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The Contemplation of the Transcendent Heart: Tracing the ἡγεμονικόν from the Stoics to Origen



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Tolan, Daniel 


Origen incorporates the Stoic concept of the ἡγεμονικόν, ‘governing faculty’, into his psychology and ethics as the transcendent heart. Origen, who stands at the watershed between ‘middle’ and ‘neo’ Platonism, provides us with a distinctive perspective on how late antique thinkers were able to recraft materialist terms within a transcendent metaphysic. Origen’s discussions of the governing faculty frequently emerge out of biblical discussions of the heart, not least because of the Stoic identification of the governing faculty with the physical heart. The first chapter establishes Origen’s understanding of the soul within a strand of Hellenistic Judaism. Crucially for the theme of transcendence, Origen asserts that both God and the soul are immaterial. God and created ‘being’ differ, because ‘being’ bears some form of embodiment. The soul relates to the body analogously. The second chapter discusses De Principiis III.1, ‘Περὶ αὐτεξουσίου’. It establishes Origen’s understanding of the scala naturae and discusses Origen’s four-fold theory of motion; the self-reflexive movement of motion ‘through’ the self is the hallmark of rationality. Origen’s account of free, rational movement is established upon a distinctly Epictetus-inspired interpretation of Stoicism; this is particularly true in the light of Origen’s use of the key term dogma. The third chapter is a word-study of ‘governing faculty’. Here, we observe, in greater detail, the way in which the governing faculty stands as an isthmus between spiritual and material substance. Origen utilises the Stoic language of physical sensation in order to discuss the way in which the Logos is experienced spiritually, or immaterially, when It dwells in our governing faculty, rendering us ‘eyewitnesses’ of God. For Origen, the telos of life is to harmonise the motions of our soul with the motus Dei and to lift our governing faculty to Him.





Hedley, Douglas


Stoicism, Platonism, Origen, Motion, kinesis, Epictetus, free will, self-determination, contemplation


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge