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Origen
c. 185 to 253?
Ancient Christian Church
Egypt

Origen was an early Christian apologist, biblical exegete, and theologian. Origen was born in Alexandria of Christian parents who gave him a good secular and biblical education. Persecution in Alexandria and the martyring of his father, when Origen was not quite seventeen made him by default a teacher of Christian inquirers. At eighteen, he was given charge of all such Christian education. As the school developed, Origen concentrated on its advanced classes, developing there a total approach to knowledge and employing all the learned disciplines of the day. This induced many philosophically educated people to become interested in Christianity and frequently brought them to commitment. Invitations came from students of religion such as Julia Mamaea, mother of future emperor Alexander Severus. The philosopher of Porphyry did not believe Origen had been brought up a Christian, so well versed was he in Greek learning. Origen, a layman, taught and preached in the presence of the clergy but tensions developed with his bishop, and in 231 he left Alexandria. Caesarea became his home; he was ordained presbyter there, and his prolific literary output, which had begun about 218, expanded further. In the Decian persecution (250), he was imprisoned and severely tortured; he died not long afterward, in his seventieth year (both 253 and 255 have been proposed).

Origen is arguably the pioneer of mission studies. His De Principiis (On first principles) is the first theological treatise written simply as an offering of reverent intellectual exploration. His Against Celsus engaged with the fundamental Greek cultural objections to Christianity. His commentaries brought the biblical text (to which he brought a range of scholarly apparatus previously without parallel) into interaction with contemporary intellectual discourse. His industry and devotion to teaching were legendary; both were conducted with the prospect of possible martyrdom. His Christian consciousness was catholic: besides his work in Egypt and Syria, he visited Rome, Capadocia, Nicomedia and (several times) Greece and Arabia for study, teaching or dialogue. He was posthumously denounced as heretical by lesser people and never entered the calendar of saints.

Andrew F. Walls


Bibliography:

H. Crouzel, Bibliographie critique d'Origène (1971 : supp., 1982) and Origen (Eng. tr., 1989) ; J. Daniélou, Origen (Eng. tr., 1955) ; E. de Faye, Origène: Sa vie, son œuvre, sa pensée (1935); Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, book 6; Gregory Thaumaturgus, Panegyric of Origen.


This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.