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Probably Alexandria, Egypt
Probably Tyre, Lebanon
|Parents||Leonides of Alexandria|
Probably Alexandria, Egypt
Probably Tyre, Lebanon
|Parents||Leonides of Alexandria|
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Origen (//; Greek: Ὠριγένης, Ōrigénēs), or Origen Adamantius (Greek: Ὠριγένης Ἀδαμάντιος, Ōrigénēs Adamántios; 184/185 – 253/254), was a scholar and early Christian theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality.
Some of his reputed teachings, such as the pre-existence of souls, the final reconciliation of all creatures, including perhaps even the devil (the apokatastasis), and the subordination of the Son of God to God the Father, later became controversial among Christian theologians. Origen, along with the prominent "Origenists" Didymus the Blind and Evagrius Ponticus, was declared anathema in 553 CE by the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople and by three subsequent ecumenical councils. For these reasons Origen was never canonized by either the Catholic or Orthodox churches.
Origen's Greek name Ōrigénēs (Ὠριγένης) probably means "child of Horus" (from Ὧρος, "Horus", and γένος, "born"). His nickname or cognomen Adamantios (Ἀδαμάντιος) derives from Greek adámas (ἀδάμας), which means "adamant", "unalterable", "unbreakable", "unconquerable", "diamond". He acquired it because of his severe ascetical practices.
Origen was born in Alexandria to Christian parents. He was educated by his father, Leonides of Alexandria, who gave him a standard Hellenistic education, but also had him study the Christian Scriptures. The name of his mother is unknown.
In 202, Origen's father was martyred in the outbreak of the persecution during the reign of Septimius Severus. A story reported by Eusebius has it that Origen wished to follow him in martyrdom, but was prevented only by his mother hiding his clothes. The death of Leonides left the family of nine impoverished when their property was confiscated. Origen, however, was taken under the protection of a woman of wealth and standing; but as her household already included a heretic named Paul, the strictly orthodox Origen seems to have remained with her only a short time.
Eusebius, our chief witness to Origen's life, says that in 203 Origen revived the Catechetical School of Alexandria where Clement of Alexandria had once taught but had apparently been driven out during the persecution under Severus. Many modern scholars, however, doubt that Clement's school had been an official ecclesiastical institution as Origen's was and thus deny continuity between the two. But the persecution still raged, and the young teacher visited imprisoned Christians, attended the courts, and comforted the condemned, himself preserved from persecution because the persecution was probably limited only to converts to Christianity. 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 Matthew 19:12 literally, castrated himself. This story was accepted during the Middle Ages and was cited by Peter Abelard in his letters to Heloise. Edward Gibbon, in his work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, also accepts this story as true. During the past century, scholars have often questioned this, surmising that this may have been a rumor circulated by his detractors. Henry Chadwick points out that, while the story may be true, it seems unlikely, given that Origen's exposition of Matthew 19:12 "strongly deplored any literal interpretation of the words". However, many noted historians, such as Peter Brown and William Placher, continue to find no reason to deny the truth of Eusebius' claims.
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 Valentinianism 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 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 probably 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.
Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, at first supported Origen but later opposed him, disputing his ordination in another diocese (Caesarea Maritima in Palestine). This ecclesiastical turmoil eventually caused Origen to move to Caesarea, a move which he characterized as divine deliverance from Egypt akin to that the ancient Hebrews received. About 230, Origen entered on the fateful journey which was to compel him to give up his work at Alexandria and embittered the next years of his life. Sent to Greece on some ecclesiastical mission, he paid a visit to Caesarea, where he was heartily welcomed and was ordained a priest, that no further cause for criticism might be given Demetrius, who had strongly disapproved his preaching before ordination while at Caesarea. But Demetrius, taking this well-meant act as an infringement of his rights, was furious, for not only was Origen under his jurisdiction as bishop of Alexandria, but, if Eastern sources may be believed, Demetrius had been the first to introduce episcopal ordination in Egypt. The metropolitan accordingly convened a synod of bishops and presbyters which banished Origen from Alexandria, while a second synod declared his ordination invalid.
