This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 6, chapters 1-3. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These three chapters provide a biographical introduction, tracing the formative years, of the influential early Christian writer and exegete, Origen of Alexandria (c. 184-c. 253). You might recall that Eusebius has been the student of Pamphilius, who, in turn, had been a student of Origen. Origen thus played a formative role in Eusebius’s own views.
Chapter 1 begins by noting the persecutions Christians endured, especially in Alexandria, under the Roman Emperor Severus. Among the Alexandrian martyrs of this time was Leonides, the father of Origen, who was beheaded for the faith.
Chapter 2 begins to trace Origen’s life, noting that even from his boyhood he was known for his zeal and piety. His passion for martyrdom was so great during the time of persecution that his mother hid his clothing from him so he would not go out and present himself for martyrdom alongside his father! It is reported that when his father was imprisoned awaiting execution that Orgien wrote to him, urging him, “Take care not to change thy mind on our account.”
It is also noted that he was zealous for the Scriptures, even as a lad, and, even then, he sought their “inner meaning” and not just the literal. Of course, his mark as a mature teacher would be his mystical and allegorical interpretations of Scripture. This zeal had well pleased his father, while living.
At this father’s death, Origen (age 17), his mother, and six younger brothers were left destitute. They were aided by a wealthy lady of Alexandria, who also aided a heretic named Paul of Antioch. The young Origen accepted this lady’s assistance but avoided with the heretic, who was also being aided by her.
While his father had lived, Origen had been trained in secular literature and excelled as a scholar.
Chapter 3 relays how, with the church weakened by persecution, Origen was appointed as head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria by its “president” Demetrius, at only 18 years of age. He was indeed a theological prodigy!
Among his noteworthy early pupils were Plutarch and his brother Heraclas. He won wide acclaim for his piety and his encouragement to the martyrs, nearly escaping death himself.
Eusebius reports that his zeal for the study of Scripture led him to abandon secular teaching and dispose of his “volumes of ancient literature”, which he had previously cherished.
He lived a “philosophic” life of austerity and asceticism. It is said, for example, that only slept on the floor, went several years without wearing shoes, refrained from drinking wine, and ate little. His zeal attracted many followers.
Again, these opening chapters provide an important sketch of the early life of the influential teacher Origen of Alexandria. Though many of Origen’s views were later condemned as unorthodox, he shaped the views of many early Christians, including Eusebius, who greatly admired him.
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