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Origen's Veils: The Askēsis of Interpretation

  • Susanna Drake


In his interpretations of the books of the Hebrew Bible, written mainly in Caesarea Maritima, Origen often depicts the “letter” of scripture as a veil that covers the spiritual meaning of the text. He imagines the work of the spiritual exegete as an act of unveiling. Drawing on several biblical veils (including Moses' veil and the bride's veil in the Song of Songs), Origen constructs a hermeneutic theory that privileges a rational, spiritual, and “unveiled” interpretation of the text over a carnal, literal interpretation, which he most often associates with Jews. After examining the ancient association of veils with femininity and aidōs (shame), this article argues that Origen's consignment of Jews to a “veiled” reading functions as anti-Jewish slander insofar as it associates Jewish interpretive practices with shame, dishonor, femininity, and fleshliness. Origen's interpretation of the veil contributes to his understandings of gender, sexuality, sexual renunciation, and Christian identity. Despite Origen's rhetorical disavowal of the veil as literal, fleshly, Jewish, and feminine, a reading of his exegesis of biblical veils attests to his unrenounced desire for the “veil of the letter” and the “body” of the text.



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1 See, for example, Origen's interpretation of Hagar in his seventh homily on Genesis. Building on Paul's allegorization of Hagar in Galatians 4, Origen interprets Hagar as a figure for the synagogue—the people according to the flesh” (Origène: Homélies sur la Genèse, ed. Doutreleau, L., Sources Chrétiennes 7 [Paris: Cerf, 1976], 208, hereafter SC). The divine opening of Hagar's eyes (narrated in Gen 21:19) signifies, for Origen, the Christianization of Hagar: her movement from carnal to spiritual understanding. Her newfound sight signals a future moment when Israel shall be saved from its blindness (Hom. Gen. 7.6 [SC 7, 208–210]). See also Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. Heine, Ronald E. (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982).

2 See Miller, Patricia Cox, “Poetic Words, Abysmal Words: Reflections on Origen's Hermeneutics,” in The Poetry of Thought in Late Antiquity: Essays in Imagination and Religion (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2001), 212.

3 Paul precedes Origen in using veil imagery in hermeneutical theory. See Margaret M. Mitchell's helpful study of Paul (and Origen) on veils in Paul, the Corinthians and the Birth of Christian Hermeneutics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 5878. Many ancient Greek thinkers before Paul's time understood nature (and other divine “truths”) as hidden beneath veils. For a discussion of the ancient conception of nature as veiled, see Hadot, Pierre, The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature, trans. Chase, Michael (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).

4 Lynn Huber explains that “apokalypsis” described the act of lifting off a veil or, metaphorically, bringing something into sight. The term bears a linguistic similarity to “anakalypsis,” which was used to describe the lifting of a veil, such as the lifting of the bride's veil at the culmination of a wedding” (Huber, Lynn, “Unveiling the Bride: Revelation 19:1–8 and Roman Social Discourse,” in A Feminist Companion to the Apocalypse of John, ed. Levine, Amy-Jill [London: T & T Clark, 2009], 159).

5 Origen, Hom. Gen. 7.6 (SC 7, 210). Origen goes on to warn his audience that their “sight” is in jeopardy: “But I fear that we ourselves may close [our eyes] again in a deeper sleep while we are not watchful in the spiritual meaning nor are we disturbed so that we dispel sleep from our eyes and contemplate things which are spiritual, that we might not err with the carnal people.”

6 For other discussions of Origen's description of Moses' veil and its relation to hermeneutical theory and the veiled synagogue, see Boyarin, Daniel, “The Subversion of the Jews: Moses's Veil and the Hermeneutics of Supersession,” Diacritics 23, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 1635; Roukema, Riemer, “The Veil Over Moses' Face in Patristic Interpretation,” in The Interpretation of Exodus: Studies in Honour of Cornelius Houtman, ed. Roukema, Riemer et al. (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 237252; and Dawson, John David, Christian Figural Reading and the Fashioning of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

7 For Marcion, see Origen, Hom. Ezek. 1.9.1 (SC 352, 74). For Apelles, see Hom. Gen. 2.2 (SC 7, 84).

8 See, e.g. Hom. Jer. 12.13.1 (SC 238, 44). See also Origen: Homilies on Jeremiah, Homily on 1 Kings 28, trans. Smith, John Clark (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1998).

