"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).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pity Origen

As the incomparable Sir Humphrey Appleby says to Prime Minister Jim Hacker in one of the most brilliant British comedies of the 1980s, "half of them are your enemies, and the other half the sort of 'friends' who make you prefer your enemies." How often I have thought of that line when thinking of besotted figures such as Origen or Evagrius, as I have noted several times on here. Their so-called friends and followers did them no favors in many ways, and may in fact in some cases have been worse than outright enemies.

Forthcoming this spring is another book that examines the condemnations attached to Origen, and the role that others played in getting Origen into trouble: Krastu Banev, Theophilus of Alexandria and the First Origenist Controversy: Rhetoric and Power (Oxford UP, 2015), 256pp.

The publisher tells us that some of the virtues of this forthcoming book are that it:
  • Presents a contextualized literary-historical approach and offers new insights into the life and reputation of Theophilus of Alexandria (385-412)
  • Examines the Festal Letters of Theophilus and identifies the importance of classical rhetorical theory as a methodological tool for the interpretation of relevant historical data
  • Focuses on the so-called First Origenist Controversy, the condemnation of Origen in AD 400 in Alexandria, and the punishment and expulsion of his monastic followers from the Egyptian desert
The publisher further blurbs the book thus: 
In the age of the Theodosian dynasty and the establishment of Christianity as the only legitimate religion of the Roman Empire, few figures are more pivotal in the power politics of the Christian church than archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria (385-412). This work examines the involvement of archbishop Theophilus in the so-called First Origenist Controversy when the famed third-century Greek theologian Origen received, a century and a half after his death, a formal condemnation for heresy. Modern scholars have been successful in removing the majority of the charges which Theophilus laid on Origen as not giving a fair representation of his thought. Yet no sufficient explanation has been offered as to why what to us appears as an obvious miscarriage of justice came to be accepted, or why it was needed in the first place. Kratsu Banev offers a sustained argument for the value of a rhetorically informed methodology with which to analyse Theophilus' anti-Origenist Festal Letters. He highlights that the wide circulation and overt rhetorical composition of these letters allow for a new reading of these key documents as a form of 'mass-media' unique for its time. The discussion is built on a detailed examination of two key ingredients in the pastoral polemic of the archbishop - masterly use of late-antique rhetorical conventions, and in-depth knowledge of monastic spirituality - both of which were vital for securing the eventual acceptance of Origen's condemnation. Dr Banev's fresh approach reveals that Theophilus' campaign formed part of a consistent policy aimed at harnessing the intellectual energy of the ascetic movement to serve the wider needs of the church.
The Table of Contents:

Part 1. Theophilus of Alexandria and the Origenist Controversy
1: Historical Background
(a) Distant Prehistory
(b) Immediate Prehistory
2: Theological Issues
(a) Theophilus' Origenism and the Evagrian Heritage
(b) The 'Elusive Anthropomorphites' at the time of Theophilus
3: The Anti-Origenist Councils of AD 400
(a) Violence in the Desert
(b) The Condemnation of Orige
Part II. Background for the Analysis of Theophilus' Rhetoric
4: Classical Rhetoric and Christian Paideia
(a) Rhetoric and the Early Church
(b) Mass Persuasion in the Fifth Century: The Case of Theophilus' Festal Letters
(c) Jerome and Synesius on Theophilus' Letters
5: Classical Rhetoric: Theoretical Foundations
(a) Aristotle's Art of Rhetoric
(b) The Progymnasmata Tradition
(c) The Hermogenic Corpus
Part III. Analysis of Theophilus' Rhetoric
6: Rhetorical Proofs from Pathos, Ethos and Logos
(a) Emotional Appeal
(b) Ethical Appeal
(c) Logical Appeal
(d) Theophilus' Teachers
7: Rhetorical Proofs from Liturgy and Scripture
Part IV. Monastic Reception of Theophilus' Rhetoric
8: The Value of Monastic Sources
(a) Rhetorically Important Themes in the Apophthegmata
(b) The Ambiguous Place of Heresy
9: The Image of Theophilus in the Apophthegmata
Review of the Argument and Epilogue

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