T. Michael Law and Christoph Markschies on Origen in Caesarea

Like many other readers (see e.g., here; cf. here), I profited from and enjoyed T. Michael Law’s important book When God Spoke Greek (cf. here). In the tradition of the “Man with the Honeyed Sword” (and Cicero), it is certainly a work that teaches, delights, and persuades, and I found that it constructively shaped my thinking at numerous points. Moreover, I found that it generated many lines of questioning as I read it in conjunction with my work translating Jens Schröter’s book Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament / From Jesus to the New Testament and Christoph Markschies’ book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen / Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire, especially in relation to the topic of canon. Accordingly, I hope that this will be the first of several posts devoted to a comparison of these works on select points. For a recent conversation between T Michael Law and Christoph Markschies at Marginalia, see here.

Today’s post will focus on a noteworthy difference in how Origen’s activity in Caesarea is presented by Law and Markschies.

I. T. Michael Law on Origen in Caesarea

When God Spoke Greek (p. 141): “Demetrius’s rage left the scholar no other choice but to leave Alexandria and make his permanent home in Caesarea c. 232. In this last phase of his life, Origen’s success as a preacher grew, as did his pastoral concerns. In contrast to his previous tenure at the Catechetical School in the philosophically rich context of Alexandria, he found himself in contact less with students than with common Christians.7

Note 7: See also H. Crouzel, Origène (Paris: Lethielleux, 1985), 46.

II. Christoph Markschies on Origen in Caesarea

Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (wmc): “Origen left Alexandria for good at the beginning of the thirties of the third century (probably 232 CE), moved to the worldly and ecclesiastical administrative metropolis of Caesarea in Palestine, and now did, in fact, establish a “(collegiate) school” there, so that he was also active as a theological teacher in the second important section of his life. More precise information about this “school of Origen,” the first clearly attested Christian private university, can be obtained above all from the aforementioned “Address of Thanksgiving” (λόγος χαριστήριος [cf. 3.31 and 4.40], later entitled λόγος προσφωρητικός), which the later bishop Gregory Thaumaturgus addressed to his teacher after five years at this school, probably in 238 CE. … From the life story of Gregory Thaumaturgus it becomes clear that with his “school” Origen evidently did not wish to address primarily the Christians of Caesarea, let alone the Christian youth of Caesarea, who were keen on education, but transregionally courted educated members of the upper stratum who were interested in a collegiate education within a Christian framework.”

Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen (p. 102 and 103): „Origenes verließ Alexandria endgültig zu Beginn der dreißiger Jahre des dritten Jahrhunderts (wohl 232 n. Chr.), siedelte in die weltliche wie kirchliche Verwaltungsmetropole Caesarea in Palaestina über und gründete dort nun tatsächlich eine „Hoch-(Schule)“, so daß er auch im zweiten wichtigen Abschnitt seines Lebens als theologischer Lehrer tätig war. Genauere Informationen über diese „Schule des Origines“, die erste eindeutig belegte christliche Privatuniversität, erhält man vor allem aus der ebenfalls schon erwähnten „Dankrede“ (λόγος χαριστήριος [vgl. 3,31 und 4,40], später λόγος προσφωρητικός), die der spätere Bischof Gregor Thaumaturgus nach fünf Jahren Auftenthalt an dieser Schule wohl im Jahre 238 n. Chr. an seinen Lehrer richtete. … Aus dem Lebenslauf des Gregor Thaumaturgus wird deutlich, daß Origenes mit seiner ‚Schule‘ offenbar nicht primär die bildungswilligen Christen oder gar die bildungswillige christliche Jugend Caesareas ansprechen wollte, sondern überregional um gebildete Angehörige der Oberschicht warb, die an einer Hochschulbildung unter christlichen Vorzeichen interessiert waren.“

Selective grammatical analysis

wohl” can be a somewhat elusive term, but it often has the force of “probably”. “übersiedeln” becomes “siedelt … über”. “weltlich” is difficult to translate, since both “worldly” and “secular” have their drawbacks. I have chosen to translate “eine ‘Hoch-(Schule)’” as “a ‘(collegiate) school’”, which is far from ideal but is probably the best that I can manage. I often translate “vor allem” with “above all”, though “especially” is better in some contexts. I struggled to translate “bildungswillige”, eventually choosing “keen on education”, and I decided not to repeat “keen on education” with Christians and Christian youth but to place the phrases in such a way that “keen on education” would be seen to modify both words. For the translation of “warb um” (past form of “werben um”) I debated between “sought to win”, “recruited”, “wooed”, and “courted” before settling on the last option. I find the phrase “unter christlichen Vorzeichen” and the similar phrase “unter dem Vorzeichen + genitive” to be very difficult. “Vorzeichen” can mean “sign” or “auspices”, which may be relevant here. “Unter dem Vorzeichen” seems to be able to have the force of “under the conditions of”. Hence, it might capture the force to translate the phrase as “under Christian conditions”. But I have chosen the formulation “within a Christian framework”, which I think captures the basic sense.

Substantive Analysis

While great caution is required when attempting to comment on an issue that lies outside of one’s sphere of expertise (in my case Origen scholarship), it remains possible to provide a tentative analysis in such cases, provided one remains acutely aware of the limitations of one’s competency. With this caveat in mind, let me restrict myself to two points. First, in relation to the specific point in question it would arguably not be unreasonable to give greater weight to the view of Markschies, since this question falls more directly within his specific sphere of research expertise and since he deals with this question at much greater length in his book. At the same time, one should resist the temptation to settle the issue too quickly, since Law interacts carefully with Origen in his book and can reference H. Crouzel’s book on Origen in support of his view on the matter at hand. Secondly, it therefore follows that any attempt to reach an informed judgment on the issue cannot be based solely on a general assessment of relative authority, but must critically test the strength of Christoph Markschies’ more extensive argument, which is based on his close reading of Gregory Thaumaturgus’s Address of Thanksgiving to Origen. Since my knowledge of this work and the critical issues that would need to be addressed as part of its analysis —which might include issues of authorship and historical accuracy— is extremely limited, I am not in position to test this argument with any authority. Instead, I can only say that an initial reading of the Address of Thanksgiving to Origen would seem to support Christoph Markschies’ argument that Origen established a relatively advanced Christian (collegiate) school, or private Christian university, in Caesarea, which would, in turn, appear to stand in considerable tension with Law’s statement that “In contrast to his previous tenure at the Catechetical School in the philosophically rich context of Alexandria, he found himself in contact less with students than with common Christians” in Caesarea. In other words, if Markschies’ argument is correct, then this may be a place in which minor revision will be required for the second edition of T. Michael Law’s important work When God Spoke Greek.

For my other posts on Christoph Markschies, see here.

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