Origen on Soul-Kidneys (Pt. 5)

The fifth and final part of a series I originally published in 2017.


The post brings to an end this series on Soul-Kidneys. Origen here goes into a bit more detail on the analogy between the “soul kidneys” and “body kidneys.” He thinks that that sperm comes together in the kidneys (perhaps adopting a Hippocratic notion, see Boylan (1986) 56 for relevant citations from the Hippocratic treatise Peri Gones1). Only after is sperm expelled. So in the “soul kidneys” there is “spiritual seed” that corresponds to ideas and concepts in potential. Origen ends by exhorting his audience to follow the example of Jesus and Paul.

English Translation

(From hom 2 in Ps. 15 section 5)

[5] You will grasp things like this if you can hear and judge spiritual things by spiritual means. This is what the passage means that says, “and when the nations that have no law do by nature the things of the law, though they have no law, they are a law for themselves, as they demonstrate that the work of the law is written in their hearts, and their conscience bears witness with it.” Perhaps these sorts of letters are also written in their heart. But pay attention to when it is written— when I am a young child it it not written in my heart, but when I begin to be able to receive the law of God in my heart, then this law is written, not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, with the seeds that were already present in the so-called kidneys. For the names of body parts are taken by analogy to their bodily function as referring to the faculties of the soul. In a similar way, the eyes of the soul, which are said to be enlightened by the command of God, are called by the same name as the eyes of the body, since they function analogously to the eyes of the body. The eyes of the body see bodies and colors, and the eyes of the soul see the intelligibles.2

So then, if the heart of the soul is called by the same name as the heart of the body, which receives the governing faculty, notice for me that the same analogy applies to the heart that applies to the eyes and ears of the soul. And so, if you hear that the kidneys of the soul are searched by God, understand “soul” in a manner analogous to the eyes and ears and heart. Just as the bodily heart possesses the governing faculty (this is why it is said, “you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart”), so what happens in the kidneys of the soul is analogous to what happens in the kidneys of the body. The sperm comes together in the kidneys and the male has them near the kidneys. By this, he becomes potent and fertile. In the same way, the fertile soul has the potentialities of spiritual seeds3 in its kidneys. For the soul, having “seed” by its kidneys, sows this seed if it is worthy of holy blessing and doesn’t do deserving of the curse that says, “there shall be no one among you who is infertile or sterile.”

So then, when you hear the Savior as a human say, “I will bless the Lord who instructed me; even in the night my kidneys taught me,” You should say the same. You should also say, “I would behold the Lord before me continually.” After all, the Lord dwells within you continually, if you wish it. Imitate him like Paul and you will find that the Lord is in you continuously. For you also will say, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

“I would behold…” that is, I have eyes that see that the Lord is before me continually. When is the Lord before me? When his Word is before me, and when I fulfill the law of God that says, “you shall place these words on your hands and they shall remain fixed before your eyes.” This is how “I would behold my Lord,” that is, the Word. Who is so blessed that he serves no one but the Word and says, “I would behold the Lord before me continually, because he was at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.”?4 If you dishonor the Word of God, the Word is at your left hand. If you dishonor him, this is how it is.5 But if you honor the Word of God, the Word of God is at your right hand. Because Judas dishonored God’s Word and cast him out with his left hand, he received the curse that says, “Let the devil stand at his right hand.”

Greek Text

[5]Τοιαῦτά τινα νοήσεις, ἐὰν δυνηθῇς ἀκούειν καὶ συγκρίνειν πνευματικὰ πνευματικοῖς. Οὕτω δὲ ἔχει ἡ λέξις· ὅταν δὲ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν, οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος· οἵτινες ἐνδείκνυνται τὸ ἔργον <τοῦ νόμου> γραπτὸν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν, συμμαρτυρούσης αὐτῶν τῆς συνειδήσεως. Καὶ τάχα γράφεται τοιαῦτα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ γράμματα. Πότε δὲ γράφεται, ἄκουε· ὅτε εἰμὶ νήπιος, οὐ γράφεταί μοι ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ, ἀλλὰ ὅτε ἄρχομαι δύνασθαι ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ λαμβάνειν νόμον θεοῦ, καὶ γράφεται οὗτος οὐ μέλανι ἀλλὰ πνεύματι θεοῦ ζῶντος, σπερμάτων προϋποκειμένων ἐν τοῖς καλουμένοις νεφροῖς. Σωματικὰ γὰρ ὀνόματα ἐπὶ τῶν δυνάμεων τῆς ψυχῆς παραλαμβάνεται κατὰ ἀναλογίαν τῶν σωματικῶν πραγμάτων. Οἷον ὀφθαλμοὶ λέγονται ψυχῆς φωτιζόμενοι εἶναι ὑπὸ τῆς ἐντολῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁμωνύμως τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς τοῦ σώματος, ἐπεὶ ἀνάλογον τῷ ἔργῳ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν τοῦ σώματος ποιοῦσιν οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ τῆς ψυχῆς· οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ τοῦ σώματος βλέπουσι σώματα καὶ χρώματα καὶ οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ τῆς ψυχῆς βλέπουσι τὰ νοητά. Οὕτως καὶ ὦτα λέγεται ψυχῆς ὁμωνύμως τοῖς ὠσὶ τοῦ σώματος.

