Monday, August 27, 2012

Origen's Bishop in Alexandria

Origen's dispute with Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria is one mystery which scholars found hard to unravel due to insufficient evidence as to what led to the split between Origen and his Bishop. Hans von Campenhausen's The Fathers of the Greek Church on "Origen" has this beautifully written passage: "It is clear that for all his love for peace and personal humility, Origen could not concede to the office of the bishop the importance which was claimed for it, and that for reasons of theological and religious principle. In his opinion, the thing that matters in the long run, the living knowledge of the truth, cannot be transmitted and controlled by officials. All the rights which the bishop is accorded and possesses, the sacraments which he administers, the power of excommunication and absolution which he exerts, remain purely external so long as they are not impregnated with real spiritual power. This cannot be effected by the office as such but only by the Holy Spirit, by the right attitude of love and knowledge which God gives and which the spiritual teacher above all communicates" (p. 53).

I was looking high and low for Origen's own confession or sayings on this and could not find any until I read of his homily on Luke 2:49-51 on Jesus' submission to his parents: "If Jesus the Son of God is subject to Joseph and Mary, shall I not subject to the bishop? God appointed him a father to me. Shall I not be subject to the presbyter, whom the Lord's choice set over me? I think Joseph understood that Jesus, who was subject to him, was greater than he. He knew that the one subject to him was greater than he and, out of reverence, restrained his authority. So each one should realize that often a lesser man is put in charge of better men. Sometimes it happens that he who is subject is better than he who appears to be in authority. Once someone who enjoys a higher position understands this, he will not be lifted up in pride by the fact that he is greater. He will know that a better one is subject to himself, just as Jesus was subject to Joseph." Origen Homilies on Luke, p. 86 (translated by Joseph T. Lienhard in the Fathers of the Church. Vol 94)

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