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Patristic Exegesis

Relevance to Contemporary Biblical Hermeneutics

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This essay will argue that in several – often unnoticed – respects patristic exegesis can be relevant to contemporary biblical hermeneutics and can be a source of fruitful inspiration for it. From several quarters, contemporary scholars have called for an integrative approach to biblical hermeneutics, especially one that conjoins the historico-critical method and theological hermeneutics. A similar integrative approach was already adopted by patristic exegetes in Origen’s line, with their integration of historical reading and noetic exegesis, and with their hermeneutics of multiplicity that is another respect in which patristic exegesis proves highly relevant to contemporary biblical hermeneutics. The present relevance of scriptural passages is also a core principle of both patristic exegesis and contemporary hermeneutics, as well as the tenet of the unity of Scripture, which was emphasised by patristic exegetes and is to be taken into account in contemporary biblical hermeneutics with respect to the Bible as supertext. Also, philosophical investigation applied to scriptural hermeneutics is one of the most remarkable features of Origen’s and his followers’ hermeneutics. A reflection will thus be devoted to the relationship between philosophy and biblical hermeneutics, as well as between theology and philosophy, and a parallel will be drawn with philosophy of religion.

Abstract

This essay will argue that in several – often unnoticed – respects patristic exegesis can be relevant to contemporary biblical hermeneutics and can be a source of fruitful inspiration for it. From several quarters, contemporary scholars have called for an integrative approach to biblical hermeneutics, especially one that conjoins the historico-critical method and theological hermeneutics. A similar integrative approach was already adopted by patristic exegetes in Origen’s line, with their integration of historical reading and noetic exegesis, and with their hermeneutics of multiplicity that is another respect in which patristic exegesis proves highly relevant to contemporary biblical hermeneutics. The present relevance of scriptural passages is also a core principle of both patristic exegesis and contemporary hermeneutics, as well as the tenet of the unity of Scripture, which was emphasised by patristic exegetes and is to be taken into account in contemporary biblical hermeneutics with respect to the Bible as supertext. Also, philosophical investigation applied to scriptural hermeneutics is one of the most remarkable features of Origen’s and his followers’ hermeneutics. A reflection will thus be devoted to the relationship between philosophy and biblical hermeneutics, as well as between theology and philosophy, and a parallel will be drawn with philosophy of religion.

1. Methodological Guidelines: Hermeneutics as Conversation, Theological Hermeneutics, and the Relevance of Patristic Exegesis

One of the most valuable and recent contributions to contemporary biblical hermeneutics – “hermeneutics” understood as theory of interpretation or interpretive method or practice1 – is the collection of essays edited by Reimund Bieringer, Roger Burggraeve, Emmanuel Nathan, and Martijn Steege, Provoked to Speech: Biblical Hermeneutics as Conversation.2 This volume represents very well biblical hermeneutics as a dialogical and conversational process. Especially in Part 1, the contributors Emmanuel Nathan, Roger Burggraeve, Marianne Moyaert, Ming Yeung Cheung, and Pierre Van Hecke underline the importance of significant biblical hermeneutics to re-engage Scripture. I think that patristic exegesis, that is, the exegesis of the so-called church fathers, can contribute remarkable insights to this end. In this way, patristic exegesis can be put in conversation with contemporary biblical hermeneutics, and this very conversation is part and parcel of biblical hermeneutics itself.

Michael Moxter, albeit showing much appreciation of the historico-critical method of biblical hermeneutics, has called for a more complete and richer approach, which he names theological hermeneutics.3 This combines the tasks of historico-critical reconstruction, systematic understanding, and individual application. New Testament scholar Jörg Frey lists the theological method alongside other models of interpretation, such as redaction criticism, literary criticism, and historico-critical approach, noting that the theological approach avoids relativising the biblical text (in particular the Gospel of John, on which he is focusing), but at the same time can make it difficult for the exegete to adopt a standpoint of critical distance.4 The opposite is the case with the historico-critical approach, in which case the critical distance from, and the relativisation of, the biblical text are both very high.

Mutatis mutandis, the perspective of combining the historico-critical and the theological approach is not too dissimilar from the integrative “theological hermeneutics” advocated in the Catholic tradition most recently by Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI and his immediate followers, such as Enrico dal Covolo,5 who values and promotes the patristic practice of the lectio divina, Origen’s θεία ἀνάγνωσις. He remarks that “[t]oday, those who practice lectio divina cultivate their competences above all in the biblical field, and much less (or not at all) in patristic studies,”6 whereas lectio divina originated precisely in patristic biblical exegesis. He too emphasises that it is necessary to join the historico-critical method to theological hermeneutics, the latter being essentially represented by patristic exegesis; this will allow to “overcome the devastating divarication between exegesis and theology.”7 For, while academic exegesis is at a very high level in the historico-critical method, scholarly exegesis is still rather poor when it comes to theological hermeneutics founded on the unity of scripture, patristic tradition, and faith.

In the same spirit, Benedict XVI in the apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (2010), which builds upon the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (1963), indicated as viable and desirable what he called the ecclesial hermeneutics of faith. He points out that “without faith there is no key to throw open the sacred text” (VD 29.1). While this position, that there can be no biblical hermeneutics – as well as no theology – without faith, may not be shared by all contemporary biblical exegetes, it is exactly the same as that of all patristic exegetes and theologians. Indeed, it is significant that, unlike theologians and exegetes in more recent times, most patristic theologians were exegetes, and most patristic exegetes were theologians. This made their theology grounded in biblical exegesis and their biblical hermeneutics informed by theology. It is not accidental that Benedict cited two patristic exegetes, Origen and Ambrose (who followed Origen closely in his scriptural exegesis), in order to buttress his own views concerning contemporary biblical hermeneutics: respectively, “the best way to know God is through love, and there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love,” with reference to Origen’s Commentary on the Song of Songs and theology of ἀγάπη (VD 86.1); “when we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden” (VD 87.3).

In addition to, and independently of, these suggestions, I find that there are many ways in which patristic exegesis can inspire contemporary interpreters of the Bible. Indeed, the value of patristic exegesis for contemporary biblical hermeneutics is arguably enormous and multifold. I set out to offer some examples in the following paragraphs. In a more general manner – since his volume does not focus on patristic exegesis of Scripture – Paul Griffiths has laid some methodological foundations for the present investigation, given his comparative research into the value, methods, and roles of reading – primarily, the reading of religious texts – in the religious lives of both Christian and Buddhist intellectuals from the first millennium C.E.8 The object of the present research is specifically the exegesis of Scripture in Christian thinkers of the first millennium, the so-called church fathers or patristic authors, and the relevance of their exegesis, both in theory and in practice, to contemporary biblical hermeneutics.

2. Noetic Exegesis, Historical Reading, and the Hermeneutics of Multiplicity

Most patristic exegetes, following Origen – who in turn had drawn inspiration from Philo – conjoined allegoresis, implying a spiritual or noetic exegesis of Scripture,9 and a more historical exegesis, which, as opposed to the former kind of hermeneutics, did not look for the “hidden,” spiritual senses of the biblical text, but concentrated on what patristic interpreters called the literal or historical level. This line – traditionally associated with the Alexandrian school, but not exclusive to it – with its combination of historical and spiritual exegesis corresponds to a certain extent to contemporary biblical hermeneutics’ need for complementing the historico-critical method with a theological hermeneutics, as indicated above in section 1. In this respect, the patristic approach can illumine and inspire today’s efforts in biblical hermeneutics to enrich those two aspects with each other: to enrich the long-practiced and highly scientific historico-critical methodology through the above-mentioned theological hermeneutics, and the latter through the former.

While in contemporary discussions about methodology in biblical hermeneutics only theological hermeneutics, and not the historico-critical approach, is generally associated with patristic exegesis, I would rather observe that the very complementing of historical reading and theologico-spiritual interpretation is at the heart of the heritage of patristic exegesis. Of course, the fathers did not elaborate a historico-critical hermeneutics comparable to the modern one. But Origen and his followers, such as Gregory Nyssen and Evagrius,10 who form the core of patristic exegesis, distinguished themselves both from many “Gnostics,” who, like “pagan” Neoplatonists, only applied allegoresis (at least to the New Testament), emptying the literal-historical plane of Scripture, and from the “Marcionites” and later, in part, the Antiochene theologians, who only stuck to the historical level and refused to allegorise the sacred text or interpret it spiritually (some “Gnostics” likewise refused to allegorise the Old Testament).11 Origen explicitly polemicised against these two opposite – and in his view equally incomplete – models of biblical hermeneutics, rather proposing his own integrative approach to scriptural hermeneutics.12 Such an integrative approach, I offer, can be a source of fruitful inspiration for contemporary biblical hermeneutics. The need for such an approach has been repeatedly pointed out from many quarters.

Allegoresis as a hermeneutical method – namely, allegorical exegesis – was employed, long before patristic authors, by Greek philosophers, in particular by the Stoics, who, like the Middle- and Neoplatonists later, considered allegoresis to be part and parcel of philosophy. More specifically, allegoresis was relevant to theology, the highest branch of philosophy, dealing with the study of the divinity.13 Myths, traditions, rituals, and even iconographic representations of deities were interpreted as allegorical, symbolical expressions of philosophical truths, to be decoded in turn by philosophy.14 Stoicism aimed at integrating into its own philosophical system the traditional forms of theology, with a view to the creation of a broad cultural synthesis, which included the traditional religious heritage, but philosophically legitimised after being corroded by rationalistic criticism. This implied for the Stoics a reevaluation of myth in its traditional expressions – poetry, epithets, rituals, iconography – as bearer of philosophical truths veiled under symbols. The Stoics, interested as they were in linguistics, etymology, poetry, and literature, intended to validate poetry and the other forms of religious myths, by means of allegoresis according to their own philosophical system. Such a validation was probably meant to build an organic, systematic, and comprehensive cultural unity based on the Logos.15 A similar project will be devised by Origen of Alexandria, and the Logos around which it will be centered will be identified by him with Christ-Logos.

Philosophical allegoresis was applied to the Septuagint in Hellenistic Judaism, especially by Philo of Alexandria and Aristobulus, as well as other biblical allegorisers to whom Philo refers. Among patristic exegetes, the greatest allegorist and theoriser of biblical allegoresis, profoundly influenced by Philo as well as by Stoics and Middle Platonists, is Origen. Eusebius calls him “the most laborious [φιλοπονώτατος] exegete of the holy scriptures” (Ecl. Proph. 3.6), and the author who offered “an extremely complete exegesis” and “a fullest clarification” (Ecl. Proph. 2.2; 3.6).

