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Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition$

Henry Chadwick

Print publication date: 1984

Print ISBN-13: 9780198266730

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198266730.001.0001

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The Perennial Issue

The Perennial Issue

(p.95) 4 The Perennial Issue
Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition


Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Throughout the long history of Christian thought Origen and his teachings continually come to the surface in one form or another. No discussion of Origen can proceed far without returning to the perennial problem of his orthodoxy. All other questions appear secondary to this, and the problem did not first come into existence as a result of the sharper definition of orthodoxy after the controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. The protagonists of orthodoxy against Arian and Apollinarian heresy were well aware that the Christian writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries had often failed to express themselves with that precision which heretical depravity made necessary. They were troubled not by occasional indiscretions or innocent lapses but by the whole temper and structure of Origen's speculations.

Keywords:   Origen, orthodoxy, Christian thought, Arian heresy, Apollinarian heresy

NURSERY memory recalls a rhyme about a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. It proceeds to give an estimate of her moral variability which bears a striking resemblance to the judgement on Origen which we find in the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christendom. In a fifteenth-century Greek manuscript in the Vatican library there is a marginal note written by George Scholarius, the Byzantine philosopher and theologian who under the name of Gennadius II became the first patriarch of Constantinople under the Turks:

The Western writers say, ‘Where Origen was good, no one is better, where he was bad, no one is worse.’ Our Asian divines say on the one hand that ‘Origen is the whetstone of us all’, but on the other hand, that ‘he is the fount of foul doctrines’.

Scholarius continues with the comment:

Both are right: he splendidly defended Christianity, wonderfully expounded scripture, and wrote a noble exhortation to martyrdom. But he was also the father of Arianism, and worst of all, said that hellfire would not last for ever.1

The name of Origen never fails to be divisive. It is curious to notice how throughout the long history of (p.96) Christian thought Origen and his teaching are continually coming to the surface in one form or another. Dismissed as a heretic by a Jerome or a Justinian, he will be sure to return in Didymus and Evagrius or in the Palestinian monks of Justinian’s time2 or in the mystical speculations of an Eriugena, a Nicolas of Cusa, or even a Berdyaev. Ever since the main theses of ‘Origenism’ (as we must call it, without forgetting that it is a genuine question whether, or rather in what sense, Origen himself is an Origenist) were condemned under Justinian at the fifth General Council,3 it has been disputed whether Origen could be saved. Dangerous views concerning the salvability of Origen involved Pico della Mirandola in acute embarrassments in a famous controversy of Renaissance times.4 In the present century there have been several manifestations of sympathy for Origen especially in France on the Catholic side, as in the writings of Fr. Henri de Lubac, Fr. Crouzel, and Fr. Daniélou. In England during the discussions of the twenties concerning the revision of the Book of Common Prayer the Anglo-Catholic, Dr. Darwell Stone, urged that the name of Origen should be inserted in the Anglican Calendar as a saint.5 But the old misgivings have continued to be voiced, and no sooner is the case stated for the defence than there appears a fresh attack from the prosecution. No discussion of Origen can proceed far without coming back to the perennial problem of his orthodoxy. All other questions appear ultimately secondary to this. And the problem did not first come into existence only as a result of the (p.97) sharper definition of orthodoxy after the controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. The protagonists of orthodoxy against Arian and Apollinarian heresy were well aware that Christian writers of the second and third centuries had often failed to express themselves with that precision which heretical depravity was now making necessary. They were troubled not by occasional indiscretions or innocent lapses but by the whole temper and structure of Origen’s speculations.

Even during his lifetime his teaching was a stone of stumbling to some, while to others it seemed that he and he alone could fully expound the glories of the Christian tradition in a way that conceded nothing to gnostic heresy and yet went beyond the simple, mythological, and eschatological language of the catechism and the baptismal creed. ‘There are some’, he once complains, ‘who love me beyond measure and laud my teaching to the skies. Others slander my writings and accuse me of doctrines which I do not hold.’6 Origen approves of his uncritical admirers as little as of his hostile slanderers. Like Augustine, he is continually asking his hearers and readers to be critical and to subject his work to correction if they find it inadequate. When Jerome in his early days of ecstatic enthusiasm for Origen described him as ‘the greatest teacher of the Church since the apostles’,7 he was echoing language such as earlier admirers had used.8 And the opposition complained that Origen’s friends seemed to think his works on a par with those of the prophets and apostles.9 Origen was aware of his critics. He refers to those who (p.98) laughed at his allegories as mere subjectivism and fancy,10 and who insisted that historical matter must be treated as historical.11 Once he sympathizes with Jeremiah when the prophet decided to keep silence in face of the surrounding critics ready to pick on his words, and observes that it is a temptation he has often felt himself: ‘If it gets me into trouble when I teach and preach, why do I not rather retire to the desert and to quiet?’12 His critics were of course entirely right in seeing allegory as an indispensable tool without which Origen could not find what he wanted in scripture. The modern reader, conditioned to regard all allegory as nothing but a dishonest sophistication designed to evade difficulties in a sacred text, is often not as sympathetic as an historical point of view would demand towards a man who can find his ideas almost anywhere in the most improbable passages. It is hard for us to appreciate the degree to which allegory made it possible both for an ancient text to be made contemporary and for human thought to be free to develop without being constricted by a rigid authority. Like Philo, Origen simply and sincerely believed that the Bible was intended by its divine author to be expounded in more than one sense, and he endeavoured to formulate some objective rules for interpretation.13 Not all the rules that he framed are likely to impress a modern reader, but the fact that he made the attempt is significant.

But the main contemporary gravamen against him was not on account of his expository method but on account of his doctrine, in particular his eschatology. About the (p.99) year 229 Origen, who was continually being invited to visit other churches to give lectures, and in some cases even to preach until Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria protested against putting a layman into the pulpit, was asked to go to Greece to help the church at Athens in refuting a troublesome Valentinian heretic named Candidus. It was while he was on his journey thither that he passed through Caesarea in Palestine and there accepted ordination to the presbyterate at the hands of the local bishop.14 At Athens the dispute with Candidus turned on the nature and destiny of the devil. The Valentinian argued that the orthodox admitted the fundamental principle of Gnosticism in the dualism implied by their view of the devil as one to be eternally damned and as beyond the very possibility of redemption. Origen replied to this with his usual argument that the devil fell by will; to say that he is evil by nature and constitution is to find fault with the Creator, and true Christianity rejects any ultimate dualism; therefore it is possible for even the devil to be saved.15 The publication by Candidus of his version of the disputation came as a bombshell.16 At Alexandria Bishop Demetrius, incensed by the act of his brother bishop of Caesarea in laying hands on Origen without so much as consulting him, saw in Origen’s doctrine unambiguous evidence of grave heresy and proceeded to denounce him. Origen cannot have poured oil on the stormy waters when he wrote to his friends at Alexandria that, just as Michael the archangel did not bring a railing accusation against the devil, so he thought it wrong to speak evil of the (p.100) devil—any more, indeed, than of Demetrius and those who had condemned him.17 When he returned to Alexandria he found that all work was impossible. The shorthand writers normally provided for him at the expense of his friend Ambrose refused to work for him, and in 231 he decided to migrate to Caesarea in the spirit of the children of Israel migrating from the bondage of Pharaoh.18 The Palestinian bishops were glad to give asylum to a distinguished theologian and eloquent preacher who, as they saw it, had been so hopelessly misunderstood by his uninstructed ecclesiastical superior. Their action raised large issues of custom and church order with regard to the reception to communion in one church of one who had been expelled from another, and an irate correspondence ensued, in which Origen wrote to Bishop Fabian of Rome to defend himself.19 He evidently thought that Demetrius had acted hastily without even understanding the point at issue, a charge in which there was probably much truth.20 The fourth-century defenders of Origen, however, significantly keep silence on the doctrinal point, and explain Demetrius’s hostility as motivated by personal envy and his canonical censure as based on strictly technical objections to the Palestinian ordination.

Writing in 374–5 Epiphanius concludes his immense attack on Origen’s heresy with the summary charge that Origen was ‘blinded by Greek culture’ (paideia).21 The accusation raises large questions: was Origen’s deviation from the path of orthodoxy caused by his (p.101) incorporation of pagan ideas within ecclesiastical doctrine? Did he produce a hellenized version of Christianity that was seriously influential in converting the educated classes of society in the eastern provinces of the Empire?

Epiphanius’s charge needs to be tested against Origen’s attitude to Greek philosophy as expressed in his own writings. For of the early Christian theologians whose work we have briefly surveyed in these lectures Origen is outstanding not for the friendliness of his utterances about Greek philosophy but for the opposite.

In Justin we saw Greek philosophy and Christianity set in an amicable juxtaposition without any hard words or accusations on the Christian side and with the quiet, courteous assumption that Christianity is the fulfilment towards which philosophy, like the Old Testament itself, was always pointing, even if it did not know it. In Clement this relationship has become rather less simple, and so far as outward appearance goes less benevolent, even if Clement expresses his reserve with urbanity and a proper respect for the conventions of contemporary rhetoric. Yet at the same time as the outward friendliness is cooler, the intellectual reconciliation has inwardly become much deeper and more intimate. Clement’s doctrine of God is more deeply impregnated with Platonic transcendentalism than Justin’s; and whereas Justin’s theology is popular Christianity with a strong eschatology of the most unsymbolic kind, Clement has an eschatology which has been drastically transmuted either into a Johannine (p.102) existentialism or into symbolist utterance about the destiny of the soul at the climax of its ascent to union with God. It is characteristic that the gospel saying ‘Watch, for you know not in what hour the Son of Man comes’ has become for Clement a warning about the enervating effects of lying too long in bed.22

In comparison with Clement, Origen’s overt attitude towards classical Greek philosophy is even more reserved and critical; nevertheless, there is in one sense an even profounder synthesis between Christianity and Platonism. This is in part related to a temperamental difference between the two men. Clement is a cultivated man of letters using philosophy for his own purposes, directing his writings not at an audience of professional philosophers but at well-educated and intelligent people whose culture is more literary than philosophical. A poet is at least as likely as a philosopher to have expressed the religious truth that Clement is seeking for—though probably Clement would not have gone so far as to echo Horace’s dictum that one learns much more about morality from Homer than from philosophers.23

Origen does not belong to the polite literary world of dinner-party conversation which is mirrored in Clement’s pages. He has no desire to do so. A stern ascetic with an insatiable appetite for incessant work which earned him the nickname Adamantius,24 he would not have been an entirely comfortable and relaxed person with whom to spend a pleasant conversational evening. He is not indeed without feeling for literature, and can (p.103) quote his Homer as well as anyone when he wishes.25 But he does not often so wish. He regards philosophy as incomparably more important than drama or poetry, and in handling the opinions of the different philosophical schools he moves with the easy familiarity of a master. He knows just how to set one school against another, how the subtleties of the Stoics can be met by the ingenuity of the Academics and Peripatetics, or vice versa. But towards even the philosophers his attitude is distant, and he can use expressions of cold disparagement which strike the reader as odd in view of the entirely Greek cast of his mind. His manner struck Porphyry, who was directly and emotionally involved, as offensive and unpardonable, and he could only regard Origen as a crook who used Greek tools to rationalize a crude barbarian superstition, having apostatized from the faith in which he had been brought up. Porphyry’s accusation presupposes that no one could be as deeply hellenized as Origen without accepting the polytheistic belief with which, for him, Hellenic culture was indissolubly associated.26

Underneath the cold language much of the detail of Origen’s use of philosophy is in line with the programme laid down by Justin and developed by Clement. ‘Every wise man, to the extent that he is wise, participates in Christ who is wisdom.’27 The Logos lights every man coming into the world, and all beings that are rational share in the true light. It is the Holy Spirit, not the Logos, whose work is confined to the Church, which explains why some Greek philosophers say the world (p.104) was created by the Logos of God but have no inkling of the Holy Spirit.28 Man is made in the image of the Logos,29 possessing as his eternal birthright freedom and rationality, the capacity to recognize the good, and the desire for God. This yearning for the source of his being is universal in man; and Origen, almost like Coleridge or Schleiermacher, argues that this sense of aching need cannot have been implanted in the heart of man unless it is capable of being satisfied. Each of our five physical senses is related to a specific category of objects; so also the human mind is the correlate of God and is made for God.30 When the Lord declared that ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you’ he meant just this: discover the image of God within your own soul by introspection and withdrawing the mind from the distractions of sense.31 It is coherent with this that Origen freely accepts the Stoic conception of ‘universal notions’ as a source of truth. It is the general consensus of all rational men that a spiritual religion is incompatible with crude idolatry and polytheistic practice.32 This instance is noteworthy; Origen appeals to the ‘universal notions’ to criticize pagan religion, but never invokes them to justify some modification or reinterpretation of the baptismal faith.

Celsus once complains that Christians have nothing new to say in their ethical teaching, and that the classical philosophers said it all long ago.33 Origen’s reply is remarkable. He simply accepts the proposition without demur. So far from Christianity being the worse for that, it is evidence in its favour. Every man has an (p.105) innate awareness of what is right and wrong. ‘Do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’34 Any open-minded reader of the Sermon on the Mount will agree that its recommendations and counsels accord with an ideal pattern for human relations. The gospel is a republication of the law of nature implanted by creation. It does not bring a new morality, but a recognition of the divine righteousness and love as the underlying ground of the highest ethical aspiration.35 So the gospel brings to actuality what is present in man potentially, and its ‘newness’ consists in the concrete example of Christ himself. The Greek philosophers speak of modesty, the Bible of humility.36 It is the same thing, but humility is found in a relation of love to God. This does not mean that for Origen a natural prudential morality is enough. He (hesitantly) denies the saving value before God of good works done before justification,37 and in no degree mitigates the absoluteness of the Christian faith as revelation. There is salvation only in Christ, and all must come, sooner or later, to this realization, in the next world if not in this.38 So Origen combines an estimate of human nature which is strikingly positive and ‘humanist’ with a cool reserve towards the good pagan.39 He can refer with some sympathy to the familiar Stoic paradoxes that the wise man alone is free and noble and kingly; but the reference is not enthusiastic, for he goes on to add, coolly enough, that perhaps at some other time he will ‘consider’ the degree to which a Christian can accept them.40

(p.106) Towards the materialism of Stoic metaphysics Origen is as hostile as any Platonist, and he censures, like Justin and Clement, the Stoics’ pantheism and deterministic doctrine of world-cycles.41 In the contra Celsum he once draws a sharp distinction between the cosmic vitalism of the Stoics and the Christian conception of God’s immanent providence as a power directed by a transcendent will.42 The point of closest contact between Origen and Stoicism appears in his free use of the arsenal of argument forged by Chrysippus in defence of providence and especially in justification of the doctrine that the rational beings in the cosmos are the object of special care. Like Justin and Clement before him, Origen stresses without apology the anthropocentric purpose of the created world. To all three men the proposition seemed essential to any adequate understanding of the Incarnation and the divine purpose for the salvation of man. It is no accident that some of Celsus’s most elaborate argument is directed at just this point. For the pagan Platonist the refutation of the Christian thesis requires an extended argument to prove that animals are not less rational than human beings. The argument was a well-worn theme in the debates between Academic and Stoic philosophers of the hellenistic age. Like Philo, who devoted an entire tract to the question, Origen decisively identifies himself with the Stoic side of the argument. The modern reader of this discussion of animal rationality in the fourth book of the contra Celsum is likely to be overwhelmed by a sense of the extraordinary futility of the arguments (p.107) used by both participants. Yet underlying the apparently trivial and often absurd arguments about the religious beliefs of elephants or the filial devotion of storks there is more to be considered than the way in which this kind of nonsense was continued in the Physiologus and the compilers of medieval bestiaries. The latent question at issue is that of the transcendence of man in relation to his environment and to his own animal nature. When Celsus levels man down to the irrational creatures, Origen replies that his argument is derogatory to the dignity of man created in the image of God and is in principle destructive in its moral consequences.43

Origen’s intimate knowledge of Stoic logic and ethics is evident throughout his writings, and he had certainly read for himself many of the works of Chrysippus and some of the recorded discourses of Musonius Rufus and Epictetus. Of some points in Stoic doctrine it is no exaggeration to say that they are first made fully intelligible to the historian of philosophy by Origen’s expositions and comments. But although there is much knowledge of Stoicism and an evident debt to the Stoic theodicy, it is a mistake to overestimate this Stoic element in his mental furniture and to label him an adherent. Origen, like Clement before him, illustrates the general tendency of eclectic Platonism in his time, incorporating Stoic ethics within a Platonist metaphysic. Moreover, like Philo he found himself ranged with the Stoics against the Sceptics on the question of providence and in affirming that the cosmos is so ordered as to favour right moral action.44 When he had himself (p.108) suffered expulsion from his Alexandrian home on grounds that he thought wholly unreasonable, he made his own the old Stoic language that happiness is inward and independent of external circumstances.45 But Origen’s divergence from the Stoics appears not only in his doctrine of God but also in his anthropology. For while he was happy to accept the Stoic recipe for happiness, that one should limit desire to that which no external power can remove or disturb, yet he did not think that the soul possessed in itself any inherent quality of moral immutability, and was far more deeply aware of its frailty and weakness. For Origen the mutability of the soul is only overcome as it is united to God by grace.46 If there is an obvious surface similarity between the Stoic doctrine of world-cycles and Origen’s speculative notions, it must also be recognized that the Stoic doctrine rested on a deterministic conception, while it was a thoroughgoing libertarianism which compelled Origen to allow for at least the hypothetical possibility that the redeemed might not for ever exercise their will rightly, so that even where he seemed to agree with the Stoics it was for diametrically opposed reasons.47

