Origen ~ Ὠριγένης



Born c. 184 AD
Probably Alexandria, Egypt
Died c. 253 AD
Probably Tyre, Phoenice
Era Ancient Greek philosophy/Christian philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Christian Platonism
Main interests
Notable ideas

Origen of Alexandria[a] (c. 184 – c. 253),[2] also known as Origen Adamantius,[b] was an early Christian scholar, ascetic,[3] and theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer who wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and spirituality. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology, apologetics, and asceticism.[3][4] He has been described as “the greatest genius the early church ever produced”.[5]

Origen sought martyrdom with his father at a young age, but was prevented from turning himself in to the authorities by his mother. When he was eighteen years old, Origen became a catechist at the Catechetical School of Alexandria.[6] He came into conflict with Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, in 231 after he was ordained as a presbyter by his friend, the bishop of Caesarea, while on a journey to Athens through Palestine. Demetrius condemned Origen for insubordination and accused him of having castrated himself and of having taught that even Satan would eventually attain salvation, an accusation which Origen himself vehemently denied.[7][8] Origen founded the Christian School of Caesarea, where he taught logic, cosmology, natural history, and theology, and became regarded by the churches of Palestine and Arabia as the ultimate authority on all matters of theology. He was tortured for his faith during the Decian persecution in 250 and died three to four years later from his injuries.

Origen was able to produce a massive quantity of writings due to the patronage of his close friend Ambrose, who provided him with a team of secretaries to copy his works, and may be the most prolific of all ancient writers. His treatise On the First Principles systematically laid out the principles of Christian theology and became the foundation for later theological writings.[9] He also authored Contra Celsum, the most influential work of early Christian apologetics,[6] in which he defended Christianity against the pagan philosopher Celsus, one of its foremost early critics. Origen produced the Hexapla, the first critical edition of the Hebrew Bible, which contained the original Hebrew text as well as five different Greek translations of it, all written in columns, side-by-side. He wrote hundreds of homilies covering almost the entire Bible, interpreting many passages as allegorical. Origen taught that, before the creation of the material universe, God had created the souls of all the intelligent beings. These souls, at first fully devoted to God, fell away from him and were given physical bodies. Origen was the first to propose the ransom theory of atonement in its fully developed form and, though he was probably a Subordinationist, he also significantly contributed to the development of the concept of the Trinity. Origen hoped that all people might eventually attain salvation, but was always careful to maintain that this was only speculation. He firmly believed in free will and advocated Christian pacifism.

Origen is a Church Father[10][11][12][13] and is widely regarded as one of the most important Christian theologians of all time.[14] His teachings were especially influential in the east, with Athanasius of Alexandria and the three Cappadocian Fathers being among his most devoted followers.[15] Despite this, Origen was never canonized as a saint because some groups believed that some of his teachings contradicted those attributed to the apostles, notably the Apostles Paul and John.[10] Origen was posthumously condemned as a heretic by a Council of Alexandria in the year 400. In 543, the emperor Justinian I again condemned him as a heretic and ordered all his writings to be burned. The Second Council of Constantinople in 553 may have anathemized Origen, or it may have only condemned certain heretical teachings which claimed to be derived from Origen. His teachings on the pre-existence of souls were rejected by the Church.[16] 



Origen’s Greek name Ōrigénēs (Ὠριγένης) probably means “child of Horus” (from Ὧρος, “Horus”, and γένος, “born”).[17] His nickname or cognomen Adamantios (Ἀδαμάντιος) derives from Greek adámas (ἀδάμας), which means “adamant“, “unalterable”, “unbreakable”, “unconquerable”, “diamond”.[18][19]



Preexistence of souls

The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (c. 1617) by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Origen based his teaching of the preexistence of souls on an allegorical interpretation of the creation story in the Book of Genesis.[131]

One of Origen’s main teachings was the doctrine of the preexistence of souls,[132][133][131][134] which held that before God created the material world he created a vast number of incorporeal “spiritual intelligences” (ψυχαί).[133][131][135][134] All of these souls were at first devoted to the contemplation and love of their Creator,[133][135][134] but, as the fervor of the divine fire cooled, almost all of these intelligences eventually grew bored of contemplating God, and their love for him “cooled off” (ψύχεσθαι).[133][131][135][134] When God created the world, the souls which had previously existed without bodies became incarnate.[133][131] Those whose love for God diminished the most became demons.[135][134] Those whose love diminished moderately became human souls, eventually to be incarnated in fleshly bodies.[135][134] Those whose love diminished the least became angels.[135][134] One soul, however, who remained perfectly devoted to God became, through love, one with the Word (Logos) of God.[136][134] The Logos eventually took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, becoming the God-man Jesus Christ.[136][135][134]

