Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why Does Jerome Hide the Fact that Origen Established a School in Palestine?

Life is strange. I get all this flack from 'conservatives' who think that Eusebius's account of the early Church is sacred and straightforward, but is it really? Modern scholarship is incestuous. It has a tendency to just continually 'breed' the same ideas out of the same basic evidence without taking a second look at the evidence. For instance, everyone knows that Jerome mostly copies Eusebius's account of Origen's life verbatim. Yet no one thinks this strange. They just 'go along' with the idea that Eusebius was the first and last word with regards to all things Origen.

I don't believe for a minute that anyone with a pinch of critical reasoning skills buys into the idea that the Origenists of the fourth century weren't some kind of 'secret society' within the Church. After all, Origen had the charge of 'heresy' hanging over his head ever since the time he was chased out of Alexandria. Eusebius's literary efforts are clearly apologetic. We never get a clear sense of why Demetrius was pissed at Origen. Never. The reality is that we will never likely find out either because - for whatever reason - our history of the Church was established by apologist for Origen.

So leaving aside why Eusebius won't tell us the truth, let's move on to Jerome. Jerome decides to imitate Plutarch's Lives of Illustrious Men with an account of famous Christians. That's fair enough. Yet when it comes to Origen, isn't it strange that with all of these Origenists in the fourth century, Jerome decides to copy verbatim the account that Eusebius puts together in the Church History?

Now I know how the mind of the Patristic scholar works - i.e. 'this shows how historically accurate Eusebius's work must have been that Jerome would simply recycle this material.' Yet this is idiotic. There were other hostile accounts of Origen's life that were used by Epiphanius for instance. Jerome didn't use any of them. One would expect that if Jerome wanted a fair and balanced account he would make reference to material that was both sympathetic and hostile to the life of Origen.

On the other end of the spectrum, if Jerome wanted to enhance Eusebius's narrative he could have taken new stories to strengthen some of the weak spots in Eusebius's argument - i.e. more proof that he and Clement were friends, more evidence that he returned to Alexandria and reconciled with Demetrius. Instead he simply copies most of the pertinent details of Eusebius's account which certainly convinced no one who believed that Origen was a heretic that he was really orthodox.

Indeed, when you really think about it, how can it be that with a library full of books at Caesarea, Origenists can't come up any new stories about Origen? There are whole decades that are left out of Eusebius's very compact narrative. There is very little real information and much of it can be seriously questioned. Yet Jerome's account of his spiritual master not only sticks to the same notes, Jerome actually shortens the tune and takes out one of the main movements in the piece which I find particularly puzzling.

There is absolutely no reference whatsoever to Origen setting up a school in Palestine under the guidance of Alexander of Jerusalem. I find this particularly striking and don't believe this can be at all accidental.

It is so utterly bizarre I can't believe no one has noticed it before. I will cite the entire reference to Origen in Lives of Illustrious Men (perhaps the longest 'life' in the whole series) and I want the reader to notice what Jerome 'does' with Eusebius's material - he completely removes any reference to Origen's long stay at Caesarea.

Jerome isn't the first to do this of course. There was a tendency in the Church Fathers after Eusebius to 'edit' this reference out of the history books. Gregory Nazianzus for instance, barely utters Origen's name in his account of Gregory Thaumaturgus's eight year education there. Eusebius cuts the eight years down to five for no apparent reason. Yet Jerome, who clearly had access to this massive library at Caesarea which shouts out 'Origen was here ... and here for a very long time' decides to cut any reference to Alexander and Origen's friendship, the establishment of a rival school of catechetical school of instruction to that of Alexandria and most interesting of all - any reference to Gregory Thaumaturgus, his greatest student at the school.

What do I think happened here? I think the school was highly controversial. I think it is at the heart of Origen's identity as a 'heretic.' I think Eusebius's arrangement of material already was designed to deflect criticisms of the Origenists in his day - especially the strange way that all the Alexandrian Church Fathers from the turn of the second century were also 'from Caesarea' in Cappadocia (there were two Caesareas in antiquity, one in Cappodocia and the more famous port city of Palestine). I am certain there is a deliberate attempt in both the narratives of Clement and Origen in Eusebius's Church History to avoid making it seem that Alexander was actively conspiring to undermine Demetrius's authority over the Egyptian Church (i.e. to bring Clement and Origen directly to Caesarea in Palestine). As such a ridiculous claim is injected into the narrative of the flight of both men from Alexandria that the 'Caesarea' they found sanctuary was in the middle of Asia Minor.

