Origen (Greek: Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs, or Origen Adamantius, ca. 185–ca. 254) was an early Christian scholar, theologian, and one of the most distinguished of the early fathers of the Christian Church. 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 a corrected Septuagint. He wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible. In De principiis (On First Principles), he articulated the first philosophical exposition of Christian doctrine. He interpreted scripture allegorically and showed himself to be a Neo-Pythagorean, and Neo-Platonist. 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.
Origen was also given the nickname Adamantios (Ἀδαμαντιος, from the negated root δαμάζω meaning "to tame"), which means "unconquerable-" or "unbreakable one".
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 literally, castrated himself. 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.
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 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, 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, who felt that the turmoil hindered his activity as a teacher and imperilled his safety, 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 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.
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 Casarea 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. They were the scape goats. 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 within two years of injuries sustained. Had he died during, he would have been declared a martyr, something that he would have greatly desired. A later legend, recounted by Jerome and numerous itineraries place his death and burial at Tyre, but to this little value can be attached.
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.
The exegetical writings of Origen fall into three classes:
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).
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, and 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.).
The 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).
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 (Hist. eccl., VI, xxxvi.3; Eng. transl. NPNF, 2 ser. i.278-279), 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.
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 of Alexandria 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 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.
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. He is merely an image, a reflex not to be compared with God; as one among other "gods", of course first in rank.
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.
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 did neither adopt Origenism nor use the Alexandrian allegoric exegesis.
Much later, Origen got into theological trouble with the Church because of some extreme views adopted by his followers, the Origenists, whose views were attributed to Origen. In the course of this controversy, some of his other teachings came up, which were not accepted by the general church consensus. Among these were the preexistence of souls, universal salvation and a hierarchical concept of the Trinity. These teachings, and some of his followers' more extreme views, were declared anathema by a local council in Constantinople 545, and then an ecumenical council (Fifth Ecumenical Council) pronounced "15 anathemas" against Origen in 553.
The anathema against him in his person, declaring him (among others) a heretic, reads as follows:
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 Christianity (the "Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" referred to in the council of 553, which at the time included both of what are now called the Catholic and Orthodox Churches). Therefore, little direct evidence remains to fully confirm or disprove Origen’s support of the nine points of anathema against him.
Origen and a form of apocatastasis were condemned in 544 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.
It should also be noted, 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. It should also be noted that 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.
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. This is incorrect. Origen did not teach about reincarnation. He wrote about the Greeks' transmigration of the soul, with which he did not agree.
This can be confirmed from the existent 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 no part of the Christian teaching or scripture. In his Comment on the Gospel of Matthew, which stems from a sixth 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.
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