Jesus’ human soul plays a crucial role in the Christology of Origen, linking together Christ’s humanity and divinity and providing the centerpoint of Origen’s understanding of Christian salvation and biblical exegesis. Yet, paradoxically, Origen’s musings on the soul of Christ quickly became one of the most controversial aspects of his theological legacy, requiring later generations to make significant qualifications, modifications, or omissions to this aspect of Origen’s Christology. Nevertheless, despite these points of contention, a central regard for Jesus’ mental and emotional life remains a hallmark of the continuity of Origenist tradition among the Greek fathers of the fourth to eighth centuries, by contrast with other thinkers for whom Christ’s human soul plays relatively little role.
This paper will compare Origen’s pathbreaking account of Christ’s human soul with that found in arguably the last great Origenist theologian of the patristic age, Maximus the Confessor. While noting the basic principles that Maximus drew from Gregory Nazianzen, we will concentrate on how, in Maximus’ work before and during the monothelite controversy, Christ’s human soul continues to play an equally central role in biblical interpretation, structural Christology, soteriology, Christian asceticism, and liturgy, even as it differs in some major respects with Origen’s approach to the same subjects. Attention will be given finally, to how Maximus’ Christology stands in relation to wider Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian traditions.