Thursday, January 16, 2020
Eusebius, EH.6.6-8: Origen's Notorious "Rash Act"
Image: Manuscript representation of Origen, c. 1160.
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 6, chapters 6-8. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters continue the account of the life of Origen.
Chapter 6 provides brief mention of Orgien’s teacher, Clement of Alexandria, who had succeeded Pantaenus.
Chapter 7 makes reference to another notable writer of the Severan period, a certain Judas, who wrote a discourse on the book of Revelation. Eusebius notes that Judas anticipated the coming of the Antichrist, in light of the persecutions the church was enduring.
Chapter 8 is more extensive. It provides an account of a notable “rash act” undertaken by Origen, that sprang from “an immature and youthful mind.” He took Christ’s comments that there are those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom (Matt 19:12) “in too literal and extreme a sense” and apparently emasculated himself.
He is said to have done this out of faith and self-control and to avoid any hint of scandal in his instruction of women.
Origen had attempted to hide this act from others, but it became known to his pupils.
Eusebius reports that Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, at first approved of Origen’s zeal and sincerity. Later, however, when he did not approve of Origen’s appointment as an elder by the bishops in Caesarea and Jerusalem, Demetrius described it as a “monstrous” deed and a “grave scandal.”
Turning to transitions, Eusebius notes that Severus was succeeded by his son Antoninus as emperor, and, in the Jerusalem church, Alexander was made bishop alongside Narcissus, while Narcissus still lived.
This section provides one of the most colorful and oft repeated anecdotes about Origen: his youthful “rash act.” Modern historians have raised questions about the anecdote’s historicity. Even Eusebius notes that the story was only circulated in opposition to Origen’s appointment as a presbyter. At the least, it is consistent with the presentation of Origen in Eusebius as a rigorous and zealous ascetic.