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Book: Critical Theory and Early Christianity

Chapter: 15. Mattering Bodies: Animacy and Justice in Origen’s On First Principles

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30160


In his On First Principles, the popular second-century Christian philosopher-ascetic, Origen of Alexandria, develops a complex cosmology—rooted in neo-platonic philosophy and buttressed by Christian theology—in which all matter in the universe is imbued with intellect and reason. Because of this all matter also has the ability to unify itself with a creator God that it shares a part of its intellect with. That all matter possesses intellect and reason, and simultaneously free will, complicates ideals of animacy, both ancient and contemporary alike. Philosopher Judith Butler has been criticized for her abjection of matter—more specifically, bodily matter—into the realm of language and discourse thereby rendering the materiality of existence as discursive. In this paper, Mena considers Butler’s theories as well as the relationships between language, bodily matter, and human identity as theorized by Butler as well as Mel Chen, José Esteban Muñoz, and Sonia Hazard. Mena utilizes these theorists’ works, in tandem with other more recent approaches in gender and feminist scholarship under the umbrella of “new materialism,” in order to develop an understanding of Origen’s cosmology that sheds light on contemporary indifferences toward particular bodies. Furthermore, Mena considers the function and implications of assigning particular degrees of animacy to different bodies. Ultimately, Mena demonstrates that in Origen’s On First Principles, and likewise in Platonic works like the Timaeus, one can glean a complex cosmology that accounts for bodily differences that is both discursive and attuned to the materiality of human existence.

Chapter Contributors

  • Peter Mena ( - pmena) 'Phillips Seminary'