Here’s another post I originally published in 2017 on Origen’s Psalm Homilies.
Below you’ll find the Greek text of section 1 of Origen’s first Homily on Ps. 77 along with my translation. Beneath this, you’ll find my notes and comments.
(Update 3/27/17: James Snapp Jr wrote in, several weeks ago to point out an embarrassing typo and to direct me to Willer’s textual commentary on the Greek gospels: http://www.willker.de/wie/TCG/index.html
Willker notes that Porphyry and Eusebius mention the reading; both seem to be repeating Origen.)
We regularly say that the psalms with the prefix “of understanding” use this superscription to direct the listener to investigate carefully what has been said, as they need interpretation and explication, since every psalm with this prefix has dark sayings, riddles, and parables. This is indeed the case here, for we have the superscription, “of understanding, by Asaph” and immediately it says in the psalm, “I shall open my mouth in parables, I shall speak riddles as from the beginning.” (Ps. 77:2). One must know that Matthew mentions this saying– writing about how the Savior spoke in parables, he said, “so that the passage may be fulfilled ‘I shall open my mouth in parables; I shall speak in riddles as of from the beginning’ or rather, ‘ <I shall declare things hidden> since the establishing of the world’. (1) Though Matthew paraphrased with those sorts of words what was said in this way here, there occurred a scribal error in the copies of the gospel, for it says, “so that what was said through the prophet Isaiah may be fulfilled, ‘I will open my mouth in parables’”. It’s likely that one of the very first scribes found the text, “so that what was said through the prophet Asaph,” and supposed that it was an error because he did not realize that Asaph was a prophet. This caused him rashly to write “Isaiah” instead of “Asaph” because of his unfamiliarity with the prophet’s name.
Now it must be said that the devil generally plots against living creatures and plans to divide the churches, to contrive heresies and schisms, and to produce countless stumbling blocks among men. It’s no surprise, then, that he also plots against the scriptures. Since our salvation is through them, he contrives to introduce discrepancies among them, so that through these discrepancies readers might be scandalized. Which are we to heed, this one or that one? (2) You know all that we have labored over for God and for his grace, in juxtaposing the Hebrew text and the other editions to ascertain the proper correction of these mistakes. He will also grant aid in all that we want to do about the rest.
Now one must acknowledge this, that if someone ever proposes something as a contradiction in the scripture, we must not regard these as contradictions, as we know that either we don’t understand something or a scribal error has occurred, of the sort we find, for example, in the third book of Kings i.e. English 1 Kings. It is written there “Rehoboam reigned 16 years and reigned for 12 years over Jerusalem” (1 Kings 12:24) and later “He reigned for 41 years and 17 years over Jerusalem.” (1 Kings 14:21). It is impossible for the same man to have ruled for 16 years and to have ruled for 17 years.” But even if there not been this close scrutiny through our comparing the readings of the other editions, we would still hesitate to posit conflict among the scriptures because we discovered that one of them was interpolated.”
So we see that the devil plots against the scriptures, but we must not, therefore, rashly resort to correcting the text. For Marcion suffered from something of this sort in supposing that the scriptures were in error and that the devil had brought about additions. So he entrusted himself with the task of correcting the scripture. In so doing, he cut out from the foundations necessary parts of the gospels, like the birth of the savior, and countless others, like the visions and prophecies, and necessary parts of the apostle. As such, it’s reasonable for one have faith in the maker of heaven and earth and all within them more because of the universe and the order in it, than because of the scriptures. Likewise, it’s reasonable for one to believe in Christ Jesus more because of the clear display of his power in the churches, and from the multitude of the might he shows in ruling the world, than because the scriptures. Only afterwards should one then come to the scriptures, and even then, one should ask again for grace from God, so that we don’t misunderstand what has been written.