In any event let'sbreak down Jerome's copying (and deletion) of Eusebius's original account of Origen's life in Book Six of the Church History. It begins:

Origen, surnamed Adamantius, a persecution having been raised against the Christians in the tenth year of Severus Pertinax, and his father Leonidas having received the crown of martyrdom for Christ, was left at the age of about seventeen, with his six brothers and widowed mother, in poverty, for their property had been confiscated because of confessing Christ. When only eighteen years old, he undertook the work of instructing the Catechetes in the scattered churches of Alexandria.

Okay, so he retains the idea that Origen was born around 185 CE to Christian parents and that he took over the catechetical school of Alexandria at a very young age. Jerome also says that:

Afterwards appointed by Demetrius, bishop of this city, successor to the presbyter Clement, he flourished many years.

We are then told that by 'middle life' (= thirty five or 221 CE):

on account of the churches of Achaia, which were torn with many heresies, he was journeying to Athens, by way of Palestine, under the authority of an ecclesiastical letter, and having been ordained presbyter by Theoctistus and Alexander, bishops of Caesarea and Jerusalem, he offended Demetrius, who was so wildly enraged at him that he wrote everywhere to injure his reputation.

So he offends Demetrius as we know and then Jerome says:

It is known that before he went to Caesarea, he had been at Rome, under bishop Zephyrinus.

Not only does Jerome take the 'Adamantius' story preserved in the Church History as a reference to Origen as Eusebius intends it, he goes on to say that:

Immediately on his return to Alexandria he made Heraclas the presbyter, who continued to wear his philosopher's garb, his assistant in the school for catechetes. Heraclas became bishop of the church of Alexandria, after Demetrius. How great the glory of Origen was, appears from the fact that Firmilianus, bishop of Caesarea, with all the Cappadocian bishops, sought a visit from him, and entertained him for a long while. Sometime afterwards, going to Palestine to visit the holy places, he came to Caesarea and was instructed at length by Origen in the Holy Scriptures.

The implication here is that Origen stayed for a long time at Cappadocia with Firmilianus before ending up in Palestine where Firmilianus ultimately met him again and received instruction. This is very bizarre because it goes completely against the sense of what appears in Eusebius.

Eusebius's original narrative is actually rather confusing when you take a second look at it. Jerome only builds on this ambiguity and ultimately ignores one of the only lucid details in the original account - Origen's friendship with Alexander. We read in Eusebius that:

It was in the tenth year of the above-mentioned reign that Origen removed from Alexandria to Cæsarea, leaving the charge of the catechetical school in that city to Heraclas. Not long afterward Demetrius, bishop of the church of Alexandria, died, having held the office for forty-three full years, and Heraclas succeeded him. At this time Firmilianus, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, was conspicuous. He was so earnestly affected toward Origen, that he urged him to come to that country for the benefit of the churches, and moreover he visited him in Judea, remaining with him for some time, for the sake of improvement in divine things. And Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, and Theoctistus, bishop of Cæsarea, attended on him constantly, as their only teacher, and allowed him to expound the Divine Scriptures, and to perform the other duties pertaining to ecclesiastical discourse

As I just noted earlier, this is complete nonsense. Eusebius must have seen that the evidence in the libraries of Caesarea itself clearly pointed to a 'conspiracy' between the heads of the Alexandrian Church and an Alexandrian expatriate community that had developed in Palestine and developed this reference to 'Caesarea of Cappadocia' as a diversion.

It is important to note that Eusebius never so much as produces a single document which supports his claims that both Clement and Origen fled to Caesarea of Asia Minor before going to Caesarea of Palestine. Yet Eusebius's methodology should be obvious to anyone, especially as we see it actually augmented in Jerome's complete omission of any reference to a permanent Origenist school in the very place the library containing all the books and testimonials being used to construct this very narrative were located - i.e. Caesarea of Palestine. In other words, there was an organized conspiracy at work among the Alexandrian expatriates to subvert the establishment of 'orthodoxy' at Alexandria and perpetuate the traditions associated with their city deemed 'heretical' by the emerging heads of the worldwide Church.

