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Origen and the History of Justification

Origen and the History of Justification

The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on Romans

Thomas P. Scheck
Foreword by Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J.

Standard accounts of the history of interpretation of Paul’s Letter to the Romans often begin with St. Augustine. As Thomas P. Scheck demonstrates, however, the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans by Origen of Alexandria (185-254 CE) was a major work of Pauline exegesis which, by means of the Latin translation preserved in the West, had a significant influence on the Christian exegetical tradition.

Scheck begins by exploring Origen’s views on justification and on the intimate connection of faith and post-baptismal good works as essential to justification. He traces the enormous influence Origen’s Commentary on Romans had on later theologians in the Latin West, including the ways in which theologians often appropriated Origen’s exegesis in their own work. Scheck analyzes in particular the reception of Origen by Pelagius, Augustine, William of St. Thierry, Erasmus, Cornelius Jansen, the Anglican Bishop Richard Montagu, and the Catholic lay apologist John Heigham, as well as Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and other Protestant Reformers who harshly attacked Origen’s interpretation as fatally flawed. But as Scheck shows, theologians through the post-Reformation controversies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries studied and engaged Origen extensively, even if not always in agreement.

An important work in patristics, biblical interpretation, and historical theology, Origen and the History of Justification establishes the formative role played by Origen’s Pauline exegesis, while also contributing to our understanding of the theological issues surrounding justification in the western Christian tradition.

“The interpretation of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has been a central and continuing preoccupation in the western Christian tradition. Origen’s contribution to its interpretation was seminal, subtle, and suggestive. But the expansiveness of Origen’s Commentary on Romans, combined with later controversies about Origen’s views, appears to have inhibited scholars from tracing the reception of Origen’s commentary in the West. Thomas P. Scheck’s book ably and admirably remedies this oversight.“
Theodore de Bruyn, University of Ottawa

“Thomas Scheck demonstrates the range of Origen’s influence and establishes his as the real alternative to the Augustinian understanding of the divine operation in Christians. His study raises again the questions posed by Robert O’Connell of Augustine’s appropriation of and dissent from Origen. In each chapter, Scheck both reports and advances the existing scholarship on Origen’s influence.” — Patout Burns, Vanderbilt Divinity School

“Thomas Scheck’s Origen and the History of Justification is first of all invaluable for increasing readers’ exposure to a primary text of an exegete and theologian who will always be very relevant for the church—Origen. Second, this work is invaluable for presenting all sides of the debate today on the meaning of justification. All who weigh in on the doctrine of justification must consult this work in order to understand the seismic quakes that still affect Christians’ balance on this issue. And third, since this book focuses on Origen’s Romans commentary, it must be read by all Romans students who want to be able to discern the magnetic fields that still powerfully pull readers of Paul’s letter in different directions.” — Mark Reasoner, Bethel University

ISBN: 978-0-268-04128-1
310 pages
Publication Year: 2008

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Thomas P. Scheck is associate professor of theology at Ave Maria University. He is the first English translator of Rufinus’s Latin edition of Origen’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. He has recently published a new translations of St. Jerome’s Commentary on Isaiah, Origen’s Homilies 1–9 on Isaiah, and Erasmus’s writings on Origen.

“Scheck’s book renders a valuable service in drawing attention to the recent recovery of Origen’s exegetical legacy and highlighting the longevity of certain of his ideas, particularly the notion that justification stands in synecdoche for the life of grace-infused virtue. This is a real contribution, and not to be lightly overlooked.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“An important work in patristics, biblical interpretation, and historical theology, Origen and the History of Justification establishes the formative role played by Origen’s Pauline exegesis, while also contributing to our understanding of the theological issues surrounding justification in the western Christian tradition.” — Vigiliae Christianae

“. . . This volume focuses on Rufinus’ Latin version of Origen’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans and its legacy. . . . Scheck concludes that by showing the organic connection between faith and works Origen made it possible for subsequent theologians to reconcile the diverse statements of Scripture.” — New Testament Abstracts

“Thomas P. Scheck’s Origen and the History of Justification: The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on Romans fills a major gap in the study of Origen’s exegesis and influence. Scheck has given us a superb work of scholarship that should inspire others to mine the riches of the Church Fathers for Christian wisdom that will transform our own age.” — Saint Austin Review

