I stumbled upon an oblique historical reference in one of the homilies today. I was reading the Sources Chrétiennes edition of Rufinus’ translation of Origen. While Origen was discussing the fleeting nature of “fleshly glory,” he used this example:
“Audi quid etiam Isaias de omni gloria carnali pronuntiet: Omnis – inquit – caro fenum et omnis gloria eius ut flos feni. Vis etiam per singula videre quomodo flos feni sit carnis gloria? Vide quis imperavit ante hos triginta annos, quomodo imperium eius effloruit: continuo autem sicut flos feni emarcuit, tunc deinde alius post ipsum, deinde alius atque alius, qui deinde duces qui principes et omnis eorum gloria, honor non solum tamquam flos emarcuit, verum etiam tamquam pulvis aridus et a vento dispersus ne vestigium quidem sui reliquit.”
“For hear what Isaiah announced concerning all carnal glory, "All flesh," he says, "is wheat, and all its glory is as a flower of wheat." Do you want also to see by each how the glory of flesh is a flower of wheat? Look at who has ruled over us these prior 30 years, how his reign blossoms. Immediately, though, as if a flower of wheat, it withers and dies, and then another reigns after him, and then another and another, and then those who are leaders and those who are princes, and all their glory. Their honor does not only whither like a flower, but it truly, like dry dust dispersed by the wind, leaves no mark.” (Homily I on Ps. 36, 2) (pg. 62)
The rulers here are the Roman emperors of course. Origen spells out a period of 30 years, within which emperors appear, blossom, and die, leaving no trace. This certainly isn’t as precise as one might hope, but the editors leave the following note (my translation from the French):
“Without doubt, this is an allusion to the thirty years which followed the flourishing reign of Septimus Severus. The emperors succeeded one another rapidly: Caracal, Macrinus, Elagabalus, Alexander Severus, Maximinus Thrax, and his son, then various competitors, then Gordian III, and Philip the Arab. This text allows us to place these homilies at the end of Origen’s life.” (p 64n1)
Septimus Severus’ reign ended in 211, so 30 years later would put us at 241. That means that at least this homily was delivered between 241 and 254/255 (when Origen died). That would place them squarely in the Caesarean period.
I found the corresponding Greek text in the recently discovered codex. It mentions the same period of thirty years, but diverges a bit after that.
ἄκουε τοῦ Ησαΐου διδάσκοντος σε καταφρονεῖν τῆς δόξης τῆς κοσμικῆς, καὶ πάντων τῶν κατὰ σάρκα ἡδέων, φὴ γάρ, πᾶσα σάρξ, ὡς χόρτος, καὶ πᾶσα δόξα αὐτῆς, ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου. ἴδε τὴν δόξαν τῆς σαρκός, ἐβασίλευσαν πρὸ ἡμῶν πρὸ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα. ἐδοξάσθησαν, οἱονεὶ ἄνθος ἡ δόξα αὐτῶν, ἀλλ’ἐσβέσθη, ἐμαράνθη. ἄλλοί τινες ἐπλούτησαν, ἐν ἀξιώμασι γεγένηνται. περιεπάτουν πεφυσιωμένοι ἐπὶ τῇ προαγωγῇ τῶν προαγόντων αὐτούς. παρῆλθεν ἐκεῖνα, ὅτι ὡσεὶ χόρτος ταχὺ ἀποξηρανθήσονται. πᾶσα γὰρ σάρξ, χόρτος. καὶ πᾶσα δόξα αὐτῆς, ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου. ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος καὶ καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν. (folio 35, starting at line 8)
Listen to Isaiah, as he teaches you to despise wordly glory, all the pleasures of the flesh, for his says, "All flesh, is as wheat, and all its glory, is like a flower of wheat." Looks at the glory of the flesh: they have ruled over us for these thirty years. They have been glorified: their glory is like a flower; but this glory was dried up and withered. Some others were wealthy, and came upon honors. The walked as ones puffed up because of the honor of the things which promoted them. These things passed away, and so as a flower of wheat they will wither way, for "all flesh is wheat, and all of its glory is as a flower of wheat." The wheat is dried up and the flower has fallen.
The divergences here between the Greek and the Latin are interesting, and deserve more attention. I’ll look at those more in a future post. For now, I’ll leave this small historical reference to ponder.