The scriptures are the pretext for much death coming upon souls. Every heresy takes its ungodly notions from the scriptures and from them they also think to establish them further. Some heresies have their roots in the gospels, some in the apostolic writings, some from the law, and some of the prophets. I say this not to impugn the scriptures, but because I want to show that initial faith comes about not so much on the basis of the scriptures as on the proof of something clearer than the scriptures. Heaven and Earth, and all within it, are a much clearer proof than the scriptures. I recall saying once while in discussion with some Marcionites, “There are two choices— what ought we to do? Believe in the scriptures, which you say lead to the Father, or believe in the universe and its order, which leads to the Demiurge (3)? For if the scriptures did not contain these, it would be reasonable for someone to look at the universe, see its order, and to believe in its creator, instead of holding the sorts of notions that you hold.” (4) And it seems to me that this was rightly said, and able to strike the one who’s looking for an argument clearer than this less persuasive one. For it’s a much clearer argument to look to heaven, the constellations, the sun, moon, and stars, the earth, and the animals on the earth, and then to their king on the earth, mankind, adorned with such skills, and then to marvel at the one who made all of this and receive the herald of such marvelous teaching, Jesus Christ, our Savior. This then is my defense of the passage in the gospel of Matthew, “in order to fulfill what was said by the prophet Isaiah, ‘I shall open my mouth in parables; I shall speak riddles as from the beginning.’”
There’s quite a bit that’s fascinating in this passage. Origen has a problem: his copies of Matthew attribute this passage to Isaiah, when it clearly comes from the psalms. His solution is text critical: he posits an emendation to change the name from Isaiah to Asaph. He even goes a step further and speculates on the reason for the change: a scribe didn’t realize who Asaph was, and substituted the name of a prophet he did know.
The situation in the mss is quite different. All of the early majuscules simply say “the prophet” without specifying a name, with one notable exception: Sinaiticus. It seems likely, however, that “Isaiah the prophet” was the reading in all of Origen’s manuscripts, as he has to resort to emendation. Not only that, he supposes that it was one of the very first scribes that made the mistake (τὶς τῶν ἀρχῆθεν γραφόντων). Perhaps the “Isaiah” reading was widespread in Caesarea in the 3rd century. Someone who knows more about the textual history of Matthew can no doubt elucidate this better than I. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that the error arose because of the formulaic nature of the clause. Matthew cites Isaiah again and again; it would be quite easy for a scribe to insert the name by accident where it doesn’t belong. As one who’s memorized portions of Matthew, I can say that keeping straight the various subtle changes from one “fulfillment formula” to the next is not easy.
Origen does not want to resort to emendation too quickly, however. Marcion is his chief example of a rash emender. I find Origen’s strategy rather fascinating. He doesn’t have a shared authoritative text from which to argue, and so he can’t point to scripture. Instead, he points to extra-textual phenomenon: the order of the universe, the power of the churches, and it seems, the moral purity of Jesus’ teachings. The scriptures are sufficiently contested, especially in the most difficult passages, that they shouldn’t form the foundation of one’s faith, or, at least, shouldn’t be set forth as the way to convince someone to become a Christian. Ideally, for Origen, faith precedes serious engagement with the scriptures. That doesn’t mean, however, that the scriptures aren’t extremely important. Our salvation “is through them” and that’s precisely why the devil plots and schemes against them. The scriptures are a spiritual treasure, but can easily become a stumbling block if one doesn’t come to them with the right approach.
(Editorial additions marked with an asterisk are my own tentative suggestions. Those not so marked are Perrone’s).