“. . . This book [is] a work of mature scholarship. It focuses on Origen’s interpretation of what St. Paul said about justification in his Letter to the Romans. . . . Scheck has convincingly shown that Origen’s exegesis of Romans and his interpretation of Paul on justification are well worth the attention of scholars and serious students engaged in those disciplines.” — Religious Studies Review

“Scheck has given us a highly readable and insightful introduction to Origen’s Commentary on Romans, its historical reception, and the major theological positions that have drawn from its pages and for which, remarkably, it continues to be a valuable, and perhaps ultimately indispensable, reference text.” — Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook

“According to Alistair McGrath in . . . Justitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, justification was simply not an issue in pre-Augustinian patristic thought. Thomas Scheck decisively refutes and corrects that claim in this new monograph, which not only tracks the legacy of Origen’s commentary on Romans in the West but argues convincingly that already with Origen there was a lively debate about the very issues of law, righteousness, faith, works, freedom, and merit that so exercised Augustine, Pelagius, and their later commentators.” — Augustinian Studies

“This book is to be applauded for its boldness: any study courageous enough to attempt to survey a doctrine as controversial as justification in the western tradition and which makes that attempt via largely self-contained analyses of some of the West’s major theological thinkers and writers is bound—almost by definition—to be a contribution to the field. Second, this book provides a service for scholars by assembling such a significant portion of the essential primary evidence for the crucial issue of justification into one volume.” — Augustinia

“In Origen and the History of Justification, Thomas Scheck provides a valuable and well-researched study of an important topic. I find this work very helpful for both students of Christian historical theology, especially in medieval and reformation studies, and for an ongoing ecumenical dialogue. . . . Thomas Scheck prepares us to find Origen as a living partner in a dialogue about grace and divinization that is of both historical and contemporary significance.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“Scheck’s work makes an important contribution to our understanding of the great third-century exegete, his influence on later interpreters, and his enduring significance for the church as it reads Romans today.” — Pro Ecclesia

“This is a marvelous book. The standard wisdom when it comes to the doctrine of justification by faith has been that the writers of the early church fell short of its primary meaning: which was Paul’s true intention. . . . Thomas Scheck challenges this construction by looking carefully at how Rufinus’ Latin version of Origin’s Commentary of the Romans was received and interpreted by Augustine, Erasmus, Luther and several writers from the post-reformation in the seventeenth century.” — Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology

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Origen and the History of Justification

The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on Romans

Thomas P. Scheck
Foreword by Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J.

 Origen and the History of Justification: The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on Romans
Cloth Edition
Paper Edition

Standard accounts of the history of interpretation of Paul’s Letter to the Romans often begin with St. Augustine. As Thomas P. Scheck demonstrates, however, the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans by Origen of Alexandria (185-254 CE) was a major work of Pauline exegesis which, by means of the Latin translation preserved in the West, had a significant influence on the Christian exegetical tradition.

Scheck begins by exploring Origen’s views on justification and on the intimate connection of faith and post-baptismal good works as essential to justification. He traces the enormous influence Origen’s Commentary on Romans had on later theologians in the Latin West, including the ways in which theologians often appropriated Origen’s exegesis in their own work. Scheck analyzes in particular the reception of Origen by Pelagius, Augustine, William of St. Thierry, Erasmus, Cornelius Jansen, the Anglican Bishop Richard Montagu, and the Catholic lay apologist John Heigham, as well as Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and other Protestant Reformers who harshly attacked Origen’s interpretation as fatally flawed. But as Scheck shows, theologians through the post-Reformation controversies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries studied and engaged Origen extensively, even if not always in agreement.

An important work in patristics, biblical interpretation, and historical theology, Origen and the History of Justification establishes the formative role played by Origen’s Pauline exegesis, while also contributing to our understanding of the theological issues surrounding justification in the western Christian tradition.

“The interpretation of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has been a central and continuing preoccupation in the western Christian tradition. Origen’s contribution to its interpretation was seminal, subtle, and suggestive. But the expansiveness of Origen’s Commentary on Romans, combined with later controversies about Origen’s views, appears to have inhibited scholars from tracing the reception of Origen’s commentary in the West. Thomas P. Scheck’s book ably and admirably remedies this oversight.“
Theodore de Bruyn, University of Ottawa

“Thomas Scheck demonstrates the range of Origen’s influence and establishes his as the real alternative to the Augustinian understanding of the divine operation in Christians. His study raises again the questions posed by Robert O’Connell of Augustine’s appropriation of and dissent from Origen. In each chapter, Scheck both reports and advances the existing scholarship on Origen’s influence.” — Patout Burns, Vanderbilt Divinity School

“Thomas Scheck’s Origen and the History of Justification is first of all invaluable for increasing readers’ exposure to a primary text of an exegete and theologian who will always be very relevant for the church—Origen. Second, this work is invaluable for presenting all sides of the debate today on the meaning of justification. All who weigh in on the doctrine of justification must consult this work in order to understand the seismic quakes that still affect Christians’ balance on this issue. And third, since this book focuses on Origen’s Romans commentary, it must be read by all Romans students who want to be able to discern the magnetic fields that still powerfully pull readers of Paul’s letter in different directions.” — Mark Reasoner, Bethel University

ISBN: 978-0-268-04128-1

310 pages

“Scheck’s book renders a valuable service in drawing attention to the recent recovery of Origen’s exegetical legacy and highlighting the longevity of certain of his ideas, particularly the notion that justification stands in synecdoche for the life of grace-infused virtue. This is a real contribution, and not to be lightly overlooked.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“An important work in patristics, biblical interpretation, and historical theology, Origen and the History of Justification establishes the formative role played by Origen’s Pauline exegesis, while also contributing to our understanding of the theological issues surrounding justification in the western Christian tradition.” — Vigiliae Christianae

“. . . This volume focuses on Rufinus’ Latin version of Origen’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans and its legacy. . . . Scheck concludes that by showing the organic connection between faith and works Origen made it possible for subsequent theologians to reconcile the diverse statements of Scripture.” — New Testament Abstracts

“Thomas P. Scheck’s Origen and the History of Justification: The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on Romans fills a major gap in the study of Origen’s exegesis and influence. Scheck has given us a superb work of scholarship that should inspire others to mine the riches of the Church Fathers for Christian wisdom that will transform our own age.” — Saint Austin Review

“. . . This book [is] a work of mature scholarship. It focuses on Origen’s interpretation of what St. Paul said about justification in his Letter to the Romans. . . . Scheck has convincingly shown that Origen’s exegesis of Romans and his interpretation of Paul on justification are well worth the attention of scholars and serious students engaged in those disciplines.” — Religious Studies Review

“Scheck has given us a highly readable and insightful introduction to Origen’s Commentary on Romans, its historical reception, and the major theological positions that have drawn from its pages and for which, remarkably, it continues to be a valuable, and perhaps ultimately indispensable, reference text.” — Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook

“According to Alistair McGrath in . . . Justitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, justification was simply not an issue in pre-Augustinian patristic thought. Thomas Scheck decisively refutes and corrects that claim in this new monograph, which not only tracks the legacy of Origen’s commentary on Romans in the West but argues convincingly that already with Origen there was a lively debate about the very issues of law, righteousness, faith, works, freedom, and merit that so exercised Augustine, Pelagius, and their later commentators.” — Augustinian Studies

“This book is to be applauded for its boldness: any study courageous enough to attempt to survey a doctrine as controversial as justification in the western tradition and which makes that attempt via largely self-contained analyses of some of the West’s major theological thinkers and writers is bound—almost by definition—to be a contribution to the field. Second, this book provides a service for scholars by assembling such a significant portion of the essential primary evidence for the crucial issue of justification into one volume.” — Augustinia

“In Origen and the History of Justification, Thomas Scheck provides a valuable and well-researched study of an important topic. I find this work very helpful for both students of Christian historical theology, especially in medieval and reformation studies, and for an ongoing ecumenical dialogue. . . . Thomas Scheck prepares us to find Origen as a living partner in a dialogue about grace and divinization that is of both historical and contemporary significance.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“Scheck’s work makes an important contribution to our understanding of the great third-century exegete, his influence on later interpreters, and his enduring significance for the church as it reads Romans today.” — Pro Ecclesia

“This is a marvelous book. The standard wisdom when it comes to the doctrine of justification by faith has been that the writers of the early church fell short of its primary meaning: which was Paul’s true intention. . . . Thomas Scheck challenges this construction by looking carefully at how Rufinus’ Latin version of Origin’s Commentary of the Romans was received and interpreted by Augustine, Erasmus, Luther and several writers from the post-reformation in the seventeenth century.” — Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology