From Textus ReceptusGreek: Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs, or Origen Adamantius, 185–254) was an early Christian African scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church despite not being considered a Church father by most Christians who recognize this distinction. Origen was also largely and ultimately responsible for the coalescence of Christian writings which became the New Testament, even though he had long passed on by the time the post-Constantinian Church officially approved of the twenty-seven with which we are familiar today, and even though he would have likely included, along with the twenty-seven, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, and 1 Clement. He holds this distinction because the canonical choices that were ultimately made seem heavily, if not certainly, influenced by the historical evidences of Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History [3.25;6.25]: Eusebius got most, if not all, of his information about what Christian writings were accepted by the various churches from the writings and library of Origen. According to tradition, he is held to have been an Egyptian who taught in Alexandria, reviving the Catechetical School of Alexandria where Clement of Alexandria had taught. The patriarch of Alexandria at first supported Origen but later expelled him for being ordained without the patriarch's permission. He relocated to Caesarea Maritima and died there after being tortured during a persecution.
Using his knowledge of Hebrew, he produced the Hexapla and a corrected Septuagint. Many who support the King James Version and the Textus Receptus, believe that this was the origin of the Septuagint, and not a mere update. He wrote commentaries on most of the books of the Bible. In De principiis (On First Principles), he articulated one of the first philosophical expositions of Christian doctrine. He interpreted scripture allegorically and developed certain doctrines with similarities to Neo-Pythagorean and Neo-Platonist thought. Like Plotinus, he wrote that the soul passes through successive stages of incarnation before eventually reaching God. He imagined even demons being reunited with God. For Origen, God was the First Principle, and Christ, the Logos, was subordinate to him. His views of a hierarchical structure in the Trinity, the temporality of matter, "the fabulous preexistence of souls," and "the monstrous restoration which follows from it" were declared anathema in the 6th century.
His Greek name, Ōrigénēs (Ὠριγένης), probably means "child of Horus" (from Ὡρος, "Horus", and γένος, "born"). His nickname or cognomen Adamantius derives from Greek ἀδάμας, which means "unconquerable" or "unbreakable".
Origen was educated by his father, Leonides, who gave him a standard Hellenistic education, but also had him study the Christian Scriptures. In 202, Origen's father was killed in the outbreak of the persecution during the reign of Septimius Severus. Legend has it that Origen wished to follow in martyrdom, but was prevented only by his mother hiding his clothes. The death of Leonides left the family of nine impoverished when their property was confiscated. Origen, however, was taken under the protection of a woman of wealth and standing; but as her household already included a heretic named Paul, the strictly orthodox Origen seems to have remained with her only a short time.
Since his father's teaching enabled him also to give elementary instruction, he revived, in 203, the Catechetical School of Alexandria, whose last teacher, Clement of Alexandria, was apparently driven out by the persecution. But the persecution still raged, and the young teacher unceasingly visited the prisoners, attended the courts, and comforted the condemned, himself preserved from harm as if by a miracle. His fame and the number of his pupils increased rapidly, so that Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria, made him restrict himself to instruction in Christian doctrine alone.
Origen, to be entirely independent, sold his library for a sum which netted him a daily income of 4 obols, on which he lived by exercising the utmost frugality. Teaching throughout the day, he devoted the greater part of the night to the study of the Bible and lived a life of rigid asceticism.
Eusebius reported that Origen, following Matthew 19:12 literally, castrated himself. This story was accepted during the Middle Ages and was cited by Abelard in his 12th century letters to Heloise. Scholars within the past century have questioned this, surmising that this may have been a rumor circulated by his detractors. The 1903 Catholic Encyclopedia does not report this. However, renowned historian of late antiquity Peter Brown finds no reason to deny the truth of Eusebius' claims.
During the reign of emperor Caracalla, about 211-212, Origen paid a brief visit to Rome, but the relative laxity during the pontificate of Zephyrinus seems to have disillusioned him, and on his return to Alexandria he resumed his teaching with zeal increased by the contrast. But the school had far outgrown the strength of a single man; the catechumens pressed eagerly for elementary instruction, and the baptized sought for interpretation of the Bible. Under these circumstances, Origen entrusted the teaching of the catechumens to Heraclas, the brother of the martyr Plutarch, his first pupil.
His own interests became more and more centered in exegesis, and he accordingly studied Hebrew, though there is no certain knowledge concerning his instructor in that language. From about this period (212-213) dates Origen's acquaintance with Ambrose of Alexandria, whom he was instrumental in converting from Valentinianism to orthodoxy. Later (about 218) Ambrose, a man of wealth, made a formal agreement with Origen to promulgate his writings, and all the subsequent works of Origen (except his sermons, which were not expressly prepared for publication) were dedicated to Ambrose.
In 213 or 214, Origen visited Arabia at the request of the prefect, who wished to have an interview with him; and Origen accordingly spent a brief time in Petra, after which he returned to Alexandria. In the following year, a popular uprising at Alexandria caused Caracalla to let his soldiers plunder the city, shut the schools, and expel all foreigners. The latter measure caused Ambrose to take refuge in Caesarea, where he seems to have made his permanent home; and Origen left Egypt, apparently going with Ambrose to Caesarea, where he spent some time. Here, in conformity with local usage based on Jewish custom, Origen, though not ordained, preached and interpreted the Scriptures at the request of the bishops Alexander of Jerusalem and Theoctistus of Caesarea. When, however, the confusion in Alexandria subsided, Demetrius recalled Origen, probably in 216.
Of Origen's activity during the next decade little is known, but it was probably devoted to teaching and writing. The latter was rendered the more easy for him by Ambrose, who provided him with more than seven stenographers to take dictation in relays, as many scribes to prepare long-hand copies, and a number of girls to multiply the copies. At the request of Ambrose, he now began a huge commentary on the Bible, beginning with John, and continuing with Genesis, Psalms 1-25, and Lamentations, besides brief exegeses of selected texts (forming the ten books of his Stromateis), two books on the resurrection, and the work On First Principles.
Conflict with Demetrius and removal to Caesarea
About 230, Origen entered on the fateful journey which was to compel him to give up his work at Alexandria and embittered the next years of his life. Sent to Greece on some ecclesiastical mission, he paid a visit to Caesarea, where he was heartily welcomed and was ordained a priest, that no further cause for criticism might be given Demetrius, who had strongly disapproved his preaching before ordination while at Caesarea. But Demetrius, taking this well-meant act as an infringement of his rights, was furious, for not only was Origen under his jurisdiction as bishop of Alexandria, but, if Eastern sources may be believed, Demetrius had been the first to introduce episcopal ordination in Egypt. The metropolitan accordingly convened a synod of bishops and presbyters which banished Origen from Alexandria, while a second synod declared his ordination invalid.
Origen accordingly fled from Alexandria in 231, and made his permanent home in Caesarea. A series of attacks on him seems to have emanated from Alexandria, whether for his self-castration (a capital crime in Roman law) or for alleged heterodoxy is unknown; but at all events these fulminations were heeded only at Rome, while Palestine, Phoenicia, Arabia, and Achaia paid no attention to them.
At Alexandria, Heraclas became head of Origen's school, and shortly afterward, on the death of Demetrius, was consecrated bishop. At Caesarea, Origen was joyfully received, and was also the guest of Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and of the empress-dowager, Julia Mamaea, at Antioch. The former also visited him at Caesarea, where Origen, deeply loved by his pupils, preached and taught dialectics, physics, ethics, and metaphysics; thus laying his foundation for the crowning theme of theology.
He accordingly sought to set forth all the science of the time from the Christian point of view, and to elevate Christianity to a theory of the Universe compatible with Hellenism. In 235, with the accession of Maximinus Thrax, a persecution raged; and for two years Origen is said, though on somewhat doubtful authority, to have remained concealed in the house of a certain Juliana in Caesarea of Cappadocia.
