Papers from the conference Human Freedom and Dignity: Innovative Humanities

The History of Human Dignity and Freedom in Western Civilization presented the results of the study conducted with the aim to trace the roots and transformations of Origen’s values of human dignity and freedom in theological and philosophical traditions at the conference ‘Human Freedom and dignity:  Innovative Humanities’  in Pécs, Hungary from October 30 to November 3, 2019.

Following are some abstracts from papers given at the conference presenting the results of the project. For a YouTube-video of the discussion panel, click here. 

Sara Contini
My paper, titled “The dignity of God in Origen’s exegesis”, dealt with the role played by the exegetical argument of the dignity of God in Origen’s discourse on the relationship between humans and God.
In the first part, I presented some Latin passages, coming mostly from On First Principles, where Origen defends his spiritual exegesis of Scripture based on the hermeneutical principle that each statement, action, image, or faculty attributed to God in Scripture must always be saying something worthy of God’s supremely high rank. In the second part, I analysed the way Origen discusses two exegetical questions connected to the dignity of God and his philanthropy in the Greek Homilies on Psalms, namely the arguments on freedom of speech in Hom.67Ps. 1.2 and on biblical anthropomorphisms in Hom.77Ps. 9.1.
These texts have shown that the dignity of God is part of Origen’s argument on how God is at the same time very distant and very close to humanity: Origen presents a form of proximity between human and divine that is not limited to the humans ascending to “become like” God (cf. Princ. 3.6.1), but involves also God lowering himself through Christ to establish a familial relationship with humans.

Furthermore, Sara Contini introduced the debate on the importance of digital humanities and web archives as tools for research in Humanities in a discussion panel

For a YouTube-video of the paper, click here.

Valeria Dessy
This paper focuses on the main interest of my dissertation, which is the particular interpretation of Origen made by Harnack in his quite long section of Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (1886). Harnack´s interpretation of Origen as “systematic”, “dogmatic”, “idealistic philosopher” can be explained by referring to many aspects of the cultural background, and to his particular idea of religion. This paper aims at exploring a comparison between Harnack´s interpretation of both the Alexandrinian and Marcion, who is seen as a forerunner of the Reformation. This aspect allows us to broaden the perspective on Harnack´s understanding of Early Christianity.

Furthermore, Valeria Dessy introduced the debate on the role of social networking sites and media in the dissemination of Humanities in a discussion panel

For a YouTube-video of the paper, click here.

Ilaria Scarponi
In Defence of Freedom of Choice: Origen’s Exegesis of Romans 9 and its Latin Reception (4th-5th Centuries)
My paper aimed to investigate the relationship between Origen’s writings – specifically, On First Principles (Prin) and Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (CRm) – and the Pelagian treatise De Induratione Cordis Pharaonis (De Indur) [transl. ‘On the Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart’], as regards the interpretation of Rom 9.20-21. In these verses, Paul silences an interlocutor who asks about the works of God. Paul claims that God has in his own power to act over human beings as he wishes; some he makes as vessels unto honour, others he makes as vessels unto dishonour. While commenting on Rom 9.20, the Latin translations of Origen’s writings and De Indur argue – by using similar vocabulary and imagery – that Paul silences an unfaithful and arrogant interlocutor (Or. Prin 3.1.22; CRm 7.14-15; De Indur 18;36). While commenting on Rom 9.21, the Latin translation of Origen’s CRm and De Indur stress that the ‘moulding’ of honourable and dishonourable vessels depends ultimately on human free choices; those who of their volition decide to purify themselves from sin (Or. CRm 7.15, cf. 2 Tim 2.21) or from bad deeds (De Indur 48, cf. 2 Tim 2.21) are vessels for honour, whereas those who fail to cleanse themselves are vessels for dishonour. The many connections between the interpretations in Origen’s writings and De Indur provide a sound basis to claim that the Pelagian treatise was influenced by Origen’s exegetical solutions in their Latin translations.

For a YouTube-video of the paper, click here.

Morten Kock Møller
Echoes of Origen: Augustine’s reception of the Commentary on Romans
In my paper titled “Echoes of Origen: Augustine’s reception of the Commentary on Romans”, I summarized the main points in my PhD dissertation. The goal of my research has been to trace the influence of Origen’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans in Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings from the period 411-418. Augustine’s reception of this commentary provides us with a mirror that reflects the theological concerns which informed his reading of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Unsurprisingly, I have found no evidence to suggest that the mature Augustine was inspired by Origen’s attempts at reconciling the notion of human free choice with divine foreknowledge and predestination as we find it expressed in several passages in the Commentary on Romans. Origen’s explanatory model, which sees divine predestination as being based on foreknowledge of human faith or merits, was already decisively rejected by Augustine in his early work Ad Simplicianum (ca. 396-98 AD) and in the course of the Pelagian controversy he sought only to combat such a view. There are, however, other ways in which Origen’s view of human freedom (as transmitted by Rufinus of Aquileia in the Latin version of the Commentary) can be said to have inspired Augustine. A common denominator for many of the possible instances of reception is that these elements of exegesis serve to restrict human freedom in one way or another. Augustine was happy to follow Origen’s interpretation of Romans whenever he grants that complete freedom is not attainable in this earthly life owing to the negative influence of sin. In particular, the harmful consequences of Adam’s transgression inhibit the freedom of his descendants. Certain statements found in the Commentary were appealing to Augustine because they could be used in support of his preconceived notion of original sin.

For a YouTube-video of the paper, click here.  

For more information about the conference, click here.