Origen accordingly fled from Alexandria in 231–2, and made his permanent home in Caesarea in Palestine, where his friend Theoctistus was bishop. 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.
During this time at Caesarea in Palestine (232–5), he resumed work on the Commentary on John, composing at least books 6-10, wrote the treatise On Prayer, and, some time in the first half of the year 235, composed his Exhortation to Martyrdom. Approximately three years after his arrival in Caesarea in Palestine, Origen's life as a scholar was again interrupted by the persecution of Maximinus Thrax(AD235-8). He took refuge at Caesarea in Cappadocia. At Caesarea, Origen was joyfully received, was the guest of Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and perhaps also of the empress-dowager Julia Avita Mamaea.
After the death of Maximinus, Origen resumed his life in Caesarea of Palestine. Little is known of the last twenty years of Origen's life. He founded a school where Gregory Thaumaturgus, later bishop of Pontus, was one of the pupils. He preached regularly on Wednesdays and Fridays, and later daily. He taught dialectics, physics, ethics, and metaphysics. 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 successfully battled this doctrine.
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 Decius, believing the plague to be a product of magic, caused by the failure of Christians to recognize him as Divine, began Christian persecutions. This time Origen did not escape the Decian persecution. Eusebius recounted how Origen suffered "bodily tortures and torments under the iron collar and in the dungeon; and how for many days with his feet stretched four spaces in the stocks" Though he did not die while being tortured, he died three years later due to injuries sustained at the age of 69. A later legend, recounted by Jerome and numerous itineraries, places his death and burial at Tyre, but to this little value can be attached.
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Origen excelled in multiple branches of theological scholarship. For instance, he was the greatest textual critic of the early Church, directing the production of the massive Hexapla ("Sixfold"), an Old Testament in six columns: Hebrew, Hebrew in Greek characters, the Septuagint, and the Greek versions of Theodotion, Aquila of Sinope, and Symmachus. He was one of the greatest biblical scholars of the early Church, having written commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, though few are extant. He interpreted scripture both literally and allegorically. Origen was largely responsible for the collection of usage information regarding the texts which became the New Testament. The information used to create the late-fourth-century Easter Letter, which declared accepted Christian writings, was probably based on the Ecclesiastical History [HE] of Eusebius of Caesarea, wherein he uses the information passed on to him by Origen to create both his list at HE 3:25 and Origen’s list at HE 6:25. Eusebius got his information about what texts were accepted by the third-century churches throughout the known world, a great deal of which Origen knew of firsthand from his extensive travels, from the library and writings of Origen. In fact, Origen would have possibly included in his list of “inspired writings” other texts which were kept out by the likes of Eusebius, including the Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, and 1 Clement. "Origen is not the originator of the idea of biblical canon, but he certainly gives the philosophical and literary-interpretative underpinnings for the whole notion." As a theologian, in De principiis (On First Principles), he articulated one of the first philosophical expositions of Christian doctrine. Having been educated in classical and philosophical studies, some of his teachings were influenced by and engaged with aspects of Neo-Pythagorean, Neo-Platonist, and other strains of contemporary philosophical thought. An ordained priest in Palestine, he has left posterity numerous homilies on various books of the Bible. Finally, he has also been regarded as a spiritual master for such works as An Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayer.
In 2012, 29 unpublished homilies by Origen were discovered in the Bavarian State Library.
According to Epiphanius, Origen wrote about 6,000 works (i.e., rolls or chapters). A list was given by Eusebius in his lost Life of Pamphilus, which was apparently known to Jerome. These fall into four classes: textual criticism; exegesis; systematic, practical, and apologetic theology; and letters; besides certain spurious works.
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.
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. There are 205, and possibly 279, homilies of Origen that are extant either in Greek or in Latin translations. The homilies preserved are on Genesis (16), Exodus (13), Leviticus (16), Numbers (28), Joshua (26), Judges (9), I Sam. (2), Psalms 36-38 (9), Canticles (2), Isaiah (9), Jeremiah (7 Greek, 2 Latin, 12 Greek and Latin), Ezekiel (14), and Luke (39). The homilies were preached in the church at Caesarea, with the exception of the two on 1 Samuel which were delivered in Jerusalem. Nautin has argued that they were all preached in a three-year liturgical cycle some time between 238 and 244, preceding the Commentary on the Song of Songs, where Origen refers to homilies on Judges, Exodus, Numbers, and a work on Leviticus.
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.
On June 11, 2012, the Bavarian National Library announced the discovery by philologist Marina Molin Pradel of unknown original texts of homilies by Origenes in a twelfth-century Greek manuscript. The attribution to Origen has been confirmed by experts like Prof. Lorenzo Perrone of the Bologna University. 
The object of Origen's commentaries was to give an exegesis that discriminated strictly against historical significance, in favour of a "hidden" spiritual truth. At the same time, he neglected neither philological nor geographical, historical nor antiquarian material, to all of which he devoted numerous excursuses.
In his commentary on John he constantly considered the exegesis of the Valentinian Heracleon (probably at the insistence 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. Three commentaries on New Testament books survive in large measure. Of the 32 books in the Commentary on John, only nine have been preserved. The Commentary on Romans is extant only in the abbreviated Latin translation of Rufinus, though some Greek fragments also exist. The eight books preserved of the Commentary on Matthew (Books 10-17) cover Matthew 13.36-22.33. There also exists a Latin translation of the commentary by an unknown translator which covers Matthew 16.13-27.66 One commentary on a book of the Old Testament, the Commentary on the Song of Songs, has also been preserved in part, in a Latin translation of Rufinus.
Fragments of some other commentaries survive. Citations in Origen's Philocalia include fragments of the third book of the commentary on Genesis. There is also 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. Of the non-extant commentaries, there is limited evidence of their arrangement.
Study of On First Principles has occupied centre stage in studies of Origen since the fourth century. It is perhaps written for his more advanced pupils at Alexandria and probably composed between 212 and 215. It is extant only in the free translation of Rufinus of 397, except for fragments (books 3.1 and 4.1-3) preserved in Origen's Philocalia, and smaller citations in Justinian's letter to Mennas.
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.
Between 232-235, while in Caesarea in Palestine, Origen wrote On Prayer. This is preserved entire in Greek. 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.
On Martyrdom, or the Exhortation to Martyrdom, also preserved entire in Greek, was written some time after the beginning of the persecution of Maximinus in the first half of 235. 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.
Against Celsus, preserved entire in Greek, was Origen's last treatise, written about 248. Ambrose had requested that Origen provide an answer to a book entitled The True Doctrine which attacked Christianity, and had been written some time in the second century by an unknown Middle Platonic philosopher named Celsus. In Against Celsus, Origen drew freely on the Greek philosophers and poets as well as the Bible to provide a rational basis for holding the Christian faith.
The papyri discovered at Tura in 1941 contained the Greek text of two previously unknown works of Origen. Neither work can be dated precisely, though both were probably written after the persecution of Maximinus in 235. One is On the Pascha. The other is Dialogue of Origen with Heraclides and the Bishops with him concerning the Father and the Son and the soul.
Lost works include two books on the resurrection, written before On First Principles, and also two dialogues on the same theme dedicated to Ambrose.
Eusebius had a collection of more than one hundred letters of Origen, and the list of Jerome speaks of several books of his epistles. Except for a few fragments, only three letters have been preserved. The first, partly preserved in the Latin translation of Rufinus, is addressed to friends in Alexandria. The second is a short letter to Gregory Thaumaturgus, preserved in the Philocalia. The third is an epistle to Sextus Julius Africanus, extant in Greek, replying to a letter from Africanus (also extant), and defending the authenticity of the Greek additions to the book of Daniel.
Forgeries of the writings of Origen made in his lifetime are discussed by Rufinus in 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.
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|Allegories and metaphors|
Origen, allegedly trained in the school of Clement and by his father, has long been considered essentially a Platonist with occasional traces of Stoic philosophy. Patristic scholar Mark J Edwards has argued that many of Origen's positions are more properly Aristotelian than strictly Platonic (for instance, his philosophical anthropology). Nonetheless, he was thus a pronounced idealist, as one regarding all things temporal and material as insignificant and indifferent, the only real and eternal things being comprised in the idea. He therefore regards as the purely ideal center of this spiritual and eternal world, God, the pure reason, whose creative powers call into being the world with matter as the necessary substratum.
Origen's cosmology is complicated and controverted, but he seems to have held to a hypothesis of the preexistence of souls, before the world we know was created by God, God created a great number of spiritual intelligences. At first devoted to the contemplation and love of their creator, almost all of these intelligences eventually grew bored of contemplating God, their love for him cooling off. Those whose love for God diminished the most became demons. Those whose love diminished moderately became human souls, eventually to be incarnated in fleshly bodies. Those whose love diminished the least became angels. One, however, who remained perfectly devoted to God became, through love, one with the Word (Logos) of God. The Logos eventually took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, becoming the God-man Jesus Christ. The diverse conditions in which human beings are born is actually dependent upon what their souls did in this pre-existent state. Thus what seems unfair, some being born poor and others wealthy, some sick and others healthy, and so forth, is, Origen insists, actually in a by-product of the free-will of souls. Thus, material creation is at least implicitly of a lesser ontological category than the immaterial, or spiritual, and the heavy material bodies that man assumes after the fall will eventually be cast off. Origen, however, still insisted on a bodily resurrection, but in contrast to Athenagoras, who believed that earthly bodies would be precisely reconstituted in the hereafter, Origen argued that Paul's notion of a flourishing spiritual body is more appropriate.
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.
Origen's conception of God the Father is apophatic—a perfect unity, invisible and incorporeal, transcending all things material, and therefore inconceivable and incomprehensible. He is likewise unchangeable, and transcends space and time. But his power is limited by his goodness, justice, and wisdom; and, though entirely free from necessity, his goodness and omnipotence constrained him to reveal himself.
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. The Logos (and the Holy Spirit also) however, does share in the divinity of God. He is an image, a reflex of God, in which God communicates his divinity, as light radiating from the sun.
The activity of the Logos was conceived by Origen in Platonic fashion, as the world soul, wherein God manifested his omnipotence. His first creative act was the divine spirit, as an independent existence; and partial reflexes of the Logos were the created rational beings, who, as they had to revert to the perfect God as their background, must likewise be perfect; yet their perfection, unlike in kind with that of God, the Logos, and the divine spirit, had to be attained. The freedom of the will is an essential fact of the reason, notwithstanding the foreknowledge of God. The Logos, eternally creative, forms an endless series of finite, comprehensible worlds, which are mutually alternative. Combining the Stoic doctrine of a universe without beginning with the Biblical doctrine of the beginning and the end of the world, he conceived of the visible world as the stages of an eternal cosmic process, affording also an explanation of the diversity of human fortunes, rewards, and punishments. The material world, which at first had no place in this eternal spiritual progression, was due to the fall of the spirits from God, the first being the serpent, who was imprisoned in matter and body. The ultimate aim of God in the creation of matter out of nothing was not punishment, but the upraising of the fallen spirits. Man's accidental being is rooted in transitory matter, but his higher nature is formed in the image of the Creator. The soul is divided into the rational and the irrational, the latter being material and transitory, while the former, incorporeal and immaterial, possesses freedom of the will and the power to reascend to purer life. The strong ethical import of this cosmic process can not remain unnoticed. The return to original being through divine reason is the object of the entire cosmic process. Through the worlds which follow each other in eternal succession, the spirits are able to return to Paradise. God so ordered the universe that all individual acts work together toward one cosmic end which culminates in himself. Likewise as to Origen's anthropology, man conceived in the image of God is able by imitating God in good works to become like God, if he first recognizes his own weakness and trusts all to the divine goodness. He is aided by guardian angels, but more especially by the Logos who operates through saints and prophets in proportion to the constitution of these and man's capacity.
