Origen's Life

St. Didymus the Blind, the head of the School of Alexandria in the latter half of the fourth century, described Origen as "the greatest teacher in the Church after the Apostles."

J. Quasten states, "The School of Alexandria reached its greatest importance under St. Clement’s successor, Origen, the outstanding teacher and scholar of the early church,...a man of encyclopedic learning, and one of the most original thinkers the world has ever seen."

G.L. Prestige says, "He (Origen) was one of the greatest teachers ever known in Christendom... He was the founder of biblical science, and, though not absolutely the first great biblical commentator, he first developed the principles of exposition to be followed and applied the technique of methodical explanation on the widest possible scale. He inaugurated the systematic treatment of theology, by writing a book about God, the world, and religion in their several relations. He finally completed and established the principle that Christianity is an intelligent religion, by bringing the strength and vigor of Greek philosophical insight to clarify the Hebrew religious institution and Christian spiritual history."

Jean Daniélou says, "Origen and St. Augustine were the two greatest geniuses of the early church. Origen’s writings can be said to mark a decisive period in all fields of Christian thought. His research into the history of the different versions of the Scriptures and his commentaries on the literal and spiritual senses of the Old and New Testaments make him the founder of the scientific study of the Bible. He worked out the first of the great theological syntheses and was the first to try and give a methodical explanation of the mysteries of Christianity. He was the first, too, to describe the route followed by the soul on her way back to God. He is thus the founder of the theology of spiritual life, and it may be questioned whether he is not to some extent the ancestor of the great monastic movement of the fourth century."

Hans Urs Von Balthasar says, "In the Eastern Church his mysticism of ascent to God remained immensely powerful through medieval and modern times, more powerful than the mysticism of "dazzling darkness" of the Pseudo-Areopagite (whose dominant influence was in the West). In the Western Church both Jerome and Ambrose unhesitatingly copied his work and thus bequeathed it to posterity... His work is aglow with the fire of a Christian creativity that in the greatest of his successors burned merely with a borrowed flame."

Robert Payne says, "This eunuch was the first great doctor, the founder of scientific Biblical scholarship. He would use reason and make reason itself the servant of Christ. He would batter down the walls of Heaven by the main force of logic alone... And though he was never officially granted the title of Doctor of the Church, he was the greatest doctor of them all."

B.F. Westcott says that though countless doctors, priests, and confessors proceed from his school, he was himself accused of heresy and convicted; though he was the friend and teacher of saints, his salvation was questioned and denied.

G.W. Barkley says, "There can be no doubt that one of the most influential of the early church fathers was Origen of Alexandria."

The interpretation of Origen was a problem to earlier ages. Scholarius, the first patriarch of Constantinople under the Turks, made his own synthesis. The western writers say, "Where Origen was good, no one is better, where he was bad, no one is worse."

The Coptic Church was compelled to excommunicate him because of some false ideas that he believed in, like the salvation of the devil, and the universal salvation of all the human race, besides his acceptance of priesthood from others than his bishop and after making himself eunuch. Other churches excommunicated him, his followers, and their writings after his death in the Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D.

Eric Osborn states that the middle third of this century saw some very good books on Origen. He mentions the work of Daniélou saying,

The work of Daniélou was comprehensive by conviction and foreshadowed an end to disagreement. Origen was not either a philosopher or an exegete or a systematic, or a sacramentalist, or a mystic; he was all of them at once. The mistake which his interpreters had made was to isolate one element of his "vision totale du monde". He was a man of the church, although the church formed no part of his theology. For him, Christianity was not first a doctrine but a divine force, active in history through its martyrs, saints and community. While Celsus regarded the vision of God as accessible but difficult, Origen thought it was inaccessible and easy. His hermeneutic, like everything else was complex, and the different strands had to be distinguished.

 

 

PRINCIPAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION ABOUT ORIGEN

1. The farewell speech made by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, the apostle of Cappadocia and Pontus, indicates and reveals their relationship with Origen and his influence on them. This speech has come down to us entire in its original language, Greek. While the whole document tells us of the relation of Origen with his students and the moving affection felt for him by St. Gregory, the second part of it describes precisely the curriculum followed by the master.

2. The "Church History" (Eccl. Hist.), book 6, of Eusebius, who succeeded him at the school at Caesarea. He says, "The little I have to say about him I will put together from letters and from information supplied by those of his friends who are still alive." His main source of information was Origen's voluminous correspondence, which he gathered into volumes and kept in the library at Caesarea.

3. Pamphilus, a predecessor of Eusebius of Caesarea started to collect material relating to Origen and at the same time to put his library in order. He lived in Caesarea shortly after the death of Origen, but it is not known whether he had known Origen personally or not. Of the Apology for Origen that Pamphilus had composed in prison with the help of Eusebius we only have Book I in a Latin translation of Rufinus of Aquileia: the preface of this book, addressed by Pamphilus to the Christians who were condemned to labor in the mines of Palestine, contains precious hints on what Origen meant and how he should be understood.

Besides these sources we are informed about the contents of the rest of the work in chapter 118 of the Bibliotheca of Photius. Other scattered items are reproduced by various authors, St. Jerome, the historian Socrates, Photius and others: many seem to come from the missing volumes of Pamphilus' Apology for Origen or from lost works of Eusebius, such as his Life of Pamphilus.

 

 

ORIGEN’S BOYHOOD

Origen, a true son of Egypt, was born probably in Alexandria, in or about 185 A.D His name means "Son of Horus, the god of Light," an Egyptian god, son of Isis and Osiris, symbolizing the rising sun. In the first centuries, those born of Christian parents sometimes bore names derived from pagan deities.

It is not unlikely that Origen was baptized while he was an infant, for he himself is one of the main supporters of infant baptism in that period.

Eusebius says that everything about Origen, even the things he did in the cradle, deserves to be remembered. He saw the six-year-old Origen as though he were in his maturity, applying himself to the pursuit of the spiritual sense of the Scriptures. He received his Bible training from his father, and St. Clement of Alexandria, a free spirit if ever there was one, taught him theology. His father Leonides was very careful to bring him up in the knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, and the child displayed a precocious curiosity in this respect. He received from his father, a devout Christian who became a martyr, a double education, Hellenic and Biblical. His father was the owner of a library of rare manuscripts, devoted to scholarship. Origen read widely in his father's library, and asked endless questions. So many questions that he had to be restrained and publicly rebuked. He was never satisfied with easy answers.

"Everyday he would set him to learn a passage (from the Bible) by heart ... The child was not content with the straight-forward, obvious meaning of the Scriptures, he wanted something more, and even at that time would go in pursuit of the underlying sense. He always embarrassed his father by the questions he asked."

Eusebius, the historian, tells us that Leonides, seeing his son’s fondness of the Word of God during his boyhood, was accustomed to go up to Origen’s bed while he was asleep, uncover his chest and reverently kiss it as a dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. He thought of himself as blessed in being the father of such a boy. According to the Coptic Church, the kiss sometimes is a ritual gesture denoting veneration. That is why the priest kisses the altar and the Gospel book.

 

 

LEONIDES’ MARTYRDOM

Besides being fed on the Holy Scriptures, Origen was exposed to the influence of martyrdom. In the tenth year of Septimius Severus (202 A.D) a persecution against Christians started, which was to last for several years in Egypt under a succession of prefects. It had a special severity upon the Egyptian Church. The fires of persecution rose to a great height and thousands of Christians received crowns of martyrdom. It was during this persecution that St. Perpetua and St. Felicity were martyred in Africa. Leonides was arrested and thrown into prison. Origen, who had not then completed his seventeenth year ardently desired to attain the martyr’s crown with his father. He was only prevented from achieving this desire by his mother who, at a critical moment, hid all his clothes, and so laid upon him the necessity of remaining at home, to look after his six brothers. He strongly urged his father to remain firm by writing to him, "Do not dream of changing your mind for our sake... "

 

As a child, he had wished to be a martyr like his father; thirty years later by his eloquent Exhortation to Martyrdom he gave encouragement to his friends imprisoned and tortured by Maximin. Finally under Decius he had the proud privilege of suffering for Christ, and shortly after this glorious confession he died.