9 Conspicuously absent from this list are the veils that Paul recommends women wear in 1 Cor 11:2–16. Origen rarely mentions Paul's injunction that women veil themselves, and when he does comment on these verses, he is more interested in the description of man as “the image and reflection of God” (see Origen, Cels. 6.63 [SC 147, 334–336]); true men as having uncovered heads (Origen, Hom. Ezek. 3.3 [SC 352, 130]); and in the role of the angels (see Origen, Princ. 1.6.2 [SC 252, 198]).

10 See 2 Cor 3:6 and Gal 3:3.

11 See also Henri Crouzel's summary of the multiple functions of the veil in Origen's work in Origène et la «Connaissance Mystique» (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1961), 419.

12 See Origen, Comm. Cant. 2.8.36 (SC 375, 42). See also Origen: The Song of Songs Commentary and Homilies, trans. Lawson, R. P. (New York: Newman, 1956).

13 Origen, Princ. 4.2.9. (SC 268, 336).

14 Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd, Aphrodite's Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece (Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2003), 3. For more on veiling in antiquity, see Cairns, Douglas, “The Meaning of the Veil in Ancient Greek Culture,” in Women's Dress in the Ancient Greek World, ed. Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (London: Duckworth, 2002), 7394. For veiling in the early church, see Finney, Mark, “Honour, Head-coverings and Headship: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 in its Social Context,” Journal for the Study of New Testament 33 (2010): 3158; and Daniel-Hughes, Carly, “‘Wear the Armor of Your Shame!': Debating Veiling and the Salvation of the Flesh in Tertullian of Carthage,” Studies in Religion/ Sciences Religieuses 29 (2010): 179201.

15 Llewellyn-Jones, Aphrodite's Tortoise, 158.

16 See, for example, Hesiod, Theogony, 573–575, in Hesiod, ed. Most, Glenn W. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 48. See discussion in Carson, Anne, “Putting Her in Her Place: Woman, Dirt, and Desire,” in Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, eds. Halperin, David, Winkler, John, and Zeitlin, Froma (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), 135169, see esp. 160-162; and Cairns, “The Meaning of the Veil,” 80.

17 See discussion in Martin, Dale, The Corinthian Body (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), 234235 and Cairns, “The Meaning of the Veil,” 81.

18 See discussion in Martin, The Corinthian Body, 229–249.

19 Corrington, Gail Paterson, “The ‘Headless Woman’: Paul and the Language of the Body in 1 Cor 11:2-16,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 18, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 225.

20 Cairns, “The Meaning of the Veil,” 80.

21 See the summary of evidence in Llewellyn-Jones, Aphrodite's Tortoise, 17, 201–203; Cairns, “The Meaning of the Veil,” 75–77; and Oster, Richard, “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Historical Context of 1 Corinthians 11:4,” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 481505.

22 Finney, “Honour, Head-coverings and Headship,” 36.

23 Cairns, “The Meaning of the Veil,” 75.

24 See Llewellyn-Jones, Aphrodite's Tortoise, 230–240, for a discussion of the various stages of the anakalyptēria. For a different description of the anakalyptēria, see Carson, “Putting Her in Her Place,” 163–164.

