Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Note 18
On Bk. VI. chap. 23, § 4 (note 6). Origens Visit to Achaia.
Eusebius gives as the cause of Origens visit to Greece simply “a pressing necessity in connection with ecclesiastical affairs,” but Jerome (de vir. ill. c. 54) tells us that it was on account of heresies which were troubling the churches of Achaia (propter ecclesias Achaiæ, quæ pluribus hæresibus vexabantur). Photius (Cod. 118) reports that Origen went to Athens without the p. 396 consent of Demetrius (χωρὶς τῆς τοῦ οἰκείου γνώμης ἐπισκόπου), but this must be regarded as a mistake (caused perhaps by his knowledge that it was Origens ordination, which took place during this trip, that caused Demetrius anger; for Photius does not say that this statement rests upon the authority of Pamphilus, but prefaces his whole account with the words ὁ τε Π€μφιλος μ€ρτυς καὶ ἕτεροι πλεῖστοι), for Jerome (de vir. ill. c. 54) says that Origen went to Athens by way of Palestine sub testimonio ecclesiasticæ epistolæ, and in chap. 62 he says that Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem wrote an epistle in which he stated that he had ordained Origen juxta testimonium Demetrii. We must therefore assume that Origen left Alexandria for Athens with Demetrius approval, and with letters of recommendation from him. It is the common opinion that Origen left Alexandria this time about 228 a.d., and after his visit in Achaia returned to Alexandria, where he remained until excommunicated by the council called by Demetrius. Upon searching the sources, however, I can find absolutely no authority for the statement that he returned to Alexandria after his visit to Achaia; in fact, that he did seems by most scholars simply to be taken for granted without further investigation. The opinion apparently rests upon the interpretation of two passages, one in a report of the proceedings of the Alexandrian synod taken by Photius from Pamphilus Apology, the other in the preface to the sixth book of Origens commentary on the Gospel of John. In the former it is said that the synod voted to exile Origen from Alexandria, and forbade him to reside or to teach there (ψηφίζεται μεταστῆναι μὲν ἀπὸ ᾽Αλεξανδρείας τὸν ᾽Ωριγένην, καὶ μήτε διατρίβειν ἐν αὐτῇ, μήτε διδ€σκειν). But certainly such a decree is far from proving that Origen, at the time it was passed, was actually in Alexandria. It simply shows that he still regarded that city as his residence, and was supposed to be expecting to return to it after his visit was completed. In the preface to the sixth book of his commentary on Johns Gospel, he speaks of the troubles and trials which he had been enduring in Alexandria before he finally left the city, and compares that departure to the exodus of the children of Israel. But certainly it is just as easy to refer these troubles to the time before his visit to Achaia, a time when in all probability the early books of his commentary on John, as well as others of his writings, had begun to excite the hostility of the Alexandrian clergy, and thus made his residence there uncomfortable. It is almost necessary to assume that this hostility had arisen some time before the synods were held, in order to account both for the hostility of the majority of the clergy, which cannot have been so seriously aroused in an instant, and also for the change in Demetrius attitude, which must have found a partial cause in the already existing hostility of the clergy to Origen, hostility which led them to urge him on to take decisive steps against Origen when the fitting occasion for action came in the ordination of the latter (see above, p. 395). The only arguments which, so far as I am able to learn, have been or can be urged for Origens return to Alexandria are thus shown to prove nothing. On the other hand, it is a fact that Origen was ordained on his way to Achaia, and then went on and did his business there, and it is difficult to imagine that Demetrius and the Alexandrian church would have waited so long before taking action in regard to this step, which appeared to them so serious. More than that, Origen reports that he had begun the sixth book of his commentary on John in Alexandria, but had left it there, and therefore began it anew in Palestine. It is difficult to imagine that his departure was so hasty that he could not take even his mss. with him; but if he left only for his visit to Achaia, expecting to return again, he would of course leave his mss. behind him, and when his temporary absence was changed by the synod into permanent exile, he might not have been in a position, or might not have cared, to send back for the unfinished work. Still further, it does not seem probable that, if he were leaving Alexandria an exile under the condemnation of the church, and in such haste as the leaving of his unfinished commentary would imply, he should be in a position to entrust the care of his catechetical school to his assistant Heraclas (as he is said in chap. 26 to have done). That matter would rather have been taken out of his hands by Demetrius and the rest of the clergy. But going away merely on a visit, he would of course leave the school in Heraclas charge, and after his condemnation the clergy might see that Heraclas was the man for the place, and leave him undisturbed in it. After having, upon the grounds mentioned, reached the conclusion, shared so far as I knew by no one else, that it is at least unlikely that Origen returned to Alexandria after his visit to Greece, I was pleased to find my position strengthened by some chronological considerations urged by Lipsius (Chronologie d. röm. Bischöfe, p. 195, note), who says that “we do not know whether Origen ever returned to Alexandria after his ordination,” and who seems to think it probable that he did not. He shows that Pontianus did not become bishop of Rome until 230, and therefore, if Eusebius is correct in putting Origens visit to Achaia in the time of Pontianus episcopate, as he does in this passage, that visit cannot have taken place before 230 (the commonly accepted date, which rests upon a false chronology of Pontianus episcopate, is 228); while p. 397 on the other hand, according to chap. 26, Origens final departure from Alexandria took place in the tenth year of Alexanders reign (231 a.d.), shortly before Demetrius death, which occurred not later than 232 (see Bk. V. chap. 22, note 4). Supposing, then, that Origen returned to Alexandria, we must assume his journey to Palestine, his ordination there, his visit to Achaia and settlement of the disputes there, his return to Alexandria, the composition of at least some part of his commentary on John, the calling of a synod, his condemnation and exile,—all within the space of about a year. These chronological considerations certainly increase the improbability of Origens return to Alexandria. (It may be remarked that Redepenning, who accepts the commonly received chronology, assigns two years to the Cæsarean and Achaian visit.) Assuming, then, that this departure for Achaia is identical with that mentioned in chap. 26, we put it in the year 231. It must have been (as of course we should expect, for he stopped in Palestine only on his way to Achaia) very soon after his departure that Origens ordination took place; and the synod must have been called very soon after that event (as we should likewise expect), for Demetrius died the following year.
As to the cause of Origens ordination, it is quite possible, as Redepenning suggests, that when he went a second time to Palestine, his old friends, the bishops of Cæsarea, of Jerusalem, and of other cities, wished to hear him preach again, but that remembering the reproof of the bishop Demetrius, called forth by his preaching on the former occasion (see chap. 19), he refused, and that then the Palestinian bishops, in order to obviate that difficulty, insisted on ordaining him. It is not impossible that Origen, who seems never to have been a stickler for the exact observance of minor ecclesiastical rules and formalities, supposed that Demetrius, who had shown himself friendly in the past, and not hostile to him because of his youthful imprudence (see chap. 8), would concur willingly in an ordination performed by such eminent bishops, and an ordination which would prove of such assistance to Origen in the accomplishment of the work in Achaia which he was undertaking with the approval of Demetrius himself, even though the latter could not bring himself to violate what he considered an ecclesiastical canon against the ordination of eunuchs. We can thus best explain Origens consent to the step which, when we consider his general character, it is difficult to suppose he would have taken in conscious opposition to the will of his bishop. (On Demetrius view of the matter, see above, p. 394 sq.) He was ordained, according to Jeromes de vir. ill. c. 54 (cf. also chap. 8, above), by Theoctistus, bishop of Cæsarea, and Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, together with “the most distinguished bishops of Palestine” (as Eusebius says in chap. 8).
Next: Note 19
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