Michael Barber, Ph.D. / John Paul the Great Catholic University © 2011 / / email:

Origen (c. A.D. 185–254)1
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Eusebius devotes almost all of book 6 of his Ecclesiastical History to Origen Born in Egypt Highly educated Beloved father, Leonides, martyred (wrote letter exhorting him to martyrdom) Studied under Clement Followed as leader of school of Alexandria (at age 18!) Popularity: Thousands flocked to hear him teach2 Holiness: Led ascetic lifestyle—sometime to the extremes (e.g., castration)!3 Accordingly it seems to me that one who is about to enter upon prayer ought first to have paused awhile and prepared himself to engage in prayer throughout more earnestly and intently, to have cast aside every distraction and confusion of thought, to have bethought him to the best of his ability of the greatness of Him whom he is approaching and of the impiety of approaching Him frivolously and carelessly and, as it were, in contempt, and to have put away everything alien.— Origen, On Prayer, 20 Banished by Bishop Demetrius after being ordained in Caesarea a. Demetrius disapproved of his being allowed to preach there without orders b. Caesareans hoped ordination would please Demetrius c. Demetrius was further upset d. Castration rendered him unfit for ordination e. Jerome insists banishment (two synods) was not due to his doctrine!4 Philosophical: Heavily influenced by Plato Scholarship: Studied Hebrew and consulted with rabbis over difficulties in the OT Astonishingly prolific a. St. Epiphanius attributes 6,000 works to him! b. Works translated due to a wealthy female disciple c. Many works lost Hexapla: six texts of OT given side-by-side a. Hebrew b. Transliterated Hebrew into Greek letters c. 4 different Greek texts (Aquila; Symmachus; recension of the LXX; Theodotion LXX) Suffered in Decian persecution “The man’s numerous letters contain both a true and accurate account of the nature and extent of that which he endured for the word of Christ, punishments as he lay in iron and in the recesses of his dungeon; and how, when for many days his feet were stretched four spaces in that instrument of torture, the stocks, he bore with a stout heart threats of fire and everything else that was inflicted by his enemies; and the kind of issue he had thereof, the judge eagerly striving with all his might on no


10. 11. 12.



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The critical biographical information about Origen is found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (Book VI). Eusebius writes, “As was his speech, so was the manner of the life that he displayed and as his manner of life, so his speech, and it was especially for this reason that, with cooperation of the divine power, he brought so many to share his zeal” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.3.7). 3 Eusebius tells us, “He persevered, as far as possible, in the most philosophic manner of life, at one time disciplining himself by fasting, at another measuring out the time for sleep, which he was careful to take, never on a couch, but on the floor. And above all he considered that those sayings of the Saviour in the Gospel ought to be kept which exhort us not to provide two coats nor to use shoes, nor, indeed, to be worn out with thoughts about the future” (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.3.9–10).

account to put him to death; and what sort of sayings he left behind him after this, sayings full of help for those who need uplifting.”— Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.39.5 15. Died in A.D. 253, likely due to results of earlier torture

