« Prev Origen Next »

§ 187. Origen.

(I.) Origenis Opera omnia Graece et Lat. Ed. Carol. et Vinc. De la Rue. Par. 1733–’59, 4 vols. fol. The only complete ed., begun by the Benedictine Charles D. L. R., and after his death completed by his nephew Vincent. Republ. in Migne’s Patrol. Gr. 1857, 8 vols., with additions from Galland (1781), Cramer (1840–44), and Mai (1854).

Other editions by J. Merlinus (ed. princeps, Par. 1512–’19, 2 vols. fol., again in Venice 1516, and in Paris 1522; 1530, only the Lat. text); by Erasmus and Beatus Rhenanus (Bas. 1536, 2 vols. fol.; 1545; 1551; 1557; 1571); by the Benedictine G. Genebrard (Par. 1574; 1604; 1619 in 2 vols. fol., all in Lat.); by Corderius (Antw. 1648, partly in Greek); by P. D. Huetius, or Huet, afterwards Bp. of Avranges (Rouen, 1668, 2 vols. fol., the Greek writings, with very learned dissertations, Origeniana; again Paris 1679; Cologne 1685); by Montfaucon (only the Hexapla, Par. 1713, ’14, 2 vols. fol., revised and improved ed. by Field, Oxf. 1875); by Lommatsch (Berol. 1837–48, 25 vols. oct.).

English translation of select works of Origen by F. Crombie in Clark’s "Ante-Nicene Library," Edinb. 1868, and N. York 1885.

(II.) Eusebius: Hist. Eccles. VI. 1–6 and passim. Hieronymus: De Vir. ill. 54; Ep. 29, 41, and often. Gregorius Thaumat.: Oratio panegyrica in Origenem. Pamphilus: Apologia Orig. Rufinus: De Adulteratione librorum Origenis. All in the last vol. of Delarue’s ed.

(III.) P. D. Huetius: Origeniana. Par. 1679, 2 vols. (and in Delarue’s ed. vol. 4th). Very learned, and apologetic for Origen.

G. Thomasius: Origenes. Ein Beitrag zur Dogmengesch. Nürnb. 1837.

E. Rud. Redepenning: Origenes. Eine Darstellung seines Lebens und seiner Lehre. Bonn 1841 and ’46, in 2 vols. (pp. 461 and 491).

Böhringer: Origenes und sein Lehrer Klemens, oder die Alexandrinische innerkirchliche Gnosis des Christenthums. Bd. V. of Kirchengesch. in Biographieen. Second ed. Leipz. 1873.

Ch. E. Freppel, (R.C.): Origène, Paris 1868, second ed. 1875.

Comp. the articles of Schmitz in Smith’s "Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biogr." III. 46–55; Möller in Herzog2 Vol. XI. 92–109 Westcott in "Dict. of Chr. Biogr," IV. 96–142; Farrar, in "Lives of the Fathers," I. 291–330.

Also the respective sections in Bull (Defens. Fid. Nic. ch. IX. in Delarue, IV. 339–357), Neander, Baur, and Dorner (especially on Origen’s doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation); and on his Philosophy, Ritter, Huber, Ueberweg.

I. Life And Character. Origenes,14611461    Ὠριγένης, Origenes, probably derived from the name of the Egyptian divinity Or or Horus (as Phoebigena from Phœbus, Diogenes from Zeus). See Huetius I. 1, 2; Redepenning. I. 421 sq.461 surnamed "Adamantius" on account of his industry and purity of character14621462    Ἀδαμάντιος (also Χαλκέντερος). Jerome understood the epithet to indicate his unwearied industry, Photius the irrefragable strength of his arguments. See Redepenning, I. 430.462 is one of the most remarkable men in history for genius and learning, for the influence he exerted on his age, and for the controversies and discussions to which his opinions gave rise. He was born of Christian parents at Alexandria, in the year 185, and probably baptized in childhood, according to Egyptian custom which he traced to apostolic origin.14631463    So Möller (l.c. 92) and others. But it is only an inference from Origen’s view. There is Leonides,14641464    Λεωνίδης Eus. VI. 1. So Neander and Gieseler. Others spell the name Leonidas (Redepenning and Möller).464 who was probably a rhetorician, and of the celebrated Clement at the catechetical school, he received a pious and learned education. While yet a boy, he knew whole sections of the Bible by memory, and not rarely perplexed his father with questions on the deeper sense of Scripture. The father reproved his curiosity, but thanked God for such a son, and often, as he slept, reverentially kissed his breast as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Under the persecution of Septimius Severus in 202, he wrote to his father in prison, beseeching him not to deny Christ for the sake of his family, and strongly desired to give himself up to the heathen authorities, but was prevented by his mother, who hid his clothes. Leonides died a martyr, and, as his property was confiscated, he left a helpless widow with seven children. Origen was for a time assisted by a wealthy matron, and then supported himself by giving instruction in the Greek language and literature, and by copying manuscripts.

In the year 203, though then only eighteen years of age, he was nominated by the bishop Demetrius, afterwards his opponent, president of the catechetical school of Alexandria, left vacant by the flight of Clement. To fill this important office, he made himself acquainted with the various heresies, especially the Gnostic, and with the Grecian philosophy; he was not even ashamed to study under the heathen Ammonius Saccas, the celebrated founder of Neo-Platonism. He learned also the Hebrew language, and made journeys to Rome (211), Arabia, Palestine (215), and Greece. In Rome he became slightly acquainted with Hippolytus, the author of the Philosophumena, who was next to himself the most learned man of his age. Döllinger thinks it all but certain that he sided with Hippolytus in his controversy with Zephyrinus and Callistus, for he shared (at least in his earlier period) his rigoristic principles of discipline, had a dislike for the proud and overbearing bishops in large cities, and held a subordinatian view of the Trinity, but he was far superior to his older contemporary in genius, depth, and penetrating insight.14651465    See Döllinger, Hippolytus and Callistus, p. 236 sqq. (Plummer’s translation).465

When his labors and the number of his pupils increased he gave the lower classes of the catechetical school into the charge of his pupil Heraclas, and devoted himself wholly to the more advanced students. He was successful in bringing many eminent heathens and heretics to the Catholic church; among them a wealthy Gnostic, Ambrosius, who became his most liberal patron, furnishing him a costly library for his biblical studies, seven stenographers, and a number of copyists (some of whom were young Christian women), the former to note down his dictations, the latter to engross them. His fame spread far and wide over Egypt. Julia Mammaea, mother of the Emperor Alexander Severus, brought him to Antioch in 218, to learn from him the doctrines of Christianity. An Arabian prince honored him with a visit for the same purpose.

His mode of life during the whole period was strictly ascetic. He made it a matter of principle, to renounce every earthly thing not indispensably necessary. He refused the gifts of his pupils, and in literal obedience to the Saviour’s injunction he had but one coat, no shoes, and took no thought of the morrow. He rarely ate flesh, never drank wine; devoted the greater part of the night to prayer and study, and slept on the bare floor. Nay, in his youthful zeal for ascetic holiness, he even committed the act of self-emasculation, partly to fulfil literally the mysterious words of Christ, in Matt. 19:12, for the sake of the kingdom of God, partly to secure himself against all temptation and calumny which might arise from his intercourse with many female catechumens.14661466    This fact rests on the testimony of Eusebius (vi. 8), who was very well informed respecting Origen; and it has been defended by Engelhardt, Redepenning, and Neander, against the unfounded doubts of Baur and Schnitzer. The comments of Origen on the passage in Matthew speak for rather than against the fact. See also Möller (p. 93).466 By this inconsiderate and misdirected heroism, which he himself repented in his riper years, he incapacitated himself, according to the canons of the church, for the clerical office. Nevertheless, a long time afterwards, in 228, he was ordained presbyter by two friendly bishops, Alexander of Jerusalem, and Theoctistus of Caesarea in Palestine, who had, even before this, on a former visit of his, invited him while a layman, to teach publicly in their churches, and to expound the Scriptures to their people.

