Origen and Hellenism

The Interplay between Greek and Christian Ideas in Late Antiquity

by Panayiotis Tzamalikos (Author)
©2022 Monographs XXVI, 570 Pages


This book elucidates and engages in critical discussion of the Greek philosophical background to the work of Origen, the great third-century scholar and theologian. The author, Professor Panayiotis Tzamalikos, has long argued that Origen was in many respects an anti-Platonist, and that the clauses in Origen’s official anathematisation in AD 553 were based on misreadings by unschooled and fanatical drumbeaters. Tzamalikos has refuted those charges and demonstrated that they had nothing to do with Origen’s real thought. Origen and Hellenism continues the argument by placing Origen’s achievement in its correct context: Origen may have forsaken his ancestral religion and converted to Christianity when he was advanced in years, but he implicitly made much use of his Greek intellectual inheritance in composing his ground-breaking theological work, which paved the way to Nicaea.
The author’s thesis is that, in the quest to discover the real Origen, scrutiny of this background is vital. In the history of philosophy, Origen is uncategorisable as an author: his thought constitutes an unexampled chapter of its own, revealing a perfect match between Christian exegesis and Greek philosophy, which gave later episcopal orthodoxy the gravamen of its anti-Arian doctrine.
* * *
“The author presents Origen’s thought as a completely original contribution to ancient philosophy and Christian theology at the same time. He shows convincingly that the classification of Origen as ‘Christian Platonist’ obscures rather that clarifies, since Origen took a critical stance towards several aspects of Platonism. In doing so, the author is able to free Origen’s intellectual profile, on the one hand, from distortion of Eusebius of Caesarea, and, on the other hand, from the clichés of the anti-Origenist polemics in late antiquity, especially in the fifth ecumenical council.
With the liberation of Origen from the prison of his often ill-informed theological reception, the author makes an outstanding contribution to research, which in any case should be listened to not only in the field of theology, but also in the field of the history of ancient philosophy.”
—Martin Illert, Prof.Dr. University of Halle, Germany
* * *
“No-one acquainted with current scholarship on Origen will fail to recognise the author of this book, not only on account of its length and the vigour of its style, but because Tzamalikos has no rival in erudition or in the fecundity of his ideas. None of his critics (least of all those who accuse him of disparaging Greek philosophy) will be able to produce the range of quotations from two millennia of Greek literature that Tzamalikos can marshal in support of every one of his conclusions, and few of them will be able to match his conceptual subtlety or his tenacity in exegesis.
Since he is the one indispensable author writing in English on Origen at the moment, this volume will be especially useful to scholars because, while it introduces a lot of new material, it also recapitulates the arguments of Tzamalikos’ earlier studies, which, famous as they are, do not seem always to have been read in their entirety by his critics.”
—Mark Edwards, Professor of Early Christian Studies, University of Oxford

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 1 The Platonic Ideas as ‘thoughts of God’
  • 2 The Garments of Skin (Genesis, 3:21)
  • Killing the Figurative Language
  • Gregory of Nazianzus and Platonism
  • The Garments of Skin
  • Man is a Small Universe
  • Philosophy versus Mythology
  • A Henad of Rational Creatures?
  • Origen’s Sway on Posterity
  • 3 Adam as the Universal Human Nature
  • 4 Aetherial Bodies in Neoplatonism and Christianity
  • From Classical to Late Antiquity
  • Christians and Aetherial Bodies
  • Conclusion
  • 5 Origen on Castration
  • Conclusion
  • Postscriptum Origen and Anaxagoras
  • Appendix I: Origen’s Commentary on Matthew, 15:1–5
  • Appendix II: Cassian Who? On Attempts to Rescue a Figment
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Ancient Names
  • Index of Modern Names


The present book is about an ingenious intellectual who has been always seen as both a Hellene apostate and a Christian outcast.

This discussion is called for by the fact that Origen was a formerly illustrious Greek philosopher who converted to Christianity at the age of nearly fifty. His mistake was that he taught the Christians of his time as if they were erudite, although, for the most part, they were not. Nevertheless, Origen embraced wholeheartedly Paul’s statement about the Greeks, who ‘knowing God, they did not glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but through their reasoning they indulged in vanity, and their imprudent heart was darkened’ (Rom. 1:21). At the same time though, contrary to the bigotry of his posterity, he openly declared that ‘the Greeks were men of wisdom and of no small learning’ (De Principiis, II.9.5).

In general, Origen did not advertise his vast philosophical background, but in the Contra Celsum he did not try to conceal it either, and in his Letter to Gregory Thaumaturgus he defended his teaching of the Greek lore, which he included in his syllabus.

This is why I have never sought to downplay Origen’s formulations (and sometimes speculations) that were inspired by the Greek tradition (not only philosophical and theological questions, but also references to poetry, science, ←ix | x→medicine, etc.). No matter how vexing to religiously committed modern theologians this has been, I have shown that these instances always go side by side with Origen’s ingenious transformation and fecund use of his vast Greek background – and I have never been able to see anything in his propositions that could be styled ‘heretic’, whatever ‘orthodoxy’ may mean to the countless modern Christian denominations.

