The Wisdom of Solomon and the Byzantine Reception of Origen

by Panayiotis Tzamalikos (Author)
©2023 Monographs XVI, 676 Pages


This is a critical edition of a newly discovered Greek manuscript: a full commentary from Codex 199, Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre, Constantinople, entitled ‘Wisdom of Solomon—an interpretation of Solomon’s Book of Wisdom, by Origen, as they say’. The book includes critical apparatus, commentary, and English translation.
The Introduction acquaints readers with the text, as well as its late Byzantine context. In the manuscript both the Biblical text (quoted lemma after lemma) and the commentary are presented in full, which makes the document a valuable one for Old Testament scholars, since it contains not only the full commentary, but also the entire text of the Book of Wisdom, which at points has some interesting variations from all extant codices of the Septuagint.
Intriguingly, Origen's name is on the rubric, but as author Panayiotis Tzamalikos demonstrates, the most likely author is Nikephorus Gregoras. Study of Gregoras’ predecessors, architects of the Palaelogean Enlightenment such as George Acropolites, Theodore Metochites, and George Pachymeres, as well as Gregoras’ contemporary John Kyparissiotes, sheds further light on how Christian and Greek thought were received and interpreted in the East.
This book marks a major contribution to the field of Greek and Byzantine philosophical exegesis, and will be valuable for postgraduate classes on patristics, Biblical exegesis, and Byzantine and Greek philosophy.

Table Of Contents


This is a commentary written during the period of the so-called Byzantine Enlightenment, when a keen interest in the old Hellenic lore made a distinctive mark – the same heritage which, during Byzantium’s period of acme, was exorcised as a daemon.

This ‘Enlightenment’ was the era when a flurry of commentaries on works of Archaic, Classical and Late Antiquity appeared: scholia on Homer, Hesiod, Aristotle (but less on Plato), the three great tragedians, Aristophanes, as well as on Lucian of Samosata, Hermogenes, and others.

The present codex contains the entire text of the Book of Wisdom along the commentary, without lacunae or missing points at all. The pattern is that of Origen’s having taken his cue from Alexander of Aphrodisias (notably, the latter’s commentaries on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Prior Analytics, Topics, On Sense and Perceptible Things, Meteorologics, On the Soul, etc.): a short pericope of the prime treatise is quoted and then a comment follows; a next pericope is likewise copied and commented upon, and so on.

As a matter of fact, there are several points of the present commentary that can be associated with Origen’s pen, since there are distinctive versions of specific biblical terms that correspond to the scriptural text Origen used, as indeed there are variations of the text of the Book of Wisdom which, to biblical scholars, will appear novel, and sometimes intriguing.

Nevertheless, the commentary in its extant form is definitely much later: the vocabulary (especially flowery neologisms) is heavily drawn from that of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (therefore, occasionally, from Proclus, too). The author makes his own contribution to the use of bombastic nouns and epithets, since it was a characteristic of the later Byzantine period to prefix nouns and epithets with prepositions, especially in relation to God, which add emphasis but in fact mean nothing new: to speak of God (Θεός) and styling Him ὑπέρθεος adds nothing. Likewise, when the commentator speaks of God and styles Him ὑπεράπειρος instead of ‘infinite’ (ἄπειρος), the addition of the preposition ὑπὲρ adds to grandiloquence, but otherwise this is redundant. Similar cases of this kind abound throughout this text.

The author was a man who evidently wrote this commentary not in order to do theology (although at several points he does not refrain from doing so, too) as to edify, which becomes evident at specific expressive points, especially by the end of his commentary.

A study of this betrays the pen of Nikephorus Gregoras writing during a period of hot combative debate between the proponents of the so-called Hesychasm and its opponents. Scholars of both sides wrote extensive treatises or pamphlets, or delivered sermons, most of which naturally were polemical ones.

As it always happens in such cases, so also the Palamist and anti-Palamist parties used common stock of terminology, which means that philological analysis alone could not suffice to determine authorship of this commentary. This is why it took also a study of the historical context and circumstances, and nonetheless critical consideration of some personal remarks by the author, which are illuminating indeed.

To Gregoras, Solomon was not just a king: he was a wise king, and a prophet for that matter. The exegesis of the Book of Wisdom not only expounds what happened to the Egyptians because, due to their unwise king, they tormented and chased the people of God before and during their Exodus and march towards the Land of Promise: it also admonishes the man who was king when Gregoras’ wrote this commentary, namely, John VI Cantacuzenus, that the Book of Wisdom caveats that this ruler could incur severe punishment for persecuting and incarcerating a man of God such as Gregoras himself, whose only crime was that he maintained an infallible perception of Christian doctrine against the heresy of Gregory Palamas. This is the hub around which almost all of the author’s analyses cluster.

Once again, my collaboration with Dr. Philip Dunshea, the erudite scholar and Editor of this series, has been sheer delight to me. Besides, my cooperation with Production Manager Jackie Pavlovic has resulted in a decent presentation of the text, for which I am grateful to them both.


Hebrew and Greek ‘Wisdom’

The Hebrew word חוכמה, which in Greek is rendered ‘wisdom’, was a polysemous one: it may suggest either dexterous craftsmanship or a political opinion or ability of fine discrimination. Nonetheless, it may mean cunningness or guilefulness or possession of the art of magic. The Hebrew ‘wise’ men are first and foremost interested in questions of order and duties to be observed throughout one’s life. Sometimes, they attempt to consider an individual’s fate, yet not by means of philosophical contemplation according to the Hellenic paradigm, but by mustering and considering sundry instances of experience. The aim is not to change the world root and branch, but to instruct people how they should behave amidst the present real situation of the world, so as to effectuate for themselves a righteous and happy life. Since it is always possible for ‘wisdom’ to be used to either virtuous or evil purposes, prophets sometimes spoke of that scornfully.1 Nevertheless, to Hebrew sages, the real wisdom comes from God and true wisdom is but piousness.2

In reality, the only wise one is God, whose ineffable wisdom one can see in the Creation, yet it is not always possible to decipher this.3 And when Solomon promised to bring wisdom to light,4 he meant the manifestation of this into the world, not God’s wisdom per se.5

In Job, 28, Wisdom is represented as a presence which is distinct from God, who is the sole one who knows where she is hidden. In Ecclesiasticus, 24, Wisdom is sent forth down to Israel from the mouth of God. In Solomon’s Book of Wisdom, 7:22–8:1, Wisdom is the breath of the almighty God and pure reflection of his light.

In the prologue to the book of Proverbs (1–9), as well as in other biblical texts, the divine Wisdom appears as personified. In such texts, the Wisdom is a person6 created by God prior to the world;7 she participates in God’s creative act,8 and is sent by God down to earth in order to reveal the secrets of the divine will to men. Nevertheless, similar adumbrations were used also in relation to the Spirit,9 as well as for the Logos of God.10

The difference between the Hebrew and Hellenic mindset is all too obvious: to Greeks, the meaning of ‘wisdom’ was clear, and once Xenocrates formulated its definition crisply and sententiously, this came to be proverbial.11 Christian authors repeated this definition of wisdom verbatim, too.12

However, the only author who considered Wisdom in both the sense appearing in Solomon and the Hellenic one was Origen.