Notice at once that Eusebius - and to a much greater degree Jerome - are content to have Origen wander the earth without any place to call his home. We see this in what immediately follows in Jerome's account where he says:

It appears also from the fact that he went to Antioch, on the request of Mammaea, mother of the Emperor Alexander, and a woman religiously disposed, and was there held in great honour, and sent letters to the Emperor Philip, who was the first among the Roman rulers, to become a christian, and to his mother, letters which are still extant.

I see this reference to Origen's friendliness with the Imperial authorities was rooted int he fact that Demetrius was in fact an Imperial administrator. In other words, Eusebius set up this false account which transformed 'Demetrius' into a mere 'bishop' rather than a representative of the Roman state. Demetrius was a very common name in Egypt. By making Origen's flight from Egypt a result of an internal Church dispute rather than a criminal act, Origenists evade the charge of being a body developed around a law breaker.

There is almost no other historical information in Jerome's original account. He is reduced to confirming how popular and influential Origen was, without making direct reference to the center of his activity - i.e. his rival school at Caesarea Maritima in Palestine:

Who is there, who does not also know that he was so assiduous in the study of Holy Scriptures, that contrary to the spirit of his time, and of his people, he learned the Hebrew language, and taking the Septuagint translation, he gathered the other translations also in a single work, namely, that of Aquila, of Ponticus the Proselyte, and Theodotian the Ebonite, and Symmachus an adherent of the same sect who wrote commentaries also on the gospel according to Matthew, from which he tried to establish his doctrine. And besides these, a fifth, sixth, and seventh translation, which we also have from his library, he sought out with great diligence, and compared with other editions. And since I have given a list of his works, in the volumes of letters which I have written to Paula, in a letter which I wrote against the works of Varro, I pass this by now, not failing however, to make mention of his immortal genius, how that he understood dialectics, as well as geometry, arithmetic, music, grammar, and rhetoric, and taught all the schools of philosophers, in such wise that he had also diligent students in secular literature, and lectured to them daily, and the crowds which flocked to him were marvellous. These, he received in the hope that through the instrumentality of this secular literature, he might establish them in the faith of Christ.

Indeed Jerome is evasive about where Origen was punished in what follows:

It is unnecessary to speak of the cruelty of that persecution which was raised against the Christians and under Decius, who was mad against the religion of Philip, whom he had slain,--the persecution in which Fabianus, bishop of the Roman church, perished at Rome, and Alexander and Babylas, Pontifs of the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch, were imprisoned for their confession of Christ. If any one wishes to know what was done in regard to the position of Origen, he can clearly learn, first indeed from his own epistles, which after the persecution, were sent to different ones, and secondly, from the sixth book of the church history of Eusebius of Csarea, and from his six volumes in behalf of the same Origen.

When I look at this testimonial about Origen I find it very difficult to see anything 'Alexandrian' about Origen. Yes, Jerome still retains the claim that he returned to the city after his flight (a claim which I have debunked in previous posts). Yet now with the erasing of any reference to a permanent school in Caesarea he is made to appear as something of a wandering prophet which is difficult to square with the other fact that is omitted by Jerome namely that Origen was a one man book producing factory. There were as many as a thousand books and letters produced by Origen over the course of his life. It is impossible to reconcile this literary activity with that of a wandering ascetic. The fact that all the books were ultimately assembled at a massive library in Caesarea in Palestine completely accords with the universally acknowledged fact that Origen established a school there for a large part of his life.

So why again does Jerome completely gloss over this indisputable fact and transform the prolific author into something utterly implausible - i.e. a sojourner? Indeed the kinds of books Origen was writing required access to large volumes of other books and traditions. This reality ultimately opens the door to solving the difficulty. For we see a distinct pattern emerging in all of Origen's books which distinguish them from those of his contemporary Clement in that Origen consulted with real live Jewish teachers in Caesarea as opposed to relying on the opinions of Philo of Alexandria (and which effectively represented the Jewish beliefs of the original evangelist).

Origen worked with Jews and this above all else led to the charge which haunted Origen and Origenists ever since - that they were 'seduced' by Jewish ideas, beliefs and practices. To this end, as Mark Reasoner notes in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans:

While the standard topoi that have driven the church's supersessionism and anti- Semitism can be found in some of Origen's writings, he rises above his generation in his openness to Jews.2 Origen is fixated on Paul's address to both Gentiles and Israel in Romans. He is sympathetic toward Torah observance practiced by Jews who believe in Jesus and by those who do not. He does not denigrate physical circumcision, for it has an allegorical relationship to inner circumcision. Origen emphasizes Paul's point in Romans 1:1 that the Jews have not "fallen" and expresses surprise at the number who exposit Romans as if the Jews have already fallen. Origen notes that these commentators have contradicted Paul. Peter Gorday well captures Origen's critical acceptance of Israel and their faith in his description of "the characteristic affirmation/critique of Judaism found throughout Origen's work: that which limited God's saving work to Judaism is overcome, while that which constituted the saving work (giving of the Law through Moses) is upheld in such a way as not to dispossess its original receivers.

Given the church's record with Jews in the first four centuries of its existence, Origen's commentary (on Romans) is remarkably tolerant. Origen's openness toward Jews is not even erased in the translation of Rufinus, who is known for a Christian anti-Semitism typical of the late fourth and early fifth centuries. [Romans in Full Circle p. 122]

The point here of course is that this understanding of Origen's openness to the real living Jewish tradition (rather than the beliefs and traditions associated with Philo which represented for all intents and purposes something dead) is what distinguishes Origen from his contemporary Clement and clearly accounts for his identification as a heretic in later literature. This mingling could only have taken place in Caesarea (and Origen says as much in his works on many occasions).

Of course I do not believe the propaganda which says that Origen effectively went over to Judaism. Nevertheless, I think it is critical to understand that it is well so well established in the literature from the fourth century onwards that it is impossible to ignore. Patristic scholars of course go out of their way not to acknowledge the anti-Semitic rhetoric which is typically invoked to condemn Origen and the Origenists generally but the basic issue beneath the surface is Origen's effective abandonment of the 'traditional' Jewish understanding of Philo (and the Logos doctrine) within the Church in favor of the recognition of the actual texts and beliefs of living Jews in Palestine. This is why I believe the school of Caesarea was so controversial and moreover I think that by recognizing Origen's 'Judaizing' tendencies it is impossible to believe that Clement - if he were alive - would necessarily have also condemned Origen, if only because Origen's beliefs would have challenged his own.

I want these ideas to settle in the minds of my readers as we move back to the problem of the origin of Marcion. Jerome confesses that Origen's sponsor was a Marcionite before coming to Origen's beliefs. There are a lot of common beliefs and now I want my readers to take a second look at Severus of Al'Ashmunein's preservation of material which we have already studied from Eusebius's Church History and note how the same reports have been injected with a overarching 'Jewish conspiracy' which I believe have some relationship with Marcionitism. Severus retells Eusebius's story of the third century church in the Roman province of Syria in the following terms:

Among the holy men of this time was Serapion also, who was patriarch of Antioch; and when he died Asclepiades, the confessor, was appointed, and his degree was exalted. And Alexander wrote to the people of Antioch with regard to Asclepiades, saying thus : «Alexander, the servant of God, and believer in Jesus Christ, addresses the holy church in Antioch, in the Lord, with joy, by the hand of the chaste priest Clement. My brethren, I desire that you promote Asclepiades, who is worthy of that post.» So he was ordained to the see. Serapion also wrote to the people of Antioch a letter, in which he said that a Jew, named Marcian, had written books, which he attributed to Peter, the chief of the apostles, and in which the writer spoke lies, «Beware, therefore,» continued Serapion, «of these writings. We receive Peter and the rest of the disciples, as we receive the commands of Christ, because they saw him and heard his words. But these lying books we do not accept, but reject them, because they contain nothing of the doctrine of our fathers.» Now when the priest arrived at Antioch with the letters, he said to them : «Be confirmed in the true faith, and do not turn aside to the spurious writings attributed to Peter, for they are false and delusive, and in them is the beginning of heresy; and for this reason I am come to you in haste, for we have learnt that this Marcian, the Jew, has led multitudes astray by his books, so that they have become heretics.» For this heretic wrote many books, and the history from which we are quoting contains an account of some of them. But because it would make our narrative too long, I think it needless to write down their names.

