Biography Of Origen Of Alexandria
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 Biography of Origen of Alexandria

Alexandria (c. 185-233)

Origen was born in 184 or 185 in Alexandria, Egypt, a thriving city founded by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. Alexandria was a center of commerce and culture, the birthplace of Neoplatonism and the hometown of the Philo, the great Jewish philosopher. Christianity arrived as early as the close of the first century AD, in both its Catholic and Gnostic forms, and eagerly joined the rich atmosphere of philosophical discussion already present. In sharp contrast to Latin theologians such as Tertullian, Alexandrian Christians viewed Greek philosophy as a useful means for interpreting and sharing their faith.

According to Eusebius and most other sources, Origen's parents were Christians. Porphyry, a Neoplatonist, claims Origen's parents were pagans, but Eusebius' account is more authoritative. Origen's name ("son of Horus") could also be seen as indicating otherwise, but we know of other examples of Christian families continuing to use traditional pagan names. Origen was the eldest of seven children. His mother's name is unknown, but his father was Leonides, a Roman citizen of high standing {2} and probably a teacher of Greek literature. Leonides personally educated his brilliant son in both Hellenistic and Biblical studies, and often found himself unable to answer Origen's probing questions regarding the latter.

In 202, Leonides was taken prisoner and martyred under the persecution of Septimus Severus. Origen sought to share the fate of his father, and was only prevented by his mother's desperate act of hiding his clothes to prevent him going outside. {3} Origen satisfied himself with writing an earnest letter to his father exhorting him to face death if necessary and cautioning him "not to change your mind because of us." {4} Leonides was martyred by beheading (the means of death indicating his Roman citizenship) and his fortunes were confiscated by the empire.

Origen took shelter for a time in the household of a wealthy Christian lady while he continued his studies. Within a year or so, he had begun work as a teacher of Greek literature in order to support himself and his newly impoverished family. In the meantime, Origen continued his own education. Porphyry, a Neoplatonist, reports that Origen was a student of Ammonius Saccas, the famed founder of Neoplatonism. Indeed, Origen's thought is heavily influenced by Platonic philosophy, and in his writings he makes brief mention of his "teacher of philosophy."

Another report is less clearly verified. Eusebius tells us that Origen was a pupil of Clement at the catechetical school in Alexandria. Yet elsewhere the same author tells us that at the time of persecution under Septimus Severus, all the leaders of the school had been driven away. Origen would therefore have been learning from Clement when the former was no more than 17 years old, but this is certainly not impossible. Yet in Origen's writings there is a curious lack of significant influence by Clement. He never quotes him by name, and seems to reject some of his ideas. It is clear Origen was familiar with Clement's works, but beyond that we are not left well informed as to the true nature of the eminent Alexandrians' relationship.

Catechetical School

As mentioned above, persecution under Severus had left the catechetical school of Alexandria without leadership. To meet the needs of those who desired to learn about the Christian faith, Bishop Demetrius appointed Origen to take over the school. He continued his Hellenistic teaching as well, but when his brothers became old enough to support the family, he was able to focus his energies entirely on religious instruction.

By all accounts Origen lived an extremely ascetic life - he had changed little from the impulsive youth who was more than willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. Famously, his great zeal even caused him to castrate himself. It seems his primary motive was to avoid any possible scandal due to his private instruction of women. He also seems to have literally interpreted Matthew 19:12, "There are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Eusebius comments that this drastic measure was "proof of an inexperienced and youthful heart but also of faith and self control." {5}

Origen appears to have thought better of this act later in life. In his Commentary on Matthew he writes disparagingly of those who take 19:12 literally, and calls such an action an "outrage." This and other factors have led some scholars to doubt the veracity of Eusebius' report of the matter (which is the only report available). But it is difficult to imagine what would prompt Eusebius to fabricate an event that does not reflect all that favorably on his hero, and Origen wrote of the physical problems resulting from castration in a way that suggests personal experience.

Much of Origen's career in Alexandria was spent supporting fellow believers in the midst of intermittent persecution. Several of his own students were martyred, most notably Plutarch. It is remarkable Origen was himself spared, being such a prominent figure and so often present at prisons and executions. His life was in danger more than once, but he managed to survive, in part by moving from house to house, to continue his instruction of pagans and new believers in the Christian faith.

The popularity of the Alexandrian school grew to the point that it was necessary to share the burden of teaching. Around the year 212, Origen chose his pupil Heraclas, the brother of Plutarch and future bishop of Alexandria, as his colleague. Heraclas took over the elementary teaching of catechumens, freeing Origen to focus on instruction of more advanced students. In the Alexandrian tradition, Origen's curriculum covered not only the Christian faith, but the ideas of several schools of Greek philosophy.

Around this time, Origen began to learn Hebrew to facilitate his study of the Old Testament and his conversations with Jews. Although he regarded the Greek Septuagint as the authoritative version, knowledge of the Hebrew text was necessary in conversations with Jews who considered only the latter to be inspired. Origen also began to compile the Hexapla (a six-columned Old Testament with one Hebrew and five Greek versions). In both projects he enlisted the help of several Jewish acquaintances. {6}


Origen's career in Alexandria was interrupted by five separate journeys. The first was a brief visit to Rome in 213 because, as Eusebius tells us, Origen "wished to see the ancient Church of the Romans." In 215, Origen traveled to the province of Arabia (today's Jordan) at the invitation of its governor, who wished to learn about Christianity from one of its finest teachers. The mission was carried out quickly and Origen returned to Alexandria.

However, the scholar arrived to find his city in chaos. In his absence there had been a uprising, causing the Emperor Caracalla to order the city plundered, the schools closed, and all faculty exiled. Origen therefore left his hometown once again, this time destined for Caesarea in Palestine. There Bishop Theoctistus took advantage of the presence of such a distinguished biblical scholar and invited Origen to preach to the congregation.

The eminent Alexandrian, however, had not been ordained, and Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria was angered when he heard that his catechist was being allowed to preach. He sent a letter of protest to the Palestinian bishops, complaining, "It has never been heard of and it never happens now that laymen preach homilies in the presence of bishops," and demanding Origen's return home.

Around 218, Origen received another invitation to teach Christianity to an interested pagan; this time from the Empress Julia Mammaea, the mother of Emperor Alexander Severus. Eusebius explains, "As Origen's renown spread everywhere and even came to her ears, she thought it very important to be favored with the sight of this man and to sample his understanding of divine matters which everyone was admiring." Origen stayed in Antioch for a short while, then returned again to Alexandria.

The "Great Crisis"

Origen's last journey was a fateful one. He set out for Greece with the apparent purpose of having discussions with a heretic. He took the long way there, through Palestine, presumably to visit his friends, the bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea. While in Caesarea, he was ordained to the priesthood by the bishop of that city. His motive for doing so is not entirely known, but it is not unlikely it was based on a desire to give Origen the honor he deserved and to avoid further problems due to him preaching as a layman.

As Origen continued on to Athens from Caesarea, word of the ordination reached Bishop Demetrius. He was, of course, incensed by this breach of his jurisdiction over the Alexandrian. To add fuel to the fire, rumors began to swirl that Origen had been teaching that eventually the devil would be saved. From Athens, Origen protested that he had never said any such thing.

Upon Origen's return, two successive synods were held concerning Origen: the first banished him from Alexandria (presumably based on the fact that he was ordained for service elsewhere); the second stripped him of his priesthood. Apparently Demetrius also chose to make Origen's self-castration public at this time as well. Both Eusebius and the early Jerome attributed Demetrias' treatment of Origen to jealousy.

Importantly, the bishops of four provinces refused to accept the latter ruling: Palestine, Arabia (Jordan), Phoenicia and Achaia (Greece). It is in these regions that Origen would spent the remainder of his life, acting as a priest as well as a scholar. In 233, Origen left Alexandria to make his permanent home in Caesarea.

Caesarea (233-c. 254)

Origen was hurt by the conflict with Demetrias, and was not able to resume his work right away. In the sixth volume of the Commentary on John, his first work in Caesarea, Origen likens his ordeal to that of the Jews in Egypt and his removal to Caesarea to the Exodus. But he affirms that God has quenched the fiery arrows of his enemies and his soul had grown accustomed to trials.

In Casearea, Origen added preaching to his regular duties of teaching and writing. This put him in contact with ordinary church members as well as the scholarly elite, and there is corresponding evidence of pastoral concerns in his writings of this part of his career. Almost 300 homilies preached by Origin have survived, far more than what we have of any other teacher of that era. {7} There must have been hundreds more that have not survived, as he is reported to have eventually preached "every day."

Of Origen's teaching career in Caesarea we have valuable information thanks to the Farewell Address from Gregory Thaumaturgus, Origen's pupil of five years. Gregory's warm admiration for his teacher is clear: he writes, "In my estimation there arose but one object dear and worth desire - to wit philosophy, and that master of philosophy, that divine man." (VI, 83-84)

Gregory tells us that Origen taught the following subjects at Caesarea: logic by Socratic method; the natural sciences with a view to demonstrating divine providence; ethics, centered on the four cardinal virtues; theology, including the thought of all philosophical schools but the atheists; and the Scriptures. This was not exactly a catechetical school, nor a course in theology; it seems it primarily functioned as a missionary school for pagans interested in Christianity. {8}

During his career in Caesarea, Origen made several more journeys, all to assist in the correction of heresy. In the first, he succeeded in bringing Beryllus, Bishop of Bostra (Roman Arabia/modern Jordan) out of adoptionism and back to orthodoxy. The second journey was also to Arabia, and this time dealt with those who believed the soul dies with the body and is resurrected with the body. A council was convened with Origen present, and those holding this view were converted.

A third mission, the place and time of which is unclear, found Origen conducting a council and questioning Bishop Heraclides on several matters, including the diversity and unity of Father and the Son, the two natures of the Son, adoptionism and the the immorality of the soul.


We saw above that Origen managed to survive the persecutions of Septimus Severus and Maximin the Thracian. He did not, however, survive the persecution of Decius, one of the worst and most widespread of early persecution. Many Christians were imprisoned in Caesarea, including Alexander of Jerusalem, who died in prison. In part due to the large influx of nominal believers under the Christian Emperor Philip of Arabia, a great deal of apostasy resulted from the persecution.

Origen himself, in his late sixties, was put in prison and tortured. We are told his judges took care not to kill him, as the apostasy of such a great Christian leader would be very valuable in discouraging the masses. Eusebius tells us that Origen endured chains, darkness, threats of fire, and having his legs "pulled four paces apart in the torturer's stocks." {9} But the Alexandria, who had spent much of his life exhorting others to martyrdom if necessary and encouraging the persecuted, shown no signs of betraying the faith.

Reports of the exact circumstances of his death vary somewhat, but Eusebius tells us that he lived for sometime after the persecution, into the reign of the succeeding emperors, Gallus and Volusian. Both Eusebius and Photius affirm that this is proved by the existence of letters from Origen written during this period, containing "words of value for those who need to be strengthened." {10} Jerome reports that Origen was buried in Tyre, in Phoenicia, and several other historical records confirm the presence of his tomb there until the Middle Ages.

Works and Thought of Origen of Alexandria

Despite his brilliant mind, earnest spirituality, and important contributions to the development of Christian thought, Origen has received mixed reviews in Christian history. He had no lack of admirers in the first centuries after his death, most notably among them the church historian Eusebius and St. Jerome the scholar. But several regional synods of Catholic church (Alexandria in 399, Jerusalem, Cyprus) and perhaps one general council (Constantinople in 553) labeled him a heretic due to both his teachings and some wrongly attributed to him.

Thanks in part to his wealthy patron, Origen produced an enormous literary output over the course of his life. His major scholarly work is the Hexapla, an edition of the Old Testament in six columns (Hebrew, a Greek transliteration, and four Greek translations). He also wrote commentaries on many books of the Bible.

One of the primary distinguishing characteristics of Alexandrian thought is the allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Origen was not the first to employ this method, but he was the most influential. A prolific writer of commentaries, Origen held the Scriptures in the highest esteem. As the Word of God, he believed them to be perfect and incapable of error. Yet he also fully acknowledged the numerous problems and contradictions that can be found within its pages. He asked, for example, "What man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without the sun and moon and stars?" (De Princ. 4.3.1)

To resolve the problem of an inerrant book that contained errors, Origen taught that there were layers within Scripture:

... And when God is said to "walk in the paradise in the cool of the day"... I don't think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblence of history and not through actual events. (De Princ. 4.3.1) Origen found three levels of meaning in the Scriptures: the common or historical sense, for the simple-minded or beginning reader, the "Soul" of the Scriptures which edifies those who perceive it, and a meaning hidden under those passages that are repugnant to the intellect by means of allegory. Origen's major apologetic work, Against Celsus, was the ablest defense of Christianity that had appeared thus far. Perhaps Origen's greatest work is his great systematic theology: De principiis (On First Principles). Similar to the writings of Clement, it is an attempt to relate Christian faith to the philosophy of Alexandria - Neoplatonism. But his guiding principle was "nothing which is at variance with the tradition of the apostles and of the church is to be accepted as true."

Much of On First Principles is orthodox and mainstream Christian theology - he affirms one God, creator and ruler of universe, Jesus Christ begotten before creation who was divine in His incarnation, and the Holy Spirit's glory as no less than the Father and the Son. He explained that humans derive their existence from the Father, their rational nature from the Son, and their holiness from the Holy Spirit. But Origen also enters into some great speculative flights in On First Principles, which would lead some church leaders to question his orthodoxy.

First, he proposed that there were two creations, which are narrated in the two accounts in Genesis. The first creation was of spirits without bodies. These spirits had free will, and some strayed from the purpose for which they were created - contemplation of the divine - and fell. This led to the second creation, the material creation. Those who fell farthest were made demons, while others became human. By extension, then, the reason we have human bodies and experience suffering is because of our sin in preexistence. Origen claims this notion is based in the Bible, but it is clearly influenced by Platonic tradition.

Another controversial topic in De principiis is universalism. Origen suggested that since God is love, everyone, even Satan, will be saved in the end (by endless opportunities for repentance, through learning and growth, even after death), and the entire creation will return to its original state where all was pure spirit.


- Henri Crouzel, trans. A.S. Worrall, Origen (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 5.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.2.5.

Eusebius, 6.2.6.

Eusebius, 6.9.1-5.

Crouzel, 13.

Crouzel, 29.

Crouzel 29.

Eusebius, 6.39.4.

Crouzel, 35.

Related Articles - Clement of Alexandria

History of the Development of Doctrine

The Church Fathers

External Links on Clement of Alexandria - Origen and Origenism - Catholic Encyclopedia A thorough, scholarly treatment of Origen's life, works, and thought.

Origen - Handbook of Patrology Overview of Origen's life, character, works and thought.

Introductory Note to the Works of Origen - Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4 Online text of the life of Origen by Dr. Crombie, professor at St. Andrews, for a set published in 1885.

Origen's Writings


In 217 A.D, or soon after that, Origen made a great friend, Ambrose, a man of means and position whom he had won from Valentinian heresy. According to Eusebius, Origen began his commentaries on the Holy Scriptures being urged thereto by Ambrose, his publisher, who put his fortune at the service of his master. He dictated to more than seven amanuenses, who relieved each other at appointed times. And he employed no fewer copyists, besides girls who were skilled in elegant writing.

The object aimed at by the two friends is thus set forth by Origen, writing to Ambrose:

Today, under the pretext of gnosis, the heretics set themselves up against the holy Church of Christ, and multiply the volumes of their commentaries in which they pretend to interpret the evangelical and apostolic writings. If we ourselves keep silence, if we do not oppose them with true and sound doctrines, they will attract famished souls who, in the absence of healthy nourishment, will seize upon these forbidden foods which are indeed impure and abominable... In your own case, it was because you could not find masters capable of teaching you a higher doctrine, and because your love for Jesus could not abide an unreasoned and common faith, hence you formerly gave yourself up to those doctrines which subsequently you condemned and rejected, as was right.

This passage reveals to us the fundamental motive of Origen's thought: in the city of Alexandria where Greeks, Jews, Gnostics and Christians are greedy for religious knowledge, and all claim to possess its secret, one cannot be satisfied with an "unreasoned and common faith;" the pride of a Christian will not suffer this, nor his "love for Jesus." But from whom is this high religious knowledge to be sought, if not from the master of the Alexandrian School? St. Clement had realized the indispensable necessity of such instruction; he had managed to give an outline of it. But it deserved to be expounded fully, and to this work Origen devoted his life.



Origen was the most prolific Christian writer of antiquity. St. Epiphanius declared that Origen had written 6000 works-scrolls of undoubted value and of varied lengths. The complete list of his writings that Eusebius added to the biography of his friend and teacher Pamphilus was lost. According to St. Jerome who used it, Origen's treatises are two thousand. St. Jerome's question, "which of us can read all that he has written?" is a sufficient testimony to the magnitude of Origen's literary works. Charles Bigg says, "The marvel is not that Origen composed so much, but that he composed so well."

The Origenistic Controversies caused most of the literary output of the great Alexandrian to disappear. The greater part of his writings has perished as a result of the violent quarrels which broke out concerning his orthodoxy. Not only the reading of his works was proscribed but even preserving any of them was considered an illegal deed.

We possess only a small remnant of his work, mostly preserved, not in the original Greek, but in Latin translations. There is a number of Latin translations. Some are made by Saint Hilary, Saint Jerome, and several others.. The greater part comes from the pen of Rufinus of Aquileia. St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nzianzus compiled an anthology (Philokalia Origenis).



The Latin translations of Origen's works, especially those by Rufinus, are not accurate. For he wanted to present his author to the Latin-speaking public and therefore did not hesitate to abridge some passages that seemed to him to be too long or to add explanations when he thought it advisable. Refinus thought that Origen's books had been altered by heretics, and that he had the right to expurgate them...

Heine has summarized Rufinusí alteration of Origenís text along five lines.

1. Heine suggests that Rufinus suppressed contradictory elements in Origen.

2. Rufinus attempted to restore the original thought of Origen from other texts of Origenís works.

3. He attempted to clarify Origenís thought where he found it obscure.

4. He admitted that he had abridged the text of Origen.

5. Rufinus translated the sense into Latin and did not give a word for word translation.

However, the conclusion reached by Ronald Heine and Annie Jaubert appears justified. The homilies of Origen are paraphrased in great length, yet they convey accurately all his thought. Even though Origenís exact expression is lost, the genuineness of the thought remains.



1. Lebreton says, "The widespread influence of Origen will not surprise anyone who studies his teaching. In him, theology aims no longer merely at refuting opponents, but also at instructing Christians; it sets out to penetrate revealed truths more closely, and to co-ordinate them in a doctrinal synthesis in which the mind can find a place for all that it believes and all that it knows."

2. Origen, in his writings, as other Alexandrian Fathers, was interested in witnessing to the Gospel as an experienced life. Adalbert Hamman remarked that the Fathers of the Church preach and write to instruct their congregations, not to provide universities with topics for doctoral dissertations.

3. David G. Hunter says,

Origen's homilies were preached spontaneously, not prepared in writing. Their subject matter, always the scriptures, was dictated by the serial reading of the books of the Bible. They were utterly lacking in rhetorical polish, and showed the simplicity that led the church to choose to call discourses on the scriptures homiliai. After the reading, and with little or no introduction , Origen would begin to explain the scripture, verse by verse. He dealt first with the literal sense, then with any spiritual (meanings) he discovered. He always tried to find a way for his hearers to apply the passage to their lives. He ended his homilies, sometimes quite abruptly, with a doxology.

The most spectacular example of Origen's spontaneity is found in the homily on the witch of Endor. On the day Origen preached this homily in Jerusalem, before bishop Alexander, chapters 25 to 28 of 1 Samuel were read. Origen began by saying that the reading contained four periscopes or narratives, and that it would take several hours to explain the whole passage. He then turned to the bishop and asked him which passage he would like to hear explained. The bishop answered: the one about the witch. And Origen explained it.

Another incident is equally interesting. While Origen was preaching on the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, a member of the congregation suffered an attack of epilepsy or the like and began to shout out. Others rushed to aid the person. Origen who was commenting on Hannah's words "My heart rejoiced in the Lord" (1 Sam. 2:1) worked the incident into his homily, explaining it as the work of an unclean spirit that could not bear the congregation's rejoicing in the Lord and tried to change their joy into sorrow.

4. Origen used the techniques he learned from Alexandrian literary study to refute heretical interpretations, to demonstrate to the simple the need for seeking a deeper meaning, and to provide the clues needed to reach the spiritual sense.

5. N.R.M. De Lange in the introduction of his book "Origen and the Jews" states that Origen "taking a great interest in the customs and traditions of the Jews and knowing personally certain Jewish teachers of his time, he is excellently placed to give a sympathetic outsiderís view of the Jews of his day and of their relations with their non-Jewish neighbors."

For example, Origen tells us of a Jewish Midrash in a curious passage of Ezechiel, which unites Noah, Daniel, and Job as types of just men who have been spared (16:11): I heard a Jew explain this passage by saying that they had been mentioned as having known the three stages: happy, unhappy, happy...see Noah before the Flood when the world was still intact. See him in the destruction of the world saved in the ark. See him coming out after the Flood becoming as it were the creator of a new world. Such is the just man: he sees the world before the Flood, that is before the end: he sees it in the Flood, that is in the destruction of sinful man at the day of Judgment: and he will see it again at the resurrection of all sinners.

6. Except in Contra Celsum he almost never quotes from profane authors. He is not a man who professes in private: he is rather a lecturer, and above all he is a catchiest and a preacher. He is quite willing to include idolaters, heretics and "philosophers" in a single sweeping condemnation. He knows that "the knowledge which converts men to lead a holy life comes only from...Christ" and that Christ is found only "in the Church" which is filled with his splendor - the Church, pillar and firm support of the truth, where the Son of Man dwells in fullness. From the moment when he becomes a priest, he is aware that he "exercises the teaching office of the Church, of which he bears the authentic character"í he wishes to be "the faithful steward of the divine mysteries." He compares the writings of the apostles to the trumpets of Israelís army which reduced to rubble the walls of Jericho, the whole machinery of paganism, and the systems of its thinkers.

7. Henri Crouzel says,

The literary work of Origen has three essential characteristics, often inseparable and found, in varying degrees, in almost every writing of his: exegesis, spirituality, and speculative theology. An important part is often played in his work by philosophy, philology and various subjects. So we study Origen's exegesis, spirituality and theology, and in his theology the place taken by philosophy. But these three characteristics are not separable from each other; he knows 'no distinction of the genres'. They constantly interpenetrate, so that one of these aspects cannot be ' understood if abstracted from the other twoí. Usually it is Scripture that forms the basis of his doctrine and it is from Scripture that he derives both his spiritual and his theological teaching, a spiritual teaching which always has theological foundations and a theological teaching from which a spiritual flavor is never lacking .

8. From the various works of Lomiento it emerges that, contrary to many current evaluations, Origen is a writer of worth, without useless ornamentation, but with a great power of expression.

9. In the dedication of Book 20 of the Commentary on John he prays to receive 'from the fullness of the Son of God, in whom it has pleased all the fullness to dwell.'

10. Origen constantly paid attention in his commentaries and often also in his homilies to the different readings that he found in the manuscripts.

11. Origen aims in almost all his writings and homilies to refute, directly or indirectly, the major heresies of his time, and the Gnostic sects, especially the trio Basilides - Valentinus - Marcion.

12. And though he gave an impression of vast authority in his writings, he was prepared to be humble. "If anyone else can find something better, confirming what he says by clear proofs from Holy Scripture, let his opinion be preferred to ours." Sometimes Origen makes no firm statement, but he gives several interpretations of the same passage, and they clearly remain hypothetical: they are statements by way of exercise, gymnastikos. St. Athanasius also expresses approval of this way of proceeding, when he is writing about Origen. Most of the time Origen expresses himself thus when neither Scripture nor reason allows him to affirm more strongly, that is dogmatikos. The same can be said of the exegeses that do not originate from the New Testament: they also put forward interpretations by way of research.

The researcher who merely suggests his solutions to the reader and leaves the latter free to adopt others if he finds them preferable cannot be other than modest. The Alexandrian's modesty is noted by a considerable number of critics. The same goes for the Scriptural interpretations of which we have just spoken; they are suggested as something to reflect on and to contemplate and Origen declares himself ready to abandon them if anyone finds anything better.

Pamphilus of Caesarea, a writer who shows the most intelligent appreciation of Origen's manner, also emphasizes this aspect in the preface to his Apology for Origen:

We frequently find, however, that he speaks with a great fear of God and in all humility when he excuses himself from expounding what comes to his mind in the course of very advanced discussions and a full examination of the Scriptures: and when he is expounding he is often wont to add and to avow that he is not uttering a final pronouncement nor expressing an established doctrine, but that he is researching to the limit of his ability, that he is discussing the meaning of the Scriptures and that he does not claim to have understood that meaning wholly or perfectly: he says that on many points he has a preliminary idea but that he is not sure that he has reached in every respect perfection or a complete solution. Sometimes we see him recognizing that he is hesitating about a number of points on which he raises questions that come to his mind; he does not give a solution to them, but in all humility and sincerity he does not blush to admit that all is not clear to him. We often hear him inserting into his addresses words which today even the most ignorant of his detractors would be too proud to utter namely that if anyone speaks or expresses himself on these subjects better than he, then it is preferable to listen to that teacher rather than to him. In addition to this we sometimes find him giving more than one answer to the same question: and quite reverently, as someone who knows he is speaking of the Holy Scriptures, after setting out the numerous ideas that come to his mind, he asks those who are listening to test each of his statements and to retain what a prudent reader would find most correct. He does so most assuredly because he wishes that all the questions that he has raised and discussed be held worthy of consideration before being approved or considered finally settled. The fact being that, according to our faith, there are in Scripture many things that are mysterious and wrapped in secrecy. If we pay careful attention to the sincerity and catholic spirit with which he describes all his writings in the preface to the Commentary on Genesis, we shall easily get from this text an insight into all his thought.

Here is the passage from the Commentary on Genesis which Parmphilus goes on to quote:

If we were in every way too lazy and negligent to set about research, even though our Lord and Savior invites us to undertake it, we should certainly recoil (from such work), considering how far we fall short of the spiritual understanding with which the intellect needs to be endowed if it is to devote itself to research into such great matters.... If in the course of discussion a profound thought occurs to one, it must be stated but not categorically affirmed: to do the latter would be the act of a rash man who had forgotten himself and lost the sense of human weakness: or, alternatively, the act of perfect men who knew in complete confidence that they had been taught by the Lord Himself, that is to say that they get what they assert from the Word of Truth and from the very Wisdom by which everything was made; or again it would be the act of men who have received from heaven divine answers, having gone into the tempest and the darkness where God is to be found, where the great Moses found it so difficult to go, and having been there, been enabled to understand and to express such great matters. But we, by the simple fact that we believe, however poorly, in Christ Jesus, and that we boast of being his disciples, nevertheless do not dare to say that we have perceived face to face the meaning that He has passed on to us of what is contained in the divine books; for I am certain that the world itself could not hold that in a manner proportionate to the force and majesty of its meanings. That is why we do not dare to affirm what we say in the way that the Apostles did and we give thanks that, while so many are unaware of their own ignorance and affirm, in all conscience as it seems to them, to be a final truth every passing thought that occurs to them, without rule of order, sometimes even in a stupid or a mythological way, we, in relation to these great realities and to everything that is beyond us, are not ignorant of our ignorance.

Origen's procedure can be compared to that of a professor of philosophy who tries to present to his students different doctrines with all their implications and in all their force even if he personally holds yet another view or has not decided on any.


N.R.M. Lange in his book, "Origen and the Jews," speaks of Origenís sources concerning the Jews and Judaism in his writings. His work gives us an account of his sources as a whole.

1. In the first place there is the Greek Bible (the Septuagint), with which Origen became familiar in his childhood, and which permeated the whole of his thought. According to Tertullian the text was available, with the Hebrew original, with the rest of Ptolemyís library in the Serapeum, and besides it was read publicly by the Jews. In addition to the version of the Septuagint there were others more faithful to the Hebrew text, notably that of Aquila. He also collected other versions, including those attributed to Symmachus and Theodotion, the readings of which he included in the Hexapla.

2. He referred to some of the extra-canonical books, such as Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Prayer of Joseph, Ezra and several other Jewish apocrypha, including perhaps the Book of Jubilees. According to Harnack, since Origen knew these he ought also to have known all the Jewish apocryphal works listed by Nicephorus in his Stichometria. In addition he often quotes from unnamed Jewish apocrypha which do not seem to have survived.

3. Philo is quoted by Origen in a few places by name, and several more passages have been pointed out in which Origen seems to echo remarks of Philo, sometimes attributed to Ďone of our predecessors.í It would appear from this that Origen regarded Philo as part of the heritage of the Church. We do not know how or when the writings of Philo passed into the Christian tradition, but it cannot have been long before Origenís birth, perhaps after the crushing of the Jewish revolt of 115 A.D, when many of his readers may have entered the Church.

Jean Danielou says,

In the commentary on St. Matthew 15:3, he praises him explicitly. "Philo, who has won the respect of the learned by his many volumes on the Law of Moses, writes in his book about the traps set for the best by the good... "Here he is singing Philoís praises and making a precise reference to one of his works. Further on in the same commentary (17:17) he writes of a "man who lived before our time and wrote books called ĎAllegories on the Sacred Laws."

Jean Danielou explains the effect of Philo on the thought of Origen, saying,

We have seen how Philo interprets the image of God, to the likeness of which man is made, as the Logos, meeting place of ideas, and therefore containing in itself the archetypal ideal of man. Origen adopts this theory, but corrects it along Christian principles. The Logos, to the likeness of which man is made, is not the invisible creation prior to the visible world, that he is for Philo. He is the uncreated Logos, which became incarnate in Jesus Christ. For Origen the Logos has not the same nature as he has for Philo, though the latter has exerted his influence. And this Logos is identical with Jesus.

I find in the creation of man a remarkable fact, which I do not find elsewhere: God has made him to his image and likeness. Certainly, when we say that man is made in the image and likeness, we are not thinking of the bodily frame. No corporeal being can contain the image of God, but what has been made in Godís image is the interior man, invisible, incorporeal, incorruptible, immortal. In these qualities is the image of God more clearly understood. But we must see what is this image and seek to what particular likeness it is to which man is said to be formed. For it is not said that God made man in his own image, but to the likeness of the image of God. What, then, is this other image to the likeness of which man has been made, if not our Savior, who is the first born of all creation, of whom it is written that he is the brightness of eternal light and the figure of Godís substance; for he himself said: "He who has seen me, has seen the Father." All those who come to him and strive to become partakers of that invisible image, are daily renewed by their progress in the interior man to the image of him who made them.

But after this, Origen goes on to develop the allegory of creation in the manner of Philo. "Let us see by means of allegory how man in the image of God has been made male and female. Our interior man is composed of soul and spirit. The spirit is called man, the soul (anima) is called woman. If there is harmony between them, they unite frequently and beget sons which are good dispositions and salutary thoughts, by which they fill the earth, that is they lead their bodily senses to higher levels." This is pure Philonian allegory. The same principle is applied to the submission of animals to man. "You shall have dominion over the fishes of the sea and the birds of the air. We have already explained the literal meaning of this passage. Speaking allegorically (secundum allegoriam), it would appear to me that birds and fishes signify those realities of which we spoke earlier; I mean the dispositions of the soul and the thoughts of the beast." This example is quite sufficient to show how much our author borrows from Philo. Equally, with the Jewish philosopher Origen gives us a psychological and moral approach to the narrative of Genesis. This double approach is Christian and valid, for it represents the initial stages of Christian philosophy: it is not, however, a development of the sense of the text, but rather an extraneous addition. This moral allegorizing is confined by Origen within limits and runs on definite lines.

Henry Chadwick says,

But Origen's evident debt to Philo must not be used to put Origen into a Philonic strait-jacket with the effect of obliterating the important differences between them. The ethical, psychological and scientific exegesis of Philo is now being combined with the typological exegesis of Justin and Irenaeus, seeking in the Old Testament for specific foreshadowing of Christian doctrine in a way that is a natural and easy extension of the argument from prophecy common in the canonical gospels and going back to the earliest Christian generation.

4. Origen has friends among Jewish teachers and the rabbis, and consults them about Jewish interpretations, customs and traditions, of which he has a good knowledge. He makes use of Jewish traditions in expounding the Scriptures.

G. Bardy, in an article in the Revue Biblique for 1925 entitled "Les traditions juives dans líoeuvre díOrig?ne," collected some seventy passages of Origen which he thought represented borrowings of Jewish traditions.

Jean Danielou says,

A few examples of the more remarkable of these Jewish traditions will show the sort of thing involved. The Gnostic Apelles had rejected Noeís Ark as unhistorical, on the ground that it was "quite impossible for so small a space to contain so many animals and the food they would need for a whole year. The space mentioned could not accommodate even four elephants." In reply to this objection, Origen says: " I will tell him something I learned from my masters and from other sensible men who knew a great deal about Hebrew traditions. They used to say that it was clear from Scripture that Moses had been educated in Egypt and hence, they said, he calculated the number of cubits in the Ark by geometry, an art at which the Egyptians excelled. Well, geometricians have a method of reckoning which they call proportional, and by this method of reckoning which they call proportional, ... one cubit, in square measure and in cubic, can stand for six cubits and even for three hundred." And in the contra Celsum he explains that the Ark was about forty kilometers long and one kilometer wide. This is a proof of the literal accuracy of the text in the rabbinical tradition, a thing not often found in Origen.

We know hardly anything of Judaism in Alexandria at this time, and any information Origen could offer would be most welcome. He knew the city well, having been born and brought up there, and having lived there for the greater part of his life. In the works produced before he left Alexandria there are some interesting remarks about Jews and Judaism. What is to be made of these? We know that in the great revolt of 115-17 A.D. many of the Jews of Egypt were killed. In Alexandria, where the revolt was crushed in its early stages, some of the Jews survived, but Jewish community life appears to have come to an end and the power of the Jews in Alexandria was destroyed.

We must turn now to the question of the Jews whom Origen consulted and whose statements he quotes. It is clear from what he himself says that there were several of these, but his lack of precision makes it difficult to identify them and has generated a great deal of confusion.

In the preface to his Commentary on the Psalms he says that he sought explanations on the title of a psalm from the patriarch Ioullos and from someone who was said to be a scholar among the Jews. This Ioullos is thought by some to be a rabbi Hillel, who was not a patriarch but the son and brother of patriarchs. It is also believed, on the evidence of Talmudic texts that he was in contact with a famous rabbi of Caesarea, Hoschaia Rabba.

St. Jerome says that Origen mentions by name the patriarch Huillus, who was his contemporary. St. Jerome mentions a teaching of this patriarch based on certain psalms, and also says that Origen ended Book 30 of his commentary on Isaiah with his interpretation of Isaiah 29:1ff.

At least one of Origen's Jewish informants was a convert to Christianity, and it may be that he made use of several converted Jews. It is clear that Origen prided himself on his contacts with certain Jews.

There are many passages in which Origen attributes a teaching to "the Hebrews."

5 A certain historical source was Josephus, whom Origen several times quotes by name.

6. An interesting Greek Jewish document is the Midrashic history, perhaps translated into Greek from a Hebrew original in the third century, known as the Book of Biblical Antiquities.

7. There remain the Christian writers, both Ďorthodoxí and Ďhereticalí:

Melito of Sardes was certainly read by Origen, and had made the pilgrimage to Ďthe places where the message was proclaimed and the deeds were done,í where he recorded the canon of Scripture then current.

St. Pantaenus, who settled in Alexandria and taught there perhaps until Origen's early youth.

St. Clement is a more concrete influence.

Another scholar of the time who has received but scant attention is Julius Africanus, celebrated for his correspondence with Origen over the authenticity of the story of Susanna.

8. He was no less indefatigable in pursuit of secular learning. Porphyry, the Neoplatonist, who met him personally when Origen was an old man complained that Origen "always consorted with Plato" and studying the books of later Greek philosophers. Academic pagans considered that Christians who exercised the rights of rational thought were encroaching unfairly on the professional preserves of infidelity... Origen himself claimed the widest liberty to drink all the springs of Hellenic rationalism. He asks how he could deal with the religious difficulty of heretic and heathen inquirers if he did not make himself familiar with their literature; it was the course followed by Christian leaders in Alexandria both before and after himself...

He attended the lectures of Ammonius Saccas who can thus claim as his pupils in philosophy the two outstanding Greek thinkers of the Christian era-Origen himself and after him, Plotinus.


