The Teachers of the Church: Origen of Alexandria (Part 1)

Origen of Alexandria
Origen of Alexandria

The History of Christianity #53

Our Scripture verse today is 1 John 4:16 which reads: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”

Our quote today is from John Chrysostom. He said: “A comprehended God is no God.”

Today, we are looking at “The Teachers of the Church” (Part 10) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Origen of Alexandria (Part 1)

Clement’s greatest disciple, and the last of the four Christian teachers to be considered in this series, was Origen. In contrast with Clement, Origen was the son of Christian parents. His father suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Septimius Severus – the same persecution that forced Clement to leave the city. Origen, who was still a young lad, wished to offer himself for martyrdom. But his mother hid his clothes and he was forced to remain at home, where he wrote a treatise on martyrdom addressed to his imprisoned father.

Shortly thereafter, when Origen was still in his late teens, the bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius, entrusted him with the task of training catechumens – that is, candidates for baptism. This was a very serious responsibility, and young Origen, whose genius was exceptional, soon became famous. After teaching catechumens for a number of years, he left that task to some of his best disciples, and devoted himself entirely to running a school of Christian philosophy that was very similar to those founded by the great classical philosophers. There he lectured, not only to Christians who came from afar to listen to him, but also to enlightened pagans drawn by his fame, such as the mother of the emperor and the governor of Arabia.

For a number of reasons, including jealousy, conflict arose between Demetrius and Origen. The final result was that the latter had to leave his native city and settle at Caesarea, where he continued writing and teaching for another twenty years.

Finally, during the persecution of Decius, Origen had the opportunity to show the strength of his faith. Given the nature of that persecution, Origen was not put to death, but was tortured to such a point that he died shortly after having been released. He died in Tyre, when he was about seventy years old.

Origen’s literary output was enormous. Since he was aware of the manner in which diverse versions of scripture differed, he compiled the Hexapla. This was an edition of the Old Testament in six columns: The Hebrew text, a Greek transliteration from the Hebrew – so that a reader who did not know that ancient language could at least have some idea of its pronunciation – and four different Greek translations. To this was added an entire system of symbols indicating variants, omissions, and additions. Besides this great scholarly work, Origen wrote commentaries on many books of the Bible, the already cited apology Against Celsius, and a great systematic theology called De principiis – (“On First Principles”). Part of this great literary production was achieved through dictation, and it is even said that at time he would simultaneously dictate seven different works to as many secretaries.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Teachers of the Church: Origen of Alexandria.

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