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Origen, of Alexandria. About A.D. 250.

De Principiis, Lib. I. Præf. § 4–6.

Origen (185–254), teacher of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in Egypt, was the greatest divine and one of the noblest characters of his age, equally distinguished for genius, 22learning, industry, and enthusiasm for the knowledge of truth. His orthodoxy was questioned by some of his contemporaries, and he was even excommunicated by the Bishop of Alexandria, and condemned as a heretic long after his death by a council of Constantinople, 544. His curious speculations about the pre-existence of souls, the final salvation of all rational beings, etc., arose chiefly from his attempt to harmonize Christianity with Platonism.

In the Introduction to his work, Περὶ ἀρχῶν, On the Principles (of the Christian Religion), written before 231 (some date it from 212–215), and preserved to us in the loose and inaccurate Latin translation of Rufinus, Origen gives some fragments of the creed which was used in his day and country. He first remarks that, while all believers in Christ accepted the books of the Old and New Testaments as a full revelation of the divine truth, the diversity of interpretations and opinions demanded a clear and certain rule ( certa linea, manifesta regula ), and that the apostles delivered such articles of faith as they deemed necessary for all, leaving the study of the reasons, the examination of the mode and origin, to the more gifted lovers of wisdom. He then proceeds to give a sketch of these dogmatic teachings of the apostles as follows:


Species eorum, quæ per prædicationem Apostolicam manifeste traduntur, istæ sunt:

The form of those things which are manifestly delivered by the preaching of the Apostles is this:

Primo, quod unus Deus est, qui omnia creavit atque composuit quique cum nihil esset, esse fecit universa, Deus a prima creatura, et conditione mundi, omnium justorum Deus—Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noë, Sem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, duodecim Patriarcharum, Moysis et Prophetarum: et quod hic Deus in novissimis diebus, sicut per prophetas suos ante promiserat, misit Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, primo quidem vocaturum Israël, secundo vero etiam gentes post perfidiam populi Israël. Hic Deus justus et bonus, Pater Domini nostri Jesu Christi, Legem et Prophetas et Evangelia ipse dedit, qui et Apostolorum Deus est et Veteris et Novi Testamenti.

First, that there is one God, who created and framed every thing, and who, when nothing was, brought all things into being,—God from the first creation and forming of the world, the God of all the just—Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve Patriarchs, Moses, and the Prophets: and that this God, in the last days, as he had before promised through his Prophets, sent our Lord Jesus Christ, to all Israel first, and then, after the unbelief of Israel, also to the Gentiles. This just and good God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, himself gave the Law and the Prophets and the Gospels, and he also is the God of the Apostles, and of the Old and New Testaments.


Tum deinde, quia Jesus Christus ipse, qui venit, ante omnem creaturam natus ex Patre est. Qui cum in omnium conditione Patri ministrasset (per ipsum enim omnia facta sunt), novissimis temporibus se ipsum exinaniens homo factus incarnatus est, cum Deus esset, et homo factus mansit, quod erat, Deus. Corpus assumsit nostro corpori simile, eo solo differens, quod natum ex Virgine et Spiritu Sancto est. Et quoniam hic Jesus Christus natus et passus est in veritate et non per phantasiam communem hanc mortem sustinuit, vere mortuus; vere enim a mortuis resurrexit et post resurrectionem, conversatus cum discipulis suis, assumtus est.

Then, secondly, that Jesus Christ himself, who came, was born of the Father before all creation. And when in the formation of all things he had served the Father (for by him all things were made), in these last times, emptying himself, he became man incarnate, while he was God, and though made man, remained God as he was before. He took a body like our body, differing in this point only, that it was born of the Virgin and the Holy Ghost. And since this Jesus Christ was born and suffered in truth, and not in appearance, he bore the death common to all men and truly died; for he truly rose from the dead, and after his resurrection, having conversed with his disciples, he was taken up.

Tum deinde honore ac dignitate Patri ac Filio sociatum tradiderunt Spiritum Sanctum.

They also delivered that the Holy Ghost was associated in honor and dignity with the Father and the Son.


Origen then goes on to say that 'such questions, as to whether the Holy Spirit was born or unborn ( natus an innatus ), whether he was also to be regarded as a Son of God or not, are left for inquiry and investigation out of the holy Scriptures, according to the best of our ability; but it was most clearly preached in the churches that the Holy Spirit inspired every one of the saints and prophets and apostles, and that there was not one Spirit given to the ancients and another to the Christians.' Then he mentions (§ 5) as part of apostolic preaching ( ecclesiastica prædicatio ) the future resurrection and judgment, the freedom of will ( omnem animam rationabilem esse liberi arbitrii et voluntatis ), the struggle of the soul with the devil and his angels, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and their deeper meaning known only to those to whom the Holy Spirit gives wisdom and understanding.

Throughout this passage Origen makes an important distinction between ecclesiastical preaching and theological science, and confines the former to fundamental facts, while to the latter belongs the investigation of the why and wherefore, and the deeper mysteries.


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