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Theophilus of Alexandria and the First…

Theophilus of Alexandria and the First Origenist Controversy: Rhetoric and…

by Krastu Banev

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Krastu Banev reconsiders the place of Theophilus of Alexandria, specifically his Festal Letters, within the Origenist controversy. He aims to rectify the reception of Palladius of Helenopolis’ negative depiction of the patriarch and instead properly to situate our understanding of Theophilus’ actions and words within the forensic context of the controversy.

Banev’s study needs to be understood in the context of recent research on the Origenist controversy. In a study published in 1992, Elizabeth Clark significantly advanced our understanding of the controversy through the analysis of its social dynamics. Her work demonstrates that there were distinct personal affiliations for each of the authors in the controversy, and these connections in large part determined the role they played within the debate. More recently, Norman Russell has argued that Theophilus’ reputation needs to be rescued from the polemics of the likes of Palladius, largely by considering the forensic nature of Theophilus’ approach to Origen. In his work on Palladius’ Lausiac History and Dialogue concerning John Chrysostom, Demetrios Katos evaluates the legal nature of Palladius’ treatment of both John Chrysostom and Theophilus. Banev intends to further Russell’s rehabilitation of Theophilus, as it were, by doing for Theophilus what Katos does for Palladius. In doing so, Banev is attempting to corroborate Synesius of Ptolemais and Jerome’s claims about the rhetorical prowess of Theophilus.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0198727542, Hardcover)

In the age of the Theodosian dynasty and the establishment of Christianity as the only legitimate religion of the Roman Empire, few figures are more pivotal in the power politics of the Christian church than archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria (385-412). This work examines the involvement of archbishop Theophilus in the so-called First Origenist Controversy when the famed third-century Greek theologian Origen received, a century and a half after his death, a formal condemnation for heresy. Modern scholars have been successful in removing the majority of the charges which Theophilus laid on Origen as not giving a fair representation of his thought. Yet no sufficient explanation has been offered as to why what to us appears as an obvious miscarriage of justice came to be accepted, or why it was needed in the first place.

Kratsu Banev offers a sustained argument for the value of a rhetorically informed methodology with which to analyse Theophilus' anti-Origenist Festal Letters. He highlights that the wide circulation and overt rhetorical composition of these letters allow for a new reading of these key documents as a form of 'mass-media' unique for its time. The discussion is built on a detailed examination of two key ingredients in the pastoral polemic of the archbishop - masterly use of late-antique rhetorical conventions, and in-depth knowledge of monastic spirituality - both of which were vital for securing the eventual acceptance of Origen's condemnation. Dr Banev's fresh approach reveals that Theophilus' campaign formed part of a consistent policy aimed at harnessing the intellectual energy of the ascetic movement to serve the wider needs of the church.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 31 Aug 2015 10:08:47 -0400)

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