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On First Principles Paperback – December 9, 2013
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"Origen of Alexandria truly was a figure crucial to the whole development of Christian thought." --Pope Benedict XVI
"Vatican II taught that scripture is the soul of theology. Few so fully embraced that conviction as did Origen. In this he remains an inspiration for all who see the vital connection among proclamation, catechesis, and theology. Thus it is good to have Origen's theological masterpiece, On First Principles, available again. As Henri de Lubac writes in his splendid introduction: 'It is the work of a good and brave man whose supreme desire was to know the truth.'" --Rev. Robert Imbelli, Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College
About the Author
Origen (ca. 184--ca. 253) is considered the most important biblical scholar and theologian of the early Greek Church, and some have even called him the finest scholar of the first millennium of Christianity. He fits into a legacy of prominent figures from the Alexandrian Church, which was under persecution during his time. His father was martyred when he was seventeen, and several of the students whom he converted to Christianity also went on to martyrdom.
On First Principles was one of Origen's earliest and most significant writings. Another was his Hexapla, an enormous edition of the Old Testament arranged in six columns of Hebrew and Greek text. It is known as a colossal landmark in the study of Scripture. Many of his homilies were also recorded, and are widely read today.
Near the end of his life, Origen was tortured by civil authorities in an effort to make him apostatize. While they did not succeed, Origen died a confessor from related causes a few years later.
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Top customer reviews
This book lays its main emphasis on a few core questions: Who is God and how does Jesus fit into the picture? What are humans and where do we fit in the universe? How can we make sense of free will and God's sovereignty over his creation? What will happen at the end of this age? Rather than deal with these questions one by one, Origen cycles through the topics, revisiting and building upon his previous statements. Along the way, Origen provides many interesting asides and comments that give us insight into early Church life. If you have interest in early Christianity, this book will keep you engaged throughout.
My one disappointment was the narrow focus of this book. I had hoped that Origen would spend more time on topics like the atonement and Christian living. But he only mentions these subjects in passing. I guess I should have expected this from the title of the book, but potential readers take note: although this is a systematic theology, it likely won't cover all the topics you'd wish to find herein.
The book itself is an attractive and quality edition of Origen's work. The text is large and readable, and there are some helpful notes along with an extensive introduction. I'm grateful for this new edition of a classic book. It was my first introduction to Origen, and it did not disappoint.
Many of our ideas of God, nature and the Christian faith were his or originated from his time. Origen brought together many ideas that make sense even today. A great translation of his work over all. The book was divided well, and kept the reader interested. A few places in the text helped explained where the catholic church went astray in their faith walk, as he was one of their very early foundation builders in my opinion...
Origen's Systematic Theology
Berkhoff wrote defining the History of Dogmatics, "Origen was the first to construct something like a system of theology. His work was written about the year 218 AD., in it he attempts to transform the doctrine of the Church into a speculative science, acceptable to the cultural and philosophical classes of his day."
Origen theology, rests mainly on two of his works,'On First Principles,' and 'Contra Celsus', his defense of Christianity, in response to the attacks of the pagan philosopher. On First Principles, is Origen's major systematic and philosophical work where he established his main doctrines, including that of the Holy Trinity, the preexistence and fall of souls, transmigration of souls, and the eventual restoration of them, in proximity to the Godhead, in 'Theosis', a state of dynamic perfection. He was pioneer in his insistence on the free will of souls. He is unique, introducing history, within his speculations on metaphysical cosmology.
Origen's Creative Thought
Origen was a genuine theologian ahead of his era; a speculative thinker, when for Christians faith was not a matter of intellectual exploration. Origen drew upon Neoplatonic philosophy in an effort to elucidate the Christian faith in a manner conceivable to the Greek minded intellectuals, and he succeeded in converting many pagan students of philosophy to Christian faith. Origen was a great humanist, who believed that all creatures will eventually be granted salvation, including Satan, the devil himself. Origen exposed and criticized the Gnostic dualism, and his theology surpassed the pristine expressions of the Christian faith, still being expressed in our present day.