In any case, Origen considered not only the heathen ‘impudence’ and the mistakes of Greek philosophy; but also he called attention to those points on which the Greeks ‘knew God’, too.

In other words, concurring with Paul, Origen did not believe that the Greek clerisy was a horde of fools; instead, there were points on which they had a correct grasp of the true God. This was his ‘sin’ for which he was never forgiven; and no matter how ingenious his ideas, these were snuffed out by a mob that lacked even elementary knowledge of philosophy, and supplanted his propositions with a plethora of outrageous myths allegedly proving him a ‘heretic’.

During the last period of his life, he lived in Tyre in solitude and almost as an outcast hated by the local bishop (who could have been Methodius of Olympus, then of Tyre, according to Jerome and the Suda) and suffering the contempt of the Christian clergy and flock because he was ‘a newcomer in terms of faith’ (νεώτερος τῇ πίστει), that is, a convert – a sore experience of which he spoke openly in his commentary on Matthew and implied at more points of that latest work of his.

Amidst that bleak situation, Origen did not sulk in futile silence: instead, it is exactly this work that shows that the only authority, which he was prepared to yield to, was the Logos. Otherwise, an old stager acquainted with all sorts of traps and malice as he was, he remained a perennial flouter of any other authority, wherefore, at those times of distress and anxiety, he chastised the clergymen of his city.

Origen joined the new religion wholeheartedly and did not suffer from any complex of dislocation. He mined the golden ore of the Greek lore in an intergraded and inventive manner, but he did not allow his Greek spiritual forbears to do the thinking for him.

No matter what the affinities or differences vis-à-vis Greek philosophy, he spoke as a Christian, who felt it incumbent upon him to ‘expound a clear and unmistakeable rule of faith’ (‘manifestamque regulam’, Princ, I.Preface.2) and compose a single body (‘unum corpus’) of doctrine (Princ, I.Preface.9). At a time when the articles of faith were fluid, he sought to demonstrate that Christian philosophy was by no means inferior to Greek philosophy; actually, ←x | xi→he confidently proclaimed that this was superior and the culmination of all philosophy. Accordingly, he used the title On First Principles in his well-nigh inauguratory treatise, which was a heading characteristic of Greek systematic expositions and synonymous with ‘theology’. However, what Origen did not fully reckon with was that to build an entirely new theological system while using (sometimes intricate) Greek philosophical notions and terms was a precarious enterprise. Little wonder that all too often was his ancient and modern audience unable make head or tail of his propositions – hence, bedevilment of his ideas by gross and multiple misconstructions was only natural to ensue from this hardihood.

One of the main points made in this book is that there is more to his work than meets the eye.

Eusebius knew of Origen’s particular ordeal, which is why he concocted the hagiographical mythology about Origen having been a Christian by birth and nourishment. However, Eusebius was all but a mediocre or dishonest scholar: actually, he was a very learned one, and could be veracious whenever he wanted to be so; but when circumstances called for doing otherwise, he had no problem with making up history, as it happened with his other hagiography, namely, the ‘biography’ of such a knave as Constantine. This is not the book to expound in detail this course of Origen’s life, which hopefully I will be doing in a biography of his. Nevertheless, based on evidence that I have already gathered and systematised, I will take this for granted, all the more so since modern scholars, who fall too short of Eusebius’ erudition and ken, desperately seek to stick to his ‘biography’ while ignoring Origen’s inexpugnable theological exposition, which every so often implicitly considers Greek philosophy, also making his ‘common education with Plotinus’ (as Proclus wrote) all too evident. But this obstinacy does not deserve too much of attention, since this is but a foregone conclusion rooted in bigotry rather than considerate perusal of Origen’s thought.

When Eusebius wrote that Origen ‘wrote commentaries on the differences between philosophers and considered their particular theories’, and he ‘came to be regarded as a great philosopher by the Greeks themselves’, he knew what he was talking about – only he took heed to camouflage his project and represent Origen as a Christian by upbringing. And when Eusebius decided to confute Porphyry’s testimony and make up an ‘Origen’ allegedly raised as a Christian, he did so with good reason: for how could it have been possible for posterior theologians to allow themselves to be instructed by a Greek philosopher of great renown who converted to Christianity when he was nearly 50 years of age and he ‘came to believe’ because he had been ‘convinced’, as he insinuated through the opening phrase of De Principiis, which scandalised Marcellus because ←xi | xii→this appeared to him as being similar to Plato’s words in Plato’s Gorgias, 454e, but was defended by Eusebius, who retorted that Origen had nothing to do with Plato?

To men of the cloth, to accept edification by such a man would have been too bitter a pill to swallow, which is why his ideas were (and still are being) snuffed out by people that lacked knowledge of philosophy. Ironically though, Athanasius’ testimony revealed that Origen was the true source of the Nicene creed, and later historians such as Socrates Scholasticus and Theodore Anagnostes (briefly discussed in Chapter 5) provided details about Athanasius’ specific actions formally associating Origen with the homoousion.

