In this paper, I present the Address of Thanksgiving to Origen by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, a third-century pupil of Origen’s at the school in Caesarea. I hope to show how Gregory’s description of his philosophical education under Origen represents an enterprise initiated and guided by a holistic love for the human being in all his dimensions: a quintessential example of Christian paideia expressed through a human teacher under the direction of a loving and paternal God. Gregory describes his philosophical education as a transformative process that awakens him to the truth, trains his reasoning capacity, and imparts to him a genuine love of God. Conducting a close reading of the text, I describe and attempt to integrate the various components of this paideia into a model for study.
One of the greatest delights of being a student is to learn from a wonderful teacher. As with many other precious human experiences, this is a very ancient one, and its appearance in the writings of the Church Fathers offers a valuable opportunity for insight into Christian education in its early stages of development. The ΕΙΣ ΩΡΙΓΕΝΗΝ ΠΡΟΣΦΩΝΗΤΙΚΟΣ (Address of Thanksgiving to Origen) of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus «the Wonderworker» dates to roughly 238 A.D. and offers a magnificent picture of Christian paideia as an undertaking of love. In this wordy but rich oration delivered by Gregory just as he is about to leave Origen’s school to return to his native land, Gregory recounts the entire story of his education under Origen and praises the virtues and talents of his eminently holy teacher.
The text itself contains numerous obscurities and controversies. We do not know much about the life of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus except what we can glean from Eusebius and from the hagiography written by St. Gregory of Nyssa. There has been much speculation in the scholarship about what some consider the ambiguity of Gregory’s Christianity: for instance, why Gregory speaks of Christ only as the λόγος and never explicitly as Jesus or the Christ. It is also unclear how Origen’s school at Caesarea as described by Gregory compares with his more famous catechetical school at Alexandria in its purpose. Finally, the oration itself is overblown at times, containing long passages in which the author apologizes for the injustice of putting his admiration for his teacher into words (thereby exacerbating the offense), remarks at length on the sincerity or organization of his own oration, and apologizes profusely to those philosophers whose moral example he criticizes as not measuring up to Origen’s.
In response to these noted flaws and in preparation for the following analysis, I concur with Michael Slusser, Joseph Trigg, and others that Gregory was certainly Christian: he refers to the Bible extensively, alluding to at least two scenes from the New Testament and applying extended analogies of the Fall, the Babylonian Captivity, and the parable of the Good Samaritan to his personal situation. In response to perplexity over the oration’s bizarre organization, I recommend considering Gregory as an undergraduate of sorts, immature in his thinking but eager to display his intellectual and affective enthusiasm.
My aim in this paper is not to ascertain Origen’s actual program of studies, nor can I pronounce judgment on Origen’s theological orthodoxy or his understanding of paideia. The latter area has been treated by Joseph Trigg’s analysis of οἰκονομία, which Trigg defines as God’s «pedagogy with individuals and the Christian teacher’s participation in that pedagogy.» Instead, I will focus on paideia from Gregory’s perspective—on what this address can reveal about Christian paideia as Gregory himself understands it. I hope to show how Gregory’s description of his philosophical education under Origen represents an enterprise initiated and sustained by love, or rather, by interplays of loves: by the love of God, the Word, and the angel for Gregory; by the mutual love between Gregory and his teacher; and by Gregory’s own love for God and for the learning whose aim is to bring him into union with God. As Gregory describes it, paideia bears the distinctive Christian hallmark defined by Christ in John’s Gospel: «By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another» (John 13:35).
