Evagrius, On Prayer 1–3

The world hardly needs another English translation of this lovely little work of the fourth century monastic theologian Evagrius, but its maxims are so lovely and useful for meditation that I’ve decided to render it, at least in part, into English for my own edification. I may eventually use the translation in an iOS app devoted to centering prayer, though one never knows to what extent one’s schemes will materialize. I’ve used Paul Gehin’s excellent new edition as my base text.1 In the translation I aim to make it practical for prayer, rather than aiming for perfect formal precision. Here are the first few “chapters”:


If you wish to prepare a “fragrant offering,” you should combine in equal measure diaphanous frankincense, cassia, the aroma onyx, and myrrh, just as the law requires— these are the four virtues. For when these are perfected and present in equal measure, your mind will not be betrayed to the enemy.


A soul purified through the fullness of the virtues makes the rule of the mind in the body and soul secure, thereby making it receptive to the state it seeks.


Prayer is the mind’s conversation with God. If the mind is going to be able to direct itself without distraction towards its Lord and converse with him directly, what state it must receive!

  1. (Evagrius. Chapitres sur la prière. Sources chrétiennes 589. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2017)

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.

Origen on Soul-Kidneys (Pt. 4)

The fourth part of a series I originally published in 2017.


Origen continues his discussion of human souls by countering the gnostic division of humanity into “earthly” “soulish” and “spiritual.” For the gnostics these divisions seem to be iron clad and determined from birth. Origen responds by arguing that all souls are “soulish” at birth, i.e., morally neutral, and only become earthly or spiritual through subsequent action.

English Translation

(4) “I would behold the Lord before me continually.” It was not that he sometimes was and sometimes was not, but “the Lord is continually before me, because he is at my right hand.” For help was always present in the more honorable and fitting place of the soul, that is, either the Father was present or the Firstborn of All Creation was present in its union to his soul, so that the soul could say, “so that I may not be shaken.” Since if he had not “seen the Lord before him continually, because he was at his right hand” even he would have been shaken. For all within the realm of soul’s nature can be shaken. Some say in their ignorance of the true account of the soul that the soul is a mediating element, and that the body belongs to things below, and the spirit to things above. And they say that some are “soulish” without realizing that, (by an account different from our usual one)1 all people are first born soulish on account of their soul, and after their birth they are soulish because of their soul, as they are soulish before sinful or virtuous action. To speak more boldly, they become earthly because of sin, or they become spiritual because of virtue. As such, the soulish one is not yet earthly (for only in its fall does it become earthly), nor is the soulish one yet spiritual. For he becomes spiritual through virtuous action. Therefore “I would behold the Lord before me continually, because he is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.” That is why my heart rejoiced, since “my kidneys taught me in the night,” since “I was beholding the Lord before me continually, because he was at my right hand, that I would not be shaken.” That is why “my heart rejoiced,” that is why my “tongue was glad,” that is why my glory was made glad, since if these first things had not been the case, the following would not have been either.

And when you hear Jesus saying these things, listen also to Paul when he bids you in the passage, “become imitators of me as I imitate Christ.” Whom should I imitate? Should I imitate the Firstborn of All Creation, who is Wisdom, Word, and Truth? Or, as I am a man, ought I to imitate the human Jesus and imitate his humanity? I do not deny that it is possible to imitate his divinity. For by ascending I may advance and by the grace of God be able even to imitate the divinity of Christ and even too the God of All. For he says, “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” and “be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” and again, “be perfect before the Lord your God.”

Therefore let us be imitators of Christ, and let us keep in high esteem everything that the humanity of Christ said. After all, he said these things so that we might have an example to imitate, and so that we too may say, “and even in the night my kidneys taught me.” For we also came2 having certain principles of good and have tended like farmers to the seeds of good that we bore. Because of these seeds that we have, they are said to be in the kidneys.

Greek Text

(4) Προωρώμην τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου διὰ παντός· οὐ ποτὲ μὲν ποτὲ δ’ οὐ, ἀλλὰ διὰ παντὸς ἐνώπιόν μου, ὅτι ἐκ δεξιῶν μού ἐστιν. Ἀεὶ γὰρ ἐν τῷ τιμιωτέρῳ καὶ δεξιῷ τόπῳ τῆς ψυχῆς ἦν παρὸν τὸ βοηθοῦν, παρὼν ὁ πατὴρ ἢ παρὼν ὁ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, ἑνούμενος τῇ ψυχῇ, ἵνα εἴπῃ ἡ ψυχὴ τὸ ἵνα μὴ σαλευθῶ. Ὡς εἰ μὴ προεώρα τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιον διὰ παντός, ὅτι ἐκ δεξιῶν ἐστί, κἂν ἐσαλεύθη. Ὅσον γὰρ ἐπὶ τῇ φύσει τῆς ψυχῆς, δύναται σαλευθῆναι. Λέγουσί τινες, μὴ νοήσαντες τὸν ἀληθῆ περὶ ψυχῆς λόγον, ὅτι ἡ μὲν ψυχὴ μέση τίς ἐστιν, τὸ δὲ σῶμα τῶν κάτω ἐστίν, τὸ πνεῦμα τῶν ἄνω. Καὶ λέγουσι τινὰς εἶναι ψυχικοὺς οὐχ ὁρῶντες ὅτι, κατά τινα λόγον ἕτερον παρ’ ὃν πολλάκις εἴπομεν, πάντες ἄνθρωποι πρῶτον γίνονται ψυχικοὶ διὰ τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ μετὰ τὸ γενέσθαι ψυχικοὶ διὰ τὴν ψυχήν, πρὸ ἁμαρτίας καὶ πρὸ κατορθώσεως ὄντες ψυχικοί, ἵνα τολμηρότερον εἴπω, διὰ μὲν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν γίνονται χοϊκοί, διὰ <δε>3 τὴν ἀρετὴν γίνονται πνευματικοί, ὡς εἶναι τὸν ψυχικὸν μήπω χοϊκόν— πεσὼν γὰρ γίνεται χοϊκός—, τὸν ψυχικὸν μήπω πνευματικόν· κατορθώσας γὰρ γίνεται πνευματικός. Προωρώμην οὖν τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου διὰ παντός, ὅτι ἐκ δεξιῶν μού ἐστιν, ἵνα μὴ σαλευθῶ· διὰ τοῦτο ηὐφράνθη ἡ καρδία μου, ἐπεὶ ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου ἕως νυκτός, ἐπεὶ προωρώμην τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου διὰ παντός, ὅτι ἐκ δεξιῶν μού ἐστι διὰ παντός, ἵνα μὴ σαλευθῶ· διὰ τοῦτο ἡ καρδία μου ηὐφράνθη, διὰ τοῦτο ἠγαλλιάσατο ἡ γλῶσσά μου, διὰ τοῦτο ἠγαλλιάσατο ἡ δόξα μου, ὡς εἰ μὴ τὰ προειρημένα ἦν, οὐκ ἂν τὰ ἐπιφερόμενα ἐγίνετο.

Ταῦτα δὲ ἐπὰν ἀκούῃς λέγοντος τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἄκουε καὶ Παύλου προστάσσοντός σοι τὸ μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε καθὼς κἀγὼ Χριστοῦ. Τίνος μιμητήν με δεῖ γενέσθαι; Ἆρα τοῦ πρωτοτόκου πάσης κτίσεως, τῆς σοφίας, τοῦ λόγου, τῆς ἀληθείας ἢ μιμητὴς προστάσσομαι γενέσθαι, ἄνθρωπος ὤν, τοῦ ἀνθρώπου Ἰησοῦ, ἵνα μιμήσωμαι τὸ ἀνθρώπινον αὐτοῦ; Οὐ λέγω ὅτι ἀμήχανόν ἐστι μιμήσασθαι τὴν θεότητα αὐτοῦ· ἀναβαίνων γὰρ προκόπτω καὶ χάριτι θεοῦ φθάσαι δύναμαι ἐπὶ καὶ τὸ μιμήσασθαι τὴν θεότητα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, εἴ γε πρόκειται μιμήσασθαι τὴν θεότητα τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ <τοῦ> θεοῦ τῶν ὅλων· γίνεσθε γάρ, φησί, τέλειοι καθὼς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν οὐρανοῖς τέλειός ἐστι, καὶ ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε, ὅτι ἐγὼ ἅγιός εἰμι, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν· καὶ πάλιν, τέλειοι ἔσεσθε ἔναντι κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν.

Μιμηταὶ οὖν τοῦ Χριστοῦ γινόμενοι καὶ ἡμεῖς, ὅσα λέγει τὸ ἀνθρώπινον τοῦ Χριστοῦ φιλοτιμούμεθα εἰπεῖν. Διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ ταῦτα λέγει, ἵν’ ἔχωμεν ὑπογραμμὸν τί μιμησόμεθα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἴπωμεν· εὐλογήσω τὸν κύρι τὸν συνετίσαντά με, ἵνα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἴπωμεν· ἔτι δὲ καὶ ἕως νυκτὸς ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου. Ἤλθομεν γὰρ καὶ ἡμεῖς ἔχοντες τινὰς ἐν τοῖς νεφροῖς ἀγαθῶν ἀρχὰς καὶ γεωργήσαντες τὰ τῶν ἀγαθῶν ὧν ἠνέγκαμεν σπέρματα, <καί>4 διὰ ταῦτα ἃ ἔχομεν, ἐν τοῖς νεφροῖς λέγεται.

  1. It seems that in Origen’s normal account he would say that souls are “spiritual” at their creation, that is, morally pure and good. That creation would refer to the souls’ creation at the beginning of time (Origen holds to a form of preexistence of the soul). Here, however, he seems to refer to the soul’s union with body. People are born morally neutral and can, through their free will, act in virtuous or sinful ways.
  2. Given the analogy to Christ, this does seem to imply that human souls preexisted their birth, though it is certainly oblique. For a recent discussion of Origen’s views on the preexistence of the soul, see Peter W. Martens, “Embodiment, Heresy, and the Hellenization of Christianity: The Descent of the Soul in Plato and Origen,” Harvard Theological Review; Cambridge 108, no. 4 (October 2015): 594–620.
  3. It seems to me we need a δέ to answer the μέν above.
  4. It seems we need a conjunction here to link the two finite verbs.

Origen on Soul Kidneys (Pt. 3)

The third part in a series I originally published in 2017.

(From Origen’s Hom. 2 on Ps. 15, section 3)

English Translation

I am not surprised when someone applies the scriptures about the Savior not sinning to the Firstborn of All Creation. And yet the one who marvels over something like this acts astounded that the God who made heaven and the earth did not sin, while not realizing that it is in God’s nature not to sin. Likewise, it is in the nature of the Word of God not to sin, and so the Firstborn of All Creation cannot sin. By contrast, the praise about Jesus not sinning applies to the human being, who committed no sin and in whose mouth no deceit was found (v. 1 Pt 2:22; cf. Is 53:9).

And when you hear that “he made him who knew no sin to be a sin offering for us,” do not understand this as referring to the Firstborn of All Creation. Rather, understand the “one who knew no sin” as the soul of Jesus.

For we all have known sin who say mystically, “in lawlessness I was shapen, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Ps. 50:7) Therefore, the Father made him who knew no sin to be a sin offering for us and sent him from heaven to earth for our sake. He came possessing in his kidneys principles that taught and reminded him. They did not just teach him, but the phrase begins “in the night my kidneys instructed me.” The night refers to this life. For night is our life here. About this night it is said, “the night is far gone, the day is near … Let us walk uprightly as in the day” (Rom. 13:12–13). Since it is night, this life is darkness. For see how “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, and against the spirits of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Therefore, he says, “and in the night my kidneys taught me,” as if to say, “they were not just teaching and reminding me then about what I ought to do, but my kidneys taught me even after my coming into the night of this age, after coming into this darkness.”

“I would behold the Lord before me continually, because he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.” What sort of Lord does he mention? Does he mean the Father or the Firstborn of All Creation, who is always present to it to his soul? What do I mean by, “present?” I mean that the Firstborn has been united, so that the human being and the Firstborn of All Creation are no longer two different things. If you take offense at this union, take heed of the apostle’s words that may console you and heal your offense: “The one who is joined to the Lord is no longer two, but one spirit.” (I Cor 6:17) Since “the one who is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” are you not willing to grant that that sinless soul that willingly descended and did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited has become one spirit and been made one with the Firstborn of All Creation? Therefore, “I beheld my Lord before me,” because “my kidneys instructed me in the night.”

Greek Text

Ἐγὼ οὐ θαυμάζω, ἐὰν τὰ γεγραμμένα περὶ τοῦ μὴ ἡμαρτηκέναι τὸν σωτῆρα ἀναφέρῃ τις ἐπὶ τὸν πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως. Ὁ γὰρ ἐπὶ τῷ τοιούτῳ θαυμάζων ὅμοιον ποιεῖ ὡσεὶ θαυμάζων ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ὁ ποιήσας τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν οὐχ ἥμαρτεν, μὴ εἰδὼς ὅτι οὐ πέφυκεν ἁμαρτάνειν ὁ θεός. Οὕτως οὐ πέφυκεν ἁμαρτάνειν ὁ λόγος ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ, οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν ὁ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως. Ἀλλὰ ὁ ἔπαινος περὶ τοῦ μὴ ἁμαρτάνειν τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἀναφέρεται, ὃς ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἐποίησεν οὐδὲ εὑρέθη δόλος ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ.

Καὶ ἐὰν λέγηται τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν, μὴ ἄκουε περὶ τοῦ πρωτοτόκου πάσης κτίσεως λεγομένου, ἀλλὰ τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν, τὴν Ἰησοῦ ψυχήν.

Πάντες γὰρ ἡμεῖς ἔγνωμεν ἁμαρτίαν, οἵτινες λέγομεν μυστικῶς· ἐν ἀνομίαις συνελήφθην καὶ ἐν ἁμαρτίαις ἐκίσσησέ με ἡ μήτηρ μου, καὶ οὐκ οἶδα ποίαις. Ἐκεῖνον οὖν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν ὁ πατήρ, πέμψας αὐτὸν ἐξ οὐρανῶν εἰς γῆν δι’ ἡμᾶς. Καὶ ἦλθεν ἔχων ἐπὶ τῶν νεφρῶν δὴ τὰ παιδεύοντα αὐτὸν καὶ ὑπομιμνήσκοντα αὐτόν, παιδεύοντα οὐχ ἁπλῶς, ἀλλ’ ὡς πρόκειται κατὰ τὴν γραφὴν τὸ ἕως νυκτὸς ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου· νυκτός, ταύτης τῆς κατὰ τὸν βίον. Νὺξ γάρ ἐστιν ἐνταῦθα, περὶ ἧς λέγεται τὸ ἡ νὺξ προέκοψεν, ἡ δὲ ἡμέρα ἤγγικεν· ὡς ἐν ἡμέρᾳ εὐσχημόνως περιπατήσωμεν. Καὶ ἐπεὶ νύξ ἐστι, σκότος ἐστὶν ὁ βίος οὗτος. Ὅρα γὰρ ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἡμῖν ἡ πάλη πρὸς αἷμα καὶ σάρκα ἀλλὰ πρὸς τὰς ἀρχάς, πρὸς τὰς ἐξουσίας, πρὸς τοὺς κοσμοκράτορας τοῦ σκότους τούτου, πρὸς τὰ πνευματικὰ τῆς πονηρίας ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις. Φησὶν οὖν ὅτι καὶ ἕως νυκτὸς ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου· οὐ μόνον καὶ <τοτὲ> τὰ δέοντά με ἐπαίδευον καὶ ὑπεμίμνησκον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐλθόντα ἐπὶ τὴν νύκτα τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου, ἐπὶ τὸν σκότον, ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου·

προωρώμην τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου διὰ παντός, ὅτι ἐκ δεξιῶν μού ἐστιν, ἵνα μὴ σαλευθῶ. Ἡ ἀνθρωπίνη λέγει ψυχὴ Ἰησοῦ τὸ προωρώμην τὸν κύριον ἐνώπιόν μου. Ποῖον κύριον; ἆρά γε τὸν πατέρα λέγει ἢ τὸν πρωτότοκον πάσης τῆς κτίσεως ἀεὶ αὐτῇ παρόντα; Τί δὲ λέγω “παρόντα”; ἡνωμένον, ἵνα μηκέτι ἄλλος ᾖ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἄλλος ὁ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως. Ἐὰν προσκόψῃς περὶ τοῦ ἡνωμένου, ἄκουε παραμυθίαν θεραπεύουσάν σου τὴν προσκοπὴν καὶ παραμυθίαν ἀποστολικήν· ὁ κολλώμενος τῷ κυρίῳ οὐκέτι ἐστὶ δύο, ἀλλὰ ἓν πνεῦμά ἐστιν. Εἶτα ὁ μὲν κολλώμενος τῷ κυρίῳ ἓν πνεῦμά ἐστιν, οὐ θέλεις δὲ τὴν μὴ ἁμαρτάνουσαν ψυχήν, τὴν ἑκουσίως καταβᾶσαν, τὴν μὴ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγησαμένην τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, ἓν πνεῦμα γεγονέναι καὶ ἓν γεγονέναι πρὸς τὸν πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως; Προωρώμην οὖν τὸν κύριόν μου, ἐπεὶ ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου ἕως νυκτός.

