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Origen

Origen

The Christian theologian and biblical scholar Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254) is famous for the originality and power of his mind as well as for his vast learning and prolific writings. He was the most influential Christian theologian before St. Augustine and one of the most controversial Christian thinkers of all time.

Origen, whose full name was Origenes Adamantius, was born of Christian parents, probably in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Forced to support the family because of his father's martyrdom before Origen was 20 years old, he taught grammar for a time and then became head of the Christian catechetical school in Alexandria. Devoting himself to the duties of this post for the next 12 years or so, Origen adopted notably ascetic habits of life. He extended his own studies to the point of attending the lectures of the Platonist philosopher Ammonius Saccas. During these years Origen also learned Hebrew and began the compilation of his Hexapla, famous in the history of textual criticism. It was an edition of the Old Testament in six parallel columns, one each for the Hebrew text, the Hebrew text in Greek characters, and four different Greek versions.

A local outburst of violence against Christians about 215 prompted Origen to leave Alexandria and to journey to Palestine. There his fame had preceded him, and he was asked, though a layman, to preach publicly in church. News of this irregular proceeding reached the ears of Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, who forthwith recalled Origen home. Once in Alexandria, Origen began an intense period of literary work facilitated by shorthand writers and transcribers supplied by his wealthy friend and convert Ambrose.

The most famous of Origen's writings from this period was the work De principiis (On First Principles). In it he articulated a comprehensive and coherent statement of the Christian doctrines of creation and redemption. Drawing guardedly upon contemporary currents of philosophical and Gnostic speculation, he projected a cosmic history of rational beings, created before the material universe, who fell from their original love of God and who then entered bodies in the material world created by God as a place of corrective education. God's providential care for his rational creatures was brought to a decisive turning point by the Incarnation of His Word in Jesus Christ, whose role was to lead souls freely joined to him in faith and love back to the original state from which they fell in their premundane existence. Origen believed that even Satan and his angels would one day be led back to God, one of his teachings that in his lifetime and in later centuries brought him into disrepute.

About 230, on a journey to a theological disputation in Greece, Origen stopped off in Palestine, where he was ordained presbyter by his admirers, the bishops of Caesarea and Jerusalem. His ordination outside the jurisdiction of Demetrius brought Origen's tense relations with the bishop of Alexandria to a climax. At Alexandria he was formally condemned, a decree not honored elsewhere in the Eastern Church.

Thereafter, Origen lived at Caesarea, where for 2 decades he was active as teacher, preacher, biblical commentator, and Christian apologist. As a teacher of prospective scholars and Church leaders, Origen developed a carefully planned course of studies that proceeded from logic through physics and ethics to theology and the interpretation of Scripture. His sermons abounded in shrewdly critical observations on the state of the Church, including sharp comments on the laxity and venality of bishops. His expositions of Scripture, the main bulk of his vast literary output, were marked by extensive use of allegorical interpretations. Two chief purposes of this were to block any suggestion that unworthy conceptions of God are to be found in the Bible and to display the Bible as offering differing levels of insight according to the varying capacities of men in their gradual progress toward spiritual perfection. According to St. Jerome, Origen wrote about 800 exegetical and apologetic works.

In 250, during the persecution of the Church by Emperor Decius, Origen was imprisoned and tortured. He died in Tyre.

Further Reading

The best work on Origen is Jean Danielou, Origen (1955), which includes many quotations from Origen's works. A helpful, if brief, treatment is in Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition: Studies in Justin, Clement and Origen (1966). An older work, but one from which much can still be learned, is Charles Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (1886; rev. ed. 1913). □

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Origen

Origen (ôr´ĬjĬn), 185?–254?, Christian philosopher and scholar. His full name was Origines Adamantius, and he was born in Egypt, probably in Alexandria. When he was quite young, his father was martyred. At the age of 18, Origen became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, where he had studied under Clement of Alexandria. In the 28 years of his labors in Alexandria, Origen became famed for his teaching (for which he accepted no money) and wrote prodigiously. A stern ascetic, he castrated himself out of zeal for purity. Hence he was not ordained a priest, but he was permitted to preach while on journeys to Rome, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. His interpretation of the Scriptures in preaching and lecturing won him wide acclaim. Later (c.230) the bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea ordained him, but Demetrius, his own bishop, ordered him deposed and banished from Alexandria. In Caesarea, Origen founded (231) a new school that became even more illustrious than the one in Alexandria. Among his students was St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. In the persecution (c.250) of Decius, Origen was imprisoned, tortured, and pilloried; this experience probably caused his death some time after his release. Learned in Greek philosophy, he was a most erudite and profound biblical scholar as well. According to St. Jerome he wrote 800 works. Extant are letters, apologies, and exegeses. His critical edition of the Bible, the Hexapla, is famous in the history of textual criticism; this was a parallel edition of six Hebrew and two Greek versions. None of these remains in its original form. Origen's system of theology is given in his De principiis [on first principles], known through a Latin version of Rufinus. The chief of his apologies is Contra Celsum [against Celsus]. Origen attempted to synthesize the fundamental principles of Greek philosophy, particularly those of Neoplatonism and Stoicism, with the Christianity of creed and Scripture so as to prove the Christian view of the universe to be compatible with Greek thought. Before St. Augustine, Origen was the most influential theologian in the church. His threefold plan of interpreting Scripture (literal, ethical, and allegorical) influenced subsequent exegetical works. In spite of Origen's fame as an apologist for Christianity, there was question as to his orthodoxy. His somewhat recondite blending of pagan philosophy with Christian theology led to his condemnation by Justinian in the Monophysite controversy. There is good reason to believe that he was often the victim of misquotation and unfair interpretation.

See G. W. Butterworth, tr., Origen on First Principles (1936); R. B. Tollinton, tr., Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies of Origen (1929); G. E. Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords (1979); J. W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century Church (1983).

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Origen

Origen (c.185–c.254). Christian scholar and theologian. He was brought up in Egypt by Christian parents, and became head of the catechetical school in Alexandria after Clement. He led a strictly ascetical life and even (according to Eusebius, and on the basis of Matthew 19. 12) castrated himself. He travelled to Rome, Arabia, and in 215 and 230 to Palestine. On the latter visit he was ordained priest by bishops there, and in consequence of this breach of discipline (and no doubt other disagreements) his own bishop Demetrius sent him into exile. He took refuge in 231 at Caesarea in Palestine where he established a famous school. He was tortured in the persecution of Decius in 250. Origen's works are mostly preserved in fragments and translations, owing to their great length (e.g. his Hexapla) and the later condemnations of his views. Origen wrote commentaries and homilies on much of the Bible; theological treatises, nearly all of which are lost except On First Principles; a defence of Christianity Against Celsus; and On Prayer and Exhortation to Martyrdom.

The term Origenism refers to the views of (or at least attributed to) Origen which gave rise to two later controversies. These include the pre-existence of souls and the distinction between the mortal and the resurrection body. The anti-Origenists were victorious at a synod convened by the emperor Justinian in 543, and Origenism was finally condemned at the 2nd Council of Constantinople (553).

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Origen

Origen (c.185–c.254), Christian scholar and theologian, probably born in Alexandria. His most famous work was the Hexapla, an edition of the Old Testament with six or more parallel versions. His Neoplatonist theology, which taught the pre-existence of souls, and that all rational beings, including the fallen angels, have free will and will ultimately be saved through God's love, was ultimately rejected by Church orthodoxy.

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Origen

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