Monday, August 1, 2011

Do You Have to 'Move the Goalposts' in Order to Consider Gregory Thaumaturgus as the 'Theodore' of the Mar Saba Letter?

No one has ever figured out who the 'Theodore' is of the Mar Saba letter. We refer to the text as 'a letter of Clement of Alexandria' yet there are two people involved in any correspondence. Could the letter originally have been treated as a letter to the wildly popular rather than a letter from the less beloved Clement? It is difficult to say. It is enough to ask for the moment whether it is at all possible to imagine a scenario where Clement, at the end of his life, wrote to the young Theodore - later called 'Gregory' - after an original correspondence by the fourteen year old. Is this even chronologically possible?

Well, as I demonstrated in my last post, the date of Clement's death is unknown. Many scholars date his passing to around 220 or 224 CE. It is at least theoretically possible that Clement could have died c. 230 CE. On the other hand, Gregory tells us that he accidentally stumbled upon Origen in Caesarea while visiting the city when fourteen years old. So when was Theodore - later 'Gregory' - born? This is equally difficult to establish with any degree of certainty. The better question is when was Origen in Caesarea.

For the certain scenario which emerges is that Origen was certainly the teacher of this 'Theodore.' Nautin suggests that 'Theodore' here isn't even Gregory - i.e. that Eusebius hurriedly made an incorrect assumption. Under this scenario, 'Theodore' only needed to be fourteen while Origen was a teacher at Caesarea. So when did Origen establish himself at Caesarea? There is only convention and convention here is built on a series of assumptions which might not necessarily hold true.

It is enough to introduce the Panegyric for Origen and have my readers know that there are two basic schools of thought on the text. Most assume that Eusebius is correct - Gregory was formerly known as Theodore while a number of scholars follow Nautin's suggestion:

Much more radical is Gilles Dorival, who suggests that Nautin did not go far enough when he separated Theodore and Gregory; there may also have been two different Addresses of Thanksgiving! For him, the author of the Address cannot be identified with Theodore, Gregory Thaumaturgus or another Gregory, but was simply an anonymous student of Origen. [Paul Foster, Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures p. 160]

Gilles Dorival follows Nautin in refusing to identify the author of the Panegyric as the Gregory to whom Origen's letter. Yet the standard view is presented to us by John Anthony McGuckin in the Westminster Handbook on Origen where we read:

Origen was now at the height of his powers as a world-famous Didaskalos and priest in Caesarea, and accordingly the construction of the Christian school has to be seen as a major aspect of the official church's mission. As the learned bishop Alexander was busy building up the library of the church in Jerusalem, so Origen was making a larger collection at his city, which was then the metropolitan cathedral, having a supervisory remit over all the churches of Palestine. His time spent in gathering students and extending the curriculum of his university-school was punctuated by lecture tours and book-buying expeditions. One of the students he attracted soon after his arrival in Caesarea was a wealthy young man who was en route with his brother to study law in Beirut. While delivering their sister to the safekeeping of a family member who was in the Imperial administration in Caesarea, they stopped to listen to Origen lecturing. They abandoned the idea of going to Beirut and became his dedicated pupils. The student, Theodore, vividly describes the impact Origen made:

It was like a spark falling in our deepest soul, setting it on fire, making it burst into flame. It was, at the same time, a love for the Holy Word, the most beautiful object of all that, by its ineffable beauty, attracts all things to itself with irresistible force, and it was also love for this man, the friend and advocate of the Holy Word. I was thus persuaded to give up all other goals. ... I had only one remaining object that I valued and longed for — philosophy, and that divine man who was my master of philosophy. Theodore published his graduating address, a Panegyric in praise of Origen, a revealing glimpse into the curriculum of Origen's school.

He probably assumed the name Gregory at his baptism; it can be presumed also that Origen arranged this at Caesarea. He became known to later Christian tradition as St. Gregory the Wonder Worker (Thaumaturgus), one of the most important theologian-hierarchs of Cappadocia [p. 17, 18]

I happen to think that the description of Theodore 'loving' Origen and 'wanting to be with him' sounds remarkably similar to Secret Mark's account of the youth's interest in Jesus after being resurrected from the dead. We can demonstrate even stronger parallels when we go through the context of this statement. Yet for the moment it is enough to set out curiosity in motion.

Got to run ...

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