Origen and Origenism


Origen’s influence on other Christian writers and theologians is profound and far reaching. In the third and fourth centuries he had disciples everywhere; only the greatest are mentioned by the scholars.

1. Theognostus (d. c. 282 A.D) and Pierius (d. c. 309 A.D) the heads of the School of Alexandria, self-consciously continued Origen’s theological and exegetical tradition. Pierius, whose contemporaries knew him as "Origen Junior," educated Pamphilius (c. 2 40-309 A.D) who re-established the Origenist school in Caesarea.

2. Origen’s work in the fields of exegesis and mystical theology was continued by St. Didymus the Blind. According to Socrates, St. Didymus wrote a defense and exposition of Origen’s De Principiis, of which nothing is extant. He dared to defend Origen and his work as entirely orthodox. He endeavored to show that Origen had been misunderstood by simple people who could not grasp his ideas. St. Jerome reports that Didymus gave an orthodox interpretation of Origen’s Trinitarian doctrine but accepted without hesitation his other errors regarding the sin of the angels, the pre-existence of souls, the apokatastasis. No wonder then that in the sixth and following centuries he was condemned as a believer in the pre-existence of the soul and in the apokatastasis. In 553 A.D the Chalcedonians anathematized him together with Origen and Evagrius Ponticus for these doctrines in the Council of Constantinople.

St. Didymus taught St. Gregory of Nazianzen (329-389 A.D), Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 345-410 A.D), and St. Jerome (c. 342-420 A.D), three figures who spread Origen’s influence and preserved his works.

3. Pamphilus of Caesarea: Of a noble family of Berytus (Beirut). He is one of Origen’s most enthusiastic followers who received his early training in his native town. He held a public office, and then studied theology in the School of Alexandria under the direction of Pierius, the successor of Origen. He admired Origen exceedingly.

He returned to Beirut; then later in Caesarea where Origen had taught in his later years. He desired to re-animate the school founded by Origen, and was there ordained priest by bishop Agapius. His teaching like Origen’s, involved a spiritual and scriptural approach. He restored and developed the library attached to the school and organized a workshop of copyists. Arrested in November 307 A.D, he spent two years in prison and was beheaded in February 310 A.D, under Maximinus Daia.

He was the teacher of the first great Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, who used to call himself "the son of Pamphilus." While imprisoned in Caesarea, Pamphilus wrote with the collaboration of his pupil Eusebius, an Apology for Origen in six books, as a response to charges raised by St. Peter of Alexandria and St. Methodus. Book six was written after his death by Eusebius alone. The first book survived, it was translated into Latin by Rufinus. It defended Origen as orthodox and presented Origen as a model Christian.

Pamphilus refutes accusations concerning Origen’s thought on the Trinity, the incarnation, the historicity of Scripture, the resurrection, punishment, the soul and metempsychosis. In the process of defending Origen, Pamphilus affirmed his denial of eternal punishment, therefore the Apology itself was controversial. Pamphilus and Eusebius refuted the accusations made against their hero and defended his views with many passages quoted from his own works.


4. Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine: Born in Palestine, perhaps at Caesarea, in c. 265 A.D. He was educated in that city. During Diocletian’s persecution, he escaped death by fleeing to Tyre and thence to the Egyptian desert of Thebaid. He was arrested and imprisoned, and by the edict of tolerance of 311 A.D he was able to return to Palestine. Raised to the see of Caesarea in c. 313 A.D, he was involved from the start in the Arian controversy. He sided with Arius, but did not share the more extreme ideas of his doctrine.

He is the Father of Ecclesiastical History, succeeded Pamphilus in the school of Caesarea, inherited his ideas and defended him. It was out of veneration and gratitude to his teacher and friend that he called himself Eusebius Pamphili.

5. The Great Cappadocians inherited his teachings. Rowan A. Greer writes, "His influence upon the Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century means that he is an important source for the theology that had become the classical articulation of Christian spirituality. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa preserved Origen's thought for the Church and adapted it to a theological explanation of monasticism understood as the perfect life meant to be lived by all."

The mystical exegesis of Origen has beyond any doubt had a powerful influence on Gregory of Nyssa, especially in his Fifteen Homilies on the Canticle of Canticles.

6. Through the Cappadocians, Origen's influence extends to Evagrius Ponticus, one of the greatest of writers on spiritual life. He is responsible for the spread of his teaching among the monks of Egypt. Evagrius took a great interest in the speculative and contemplative aspects of Origen’s thought and adapted them to the needs of the monastic movement which had emerged strongly in the course of the fourth century. Through him Origen’s thoughts were handed on to St. John Cassian, and so to all Western Christian monasticism. Indirectly as well as directly he had remained an important influence upon Western spirituality. Evagrius, who began his ecclesiastical career as a prot�g� of Gregory of Nazianzus, eventually settled in Nitria, an important monastic colony in the Libyan desert south of Alexandria. From there Evagrius’ Origenistic ascetic theology spread rapidly throughout the Christian world. His works were rapidly translated into Syrian, the language of Christians in what is now Syria and Iraq, and spread from there to Armenia. Evagrius influenced Western monasticism through his disciple, John Cassian (c. 360-435 A.D), one of the founders of Latin monasticism. Cassian’s writings profoundly influenced Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-c. 550 A.D), whose rule ordered the regular reading of Cassian’s works.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who referred to Origen as "the whetstone of us all," was more interested in Origen’s contributions to theology and was careful to avoid the more controversial aspects of his thoughts.

St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nazianzus collaborated in 358-59 A.D on the Philocalia, and anthology of Origen’s work that preserve fragments of a number of works, including On First Principles, now lost in Greek.

7. Fr. Maximus the Confessor: He was born in c. 579-80 A.D in Palestine of a Samaritan father and a Persian slave-girl, and baptized by a priest of Hesfin on Golan. Originally named Moschion, at ten years he was entrusted to Abbot Pantaleon of the monastery of St. Charito, who named him Maximus and led him to study Origen. During the Arab invasion (614 A.D), he escaped from Jerusalem and took refuge in Cyzicus near Constantinople, subsequently forming close connections with the imperial court, especially through his disciple Anastasius. In 626 A.D following the invasion of the Persians and Avars he took refuge in Africa. Just before 647 A.D he went to Rome, where he took an active part in the Lateran council (649 A.D). Returning to Constantinople in 653 A.D he was arrested, tried in 654 A.D and was condemned to temporary exile in Bizya in Thrace. In 662 A.D he underwent a second long trial: he was condemned first according to the Iranian punishment by mutilation of the tongue and right hand, then by his final exile at Lazika, in distant Colchis on the Black Sea, where he died, worn out by his sufferings on August 13th of that year.

Maximus is a great doctor of mystical life, he was completely under Origen’s influence for a time.

8. In the West, Origen’s work was made known by Rufinus of Aquila, the friend of St. Jerome. The two formed part of an ascetic group who in the year 370 A.D sought to recreate in Rufinus’ home town of Concordia the monastic and intellectual life of the East. After a long stay in Egypt (373 A.D-380 A.D), where Rufinus frequented St. Didymus, he went and lived with Melania in the monastery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

After unhappy disputes with St. Jerome over the translation of Origen’s works, Rufinus returned to the West in 397 A.D, pursued at Rome and then at Aquileia by the animosity of his old friend. Fleeing the Goths, he went to Sicily where he died.

He translated many homilies along with Origen’s Commentary on the Romans, a part of his Commentary on the Song of Songs.

In chapter two, I have already mentioned the circumstances of his translation of Origen’s treatise On First Principles.

9. St. Jerome, who was at first a great admirer of Origen, later attacked him, though in matters related to his exegesis, remained his disciple to the end.

J. Gribomont says that the first characteristic of St. Jerome (c. 347-419 A.D) is his having transmitted to the west, as the prince of translators, the riches of the Greek and Hebrew libraries. The second is his having possessed and communicated a literary culture very different from that of the other Latin Fathers. The third is a spiritual, exegetical and monastic sensibility, a splendid Origenian inheritance. Finally note the human qualities of a passionate soul, excessive in his passions and hatreds, but certainly out of the ordinary.

His name at birth was Eusebius Hieronymus. He was born before 331 A.D in Strido, at the frontiers of the Latin world. After brilliant literary studies in Rome, where he was baptized, Jerome sought his fortune at Tri�r, at the imperial court. There he was conquered by the eastern ideal of monasticism, whose echo had been brought there by St. Athanasius during his exile in Gaul. About 370 A.D he joined a group at Aquleiea who shared his ideal, but who were dispersed. St. Jerome accompanied St. Evagrius of Antioch to Syria. He made himself familiar with Greek, studied Hebrew and made the acquaintance of skilled exegetes. He went with Paulinus and St. Epiphanius of Salamis to Constantinople where he made friends with St. Gregory of Nazianzen. He went to Rome, where he gained the favor of Damasus, by his agile pen, his knowledge of the East, his biblical knowledge and his readiness to support the policies of the Holy See. Damasus made him his secretary. Meanwhile his monastic and Origenian spirituality gave him access to the pious meetings of a group of aristocratic ladies, whose generosity permitted him to work without material worries. He found himself obliged to deepen his familiarity with the Latin, Greek and Hebrew Bible, and to make it his specialty.

After Damasus’ departure (384 A. D), St. Jerome made a long journey in company with Paula to Cyprus, Antioch, the Holy land, then to Alexandria where he met St. Didymus the Blind and visited monasteries in Egypt, then finally went to Bethlehem. He benefited immensely from Origen’s and Eusebius’ library, accessible at Caesarea, and embraced an Origenist theology. This bound him to Melenia and Rufinus, established on the Mount of Olives, but opposed him to St. Epiphanius.

Towards 395 A.D St. Jerome found himself in a difficult situation: practically excommunicated by the bishop of Jerusalem, threatened with expulsion by the paetorian prefect and without many powerful friends. He succeeded in reversing the situation, when he attacked Origenism. He gained Theophilus of Alexandria as his friend, and became involved in the problem of the Three Brothers, taking the side of St. Theophilus against St. John Chrysostom.

St. Jerome sent a letter to the most blessed Theophilus, Pope of Alexandria, in which he congratulates the Pope on the success of his crusade against Origenism. He writes,

Jerome to the most blessed Pope Theophilus...

I write a few lines to congratulate you on your success. The whole world glories in your victories. An exultant crowd of all nations gazes on the standard of the cross raised by you in Alexandria and upon the shinning trophies which mark your triumph over heresy. Blessings on your courage! Blessings on your zeal! You have shown that your long silence has been due to policy and not to inclination...

It is worthy to note that Origen’s concentration on free will as opposed to the Gnostics allowed St. Jerome to describe Origen as the ancestor of Pelagius.

St. Jerome had begun translating Origen’s Homilies even before he left Rome. He used Origen’s Commentary on Ephesians freely in writing his own Commentary on that epistle, borrowing them without questioning much of Origen’s speculation on the angelic beings which he afterwards repudiated. His prefaces too speak of Origen in the highest possible terms.

St. Jerome translated almost eighty of Origen’s homilies. Ultimately, however, Rufinus and St. Jerome, who had been friends since their youth, became enemies when they took different sides in what historians refer to, somewhat misleadingly, as the First Origenist controversy.

Vigilantius, on his return to the West after his visit to Jerusalem, had openly accused St. Jerome of a leaning to the heresy of Origin. St. Jerome wrote to him in the most severe tone repudiating the charge of Origenism and fastening upon his opponent those of ignorance and blasphemy. He justified his use of the writings of Origen, as he writes,

But, since Christ has shown us in Himself a pattern of perfect humility, bestowing a kiss upon His betrayer and receiving the robber’s repentance upon the cross, I tell you now when absent as I have told you already when present, that I read and have read Origen only as I read Apollinaris, or other writers whose books in some things the Church does not receive. I by no means say that everything contained in such books is to be condemned, but I admit that there are things in them deserving censure. Still, as it is my task to study by reading many authors to cull different flowers from as large a number as possible, not so much making it an object to prove all things as to choose what is good, I take up many writers that from the many I may learn many things; according to that which is written "reading all things, holding fast those that are good" 1 Thess. 5:21.

St. Jerome adds,

Origen is a heretic, true; but what does that take from me who do not deny that on very many points he is heretical? He has erred concerning the resurrection of the body, he has erred concerning the condition of souls, he has erred by supposing it possible that the devil may repent, and- an error more important then these- he has declared in his commentary upon Isaiah that the Seraphim mentioned by the prophet are the divine Son and the Holy Ghost. If I did not allow that he has erred or if I did not daily anathematize his errors, I should be partaker of his fault.

For while we receive what is good in his writings we must on no account bind ourselves to accept also what is evil. Still in many passages he has interpreted the Scriptures well, has explained obscure places in the prophets, and has brought to light very great mysteries, both in the Old and in the New testament.

St. Jerome sent a calm letter to Pammachius and Oceanus, in which he defines and justifies his own attitude towards Origen, but unduly minimizes his early enthusiasm for him. He admires him in the same way that Cyprian admired Tertullian but does not in any way adopt his errors. He writes,

It is charged against me that I have sometimes praised Origen. If I am not mistaken I have only done so in two places, in the short preface (addressed to Damasus) to his homilies on the Song of Songs and in the prologue to my book of Hebrew Names. In these passages do the dogmas of the church come into question? Is anything said of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? Or of the resurrection of the flesh? Or of the condition and material of the soul? I have merely praised the simplicity of his rendering and commentary and neither the faith nor the dogmas of the Church come in at all. Ethics only are dealt with and the mist of allegory is dispelled by a clear explanation. I have praised the commentator but not the theologian, the man of intellect but not the believer, the philosopher but not the apostle. But if men wish to know my real judgment upon Origen; let them read my commentaries upon Ecclesiastics, let them go through my three books upon the epistle to the Ephesians: they will then see that I have always opposed his doctrines. How foolish it would be to eulogize a system so far as to endorse its blasphemy! The blessed Cyprian takes Tertullian for his master, as his writings prove; yet, delighted as he is with the ability of this learned and zealous writer, he does not join him in following Montanus and Maximilia...

