From Origen on the Psalms: “Taking Refuge in Allegory”

In the following passage, Origen continues his discussing of angelic powers, their distinctions and appointments. Some have loftier appointments, and some lower. We get an interesting phrase, as he takes “refuge in allegory, seeing the contradiction of the reading.”

The last sentence of the first paragraph gave me some trouble. The verb is elided, and I’m not sure how to render the distinction he’s making between “what is said by human farmers” and “what is thought by the presiding angel.”

For those interested in the scriptural citations, I’ve tried to point them out. I’ve also marked where they differ from the printed text (either the Rahlfs LXX or the NA27). There are a few variants here, which might be of interest.

I’ve now transcribed the whole of this homily. It’s approximately 2700 words. I hope to post more snippets of text and translation, but I also hope to create a PDF with the Greek text. Eventually I’d like to have a text, translation, and bits of commentary of the homily. I’m not sure if I’ll have time for that: tempus fugit!

πολλάκις ἐζήτουν ἀναγινώσκων
τὸν ψαλμὸν, τὸν λέγοντα, “αἰνεῖτε
τὸν θεὸν (ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς), αἰνεῖτε #Rahlfs “ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν”
αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις, αἰνεῖτε
αὐτὸν πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι
αὐτοῦ, αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν πᾶσαι αἱ
δυνάμεις αὐτοῦ.” (Ps. 148:1-2) εἶτ’ἐπιφέρει,
“αἰνεῖτε τὸν κύριον ἐκ τῆς γῆς, δράκοντες
καὶ πᾶσαι ἄβυσσοι, πῦρ,
χάλαζα, χιών, κρύσταλλος.
πνεῦμα καταιγίδος τὰ ποιοῦντα
τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ. τὰ ὄρη καὶ
πάντες οἱ βουνοὶ, ξύλα καρποφόρα
καὶ πᾶσαι κέδροι.” (Ps. 148:7-9)
ἀναγιώσκων οὖν, ἐζήτουν τί βούλεται ταῦτα.
καὶ εὐχερῶς μὲν κατέφευγον ἐπὶ
τὴν τροπολογίαν, βλέπων τὴν ἀπέμφασιν
τῆς λέξεως. ὕστερον δέποτε
ἐσκόπουν κατ’ ἐμαυτὸν, μήποτε
ὁμωνύμως τοῖς οἱκονομουμένοις,
αἱ οἰκονομοῦσαι δύναμεις ὀνομάζωνται.
αἱ μὲν τεταγμέναι ἐπὶ
τῶν δρακόντων, δράκοντες, ᾦ
γὰρ ἑκάστσου εἶδους ζώου ἐπιστατεῖ
τίς δύναμις ἡ διοικοῦσα, δι’ οὕς οἶδεν
ὁ θεὸς λόγους, ὅτι ἥδε μὲν ἠξίωται
οὐχὶ πιστευθῆναι τινὰ τῶν κρειττόνων,
ἀλλὰ δράκοντας οἱκονομεῖν.
ἥδε δέ τις δύναμις ἠξίωται,
οἱονεὶ συγγεωργεῖν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις,
ἵνα τὰ ξύλα τοῦ ἄγροῦ οἰκονομῇ. ἡ μὲν
κατὰ τὸ λέγομενον ὑπὸ τοῦ
γεωργοῦ παντὸς ἀνθρώπου. ἡ δὲ κατὰ
τὸ νοούμενον ὑπὸ τοῦ διοικοῦντος τὰ
τοιαῦτα ἀγγέλου, ἢ ἀγγέλων πλειόνων.

