Sunday, May 10, 2009

Origen and the History of Justification: Book Review

     This is a short review of Thomas Scheck (professor of Pastoral Theology, Ave Maria University) book, Origen and the History of Justification: The Legacy of Origen's Commentary on Romans, (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008). 

     This is an elegantly written work by a scholar that is up to date on the best of Origenian and patristic secondary literature, which is in my opinion the best (new) book I read in 2008. It is an important treaty on the massive influence of Origen's commentary on Romans (Scheck is the first English translator of Rufinus's Latin edition of Origen's commentary) on all subsequent theologians of note, whether in a positive direction (i.e., Augustine, Pelagius, William of St. Thierry, Erasmus) or negative (Luther and Melanchton). 

     The thesis of the book is that Origen has had a much more influential role that is usually ascribed to him (especially on Pauline interpretation and soteriology/justification) most notably in the Catholic tradition. Scheck graces us with important correctives of among others (J. N. D. Kelly, Karl Adam, etc) on various topics, and also acts as a fair and balanced observer of the Protestant / Catholic debate over justification. It is also one of the best historical theological accounts of the doctrine of Justification around (as touching on Origen and his particular influence). 

     The book is highly technical and definitely assumes some familiarity of historical theology and patristics by the reader (and is not cheap - $60) but it is worth the price for the specialist or for the educated layman who wants to break into the realm of academic study. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

 R. E. Aguirre


Megan said...

You might be interested in the review of this book in JTS 2009:1--enthusiastic about the first three chapters, sharply critical of the treatment of the medieval and Reformation material.

Thomas said...

Megan mentions the Protestant David Fink's sharply critical review of Scheck's book in JTS 2009. Fink, a graduate student at Duke University and a pupil of the deeply Lutheran scholar David Steinmetz, seems extremely defensive of Martin Luther. In the review Fink identifies "Protestantism" with Martin Luther's opinions.

Several other non-Lutheran Protestant reviewers have been far more favorable to Scheck's theses: N. Heisey, Conrad Grebel Review (Fall,2009), Paul Blowers, Augustinian Studies 40 (2009), Riemer Roukema, Vigiliae Christianae 64 (2010), M. Evans-Cockle, Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook 29 (2009). The Catholic reception has also been more favorable than Fink.