 

 

TEACHER OF LITERATURE

Leonides was beheaded and his goods were confiscated. Origen, then seventeen years old, remained with his mother and his six younger brothers. His refuge was with a noble lady of Alexandria, who helped him for a time. But he could not be comfortable there, since a heretic teacher, called "Paul of Antioch," had so captured this simple lady by his eloquence that she had harbored him as her philosopher and adopted son, and gave him permission to propagate his heresy by means of lectures delivered in her house.

Origen, as a churchman and an orthodox believer felt uncomfortable, left the house and maintained himself and his family by teaching secular literature and grammar.

The youthful Origen was unusual. He was a brilliant scholar. His education had progressed sufficiently by the time of his father’s death so that he could support the family by teaching. Through his teachings to pagans, Origen’s faith found expression as often as he had occasion to refer to the theological position of pagan writers. As a result, some pagans applied to him for instruction in Christianity. Among others were two brothers, Plutarch and Heraclas, of whom the former was martyred and the latter was yet to hold the bishopric of Alexandria.

 

ORIGEN AND THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA

Origen was about fourteen when he first attended the school presided over by Clement, and he remained Clement's pupil to the end, showing the influence of the master though he was to use Clement's weapons with incomparably greater skill. He was a good student.

J. Lebreton says,

On the day following the death of Clement of Alexandria, Alexander of Jerusalem wrote thus to Origen: "We knew those blessed fathers who preceded us and with whom we ourselves shall soon be: Pantaenus, the truly blessed master, and also the venerable Clement who became my own master and assisted me and possibly others. Through these I came to know you, altogether excelling, my master and my brother."

The School of Alexandria which had been dispersed by the persecutions and the departure of St. Clement left it without a teacher. St. Demetrius, Pope of Alexandria, recognized his ability, appointed Origen as the head of the school, when he was eighteen years old, due to his Christian zeal to preach and catechize. The post was an honorable one, but it was not without its dangers, for the persecution begun by the edicts of Severus (202) was still raging, threatening especially the converts and their masters.

Origen, immediately gave up all other activities and sold his beloved manuscripts that he possessed (perhaps the library of Leonides spared by the exchequer), and devoted himself exclusively to his new duties as a catchiest. Probably by that time his brothers had grown up and taken over the support of the family, setting him free for the service of the Church. Origen was to receive from the purchaser an income of four obols a day which would have to suffice for his sustenance. Six obols were the equivalent of one denarius, which represented a very low daily wage. This gesture of reselling his library marks a complete renunciation of secular studies. But he was not slow to realize that secular knowledge was of great value in explaining the Scriptures and for his missionary work, and he would soon return to what he had intended to abandon.

According to Charles Bigg, "He sold the manuscripts of the Greek classics, which he had written out with loving care, for a trifling pension, in order that he might be able to teach without a fee."

His catechetical instruction attracted many, and Origen grew in his vocation as a Christian teacher.

About the year 215, St. Alexander of Jerusalem regarded Origen, his master and friend, the successor to the venerable deans of the Alexandrian School, Pantaenus and Clement, though - in his eyes - even greater than these. On the day following the death of St. Clement, Alexander wrote to Origen: "We knew those blessed fathers who proceeded us and with whom we ourselves shall soon be: Pantaenus the truly blessed master, and also the venerable Clement, who became my own master and assisted me and possibly others. Through these I came to know you, although excelling, my brother."

Here, I would like to refer to Origen’s role in the development of the School of Alexandria:

1 - Origen devoted himself with the utmost ardor not only in studying and teaching the Holy Scripture, but also giving his life as an example of evangelical life. His disciple St. Gregory the Wonder-maker says that "he stimulated us by the deeds he did more than by the doctrines he taught."

Eusebius gives a vivid account of the asceticism practiced by Origen. He lived with extreme simplicity, owning only one coat, walking barefoot, sleeping on the floor, eating only what was necessary to support life; and after a long day’s work, sitting up half the night studying the Scriptures. Eusebius tells us that, "he taught as he lived, and lived as he taught; and it was especially for this reason that with the co-operation of the divine power, he brought so many to share his zeal." He adds, "he persevered in the most philosophical manner of life, at one time disciplining himself by fasting, at another measuring out the time for sleep, which he was careful to take, never on a couch, but on the floor, and indicated how the Gospel ought to be kept which exhorts us not to provide two coats nor to use shoes, nor indeed, to be worn out with thoughts about the future."

He tried to lead his disciples and his hearers along the same way of asceticism and mortification which he imposed upon himself from his youth. To asceticism we must join prayers, with the aim of freeing the soul and enabling it to be united with God. That is what a Christian seeks by observing virginity, by drawing away from the world while living in the world, sacrificing as much as possible good fortune, and despising human glory.

As St. Gregory the Wonder-worker says, he "strove to be like his own description of the man leading the good life; he provided a model, I mean, for those in search of wisdom.

Origen was immensely successful. Several of his pupils were themselves martyred, another, many years later, became bishop of Alexandria. He taught as much by his example as by his eloquence. He undertook to visit and console the confessors in prison, attended them to the scaffold and gave them their last kiss of peace. The mob tried to stone him. His lodgings were picketed by soldiers, though whether to arrest him or to extend the protection of a government more lenient than the populace towards so distinguished a figure, is not clear.

2 - At the beginning, Origen’s aim was concentrated on preparing the catechumens to receive baptism, not only by teaching them the Christian faith but also by giving them instructions concerning the practical aspects of Christian life.

"If you want to receive Baptism," he says, "you must first learn about God’s Word, cut away the roots of your vices, correct your barbarous wild lives and practice meekness and humility. Then you will be fit to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit."

He was affectionate and, says Gregory, bewitching. He kindled in the hearts of his pupils a burning love, "directed at once towards the divine Word, the most lovable object of all, who attracts all irresistibly to Himself by His unspeakable beauty, and also towards himself, the friend and advocate" of Christ.

3 - Origen’s task was not to prepare those people flocking in increasing numbers to sit at his feet, to be baptized, but rather to be martyred. His School was a preparation for martyrdom. Those who were close to him knew that they were running the risk of martyrdom. One pagan, Plutarch, converted by Origen was martyred; he was encouraged to the end by his master. Others still in the catechumenate or else neophytes followed him. Eusebius mentions Severus, Heraclides, Hero, another Serenus, and two women, Herais and Potamizena, whose martyrdom was especially glorious. Michael Green says, "But it (School of Alexandria) was an evangelistic agency as well as a didactic one. ‘Some of the Gentiles came to him to hear the word of God,’ and became strong, courageous Christians who sealed their testimony with their blood, men like Plutarch, Severus, Heron and Heraclides, as well as women like Herais: all were martyred. The preaching and teaching went together, and there was much practical work as well, the visiting of prisoners, the encouragement of those condemned to death for their faith, as well as working for a living and the exercise of great abstinence in food, drink, sleep, money and clothing."

Eusebius describes the part Origen played at the time of persecution. "He had a great name with the faithful," he says, "due to the way he always welcomed the holy martyrs and was so attentive to them, whether he knew them or not. He would go to them in prison and stay by them when they were tried and even when they were being led to death... often, when he went up to the martyrs unconcernedly and saluted them with a kiss regardless of the consequences, the pagan crowd standing by became very angry and would have rushed upon him and very nearly made an end of him."

These heroic times left an indelible trace upon Origen’s memory, and he recalled them towards the end of the long period of peace which preceded the Decian persecution:

 

That was a time when people were really faithful, when martyrdom was the penalty even for entrance into the church, when, from the cemeteries whither we had accompanied the bodies of the martyrs, we entered immediately our meeting places, when the whole Church stood unshakable, when catechumens were catechized in the midst of the martyrdom and deaths of Christians who confessed their faith right to the end, and when these catechumens, overcoming these trials, adhered fearlessly to the living God. Then it was that we remember seeing astonishing and marvelous wonders. Doubtless the faithful were then few in number, but they were truly faithful, following the straight and narrow path which leads to life.

