Origenian Controversy

Origenian Controversy So distinguished a man as Origen could not fail to have great influence on the Church, not only while living, but even after his death. As during his lifetime he had opponents as well as partisans, so two parties continued in the Church a long time afterwards. As late as the 3d century we find bishop Methodius (d. 311) opposing the doctrine of Origen, and asserting the absoluteness of God, in opposition to Origen, who teaches the creation as having had no beginning. Methodius also combated Origen's realistic views, particularly his eschatological doctrines, i.e. his spiritualizing tendencies. Many of his arguments, however, like those of other opponents of Origen, were based on a misunderstanding of his doctrines. On the other hand, the learned and pious Pamphilus of Caesarea, in Palestine († 309), in collaboration with his friend Eusebius, wrote in prison an apology for Origen. In this work the writers reveal and oppose the narrow-mindedness which led to the accusations of heresy preferred against Origen. It contains six books: the last is the work of Eusebius alone, being written after Pamphilus's martyrdom, and defended by him against the attacks of Marcellus of Ancyra. We now possess only the first book, in the incorrect translation of Rufinus, and a few fragments of the Greek text (published in Delarue's edition of Origen.; Gallandi, Bibl. Patr.; and Routh, Reliq. sacrae).

Origen's name was also drawn into the Arian controversies, and used and abused by both parties for their own ends. The question of the orthodoxy of the great departed became in this way a vital issue of the day, and increased in interest with the increasing zeal for pure doctrine and the growing horror of all heresy. Upon this question three parties arose: free, progressive disciples, blind adherents, and blind opponents.

1. The true, independent followers of Origen drew from his writings much instruction and quickening, without committing themselves to his words, and, advancing with the demands of the time, attained a clearer knowledge of the specific doctrines of Christianity than Origen himself, without thereby losing esteem for his memory and his eminent services. Such men were, in the 4th century, Pamphilus, Eusebius of Caesarea, Didymus of Alexandria, and in a wider sense Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Gregory of Nyssa; and among the Latin fathers, Hilary, and at first Jerome, who afterwards joined the opponents. Gregory of Nyssa, and perhaps also Didymus, even adhered to Origen's doctrine of the final salvation of all created intelligences.

2. The blind and slavish followers, incapable of comprehending the free spirit of Origen, clung to the letter, held all his immature and erratic views, laid greater stress on them than Origen himself, and pressed them to extremes. Such mechanical fidelity to a master is always apostasy from his spirit which tended towards continual growth in knowledge. To this class belonged the Egyptian monks in the Nitrian mountains; four in a particular Dioscurus, Ammonius, Eusebius, and Euthymius, who are know in by the name of "the tall brethren" (Α᾿δελφοὶ μακροί, on accountof their bodily size), and were very learned.

3. The opponents of Origen, some from ignorance, others from narrowness and want of discrimination, shunned his speculations as a source of the most dangerous heresies, and in him condemned at the same time all free theological discussion, without which no progress in knowledge is possible, and without which even the Nicine dogma would never have come into existence. To these belonged a class of Egyptian monks in the Scetic desert, with Pachomius at their head, who, in opposition to the mysticism and spiritualism of the Origenistic monks of Nitria, urged grossly sensuous views of divine things, so as to receive the name of Anthropomorphites. The Roman Church, in which Origen was scarcely known by name before the Arian disputes, shared in a general way the strong prejudice against him as an unsound and dangerous writer.

