Punctuation and Particles in Gregory’s Or. 41.15-16


Belgium has finally come and gone!  Last week, I presented a paper at the conference, “Preaching After Easter” which was hosted by KU Leuven.  My paper was concerned with the passage on which I’ve written here quite a bit: Gregory of Nazianzus’s Oration 41.15-16.  By my own reckoning, my presentation went okay.  My paper was quite technical, and I spoke too quickly (especially for non-native English speakers), but I was able to get some useful feedback from the audience.  One objection was raised to my repunctuation of Or. 41.16.  In this post, I try to explain my reasoning for my repunctuation, and address the questions that were raised (which help me improve the paper).  The first part of the post will be rather accessible: that part of the argument doesn’t need to refer the Greek directly.  I save the nitty, gritty details for the second part.  

Gregory’s Argument 

First, why repunctuate in the first place?  As I’ve pondered this passage for many months, I’ve tried to puzzle out the progression of Gregory’s argument.  As I’ve puzzled, I’ve determined that the passage needs to be repunctuated in three places to clarify Gregory’s reasoning and the structure of his argument.  This post deals only with the final repunctuation, the other two I set aside for now.  To show why the older punctuation is unsatisfactory, I offer an English translation, with the phrase in question bolded.

Yet this present, miraculous division of tongues is even more worthy of praise, because though it flows from one Spirit out to many people, it brings them once more into harmony, and because it is the type of gift that requires another gift to interpret this better [division of tongues], since all [gifts] have something praiseworthy. One may even call good that division about which David says, “Drown, O Lord, and scatter their tongues.”

The problem here comes from the reasoning of the passage.  In the present punctuation scheme, how does “since all have something of worth” support the preceding argument?  Gregory states that “the present division of tongues” (i.e. at Pentecost) is more worthy of praise than the division at Babel, and applauds the division of tongues at Pentecost because it brings harmony.  Furthermore, he states, this division is the type of gift that requires another, which follows nicely from the prior statement about harmony.  But would, “since all have something of praise” fit into this?  The fact that all spiritual gifts have something praiseworthy is not relevant to Gregory’s argument, as he’s trying to demonstrate that Pentecost is superior to Babel.

Because of this difficulty of reasoning, I decided that we need to make “since all have something of worth” a proleptic causal clause, rather than a retrospective one.  In plainer terms, the clause is part of the following sentence, and provides logical support for what follows it, rather than what comes before it.  This results in a much clearer argument, as you can see below:

Yet this present, miraculous division of tongues is even more worthy of praise, because though it flows from one Spirit out to many people, it brings them once more into harmony, and because it is the type of gift that requires another gift to interpret this better [division of tongues]. Since all [divisions of tongues] have something praiseworthy, one may even call good that division about which David says, “Drown, O Lord, and scatter their tongues.”

The words in brackets have changed because we have to supply a different word in Greek after repunctuating the sentence (διαιρέσεις instead of διαφοραί).  The logic here is much clearer.  Gregory is making what some might consider an audacious claim: even David’s prayer to “scatter their tongues” is a worthy of praise.  Since this claim needs support, he offers it by saying, “Since all divisions of tongues have something praiseworthy…”  The bolded clause thus fits nicely into Gregory’s argument concerning “divisions of tongues.”  

Nitty Gritty Details

Here’s the passage in Greek (with a bit extra added to catch the initial μέν), with my repunctuation:

Πλὴν ἐπαινετὴ μὲν καὶ ἡ παλαιὰ διαίρεσις τῶν φωνῶν, ἡνίκα τὸν πύργον ᾠκοδόμουν οἱ κακῶς καὶ ἀθέως ὁμοφωνοῦντες, (ὥσπερ καὶ τῶν νῦν τολμῶσί τινες)· τῇ γὰρ τῆς φωνῆς διαστάσει συνδιαλυθὲν τὸ ὀμόγνωμον, τὴν ἐγχείρησιν ἔλυσεν· ἀξιεπαινετωτέρα δὲ ἡ νῦν θαυματουργουμένη· ἀπὸ γὰρ ἑνὸς Πνεύματος εἰς πολλοὺς χεθεῖσα, εἰς μίαν ἁρμονίαν πάλιν συνάγεται· καὶ ἔστι διαφορὰ χαρισμάτων, ἄλλου δεομένη χαρίσματος πρὸς διάκρισιν τῆς βελτίονος. ἐπειδὴ πᾶσαι τὸ ἐπαινετὸν ἔχουσι, καλὴ δ᾽ἂν κἀκείνη λέγοιτο περὶ ἧς Δαβὶδ λέγει· « καταπόντισον, Κύριε, καὶ καταδίελε τὰς γλώσσας αὐτῶν ».

Without repunctuating, we would read, “… τῆς βελτίονος· ἐπειδὴ πᾶσαι τὸ ἐπαινετὸν ἔχουσι. καλὴ δ᾽ἂν κἀκείνη λέγοιτο περὶ ἧς Δαβὶδ λέγει …”

So, is this repunctuation valid?  I think so, though it is possible to raise some objections.  First, I should mention that I’m not the first to read the passage this way.  At least two 10th century Greek manuscripts do: British Library Add Mss 14771 and 18231 both do too. Fortunately these manuscripts are online, and I can show pictures!

BL Add MS 14771 f. 94v, col. 1:


I note first the punctuation mark at the end of the third line.  A dot at the top of the line, in this scheme, indicates a full stop (the equivalent of our period).  At the beginning of the fourth line, we have an enlarged epsilon, indicating the start of a new paragraph.  Finally, following χουσι in the sixth line, we have a punctuation mark in the middle of the line.  It appears to veer a bit high (in practice, it’s hard to distinguish between medial dots and those at the top of the line), but notice that the iota does go higher.  All of this shows that the phrase ἐπειδή πᾶσαι τὸ ἐπαινετὸν ἔχουσι is proleptic, and should be joined with what follows, as I’ve suggested.

The same can be seen in BL Add MS 18231, though this manuscript is a bit harder to read:

Add Ms 18231

I note here that ἐπειδὴ πᾶσαι begins near the end of the fifth line, and just before it we have a mark at the top of the line, indicating a full stop.  Then, following ἔχουσι in the middle of the sixth line, we have a mark on the baseline, which indicates a shorter pause, roughly equivalent to our comma.  Again, this offers external support for my repunctuation.

On internal grounds, we can note that Gregory uses a passive, optative verb λέγοιτο, which indicates that he is making a potentially controversial claim (or, at least, that he is pretending to make a controversial claim).  In English, the equivalent occurs when we say something like “one might say…” to distance oneself from the claim.  The fact that Gregory is introducing a controversial claim means that it is quite logical for him to provide support with a causal clause.

As mentioned earlier, there are some potential difficulties with this construal (and they were pointed out during the Q&A after I presented this paper!).  The problem is in the particles, specifically δέ (If there is ever a better case of “the devil is in the details,” please let me know!).  Several of those listening to my paper pointed out the δέ is a connective particle, and thus can’t be used to coordinate with a subordinate clause.  That is, in ἐπειδὴ πᾶσαι τὸ ἐπαινετὸν ἔχουσι, καλὴ δ᾽ἂν κἀκείνη λέγοιτο…, the δέ shouldn’t be allowed to refer back to the clause referred to by ἐπειδή.  

There are, however, two potential responses.  On one hand, we may note that certain “non-connective” uses of δέ do exist.  Denniston, in his magisterial work on the Greek Particles, calls the primary non-connective use “apodotic δέ,” where δέ is used in the main clause following a previous subordinate clause.  Admittedly, he does state, “only in Homer and Herodotus is apodotic δέ really at home.” TLG searches, though, have shown that it seems common enough in later writers.  I’ve yet to find a clear instance in Gregory himself, but we do see it in younger contemporaries like Chrysostom[1] and Gregory of Nyssa[2].

It might be the case, then, that Gregory is using an δέ “apodotically” to refer back to the ἐπειδή clause.  It’s also possible that the δέ refers back to the μέν at the beginning of the section.  It’s common in Greek to have a single μέν followed by several δέ’s.  Intuitively this makes sense to me, but I can’t find an appropriate category in Denniston to classify it.  The “resumptive” seems to be appropriate, but I’m not certain enough to say for sure.  

