Only now, with my academic term ended and grades submitted, have I gotten around to reading your review of A. N. Williams’s The Divine Sense: The Intellect in Patristic Theology (Yale, 2007); thank you for sending it. This does indeed seem a title I should have a look at sometime. As it happens I just recently browsed her Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (Oxford, 1999) and found parts of it helpful, though of course it’s dry as dust like every scholarly tome!
I was struck by this line in your review: “[Williams] compares Origen’s concept of purgatory to a ‘graduate school of theology’ for those who ‘majored in wisdom up to the intermediate level’ during their lives.” And it reminded me of a delightful piece by Nicholas Constas, a Harvard professor of Byzantine studies who abandoned academia three or four years ago and is now a monk on Mount Athos. I met him on the Holy Mountain last summer, and shortly afterward he sent me a very fine essay, “‘To Sleep, Perchance to Dream’: The Middle State of Souls in Patristic and Byzantine Literature” (Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 2001), in which he extends Origen’s educational metaphor even further, with the help of another sage of the Catechetical School:
“Clement of Alexandria … also viewed salvation as a process of growth, understood largely as a system of education. For Clement, the death of the body is a change for the better and marks an advance in the gnostic science of God. After death souls will be educated by angels in a seminar scheduled to last for a thousand years. Upon completion of their studies, graduating souls are transformed into angels and given teaching responsibilities over incoming freshmen, while their former teachers receive promotion to the rank of archangel. The martyrs, having already taken their advanced degrees through earthly correspondence courses, constitute a class of eschatological elites and are conducted immediately with full tenure into the presence of God.”
I confess there are days when I suspect that if academia does have any postmortem parallel it must be of the infernal sort! It’s reassuring to think there might just be a supernal prolongation, and presumably rectification, of all this present silliness!