Origen and Origenism
ORIGEN AND ORIGENISM
A distinction must be made between the life and teachings of Origen himself and the teachings, in part not strictly his, ascribed to him by later followers and opponents. Hence the first part of this article deals with Origen himself and the second with the influence of his teachings and of doctrines ascribed to him in the centuries following his death.
Surnamed Adamantius (man of steel or diamond), Origen was the principal theologian of the early Greek Church; b. probably Alexandria, 184 or 185; d. probably Tyre, 253 or 254.
Life. The main details of Origen's life are preserved in a panegyric by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, in Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. eccl. 6), and in several writings of St. Jerome. Of a Christian family, the oldest of seven children, Origen was taught profane and sacred literature by his father, leonides, and may have been a student under clement of alexandria. Under Septimius Severus in 202 Leonides was decapitated as a martyr, but Origen, despite his desire for martyrdom, continued his studies; at 18 he opened a school of grammar to support his family. Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, entrusted him with the instruction of catechumens, and he courageously assisted many of his students who were martyred. He gave up his grammar school to concentrate on catechesis and devoted himself to an austere life. With more zeal than wisdom he took Mt 19.12 literally and mutilated himself.
Entrusting his colleague Heraclas with the catechumens, Origen gradually gave his main attention to the Christian formation of the more advanced group; and in order to answer the objections of learned pagans and heretics, as well as for direction in the study of the Scriptures, he followed courses in philosophy given by Ammonius Saccas, the father of neoplatonism. Porphyry witnesses this in his Contra Christianos, cited by Eusebius. But there is still some doubt whether it is the Christian Origen whom Porphyry calls a disciple of Ammonius Saccas in his Life of Plotinus and whom Proclus cites.
Origen did acquire a considerable philosophical education, which he utilized in his teaching. He began to write between 215 and 220, aided by a rich convert named Ambrose, who furnished him with secretaries and copyists; the Peri Archon was one of his first books. He also journeyed to Rome and to Arabia (Jordan) at the invitation of the governor. He left Alexandria in 215 during the reprisals visited on the city by Emperor Caracalla and apparently spent two years in hiding at caesarea in cappadocia,
living at the expense of the virgin Juliana (Palladius, Hist. Laus. 64); he then visited Palestine, where Bps. Theoctistus of Caesarea and Alexander of Jerusalem invited him to preach, though he was still a layman. This action elicited the protest of his own bishop, Demetrius of Alexandria. Mammaea, the mother of the Emperor, had him sojourn in Antioch c. 224 to inform her about the Christian religion. Called to Greece in 230 for a discussion with heretics, he passed through Palestine and was ordained a priest by Bishop Theoctistus. On his return to Alexandria he was banished by Bishop Demetrius, who called two synods to censure his ordination as illicit.
Leaving his catechetical school to Heraclas, Origen began to teach at the school of caesarea in palestine (231 to 233), where one of his disciples was gregory thaumaturgus, who spent five years with him and wrote a panegyric (On Gratitude to Origen ) in which he described Origen's program and pedagogical method. Origen preached frequently, and only toward the end of his life were his homilies, with his permission, taken down by stenographers and published. He also composed commentaries on the Scriptures and wrote his Contra Celsum. He journeyed to Arabia to bring Bp. beryllus of bostra back to orthodoxy and to combat the Thnetopsychites, the sect that proclaimed the mortality of the soul before the Resurrection. It was probably there that he engaged in a dialogue with Heraclides, who was accused of modalism, the verbatim report of which was discovered in Egypt in 1941. He spent some time in Cappadocia with his disciple firmilian of caesarea, stopped at Nicomedia and wrote a Response to julius africanus, and was in Athens for several months in 240. The persecution of decius put an end to his multifarious activities in 250, when he was imprisoned and tortured; but he confessed the faith with fortitude. He was cruelly kept alive in the hope that he could be forced to apostatize, but on the death of the Emperor he was set free. His health was broken, however, and he died at 69. His grave was still visible in the cathedral of Tyre during the 13th century.
Writings. A man of virtue and genius with prodigious capacity for work, Origen left a large corpus of writings of which only part has been preserved in Greek or in the Latin versions by rufinus of aquileia, jerome, and others. The question of the exactitude of the translations, the authenticity of numerous fragments preserved in exegetical catenae, and citations in later writers have given rise to many literary problems. The most trustworthy quotations are preserved in the Apologia of pamphilus of Caesarea and the Philocalia of Origen, the latter a selection of his thoughts published by SS. basil and gregory of nazianzus.
Scriptural Exegesis. Origen's ambition was to be an interpreter of the Scriptures. The majority of his works are exegetical, and the Bible holds a principal place in all his writings. To furnish Christians with a valid text of the Scriptures in their discussions with the Jews, he constructed his Hexapla of the Old Testament, a work composed in six columns containing the Hebrew text both in Hebrew and in Greek characters and the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, the septuagint, and Theodotion, in which he uses diacritical marks to indicate divergences in readings. For certain OT books he added three further translations and, in his Tetrapla, probably edited four versions without the Hebrew. Only fragments of this gigantic labor remain. In his letter to Julius Africanus he discusses the canonicity of the story of Susanna.