μήποτε οὖν κακεῖ τῶ “αινεῖται
κύριον ἐκ τῆς γῆς, δράκοντες
καὶ πᾶσαι ἄβυσσοι, πῦρ, χάλαζα,
χιών, κρύσταλλος, πνεῦμα καταιγῖδος
τὰ ποιοῦντα τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ,”
δηλοῦται ὁ τεταγμένος ἐπὶ τοῦ πυρός.
ὁ τεταγμένος ἐπὶ τῆς χαλάζης,
ὅτι δὲ καὶ ἡ θάλασσα ὡς
ζῶον ἐπιτιμᾶται ὑπο τοῦ πατρός.
ἡτοι ὅτι αὕτη ζῶόν ἐστιν, ἢ ὅτι τεταγμένη
δύναμις, δῆλον ἐκ τοῦ “ἐπετίμησε
δὲ τῇ θαλάσσῃ, ἐπετίμησε
καὶ τοῖς ἀνέμοις) ὁ Ἰησοῦς.” οὐδεὶς
δὲ ἐπτιμᾷ ἀψύχῳ, ἀλλὰ δῆλον (Mk. 4:39/Mt. 8:26), ὅτι
ἐπετίμησε καῖ εἶπεν ὡς κύριος ὅλης
τῆς κτίσεως, “σιώπα πεφίμωσο,
καὶ (ἐσιώπησεν) ἡ θάλασσα καὶ ἐγένετο
(γαλήνη).” (Mk. 4:39)

Often I have wondered while reading the psalm that says, “Praise God in the Heavens! Praise him the the exalted places! Praise him all you angels! Praise him all his powers!” (Ps. 148:1-2). Then it continues, “Praise the Lord from the earth, all you serpents and abysses, fire, hail, snow, and ice; the spirit below and those that do his word; the fruit-bearing trees and all the cedars!” (Ps. 148:7-9). While reading this, I have wondered why someone would want these things. Quickly I took refuge in allegory, seeing the contradiction of the reading. Then, I was asking myself, whether the powers are named the same as the things they inhabit. Some are set over the serpents, and are called serpents. Thus, a certain ruling power is set over each form of living thing, on account of which God knew the reasons, that one power would not be considered worthy of being entrusted with one of the greater posts, but only to rule over the serpents. Yet another power would be considered worthy, as if the work alongside men, to administer the wild trees. One power is called according to what is said by each human farmer, but another other according to what is thought by the angel admistering these matters, or by the greater angels.

Nowhere, then, of those in the “praise the Lord from the earth, serpents, and all the abysses, fire, hail, snow, and ice; spirit that is below, and those who carry out his word,” is the one placed over the fire revealed. The one placed over the hail is revealed, because the sea, as if alive, is rebuked by the Father. Indeed it’s clear that it is a living thing, or rather that it is an appointed power; this is clear from the “and Jesus rebuked the sea and the winds.” For no one rebukes something with no soul, but it is clear that he rebuked and said, as the Lord of all creation, “be silent; and the sea became silent and there was a great calm.” (Mk. 4:39).

ἐν αὐτῷ,

More from Origen, On angelic administrators and their duties

In this passage, Origen discusses further the relationship between “powers” (ie, angelic beings), and the matters over which they preside.  He distinguishes between the place, and the power.  For example, Hades is both a place for souls, and the angelic being which presides over Hades. In the next passage, Origen will “take refuge in allegory.” 

εἰ οὖν πάντα
δυνάμεων ἐπιστατουσῶν καὶ μεμερισμένων
πάντα τὰ ἐν τῶ κόσμῳ οίκονομεῖται,
τί ἄτοπον ὁμωνύμως
τοῖς  οἰκονομουμένοις , τὰ οἰκονομοῦντα
ὀνομάζεσθαι.  καὶ λέγεσθαι
ὕδατα τὰς δυνάμεις τὰς ἐπὶ  τῶν
ὑδάτων, λέγεσθαι θαλάσσας, τὰς
δυνάμεις τὰς ἐπὶ ταης θαλάσσης, καὶ
οὕτως ἀβύσσους τὰς δυνάμεις τὰς
ἐπὶ τῆς ἀβύσσου, ὅτι γὰρ ὁμωνύμως
τοῖς τόποις καὶ χωρίοις

