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Introduction: Origenist Textualities

Jeremy Schott

Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 21, Number 3, Fall 2013, pp. 323-327 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/earl.2013.0029

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Introduction: Origenist Textualities

The articles that comprise this special issue on Origenist Textualties were rst presented at two workshop sessions of the same name at the 16th International Conference on Patristic Studies held at Oxford in Summer 2011. Thanks are due the organizers of the Oxford conference and to the audiences at both sessions. The lively question and answer portions of each session and the collegial atmosphere of the workshop format have contributed greatly to these articles. Each of the articles presented here has been substantially revised and expanded since the original presentation at Oxford (my own submission differs in toto from my Oxford paper). I would also like to thank David Brakke and the anonymous reviewers for JECS for their collaboration and critical feedback. In developing the workshop at which these papers were originally presented, no concerted effort was made to come to a xed denition of textuality or Origenist. In practical terms, the present collection takes Origenist primarily as a heuristic term to identify individuals and works that stand within a particular intellectual trajectory in the history of early Christianity. Thus Pamphilus, Eusebius, Evagrius, and Runus are all Origenist in so far as for each Origen of Alexandria and his works represent a key source, inuence, inspiration, tradition, or other crucial point of contact. Of course Epiphanius, the subject of two of the ve articles, was self-consciously anti-Origenist. In devising the original seminar and this collection, it was felt that including at least one anti-Origenist would offer an important foil to the Origenist textualities we hoped to illuminate. Rather than mere foils, however, the two contributions on Epiphanius show just how contingent and specic Origenist textualities were, despite their centrality in histories of early Christian thought. The term Origenist necessarily also brings a set of heresiological discourses in tow. Indeed, as a whole and individually, these articles have
Journal of Early Christian Studies 21:3, 323327 2013 The Johns Hopkins University Press


much to offer to the study of Origenist controversies. Pamphilus, Eusebius, Evagrius, Runus, and Epiphanius all belong to the set of social networks and textual relationships that made up the Origenist controversy in the fourth century. The textuality of the collections title signals a commitment to the centrality of literary texts in early Christian studies. If historians of early Christianity work on texts, the collection asks, what might it look like to write the history/histories of early Christianity as a history of textuality? Textuality points, also, to a constellation of theoretical and methodological approaches to text, context, and history that cut across the articles. Included in this constellation are New Historicist commitments to the historicity of literary texts and the inescapable writtenness of history. In addition, the collection evinces a post-structuralist resistance to drawing clear and fast boundaries between texts and contexts. Bodies, geography, and time, for example, as well as specic literary texts, are encompassed in the textualities under consideration. Each of these articles, moreover, emphasizes textuality as both an aesthetic and ethic. To appeal to an alltoo-common (yet useful) etymology, we might visualize a textuality as a texture, a space of meaning production with a particular pattern and feel to it. The textualities under examination are also ethical elds that make possible (and preclude) certain existential possibilities. Finally, it is a particular strength of this collection that, while each article draws on contemporary theoretical and methodological insights concerning textuality, none is a simple application of theory. Instead, each article is simultaneously engaged with late-ancient theorizations of textuality. In modern and post-modern metanarratives of the history of literature, early Christian discourse (e.g. orthodox discourse or biblical discourse) is often constructed as a foil to modes of writing and attitudes towards textuality considered in various ways to be new, or even revolutionary, in relation to it. As Mark Vessey puts it, mid-twentieth century post-structuralist literary theory . . . habitually denes the literary text by placing [it] in more or less historical opposition to a biblical text or book whose properties are by the same gesture placed beyond the scope of history and theory.1 This collection challenges such histories by revealing points of contact between contemporary and late-ancient textualities as well as points of divergence and dissonance. To what extent, for instance, do Origenist and anti-Origenist textualities offer aes1. Mark Vessey, Theory and the Dream of the Book (Mallarm to Blanchot), in The Early Christian Book, ed. W. Klingshirn and L. Safran (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2007), 245.


