Joseph W. Trigg
Grace Episcopal Church
Origen referred to a group of fellow Christians, probably in their terms, as the “simpler” (hoi haplousteroi) or “the pure” (oi akeraioi) and, in a more classical ven, as “the many” (hoi polloi), “the majority” (to plēthos), or “the mob” (ho okhlos). To discuss serious theological issues in such people’s presence is, Origen said, to cat pearls before swine. Reinhold Seeberg considered the distinction between simple and advanced Christians to be the key to understanding Origen, and, more recently, F.H. Kettler has forcefully advanced a similar view. The lack heretofore of any critical study of the actual faith of simple Christians was, thus, a major lacuna in Origen studies.
The work under review fills that lacuna admirably. Hällström knows Origen’s work and the relevant secondary literature thoroughly. He defines the issue clearly and is finely sensitive to Origen’s use of language. He presents Origen’s understanding of simple faith (pistis in the sense of fides qua creditur) as a mode of cognition inferior to rational inquiry (zētēsis and related words), convincingly deriving Origen’s categories from Plato’s distinction between opinion (doxa) and knowledge (epistēmē). He also discusses in detail the contents of simple faith (fides quae creditur) as Origen presents it, a faith characterized by a biblical literalism and rejection of speculative doctrines. He knows how the beliefs of Origen’s “simpletons” on a range of topics represent the faith of a definite group of people whom we must assume to be the majority of third-century Christians, including their clergy. Hällström concludes that “the Origenist crises did not come from nowhere. The discussion had already been begun by the simplices.”
Adiscussion of simple believers’ views on the sacraments, on which the evidence is not as scantly as Hällström suggests, would have been helpful, as would a discussion of the relationship between Origen’s disdain for simple faith and his difficult relations with ecclesiastical authorities. But their lack does not diminish the value of the work he has done.