Text Critical Remarks

The edition and ms carry:

Φησὶν οὖν ὅτι καὶ ἕως νυκτὸς ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου· οὐ μόνον καὶ τὰ δέοντά με ἐπαίδευον καὶ ὑπεμίμνησκον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐλθόντα ἐπὶ τὴν νύκτα τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου, ἐπὶ τὸν σκότον, ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου·

This would translate to something like, “Therefore, he says, ”and in the night my kidneys taught me. They were not just both teaching and reminding me about what I ought to do, but my kidneys taught me even after my coming into the night of this age, after coming into this darkness.”

I would suggest:

Φησὶν οὖν ὅτι καὶ ἕως νυκτὸς ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου· <ὡς εἰ ἔλεγεν>, οὐ <τοτὲ> μόνον καὶ τὰ δέοντά με ἐπαίδευον καὶ ὑπεμίμνησκον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐλθόντα ἐπὶ τὴν νύκτα τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου, ἐπὶ τὸν σκότον, ἐπαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου·

ὡς εἰ ἔλεγεν (“as if he said”) provides a nice transition from his citation to the explanation that follows, and is commonly used this way by Origen. The τοτέ (then) brings out better the distinction that Origen is making. Origen stresses that the “kidneys” of Jesus soul didn’t just teach him before his incarnation, but even after his incarnation. The τοτέ makes explicit what otherwise one may only surmise from the change from the imperfect to the aorist.

Origen on Soul Kidneys (Pt. 2)

The second part in a series I originally posted in 2017.

Origen continues his discussion on the education of Jesus’ soul. He here explains how the kidneys mentioned in the passage refer not to bodily kidneys, but are an analogy for a part or faculty of the soul. “Soul kidneys” have ideas and concepts in potential or seed form, and these then rise to the “heart of the soul” where they are actualized.

Origen also has us consider at length Christ’s soul, both before and after the incarnation. He seems to think that Christ’s soul was instructed through its union with the divine Logos, and that it has arrived on earth with certain “instructing principles” or something of the sort within it. During the incarnation the “instructing principles” are activated (in Origen’s language, “rise to the heart of the soul”) and guide the human Jesus. This is how he was able to live completely sinlessly.

(I’ve made a few suggestions to the transmitted text, which I discuss below.)

English Translation

(3) This saying i.e. “I will praise the Lord who instructed me” and the saying that follow are spoken in the character of Jesus. We need God’s grace to explain this next one, which says, “Even in the night my kidneys taught me.” It is not easy to explain how Christ’s kidneys taught him. Let us even grant that his kidneys taught him— Why was this “in the night”? For it is not just that his kidneys taught him, but “his kidneys taught him in the night”. I do not know of places outside the scriptures where the kidneys are treated as having something to do with matters of understanding or aptitude like they are in the scriptures.1 For in the scriptures, when God searches the hidden things he searches hearts and kidneys (e.g. Ps. 7:10, 25:2, etc.). Perhaps he searches the kidneys when he searches and scrutinizes those things that are already present like seeds within the soul and have not yet risen up to the heart.

These kidneys then are not bodily ones, but invoked in a manner analogous to the heart. (After all, when the heart is said to be pure and the one who is pure in heart is said the be blessed, we must not perceive what is blessed as something in the body, which we see even in animals.) I am saying therefore that these kidneys, in a manner analogus to “purity of heart”, possess the roots and beginnings of thoughts and that these teach Jesus’ soul. The one who says, “you will not forsake my soul to Hades” came to earth with these roots and beginnings of thoughts. It is as if I were to say analogously about the human soul that in its’ kidneys it has thoughts and the seeds of ideas in potential before they rise to the heart. These are either for worse— for whoever sins has done evil from that point— or they are for better, since the good also seems to have come about somehow from that point in the past.

So then, if you understand what I have entrusted to you about the kidneys, look closely at the soul of Jesus as it descends from heaven. “For no one has ascended to heaven except he who has descended from heaven.” This is not the son of god, not the first born of all creation, but the son of man. After you have looked at that soul, which did not consider equality with God something to exploit, but emptied itself and took on the form of a servant, contemplate also with me this soul.2 Look at how it stores up within itself teachings and concepts, and puts them not in the heart, but in the kidneys so, that they can ascend from the kidneys to the heart. Look for me at how the soul of Jesus comes possessing corrective and instructive principles, not in his bodily kidneys, but in those of his soul. Because these principles came along with that soul, he knew no sin, nor committed sin, nor even spoke sinfully as a man.

Greek Text

(3) Τούτου δέ ἐστι φωνὴ καὶ ἡ ἑξῆς, δεομένη τῆς ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ χάριτος εἰς σαφήνειαν, ἡ λέγουσα· ἔτι δὲ καὶ ἕως νυκτὸς επαίδευσάν με οἱ νεφροί μου. Νεφροὶ Χριστοῦ πῶς παιδεύουσιν αὐτόν, οὐκ εὐχερὲς διηγήσασθαι. Καὶ ἔστω ὅτι οἱ νεφροὶ αὐτοῦ παιδεύουσιν αὐτόν· τί καὶ ἕως νυκτός; Οὐ γὰρ ἁπλῶς παιδεύουσιν αὐτὸν οἱ νεφροὶ αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ “ἕως νυκτὸς παιδεύουσιν αὐτὸν οἱ νεφροὶ αὐτοῦ”. Οὐκ οἶδα δὴ τοὺς νεφροὺς παραλαμβανομένους τοῖς ἔξω τοῦ λόγου εἰς τὰ περὶ συνέσεως ἢ ἐντρεχείας πράγματα ὡς ἐν τῇ γραφῇ· ἐν γὰρ τῇ γραφῇ ὁ θεὸς ἐτάζων τὰ κρυπτά, ἐτάζει καρδίας καὶ νεφρούς. Καὶ τάχα τοὺς νεφροὺς ἐτάζει, ὅτε τὰ ἔτι ἐναποκείμενα σπερματικῶς τῇ ψυχῇ καὶ οὐδὲ προαναβεβηκότα ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν ἐρευνᾷ καὶ ἐξετάζει.

Οὗτοι δὴ οἱ νεφροί, οὐχ οἱ σωματικοί, οἱ ἀναλόγως ὀνομαζόμενοι καρδίᾳ (οὐδὲ γὰρ ὅτε καρδία λέγεται καθαρὰ καὶ μακάριος ὁ καθαρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, σώματι δεῖ νοῆσαι τὸ μακαριζόμενον, ὃ καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀλόγοις ζῴοις βλέπομεν), οὗτοι οὖν οἱ νεφροί φημι, οἱ ἀναλόγους τῇ καθαρότητι τῆς καρδίας ἔχοντες τὰς ῥίζας καὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς τῶν νοημάτων, μεθ’ ὧν ἐπιδεδήμηκεν ὁ λέγων οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς τὸν ᾅδην, παιδεύουσι τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. Ὡς εἰ ἔλεγον καὶ περὶ ἀνθρωπίνης ψυχῆς τὸ ἀνάλογον, ἐχούσης ἐν τοῖς νεφροῖς τὰ πρὸ τοῦ ἀνατεῖλαι ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν νοήματα καὶ διαλογισμῶν σπέρματα, ἔνδον προόντα δυνάμει, εἴτε τὰ χείρονα— ὃς γὰρ ἥμαρτεν, ἐποίησεν τὸ πονηρὸν ἀπὸ τότε—, εἴτε τὰ βελτίονα, ἐπεὶ καὶ τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἔοικεν ἀπὸ τότε γεγονέναι τισίν.

Εἰ οὖν νοεῖς τὰ παρειλημμένα μοι περὶ τῶν νεφρῶν, ὅρα τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ καταβαίνουσαν ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀναβέβηκεν εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, εἰ μὴ ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς· οὐχ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, οὐχ ὁ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, ἀλλ’ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. Καὶ ἰδών μοι ἐκείνην τὴν ψυχήν, ἥτις οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, ἀλλ’ ἑαυτὴν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβοῦσα, νοῶν μοι ταύτην τὴν ψυχήν, ὅρα αὐτὴν ἐναποθησαυρίζουσαν δόγματα καὶ νοήματα, καὶ ἐναποτιθεῖσαν οὐ τῇ καρδίᾳ ἀλλὰ τοῖς νεφροῖς, ἵνα ἀπὸ τῶν νεφρῶν ἀναβῇ ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν· ὅρα μοι τὴν ψυχὴν Ἰησοῦ ἐρχομένην, ἐπὶ τῶν οὐ σωματικῶν <ἀλλὰ ψυχικῶν> νεφρῶν ἔχουσαν τὰ παιδεύοντα καὶ τὰ ἐπιστρέφοντα, δι’ ἃ συνεπιδημήσαντα ἐκείνῃ τῇ ψυχῇ οὐκ ἔγνω ἁμαρτίαν καὶ οὐχ ἥμαρτεν καὶ οὐκ ἐλάλησεν ἁμαρτίαν ἄνθρωπος ὤν.

Text Critical Issues

The edition and ms carry:

ὅρα μοι τὴν ψυχὴν Ἰησοῦ ἐρχομένην, ἐπὶ τῶν οὐ σωματικῶν νεφρῶν ἔχουσαν τὰ παιδεύοντα καὶ τὰ ἐπιστρέφοντα

This would translate to something like, “Look for me at the soul of Jesus coming with principles not in the bodily kidneys that teach and direct.”

I’d suggest inserting ἀλλὰ ψυχικῶν after σωματικῶν so that we have:

ὅρα μοι τὴν ψυχὴν Ἰησοῦ ἐρχομένην, ἐπὶ τῶν οὐ σωματικῶν <ἀλλὰ ψυχικῶν> νεφρῶν ἔχουσαν τὰ παιδεύοντα καὶ τὰ ἐπιστρέφοντα

The two words in question would have fallen out by homoeoteleuton. The addition better brings out the distinction between the two kinds of kidneys.

  1. In Plato’s Timaeus, the lowest part of the soul, the “desiring” (τὸ ἐπιθυμητικόν) part is placed between the navel and the kidneys, around or in the liver. Yet what Origen describes here does not seem to correspond perfectly to this portion of the soul as described in Platonic philosophy. That faculty is responsible for desires for food and sex, and has little positive role vis-à-vis the higher faculties. Indeed, the job of the rest of the soul (i.e. the “spirited” part and the “rational” part) is to keep it in check.
  2. The language is rather confusing. Origen apparently means by “that soul” (ἐκείνην ψύχην) Jesus’ soul as depicted in Phil 2:6ff. and Eph. 4:10. By “this soul” he means Jesus’ soul as depicted in passage here in Ps. 15. So he is not actually referring to two souls, though that’s certainly the most natural reading of the Greek.

