Origen on Childhood and Sonship as Metaphors for Involuntary and Voluntary Subjection

Scholars, such as Peter Widdicombe and Miriam de Cock, have established Origen’s theological reasons for using children and sonship metaphors and their importance to his views on exegesis, soteriology, and the Trinity. Yet, no study has examined how these metaphors relate to and reflect his views on philosophical psychology and causality. Origen’s influence on Christian theology cannot be overstated. Thus, greater clarity about his philosophical rationale for these metaphors is necessary to more fully understand the early Christian development of Christian exegesis, soteriology, and the Trinity. To address this lacuna, I argue that Origen’s use of these metaphors is best understood in light of Late Antique views on the differing psychological capacities of children and adults.
In the first half of the paper, I outline how Origen and his Late Antique sources understood the differences between children and adults in respect to rational agency and voluntary action—that is, ancient psychology. In addition to Origen’s writings, I draw on Aspasius’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Alexander of Aphrodisias’ De Fato, and Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata. I show that, for Origen, children lack reason, are incapable of voluntary action from “free-choice”, cannot accurately judge what is good, and act on account of the passions, like irrational animals. Children, thus, require authority to compel them towards the good. In the second half of the paper, I show how Origen maps these “children” and “sons” metaphors onto his account of the psychological and causal differences between children and fully maturated adults. Drawing on his interpretation of Matthew 18:3, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:1, I conclude that Origen thinks “children” signify immature Christians because they are psychologically akin to children. They thus relate to God as Lord because they are involuntarily subjected to God on account of compulsion, threats, and fear within the divine pedagogy. On the other hand, “sons” signify mature Christians because they are psychologically akin to maturated adults. They thus relate to God as Father because they voluntarily subject themselves to God on account of persuasion, reason, and love. This paper opens up new avenues to re-examine Origen’s doctrines that intersect with these metaphors.

5 thoughts on “Origen on Childhood and Sonship as Metaphors for Involuntary and Voluntary Subjection”

  1. very technical, it is
    very technical, it is certainly worthy of ETS from a scholarly perspective. I expect many of these doctoral student presentations to be of modest interest to the whole Society and lightly attended because they are expert presentations with few “ramifications” for a broader audience beyond expanded academic knowledge

    Reply
    • Good and strategic Litfin comment
      Thanks, Bryan, for this standard of evaluation: “presentations with few “ramifications” for a broader audience beyond expanded academic knowledge.” We don’t slight doctoral students as students, but we can recognize that the breadth as well as the discussion times will be limited.

      Reply
  2. I am scoring this well to
    I am scoring this well to help place it in the general program, as the quality is high, but agree it is probably not the best fit for our invited/selected sessions.

    Reply

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