Hello. I am a Junior at Asbury Theological Seminary. I am dual M.A. degrees with my primary degree focus in Biblical Studies and secondary focus in Theological Studies. This blog is designed to spark discussion upon certain Biblical texts and their meanings. Comments are expected, discussion welcome, and learning required.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Saint or Sinner: The Ecclesiastical Status of Origen

Raised by Christian parents including a father who was martyred, Origen proved himself to be an excellent thinker and highly spiritual person in a time when to be such was prized by few and lethally hunted by many. He was a disciplined ascetic with a winsome personality. In addition to this, he had a creative brilliance which surpassed some of the greatest artists and even the conservative limitations of Church Fathers of his time and after. This of course may have had something to do with his condemnation from Justinian I in 543. Nothing better than to be condemned post-mortem and upon theological foundations hewn in stone over nearly 300 years after your death.

I am not writing to argue that we reopen the possibility of Origen being considered for induction into the Hall of Fame for Godly Individuals, though that is exactly what I tell my roommate. I simply wish to exhort certain individuals and factions of the church to reconsider slightly what Origen may be able to add to exegetical and theological conversations. Certain individuals would argue that being condemned by the church puts one into such a position that they can no longer provide insight into the Holy Scriptures. At its most shallow that seems wrong insofar as it does not allow us to use the perspective of someone "in error" to enlighten "our" perspective which is authoritative insofar as it is ecclesial.

Secondly, I wish to simply ask for a reconsideration of what I assume had good intentions on the part of Justinian I. No doubt Origen's thoughts on many things strike fear into the hearts of even the liberals of the day. Yet, as Dr. Lawson Stone would argue, it is not often the conclusions that cause the fear, it is the method which carries him there. It is hard as a modern person to sink my teeth into the allegorical method (which, by the way, happened to be the preferred choice of interpretion in the church for nearly a millenium following). Yet, it was precisely this allegorical method along with Origen's brilliance that combined to produce such a creative theologian and biblical scholar. I think that I can talk about Origen in such a positive way because he thought and wrote during a period when the church was getting a feel for itself. (I feel that I should remind you that Origen died in 253, almost 75 years before the Council of Nicea) Therefore, I would impose a sort of writ of habeus corpus on Origen's condemnation.

Thirdly, Origen's contribution in the field of textual criticism is undeniable. I understand that it is a bit anachronistic to speak of textual criticism in relation to Origen. Yet his Hexapla would qualify as a text-critical contribution to biblical scholarship if the church had not emphasized the spiritual power of fire in connection with written materials. It is also a bit anachronistic to speak in these terms because everyone who wrote or dealt with copying materials often changed things based upon what they judged to be correct or incorrect as they were transcribing. Thus, everyone was, in a sense, a text critic.

In closing, I would also throw onto the table that Origen did preside over the Alexandrian school and wrote the first major instructional text for students in the Alexandrian school. Such an individual who had influence over so many people, people which in history would include Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Naziansus, Hilary, and Ambrose, should be a little closer to the front of our memories when we begin to discuss exegetical, theolgical, and Christian Origins issues in the future. Now I realize that most of the scholarly world shares my opinions. Yet, some who are not familiar with this individual or who hold a ultra-conservative stance of only listening to uncondemned Christians should consider the positive contributions to be made by this prominent personality and formidable mind of antiquity.