Mike Aquilina

Return to Origen

Sunday August 12th 2007, 3:06 am

A while back, I reported the arrival (at last) of an English translation of History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen. We have Ignatius Press to thank for this fine edition of a very influential 1950 title by the French theologian (and later Cardinal) Henri de Lubac. The subject of the book is the third-century exegete Origen of Alexandria — one of antiquity’s most renowned biblical interpreters and theologians, yet a man whose life and afterlife have always lingered under a cloud of suspicion. Some propositions attributed to Origen were condemned by Church councils, though his advocates say the propositions, as they were condemned, did not properly represent his doctrine. De Lubac’s study is a systematic examination — and vindication — of Origen’s methods. It begins with “The Case Against Origen,” stated in its strongest terms, then proceeds to a biographical sketch, before rolling out a detailed study of Origen’s teaching on Scripture, especially the importance of both history and the “spiritual sense.” (Origen is sometimes accused of promoting biblical allegory at the expense of biblical history.) De Lubac responds to Origen’s critics point by point, and admirably restores the reputation of this ancient confessor, who suffered for the faith and wished never to have “thoughts different from the faith of the Church on divine dogmas.” De Lubac’s book prepared the way for the abundant use of Origen’s work in subsequent doctrine of the Catholic Church, including the Catechism and the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II.