Some notes on Origen’s Commentary on Matthew

The Commentary on Matthew written by Origen of Alexandria in 25 books has not come down to us complete.  From SC162[1] I learn that the Greek text of books 10-17 has survived complete.  This appears as GCS 40, which is online here.

Two independent but closely related manuscripts have preserved the text:

  • Monacensis gr. 191, bombycin, 13th c.  This also contains the Commentary on John.
  • Cambridge, Trinity College, 194-B-8-10, paper, 14th c.  Used for the editio princeps in 1668.  Also known as the Holmiensis.
  • Other manuscripts exist.  The Venice, Marcianus, 43, written in 1374, is a copy of the Monacensis, useful for pages that have since disappeared.  Other manuscripts are merely defective copies of the two main manuscripts.

The Migne edition (PG 13) reprints the 1759 edition of De la Rue.  The text has been printed by Klostermann in the GCS 41.1, Origenes Werke X, which is online.

An ANF English translation exists of books 2 and 10-14.  There seems to be  no English translation of books 15-17; only a German one in Origenes: Der Kommentar zum Evangelium nach Mattäus: Teil 2 Buch XIV-XVII (Vogt 1990).

There are also fragments of other books, preserved in the medieval catena-commentaries, which were collected by Lommatzsch.[2]  This, I find, references Matthew 27:25.

In addition, an ancient Latin translation exists, the Vetus interpretatio, known as the Commentariorum in Matthaeum series.  It perhaps dates to the 6th century and the times of Cassiodorus.  This begins at what we can see from the surviving Greek is book 12, chapter 9, and ends only a little before the end of Matthew’s gospel.  Unfortunately it contains no indication of Origen’s division into books.  Rather it is divided in the manuscripts into 145 sections, each beginning by quoting the Gospel text, and then giving a comment.[3]

For the GCS 38 edition of the Commentariorum Series (1933) Klostermann used the following manuscripts:

  • G = Codex Rothomagensis (= Gemmeticensis) 423, 10th century.
  • B = Codex Brugensis 58 (301), 12th c.
  • R = the readings of a lost codex from Reims, given by the edition of De la Rue.
  • L = Codex Londiniensis, British Library Additional 26761, 12th c.  Witness to a younger family of the text.

Comparison of the portion where both survive indicates that the translator is rather independent of his original; so much so, that Harnack and Zahn considered that Origen had written two editions.  Klostermann, the GCS editor[4], preferred to consider them as two witnesses to one text.

The work generally seems to have been neglected by translators.  English readers are very fortunate that the Ante-Nicene Fathers series contains a translation of the Greek books.  I have been unable to locate any translation of the Commentariorum Series.

  1. [1]Edited by Girod, SC 162 was the first volume of the Sources Chrétiennes edition, containing books 10-11; but no further volumes ever appeared
  2. [2]So the GCS preface.
  3. [3]John A. McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Origen, p.30: “Of the twenty-five books of the Matthew commentary, eight survive in Greek (books 10-17), which comment on Matthew 13:36-22:33. More of the work survived in an anonymous Latin translation of the late fifth (or early sixth century), which was passed on through the tradition in the form of thirty-five homiletical narratives on Matthew (confusing many readers, since they were not originally homilies of Origen). The Latin version begins at the point of the Greek text that corresponds with Greek book 12,  chapter 9 (relating to Matthew 16:13), but as it develops after that there is no way of  telling where one is in terms of the original Greek volume structure. The Latin version  carries on more or less to the end of Matthew (Matt. 27:66) omitting Matthew 28 altogether. It has been printed from modern times in a twofold way. The first section, which corresponds to the Greek text (covering Matt. 16:13-22:33) is known as the Vetus  Interpretatio. The other section, which has no corresponding Greek original (Matt. 22:24-27:66), is called the Commentariorum Series. It is divided into (and thus referenced as) 145 chapters, apparently based simply upon verse divisions.  Further Reading: Bastit-Kalinowska (1995a, 1995b).”
  4. [4]GCS 38, Origenes Werke XI, p.259. Homily 124.  This is accessible online.

