"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Author Interview: Ron Heine

Interest in Origen of Alexandria--almost universally considered the greatest of the Alexandrine theologians, notwithstanding a few problems that he (and/or his disciples) may or may not have gotten himself into--continues at a high level today. Many new studies continue to emerge on one of the most fertile and wide-ranging theologians of third-century theologians. A new book about him, Origen: Scholarship in the Service of the Church, has just come out from Ronald Heine, whom I interviewed about his work.

AD: Tell us a bit about your background:

I am Professor of Bible and Theology at Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon.  Among my previous teaching and research positions are 17 years at Lincoln Christian College and Seminary in Illinois and 11 years as Director of the Institut zur Erforschung des Urchristentums in Tübingen.   In the latter position I worked with Otto Betz in co-leading a theological Kolloqium at the University for foreign doctoral students.   I received my Ph. D. from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in classical philology with an emphasis on the literature of the Greek and Latin Fathers;  William R. Schoedel was the director of my dissertation.  I also have graduate degrees in New Testament and in Semitic languages and literature from the seminary in Lincoln.

My research has focused on third century Christianity, especially on Christianity in Alexandria, and more particularly on the use and interpretation of Scripture by the early Christians. In connection with the latter interest, I published a book called Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future) in 2007. I have also published  work on the  fourth century Father, Gregory of Nyssa.  My most extensive research, however, has been on Origen.  I have three volumes of translations of his works in Catholic University of America’s Fathers of the Church series, and a volume published by OUP, The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (Oxford Early Christian Studies).

My church affiliation is with what is sometimes referred to as the Stone-Campbell Movement.  This group is known variously as Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches, and Churches of Christ.  I am ordained in this fellowship.

Tell us why you wrote Origen: Scholarship in the Service of the Church

I must begin by saying that I was invited to contribute the volume on Origen in the Oxford University Press series, Christian Theology in Context.  This interested me because the series title ran parallel to an idea about Origen’s thought I had nurtured for several years, but never explored in detail.  This was that Origen’s thought had developed or even changed somewhat, both in conjunction with his age and his location.  Earlier studies of his thought had viewed him as having a rather monolithic mind.  He was presented as one who worked out his thought rather early in his life and never deviated from that early system.  Early works and late works were treated together without much differentiation concerning where they fell in Origen’s actual life experience.  I wanted to take an alternative look at Origen’s thought. Christian Theology in Context gave me the opportunity to spread Origen’s works out along the continuum of his life's settings to see how the different settings affected his thinking.

For whom was the book written—did you have a particular audience in mind?

I wanted to write the book so that it would be understandable and useful for both upper division undergraduate and graduate level students of theology and the early church.  I also tried to write it in a way that educated lay people, who are not theologians but have an interest in early Christian history and thought, could understand.  I attempted to avoid technical language as much as possible and to explain terms and concepts that I thought non-theological readers might not be familiar with.

What about your own background led you to the writing of this book?

I have been reading and working with texts of Origen for more than 35 years.  I was introduced to the Alexandrian tradition in my doctoral work, and while my dissertation was on Gregory of Nyssa, there were significant sections where I had to work with Origen’s thought to understand and present Gregory for he was strongly influenced by Origen in many ways.  Very few of Origen’s writings had been translated into English when I began working with him, so I focused on translating some of his major writings such as his Commentary on the Gospel of John.  I also became interested in the attempt to recover some of Origen’s lost works from their use in other writers such as Jerome (see my The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians) and Hilary or in the fragments quoted in the ancient catena commentaries.  All of this work on Origen’s texts provided the context for my interest in pulling together what I had learned about Origen for this book.

Were there any surprises you discovered in your writing?

It is probably not correct to call what you anticipated a surprise, but I think I was able to discover some significant differences in emphasis between the late Origen of Caesarea and the early Origen of Alexandria.  My close familiarity with Origen’s commentary on the Gospel of John was particularly helpful in this regard.  This commentary was begun early in Origen’s writing career in Alexandria and completed probably midway in his career in Caesarea.   In the Alexandrian books of the commentary one of Origen’s major concerns, and perhaps the reason his patron Ambrose had asked him to write the commentary, was to counteract the interpretation of this gospel by the Gnostic Heracleon.  In the books written later at Caesarea, however, Heracleon gradually fades from the picture until, in the last books, he is never mentioned.  What begins to appear as a concern in the later books is the conflict between the synagogue and the church and the salvation of the Jews. Caesarea was a major center of rabbinic education.

Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different?

There are, of course, numerous books on Origen.  There are not however, many recent books which attempt to cover the whole of Origen’s life and thought.  I think I have already noted how my book differs from the earlier studies of Origen in my attempt to pay careful attention to the particular situation in which the various books of Origen were written.

Sum up briefly the main themes/ideas/insights of the book.

The main contribution this book makes to Origen studies is to show that there are differences between the thought and emphases in Origen’s earlier and later works.  His earlier works were focused primarily on correcting Christian heresies, especially that of Gnosticism.  These concerns do not vanish completely from his later works, but his concern with the tension between the synagogue and the church and with the role of the Jews in God’s plan and their ultimate salvation come to play a major role in his later works.  There are also hints in his later works that he was rethinking some of his earlier viewpoints such as universalism.  One cannot say that he had abandoned these views completely, but he seems to have had some questions.  These questions seem to me, at least, to have arisen out of his stronger emphasis on the exegesis of the whole text of the Bible in his later period.  In his early period his commentaries indicate that he took up only those portions of the Bible that the heretics used in order to offer an alternate interpretation.  None of his early commentaries appear to have been on complete books of the Bible.  But in the Caesarean period we have his commentary on the whole of Romans, and fragments from commentaries on several Pauline epistles.  He produced commentaries on Isaiah, Ezekiel, the Song of Songs, and the Psalms in this period, most of which have perished except for three books of the commentary on the Song of Songs in Latin translation, and fragments from the other works.   He also produced a commentary on the whole of the Gospel of Matthew of which perhaps two-thirds is preserved, and he refers to working on a commentary on the twelve minor prophets, though that is lost in its totality.  This intense focus on the text of whole books of the Bible might be explained, it seems to me, by his contact with the synagogue and the rabbis in Caesarea and their continual debates about the meaning of the text of the Bible.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...