Origen was believed to be the first philosopher to come up with an orderly, rational, and coherent understanding of the Christian faith and beliefs within the social context of his time. Origen, who was born in Alexandria in circa 185 CE, grew up in a post Hellenistic period when many of the (find out which groups here) were invading most of Europe and were perceived as a threat to political stability to the influence of Hellenism had imposed.
Origen’s home, Alexandria, once known as Rhakotis , is located at the mouth of the Nile River in Egypt. Rhakotis was renamed in 331 BCE after the conquest of Alexander the Great. During the time that Origen lived in Alexandria many of the Roman Emperors such as; Severus, Maximin, and Decius were known for their religious persecution of those who practiced the Christian faith. In fact Origen was born into, lived with, and died of this kind of persecution. During this time the primary faith practiced in Alexandria was Gnosticism. Gnosticism was not just a religious movement during those times, but was also a multicultural philosophical movement that was derived from Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Syrian and pagan religions. It also had deep roots in astrology, Judaism and Christianity. Christianity was not as widespread during the time, and many Christians were criticized because the Gnostics rejected the idea that only one man possessed the divinity of God. In the Gnostic culture, every man and woman possessed this inner divinity and as a means to integrate the many cultural heritages that had been integrated into Alexandria due to the many invasions and conquests of that region. But the early founders of the Church believed the Gnostics to be heretics because of the incorporation of many of the pagan practices into their religious culture. But because the city of Alexandria had become such a great metropolis in Egypt and center of learning, with the help of Biblical scholars and teachers like Origen, Alexandria was destined to become one of the chief centers of Christianity rivaling even Antioch and Rome.
Among these was the Christian scholar and theologian Origen. Origen was the oldest of 7 sons and was born to a well off family. His father Leonides, who was highly educated and also devoutly Christian. Leonides made sure that Origen was schooled in both Biblical and Hellenistic studies. In Alexandria, the religious life and education that mixed with Greek culture of Philosophical thought paved the way for the first school of Christian theology to become established. A school was set up, initially for the purpose of conversion and baptism, but eventually developed a more academic structure and became modeled to serve as a theological seminary. Like Berea it began with modest means. The school was founded with one teacher, and later added a few more. These teachers worked without a fixed salary or academic buildings; but instead gave voluntary lessons in their homes in the style of the Ancient philosophers.
It was reported by a man named Eusebius, that Origen’s father grew very anxious until the time of his death. Leonides believed that “besides learning the accepted Greek curriculum that Origen should also study extensively in the Bible. He would require Origen to read out loud and memorize the passages every day. When Origen turned sixteen, Origen witnessed his father being dragged from his home by Roman soldiers. Later, Leonides was beheaded due the persecution of Emperor Severus (how ironic) in Alexandria around the time of circa 202 CE. He was later named a martyr and given Sainthood by the Catholic church because of this deed. Because of this outbreak of persecution, Origen, who was deeply affected by his father’s death, planned to emulate his father’s martyrdom but was dissuaded by his mother in some sort of ruse. The death of Leonides left the family of nine destitute after their property was confiscated. Origen was taken in by a wealthy woman, but Origen, who remained devout to his faith refused to live there long as she had already boarded another man named Paul (of whom little is known except that Paul’s heresy clashed with Origen’s more Orthodox lifestyle).
In c. 203 CE, Origen succeeded his teacher, Clement of Alexandria as Headmaster of the catechetical school. He was only 17 and Clement had been driven out of Alexandria because of the religious persecution. Origen spent a good portion of his time visiting these political prisoners, attending the courts and comforting those who were condemned to be put to death. Origen grew so popular with his pupils that the Bishop, Demetrius of Alexandria, restricted Origen to teaching only from the Christian doctrine. To pay for his expenses, Origen lived frugally off of the money he received after selling his library for twelve cents. He spent his days teaching and at night he entered into an ascetic state and spent his time studying from the Bible. Worried that he might be labeled a heathen for his education of women, Origen, followed the scripture literally in the passage of Matthew 19:12 and castrated himself in his belief that a Christian must follow the words of his master without reserve. Although later in life he would judge this act of extremism very differently.
