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BirthplaceProbably Alexandria, Egypt
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Origen (ôrˈĭjĭn), 185?–254?, Christian philosopher and scholar. His full name was Origines Adamantius, and he was born in Egypt, probably in Alexandria. When he was quite young, his father was martyred. At the age of 18, Origen became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, where he had studied under Clement of Alexandria. In the 28 years of his labors in Alexandria, Origen became famed for his teaching (for which he accepted no money) and wrote prodigiously. A stern ascetic, he castrated himself out of zeal for purity. Hence he was not ordained a priest, but he was permitted to preach while on journeys to Rome, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. His interpretation of the Scriptures in preaching and lecturing won him wide acclaim. Later (c.230) the bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea ordained him, but Demetrius, his own bishop, ordered him deposed and banished from Alexandria. In Caesarea, Origen founded (231) a new school that became even more illustrious than the one in Alexandria. Among his students was St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. In the persecution (c.250) of Decius, Origen was imprisoned, tortured, and pilloried; this experience probably caused his death some time after his release. Learned in Greek philosophy, he was a most erudite and profound biblical scholar as well. According to St. Jerome he wrote 800 works. Extant are letters, apologies, and exegeses. His critical edition of the Bible, the Hexapla, is famous in the history of textual criticism; this was a parallel edition of six Hebrew and two Greek versions. None of these remains in its original form. Origen's system of theology is given in his De principiis [on first principles], known through a Latin version of Rufinus. The chief of his apologies is Contra Celsum [against Celsus]. Origen attempted to synthesize the fundamental principles of Greek philosophy, particularly those of Neoplatonism and Stoicism, with the Christianity of creed and Scripture so as to prove the Christian view of the universe to be compatible with Greek thought. Before St. Augustine, Origen was the most influential theologian in the church. His threefold plan of interpreting Scripture (literal, ethical, and allegorical) influenced subsequent exegetical works. In spite of Origen's fame as an apologist for Christianity, there was question as to his orthodoxy. His somewhat recondite blending of pagan philosophy with Christian theology led to his condemnation by Justinian in the Monophysite controversy. There is good reason to believe that he was often the victim of misquotation and unfair interpretation.


See G. W. Butterworth, tr., Origen on First Principles (1936); R. B. Tollinton, tr., Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies of Origen (1929); G. E. Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords (1979); J. W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century Church (1983).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Origenes Adamantius). Born circa 185 in Alexandria; died 253 or 254 in Tyre. Christian theologian, philosopher, and scholar. Representative of early patristic theology.

Origen was the son of a Christian who was later executed for his beliefs. In his youth, he taught grammar and rhetoric and studied classical philosophy (according to some sources, at the school of Ammonius Saccas, where Plotinus also studied). In 217, Origen became the head of a Christian school in Alexandria, but in 231 he was censured by the Alexandrian and other churches. He continued to teach at the school of Caesarea in Palestine. During a wave of Christian persecution, Origen was imprisoned and subjected to torture, from which he soon died.

In the works of Origen, Christian thought first attained the high philosophical and scholarly level of the pagan culture of that time. Origen was the author of about 2,000 works. In his critical work on the text of the Bible, he emerged both as heir to the Alexandrian philological tradition and as the founder of exegesis. His lost work Hexapla (“six-columned”) compared the corrected Hebrew original of the Bible with four different Greek translations.

Origen’s philosophy was a stoical Platonism. In order to reconcile this Platonism with his belief in the authority of the Bible, Origen, like Philo Judaeus (Philo of Alexandria) before him, elaborated a doctrine of the three meanings of the Bible: “flesh” (literal meaning), “soul” (moral meaning), and “spirit” (mystical-philosophical meaning). He accorded unqualified preference to the Bible’s spiritual meaning.

Origen interpreted god’s creation of the world as an eternally continuing act: there were other worlds before this world and there will be others after it. Origen’s eschatological optimism was reflected in his doctrine of apocatastasis—that is, independent of their will, all souls and spirits (including the devil) will inevitably attain “salvation,” illumination, and unification with god. This optimism was also evident in his doctrine of the temporary nature of the torments of hell. Origen’s teaching about ascetic self-knowledge and struggle with the passions had a strong influence on the development of monastic mysticism in the fourth through sixth centuries. His system of concepts was widely used in the formulation of church dogma. For example, the term “god-man” is first encountered in his writings.

During the flowering of patristic theology, Origen’s adherents included Eusebius of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and particularly, Gregory of Nyssa. Other theologians sharply criticized Origen for his “heretical” opinions (for example, the doctrine of apocatastasis) and for his introduction of incompatible theses of classical philosophy (particularly the Platonic teaching of the pre-existence of souls) into Christian dogma.

Origen was declared a heretic in 543 by an edict of the emperor Justinian I. Nonetheless, many medieval thinkers were influenced by his ideas.


Tvoreniia Origena, fasc. 1: O nachalakh. Kazan, 1899.
Protiv Tsel’sa, part 1. Kazan, 1912.


Bolotov, V. Uchenie Origena o sv. Troitse. St. Petersburg, 1879.
Istoriia filosofii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1940. Pages 390–91.
Völker, W. Das Vollkommenheitsideal des Origenes. Tübingen, 1931.
Daniélou, J. Origène. Paris, 1948.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?185--?254 ad, Christian theologian, born in Alexandria. His writings include Hexapla, a synopsis of the Old Testament, Contra Celsum, a defence of Christianity, and De principiis, a statement of Christian theology
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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