Semester in Review

As I have now had the time to sufficiently “decompress” from the fall semester, a little reflection is in order.  This was my first semester as a graduate student at Catholic in the Greek and Latin department.  It was a busy, and often stressful, semester, but (Deo Gloria!) I did well.  I’m pleased with how the semester went, even if I could have done better (in Syriac especially).  

I took four classes: a Greek course in which we read Homer, Latin Prose Composition, a Late Antique History Seminar, and Intro to Syriac.  Reading Homer was difficult early in the semester.  I had not read much Greek poetry before that, and I’ve still not read much Odyssey and Iliad in translation.  The difficulty, as many will tell you, is the vocabulary.  However, by the middle of the semester, I was reading along without too much difficulty.  For my term paper, I wrote on the use of Homer by Gregory of Nazianzus in a few of his dogmatic poems.  This was a lot of fun to write, and if possible I’ll adapt some of my paper into blog posts.  

Latin Prose Composition was a terrific course, though quite difficult.  We used the venerable textbook by Bradley and Arnold (something with which my fellow classicists can no doubt identify).  As I’ve never had a formal course in Latin Grammar before (I was mostly self-taught before arriving at Catholic), I learned quite a bit.  We regularly translated English into Latin, which was beneficial and challenging.  In addition to now having declensions and conjugations drilled into my head, I have a much better grasp of syntax.  Soon I’ll get to apply all this to reading Cicero, which will be lots of fun!

The Late Antiquity seminar was quite useful.  The literature is so vast that it was more an introduction to the resources than anything else, but I read some useful books, both primary and secondary.  For my term paper, I wrote on Origen and Greek philosophy in the third century.  The paper was historical in its focus: I argued that “philosopher” is the most appropriate title for Origen, and that to understand the man one must understand how Greek philosophy operated during his life.  The paper was more of a survey than anything else, but I may expand some of the ideas into further papers (Deo temporeque volentibus!).  

Intro to Syriac was, at the end of the semester, my most difficult class.  I did well early on, when I had more time, and when the material was a bit easier.  But by the time we got to all the weak verbs in the final weeks of the semester I had a hard time keeping up.  This was my first semitic language, so much was new to me.  I’m thankful the formal grammar instruction is over: now we’ll move on to reading texts, which is the fun part!

The semester had several other milestones.  I finally completed the Ancient Citations Index for volume 2 of the Cambridge Companion to Ancient Mediterranean Religions. Prof. William Adler, one of my undergraduate professors, edited this volume, and it contains two articles by Catholic faculty (Fr. Sidney Griffiths and Prof. William Klingshirn).  It’s due out next year.  

I also presented my first academic paper at the annual meeting of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America.  The paper dealt with digital stemmatology and the Palaea Historica, a text on which I worked with Prof. Adler at NC State.  I enjoyed seeing Boston: the city is a lovely place.  My paper was well received, and I was able to hear interesting talks from others.  

I thankful for how well the semester went, and most especially because my wife and I are no longer in a long-distance relationship.  She finished her bachelor’s degree this fall at NC State University, graduating summa cum laude and valedictorian with a degree in Computer Engineering!  I am extremely proud, and enormously thankful to have her as my wife.  As smart as she is, she is even more loving and loyal.  She will now be joining me in DC and starting her job in January.  

Τῷ δὲ δυναμένῳ ὑπὲρ πάντα ποιῆσαι ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ ὧν αἰτούμεθα ἢ νοοῦμεν κατὰ τὴν δύναμιν τὴν ἐνεργουμένην ἐν ἡμῖν,  αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν. (Eph. 3:20)

ἐν αὐτῷ,


Origen: Ex Tempore Homilies Revisited

Several months ago, when the newly rediscovered Origen codex first came to light, I suggested that some of the homilies were impromptu lectures, possibly delivered in a school context rather than a church context.  That was mostly a guess based on the content of the homilies;  at that point I had not examined Eusebius very closely, or the work of Gregory Thaumatourgos (I still need to look at Epiphanius).  I still have plenty of primary source material to examine, but I’d like to revisit that suggestion now that I know a bit more.  I may just have made a lucky guess!

Steven Huller noted in a comment on that original post the Eusebius records that Origen only allowed tachygraphers to record his homilies near the end of his life (when he was past 60).  Here’s the passage in question:

Τότε δῆτα, οἷα καὶ εἰκὸς ἦν, πληθυούσης τῆς πίστεως πεπαρρησιασμένου τε τοῦ καθ’ ἡμᾶς παρὰ πᾶσιν λόγου, ὑπὲρ τὰ ἑξήκοντά φασιν ἔτη τὸν Ὠριγένην γενόμενον, ἅτε δὴ μεγίστην ἤδη συλλεξάμενον ἐκ τῆς μακρᾶς παρασκευῆς ἕξιν, τὰς ἐπὶ τοῦ κοινοῦ λεγομένας αὐτῶι διαλέξεις ταχυγράφοις μεταλαβεῖν ἐπιτρέψαι, οὐ πρότερόν ποτε τοῦτο γενέσθαι συγκεχωρηκότα.  ἐν τούτωι καὶ τὰ πρὸς τὸν ἐπιγεγραμμένον καθ’ ἡμῶν Κέλσου τοῦ Ἐπικουρείου Ἀληθῆ λόγον ὀκτὼ τὸν ἀριθμὸν συγγράμματα συντάττει καὶ τοὺς εἰς τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον εἴκοσι πέντε τόμους τούς τε εἰς τοὺς δώδεκα προφήτας, ἀφ’ ὧν μόνους εὕρομεν πέντε καὶ εἴκοσι. (Hist. Eccl. 6.36)

My translation, with a little help from Williamson:

“Then at that time, while the faith was growing and our message had been boldly proclaimed in the presence of all, it was fitting for Origen, who was past 60 years of age and had gained great learning due to broad study, to allow tachygraphers to record his lectures spoken in public, which he had not consented to prior.  During this same time he wrote 8 books against the work True Doctrine of Celsus the Epicurean, along with 25 books on the Gospel of Matthew and 25 on the minor prophets, from which we have only 25.”

This is a puzzling passage for scholars.  What exactly are these public lectures?  Some argue that Eusebius is referring to debates like the Dialogue with Heraclides.  The majority opinion (at least Crouzel and Nautin, two very important of the recent Origen scholars) believe that Eusebius is referring to homilies spoken in the Church.  Since Nautin dates almost all of the homilies before 245, and he simply dismisses the account as a fiction.

But instead of dismissing the account, I’d suggest that we understand a different type of public lecture.  διαλέξις was a commonly used to describe philosophical lectures, and that is what I think we have here.  Origen was in charge of a philosophical school in Caesarea, and regularly gave lectures to his students.  Eusebius mentions this only obliquely in 6.30, but we get a vivid picture from Gregory Thaumaturgus’s Panegyric of Origen.

Within this passage, Eusebius mentions that the “our λόγος had been emboldened among all” and notes that these were spoken ἐπὶ τοῦ κοινοῦ, which might mean “before the church,” but could also mean “before the public.”  Finally, he mentions Origen’s Contra Celsum, which would explicitly confirm Origen’s abiding interest in Greek philosophy.  

We know that Origen gave many philosophical lectures in his school.  Likewise, Eusebius tells us that people came from all over to hear Origen lecture while he was in Caesarea (Hist. Eccl. 6.30).  Gregory also tells us that in addition to standard Greek philosophy, Origen lectured on biblical exegesis. (Orat. Paneg. 15).  

So why would Origen allow tachygraphers to record his homilies in the Church before his school lectures?  I think it’s mostly a matter of audience and subject matter.  School lectures would deal with topics on a much more sophisticated level, and involve much more philosophical speculation.  Origen would also have to be ready to answer questions from the audience, as there was plenty of interaction between students and teacher in a philosophical school.  Church homilies, on the other hand, would be targeted at a less sophisticated audience: thus he allowed tachygraphers to record these homilies earlier.  The subject matter was also lest controversial. 

Do we have any evidence for this in his writings? I think the new codex offers evidence for both types of discourse.  Homilies like the ones on Psalm 36 were probably spoken in the Church.  They deal with largely moral matters: Rufinus in his translator’s preface says that the explication in them is entirely moral (expositio tota moralis est.)  But others were probably spoken in the school.  The four on Psalm 76 are explicitly labelled in the heading as “Ex tempore Homilies on the 76th Psalm.” [εἰς τὸν οστ´ (sc. ψαλμὸν) ἐσχεδιασμέναι ὁμιλίαι].  (folio 170v.)  Here’s the snippet from the codex:


I haven’t done an exhaustive check, but I haven’t seen any other homilies in the codex that are explicitly labeled as “impromptu.”  Likewise, I have only read through one of the four homilies, but it strikes me as a very good candidate for a school lecture.  Homily 3 on Psalm 76 begins with a question, “Of what sort are these waters that see God?”  Origen dives into a discussion on many speculative question: does the sky and earth have a soul?  Do rivers and seas have souls? How do angelic administrators work? (See here for my text and translation).

Thus, I’d suggest that Eusebius is referring to school lectures rather than church homilies in this passage.  I haven’t come across this solution in the secondary literature, but if you’ve seen this suggestion do let me know.  Furthermore, I think the new material gives us a chance to compare both types: school lecture and church homily.  I certainly look forward to hearing Perrone’s thoughts once the critical edition is published.

ἐν αὐτῷ,