Today the eastern church remembers two great Patriarchs of Alexandria: Athanasius and Cyril. I am fond of Athanasius, but Cyril is another story. These are not the only two great Alexandrian theologians. We may mention Origen and Clement as well. I am sure there are others. Who do you consider to be the greatest Alexandrian theologian?
Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, Origen
Geesh, that was a difficult vote for me…………..
I’m with Rod. That’s a tough call, especially since knowing what “greatest” means when you’re comparing theologians like this is not easy.
I think you two are overthinking this. It is obviously Athanasius. I did a paper on him, I should know. 😉
Origen. For his prolificity (if that’s really a word I’m gonna sound awesome) and importance for Eastern (and some Western) theology in general.
Cyril finishes what Athanasius started and so somewhat lacks Athanasius’ genius, and Clement was perfected and corrected by Origen. So, between Athanasius and Origen I ended up with Athanasius, but that might just be because I had recently finished some lectures by T. F. Torrance. 🙂
@Tyson: He was a water-shed theologian!
@Ryan: I like your logic!
Amen with Tyson and Ryan! And ya gotta love our Tom Torrance, who filled-in Barth on the Trinity.
I just want to point out that Athanasius is dominating. Democracy succeeds here!
Your history of Clement and Origen is typical of mainstream scholarship, but I clearly reject that view.
If one wants to start with significant differences in Clement and Origen, look no further than their sources. Clement depended upon the Gospel, Christian tradition, and Jewish Middle Platonism. Origen, secular middle platonism. If you studied the distinctions, and look at each of their Christologies, there would be not doubt, at least in my mind, that your claim about Clement and Origen does not ring true.
Your push-back is good. I found it difficult to summarize briefly the relationship between the two and I may have, in haste, said more than I intended. I would still hold that Origen was a “greater” theologian, but then the term “greater” is vague. Would you say that Clement is “greater” because you view his Christology to be superior? I suppose I see Origen as “greater” because of the breadth of his scholarship and his wide-ranging influence (for good or bad) upon the rest of the Christian tradition.
Finally, I’m curious that you claim that Origen only depended upon secular middle Platonism, or are you including the Gospels and Christian tradition implicitly (omitting it for brevity)? It would be very odd to say that Origen did not depend upon the Gospel or Christian tradition.
There are many good books on Origen, but the one I like very much is Henri de Lubac’s: History and Spirit, The Understanding Of Scripture According to Origen (the English pub. is Ignatius Press, 2007).
Athanasius by far. And I’m liking this guy Ryan C. already 🙂 . Of course Athanasius wasn’t perfect.
Origen — because he was a source for both orthodox and heretics. Then if we consider that he was condemned posthumously as a heretic, we know that’s because if Origen was there in the flesh, they wouldn’t have dared. He was just that awesome. He also gave us the Hexapla, and thus was one of the first scholars of biblical studies. Think of that — a theologian and a biblical scholar.
@Rod: I believe that while Origen relied upon secularist Middle Platonism, he also revamped and discarded parts that wouldn’t fit with Christian doctrine.
Lubac’s book is great, especially at showing Origen to be, at heart, a Biblical scholar. Which is also why I voted for Athanasius as a greater theologian.
Btw, for any who haven’t Lewis Ayres’ book: Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology is quite excellent on this stuff (as is of course the classic Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly.
Indeed Bobby, every Christian should have an understanding of Nicaea, and really to Chalcedon! And Kelly’s book is simply classic!
@Bobby and @Fr. Robert,
I also like Roger Olson’s The Story of Christian Theology.
Haven’t read Olson’s book, I’ll have to do that someday. I have some reviews, of course, some for and against; the against resonated with me, in re. to what they were saying about Olson’s reconstruction. But at the moment I don’t recall exactly what that was 🙂 . Anyway, I’ll have to get my hands on that at some point, thanks!
I have Ayer’s book and I want to give it more attention someday. I am just busy with other pursuits now. It does seem to be a great read from what I have encountered thus far.
Ayers has a lecture on Villanova’s iTunesU page called “Giving Wings to Nicea: Olivier Du Roy and the Origins of Augustine’s Trinitarian Theology (http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=388954327).
@Ryan: I have downloaded that lecture, but I don’t think I have listened to it yet. Wow, I am neglecting Ayers left and right!
I would say that Clement is the greater of the two, between him and Origen, exactly because of his theology. The more I read Clement, the more I feel like his thought has been neglected; Clement was the first to articulate both a Logos Christology and the teaching of theosis. I think he is underrated because he is under the shadow of Athanasius, who I also admire, but not for his theology but rather his enduring persecution and standing up to the emperor. Clement also had to flee Egypt out of persecution, his whereabouts were left unknown. I think it has to do more with our lack of information we have about Clement’s life, since it is such a mystery.
Greatness is quite subjective, and you are right. Right now, as far as I am concerned, greatness in theologians is measured, for me at least, is to the extent that the theologian addresses the moral problems of her/his day and use the resources he/she has before her/him along with the Gospel and Christian tradition. I believe Clement and Athanasius both do this magnificently. In terms of people influenced, for better or worse, i think could be a mistake, especially if a person’s theology does not seek to address the crises of his/her context.
As far as Origen, yes, he used the Gospel, Christian tradition, along with secular middle platonism.
Rod, I would agree that we just don’t know enough about Clement sadly! And yes to his Logos Christology and teaching of theosis, what we have and know.
You raise an important point as to how we measure the greatness of a theologian. I initially looked at it as a matter of intellectual prowess and influence–what one might consider the “standard” way of measuring greatness amongst theologians. However, I think it would be safe to say that this is not the way that the Alexandrian Fathers (or any Church Father for that matter) would measure greatness. Instead, greatness would be measured by their character; or, as the saying goes, the theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian (this is tangentially related to your statement about addressing the moral problems of one’s day).
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