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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism Re-Thinking the Christianisation of

Author(s): Ilaria L.E. Ramelli
Source: Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 63, No. 3 (2009), pp. 217-263
Published by: Brill
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Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism

Re-Thinking the Christianisation of Hellenism

Ilaria L.E. Ramelli

Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
Via Faustini 6, 29010 San Nicol?, Piacenza, Italy
ilaria. ramelli@virgilio. it

Origen was a Christian Platonist, which his adversaries (both Christians who opposed
Greek philosophy and pagan philosophers like Porphyry who saw Christianity as a
non-culture) considered to be a contradictio in adiecto. His formation and teaching
centred on philosophy, and his e a in its structure was inspired not so much
by earlier Christian works as by pagan philosophical works stemming from the
selfsame authors as those appreciated at Ammonius' and Plotinus' schools. A close
examination of all extant sources and a careful investigation of Origens philosophical
formation, readings, and works show that Origen the Neoplatonist is likely to be our
Christian philosopher.
The presupposition of the incompatibility between Christianity and philosophy
(especially Platonism), which provoked charges against Origen as a Christian Platonist
from his lifetime onward, is still at work in modern theorizations concerning the "Hel
lenisation of Christianity," which are here analysed and brought into connection with
the supposed necessity of distinguishing Origen the Platonist from Origen the Chris
tian. It is not the case that a "pure" Christianity was subsequently Hellenised: the NT
itself was already Hellenised to some extent, and the Christian a, intended
for all nations and cultures, was a a a for the Jews as well as a for the

Origen, Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus, Porphyry, Longinus, Alexander of Aphrodisias,
e a , Christian Platonism, Hellenisation of Christianity

? Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009 DOI: 10.1163/157007208X377292

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218 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Origen in a letter1 felt the need to defend himself for his interest in phi
losophy, evidently because of the accusations levelled against him already
during his life. He claims that, while he was studying Scripture, i.e. the
logos (a a e ), he was approached by heretics, philoso
phers, and experts in E a a a a, and thus he had "to examine
both the heretics opinions and what the philosophers claimed to say
concerning the truth" ( a e a e a e
a e e a). He adduces the examples of Pantaenus and Heraclas,
both Christian philosophers in Alexandria, whom he simply imitates
( a e ): Pantaenus had an excellent preparation in philosophy and
Greek disciplines, e e a a a e . Indeed,
he is said by Eusebius to have been a Stoic philosopher, illustrious for his
learning,2 whose teachings and exegeses were collected by Clement in his
Hypotyposeis, where he also mentioned Pantaenus by name as his teacher
(HE 6,13,2). That he was well known to Origen is also certified by Alex
ander of Alexandria, who in a letter to Origen says that it was through
Pantaenus and Clement that he came to know Origen (//E 6,14,9). Clem

1) Reported by Eusebius (HE 6,19,12-14), who had direct access to Origen s letters, which
he collected, ordered, and kept in the Caesarea library (ibid. 6,36,3). Moreover, he was a
disciple of Pamphilus'.
2) a a a e a a ... a a a ' e a
a a a e e ... a a a (HE5,10,1).
Pantaenus taught in Alexandria until his death, both orally and a a a
(HE 5,10,4). Eus. HE 5,11,2-5 testifies that Clement named Pantaenus as his master in
his Hypotyposeis, and rightly identifies Pantaenus with the best of the Christian masters?
mostly philosophers?cited by Clement in Strom. 1,1,11: Pantaenus "was hiding in Egypt"
and was the last teacher found by Clement, a e . He was the best among
those who preserved a a a a a a a a a through an oral
transmission from parent to child. The Christian philosopher may be
Bardaisan (I don't think he is Tatian, since Clement criticizes him e.g. for his encratism);
the Ionian whom Clement met in Greece might be Athenagoras, upon whom the influence
of Middle-Platonism was strong (see I. Ramelli, "Nuove osservazioni per lo studio del
rescritto di Adriano sui Cristiani," Aevum 81 [2008] 137-148): correspondences are high
lighted by S. Lilla in Nuovo Dizionario Patristico, 3 (Genoa 2008) 4132-4133. Clement
named Pantaenus as his teacher and exposed his Scriptural exegeses and traditions (Eus. HE
6,13,1-2); Clement himself presents his a e (in 1,1,11,2) as notes from his mas
ters' teaching. See A. von Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 1 (Leipzig 1893)
291-296, with all testimonia on Pantaenus; A. M?hat, "Pant?ne," in Dictionnaire de Spiri
tualit? 12 (Paris 1983) 159-161; I. Ramelli, "La missione di Panteno," in La diffusione
dell'eredit? classica, ed. C. Baffioni (Alessandria 2000) 95-106; Ead., Gli apostoli in India, in
coll. with C. Dognini (Milan 2001) ch. 3.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 219

ent s designation of Pantaenus as e a,3 too, alludes to

his learning, not only in the field of Scripture, which is emphasized in the
immediate context, but also in that of liberal disciplines and philosophy,
as is confirmed by the use of the bee metaphor in Strom. 1,33,5-6 in refer
ence to the indispensable formation provided by philosophy, preliminary
to Christian theology (cf. 4,9,2). As for Heraclas, "who now sits in the
e ? of Alexandria," as Origen remarks in his letter, he was found
by him a a a a a a : Heraclas had
been studying philosophy with that teacher?Ammonius Saccas?4?for
five years before Origen began to attend those classes in turn (a a a
a e e ).5 This presbyter and future bishop not
only was a Christian philosopher,6 but even dressed as a philosopher, and
was still wearing philosophical garb and studying the "books of the
Greeks" when Origen wrote his letter: a a a? a
e e , ? ? a e E a a a a e a
. The same detail about philosophical attire in connection with
"Christian philosophy" is to be found in the Acts of Philip J where this

3) Strom. 1,11,2. Eus. HE 5 1,1 identifies this "bee" with Pantaenus. He was right accord
ing to T. Zahn, Forschungen zur Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons 3 (Erlangen 1884)
161; further arguments for this identification are adduced by I. Ramelli, "Osservazioni
sulle origini del Cristianesimo in Sicilia," Rivista di Storia de??a Chiesa in Italia 53 (1999)
4) This identification is endorsed by EH. Kettler, "Or?genes, Ammonios Sakkas und Por
phyrius", in Kerygma und Logos. Festschrifi C. Andresen (G?ttingen 1979) 322-328, and
P.E Beatrice, "Porphyry's Judgment on Origen," in Origeniana V, ed. RJ. Daly (Leuven
1992) 351-367.
5) In HE 6,15,1 Heraclas is presented as an expert in philosophy also by Eusebius, who
defines him a of Origen's. He had been trained in philosophy by Ammonius for
five years before Origen joined that school; after which, we should assume?not without
difficulty in harmonizing Origen's account in his letter with Eusebius' own?that Heraclas
became a disciple of Origen's at his Christian school, and Origen, upon his return from
Rome, decided to hand him a e e a , while
reserving for himself e e e a a .
6) Eusebius himself depicts Heraclas as e ? a a e a e
a a (HE 6,3,2). It is significant that in Justinian's letter to Menas Heraclas appears
exclusively as a bishop who had to endure Origen's folly: e e a a a
a a , e a a a

a a a a ?a e a; ( . 84 Amelotti-Zingale).
7) Act II, cod. V: Acta Philippe ed. E Bovon, . Bouvier, E Amsler, CC apocr. 11 (Turn
hout 1999). See E Amsler, "Les Actes de Philippe," in Le myst?re apocryphe (Gen?ve 1995)
125-140; I. Ramelli, "Mansuetudine, grazia e salvezza negli Acta Philippe Invigihta Lucer
nis 29 (2007) 215-228.

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220 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

apostle, belonging to the Hellenists' group, preaches to the Athenians

before many philosophers who wish to listen to him, with a clear reminis
cence of Pauls Areopagus discourse. They assume him to be a philosopher
because of his clothes, which resemble philosophical dress,8 and he is
accused of introducing, not a religion, but "a foreign philosophy," in line
with Justins first definition of Christianity as a e a.
Origen in his letter claims that being a Christian philosopher, both fully
Christian and fully philosopher, like Pantaenus and Heraclas, is perfectly
possible and consistent. Indeed, in his lost a e 9?inspired by
Clement, who in Strom. 1,5,28 declared philosophy a gift from God and a
preparation for Christian faith?Origen compared the philosophers' and
the Christian ideas, and found them consistent, given that he confirmed
the Christian beliefs by means of the thought of Greek philosophers (Hier.
Ep. 70,4). And in CC7,6, in a discussion concerning Socrates, Origen s
own view is that philosophy is a search for truth that renders those who
practice it noble, venerable, and glorious.10
Origens identity as a Christian philosopher was criticized, from both
inside the Church and outside, during his life and afterward. It is against
such criticism that Origen wrote his letter and, after his death, Pamphilus11

8) Dio Chrysostom, between the I and the II cent. A.D., recounts that he was taken to be
a philosopher during his exile, due to his modest clothes. Cf. Or. 47,25; 1,50.56; 12,15;
13,10-11; 32,22; 34,2; 35,2; 72,16. After his exile, however, he did no longer wear a philo
sophical garb.
9) On which see C. Moreschini, "Note ai perduti Sfrontata di Origene," in Origeniana TV,
ed. L. Lothar (Innsbruck 1987) 38-42.
10) a a a a e a a e e a a e a a e .
. Marcovich in his critical edition integrates an a , in reference to Socrates, after
e {Or?genes, Contra Celsumy 2, VCS 54 [Leiden 2001] 463 1. 20).
n) In his Apology (SCh 464-465). E. Prinzivalli, "Per un'indagine sull'esegesi del pensiero
origeniano nel IV secolo," Annali di Stona dell'Esegesi 11 (1994) 433-460, rightly remarks
that Origen is the first Christian for whom apologies were composed (433): I believe that
this is due precisely to his being a Christian philosopher, the most outstanding the Church
had ever had. See also E. Junod, L'auteur de lApologie pour Origene (Paris 1992); Id.,
"L'apologie pour Orig?ne de Pamphile et la naissance de l'orig?nisme," in Studia Patristica
26 (Leuven 1993) 267-286; Id., "Controverses autour de l'h?ritage orig?nien," in Orige
niana VII, eds. W.A. Bienert?U. K?hneweg (Leuven 1999) 215-223; P. van Nuffelen,
"Two Fragments from the Apology for Origen in the Church History of Socrates," Journal
of Theo fogical Studies 56 (2005) 103-114. R. Williams, "Damnosa Haereditas," in Logos.
Festschrift L. Ahramowski (Berlin 1993) 151-169, is sceptical about the reliability of Rufi
nus' translation, rightly admitted by E. Prinzivalli, Magister Ecclesiae (Rome 2002) 178.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian PUtonism 221

and Eusebius12 deemed it necessary to intervene. Eusebius' apologetic line

is clear: in order to defend Origen against the charge of being a pagan
philosopher instead of a good Christian, he wishes to stress that Origen
never was a pagan, but was born from Christian parents and his father was
even a martyr. Nevertheless, his very presentation of him as e
e e a {HE 6,1,1) suggests that Leonides may have
been, not properly the father of Origen, but perhaps his spiritual father,
who converted him to Christianity and died when he was still young, not
yet seventeen. Origens name might also indicate that he was the son of
pagans, if its etymological meaning is "progeny of Horus" (? , ? ).13
In Princ. 1, praef. 2 his words could even be interpreted in the sense of a
conversion.14 Porphyry, for his part, in a well-known fragment I shall anal
yse soon, was sure that Origen was a pagan in his youth and then con
verted to Christianity. But caution must be recommended also in dealing
with his report, for he shared the prejudice of the Christian accusers of
Origen, viz. that philosophy and Christianity are basically incompatible.
Eusebius in his account emphasises that Origen was interested and
trained in Scripture already as a young boy, a e a a a e e
a , and asked his "father" many questions about
the meaning of the Bible {HE 6,2,7-9). At the same time, however, he
attests that Origen studied not only Scripture, but also the customary
curriculum of the "Greek disciplines" ( a e a...
E a a ), which were crowned by philosophy, and, thanks
to the patronage of a rich lady, after his "father s" death he deepened his
knowledge of these disciplines (//F 6,2,15).15 When he stopped teaching

12) On Eusebius' biography of Origen and the whole biographical tradition concerning
Origen see La biografia di Origene fra stona e agiografia, ed. A. Monaci Castagno (Verucchio
13) It may be for this reason that he preferred his other name, which he probably used
in attesting that he went to Rome, A a a ? a a ?jv e a {a .
Eus. HE 6,14,10); it appears in Christian sources such as Eusebius and the Dialogue of
Adamantius, and many later documents, but it sounds more like an epithet (not too differ
ent from that ascribed to Origen by Athanasius, De deer. Nie. syn. 27,1-2: ).
Porphyry {a . Eus. HE 6,19,4-8) never uses A a a , but only .
14) "There are many, among Greeks and barbarians, who promise truth, but we stopped
seeking it among those who affirmed it with false teachings, after we believed that Christ is
the Son of God and were persuaded that we should learn truth from him."
15) For Christian attitudes in regard to classical learning see, most recently, What Happened
to the Ancient Library ofAlexandna?, ed. M. El-Abbadi?O. Fathallah (Leiden 2008) esp.
chs. 5-11, also on the library's vicissitudes in the III-IV cent.

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222 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

literature?which he formerly cherished?in that he felt it to be opposed

to the e a a a a, and sold the relevant books {HE 6,3,8-9), there was
no question of a repudiation of philosophy; Eusebius describes his life,
all devoted to study and asceticism, as a a ? (6,3,9),
exactly as his master Pamphilus had done {Apol. 9),16 and records that
many learned pagans who had received a philosophical education ( a
a e a a a ) were conquered by his teaching (6,3,13). Even
after handing the teaching of the e a to Heraclas (//f , 15,1), he did
not stop teaching philosophy, but "many renowned philosophers" attended
his classes, "in order to be instructed not only in the divine things, but also
in pagan philosophy," a e a , consisting in the liberal
arts as well as?and above all?in the doctrines of the various philosophi
cal sects, a a e a a a (6,17,2-3). He based his
teaching on the writings of the philosophers, which he explained ( a a a
a a a ), with the result that he was celebrated
as a great philosopher even by pagans: a a a ' a "E
... e a .17 After attesting this, Eusebius assumes again
an apologetic tone, and, like Origen in his letter, he makes it clear that, in
order to teach other people, Origen necessarily had to learn a a
a a a a a himself. Eusebius also records, in 6,30,1, that
Origen instilled a passion for philosophy ( a a) in Theo
dore-Gregory and his brother, which is confirmed in Gregorys Panegyric19,
6, where Origen is described as a e a , a a .19
Again, Origens Letter to Gregory is centred on the importance of philoso
phy in the formation of a Christian intellectual, with the allegorical exege
sis of the "spoils from Egypt" coming from Philo.20 Gregory attests that

16) Uitam abstinentissimam egerit et ualde philosophant (ed. R. Amacker and ?. Junod, vol.
1, SChr 464 [Paris 2002] 44).
17) The less gifted he did not teach philosophy, but recommended to study the a
a a a and Scripture (6,18,4).
18) On this text and the identification of its author with Gregory the Wonderworker, chal
lenged by Nautin, Simonetti and some others, see 77 Giusto che fiorisce come palma, ed.
. Clausi and V. Milazzo (Rome 2007) with documentation; also M. Rizzi, Gregorio il
Taumaturgo (?), Encomio di Origene (Milan 2002); M.D.P. Barbanti, Origene tra Platonismo
e Sacra Scrittura (Catania 2003) 61-100, uses it as a document due to a pupil of Origen s.
19) Cf. Pan. 1, where Origen is a a a a , devoted to the a a.
20) See my "Philosophical Allegoresis of Scripture in Philo and Its Legacy in Gregory of
Nyssa", The Studia Philonica Annual 20 (2008); in general for this motif in early Jewish
and Christian literature see L.E. Frizzell, "Spoils from Egypt: between Jews and Gnostics",
in Hellenization Revisited, ed. W. Helleman (Lanham 1994) 139-64; P.E Beatrice, "The
Treasures of the Egyptians," Studia Patristica 39, ed. M J. Edwards et al. (Leuven 2006)

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 223

Origen in his classes "praised philosophy and all those who love it" (6) and
recommended the study of all philosophers apart from the atheists:21 he
read and explained pagan texts to his disciples. He had them study all
philosophical authors and schools in order to avoid their being subjugated
by any of them (13) and to develop a capacity for critical evaluation in
them: he taught them all that was useful and true in all philosophers (14).
The cursus studiorum at Origens school as described by Gregory is entirely
focussed on philosophy, organized according to the basically Stoic triparti
tion into logic, physics?philosophy of nature, also including geometry/
geography and astronomy?and ethics,22 followed by theology as the high
est degree.
In addition to being attacked by Christians, Origen as a Christian phi
losopher was criticized by pagan philosophers. Eusebius {HE 6,19,4-8)
reports a crucial by Porphyry, from the third book of his writing
against the Christians,23 where the pagan Neoplatonist, after disapproving
the application of philosophical allegoresis to Scripture?for this barbar
ian writing could not conceal a deep philosophical truth to be discovered
by means of philosophical allegoresis?states that the initiator of this
a a was Origen, whom he describes as illustrious for his writings still in

159-183; above all J.S. Allen, The Despoliation of Egypt in Pre-Rabbinic, Rabbinic and
Patristic Traditions (Leiden 2008).
21) Pan. 13. These are probably the Epicureans, who denied, not the existence of divinities,
but providence. The reception of Epicureanism in Origen and his tradition is interesting,
however: see Chr. Markschies, "Epikureismus bei Or?genes und in der origenistischen Tra
dition," in Epikureismus in der sp?ten Republik und der Kaiserzeit, Hrsg. W. Erler?R. Bees
(Stuttgart 2000) 191-217 = Id., Or?genes und sein Erbe (Berlin 2007) 127-154.
22) The influence of Stoicism on Origen is well known: it ranges from allegoresis (see below)
to logical terminology: R.E. Heine, "Stoic logic as handmaid to exegesis and theology in
Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John," journal of Theological Studies 44 (1993)
23) On this see Beatrice, "Porphyry's Judgment," 351-367; Th. B?hm, "Or?genes?
Theologe und (Neu-)Platoniker? Oder: Wem soll man misstrauen: Eusebius oder Porphy
rius?" Adamantius 8 (2002) 7-23; M. Zamb?n, " a a : la critica di Porfirio a
Origene", in Origeniana Vili, ed. L. Perrone (Leuven 2003) 553-563; A. Grafton-M. Wil
liams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book (Cambridge-London 2006) 63-65;
I. Ramelli, "Origen and the Stoic Allegorical Tradition: Continuity and Innovation," Invig
ilata Lucernis 28 (2006) 195-226; on Porphyry's attitude toward Christianity J. Schott,
"Porphyry on Christians and Others: 'Barbarian Wisdom,' Identity Politics, and Anti
Christian Polemics on the Eve of the Great Persecution," Journal of Early Christian Studies
13,3 (2005) 277-314. For a status quaestionis on Porphyry's work Against the Christians see
the introduction and edition by E.A. Ramos Jurado et ai, Porfirio de Tiro contra los cristia
nos (C?diz 2006) and R.M. Berchman, Porphyry Against the Christians (Leiden 2005).

