How ‘science is a ladder to reach the Sky’ : Selection from Gregory Thaumaturgus’ tribute to Origen

Jun 25th, 2011 | By | Category: Excerpts, Featured Articles

Gregory Thumaturgus (213 – 27 AD) intended to study law at Beirut, but along with his brother ended up in Alexandria (modern Egypt) with the famous scholar Origen, head of the Catechical School of Christianity. In his farewell public speech (panegyric) on his master Origen, shortly before leaving Palestine, Gregory of Neoceasarea ( the title ‘Thaumaturgus’ meaning wonder-worker, a title given to him after he became a Bishop after returning to his hometown of Pontius in modern Turkey), praises the methods used by Origen to persuade people to convert to Christianity, including his own conversion. This selection is crucial to understanding how Origen emphasized on scientific understanding as a path to spirituality – particularly Physics, Geometry and Astronomy. It shows quite convincingly that early Christianity stressed upon incorporating elements of the Greek scientific method to its own worldview.

Argument VIII.—Then in Due Succession He Instructs Them in Physics, Geometry, and Astronomy.

Nor did he confine his efforts merely to that form of the mind which it is the lot of the dialectics to regulate;but he also took in hand that humble capacity of mind, (which shows itself) in our amazement at the magnitude, and the wondrousness, and the magnificent and absolutely wise construction of the world, and in our marvelling in a reasonless way, and in our being overpowered with fear, and in our knowing not, like the irrational creatures, what conclusion to come to. That, too, he aroused and corrected by other studies in natural science, illustrating and distinguishing the various divisions of created objects, and with admirable clearness reducing them to their pristine elements, taking them all up perspicuously in his discourse, and going over the nature of the whole, and of each several section, and discussing the multiform revolution and mutation of things in the world, until he carried us fully along with him under his clear teaching; and by those reasonings which he had partly learned from others, and partly found out for himself, he filled our minds with a rational instead of an irrational wonder at the sacred economy of the universe, and irreproveable constitution of all things. This is that sublime and heavenly study which is taught by natural philosophy—a science most attractive to all. And what need is there now to speak of the sacred mathematics, viz., geometry, so precious to all and above all controversy, and astronomy, whose course is on high? These different studies he imprinted on our understandings, training us in them, or calling them into our mind, or doing with us something else which I know not how to designate rightly. And the one he presented lucidly as the immutable groundwork and secure foundation of all, namely geometry; and by the other, namely astronomy, he lifted us up to the things that are highest above us, while he made heaven passable to us by the help of each of these sciences, as though they were ladders reaching the skies.

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