Origen, Scholasticism, and the Practice of Hermeneutics

Monastic life, by the thirteenth century, which marked the height of papal power and the birth of the mendicant orders, there arose scholasticism, which is “the name given to a theology that developed in the [cathedral] schools [that] became the center of theological activity.[1] In these cathedral schools, scholasticism sought to make “an immense intellectual effort to investigate and bring into a single system the articles of faith and reason.”[2] The ways and means by which faith and reason were investigated were through the use of hermeneutics, which involve “all methods of interpreting philosophical or literary texts, including biblical ones [with the intent of] being more involved in the problem of how to achieve an authentic understanding of a culture and an age other than one’s own.”[3] This was, of course, an essential aspect of monastic life as a theological activity. Consider the role that Origen of Alexandria (184-253), a Church Father from the 3rd century CE., plays in this. Hermeneutics, then, was “Origen’s most enduring influence on the [early] church [which endured into the medieval church, surmising that] every text has a spiritual meaning [and] the interpreter [must] discern this meaning, and divine power must be added to the words to make them effective.”[4] As a result, Origen’s use of hermeneutics had a major impact on scholasticism of the medieval church, which, eventually, “was the determinative cognitive attitude of the whole Middle Ages [and] is the methodological explanation of Christian doctrine.”[5]

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[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (V.1) (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1984), 311.

[2] William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press Inc., 1980), 514.

[3] Geddes MacGregor, ed., Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy (New York, NY: Paragon House, 1989), 306.

[4] Sinclair Ferguson and David F. Wright, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 482.

[5] Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought: From Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1968), 135.

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