Origen viewed biblical hermeneutics as a philosophical task. It is indeed significant that Origen’s theorisation of biblical allegoresis is not included in any exegetical work of his, such as one of his great commentaries, but in his philosophical masterpiece, in the fourth book of his First Principles. This is precisely because he regarded the allegorical hermeneutics of Scripture as part and parcel of philosophy, exactly as many Stoics, and later many Middle Platonists, regarded theological allegoresis as a constitutive component of philosophy. And just as Stoic allegorists did not so much use myth in defense of their philosophical system as they employed philosophical allegoresis in defense of mythical and ritual traditions, integrating them into a great, unitary philosophical system, so also Origen with his scriptural allegoresis was not so much using the Bible in defence of his own philosophico-theological system as he was employing his metaphysics and philosophy to provide the Bible with a philosophical basis, justification, defence, and hermeneutics.16

Origen was very well acquainted with Stoic allegorists such as Cornutus and Chaeremon of Alexandria, who therefore constitute a bridge between Stoic and Christian allegoresis: Origen “availed himself of the books of the Stoics Chaeremon and Cornutus, from which he learned the allegorical method of the Greek mysteries, which he applied, then, to the Jewish Scriptures” (Porphyry, F39 Harnack).17 In Book 4 of First Principles, Origen theorises a threefold biblical hermeneutics, literal, moral, and spiritual, in which each level corresponds to a component of the human being – body, soul, and spirit – and to a degree of Christian perfection:

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Origen’s scriptural basis for this proposed hermeneutics is Prov 22:20, put forward by him in Princ. 4.2.4 (Philoc. 1.11) and interpreted in the sense that one is invited to read the biblical texts “in three ways” or “at three levels” (τρισσῶς): “And you write them thrice / in three ways in will and knowledge […] Therefore, it is necessary to write the meanings of the sacred Scriptures onto one’s soul in a threefold way, that the simpler person may be edified by the flesh, so to say, of Scripture – I call so its most obvious meaning –; the person who is advanced to some degree may be edified by its soul, as it were, and the perfect […] by the spiritual law, which includes in itself ‘the shadow of the future goods.’18 For, just as the human being consists of body, soul, and spirit, in the same way also Scripture does, which was given by the divinity in its providential economy for the salvation of humans.” The aim of the correct, integrative reading of Scripture that Origen proposes as his own theorised biblical hermeneutics is the salvation of the human being in all of its three components and of all human beings through their different phases of development, from the beginners to those making progress to the perfect. Origen in his exegetical practice does not always offer all three of the foregoing readings (literal, moral, and spiritual), but sometimes two, and sometimes more. He in fact theorised multiple interpretations of the text, in which the spiritual meanings of Scripture are inexhaustible.

Scripture itself, then, has a “fleshly,” “psychic,” and spiritual meaning – or, simplifying, a literal, more obvious sense and many spiritual, less obvious senses. Origen draws a parallel between the sensible level of reality (the “visible” things), Christ’s human nature (the visible side of Christ), and the literal, historical level of Scripture (littera, the most obvious meaning), and, on the other side, the intelligible level of reality (the “invisible” things), Christ’s divine nature (the invisible side of Christ), and the spiritual senses of Scripture (the “hidden,” less obvious meanings).19 This stratification – visible and invisible, sensible and intelligible – is found in Origen’s cosmology, in his biblical hermeneutics, in his ecclesiological and sacramental doctrines, and in his anthropology.

In Princ. 1, praef. 8 Origen presents his integrative biblical hermeneutics, joining the historical and the spiritual, as the Christian hermeneutics. For he describes as a doctrine recognised by the church that “Scriptures have been written by means of the Spirit of God, and have as a meaning not only that which is patent [sensum … qui in manifesto est], but also another one, hidden, which escapes most people [alium quendam latentem quam plurimos]. For the things that are written therein are the forms of certain mysteries [formae … sacramentorum quorundam], the images of divine things [divinarum rerum imagines]. In this respect, the whole church entertains one and the same opinion: that all the Law is in fact spiritual [esse quidem omnem legem spiritalem].” Quoting Rom 7:14, Origen thus claimed for his own, integrative scriptural exegesis the label of “orthodox” Christian hermeneutics, both against those who (within and outside Christianity) read Scripture only literally and against extreme allegorists such as some “Gnostics,” who read the New Testament exclusively allegorically.

Origen remarked that those particularly simple (ἁπλούστεροι, simpliciores), namely most people (quam plurimi, οἱ πολλοί), stuck to the most obvious sense of the biblical text and therefore read the Bible too superficially, for instance taking God’s anthropomorphisms in the Old Testament literally (πρὸς λέξιν, κατὰ τὸ ῥητόν, Princ. 4.2.1–3). Criticism of anthropomorphisms ascribed to deities was one of the main reasons that first led to the allegoresis of myths, largely practiced by the Stoics, as mentioned above. For Origen, the most important Scriptural sense is undoubtedly the spiritual, reserved for those to whom the Spirit communicates the meanings “no longer through the letters, but through living words.”20 However, Origen thinks that the literal, historical level of Scripture must be retained in almost all cases, unless absurdities arise. Every Scriptural passage has a spiritual sense, and almost all passages have a historical meaning: only very few are deprived of literal meaning (Princ. 4.2.5; 9) because of logical absurdities (ἄλογα), paradoxes (παράδοξα), or material impossibilities (ἀδύνατα, Princ. 4.3.1–4). There are many more passages in Scripture that are endowed with literal meaning – besides the spiritual – than those which are deprived of it and only have a spiritual sense, or many spiritual senses: “Those passages which are true on the historical plane [secundum historiam] are much more numerous than those which have a bare spiritual meaning [nudum sensum spiritalem]” (ap. Pamph. Apol. 123). Thus, for instance, in Pamphilus Apol. 125, Origen claims that the story of the Patriarchs is historical, and the miracle of Joshua really happened. In addition, besides their historical sense, these stories also have many spiritual meanings.

As examples of biblical passages deprived of literal meaning, Origen adduces God’s anthropomorphisms in the Old Testament, contradictions, grammatical or factual incongruities, facts that did not really happen (Princ. 4.3.1), and legal prescriptions impossible to fulfill. These have “bare spiritual meanings” (γυμνὰ πνευματικά), not wrapped in a literal sense, in order to let readers understand that it is necessary to seek for a deeper meaning (Princ. 4.2.9; Philoc. 1.16). In Princ. 4.2.9, Origen remarks: “But sometimes a useful discourse [λόγος χρήσιμος] does not appear. And on some other occasions, even impossible things [ἀδύνατα] are prescribed by the law, for the sake of those who are more expert and particularly fond of investigation [ἐντρεχεστέρους καὶ ζητητικωτέρους], that, applying themselves to the toil of the examination [τῇ βασάνῳ τῆς ἐξετάσεως] of Scriptures, they may be persuaded by reason [πεῖσμα ἀξιόλογον λάβωσι] that in Scriptures it is necessary to look for [ζητεῖν] a meaning worthy of God [τοῦ Θεοῦ ἄξιον νοῦν].” Origen attaches here to the study of Scripture the terminology of philosophical investigation: ζητητικωτέρους, ἐξετάσεως, πεῖσμα ἀξιόλογον, and ζητεῖν. This is because, in Origen’s view, allegorical biblical hermeneutics is an important part of philosophy; this is also why, as I mentioned, he decided to include his theorisation of biblical allegoresis in his philosophical masterpiece. In this connection, the very function of the quite few scriptural passages that are deprived of a literal meaning is to have the exegete-philosopher realise that a philosophical, allegorical scrutiny of Scripture is necessary. Such a scrutiny aims at finding in the Bible meanings “worthy of God.” This also was one of the very first factors that, already in ancient Greece, produced a search for allegorical meanings of myths whose literal sense sounded unworthy of the divine.

However, the historicity of most of the biblical narrative is out of question for Origen. This marks a difference from Stoic and Middle and Neoplatonic allegoresis of myths, as well as from “Gnostic” exclusively allegorical readings of the New Testament. That for Origen the reading of a scriptural text on the spiritual plane does not imply the rejection of its literal meaning is also clear from Pamphilus, Apol. 113: “Even if these passages have a spiritual meaning [spiritalem intellectum], however their spiritual sense [spiritalis sensus] must be received only after first maintaining their historical truth [historiae ueritate].” Only the ascertainment of the littera makes it possible to correctly develop the allegorical exegesis. Furthermore, the literal level is useful to “edify” those who cannot understand Scripture to a deeper degree (Princ. 4.2.6;8–9).

Precisely on account of his attention to the literal level of the biblical text, Origen, who had once been a grammaticus, produced his monumental Hexapla, to establish the Scriptural text, and discussed philological points in his commentaries, such as that on John. The Hexapla was in the service of Origen’s exegesis: he himself explains that in order to emend the faulty manuscripts of the Septuagint, the church’s Bible, a comparison with the other versions was needed; moreover, Origen wanted to establish a critical text of the Septuagint with the indication of the passages that were present there, but absent from the Hebrew text, or present in Hebrew but absent from the Septuagint (Comm. in Matth. 15.14). Indeed, in discussions with Jews, he could not adduce passages that were present in the Septuagint but absent from the Hebrew Bible, since his interlocutors would not have deemed them authoritative (Ep. ad Afr. 9). Therefore, a careful comparative edition was in order. The exegetical and theological implications of these comparative readings were huge. Origen often refers to his hard work on the manuscripts and checking the Hebrew text and the versions (Ep. Car.; Ep. ad Afr. 6), including in his newly discovered Munich homilies: “God knows how much I laboured in comparative examinations of the Hebrew texts and the editions, to see how to emend the errors” (Hom. 1 in Ps. 77.1 fol. 215r). Besides Old Testament philology, Origen also engaged in New Testament philology, like his teacher Ammonius,21 and especially criticised Marcion’s edition (Euangelion and Apostolikon) for athetising many passages, both from Paul and from the Gospel, such as Jesus’s birth from Mary, prophecies, and the like, in order to “emend Scripture.”22 He used the Hexapla not only in his classes, as his commentaries show, but sometimes even in his preaching, as we know from his Homilies on Jeremiah, preserved in Greek and therefore not subject to Rufinus’s trimming and simplifications. His attention to the literal, historical level of Scripture is further testified to by his collation of biblical manuscripts, his journeys to Palestine with the aim of establishing whether John the Baptist operated in Bethany or Bethabara (Comm. in Io. 6.40–41), and his concern with the reason why the succession of events after Jesus’s baptism in the gospel of John is different from that of the synoptics (Comm. in Io. 10.3).

According to Origen, the spiritual sense of Scripture, i.e. the Bible’s “spirit,” absorbs and subsumes both its “soul” and its “body,” without destroying them. The purpose of the allegorical reading is to show the connection between spiritual and material realities, spirit and body, not to allow the spirit to annihilate the body. Origen repeatedly illustrates the interrelationship between spiritual and material being and between littera and allegorical exegesis.23 This interrelationship is particularly evident in Origen’s doctrine of the spiritual senses.24 So, his exegesis of John reveals his deep concern for preserving history, including the incarnation of the Logos, and offering an allegorical exegesis that is consistent with the literal plane. He was polemicising against the Valentinian Heracleon, who tended to exclusively allegorise the gospel of John without maintaining its historical level.25

Among the very few parts of Scripture that in Origen’s view do not possess any historical or literal meaning are the accounts of the beginning and the end of all, respectively in Genesis and Revelation. These accounts are indeed mythical, and necessarily not historical, because the arkhē and the telos have been left unclarified by the teaching of the church (Princ. praef. 7) and are unknown even to angels,26 a fortiori to humans. Therefore, since these accounts are mythical – Origen explicitly uses the μῦθος terminology in this respect – they cannot be taken literally, but must be allegorised, in order to have their spiritual truths emerge. One can clearly see that the necessity of a demythologisation of Scripture, famously emphasised by Bultmann, was anticipated by Origen and the patristic allegorists who followed him.

Biblical hermeneutics, therefore, has to apply allegory at its best when interpreting mythical accounts such as those of the arkhē and the telos. This is what Origen did in his own entirely allegorical interpretation of Revelation.27 Origen and his followers would always be suspicious toward literal interpretations of Revelation, which produced millennarianism. Origen himself, however, unlike many Origenians, accepted Revelation as Scripture, commented on it, and frequently cited it, but he interpreted it exclusively allegorically, contrary to his usual hermeneutical praxis. In Princ. 2.11.2–3 Origen is obviously criticising a literal interpretation of Revelation, when he attacks exegetes who held that the eschatological beatitude will consist in eating, drinking, and other worldly pleasures, and that the heavenly Jerusalem will be an earthly city, made of precious stones, in accord with a literal interpretation of Revelation 21. Rather, Origen explains, the heavenly Jerusalem depicted in Revelation will be, not a city of stones and gems, but a city of saints (civitas sanctorum), in which each one will be instructed in order to become a living precious stone, in a restoration of rational creatures to God’s original plan.

In Princ. 4.3.1 Origen explicitly included the whole account of the Paradise and the story of creation in Genesis among the scriptural passages deprived of a literal meaning and susceptible only of allegorical exegesis: “Now, who, if endowed with intelligence, will believe that a first, a second, and a third day, and an evening and a dawn, took place without sun, moon, and stars? And that the day that should have been the first took place even without sky? Who is so stupid [ἠλίθιος] as to believe that God, like a human farmer, has planted a garden in Eden toward the East and put a visible and sense-perceptible [ὁρατὸν καὶ αἰσθητόν] tree of life therein, so that one, by eating its fruit with one’s bodily [σωματικῶν] teeth, could acquire life, and also could participate in good and evil after munching what is taken from that tree? If, then, God is said to stroll in the garden/Paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide under the tree, I do not think that anybody will doubt that these things indicate symbolical truths [μυστήρια] in an allegorical way [τροπικῶς], by means of what looks like a historical account [δοκούσης ἱστορίας], and yet has never happened corporeally [οὐ σωματικῶς γεγενημένης].” The creation account must be allegorised, albeit en passant: “In the beginning, God is said to have planted a garden/Paradise of delights, undoubtedly with the intention that in it we might enjoy spiritual delights [spiritalibus deliciis].”28 The story of Adam and the Paradise has never happened “corporeally,” and therefore has never happened literally and historically, but must be interpreted allegorically, in that it encompasses “mysteries,” that is, truths expressed in a symbolic way. So, we find many examples of allegorical exegesis of the creation and the Paradise story in Origen’s exegetical production, e.g. “intelligible/noetic trees” (Hom. in Gen. 2.4), “intelligible/noetic rivers,” “intelligible/noetic woody valleys” in Paradise (Sel. in Num. PG 12.581B), and the etymology of “Eden” as ἤδη, “once upon a time,” to signify a primeval state rather than a specific garden (Fr. in Gen. 236; D15 Metzler). The whole of the first Homily on Genesis bristles with passages from the Hexaemeron, including the Eden account, of which only an allegorical explanation is given.

For the initial part of Genesis and for Revelation, Origen abandoned his general rule of maintaining both the literal, historical plane of the Bible and the allegorical, just as Plato had abandoned his theoretical, dialectical exposition in order to hint, in myths, at truths that could not possibly be expressed theoretically, but had to be presented only mythically. Origen indeed attributed the same epistemological status both to Plato’s myths concerning the arkhē and the telos and to the biblical mythical accounts of the arkhē and the telos. He praised Plato for his use of myths that pointed to the truth only for those who could grasp it through an allegorical interpretation, which is for him a philosophical hermeneutics.29

Patristic exegesis typically yielded – and theorised – multiple meanings in the Bible, not only on account of the foregoing union of historical and spiritual interpretation, but also due to the multiple levels of spiritual meanings that, as I have mentioned, were both discovered and hypothesised. Scripture was supposed to have many, sometimes even infinite, meanings. In this connection, it was thought that the Spirit, the inspirer of Scripture, deliberately hid in the holy writ this plurality of meanings, to be discovered by exegetes not only thanks to the assistance of God, but also by means of specific scientific competences: grammatical, linguistic, historical, or coming from other liberal disciplines, and above all philosophical.

Especially Origen, in his letter to Gregory the Wonderworker (Thaumaturgus), pointed out the value of the liberal arts and of philosophy as paramount for biblical hermeneutics. Origen’s famous Letter to Gregory/Theodore, included in Philoc. 13, exhorts a disciple to take what he has learned at Origen’s school from Greek philosophy and the liberal arts as a preparation (προπαίδευμα) for Christianity (Χριστιανισμόν). Liberal arts are useful (χρήσιμος) for the interpretation of Scripture. The use of the famous allegory of the spoils from Egypt (Ex 12:35–36) may suggest an antagonism to Greek paideia, but this depends on the context, source (Philo), and genre. Here Origen is addressing a student who has to choose whether to become a lawyer, a professional philosopher in one of the “pagan” schools, or an exegete-theologian; in this context of opposite choices, it is normal that he uses the image of the spoils from Egypt, which he drew from Philo, but what he is suggesting is a strong assimilation of Greek philosophy, without which the Christian disciple could not pursue theology. Just as philosophy is the crowning of paideia, so is theology the crowning of philosophy: Origen is using Plato’s own terminology (Resp. 7.533D; Leg. 899D) when stating that the liberal arts are assistants or fellow-workers (συνέριθοι) of philosophy, and the latter is συνέριθος of Christian theology. Not every philosophy is useful – indeed Epicureanism was discharged by Origen, while especially Platonism was retained – and within what is good, some doctrines are better than others. While the “Egyptians,” i.e. the “pagans,” misused their own paideia and philosophy, because they put it into the service of a false religion, the “Hebrews,” i.e., the Christians, use it properly, for the sake of the true religion. Origen’s letter appears more hostile to the “Gnostics,” who are unmasked as false Christians who, instead of using philosophy for Christian theology, have been allured by “paganism” and have interpreted Scripture according to their own “inventions” (ἀναπλάσματα), their “heretical thoughts” (αἱρετικὰ νοήματα). Origen, indeed, often attributes to the “Gnostics” myths and inventions – especially with reference to their mythopoiesis of the aeons – and here he is sharply criticising Gnostic allegorical biblical hermeneutics as arbitrary, whereas he regarded his own biblical allegoresis as legitimate. As Origen recommends at the end of the letter, Christian theology must be firmly grounded in biblical exegesis, but the “zetetic” exegesis theorised and practised by Origen (on which see below, section 4) was a philosophical exegesis, also supported by the contributions of the various liberal disciplines, of which philosophy was the pinnacle. This, and only this, could attain the spiritual meanings of Scripture.

The multiplicity of meanings and of readings of Scripture is something emphasised – albeit from a different angle – in biblical hermeneutics today as well, depending on a variety of approaches and also according to diverse cultural and geographic perspectives: there are, for instance, African, or more specifically South African, hermeneutics,30 postcolonial hermeneutics,31 feminist hermeneutics,32 etc., but also models of transcultural biblical interpretation have been proposed, in turn admitting of, and programmatically affirming, a multiplicity of meanings.33 The plurality of contemporary biblical hermeneutics is well illustrated by the very choice of the title, Handbuch der Bibelhermeneutiken, in the plural, edited by a specialist in the field, Oda Wischmeyer, emeritus professor at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg.34 Such an integrative perspective seems to characterise also the hermeneutical approach of the recent and comprehensive de Gruyter’s Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik, edited by the same Oda Wischmeyer,35 which is programmatically declared to be

heuristic and multi-perspectival […] The leading theological-hermeneutical terms “Gospel”, “word of God”, “Holy Scripture”, and “revelation” stand alongside terms that belong to the humanities and cultural sciences in the broadest sense, such as “canon”, “holy book”, “text”, “supertext”, and “reception”. […] The Bible is understood as a collection of different texts that together form a supertext. All present-day text-elucidating scholarly disciplines with their theories, methods, concepts, and terms are drawn upon for the understanding of this text or these texts. The field of linguistic, literary, historical, theological, philosophical, and religious studies understanding yields together the basis of a “Bible hermeneutic” that opens up the biblical texts in all their aspects to understanding.36

Patristic exegetes, and especially Origen, would have enthusiastically approved of such an initiative. Origen – as I have mentioned – put all scientific disciplines, crowned by philosophy, in the service of biblical exegesis.

3. The Present Relevance of Scriptural Passages and of Patristic Theology and Exegesis, and the Unity of Scripture

The present relevance of a biblical passage’s meaning – that is, its relevance to its various readers or hearers, each in his or her time and place – is constantly highlighted by patristic exegetes, not only by Origen and his followers, but also by John Chrysostom, for instance, and those who, like him, pointed out chiefly the moral teaching of a scriptural passage. This principle was so important for Origen that he insisted that it is useless that the Bible recounts, for example, the birth of Christ, and it is useless even that Christ became incarnate at a certain point in time, historically, if Christ then is not born every time, and in every place and culture, in the heart of every single hearer or reader of Scripture – that is, to Origen’s mind, every believer. Scripture, indeed, acquires new meanings with every reader, every group of readers, every epoch, and every hermeneutical model. This is a tenet, not only of biblical hermeneutics, but of hermeneutics tout court.

The present relevance of biblical texts has been emphasised also very recently by patristic scholar and theologian Frances Young,37 who at the same time also argued for the present relevance of patristic theology. It is a bold move to bring patristic theology to bear on issues of contemporary theology, and in general on constructive, systematic theology. Looking for the relevance of patristic theology to contemporary theology, just as investigating the relevance of patristic exegesis to contemporary biblical hermeneutics, is challenging, but fascinating and potentially very productive and rewarding.

Another core principle of patristic exegesis that can bear on contemporary Christian hermeneutics is that of the unity of all Scripture. This was initially asserted especially against Marcionites and “Gnostics,” who tended to sever the Hebrew Bible, and the Septuagint, from what became the New Testament. Origen again played a paramount role in this. Scripture for him constitutes a unity because it is another form of the incarnation of Christ-Logos; it is the one body of the Logos, Old and New Testament together, in an anti-Marcionite and anti-Gnostic perspective. This is also why he describes reading, or listening to, Scripture as a eucharistic act. So in Hom. Gen. 10.3, after exhorting his flock to come to church and listen to Scripture every day, since as a presbyter he read and explained the Bible every day, Origen can say that Christians “manducate every day the flesh of the Lamb, that is, they eat every day the flesh of the Logos/Word of God [carnes Uerbi].”38 He was not referring to the Eucharist proper, but to the reading of, and listening to, Scripture as a eucharistic act, on account of Scripture’s being the body of Christ. The Bible is considered by him to be the revelation of Christ-Logos (Princ. 1.3.2), who, just as he assumed a human body in his incarnation, so in the Scriptures is clothed in the wrappings of the littera.39 Thus, the Bible is the perpetual incarnation, a notion closely related to that of the unity of Scripture, given the unity of Christ’s body. Origen speaks of an ἔνδυμα, a veil, a σωματικόν aspect that covers the spiritual sense, just as Christ’s human body covered his divinity (Princ. 3.6.1; 4.1.6; 2.8). The same Logos that inspired Scripture, from Moses to the prophets to the apostles, and likewise inspired Greek philosophers and especially Plato, is not only that which is incarnate in Scripture – and became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth – but is also the Logos that inspires the philosophical exegete.40 This is why Origen, when tackling the philosophical interpretation of Scripture, which is a “zetetic” work (see below, section 4), feels inspired by the Logos both as a philosopher and as an exegete, or better as a philosophical exegete. God’s Logos, indeed, illuminates the intellect of the exegete and philosopher-theologian.41

Stressing the overarching unity of the Bible, Origen often speaks of εἱρμός,42 ἀκολουθία, ἁρμονία,43 and συμφωνία within the sacred text, in all its parts, and also – very interestingly for today’s biblical hermeneutics – of the συγγένεια or affinity of the various biblical hermeneutical methods with one another,44 for example in Philoc. 6. In Comm. Jo. 10.18.107 Origen speaks of εὐτονόταται, στερρόταται συνοχαί, which tie together all parts of Scripture, thus creating the ἁρμονία τῆς πάσης συνθέσεως, so that in the entire Bible the unity of πνεῦμα is unbroken. The Stoic derivation of these πνεῦμα and τόνος that permeate everything – for Origen, all of Scripture – is clear.45 Thus, he interprets the Bible with the Bible, also remindful of the principle of Alexandrian philology to interpret Homer with Homer, and of the rabbinic strategy to interpret Scripture with Scripture: Origen relates a passage of Scripture to another in which similar concepts, or similar terms (ὅμοιαι φωναί), occur: in this way, he obtains the spiritual meaning of both.

Moreover, Origen does not take into consideration an isolated allegorical point, but contemplates a whole passage in its allegorical system. To illustrate the importance of this hermeneutical approach, in Cels. 4.71 he quotes 1Cor 2:13, about the necessity of comparing spiritual realities with spiritual ones. In Comm. Matt. 10.15, likewise, he claims that the exegesis of Old and New Testament is to be done by “comparing spiritual realities with spiritual ones, in order to establish and confirm each word of God by the mouth of two, three or more witnesses from Scripture” (cf. Deut 19:15). In Hom. Lev. 1.7 Origen further explains that the exegesis of a scriptural passage must be supported by two witnesses, one from the Old and one from the New Testament, or three: from the Prophets, the Gospels, and Paul’s letters. All this contrasts with the break between the two Testaments introduced by “Gnostics” and Marcionites, criticised by Origen precisely because “they do not respect the expositive συμφωνία of Scripture from the beginning to the end” (Comm. Jo. 10.42.290). In Philoc. 2, from his commentary on Psalm 1, Origen assimilates God’s Providence and δύναμις, which permeates everything everywhere, and the divine inspiration that pervades the whole of Scripture, from top to bottom, as far as the smallest details: everywhere one can find traces and hints (ἴχνη, ἀφορμαί) of God’s Wisdom, spread “in each letter,” because the words of Scripture, as already the Jewish teachers asserted, “have been calculated with extreme accuracy.” As a consequence, in Scripture nothing is superfluous, not even a single word.46 Since Matt 12:36 teaches to utter no “useless” words, the same is to be understood of the whole Scripture (Philoc. 11). Thus, if no detail is meaningless in the Bible, it is necessary to “investigate Scripture as far as its tiniest parts” (Comm. Jo. 32.6.38). I will return soon, in section 4, to Origen’s application of the philosophical method of investigation to biblical hermeneutics.

To highlight the unity of Scripture as a supertext, in Philoc. 2.3 Origen assimilates the Bible to a house composed of various rooms, of which the keys are exchanged and interchangeable;47 thus he indicates that the key to understanding the meaning of a scriptural passage comes from other biblical passages and books. Origen also assimilates Scripture to an instrument in which the strings are mutually harmonised (Philoc. 2.6); in this way, he intended to stress the internal cohesion and harmony of the whole Bible. In sum, as he puts it, all the biblical books form “one book” – in contemporary terms, a supertext – because they all have one and the same content: Christ (Philoc. 5.4–7). The Bible is one book as well as one body, that of Christ. Origen therefore interprets the injunction in Ex 12:9b to eat wholly the Passover lamb as a reminder that the whole Scripture is one single body (Comm. Jo. 10.103).

As I mentioned, by insisting on the unity of all Scripture, and by applying the hermeneutical tool of allegoresis to the Old Testament, Origen also countered “Gnostic” and Marcionite claims that the Old Testament had to be separated from the New as a product of an inferior God, or an evil demiurge, and as such could not contain high philosophical truths to be discovered through allegoresis. In Hom. 5 in Ps. 36.5, Origen is targeting the Marcionites and some “Gnostics” when he denounces their distinction between God the creator (the God of the Old Testament) and a different, good God superior to the former (the God of the New Testament): “When the heretics imagine a certain other God superior to God the Creator [supra conditorem Deum] … and deny that the God who created all things is the good God [creatorem omnium Deum Deum esse bonum], in their impious preaching they exalt themselves ‘beyond the cedars of Lebanon,’ clearly leaning on the hostile powers. For they are inspired by the latter in their claims against God, the Creator of all, and if they are so mistaken in their thoughts it is because they interpret the Law exclusively in a literal sense [legem secundum litteram tantummodo intellegentes], and ignore that the Law is spiritual [spiritalem eam esse ignorantes].” Origen here indicates the reason why, in his view, Marcionites and Gnostics were so deceived: just because they did not read the Old Testament allegorically, as Origen himself did, following Philo and Clement.

Though, Origen, like Philo, in turn blamed extreme biblical allegorists, who annihilated the literal, historical plane of Scripture by exclusively adhering to an allegorical reading. In this way, they transformed all the events narrated by Scripture into myths, which, as “pagan” Neoplatonists maintained, never happened historically, but were exclusively allegories of eternal truths (Salustius, De diis et mundo 4.9). Origen, instead, drawing inspiration from Plato’s use of myths, as I showed, distinguished the biblical accounts of the arkhē and the telos from the rest of the Bible: only these accounts are susceptible of an exclusively allegorical interpretation, since they are no historical narratives – and they are even comparable, and actually were compared by Origen, to Plato’s myths – while the rest of the Bible maintains its historical value even if it has many spiritual senses.

The stress laid on the unity of the whole Scripture also involves the so-called typological exegesis, which links together figures and episodes of the Old and the New Testaments. This hermeneutical method was extremely popular in all of patristic exegesis, but has its rationale in the principle of the unity of the Bible as a supertext theorised especially by Origen and Clement of Alexandria in their anti-Marcionite and anti-Gnostic polemic. Clement too, indeed, with whose work Origen was familiar, insisted on the unity of Scripture. According to Clement, the entire Bible is symbolical and pervaded by a principle of intratextuality: each point in Scripture can be clarified thanks to similar points (Strom. 7.16.96.4). Thus, when he explains a passage, Clement, like Origen, refers to other relevant biblical passages, because he thinks that Scripture constitutes a compact wholeness, and the meanings of its parts are closely interconnected. In Strom. 7.16.96.1–3, Clement stresses the unity of Scripture, its being one body (σῶμα) and one web, concatenation, or weaving (ὕφος). He is here criticising those who select ambiguous expressions, picking up details here and there (σποράδην), paying attention to the mere names (ὀνόματα) instead of their meanings (σημαινόμενα). As Origen too will do, Clement thinks that the same Logos who inspired Scripture is also its true interpreter (ἐξηγητής), by whom the human exegete is illumined (Strom. 1.26.169). The Logos guarantees the unity of Scripture and the coherence of its interpretation.

The same demand for unity should be, and often is being, taken into account in contemporary biblical hermeneutics as well, at least on the plane of Scripture as a supertext (see above). Clearly, from the viewpoint of the historico-critical method, it is necessary to consider the specificity of the single biblical books, and even, in some cases, of single sections of a book, especially when a book such as Isaiah or Genesis turns out to be a composite. But Scripture as a supertext, or as a collection of texts assembled on purpose, also calls for a principle of unity in its interpretation, which can be guaranteed by an integrative approach to biblical hermeneutics. Indeed, it is clear that hermeneutic strategies such as redaction criticism, literary criticism, narrative criticism and the historico-critical approach must target single biblical books and parts of a book, but a different viewpoint is required for the Bible as a supertext, a unity that was constructed precisely in patristic times.

4. Philosophical Investigation (“Zetesis”) Applied to Scriptural Exegesis

Another remarkable feature of patristic exegesis, or at least of the best of patristic exegesis, consists in a spirit of investigation, of authentic philosophical enquiry, applied to biblical hermeneutics. Also, more generally, Scripture was interpreted in the light of philosophical categories (especially Middle and Neoplatonic and Stoic). The main representative of this philosophico-exegetical line is again Origen. This philosophical approach to biblical interpretation in patristic times, very interestingly, corresponds to the more recent development of biblical hermeneutics, understood as the broader philosophical and linguistic underpinnings of textual interpretation. For instance, biblical hermeneutics in the case of Rudolf Bultmann was deeply influenced by the philosophy of existentialism and of Heidegger. And the biblical hermeneutics of many Christian theologians in the past century has been indebted to Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics. In a similar way, Platonism, the tradition of philosophical allegoresis, both Stoic and Platonic, and the whole practice of philosophical “zetesis” profoundly informed patristic exegesis – at least that of Origen and the Origenian tradition.

Origen’s very byname, Adamantius, was explained by Photius as a reference to his philosophical strength and rigour: “They say that Origen was also called Adamantius, because whatever arguments he put together seemed tied together by bonds of stainless steel.”48 Now, these outstanding characteristics of his philosophical genius he applied to biblical hermeneutics.

In the Preface to his masterpiece of theoretical philosophy and systematic theology, First Principles (Περὶ ἀρχῶν), Origen programmatically declares it necessary to investigate rationally what Scripture and the apostles have left unclarified, as well as to search philosophically for the spiritual meanings of Scripture. For instance, in Princ. 1 praef. 5–7, among the issues that are not clearly defined by Scripture or the apostolic tradition, and are therefore open to rational research, Origen lists some eschatological points: “what there was before this aeon and what there will be after it is not clearly known; on these issues, the teaching of the church has not been clearly expressed.” As a consequence, in Princ. 1.6.1, with his typical philosophical, heuristic attitude Origen remarks, in reference to the end of the world: “We expound these things with great fear and circumspection, by way of examining and discussing more than expressing an ascertained and well defined solution […] With this question I deal more for discussing than for defining.”

A number of other examples could be adduced of passages in which Origen manifests his “zetetic” attitude, for instance Comm. Jo. 32.22.14 and 13.16, in which he repeats that tradition has fixed just a small number of core Christian truths, leaving the others open to rational, philosophical investigation. The less the issue at stake has been defined by Scripture or the apostolic teaching, the more “zetetic” Origen’s method becomes. Thus, for instance, since the doctrine of the soul – its origin, relation to the body, and eschatological destiny – is one of those explicitly described by Origen in his preface to Princ. 1 as left unclarified by Scripture and apostolic tradition, then, whenever he has to tackle it, for example in a famous excursus on John the Baptist in his Commentary on John, his heuristic hermeneutics comes to the fore at its best. Commenting on John 1:6, “There was a man sent by God, and his name was John,” Origen immediately warns that “the careful student will investigate [ζητήσει] from where he was sent, and to what place … and examine [ἐξετάσει] how to understand ‘from where’, scrutinising [βασανίζων] the expressions more accurately” (Comm. in Io. 2.175). This investigation is necessary to delve deeper than the level of the narrative (ἱστορία), into “the more profound sense” (τὸν βαθύτερον λόγον, Comm. in Io. 2.175), which turns out to concern the descent of souls onto earth and their union with heavy, mortal bodies. Exegesis thus verges toward philosophical speculation, also because the biblical text itself is the bearer of philosophical truths. And Origen, like the Stoic and Platonic allegorists,49 applies philosophical allegoresis to his authoritative text in order to find out these truths.

Still Gregory Nazianzen – an admirer of Origen and, according to tradition, the compiler of the Philocalia from Origen’s works together with his friend Basil – in the late fourth century will defend this approach. In an oration of his (Contra Eunomium oratio prodialis 27.10), he regarded eschatology as one of those fields that were not yet dogmatically established and as such were still open to rational investigation. This is exactly what Origen had applied to Christian thought in those areas not clarified by Scripture, especially in his First Principles, but also in his Commentary on John and in most of his works. The following is the list of such open questions according to Nazianzen: “the world or the worlds, matter, the soul, better or worse rational natures, the resurrection, the judgement, the retribution, and Christ’s suffering.” This list perfectly coincides with the themes that were the object of Origen’s own rational, “zetetic” research, apart from Trinitarian theology, which appeared established by the time of the Cappadocians (actually, the Cappadocians contributed a great deal to the dogmatic definition of Trinitarian theology precisely on the basis of Origen’s theology).50 Gregory’s methodological statement is manifestly a defence of Origen’s Christian philosophy and philosophical investigation applied to biblical hermeneutics. For his philosophical approach did not counter ecclesiastical dogmata in questions regarding which there was not yet any dogma.

Origen’s philosophical approach, so appreciated by Nazianzen, can be instructively contrasted, for instance, with that of the late Augustine, in his anti-Origenian phase, after he had embraced Origen’s ideas and Origen’s philosophical allegoresis for a long while during his anti-Manichaean phase.51 In Priscill. 11.14, an anti-Origenistic tract written under the influence of information provided by Orosius,52 Augustine expresses all his aversion to speculating about matters “remote from our senses and from the weak human intellect, and not set forth in Scripture itself in such a way that knowledge of them is mandated to us.” It is not accidental that after his U-turn away from Origen, Augustine also turned away from allegoresis to a more literal approach even to the Genesis creation account (see his De Genesi ad litteram, which contrasts with his own former allegorisation of the creation account). For biblical allegoresis implied a philosophical hermeneutics, while Augustine was becoming less and less confident in the validity and even usefulness of philosophy.

As in the best philosophical discussions, Origen in his philosophical exegesis of Scripture regularly prospected objections and put forward replies, in a dialectic expression of his “zetetic” method. For instance, in Comm. Jo. 2.177, he warns that there is an objection or response (ἀνθυποφορά) to the interpretation that he has just expounded, an objection that cannot be easily despised or disposed of (οὐκ εὐκαταφρόνητος). Sometimes he acknowledges that the answer he is going to give is only probable (εἰκὸς ἀποκρίνεσθαι, Comm. Jo. 2.179), at other times he thinks he has a particularly striking argument or supposition to propose for discussion (ἔτι δὲ ἐκπληκτικώτερον ὑπόθεσιν, Comm. Jo. 2.180). He also propounds confirmations to gain assent (συγκατάθεσιν, a Stoic technical term) regarding the deeper sense of Scripture – in this case in the Gospel of John – that he has ferreted out (πρὸς τὸ περὶ Ἰωάννου βαθύτερον ὑπονοούμενον, Comm. Jo. 2.179).

Origen attributes to himself the philosophical zetetic method applied to biblical hermeneutics not only in his most scholarly works, such as his commentaries and First Principles, but even in his homilies. For instance, in one of the recently discovered twenty-nine homilies on the Psalms in the Munich Codex graecus 314, Hom. 8 in Ps. 77, he states that he has been researching the meaning of the angels of the nations mentioned in Scripture (ἐζήτουν κατ᾽ ἐμαυτόν) and reports evolving results of this investigation. As the research deepened, Origen gained a more profound understanding of Scripture, so he changed his mind. Consistently with this attitude of applying the philosophical heuristic method to the investigation of the meanings of Scripture, in another of the same new homilies on the Psalms Origen explicitly assimilates the scriptural προβλήματα to the προβλήματα tackled at philosophical schools.53

Indeed, Origen dealt with the problems of biblical hermeneutics philosophically, exactly as he did with the interpretation of Plato’s dialogues and their myths. Origen recognises that other Christians too have worked hard in zetesis, κεκμήκασι ζητοῦντες – like himself, the “Hardworker” (Hom. 1 in Ps. 77.5). However, Origen denounces that these Christians, whom he regards as heretics and who are very likely to be “Gnostics,” conducted their philosophical research neither with method nor with pureness (οὐχ ὁδῷ ἐζήτησαν, οὐδὲ καθαρῶς ἐζήτησαν). The right method would have been first to achieve ethical purification and the confirmation of their faith (πρῶτον τὰ ἤθη κατώρθωσαν ἄν, πρῶτον τὴν πίστιν ἐβεβαιώθωσαν), and then to reach the level of theological investigation into deeper and more mystical truths (ἐληλύθεισαν ἐπὶ τὴν θεολογίαν καὶ τὴν ζήτησιν τῶν βαθυτέρων καὶ μυστικωτέρων). Now this very sequence of purification and knowledge/contemplation was typical in turn of a philosophical tradition, the Platonic tradition, which Origen wanted to appropriate in order to create an “orthodox” Christian Platonism.54 When Origen here speaks of theological investigation, he means philosophical enquiry applied to matters divine (see below, section 5, for the relation between philosophy and theology in patristic culture).

Even in his homilies Origen exhorts his public – although this is not generally a scholarly public, as is instead the public of his commentaries and First Principles – to engage in the investigation of Scripture. For instance, in Hom. Gen. 11.3 he first offers the example of his own assiduous zetetic attitude: “Uel certe etiam si non potuero omnia intelligere, assideo tamen scripturis diuinis et in lege Dei medito die ac nocte et omnino numquam desino inquirendo, discutiendo, tractando, certe quod maximum est, orando Deum et ab illo poscendo intellectum qui docet hominem scientiam.” The Christian element in this method is not simply the application of philosophical inquiry to Scripture, but also the joining of this inquiry to prayer. It is God who ultimately grants the success of the philosophical inquiry, but this does not at all exempt humans from working very hard and uninterruptedly in this research. Thus Origen exhorts his public to do the same as he does, always investigating and always craving to learn: “Et tu ergo, si semper scruteris propheticas uisiones, si semper inquiras, semper discere cupias, haec mediteris, in his permaneas, percipis et tu benedictionem a Domino” (Hom. Gen. 11.3). Origen strongly encourages his audience, which included uneducated people too, to investigate Scriptures by themselves and produce personal interpretations: “Tempta ergo et tu, o auditor … ut et tu, cum apprehenderis librum Scripturarum, incipias etiam ex proprio sensu proferre aliquem intellectum et secundum ea quae in ecclesia didicisti, tempta et tu bibere de fonte ingenii tui” (Hom. Gen. 12.5).

The very twofold structure of the universe, visible and invisible, sense-perceptible and intelligible, was predisposed by God, according to Origen, in order to have rational creatures investigate, exert their intelligence, and discover the truth by passing from the sensible on to the intelligible plane.55 This is equally true of Scripture, with its more obvious meaning (the “body” of Scripture, its “visible” level) and less obvious one (the “spirit” of Scripture, its “invisible” levels). Origen regularly applied the method of philosophical inquiry to Scripture, from his earlier to his latest works. He often quoted John 5:39, which includes Jesus’s exhortation to scrutinise the Scriptures: ἐρευνᾶτε τὰς γραφάς. Likewise he hammered home many times that it is necessary to ἐξετάζειν, “examine well, inspect” scriptural passages and issues. It is necessary to “investigate, scrutinise [ἐρευνᾶν] Scripture down to its tiniest details” (Comm. Jo. 32.6.68). “Commitment to scriptural interpretation” is for Origen, as Peter Martens notes, typical of “advancing Christians,”56 but what escapes Martens is that these advancing or progressing Christians (progredientes, προκόπτοντες, proficientes: see above, section 2) are applying, in Origen’s view, philosophical “zetesis” to Scripture. Commitment to scriptural interpretation is to Origen’s mind a philosophical commitment, a commitment to philosophical enquiry.

In Comm. Cant. 3.14.1 Origen tellingly assimilates the task of Biblical exegesis to hunting, thus highlighting in an iconic way the heuristic nature of the interpretation of Scripture: ferreting out the meaning of the Biblical words is like hunting down a prey that escapes. Significantly, this metaphor of hunting was an illustrious philosophical metaphor, precisely aimed at illustrating the difficulty of philosophical “zetesis” in Plato’s Sophist (217B; 226B). In his dispute with the Middle Platonist Celsus, Origen makes it clear that the deepest investigation of the concepts of faith and the exegesis of difficult scriptural passages, symbolically coded, cannot come but from rational enquiry (Cels. 1.9). Origen even attaches a mystical sense to rational investigation into biblical hermeneutics and theology, insofar as it is assisted by the Logos.57 Eusebius, an admirer and follower of Origen and of Origen’s biblical allegoresis, in his Eclogae propheticae, which allude to Origen’s exegesis a number of times, drawing on Origen’s own exegetico-philosophical vocabulary, describes Origen, his source, as one who was able to ἐξετάζειν (Ecl. Proph. 3.27; 4.23) and ἐρευνᾶν (Ecl. Proph. 1.12; 4.27).

It is remarkable not only that Origen included his treatment of scriptural hermeneutics in his philosophical masterpiece, but also that he inserts a treatment of the partitions of philosophy, in the form of “zetesis” (requirere), in a major exegetical treatise, his Commentary on the Song of Songs, prol. 3.1–4:

et temptemus primum de eo requirere quid illud sit, quod cum tria volumina ecclesiae Dei a Solomone scripta susceperint, primus ex ipsis Proverbiorum liber positus sit, secundus is qui Ecclesiastes appellatur, tertio vero in loco Cantici Canticorum volumen habeatur. Quae ergo nobis occurrere possint in hoc loco ista sunt. Generales disciplinae quibus ad rerum scientiam pervenitur tres sunt, quas Graeci ethicam, physicam, epopticen appellarunt. Nonnulli sane apud Graecos etiam logicen quarto in numero posuere.

It is remarkable that here the three main branches of Greek philosophy are superimposed to the three Biblical books traditionally ascribed to Solomon: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Thus, philosophical zetesis and scriptural zetesis even come to form one and the same thing.

It must be noted that, even though philosophical methodology is undoubtedly central to Origen’s biblical hermeneutics, nevertheless, besides philosophical exegesis, Origen also employed other exegetical techniques, particularly of a literary and philological nature, and in general he brought his vast competence in the various liberal disciplines to bear on biblical exegesis (see above, section 2). Indeed, patristic biblical commentaries, especially Origen’s great scholarly commentaries on the various books of Scripture, brought together hermeneutical techniques from both the philosophical and the philological-literary tradition of classical and hellenistic Greek culture.

Now, this cluster of techniques can be compared to those indicated by Henry A. Virkler for contemporary biblical hermeneutics:58 (1) lexical-syntactical analysis; (2) historico-cultural analysis, which considers the historical and cultural setting of biblical authors; (3) contextual analysis, which looks at the context of a scriptural verse, in its section, chapter, book and in the whole Bible as supertext; (4) theological analysis; (5) special literary analysis, which takes into account that each genre of Scripture – narrative, history, prophecy, apocalyptic writing, poetry, psalm, and letter – has a different set of rules and different levels of allegory, figurative language, metaphors, similes and literal language.

5. Patristic Exegesis, Contemporary Hermeneutics, and Philosophy of Religion

The application of philosophical methodology to scriptural exegesis, one of the most interesting and remarkable contributions of patristic biblical hermeneutics, must be understood against the backdrop of the larger issue of the relation between philosophy and theology. In this connection, just as patristic exegesis can contribute a great deal to contemporary biblical hermeneutics, so can also a reflection on the relation between philosophy and theology in patristics contribute a great deal to contemporary discourses on philosophy of religion.

Philosophy of religion is the branch of philosophy that investigates religion, and religions, philosophically. It is the philosophical discipline that arguably comes closest to theology, after philosophy and theology have become two distinct sciences, with different methodologies and objects, in our post-Kantian culture. But in antiquity and late antiquity philosophy and theology were not two different – and almost opposite – disciplines. Theology itself was a philosophical discipline, the noblest branch of philosophy, in that the study of the divinity was the culmination of philosophy. Philosophers-theologians of the first centuries C.E., either Christians such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, or Jews such as Philo of Alexandria, or else “pagans” such as Plotinus, show a refined cognitive approach to religion and a sophisticated treatment of the intrinsic dialectic of “theo-logy.” Indeed, θεολογία in their perspective is itself a dialectic concept, being a discourse/theory (λόγος) about the divinity (θεός), which for them is transcendent and therefore essentially unknowable and ineffable. I have demonstrated elsewhere59 that, although they belonged to different religious traditions, their approach to the divine and to the dialectic of “theo-logy” was similar on account of their common philosophical affiliation, namely their affiliation to so-called Middle and Neoplatonism.

Origen, a Christian Platonist, advocated a philosophical study of (Christian) religion, as presented in the Bible. In his view, scriptural hermeneutics was a philosophical task. This is why, as pointed out above in section 4, he intentionally used the terminology and methodology of philosophical investigation (“zetesis”) in biblical exegesis, and he included his very theory of biblical hemeneutics not in any exegetical work of his, but in his philosophical masterpiece, First Principles. And this is also why Origen did not teach theology without having taught the rest of philosophy first, and, conversely, he banned atheistic philosophical schools from his teaching, because they did not provide the appropriate philosophical framework for the study of the divine and for biblical hermeneutics.60 In the Prologue to his Commentary on the Song of Songs, 3.1.2–4, which I have cited above partially, Origen divides philosophy into ethics, physics, “contemplative” (epoptica), and logic, positing contemplative philosophy as the crowning glory of philosophy. Now, contemplative philosophy is described by him as the branch of philosophy that investigates “the divine and heavenly things” (de divinis et caelestibus). In this way, Origen regarded the study of the divine as part and parcel of philosophy, and more specifically its highest part. At the same time, Origen made it clear that the divine could not be studied without philosophical bases. Given these premises, it is not surprising that he admitted that Greek (“pagan”) philosophers, precisely “thanks to the study of philosophy,” were able to grasp many truths concerning the divine (Hom. Gen. 14.3), for instance “that God is one and created everything” and, according to “some” philosophers, that “God both made and governs all by means of his Logos, and it is God’s Logos that regulates all.”

The study of ancient and late antique philosophies and theologies and their interrelations can prove a source of rich inspiration for philosophy of religion as well as for biblical hermeneutics today. Only philosophy of religion, qua philosophical discipline – as opposed to religious studies and to religions themselves – can answer the essential question, “What is religion?” No wonder that, as Michael Bergunder observed, “Religious studies cannot agree on a common definition of its subject matter.”61 Indeed, only philosophy can provide this definition, or investigate towards such a definition. Likewise, for instance, the questions, “What is ethics? What is morality? What is ethical?” can be answered, not by ethics, but by meta-ethics, which is in turn a philosophical discipline. In a not very dissimilar way, both patristic philosophers who engaged in biblical exegesis (in a cultural context in which philosophy and theology were not two distinct sciences) and contemporary scholars in scriptural hermeneutics would agree that only qua philosophical discipline, or at least only qua discipline informed by philosophy, can an integrative biblical hermeneutics offer keys to the meanings of the Bible.

6. Brief Conclusion

Biblical hermeneutics is a conversation – to take over the definition set by the foregoing volume edited by Bieringer, Burggraeve, Nathan, and Steege – not only between today’s readers and Scripture, not only between today’s readers and the biblical authors, but also between today’s readers and Scripture’s past readers. Among these, patristic exegetes are prominent and foundational. They set forth principles and displayed practices that, as I have argued, are a valuable source of inspiration for biblical hermeneutics today.

In particular, their integrative approach to scriptural hermeneutics, the multiplicity of meanings of Scripture, the relevance of biblical passages to contemporary readers and to readers in every time and culture, the unity of the Bible as a supertext, assembled precisely in the patristic period, and the bearing of philosophy and philosophical inquiry, as well as of various disciplines, on scriptural interpretation – I have suggested – are among the most remarkable insights that patristic exegesis has to offer to contemporary biblical hermeneutics.