But as Alan Turing brilliantly put it, “Sometimes it is the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

In De Principiis, most of Origen’s propositions are tentative, except for those pertaining to Trinitarian Theology. With respect to the latter, it turned out that the categorical doctrines that he self-assuredly invented, set up, and elaborated, pertained to a question which came to the fore a long time after the answers he had furnished.

Who could have possibly realised that Origen’s theories were perfectly modern at the time of Nicaea? It was Athanasius who did, but once again it turned out that ‘one swallow does not a spring make’ – albeit the buds had burgeoned a long time ago, and it should take a terribly long time ‘to unmask falsehood and bring truth to light’ (William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, verse 939). Actually, Athanasius’ report that it was Origen who had ascertained the co-eternity of the Father and Son were altogether brushed off, as indeed was the catchphrase of Nicaea, οὐϰ ἦν ὅτε οὐϰ ἦν (‘there was no [ontological] state in which he did not exist’) about the Son, which was a formula that Origen had taken up from Alexander of Aphrodisias and adapted to his own purpose and context. Instead, as late as the sixth century, Justinian’s subservient synod alleged that Origen was but a ‘Greek and Manichean, and Platonist’, from whom ‘Arius took his cue’ so as to claim that the Son is but a creature made by the Father and Origen ‘instilled degrees of rank into the holy and homoousios Trinity’ (Acts of the synod, tome 3, p. 191) – although (as Origen’s indubitable texts testify and Athanasius also suggested) it was Origen who had postulated the Trinity as being homoousios – although a phrase by Sozomenus, namely, ‘those bishops introduced [the term] homoousios Trinity’ (ϰαὶ Tριάδα ὠνόμασαν, copied by Nicephorus Callistus, as usual), reporting the synod of Alexandria convened by Athanasius aided by Eusebius in 362 in order to secure the homoousion (discussed in Introduction) led to the universal opinion that the term ‘homoousios Trinity’ was a novelty having been introduced not earlier than that time, and that it ←xii | xiii→could have been impossible for Origen or any third-century Christian to have proclaimed an ‘homoousios Trinity’. But Sozomenus’ source of this (as was 80% of his work), namely, Socrates Scholasticus, had said nothing of the sort at the point that Sozomenus copied; nor did Theodore Anagnostes do so later, who copied this, too, and declared in title that he compiled his ‘epitome of history’ by culling from Socrates and Sozomenus; nor did the Synodicon Vetus do so, which also copied this point to the letter, no matter what the value of this hotly debated document is. In any case, ‘homoousios Trinity’ is an expression recurring in Origen’s New Fragments from the Commentary on Matthew, which I edited and published recently.

The Third Council of Constantinople (sixth ecumenical council, 680–681) added to the irony by proclaiming about the Son, οὐϰ ἦν ὅτε οὐϰ ἦν (which had come to be a truism by that time), while those prelates were ignorant of the fact that they simply copied Origen’s cardinal formula, which he had taken up from a damnned Greek such as Alexander of Aphrodisias (who, of course, had used this in different contexts upon commenting on Aristotle’s Metaphysics).

In all of my previous pertinent books, I have evidenced that, whereas, in that travesty of ‘synod’, nescient bigots based the charges against Origen on monstrous calumny, almost all of modern works on Origen (bar less than a handful of astute ones, among which those by the highly learned and insightful Mark Edwards stand out) simply keep parroting those allegations in the teeth of Origen’s extant oeuvre.

In fact, Arius took his cue from Origen, but he did so only in order to confute Origen’s fundamental proposition οὐϰ ἦν ὅτε οὐϰ ἦν by deleting the clausal negation οὐϰ, and claiming about the Son, ἦν ὅτε οὐϰ ἦν (‘there was an [ontological] state in which he did not exist’). The fact that Arius used Origen’s peculiar and philologically stylish and crisp formula in order to invalidate it by deleting the negative οὐϰ, simply shows that it was Origen that Arius had in mind and meant to confute – which I have discussed and demonstrated in previous books of mine. Of course, I hardly need to add that Origen’s formula was used verbatim at scores of points by aficionados of his, such as Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Athanasius, Evagrius, as well as by later moderate Origenists, such as the recently discovered Cassian the Sabaite, (some of whose texts I have edited and translated), or by (not too much) implicit admirers, such as John Chrysostom, Theodoret, as well as Cyril of Alexandria, down to later theologians, such as Gregory Palamas, Patriarch John Beccus, or defenders (historian Socrates Scholasticus), or later polymaths (Photius, Michael Psellus, Nicephorus Gregoras, Philotheus Coccinus). With the glaring exception of Athanasius, not a single one of them ←xiii | xiv→did ever report that the source of that formula was Origen – let alone that some of them (Euthymius Zigabenus, Philotheus Coccinus, Neophytus Prodromenus) attributed this blueprint to Gregory of Nazianzus – which is what happened also once Gregory copied to the letter Origen’s distinctive definition of Time proper, as I have discussed in the past.

