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26. Origen: The Song of Songs, Commentary and Homilies (Ancient Christian Writers)
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on April 30, 2016
The best of Origen. A must read.
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on January 31, 2016
A Must
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on December 27, 2007
Before reviewing this text, I want to make a few notes about it. First, this is not a direct translation of Origen's work. Much of his writing--that is, in the original Greek--is lost, among them the works in this volume. As a result, this text is based on later Latin translations. To its credit, the book's introduction contains a nice summary of the limitations of relying on an intermediate translation to capture Origen's original meaning.

This book contains two works. First is Origen's Commentary on the Song of Songs, translated from Rufinus' Latin version. The second is Two Homilies on the Song of Songs, from St. Jerome's Latin version.

Origen opens the Commentary with a relatively concise prologue that describes the meaning and themes he finds in the Song of Songs, which is followed by detailed (verse-by-verse) explanation of the mystical meaning of the text. Unfortunately, large portions of the Commentary are lost (i.e., not preserved by Rufinus or others), so the existing text of the Commentary covers "only" through 2:15. The Homilies repeat in general terms many of the themes in the Commentary, though with far less detail. According to the book's introduction, the Commentary is "the first great work of Christian mysticism." I must admit that I do not know enough to confirm or deny the claim that this is the first such work, but I can say that the Commentary certainly deserves to be described as "great."

I love the Commentary, thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and have already re-read several sections. I find it spiritually moving and though provoking. Although it is a meticulously detailed and profound theological exposition of the soul and its relationship to God, it is not a difficult book to read. Origen's interpretation of the Song of Songs is expounded with clarity and precision, and Origen draws the reader along to his conclusions in a step-by-step manner. Despite the deep and profound nature of the subject, the meaning (to me) was consistently crystal clear. I finished the book wanting to read more by Origen, and almost certainly will (I expect to purchase his Exhortation to Martyrdom in the near future).

In addition, this work (and Origen's writings generally) are significant to doctrinal development. Origen exerted influence on many subsequent Christian thinkers, including St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Jerome. In fact, in a short "cover letter" attached to his translation of the Homilies (included in this book), St. Jerome says, "while Origen surpassed all writers in his other books, in his Song of Songs he surpassed himself." This is a long way of saying that the Commentary is a historically significant work, and perhaps worth reading for those who are interested in the development of doctrine. In fact, this particular volume is quite good from an academic point of view, as it is thoroughly annotated and includes a decent index.

In summary, this is a great book. It is moving and lucid, and historically significant as well. I would add that the print and binding are both of very good quality; this is a great publication all around and I recommend it whole-heartedly.
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