"Aggadah" is a word that has many meanings. In the present context it will be taken in its widest possible sense to include the whole body of non-legal traditions and elaborations of the biblical narrative which formed, or may reasonably be supposed to have formed, the stock in trade of early Amoraim.

"The Hebrews have a tradition in which the Lord God planted the "paradise" or garden called Eden, and they say it is in the middle of the world, like the pupil of an eye; that is why, they say, the river Pheison is interpreted "mouth of a pupil," since it is the first river that flows out of Eden. Their tradition is as follows: Eden, which is interpreted "sweet," existed before the garden came into being, for it was in it that the garden was planted."

Origen states that Adam spoke Hebrew, which would accord with the rabbinical belief that the world was created in Hebrew, but he mentions the fact in connection with the doctrine of the "angels of the nations" an idea which is not particularly associated with rabbinical Judaism.

Origen mentions a "tradition of the Hebrews" that Adam was buried at Golgotha. The immediate source of this tradition is evidently not rabbinical. Harnack says that it is more probably Judeo-Christian.

In a homily on Exodus Origen mentions a tradition (introduced in the Latin by the words "audiui a maioribus traditum") that separate paths were cut through the Red Sea for each of the twelve tribes. The same tradition is mentioned by Eusebius, who ascribes it to the Hebrews, and it is not unlikely that Eusebiusí source is Origen. At any rate the aggadah is well attested in the Jewish sources. There are hints of it in the Mekilta, and it is specifically mentioned in the Midrash and in the Targum.

An outstanding instance of Origenís adoption of aggadic interpretations is his comment on the image of the ox devouring the grass in the field in Numbers 22:4: "Just as a calf (tears up) the greenery with its mouth, so too the holy people, making war with its lips, has its weapons in its mouth, because of its prayers." Not only does this interpretation echo various rabbinical remarks, but it would also seem that Origen himself attributed it to a Jewish source.

A more questionable example is the statement that the angel who barred Balaamís way was the same angel of whom God says to Moses "My angel will go before you to guard you on your way." According to L. Ginzberg, this angel was thought to be Michael, and he quotes two rabbinical remarks to this effect.

The "Hebrew Tradition" quoted by Origen, to the effect that Phinehas was granted immortality has already been noticed.





It is the first attempt at establishing a critical text of the Old Testament. Nothing like it had ever been attempted on the Bible before, and no subsequent study of the text could fail to profit alike by its example and by its actual performance. "A golden book" it has been called with truth, for it touches not a single false note. It was an immense task to which Origen dedicated his whole life; it was begun in Alexandria, and it was finished probably in Tyre.

Charles Bigg says, "The Hexapla, the first great achievement of Christian erudition, is impressive in many ways, not least as a proof of the intelligence and sincerity of the community to which it was addressed. But with all his devotion and learning Origen was not a consummate master in the higher functions of criticism. His equipment was insufficient. His knowledge of Hebrew was respectable, and for his age remarkable, but not profound. He had a fair acquaintance with the grammar and dictionary, but had not penetrated into the genius of the language. Again he was hampered by prejudice.

Origen's Hexapla (the six-fold) is a milestone in biblical scholarship that makes him the father of textual criticism of the Bible in the Christian tradition. The work itself did not survive; in fact, no one may ever have made a full copy of it because of its sheer bulk and specialized function. It remained at Caesarea in Palestine until the Arab conquest, where a number of scholars, including the church historian Eusebius, and Jerome, the translator of the Bible into Latin, consulted it. It seems as if Eusebius had the column with the revised Septuagint copied, without the critical notations, as a text for use by the church.

Of the stately Hexapla time has spared us nothing but a gleaning of scattered fragments. The original MS perished probably when the library of Caesarea was destroyed by the Arabs in the middle of the seventh century, and its immense size-it consisted of not less than fifty great rolls of parchment-must have prevented its ever being copied as a whole, though the revised LXX was circulated separately, and indeed still exists in a Syriac translation.

It may, at first, appear surprising that Origen, whose real devotion was to the allegorical sense of the Bible hidden under the veil of the letter, paid such painstaking attention to the minutiae of textual criticism and, in fact, to other matters pertaining to the letter such as biblical geography, but this was entirely consistent with his presuppositions.

Origen constructed the Hexapla of the Old Testament to furnish Christians with a valid text of the Scriptures in their discussions with the Jews.

To his mind, this textual work was only the first of the exegete's tasks; his chief business was to explain the meaning of God's word as it was contained in the Holy Scriptures. St. Gregory of Nyssa shows us how Origen fulfilled this function. "He used to explain the obscurities in Scripture," he says "and he could shed light on them because he was such a wonderfully understanding hearer of God's word-or he would expound parts that were clear in themselves or at any rate were so to him. Of all men now living, I have never known or heard of one who had pondered as he had on the pure and luminous words and had become so expert at fathoming their meaning and teaching them to others. The Spirit who inspires the prophets and all divine and mystic discourse honored him as a friend and had appointed him His interpreter.... The same grace is needed for understanding the prophecies as for making them."


Eusebius says, "He (Origen) discovered versions made by other translators of the Holy Scriptures beside the Septuagint. In addition to the versions in current use, he also found those by Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. He took them from the hiding-places where they had long been lying and brought them to light."

This work was called at first the Tetrapela or "Fourfold bible," for it contained the four Greek translations used in Alexandria:

1. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which the church employed. Once the church adopted it as her Old Testament, the Jews who were faithful to the Septuagint until about the beginning of the second century, abandoned it and proclaimed the sole authority of the Hebrew Bible.

When the Septuagint contained words not in the Hebrew, Origen marked them with an obelus. These were standard critical marks developed by the Alexandrian textual critics of the second century B.C. and still in use today.

2. In Alexandria and in much of the Greco-Roman world including some parts of Palestine, few of the Jews actually understood Hebrew. They were in need of a new translation into Greek, a word-for-word translation. Aquila, a Jewish proselyte living at the beginning of the second century, did that. His translation was very literal, preserving Hebrew word order and idiomatic turns of phrase. He was influenced by the Palestinian rabbis.

3. A second Jewish proselyte, living at the same period, Symmachus, produced a translation in more acceptable Greek. His work was more in the nature of a revision of the Septuagint. Apparently synagogues in Alexandria used a three-columned Bible in which, to the right of each transliterated Hebrew word was, first, its translation by Aquila, and, second, its translation by Symmachus.

4. Another Greek translation, that of Theodotion.

Jean Danielou says, "Having done all this and assembled his materials, he composed the Hexapla, i.e., he took the six texts - the Hebrew, the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, the Septuagint, Smmachus, Aquila and Theodotion - and copied them out or had them copied in six parallel columns. In the case of the Psalms, so Eusebius says, he even produced an Octapla (nine-fold)."

Origen uses diacritical marks to indicate divergences in readings.

Later, and after he had settled in Palestine, Origen discovered two more translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek in addition to these. He supplemented the Tetrapla with the two of them.

1. An anonymous version he acquired at Nicopolis during a visit to Greece.

2. Another anonymous version, this only partial, had been discovered in the neighborhood of Jericho in a jar that contained a number of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.






Origen was the first of the great scientific exegetes and all his successors, even those who reacted against him, as St. Jerome did, owed him nearly everything. In this field his labors are prodigious and range over nearly the entire field of Scriptures. Hardly a book of the Bible, except Apocrypha, failed to be covered in the course of his expositions, either in the simpler form of sermons or in the profounder treatment of commentary, or in both... It was due to Origen, more than to any other single master, that biblical interpretation, and one of the principle divisions of Christian thought, that of biblical theology, were established for all time in the center of the activity of the Church. It is said that he used to spend almost all the night kneeling, praying and reading the Bible. His exegetical writings are numerous and were of three main types.

Origen who devoted all his life to the Bible hesitated in publishing his work. As R. Cadiou says, "The master was quite aware of the dangers and the errors lying in wait for the exegete; consequently he had long been deaf to the pleadings of Ambrose. Perhaps his hesitation increased when he reminded himself that the Christian suspicion of literary men was not yet entirely dead." In the preface of his first commentary, he writes,

This vast enterprise is truly beyond me and my strength. I am forced by your lively curiosity, together with the confusion with which your goodness and your tolerance fill me to descend into the arena. For a long time I held back, knowing the danger, which would still be very great if, instead of discussing the Holy Scriptures, I wrote commentaries to be left to posterity. But you bewitched me in a thousand friendly ways. Now you have led me to this point as if by an initiation into the knowledge of divine things. You will be for me a witness before God. At the same time that He examines my whole life, He examines the dictations I now give and the feelings with which I give them. Sometimes I find the true meaning and sometimes my interpretation is rather forced, or perhaps I give the appearance of putting forward a definite opinion. But truly I have analyzed the words, not forgetting that when we speak of God we are judged by God, a maxim that is well stated; nor have I forgotten the adage that even to speak the truth on the subject of God is not without danger. Nothing can be beautiful if we separate it from God, especially the meaning of the Holy Scriptures which have been inspired in order to lead us to Him who is the Father of all things, through our Savior and High Priest, the only-begotten Son. Therefore I beg of you to pray for me that there may be granted me from the very beginning the grace to search well. Those who search have already the promise of finding; and undoubtedly those who fail to approach Him as they should are not considered by God as belonging to that class of men who duly search for the principle of all things.



