Origen of Alexandria
Disciple of Clement of Alexandria
Also known as “Origenes Adamantius.”
Adamantius derives from the Ancient Greek word “adámas” meaning; diamond, invincible, unbreakable, conquer.
Born: Approx. 185 A.D, Alexandria
Died: Approx. 250 A.D, Rome
Adamantius has commonly been regarded as an appellation, describing Origen’s unconquerable endurance, or for the invincible force of his arguments.
The youthful Origen had been schooled by his father in devotion to study of the divine scriptures, he was required daily to commit to memory and to repeat portions of scripture, however Origen was not satisfied with the plain meaning of the text but pursued the deeper significance. This formed and important part of Origen’s literary character. His Father also trained young Origen in Grecian literature, which he would come to use later in life.
Origen was one of seven brothers, the son of Leonides who was one of the many Christian martyrs of the Christian persecution under Septimius Severus. In this Origen’s character is proven as he saw his father prepare for martyrdom, he wanted to share in his fate, he was however prevented by his mother who hid his clothing to avoid this. While his father was imprisoned Origen wrote a letter to him exhorting him to be steadfast and to endure his future sufferings.
After this Origen, being the eldest son, was required to support his family. He became an inmate of a wealthy and benevolent lady of Alexandria, however his position there proved uncomfortable and so he committed to enter the career of a teacher of grammar.
The diligence and ability that Origen carried out his profession rapidly attracted attention. He had continued the education his father started in secular studies and soon enjoyed a high standard of living at a youthful age. It was not only his skill as a teacher that gained him his reputation but his eagerness and unwearied affection, which he showed to all the victims of the persecution. Origen was with the Holy Martyrs throughout their imprisonment or court and even their final sentencing; he would fearlessly approach them as they walked to their death and kissed them with a heavenly kiss.
The status that Origen had acquired brought him many pupils, one of which was named Plutarch, who died the death of martyrdom, and Heraclas, Plutarch’s brother, who became bishop of Alexandria after Demetrius. Many of Origen’s friends and pupils were martyred during the severe persecution under Prefect Aquila. On various occasions Origen had to flee from house to house to escape instant death, other times plots set against him for his enthusiasm in the word. Hatred stirred so much against him that soldiers were placed around his house to protect him, many times only by the divine right hand arranging his extraordinary escape.
It is easy to see that acts of this kind could not fail to attract the attention of the heads of the Christian community at Alexandria; and partly because of these but mainly because his high literary reputation, Bishop Demetrius appointed Origen to the office of the master in the Catechetical School, which had become available by the departure of Clement. At this point Origen was only seventeen years old and still a layman but Demetrius choice was thoroughly justified by the outcome. Origen withdrew from the instruction of literature to devote himself entirely to the work in the Catechetical school. For his work in the school Origen refused all reward, He sold the books he possessed, many of which was manuscripts that he had copied, with the condition of receiving from the buyer four Obol’s a day, which was an ancient Greek form of currency and weight. With this very minimal wage he supported himself.
Origen led a life of the greatest self-denial and discipline, not caring for indulgence but devoting himself to study. After a day of labor in the school, Origen would dedicate the night to the examination of scripture, sleeping on the bare ground, and keeping regular fasts.
This Saint carried out literally the commands of the Savior, not to possess two coats, nor wear shoes. His zeal did not stop here as he took his desire to abstain from fleshly indulgences to a new level by an act of self-mutilation, arising from an error in interpretation of our Lord’s words in Matthew 19:12, and the aspiration to place himself beyond the influence of temptation in the intercourse which he had to hold with youthful female catechumens.
Although Origen planned to keep this matter private, Demetrius learned of it later, as he was heading over the community at that point. He was astonished at Origen’s hasty act but approved the genuine enthusiasm of his faith, for a time the purpose of the act was considered its excuse. Demetrius urged Origen to apply himself more deeply to the work of instruction. This opinion of Demetrius did not last as he recognized Origen excelling in the community he fell to human weakness as described by Eusebius and expounded on the event to Bishops around the world, describing it as outrageous.