But this foreign ordination itself, and the growing reputation of Origen among heathens and Christians, stirred the jealousy of the bishop Demetrius of Alexandria, who charged him besides, and that not wholly without foundation, with corrupting Christianity by foreign speculations. This bishop held two councils, A.D. 231 and 232, against the great theologian, and enacted, that he, for his false doctrine, his self-mutilation, and his violation of the church laws, be deposed from his offices of presbyter and catechist, and excommunicated. This unrighteous sentence, in which envy, hierarchical arrogance, and zeal for orthodoxy joined, was communicated, as the custom was, to other churches. The Roman church, always ready to anathematize, concurred without further investigation; while the churches of Palestine, Arabia, Phoenicia, and Achaia, which were better informed, decidedly disapproved it.

In this controversy Origen showed a genuine Christian meekness. "We must pity them," said he of his enemies, "rather than hate them; pray for them, rather than curse them; for we are made for blessing, and not for cursing." He betook himself to his friend, the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, prosecuted his studies there, opened a new philosophical and theological school, which soon outshone that of Alexandria, and labored for the spread of the kingdom of God. The persecution under Maximinus Thrax (235) drove him for a time to Cappadocia. Thence he went to Greece, and then back to Palestine. He was called into consultation in various ecclesiastical disputes, and had an extensive correspondence, in which were included even the emperor Philip the Arabian, and his wife. Though thrust out as a heretic from his home, he reclaimed the erring in foreign lands to the faith of the church. At an Arabian council, for example, be convinced the bishop Beryllus of his christological error, and persuaded him to retract (A. D. 244).

At last he received an honorable invitation to return to Alexandria, where, meantime, his pupil Dionysius had become bishop. But in the Decian persecution he was cast into prison, cruelly tortured, and condemned to the stake; and though he regained his liberty by the death of the emperor, yet he died some time after, at the age of sixty-nine, in the year 253 or 254, at Tyre, probably in consequence of that violence. He belongs, therefore, at least among the confessors, if not among the martyrs. He was buried at Tyre.

It is impossible to deny a respectful sympathy, veneration and gratitude to this extraordinary man, who, with all his brilliant talents and a best of enthusiastic friends and admirers, was driven from his country, stripped of his sacred office, excommunicated from a part of the church, then thrown into a dungeon, loaded with chains, racked by torture, doomed to drag his aged frame and dislocated limbs in pain and poverty, and long after his death to have his memory branded, his name anathematized, and his salvation denied;14671467    Stephen Binet, a Jesuit, wrote a little book, De salute Origenis, Par. 1629, in which the leading writers on the subject debate the question of the salvation of Origen, and Baronius proposes a descent to the infernal regions to ascertain the truth at last the final revision of the heresy-trial is wisely left with the secret counsel of God. See an account of this book by Bayle, Diction. sub Origene."Tom. III. 541, note 1). Origen’s " gravest errors," says Westcott (l.c.)" are attempts to solve that which is insoluble."467 but who nevertheless did more than all his enemies combined to advance the cause of sacred learning, to refute and convert heathens and heretics, and to make the church respected in the eyes of the world.

II. His Theology. Origen was the greatest scholar of his age, and the most gifted, most industrious, and most cultivated of all the ante-Nicene fathers. Even heathens and heretics admired or feared his brilliant talent and vast learning. His knowledge embraced all departments of the philology, philosophy, and theology of his day. With this he united profound and fertile thought, keen penetration, and glowing imagination. As a true divine, he consecrated all his studies by prayer, and turned them, according to his best convictions, to the service of truth and piety.

