Origen of Alexandria

About Origen of Alexandria (c.185 - c.254)

Origen is one of the most important and controversial thinkers in the history of Christianity. He was born in Alexandria, one of the intellectual centres of the ancient world. When his father was martyred in the persecutions of the Emperor Severus in the early 200s, Origen attempted to have himself arrested in order to die for the faith alongside his father. His exceptional ability was recognized early. On the return of Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, who had fled the persecutions, Origen was placed in charge of the catechetical school in Alexandria. He was ordained to the priesthood in 331 in Caersarea and settled there. He was arrested during the persecutions of the early 250s and died, probably as a result of having been tortured, sometime after his release.

Together with Augustine, Origen, more than any other figure in the early church, was responsible for setting the terms of subsequent Christian thinking about doctrine, the Bible, and the spiritual life. A philosopher, theologian, biblical exegete, and ascetic, he was a person of extraordinary intellect and prodigious literary output. It was said by contemporaries that seven scribes working in relays were required to keep up with his dictation. Modern scholars regard him as perhaps the greatest of the Middle Platonist philosophers. His On First Principles, a systematic account of theology and a handbook to the reading of Scripture, was the first programmatic exposition of Christian thought. He was the first to argue for the eternal generation of the Son. He was the first major interpreter of Scripture, systematically applying allegorical hermeneutics to the reading of the Bible, the approach that would come to dominate the Western reading of Scripture until the Reformation. He wrote commentaries and preached on almost every book of the Bible. For a time in Caesarea, he preached every day. His work On Prayer is one of the great works of Christian spirituality, and his writings had a profound influence on the emerging monastic tradition. He was a noted holy man, sought after not only for his doctrinal teaching, but also for his spiritual wisdom. Bishops and court dignitaries travelled great distances to consult him. His monumental defence of Christianity, Contra Celsum, written in reply to the attack on the faith by the Greek philosopher Celsus, is the culmination of the apologetic movement of the second and third centuries. However, his views were speculative and many of his ideas were deemed heretical by both his contemporaries and later Christian thinkers. At the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, his writings were formally condemned. Many of them were destroyed and are only known, often in fragmentary form, in the Latin version of Rufinus, who, at the beginning of the fifth century, attempted to render Origen's thought more acceptable to the Latin West. Nevertheless, Origen had an enormous impact on the history of Christianity, and there is an increasing interest in the post-modern world in his approach to the interpretation of Scripture and the formation of doctrine.