Origen (185-254)

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Origen (b. 185, Alexandria; d. 254, Tyre, Phoenicia) was one of the most important theologians and biblical scholars of the early Greek church. His most influential work is the Hexapla, a synopsis of six versions of the Old Testament. According to the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, Origen was born to pagan parents. The ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, however, insisted that he was of Christian parentage. Indeed, Eusebius went on to note that Origen's father, Leonides, was martyred in the persecutions of 202. Porphyry wrote that Origen attended lectures given by Ammonius Saccas, the founder of Neoplatonism. Origen later became a pupil of Clement of Alexandria, whom he succeeded as head of the catechetical school under the authority of the bishop Demetrius. Origen is best known for his defense of Christianity against pagan critics who charged that it was a crude and bucolic onslaught on the religious traditions and intellectual values of classical culture.

In his Contra Celsum, Origen argued that a philosophic mind is perfectly justified thinking within a Christian framework. In his tract On Prayer, Origen probed some of the concerns regarding determinism and free will that would later influence the scholarship of the medieval church. On Prayer discusses some of the problems concerned with the notion of prayer as a petition to God. Ultimately, the work concludes that prayer can be rejected only if one believes that God has predetermined all events. Origen rejected this proposition as simply contrary to the individual's experience of self. This theme is reflected in his general theology, which confirms the basic goodness of God, who gave his creation the gift of freedom and reason through the Logos (Word). This act involved a degree of self-limitation on the part of the Divinity. Origen also theorized about the gradations of sin and their spiritual consequences: the best souls would become saints, those not quite so good would become lesser angels, those even less good would return to being men, and the most wicked would become devils. He speculated on the ultimate triumph of the Lord and even held out the possibility that Satan himself might be redeemed. These diverse ideas led to Origen's uneven reputation throughout history. At first he was well received by the Eastern church, but he is now reviled as a heretic. Initially scorned by the West, he began to find a sympathetic audience among Renaissance writers.

Further Reading

Origen. Contra Celsum. Translated by Henry Chadwick. Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1953. 

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