Origen's rhetoric of identity formation : Origens Paulinism in contrast to Hellenism
How did Late Antiquity’s societies articulate their identities? This dissertation is a study of the construction of textual identities, as revealed by an analysis of Origen’s Paulinism which aimed to construct Christian identity in the third century CE. I have chosen extracts from Origen’s exegesis of Paul, found primarily in one text, his Commentary on Romans, as resources for my examination of identity issues. This text is an extremely helpful example of a deliberate fashioning of Christian identity through Origen’s joint use of Hellenistic paideia and the Bible. Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus provides a helpful lens in decoding Origen’s and Hellenistic texts. Using habitus, the focus is on the rhetoric of identity formation through the fabric of the cultural, social, political, ideological, and literary contexts of Origen’s world. The study is more descriptive than polemical. The Greek paideia provides an immediate background to Late Antiquity’s concept of identity formation. The extant literature of the period comprised the fundamental vehicles of self–definition. This concept of fashioning identity through the construction of texts presents numerous difficulties for the contemporary reader. I will show that Origen used Greco–Roman moral philosophy and rhetoric in interpreting Paul. In seeking Origen’s notion of Christian identity, Origen’s reading of Romans is shaped by strategies of self–scrutiny and self–formation. Although Origen modifies the Greco–Roman moral philosophies—such as the notion of self–control, transformational narratives, and rhetoric deployment in his exegesis—much of the shared cultural and literary background remains. Using the Hellenistic nuances of self–control and rhetoric, Origen shows his audience a distinct picture of what a transformed, mature believer should look like, the humanitas. The transformation that a believer underwent resulted in a new or intensified form of piety with consequent changes in social affiliations, relations and loyalties. He also uses different descriptions —“new man,” “inner man” and “perfect”—to identify the mature transformed believers. This believer is the humanitas, the much sought after identity, with the milieu of the third century C.E. He attempted to create a body of knowledge and to utilize it for the preparation of a strong Christian identity in the midst of the pressures and temptations of the hegemonic Roman Empire and the pervasive Greco–Roman culture. Along with the paideia, the Roman Empire nurtured and challenged Origen’s Paulinism. The Roman Empire did not require individuals, or even communities, to adopt for themselves a distinctly Roman identity to the exclusion of all others. Yet, everyone was required to worship the genus of the Emperor. The Roman identity transformed the Greek–barbarian dichotomy into an imperial ideology which claimed Roman supremacy over all other cultures and people. This usurpation of other societies by the Romans is an inverted mirror image of Origen’s usurpation of Rome’s Romanitas or humanitas through his Paulinism. Thus, he is to be seen constructing identity through shared forms of symbolic and linguistic construction which were readily available within his socio–political reality.
- ETD@PUK