Prefatory Notice to Origen’s Works.
[The great biblical scholar and critic of the first half of the third century deserves a more cordial recognition and appreciation than have always been accorded to him. While it is true that in various matters he has strange, even wild, fancies, and gives utterance to expressions which can hardly, if at all, be justified; while it is also true that he indulges beyond all reason (as it appears to us of the present age) in utterly useless speculations, and carries to excess his great love of allegorizing,—yet these are rather of the nature of possible guesses and surmises on numerous topics, of more or less interest, than deliberate, systematic teaching as matters of faith. He frequently speaks of them in this wise, and does not claim for these guesses and speculations any more credit than they may appear to his readers to be worth. In the great fundamentals of the Christian creed Origen is unquestionably sound and true. He does not always express himself in accordance with the exact definitions which the Church Catholic secured in the century after his decease, as a necessary result of the struggle with Arian and other deadly heresies; but surely, in fairness, he is not to be too severely judged for this. Some writers (e.g., J. M. Neale, in his History of the Patriarchate of Alexandria) give an unfavorable and condemnatory view of Origen and his career, but I am of opinion that Neale and others push their objections much too far. I hold that Bishop Bull, and men like him, are nearer to truth and justice in defending Origen and his lifelong labors in the cause of the Master.
The Περὶ ’Αρχῶν, which has come to us through the professedly paraphrastic but really unsatisfactory version of Rufinus, is the work which has given chief offence, and brought much odium upon Origen; but as this was written in early life, and it is doubtful in how far Origen is responsible for many things that are in it, it is only fair and just to judge him by such works as the Κατὰ Κέλσον and his valuable Homilies on various books of Holy Scripture. These go far to prove clearly that he, whom Dr. Barrow designates as “the father of interpreters,” is worthy the high estimate which ancient as well as modern defenders of his good name have fully set forth, and to justify the conviction, that, if we possessed more out of the numerous works of his which have entirely perished, we should rank him even more highly than is done by Bishop Bull in his Defensio Fidei Nicenæ.
In conclusion, I give a paragraph from the very valuable Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, by Dr. F. H. Scrivener, one of the ablest of living biblical scholars and critics:—
“Origen is the most celebrated biblical critic of antiquity. His is the highest name among the critics and expositors of the early Church. He is perpetually engaged in the discussion of various readings of the New Testament, and employs language, in describing the then existing state of the text, which would be deemed strong if applied even to its present condition, after the changes which sixteen more centuries must needs have produced.…Seldom have such warmth of fancy and so bold a grasp of mind been united with the lifelong, patient industry which procured for this famous man the honourable appellation of Adamantius.” S.]
- It is matter of deep regret that the proposal of the Edinburgh publishers, to include in Origen’s works a translation of his Homilies, did not meet with sufficient encouragement to warrant them in adding these to the present series.
- Book II. cap. ix.
- Third edition, Cambridge, 1883, pp. 418, 509.