The Westminster Handbook to Origen

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The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Edited by John Anthony McGuckin. The Westminster Handbooks to Christian Theology. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. xxi + 228 pp. $34.95 (paper).

Heretic or saint? That question has beleaguered Origen (d. 254), and Origen's spirit, for 1,700 years and shows no signs of going away. I first encountered its lowering presence while doing doctoral research on Saint Peter I of Alexandria (d. 311). The scholarly literature uniformly referred to Peter as an anti-Origenist when, in fact, his "anti-Origenism" was a palimpsest written by Emperor Justinian I some 200 years later. Such has been Origen's fate over the centuries. The last forty years have seen significant scholarly reassessment and reevaluation-indeed resuscitation-of Origen, and The Westminster Handbook to Origen will undoubtedly contribute to that welcome process.

John McGuckin, the book's editor, makes his position eminently clear: Origen was "the greatest Christian of his age" (p. 23); "the greatest genius the early church ever produced" (p. 25); he was the church's "first and greatest biblical scholar" and the church's "first great mystic" (p. ix). In McGuckin, Origen has gotten what he deserves-a sympathetic, able editor who has written an energetic and very accessible introduction to Origen and his works and assembled a plethora of Origen scholars who have contributed some eighty articles arranged alphabetically (from "Allegory" to "Worship") on the great Alexandrian and Caesarean theologian and exegete. I can hardly think of a better introduction to Origen than McGuckin's to recommend to a student or seminarian. The editor, in fact, by organizing the articles under five categories, offers a "program of study" for someone wishing to undertake "a comprehensive study" of Origen (p. xi).

McGuckin's assessments of Origen are often arresting. For Origen, he says, "the footsteps of the Creator are left abundantly in the cosmos and in the mental capacities of humans; the professor is the high priest of Christian mysteries" (p. 8). (These conclusions of McGuckin's and Origen's are not so outré when one remembers that the gospel writers translate "rabbi" as didaskalos, "teacher," and that Alexandrian theologians such as Clement saw Jesus as the teacher par excellence.) Origen's efforts at library-building and scholarship in Caesarea left the legacy "that the church leadership ought to base its cultural mission around a nexus of higher education services" (p. …