25 Llewellyn-Jones, Aphrodite's Tortoise, 238–239. See also discussion in Martin, The Corinthian Body. Martin writes:

The usual term for “veil” is krēdemnon, the ambiguity of which is important for the multivalent significations of veiling. In Homeric texts krēdemnon can refer to the stopper, seal, or cover of a wine jug. Since both medical writers and, it seems, popular opinion conceived of the uterus as an upside down jug, krēdemnon could also connote the “closed” (in common opinion) uterus of a virgin; “to loose the krēdemnon” could refer to either the breaking of the seal and unstopping of a wine jug or the defloration of a virgin. . . . For ancient Greeks, then, the veil (krēdemnon) not only symbolized but actually effected a protective barrier guarding the woman's head and, by metonymic transfer, her genitals. For the upper-class, Homeric heroine, the veil functioned like her attendants, shielding her from touch, reproach, and even the gaze of anyone but her husband and immediate family members. To tear off the veil was to invite or symbolize sexual violation. (234)

26 Llewellyn-Jones explains: “Like a symbolic hymen, the bridal veil became the focus of the rituals of the ‘unveiling,’ for the anakalyptēria were not simply confined to one specific moment in the wedding ceremony but were a series of unveilings which were undertaken in progressively more intimate surroundings” (Aphrodite's Tortoise, 247).

27 Tertullian, On the Veiling of Virgins (hereafter Virg.) 12.1 in Tertullian, Dunn, Geoffrey (London: Routledge, 2004), 156. See analysis in Mary Rose D'Angelo, , “Veils, Virgins, and the Tongues of Men and Angels: Women's Heads in Early Christianity,” in Off with Her Head! The Denial of Women's Identity in Myth, Religion, and Culture, edited by Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard and Doniger, Wendy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 131164.

28 Tertullian, Virg. 1.15 (Dunn 159).

29 Tertullian, Virg. 1.3 (Dunn, 145). See discussion in Martin, The Corinthian Body, 247.

30 See discussion in Llewellyn-Jones, Aphrodite's Tortoise, 130–134.

31 For a discussion of the binarisms associated with the oppositional pair “masculine/effeminate,” see Williams, Craig, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 142.

32 Commenting on the ancient Greek evidence for male veiling, Cairns explains that men “conceal themselves when they feel that their honor has been impaired—when ashamed, when humiliated, when insulted, when indulging in emotions which they consider inappropriate to display in public. Often this behavior can be seen to involve a degree of feminization” (“The Meaning of the Veil,” 76). Considered in this way, it is understandable that Paul renounces male veiling: “Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head. . . For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God” (1 Cor 11:5, 7).

33 Some ancient Jewish texts also associate unveiling with shame, humiliation, and sexual violence. See, e.g., Isaiah 47:1-3 and Susanna 31-35. See discussion in Mark Finney, “Honour, Head-coverings and Headship,” 43.

34 For a discussion of Origen's writings in Caesarea, see Trigg, Joseph, Origen (New York: Routledge, 1998), 3661.

35 McGuckin, John, “Origen on the Jews,” in Christianity and Judaism: Papers Read at the 1991 Summer Meeting and the 1992 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. Wood, Diana (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 23. For more on Caesarea during Origen's time, see Levine, Lee, Caesarea under Roman Rule (Leiden: Brill, 1975); Bietenhard, Hans, Caesarea, Origenes und die Juden (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1974); and McGuckin, John, “Caesarea Martima as Origen Knew It,” in Origeniana Quinta, ed. Daly, Robert J. (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1992), 325.

36 See, for example, Origen, Hom. Jer. 12. 13.1 (SC 238, 46) and Hom. Lev. 5.8.3 in Origenes Werke: Homiliae in Leviticum, ed. Baehrens, W. A., Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller, vol. 6 (Leipzig: Hinriches, 1920), 349.

37 John McGuckin, “Origen on the Jews,” 4.

38 See discussion in Jacobs, Andrew, Remains of the Jews: The Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiquity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 6067. For more on Origen's relations with Palestinian Jews, see De Lange, Nicholas, Origen and the Jews: Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations in Third-Century Palestine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Blowers, Paul, “Origen, the Rabbis, and the Bible: Towards a Picture of Judaism and Christianity in Third-Century Caesarea,” in Origen of Alexandria: His World and Legacy, eds. Kannengeisser, Charles and Petersen, William L. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 96116; and McGuckin, “Origen on the Jews.”

39 Origen, Ep. Afr. 9 (SC 302, 534).

40 Cf. De Lange, , Origen and the Jews and Henri Crouzel, Origen (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 78.

41 Cf. Jacobs, Remains of the Jews, 60-67; and Brooks, Roger, “Straw Dogs and Scholarly Ecumenism: The Appropriate Jewish Background to the Study of Origen,” in Origen of Alexandria: His World and Legacy, eds. Kannengeisser, Charles and Petersen, William L. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 6395.

42 Origen, Comm. Jo. 1.37 (SC 120, 80).

43 Origen, Princ. 4.1.6 (SC 268, 280–282).

44 At other times Origen describes Christ's transfiguration or his moment of death (when the temple veils were torn) as the key moments of unveiling. For transfiguration, see Hom. Ex. 12.3 (SC 321, 360); Hom. Lev. 6.2.5 (SC 286, 274); and Hom. Num. 7.2.3–4 (SC 415, 174–176). For the rending of the temple veil, see Comm. Cant. 2.8.25–29 (SC 375, 420–424).

45 Origen, Hom. Lev. 1.1 (SC 286, 66), italics mine. See also Origen: Homilies on Leviticus 1–16, trans. Barkley, Gary Wayne (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990). For more on Origen's understanding of the word as incarnate, see Harl, Marguerite, Origène et la function révalatrice du Verbe incarné (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1958).

46 As Elizabeth Clark has observed, Origen, deflects the materiality of the body onto . . . the materiality of language itself” (Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999], 170).

47 See, e.g., Origen, Princ. 4.2.9 (SC 268, 336), Cels. 4.19, and Comm. Cant. Prologue 1.6 (SC 375, 84).

48 Origen, Princ. 4.1.7 (SC 268, 286–288).

49 Origen, Princ. 4.3.14 (SC 268, 394).

50 Origen, Princ. 4.3.11 (SC 268, 384). See also Princ. 4.2.8 (SC 268, 332–334).

51 Origen, Princ. 4.3.11 (SC 268, 382).

52 Origen, Hom. Ex. 2.4 (SC 321, 84). Compare Origen's interpretation of Isaac digging wells in his thirteenth homily on Genesis, in which he characterizes Jewish interpretation of the law as “earthy,” “fleshly,” and “sordid” (Hom. Gen. 13.2 [SC 7, 314–16]).

53 Origen, Hom. Ex. 2.4 (SC 321, 84).

54 Note that spirit is opposed not only to the flesh but also to the letter, following Paul's statement in 2 Cor 3:5–6: “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

55 Origen, Princ. 4.2.4 (SC 268, 310). See discussion in Torjesen, Karen Jo, “‘Body,’ ‘Soul,’ and ‘Spirit’ in Origen's Theory of Exegesis,” Anglican Theological Review 67 no. 1 (1985): 1730; and Dawson, David, “Plato's Soul and the Body of the Text in Philo and Origen,” in Interpretation and Allegory: Antiquity to the Modern Period, ed. Whitman, Jon (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 89107.

56 Origen, Princ. 4.2.4 (SC 268, 310).

57 See Origen, Princ. 4.2.8 (SC 268, 334).

58 Origen admits that in many passages, the bodily sense is edifying, especially for beginners. See, for example, his homily on Noah's ark, Hom. Gen. 2.1. See discussion in Torjesen, Karen Jo, Hermeneutical Procedure and Theological Structure in Origen's Exegesis (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1986).

59 See Lorenzo Perrone's discussion of how Origen frequently uses this quotation from Ps 118:18 in conjunction with 2 Cor 3:15-16, in Perrone, L., “Prayer in Origen's ‘Contra Celsum’: The Knowledge of God and the Truth of Christianity,” Vigilae Christianae 55, no. 1 (January 2001): 4.

60 Moses spoke with the Lord “face to face” (Ex 33:11) and “mouth to mouth” (Num 12:8). Paul uses the “face to face” formulation in 1 Cor 13:12, and Origen follows Paul in Cels. 7.38 and Mart. 13.

61 See, e.g., Origen, Princ. 1.1.2 (SC 252, 92); 4.1.6 (SC 268, 282); Hom. Ex. 12.1 (SC 321, 352–354); Hom. Num. 7.2 (SC 415, 176); Hom. Josh. 9.4 (SC 71, 250); Comm. Rom. 2.5.4; 7.4.6; and Cels. 4.50 (SC 136, 312) and Comm. Rom. 2.5.4 in Der Römerbriefkommentar des Origenes: Kritische Ausgabe der Übersetzung Rufins, vol. 16, ed. Bammel, Caroline Hammond (Freiburg: Herder, 1990), 114.

62 Origen, Princ. 1.1.2 (SC 252, 92–94).

63 Origin, Cels. 4.50 (SC 136, 312). See also Origen: Contra Celsum, trans. Chadwick, Henry (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1953).

64 Origen, Hom. Ex. 12.1 (SC 321, 352–354).

65 Origen frequently uses the image of Moses' veil to deprecate Jewish understanding as literal, carnal, and “veiled.” My understanding of Origen's interpretation of Moses' veil thus differs from that of David Dawson, who writes, “Origen's interpretation of the veiling of Moses is not built, therefore, on a contrast between Jews and Christians, but rather between those who do and those who do not ‘turn to the Lord’” (Christian Figural Reading, 188). In the majority of instances in which Origen mentions Moses' veil, he does so in order to illustrate the superiority of Christian spiritual interpretive practices over those of the literal-minded Jews. Although Origen also acknowledges that many Christian readers have not fully “turned to the Lord” and are thus not yet capable of spiritual reading, the claim for the inferiority and “carnality” of Jewish interpretation is an unavoidable implication of Origen's hermeneutic theory.

66 Origen, Cels. 5.60 (SC 147, 162–164).

67 Origen, Hom. Ex. 12.1 (SC 321, 354).

68 Origen, Hom. Ex. 12.1 (SC 321, 354).

69 Here I am in agreement with Dawson, who writes, “Allegorical reading, like the ascetic practices of spiritual self-discipline, is indeed a ‘technique of the body.’ But the goal of the technique is not the body's annihilation but its transformation” (Dawson, Christian Figural Reading, 50). Peter Martens has demonstrated that for Origen and, later, Basil of Caesarea, the vigilant attention (προσοχηί) of the spiritual reader is akin to the “introspective” self-supervision of the ascetic. See Martens, Peter W., “Interpreting Attentively: The Ascetic Character of Biblical Exegesis According to Origen and Basil of Caesarea,” in Origeniana Octava: Origen and the Alexandrian Tradition, ed. Perrone, Lorenzo (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2003), 11151121.

70 Origen, Hom. Josh. 9.9 (SC 71, 266): “. . . id est ut negligentes et desides animos suscitetis et virilem constantiam in explendis praeceptis legalibus et evangelicis assumatis atque ad virorum fortium perfectionem celeriter properetis.” Origen insists that “men” and “women” here are symbolic and do not necessarily correspond to historical men and women: “For divine scripture does not know how to make a separation of men and women according to sex. For indeed sex is no distinction in the presence of God, but a person is designated either a man or woman according to the diversity of spirit. How many out of the sex of women are counted among the strong men before God, and how many of the men are reckoned among slack and sluggish women?” (Hom. Josh. 9.9 [SC 71, 266]).

71 Origen, Hom. Ezek. 3.3 (SC 352, 130). See also Origen: Homilies 1–14 on Ezekiel, trans. Scheck, Thomas P. (New York: Newman Press, 2010).

72 Origen, Hom. Ezek. 3.3 (SC 352, 130–132). For more on the relationship of gender, speech, and rhetoric in second-century Rome, see Gleason, Maud W., Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995).

73 Origen, Hom. Ezek. 3.3 (SC 352, 132): “Effeminate indeed are the souls and wills of their teachers who are always putting together fine-sounding and melodious speeches. Indeed, let me be perfectly honest: There is nothing manly, nothing strong, nothing worthy of God, in the men who preach according to the pleasures and wishes of their hearers.”

