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date: 04 December 2021

Origen (1) (Origenes Adamantius)free

, Christian author, c. 185–c. 255 ce

Origen (1) (Origenes Adamantius)free

, Christian author, c. 185–c. 255 ce
  • Henry Chadwick
  •  and M. J. Edwards


  • Christianity

Origen (1) (Origenes Adamantius), (probably 184 ce or 185–254 or 255: Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 7. 1, Jerome, De Vir. Ill. 54) was born at Alexandria(1) of Christian parents. Our chief source of information on his life is the sixth book of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, together with the Panegyric by Gregory(4) Thaumaturgus and the surviving book (translated by Rufinus(2)) of the Apology for Origen which Eusebius wrote with Pamphilus (Migne, PG17. 521–616). Educated by his father Leonides (who perished in the persecution of 202 under Septimius Severus) and later in the Catechetical School of Alexandria under Pantaenus and Clement (of Alexandria), he became a teacher himself, with such success that he was recognized, first informally, then in 203 officially, as head of the school. He learned pagan philosophy from one Ammonius, perhaps not Ammonius Saccas but another Ammonius who was a Peripatetic (Porphyry, in Eus. HE 6. 19, Vita Plotini20). The story of his self-castration in accordance with Matthew 19: 12 is supported by Eusebius (HE 6. 8), but doubted by Epiphanius (Panarion 64. 3). His career as a teacher was interrupted in 215 by Caracalla's massacre of Alexandrian Christians. He withdrew to Palestine, but after a time was recalled by his bishop, Demetrius. Through his extensive literary work he now acquired such influence in the eastern Church as to become its unofficial arbiter, and, on a journey to Greece in this capacity, allowed himself to be ordained priest by the bishops of Caesarea(2) and Jerusalem. Demetrius, who had not given his consent, took offence at this and perhaps also at parts of Origen's teaching. On obscure grounds, Origen was banished from Alexandria and deposed from the presbyterate, but the decision was ignored in Palestine, and Origen settled at Caesarea in 231. He continued his labours until, after repeated torture in the Decian persecution (250–1; see messius), his health gave way and he died at Tyre at the age of 69.

Origen's works were voluminous and of wide scope, but only a fraction has survived. He was a pioneer in textual criticism of the Bible, exegesis and systematic theology.

Critical. His chief work in this sphere was the Hexapla, begun before 233 and not completed till 244–5. In it were set out in six columns: (a) the Hebrew text of the OT, (b) the same transliterated into Greek characters, (c) and (d) the two Greek versions by Aquila and Symmachus, (e) the Septuagint, (f) the revision of this by Theodotion. Only fragments survive. A conservative redactor, Origen defended the Greek portions of Daniel against Sextus Iulius Africanus.

Exegetical. He wrote commentaries on the greater part of Scripture. Some took the form of scholia on obscure passages, others of homilies on numerous books of the OT and NT, many of which are preserved in the original or in Latin translation by Jerome or Rufinus. There were also elaborate commentaries on diverse books of the OT and on the Gospels of Matthew and John (parts survive). Origen sought, though not consistently, a moral sense pertaining to the soul and a typological sense to instruct the spirit, occasionally discarding the historical sense where data were in conflict.

Doctrinal. The De Principiis is an original exposition of Christianity written before Origen left Alexandria. Setting out from points of doctrine in the Church tradition, he proceeds by (often tentative) speculation to support these by rational inference or by Scriptural quotation, and thus produce a system at once philosophical and pious. Large fragments of the Greek survive, but the only complete version is the Latin of Rufinus.

Apologetic. The Contra Celsum, written c.249, replies in detail to the learned attack of the Middle Platonist Celsus, which probably appeared in 176. This is the only extant work in which Origen avows his philosophic education. Part of the Dialogue with Heraclides was discovered on papyrus at Tura near Cairo in 1941.

Devotional. Two of Origen's works in this category, the De oratione and Exhortatio ad martyrium have come down to us complete. The former was probably written c.231, the latter was addressed c.235 to his friends Ambrosius and Protoctetus, who suffered persecution under Maximin. His spiritualizing treatise On the Pasch was also discovered at Tura.

The Philocalia is a collection of excerpts from Origen's writings by Gregory(2) of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea. It preserves the original Greek of many passages otherwise known only in Latin, and shows what the Cappadocians found valuable in his teaching. But Origen had already come under attack by Methodius for his denial of a carnal resurrection, and at the end of the 4th cent. he was condemned by Epiphanius and (eventually) Jerome. The translations by his champion Rufinus are often freer and more periphrastic than those of Jerome, in the interests of orthodoxy and of clarity. Despite this advocacy, Origen was finally condemned under Justinian at the Council of Constantinople (553).


  • Origenes Werke, ed. P. Koetschau (1899ff).
  • Vier Bücher von Prinzipien, ed. H. Karpp (1976).
  • Traité des Principes, ed. H. Crouzel and M. Simonetti (1978–84).
  • Contre Celse, ed. M. Borret (1967–9).
  • The Philocalia of Origen, ed. J. A. Robinson (1893).
  • Philocalie 1–20, ed. M. Harl (1983).
  • Tura Papyri ed. J. Scherer (1947– ).
  • Entretien avec Heraclide, ed. J. Scherer (1960).
  • Philocalia, G. Lewis (1911).
  • De Principiis, G. W. Butterworth (1936).
  • Contra Celsum, H. Chadwick (1953).
  • On Prayer etc., R. A. Greer (1979).
General literature
  • E. de Faye, Origène, 3 vols. (1923–8).
  • R. Cadiou, La Jeunesse d'Origène (1936).
  • J. Daniélou, Origène (1948, Eng. trans. 1955).
  • H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966).
  • R. P. C. Hanson, Allegory and Event (1959).
  • M. Fédou, Religion paienne et chrétienne chez le Contre Celse d'Origène (1989).
  • H. Crouzel, Origène (1985, Eng. trans. 1989).
  • H. Crouzel, Les Fins dernières selon Origène (1990).
  • N. Pace, Richerche sulla traduzione di Rufino del ‘De principiis’ di Origene (1990).
  • E. A. Clark, The Origenist Controversy (1992).
  • M. J. Edwards, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 1993.
  • P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Cosmology and Ontology of Time (2006).
  • P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Philosophy of History and Eschatology (2007).