A similar question might be raised about the καί in κἀκείνη.  This one’s a bit easier: I think we have an emphatic καί here, so that we understand it to mean something like “even.”  Thus, I’ve translated, “one might even call good…”  

Given the examples in other authors, I do think this repunctuation is justified.  The use of δέ which results is not terribly common, but other writers demonstrate it’s possibility.  Certainly, the argument makes much more sense when the ἐπειδή clause is read proleptically, as I’ve suggested.  That several early manuscripts also support the reading gives an even further basis for the reading.  


[1]  Ἐπειδὴ δὲ Χριστὸς ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν θυσία προσηνέχθη, καὶ τὰ τῆς ἀναστάσεως προεχώρησε, περιῆρε δὲ τὰς προσηγορίας αὐτὰς ὁ φιλάνθρωπος Δεσπότης, καὶ καινὴν καὶ ξένην πολιτείαν εἰς τὸν βίον εἰσήγαγε τὸν ἡμέτερον· ἀντὶ γὰρ θανάτου λοιπὸν κοίμησις καὶ ὕπνος λέγεται ἡ ἐντεῦθεν μετάστασις. From Chrysostom’s Homily In Sanctum Pascha. PG 52.767. 

[2] Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ Χριστὸς ἡ πέτρα παρὰ τοῦ Παύλου νενόηται, πᾶσα δὲ ἀγαθῶν ἐλπὶς ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ εἶναι πιστεύεται, ἐν ᾧ πάντας… From Gregory of Nyssa’s De Vita Mosis. Ch. 2 Section 248.  

Ἐπειδὴ τοίνυν εἰς πατέρα καὶ υἱὸν καὶ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἡ πίστις ἐστίν, ἀκολουθεῖ δὲ ἀλλήλοις ἡ πίστις ἡ δόξα τὸ βάπτισμα. From Gregory of Nyssa’s Epistulae.  Ep. 24 Section 9.  

Early Manuscript of Maximus’s Commentary on Gregory’s Or. 41.16 Located Online

In looking around online for manuscripts which contain Gregory’s oration on Pentecost, I had the fortune of finding two 10th century manuscripts at the British Library: Add. ms. 18231 and Add. ms. 14771.  One can view these mss. by visiting http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts and typing the respective numbers into the “Manuscripts” field.  

With ms. 18231, not only did I locate an early text (copied in 972, we have a colophon), but I also had the fortune of finding commentary in the margins on our folio (179v.).  The scholia is copied from Maximus the Confessor’s Ambigua ad Ioannem.  Prior, I had not been able to find a manuscript of this passage online: I had only found the Patrologia Graeca’s text.  Clearly I was pleased to find a manuscript with the text, especially one from the tenth century!

The readings from the manuscript differ from the PG, but for the most part they are simple transpositions.  This manuscript, both in the main text (Gregory’s oration) and in the commentary contains πρὸς διάκρισιν τῆς βελτίονος instead of πρὸς διάκρισιν τοῦ βελτίονος.  Also, the manuscript contains a gap which suggests a lacuna in the first paragraph.  This would help make sense of an otherwise rather difficult phrase, though I don’t know what belongs there.  I will update the Greek text of my prior post with this commentary, and update the translation a bit too.  

I’ve also uploaded the Greek in PDF form, which can be found here

ἐν αὐτῷ

Origen- On the Benefits of Thunder

In this excerpt, Origen discusses thunder and its salutary effects.  As you can see, he is about to address the problem of evil, and important theme for him (especially when in debate with Gnostics). 

I’m also making good headway with creating a PDF.  I plan to rework the translations I’ve posted here (think of them as rough drafts).  I’ve already spotted several errors as I’ve gone back through, but I plan to correct them in the final PDF. 