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224 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Porphyry's own day.24 Porphyry states that he met Origen when he was
young, probably in Caesarea: Porphyry was born in A.D 232/3, and
Origen died around A.D. 255, as a result of the tortures inflicted upon
him during Decius' persecution. Therefore, Porphyry was twenty-two or
younger when he met Origen. We cannot know with certainty whether he
was a Christian at that time,25 as Socrates and Porphyry's knowledge of
Scripture may suggest,26 but he is certainly not mistaken when he identifies
our Origen with a disciple (a a , 6,19,6) of Ammonius Saccas,27 the
founder of Neoplatonism, in Alexandria. Thus, Origen was a fellow-disci
ple of Plotinus and Longinus;28 since Origen left Alexandria in A.D. 233

24) Socrates, too, exactly in the context of a polemic against Porphyry for his criticism
of Scripture, presents Origen as the initiator of Christian Biblical allegoresis:
a a .. . a a a a e a a a e a ? ?
a e e a a e a , a a a e e a
a e e (HE 3,23). Clement is not taken into consideration either by Porphyry or by
Socrates as a precursor of Origen in Biblical allegoresis; certainly, Origen was not only a
prolific exegete, but also a theorizer of Scriptural exegesis in Princ. 4.
25) Cf. W. Kinzig, "War der neuplatoniker Porphyrios urspr?nglich Christ?," in Mousopou
hs Stephanos. Festschrift H G?rgemanns, eds. M. Baumbach?H. K?hler (Heidelberg 1998)
26) In HE 3,23 Socrates relates the anecdotic account that Porphyry was beaten by some
Christians in Caesarea, as a consequence of which he abandoned Christianity and wrote his
work against the Christians (where he displayed a thorough knowledge of Scripture).
Socrates seems to draw his information from Eusebius' refutation of Porphyry: a
a a e a a a a e a e
e a a e a a e e e, e a a e
? a a a a a a e e e , a E ? a
e e , a a e a a a .
27) On whom see below and . D?rrie, "Ammonios, der Lehrer Plotins," Hermes 83 (1955),
439-478; Id., "Ammonios Sakkas," in Theohgische Realenzykbp?die 2 (1978) 465-73;
G. Goulet, "Porphyre, Ammonios, les deux Orig?nes et les autres," Revue d'Histoire et Phi
losophie Religieuses 57 (1977) 471-496; P. Nautin, Origene. Sa vie et son uvre (Paris 1977)
197-202; G. Rinaldi, La Bibbia dei pagani 2 (Bologna 1998) 55-56; J. Tloka, Griechische
Christen?christliche Griechen (T?bingen 2005) 118, who accepts the identification of
Ammonius master of Origen with Saccas, like Grafton-Williams, Christianity, 23, 27, 64.
A substantial dependency of Origen on early Neoplatonism is admitted of by EH. Kettler,
Der urspr?ngliche Sinn der Dogmatik des Or?genes (Berlin 1966); R. Berchman, From Philo
to Origen (Chico 1984) 113-164.
28) Theodoretus Cur. 6,60-73 sets Ammonius under Commodus and presents both Origen
the Christian and Plotinus as his disciples: ? A
a a , a a a , e e e , a a
? . a a e , . Theodo
retus depicts Ammonius as instructed in humble works and outlines his metaphysics: the

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian PUtonism 225

and Plotinus began to attend Amnionitis' classes at 28, around 231, they
may even have frequented Ammonius' school together for at least two
years. Plotinus' teaching, as will be clear from Porphyry, depended on that
of Ammonius,29 who tried to harmonize Plato's and Aristotle's philoso
phy,30 a point that was to be dear to Porphyry himself.31 Similarities can
also be traced between Ammonius' thought and the few extant fragments
of Pantaenus, who taught in Alexandria during the reign of Commodus
and later (Eus. HE 5,10,1-4), exactly when Ammonius too was teaching
there.32 In particular, Ammonius' thought as reported by Hierocles of

principles are the Nous and the Logos, by which the universe is created and maintained in
existence and harmony: a E? a , a a e a , a a a
a a [a reference to the Apostles?] a a a e e , e a e
e e e , e a a ' a a a a a a a
e e a a . Ammonius was a supporter of divine providence
and of the Stoic and Platonic principle that only the good are happy: Oi a a
e a e ? a a a e e a e . It is noteworthy that Theodoretus has no
problem with Ammonius' mention of gods, whereas Eusebius, against Porphyry's allegation
that Ammonius passed from Christianity to paganism, felt it necessary to claim that
Ammonius remained Christian all his life long.
29) The Christian Nemesius always describes Ammonius as the teacher of Plotinus. In
De nat. horn. 2,19ff. he demonstrates that the soul is immaterial on the basis of Ammonius'
and Numenius' philosophy ( a a ' A a a a
a e a); in 3.56-60, about the union of body and soul,
Nemesius quotes Ammonius: A e ? a a ... e e e a a
a e e a a a a a a a a a e a
e a a, a e a e a a a a a a... a a a a
e e ... a a a a a a ' a , a a a
a a e a e a a a a e e a a . a a
a a a a .
30) Hierocles a . Phot. Bibi. cod. 214,172A Bekker: A a a e ,
a e a e a e a e . a a a a a a a a a a
a , a a e a a e a e a a e , e
e a e a a a a a a a e a A
a a . Cod. 251,461b: A e a e a .
a a a a a ... e e a a
a a a e e e a a a , a a a a a
a a e.

31) Suda, s.v. , ascribes to Porphyry e a e a a a

A a e '.
32) On the Christian philosophical schools of Alexandria, Athens, and Rome see B. Poud
eron, "R?flexions sur la formation d'une ?lite intellectuelle chr?tienne au II?me si?cle," in
Les Apologistes chr?tiens et la culture grecque, ?ds. B. Pouderon & J. Dor? (Paris 1998)

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226 I.LE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Alexandria a . Phot. Bibi cod. 251,46lb.462b, concerning the creation of

beings by God's will,33 coincides with Pantaenus' frg. 2 Routh, where he
says that the logoi in God's mind are called by Scripture "God's wills"
because the Godhead created everything by its will and knows all beings as
its own wills.34

Porphyry in his Eusebian fragment contrasts Ammonius with Origen:

whereas Ammonius had Christian parents and was brought up as a Chris
tian, but when he received philosophical instruction he changed his way of
life, Origen was a Greek and received a Greek education, but converted to
Christianity. It is to be noticed that Porphyry does not say that Ammonius
became pagan or rejected Christianity, but that e e a
a a , e a a e a e e?a e ,
i.e. he began to behave according to the laws. For Porphyry wrote when
Christianity was still a superstitio illicita, against the law: it seems to me
highly significant, in this connection, that it is precisely Porphyry, or an
author closely inspired by him, who attests, together with Tertullian, to the
senatus consultum that made Christianity a superstitio illicita instead of a
religio licita?5 According to Eusebius, Ammonius was a Christian all his
life long and wrote a treatise on the agreement between Moses and Jesus
(HE 6,19,10). It is notable that the Middle-Platonist and Neo-Pythago
rean Numenius, who was no Christian and did not live a a , alle
gorised both the Old and the New Testament, as Origen certifies in his
polemic against Celsus on Biblical allegoresis.36 The idea that Christianity

33) 461b: " e , , a e a a

a e a a a a e , e e e e -
a e a e e ? a e a . 462b: e a e
e e e , a a a e a a e a a e , e a
a a e e .

34) = Clem. fr. 48 St. a . Max. Conf. De variis difficilibus locis Dionysii et Gregorio 60-61
(Dehler (PG 91.1085): oi e a a e e a ... e
e a e a a a a e a a [sc. ], e e
e a e a , e a a e a
a ... a e a ? e a a a a e e a a... a '
a e a a e a a a a ... e a e a a a a
e e... e e a e .

35) This is demonstrated by I. Ramelli, "II senatoconsulto del 35 contro i Cristiani in un

frammento porfiriano," with a preface by M. Sordi, Aevum 78 (2004) 59-67.
36) CC 4,51 = frs. le & 10a Des Places. See Ramelli, "Origen and the Stoic Allegorical
Tradition;" Rinaldi, Bibbia, 259; 50ff., according to whom his birth in Apamea and his life
in Alexandria make it probable that he knew Judaism: in Apamea there was a Jewish colony

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 227

is "against the law" appears again in Porphyry's intellectual profile of Ori

gen in the same fragment: according to him, he had Greek parents?which
does not necessarily contrast with Eusebius' account on Le?nides the mar
tyr as Origen's e e a , although Eusebius soon after insists that
Origen's parents were Christian (6,19,10)?and was trained
, which is in line with Eusebius' biography of Origen, but then
?a ?a e e a. What is most remarkable is the distinc
tion that Porphyry introduces at this point between Origen's way of life,
which was against the law in that it was Christian,37 and Origen's philoso
phy, which was Greek: a a e ? a a a a ,
a a e a e a a a e a e a
a E e ?a e . Porphyry is saying that
in metaphysics and theology Origen was a Greek philosopher, and indeed
he studied these disciplines at Ammonius', and he interpreted Scripture in
the light of philosophy, which in Porphyry's eyes looks like a monstrum,
but in fact was what Philo had already done. The list of Origen's favourite
readings in philosophy offered by Porphyry is revealing: e a
ae a , e a a e a
a e a a e a a e
a e a a ? e a a
e a ? ? , a ' e a a '
"E a a a e a a
(HE 6,19,8).
Origen's philosophical readings are the same as the authors read by Plo
tinus and his disciples. There are Plato first, then Middle-Platonists and

against which the inhabitants of the city had not risen up during the war of A.D. 66-70,
which happened in other towns in Syria (los. BI 2,479). Pagan Platonists such as Jambli
chus (G. Bechtle, Iamblichus, Aspekte seiner Philosophie und Wissenschaftskonzeption [Sankt
Augustin 2006]) and Proclus regarded Numenius as a Platonist; Christian Platonists such
as Origen in the abovementioned passage, Clement (for Numenius' application of numer
ology to the OT according to D. Runia, "Why Did Clement of Alexandria Call Philo
'Pythagorean'?," Vigiliae Christianae 49 [1995] 1-22), Eusebius (cf. H.D. Saffrey, "Un
lecteur antique de Num?nius," in Forma futuri [Torino 1975] 145-153) and Nemesius, call
him Pythagorean. He is seen as a Middle-Platonist by C. Mazzarelli, "Bibliografia medio
platonica," Rivista di Fiksofia Neoscolastica"/74 (1982) 126-159 and M. Frede, "Numenius,"
?nANRW, 11,36,2 (Berlin 1987) 1034-1075, a Neo-Pythagorean by . Centrone, "Cosa
significa essere pitagorico in et? imperiale," in La filosofia in et? imperiale (Naples 2000)
37) Porphyry very probably knew that Origen was also persecuted as a Christian under

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228 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Neo-Pythagoreans, and finally Stoic allegorists, from whom Porphyry says

that Origen inherited his allegorical hermeneutic and applied it to the
Bible,38 in his view illegitimately. Notably, the same accusation against
Origen, but turned upside down, reappears on the Christian side in Justin
ian s letter to Menas, p. 72 A.-Z.: E a a e
a a a e e a ? e , a a a e a e
e e a a . Justinian too, like Porphyry and the accusers to whom
Origen replied in his letter, believed that Greek philosophy and Christian
ity were incompatible.39
Longinus, the disciple of Ammonius Saccas, is particularly interesting,
for a reason I shall explain in a moment. Moderatus of Gades was a Neopy
thagorean of the I century A.D., and Nicomachus of Gerasa another
Neopythagorean of the I-II century, whose philosophy was close to Pla
tonismi his first principles are God-Monad and the Dyad; the Ideas are in
God s Nous, and from God there proceed the Logos and the cosmic Soul.
Cronius too was between Neopythagoreanism and Middle-Platonism:
he was a close friend of Numenius' (as attested by Porphyry in De antro
Nympharurr?)) and his writings were carefully studied not only by Origen
but also by Plotinus, as again Porphyry confirms in VP 14. Apollophanes
is the most mysterious. Several Apollophanes are known from antiquity:
our philosopher might be either the Old Stoic (SVF 1,404-408) from
Nisibis (Steph. Byz. Ethnica s.v. A e a)?but it would be odd to list
him among Middle-Platonists and Neo-Pythagoreans?, or the philoso
pher mentioned in Suda 1170 and in Ps. Dionysius Ep. 7,2 as a Platonic
thinker who criticized Christianity.40 The problem is that the Suda dates

38) Ramelli, "Origen and the Stoic Allegorical Tradition," 195-200.

39) For the history of the accusations against Origen, culminated in the official condemna
tion at Constantinople, see e.g. A. Guillaumont, Les Kephalaia Gnostica d'?vagre le
Pontique et l'histoire de Vorig?nisme (Paris 1962); H. Crouzel, "Origene e Torigenismo. Le
condanne di Origene," Augustinianum 26 (1986) 295-303; C. Tsirpanlis, "The Origenistic
Controversy in the Historians of the Fourth-Sixth Centuries," ibid. 177-183; J. Dechow,
"The Heresy Charges against Origen," in Origeniana TV, 112-122; Id., Origen's 'Heresy
from Eustathius to Epiphanius," ibid. 405-409; Id., Dogma and Mysticism in Early Christi
anity (Macon 1988); E. Clark, The Origenistic Controversy (Princeton 1992); E. Prinzivalli,
"The Controversy about Origen before Epiphanius," in Origeniana VII, 195-213;
Ead., Magister, M.J Edwards, Origen against Plato (Aldershot 2002) chap. 1 and passim-,
W. Bienert, "Zur Entstehung des Antiorigenismus in 3./4. Jahrhunderts," in Origeniana
VIII, 829-842.
40) He was certainly not the Apollodorus expert in medicine (Gal. De cop. med. 13,83), or
the grammarian (Plut. Qu. Conv. 684E), or the author of comedies (Athen. Deipn.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 229

him (a , e a a ...
, a e e , a a
A e ) to Tiberius' reign, which would fit nicely with Porphyry's
account, but may depend on the identification of Ps. Dionysius with the
Athenian convert of the I century, which is not accepted by any scholar
today.41 Nevertheless, it is interesting that the pseudonym chosen by the
author reveals that the latter intended to present himself as a philosopher,
one of those who listened to Paul at the Areopagus, and as a Christian
philosopher. According to "Dionysius," at seeing the unscheduled eclipse at
Christ's death,42 Apollophanes exclaimed: a e, a ?a e
a a . He, as a and , rightly identified philosophy
with the knowledge of beings, but philosophers should use it to reach
God, the cause of all beings and of their knowledge.43 The core debate in
this letter is the same that also originated the charges against Origen on the
pagan side: Apollophanes accuses Dionysius of "using the things of the

41) Usually scholars assume that he was influenced by Proclus and wrote between the end
of the V and the beginning of the VI cent. See e.g. H.D. SafFrey, "Nouveaux liens objectifs
entre le Pseudo-Denys et Proclus/' in Id., Recherches sur le n?oplatonisme apr?s Plotin (Paris
1990); A. Louth, Denys the Areopagite (London 1989); B.R. Suchla, Verteidigung eines pla
tonischen Denkmodelb einer christlichen Welt (G?ttingen 1995); Denys lAr?opagite et sa pos
t?rit?, ?d. Y. de Andia (Paris 1997); A.M. Ritter, "Dionysius Pseudo-Areopagita und der
Neuplatonismus," Philotheos 4 (2004) 260-275; S. Lilla, Dionigi Areopagita e il Platonismo
cristiano (Brescia 2005); J. Dillon?S.K. Wear, Dionysius the Areopagite and the Neopktonist
Tradition (Aldershot 2007); Th. Alexopoulos, "Paradoxe Formulierungen bei Dionysios
Areopagites," Vigiliae Christianae62 (2008) 43-78. C. Schaefer, The Philosophy of Dionysius
the Areopagite (Leiden 2006) denies that the discussion on evil in DNA depends on Proclus;
E.D. Perl, Theophany (Albany 2007) focuses on Neoplatonic aspects of Ps. Dionysius.
E. Honigmann, followed by M. Van Esbroeck, proposed the identification with Peter the
Iberian: see the latter s "Peter the Iberian and Dionysius the Areopagite," Orient?lta Chris
tiana Periodica 59 (1993) 217-227; Damascius too has been proposed as an author:
CM. Mazzucchi, "Damaselo, autore del Corpus Dionysiacum" Aevum 80 (2006) 299-334;
contra V. Napoli, e a (Catania-Palermo 2008) 124. Moreover, . Brons,
Sekund?re Textpartien im Corpus Pseudo-Dionysiacum? (G?ttingen 1975) 119-139, denied
that Ep. 7 originally belonged to the Corpus.
42) See A.M. Ritter, "Dionysios Pseudo-Areopagites und die Sonnenfinsternis w?hrend der
Kreuzigung des Erl?sers," in St?rmend aus finsterem Pfad, Hrsg. H. K?hler?H. G?rge
manns (Heidelberg 2000) 49-59; for the letter I refer to the edition by Id.?G. Heil, De
coelesti hierarchia, De ecclesiastica hierarchia, De mystica theohgia, Epistulae (Berlin 1990
43) a e , a e a a... a
a a a e a a a e a a e

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230 I.LE. Ramelli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Greeks against the Greeks," and "Dionysius" replies by employing the

argument also utilized by Clement, Origen, and Eusebius: it is pagan
philosophers who have used divine wisdom in an improper way, against
God. It is up to Christian philosophers to use philosophy in the most
proper way. Apollophanes and "Dionysius," a pagan and a Christian Pla
tonist,44 are together in Egypt according to this letter:45 it may be interest
ing to recall that Elorduy identified "Dionysius" with Ammonius Saccas,46
who was active in Alexandria, and deep affinities can be pointed out
between "Dionysius" and, respectively, Pantaenus,47 Clement,48 Plotinus
and Porphyry,49 and above all Origen. Indeed, Istv?n Perczel argued that
the Corpus Dionysianum should be ascribed to fifth-century Origenism,
with an Evagrian influence,50 and that Origen is one of its main sources:

U) That this Apollophanes was a Platonist is also remarked by S. Gersh, "The Pseudonym
ity of Dionysius the Areopagite," in NeopUtonismo pagano vs. neopUtonismo cristiano, eds.
M.D.P. Barbanti?C. Martello (Catania 2006) 99-130: 105-106: "That the pagan oppo
nent of Dionysius described in this letter is a Platonist emerges clearly from the reference
to his knowledge of beings which is contrasted with the corporealist mythologizing of the
45) Another letter by "Dionysius" to Apollophanes is recorded in the CPG III 6630, origi
nally written in Greek but surviving only in a Latin translation. See P. Canart, "En marge
de la question ar?opagitique: la lettre XI de Denys ? ApoUophane," Byzantion 41 (1971)
46) Especially E. Elorduy, "Es Ammonio Sakkas el Pseudo-Areopagita?," Estudios eclesi?sticos
17 (1944) 501-557; cf. A. Tovar, "El Pseudo-Dionisio y Ammonio Sakkas," Emerita 16
(1948) 277-281.
47) Both "Dionysius" and Pantaenus observed that Scripture calls "God's e a a" the
in God's mind, as again Maximus the Confessor attests in the same passage I cited for
Pantaenus' fr. 2 (De variis diff. locis, 60 .): e e
A e a a a e a e a a a e a
a a a e . a e a a e e a
a e a e e a e a a a a e a a
[sc. ]... See above, n. 34 for the continuation.
48) S. Lilla, "De pseudo-Dionysio Areopagita cum Clemente Alexandrino conspirante,"
Latinitas 41 (1993) 284-287.
49) T. G. Sinnige, "Plotinus on the human person and its cosmic identity," Vigiliae Christi
anae 56 (2002) 292-295, with comparison between "Dionysius" and Enn. 1,6,1 and 6,9,9
on psychology; S. Lilla, "Pseudo-Denys l'Ar?opagite, Porphyre et Damascius," in Denys
l'Ar?opagite et sa post?rit?, ?d. Y. de Andia (Paris 1997), who argues for a dependency of
"Dionysius" on Porphyry's and Damascius' commentaries on the Parmenides.
50) "Pseudo Dionysius and Palestinian Origenism," in The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox
Church, ed. J. Patrich (Louvain 2001) 261-282; "Une th?ologie de lumi?re," Revue des
?tudes Augustiniennes 45 (1999) 79-120.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 231

e.g. Princ. 1,2,13 is paraphrased at the beginning of DN2;51 also a passage

from Origens Commentary on John is paraphrased, where Origen seems to
be indicated as "the divine Bartholomew;"52 other examples led Perczel to
hypothesize that Origens thought is called e a in the Corpus and
Origen e .53 In DN 1,4 the definition of God as a a a
does not derive from Proclus, who does not use this expression for God,
but from Origen, Princ. 1,1,6,54 where Origens very Greek terms are pre
served by Rufinus.
Numenius, who is also listed by Porphyry among Origens readings,
in addition to allegorizing the Bible, intended to recover the authentic
Plato beyond the Academy's sceptical deformations, and his true Plato was
Pythagorizing. His three-principle doctrine is close to Eudorus and Mod
eratus, and is often considered to be an anticipation of that of Plotinus;55
indeed, Plotinus was even accused of plagiarizing Numenius, so that Ame
lius defended him in a treatise dedicated to Porphyry, as the latter relates
in VP 17. Numenius regarded Plato as an "Atticizing Moses" (fr. 8 DP)56
and, like Philo, Clement, Origen, and Eusebius, saw a strong affinity
between Platonic and Biblical doctrines. His influence upon Origen, who
often cites him with esteem,57 has been studied by Somos.58 For my part

51) I. Perczel, "Le Pseudo-Denys, lecteur d'Origene," in Origeniana VII, 673-710; Id.,
"Once Again on Dionysius the Areopagite and Leontius of Byzantium," in Die Dionysius
Rezeption im Mittelater, ed. T. Boiadjiev?G. Kapriev?A. Speer (Turnhout 2000) 41-85.
52) I. Perczel, "Pseudo-Dionysius and the Platonic Theology," in Proclus et U th?obgieph
tonicienne, eds. A.P. Segonds?C. Steel (Leuven-Paris 2000) 491-532: 516-519. Pseud
onymity was a protective strategy.
53) I. Perczel, "Th?ologiens et magiciens dans le Corpus dionysien," Adamantius 7 (2001)
54) I. Perczel, "God as Monad and Henad," in Origeniana VIII, 1193-1209.
55) Scholarship is divided on whether to consider Numenius as postulating two or three
gods. See e.g. E.R. Dodds, "Numenius and Ammonius," in Les sources de Plotin (Vandoeu
vres-Gen?ve 1960) 3-61; J.H. Waszink, "Porphyrios und Numenios," in Porphyre (Gen?ve
1966) 33-78; . Centrone, Introduzione ai Pitagorici (Roma-Bari 1996) 182-186; H.F.
H?gg, Clement of Alexandria and the Beginning of Christian Apophaticism (Oxford 2006)
106-114, who sees in Numenius a twofold theology.
56) =13 Thedinga; definition quoted by Clem. Strom. 1,150,4 and known to Eus. PE 9,6,9;
11,10,14; Thdrt. Cur. 2,114.
57) CC 1,15 (= Num. Fib DP); 4,51 (FlOa); 5,38 (F53); 5,57 (F29). Cf. M. Simonetti,
"L'allegoria in Celso, Filone e Origene," in Tradizione e innovazione nella cultura greca da
Omero ali et? ellenistica. Studi B. Gentili 3 (Rome 1993) 1129-42; Id., Origene esegeta e h
sua tradizione (Brescia 2004) 91-107; C. Reemts, Ver nunftgem?sser Glaube (Bonn 1998).
58) R. Somos, "Origen and Numenius," Adamantius 6 (2000) 51-69.

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232 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

I point out a few derivations from Numenius that are significantly com
mon to both Origen and Plotinus: Origens designation of the Father
and the Logos as e and e e e respectively,59 just as in
Numenius (Fll & 21 DP), and Origens characterization of the Logos
e e e as (CC 6,47), which is identical to the charac
terization of Numenius e e e as (F20-21 DP) and
parallels that of Plotinus' second hypostasis as {E . 2,3,18).
Moreover, Numenius' first god is a a a (F20 DP; cf. 16), exactly
like Origens God the Father in Princ. 1,2,13, and like Plotinus' first hypos
tasis, the One: a ... a a a {E . 6,6,10). More
over, the use of a in reference to the three metaphysical principles
in Plotinus parallels the same use in Origen in reference to the three
persons of the Trinity. And it is probable that other Middle-Platonic
ideas of Numenius' influenced Origen in the field of theology.60 In fact,
it is precisely Origen who attests that Numenius, "in his desire for
learning [ a ], wanted to examine our Scriptures, too, and was
induced to consider them susceptible of allegorical interpretation [ e
], not full of odd ideas" (CC 4,51= FlOa DP). Again, it

59) CC 5,39; 6,47; Mart. 46. Cf. Princ. 1,3,5; CC6,61; 7,57; Co. Io. 2,10,70; 6,29,202.
60) Numenius' second God and his Logos' intermediary function between the first God and
the world may have influenced Origens apparent subordinationism in the relationship
between Son and Father within the Trinity. The Son is the Father s Wisdom and Logos
{Princ. 1,2,3), his image (1,2,6-8), his Son by nature (1,2,4), by generation from his Father
sicut e mente voluntas (1,2,4; 1,2,6.9; 1,4,4); coeternai to his Father and characterized by a
hypostasis of his own (1,2,2.9.11; 1,4,4). He enjoys a perfect unity of will and action with
his Father (1,2,10.12), and, like him, is immutable, indivisible, eternal, omnipotent, sub
stantially and not accidentally good, and is God in every respect, so as to be with
the Father (fr. on Heb 1:3 preserved by Pamph. Apol. 99 [ed. Amacker-Junod, 166]), but
at the same time he is his Fathers minister (1 praef. 4), image of his Goodness (1,2,13), who
knows the Father but not as well as the Father knows himself (4,4,8). He is like an anima
mundi that permeates and preserves the world (1 praef. 4; 1,7,1; 2,6,1; 9,4; 4, 4,3); every
rational being partakes in him (1,3,5-6). Cf. R.P.C. Hanson, "Did Origen Teach that
the Son is a of the Father?," in Origeniana, ed. L. Lies (Innsbruck 1977) 201
202; P. Widdicombe, The Fatherhood of God in Origen and Athanasius (Oxford 1994);
M.J. Edwards, "Did Origen Apply the Word to the Son?," journal of Theohgical
Studies 49 (1998) 658-670; A. van den Hoek, "Origens Role in Formulating Later Chris
tological Language," in Origeniana VII, 39-50; M.J. Edwards, "Origen on Christ, Tropol
ogy, and Exegesis," in Metaphor, Allegory and the Classical Tradition, ed. G.R. Boys-Stones
(Oxford 2003) 235-256; P.F. Beatrice, "The Word from Hellenism to Christian
ity", Church History 71 (2002) 243-272; comparison with Arius: G.C. Stead, "Philosophy
in Origen and Arius," in Origeniana VII, 101-108.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 233

is Origen who informs us that "Numenius, the Pythagorean philosopher,

who expounded Plato with much insight, and studied the Pythagorean
doctrines in depth, in many passages of his works quotes Moses and the
prophets' writings and offers very likely allegorical interpretations of them
[a a a], for example in the work entitled Hoopoe, or in
On numbers and On phce?ex Precisely for his allegorical reading of the
Bible, which parallels his exegesis of Plato and Homer,62 Numenius is
esteemed by Origen much more than Celsus, who, like Porphyry, didn't
admit of any allegorical interpretation of Scripture:63 "He also recalls
Moses', Jannes', and Jambres' story,64 and... we appreciate Numenius
more than Celsus and the other Greeks" (CC4,51 = F 10a DP). Numenius
is also praised by Eusebius for his exegesis of both Plato and Moses,65 and

61) CC4,51 = Fie DP. Bibliography on this fragment in Rinaldi, La Bibbia, 2,52; see also
Edwards, Origen against, 131.
62) On which see e.g. M. Baltes, "Numenios von Apamea und der Platonische Timaios," in
Id., Diano?mata (Stuttgart 1999)1-32; F35-37 DP; M.J. Edwards, "Numenius, Pherecydes
and the Cave of the Nymphs," Classical Quarterly 40 (1990) 258-262, and R. Lamberton,
Homer the Theobgian (Berkeley 1986) 54-77 for a complete survey of Numenius allegori
cal fragments. As Edwards, Origen against, 127-130 argues, Numenius' exegesis is mostly
63) Cf. Cels. ap. Orig. CC4,48; 51 = 2,314,3-6 Borret; Celsus believed "that in the Law and
prophets there is no profound doctrine beyond the literal sense of the words" (CC7,18).
Cf. Rinaldi, Bibbia 2,52-53 nr. 13. Orig. CC 6,29, refutes Celsus who criticizes Moses'
cosmogony interpreted by the Christians in an allegorical sense; see also CC 4,38.48-49.
On Celsus and the Bible: M. Borret, "L'?criture d'apr?s le pa?en Celse," in Le monde grec
ancien et la Bible, ?d. C. Mond?sert (Paris 1984) 171ff.; G.S. Gasparro, "Ispirazione delle
Scritture e divinazione pagana," in Origeniana VI (Leuven 1995) 87-302; Simonetti, Ori
gene esegeta, 91-107. Celsus as a Platonist: M. Frede, "Celsus philosophus Platonicus," in
ANRW, 2,36,7 (Berlin 1994) 5183-5213; GJ. Cook, The Interpretation of the New Testa
mentin Graeco-Roman Paganism (T?bingen 2000) 17-102.
M) On which see my "Apuleius and Christianity: the Philosopher-Novelist in Front of a
New Religion," lecture delivered at the International Conference on the Ancient Novel,
Lisbon, 21st-26th July 2008, forthcoming.
65) Eus. PEI 1,10,14 = F8 DP. The sentence "what else is Plato, if not an Atticizing Moses?"
is handed down by other authors too, all listed in M. Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews
and Judaism 2 (Jerusalem 1976) 209-210. Celsus, instead, criticized Moses because "he
enjoyed divine fame for having derived this tradition, widespread among wise peoples and
renowned men": he is contrasting a thesis supported in the Judaeo-Alexandrian milieu?
and attested in Justin (Apol. 1,54,5), Tatian, Clement, and Christian apologetics, within
a polemic that involved Laertius?, that Moses was more ancient than any Greek writer.
See D. Ridings, The Attic Moses (G?teborg 1995); Rinaldi, Bibbia 2,62-63; I. Ramelli,
"Diogene Laerzio storico del pensiero antico," in Diogene Laerzio: Vite e dottrine dei pi?

