Friday, April 22, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we tell the story of one of Dan’s favorite church fathers.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 22nd of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.

As I was making my calendar for this month, I saw that Origen- the 2nd and 3rd-century theologian- was celebrated across a few church bodies on this day- I was sure I had said a thing or two about him on this show before, but searching all my files I have not had an opportunity to tell the story of Origen Adamantius-

He was born to Christian parents- his father was killed for his faith, and Eusebius tells the story that Origen was so keen to join his father that his mother had to hide his clothes to keep him from going out to the site of the martyrdom.

He was trained in Greek philosophy, but the extent to which he was is part of the “Origen identification problem”- we are following the biography of Eusebius (as is custom) and the story of Porphyry, who tells us that Origen studied with leading Platonist philosophers will be held on the side.

He was known for his outstanding teaching skills- he followed Clement at the Catechetical school of Alexandria. His knowledge of the New Testament and the Septuagint was legendary (the Septuagint is the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek). He produced a “Hexapla”- a side-by-side critical edition of 6 versions of the Old Testament. Reading Hebrew was seen as suspect- and church leaders (like Ambrose) admitted that Origen was their teacher in reading the Old Testament and seeing typology in it. Explaining the “type” or “allegory” was Origen’s wheelhouse- it’s what makes him fun to read, it’s what sometimes has him on esoteric flights of fancy, and he admitted most of it was speculation.

Origen is living in the early 200s. There is no Nicene Creed. The boundaries of orthodoxy are being drawn, and Origen is keen never to contradict the church's teachings.

Instead, we might see his teaching style as more akin to a rabbinical scholar (of whom he knew many)- he asks questions, proposes interpretations, and clarifies that he could change his mind if given counterfactual examples.

He was known for his piety (and maybe extreme piety as he made himself a eunuch). He believed that Scripture was the key to knowing God and Christ. He taught a kind of trinitarian theology before there was official trinitarian teaching- he argued against the Gnostics like Valentinus- he spent his life in the scholarly habits, reading scripture and writing some 6,000 works.

He is criticized for a few reasons: first, his later followers- the “Origenists,” would contradict the teachings of the creeds developed after Origen’s death. Some were suspicious of his use of Greek philosophy. However, he compared it to the Jewish people using the spoils of the Egyptians- think: “it’s not ours, but we can use their tools to help us understand our world.”

Some of his speculations would lead him into what would later be called “Arianism”- this was a kind of Christology that saw Jesus as a click below God the father. Origen was trying to develop a trinitarian system- but he wasn’t trying to contradict the church.

He taught a radical view of free will, which allowed for a scenario in which the devil himself could repent and that perhaps, after purgation, the entire world would be saved.

We have only a sliver of his writings today, but his influence can be seen in Western and eastern church traditions amongst traditionalists and radicals. He's not officially a church father because his stuff seems sideways- but perhaps this is why I like reading him so much- it's imaginative. Because it's all over the place, I get to read absurd and sublime ideas and spend my time deciding which is which. There it is, my plug for my favorite church father.

Origen was arrested under the Decian persecution of the church and was tortured but not killed as the authorities knew of his popularity. He would die, nonetheless, from complications from his torture. He died around 254- perhaps on this day, the 22nd of April.

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- Psalm 150 is being read across churches and by Christians today:

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
 praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power;
 praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
 praise him with the harp and lyre,

praise him with timbrel and dancing,
 praise him with the strings and pipe,

praise him with the clash of cymbals,
 praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who wants to go back to Origen being called “Adamantium”- yes, that’s also the fictional steel alloy that makes up Wolverine’s skeleton and claws. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who should be somewhere in Arkansas right now… I hope it’s not too hot. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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