Theologian (ca. 184–253) 
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Origen, the greatest theologian of the early Greek Church, was born to Christian parents in Alexandria, Egypt. He had a penchant for extreme asceticism, reflected famously in his literal response to the text of Matthew 19:12 extolling those who made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. His self-mutilation was considered grounds to prevent his ordination. With a team of secretaries, he is said to have written 6,000 works, though only a small number survived.  

Later, his teachings on universal salvation and the preexistence of souls also generated controversy, resulting in the condemnation of “Origenism” in the sixth century.  

Nonetheless, Origen left a huge legacy in the area of biblical studies. In one of his works, he compiled the entire Old Testament written in six columns, including variant Hebrew and Greek versions. More importantly, he devised a method of interpreting Scripture that laid the foundation for all medieval exegesis. He believed the text could be read on several levels, corresponding to body, soul, and spirit. Beyond the literal, historical meaning, one could uncover additional symbolic meanings, to which Christ supplied the interpretive key.  

Thus, virtually any text in the Old Testament could be seen as a foreshadowing of the New Testament and of our heavenly destination. (Thus, for example, Noah’s ark could prefigure the Church as well as the heavenly communion of saints.) During a wave of persecution in 250, he survived his torture but lived on for only a few years.  

“One who prays ceaselessly is one who combines prayer with work and work with prayer.” —Origen 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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