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234 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

probably influenced Origeris view of the relationship between Platonic

philosophy and that of Moses (as Philo had already understood it: Moses'
philosophy).66 Origen was in turn influenced by Clement, who defines
Plato "the philosopher taught by the Hebrews" (Strom. 1,1,10,2), offers a
chronological explanation of this assertion in ch. 21, and in chs. 22-29
shows the debts of Greek philosophy, above all Plato, to Moses.67
Numenius and Cronius were carefully studied both by Origen and by
Plotinus, who also read their a a in his classes, as Porphyry wit
nesses in Eusebius passage and in VP 14 respectively. Stoic authors are
mentioned by Porphyry among Origens readings,68 and Porphyry also
points out the presence of Stoic doctrines in Plotinus {VP 14). Moreover,
Alexander of Aphrodisias was often read, at classes too, by Plotinus, who
also used Aristotle's Metaphysica (VP 14), and probably inspired Origen's
e a , as I shall argue. Longinus was read by Origen, as attested
in Porphyry's Eusebian fragment, was a disciple of Ammonius Saccas in
Alexandria, and also read Plotinus; he taught philosophy and rhetoric in
Athens. Origen certainly read his e a , now lost, which was once
read to Plotinus, whose reaction was that Longinus was a rather
than a (VP 14); by Porphyry he is defined as the best critic
( a ) of their time, a a e a ,
a a e e a e a
(VP 20-21). Longinus also dedicated a e to Porphyry (VP 17),
and wrote him a letter, reported in VP 19, in which he asked Porphyry to
send him copies of Plotinus' treatises, which he found full of oddities from
the formal point of view, but admired them as a a a a
a a a , and thought that philosophers ( ) should consider
them among the most remarkable (VP 19). In his treatise e ,

celebri filosofi (Milan 2005) xxxiii-cxxxviii; Ead., " negli a e di Cle

mente," in II volto del mistero, ed. A. Mazzanti (Castel Bolognese 2006) 83-120; Ead., "Le
origini della filosofia: greche o barbare? Dione di Prusa," Rivista di Filosofia Neoscolastica 99
(2007) 185-214.
66) See e.g. R.M. Berchman, "The Categories of Being in Middle Platonism: Philo, Clem
ent and Origen of Alexandria," in The School of Moses, ed. J.P. Kenney (Atlanta 1995) 98
140; A. Droge, Homer or Moses? Early Christian Interpretation of the History of Culture
(T?bingen 1989).
67) E.g. in Strom. 5,5 Clement shows that Pythagorean symbolism had Hebraic roots;
in 5,14 he seeks to demonstrate the theory of plagiary: cf. 5,15-17 (esp. 5,15,72; 16,80;
17,87; cf. 2,5,20; 15,70-71; 18,78.82;19,100; 5,1,10; 12,78; 6,4,35; 7,55; 11,95).
68) Of the two Stoic allegorista, Chaeremon is mentioned by Origen himself also in
CC 1,59.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 235

quoted at length by Porphyry in VP 20, Longinus states that Plotinus

offered a much clearer explanation of the Pythagorean and Platonic prin
ciples than those provided by his predecessors, namely Numenius, Cronius
and Moderatus, i.e. precisely the Middle-Platonists who were also studied
by Origen and well known to Longinus, who attended Ammonius' classes
with him. Indeed, in the same tract Longinus attests that he frequented
both Ammonius and Origen for a long time: a e A
a , e e a e . He
presents them as Platonists who did not offer a written account of their
philosophy, apart from sparse works, among which he too, like Porphyry,
cites Origen s e a . Longinus' admiration for Origen is
enormous: he praises him and Ammonius as "by far superior to all their
contemporaries in intelligence" (e e ).
Ammonius was the teacher of both Origen and Plotinus, his best disci
ples also according to Hierocles of Alexandria.69 Plotinus brought Ammo
nius' into his own research (Porph. VP 14), and Origen at first,
together with Plotinus and Erennius, promised not to divulge Ammonius'
a a, expounded in his a a e ,70 but then, when Erennius broke
the promise, he did divulge them; however, he did not write down these
doctrines, apart from composing the e a a a and
another treatise entitled " ?a e (VP 3). This has
been regarded as incompatible with our Christian Origen's extensive pro
duction,71 but Porphyry is not stating that Origen wrote only these two
treatises tout court, in all of his life, but that he did not expound Ammo
nius' philosophy in any written work apart from these. Plotinus, instead,

69) A . Phot. Bibi. cod. 214,172b: A e a ,

e a a e a . Hierocles lists Origen among the greatest
Neoplatonists, immediately after Plotinus: e a , a a
a a ? a e ... a a e a a a
a (ibid.); a a [Ammonius] e , a
e (cod. 251,461b).
70) This agreement is often regarded as dating to A.D. 242 or after (see e.g. B?hm, "Or?
genes," 21; Barbanti, Origene, 37), but Porphyry does not say that it took place after
Ammonius' death. It may even have occurred between A.D. 231 and 233. On the interpre
tations of this agreement see M.-O. Goulet-Caz?, "L'arri?re-plan scolaire de la Vie de
Plotin," in La Vie dePlotin. Travaux pr?liminaires, 1 (Paris 1982) 229-327.
71) See e.g. Barbanti, Origene, 37: "scrive solo due opere, particolare questo che non si
addice a Origene cristiano"; 38: "ci? che appare maggiormente problematico ? invece il
nodo relativo all'intensa attivit? di Origene scrittore... pressoch? negata nelle testimoni
anze porfiriane della Vita Plotinu

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236 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

did not write anything for ten years, while limiting himself to teaching on
the basis of Ammonius' classes ( A a e
a a ?a , ibid.). The a e in Origen coincide with the e
or a i.e. angels and humans (see e.g. Princ. 2,9,1); they comprised
angels and humans also for his master Ammonius (ap. Phot. Bibl. cod.
251,46lb-462a).72 The other title, stating that the king is the only creator,
probably refers to Plato s Second Letter, with the "three kings" indicating
God, which Clement interpreted in a Trinitarian sense and Origen him
self, CC6,18, cites and refers to God as universal king. Moreover, Origens
master, Ammonius, insisted that God is the creator of all?to the point
that he ascribed to Plato a sort of doctrine of creatio ex nihilo?73 and
attributed to God the the ?a e a and the action of ?a e e ,
which manifests itself in God s a (in the same fragment, going back
to Hierocles, ap. Phot. Bibl. cod. 251,461b).74 These ideas were perfectly

72) a e e a a a a a
a a e e a , a a a a ? a a e a a a a e e a a,
a a a a a e a e , a a a, a a a a a
a a , a e a a e a , a
e e a a a a e e a a a a a a a a a .
In 462a the focus is again on the three classes of a or e a (cf. Origens e
and : the closeness extends even to their definition as e e and,
in 462b, their free will). Cf. Ammonius' other fragment preserved by Hierocles ap. Phot.
Bibl. cod. 214,172a: a e a a e a
a, a e e a , e a a a e a, a ,
a a a a a e e a a a a a a a ? a
a a a a e a e a e a , a e ' e a e e
a e a a, a a e a a a a a a e , e e
a a e a a e ? a e
e e a a a e , e e a e a a a a a a a e
a a a a a e a a .
73) " e , , a e a a a e
a a a a e , e e e e .
74) a ?e? a e a ae e a , a ?a e e
a e a a a, a a a ?a e a a
a e a ... a e a a e a ...

?a a a a e a e e a , a e a
e a a e a e a e a a
a ' a . The order and consequentiality and the free will of rational creatures will be
strongly emphasized by Ammonius' disciple, Origen. Cf. the parallel fragment from
Ammonius handed down by Hierocles via Phot. Bibl. cod. 2l4,172ab: a a
[ ] ?a e e a a e a . a a
a a ?a e a a a e a a e a ... a e a e

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Phtonism 237

compatible with Origens Christian thought. Indeed, both of Origens

tracts on a e and on the Creator/King are said by Porphyry to reflect
Ammonius' teaching. The latter treatise, according to Porphyry, was com
posed e a , that is, in A.D. 253 or soon after, which fits in the
chronology of Origen, who probably died in A.D. 255.75 There is no com
pelling reason to affirm that the Christian philosopher Origen cannot
absolutely have written these works on God who created the universe,
both the noetic and the corporeal one, and governs it, and on the a,
one of his favourite themes in e a and elsewhere?one of the
themes, as he says at the beginning of this text, which were still open to
philosophical investigation, since they had been left undetermined by
Scripture and tradition. Eusebius does not record these writings among
Origens works for the same motive as Porphyry does not record Origens
exegetical production (but he clearly refers to it as a whole in his polemical
fragment) and other ecclesiastical works: they were simply uninterested in
these works respectively. Moreover, Eusebius did not want to expose Ori
gen to further accusations of being a "pagan philosopher," a "Platonist;"
hence, like Jerome in Ep. 33, he only cites his ecclesiastical works such as
commentaries, homilies and scholia, the HexapU, the a e , the
Exhortation to Martyrdom, and the Contra Cehum. Porphyry, for his part,
was hostile to Origens ecclesiastical writings, because they belonged to his
Christian side, which Porphyry detested, but we have seen in his fragment
that he appreciated Origens thoughts concerning a a a a and God,
since he considered them to be wholly inspired by Greek philosophy. Now,
I wish to remark that these two topics, existing beings and God, corre
spond exactly to the two titles on rational creatures and on God as creator
and governor that he ascribes to Origen in VP 3. This, to my mind, strongly
confirms the identification of the Origen mentioned by Porphyry in VP 3
and 14 with the Christian Origen, who is criticized but also admired by
him in his Eusebian fragment.

a a e e a e a a a '
a .

75) Origen was between 69 and 70 when he died, after Decius' death and Gallus' reign:
Eusebius' (HE 7,1) is a rather vague indication that allows a dating around
A.D. 255. More precise is the other detail he offers: Origen was not yet 17 when he lost
his father during Septimius' persecution in A.D. 202 (the tenth year of his reign: Eus.
HE 6,2,2): hence, he was born in 186 and he was 69 in 255, when he died, no later than
A.D. 256 (according to the Suda, 182, in Tyre, Porphyry's birthplace: ,
a a ). On Origen's life see e.g. E. Norelli, "Origene (vita e opere)," in Origene.
Dizionario, ed. A.M. Castagno (Rome 2000) 293-302.

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238 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Origen and Plotinus surely shared the same philosophical formation at

Ammonius' in Alexandria, as is guaranteed by Porphyry. Plotinus high
esteem for Origen, not different from Longinus', and even Porphyry's,
is clear from the episode reported by the latter in VP 14: "Once, when
Origen turned up at a class [ a a a e e
a ], Plotinus filled with embarrassment and wished to stand up
and go away, but, since he was begged by Origen to speak, he replied that
one's willingness lessens when the speaker realizes that he will address per
sons who already know what he is going to say [ e a e a a
e e ]; thus he discussed a little and left." It is not specified that
the event took place in Rome?and, albeit a indicates one of Plo
tinus' classes, it can also mean an informal meeting?but even in this case
there would be no obstacle to the identification of this Origen with our
Christian philosopher. Plotinus went to Rome around A.D. 244, certainly
later than Origen did under Zephyrinus,76 but Origen was still alive in
244: he lived for another decade, and it is perfectly possible that he went
to Rome again,77 especially between 244 and 250, before Decius' persecu
tion and under Philip the Arab, who may have been a Christian himself
and to whom and whose wife Origen wrote letters concerning his own
orthodoxy,78 as well as to their contemporary pope Fabian, all of whom

76) Origen himself attested that he was in Rome for some time under Zephyrinus (198
217), e a e a a a ' a a e (HE 6,14,10): the same
was done by Abercius, the Asian bishop who fought against the Montanists and was
much appreciated by the Christian philosopher Bardaisan, in the Severan age as well. See
I. Ramelli, "L'epitafio di Abercio," Aevum 74 (2000) 191-206, and, for Bardaisan and Aber
cius, the study on the testimonia in Ead., Bardesane Kat? Heimarm?nes (Bologna 2008).
77) This is rightly deemed possible also by Beatrice, "Porphyry's Judgment," 360, and
B?hm, "Or?genes," 21.
78) These letters themselves render more probable that Philip was a Christian, as is implied
by Eus. HE 6,34, who refers that a bishop forbade him to take part in the church's prayers
on Easter's eve before penitence for his crimes (probably in A.D. 244 for the elimination of
Gordian III). This episode is taken over by Jerome, Vir. III. 54. John Chrysostom, Bab. 6,
identifies that bishop with Babylas of Antioch, who died during Decius' persecution, which
was ordered precisely as a reaction to Philip (Eus. HE 6,39,1). The hostility of all pagan
sources to Philip (e.g. Epit. de Caes. 28; Aurelius Victor, Vit. Caes. 28; Eutropius, Brev. 9,2
3; Zonaras, 12,18-19; Zosimus, Hist. Nov. 1,19-22) further supports the hypothesis that
Philip was a Christian. Philips contemporary, Dionysius of Alexandria, in his letter to
Hermammon, speaks of emperors who were said to have been publicly Christian, which
cannot but refer to Philip: a a a ?a e e
a e a e , ' e e a a a a e a
(a . Eus. HE 1,7,10). It is no accident that this is the time of the publication of Origens

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 239

were in Rome (Eus. HE 16,36,3-4). Porphyry was not yet a disciple of

Plotinus' then, and indeed he does not report the fact as an eyewitness (dif
ferently from the following chapter). Clearly, if Origen already knew what
Plotinus had to teach, this is mostly due to the fact that they had the same
teacher, Ammonius, and Plotinus developed Ammonius' teaching in his
own classes. I deem it even more probable that Origen in this episode is
our Christian Platonist in that, shortly after, Porphyry affirms that "many
Christians" attended Plotinus' classes, a (VP 16).
An interesting pendant to Porphyry's testimonium on Origen is Jerome's
above-mentioned attestation that in his lost a e Origen "compared
the Christian concepts with those of the philosophers, and confirmed all
the truth of our faith by means of texts from Plato, Aristotle, Numenius,
and Cornutus."79 This list coincides with that of Origen's favourite read
ings according to Porphyry (Plato + Middle-Platonists and Neo-Pythago
reans, among whom Numenius is the most remarkable + Roman Stoics
with a deep interest in allegory: Cornutus and Chaeremon), with the addi
tion of Aristotle, who was widely used by Plotinus too, as Porphyry himself
testifies (VP 14).
Origen was a Christian philosopher, in particular a Christian Platonist,80
but Christianity was incompatible with philosophy according to Porphyry
and to the pagan and Christian opponents of Origen against whom Euse
bius, like Pamphilus, defended the thinker he so revered. This presupposi
tion of the irreconcilability of Christianity and philosophy, in particular
Platonism, seems to die hard, if most scholars still feel it absolutely neces
sary to postulate a pagan Origen, a Platonist, as a double of the Christian

Contra Cehum, the first public refutation of the A written under Marcus
Aurelius. On Philip see e.g. P. Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine
(London 2001) 71-74. Favourable to his being a Christian are J.M. York, Philip the Arab,
the first Christian Emperor of Rome (Diss. Univ. of Southern California 1965), summary in
Dissertation Abstracts 25 (1965) 5230-5231; M. Sordi, I Cristiani e l'Impero romano (Milan
2004) 135-139; contrast . Pohlsander, "Philip the Arab and Christianity," Historia 29
(1980) 463-473.
79) Ep. 70,4: Hunc imitatus Or?genes decem scripsit Stromateas, Christianorum etphihsopho
rum inter se sententias conparans et omnia nostrae religionis dogmata de PUtone et Aristotele,
Numenio Cornutoque confirmans.
80) See also, e.g., Th. Kobusch, "Das Christentum als die wahre Philosophic Zum Verh?lt
nis zwischen Piatonismus und Christentum bei Or?genes," in Origeniana TV, 442-446;
P.E Beatrice, "Pensiero cristiano e platonismo," in Ethos e cultura. Studi E. Riondato 1
(Padoa 1991) 163-181.

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240 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Origen,81 whereas it is perfectly possible to refer all available sources to

one and the same thinker, the Christian Platonist. Indeed, my entire argu
ment entails that it is not necessary to distinguish the two Origens, and
that Origen the Platonist and Origen the Christian were probably one and
the same person, a Christian philosopher, all the more if we bear in mind
Eusebius* aforementioned attestation that our Origen "was celebrated as
a great philosopher even by pagans." I suspect that even the Origen cited
by Proclus in Theol. Plat. 2,4 may be none other than our Christian phi
losopher. Proclus wonders how Origen, who shared the same philosophi
cal formation as Plotinus at Ammonius ( a a ...
a e a a a e a ), did not identify the supreme
principle with the One, but with the Nous and the prime Being, while
stopping here and leaving aside the One, which is beyond the Nous and
beyond Being: e e e a a , e e a
a a e a a . Whereas Plotinus famously
placed the One beyond the Nous and Being,82 Origen, according to Pro
clus, thought that the Nous is the first Being and the first One, which is
alien to Platos thinking and, in his view, rather depends on Peripatetic
innovations.83 Of course, Origen also knew Peripatetic doctrines, but he
felt bound by Ex 3:14?which he commented on philosophically in Co.
Io. 13,21,123?and thus he indeed identified God with the Nous and the
a, although at the same time he also said that God may be considered

81) R. Beutler, Or?genes der Neuplatoniker," in P.-W 18,1 (1939) 1033-1036; D?rrie,
"Ammonios;" Dodds, "Numenius," 31; K.O. Weber, Or?genes der NeupUtoniker (M?nchen
1962) 17-34; H.R. Schwyzer, Ammonios Sakkos, der Lehrer Phtins (Opladen 1983); J.W.
Trigg, Origen. The Bible and Phihsophy in the Third-Century Church (London 1985) 259ff.;
M. Edwards, "Ammonius, Teacher of Origen," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 44 (1993)
169-181; H. Zeiebritzki, Heiliger Geist und Weltseele (T?bingen 1994); Barbanti, Origene,
34-48, and almost all scholars. The identification is deemed possible by R. Cadiou, La
jeunesse d'Origene (Paris 1935) 231-240; R.P.C. Hanson, Origens Doctrine of Tradition
(London 1954) 1-30; H. Crouzel, "Orig?ne et Plotin ?l?ves d'Ammonios Saccas," Bu?etin
de Litt?rature Eccl?siastique 57 (1956) 193-214; Kettler, "Or?genes," 322-328; B?hm, "Or?
genes," on the basis of doctrinal identities; Beatrice, "Porphyry's Judgment"; Markschies,
Or?genes, 3, who thinks that the identification "ist nicht ganz auszuschlie?en."
82) Enn. 5,1,8; 5,5,6; 5,6,6, according to an interpretation of Plato's Parm. 141E9-10:
a a a e e .
83) a a a e a a e , ' a e
a a a a e ' a a a a ... a
a a a a e a a a a a a .
On Origens metaphysics see T. Kobusch, "Die Begr?ndung eines neuen Metaphysiktyps
durch Or?genes," in Origeniana VII, 61-68.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Phtonism 241

to be superior to both and a: so, e.g. in Co. Io. 19,6.37 the e

is said to be either the a or e e a a (similarly
CC 6,64 f4 7,3885); Princ. 1,1,6 is emblematic: here Origen defines God as
Nous but also as a and a . Proclus, however, would not recognize
the influence of such a Biblical text on a Platonic philosopher.
Indeed, the exegeses of Plato offered by Origen that Proclus also relates
in his commentary on Timaeu^ may well be due to our Christian phi
losopher. In 1,31, within a discussion about the of Platos Republic,
Proclus reports that Longinus and Origen disagreed about which e a
Socrates is speaking of: the former thought that it is the middle e a,
because the guardians are soldiers, the latter that it is the first, because the
guardians are educated in a a a.87 In 1,76-77 the question is the inter
pretation of Plato s Atlantis myth: Longinus believed that it is an allegory
of the cosmic order with planets and fixed stars, Origen that it is an alle
gory of rational creatures or a e , some good and some evil.88 In 1,162
it is related that the good condition of body and soul was referred by
Longinus to a good land and climate, and by Origen to the circular move
ment of the sky, with an allusion to Resp. 8,546A.89 The exegeses of Plato
offered by two prominent disciples of Ammonius' are paired. The other

84) ' a e e e ? e e a a a e e ... e e e a

a e e ?e a a a e e ... e a a e a a a
a a a , a a e a... a , e a
e e a a e a a e a a
e e e a e a a a a a e .
85) e e a a a e e a a a a a a
a a e , a a a a e e a
e e a a a ?a e a e .
86) On the first book of which?the one relevant to my present investigation?see now
H. Tarrant, Proclus. Commentary on Platos Timaeus, Book 1 (Cambridge 2007), with intro
duction, translation, and notes.
87) a a ' a a a ? a , e a
e a e a a e a , e ...
e e a e a e a a, e
ae a a a a a e a e a : e
? a a a a a a a a .
88) e a a , a e , e , a
e , a e e , a a ,
a , e a?e .
89) e a a a e a a a e e :
e e a e a a a a a a a , e a
a .

