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Add Origen to the Calendar

General Convention will

consider a resolution from

the Diocese of Maryland

that defends Origen’s name.

The resolution’s author

makes his case.

By Mark Stanley

O
rigen of Alexandria’s contribu-
tions to Christian theology and
his personal holiness place him
solidly in the saint category. After cen-
turies of Origen being called a heretic,
General Convention has a chance this
month, with Resolution C012, to add
him to the Episcopal Calendar. The
Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constan-
tinople (553) seems to have con-
demned him as a heretic. But scholars
like the Jesuit Henri Crouzel have con-
cluded that Origen was unjustly
branded a heretic, and the Catholic
Encyclopedia says that Origen “does
not deserve to be ranked among the Origen by André Thévet/Greek Wikipedia

promoters of heresy” (vol. 11, p. 308).


Origen wrote at a time when the
Church was still seeking to interpret
and define its basic doctrines, before and language developed, Origen sesses the same divine nature” (The
the creeds at Nicaea (325) and Chal- always maintained “a desire to be Unity of Christ, p. 17). This can be seen
cedon (451) were created. It is prob- orthodox and attain to the truth” in Origen’s assertion that Christians
lematic to apply the stricter standards (Beginning to Read the Fathers, p. 6). worship only “one God, the Father and
and terminology of later eras to the The condemnations of Origen Son” (Contra Celsus 8.12). Where
earliest theologians, including the early center on three topics: the subordina- Origen’s words seem to support subor-
writings of Athanasius. Origen lived tion of God the Son to God the Father, dinationism, this is “simply that affir-
and died committed to the orthodox the pre-existence of souls, and the mation that the Father is primary …
faith of the Church that he knew. He apokatastasis, that is, a teaching that with no implication of superiority of
wrote that what is to be believed as all creatures, even the devil, would ulti- nature” (Crouzel, Oxford Companion
truth “in no way conflicts with the tra- mately be saved. Each of these criti- to Christian Thought, p. 503). Even the
dition of the Church and the Apostles” cisms can be refuted using Origen’s great advocate of the Nicene position,
(On First Principles I, Preface 2). own texts. St. Athanasius, drew on the person he
Origen was not declared a heretic until Scholar Christopher Beeley demon- called “diligent Origen.” Athanasius
hundreds of years after his death. strates Origen’s view that “Christ is uses him to support orthodox doc-
Patristics scholar Boniface Ramsey equal to God the Father in both trine, quoting Origen’s teaching that
writes that even as Church concepts divinity and eternity and that he pos- “there is no moment when [the Son]

22 THE LIVING CHURCH • July 1, 2018


was not” (On First Principles 1.2.9). The great Anglican historian Henry Origen, none more devoted to the
Origen did write about the pre-exis- Chadwick put it this way (in an article cause of the Christian faith.”
tence of human souls. This would not for Encyclopedia Britannica): “If ortho-
have been called a heresy in his time doxy were a matter of intention, no the- The Rev. Mark Stanley is rector of St.
since the Church did not have a formal ologian could be more orthodox than Paul’s Church, Baltimore.
teaching on the matter. Church histo-
rian Rebecca Lyman has noted that
Origen was extremely careful to say
that his speculation about pre-existent
souls was a hypothesis, because Scrip- Biography
ture gives no clear answer (Early Chris- Origen d. 254
tian Thinkers, p. 121). Theologian
Another point of dispute is related to
Origen’s concept of the apokatastasis. Born to Christian parents, Origen spent the first part of his career as a teacher in
He wrote: “We think that the goodness Alexandria, Egypt. Origen was not just a prolific scholar; he was also a person of gen-
of God, through the mediation of uine holiness. During a persecution in Alexandria in 202 in which his father was
Christ, willl bring all creatures to one killed, teenage Origen desired martyrdom but his mother prevented him from leaving
and the same end” (On First Principles the house by hiding his clothes. He led a strict ascetical life of fasting, prayer, and vol-
I.6.1-3). Scholars today debate whether untary poverty. According to the historian Eusebius, Origen castrated himself because
Origen truly taught a version of uni- of a misinterpretation of Matthew 19:12. Recent scholars have questioned the truth of
versal salvation, because his writings this story, speculating that this may have been just a rumor circulated by his detractors.
are not consistent on this matter. In 250 during another persecution of Christians, Origen was imprisoned and cruelly
Origen’s emphasis on the patience and tortured, after which he survived only a few years. Origen’s willingness to undergo per-
enduring mercy of God rather than on sonal suffering for refusing to deny his beliefs gives witness to his dedication to Christ.
divine punishment might be seen in Origen is known for his breadth and depth of scholarship, writing influential works
our day not as heresy but as Good of theology, textual criticism, biblical commentary, preaching, and spirituality. St.
News. Jerome is quoted as calling Origen the greatest “teacher of wisdom and knowledge after
the apostles.” Most of all he was a biblical theologian, encouraging an approach to Holy

M uch of the condemnation of Scripture on not just the literal level but also on the moral and allegorical levels.
Origen relates to three things: Origen’s teachings brought respectability to Christian theology and influenced gener-
misunderstandings of his writings, due ations of thinkers.
to their complexity and sheer volume; Many of Origen’s works did not survive due to his condemnation several centuries
false attributions of teachings to him after his death. Some of the later criticism marks a reaction to Origen’s wide-ranging
that were actually those of his later fol- philosophical speculation at a time when Christian orthodoxy was still forming. One
lowers; and even subsequent changes point of dispute is Origen’s concept of apokatastasis that all creatures, even the Devil,
in terminology for God and Christ. could ultimately be reconciled with God. While scholars today debate whether Origen
Origen’s condemnation associated with truly taught a version of universal salvation, Origen certainly proclaimed a good and
the Fifth Ecumenical Council was powerful deity whose love conquers all.
“clearly directed against contemporary
Origenists” (Crouzel, p. 504). Indeed St. Suggested Collect
Basil and St. Gregory of Nazianzus replied O God, who is the beginning of all things, you gave your servant Origen wisdom in
to heretics who claimed the support of learning and sacrificial devotion to Jesus Christ: Grant that our whole lives may be bent
Origen’s authority that they misunder- on progress in divine things after the pattern of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who
stood him (see Ferdinand Prat, intro- lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
duction to The Sacred Writings of
Origen). Sources for the Collect
Lyman has argued that Origen “God, who is the beginning of all things…” (First Principles I).
believed theology is an act of imagina-
tion and prayer within the apostolic “Now our whole activity is devoted to God, and our whole life, since we are bent on
tradition, which leads the faithful the- progress in divine things” (Commentary on John I.4).
ologian into greater intimacy with, and
deeper knowledge of, God. Origen Suggested Readings
spent his life trying to make the Bible Psalm 139:1-12
come alive to everyone, both the simple 1 Corinthians 15:51-58
and the sophisticated, as a place of John 3:1-17
encounter with the divine Word. This is
both why he speculates and why he Proposed Date: July 8
often encouraged further discussion.

July 1, 2018 • THE LIVING CHURCH 23