Little is known of the last twenty years of Origen's life. He preached regularly on Wednesdays and Fridays, and later daily. He evidently, however, developed an extraordinary literary productivity, broken by occasional journeys; one of which, to Athens during some unknown year, was of sufficient length to allow him time for research.
After his return from Athens, he succeeded in converting Beryllus, bishop of Bostra, from his adoptionistic (i.e., belief that Jesus was born human and only became divine after his baptism) views to the orthodox faith; yet in these very years (about 240) probably occurred the attacks on Origen's own orthodoxy which compelled him to defend himself in writing to Pope Fabian and many bishops. Neither the source nor the object of these attacks is known, though the latter may have been connected with Novatianism (a strict refusal to accept Christians who had denied their faith under persecution).
After his conversion of Beryllus, however, his aid was frequently invoked against heresies. Thus, when the doctrine was promulgated in Arabia that the soul died and decayed with the body, being restored to life only at the resurrection (see soul sleep), appeal was made to Origen, who journeyed to Arabia, and by his preaching reclaimed the erring.
There was second outbreak of the Antonine Plague, which at its height in 251 to 266 took the lives of 5,000 a day in Rome. This time it was called the Plague of Cyprian. Emperor Gaius Messius Quintus Decius, believing the plague to be a product of magic, caused by the failure of Christians to recognize him as Divine, began Christian persecutions. This time Origen did not escape. He was tortured, pilloried, and bound hand and foot to the block for days without yielding. Though he did not die while being tortured, he died three years later due to injuries sustained at the age of 69. A later legend, recounted by Jerome and numerous itineraries place his death and burial at Tyre, but to this little value can be attached.
According to Epiphanius, Origen wrote about 6,000 works (i.e., rolls or chapters). A list was given by Eusebius in his lost Life of Pamphilus, which was apparently known to Jerome. These fall into four classes: textual criticism; exegesis; systematic, practical, and apologetic theology; and letters; besides certain spurious works.
By far the most important work of Origen on textual criticism was the Hexapla, a comparative study of various translations of the Old Testament.
The full text of the Hexapla is no longer extant. Some portions were discovered in Milan indicating that at least some individual parts existed much longer than was previously thought. The Hexapla has been referred to by later manuscripts and authors, and represented the precursor to the parallel bible.
The Tetrapla was an abbreviation of the Hexapla in which Origen placed only the translations (Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and the Septuagint) in parallels.
He was likewise keenly conscious of the textual difficulties in the manuscripts of the New Testament, although he never wrote definitely on this subject. In his exegetical writings he frequently alludes to the variant readings, but his habit of making rough citations in his dictation, the verification being left to the scribes, renders it impossible to deduce his text from his commentaries. Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 6.25.7 strongly implies Origen disputed the authenticity of the Letters of Paul when he wrote that Paul did not write to all the churches that he taught and even to the ones he wrote he only sent a few lines. However, Origen's own writings refer often to the words of Paul.
The exegetical writings of Origen fall into three classes:
- scholia, or brief summaries of the meaning of difficult passages
- "books", or commentaries in the strict sense of the term.
Jerome states that there were scholia on Leviticus, Psalms i.-xv., Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and part of John. The Stromateis were of a similar character, and the margin of Codex Athous Laura, 184, contains citations from this work on Rom. 9:23; I Cor. 6:14, 7:31, 34, 9:20-21, 10:9, besides a few other fragments.
