Origen (The Early Church Fathers)

Origen of Alexandria (185—254 C.E.)
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The ignorant person cannot be held responsible for his ignorance, except to the extent that he has been lazy, not applying himself to the cultivation of reason. The moral dimension of this conception of freedom is that ignorance is not to be punished, but remedied through education. Punishment, understood in the punative sense, is of no avail and will even lead to deeper ignorance and sin, as the punished soul grows resentful, not understanding why he is being punished. Origen firmly believed that the knowledge of the good God is itself enough to remove all taint of sin and ignorance from souls.

A 'freedom' to embrace evil the absence of good would have made no sense to Origen who, as a Platonist, identified evil with enslavement and goodness with freedom. The soul who has seen the good, he argued, will not fall into ignorance again, for the good is inspiring and worthy of eternal contemplation see Commentary on Romans 5. Origen may rightfully be called the first philosopher of history, for, like Hegel, he understood history as a process involving the participation of persons in grand events leading to an eventual culmination or 'end of history'.

Unlike mainstream Christian eschatology, Origen did not understand the end of history as the final stage of a grand revelation of God, but rather as the culmination of a human-divine co-operative process, in which the image and likeness of God humanity is re-united with its source and model, God Himself see Against Celsus 4.

This is accomplished through education of souls who, having fallen away from God, are now sundered from the divine presence and require a gradual re-initiation into the mysteries of God. Such a reunion must not be accomplished by force, for God will never, Origen insists, undermine the free will of His creatures; rather, God will, over the course of numerous ages if need be, educate souls little by little, leading them eventually, by virtue of their own growing responsiveness, back to Himself, where they will glory in the uncovering of the infinite mysteries of the eternal godhead On First Principles 2.

A common motif in Platonism during, before, and after Origen's time is salvific stasis , or the idea that the soul will achieve complete rest and staticity when it finally ascends to a contemplation of the good. We notice this idea early on in Plato, who speaks in the Republic c-d, c-e of a state of pure contemplation from which the philosopher is only wrenched by force or persuasion. Influenced indirectly by Plotinus, and more directly by later Neoplatonists both Christian and pagan , the Christian theologian St.

Maximus the Confessor elaborated a systematic philosophical theology culminating in an eschatology in which the unique human person was replaced by the overwhelming, transcendent presence of God see Chapters on Knowledge 2. Origen managed to maintain the transcendentality of God on the one hand, and the dynamic persistence of souls in being on the other. He did this by defining souls not by virtue of their intellectual content or, in the Plotinian sense, for example, by virtue of their 'prior' or higher, constitutive principle but rather by their ability to engage in a finite manner with the infinite God.

Origen and Origenism

This engagement is constitutive of the soul's existence, and guarantees its uniqueness. Each soul engages uniquely with God in contemplating divine mysteries according to its innate ability, and this engagement persists for all eternity, for the mysteries of the godhead are inexhaustible, as is the enthusiastic application of the souls' intellectual ability. Throughout this article, Origen's importance has largely been linked to his melding of philosophical insights with elucidations of various aspects of the Christian fatih.

Yet his importance for Hellenistic philosophy is marked, and though not quite as pervasive as his influence on Christian thought, is nevertheless worth a few brief remarks.

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His role in the formation of Christian doctrine is more prominent, yet, because of its problematical nature, will be treated of only briefly. Origen's debt to Hellenistic Greek philosophy is quite obvious; his influence on the development of later pagan philosophy is - at least from the perspective of most contemporary scholarship - rather less obvious, but it is there. His trinitarian doctrine, for example, consisted of a gradation of influence beginning with the Father, whose influence was of the most general, universal kind, binding together all things; the influence of the Son extended strictly to sentient beings; the Holy Spirit's influence extended only to the 'elect' or saints who had already achieved salvation Dillon, in D.

This conception found later expression in Proclus' Elements of Theology Proposition 57 , where he elucidates this formulation: For Origen, the pre-existent souls, through their fall, gave rise to a history over which both the Father and the Son came to preside, while the Holy Spirit only enters into human reality to effect a salvific re-orientation toward God that is already the result of an achieved history. The Holy Spirit, then, may be understood as the final cause, the preparatory causes of which are the Father and Son, the mutual begetters of history.

A bit later, the pagan philosopher Iamblichus reversed this Origenian notion, claiming that the influence of the divine became stronger and more concentrated the further it penetrated into created reality, extending in its pure power even to stones and plants. In this sense, the Holy Spirit, limited as it is according to Origen to interaction with the saints alone, gives way to the universal power of the Father, which extends to the furthest reaches of reality. Iamblichus saw no reason to divide the divinity into persons or emanative effects; rather, he saw the divinity as operative, in varying degrees, at every level of reality.

At the lowest level, however, this power is most effective, imparting power to plants and stones, and providing support for the theurgical practice advocated by Iamblichus Olympiodorus, Commentary on Alcibiades I, A; Psellus, Chaldaean Expositions a; Dillon, ed. Origen's ideas, most notably those in the treatise On First Principles , gave rise to a movement in the Christian Church known as Origenism. From the third through the sixth centuries this movement was quite influential, especially among the monastics, and was given articulate - if excessively codified form - by the theologian Evagrius Ponticus c.

It is to be noted that the spirit of philosophical inquiry exemplified by Origen was largely absent from the movement bearing his name. A far more creative use of Origen's concepts and themes was made by Gregory of Nyssa d.

Church Fathers

Chapters 26 and After the posthumous condemnation of Origen and Origenism in the fifth century, it became increasingly difficult for mainstream theologians to make use of his work. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite 5th or 6th Century C. In the seventh century, Maximus the Confessor ca. Maximus changed the historicism of Origen into a more introspective, personal struggle to attain the divine vision through asceticism and prayer, the result being a total subsumption of the person by the godhead.

This was Maximus' vision of salvation: While there is much that may be called brilliant and even inspiring in Maximus' philosophical theology, this loss of the centrality of the person - as unique, unrepeatable entity - in the cosmic process of salvation led to the loss of a sense of co-operation of humanity and God, and sapped Christianity of the intellectual vigor that it displayed in the period leading up to the establishment of a theocratical Byzantine state.

Origen of Alexandria

Thankfully, Origen's legacy was not lost. He was an inspiration to the Renaissance Humanists and, more recently, to certain Existentialist Christian theologians, notably Nicolas Berdyaev whose insistence on the absolute autonomy and nobility of the person in the face of all objectifying reality is an echo across the ages of the humanism of Origen. Berdyaev himself admits Origen's influence on his thought as well as that of Gregory of Nyssa and insists that the doctrine of hell and the eternal suffering of sinners is not compatible with authentic Christianity.

He also places a great importance on history, and even broaches a modern, de-mythologized conception of metempsychosis in terms of a universal, shared history of which all persons are a part, regardless of their temporal specificity. History, according to Berdyaev and in this he follows Origen binds all of humanity together.

No soul will be saved in isolation; all must be saved together, or not be saved at all. Berdyaev wrote numerous works, a few of the most important are Slavery and Freedom Eng. Origen was an innovator in an era when innovation, for Christians, was a luxury ill-afforded.

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He drew upon pagan philosophy in an effort to elucidate the Christian faith in a manner acceptable to intellectuals, and he succeeded in converting many gifted pagan students of philosophy to his faith. He was also a great humanist, who believed that all creatures will eventually achieve salvation, including the devil himself.

Origen did not embrace the dualism of Gnosticism, nor that of the more primitive expressions of the Christian faith still extant in his day. Rather, he took Christianity to a higher level, finding in it a key to the perfection of the intellect or mind, which is what all souls are in their pure form.

