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  • Visions of Christ: The Anthropomorphite Controversy of 399 C.E by Paul A. Patterson
  • Brian Matz
Paul A. Patterson Visions of Christ: The Anthropomorphite Controversy of 399 c.e. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 68 Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012 Pp. 179. €49.00.

The anthropomorphites finally have their own book. Patterson has accomplished precisely what he set out to do, which was to give voice to a movement lost in the seemingly contradictory texts about them in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. From the very first paragraph, the reader is aware of precisely what [End Page 469] this revised dissertation is about. It is a defense of the interpretation that the anthropomorphites were interested in connecting via prayer with the eternal, divine body of the Son of God. Naturally, it helps to know that there existed an anthropomorphite controversy before picking up the book, but even if the reader does not, Patterson does a particularly good job of getting the reader up to speed by organizing the secondary literature review in a remarkably readable way. Previous scholarship is grouped into teams, primarily defined by the era in which they were written (e.g., pre- or post- the 1883 publication of the Life of Apa Aphou of Pemdje). The book—here, especially, but throughout—repeatedly highlights the author’s position in light of the work of other scholars and in light of the early Christian literature connected to the controversy. Indeed, a reader cannot go more than three or four pages without being reminded of precisely what is at stake in one interpretation or another of the various texts of the controversy.

Another beneficial feature of the book is its careful reading of the early Christian literature traditionally associated with the controversy. This spans Chapters Two and Three, and the author reveals his excellent facility with the various research languages. Not just paragraphs, but individual words and key phrases are analyzed in great detail. Patterson reminds us that these texts have been studied extensively, and so both types of readers (those intimately familiar with the controversy and those who are not) are drawn in by this book’s focus on different ways to interpret the relevant texts, including the case being made by Patterson for his own approach.

By the end of Chapter Three, the various agendas of the early Christian authors are laid bare, and one wonders whether or not any synthesis could really even emerge from the existing evidence. That is when the reader is treated to the real treasure of this book. In Chapters Four and Five, Patterson treads into largely uncharted waters. He picks up where he believes Alexander Golitzin had left off in his trilogy of articles on the same controversy (see 20–24), where Golitzin had proposed some connections between the anthropomorphites and Nag Hammadi literature, intertestamental Jewish literature, and Philo. Although all the evidence of some connection is circumstantial, this book nevertheless documents at least six passages in the Nag Hammadi literature that connect the divine body of the Son of God to the light that appeared on the first day of creation. According to Patterson, Gospel of Thomas 77 is particularly helpful in illuminating the anthropomorphite ideas expressed in the Life of Apa Aphou. Patterson has made a convincing case for at least incorporating this and other passages in Nag Hammadi literature into the mix of literature surrounding the controversy. And when one does, it seems difficult to hold any longer to the traditional interpretation of the controversy, namely that the anthropomorphites were simple-minded Origenists itching for a fight with their archbishop.

Having said this last point, my one complaint with the book is that it repeatedly assumes the reader knows something of the Origenist controversy. It uses the terms “Origenist” and “anti-Origenist” in ways that assume the reader knows these terms intimately. The uninitiated reader is left to make what he or she can from the book’s very first footnote—which says that Origenism in Egypt was equivalent to the teachings of Evagrius—and from the several passages in [End Page 470] Chapter Two in which Evagrius’s ideas are discussed. This...


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