Kinds of Exegetical Works. Origen's exegetical works are of three kinds. (1) Scientific commentaries, of which four have been partially preserved: on John (in Greek), Matthew (in Greek and an anonymous Latin version), the Song of Songs, and the Epistle to the Romans (in Latin by Rufinus). Numerous fragments of his on Genesis, the Psalms, Lamentations, the Major and Minor Prophets, and the Pauline Epistles also have survived. (2) His homilies preached at Caesarea, Jerusalem, Athens, and elsewhere include those on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, and 1 Samuel (in the Latin version by Rufinus); on the Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and St. Luke (in Jerome's translation); a homily in Greek on the Pythoness of Endor; 20 homilies in Greek on Jeremiah, the majority translated by Jerome; and numerous fragments. (3) Finally, the scholia, or short exegetical notes, now lost in the mass of fragments. The most complete list of his works, without being exhaustive, however, was made by Jerome in his Letter to Paula (Epist. 33), which was omitted in many manuscripts and was unknown to earlier editors of Jerome's letters. It was rediscovered c. 1845.
Method of Exegesis. Origen's literary, critical, grammatical, and historical explanations of scriptural passages are innumerable, but the literal sense of a text is the basis for his spiritual interpretation; he believed in the historicity of a pericope even when he gave it an allegorical interpretation. Sometimes, however, he admitted that a "corporeal" meaning was nonexistent. At times Origen dealt with figurative or anthropomorphic passages and referred to the "materiality" of a metaphor as the literal meaning, in contradistinction to the modern practice of considering the literal meaning to be the sense intended by the original author. Sometimes he dealt with passages that were incoherent in the Greek text or that posed difficult exegetical problems of which he was fully aware but did not always have the means of resolving. Occasionally, he failed to consider the literal, literary, psychological, or historical context or displayed an exaggerated subtlety; but these instances are rare in relation to the whole of his works.
The literal sense, according to Origen, was not the reason for which the Holy Spirit had given the Scriptures to the Christians. The juridical and ceremonial prescriptions of the Law had been abolished by Christ, and the historical narratives in themselves are worthless for the spiritual director and pastor. The true sense willed by the Holy Spirit is the spiritual sense, which Origen found in the New Testament and earlier tradition and of which he is the great proponent.
Christ is the center of history. The Old Testament is revelation only insofar as it is a prophecy related to Christ. In each of the OT characters, narratives, and prescriptions, the interpreter will find the image of Christ or of the Church, the realities of the New Covenant, and particularly the Sacraments. The first coming of Christ still retains its prophetic character; it brought about an eschatological accomplishment that is as yet only incompletely possessed, "as in a mirror or an enigma," but the desire to possess it completely is felt by the Christian. The "gospel in time" is identical in substance (hypostasis ) with the "eternal gospel" of beatitude; it only differs by reason of epinoia, or the imperfect manner in which men contemplate and possess it.
It is thus that Origen expresses the essential fact of Christian sacramentalism. The spiritual sense, then, foreshadows future blessings and determines for the faithful their comportment in the interval between the two parousiai, or comings, of Christ and brings them celestial gifts according to the measure of their spiritual ascension or development. In this vision of the world on two planes— that of symbol and that of mystery, which he borrowed from Platonism—Origen describes the sacramentalism of the New Covenant and the symbolism essential to any true knowledge of God.
Hardly understood by historians between the Renaissance and modern times, this type of exegesis is, except for certain bizarre developments and doubtful procedures, an essential element of Christian teaching. But Origen, along with the majority of Fathers, may be criticized on two points. Although they were correct in concluding that the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, they did not pay sufficient attention to the human author; accordingly, they could not resolve the difficulties arising on this score, although Origen himself was fully aware of them. In his opinion it did not become the Divine Dignity to have dictated even one useless word; hence under the most insignificant detail or pleonasm some intention of the Holy Spirit had to be discovered. It is thus that the artificiality of certain particular interpretations arose, despite the profundity or beauty of a commentary as a whole. They are frequently introduced by an etymology or an arithmetic symbolism, a procedure that is Biblical as well as Hellenic in origin. Origen's spiritual exegesis forms a complex whole; but from the schema outlined above, one can see that other influences—rabbinical, apocalyptic, Philonian, Hellenic, and Gnostic—were operative.
Spirituality. Origen's spiritual teaching, everywhere present in his exegesis, makes him the creator of a spiritual theology. Mystical theology occupies a large place in his commentaries on John and on the Song of Songs; but in his later works, written as a priest, he was more attentive to the practical aspects of the Christian life than he was in those written in Alexandria. The Exhortation to Martyrdom, addressed to Ambrosius during the persecution of Emperor Maximinus the Thracian, betrays one of the constants in the life of Origen, the spirituality of martyrdom. The Treatise on Prayer, which is preserved in Greek, contains, among other things, the first methodical explanation of the Our Father.