In analyzing the events of his own life before his momentous meeting with Origen, Gregory demonstrates a remarkable awareness of God’s tender provisions for him from his youth. Gregory believes the death of his father to have been the time at which he «was turned over to the saving and true Word» (ἐπὶ τὸν σωτήριον καὶ ἀληθῆ μετετέθην λόγον), who «began to dwell within me» (Πλὴν ἐξ ἐκείνου πως ἐπιδημεῖν μέν μοι ὁ ἱερὸς ὅδε λόγος ἤρξατο εὐθυς...). This divine indwelling coincides with the advent of Gregory’s human reason. Gregory marvels at God’s mysterious activity in his soul, an activity seemingly precipitated by the trauma of his father’s death, yet entirely beneficial and oriented towards his development. As Gregory narrates the confluence of events that lands him in Caesarea, he indicates a lively and childlike relationship with his guardian angel, «the holy angel of God» who «was appointed by some great decree to govern and nurture me and be my guardian from childhood,” his “personal pedagogue.» Among other things, Gregory credits this guardian with nourishing him, educating him (παιδεύει), leading him by the hand (χειραγωγεῖ), and bringing him to Origen, which Gregory considers to be his climactic service. Gregory shows the trustful simplicity of a child who has always been cared for by the very best guardians (the Word Himself, an angel of God, and Origen): could it have been Origen who taught him to see the gentle hand of God behind all the events of his life, as Trigg suggests? In any event, Gregory’s awareness of some larger process of paideia at work within his life beautifully imbues his education under Origen with divine significance. Ever present in and throughout the educational process, God is the one who tenderly initiates and sustains Gregory’s paideia.
If God’s is the mysterious power at work behind the movements of Gregory’s life and education, Origen provides the more immediate ignition. Gregory emphasizes the pivotal role of friendship in bringing him to the beginnings of love for God and convincing him to espouse the philosophical life. Although Gregory was initially reluctant to stay at Origen’s school, Origen’s more-than-humanly-skilled arguments and, perhaps even more powerfully, his friendship, convince Gregory to jettison his other occupations and stay on as Origen’s pupil. Gregory describes the power of Origen’s benevolent friendship thus:
And indeed he sank into us the spur of friendship (Καὶ γὰρ καὶ φιλίας
ἡμῖν κέντρον ἐνέσκηψεν) (not easily resisted but sharp and most effective)
and of courtesy and good disposition...his purpose was honest and benevolent
and helpful, to save us and make us participants in the good things of the
philosophic life, and even more in those with which God has endowed him more
than most, or perhaps even anyone in our time: namely, the saving Word, the
Teacher of true piety.
Origen’s friendship appears as a powerful and effective force aimed at helping his student decide to pursue philosophy and, more importantly, come closer to God. Gregory vividly describes the way in which he first comes to love God as bound up with his love for his teacher: «Like a spark landed in the middle of our soul, the love for the most attractive Word of all, holy and most desirable in its ineffable beauty, and for this man who is his friend and confidant, was kindled and fanned into flame.» The language is passionate, perhaps overly passionate for modern sensibilities, but it conveys the intensity and immediacy of the teacher’s role in bringing his students very concretely to what is best and most beautiful, which Christians identify as the God who is Love. If Gregory’s education leads him to knowledge of and love for God, Origen has succeeded already in large measure: Gregory’s paideia is moving towards the fulfillment of its ultimate purpose.
Perhaps it may seem that the most essential elements of Gregory’s education belong to influences beyond the formal structure of this education: to the providential plan of God and to the friendship of his teacher. But these aspects cannot be detached from the philosophical method that forms the backbone of Origen’s enterprise as described by Gregory.
The friendship that Origen extends to Gregory comes coupled with the philosophical life and its training, which Gregory describes as consisting in traditional Socratic dialectic. Gregory gratefully recognizes Origen’s methods of correction for his heretofore disordered intellect, and a slight moral flavor accompanies his discussions of how Origen «brought us to a proper frame of mind and prepared us well to accept the words of truth.» Gregory compares Origen to a gardener: «When our unruly soul kept sending up and yielding “thorns and thistles” and every kind of wild weeds and plants, as overgrown as it was disorderly and reckless, he cut everything off and got rid of it by proofs and by confrontation»; to a tamer of horses: «On occasion he would trip us up in speech...every time he saw us fighting the reins like unbroken horses, veering off the road and running aimlessly every which way, until by persuasion and coercion, as by the bit which was the word from our own mouth, he made us stand quietly before him»; and to a doctor: «Everything obtuse or duplicitous about the soul, whether it was born that way or had coarsened through overindulgence of the body, he lanced and reduced by the refined arguments and rhetorical devices used for ailments of the mind». Λόγος, Origen’s dialectical method of helping Gregory prepare to accept the truth, appears as cultivation, taming, surgery: three different metaphors for the correction and improvement of the student’s reasoning faculty and, consequently, of his soul.