Origen may or may not have believed in the Platonic teaching of metempsychosis (“the transmigration of souls”; i.e. reincarnation).[137] He explicitly rejects “the false doctrine of the transmigration of souls into bodies”,[138][15] but this may refer only to a specific kind of transmigration.[138] Geddes MacGregor has argued that Origen must have believed in metempsychosis because it makes sense within his eschatology[139] and is never explicitly denied in the Bible.[139] Roger E. Olson, however, dismisses the view that Origen believed in reincarnation as a New Age misunderstanding of Origen’s teachings.[140] It is certain that Origen rejected the Stoic notion of a cyclical universe,[138] which is directly contrary to his eschatology.[138]


Free will

The Birth of Esau and Jacob (c. 1360–1370) by Master of Jean de Mandeville. Origen used the Biblical story of Esau and Jacob to support his theory that a soul’s free will actions committed before incarnation determine the conditions of the person’s birth.[141]

Origen was an ardent believer in free will[142] and he adamantly rejected the Valentinian idea of election.[143] Instead, Origen believed that even disembodied souls have the power to make their own decisions.[143] Furthermore, in his interpretation of the story of Jacob and Esau, Origen argued that the condition into which a person is born is actually dependent upon what their souls did in this pre-existent state.[141] According to Origen, the superficial unfairness of a person’s condition at birth—with some humans being poor, others rich, some being sick, and others healthy—is actually a by-product of what the person’s soul had done in the pre-existent state.[141] Origen defends free will in his interpretations of instances of divine foreknowledge in the scriptures,[144] arguing that Jesus’s knowledge of Judas’s future betrayal in the gospels and God’s knowledge of Israel’s future disobedience in the Deuteronomistic History only show that God knew these events would happen in advance.[144] Origen therefore concludes that the individuals involved in these incidents still made their decisions out of their own free will.[144]

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Deuteronomism (Deuteronomistic theology)

Deuteronomy is conceived of as a covenant (a treaty) between the Israelites and Yahweh,[30] who has chosen (“elected”) the Israelites as his people, and requires Israel to live according to his law.[31] Israel is to be a theocracy with Yahweh as the divine suzerain.[32] The law is to be supreme over all other sources of authority, including kings and royal officials, and the prophets are the guardians of the law: prophecy is instruction in the law as given through Moses, the law given through Moses is the complete and sufficient revelation of the Will of God, and nothing further is needed.[30]

Under the covenant Yahweh has promised Israel the land of Canaan, but the promise is conditional: if the Israelites are unfaithful, they will lose the land.[33] The Deuteronomistic history explains Israel’s successes and failures as the result of faithfulness, which brings success, or disobedience, which brings failure; the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians (721 BCE) and the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians (586) are Yahweh’s punishment for continued sinfulness.[34]

Deuteronomy insists on the centralisation of worship “in the place that the Lord your God will choose”; Deuteronomy never says where this place will be, but Kings makes it clear that it is Jerusalem.[30]

It also shows a special concern for the poor, for widows and the fatherless: all Israelites are brothers and sisters, and each will answer to God for his treatment of his neighbor. This concern for equality and humanity extends also to the stranger who lives among the Israelites.[35] The stranger is often mentioned in tandem with the concern for the widow and the orphan. Furthermore, there is a specific commandment to love the stranger.[36]

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Origen was an ardent pacifist[183][184][178] and, in his Against Celsus, he argued that Christianity’s inherent pacifism was the most noticeable feature of the religion.[183] While Origen did admit that some Christians served in the Roman army,[185][186][178] he pointed out that most did not[185][178] and insisted that engaging in earthly wars was against the way of Christ.[185][184][178] Origen accepted that it was sometimes necessary for a non-Christian state to wage wars,[187] but insisted that it was impossible for a Christian to fight in such a war without compromising his or her faith.[187] Origen explained the violence found in certain passages of the Old Testament as allegories[177] and pointed out Old Testament passages supporting nonviolence, such as Psalm 7:4-6 and Lamentations 3:27-29.[177]


The Emperor Justinian I, shown here in a contemporary mosaic portrait from Ravenna, denounced Origen as a heretic[84][135] and ordered all of his writings to be burned.[84][135]