Origen and Greek patristic theology (1901)


Origen and Greek Patristic Theology


Rev. William Fairweather, M.A.

Edinburgh. T. & T. Clark

THIS volume cannot claim to be written in the popular style adopted in some other volumes of the series, for the simple reason that the subject scarcely admits of being popularised. At the same time I have tried to make the book readable, and to refrain as far as possible from undue technicalities of philosophical and theological language. It has been my aim to avoid on the one hand the Scylla of catering for a public which no art or device will ever induce to concern itself about Greek Patristic Theology, and, on the other, the Charybdis of scholastic pedantry. Rightly or wrongly, I am convinced that my task will be most usefully accomplished by furnishing a brief introduction to the study of a subject on which, in English at least, there are not too many easily accessible helps. In view of the impossibility of assuming any very intimate knowledge of Origen s writings on the part of the general reader, or even of the average theological student, I have further deemed it best, while not refraining from criticism where it seemed called for, to aim at being expository rather than critical.
In no sense does the book pretend to be a treatment of the third century. Any attempt to deal with the Church life of the period is debarred by the limits of the present series. Such a method of treatment may sometimes have its advantages, but it necessarily throws into the background the personality of the individual. In the following pages it has been my endeavour to concentrate attention upon the life and writings, the doctrine and influence, of the great teacher of the Greek Church. Chapter I. is introductory, and intended to lead up to the main subject by showing to what extent the way had already been prepared for Origen. I regret that considerations of space do not admit of prefixing as Prolegomena a sketch of the birthplace and background of the Greek theology, and of the Apologists of the second century; but while this may be a desideratum from the point of view of the scientific student, the educated layman will probably count it no loss. Chapters XI.-XIV. form, so to speak, the epilogue, and indicate the nature and extent of Origen s influence upon subsequent theological thought.
I have deemed it advisable to devote a separate chapter to the life of Origen, instead of adopting the perhaps more scientific, but immensely more complicated plan of weaving in the biographical details with other matter in strict chronological sequence.
Although in a monogram upon Origen more might, no doubt, be made of this aspect of the subject, I venture to hope that nothing very material has been omitted; but in any case it seems more important to make room for some adequate account of the writings and theology of one who did so much to " make Christianity a part of the civilisation of the world & than to tell with fuller detail the story of his life.
To those who may be inclined to question the utility of studying the writings of an old-world personage like Origen, and to consider him as of little significance for those living in the twentieth century, it may be pointed out that the theme discussed seems likely to assume growing importance in relation to present-day problems in theology. There is a prevailing disposition to get back to the sources, and it is not to be forgotten that it was the Greek Fathers who laid the foundations of theological science. An American author, Professor A. V. G. Allen, in the Preface to a work the title of which is given below, says: “If I were revising my book I should try to enforce more than I have done the importance of the work of Origen. He was a true specimen of a great theologian, the study of whose life is of special value to-day, as a corrective against that tendency to underrate dogma in our reaction from outgrown dogmas, or the disposition to treat the feel ings and instincts of our nature as if they were a final refuge from the reason, instead of a means to a larger use of the reason, a process which, it is to be feared, in many is closely allied with the temper which leads men to seek shelter in an infallible Church." In view of subsequent developments of theological thought, within the Greek Church and beyond it, it is equally important to note that while Origen valued dogma, he abjured dogmatism. He refused to make man s blessedness conditional upon the acceptance of certain shibboleths. Although speculative to the verge of audacity, he never failed to distinguish between his own opinions and the rule of faith as contained in Holy Scripture. If he himself was disposed to rate knowledge too highly, at all events he did not confuse it with faith, but was quite explicit in his declaration that the word of God is the sole source of absolute certitude, and the sole repository of essential truth. It would have been well for the Greek Church if she had clung to this position. As it was, she did not properly discriminate between the matter of revelation and the scientific handling of it, and ultimately succumbed under the incubus of a dead orthodoxy.
It only remains to mention the principal works consulted in the preparation of this volume. Apart from Origen s own writings, I have derived most help from Redepenning s Origenes:
Eine Darstellung seines Lebens und seiner Lehre, 2 vols., Bonn, 1841-46;
Pressense s The Early Years of Christianity, 1879 ;
Denis De La Philosophic d Origene, Paris, 1884 ;
Bigg s The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, 1886 ;
Harnack s History of Dogma, Eng. tr. 1894-1899 ;
and the Church Histories of Mosheim, Neander, and Kurtz.
The followingo; works have also been useful:
Schnitzer, Origenes uber die Grundlehren der Glaubenswissenschaft, Stuttgart, 1835;
Hagenbaeh s History of Christian Doctrines, Eng. tr. 1846;
Allen, The Continuity of Christian Thought, 1884;
Allin, Race and Religion, 1899;
and the articles on Origen in Chambers s Encyclopaedia, Smith smdWsices Dictionary of Christian Biography, Smith s Diet, of Greek and Roman Biography, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The translations of passages quoted from the writings of Origen are mostly taken from the two volumes published in The Ante-Nicene Christian Library, but sometimes they are those of Bigg or Pressense, and in a few instances they are my own.


KIRKCALDY, September 1901.

Book available via Internet Archive.