Skip to comments.On Origen of Alexandria: He Was a True Teacher
Posted on 04/25/2007 7:52:42 PM PDT by ELS
On Origen of Alexandria
"He Was a True Teacher"
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on Origen of Alexandria.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our meditations on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we will get to know one of the most outstanding. Origen of Alexandria is one of the key people for the development of Christian thought. He draws on the teachings he inherited from Clement of Alexandria, whom we reflected upon last Wednesday, and brings them forward in a totally innovative way, creating an irreversible turn in Christian thought.
He was a true teacher; this is how his students nostalgically remembered him: not only as a brilliant theologian, but as an exemplary witness of the doctrine he taught. "He taught," wrote Eusebius of Caesarea, his enthusiastic biographer, "that one's conduct must correspond to the word, and it was for this reason above all that, helped by God's grace, he led many to imitate him" (Hist. Eccl. 6,3,7).
His entire life was permeated by a desire for martyrdom. He was 17 years old when, in the 10th year of Septimius Severus' reign, the persecution against Christians began in Alexandria.
Clement, his teacher, left the city, and Origen's father, Leonides, was thrown into prison. His son ardently yearned for martyrdom, but he would not be able to fulfill this desire. Therefore, he wrote to his father, exhorting him to not renounce giving the supreme witness of the faith. And when Leonides was beheaded, young Origen felt he must follow the example of his father.
Forty years later, while he was preaching in Caesarea, he said: "I cannot rejoice in having had a father who was a martyr if I do not persevere in good conduct and I do not honor the nobility of my race, that is to the martyrdom of my father and the witness he gave in Christ" (Hom. Ez. 4,8).
In a later homily -- when, thanks to the extreme tolerance of Emperor Philip the Arab, the possibility of ever becoming a martyr seemed to fade -- Origen exclaimed: "If God would consent to let me be washed in my blood, receiving a second baptism by accepting death for Christ, I would surely go from this world. But blessed are they who merit these things" (Hom. Lud. 7.12).
These words reveal Origen's nostalgia for the baptism by blood. And finally, this irresistible desire was, in part, fulfilled. In 250, during the persecution by Decius, Origen was arrested and cruelly tortured. Severely weakened by the sufferings he endured, he died a few years later. He was not yet 70 years old.
We mentioned earlier the "irreversible turn" that Origen caused in the history of theology and Christian thought. But in what did this "turn" consist, this turning point so full of consequences?
In substance, he grounded theology in the explanations of the Scriptures; or we could also say that his theology is the perfect symbiosis between theology and exegesis. In truth, the characterizing mark of Origen's doctrine seems to reside in his incessant invitation to pass from the letter to the spirit of the Scriptures, to progress in the knowledge of God.
And this "allegoristic" approach, wrote von Balthasar, coincides precisely "with the development of Christian dogma carried out by the teachings of the doctors of the Church," who -- in one way or another -- accepted the "lesson" of Origen. In this way, Tradition and the magisterium, foundation and guarantee of theological research, reach the point of being "Scripture in act" (cf. "Origene: il mondo, Cristo e la Chiesa," tr. it., Milano 1972, p. 43).
We can say, therefore, that the central nucleus of Origen's immense literary works consists in his "three-pronged reading" of the Bible. But before talking about this "reading," let us look at the literary production of the Alexandrian.
St. Jerome, in his Epistle 33, lists the titles of 320 books and 310 homilies by Origen. Unfortunately most of those works are now lost, but the few surviving works make him the most prolific author of the first three Christian centuries. His array of interests extended from exegesis to dogma, to philosophy, to apologetics, to asceticism and to mysticism. It is an important and global vision of Christian life.
The inspirational core of this work is, as we mentioned earlier, the "three-pronged reading" of the Scriptures developed by Origen during his life. With this expression we are alluding to the three most important ways -- not in any order of importance -- with which Origen dedicated himself to the study of Scripture.
He read the Bible with the intent to understand the text as best he could and to offer a trustworthy explanation. This, for example, is the first step: to know what is actually written and to know what this text wanted to say intentionally and initially. He carried out a great study with this in mind and created an edition of the Bible with six parallel columns, from right to left, with the Hebrew texts written in Hebrew -- Origen had contact with rabbis to better understand the original Hebrew text of the Bible.
He then transliterated the Hebrew text into Greek and then did four different translations into Greek, which permitted him to compare the various possibilities for translation. This synopsis is called "Hexapla" (six columns). This is the first point: to know exactly what is written, the text in itself.
The second "reading" is Origen's systematic reading of the Bible along with its most famous commentaries. They faithfully reproduce the explanations give by Origen to his students, in Alexandria and Caesarea. He proceeds almost verse by verse, probing amply and deeply, with philological and doctrinal notes. He works with great attention to exactness to better understand what the sacred authors wanted to say.
In conclusion, even before his ordination, Origen dedicated himself a great deal to the preaching of the Bible, adapting himself to varied audiences. In any case, as we see in his Homilies, the teacher, dedicated to systematic interpretation of verses, breaks them down into smaller verses.
Also in the Homilies, Origen takes every opportunity to mention the various senses of sacred Scripture that help or express a way of growth in faith: There is the "literal" sense, but this hides depths that are not apparent upon a first reading; the second dimension is the "moral" sense: what we must do as we live the Word; and in the end we have the "spiritual" sense, the unity of Scripture in its diversity.
This would be interesting to show. I tried somewhat, in my book "Jesus of Nazareth," to show the multiple dimensions of the Word in today's world, of sacred Scripture, that must first of all be respected in the historical sense. But this sense brings us toward Christ, in the light of the Holy Spirit, and shows us the way, how to live.
We find traces of this, for example in the ninth Homily on Numbers, where Origen compares the Scriptures to nuts: "The doctrine of the Law and of the Prophets in the school of Christ," he affirms, "is bitter reading, like the peel, after which you come to the shell which is the moral doctrine, in the third place you will find the meaning of the mysteries, where the souls of the saints are fed in this life and in the next" (Hom. Num. 9,7).
Following along this path, Origen began promoting a "Christian reading" of the Old Testament, brilliantly overcoming the challenge of the heretics -- above all the Gnostics and the Marcionites -- who ended up rejecting the Old Testament.
The Alexandrian wrote about this in the same Homily on Numbers: "I do not call the Law an 'Old Testament,' if I understand it in the Spirit. The Law becomes an 'Old Testament' only for those that what to understand it in terms of the flesh," that is to say, stopping at the mere reading of the text. But, "for us, we who understand it and apply it in the Spirit and in the sense of the Gospel, the Law is ever new, and the two Testaments are for us a new Testament, not because of a temporal date, but because of the newness of the meaning. For the sinner on the other hand and those who do not respect the pact of charity, even the Gospels get old" (Hom. Num. 9,4).
I invite you to welcome the teachings of this great teacher of the faith into your hearts. He reminds us that in the prayerful reading of Scripture and in a coherent way of life, the Church is renewed and rejuvenated.
The Word of God, which never ages or has its meaning exhausted, is a privileged way of doing this. It is the Word of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, which leads us always to the whole truth (cf. Benedict XVI, international congress for the 40th anniversary of the dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum," in Insegnamenti, vol. I, 2005, pp. 552-553).
Let us ask the Lord to enable us thinkers, theologians and exegetes of today to find this multidimensional nature, this permanent validity of sacred Scripture.
We pray that the Lord will help us to read the sacred Scriptures in a prayerful way, to really nourish ourselves on the true bread of life, his Word.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[After the audience, the Holy Father greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechetical journey through the early Church brings us to the remarkable figure of Origen of Alexandria. This great teacher of the faith was highly esteemed by his students not only for his theological brilliance, but also for his exemplary moral conduct. His father, Leonides, was martyred during the reign of Septimius Severus. Though Origen himself always had a deep yearning to die a martyr's death, he decided that the best way to honour his father and glorify Christ was by living a good and upright life. Later, under the emperor Decius, he was arrested and tortured for his faith, dying a few years later. Origen is best known for his unique contribution to theology: an "irreversible turn" which grounded theology in Scripture. He emphasized an allegorical and spiritual reading of the word of God, and demonstrated how the three levels of meaning -- the literal, the moral, and the spiritual -- progressively lead us to a deeper prayer life and closer relationship with God. Origen teaches us that when we meditate on God's word and conform our lives to it, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us to the fullness of truth. May we follow Origen's example by praying with scripture, always listening attentively to God's word.
