the dramatics of the historical ecclesial papertrail

February 23, 2008

in my reading thus far, i’m beginning to pick up on some dynamics between the celebrities of church history.

augustine is the ur-hero.  everything a church scholar could ever want is rolled-up and tied with a bow in augustine.  he has a conversion narrative that does not fail to take advantage of theologically or piously teachable moments; he has extensive correspondence both warding off the heretics of his day and setting straight the unruly, rural churchmen; he writes the obligatory de trinitate (who didn’t back then?); he not only offers collections of expository sermons but includes a manual on how to interpret scripture as a bonus; he divines the ethical shape of his times and spells out it out in a manifesto.  he’s got it all.  he’s practically paul come again in the flesh, but only better.  wordier.

i’ve been tracking augustine through all sorts of my reading so far.  particularly st bernard.  on grace and free choice basically plagiarizes on the spirit and the letter.  aquinas is chock full of augustine citations.  and luther is next on the docket.  we all know augustine’s influence on that guy.

origen is the archetypal anti-hero.  he mixed his philosophy and his faith and came out on the wrong side.  plus he castrated himself (many scholars seem to think that’s enough said).  he interprets scripture, he speculates on the trinity, he speculates on all sorts of things.  but no one approves (especially after jerome’s censure of him).  too much plato, not enough Jesus, they say.  and did i mention he castrated himself?  he did.  he castrated himself.

origen seems to set the model for people the church is going to disapprove of.  if it looks like a greek and smells like a greek, well, it must be heresy.

at least this is the case until thomas.  tomas d’aquino cuts through the surf just right.  or maybe our faith bears more similarities to aristotle.  at least it stomachs it better.  thomas is the new hero–like augustine but more refined, chastened, cultured.

but if you read too closely, you get the suspicion that thomas and origen are closer on the family tree than we often think.  just switch out aristotle for plato, and the summa starts to sound a bit more like on first principles.  God bears no real relation to creatures, only a notional one…  faith cannot believe anything false–for its mode is the First Truth, and faith can only believe after its mode… yada yada yada.  he just toes the line better, perhaps.

in honesty, though, he was a smart cookie.  a real smart cookie.

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5 Responses to “the dramatics of the historical ecclesial papertrail”

  1. cindy Says:

    ha. YOU are a smart cookie. who knew you could be so witty in the same room as me and i wouldn’t even know it.

    please don’t castrate yourself.

  2. Nigel Says:

    I second Cindy’s plea on the castration, although for rather less practical reasons.

    And good call on the connection between Origen and Aquinas. Despite the fact that Origen is less Aristotelian, Aquinas is still equally Platonist. Both view the Fall in some sense as a departure from participation in divinity, and both view salvation as deification. But Thomas’ theosis is the edgy kind which makes even the East roll their eyes since he doesn’t uphold the essence/energies distinction in his doctrine of God, ultimately denying his own generally analogical ontology. Which makes oh-so-orthodox Aquinas converge with some of the rather heterodox streams of thinking coming from Uncle Origen.

    It’s the dirty little secret that Thomists hate to admit :o)

  3. Pedro Says:

    Yay for the move to WordPress! I applaud.

  4. Caitlin Says:

    Hey Josh,
    Bet you didn’t think that I’d still be reading your blogs did you? lol. I just wanted to say hi. I’ll call you sometime soon and send your letters. It’s been kinda hectic lately and as usual I’m very forgetful but they will becoming soon. Keep working hard and being smart. They’re always good qualities. I love you.

  5. laura Says:

    You were in my prayers today. I’m glad to hear that there is much rejoicing. When do you find out results? What was it like? Do you feel like a million tons have been taken off your back?

    much love from Clint and I to you and Cindy!


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