Monday, August 8, 2011

Titus of Bostra Seems to Identify Origen as the Author of the Philosophumena

More people are reading this blog. Of course, that's the good news. The not so good news is that many of the new readers take issue with my approach to blogging - i.e. 'speculating' about possibilities within the Patristic tradition. The latest 'hater' on the list is Phil Snider who is someone I actually like and respect. As he is Canadian he can't just come out and 'hate on me.' Instead his tactic is to nitpick small typos (mostly attributable to my tendency to blog at 2 am in the morning) and signal to his readership that I am somehow 'against' Church tradition.

As I said I actually like Phil and bloggers like him - i.e. people who care about the Fathers of the Church. I also enjoy reading the works of Patristic writers but there is a massive difference between us. The fact that they might not be telling us the truth really doesn't affect my faith. As such I can engage in questioning whether or not they are being honest, accurate or fair.

In any even, keeping in mind that I actually like and respect Phil let's examine why he doesn't like me for a moment. So it is that we turn to the latest post at his blog about 'what's wrong' with this site. The first sign that he doesn't like me appears in the opening line of his post:

Stephen Huller on stephan huller's observation discusses Marcion in light of a discussion with Professor Markus Vinzint ...

He correctly cites the name of my blog and then identifies me with another given name - i.e. 'Stephen' rather than 'Stephan.' What are the odds that someone who runs a blog named 'Stephan Huller's Observations' is going to be named 'Stephen'? That's like doing a review of Georg Selig's blog, complaining about his typos and then referring to him as 'George' throughout the post.

It is worth noting that he misspells eminent Patristic expert Professor Markus Vinzent's surname as 'Vinzint.'

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that he deliberately injected typos into his discussion to spare me the shame of pointing out my spelling sucks. Snider continues by noting that this discussion with Vinzent:

answers the concerns expressed by some biblio-bloggers (in my opinion, justified) about his 'myth-making' in his discussions about Clement of Alexandria

This is an interest twist. In his previous post he admitted in the comments section that he was not an expert on Clement of Alexandria. Now he feels justified in condemning the 'myths' I create with respect to a subject he isn't qualified to pass judgment.

We apparently agree about the basic problems with Eric Osborn's book on Clement but then he notes that I also discuss:

connections between Origen, Gregory Thaumateurgus and Carpocrates (aka Origin???????????), asks how the alleged Alexandrian ex-Patriot (sic!) church functioned in Jerusalem, wonders why Clement and Origen were so popular, discusses the connection between Clement, Origen, Secret Mark in Gregory's panegyric of Origen, discusses the attestations of names such as Carpocrates in Egypt (source, Stephen, source?), discusses the lack of second century discussions of Marcion (given the fragmentary state of second century Christian literature, is that surprising?), follows up by summarizing the evidence against anti-Marcian polemics (mostly, dismissing anything Eusebius has to say on the subject and arguing from the silence which follows), discusses how the Marcionites became associatedi with a (fictitious) Marcian, condemns patristic literature as rubbish because of the well-known ancient habit of mimesis (really, this is a pretty bad mis-reading).

Now I don't want to respond to every one of these criticism but let me say this. I never claimed that Origen was Carpocrates. I just noted that there are certain parallels which might explain Clement taking a pre-existent reference to Carpocrates and applying it to Origen and his school in Caesarea (the 'source' he asks about with respect to the frequency of Christian names in Egypt is referenced throughout the article as a link - i.e.

The difference between this blog and many others is that I recognize it for what it is - a notebook = υπομνημα. If I could have named it I would have in a blink of an eye, yet the name was taken. I needn't apologize for asking questions even if it happens to be with respect to the two thousand year old tradition of the Church.

In any event, the reason I wrote this post wasn't to complain about Phil but to use his commentary as a segue to something new and exciting. Phil obviously takes issue with my characterization of the Patristic texts as 'rubbish' (after all his blog specializes in such works from the perspective of a believer). When he writes that I "condemn patristic literature as rubbish because of the well-known ancient habit of mimesis" the reader has to be made aware that the subject is the fact that 'tradition' attributes both 'Against Heresies' and 'Against Marcion' to Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Tertullian.

Phil argues that my interpretations for how we ended up with so many versions of the same texts as a 'bad misreading.' The existence of five or six version of 'Against Heresies' for instance is attributed to 'mimesis' by Phil (a fancy word for 'copy' or 'imitation'). So Phil explains why their are so many copies of the same work attributable to so many different authors as a result of 'imitation.'

