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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Note 15

Early Church Fathers  Index     

On Bk. VI. chap. 2 (note 1, continued). Origen’s Life and Writings.

Origen Adamantius (on the second name, see Bk. VI. chap. 14, note 12) was of Christian parentage and probably of Greek descent on his father’s side (as stated in the previous note), but whether born in Alexandria or not we do not know. Westcott suggests that his mother may have been of Jewish descent, because in an epistle of Jerome (ad Paulam: Ep. 39, § 1, Migne’s ed.) he is said to have learned Hebrew so thoroughly that he “vied with his mother” in the singing of psalms (but compare the stricture of Redepenning on this passage, p. 187, note 1). The date of his birth may be gathered from the fact (stated in this chapter) that he was in his seventeenth p. 392 year at the time of his father’s death, which gives us 185 or 186 as the year of his birth (cf. Redepenning, I. p. 417–420, Erste Beilage). We learn from the present chapter that as a boy he was carefully trained by his father in the Scriptures and afterward in Greek literature, a training of which he made good use in later life. He was also a pupil of Clement in the catechetical school, as we learn from chaps. 6 and 14 (on the time, see chap. 6, note 4). He showed remarkable natural ability, and after the death of his father (being himself saved from martyrdom only by a device of his mother), when left in poverty with his mother and six younger brothers (see § 13 of this chapter), he was able, partly by the assistance of a wealthy lady and partly by teaching literature, to support himself (§ 14). Whether he supported the rest of the family Eusebius does not state, but his thoroughly religious character does not permit us to imagine that he left them to suffer. In his eighteenth year, there being no one at the head of the catechetical school in Alexandria, he was induced to take the school in charge and to devote himself to the work of instruction in the Christian faith. Soon afterward the entire charge of the work was officially committed to him by Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria (see chap. 3). He lived at this time a life of rigid asceticism (ibid.), and even went so far as to mutilate himself in his zeal for the prosecution of his work (see chap. 8). His great influence naturally aroused the hostility of unbelievers against him; but though many of his pupils suffered martyrdom (see chap. 4), he himself escaped, we do not know how. Eusebius ascribes his preservation to the providence of God (ibid.). During these years in which he was at the head of the catechetical school, he devoted himself with vigor to the study of Greek philosophy, and was for a time a pupil of the Neo-Platonist Ammonius Saccas (chap. 19). He studied non-Christian thought, as he tells us, in order that he might be the better able to instruct his pagan and heretical pupils (ibid.). His labors in the school in time grew so heavy that he was obliged to associate with himself his friend and fellow-pupil Heraclas, to whom he committed the work of elementary instruction (chap. 15). It was during this time that he seems to have begun his Hexapla, having learned Hebrew in order to fit himself the better for his work upon the Old Testament (chap. 16). During this period (while Zephyrinus was bishop of Rome, i.e. before 217) he made a brief visit to Rome (chap. 14), and later he was summoned to Arabia, to give instruction to the governor of that country, and remained there a short time (chap. 19). Afterward, on account of a great tumult in Alexandria (see chap. 19, note 22), he left the city and went to Cæsarea in Palestine, where, although only a layman, he publicly expounded the Scriptures in the church (chap. 19). The bishop Demetrius strongly disapproved of this, and summoned him back to Alexandria (ibid.). Upon his return to Alexandria he entered upon the work of writing Commentaries on the Scriptures (see chap. 23). During this period he wrote also other important works (see chap. 24).

