Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 1-5
Origen of Alexandria's Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans is the oldest extant commentary on Romans (ca. 246). This volume presents the first English translation of the commentary, covering his exegesis of Rom 1:1 to 6:11. One of his longest and most mature works, it is the only commentary of Origen available in a coherent form from beginning to end. The work was originally composed in Greek in Caesarea, but only fragments of the archetype have survived. Fortunately, Origen's admirer Rufinus of Aquileia translated the work into Latin (ca. 406).
Origen's exegesis predates the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius by 170 years; thus it offers a striking perspective on Romans. Opposition to Gnostic interpretations of Paul is an important characteristic of the commentary. Above all Origen defends the Church against the "doctrine of natures"—the belief that all human beings are born with unalterable natures, either good or evil, and thus bound for either salvation or damnation, and that their conduct during this life cannot alter their destiny. Origen successfully refutes this teaching, showing that freedom of will always abides in rational beings.
Provoked by Marcion's repudiation of the Old Testament, Origen emphasizes the harmony between Gospel and Law. He highlights as one of Paul's main themes in Romans the transfer of religion from Judaism to Christianity, from the letter to the spirit, in terms both of salvation history and of the transformation of the individual. Origen claims that the key to unlocking Romans is understanding Paul's use of homonyms—identical expressions such as law, Jew, circumcision, death, etc., with divergent meanings.
Books 6-10 of the commentary, presenting Origen's interpretation of Rom 6:12 to 16:27, will be the next volume published in the Fathers of the Church series.
Thomas P. Scheck, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Religion and Classics.
Praise for the book:
"A significant contribution to studies of Origen and the history of Pauline exegesis. . . . The work provides an excellent introduction to Origen's theology, presenting a wide range of themes which are central for him in his doctrine of God, anthropology, mystical theology, and eschatology. . . . Scheck's introduction provides an excellent outline of the textual issues surrounding the Latin version of the Commentary. . . . [An] admirable translation. . . . [It] provides an invaluable service in making available a text which adds much to our understanding of Origen both as a Christian exegete and as a theologian."—Maureen Beyer Moser, Journal of Early Christian Studies
"The Commentary contains material of interest to many kinds of scholars. Feminists will be delighted to find statements that women were reckoned among the clergy. Ethicists and moral theologians will find a wealth of explanations and particularizations of the Christian virtues mentioned in Romans 12 and 13. Protestants interested in the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints, should look at Origen's thoughts on these beliefs. Other readers will want to take in Origen's discussion and study of the several meanings of 'law' and 'spirit' in Paul and the Old Testament, while others may wish to examine his harmonizing of gospel and law. Also of interest are Origen's definitions of many words in Scripture and explanations of the differences between them. . . . Mr. Scheck's erudition makes him a worthy translator. The footnotes reveal his impressive intensive and extensive grasp of the Bible (including the Septuagint and the Old Latin Version), his thorough knowledge of the correspondence between the Greek and Latin meanings of several words and phrases, and his great acquaintance with other writings of Origen and of other early church fathers. . . . "-
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