Indeed as I just noted in a recent post, Origen's writing of the ten books of Stromata is similarly explained by Jerome as an 'imitation' of Clement. But does that really explain anything? Let's see how he follows up his observation in what comes next:

One of the ways that the ancients were different from us is that they didn't cite sources as we do - that is fairly recent i.e. within the last hundred years - and they frequently modeled themselves after an exemplary text - here Irenaeus' Refutation

So we can explain the attribution of 'Against Heresies' to Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Tertullian owing to an empty, fancy word in the same way Origen and Clement write successive works called Stromata. Maybe Phil just doesn't want to upset the order he wants to stay the same ...

My question with respect to Against Heresies is why everyone just assumes that Justin was the originator of the text merely because of a questionable reference in the Apology (which Eusebius's strangely misreports as being in a non-existent work i.e. the Against Marcion of Justin). Indeed most scholars just assume that because the Church Fathers report it, it must be true.

Phil assumes then that Irenaeus's wrote a version of this work. Most people do and it might well pan out. But let's go one step further down the food chain and take a second look at the text which claims to develop a version of Irenaeus's Against Heresies (but not the text we have inherited) and is now attributed to Origen - i.e. the Philosophumena.

The surviving manuscripts identify the material as having been written by Origen yet scholars have rejected that ascription. To this end most people just cite the work as belonging to Hippolytus (even though there are clear differences between the Philosophumena and the Refutation known to Photius). What I would like to point out in this post is an overlooked argument in favor of keeping the identification of the text as a work of Origen. I don't do this because I believe that Origen actually wrote the text. I do it because I never tire pointing out that nothing is ever a hundred percent certain with respect to the Church Fathers.

I was reading Nils Arne Pedersen's Demonstrative proof in Defence of God: a study of Titus of Bostra's Contra Manichaeos and I happened to come across something I never knew before - Titus seems to identify Origen as the author of a work which can only be the Philosophumena. This is quite incredible. I have never heard it mentioned that Origen can be connected with the tradition as early as the fourth century. Here is the original reference, let me know what you think:

This passage is singular in that Titus mentions a previous Catholic theologian by name, and it is worth noting that Origen is described positively throughout as a man of the Church. Unfortunately the passage hardly tells us anything about how many of Origen's writings Titus had actually read, for what can Titus mean by saying that Origen has mentioned every one of the heretics that fought against the Catholic Church? Unlike Irenaeus and Hippolytus Origen never wrote a single polemic “against all heretics”. Of course Titus may be referring to the running polemic against heretics that is found in most of Origen's works, but this polemic has hardly the systematic and complete character that could form the basis for Titus's deduction. The evidence speaks in favour of Titus referring to a work that contemporary theology wrongly attributed to Origen. There are two works that in this context are possible candidates. The first is Adamantius's dialogue De recta in Deumfide, which already in the 4th century had been attributed to Origen. Yet nor does this text appear to have the character that could justify Titus's deduction. The second is Hippolytus's Refutatio omnium haeresium, which from an early date was circulating under Origen's name. Precisely this text is of a character that could justify Titus's deduction, and already in 1863 De Lagarde suggested that this was the work to which Titus was referring. This is the most likely solution. [p. 153, 154]

Why is this significant? It goes to the heart of why I write this blog. Because there so many 'believers' studying the material, all the interpretations, all the analysis goes in one direction - the direction that Eusebius leads us. Yet because Eusebius has a definite agenda, I think it is important to question everything we have inherited from our single source for things related to the early Alexandrian Church.

As I said I am not at all sure that Origen actually wrote the Philosophumena but the fact that Titus seems to witness his name being attached to the Against Heresy tradition at such an early date - it is worth investigating further no matter where it leads. I say this in direct contradiction to the closing words of Phil's post:

Stephen Huller is an immensely prolific and imaginative scholar, but I have serious issues with his methodology which seems to consist of discrediting existing sources on his subject of choice and substituting his own speculations about the subject. While patristic sources must be viewed critically, it is all too easy to use unreasonable and anachronistic standards to eliminate Eusebius or Irenaeus or anyone's testimony. However, the results of such an inquiry are neither satisfying nor convincing.

My response is of course - how do we know whether anything is entirely satisfying or convincing until we have taken that road to the end. We have not completed any of our investigations folks. In fact we are just getting started ...

Email with comments or questions.

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