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 Rufinus’ alteration of Origen’s 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 Origen’s works.

3. He attempted to clarify Origen’s 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 Origen’s 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 outsider’s 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"’ he wishes to be "the faithful steward of the divine mysteries." He compares the writings of the apostles to the trumpets of Israel’s 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 two’. 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 Origen’s 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 Ptolemy’s 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 ‘one of our predecessors.’ 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 Origen’s birth, perhaps after the crushing of the Jewish revolt of 115 A.D, when many of his readers may have entered the Church.

Jean Dani�lou 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 Philo’s 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 ‘Allegories on the Sacred Laws."

Jean Dani�lou 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 l’oeuvre d’Orig�ne," collected some seventy passages of Origen which he thought represented borrowings of Jewish traditions.

Jean Dani�lou says,

A few examples of the more remarkable of these Jewish traditions will show the sort of thing involved. The Gnostic Apelles had rejected Noe’s 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 ‘orthodox’ and ‘heretical’:

Melito of Sardes was certainly read by Origen, and had made the pilgrimage to ‘the places where the message was proclaimed and the deeds were done,’ 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 Eusebius’ 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 Origen’s 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 Balaam’s 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 Dani�lou 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.



Origen’s 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 Jerome’s 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 Origen’s 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. Christ’s 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 Origen’s 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 (Moses’ 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 can’t 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.

Origen’s 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 God’s 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 pupil’s 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 John’s Gospel in paradise...

The defense of orthodoxy was a major purpose of Origen’s 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) Heracleon’ 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 Jesus’ 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 Gospel’s mystical meaning...

The Commentary on John, like Origen’s 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 Word’s 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 Origen’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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.




Origen’s 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.




Celsus, was a highly cultivated man, possessing in particular an excellent knowledge of Plato. He was regarded by Origen as an Epicurean. Some critics think he was rather a Platonist; it would seem to be more correct to regard him as an eclectic with an acute mind, well acquainted with the literature and philosophy of his time, but not adhering to any particular school. In addition, he was a statesman, a zealous official of the Roman Empire and jealous of the observance of traditions and laws. If we compare him with his predecessors, he is greatly superior to them. The opponents whom Minucius Felix and Tertullian had to face still believed that Christians practiced infanticide and incest. Celsus is not so credulous: when attacking his adversaries he despises these vague rumors, and seeks for more precise accusations with greater support.

He was familiar not only with Greek thought and literature of the period but also has some acquaintance with the Old Testament, knew the four Gospels and had an idea of the main thread of the Pauline theology. He claims to have read also the writings of Christians; he has even studied the Gnostic sects, and very unfairly makes use of the information thus received to impute to the Church as a whole the follies and vices of these sectaries. He makes a great parade of his information, and he affirms in a boastful manner that he knows all about Christianity. Origen rightly rebukes his bragging:

If he had read the prophets, whose books are admitted to be enigmatical and obscure; if he had gone through the evangelical parables, the law, the history of the Jews and the writings of the Apostles and, having read them without prejudice, had tried to penetrate their meaning, he would not say with such assurance: "I know all." We ourselves, who have studied all these things closely, would not dare to say "I know all," for we love the truth.

Needless to say that Origen's apology against Celsus is of great value. It is marked by keen spiritual insight, vast erudition, masterly ability and mature thought.



The "True Discourse (Alethes Logos)"

Celsus' work has been lost but it could be almost entirely rewritten from the quotations of Origen, which amount to three quarters of its text. The aim of Celsus was to convert the Christians by shaming them out of their religion.

This work is a violent attack on Christianity and a defense of the state religion, depending on the faults Judaism and Platonic philosophy had to find with Christian teaching. It had been written seventy years previously. Origen had not read it, and it had made little impression on the Christians of Egypt and Palestine. It would probably have remained in oblivion if Ambrose had not read it by chance, and realized that it was a dangerous work which might disturb many souls by its attacks. He sent the work to Origen, asking his friend earnestly to refute it. At first he states that the life and authority of Christ are well known, and Celsus' work cannot shake the faith of any Christian. But on the demand of Ambrose he wrote this reply, using many quotations from philosophical writers, showing that he was more educated than Celsus. He wrote it to those who are weak in faith (Rom 14:1).

When false witnesses testified against our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, He remained silent; and when unfounded charges were brought against Him, he returned no answer, believing that His whole life and conduct among the Jews were a better refutation than any answer to the false testimony, or than any formal defense against the accusations. And I know not, my pious Ambrose, why you wished me to write a reply to the false charges brought by Celsus against the Christians and to his accusations directed against the faith of the Churches in his treatise; as if the facts themselves did not furnish a manifest refutation and the doctrine a better answer than any writing, seeing it both disposes of false statements and does not leave to the accusations any credibility or validity.

For I do not know in what rank to place him who has need of arguments written in books in answer to charges of Celsus against the Christians, in order to prevent him from being shaken in his faith and to confirm him in it. But nevertheless, since in the multitude of those who are considered believers some such persons might be found as would have their faith shaken and overthrown by the writings of Celsus, but who might be preserved by a reply to them of such nature as to refute his statements and to exhibit the truth, we have deemed it right to yield to your injunction and to furnish an answer to the treatise which you sent us, but which I do not think that any one, although only a short way advanced in philosophy, will allow to be a "True Discourse," as Celsus has entitled it.

Celsus' argument falls into three categories.

First, there are the old pagan arguments against the Jews, later to be revived by a triumphant Church, for the moment adapted by Celsus for ammunition against the Christians.

Second, Jewish arguments against Christianity, for the most part genuine Jewish arguments found also in the Jewish writings and reflected in Christian apologetic writings, but including some elements not found anywhere else.

Lastly, pagan charges leveled at the Church but inapplicable to Judaism.



Origen’s Response

Origen explains the following points:

1. The Jews, according to Celsus, were originally a band of rebel Egyptian slaves, who revolted against the Egyptian community and the religious customs of the Egyptians. Celsus opens his attack by saying that whereas many of the older non-Greek nations have had some insight to the truth, the Jews have no original or true ideas.

The taunts that the Jews were a useless and uncultured people Origen likewise refutes. Indeed, he says, the ancient Israelites "manifested a shadow of the heavenly life upon earth.

Moses' philosophy was derivative (and, Celsus seems to imply, false), and his followers were misled into believing it.

Origen replies, with Josephus, that, on the contrary, the Jews are among the most ancient and most cultivated of peoples. That this is not a new topic Origen is aware. He refers to 'numerous treatises in circulation among the Egyptians, the Phoenicians and the Greeks which testify to the antiquity of the Jews', and in particular the contra Aponiem of Josephus and the pros Hellenas of Tatian.

Origen repeatedly returns to the question of Moses' early date, and he rebukes Celsus for not knowing Moses antedates Homer and Hesiod. Origen several times supports the view that Greek philosophy was, partly if not wholly, derived from Hebraic sources.

By using stock Jewish answers to the pagan charges he manages to endow the Church with antiquity and respectability. But he must go still further, and show precisely how the Church is the heir to promises made to Abraham and his descendants, and how the New Israel superseded the Old.

Christians and Jews alike, he says, in obedience to God's commandments avoid pagan temples, altars and images.

Both Jews and Christians also avoid referring to pagan gods by name, being aware of the power (which to Origen seems almost too real) inherent in names.

2. Origen explains that the Jews were considered to have lost the favor of God when they crucified Christ.

3. As a Platonic philosopher he asserts the striking superiority of the worship and philosophy of the Greeks. The proofs which Origen adduces in favor of Christianity are threefold. They are, in ascending order of validity: miracles, the Old Testament prophecies and the history of the Church. The appeal of miracles is naturally very strong to the primitive mind.

Origen, while insisting that miracles are possible, and that the biblical miracles (or most of them) really happened, and that the power to perform miracles still survives in the Church, refuses to make them the cornerstones of his defense of the faith.

If a Jew doubted the authenticity of the New Testament miracles, how can he explain the fact that the prophecies contained in the Old Testament not only foretold that there will be signs and wonders when the Messiah comes, but describes in details the important events in Jesus' life and in the early history of the Church?

The miracles of the New Testament were superior to those of Moses in that the appeal of their purpose was more universal. Moses welded the Israelites into one people, but Jesus' people is the whole of mankind; Moses gave the Israelites the literal Torah, while Jesus' message is the spiritual Gospel; finally, that Jesus is superior to Moses is recognized by the prophets, who call Him the Messiah and the Savior of mankind.

4. Celsus refuses to allow an allegorical interpretation of the Bible, although he approves of the allegorisation of the Greek myths, and although other Greek thinkers, notably Numenius of Apamea, have interpreted the Bible allegorically.

5. Celsus as a true Greek was proud of the Hellenic philosophy "and with an appearance of fairness, does not reproach Christianity because of its origin among barbarians, but gives the latter credit for their ability in discovering such doctrines. To this, however, he adds the statement that the Greeks are more skillful than any others in judging, establishing and reducing to practice the discoveries of barbarous nations." Origen declares the superiority of the Gospel over the Hellenic philosophy:

The Gospel has a demonstration of its own, more divine than any established by Grecian dialectics. And this diviner method is called by the apostle the "manifestation of the Spirit and of power": of "the Spirit," on account of the prophecies which are sufficient to produce faith in any one who reads them, especially in those things which relate to Christ; and of "power," because of the signs and wonders which have been performed as can be proved both on many other grounds and on this, that traces of them are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the precepts of the Gospel.

6. Christians are simple people, but it does not mean that they are ignorant. Simplicity has its knowledge and living fruits. Christianity presents milk to the children and food for the mature.

Lebreton states that of all the objections by Celsus, none affected Origen more than the criticism of the faith of the simple. Origen answered by asserting firmly that this simple faith constitutes a kind of knowledge assured by the word of God and shown to be fruitful by the Christian life.

Let the question be put to the multitude of believers purified by the faith from the mire of the vices in which they were previously floundering, which of the two systems is to be preferred: the correction of morals by believing without question in the reward which awaits virtue and the punishment which threatens the guilty, or else the rejection of simple faith, and the postponement of the reform of morals until the conclusion of the rational discussion. It is obvious that with very few exceptions, these people would all fail to reach even that degree of rectitude of conduct assured by simple faith, but would persevere instead in a very evil life. This is by no means to be despised as a proof of the divine origin of our doctrine concerning the Savior, seeing that it is really indispensable to the well-being of mankind.

But Origen does not confine himself to this first reply: he goes on to show that Christianity itself offers to the select few a special knowledge, more elevated and rarer than the faith of the simple: ''Even according to our own doctrine, it is much better to adhere to doctrines with reason and wisdom than by simple faith; if the Word wished in certain cases for simple faith, it was in order not to leave mankind wholly without assistance." The faith of the simple is indeed excellent knowledge in its own way, but it is elementary. It is the milk for babes; God in his mercy gives it to those who are too weak to ascend higher to "know God in the wisdom of God."

In these answers we recognize Origen's own intellectual needs: the faith of the simple is not enough for him. What the mass of people believe in this way "seems clear, but it is not clear to those few chosen souls who endeavor to philosophize on our doctrine.' Even so, though, Origen does not wish to stop at this elementary knowledge, he recognizes not only its utility, but also its truth, and that is the essential point.

7. Celsus mocks at the idea of a Messiah and sees in Jesus an impostor and magician. He represents Jesus as being born of an adulterous union between Mary and a soldier named Panther. Expelled with his mother, Jesus had to go to Egypt to gain a livelihood; there he learnt the magical arts which he later on utilized in order to deceive people. His aspect was common, his wisdom wholly borrowed from Plato, and his courage greatly inferior to that of Heracles or Epictetus. Celsus ignores the prophecies concerning Christ.

8. It is significant that he introduces into his argument in the contra Celsum the miracle of the virgin birth, which Celsus had ignored, and that he dwells at length on the miracle of the resurrection.

Celsus applies severe criticism to the Gospel, especially to all that concerns the resurrection of Christ. He says that the Resurrection of Christ was a fable, originating in the imagination of a woman and a few fanatics. The apostles and their successors invented this superstition. Origen replied that Jesus was publicly crucified, and died in the sight of all; hence if he afterwards reappeared alive, His resurrection is undeniable. Now this real life of the risen Savior is attested by the apostles who witnessed it, and they maintained their testimony until death. "If they invented this story of the resurrection, how comes it that they preached it afterwards with such force that not only did they lead others to despise death, but first despised it themselves?" Celsus would reduce the appearances of the risen Jesus to mere hallucinations or to dreams. How can one explain in this way the appearance to St. Thomas, or the one to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? It is objected: why did not the risen Christ manifest Himself to everybody? The answer is that all were not worthy to see him, nor able to bear the sight of Him.

Moreover, the resurrection is proved also by prophecies and

miracles, and above all by the fruits of salvation it has brought to mankind. For Celsus, the risen Christ is only a phantom.

"But how can a phantom which is a transient deception afterwards have such results, convert so many souls, and persuade them to do all in order to please the God who will judge them? How can a phantom expel demons, and work great miracles, not fixing itself in one particular place, like the gods in human form, but operating in the whole world, gathering together and drawing to himself by his divinity all those who are disposed to lead an upright life?"

We recognize here one of the characteristic features in Origen's apologetics: in order to make men understand divine things, he does not isolate them, but presents them in the concrete whole which supports them and clarifies them. He does not separate Christ's resurrection either from his life which preceded it, or from the transformation of the apostles which followed it, or from the conversion of the pagans which is its fruit.

9. Celsus criticizes the way in which Jesus chose his disciples. But has he not really thus proved Jesus’ power, which transformed them from sinners into saints? Among the Greeks, at most one can mention Phaedo and Polemon as having been rescued by philosophy from disorder. But the action of Jesus on the other hand was not confined to his twelve apostles; it has reached innumerable disciples, who are all able to repeat: We ourselves were sometime unwise, incredulous, erring, slaves to diverse desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But when the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared, he made us what we are by the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Spirit whom he has poured forth upon us abundantly." Mentioning the weakness of the disciples and apostles assures the genuinity of the gospels. The promise of Christ that his gospel would spread all over the world had been fulfilled. It is the work of the divine grace which attracts souls to follow our Lord Jesus Christ with them.

The word of God (1 Cor. 2:4) declares that the preaching, although in itself true and most worthy of belief, is not sufficient to reach the human heart, unless a certain power be imparted to the speaker from God and a grace appear upon his words; and it is only by the divine agency that this takes place in those who speak effectually. The prophet says in the sixty-seventh Psalm that "the Lord will give word with great power to them who preach." If then it should be granted that the same doctrines are found among the Greeks as in our own Scriptures, yet they do not possess the same power of attracting and disposing the souls of men to follow them.

10. Celsus attacked the Old Testament and at the same time used the Jewish arguments against Christianity. He criticizes the Old Testament, complaining that it often declares God subject to change and to be angry. Origen replies that "when we speak of God's wrath, we do not hold that it is an emotional reaction on his part, but something which he uses in order to correct by stern methods those who have committed many terrible sins." He even believes that God created some physical and external evils to purify and educate those who are unwilling to be educated by sound teaching. Origen uses the analogy of the doctor inflicting pain in order to heal and the schoolmaster chastising in order to improve. Origen is in the same philosophical tradition as Philo, St. Clement and the Neoplatonists, and therefore, it is not surprising that he accepts the view that the Supreme Being is not subject to passion, and cannot change.

11. Celsus attacks the Jews who believe that they were the chosen people of God and that the rest of mankind will be burnt up:

It is foolish also of them to suppose that, when God applies the fire (like a cook!), all the rest of mankind will be thoroughly burnt up, and that they alone will survive, not merely those who are alive at the time, but also those long dead who will rise up from the earth possessing the same bodies as before. This is simply the hope of worms. For what sort of human soul would have any further desire for a body that has rotted? The fact that this doctrine is not shared by some of you (Jews) and by some Christians shows its utter repulsiveness, and that it is both revolting and impossible. For what sort of body, after being entirely corrupted, could return to its original nature and that same first condition which it had before that was dissolved?

The justification of belief in the resurrection of the body on grounds of divine omnipotence is denied by Origen when he comes to deal with this particular point (5.23)... It is precisely the appeal to divine omnipotence which is made in defense of the resurrection of the body by St. Clement of Rome, St. Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and by the Apocalypse of Peter (Ethiopic text) .

It is evident that Celsus and Origen start from the same presuppositions in their approach to the problem; they are agreed that it is quite mistaken to appeal to divine omnipotence in order to justify belief in what seems fantastic.

Origen begins from the basic fact that the nature of (soma) is impermanent; it is in a continual state of change and transformation, caused by the food which is eaten, absorbed by the body, and turned into tissue. This is the point developed by Aglaophon, whom Methodius makes the mouthpiece of Origen’s opinions in his dialogue... When we say the body will rise again, what body do we mean? That of a youth, or of an old man, or of a child? The body is always being changed by the food eaten. And the flesh of a newborn child, or a youth, and of an old man, are different; we change from the flesh we have at first to another flesh, that of a child or a youth, and from this into that of an old man, changing our clothes, as it were, when they are worn out. For though hard and indigestible food is passed out of the stomach, the easily digestible food is formed into flesh, because it is absorbed by the contiguous veins which carry the blood. (Methodius I.9). Paul refers to this continual transformation of the body when he says in II Cor. 4.I6: "Though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day".

The apostles' despise of death and their success assures the resurrection of Christ.

12. While the study of philosophy is confined to an educated �lite, the Christians have brought an acceptance of moral truth to classes of society where philosophy has never penetrated. Christianity has the power to renew human nature. Sinners are changed to saints. They have the power of the Holy Spirit operating in them:

And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits and perform many cures and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos. And although Celsus or the Jew whom he has introduced may treat with mockery what I am going to say, I shall say it nevertheless-that many have been converted to Christianity as if against their will, some sort of spirit having suddenly transformed their minds from a hatred of the doctrine to a readiness to die in its defense.

13. Celsus does not reject everything Christianity teaches. He approves, for instance, of its ethics and the doctrine of the Logos. He is willing to let Christianity live on condition that the Christians abandon their political and religious isolation and subordinate themselves to the common religion of Rome. His chief anxiety springs from the fact that they create a schism in the State weakening the Empire by division. Thus he closes with an exhortation to the Christians "to help the king and to labor with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him, and if he requires it, to fight under him or lead any army along with him, to take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion."

The opposition of Christians towards the State can be justified without difficulty. We are urged to remain faithful to the traditional and national cults. But are the philosophers forbidden to free themselves from the superstitions in which they were brought up? Why then try to prevent us condemning the gods of paganism, in order to turn all our homage towards the Creator of the universe? For the rest, is it not recognized that human laws deserve less respect than the natural law, which is the very law of God? And is it not above all in religion that the law of God should be respected by us?

Christians are criticized for not serving the State. But they pray for it, as the apostle told them they ought to do. If military service is not required from the priests of idols, why require it of Christians? They keep away from magistracies, but even within the Church they decline as far as possible the charges which it seeks to place upon them.

Let the Empire be converted to Christianity, and God will watch over it. Meanwhile, Christians devote themselves to doing good to all, to those who are within by making them better, and to those who are without by drawing them to doctrine and to works of piety. In other words they do their best to penetrate as many men as possible with the Word of God, the divine law, in order to unite them to the supreme God through his Son and his Word.

Origen refuses to seek the favor of civil rulers. Christians obey the rulers, but in the Lord. They never accept heathen worship.

Celsus remarks: "What harm is there in gaining the favor of the rulers of the earth, whether of a nature different from ours, or human princes and kings? For these have gained their dignity through the instrumentality of gods.

There is One whose favor we should seek and to whom we ought to pray that He would be gracious to us-the Most High God, whose favor is gained by piety and the practice of every virtue. And if he would have us to seek the favor of others after the Most High God, let him consider that, as the motion of the shadow follows that of the body which casts it, so in like manner it follows, that when we have the favor of God, we have also the good will of all angels and spirits who are friends of God.

Moreover, we are to despise ingratiating ourselves with kings or any other men, not only if their favor is to be won by murders, licentiousness or deeds of cruelty, but even if it involves impiety toward God or any servile expressions of flattery and obsequiousness, which things are unworthy of brave and high-principled men who aim at joining with their other virtues that highest of virtues, patience and fortitude. But whilst we do nothing which is contrary to the law and word of God, we are not so mad as to stir up against us the wrath of kings and princes, which will bring upon us sufferings and tortures or even death. For we read: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be, are ordained of God, Whosoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:1,2).

Origen's other apologetic or polemic works are no more than the taking-down of the disputations with various persons: Bassus, Beryllus of Bastra, a Valentinian named Candidus, and some Jews. These are mentioned by Africanius, Eusebius, Jerome, or Rufinus but are no longer extant except for the "Dialogue with Heraclides."

14. According to Celsus and others assailants, in the first two centuries, Christians were considered as atheists. For the new religion had no cult; it had broken from its Jewish origins and refused to compromise with the syncretistic religious culture of the Roman Empire. Christians alone faced the practical consequences of the monotheistic ideas of both Greek philosophy and Judaism, and asserted that the Supreme God could only be worshipped by spiritual sacrifices. Origen states that God should be worshipped not with blood and carnal sacrifices but in spirit; and ridicules the idea that a God who is known spiritually should be worshipped in a material way. The spiritual cult is the offering of prayers; the spiritual altar is the mind of faithful Christians; spiritual images of God are the virtues implanted in men by the Logos. The Body of Christ is a spiritual temple, and the Christian people continually celebrate spiritual feasts and fasts by constant prayer and abstention from wickedness. Above all Christ himself is the perfect sacrifice, and he is the High-Priest through whom Christian prayers are offered. The Christians did have a cult, but it is entirely immaterial. It is along these lines that Origen tries to justify the Christian position in the Contra Celsum, and the central importance of the sacrifice of Christ is apparent. His is the perfect sacrifice and the example of which Christian spiritual sacrifices are modeled, He is the High-Priest through whom they are offered.

15. Origen and Celsus differ fundamentally in their view of history. For Celsus the destruction of Jerusalem was an event wholly explicable in human terms; God does not enter into the matter. For Origen, history is the setting for the drama of God's relationship with men, and any historical event maybe interpreted as evidence of God's love or displeasure. On this principle Jews and Christians agreed. For Jews and Christians alike, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, the dissolution of the Jewish state and the Roman occupation of Palestine signified the passing of an era. True, there were few voices raised in protest at this interpretation of history, but for the most part the Jews, as well as Christians, came to accept that Jerusalem had been destroyed because of the sins of the Jews.

16. The belief in Christ and the Christian doctrine presupposes grace:

The word of God ( I Cor. 2~4) declares that the preaching, although in itself true and most worthy of belief, is not sufficient to reach the human heart, unless a certain power be imparted to the speaker from God and a grace appears upon his words; and it is only by the divine agency that this takes place in those who speak effectually. The prophet says in the sixty-seventh Psalm that 'the Lord will give word with great power to them who preach.' If then it should be granted that the same doctrines are found among the Greeks as in our own Scriptures, yet they do not possess the same power of attracting and disposing the souls of men to follow them.





Origen believes that "the one who carefully looks at the heresies of Judaism and Christianity becomes a very wise man."



DE PRINCIPIIS, Peri Archon, or On First Principles:

A dogmatic treatise in four books. He called it "the elementary and foundation principles of things." This work is a mark of Origen's systematic mind. It is the first attempt ever made towards the formation of Christian Theology. J. Quasten says, "Origen's most important production is his First Principles, the first Christian system of theology and the first manual of dogma. As such it stands in majestic isolation in the history of the early Church. He wrote it in Alexandria between the years 220 and 230 A.D."

G.W. Butterworth says, "De Fay�, in his recent work on Origen, has suggested that the First Principles was designed to take the place of the Didaskalos, or Teacher, which Clement had planned to follow on his Protreptikos and Paidagogos, but which he was never able to write."

From his initial assertion that he did not intend to deviate from the teaching of the Church, Origen was at pains to show that the Gnostic doctrine of God and Gnostic dualism were inadequate as a view of the world and guide to conduct.

In this work Origen tried to help believers to fulfill his commandment, "Enlighten yourselves with the light of knowledge." Later, Eusebius, Epiphanius, Pamphilius, Rufinus, Jerome, and Justinian are suitably present and ready to elicit their judgments on whether or not Origen gave the correct answer concerning "De Principiis."

In this work, Origen defended the Orthodox dogma against the Gnostics and the Marcionte. Even the general title of the work "Peri Archon," is then explained as referring primarily to the anti-Marcionite principals. Origen would have borrowed for that purpose the title of philosophical tractates named in the same way. What Origen tried to find out was the common faith of the Church. Kattenbusch say, "It is difficult to avoid the impression that Origen was seeking to establish, by means of an independent and free study, what was regarded as certain by Christians subject to the Church. As a starting point he had before his eyes the two Testaments, and he asked only what was to be found therein according to the immediate judgment of all Christians in the Church. In this study he naturally directed his attention to the results of the doctrinal controversies, and in particular the refutation of Marcion and of Gnosticism."

This work was written for the well-educated people and not for the common public. It is the first philosophical attempt to explain salvation. It is worthy to note that unlike the Gnostic Heracleon, Origen did not view the wisdom of the Greeks as contradiction and demoniac possession. Lebreton says that Origen's presentation of the matter is of great interest, both because of the principles which guide him and the conclusions which he reaches. If we compare this catalogue with the Placita of the contemporary philosophers, we are able to appreciate the value of the religious certitudes which the Christian Faith has brought into the world.

The aim of this work is the discovery of the truth about elementary and foundation principles concerning the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit; intelligible, sensible creatures, and concerning the nature of beings.

Everyone therefore who is desirous of constructing out of the foregoing a connected body of doctrine must study points like these as elementary and foundation principles... Thus by clear and cogent arguments he discovers the truth about each particular point and produce, as we have said, a single body of doctrine with the aid of such illustrations and declarations as he shall find in the holy scriptures and of such conclusions as he shall ascertain to follow logically from them when rightly understood.

Thus the preface and the whole work begins:

All who believe and are assured that grace and truth were obtained through Jesus Christ, and who know Christ to be the truth, agreeable to his own declaration, 'I am the truth' (John 14:6), derive the knowledge (gnosis) which incites men to a good and happy life from no other source than from the very words and teachings of Christ. And by words of Christ we do not mean those only which he spoke when he became man and tabernacled in the flesh, for before that time, Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets. For without the Word of God, how could they have been able to prophesy of Christ? And were it not our purpose to confine the present treatise within the limits of all attainable brevity, it would not be difficult to show, in proof of this statement, out of the Holy Scriptures, how Moses or the prophets both spoke and performed all they did through being filled with the Spirit of Christ. . . Moreover, after his ascension into heaven he spoke in His apostles, as is shown by Paul in these words: 'Or do you seek a proof of Christ who speaks in me' (2 Cor. I3,3).

Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance,. . . it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points... as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition."

J. Quasten says, "Here Origen clearly indicates that Scripture and tradition are the sources of Christian doctrine and he points to the rule of faith which contains the basic teaching of the apostles. However, they did not give any reasons for these truths nor did they present any account of their interrelations."

Though subject to every limitation of his age, he yet had the scientific spirit and used a scientific method. He follows where reason leads him.



The Latin Translation

The Greek original has perished, as has also the literal Latin translation made by St. Jerome. The surviving version is a free Latin translation published in Rome in 398-99 A.D by Rufinus. He had a certain friend, named Macarius, who had heard of the De Principiis and was anxious to read it, hoping to find in it some arguments to help him in a controversy in which he was then engaged with the mathematicians, or pagan astrologers. At first, Rufinus hesitated, knowing well the odium which would gather round any man who seemed to be friendly towards Origen. Finally, however, he consented, and produced the version which is now before us.

Unfortunately, however, we must use Rufinus' text with caution. In addition to the loss of subtlety inevitable in a translation, we know, because Rufinus said so, that he altered passages which he considered of doubtful orthodoxy in order to make the work accessible to Christians in the West.

Rufinus did not believe that the Greek text which had come down to him was in every detail authentic. He could not imagine a time when Christian thought had been more fluid as it was in his own day. He maintained, without any doubt in all honesty, that the text had been tampered with by heretics. To prove this he translated and published with his version of De Principiis, the first book of the Defense of Origen, a work composed by Pamphilus the martyr in collaboration with Eusebius of Caesarea, the Church historian. The object of this work was to refute the attacks made on Origen by Methodius and others.

Rufinus witnesses that he made many changes in the text to purify it from obscure statements.. The principal fragments that survive in Greek are the discussion of free will in the third book of Origen's treatise and the discussion of biblical interpretation that takes up all of Origen's fourth and last book.

To justify himself, Rufinus wrote a small pamphlet on ‘The Corruption of the Words of Origen’ and attached it to the translation of De Principiis. Here he gives more fully his reasons for altering the text. They are as follows:

a. It was impossible to suppose that so intelligent and learned a man as Origen should have contradicted himself. A difference between works written in youth and old age might be natural, due either to forgetfulness or to change of opinion in the interval. But Origen exhibits contradictions in the same passage, almost in successive sentences.

b. Other writers of unquestioned orthodoxy had had their words corrupted by heretics; as for instance Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria and Dionysius of Alexandria.

c. Origen himself had complained, in a letter still extant, that his works had been corrupted by heretics.

The letter of Origen, which Rufinus here professes to translate, is of great interest. It deals only with one specific point, the possibility of the devil’s salvation. Origen denies that he ever asserted this; only a madman could have done so. A discussion had taken place between himself and a heretic, of which notes had been made and afterwards published. Origen declares that he had never given the matter a second thought until it was brought to his notice that an incorrect version was being circulated.

The translation of De Principiis soon came into the hands of Jerome’s friends in Italy, of whom Pammachius, Oceanus and Marcella were the chief. They were horrified by some of the doctrines still remaining in it and by the implied suggestion that Jerome would raise no objection to them. They sent him, therefore, a copy of the work with a request for information. Jerome replied by making a faithful Latin translation of the whole of the First Principles and sending it to Pammachius with a covering letter. He admits that he had once praised Origin for his good word; he would still do so if others would not praise his errors. Origen’s doctrines on the nature of the Son and the Holy Spirit, on the pre-existence of souls, on the resurrection, and on the ultimate restitution of all things, when it will be ‘the same for Gabriel as for the devil, for Paul as for Caiaphas, for virgins as for prostitutes’, were poisonous heresies. No Latin writer had ever yet ventured to translate his works on the Resurrection and on First Principles, or the Stromata and the Commentaries, but only the Homilies, or popular addresses, which were harmless. The assertion that Origen’s works had been corrupted by heretics Jerome denies; both Eusebius and Didymus had taken for granted that Origen held the incriminated views. Moreover, Jerome cannot believe that Pamphilus wrote the first book of the Defense; it must be by Eusebius. If, however, Pamphilus did write it, his martyrdom would wash away the fault.



Its contents

G.W. Butterworth says,

Origen was dealing with questions which had been raised and discussed in the School before his time, and which were then admitted to be legitimate subjects for inquiry...

All he tried to do was to work out its implications for the educated world of his time. Problems which do not arise in simple minds were continually being raised by his pupils and by the heretics in their rival theological schools.

What is the explanation of apparently undeserved suffering?

Has man free will, or is this an illusion?

What happened before this world was created, and what will happen after it has come to an end?

What is the origin and nature of the human soul?

Are the stars alive?

Are there worlds in the sky where spirits live?

Origen believed that it was right to investigate such problems. Not all of them could be solved. But some might be, and the Christian thinker must do his best.

C. Bigg states that Origen explains here a Regula Fidei more than a creed, saying,

Here then we have the pith and substance of that doctrine which, in Alexandria at any rate, was taught to all Christians in the time of Origen. It differs from the Nicene creed in that it does not use the terms ‘Very God’ or ‘Homoousion’ of the Son, in that it asserts the moral attributes of God, the creation of the world out of nothing, the spiritual nature of the Resurrection Body, the connection of punishments and rewards with conduct, the eternity of punishment, the existence of Angels, the freedom of the Will, the double sense of Scripture. It is rather a Regula Fidei than a Creed in the strict sense of the word. But the language is already so framed as definitely to exclude the Gnostics, the Noetians, possibly the Chiliasts, and certainly all those who doubted the Personality of the Holy Spirit.

Within these limits all is open ground. Even the definition of the terms, especially of the word ‘eternal’, is subject to reverent but free discussion. And Origen has availed himself of this liberty to the fullest extent. One of his earliest works is the De Principiis, ‘On First Principles,’ that is to say on the data of the Creed, in which he maps out the field of investigation, and expresses with fearless candor all his doubts, beliefs, suggestions, divinations about each article in turn. He was already of mature age when he composed this treatise, and his voluminous later writings are little more that an expansion of the ideas there set down.



This work treats the following topics:

1. God and the world of spirits.

The first book deals with the supernatural world, with the oneness and spirituality of God, with the hierarchy of the three divine persons and their characteristic relations towards created life, the Father acting upon all beings, the Word upon reasonable beings or souls, the Holy Spirit upon beings who are both reasonable and sanctified. There follow discussions of the origin, essence and fall of all angels.

Against Marcion and the Gnostics, the identity of the God of the two Testaments has been finally established. The Son (Jesus Christ) was born before all creatures; He is eternal. He was the Minister of the Father in the creation; he became truly man. The Holy Spirit inspired all the sacred writers.

The human soul: what is beyond doubt are its personal responsibility and its liberty, and the rewards or punishments which await it. Astrology is condemned. The metaphysical question of the origin of the soul is not dealt with.

There are angels and good powers, which serve God for the salvation of mankind; but no one has defined clearly when they were created, or what is their condition. As to the devil and his angels, and enemy powers, the teaching of the Church tells us of their existence, but does not explain clearly their nature and their manner of being. Most people, however, are of the opinion that the devil was once an angel, and that he involved in his defection a great number of angels, now called his own angels.


2. The world and man

The world was created, had a beginning, and will come to an end. What existed before, and what will there be afterwards? The ecclesiastical preaching does not answer these questions clearly.

The fall of man; redemption of man through Jesus Christ; and his end. Origen emphasizes freedom and responsibility carried with it. He attacked the determinists whether they were philosophers or Christian Gnostics. And his message of freedom was designed to proclaim hope in a world where hope was almost buried beneath chaos. In this way his theology represents one of the foundations of the traditional Christian doctrine.


3. Human freedom and final triumph of the good.

The union of body and soul gives the latter the opportunity for struggle and victory. In this contest men are helped by angels and hindered by demons, but they retain their free will. Thus the third book, examining the extension of free will and responsibility, gives an outline of moral theology.

The second book treats the material world, the creation of man as a result of the defection of the angels, man as a fallen spirit enclosed in a material body, the transgression of Adam and redemption by the incarnate Logos, the doctrine of the resurrection, the last judgment and after life.

Apart from all these doubtful points, what we find underlying the book throughout is the great problem which worried the Gnostics, and which Origen tried with all his might to solve: that of the origin of evil. The Gnostics all tended towards a dualistic solution: Basilides and Valentine had already allowed themselves to be led in its direction; Marcion opened the way to it by his distinction between the two deities; Mani 24 will definitely accept it. Origen fully realizes this danger, and the whole aim of his thought is to dispel it. Already in the Preface, the freedom of every rational soul is presented as one of the fundamental theses, certified by the teaching of the Church; he returns to it on several occasions in the course of the work, and devotes to it a good part of Books II (9:2) and III (1). This emphasis was justified, and on more than one point Origen gave a useful corrective to the Gnostic and the astrological theses.


4. The Scripture as the source of faith and the three modes of Scriptural interpretation.

The whole Church agrees in saying that the Law is spiritual, but the spiritual sense of the Law is known only by those to whom the Holy Spirit has deigned to grant wisdom and knowledge.

The way, then, as it appears to us, in which we ought to deal with the Scriptures and extract from them their meaning is the following, which has been ascertained from the Scriptures themselves. By Solomon in the Proverbs we find some such rule as this repeating the divine doctrines of Scripture; "And do you portray them in a threefold manner, in counsel and knowledge, to answer words of the truth to them who propose them to you" (Prov. 22,20,21). The individual ought then to portray the ideas of Holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul in order that the simple man may be edified by the flesh as it were of the Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense, while he who has ascended a certain way (may be edified) by the souls as it were. The perfect man again (may receive edification) from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as a man consists of body, soul and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of men.

In the introduction, Origin shows that the source of all religious truth is our Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself is the Truth.

The enemies of Origen used it as material to accuse him of heresy, in his own days and after his death. St. Jerome states that Origen wrote to Fabianus, bishop of Rome assuring that some articles mentioned in his work are against his own view, and that his friend Ambrose published it in a hurry. It is said that many tears were shed by Origen's friends and enemies alike over his De Principiis.

On First Principles proceeds in the first chapter of the first book to discuss the doctrine of God, a discussion in which Origen quickly began to interpret the Christian faith in Platonic categories. Like the Platonists, Origen was concerned to defend the incorporeal nature of God against the Stoic doctrine that God is a particularly rarefied body called ''spirit.'' In the process, he strove to demonstrate that biblical language calling God "spirit'' or ''a consuming fire" was not intended in the Stoic, materialistic sense. Sharing in the Holy Spirit of God, he argued, is not like sharing in a material substance that can be divided up into parts; it is like sharing, as physicians do in a science like medicine, by participating in the whole. Drawing on traditional Platonic vocabulary to describe God's transcendence, Origen described God as incomprehensible, immeasurable, and incomposite as well as incorporeal. He also employed the Neo-pythagorean term henad, which expresses the utter unity and simplicity of God in contrast to the multiplicity of the world.

In the section of the second book that dealt with the identity of the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, Origen stressed, in equally Platonic fashion, the beneficence of God. This meant that he could not allow any suggestion that God actually experienced wrath. He therefore interpreted allegorically passages in the Bible that taken literally, presented an unworthy or incoherent image of God, providing fuel for Gnostic criticism. He argued against Marcion that it is quite consistent for God to be both just and good.

The final chapter of On First Principles recapitulates Origen's conclusions and ties up a few loose ends. The treatise provides the best defense proving that Origen knew how to write of the church's tradition. Against the Gnostics, it demonstrates that the church's doctrine has an inner coherence fully as strong as that of their own systems and that it does not promote the worship of a God who is a petty tyrant. Against pagan despisers, it demonstrates the depth and profundity of Christian doctrine and its harmony with their own highest ideals. But Origen does more than that. On First Principles is a spiritual vision as well as a theological treatise. In the process of explaining the origin and destiny of rational creatures, Origen establishes how and why we can expect to have communion with God. How? By separating ourselves intellectually and morally from purely sensual concerns and attachments. Why? Because, as rational creatures, we share something of God's nature and are the objects of God's concern. As Origen put it:

We see, therefore, that men have a kind of blood-relationship with God; and since God knows all things and not a single intellectual truth can escape his notice - for God the Father, with his only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit, stands alone in his knowledge not only of the things he has created but also of himself--it is possible that a rational mind also, by advancing from a knowledge of small to a knowledge of greater things and from things visible to things invisible, may attain to an increasingly perfect understanding. For it (a rational mind) has been placed in a body and of necessity advances from things of sense, which are bodily, to things beyond sense perception, which are incorporeal and intellectual.

Finally, I mention here that it is too hard to give an accurate account of the theological system of Origen based on "De Principiis," for the following reasons:

I. As we have mentioned, the surviving version is the Latin translation Of Rufinus, who made many changes in the text.

II. Some scholars state that Origen was not a systematic thinker. It is impossible to link his treatises together so that they yield a systemic whole.

III. Concerning a definition of key terms employed by Origen, it is difficult to isolate specific passages in his works and to interpret them separately, for any given term used in a particular context presupposes a similar meaning of the term when employed in another.








This work combated the Valentinian doctrine that the sort of nature a person has determines whether or not that person is saved.




Among a number of papyri found at Toura near Cairo in 1941 is a codex of about the end of the sixth century containing the text of a discussion between Origen and Bishop Heraclides. Robert J. Daly says, "How the codices found their way into the cave can only be conjectured. However, both Origen and Didymus were among those condemned as heretical at the Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D, and the condition in which the codices were found (the covers had been removed as if for use elsewhere) suggests that it was not for the purpose of safekeeping and preservation that they were put or thrown into the cave. It is, thus, a logical conjecture that the monks themselves had thrown them there as a way of purging their library of works that had come to be considered heretical or dangerous. The age of the codices, written in a seventh-century Coptic unical script, is consistent with this conjecture."

1. This codex represents a complete record of an actual discussion, which had taken place in a church in Arabia in the presence of the bishops and the people about the year 245 A.D. Origen seems to be in full possession of his authority as a teacher.

This is the only surviving dialogue of Origen. There are indications that suggest that it may have been copied from a collection of Origen's dialogues in the library at Caesarea.

2. Origen takes up an anticipated objection: the relation of the divinity of Christ to the resurrection (5.10 to 6.7).

3. In a fine example of his method of sewing together various biblical texts to make his point, he emphatically affirms the physical reality of Christ's body (i.e., it is not just a spiritual body), and hence the bodily reality of Christ's resurrection and ours.

Origen emphasizes that Jesus has the same composite elements - body, soul, spirit - as we do; otherwise we should not be wholly saved.

For the whole human being would not have been saved if he had not assumed the whole human being. They eliminate the salvation of the human body by saying that the body of the Savior is spiritual; they eliminate the salvation of the human spirit, of which the Apostle says: No one knows the thoughts of a human being except the spirit of the human being which is in him (cf. 1 Cor. 2.11). Desiring to save the spirit of the human being, about which the Apostle spoke, the Savior assumed also the human spirit. These three elements were separated at the time of the passion; they were reunited at the time of the resurrection. How? The body in the tomb, the soul in Hades, the spirit committed to the Father. The soul in Hades: You do not give up my soul to Hades (cf. Ps. 16[15].10; Acts 2.27).

Its Division

1. Part One: The Dialogue with Heraclides and Maximus 1:5 - 10:17.

The first part of it has a discussion about the Father and the Son. Origen refers to Scripture in order to show in what sense two can be one:

I. Adam and Eve were two but one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

II. He (the just man) who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him (Cor. 6:17).

III. Finally he introduces Christ himself as a witness because He said: "I and My Father are one." In the first example, the unity consisted of "flesh;" in the second of "Spirit;" but in the third of "God." Thus Origen states: "Our Lord and Savior is in His relation to the Father and God of the universe not one flesh, nor one spirit, but what is much higher than flesh and spirit, one God."

Origen declares that such an interpretation of Christ's words enables the theologian to defend the duality of God against monarchism and the unity against the impious doctrine of the Jews, who deny the divinity of Christ.

And while being distinct from the Father, the Son is Himself also God."

We must treat this matter carefully, and point out in what respect they are two, and in what respect these two are one God.

Adam and his wife are distinct beings; Adam is distinct from his wife, and his wife is distinct from her husband. But it is said right in the creation account that the two are one: For the two shall become one flesh (Gen. 2.24; Matt. 19.5). It is thus possible at times for two to be one flesh. But note well that in the case of Adam and Eve it is not said that they will be two in one spirit, nor that they will be two in one soul, but that they will be two in one flesh. In addition, the just person, while distinct from Christ, is said by the Apostle to be one in relation to Christ: For whoever is united to the Lord is one spirit with him (1 Cor. 6.17). But is not one of these of a lower or diminished and inferior nature, while Christ is of a more divine and glorious and blessed nature? Are they therefore no longer two?

In some of our prayers we maintain the duality and in others we introduce the unity, and thus we do not fall into the opinion of those who, cut off from the Church, have fallen prey to the illusory notion of unity, abrogating the Son as distinct from the Father and also, in effect, abrogating the Father; nor do we fall into the other impious doctrine which denies the divinity of Christ.


2. Part Two: The Question of Danis: Is the Soul Blood? 10:20 - 24:24.

Among the questions raised by others in the second part of the discussion is that of Dionysius (Danis), whether the soul and the blood of man are identical.

The problem at hand arises from the literal meaning of the Septuagint of Lev. 17.11, supported by Deut. 12.33: the soul of all flesh is its blood. This apparently suggested to some that the soul was material and thus subject to corruption with the body in the grave. Origen points out that the Scripture often uses bodily things to describe spiritual realities.

The original question about soul/blood is thus subleted in the overall synthesis in which each part of the exterior human being has its corresponding part, and homonym, in the interior human being.

Origen distinguishes in his answer between the physical blood and the blood of the interior man. The latter is identical with the soul. In the death of the just, this blood-soul separates from the body and enters the company of Christ even before the resurrection.

"There are, therefore, two human beings in each of us. What is the meaning of the saying that the soul of all flesh is its blood (cf. Lev. 17.11)? This is a great problem. For just as the outer human being has the same name as the inner, so too with its members; thus one can say that every member of the external human being is also called the same thing in the inner human being.

"The outer human being has eyes, and the inner human being is said to have eyes: Lighten my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death (Ps. 13[12].3). This is not talking about these bodily eyes, nor about bodily sleep, nor about ordinary death. The ordinance of the Lord is far-seeing, enlightening the eyes (cf. Ps. 19[18]8-9). It is not just in observing the commandments of the Lord that we become clear-sighted in bodily things, but in observing the divine commandments according to the mind that we become more clear-sighted. The eyes of the inner human being see more perceptively than we do. Open my eyes and I will understand the wondrous things of your law (Ps. 119[118].18). Is this to say that his eyes are veiled? No, but our eyes are our mind. It was for Jesus to pull back the veil that we might be able to contemplate what has been written and understand what has been spoken in secret. The external human being has ears, and the internal human being is also said to have ears. He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matt. 11.15 and passim) All had the ears of the external senses, but not all have been successful in having internal ears which are purified. Having ears of the senses does not depend on us, but having internal ears does.

"The exterior human being smells with his nostrils, perceiving good odor and bad odor, while the inner human being has other nostrils with which to perceive the good odor of righteousness and the bad odor of sins. The Apostle teaches about the good odor when he says: For we are the good odor of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to some a fragrance from death to death, to others a fragrance from life to life (cf. 2 Cor. 2.15-16). And Solomon in the Canticle of Canticles also says, through the mouth of the young maidens of the daughters of Jerusalem: We run after you to the fragrance of your perfumes (Cant. 1.4).

"The outer human being has the faculty of taste, and the inner human being has the spiritual faculty of which it is said: Taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34[33].8; cf. 1 Peter 2.3). The outer human being has the sensible faculty of touch, and the inner human being also has touch, that touch with which the woman with a hemorrhage touched the hem of Jesus' garment (cf. Mark 5.25-34 parr). She touched it, as He testified who said: Who touched me? (Mark 5.30). Yet just before, Peter said to Him: The multitudes are pressing upon you and you ask, 'Who touched me?' (Luke 9.45 par). Peter thinks that those touching are touching in a bodily, not spiritual manner. Thus, those pressing in on Jesus were not touching Him, for they were not touching Him in faith.

"We thus have other hands, about which is said: May the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice (Ps 141[140].2). For if I lift up these (bodily) hands, but leave the hands of my soul idle and do not lift them up with the holy and good deeds, the lifting up of my hands does not become an evening sacrifice. I also have different feet about which Solomon is speaking when he commands me: Let not your foot stumble (Prov. 3.23).

"In Ecclesiastes there is an unusual text. It will seem meaningless to those who do not understand it; but it is of the wise that Ecclesiastes says: The wise man has his eyes in his head (Eccl. 2.14). In what head? For all human beings, even the senseless and the foolish, have bodily eyes in their head. But the wise have the eyes we have been speaking of, eyes which are illuminated by the ordinance of the Lord (cf. Ps 19[18].9), and they have them in their head, i.e., in Christ, because the head of man is Christ, the Apostle says (cf. 1 Cor. 11.3). The thinking faculty is in Christ.

"Even the hairs of Your head are all numbered (Matt. 10.30). What hairs: Those by which they were spiritually Nazirites.

"Since you have all these elements of the physical body in the inner human being, you should no longer have problems about the blood, which, with the same name as physical blood, exists, just like the other members of the body, in the inner human being. That is the blood which is poured forth from a soul; for He will require a reckoning for the blood of your souls (Gen. 9.5). He does not say, "your blood" but, the blood of your souls. And, His blood I will require at the watchman's hands (Ezek. 33.6). What blood does God require at the watchman's hands if not that which is poured forth from the sinner? Just as, when the heart of the foolish man is lost, and it is said: Hearken to me, you who have lost your heart (Isa. 46.12 LXX), so too does the blood and the vital power flow away from his soul.

The soul is both immortal and not immortal. First, let us carefully define the word 'death' and all the meanings that come from the term 'death'.

What are these three deaths? Someone may live to God and have died to sin, according to the Apostle (cf. Rom. 6.10). This death is a blessed one: one dies to sin. This is the death which my Lord died: For the death He died He died to sin (Rom. 6.10). I also know another death by which one dies to God. About this death it is said: The soul that sins shall die (Ezek. 18.4). And I know a third death according to which we ordinarily consider that those who have left their body are dead. For Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and he died (cf. Gen. 5.5).

"Since, therefore, there are three deaths, let us see whether the human soul is immortal with regard to these three deaths, or, if not with regard to all three deaths, whether it might still be immortal with regard to some of them. All of us human beings die with ordinary death which we think of as a dissolution. No human soul ever dies this death; for if it did die, it would not be punished after death. Men will seek death, it is written, and will not find it (cf. Rev. 9.6). For the souls being punished will seek death. They will desire not to exist rather than exist to be punished. This is why men will seek death and will not find it. Taken in this sense, every human soul is immortal. Now for the other meanings: according to one, the soul is mortal and blessed if it dies to sin. This is the death that Balaam was talking about in his prophesy, praying in the divine spirit: Let my soul die among the souls of the just! (Num. 23.10). It was about this death that Balaam made his astonishing prophecy and, in the word of God, prayed the most beautiful of prayers for himself; for he prayed to die to sin in order to live to God. This is why he said: Let my soul die among the souls of the just, and let my seed be like their seed! (Num. 23.10). There is another death, in regard to which we are not immortal; but it is possible for us, through vigilance, not to die this death. And perhaps what is mortal in the soul is not mortal forever. For to the extent that it allows itself to commit such a sin that it becomes a soul that sins which itself will die (cf. Ezek. 18.4), the soul is mortal for a real death. But if it becomes confirmed in blessedness so that it is inaccessible to death, in possessing eternal life it is no longer mortal but has become, according to this meaning too, immortal. How is it that the Apostle says of God: Who alone has immortality (1 Tim. 6.16)? I investigate and find that Jesus Christ died for all except God (cf. 2 Cor. 5.15 and Heb. 2.9). There you have the sense in which God alone has immortality.


3. Part Three: The Problem of the Immortality of the Soul, Provoked by a Remark from Demetrius 24:24 - 28:23.

At the end of the discussion he deals with the immortality of the soul. As Bishop Philip arrives, Bishop Demetrius tells him that Origen has been teaching that the soul is immortal. Origen does not want to let this go without comment, so we have another few pages which comprise Part Three (24.24 to 28.23)

a. Death to sin, when we live to God (Rom. 6:2).

b. Death to God, when a soul sins (Ezech 18:4).

c. The ordinary death when we leave our bodies, or are dissolved.

To the third one, the soul is not subject, though those in sin desire it, they cannot find it (Rev. 9:6). The soul may be subject to the first or the second kind of death, and may thus be called mortal. In other words, Origen replies that the soul is on the one hand immortal, on the other mortal, depending entirely on the three different kinds of death:

All human beings die, but no human soul ever dies this third death. The Dialogue ends with another impassioned prayer expressing Origen's yearning to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5.8).




The Dialogue with Candidus, like the Dialogue with the Valentinan Heraclides which Origen published much later, was apparently the actual transcript of a debate in which Origen participated, in this case with a Gnostic teacher. Candidus, the Gnostic, cited Satan as a case of a rational being who had no free choice since Satan was everlastingly condemned to be God's enemy. Origen responded that not even Satan lacked free choice- of the will, and that even Satan could, by choosing to do good, return to God's favor. Orthodox critics of Origen took this statement that Satan could be saved as an indication that Origen was heretical since the Bible consigned Satan eternally to the "Lake of Fire" at the end of time.


ON THE RESURRECTION (Peri Anastasius - De resurrectione)

As a prelude to his work, "On First Principiis." Jerome's list of Origen's works mentions also the dialogues, "On the Resurrection," which are now lost.

In his work De Principiis Origen remarks: "We ought first to consider the nature of the resurrection, that we may know what that body is which shall come either to punishment or to rest or to happiness; which question in other treatises which we have composed regarding the resurrection we have discussed at greater length, and have shown what our opinions are regarding it." Eusebius mentions two volumes On the Resurrection . The essay of which Origen speaks in De Principiis must have been written in Alexandria before 230 A.D, if not earlier.

Only fragments of all these works survive in Pamphilus, Methodius of Philippi and Jerome. From Methodius we learn that Origen rejected the idea of a material identity of the risen human, body and its parts. On the Resurrection combated what Origen considered a crude understanding of the resurrection of the dead as the reconstitution of the fleshly body.



MISCELLANIES or Stromata (Carpets)

Like his teacher St. Clement, Origen left behind him his "Stromata," in ten books, which have been lost, except for a few small fragments. He composed it "in the same city (of Alexandria) before his removal, as is shown by the annotations in his own hand in front of the tomes."

The title indicates a variety of subjects discussed not in any particular order. In this study Origen compares Christian doctrine with the teaching of ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Numenius and Cornutus.






ON PRAYER (De Ortione)

We will speak of this work in chapter 14. The text is extant in a codex of the fourteenth century at Cambridge, while a fifteenth century manuscript at Paris contains a fragment.



EXHORTATION TO MARTYRDOM (Exhortatio ad Martyrium)

See chapter 15.

In the Exhortation to Martyrdom Origen stresses the liberation of the human spirit and the degrees of glory which correspond to the intensity of suffering and love.



ON THE PASCH (Peri Pascha)

The same codex, found at Toura in 1941, that contains the "Discussion with Heraclides," also preserve fragments of a long-lost treatise of Origen "On the Pascha" of which very little was hitherto known. The codex consists of fifty pages arranged in three quires of eight sheets (16 pages) each and a final quire of two sheets with writing only on the first two of these pages.

It is not a homily but a treatise. It is similar in structure and content to other treatises or homilies written by Milato of Sardis, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, and numerous others. It was probably written about 245 A. D.

In this treatise Origin wishes to correct a certain Hippolytus, whose treatise "On the Holy Pascha" had recently revived the Asiatic tradition of Melito and Apollinarius which connected Pascha with paschein and pathos (the passion). Origen knew this tradition; in Homilies on Leviticus 10:1 he cites Melito On the Pascha 37.

Most, if not all, of the brethren think that the Pascha is named Pascha from the passion of the Savior. However, the feast in question is not called precisely Pascha by the Hebrews, but phas[h]. The name of the feast is constituted by the three letters phi, alpha, and sigma, plus the rougher Hebrew aspirate. Translated, it means "passage." Since it is on this feast that the people went forth from Egypt, it is logical to call it phas[h], that is "passage."

In p 12.25 to 16.4, Origen offers three arguments to support his affirmation that the Passover is not a type of the passion.

1. The Passover lamb is sacrificed by holy people, but Christ by criminals and sinners (12.25 to 13.3), as he had already pointed out in his Commentary on John. He says, "The lamb is sacrificed by the saints or Nazirites, while the Savior is sacrificed by criminals and sinners."

2. The scriptural directives about roasting and eating the flesh of the Passover lamb are not fulfilled in the passion, but they are fulfilled in the life of the Christian (13.3 to 14.13).

3.) The Savior Himself (in John 3.14, alluding to Num. 21.8-9) sees not the Passover but the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness by Moses as the prefiguring of His passion (14.25 to 15.11). He Says, "The Passover is not a type of the passion but a type of Christ Himself." "It is obviously in accord with the type of the serpent and not in accord with the type of the Passover that one will understand the passion."

Origen also says, "To show that the Passover is something spiritual and not this sensible Passover, He Himself says: Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you (cf. John 6.53). Are we then to eat His flesh and drink His blood in a physical manner? But if this is said spiritually, then the Passover is spiritual, not physical.


Its Division

1. Part one (Exegesis of Exodus 12:1 - 11).

Introduction: The Name of the Passover 1:1 - 2:18.

The Passover of the Departure from Egypt 2:19 - 39:6.


2. Part Two


The Spiritual meaning of the Pasch 39:9 - 41:2.

The Passover Lamb, Figure of Christ 41:13 - 43:6.

The Conduct of those in Passage 43:6 - 47:27.

Eat in hate... 47:27 - 49:34.

Conclusion 49:34 - 50:8.




St. Jerome cites four different collections of Origen's correspondence. One of them counted nine volumes. These letters perhaps are the same that Eusebius gathered into a collection, perhaps in the days when he catalogued the Origen library of Caesarea for his teacher and patron Pamphilus, and which contained more than one hundred epistles. Only two letters have survived complete:

I. The Philokalia contains in chapter 13 a communication from Origen addressed to his former pupil, St. Gregory the Wonder - Maker. In it Origen urges his pupils to make full use, in advancing the Christian cause, of all that Greek thought had achieved. Christianity can use the Greek philosophy as the Jews used the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians. He also asks him to persist in studying the Bible, and in prayers to understand the divine mysteries.

II. A letter addressed to Julius Africanus, in defense of Susanna as a part of the Book of Daniel, written in 240 A.D. from the house of his friend Ambrose in Nicomedea.




The Philocalia, a word which etymologically means the love of beautiful things, is a collection of texts by Origen collected by two of the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nazianzen: it has come down to us in Greek, the authority of its editors having saved it in the days when the author's ill-repute might have caused its destruction. The first 15 chapters are about Holy Scripture, chapters 16 to 20, taken from the Contra Celsum, are on the controversy with the philosophers about Scripture, chapters 2I to 27 deal with free will. Among these last is a passage from the Clementine Recognitions and another from the Treatise of Methodius about free will: the reasons for the inclusion of these among texts otherwise exclusively by Origen are a matter of debate. A discreet apologetic motive on behalf of the Alexandrian is not absent from the minds of the two Cappadocians. These are reliable texts from the critical point of view, although some cuts may sometimes have been made in them.




A great many fragments come from the exegetical Catenae, works in which the scriptural exegeses of various early Fathers are collected as a book of the Bible is commented on verse by verse. The first such 'catenist' seems to have been Procopius of Gaza in the 6th century. On the whole Origen is well represented in these. But the fragments of Catenae are subject to two main difficulties from the critical point of view. First the attribution to a particular author given in the Catenea is not always safe, for some fragments are attributed to different authors in different Catenae. Next it seems in many cases that the fragments are summaries made by the catenist of longer passages: this becomes evident when they can be compared with the passage from which they are drawn, existing in Greek or in Latin translations; the ideas are authentic but not always their expression.



Finally, fairly numerous passages are preserved as quotations in later works, whether supportive or hostile. But it is not always certain that they are giving us the authentic and complete text of what they are quoting. Thus on his writing entitled Aglaophon or On the Resurrection Methodius of Olympus quoted a long passage from Origen's Commentary on Psalm 1. Methodius's book is only preserved in its entirety in an Old Slavonic version, but Epiphanius reproduces about half of it in Greek in his Panarion 64. Before copying Origen's text as Methodius gives it (10:2-7), Epiphanius reproduces the first paragraph directly from Origen. When the two texts are compared, it will be seen that Methodius has suppressed all the expressions that he thought superfluous, so as to abridge the passage, but without changing its sense; and it is probable that he did the same with everything that he reproduced. Some quotations may well be centos of a kind, taking from a text phrases here and there and making of them a consecutive passage; or perhaps a summary giving the idea such as it was or such as the compiler took it to be.