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Chapter III -- 3

For an eye-witness account of Origenism in Palestine about the time of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, see the Lives of Cyril of Scythopolis.[1]

After the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, virtually all the works of Origen were destroyed. Of the work which concerns us in this chapter, Peri Archon, there ultimately remained only the translation into Latin (c.397) by Rufinus Tyrannius of Aquileia (c.345–411). However, Rufinus’ translation cannot be considered either complete or accurate: feeling that heretics had tampered with Origen’s own text, he suppressed some parts and modified other parts of the text. For the omissions and original readings of the text of Origen, we are reduced to relying on polemical quotations and paraphrases by St Jerome (c.342–420) and by other opponents of Origen. Hardly a satisfactory situation for a study of Origen’s thought!

Early in the Twentieth Century, Koetschau attempted to restore the text of Peri Archon on the basis of Rufinus’ translation and on the basis of the polemical sources just mentioned. The result, translated into English by Butterworth, is the edition of Peri Archon on which we are relying.[2] In it, we have the Latin text of Rufinus translated into English and, where present, the Greek fragments collected by Koetschau, also translated into English. The result cannot be considered to be a sure presentation of the original text of Origen.

In Koetschau’s recension of Peri Archon, the Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod are themselves treated as Greek fragments that bear witness to the original text of Origen’s work. However, in view of the closeness of fit between the Anathemas and the Kephalaia Gnostica of Evagrius,[3] Koetschau’s and Butterworth’s ascriptions of the Anathemas to Origen himself—that is, as being based directly on Peri Archon, and not on the Kephalaia Gnostica—are doubtful. For the Anathemas contain direct quotations from the Kephalaia Gnostica and it does not seem to us typical of Evagrius to quote other authors, even Origen, directly. Moreover, there is something circular about Koetschau’s, or even Butterworth’s approach: they assume that the Anathemas are based directly on the original text of Peri Archon, and they then use the Anathemas to restore ‘lost parts’ of Origen’s text. This is true also of many of Koetschau’s other putative restorations of Peri Archon: Koetschau is not so much restoring a faulty text as reading into it later views of what Origen actually said. To a certain extent, his approach is useful and valid, but certainly it cannot then be used to determine the provenance of the doctrines condemned by the Anathemas, or of similar doctrines.

Cardinal de Lubac, the Roman Catholic student of Origen, also asserts that the Anathemas are not based on Origen himself.[4] However, we are reserved about Cardinal de Lubac’s arguments which would exempt Origen completely from being the source of the doctrines anathematized by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod: things are not so simple as Cardinal de Lubac and the other Roman Catholic scholars whom he quotes would have us believe. Cardinal de Lubac argues that St Jerome, because of his hostility and impassionedness, cannot be taken at face value, nor the Emperor Justinian (483-565). While to a certain extent Cardinal de Lubac may be right, we do not think that St Jerome and the Emperor Justinian can be dismissed merely as self-interested fabricators. There is more to it than that: while the Anathemas are, we think, based directly on the Kephalaia Gnostica, Evagrius’ own cosmological doctrines derive in large part from Peri Archon, especially those of his doctrines which were subject to anathematization: he has developed certain ideas of Origen, perhaps through the intermediary of Didymus the Blind. Given the state of the texts, however, the exact developmental relationship of Evagrius Pontikos’ ideas to those of Didymus the Blind and to those of Origen will probably remain forever obscure. We shall see these things as we go on.

It should be remarked that Koetschau, Butterworth and de Lubac did their work before the publication of the version intégrale (S2) of the Kephalaia Gnostica, so that they could not have been expected to know of its close correspondence to the Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod.

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[1] Cyril.

[2] Peri Archon.

[3] See below.

[4] De Lubac p. 39, especially fn. 150; for an English translation of Cardinal de Lubac’s remark, without the note, see Peri Archon p. vii–viii.


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