Lost ancient books reappear only rarely — and their stories are gripping. The discovery five years ago of a large number of the lost homilies on the Psalms astonished the scholarly world. The homilies, which were found not in a cave or in a desert, but on a shelf in the Bavarian State Library, were written by the great early Christian theologian Origen, who lived from the years 184 to 254.
The discovery of these homilies led The Catholic University of America Center for the Study of Early Christianity to devote a two-day colloquium to their exploration and interpretation. The homilies’ editor, Lorenzo Perrone of the University of Bologna, gave a lecture on the sermons on May 22, and five scholars discussed them at a colloquium the next day.
Philosopher-theologian, exegete, scholar, and controversialist, the Christian teacher Origen was the most important Greek-speaking thinker of the early Church. According to Robin Darling Young, associate professor of Church History in the School of Theology and Religious Studies, his works stirred both strong devotion and some significant opposition; but no later Christian writer could ignore his thought, and most depended upon his work for their own understanding of the coherent teaching of the gospel.
“The Second Vatican Council’s documents (and many of the young theologians who wrote them) were inspired by early Christian thought, particularly that of Origen,” she said. “Pope Benedict XVI was profoundly influenced by the circle of scholars in France who thoroughly read Origen … Origen was very beloved to him — and to many in the 20th century who wanted to breathe new life into Catholic thought.”
Young believes Catholic University served as the perfect setting for this event, because of its long history of scholarship in early Christian thought and history. She said the colloquium was intended to engage younger scholars with more experienced ones and to stimulate new research into the language and thought of Origen.
“It’s impossible to think of a place that would be better situated to have such a colloquium, which was on one happily rediscovered manuscript, thanks to Catholic University’s reputation for careful and deep scholarship,” she said.
Following this colloquium, the University will publish three volumes dedicated to the homilies. The first English translation will appear in the Fathers of the Church series, which will be translated, introduced, and annotated by Joseph Wilson Trigg. Another English translation of the fourth-century Latin translation will appear in the same series, translated by Rev. Michael J. Himes; and an interpretive volume based on the papers given at the colloquium is slated to appear in the Studies in Early Christianity series, in a volume edited by Young and Trigg.