Origen of Alexandria (185—254), also known as Origen Adamantius, was one of the earliest and most important Christian scholars. He is remembered both for prodigious scholarship and fanatical commitment to purity. He is credited with producing hundreds of works on theology, textual criticism, and biblical interpretation. Among Origen’s most important works are the Hexapla, De Principiis, and Contra Celsum. A few of his views were unorthodox, to the point that later generations debated whether he was a saint or a heretic.
In the year 202, Origen’s father was beheaded for his Christian faith. To support his family, the teenaged Origen began teaching grammar and basic Christian beliefs. His career as teacher and writer grew quickly. Before long, he was running an entire school and hosting visits from politicians and academics. Origen produced high-quality academic work in large quantities. At one point, he was said to have kept seven scribes working at top speed. The scholar Jerome (354—420) would later ask, sarcastically, “Has anyone read everything Origen wrote?”
Understanding Origen’s work can be challenging. He believed all Scripture had three levels of meaning: literal, figurative, and moral, and he often expounded various ways to interpret the same passage. Origen is a prime example of early church scholars accepting non-literal interpretations of certain passages, such as the creation account of Genesis. He was also a critic of the view that only ordained men (cleric) had the spiritual authority to interpret Scripture.
Origen’s radical approach to purity of lifestyle was infamous. He lived in extreme asceticism, without shoes or a bed, and often worked instead of sleeping. He fasted twice a week and avoided all meat and wine.
With fraternal affection,
Fr. Homero C.