The bishops at the council proclaimed their adherence to a dogma which was at the time denied; they said nothing about a difficulty which no one had raised. And yet they covertly struck at Origen as the source of the Arian heresy: for , in condemning those who deny the Son to be of the substance of the Father, they have condemned Origen as much as Arius.

10. Although St. Augustine’s theological perspective differed in significant ways from Origen’s, his immensely influential handling of biblical symbolism was in the Origenist tradition.

11. St. Hilary of Poiti�rs: He was born at the start of the fourth century, and he was elected as bishop of Poiti�rs around 350 A.D. At Bezi�rs in 356 A.D, he tried to oppose the activities of the pro-Arians in Gaul; he was deposed and exiled to Phrygia, where he knew the works of Origen which deeply influenced his spirituality and his exegesis.

12. Bishop Damasus of Rome: Rufinus, in the preface of his translation of "De Principiis" writes, "Bishop Damasus translated two of the Homilies on the Song of Songs from Greek into Latin, he composed so fine and noble a preface to that work, as to inspire everyone with a deep longing to read Origen and study him seriously. For he said that the text, ‘The King has brought me into His chamber’, might well be applied to the soul of Origen; and added that while in the rest of his works Origen had surpassed all other writers, in the Song of Songs he had even surpassed himself."

13. Origen’s method of biblical interpretation spread to the Latin-speaking West. A vital figure in this process was St. Ambrose (c. 339-97 A.D), Bishop of Milan. St. Ambrose, a brilliant orator of noble birth, dominated the western church during the later part of the fourth century and even forced emperors to yield to the power of his personality. Ambrose admired the Cappadocians and gained from them an appreciation of Origen’s allegorical interpretation of the Bible, which he practiced extensively in his preaching at Milan. Ambrose, in turn, introduced the allegorical interpretation of the Bible to Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D), the theologian from North Africa who was to influence western theology profoundly for more than a thousand years. Augustine was an ambitious young rhetorician of Christian origins who had subsequently embraced and become disillusioned with the Gnostic theology of the Manicheans when he heard Ambrose preaching at Milan.

If Origenism remained a powerful current of thought in the Church, opposition to Origenism also continued. About 375 A.D St. Epiphanius of Salamis, the heresiologist, attacked Origenism as heretic. He succeeded in persuading St. Jerome, who had been an admirer of Origen, to join him in the attack.

Even in his days many churchmen attacked Origen's writings as heretical. They explained the mixture of orthodoxy and heresy in his writings by the hypothesis that his real intentions were heretical, but that he had introduced orthodox ideas to confuse the simple believers. At the same time many churchmen also insisted on declaring that he desired nothing more than to be a loyal member of the church.

His supporters made a huge split among the Egyptian monks, and pushed Pope Theophilus of Alexandria to commit his serious fault: the condemnation of St. John Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Finally, the Coptic Church excommunicated Origen during his life to prevent her members from accepting his errors, while the Chalcedonian Churches took this decision after his death, in the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D.







The true controversy began in 398 A.D when Rufinus, who had returned to his native country Italy, published a translation of the first two books On First Principles. This translation, which Rufinus soon completed was venturesome in itself since Latin-speaking readers had not been exposed to the more speculative aspects of Origen’s thoughts. What ignited the controversy, was Rufinus’ indiscreet preface in which he claimed to be following Jerome’s example in translating Origen and in amending theologically offensive passages in the process. Jerome bitterly resented the suggestion that he was still an admirer of Origen and that his translations were less than accurate. He responded with an attack on Rufinus in a letter to his friends in Rome. With his own purportedly due to his literal translation of On First Principles, which we can tell is biased by comparing both versions with existing Greek fragments, we can see it is as biased in its accentuation of Origen’s alleged deviations from orthodoxy as Rufinus’ was in its concealment of them. Unfortunately, only fragments of the work remain. A literary controversy over Origen continued in the West for many years. Though it left Origen somewhat a suspect, it did very little damage to the reputation in the West. The translations of his works continued to be read, and his indirect influence continued to be felt on Jerome, whose great Vulgate translation of the Bible depended much on Origen’s inspiration.

1. St. Peter of Alexandria: His criticism of Origen seems very mild as we will see later on.


2. St. Methodius of Olympus (in Lycia): He was martyred in 311 A.D under Maximinus Daza. He conducted a determined and successful fight against Origenism. In his chief work "On the Resurrection," he constructs models of Origenist arguments that he proceeds to demolish. This work could not eclipse Origen's reputation, yet it damages his theological stature enough to be at least a partial reason for the lengthy Defense of Origen, written about 307-310 A.D in five books by the martyr Pamphilus (assisted by Eusebius of Caesarea) and supplemented shortly thereafter with a sixth book by Eusebius alone. Methodius became the leader of opponents to Origenism. His central issue was Origen's peculiar view of the resurrection and his denial that the body will be raised.

G.W. Butterworth says that the first serious attack was made by Methodius, bishop of Patara in Lycia, in the early years of the fourth century. He wrote vigorously against Origen and his followers in regard to doctrines characteristic of the First Principles, viz. the eternity of creation, the pre-existence of souls and the spiritual nature of the resurrection of the body... Others, however, including such great names as Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers, Basil and the two Gregories, while admitting that his works were not wholly free from error, yet regarded him an orthodox in the main and defended him.


3. St. Eustathius of Antioch: A leader of the victorious conservative group at the Council of Nicea in 325 and head of the strict Nicene party of Antioch. According to Theodoret, he was the first to speak at the Council and had the honor to salute the Emperor Conostantine with an address of welcome when he entered the assembly of the bishops. It was the same emperor who in 330 A.D drove him into exile in Trajanopolis in Thrace after an Arian synod at Antioch had deposed him in 326 A.D. St. Athanasius praises him as a "confessor," "sound in the faith," and "zealous for the truth," who "hated the Arian heresy."

In his work "De engastrimytho contra Origenem" (On the Ventriloquist against Origen) written in opposition to Origen's interpretation of Samuel's nature as conjured up for Saul by the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28), St. Eustathius refers to St. Methodius’ On the Resurrection as a further resource on the soul-body problem underlying the interpretation of Samuel's nature. Sneeringly he called Origen "the clever Origen," "the dogmatizer Origen," " the big-talking Origen," "the very learned Origen," "the wordy Origen," and "O most mindless of men." He wrote,

As much as (Origen) proposed in an unorthodox manner (Kakadoxos) about the resurrection, it is impossible to elaborate now. For the worthy Methodius of blessed memory wrote enough on this subject, and he really showed quite clearly that (Origen) inconsiderately gave the heretics an opening by defining the resurrection in reference to form (eidous), but not in reference to body. Even that he upset everything with allegorical interpretation and sowed the seeds of heresy (kakodoxis) everywhere, it is easy to see that he filled the world with incalculable nonsense by endlessly repeating himself. So then by customarily allegorizing all things together in such a way, he was able not only to interpret the words of the ventriloquist (eggasstrimythou [the witch]) allegorically, but also to avoid explaining the clear [meaning] from the [natural verbal] sequence itself.

According to Dechow, in this passage, are the characteristics which are mentioned in Epiphanius’ polemic against Origen:

I. The focus on the resurrection.

II. The reliance on Methodius by conservative Nicene loyalists for the definitive statement of the case against Origen.

III. The acceptance of the charge made by Methodius that Origen actually denies bodily resurrection.

IV. Origen's responsibility for the heresy of teaching about the resurrection of the corporeal form (eidos).

V. Origen's responsibility for all heresies, which would appear as a result of allegorical exegesis.

St. Eustathius' opposition to Origenist and Arian views runs like a double thread through his writings. His interpretation of the soul-body problem in Origenist anthropology seems directly related to his anti-Arian understanding of the relation between soul and body in Christ. He was the first who noticed that the character of the Arian Christology, with its denial of a human soul in the incarnate Christ, appears linked to his uneasiness over the diminished reality that he perceived in Origenist conceptions of corporeality.


4. St. Epiphanius of Salamis

St. Epiphanius (c. 315-403), bishop of Salamis (now Famagusta), the chief city of Cyprus, published a scathing denunciation of Origen in his Panarion or Medicine-Chest for All Heresies. He depicted Origen as the main source of the recently defeated Arian heresy and spread slanders about Origen’s character, including a story that he had sacrificed to Sarapis in Alexandria after being threatened with rape by an Ethiopian and another story that he took a memory drug.

G.W. Butterworth says,

Towards the end of the fourth century Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, renewed the attack. In two works, the Anchoratus (The Firmly-Anchored Man) and the Adv. Haereses, he includes Origen among the heretics, on the grounds previously set forth by Methodius and on others dealing with the nature of the Son and his relation to the Father. Origen was charged with teaching that the Son, though generated from the essence of the Father, was nevertheless a creature, bearing the title Son by courtesy and not by right; that the Holy Spirit was also a creature; and that one day the Kingdom of Christ would come to an end and all beings, including the devil himself, would be reconciled and restored to God.

St. Epiphanius, in his work "Adv. Haereses," "Panarion" (The Medicine-chest), refuted 80 heresies, considering Origen as their epitome. Jon F. Dechow says,

When Epiphanius considers Origen, he is unable to see him in any (light) other than as the epitome of heresy - the culmination of heretics before him and the inspiration and predecessor of those who follow. Origen's alleged heresy, to Epiphanius, is "dangerous and more wicked than all ancient ones, ... expresses a mentality like him," and provides the basic pattern for the subsequent aberrations of "Arius, the Amonians..., and others."

A coolness had arisen between St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis and St. John, Bishop of Jerusalem in connection with the Origenistic controversy. In 395 A.D St. Epiphanius visited St. John, and in vain attempted to obtain a condemnation of Origen from him. In St. John’s parish, in the church of the holy tomb, St. Epiphanius attacked St. John, as a follower of Origen. St. Jerome followed Epiphanius and worked together against John. St. Epiphanius had also uncanonically conferred priests’ orders on Jerome’s brother Paulinan, in order that the monastery at Bethlehem might henceforth be entirely independent of John. Naturally, John resented this conduct and showed his resentment.

St. John obtained a sentence of exile against St. Jerome from the secular authorities, which, however, was not carried out. For a time John and Jerome were reconciled through the good offices of Pope Theophilus of Alexandria, at that time an adherent of Origen.

The present letter is a half-apology made by St. Epiphanius for what he had done, and like all such, it only seems to have made matters worse.

For I see that all your indignation has been roused against me simply because I have told you that you ought not to eulogize one who is the spiritual father of Arius, and the root and parent of all heresies. And when I appealed to you not to go astray, and warned you of the consequences, you traversed my words, and reduced me to tears and sadness; and not me only, but many other Catholics who were present.

Can any one, moreover, brook Origen’s assertion that men’s souls were once angels in heaven, and that having sinned in the upper world, they have been cast down into this, and have been confined in bodies as in barrows or tombs, to pay the penalty for their former sins; and that the bodies of believers are not temples of Christ, but prisons of the condemned?

Again, he tampers with the true meaning of the narrative by a false use of allegory, multiplying words without limit; and undermines the faith of the simple by the most varied arguments.

Now he maintains that souls, in Greek the "cool things"... are so called because in coming down from the heavenly places to the lower world they have lost their former heat; and now, that our bodies are called by the Greeks chains... or else (on the analogy of our own Latin word) "things fallen," because our souls have fallen from heaven; and that the other word for body which the abundance of the Greek idiom supplies is by many taken to mean a funeral monument, because the soul is shut up within it in the same way as the corpses of the dead are shut up in tombs and barrows.

If this doctrine is true what becomes of our faith?

Where is the preaching of the resurrection?

Where is the teaching of the apostles, which lasts on to this day in the churches of Christ?

Where is the blessing to Adam, and to his seed, and to Noah and his sons? "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." According to Origen, these words must be a curse and not a blessing; for he turns angels into human souls, compelling them to leave the place of highest rank and to come down lower, as though God were unable through the action of His blessing to grant souls to the human race, had the angels not sinned, and as though for every birth on earth there must be a fall in heaven.

We are to give up, then, the teaching of the apostles and prophets, of the law, and of our Lord and Savior Himself, in spite of His language which is loud as thunder in the gospel.

Origen, on the other hand, commands and urges-not to say binds-his disciples not to pray to ascend into heaven, lest sinning once more worse than they had sinned on earth they should be hurled down into the world again. Such foolish and insane notions he generally confirms by distorting the sense of the Scriptures and making them mean what they do not mean at all. He quotes this passage from the Psalms: "Before you did humble me by reason of my wickedness, I went wrong;" and this, "Return unto your rest, O my soul;" this also, "Bring my soul out of prison;" and this, "I will make confession unto the Lord in the land of the living," although there can be no doubt that the meaning of the divine Scripture is different from the interpretation by which he unfairly wrests it to the support of his own heresy.

This way of acting is common to the Manichaens, the Gnostics, the Ebionites, the Marcionites, and the votaries of the other eighty heretics, all of whom draw their proofs from the pure well of the Scriptures, not, however, interpreting it in the sense in which it is written, but trying to make the simple language of the Church’s writers accord with their own wishes.


5. St. Jerome

I have already mentioned St. Jerome as the admirer of Origen, and how he changed his mind and became an enemy of Origen and Origenism.





6. Theophilus of Alexandria.

At first Theophilus, Pope of Alexandria was considered on the side of the Origenist monks and against the simple and uneducated one, who believes in anthropomorphism, which attributes carnal members to God. But he became a severe enemy against the Origenists, when the problem of Isidore and the Tall Brethren appears as we will see afterwards.

Pope Theophilus sent to the bishops of Palestine and of Cyprus the synodical letter of a council held in Alexandria in 400 A.D to condemn Origenism. Written originally in Greek it was translated into Latin by St. Jerome. This letter had been sent in identical terms to the Bishops of Palestine and to those of Cyprus. We (W.H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W.G. Martley) reproduce the headings of both copies. That to the Bishops of Palestine commences thus:

To the well-beloved lords, brothers, and fellow-bishops, Eulogius, John, Zebianus, Auxentius, Dionysius, Gennadius, Zeno, Theodosius, Dicterius, Porphyry, Saturninus, Alan, Paul, Ammonius, Helianus, Eusebius, the other Paul, and to all the Catholic bishops gathered together at the dedication festival of Aelid,

Theophilus (sends) greeting in the Lord.