4 - As his crowd of disciples flocked to him from morning to night, Origen realized that he had to divide them into two classes, so he chose his disciple Heraclas, an excellent speaker, to give the beginners the preparatory subject of Christian doctrines, while he devoted himself to instructing the advanced students in philosophy, theology and especially the Holy Scriptures.

5 - Origen gained a great number of pupils from the pagan School of philosophy. As Lebreton says that at the period 218-230 A.D Origen was particularly brilliant and fruitful. He was at the height of his powers; he enjoyed the confidence of Pope Demetrius, and every day saw still more students attending his lectures. These disciples came from everywhere, from the Hellenic philosophies and from the Gnostic sects; they sought from Origen the interpretation of the Scriptures and a knowledge of God. To satisfy all their desires the master felt the need of a deeper study of the Bible and of divinity. Accordingly he took up the study of Hellenic philosophy, as he explains in a fragment of a letter quoted by Eusebius: "When I devoted myself to speaking, the fame of our worth spread abroad, and there came to me heretics and those formed in Greek studies and especially philosophers; it seemed good to me that I should examine thoroughly the doctrines of the heretics, and what philosophers profess to say concerning truth."

He felt that he was in need of deeper philosophical training, and this could be found in the lectures of Ammonius Saccas, a well-known Alexandrian philosopher (174-242 A.D), taught Platonism, and from him Plotonus (205-270 A.D), learned Neoplatonism. J. Quasten says,

The period of his life as an educator can be divided into two parts: the first, as head of the school at Alexandria, extending from 203 to 23I A.D, was one of increasing success. The second part of his life was spent in Caesarea of Palestine from 231 A.D until his death. During the first period, he gained pupils even from heretical circles and from the pagan schools of philosophy....This busy schedule did not prevent him from attending the lectures of Ammonius Saccas, the famous founder of Neoplatonism. His influence can be seen in Origen’s cosmology and psychology and in his method.

Origen was essentially a man of the student type. But unlike St. Clement, he was not a philosopher who had been converted to Christianity, nor was his sympathy with philosophy. Perhaps because he was afraid of the beauty of philosophical forms or expressions as a dangerous snare that might entrap or distant him. Perhaps it was only that he had no time for such trifles. Origen was a true missionary who realized that he must study philosophy just to be able to expound Christianity to the leading minds of his day and to answer their difficulties and stress the factors in Christianity likely to appeal to them most.

In a letter written in defense of his position as a student of Greek philosophy he says: "when I had devoted myself entirely to the Scriptures, I was sometimes approached by heretics and people who had studied the Greek sciences and philosophy in particular, I deemed it advisable to investigate both the doctoral views of the heretics and what the philosophers claimed to know of the truth. In this I was imitating Pantaenus who, before my time, had acquired no small store of such knowledge and had benefited many people by it."

It is worthy to note that not all the days of his long life were spent in scholarship, he was a man who was always violently liked or disliked. The story is told that the mob of Alexandria once seized him, clothed him in the dress of a priest of Serapis, gave him the tonsure and placed him on the steps of the great temple, ordering him to perform the office of a priest of Serapis by distributing palm branches to the worshipers. Origen did as he was ordered, and as he placed the palms in the hands of the people and blessed them, he cried out: "Come and receive the palms, not of idols, but of Jesus Christ!''

 

 

ORIGEN LEARNED THE HEBREW LANGUAGE

After the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and its destruction during the following years, Jewish criticism against Christianity was increasingly on the defensive, while Christian doctrine felt able to go its own way, without engaging the rabbis in a continuing dialogue. Origen seems to have been one of the few church fathers to participate in such a dialogue. Origen may also have been the first church father to study Hebrew. "As everyone knows," St. Jerome says, "he was so devoted to the Scriptures that he even learned Hebrew, in opposition to the spirit of his time and of his people." According to Eusebius, "he learned it thoroughly." I think he learned it at first out of his deep love of the Scriptures, to discover the accurate meaning of its Hebrew text, and secondly for defending Christianity against the Jews. His knowledge of the language was never perfect, but it enabled him to get at the original text.

J.W. Trigg says, "One reason Origen probably wished to learn Hebrew was to become more proficient at finding the roots of Hebrew names. Origen shared the belief, common in his time, that the root meaning of a word remained somehow associated with it even when the word itself had come to mean something else entirely and that knowledge of this original meaning could be a very useful clue to the meaning of the text."

 

 

ORIGEN’S SELF-MUTILATION

The presence of women at his lectures, while he was still a young man, and the consequent possibility of scandal suggested to him a literal acting on the words of the Gospel "there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake" Matt. 19:12. Origen felt obliged to take literally a word which the tradition of the Church did not understand in that way, so in a way lining up, in his youth, with those literalists whom he contested so harshly for all the rest of his life. It is indeed intriguing to find the one who is held to be the prince of allegory taking literally a verse which earlier tradition had usually understood allegorically.

Perhaps he regarded emasculation as simply one more of the mortifications he imposed on the body. He said later that "those who obey the teachings of the Savior are martyrs in every act whereby they crucify the flesh; with its passions and desires." If mortification was required, the emasculation was only an extreme form of mortification, to be compared with fasting... In his enthusiasm for the perfect life, he unwisely took this action to prevent all suspicion, and at the same time he thought that he was carrying out a counsel of the Lord.

He tried to hide what he had done, but the secret was soon known and brought to the attention of Pope Demetrius, who forgave him willingly, but later used it against him when he was ordained a presbyter.

This act of self-mutilation, condemned by the civil law, was already disapproved of by the Church, and was later formally condemned. Origen himself wrote later when explaining this text in Matthew: "If there are other passages, not only in the Old but also in the New Testament, to which we ought to apply the words: "The letter kills, but the spirit gives life," we must allow that they apply especially to this particular text." Origen says that "true purity does not consist in doing violence to the body, but in mortifying the senses for the Kingdom of God."

 

 

ORIGEN’S JOURNEYS

Origen’s reputation spread not only in Alexandria but throughout the whole Church.

1 - About the year 212 A.D Origen went to Rome, during the pontificate of Zephyrinus, and in his presence St. Hippolytus gave a discourse in honor of the Savior.

2 - Shortly before the year 215, we find him in Arabia, where he has gone in order to instruct the Roman Governor at the latter’s own request. "A soldier brought letters to Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, and to the prefect of Egypt in which the governor of Arabia requested them to send Origen to him as soon as possible, as he wished to discuss doctrines with him."

He was also called to Arabia several times for discussions with its bishop. Eusebius mentions two of those debates, in the year 244 A.D an Arabian synod was convened to discuss the Christological views of Beryllus, Bishop of Bostra. The synod, which was largely attended, condemned Beryllus, because of his absolute monarchianism (one person as Godhead), and had vainly tried to bring him round to the Orthodox position. Origen hurried to Arabia and succeeded in convincing Beryllus, who seemed even to have written a letter of thanks to Origen.

This link with Arabia is a continuation of Pantaenus’.

