Thoughts about Origen: A word regarding cultural relevance (Part 2)


Origen Adamantius, was one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. Click image to enlarge.

In yesterday’s post I tried to impress the enormous contribution Origen made to scholarly pursuit, in the early church, but impacting us even to the present day. Macrina Walker in the comments of yesterday’s post said I should have said something of the piety of the man; and I agree, that was oversight on my part.

Today’s post is short, a brief comment regarding the cultural context Origen found himself in, a context he spoke to, and an evaluation of the discussion he engaged in. It lays the foundation for tomorrow’s post which tucks into some of Origen’s more wayward doctrine.

2. In the World not of the World

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (Jn 15:19).

2.1. Christian Hellenism vs Hellenised Christianity

Whilst Christianity rejected the Graeco-Roman religion they adopted the Greek language to communicate the Gospel to the educated Greek-speaking world. There was also a degree of adaption of Greek philosophical concepts.

At times during the formation of the early church, whilst the state of doctrine was still in flux (one could argue that this has never adequately stabilised) this adaption of Greek philosophical concepts certainly bordered on synchronistic; “Concurrence of two or more events in time” (Webster 1463:1913).

Pillay and Hofmeyr (18:1991) write, “At times, Christianity was Hellenised rather than Hellenism becoming Christianised… …It was Origen who carried this integration of platonism into Christian theology so far that the Church later condemned some of his main ideas and doctrines.”

The post-modern emergent church today ought to be warned. Origen, desiring to proclaim the Gospel to the Greek intellectuals of his day, in their language and on their terms, sacrificed the apostolic tradition for a platonic deviation. His desire to have a relevant method of reaching his generation impinged on the pure message he’d been tasked to proclaim.


3 thoughts on “Thoughts about Origen: A word regarding cultural relevance (Part 2)

  1. Hi Mark,

    Not to nitpick, but I didn’t say you should have said more about his piety, but that it is a point I would have made…

    As a quick response (and I realise this may not be your thing!): that “icon” is awful and is, I fear, a typical example of types of post-modern Catholic appropriation of a tradition that they do not properly appreciate. (I could say more but I’m trying to be polite!). A far more helpful image can be found here. Note that in it Origen does not have a halo, reflecting the Church’s ambiguity about him, but he is shown as teaching the Fathers. He was influential, including in a positive way, but the consensus of the Fathers was to discern what aspects of his thought were valuable and what aspects needed pruning. (That that sometimes happened in messy and unfortunate ways is part of the burden of history).

    Btw, the link above is also to quite a helpful blog post on the enigma of Origen.

    As to the Christianising of Hellenism or the hellenisation of Christianity, that is a very complex question that is sometimes presented far too simplistically, especially in modern liberal Protestant thought – von Harnack’s arguments that were once widely accepted have been increasingly challenged in recent years. While Origen does go quite far in a Platonic direction, his views were corrected by later Fathers. This obviously requires more discussion and sources, and I’m not that clued up on it (and am not sure that I really have time!), but it is a key question that needs to be addressed.

    Maybe more again, depending on what you post …it could be an interesting conversation!

    • Hey there,

      Thanks for the comment. You’re not nit picking – I was conceding.

      I loath the practice of lifting a single verse out of Scripture to prove a point without taking into account the passage or text around it. I have noticed this same intellectual laziness applied to the writings of the church fathers. The intention of these three posts is to highlight that quoting a father without thinking of their broader theological teachings undermines ones argument rather than strengthens it.

      I do think that Origen (and Clement for that matter)’s blending of the philosophical and spiritual has immediate relevance to the church today (that statement is quiet sweeping when in fact maybe only small part – the post-moderns – are struggling through this).

      The final post won’t catch you offgaurd; you are far closer to Origen and the other fathers than I am. It certainly has been a learning experiance for me though.

      • Ah, I suspect that I see where you are headed, but had better wait and see. I have a certain sympathy with what you say about taking the Fathers out of context, but am not sure that our understandings of the philosophical and the spiritual will converge…

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