The moral and ascetical doctrine of Origen is worthy of careful study, for it can render service in the attempt to clarify the origins of monasticism. A thesis regarding spiritual combat pervades his anthropology and his angelology: the soul, the seat of free will and of the personality, is fought over by the spirit (pneuma, spiritus, including grace and participation of the Holy Spirit) and the flesh. The soul is divided into a superior part, the organ of contemplation and virtue, which is called intelligence (nous, mens ) or the dominant faculty (hēgemonikon, principale cordis ), and an inferior part, which corresponds in a certain measure to concupiscence. In this battle man is solicited by both good and evil angels to follow Christ or Satan.
On many points Origen possessed an integral doctrine, which is not outlined in systematic fashion but is dispersed at the hazard of his exegesis: on martyrdom, virginity and chastity, mortification, etc. Virtues are the names (epinoiai ) given to Christ and identified with him as pertaining to His very substance. He who possesses them participates in the divine nature. But human beings only receive them through the humanity of Christ, which is His "Shadow"; here below man has only the "shadows" of virtue.
Mysticism and Mystery. Many of the great themes of mystical literature go back to Origen. In his commentary on the Song of Songs; instead of the traditional, ecclesial interpretation given to this allegory, he sees the soul of the Christian as the spouse of Christ and closely relates the individual with the collectivity of Christ's body, the Church. The Ascent of the Mountain prefigures a spiritual ascension through prayer and virtue: as on Mt. Thabor the divinity of Christ appeared more and more in His transfigured humanity.
In order for the Incarnation to produce its effects in an individual, Jesus has to be born in him by Baptism and grow there, as He will if the subject gives Him the opportunity by leading a virtuous life. Among those making progress five spiritual senses develop: sight, which uncovers divine realities; hearing, which lets the words of God be heard when He reveals the meaning of the Scriptures interiorly to the soul; touch, which allows one to examine the flesh of the Word; smell and taste, which express the delicacies of knowledge—a connaturality that increases with the ascension of a soul dedicated to perfecting its immediate knowledge of the divine. Such is the object of the charism of Wisdom, of which one effect is spiritual discernment. The source of this connaturality is in the creation of the soul according to the image of god, who is the Word; only the similar can know the similar.
The object of this knowledge is Mystery: the mysteries of visible and invisible realities, or of the relations in the Trinity, all of which are recapitulated in the person of the Son, the Image of the Father, containing the intelligible world, insofar as wisdom is concerned, the ideas and reasons for all things. Perceived in this light, which the divine Persons freely communicate, mystery is a nourishment, transforming the soul to the true nature of mystery, which is supernatural; it is a wine rejoicing in a "sober drunkenness," which exalts conscience and liberty. For understanding, which is an encounter of two liberties, includes at once passivity and activity: divine grace does not lay hold to man despite himself, in an ecstasy that would be a kind of divine folly; inconscience or lack of understanding is a sign of diabolic possession.
Knowledge is given in meditation on Scripture and requires the renouncement of sin and the world, as well as purity of heart. Faith is its necessary principle; but with faith the object becomes present; it is seen and touched without an intermediary: to comprehend and to love are confounded in union. The "esotericism" with which Origen is often reproached is common to all the mystics: it is not necessary to give someone something he can comprehend; otherwise revelation will be useless to him and could even prove to be an evil. To accuse him of spiritual snobbishness, one would have to ignore the continual exhortations contained in his homilies urging all Christians to make progress in their spiritual knowledge. It is necessary to call attention likewise to the profoundly affective devotion Origen has for the person of Christ, which is so similar to that of St. bernard of clairvaux. Evidence of his own personal mystical experience is rare, for Origen speaks little of himself; but it is sufficiently explicit.
Speculative Theology. Origen's speculation, like his spiritual doctrine, is inseparable from his exegesis. He ignores distinctions into branches or categories in the knowledge of God. For this his commentaries and homilies are the sources, particularly his masterpiece, the Commentary on John; then the tract On the Resurrection, and the Stromateis, of which we have but fragments; the Treatise on First Principles (Peri Archon ); and finally his last work, which is entirely preserved in Greek, the Contra Celsum, a vast, apologetic tract that refutes step by step the True Discourse of the philosopher Celsus. This discourse of Celsus was the most serious attack in the intellectual realm that Christianity had ever experienced; it was considered still pertinent by the freethinkers of the 19th century who discovered in it so many of their anti-Christian arguments. In Origen's rebuttal the essential proof for the divinity of Christianity is the profundity and multitude of the moral conversions it brought about.
