The Soul-Kidneys of the Lord: Origen on Christ's Soul (Pt. 1)
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.)
(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."
(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").