(Ca. 185-ca. 254) Egyptian Christian theologian, of the early Greek church.
Origen developed the first profound and systematic description of Christian theology. His achievements in Biblical exegesis was of great impact on early Christianity and many see the beginnings of monasticism with his personal asceticism and chastity.
As one of the earliest theologians, his non-Christian tools are most transparent in his work; both Platonic philosophy and Gnostic concepts came to play a central role in his understanding of Christian texts.
His ideas were controversial in his own time, and would in the following centuries be challenged to the degree that Christian leaders forced them to nearly disappear in 5th century. His influence on modern Christianity is mainly theoretical and/or indirect.
His name is of Graeco-Egyptian origins, combining the name of the Egyptian god Horus with Greek for "born", "genes". His full name was Origenes Adamantios, Adamantios meaning "man of diamond". Legends telling that his parents were Christians upon his birth is strongly contradicted by a name derived from Ancient Egyptian religion.
Origen is considered the founder of the allegorical method of scriptural interpretation. He aimed at reconciling Greek philsophy with Christianity, himself mainly of the Platonist school.
He is a central commentator of the Old Testament, but he dealt also with New Testament scriptures, although much of his work here seem to have been destroyed in full or part by his opponents.
Origen introduced specific theological ideas, like Christ being the Logos, or Incarnate Word. He stated that Christ was second to God, both in power and dignity. A third central idea was that of a preexisting soul.
Origen defined God as good, just and omnipotent. God is eternal, invisible and incorporeal. But by definition his qualities are not absolute, he cannot act out any action, since his actions are limited to absolute goodness, justice and wisdom. Moreover, God's goodness and omnipotence was the reason for him to reveal himself to the world.
Origen developed a detailed extra-Biblical account on how the world came into being, how man was created. Little of this is derived from the Bible, most of it displays Platonic and Gnostic influence.
The first stage of creation was God manifesting his omnipotence in the world by Logos, creating the divine spirit, then rational beings who were expected to be perfect. Origen defined being rational as exercising free will, and by the actual nature of rationality and free will, imperfect choices are made by rational beings, which caused the first fall from nearness to God and the true order of things. The main error of rational beings was to neglect to adore God. Some erred more, some less. The better fell to become angels. Then there were those falling to become humans, while those falling the furthest ended up as devils. Of all there was one who did not err and did not fall from God: the divine spirit, or preexistent Son.
Free will is overall a very central aspect of Origen's theology, causing a few interesting conclusions. Man's free will involves that God has provided space for something that is not under God's influence, this representing a partial self-limitation on God's part.
The soul has a rational and an irrational side, the rational is the part that has the capacity to rise to a pure, spiritual existence. The irrational side is only matter. The material world was created to aid the uprising of fallen spirits. The material world is therefore merely an episode in a long process, which has as its aim its own annihilation allowing the spiritual return to God. Return of the spirit to the nearness to God happens for man with the imitation of God in his good works, placing all trust in the divine goodness.
In order to address rational beings in an intelligible manner, Logos incarnated itself in Christ. Origen stated that the appearance of Jesus depended on the spiritual capacity for each individual seeing him, so that many saw nothing remarkable about him, others recognized his divinity.
Redemption recreates a fallen soul into spirit, but his happens through stages of sprituality. The climbing on the spiritual ladder, or stages, came by the aid of guardian angels and the Logos operating through saints and prophets. Resurrection of the body was explained into the body becoming changed to new forms, while presering the unity and identity of the personality.
How Logos manifested itself in Christ, Origen was never able to explain. He faced the central problem of the early church; how to understand the status of Jesus as God when manifesting himself in a mortal, human body. Origen's views on this were close to Docetism, when stating that God transformed the mortal body of Jesus into one which was ethereal and divine.
The death of Jesus was a sacrifice by the divine for the general good. Origen places notably less importance into this act than what came to be the core message of most Christian orientations, it appears doubtful whether he considered the death of Jesus as the central part of redemption.
Heaven cannot be understood by absolute definitions, since free will continues even here. Neither is Hell absolute, as God cannot abandon any creature. The act of redemption is first finished when every soul has returned to the nearness to God. Redemption is permitted for all, even for demons, devils and Satan.
There is one major threat to the whole plan, the very same that set it all moving in the first place: free will. Because of free will, rational beings may fall again after the completion of redemption, returning to the cycle.
Criticism and Influence
His thinking met strong resistance in his own lifetime, being accused of trapping the Christian faith in philosophy. He had a background with Platonic philosophy with the belief in an eternal soul in contrast to the temporary, imperfect material world. Other controversial ideas were the preexistence of the soul, a universal salvation and a trinity as a hierachy where Jesus inferior to God (corresponding with Arianism), defining the resurrection of the body as mainly spiritual and having removed the original concept of hell.