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.
His idealizing tendency to consider the spiritual alone as real, fundamental to his entire system, led him to combat the "rude" or "crude" Chiliasm (see Christian eschatology) of a sensual beyond. His position on the literal resurrection of physical bodies is difficult, but in both the Contra Celsum and On First Principles, Origen affirms some form of bodily resurrection, but eschews the notion that earthly bodies will be raised, on account of their gross materiality. Yet he constrained himself from breaking entirely with the distinct celestial hopes and representations of Paradise prevalent in the Church. He represents a progressive purification of souls, until, cleansed of all clouds of evil, they should know the truth and God as the Son knew him, see God face to face, and attain a full possession of the Holy Spirit and union with God. The means of attainment of this end were described by Origen in different ways, the most important of which was his concept of a purifying fire which should cleanse the world of evil and thus lead to cosmic renovation. By a further spiritualization Origen could call God himself this consuming fire. In proportion as the souls were freed from sin and ignorance, the material world was to pass away, until, after endless eons, at the final end, God should be all in all, and the worlds and spirits should return to a knowledge of God; in Greek this is called Apokatastasis.
In Origen the Christian Church had its first theologian. His teaching was not merely theoretical, but was also imbued with an intense ethical power. To the multitude to whom his instruction was beyond grasp, he left mediating images and symbols, as well as the final goal of attainment. In Origen Christianity blended with the pagan philosophy in which lived the desire for truth and the longing after God. Origen had many admirers and followers, one in particular, Dionysius of Alexandria, who caused controversy throughout Libya in 259 due to his theology in regards to the unity of the trinity. Three centuries later his very name was stricken from the books of the Church; yet in the monasteries of the Greeks his influence still lived on, as the spiritual father of Greek monasticism.
Patriarch Mennas of Constantinople condemned Origen and a form of apocatastasis at the Synod of Constantinople (543); the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 ratified the condemnation. Many heteroclite views became associated with Origen, and the 15 anathemas 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. The anathema against Origen in his person, declaring him (among others) a heretic, reads as follows:
If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their impious writings, as also all other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and by the aforesaid four Holy Synods and [if anyone does not equally anathematize] all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema.
As a result of this condemnation, the writings of Origen supporting his teachings in these areas were destroyed. They were either destroyed outright, or translated with the appropriate adjustments to eliminate conflict with orthodox Christian doctrine. Therefore, little direct evidence remains to fully confirm or disprove Origen's support of the nine points of anathema against him.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council addressed what was called "The Three Chapters" and opposed a form of Origenism which truly had nothing to do with Origen and Origenist views. In fact, Popes Vigilius (537–555), Pelagius I (556–61), Pelagius II (579–90), and Gregory the Great (590–604) were only aware that 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 opposed the belief of universalism.
In Reincarnation in Christianity, the theosophist named Geddes MacGregor (1978) asserts that Origen believed in reincarnation. MacGregor is convinced that Origen believed in reincarnation and taught about it, but his texts written about the subject have been destroyed.
Origen wrote about the Greeks' transmigration of the soul, with which he may or may not have agreed. Many theologians share the notion that Origen's extant works from Latin translations (not from the original Greek) confirm he did not believe in reincarnation. 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 not a part of the Christian teaching or scripture. In a translation of his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, which stems from a 6th-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 ). Conversely in Origen's Against Celsus, he argues that the teaching of the resurrection does not come from the doctrine or reincarnation, yet contradictorily claims to know that the soul transmigrates from body to body:
Our teaching on the subject of the resurrection is not, as Celsus imagines, derived from anything that we have heard on the doctrine of metempsychosis; but we know that the soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place, without having a body suited to the nature of that place. Accordingly, it at one time puts off one body which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and it exchanges it for a second; and at another time it assumes another in addition to the former, which is needed as a better covering, suited to the purer ethereal regions of heaven. When it comes into the world at birth, it casts off the integuments which it needed in the womb; and before doing this, it puts on another body suited for its life upon earth.