ὀνομάζονται οἱ διοικοῦντες τοὺς τόπους,
μαρτυρήσει μοι τὸ ἐν τῷ Ἠσαΐα
πνεῦμα λέγον: ὁ ἅδης κάτωθεν ἐπικράνθη
συναντήσας σοι, ὁρᾶς ὅτι
ἅδης ἐστὶ τόπος ψυχῶν, περὶ οὗ
γἐγραπται, ἀποσταφήτωσαν οἱ ἀμαρτωλοὶ
εἰς τὸν ἅδην.  καί ἔστιν ἅδης
ζῶον ὁμώνυμον τῶ τόπῳ ἐκείνῳ,
ὅ ἅδης ὁνομάζεται; ἐὰν
οὖν πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν λέγηται
ὅτι εἶδεν καὶ ἔφυγεν, ὁμωνύμως τῇ
θαλάσσῃ ἡ δύναμις ἡ διοικοῦσα τὰ
κατὰ τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ ὁδοποιοῦσα
τῷ λαῷ τοῦ θεοῦ, ὡνομάσθη.
ἐὰν οὖν λέγηται ὁ ἰορδάνης ἀπεστράφη
εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω, ὁμωνύμως τῷ ἰορδήνῃ
ποταμῷ, ἡ δύναμις ἡ ἐγκεχειρισμένη
τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ ποταμοῦ, ἰορδάνης ὀνομάζεται.

Thus, if the powers preside over all things, and have divided all things, and all things in the world are thus administered, how is it not fitting that the rulers are named the same as that which they rule? Thus the powers which oversee the waters are called waters, those which oversee seas are called seas, and those which oversee the abysses are called abysses, since those who oversee places are named according to their place and region.

The Spirit testifies for me in Isaiah, saying. "Hades is embittered, having met you." (Is. 14:9) Don’t you see that Hades is a place for souls, about which it is written, "may the sinners be turned to Hades." Yet also there is a being named after this place, who is called Hades? If it is said about the sea that it "saw and fled," then it was about the power who managed the matters of the sea and prepared the way for the people of God, who was likely called the same name.  If it is said that “the Jordan turned its back,” then it is likely that the power who was entrusted with the power over the river is called Jordan, like the river. 

ἐν αὐτῷ,


Origen Transcription and Translation–Part 3

Here, Origen discusses whether rivers, seas, and lands have souls;  he marshals evidence from several places in scripture to suggest that they do, and then wonders if these “powers” taking on various natural forms (rivers, lakes, etc.) are responsible for the pagan practice of making sacrifices to them.  As always, suggestions and corrections are welcome. 


ἡ λέξις ἡ λέγουσα, "εἴδοσάν
σε ὕδατα καὶ έφοβήθησαν; ἐταράχθησαν
ἄβυσσοι πλῆθος ἤχους ὑδάτων
." ἐπέρχεται δή μοι
λέγειν, ὅτι πάντα ἐψύχωται, καὶ
οὐδέν ἐστιν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ κενὸν ψυχῆς.
πάντα δὲ ἐψύχωται σώμασι διαφόροις,
ἐψύχωται ὁ οὐρανός, διὸ ὡς
πρὸς ζῶον αὐτῷ ἡ γραφὴ λέγει, "πρόσεχε #Dt 32:1
οὐρανὲ καὶ λαλήσω" καὶ ἄβυσσe [1]
οὐρανὲ, ἐψύχωται ἡ γῆ, "ῥήματα ἐκ
στόματός μου." καὶ "ἐνωτίζου γῆ." #Is. 1:2
εἶτα ἐψύχωται μὲν οὐρανός, ἐψύχωται
δὲ καὶ ἡ γῆ,  ἆρα θάλασσαι καὶ ποταμοὶ
οὐκ ἐψύχωται; ἢ καὶ ταῦτα ἐψύχωται.
καὶ ἴδωμέν γε ὅτι "ἡ θάλασσα
εἶδεν καὶ ἔφυγεν; ὁ ἰορδάνης
ἐστράφη εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω
" (Ps. 113:3 LXX) καὶ ὅτι ὡς
πρὸς ἐψυχωμένα ὁ λόγος διαλέγεται,
νῦν τῇ λέξει συναγορεύω. τῷ ῥητῷ μόνῳ
παρίσταμαι, θέλων παραστῆσαι
ὅτι πολλάκις λανθάνει ἡμᾶς καὶ ἡ
λέξις κατὰ τὸ ῥητὸν ἔχουσα μυστήρια
θεῖα, καὶ οὐ τοῖς τυχοῦσι γνωστά,
ζητῶ οὖν εἰ δύναμίς τις ἐνδέδυται
τὸ σῶμα τὸ θαλάσσης, καὶ ἄλλη
δύναμις ἐνδέδυται σῶμα ποταμοῦ
τοῦ ϊορδάνου, καὶ ἄλλου ποταμοῦ