The leaders in the crusade against the bones of Origen was the bishop Epiphanius of Salamis (Constantia), in Cyprus († 403), an honest, well- meaning, and by his contemporaries highly respected, but violent, coarse, contracted, and bigoted monastic saint and heresy hunter. He had inherited from the monks in the deserts of Egypt an ardent hatred of Origen as an arch-heretic; and in his Panarion, or chest of antidotes for eighty heresies, branded Origen as the father of Arianism and many other errors (Hoer. 64); Epipnanius gave to documentary justification for this hatred from the numerous writings of Origen. Not content with this publication, he also endeavored, by journeying and oral discourse, to destroy everywhere the influence of the long-departed teacher of Alexandria, and considered himself, as doing God and the Church the greatest service thereby. With this object the aged bishop journeyed in 394 to Palestine, where Origen was still held in the highest consideration, especially with John, bishop of Jerusalem, and with the learned monks Rufinus and Jerome, the former of whom was at that time in Jerusalem and the latter in Bethlehem. Epiphanius delivered a blustering sermon in Jerusalem, excited laughter, and vehemently demanded the condemnation of Origen. John and Rufinus resisted; but Jerome, who had previously considered Origen the greatest Church teacher after the apostles, and had learned much from his exegetical writings, without adopting his doctrinal errors, yielded to a solicitude for the fame of his own orthodoxy, passed over to the opposition, broke off Church fellowship with John, and involved himself in a most violent literary contest with his former friend Rufinus, which belongs to the chronique scandaleuse of theology. The schism was terminated indeed by the mediation of the patriarch Theophilus in 397, but the dispute broke out afresh. Jerome condemned in Origen particularly his doctrine of pre-existence, of the final conversion of the devils and of demons, and his spiritualistic sublimation of the resurrection of the body. Rufinus, having returned to the West (398) to meet this opposition, translated several works of Origen into Latin. He proceeded with great caution, altering occasionally the text, so as not to depart too greatly from the doctrine then prevailing in the Church, and succeeded in satisfying orthodox taste. Origen was accused by Jerome of being the originator of the Arian doctrine concerning the Trinity that it should not be said that the Son could see the Father, or the Spirit the Son; but this charge was certainly most unjust. True, his Christology had in it contradictory elements. He, on the one hand, attributed to Christ eternity, and other divine attributes which logically lead to the orthodox doctrine of the identity of substance; so that he was vindicated even by Athanasius, the two Cappadocian Gregorien, and Basil. But, on the other hand, in his zeal for the personal distinctions in the Godhead, he taught with equal clearness a separateness of essence between the Father and the Son, and the subordination of the Son, as a second or secondary God beneath the Father, and thus furnished a starting-point for the Arian heresy. The eternal generation of the Son from the will of the Father was, with Origen, the communication of a divine but secondary substance, and this idea, in the hands of the less devout and profound Arius, who, with his more rigid logic, could admit no intermediate being between God and the creature, deteriorated of the notion of the primal creature. But in general Arianism was much more akin to the spirit of the Antiochian school than to that of the Alexandrian, Origen was also accused of holding the doctrine of pre- mundane existence, and regarding the body as the prison of the soul; of teaching the resurrection of the corporeal body with different sexes; the unhistorical signification of paradise and of the history of creation; and the assertion of the loss of the divine image in man. The object of both was principally to defend themselves against the charge of Origenism, and to fasten it upon each other, and this not by a critical analysis and calm investigation of the teachings of Origen, but by personal denunciations and miserable invectives (comp. the description of their conduct by Zockler, Hieronymus, p. 396 sq.). The result of this controversy was that Rufinus was cited before pope Anastasius (398-402), who condemned Origenism in a Roman synod, notwithstanding that Rufinus sent a satisfactory defense. Rufinus thereafter sought an asylum in Aquileia. He enjoyed the esteem of such men as Paulinus of Nola and Augustine, and died in Sicily (410).

Meanwhile a second act of this controversy was opened in Egypt, especially by the theologians of Alexandria, among whom the unprincipled, ambitious, and intriguing bishop Theophilus of Alexandria plays the leading part. This bishop at first as an admirer of Origen, and despised the anthropomorphite monks, but afterwards, through a personal quarrel with Isidore and "the four tall brethren," who refused to deliver the Church funds into his hands, he became an opponent of Origen, attacked his errors in several documents (399-403) (in hisispistola Synodica ad episcopos Palestinos et ad Cyprios, 400, and in three successive Epistole Paschales, from 401-403, all translated by Jerome, and forming Ep. 92, 96, 98, and 100 of his Epistles, according to the order of Vallarsi), and pronounced an anathema on Origen's memory, in which he was supported by Epiphanius, Jerome, and the Roman bishop Anastasius. At the same time he indulged in the most violent measures against the Origenistic monks, and banished them from Egypt. Most of these monks fled to Palestine; but some fifty, among whom were "the four tall brethren," went to Constantinople, and found there a cordial welcome with the bishop, John Chrysostom, in 401. But in this way that noble man, too, became involved in the dispute. As an adherent of the Antiochian school, and as a practical theologian, he had no sympathy with the philosophical speculations of Origen. Yet Chrysostom knew how to appreciate Origen's merits in the exposition of the Scriptures, and was impelled by Christian love and justice to intercede with Theophilus in behalf of the persecuted monks, though he did not admit them to the holy communion till they proved their innocence. Theophilus at once set every instrument in motion to overthrow the long-envied Chrysostom, and employed even Epiphanius, then almost an octogenarian, as a tool of his hierarchical plans. This old man journeyed in midwinter in 402 to Constantinople, in the imagination that by his very presence he would be able to destroy the thousand-headed hydra of heresy; and he would neither hold Church fellowship with Chrysostom, who assembled the whole clergy of the city to greet him, nor pray for the dying son of the emperor, until all Origenistic heretics should be banished from the capital, and he might publish the anathema from the altar. But he found that injustice was done to the Nitrian monks, and soon took ship again to Cyprus, saying to the bishops who accompanied him to the seashore, "I leave to you the city, — the palace, and hypocrisy; but I go, for I must make great haste." He died in the ship in the summer of 403. However, what the honest coarseness of Epiphanius failed to effect was accomplished by the cunning of Theophilus, who now himself traveled to Conlstantinople, and immediately appeared as accuser and judge. He well knew how to use the dissatisfacton of the clergy, of the empress Eudoxia, and of the court with Chrysostom on account of his moral severity and his bold denunciations. In Chrysostom's own diocese, on an estate "at the oak" (πρὸς τὴν δρῦν, Synodus ad Quercum) in Chalcedon, he held a secret council of thirty-six bishops against Chrysostom, and there procured, upon false charges of immorality, unchurchly conduct, and high-treason, his deposition and banishment in 403' (see Hefele; 2:78 sq.). Chrysostom was recalled indeed in three days in consequence of an earthquake and the dissatisfaction of the people, but was again condemned by a council in 404, and banished from the court. SEE CHRYSOSTOM.

The age could not indeed understand and appreciate the bold spirit of Origen, but was still accessible to the narrow piety of Epiphanius and the noble virtues of Chrysostom. Yet in spite of this prevailing aversion of the time to free speculation, Origen always retained many readers and admirers, especially among the monks in Palestine, two of whom, Domitian and Theodorus Askidas, came to favor and influence at the court of Justinian I; But under this emperor the dispute on the orthodoxy of Origen was renewed about the middle of the 6th century, in connection with the monophysite controversy; and, notwithstanding Theodorus's influence, his opponents, with the assistance of Mennas, patriarch of Constantinople, caused Origen to be condemned in the σύνοδος ἐνδημοῦσα in 544. That this judgment was confirmed by the fifth oecumenical synod is highly improbable. But as the reading of Origen's writings had been made a heretical act by reason of their condemnation, no one ventured until very recent times he raised his voice for Origen, and his works and doctrines have gone out of sight, or passed out of existence. Says Schaff: "The vehement and petty personal quarrels over the orthodoxy of Origen brought no gain to the development of the Church doctrine. Indeed, the condemnation of Origen was a death-blow to theological science in the Greek Church, and left it to stiffen gradually into a mechanical traditionalism and formalism."


(I.) Epiphanius, Haeres. 64; several epistles of Epiphanius, Theophilus of Alexandria, and Jerome (in Jerome's Ep. 51 and 87-100, ed. Vallarsi); the controversial works of Jerome and Rufinus on the orthodoxy of Origen (Rufini Prefatio ad Orig. περὶ άρχῶν; and Apologia s. invectivarium in Hieron.'; Hieronymi Ep. 84 ad Panimdchium et Oceanuni de erroribus Origenis; Apolo cia ad Rufinum libri iii, written 402, 403, etc.); Palladius, Vitta Johannis Chrysostomi (in Chrysost. Operst, vol. 13, ed. Monitfaucon); Socrates, Hist. Eccles. 2:3-18; Sozomen, Hist. Eccles. 8:2- 20; Theodoret, Hist. Eccles. 5-27 sq.; Photius, Biblioth. God. 59; Mansi, Con. 3:1141 sq.

(II.) Huetius, Origeiana (Opera Orig. vol. iv, ed. Delarue); Doucin, Hist. des mouvements arrives dans l'eglise au sujet. d'Origine (Par. 1700); Walch, Gesch. d. Ketzereien, 7:427 sq.; Schrockh, Kirchengeschichte, 10:108 sq. Comp. also the monographs of Redepenning and Thomasius on Origen; and. Neander, Der heil. Joh. Chrysostomus (Ber. 1848, 3d ed.), 2:121 sq.; Hefele (R. C.), Origenistenstreit, in the Kirchen-Lexikon of Wetzer und Welte, 7:847 sq., and in his Conciliengeschichte, 2:76 sq.; Zockler, Hieronymus (Gotha, 1865), p. 238 sq., 391 sq.; and especially Schaff, Ch. Hist. iii, 698-705; Neander, Ch. Hist. ii 536-538, 678-704; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. ii. 43.

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