Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Monday, July 18, 2005

Blogodoxy takes on the question, "Who is the Greatest Theologian of All Time?" (hat tip, Pontificator). In fact, the post is a response to the publicized results of a poll (ready for the answer? psst . . . It's John Calvin! Yes, the hard-nosed, displaced Frenchie with the heart of adamantium). And speaking of adamantium, Blogodoxy gives a little shove in the back to our friend Origen (imagine: an Orthodox who likes Origen? Must be a convert. Yep!):

Perhaps all could agree that the overarching purpose of any theologian is to articulate and clarify the nature of God and religious truth--but how that is done would remain contentious. As a professed "man of the Church" Origen of Alexandria spent his entire life trying to do just that in a hostile environment prior to any consolidation of Church teaching. While a number of his ideas have come to be condemned as heresies or, at the very least, generally viewed as falling short of the truth, it would be difficult to conceive of theology in the Church from Nicaea on without him. In his case accuracy would have to be sacrificed as a category of determination, replaced perhaps by an appreciation for the pioneering nature of the work and the fidelity he held to the Church and to uncovering the truth through Scripture.

A finer summary of Origen's contribution to the Chalcedonian church one could not hope for. St. Augustine gets a pat on the head, because the votes of 1.1 million Romanists ought to count for something, but of course 50% of Augustine is just Origen recycled. Aquinas, alas, gets a mere sentence (because he is Augustine recycled?). Blogodoxy's preferences?

1. Origen of Alexandria
2. The Cappadocian Fathers - Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus
3. St. Maximus the Confessor
4. St. Augustine
5. St. Athanasius

If we're limiting theology to the first half millenia of the Church, then I suppose I have little to argue with. While Augustine was, without doubt, a much better systematician than Origen (as Aquinas was vis-a-vis Augustine), few can doubt that Origen had the harder task cut out for him, and did a knock-out job of it. Methinks St. Athanasius was a better politicker than a theologian. Can anyone who's read his De incarnatione really claim it's first-rate theology? If it is, it also contains, in germ, most of the Alexandrian heresies spawned in the next two centuries (to which our friend Origen is, unsurprisingly, the panacea). But I suppose you have to give credit to the man who looked an Arian episcopacy in the face and refused to blink. The same for a man who had his tongue dismembered.

Speaking of dismemberment, to anyone who doubts Origen's credibility as a systematic theologian, I would add that theology, as conceived by every period ere the modern, includes what most modern academics would style 'spirituality' or 'mysticism'. And if we're grading the aforementioned characters by their success in laying a spiritual framework which would inspire generations of future mystics, no one on the docket comes close to Origen, without whom we would have no Cappadocians, no Bernard, and no Balthasar. Does anyone pretend that Calvinism could actually inspire anything resembling a mysticism? Does the term 'predetermined reprobation' give you sweet vibes of mystical pleasure?

UPDATE: As usual, the commenters on Pontifications are having a ball with this one. And don't miss Elliot B's comments at Fides, Cogitatio, Actio.

# posted by Jamie : 3:30 PM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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