He may be called in many respects the Schleiermacher of the Greek church. He was a guide from the heathen philosophy and the heretical Gnosis to the Christian faith. He exerted an immeasurable influence in stimulating the development of the catholic theology and forming the great Nicene fathers, Athanasius, Basil, the two Gregories, Hilary, and Ambrose, who consequently, in spite of all his deviations, set great value on his services. But his best disciples proved unfaithful to many of his most peculiar views, and adhered far more to the reigning faith of the church. For—and in this too he is like Schleiermacher—he can by no means be called orthodox, either in the Catholic or in the Protestant sense. His leaning to idealism, his predilection for Plato, and his noble effort to reconcile Christianity with reason, and to commend it even to educated heathens and Gnostics, led him into many grand and fascinating errors. Among these are his extremely ascetic and almost docetistic conception of corporeity, his denial of a material resurrection, his doctrine of the pre-existence and the pre-temporal fall of souls (including the pre-existence of the human soul of Christ), of eternal creation, of the extension of the work of redemption to the inhabitants of the stars and to all rational creatures, and of the final restoration of all men and fallen angels. Also in regard to the dogma of the divinity of Christ, though he powerfully supported it, and was the first to teach expressly the eternal generation of the Son, yet he may be almost as justly considered a forerunner of the Arian heteroousion, or at least of the semi-Arian homoiousion, as of the Athanasian homoousion.

These and similar views provoked more or less contradiction during his lifetime, and were afterwards, at a local council in Constantinople in 543, even solemnly condemned as heretical.14681468    Not at the fifth ecumenical council of 553, as has been often, through confusion, asserted. See Hefele, Conciliengesch. vol. II. 790 sqq. and 859 sqq, Möller, however, in Herzog2 xi. 113, again defends the other view of Noris and Ballerini. See the 15 anathematisms in Mansi, Conc. ix. 534.468 But such a man might in such an age hold erroneous opinions without being a heretic. For Origen propounded his views always with modesty and from sincere conviction of their agreement with Scripture, and that in a time when the church doctrine was as yet very indefinite in many points. For this reason even learned Roman divines, such as Tillemont and Möhler have shown Origen the greatest respect and leniency; a fact the more to be commended, since the Roman church has refused him, as well as Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, a place among the saints and the fathers in the stricter sense.

Origen’s greatest service was in exegesis. He is father of the critical investigation of Scripture, and his commentaries are still useful to scholars for their suggestiveness. Gregory Thaumaturgus says, he had "received from God the greatest gift, to be an interpreter of the word of God to men." For that age this judgment is perfectly just. Origen remained the exegetical oracle until Chrysostom far surpassed him, not indeed in originality and vigor of mind and extent of learning, but in sound, sober tact, in simple, natural analysis, and in practical application of the text. His great defect is the neglect of the grammatical and historical sense and his constant desire to find a hidden mystic meaning. He even goes further in this direction than the Gnostics, who everywhere saw transcendental, unfathomable mysteries. His hermeneutical principle assumes a threefold sense—somatic, psychic, and pneumatic; or literal, moral, and spiritual. His allegorical interpretation is ingenious, but often runs far away from the text and degenerates into the merest caprice; while at times it gives way to the opposite extreme of a carnal literalism, by which he justifies his ascetic extravagance.14691469    His exegetical method and merits are fully discussed by Huetius, and by Redepenning (I. 296-324), also by Diestel, Gesch. des A. T in der christl. Kirche, 1869, p. 36 sq. and 53 sq.469

Origen is one of the most important witnesses of the ante-Nicene text of the Greek Testament, which is older than the received text. He compared different MSS. and noted textual variations, but did not attempt a recension or lay down any principles of textual criticism. The value of his testimony is due to his rare opportunities and life-long study of the Bible before the time when the traditional Syrian and Byzantine text was formed.

« Prev Origen Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection