Saturday, April 08, 2017


"Origen, born into a Christian family from Alexandria Egypt around 185AD, was only a teenager when he witnessed his father, Leonidas, dragged from his home by Roman soldiers and ultimately martyred. He was inspired by his father’s heroic example to dedicate himself to a strict life of prayer, fasting and study. The bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius, recognized the talent and holiness of this young man and named him head of the catechetical school of this great center of early Christianity. Origen ultimately became one of the greatest Scripture scholars and preachers of the early Church. Though he began his teaching ministry as a lay catechist, Origen was ultimately ordained a priest and wrote commentaries and homilies that influenced subsequent Early Church Fathers from both East and West. Though he did not receive the grace of martyrdom, Origen was imprisoned and brutally tortured for his faith during the persecution that took place under the emperor Decius. Weakened by his ordeal, he died a few years later in 254 AD.

Though several of Origen’s teachings were condemned after his death by Church authorities, it must be remembered that his erroneous opinions were expressed in matters that had not yet been defined by official Church teaching. In his lifetime, Origen was always a loyal son of the Church whose correct opinions far outnumbered his errors. Origen’s writings were profuse indeed, though only a limited number survive. He wrote commentaries on almost every book of the Bible, with his treatise on Song of Songs, Romans, and many homilies on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) surviving either intact or in large portions. He was the author of one of the earliest attempts at textual criticism of the Old Testament, the Hexapla, and was responsible for the first attempt at systematic theology in his famous De Principiis (On First Principles). His two works of spiritual theology, Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayer were widely read in the Early Church and are still read today, with many excerpts used in the Roman Office of Readings."

Crossroads Initiative has many excellent resources, a good on-line library and blog, but I'm not entirely sure how the owner and creator of the material, although a Roman Catholic, relates to the Church.  There are many of these available on the Internet, just as there are for Protestant ministries. I know there are other Catholics who don't seem to include Origen in the Fathers of the Church category, so I'll have to check a few more links. 

 Summary of the controversies

I have an excellent printed resource (Protestant) I used for perusing ancient and modern writings on scripture and the church, Magill's Masterpieces of Christian Literature in Summary Form, (c. 1963) which I gave to my mother one Christmas, and then when she was downsizing in the 1990s, she gave it back. It does contain "On First Principles" in summary form, noting it is a work of systematic theology, first transcribed c. 220-230.  At the end of the summary, the editor of the article in Magill notes:

"Although the later judgment of the Church on Origen was unfavorable, we cannot overlook the recognition he received in his own day nor the influence he exerted for over a century on the theologians of East and West.  He produced the first great synthesis of Christian teaching and provided his successors with a method of Biblical interpretations which, if sometimes artificial and arbitrary, was at least consistent and thorough. He was an intellectual who applied all his powers to the teaching office of the Church, in defense of the Gospel and in opposition to the heresies of his day.  It is especially to his credit that he dealth with the whole of theology and not merely with one doctrine.  Origen represents the coming of age of Christianity as an intellectual force in the ancient world."

My Magill also contains a summary of Against Celsus, an 8 volume refutation of Greek pagan philosophy attacking Christianity by Origen.   Being a Biblical scholar, Origen argued from scripture rather than reason and morals to defeat pagan beliefs.

No comments: