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Knowledge, Language and Intellection from Origen to Gregory Nazianzen

A Selective Survey


Anna Usacheva

Epistemological theories of the patristic authors seldom attract attention of the researchers. This unfortunate status quo contrasts with a crucial place of the theory of knowledge in the thought of such prominent authors as Origen and the Cappadocian fathers. This book surveys the patristic epistemological discourse in its various settings. In the context of the Church history it revolves around the Eunomian controversy, Eunomius’ language theory and Gregory Nazianzen’s cognitive theory, where the ideas of Apostle Paul were creatively combined with the Peripatetic teaching. In the framework of Biblical exegesis, it touches upon the issues of the textual criticism of the Homeric and Jewish scholarship, which had significantly shaped Origen’s paradigm of the Biblical studies.

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Part One: Language and Theological Knowledge in the Teachings of Origen, Basil and Eunomius


Introduction to Part One

The first part is an introduction to the epistemological and pedagogical debates which formed the framework for the third–fourth century theological discussions and particularly Eunomian teaching. By briefly surveying Hellenic philosophical discussions concerning the scientific method,26 cognition (sense-perception, imagination, reasoning and intellection27) and language28 I outline the chief issues and methodological patterns which surfaced within theological debates and drove the formation of Christian doctrine. This part is divided into five chapters.

The first chapter is an overview of the epistemological and pedagogical issues debated during the Hellenistic epoch and Late Antiquity. While epistemology, or the study of knowledge (viz. understanding, or justified belief), investigates the process and methodology of thinking, it also involves such disciplines as linguistics, logic, and psychology since they specifically explore the faculties of sense-perception, imagination, conceptualization and naming, discursive and intuitive thinking. The Christian and pagan authors of Late Antiquity were deeply concerned with these issues. Naturally enough, epistemological discourse resonated in the Hellenic and Christian paideia, scholarly environments and theological discussions.

In the second chapter, I examine the epistemological and didactic principles of Origen’s biblical studies. I survey the methodology of such Hellenic institutions and environments as the Alexandrian Mouseion, Homeric scholarship, Jewish exegesis, and Hellenic grammatical scholarship. These environments had a pronounced effect on Origen’s influential exegetic and theological methodology.

In the third chapter I consider Eunomian teaching within the framework of the historical circumstances, socio-cultural and philosophical...

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