There seems to be an error in the text here. The psalm reads φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς (“I shall speak riddles from the beginning”) , but the gospel reads ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπο καταβολῆς κοσμοῦ (“I shall reveal things hidden from the foundation of the world.”) The following text suggests we should have Matthew’s reading here (which we do in part with ἤτοι ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου), as Origen characterizes Matthew’s citation as a paraphrase (παραφρασάντος … Ματθαίου). I’ve supplied ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα after ἤτοι. We would then understand Origen to be correcting himself with the ἤτοι (these homilies are not explicitly labeled as impromptu in the ms, but others in the collection are). Conceivably Origen meant to cite the text as found in Matthew’s gospel, but instead used the Psalm’s wording. The following sentence seems suspicious too. We’d expect the δέ in the opening of the sentence, not after γέγονε, but Origen does seem to use so called apodotic δέ. I’ve tentatively inserted a μέν after παραφράσαντος to bring out the contrast. Such a construction (μέν+δέ with a genitive absolute) wouldn’t be classical Attic, but it seems we need something to smooth over the asyndeton. I’d have to do more work with the TLG to determine the insertion is fully warranted.
I wonder if something has dropped out here, or the text is corrupt. We have a very sudden transition with no nominative to clarify the change in subject. I’ve changed οἶδεν (“he knows”) to οἶδατε (“you all know”), which seems to make decent sense.
Marcion held that there were two distinct gods, one of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament. The OT god, generally called the Demiurge or Creator had created the universe, but was generally angry and arbitrary. The NT god, the Father, was the higher god and the father of Christ. He had sent Christ to correct the mistakes of the Demiurge.
Origen’s point is that even if you excise everything in the scriptures about God being creator, one could infer a good creator from the order in the universe.
Πολλάκις λέγομεν ὅτι οἱ ἐπιγεγραμμένοι συνέσεως ψαλμοὶ διὰ τῆς ἐπιγραφῆς ἐπιστρέφουσι τὸν ἀκούοντα ζητεῖν τὰ ἐν τῷ ψαλμῷ λεγόμενα ὡς δεόμενα ἑρμηνείας καὶ διηγήσεως τῷ σκοτεινοὺς λόγους καὶ αἰνίγματα καὶ παραβολὰς ἐμπεριέχεσθαι παντὶ ψαλμῷ, ὅπου γέγραπται τὸ συνέσεως. Τοῦτο δὴ καὶ ἐνθάδε γεγένηται· ἐπιγέγραπται γὰρ συνέσεως τῷ Ἀσάφ, καὶ εὐθέως λέγεται ἐν αὐτῷ τὸ ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς. Καὶ τοῦτο χρὴ εἰδέναι, ὅτι τοῦ μὲν ῥητοῦ ἐμνήσθη ὁ Ματθαῖος. Περὶ γὰρ τοῦ σωτῆρος γράφων ὅτι ἐν παραβολαῖς ἐλάλησεν, εἶπεν· ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ “ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς”, ἤτοι <ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα> ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου. Παραφράσαντος <μέν> τὸ ῥητὸν τοιαύταις λέξεσιν οὕτως ἐνθάδε εἰρημένον τοῦ Ματθαίου, γέγονε δὲ περὶ τὰ ἀντίγραφα τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σφάλμα γραφικόν· ‘ἵνα γάρ,’ φησί, ‘πληρωθῇ τὸ εἰρημένον ὑπὸ Ἠσαΐου· “ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου”’. Εἰκὸς γὰρ ἕνα τινὰ τῶν ἀρχῆθεν γραφόντων μὴ ἐπιστήσαντα μὲν ὅτι ἐστὶν ὁ Ἀσὰφ προφήτης, εὑρόντα δὲ τὸ ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ εἰρημένον ὑπὸ Ἀσάφ, ὑπειληφέναι ὅτι ἁμάρτημά ἐστι καὶ τετολμηκέναι διὰ τὸν ξενισμὸν τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ προφήτου ποιῆσαι ἀντὶ τοῦ Ἀσὰφ Ἠσαΐου.
