Thursday, 7 February 2019

Constantin-Ionut Mihai: The Pagan Gregory and Origen: Polemics and Apologetics in the School of Caesarea

According to his own testimony, the author of the Oratio Panegyrica in Origenem – traditionally identified with Gregory Thaumaturgus – was born of pagan parents and was educated in rhetoric, Latin language and Roman law. Around 233 AD, he joined Origen’s school in Caesarea, where he studied Greek philosophy and Christian theology. The aim of this paper is twofold. First, I intend to examine what exactly the young Gregory knew about Christianity at the time he entered Origen’s school. I will argue that Gregory shared some of the prejudices of his pagan contemporaries and made frequent appeal to arguments commonly used in pagan polemics against Christianity. Like other pagan intellectuals of his time, he criticized the simplicity of the style of the Christian scriptures and rejected these as hardly credible or even despicable. The second aim of my paper is to emphasize the apologetic tendencies of the school of Caesarea. As I intend to show, Origen’s activity did not have only didactic, but also apologetic purposes. There is evidence that Origen actually had to face and respond to the criticism raised against Christianity by the young Gregory and by other pagan intellectuals of his time. This can be demonstrated through a careful analysis of passages in the Oratio Panegyrica, in which Gregory describes at length Origen’s apologetic techniques and strategies. In light of this, the Oratio itself could be interpreted as a piece of third-century apologetic literature.

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