Ἐὰν οὖν λέγηται καὶ καρδία ψυχῆς ὁμωνύμως τῇ καρδίᾳ τοῦ σώματος τῇ δεχομένῃ τὸ ἡγεμονικόν, νόει μοι καρδίαν ἀνάλογον ὀφθαλμοῖς ψυχῆς καὶ ὠσὶν αὐτῆς. Οὕτως ἐὰν νεφροὺς ἀκούσῃς τῆς ψυχῆς ἐταζομένους ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ, ἀνάλογον ὀφθαλμοῖς καὶ ὠσὶ καὶ καρδίᾳ ψυχὴν ἄκουε· οὔτε γὰρ σωματικὴν καρδίαν ἐτάζει ὁ θεὸς οὔτε σωματικοὺς νεφρούς. Καὶ ὥσπερ ἡ καρδία <κατὰ> τὸ σῶμα ἔχει τὸ ἡγεμονικόν—διὸ λέγεται τὸ ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου—, οὕτως ἀνάλογον τῷ γινομένῳ ἐν τοῖς νεφροῖς γίνεται ἐν τοῖς νεφροῖς τῆς ψυχῆς· ἐν τοῖς νεφροῖς συνίσταται τὰ σπέρματα καὶ ὁ ἄρρην περὶ τοὺς νεφροὺς ταῦτα ἔχει, καὶ οὕτως γόνιμος γίνεται. Οὕτως ἡ γόνιμος ψυχὴ τὰς δυνάμεις ἔχει τῶν πνευματικῶν σπερμάτων ἐν νεφροῖς ψυχῆς. Σπείρει γὰρ καὶ ψυχὴ περὶ τοὺς νεφροὺς ἔχουσα τὰ σπέρματα, ἐὰν ᾖ ἀξία εὐλογίας ἁγίας καὶ μακαριότητος καὶ μηδὲν ποιῇ ἄξιον τῆς λεγούσης ἀρᾶς· οὐκ ἔσται ἐν ὑμῖν ἄγονος οὐδὲ στεῖρα.

Ἀκούων οὖν τοῦ κατὰ τὸν σωτῆρα ἀνθρώπου λέγοντος· εὐλογήσω τὸν κύριον τὸν συνετίσαντά με, ἔτι δὲ καὶ ἕως νυκτὸς ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου, καὶ σὺ ταῦτα λέγε. λέγε δὲ καὶ τὸ προωρώμην τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου διὰ παντός. Καὶ γάρ σοι ἐνοικεῖ ὁ κύριος, ἐὰν θέλῃς, διὰ παντός. Γενοῦ ὡς Παῦλος ἐκείνου μιμητὴς καὶ εὑρήσεις ὅτι ἐν σοί ἐστιν ἀεὶ ὁ κύριος. Ἐρεῖς γὰρ καὶ σύ· ζῶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγώ, ζῇ δὲ ἐν ἐμοὶ Χριστός. Προωρώμην· ἔχω ὀφθαλμοὺς βλέποντας τὸν κύριον ὄντα ἀεὶ ἐνώπιόν μου. Πότε ἐνώπιόν μού ἐστιν ὁ κύριος; Τότε ἐνώπιόν μού ἐστιν ὁ λόγος, ὅτε τηρῶ τὸν νόμον τὸν τοῦ θεοῦ λέγοντα· “ἀφάψεις τοὺς λόγους τούτους ἐπὶ τῶν χειρῶν σου καὶ ἔσονται ἀσάλευτοι πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν σου”. Οὕτω γε προωρώμην τὸν κύριόν μου, τὸν λόγον. Τίς οὕτω μακάριος, ἵνα μηδενὶ δουλεύῃ ἢ τῷ λόγῳ καὶ λέγῃ· προωρώμην τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου διὰ παντός, ὅτι ἐκ δεξιῶν μού ἐστιν, ἵνα μὴ σαλευθῶ; Ἐὰν ἀτιμάσῃς τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ λόγος γίνεταί σοι ἐξ ἀριστερῶν· ἐὰν ἀτιμάσῃς, οὕτως ἐστίν. Ἐὰν δὲ τιμήσῃς τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ γίνεταί σοι ἐκ δεξιῶν· ἐπεὶ ἠτίμασε τοῦ θεοῦ τὸν λόγον Ἰούδας καὶ ἔβαλεν αὐτὸν ἐξ ἀριστερῶν, διὰ τοῦτο ἀρὰν λαμβάνει λέγουσαν τὸ στήτω ὁ διάβολος ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ.

  1. Boylan, Michael. 1986. “Galen’s Conception Theory.” Journal of the History of Biology 19 (1): 47–77.
  2. That is, “spiritual” reality that is only perceptible to the mind.
  3. Or even, given the context, “spiritual sperm”. The phrase here most likely refers to the “concepts and seeds of ideas in potential” mentioned earlier.
  4. The transition here is strange and there might be a problem with the text.
  5. If the text is sound, one imagines Origen makes some sort of gesture here to indicate left.

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