74 Origen, Hom. Ezek. 3.3–4 (SC 352, 132–134). For more on the connections between women, veiling, and shame in ancient Greece, see Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Aphrodite's Tortoise.

75 Origen, Hom. Ezek. 3.3 (SC 352, 130).

76 See the discussion in Origen: Homilies 1–14 on Ezekiel, trans. Thomas P. Scheck, 181n12.

77 Origen, Hom. Ezek. 3.8 (SC 352, 142–144).

78 Origen, Hom. Lev. 1.1 (SC 286, 78–80).

79 Origen, Hom. Lev. 1.4 (SC 286, 78–80).

80 Origen, Hom. Lev. 4.8.1 (SC 286, 188)

81 Origen's fourth homily on Leviticus contains a vivid description of spiritual interpretation as “touching” the word/Word: “The one who examines the inner realities and can explain the secret mysteries also touches the Word of God. And we, if we had such an understanding that we could discern by a spiritual interpretation the individual things which were written in the Law, and could draw out the hidden mystery of individual words into the light of a more precise knowledge, if we could teach the church in such a way that nothing from these that were read would remain ambiguous, nothing would be left obscure, perhaps it could also be said about us that we had touched the holy flesh of the Word of God and were sanctified” (Hom. Lev. 4.8.3 [SC 286, 190–192]).

82 Origen, Hom. Lev. 4.8.3; 4.8.4, and 4.10.3 (SC 286, 192, 198).

83 See discussion in Kuefler, Mathew, The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 1926.

84 Origen, Hom. Lev. 7.6.7 (SC 286, 346).

85 Origen, Hom. Lev. 7.6.7 (SC 286, 348).

86 Lampert, Lisa, Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 4142.

87 For more on the persistence of the hermeneutic association of text as female and interpreter as male, see Dinshaw, Carolyn, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989). Dinshaw examines Chaucer's “repeated, subtle, exploratory use of the figurative identification of the text with woman or the principle of the feminine” and his “representation of the allegorical text as a veiled or clothed woman and the concomitant representation of various literary acts—reading, translating, glossing, creating a literary tradition—as masculine acts performed on this feminine body” (17).

88 See the argument of Mathew Kuefler, who traces a shift in conceptions of masculinity in the third and fourth centuries of the early Christian era. Kuefler writes that the “new Christian ideology of masculinity depended on the paradox that Christian men were manliest when they abandoned the pursuits that ancient Roman tradition had long considered manly—participation in war and politics, in sex, marriage, and family life—and pursued divergent paths to manliness. But manliness remained the end to which men strove, even if it might be delineated in different ways—as interior warfare, as ecclesiastical politics, as sexual and marital renunciation—and even if it might be redefined as Christian virtue” (Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch, 206). For other helpful studies of the transformation of masculinity in this era, see Burrus, Virginia, “Begotten, Not Made”: Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000); Conway, Colleen M., Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Brakke, David, Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).

89 Origen, Hom. Lev. 1.5.1 (SC 286, 84–86).

90 Origen, Comm. Rom. 9.1.3.

91 For ancient allegory as a “spiritual exercise,” see Hadot, The Veil of Isis, 49.

92 Origen, Hom. Jer. 5.8.1 (SC 232, 298–300).

93 Origen, Hom. Jer. 5.8.2 (SC 232, 300).

94 Origen, Hom. Jer. 5.9.1 (SC 232, 302). See also Mitchell, Paul, the Corinthians, and the Birth of Christian Hermeneutics, 75.

95 Origen, Hom. Jer. 5.15.1 (SC 232, 320). Origen's allegorical understanding of circumcision thus applies not only to the excision of passion (5.14.2) but also to the interpretation of scripture (5.15.1).

96 Cixous, Hélène, “Savoir,” in Veils, Cixous, Hélène and Derrida, Jacques, trans. Bennington, Geoffrey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 3.

