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The Condemnation of Origen

  • Cyril C. Richardson (a1)


The condemnation of Origen is one of the saddest episodes in the history of the Christian church. The breadth of his thought, the keenness of his genius and the wide sympathy of his religion, contrast vividly with the narrow obscurantism of his monkish detractors. It is significant that the final defeat of Origen and the closing of the philosophic schools of Athens belong to the same era. It is as if a curtain were then drawn upon the intellectual freedom of the East, and along with certain garbled texts from his works all that was fine and liberal and mature in the faith and thought of Origen had been condemned. He who had striven for a religion truly catholic and had contended that all things were the church's heritage and all things were Christ's, was cast out of the church with imprecations of intolerance and fanaticism. The long controversies over Origen that reach their climax under Justinian mark the passing of much that was noble and enlightened in the early tradition of Greek Christianity.



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1 Eusebius, , H. E., 5.22

2 Eusebius is certainly not fair in his statement about Demetrius. He accuses him with first encouraging Origen after the fateful act of emasculation and then condemning him for it, because he lacked a true pretext and was really jealous of the ability of his subordinate (H. E., 6. 8). Judged on the merits of the actual situation, however, Demetrius acted quite rationally. While Origen was a teacher in the Catechetical School it did not matter that he wag a eunuch, but upon his ordination it was of grave consequence, if we may judge from, the later Canon of Nicaea (no. 1). Even Eusebius admits it was an effective weapon in Demetrius' attack on Origen. Eusebius is not beyond self-contradiction. He first tells us that Origen committed this act to prevent scandal because of the ladies that attended his lectures (6. 8. 2) and follows it up by the assertion that he tried to keep it secret, and it was only later that Demetrius got to Know of it.

3 De Principiis 1. 6. 1.

4 Luc. Hom., 25.

5 De Principiis, 2.10. 1; 2. 10. 3.

6 H. E., 6. 19.

7 Thaumaturgus, Gregory, Orat, de Orig., c. 8.

8 H. E., 6. 9. 12.

9 The story of Epiphanius, that Origen in a moment of weakness sacrificed to the gods, and this necessitated his removal from Alexandria, is absolutely incredible (Haer., 64). As Schrökh has shown (KG., p. 34) it is substantiated by no other source and is best explained by Epiphanius' disagreeable nature and credulity.

10 Origen was ordained by the bishops of Caesarea and Jerusalem (H. E., 6. 8. 5). In Eusebius the irregularity of this concerned his being a eunuch. The passage in Photius that relates to his ordination raises a difficulty. He says Origen did not get leave from his bishop to go to Athens, the final destination of his journey from Alexandria. This is explicitly contradicted by Jerome (De Vir. Illust. 54) who tells us that he went with the authority of an ecclesiastical letter. The statement of Photius is perhaps more intelligible if the permission Origen failed to obtain is understood of his ordination, which Photius certainly mentions as uncanonical.

We may note that several years before this issue arose, Demetrius had objected to Origen's preaching in Caesarea on the grounds that he was only a layman (H. E., 6. 19. 17ff). The Palestinian bishops, however, had warmly defended him, as it was at their request he had preached.

11 According to Photius (Codex 118) there were two Synods: One deposed Origen from the office of teacher, and the other from the priesthood. The evidence seems trustworthy, as Photius is following the Apology of Pamphilus and Eusebius, which contained an account of the whole matter (Eusebius, , H. E., 6. 23).

12 Apol. adv. Rufinium, , 2. 18.

13 Epil. ad Pampbilum. Migne, , P. G., 6. 625.

14 H. E., 6. 24. 3, cf. De Principiis, 1. 8. 4. and 3. 6. 5. The latter passage is open to the interpretation that the devil will be saved.

15 H. E., 6. 36. 3.

16 H. E., 6. 14. 10.

17 Photius, , Codex 117.

18 Döllinger, J. J. I. von, Hippolytus and Callistus, 1896, pp. 260ff.

19 Jerome, , Epistolae, 33. 4.

20 Origen's final departure from Alexandria is dated by Eusebius in the tenth year of Alexander — i. e. 231 (H. E., 6. 26). That this journey and the one mentioned in 6. 23 (about the time of the accession of Pontianus — i. e. 230) refer to the same event is shown by McGiffert, A. C. in P. N. F., (Eusebius) vol. I, pp. 396–7.

21 Jerome uses the word Senatus for his prominent clerical opponents at Rome, in the phrase Pharisaeorum Senatus (cited from a Preface in Rufinus, , Apol. 2. 24.P. L., 21. 603). Of. also matronarum senatus in; Ep., 43. 3. for the daily meetings of Christian ladies in high society.

22 Jerome, , Ep. 84, 9.

23 The prominent Alexandrine who provided Origen with stenographers to take down his lectures (H. E., 6. 23).

24 Cited in Justinian's letter to Mennas, , Mansi, ix, 513.

25 Gennadius, , De Viris Illustribus, 34.

26 Pachomii, Vita, Migne, , P. L., 73. 247.

27 See Routh, M. J., Reliquiae Sacrae, v. IV, p. 81.

28 This fragment is quoted at length by Döllinger, , op. cit., p. 264. He corrects the text in Fontani, , Novae eruditorum deliciae, 1785, pp. 1 ff, by reference to a MS. in Munich.

29 The absence of any mention of this by Eusebius in the History or by Photius in the Codex, is rather convincing. In the Apology of Pamphilua which contained a full account of the proceedings and which Photius (118) closely followed for his resume of the condemnation of Origien, there does not seem to have been a reference to Heraclas. It is hardly possible that, had Heraclas deposed Origen a second time, such silence of the event would have been maintained among the latter's apologists.

30 The only source, in this connection, that mentions the two bishops together is found in the epistle of the Egyptian Synod, to which we have already alluded, Mansi, IX, p. 504. The citation is from Peter of Alexandria, who refers to the bitter attacks that Origen made on the bishops Heraclas and Demetrius. This does not necessarily presuppose a double deposition of Origen.

31 Eusebius, , H. E., 6. 31; 7. 7.

32 Eusebius, , H. E., 5. 22; 6. 26.

33 Dölinger, , op. dt., p, 262.

34 This is in the reign of Maximinius, which is far too late.

35 The accession of Demetrius to the episcopate, according to the History (5.22), was in the tenth year of Commodus. The Canon gives it in the ninth year. This mistake goes as far back as the bishop Abillus. Both the History and the Canon agree that he ascended the episcopal throne in the fourth year of Domitian and reigned for thirteen years, but the Canon places the accession of Cerdo, big successor, in the first year of Nerva, white the History dates this event by the first year of Trajan. If the imperial notices of the History are to be trusted, then Abilius reigned fourteen and not thirteen years.

36 Socrates, (H. E., 6. 13) calls him the first of the great quaternion of revilers of Origen.

37 Eusebius, , H. E., 6. 43ff.

38 Eusebius, , H. E., 7. 24.

39 Photius, , Codex 117.

40 Photius, , Codex 106.

41 Photius, , Codex 119; see also Jerome, , De Viris Illustribus, 76.

42 Ps. Comm., 94.4 and 76.18.

43 Is. Comm., 4.22.

44 Div. Instit., 3. 24.

45 Irenaeus, , Adv. Haer., 2. 14. 27; Tertullian, , Apol, 47.

46 Strom., 1. 1.fin., and 1. 9.

47 Didascalia, 1. 6. 1.

48 Jerome, , De Viris Illustribus 83.

49 See the excerpts of Methodius preserved in Photius, , Codex, 234–7 and in Epiphanius, , Haer., 64.

50 Euseb. contra Marcellum, Migne, , P. G., 24. 761.

51 Photius, , Codex 235.

52 Migne, , P. G., 17. 542ff.

53 The difficulties in which later generations were involved through reading back new ideas into old texts are strangely evident when Origen can be defended as orthodox by Athanasius and accused of being the father of Arianism by Marcellus of Ancyra.

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Church History
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  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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