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Chapter VIII.—Origen’s Daring Deed.

1. At this time while Origen was conducting catechetical instruction at Alexandria, a deed was done by him which evidenced an immature and youthful mind, but at the same time gave the highest proof of faith and continence.18091809    This act of Origen’s has been greatly discussed, and some have even gone so far as to believe that he never committed the act, but that the report of it arose from a misunderstanding of certain figurative expressions used by him (so, e.g., Boehringer, Schnitzer, and Baur). There is no reason, however, to doubt the report, for which we have unimpeachable testimony, and which is in itself not at all surprising (see the arguments of Redepenning, I. p. 444 sqq.). The act was contrary to the civil law (see Suetonius, Domitian, c. 7; and cf. Justin Martyr, Apol. I. 29), and yet was a very common one; the existence of the law itself would alone prove what we know from many sources to have been the fact. Nor was Origen alone among the Christians (cf. e.g. Origen, In Matt., XV. 1, the passage of Justin Martyr referred to above, and also the first canon of the Council of Nicæa, the very existence of which proves the necessity of it). It was natural that Christians, seeking purity of life, and strongly ascetic in their tendencies, should be influenced by the actions of those about them, who sought thus to be freed from the domination of the passions, and should interpret certain passages of the Bible as commending the act. Knowing it to be so common, and knowing Origen’s character, as revealed to us in chap. 3, above (to say nothing of his own writings), we can hardly be surprised that he performed the act. His chief motive was undoubtedly the same as that which actuated him in all his ascetic practices, the attainment of higher holiness through the subjugation of his passions, and the desire to sacrifice everything fleshly for the sake of Christ. Of course this could not have led him to perform the act he did, unless he had entirely misunderstood, as Eusebius says he did, the words of Christ quoted below. But he was by no means the only one to misunderstand them (see Suicer’s Thesaurus, I. 1255 sq.). Eusebius says that the requirements of his position also had something to do with his resolve. He was obliged to teach both men and women, and both day and night (as we learn from §7), and Eusebius thinks he would naturally desire to avoid scandal. At the same time, this motive can hardly have weighed very heavily, if at all, with him; for had his giving instruction in this way been in danger of causing serious scandal, other easier methods of avoiding such scandal might have been devised, and undoubtedly would have been, by the bishop. And the fact is, he seems to have wished to conceal the act, which is inconsistent with the idea that he performed it for the sake of avoiding scandal. It is quite likely that his intimate association with women may have had considerable to do with his resolve, because he may have found that such association aroused his unsubdued passions, and therefore felt that they must be eradicated, if he was to go about his duties with a pure and single heart. That he afterward repented his youthful act, and judged the words of Christ more wisely, is clear from what he says in his Comment. in Matt. XV. 1. And yet he never outgrew his false notions of the superior virtue of an ascetic life. His act seems to have caused a reaction in his mind which led him into doubt and despondency for a time; for Demetrius found it necessary to exhort him to cherish confidence, and to urge him to continue his work of instruction. Eusebius, while not approving Origen’s act, yet evidently admired him the more for the boldness and for the spirit of self-sacrifice shown in its performance. For he took the words, “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,”18101810    Matt. xix. 12. in too literal and extreme a sense. And in order to fulfill the Saviour’s word, and at the same time to take away from the unbelievers all opportunity for scandal,—for, although young, he met for the study of divine things with women as well as men,—he carried out in action the word of the Saviour.

2. He thought that this would not be known by many of his acquaintances. But it was impossible for him, though desiring to do so, to keep such an action secret.

3. When Demetrius, who presided over that parish, at last learned of this, he admired greatly the daring nature of the act, and as he perceived his zeal and the genuineness of his faith, he immediately exhorted him to courage, and urged him the more to continue his work of catechetical instruction.

4. Such was he at that time. But soon afterward, seeing that he was prospering, and becoming great and distinguished among all men, the same Demetrius, overcome by human weakness, wrote of his deed 255as most foolish to the bishops throughout the world. But the bishops of Cesarea and Jerusalem, who were especially notable and distinguished among the bishops of Palestine, considering Origen worthy in the highest degree of the honor, ordained him a presbyter.18111811    See chap. 23.

5. Thereupon his fame increased greatly, and his name became renowned everywhere, and he obtained no small reputation for virtue and wisdom. But Demetrius, having nothing else that he could say against him, save this deed of his boyhood, accused him bitterly,18121812    On the relations existing between Demetrius and Origen, see below, p. 394. and dared to include with him in these accusations those who had raised him to the presbyterate.

