September 6, 2017

Saint Photios the Great on the Blasphemies of Origen

By St. Photios the Great

Bibliotheca (or Myriobiblon)

8. [Origen, On First Principles]

Read Origen's four books On First Principles.1 The first deals with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this his statements are often blasphemous; thus, he asserts that the Son was created by the Father, the Holy Spirit by the Son; that the Father pervades all existing things, the Son only those that are endowed with reason, the Holy Spirit only those that are saved. He also makes other strange and impious statements, indulging in frivolous talk about the migration of souls, the stars being alive, and the like. This first book is full of fables about the Father, Christ (as he calls the Son), the Holy Spirit, and creatures endowed with reason. In the second book he treats of the world and created things. He asserts that the God of the Law and the Prophets, of the Old and the New Testament, is one and the same; that there was the same Holy Spirit in Moses, the rest of the prophets, and the Holy Apostles. He further discusses the Incarnation of the Savior, the soul, resurrection, punishment, and promises. The third book deals with free will; how the devil and hostile powers, according to the Scriptures, wage war against mankind; that the world was created and is perishable, having had a beginning in time. The fourth book treats of the final end, the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, and the proper manner of reading and understanding them.


1. This treatise supplied the chief arguments for the charge of heresy that was brought against Origen. The problematic texts primarily came from the first of the four books.

18. [Acts of the Fifth Synod - Constantinople]

Read the Acts of the Fifth Synod, at which the so-called "Three Chapters" were dealt with, and Origen and his writings excommunicated,1 together with Diodorus of Tarsus, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Theodoret's answer to the twelve anathematisms of Cyril was also excommunicated. Previous to this, the cases of Zooras and Anthimus, who wormed his way into the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and certain other matters were discussed.


1. Photios affirms that both Origen and his writings were excommunicated at the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, which took place in Constantinople in 553.

117. [Anonymous, In Defense of Origen]

Read an anonymous work defending Origen and his abominable writings, in five volumes. The style is neither clear nor pure and contains nothing deserving of mention. The author brings forward on behalf of Origen and his dogmas Dionysius of Alexandria,1 Demetrius,2 Clemens, and several others, but chiefly relies upon Pamphilus the martyr and Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. This apology is not a refutation of the charges against Origen for the most part, but rather supports the accusation, since he is not altogether free from his blasphemous opinions. Thus, he asserts that souls existed before bodies, supporting this nonsense by passages from the Scriptures and Fathers, and imagines the taking up of other bodies. In regard to the Holy Trinity, however, he is orthodox; he asserts that Origen was not guilty of error in his opinions on the subject, but that he was opposing the Sabellian heresy,3 which at that time had spread extensively, and that, in his endeavor to show that the Trinity of Persons was quite clear and differed in many ways, he allowed himself to be carried away beyond what was right in the opposite direction. However, in regard to Origen's other dogmas, to which he does not even venture to give a specious assent, and to which he does not think it possible to adapt his defense, he takes great trouble to prove that they were only intended as a rhetorical exercise, or that they were foisted into his writings by certain heterodox persons. In proof of this he quotes Origen himself as loudly protesting, for he says that even when he was alive he discovered that such reckless statements were made against him. The counts on which he asserts that he was falsely accused are fifteen in number, which he declares to be mere slanders, proving it by quotations from his writings in his fourth book, and refuting them by the evidence of others on his behalf in the fifth. The counts are as follows. He is charged with teaching that prayer should not be offered to the Son, and that He is not absolutely good; that He does not know the Father as Himself; that rational natures enter into the bodies of irrational beings; that there are migrations from one body into another; that the soul of the Savior was the same as the soul of Adam; that there is neither eternal punishment nor resurrection of the flesh; that magic is not an evil; that astronomy is the cause of events; that the Only Begotten has no share in the Kingdom; that the holy angels came into the world by falling down from heaven, not to render service to others; that the Father is unseen by the Son; that the Cherubim are the ideas of the Son; that the image of God, in reference to him whose image it is, qua image, is untrue. He rejects these charges, as already stated, as slanders on Origen, and does his utmost to prove that he is an orthodox member of the Church. But, my dear sir, if any one is shown to be not altogether impious, this is no reason why he should escape punishment for obvious blasphemies.


1. Bishop of Alexandria (247-264), called "the Great," a pupil of Origen.

2. Bishop of Alexandria (189-232). He was at first on friendly terms with Origen, who offended him by publicly expounding the Scriptures although unordained.

3. A sect named after Sabellius. While denying that the Son was subordinate to the Father, they denied His real personality, and regarded the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as not real and eternal, but temporal and modalistic (different modes of the manifestations of the Divine Nature).

118. [Pamphilus & Eusebius, Defense of Origen]

Read the Defense of Origen by Pamphilus the martyr and Eusebius.1 It is in six books, five of which were written by Pamphilus when in prison in the company of Eusebius. The sixth is the work of Eusebius alone, after the, martyr, having been deprived of life by the sword, was removed to God for whom his soul longed. Many other distinguished persons at that time also wrote in defense of Origen. It is said that Origen, during the persecutions in the reign of Severus, wrote to his father Leonides, urging him to martyrdom, and that he ran nobly in the race and received the crown. It is added that Origen himself made ready with all zeal to enter into the same struggle, but that his mother checked his ardor in spite of his protestations, as he himself testifies in a letter. Pamphilus the martyr and many others who have written an accurate account of Origen, as given by those who knew him, assert that he quitted this life by a glorious martyrdom at Caesarea during the cruel persecution of the Christians by the emperor Decius.2 Others say that he lived till the times of Gallus 3 and Volusianus, and that he died at Tyre in the sixty-ninth year of his age and was buried there. This is the truer account, unless the letters supposed to have been written by him after the Decian persecution are spurious. They say that he studied and taught every branch of knowledge. He is said to have been also called Adamantius, because his arguments were linked together like chains of adamant. He attended the lectures of Clement, the author of the Stromateis, and succeeded him as head of the catechetical school at Alexandria. It is said that Clement was the pupil of Pantaenus and his successor as head of his school, and that Pantaenus heard teachers who had seen the apostles, and had even heard them himself.

It is said that the movement against Origen originated as follows. Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, had a high opinion of Origen and admitted him to his intimate friendship. But when Origen was about to leave for Athens without the permission of the bishop, he was ordained by Theotecnus, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, contrary to the rule of the Church, with the approval of Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem. This incident changed the love of Demetrius to hate and his praise to blame. A synod of bishops and some presbyters was summoned to condemn Origen. According to Pamphilus, it was decided that he must not remain in Alexandria or teach there, but that he should be allowed to retain his priesthood. But Demetrius and some Egyptian bishops, with the assent of those who had formerly supported him, also deprived him of his sacred office. After he had been banished from Alexandria, Theotecnus, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, welcomed him, allowed him to live at Caesarea, and gave him permission to preach. Such are the reasons which Pamphilus gives for the attack upon Origen.

The Apology for Origen was composed, as we have said, by Pamphilus when imprisoned together with Eusebius, and addressed to those who were condemned to the mines for the sake of Christ, the chief of whom was Patermythius, who shortly after the death of Pamphilus ended his life at the stake with others. Pierius was the teacher of Pamphilus, the head of the catechetical school at Alexandria. It is said that he suffered martyrdom together with his brother Isidore, and that a church and houses of prayer were built in his honor at Alexandria. The holy Pamphilus was a presbyter, and is said to have copied most of Origen's commentaries on Scripture with his own hand.


1. Book I exists in a Latin version by Rufinus.

2. Emperor 249-251. He was notorious as a relentless enemy and persecutor of the Christians.

3. Emperor 251-253. His son Volusianus was associated with him in the empire.

234. [Methodius of Olympus, Discourse on the Resurrection]

I. Read the Book on the Resurrection by St. Methodius, Bishop and Martyr, of which that which follows is a selection, that the body is not the fetter of the soul, as Origen thought, nor are souls called by the prophet Jeremiah "fettered" on account of their being within bodies. For he lays down the principle that the body does not hinder the energies of the soul, but that rather the body is carried about with it, and cooperates in whatever the soul commits to it. But how are we to understand the opinion of Gregory the Theologian, and many others?

II. That Origen said that the body was given to the soul as a fetter after the fall, and that previously it lived without a body; but that this body which we wear is the cause of our sins; wherefore also he called it a fetter, as it can hinder the soul from good works.

III. That if the body was given to the soul after the fall as a fetter, it must have been given as a fetter upon the evil or the good. Now it is impossible that it should be upon the good; for no physician or artificer gives to that which has gone wrong a remedy to cause further error, much less would God do so. It remains, then, that it was a fetter upon evil. But surely we see that, at the beginning, Cain, clad in this body, committed murder; and it is evident into what wickedness those who succeeded him ran. The body is not, then, a fetter upon evil, nor indeed a fetter at all; nor was the soul clothed in it for the first time after the fall.

IV. That man, with respect to his nature, is most truly said to be neither soul without body, nor, on the other hand, body without soul; but a being composed out of the union of soul and body into one form of the beautiful. But Origen said that the soul alone is man, as did Plato.