In the Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century it is a conventional accusation against the Arians that they apply the profane logic of Aristotle to the ineffable mystery of the holy Trinity.48 It would be difficult to discern any deep or direct influence of Aristotelian thought on Origen’s mind.49 In this respect Origen’s position is similar to that of the second-century Platonist Atticus, large quotations from whom are preserved (p.109) by Eusebius of Caesarea. Atticus was writing to refute those fellow-Platonists who believed they had found a way to reconcile Plato with Aristotle.50 His objections to Aristotle closely coincide with those of Origen: Aristotle fails to see that happiness must be found solely in virtue, not in physical well-being or external circumstances; he denies the effective care of providence for human affairs, and so denies both the value of prayer and man’s answerability hereafter for his actions; he denies that the world is created; he denies the immortality of the soul and holds that the ether is of a fifth, unchangeable essence, beside the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire. Excellent as a guide to terrestrial facts, he is a weak and blind guide on transcendental realities.51 These complaints by Atticus recur in Origen. Origen was aware of Christian theologians who sought to expound the harmony of Aristotle with the Bible. The task was probably not more difficult than harmonizing him with Plato, as those opposed by Atticus wished to do, and as Ammonius Saccas is specifically reported to have done.52 At any rate, in his commentary on Psalm iv Origen makes an attack on Christian exegetes who find in Scripture support for the ‘Aristotelian’ opinion that goodness is not only moral but is also a matter of the body and of external things.53 It was conventionally claimed for Aristotle’s philosophy that it adopted a ‘more human’ standpoint than its rivals. Origen did not deem this to be a merit.54 Nor is he seriously interested in Aristotelian logic, though well acquainted with the usual logical conundrums of the (p.110) schools. He once gives a verbatim quotation from the Categories,55 and occasionally quotes an Aristotelian definition,56 though these are more likely to be derived from school handbooks summarizing philosophical opinions than from the original writings of Aristotle himself. Origen’s identification of the Christian attitude to Aristotle with that adopted by a strict Platonist like Atticus is not surprising. The Aristotelian conception that birth and wealth may be held to contribute to the good life as well as moral virtue was not likely to be congenial to a Christian of the age of the martyrs. The notion that providence becomes progressively less effective as it descends towards terrestrial affairs could not be reconciled with a divine revelation culminating in incarnation. On one point, perhaps, Origen might have been expected to have sympathy for Aristotle, namely, in his doctrine that the ether of the heavens is composed of a fifth essence, not of the four elements of which this lower world is constituted. For this could have appealed to a theologian reputed to hold that the resurrection body is wholly discontinuous with the physical frame to which the soul is linked in this life. The Aristotelian doctrine of the fifth essence was resolutely opposed by Stoic exponents of cosmic ‘sympathy’,57 as also by Atticus and the orthodox Platonists. It is important for Origen’s doctrine of the resurrection to notice that he is consistently determined to reject the Aristotelian doctrine precisely on the ground that the Christian belief in the resurrection excludes it, and that it implies a depreciation of the status of the physical body. Some Peripatetic (p.111) philosophers held that the soul is of the ethereal fifth essence.58 It is material evidence that Origen is not quite as ‘spiritualizing’ in his doctrine of the resurrection as some later critics imagined that he never considers this doctrine as a possible view, and never tries to interpret the faith in the life of the world to come by drawing on Aristotelian conceptions of the soul as being derived from the stuff of the heavens.59

The extent of Origen’s indebtedness to Plato is a complex and delicate matter. In substantial respects Platonism is in the air that he and his contemporaries breathe, and it is therefore beyond criticism. He takes for granted the Platonist’s conception of the metaphysical structure of the world, and assumes without discussion that the cosmos is divided into higher and lower, eternal and temporal, intelligible and sensible, spirit and matter. The world of sense is to become the means by which, and from which, we must rise to apprehend the world of truth and ultimate value, where wisdom and knowledge are the only sure and abiding realities.60 Origen sees this principle exemplified in the Incarnation, in the place of the sacraments in the life of the Church, and in the Bible where the inward spirit is veiled in, with, and under the external letter of law, history, and parable. Inevitably he finds himself in an ambivalent position regarding the external and the historical. In the fourth book ‘On First Principles’ he first argues at length that the true meaning of scripture must be the spiritual and allegorical meaning, since there are statements in the Bible which are literally and historically impossible.

(p.112) The argument is then qualified by the remark that this does not mean that none of the Bible is history, that no laws are to be understood literally, or that no records of events in the life of Christ are to be taken as history.61 It is only relatively few passages that have no literal meaning at all, and they are providentially placed in scripture to act as signposts to the fact that everything in the Bible has a spiritual meaning. By this qualification Origen shows himself aware of the dangers of allegory in dissolving redemptive history into timeless myth. He had before him the spectre of gnostic exegesis, presupposing a radical discontinuity between the plane of history and the divine realm so that there can be no contact. He complains that the heretics go beyond scripture and regard the written letter as pernicious while claiming that their own esoteric doctrines are the life-giving spirit. Against them he quotes St. Paul’s warning to the Corinthians that they must learn ‘not to go beyond that which is written’. The Bible is an indispensable rung in the ladder of ascent, and remains so throughout this mortal life.62 It is true that Origen looks forward to a comprehension of the gospel in the life of the world to come which will transcend the New Testament revelation just as the new covenant transcended the old.63

The same attitude emerges in Origen’s remarks about the Church and its worship. The synaxis, the reading of scripture, and the common prayers belong to this present age, in which we see through a glass, darkly. The vision may often be dim, but at least it is only by (p.113) these means that we see anything at all. And Origen has severe words to say of some contemporary heretics who, on the ground that the true religion of the gospel is solely spiritual and purely inward, separated from the visible Church and rejected the observance of the outward sacraments of baptism and eucharist.64 Nevertheless, the only true apostolic succession is that seen in the lives of the saints. The mystical language of Platonism combined with St. Paul’s words about the superiority of spirit to letter to convince Origen that spiritual power is superior to ecclesiastical office.65 In prayer the soul is elevated above earthly matter and contemplates God alone, looking into that mirror of the soul which reflects the glory of the Lord and is transformed as the light of the glory of God is stamped upon it.66 The inward mind is the correlate of God, and it is in the mind, not in the body, that we are to find the image of God in man,67 which is the ‘affinity’ to God of which the Platonists speak.

The Platonic idea of the relation between spirit and matter was capable of being interpreted either in an optimistic or in a pessimistic way. It could be construed to mean that the visible world mirrors the glory of the supra-sensible world. It could also be taken (as by the Gnostics) to justify a radical rejection of the material order as an accidental smudge, resulting from a mistake. The fall of souls to incarceration in bodies is not a doctrine easily compatible with a high optimism concerning the visible order, and this pessimism is much accentuated when joined with a belief in world-cycles (p.114) determined by destiny and the stars and in the transmigration of souls from body to body in successive lives. Some of the Gnostics, such as Basilides,68 had incorporated these beliefs in their systems. The critics of Origen in the fourth century and later accused him of similar fantasies. Jerome accuses Origen of believing that the soul can even descend to animals and plants.69 It was an old charge, current even during the third century. Pamphilus’s Apology for Origen takes up the point, remarking that Origen’s critics commonly fail to notice that often Origen states a case without identifying himself with it and may even be stating the case for the view he himself rejects.70 The fact that Pamphilus thought an apology needed shows that even as early as 300 critics were suspecting Origen of teaching the transmigration of souls. The recently discovered minutes of a church council in Arabia, at which Origen was invited as a theological expert to refute the heresy of a local bishop named Heraclides and to explain the doctrine of the soul, give a vivid picture of the suspicions with which his Platonizing doctrine of the immortality of souls was being greeted, even during his lifetime.71

Delicate questions are raised at this point. Origen’s doctrine of the nature and destiny of the soul is not stated with a strong desire to draw a thick line of demarcation between the Platonic and the Biblical views.72 He takes the language of Genesis about the image of God in man to justify the cautious use of Platonic terms concerning the soul’s ‘natural affinity’ for God.73 Likewise he can speak of the Fall as the soul ‘losing its wings’, (p.115) echoing the Phaedrus,74 and of soul as standing halfway between matter and spirit (a Platonist would have said nous).75 Again, that souls pre-exist their life in this body seems to Origen to be a certainty. He thinks it absolutely necessary to any persuasive theodicy76—and the inequalities and apparent injustices of this present life were one of the most potent arguments of the Gnostics he wishes to combat.77 The pre-existence of souls Origen finds in scripture in the text that John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb.78 In any event, the doctrine seemed self-evidently preferable to the all too materialistic doctrine of the traducianists that the soul is derived with the body from the parental seed and is transmitted by the lowly process of reproduction, or to the seemingly fussy creationist notion that every time a human couple casually conceive a child, God is put to the pains of sending a soul to inhabit the embryo.79 But the first motive is always the most powerful: like Plato himself in the Republic,80 Origen must assert the pre-existence of souls because he must explain the diversity of human fortune in this world as a consequence of choices freely made by souls before their incarnation here.

Origen makes next to no serious use of the Platonic doctrine that learning is recollection and reminiscence.81 But the myth of transmigration was a graver matter. Reincarnation implied fatalistic conceptions of the soul’s destiny, and is explicitly rejected in the contra Celsum.82 Even if Origen felt bound to concede that reincarnation is ‘a very plausible opinion’,83 yet he sharply attacks (p.116) Plato’s notion that the rational soul, made in the image of God, can sink so low as to be imprisoned in an animal body84—a doctrine which the Platonists defended on the ground that all souls are of one essence and form.85 But it is noteworthy that Origen does not offer a reasoned criticism of the notion that souls may be reincarnate in human bodies.

The problem is obviously bound up with that of the eternity of the world, a question which was the subject of lively debate in the contemporary Platonic schools. In whatever way the first chapter of Genesis was allegorized, a Christian theologian was likely to insist that at least the created order is contingent and finite, and that it moves from a beginning to an end which rests in the will of the Creator, The generally accepted theology of paganism, as we find it in men like Celsus and Porphyry, is different in its emphasis. To them the world is an unending cycle, controlled by the stars and planets, with its course punctuated by floods and conflagrations. These disasters arise when there is an excess of the elements of either water or fire. The theory had the advantage that it not only made room for the ancient myths of the flood of Deucalion and the conflagration of Phaethon but also met the serious objection: if the world is eternal, why do the records of civilization go back such a short way? The answer to this question was that they had been destroyed (except in Egypt which, according to the Timaeus, was specially exempt from cosmic catastrophes and therefore possessed records going back many millennia).86

(p.117) Jews and Christians before Origen had tried to come to terms with this belief by discovering a cosmic flood and conflagration in the stories of Noah and of the cities of the plain.87 Origen makes no use of this notion, and sees no difficulty in accepting from Genesis the simple view that the visible world was created ‘less than six thousand years ago’.88 He regarded the whole conception of an unending world rolling on its way to alternating catastrophes as altogether too deterministic, and preferred to see the cycle of creation, fall, and redemption as dependent exclusively upon the good providence of God and the freedom of the rational creature originally made in God’s image. It is part of the paradox of Origen’s speculations that, although aggressively rejecting the Platonic doctrine of an endless cyclic world, he himself taught in effect a doctrine which, despite its different foundation, looked almost identical. For example, he freely and repeatedly makes his own the conventional Platonic argument that the world must be without beginning or end, because the Immutable Creator can never be conceived of as inactive.89 But in Origen’s cosmology it is the higher spiritual world that is coeternal with the Creator, and not this inferior material world.

One logical argument used by Origen against the eternity of the world is worth noticing, since it came to have a future. In the de Principiis and in the commentary on St. Matthew he argues that the infinite or unending is unknowable; yet it is part of the definition of God that he knows all things concerning the created world: therefore, Origen concludes, the world is knowable and (p.118) in consequence necessarily finite with both beginning and end.90 The exponents of transmigration were able to turn the argument against the Christians by saying that, if the events in the world are finite, it follows from the finitude of the world which is also the object of God’s unending and eternal care that there must be an endless repetition of events. Their number cannot be infinite. Yet the creation of an eternal Creator must be. This argument probably occurred in Porphyry’s commentary on the Timaeus, and by the time of the emperor Julian has become a regular part of the anti-Christian arsenal.91 Augustine answers it by saying that divine knowledge of the finite need not be finite, and that God comprehends the incomprehensible with an incomprehensible comprehension.92 Exchanges continued between pagan and Christian on this subject as late as the sixth century, when Origen’s argument is restated by Aeneas of Gaza and John Philoponus of Alexandria and is attacked by Simplicius.93 The logic of an argument about the incomprehensible is necessarily obscure, but Origen was working with propositions that had the force of axioms for his Platonist contemporaries. It is ironic that his sophisticated argument for a finite creation was taken by Theophilus of Alexandria and by Justinian to be an argument against ascribing unlimited power to God and therefore additional evidence of his blasphemy.94

If these arguments are dead, Origen’s universalism is not. It is essential to a just view of Origen’s doctrine to recognize that there is no particle of sentimentality (p.119) in his make-up. His case always rests on the creative goodness of God as the ground of redemption. Therefore, Christ’s atoning work remains in an important sense incomplete until every soul made in his image has been restored to communion with God.95 And so long as the creature remains rational and free, there is always the possibility of conversion.96 God has made none evil. Even if many have become so sinful that evil has become second nature, yet for the divine Word to change evil that has become deeply ingrained is ‘not only not impossible but is not even very difficult, if only a man admits that he must trust himself to God’. To say that it is intrinsically impossible for a really evil being to be converted is not merely to surrender the entire position to Gnosticism, but also to say that such a person has lost reason. It is to find fault with the Creator, not with him, since he is no longer responsible.97 The redeemed do not move to their destiny in God by a natural and inevitable process. The steps to heaven are a staircase to be climbed, not an escalator; and predestination is always interpreted by Origen (as by most of the Greek Fathers) in terms of foreseen merits.98 Therefore, Origen does not affirm universal salvation as something we can all comfortably take for granted, and it is more his hope than his assured certitude. In one passage in his commentary on St. Matthew he remarks that according to the Stoics the end of the world comes by a natural process in which everything is absorbed in fire, whereas scripture ascribes the coming of the end to the will and providence of God in judgement.99

(p.120) Perhaps it is this insistence on freedom in God which most deeply marks Origen’s theology with a Biblical stamp. We have seen that the main weight of Celsus’s attack falls upon the Biblical doctrine of God. For Celsus there is an unbridgeable gulf between the God who is beyond being and this world of change and decay. He scorns the ‘personalism’ of Biblical faith, and opposes to the Christian view a determinism which thinks of providence as simply the natural process at work. The nerve-centre of the debate between Origen and Celsus lies in the possibility of revelation in history: can there be grace? To Celsus the Christian doctrine means that God’s freedom is arbitrary and capricious. Origen rejects this as a crude misunderstanding and misrepresentation. For him the ultimate question is whether God is goodness and love: if so, he cares for his creation and his goodness is the principle we are to discern throughout experience.

In judging the system of Origen as a whole it is important to remember that some of the most characteristic features of ‘Origenism’ are not his personal invention, but go back behind him to Clement and to Philo. The idea, which caused such offence in the sixth century, that souls fell from the divine realm as a result of a satiety, and the notion that the material world is posterior to spirit, are both ideas that are already found in Philo.100 It is also important to remember that the theses associated with Origen’s name in the controversy of the time of Justinian, which led to condemnation at the General Council of 553, are more due to the development (p.121) of the speculative and mystical side of Origen at the hands of Evagrius in the fourth century than to the work of Origen himself. But the question whether Origen should be judged orthodox or not is not one that can be settled merely by demonstrating that Justinian was unfair or that Jerome was not above the time-honoured controversial technique of quoting against Origen his statement of the view which he was engaged in refuting. Origen is not vindicated by arguments which only go to show that Koetschau’s Berlin corpus edition of the de Principiis is open to serious criticism for its excessive scepticism towards Rufinus and excessive credulity towards Origen’s enemies.

Nor again can Origen be proved to be heretical by picking out isolated points and particular flights of speculation. He was writing at a time when he had neither the Nicene Creed nor the Chalcedonian definition to assist or to restrict him. The theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries were aware that early Christian writers had expressed themselves more loosely than later divinity could allow, and in most cases were prepared to exercise charity in interpretation. But on one such passage in Origen Epiphanius makes the revealing comment ‘Such language would be excusable in anyone else’.101 The comment exposes the nerve of the matter. Had Origen heretical intentions? For in a writer of heretical intentions even the most orthodox-sounding passages are full of danger and should be distrusted as a diabolical snare.102 Origen himself teaches that one must not do right if it is the devil who tempts one to do (p.122) it.103 Therefore merely to enumerate strictly orthodox passages in his writings will not suffice to save him, Nor is it enough to point to the acceptance that his sermons achieved in the monasteries of the west or to the direct influence that he can be shown to have exercised upon the highest spirituality of medieval Christendom.104 Even so sympathetic a reader as Basil of Caesarea, who owed Origen more than he himself knew, was sufficiently moved by Epiphanius’s onslaught to declare that Origen’s real opinions were heretical and that orthodox passages in his works are only the consequence of his unconscious respect for Church tradition.105

If the meaning of orthodoxy is to wish to believe as the Church believes, then there can be virtually no hesitation in pronouncing Origen orthodox. He has a passionate sense of the Church as a divinely ordained society and of the normative character of its belief and practice for all believers. The model of Christ himself is always before his eyes. So sensitive is he to the charge of adulterating Christianity with Platonism that his attitude to Plato and the great philosophers becomes prickly and even aggressively rude. He wanted to be a Christian, not a Platonist. Yet Platonism was inside him, malgré lui, absorbed into the very axioms and presuppositions of his thinking. Moreover, this penetration of his thought by Platonism is no merely external veneer of apologetic. Platonic ways of thinking about God and the soul are necessary to him if he is to give an intelligible account of his Christian beliefs.

Orthodoxy is a word that suggests clear-cut and (p.123) absolute lines of division. It begins to look different if we ask whether some theologians may be more orthodox than others, whether there are degrees of understanding, whether, if we all see through a glass, darkly, some may be able to see a little more clearly than others. The question is one formulated by Origen himself when he discusses the status of Christians who believe all the creed except for one article such as the Virgin Birth.106 Origen saw that the formal credal propositions have to be stated in an unqualified and dogmatic form. But the reasons and the underlying pattern beneath these affirmations are for him matters of cautious investigation and speculative inquiry. Here there is great danger in over-confidence. In advanced matters of theology, he once remarks, absolute confidence is possible only for two classes of people, saints and idiots.107

Erasmus wrote once that he learned more of Christian philosophy from one page of Origen than from ten pages of Augustine.108 He tended to see in Origen a reflection of his own humanist face. It would be difficult and unnecessary to deny the humanism of Origen’s scholarship and philosophical temper. At the same time a just view of him must declare that there is more in him that is illiberal, world-denying, and ascetic. And if he remains a perennially enigmatic and embarrassing figure in the history of Christian thought, this is perhaps most due to the fact that we tend to begin the study of Origen by asking whether or not he is orthodox, and find that in the process we are continually driven back to the prior question: what is the essence of orthodoxy?


((1)) Vaticanus gr. 1742, fol. 1r, printed (from Milanese copies of this MS.) by Koetschau, Die Textüherlieferung der Bücher des Origenes gegen Celsus (T.U. 6, 1, 1889), PP. 73–74, corrected by G. Mercati in Bessarione 24 (1920), 133. My translation is an abbreviating (p.155) paraphrase. The quotations are, respectively, from Cassiodorus, Inst. i. 1. 8 (p. 14 Mynors); Gregory Nazianzen as quoted in Suidas, s.v. ‘Origenes’ (i. 619 Adler), but the words are not, so far as I know, to be found among his writings; and Justinian (paraphrased), Edictum adv. Origenem, Migne, P.G. 86. 949 B = E. Schwartz, A.C.O. III. 190–1. Origen is made responsible for Arianism by Epiphanius Epiphanius, Panarion haer. 64. 4. 2–4. Marcellus of Ancyra seems to have anticipated his view; see below, p. 159, n. 21.

((2)) On Evagrius and the Origenist controversy of the sixth century see the masterly study by A. Guiliaumont, Les Kephalaia Gnostica d’Evagre le Pontique (Paris, 1962). The primary source for the history of the Origenist monks in Palestine, Cyril of Scythopolis, can now be read in A.-J. Festugière’s well-annotated French translation (Les Moines d’Orient iii, Paris, 1962–3).

((3)) It is now agreed that, although the Acts of the Fifth General Council (most fully preserved in a Latin translation) do not include a process of condemnation against Origen, nevertheless the Council did in fact condemn him by receiving a formal letter on the subject addressed to it by Justinian (preserved by Georgius Hamartolus, Chron. iv. 218, P.G. no. 780–92). The fact of the Council’s action, attested by Cyril of Scythopolis (Vita S. Sabae 90, T.U. 49, 2, p. 199 Schwartz) and by Evagrius (H.E. iv. 38), was commonly denied before the monograph of F. Diekamp, Die origenistischen Streitigkeiten (Münster, 1899).

((4)) See an interesting paper by E. Wind, ‘The Revival of Origen’, in Studies in Art and Literature for Belle da Costa Greene, ed. D. Miner (Princeton, 1954), pp. 412–24. Pico’s Conclusiones Nongentae (1486) was placed on the Index, inter alia, for defending Origen.

((5)) F. L. Cross, Darwell Stone (Westminster, 1943), p. 204.

((6)) Hom, in Luc. 25 (p. 151 Rauer2).

((7)) ‘…Origenem quern post apostolos ecclesiarum magistrum nemo nisi imperitus negabit’: Jerome’s preface to the Onomasticon or Liber de nominibus hebraicis (Vallarsi2, III. 3). Similar praise occurs in the famous preface to Jerome’s translation of Origen’s homilies on the Song of Songs: ‘In other books Origen surpassed everyone else, but in the Song of Songs he surpassed himself’ (p.156) (p. 26, Baehrens), and in the Jong catalogue of Origen’s works in Jerome, Ep. 33. A classified list of Jerome’s references to Origen, showing how his mind changed as the controversy mounted and his own reputation was endangered, is given by F. Cavallera, S. Jérôme, sa vie el son œuvre ii (Louvain, 1922), pp. 115–27.

((8)) Gregory Thaurnaturgus, Paneg. 15: As exegete Origen is inspired by the Author of the inspired scripture.

((9)) Pamphilus speaks in sorrow and anger of critics who, ignoring Origen’s personal humility and expressed desire for correction and pardon, complained that his admirers put him on a par with the apostles and prophets (XXIV. 297, Lommatzsch). This charge is levelled in just these words by Marcellus of Ancyra (see Eusebius, c. Marc. i. 4, p. 21, Klostermann) who, paradoxically, appears to have drawn the material for his attack in part from Pamphiius’s work, since he immediately quotes a passage from de Princ. iv. 4. 1 which coincides in beginning and ending with a quotation made in Pamphilus’s apology. The extent to which Origen’s admirers resented the criticisms may be fairly conjectured from the censure which the Council of Antioch of 268 passed upon Paul of Samosata. for his irreverence in speaking of dead exegetes (Eus. H.E. vii. 30. 9).

((10)) hom, in Lev. i. 1; vii. 4–5; xiii. 3. For defence against arbitrariness cf. hom, in Exod. xiii. 2; Hom, in Ezech. ii. 5.

((11)) Comm. in Joh. x. 18. 110. See also the reply to Celsus’s view that the Bible is incapable of being interpreted allegorically without violence to the text, and that allegory is merely a sophisticated device for avoiding embarrassment (c. Cels. iv. 48–51). Gelsus himself finds an allegory of the cosmic conflict between good and evil in Homer, Pherecydes, and Athena’s battle with the Giants represented on the ceremonial robe at the annual festival of the Panathenaea (vi. 42), an interpretation frequent in the sixth-century PJatonist Proclus (in Tim. I. 85, 134, 167, Diehl). Gelsus, Porphyry, and the Platonist critics of Christianity had no objection in principle to allegorical interpretation as such. They too had their sacred texts to reconcile and to expound for modern use, and allegory was indispensable to them.

((12)) hom, in Jerem. xx. 8.

(p.157) ((13)) Origen docs not find it difficult to justify allegory and spiritual interpretation. If it is accepted that the Bible is a collection of inspired writings intended by the divine author to instruct each generation in timeless truth, it cannot be what in part it appears to be, viz. ancient history or geography or ceremonial legislation for a bygone age. Only spiritual interpretation gives these parts of the Bible a contemporary, existential relevance. Against objectors Origen can appeal to the authority of St. Paul (1 Cor. ix. 9, etc.). In detail his ‘objective’ principles or rules are the same as Philo’s: one finds the clues to the hidden meaning by studying the symbolism of numbers, or the interpretation of Hebrew proper names of persons and places, or by attending to grammatical oddities in the text. Anything that is literally impossible or morally offensive may confidently be accepted as a providentially given clue to the necessity of spiritual exegesis. The danger of dissolving all history, apparent in the gnostic allegories of the Valentinians, induced caution, at least in regard to the New Testament (Comm. in Joh. xx. 20). But Origen believes it possible to avoid private, unrestricted fantasy (a) by taking scripture, not piecemeal, but as a whole (Comm. in Joh. x. 18. 107; in Matt. Ser. 47; hom, in Num. xii. 2; hom. in Ps. XXXVI, 3. 6), (b) by interpreting the obscure passages on the basis of the plain, comparing text with text (c. Cels. vii. 11; in I Cor. ii. 14, ed. Jenkins, JTS ix. 240), (c) by checking with the teaching of other expositors (hom, in Lev. xvi. 5; hom, in Num. xxvi. 6)—for whom Origen has so great a respect that he is continually referring to the expositions of orthodox predecessors, and his exegetical writings are therefore a mine of information about anonymous Christian explanation of scripture before his time. See on this Harnack, Der kirchengeschichtliche Ertrag der exegetischen Arbeiten des Origenes ii (T.U. 42, 4, 1919), pp. 4–33. Origen often insists that the central key to the interpretation of the Bible is Christ himself, who is the principle of unity in scripture (e.g. Comm. in Joh. v. 6; Comm. in Matt. xv. 32; xvii. 12) and is so closely bound up with it that the relation of human and divine elements in scripture is analogous to that in the incarnate Lord (in Matt. Ser. 27; hom, in Exod. xii. 4; hom, in Lev. i. 1; cf. Clement, Str. vi. 126. 3; 132. 4).

((14)) Eus. H.E. vi. 8. 4; 23. 4; Jerome, de Vir. inl. 54; Pamphilus in Photius, Bibl. 118.

(p.158) ((15)) According to de Princ. i. 6. 3 the question whether the spirits who are now devils will one day be converted, or whether long wickedness has passed from habit to being virtually nature, is left to the judgement of the reader, who is, however, bidden to remember that the latter view implies an eternal cosmic dualism. The destruction of ‘the last enemy’ means not the destruction of any created being or substance, but the transformation of the hostile will by the omnipotent God to whom nothing is impossible or incurable—though the process of conversion may take time (iii. 6. 5). The principle so stated is no mere speculation of the young Origen. It is formally and repeatedly stated in the contra Celsum, one of his last works; especially viii. 72 (none is so evil as to be beyond the healing power of the Logos) and iii. 69: ‘Every rational soul possesses the same nature, and the Creator has made no nature wicked. But many have become evil by upbringing, perversion, and environment, so that in some evil has become second nature.…For the divine Logos to change evil which has become second nature is not only not impossible but is not even very difficult, if only a man admits that he must trust himself to the supreme God.…If for some it is very hard to change, the cause lies in their will.…To say it is impossible is to find fault with the Creator of the rational being rather than with the creature.’ The doctrine depends in part on Origen’s axiom that all rational creatures possess a single ousia or nature. That this axiom did not come under suspicion of heresy until a late stage in the Origenist controversy is evident from Athanasius, Or. c. Arianos, ii. 41, who takes its truth for granted.

((16)) The text of the disputation between Origen and Candidus was still circulating in the time of Jerome (Ep. 33. 4. 4; Apol. adv. Rufin. ii, 19). Origen complained that the version published by Candidus was not accurate. For analogies cf. Basil, Ep. 210. 5 (garbled minutes of a dispute between Gregory Thaumaturgus and Aelian); Possidius, Vita S. Aug. 17 (Augustine unwilling to dispute without a precise record being taken, for fear of garbled accounts).

((17)) The sources for this story are Rufius, de Adulterations librorum Origenis (P.G. 17. 624–6; now available in a fine critical edition by M. Simonetti in Corpus Christianorurn, series latina 20, 1961), and the critical comments thereon by Jerome, Apol. adv. Rufin. ii. 18–19. A whitewashing account of Demetrius’s censure of Origen (p.159) appeared in Pamphilus’s Apology (in Photius, Bibl. 118; cf. Eus. H.E. vi. 8. 4–5; Jerome, Ep. 33. 5), according to which there was no questioning of Origen’s doctrine, but only a dispute about technical matters of Church order and canon law, while the motives of Demetrius are made out to be no more than personal envy. For a critical review of the evidence see the important paper by G. C. Richardson, ‘The Condemnation of Origen’, in Church History 6 (1937), 50–64. That the prime issue concerned his doctrine is clear from the fact that in the subsequent controversy Origen had to defend himself from the charge of heresy (Eus. H.E. vi. 36. 4). Long before, Origen had had occasion to express fear that inattentive readers might suspect his work On First Principles of being heretical (de Princ. i. 6. 1).

((18)) Coram, in Joh. vi. 1 ff. (an apologia for delay in resuming the work begun at Alexandria).

((19)) Jerome, Ep. 84. 10 (to Pammachius and Oceanus, written in 399): ‘Origen himself in the letter that he wrote to Fabian bishop of Rome expresses regret for having put certain things in writing, and ascribes the responsibility for this rashness to Ambrose who had published openly writings intended for a private circle.’ Eusebius (H.E. vi. 36. 4) says that this letter, like others which Origen wrote to bishops at this time, ‘concerned his orthodoxy’. But it is evident from Jerome’s wording that Origen withdrew nothing; he only regretted having deep truths broadcast before a promiscuous audience, like Demetrius, unworthy to receive them.

((20)) Comm. in Joh. vi. 46. 241 comments on the way of some who adopt a negative attitude before they have learnt what the question under discussion actually is.

((21)) Epiphanius, Panarion haer. 64. 72. 9. As early as about 327 Marcellus of Ancyra tries to undermine the authority of Origen’s theology of the Trinity by saying that he began to teach and preach too soon after he had been studying philosophy and was led astray by the Platonism with which his mind was filled (Eusebius, contra Marcellum i. 4). For Epiphanius’s attitude to Origen see the excellent article on Epiphanius by W. Schneemelcher in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (1961).

((22)) See Clement, Pd. ii. 77–82, where the New Testament (p.160) exhortations to watch with loins girded are interpreted as part of a discussion of discipline in regard to sleep.

((23)) Ep. 1. ii. 1–4, naming the Stoic Chrysippus and the Platonist Grantor. It is only fair to add that this remark must be seen in the perspective of the ancient debate whether truth is learnt from the poets or from the philosophers, discussed at least since Plato’s exclusion of Homer from his ideal educational system. Plutarch’s tract ‘How a young man should understand poems’ (Mor. 14–37) gives a long examination of hermeneutic rules for demythologizing the poets, and thinks that the shock of the transition from poetry to philosophy will be mitigated if the young are educated on poetic excerpts selected to show the essential harmony of poets and philosophers. (For this theme cf. Seneca, Ep. 9. 20–21.) But Galen (de Placitis Hippocratis et Platonis ii. 213 ff., iii. 300 ff.) sharply criticizes the Stoic Chrysippus for filling his philosophical writings with poetic citations. The sophists’ habit, of quoting tags from Euripides to justify doubtful morality is caricatured in the Frogs of Aristophanes (1471). Socrates was accused of doing the same (Xenophon, Mem. i. 2. 56–59). Anthologies of excerpts from the poets and philosophers were widely used in education, and many of Clement’s collections are transcribed from these sources. For a fuller discussion see my article, ‘Florilegium’, in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, forthcoming.

((24)) Whether Origen took this name himself, as Epiphanius censoriously says (Panarion haer. 64. 72. 1), or whether the name was given him by others, as Jerome thinks, cannot be decided on the thin evidence (Eus. H.E. vi. 14. 10; Jerome, de Vir. inl. 54; Ep. 33. 4. 11; Photius, Bibl. 118). But probably Jerome is right; it is more charitable to think so.

((25)) That the allusion in c. Cels. i. 31 to Iliad v. 1–3 is a commonplace is clear from Clement, Str. i. 161. 3. The same may hold good for others, as c. Cels. ii. 61, etc.

((26)) Eus. H.E. vi. 19. On this indissoluble unity in late antiquity see Glanville Downey, ‘Julian and Justinian and the unity of faith and culture’, in Church History 28 (1959).

((27)) Comm. in Joh. i. 34. 246; cf. i. 37. 269.

((28)) de Prim. i. 3. 1 f.

(p.161) ((29)) Christ is the true and perfect image of God; man is made ‘after the image’ which is the Logos (Comm. in Joh. i. 17. 104–5; ii. 3. 20; c. Cels. vi. 63; vii. 66; hom, in Gen. i. 13; hom, in Luc. 8, p. 48 Rauer2, etc.).

((30)) Exh. Mart. 47; de Prim. ii. 11. 4; Sel. in Ps. (XI. 424, Lommatzsch); Comm. in Cant. Cantic. i (p. 91 Baehrens).

((31)) hom, in Gen. xiii. 4; hom, in Num. xxiv. 2; hom. in Ezech. xiii. 2.

((32)) c. Cels. iii. 40. The only late Platonist opponent of Christianity who seriously comes near to conceding this point is Porphyry in his letter to ‘Anebo’ (well edited with indispensable commentary by A. R. Sodano, Naples, 1958).

((33)) c. Cels. i, 4; ii. 5.

((34)) hom. in Luc. 35 (p. 196 Rauer2).

((35)) Comm. in Rom. iii. 7; viii. 2; ix. 24.

((36)) hom. in Luc. 8 (pp, 50–51 Rauer2).

((37)) Tura papyrus fragment of the commentary on Romans, ed.Schercr, 166, 1 ff., qualified by ‘I think’. Cf. the discussion in c. Cels. iii. 69: Celsus says that ‘the sinless have a better life in heaven’; Origen replies that in fact none are sinless, though a very few may remain without sin after conversion and only so with the grace of the divine Word. Christ alone is sinless and perfect, cf. i. 70; Comm. in Joh. xxxii. 7.

((38)) de. Princ. iii. 1. 17 for the possibility of repentance hereafter; c. Cels. iii. 81, ‘The blessed future life will be for those alone who have accepted the religion of Jesus and who reverence the Creator of the universe with a pure and untainted worship.’

((39)) Origen’s most sympathetic statement of the Greek moral ideal occurs in his Homilies on Jeremiah (vi. 3). But elsewhere he comments that it is an ideal of human dignity rather than of the service and love of God: cf. hom, in Num. i. 2, ‘Est enim virtus animi quam Graeci philosophi docent. sed haec non pertinet ad numerum dei; non enim pro deo sed pro gloria exercetur humana.’ Similarly xi. 7.

Origen is characteristically reserved towards what is fastidious and sophisticated, as ideals on which he has turned his back. Cf. the defence of Christian popular style in c. Cels. vi. 1 ff., and the (p.162) profound observation in one of his Homilies on the 36th Psalm (v. 6): ‘No virtue is more highly prized in scripture than innocence; it is a measure of the world’s corruption that it is commonly taken for stupidity.’

((40)) Comm. in Joh. ii. 16. 112.

((41)) de Princ. ii. 3. 4; c. Cels. iv. 67–68; v, 20.

((42)) c. Cels. vi. 71.

((43)) See c. Cels. iv. 74–99. For the philosopher’s responsibility for the moral consequences of his opinions cf. iv. 83, and similar views in Epictetus ii. 20. 34.

((44)) On Philo see P. Barth, ‘Die stoische Theodizee bei Philon’, Philos. Abhandlungen für M. Heinze (Berlin, 1906).

((45)) hom, in Ezech. x. 1; hom, in Lev. xiv. 3.

((46)) de Princ. i. 8. 4: ‘wavering and weak’; c. Cels. vii. 33: ‘our will is too weak to achieve purity of heart without grace’; hom, in Ps. XXXVI, 4.1; hom, in Luc. 11 (p. 68); 31 (p. 178 Rauer2). A good will is God’s gift: Comm. in Matt. x. 6.

((47)) de Princ. ii. 3. 4.

((48)) Cf. Gregory of Nyssa’s remark that Aetius went beyond Arius in applying the syllogisms of Aristotelian logic (c. Eunomium i. 46).

((49)) The essential material is collected by G. Bardy, ‘Origène et l’Aristotelisme’, Mélanges Glotz (Paris, 1932), i. 75 ff.; A.-J. Festugière, L’Idéal religieux des grecs et l’Évangile (Paris, 1932), pp. 253–4; H. Crouzel, Origene et la philosophie (Paris, 1962), pp. 29–34. For the view that indirect Aristotelian influence can be seen, cf. Hal Koch, Pronoia und Paideusis (Berlin, 1932), p. 205.

((50)) It was an old thesis of the eclectic philosophers that Aristotle was a good Platonist: see Cicero’s Academica I. 4. 17 where Varro explains that Plato established a philosophy which, under the two names of Academic and Peripatetic, was really one and the same system. The late neoplatonist commentators on Aristotle, such as Syrianus, regard Aristotle as an invaluable preparation for the study of Plato who represents the higher mysteries (Marinus, Vita Procli 13). Cf. Damascius, Vita Iidori = Photius, Bibl. 242 (337 b, 9 ff.).

(p.163) ((51)) Eus. P.E. xv. 4–9. Eusebius quotes Atticus to prove that where Aristotle and Plato disagree, Plato and the Bible agree.

((52)) Hierocle in Photius, Bibl. 251 (461 a, 31).

((53)) See the commentary on Psalm iv in Philocalia 26.

((54)) c. Cels. i. 10; similarly Gregory Nazianzen, Or. 27 (Theol. 1). 10.

((55)) hom, in Jerem. xx. 1. Albinus, (Didaskalikos 6, p. 159, 35, Hermann) explains that the ten categories formed part of the teaching of Plato and may be found in the Parmenides.

((56)) For example the Aristotelian definitions of telos (Set. in Ps., XL 351 Lommatzsch) in a fragment, conjecturally but with fair probability ascribed to Origen, prefixed to a catena on the Psalms in codex Paris, gr. 146, cod. Laurentianus VI, 3, etc. This fragment is briefly discussed by Klostermann in N.T. Studien für G. Heinrici (Leipzig, 1914), p. 249.

((57)) For the Stoic doctrine of cosmic sympathy see a succinct account in Sextus Empiricus, adv. Math, ix (= adv. Phys. i), 75–85. For Stoic opposition to the Aristotelian ‘fifth essence’, cf. c. Cels. iv. 56, and Porphyry’s Symmikta Zetemeta iv, quoted in a scholion on Basil’s Hexaemeron in a ninth-century manuscript at Genoa, printed by G. Pasquali in Nachrichten der Akademie d. Wiss. zu Güttingen, 1910, frag. XXX, p. 20I οἴονται γὰρ οἱ Zηνών∈ιοι τούτου [sc. πέμπτου σώματος]παραδ∈χθέντος ἀναιρ∈ῖσθαι τῶν ἐν γῇ τὴν πρὸς τὰ κατ’ οὐρανὸν συμπάθ∈ιαν. In his commentary on the Timaeus Porphyry rejected the Aristotelian doctrine (frag. 60 Sodano = Philoponus, de Aet. Mundi xiii. 15, p. 522 Rabe).

((58)) Critolaus according to Macrobius, in Somn. Scip. i. 14. 20; Tertullian, de Anima 5; cf. Iamblichus in Stobaeus i. 49. 32, pp. 366–7 Wachsmuth (a passage translated and richly annotated by Festugière, La Révélation d’Hermès Trismègiste iii. 188).

((59)) Cf. Philo, Heres 283, for some who say the saint’s soul at death returns to the ether as being of a fifth essence, while his body returns to the four elements here below.

((60)) c. Cels. iii. 72.

((61)) de Princ. iv. 3. 4.

(p.164) ((62)) See the catena fragment on 1 Cor. iv. 6, ed. Jenkins, JTS ix. 357. Origen’s comments on the same text in the commentary on St. John (xiii. 5–6) show much more interest in its implication that there are truths of religion that transcend the possibility of being written. The analogy of the Incarnation is never far from Origen’s mind in this context. Gf. Comm. in Joh. ii. 8. 61: even at the very summit of the soul’s mystical contemplation there is no forgetting the Incarnation. On the other hand, Church festivals are provided as a concession to weaker brethren (c. Cels. viii. 22–23).

((63)) de Princ. ii. 8. 7; iv. 3. 12–13, cf. iii. G. 8; Coram, in Rom. i. 4.

((64)) de Orat. 5. Gf ch. 3, n. 72.

((65)) For an account. of Origen’s doctrine of the Ghurch and hierarchy see H. von Gampenhausen, Kirchliches Ami und geistliche Vollmacht, pp. 262–91.

((66)) Among many passages see especially Coram, in Joh, ii. 24. 156–7; 28. 171 ff. (the ascent to the darkness where God dwells, cf. c. Cels. vi. 17); c. Cels. vii. 38; de Orat. 9. 2.

((67)) de Princ. i. 1. 7; c. Cels. vi. 63. Theodoret (Qu. Gen. i, P.G. 80. 113) preserves a fragment of Origen attacking Melito’s opinion that God is corporeal like man, his image.

((68)) in Matt. Ser. 38; Comm. in Rorn. v. 8 (VII. 47 Lommatzsch); Clement, Exc. Theod. 28.

((69)) Jerome, Ep. 124. 4 (ad Avitum); cf. the excerpt, from Justinian’s contra Origenem (Schwartz, A.C.O. III. 21 r, excerpt xv) printed by Koetschau in de Princ. i. 8. 4. The discussion in the original text of de Principiis was probably less negative and peremptory than Rufinus would have us believe; that is, Origen thought that there was an arguable case for reincarnation which merited submission to the judgement of his readers. The statements of Philo and even Clement (above, p. 143, n. 90) would have led them to expect something on the subject.

((70)) Pamphilus, Apol. (XXIV. 405–12 Lommatzsch), Pamphilus’s preface is of great importance for his view of Origen’s ‘inquiries’ and the implications of Origen’s exploratory attitude for the nature of Christian doctrinal affirmations.

(p.165) ((71)) Dial. c. Heracl. 1st ed., p. 166.

((72)) c. Cels. iii. 81, ‘Do not suppose that it is not consistent with Christian doctrine when in my reply to Celsus 1 accepted the opinions of those philosophers who have affirmed the immortality or the survival of the soul. We have some ideas in common with them.’

((73)) c. Cels. iii. 40; Exh. Mart. 47. Cf. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Paneg. 2. 13.

((74)) c. Cels. vi. 43; cf. iv. 40, where he says that the doctrine of Genesis iii has a ‘mysterious meaning superior to the Platonic doctrine’ of Phaedrus 246 c.

((75)) Undeterred by the obvious similarity to the trichotomist view of the cosmos associated with the Valcntinians, Origcn (likc Philo) very frequently affirms that the psyche stands midway between the material body and the divine pneuma, pulled in both directions and free to choose which it will have as its associate. The soul that associates with the body and cherishes its appetites becomes carnal, but the soul that is united to the pneuma is joined to the Lord and ascends to deification. Cf. de Princ. ii. 8; ii. 10. 1; 10. 7; Comm. in Rom. ii. 9; in Matt. Ser. 57; Comm. in Joh. i. 2. 9, and the references at p. 151, n. 35. The doctrine was held by some of the late commentators on the Timaeus, where Plato says that God set the soul ‘in the middle’ (34 B). Porphyry, lamblichus, and Proclus strongly criticize those who took Plato’s words in a spatial sense, as if the world-soul were located in the centre of the earth, or in the moon ‘as if it were the neck connecting the created and divine realms’, or in the sun. Porphyry (frag. 61 Sodano = Proclus, in Tim. II. 104–5 Diehl) interprets Plato to mean that psyche stands midway metaphysically between intelligible and sensible realities. Proclus regularly takes the same view (in Tim. I. 402 f.; II. 1, 102, 158, 282, etc.). But he formally rejects the view (taken by some Platonists he does not name) that the soul is ‘of one substance’ with the divine souls and rises to become wholly nous, leaving all soulness behind (III. 231, 245). This rejected view closely resembles Origcn’s,

((76)) de Princ. i. 7. 4; 9. 7; iii. 3. 5; 5. 5.

((77)) de Princ. ii. 9. 3–8. Origen even explains differences of intellectual ability by the hypothesis that the bodiless minds not only fell (p.166) different distances from God but are also more or less ‘psychic’ or dense in strict accord with their merit (ii. 8. 4).

((78)) de Princ. i. 7. 4; iii. 3. 5.

((79)) The question is listed in the preface to de Principiis as one to which the apostolic tradition gives no authoritative answer. The chief discussion occurs in the commentary on the Song of Songs (ii, p. 147 Baehrens), where he reviews the Traducianist opinion that the substance of the soul is contained in the bodily seed, the Creationist opinion that the necessity of animating the conceived embryo is the cause of the soul’s creation, and whether the notion of pre-existence necessarily implies transmigration and a doctrine of world-cycles. Origen thought that the embryo receives its soul at conception from an angel presiding over the birth (Comm. in Joh. xiii. 50), an opinion also held by the unnamed presbyter quoted by Clement, Ecl. Proph. 50. In Comm. in Matt. xv. 35 Origen argues generally for pre-existence against the alternative view, common to both Creationist and Traducianist, that the soul and body come into existence simultaneously. Tertullian (de Anima 27) shows how fear of gnostic myths about transmigration played a large part in arousing fear of the pre-existence theory. Nevertheless, in a remarkable discussion (de Natura Hominis ii. 17, P.G. 40. 571 ff.), Nemesius of Emesa concludes that the objections to Creationism and Traducianism are too great for their acceptance. Nemesius, however, disavows Origen’s notion of ascending and descending ranks of souls (iii. 22, P.G. 40. 608 A— the sentence is irrelevant to what precedes and follows, and looks like an afterthought, if not a later or misplaced insertion in the text).

((80)) Rep. 617 E ff. insists that souls choose their condition of life and that God is not responsible (cf. Tim. 42 D; Phaedrus 249 B).

((81)) de Orat. 24. 3; Comm. in Joh. xx. 7. 52–53. Cf. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Paneg. 8. 113; Jerome, in Eph. i. 17. (Jerome’s commentary on Ephesians, as the catenae show, very largely reproduces the lost commentary of Origen and is for the most part to be treated as a paraphrastic abridgement, not as an independent work.)

((82)) c. Cels. v. 29.

((83)) Comm. in Joh. vi. 13. 74, where he is meeting the gnostic appeal to the gospel saying that John the Baptist is Elijah come again (for (p.167) which cf. J. H. Waszink’s full commentary on Tertullian, de Anima 35. 5).

((84)) c. Cels. iv. 83.

((85)) Plato, Phaedo 80 B; cf. Rep. 612 A . On this question of reincarnation in animals the later Platonists came to be divided. Plato’s words were clear enough, and Numenius of Apamea accepted the doctrine (Aeneas of Gaza reports him so, P.G. 85. 892 B). Plotinus also did so, while showing an awareness of the existence of objections (iii. 4. 2; iv. 3. 12; vi. 7. 6–7), some of which appear as early as Lucretius (iii. 7481!.). The force of the criticism, however, was especially felt by Porphyry, who at one time accepted Plotinus’s view (Stobaeus i. 49. 60; Nemesius, de Nat. hom. 2. 18, P.G. 40. 583 A) and at another rejected it in favour of the view that Plato wrote figuratively and that rational souls only become reincarnate in human bodies (Augustine, de Civ. Dei x. 30; xii. 26; xiii. 19; Aeneas of Gaza P.G. 85. 893 A). Probably because the latter view was supported by the high authority of the Chaldean Oracles (Proclus, in Remp. II. 336, 27 Kroll), it became the normal view for Iamblichus (Nemesius, P.G. 40. 483 A; Aeneas, P.G. 85. 893 A), Sallustius (de Diis et mundo 20), Hierocles (in Photius, Bibl. 214 and 251), and the Hermetic writers (Corp. Herm. x. 19). Proclus (in Tim. III. 294 f.) produces a formula of compromise that, even while brought down to a beast’s level through its low sympathies, yet the soul transcends this level in itself and does not actually occupy an animal body. On the problem of Porphyry’s opinion cf. H. Dörrie, ‘Kontroversen um die Seelenwanderung im kaiserzeitlichen Platonismus’, in Hermes 85 (1957), 414–35.

((86)) See the discussion of the’age of the earth in, e.g., Macrobius, in Somn. Scip.ii. 10. 5–16: Who could suppose the earth has always existed when civilization is of such recent growth? That it has always existed is certain on philosophical grounds; so the explanation lies in the almost complete destruction of the race by periodic catastrophes of water and fire. The fountain-head of these ideas is Tim. 22 D, 39 D, and Politicus 269 A ff. Cf. above ch. 1, p. 11.

((87)) The best collection of evidence with discussion is given by W. L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of the Gentiles (Cambridge, 1939), pp. 4 ff.

(p.168) ((88)) Comm. in Cant. Cantic. iii (p. 210 Baehrens); c. Cels. i. 20 (not yet 10,000); iv. 79. Cf. Augustine, de Civ. Dei xii. 10–11.

((89)) e.g. de Princ. i. 2. 10; 4. 3–4. Methodius criticizes Origen’s use of this argument as insufficiently safeguarding the freedom of God (de Creatis 2, p. 494 Bonwetsch = Photius, Bibl. 235, 302 a, 30 ff.).

((90)) de Princ. ii. 9. 1; iii. 5. 2; iv. 4. 8; Comm. in Matt. xiii. r.

((91)) Sallustius, de Diis et mundo 20. That the argument played some part in Porphyry’s commentary on the Timaeus is a deduction from Calcidius, in Tim. 148, printed in Sodano’s edition of the fragments of Porphyry (Naples, 1964), p. 83 f.

((92)) Augustine, de Civ. Dei xii. 17 ff.

((93)) Aeneas of Gaza, P.G. 85. 953 where, to Theophrastus’s invocation of the argument that a finite world implies a recurrent cycle with transmigrating souls, Aeneas retorts that the doctrine of a finite number of souls is ‘more mine than yours’. Philoponus (cf. his de Aetemitate mundi c. Proclum i. 2–3) is attacked by Simplicius, in Aristot. Phys. VIII, 1 (pp. 1179 ff. Diels).

The logical problem is related to the question of the Platonic schools whether the number of Forms is finite or infinite (see E. R. Dodds, Produs, the Elements of Theology, pp. 246–50). Plotinus (v. 7 (18). 1) remarks that the soul contains all that is in the world but not infinity, and therefore there must be periodic cycles. Plotinus’s pupil Amelius held that there is indeed an infinity of forms which may require ‘more than an infinity of time’ for realization (Syrianus, in Metaph. p. 147, 1 ff.). Syrianus and his pupil Proclus (Dubia 2; i, p. 98 f. Cousin) hold that the Forms are not infinite in number, but seem so to us. According to Proclus finite and infinite are relative terms: what is infinite to inferior beings is finite to superior beings, and nothing can be infinite to itself without being incomprehensible to itself.

((94)) Theophilus Alex., Ep. pasch. 2. 17 (= Jerome, Ep. 98. 17); Justinian, Edictum contra Origenem (A.C.O. III. 209, excerpt ii; cf. 190, 8–14). Origen could evidently have replied that intrinsic impossibilities do not fall within the omnipotence of God.

((95)) hom, in Lev. vii. 2.

(p.169) ((96)) de Princ, iv. 4. 9; hom, in Gen. xiii. 4; c. Cels. ii. 11, and many passages rejecting the gnostic doctrine of total depravity.

((97)) c. Cels, iii. 69; viii. 72; Comm. in Joh. xx. 5 and 28.

((98)) c. Cels. vii. 44; de Orat. 29. 19; Philocalia 25 (from Comm. in Rom. i. 3); especially Comm. in Rom. vii. 7–8.

((99)) in Matt. Ser. 56.

((100)) Besides his influence on the principles of Biblical exegesis, Philo directly anticipates Origen in the doctrine that souls fall as a result of a satiety with divine contemplation (above, p. 151, n. 34). He also shares Origen’s idea of revelation as divine accommodation (Somn. i. 232 f.), so that God means different things to people at different stages of spiritual advance (Mut. Nom. 19 ff.). Both men explain the Biblical ‘wrath of God’ as remedial (e.g. Det. Pot. 144 ff.; Qu, Gen. i. 73; iv. 51; Immut. 52–69), like a physician who. applies his medicines gradually lest too speedy a recovery endanger the patient’s lasting health (Qu. Ex. ii. 25; cf. Origen, de Princ. iii. 1. 13; de Oral. 29. 16; Philocalia 27 from Comm. in Exod.). A theme paradoxically more prominent in Origen than in Philo is that the mystical ascent is unending, never static. Cf. hom, in Num. xvii. 4; xxvii. 12; prol. in Cant. Cantic. (p. 79 Baehrens); de Princ. ii. 3. 7; iv. 3. 14 (citing Phil. iii. 14); de Orat. 25. 2 (gnosis is never possession, but ceaseless advance).

((101)) Panarion haer, 67. 7. 4.

((102)) Gf. Justinian, contra Origenem, A.C.O. III. 191, 1 ff. = P.G. 86. 949 B: ‘Like other heretics Origen mixes pieces of orthodox doctrine with his wicked writings, but these belong not to him but to the holy Church of God. He did this with a malicious intention to deceive the simple.’

((103)) hom, in Jerem, xx. 4.

((104)) Gf. F. Hockey’s demonstration (Rev. Bénéd. 72 (1962), 349–50) that the Rule of St. Benedict (25–28) depends on Origen’s 7th Homily on Joshua. In the Regula Magistri xi Origen is quoted with high reverence as ‘Origenes sapiens’ (admittedly the sentence quoted is from the maxims of Sextus). The reference for the allusion to Origen in The Ancrene Riwle (transl. M. B. Salu, 1955), p. 104, is hom, in Jesu xv. 6. On the remarkable extent to which

(p.170) Origen was admiringly read in the West during the Middle Ages see H. de Lubac, Exégèse médiévale 1. i, pp. 221–304.

((105)) Basil, de Spiritu sancto xxix. 73 (written perhaps very soon after a perusal of Epiphanius’s indictment in the Panarion).

((106)) Comm. in Joh. xx. 30; xxxii. 16.

((107)) Comm. in Gen., cited in the preface to Pamphilus’s Apology (XXIV. 296 Lommatzsch).

((108)) Letter to John Eck, 15 May 1518 (Ep. 844, III, p. 337 Allen): ‘Plus me docet Christianae philosophiae unica Origenis pagina quam decern Augustini.’