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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 298

Origen's On First Principles is a rigorous text, written by Alexandrian scholar and early Church Father, Origen, around 185 CE. His vast tract on the nature of Christianity addresses subjects such as the Trinity, free will, the end of the world, and Scripture. The treatise On First Principles is in some sense doctrinally aloof (and some scholars suspect that Origen was labelled a heretic when On First Principles was released to the public). This is likely to be true, as Christian North Africa, in addition to being a center of scholarship, was a hotbed for opposing doctrines and a wellspring of heterodox Christianities.

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The major themes of On First Principles, especially those which mark it as unique, include his analogy of God to the sun; we can't see it materially by looking at it, but we know it to exist by how it illuminates all else.

Origen's eschatological discussion proposes that "after the end of this present world, others will take their beginning," (Book IV, Chapter 5). Our current world is thus not the only one, but several worlds do not coexist at the hands of God.

Origen also endows humans with free will, and claims that, at the time of creation, God "conveyed invisibly a share in Himself to all His rational creatures, so that each one obtained a part of Him exactly proportioned to the amount of affection with which he regarded Him." (Book II, Chapter 6). Origen accounts for the varied circumstances into which individuals are born by declaring that human souls move toward or away from God before being incarnate in human bodies. That is to say, the positions in which individuals find themselves are a product of their behaviors, as these behaviors are representations of their rational and free will with which all individuals are endowed.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431

Origen is the first major figure in the Christian era who wrote—in Greek—with full philosophical training and with a full sympathy toward philosophical method. Saint Augustine is sometimes given this credit, but Origen preceded him, and Augustine owes much to Origen. In any inquiry into the sources of later philosophy and theology, Origen must be given wide attention. The infusion of Greek philosophical skill into theology gave Christian thought its unusual theoretical side and allowed it to develop close relationships with pagan philosophical interests.

Therefore, Origen’s On First Principles subjected him to charges of heresy. His strong philosophical interests and training most likely led to a doctrine that did not conform to established ideas on every point. However, because the original Greek text of the work has, for the most part, been lost, these charges are difficult to establish. The elaborated Latin translation, De Principiis, by Rufinus contains indications that Origen’s work was considerably altered in its rendering, and modern scholarship tends to find Origen not so extreme on some points as has sometimes been charged. Origen and Plotinus had the same philosophical teacher, Ammonius Saccas, who is sometimes said to be the founder of Neoplatonism.

Origen begins by establishing the words and teachings of Christ as a central norm, and his fame as a biblical interpreter is widespread. To develop theological issues along the lines of philosophy, some interpretive scheme had to be devised to make biblical thought and expression amenable to philosophical treatment. Like many a sophisticated follower of religion, Origen was caught between the rough and untechnical nature of biblical expression and the abstract nature of technical and systematic analysis. In response, Origen attempted first of all to establish what can be taken as agreed apostolic teaching, because the church of his time provided for him no...

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