The Origenist Controversy

The Origenist Controversy: The Cultural Construction of an Early Christian Debate

Elizabeth A. Clark
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 300
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    The Origenist Controversy
    Book Description:

    Around the turn of the fifth century, Christian theologians and churchmen contested each other's orthodoxy and good repute by hurling charges of "Origenism" at their opponents. And although orthodoxy was more narrowly defined by that era than during Origen's lifetime in the third century, his speculative, Platonizing theology was not the only issue at stake in the Origenist controversy: "Origen" became a code word for nontheological complaints as well. Elizabeth Clark explores the theological and extra-theological implications of the dispute, uses social network analysis to explain the personal alliances and enmities of its participants, and suggests how it prefigured modern concerns with the status of representation, the social construction of the body, and praxis vis--vis theory. Shaped by the Trinitarian and ascetic debates, and later to influence clashes between Augustine and the Pelagians, the Origenist controversy intersected with patristic campaigns against pagan "idolatry" and Manichean and astrological determinism. Discussing Evagrius Ponticus, Epiphanius, Theophilus, Jerome, Shenute, and Rufinus in turn, Clark concludes by showing how Augustine's theory of original sin reconstructed the Origenist theory of the soul's pre-existence and "fall" into the body.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6311-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    To some readers—students of early Christian history—the themes ofThe Origenist Controversywill seem an archaic throwback to those of the second and third centuries: then, defending the resurrection body and free will and debating the “unforgivable sin” engaged the intellectual energies of Christians. To other readers, my rendition of the controversy’s issues will carry contemporary resonance: the status of representation; the ways in which the body is inscribed with cultural value; the constitution of the “self”; how praxis both creates and challenges theory. Both sets of readers read well.

    Around the turn of the fifth century, Christian...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Elite Networks and Heresy Accusations: Towards a Social Description of the Origenist Controversy
    (pp. 11-42)

    One night in a.d. 397, the Roman nobleman Macarius had a dream. Macarius, who had been attempting (without apparent success) to compose a refutation of astrological determinism through an appeal to God’s benevolence, saw a ship approaching across distant seas that would, God promised, solve his difficulties with themathematici. Macarius later realized that his dream had portended Rufinus of Aquileia’s arrival from Palestine and translation, at his request, of Origen’sOn First Principles.¹ Jerome, Rufinus’s chief antagonist in the Origenist controversy, took a different and dimmer view: the trireme carrying that vast treasure of Egyptian and Eastern teaching² might...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Image and Images: Evagrius Ponticus and the Anthropomorphite Controversy
    (pp. 43-84)

    The desert father Sopatros, upon being asked for a commandment, offered the following: “Do not let a woman come into your cell and do not read apocryphal literature. Do not speculate about the image. Although this is not heresy, there is too much ignorance and love of dispute on both sides. It is impossible for any creature to understand this matter.”¹ That Sopatros’s advice went unheeded is all too clear from the many accounts pertaining to the desert monks’ discussions of “the image of God.” Moreover, Sopatros incorrectly assured his petitioner that the topic held no possibilities for heresy accusations:...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Charges against Origenism
    (pp. 85-158)

    Shifts in the assault upon Origenism in the writings of Epiphanius, Theophilus, Jerome, and Shenute reveal the changing complexion of Origenism’s perceived dangers in the later fourth and fifth centuries. Although texts of Origen are frequently quoted in these assaults, the attacks center so firmly on issues of concern to the critics’ own era that they frequently either underestimate or miss entirely the theological problems with which Origen himself grappled.

    Thus Epiphanius’s early critiques of the 370s, recorded in hisAncoratusandPanarion64, were supplemented by arguments designed to combat the Origenism flourishing in the Egyptian desert by the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Rufinusʹs Defense against Charges of Origenism
    (pp. 159-193)

    Rufinus emerges on the scene of ecclesiastical literature in the late 390s already pitched in the battle over Origenism in Palestine, proffering an explanation that he no doubt hoped would clear Origen’s writings from the charge of heresy. Because he, unlike Jerome, had no known career as a writer or translator of Origen’s works before his involvement in the Origenist controversy,¹ we have no earlier material similar to that for Jerome by which we can test his Origenist sympathies in the 380s and early 390s. We can, however, safely posit that he was early on well immersed in Origenist teaching:...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE From Origenism to Pelagianism
    (pp. 194-244)

    I doubt that at any time before or after the first three decades of the fifth century were a group of celibate men so concerned with babies. Whether they were discussing “babies-intheory,” or flesh-and-blood babies, is difficult to judge: the passion with which they detail the sufferings and death of infants¹ and their shrieks and wails upon receiving the baptismal waters,² might suggest the latter. How and why did babies capture the theological imagination of a generation? The answer, I think, lies in the fact that in thistoposresided the point of greatest tension for those attempting at the...

    (pp. 245-247)

    At the time when Origen composed his theological masterpiece,On First Principles, which was to become one focus of the later Origenist controversy, Christianity stood more open to varied expressions of the faith and required less in its affirmations of dogma than was the case one hundred and fifty years later. Considerable “tightening” of what constituted orthodoxy occurred in the intervening period, so that some questions debatable circa a.d. 230 were deemed dangerous by the turn to the fifth century. In the interim, “high” theology had centered on the doctrine of the Trinity: an exhausting sixty years and more of...

    (pp. 248-250)

    Peter Brown’s assessment of the Pelagian controversy as an “incident in the relations between the Latin and Greek worlds”¹ also characterizes the Origenist debate: as we have seen, networks of friendship and enmity, support and rivalry, bound Palestine, Constantinople, Alexandria, and the Egyptian desert to Italy and North Africa. After the era detailed in this book, however, Eastern and Western Christianity increasingly went their own ways, paralleling the fate of the Roman Empire as a whole.

    Origenism enjoyed a longer career in the East than in the West. After a relative lull of Origenist activity in the fifth century (recall,...

    (pp. 251-280)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 281-287)