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Origen was more important than any other early Christian thinker in assimilating the Jewish and Greek traditions into Christianity. The former he accomplished through his lifelong contact with rabbinic scholars and the latter through his lifelong devotion to the Platonic tradition. His conscious intent was always to be faithful to Christianity whenever there was a direct conflict between it and what he had inherited from the earlier traditions. Nevertheless, he also intended to be open to truth wherever it might be found. That Christians usually think of themselves as the heirs to both the Jewish and the Greek traditions is more his work than any other’s. He was the first Christian to discuss at length central problems such as the nature of free will and of God’s relation to the world; as the first to do so, Origen did not always arrive at conclusions deemed correct by later standards. Thus, in spite of his genius, he has often been the subject of some suspicion in later Christian tradition. Arguably, he had as much influence in setting the terms of later Christian theology as any writer, Saint Paul included.

Origen subjected himself to great ascetic discipline, usually surrounded by his community of scribes and students, and his mode of life may be justly described as protomonastic. Indeed, it was only about forty years after his death that the monastic movement began. Finally, with his great confidence in the ability of the disciplined intellect to rise above the world of sense to the vision of God, Origen stands near the source of the Christian contemplative tradition.


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Further Reading:

Butterworth, G. W., and Henry De Lubac. Origen on First Principles. Magnolia, Mass.: Smith, Peter, 1985.

Caspary, Gerard E. Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Centers on Origen’s thought about the relation of Christianity to the political order but has much useful information about his biblical interpretation and political thought. A structuralist interpretation that mistakenly attributes pacifism to early Christians in general before the time of Constantine the Great.

Chadwick, Henry. Early Christian Thought and Classical Tradition. New York: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Crouzel, Henri. Origen. Trans. A. S. Worrall. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989. A comprehensive treatment of Origen’s life and writings, with sections devoted to Origen’s work on exegesis, spirituality, and theology. Includes an index of biblical references.

Daniélou, Jean. Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture. Vol. 2 in A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicaea. Translated by John Austin Baker. London: Westminster Press, 1973. Contains fine sections on Origen’s catechetical teaching, biblical interpretation, Christology, anthropology, demonology, and understanding of Christian Gnosticism. Daniélou is very precise on the meaning and practice of allegory for Origen.

Daniélou, Jean. Origen. Translated by Walter Mitchell. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955. Covers Origen’s life and times but is especially strong on his theology, including his interpretation of the Bible, cosmology, angelology, Christology, and eschatology. This Roman Catholic reading of Origen gives a very fair account of scholarly disagreement over Origen’s theology of the sacraments.

Greer, Rowan A. Origen. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1988.

Küng, Hans. Great Christian Thinkers. New York: Continuum, 1994. The chapter on Origen offers a general overview of his life and major ideas. Presents his synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian spirituality as the first model of a “scientific theology.”

Origen. Contra Celsum. Translated by Henry Chadwick. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1965. The introduction and notes of this translation of one of Origen’s most important works are a mine of information. Well indexed.

Smith, John Clark. The Ancient Wisdom of Origen. Cranberry, N.J.: Bucknell University Press, 1992.

Trigg, Joseph W. Origen. New York: Routledge, 1998. An accessible introduction to Origen’s life and work. Includes translations of a representative selection of his writings and an index of scriptural citations.

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