Monday, February 10, 2020

Eusebius, EH, 6:18-19: Origen, Porphyry, and the Greek Philosophers

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 18-19. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters focus on Origen and his connections with Greek philosophy.

Chapter18 begins by describing Origen’s influence on a man named Ambrose in moving him away from the heresy of the Valentinians. Many other “cultured persons” were also drawn to Origen given his competence in secular Greek philosophy.

Chapter 19 describes how Origen was criticized by the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Sicily in his writings against Christians. A citation is given from Porphyry who accused Origen of making “riddles” of Moses by finding in him “hidden mysteries.” Porphyry says that while Origen was a Christian in manner of life, in philosophy he “played the Greek, and introduced Greek ideas into foreign fables.” Eusebius notes that Porphyry’s descriptions of Origen are sometimes accurate but at other times show confusion. For example, he says Origen came to Christianity from the Greeks when he was, in fact, raised in a Christian family, and he falsely says that one of Origen’s teacher Ammonius eventually lapsed back into paganism.

At the close of the chapter Eusebius notes how Origen was sent by Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, on a diplomatic mission to Arabia, and how Origen secretly left Alexandria during a time of warfare for Caesarea in Palestine. While there, though not ordained, he publicly expounded Scripture on the invitation of local bishops. This led to controversy when Demetrius objected that laymen should not preach. Eusebius defends Origen’s actions. Eventually Origen returned to Alexandria to continue his labors there.


Eusebius continues his glowing report on the life of Origen. These chapters focus on Origen’s abilities to interact with Greek philosophy and to incorporate into his understanding of Christianity. For this he was criticized by pagan philosophers like Porphyry. It also gives insight into the conflict with Demetrius over Origen’s ministry in Palestine.


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