Now Demetrius, the holy patriarch of Alexandria, displayed much learning and wisdom, although he had formerly been ignorant and unable to read or write; and all his spiritual children were continually admonished by him. But when he found that he was growing old in his researches into the divine doctrines and scriptures, so that he was carried into the church in a litter, although he did not cease from giving instruction from morning to night, while the brethren went and came that they might profit by his teaching, then he named Heraclas as his deputy and successor. Now Heraclas was an elect man, learned in the scriptures of God 50, teaching the doctrines of the Church and the science of the word of God; and he knew the canons of the Church by heart.

So when Origen, whom Demetrius had excommunicated, saw that the Church had rejected him, he went to the Jews, and expounded for them part of the Hebrew books, in a new fashion; and he concealed the prophecies which they contain of the Lord Christ, so that when he came to the mention of the thicket in which the ram of Abraham, the Friend of God, was caught by its horns, which the Fathers interpret as a type of the wood of the Cross, Origen even concealed and abandoned this interpretation. He wrote books full of lies and containing no truth. And there was with Origen another heretic named Symmachus, who was the cause of much dissension. He said that Christ was born of Mary by Joseph 51, and rejected the miracle of the wondrous birth; denying also that Christ, who was born without labour (for so he was born of the Virgin), is very God and Man, and One of Two; thus contradicting the true Gospel according to Matthew, and what he says concerning the Nativity. But the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. This heretic pretended that he was a Christian; and in one place he says that he was a philosopher, and had read the books of the Sabaeans and of the schismatics. Subsequently he contracted a friendship with Origen, and led astray many simple women. At this time there was a holy and excellent man, who possessed divine wisdom, named Ammonius; and he refuted them both, and exposed their false and unrighteous explanations of the Scriptures, and their lies. After this, Origen went to Caesarea in Palestine, where he had been made priest, and brought books back to Alexandria, in great abundance. But the Father Demetrius would not receive him, and banished him, because he knew what his conduct was. So Origen departed and went to a place called Thmuis in Augustamnica, and invented a plausible story for the bishop, whose name was Ammonius; so he placed Origen in one of the churches. But when Demetrius heard of this, he went himself straightway to Thmuis, and banished Origen, and removed the bishop Ammonius who had received him, and in his indignation appointed another bishop in his stead; for having convinced himself that the bishop had received that heretic, although he knew his history and his false doctrine, he appointed in his place a bishop named Phileas, a man who feared God, and was full of faith. But Phileas said : «I will not sit upon the episcopal throne while Ammonius is alive.» So when Ammonius died, the aforesaid bishop, Phileas, sat after him; and he was martyred a long time afterwards 52, and departed to the Lord in peace. And Origen, the excommunicate, went to Caesarea in Palestine, ,and began to perform his priestly duties as if he were bishop there. So the Father Demetrius wrote to Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, saying : «We have never heard of a prodigal and heretic teaching in a place in which there were bishops duly established.» And he proceeds to blame the bishop of Caesarea, whose name was Theoctistus, and reprehends Origen who was living in his diocese, and condemns his conduct in this matter, saying : «I never thought that such a thing would be done at Caesarea, with this bishop.» For we have found this Origen saying in certain books that the Son and the Holy Ghost are created. So the bishop of Caesarea read the letter of the Father Demetrius in the church, for the hishop of Jerusalem sent it to him; and also he suspended Origen, and drove him away from the diocese of Caesarea. Then Origen shamelessly returned to Alexandria.

The reader has to be reminded that Severus was bishop over the church of Syria. Most of the people under him spoke Aramaic or Syriac and that Marcianus is related to the Aramaic marqyone (= those belonging to Mark). More on this later ...

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