After a trip to Rome during the episcopate of Zephyrinus (201-218) to see the most ancient church of the romans and a superior call to Arabia, Origen returned to the Catechetical school and decided to devote to the instruction of the more advanced, and to the deeper investigation and interpretation of scripture. He transferred the care of the younger catechumen to his friend and former pupil Heraclas. It may have been about this time that Origen set on the study of the Hebrew language, with a comparison of the LXX and other Greek versions of the Old Testament. We can see the knowledge he gained in the fragments we have of Magnum opus, The Hexapla. Sir Adamantius also found it important to make himself considerably informed with the doctrines of the Grecian School’s, he did this so that he would be able to refute their false doctrines. He attended the public lectures of Ammonius Saccas who was as an instructor of the Neo-Platonic philosophy, although many had difficulty understanding Origen’s logic in this, he could defend his acts.
In the year 216 Emperor Caracalla visited Alexandria, he orchestrated the persecution against the people and their literary members because a writing being designed against him for the murder of his brother Geta. With Origen’s well-known status in the literary society of the city he withdrew to Palestine to be with his friend Bishop Alexander of Jerusalem and Theoctistus Bishop of Caesarea, who pleaded with him to expound the scriptures to the public church. As Origen had not been ordained Demetrius did not approve of his deeds and recalled Origen back to Alexandria. Although Origen’s stay in Palestine was over a long period of time, Demetrius hurried his return with special envoys.
Through the help of Ambrose, a convert of Marcion, Origen began the work of written expositions of scripture. Ambrose supplied him with more than seven shorthand writers and other scribes to make fair copies. As Origen was recognized more and more as a teacher in the church his role in the school decreased, with his workload falling more on Heraclas. Eusebius explains that this was a time Origen enjoyed, however it came to a sudden standstill, as Origen was called to Greece.
Origen’s call to Greece was during the year 228, it is thought that the reason for this sudden trip was to address heretical views arising in the church. On his journey to Greece Origen received letters of recommendation from his bishop, as he passed through Palestine on his way to Greece and at Caesarea he received by the hands of his former friends Alexander and Theoctistus ordination to the office of Presbyter. This later caused him much persecution, although that was not the motives of his friends. The desire to avoid the former objections of Demetrius went unnoticed and a storm was now brewing for the newly ordained Origen. On Origen’s return to Alexandria in 230 he found his bishop greatly angered against him because of what had happened in Caesarea. In 231 Demetrius summoned a Synod, also known as an assembly of the council of the church. This synod brought the Egyptian Bishops and the Alexandrian Presbyters together with Origen being the focal point. In result of this they announced Origen unworthy to hold the office of a teacher and removed him from the fellowship of the church of Alexandria. However, this was not satisfying for Demetrius, as he called for a second Synod. Before a court of the Bishops he called for all to vote on the place of Origen in the office of presbyter, the outcome left Origen degraded from the office of Presbyter, the decision was sent across various churches by letter, which all had received except the churches in Palestine, Phoenicia, Arabia and Achaia.
On this Origen removed himself from the city of Alexandria, leaving the charge of the Catechetical school to his former pupil Heraclas. He then sought to make Caesarea his new home; he stayed here for nearly twenty-five years.
A defense of Origen was written in Pamphilus and Eusebius’ “Apology for Origen”, which gives the most intelligible and consistent account of the complete synods. Jerome described with greater severity the spirit of Demetrius’s proceedings and adds “he wrote on the subject to the entire world” and obtained a judgment against Origen from Rome. With a lack of trustworthy evidence, we are unable to see the true extent that the condemnation of Origen went to.
No attempt was made to reverse the judgment after the death of Demetrius, which followed shortly after. Although letters had been produced from the bishop of Caesarea explaining of numerous laymen who had publicly addressed the congregation, showing there was no general understood law or practice on the subject, according to Eusebius this showed the hierarchical jealousy of Demetrius was the real reason for the proceedings. The act of mutilation was also made a ground for accusation against Origen.
Caesarea became the seat of Origen’s Labours, Alexander of Jerusalem and Theoctistus of Caesarea remained devoted to Origen and Firmilian of Caesarea in Cappadocia sought him for instruction. Ambrose was also with him to encourage his literary efforts.
Origen formed afresh a type of catechetical school, with a continual succession of distinguished students. He frequently discussed the true meaning of scripture with the public, with mixed congregations of the church, to Christians and catechumen. As a rule, on Wednesdays and Fridays but often daily, and at times more than once a day. Origen’s aim was the edification of the people.
During the persecution under Emperor Maximin, Origen took refuge in the house of a Christian lady named Juliana who was the heiress of Symmachus, a translator of the Septuagint. While here Origen composed his writing “Exhortation to Martyrdom” written on behalf of his friends Ambrosius and Protoctetus who had been imprisoned on account of their Christian profession, they however received their freedom after the death of Maximin. After this Origen returned to Caesarea to continue his works there.
Origen later travelled to Tyre, were he was imprisoned. While here he suffered extreme brutalities. Although he survived his imprisonment, his body was so enfeebled by his sufferings that he died at Tyre in 254, in the 70th year of his life.
Over his lifetime Origen composed a large amount of over 6000 manuscripts, these including expositions of scriptures in the form of Homilies and Treatises and many other informative writings. Some of the writings we still have available, however many in fragments. These include:
- Contra Celsum (Against Celsus)
The most important apologetical work is his “Contra Celsum” (Against Celsus), a treatise composed of eight books written in answer to a detailed and far reaching attack by Celsus (180 A.D), called the “True Discourse (Alethes Logos).“
- De Principiis
This was Origen’s view on systematic Theology, which was translated from Latin by Rufinus. The De Principiis consists of four books; he called it “the elementary and foundation principles of things”.
- On Martyrdom
- On Prayer
- On the Pascha (On the Passover)
- Disputation with Heraclides
- Letter to Africanus
- Letter to Gregory
These are only some of the writings we have available, they were also known as “Treatise”. Many of Origen’s writings were letters to friends or heretics teaching them the truth, some of them are only accessible in fragments.
Commentaries & Homilies:
- Commentary on Matthew
- Commentary on Luke (fr.)
- Commentary on John
- Commentary on Romans
- Commentary on Ephesians (fr.)
- Commentary on Genesis
- Commentary on Song of Songs
- Commentary on Lamentations
- Homilies on Luke
- Homilies on Genesis
- Homilies on Exodus
- Homilies on Leviticus
- Homilies on Numbers
- Homilies on Joshua
- Homilies on Judges
- Homilies on 1 Samuel
- Homilies on Psalms
- Homilies on the Song of Songs
- Homilies on Isaiah
- Homilies on Jeremiah
- Homilies on Ezekiel
Throughout the Homilies and Commentaries, you can see the spiritual interpretation of Origen on scripture. Origen focused on the deeper hidden meaning of scripture, these were commonly taught every Wednesday and Friday to the congregation of the church and the catechumen. Throughout he focused on the edification of the people, expounding on the deeper mysteries of the Old and New Testament. A Homilie was known as lectures whereas the commentary was exhaustive or learned notes.
The Hexapla was a critical text of the Old Testament; there had been nothing of its kind attempted before, it saw Origen named “The Father of Textual Criticism.” It had been named “A Golden bookm,” it was a great task that Origen dedicated his life which he spent approximately twenty-eight years on, it begun in Alexandria and may have been completed in Tyre. The text contained a critical look at six written scripts of the bible, with a total of six columns. In the first was placed the current Hebrew text; in the second, the same represented in Greek letters; in the third, the version of Aquila; in the fourth, that of Symmachus; in the fifth, the text of the LXX, as it existed at the time; and in the sixth, the version of Theodotion.
This early church father had a major impact on the work of the church; through his lifetime he had addressed many issues converting numerous amount of people to the Christianity. We can see from his works his personality and effort in bringing forth the truth of God’s word.
A Dictionary of Early Christianity Biographies
Eusebius The Church History