We will reply to this that, whether wisdom is thorough knowledge of divine and human things and of their causes, or (as the divine teaching defines it) ‘a breath of the power of God, and a pure effluence of the glory of the Almighty’ and ‘the brightness of the everlasting light and unspotted mirror of the power of God and image of His goodness’,13 no [sc. non-Christian] wise person would disown what is said by a Christian who is cognisant of the Christian doctrine, nor would he be led astray or impeded by it.14

The Greek definition of wisdom that Origen uses (which includes ‘knowledge of causes’) was not actually the Stoic one, since the latter did not include ‘knowledge of causes’.15 In fact, Origen quoted from 4 Macc. 1.16, which had been used by both Philo16 and Clement of Alexandria.17 Subsequently, Origen,18 as well as later authors, used this, too.19

Nevertheless, Origen availed himself also of the definition which did not include reference to ‘knowledge of causes’, which doxographers reported as having been a Stoic one.20 Stobaeus wrote that this was also a definition by the Pythagorean Archytas,21 whereas Albinus claimed that this was a Platonic one.22

In any event, to Greeks, the definition of ‘wisdom’ was clear-cut and its conceptual content was uncontroversial. It is noteworthy, however, that George Pachymeres embraced a definition of wisdom which was not the traditional (Stoic or Platonic) one: he defined wisdom as ‘the thorough knowledge of the truth which is inherent in beings’ (σοϕία ἐστὶν ἐπιστήμη τῆς ἐν τοῖς οὖσιν ἀληθείας).23 Although he endorsed the ancient thesis that true knowledge applies to immaterial entities par excellence (τοιαῦτα δὲ τὰ κυρίως ὄντα, ὧν κατὰ μετοχὴν καὶ τὰ τῇδε ὄντα λέγονται, ταῦτα δέ εἰσι τὰ ἄϋλα· … Τῶν γοῦν τοιούτων ἐξαιρέτως ἐπιστήμη ἐστὶν ἡ σοϕία, συμβεβηκότως δὲ καὶ τῶν μετεχόντων αὐτῶν, ὅ ἐστι σωμάτων), nevertheless, he professed that ‘wisdom applies to both species’, namely, to immaterial and material ones alike (τῶν ἄρα δύο εἰδῶν τούτων ἐπιστήμην νομιστέον τὴν σοϕίαν εἶναι).24 It could be argued that this definition is not essentially different from the traditional Greek one. What is important, however, is that the designation Pachymeres employed was verbatim the same as that which had been proposed by the mathematician Nicomachus of Gerasa as being one introduced by Pythagoras himself.25 Naturally, Iamblichus had copied this to the letter.26

It is noteworthy, nevertheless, that, after Iamblichus, almost the only one who too up this definition to the letter was George Pachymeres. ‘Almost’ simply means that this appears also in an anonymous commentary on Aristotle’s Sophisticos Elenchos,27 wherefore to surmise that Pachymeres was the writer of that would be only natural to do.

It was not unexpected that Pachymeres embraced that formula, given the importance he attached to knowledge of Mathematics in order to grasp truth. Interestingly, when he expounds his conviction once again, and says that ‘without knowledge of Mathematics it is impossible to make out the kinds of Being; therefore, it is impossible also to discover the truth which is inherent in beings, which is in fact wisdom itself.’ In order to undergird this, he says that he quotes from Plotinus having extolled the importance of Mathematics pending study of truth:

For it is necessary to teach the youth Mathematics, so that they should get accustomed to the incorporeal nature (‘Παραδοτέον γὰρ τοῖς νέοις τὰ μαθήματα’, ϕησὶν ὁ

Πλωτῖνος, ‘πρὸς συνεθισμὸν τῆς ἀσωμάτου ϕύσεως’).28

This is certainly what Plotinus maintained, but the phrase Pachymeres quoted was but a paraphrase of Plotinus’ text, which propounded knowledge of Mathematics by ‘the philosopher, who is by nature fitted out and winged’ (a hint to Plato, Phaedrus, 246c1), not knowledge of Mathematics by the youth.29

This specific paraphrase by memory had been introduced by Ammonius of Alexandria,30 and thereafter was repeated tralatitiously by John Philoponus, David of Alexandria, and John Pachymeres,31 plus an anonymous commentator of Plato, who could have been Pachymeres himself.32 In those authors, the alleged (inaccurate) quotation from Plotinus is remarkably identical.33

I should have thought that Pachymeres took this up from Philoponus (as indeed he could have availed himself of Philoponus’ arguments against the idea of non-eternity of the world). Besides, a text formerly known as one by Pseudo-Philoponus, has turned out to be Pachymeres’.34

Contrast to this, in the Bible, the various references to Wisdom/Logos/Spirit of God are unsystematic and unclear, since it is not always easy to make out whether particular instances are either philological/poetical illustrations or echoes of ancient religious beliefs or a new revelation. In any event, pertinent Biblical instances were taken up by the Christian authors of the New Testament and applied to the person of Jesus, or were explained as prefigurations of the Second Trinitarian Person. Particularly, in the gospel of John, the Logos of God is described by means of the characteristics of Wisdom, and Paul was based on expressions of the Old Testament in order to determine that Jesus is ‘God’s Wisdom’ (1 Cor. 1:24).

No author other than Origen did ever make more of these scriptural references: he wrote scores of pages in order to explain the opening of John’s gospel, and identify the Son of God as the personal Logos and Wisdom. Following him, nearly all of the subsequent Christian authors followed this interpretation suit.

The Codex

Codex 199 was unearthed by A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus in the year 1886 in the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem at Constantinople. However, this was not actually one codex: it comprised five different and irrelevant documents written on paper, which had been compounded at some moment by an unknown hand, and later this unified volume was transferred to the National Library of Athens.

Given that Gregoras used to write his own name and titles in the header (sometimes styling himself ‘monk’, sometimes ‘philosopher’, sometimes adding no self-designation), the arising question is this: once he cared to point out the authorship of his works, why is it that the same does not happen with the present commentary? To this, the answer is that this should have been the last part of a larger work by Gregoras (which he himself styled βίβλος at the end of the commentary). This was somehow dislodged as a separate document by someone (probably, a monk), who cared about Christian commentaries and texts rather than ones on Classical Greek philosophy. This ‘someone’ was Demetrius Protocanonarch who sought to rescue Gregoras’ books immediately after the latter’s death. It seems that Demetrius was anxious to collect works written during the Late Byzantine Enlightenment: I have come upon another manuscript of the same lot (namely, of the Holy Sepulchre of Constantinople, Codex 354), in which (demonstrably in the same handwriting, colour of ink, thickness of letters), as that which he wrote on the present codex 199: Demetrius wrote on the first folio (14r, just above the header of the work), ‘[This is a property of] Demetrius, Protocanonarch of the Great Church’, i.e. of the Haghia Sophia’ (Δημητρίου Πρωτοκανονάρχου τῆς Μεγάλης Ἐκκλησίας). Given Demetrius’ intellectual concerns, the title of that work is hardly surprising: it was one written by Nikephorus Blemmydes, and entitled Νικηϕόρου μοναχοῦ καὶ πρεσβυτέρου, τοῦ Βλεμμύδους, Περὶ Εἰσαγωγικῆς Ἐπιτομῆς Βιβλίον.

The present commentary as a separate ‘little book’ (βιβλίον) came to be possessed by Demetrius Protocanonarch shortly after Gregoras’ death, presumably during the riots that surrounded that event.35 Following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 and conversion of the church of Hagia Sophia to a mosque by Mehmed the Conqueror, the books preserved in that ‘Great Church’ (Μεγάλη Ἐκκλησία) (either all or some of them) were transferred to the ‘territory’ of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Constantinople, namely, the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre. They remained therein for some centuries, until A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus set out to catalogue them with the help of the superior of the Metochion, archimandrite Damian of Samos, who moved the codices from the despicable place and condition in which they were stored by that time, and moved them to a much larger room, he constructed brand new shelves, and then asked Papadopoulos-Kerameus to begin with his job. He worked on that from 1886 to 1892 -since 1883 he had set out to compose an inventory of Greek manuscripts belonging to schools, churches, and monasteries, at the behest of the Greek Literary Club of Constantinople (1881). The condition in which he found those manuscripts was nothing short of decay, some of them were not numbered at all, and his own description of the situation he was faced with is distressing, to say the least.

Papadopoulos-Kerameus explained that he catalogued and re-numbered 447 out of 846 codices that he found in the Metochion. Of them, 824 were already numbered. Codex 199 was formerly Codex 494. The conscientious scholar composed tables providing correspondence of old with new codex-numbers.

