Monday, January 4, 2021

Origen of Alexandria – a lengthy selection from his Homily #8 on Leviticus

Given the ongoing discussion in the combox of the previous thread concerning Origen’s negative comments about birthdays, I thought it best to provide a larger context for the quote I had provided in the opening post of that thread. From Origen’s, Homily 8 on Leviticus we read:

 Homily 8

Concerning the statement, "Every woman who conceives and bears a male child will be unclean for seven days."[1] And concerning the varieties of leprosy and the purification of a leper.[2]

WE ARE taught by a statement of the Lord himself that our Lord Jesus Christ is called a doctor in divine Scriptures as he says in the Gospels, "The healthy need not a physician but those who are sick. For I came not to call the just but sinners to repentance.”[3]

(2) Now every physician prepares useful medicines for the body from potions of herbs or trees or even from veins of minerals or the organs of animals. But if perchance someone beholds these herbs before they are prepared by the understanding of science, if they are indeed in the fields or mountains, he crushes and passes by these herbs like cheap hay. But if he were to see these arranged in proper order within the school of medicine, then he would believe these to contain something of a cure or a remedy although they give off a harsh and bitter odor, even if he should not yet know what kind of health or remedy is in them. We said these things about ordinary physicians.

(3) Come now to Jesus, the heavenly physician. Enter into this medical clinic, his Church. See, lying there, a multitude of feeble ones. The woman comes who was made "unclean" from birth.[4] "A leper" comes who was segregated "outside the camp" for the uncleanness of his leprosy.[5] They seek a cure from the physician: how they may be healthy, how they may be cleansed. Because this Jesus, who is a doctor, is himself the

[1] Lev. 12.2

[2] Cf. Lev 13 and 14

[3] Matt. 9.12-13

[4] Cf. Mark 5.25; Lev. 12.2f.

[5] Cf. Mark 1.40; Lev. 13.46

p. 153

Word of God, he prepares medications for his sick ones, not from potions of herbs but from the sacraments of words. If anyone sees these verbal medicines scattered inelegantly through books as through fields, not knowing the strength of individual words, he will overlook them as cheap things, as not having any elegance of word. But the person who in some part learns that the medicine of souls is with Christ certainly will understand from these books which are read in the Church how each person ought to take salutary herbs from the fields and mountains, namely the strength of the words, so that anyone weary in soul may be healed not so much by the strength of the outward branches and coverings as by the strength of the inner juice. Therefore, let us see what diverse and varied medications for purification this present lesson effects against the uncleanness of birth and the infection of leprosy.

2. It says, "And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, If any woman conceives and bears a male child, she will be unclean for seven days.' “[6] First, let us consider according to the historical sense if this does not seem to be a superfluous addition, "A woman who conceives and bears a male child." How else could she bear a male child unless she had conceived? But the addition is not superfluous.

(2) For the Lawgiver added this word to distinguish her who "conceived and gave birth" without seed from other women so as not to designate as "unclean" every woman who had given birth but her who "had given birth by receiving seed." There can also be added to this the fact that this Law which is written concerning uncleanness pertains to women. But concerning Mary, it is said that "a virgin"[7] conceived and gave birth. Therefore, let women carry the burdens ofthe Law, but let virgins be immune from them.

(3) But if some cunning person attacks us and says that Mary is also called "a woman" in the Scriptures-for the Apostle says, "But when the fullness of time came, God sent his son,

[6] Lev. 2:1-2

[7] Cf. Mat. 1.13

p. 154

made from woman, made under the law that he might redeem those who were under the Law"[8]—we will respond to him that in this the Apostle called her "a woman," not because of corruption, but because of her sex. When he said "God sent his Son" he explained at the same time that he had come into this world by an entrance common to us all.

(4) Moreover, this term is about an age of life, that is to say, that time when the female sex proceeds from the years of puberty and passes to that time when she seems to be suitable for a man. Just as, on the contrary, the person is called a man who passes the age of adolescence, even if he does not yet have a wife whose husband he may be said to be. Likewise, those whom no blemish of intercourse with a female has touched are usually called by that name.