Homilies on almost the entire Bible were prepared by Origen, these being taken down after his sixtieth year as he preached. It is not improbable that Origen gave no attention to supervising the publication of his homilies, for only by such a hypothesis can the numerous evidences of carelessness in diction be explained. The exegesis of the homilies was simpler than that of the scientific commentaries, but nevertheless demanded no mean degree of intelligence from the auditor. Origen's chief aim was the practical exposition of the text, verse by verse; and while in such barren books as Leviticus and Numbers he sought to allegorize, the wealth of material in the prophets seldom rendered it necessary for him to seek meanings deeper than the surface afforded. Whether the sermons were delivered in series, or the homilies on a single book were collected from various series, is unknown. The homilies preserved are on Genesis (17), Exodus (13), Leviticus (18), Numbers (28), Joshua (16), Judges (9), I Sam. (2), Psalms xxxvi-xxviii (9), Canticles (2), Isaiah (9), Jeremiah (7 Greek, 2 Latin, 12 Greek and Latin), Ezekiel (14), and Luke (39).
Extant commentaries of Origen
The object of Origen's commentaries was to give an exegesis that discriminated strictly against historical significance, in favour of a "hidden" spiritual truth. At the same time, he neglected neither philological nor geographical, historical nor antiquarian material, to all of which he devoted numerous excursuses.
In his commentary on John he constantly considered the exegesis of the Valentinian Heracleon (probably at the instance of Ambrose), and in many other places he implied or expressly cited Gnostic views and refuted them.
Unfortunately, only meagre fragments of the commentaries have survived. Besides the citations in the Philocalia, which include fragments of the third book of the commentary on Genesis, Ps. i, iv.1, the small commentary on Canticles, and the second book of the large commentary on the same, the twentieth book of the commentary on Ezekiel, and the commentary on Hosea, and of the commentary on John, only books i, ii, x, xiii, xx, xxviii, xxxii, and a fragment of xix. have been preserved. The commentary on Romans is extant only in the abbreviated version of Rufinus, though some Greek fragments also exist. The eight books preserved of the commentary on Matthew likewise seem to be either a brief reworking or a rough outline.
Codex Vaticanus 1215 gives the division of the twenty-five books of the commentary on Ezekiel, and part of the arrangement of the commentary on Isaiah (beginnings of books VI, VIII, XVI; book X extends from Isa. viii.1 to ix.7; XI from ix.8, to x.11; XII, from x.12 to x.23; XIII from x.24 to xi.9; XIV from xi.10 to xii.6; XV from xiii.1 to xiii.16; XXI from xix.1 to xix.17; XXII from xix.18 to xx.6; XXIII from xxi.1 to xxi.17; XXIV from xxii.1 to xxii.25; XXV from xxiii.1 to xxiii.18; XXVI from xxiv.1 to xxv.12; XXVII from xxvi.1 to xxvi.15; XXVIII from xxvi.16 to xxvii.11a; XXIX from xxvii.11b to xxviii.29; and XXX treats of xxix.1 sqq.).
Codex Athous Laura 184, in like manner, gives the division of the fifteen books of the commentary on Romans (except XI and XII) and of the five books on Galatians, as well as the extent of the commentaries on Philippians and Corinthians (Romans I from 1:1 to 1:7; II from 1:8 to 1:25; III from 1:26 to 2:11; IV from 2:12 to 3:15; V from 3:16 to 3:31; VI from 4:1 to 5:7; VII from 5:8 to 5:16; VIII from 5:17 to 6:15; IX from 6:16 to 8:8; X from 8:9 to 8:39; XIII from 11:13 to 12:15; XIV from 12:16 to 14:10; XV from 14:11 to the end; Galatians I from 1:1 to 2:2; II from 2:3 to 3:4; III from 3:5 to 4:5; IV from 4:6 to 5:5; and V from 5:6 to 6:18; the commentary on Philippians extended to 4:1; and on Ephesians to 4:13).
Dogmatic, practical, and apologetic writings
Among the systematic, practical, and apologetic writings of Origen, mention should first be made of his work On First Principles, perhaps written for his more advanced pupils at Alexandria and probably composed between 212 and 215. It is extant only in the free translation of Rufinus, except for fragments of the third and fourth books preserved in the Philokalia, and smaller citations in Justinian's letter to Mennas.
In the first book the author considers God, the Logos, the Holy Ghost, reason, and the angels; in the second the world and man (including the incarnation of the Logos, the soul, free will, and eschatology); in the third, the doctrine of sin and redemption; and in the fourth, the Scriptures; the whole being concluded with a résumé of the entire system. The work is noteworthy as the first endeavor to present Christianity as a complete theory of the universe, and was designed to remove the difficulties felt by many Christians concerning the essential basis of their faith.
Earlier in date than this treatise were the two books on the resurrection (now lost, a fate which has also befallen two dialogues on the same theme) dedicated to Ambrose. After his removal to Caesarea, Origen wrote the works, still extant, On Prayer, On Martyrdom, and Against Celsus. The first of these was written shortly before 235 (or possibly before 230), and, after an introduction on the object, necessity, and advantage of prayer, ends with an exegesis of the Lord's Prayer, concluding with remarks on the position, place, and attitude to be assumed during prayer, as well as on the classes of prayer.
The persecution of Maximinus was the occasion of the composition of the On Martyrdom, which is preserved in the Exhortation to Martyrdom. In it, Origen warns against any trifling with idolatry and emphasizes the duty of suffering martyrdom manfully; while in the second part he explains the meaning of martyrdom. The eight books against Celsus, Contra Celsum  were written in 248 in reply to the polemic of the pagan philosopher against Christianity.
Eusebius had a collection of more than one hundred letters of Origen, and the list of Jerome speaks of several books of his epistles. Except for a few fragments, only a short letter to Gregory Thaumaturgus and the epistle to Sextus Julius Africanus (defending the authenticity of the Greek additions to the book of Daniel) have been preserved.
For forgeries of the writings of Origen made in his lifetime cf. Rufinus, De adulteratione librorum Origenis. The Dialogus de recta in Deum fide, the Philosophumena of Hippolytus of Rome, and the Commentary on Job by Julian of Halicarnassus have also been ascribed to him.
Philosophical and religious
Origen, allegedly trained in the school of Clement and by his father, has long been considered essentially a Platonist with occasional traces of Stoic philosophy. Mark J Edwards has argued that many of Origen's positions are more properly Aristotelian than strictly Platonic (for instance, his philosophical anthropology). Nonetheless, he was thus a pronounced idealist, as one regarding all things temporal and material as insignificant and indifferent, the only real and eternal things being comprised in the idea. He therefore regards as the purely ideal center of this spiritual and eternal world, God, the pure reason, whose creative powers call into being the world with matter as the necessary substratum.
Origen's cosmology is complicated, but he seems to have held that souls existed prior to becoming embodied in an ideal state, and only on account of their own negligence did they fall. This is in fact the impetus for creation, and a repeated trope in Origen is his insistence that diversity is the by-product of the free-will of souls. Thus, material creation is at least implicitly of a lesser ontological category than the immaterial, or spiritual, and the heavy material bodies that man assumes after the fall will eventually be cast off. Origen, however, still insisted on a bodily resurrection, but in contrast to Athenagoras, who believed that earthly bodies would be precisely reconstituted in the hereafter, Origen argued that Paul's notion of a flourishing spiritual body is more appropriate.
He was, indeed, a rigid adherent of the Bible, making no statement without adducing some Scriptural basis. To him the Bible was divinely inspired, as was proved both by the fulfilment of prophecy and by the immediate impression which the Scriptures made on those who read them. Since the divine Logos spoke in the Scriptures, they were an organic whole and on every occasion he combatted the Gnostic tenet of the inferiority of the Old Testament.
In his exegesis, Origen sought to discover the deeper meaning implied in the Scriptures. One of his chief methods was the translation of proper names, which enabled him, like Philo, to find a deep meaning even in every event of history (see hermeneutics), but at the same time he insisted on an exact grammatical interpretation of the text as the basis of all exegesis.
A strict adherent of the Church, Origen yet distinguished sharply between the ideal and the empirical Church, representing "a double church of men and angels", or, in Platonic phraseology, the lower church and its celestial ideal. The ideal Church alone was the Church of Christ, scattered over all the earth; the other provided also a shelter for sinners. Holding that the Church, as being in possession of the mysteries, affords the only means of salvation, he was indifferent to her external organization, although he spoke sometimes of the office-bearers as the pillars of the Church, and of their heavy duties and responsibilities.
More important to him was the idea borrowed from Plato of the grand division between the great human multitude, capable of sensual vision only, and those who know how to comprehend the hidden meaning of Scripture and the diverse mysteries, church organization being for the former only.
It is doubtful whether Origen possessed an obligatory creed; at any rate, such a confession of faith was not a norm like the inspired word of Scripture. The reason, illumined by the divine Logos, which is able to search the secret depths of the divine nature, remains as the only source of knowledge.
Theological and dogmatic
Origen's conception of God is apophatic—God is a perfect unity, invisible and incorporeal, transcending all things material, and therefore inconceivable and incomprehensible. He is likewise unchangeable, and transcends space and time. But his power is limited by his goodness, justice, and wisdom; and, though entirely free from necessity, his goodness and omnipotence constrained him to reveal himself.
This revelation, the external self-emanation of God, is expressed by Origen in various ways, the Logos being only one of many. Revelation was the first creation of God (cf. Prov. viii. 22), in order to afford creative mediation between God and the world, such mediation being necessary, because God, as changeless unity, could not be the source of a multitudinous creation.
The Logos is the rational creative principle that permeates the universe. Since God eternally manifests himself, the Logos is likewise eternal. He forms a bridge between the created and uncreated, and only through him, as the visible representative of divine wisdom, can the inconceivable and incorporeal God be known. Creation came into existence only through the Logos, and God's nearest approach to the world is the command to create. While the Logos is substantially a unity, he comprehends a multiplicity of concepts, so that Origen terms him, in Platonic fashion, "essence of essences" and "idea of ideas".
The defense of the unity of God against the Gnostics led Origen to maintain the subordination of the Logos to God, and the doctrine of the eternal generation is later. Origen distinctly emphasised the independence of the Logos as well as the distinction from the being and substance of God. The term "of the same substance with the Father" was not employed. The Logos (and the Holy Spirit also) however, does share in the divinity of God. He is an image, a reflex of God, in which God communicates his divinity, as light radiating from the sun.
The Logos doctrine and cosmology
The activity of the Logos was conceived by Origen in Platonic fashion, as the world soul, wherein God manifested his omnipotence. His first creative act was the divine spirit, as an independent existence; and partial reflexes of the Logos were the created rational beings, who, as they had to revert to the perfect God as their background, must likewise be perfect; yet their perfection, unlike in kind with that of God, the Logos, and the divine spirit, had to be attained. The freedom of the will is an essential fact of the reason, notwithstanding the foreknowledge of God. The Logos, eternally creative, forms an endless series of finite, comprehensible worlds, which are mutually alternative. Combining the Stoic doctrine of a universe without beginning with the Biblical doctrine of the beginning and the end of the world, he conceived of the visible world as the stages of an eternal cosmic process, affording also an explanation of the diversity of human fortunes, rewards, and punishments. The material world, which at first had no place in this eternal spiritual progression, was due to the fall of the spirits from God, the first being the serpent, who was imprisoned in matter and body. The ultimate aim of God in the creation of matter out of nothing was not punishment, but the upraising of the fallen spirits. Man's accidental being is rooted in transitory matter, but his higher nature is formed in the image of the Creator. The soul is divided into the rational and the irrational, the latter being material and transitory, while the former, incorporeal and immaterial, possesses freedom of the will and the power to reascend to purer life. The strong ethical import of this cosmic process can not remain unnoticed. The return to original being through divine reason is the object of the entire cosmic process. Through the worlds which follow each other in eternal succession, the spirits are able to return to Paradise. God so ordered the universe that all individual acts work together toward one cosmic end which culminates in himself. Likewise as to Origen's anthropology, man conceived in the image of God is able by imitating God in good works to become like God, if he first recognizes his own weakness and trusts all to the divine goodness. He is aided by guardian angels, but more especially by the Logos who operates through saints and prophets in proportion to the constitution of these and man's capacity.
The culmination of this gradual revelation is the universal revelation of Christ. In Christ, God, hitherto manifest only as the Lord, appeared as the Father. The incarnation of the Logos, moreover, was necessary since otherwise he would not be intelligible to sensual man; but the indwelling of the Logos remained a mystery, which could be represented only by the analogy of his indwelling in the saints; nor could Origen fully explain it. He speaks of a "remarkable body", and in his opinion that the mortal body of Jesus was transformed by God into an ethereal and divine body, Origen approximated the Docetism that he otherwise abhorred. His concept of the soul of Jesus is likewise uncertain and wavering. He proposes the question whether it was not originally perfect with God but, emanating from him, at his command assumed a material body. As he conceived matter as merely the universal limit of created spirits, so would it be impossible to state in what form the two were combined. He dismissed the solution by referring it to the mystery of the divine governance of the universe. More logically did he declare the material nature of the world to be merely an episode in the spiritual process of development, whose end should be the annihilation of all matter and return to God, who should again be all in all. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body he upholds by the explanation that the Logos maintains the unity of man's existence by ever changing his body into new forms, thus preserving the unity and identity of personality in harmony with the tenet of an endless cosmic process. Origen's concept of the Logos allowed him to make no definite statement on the redemptive work of Jesus. Since sin was ultimately only negative as a lack of pure knowledge, the activity of Jesus was essentially example and instruction, and his human life was only incidental as contrasted with the immanent cosmic activity of the Logos. Origen regarded the death of Jesus as a sacrifice, paralleling it with other cases of self-sacrifice for the general good. On this, Origen's accord with the teachings of the Church was merely superficial.
His idealizing tendency to consider the spiritual alone as real, fundamental to his entire system, led him to combat the "rude" or "crude" Chiliasm (see Christian eschatology) of a sensual beyond. His position on the literal resurrection of physical bodies is difficult, but in both the Contra Celsum and On First Principles, Origen affirms some form of bodily resurrection, but eschews the notion that earthly bodies will be raised, on account of their gross materiality. Yet he constrained himself from breaking entirely with the distinct celestial hopes and representations of Paradise prevalent in the Church. He represents a progressive purification of souls, until, cleansed of all clouds of evil, they should know the truth and God as the Son knew him, see God face to face, and attain a full possession of the Holy Spirit and union with God. The means of attainment of this end were described by Origen in different ways, the most important of which was his concept of a purifying fire which should cleanse the world of evil and thus lead to cosmic renovation. By a further spiritualization Origen could call God himself this consuming fire. In proportion as the souls were freed from sin and ignorance, the material world was to pass away, until, after endless eons, at the final end, God should be all in all, and the worlds and spirits should return to a knowledge of God, in Greek this is called Apokatastasis.
In Origen the Christian Church had its first theologian. His teaching was not merely theoretical, but was also imbued with an intense ethical power. To the multitude to whom his instruction was beyond grasp, he left mediating images and symbols, as well as the final goal of attainment. In Origen Christianity blended with the pagan philosophy in which lived the desire for truth and the longing after God. When he died, however, he left no pupil who could succeed him, nor was the church of his period able to become his heir, and thus, his knowledge was buried. Three centuries later his very name was stricken from the books of the Church; yet in the monasteries of the Greeks his influence still lived on, as the spiritual father of Greek monasticism.
Origen's influence on the later church
For quite some time, Origen was counted as one of the most important church fathers and his works were widely used in the church. His exegetical method was standard of the School of Alexandria and the Origenists were an important party in the 4th century debates on Arianism.
Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, e.g., compiled in their first monastery the Philokalia, a collection of Origen's work, though both of them neither adopted Origenism nor used the Alexandrian allegoric exegesis.
Origen supported the early Church Fathers majority position on Universal Salvation, a position held by the most respected of the Church Fathers and 4 of the six schools of thought. The doctrines of the Apostles were now under attack and was overturned by a state-influenced Church under Constantine. In its place, the church began to teach the tradition of eternal torment. The position on Universal Salvation was the majority position of the Early Church Fathers until the 5th century. It was at this time Origen was declared a heretic.
The anathema against him in his person, declaring him (among others) a heretic, reads as follows:
- If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their impious writings, as also all other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and by the aforesaid four Holy Synods and [if anyone does not equally anathematize] all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema.
As a result of this condemnation, the writings of Origen supporting his teachings in these areas were destroyed. They were either outright destroyed, or they were translated with the appropriate adjustments to eliminate conflict with orthodox Christian doctrine. Therefore, little direct evidence remains to fully confirm or disprove Origen’s support of the nine points of anathema against him.
Anathemas (544, 553)
Origen and a form of apocatastasis were condemned at the Synod of Constantinople (543) by the Patriarch Mennas of Constantinople and the condemnation was ratified in 553 by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Many heteroclite views became associated with Origen, and the 15 anathemas against him attributed to the council condemn a form of apocatastasis along with the pre-existence of the soul, animism (a heterodox Christology), and a denial of real and lasting resurrection of the body. Some authorities believe these anathemas belong to an earlier local synod.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council has been contested as being an official and authorized Ecumenical Council, as it was established not by the Pope, but the Emperor Justinian because of the Pope's resistance to it. The Fifth Ecumenical Council addressed what was called "The Three Chapters" and was against a form of Origenism which truly had nothing to do with Origen and Origenist views. In fact, Popes Vigilius, Pelagius I (556-61), Pelagius II (579-90), and Gregory the Great (590-604) were only aware the Fifth Council specifically dealt with the Three Chapters and make no mention of Origenism or Universalism, nor spoke as if they knew of its condemnation even though Gregory the Great was opposed to the belief of universalism.
The Emperor Justinian chose the theory of eternal damnation over Apokatastasis and the underlying need for purification of all souls through multiple incarnations.
Origen in the 1970s
The book Reincarnation in Christianity, by the theosophist Geddes MacGregor (1978) asserted that Origen believed in reincarnation. MacGregor is convinced that Origen believed in and taught about reincarnation but that his texts written about the subject have been destroyed. He admits that there is no extant proof for that position. The allegation was also repeated by Shirley MacLaine in her book Out On a Limb.
There is, however, no evidence that Origen believed in reincarnation. He wrote about the Greeks' transmigration of the soul, with which he did not agree. This can be confirmed from the extant writings of Origen. He was cognizant of the concept of transmigration (metensomatosis transformation, and loses what it once was, the human soul will not be what it was ) from Greek philosophy, but it is repeatedly stated that this concept is not a part of the Christian teaching or scripture. In his Comment on the Gospel of Matthew, which stems from a 6th century Latin translation, it is written: "In this place [when Jesus said Elijah was come and referred to John the Baptist] it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I fall into the doctrine of transmigration, which is foreign to the Church of God, and not handed down by the apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the scriptures" (ibid., 13:1:46–53 ).
Reluctantly he remains a Father of the Church, and this can be seen best in the commentaries of Tyrannius Rufinus, who visibly struggled with his task of transcribing Origen’s works into Latin and the new Roman dogma and made extensive changes to the original text.
His thought on the Old Testament was an important link in the development of the medieval system of Typology.
A recent homily by the Pope (2007) suggests that he has been fully rehabilitated at least in the eyes of Benedict XVI
- Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition: 100-600. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
- The Commentary of Origen On S. John's Gospel, the text revised and with a critical introduction and indices by A. (Alan) E. (England) Brooke. Provost of King's College and noted biblical scholar. Two Volumes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.1896
- Analysis and Criticism
- Derivative Summaries
- EarlyChurch.org.uk Extensive bibliography and on-line articles.
- Original Texts
- Other Resources