Thursday, August 09, 2012

Book Notice: Origin's Doctrine of the Soul

A comprehensive analysis of the
theological anthropology of one of
the early church's finest theologians

Become Like the Angels
Origin's Doctrine of the Soul

Benjamin P. Blosser

Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-245), a catechist, presbyter, and confessor of the ancient Church was a foundational figure in the establishment of early Christian theology. Today he is commonly referred to as "the first Christian theologian" and is widely known as a master of biblical exegesis, rational inquiry, and spiritual formation. Yet his legacy remains somewhat ambiguous in part because of the posthumous condemnation of certain propositions from his works. Become Like the Angels explores Origen's legacy and, in particular, his teachings about the origin, nature, and destiny of the human person. By way of a historical critical approach, Benjamin P. Blosser discusses the influence of Middle Platonic philosophy on the human soul and then compares it with Origen's teaching.

This study finds that, while Origen was highly aware of Middle Platonic speculations on the soul and does borrow extensively from their vocabulary, he never accepts their underlying, philosophical assumptions and is in fact subtly critical of Middle Platonic theories of the soul. His anthropology remains from first to last a biblical, Christian, and even mystical one, the fruit of a remarkable effort to synthesize faith and reason in the ancient Church.
“An ambitious and very well researched book on the way in which Origen deals with a fundamental issue in ancient philosophy—the position, state, and function of the soul in a living being. It is a topic at the core of all anthropological and cosmological thinking in Late Antiquity. In elegant, lucid prose, Blosser takes the reader gently through the minefield of previous scholarship and presents a very clear and skillful exposition of Origen as religious philosopher.”
—John A. McGuckin, professor of Byzantine church history, Columbia University, and editor of The Westminster Handbook to Origen of Alexandria

Benjamin P. Blosser is associate professor of theology at Benedictine College where he teaches courses in church history, ecclesiology, and New Testament studies.  He received his Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America.

But wait ... there's more!!! Benjamin, a.k.a. Jamie, is also a fitness nut case, and here is a photo of him in a 450 lb. raw hex-bar deadlift at an amateur Dumb Ox Gym strongman competition on July 30, 2012. Look Dad: no neck! What an Origen scholar! What a man! That's my boy!


Paul Borealis said...

I assume that Benjamin P. Blosser is your son. So... what does one say exactly to the father of a son who has begotten a book? Congratulations .... you are the proud grandfather of a scholarly book on Origen....?!

Joking aside, the book sounds very interesting. Thanks.

Origen's On First Principles, and Saint Augustine's Confessions were among the first major Christian-Patristic theological/philosophical books I encountered as a young man -- never recovered from either.

"Benjamin P. Blosser discusses the influence of Middle Platonic philosophy on the human soul and then compares it with Origen's teaching." (review)

I understand Origen taught the so-called 'pre-existence of souls', (which I assume he took from the 'middle' platonists?); so I wonder how it was that he was "subtly critical of Middle Platonic theories of the soul [and that] His anthropology remains from first to last [...] biblical, Christian"? (review)

Sounds like one could learn much from this book. Thanks again.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Dear Paul,

I have not yet read the book either, although I have had conversations with Jamie (Benjamin) about his book. In a nutshell, he suggests that the "received Origen" is quite unlike the actual Origen, who is quite doctrinally solid. Apparently Origen engaged in considerable speculation, but was very clear that he was writing ex hypothesi and not giving Church teaching on those occasions, to which he adhered regardless. It should be a good read. Jamie is a careful thinker, if I do say so myself. -- Grandfather of a book on Origen.