Bibliography

Bergunder, Michael. “What is Religion? The Unexplained Subject Matter of Religious Studies.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 6 (2014): 246–286.

Bieringer, Reimund, Roger Burggraeve, Emmanuel Nathan, and Martijn Steege, eds. Provoked to Speech: Biblical Hermeneutics as Conversation. Leuven: Peeters, 2014.

Covolo, Enrico dal. Il Vangelo e i Padri: per un’esegesi teologica. Rome: Rogate, 2010.

Crawford, Matthew R. “Scripture as One Book: Origen, Jerome, and Cyril of Alexandria on Isaiah 29:11.” Journal of Theological Studies 64 (2013): 137–153.

Crawford, Matthew R. “Ammonius of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Origins of Gospel Scholarship.” New Testament Studies 61 (2015): 1–29.

Frey, Jörg. Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten. Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I. Edited by Juliane Schlegel. WUNT I 307. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Griffiths, Paul. Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion. New York, N.Y.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Kaiser, Walter and Silva, Moises. An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007.

Martens, Peter William. Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Moxter, Michael. “Schrift als Grund und Grenze von Interpretation.” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 105, no. 2 (2008): 146–169.

O’Connor, Kathleen M. “Crossing Borders: Biblical Studies in a Trans-Cultural World.” Pages 322–337 in Teaching the Bible: The Discourses and Politics of Biblical Pedagogy. Edited by Fernando F. Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998.

Pollmann, Karla. “The Broken Perfume-Flask: Origen’s Legacy in Two Case-Studies.” In Origeniana XI, Aarhus 26–31 August 2013. Edited by Anders-Christian Lund-Jacobsen. Leuven: Peeters, 2015.

Punt, Jeremy. Postcolonial Biblical Interpretation: Reframing Paul. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

Pye, Michael. “Comparative Hermeneutics in Religion.” Pages 1–58 in The Cardinal Meaning: Essays in Comparative Hermeneutics: Buddhism and Christianity. Edited by Michael Pye and Robert Morgan. Religion and Reason 6. The Hague: Mouton, 1973.

Pye, Michael. “Comparative Hermeneutics: A Brief Statement.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 7, no. 1 (1980): 25–33.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Re-Thinking the Christianisation of Hellenism.” Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009): 217–263.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “The Philosophical Stance of Allegory in Stoicism and its Reception in Platonism, Pagan and Christian: Origen in Dialogue with the Stoics and Plato.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 18, no. 3 (2011): 335–371.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Origen’s Anti-Subordinationism and Its Heritage in the Nicene and Cappadocian Line.” Vigiliae Christianae 65 (2011): 21–49.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Origen’s Interpretation of Violence in the Apocalypse: Destruction of Evil and Purification of Sinners.” Pages 46–62 in Ancient Christian Interpretations of “Violent Texts” in the Apocalypse. Edited by Joseph Verheyden, Andreas Merkt, and Tobias Nicklas. NTOA 92. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2011.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology in In Illud: Tunc et ipse Filius: His Polemic against ‘Arian’ Subordinationism and Apokatastasis.” Pages 445–478 in Gregory of Nyssa: The Minor Treatises on Trinitarian Theology and Apollinarism. Edited by Volker Henning Drecoll and Margitta Berghaus. VCS 106. Leiden: Brill, 2011.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Philo as Origen’s Declared Model. Allegorical and Historical Exegesis of Scripture.” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 7 (2012): 1–17.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Stoic Cosmo-Theology Disguised as Zoroastrianism in Dio’s Borystheniticus? The Philosophical Role of Allegoresis as a Mediator between Physikē and Theologia.” Jahrbuch für Religionsphilosophie 12 (2013): 9–26.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “A Rhetorical Device in Evagrius: Allegory, the Bible, and Apokatastasis.” Pages 55–70 in The Purpose of Rhetoric in Late Antiquity. From Performance to Exegesis. Edited by Alberto Quiroga Puertas. STAC 72. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena. VCS 120. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Origen in Augustine: A Paradoxical Reception.” Numen 60 (2013): 280–307.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Valuing Antiquity in Antiquity by Means of Allegoresis.” Pages 485–507 in Valuing the Past in the Greco-Roman World. Proceedings of the Penn-Leiden Colloquium on Ancient Values VII, Leiden 14–16 June 2012. Edited by James Ker and Christoph Pieper. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “The Divine as Inaccessible Object of Knowledge in Ancient Platonism: A Common Philosophical Pattern across Religious Traditions.” Journal of the History of Ideas 75, no. 2 (2014): 167–188.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Basil and Apokatastasis: New Findings.” Journal of Early Christian History 4, no. 2 (2014): 116–136.

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Ethos and Logos: A Second-Century Apologetical Debate between ‘Pagan’ and Christian Philosophers.” Vigiliae Christianae 69, no. 2 (2015): [123–156].

Ramelli, Ilaria L.E. “Allegory.” In Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Edited by Paul J.J. van Geest, David Hunter, Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte. Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York, N.Y.: Crossroads, 1983.

Thiselton, Anthony. Hermeneutics: An Introduction. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009.

Virkler, Henry A. Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007 [1981].

West, Gerald O. Biblical Hermeneutics of Liberation: Modes of Reading the Bible in the South African Context. 2nd revised edition. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications and Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1995.

Williams, David M. Receiving the Bible in Faith: Historical and Theological Exegesis. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004.

Williamson, Peter. Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.” Rome: Gregorian Biblical BookShop, 2001.

Wischmeyer, Oda (ed.). Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013.

Wischmeyer, Oda (ed.). Handbuch der Bibelhermeneutiken. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015.

Young, Frances. God’s Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

1

See Michael Pye, “Comparative Hermeneutics: A Brief Statement,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 7.1 (1980): 25–33, here 25–26.

2

Provoked to Speech: Biblical Hermeneutics as Conversation (eds. Reimund Bieringer, Roger Burggraeve, Emmanuel Nathan, and Martijn Steege; Leuven: Peeters, 2014). Another weighty, albeit not so recent, contribution, with important methodological remarks, is Michael Pye, “Comparative hermeneutics in religion,” in The Cardinal Meaning: Essays in Comparative Hermeneutics: Buddhism and Christianity (eds. Idem and Robert Morgan; Religion and Reason 6; The Hague: Mouton, 1973), 1–58. This seminal study is concerned with trans-religious comparative hermeneutics, the comparison being between Christian and Buddhist hermeneutics. In the present essay, the comparison is diachronic, between patristic biblical hermeneutics and contemporary biblical hermeneutics.

3

Michael Moxter, “Schrift als Grund und Grenze von Interpretation,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 105.2 (2008): 146–169.

4

Jörg Frey, Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten. Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I (ed. Juliane Schlegel; WUNT I 307; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), introduction, section 1.

5

Enrico dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri: per un’esegesi teologica (Rome: Rogate, 2010). See already Peter Williamson, Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (Rome: Gregorian Biblical BookShop, 2001); David M. Williams, Receiving the Bible in Faith: Historical and Theological Exegesis (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 2004)

6

Dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri, 13. Translation mine.

7

Dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri, 181–186; quotation from 182, my translation.

8

Paul Griffiths, Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

9

“Noetic” is a modifier especially appropriate to Evagrius’s exegesis. He looked for the intelligible, i.e. noetic, meaning of many details in Scripture, such as the intelligible cloud (KG 5.13), the intelligible pectoral of the high priest (KG 4.66), the intelligible mantel (KG 4.69), the intelligible ephod (KG 4.75), and the intelligible belt of the high priest (KG 4.79).

10

On Evagrius see my “A Rhetorical Device in Evagrius: Allegory, the Bible, and Apokatastasis,” in The Purpose of Rhetoric in Late Antiquity. From Performance to Exegesis (ed. Alberto Quiroga Puertas; STAC 72; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 55–70.

11

The situation, especially with regard to the Antiochenes, is in fact more nuanced (see, e.g., Ilaria Ramelli, “Giovanni Crisostomo e l’esegesi scritturale: le scuole di Alessandria e di Antiochia e le polemiche con gli allegoristi pagani,” in Giovanni Crisostomo: Oriente e Occidente tra IV e V secolo [Rome: Augustinianum, 2005], 121–162); I am simplifying in the interest of space and in order to make my point clearer.

12

He actually went so far as to declare that Philo the Jew was a better exegete, and consequently a better theologian, than Christian “heretics” who failed to keep together the historical and the spiritual interpretations. Philo, in turn in polemic against Jewish extreme allegorists or extreme literalists of his day, had embraced an integrative hermeneutics similar to that of Origen. See my “Philo as Origen’s Declared Model. Allegorical and Historical Exegesis of Scripture,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 7 (2012): 1–17.

13

See Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Valuing Antiquity in Antiquity by Means of Allegoresis,” in Valuing the Past in the Greco-Roman World. Proceedings of the Penn-Leiden Colloquium on Ancient Values VII, Leiden 14–16 June 2012 (Mnemosyne Supplements 369; eds. James Ker and Christoph Pieper; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 485–507.

14

See Idem, “Stoic Cosmo-Theology Disguised as Zoroastrianism in Dio’s Borystheniticus? The Philosophical Role of Allegoresis as a Mediator between Physikē and Theologia,” Jahrbuch für Religionsphilosophie 12 (2013): 9–26.

15

See my “The Philosophical Stance of Allegory in Stoicism and its Reception in Platonism, Pagan and Christian: Origen in Dialogue with the Stoics and Plato,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 18, no. 3 (2011): 335–371; “Allegory,” in Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (eds. Paul J.J. van Geest, David Hunter, Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte; Leiden: Brill, forthcoming).

16

See Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Ethos and Logos: A Second-Century Apologetical Debate between ‘Pagan’ and Christian Philosophers,” Vigiliae Christianae 69, no. 2 (2015): 123–156.

17

Porphyry depicts Origen himself as the one responsible for the transposition of Stoic allegorical exegesis to the Bible. He does not mention Clement, nor Philo, or other Jewish allegorical exegetes of the Bible. The same noteworthy – and probably intentional – omission is already found in Celsus (ap. Orig. Cels. 4.51).

18

Heb 10:1.

19

Hom. in Lev. 1.1; Comm. in Matth. Ser. 27.

20

Princ. 4.2.4, with a meaningful reminiscence of Plato’s “living speech” in Phaedr. 276A.