Fidelity. The fidelity of Origen to the rule of faith as known in his day cannot be doubted; and if he is occasionally mistaken in his pursuits, it is on points that were clarified only later. But his work gives a handle to incomprehensions or obtuseness, for it is scarcely systematic, not even in the Peri Archon. Docile most frequently to the scriptural text on which he is commenting, he tries to attain the unknowable mystery by many different approaches, some of them antithetic. This is why he should not be studied except in the totality of his work; one cannot draw a definite conclusion from a text isolated from the rest of his writings. His is a theology of research, modestly making use of hypotheses, suppositions, attempted explanations; and one is not fair to Origen if he transforms these into affirmations of dogmas of the faith.
Origen can be explained by the heresies he combats. Facing the Marcionites he sustains both the goodness of God the Creator, who is one with the Father of Jesus, and the agreement of the two Testaments, as well as the value of the Old Testament. Against the Valentinians he defends free will and personal responsibility, the refusal of recognition of a predestination by nature. Against the Modalists he defends the personality of the logos; and against the Adoptionists, His eternal generation. Against the Docetists, he defends the true humanity of Christ as a condition for the Redemption. Against anthropomorphic tendencies, chiliasm, and the literalists in the Church he defends the spirituality of God, the soul, and final beatitude, as well as the abolition of the Jewish law by Christ. One cannot reproach him for not having foreseen later heresies, as his detractors try to do; or for employing with an orthodox intention—as can be proved from other passages in his works—formulas that later came to have a heterodox sense.
The philosophy of Origen underlying his doctrines and his vocabulary is Middle platonism, a mystical Platonism mixed with much stoicism and some aristo telianism. He makes use of it as a theologian, using it largely with a Christian end in view. Its defects have often been exaggerated in unconscious imitation of Protestant tendencies or a too scholastic mentality.
Origen's Theology. Theology, in almost all its divisions, made considerable progress with Origen, even if the results were not always perfect. His conception of the Trinity sought to safeguard the divine "monarchy" and to avoid modalist and adoptionist solutions. Thus in God he insists on a hierarchy of origin and speaks of the Father, because He is Father, as the source of divinity; hence He is the source of the divine nature that He shares with the other two Persons without diminution.
Origen refuses to consider the probolē (prolatio ) of the Valentinians, who suppose a division of the divine substance similar to the process of human and animal generation; the Son and the Holy Spirit do not come forth from the bosom of the Father. The Trinitarian vocabulary was as yet not precise, and Origen did not always clearly distinguish the hierarchy of origin from the hierarchy of power; thence arose a subordinationism that betrays a theological insufficiency and not a dogmatic position.
The Son. Engendered from all eternity, mediator between God and the world, the Son possesses multiple epinoiai or names: His diverse scriptural titles that the Valentinians dissected into different Eons but that connote for Origen the relations of the Son with the world and with men. They have a real foundation in the simplicity of His hypostasis. The principal of these is Wisdom, who embraces the intelligible world of the principles of all beings (and here, Platonic "forms" are confounded with Stoic "reasons"), and is the model for creation. Then comes the Word (Logos ), who gives expression to this Wisdom and is the agent of Creation; then a great number of others, viz, virtues and diverse functions of the Son in the Redemption and in man's spiritual progress.
The union of the Son with human nature is anterior to the Incarnation. According to the Origenian hypothesis, His soul had been created with the preexistent intelligences. Finding itself "under the form of God" by its union with the Word, His soul was the spouse of the preexistent Church, that is to say, of the collectivity of intelligent being. It alone escaped the cosmic fall. The Son, agent of the theophanies of the Old Testament, appears in His soul, which has retained its primitive angelicohuman state; thus He is an angel among angels, a man among men. For love of his fallen spouse, the soul of Christ took flesh in Mary, and the Word followed it in the kenosis, remaining mysteriously in the bosom of the Father, His proper "place." He revealed the divine to man, expressing it in a human being.
On the cross Christ was delivered to diabolic powers as a ransom according to the scriptural image of the Redemption that Origen exploits with many other images. He descended into hell to deliver the captive souls whom He carried with Him in the Ascension. The lack of a precise concept of person saves this doctrine from nestorianism, for in many of his other passages Origen affirms the equivalent of the hypostatic union and the communication of idioms. Against the Gnostics, Origen defended the reality of the flesh of Jesus, who, according to quite clear statements, "subsists in glory."
The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, who communicates to Him His epinoiai. He is the Sanctifier and constitutes the "material" of the charisms which corresponds to our "actual graces." But His role as inspirer of Scripture is not clearly distinguished from that of the Son.
Spirits and Man. Origen's angelology and demonology are strongly developed: good and evil angels are guardians of nations, provinces, dioceses, individuals; they are appointed to diverse parts of nature, to virtues or to vices. The stars, animated and intelligent, are not agents of man's destiny, which depends on grace and free will, but constitute the signs that the angels alone can read. The heavens are the Bible of the angels.
Man, like the angels, has been created according to the image of God, the Word. This participation in the existence and divinity of the Father and in the filiation and rationality of the Son, understood in a supernatural (sanctifying grace) rather than in a natural sense, to employ modern distinctions, is not destroyed by sin but obscured by diabolic and bestial images that the Redeemer alone can remove.
Origen often speculates on the nature of the risen body according to 1 Cor 15.35–44; a material substance, always fluent, cannot determine the identity of the body, made stable by a corporeal form (Platonism) or a seminal reason (Stoicism), the latter, present in the earthly body, germinating to endow the body with glory.
Mary, the Church, and the Sacraments. Describing Mary as the theotokos, according to the testimony of Socrates (Hist. eccl. 7.32), Origen is the first theologian to affirm clearly her perpetual virginity. Even though he did not believe her to be without fault, he sees in her a great spiritual type. He is very attentive to the mystical aspects of the Church rather than to its visible aspects, without, however, losing sight of them. He possessed a doctrine for Baptism, the Eucharist, Penance, Orders, and Matrimony. His Platonic and realistic notion of symbolism expresses very well the identity in substance between the "temporal" gospel and the "eternal gospel" mentioned above. But the essential "sacrament" for him is Scripture, an incarnation of the Logos in the written word, analogous to the flesh, preparing or announcing the unique Incarnation.
The current of thought called Origenism is far from representing the complete heritage of the master: it comes from certain of his speculations separated from the whole, deprived of their hypothetical and antithetical character, and made into a system by posterity. The substance of Origen's theology nourished the Fathers of the 4th century and has become through them the anonymous common good of Christian thought.
The Peri Archon. These speculations are found particularly in the Peri Archon, or Treatise on the First Principles, one of his earliest works, written at Alexandria, and the cause of his posthumous difficulties. This book seems to be composed of two tracts placed end to end, following the same plan: Trinity, rational creatures, and the world; then, of an appendix on Scripture and a résumé. He desires to oppose to the "principles" of marcion those of the Church. It seems to have originated in the oral teaching of Origen, which Gregory Thaumaturgus describes as following the Socratic manner: a discussion of opposing opinions and manners of research rather than a summa theologica. It is difficult to gauge how far Origen is involved in the opinions he discusses, which are in themselves at times contradictory.
The preface sets out the various matters that form part of the rule of faith; beyond them, the author engages in research with its risks and perils, making use of Scripture, reason, and his philosophic erudition. Of this work the only sections now available in Greek are the chapters on free will and on Scripture that are published in the Philocalia. The whole treatise is preserved in a Latin version made by Rufinus; but his adaptations are the subject of diverse judgments on the part of critics who consider them according to their evaluation of Origen. A number of Greek and Latin fragments are available, coming for the most part from decided adversaries of Origen, such as Jerome and Justinian. P. Koetschau, in his edition for the Berlin Corpus (Die griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte ), has added to the confusion by inserting in the text of Rufinus, as if he had consciously omitted them, the Testimonia that were collected in relation to Origenism or to the heresies that have no indisputable connection with Origen. Thus this edition must be used with caution.
The Preexistence of Souls. The preexistence of souls, including that of Christ, is a favorite hypothesis of Origen: in the beginning God created pure intelligences (noes ), all equal, which were vested with ethereal bodies, since the Trinity alone is incorporeal; these spent their being in contemplation of God. All except that of Christ grew cold in their fervor and became souls (psychē, or soul; the word is derived by Origen from psychos, cold). The degree of their fall differentiated them into angels, men, and demons, categories that do not seem to be separated by impassable limits. God then created the sensible world and the grosser bodies to furnish men with a means for redemption. This Platonic doctrine offered Origen too easy a means of answering the Valentinian theory concerning the nature of souls and the Marcionite accusation of injustice on the part of the Creator by attributing the diversity of conditions among angels, men, and devils to free will and an original choice.
The Apocatastasis. It is not possible to prove that Origen's doctrine concerning the apocatastasis or universal restoration at the end of time is heretical. It was drawn from Pauline texts and is not pantheistic. It does not entail the destruction of individual personalities, as the reproaches made by Origen to the Stoic final conflagration demonstrate. No precise text of his holds the salvation of the devil; in fact he expressly protested against this idea in a letter to friends in Alexandria that is mentioned by both Jerome and Rufinus; and his speculations are susceptible of two interpretations. He certainly preferred to speak of purgatory, of a baptism of eschatological fire, of which he is one of the earliest proponents, rather than of the eternity of punishment. His reserve manifested a certain constraint, but one can affirm no more, and the rule of faith at the time did not yet have defined limits.
A categorical assertion of Origen regarding the apocatastasis would contradict his hypothesis of the perpetual return of things, which at times he presupposes, even when he criticizes the idea among the Stoics. It is certainly irreconcilable with one of his master ideas, namely, free will. It was no more than a great hope on his part.
Other Errors. Other errors imputed to Origen are contradicted by indisputable citations of his authentic works. His speculations concerning the divine henad have been exaggerated in a pantheistic sense, being unmindful of the Christian context that modifies them. Jerome thought he discovered in the Peri Archon the final disappearance of the "risen" bodies that were absorbed in this henad or unity. But this notion is not in the Greek texts or in Rufinus's translations; nor is it attested by methodius of olympus, who read this book and described Origen's conception of the glorious bodies, which he attacked vehemently.
According to Epiphanius of Constantia, Origen said that the Son does not see the Father; and this would underline His inferiority in the Godhead. Actually, Origen was intent on affirming merely His incorporeality; and there are any number of citations that affirm that the Son knows the Father. Methodius mentions a text from the Peri Archon according to which God is the creator from all eternity; but the text is not concerned with the creation of intelligent being, in spite of Methodius, for Origen shows that these have had their beginning. He has reference to Platonic ideas or Stoic "reasons," which are the principles of being, created in the eternal generation of the Word or Wisdom that contains them.
jerome and justinian i attribute to Origen the notion of metempsychosis, which certain Greek texts treat as absurdity, foreign to the thought of the Church. According to Jerome, again Origen held that in heaven there would be a renewal of the sacrifice of Christ for the demons; but in his Commentary on John (1.35) Origen affirms the unicity of Christ's sacrifice. Jerome did not comprehend Origen's insistence on the universal effect of the drama of the cross.
Certain misunderstandings come as a result of a later particularization of the Christian vocabulary. Origen seems to have made the Word and the Spirit creatures, because following Prv 8.22 and Col 1.15 he speaks of the first as ktisma (the created), reserving for the word poiēma (something made) the meaning of a creature; in this he is followed by Pope dionysius and he treats of both as genētoi, not distinguishing, as was later done, between this word in the sense of created and gennētoi (begotten).
Justinian said Origen thought the risen bodies were spherical in shape. The probable source of this absurdity is in the tract On Prayer (31.3), where Origen means the stars and not risen bodies when he speaks of "celestial bodies." Origen certainly uses expressions that are depreciatory in relation to the earthly body in keeping with his Platonic ideas and for an ascetical purpose; but the opposite is not lacking; and the whole complex of his ideas taken together show great equilibrium.
In brief, although statements that have given rise to Origenism are to be found in the works of Origen, all the arguments which serve for the refutation of Origenism can likewise be found there.
Later Origenism. The Kephalaia gnostica of evagrius ponticus (345–399), of which an unexpurgated Syrian version has recently been discovered, and a letter of Evagrius to melania the elder give us information regarding the opinions of a group of monks in Egypt and Palestine, admirers of Origen in the second half of the 4th century: Evagrius, Isidore of Pelusium, Palladius, Ammonius, and the three other tall brothers. Melania, Rufinus, and didymus the blind were in relation with them. The ocean of Origenistic ideas, tumultuous, ever in flux and reflux, had become a river flowing down through banks that had been wisely reinforced. The different theses described above were developed in a grandiose system, cleared of all that was contradictory. While the master's synthesis, purified from its too bold speculations by theological progress and the experience of heresies, was anonymously preserved in the orthodox tradition, the heterodox character of these speculations, separated from their counterparts, was accentuated in this system.
Evagrius, who is above all a great spiritual author, underwent a systematization similar to the spiritual doctrine of Origen, an increasing of the Platonic and Gnostic elements and a taking of them over into a monastic context of pure contemplation; but in so doing he did not run counter to orthodoxy.
This doctrine brought about the first Origenistic crisis at the end of the 4th century. Origen was criticized; but he was read only one-sidedly, in accordance with the interpretation provided by his so-called disciples. The crisis passed, and it was Evagrius who was read rather than Origen.
The Origenist monks of the 6th century, whose turbulence provoked the second Origenistic quarrel, were divided into two factions. The moderates desired to preserve in Christ as man, distinguished from the Word, a certain superiority over other intelligent beings; but they thus brought the whole system into question. These were the Protoctists, called such because they saw in Christ as man the first created. Their adversaries accused them of introducing a fourth person into the Trinity, whence their nickname of Tetradites.
On the contrary, the Isochristes, faithful to Evagrius it would seem, made of Christ an intelligent being like others, whose sole superiority was temporary and consisted in having remained united to the Word when all the others fell; but in the end they too will become the "equals of Christ" in the reconstituted henad or unity.
If the "impious" Origen was spurned by the Syrians—and none of his works are preserved in that language—they paradoxically attested a great admiration for the "holy father" Evagrius, whom they knew through expurgated texts, such as the first Syrian version of the Kephalaia gnostica. But the second version, which was discovered recently, shows that the real Evagrius was not completely unknown. His thought has been found, reinforced with Gnostic influences, in stephen-bar-sŪdhailĒ, who was in Palestine during the second Origenistic quarrel. In the Book of Hierotheus, which is attributed to Stephen, this thought of Evagrius, mixed with pseudo-dionysian ideas, takes on a pantheistic aspect that Evagrius had wanted to avoid.
Origenistic Controversies. During his lifetime, Origen experienced contradictions. It is not certain that doctrinal difficulties were involved in his troubles with Bishop Demetrius, but it is not improbable (Comm. in Jn 5; Epist. ad Fabianum. ). But he had the reputation of a defender of the faith, as his Dialogue with Heraclides indicates. During 150 years his admirers prevailed over his detractors. At the time of his death many of his disciples and friends occupied important episcopal sees and safeguarded his memory: Dionysius the Great at Alexandria, Theoctistus, then Theotecnus at Caesarea in Palestine, Firmilian in Caesarea of Cappadocia, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and his brother Athenodorus in Pontus. The processes against paul of samosata, Bishop of Antioch, were in good part their doing.
Supporters. The schools of alexandria (with Theognostus and Pierius) and of caesarea remained faithful to the doctrine of the master. In the latter, Pamphilus, aided by Eusebius, composed an Apology for Origen, refuting his accusers by citing his texts. His opponents were, above all: methodius of olympus, who, although dependent on Origen, fought against his ideas on the glorious bodies and the creation ab aeterno; peter of alexandria, on subordinationism, preexistence, and the glorious bodies; and eustathius of antioch, on the interpretation of the Pythoness of Endor.
The opposition between the Antiochians and Alexandrians in scriptural exegesis continued. But the great doctors of the 4th century read his works assiduously, and their own writings attest to this fact. They had reservations about his ideas but still considered him as "the stone which sharpens all of us" (Gregory of Nazianzus) and "the second master of the Church after the Apostle" (Didymus the Blind, followed by Jerome).
athanasius of alexandria used his Trinitarian texts in the Arian controversy; Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus composed the Philocalia of Origen; gregory of nyssa is the most representative inheritor of his mysticism and accepted his apocatastasis; Eusebius of Caesarea gave him a most important place in his Ecclesiastical History; and Didymus wrote a commentary on the Peri Archon.
ambrose of Milan and other Latin Fathers used him constantly; eusebius of vercelli and hilary of poitiers translated some of his writings and were imitated by Rufinus of Aquileia and Jerome, still full of enthusiasm for him. Having an intimate knowledge of his writings, which would be much less read subsequently in the Orient, these 4th-century Fathers were capable of judging his boldnesses in relation to the whole of his thought.
Opponents. The Arians, however, took refuge behind him, and his Egyptian disciples compromised him. Epiphanius of Constantia denounced him in his Ancoratus and Panarion (ch. 64) and attacked john of jerusalem in 392 as a protector of the Origenists. He won over Jerome, who started a pamphlet war against his old friend Rufinus because the latter remained true to his master; their subsequent quarrel scandalized Augustine. Rufinus defended Origen and asserted that the Peri Archon had been interpolated by heretics (De adult. librorum Origenis ). theophilus of alexandria, who had read Origen, changed camps in the interest of his patriarchal politics, chased Isidore and the Tall Brothers from Egypt, and was able to depose john chrysostom from the Patriarchate of Constantinople for having sheltered them. He condemned Origen in a synodal letter (400) and in three paschal letters (401, 402, 404), which were immediately translated into Latin by Jerome; and Pope anastasius i confirmed the condemnation in letters to Simplicianus and Venerius of Milan.
This was the first Origenistic crisis; it came to a close in 402 with the silence of Rufinus, whose death in 411 did not disarm his adversary, St. Jerome. (The questions that were raised in the course of the controversy have been discussed above.) He was reproached with having allegorized the scriptural narratives of Creation and of paradise. To the interpretations made by contemporary Origenists, Jerome and Theophilus did not hesitate to add their own conclusions. Epiphanius in particular, making use of a suppositious apostasy of Origen, widely spread unbelievable gossip, which weighed long and heavily on his reputation (see H. de Lubac, Exégèse médiévale 1:257–274).
6th Century. In the first half of the 6th century Origenistic monks provoked trouble in the Great Laura of St. sabas and in the New Laura near Jerusalem. In 543 an edict of Justinian I appeared, which had been provoked by the papal apocrisiarius Pelagius (later pope), in the form of the Liber adv. Origenem or the Letter to Mennas, the patriarch of Constantinople [J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 31 v. (Florence-Venice 1757–98) 9:487–534]. It was approved apparently by the Pope and the four patriarchs. The text of this decree does not manifest a direct knowledge of Origen's writings; the accusation that he placed the image of God in the body of man confounds Origen with the Anthropomorphites, his constant adversaries, and directly contradicts all his teaching. The citations and the fragments of the Peri Archon that accompany it come from a dossier sent to Pelagius by the anti-Origenists of Palestine. The ten anathemas adjoined (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, ed. A. Schönm [32d ed. Freiburg 1963] 203–211) are aimed at Origen and reproduce the complaints raised in the first controversy, concerning subordinationism and "the spherical-shaped glorious bodies."