(5) Therefore, if one who knew no intercourse with a woman is rightly a man by virtue of a manly age alone, by the same logic why is not a virgin who remained chaste called a woman by virtue of the maturity of age alone? Consequently, when Abraham sent his servant to Mesopotamia into the house of Bathuel in order that "from that place he would take a wife for his son Isaac," the "servant" inquired rather carefully and "said to him, 'What if the woman does not want to follow me, should I take your son there?' “[9] He did not say, What if the virgin does not want to follow me.

(6) Therefore, let these words be for us a confirmation of what we observed that the Lawgiver did not add to Scripture superfluously, "If a woman receives seed and bears a son,”[10] but that there is a mystical exception, which separated Mary along from the rest of women whose birth was not by the conception of seed but by the presence "of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High."[11]

3. Now therefore, let us also inquire what may be the reason that a woman, who in this world furnishes a service for those who are born, is said to become "unclean" not only when "she received the seed" but also when "she gave birth.”[12] From this

[8] Gal. 4.4-5

[9] Cf. Gen. 24.4-5

[10] Lev. 12.2

[11] Cf. Luke 1.35

[12] Cf. Lev. 12.2

p. 155

also she is commanded to offer "the young of pigeons or turtledoves for sin at the door of the Tent of Witness,”[13] for her purification that "the priest may make propitiation for her" as if she owes a propitiation and a purification for sin because she furnishes the service of bearing a man into this world. For so it is written, "And the priest will intercede for her and she will be clean.”[14] I myself in such matters dare to say nothing. Yet, I think there are some hidden mysteries contained in these things and there is some hidden secret, for which "the woman" who conceives by the seed and gives birth is called "unclean," just as the one guilty of sin is commanded to offer a sacrifice "for sin" and thus to be purified. [15]

(2) But Scripture also declares that one himself who is born whether male or female is not "clean from filth although his life is of one day.”[16] And that you may know that there is something great in this and such that it has not come from the thought to any of the saints; not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth. No one is found to have had joy on the day of the birth of his son or daughter. Only sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday. For indeed we find in the Old Testament Pharaoh, king of Egypt, celebrating the day of his birth with a festival,[17] and in the New Testament, Herod.[18] However, both of them stained the festival of his birth by shedding human blood. For the Pharaoh killed "the chief baker,”[19] Herod, the holy prophet John "in prison.”[20] But the saints not only do not celebrate a festival on their birth days, but, filled with the Holy Spirit, they curse that day.

(3) For also such a great prophet—I mean Jeremiah who “in the womb” of his mother “was sanctified” and “was consecrated as a prophet for the nations”[21]—would not have composed something useless in the books destined to be eternal he could preserve some secret, full of profound mysteries,

[13] Cf. Lev. 12.6

[14] Cf. Lev. 12.7

[15] Cf. Lev. 12.7

[16] Job 14.4-5

[17] Cf. Gen. 40.20

[18] Cf. Mark 6.21

[19] Cf. Gen. 40.22

[20] Cf. Mark 6.27

[21] Cf. Jer. 1.5

p. 156

where he says, "Cursed be the day in which I was born, and the night in which they said, behold a male child. Cursed be he who announced to my father, saying, 'A male child was born to you.' Let that person rejoice as the cities which the Lord destroyed in anger and did not repent it."[22] Does it appear to you that the prophet could have invoked such severe and oppressive things unless he knew there was something in this bodily birth that would seem worthy of such curses and for which the Lawgiver would blame so many impurities for which he subsequently would impose suitable purifications? But it would be lengthy and better suited to another time to explain the testimony which we have taken from the prophet because now our purpose is to examine the reading of Leviticus, not of Jeremiah…

(5) But if it pleases you to hear what other saints also might think about this birthday, hear David speaking, "In iniquity I was conceived and in sins my mother brought me forth,"[26] showing that every soul which is born in flesh is polluted by the filth "of iniquity and sin"; and for this reason we can say

[22] Cf. Jer. 20.14-16; Job 3.3…

[26] Ps. 50.7

p. 157

what we already have recalled above, “No one is pure form uncleanness even if his life is only one day long.”[27] To these things can be added the reason why it is required, since the baptism of the Church is given for the forgiveness of sins, that according to the observance of the Church, that baptism also be given to infants; since, certainly, if there were nothing in infants that ought to pertain to forgiveness and indulgence, then the grace of baptism would be superfluous. [28]

[27] Job 14.4-5

[28] Origen’s understanding of infant baptism in this passage is similar to that of Augustine. Origen’s is a witness to infant baptism contra Tertullian, See J. W. Trigg, “A Fresh Look at Origen’s Understanding of Baptism,” SP 17.2 (1982), 959-965.

p. 158 (Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, trans. Gary Wayne Barkley; Catholic University of America Press – 1990, pp. 153-158)

Hope the above lends some clarity as to why Origen took such a negative view of birthdays.

Grace and peace,



leeseykay said...

David, hi.

I must certainly concede that Origen makes a strong sola scriptura argument. Do you think Origen is suggesting that it is in some respect, sinful, for married people to have children in either the Old or New Testaments? In the New Testament, Holy Matrimony is raised to sacramental status according to the teaching of Origen's church. Is this the reason that there are now no sacerdotal cleansing ceremonies for the mother after giving birth?

One could consider some other Scriptures that could lend support to Origen:

Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.

---Tobias 6:16-18


Then Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to her: Sara, arise, and let us pray to God today, and tomorrow, and the next day: because for these three nights we are joined to God: and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.

---Tobias 8:4,5

From the New Testament, a warning of the danger of living in complete abstinence, even though it be best if one has the gift:

Now concerning the thing whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.

---I Cor. 7:1-5


Marriage honourable in all, and the bed undefiled.

---Heb. 13:4

If it were demonstrated that this teaching corresponds with the consensus of the Fathers, and is rooted in Catholic Tradition I would have to accept Origen's teaching. I am more impressed with the reminder from Leviticus of the cleansing ceremonies than I am with the laments of Job and Jeremias while enduring great emotional and spiritual suffering. If it is normal for saints to curse the days of their birth, it would be reassuring to find one who did it without being made miserable through some kind of trial of this life. The cursing of one's own birthday, just as the mutilation of one's own body for fear of sensual arousal, would be in my opinion, be to take the Church's teachings on the value of chastity and the stains of original sin to an extreme.


leeseykay said...

I should add that if the Church has taken a position against the celebration of birthdays, I would find that reasonable, exceptions being made for the Son of God, the Mother of God, and St. John the Baptist.

At present, I put aside $40 a week to be able to provide gifts for, I think it is twenty-six different birthdays, and the same number of Christmas gifts. Thankfully, Lis takes care of all of it. Shoot, that used to be a car payment not so long ago, that I am shelling out every month, for something that Origen says needs to be cursed! It'll be a tough sell, if I have to tell Lis that instead of gifts, we need to send "Curseday Cards" (Do Jehovah's Witnesses send those to each other?) to our children, grandchildren, and godchildren. Heh.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks much for your weekend posts; especially the quotes from Scripture.

Before I share some of my own musings, I would like to provide a few more germane Scriptures:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5 – ASV)

A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death, than the day of one's birth. (Eccl. 7:1 – ASV)

[T]hus saith Jehovah, Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are vanity; (Jer. 10:2, 3a – ASV; bold emphasis mine)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? (Jer. 17:9 – ASV)

The sinfulness and corruption of man is a theme that permeates Scripture. The life and lot of man apart from the saving grace of God and His Son Jesus Christ is in a very real sense ‘cursed’. With this in mind, can one say that Origin perhaps went too far in his reflections on birthdays? Perhaps, but then, some negative hyperbole concerning mankind as a whole has much more value—and Scriptural warrant—than the promulgation of the dignity and goodness of humanity that has dominated post-Vatican II thought. The notion that mankind is basically good sure seems to flow from “[t]he heart [that] is deceitful above all things, and is exceedingly corrupt”.

I think I shall side with the implications of Origins musings, rather than say, those of Pope Francis…

Grace and peace,


David Waltz said...

2 typos: "Origin" should be Origen; and "Origins" Origen's.

leeseykay said...

Dave hey. How are you?

We have to choose between Francis and Origen? Well, like you, I would lean a lot more towards Origen. But I think we have other options too.

So did you miss my post about Epiphany, with the claims that the date is Jan. 6, with significant support from the scholars? I have different questions depending on whether you accept, deny, or at least find plausible what I quoted from Dom Gueranger. You have stated your position about Christmas. What about the date for Epiphany, especially the visit of the Magi, which is on the Christmas thread? It seems like it has to occur relatively soon after the birth, does it not?

Thanks, Rory

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

I have attempted to answer your questions in the older thread: LINK

Hope to see you there…

Grace and peace,