Origen, Fragments on Proverbs – translation by Travis Fernald now online

Travis Fernald has been doing an MA at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, on Origen’s views on human wisdom as expressed in his Commentary on Proverbs; or rather, on what now remains of it – some 17 columns in the Patrologia Graeca 13.  He wrote to tell me about this, and has very kindly made the translation available to us all online.  Here it is:

As may quickly be seen, it contains some interesting material, such as Origen’s answer to the question “what is a parable”:

Therefore a parable is a story about some event which did not literally happen, but could have happened and which figuratively shows matters through participation in the words of the parable. It did not really happen according to the words “A sower went out…” as we would say historical events do, but nevertheless it could have happened exactly as it is written.

All these little translations have value, and it is great to see people arranging for them to appear online.  Thank you, Mr. Fernald!


From my diary

Lately I’ve been taking an interest in the monuments of Mithras in Egypt.  Apparently some are in the museum in Alexandria, while others come from Memphis and are in the Graeco-Roman room in the Cairo museum.  I haven’t been very fortunate in finding images from either online.  Is it possible that one or both of these museums discourages tourist photographs?

I’m quite tempted to fly out there and take some photos myself.  It’s telling that a monument of the lion-headed god appears in various publications in the very same, low-grade, monochrome image!  Clearly nobody has access to anything better.  On the other hand all the flights that I could see, with British Airways and Egyptair, all fly out at the end of the day, to arrive near midnight.  What’s that about, I wonder?

The hour changed last weekend, so everybody is jet-lagged (which is why I am writing this at 7:45 am; no sleep).  But I intend to go over to Cambridge University Library late this afternoon, and photocopy an article in Mithras in Egypt, as well as a page from the CIMRM that was accidentally omitted from the PDF that I have.

Last night I managed to do a fix to the code behind the Mithras website, which should make image handling rather easier.  Always so much to do!

A note arrived from the typesetter on the Origen volume.  He’s working away on fixes to the footnoting, which went awry a revision or two back.  Being a publisher is very hard work, let me tell you!


From my diary

I’m very busy with the Mithras site, uploading more data about monuments.  Last night I worked on the page on the Caernarvon Mithraeum, adding information from the excavation report.  It was discovered in 1959, during preparatory work by a jerry-builder developer, and is now a set of rather dreary-looking 50’s houses.  Today I’ve been looking for images of the finds, and failing.

On my last visit to Wales – to Swansea – I stopped at Caerleon, and was very sad at the obvious poverty there.  Judging from Google Street View, north Wales is the same.  There used to be a purpose-built museum at the site of Segontium, the Roman fort at Caernarvon.  The council handed over responsibility for running it to a local trust, and then, a few years later, removed the council funding.  The museum is now closed.

I have been trying to find out what became of the finds from the dig.  This itself is not easy.  That the council anticipated the final outcome seems obvious to me; the trust was merely a patsy, to take the blame for the inevitable council-driven closure.  It is very sad to find a town with so little civic pride that it closes its museums.  Shame on the town council.  I doubt the cost was much.  Other councils are playing the same game and closing down public libraries.

I wonder how long the one in my own town will survive such maneouverings?  The running of the library has already been outsourced.  How long before the council funding is chopped?  A volume on Roman Koln awaits me there this weekend.

I’ve also been looking at an entry in the CIMRM, on a tauroctony from Fala castle, in what is now Slovenia.  No trace of this item, or of any museum in the area, to be found online!  It is remarkable how archaeology just disappears!

The National Library of Wales is digitising Welsh publications – well done.  Among these, according to Wikipedia, is Archaeologia Cambrensis, in which the Segontium Mithraeum was published.  But … it is not on the website.  I do hope that journal owners are not being obscurantist.

I have been impressed again today with how easy it is to find older publications online.  Despite the barriers of copyright!

The Origen book has a load of formatting errors, and needs rework.  I shall print it off on sheets of A4, and mark up the sheets in red ink, very precisely.  Otherwise we will be at this in a year’s time!


Origen’s Homilies on the Psalms – in English in a dissertation

A correspondent has drawn my attention to the existence of an English translation of Origen’s nine surviving homilies on the psalms.  It is to be found in a dissertation by Michael Heintz, The pedagogy of the soul: Origen’s “Homilies on the Psalms“, Notre Dame, 2008.  It can be accessed via the commercial ProQuest database – some may have subscriptions at their university – as UMI Number: 3309539.

