling in them, will send forth the beams of his light also upon all the rest, those whom he has not yet, in this first round, judged worthy of his habitation.

2. Now, therefore, let us see what are the rock swords by which Jesus circumcises the sons of Israel. If you pray for us that our “word may’ be living and effective and sharper than every sword,”8 our Lord Jesus will also bring it to pass for us that the word of God that we speak to you may circumcise every un-cleanness, cut back impurities, separate vices from those who hear, and remove each thing by which the strength of the mind and natural efficiency is covered over. And thus, through the word of God, which here is called a rock sword, you too will be circumcised by Jesus and you will hear, “Today I have taken away from you the reproach of Egypt.”

For what good is it for us to have gone forth from Egypt and yet carry around with us the reproaches of Egypt? What good is it to travel through the wilderness, that is, what does it help us to have renounced this age in baptism but to retain the former filth of our behavior and the impurities of our carnal vices? Thus it is fitting, after the parting of the Red Sea, that is, after the grace of baptism, for the carnal vices of our old habits to be removed from us by means of our Lord Jesus, so that we can be free from the Egyptian reproaches.

Therefore, those rock swords and knives of stone, by which we are circumcised by Jesus a second time, are put in that place that Jesus requests and receives. In that place that he possesses in the soul of the righteous, he also conceals the swords. Often we display a sword called the Word of God, by which word sins are separated and purged from the souls of the hearers.10 There-fore, this power of the divine word is concealed in that place, to whom a discourse of knowledge and a discourse of wisdom is granted, so that at the opportune time that soul, which was filled up with the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge through the gift of the Spirit, may produce those swords in the Church and circumcise a second time those who need a second circumcision.

But because it says “rock swords,” that is, knives made from stone and not fashioned out of iron by the craft of an artisan, it indicates that this discourse of God that is able to cast away impurities from the hearts of the hearers does not come from grammatical or rhetorical art. It is neither beaten by the hammers of teachers nor polished by whetstones of studies, but it descends from that “rock that was cut without hands from the mountain and filled the earth” and distributed spiritual gifts to believers.

After these things Jesus assembles the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had served as soldiers with him to overcome the foes of the Israelites, and he dismisses them to go to their inheritance with certain gifts given to them, as it is written. Whereby this seems to indicate the mystery that “when the fullness of the nations will come in,” they receive from the Lord Jesus what was promised to them, those who had been taught and instructed by Moses and who by prayers and entreaties brought aid to us who are placed in the contest. They have not yet “attained the promises,” waiting so that our calling might also be fulfilled, as the Apostle says. But now at last with the gifts they receive from Jesus they may attain the perfection that had been deferred for them so that each one may dwell in peace with every war and every battle ceasing.

3. After this it was read to us that the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who were across Jordan had built “an immense altar.” But the other sons of Israel, not knowing why this altar had been erected, send Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, with ten men selected from each tribe. Therefore, if by chance they had made this as though departing from God, as if they had become apostates acting against the commandment of God, they would be assaulted by the other sons of Israel; but if not, the other sons might still learn the cause. But they give satisfaction about the altar and say, “We know that the true altar is among you where Jesus dwells. But we made this altar as an imitation of that altar that was erected among you, so that a type and image of the true altar may also be held among us, lest by chance tomorrow,” it says, “it may please you to say that the Jordan is the boundary between us and you and it itself determines this, and therefore you have no share in our altar.” These are the replies they sent.

But let us see what sacrament lies within this deed. The former people of the circumcision are represented in Reuben, who was the firstborn; but also in Gad, who also is the firstborn out of Zelpha; and Manasseh, no less a firstborn. But insofar as I say “firstborn,” I speak chronologically. Therefore, these things are said, not that it might be evident some division and separation is between us and those who were righteous before the coming of Christ, but that they might reveal themselves to still be our brothers even if they existed before the coming of Christ. For although they possessed an altar then before the coming of the Savior, nevertheless, they knew and perceived that it was not that true altar, but that it was a form and figure of what would be the true altar. Those persons knew this because the true victims and those who were able to take away sins were not offered on that altar that the firstborn people possessed, but on this one where Jesus was. Here the heavenly victims, here the true sacrifices are consumed. Therefore, they are made “one flock and one shepherd,” those former righteous ones and those who are now Christians.

But to prove these things I wish to make mention also of a certain story, so that, if only the Lord deigns to grant, we may be able to discover the spiritual explanation of it. Once the people fell down in the desert and died. Aaron the chief priest came and “stood in the midst of those who died and of those who lived,” so that the devastation of death might not advance even further among the rest And then came the true high priest, my Lord, and he came into the midst between those dying and the living. That is, he came between those Jews who accepted his presence and those who not only did not accept but killed themselves more completely than him, saying, “The blood of that one be upon us and upon our sons!” Whence also “all the righteous blood that has been poured forth upon the earth from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah whom they killed between the sanctuary and the altar will be required from that generation” that said, “His blood be upon us and upon our sons.”

Therefore, these are a part of the dead people because they do not properly perform either the feast of unleavened bread or the feast days. But “their feast days have been turned into sorrow and their songs into lamentations,” they who, even if they wished, could not celebrate the feast days in that place that the Lord God chose. And indeed we ourselves did not say to them, “You will have no part in this altar or in the inheritance of the Lord,” but they themselves of their own accord refute the true altar and the heavenly high priest and have been brought to such a point of unhappiness that they both lost the image and did not accept the truth. Therefore it is said to them, “Behold your house is left to you deserted.”

For the grace of the Holy Spirit has been transferred to the nations; the celebrations have been transferred to us because the high priest has passed over to us, not the imagined, but the true high priest, chosen “according to the order of Melchisedek.” It is necessary that he offer for us true sacrifices, that is, spiritual, where “the temple of God is built from living stones,” which is “the Church of the living God,” and where true Israel exists, in Christ Jesus our Lord, “to whom is the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen!”

  1. [1]Barbara J. Bruce (tr), Origen: Homilies on Joshua, in: Fathers of the Church 105 (2002), p.215-220

Origen’s new homilies on the Psalms – now published!

J.B. Piggin draws my attention to a marvel – a timely scholarly edition!  You may remember how, in 2012, a bunch of unknown homilies on the psalms were found in the Bavarian State Library in Munich?  This itself was a wonderful find: and the Bavarians went further, and put the manuscript online – a process that taught a few eager amateurs that Greek palaeography is hard!

Well today I learn that the text has now been edited!  The new volume of the GCS – Origenes Werke XIII, 2015, edited by Lorenzo Perrone and colleagues, is now apparently available.  The book is 640+ pages!  In the foreword we learn that Dr Perrone felt that the priority was to present the text to the public – and how right he was!

Better yet, Dr P. has uploaded the table of contents and foreword to Academia.edu here.  This means that those of us with little German can use Google Translate to read the foreword.  And, of course, to make a case for our library buying it!!

How utterly impressive to get the thing out there and available, instead of sitting on it for a decade!  I am deeply impressed.  Well done, Dr P.!

I wonder how to get hold of a copy, tho.  Cambridge University Library probably won’t even receive it, on subscription, for a year or two.

The GCS publication page for the item from DeGruyter is here.  The eBook cost is … wait for it … $196!!!!?!?  In fact so is the hardback – not very forgiveable, that.  But even DeGruyter know that we really want eBooks, so both together is a modest (!) $293.

None of us can afford those prices, of course.  What a shame!  It’s a pity that Dr Perrone and his colleagues – who did all the work – couldn’t just make it available for free.  But we’re not at that point yet.


Origen on Matthew 27:25 from the Commentariorum in Matthaeum Series

Only books 10-17 of Origen’s Commentary in Matthew survive in Greek.  But as I wrote yesterday, a Latin translation from antiquity renders a large chunk, from books 12, chapter 9 to almost the end of Matthew’s gospel.  Unfortunately there are no signposts in the text as to Origen’s book division: only a division into sections, more or less equivalent to the verses of the gospel text.

In section 124,[1] on Matthew 27:22-26, there is, naturally, a reference to Matthew 27:25.  Let’s see what Origen says here.

124. Pilate said to them, “So what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? They all said, “Let him be crucified”, etc.

Wishing to impress on them the shame of so great an evil, Pilate said to them, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ”, but not only that but wishing to get the measure of their impiety.  But they, neither blushing at this because Pilate was acknowledging that Jesus was the Christ, nor keeping within the limit of impiety, all said, “Let him be crucified“. And they even petitioned for Barabbas to be set free, while on the contrary they desired that Christ go to the cross, namely that Barabbas should actually be absolved, for they did not petition that he be crucified, but set free by the power of Pilate, so that they might do with him as they wished.  The impiety so far was great, because they petitioned for a murderer and abandoned a just man.  But now they multiplied the measure of their impiety, not only seeking life for a murderer, but also death for a just man, and the nastiest death of the cross.  Thus far he [Pilate] was going along with them, because he wanted to confuse them, so that, confused, they might come to choose the just man (although not in a judgement from their hearts), he said to them, “What wrong has he done?”  They had nothing with which to respond to this, so they shouted more loudly, lying down but increasing their rage, animosity and blasphemy and said, “Let him be crucified!

But Pilate, seeing that nothing was being gained, made use of the Jewish custom, wishing to appease them concerning the innocence of Christ not only with words, but also by their own action, if they wished, or if they did not wish to condemn, and, acting not according to any Roman custom; for he took water in the sight of all and, washing his hands, said: “I am innocent of the blood of this <just man>; you see to it.  And indeed he washed, but they not only did not wish to cleanse themselves of the blood of Christ, but also to take it on themselves, saying, “His blood be upon us, and on our children,” on account of which they are found guilty not only of the blood of the prophets, but, filling up the measure of their fathers, they are found guilty also of the blood of Christ, and hear God saying to them, “When you lift up your hands towards me, I will turn my eyes away from you; for your hands are full of blood.” (Is. 1:15)  Therefore the blood of Jesus was not only blamed upon them, who were alive then, but also on every generation of the Jews following after, until the end of the world.[2]  For this reason their house is now derelict and deserted by them.  But Pilate, forgetting his good words, with which he had begun to defend the innocence of Christ, falling into evil not only handed over Jesus but also handed him over to be flogged, so that they might crucify him.

I did transcribe the Latin text from the GCS edition, so that I could use Google Translate and QuickLatin on it.  Let’s have that also:

124. Dicit illis Pilatus: quid ergo faciam Iesum qui dicitur Christus? Dicunt omnes: crucifigatur, et cetera (27, 22—26).

Volens eis pudorem tantae iniquitatis incutere Pilatus dicit eis: quid ergo faciam Iesum qui dicitur Christus, non solum autem sed et mensuram colligere volens impietatis eorum, illi autem, nec hoc erubescentes quod Pilatus Iesum Christum esse confitebatur nec modum impietatis servantes, dixerunt omnes: crucifigatur. Et si quidem Barabbam petissent dimittere, non autem econtra et Christum postulassent ad crucem, utputa Barabbam quidem petissent absolvi, hunc autem non petissent crucifigi sed in potestate dimisissent Pilati, ut faceret de eo quod vellet, adhuc magnae esset impietatis, quod relicto iusto homicidam petissent.  Nunc autem multiplicaverunt impietatis suae mensuram, non solum homicidam postulantes ad vitam, sed etiam iustum ad mortem et ad mortem turpissimam crucis, adhuc autem permanens in eo ipso, quod confundere eos volebat, ut vel confusi ad electionem iusti venirent (etsi non ex iudicio cordis), dicit eis: quid enim mali fecit?  Contra hoc nihil habentes quod responderent, amplius clamaverunt non deponentes sed augentes iram, animositatem, blasphemiam et dixerunt: crucifigatur.

Pilatus autem, videns quod nihil proficeret, Iudaico usus est more, volens eos de Christi innocentia non solum verbis, sed etiam ipso facto placare si voluerint, si autem noluerint condemnare, faciens non secundum aliquam consuetudinem Romanorum; accepit enim aquam in conspectu omnium, et lavans manus suas dixit: innocens ego sum a sanguine <iusti> huius; vos videritis. Et ipse quidem se lavit, illi autem non solum se mundare noluerunt a sanguine Christi, sed etiam super se susceperunt dicentes: sanguis eius super nos, et super filios nostros, propter hoc rei facti sunt non solum in sanguine prophetarum, sed inplentes mensuram patrum suorum facti sunt rei etiam in sanguine Christi, ut audiant deum sibi dicentem: «cum expanderitis manus vestras ad me, avertam oculos meos a vobis; manus enim vestrae sanguine plenae sunt«.  Propterea sanguis Iesu non solum super eos factus est, qui tunc fuerunt, verum etiam super omnes generationes Iudaeorum post sequentes usque ad consummationem. Propterea usque nunc domus eorum derelicta est eis deserta. Pilatus autem oblitus verborum suorum bonorum, quibus coeperat defendere innocentiam Christi, declinans ad malum non solum tradidit Iesum, sed etiam flagellis caesum tradidit, ut crucifigerent eum.

It is interesting how favourable Origen is to Pilate!  He actually makes up a story about what Pilate must have thought and intended.

I also notice a lot of repetition in here, as if this material was delivered orally.  Of course we know that Origen “wrote” by dictation, but even so, the points are repeated so much that it sounds a bit like a stenographic record.

  1. [1]GCS 38 p.258-60.
  2. [2]Given slightly less literally by Raymond E. Brown in The Death of the Messiah (1994), vol. 1, p.384, as “Therefore the blood of Jesus came not only upon those who existed at that time but also upon all generations of Jews who would follow afterwards until the endtime.”