Origen’s Approach to Scripture
1. Analogy of incarnation “The Word is ‘as it were incarnate in the Bible’” (Commentary on Matthew, frag. 11). 2. Inspiration . . the holy books are not the compositions of men, but as a result of the inspiration [epipnoias] of the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father of the universe through Jesus Christ, these were written and have come down to us.” (De Principiis 4.2.2. [Greek text]) 3. Holy Spirit as the true author (Philocalia 2.4) 4. All parts of Scripture equally inspired: “The divine character of Scripture extending through all of it” 5. Division of Scripture Three-fold sense of Scripture Three-fold division of humanity Literal / somatic (historical knowledge / virtue) the physical moral/psychical (inspires fight for virtue vs. vice) the soul allegorical/pneumatic (wisdom Incarnation / Eschaton) spiritual/intellectual 6. Approach to spiritual senses a. Hierarchy of multiple meanings in a single passage b. Many meanings required by divine nature of the text c. A deeper meaning for the spiritually wise 7. How to find the deeper meaning a. Recognize divine accommodation in Scripture i. “[God] condescends and accommodates Himself to our weakness, like schoolmaster talking a ‘little language’ to his children, like a father caring his own children and adopting their ways.” (Frag. on Deut. 1:21, PG, 17, 24). ii. “Just as when we are talking to very small children we do not assume as the object of our instruction any strong understanding in them, but say what we have to say accommodating it to the small understanding of those whom we have before us, and even do what seems to us useful for the education and upbringing of children, realizing that they are children: so the Word of God seems to have disposed the things which were written, adapting the suitable parts of his message to the capacity of his hearers and to their ultimate profit.” (Contra Celsum, 5, 16; 4, 71). b. Interpretation must never contradict regula fidei (though later contradicted him!) i. “Every interpretation which is outside scripture is not holy. . . No one can bring his own interpretations unless he shall have shown them to be holy, from that which is contained in the divine Scriptures.” (Commentary on Matthew, 2.18). ii. “"Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition" (Fundamental Doctrines, 1, preface, 2). iii. "[I]f we were to attend carefully to the Gospels, we should also find, in relation to those things which seem to be common to Peter . . . a great difference and a preeminence in the things [Jesus] said to Peter, compared with the second class [of apostles]. For it is no small difference that Peter received the keys not of one heaven but of more, and in order that whatsoever things he binds on earth may be bound not in one heaven but in

them all, as compared with the many who bind on earth and loose on earth, so that these things are bound and loosed not in [all] the heavens, as in the case of Peter, but in one only; for they do not reach so high a stage with power as Peter to bind and loose in all the heavens" (Commentary on Matthew 13:31).

Origen and Catholic Doctrines
1. Apostolic tradition Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2). 2. Eucharist Formerly there was baptism in an obscure way . . . now, however, in full view, there is regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit. Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’ [John 6:55] (Homilies on Numbers 7:2 [A.D. 248]). 3. Sacramental Confession [A fincallsal method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, ‘I said, "To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity” (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248]). 4. Infant baptism Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous” (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]). The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]). 5. Trinitarian formula for Baptism The Lord himself told his disciples that they should baptize all peoples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . for indeed, legitimate baptism is had only in the name of the Trinity (Commentary on Romans 5:8 [A.D. 248]). 6. Communion of Saints But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep (Prayer 11 [A.D. 233]). 7. Christology a. Anticipates Athanasius: there was no time when the Son was not (οὐκ ἔστιν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν)5 b. Origen writes that Christ's Sonship is by nature, not by adoption6 c. Explains that the Son proceeds from the Father by way of an eternal spiritual act of generation7 d. Describes the Son's relation to the Father in terms of consubstantial: homoousios (ὁμοὐσιος)8

De princ. 1,2,9f; 2; 4,4,1; In Rom. 1,5. It is not "per adoptionem spiritus filius, sed natura filius” (De princ. 1,2,4). 7 “aeterno ac sempiterna generatio” (In Jer. 9,4; De. princ. 1,2,4). 8 In Heb. frg. 24, 359.

What else are we to suppose the eternal light is but God the Father, who never so was that, while He was the light, His splendor (Heb 1:3) was not present with Him? Light without splendor is unthinkable. But if this is true, there is never a time when the Son was not the Son. He will be, however, not, as we have described the eternal light, unborn (lest we seem to introduce two principles of light), but, as it were, the splendor of the unbegotten light, with that very light as His beginning and source, born of it indeed, but there was not a time when He was not. Thus Wisdom, too, since it proceeds from God, is generated out of the divine substance itself. Under the figure of a bodily outflow, nevertheless, it, too, is thus called 'a sort of clean and pure outflow of omnipotent glory' (Wis. 7:25). Both these similes manifestly show the community of substance between Son and Father. For an outflow seems ὁμοὐσιος, i.e., of one substance with that body of which it is the outflow or exhaltation (In Hebr. frg. 24,359). e. He describes Christ as the “God-Man” (θεάνθρωπος) (De princ. 2,6,3). 8. Trinity a. Origen uses the term “trinity” (τριάς)9 b. Anticipates the psychological model of the Trinity used by later writers “For if the Son do all those things which the Father does, then, in virtue of the Son doing all things like the Father, is the image of the Father formed in the Son, who is born of Him, like an act of His will proceeding from the mind. And I am therefore of opinion that the will of the Father ought alone to be sufficient for the existence of that which He wishes to exist. For in the exercise of His will He employs no other way than that which is made known by the counsel of His will. And thus also the existence (subsistentia) of the Son is generated by Him. For this point must above all others be maintained by those who allow nothing to be unbegotten, i.e., unborn, save God the Father only. . . As an act of the will proceeds from the understanding, and neither cuts off any part nor is separated or divided from it, so after some such fashion is the Father to be supposed as having begotten the Son, His own image; namely, so that, as He is Himself invisible by nature, He also begat an image that was invisible. For the Son is the Word, and therefore we are not to understand that anything in Him is cognizable by the senses. He is wisdom, and in wisdom there can be no suspicion of anything corporeal. He is the true light, which enlightens every man that cometh into this world; but he has nothing in common with the light of this sun. Our Saviour, therefore, is the image of the invisible God, inasmuch as compared with the Father Himself He is the truth: and as compared with us, to whom He reveals the Father, He is the image by which we come to the knowledge of the Father, whom no one knows save the Son, and he to whom the Son is pleased to reveal Him (De princ. 1,2,6 ANF). 9. Mariology No one can grasp the meaning of the Gospel (of John) unless he has rested on the breast of Jesus, and unless he has received from Him Mary, who becomes his mother also (Origen, Commentary on John, 1:6). 10. Systematic treatise on prayer and the spiritual life

1. Largely due to uncritical acceptance of Platonic thought 2. Never deliberately rejected teaching of the Church 3. Origenism of 6th century rests on Origen’s works a. Pre-existence of the soul

In Joh. 10, 39, 270; 6, 33, 166; In Jes. hom. 1,4,1.

b. Apokatastasis 4. Subordinationist thought

Origen and Justification
Linked to “ceremonial laws”10 Origen: “faith” as synecdoche (includes the whole of post-baptismal renewal) The life of faith begins with baptism11 Justification first occurs without works12 Good works flow from the gift of infused faith13 Cannot say justification is by faith alone because of the witness of Scripture! “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (Jas 2:24) 7. Example: Good thief—believes and rebukes the blasphemer!14 8. Similar approach in Jerome,15 Augustine,16 Chyrsostom17, Aquinas18 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.


“One should know that the works which Paul repudiates and frequently criticizes are not the works of righteousness [opera iustitiae] which are commanded in the law, but those in which they boast who keep the law according to the flesh; that is, the circumcision of the flesh, the sacrificial rituals, the observance of Sabbaths and new moon festivals [cf. Col 2.18]. These and works of a similar nature are the works by which he says no one can be saved, and concerning which he says in the present passage, ‘not on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.’ For if anyone is justified through these, he is not justified gratis. But these works are by no means sought from the one who is justified through grace; but this one should take care that the grace he has received should not be in him ‘in vain’ [cf. 1 Cor 15.10] . . . So then, one does not make grace become in vain who joins works to it that are worthy and who does not show himself ungrateful for the grace of God. For anyone who sins after having attained grace becomes ungrateful to him who offered the grace.” Origen, Commentary on Romans 8, 7, 6. Cited from Scheck, Origen and the History of Justification, 40. The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on Romans (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 48–49. 11 See Origen, Commentary on Romans, 2.5.256–59, who cites John 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” For a fuller discussion see Scheck, Origen and the History of Justification, 40–41. 12 “A human being is justified through faith; the works of the law contribute nothing to his being justified. But where there is no faith which justifies the believer, even if one possesses works from the law, nevertheless because they have not been built upon the foundation of faith, although they might appear to be good things, nevertheless they are not able to justify the one doing them, because from them faith is absent, which is the sign of those who are justified by God. . . . Therefore all boasting which comes from the works of the law is excluded.” Origen, Commentary on Romans 3.6.61–71; cited Scheck, Origen and the History of Justification, 40. Cited at Trent. 13 “The Apostle is saying that it is only on the basis that one believes in him who justifies the ungodly that righteousness is reckoned to a man, even if he has not yet produced works of righteousness. For faith that believers in the one who justifies is the beginning of being justified by God [initium iustificari a Deo]. And this faith, when it has been justified, is embedded in [haeret] the soil of the soul like a root that has received rain so that when it begins to be cultivated through God’s law, branches arise from it which bring forth the fruit of works. The root of righteousness, therefore, does not grow out of the works, but the fruit of works grows out of the root of righteousness, namely out of the root of righteousness which God accepts even without works.” Origen, Commentary on Romans 4.1.216–24; cited from Scheck, Origen and the History of Justification, 50. 14 “Christ himself then is the tree of life. . . . His death becomes for us a tree of life as a new and a wonderful gift from God . . . Now I think that one could fittingly say this also about that thief who was hanging together with Jesus on the cross and has appeared to be planted together into the likeness of his death by his confession in which he said: ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom’; and he rebuked the other thief who was blaspheming. But it has appeared that he was also planted together inhis resurrection by what is said to him: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ For truly he was a plant worthy of paradise which was joined to the tree of life.” Origen, Commentary on Romans, 5.10.264–66; cited from Scheck, Origen and the History of Justification, 46–47. 15 “There are indeed many things, he says, which could under interrogation compel you to prefer the gospel to the law; but since you are senseless and are by no means able to hear these things, I should speak with simple words to you. I should ask about what is at hand: whether it was works of the law, observance of the Sabbath, the superstition of circumcision and new moons that gave you the Holy Spirit that you received? . . . . Let us consider carefully that he does not say, ‘I want to learn from you’ whether you ‘received the Spirit by works, but instead ‘by the works of the law.’ For he knew that even Cornelius the centurion had received the Spirit by works but not by ‘works of the law,’ with which he was unacquainted. But if, on the other hand, it is said: well then, the Spirit can be received even without the ‘hearing of faith,’ we will respond that he [Cornelius] did indeed receive the Spirit, but by the ‘hearing of faith’ and by natural law, which speaks within our hearts the good things that must be done and the evils that must be avoided.” Jerome,

Commentary on Galatians on 3:2. Cited from Thomas P. Scheck, trans., St. Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus and Philemon (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 114. 16 “Here he begins to demonstrate in what sense the grace of faith is sufficient for justification without the works of the law. . . . But so that this question may be carefully treated and no one may be deceived by ambiguities, we must first understand that the works of the law are twofold; for they reside partly in ceremonial ordinances and partly in morals. To the ordinances belong the circumcision of the flesh, the weekly Sabbath, new moons, sacrifices and all the innumerable observances of this kind. But to morality belong ‘You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness’ and so on. Could the apostle possibly not care whether a Christian were a murderer and adulterer or chase and innocent, in the way that he does not care whether he is circumcised or uncircumcised in the flesh? He therefore is specially concerned with the works that consist in ceremonial ordinances, although he indicates that the others are sometimes bound up with them. But near the end of the letter he deals separately with those works that consist in morals, and he does this briefly, but he speaks at greater length regarding the [ceremonial] works . . .” Augustine, Commentary on Galatians on 3:2. Cited from Thomas P. Scheck, trans., St. Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus and Philemon (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 114. 17 See John Chrysostom, Homily 3 on Galatians at 3:3. 18 “ . . . he is speaking here about keeping the commandments of the Law insofar as the Law consists of ceremonial precepts and moral precepts.” Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, ch. 3, lecture 4.

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