Origenes Adamantius (185–254 AD)


So it goes ...
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Student of Clement and his successor as Master of the Catechetical School in Alexandria. Whilst there is no doubt that Origen was a speculative theologian of astounding insight, it is also true that he was equally a philosopher, and happily at home in either camp, as it were. Indeed, he remarks in De Principiis that he is merely making plausible suggestions, and that his reader is free to take what he finds valuable, and to reject what he finds offensive or useless.

It is recorded that, as was the practice, he would recite and a scribe would write his words down. This was a slow process, of stylus on wax, I think ... anyway, part reason for Origen's prolific output of material was that he would recite six different tracts simultaneously! A bit for one, then on to the next, then ... until back to one, where he would pick up and continue.


In recent years scholars and theologians have argued that it was the systematic theology of Evagrius Ponticus (345-400 AD), especially as professed in some quarters by the monks who followed him, that led to a row utilised by the Eastern Emperors in their attempt to wrest control of the Church from the Bishops, that led to the posthumous sullying of his reputation.

Whilst Evagrios' theology is clearly derived from Origen, what he overlooked was that Origen was not speaking as a dogmatic theologian, but as a speculative thinker.

... there can be little doubt that while Origen's speculations were put down as extravagant by succeeding generations, it was the bolder outreach of Evagrios in his attempt to encompass the whole of reality, divine and human, within a vast cosmological system that occasioned their common condemnation in both the fourth and sixth centuries (F. X. Murphy, "Evagrius Ponticus and Origenism," in R. Hanson and H. Crouzel, ed., Origeniana Tertia 1981, pp. 253-269).

Whatever the reasons, Origen himself was never condemned, although his 'doctrine of multiple ages' [internet enc of philosophy], that 'all rational souls have existed from eternity' [pg 96 Maurice Wiles 'the Christian Fathers' 1966] was.

I would argue that these are in fact not 'doctrines' — they were never proposed as articles of faith — but speculations.

Granted he was influenced by neo-platonism ipso facto gnosticism
Sorry, but any genuine Platonist would take great offence at the suggestion that Platonism and gnosticism are one and the same! Gnosticism is a syncretic and derivative system that 'cherrypicks' the philosophies of the day.

— the bane of the apostolic church and hence the division ultimately [post Arius] of the Egyptian & Antioch/greek churches from the Roman one.
No, that's not the cause of division at all.

All the churches refute gnosticism ... but the Fathers of the Church, almost to a man, were raised in the Platonic Tradition, and that tradition, revised in the light of the data of Revelation, continued within the Church.

Irenaeus, the first theologian, was a Scripture scholar, not a philosopher, but was heavily influenced by Justin Martyr, who was. Nearly every other Father subsequent to Irenaeus was a Platonist, and in the Western Tradition, we have Augustine, who embraced Platonism after his rejection of Manichaenism, and who was converted by Ambrose of Milan, himself a noted Platonist.

It was not until St Thomas Aquinas that Aristotle got a serious look-in on philosophy, when he contended with the Moslem scholars who reintroduced Aristotlian philosophy to the West. Aquinas is recognised as the master of Aristotelian method, but he too was a Platonist, his two most cited sources are Augustine and Dionysius the pseudoAreopagite, and the latter needs no introduction on that count.

In recent times Hans urs Von Balthasar, who died just prior to his being hatted a cardinal, and who is perhaps one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, was a Platonist. And if I may brag for a moment, so am I, much to the joy of none other than Dame Maria Boulding, a saint and a scholar, hermit and Spiritual Director of many, who cried with delight, "You're a Neoplatonist!" five minutes in to our first conversation, when we met at a conference at her Abbey, and grabbed my arm, dragged me into a talk by an Oxford don of some stature, and kept nudging me in the ribs thereafter ("Go on, ask him a question!")

In short, the Platonic Tradition is alive and well.

Its such a shame that his massive output was not here for posterity just because it didnt fall in line with the 'rule of faith' built up by the hegemony of orthodoxy.
Actually it's unlikely his massive output would have survived anyway, as so little did from those days. But it was the meddling of the emperors that was the cause of the trouble, not the Church He had his detractors, but he had far more supporters. But yes ... it is a shame ... but then, how many have read his two extant works?

His allegorical interpretations were bound to be influenced by the Alexandrian school [Philo the jew comes to mind];
I rather think he influenced the Alexandrian school, rather than the other way round. But yes, we must admit he is given sometimes to allegorical excesses ... but allegory is doctrinally defined as one of the Fourfold Senses of Scripture, and I know the Jews have and had a similar reading before him, so I agree that he got that from Philo and the Hebrew Tradtion, not the Hellenic.

'if by 'Catholic' we mean the church of doctrine and of law, then the Catholic church had its origin in the struggle with gnosticism'
Not really. The origin of the Church is Scripture. The struggle with Arius was far more devisive than the struggle with gnosticism (Arius was not technically a gnostic, nor indeed was the author of The Gospel of Thomas).

The Church today was shaped more by political struggles than the theological — which could have been resolved if politicians had not weighed in and fanned the flames of discord and dispute ... the schism between Latin West and Greek East, with the Nestorian and the Coptic Churches, might all have been resolved if left to seek a solution without political interference.

One point of note: The evidence historically shows that the Western Church, united under the Office of Peter, successfully rebuffed continued efforts of the emperors to control it — we have the councils called by emperors that were declared null and void by Rome — whilst tragically the Eastern Church was not so successful, and there free theological thought was silenced by imperial integralism — such as the Typos of Emperor Constans II, which forbad the discussion of theological issues fundamental to the Church's Faith. St maximus was a foremost opponent of the rule, and he, along with Pope Martin I of Rome, were 'arrested', tried and condemned by the East, and died in exile from the hrash treatment they received (st maximus had his hands cut off and his tongue cut out). Clear evidence of this is the iconoclast debate that led to a persecution by the Eastern Church of its own people, on a par with the worst Roman excesses — and all because imperial powers in the East wanted to change Church belief to appease Moslem neighbours ...

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called a presbyter and seem to preach the word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the church and the rule of the gospel so that I become a scandal to you, the church, then may the whole church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and throw me away.