The restoration of all souls to a purely intellectual existence was Origen's faith, and his philosophy was based upon such a faith. In this, he is an heir to Socrates and Plato, but he also brought a new conception into philosophy - that of the creative aspect of the soul, as realized in history, the culmination of which is salvation, after which follows an eternal delving into the deep mysteries of God.

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Elias School of Orthodox Theology U. Origen of Alexandria — C. Origen's Life and Times Origen was, according to Eusebius, "not quite seventeen" when Septimius Severus' persecution of the Christians began "in the tenth year of [his] reign," Ecclesiastical History ; tr. Pagan, Jewish and Christian Origen's debt to Holy Scripture is obvious; he quotes the bible at great length, often drawing together seemingly disparate passages to make a profound theological point. The Philosophical System of Origen Origen was the first systematic theologian and philosopher of the Christian Church.

The Trinity Origen begins his treatise On First Principles by establishing, in typical Platonic fashion, a divine hierarchical triad; but instead of calling these principles by typical Platonic terms like monad, dyad, and world-soul, he calls them "Father," "Christ," and "Holy Spirit," though he does describe these principles using Platonic language.

Here is Origen explaining the status of the Holy Spirit, in a passage preserved in the original Greek: Souls and their Fall According to Origen, God's first creation was a collectivity of rational beings which he calls logika. Multiple Ages, Metempsychosis, and the Restoration of All Origen did not believe in the eternal suffering of sinners in hell. Important Themes in Origen's Philosophy While Origen's lengthy treatise On First Principles contains numerous discussions of a wide variety of issues relevant to the Christianity of his day, as well as to broader philosophical concerns, certain key themes do emerge that are of universal and timeless value for philosophy.

Free Will Origen's conception of freedom, as discussed above, was not the same as modern conceptions.

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Education and History Origen may rightfully be called the first philosopher of history, for, like Hegel, he understood history as a process involving the participation of persons in grand events leading to an eventual culmination or 'end of history'. Eternal Motion of Souls A common motif in Platonism during, before, and after Origen's time is salvific stasis , or the idea that the soul will achieve complete rest and staticity when it finally ascends to a contemplation of the good.

Origen's Importance in the History of Philosophy Throughout this article, Origen's importance has largely been linked to his melding of philosophical insights with elucidations of various aspects of the Christian fatih. Hellenistic Philosophy Origen's debt to Hellenistic Greek philosophy is quite obvious; his influence on the development of later pagan philosophy is - at least from the perspective of most contemporary scholarship - rather less obvious, but it is there.

Christianity Origen's ideas, most notably those in the treatise On First Principles , gave rise to a movement in the Christian Church known as Origenism. Concluding Summary Origen was an innovator in an era when innovation, for Christians, was a luxury ill-afforded. Origen, On First Principles , tr. Harper and Row Origen, Commentary on John , tr. Origen, Commentary on Matthew , tr.

Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans Books , tr. The Catholic University of America Press Harper and Brothers Berdyaev, Nicholas, Slavery and Freedom , tr. Charles Scribner's Sons Berdyaev, Nicholas, Truth and Revelation , tr. Oxford University Press Cornell University Press The Westminster Press His World and His Legacy Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press Vladimir's Seminary Press State University of New York Press Yale University Press A History of the Development of Doctrine , vol.

University of Chicago Press A History of an Idea Oxford: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church to A. The Vision of St.

Maximus the Confessor Crestwood, NY: John Knox Press Brandon Harper and Brothers Someone else, very powerful? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus: Father of the Christian Church. Review 'The extracts form his works are well chosen and clearly translated The Early Church Fathers Paperback: Routledge September 16, Language: Related Video Shorts 0 Upload your video. Share your thoughts with other customers.

Write a customer review. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Another reviewer aptly wrote, "For more than four centuries, Alexandria was the intellectual center of the Roman Empire, and later the Pharos of Oriental Christianity. Its Bishop Athanasius played a vigorous part in defining basic Christian belief, while Cyril was the benchmark of Orthodox Christology. One of the most remarkable mystical traditions of early Christianity, monastic life, began in Egypt in the third and into the fourth centuries.

For the first six centuries, until the advent of Islam, Alexandria was the leader in Christian thought, theological doctrine, and liturgical innovation. In mid fifth century, after the schismatic council of chalcedon, became then partially isolated by Byzantine- Roman church politics, even before the Arab conquest. As one of the most prolific and groundbreaking early Christian writers, Origen is oftentimes difficult to understand, a fact compounded by the dichotomy between advanced seers and common believers in early Alexandrine Christianity.

Oftentimes, Origen's commentary was directed to the common believer while offering hidden mysteries to the advanced seer. This book is a wonderful introduction to this prolific Early Church Father on several levels. It offers a basic introduction to those who are just beginning a comprehensive study of Origen while offering helpful in-depth analyses of Origen's texts to the intermediate and advanced scholars. Moreover, it places Origen's life and writings in constant social context to help the reader better understand the different motivations behind Origen's beliefs and writings.

Although Origen is not considered a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, he is nonetheless one of many gems of early Egyptian Christanity. That verdict on Tertullian, an apostate to the Montanist sect, is not surprising. Origen, however, was the most prominent Christian teacher and scholar of his day, remained steadfastly loyal to the Church, died as a martyr and was admired fervently by such great and unquestionably orthodox theologians as Gregory of Nyssa. Notwithstanding such credentials, his ideas fell under suspicion soon after his death, and "Origenism" has since borne a taint of heresy.

Joseph Trigg, an Episcopal clergyman and author of a previous life of Origen "Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-century Church" , would like to restore his subject's reputation and introduce him to contemporary Christians. To that end, he has assembled this anthology of a dozen selections: Gregory the Wonder Worker. Most of these are excerpts from, or fragments of, longer works, but each is substantial in itself. None will be familiar to the non-specialist. Not included are Origen's best known treatise the source of many later doubts about his orthodoxy , "Peri Archon" "On First Principles" , and his apologia "Contra Celsum", both readily found elsewhere and neither typical of the author's work.

Origen's great subject was the interpretation of Scripture. These texts illustrate his approach, which differs strikingly from that of any modern commentator. The underlying theory is that, because God is the author of the Bible, every word of the text is significant. But, because God is supremely subtle, that significance is not evident to the untutored reader. The plain, obvious meaning is, to Origen's mind, usually the least important.

The deepest, spiritual truths can be uncovered only through learned scholarship, augmented by prayer. These principles lead to minute, painstaking analysis. Book I of the commentary on John's Gospel, 46 pages in this edition, is devoted to discussing two words. The conclusions reached through this effort can be unexpected and may often look arbitrary, as when Jeremiah's lamentations over Jerusalem are construed as an allegory of the mission of the Apostles or Jesus's washing of his disciples' feet is taken as symbolic of Christian pedagogy.

Because this way of reading Scripture is so foreign to our habits, these writings, if perused quickly and carelessly, are more likely to bewilder than enlighten. Origen's method and assumptions obviously bear no resemblance to modern Biblical scholarship, despite his sedulous care to establish the most accurate possible text. Nor can he be grouped with the fundamentalists. He agrees with them that the Bible is the very Word and words of God.

Life and work of Origen

From that premise, the draws the unfundamentalist conclusion that statements of fact are frequently not to be taken literally and that ordinary Christians get little out of Scripture without expert guidance. To read Origen as more than an historical curiosity requires, then, the adoption of an unfamiliar perspective on the Bible. Trigg's introduction, while offering a useful account of Origen's career and posthumous reputation, unfortunately pays little attention to furnishing equipment for such a feat of intellectual imagination. Origen is one of the most famous names in early Christian history, and this collection, though not fare for a casual Sunday afternoon, is the best available way for laymen to see a great mind at work in its most characteristic mode.

This book gives an insight into the esoteric early history of so-called Christianity.

Origen of Alexandria | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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