3 - Around the year 216 A.D, the emperor Caracalla had arrived in Alexandria and had been the butt of gibes on the part of the student population which greeted him as 'Geticus,' an ironical title of honor because he had assassinated his brother Geta. The Emperor looted the city of Alexandria, closed the schools, persecuted the teachers and massacred them. Origen decided to leave Alexandria in secret and withdrew for the first time to Caesarea of Palestine. There, he was welcomed by his old friend Alexander, Bishop of Aelia, that is of Jerusalem, and subsequently by Theoctistus, Bishop of Caesarea (in Palestine). Not wishing to miss the chance afforded them by the presence of so distinguished a biblical scholar, they invited him to expound the Scriptures in the Christian assemblies before them, although he was still a layman. Back in Alexandria, Pope Demetrius was very angry for, according to the Alexandrian Church custom, laymen should not deliver discourse in the presence of the bishops. The Pope made a protest to the Palestinian bishops, saying that "it has never been heard of and it never happens now that laymen preach homilies in the presence of bishops." Bishops Theoctistus and Alexander retorted in a letter which is possibly later and contemporary with the great crisis of 231-233 A.D - saying that this statement was manifestly incorrect. They quoted cases showing that "where there are men capable of doing good to the brethren, they are invited by the holy bishops to address the people." The Pope ordered the immediate return of Origen to Alexandria, and the latter loyally obeyed the summons, and everything seemed to settle down as it had been before. This incident was a prelude to the conflict which was to break out some fifteen years later.

Henri Crouzel states that another question can be asked about this first sojourn of Origen's at Caesarea of Palestine. In his Historia Lausiaca, Palladius reports the following concerning a virgin called Juliana:

It is also said that there was at Caesarea of Cappadocia a virgin named Juliana, of great wisdom and faith. She took in the writer Origen when he fled from the rising of the Greeks and hid him for three years, providing him with rest at her own expense and caring for him herself. All that I found, mentioned in Origen's own handwriting in a very old book written in verses. These were his very words: ‘I found this book at the house of the virgin Juliana at Caesarea when I was hiding there. She said she had got it from Symmachus himself, the Jewish commentator.’

Writers usually understand by this 'rising of the Greeks' the persecution of Maximin the Thracian in 235 and accordingly suppose that at that time Origen had to leave Caesarea of Palestine where he had settled and hide at Caesarea of Cappadocia. Eusebius, who had also read the same note on the manuscript which was to be found in his day in the library at Caesarea in Palestine, reports that the commentaries of the Ebionite Symmachus Ebionism was a Judaeo-Christian heresy - were to be found there and that Origen "indicates that he had received these works with other interpretations of the Scriptures by Symmachus from a certain Juliana, who, he says, had inherited these books from Symmachus himself." This passage follows the chapter in which Eusebius explains how Origen composed the Hexapla: Symmachus was the author of one of the four Greek versions which were collated in it. These chapters relate to the Alexandrian period of Origen's life.

Crouzel also says, "We also wonder whether it is not right to see in the 'rising of the Greeks', not Maximin's persecution, but the troubles in Alexandria when Caracalla visited the city and to suppose that Palladius confused the two Caesareas, mentioning the Cappadocian one when it should have been the Palestinian. The fact is that the note in Origen's handwriting which he read and which is the source of his information does not say which Caesarea is meant and as the manuscript which contained it was found among the books that Origin left to the library of Caesarea in Palestine, it would seem more likely that the latter is meant. However, it is possible that Palladius knew from some other source that Juliana lived in Caesarea of Cappadocia."

4 - At the beginning of the reign of Alexander Severus (222-235 A.D), the Emperor’s mother, Julia Mammaea, the last of those Syrian princesses to whom the Severan dynasty owed much of its brilliance, summoned Origen to come to Antioch in order that she might consult him on many questions. 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.

According to Eusebius, Origen abode for some time at the royal place and after hearing powerful testimony to the glory of the Lord and the worth of divine instruction "hastened back to his School."

Origen mentions in his Letter to friends in Alexandria a stay in Antioch, where he had to refute the calumny of a heretic whom he had already confronted in Ephesus.

5 - Origen’s next journey was into Greece, and involved two years absence from Alexandria. He went in response of Achia, apparently to act the part of peace-maker, and was bearer of written credentials from his Bishop. Origen chose the longest way round: from Alexandria to Athens going through Caesarea of Palestine which was not the most direct way, probably to visit his Palestinian friends, Bishops Theoctistus and Alexander. There he was ordained a priest, by the Bishop of this country. To the two bishops it seemed unfitting that a spiritual counselor of high authorities like Origen should be no more than a layman. Moreover, they desired to avoid all risk of further rebukes from Pope Demetrius by licensing Origen to preach in their presence. Possibly they wanted to give him greater prestige for the mission he was undertaking to Greece.

Origen at this time was not thinking of settling in Caesarea; once his mission to Greece had been accomplished, he would go back to Alexandria and again direct his school.

Pope Demetrius counted this ordination much worse offense than the former one, considering it as invalid, for two reasons:

a - Origen had received priesthood from another bishop without permission from his own bishop.

b - Origen’s self-mutilation was against his ordination. Until today no such person (who practices self-mutilation) can be ordained.

 

 

ORIGEN’S CONDEMNATION

Pope Demetrius called a council of bishops and priests who refused to abide by the decision, that Origin must leave Alexandria, but this did not content bishop Demetrius. He called another council of bishops only (in the year 232), and deprived him of the priesthood as the ordination was invalid and he became unfit for catechizing. Beside the above-mentioned accusations, they considered that there were some errors in his teachings such as:

1 - He believed souls were created before the bodies, and they are bound to bodies as a punishment of previous sins they had committed. The world is for them only a place of purification.

2 - The soul of Christ had a previous existence before the Incarnation and it was united with divinity.

3 - All creation, even Satan aqnd demons, will return back to its origin in God, (eternal punishment has an end).

We will deal with these errors attributed to him in chapter four: "Origen and Origenism."

Origen was deprived of his priesthood, and St. Jerome says that all the bishops endorsed the attack on Origen except the Bishops of Palestine, Arabia, Achaia and Phoenicia. St. Jerome at the peak of his enthusiasm for Origen did not hesitate to write that, if Rome called a senate against Origen, it was not "on account of innovations in dogma, or to accuse him of heresy, as many of these mad dogs claim nowadays, but because they could not stand the splendid effect of his eloquence and scholarship for when he spoke all were speechless."

Origen sent a letter, probably from Athens, to friends at Alexandria who presumably had warned him of what Pope Demetrius thought of him. The fragment that Jerome preserves which comes from an earlier part of Origen's letter contains disillusioned and bitter remarks about the limited confidence it is possible to have in the Church leaders: it is wrong to revile them or hate them; one should rather pity them and pray for them. One should not revile anyone, not even the devil, but leave it to the Lord to correct them.

With a heavy heart Origen abandoned Alexandria forever and made his way, accompanied by the faithful Ambrosius and perhaps with a small following of copyists and stenographers to Caesarea. He obeyed abhorring schism, and with noble Christian unselfishness counted his expulsion from the place that was dearest to him than any on earth, as not too great a sacrifice in order to maintain the unity of the Church. For although he had powerful friends in Alexandria and overseas and might have become the leader of a great party to fight the bishop - but never did thus! He calmly left Alexandria, feeling that nobody could deprive him of his beloved church, as he says, "It sometimes happens that a man who has been turned out is really still inside, and one who seems to be inside may really be outside."

 

"The work of correction," Origen says in one of his letters about Ambrosius, "leaves us no time for supper, or after supper for exercise and repose. Even at these times we are compelled to debate questions of interpretation and to amend manuscripts. Even the night cannot be given up altogether to the needful refreshment of sleep, for our discussions extend far into the evening. I say nothing about our morning labor. For all earnest students devote this time to study of the Scriptures and reading".

J. Lebreton says,

Shortly after the condemnation of Origen, Demetrius died. His successor was the priest Heraclas, whom Origen had appointed as assistant, and who after his condemnation had taken his place at the head of the Catechetical School. It seems that Origen tried at this time to return to Alexandria and to take up his teaching once more, but Heraclas upheld the sentence of Demetrius. In 247 Heraclas died in his turn, and was succeeded by St. Dionysius. He, however, took no steps to recall to Alexandria the man who had nevertheless been his own master. But in the time of the Decian persecution, Origen was to receive, after his painful confession of the Faith, a friendly letter from the Bishop of Alexandria.

These facts enable us to understand better the significance and the motives of the sentence of Demetrius: if his two successors, sometime pupils of Origen, did nothing to recall their master to Alexandria, it must have been because his dismissal was motivated not merely by the personal jealousy of Demetrius, but also by the Church’s own interests.