τάχα δὲ, εἰ καὶ ἄρρητος
ἔστί τις ὠφέλεια  γινομένη ἐν τοῖς
πράγμασιν διὰ τὴν φωνὴν τῆς βροντῆς
τῶν νεφελῶν, αἰσθητὸν μὲν
οὖν ἔστιν ὅτι αἱ βρονταὶ γεννῶσι τινὰ
τοῖς ἄνθρώποις τρόφϊμα, ὥστε ὁσάκις
ἐὰν γίνωνται βρονταὶ, τάδε τινὰ
τὰ φυτὰ γίνεσθαι ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἢ
εὑρίσκεσθαι, αἰσθητὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ
πολλοὺς τῶν ἀνθρώπων εἰς εύλάβειαν
τὴν περὶ τοῦ θείου ἔρχεσθαι ἐκ τῆς
φωνῆς τῶν βροντῶν. ἆρα οὖν δαίμονες
οὐκ ἐπιστρέφονται, οὐδε κωλύονται
ποτὲ τῆς ἐνεργείας τῆς
χείρονος, διὰ τὰς ἐπ᾽αλλήλους βροντάς;
τί δὲ οἱ ἀγγέλοι τοῦ διαβόλου,
οὐχὶ κωλύονται ποτὲ ἀπὸ τῶν βροντῶν,
αὐτῆς τῆς φωνῆς τῆς κατὰ
τῶν βροντῶν ἐμποδιζούσης ταῖς
ἐνεργείαις ταῖς πονηραῖς;  οὐ πάντες
ἴσμεν οἱ ἄνθρωποι τὰ γινόμενα, οὐδὲ
τίς ὁ λόγος ἑκάστου τῶν συμβαινόντων,
ἀλλ᾽ἔστιν ἡ σοφία τοῦ θεοῦ, ἀνεξερεύνητος
καὶ ἀνεξιχνίαστος.

Perhaps then, although it is unclear what good comes from the clouds’ voice of thunder, one can perceive that thunder causes something nourishing for men.  Often, when there is thunder, some of these plants on the earth come into being, or are found.  One can also perceive that many men become reverent about the divine after hearing the voice of thunder.  So then, are the demons not turned, nor are they ever hindered from working evil on account of the thunder among them?  Why then are the angels of the devil not hindered by the thunder? Shouldn’t that very voice which comes down from thunder hinder their evil workings?  As humans, we do not understand all that happens, nor what the reason is for each thing that occurs, for there is wisdom from God which is unsearchable and untraceable.

ἐν αὐτῷ,


Manuscript discovered containing (most likely!) homilies of Origen

Many will have already heard the news from other sources (id est, here or here) that researchers in Europe believe they have uncovered a manuscript containing lots of material from Origen’s Homilies on the Psalms. 

This is really big news.  Caution is still warranted:  the results of the inquiry thus far are preliminary; however, it does appear that there are plenty of reasons to be excited.  For those unaware, Origen was easily one of the most influential and important thinkers of the early Church (he died around 250).  His output was enormous, and included philosophical/theological works, exegesis, and plenty else.  He influenced many of the other important early Christian thinkers (Eusebius of Caesarea, the Cappadocians, Chrysostom, Jerome, etc.), but because of some of his more "speculative" thoughts he was thrown into disrepute because these ideas didn’t mesh with later standards of orthodoxy.  Thus, we have but a fraction of his work at all, and less in the original Greek.  Thus, it will be a treat to see more of what Origen had to say on the Psalms, and also see how other people used/abused/re-worked it in their own work. 

The manuscript itself, according to the library catalog, is a 12th century codex.  Like Roger Pearse, I am greatly excited to see that the German library responsible for the work has placed images of the manuscript online.  What is more, you can download a PDF of the entire manuscript, rather than simply use their web interface!  This truly is "Digital Humanities" at its best: free and open access like this make it possible for scholars (and wanna-be scholars like me) to see the manuscript for ourselves, rather than waiting for a select few to hand down their thoughts.  I hope more libraries follow their lead!

I’ve been looking at the manuscript myself:  it’s a joy to read.  The scribe’s spelling and accent placement are fantastic, which makes reading it much easier than most of the other mss at which I’ve looked.  The Greek itself isn’t too bad either.  Fortunately, exegetical works, by their nature, tend to be easier than other genres. 

I’ll post a little bit of transcription and translation soon.  I more or less flipped around in the manuscript until I found the start of a homily: this bit will be his comments on the end of Psalm 77, where the “waters have seen God, and fear him.” In it, the author discusses the nature of these waters, and their relationship to the three heavens.  I’m not at all an Origen expert, but it is consistent with what I’ve read about him. 

ἐν αὐτῷ,