Meantime, it seems that some sort of putting those books in order had been attempted two centuries after the ransack of the imperial capital: concerning the document of the Commentary on Wisdom, this happened in 1630, as a hand of that time wrote at the end of that (folio 54v). No matter who did so, that later ‘librarian’ styled this βιβλίον, and wrote ‘in the year 1630’ using Arabic numericals, which are never used throughout this commentary, such as the marginal citations of the passages of Wisdom that are commented upon. However, the indication ‘1630’ does not mean that the present manuscript was written in the seventeenth century, as Papadopoulos-Kerameus took it: instead, this was much earlier, and ‘1630’ only suggests the date this came to be the possession of its latest owner.

Moreover, the same hand deleted the commentator’s concluding phrase (in red ink), σὺν Θεῷ ὧδε τέρμα εἴληϕεν ἥδε ἡ βίβλος (‘with God’s help, this is how this book has been concluded’), by drawing a double deleting line with his black-ink pen on that.

As odd as it seems on the face of it, this can be explained: the belated ‘librarian’ of 1630 composed that which thereafter remained as one Codex, and he numbered it 494 (which Kerameus re-numbered 199). In that conjugation, the present commentary was not the ‘end of the codex’: it was only the second leaflet out of a total of five ones.

Therefore, whereas the commentator made a concluding note characterising his entire workpiece βίβλος, the later librarian, who added his own words, styled this just a βιβλίον.

The difference is significant and all too clear: A βίβλος (‘bible’) is a large composition comprising several particular ‘books’ or ‘documents’ (βιβλία). For example, when Patriarch Dositheus II (who died in Constantinople in 1707) concluded the twelfth (and last) book of his History of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (Δωδεκάβιβλος, published in 1715), he wrote, ‘hereby the twelfth out of twelve books (βιβλίων) is finished, which marks the end of the entire bible (τὸ τῆς βίβλου τέλος), i.e. of his entire twelve-volume History.36

Accordingly, the present commentator wrote that the end of his commentary marks the end of an entire ‘bible’ (βίβλος), whereas, to the later owner of that single document, this particular commentary (presumably, part of the initial βίβλος) was simply ‘one book’ (βιβλίον). Therefore, this was not about the entire Codex 199, which has been preserved as a coalescence of heterogeneous documents, but about the Commentary on Solomon’s Book of Wisdom only.

On the lower margin of first page of the manuscript (folio 3r), there is the note, καὶ τοῦτο σὺν ἄλλοις Δημητρίου τοῦ Πρωτοκανονάρχου (‘this, beside other ones, [belongs to] Demetrius the Protocanonarch [first lead singer]’). Furthermore, on the bottom of the last page of the text (folio 54v), the new owner of that, namely, Demetrius the Protocanonarch (as if carrying on with the commentator’s phrase, ‘with God’s help, this is how this large book has been concluded’) wrote, ‘and now’ (νῦν δέ); then, the Genitive Δημητρίου follows with some garnishing drawing. The phrase, ‘and now this belongs to Demetrius’ is but a continuation of the deleted phrase, σὺν Θεῷ ὧδε τέρμα εἴληϕεν ἥδε ἡ βίβλος. This νῦν δὲ (‘and now’) clearly informs that the present commentary on Wisdom had ended up the property of Demetrius the Protocanonarch.

Presumably, Demetrius had a penchant for collecting books written by erudite people, since I have come upon his name in Codex 354 of the same collection (Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre, Constantinople), which contains extracts from Aristotle’s On Heaven (folia 252–257): on folio 252, this Demetrius confirms that this was his own book, which he had written from scratch, and ‘it never belonged to anyone else’ (Δημητρίου καὶ καὶ οὐδέποτε τινός, folio 252), which is a phrase he did not write about the manuscript of the present commentary. At the end of this, he added, ‘This also belongs to Demetrius’ (Δημητρίου καὶ τόδε, folio 256v). This codex is likewise but a commingled one comprising miscellaneous diverse sections from various manuscripts, since another segment of this had a different owner, and the indication is, ‘This, along with others, belongs to Dionysius’ (Διονυσίου καὶ τόδε σὺν ἄλλοις, folio 157r).

Now, concerning the present Codex 199, between those two points signed by Demetrius the Protocanonarch, a later ‘librarian’ of the Metochion, presumably during cataloguing and categorising the manuscripts of the library (clumsily, to be sure), after having deleted the commentator’s concluding phrase, wrote that this book was so found in the year 1630 (ἐτοῦτο τὸ βιβλίον εἶναι ἔτει 1630). However, he made the listing not in Greek numericals, as it happens with all the references throughout the manuscript, but in Arabic ones.

This interfering addition attests to a hardly literate person, presumably, a monk. For one thing, he wrote the word with rough breathing on the initial epsilon, which is a flagrant mistake on the grounds of elementary grammar.

Moreover, the foregoing term ἐτοῦτος, -η, -ο, (instead of οὗτος, αὕτη, τοῦτο) is an extreme barbarism, which appeared in the later Byzantine uneducated commoners (this abounds at hundreds of points in solacing narratives, which circulated in low-classes, such as the fictitious History of Alexander the Great, Digenes Acritas, The Trojan War, The Chronicon of Moreas, etc. as well as in insignificant later authors seeking to comfort those that had been enslaved to the Ottomans after the fall of Byzantium). Those were sad times of decay, when Greek language had collapsed altogether and was replete with all sorts of barbarisms.

Besides, this instance of declined quality of language appeared in some Acts of the Mount Athos monasteries written by unschooled simpletons, such as the Acts of the Monastery of Iviron (bis), the Acts of the Monastery of Cutlumusion, and the Acts of the Monastery of Chilandarion (Document 166, line 23; Document 169, line 59). I should note particularly the Acts of the Monastery of Chilandarion, since in the present commentary on Wisdom, other instances of peculiar vocabulary used in that milieu make a conspicuous mark.37

A comparison of the additional notes on the bottom of folio 3r by Demetrius Protocanonarch and that on top of folio 54v by the anonymous monk makes it clear that these were written by different hands.

For one thing, on folio 3r, Demetrius correctly wrote τοῦτο, whereas on folio 54v the word is the later and barbarous ἐτοῦτο. Anyway, Demetrius Protocanonarch was as erudite a person as to represent the ‘Great Church’ of Haghia Sophia (in effect, the Patriarch himself) and sign up for official contracts that were worth a lot of money.38

For another, the handwriting of the monk of 1630 and that of Demetrius is strikingly different: taf (τ), omicron (ο), lamda (λ), eta (η), alpha (α), iota (ι), definitely signify two different hands.

Thirdly, the handwriting on the bottom margin of 3r and that on the bottom of 54r is the same, which is anyway signed by ‘Demetrius Protocanonarch’ himself.

Beyond that, the commentator’s expression τέρμα εἴληϕεν at the end of a treatise was not a usual one, since the customary phrase was τέρμα κατείληϕεν, and normally this referred to one’s termination of life,39 although not always so: it would mean someone reaching the end of a road (e.g. an athlete) etc.40

I know of only two cases41 in which an author wrote τέρμα εἴληϕεν at the end of a treatise. One, Patriarch Dositheus II, as above.

The other appears in the anonymous commentary on Aristophanes’ Plutus as a concluding note.42 But it is from the same collection of comments on Aristophanes’ Plutus that we procure stunning information: George Pachymeres himself was also a commentator of Aristophanes, and had written a commentary on Plutus, too.43

The expression σὺν Θεῷ recurs in George Pachymeres.44 Patriarch Dositheus in his Δωδεκάβιβλος also used this almost at a dozen of points. This would be not particularly important, were it for Pachymeres not to have been one of Dositheus’ most favourite authors, whom he mentions at no less than thirty-nine points. Actually, every now and then, he makes accurate references to Pachymeres’ works, he expounds his Trinitarian theological views, he uses extensively Pachymeres’ historical books, and defends his orthodoxy.45 Of particular importance is Dositheus’ report that Patriarch Athanasius III of Alexandria (1276–1316) was the man ‘who gave Pachymeres permission to write the paraphrase (τὴν παράϕρασιν) on [Pseudo-Dionysius] the Areopagite.’46 The phrase is illuminating, although it only confirms what is known from Pachymeres’ rest of work: the way for him to compose exegeses on Christian authorities of old was writing paraphrases of their works. Contrast to this, Gregoras followed the blueprint of Origen (which was Alexander of Aphrodisias’ one) and quoted short passages from the original followed by his own comments on that. This is the case with the present commentary, too – which is one of the reasons banning the case of Pachymeres having been the author of this.

Whereas Pachymeres’ commentaries on Aristotle are paraphrases of his own, Gregoras (as, for example, he did in his commentary on Synesius’ treatise On Dreams) followed the foregoing pattern. Thus, Gregoras’ commentaries contained both the original text that was commented upon, as well as his own exegeses. This is exactly what happens in the present commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon. The author’s quotations provide a significant version of the biblical text, which contains some novel philological variants that deserve to be studied by Old Testament scholars.

Codex 199 is written on paper (dimensions: 19,5 × 14,3 cm) in a single column. The author is parsimonious with space (i.e. paper), whereby his writing is extremely ‘compressed’, which calls for attentive reading in order to point out terms and expressions that belong either to the Book of Wisdom or to other books of the Bible –that is why I have used different fonts for either of those kinds of points.

The first component (folia 1–2) contains a text by Cyril of Alexandria commenting on prophet Obadiah. Extracts from the same commentary appear also in the second issue (folia 56–58). Therefore, it becomes immediately evident that the Commentary on Solomon’s Book of Wisdom (folia 3–54) was inadvertently inserted between the two sections that contained Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on prophet Obadiah.

The fourth piece (folia 59–66) contains (1) Questions and Answers concerning hieratic activity (it begins with ‘how should the priest bathe himself pending celebrating liturgy’); (2) a text by ‘the most wise Galen on the four elements of Time’, etc. The fifth issue contains two leaflets: (1) ‘Consolation to those that are in grief’ by a certain arch-chanter named Manuel Sabius; (2) An unattributed alphabet; (3) a narrative by monk Maximus of Mazaris ‘on spirits’; (4) a ‘Latin Liturgy translated by the Cretan Marcus Mousourus’. The sixth issue contains a ‘Life of Clement Bishop of Rome, pupil of Peter the Apostle’.

The commentary on Solomon’s Wisdom was included therein uncritically, and my suggestion is that, no matter who did this accumulation, he had no idea of who the man that had written this text was, namely, Nikephorus Gregoras.

In the first place, and given the philological nature of the text, one would be tempted to surmise George Pachymeres as the author of the manuscript. Actually, the text of Wisdom is written as partial rubrics in red ink, whereas the commentary is in black. On this, I should remind that, at least during and after the eleventh century, all of the [Byzantine] emperors used to write their edicts and sign them in red ink, which was a fact several authors cared to mention solemnly47 –and Solomon was a king, too.

The Owner, Demetrius Protocanonarch of the Great Church (Haghia Sophia)

In anno mundi 6748 (that is, 1239 AD), an hieromonk called Matthew Perdicarios donated a ‘parental monastery’ to three monks, whom he regarded as ‘genuine children’ of his. The contract was read and signed at the Monastery of Laura, and, as usual, this was signed by a number of witnesses (in this case, nine). Some of them had come from Constantinople: one of them was ‘the senior presbyter John of Blachernae’48 self-styled μεγαλοναΐτης, which designates a man who ‘holds a certain office in the Great Church’.49 Another was a senior chanter ‘of the Great Church’ (ἄρχων τῶν κοντακίων).

Among them, there was a certain John Plades, who signed ‘the Haghiosophite and Megalonaites Domesticus’ (ὁ ἁγιοσοϕίτης καὶ μεγαλοναΐτης δομέστικος).50 In short, ‘Haghiosophite’ was but a title attached to (and proudly used by) those who were either chanters or held any office whatsoever at the church of Haghia Sophia. This Haghiosophite John Plades was a chanter of the Haghia Sophia in Constantinople, and had been granted the title domestikos, which (among the other senses of this term, as different as meaning either a chief military commander or a humble servant of a household), was one bestowed on singers as well as on minor officers of the Church.

If one argued that this was about the church of Haghia Sophia in Thessaloniki, facts would ban such an interpretation: this contract of ‘donation’ was signed in 1239. But Thessaloniki had been conquered by the Crusaders (fourth Crusade) in 1204; it was taken back by the Despotat of Epirus in 1224, and became the Cathedral only in 1246. Actually, in that city there were other churches that were more famous.51

Besides, ‘Haghiosophite’ was a designation exclusive to the chanters of the Great Church, namely, the Haghia Sophia at Constantinople.

In the tenth century, Constantine Porphyrogenitus told apart the ‘Apostolites and Haghiosophite chanters’ (οἱ δὲ ψάλται, οἵ τε ἀποστολῖται καὶ ἁγιοσοϕῖται), meaning those of the famous churches of the Saint Apostles and of the Haghia Sophia.52

In the twelfth century, George Tornices, a remarkable writer and Metropolitan of Ephesus (1155–1157), who had taught at the school for chanters at Constantinople, wrote about ‘the insolent behaviour of the Haghiosophites against’ himself (τὴν ἀναιδῆ τοῦ ἀγεννοῦς πλήθους τῶν Ἁγιοσοϕιτῶν καθ’ ἡμῶν ὁρμήν).53 Quite evidently, they fancied themselves as a sort of noble cast, somehow men of consequence, and had grown arrogant therefore.

Later, the highly erudite Classicist and bishop, Eustathius of Thessaloniki, wrote of certain people who, ‘at some time, arrived in the great Thessaloniki’, and among the names that he cited he included a certain ‘wise citizen of the great city [sc. Constantinople], a deacon, namely the Haghiosophite Michael, a protekdikos’ (ἕτερος δὲ σοϕὸς μεγαλοπολίτης, λευίτης ἁγιοσοϕίτης Μιχαὴλ πρωτέκδικος).54

Later still Michael Choniates (or Acominatus, c. 1140–1220) wrote a letter to four persons that he addressed by their names, yet adding, ‘and to the rest of the Haghiosophites’ (καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς Ἁγιοσοϕίταις), in which he was lavish of commendation for this excellent choir (μουσοπόλῳ χορῷ), comparing them with the Muses chanting opposite god Apollo, and with the Sphaerus of Empedocles, but this new ‘Sphaerus’ was more stable, since, in that, there was always Love and harmony and never Strife (ἑνὶ κόσμῳ ἐμῷ διὰ ϕιλίας σϕαιρουμένῳ τοῦ ἐμπεδοκλείου πολὺ μονιμώτερον,).55

Therefore, the designation ‘Haghiosophite’ had become legendary and ended up a sort of nobility in its own right. Consequently, when, in the aforementioned contract, the ‘Haghiosophite’ John Plades signed also μεγαλοναΐτης, there can be no doubt that he took pride at dignifying himself with his office as a chanter at the church of Haghia Sophia in Constantinople.

This point is important when discussion comes to Demetrius the Protocanonarch, who is not much known. From the Acts of Mount Athos monasteries, we know that he was a native of the Greek village of Amorion, a village now at the border of Greece and Turkey in Thrace, two kilometres from the bank of the river Evros, which forms the border with Turkey. Amorion is situated seven kilometres southwest of Didymoteichon, Greece, and twenty-one kilometres west of Uzunköprü, Turkey.

For one thing, we find Protocanonarch Demetrius, also self-styled μεγαλοναΐτης, being contemporary with another Demetrius, namely, Diabasemeres, and there is evidence that both of them sat around the same table upon confirming and signing official contracts in at least two monasteries of Mount Athos. We have three such contracts, signed by both of them at the monasteries of Xenophon and Chilandarion at Athos in the years 1308, 1309, and 1313.56 This makes Diabasemeres’ dates important in order to date the present codex-owner, Demetrius the Protocanonarch.

Diabasemeres signed up to contracts stricken in the years 1303; 1320; 1322, 1324, 1326; 1327; 1331, 1333; 1334; 1338; 1347.57 Whereas in the beginning (1303) he designated himself simply ‘a member of clergy’,58 subsequently he became ‘clergyman and taboullarios [registrar]’ (until 1317), then, ‘oikonomos [administrator] and taboullarios’, later, in 1326, also skevofylax (‘sacristan’), while during the years 1320–1347, he added the dignifying ‘Megalonaites’ (‘an officer of the Great Church’) to the rest of his other titles.

In all of the foregoing documents, including those signed by the Protocanonarch and μεγαλοναΐτης Demetrius Amoriates, the dating used was anno mundi, not anno Domini.

This was natural to happen, but it should be borne to mind since it confirms that the date 1630 on folio 54v of the present commentary is a much later one, added by a different hand.

Although Demetrius Diabasemeres is somewhat better known to scholarship59 compared with Demetrius Amoriates,60 both of them have been recognised as figures that made their mark in the later Byzantium. Demetrius Diabasemeres (cleric, taboullarios, scribe) being styled μεγαλοναΐτης has been associated with various churches of Thessaloniki (Theotokos-Acheiropoietos, or Saint Demetrius, or Haghia Sophia, or the Asomaton Church – Rotonda).61 However, I have shown that the term μεγαλοναΐτης simply and clearly suggested the Great Church of Haghia Sophia in Constantinople.62 Obviously, both Demetrii and μεγαλοναΐται (the Protocanonarch Demetrius Amoriates and Demetrius Diabasemeres) used to travel from Constantinople to Mount Athos whenever necessary in order to secure the validity of the legal acts that involved various monasteries.

Nevertheless, there can be no comparison between the difference of status held by either of those persons: Demetrius Diabasemeres retained the lofty office of oikonomos and taboullarios,63 whereas Protocanonarch Demetrius remained in that office for a lifetime, yet he came to be as pride of this as to sign (in the present folio 54v) in the pompous and garnished manner of handwriting that was normally used by dignitaries of the highest rank, such as bishops, even emperors.

‘Protocanonarch Demetrius’ signed using this title in documents along with Diabasemeres, at times when the latter was a dignitary of a fairly high rank,64 whereas Protocanonarch Demetrius was simply a chanter holding one of the lowest offices of the Patriarchate.65

The office of oikonomos belonged to the first ‘group of five’ (πεντάς) of the Byzantine officia. That of skevofylax belonged to the same group, but it was ranked third whereas oikonomos was the first in order. Contrast to this, protocanonarch was the third office of those in the eighth ‘group of five’ (πεντάς), after which the ninth ‘group of five’ was the last and lowest in order.66

To put it more accurately, the protocanonarch was not actually a chanter: he was an assistant of the chanters, and his duty was to read and recite verses of psalmody, which were immediately sung by the chanters; then, he recited the next verses, and chanters sang them forthwith, and so on. In this way, chanters did not have to read the books in front of them, and the congregation could grasp the poetic content of a troparion, which was difficult to make out when the chant was long and sung in a very slow rhythm.

This shows that, whereas Demetrius Diabasemeres would have been born in c. 1285, Protocanonarch Demetrius was presumably younger, possibly born in c. 1290. In any case, Protocanonarch Demetrius would have been alive upon the death of Nikephorus Gregoras, in 1360.

Moreover, in Codex 303 of the Holy Sepulchre at Constantinople (comprising manuscripts written in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), a text ‘On the building of Haghia Sophia’ (entitled Περὶ τῆς οἰκοδομῆς τῆς ἁγιωτάτης τοῦ Θεοῦ Μεγάλης Ἐκκλησίας) begins thus: Ταύτην τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ Μεγάλην Ἐκκλησίαν, τὴν νῦν ὀνομαζομένην Ἁγίαν Σοϕίαν, πρῶτον μὲν ἀνήγειρεν ὁ μέγας Κωνσταντῖνος, … etc.

This is why, in another manuscript of the same lot, we come upon another text written by Demetrius the Protocanonarch, now styling himself ‘Protocanonarch of the Great Church’, that is, of Haghia Sophia.67

Nevertheless, Diabasemeres, while still a young man and novice clergyman, could have been a native of Thessaloniki before moving to Constantinople, as the contract of the year 1303 shows, which he composed as a notary ‘at the urging of the great skevofylax and taboullarios of the Metropolis of Thessaloniki, [the deacon] John Perdikarios’.68 It should be recalled that we saw above a hieromonk called Matthew Perdicarios donating a ‘parental monastery’ to three monks.

It should be noted that the expression ‘the Great Church’ (ἡ μεγάλη ἐκκλησία) was just another designation for the church of Haghia Sophia, and it was never applied to the church of the Holy Apostles, as incorrectly has been sometimes asserted. To any Byzantine, the meaning of this expression alone as to which church it pointed to, was taken for granted and needed no further explanation. Nevertheless, a series of authors speaking of ‘the great church’ felt it necessary to flesh out, hence, in addition they also spelled out the name of the particular sanctuary, namely, the Haghia Sophia69 Pseudo-Codinus relates that it was Justinian’s wife, empress Theodora, that began to build the church of the Holy Apostles ‘four years after that of the Haghia Sophia had began’, in the site of an ancient church that had been built by emperor Constantine and his mother Helen, as Haghia Sophia was built on the ruins of the church that had been built by Constantius II (r. 337–361), and was consecrated in 360 by the Arian bishop Eudoxius of Antioch.70 Actually, on this, there was a rivalry between the couple, and Justinian, who never realised that he was but an ephemeral despot, was eager to finish his own ‘great church’ before that of the Holy Apostles was complete.71

The term ἁγιοσοϕίτης was certainly a later coinage, and appears also in a chrysoboullon (‘decree having a golden seal set to it’) by emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus concerning donation of a wide piece of land to the ‘great church’, and determining that, henceforth, this should be ‘an Haghiosophite estate’ (καὶ ἡ χώρα τῶν Ἁγιοσοϕιτῶν ἐστι χώρα).72 Likewise, the term ‘Megalonaites’ (‘an officer of the Great Church’) proudly attached to one’s name was coined also during the later period of the Byzantine times. Diabasemeres’ name appears at 49 points, of which 28 style him ‘Megalonaites’ (‘an officer of the Great Church’), in the Acts of the Athos monasteries of Chilandarion, Vatopedium, Iviron, Xenophon, Lavra, Docheiarium, with Chilanadarion outnumbering them all (19 points). The name, ‘Protocanonarch Demetrius Amoriates’, appears at five points in three documents of the monasteries of Chilandarion and Xenophon. Not much later (yet later still), similar designations were appointed by a few other clerics of the Haghia Sophia carrying out missions at Athos,73 but such self-aggrandising titles did not win the day, since, in terms of historical time, the fall of Byzantium was imminent. In any event, the title ‘Protocanonarch’ would have been used only before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, since after that, the conqueror Mehmet II turned this into a mosque.

In conclusion, we have indisputable facts concerning the owner of the present codex, Demetrius the Protocanonarch (‘first lead chanter’).

  1. 1. He was from Amorion, a village located closer to Constantinople than to Thessaloniki. Demetrius was never styled a ‘scribe’: he always appears under the titles he used himself, namely, ‘Protocanonarch’ and ‘Megalonaites’, that is, an official of the Great Church, vis. the Haghia Sophia,74 or indeed ‘Demetrius Amoriates, Protocanonarch and Megalonaites’.75
  2. 2. He was μεγαλοναΐτης, that is, he held an office in the church of Haghia Sophia at Constantinople (since μεγαλοναΐτης means ἁγιοσοϕίτης), namely, he was πρωτοκανονάρχης.
  3. 3. He was a contemporary with Demetrius Diabasemeres, with whom he was personally acquainted, and both of them signed as dignitaries official contracts at Mount Athos.
  4. 4. The present codex was found at Constantinople, namely, at the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and later was transferred to the National Library of Athens.
  5. 5. Gregoras died in 1360 (born c. 1295, Heraclea of Pontus). The owner of the present manuscript, Demetrius Protocanonarch, was active76 in the year 1347, which means he was a slightly older contemporary of Gregoras. This means that the present unattributed manuscript, entitled ‘written by Origen, as they say’, came to be possessed by Demetrius, who added this to his own collection of manuscripts ‘among other ones’, as he himself noted on the first page of that.
  6. 6. No doubt, the commentary was written at Constantinople. Along with entertaining the characteristic vocabulary of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (Gregoras appealed to, and quoted from, that obscure figure abundantly), the commentator uses also characteristic locution which was typical of Athos Monasteries – and that late Byzantine period was the heyday of Athos monastic communities.77

Little wonder that this document was found among the manuscripts of the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre at Constantinople, then, a later hand haphazardly coalesced this with another four irrelevant manuscripts in the year 1630, and the desultory amalgam was numbered Codex 494, which Kerameus re-numbered 199.

Origen in the Palaeologean Enlightenment

Why was it that the present commentator set out to perpetuate a commentary supposedly written by Origen?

After centuries of darkness and blind regurgitated obloquy against Origen without any reading (let alone perusal) of his works, in the Palaeologean times and shortly before that, there are indications and testimonies that remarkable intellectuals did read, cited, and quoted Origen’s works. This means that the superstitious trepidation of Justinian’s synod, which had anathematised Origen, had considerably abated. The anemophilous repetition of the list of absurd anathematising clauses against Origen was no longer seen as an indisputable oracle.

Theodore Metochites (1270–1332), the Byzantine statesman, polymath, author, philosopher, patron of the arts, and personal adviser (μεσάζων) to emperor Andronikus II Palaeologus from 1305 to 1328, wrote of ‘Origen and Panaetius and Clement [of Alexandria]’, styling them ‘men of our Christian lot’ (τῆς ἡμετέρας Χριστιανικῆς αὐλῆς) along with Gregory Thaumaturgus and Eusebius, while mentioning Philo, Claudius Ptolemy, and Theon of Alexandria in high admiration, too.78

The Byzantine astronomer, historian, and theologian Nikephorus Gregoras (1295–1360) styled Origen ‘the wise one’79 and with no qualms whatsoever he stood up against the centuries-long obloquy against him. Moreover, he said what was historically obvious: whereas synods had branded certain intellectuals ‘heretics’, nevertheless, they made use of their books in order to defend orthodoxy: referring to the Novatian Bishop Sisinnius (c. 400), Gregoras wrote that prelates used his works in order to argue against Arianism, and continues thus:

Even if we set aside most of Origen’s books, we do not in the least set aside Origen himself. And most certainly, unerring witnesses to my assertion are his battles and refutations against the cursed Celsus, as also are the rest of his numerous books, which expound exegeses on the holy scriptures that have been embraced by the industrious holy Fathers.80

Thus, on the one hand, Gregoras ostensibly conceded taking distances from ‘Origen’s books’, whereby he pretended compliance with the centuries-long entrenched shameful habit of damning Origen out of hand without having read a single word of his books, while, on the other, he forthwith declared that Origen’s Contra Celsum was perfectly orthodox, and that ‘the industrious holy Fathers’ of old had availed themselves of Origen’s ‘numerous books’! If numerous books had been availed of by the holy Fathers, how could it be possible for ‘most of Origen’s books’ to be set aside? But of course, Gregoras used just one more rhetorical scheme in order to say that Origen was simply and plainly orthodox, even though those who parroted the scum about him being a heretic fell short of one substantial quality: they were not as ‘industrious’ as ‘the holy Fathers’ – since his detractors had not read a single word of his, and simply anemophilously mimicked old froth.

This was a real turning point, given that Nikephorus Blemmydes, the predecessor of enlightened scholars that lived shortly before and during the Palaeologean era, in his one and only reference to Origen, had made a freakish claim: whereas Origen abundantly had spoken of ‘the soul of Jesus’ (ψυχὴ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ),81 or of ‘soul of Christ’82 and of ‘Jesus Christ the Logos having a soul’ (διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ ἐμψύχου λόγου),83 he had explained its precise relation to the Logos of God,84 as well as its generation from the Body of Logos, from which all souls stem.85 However, Blemmydes uncritically claimed that ‘Origen, along with the Arians, postulated that the incarnated Lord did not assume any animated soul whatsoever, since his divinity sufficed instead of having any soul at all’.86 He added this phrase to the preceding one, which (yet Blemmydes did not say so) was but a quotation from the Neo-Chalcedonian Theodore of Raithus (sixth-seventh century) objurgating Apollinaris of Laodicea for having said that Jesus had not a human soul.87 Theodore (in title, expounding the Δόξα Ἀπολλιναρίου) did not mention Origen at all: he only claimed that the doctrine about Jesus having simply flesh was an Arian one, and Apollinaris had replaced Jesus’ human nature with the Logos.88

The council of Ephesus (431) had indeed convicted Apollinaris of Laodicea89 on that score as a Monophysite,90 and took pains to confirm that Jesus had a soul.91 At a single point quoting a text by Theophilus of Alexandria, that synod treated Origen as a heretic,92 because of Theophilus’93 allegations ‘addressed to those who upheld Origen’s views’, and concluded with arguing that God the Logos ‘did not assume a lifeless body; instead, he had a rational soul’.94 Contrast to these, Nikephorus Callistus Xanthopulus, propounding what was abundantly obvious in Origen’s texts, as well already attested by Socrates Scholasticus,95 reported the plain fact, namely, that ‘Origen, throughout his works, proclaims that the incarnated Logos had a soul’.96

Quite evidently, Blemmydes had never read any of Origen’s works. But the least he should have done (which he did not) was to read the foregoing reports. Instead, Blemmydes quoted a phrase of Theodore of Raithus, and added out of himself, ‘likewise, Origen claimed that the Lord did not assume an animated flesh, since his divinity sufficed instead of having a soul’.97

On this score, Blemmydes’ incredible claim is a case of ‘Late Byzantine Enlightenment’ having not dawned yet. As erudite as he was and praised by both his student Pachymeres and the student of that student, Nikephorus Gregoras, he lived too early (1197–1272) to adjust himself to reasoning strictly on the basis of texts he had actually read. The claim he made about Origen was but an echo of arrant bigotry that had been perpetuated during the darkness of previous centuries.

The Byzantine Enlightenment had to wait for yet a short while more in order to grow light. Blemmydes will be only remembered as the teacher who studied and subsequently taught his pupil George Acropolites (and descendants such as Pachymeres, and then Gregoras), Medicine, Philosophy, Theology, Mathematics, Astronomy, Logic, and Rhetoric.

However, pending the age of Palaelogean Enlightenment, Blemmydes should have attended to a principle not too later crisply formulated by Vincent of Lérins: although the holy tradition has a dynamic rather than static character, its typical and fundamental feature is that this is determined by ‘everything that has been held everywhere, always, and by everyone’ (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ex omnibus creditum est).98

In any event, learned attitude to Origen was a rather rare commodity, since there were also others who did not care to read his works, or had no access to them, and were content only with the synodical claims of long past centuries, such as John VI Cantacuzenus, who embraced them uncritically and saw Origen as an all-out Arian,99 or Philotheus Coccinus,100 or Matthew Blastares, who simply quoted from the acts of that sixth-century synod101 that had been anemophilously and uncritically parroted by theologians who did not give a damn about what Origen had really written, such as Gregory Palamas.102

Such attitudes call to mind Thucydides’ remark concerning the Athenians.

For people [sc. Athenians] embrace from each other hearsay on things that happened in the past (τὰς ἀκοὰς τῶν προγεγενημένων), without caring to corroborate them (ἀβασανίστως παρ᾽ἀλλήλων δέχονται,) even though these pertain to their own country (καὶ ἢν ἐπιχώρια σϕίσιν ᾖ).

Thucydides continued with adducing specific examples of flagrant distortion of historical truth by ‘the hoi polloi of Athenians’ (Ἀθηναίων γοῦν τὸ πλῆθος) concerning the story of tyrant Hipparchus having been slain by Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and several popular myths that had nothing to do with truth, even though those were about situations ‘still extant and which have not yet been thrown into oblivion by the flux of time’ (πολλὰ δὲ καὶ ἄλλα ἔτι καὶ νῦν ὄντα καὶ οὐ χρόνῳ ἀμνηστούμενα). Therefore, Thucydides’ conclusion was the following one, which (as so many of his brilliant remarks) is of eternal value.

This is how pain-free is search for truth by most men, who rather opt for embracing reports that are ready to hand (οὕτως ἀταλαίπωρος τοῖς πολλοῖς ἡ ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ἑτοῖμα μᾶλλον τρέπονται).103

Had Thucydides lived to see and report the state of things that happened from the sixth to thirteenth century concerning Origen, his expressions could have been much harsher.

Nevertheless, opposite the innumerable throng of those who simply parroted Justinian’s self-defeating allegations about Origen, there were intellectuals who had cared to read Origen’s works, such as John Kyparissiotes (c. 1310–1379),104 and more so Demetrius Cydones (1324–1398), who quoted extensively from Origen’s commentary on Matthew,105 from De Principiis,106 from other treatises that he did not cite,107 even from works of which we know nothing, such as the otherwise never attested Origen’s discourse Περὶ Ὁμιλιῶν.108 Nikephorus Gregoras was one of them, too.

Whether there is truth in the proverb ‘silence means consent’, or not, the fact is that there were several others who did not mention Origen at all, such as George Acropolites and his pupil George Pachymeres, Theodore II Dukas Laskaris (1221–1258, Emperor of Nicaea from 1254 to 1258), Maximus Planudes, Prochorus Cydones (Demetrius Cydones’ younger brother), George Tornices, et al.

On this, the least that could be said is this: the real intention of those men and their like was not necessarily to defend Origen; rather, they felt that, despite their avidity for theology, they could not pass any judgement on Origen once his books were not available to them, whereas others presumably felt that defending Origen could be only a risk to the convenient social status they enjoyed.

In any case, how could possibly Origen’s books have been at hand? Later testimonies, which, thanks to gloating bigotry, were cautiously suppressed during the dark Byzantines times, were not altogether lost.

The Council of Florence (1438–1439) vauntingly boasted that ‘the fifth oecumenical synod, which was mainly convened against the Origenists’, decided that ‘Origen’s works should be burnt’ and this is indeed what happened (τῶν Ὠριγένους καυθέντων).109

This can be confirmed by Marcus Eugenicus, who took part in that synod as a delegate for the Patriarch of Alexandria. He was one of the loudest voices therein and ended up the leader of the Orthodox opposition to the Union of Florence. He explicitly attested that ‘the fifth council denounced his [sc. Origen’s] works and threw them to fire’ (ὑπὸ τῆς πέμπτης ἀπεδοκιμάσθη συνόδου τὰ τούτου συγγράμματα καὶ πυρὶ παρεδόθη … διὰ τοῦτ’ ἀϕανισθῆναι τὰ τούτου συγγράμματα καὶ πυρὶ δοθῆναι), but the Philocalia, ‘which was composed by Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great, was spared’, although ‘this contains controversial propositions [about the universal restoration] that were debatable at that time’.110

Earlier, the third council of Constantinople (680–681) had confirmed that the sixth-century Fifth Synod had not only rejected Origen’s alleged doctrines, but also threw his books to total destruction.111

Even mere reading of Origen’s works was proclaimed a lethal sin, which could entail ‘ending down to the bottom of Hades and to the utmost darkness’.112 The bumptious Epiphanius of Salamis had convened a synod of the bishops of Cyprus in order to enforce banning on reading Origen’s works, and tried to impose that also on the Patriarch of Constantinople, that is, John Chrysostom, whom the bellicose Epiphanius persistently denounced as being an Origenist.113

Moreover, the second council of Nicaea (in 787) took some steps further: they had a deacon read a refutation of ‘Eusebius’ apology for Origen’ written by Antipater of Bostra (without mentioning that, in the first place, ‘Eusebius’ apology’ was Pamphilus’ work). While Antipater acknowledged Eusebius’ erudition (‘since he had access to libraries everywhere, because of the emperor’s favour’), he determined that Eusebius was but a heretic as much as Origen was. Consequently, ‘the most holy Patriarch said: ‘‘By means of patristic [sc. Antipater’s] voice, the works of Eusebius have been proven to be alien to the Catholic Church’’’.114 Q.e.d.!

Otherwise, later Byzantine testimonies on Origen should be taken seriously, all the more so since it appears that some of them availed themselves of information from texts that are no longer extant.

For example, Michael Psellus clearly appears informed that Origen was a convert, not one born to Christian parents. Actually, Psellus knew that ‘Origen joined our theology and accepted the [divine] oikonomia.’115 Of course, this fits perfectly with the opening phrase of Origen’s De Principiis, where he declares that he belongs to those who became Christian once they ‘were convinced and came to believe’ (οἱ πεπιστευκότες καὶ πεπεισμένοι.)116

Likewise, against the modern invention about ‘two Origens’ advanced by those who cannot stomach the fact of Origen’s conversion, Nikephorus Callistus Xanthopulus could not have been more clear: in the section recounting Origen’s striking renown among both Christians and pagans, he wrote also that Origen’s pupils included also pagans who ‘were trained in both philosophies’ (i.e. Christian and Greek). And whenever Origen saw students who were apt in philosophical learning, he promoted them to lessons of Geometry and Arithmetic. Moreover, he passed judgements and resolved questions concerning differences between sects of heathen philosophy (ἒτι δὲ καὶ εἰς τὰς κατὰ ϕιλοσόϕους αἱρέσεις ἐῤῥύθμιζε), he gave lectures on them, and wrote apposite commentaries, too.117

And the philosophers of those times who flourished simultaneously with him attest to him (Καὶ μαρτυροῦσιν οἱ τότε τῶν ϕιλοσόϕων αὐτῷ συνακμάσαντες). And they mention this man several times in their works, sometimes addressing his theories and sometimes criticising them.118

When Nikephorus Callistus wrote his Church History, no question had been raised such as that Porphyry and Proclus spoke about ‘another Origen’: the flyaway saga about the ‘pagan Origen’ is simply a modern invention. Moreover, since I have written that Origen converted to Christianity when he was nearly fifty years of age, I should quote Patriarch Dositheus’ report:

Origen, although advanced in age (καίτοι παρῆλιξ ὤν), learned the Hebrew language, and took up the three translations by Akylas, Theodotion, and Symmachus, and discovered another one in Jericho within a large jar in the years of Antoninus, the son of Severus; also, he found another two translations, as Eusebius and Jerome wrote, and juxtaposed those six translations with the Hebrew text in order to acquire an accurate knowledge and grasp of the divine scripture.119

What did Dositheus mean by the word παρῆλιξ? Usage of this epithet by various authors makes this all too clear: it means someone who is older than middle-aged and moves towards old age.120 In relation to women, this was used of Sarah, Abraham’s wife and half-sister, or Elisabeth the mother of John the Baptist, in order to indicate a woman who is advanced in age and sterile because menopause has come about.121

Therefore, Dositheus reports that Origen began to learn Hebrew when he was pretty much advanced in age, and he did so in order to understand the Old Testament better by composing his Hexapla.

When, at the end of the ninth century, Photius reviewed a book defending Origen, he realised that this had been written by an author who took heed to remain anonymous. The reason why that author did so was that he arguably showed that, in Origen’s works, ‘there was nothing wrong about his Trinitarian Theology’ (Φησὶ δὲ καὶ περὶ τοῦ Ὠριγένους μηδὲν αύτὸν κατὰ δόξαν ἐσϕάλθαι περὶ τῆς Τριάδος). Besides, he reminded that, even during his lifetime, Origen stood up to the adulteration of his books, and he pointed out specific cases of malevolent third parties being red-handed upon distorting his texts (Καὶ προάγει καὶ αὐτὸν ἐκεῖνον τοῦτο βοῶντα καὶ διατεινόμενον· ϕωρᾶσαι γὰρ αὐτόν ϕησι καὶ ἔτι ζῶντα ταύτην κατ’ αὐτοῦ τὴν ῥᾳδιουργίαν).122 Actually, his corpus attests to ‘a man of the Church, who was orthodox’ (καὶ τό γε ἐπὶ τῇ αὐτοῦ σπουδῇ ἐκκλησιαστικὸν καὶ τῶν ὀρθοδόξων ἀποϕαίνεται τὸν ἄνδρα).123 To write such things about Origen in those times was nothing short of dangerous.

After centuries of darkness and bigotry, the intellectuals of the Palaeologean era, even shortly before that, made claims that otherwise should have been taken for granted: in order for assertions about Origen to be made, they were seeking solid information, not bygone oracles by frightful or rancorous prelates. And such information was Origen’s writings themselves, most copies of which had either been burnt or suppressed or anathematised and banned from reading at all. After Justinian’s synod in the sixth century, defending Origen was a very hazardous proposition. All theologians did (and they were happy to do) was parroting the synod’s decision, which was but a precise copy of Justinian’s edict against Origen. The case was far worse than Thucydides’ remark about the Athenians, ἀταλαίπωρος τοῖς πολλοῖς ἡ ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας.

Had it not been for Socrates Scholasticus to set a few things straight, Origen’s defense could have been limited to Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and to a small handful of other theologians. But all of them (including Socrates) had lived far long before Justinian’s era. This could explain the silence of intellectuals like Acropolites and his pupil Pachymeres about Origen. Anyway, Pachymeres wrote that his teacher Acropolites ‘was a very wise man, but in most cases, he cared to conceal his personal views’ (σοϕῷ μὲν εἰς τὰ μάλιστα, ἀσυνειδήτῳ δὲ ὡς τὰ πολλά),124 which means a stolid nice guy, indeed pliant, man, who just kept a cool head, or at most a level-headed person. However, this was a trait that Pachymeres cared to apply to himself, too.

Unlike them, Nikephorus Gregoras was an antipodean character, and this pertained not only to his diametrical assessment of Aristotle vis-à-vis Pachymeres: it was also explicated in his attitude to Origen, when Gregoras not only styled Origen ‘wise’, but also unflinchingly declared that he was not prepared to renounce Origen’s books.125

This point of view, along with his lifetime passionate pursuit of ‘wisdom’ and pertinent references to Solomon could no less explain also why it was that Gregoras did not hesitate to take up a commentary, whose title informed, ‘Explained by Origen, as they say’. The time when theologians threw Origen’s writings away, lest they should incur the eternal fire in hell, was past. However, an explicit declaration such as that by Gregoras remained exclusive to him alone.

Nevertheless, in relation to this mood and approach, I should mention the case of the Byzantine poet Manuel Philes (c. 1275–1345, a pupil of George Pachymeres, in whose honour he composed a eulogistic epitaphic poem): he felt free to write an iambus praising Origen as ‘an interpreter of mystical truths’ (Ὠριγένην, μυστικῶν ἑρμηνέα), ‘which Basil adjudged as being most sublime’ (Βασιλείου κρίναντος ὡς κρείττους πάνυ), but ‘the Satan’s spite vanquished him’ and managed to pin him down ‘among the infamous ones’ (which is indeed ‘awful to say’, ϕρικτὸν τῷ λόγῳ), although, ‘to those who have been able to assess him befittingly’ (τοῦ κρίναντος ἀξίως), his words were ‘hallowed drops of orphic sweet smell’ (ῥανίδες ἁγναὶ μυστικῆς εὐωδίας), provided ‘one is able to escape from the torrents of stink-smelling delusion’ (ἐκ ῥευμάτων ϕαίη τις ὀζόντων πλάνης).126

Philes did not go as far as Gregoras, yet he went some way nonetheless.

Over the years, I myself have scrutinised this ‘stink-smelling delusion’ that has preponderated not only in ancient but also in modern scholarship, which is why, bar a handful of modern scholars, I have spoken of the ‘deplorable state of Origenian studies’. Philes wrote also a poem in honour of his teacher George Pachymeres, which he titled Epitaph (i.e. eulogising obituary) comprising 100 verses. His admiration for Pachymeres is evident, but (opposite Pachymeres’ unqualified admiration for Aristotle) Philes’ references to Aristotle are waned: actually, he addressed Aristotle in second person, urging him to ‘cease boasting, and to retreat into silence and shut off his books’ in view of the superiority of ideas expounded by Pachymeres, since the latter’s commentaries outdid the original text. To Philes, Pachymeres was a new ‘Demosthenes’, who persuaded by the force of his intellect, not by bestirring emotions. He was a nonpartisan dikaeophylax,127 who judiciously resolved all sorts of dissention.128

Origen was more than well versed in Greek literature, including not only philosophy and theology, but also poetry, medicine, and all known fields of science. In rare cases of exception, such as his epistle to Gregory Thaumaturgus and the rebuttal of Celsus, he did not conceal the vast background that determined his tutelage: study of philosophy along with Geometry, Astronomy, Music, Grammar, and Rhetoric, was an indispensable introductory stage to Theology, wherefore he proudly declared that this was the gist of his methodology as a teacher.129

If you were to show me teachers who give introductory schooling in philosophy (πρὸς ϕιλοσοϕίαν προπαιδεύοντας) and train people in philosophical study (καὶ ἐν ϕιλοσοϕίᾳ γυμνάζοντας), I will not dissuade young men from being instructed by those [teachers]. However, once they have received the general education (ἐν ἐγκυκλίοις μαθήμασι) and the study of philosophical [questions] (τοῖς ϕιλοσοϕουμένοις), I will try to elevate them to the augustness and sublimity of the lofty teaching (μεγαλοϕωνίας)130 of Christians, who peruse systematically and prove and demonstrate that these [philosophical ideas] have been [already] taught by the prophets of God and the apostles of Jesus.131

This text could give the impression that Origen had in mind certain ‘other teachers’, and perhaps he did. However, in the main he was speaking of himself, since it was his style to do so by writing in third rather than first person,132 which was a common oratorial scheme. This could be realised once part of his letter to Gregory Thaumaturgus is considered, in which not only the style, but also the ideas, and indeed the vocabulary, are exactly the same as those in the previous quotation.


XVI, 676
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (June)
Old Testament Textual Studies Origen Late Byzantine Enlightenement The Wisdom of Solomon and the Byzantine Reception of Origen Panayiotis Tzamalikos
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XVI, 676 pp.

Biographical notes

Panayiotis Tzamalikos (Author)

Panayiotis Tzamalikos, MSc, MPhil, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He has written 17 books, as well as numerous articles. These include studies on Origen, ancient Greek philosophy, the newly discovered Cassian the Sabaite, and four critical editions of previously unknown Greek texts.


Title: The Wisdom of Solomon and the Byzantine Reception of Origen