In the tenth year of Alexander Severus (a.d. 231) he left Alexandria (according to chap. 26) and took up his residence in Cæsarea, leaving his catechetical school in charge of his assistant, Heraclas. The cause of his departure is stated in chap. 23 to have been “some necessary affairs of the church” which called him to Greece. (For a statement of the reasons which lead me, contrary to the common opinion, to identify the departure mentioned in chap. 23 with that mentioned in chap. 26, see below, p. 395 sq.) Jerome (de vir. ill. c. 54) says that he went to Achaia on account of heresies which were troubling the churches there. His words are: Et propter ecclesias Achaiæ, quæ pluribus hæresibus vexabantur, sub testimonio ecclesiasticæ epistolæ Athenas per Palæstinam pergeret. He passed through Palestine on his way to Greece, and it was at this time that he was ordained a presbyter by the Palestinian bishops (chap. 23), Theoctistus of Cæsarea and Alexander of Jerusalem (according to Jerome, l.c.; cf. also Euseb. chap. 8). Whether he remained long in Palestine at this time, or went on at once to Greece, we do not know; but that a visit (to be distinguished from the second visit mentioned in chap. 32; see note 4 on that chapter) was made we know from a fragment of one of Origen’s epistles written from Athens (printed in Lommatzsch’s ed. of Origen’s works, XXV. p. 388); with which are to be compared Epiphanius, Hær. LXIV. 1, and the remark made by Eusebius in chap. 16, § 2. in regard to the finding of a copy of a translation in Nicopolis. Origen’s ordination resulted in the complete alienation of the bishop Demetrius (upon his earlier and later attitude toward Origen, and the causes of the change, see below, p. 394 sq.), and he called a council in Alexandria of bishops and presbyters (the council must have been held very soon after the receipt of the news of Origen’s ordination, for Demetrius died in 232; see Bk. V. chap. 22, note 4) which decided that Origen should be required to leave Alexandria and not be allowed to reside or to teach there, but did not depose him from the priesthood. Afterward, however, Demetrius, combining with some bishops of like mind with himself, deposed Origen from his office, and the sentence was ratified by those who had before voted with him. Photius gives this account in Cod. 118, quoting from the lost Defense of Pamphilus and Eusebius. Eusebius himself tells us nothing p. 393 about these proceedings in his History, but simply refers us (chap. 23) to the second book of his Defense, which he says contained a full account of the matter. (Upon the bearing of the words quoted by Photius from the Defense, see below, p. 395 sq.) Demetrius wrote of the result of the council “to the whole world” (according to Jerome’s de vir. ill. c. 54), and the sentence was concurred in by the bishops of Rome and of all the other churches, except those of Palestine, Arabia, Phœnicia, and Achaia (see Jerome ad Paul. Ep. 33; and Apol. adv. libros Ruf. II. 18). Taking up his abode in Cæsarea, Origen made this place his headquarters for the rest of his life, and found there the most cordial sympathy and support (chap. 27). He carried on in Cæsarea a catechetical school, expounding the Scriptures, lecturing on theology, and at the same time continuing his literary labors in peace until the persecution of Maximinus (a.d. 235–237), during which some of his friends in Cæsarea suffered (see chaps. 27, 28, 30, 32, and 36). How Origen escaped and where he was during the persecution we do not know (see chap. 28, note 2). In 237 or 238 at any rate, he was (again) in Cæsarea and at this time Gregory Thaumaturgus delivered his Panegyric, which is our best source for a knowledge of Origen’s methods of teaching and of the influence which he exerted over his pupils. (Upon the date, see Draeseke, Der Brief des Origenes an Gregoriosin the Jabrbücher f. prot. Theologie, 1887, p. 102 sq.) During this period he did considerable traveling, making another visit to Athens (see chap. 32) and two to Arabia (see chaps. 33 and 37). It was while in Cæsarea, and when he was over sixty years old, that he first permitted his discourses to be taken down by shorthand writers (see chap. 26). His correspondence with the Emperor Philip and his wife is mentioned by Eusebius in the same chapter. He was arrested during the Decian persecution and suffered terrible torments, but not martyrdom (chap. 39). He died not much more than a year after the close of the persecution, in the seventieth year of his age (see Bk. VII. chap. 1), at Tyre, and was buried there (Jerome, de vir. ill. c. 54).