 

A NEW SCHOOL

The departure of Origen from Alexandria to settle in Caesarea of Palestine divides his life into two main periods. Henri Crouzel states that, according to most manuscripts of Eusebius Origen's departure from Alexandria to settle in Caesarea of Palestine took place in the tenth year of the reign of Alexander Severus, say 231: one manuscript only gives the twelfth year, say 233. Eusebius subsequently points out that shortly after the departure of Origen, Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, died, after holding his office for fully forty-three years. Earlier he had noted the accession of Demetrius in the tenth year of Commodus, that is in 190. So Alexander would have died in 233 and that date makes it more likely that Origen settled in Caesarea in 233 than in 231.

Pastoral concerns appear and grow stronger during the second half of his life, for his priesthood and his preaching brought him into contact not only with the intellectuals with whom he still consorted but also with the generality of the Christian population.

In the preamble to volume six of the Commentary on John, the first book that he composed at Caesarea as soon as he could start work again, Origen, who as a rule never speaks of himself, allows the bitterness caused by the recent events at Alexandria to show.

J. Lebreton says,

The condemnations pronounced by men who had been most closely connected with Origen - Demetrius, who thirty years before had appointed him head of the Catechetical School, and Heraclas, who had been his disciple and his collaborator - together with the exile which removed him from the Church in which his father had died a martyr’s death and in which he himself had taught for thirty years, and the pronouncements against him emanating from the whole world, were to Origen himself a terrible blow. Yet he says little about them in his works, and when he does so it is with moderation. The most explicit passage is found in the Preface of the Sixth Tome of St. John:

In spite of the storm stirred up against us at Alexandria, we had completed the fifth tome, for Jesus commanded the winds and the waves. We had already begun the sixth when we were torn from the land of Egypt, saved by the hand of God the deliverer, who had formerly withdrawn his people from thence. Since that time the enemy has redoubled his violence, publishing his new letters, truly hostile to the Gospel, and letting loose upon us all the evil winds of Egypt. Hence reason counseled us to remain ready for combat, and to keep untouched the highest part of ourselves, until tranquillity, restored to our mind, should enable us to add to our former labors the rest of our studies on Scripture. If we had returned to this task at an unseasonable time, we might have feared that painful reflections would bring the tempest right into our soul. Moreover, the absence of our usual secretaries prevented us from dictating the commentary. But now that the multitude of heated writings published against us has been extinguished by God, and our soul, accustomed to the misfortunes which come to pass in consequence of the heavenly word, has learnt to support more peaceably the snares prepared for us--now that we have, so to speak, found once more a calm sky, we do not wish to delay any longer in dictating the rest, and we pray God our Master to make himself heard in the sanctuary of our soul, so that the commentary we have begun on the Gospel of John may be completed. May God hear our prayer that we may be able to write the whole of this discourse, and that no further accident may interrupt and break the continuity of Scripture.

This moving passage well brings out Origen’s great grief, and also his efforts to overcome it and continue his work in peace.

J. Lebreton also says, "We can compare with this passage a fragment of a letter from Origen to his friends, quoted by St. Jerome, Adv. Rufinum 2:18 : "Is it necessary to recall the discourses of the prophets threatening and reprimanding the shepherds and the elders, the priests and the princes of the people? You can find them without our help in the Holy Scriptures and convince yourselves that our own time is perhaps one of those to which these words apply: Believe not a friend, and trust not in a prince (Micheas, vii, 5), and also this other oracle which is being fulfilled in our own days "The leaders of my people have not known me they are foolish and senseless children; they are ready to do evil but know not how to do good" (Jeremias, iv, 22). such men deserve pity rather than hate, and we must pray for them rather than curse them, for we have been created, not to curse but to bless."

Origen left Alexandria and made his new home in Caesarea, in Palestine, where he was gladly welcomed by the bishops. "They attached themselves to him as to a unique master, and they entrusted him with the explanation of the holy Scriptures and with the whole of Church teaching," Bishop Theoctistus induced Origen to found a new school of theology there, over which he presided for almost twenty years. In this School he taught St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker for five years.

Ambrose and the book-producing organization had accompanied him to Caesarea, and a share in the dedication of two works was bestowed on that loyal benefactor.

At the bishop’s request Origen also discussed the Scripture, at least twice a week, on Wednesday and Fridays. The new task increased Origen’s humility, for he believed that the preacher had to be first and foremost a man of prayer. Many times when he was faced with an especially difficult passage, he would often stop and ask his listeners to pray with him for a better understanding of the text.

His power as a teacher in Caesarea can fortunately be measured by an account which was recorded by a grateful pupil. His school at Caesarea exercised a magnetic attraction not only over the neighboring country but on hearers from abroad, who came to hearken to his wisdom from all parts, as the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon.

Among the earliest of them was a young law student, by name Gregory, afterwards surnamed the "Thaumaturgus" (Wonder-worker), owing to the apostolic signs and wonders which he wrought in his singularly successful labors as a missionary among his own people. His name by birth was Theodore, and was subsequently changed to Gregory. He was born in Pontus, of a distinguished but pagan family. At the age of fourteen, after the death of his father, he came to know Christianity and accepted it. Gregory wanted to become a lawyer, and set out for Beirut with his brother Athenodorus, in order to study law there. The two brothers took their sister with them as far as Caesarea, so that she could join her husband, who had been appointed assessor to the Governor of Syrian Palestine. Passing by Beirut on his journey, he arrived at Caesarea, only to fall under Origen’s spell and find himself a captive, not of Roman law, but of Christian Gospel. He stayed for five years under the tuition of the master, at the end of which, he received the bishopric on the eve of returning home. Before leaving Caesarea, Gregory addressed to his master a speech of farewell and thanks (Panegyric). The admiration of the young disciple for his master shows how great was the latter’s influence, and how much he was loved.

At the end of the first part of the Panegyric, St. Gregory describes in moving terms the fascination that the master's language had for him when he spoke of the Word and the mutual affection that grew up between them and him:

And thus, like some spark lighting upon our inmost soul, love was kindled and burst into flame within us, - a love at once to the Holy Word, the most lovely object of all, who attracts all irresistibly towards Himself by His unutterable beauty, and to this man, His friend and advocate. And being most mightily smitten by this love, I was persuaded to give up all those objects or pursuits which seem to us befitting, and among others even my boasted jurisprudence, - yea, my very fatherland and relatives, both those - who were present with me then, and those from whom I had parted. And in my estimation there arose but one object dear and worth desire, - to wit philosophy, and that master of philosophy, that divine man.

St. Gregory expresses the grief of farewell and weeps to leave the almost monastic life he had led with Origen and his fellow students.

... where both by day and by night the holy laws are declared, and hymns and songs and spiritual words are heard; where also there is perpetual sunlight; where by day in waking vision we have access to the mysteries of God, and by night in dreams we are still occupied with what the soul has seen and handled in the day; and where, in short, the inspiration of divine things prevails over all continually.

Origen states that many like St. Gregory exaggerate in praising him. He says, "We ourselves also suffer from such exaggerations. Many who love us more than we deserve give to our discourses and to our doctrine praises of which we cannot approve. Others slander our books and attribute to us opinions which to our knowledge we have never held. Those who love us too much and those who hate us both stray from the rule of truth."

Henri Crouzel says,

Following A Knauber we think that the school of Caesarea was more a kind of missionary school, aimed at young pagans who were showing an interest in Christianity but were not yet ready, necessarily, to ask for baptism: Origen was thus introducing these to Christian doctrine through a course in philosophy, mainly inspired by Middle Platonism, of which he offered them a Christian version. If his students later asked to become Christians, they had then to receive catecheticial teaching in the strict sense.

But the didascaleion of Caesarea is above all a school of the inner life: all its teaching leads to spirituality. It is striking to note that what Gregory admires most in Origen is not the polymath or the speculative sage, but the man of God and the guide of souls. Origen seems to Gregory to have gone far on the road of spiritual progress that leads to assimilation to God, so much so that he no longer has for guide an ordinary angel but already perhaps the Angel of the Great Council himself,' that is to say the Logos. He has received from God exceptional spiritual gifts: he can speak of God, he is the 'advocate' or 'herald' of the Word’ and of the virtues,’ the 'guide' of philosophy in its moral and religious applications. He possesses to a unique degree the gift of the exegete, analogous to that of the inspired author; he knows how to listen to God: 'This man has received from God the greatest gift and from heaven the better part; he is the interpreter of the words of God to men, he understands the things of God as if God were speaking to him and he explains them to men that they may understand them'. Among the gifts he has received from God, he has the greatest of all, 'the master of piety, the saving Word’. With him the Word comes in bare-foot, not shod with an enigmatic phraseology. He teaches the virtues in wise and compelling terms, but above all by his example: he puts his own lessons into practice, striving to fit himself to the ideal they describe: he presents to his students a model of all the virtues, so that they come to life.

God has given him the power to convince and that is how he overcame the resistance of the two brothers. His words pierced them like 'arrows.

Origen paid several journeys during this period:

1. Bishop Firmilian of Caesarea in Cappadocia, invited him into his country 'for the good of the Churches' and then went himself to spend some time 'with him in Judaea ... to improve himself in divine matter'."

2. A journey to Nicomedia, Diocletian's future capital, near the Asian shore of the Sea of Marmara, is attested by the conclusion of the long letter he wrote to Julius Africanus in reply to the latter's objections to the authenticity and canonicity of the story of Susanna in the Greek version of Daniel.

3. As we have seen before, Origen went to see Beryllus, bishop of Bostra in the Hauran, capital of the Roman province of Arabia, a country to which Origen had already been at the summons of its governor during the Alexandrian period of his life. Eusebius attributes to Beryllus a doctrine derived from both modalism and adoptionism: the former, to safeguard the divine unity, made of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit three modes of being of a single divine Person, while the latter thought of the Son as a man whom God adopted. Beryllus maintained that 'our Lord and Savior had not pre-existed in a mode of his own before his dwelling among men and that He did not possess a divinity of his own, but only that of the Father which dwelt in Him'. Many bishops had discussions with Beryllus at a synod held in his own Church and they summoned Origen to it; he succeeded in bringing Beryllus round to a more orthodox opinion.

4. Another mission, likewise to Arabia, and related to the reign of Philip the Arabian, who came from that country, was directed against the views of certain Christians known by the name of Thnetopsychites, that is people maintaining that the soul is mortal.

5. The third mission was not unconnected, as regards the opinions debated, with the two previous ones. The evidence for it is found in the Dialogue of Origen with Heraclides and the bishops his colleagues on the Father, the Son and the soul, the transcript in part of the proceedings of a synod like the former, but of which we know neither the time nor the place. But the doctrines discussed are sufficiently akin to those in debate at the other synods to suggest that this also was in Roman Arabia and at the same period. We will return to this dialogue in the following chapter.

 

 

ORIGEN’S TEACHING AS SEEN BY A DISCIPLE

St. Gregory describes his feelings towards his teacher, Origen, as having the warmth of the true Sun which begins to rise upon him. He was pierced with Origen's words, as by a divine arrow. His prayers were as God’s arrows, having the power to convert his hearers. St. Gregory states that in his zeal, Origen, "did not aim merely at getting us round by any kind of reasoning; but his desire was, with a benignant, affectionate and most generous mind, to save us."

The pains he took to build them up in the faith are admirably portrayed in Gregory's Panegyric, which gives us the first detailed curriculum of Christian higher education. But what is not so apparent from this account is the earnest prayer and confident use of the Scriptures in evangelism which Origen employed. Something of his priorities in this matter may be gleaned from his letter to Gregory. "Do you then, my son, diligently apply yourself to the reading of the sacred Scriptures. Apply yourself, I say, for we who read the things of God need much application, lest we should say or think anything too rashly about them. And applying yourself thus to the study of the things of God, . . . knock at its locked door, and it will be opened to you . . . And applying yourself thus to the divine study, seek aright, and with unwavering trust in God, the meaning of the Holy Scriptures, which so many have missed. Be not satisfied with knocking and seeking; the prayer is of all things indispensable to the knowledge of the things of God. For to this the Savior exhorted, and said not only 'Knock and it shall be opened to you; and seek and you shall find' but also, 'Ask, and it shall be given unto you'.

It was through the wise, dedicated, individual evangelism of Christians like Origen that some of the most notable converts were brought into the Christian Church. Hand-picked fruit was the best.

In St. Gregory’s eulogy, pulsating with grateful admiration, the young man tells how he was first won by Origen and then trained by him. The master was not merely a professor but above all an educator; he transformed the person who gave himself up to him:

 

When he saw that his efforts were not fruitless, he began to dig the soil, to turn it over, to water it, to rake it over, and to use all his art and all his care in order to work upon us; everything that there was in the nature of thorns, thistles, or evil weeds, and all that our minds produced like a virgin forest, he cut back or extracted by his reprimands and orders; he corrected us after the manner of Socrates, and subdued us by his words if he found us like wild horses, impatient of the bit rushing off the road, and running hither and thither, until by persuasion or compulsion, curbing us by his speech as by a bit put into our mouths he succeeded in training us. At first this could not be done without pain and suffering for us; neither custom nor exercise had taught us to follow reason; but nevertheless he went on forming us by his discourses and gradually purified us (7:96).

Side by side with this moral training, an encyclopedic teaching was given.

Thus this whole course, encyclopedic and philosophical, was but a preparation for the study of Holy Scripture which for Origen was the most important subject of all, constituting Theology.

He himself used to interpret the Prophets and clarified all the obscure and puzzling passages such as occur frequently in the holy Scriptures... He clarified and threw light upon all the enigmas he encountered, because he knew how to listen to God and to understand him. One might say that these enigmas presented no difficulty to him, and contained nothing that he did not understand. Of all the men of to-day, of whom I have heard or whom I have known, there has not been one who was able as he was to contemplate the purity of the divine oracles, to receive their light into his own soul, and to teach them to others. This is because the universal Head, he who spoke through the Prophets beloved by God, and who inspires all prophecy and all mystical and divine discourse, honored him as a friend, and set him up as a master. Through others, he spoke in enigmas, but through Origen he gave the understanding of them, and whatever he, the Master supremely worthy of belief, had by his royal authority ordained or revealed, this he gave to this man to expound, and to explain the oracles, so that if anyone were hard of heart and incredulous or still desirous to learn, he was able to learn from this man and was in a sense compelled to understand and to believe and to follow God. If he did all this, it was in my opinion by the communication of the divine Spirit; for those who prophesy and those who understand the prophets need the same power, and no one can understand a prophet unless the same Spirit who has prophesied give him the understanding of his discourse. That is the meaning of the words we read in the holy books: "He who shuts can alone open, and none other" - the divine word opens by manifesting those enigmas which are closed. This wonderful gift was received by this man from God, he was given by heaven the marvelous destiny of being to men the interpreter of the words of God, understanding what God says in the way in which God says it, and expounding it to men in a way that men can understand. Thus, there was nothing inexplicable, hidden, or inaccessible to us; we were able to follow every saying, barbarian or Greek, mysterious or public, divine or human; we were able in all freedom to run through all, to examine all, and to collect together and enjoy all the good things of the soul. Whether it came from some ancient source of the truth or from some other name or work, we drew from it abundantly and with full freedom wonderful and magnificent thoughts. To express the whole matter in brief, all this was for us a veritable Paradise, an image of the great Paradise of God, in which we did not have to work upon the soul below, nor to feed our bodies by fattening them; we had only to develop the riches of the soul, like beautiful plants which we had planted ourselves or which had been planted in us by the Cause of all things, in joy and abundance (15:I74-183),

This eulogy does honor to the disciple as much as to his master. But at the same time we cannot help noticing a certain exaggeration, whether in the praise of Hellenic philosophy, or in the repeated praise of Origen himself as the unique master and sole interpreter of the Scriptures. Origen doubtless was himself aware of this exaggeration. We have a letter which he addressed to Gregory shortly after the return of the young man to his own country; we find in it some points which appear to be discreet corrections of the Discourse especially on the dangers which may be found in the good things of Egypt, and the necessity of prayer to understand the Scriptures. At the end of the letter, Origen gives this exhortation:

 

As for you, my son, apply yourself above all to the reading of the holy Scriptures. "Apply yourself," I say, for we need great attention when we read the holy books so that we may neither say nor think anything incautious concerning them. Be attentive to the reading of the divine Scriptures, with faith and the intention of pleasing God knock if the doors are shut, and the porter will open to you, as Jesus said: The porter will open the door to him." Being thus attentive to the divine reading, seek with an upright heart and a very firm faith in God, the spirit of the holy Scriptures, so often hidden. But do not content yourself with knocking at the door and seeking: the most necessary thing for the understanding of divine matters is prayer. The Savior, when exhorting us, did not content himself with saying to us: "Knock and it shall be opened unto you, seek and you shall fin; he also said: "Ask and it shall be given unto you." Because of my fatherly affection towards you I do not fear to speak to you thus. Whether we have done well or not, God and his Christ know, and he who has a part in the spirit of God and the spirit of Christ. May you yourself have part therein, an ever increasing part, so that you may not merely say: "We are becoming participators in Christ" but also "We are becoming participators in God."

 

 

ORIGEN AS A PREACHER

Origen was dean of the Scientific School of Alexandria, at the same time he was a preacher not in a formal way, but through his zeal of the salvation of men. As a preacher, Origen was very humble , because he knew there was much that he did not know and yet he was not afraid.

His spiritual lectures were attended by men and women, Christians, and non-Christians, poor and rich people. As we have seen, even the pagan Queen, Julia Mammaea desired to hear him and to be instructed by him. Michael Green presents Origen as an example of a lovely preacher saying:

A lovely example of the attitude to preaching adopted by one of the great intellectuals at the end of the second century, Origen, is found in his Commentary on Psalm 36. One might expect that the head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria, the man who outgunned the philosophers on their own ground, was somewhat dull in his preaching and academic in his approach to it; in fact, the very reverse was the case.

In this commentary on Psalm 36 Origen is talking of Christian preachers under the metaphor of arrows of God. "All in whom Christ speaks, that is to say every upright man and preacher who speaks the word of God to bring men to salvation—and not merely the apostles and prophets—can be called an arrow of God. But, what is rather sad," he continues, "I see very few arrows of God. There are few who so speak that they inflame the heart of the hearer, drag him away from his sin, and convert him to repentance. Few so speak that the heart of their hearers is deeply convicted and his eyes weep for contrition. There are few who unveil the light of the future hope, the wonder of heaven and the glory of God's kingdom to such effect that by their earnest preaching they succeed in persuading men to despise the visible and seek the invisible, to spurn the temporal and seek the eternal. There are all too few preachers of this caliber." He fears that professional jealousy and rivalry often render, what few good preachers there are, useless in reaching those they try to win. And continuing in a very humble and sensitive vein Origen shares with the reader his dread that he should himself ever turn into the devil's arrow by causing anyone to stumble through what he did or said. "Sometimes we think we are confuting someone, and we speak ill-advisedly, and become aggressive and argumentative as we endeavor to win our case no matter what expressions we use. Then the devil takes our mouth and uses it like a bow from which he can shoot his arrows.

Green also says,

But it seems to have been Clement and Origen who were most sensitive about the need of those without Christ, and adept at pleading with them. We have already sampled the caliber of Origen's preaching, his inner concern to be an arrow in the Lord's hand, and his comments on Romans 9:1 where he asks the reader, "Do you have sorrow and grief for the lost ? Do you care enough to be separated from Christ for them ?" His predecessor in the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Clement, had equal warmth, as his Protrepricus makes clear. This is no mere Apology. It is a missionary tract, full of love and concern for those whom he is seeking to win. It may not be amiss to close this chapter with some excerpts from this treatise, as a reminder that the warmth of Christian love for the unevangelized and genuine concern for their well being did not end with the apostolic age.

"Do you not fear, and hasten to learn of him—that is, hasten to salvation—dreading wrath, loving grace, eagerly striving after the hope set before us, that you may shun the judgment threatened ? Come, come, O my young people! For if you become not again as little children, and be born again, as says the Scripture, you shall not receive the truly existent Father, nor shall you enter the kingdom of heaven. For in what way is a stranger permitted to enter ? Well, I take it, when he is enrolled and made a citizen, and receives one to stand to him in the relation of Father: then he will be occupied with the Father’s concerns, then he shall be deemed worthy to be made his heir, then he will share the kingdom of the Father with his own dear Son."

Origen’s homilies give us a good picture of himself as a preacher, and of a third century preacher. He has no specific word for "Preacher;" he calls him simply didaskalos, or "teacher;" that is, the preacher was one sort of educator. When Origen preached, he stood before the congregation and had the book of the Scripture open before him; it was a corrected version of the Septuagint.

Origen did not preach regularly until he had been ordained a presbyter.

When Origen was preaching in Caesarea, the bishop was not present. But when he spoke of 1 Samuel as a guest preacher in Jerusalem, the bishop attended. In his homily on 1 Samuel 1-2, Origen paid the bishop a compliment: "Do not expect to find in us what you have in Pope Alexander, for we acknowledge that he surpasses us all in gracious gentleness. And I am not the only one to commend this graciousness; all of you, who have enjoyed it , know and appreciate it.

Origen readily admitted that learning alone did not make a good preacher. Again and again he asks his congregation to pray for him, and especially for his enlightenment, that he might understand the scriptures and explain them correctly. In one homily he says to his hearers: "If the Lord should see fit to illuminate us by your prayers, we will attempt to make known a few things which pertain to the edification of the church" In another passage, he urges the congregation to pray for insight during each reading of the Scriptures:

 

We should pray the Father of the word during each individual reading "when Moses is read," that he might fulfill even in us that which is written in the Psalms: "Open my eyes and I will consider the wondrous things of your Law (Ps.. 118:18)." For unless he himself opens our eyes, how shall we be able to see these great mysteries which are fashioned in the patriarchs, which are pictured now in terms of wells, now in marriages, now in births, now even in barrenness?

Elsewhere he says: "Lord Jesus, come again; explain these words to me and to those who have come to seek spiritual food."

He was appalled by the task confronting him, for what he had to do was not just to state the truth but to state it in such a way that his hearers could grasp it. "I often think of the maxim: "It is dangerous to talk about God, even if what you say about him is true." The man who wrote that must, I am sure, have been a shrewd and dependable character. There is danger, you see, not only in saying what is untrue about God but even in telling the truth about him if you do it at the wrong time."

Origen as a preacher, gains men through love, or say a close friendship. For example St. Gregory Thaumaturgus describes in a very moving way the affection between himself and his master, comparing it with that of Saul's son, Jonathan, for David. "And so he goaded us on by his friendship, by the irresistible, sharp, penetrating goad of his affability and good purposes, all the good will that was apparent in his own words, when he was present with us and talked to us." The friendship which unites the pupil to his master, his "true father," is the central idea of the moving peroration in which St. Gregory laments, with the support of many biblical references, all that he is about to leave: he compares himself to Adam driven out of Paradise, to the prodigal son reduced to eating the fodder of the swine, to the Hebrew captives refusing to sing in a strange land, to the robbed Jew of the parable of the Good Samaritan. And after asking his master to pray that an angel may watch over him during his journey back to his distant land, he ends his address as follows: "Ask him urgently to let us return and to bring us back to you. That alone, that more than anything else, will be our consolation." The rhetoric in which this peroration is couched should in no way cast doubt on the youthful friendship and admiration that inspired it.

Origen, like other Alexandrian Fathers, such as Athenagoras, Pantaenus and Clement mixed even their apologetic writings with teaching and evangelism. They were missionaries, preachers, evangelists, and in many instances, martyrs.

Origen as a sincere preacher asks every believer to have the responsibility to be a representative of His Master, saying, "There was no need for many bodies to be in several places and to have many spirits like Jesus, so that the whole world of men might be enlightened by the Word of God. For the one Word was enough, who rose up as a 'sun of righteousness' to send forth from Judaea his rays which reach the souls of those who are willing to accept him." He continues by pointing out that many have, in imitation of Christ, carried out the message from Judaea into the rest of the world. "If anyone should want to see many bodies filled with a divine spirit, ministering to the salvation of men everywhere after the pattern of the one Christ, let him realize that those who in many places teach the doctrine of Jesus rightly and live an upright life, are themselves also called christs by the divine Scriptures in the words, 'Touch not My christs, and do My prophets no harm."

Green says," There is another passage in Origen which sheds light on how seriously he took the responsibility of being the visible representative of his Master. In his Commentary on Romans 9:1 he considers Paul's professed willingness to be cut off from Christ if that would benefit his Jewish brethren and bring them to faith. Origen asks the reader if he has sorrow and grief for the lost, like that. Does he care so much that he would be willing to be separated from Christ for their sake ? Of course that could not happen. Nothing will be able to separate the Christian from the love of Christ, as Paul has made clear at the end of the previous chapter. Nor would it be possible to save others if one were about to perish oneself. But even though it could not happen, Origen persists in his challenging inquiry, would the reader be willing for such a fate in order to rescue others ? "Have you learned the lesson of dying to live from your Lord and Master ? Have you learned from him who though by nature immortal and inseparable from the Father nevertheless died and descended into Hades ? In the same way Paul imitated his Master, and was willing to be accursed from Christ for his brethren's sake, although nothing could separate him from the love of Christ ! Is it so wonderful that the Apostle should be willing to be accursed for his brethren’s sake, when he knew that the one who was in the form of God emptied himself of that form, and took on himself the form of the Servant and was made a curse for us ? Is it so wonderful if, when the Lord was made a curse for slaves, the slave should be willing to be a curse for his brethren ?"

Finally, Origen believes that Christ is speaking through him.

Till now Joshua writes the Torah by our words, in the hearts those who receive the word in straight faith will all their spirits, with sound ear, sound heart, and unevil thought.

 

ORIGEN’S ATTITUDE TOWARD HIS ADMIRER

All the people were admired of him (St. John the Baptist) and loved him. Surely John was a strange man, worthy of the strong admiration of all men, for his life was totally different than theirs... But this surpassed the limits of reasonable love, for they asked if he was Christ.

St. Paul was afraid of this unsuitable and spiritual love, as he speaks of him self: " But I forbear, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or bears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations" (2 Cor. 12:6,7. )

I myself suffer from this exaggeration in our church, for the majority love me more that I deserve, and praise my speech and teaching ... while others criticize our homilies and attribute to me some ideas which are not mine... These who exaggerate in loving us and those who hate us both do not preserve the law of truth. Some lie in their exaggerated love as others in their hatred.

Therefore we have to put limits to our love and do not leave it in freedom to carry us here and there. . . . It is written in the book of Ecclesiastes, "Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise, why should you destroy yourself" (Eccles. 7:16).

Origen, who was interested in the salvation of souls, did not care of his own glory. Truly he was very kind and gentle to attract men to their Savior, but sometimes he was very firm for their advantage, regardless their opinion on him. R. Cadiou says,

The great Alexandrian, whose pupils were always quick to praise his gentle and penetrating methods of teaching, allowed himself certain elements of rudeness as a preacher. When he compared his own ideals of Christian perfection with the routine practice of the faithful or with the cupidity and laziness of certain members of the clergy, he was as unable to control his impatience as any other such intellectual Christian might be under the same circumstances. A certain sharpness began to appear in his style of preaching, and he himself acknowledged it in one of his homilies given at Jerusalem. "Do not expect," he says, "to hear from me the gracious words that you hear from your Bishop Alexander. I agree with you that he is outstanding in the charm which marks his gentleness, and I know you have been accustomed to enjoy those delightful exhortations that pour forth from his fatherly heart, vivified as it is with the spirit of charity. But in my garden the herbs are of a sharper taste, and you will find them salutary remedies when you come here to pray."

 

MAXIMIN’S PERSECUTION

During the persecution initiated by Maximin, Origen took refuge in Cappadocian Caesarea. His old friends Ambrosius (Ambrose) and Protoktetuis, a priest of Caesarea, were seized and thrown into prison. He wrote and dedicated to them his treatise, "Exhortation to Martyrdom," in which he regarded martyrdom as one of the proofs of the truth of Christianity, and a continuation of the work of redemption.

Ambrose and Protoktetius were set at liberty and Origen returned to Caesarea in Palestine.

Traveling to Athens through Bithynia, he spent several days at Nicomedia. there he received a letter from Julius Africanus, who asked him about the story of Susanna as an authentic portion of the Book of Daniel. Origen replied in a lengthy letter form Necomedia.

Under the reign of Decius (249 - 251), persecution rose again and Origen was arrested. His body was tortured, he was tormented with a heavy iron collar and kept in the innermost den in the prison. For several days his feet were tied together to a rock; and he was threatened with being burned at the stake.

Eusebius describes his suffering in the following terms:

The number and greatness of Origen’s sufferings during the persecution, the nature of his death..., the nature and the number of bonds which the man endured for the word of Christ, punishments as he lay in iron and in the recesses of his dungeon; and how, when for many days his feet were stretched four spaces in that instrument of torture, the stocks, he bore with a stout heart threats of fire and everything else that was inflicted by his enemies.

Origen bore all these sufferings bravely. He did not die of this persecution, but he died shortly afterwards and perhaps due to it.

Photius, giving an account of Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen, says there were two traditions about Origen's death. The first said 'he ended his life in an illustrious martyrdom at Caesarea itself at the time when Decius was breathing nothing but cruelty against the Christians': that would imply his death during the persecution. The second tradition is the one attested by Eusebius: "He lived until the time of Gallus and Volusian," which Eusebius reports at the beginning of Book 7; 'he died and was buried at Tyre in his sixty-ninth year'. And Photius adds: 'This version is the true one, at least if the letters which we have, written after Decius’ persecution, are not forgeries. '

Justinian made a charge that Origen "in the very time of his martyrdom denied Christ and paid his worship to the many gods of the Greeks."

Before Origen died, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, who had succeeded Heraclas as Pope of Alexandria, sent him a letter On Martyrdom, to lead a renewal of Origen’s old relation with the Alexandrian Church. This letter was probably an Exhortation to Martyrdom addressed to his former master when the latter was in prison. This assurance of sympathy, coming from the Church of his birth, from which he had been banished eighteen years, must have been moving to receive.

 

THE DATE OF HIS DEATH

Henri Crouzel states that, according to Eusebius’ narrative the date of his death was in the time of Gallus, the successor of Decius, Origen, "having completed seventy years, less one," that is being sixty-nine: the date of his death would then be 254-255. The difficulty about this is that Gallus and his son Volusian were overthrown in May 253 and that they did not reign two years. So we must suppose, either that Origen died under their successor Valerian, or that he did not live for quite sixty-nine years. Given the precision of this last figure. Crouzel gives more weight to the dates 254-255 than he does the mention of Gallus’ reign.

C. Bigg says, "He was buried in Tyre, where for centuries his tomb, in the wall behind the high altar, formed the chief ornament of the magnificent cathedral of the Holy Sepulcher. Tyre was wasted by the Saracens, but even to this day, it is said, the poor fishermen, whose hovels occupy the site of that city of palaces, point to a shattered vault beneath which lie the bones of "Oriunus."