Of course this does not include the recent discovery of a whole mass of Origen’s homilies.  These are those on Ps.36-38 (37-39 in the other numbering).  The prologue by Rufinus, the translator (into Latin), is also included.


From my diary

I’m mainly busy with the Mithras site at the moment.

I’ve been working through a list of new finds since 1960 made by John W. Brandt, together with a list by Szabo Csaba.  In each case I do a web search for pictures or sites.  I did the Riegel Mithraeum on Friday night.  It’s slow, but useful.

I wish I could find a picture of the curious sword found at Riegel.  This had a semi-circle in the middle of the blade, as wide as a man’s neck.  If put on, it would look as if a sword had been driven through the neck.  Undoubtedly it featured in some initiation ceremony.

Today I collected a curious volume from the library – Al. N. Oikonomides, Mithraic art: a search for unpublished and unidentified monuments.  It’s only a little book, with monochrome photos of a few such.  But it’s still very interesting, if not very scholarly.  It’s basically a set of random notes typed up.

The Origen volume has come back from the typesetter with the latest set of corrections, and I have now produced a proof copy for the translator, and another for me.  I think that I will allow one set of corrections from this, and then go to print.  Somewhere there has to be an end to this task.  The typesetter, Simon Hartshorne, has been very good about this indeed, but I am embarassed to trespass on his generosity much more.

I’m probably doing some other things as well: just can’t think of them tonight!


A list of the works of Origen (Jerome, Letter 33)

A correspondent kindly sent me some extracts of a English translation of Henri Crouzel’s book on Origen.[1]  On p.37-38 I find an English translation of the list of Origen’s works, as given by Jerome in letter 33.  This is very useful information, and I reproduce it below.

On Genesis 13 books;[3] assorted homilies 2 books; on Exodus scholia; on Leviticus scholia; Stromateis 10 books; on Isaiah 36 books; also on Isaiah scholia; on Hosea about Ephraim 1 book; on Hosea a commentary; on Joel 2 books; on Amos 6 books; on Jonah 1 book; on Micah 3 books; on Nahum 2 books; on Habakkuk 3 books; on Zephaniah 2 books; on Haggai 1 book; on the beginning of Zechariah 2 books; on Malachi 2 books; on Ezekiel 29 books. Scholia on the Psalms from the first to the fifteenth;[4] also a book on each of the Psalms[5] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 24, 29, 38, 40. On Psalm 43, 2 books; on Psalm 44, 3 books; on Psalm 45 1 book; on Psalm 46, 1 book; on Psalm 50, 2 books; on Psalm 51, 1 book; on Psalm 51, 1 book; on Psalm 53, 1 book; on Psalm 57, 1 book; on Psalm 58, 1 book; on Psalm 59, 1 book; on Psalm 62, 1 book; on Psalm 63, 1 book; on Psalm 64, 1 book; on Psalm 65,1 book; on Psalm 68, 1 book; on Psalm 70, 1 book; on Psalm 71, 1 book; on the beginning of Psalm 72, 1 book; on Psalm 103, 2 books. On the Proverbs 3 books; on Ecclesiastes scholia; on the Song of Songs 10 books and two other volumes which he wrote in his youth; on the Lamentations of Jeremiah five volumes. Also the Monobibla;[6] four books On Principles;[7] two books On the Resurrection and two others on the Resurrection which are dialogues; a book on certain problems of the Proverbs; the dialogue against Candidus the Valentinian; a book on martyrdom.

Of the New Testament; on Matthew 25 books; on John 32 books;[8] scholia on certain parts of John, 1 book; on Luke 15 books; on the epistle of the apostle Paul to the Romans 15 books; on the epistle to the Galatians 15 books;[9] on the epistle to the Ephesians 3 books; on the epistle to the Philippians 1 book; on the epistle to the Colossians 2 books;[10] on the first epistle to the Thessalonians 3 books;[11] on the second epistle to the Thessalonians 1 book; on the epistle to Titus 1 book; on the epistle to Philemon 1 book.