Origen inhaled and exhaled the fresh airs of centuries of youth of Greek philosophy, while profoundly living the experience of Christianity and struggling to decipher the ‘mysteries’ he descried therein and flesh them out by means of his Greek armoury, or at least to figure out sacred secrets that were ‘ineffable’, and explain them to the extent this was permissible, since many of them called for only incommunicable experience and he deemed their downright disclosure a ‘betrayal of the esoteric mysteries of God’s wisdom’ (Cels, V.29 & Philocalia, 22.8), a serious offence that he always took heed to avoid by all means.

Thus, he tacitly mused on Greek notions while living his new experience, which he saw as the acme of all philosophy, and he protected himself from becoming a bee drowning into its own honey or daubed by it.

This book is about how he used his Greek intellectual lore in order to formulate his existential experience.

As a result of this, in the history of philosophy, Origen wrote his own unparalleled chapter. This is a demanding one and cannot be grasped unless his fundamental presuppositions are taken into account, and so long as one is not blinded by the current widespread humdrum about Origen allegedly holding ‘a primeval world of souls’, or ‘of minds’, or (worse still) ‘of souls or minds’, or ‘pre-existence of souls’, and the like. Such fatuity would sound agreeable as a dulcet lullaby, but it has nothing to do with scholarship – and yet bloated windbags of academia keep on parroting this.

This book has been written in order to show that Origen’s Greek background should not be overlooked or downplayed, let alone disparaged – all the more so, since his putting the Greek patrimony to use turned out highly serviceable to his purposes and it is hardly possible to see anything heretic about his views.

A few words about the sources that I have been using: I have a lot of respect for the exertions of modern scholars who engaged in publishing updated editions of texts published in the Migne series, such as M. Marcovich’s Contra Celsum, and his edited works by Eustathius Macrembolites or Theodore Prodromus; also, Athanasius’ works by H.C. Brennecke, U. Heil, and A. von Stockhausen, the Leiden and Sources Chrétiennes as well as American editions of Gregory of Nyssa’s works by W. Jaeger, F. Mueller, A. van Heck, G. Heil, F. Oehler, M. Aubineau, J. Stein, H. Langerbeck, E. Gebhardt, P. Alexander, A. Spira, ←xiv | xv→which I have indeed used myself. However, while on the one hand, the problem with Migne’s texts mostly lies in the accentuation marks (stixis), which is indeed deplorable (but I have always emended the pertinent points that I have used), on the other, there are several other Migne-texts which yet wait for being re-edited and published. In any case, I cannot recall any case of comparative study of Migne’s and modern editions which has brought to light any (substantial or minor) difference in terms of the ideas expounded therein –although, again, the philological work accomplished by conscientious modern editors does indeed deserve respect (unless some of them perpetuate mistakes by older editors –see Introduction, note 69). Nevertheless, in all too many cases, I do not see any remarkable difference between Migne’s texts and more recent editions as, for example, in Athanasius’ epistle to the African bishops in the editions by either Migne or Brennecke –and I could add legion of similar examples. Accordingly, I am not touched by portentous modern ‘readers’ who complacently dismiss Migne’s editions, thus believing that this makes themselves ‘informed’ or more ‘scientific’. Finally, far too many scholars will find out that mere reading of the Bibliography brings to light an inundation of Byzantine authors whose texts appear in Migne alone, authors of whose names (let alone works) most of modern scholars have no inkling of. Thus, I hope that the fashionable and smug dismissal of Migne will be replaced by care to study authors whose existence still remains more or less unknown, even though their analyses can provide invaluable food for reflection to those who relish disparaging Migne’s series and in a cock-a-hoop mood proclaim that they use ‘more recent editions’.

In any case, apart from philological amelioration (which, anyway, I do myself whenever I use Migne’s texts), I have not noticed any substantial scholarly progress in recent editions that I have been using and I have catalogued in the Bibliography.

This is why, despite current widespread (mostly smug rather than genuinely scholarly) reservations about Migne, I am not disposed to disown that corpus of texts, all the more so, since the footnotes and parallels which are provided therein (especially, the Latin ones) garnishing and enriching the patristic texts have been to me of value that could hardly be overstated.

In the process of completing this publication, I was particularly happy to work with the editor Dr. Philip Dunshea, a learned and open-minded scholar, whom I profoundly thank for his unfailing support. I also thank Professor Dr. Martin Illert, of the Halle University, and Professor Mark Edwards, of Oxford University, ←xv | xvi→Christ Church College, both of whom read the manuscript and made valuable suggestions. I am satisfied that availing myself of their remarks improved some points of this book.

I need to say a few things about Latin translations of Origen’s works, which I have used occasionally. Concerning De Principiis, for one, since the years of my PhD, I have argued that this is a translation that needs to be explained in the light of extant Greek sources rather than to be used to explain critical points, all the more so since Rufinus had not grasped essential aspects of Origen’s thought.

