Page images

intimate friends. The persecution, however, was not confined to them: others suffered at the same time; and a letter from Firmilian to Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, preserved in the works of the latter, informs us that the flame extended to Cappadocia and Pontus.* Ambrose, the friend of Origen, and Protoctetus, pastor of the church in Cæsarea, suffered much in the course of it, and to them Origen dedicated his Book of Martyrs. He himself was obliged to retire; but the tyrant's reign lasted only three years, in which time it must be confessed that the rest of the world had participated of his cruelties as much as the Christians. But the name of Origen is too important to be passed over in a history of the Christian church, with only a casual or incidental mention. “He was a man,” says' Dr. Priestley, “ so re

markable for his piety, genius, and application, that he must be considered an honour to Christianity and to human nature.” Even Jerome, his great adversary, admits that he was a great man from his infancy. His history is given in considerable detail by Eusebius, who tells us, that this very eminent man was born at Alex. andria, in Egypt, A. D. 185. His father Leonides, from whom he received the first rudiments of his education, bestowed uncommon pains upon it; and afterwards had him instructed by the ablest masters of the age, among whom were St. Clement and Ammonius Saccas, an eminent philosopher of Alexandria, the founder of the Eclectic sect. His early improvements were such as gave his worthy parent the greatest satisfaction. He was only seventeen years of age when the persecution under Severus began in Alexandria and his father was apprehended and confined; yet he would, at that early period of life, have fain thrown himself in the way of the

• Cyprian's Works, Letter 75. p. 256. * Ensebias, b. 6. ch. 28. Orosius, b. 7. ch. 19. Origen, tom. 28.

persecutors, if his mother, after her most earnest entreaties had failed, had not hid his clothes in order to prevent him going abroad. He, however, wrote to his father, exhorting him to steadfastness in his profession, and not to be moved by any considerations about his family, though, in the event of his death, there would be a widow and seven children left in great poverty; and, thus encouraged, his father was beheaded, submitting to his destiny with becoming resolution.

A large family being left in this destitute condition, a rich lady of Alexandria, the friend of genius and virtue, took Origen into her family. She, at the same time, entertained in her house a person of distinguished abilities, who held the principles of the Gnostics, and her table was the resort of other men of letters. But though Origen could not refrain from associating with this heretic, such was the firmness of his mind and the fixedness of his principles that he would never join with him in prayer. In his eighteenth year he was elected master of the great School of Alexandria, which had been deserted by its late master in the time of persecution; and not chusing to be unnecessarily burthensome to his benefactress, he quitted her mansion, and provided for his own support by giving lessons of instruction in grammar and the principles of religion. So devoted, however, did he become to the study of sacred literature, that he wholly abandoned the teaching of grammar, and sold his library, consisting of the works of the heathen philosophers and poets, for which the purchaser engaged to pay him four oboli a day. While he was thus employed, many of his pupils became martyrs; and, being in so conspicuous a station, it was with great difficulty that he himself escaped. Being obliged to instruct women as well as men, and having adopted a plan of great austerity of manners, in a fit of enthusiastic fervor, he made a literal application

to himself of Christ's words, Matt. xix. 12, an action for which he greatly condemned himself, in the subsequent period of his life, when he had reaped the benefit of experience and reflection.

Applying himself with extraordinary assiduity to the duties of his office as a teacher, his reputation rapidly increased, and it was still further augmented by an edition of the Old Testament, with all the different Greek versions then extant accompanying it, ranged in separate columns. These were the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint, that of Theodotion, and two others; with the Hebrew text in Hebrew characters, and the same in Greek letters. This constituted eight columns in the whole, but it was called Hexapla, from having the six Greek versions. Finding this work too expensive and unwieldy for general use, he afterwards reduced it in both respects by composing what is called the Tetrapla, which contained only the first four of the Greek versions already mentioned.

Some time after, Origen quitted his employment and his studies, for the purpose of making a visit to Rome, for what particular object does not appear; but, returning to Alexandria, many persons of learning from distant places resorted to him; and the bishop of Alexandria being applied to by an Arabian prince for a person to instruct him in the Christian faith, he made choice of Origen in preference to any other.

At the time that Alexandria was ravaged by Caracalla, Origen went to Cæsarea in Palestine, and there the bishop engaged him to expound the scriptures publicly in the church, though he had not then been ordained. This gave umbrage to Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, who insisted on his returning home again, which he did. He nevertheless visited Cæsarea not long afterwards, where he received ordination, which gave such offence to Demetrius, that from that time he did every thing in his power to injure him, particularly by exposing the rash action mentioned above; though when it was communicated to him in confidence, he had promised never to divulge it, and at that time did not even blame him for it, but encouraged him to apply with vigour to the duties of his profession.

Demetrius at first got him banished from Alexandria, in a concil held A. D. 231, though on what pretence does not distinctly appear. In a second council he was deposed from the priesthood and excommunicated; and the sentence was of course ratified by distant churches. Still, however, he was received at Cæsarea, and by other bishops who became greatly attached to him, and undertook his defence. While he resided at Cæsarea, numbers resorted to him from distant quarters for instruction; and among others Gregory, afterwards bishop of Neocesarea, and his brother Athenodorus, whom he persuaded to abandon profane literature for the study of Theology; and they attended his lectures five years. Firmilian, also bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, a distinguished character in his time, was so attached to Origen that he strove to prevail upon him to remove into his province and reside with him.

In this situation he composed his commentaries on the scriptures, dictating, it is said, to seven notaries and sometimes more; and employing as many scribes to take fair copies, the expence of which was cheerfully defrayed by Ambrosius, whom Origen had brought over from the Valentinians to the catholic church. When he was turned sixty, he permitted scribes to copy after him as he delivered his discourses from the pulpit. It was in this period of his life that he drew up his excellent books against Celsus, in defence of Christianity. This latter was an Epicurean philosopher, who undertook to calumniate Christianity, in the most outrageous manner. Origen most ably answered all his objections, and vindicated the truth of his own religion, by the prophecies concerning Christ, by the evidence of miracles, and by an appeal to the holy influence of the gospel evinced in the lives of his disciples. This is considered by the learned to be the most valuable of all his writings, which were certainly very voluminous, for Eusebius says he wrote five and twenty volumes upon the gospel by Matthew! It must be remembered, however, that the ancients gave the title of volume to very small tracts.

In the persecution under Maximin, Origen concealed himself by retiring to Athens, where, however, he was not idle, but continued to write commentaries. In the persecution under Decius, he was apprehended, and though then far advanced in life, he shewed an example in his own conduct of that fortitude which he had so early in life, and so often afterwards, recommended to others. He was confined in the interior part of the prison, and there fastened with an iron chain, his feet stretched in the stocks to the fourth hole, a circumstance evidently mentioned by the historian to intimate that it was a posture of extreme pain, and where he was kept for several days. He bore, with invincible fortitude, a great variety of tortures to which his persecutors subjected him, taking care that they should not absolutely deprive him of life; and at length he was threatened to be burned alive. But neither what he felt, nor what he feared, at all moved him. He survived this persecution -and lived to write letters afterwards highly edifying to those of his persecuted brethren who were brought into similar circumstances; and, at the advanced age of seventy, in the year 254, died at Tyre, a natural death.

From the death of Maximin to the reign of Decius, the Christians enjoyed considerable repose, and the gospel TOL. I.


« PreviousContinue »