Origen's Thought, notably those in the treatise; On First Principles, gave rise to a doctrinal movement in the early Church, known as Origenism. From the third through the sixth centuries this movement was quite influential, especially among the learned and mystical monastics. It developed an articulate form, in the fourth century by Dedymus and Evagrius Ponticus. Origen's spirit of philosophical inquiry was mostly absent from the movement bearing his name, but use of Origen's far more creative concepts and themes was made by Gregory of Nyssa, who adopted Origen's doctrine of apokatastasis or 'restoration of all things,' articulating more clearly the notion that redeemed souls will remain in a state of 'dynamic intellectual activity.'
On First Principles
Origen was probably not more than thirty, when he wrote De principiis (On First Principles), perhaps his greatest work in systematic theology, to express Christian faith in Neoplatonic terms, Saccha's Christianized philosophy of Alexandria. Most of 'De principiis' is expressed in an orthodox Christian universal thought, and there is no evidence that he ever modified in any respect. The first book of De Principiis deals with God and creation; the second and third with Creation and Providence, with Man and Redemption; and the fourth with Holy Scripture. Written for scholars, Origen affirms one God, creator and ruler of the universe, Jesus Christ begotten before all creation, divine in His incarnation, and the Holy Spirit in the glory of the Father. He expressed that humans depend in their existence on the Father, their rational nature from the Son, and their holiness from the Holy Spirit. In spite of his guiding principle; 'Nothing which is at variance with the tradition of the apostles and of the church is to be accepted as true,' Origen's genius speculative flights lead some early church leaders to question his orthodoxy.
Fall & Redemption
Origen concluded that there were two creations, as narrated in the two accounts in Genesis. The first creation was of spirits without bodies, possessing free will, but some strayed away from the purpose of their creation, doxology for the Lord, and fell. The second creation, of the material universe, thus followed. The souls who fell most remotely became demons, the others were made human. The reason we possess human bodies, and experience suffering is our sin during preexistence. Origen claims this notion is supported by the Bible, while it is influenced by Neo-Platonic philosophy. Universalism presents Origen's other controversial issue of De Principiis; he deducted that since God is Love, everyone, even Satan, will be ultimately saved, and the entire creation will return to its original state of pure spirituality.
Scholars confirm, "Origen denies metempsychosis and explicitly affirms the uniqueness of Christ's sacrifice, and, although the salvation of the devil must be left open as a possibility in a system emphasizing the divine pedagogy and human freedom of will to the degree that Origen's does, there are passages in which he rules it out." (Dr. John Cavadini of Notre Dame: Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Harper & Raw, 1995, p. 941)
In Origen's Defense:
Origen's defenders, some of the most outstanding theologians, from Gregory of Nyssa and Rufinas in late antiquity to Bishop K. Ware who declared in 'The Inner Kingdom, pp. 201, "Origen's apocatastatis is not simply a deduction from some abstract system, it is a hope."
The eminent Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar defended Origen's salvation for all in his book, 'Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?' He dares to believe that the love of God will soften the heart of the most heinous of committed sinners. Existentialist Nicolai Berdyaev, echoed Origen's humanism, many centuries after. Berdyaev, a Russian Orthodox theologian, admits Origen's influence on his thought and insists that the doctrine of hell and the eternal suffering of sinners is not compatible with authentic Christianity.
Koetschau's work to recover the original, of De Principiis is a great work, of few peers in philosophy or Patristic literature. His edition of Origen's lost Greek original writings, is a reconstruction from fragments from Greek and Latin quotations. Koetschau reconstruction although helpful for text continuity had necessarily to fill lots of gaps, based on his best guess. Butterworth, complex statements trying to be precise may have caused confusion. He comments on a Koetschau's reconstruction as, "a composite passage from Gregory of Nyssa, "or," Koetschau's arguments for including it in the text of Origen are given in his introduction, pp. 117-118," etc. Rowan Greer, in 'Origen: An exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, etc.' was more explicit, for more than ten times repeating, "there follows Koetschau's conjectural attempt to fill a lacuna of 'x' lines in the manuscript."
De Lubac's Overview:
"The shortcomings of his doctrine-inevitable in a thinker of the third century who was the very first to build a theology-must not make us mistake the pure quality of his faith." H. De Lubac, introduction.
The concise introduction by de Lubac, one of Origen's leading experts is a masterpiece commentary on his works, piety and orthodoxy. Henri de Lubac, French Jesuit, and a great expert on Church Fathers, is one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, joined the Society of Jesus, was educated at the Jesuit Houses of study, and earned his doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and became a faculty member at Catholic Faculties of Theology of Lyons. His pupils included Jean Danielou and Hans Urs von Balthasar.. De Lubac died in 1991, after he was made cardinal in 1983.
G. W. Butterworth, translator of 'On First Principles,' translated also 'Clement of Alexandria: Exhortation to the Greeks,..' His articulate thorough introduction and notes include life and writings of Origen, Date of Composition of 'De principiis' and its doctrine, Rufinus Latin translation, its character, and his controversy with Jerome renders the work more vivid.
Subject: Origen, Rufinus, and Koetschau
"Alan Scott, in the light of research done since Koetschau's work and the subsequent downplaying of Rufinus' text in scholarship, has the following to say: [p. 169]
The prevailing scholarly opinion until recently has been that [p. 170] Rufinus himself interpolated Origen's text and suppressed and rewrote controversial passages -- Rufinus' translation is 'ein Werk absoluter Willkur' according to Grutzmacher, who is quoted with approval by Koetschau. The original sense of the cosmology set forth in De Principiis had to be reconstructed by piecing together the charges of Origen's various fourth- and sixth-century opponents and forming a coherent system (it was presumed that Origen had one). The crowing achievement of this effort is Koetschau's edition of De Principiis (GCS 22, 1913), which prints along with the text of Rufinus a wide variety of sources which either explicitly or (In Koetschau's view) implicitly refer to teachings allegedly once in De Principiis but suppressed by Rufinus.
The impact of this edition was enormous. Many scholarly works in this century have made claims about Origen's teachings based on the Koetschau edition, and when one looks up the passage in question one discovers that it is not written by Origen but by one of his opponents, or even by someone who does not refer to Origen at all but is assumed to oppose a view that Origen once had. Koetschau's deservedly high reputation as a philologist and the status of the GCS series in scholarly circles ensured the widespread influence of these editorial decisions. The impact of this new text in English-speaking circles was furthered by a translation of this edition into English by G. W. Butterworth, who retained Koetschau's collection of the fragments and (if anything) even strengthened its strong editorial bias against Rufinus. Radical scepticism about Rufinus' text had become a widespread scholarly assumption.
The first major challenge to this assumption was Gustave Bardy's Recherches sur l'histoire du texte et des versions latines du De Principiis d'Origene in 1923. Bardy investigated Rufinus' work as a translator against extant Greek passages (mostly in the Philocalia), and noted that there was little evidence to support Koetschau's radical conclusions. Rufinus' work is often periphrastic, 'but in the end he translates, and on the whole it is very much Origen's thought that he expresses.' After the Second World War, an extensive Greek portion of Origen's commentary on Romans was published. This work too had previously [p. 171] only been available in Rufinus' Latin translation, and so should have contained at least some evidence of his allegedly radical textual alterations, but again this was not found to be so. Another important event was the publication in 1958 of Evagrius Ponticus' Kephalaia Gnostica (in Syriac translation).
This text and the renewed study of fourth- and sixth-century Origenest monasticism led many to conclude that Origen's opponents in this later period were in large part directing their criticism against contemporary followers of Origen rather than against Origen himself. It would appear that later Origenists did make his work more systematic, and were at times much more adventurous in their cosmological speculations. Their opponents tended to read these tendencies into Origen's writings, often without justification. As with so many other controversial figures in history, Origen is frequently associated with views that are a caricature of his real position, because this is what his enemies saw or wanted to see.
Increasingly scholars (with some exceptions) have concluded that Rufinus' work, though not a strict translation by modern standards, has suppressed little for doctrinal reasons, and is generally a more reliable guide for Origen's cosmology than the fragments in the Koetschau edition. It would appear that Rufinus has changed some of Origen's language to bring it into line with later views of the Trinity (as Rufinus himself admits), but there is little reason to think that major changes have been made in his cosmology. Jerome's complaints about the translation must be viewed in light of his bitter hatred of Rufinus, and his less than scrupulous treatment of theological opponents. His evidence cannot be dismissed, and indeed is often of great value, but it should only be used with due caution. Charges made by other opponents also must be examined in light of both their theological settings (often polemical), and the reliability of the source.
Henri Crouzel has been a leader in this approach to Rufinus' text of De Principiis, and together with Manlio Simonetti has edited a new edition of the text with these presuppositions."
Alan Scott: Origen and the Life of the Stars: a History of an Idea (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991), --
John Uebersax, PhD