I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims. I am pleased to greet those attending the Thirteenth World Seminar for Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members, as well as pilgrims from the following countries: England, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States of America. May God bless you all!
© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Please let me know if you want to be on or off this list.
I may be incorrect, however wasn’t Origen branded a heretic and his books burned when found?
Let me say that the weekly ping is a highlight for me.
The article quotes Benedict as having said “the central nucleus of Origen’s immense literary works consists in his ‘three-pronged reading’ of the Bible.” He further states that “the second prong was reading Scripture along with its most famous commentaries”. Let’s think about this for a second. Let’s even lay aside the obvious question, “How does Benedict know how Origen went about his studies?”
Origen lived from about 155 A.D. to about 254 A.D. How many commentaries could possibly have existed? Certainly there were a few who put to paper their ideas (Ignatius, Polycarp, Barnabas, Clement, etc.), but were these really commentaries? Commentaries of what? Scripture?
According to the article, Benedict “explained Origen’s methodology in studying sacred Scripture”. The RCC claims that the New Testament was not cannonized until its council of Trent in 1545 A.D. Prior to that, we are to believe that all of Christendom was in a daze of confusion as to which writings were authentic and authoritative. If this is the case, what Scripture could Origen possibly have had around 200 A.D.? At best he’d have had a collection of letters and writings from a variety of sources, but without the guidance of the RCC, how would he have known which were inspired and which were fraud?
It seems that Benedict’s own words drive nails in the coffin of oft debunked RCC positions. For starters, the RCC did not exist at the time of Origen. Yes, there was a church at Rome, but it had not yet morphed into what would become the RCC. Christians, at the time of Origen, were under persecution. Constantine hadn’t yet “embraced” Christianity, and the church at Rome had not yet become vogue with the Roman elite. Hence it had not yet gained political influence, and its paganization had not yet begun.
Next, the full set of letters that would become the New Testament were in circulation among and between the many congregations of Believers. The vast majority of such letters were generally accepted as inspired, authoritative, and known to be authentic. Early church “theologians”, such as Origen, quoted liberally from the letters that would be included in the New Testament. In fact, the entirety of the New Testament could be assembled from the writings of these early authors. So the reality is that the books and epistles that would eventually be canonized as New Testament Scripture were understood to be such from the very earliest time. No “council” 14 centuries after the fact was necessary.
The idea that there could be many and various possible meanings and translations (see the “first prong”) is ridiculous. While translations do vary, the differences are in nuance and word selection. Seldom is there a wide difference in meaning. Could it be that Benny wants to sow suspicion in the minds of his flock? Is his intent in sowing this suspicion to provide a “justified” escape from the many conflicts and contradictions between RCC doctrine and actual Scripture?
Why would Benedict want to promote the idea of reading Scripture alongside the “most famous commentaries” (second prong)? Should we substitute the word “catholic” for “famous”? Could it be that ol’ Benedict wants to be sure that if his “faithful” actually do start reading the Bible, they have a catholic guidebook next to them to “clarify” the discrepancies?
What about the “third prong” that Benedict assigns to Origen? Frankly I found the statements made to be mostly gibberish. However, the key statement is, There is the ‘literal’ sense, but this hides depths that are not apparent upon a first reading. Allow me to translate this into plain English: “Listen to the RCC, and don’t believe your lyin’ eyes!” Basically, Benedict doesn’t want his flock to take the Bible at its Word. The “deeper” meanings (read, contradictory) require more “insight” (read, purposeful misrepresentation).
I am very encouraged by this message from Benedict. It means that more and more catholics are reading the Bible. Let’s pray that the Truth will set more and more free!
Yes, the Pope is very inspiring. A great theologian and a great man. We’re very fortunate to have him at this time.
I’m very glad you benefit from his words in encouragement.
don’t be so bitter and misinformed.
And what does this mean??? It means that Origen determined that a major portion of the bible couldn't be taken literally...His commentaries paved the way for the belief (unbelief) system of the Catholic church...And continues to this day...
Up until Origen, the believers believed what the bible said...And fortunately, many of the heretical believers continued to believe the scriptures...To this day...
I searched for the phrase you have quoted in the transcript of the Pope's address and it is nowhere to be found. Perhaps you should comment on the thread where the quote actually appears.
The RCC claims that the New Testament was not cannonized [sic] until its council of Trent
Bzzz! Thanks for playing. The Catholic Church canonized the New Testament much earlier than the Council of Trent. Given that your premise is wrong, your conclusions are completely irrelevant.
The New Testament canon as it is now was first listed by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367, in a letter written to his churches in Egypt, Festal Letter 39. Also cited is the Council of Rome, but not without controversy. That canon gained wider and wider recognition until it was accepted at the Third Council of Carthage in 397. Even this council did not settle the matter, however. Certain books continued to be questioned, especially James and Revelation. ... Due to the fact that some of the recognized Books of the Holy Scripture were having their canonicity questioned by Protestants in the 16th century, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the traditional canon (that is for Catholics the canon of the Council of Rome) of the Scripture as a dogma of the Catholic Church. - New Testament
the RCC did not exist at the time of Origen.
The Catholic Church has existed since Pentecost.
Pope Benedict XVI is a well respected Patristic scholar. What are your credentials? Your questioning of the Pope's motives indicates much more about you than about him.
Why are you assuming that it refers only to the NT? Paul spoke of scripture. Surely he did not mean the NT.
The Canon was determined in 409.
First, I assume you mean "unfortunately".
So you're saying the the Almighty, All Powerful, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Creator of All Things can't make sure that one set of letters contains the revelation He intends for His people?
There are many churches that would rather God's Word said something different than it does. It's man's responsibility to conform to God's will. We're not to form God according to ours.
Looks like he's belting out a song ... The hills are alive with the sound of music ....
In truth, the characterizing mark of Origen's doctrine seems to reside in his incessant invitation to pass from the letter to the spirit of the Scriptures, to progress in the knowledge of God.
And what does this mean??? It means that Origen determined that a major portion of the bible couldn't be taken literally
First of all, why are you asking a question if you are going to answer it yourself? Secondly, your "answer" is nonsense. Have you ever read St. Paul's letters, specifically, 2 Cor 3:6 "Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter, but in the spirit. For the letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth."? As I read it, Benedict and Origen are not saying to ignore the letter of what is written, but rather to go deeper into what the Scripture truly means.
Catholics still believe what the Bible says, unlike many Protestants. For example, John 6:54-59
54 Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. 55 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. 56 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. 57 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. 58 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. 59 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.
There is not one rule for reading the entire Bible. Some parts are parables, others are direct teachings and some are narrative. Some parts, like John 6, are to be taken literally, which Catholics (and Orthodox) do.
And fortunately, many of the heretical believers continued to believe the scriptures...To this day..
Let's make this more accurate: And unfortunately, many of the heretical believers continue to be heretics...To this day..
Ah! You read Fr. Z’s blog.
You put your left foot in.
You put your left foot out.
You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around.
That's what it's all about.
You really can be quite entertaining, you know that? First, you are a Johnny one-note, they always add a little light humor to Freepers. Second, you don’t know what the heck you are talking about, which makes you even more amusing.
It looks like Abbas is doing the dancing.
Don’t you realize that the superior spirit allows them to know what everything in the scripture means themselves, and if they disagree with someone, then obviously they are right and the other person has a false spirit. The primary fallacy of YOPIOS.
What is your interpretation of John 6: 35-69?
....and also 1st Corinthians 11: 27-30?
What is your interpretation of John 6: 35-69?
....and 1st Corinthians 11:27-30?