This guy has been dead for almost 2000 years yet his legacy still has a voice today. I’m sure you’ve heard of him? (if not your nerdy pastor probably has) Over the next three posts I take a look at the good (this post) the bad (next post) and the ugly (last post) of the Church Father called Origen.
1. Knowing God
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God” (Jn 17:3).
Origen’s contribution to the church was profound. He excelled “in multiple branches of theological scholarship, including textual criticism, biblical interpretation, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality” (Wikipedia 2012) and as such is regarded as one of the Church Fathers. Pillay and Hofmeyr affirm that he “did provide the Church with theological language and categories of thought which were to gain a permanent place in the eastern theological tradition” (18:1991).
Origen eagerly desired to know God; and this pursuit of knowledge was his greatest legacy. According to Epiphanius (277) Origen wrote about 6000 works. His literary efforts fall into four classes: 1) Textual Criticism; 2) Exegesis; 3) Systematic, Practical and Apologetic Theology; and 4) Letters.
1.1. Textual Criticism
Of the Fathers Origen was second only to Jerome in eminence regarding textual criticism. Although he never wrote definitively on the subject he made frequent references to manuscript difficulties and variant readings in his other writings.
His magnum opus was the Hexapla (which translated means ‘Six-fold’). Much like a modern parallel Bible it placed side by side the Old Testament Hebrew text and five Greek translations.
Origin wrote scholia, homilies and commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible. A scholia is a brief note, a commentary is “a book of explanations or expositions on the whole or a part of the Scriptures” (Webster 284:1913) and a homily is a “discourse or sermon read or pronounced to an audience; a serious discourse” (Webster 701:1913). 197 of Origen’s homilies have been preserved; 158 on Old Testament Books and 39 on Luke’s Gospel (Wikipedia 2012).
1.3. Systematic, Practical and Apologetic Theology
Origen’s attempt at systematising the theology of the early church was compiled into four volumes called On First Principles. The primary content of each volume was: 1) God, the Logos, the Holy Ghost, reason and the angels; 2) the world and man; 3) the doctrine of sin and redemption; and 4) the Scriptures (New Advent 2012). His practical writings included the works On Prayer and On Martyrdom. He wrote an eight book refutation titled Against Celsus in reply to the pagan philosopher.
It is said that Eusebius had 100 letters written by Origen and Jerome had several epistles; yet, save a few fragments, all are lost.
In my view his written work stands as Origen’s greatest redeeming quality. For all the wayward ideas he sprouted his pursuit of God must be remembered as an endearing quality worthy of commendation.