Also homilies on the Old Testament: on Genesis 17;[12] on Exodus 8;[13] on Leviticus II;[14] on Numbers 28; on Deuteronomy 13; on Jesus, son of Nave (Joshua) 26; on the book of the Judges 9; on the Passover 8; on the first book of the Kings 4;[15] on Job 22; on the Proverbs 7; on Ecclesiastes 8; on the Song of Songs 2; on Isaiah 32; on Jeremiah 14;[16] on Ezekiel 12. A homily on Psalms 3, 4, 8, 12, 13; 3 on Psalm 15; on the Psalms 16, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27; 5 on Psalm 36; 2 on Psalms 37, 38, 39; 1 on Psalms 49, 51; 2 on Psalm 52; 1 on Psalm 54; 7 on Psalm 67; 2 on Psalm 71; 3 on Psalms 72 and 73; 1 on Psalms 74 and 75; 3 on Psalm 76; 9 on Psalm 77; 4 on Psalm 79; 2 on Psalm 80; 1 on Psalm 81; 3 on Psalm 82; 1 on Psalm 83; 2 on Psalm 84; 1 on Psalms 85, 87, 108, 110; 3 on Psalm 118; 1 on Psalm 120; 2 on Psalms 121, 122. 123,  124; 1 on Psalms 125, 127, 128, 129, 131; 2 on Psalms 132, 133, 134; 4 on Psalm 135; 2 on Psalm 137; 4 on Psalm 138; 2 on Psalm 139; 3 on Psalm 144; 1 on Psalms 145, 146, 147, 149, Scholia on the whole Psalter.

Homilies on the New Testament: on the Gospel of Matthew 25; on the Gospel of Luke 39; on the Acts of the Apostles 17; on the second epistle to the Corinthians 11[17] on the epistle to the Thessalonians 2;[18] on the epistle to the Galatians 7; on the epistle to Titus 1; on the epistle to the Hebrews 18. A homily on peace. A (homily) of exhortation to Pionia. On fasting. On cases of monogamy and trigamy[19] 2 homilies. At Tarsus[20] 2 homilies. Also scholia by Origen. Two books of letters from Firmilian,
Gregory and various persons: the epistles of the synods of Origen’s case are in Book II. Nine books of letters from him to various people; the letter in defence of his works is in Book II.

I imagine the footnotes that Crouzel gives are also useful:

3. Eusebius says 12: HE VI. XXIV, 2.
4. Perhaps it should be to the twenty-fifth: cf. Eusebius’s Iist below.
5. The psalms are numbered according to the Greek, not the Hebrew, system.
6. Etymologically: books (or Bible) only. We have no idea what that meant.
7. The famous Peri Archon or De Principiis.
8. 22 according to Eusebius HE VI, XXIV, 1: but we have Books XXVIII and XXXII.
9. This figure is certainly wrong. The von der Goltz codex only speaks of five volumes
covering the whole of the epistle and notes the verses commented on in each volume. See E. von der Goltz, Eine textkritische Arbeit des zehnten bezw. sechsten Jahrhundert. Texte und Untersuchungen XVII 4. Leipzig, 1899. p. 95. Jerome also mentions five books in Letter 112 to Augustine, §4.
10. In reality 3 books of which the von der Goltz codex notes the verses on which each
comments: see previous note.
11. A long passage of the third book is quoted in Latin translation by Jerome in Letter 119 to Minervius and Alexander, §§9-10 .
12. Sixteen homilies are usually reproduced but a Homily XVII is given in PG 13. 253-262: its text is the same as that of part of the De Benedictionibus Pamarchorum of Rufinus and it is eliminated as unauthentic for that reason, a faker being thought to have made up a homily of Origen out of that passage of Rufinus. I confess myself sceptical about this solution and think the opposite equally plausible: the early Fathers having no idea of literary etiquette – shown in numerous cases, the typical examples being Ambrose of Milan – Rufinus may well have sent to Paulinus of Nob who was asking for a treatise one which began by reproducing a homily by Origen which Rufinus had himself translated. In Letter 72 to Evangelus Jerome mentions a homily on Melchisedec which is no longer extant.
13. We have 13 of them.
14. We have 16 of them.
15. That is of Samuel.
16. These are the 14 that Jerome translated, but we have 22 and also in the Philocalia fragments of homilies 21 and 39.
17.  Perhaps we should read the ‘first epistle’, for we have numerous fragments on it published by Cl. Jenkins in the Journal of Theological Studies IX-X, 1908-1909.  Jerome says in Letter 48 to Pammachius §3 that Origen gave long expositions of this epistle. On the other hand we have no fragments on 2 Corinthians.
18. First or second?
19. These words mean in the primitive Church those who have been married once and
those who have been married three times successively. Three simultaneous marriages would have been illegal in the Greco-Roman world .
20. There is no other evidence of a stay by Origen in Tarsus. From this point on we
reproduce the text as corrected by P. Nautin.

