ND Expert: A 'rare and wonderful' discovery of ancient Christian documents

by Michael O. Garvey

Rev. Michael Heintz

The discovery of 29 previously unpublished homilies by the third-century theologian Origen of Alexandria could provide an unprecedented glimpse of ancient Christian preaching, according to Rev. Michael Heintz, director of the University of Notre Dame’s Master of Divinity Program.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported Tuesday (June 12) that the homilies, written in Greek, were discovered two months ago in the Bavarian State Library by Marina Pradel, an Italian scholar.

“This is a very important discovery for several reasons,” said Father Heintz, a specialist in the history of Christianity whose own translation of Origen’s homilies is forthcoming from Catholic University of America Press. “Much of the original Greek of Origen’s works has been lost through the centuries, and we have been dependent upon the Latin translations of Rufinus and Jerome. Finding Origen’s work in the original Greek is a rare and wonderful find. Additionally, these may provide one of the earliest (if not the earliest) examples of early Christian preaching on the psalms. This will help us not only better understand Origen’s theology and preaching, but will also help scholars who study the Greek translations of the Old Testament.”

Origen’s crucial role in the development of Christian teaching has been acknowledged by Pope Benedict XVI, who devoted two of his 2007 weekly homilies to the importance of Origen’s life and work.

According to the L’Osservatore Romano article, the scarcity of original texts from Origen is partially due to his condemnation by the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553.

Contact: Father Heintz, 574-631-5682, mheintz1@nd.edu