There is evidence that Origen's writing was mistranslated from Greek into Latin due to religious bias, and that he taught reincarnation in his lifetime. One of the epistles written by St. Jerome, "To Avitus" (Letter 124 ; Ad Avitum. Epistula CXXIV), asserts that Origen's On First Principles (Latin: De Principiis; Greek: Περὶ Ἀρχῶν) was mistranscribed from Greek into Latin:
About ten years ago that saintly man Pammachius sent me a copy of a certain person's [ Rufinus's ] rendering, or rather misrendering, of Origen's First Principles; with a request that in a Latin version I should give the true sense of the Greek and should set down the writer's words for good or for evil without bias in either direction. When I did as he wished and sent him the book, he was shocked to read it and locked it up in his desk lest being circulated it might wound the souls of many.
St. Jerome writes about Origen in "To Avitus" with the impression that Origen was heretic like Arius; concerning Origen's On First Principles, St. Jerome warns Avitus "that there are countless things in the book to be abhorred, and that, as the Lord says, you will have to walk among scorpions and serpents." Further in "To Avitus" (Letter 124), St. Jerome writes about "convincing proof" that Origen teaches reincarnation in the original version of the book:
The following passage is a convincing proof that he [Origen] holds the transmigration of the souls and annihilation of bodies. "If it can be shown that an incorporeal and reasonable being has life in itself independently of the body and that it is worse off in the body than out of it; then beyond a doubt bodies are only of secondary importance and arise from time to time to meet the varying conditions of reasonable creatures. Those who require bodies are clothed with them, and contrariwise, when fallen souls have lifted themselves up to better things, their bodies are once more annihilated. They are thus ever vanishing and ever reappearing."
St. Jerome further elaborates Origen's ideas in "To Avitus":
Moreover, [Origen writes that] to avoid the agony of punishment and the burning flame the more sensitive may choose to become low organisms, to dwell in water, to assume the shape of this or that animal; so that we have reason to fear a metamorphosis not only into four-footed things but even into fishes. Then, lest he [Origen] should be held guilty of maintaining with Pythagoras the transmigration of souls, he winds up the wicked reasoning with which he has wounded his reader by saying: "I must not be taken to make dogmas of these things; they are only thrown out as conjectures to show that they are not altogether overlooked."
St. Jerome adds to this:
Hellfire, moreover, and the torments with which holy scripture threatens sinners he [Origen] explains not as external punishments but as the pangs of guilty consciences when by God's power the memory of our transgressions is set before our eyes. "The whole crop of our sins grows up afresh from seeds which remain in the soul, and all our dishonourable and undutiful acts are again pictured before our gaze. Thus it is the fire of conscience and the stings of remorse which torture the mind as it looks back on former self-indulgence." And again: "but perhaps this coarse and earthly body ought to be described as mist and darkness; for at the end of this world and when it becomes necessary to pass into another, the like darkness will lead to the like physical birth." In speaking thus he [Origen] clearly pleads for the transmigration of souls as taught by Pythagoras and Plato.
The original text of Origen's On First Principles (Greek: Περὶ Ἀρχῶν) has almost completely disappeared. It remains extant as De Principiis in fragments translated into Latin by St. Jerome reportedly in good faith, and in the more complete, though "not very reliable Latin translation of Rufinus." Because most of Origen's original writing in Greek is not available, and since we only have translations of them for the most part, it can be argued either way that he may or may not have believed in reincarnation.
Translations available online
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jackson, Samuel Macauley, ed. (1914). "Origen". New Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls.
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