The Cyprians were addresses thus:

To the well-beloved lords, brothers, and fellow-bishops, Epiphanies, Marcianus, Agapetus, Boethius, Helpidius, Entasius, Norbanus, Macedonius, Aristo, Zeno, Asiaticus, Heraclides, the other Zeno, Cyriacus, and Aphroditus,

Theophilus (sends) greeting in the Lord.

The scope of the letter is as follows:

We have personally visited the monasteries of Nitria and find that the Origenistic heresy has made great ravages among them.

It is accompanied by a strange fanaticism: men even maim themselves or cut out their tongues to show how they despise the body.

I find that some men of this kind have gone from Egypt into Syria and other countries where they speak against us and the truth.

The books of Origen have been read before a council of bishops and unanimously condemned.

The following are his chief errors, mainly found in the "Peri Archon" (De Principiis)":

1. The Son compared with us is truth, but compared with the Father he is falsehood.

2. Christ’s kingdom will one day come to an end.

3. We ought to pray to the Father alone, not to the Son.

4. Our bodies after the resurrection will be corruptible and mortal.

5. There is nothing perfect even in heaven; the angels themselves are faulty, and some of them feed on the Jewish sacrifices.

6. The stars are conscious of their own movements, and the demons know the future by their courses.

7. Magic, if real, is not evil.

8. Christ suffered once for men; he will suffer again for the demons.

The Origenists have tried to coerce me; they have even stirred up the heathen by denouncing the destruction of the Serapeum; and have sought to withdraw from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction two persons accused of grave crimes. One of these is the woman who was wrongly placed on the list of widows by Isidore, the other Isidore himself. He is the standard-bearer of the heretical faction, and his wealth supplies them with unbounded resources for their violent enterprises. They have tried to murder me; they seized the monastery church at Nitria, and for a time prevented the bishops from entering and the offices from being performed. Now, like Zebul (Beelzebub) they go to and fro on the earth. I have done them no harm; I have even protected them. But I would not let an old friendship (with Isidore) impair our faith and discipline. I implore you to oppose them whenever they come, and to prevent them from unsettling the brethren committed to you.

The synodical letter of the council of Jerusalem was sent to Pope Theophilus in reply to the preceding. The translation as before is by St. Jerome.

The following is an epitome: We have done all that you wished, and Palestine is almost wholly free from the taint of heresy. We wish that not only the Origenists, but Jews, Samaritans and heathen also, could be put down. Origenism does not exist among us. The doctrines you describe are never heard here. We anathematize those who hold such doctrines, and also those of Apollinaris, and shall not receive anyone whom you excommunicate .



7. Emperor Justinian

Justinian (527 A.D-14 November 565 A.D) in his letter to Mannas charged Origen with affirming that in the resurrection the bodies of men will rise spiritually. Justinian also saw Nestorianism in Origen’s doctrine of the soul of Christ when he wrote the following introduction to one of Origen's fragments: "He says that the Lord is a mere man." This judgment takes no account of the fact that the chapter of the Treatise On First Principles in question is developing a doctrine of the "communicatio idiomatum," that is of the communication to Jesus the Son of Man of the qualities of the Logos and to the Logos of the qualities of Jesus, a doctrine incompatible with Nestorianism.










After Origen’s death his writings attracted those who would admire them, especially in Nitria among the Egyptian monks, where Fr. Ammonius and his three brothers Dioscorus, Eusebius, and Euthymius, who were called the "Tall Monks," or the "Tall Brothers" on account of their stature lived. In about 370 A.D, they established an Origenist group and were occupied in studying the Holy Scripture. They were distinguished both for the sanctity of their lives, and the extent of their erudition, and for these reasons their reputation was known in Alexandria. On the contrary the monks of Scetis who were very simple, were involved in practical worship, and looked to the Origenists as enemies of the true monastic life in the desert, because they changed it from its simplicity in practicing virtues, asceticism and continuous prayers, and in struggling against the devil, sin and the love of the world into an intellectual and contemplative life.

In other words, as Hausherr says, the Origenist quarrel was not only the source of two theologies, but also of "two spiritualities." The first type of spirituality is the intellectual mysticism of such Egyptian monks as SS. Didymus, Isidore, Ammonius the Tall, and Evagrius. The second is that of the simple monks.





Sadly almost all the scholars depended on the writings of the enemies of St. Theophilus Pope of Alexandria, who hated him because of his serious fault, i.e., his role in the exile of St. John Chrysostom.

Pope Theophilus loved the desert, and used to be in contact with the Desert Fathers, visiting them and asking them for spiritual advice. Until 400 A.D, the Origenist monks, Fr. Ammonius and his three brothers were in close contact with the Pope who loved them and honored them exceedingly because of their piety, asceticism and zeal in struggling against Arianism. He ordained Dioscours bishop of Hermopolis against his will, having forcibly drawn him from his retreat, while another successfully turned down the bishopric. Two of the brothers were ordained priests to assist him, and though they performed their duties successfully, nevertheless they were dissatisfied because they were unable to follow philosophical pursuits and ascetic exercises. The Pope asked them to settle in Alexandria, but they greatly preferred returning to the desert to practice monastic life to living in the city. Sozomen says, "They were at one period beloved by Theophilus above all the other monks of Egypt; he sought their society, and frequently dwelt with them."

They loved the Pope as he denied anthropomorphism, which believes that God is a corporeal existence, and has the form of man. The "Anthropomorphites," or "Anthropomorphists" who were more simple and uneducated refused Origen’s allegory in interpreting the holy Scriptures, specially the Old Testament. They held fast to the literal interpretation and believed that God has carnal members as it is mentioned in the Bible (Ps. 99:5; 101:6,7; 119:73). Sozomen, the historian says, "A question was raised at this period which agitated Egypt and which had been propounded a short time previously, namely, whether it is right to believe that God is anthropomorphic. Because they laid hold on the sacred words with simplicity and without any questioning, most of the monks of that part of the world were of this opinion; and supposed that God possessed eyes, a face, and hands, and other members of the body. But those who searched into the hidden meaning of the terms of Scripture held the opposite; and they maintained that those who denied the incorporeality of God were guilty of blasphemy. This latter opinion was espoused by Theophilus, and preached by him in the church; and in the epistle which, according to custom, he wrote respecting the celebration of the Passover when he took occasion to state that God ought to be regarded as incorporeal, and as alien to a human form." In the Paschal encyclical of 399 A.D, Pope Theophilus mentioned that the Divine Being is wholly incorporeal, and it is unworthy to think of Godhead with bodily aspects.

St. John Cassian speaks of the bad effect this letter had on the simple monks, who refused reading it in their meetings. A very simple ascetic monk called Serapion incited the monks who joined him in struggling against the Pope. I don’t want to discuss the details of the events concerning the struggle between the Origenists and the anti-Origenists among the monks, but what I want to clarify is that the monastic movement and almost all churchmen were involved in this problem, instead of being occupied with the edification of the church and the evangelizing of the world.

Those anti-Origenists answered the Paschal letter of the Pope by descending in force from Scetis to Alexandria. Thousands of monks surrounded the Pope's residence in anger, excited a tumult against him, accusing him of impiety, and threatening to put him to death. Theophilus, however, becoming aware of this danger, presented himself to the insurgents forthwith, and said to them in a conciliatory tone, "When I look upon you, it is as if I behold the face of God." This wise reply sufficiently mollified the men, moderating their fury. They believed that he accepted their belief in "anthropomorphism" for he uttered "God's face." They replied, "Wherefore, then if you really hold orthodox doctrines, do you not anathematize the books of Origen; since those who read them are led into such opinions? If you will not do this, expect to be treated by us as an impious person, and the enemy of God." "Such has long been my intention," he replied, "and I shall do as you advise; for I blame not less than you do, all those who follow the doctrines of Origen." By these means he deluded the brethren, and broke up the sedition, and the monks returned to Scetis.

The Tall Brothers blamed St. Theophilus and described him as a cowardly and faint hearted man. They began to attack him openly, especially when he refused their demand to receive St. Isidore in communion.




St. Isidore was a rich man who had distributed all his wealth among the poor and needy, and was admitted to Nitria as an ascetic. He was gifted with a joyful face and sweet tongue, all who met him loved him. St. Athanasuis ordained him a priest, was very close to him, and accompanied him in his trip to Rome. He was interested in the ministry of the poor, sick and foreigners, and he was in charge of the hospital in Alexandria. He was the first ascetic St. Palladius met, who exceedingly loved him and praised him much in his writings.

Pope Theophilus also loved him and he had endeavored to ordain him in Constantinople after Nectarius instead of St. John Chrysostom. But this friendship had changed into a kind of enmity, because of his submission to the Tall Brothers and the Origenists.

There are many stories concerning his coming to the desert. According to Sozomen, it is said that a rich woman gave him money to spend on the needy and not to tell the Pope so that he would not use it in building the churches. The Pope took knowledge of this matter and entered into a dispute with St. Isidore, who escaped to Nitria, where the Origenists received him in reverence. Fr. Ammonius and some monks went to Theophilus and in vain they interceded for Isidore. Again some of the Origenists discussed the matter with the Pope, but the discussion ended by the imprisonment of one of them. Ammonius and all the monks with him then went to the prison, into which they were readily admitted by the jailer, who imagined that they had come to bring provisions to the prisoner; but having once obtained admission, they refused to leave the prison. When Theophilus heard of their voluntary confinement, he sent to desire them to come to him. They replied, that he ought first to take them out of prison himself, for it was not just, after having been subjected to public indignity, that they should be privately released from confinement. At length, however, they yielded and went to him. Theophilus apologized for what had occurred, and dismissed them as if he had no further intention of molesting them; but within himself, he raged and was vexed, and determined to do them ill. He was in doubt, however, as to how he could ill-treat them, as they had no possessions, and despised everything but philosophy, until it occurred to him, to disturb the peace of their retirement. From his former intercourse with them he had gathered that they condemned those who believe that God has a human form, and that they adhered to the opinions of Origen so he brought them into collision with the multitude of monks who maintained the other view.

This event caused a kind of enmity between the Pope and the Origenists, and in the second paschal letter (400 A.D) the Pope attacked Origenism as a heresy. The Origenists created many troubles in Nitria against the Pope, and when he sent some bishops to discuss the matter they withdrew into the Church and refused to meet them. The Pope excommunicated Amoun and his brothers in a local council, and when he visited the desert some monks wanted to kill the Tall Brothers, but they escaped into a tomb while their cells were burnt. At last they left Egypt together with St. John Cassian, St. Isidore and about eighty monks (Evagrius had died in January 399 A.D. just before the storm broke).




They went to Palestine on their way to Constantinople to complain at court and to put their case to the Patriarch John Chrysostom.

Pope Theophilus sent a synodical letter to 17 bishops in Palestine and 15 in Cyprus, to explain the Origenist’ doctrines. St. Jerome who had once translated some of Origen's works and praised him as "the greatest teacher of the church since the apostles" now became violently anti-Origenist. He encountered the Palestinian bishop to help Pope Theophilus in his struggle against the Origenists. St. Epiphanius of Salamis played the same role in Cyprus.

Sozomen writes,

Dioscorus and Ammonius were accompanied hither by about eighty other monks. In the meantime, Theophilus sent messengers to Constantinople, to bring complaints against them and to oppose any petitions that they might lay before the emperor. On being informed of this fact, Ammonius and the monks embarked for Constantinople, and took Isidore with them; and they requested that their case might be tried in the presence of the emperor and of the bishop; for they thought that, by reason of his boldness, John, who was careful to do right, would be able to help them in their rights. John, although he received them with kindness, and treated them with honor, and did not forbid them to pray in the church, refused to admit them to participation in the mysteries, for it was not lawful to do this before the investigation. He wrote to Theophilus, desiring him to receive them back into communion, as their sentiments concerning the Divine nature were orthodox; requesting him, if he regarded their orthodoxy as doubtful, to send some one to act as their accuser. Theophilus returned no reply to this epistle.


It occurred to Pope Theophilus that it would be advantageous to enlist St. Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, on his side. In 400 A.D, Pope Theophilus writes to St. Epiphanius to acquaint him that he now held the same opinions as himself, and to move attacks against the books of Origen, as the source of such nefarious dogmas, and to invoke a council in Cyprus for the condemnation of Origenism and asks him to transmit to Constantinople by a trustworthy messenger a copy of its decrees together with the synodical letter of Theophilus himself.

Theophilus to his well-beloved lord, brother, and fellow-bishop Epiphanius.

The Lord has said to his prophet, "See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms to root out and to pull down and to destroy and... to build and to plant" (Jer. 1:10). In every age he bestows the same grace upon his church, that His body (Eph. 1:23) may be preserved intact and that the poison of heretical opinions may nowhere prevail over it. And now also do we see the words fulfilled. For the church of Christ "not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (Eph. 5:27) has with the sword of the gospel cut down the Origenist serpents crawling out of their caves, and has delivered from their deadly contagion the fruitful host of the monks of Nitria.

I have compressed a short account of my proceedings (it was all that time would allow) into the general letter which I have addressed indiscriminately to all. As your excellency has often fought in contests of the kind before me, it is your present duty to strengthen the hands of those who are in the field and to gather together to this end the bishops of your entire island.

A synodical letter should be sent to myself and the bishop of Constantinople and to any others whom you think fit; that by universal consent Origen himself may be expressly condemned and also the infamous heresy of which he was the author.

I have learned that certain calumniators of the true faith, named Ammonius, Eusebius, and Euthymius, filled with a fresh access of enthusiasm in behalf of the heresy, have taken ship for Constantinople, to ensnare with their deceits as many new converts as they can and to confer anew with the old companions of their impiety. Let it be your care, therefore, to set forth the course for handling the matter to all the bishops throughout Isauria and Pamphylia and the rest of the neighboring provinces: moreover, if you think fit, you can add my letter, so that all of us gathered together in one spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ may deliver these men unto Satan for the destruction of the impiety which possesses them (1 Cor. 5:4,5). And to ensure the speedy arrival of my dispatches at Constantinople, send a diligent messenger, one of the clergy (as I send fathers from the monasteries of Nitria with others also of the monks, learned men and continent) that when they arrive they may be able themselves to relate what has been done.

Above all I beg of you to offer up earnest prayers to the Lord that we may be able in this contest also to gain the victory; for no small joy has filled the hearts of the people both in Alexandria and throughout all Egypt, because a few men have been expelled from the Church that the body of it might be kept pure. Salute the brothers who are with you. The people with us salute you in the Lord.

Sozomen writes,

Theophilus wrote to the bishops of every city, condemning the books of Origen. It also occurred to him that it would be advantageous to enlist Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, on his side, a man who was revered for his life, and was the most distinguished of his contemporaries; and he therefore formed a friendship with him, although he had formerly blamed him for asserting that God possessed a human form. As if repentant of having ever entertained any other sentiment, Theophilus wrote to Epiphanius to acquaint him that he now held the same opinions as himself, and to move attacks against the books of Origen, as the source of such nefarious dogmas. Epiphanius had long regarded the writings of Origen with peculiar aversion, and was therefore easily led to attach credit to the epistle of Theophilus. He soon after assembled the bishops of Cyprus together, and prohibited the examination of the books of Origen.

St. Epiphanius wrote a letter to St. Jerome, in which he describes the success of his council, covered at the suggestion of Pope Theophilus, with a copy of its synodical letter, and urges him to go on with his work of translating into Latin documents bearing on the Origenistic controversy:

The presbyter Jerome, Epiphanius sends a greeting, in the Lord.

The general epistle written to all Catholics belongs particularly to you; for you, having a zeal for the faith against all heresies, particularly oppose the disciples of Origen and of Apollinaris; whose poisoned roots and deeply planted impiety almighty God has dragged forth into our midst, that having been unearthed at Alexandria they might wither throughout the world.

For know, my beloved son, that Amalak has been destroyed root and branch and that the trophy of the cross has been set up on the hill of Rephidim. For as when the hands of Moses were held up on high Israel prevailed, so the Lord has strengthened His servant Theophilus to plant His standard against Origen on the altar of the church of Alexandria; that in him might be fulfilled the words : "Write this for a memorial, for I will utterly put out Origen’s heresy from under heaven together with that of Amelek himself."

And that I may not appear to be repeating the same things over and over and thus to be making the same my letter tedious, I send you the actual missive written to me that you may know what Theophilus has said to me, and what a great blessing the Lord has granted to my last days in approving the principles which I have always proclaimed by the testimony of so great a prelate.

I fancy that by this time you also have published something and that, as I suggested in my former letter to you on this subject, you have elaborated a treatise for readers of your own language. For I hear that certain of those who have been shipwrecked have come also to the West, and that, not content with their own destruction, they desire to involve others in death with them; as if they thought that the multitude of sinners lessens the guilt of sin and the flames of Gehenna do not grow in size in proportion as more logs are heaped upon them.

With you and by you we send our best greetings to the reverend brothers who are with you in the monastery serving God.


The Origenists went to Constantinople where St. John Chrysostom received them joyfully, perhaps for his love of the Egyptian monks or to reconcile them with their Pope. In his Homilies on Matthew, Chrysostom says that the sky with its stars is not in the brightness of the desert of Egypt with its monks; and elsewhere he says that the Egyptians feed the bodies of the Constontinoplians with their wheat, and their hearts with their faith.

St. Chrysostom opened his heart and his residency to them; and the deaconess, widows and virgins served them, the matter on which Pope Theophilus blamed them. The Origenists asked St. Chrysostom to reconcile them with their Pope, so that they might return to Egypt.

Palladius who hated Pope Theophilus describes those monks’ approach of St. John Chrysostom, saying,

The monks then were forced by necessity to move about from place to place, and they finally reached the capital, where Bishop John had been installed by God’s hand for the spiritual guidance of our rulers.

They fell down at his knees, imploring him to help souls plundered and abandoned by those more accustomed to this action than to doing good. John arose and beheld fifty sincere men with habits worn gray with their holy labors. Stung to the quick by his feelings of brotherly love as was Joseph, he burst into tears and asked them: "What sort of boar of the wood... or singular wild beast has been doing mischief to this fruitful vine?"

Then they said: "Please be seated, father, and bind up the horrible wounds we have suffered because of Pope Theophilus’ madness, if indeed you can heal our swollen wounds. For if you cannot speak up for us either out of respect or fear of Theophilus, so is the case with other bishops. Then the only thing left for us to do is to approach the emperor and acquaint him with the man’s evil actions, thereby bringing ill fame to the Church. If you have any interest in the well-being of the Church, then, consider our petition and please persuade Theophilus to allow us to go to our home in Egypt. We have done no wrong against the law of the Savior or against him."



Palladius says,

John thought he could easily change Theophilus’ bad feeling towards the monk and willingly took up the matter. He called them together and instructed them for the love of God they should not reveal the reason for their presence "until I send word to my brother Theophilus." He gave them quarters in the Church of the Resurrection for sleeping, but did not provide for other necessities of life. Some pious women brought their daily sustenance, and they themselves helped to some extent by the labor of their own hands.

There happened at that time to be some of Theophilus’ clergy in Constantinople, who had come to buy offices from newly appointed officials in the Egyptian province. Some of them were courting favor with him by helping to destroy those who were harassing him. So John called them in to ask if they knew the ascetics who were present. They willingly gave a good report of them, saying: "We know them and they have suffered great violence. But if it please you, master, do not allow them communion in the spiritual feast as it will annoy the Pope (Theophilus), but be considerate of them in every other respect. That would be more fitting for you as bishop."

St. Chrysostom sent to Pope Theophilus, interceding for the monks, telling him their complaint and defending them and Origen, and asking forgiveness for the monks. He writes that he is in a critical position and does not know what he could do.

Palladius also writes,

So John did not receive them into communion, but did write a letter to Theophilus beseeching him: "Please do me the favor as your son and your brother and take these men in your arms."

Theophilus did not grant them that favor, but he did send along certain men well practiced in verbal disputation-we spoke about them above-and he had prepared them to present requirements which he had laid down as was his custom. These contained false statements including every sort of accusation regarding their spiritual life, since he found nothing wrong in their lives outwardly. Thus he prepared the way for them to be pointed out at the palace as frauds.

Pope Theophilus was very angry, specially when he knew that they participated in the public worship, although St. Chrysostom asked them not to receive the holy communion till he would receive an answer from the Pope.




Palladius says,

The ascetics then saw they not only could not correct his view but acutely incited him to greater anger, and they sent him a delegation of worthy men declaring that they had anathematized all false doctrine. Then they gave a petition to John which explained the various forms of tyranny from which they suffered along with certain subjects I should be ashamed to speak of before young people. I fear that in doing so I should shake their faith in the veracity of my statements. I am sure that even more advanced souls might not even believe me.

Then John himself and through other bishops called on them to drop their accusations against Theophilus because of the mortification of such a trial. He wrote to Theophilus: "The men are driven to such a degree of distress that they are filing a formal indictment against you. Answer them as seems best to you, for they refuse to leave the capital for me."

Theophilus was greatly incensed at this. He suspended the brother of the monks from his own church, namely Bishop Dioscorus, who had grown old in the service. Then he wrote to Bishop Dioscorus, who had grown old in the service :"I believe that you are not aware of the order of the Canons of Nicea where they declare: " A bishop may not judge a case beyond his boundaries’; if so (and you know it full well), drop these charges against me. For if it were necessary for me to be judged, it should be by Egyptian judges, and not here with you at the distance of a seventy-five day’s journey."





Sozomen writes,

Some time subsequently, Ammonius and his companions presented themselves before the wife of the emperor, as she was riding out, and complained of the machinations of Theophilus against them. She knew what had been plotted against them; and she stood up in honor of them; and, leaning forward from her royal chariot, she nodded, and said to them, "Pray for the emperor, for me, for our children, and for the empire. For my part, I shall shortly cause a council to be convened, to which Theophilus shall be summoned." Due to a false report that prevailed in Alexandria, that John had received Dioscorus and his companions into communion, and had afforded them every aid and encouragement in his power, Theophilus began to adopt a strategy in order to eject John from his episcopate.

Palladius writes,

John received the letter and read it, but kept it to himself, and the matter of peace was discussed with the ascetics of both parties. Both sides were exasperated at hearing him, the one because they had been subjected to tyranny, the other because they could have no power to enforce peace without Theophilus. It had been at his orders that they brought forth the petitions of false accusation. John had given his answer and had then put the whole matter out of his mind.

Then the monks of the aggrieved party withdrew and brought up a long petition charging the other party of monks as being guilty of libel-and all the rest about Theophilus-lest I say any more of what everyone knows full well already. They came and made an appeal to their majesties in the Shrine of Saint John. They approached the Empress and begged that the case of the defendant monks be thoroughly investigated by the prefects. They begged that Theophilus be judged before John, whether he was willing or not. The petition was made and this was the decree: "Theophilus is to be summoned by the magistrate and must appear, willing or unwilling, to stand trial before John; furthermore, Theophilus’ monks should prove the charges made against the holy men or pay the penalty for falsely accusing them."


So it was that Elaphius, one of the captains, was sent to Alexandria to bring Theophilus. The prefects were carrying out the rest of the empress’ reply. The preliminary trial was held and resulted in a doubtful decision... The wretched monks, fearful of the decision, awaited the arrival of Theophilus who had suggested the petitions and actually dictated them. The military put them into prison as Theophilus was long delayed in coming. He eased the matter along by bribes, and some of the monks were sentenced to be transported to Proconnesus for malicious accusation at the final inquiry.



About this time, the son of the empress was attacked by a dangerous illness, and the mother, apprehensive of consequences, sent to implore St. Epiphanius to pray for him. St. Epiphanius returned the answer, that the sick one would live, provided that she would avoid all intercourse with the heretic Dioscorus and his companions the Origenists.

To this message the empress replied as follows:

"If it be the will of God to take my son, His will be done. The Lord who gave me my child, can take him back again.

You have not power to raise the dead, otherwise your archdeacon would not have died."

She alluded to Chrispion, the archdeacon, who had died a short time previously. He was the brother of two monks called Fuscon and Salamanus, and who had been companions of St. Epiphanius, and had been appointed his archdeacons.




Ammonius and his companions went to St. Epiphanius, at the permission of the empress. Epiphanius inquired who they were, and Ammonius replied, "We are, O father, the Tall Brothers; we come respectfully to know whether you have read any of our works or those of our disciples?" On St. Epiphanius replying that he had not seen them, he continued, "How is it, then, that you consider us to be heretics, when you have no proof as to what sentiments we may hold?" St. Epiphanius said that he had formed his judgment by the reports he had heard on the subject; and Ammonius replied, "We have pursued a very different line of conduct from yours. We have conversed with your disciples, and read your works frequently, and among others, that entitled ‘The Anchored.’ When we have met with persons who have ridiculed your opinions, and asserted that your writings are replete with heresy, we have contended for you, and defended you as our father. Ought you then to condemn the absent upon mere report, and of whom you know nothing with assured certitude, or return such an exchange to those who have spoken well of you?" St. Epiphanius was measurably convinced, and dismissed them. Soon after he embarked for Cyprus, either because he recognized the futility of his journey to Constantinople, or because, as there is reason to believe, God had revealed to him his approaching death; for he died while on his voyage back to Cyprus. It is reported that he said to the bishops who had accompanied him to the place of embarkation, " I leave you the city, the palace, and the stage, for I shall shortly depart."



At the beginning of 403 A.D St. Epiphanius who was about eighty-five years old went to Constantinople, considering this trip an honor to him, for struggling against the most serious heresy, i.e., Origenism.

On his arrival he found things in Constantinople had changed, for the empress hated extremely St. Chrysostom, and desired to get rid of him. St. Epiphanius attacked St. John Chrysostom for receiving those heretics. The Empress Eudoxia who hated St. Chrysostom used Pope Theophilus as a tool for revenge. The council of Oak was held in 403 A.D, under the presidency of Theophilus to condemn St. Chrysostom, who was exiled to Comana (Tokat) where he died on 14 September 407 A.D.

On the demand of the empress, the council was held under the presidency of Theophilus. The problem of the Tall Brothers was not mentioned, and St. Chrysostom was not accused of Origenism, for there was no doubt about his orthodoxy. Besides, the Origenists became almost without leader, for Bishop Dioscorus died shortly before the council was held, and Ammonius who accompanied the Origenist monks died on his arrival at the "Oak." Pope Theophilus mourned exceedingly and praised him, saying that he knows no other monk like him. Herax felt that this problem spoiled his purity and monastic life, therefore he entered the inner desert, devoting his life to worship. In the same year (403 A.D) Isidore also departed from this world. St. John Chrysostom was unable to defend or even to intercede for them, as he was absorbed in his problem with the empress.

It is worthy to mention that on the arrival of the Origenists to the desert, Pope Theophilus sent to them and stretched his arms to them. They apologized to him under the pressure of certain bishops, and the Pope received them without asking them to declare their faith, which meant that the problem in its essence was not doctrinal.








John Meyendorff says,

The question has long been asked whether the Origenism of the sixth century was really the doctrine of the great Alexandrian doctor.

Most historians who devote themselves to the study of Origen adopt a sympathetic and often admiring attitude toward him. Consciously or unconsciously preoccupied by the problem of a Christian witness in a non-Christian world, they are led to admire Origen as a Christian thinker who managed to make himself understood by the pagan Greeks and who created a Christian theology that studiously expressed itself in philosophical categories acceptable to non-Christians. Origen’s merits in this respect are undeniable and most genuine. On the historical level, this personal rehabilitation of Origen has raised the problem of distinguishing between his own ideas and those of his disciples. Was Origen himself, or only a few "Origenists," the cause of the troubles of the fourth and the sixth centuries? The problem consists of knowing whether these Origenists were faithful to their master or had, in fact, corrupted his teaching.

Some historians tend to present the disputed questions of the fourth century, which were finally condemned in the sixth, as having nothing to do with Origen himself.

Henri Crouzel gives a brief account of the history of Origenism. He states that we can distinguish in Origenism six successive moments:

1. The whole of the speculations which, through the incomprehension of his successors, constituted the basis of later Origenism.

2. Origenism as understood by his third and fourth centuries detractors: Methodius, Peter of Alexandria, and Eustathius of Antioch. These were answered by Pamphilus’s Apology of Origen. Besides the pre-existence of the soul and apocatastasis, they contested, through a series of misunderstandings, the doctrine of the resurrected body and of eternal creation.

3. Origenism of the Egyptian and Palestinian monks (in the second half of the fourth century): it was expounded mainly by Evagrus of Pontus in the Kephalaia Gnostica.

Evagrius "scholasticized" Origen’s thought, suppressing its internal tensions and leaving out a great part of his doctrine so as to construct a system with what remained; this was the surest way to make it heretical, since heresy is the suppression and fragmentation of the antitheses that characterize Christian doctrine.

4. The most important moment was Origen as the fourth and fifth centuries anti-Origenists: Epiphanius, Jerome and Theophilus of Alexandria, opposed him, while Origen was defended by John of Jerusalem and Rufinus of Aquileia.

They accused Origen in view of the heresies of their own time, especially Arianism, without asking what were those that he had to face and which determined his particular problems... They never made systematic studies of Origen’s work and they based their accusations on isolated texts, taking no account of the explanations often found in other passages in the same book, sometimes only a few lines away.

The battle began with Epiphanius, metropolitan of Salamis or Constantia in Cyprus: he classified Origen’s "heresy" together with those that filled his Ancoratus and his Panarion, and insisted on obtaining a condemnation of Origen from bishop John of Jerusalem. In 393 A.D a certain Atarbius, by what right we do not know, made a round of the convents of Palestine gathering signatures for Origen’s condemnation. He was received by Rufinus in his convent on the Mount of Olives, against all expectation he was welcomed by Jerome, until then an ardent defender of Origen, in his monastery at Bethlehem. The battle grew more bitter, with Rufinus and John against Jerome and Epiphanius. A reconciliation was reached between Rufinus and Jerome, but the dispute was revived when Rufinus, back in Rome, translated book I of Pamphilus’s Apologia, followed by the Peri Archon (De Principiis), a manuscript which, purloined by Eusebius of Cremona, a monk and friend of Jerome, scandalized Jerome’s Roman friends. They obliged Jerome to make a new translation of the Peri Archon which, with the intention of being literal, highlighted Origen’s heresies and Rufinus’s inexactitudes, and did everything to embitter thoughts. Meanwhile the patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, was chosen to arbitrate between the two contending parties. At first favorable to Origen, in the interests of the Politics of the Patriarchate, he changed sides, expelled the auxiliary bishop Isidore and the "Tall Brothers", and obtained the deposition of John Chrysostom who had given them asylum in Constantinople. He condemned Origen at a regional synod in 400 A.D: these events had immediate repercussions in the West, thanks to Jerome, and are echoed in two letters of Anastasius of Rome. This first dispute terminated in 402 A.D with Rufinus’s silence.

5. The Origenistic controversy flared up in the first half of the sixth century, being described in detail in the "Life of St. Saba" by Cyril of Scythopolis. Origenism had been propagated especially in the New Laura, near Jerusalem. Origenism or rather the Evagrianism was also propagated among the Palestinian monks who lived in monasteries under the obedience of St. Sabas. The main expression of their doctrine is the Book of St. Hierotheus, the work of the Syrian monk Stephen bar Sudayle, who aggravated Evagrius’s Origenist "scholasticism" into a radical pantheism. Between Justinian’s first and second interventions, these Origenists were divided into two groups.

J. Meyendorff states that recent studies have shed new light on Evagrius Ponticus, who was the great interpreter in the fourth century of Origenist ideas to Egyptian and Palestinian monks. He and not Origen is the one responsible of the Origen system. He says,

The recent publication of Evagrius Ponticus’ Gnostic Chapters, in which the doctrine condemned in 553 (A.D) is found, makes it possible to measure all the significance of the decisions of the fifth council. The assembly’s target was not a phantom Origenism but the genuine doctrines of one of the spiritual masters of Eastern monasticism, Evagrius.

The Origenist monks at Jerusalem split into two parties:

a. The extremists were called Isochristi, since they held that both at the beginning and at the end all the "minds" are equal to Christ: his superiority over them is only provisional; he had no part in the original sin.

b. The moderates, whose tardy alliance with the anti-Origenists led to the condemnation of the Isochristi, were called Protoctists, since they attributed to Christ a superiority over the other minds. They seem to have regarded the soul of Christ not as equal to the other souls but as the most excellent of creatures. They, after renouncing the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, made common cause with the orthodox against the Isochrists. Their opponents inflicted the surname tetraditi on them, accusing them of transforming the Trinity into a tetrad by introducing Christ’s humanity into it.

6. They presumed Origenism against which the emperor Justinian’s condemnatory documents were directed.



Two important letters of Emperor Justinian describe the doctrinal problem posed by Origenism in the sixth century. The first is one addressed in 543 A.D to the five patriarchs, but better known as the Letter to Menas, Patriarch of Constantinople, in which Origen is numbered among the most pernicious heretics.

Upon the Emperor’s command a Council was convoked at Constantinople in 543 A.D, and an edict drawn up in accordance with Justinian’s views giving a long list of Origenistic errors and their refutation.

The second imperial letter was addressed to the council of 553 A.D.

The Origenisic controversy was ended by the (Second) Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D, which approved fifteen anathematizes. Anathematizes 2, 3, 4, and 5, condemn very precisely these Origenist ideas on the Origens of the world and on the nature of the hierarchy that diversifies beings (Anathemas 2 and 4).

The first anathema of the fifth council is devoted to the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls.

The doctrine of apocatastasis is again condemned in the terms that Origen liked to use in the De Principiis (Anathema 15).

According to Origen, Satan himself would have his place as a spiritual creature of God in the restored intellectual universe, evidently after ceasing to be God’s enemy. This point is condemned by name in the twelfth anathematism. Only the material bodies are fated to disappear, according to Origen. Hence the eleventh anathema.

Undoubtedly, the Letter to Menas of the Emperor Justinian and the anathematisms of the fifth council do not always present a faithful picture of Origen. Their criticisms are based always and solely on the De Principiis. As is well-known, Origen was generally far more reticent in his other works, especially his commentaries, about the more dubious points of his doctrine, for example, the problem of the resurrection of the body. Some of the condemned doctrines, especially relating to the spherical form of the risen body of Christ (Anathema 10), have no parallel in the known texts of Origen. It must, however, be pointed out that the name of Didymus is attached to those of Origen and Evagrius in the contemporary sources that speak of the condemnations of 553 A.D. It is therefore a priority possible that the tenth anathematism is concerned with one of his lost writings.




1. If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.

2. If anyone shall say that the creation of all reasonable things includes only intelligences without bodies and altogether immaterial, having neither number nor name, so that there is unity between them all by identity of substance, force and energy, and by their union with and knowledge of God the Word; but that no longer desiring the sight of God, they gave themselves over to worse things, each one following his own inclinations, and that they have taken bodies more or less subtle, and have received names, for among the heavenly Powers there is a difference of names as there is also difference of bodies; and thence some became and are called Cherubim, others Seraphim, and Principalities, and Powers, and Dominations, and Thrones, and Angels, and as many other heavenly orders as there may be: let him be anathema.

3. If anyone shall say that the sun, the moon and the stars are also reasonable beings, and that they have only become what they are because they turned towards evil: let him be anathema.

4. If anyone shall say that the reasonable creatures in whom the divine love had grown cold have been hidden in gross bodies such as ours, and have been called men, while those who have attained the lowest degree of wickedness have shared cold and obscure bodies and are become and called demons and evil spirits: let him be anathema.

5. If anyone shall say that a psychic condition has come from an angelic or archangelic state, and moreover that a demoniac and a human condition has come from a psychic condition, and that from a human state they may become again angels and demons, and that each order of heavenly virtues is either all from those below or from those above, or from those above and below: let him be anathema.

6. If anyone shall say that there is a twofold race of demons, of which the one includes the souls of men and the other the superior spirits who fell to this, and that of all the number of reasonable beings there is but one which has remained unshaken in the love and contemplation of God, and that that spirit has become Christ and the king of all reasonable beings, and that he has created all the bodies which exist in heaven, on earth, and between heaven and earth; and that the world which has in itself elements more ancient than itself, and which exists by themselves, viz.: dryness, damp, heat and cold, and the image (icon) to which it was formed, was so formed, and that the most holy and consubstantial Trinity did not create the world, but that it was created by the working intelligence which is more ancient than the world, and which communicates to it its being: let him be anathema.

7. If anyone shall say that Christ, of whom it is said that he appeared in the form of God, and that he was united before all time with God, the Word, and humbled Himself in these last days even to humanity, had (according to their expression) pity upon the divers falls which had appeared in the spirits united in the same unity (of which he himself is part), and that to restore them he passed through divers classes, had different bodies and different names, became all to all, an Angel among Angels, a Power among Powers, has clothed Himself in the different classes of reasonable beings with a form corresponding to that class, and finally has taken flesh and blood like ours and has become man for men; [if anyone says all this] and does not profess that God the Word humbled himself and became man: let him be anathema.

8. If anyone shall not acknowledge that God the Word, of the same substance with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and who was made flesh and became man, one of the Trinity, is Christ in every sense of the word, but [shall affirm] that he is so only in an inaccurate manner, and because of the abasement , as they call it, of the intelligence ; if anyone shall affirm that this intelligence united to God the Word, is the Christ in the true sense of the word, while the Logos is only called Christ because of this union with the intelligence, and e converso that the intelligence is only called God because of the Logos: let him be anathema.

9. If anyone shall say that it was not the Divine Logos made man by taking an animated body with a (psychi logicy) and (noera), that he descended into hell and ascended into heaven, but shall pretend that it is the (Nous) which has done this, that (Nous) of which they say (in an impious fashion) he is Christ properly so called, and that he has become so by the knowledge of the Monad: let him be anathema.

10. If anyone shall say that after the resurrection the body of the Lord was ethereal, having the form of a sphere, and that such shall be the bodies of all after the resurrection; and that after the Lord himself shall have rejected his true body and after the others who rise shall have rejected theirs, the nature of their bodies shall be annihilated: let him be anathema.

11. If anyone shall say that the future judgment signifies the destruction of the body and that the end of the story will be an immaterial , and that thereafter there will no longer be any matter, but only spirit (nous): let him be anathema.

12. If anyone shall say that the heavenly Powers and all men and the Devil and evil spirits are united with the Word of God in all respects, as the (Nous) which is by them called Christ and which is in the form of God, and which humbled itself as they say; and [if anyone shall say] that the Kingdom of Christ shall have an end: let him be anathema.

13. If anyone shall say that Christ is in no wise different from other reasonable beings, neither substantially nor by wisdom nor by his power and might over all things but that all will be placed at the right hand of God, as well as he that is called by them Christ, as also they were in the feigned pre-existence of all things: let him be anathema.

14. If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the (gnosis) and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apocatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.

15. If anyone shall say that the life of the spirits (noon) shall be like to the life which was in the beginning while as yet the spirits had not come down or fallen, so that the end and the beginning shall be alike, and that the end shall be the true measure of the beginning: let him be anathema.





Now, I give a brief account of Origen’s doctrinal faults; he himself declared that some of them were introduced into his writings to disfigure his personality.

Henri Crouzel says that Origen was read in the 4th and 5th centuries by theologians preoccupied with heresies. They challenged the Origenism of their time rather than Origen himself, dead for a century and a half.

I have already mentioned the accusations of Origen’s doctrinal faults. The main faults are:

1. The pre-existence of souls.

2. The apokatastasis.

3. The mode of the resurrection.

4. Subordination.

Tixeront states that these Origenist doctrines had not much importance especially in the East, but their effects were felt in the Latin Church.

In the East, St. Demitrius, Pope of Alexandria, condemned Origen and his teachings in a local council. St. Theophilus, Pope of Alexandria, who, after favoring Origen's disciples, became their opponent, succeeded in having his doctrines condemned in a council of Alexandria in the year 399/400 A.D. St. Epiphanius of Selamis also held a council of Cyprus, in the year 399 A.D or 401 A.D, and entered into correspondence with St. Jerome for the purpose of persuading him to translate into Latin his own paschal and synodal letters on the subject.

In the West, St. Jerome at first intensely admired Origen. and St. Ambrose had largely drawn from Origen's writings. It was chiefly Rufinus, however, who by his translation of the "De Principiis (Pari-Arkhon)" in the year 397 A.D, contributed to spread abroad in the West the Origenist doctrines. These doctrines soon found many supporters among priests, monks, and especially among the laity; and - in one way or another - they had their effects on St. Augustine and on Orosius which were held in the name of God's mercy and of the redeeming efficacy of the true faith in Jesus Christ. In the year 400 A.D, Anastasius of Rome condemned Origen's teaching while the Emperor forbade the reading of his books. In 542/3 A.D Emperor Justinian published a long refutation of Origenism as a serious heresy.








From the time of Plato, this idea "Pre-existence of the soul of men" had led many thinkers astray. It seemed to them to provide the solution of this difficult problem: How can the original inequality of souls be explained without calling in question the equitable Providence of God? Plato had already answered the difficulty by the myth of Er the Armenian, and drew this conclusion: God is not responsible; the soul chose her lot before her birth.

St. Clement had rightly set this solution aside. He says, "We did not exist before God made us. For if one were to accept our pre-existence, we should have to know where we were and how and why we have come into this world."

Origen returned to it.



Origen set aside Plato's idea of a transference of souls from one human body to another, and rejected the Pythagorean metempsychosis, which teaches that human souls pass into the bodies of animals.


Origen’s theory is based on the following principals:

1. In his defense of man's freedom and God’s justice against the Gnostics he adopted the theory of the pre-existence of human souls. He states that God - out of His goodness - created rational essences, all of them were equal and alike, and they were granted free will. They had to be advanced by imitating God or to fall away by neglecting Him, to depart from good being tantamount to settling down to evil. He states that all souls are eternal, created by God, and equal to one another.

2. Souls pre-existed, when they fell in sin they were clothed with material bodies and came to the world of sense for purification by imposing punishment upon them. The sins committed by the souls in the preceding world explains the different measure of graces which God bestows on every one and the diversity of men here on earth.

3. When contemplating God’s supreme view of His beloved creature, i.e., man, and God’s close and deep relationship with him, has incited Origen to believe that man’s soul is much greater than to be attributed to this visible world. Erroneously, he believed that the soul existed before the body to which it was assigned as a penalty for its sin. The Alexandrians rejected this Origenist theory, for it deforms the believers’ view of the body and also of the world. In fact this body is not a jail where the soul is imprisoned but is a good divine gift, that helps the soul and partakes with it in all human needs, and will partake with it in the heavenly glory.


Before the ages, they were all pure intelligences, whether demons or souls or angels. One of them, the Devil, since he possessed free will, chose to resist God and God rejected him. Other powers fell away with him becoming demons. Other souls that had not sinned so grievously as to become demons, therefore God made the present world, binding the souls to the bodies as a punishment.

4. Fall is due to the free will which is one of the essential characteristics of rational creatures. Origen emphasizes the personal sins of individuals who have followed Adam's example rather than their solidarity with his guilt. He believes that each one of us was banished from Paradise for his personal transgression.

5. According to Origen, men are pure intelligences fallen from their former splendor and united with bodies which are not evil. He opposed those who condemn the body as the principal of evil, and teaches that evil resides in the will alone.

6. Origen thinks that the sensible world, created by God for the purification of fallen souls, will come to an end when all will have been restored to their original purity.

Under the influence of divine Providence, the world will end in the triumph of the Good. The end will consist in the submission of all to God, as St. Paul says: "God will be all in all" (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:23-28). I will return to this point in my speech on the apokatastasis.

Origen’s system which shaped his cosmology has two main axes: Providence and liberty. It was the will of Providence that all (rational creatures) should possess the good to the same degree, any difference of status among them would have to be accounted for by the use they had made of their freedom. A similar principle governs his eschatology. Sin is the withdrawal of the will from the good. Therefore the only question is to know how free creatures are to return to the good. Origen’s doctrine of the pre-existence of souls is connected with his idea of a universal restoration. At the end death will be conquered and all souls, even demons, will be saved. All rational creatures will be equal at the end.

This similarity between end and beginning must not be taken too strictly to mean a perfect identity and equality: beginning and end are similar because of the submission of all to God, but that does not exclude the possibility of progress between the beginning and the end.

Origen raises several times the question of successive worlds. After this present world others will follow, the results of new failures, due like the first to the weakness of free creatures. Following out the logic of the system, some even came to allow the salvation of the devil: Origen was blamed for this, but he protested that "even an idiot could not hold such a thesis."



II. the pre-existence of souls AND THE HEAVENLY CHURCH

As he believed in the pre-existence of souls, he regards the heavenly Church as the assembly of all the saints, having existed since before creation.




Origen believes that through freedom which is granted to the rational creatures, souls of men are continuously risen up or fallen down, or in unceasing progress in evil or goodness.

These are the souls of men, some of whom, in consequence of their progress, we see taken up into the order of angels, those, namely, who have been made ‘sons of God’ or ‘sons of the resurrection’’ or those who forsaking the darkness have loved the light and have been made ‘sons of the light’; or those who, after winning every fight and being changed into ‘men of peace’, become ‘sons of peace’ and ‘sons of God’; or those who, by mortifying their members which are upon the earth and rising superior not only to their bodily nature but even to the wavering and fragile movements of the soul itself, have ‘joined themselves to the Lord’, being made wholly spiritual, so as to be always ‘one spirit’, with him, judging each individual thing in company with him, until they reach the point when they become perfect ‘spiritual men’ and ‘judge all things’, because their mind is illuminated in all holiness through the word and wisdom of God, while they themselves are utterly incapable of being judged by any man.

When the soul moves away from the good and inclines towards evil it becomes more and more involved in this. Then, unless it turns back, it is rendered brutish by its folly and bestial by its wickedness. And it is carried towards the conditions of unreason and, so to speak, of the watery life. Then, as befits the degree of its fall into evil, it is clothed with the body of this or that irrational animal.



It is noted that Origen (and Evagrius his disciple) who believed in the pre-existence of the soul of man declared that in Christ the Logos dwelt in the soul that pre-exists the body. But the Alexandrians elsewhere outlined the features of the "Incarnate Logos" so powerfully that an idea of the "incarnation of souls" was excluded.

G.W. Butterworth says,

The pre-existence and the future re-incarnation of the human soul was a doctrine that met with much opposition in the Church on account of its obvious connection with Greek and oriental speculation. But it led even Origen himself into a difficulty when he came to discuss the Incarnation. Jesus, as man, possessed a soul. Had this soul a pre-existence, like all others? Origen answered that it had. In the beginning, when other souls were declining from God, the soul of Jesus retained its innocence and continued by its own free choice in such close association with the Word of God that finally habit became changed into nature and an indissoluble union was created. It was this soul, already united with the Word of God, which took flesh of the Virgin Mary and appeared among men. And since there were multitudes of spiritual beings who had never come to earth, Origen supposed that Christ would visit them, too, in their celestial abodes, would assume their nature and would even suffer for them.

Before the ages minds were all pure, both demons and souls and angels, offering service to God and keeping his commandments. But the devil, who was one of them, since he possessed free will, desired to resist God, and God drove him away. With him revolted all the other powers. Some sinned deeply and became demons, others less and became angels; others still less and became archangels; and thus each in turn received the reward for his individual sin. But there remained some souls who had not sinned so greatly as to become demons, nor on the other hand so very lightly as to become angels. God therefore made the present world and bound the soul to the body as a punishment. For God is no ‘respecter of persons,’ that among all these beings who are one nature (for all the immortal beings are rational) he should make some demons, some souls and some angels; rather is it clear that God made one a demon, one a soul and one an angel as a means of punishing each in proportion to its sin. For if this were not so, and souls had no pre-existence, why do we find some new-born babes to be blind, when they have committed no sin, while others are born with no defect at all? But it is clear that certain sins existed before the souls, and as a result of these sins each soul receives a recompense in proportion to its deserts. They are sent forth from God as a punishment, that they must undergo on earth a first judgment. That is why the body is called a frame, because the soul is enclosed within it.





The word "Apokatastisis," which means restoration, re-establishment, with the Latin equivalent restitutio, usually denotes the doctrine of the restoration of all things at the end of time, a doctrine attributed to Origen and to St. Gregory of Nyssa. It means the final restoration of the devil and all rational beings to God's happiness and friendship. The noun apokatastasis and the verb apokathistemi are used by Origen, not very often and in various senses, some of which can be taken to symbolize the final apokatastasis, others the return of the Israelites to their own country from exile.

Origen was the first Christian Universalist. In his youthful work "De Principiis" he taught a final restoration. In commenting on the Pauline phrase "body of Christ," Origen says that this body "is all mankind - rather perhaps the totality of every created thing." But he seems at least to have modified it, and exempted Satan from final repentance and salvation.

The principle that everything which had a beginning must also have an end is one of those referred to by Origen in the Commentary on St. John. But sin is the aversion of the will from God. It would seem, therefore, that in the end God’s patient love will succeed in making all his creatures weary of their unfaithfulness. The most stubborn will eventually give in and consent to love him, and at last even his enemy death will be overcome. But in Origen’s opinion there will be no victory unless there is free submission. The only thing that can give God glory is that all created spirits should freely acknowledge His excellence and love Him for it. The end of the creature is the glory of God and his own perfection; and as God has the whole of time at His disposal, He pursues that end throughout all the aeons in the Pentecost of years. The time will come when God is all in all (1 Cor. 15:. 28); all creatures with free will have returned to Him and his rule will be universal. The whole creation will be restored to its original integrity.

This point in particular was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (of the Chalcedonians) in its first canon under the name of apokatastasis. "If anyone teaches the mythical doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul and the apocatastasis that follows from it, let him be anathema."

Jean Dani�lou states that St. Gregory of Nyssa did in fact formally condemn the idea of the apokatastasis as it was distorted by Origen. He defines it with great precision. "I have heard people maintain that the life of the soul did not begin when the soul was joined to the body; there were souls alive, they say, and grouped in nations in a world of their own before that... Yielding to a sort of inclination towards evil, they lose their wings and come to have bodies. They afterwards return by the same stages and are restored to the heavenly regions... There is thus a kind of cycle, perpetually passing through the same stages; the soul never settles in any one state for ever. People who teach that are simply jumbling things up together and producing a mixture of the tenable and the untenable." That shows what it was that Gregory rejected - the return of the soul to the purely spiritual state it was in originally, the idea of successive lives and the theory of permanent instability. He did not in any way reject the doctrine of the re-establishment to be reconciled with freedom. That is precisely the mystery which man’s gaze cannot fathom. Origen saw clearly enough, then, that there were two things involved: God’s love and man’s freedom. But his attempts to reconcile them led him to put forward two theses, one of which - the metaphysical necessity of the ultimate elimination of evil-safeguards God’s love but destroys man’s freedom, while the other - the perpetual instability of the free-safeguards man’s freedom but destroys God’s love. Gregory of Nyssa was humbler in the face of the mystery of the apocatastasis; he was content with admiring it as the supreme work of a love that would do no violence to free will. To him it stood for the certitude that in Christ salvation had been acquired for man’s "nature" without any possibility of loss, but that the individual still had the power of dissociating himself from it by his own free choice.




Origen - in his letter from Athens to his friends at Alexandria - is protesting against those who attribute to him something he never said, that the devil, the father of malice and perdition, and of those who are excluded from the kingdom of God would be saved. Not even a madman could say that. Origen complains that his teaching is distorted by his enemies like that of St. Paul in 2 Thess. 2:1-3.

I see that similar things are happening to us. For a certain heresiarch with whom I disputed in the presence of many people, in a debate that was written down, took the manuscript from the secretaries, added what he wished to add, took out what he wished to take out, and altered it as seemed to him good: now he is passing it round under our name, insulting us for what he had himself written. Indignant about that, the brethren in Palestine sent a man to me in Athens to get authentic copies from me. But at that time I had neither re-read nor corrected that text, but had lost sight of it, so that it was difficult for me to find it. However, I sent it them and, God is my witness, when I met the man who had distorted my book, I asked him why he had done it and, as if to satisfy me, he said: 'Because I wanted to improve the discussion and to correct it. He corrected it as Marcion and his successor Apelles corrected the Gospel and the Apostle. For, just as these people upset the truth of the Scriptures, so that man, taking away what had really been said, inserted false affirmations to get us accused. But, although they are heretical and impious men who have dared to act in this way, they will nevertheless have God as their judge, those who lend credence to these accusations against us.

J.N.D. Kelly says,

Even the devil, it appears, will participate in the final restoration. When Origen was taken to task on this point, he indignantly protested, according to his later champion Rufinus, that he had held no such theory. But the logic of his system required it, since otherwise God’s dominion would fall short of being absolute and His love would fail of its object; and the doctrine is insinuated, if not explicitly taught, in his writings as well as taken for granted by his adversaries..

H. Crouzel states that in the second chapter of the Apology against Rufinus Jerome says he read a dialogue between Origen and a disciple of Valentinus called Candidus. The first point of the discussion concerned the unity of nature between the Father and the Son and the second was the salvation of the devil. Jerome summarizes it as follows: "Candidus asserts that the devil has a very evil nature which can never be saved. To that Origen rightly replies that it is not because of his substance that the devil is destined to perish, but that he has fallen because of his own will and that he could be saved. Because of that Candidus slanders Origen by representing him as saying that the devil has a nature that must be saved, when in fact Origen refutes Candidus's false objection. Origen, the supreme theologian of free will, and the constant opponent of the Valentinian determinism, replies that it is not one's nature that decides one’s salvation or damnation, but the free choice of the will in accepting or refusing grace. The devil could have been saved if he had not been obstinate in his opposition to God. But Candidus, understanding Origen in terms of his own frame of reference, concludes from this that, for his opponent, the devil is saved by his nature.."




Jaroslav Pelikan says,

Certainly the boldest version of the idea that salvation was a triumph over the devil was Origen's speculation about "the restoration of all things." From his theory of the pre-existence and the pre-historical fall of the soul he drew a corollary about its ultimate destiny; for "the end is always like the beginning." The decisive text for his picture of this "end" was 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, which prophesied the eventual subjection of all enemies, including death, to Christ, and the delivery of the kingdom by Christ to the Father. Then God would be "all in all." The pedagogical process by which this subjection was to be carried out would achieve "salvation," and Origen was prepared to believe "that the goodness of God, through his Christ, may recall all his creatures to one end, even his enemies being conquered and subdued" - not only "the last enemy," death but also the devil, who held the world in his dominion. God would not truly be "all in all" until "the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement. And when death shall no longer exist anywhere, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all."



H. Crouzel says that as for the apocatastasis, scholars have stuck to certain statements in the Treatise On First Principles, interpreted rigidly, without taking account of other declarations in the same book and in other works; instead of explaining the Treatise On First Principles by reference to his work as a whole, they have interpreted the work as a whole according to the ‘system’ they have drawn from the Treatise; and they have defined that ‘system’ by leaving aside all the nuances and refusing to take seriously the numerous discussions between alternatives thus assuming arbitrarily that Origen was committed to one of them.

H. Crouzel states that the main passage on which Origen’s apocatastasis is based is 1 Cor. I5, 23-28, which is about the resurrection of the dead: ‘But each (will be raised) in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet (Ps. 109 [110]:1). The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet (Ps. 8:7). But when it says all things are put in subjection under Him, it is plain that He is excepted to put all things under Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be everything to everyone.

Crouzel says that several questions arise about the use Origen made of these Pauline verses, questions which must be answered, not from isolated texts but from his work as a whole.

1. Does Origen represent this restoration as incorporeal?

2. As pantheistic?

3. Is it for him absolutely universal, implying the return to grace of the demons and the damned, and does he attach to this universality, if there is universality, the status of dogmatic affirmation, or is it simply a great hope?

4. Whence comes Origen’s insistence on this Pauline text and on the ‘restoration of all things’?

1. As for an incorporeal apocatastasis, we would explain that Origen declares that the risen body will be spiritual, and it will be sheltered from death. At the end of this chapter we will mention the destiny of the body, if it will be changed or totally dissoluted. The question would seem superfluous after all we have said about the resurrection of the body.

In the Dialogue with Heraclides, Origen says,

It is absolutely impossible that the spiritual should become a corpse or that the spiritual should become unconscious: if in fact it is possible for the spiritual to become a corpse, it is to be feared that after the resurrection, when our body will be raised according to the word of the Apostle: it is sown a physical body and raised a spiritual body, we should all die. In fact Christ raised from the dead dies no more, but those who are in Christ raised from the dead will die no more.

2. Is Origen’s apocatastasis pantheistic? Does it imply that the final union of the spiritual creatures with God and with each other will be effected by the dissolution of their ‘hypostaseis’, that is of their substances and personalities?

Origen often expresses the unity of the believer with God by I Cor. 6:I7 ‘But he who is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with Him’, a replica of Gen. 2:24, quoted in the same verse: ‘The two shall become one flesh’. Between the believer and the Lord, as between the husband and the wife, there is both union and duality. There is no trace of pantheism there.

On the subject of the union with God the Father and with Christ which will characterize the life of the blessed, let us quote among others two texts. The first is from the Commentary on John:

Then all those who have come to God by the Word who is near Him will have a unique activity, to comprehend God, so as to become formed in the knowledge of the Father, all being together exactly a son, as now the Son alone knows the Father.

The second phase is in Contra Celsus 6:17:

The Stoics may destroy everything in a conflagration if they wish. But we do not recognize that an incorporeal being is subject to a conflagration, or that the soul of man is dissolved into fire, or that this happens to the being of angels, or thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or power.

In the first, the diakosmesis, that is the organization of the world, the latter emerges gradually from the divine fire, a God represented as material; in the second the ekpyrosis, the conflagration, the world is again absorbed little by little in the divine fire.

3. Did Origen profess a universal apocatastasis, including the return to grace of the demons and the damned? Origen complains that he is said to hold the opinion that the devil will be saved.

The study of certain passages about 'eternal fire' would show Origen more inclined to accept eternal punishment for the demons than for men.

If the free will of man, accepting or refusing God's advances, plays such a role in Origen's thought, how could he become certain that all human and demonic beings, in their freedom would allow themselves to be touched and would adhere to God in the apocatastasis?

He seems to preserve the hope that the Word of God will attain such force of persuasion that without violation of free will, it will in the end overcome all resistance.








Perhaps no doctrine was so peculiarly nauseating to Origen as the Jewish-Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body.

Justinian charged Origen with the denial that the bodies will be raised. According to the letter of Justinian to the patriarch Menas, Origen affirmed that "in the resurrection the bodies of men rise spherical." This heresy was condemned in the Second Council of Constantinople. Henry Chadwick explains Origen’s doctrine according to the Emperor Justinian and the Council of Constantinople in the following points:

I. Origen’s first attack against the risen bodies is the nature of the body (soma).

II. Origen’s second line of attack is the contention that at death the body returns into its constituent elements, and although the composing elements do not in any sense cease to exist, yet they cannot be put together again in their original form.

III. Origen scores a palpable hit when he asks what will happen to the bodies of people eaten by wild beasts, since, just as the food we eat is absorbed by the veins and becomes part of the constitution of our body, so also men’s bodies devoured by animals become part of them.

Just as the food which we eat is assimilated into our body and changes its characteristics, so also our bodies are transformed in carnivorous birds and beasts and become parts of their bodies; and again, when their bodies are eaten by men or by other animals, they are changed back again and become the bodies of men or of other animals.

IV. Origen’s fourth objection is that if the flesh is to rise again in the same form, then what use is going to be found for its organs? Are we serious to suppose; he asks, that the wicked are going to be provided with teeth to gnash with? If the simple view of the resurrection is accepted, then risen bodies will have the same needs as earthly bodies; we shall need to eat and drink in the heavenly places; some use will have to be found for our hands and feet.




I. Some scholars see that this charge is not yet confirmed, for Origen in his writings concerning the spiritual body which will be risen was defending the Church doctrine in the resurrection of the body against two different ideas:

a. The crude literalism which pictured the body as being reconstituted, with all its physical functions on the last day.

b. The perverse spiritualism of the Gnostics and Manicheans, who proposed to exclude the body from salvation.

The explanation he advanced started with the premises that "the material substream" of all bodies, including men, is in a state of constant flux, its qualities changing from day to day, whereas they all possess a "distinctive form" which remains unchanged. The development of a man from childhood to age is an illustration, for his body is identically the same throughout despite its complete physical transformation; and the historical Jesus provides another, since His body could at one time be described as without form or comeliness (Is 53:2), while at another it was clothed with the splendor of the Transfiguration.

II. It is difficult to know how far the opinions attributed to Origen by Justinian really go back to Origen himself rather than merely to the monks of the New Laura in the sixth century. The monks were the immediate cause of Justinian’s action and no doubt the Origenists held views which were a definite advance on the modest speculations of their master. At least, one of the anathemas of the council at Constantinople is now known to be a quotation from Evagrius Ponticus and not from Origen at all, so that it is clear that Justinian was not too careful to verify his references. It is therefore vital to distinguish between Origen and those who claimed to be his followers.

III. The nearest approach that Origen makes to this doctrine is in the well-known passage, De Oratione 3I:3, and it has been thought that it was the superficial reading of this passage which led to this doctrine being attributed to Origen.

IV. There is an even greater difficulty than in De Principiis in which Origen had committed himself. It becomes very difficult to see why this was not mentioned in the Origenistic controversy at the end of the fourth century. In fact, the greatest difficulty in the way of supposing Origen to have asserted the sphericity of the resurrection body is that neither Jerome nor Methodius say so. Both would have had every reason to mention this point, since it was their immediate object to draw attention to the offensive aspects of his doctrine.

In his letter to Eustochium consoling her upon the death of her mother, Paula, Jerome relates how Paula once met with a follower of Origen who raised doubts in her mind about the resurrection of the flesh, asking whether there would be sexual differentiation in the next world, and maintaining that risen bodies would be tenuia et spiritualia. Jerome says that he went to the man and cross-questioned him; finding his answers unsatisfactory, he replied for him and drew his inferences from the other’s premises; the risen Christ had shown his hands and feet- "ossa audis et carnem, pedes et manus; et globos mihi Stoicorum atque aeria quaedam deliramenta confingis," Again, it is difficult to know how far this is to be taken seriously; it reads as if Jerome is assuming that because the Origenists deny physical resurrection they must therefore follow the Stoics in supposing that disembodied souls are spherical. What Origen really did say is preserved by Methodius and Jerome.

So the body has well been called a river, since strictly speaking its primary substance does not perhaps remain the same even for two days; yet Paul or Peter are always the same, not merely with respect to the soul..., because the form which characterizes the body remains the same, so that the marks which are characteristic of the physical quality of Peter and Paul remain constant; it is because of the preserving of this quality that scars caused in our youth persist in our bodies, and so with certain other peculiarities, moles and similar marks.

It is this same physical form (that which characterizes Peter and Paul) which the soul will again possess in the resurrection, though the form will then be much improved; but it will not be exactly as it was on earth. For just as a man has roughly the same appearance from infancy to old age, even if his features seem to undergo much change, so also there will be the same sort of relation between the earthly form and that to come. It will be the same although it will also be vastly improved. The reason for this is that wherever the soul is it has to have a body suitable for the place where it finds itself; if we were going to live in the sea we should need fins and scales like fish; if we are to live in heaven, then we shall need spiritual bodies. The earthly form is not lost, just as the form of Jesus did not become quite different on the mount of the Transfiguration.

R. Cadiou states,

Origen held that this dogma is to be interpreted in the light of the knowledge we have, aided by the word of God... We know that our bodies are not substantially the same from one day to another. A continual process of renewal is ever at work in the flesh and the tissues. But over against this, there is, even in physical life, a principle of continuity or an individuality. That continuity or that individuality is made evident to us by a totality of external characteristics, by one form proper to Peter and by another form proper to Paul. Despite the ceaseless process of renewal, there is a definite persistence; particularities, personal marks, even scars are involved in that persistence...

The spiritual world is a new environment. The body becomes refined there, being made spiritual and being rendered capable of understanding things which it has hither to been unable to grasp. Origen did not consider it necessary to accept literally the Scriptural metaphors, such as the parable of Lazarus or the story of the just man. He held that the materia prima of the body does not rise from the dead, at least not in its entirety. In spite of that fact, however, the risen individual is recognizable, just as Jesus, Moses, and Elias were recognizable after death.

Origen’s use of those three great names as part of his argument was quite enough to startle his public, and he found it expedient to give a further explanation of his theory. This explanation appeared in one of his subsequent commentaries. "I affirm, with an absolute faith, that Christ was the first to ascend into heaven in His flesh." He further stated that, in the ascension, the body of Christ was already purged of all human weaknesses at the heavenly altar. It is to be noted that he made no such assumptions in regard to Enoch or Elias.

As against his opponents Origen also denied that any argument for the physical resurrection of the flesh could be based on the narratives in the Gospels about the resurrection of Jesus. For the body of Jesus was sui generis, as is immediately apparent from consideration of his virgin birth. Admittedly he ate and drank after the resurrection and showed the disciples his hands, his feet, and his side; yet he can pass through locked doors, and while breaking bread can vanish out of their sight. And even before the resurrection certain things said about Jesus in the Gospels do not in any way correspond with our normal physical experience, as for example in the Transfiguration. It is clear to any careful reader of the Gospels that Jesus appeared differently to different people, and had many aspects, so that his appearance varied according to the spiritual capacity of the beholder.





R. Cadiou says,

From the first moment of its appearance this new theory of the resurrection of the body evoked such a storm of criticism that Origen saw the need for a careful and scientific exposition of his views. He was further led to this decision by the fact that Christian beliefs about the life after death were beginning to seize the attention of thinkers outside the church. Possible explanations of this change in the non-Christian philosophical world are to be found in the growth of Aristotelianism, the emergence of a philosophical outlook that was not wholly Greek, and the reverence that Christians were beginning to pay, openly and without any effort at concealment, to the relics of the holy martyrs. Besides, Tertullian had already written on this subject of the resurrection after death. Hippolytus would soon do the same, at the request of Empress Mammaea, who was not a Christian. In view of all these considerations, Origen determined to write a theological treatise on the problem. Known to literary history as the Treatise on the Resurrection, it consisted of two parts.

In the first part (of the Treatise on the Resurrection) Origen made his confession of faith: we shall rise from the dead with our own bodies. In the case of a holy martyr who suffers the torments of prison life, of the scourgings, of the conflicts in the arena, or of a death on the cross, will such a witness for the faith be recompensed in his soul only? Consider also the martyrdoms borne by the Christian soul in a life of daily mortification. All such sufferings concern the body more than they do the soul, because it is by the passions of the body that we are subjected to temptation. In the body, then, merit is acquired. In this first part of his work Origen did not hesitate to employ several of the traditional arguments which had already been used by Tertullian and by the majority of the Christian apologists.

After making his profession of faith in the Christian tradition of the resurrection of the body, he proceeded, in the second part, to his justification of it. He knew that his task was to expound a Christen belief to men who were not Christians.


Criticism Of The Treatise

The Treatise on the Resurrection taught that, with the unique exception of God, no spirit is utterly incorporeal. The soul always possesses the virtualities of a physical life proportioned to its needs. Besides, the physical organism always tends to adapt itself to the function or set of functions which it has cultivated. The gross and earthly condition of the soul, as we know it here below, is the result of a diminution of spiritual activity. If the primary union between God and the individual intelligence is re-established, the entire body sees God, understands Him, and knows Him. Every step taken by the soul in the direction of such a re-establishment makes it more capable of contemplating the goodness of God.




Kelly says,

His task was the twofold one of expounding the truth against

(a) the crude literalism which pictured the body as being reconstituted, with all its physical functions, at the last day, and

(b) the perverse spiritualism of the Gnostics and Manicheans, who proposed to exclude the body from salvation.

The explanation he advanced started with the premises that the "material substratum" of all bodies, including men, is in a state of constant flux, its qualities changing from day to day, whereas they all possess a "distinctive form" which remains unchanging. The development of a man from childhood to age is an illustration, for his body is identically the same throughout despite its complete physical transformation; and the historical Jesus provides another, since His body could at one time be described as without form or comeliness (Isa. 53,2), while at another it was clothed with the splendor of the Transfiguration.

From this point of view the resurrection becomes comprehensible. The bodies with which the saints will rise will be strictly identical with the bodies they bore on earth, since they will have the same "form", or eidos. On the other hand, the qualities of their material substrata will be different, for instead of being fleshy qualities appropriate to terrestrial existence, they will be spiritual ones suitable for the kingdom of heaven. The soul "needs a better garment for the purer, ethereal and celestial regions;" and the famous Pauline text, 1 Cor. 14,42-4, shows that this transformation is possible without the identity being impaired. As he explains the matter, when the body was at the service of the soul, it was "psychic;" but when the soul is united with God and becomes one spirit with Him, the selfsame body becomes spiritual, bodily nature being capable of donning the qualities appropriate to its condition.


His endeavor to uphold a spiritual doctrine of the resurrection of the body was misinterpreted by Methodius, St. Jerome and others as an attack upon the Church’s faith. According to St. Jerome Origen believes that the bodies will be resolved into the divine nature. St. Jerome writes, "And after a very long discussion, in which he asserts that all bodily nature must be changed into spiritual bodies of extreme fineness and that the whole of matter must be transformed into a single body of the utmost purity, clearer than all brightness and of such a quality as the human mind cannot conceive. At the close he states: And God shall be all in all, so that the whole of bodily nature may be resolved into that substance which is superior to all others, namely, into the divine nature, than which nothing can be better."

In his "De Principiis" Origen write,

It must needs be that the nature of bodies is not primary, but that it was created at intervals on account of certain falls that happened to rational beings, who came to need bodies; and again, that when their restoration is perfectly accomplished these bodies are dissolved into nothing, so that this is forever happening...

Everyone who shares in anything is undoubtedly of one substance and one nature with him who shares in the same thing. For example, all eyes share in the light, and therefore all eyes, which share in the light, are of one nature. But though every eye shares in the light, yet since one eye sees clearly and another dimly, every eye does not share equally in the light. Again; all hearing receives the voice and sound, and therefore all hearing is of one nature; but each person is quick or slow to hear in proportion to the pure and healthy condition of his hearing faculty. Now let us pass from these examples drawn from the senses to the consideration of intellectual things.

Every mind which shares in intellectual light must undoubtedly be of one nature with every other mind which shares similarly in this light. If then the heavenly powers receive a share of intellectual light, that is, of the divine nature, in virtue of the fact that they share in wisdom and sanctification, and if the soul of man receives a share of the same light and wisdom, then these beings will be of one nature and one substance with each other. But the heavenly powers are incorruptible and immortal; undoubtedly therefore the substance of the soul of man will also be incorruptible and immortal. And not only so, but since the nature of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom alone belongs the intellectual light in which the universal creation has a share, is incorruptible and eternal, it follows logically and of necessity that every existence which has a share in that eternal nature must itself also remain forever incorruptible and eternal, in order that the eternity of the divine goodness may be revealed in this additional fact, that they who obtain its blessings are eternal too. Nevertheless, just as in our illustrations we acknowledged some diversity in the reception of the light, when we described the individual power of sight as being either dim or keen, so also we must acknowledge a diversity of participation in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, varying in proportion to the earnestness of the soul and the capacity of the mind.

Origen confirms the change of the body and not its dissolution, saying,

Our flesh indeed is considered by the uneducated and by unbelievers to perish so completely after death that nothing whatever of its substance is left. We, however, who believe in its resurrection, know that death only causes a change in it and that its substance certainly persists and is restored to life again at a definite time by the will of its Creator and once more undergoes a transformation; so that what was at first flesh, ‘of the earth earthy’, and was then dissolved through death and again made ‘dust and ashes’,-for ‘dust you are’, it is written, ‘and unto dust shall you return’-is raised again from the earth and afterwards, as the merits of the ‘indwelling soul’ shall demand, advances to the glory of a ‘spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15:44).


In his speech of death, Origen says,

It is on this account, moreover, that the last enemy, who is called death, is said to be destroyed; in order, namely, that there may be no longer any sadness when there is no death nor diversity when there is no enemy. For the destruction of the last enemy must be understood in this way, not that its substance which was made by God shall perish, but that the hostile purpose and will which proceeded not from God but from itself will come to an end. It will be destroyed, therefore, not in the sense of ceasing to exist, but of being no longer an enemy and no longer death.

Cadiou states, "At this point Origen warned his readers of the prevailing habit of using the word "flesh" in discussions on the resurrection of the body. He held that in such discussions the word should be understood in a broader sense. It must not be forgotten that the state of glory is like that of the angels. In that higher life the body does not sin, for it is no longer subject to the infirmities or the corruption that mark our life on earth. It becomes, in the resurrection, a flesh with which we can please God. The Apostle, desiring to tell us that after our departure from this life of misery we shall be called to glory, says that "all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Pursuing this line of thought, Origen remarked that we speak of the flesh as dust because of the lowly element from which the flesh comes."




From this comparison we may gain an idea how great is the beauty, how great the splendor and how great the brightness of a spiritual body, and how true is the saying that ‘eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive what things God has prepared for them that love Him’ (1 Cor. 2:9). But we must not doubt that the nature of this present body of ours may, through the will of God who made it what it is, be developed by its creator into the quality of that exceedingly refined and pure and splendid body, according as the condition of things shall require and the merits of the rational being shall demand.

Of this body the same apostle has also said that ‘we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’ (Rom. 8:21), that is, in the dwelling-places of the blest. From this statement we may then form a conjecture of what great purity, what extreme fineness, what great glory is the quality of that body, by comparing it with those bodies which, although heavenly and most splendid, are yet made with hands and visible. For of that body it is said that it is a house not made with hands but ‘eternal in the heavens’ (2 Cor. 5:1).

The whole argument, then, comes to this, that God has created two universal natures, a visible, that is, a bodily one, and an invisible one, which is incorporeal. These two natures each undergo their own different changes. The invisible, which is also the rational nature, is changed through the action of the mind and will by reason of the fact that it has been endowed with freedom of choice; and as a result of this it is found existing sometimes in the good and sometimes in its opposite. The bodily nature, however, admits of a change in substance, so that God the Artificer of all things, in whatever work of design or construction or restoration he may wish to engage, has at hand the service of this material for all purposes, and can transform and transfer it into whatever forms and species he desires, as the merits of things demand. It is to this, clearly, that the prophet points when he says, ‘God who makes and transforms all things’(Amos 5:8 LXX).



R. Cadiou states that according to Origen in heaven our Lord no longer bears the wounds of His passion, but He wished to leave to His followers the memory of His bruised and humiliated flesh. At that time their souls were not advanced enough in the path of His love to see Him as He really was in the splendor of His glory.




He is accused of teaching subordinationism, i.e., the Son is subordinate to the Father and is inferior to Him, and the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Son. J. Quasten says, "That he teaches subordinationism has been affirmed and denied. St. Jerome does not hesitate to accuse him of doing so, while Gregory Thaumaturgos and St. Athanasius clear him of all suspicion. Modern authors like Regnon and Prat also acquit him." Charles Bigg states that the objections raised in ancient times against Origen’s Subordinationism rest in many cases on the most serious misapprehension, may for the present be dismissed. The Son, as we have seen, possesses all the attributes of God, His Goodness, His Wisdom, His power. He possesses them in full and perfect measure, not accidentally but substantially and unchangeably, not precariously but by virtue, if we may so speak, of a law of the Divine Nature. He is begotten, not created. The Son is in the Father, the Father in the Son, and no schism is conceivable between them. Yet the Word is the Splendor of the Divine Glory, the Image of the Father’s Person; in a word, He is the Son. The Father is the "Fountain" from whom His Divinity is "drawn."

John Meyendorff states that it was precisely Origen’s cosmology and anthropology, that were the targets of Origenism and not his theology. Foremost were his cosmological, anthropological, and eschatological ideas, which constituted precisely the cornerstone of Origenism as a system.

In 543 A.D, Emperor Justinian began his indictment by attacking the Trinitarian subordinationism of Origen. It is interesting to note that the Emperor was not followed on this point by the council of Constantinople, which did not pronounce any anathema against Origen’s Trinitarian doctrine. This doctrine, in fact, does not seem to have interested the Palestinian Origenist monads, who had provided the motive for conciliar action.




1. The Son Cannot See The Father

In the accusation put forward by St. Epiphanius and St. Jerome they blame Origen for saying that the Son cannot see the Father; and the passage in Treatise On First Principles on which they rely is in fact directed against the Anthropomorphites who attribute both to the Father and to the Son in His divinity bodies and corporeal senses. St. Epiphanius and St. Jerome understand it as if Origen meant that the Son does not know the Father and see in it a proof of the inferiority of the Son to the Father... Origen states that the Father and the Son know each other by the very act, both eternal and continual, by which the Father begets the Son..


2. Prayers Are Offered To The Father Alone

Charles Bigg says, "But there is one true consequence of his view so momentous that it must not be passed over. I refer to his teaching on the subject of prayer offered to the Son . He has declared himself upon this point many times, especially in the Celsus. "Away with the advice of Celsus that we should pray to demons. For we must pray only to the Supreme God; yes, and we must pray to the only Begotten and First born of every creature, and beseech Him as our High Priest to offer to His God and our God, to His Father and the Father of all that live , our prayers as they come first to Him." The meaning of these words is explained at large in the Treatise upon prayer.

Origen refers to the words of St. Paul, "I exhort therefore that first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Tim. 2:1), drawing a distinction between these four forms.

He concludes that the three lower forms of petition may be addressed to men for help or pardon, or to saints or angels, or to the Holy Spirit or Christ, the last and highest only to the Father in the Son’s name.

He does not, it will be observed, forbid the Christian to pray to Christ as God. He refers to the prayers of the Penitent Thief, of Stephen, of the father of the lunatic child, all addressed to the Son and the Son alone, and he himself prays to the Son in the same way.

We may address the Savior, in immediate supplication, for those boons which it is His special province to bestow. But in the supreme moment of adoration, when the soul strains upwards to lay itself as a sacrifice before the highest object of thought, we must not stop short of Him who is above all. Such prayer is necessarily attended by a "doxology," a clear recognition of the Nature of Him before whom we stand, and in the doxology the Father’s Name is first. Origen appeals to the express command of Jesus, "Whatsoever you shall ask the Father He will give it in My name," to the usage of Scripture, and lastly to the usage of the Church. It is probable that at this very time a change was creeping into the language of worship. "Are we not divided," he asks, "if we pray some to the Father, some to the Son, falling into the error of ignorant men because we have never inquired into the real nature of what we are doing? "

It has been thought that his protest refers specially to the Eucharist, the Anaphora of Missa Fidelium, in which for long after this time there was no direct address to the Son. But in truth it has a wider scope. He is warning his readers, not against excessive devotion to " the Lord and Savior Jesus," for in this Origen himself yields to none nor against the fullest belief in Christ’s Divinity, for here also Origen’s doctrine, in the judgment of those most worthy of our deference, stands above suspicion; but against the language, if I may risk the phrase, of partial adoration, which verges on the one hand towards Noetianism, on the other towards some form of Gnosticism, on the other towards some form of Gnosticism, that is of moral opposition.

John J. O’Meara states that there is one section in this treatise "On Prayer," which demands special attention. Throughout the entire tract Origen stresses the position of Christ as our High-priest and Intercessor to such a degree that several passages may be quite readily understood in a subordinationist sense. Particularly striking are chapters 14-16. Origen says that we should pray in the name of Jesus, but we should adore the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. God the Father alone is entitled to accept adoration. If Christ terms Christians His brothers, He makes it clear that He wishes them to adore the Father, not Him, the Brother: "Let us pray therefore to God through Him and let us speak all in the same way without any division in the form of prayer."

This theory did not find adoption by any of the Fathers, and Origen remained the only one applying it. Even Origen contradicts himself, for he inserts in his homilies praises and prayers to Christ, and elsewhere in his works, he defends the adoration of Christ against the objection of polytheism. There is the possibility, however, that Origen thinks of solemn or liturgical prayer only, especially since the treatise is addressed to a deacon. Perhaps Origen wishes to justify the liturgical custom of praying through Christ to the Father.


3. According to Origen, the Father is " The God," "the only true God": the Son is "God" without addition, because His Deity is derived.


4. Origen And Arianism

Origen is accused of believing in "subordination," i.e. that the Son is inferior to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is inferior to the Son and the Father. And thus he prepared the way to the Arians who tried to defend their heresy through his works.

J. Lebreton says, "The vital truth that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit transcend all other beings was always affirmed by Origen, and we find it already in the treatise De Principiis 2:2:2. But we must also allow that there is in this treatise a hierarchical conception of the divine Persons which endangers their equality and their consubstantiality."

J.W. Trigg says, "Arius (c. 250 - c. 336), relaying among other things, on the subordinationist strain in Origen’s Christology, denied that Christ was God in the same sense that God the Father was. Arius preferred to view Christ as "the first born of all creation, a created divine being who, unlike God the Father, had a beginning in time."

Against Arius, who appealed to Origen’s subordinationism, his affirmation, that is, of Christ the Son’s inferiority to God the Father, Athanasius appealed to Origen’s doctrine of eternal generation and to his understanding of redemption. If, as Origen taught, Christ was born from God the Father rather than created by God, then Christ would have the same substance as God the Father, especially since Christ shared with God the Father the property of not being subject to the category of time. Moreover, Athanasius argued, a created being like the Christ of Arius, not being divine himself, could not assist us to the ultimate goal of redemption in Origen’s theology, the attainment of likeness to God. Although Origen was not directly responsible for the doctrine of the Trinity eventually reaffirmed in the "of one substance" formula of Nicea at Constantinople in 381 A.D, his theology established the questions at issue and suggested the general framework of the eventual solution.

With the breakdown of Roman imperial power in the West over the course of the fifth century, Latin - and Greek - speaking Christianity drifted increasingly apart, and Origen’s reputation fared differently in the two areas. In the West he was read and respected but was somewhat suspect. His reputation was not helped by the regard in which his Commentary on Romans was held by Pelagius, the British theologian who had the poor judgment to attack Augustine’s understanding of divine grace. Nevertheless, Origen remained influential in the monastic tradition.

In the East, Origenism remained popular, and controversial, among monks in Palestine and Syria. Eventually controversy among monks over Origen brought him to the attention of the Emperor Justinian 1 (483-565 A.D), who was, among other things, an amateur theologian. Justinian secured the condemnation of Origen , along with his disciples. Didymus and Evagrius, at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D, three hundred years after Origen’s death. In the Byzantine world Origen remained under a cloud until the fourteenth century, and this resulted in the disappearance of most of his works that were not translated from Greek. The steady encroachment of the Turks, however, led to a renewed interest in Origen’s Contra Celsum as the principal defense of Christianity written in Greek.


Origen and Nestorism

Some Fathers and scholars believe that Origen is responsible of Nestorism. John Meyendorff says,

In his synodal letter of 400 A.D, Theophilus of Alexandria had already pointed out that for the Origenists, "the Word of the living God has not assumed the human body," and that Christ, "who was in the form of God, equal to God, was not the Word of God, but the soul which, coming down from the celestial region and divesting itself of the form of eternal majesty, assumed the human body." The distinction between Christ and the Word presupposed by this curious Christology of the Origenists could not fail to recall, for sixth-century minds, the Nestorian distinction between the Word and the assumed man.