The Eloquence of Symbols: Studies in Humanist Art

By Edgar Wind; Jaynie Anderson | Go to book overview

V. The Revival of Origen

Ah! Monsieur, il est bien dur de ne pouvoir damner à son plaisir tous les hérétiques de ce monde. -- Voltaire

'IN the Middle Ages it was a subject of dispute whether Origen might possibly escape damnation.' This curious pronouncement by Dean Inge in a recent lecture on Origen before the British Academy1 indicates the extent to which a great Renaissance controversy has been forgotten. The memory of it was still alive in the seventeenth century when the abbé Huet included in his Origeniana a reference to Pico della Mirandola: 'Origen could not have wished for a more noble or a more learned defender. Among the Nongentae conclusiones which [ Pico] proposed to the whole world for debate, the following thesis was outstanding: it is more reasonable to believe that Origen is saved than to believe that he is damned.'2

Pico Nongentae conclusiones, published in 1486, was one of the first books to be placed on the Index.3 An inquisitional committee appointed by Innocent VIII had found in it thirteen objectionable theses, among them the defence of Origen. When Pico published an Apologia ( 1487) in which, instead of revising these opinions, he developed them with considerable force, he was indicted for heresy and temporarily arrested.4 Six years later the indictment was revoked by Alexander VI. But although Pico himself survived his release for only a short while, the knowledge of his vindication gradually showed its effect upon humanist and theological learning. In promoting a wide acceptance of Pico's view a decisive role belongs to the edition of Origen which Aldus published in 1503, an astute enterprise that has been little noticed: 'Si nous abordons les temps modernes,' we read in a book crowned by the French Academy,5 'la Renaissance est trop païenne, la Réforme trop augustinienne pour laisser beaucoup de place aux imaginations philosophiques d'Origène, dont le xvie siècle ne pensa même pas à imprimer les écrits.' And yet, the Aldine edition was dedicated to Fra Egidio da Viterbo, who was the most prominent Augustinian preacher of his time, a defender of pagan elegance in religious diction, and the friend and inspirer

____________________
Studies in Art and Literature for Belle da Costa Greene, ed. D. Miner ( 1954), pp. 412-24 (with additions to the notes from Wind's papers).
1
W. R. Inge, Origen, in Proceedings of the British Academy, XXXII ( 1946), p. 123.
2
P. D. Huet, Origenis in Sacras Scripturas commentaria quaecunque graece reperiri potuerunt . . . cui idem praefixit Origeniana, 1 ( 1668), bk. II, ch. iv, "'Fortuna doctrinae Origenianae'", p. 230 ( Patr. graec. XVII, col. 1178).
3
H. Reusch, Der Index der verbotenen Bücher, 1 ( 1883), p. 59.
4
L. Dorez and L. Thuasne, Pic de la Mirandole en France, 1485-1488 ( 1897).
5
M. J. Denis, De la philosophie d'Origène ( 1884), pp.585 f.

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