Καὶ καθόλου δὲ λεκτέον, ὅτι ζῶσιν ἐπιβουλεύει ὁ διάβολος καὶ τὰςἐκκλησίας βούλεται διασκορπίζειν, ἐπινοεῖν δὲ καθ’ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν αἱρέσειςκαὶ σχίσματα, ἔτι δὲ καὶ σκάνδαλα μυρία γεννᾶν ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις. Οὐθαυμαστὸν εἰ καὶ ταῖς γραφαῖς ἐπιβουλεύει· ἐπεὶ γὰρ ἡ σωτηρία ἡμῶνδι’ αὐτῶν ἐστιν, ἐπινοεῖ διαφωνίαν γενέσθαι ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς, ἵνα διὰ τῆςδιαφωνίας γένηται σκάνδαλον τοῖς ἀναγινώσκουσι· τίνι προσακτέον, τῷδε ἢτῷδε; Καὶ ὅσα μὲν διὰ τὸν θεὸν καὶ τὴν χάριν αὐτοῦ ἐκάμομεν, συνεξετάζοντεςκαὶ τὰ Ἑβραϊκὰ καὶ τὰς ἐκδόσεις ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἰδεῖν τὴν διόρθωσιν τῶν σφαλμάτων, οἶδατε (Perrone and the ms read οἶδεν)· ὅσα δὲ θέλομεν καὶ περὶ τὰ λείποντα ποιῆσαι, αὐτὸς εὐοδώσει.
Τοῦτο μέντοι χρὴ εἰδέναι· ἐάν ποτε προτείνηταί <τι> ὡς ἐναντίωμα ἀπὸτῆς γραφῆς, μὴ νομίζωμεν ἐναντιώματα εἶναι, εἰδότες ὅτι ἤτοι ἡμεῖς οὐνοοῦμεν ἢ ἁμάρτημα γέγονε γραφικόν, οἷον ἐπὶ παραδείγματος ἄντικρυςεὕρομεν διαφωνίαν τῇ τρίτῃ τῶν Βασιλειῶν. Γέγραπται γὰρ ἐκεῖ ὅτι Ῥοβοὰμἑκκαίδεκα ἐτῶν ἐβασίλευσε καὶ δώδεκα ἔτη ἐβασίλευσεν ἐπὶ Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶπάλιν· τεσσαράκοντα ἑνὸς ἐτῶν ἐβασίλευσε καὶ τὰ ἑπτακαίδεκα ἔτηἐβασίλευσεν ἐπὶ τὴν Ἰερουσαλήμ. Ἀμήχανον δὲ τὸν αὐτὸν ἑκκαίδεκα ἐτῶνπαρειληφέναι τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ ἐπὶ ἑπτακαίδεκα βεβασιλευκέναι. Καὶ εἰ μὴπολλὴ ἐξέτασις ἐγεγόνει, συνεξεταζόντων ἡμῶν ταῦτα τὰ ἀναγνώσματα ταῖςλοιπαῖς ἐκδόσεσιν, ἐμέλλομεν οἴεσθαι μάχην εἶναι τῶν γεγραμμένων, ὡςεὕρομεν ὅτι τὸ ἕτερον αὐτῶν παραγέγραπται.
Ἐπιβουλεύει τοίνυν καὶ ταῖς γραφαῖς ὁ διάβολος, ἀλλὰ οὐ διὰ τοῦτο ἡμᾶς χρὴ τολμᾶν καὶ προπετῶς ἥκειν ἐπὶ τὴν διόρθωσιν. Τοιοῦτον γάρ τι παθὼν καὶ ὁ Μαρκίων καὶ ὑπολαβὼν ἡμαρτῆσθαι τὰς γραφὰς καὶ τοῦ διαβόλου γεγονέναι παρεγγραφάς, ἐπέτρεψεν ἑαυτῷ διορθοῦν τὴν γραφήν. Καὶ ἐπιτρέψας, ἦρεν ἐκ βάθρων τὰ ἀναγκαῖα τῶν εὐαγγελίων, τὴν γένεσιν τοῦ σωτῆρος, καὶ ἄλλα μυρία, καὶ ὀπτασίας καὶ προφητείας καὶ τὰ ἀναγκαῖα τοῦ ἀποστόλου. Διὰ τοῦτο εὔλογόν ἐστι τὸν πίστιν ἔχοντα, οὐ τοσοῦτον διὰ τὰς γραφὰς ὅσον διὰ τὸν κόσμον καὶ τὴν τάξιν τὴν ἐν αὐτῷ, <εἰς> τὸν ποιήσαντα τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ πιστεύοντα εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν, οὐ τοσοῦτον ἀπὸ τῶν ἀναγνωσμάτων ὅσον ἀπὸ τῆς ἐναργείας ἐκ τῆς δυνάμεως τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν, ἐκ τοῦ πλήθους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ κεκρατηκότος τῆς οἰκουμένης, ἔπειτα ἥκειν ἐπὶ τὰ γράμματα, μετὰ τοῦτο πάλιν αἰτεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ χάριν, ἵνα μὴ παρεκδεξώμεθα τὰ γεγραμμένα.
Πολὺς γὰρ θάνατος ἐπεισῆλθε ψυχαῖς προφάσει τῶν γραμμάτων. Πᾶσα αἵρεσις ἀπὸ τῶν γραμμάτων φέρεται τὰ ἀσεβῆ νοήματα καὶ ἀπ’ αὐτῶν οἴονται αὐτὰ κατασκευάζειν· ἀπὸ εὐαγγελίων, ἀπὸ ἀποστόλων, τινὲς δὲ αἱρέσεις ἀπὸ νόμου, ἀπὸ προφητῶν. Οὐ ταῦτα λέγω κατηγορῶν τῶν γραφῶν, ἀλλὰ βουλόμενος τὴν προηγουμένην πίστιν γενέσθαι οὐ τοσοῦτον ἐπὶ τὴν γραφὴν ὅσον ἐπὶ τὴν τῆς γραφῆς ἐναργεστέραν ἀπόδειξιν· ἐναργεστέρα δὲ τῆς γραφῆς ἀπόδειξις οὐρανός, γῆ καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ. Τοῖς ἀπὸ Μαρκίωνος διαλεγόμενος <μέμνημαι> εἰρηκέναι· “δύο προκειμένων—πιστεύειν τῇ γραφῇ, ὡς ὑμεῖς λέγετε πρὸς τὸν πατέρα, ἢ πιστεύειν τῷ κόσμῳ καὶ τῇ τάξει πρὸς τὸν δημιουργόν—, τί χρὴ μᾶλλον ποιεῖν; Εἰ γὰρ καὶ ἡ γραφὴ <μὴ> ταῦτα περιεῖχεν, εὔλογον ἦν ἐπὶ τὸν κόσμον ἐλθόντα καὶ ἰδόντα τὴν τάξιν, πεπιστευκέναι τῷ δημιουργῷ ἢ τοιαύτας ὑπολήψεις ἔχειν περὶ θεοῦ ὁποίας ὑμεῖς ὑπειλήφατε”; Καὶ ἔστιν ἀληθῶς τὸ λεγόμενον, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ, οἷόν τε πλῆξαι τὸν ζητοῦντα ἀπόδειξιν ἐναργεστέραν παρὰ ὑποδεεστέραν· ἐναργεστέρα ἀπόδειξις βλέπειν οὐρανόν, ἄστρα, ἥλιον, σελήνην, ἀστέρας, γῆν καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ γῆς ζῷα, αὐτῶν βασιλέα τὸν ἄνθρωπον τὸν ἐπὶ γῆς τοσαύταις τέχναις κεκοσμημένον, θαυμάζειν τὸν ταῦτα πεποιηκότα καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι τὸν κήρυκα τῆς διδασκαλίας τῆς τοιαύτης, Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν τὸν σωτῆρα ἡμῶν. Καὶ τοῦτο εἰς ἀπολογίαν διὰ τὸ ἐν τῷ κατὰ Ματθαῖον γεγράφθαι, ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου· ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς.
Perrone, L., M. M. Pradel, and A. Cacciari, Origenes Werke, vol. 13: Die neuen Psalmenhomilien (Berlin 2015)