Saturday, 2 May 2015

Rachel Teubner: Ascent and the Body in Origen's De Principiis IV and the Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs

It is a commonplace of Origen scholarship to say that Origen’s scriptural hermeneutics are intertwined with his understanding of ascent. The status of the body in Origen’s notion of ascent, however, is not easily settled, for ambiguities of argument and metaphor make it difficult to determine how and to what extent Origen thinks that the body participates in ascent. In this short communication, I argue that in both De Principiis IV.2.iv (229) and the Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs (241), the body plays a critical role in the process of Scriptural and soteriological ascent. These ambiguities begin with Origen’s articulation of the threefold senses of Scripture in De Principiis as flesh, soul and spirit, which I interpret to mean that all three senses of Scripture, and indeed the whole person of the reader, are active participants in almost every instance of reading Scripture. In the later Prologue, Origen claims that the reader of Scripture ought to move continually from the corporeal to the incorporeal to the eternal, as though leaving the body behind. Yet Origen’s persistently bodily and affective language in the Prologue suggests that the insights gained from bodily experience continually shape the spiritual insights of Christian readers. Moreover, I argue that this shift in Origen’s treatment of the body attests to Origen’s developing sense of a Christian Logos: more than a cognitive event (e.g., Torjesen, 1985), but reflected in the Christian life as a whole (e.g., Martens, 2012) and thus necessarily incarnate.

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