The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria (New Testament in the Greek Fathers)

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Origen: Friend or Foe?

Although he generally expressed himself unfavorably in regard to Stoicism , he clearly paid deference to the mixture of Stoicism and Platonism which characterized the religious and ethical thought of the educated classes in his day. In his ethical expressions, he was influenced strongly by Plato and the Stoics and borrowed much of their terminology. Clement praised Plato for defining man's ultimate aim in life as likeness to God and saw Plato's description of a transcendental and incorporeal God as accurate and aligned with Scripture. His teachings also included the Stoicist ethics of moderation, suppression of the passions, and the fulfillment of moral obligations, and his description of the perfect Gnostic closely resembles the Stoicist definition of the wise man.

Clement counseled his students to shake off the chains of the flesh as far as possible, to live as if already out of the body, and thus, to rise above earthly things. He was a true Greek in the value which he placed on moderation, but his highest ideal of conduct was the mortification of all affections which may in any way disturb the soul in its career. Clement embraced this lofty ethical-religious ideal of the attainment of man's perfection in union with God, which Greek philosophy from Plato down had worked out, and connected it to Christianity and the ecclesiastical tradition.

To him, it seemed only logical that the philosophical conclusions of the Greeks were so similar to their Hebraic counterparts. All men, he believed, were endowed by God with a "shared mind"—a natural intuition which seeks truth and righteousness. God also reveals His truth to people of all ages through divine revelation. Clement also emphasized the permanent importance of philosophy for the fullness of Christian knowledge.

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He explained with special predilection the relation between knowledge and faith, and he sharply criticized those who were unwilling to make any use of philosophy. He spoke of the importance of higher spiritual understanding, or "gnosis," which he clearly distinguished from "gnosis" as defined by the Gnostics.


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He taught that faith was the foundation of all knowledge and that both were given to people by Christ. Like Plato , Clement saw the world as an organic whole that was ultimately knowable to humans. Greater knowledge of God and the universe allows the believer to penetrate deeply into the understanding of what he believes, and this is the perfection of faith.

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In order to attain this "faith of knowledge," which is much higher than "faith of conjecture," philosophy is permanently necessary. In fact, Clement considered Christianity the true philosophy and the perfect Christian the true "Gnostic.

As all sin has its root in ignorance, so the knowledge of God and of goodness is followed by good actions. He rejected the Gnostic concept of absolute predestination and the distinction between "psychic" and "pneumatic" men. He believed in the freedom to do good—that all people are destined to perfection if they will embrace it.

Clement understood this Christian gnosis as the work of the Logos, through which God's relation to the world and his revelation is maintained.

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He considered God transcendentally as an unqualified Being. Though His goodness operated in the creation of the world, His divine essence is immutable, self-sufficient, and incapable of suffering. The Logos is most closely one with the Father, whose powers He resumes in Himself, but both the Son and the Spirit are "first-born powers and first created. Thus, a natural life is a life according to the will of the Logos. Clement's description of the Incarnation, in spite of Clement's rejection of the Gnostic Docetism, was somewhat Docetic in nature.

He said that the body of Christ was not subject to human needs. Christ was the good Physician, and the medicine which he offered was the communication of saving gnosis, leading men from paganism to faith and from faith to the higher state of knowledge.

These, he argued, were consistent with what we would expect of God. The case of Christianity, argued Origen, finally rests, on the strength and force it displays in the moral reformation of mankind. He regarded this idea of freedom as a characteristically Christian emphasis which justifies and explains the spontaneity of the coming of Christ and the possibility of moral change in man. It has been said that he lived in the Bible to the extent that no one else before Luther rivalled him.

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The great mass of his literary work was concerned largely with Biblical criticism and exposition, the Hexapla occupying a central place. The Hexapla was not the only work of criticism which Origen undertook. He examined particular problems such as the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This letter was unlike those of St. He wrote a commentary on almost every book of the Bible. In his exposition he vindicated the allegorical method against the literalist method and established two canons of interpretation, namely that the Bible is a unity, every text needing to be treated in the light of the teaching of the Bible as a whole, and that the key to every passage in the Old and New Testament alike is Christ.

For Origen every text in the Bible could be read at three levels,—the literal, the moral and the spiritual level. He drew here upon his understanding of Platonism which taught that beyond the visible world lay the spiritual world—of which all things here are an image and a reflection. For Origen everything in the Bible in a similar way reflected the spiritual order beyond the ordinary material world. Thus, for instance, Jerusalem, Zion, Carmel, and a host of other places, ceased to be geographical locations and expressions and became mirrors of heavenly truth.

