Even divine Reason takes on human flesh in order to redeem it. The final chapter examines two of the largest names in Christian thinking: Origen and Augustine. All previous thinkers explored have thought of sin primarily in terms of individual human beings. Both Origen and Augustine are thinking on a much grander, more universal, scale. In On First Principles , Origen constructs out of neo- Platonic thought a notion of a pre-existent original sin whereby spiritual beings turned from the true God and continued to fall into the realm of the material. The extreme diversity of created things—from stars to the smallest creatures—can be explained by Origen as a means of explaining the distance rational souls fell from contemplation of God.
All rational beings—by their nature—have free will and if they only understood the truth would choose to turn in love to the contemplation of God. Materiality will ultimately come to an end and all rational souls will freely choose to return to the loving contemplation of God; most famously, Origen held that even Satan would one day be redeemed. Augustine is far different.
There was nothing unjust with eternal punishment for those who deserve it including unbaptized infants! Fredriksen concludes with a short epilogue that looks very briefly at what these ancient discourses of sin might contribute to modern discussions of the topic. Beyond this perceptive observation, she raises the real question of whether sin as a concept or term remains much relevant in a world marked by the absence of a robust and generally shared notion of sin. In each of her test-cases, sin is always a deeply embedded part of a much larger cosmological and theological drama: the story of Israel as narrated in the Hebrew Bible, a grand gnostic drama of the fall of rational beings in the material realm, a massive and all-encompassing story of creation itself.
What are the defining narratives of our age? In what story or stories does sin find its proper home in the modern world? Perhaps the sociologists, psychologists, or evolutionary theorists can suggest newer narratives?
Fredriksen has written an engaging work which demonstrates the multitude of ways in which early Christians received the teachings of the earliest Jesus movement in ancient Palestine and, over the course of five centuries, debated and reconstructed entire theological systems. At the center of these various stories was often the question of the origin, nature and ultimate solution to the problem of sin. Gary A.
Anderson, Sin: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, Mark S. Oxford: Oxford University Press, BMCR Spirit, answered some, while others answered, Flesh. And where would these raised bodies go? To Jerusalem, urged one teacher.
Sin: The Early History of an Idea
To the upper cosmos, taught another. To a purely spiritual realm, replied a third. Who are the redeemed? Everyone, taught Paul, mid-first century: the full number of the gentiles and all Israel. Almost no one, taught Augustine, early fifth century: many more are condemned to damned darkness than are predestined to eternal light. I am an historian of ancient Christianity.
For the past thirty years, in the course of a fourteen-week semester, I have acquainted my students with a sense of its growth, its development, and its dynamic complexities. But in , Princeton University's Committee on Public Lectures challenged me to do the same, for a mostly non-academic audience, in the space of three hours spread across three evenings.
Impossible, I thought. Yes, I said. And then, of course, I panicked. Ideas about sin are like radioactive isotopes: you can trace them as they course through different theological systems, revealing their social bony structures, their ideological soft tissue and muscle mass, their intellectual blockages.
By attending to ideas of sin, I could trace as well their correspondence with and to other crucially important ideas - ideas about humanity, and what it is to be truly human; ideas about the universe, and humanity's place within it or beyond it ; ideas about Christ as redeemer, and ideas about who Christ redeemed, and how.
Paula Fredriksen, Sin: The Early History of an Idea - PhilPapers
The biggest surprise was God. Ancient Christians' ideas about God displayed the same intense mutability as did their ideas about sin. The answer, of course, is Yes and No. All translation is already a species of interpretation: the Greek and the Hebrew of the Jewish scriptures do not say the same thing. The gods of the nations, in Paul's texts of Psalm Unlike Justin Martyr, Valentinus and Marcion have been misunderstood because much of their writing is no longer available and their position is characterized in contrast to orthodoxy.
Fredriksen attempts to correct the record. Chapter 3 by itself is worth the price of the book.
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Fredriksen does a masterful job of comparing Origen and Augustine on original sin, free will, the justice of God, and redemption, among other things. She summarizes the book in a short epilogue. She brings needed exposure to the ideas of certain marginalized ancient figures e. Her work on Origen and Augustine in chapter 3 is superb. Her treatment of Jesus and Paul, however, detracts from the overall effectiveness of this volume.
Her views on these figures tangle the historical and theological discussion in a number of places. Book reviews are published online and in print every quarter in Bibliotheca Sacra. Subcribe Today.