21

See Matthew R. Crawford, “Ammonius of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Origins of Gospel Scholarship”, New Testament Studies 61 (2015): 1–29.

22

διορθοῦν τὴν γραφήν, Hom. 1 in Ps 77.1 fol. 21v–216r; see also Comm. in Io. 2.6.24; CC 2.27; Comm. in Matt. 1.3.

23

Princ. 4.2.9; 3.4.6; Comm. in Matth. 10.14–15; 15.1, and elsewhere.

24

Princ. 1.1.9 and elsewhere.

25

Comm. in Io. 2.103; 2.139; 6.306; 13.427.

26

Princ. 4.3.14; Pamph. Apol. 82.

27

To this exegesis of his he alludes in his Commentary on Matthew. It survives both in fragments – the scholia, which have been demonstrated to be at least partially authentic – and scattered throughout other extant works of his, such as his Commentaries on John and Matthew, Homilies on Jeremiah, and First Principles. See my “Origen’s Interpretation of Violence in the Apocalypse: Destruction of Evil and Purification of Sinners,” in Ancient Christian Interpretations of “Violent Texts” in the Apocalypse (eds. Joseph Verheyden, Andreas Merkt, and Tobias Nicklas; NTOA 92; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2011), 46–62.

28

Hom. 1 in Ps. 36 (p. 60 Prinzivalli).

29

See Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen’s Allegoresis of Plato’s and Scripture’s Myths,” forthcoming in the selected proceedings of the SBL program, Religious Competition in Late Antiquity (eds. Arthur Urbano and Nathaniel DesRosiers).

30

E.g., see Gerald O. West, Biblical Hermeneutics of Liberation: Modes of Reading the Bible in the South African Context (2nd rev. ed.; Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications and Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1995).

31

One of the most recent contributions in this rich field of postcolonial biblical interpretation is by Stellenbosch scholar Jeremy Punt, Postcolonial Biblical Interpretation: Reframing Paul (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

32

The groundbreaking study here is of course Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York, N.Y.: Crossroads, 1983); this hermeneutical line is in continual expansion. A remarkable resource for scholars to keep abreast of the developments is the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (Harvard).

33

See, e.g., Kathleen M. O’Connor, “Crossing Borders: Biblical Studies in a Trans-Cultural World,” in Teaching the Bible: The Discourses and Politics of Biblical Pedagogy (ed. Fernando F. Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert; Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998), 322–337. An excellent overview of both the historical development of biblical hermeneutics and its modern and contemporary trends, from liberation theology to postcolonialism and feminist hermeneutics, is Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009). See also Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007).

34

Handbuch der Bibelhermeneutiken (ed. Oda Wischmeyer; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015).

35

Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik (ed. Oda Wischmeyer; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013).

36

Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik, vi.

37

Frances Young, God’s Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

38

See my “Origene: la Scrittura come incarnazione di Cristo-Logos e la sua interpretazione,” in Rivelazione e Storia. Atti del V Convegno di Studio, Roma 1–8 marzo 2014, con il patrocinio della Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze (eds. Ennio Innocenti and Salvatore Scuro; Rome: Aurigarum, 2014), 154–172; partially also Matthew Crawford, “Scripture as One Book: Origen, Jerome, and Cyril of Alexandria on Isaiah 29:11,” Journal of Theological Studies 64 (2013): 137–153.

39

Cels. 6.77; Hom. Lev. 1.1; Comm. Matt. Ser. 27.

40

See Paul B. Decock, “Origen’s Christian Approach to the Song of Songs,” Religion & Theology 17 (2010): 13–25.

41

Comm.Cant. 3.11.17–19; 1.1.14; Hom. Cant. 1.7.

42

E.g., Princ. 4.2.8; cf. Clem. Strom. 4.1.2.2.

43

Philoc. 6.2.

44

Philoc. 1.30.

45

See, e.g., SVF 2.439–462.

46

Phil. 6; Comm. Matt. 16.2; Comm. Matt. Ser. 89; Hom. Num. 3.2; 27.1; Hom. Ios. 15.3; Comm. Jo. 19.40;89.

47

For the coherence of Old and New Testament, see e.g. Hom. Lev. 6.2; Hom. Ios. 18.2; Hom. Ier. 4.6; Hom. Ez. 2.2; Comm. Matt. 12.43; 14.4; Comm. Matt. Ser. 54.119; Comm. Cant. 3.216–218 B.

48

Τοῦτον τοίνυν τὸν Ὠριγένην, ὃν καὶ Ἀδαμάντιον ἐπονομάζεσθαί φασιν, ὅτι ἀδαμαντίνοις δεσμοῖς ἐῴκεσαν οὓς ἂν δήσειε λόγους (Bibl. Cod. 118, 92b).

49

See Ramelli, “The Philosophical Stance of Allegory” and “Valuing Antiquity.”

50

See my “Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology in In Illud: Tunc et ipse Filius: His Polemic against ‘Arian’ Subordinationism and Apokatastasis,” in Gregory of Nyssa: The Minor Treatises on Trinitarian Theology and Apollinarism (eds. Volker Henning Drecoll and Margitta Berghaus; VCS 106; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 445–478, and “Origen’s Anti-Subordinationism and Its Heritage in the Nicene and Cappadocian Line,” Vigiliae Christianae 65 (2011): 21–49. Nazianzen’s very concern with presenting the generation of the Son as produced “without passion, atemporally, and incorporeally” (Or. 29), and as passionless precisely because it is incorporeal, exactly reproduces Origen’s own concerns, which were reflected at Nicaea. For all this, see my “Origen’s Anti-Subordinationism.”

51

As argued in Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen in Augustine: A Paradoxical Reception,” Numen 60 (2013): 280–307, followed and confirmed by Karla Pollmann, “The Broken Perfume-Flask: Origen’s Legacy in Two Case-Studies,” in Origeniana XI, Aarhus 26–31 August 2013 (ed. Anders-Christian Lund-Jacobsen; Leuven: Peeters, 2015).

52

The information that Orosius passed on to Augustine concerning Origen’s ideas is often distorted, but sometimes it is also of some interest. See my “Basil and Apokatastasis: New Findings,” Journal of Early Christian History 4, no. 2 (2014): 116–136.

53

ὥσπερ παρὰ τοῖς φιλοσοφοῦσι τὰ Ἑλλήνων ἔστι τινὰ προβλήματα, ἃ προτιθέασι τοῖς μέλλουσι μελετᾶν … οὕτως ἔστι τινὰ καὶ τῆς γραφῆς προβλήματα (Hom. 1 in Ps. 77.6).

54

See my The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (VCS 120; Leiden: Brill, 2013), the chapter on Origen.

55

“Ita igitur cuncta […] ex visibilibus referri possunt ad invisibilia et a corporalibus ad incorporea et a manifestis ad occulta, ut ipsa creatura mundi tali quadam dispensatione condita intelligatur per divinam sapientiam, quae rebus ipsis et exemplis invisibilia nos de visibilibus doceat et a terrenis nos transferat ad caelestia” (Comm. in Cant. 3.13.27).

56

Peter William Martens, Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 105–106.

57

“Quotiens ergo in corde nostro aliquid quod de divinis dogmatibus et sensibus quaeritur absque monitoribus invenimus, totiens oscula nobis data esse ab sponso Dei Verbo credamus. Ubi vero quaerentes aliquid de divinis sensibus invenire non possumus, tunc petamus a Deo visitationem Verbi eius” (Comm. in Cant. 1.1.14).

58

Henry A. Virkler, Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007 [1981]).

59

In “The Divine as Inaccessible Object of Knowledge in Ancient Platonism: A Common Philosophical Pattern across Religious Traditions,” Journal of the History of Ideas 75, no. 2 (2014): 167–188.

60

Full documentation in Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Re-Thinking the Christianisation of Hellenism,” Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009): 217–263.

61

Michael Bergunder, “What is Religion? The Unexplained Subject Matter of Religious Studies,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 6 (2014): 246–286, here 246.

  • 1

    See Michael Pye, “Comparative Hermeneutics: A Brief Statement,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 7.1 (1980): 25–33, here 25–26.

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  • 3

    Michael Moxter, “Schrift als Grund und Grenze von Interpretation,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 105.2 (2008): 146–169.

  • 5

    Enrico dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri: per un’esegesi teologica (Rome: Rogate, 2010). See already Peter Williamson, Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (Rome: Gregorian Biblical BookShop, 2001); David M. Williams, Receiving the Bible in Faith: Historical and Theological Exegesis (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 2004)

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  • 6

    Dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri, 13. Translation mine.

  • 7

    Dal Covolo, Il Vangelo e i Padri, 181–186; quotation from 182, my translation.

  • 8

    Paul Griffiths, Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

  • 16

    See Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Ethos and Logos: A Second-Century Apologetical Debate between ‘Pagan’ and Christian Philosophers,” Vigiliae Christianae 69, no. 2 (2015): 123–156.

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  • 21

    See Matthew R. Crawford, “Ammonius of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Origins of Gospel Scholarship”, New Testament Studies 61 (2015): 1–29.

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  • 33

    See, e.g., Kathleen M. O’Connor, “Crossing Borders: Biblical Studies in a Trans-Cultural World,” in Teaching the Bible: The Discourses and Politics of Biblical Pedagogy (ed. Fernando F. Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert; Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998), 322–337. An excellent overview of both the historical development of biblical hermeneutics and its modern and contemporary trends, from liberation theology to postcolonialism and feminist hermeneutics, is Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009). See also Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007).

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  • 37

    Frances Young, God’s Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

  • 40

    See Paul B. Decock, “Origen’s Christian Approach to the Song of Songs,” Religion & Theology 17 (2010): 13–25.

  • 42

    E.g., Princ. 4.2.8; cf. Clem. Strom. 4.1.2.2.

  • 51

    As argued in Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen in Augustine: A Paradoxical Reception,” Numen 60 (2013): 280–307, followed and confirmed by Karla Pollmann, “The Broken Perfume-Flask: Origen’s Legacy in Two Case-Studies,” in Origeniana XI, Aarhus 26–31 August 2013 (ed. Anders-Christian Lund-Jacobsen; Leuven: Peeters, 2015).

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  • 56

    Peter William Martens, Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 105–106.

  • 61

    Michael Bergunder, “What is Religion? The Unexplained Subject Matter of Religious Studies,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 6 (2014): 246–286, here 246.

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