He had a critical faculty far ahead of his time. Origen argued that the Letter to the Hebrews was not written by St. Paul, a position embraced by modern scholarship. He saw the Bible as a whole, the inspired Word of God. He contended that human nature consists of a trinity of body somatic , social psychic and spirit pneumatic.

Origen argued for the interpretation of Scripture under three headings - literal, moral, spiritual. All things in the Bible reflected that real and spiritual order beyond the visible world—which is a strong element of Platonism. Origen made an attempt to establish a doctrine of the Trinity in the course of his argument against the Gnostics and the Monarchians on the one hand, and the Adoptionists on the other.

Love was active and had to be manifested through an object, i. The Son was an exact image of the Father yet he was different from God, for God alone was immutable. But the Son was being eternally generated and linking God with creation. The Spirit was the first being created by the Word. Thus for Origen, the Spirit was a creature, not God. This was the stumbling block of the Greek Logos theologians. There was a distinctive place for the Spirit. Thus his Trinity was three graded beings united in a single substance, but possessing individualism. However only two, God and his Word, were relevant to mankind.

Below the divine world was the world of inferior spirits, once offering obeisance to God and keeping his commandments. They had free will and were driven out along with the Devil when they rebelled and were imprisoned in bodies which became heavy according to their fault. As all possess free will, all have the power to return to God.

Man belongs to this order of creation and he possesses the means of gaining his salvation through Christ. Origen had an idea of Christianity as a historical religion under the story of some primordial deities or religion. Origen interpreted the concept of Eschatology spiritually. The second coming is the appearance of Christ in the souls of the pious.

He argued that Christ will come back to earth again and again within our souls.


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In other words, the spiritual body for the pious has a spiritual experience. Hell, he taught, is the fire of despair which burns our conscience when we are separated from God. It is only temporary and eventually everything will become spiritualized. This is a doctrine of the retribution of all things. But because freedom is never cancelled out there is still the possibility that the whole process will start again.

This teaching is part of the reason why he was later condemned as a heretic. The teaching of Origen on the Trinity continued to influence theological reflection in the East long after his death in A. Origen had thought of the Father and the Son as two distinct realities and had only been able to preserve a monotheistic standpoint by admitting that the Son was in some sense subordinate to the Father.

The Son was preexistent and related to the Father as ever-begotten and co-eternal, yet he occupied a level of being within the Godhead lower than the Father. Where Origen had posited a sharp distinction between the Father and the Son, they failed to maintain any real distinction at all between the persons. This Monarchian point of view is known to us as Sabellianism or Modalism. When a dispute arose in Cyrenaica between the supporters of the theology of Origen and the Monarchians, Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, intervened in support of the Origenist position and insisted upon the personal distinctions within the Godhead.

In Rome emphasis had always been laid upon the unity of God rather than upon the distinction between the persons, and consequently the complaint was received with sympathy. Thus Dionysius, the bishop of Rome to be distinguished from Dionysius of Alexandria wrote an indignant letter in which he repudiated the view of his namesake, Dionysius of Alexandria. The difference in theological emphasis between the two Dionysii was made to appear greater than in fact it was due to a misunderstanding in the use of terms. The main difficulty was that the same Latin word substantia was used to translate two different Greek words, ousi-os , essence and hypostasis , person, persona.

Thus when Dionysius of Alexandria spoke of the three hypostases of the Father, Son and Spirit, the bishop of Rome thought he was referring to three substances, which was not the case. There was a corresponding difficulty with the translation of a Latin word into Greek. When the Latins spoke of the Father, Son and Spirit as three personae this was translated into Greek as three prosopa , and since the Greek word prosopon could mean the merely outward and perhaps assumed characteristics of a person, the word hinted at Modalism. In these ways the language problem aggravated the undoubted difference in the theological standpoints between East and West.

The Logos theology of Origen was not accepted everywhere in the East. The church there had a strong interest in the historical Jesus and their emphasis on his humanity led the Christians into Adoptionism, the view that Jesus was a man like other men upon whom the Spirit of God had been bestowed in a special degree. This position was actually embraced by Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch between and A. His views were condemned at a council of bishops in A. The Greek term homo-ousios , of one substance, was now coming into use. The bishop of Rome had used it and had criticized his namesake, Dionysius of Alexandria, for not doing so.