thetic and ethical possibilities foreclosed by such teleological histories of literature and textuality? My contribution focuses on two sibling intellectual communities the neoplatonic circle of Plotinus and Porphyry and the Christian intellectual circle of Pamphilus and Eusebius of Caesareato consider the ways in which each developed different theories and practices of reading and writing, or what I term ethics of textuality. Porphyrys Life of Plotinus, I argue, can be read as an extended and deliberate engagement with the classic Platonic problem of writing as elaborated in Platos Phaedrus. Like the Socrates of the Phaedrus, Porphyrys neoplatonic textuality situates writing as a problematic mimesis, and subordinates written texts to dialectical relationships within the philosophical circle. By contrast, I suggest that Caesareans advocate and practice a textuality that self-consciously embraces the use and production of written texts as a primary site for the production of orthodox discourse. Rebecca Krawiecs article considers a later Origenist approach to authorship, community, and memory. Krawiec examines Evagriuss works to reveal how the ascetic deployed the practices of writing and reading to serve the askesis of memory in Evagriuss circle. Textuality here serves dual but integrally related functions. On the one hand, the practice of authorship is for Evagrius an opportunity for askesisto combat the desire to claim authority as a source of wisdom and knowledge and instead become the scribe of monastic social memory. At the same time, the text thus produced can be read by monks as a mnemonic exerciseit is at once the embodiment of monastic social memory and that which shapes the production of that memory. Catherine Chins piece considers Runus of Aquileias Commentary on the Apostles Creed to explore an Origenist textuality she terms ecosystemic. Where a modern historian would aim to locate specic creedal texts within specic socio-political contexts, Runus inhabits an Origenist cosmos in which text and contexts open onto a vast metaphysical and ontological landscape that includes specic human communities, human languages, angels, time, logos, and the Logos. For Runus, the horizons of the text of the Creed are not bounded by the physical parameters of the page, time, or linguistic milieu; the Creed is a textuality that subsists across time, space, and noetic expanses. Finally, Chin provocatively suggests that understanding Runuss mapping of the creedal text should prompt us to recognize early Christian textuality as something produced from a lateancient spatial awareness that mapped reality vertically and horizontally. Two nal articles contribute to our understanding of Origenist textuality by examining the quintessential anti-OrigenistEpiphanius. We are


not supposed to like Epiphanius. He writes awkwardly, hes confused and digressive. And mean. As scholars of patristics we begrudgingly grant him a place in our literature because he preserves fragments of otherwise lost works and comments on other writers who matterlike Origen. Blossom Stefaniws contribution takes Epiphanius seriously, or rather, reconsiders what to take seriously in Epiphanius. Looking past Epiphan iuss politics of distraction, Stefaniw aims to see what we might nd in his closet. Epiphanius, she argues, does not construct a cogent literalist argument against Origenist allegorism. Rather, his ad hominem polemics and appeals to commonsensical exegeses accuse Origen of a much greater errorviolating or denying the very essence of meaning and reality. Drawing on Judith Butlers critique of gender as expression of essence, Stefaniw argues that, for Epiphanius, Origen is not normal because his Bible, like a gender deviant, does not express the truth of its essenceit doesnt express the clear, natural meaning inside it. Stefaniw presses her Butlerian critique further to suggest that meaning is performativein the case of Epiphanius specically, she argues that the literal meaning that he holds to reside naturally inside the text is in fact constituted through repeated actings-out of an exegetical script. Andrew Jacobss article reveals the digressive, circuitous work of Epi phan ius as an acquisitive textual mode that aims to comprehend everythingfrom history to geography to genealogy to gemology to ethnology and so on. Jacobs argues that Epiphaniuss digressive style represents a Christian transformation or appropriation of classical antiquarian literature. Although this type of writing stands in contrast to what we might call high exegetical literature that aims more directly for the meaning in Scriptureepitomized in Jacobss article by the work of OrigenEpi phan iuss variegated exegetical improve might well be more characteristic of a late fourth-century Christianity and its insatiable scopic drive to see and know all the world. Jacobss paper is in dialogue with recent work in classical studies that reveals empire as the Foucauldian episteme for the production of antiquarian literature in the Roman Empire.2 Both Origenist and Epiphanian textualities are, like empire, spatial modalities. Origens text is focused and organizedthe movement of spiritual exegesis is aimed inward and upward at a noetic center-point that effaces and transcends embodied particularity. Origens text wants to work through the difference of his-

2. See, for example, Erik Gunderson, Nox Philologiae: Aulus Gellius and the Fantasy of the Roman Library (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009).


torical becoming to know It, in Its abstracted fullness. Epiphaniuss text proliferates digressive or centrifugal movement outward. It wants to know it all, at once, in all its multiform concreteness. These two textualitiesEpiphanian antiquarianism and Origenist gurative readingcan be read as two contrapuntal imperial trajectories. Origens focused drive toward the center of meaning might be read as homologous to the centripetal forces of empirethose that pull its subjects towards the metropolitan center, towards civilization, towards full humanity, towards the imagined place of one-ness or whiteness for itself. At the same time, of course, these centripetal forces alienate the imperial subject from her/his own racial and ethnic embodiment. Epiphaniuss peripatetic wandering through the worlds knowledge, for its part, might be homologous to the administrative drive to classify, categorize, and thus comprehend variety and difference within Christian empire. Jeremy Schott is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington