Origen Psalm Scholium

Steven Avery

Sister post:
Origen on Psalm 123 (122 in LXX)

Psalms 123:2
Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters,
and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress;
so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God,
until that he have mercy upon us.

1 John 5:7
For there are three that bear record in heaven,
the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:
and these three are one.

"Ἰδοὺ ὡς ὀφθαλμοὶ δούλων εἰς χεῖρας τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν, ὡς ὀφθαλμοὶ παιδίσκης εἰς χεῖρας τῆς κυρίας αὐτῆς, οὕτως οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἡμῶν πρὸς Κύριον Θεὸν ἡμῶν, ἕως οὗ οἰκτειρήσαι ἡμᾶς, κ. τ. ἑ. ∆οῦλοι κυρίων Πατρὸς καὶ Υἱοῦ πνεῦμα καὶ σῶμα· παιδίσκη δὲ κυρίας τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος ἡ ψυχή. Τὰ δὲ τρία Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν ἐστιν· οἱ γὰρ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν."

"Behold, the eyes of bondservants in the hands of their lord, as the eyes of a bondwoman in the hands of their lady, so are our eyes towards the Lord our God, until he may pity us; spirit and body are the bondservants of the Lord Father and Son; but the soul is the bondwoman of the lady Holy Spirit. And the Lord our God is three, for the three are one." (Translation by KJV Today)

There seems to be a quotation of the Comma in Selecta in Psalmos (PG XII, 1304) attributed to Origen, though perhaps written by one of his students such as Evagrius Ponticus ... The quote "οἱ γὰρ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν" is cited as an authority ("γὰρ") for the Trinity. Thus it bears the mark of a scriptural allusion. Undoubtedly such an allusion would be to the Comma. This Greek witness to the Comma could be as early as the 3rd century, though a non-Origenic authorship would place the date after the 4th century.- KJVToday
It is always a little tricky to discuss what you might call "Trinity apologetics" from Ante-Nicene writers, especially before Tertullian. The key issue for us is the influence of the heavenly witnesses verse on the writing of Origen, not what is orthodox or Nicean or Athanasian, a bit anachronistically.

"The servants of their masters,
the Father and the Son, are the body and spirit;
and the handmaid of her mistress, the Holy Ghost, is the soul;
and the three are the Lord our God; for the three are one"

Henry Cary, Testimonies of the fathers of the first four centuries to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England as set forth in the Thirty-nine articles, 1835
Opera omnia quae graece vel latine tantum exstant et ejus nomine ...

The authorship by Origen is strengthened by the recent discovery that Jerome specifically has Origen writing homilies on this Psalm.

Jerome’s Letter 33, listing the works of Origen
On the Psalms: ... 2 homilies on Psalm 122, 2 homilies on Psalm 123


Origen homily on Psalm 123.

The homily is included with Origen's material in the extant literature and Origen is considered the likely author. The details of Origenic literature are complex, with Vittorio Peri challenging some previous authorship views of Dom Morin, with large numbers of homilies involved. As discussed by Henri Courzel in The Literature of Origen 1970-1988, Theological Studies 49, 1988. (And see Roger Pearse above for more.) As far as I have been able to see, there is little real contesting of Origen origin on this particular homily, due to the fanciful allegorical style and the inclusion with his material, and the reference from Jerome that shows that Origen did write a homily on this Psalm.


Edward Burton sees Origenic Style

Edward Burton (1794-1836), quite knowledgeable on these topics, even uses this scholium as a typical Origen type of interpretation, even while making a tepid hand-wave dismissal of this as evidence for the heavenly witnesses authenticity. For now, I will just show the Burton study, then separately will show a bit of the give and take in the historical debate on the homily as heavenly witness evidence. (Note that what we know as Psalm 123 may be referred to as Psalm 122 in some studies, probably from the GOT.)

Testimonies of the ante-Nicene fathers to the doctrine of the Trinity and of the divinity of the Holy Ghost (1831)
Edward Burton

48. Origenis in Psalm. CXXII. 2. vol. II. p. 821.
Origen gives the following fanciful interpretation of those words.

As the eyes of servants took upon the hand of their masters, &c.

The servants of their masters,
the Father and the Son, are the body and spirit;
and the handmaid of her mistress, the Holy Ghost, is the soul;
and the three are the Lord our God; for the three are one

This passage has been advanced in support of the notion, that the disputed text in 1 John v. 7- is genuine, and was read by Origen in his copies of the New Testament. Though this inference will not perhaps be generally allowed, there can be no question as to the writer of this sentence having held the doctrine of the Trinity.
Edward Burton often has an equivocal "perhaps" style of writing on such issues, and did not support the verse as scripture. However it is clear on a simple read that this is strong evidence that Origen was thinking in terms of the heavenly witnesses verse when writing the commentary.


Fabricius notes Origen's usage

Here I take the larger text Greek from Johann Albert Fabricius (1668-1736), currently the earliest known writer on the topic of the Origen scholion in 1703. (Actually I have not found the exact page that this comes from, but it is nice to have a pic from the old books.)


Some Thoughts

Origen does have the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost specifically referenced as the three are one. Ockham (who seems to be very unpopular in modern textual analysis) says clearly that the easiest explanation, the one does not require intellectual hoops, really gets first consideration and a general preference, notwithstanding possible overrides (Avery paraphrase of Ockham).

And that clear and simple understanding has Origen simply thinking of the heavenly witnesses as the commentary for the Psalm. Unless you come to the thinking space with an a priori idea that ...
wait, the verse did not exist, so Origen could not be referencing it :). Could Horticuli ever be slaves to a priori false reasoning ? (An ultra-rhetorical question.)

Origen referencing the heavenly witnesses is, in fact, corroborative with numerous additional evidences in the same period, one of which (Cyprian) has been subject to some of the greatest textual windmill hand-waving ever blown. Then you have the other Cyprian reference, Tertullian, Hundredfold Martyrs (in the apparatus as Ps-Cyprian), Claudius Apollinaris and more. Also see Charles Forster. The only real understanding that makes sense is that the heavenly witnesses was in many Greek and Latin mss in the Ante-Nicene period.

And I believe a sound apparatus would definitely include this Origen reference as a solid allusion, so it could be added when we return to the heavenly witnesses apparatus study.

In a planned part 2 of this post, I will show a bit of the debate. The historical discussion of this evidence, including Burton, is rather fascinating. Some is surely in Latin and hard to dig out, yet it appears to be mainly an English discussion.

Note that if you look for this Origen evidence and discussion in Metzger and the Parrots, you will find ... nothing.


More Specific Special References to Include

The Church Review p. 625-641, (1874) Scholium on pp.634-635
The Genuineness of I John v. 7
Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall

A superb article, with important grammatical elements discussed.
Ellsworth especially noted the Richard Porson comment in response to the evidence of the Psalm commentary: "The critical chemistry which could extract the doctrine of the Trinity from this place must have been exquisitely refining". Letters to Mr. Archdeacon Travis, p. 234, 1790. He notes that Fabricius wrote about the Origen wording "ad locum 1 Joh v. 7 alludi ab origene non est dubitandum" in the Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, p.544 first published in 1703. This information had been placed on the Wikipedia article on the Comma Johanneum.
Monthly Repository
Ben David on 1 John v. 7

"... other writers quote this very clause to prove the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus, Origen virtually cites it, in a Scholium on Psalm cxxii..."

(many additional references of scholars acknowledging this can be added.)

On a Fresh Revision of the English New Testament
ohn Barber Lightfoot (1891)

Textual criticism shows that the clause containing the Three Heavenly Witnesses was not in the first instance a deliberate forgery, but a comparatively innocent gloss, which put a directly theological interpretation on the three genuine witnesses of S. John—the spirit and the water and the blood—a gloss which is given substantially by S. Augustine and was indicated before by Origen and Cyprian, and which first thrust itself into the text in some Latin MSS, where it betrays its origin, not only by its varieties of form, but also by the fact that it occurs sometimes before and sometimes after the mention of the three genuine witnesses which it was intended to explain.
From a contra handwave, Lightfoot is acknowledging that the Origen writing looks like the heavenly witnesses. Thus he has to make a convoluted "gloss" explanation, to try to handwave both Origen and Cyprian.

Gloss and allegory - their fav words to try to mask evidences.


References Used Fully Above

[TC-Alternate-list] Origen's Homilies on Psalms - heavenly witnesses evidence
Steven Avery - June 17, 2012

Origen (or Pseudo-Origen)


More References

[TC-Alternate-list] Origen and the heavenly witnesses - Richard Porson diversion attempt
Steven Avery - June 20, 2012

This is funny, because Porson feigns cluelessness. The issue with the Origen reference is not extracting the Trinity (even the KJVToday comment is a bit weak in that respect) the issue is the heavenly witnesses verse as a source.

[TC-Alternate-list] Origen and the heavenly witnesses - Middleton dismissal attempt
Steven Avery - June 21, 2012

This one is also funny. It is hard to have the slightest clue as to Middleton's reasoning. Middleton is very mixed on the heavenly witnesses.

[textualcriticism] Complutensian ---> Thomas Aquinas .. references on heavenly witnesses
Steven Avery - Oct 30, 2010

This is interesting, but hard to make into any type of specific argument.


Steven Avery
September, 9, 2015 - small adjustments Aug 31, 2018

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Steven Avery

From the Jeroen paper:

1. Origen-9 (third century) quotes the Comma in his commentary on Psalm 123:2. This verse reads in the Septuagint:

"Look, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their lords,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God.

Triggered by the facts that 'servants' with 'lords' is masculine plural and 'maid' with 'mistress' is added in the feminine singular and a comparison is drawn with the Lord our God in the singular, Origen cannot but think that this is a reference to the mystery of the Trinity. He explains:

"The servants of the Lords Father and Son are spirit and body; the maid of the Mistress Holy Spirit is the soul. These
Three are the Lord our God, for the Three are One
(Grk.). "

To grasp how Origen is here actually quoting the Comma two things must be especially noted.

(1) With 'spirit, body and soul' Origen alludes to the 'spirit, water and blood’ of 1 John 5:8 (blood commonly symbolises the soul, Lv. 17:11). Note that he is careful to stick to the order of the words in 1 John 5:8 and connects these three to the other Three Witnesses of 1 John 5:7.

(2) Especially noteworthy is the switch in grammatical gender. After stating that these Three are the
singular (not plural) Lord our God in neuter (Grk), he confirms it through a reference to Scripture (Grk) which says that the Three (Grk, masculine) are One. He switches to masculine gender in order to stick to the precise wording of the Comma, just as he sticks to the precise order of the witnesses before.
I am not convinced that (2) is especially noteworthy.