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Chapter III.—While still very Young, he taught diligently the Word of Christ.

1. But while he was lecturing in the school, as he tells us himself, and there was no one at Alexandria to give instruction in the faith, as all were driven away by the threat of persecution, some of the heathen came to him to hear the word of God.

2. The first of them, he says, was Plutarch,17821782    Of this Plutarch we know only what Eusebius tells us here, and in chap. 4, where he says that he was the first of Origen’s pupils to suffer martyrdom. (On the date of the persecution in which he suffered, see note 4). who after living well, was honored with divine martyrdom. The second was Heraclas,17831783    Heraclas, brother of Plutarch, proved himself so good a pupil that, when Origen later found the work of teaching too great for him to manage alone, he made him his assistant, and committed the elementary instruction to him (chap. 15). From chap. 19 we learn that he was for years a diligent student of Greek philosophy (chap. 15 implies his proficiency in it), and that he even went so far as to wear the philosopher’s cloak all the time, although he was a presbyter in the Alexandrian church. His reputation for learning became so great, as we learn from chap. 31, that Julius Africanus went to Alexandria to see him. In 231, when Origen took his departure from Alexandria, he left the catechetical school in the charge of Heraclas (chap. 26), and in 231 or 232, upon the death of Demetrius (see Bk. V. chap. 22, note 4), Heraclas became the latter’s successor as bishop of Alexandria (chaps. 26 and 29), and was succeeded in the presidency of the catechetical school by Dionysius (chap. 29). According to chap. 35 he was bishop for sixteen years and with this both versions of the Chron. agree, though Jerome puts his accession two years too early—into the ninth year of Alexander Severus instead of the eleventh—while giving at the same time, quite inconsistently, the proper date for his death. Heraclas’ later relations to Origen are not quite clear. He was evidently, in earlier years, one of his best friends, and there is no adequate ground for the assumption, which is quite common, that he was one of those who united with Bishop Demetrius in condemning him. It is true, no attempt seems to have been made after he became bishop to reverse the sentence against Origen, and to invite him back to Alexandria; but this does not prove that Heraclas did not remain friendly to him; for even when Dionysius (who kept up his relations with Origen, as we know from chap. 46) became bishop (a.d. 248), no such attempt seems to have been made, although Origen was still alive and at the height of his power. The fact that the greater part of the clergy of Alexandria and Egypt were unfavorable to Origen, as shown by their condemnation of him, does not imply that Heraclas could not have been elected unless he too showed hostility to Origen; for Dionysius, who we know was not hostile, was appointed at that time head of the catechetical school, and sixteen years later bishop. It is true that Heraclas may not have sympathized with all of Origen’s views, and may have thought some of them heretical (his strict judgment of heretics is seen from Bk. VII. chap. 7), but many even of the best of Origen’s friends and followers did likewise, so that among his most devoted adherents were some of the most orthodox Fathers of the Church (e.g. the two Gregories and Basil). That Heraclas did not agree with Origen in all his opinions (if he did not, he may not have cared to press his return to Alexandria) does not prove therefore that he took part in the condemnatory action of the synod, and that he was himself in later life hostile to Origen. a brother of Plutarch; who after he too had given with him abundant evidence of a philosophic and ascetic life, was esteemed worthy to succeed Demetrius in the bishopric of Alexandria.

3. He was in his eighteenth year when he took charge of the catechetical school.17841784    See below, p. 392. He was prominent also at this time, during the persecution under Aquila,17851785    It is not clear from Eusebius’ language whether Aquila was successor of Lætus as viceroy of Egypt (as Redepenning assumes apparently quite without misgiving), or simply governor of Alexandria. He calls Lætus (in chap. 2) governor of Alexandria and of all Egypt, while Aquila is called simply governor of Alexandria. If this difference were insisted on as marking a real distinction, then Aquila would have to be regarded as the chief officer of Alexandria only, and hence subordinate in dignity to the viceroy of Egypt. The term used to describe his position (ἡγούμενον) is not, however the technical one for the chief officer of Alexandria (see Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire; Scribner’s ed., II. p. 267 ff.), and hence his position cannot be decided with certainty. In any case, whether he succeeded Lætus, or was his subordinate, the dates of his accession to and retirement from office are unknown, and hence the time at which the persecutions mentioned took place cannot be determined with exactness. We simply know that they occurred after 203 (for Origen had already taken charge of the catechetical school, and some of his pupils perished in the persecutions) and before 211, the date of Severus’ death. the governor of Alexandria, when his name became celebrated among the leaders in the faith, through the kindness and goodwill which he manifested toward all the holy martyrs, whether known to him or strangers.

4. For not only was he with them while in bonds, and until their final condemnation, but when the holy martyrs were led to death, he was very bold and went with them into danger. So that as he acted bravely, and with great boldness saluted the martyrs with a kiss, oftentimes the heathen multitude round about them became infuriated, and were on the point of rushing upon him.

5. But through the helping hand of God, he escaped absolutely and marvelously. And this same divine and heavenly power, again and again, it is impossible to say how often, on account of his great zeal and boldness for the words of Christ, guarded him when thus endangered.17861786    How it happened that Origen escaped the persecution, when, according to Eusebius, he exposed himself so continually, and was so hated by the heathen populace, we cannot tell. Eusebius ascribes it solely to the grace of God here, and in chap. 4. So great was the enmity of the unbelievers toward him, on account of the multitude that were instructed by him in the sacred faith, that they placed bands of soldiers around the house where he abode.

6. Thus day by day the persecution burned against him, so that the whole city could no longer contain him; but he removed from house to house and was driven in every direction because of the multitude who attended upon the divine instruction which he gave. For his life also exhibited right and admirable conduct according to the practice of genuine philosophy.

7. For they say that his manner of life was as his doctrine, and his doctrine as his life.17871787    οἷος ὁ λόγος τοῖος ὁ βίος was a Greek proverb. Compare the words of Seneca, in Ep. 114 ad Lucilium, “Apud Græcos in proverbium cessit talis hominibus fuit oratio, qualis vita” (quoted by Redepenning, p. 196). Therefore, by the divine Power working with him he aroused a great many to his own zeal.

8. But when he saw yet more coming to him for instruction, and the catechetical school 252had been entrusted to him alone by Demetrius, who presided over the church, he considered the teaching of grammatical science inconsistent with training in divine subjects,17881788    This does not mean that he considered the study of grammar and literature injurious to the Christian, or detrimental to his theological studies. His opinion on that subject is clear enough from all his writings and from his conduct as pictured in chaps. 18 and 19. Nor does it on the other hand imply, as Crusè supposes, that up to this time he had been teaching secular branches exclusively; but it means simply that the demands upon him for instruction in the faith were so great, now that the catechetical school had been officially entrusted to him by Demetrius, that he felt that he could no longer continue to teach secular literature as he had been doing, but must give up that part of his work, and devote himself exclusively to instruction in sacred things. and forthwith he gave up his grammatical school as unprofitable and a hindrance to sacred learning.

9. Then, with becoming consideration, that he might not need aid from others, he disposed of whatever valuable books of ancient literature he possessed, being satisfied with receiving from the purchaser four oboli a day.17891789    The obolus was a small Greek coin, equivalent to about three and a half cents of our money. Four oboli a day could have been sufficient, even in that age, only for the barest necessities of life. But with his ascetic tendencies, these were all that Origen wished. For many years he lived philosophically17901790    It was very common from the fourth century on (the writer knows of no instances earlier than Eusebius) to call an ascetic mode of life “philosophical,” or “the life of a philosopher” (see §2 of this chapter, and compare Chrysostom’s works, where the word occurs very frequently in this sense). Origen, in his ascetic practices, was quite in accord with the prevailing Christian sentiment of his own and subsequent centuries, which looked upon bodily discipline of an ascetic kind, not indeed as required, but as commended by Christ. The growing sentiment had its roots partly in the prevailing ideas of contemporary philosophy, which instinctively emphasized strongly the dualism of spirit and matter, and the necessity of subduing the latter to the former, and partly in the increasing moral corruptness of society, which caused those who wished to lead holy lives to feel that only by eschewing the things of sense could the soul attain purity. Under pressure from without and within, it became very easy to misinterpret various sayings of Christ, and thus to find in the Gospels ringing exhortations to a life of the most rigid asceticism. Clement of Alexandria was almost the only one of the great Christian writers after the middle of the second century who distinguished between the true and the false in this matter. Compare his admirable tract, Quis dives salvetur, and contrast the position taken there with the foolish extreme pursued by Origen, as recorded in this chapter. in this manner, putting away all the incentives of youthful desires. Through the entire day he endured no small amount of discipline; and for the greater part of the night he gave himself to the study of the Divine Scriptures. He restrained himself as much as possible by a most philosophic life; sometimes by the discipline of fasting, again by limited time for sleep. And in his zeal he never lay upon a bed, but upon the ground.

10. Most of all, he thought that the words of the Saviour in the Gospel should be observed, in which he exhorts not to have two coats nor to use shoes17911791    See Matt. x. 10 nor to occupy oneself with cares for the future.17921792    See Matt. vi. 34

11. With a zeal beyond his age he continued in cold and nakedness; and, going to the very extreme of poverty, he greatly astonished those about him. And indeed he grieved many of his friends who desired to share their possessions with him, on account of the wearisome toil which they saw him enduring in the teaching of divine things.

12. But he did not relax his perseverance. He is said to have walked for a number of years never wearing a shoe, and, for a great many years, to have abstained from the use of wine, and of all other things beyond his necessary food; so that he was in danger of breaking down and destroying his constitution.17931793    Greek: θώραξ, properly “chest.” Rufinus and Christophorsonus translate stomachum, and Valesius approves; but there is no authority for such a use of the term θώραξ, so far as I can ascertain. The proper Greek term for stomach is στόμαχος, which is uniformly employed by Galen and other medical writers.

13. By giving such evidences of a philosophic life to those who saw him, he aroused many of his pupils to similar zeal; so that prominent men even of the unbelieving heathen and men that followed learning and philosophy were led to his instruction. Some of them having received from him into the depth of their souls faith in the Divine Word, became prominent in the persecution then prevailing; and some of them were seized and suffered martyrdom.


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