The Genre of the Origen Homilies

Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism, Dirk Jongkind has an interesting post about a variant in 1 Cor. 4:13 which he found in the newly discovered Origen manuscript (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. graec. 314).  Near the end, he asks,

However, since these are sermons, do we know how these were published? Did someone take short-hand notes? And were these then later cleaned up and edited? Or did Origen write the sermon first and read it out? This last option is unlikely for a man as brilliant as Origen.

I think I’ve found evidence that suggests that these were, more or less, impromptu or extemporaneous lectures.  In particular, the scribe uses σχέδιον and cognate forms to refer to the homilies.  τὸ σχέδιον, according to LSJ, can mean “extemporaneous, or impromptu speech.”

Here is an example from the section with which I’ve been working on this blog:


The first line contains the end of the previous homily, “καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ἀμήν.” Then, the second line reads, “σχέδιον β’ ψαλμοῦ οστ’” (The second σχέδιον on the 76th psalm), which closes the previous homily.  On the next line, we see a cognate form: “ὁμιλία γ’    οστ’  ψαλμοῦ        ἐσχεδιασμένη.” (The 3rd homily on the 76th psalm  ἐσχεδιασμένη”

Here we perfect passive participle form of σχεδιάζω, which according to the LSJ  means, “do a thing off-hand, or on the spur-of-the-moment, improvise.” So, we have an improvised speech.

This leads me to believe that we’re dealing with impromptu speeches, which are likely in response to questions.  This particular “homily” could easily have been sparked by, “Of what kind are these waters that see God?”” which is the first sentence of this homily.

This also leads me to believe that “homily” is something of a misnomer.  The Greek word, of course, is ὁμιλία, the word from which we derive “homily.”  However, in English homily always refers to a speech delivered in a liturgical context (ie, a sermon).  The Greek word has a long history, and only came to be applied to sermons in the Christian era.  LSJ lists a number of meanings, but I think “lecture” is likely the most suitable English word (though that does connote a prepared speech, and these appear to be extemporaneous).

Thus, I think the setting for at least some of these “homilies” was the school, rather than the church.  This would be the more appropriate setting for philosophical speculation we see here.  For an article contrasting Origen’s public and private views, see here.  They might also be contrasted in terms of setting: public, more certain theology was for the Church.  Private, more speculative philosophy/theology was for the school.  My guess is that the text we have contains both sorts.  The homilies on Ps. 36-38 that Rufinus translated sound more like moral exhortations than philosophical speculation.  Here, though, we have the latter.


ἐν αὐτῷ,


Update: I was unsure initially, but the ms. reads ἐσχεδιασμένη (sc. ὁμιλία).  I’ve updated the post accordingly.

4 thoughts on “The Genre of the Origen Homilies

  1. Don’t forget that Eusebius says that Origen only allowed for his ‘homilies’ to be written down when he turned sixty. Depending on when this was (dates of 235 – 241 have been suggested) it happens to coincide with the Crisis of the Third Century. Origen may have felt far more comfortable because of the breakdown of Imperial authority. Remember many scholars have noted that the evidence seems to suggest he was chased out of time for his self-castration and related ‘heretical beliefs.’ Jerome reports that it was Demetrius and the Imperial senate who effective condemned Origen. 235 – 241 would be a great time to ‘open up’ about what you really believed

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