In 211-212 CE, during the reign of Emperor Caracalla, Origen paid a visit to Rome but found himself disillusioned by the neglectful state of Pope Zephyrinus and returned to Alexandria. By then the school had grown to exceed the demands of one teacher and Origen brought in Heraclas, the brother of the martyred Plutarch, to teach elementary instruction so that he could focus his teachings upon interpretations of the Bible. He began to study Hebrew with his friend Ambrose of Alexandria who influenced Origen’s decision to convert to Orthodoxy. Ambrose agreed to publish Origen’s writings. It is believed that during this time, Origen began writing some of his earlier works; one of which was his most noted work De Principiis (aka On First Principles ). This piece was highly influential among monastics and expressed the first themes linking redemption and eternal life. It is also in this work that Origen argues, using the language and reasoning of Plato, the supremacy of God and the divine hierarchy of the Holy Trinity.
Around 215 CE an uprising in Alexander resulted in the destruction of the city by Emperor Caracalla’s army. The army looted the city, shut down the schools and expelled all the foreigners from the city. Ambrose fled to Ceserea taking Origen with him in fear that Origen’s affiliation with the school might put him in danger. After the uprising subsided, Origen was called back to Alexandria where he devoted his time to teaching and writing.
Origen was also made biblical critiques based upon material that he felt moved him in a way that could be categorized as “divinely inspired”.
Origen also goes so far as to critique and refute the Authenticity of THESE works.
Other ways that Origen influenced Christian thought? Origen used Greek and pagan philosophy in order to explain the Christian faith in a manner that was acceptable to intellectuals. By rationally introducing ideas such as the “fall of the soul”, salvation, free will and rationality, Origen was able to convert many pagan believers over to the Christian faith. Rather than embrace the Gnostic view of a dualistic perfect/imperfect divinity, Origen reconciled this by explaining that humanity could be reunited with God, the source of divinity, through the re-education of souls. Because humanity had fallen away from God, they would need a gradual re-initiation back to divine presence.
In his writings On Divine Principles, Origen insists that “God will never undermine the free will of His creatures; rather, God will, over the course of numerous ages if need be, educate souls little by little, leading them eventually, by virtue of their own growing responsiveness, back to Himself, where they will glory in the uncovering of the infinite mysteries of the eternal godhead.” In his literature, “ Origen recognized freedom only in reason, in rationality, which is precisely the ability to recognize and embrace the good, which is for him God. Irrationality is ignorance, the absence of a conception of the good. The ignorant person cannot be held responsible for his ignorance, except to the extent that he has been lazy, not applying himself to the cultivation of reason. The moral dimension of this conception of freedom is that ignorance is not to be punished, but remedied through education ”. Because of his Hellenistic influence. Origen was often criticized and accused of adulterating the Gospel with pagan philosophy. In fact there was also a lot of criticism that early Christianity was corrupted by the influences of Hellenism. Ironically, there was a time when the doctrines of Trinity and the deity of Christ were considered to be unbiblical ideas that were introduced into Christianity through the corrupting influence of Greek philosophy, particularly through the ideas of Plato .
Origen eventually moved back to Cesarea in Palestine. He opened a school there which became more popular than the school he taught in Alexandria. He continued his extensive literary, teaching and ministry. In 250 CE during the Decian persecution, during which Decius, under Emperor Maximus Thrax, issued a decree that public sacrifices be made to Greek gods in order to show allegiance to the Emperor. Commissions were sent out to the city to supervise the execution of the sacrifices and issue certificates of those who performed them. Christians were given other opportunities to make public sacrifices or burn incense to the Roman Gods. “Refusal to do so was punished by arrest, imprisonment, torture, and executions.”
Origen was finally imprisoned for not participating in the mandatory sacrifices and many of the other Christians fled to the country side and paid bribes for their certificates there. Origen was then brutally tortured and condemned to death at the stake. But the Emperor died before they could execute and so he regained his liberty but died shortly after his emancipation. Origen is believed to have died in 253 or 254 CE as the result of his torture wounds. Several Councils were held in Carthage to debate whether the Christians who performed the sacrifices should be accepted back into the Christian faith.
Origen of Alexandria (Greek: Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs , or Origen Adamantius , c. 185–254
“ Origen was one of the great early Christian scholars and teachers, his writings had a profound effect on the development of Christian theology, particularly in the provinces of the Greek East. 3”