Origen of Alexandria (c.185-254 AD) was an ascetic scholar, teacher, priest, mystic and prolific author whose achievements and influence were unsurpassed in the Early Church.
Called upon as a theological trouble-shooter to resolve disputes in the world-wide Church of his day, in old age he was tortured and died a confessor of the faith and virtually a martyr. The legacy he left behind exerted an enormous impact, especially on the Eastern Church, and his influence can clearly be seen in the works of later authors such as Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa (two of the Cappadocian Fathers).
Some scholars, however, also brand Origen as a heretic of the first order – a Platonic philosopher in Christian clothes and the chief cause of the 4th century Arian controversy. They point to his condemnation by St Jerome at the start of the fifth century, by an Ecumenical Council in the middle of the sixth century, and the fact that his books were ordered to be burned by the Emperor Justinian.
Regardless of the varying opinions of those who study Origen and his works, his influence on later authors and the emerging monastic movement means he cannot simply be ignored or easily dismissed.
Quotes from Origen
I’ve compiled some of my favourite quotes from Origen on some of his common themes. Click the links to read more…
Origen’s Texts in Translation
Quotes and books about a person are all well and good but there’s nothing better than reading an entire text by someone to fully understand their approach.
R.A. Greer (translator), Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, First Principles: Book IV, Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs, Homily XXVII on Numbers (New York: Paulist Press, 1979)
A good selection of texts from Origen’s surviving work, chosen to “represent the heart of Origen’s spiritual vision” (as it says on the cover). Highly recommended reading to get a feel for Origen’s work without having to wade through lots of Victorian language (as you do with older translations). If you’ve only got time/space for one book of Origen’s writings, it’s this one.
R. P. Lawson (translator), Origen: The Song of Songs, Commentary and Homilies (Ancient Christian Writers, No 26) (New York: Paulist Press, 1957)
Hang on tight and try to keep up with Origen the master exegete as he unpacks the hidden, spiritual meaning in the Song of Songs. Amazing insights on every page. St Jerome wrote “While Origen surpassed all writers in his other books, in his Song of Songs he surpassed himself“. Read this book. Enough said. Might be worth trying Abebooks.co.uk to see if you can get it cheaper.
Hans Urs von Balthasar (editor), R.J. Daly (translator), Origen Spirit & Fire: A Thematic Anthology of His Writings (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2001)
This book contains a selection of over one thousand snippets from Origen’s works which have been assembled on thematic lines, making Origen easier to read in some ways (although harder in others!). A great book to open at the contents page, choose a topic and dive in! Listed as “hard-to-find” on Amazon.co.uk, so you might want to try Abebooks.co.uk too.
John Behr (translator), Origen: On First Principles, A Reader’s Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)
A fascinating insight into Origen’s thought, this is his central (and most controversial) work and is a great place to explore his ideas in more depth. Sometimes referred to as the first work of systematic theology. This is a very recent translation (and introduction) by a very accomplished patristic scholar.
Other texts of interest…
Various other of Origen’s commentaries and homilies (sermons) are available in translation, along with the classic (if lengthy) work of apology (i.e. defence of the faith) – “Contra Celsum“. However, the above should be enough to get you started!
Books about Origen
If you’re wanting to read more and the life and times of Origen, here are some recommended starting points.
This small paperback provides a great overview of three important early Christian thinkers (Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Origen) and their role in integrating Christianity with Greek culture. Worth searching on Abebooks.co.uk.
A more lengthy and in-depth survey of the life and work of both Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Also includes good coverage of the important & influential Philo (a Jewish Alexandrian theologian in whose footsteps Clement and Origen trod). Try searching Abebooks.co.uk.
J.W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-century Church – Published by either John Knox Press (1983) or SCM Press (1985)
If you’re after just one comprehensive book on Origen for your bookshelf, this is the one to go for. Unfortunately only available second hand now. Not to be confused with another book by Trigg which is also entitled “Origen” and published by Routledge (1998)! Check on Abebooks.co.uk.
An excellent study by an eminent French scholar. Highly readable & highly recommended. Re-published in 2016 by Wipf & Stock (hurrah!). Worth a look on Abebooks.co.uk.
Written in more of a scholarly reference style than the above books by Trigg and Daniélou – i.e. lots of footnotes! Comprehensive coverage of Origen’s life, work and approach.
R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory & Event: A Study of the Sources and Significance of Origen’s Interpretation of Scripture (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002)
A classic work of scholarship. Does exactly what it says in the title. Not a general work on Origen, but specifically on his approach to Scripture.