Origenís exegetical works are of three kinds: The Scholia or exegetical notes; his Homilies preached in Caesarea, Jerusalem, Athens, and elsewhere; and Scientific Commentaries.

In the form of Scholia, Homilies, or Commentaries he expounded nearly every book in the Bible, and many books were treated in all three ways.

I. Scholia

Scholia or brief notes on difficult points of sacred Scripture, especially grammatical difficulties.

The most complete list of his work was made by St. Jerome in his letter to Paula, which was omitted in many manuscripts and was unknown to earlier editors of Jeromeís letters. It was rediscovered c. 1845.

J. Quasten states that according to Jerome, Origen wrote Scholia on Exodus, Leviticus, Isaiah, Psalms I-I5, Ecclesiastes and the Gospel of St. John. Rufinus included some on Numbers in his translation of Origen's homilies on that book. None have come down to us in their entirety. The work which C. Diobouniotis and A. Harnack edited as Origen's Scholia to the Apocalypse of St. John cannot be regarded as such, since it combines longer or shorter notes to difficult passages of the Apocalypse from Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Origen. Some fragments of the Scholia have been discovered in the Catenae and in the Philocalia, the anthology of Origen, which St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen prepared.


II. Homilies

The Homilies are what we should call Lectures rather than Sermons. His object in preaching, Origen tells us, is not the explanation of the letter so much as the edification of the Church; hence he dwells here almost entirely upon the moral and spiritual sense.

A sentence from Eusebius has given rise to divergent interpretations: "It is said that Origen, when he had passed the age of sixty and had acquired by his long preparation a very great facility, allowed the stenographers to take down the talks (dialexeis) given by him in public, something he had never allowed before."

What were these dialexeis? The common view is that they were homilies, for the Greek word homilia from which we get homily means an 'informal talk'.

Others have wished to restrict these dialexeis to conversations, like the Conversation with Heraclides found at Toura, of which we shall have something to say below: this would exclude the homilies.

The historian uses the verb dialegesthai, which is from the same root as dialexeis and says it means 'explaining the holy Scriptures in public'. In the letter of the two bishops rejecting the protests of Demetrius the words homilein and prosomilein from the same root as homilia are applied to the same activity: so it is indeed homilies that are meant.

We can infer from that that the greater number of the homilies that have come down to us were delivered after 245 A.D But not all: the Homilies on Luke for example seem to be of an earlier date and to have been preached at the beginning of his stay in Caesarea. But they are of a different structure from the rest and much shorter; perhaps they were written out by Origen before or after delivery.

Most of the homilies must have been preached at Caesarea in Palestine. However, we can be sure that the homily on the birth of Samuel was preached in Jerusalem before bishop Alexander, for Origen says: 'Do not expect to find in us what you have in Pope Alexander; we recognize that he exceeds us all in the grace of gentleness' and a little further on: 'We have said this by way of introduction because I know that you are used to listening to the very sweet sermons of your very tender father. Papa, in Greek Papas, was at the time the normal way of addressing bishops.

Homilies, or popular expositions on some selected chapters or verses from the Holy Scriptures, which he delivered in liturgical meetings, aimed at popular edification. His work in interpretation covered every book of the Old and New Testaments.

Origen's homilies often began with a prayer that the Spirit would lead all present into the truth. It was not considered a unilateral pronouncement from the preacher, but a mutual endeavor with the people. He requested the prayers of the people, that "in answer to your prayers the Lord grant me understanding that we are worthy to receive the Lord's meaning."

In Origen's time, Christian communities had three types of liturgical assemblies.

The first, and oldest, was the synaxis or assembly on Sunday, at which the Eucharist was celebrated. This assembly undoubtedly took place in the morning.

Then, on Wednesdays and Fridays, there was an assembly in the afternoon, perhaps about three o'clock, which ended the fast customary on those two days. This assembly also included the celebration of the Eucharist.

And finally, on every day but Sunday there was an assembly early in the morning, which was not Eucharistic. The church historian Socrates says he preached every Wednesday and Friday, but Pamphilus, his biographer, claims "he preached nearly every day in the church." Origen appears to be an exception in that he preached before he was ordained as presbyter or at least there was no careful distinction between preaching and teaching.

Joseph T. Lienhard says,

Most of Origen's homilies on the Old Testament were delivered at Caesarea. In a passage that is often discussed, Eusebius wrote:

"At this period of rapid expansion of the Faith [that is, under the emperor Philip, 244-249 A.D], when our message was being boldly proclaimed on every side, it was natural that Origen , now over sixty and with his abilities fully developed by years of practice, should as we are told, have allowed his lectures to be taken down by shorthand writers, though he had never before agreed to this:"

Henri Crouzel accepts Eusebius' testimony and dates most of Origen's homilies after 245 A.D, except for the homilies on the Gospel of Luke, which he dates at the beginning of Origen's residence in Caesarea.

Pierre Nautin, in his impressive book on Origen, rejects Eusebius' remark that Origen was sixty before he allowed his homilies to be recorded, considering it a hagiographic gloss meant to glorify Origen's virtue. Nautin has a different chronology: he believes that the homilies on the Old Testament were preached in a cycle of three years, probably from 239 to 242 A.D, and that the homilies on Luke were preached at the same time.



Origen preached on 1 Samuel in Jerusalem, not in Caesarea. There is no suggestion anywhere that Origen ever preached on the historical books after 1 Samuel.



Because Origen's Homilies on Luke are so much shorter than his homilies on the Old Testament, Nautin concludes that on Sunday a short homily was given after each of the three readings, perhaps by different preachers.



In his thirteenth homily on Exodus Origen discusses the reverence with which the word of God should be heard, and he compares this with the reverence with which the body of Christ should be received. He notes how careful the faithful are lest even a fragment of the Eucharistic bread should fall to the ground, and he says that they would consider themselves criminal-and rightly so-if that should happen on account of their own negligence. But, he asks, why is the care exercised toward the Eucharist so disproportionate to the care exercised toward the Word? Why do the faithful consider it less sinful to hear the word in slipshod fashion than to let a particle of the Eucharist fall to the ground for the same reason? Here Origen is expressing the attitude of the early Church, which is echoed later by Jerome and Caesarius in almost the same words: Scripture proclaimed and preached was held in as great honor as the sacrament of Christ's body, and both were equally necessary to the life of the Christian. It was right that the bishop should take this ministry with the utmost seriousness.



There is common agreement that the Homilies on Leviticus were delivered in a three year cycle sometime between 238 and 244 A.D. Thus, they were delivered at the end of Origenís life.

Rufinus translated this work at the same date as the Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, between 403 and 405 A.D, for a certain Heraclius. He admits to having changed the text of this work more than the other homilies on the Pentateuch.

This work provides us with the following:

1. Insights into the life of the church in the third century. He refers to the practice of the Great Lent, which is dedicated to fasting; the ordination of the priest, in whose selection all people participate. He also mentions the process of Christian discipline, based on Matthew 18:15-17.

2. The process of conversion and purification comes in three stages: the conversion from sin or the offering by which sins are absolved, then the turn of the soul to God, and finally the fruitfulness through the works of piety. These three stages cannot be realized without the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

3. He points to seven ordinances for the remission of sins granted in the Gospels. With the exceptions of the first, which is baptism, forgiveness depends on the works of the believer.

4. In Hom. 12:5; 5:8; 7:5; and 12:4 Origen points out that the Jews have rejected part of the Septuagint.

5. In his interpretation of the sacrifices and offerings, Origen explains that each of them is a type and shadow of Christ, the Victim and the High-Priest. Christís sacrifice is superior because it takes place in heaven.

6. In his homilies on Leviticus, Origen transformed the ritual instructions of Exodus 12 into a visionary account of Christian spiritual life.

7. This work expresses Origenís responses to his critics.



This work dates from about 240 A.D.

In the first homily, Origen is at pains to show that the names Joshua and Jesus are etymologically the same. Origen is the first to develop the Joshua story as a type of baptism and subsequent Christian life: The Israelite journey to the Promised Land under Joshua is renewed in the Christian journey to salvation under Jesus Christ.

In this work, Origen makes a comparison between Moses, the symbol of the Law, and his successor Joshua, the symbol of Jesus.

I. He says that although Moses realized the exodus from Egypt (Exod. 32:11), yet he confesses that he was unable to lead the people to victory over the Amelekites, Moses asked him to choose men and go out for the battle. Joshua alone has the power to lead the army.

II. The exodus of the people under the guidance of Moses was out of order, while when Joshua led the people to pass the Jordan River the priests and the people were in order. The priests carried the tabernacle on their shoulders where the tablets of the Law and the manna were preserved.

III. Origen asks: Why Joshua, the symbol of Jesus, is called the servant of Moses (Exod 24: 13)? He answers that Joshua served him not as if he was his follower or lesser than him, but as one who had the power to help him and protect him. Jesus Christ the Son of God became a Servant of Moses for when the fullness of the time had come "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law" (Gal. 4:4) .

IV. Joshua could not be a leader unless Moses dies (Jos. 1:2); thus the soul cannot receive Jesus Christ as her Groom unless her first husband (Mosesí Law) dies, or she would be considered as an adulterous ( Rom. 7:1-4).

There was a necessity that Moses dies, so that the believers would not be accused of adultery.

If we do not understand how Moses dies we canít understand how Christ reigns.


III. Commentaries


Commentaries, or exhaustive or learned notes. If the homilies served the purpose of popular edification, the commentaries were written in order to give a scientific exegesis. In spite of the allegoric, mystical and inner meanings, they have dogmatic elements with which they are cumbered, and in many respects still serve as models for commentators. They are a strange mixture of philological, textual, historical, etymological notes and theological and philosophical observation.

C. Bigg says, "The plan which he laid down for himself in the Commentaries was to give first the literal, then the moral, then the spiritual sense of each verse in regular succession. The text is but the threshing-floor on which he pours out all the harvest of his knowledge, his meditations, his hopes. Any word may open up a train of thought extending throughout all Scripture and all time . Hence there is much repetition and confusion. Even here the object is not so much instruction as the deepening of the Christian life."

His Commentaries witness that he knew Hebrew but imperfectly, and this is a fatal defect in dealing with the LXX. But in the New Testament he displays an accurate and intelligent appreciation of Greek grammar, such scientific knowledge as the times could supply is at his call, and he had traveled in Palestine with a keen eye for the geography of the Gospels.

These are only a few of the items given in a long list of the works of Origen found in a letter from St. Jerome to Paula and Eustochium. This list totaled at least 444 for the Old Testament and 130 for the New. But, of these, only 21 have survived in the Greek original and only 186 in Latin translation.

His commentaries are: 25 books on the Minor Prophets, 25 on Matthew, 32 on John, 15 on Romans, 15 on Galatians, etc. It must be added that no small amount of Origen's exegetical work survived piecemeal in the Catenas - a collection of valuable observations. These began to appear very early, and by 500 A.D, in the hands of Procopius of Gaza, were in full swing.

The earliest commentaries we possess were written in Alexandria: those on the Psalms, Genesis, and the most important Commentary on St. John.


As we have already noted, Ambrose prevailed upon Origen to publish his first commentaries in which the master had written his interpretation of the Book of Psalms. Origen started with this commentary. R. Cadiou gives the following reasons:

1. No part of the Old Testament was more familiar to Christians, both learned and simple. It was habitually used, as their principal hymnal, in the public prayers of the faithful.

2. Certain psalms were already a part of the liturgy of the Eucharist and were not without influence on their interpretation.

3. The Psalter was also a source of personal piety.

What they sought in the psalms was the key to the contemplative life, for it is clearly mentioned there under various symbols. "Who shall ascend unto the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in His holy place? The innocent in hands, and clean of heart." St. Clement had regarded this verse as a description of the goal of him who seeks perfection. "The prophet describes briefly, I believe, the true Gnostic," he wrote. Written for seekers after wisdom, the Psalter would become also the guidebook and the favorite reading of the spiritual exegete, for in that book the prophet draws the image of Christ, speaks about Christ, and makes Christ speak to angels and to men.

Date and Composition

According to Eusebius, he began to publish this work about the year 222 A.D. Cadiou states that he cannot accept this date, for it would mean that the numerous works which poured forth from his pen before he left Alexandria must be crowded into a brief span of seven years.

The De Principiis must have been composed at an appreciable interval after the publication of the commentary, because its viewpoint is quite different from that of the earlier book.

The first part of the Commentary was published in Alexandria. It discusses twenty-five psalms only, and there is no evidence that its various parts were all published at the same time.

Origen probably intended to comment on the entire Psalter, but he began the work with such a minute examination that he was able to complete it only to Psalm 25.

This commentary has almost entirely disappeared, but we do have a fragment that reveals Origen's view on biblical interpretation. In it Origen adopted as his own a Jewish tradition he learned from the Hebrew. According to it, the Bible in its obscurity resembles a series of locked rooms. Outside each room is a key, but it is not necessarily the key that fits the lock to that room. All the keys are available, even though they are not in the first place one would seek them. Thus the obscure texts of the Bible can only be properly understood by comparing them with other texts, the process Origen understood Paul to be referring to when he wrote of ''comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (I Cor. 2:13) .

Cadiou states that the introduction enables us to see the general impression made upon Origen by the works of Hippolytus, by what he had gleaned from his conferences with the Jewish rabbis, and by his comparative study of the various Greek versions of the Bible. It contains a discussion on the authenticity of the Book of Psalms, on their various titles or epigraphs, and on their arrangement. It is preceded by a mystical exhortation, according to the fashion in Alexandria at that time, for this first work was written for the learned, as indeed were all the works that followed it.

In this Commentary Origen states that a believer must pass through the gates of sorrow to reach the knowledge of God. This was Origen for whom the Psalter chanted tales of struggle and sang poems of victory unto salvation.

Origenís Commentary on the psalms suggests, long in advance, the history of the human soul that later fills the pages of the De Principiis.

Origen distinguished fear from servility and called it reverence, for he held that a Christian at prayer is not necessarily motivated by the notion of punishment.. He was especially interested in expressing the virtue of hope and put it in its due place in the Christian plan of life.

Hope was, in his view, a hunger and thirst after justice, a longing for the kingdom of heaven, an intense desire to obtain Godís mercy in the hour of death, and a perpetual eagerness for the realization of all the mysterious promises which God, who does not deceive us, made to His saints.

He pointed out that the joy of the heart is very different from the joys of the flesh. That joy is nourished by the bread and stimulated by the wine to be found in the practice of contemplation. It is a spiritual joy, the light that shines forth from a soul in which virtue glows, a joy inspired by the hope of the things of eternity. The hearts of those who are immersed in the things of earth are too heavy to know this joy, which is the only joy that is real and lasting; they know nothing of the holy zeal of the Christian soul rejecting all human interests, and they are ignorant that the Good and the Real are one and the same thing.

R. Cadiou says, "Its theology of the Logos, for example, indicates that in this book Origen was following in the footsteps of Hippolytus, but in this theological domain the sweep and accuracy of the pupilís thought carry him far beyond the stand taken by the master."

In his comment on the words, "I have slept and have taken my rest," Origen thinks this may be a reference to the torpor which seizes the soul and makes it clothe itself with a body; and after death the soul descends into limbo from which, according to the traditional teaching, Christ has released the souls of earlier times who were imprisoned there.


A recently discovered Commentary on Genesis by Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398 A.D), a writer who relied heavily on Origen, does at least provide us with some notion of Origen's interpretation, but even there the pages on the all-important first chapter of Genesis are heavily damaged. We have only one significant fragment left of Origen's Commentary on Genesis, the section that deals with one verse, Genesis 1:14, which states that the stars shall "be for signs." Origen picked up on the intention of the biblical author to repudiate the Babylonian ascription of the government of the universe to the stars although he was less radical in his attack on astrology than the Bible would have allowed him to be. Belief in astrology, and the attendant belief that the stars rigidly determined all events, was, as we have seen, extremely widespread in Origen's time. Early Christian authors emphatically denied the doctrine of astral fatalism because it fundamentally contradicted the Christian message of redemption, but before Origen only Gnostics had attempted to provide a rational argument against astrology, and they were only concerned with the freedom of the spiritual part of a person from the control of the stars. Because, as a Christian and as a Platonist, he believed in free will, Origen felt compelled to undertake such an argument. Here is a case where Origen's background in Platonism was clearly helpful in defending the church's teaching. We may conjecture that the use of the word "signs'' in Genesis was fortuitous; it is the term which Plotinus, also an opponent of astrology, used to indicate the genuine, non-deterministic function of the stars in the overall scheme of the universe, and we may presume that he inherited it from Ammonius. In Genesis 1:14, therefore, the Bible for once spoke to Origen in the technical language of Middle Platonism. Origen willingly affirmed that God knows all events in advance and even revealed some of them to the prophets, but even God's foreknowledge does not produce events, which spring from the free choice of responsible, rational creatures. If even God does not cause events to happen, much less do the stars, who are God's servants, cause them.


Of the Commentary on John, which may be considered Origen's masterpiece, we possess in Greek only nine books: I, II, VI, X, XIII, XIX, XX, XXVIII, XXXII; of these Book XIX has lost its beginning and its end. In it Origen frequently discusses the interpretations given by a Valentinian Gnostic, Heracleon, author of the first commentary on John; some fragments of the latter's work Origen preserves. The first book contains a general introduction, then goes on to expound only John 1:la: 'In the beginning was the Word', the second runs from John 1:Ib to 1:7. The other volumes get on a bit faster.

We have in Greek eight books of his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John. They comprise at least thirty-two volumes, which he dedicated to his friend Ambrose. Nine of these volumes are nearly intact. This work is of great importance for a study of Origen the mystic, and his concept of the inner life.

J.W. Trigg says,

Although he had made it to the thirteenth chapter, more than halfway through the Gospel, Origen was clearly running out of steam at the beginning of his thirty-second book, composed perhaps fifteen years after he had undertaken the project. There, in the preface, he told Ambrosius he expected he could not complete the commentary and would have to resume his study of Johnís Gospel in paradise...

The defense of orthodoxy was a major purpose of Origenís Commentary on John; as it was of his Commentary on Genesis. Both books of the Bible had contributed significantly to Gnostic systems, particularly Valentinians... Origen carefully refuted (the Valentinain) Heracleoní interpretation (of the Gospel of John) whenever he had the opportunity...

Although the refutation of heresy was a valuable fruit of his Commentary, its basic purpose was the exposition of the mystic sense of the Gospel...

John not only leaned on Jesusí breast at the Last Supper, but Jesus made him, in effect, a second Christ, when He gave Him Mary as his mother...

Origen prayed at the very outset of his commentary that God would assist him through Christ in the Holy Spirit to attain to the Gospelís mystical meaning...

The Commentary on John, like Origenís Hexapla, therefore, is the work of a student and teacher of grammar.


Origen was the first to regard the Song of Songs as celebrating the union of the soul with the Logos. Or rather, he saw it as both these things together: the Wordís marriage was at once a union with the whole Church and a union with the soul. The Commentary on the Song of Songs is the most important of Origenís works, as far as getting to know his ideas on the spiritual life he was concerned with. In it, Origen works out a theory about the three stages of the spiritual life.

He calls them by the names of morals, physics and contemplation. He then goes on to say that "to distinguish between these three sciences, Solomon treated of them in three separate books, each in keeping with the degree of knowledge it was concerned with. First, in the book of Proverbs, he taught morals and set out the rules for living a good life. Then he put the whole of physics into Ecclesiastes. The aim of physics is to bring out the causes of things and show what things really are, and thus to make it clear that men should forsake all this emptiness and hasten on to what is lasting and eternal. It teaches that everything we see is frail and fleeting. When anyone in pursuit of Wisdom comes to realize that, he will have nothing but scorn and disdain for those things. He will, so to say, renounce that whole world and turn to those invisible, eternal things the Song of Songs teaches us about contemplation in figurative terms, with images taken from love-making. Thus, when the soul has been purified morally and has attained some proficiency in searching into the things of nature, she is fit to pass on to the things that form the object of contemplation and mysticism; her love is pure and spiritual and will raise her to the contemplation of the God-head."

Origen also links the three ways with the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham represents obedience to the commandments, Isaac is natural philosophy, and Jacob, because of his name Israel stands for contemplation.

There are two kinds of love. "There is a kind of love that is physical; the poets also call it desire. There is a spiritual kind of love as well, engendered in spirit by the inner man when he loves. To put it more plainly, anyone who still has the image of the earthly in the outer man goes where earthly desire and eros lead him. But one who has the image of the heavenly in the inner man will go where that desire and love of the things of heaven take him. The soul is actuated by this love when she sees how beautiful Godís Word is and loves his splendor: he shoots an arrow at her and wounds her with his love." "Children cannot know what the passion of love is. If you are a child where the inner life is concerned, you cannot understand these things."

That gives us all the factors comprised in the doctrine of the spiritual senses. The spiritual senses are put into operation in the soul by the Word. They are the unfolding of the inner life. They correspond to various spiritual experiences, all concerned with the Word present on the soul. They are thus bound up with the perfection of the spiritual life. "Those who reach the summit of perfection and the height of bliss will find their delight in Godís Word."

Those who taste the things of God find that the things of the body lose their appeal.

1. Origen interpreted the Song of Songs on three levels:

On the literal level, which has no value in and of itself, the poem is a play about relations between the bride and bridegroom. In dealing with each unit of meaning, therefore, Origen explained its place in this drama.

Following that he interpreted it on one or both of two allegorical levels, the ecclesiastical and the psychological, we have seen elsewhere in his exegesis. On the ecclesiastical level, the bride is the church. On the psychological level she is the soul. In either case the Bridegroom is the Logos. Thus, in verse 2:15, the little foxes that ruin the vines can be heresies on the ecclesiastical level or sins on the psychological level. Similarly, the approach of the Bridegroom after a period of absence in 2:8 can refer either to Christ's consolation of the church in times of Persecution or to His giving the Christian teacher a sudden inspiration when he is at a loss to explain a passage from the Bible.

In other cases Origen interpreted a passage on one allegorical level only. Thus 1:17, "the beams of our houses are cedars, our rafters of cypresses," refers to the good order of the church. Presbyters are the beams and bishops are the rafters. The rafters are cypress because it is strong and aromatic, symbolizing the need for bishops to be sound in good works and fragrant with the grace of teaching.

2. Origen also interpreted the Song of Songs in such a way as to discuss the Gentile origin of the church and its relation to Israel as well as its cleansing from sin and error.

3. Origen goes on to say that the Church, as the body and the bride of Christ, has existed as righteous from the beginning of time, and that in fact Christ became a man in order that he might minister to it. The idea of the Church's pre-existence is apparently not one that was used to defend it against pagan accusations of being an upstart or untraditional.

With the body of Christ, probably the richest and favorite image of the Fathers for the Church is that of the virgin-bride; it is, after all, an image that had been sanctioned by Paul in Ephesians 5:32. It expresses the intimate union that exists between Christ and his Church, which was nowhere more splendidly expounded than in Origen's almost ecstatic commentary on the Song of Songs, the first great work of Christian mysticism. The image of the virgin-bride also provides the opportunity for the development of the vocation of virginity, which seeks to live out the mystical possibilities inherent in the image.

Origen says,

You must not think that it is called the bride or the Church only from the time of the coming of the Savior in the flesh, but from the beginning of the human race and from the very foundation of the world. Indeed, if I may seek the origin of this deep mystery with Paul as my guide, even before the foundation of the world. For this is what he himself says: ...As he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

4. Origen states the love spoken in the Song of Songs "alone posses immortality," and therefore it alone could make believers immortal.


His Commentary on Lamentations with its poignant laments over the plight of Jerusalem during the Babylonian exile, a city humiliated and subjected to its enemies, struck Origen as an allegory for the soul's plight in this world. When the biblical author lamented that Jerusalem was no longer full of people, he spoke symbolically of the soul's loss of the fullness of theoretical wisdom. When he lamented that Jerusalem was no longer great among the nations, he spoke of the soul's loss of pre-eminence in good works. When he cried, "The ways of Zion mourn," he referred to the conventional divisions of philosophy: the sciences of contemplation, physics, ethics, and logic. They mourn because they cannot conduct the soul to truth since the passions, inimical to philosophy, dominate it. Origen painted a bleak picture of the soul's situation, but he held out the hope that her sufferings are a purgative interlude in God's overarching drama of redemption. Although Lamentations has only five chapters, Origen completed his commentary on only four of them.


Of the Commentary on St. Matthew, which he composed in twenty-five books at Caesarea after the year 244 A.D, there are only eight preserved in Greek, namely, I0-I7, which deal with Matthew I3:36 to 22:33.

Of the Commentary on Matthew we have eight books in Greek, from X to XVII, which cover from Matt. 13:36 to 22:33. But a Latin translation, the work of an unknown translator, has come down to us, divided in the manuscripts and the I6th-century editions into 35 or 36 so-called homilies. It begins at volume XII chapter 9 of the Greek, at Matthew I6:I3, and continues almost to the end of the gospel, Matt. 27:66. Only Matthew 28 remains without exposition.


The Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans translated by Rufinus comprises ten books, while the original Greek showed fifteen, both versions, however, extending to the whole of the letter: Rufinus, as he says in his preface, apologizes for the difficulty of many passages and for the defective state of his manuscript: accordingly he shortened it by a third. We know the subject-matter of some of the passages that he omitted: for example the historian Socrates notes a passage on Mary Theotokos (Mother of God) which was in Origen's volume I. The discovery at Toura of fragments of Books V and VI in the Greek, interpreting Rom. 3:5 to 5:7, makes possible, when to it are added other fragments previously published, a fairly positive judgment of the work of Rufinus.

The Commentary on Romans contains a lot of expositions of the functions and the Holy Spirit and his gifts.




Origenís one explicit discussion of the Pauline concept of charisma is his commentary on Ephesians 4:11-12, where he cautiously criticizes the official ecclesiastical leadership:

Christ is above all and through all and in all, but grace is given to each of the saints according to the measure of the gift of Christ, so that some are apostles but some are prophets, and others evangelists, and after them pastors and, above all, teachers. If a gift of grace [charisma] is given to a teacher according to the measure of the gift of Christ, it is clear that the pastor, exercising his duties with skill, must have the gift of grace to be a pastor. And how, indeed, could anyone be an evangelist, unless the feet-so to speak-of his soul are beautiful? For them to become so, God must supply them with beauty. The prophet as well, testing unbelievers and judging them (for such is the prophet of the new covenant), must be considered as one appointed in the church by God. It is possible for these to exist continually in the church; perhaps apostles also, to whom it is given to work the signs of an apostle, may be found even now.

Notice the insistence that charismata must be empirically verified. The charisma, thus verified, makes someone a teacher, a pastor, an evangelist and so on; ordination alone cannot supply the needed qualifications. Notice also that Origen treats the teacher as the culmination of the list. This illustrates that charisma is, for Origen, predominantly intellectual.


CONTRA CELSUM (Against Celsus)

The most important apologetical work is his "Contra Celsum" (Against Celsus), a treatise composed of eight books written in answer to a detailed and far reaching attack by Celsus (180 A.D), called the "True Discourse (Alethes Logos)."

It is worthy to note that Origen frequently employed technical terms from Greek philosophy, but in all but one of his works, cited almost no book but the Bible. The exception is the Contra Celsum, where he displayed his formidable literary and philosophical erudition in order to establish his credentials for defending Christianity against a pagan opponent.

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