Origen was without doubt the greatest scholar and the most original thinker of his age. He was at the same time a man of most devout piety, and employed all his wonderful talents in the service of what he believed to be the truth. His greatest labors were in the field of exegesis, and here his writings were epoch-making, although his results were often completely vitiated by his use of the allegorical method of interpretation and his neglect of the grammatical and historical sense. His services in the cause of scientific theology cannot be overestimated, and his thinking long stimulated the brightest minds of the Church, both orthodox and heretical. Both his natural predilections and his training in the philosophy which prevailed in Alexandria in that day led him in the direction of idealism, and to an excess of this, combined with his deep desire—common also to Clement—to reconcile Christianity with reason and to commend it to the minds of philosophers, are due most of his errors, nearly all of which are fascinating and lofty in conception. Those errors led the Church to refuse him a place among its saints and even among its Fathers in the stricter sense. Even before his death suspicions of his orthodoxy were widespread; and although he had many followers and warm defenders, his views were finally condemned at a home synod in Constantinople in 543 (?) (see Helele, II. 790). Into the bitter controversies which raged during the fourth and fifth centuries, and in which Jerome and Rufinus (the former against, the latter for, Origen) played so large a part we cannot enter here. See the article Origenistic Controversies in the Dict. of Christ. Biog., or any of the Church histories and lives of Origen.

Origen was a marvelously prolific writer. Epiphanius (Hær. LXIV. 63) says that it was commonly reported that he had written 6000 works. Jerome reduces the number to less than a third (adv. Ruf. II. 22). But whatever the number, we know that he was one of the most voluminous—perhaps the most voluminous writer of antiquity. He wrote works of the most diverse nature, critical, exegetical, philosophical and theological, apologetic and practical, besides numerous epistles. (On his great critical work, the Hexpla, see chap. 16, note 8.) His exegetical works consisted of commentaries, scholia (or detached notes), and homilies. Of his commentaries on the Old Testament, which were very numerous, only fragments of those on Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms, and the Song of Solomon are presented in the version of Rufinus, and a fragment of the commentary on Ezekiel in the Philocalia. Of the New Testament commentaries we have numerous fragments both in Greek and Latin (especially on Matthew and John), and the whole of Romans in the translation of Rufinus. Upon the commentaries composed by Origen while still in Alexandria, see chap. 24; on those written afterwards, see chaps. 32 and 36. No complete scholia are extant; but among the numerous exegetical fragments which are preserved there may be portions of these scholia, as well as of the commentaries and homilies. It is not always possible to tell to which a fragment belongs. Of the homilies, over 200 are preserved, the majority of them in the translation of Rufinus.

p. 394 The philosophical and theological works known to us are the two books On the Resurrection (see chap. 24, note 5): the De principiis (see ibid. note 6); and the Stromata (see ibid. note 7).

Origen’s great apologetic work is his Contra Celsum (see chap. 36, note 3).

Two works of a practical character are known to us: On Martyrdom (see chap. 28, note 3); and On Prayer. The latter work is not mentioned by Eusebius in his History, but is referred to in Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen, Chap. VIII. (Lommatzsch, XXIV. p. 397). It is extant in the original Greek, and is printed by Lommatzsch, XVII. p. 79–297. It is addressed to two of his friends, Ambrosius and Tatiana, and is one of his most beautiful works. As to the date at which Origen wrote the work, we know (from chap. 23 of the work) only that it was written after the composition of the commentary on Genesis (see above, Bk. VI. chap. 24), but whether before or after his departure from Alexandria we cannot tell.

Of his epistles only two are preserved entire, one to Julius Africanus, and another to Gregory Thaumaturgus. On the former, see chap. 31, note 1. On the latter and on Origen’s other epistles, see chap. 36, note 7.

Finally must be mentioned the Philocalia (Lommatzsch, XXV. p. 1–278), a collection of judiciously selected extracts from Origen’s works in twenty-seven books. Its compilers were Gregory Nazianzen and Basil.

The principal edition of Origen’s works is that of the Benedictine Delarue in 4 vols. fol.; reprinted by Migne in 8 vols. 8vo. A convenient edition is that of Lommatzsch, in 25 vols. small 8vo., a revision of Delarue’s. Only his De principiis, Contra Cels., and the epistles to Africanus and to Gregory have been translated into English, and are given in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV. p. 221 sqq. Of lives of Origen must be mentioned that of Huetius: Origeniana (Paris, 1679, in 2 vols.; reprinted in Delarue and Lommatzsch); also Redepenning’s Origenes. Eine Darstellung seines Lebens und seiner Lehre (Bonn, 1841 and 1846, in 2 vols.). The respective sections in Lardner and Tillemont should be compared, and the thorough article of Westcott in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. IV. 96–142. For a good list of the literature on Origen, see Schaff, Ch. Hist. II. p. 785.

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