Origen's Theology

J. Lebreton says, "In the whole of Christian Antiquity, at least in the Eastern Church, there is no writer who is so attractive, whose glory is so disputed, or whose study is so difficult, as Origen... To-day we possess only some portions of his immense work, and the greater part of it has come down to us only by means of translations, the accuracy of which is by no means certain. In spite of all these difficulties, however, it is not impossible to determine in outline the life, character and thought of this famous doctor."

The theology of Origen, his cosmology, anthropology, ecclesiology, eschatology etc. have been affected by the following factors:

1. The heresies of his time: Origen’s main aim almost in all his writings and homilies is to refute, directly or indirectly, the major heresies of his time. In his youth, Origen complied De Principiis "for those who, sharing our faith, are accustomed to look for reasons for their belief and for those who stir up conflicts against us in the name of the heresies."

2. Origen had to deal with heretics as well as with the simple believers who were averse to any kind of speculation. His encounter was with these two theological movements.

3. His view on knowledge and philosophy: As we have seen the Alexandrians were concerned with philosophy for many reasons. To answer the burning philosophical questions of their time, to correct the philosophical views which were opposed to the Christian faith, to attract well-educated persons to Christianity and to defend Christianity from the accusation of ignorance and foolishness brought by some philosophers. Many scholars believe that Origen founded Christian theology.

4. As a man of the Bible, Origen’s theological system is affected by it. He based his entire doctrine on his commentaries on the Sacred Scriptures. His theology was, above everything else, a system of exegesis. By his technique of spiritual interpretation, he succeeded in making the Bible accessible to every Christian who had any feeling for holy things.

5. His heart was inflamed for the conversion of the whole world, the edification of the true spiritual Church and the progress of every soul in divine and practical knowledge of the Holy Trinity, unity with her Heavenly Groom, and continuos glorification. Therefore we cannot depend on his work "De Principiis" alone, which he had written while he was young, as if it contains his theological system. Undoubtedly his preaching and dialogues with simple people, bishops, philosophers and queens had their effect on his theological system. One of these affects his soteriological attitude almost in all his writings and homilies.

Under the title "Origen’s Christian Gnosis" Basil Studer says,

This new, inquiring and systematic theology is rightly called Christian gnosis. It is gnosis not only because it follows up the problems of the Gnostics of the second century but also and primarily because it takes up again the true concerns of those first Christian theologians: above all the search for the knowledge that would provide a foundation for the salvation of mankind and the world.

To understand Origen’s thoughts it is necessary to know what these heresies were, the simple people who were disinclined to hold onto the true faith, and his view on philosophy.


The Heresies And Heretics


Origen had Christianity in his very blood and never subscribed to any tolerance of heresy. Even as an orphan seventeen years old, when he was enjoying the financial help of a great lady of wealth and distinction who treated him as an adopted son, he refused to compromise in any degree, according to Eusebius: "She was treating with great honor a famous heretic then in Alexandria, a certain Paul of Antioch. Origen could never be induced to join with him in prayer... and, as he somewhere expresses it, he abominated heretical teachings."

1. The main heresies which Origen faced was "Gnosticism," which I have discussed in Book 1, Chapter 4: "The School Of Alexandria And The Gnostics." Like St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, and also St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen was opposed to the Gnostic movement.

Origen faced the Gnostic sects, especially the trio: Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion, in the following points:

I. Their systems were based on the inseparable division and antagonism between the Demiurge or "Creator God" and the supreme unknowable Divine Being. Origen insists on the identity of the Creator God and the Father of Jesus Christ.

The Gnostics contrast the two Testaments and the allegorical exegesis which Origen uses. Origen, as other Alexandrian Fathers emphatically stressed the fundamental unity of both phases of revelation (Old and New Testament). He inculcates the unity of authorship of both revelations.

According to Origen, there were some who taught that Paul was seated at the right hand of Christ in heaven, and Marcion at the left. Marcion makes of the Creator God of the Old Testament a just but not a good God and even one positively cruel and malicious. The essential concern of Origen’s statement which opens the list of propositions of the rule of faith in the preface of the Treatise on First Principles is to oppose the Marcionite and Gnostic doctrines which separated the Creator God of the Old Testament from the Father of Jesus Christ, making the former a just God, the latter a good God. There is only one God, who created everything out of nothing, who was the God of all the holy men of the old covenant, who promised by his prophets the coming of his Son and subsequently sent Him. There is only one God for the law, the prophets and the apostles, for the Old Testament and the New.

Origen states that God is one; He is God both of the Old and New Testament.

The kind of doctrines which are believed in plain terms through the apostolic teaching are the following:-

First, that God is one, who created and set in order all things, and who, when nothing existed, caused the universe to be. He is God from the first creation and foundation of the world, the God of all righteous men, of Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, of the twelve patriarchs, of Moses and the prophets. This God, in these last days, according to the previous announcements made through his prophets, sent the Lord Jesus Christ, first for the purpose of calling Israel, and secondly, after the unbelief of the people of Israel, of calling the Gentiles also. This just and good God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, himself gave the law, the prophets and the gospels, and he is God both of the apostles and also of the Old and New Testaments.

II. He particularly objects to Valentinus’ doctrine of the three natures of souls and to the predestinarianism which underlies it. It was by reason of this doctrine that Origen drew up his chapter on free will in equality of rational beings, an equality only to be broken by the free choice of their will: the cosmology described in that book is explained by the dialectic between divine action and human freedom which can accept or reject the divine.

I will speak of Origen’s Philosophy of Creation and Freedom in two separate chapters.

2. Origen faces two opposite tendencies in the Trinitarian theology:

I. The Modalists, or the Monarchians, who tried to safeguard the divine "monarchy," the unity of the Deity "monotheism). They considered the Son a mere name and mode of manifestation of the Father. For them the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three modes of being a single divine Person.

They are called Noetians and later Sabellians, as they were attributed to Noetus of Smyrna and the Libyan Sabellius.

In the West they were called Patripassians, because it followed from their doctrine that the Father suffered the Passion.

II. The Adoptianists also wanted to safeguard the "monarchy" by seeing in Christ just a man whom God adopted as a Son of God for his merits.

In fact it could happen that Modalism and Adoptianism were mixed up.

In chapter seven I will show how Origen is quite familiar with the terms "triad" (Trias) and "Hypostaseis." J.N.D. Kelly says,

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are, Origen states, "three Persons" (Hypostaseis). This affirmation that each of the Three is a distinct hypostaseis from all eternity, not just as manifested in the "economy," is one of the chief characteristics of his doctrine, and stems directly from the idea of eternal generation.



Origen believes that heretics receive the deposit of faith at first, then they depart from it. He says, "Heretics, all begin by believing, and afterwards depart from the road of faith and the truth of the church's teaching."

In their pride, the heretics search the holy Scriptures, not to discover the truth, but to confirm their own doctrines. Henri de Lubac says,

One must receive the faith of God in the spirit which the church teaches us, and must not do like the heretics who search the Scriptures only in order to find some confirmation of their own doctrines.

Their pride raises them "higher than the cedars of Lebanon" and their sophistries are full of deceit. But it is no use for them to pretend that they have a tradition which comes down from the apostles; they are professors of error.

While the faithful Christian in no way strays from the great tradition, they appeal to secret Scriptures or to secret traditions in order to confirm their lies. Thus they want to make us worship a Christ whom they have invented "in solitude," while the only authentic Christ reveals Himself "within the house."

They disfigure those vessels of gold and silver which are the sacred texts, in order to fashion them into objects according to their own fancy.

They are thieves and adulterers who seize the divine words only to deform them by their perverse interpretations.

They are counterfeiters for they have coined their doctrine outside the Church. False teachers, false prophets, spinning out of their own minds what they propound, they are the liars of whom Ezekiel speaks. By a perverse trickery they often cover their idols, that is, their empty dogmas, with sweetness and chastity so that their propositions may be smuggled more easily into the ears of their listeners and lead them astray more surely.

They all call Jesus their master and embrace him; but their kiss is the kiss of Judas.

And this also we must know that as the gates of cities have each their own names, in the same way the gates of Hades might be named after the species of sins; so that one gate of Hades is called "fornication," through which fornicators go, and another "denial," through which the deniers of God go down into Hades. And likewise already each of the heterodox and of those who have begotten any "knowledge which is falsely so called (I Tim. 6:20)," has built a gate of Hades - Marcion one gate, and Basilides another, and Valentinus another.

The deceiver enemy, the devil, presents stone instead of bread (Luke 11:11). This is what the devil wants, that the stone may be changed into bread, so that men may be fed not by bread but by stone which has the shape of the bread.

If you see the heretics eat their false teachings as bread know that their discussions, and teaching are a stone which the devil presents to us to eat as if it is bread. . .

May we be watchful and so not eat the stone of the devil believing that we are growing up by the Lord’s bread.

The devil speaks and depends upon the Scripture... May he not deceive me even if he uses the Scripture.





Origen opposes those whom he calls the "simpler" and whom we might call by three names:

I. Anthropomorphites: They take literally the anthropomorphism that the Bible attributes to God and to the soul and consequently picture God as corporeal: against these Origen clearly affirms the absolute incorporeality of the three Persons and of the soul.

Against the Anthropomorphites Origen explains that God is Spirit, and He alone is without body.

But the substance of the Trinity, which is the beginning and cause of all things, ‘of which are all things and through which are all things and in which are all things’, must not be believed either to be a body or to exist in a body, but to be wholly incorporeal.

But if it is impossible by any means to maintain this proposition, namely, that any being, with the exception of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, can live apart from a body, then logical reasoning compels us to believe that, while the original creation was of rational beings, it is only in idea and thought that a material substance is separable from them, and that though this substance seems to have been produced for them or after them, yet never have they lived or do they live without it; for we shall be right in believing that life without a body is found in the Trinity alone. Now as we have said above, material substance possesses such a nature that it can undergo every kind of transformation.

II. Millenarians or Chiliasts, because they take literally the thousand years of Apocalypse 20:1-10. They believe that there will be a first resurrection of the just, who will reign for that time in the heavenly Jerusalem which will come down to earth. They will enjoy with Christ happiness before the final resurrection.

M. Simonetti says, "The decisive reaction against millenarism came from the Alexandrians, who propound a much more spiritual conception of Christian eschatology. Origen rejected the literal interpretation of Rev. 20-21, gives an allegorical interpretation of it and so takes away the Scriptural foundation of millenarism."

Origen denied the millenarism, considering the exegesis of the literalists on some promises concerning the kingdom of Christ was "unworthy of the divine promises." He castigates the follies of literalist believers who read the Scriptures like the Jews whose belief in the future Messianic kingdom is understood as political and material rule. They cherish dreams of dwelling in an earthly Jerusalem after the resurrection, where they will eat, drink and enjoy sexual intercourse to their hearts" content.

Origen opposes the doctrine of the resurrection current among the millenarians or Chilliest. As regards to the state of the body after this resurrection, they imagine that it will be identical with the earthly body so that people will eat and drink, marry and procreate, and that the heavenly Jerusalem will be like a city here below. The spiritual body will differ in nothing from the psychic body and everything in the Beyond will be like life in this lower world. For, being anthropomorphisms, the millenarians take literally the biblical anthropomorphisms. They suppress all difference between the terrestrial body and the glorious body, keeping only the identity.

III. The Literalists, because they preserve the literal meaning of the Scriptures, even to the absurd lengths of which anthropomorphism and millenarianism are examples: Origen's doctrine of Scriptural allegory is also directed against these.




Origen, as a spiritual leader, concentrates on the salvation of his own soul and others’ souls almost in all his writings. His heart was inflamed with the desire of the restoration of the souls, and their glorification through the redeeming work of the Savior of the whole world.

1. Origen’ systems of theology, spirituality, cosmology, ecclesiology, angelogy, demonolgy, eschatology etc. are aimed at the return of rational creatures to their eternal rest, as we will see afterwards in the following chapters. This cannot be realized by their own efforts, especially men who are in need of the divine grace to enjoy the redeeming work of the Savior.

2. Origen as a disciple of St. Clement of Alexandria faced the Hellenic culture not by attacking philosophy and knowledge, but by assuring that salvation in its reality is the true gnosis and practical philosophy. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world descended to us as the Illuminator and Educator. He is the Light of the world who redeems us from the darkness of ignorance and grants us victory on the demons who prevent us from the light of truth. Christ is the Heavenly Teacher who renews our nature by His Holy Spirit and raises us with Him to His heaven, as His Bridal chamber, where the Groom reveals His divine mysteries to His bride.

3. Origen collects together in one place all the titles he can find in scripture which express the nature and work of Christ, the Savior of the world. He explains that these titles are mentioned in the Holy Scriptures as promises to us, so that we may find our satisfaction, life, righteousness, salvation and glorification:


the Light of the World (John 8:12),

the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6),

the Resurrection (John 11:25),

the Door (John 10:9),

the Good Shepherd (John 10:11),

the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Rev. 22:13),

the Messiah who is called Christ (Luke 24:14),

the Logos who is God (John 1:1),

the Son of God,

the Savior,

the Power of God (Rom. 1:16),

the Righteousness , the Holiness, and Redemption (1 Cor. 1:30),

the King, Teacher and Master,

the True Vine and Bread,

Living and Dead,

Sword, Servant, Lamb of God, Paraclete, Propitiation, Wisdom, Sanctification, Demiurge, Agent of the good God, High-Priest, Rod, Flower, and Stone.

These ideas Origen draws on at random as he discusses Christ’s saving work, in Homilies and Commentaries which wander unsystematically from point to point.

2. Frances M. Young says that the only work which is at all systematic is the De Principiis; even the Contra Celsum takes the form of a commentary on Celsus’ anti-Christian arguments, and shows little logical sequence of thought. Yet it seems to the present writer that under this confusing array of ideas, there is a basic pattern to Origen’s soteriology, a pattern of conflict between good and evil in which Christ achieves the victory.

3. Young also says that most expositors of Origen’s thought have regarded his idea of Christ as Revealer, Educator and Enlightenment, that is, as the Logos of God, as his characteristic view of Christ’s saving function. That this should be Origen’s main account of Christ’s work in the De Principiis is not surprising, since this was a work dominated by philosophical issues and ideas. It is also prominent in the Commentary on John. As the brightness of God’s glory, Christ enlightens the whole creation, and, as the Word, he interprets and presents to the rational creation the secrets of wisdom and the mysteries of knowledge. The Only-Begotten is the Truth, because he embraces in himself, according to the Father’s will, the whole reason of all things, which he communicates to each creature in proportion to its worthiness.

I will speak of the redeeming work of Christ and the meaning of salvation in chapter nine.