Origen on Soul-Kidneys (Pt. 1)

I repost here the first in a series of excerpts from Origen’s second homily in Psalm 15. I originally posted these in 2017 on a prior incarnation of my personal website.

I begin here a short series on another fascinating passage from the new Psalm Homilies of Origen. This one comes from the second homily on Ps. 15 (N.B. My references throughout use the numbering of the Greek psalms, which are frequently one off from the Hebrew numbering used in most English bibles). Origen has to explain a few difficult matters. As the New Testament authors read this psalm christologically, Origen needs to explain vs. 7, “I will praise the one who instructed me; even in the night my kidneys taught me.” How did Jesus need instruction? and how would his kidneys play a role in that? Origen takes up the first question in the passage below.

(Note also, I’ve made a few changes to the text, which I’ll discuss at the end.)

English Translation

(2) The beginning of our reading for today was, “I will bless the Lord who instructed me.” Christ is understood as speaking here in reference to his humanity. You will distinguish in the scriptures that sometimes it says “Lord,” which is understood as referring to divinity, and sometimes it says “Christ,” which is understood as referring to humanity. What is said in this psalm is said by the character of Christ, understood humanly. For “my flesh will dwell in hope” is something a person says, and “you will not forsake my soul to Hades” (Ps. 15:9–10) is something that someone who has a soul says. When you find “his name that abides in the heavens since before the sun and before the moon, and before the generation of generations” and “he will come down like rain on the grass and like dew drops dripping on the earth” (v. Ps. 71:15–17) and other exalted statements of this sort, you should understand them as referring to his divinity, whether in reference to the firstborn of all creation, or to his soul before the incarnation.

And yet he says now, “I will bless the Lord” (that is, the Father) “who instructed me.” Who could be the speaker other than, as I said before, that person long prophesied? Isaiah also speaks about him: “A rod will come out from the root of Jesse, and a bud from the root will arise, and the Spirit of God will rest upon him, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding.” If the Spirit of Understanding rests on the one from the root of Jesse, who according to flesh was from the seed of David, then the one born of David’s seed rightly says, “I will bless the Lord that instructed me.” For the first born of all creation was made one with the Savior, understood as a human. For this reason, perceiving the union he says, “I will bless the Lord that instructed me.”

Greek Text

(2) Ἦν δὲ ἡ ἀρχὴ τοῦ σήμερον ἀναγνώσματος· εὐλογήσω τὸν κύριον τὸν συνετίσαντά με, Χριστὸς ὁ κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον νοούμενος. Ἐν γὰρ ταῖς γραφαῖς διαστέλλεις πότε λέγει κύριος, ὁ κατὰ τὴν θεότητα νοούμενος, καὶ πότε λέγει Χριστός, ὁ κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον νοούμενος. Τὰ δὴ ἐν τῷ ψαλμῷ νῦν ἀπὸ Χριστοῦ προσώπου λέγεται τοῦ νοουμένου κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον. Τὸ γὰρ ἡ σάρξ μου κατασκηνώσει ἐπ’ ἐλπίδι τοῦ ἀνθρώπου φωνή ἐστι· καὶ τὸ οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς τὸν ᾅδην τοῦ χρωμένου ψυχῇ ἐστι φωνή. Ἐπὰν δὲ εὕρῃς τὸ πρὸ τοῦ ἡλίου διαμένῃ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ πρὸ τῆς σελήνης γενεᾶς γενεῶν· καὶ καταβήσεται ὡς ὑετὸς ἐπὶ πόκον καὶ ὡσεὶ σταγόνες στάζουσαι ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν, καὶ τοιαῦτα περὶ αὐτοῦ δοξολογούμενα, νόει αὐτοῦ τὴν θεότητα, εἴτε κατὰ τὸν πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως, εἴτε κατὰ τὴν πρὸ τοῦ σώματος ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ.

καὶ νῦν δὲ εὐλογήσω, φησί, τὸν κύριον, δηλονότι τὸν πατέρα, τὸν συνετίσαντά με. Τίς ἐστιν ὁ λέγων ταῦτα ἢ ὁ προφητευόμενος, ὡς προεῖπον, ἄνθρωπος; Περὶ οὗ λέγει καὶ Ἠσαΐας· ἐξελεύσεται ῥάβδος ἐκ τῆς ῥίζης Ἰεσσαὶ καὶ ἄνθος ἐκ τῆς ῥίζης ἀναβήσεται, καὶ ἀναπαύσεται ἐπ’ αὐτὸν πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ, πνεῦμα σοφίας καὶ συνέσεως. Εἰ ἀναπέπαυται τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς συνέσεως ἐπὶ τὸν ἐκ ῥίζης Ἰεσσαί, γενόμενον ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα, καλῶς ὁ γεννώμενος ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα φησὶ τὸ εὐλογήσω τὸν κύριον τὸν συνετίσαντά με. Ἡνώθη γὰρ ὁ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, [τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς βουλῆς καὶ ἰσχύος], τῷ σωτῆρι τῷ νοουμένῳ κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον, γεννωμένῳ ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα. Καὶ οὕτως λέγει, τῆς ἑνώσεως ἀντιλαμβανόμενος, τὸ εὐλογήσω τὸν κύριον τὸν συνετίσαντά με.

There is plenty of fascinating material here. Origen is employing partitive exegesis, i.e., some statements in scripture apply to Christ’s humanity, and some to his divinity. Reference to Christ’s instruction properly refers to Christ as a human being. This is even more complicated in Origen’s scheme than in some later ones, because Origen holds to the preexistence of souls. Not only does Jesus as Logos preexist his body, but his human soul preexists his body, or so it seems. As such, the “divine statements” about Jesus in the Old Testament could conceivably apply either to Jesus’ preexistent soul, or his status as “Firstborn over all creation,” i.e., divine Logos.


I see two difficulties in text. First, the matter of εἴτε κατὰ τὸν πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως, εἴτε κατὰ τὴν πρὸ τοῦ σώματος ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ. (“whether in reference to the firstborn of all creation, or to his soul before the incarnation”)

The edition prints:

Ἐπὰν δὲ εὕρῃς τὸ πρὸ τοῦ ἡλίου διαμένῃ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ πρὸ τῆς σελήνης γενεᾶς γενεῶν· καὶ καταβήσεται ὡς ὑετὸς ἐπὶ πόκον καὶ ὡσεὶ σταγόνες στάζουσαι ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν, καὶ τοιαῦτα περὶ αὐτοῦ δοξολογούμενα, νόει αὐτοῦ τὴν θεότητα.

εἴτε κατὰ τὸν πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως, εἴτε κατὰ τὴν πρὸ τοῦ σώματος ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, καὶ νῦν δὲ εὐλογήσω, φησί, τὸν κύριον, δηλονότι τὸν πατέρα, τὸν συνετίσαντά με.

It is unclear to me how to make sense of εἴτε … εἴτε, if we join it to what follows. We’d need to translate, “Whether in reference to the firstborn of all creation, or to his soul before the incarnation, he now says, ‘I will praise the one who instructed me.'” It’s unclear what καί and δέ are doing in this case. It’s also unclear to me how this would fit with the explanation of “Lord” as a reference to “Father” in the latter part of the sentence. It seems much better to join εἴτε … εἴτε to what precedes. καί and δέ make better sense, and we can then translate as I have above: the question is whether a statement asserting Christ’s divinity refers to his preexistent soul, or his status as “Firstborn of all creation.”

The other issue is at the end, and pertains to “the Spirit of Counsel and of Strength.” The edition (and the ms) present:

Ἡνώθη γὰρ ὁ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς βουλῆς καὶ ἰσχύος, τῷ σωτῆρι τῷ νοουμένῳ κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον, γεννωμένῳ ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα.

This would have to translate to something like, “For the Firstborn of all creation, the Spirit of counsel and of strength, was united to the Savior understood in his humanity, who was born from the seed of David according to the flesh.”

“Spirit of Counsel and of Strength” seems to me an intrusion on the text. Origen has just cited Is. 11:2-3, and stops before the “Spirit of Counsel and of Strength” is mentioned, so perhaps this belongs above. As it stands, we have to understand that Origen identifies “Firstborn of All Creation” with the “Spirit of Counsel and of Strength,” i.e. that he confuses Son and Spirit.

We will see below that he does think that the union of the two natures can be described as a πνεῦμα (spirit), but not in a manner that confuses him with the Holy Spirit. He bases that on 1 Cor 6:17 (“the one who joins himself with the Lord is one spirit”).

Alexandriae (Latin Epigram)

I like to commemorate special occasions with epigrams in Greek or Latin. Here’s the epigram I wrote to commemorate my daughter’s birth.

Gregorio nostro quid dulcius inter amoena?
at nunc Gregorius par sibi laetus habet.
O mea Alexandria, feres tu nomina patrum,
cara, tegas omnes quos tibi dat Dominus.

My friend Kathleen Kirsch has produced this excellent prose rendering:

Amongst all charms, what is sweeter than our Gregory?
But now happy Gregory is gaining an equal.
O my Alexandria, the names of your forefathers you will bear;
My dear, may you shelter all whom the Lord gives you

The Man Born Blind (John 9:1–17)

This post was originally written for a Lenten devotional put together by my parish, Church of the Advent, in Washington, DC.

It wasn’t just their question; it was mine.
What caused this wretched curse of wroth divine?
What did I do to be robbed of the light,
to utt’rly disappear from others’ sight?
Why hath my God looked on me with contempt?
With what did he my cursèd parents tempt,
cursèd with me, clearly God’s enemy,
curs’d e’er to ask and ask again, “why me?”
But then Light came, unveiling my deceptions;
with mud he smeared away my preconceptions.
My pain, rejection, O my loss and hurt,
that shame that comes from grov’ling in the dirt,
became the pretext for my greatest boon—
That moment when Light’s eyes did meet my own.

Today’s passage begins with a question, in effect, “Master, was this man born blind because of his own sin, or because of his parents’?” The starting point for my sonnet above was the realization that this question must also have haunted both the blind-man himself and his parents, and that it likely tore their family apart. Instead of finding support from his parents (vv. 18–22), as might be expected, he has been lying down by the side of the road and begging. Even after a dramatic reversal of fortune, his parents have no desire to stick up for their newly healed son (vv. 18–23). We easily imagine how the need to blame would have destroyed this man’s bonds with his parents. He’s faced rejection from his neighbors too. Some of those who have walked by him as he begged, presumably for years, are not even sure that this man is in fact the blind beggar— they had simply learned to look away.

Jesus, however, looks this pain squarely in the eyes. He refuses to allow his disciples, or the man’s neighbors, to employ theology to dehumanize, to disclaim responsibility for a creature, though marred, who was made in God’s image (may Christ confront us when we do the same!). He takes instead this terrible suffering as a pretext for a greater glory— that of sight restored, both of body and of soul. For God is so mighty in his love that even the most terrible suffering can be made, in the light of the cross, to look as though it were God’s original plan, as though God himself had directly caused terrible toil to bring about the reversal. This is not so, and cannot be so, but it is a testament to God’s exquisite care that our sufferings often become the locus of extraordinary blessing. This is the spiritual truth we are bid to embrace during the season of Lent: that when we lose our lives, we find them; that when we take up our crosses, we rise to new life; that when we lean with Christ into our pain, exhaustion, and despair, we might, just might, find Easter joy.

Dr. Poulos

This past Wednesday (April 10, 2019), I successfully defended my dissertation entitled, “Callimachus and Callimacheanism in the Poetry of Gregory of Nazianzus.” Here’s the abstract:

In this study, I analyze the poetics of Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 330–390 AD), who was one of the first Christian poets writing in Greek to leave an extensive corpus of poetry (about 17,000 lines). Gregory work is striking not only for its breadth but also for its wide variety of themes and metrical schemes. As my focal point, I have chosen Gregory’s reception and adaptation of the poetry and poetics of Callimachus of Cyrene (ca. 290–230 BC). Callimachus was the first poet in the western tradition to enunciate an aesthetic and came to typify for subsequent authors an approach to poetry that privileged finely-wrought, compressed, and erudite compositions. I argue that for Gregory, Callimachus’ works are more than simply one more source to exploit for nice turns of phrase; rather, Callimachus pervasively shapes Gregory’s entire approach to poetic composition. This is seen not only in Gregory’s allusions to Callimachean works, which are numerous and occur quite frequently in programmatic contexts, but also in features of Gregory’s work like poikilia (variety) and a strong authorial persona that have their best precedent in Callimachus’ variegated oeuvre.

In chapter one, I survey Callimachus’ reception in the second and third centuries AD. By examining the three most extensive works of hexametric didactic extant from this period (Dionysius’ Periegesis, Oppian’s Halieutica, and ps.-Oppian’s Cynegetica), I argue that Callimachus is a uniquely useful influence for probing how later poets create their poetic personae and enunciate their own aesthetic. Chapters 2–5 treat Gregory’s poetry. I have organized them around four traits that scholars have consistently associated with Callimachean poetry: originality, fineness (λεπτότης), erudition, and self-awareness. In chapter two, I show how Gregory adapts the untrodden path motif found in the prologue to Callimachus’ Aetia. I contend that Gregory’s formal experimentation should be regarded as a deliberate embrace of Callimachean polyeideia. Chapter three has as its subject Gregory’s poetic style. I show that for Gregory, Callimachus typifies the concise and technically capable poet, as Gregory consistently advocates for concise speech through allusions to Callimachus’ works. In the fourth chapter, I attend to Gregory’s erudition. His self-proclaimed mastery of both pagan and Christian literature is a foundational aspect of his poetic persona. Though the patent didactic intent in some of Gregory’s verse is at odds with Callimachus’ practice, I argue that when Gregory deploys erudition for polemical and cultural ends he fits neatly within the tradition of Alexandrian didactic. In chapter five, I consider Gregory’s poetic self-awareness. I argue that, following Callimachean precedent, Gregory created sequences of multiple poems thematically linked by ring-compositions and self-allusions. I conclude that Gregory edited his poems much more extensively than has previously been recognized. My work illuminates on the one hand how pervasively Callimachus shapes Gregory’s approach to poetic composition. Yet I have also identified a number of significant ways in which Gregory consciously departs from his Callimachean model.

The defense was by far the least stressful major milestone of the process; it was for me a stimulating hour and a half discussion about Gregory’s poetry and ways I can strengthen my work going forward. Celebrating with friends and family has been extremely gratifying, to say the least. Here’s a picture of me with my wife and children:

I find it rather strange that I haven’t blogged more about Gregory, as I have now written some 75,000 words on his verse. But when I look back over the past two years, it’s not surprising. Since April, 2017 (when the proposal was approved), I or my wife has:

  • moved twice
  • bought a house
  • given birth to our second child
  • written a 250 pp. dissertation
  • presented two conference papers
  • organized a conference session
  • traveled to Germany and to Brazil

In short, it’s been quite a busy time! I’m exceedingly grateful for the support of my wife and sister, for the nurturing yet stimulating intellectual community of CUA, and most of all to the one, e quo et per quem et ad quem omnia.

Gr. naz. Hymn Virg. (carm. 1.2.1a 107–116)

Below you find my poetic translation of an excerpt from the Hymn Virg. of Gregory of Nazianzus (carm. 1.2.1a 107–116), where he narrates the creation of Eve:

Πλευρὴν ἐκ λαγόνων μούνην ἕλε, τήν ῥα γυναῖκα
Δειμάμενος, καὶ φίλτρον ἐνὶ στέρνοισι κεράσσας,
Ἀμφοτέροις ἐφέηκεν ἐπἀλλήλοισι φέρεσθαι·
Οὐ πᾶσοὐδἐπὶ πάντας, ὅρον δἐπέθηκε πόθοισιν, [110]
Ὅν ῥα γάμον καλέουσ’, ὕλης ἀμέτροιο χαλινὸν,
Ὡς μὴ μαιμώωσα, καὶ ἄσχετα μαργαίνουσα,
Προφρονέως ἀγεληδὸν ἐπἀλλήλοισιν ἰόντων,1
Ῥήξειεν μερόπων ἱερὸν γένος ἐκ φιλότητος
Ἀζυγέος, πολέμους δὲ καὶ ἔχθεα πᾶσιν ὀρίνῃ [115]
Οἶστρος ἀσημάντοισι φορεύμενος ἀφραδίῃσιν.

He took the rib from Adam’s side and made
the wife. He mixed desire in their breasts
and bid them bear themselves to one another,
but not at all without discrimination.
He placed a limit on their loves, what we
call marriage, bridle for unmeasured matter,
lest it go mad, convulsing endlessly,
like animals that read’ly mate in herds,
and wreck the holy race of men through love
unbounded, lest desire unrestrained
should raise up wars and senseless quarrels for all.

  1. It is not clear how to construe this line; it may be corrupt.