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He was admired and hated in his own lifetime and afterwards. Jerome called him the second teacher of the church after Paul.

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The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Philip Schaff Vol. VIII:
abridged and edited for clarity.
ORIGEN (ORIGENES ADAMANTIUS) C. 182–C. 251
Alexandrian theologian

I. Life

Early Training

Origen, one of the most distinguished of the Fathers of the early Church, was born, prob-ably at Alexandria, about 182; and died at Cæsarea not later than 251. His full name was apparently Origenes Adamantius; and he received from his father, Leonides, thorough instruction in the Bible and in elementary studies. But in 202 the outbreak of the persecution of Septimius Severus robbed Origen of his father, whom he sought to follow in martyrdom, being prevented only by a ruse of his mother. The death of Leonides left the family of nine impoverished, their property being 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 but a short time. Since his father's teaching enabled him also to give elementary instruction, he revived, in 203, the catechetical school at Alexandria, whose last teacher, Clement, 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 Demetrius, bishop 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 (about twelve cents) 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. This he carried to such an extent that, fearing that his position as a teacher of women as well as men might give ground for scandal to the heathen, he followed literally Matt. xix. 12, I quote:
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
He was also partly influenced by his belief that the Christian must follow the words of his Master without reserve. Later in life, however, he saw reason to judge differently concerning his extreme act.

Teacher and Writer

During the reign of Caracalla, about 211-212, Origen paid a brief visit to Rome, but the relative laxity under 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 Valentianism 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 (215), 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 Cæsarea, where he seems to have made his permanent home; and Origen, who felt that the turmoil hindered his activity as a teacher and imperilled his safety, left Egypt, apparently going with Ambrose to Cæsarea, where he spent some time. Here, in conformity with local usage based on Jewish custom, Origen, though not in orders, preached and interpreted the Scriptures at the request of the bishops Alexander of Jerusalem and Theoctistus of Cæsarea. 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 obviously 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, Removal to Cæsarea

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 Cæsarea, where he was heartily welcomed and was ordained presbyter, that no further cause for criticism might be given Demetrius, who had strongly disapproved his preaching before ordination while at Cæsarea. But Demetrius, taking this well-meant act as an infringement of his rights, was furious, for not only was Origen under his jurisdiction, 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 Cæsarea. 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 unorthodox doctrines is unknown; in any event, these violent denunciations were heeded only at Rome, while Palestine, Phenicia, 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 Cæsarea Origen was joyfully received, and was also the guest of Firmilian, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, and of the empress-dowager, Julia Mammœa, at Antioch. The former also visited him at Cæsarea, 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, 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 Cæsarea 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 adoptianistic 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 the Roman pontiff Fabian (236-250) and many bishops. Neither the source nor the object of these attacks is known, though the latter may have been connected with Novatianism. 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, appeal was made to Origen, who journeyed to Arabia, and by his preaching reclaimed those in error. In 250 persecutions of the Church broke out anew, and this time Origen did not escape. He was tortured, pilloried, and bound hand and foot to the block for days without yielding. These tortures seem to have resulted in his death. A later legend, recounted by Jerome and numerous itineraries place his death and burial at Tyre, but to this little value can be attached.

II. Views

Philosphical and Religious

Origen, trained in the school of Clement and by his father, was essentially a Platonist with occasional traces of Stoic philosophy. He was thus a pronounced idealist, 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. Likewise Platonic is the doctrine that those spirits capable of knowing supreme reason, but imprisoned in the body in this world, will rise after death to divinity, being purified by fire. In his attempt to amalgamate the system evolved by Greek thought with Christianity, Origen found his predecessors in the Platonizing Philo and even in the Gnostics. His exegesis does not differ generally from that of Heracleon, but in the canon of the New Testament and in the tradition of the Church, Origen possessed a check which kept him from the excesses of Gnostic exegesis. 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 him 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. He was aware of the discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments and the contradictory accounts of the Gospels; but he considered these only as inconsistencies that lend themselves to an unspiritual historical exegesis according to the letter. 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; 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 bow 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 entirely abstract -God in 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, 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 hirnself, 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 emphasized 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. He is merely an image, a reflex not to be compared with God; as one among other "gods," of course first in rank.

Christology

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 an 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 became 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.

Eschatology

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, more-over, 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 forma, thus preserving the unity and identity of personality in harmony with the tenet bf an endless comic 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 Chiliasm of a sensual beyond; 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 Platonic 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.

III. Character

In Origen the Christian Church had its first theologian in the highest sense of the term, nor has the Greek Church ever had his superior. Attaining the pinnacle of human speculation, his teaching was not merely theoretical, like that of his antagonists, the Gnostics, 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 paganism 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, and the spiritual father of Greek monasticism was that same Origen at whose name the monks had shuddered.

ERWIN PREUSCHEN

 
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