Gregory also mentions Origen’s efforts to educate «the humbler aspect of the soul» (ταπεινὸν τῆς ψυχῆς) through the teaching of physics (μαθήμασιν ἑτέροις, τοῖς φυσικοὶς), or «the nature of the entire universe and each of its parts.» Learning explanations of the way the universe works results in the substitution of a «rational wonder» (λογικὸν...θαῦμα) for the «irrational one» (ἀντὶ ἀλόγου) that had previously caused Gregory to marvel at the «all-wise fabrication of the world» (πανσόφῳ δημιουργία τῇ τοῦ κόσμου) of which he understood almost nothing. Origen seems to be using the dialectical method and the teaching of the natural sciences towards a common end: the cultivation of the entire person towards living in accordance with his rational nature. Learning physics and learning philosophical argument appear as components of a unified method that fosters the soul’s progress in λόγος, the use of reason and the understanding of the way things are that is in special accord with the dignity that sets humankind above un-speaking (and un-reasoning) animals (ἀλόγων ζώων). Such an enterprise reveals a love for the person that embraces and integrates that person’s intellectual capacities in order to help him live more fully in accordance with his nature.
Cultivation of the intellect, however, is not the most important task of education. Gregory goes on to discuss «the topmost matters of all...the great good fruits of philosophy, the divine virtues (τὰς θείας ἀρετὰς) concerning how to act, which bring the soul’s impulses to a calm and steady condition.» For the next several sections of the address, Gregory repeatedly emphasizes the importance of deeds (τὰ ἔργα) as opposed to words (ὁι λόγοι) in moral philosophy, especially with regards to the virtues. Gregory attributes even greater praise to Origen’s own struggle to act uprightly than he does to his verbal teachings. In a statement both highly conscientious and touching, Gregory restrains himself from calling his beloved teacher «a paradigm...of the sage» (παράδειγμα σοφοῦ): «even though I would like to say that this is true, I let it pass for now. So he was not an exact paradigm, but he very much wished to become like one, striving with all zeal and enthusiasm...» Gregory expresses skepticism that Origen’s efforts at teaching his students to be virtuous (as opposed to merely being able to define virtue) have been effective in his own case. Nevertheless, he credits his teacher with instilling in him a passionate love of the virtues, which is no insignificant step towards acquiring them.
Perhaps most importantly, Origen impresses the importance of «piety» (ἐυσεβεία) on his young pupil: Gregory concurs with those who call piety « “the mother of virtues”» and adds that it is «the beginning and the consummation of all the virtues.» Gregory is convinced that man should desire «to be God’s friend and supporter» (τὸ φίλον γενέσθαι καὶ προήγορον θεῷ) and that «everything has no other goal than to come to God, having been conformed to him in purity of mind, and to remain in him.» Gregory’s awareness of this ultimate purpose, of an intimate union with God to which humans must direct themselves and their every endeavor, illustrates an education that is proceeding according to plan: despite his imperfections and lack of virtues, his discourse exudes love for God, the ultimate Good, and gratitude to the teacher from whom he has caught this spark. Virtuous living, beyond mere knowledge, is essential to attaining this goal, and Origen’s apparent tenacity in promoting the actual exercise of the virtues reflects the need for education to help the student put the teachings he learns into practice through moral actions. The very efficacy of philosophy as a paideia that achieves its goal (the union of the human being with God) depends upon the success of the leap between words and deeds.
All this is not intended to underplay the relevance of words and knowledge to the student’s life: on the contrary, Gregory returns to consider the immense power of words and arguments in his discussion of Origen’s teaching of «theology», or «all the doctrines about the divine» (XIII.13). In addition to providing positive nourishment to the souls of students, Origen seems to have been concerned also with protecting them from harmful influences. Gregory describes the very real dangers of philosophical inquiry thus:
For human argument (λόγος ὁ ἀνθρώπων) is an awesome tool and
very flexible, manifold in its artifices and sharp; it penetrates the hearing
to make an impression on the mind and set it and, when it has persuaded
those forever captivated that it should be loved as true, remain with it,
false and deceptive thought it be, like a domineering sorceror...The human
soul is easily led astray by argument (λόγος) and quite eager to assent.
How does Origen seek to counteract the detrimental effects of devious arguments and come to the rescue of the all-too-vulnerable intellect? The remedy, perhaps surprising, is wide reading, lest «one isolated doctrine» should overtake the student’s mind «and by forming us in isolation might make us its own», like dye to wool. In evaluating the soundness of this method, we should bear in mind that Origen imposes definite limits to this extensive reading: although his students are supposed to read «all the writings of the ancient philosophers and singers», they are to avoid reading the writings of «the atheists, who, since they have abandoned common human beliefs, say that there is no God or providence...lest our soul be defiled in the encounter by hearing doctrines opposed to the service of God before it has attained piety...» Writers who are clearly atheistic, and thus antithetical to the project of Christian formation at its fundaments, are excluded from Origen’s curriculum.
For the Christian student or thinker, what are the advantages and disadvantages of Origen’s encouragement to read broadly? On the one hand, Origen helps to instill an openness to truth, whatever its sources, in his students: every «philosophic doctrine», «whether Hellenic or barbarian», will receive a hearing. Slusser even comments, «The point may be that anyone who is prejudiced against any “barbarian” philosophy will never look at Jewish and Christian revelation.» On the other hand, however, lies the danger of problematic Greek philosophies being subtly subsumed into an apparent but mistaken «harmony» with the truths of the Christian faith: for instance, it is unclear to me that the Stoic influences in sections 116-121 of the address are compatible with Christian teaching (e.g., the assertion that the «rational» part of the soul is «the best part...free from harm and disorder», a position that fails to account for the flaws of human reason due to the Fall; this statement also contradicts Gregory’s own description of intellectual vulnerability quoted above). Additionally, Origen’s own intermingling of philosophy and theology, while admirable and fruitful in many respects, was to occasion a great deal of doctrinal and ecclesiastical trouble at times, as in the case of his doctrine of universal restoration. In Origen’s defense, Ferdinand Prat, author of The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Origen and Origenism, reminds us that at the time «the language of theology was not yet fixed and that Origen was often the first to face these difficult problems.» All things considered, there is something encouraging in Gregory’s image of Origen navigating the rough terrain of philosophy with his students and using his own argumentative talent to rescue them from error. Although there inevitably would be some discrepancies, even serious ones, the practice by which Origen «gathered and presented to us everything that was useful and true from each of the philosophers, but excluded what was false» must have given his students a unique advantage as rising Christian thinkers in an intellectual and cultural environment that was far from thoroughly Christianized.
Finally, Gregory comes to Origen’s interpretation of the Scriptures, the enterprise for which he is most famous and, arguably, the culmination of the curriculum available at Origen’s school. For Gregory, Origen is unique and incomparable in his ability
to receive the purity and brightness of the [divine] sayings (τῶν λογίων)
into his own soul, and to teach others, because the Leader of them all, who
speaks within God’s friends the prophets, and prompts every prophecy and
mystical, divine discourse (λόγος), so honored him as a friend as to
establish him as his spokesperson.
Further research would be needed to illuminate Gregory’s understanding of this crucial aspect of Origen’s philosophical-pedagogical enterprise, especially since Origen’s «great fusion of classical philosophy and biblical exegesis» was his life’s work. It is enough here to say that Origen somehow links divine and human wisdom for his students, making the former accessible and elevating the latter, in such a way as to enable his students to approach a cognitively continuous world and to direct their human studies, without agony or scruple, towards the pursuit of the «the good things of the soul», implicitly of God himself. This aspect of Origen’s teaching seems to have been the sweetest and most nourishing, and Gregory’s praise of his teacher reaches its height when he calls Origen «truly a paradise for us, a copy of the great paradise of God, in which» his students need only «grow in the soul’s adornment like beautiful trees, rejoicing and taking our fill.» The discourse seems delicately suspended here, in this almost timeless paradise where Gregory receives rich insights into the Scriptures from his beloved teacher and enjoys the pleasurable increase of knowledge of God and his mysteries.
Despite Gregory’s assertions that «this is truly a paradise of contentment, this is itself true joy and repletion...», his paideia under Origen falls short of perfection in itself. There is something immature and inconsistent in Gregory’s attachment to his teacher; indeed, he is so wrapped up in the goodness and delights of his earthly education that he speaks of it as the real paradise, as if a Christian can find «true joy and repletion» (εὐφροσύνη καί τρυφή) in any complete sense in something earthly. After characterizing Origen’s school at Caesarea as «paradise», Gregory expresses disconsolate grief that he will be returning to his native land, to a career which he darkly construes as «a harsh bondage to marketplaces, tribunals, crowds, and pretentiousness.» In a series of successively dramatic metaphors, Gregory compares his situation to that of Adam being ejected from paradise, the Prodigal Son leaving home but not returning, the Israelites being driven away from their homes to toil in Babylon, and a man being attacked by robbers and left for dead, whom Slusser identifies as the victim from the Good Samaritan parable. Convinced that the place he is going back to is «a land foreign to my soul, where an inhabitant may not draw near to God», he harshly berates himself for sinning by leaving the philosophical school of Origen, and freely at that. The attitude of despair and negativity that Gregory projects in this section of the address is unbecoming in a soul who earlier professed his sole aim as «to come to God, having been conformed to him in purity of mind, and to remain in him.» Nevertheless, he conveys his deeply felt gratitude towards his teacher for the newly significant life he has begun to live under his tutelage and signifies the emergence of a new phase in his paideia.
Gregory does not linger too long over the woeful picture of himself as the victim of robbers. «But why am I grieving in this way?» he corrects himself. «There is the Word, the Savior of all, who protects and heals all those half-dead and robbed...» (Ἔστιν ὁ σωτὴρ πάντων...λόγος). In the midst of his sorrow and reluctance, he remembers the Savior. He closes the address by requesting that Origen pray over him «to the God who led us to you», who will now become for Gregory «the best of pedagogues» (παιδαγωγὸν ἄριστον ἐσόμενον) leading him «by the hand» (χειραγωγεῖν) through the events of his future life and perhaps offering him the consolation of returning to Origen at some point in the future. Although he does not yet seem especially eager to move more completely under the tutelage of God, this «best of pedagogues», Gregory at least affirms the need for hope in God in his new situation.
Even through the intensity of his grief and disappointment at having to leave a dear teacher and the seat of his education, Gregory recognizes that his education is not over and trustingly commends himself to his next teacher, to the care of the Word, the Logos and Savior. This detachment from the individual who has been most highly influential in his life is also, though perhaps Gregory does not fully perceive it yet, the beginning of a more complete attachment to his ultimate goal, the Love beyond all human loves.
Mary Rosalie Stoner
Department of Classics
 - I would like to thank three of my own teachers and friends for their help in this project: Professor Robert Kaster for serving as my thesis adviser; Dr. Dawn Lavalle for introducing me to this text; and Professor Alice Ramos for informing me of the conference that occasioned this submission. I first presented this paper in the panel «Logos and paideia, models in time and history» at the conference La Filosofia Come Paideia, hosted by the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce in February 2015. Its revision formed the bulk of chapter 2 of my senior thesis, entitled «Christian Paideia: Models from the Church Fathers» and submitted to the Princeton University Department of Classics in April 2015. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Department of Classics and to the Undergraduate Fund for Academic Conferences (UFAC), a program of the Office of Undergraduate Research of Princeton University, for providing generous financial support for my attendance at the conference.
 - M. Slusser, Introduction to Fathers of the Church, Volume 98: St. Gregory Thaumaturgus Life and Works, Catholic University of America Press, Washington D.C. 2010, p. 5.
 - M. Slusser, Introduction, cit., p. 4.
 - Slusser sees Gregory’s tendency to prefer to speak of the «divine Logos» over «the human Jesus» as somewhat surprising, given that he was Origen’s student, but he does not see it as calling Gregory’s Christianity into doubt (pp. 9, 15, 21). Joseph Trigg discusses this as well, noting that other Christian authors also «avoided specifically Christian terminology in works addressed to pagans» and that Gregory himself also «avoided specifically pagan terminology» (pp. 30, 33). J. Trigg, God’s Marvelous Oikonomia: Reflections on Origen’s Understanding of Divine and Human Pedagogy in the Address Ascribed to Gregory Thaumaturgus, «Journal of Early Christian Studies», IX/1(2001), pp. 27-52.
 - M. Slusser, o,c., pp. 19-21 gives an interesting overview of opinions on this topic.
 - Trigg discusses Gregory’s extensive biblical quotation on pp. 32-33.
 - J. Trigg, o.c., p. 38 (35-39).
 - Of course, paideia in the Christian context I am advancing is closely related to the notion of oikonomia as outlined by Trigg, but I will focus more on Gregory’s own perception of his education rather than on «Origen’s understanding» that can be discerned therein (See Trigg’s title).
 - St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Address of Thanksgiving to Origen, trans. Michael Slusser, in Fathers of the Church, Volume 98: St. Gregory Thaumaturgus Life and Works, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C. 2010., section V.50. The next sentence is from V.53. Greek text is from Grégoire Le Thaumaturge, Remerciement a Origene suivi de La Lettre D’Origene a Grégoire, Greek text, Introduction, Translation, and Notes by Henri Crouzel, S.J., Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris 1969.
 - Ibid., sections 40-45, 72.
 - J. Trigg, o.c., p. 39. See Gregory, o.c., 48 for «the misguided customs of my native land» and «a superstitious father» and Slusser, o.c., p. 1.
 - Slusser notes Gregory’s belief that «true piety» «calls for leading a philosophic life» and remarks on «the high value on personal relationships» contained in «Gregory’s vision of the philosophic life» (p. 11).
 - Gregory, o.c., sections VI.80 and VI.84.
 - Gregory, o.c., VI.81-82.
 - Gregory, o.c., VI.83.
 - Cf. 1 John 4:8.
 - Gregory affirms his awareness of his ultimate goal in section XII.149: «I think that everything has no other goal than to come to God, having been conformed to him in purity of mind, and to remain in him.»
 - Ibid., VII.97 (in J. Trigg, o.c., p. 45).
 - Gregory, o.c., VII.98.
 - Gregory, o.c., VII.96-100.
 - Gregory, o.c., VIII.109-110.
 - Ibid., VIII.109, 111.
 - Ibid., VIII.109-114; quote from 109. See also J. Trigg, o.c., 43.
 - Ibid., IX.115. Slusser notes the heavy Stoic overtones of this passage, especially in relation to «the rational ordering of impulses.»
 - For instance, Gregory, o.c., IX.118,123, and 126.
 - Ibid., 135.
 - Ibid., IX.135-136.
 - Ibid., 137.
 - XII.147-148.
 - XII.149.
 - VI.83.
 - Ibid., XIII.155-156.
 - Ibid., 154.
 - 151-152.
 - M. Slusser, footnote 76 to Address, p. 117.
 - See «The Origin and Destiny of Rational Beings» under the «Origen» entry in The Catholic Encyclopedia.
 - Gregory, o.c., XIV.171-173. Trigg concludes his article by arguing that «Origen at Caesarea was providing advanced instruction in a philosophically informed Christian faith» (p. 52). Slusser calls Neocaesarea, where Gregory eventually returned as bishop, «a theological backwater» (p. 10).
 - See Chapter 2 of my senior thesis (Christian Paideia: Models from the Church Fathers, which can be obtained from Princeton University Library) for a fuller discussion of Origen’s curriculum.
 - Gregory, o.c., XV.175-176.
 - P. Rousseau, Basil of Caesarea, University of California Press, Berkeley 1994, p. 39.
 - See Gregory, o.c., section XV, particularly 182.
 - Ibid., section XV.183.
 - Ibid., section XVI.184.
 - Ibid., section 184.
 - Ibid., section XVI.192 for the quote, 189 for his native land.
 - Gregory, o.c., sections 185-199. M. Slusser, o.c., footnote 108, p. 125 notes the Good Samaritan, and J. Trigg, o.c., p. 32 provides the same list I have rendered above.
 - Ibid., section XVI.194.
 - Ibid., section ΧΙΧ.205-207.
© 2015 Rosalie Stoner & Forum. Supplement to Acta Philosophica
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