Human dignity from social attribute to universal potentiality
: the Latin reception of Origen's thought in the 4th Century

  • Sara Contini

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The dissertation assesses the meanings attributed to the term dignitas ("dignity") in the Latin translations of Origen of Alexandria made by Rufinus and Jerome, as well as in other Latin Christian texts of the 4th century which, to different degrees, show the reception of Origen's exegesis of Genesis 1:26-27. Particular focus is placed on instances where "dignity" refers to humanity as a whole, as is the case with Rufinus' translation of Origen, De Principiis 3 .6.1: this usage of dignitas appears as an exception when compared to most other occurrences of the term in Latin literature, as dignitas is normally attributed only to individuals or to specific groups of people. The aim of this study is thus to shed light on the way in which Origen' s thoughts on the relationship between God and human beings, as mediated by the Latin translators, contributed to a shift towards a new universalizing understanding of dignitas.

The investigation has shown that the connection between terms signifying "dignity" and views on humankind expressed in Origen' s exegesis of Genesis 1 :26-27, although occasionally present already in Origen himself, was established in the second half of the 4th century by writers such as Jerome, Rufinus, and Hilary of Poitiers. These Christian authors are the first Latin writers to employ the term dignitas to denote the universal potential of humans as reasonable and free beings created according to the image of God. The contribution offered by the Latin reception of Origen to the history of the idea of human dignity was, based on Orig en's notion of the universal reach of God's love encompassing all his creation, to problematise the elitism and individualism associated with Classical views on dignitas and thus to connect the traditional individual and hierarchical understanding of dignitas as rank to this new universalising and egalitarian perspective.

Date of Award27 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SponsorsEuropean Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) & OeAD Austrian Agency for Education and Internationalisation
SupervisorKarla Pollmann (Supervisor) & Ellen C. O'Gorman (Supervisor)


  • Human dignity
  • Early Christianity

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