97 Cixous, “Savoir,” 6.

98 Cixous, “Savoir,” 9.

99 Cixous, “Savoir,” 9. The original French reads: “Voir est-il la jouissance suprême? Ou bien est-ce: cesser-de-ne-pas-voir?” See Cixous, , “Savoir,” in Voiles, Cixous, and Derrida, (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1998), 16.

100 Cixous, “Savoir,” 13.

101 Cixous, “Savoir,” 16.

102 Origen, Princ. 4.2.9 (SC 268, 336).

103 Origen, Comm. Cant. Prologue 1.4 (SC 375, 82).

104 Ibid.

105 Origen, Comm. Cant. Prologue 1.6 (SC 375, 84).

106 Origen writes that the “simple reader” of the Song will “rush into carnal sins and down the steep places of immodesty, either by taking some suggestions and recommendations out of what had been written . . . or else by using what the ancients wrote as a cloak for their own lack of self-control.” See Origen, Comm. Cant. 2.2 (SC 375, 90).

107 Comm. Cant. Prologue 3.16 (SC 375, 138).

108 See Patricia Cox Miller's discussion of Origen on the “seduction of language” in his first homily on the Song of Songs (cf. “Poetic Words, Abysmal Words,” 216). See also Virginia Burrus, who writes that for Origen “the ‘covering’ of bodily existence is also always the site of spiritual uncovering, much as the text of scripture is both the veil and the unveiling of Word” (Saving Shame: Martyrs, Saints, and Other Abject Subjects [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008], 71).

109 Origen, Comm. Cant. 2.8.36 (SC 375, 428).

110 Origen, Comm. Cant. 2.8.36 (SC 375, 428).

111 Patricia Cox Miller and, more recently, Virginia Burrus have observed that, for Origen, interpretation is inexhaustible, diving as it does into an “abyss” of language, figure, and meaning that has no final resting point. Miller writes that in his exegesis of the Song of Songs, “Origen develops a picture of the Bridegroom as Logos—as language—who woos, entices, and seduces the Bride, a figure for a reader or interpreter of texts. In this case, Origen's lament about the disappearing Bridegroom, more present when he is absent, can be read as a hermeneutical comment. The word that slips away at the moment when one thinks that one has ‘laid hold of it’, only to return with promise of renewed meaning, and so on ad infinitum, forms a precise picture of the deferral of final meaning characteristic of the interpreter's abyss” (Miller, “Poetic Words, Abysmal Words,” 216). Building on Miller's observation, Burrus writes, “Scripture remains ever veiled, then, precisely because there is no end to the unveiling of meaning. Logos ever manifests in and as the suffering of the interpreted text, even as it also thereby ever eludes the reader's grasp. Or perhaps better yet: scripture is the veil without which there is no unveiling; the flesh of textuality is the indispensable site of passionate signification” (Burrus, Saving Shame, 70).

112 Origen, Hom. Gen. 10.2 (SC 7, 260). Note that the verb nūbō when applied to a bride, also means “to cover” or “to veil oneself for the bridegroom.”

113 Origen, Comm. Cant. 1.1.6 (SC 375, 180).

114 Patricia Cox Miller, “Pleasure of the Text,” 247.

115 Origen, Comm. Cant. Prologue 2.17 (SC 375, 102).

116 Origen, Comm. Cant. 1.1.11 (SC 375, 184).

117 Origen spends a good deal of time commenting on the opening lines of the Song, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” Origen understands this as a petition that the bridegroom “may now no longer speak to me only by his servants the angels and the prophets, but may come himself, directly, and kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—that is to say, may pour the words of his mouth into mine, that I may hear him speak himself, and see him teaching. The kisses are Christ's, which he bestowed on his church” (Comm. Cant. 1.1.7 [SC 375, 180–182]). Several lines later Origen interprets the “mouth” of the bridegroom as “the power by which he illuminates the mind and, as by some word of love addressed to her . . . makes visible whatever is unknown and obscure to her” (Comm. Cant. 1.1.13 [SC 375, 184]).

118 Origen, Comm. Cant. 3.11.8 (SC 376, 600–2).

119 Burrus, Begotten Not Made, 19.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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