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242 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

passages that refer to Origen in Proclus' commentary also are perfectly in

line with the Christian Origens deep interest in both allegoresis and phi
lology,90 abundantly attested by his Hexapla91 and commentaries,92 and
even his preaching;93 according to Origen, indeed, the spiritual sense of
Scripture absorbs both its soul and its body?the literal and historical
level94?without destroying them. In Proci. In Tim. 1,60 the issue is how

90) On both see Ramelli, "Origen and the Stoic Allegorical Tradition"; on philology
Grafton-Williams, Christianity, 86-132; systematical analysis in B. Neusch?fer, Or?genes ah
Philologe (Basel 1987). His philological competence is a heritage of the school of Alexandria
and its editorial tradition; philology was a field in which before him even the best Christian
exegetes were defective. In regard to his attention to philology and the literal and historical
level significant are, e.g., Origens collation of manuscripts, his journeys to Palestine aimed
at establishing whether John the Baptist operated in Bethany or Bethabara (Co. Io. 6,40
41), and his concern with the reason why the succession of events after Jesus' baptism in the
Gospel of John is different from that of the Synoptics (ibid. 10,3). Moreover, Origen is one
of the few exegetes who read literally the story of the magician of Endor in lSam 28, as well
as, perhaps, the praise of those who make themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom. See
Edwards, Origen against, 123-158; R.A. Greer?M. Mitchell, The "Belly-Myther" of Endor
(Atlanta 2007).
91) A. Salvesen, Origens Hexapla and Fragments (T?bingen 1998); C.P.H. Bammel, "Die
Hexapla des Or?genes," Augustinianum 28 (1988) 125-149; Edwards, Origen against, 89,
129, 145, 150-51; Simonetti, Origene esegeta, 18; 76-77.
92) See e.g. Origens observations on mistakes in the transcription of Hebrew names (Co.
Io. 6,212-214); the discussions on the attribution of the Epistle to the Hebrews (ap. Eus.
HE 6,25,11-13) and on grammatical questions in a passage of the book of Genesis (Phil.
14). According to Simonetti, Origene esegeta, 77 Origens former profession of grammaticus
may have enhanced his grammatical and philological sensitivity. Important philological
discussions are found in Origens commentaries, such as that on John. Cf. e.g. J.D. Barth?
l?my, "Orig?ne et le texte de l'Ancien Testament," in Epektasis. M?Unges Dani?hu, ?dd.
J. Fontaine & Ch. Kannengiesser (Paris 1972) 247-261 = Id., Etudes d'histoire du texte de
l'Ancien Testament (Fribourg 1978) 203-217; R.M. Berchman, "In the Shadow of Origen,"
in Origeniana VI, 657-673.
93) We know this from his Homilies on Jeremiah, preserved in Greek (Latin translations
eliminate his rich philological apparatus). Here, he also takes into consideration the other
Greek versions of the OT parallel to the LXX. See Simonetti, Origene esegeta, 80; 87-88:
Jerome was the only Latin father who used Origens Hexapk extensively; from Origen he
drew his attention both to the spiritual exegesis of the Bible and to its philological and
historical aspects.
94) On the parallel importance of the body for him: D. Dawson, Allegorical Reading and the
Embodiment of the Soul in Origen, in Christian Origins, eds. L. Ayres and G. Jones (London
1997) 26-44. For a recent assessment of Origens thought on mortal corporeality: A. Lund
Jacobsen, "Gen 1-3 as a Source for the Anthropology of Origen," Vigiliae Christianae 62
(2008) 213-232. Origen thought that only God is completely uncorporeal (Princ. 2,2,2);
all creatures have a body, either heavy or subtle and spiritual. On the literal sense for Origen

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 243

to interpret Plato's metaphors: Origen attributed to them a cognitive and

ethical value, aimed, not at pleasure, but at representing and eliminating
passions;95 this conception perfectly suits Origen the allegorist. The same
interpretive opposition is to be found in 1,83.86 in relation to Platos
myths, which Longinus regarded as ornamental or psychagogical, and Ori
gen as endowed with gnoseological value and not aimed at pleasure,96
which still better accords with Origen the allegorist, all the more in that
Proclus remarks that he was close to Numenius in his exegesis. In 1,63-64
Origen s exegesis of Tim. 19DE is reported, the question being whether
Plato includes Homer among the ancient poets he is speaking of: Origen
is said by Porphyry, Proclus' source, to have been at pains for three days
to solve this problem, and to have appreciated Homer's poetry, in that
it inspired courageous and virtuous actions.97 Indeed, from Middle
Platonism onward Platonists were trying to reconcile Plato with Homer,
whom he had banished from his Republic, and they succeeded mainly

see also Edwards, Origen on Christ, 243; C. Scalise, "Origen and the sensus literalis," in
Origen of Alexandria. His World and His Legacy, edd. C. Kannengiesser and W. Petersen
(Notre Dame 1988) 117-129; J.D. Dawson, Christian Figurai Reading and the Fashioning
of Identity (Berkeley 2002) 11 and passim. Origen regards the historical plane of the Bible
as important because the scriptural narrative is in tune with human history, i.e. the history
of salvation. For Origen is convinced that the Bible is Christ (so that reading it is a eucha
ristie act), and Christ is not an abstract idea, but became incarnated and came into our
95) e e e e e a a a a a ,
a e , a a a a a e e a e a
a e a .
96) 83: e a a e e a a e e e
a , e a a e a a a ?
a a e e a a .
86: e e a e a a , e a a a
a a a , a a a a a a a a...
e e e a e a a . e a
e e e a a a a e a , a e
a a a a a a e a ?e a e , a
a e e a a e , e a e a) .
97) e a a , e a "
e e e a ... e, , e a e a
? a a a a a e e , e a e a
a e a a a , a e a e , a
a a e a e a a a ' ? a
e a e , a e e a a a a a a e
e , a ' a e e a a e ;

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244 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

thanks to allegory.98 The other two mentions of Origens view in the

same work of Proclus' perfectly suit Origens philological interest: in 1,68
his judgment on the literary style of Plato's dialogues," and in 1,93 his
investigation into the various meanings of the term e e a in
Tim. 21C, which closely resembles Origens examination of the meanings
of expressions in his commentaries on biblical texts.
In the light of Origen s discipleship at Ammonius and of his probable
identity with the Origen the Neoplatonist, it is not surprising that close
relations have been detected, not only between Clement s and Plotinus'
thinking,100 but also between Origen and Plotinus,101 which still deserve
It is as a philosopher?as a Christian philosopher?that Origen con
ceived the plan of his e a , written before his removal from Alex
andria to Caesarea in A.D. 232/3 (HE 6,24,3; 26,1). It was the first
monumental exposition and exploration of Christian thought in philo
sophic argument aimed at expounding "the first principles of reality."102

98) See I. Ramelli, Allegoria, I, L'et? classica (Milan 2004) chaps. I and VII.
99) He contended that such expressions as "Heracles' strength" instead of "Heracles" also
befit prose, not only poetry: a e e e a
e e a a - e a a a a e
e a e , e .
100) R.E. Witt, "The Hellenism of Clement of Alexandria," Classical Quarterly 25 (1931)
195-204; S. Lilla, Clement of Alexandria (Oxford 1971) 223-226; Id., "The Notion of
Infinitude in Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite," Journal of Theological Studies 31 (1980) 93
103: 100 n. 2; EM. Schr?der, "Ammonios Sakkas," in ANRW 2,36,1 (1987) 483-526;
S. Lilla, "Ammonio Sacca," in Nuovo Dizionario Patristico, 1 (Genoa 2007) 251-255. On
the strong influence of Middle-Platonism and of the beginning of Neoplatonism upon
Clement see Lilla, Clement; E. Osborn, Clement of Alexandria (Cambridge 22005), and
H.E H?gg, Clement of Alexandria and the Beginning of Christian Apophaticism (Oxford
101) Several are usefully listed by S. Lilla in Nuovo Dizionario Patristico 3 (Genoa 2008)
4143-4145 especially on the theological plane, and some are indicated by M.D.P. Barbanti,
"Origene di Alessandria e Plotino: creature razionali, sostanza spirituale, materia intelligi
bile," in Neoplatonismo pagano, 65-98, by J. Dillon, "Plotinus, Philo, and Origen on the
Grades of Virtue," in Blume-Mann, Piatonismus und Christentum, 92-105, and by H.
Ziebritzki, Heiliger Geist und Weltseele (T?bingen 1994); the only somewhat ample work is
H. Crouzel, Origene et Phtin. Comparaison doctrinale (Paris 1991). And there are further
striking parallels in the theological and in other fields.
102) The Greek title e a is attested by Eus. HE 6,24 and by Rufinus, who in his
preface to his translation of the first two books of this treatise renders its title either as On
PrincipUs or as On Principates, I think in reference to Origens investigation into the a
or e . Precisely Origens philosophical models of the same e a genre, as I shall

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 245

Now, there was no precedent in any Christian writing for such an enter
prise: Origen deliberately looked to pagan philosophy, but in order to
express Christian contents. Let us substantiate this contention. Justin and
Clement use " e a ," but only in philosophical doxography,103 not as
a title or even a description for their own or other Christians' writings, and
Clement in Diu 26,8 says that a mystery concerning the Saviour is con
cealed in the Greeks' exposition e a a e a , i.e. in meta
physics and theology, precisely the two branches in which, according to
Porphyry's fragment, Origen followed Greek philosophy, as I pointed out.
For his e a Origen had only Greek philosophical models, specifi
cally in the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition. To the former belong
Ps. Archytas and Longinus, both authors of a e a :104 a long frag
ment of a treatise bearing this title is ascribed to Archytas of Tarentum but
is pseudo-epigraphical105 and belongs to Pythagoreanism and Middle-Pla
tonism;106 like several of Ps. Archytas' works, it was known to Porphyry. It
expounds the same doctrine of the three a a that is found in Middle
Platonism, deriving from Plato's Timaeus and reinterpreted in the light of
Aristotelian conceptions. The three a a are matter, form, and God, who
is identified with the moving principle. Longinus belongs to Middle-/
Neoplatonism and is linked to Ammonius Saccas' circle. He taught in

argue, render it almost certain that the meaning is, On the First Principles of Reality. Accord
ing to M. Simonetti, Origene, I Principi (Turin 1968), the reference is to either the first
principles of reality or the first elements of Christian doctrine; however, the idea of an ele
mentary exposition of Christian thought is excluded. See also Id., "Principi," in Origene.
Dizionario, 371-376; C. Kannengiesser, "Divine Trinity and the Structure of e a ,"
in Origen of Alexandria, 231-249; L. Lies, Or?genes' e a ; eine undogmatische Dog
matik: Einf?hrung und Erl?uterung (Darmstadt 1992).
103) Just. Apol. 2,7,8 on the Stoics; Dial. 7,2 on Thaies; Clem. Strom. 4,1,2,1; 5,14,140,3.
104) por Longiims we have seen this attested by Porphyry VP 14; for Archytas it is attested
by Stob. 1,41,2 p. 278 W.: e a . A a a a a a e e
, a a a a e a a , a
a a a a a a a ...
105) A . Stob. 1,41,2 (278 W.). . Thesleff, The Pythagorean Texts of the Hellenistic Period,
Archytas (Abo 1965) 19,5-20,17.
106) See B. Centrone, "Pseudo-Archytas," in Dictionnaire ?les Philosophes Antiques, ed.
R. Goulet, 1 (Paris 1994) 342-345; Id., Pseudopythagorica Ethica (Naples 1990); Id., "Pla
tonism and Pythagoreanism in the Early Empire," in The Cambridge History of Greek
and Roman Political Thought, eds. C. Rowe?M. Schofield (Cambridge 2000) 559-584;
I. Ramelli, 77 ?a e come tra diritto naturale e diritto divino: spunti
platonici del concetto e sviluppi di et? imperiate e tardoantica, pref. G. Reale, Memorie
dell'Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici 34 (Naples 2006).

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246 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Athens and had Porphyry as his disciple.107 And we have seen from Por
phyry's fragment that Origen assiduously read Longinus: he certainly read
also his e a and probably drew inspiration from it for his own
It seems to me remarkable that Eusebius, always ready to defend Origen
from accusations, on the part of Christians, of being more a Platonist than
a Christian especially in his e a , underscores that Plato never wrote
a e a and Origen did not teach the same things as Plato did on the
first principles of reality (C. Marcell. 1,4,27): a a a a a
' a e a ; a e a e e a
? ? , e a a e a . In fact,
Plato himself did not write a e a , but Middle-Platonists did.
On the Peripatetic side, Aristotle used the label e a for the first
five books of his own Physica, as attested by Simplicius, In Arist. De c?elo
7,226,19108 and In Arist. Phys. 9 p. 4,14,109 and by Gennadius Scholarius,
Prol. in Arist. Phys. 2 p. 160.8,110 who in his commentary on Thomas Aqui
nas' De ente et essentia 9 ascribes to Aristotle a "first book e a ."111

107) See MJ. Edwards, "Ammonius, Teacher of Origen;" L. Brisson & M. Patillon, "Longi
nus Platonicus philosophus et philologus," ANRW236J (Berlin 1994) 5214-99; 2,34,4
(1998) 3023-3108.
108) a e e a a a a a ? ? a a a e .
109) A a e a e A a a e
a a ' e a ' e a a a a e a , ' a '
a a e ', a a a a e ' e a ' a e , a
a a e e . Cf. ibid. 9 p. 6,9: a a e e a
e e a e A , a e e e e ; ibid. 10 . 801,14:
? ? e a e A a
A ; ibid. 10 . 1126,10: a , a
a a a a a e e ? ? a, a e a e a a e
a a a , e a e a e e a e
e a .

110) e a ? ? e a e ,
e e .
1) , e a , e e a a a e
a a , a e a , e a e a . Cfr. Id. Adno
tationes in Arist, opera diversa, 2 De Cael. 2 1. 136: a a e a? a
a , a a , e a a e e . Cfr. Id.
Contra Plethonis ignorationem de Aristotele 31.29: a e a , e
a a e e a a a a a e ? a ' a
e , e e a a a a e a e . Gen
nadius is thinking of the first books of the Physica, as is clear from his Divisto quinqu? pri
morum librorum Arist. Physicae 1.10: a ? ? e a a

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 247

Diogenes Laertius 5,59 attests that Strato of Lampsacus, who succeeded

Theophrastus in leading the Peripatetic school, wrote a e a in
three or two books. This title is significantly listed by Laertius just after a
e a a and a e e : therefore, it clearly dealt with the principles
of reality. Alexander of Aphrodisias, the commentator on Aristotle who
lived in the II-III century A.D., also in Athens, wrote a e a
preserved in Arabic and partly in Syriac, where he expounded
Aristotle's doctrine concerning "the principles of the world."112 He was a
contemporary of Origen, Bardaisan, and Clement, and, exactly like Ori
gen and Bardaisan, also wrote a e E a .113 What is most remark
able is that the structure is the very same as that of Origens e a ,
and I deem it probable that Origen was inspired by this treatise?which
was surely known to Plotinus, who assiduously read Alexander {VP 14)?
and by Middle-Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical treatises of the
same genre. Alexander in his treatise describes the first a , that is, the
prime mover, as the best of beings, incorporeal, immobile, eternal, simple
substance, always active, thinking itself. Likewise, Origen, after explaining
in his preface the doctrines that are established by revelation, declares
that he wants to work on them and to apply to them, and especially to
Scripture, the philosophical research and the parameters of Greek philoso
phy, such as that of "incorporeal" {Princ. 1 praef. 9-10).114 Just as Alexan
der speaks of the first a , the Prime Mover, Origen begins his work by

e - , e a , a a e a a e a a a
e a a a .
112) The Arabic title literally sounds, "Treatise of Alexander of Aphrodisias on the Doctrine
Concerning the Principles of the Cosmos in Accordance with the Opinion of Aristotle the
Philosopher." Critical edition, with translation, commentary, and introduction: Ch. Gen
equand, Alexander of Aphrodisias on the Cosmos (Leiden 2001). An Italian translation by
S. Fazzo and M. Zonta is forthcoming in Milan.
113) See S. Fazzo, "Alessandro d'Afrodisia e Tolomeo," RSFA? (1988) 627-649, who shows
Alexander's dependency upon Ptolemy; A. Zierl, Alexander von Aphrodisias, Uber das
Schicksal (Berlin 1995); A. Magris, Alessandro di Afrodisia. Sul destino (Florence 1996);
C. Natali-E. Tetano, Akssandro di Afrodisia. Ildestino (Milan 1996); Ramelli, Bardesane.
ih) ?w/e shaij see whether what the Greek philosophers call incorporeal is to be found in
Scriptures under another name. It will be necessary to investigate how God should be con
sidered: whether corporeal... or having a different nature... it will be necessary to extend
the same investigation also to Christ and the Holy Spirit, and to the soul and every rational
nature order the rational explanation of all these arguments into a unity... with clear and
irrefutable demonstrations... to construct a consistent work, with arguments and enuncia
tions, both those found in the Sacred Scripture and those thence deduced by means of a
research made with exactitude and logical rigour"

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248 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

dealing with the first a , God, and in particular with the Father, who is
declared to be incorporeal, the Son, who is presented as Wisdom and the
seat of the Ideas (in a Middle-Platonic fashion), and the Holy Spirit, always
grounding his argument in Scripture and proceeding via rational deduc
tion. He immediately adds a treatment of the rational natures' participa
tion in the Good, i.e. God, the fall, and the apokatastasis. Indeed, not only
does Alexander s title, e a , correspond to Origen s title
e a , but Origen himself declares that his treatise deals with "the
principles of this world" {mundi huius visibilis ratio) in Princ. A>A5. The
similarity in title, contents, and organization is striking.
Porphyry also?but shortly after Origen, and probably knowing Ori
gens treatise?wrote a e a in two books, as is attested in Suda, s.v.
,115 and by Proclus, Theol. PUt. 1,51,5, who cites a e a
by Porphyry, where he demonstrated the eternity of the intellect.116 He
surely knew both the homonymous work by Longinus, who was his
teacher, and that by Alexander of Aphrodisias, whose works were regularly
read at Plotinus classes, which he attended.
This is the genre of Origens e a , whose scope is revealed by
Origen himself in the aforementioned passage 4,4,5: he has investigated
mundi huius visibilis ratio in order to reveal the rationale of Christian faith,
pro his qui in fide nostra etiam credendi rationem perquirere soient et pro his
qui haeretica adversum nos certamina commovent. With his masterpiece
Origen offered the first Christian philosophical interpretation and expla
nation of Biblical revelation and put philosophy, above all Platonism, in
service of a Christian vision of the world. Something of the sort, but in a
more general way and not in a work of this genre, was attempted, not in
Christianity so far, but only in Judaism, by Philo. Origens e a
deals with God, the rational creatures, the world, and eschatology in a
systematic manner in the first two books; the third book is devoted to the
bgikds free will and apokatastasis, and the fourth mainly to Scriptural
exegesis, which is felt as belonging to the exposition of metaphysics in that
Origens philosophy is Christian philosophy, which is grounded in Scrip
ture and, with the tools of rational argument, faces the questions that are
not defined by Scripture and tradition. It is thanks to this application of
philosophy to Scripture that Origen, notoriously a friend of a rich Valen

115) At line 6: e a ?'; at line 5: a a a a e .

116) a e a e e a a a e a e a e
a a a a e .

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 249

tinian who was converted by him to orthodoxy, could win for the Church
the most learned, culturally demanding, and philosophically minded peo
ple, who were often attracted by Gnosticism. Origen proceeded in the
path of Justin, Pantaenus, and Clement, and made it impossible to accuse
Christianity of being a religion for ignorant people and fanatics. Therefore,
he was admired not only, for instance, by the Roman governor of Arabia
and the emperor Severus Alexanders mother, in addition to Philip the
Arab and his wife, but also by many philosophers such as Plotinus and
Porphyry, and other Platonists afterward.
The double fire of accusations against Biblical allegoresis and its main
representative, Origen, on the part of both Christians who supported lit
eral exegesis and pagans, especially Neoplatonists, who did not accept that
the Bible concealed a deep philosophical truth, is perfectly parallel to, and
interrelated with, that directed against Origen as a Christian philosopher,
whose major expression was his e a . For it came both from those
Christians who did not appreciate philosophy and suspected it of pagan
ism, and from pagans, particularly pagan philosophers such as Porphyry,
who could not conceive of a Christian philosophy. Indeed, Porphyry con
sidered Origen to be a convert and, after his conversion, an inconsistent
hybrid of a Christian in his life and a Greek philosopher in his metaphysi
cal and theological thinking. The interconnection between these two orders
of accusations, against Biblical allegoresis and against Christian philoso
phy, is extremely clear in Porphyry's Eusebian fragment, where both are
present and intertwined (just as in Origen's e a philosophy and
scriptural exegesis are part of one and the same treatment). Hence Origen's
self-defence in his letter, Eusebius' apologetic discourse in his biography
of Origen and elsewhere, which I called attention to, etc. Also, Rufinus'
preface to his translation of the last two books of e a is meaning
ful:117 he attests there that his version of the first two books aroused harsh

117) On this translation I limit myself to referring to N. Pace, Ricerche sulla traduzione di
Rufino del De Principiis di Origene (Firenze 1990); M. Simonetti, "L'attivit? letteraria
di Rufino negli anni della controversia origeniana," in Aa.Vv., Storia ed esegesi in Rufino di
Concordia (Udine 1992) 89-107; Junod, "Controverses," 216-220; P. O'Cleirigh, "Origens
Consistency," ibid. 225-231: 221 \ Rufinus' claim that Origens works were interpolated is
plausibile, since Origen himself lamented this. See also G.S. Gasparro, "Aspetti della con
troversia origeniana. Le traduzioni latine del Per? archon? Augustinianum 26 (1986) 191
205 = Ead., Origene e la traduzione origeniana in occidente (Rome 1998) 13-26; Clark,
Controversy, 159-92; T. Adamik, "Saint J?r?me, Apologie contre Rufin I 18," in Origeniana
Vili 1213-1218.

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250 LL.E. Rametti I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

polemics, as he had predicted in his preface to the first book: "some would
get indignant in realizing that I do not denigrate Origen." Now, too, "they
will demand the condemnation of the man who, with the light of the
lamp, endeavoured to dissipate the diabolic darkness of ignorance." Rufi
nus, with a clear apologetic purpose, emphasizes the heuristic mode of
Origens research in his e a : "since he is not dealing with truths of
faith, he said something new about rational creatures for exercise and
research: for it is in this way that we must fight some heresies." This aspect
of Origens research had been already highlighted by both Pamphilus and
Athanasius, two great admirers of Origen.118 Indeed, in line with Origens
own auto-apologetic letter, Rufinus insists that Origen wrote his e
a in order to "refute all the impious errors of pagan philosophers and
heretics." Polemics against Origen as a Christian philosopher were also
ignited by adulterations of his works?in particular, again, his e a .
Origen himself, still in his lifetime, lamented this further form of hostility
in a letter reported by Rufinus in his De adulteratione librorum Origenis, an
opuscule appended to his translation of Pamphilus apology for Origen.
Rufinus denounced again such alterations in his preface to his translation
of the first two books of e a , the most difficult and most altered
according to him. The same adulterations are deplored in the anonymous
apology cited by Phot. BibL cod. 117, probably due to an author close to
Origens being a Christian Platonist and the supposed irreconcilability
of Platonism and Christianity will be again the basis for Justinian's criti
cism: in his Epistuh adsynodum de Origene the first thing the emperor says
about the Origenist monks is that they followed Pythagoras, Plato, and

118) Pamphilus, Apol. 3: quae ab eo cum magno timore Dei et cum omni humilitate dicuntur
cum ueniam petit pro his quae per nimiam discussionem et per multam scrutationem Scriptu
rarum animo disputantis occurrunt, quae cum exponitfrequenter addere solet et profiteri se non
haec quasi definitiua pronuntiare sententia, nec statuto dogmate terminare, sed inquirere pro
uiribus (ed. Amacker-Junod, 36). Athanasius, Dedecr. Nie. syn. 27,1-2: a a
a a a a a . a e a a a a e,
a a a e , a a e e e
e ? a e a a e a , a . e a
a e a a e e a a e e a e a a.
119) According to Dechow, Dogma, 255-264; see also W.A. Bienert, "Die ?lteste Apologie
f?ir Or?genes?," in Origeniana IV, 123-127; ?. Jeauneau, "Or?g?ne et la tradition alexan
drine vus par Photius dans sa Biblioth?que? in Origeniana VIII, 1089-1102. Nautin,
Origene, 100-53 thought that this anonymous apology coincided with Books 4-5, lost, of
that by Pamphilus.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian PUtonism 251

Origen ( a a a a a e a a a a
e?e a a a a a e , 122). Then, he traces
back their doctrines of the initial monad and pre-existence of souls and
their fall to Pythagoras, Plato, and Plotinus (124). Likewise, in his letter to
Menas, p. 72 A.-Z., Justinian claims that Origen s supposed heresy is
entirely substantiated by Plato's philosophy: a e a a a a
e a a a a a e ; And
in all of this letter he calls Origen's philosophy a a, as a deriva
tion from Greek myths. In fact, what Origen did not accept of Platonism
is precisely what was incompatible with Christianity. In particular, he
sharply rejected the doctrine of metensomatosis.120 In Co. Ro. 3,1,197
215 Origen cites some philosophical doctrines that are said by him to be
deceptive and contrary to the truth, that is, Christ. It is significant that
he cites Peripatetic and Stoic doctrines?e.g. that Providence extends as
far as the region of the moon but does not descend further, or that every
thing is corporeal, including God?but not Platonic doctrines among
these. One Platonic doctrine Origen undoubtedly rejects, the aforemen
tioned metensomatosis, but it is to be noticed that Plato himself did not
hold it in a theoretical form, which makes a remarkable difference.121

120) CC3,75; 4,7.17; 5,29; 8,30; Co. Ro. 5,1,392-406, where he refutes metensomatosis in
Basilides the Gnostic, who supported it on the basis of his exegesis of Rom 7:9: Sed haec
Basilides non advertens de lege naturali debere intellegi, ad ineptas et impias fabulas sermonem
apostolicum traxit et metensomatoseos dogma, id est quod animae in alia atque alia corpora
transfundantur, ex hoc apostoli dicto conatur astruere... Uerum Basilides et si qui cum ipso
haec sentiunt in sua impietate relinquantur. Nos autem apostoli sensum secundum pietatem
eccUsiasticis dogmatis aduertamus. In the same work, Origen refutes metensomatosis again,
while asserting the original sin, which, he claims, should not be taken to support that
doctrine (5,9,171-176). The third refutation in the same writing (6,8,118-131) is the
strongest; this doctrine is overtly defined as an impious belief: dogma metensomatoseos intro
ducunt, quos animas hominum prius in pecudibus uel auibus autpiscibus docet fuisse et sic ad
homines uenisse etpropterea dixisse apostolum "Ego autem uiuebam sine lege aliquando" quasi
qui antequam in hoc corpus ueniret hum?num uixerit in eo ordine uerbi gratta aut auium
aut animalium ubi lex nu?a haberetur... Haec aduersus illos dieta sint qui apostoli sermonem
ad dogma impium trahunt. Cf. e.g. Co. Mat. 13,1-2; Co. Mat. Ser. 38; Pamph. Apol. 10;
Co. Io. 6,11,71 and 6,13,78.
121) Origens being a Platonist does not in the least imply that he is not deeply Christian.
Origens being profoundly Christian is underlined by Edwards, Origen against, and
P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Philosophy of History and Eschatology (Leiden 2007) with excellent
evidence. His being deeply Christian, however, does not necessarily entail a rejection of
Platonism and philosophy, as Origen himself in his letter, and then his defenders, endeav
oured to explain.

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252 ILE. Rametti I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Another accusation, both ancient and modern, against Origen the Chris
tian philosopher is that his doctrine of apokatastasis was pagan, imported
into Christianity from the "polluting' Greek philosophy, whereas it is
totally Christian, in that it is strictly associated by Origen?and then by
his follower Gregory of Nyssa?with the a a a and is made possible
by Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection.122 It is certainly true that
it is sustained by a Platonic metaphysical principle like that of the onto
logical non-subsistence of evil, but the eventual and complete eviction of
evil and death is announced in the Bible too, especially in ICor 15:24
28.123 Likewise, the supporters of apokatastasis, such as Origen, Bardaisan,
and Gregory of Nyssa, rely on ethical intellectualism, which is fundamen
tally Socratic-Platonic, but this too is far from being denied by the Bible,
and Gregory reads it in the Genesis account of the fall.124 Christian
Platonism is no less legitimate, "authentic," or "Platonic" than pagan
Platonism. It is no accident that Patristic philosophy is essentially Platonic:
Augustine well realized that nulli nobis quam isti [sc. Pktonici] propius
accesserunt. But the legitimacy of Christian philosophy and Christian
Platonism, as is clear from Origen's vicissitudes, was strongly contested
already in antiquity.
Indeed, the notion of "philosophisation" and "Hellenisation" of Chris
tianity is old, and was already implicit in the point of view of authors such
as Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius, who saw in Greek philosophy

122) Gregory in De an. et res. 148A defines the a a a as e a a e

a a a a . See I. Ramelli, Gregorio di Nissa sull'anima e h resurrezione (Milan
2007) Integrative Essay I.
123) Cf. especially I. Ramelli, "Christian Soteriology and Christian Platonism. Origen,
Gregory of Nyssa, and the Biblical and Philosophical Basis of the Doctrine of Apokatasta
sis," Vigiliae Christianae 61 (2007) 313-356; for the Biblical roots of the concept: Ead.,
"1 Cor 15:24-26: Submission of Enemies and Annihilation of Evil and Death. A Case for
a New Translation and a History of Interpretation," Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni
74,2 (2008) 241-258. On the ontological non-subsistence of evil in Platonism see now
J. Phillips, Order from Disorder. Proclus Doctrine of Evil and its Roots in Ancient Phtonism
(Leiden 2007).
124) According to Gregory, the protoplasts chose evil because it seemed good. The problem
is an obfuscation of the intellectual sight. Bardaisan too, like Origen and Gregory, considers
the apokatastasis to be made possible by instruction?as is clear from the end of Liber
legum regionum?in that free adhesion to the Good (i.e. God) derives from a purified
noetic sight. When all have come to recognize the Truth and the Good, all will voluntarily
choose it and adhere to it in a a .

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 253

a denaturing of Christianity and the germ of all heresies.125 This notion

famously found its formulation thanks to A. von Harnack,126 according to
whom Christian dogmata are the product of Greek philosophy, which was
superimposed, as a sort of foreign element, upon the "pure" Gospel ground.
From the apologists onward, who first presented it as a philosophy, Chris
tianity underwent a process of Hellenisation, which is seen by some inter
preters as a corruption of the Biblical roots of Christianity; others evaluate
it more positively, as a well accomplished development, while still others
believe that Christianity never really absorbed Greek philosophy and cul
ture, but employed them in a utilitarian way and to a relatively small
Apostolopoulos, by emphasizing that Platonism in late antiquity was
not only a philosophy but also a religion, claims that it was totally
incompatible with Christianity, a religion that was dressing itself in philo
sophical garb.127 Thus, he considers Nyssen, one of the most philosophi
cally minded of the Fathers, essentially as a Neoplatonist in whose
thought?in which Apostolopoulos mainly investigates anthropology,
eschatology, and in part theology?Christian aspects are artificially super
imposed,128 so that he speaks of this superimposition as "die bewu?te
Tarnung." The critical observations by J.C.M. van Winden in his review
appear well grounded.129 According to W. V?lker, the Fathers took over
Platonism, but in a merely formal and instrumental manner:130 hence the

125) At least Tertullian is worth quoting, from Pr. Haer. 7: Quid ergo Athenis et Hierosolymis?
Quid Academiae et Ecclesiae? Quid haereticis et Christianis? It is noteworthy that he shares
the heresiologists' conviction that heresies were alimented by Greek philosophy. He goes on
to say: Nostra institutio deporticu Sahmonis est... Viderint qui Stoicum et Platonicum et
dialecticum ChHstianismum protulerunt. Nobis curiositate opus non est post Christum Iesum
nec inquisitionepost Evangelium... Quorsum enim a Phtone aut Aristotelependebis ut Chris
tianus sis?
126) Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 1 (Darmstadt41964) 12, 20 and passim.
127) Ch. Apostolopoulos, Phaedo Christianus. Studien zur Verbindung und Abw?gung des
Verh?ltnisses zwischen dem phtonischen Phaidon und dem Dialog Gregors von Nyssa ?ber die
Seele und die Auferstehung (Frankfurt 1986) 1-23; 86-106.
128) Apostolopoulos, Phaedo, 108-152.
129) Vigiliae ChristianaeAl (1987) 191-197. Among other things, he observes that, accord
ing to the author, Gregory wrote a Christian Phaedo that in fact has nothing Christian in
it: "ein christlicher Phaidon,' der tats?chlich nur scheinbar christlich sein sollte" (191). Cf.
also the (more descriptive) review by A. Meredith, Journal of Theological Studies 39 (1988)
130) E.g. in Das Vollkommenheitsideal des Or?genes (T?bingen 1930); Der wahre Gnostiker
nach Clemens Alexandrinus (Berlin 1952) 8-9, 352 and passim-, Gregor von Nyssa ab Mystiker

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254 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

Hellenisation of Christianity in fact never took place. J. Dani?lou, too,

substantially denies that Christianity was really ever Hellenised, but
because he rather thinks that Christian Platonists took over and deeply
transformed Greek philosophy:131 rather than a "Hellenisation" or "phil
osophisation" of Christianity, he sees a Christianization of philosophy. At
the same time, he tends to maintain some wariness toward Greek philoso
phy, as is evident e.g. from his axiological distinction between Origens
typology and his allegory in Scriptural exegesis, the former deemed good
by him in that he considers it to be Jewish-Christian, the latter suspect in
that he regards it as Greek.132 A similar contrast between a "Biblical," and
thus Jewish-Christian, conception of God and a "Hellenistic" one is drawn
by Th. Torrance, who ascribes the first to Athanasius and Nazianzen, and
the second to Basil and Nyssen, whose "errors" are imputed to their pre
sumed excessive reliance on Greek philosophy.133 According to H. D?r
rie,134 only a heretic Christian could be a Platonist:135 for he excludes a
deep influence of Platonism upon Patristic thought at the theological and
dogmatic level, since Christian theologians assumed Platonic structures of
thought exclusively for their apologetic aim. Christian Platonism, within
orthodox Christianity, was only a clever manoeuvre intended to face adver
saries who could not be defeated in any other way,136 and the Fathers kept
their silence on the points of greatest theoretical tension. D?rrie, like Apos
tolopoulos, stresses that Platonism in the imperial age was not only a phi

(Wiesbaden 1955); KontempUtion und Ekstase bei Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (Wiesbaden

131) Message ?vang?lique et culture hell?nistique (Tournai 1961) 279; cf. Id., PUtonisme et
th?ologie mystique (Paris 1944).
132) J. Dani?lou, Origene (Paris 1948).
133) jfoe Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh 1996) 116-122,
134) See especially his "Was ist sp?tantiker Piatonismus'? ?berlegungen zur Grenzziehung
zwischen Piatonismus und Christentum," Theologische Rundschau 36 (1971) 285-302 = Id.,
Platonica Minora (M?nchen 1976) 508-523; Id., "Die andere Theologie," Theologie und
Philosophie 56 (1981) 217-263. See also the critical review by W. Beierwaltes, "Zur
Geschichte des Piatonismus, I" Philosophisches Jahrbuch 100 (1993) 194-199.
135) H. D?rrie, "Gregors von Nyssa Theologie auf dem Hintergrunde der neuplatonischen
Metaphysik," in Gregor von Nyssa und die Philosophie, hrsg. von Id.?M. Altenberger?
U. Schramm (Leiden 1976) 21-42, esp. 27.
136) ??)je andere Theologie," 46. Christians had to "pretend" that Greek philosophy was
present in Christian faith in order to convince pagans that a conversion to Christianity did
not require a changement of their frame of mind {ibid. 24, 30, 40).

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian PUtonism 255

losophy, but also a religion:137 as a consequence, Christianity could not

absorbe into itself a completely different religion.138 In particular, D?rrie
regards the following dogmata of Platonism as conflicting with Christian
ity: on the theological plane, Platonism holds a hierarchical structure of
the divinity, in which the first and supreme principle is impersonal and
beyond being; it considers the world to be existing ah aeterno; it does not
admit of the necessity of Gods saving action, and believes in a perennial
revelation through the Logos, the understanding of which on the part of
human beings saves them by knowledge rather than by grace and redemp
tion. Finally, Platonism supports metensomatosis and disrupts the concept
of "person," in that the soul, in this way, proves to be trans-personal.
According to D?rrie, Christian dogmata?in particular the equality of
Father, Son, and Spirit, and the salvific action of the incarnated Christ,
from which each human benefits by faith and grace?were created pre
cisely in opposition to these Platonic doctrines. Christian Platonism, in his
view, is a figment aimed at winning over pagans to Christianity,139 and
one should rather speak of a "Christian anti-Platonism;"140 the reception
of Platonism on the part of the Christian Fathers was not substantial.141
It is telling that precisely this scholar distinguished not only Origen the
Christian and Origen the Platonist, but also Ammonius the Christian and
Ammonius the Platonist, and believed that Porphyry confused the two in
both cases.142

137) D?rrie, "Die andere Theologie," 17.

138) D?rrie, "Was ist sp?tantiker Piatonismus," 518.
139) A critical analysis of D?rrie s thesis is to be found e.g. in G. Reale, introduction to
W. Beierwaltes, Platonismo nel cristianesimo, transi. M. Falcioni (Milan 2000) XVIII-XX;
E. Peroli, "Il conflitto tra Platonismo e Cristianesimo nell'interpretazione di Heinrich D?r
rie," in C. De Vogel, Platonismo e Cristianesimo. Antagonismo o fondamenti comuni?, eds.
G. Reale?E. Peroli (Milan 1993) 105-138; Moreschini, Storia, 82-83 and passim. Particu
lar aspects are also touched upon in H.D. Blume?F. Mann, Hrsg., Piatonismus und Chris
tentum. Festschrifi H. D?rrie (M?nster 1983), also including . K?tting, "Beurteilung des
privaten Gel?bdes bei Piaton, Or?genes und Gregor von Nyssa," 118-122.
140) In fact, supposed contrasts and motives of incompatibility between Platonism and
Christianity and between Greek philosophy and Biblical and Christian thought have been
pointed out, often in a rather generic fashion, by other scholars, such as Th. Boman, Das
hebr?ische Denken im Vergleich mit dem griechischen (G?ttingen 1952); A. Nygren, Eros und
Agape (G?tersloh 19542); C. Tresmontant, Biblischen Denken und Hellenische Uberlieferung
(D?sseldorf 1956); less dramatically Id., La m?taphysique du Christianisme (Paris 1961);
supposed antitheses are also listed in Beierwaltes, Platonismo nel Cristianesimo, 12-13.
141) Die andere Theohgie, 443.
142) D?rrie, "Ammonios," 352.

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256 ILE. Rametli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

This view is not shared by several scholars.143 A rich review of positions

concerning this question is offered by A.M. Ritter, who also criticizes D?r
rie s idea of the irreconcilability between Christianity and Greek philoso
phy.144 E.P. Meijering145 insists that the influence of Platonism upon
Christian theology can by no means be reduced to a merely linguistic and
formal aspect, for Patristic theology entirely and structurally depends on
Platonism. This has been abundantly shown, for instance, by W. Beier
waltes,146 according to whom the absolute unity of the Christian Trinity is
not thinkable but within Neoplatonic "henology."147 He claims that a

143) See e.g. A. Siclari, L'antropobgia di Nemesio di Emesa (Padua 1974) 67 and passim-, Id.
L'antropologia teologica di Gregorio di Nissa (Parma 1989); J. P?pin, Ex Platonicorum per
sona. ?tudes sur les lectures philosophiques de saint Augustin (Amsterdam 1977); F. Ricken,
"Zur Rezeption der platonischen Ontologie bei Eusebios von Kaisareia, Areios und Atha
nasios," Theologie und Philosophie 53 (1978) 321-352; H.A. Wolfson, The Phihsophy of the
Church Fathers (Cambridge, Mass. 1956); A.H. Armstrong, Phtinian and Christian Studies
(London 1979); J. Whittaker, Studies in Platonism and Patristic Thought (London 1984);
F. Wehrli, "Zum Problem des Piatonismus in der christlichen Antike," Museum Helveticum
Al (1985) 183-190; W. Speyer, Fr?hes Christentum im antiken Strahlungsfeld (T?bingen
1989); Ch. Stead, Philosophie und Theologie 1 (Stuttgart 1990); PF. Beatrice, "Pensiero
cristiano e platonismo: incontri e scontri nella tarda antichit?," in Ethos e cultura. Studi
E. Riondato, 1 (Padua 1991) 163-81; J. Me Evoy, "Neoplatonism and Christianity: Influ
ence, Syncretism or Discernment?," in The Relationship Between Neoplatonism and Christi
anity, ed. Th. Finan, pref. J.J. O'Meara (Dublin 1992) 155-170; A.M. Ritter, introduction
to Ps. Dionysius Arepoagita, ?ber die mystische Theohgie und Briefe (Stuttgart 1994); B.R.
Suchla, Verteidigung eines platonischen Denkmodelb einer Christlichen Welt (G?ttingen
1995); N. Brox, Terminologisches zur fr?hchristlichen Rede von Gott (Berlin 1996); H.I.Th.
Nikolau, "Die Rolle der Philosophie in der griechischen Patristik," M?nchner theologische
Zeitschrift 48 (1997) 301-312; A. Meredith, Gregory of Nyssa (London 1999). Patristic
philosophy is included in Neoplatonism tout court by A. Smith, Philosophy in Late Antiquity
(London 2004).
144) "Platonismus und Christentum in der Sp?tantike," Theologische Rundschau 49 (1984)
145) "Wie platonisierten Christen?" Vigiliae Christianae 28 (1974) 15-28.
146) W. Beierwaltes, Platonismus im Christentum (Frankfurt a.M. 1998); cf. Id., Platonismus
und Idealismus (Frankfurt a.M. 1972), on Augustines and Eriugenas Platonism; Id., "Deus
est Veritas. Zur Rezeption des griechischen Wahrheitsbegriffes in der fr?hchristlichen The
ologie," in Pietas. Festschrift . K?tting, JAC Erg.Bd. 80 (1980) 15-29; Id. "Augustins Inter
pretation von Sapientia 11,21," Revue des ?tudes Augustinennes 15 (1969) 51-61; "Zu
Augustins Metaphysik der Sprache," Augustinian Studies 2 (1971) 179-195; "Aequalitas
numerosa. Zu Augustins Begriff des Sch?nes," Wissenschaft und Weisheit 38 (1975) 140
157; M. Fattal, Plotin chez Augustin, suivi de Plotin face aux gnostiques (Paris 2006) and the
review by I. Ramelli, Rivista di Fihsofia Neoscolastica 99,4 (2007) 801-806.
147) Beierwaltes, Denken des Einen (T?bingen 1986); Id., "Hen," in Reallexikon f?r
Antike und Christentum 14 (Stuttgart 1987) 445-472.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 257

Patristic Platonism really existed and does not believe that Platonism in
the imperial age was only a kind of religion: Greek philosophy, since its
origin, had always, or almost always, presented a theological section, in
that theology and philosophy are structurally interconnected. Theology
needs a philosophical foundation in order to express itself conceptually,
and philosophy, in turn, reaches up to theology and opens up theological
questions. In his introduction to PUtonismus im Christentum he declares
that he intends to illustrate, by means of paradigmatic cases, how Christi
anity aspired to an adequate form of reflection by having recourse to con
ceptual elements that were central in Neoplatonic philosophy, and how
a unity of Christianity and Platonism was actually achieved, a Christian
unity, not without an awareness of differences. The reception of Platonic
elements by the Fathers was a "transforming reception." Patristic thinkers
assimilated Greek philosophy not only for apologetic purposes, but also at
the theoretical level; not only on the formal plane, because philosophical
terminology and metaphor are not trivial ornaments of a completely dif
ferent system of thought, but clear traces of a substantial co-determination
of the theological object. Indeed, it is on the philosophical basis provided
by Platonism that the chief dogmata and theologoumena of Christianity
arose (Trinity, creation as explication of God s will, Ideas as structures of
God s thought, hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Christ, cata
phatic and apophatic theology, rational demonstration of the immortality
of the soul, etc.). Beierwaltes also contends that the main concepts of Eri
ugenas theology are totally incomprehensible outside Platonism.148 Indeed,
his main sources, as is well known, are Patristic Platonists such as Origen,
Gregory of Nyssa, Ps. Dionysius, and Maximus the Confessor, in addition
to pagan Platonists such as Martianus.149 It is no accident, in my view, that
the structure itself of his masterpiece, Periphyseon, which "convoglia
all'interno di un'organica sistemazione di indagini mentali la complessa
pensabilit? di tutto ci? che ? vero in quanto deriva dalla universale cau
salit? divina,"150 precisely corresponds to that of Origens e a , the

148) E.g. the metaphysical relation between image and model, thanks to which God s onto
logica! transcendency can be present at the various levels of reality; God's theophanic man
ifestation in the cosmos; the Trinity's absolute Unity: W. Beierwaltes, EHugena. Grundz?ge
seines Denkens (Frankfurt a.M. 1994).
149) He also commented on Capella's De Nuptiis: edition and relevant essay in I. Ramelli,
Tutti i commenti a Marziano Cape?la: Scoto Eriugena, Remigio diAuxerrey Bernardo Silvestre
e anonimi (Milan 2006).
150) G. D'Onofrio, "Giovanni Scoto Eriugena," in Encichpedia Filosofica, ed. V. Melchiorre
(Milan 22006) 4810.

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258 ILE. Ramel?i I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

only monumental synthesis of Christian philosophy prior to it and com

parable to it. Even Eriugenas title is Greek, although his treatise is in Latin.
Both works begin with a treatment of God as universal cause. Moreover,
the argumentative methodology in e a and in Periphyseon is iden
tical: philosophical demonstrations are always inseparable from the sup
port of Biblical and Patristic quotations.
Beierwaltes rejects the idea that, when Platonism met Christianity, it
denatured it: in several Christian thinkers this encounter produced a syn
thesis that was fruitful in deepening faith in the dimension of the logos.
Along the same lines is his introduction to E. von Iv?nkas Plato Christia
nus, a fundamental investigation of Platonic elements in Patristics, which
he sees as a deep transformation of Platonism in the Fathers.151 The thesis
of irreconcilability is opposed also by Cornelia de Vogel, who contrasts
D?rrie s position by developing Meijering's criticisms, and lists five differ
ent attitudes of Christian authors toward philosophy.152 Simonetti153 has
argued that Harnack's conception of a "pure" Christian message, subse
quently deformed by contamination with the Greek culture, is extremely
abstract and we should rather think in terms of cultural adaptation. J.H.
Waszink regards the influence of Platonism on several Patristic thinkers as
an undeniable matter of fact that involved the reception not only of formal
motives but of substantial elements of thought; Justin and Athenagoras
were the first Patristic philosophers who took over Platonism in full aware
ness: the prevalently theological system of Platonism was deeply consonant
with several core doctrines in Christianity.154 W. Pannenberg positively
evaluates the reception of philosophical elements in Christianity since the

151) E. von Iv?nka, PUto ChHstianus. ?bernahme und Umgestaltung des Piatonismus durch
die V?ter (Einsiedeln 1964); Platonismo cristiano. Recezione e trasformazione del Platonismo
nella Patristica, preface G. Reale, introd. W. Beierwaltes (Milan 1992). According to von
Iv?nka, Platonic elements in Patristic authors mainly have a metaphorical value and have
been deeply transformed.
152) C. de Vogel, "Plato in de latere en late oudheid, bij heidenen en christenen," Lampas 6
(1973) 230-254; "Problems concerning Justin Martyr," Mnemosyne 31 (1978), 360-88,
and especially "Platonism and Christianity: A Mere Antagonism or a Profound Common
Ground?," Vigiliae Christianae 39 (1985) 1-62.
153) M. Simonetti, Cristianesimo antico e cultura greca (Rome 1983) 7-8 and passim.
154) J.H. Waszink, "Der Piatonismus und die altchristliche Gedankenwelt," in Recherches
sur L tradition platonicienne (Vandoeuvres-Gen?ve 1957) 139, 174 and passim; Id.,
"Bemerkungen zum Einfluss des Piatonismus zum fr?hen Christentum," Vigiliae Christia
nae 19 (1965) 129-162.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 259

earliest apologists,155 and so does W. Jaeger, in the framework of Christian

reception of classical culture.156 H. Chadwick studied Justins, Clements,
and Origens Platonism: Clements reception is deeper than Justins: Clem
ent considers the account of creation in the Timaeus to be parallel to
the Biblical one.157 Chadwick rightly stresses the significance of Origens
a e , where the Christian philosopher confirmed the Christian
dogmata through Plato. J. Rist observes that Platonists like Augustine and
Ps. Dionysius consciously assumed Platonic philosophical principles in
order to provide their faith with a rational ground, to defend it, to demon
strate the coherence of their thought, and to refute their adversaries.158 A
deep and fruitful synergy between Christianity and Greek philosophy is
hypothesized by Chuvin.159 The thesis stemming from von Harnack has
been refuted with valid arguments, still very recently, by several scholars,
such as King, Moreschini, Ludlow, Ramelli, Lilla, and others.160

155) Grundfragen systematischer Theobgie (G?ttingen 19712) 296 and passim.

156) Das fr?he Christentum und die griechische Bildung (Berlin 1963).
m Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (Oxford 1966).
158) J.M. Rist, "Christianisme et antiplatonisme: un bilan," in M. Narcy?E. Rebillard,
eds., Hell?nisme et christianisme (Villeneuve d'Ascq 2004) 153-170.
159) R Chuvin, "Christianisation et r?sistance dans les cultes traditionnels," in Narcy?
Rebillard, Hell?nisme, 15-34.
160) K. King, What is Gnosticism? (Cambridge, Ma. 2003) 55-70 against von Harnack's
assumption that Gnosticism was the most serious manifestation of the illness of Hellenised
Christianity; A. Magris, "La filosofia greca e la formazione dell'identit? cristiana," Annali di
Storia dellEsegesi 21 (2004) 59-107, esp. 59-81; C. Moreschini, Storia delh filosofia patris
tica (Brescia 2004) 7-12 and passim-, Id., "Limiti e consistenza del Platonismo cristiano, in
Neophtonismo pagano, 33-64, according to whom the Fathers' assumption of Platonism
was deeply conscious and fruitfully served the elaboration of Christian theology; Christian
Platonism was essentially a Platonic Christianity. Thus, to admit of a true influence of
Platonism upon Patristic philosophy does not mean to admit that Christianity was denatu
ralised to the extent that it was Platonised. Moreschini criticizes D?rrie for assuming Chris
tianity and Platonism as already constituted and monolithic entities, whereas they interacted
in their development, and asks ("Limiti," 38-39) which Platonism is assimilated by Patristic
philosophers: Plato, Middle-Platonism, Neoplatonism, and a Platonism that was already
Christianized, like that of Origen on the part of the Cappadocians. See also: B. Aland,
"Christentum, Bildung, und r?mische Oberschicht. Zum Octavius des Minucius Felix," in
Blume-Mann, Piatonismus und Christentum, 11-30; I. Ramelli, "Riparte la filosofia patris
tica," Rivista di Filosofia Neoscolastica 97 (2005) 673-690; Ead., Gregorio di Nissa sull'anima,
Integrative Essay II, with distinction between pagan and Christian Platonism, neither of
which is less legitimate than the other; M. Ludlow, Gregory ofNyssa: Ancient and (Post)Modern
(Oxford 2007) 85-86, who denies that Patristic theology, in partcular that of Gregory, can
be disentangled from Platonic philosophical concepts without losing the distinctiveness of

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260 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiline Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

I find that a universal and trans-cultural conception of Christianity

allows for a positive evaluation of its relationship to Greek philosophy and
culture, as a legitimate and fruitful relationship. Christianity had a univer
sal message to proclaim, and its founding fact, Christ s incarnation, teach
ing, death, and resurrection, had a universal value: in this connection, it
does not seem to make sense to accuse "Hellenisation" and "philosophisa
tion" of betraying the "pure" original nature of Christianity, i.e. its Biblical
roots considered as culturally limited, whereas Jesus recommendation to
the apostles is to proclaim the Good News to all nations and all creatures
(Mark 16:15). The Fathers were surely allowed to take?as they felicitously
did, in the most enlightened cases?all that Greek philosophy and culture
had to offer, insofar as it was compatible with Christianity. They even
needed to do so, as already Hegel realized and expounded in his Lectures
on the History of Philosophy: Christianity could acquire cultural value only
if philosophically structured and supported. Christian philosophers like
Origen and his best spiritual disciple, Gregory of Nyssa, faced the Greek
philosophical heritage with awareness and sought a continuity and a syn
thesis, without renouncing their own Christian identity. Christians who
took over Greek philosophy remained first of all Christian: they did not
denature Christianity by detaching it from its Jewish roots or its original
purity, simply because Christianity in its essence is neither Jewish nor
Greek. The gist of Christianity, Christ's salvific cross and resurrection, is
both a a a and e e a (lCor 1:23). The allegori
cal and symbolical conception itself, which is essential in Patristic exegesis,
especially in Christian Platonism, is both Greek and Biblical, and Greek
allegoresis was introduced already by Philo?and to some extent even
before him?into the Jewish Hellenistic world. Precisely because the core
of Christianity is fundamentally unalterable, Christian intellectuals such as
Clement, Origen, or Nyssen, in their confidence and awareness that the

what he has to say, and she points out the enormous influence that Harnacks conception
had within Protestantism, although she is right to observe that "the basic opposition of the
Gospel with 'Greek philosophy is found in Catholic writers too"; E. Adams, "Hellenistic
Dualism: Critiquing a Dubious Construct," in International SBL Meeting (Vienna, 22-26
July 2007) forthcoming: it is not the case that the Hellenistic soul-body dualism has "spoilt"
Christianity when it was "Hellenised." This Platonic dualism, which was so influential
upon Patristic philosophy, is not connected to a radical cosmological dualism, an anti
cosmism that is to be found in a part of Gnosticism and in Manichaeism rather than in
Patristic philosophy. Moreover, the anthropological partition into a, and e a
is already well established in the Bible, in Paul; S. Lilla in Nuovo Dizionario Patristico 3,

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Pktonism 261

Christian truth itself cannot be deformed, could serenely appreciate Greek

philosophy?not uncritically, but with no fear?and put themselves in
continuity with it in many respects, of course provided that these were
compatible with Christian principles. Patristic Platonists like Clement,
Origen, or Eusebius, for their part, would never have thought of their own
contribution in terms of "Platonising Christianity," as a sort of superimpo
sition of Platonism upon Christianity, since, in their view, Scripture and
Plato were in fundamental agreement, and Moses was far more ancient
than Plato, who was inspired by the same Logos that subsequently got
This is also why it seems better to speak of Christianisation of Helle
nism161 than of "Hellenisation" of Christianity, which was already Helle
nised at its very origin. The New Testament itself stems from a deeply
Hellenised Judaism,162 and was soon known and read in Hellenistic

161) Even the progressive characterisation of Neoplatonism also as a religion may have been
influenced by a sort of competition with Christianity. It is no accident that, on the pagan
side, the beginning of theology as a science occurred rather late, in the Christian era, pre
cisely with Neoplatonism, as is noted by H.D. Saffrey, "Les d?buts de la th?ologie comme
science," Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Th?ologiques 80 (1996) 201-220.
162) Bibliography on the Hellenisation of Judaism in the time of Jesus would be ample and
would contemplate the issue of Hellenistic Judaism, with the assimilation of Greek culture
in the III-I century B.C., the translation of the Bible into Greek, the Greek books in the
OT, the presence of Greek philosophy and a e a in Jewish authors such as Philo and his
predecessors, like Aristobulus. I limit myself to a few references: M. Hengd, Judentum und
Hellenismus (T?bingen 1969); Id., The Hellenization of Judaea in the I Century after Christ,
in coll. with C. Markschies (London 1989); Studies in Hellenistic Judaism, by L.H. Feldman
(Leiden 1996); Id., Kleine Sch?fen, 1-3 (T?bingen 1996-2002); G. Delling, Studien zum
Neuem Testament und zum hellenistischen Judentum: Gesammelte Auf ?tze 1950-1968, Hrsg.
F. Hahn, T. Holtz, N. Walter (G?ttingen 1970); Nourished with Peace: Studies in Hellenistic
Judaism in Memory of S. Sandmel, ed. FE. Greenspahn, E. Hilgert, B.L. Mack (Chico
1984); E. Will-C. Orrieux, louda?sm os-hell?n ism os: essai sur le juda?sme jud?en ? l'?poque
hell?nistique (Nancy 1986); E.J. Bickerman, The Jews in the Greek Age (Cambridge, Ma.
1988); P.W. van der Horst, Essays on the Jewish World of Early Christianity (Freiburg 1990);
Id., Hellenism, Judaism, Christianity: Essays on their Interaction (Kampen 1994); J.P. Brown,
Israel and Hellas (Berlin 1995); L.I. Levine, Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity: Conflict or
Confluence? (Seattle 1998); R. Hanhart, Studien zur Septuaginta und zum hellenistischen
Judentum, Hrsg. R.G. Kratz (T?bingen 1999); O. Keel?U. Staub, Hellenismus und Juden
tum: Vier Studien zu Daniel 7 und zur Religionsnot unter Antiochus TV (Freiburg 2000);
J.J. Collins, Between Athens andJerusalem: Jewish identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora (Grand
Rapids 2000); The Jewish Diahgue with Greece and Rome, ed. T. Rajak (Leiden 2001);
E. Gruen, Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans (Cambridge 2002); P. W. van der Horst,
Japheth in the Tents of Shem: Studies on Jewish Hellenism in Antiquity (Leuven 2002);

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262 ILE. Ramelli I Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263

cultural environments, even outside Christianity.163 Christians in antiquity

lived and studied in the context of Hellenistic culture, and soon presented
their religion as a philosophy:164 Justin defined Christianity as a a
e a, and this idea was maintained in Patristic philosophy.165 This comes as
no surprise: Christianity had to cross the boundaries of many ethnic and
cultural divisions, just as Hellenism itself had done: Lucio Troiani recently
observed that Greek a e a was a successful cultural model in that it was
able to import and assimilate the most interesting aspects of the cultures
with which it came into contact.166 Now, Christianity in turn was able
to assimilate the best of Greek a e a, and Patristic philosophy the best
of Platonism and Greek philosophy. In order to do so, it was necessary
to absorb and integrate all the good that Hellenistic culture and philoso

J.T. Fitzgerald?L.M. White, "Quod est comparandum," in Early Christianity and Classical
Culture. Studies A.J. Malherbe, eds. Id.?T.H. Olbricht (Leiden 2003) 13-40. I do not
include references to Philo, a full bibliography on whom can be found in R. Radice?D.T.
Runia, Philo of Alexandria: An Annotated Bibliography 1937-1986 (Leiden 1988) and in
D. T. Runia?H.M. Keizer, Philo of Alexandria: An Annotated Bibliography 1987-1996,
with addenda for 1937-1986 (Leiden 2000), and is supplemented every year in the Studia
Phihnica Annual.
163) On the early knowledge of the New Testament or parts of it in pagan Hellenism see e.g.
Rinaldi, Bibbia; I. Ramelli, / romanzi antichi e il Cristianesimo: contesto e contatti (Madrid
2001) and the review by A. Hilhorst, Ancient Narrative 3 (2003) 182-184; I. Ramelli, "The
Ancient Novels and the New Testament: Possibile Contacts," Ancient Narrative 5 (2005)
41-68; Ead., "Indizi della conoscenza del Nuovo Testamento in autori pagani del I secolo,"
in 77 Contributo delle scienze storiche alh interpretazione del Nuovo Testamento, edd. E. Dal
Covolo-R. Fusco (Citt? del Vaticano 2005) 146-169; Ead., Ges? a Roma, in coll. with
E. Innocenti (Rome 2007) 277-518; Ead., "Possibili tracce di conoscenza della religione
cristiana nei romanzi antichi? Una contestualizzazione storica e culturale," in Potere e reli
gione nel mondo indo-mediterraneo tra Ellenismo e tarda antichit?, Proceedings of the SISR
Congress (Rome 28-29.X.2004), ed. G. Gnoli (Rome 2008).
164) One of the best treatments is J.C.M. van Winden, "Das Christentum und die Philoso
phie: Der Beginn des Dialogs zwischen dem Glauben und dem Verstand," in Der Mittelpla
tonismus, ed. C. Zintzen (Darmstadt 1981) 397-412.
165) por justjn's formula see e.g. I. Ramelli, "San Giustino Martire: il multiforme uso di
e il lessico dell'esegesi tipologica delle Scritture," in 77 volto del mistero, 35-66;
J.J. Sikora, "Philosophy and Christian Wisdom according to St. Justin Martyr," Franciscan
Studies 23 (1963) 247-55; R. Joly, Christianisme et philosophic ?tudes sur Justin et les Apolo
gistes grecs du IT si?cle (Bruxelles 1973); D. Bourgeois, La sagesse des anciens dans le myst?re
du Verbe (Paris 1981); A.J. Oroge, "Justin Martyr and the Restoration of Philosophy,"
Church History 56 (1987) 303-319; for its Wirkungsgeschichte Moresch'mi, Storia, intr. and
passim; U. Schneider, Theologie ah christliche Philosophie (Berlin 1999).
166) In Studi Ellenistici XV, ed. . Virgilio (Pisa 2003) 215-227.

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Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism 263

phy had to offer, i.e. all that was compatible with Christianity: Origen
himself, as I mentioned, excluded atheist philosophical schools from his
disciples' cursus studiorum. Indeed, this integration was accomplished by
Clement, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and other Patristic philosophers,
who at the same time did not at all repudiate the Biblical roots of Christi
anity, but constantly regarded Scripture as a a ?according to Grego
rys own formulation in De anima et resurrectione, 49CD?167 as normative
for Christian philosophy. But the Scripture they used, in turn, was already
Hellenised itself in many aspects, both in the Old Testament, which they
mostly knew according to the LXX, and in the New.168

167) See Ramelli, Gregorio di Nissa suli anima, 88-90.

168) AJ. Malherbe, "Graeco-Roman Religion and Philosophy and the New Testament," in
The New Testament and Its Modem Interpreters, edd. EJ. Epp and G. McRae (Atlanta 1989)
3-26; R. Hirsch-Luipold, "Die religi?s-philosophische Literatur der fr?hen Kaiserzeit und
das Neue Testament," in Religi?se Philosophie und philosophische Religion in der fr?hen Kai
serzeit. Literaturgeschichtliche Perspektiven, Hrsg. Id.?M. von Albrecht?H. G?rgemanns
(T?bingen 2008), ch. 8, who sees influences of the Hellenistic culture and even philosophy
in the New Testament, although he is certainly right that it is not a philosophical
work. However, Paul and the Logos in John's Gospel surely represent the most important
points of contact with Greek philosophy. In particular on John's Prologue see J.-J. Duhot,
"M?tamorphoses du logos. Du sto?cisme au Nouveau Testament," in Les Sto?ciens (eds.
G. Romeyer-Dherbey & J.-B. Gourinat, Paris 2005) part 4, ch. 1, who hypothesizes a con
nection with the Stoic Logos via Philo. For Paul and Greek philosophy see I. Ramelli,
"Philosophen und Prediger, pagane und christliche weise M?nner. Der Apostel Paulus," in
E. Amato, . Borg, R. Burri, S. Fornaro, Ead., J. Schamp, Dio von Prusa: Der Philosoph und
sein Bild (G?ttingen 2009) ch. 4; The Writings of St Paul. Annotated Texts, Reception, and
Criticism, ed. W.A. Meeks and J.T. Fitzgerald (New York 2007); Passions and Moral Progress
in Greco-Roman Thought, ed. J. Fitzgerald (New York 2008). On the Hellenised context in
which the New Testament arose see e.g. C. Thiede, Ein Fisch fur den r?mischen Kaiser
(M?nchen 1998); Ead., U. Victor and U. Stingelin, Antike Kultur und Neues Testament
(Basel 2003); T.H. Olbricht, "Preface," in Early Christianity and Classical Culture, 1-12,
and the whole volume; I. Ramelli, "La ricerca attuale sui rapporti tra il primo Cristianesimo
e la cultura classica," Espacio, Tiempo y Forma 17 (2006) 223-238; Id., Bultmann: profik
critico nel contesto delle tre Quest nello studio del Ges? storico (Cosenza 2009). As for the
literary aspects of the "Hellenisation" of the NT see e.g. Dennis McDonalds studies on
Homeric echoes in some Gospels and Luke-Acts: "The Shipwrecks of Odysseus and Paul,"
New Testament Studies 45 (1999) 88-107; The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (New
Haven 2000); Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? (New Haven 2003); "Paul's Farewell
to the Ephesian Elders and Hectors Farewell to Andromache," in Contextualizing Acts:
Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse, eds. T. Penner and C. van der Stichele (Atlanta
2003) 189-203; M. Mitchell, "Homer in the New Testament?" Journal of Religion 83
(2003) 244-250; K.O. Sandnes, "Imitatio HomerP. An Appraisal of Dennis R. MacDon
alds Mimesis Criticism," Journal oj Biblical Literature 124 (2005) 715-732.

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