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.