Scholarship on Origen

I like what Roger Scruton says about the Enlightenment being a kind of light pollution. The Enlightenment reduced appreciation for a man like Origen, and studies of Origen’s interpretation of Scripture have been on the recovery since the middle of the last century. There is a lot of interest in how Origen interpreted now, and quite a few good books. We have learned:
1. He is not irresponsible.
2. He really does mean a threefold interpretation, and hews to it.
3. One of the keys is to understand what he understood of his audience, specially in his Homilies.
4. For him Christ was at the heart of Scripture’s coherence.
5. Scripture is an incarnation of the Logos.
6. His aim was to effect in his audience spiritual transformation—this is the key to understanding his trichotomy of ways.
7. He was a Platonist in one sense or another.

Here is what is striking about scholarship though: nobody seems to say that his threefold way, body, soul and spirit, is the pattern of humanity. Everybody says he is Christocentric, the Logos is incarnate in Scripture, but they don’t seem to make the correspondence: the pattern of man is the patter of a man: Christ Jesus.

I think it has to do with Platonism. Everybody dutifully studies, reads, cites: but none of them believe it. They can tell you the tenets of Platonism, but they can’t enter that living, breathing world. They would never say, for example, that Platonism is a mood. It is like theologians scrabbling to figure out what the image of God in man is who never simply ask: what does it do? What does it give us?

What does Platonism do? It shows you the world that Scripture brings to bear. It gives you a sense of the where, if not the Whom. Origen is not subjective or objective, and that’s a big part of the problem. If it were realized that we are incarnate subjects in a world of objects, the silliness of those categories would become apparent. We have contact with other subjects through the world of objects, but our object is not the objects, rather subjects. Even in Neoplatonism the realm of Nous–the locus of objects of knowledge–also is a realm of a living being full of living beings. And in Scripture there is an incarnate Subject, according to Origen. Our way of interpretation must lead through contact in the world of objects to personal and participatory knowledge of the Subject of Scripture: the Logos who transforms  and saves us.

Of course, that’s my hypothesis. I have read enough to think it can be substantiated, but the substantiation of that is more than a paper or two, which is the pity. Still: Scruton, Lukacs, Origen, Plato. What could be better?


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