Sunday, 3 May 2015

Todd French: Just Deserts: Origen’s lingering influence on divine justice in the hagiographies of John of Ephesus

The Lives of the Eastern Saints by John of Ephesus has been received as a twilight reminiscence of the Miaphysite community in Syria. This paper challenges that notion through the examination of John’s role as Justinian’s “Converter of Pagans,” and the influence of Origen’s theologies on hagiographical renderings of retributive justice. The paper works at the intersection of contemporary theological influence, imperially-inspired identity making, and Christian sectarian response to developing legal sanctions.

Re-reading John’s narrative mosaic, with attention to the fact that his saints are carefully selected and highly stylized, raises interesting questions: Citing John’s close ties to Justinian, why did John depict his Miaphysite saints as literary heroes? Given the charged nature of Origen’s theology—and prior condemnation—do John’s vignettes play a role in crafting a tradition that defeats restorative theology (apokatastasis)? How do these themes relate to Justinian’s concept of divine justice and why is this exemplified in the lives of John’s Syrian saints?

This paper argues for a nuanced tradition of hagiography that is increasingly political and theological. John infuses his saints with providential power and divine justice, crafting an idealized world of holiness that conflates divine and imperial justice, condemns unfashionable theologies, emphasizes an estranged community’s saints, and is deferential to imperial interests. Whether John’s intentions are realized is up for debate. We can, however, read his work with amplified meaning, supplementing our perspectives on the Syrian holy man and his role in the shaping of later Christian traditions.

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