φέρ’εἰπεῖν τῶν γεὼν, ἄλλη δύναμις,
καὶ οὕτως ἐπὶ πάντων.
καὶ τάχα τοιαῦτα φαντασθέντες
καὶ οἱ παρ’ἕλλησι περιεργότεροι,
θύουσι τοῖς ποταμοῖς ὡς θεοῖς.

[1]  I’m not sure what to do with these three words. They don’t look like they belong to me:  either the scribe missed something or added them by mistake (two close instances of οὐρανέ could cause that).  I’ve left them out of the translation, though I’m happy to hear suggestions.   Here’s the snippet in the ms:




“They trembled,” is not all, but, “the abyss, the depth of the sound of the waters.” Do you see here the difference between the water and the Abyss? [1]  For the Spirit of God was on the water, but Darkness was on the Abyss.  Here, the waters see God, and do not tremble.  But the Abyss does not see God, yet trembles.  For the Abyss, over which was Darkness,  is always in a state of flux and clamor.  Because of this, the demons pleaded with the Lord, so that he would not order them to return to the Abyss.  They said to him, “What is there between us and you, Son of God? You have come to oppress us for a time.” But these instructions for the more divine knowledge, concerning the waters of the Abyss, let us not set them aside, nor what was said just now.  But let us see if it is possible for them to make sense. 

The passage that reads, “The waters saw you and were afraid.  The abyss shook, a deep sound of waters,”  starts to say that all things have souls, and that there is nothing in the world without a soul.  All things are “en-souled” in different bodies.  The Heaven was given a soul, and thus the scripture speaks as if to a living being, “Harken O Heaven, and I will speak” (Dt. 32:1).  The Earth was given a soul, “let the earth hear the words from my mouth,” and “give ear, O Earth!”  If then the Heaven was given a soul, and the Earth was too, would not the seas and rivers have them also?  And these too were given souls.  Let us see indeed that “the sea saw and fled.  The Jordan turned its back,” (Ps. 114:3) and that the passage speaks as if to beings having souls. [2] I agree now with this reading. I will stand only by the literal sense, wanting to show that it often escapes us and that even the reading according to the letter has divine mysteries, and not just those that happen to be known.  Thus I seek to know whether some power has put on the body of a lake, and another power the body of the Jordan river, and of other rivers, and even of the different lands, and likewise for all things.  And perhaps, as things like these displayed themselves, the most eager among the Greeks sacrificed to them as gods. 

[1] Since Origen argues that these are beings with souls, or else spiritual powers, I have opted to capitalize them when he’s not quoting scripture directly.

[2] These following two sentences are a little rough, mainly because I don’t quite know what he means by τῷ ῥητῷ μόνῳ παρίσταμαι.  Something about the literal reading, but I’m not quite sure.

Greek Paleography Tutorial Posted

I spent the morning writing up a short Greek paleography tutorial.  It’s targeted at people who have at least an intermediate knowledge of Greek, but haven’t done much paleography themselves (ie, they haven’t read from manuscripts).  Because of the clarity of hand, I think the recently discovered Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Codex graeca 314 (the Origen manuscript) is an excellent introduction to “reading a manuscript for oneself.”  Plus it will allow one to take part in excitement of the new discovery.  It remains to be seen how useful the page will be, but I do hope it’ll be useful for those who haven’t yet worked with Greek manuscripts.  So, for those who would like to read this exciting ms, but haven’t read from a ms in a while, take a look and let me know what you think.  You can find it in the title-bar, or here