Who was Origen?

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Few church leaders in Origen's generation (ca. 185-254) were as influential and colorful as this theologian-commentator-teacher-priest. From a wealthy family in Alexandria, Egypt, Origen enjoyed a superior education. His father's martyrdom during the persecution of Severus in 202, however, powerfully impacted Origen's teen years. He gave himself to fasting, nights of prayer, poverty, and self-castration, according to 4th-century historian Eusebius. While still in his teens, Origen was appointed a catechist by the bishop of Alexandria. His most promising students shared his ascetical life and lived under the possibility of martyrdom as did all Christians of those times.

Origen's dedication to understanding Scripture compelled him to visit Palestine, where because of his great learning he was invited to preach—though still a layman at the time. His bishop in Alexandria objected and ordered him home. In 230 the bishops of Caesarea and Jerusalem convinced Origen to be ordained, which may have led to his formal break with Alexandria. He established a school of theology in Palestine and proceeded to the most influential work of his career. 

Origen invented the first Bible parallel: the Hexapla, a six-column comparison of texts that attempted to validate the Septuagint translation in wide use in Alexandria. Thanks to his patron Ambrose, Origen also authored hundreds of commentaries and homilies on possibly every book of the Bible—though much of his work would later be suppressed or destroyed, a fraction surviving only in translations by Jerome and others. What did survive of the commentaries became a blueprint for biblical scholars: looking beyond the literal stories to the moral, dogmatic, or spiritual layers of meaning.

His treatise On First Principles outlined Origen's fundamental theology: centrally Trinitarian, with a focus on the twin poles of creation and salvation. It was Origen's interest in speculative theology that became most controversial. He was passionate about describing how the problem of evil entered into the human picture, how it made angels of some of us and demons of others, and how God was going to resolve it all in the end.

During the Decian persecution of 250, Origen was imprisoned and tortured. His health broken, he died after his release. Church historians were not always kind to Origen's theology. But his analysis of Scripture is still quoted relentlessly.

Scriptures: 1 Timothy 3:14-16; 4:1-16; 6:2b-16; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 4:6-8

Books: History and Spirit: the Understanding of Scripture According to Origen - Henri de Lubac (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007)

When the Church Was Young - Marcellino D'Amboriso (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2014) 

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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