Opposition to his ideas only increased after his death, and the most effective criticism of his theology was put in words by the 4th century bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, who declared Origen's ideas to be on the outside of mainstream Christianity. The eventual defamation came about with the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 where both his ideas and himself as a person were banned. Orders were sent out to have his works destroyed or replaced by new, modified versions.
The legacy of Origen was such that no pupil succeeded him, and no church continued his teaching. Still in the 4th century, the Origenists that adhered strongly to his teaching and Arianism was also partially influenced by his theology. Apart from this, his legacy would quickly be forgotten in the church, but remained strong in monasticism.
Although there is much material available that originates with Origen, with the measures after the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 what is preserved and what is lost is not accidental. Among what is lost, important and provocative ideas may have been written down. This is all a question of speculation, of course, and some have claimed that Origen believed in reincarnation.
While Origen's work has been harshly criticised, he introduced interesting criticism himself. He expressed deep doubt to the authenticity of the Letters of Paul, stating that Paul did not write to all the churches that he taught, and when he did write it was seldom more than a few lines.
He produced a great amount of works in fields of practical theology, apologetics, exegeses and textual criticism. According to Epiphanius, he produced more than 6000 texts. Much of his production is lost, or preserved only in part. Of a commentary on John, only a few of 32 original volumes now exist. Much of his work dealt with Gnostic thinking, and although he refuted much of this, his own ideas were often close to the Valentinian school. He produced commentaries on many Biblical texts, in addition to the Gospel of John, one on Matthew, the Romans and the Song of Solomon, which have only survived in fragments. A few lesser works have survived, like the Homilies on Jeremiah and on the witch of Endor.
There are also texts falsely attributed to him, among which are: De adulteratione librorum Origenis; the Dialogus de recta in Deum fide; the Philosophumena of Hippolytus, and the Commentary on Job by Julian of Halicarnassus.
In his Against Celsus he refutes the ideas of the Platonist Celsus; Celsus was possibly the first serious critic of Christianity. In this work, Origen defends Christianity from attacks by other religious groups. This work is of great value in understanding the actual nature of early Christianity. The work tells that Origen and Celsus agree on basic Platonic ideas, but Celsus considers Christianity as crude and naive, against which Origen defends the ideas and practices of the Christians, but in a most modest way, without attacking non-Christian beliefs.
His main work is the Hexepla, a synopsis of the available versions of the Old Testament; the Hebrew, the Greek (Septuagint), Aquila's, Symmachus' and Theodotion's. It also contained two versions of the Psalms. The expressed purpose of the work was to provide Christians with a good tool in debates with Jewish rabbis, who only used the Hebrew Old Testament.
On First Principles
In this work (De Principiis) Origen lays down the principle that specific rules are firmly established, and what is not, is up for individual speculation. What is firmly laid down is that belief in the Creator as God of both Old and New Testaments, the incarnation of the preexistent Lord, the Holy Spirit as one of the divine triad, the freedom of rational souls, discarnate spirits, the noneternity of the world and the coming of a judgment day.
In On First Priciples Origen presents Christianity as a complete theory of the universe.
Here, Origen deals with the Lord's Prayer, the advantage of prayer, defining the highest prayer as union with Christ, beyond anything material. He also handles the methods involved in prayer.
Here Origen puts forth the duty of suffering martyrdom, not compromising into idolatry.
The available accounts of Origen's life differ at several points. Main sources are the philosopher Prophyry and the historian Eusebius of Caesarea. Much of the accounts seem to fall into the category of legend making, like Eusebius telling that Origen castrated himself to avoid female temptation.
Ca. 185: Born in Alexandria, Egypt, surnamed Adamantius. Different sources differ on whether his parents were Christians or not. His name, however, suggest that they were not.
It is stated that he was a student of Clement of Alexandria.
Acts as a teacher in Alexandria for 28 years.
202: Legends tell that his father was killed during the persecution of Christians this year.
210's: Learns Hebrew, starts working on his Hexepla.
Ca. 213: Meets Ambrose of Alexandria, is central in converting him from Valentianism to Christianity.
Around 220?: With the aid of seven writers, funded by Ambrose, Origen starts producing a great number of commentaries, dealing with Christian subjects, as well as attacking other religious groups, like Valentianism. During this period, he also travels to far away destinations, like Rome and Arabia.
216: Visits Palestine, where he by invitation of local bishops gives lectures on the Scriptures.
230: Ordained presbyter by Palestinian bishops. This is objected by the bishop of Alexandria, Origen's own.
231: Is banished from Alexandria, the local church forbids him from teaching and declares his ordination invalid. Origen settles in Caesarea, founding a school of literature, philosophy and theology.
250: Persecutions of Christians by the order of Emperor Decius, during which Origen is imprisoned and tortured.
251: Freed from prison, but with strongly weakened health.
Ca. 254: Many legends tell that Origen dies in Tyre, Phoenicia (corresponding to modern Lebanon).