Isn’t it odd that nobody has ever thought it worthwhile to produce an English translation of all of Jerome’s letters?  This awkward, difficult man stands at the foot of all western biblical studies, and is of incredible importance for the history of Christianity in the west.  Yet the majority of his works – written in simple Latin – remain untranslated.

  1. [1]H. Crouzel, Origen, tr. A.S. Worrall, T&T Clark, 1989.

From my diary

The translation of Origen’s exegetical works on Ezekiel has been proof-read all the way through, and a long but not very serious list of minor issues produced.  Next week I shall do a comparison of bold-face passages in the PDF with the original Word document, and then send the lot to the typesetter to be fixed.

My sincere thanks to John Literal, who volunteered his time and his eyes to read through the text.  It’s a hard task to do, and impossible for either myself or the translator to do, as we have seen the text so many times.  I am very grateful.  Thank you, John!


Did Origen say “The Scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written”?

I came across a post online which made some curious claims about Origen, repeated from here.  In particular:

The Scriptures,” Origen maintained, “are of little use to those who understand them as they are written.”

But did Origen say this? At the Logos forums the same question is asked, but with little result.

A Google Books search quickly reveals a likely US source for the quotation: Charles Anthon, A Classical Dictionary: Containing the Principle Proper Names Mentioned in Ancient Authors (1841: this reprint 1888), vol. 2, p.936:

For, whether from a defect in judgement or from a fault in his education, he applied to the Scriptures the allegorical method which the Platonists used in interpreting the heathen mythology.  He says himself, “that the source of many evils lies in adhering to the carnal or external part of Scripture.  Those who do so shall not attain the kingdom of God.  Let us therefore seek after the spirit and the substantial fruit of the word, which are hidden and mysterious.”  And again, “the Scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written.”

This gives us a little more to work with: and a search on “origen carnal external” quickly takes us to Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History[1], 1824, vol. 1, p.218, note h, which states:

h Origen in his Stromata, book x. expresses himself in the following manner: “the source of many evils lies in adhering to the carnal or external part of Scripture. Those who do so shall not attain to the kingdom of God. Let us therefore seek after the spirit and the substantial fruit of the word which are hidden and mysterious.” And again “the Scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written.” One would think it impossible that such expressions should drop from the pen of a wise man. But the philosophy which this great man embraced with such zeal was one of the sources of his delusion. He could not find in the Bible the opinions he had adopted as long as he interpreted that sacred book according to its literal sense. But Plato, Aristotle, Zeno and indeed the whole philosophical tribe could not fail to obtain for their sentiments a place in the gospel when it was interpreted by the wanton inventions of fancy and upon the supposition of a hidden sense to which it was possible to give all sorts of forms. Hence all who desired to model Christianity according to their fancy or their favourite system of philosophy embraced Origen’s method of interpretation.

Anthon, it seems, simply quoted Mosheim, here translated from the Latin[2] and doubtless paraphrased along the way, but omitted the reference.   A more accurate translation was made by James Murdock (1832)[3], and in vol.1, p.181, we find the following:

(8) Origen in his Stromata l.x, cited by Ch. de la Rue, Opp. tom i., p. 41, says, Multorum malorum occasio est, si quis in carne Scripturae maneat. Quae qui fecerint, regnum Dei non consequentur. Quamobrem spiritum Scripturae fructusque quaeramus qui non dicuntur manifesti. He had said a little before, Non valde eos juvat Scriptura, qui eam intelligunt ut scriptum est. Who would suppose such declarations could fall from the lips of a wise and considerate person? But this excellent man suffered himself to be misled by the causes mentioned and by his love of philosophy. He could not discover in the sacred books all that he considered true so long as he adhered to the literal sense; but allow him to abandon the literal sense, and to search for recondite meanings, and those books would contain Plato, Aristotle, Zeno and the whole tribe of philosophers. And thus nearly all those who would model Christianity according to their own fancy or their favourite system of philosophy have run into this mode of interpreting Scripture.