Actually, since the times of Rufinus and Jerome, the debate raged as to the extent to which this translator had ‘distorted’ the original, following Rufinus’ own statement that he had intervened at a few points. Consequently, a cloud of dubiousness was cast upon Latin translations of Origen’s works, so that no sound considerations could be based on them alone.

Today, all too often do we come upon translators of the Latin texts to modern languages, who, here and there, add notes of their own in order to cheerfully ‘point out Rufinus’ modification of the original in order to protect Origen’. Therefore, too much use of Latin texts leads only to inconclusive debate: if they are availed of in order for an important point to be made (and there are such points indeed), then, the presumption is that the Latin has been tampered with (because ‘there appear fourth century formulations, which Origen himself could not have used’); if ambiguities of terminology (by an ambivalent and all too often puzzled Rufinus) appear, then, this translation is deemed trustworthy by those who are eager to incriminate Origen (who otherwise used his terms confidently and punctiliously) in the teeth of other statements both in De Principiis and elsewhere, which leave no doubt about pertinent aspects of his real thought.

In any case, the dead end is there, since Rufinus was one to whom (as Horace put it) Nec verbum verbo curabis reddere fidus Interpres (‘Nor should the translator aim at rendering the original word for word’, Ars Poetica, 133). In the prologue to his translation of Origen’s commentary on the epistle to the Romans, Rufinus nonchalantly wrote that he had curtailed this by one-half. He believed that he himself had found many shortcomings in the homilies in the Greek text, but he added that those homilies had been delivered ‘with a view rather to edification than to a full explanation of the text.’ Hence, whose commentary is the Latin text? Is it Origen’s or an emended version by his officious admirer? Thus, in the absence of the original text, we know not whether Origen speaks, or in fact we are listening to the voice of his rabid devotee?

Nevertheless, there are also points of De Principiis that are treated with mistrust, even though the faithfulness of the Latin cannot (and is not) disputed ←xvi | xvii→therein: for example, when Origen demolished the pillars of Platonism, such as the theory of Ideas (which, using characteristic Stoic locution, he styled figments of human fantasy) and so he did about the existence of ‘an intelligible world’, all of which he designed as ‘alien to his thought’ and caveated about his entirely different outlook, several modern scholars are loath to come to terms with this, although they cannot dispute ‘the Latin translation’: they simply prefer to ignore it altogether, and blame those who call attention to that cardinal proclamation as ‘making too much of it’, as if Origen had to reiterate his fundamental axioms every now and then – and they are not content even if (decades later, in the Contra Celsum) Origen spoke of ‘the Greeks who fantasised the Ideas’. Actually, I know at least one of them who argued that ‘since Origen used the term ideas at that point of the Contra Celsum, he was a Platonist’! Of course, this person had no inkling of the fact that Origen used verbatim the Stoic proposition, which had proclaimed that Plato’s Ideas are but fanciful constructions of human phantasy.

The gist of a faithful translation was crisply expressed by Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817): “Le sens d’une phrase dans une langue étrangère est à la fois un problème grammatical et intellectuel” (Mme de Staël, De L’Allemagne, première partie, ch. xviii). And Sara Coleridge (1802–1852), speaking of translation of poems (particularly Homer’s), said that the indispensable prerequisite is ‘thorough understanding of the spirit and proprieties of the whole poem’, which would enable the translator to give substitutes for the exact physical meaning, yet to preserve the spirit’ (Letters, i.101). Well, Rufinus gave ‘substitutes for the exact physical meaning’, which though were far too clumsy ones, only because he had no idea of ‘the properties of the whole’ of Origen’s work, wherefore all too often was his rendering detrimental, and he used alternative terms for Origen’s Greek cardinal terms, the import of which Rufinus was simply unable grasp.

So much for the request to make use of ‘Latin translations’, which, quite frankly, several times I was tempted to do, yet in most of the cases I resisted doing so, because I knew in advance the reaction by those who abide by the entrenched myth about ‘the heretic Platonist Origen’ – and I have no intention to engage in otiose debate with biased scholars who only parrot the sixth-century obloquy against Origen.

In 1954, a dentist wrote to Albert Einstein a letter claiming that he had formed a theory which was superior and more accomplished than the Theory of Relativity. To this Einstein replied (July 10, 1954 – Einstein Archives, 60–226), ‘The fact that, notwithstanding your superficial knowledge of this subject, you are so confident of your judgment is pretty strange and perhaps also unusual. I am sorry that I don’t have the time to deal with amateurs.’←xvii | xviii→

So far as I know, in modern times, Origen’s thought has not been criticised by dentists – yet he did not escape Einstein’s fate altogether, since ‘confident judgments’ have been passed by dabbling people, which Origen definitely could have seen no more relevant than any dentist: graduates of philology posing as ‘philosophers’, or people having received an academic degree on Roman history and presenting themselves as ‘theologians’, ‘notwithstanding their superficial knowledge of this subject’, keep on tormenting Origen’s thought. And although their talents perhaps would be better suited to other pursuits, they decided to encroach into the field and assertively pass unlearned judgments as a plague in order to perpetuate the squalidly sour ancient hubris against Origen. In any event, and regardless of academic degrees, there should be no doubt that, had Origen lived to see who and what are those that make claims about his thought and work, his assessment could have been hardly different from that which Einstein made of his unlearned and yet presumptuous critic.




Adnotationes in Deuteronomium


Contra Celsum


Fragmenta ex commentariis in Epistulam i Ad Corinthios


Fragmenta ex Commentariis in Epistulam Ad Ephesios


Commentarii in Genesim


Commentarii in Evangelium Joannis


Scholia in Lucam


Commentarium in Evangelium Matthaei


Commentarii in Epistulam Ad Romanos


Commentariorum Series in Evangelium Matthaei


De Oratione


Dialogus cum Heraclide


Excerpta in Psalmos


Exhortatio Ad Martyrium


Expositio in Proverbia


Fragmenta in Evangelium Joannis


Fragmenta in Lamentationes←xix | xx→


Fragmenta in Lucam


Fragmenta in Evangelium Matthaei


Fragmenta ex commentariis in Proverbia


Fragmenta in Psalmos


Homiliae in Ezechielem


In Jeremiam (homiliae 1–11)


In Jeremiam (homiliae 12–20)


Homiliae in Job


Homiliae in Lucam


Homiliae in Psalmos (Codex Monacensis Graecus 314)


De Principiis


Scholia in Lucam


Scholia in Matthaeum


Selecta in Deuteronomium


Selecta in Ezechielem


Selecta in Genesim


Selecta in Psalmos


Selecta in Numeros

Greek authors


Proclus, In Platonis Alcibiadem i


Olympiodorus of Alexandria, In Platonis Alcibiadem Commentaria


John Philoponus, In Aristotelis Analytica Posteriora Commentaria


Eustratius of Nicaea, In Aristotelis Analyticorum Posteriorum Librum Secundum Commentarium


John Philoponus, In Aristotelis Analytica Priora Commentaria


Alexander of Aphrodisias, In Aristotelis Analyticorum Priorum Librum i Commentarium


John Philoponus, In Aristotelis Libros De Anima Commentaria


Simplicius, In Aristotelis Libros De Anima Commentaria


Gennadius Scholarius, Translatio Commentarii Thomae Aquinae De Anima Aristotelis


Simplicius, In Aristotelis Quattuor Libros De Caelo Commentaria


Dexippus, In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium←xx | xxi→


Porphyry, In Aristotelis Categorias Expositio per Interrogationem et Responsionem


John Philoponus, In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium


Simplicius, In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium


Ammonius of Alexandria, In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarius


Arethas of Caesarea, Scholia in Aristotelis Categorias


Gennadius Scholarius, Commentarium in Aristotelis Categorias


Proclus, In Platonis Cratylum Commentaria


Olympiodorus of Alexandria, In Platonis Gorgiam Commentaria


Michael of Ephesus, In Ethica Nicomachea ix-x Commentaria


Aspasius, In Ethica Nichomachea Commentaria


Eustratius of Nicaea, In Aristotelis Ethica Nicomachea


Alexander of Aphrodisias, In Librum De Sensu Commentarium


Simplicius, Commentarius in Epicteti Enchiridion


Proclus, In Primum Euclidis Elementorum Librum Commentarii


John Philoponus, In Aristotelis Libros De Generatione et Corruptione Commentaria


Syrianus, In Aristotelis Metaphysica Commentaria


Alexander of Aphrodisias, In Aristotelis Metaphysica Commentaria


Asclepius of Tralles, In Aristotelis Metaphysicorum Libros Commentaria


John Philoponus, In Aristotelis Meteorologicorum Librum Primum Commentarium


Olympiodorus of Alexandria, In Aristotelis Meteora Commentaria


John Philoponus, In Aristotelis Physicorum Libros Commentaria


Simplicius, In Aristotelis Physicorum Libros Commentaria


Michael Psellus, In Aristotelis Physicorum Libros Commentarium


Proclus, In Platonis Rem Publicam Commentarii


Porphyry, In Platonis Timaeum Commentaria (fragmenta)


Proclus, In Platonis Timaeum Commentaria


Alexander of Aphrodisias, In Aristotelis Topicorum Libros Octo Commentaria

De Providentia

Proclus, De Decem Dubitationibus Circa Providentiam


Sophonias, In Aristotelis Libros De Anima Paraphrasis


Themistius, In Aristotelis Libros De Anima Paraphrasis


Themistius, In Aristotelis Physica Paraphrasis←xxi | xxii→


Damascius, De Principiis


Diogenes Laertius, Vitae Philosophorum

Christian authors


Eustratius of Nicaea, In Aristotelis Ethica Nicomachea


Didymus, Commentarii in Job


Julian the Arian, Commentarius in Job


John Chrysostom, Commentarius in Job


Olympiodorus, the deacon of Alexandria, Commentarii in Job,


Cyril of Alexandria, Commentarius in XII Prophetas Minores


Graecarum Affectionum Curatio

De Adoratione

Cyril of Alexandria, De Adoratione et Cultu in Spiritu et Veritate

De Praedestinatione

Gennadius Scholarius, Quaestiones Theologicae De Praedestinatione Divina et De Anima

De Providentia

Theodoret, De Providentia Orationes Decem

De Spiritu Sancto i

Gennadius Scholarius, Tractatus De Processu Spiritus Sancti i

De Spiritu Sancto ii

Gennadius Scholarius, Tractatus De Processu Spiritus Sancti ii

De Spiritu Sancto iii

Gennadius Scholarius, Tractatus De Processu Spiritus Sancti iii


Justinian, Edictum Contra Origenem


Gennadius Scholarius, Epitome Summae Contra Gentiles Thomae Aquinae


Gennadius Scholarius, Epitome Primae Partis Summae Theologicae Thomae Aquinae


Eusebius, Socrates Scholasticus, Philostorgius, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopulus, Historia Ecclesiastica

In Isaiam

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentarius in Isaiam Prophetam


Theodoret, Interpretatio in xii Prophetas Minores

Opuscula i

Michael Psellus, Opuscula Logica, Physica, Allegorica, Alia

Opuscula ii

Michael Psellus, Opuscula Psychologica, Theologica, Daemonologica


Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion (Adversus Haereses)


Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica


Hippolytus, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium

←xxii | xxiii→Other volumes


Schwartz, E., Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum


Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte


J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca (volume / page / line)


J. P. Migne, Patrologia Latina (volume / page / line)


J. von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta (volume, page, verse)


P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Cosmology and Ontology of Time


P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Philosophy of History and Eschatology


P. Tzamalikos, The Real Cassian Revisited


P. Tzamalikos, A Newly Discovered Greek Father

Scholia in Apocalypsin

P. Tzamalikos, An Ancient Commentary on the Book of Revelation


Panayiotis Tzamalikos, Anaxagoras, Origen, and Neoplatonism: The Legacy of Anaxagoras to Classical and Late Antiquity


Liddell, H.G. – Scott, R., A Greek – English Lexicon

Synodus 536

ACO, Synodus Constantinopolitana et Hierosolymitana anno 536

Psalms are numbered after LXX.

←xxiii | xxiv→


The issue of Origen’s relation with Hellenism has been debated ever since his lifetime, and eventually became the lynchpin and gist of a host of allegations, on the grounds of which he was officially condemned in the sixth century. Before that event, arguments were supposedly based on his writings, either by his defenders (such as Eusebius, Athanasius, Pamphilus, Rufinus) or his detractors (Antipater of Bostra, Methodius of Olympus, Epiphanius of Salamis, Jerome, et al.). By contrast, during the few centuries after his condemnation, scholars and chroniclers simply copied the official allegations that led to his anathematisation, but the need for adducing any textual evidence from his works was never felt.

The aim of this book is to explore critical aspects of Origen’s relationship with Hellenism on the basis of his own considerations and overall mode of thinking.

Christianity and Hellenism were two worlds that vehemently repudiated each other. Christian authors wrote in Greek but they could not overcome the unflinching idea that Hellas was dangerous to Christians. Even Gregory of Nazianzus, who by all accounts was at odds with the spirit of Hellas, wrote his poems in an exhibitionistic Homeric language, while not caring about whether those hymns could be understood by the hoi polloi. Hence, the Byzantine literatus was both enchained by the Greek letters and bound to refute and fight against the ←1 | 2→Greek spirit in compliance with the religious teaching of the Christian hierarchs. However, among the latter, there were several ones who were keen on imitating the philological style of the ancient Greeks – but they sought to stand close to the ancient language while at the same time militating against the ancient spirit. Hence, Byzantine monasteries spared many people from the vainglory of mundane deeds only to surrender them to the vainglory of words.

On the other hand, up until the sixth century, important masters who had a good command of the ancient Greek lore, such as those of the moribund Academy, kept themselves aloof from Christianity, because they felt that this was the way for them to remain faithful to the legacy of Hellas.

However, this legacy was gradually moving to its sunset. Upon closure of the Academy by Justinian, its masters decamped to Persia, but others felt the sundown of Hellenism much earlier. In c. 400, a lowly and meek teacher of grammar at Alexandria called Palladas was a wholehearted but disillusioned Hellene, who wrote several epigrams. He was as dispirited as to render reality tersely in the following epigram of his:

We are no longer Greeks: we are burnt to ashes’ (ἄνδρες ἐσποδωμένοι [that is, ashes of the real Greeks]); for things have now been reversed’ (ἀνεστράϕη γὰρ πάντα νῦν τὰ πράγματα).1

Hellenism blew out, and Byzantium was the force that struck the final blow at that specific way of contemplating, debating, and of seeing the world and human existence. Nevertheless, that which emerged in the fourth century was a hybrid of Greek Christianity, since Hellenic cerebral modes and pregnant terminology became integral to the new religion’s doctrinal formulations.

Naturally, therefore, in the eleventh century, the seasoned Michael Psellus writing as a Christian while seeing the Greeks as the ‘others’, wrote, ‘as regards the offspring of the Hellenes, Proclus was the last torch-bearer and hierophant of Hellenism’ (‘Eλλήνων δὲ παῖδες, ὧν δὴ τελευταῖος δᾳδοῦχος ϰαὶ ἱεροϕάντης Πρόϰλος ἐγένετο).2 Hence, although Proclus was seen as the ‘the last Hellene’ already during the early eleventh century, less than a century after Proclus, Justinian was considered as ‘the last Roman’,3 which is also how mid-twentieth century historiographers saw him.←2 | 3→

Origen knew that Hellenism was a multifaceted phenomenon built by intellectuals, poets, rhetors, artists, and politicians, a phenomenon characterised by a particular way of seeing human existence, the society, and the world – which eventually determined a certain way of life.

This is how Origen saw and treated that phenomenon in the dusk of the old Roman Empire and the aurora of Byzantium, but this was exactly what was denounced as his mortal sin. To Origen, the spirit of Greece was a complex set of ideas and mentality, involving inspired propositions, respectable ethical precepts, idealistic approaches that could not be discarded out of hand just because those were Greek, and, nonetheless, misguided theories, superstitious veneration of daemons’4), erroneous conceptions of God and of divine Providence, indecent myths5 and obscene portrayals that were unbefitting the nobleness of the sublime reality that surpasses the human condition. Whatever intellectually correct or morally decent the Greeks had said, this had been granted them by God, and yet the Greeks, ‘although they knew of God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither did they give thanks to Him, but their reasoning was brought to naught and their heart was blinded’,6 – plus, long before the Greeks, the Bible had anticipated several of the flawless Greek ideas in a concealed and symbolical manner.

This is why, to Origen, Christianity was not simply the real philosophy worthy of its name, but in fact this was the only true one and the acme of all philosophy.

Nevertheless, there is a point of Paul’s statement which has always been downgraded: no matter what the Greek philosophical shortcomings, or even failures, Paul conceded that, to a certain extent, the Greeks had a correct perception of God. However, hardly did specific foolproof points of Greek theological considerations appear (let alone acknowledged) in the several polemic Christian diatribes ‘Against the Greeks’.7

What was seen as Origen’s unpardonable sin was that, despite his criticism of Greek philosophical theories, he saw no reason why not to grant or indeed use points on which (in Paul’s expression) the Greeks had known God. He was a formerly ←3 | 4→illustrious Greek philosopher who converted to Christianity at the age of nearly fifty, but he did not feel he should wipe the slate of his Greek past clean. He never tried to conceal his former pagan identity: he just did not advertise it too much. Nevertheless, suggestions about this abound throughout his works.8

In the commentary on Matthew, probably the last work of his (and much later than Contra Celsum), which he wrote during the last and downcast 28 years of his living at Tyre, he argued against those Christians of the city who boasted that they were Christians by upbringing and despised the converts (such as Origen himself) as second-class parvenus. His heart at points appearing contrite for having lived for years away from the Truth, was one thing; but confuting those conceited Tyrians (especially, the local bishop, i.e. Methodius, formerly ‘of Olympus’, and the rest of high-rank clergymen) in that commentary was quite another, and he never felt any inferiority complex vis-à-vis them.

Already by Origen’s times, several heresies claimed authentic perception of Jesus’ teaching. Origen saw those Christian heresies during the third century as a natural phenomenon, and pointed out that, after all, the same happened also with Greek schools, indeed not only the philosophical ones but also those of medicine,9 as well with ‘every good thing that was useful to human life’.10 Once there had been five ‘Academies’ claiming authoritative understanding of Plato’s teaching (clinging to such different streams of thought as Pythagoreanism, Scepticism, even Stoicism),11 it was all too easy to argue that ‘from Plato’s teaching many schools have arisen, whose adherents do not hold the same opinions.’12 Not surprisingly, he appealed to Paul’s phrase, ‘there should be heresies among yourselves, so that that the noblest among you should come to light.’13←4 | 5→


XXVI, 570
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XXVI, 570 pp., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Panayiotis Tzamalikos (Author)

Panayiotis Tzamalikos (MSc, MPhil, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; PhD, Faculty of Divinity, University of Glasgow) is Professor of Philosophy at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. His books include The Concept of Time in Origen; Origen: Cosmology and Ontology of Time; Origen: Philosophy of History and Eschatology; A Newly Discovered Greek Father—Cassian the Sabaite Eclipsed by ‘John Cassian’ of Marseilles; The Real Cassian Revisited—Monastic Life, Greek Paideia, and Origenism in the Sixth Century; An Ancient Commentary on the Book of Revelation; Anaxagoras, Origen, and Neoplatonism—The Legacy of Anaxagoras to Classical and Late Antiquity; ​Origen: New Fragments from the Commentary on Matthew; and Guilty of Genius – Origen and the Theory of Transmigration.


Title: Origen and Hellenism
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
598 pages