But these troubles did not cease. On the death of their leader, Nonnus, the Origenists divided into two camps, and the Protoctists allied themselves with the anti-Origenists. The complicated history of the Council of constantinople ii in its relation to Origenism has been narrated by F. Diekamp. The council had been retarded by the resistance of Pope vigilius, and during the interval Justinian had addressed a letter to the bishops (preserved by Georgius Monachus and by Cedrenus; Mansi 9:533–538) to which correspond the 15 anathemas, discovered by P. Lambeck in 1679, but which do not appear in the official acts of the council. They expressly concern the Origenistic monks. A. Guillaumont has shown that they reproduce the Christology of Evagrius.
Justinian opened the council without the agreement of Vigilius; and in its discussions little attention was paid to Origen, except to put his name in the list of heretics condemned in canon 11. He was not mentioned in the Emperor's opening discourse, which is the source of the council's anathemas, nor in the letter of Vigilius approving the council after the fact (Mansi 9:413–420). But later councils have repeated the condemnation. Following ordinary norms of interpretation, however, there is no question of holding that Origen was a formal heretic—the bishops were persuaded that he was a heretic through the belief of Epiphanius; nor is it necessary to admit that the errors with which he was charged are really his. Unfortunately, this condemnation occasioned the loss of the greater part of his works in their original language.
Present. The West continued to read Origen and to appreciate him as exegete and spiritual director until the end of the 12th century (Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St.-Thierry); but the rise of Aristotelianism caused his star to recede. Brought back to honor during the Renaissance (Pico de la Mirandola, Erasmus), he has been a sign of contradiction among his numerous historians ever since. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century he was considered more a Greek philosopher than a Christian theologian: he was accused of having preached Plato all during his life thinking he was preaching Christ. But in 1931 W. Völker raised his spiritual doctrine to its proper honor, and in 1950 H. de Lubac rediscovered the technique for understanding his exegesis. Despite variations in appreciation, modern critics can no longer ignore these two aspects of his teaching.
Bibliography: Works. Patrologia Graeca v.11–17, with Hexapla, ed. p. l. b. drach, v.15–16; Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte (1899–1955); Entretien avec Héraclide, ed. j. scherer (Cairo 1949; 2d ed. Sources Chrétiennes 67; 1960); Commentary on St. John's Gospel, ed. a. e. brooke, 2 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 1896); Hexapla, ed. f. field, 2 v. (Oxford 1867–75); Philocalia, ed. j. a. robinson (Cambridge, Eng. 1893), Eng. tr. g. lewis (Edinburgh 1911); Prayer, Exhortation to Martyrdom, tr. j. j. o'meara (Ancient Christian Writers 19;1954); The Song of Songs, tr. r. p. lawson (ibid. 26; 1957); Origen on First Principles, tr. g. w. butterworth (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1936), Eng. tr. of De Principiis; Contra Celsum, tr. h. chadwick (Cambridge, Eng. 1953); Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies, tr. r. b. tollington (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1929). j. e. l. qulton and h. chadwick, eds. and trs., Alexandrian Christianity (Philadelphia 1954), includes selections from Origen. Literature. r. cadiou, Origen: His Life at Alexandria, tr. j. a. southwell (St. Louis 1944). j. daniÉlou, Origen, tr. w. mitchell (New York 1955). e. de faye, Origen and His Work, tr. f. rothwell (London 1926). w. vÖlker, Das Vollkommenheitsideal des Origenes (Tübingen 1931). r. gÖgler, Zur Theologie des biblischen Wortes bei Origenes (Düsseldorf 1963). r. m. grant, The Earliest Lives of Jesus (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1961). r. p. c. hanson, Allegory and Event (Richmond, Va. 1959); Origen's Doctrine of Tradition (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1954). h. de lubac, Histoire et espirit (Paris 1950); Exégèse médiévale, 2 v. in 4 (Paris 1959–64) v. 1. m. f. wiles, The Spiritual Gospel (Cambridge, Eng.1960). f. bertrand, Mystique de Jésus chez Origène (Paris 1951). s. bettencourt, Doctrina ascetica Origenis (St Anselm 16; 1945). h. crouzel, Théologie de l'image de Dieu chez Origène (Paris 1956); Origène et la "connaissance mystique" (Paris 1961); Origène et la philosophie (Paris 1962); Virginité et mariage selon Origène (Bruges 1963). g. gruber, Zōe. Wesen, Stufen, und Mitteilung des wahren Lebens bei Origenes (Munich 1962). m. martinez, Teologia de la luz en Origenes (Comillas 1963). g. teichtweier, Die Sündenlehre des Origenes (Regensburg 1958). h. t. kerr, The First Systematic Theologian: Origen of Alexandria (Princeton 1958). p. nemeshegyi, La Paternité de Dieu chez Origène (Paris 1960). f. diekamp, Die origenistischen Streitigkeiten im 6. Jahrhundert (Münster 1899). g. fritz, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. ed. a. vacant et al (Paris 1903–50) 11.2:1565–88. a. guillaumont, Les "Kephalaia gnostica" d'Évagre le Pontique (Paris 1963). j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md.) 2:37–101.