The Latin does indeed more or less mean what is given by Maclaine.

The Stromata of Origen is, of course, a lost work.  But here we get a proper reference, to the edition of Charles de la Rue, no less, which is what the Patrologia Graeca reprints.  So we can now use Migne to examine the text!

It’s PG 11 (Origen vol. 1), col. 99 f.  The first quotation from book 10 of the Stromata is on col. 106 C-D, and comes from a Latin source, Jerome’s 3 books of Commentary on Galatians, chapter 5, discussing Gal. 5:13.  The second is from the same source, col. 105 D, and reads somewhat differently to the quotation:

Sed neque in his consequentiam desperare debemus: quia opera carnis divinorum voluminum historia continent; non valde eos juvans qui sic eam intellegunt, ut scripta est.

I can’t quite make out from the Latin what the context is, except that the next sentence refers to multiple marriages by the patriarchs and the like.  Andrew Cain made a translation of this work for the Fathers of the Church series, and I can see on Google Books a preview of p.218 with the first quotation:

Clinging to the flesh [that is, the literal meaning] of Scripture opens up the door for many evils.  “Those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  So, then, let us seek the spirit of Scripture and the fruits that are not readily apparent to the eye.

Unfortunately I can’t view p.216 or 217 which must contain our quotation.  Can anyone else have any more luck?  It is infuriating not to have access, I must say!

UPDATE: A kind correspondent has sent me copies of those pages.  Here is what Jerome says:

5. 13a. Brothers, you were called to be free. Just do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (The word “use” is implied; the latin translator supplied it because it is not found in the Greek).

Given the obscurity of this verse, I have thought it best to insert a translated portion from the tenth book of Origen’s Miscellanies. I have done this not because individual parts [of this verse] cannot be explained according to their proper context and sense, but because, if they are isolated from the preceding passage, they comprise a single, indiscernible mass, and, if they are understood literally, they seem internally dissonant and logically inconsistent.

These are Origen’s words:

This is a difficult passage and so it requires elucidation. The one who is free and who, in a more elevated sense, pursues the Spirit and truth disdains both the letter and the types which precede [the realities they foreshadow]. He must not look down on lesser [Christians] and give those who cannot grasp spiritual profundities an occasion for despairing completely about their plight. For although they are weak, and although they are called flesh in comparison with the Spirit, they are nevertheless the flesh of Christ. For if he apprehends the mystery of the love which senses the lesser one, let him do what he can for the weak to make sure that a brother for whom Christ died may not perish  in deficiency of knowledge . Watch closely to see whether this is the sense that emerges from the discussion below.

 “Brothers, you were called to be free.” Perhaps he says this because not everyone could understand the calling to freedom. This is why you now hear, “Just do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” The greater must serve the lesser out of love, and he who aspires to be greater will become the servant of all. Therefore, the spiritual man must not tear to pieces [believers who are] Christ’s flesh, nor must he give them an opportunity to bite and devour one another. The one who walks by the Spirit and abides by the words of Scripture in the spirit of Scripture must not gratify the desires of his flesh.

Most take literally the injunction, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” If we do the same, Paul will do a sudden turn-about and contradict the argument and the point of his entire epistle. He continues right after this, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” The discourse has to some extent been internally consistent up to this point. If we again subscribe to the literal meaning, Paul leads us at once from a discussion about flesh and Spirit to random precepts, that is, “The deeds of the flesh are obvious,” and by contrast, “The fruit of the Spirit is love,” and so on. But we must not be dismayed by the implication of these statements.  The divine books record deeds of the flesh — a fact that is not edifying for those who take the narrative literally. Who will not be prompted to become a slave to extravagance and regard sexual immorality as something permissible when he reads that Judah propositioned a prostitute and that the patriarchs had many wives at once? How will someone not be inspired to worship idols when he thinks that the blood of bulls and the rest of the sacrifices detailed in Leviticus have no further significance attached to them than what the letter of the Law conveys? What Scripture teaches about hostilities is clearly shown in this passage, “O wretched daughter of Babylon, happy is he who will repay you for what you have done to us. Happy is he who will seize your infants and dash them against the rocks,” and also in this one, “Every morning I destroyed all the wicked in the land,” and so on. Comparable passages may be adduced which deal with discord, jealousy, rage, quarrels, and dissensions. If we do not go with a spiritual interpretation of them, examples from history will stir us toward these [vices] rather than deter us from them. Heresies, too, have taken rise more from the literal interpretation of Scripture than from the work of our flesh, as most people think. We learn envy and drunkenness from the letter of the Law. After the flood Noah got drunk, and so did the patriarchs when they were in Egypt visiting their brother Joseph. There are stories in the Book of Kingdoms and elsewhere about revelries. For instance, David danced in celebration and tambourines made loud music before God’s Ark of the Covenant. One might ask how the literal word of divine Scripture, which is called its flesh, leads us into sorcery and magic, unless we make our way toward the spirit of the same Scripture. This is what is meant, I believe, when it is said that Moses was educated in all the wisdom and learning of the Egyptians, and that Daniel and the three boy’s were found to be ten times wiser than the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers.

Clinging to the flesh [that is, the literal meaning] of Scripture opens up the door for many evils. “Those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” So, then, let us seek the spirit of Scripture and the fruits that are not readily apparent to the eye. For the fruit of the Spirit is found in Scripture only with great effort, exertion, and careful study. I reckon that Paul was referring ever so carefully and cautiously to the literal meaning of Scripture when he said, “The deeds of the flesh are obvious.” As for the spiritual meaning, he did not say that the fruit of the Spirit is obvious, but he said instead, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” and so on. Now, if we leave behind types and move towards the Spirit and the truth of Scripture, first love is spread out before us, and then we move on to joy and peace on the way to acquiring patience. Who would not be educated in mercy and goodness when he regards aspects of the Law that seem gloomy to some — I mean penalties, wars, the toppling of nations, and the threats delivered by the prophets to the people — as remedies rather than punishments? For the Lord will not be angry forever. Since these things are evident to us, our faith will be more enlightened by reason and our conduct will be guided by temperance, which continence and chastity follow, and then the Law will begin to be favorable to us.

Here ends the quotation from Origen.

And there are our two passages.  Origen does indeed say what he is quoted to say.  He makes some interesting arguments, but today these issues would be dealt with by the idea of progressive revelation, rather than by this approach, whose weaknesses are obvious.

Interesting, tho, that he dismisses the literal sense of “David danced in celebration and tambourines made loud music before God’s Ark of the Covenant.”  I have certainly heard that verse used to justify both in pentecostal circles.

And I have to say that Andrew Cain has produced a rather excellent translation here.  It’s readable and comprehensible and, while we may not agree with all the points made by Origen, there is no doubt as to what he is saying.

  1. [1]Johann Lorenz Mosheim, An ecclesiastical history, ancient and modern, from the birth of Christ to the beginning of the present century: In which the rise, progress, and variation of church power, are considered in their connexion with the state of learning and philosophy, and the political history of Europe, during that period, in 4 vols, translated by Archibald Maclaine; 1764, but this reprint New York: Evert Duylinck, 1824.
  2. [2]Institutionum historiae ecclesiasticae libri IV, 1726
  3. [3]Under the title, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History.

Origen update

A couple of years ago I commissioned a translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel.  This ground away between 2009-2010, and then stopped.  The fault, in truth, was mine, in that I diverted the translator onto Philip of Side, or so the emails show. 

The problem now is to work out what was, and was not done.  What I’m doing is going through all the emails and all the files and looking at date stamps on the latter.

It’s already becoming clear that a very great deal was done.  All of the Latin material — 1 preface, 14 homilies — were translated, and they were all revised after comment from me.  Homilies 8-14 were revised again after that in early 2010 — I haven’t found out why, yet — and later still, homilies 1-6 were revised and compared with the Scheck translation that came out while it was in progress.  Homily 7 seems to have missed out, but I may find different later.  I also need to check the status of the Latin text for each homily.

I haven’t worked out the status on the Greek fragments.  One last fragment, from the Codex Marchialinus, has not been done at all; but the translator was working on that recently, and I have just emailed him a prompt.

Until I know precisely what the situation is, we can’t go forward; but I am actually rather encouraged to find that things are much nearer to completion than I had thought.

I’m going to compile a set of files with the latest revisions, and a statement in a Word document, for each portion of the book, of where it is, what has been done, and what needs to be done.  Once I have this, I can work out what needs to be done, and what I can do to make it happen.