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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXXVI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXXVI.—Other Works of Origen.

1. At this time, as the faith extended and our doctrine was proclaimed boldly before all, 2045 Origen, being, as they say, over sixty years old, 2046 and having gained great facility by his long practice, very properly permitted his public discourses to be taken down by stenographers, a thing which he had never before allowed.

2. He also at this time composed a work of eight books in answer to that entitled True Discourse, which had been written against us by Celsus 2047 p. 279 the Epicurean, and the twenty-five books on the Gospel of Matthew, 2048 besides those on the Twelve Prophets, of which we have found only twenty-five. 2049

3. There is extant also an epistle 2050 of his to the Emperor Philip, and another to Severa his wife, with several others to different persons. We have arranged in distinct books to the number of one hundred, so that they might be no longer scattered, as many of these as we have been able to collect, 2051 which have been preserved here and there by different persons.

4. He wrote also to Fabianus, 2052 bishop of Rome, and to many other rulers of the churches concerning his orthodoxy. You have examples of these in the eighth book of the Apology 2053 which we have written in his behalf.



τοῦ καθ᾽ ἡμας παρὰ πᾶσι λόγου


Since Origen was born in the year 185 or 186, this must have been as late as 245. Most if not all of the homilies of Origen, which are now preserved, were probably delivered after this time, and reported, as Eusebius says, by stenographers. The increasing boldness of the Christians referred to here was apparently due to their uncommonly comfortable condition under Philip.


Of the personal history of Celsus, the first great literary opponent of Christianity, we know nothing with certainty, nor did Origen know any more. He had heard that there were two persons of the same name, the one living in the time of Nero, the other, whom he identifies with his opponent, in the time of Hadrian and later, and both of them Epicurean philosophers (see contra Cels. I. 8). The work of Celsus, however, was clearly the work, not of an Epicurean, but of a Platonist, or at least of an eclectic philosopher, with a strong leaning toward Platonism. The author wrote about the middle of the second century, probably in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (Keim fixes the date of the work at 178 a.d.). The True Discourse (ληθὴς λόγος) is no longer extant, but it can be reconstructed in great part from Origen’s reply to it. It is seen to have been one of the ablest and most philosophical attacks of ancient times, and to have anticipated a great many arguments urged against Christianity by modern unbelievers. Celsus was well acquainted with Christianity in its various forms and with its literature, and he set himself to work with all his learning and skill to compose a complete refutation of the whole thing. He writes apparently less from a religious than from a political motive. He was an ardent patriot, and considered paganism essential to the life of the State, and Christianity its necessary antagonist. He undertakes first to show that Christianity is historically untenable, and then that it is false from the standpoint of philosophy and ethics. It is noticeable that it is not his desire to exterminate Christianity completely, but to make peace with it; to induce the Christians to give up their claim to possess the only true religion, and, with all their high ethics and lofty ideals, to join hands with the upholders of the ancient religion in elevating the religious ideas of the people, and thus benefiting the state. When we look at his work in this light (and much misunderstanding has been caused by a failure to do this), we must admire his ability, and respect his motives. He was, however, by no means free from the superstitions and prejudices of his age. The most important book upon the work of Celsus is Keim’s Celsus’ Wahres Wort, Zürich, 1873, which reconstructs, from Origen’s reply, Celsus’ work, and translates and explains it. Origen’s reply is philosophical and in parts very able, but it must be acknowledged that in many places he does not succeed in answering his opponent. His honesty, however, must be admired in letting his adversary always speak for himself. He attempts to answer every argument urged by Celsus, and gives the argument usually in Celsus’ own words. The result is that the work is quite desultory in its treatment, and often weighted with unimportant details and tiresome repetitions. At the same time, it is full of rich and suggestive thought, well worthy of Origen’s genius, and shows a deep appreciation of the true spiritual nature of Christianity. The entire work of eight books is extant in the original Greek, and is printed in all editions of Origen’s works (Lommatzsch, Vol. XX. p. 1–226), and is translated in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Am. ed. Vol. IV. 395–669. It was one of Origen’s latest works, as we are told here by Eusebius, and was composed (as we learn from its preface) at the urgent request of Ambrose, to whom also it was dedicated.


The commentary on Matthew was written toward the close of Origen’s life, as Eusebius informs us here, a fact which is confirmed by references in the work itself to many of his earlier commentaries. There are extant a single fragment from the first book (quoted in chap. 25, above), one from the second book (quoted in the Philocalia, chap. 6), and Books X.–XVII. entire in the original Greek, covering Matt. xiii. 36–xxii. 33. There are also extant numerous notes, which may have been taken, some of them from the commentary, and others from the homilies; and a Latin version of the commentary covering Matt. xvi. 13–xxvii. (See Lommatzsch, Vols. III.–V.). The catalogue of Jerome mentions twenty-five books and twenty-five homilies, and in the preface to his commentary on Matthew, Jerome states that he had read the twenty-five books, but elsewhere (in the prologue to his translation of Origen’s homilies on Luke; Migne, VII. 219) he speaks of thirty-six (or twenty-six) books of the commentary, but this is doubtless a mistake (and so Vallarsi reads viginti quinque in the text). There is no reason to think that Origen wrote more than twenty-five books, which must have covered the whole Gospel (to judge from the portions extant). The books which are preserved contain much that is interesting and suggestive.


Jerome also mentions twenty-five books upon the twelve prophets (in duodecim Prophetas viginti quinque ξηγήσεων Origenis volumina), of which he had found a copy in the library of Cæsarea, transcribed by the hand of Pamphilus (de vir. ill. 75). The catalogue of Jerome enumerates two books on Hosea, two on Joel, six on Amos, one on Jonah, two on Micah, two on Mahum, three on Habakkuk, two on Zephaniah, one on Haggai, two on Zechariah, two on Malachi; but in the preface to his commentary on Malachi, Jerome mentions three books on that prophecy. Of all these books only one fragment of the commentary on Hosea is extant, being preserved in the Philocalia, c. 8.


These epistles to Philip and his wife Severa are no longer extant, nor can we form an accurate idea of their contents. We are reminded of Origen’s interview with Mammæa, the mother of Alexander Severus, mentioned in chap. 21. Whether he wrote in response to a request from Philip is uncertain, but is not likely in view of the silence of Eusebius. It is possible that the favor shown by the emperor and his wife had led Origen to believe that they might be won for the faith, and there is nothing surprising in his addressing epistles to them with this idea. On Philip’s relations to Christianity, see chap. 34, note 2.


This collection of Origen’s epistles made by Eusebius is no longer extant. The catalogue of Jerome mentions “eleven books of letters in all; two books in defense of his works.” Only two epistles are preserved entire,—the one to Julius Africanus (see chap. 31, note 1); the other to Gregory Thaumaturgus, written, apparently, soon after the departure of the latter from Cæsarea (see chap. 30, note 1), for Gregory was, at the time it was written, still undecided as to the profession which he should follow. In addition to these two complete epistles, there are extant a sentence from a letter to his father (quoted in chap. 2); also a fragment of an epistle to some unknown person, describing the great zeal of his friend Ambrose (see chap. 18 note 1. The fragment is preserved by Suidas s. v. Ωριγένης); also a fragment defending his study of heathen philosophy (quoted in chap. 19, above); and two fragments in Latin, from a letter addressed to some Alexandrian friends, complaining of the alterations made by certain persons in the reports of disputations which he had held with them (see chap. 32, note 4. The one fragment is preserved by Jerome, in his Apol. adv. Ruf. II. 18; the other by Rufinus, in his apology for Origen). Of his epistles to Fabian and others no trace remains.


On Fabian, see chap. 29, note 4. We do not know when this letter to Fabian was written; but it cannot have been written in consequence of Origen’s condemnation by the Alexandrian synods called by Demetrius, for they were held in 231 or 232, and Fabian did not become bishop until 236. There must have been some later cause,—perhaps a condemnation by a later synod of Alexandria, perhaps only the prevalence of a report that Origen was heterodox, which was causing serious suspicions in Rome and elsewhere. We know that the controversies which raged so fiercely about his memory began even before his death.


On this Defense, see above, p. 36.

Next: Chapter XXXVII

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