6. These things, however, took place a little later. But at this time Origen continued fearlessly the instruction in divine things at Alexandria by day and night to all who came to him; devoting his entire leisure without cessation to divine studies and to his pupils.

7. Severus, having held the government for eighteen years, was succeeded by his son, Antoninus.18131813    Septimius Severus died on February 4, 211, after a reign of a little more than seventeen years and eight months, and was succeeded by his two sons, Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Bassianus (commonly known by his nickname Caracalla, which, however, was never used in official documents or inscriptions), and Lucius, or Publius, Septimius Geta. Eusebius mentions here only the former, giving him his official name, Antoninus. Among those who had endured courageously the persecution of that time, and had been preserved by the Providence of God through the conflicts of confession, was Alexander, of whom we have spoken already18141814    Eusebius makes a slip here, as this is the first time he has mentioned Alexander in his Church History. He was very likely under the impression that he had mentioned him just above, where he referred to the bishops of Cæsarea and Jerusalem. He does refer to him in his Chron., putting his appointment as assistant bishop into the second year of Caracalla (Armen. fourth year), and calling him the thirty-fifth bishop of Jerusalem (Armen. thirty-sixth). In Bk. V. chap. 12 of the History (also in the Chron.) we are told that Narcissus was the thirtieth bishop of Jerusalem. The number thirty-five for Alexander (the number thirty-six of the Armen. is a mistake, and is set right in connection with Alexander’s successor, who is also called the thirty-sixth) is made out by counting the three bishops mentioned in chap. 10, and then reckoning the second episcopate of Narcissus (see the same chapter) as the thirty-fourth. We learn from chap. 14 that Alexander was an early friend of Origen’s, and a fellow-pupil in the school of Clement. We know him next as bishop of some church in Cappadocia (chap. 11; see note 2 on that chapter), whence he was called to be assistant bishop of Jerusalem (see the same chapter). From this passage, compared with chap. 11, we learn that Alexander was imprisoned during the persecutions, and the Chron. gives the year of his “confession” as 203 a.d. But from chap. 11 we learn that he wrote while still in prison to the church of Antioch on occasion of the appointment of Asclepiades to the episcopate there. According to the Chron. Asclepiades did not become bishop until 211; and though this may not be the exact date, yet it cannot be far out of the way (see chap. 11, note 6); and hence, if Alexander was a confessor in 203, he must have remained in prison a number of years, or else have undergone a second persecution. It is probable either that the date 203 is quite wrong, or else that he suffered a second time toward the close of Severus’ reign; for the persecution, so far as we know, was not so continuous during that reign as to keep one man confined for eight years. Our knowledge of the persecutions in Asia Minor at this time is very limited, but they do not seem to have been of great severity or of long duration. The date of Alexander’s episcopate in Cappadocia it is impossible to determine, though as he was a fellow-pupil of Origen’s in Alexandria, it cannot have begun much, if any, before 202. The date of his translation to the see of Jerusalem is likewise uncertain. The Chron. gives the second year of Caracalla (Armen. fourth). The connection in which Eusebius mentions it in chap. 11 makes it look as if it took place before Asclepiades’ accession to the see of Antioch; but this is hardly possible, for it was his firmness under persecution which elevated him to the see of Jerusalem (according to this passage), and it is apparently that persecution which he is enduring when Asclepiades becomes bishop. We find no reason, then, for correcting the date of his translation to Jerusalem given by the Chron. At any rate, he was bishop of Jerusalem when Origen visited Palestine in 216 (see chap. 19, §17). In 231 he assisted at the ordination of Origen (see chap. 23, note 6), and finally perished in prison during the Decian persecution (see chaps. 39 and 46). His friendship for Origen was warm and steadfast (cf., besides the other passages referred to, chap. 27). The latter commemorates the loveliness and gentleness of his character in his first Homily on 1 Samuel, §1. He collected a valuable library in Jerusalem, which Eusebius made use of in the composition of his History (see chap. 20). This act shows the literary tastes of the man. Of his epistles only the five fragments preserved by Eusebius (chaps. 11, 14, and 19) are now extant. Jerome (de vir. ill. 62) says that other epistles were extant in his day; and he relates, on the authority of an epistle written pro Origene contra Demetrium, that Alexander had ordained Origen juxta testimonium Demetri. This epistle is not mentioned by Eusebius, but in spite of Jerome’s usual dependence upon the latter, there is no good reason to doubt the truth of his statement in this case (see below, p. 396). as bishop of the church in Jerusalem. On account of his pre-eminence in the confession of Christ he was thought worthy of that bishopric, while Narcissus,18151815    On Narcissus, see the next three chapters, and also Bk. V. chap. 12, note 1. his predecessor, was still living.


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