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Origen

Origen (ôrˈĭjĭn) [key], 185?–254?, Christian philosopher and scholar. His full name was Origines Adamantius, and he was born in Egypt, probably in Alexandria. When he was quite young, his father was martyred. At the age of 18, Origen became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, where he had studied under Clement of Alexandria. In the 28 years of his labors in Alexandria, Origen became famed for his teaching (for which he accepted no money) and wrote prodigiously. A stern ascetic, he castrated himself out of zeal for purity. Hence he was not ordained a priest, but he was permitted to preach while on journeys to Rome, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. His interpretation of the Scriptures in preaching and lecturing won him wide acclaim. Later (c.230) the bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea ordained him, but Demetrius, his own bishop, ordered him deposed and banished from Alexandria. In Caesarea, Origen founded (231) a new school that became even more illustrious than the one in Alexandria. Among his students was St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. In the persecution (c.250) of Decius, Origen was imprisoned, tortured, and pilloried; this experience probably caused his death some time after his release. Learned in Greek philosophy, he was a most erudite and profound biblical scholar as well. According to St. Jerome he wrote 800 works. Extant are letters, apologies, and exegeses. His critical edition of the Bible, the Hexapla, is famous in the history of textual criticism; this was a parallel edition of six Hebrew and two Greek versions. None of these remains in its original form. Origen's system of theology is given in his De principiis [on first principles], known through a Latin version of Rufinus. The chief of his apologies is Contra Celsum [against Celsus]. Origen attempted to synthesize the fundamental principles of Greek philosophy, particularly those of Neoplatonism and Stoicism, with the Christianity of creed and Scripture so as to prove the Christian view of the universe to be compatible with Greek thought. Before St. Augustine, Origen was the most influential theologian in the church. His threefold plan of interpreting Scripture (literal, ethical, and allegorical) influenced subsequent exegetical works. In spite of Origen's fame as an apologist for Christianity, there was question as to his orthodoxy. His somewhat recondite blending of pagan philosophy with Christian theology led to his condemnation by Justinian in the Monophysite controversy. There is good reason to believe that he was often the victim of misquotation and unfair interpretation.

See G. W. Butterworth, tr., Origen on First Principles (1936); R. B. Tollinton, tr., Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies of Origen (1929); G. E. Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords (1979); J. W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century Church (1983).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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