Early Church Theologians. All Material Written By Thomas Perez

Written By Thomas Perez. May 5, 2010 at 8:01PM. Copyright 2010.


The Theology of Origen

(185–254). Christian philosopher and scholar. His full name was Origines Adamantius, and he was born in Egypt, probably in Alexandria. When he was quite young, his father was martyred. At the age of 18, Origen became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, where he had studied under Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens), Greek theologian. Born in Athens, he traveled widely and was converted to Christianity. He studied and taught at the catechetical school in Alexandria until the persecution of 202. Origen was his pupil there.

In the 28 years of his labors in Alexandria, Origen became famed for his teaching (for which he accepted no money) and wrote prodigiously. A stern ascetic, he castrated himself out of zeal for purity. Hence he was not ordained a priest, but he was permitted to preach while on journeys to Rome, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. His interpretation of the Scriptures in preaching and lecturing won him wide acclaim. Later (c.230) the bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea ordained him, but Demetrius, his own bishop, ordered him deposed and banished from Alexandria. In Caesarea, Origen founded (231) a new school that became even more illustrious than the one in Alexandria. Among his students was St. Gregory Thaumaturgus.

In the persecution (c.250) of Decius, Origen was imprisoned, tortured, and pilloried; this experience probably caused his death some time after his release. Learned in Greek philosophy, he was a most erudite and profound biblical scholar as well. According to St. Jerome he wrote 800 works. Extant are letters, apologies, and exegeses. His critical edition of the Bible, the Hexapla, is famous in the history of textual criticism; this was a parallel edition of six Hebrew and two Greek versions. None of these remains in its original form. Origen’s system of theology is given in his De principiis [on first principles], known through a Latin version of Rufinus.

The chief of his apologies is Contra Celsum [against Celsus]. Origen attempted to synthesize the fundamental principles of Greek philosophy, particularly those of Neoplatonism and Stoicism, with the Christianity of creed and Scripture so as to prove the Christian view of the universe to be compatible with Greek thought. Before St. Augustine, Origen was the most influential theologian in the church. His threefold plan of interpreting Scripture (literal, ethical, and allegorical) influenced subsequent exegetical works. In spite of Origen’s fame as an apologist for Christianity, there was question as to his orthodoxy. His somewhat recondite blending of philosophy with Christian theology led to his condemnation by Justinian in the Monophysite controversy. Yet, did not Justin Martyr consider philosophy an important supplement to the furtherance of the Gospel? Similarly, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine did the same thing – however in their writings you can SPOT their biases and ideologies, thus sticking with the status-qua.

However, therefore, it would appear that there are good reasons to believe that he was often the victim of misquotations and unfair interpretations.

For example, many of us today are often misquoted. As a person who majored in theology and philosophy, I can fully understand the dilemma that Origen must of went though. When I was conducting a study concerning Freewill and Predestination – I had no choice but to consult the classic’s – such as Socrates, Plato, St Thomas, Spinoza, Descartes, Hume, etc, to find my answer. It took me nearly 30 years – which led me to my belief in Ultimate Reconciliation. Is this heresy? Quite frankly, I found joy & peace.

Perhaps it was Origins view of Ultimate Reconciliation that led to his downfall in what is considered Orthodox. But then again what is Orthodoxy? Is it not the groupings of many sects into one general statement of faith? As we all know, the early Church had many divisions, of which Peter and Paul and their disciples addressed. It will also appear that Peter and Paul had no problems concerning the various groups that held or maintained certain aspects of Christianity and Judaism. The primary goal of the early Church was the Gospel of Christ and thus the many members, but One Body – ALL upholding the Gospel message of His death, burial, and Resurrection. Today it is One Body, One Creed, If one deviates from said creeds he or she is considered a heretic. Would you agree with such name calling? We owe our gratitude to the pagan imperial christian Emperor Constantine and the good’ ol imperial Papacy of the Vatican.

Perhaps it was his view concerning Satan’s salvation – A topic that also took me 30 years to comprehend. But of course this comprehension would not a have been possible without a proper understanding of the nature and reason for evil. Yet, it is also interesting that at the same time, many within the general accepted Orthodoxy did NOT condemn his soteriological views. The early Church appears to agree with Origen in reference to his notable teaching on Universal Salvation. The following is are citations from a previous study I conducted….

“In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch – where they were first called Christians, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality (annihilationism); one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked”. (The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 12, p. 96; Retrieved April 29, 2007).

1. Clement of Rome (first century)

Major work

• Epistle to the Corinthians (c. 95)


• Bishop of church at Rome

• Wrote a letter to Corinth in the style of Paul; wrote against schism and revolt and called on the church to live a righteous life in the style of Old Testament characters

• A possible companion of Peter and Paul

2. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107)

Major works:

• Seven letters before his death in Rome


• Bishop of church at Antioch

• Personal disciple of one or more apostles

• Advocate of divinity of Christ and the incarnation (refuted docetism)

• Urged Christians not to try to escape martyrdom by fleeing from Rome

• First to use phrase, “Catholic Church”

3. Marcion (160 AD)

Major works

• Another Canon

• Antitheses


• teacher who founded his own church; incorporated Gnostic elements into his beliefs—said God of Old Testament was different than the Father of Jesus

• Came up with his own Canon; accepted only Luke and the writings of Paul for his New Testament canon

• Rejection of Marcion’s views led to the formulation of the orthodox Canon

4. Justin Martyr (100-165)

Major works

• First Apology

• Second Apology

• Dialogue with Trypho


• Greatest of the Apologists

• Wrote more concerning Christianity than any before him

• First church father to explicitly identify the church as “Israel”

• Related the Gospel to Greek philosophy

• Emphasized on logos in each person that enlightens every man

• Wrote about baptism as “regeneration” and mentioned the Eucharist

• Martyred in Rome in 165

5. Irenaeus of Lyons (130-200)

Major work

• Against Heresies (defense of Christian view of salvation and role of apostolic tradition)


• Bishop of church at Lyons (modern-day France)

• Considered the first great systematic theologian

• Held to the doctrine of recapitulation—the atonement view that Christ retraced the steps of Adam and succeeded where Adam failed

• Defended the faith (his view of it) against the Gnostics

• As a boy heard Polycarp teach

• Says Matthew wrote a Hebrew Gospel

• Tells of an incident between the apostle John Cerinthus (who was called a heretic)

6. Tertullian (160-225)

Major works

• Apology (defends Christians from false charges)

• Against Praxeas (Jesus had two natures in one person)


• Fiery Christian writer in Carthage, North Africa

• Father of Latin theology

• Laid foundation for doctrine of Trinity

• Defended unity of Old Testament and New Testament against Marcion

• Wrote works against who he said were heretics and exhortations to other Christians

• Wrote many apologies

• Rejected Greek philosophical thought

• Around 200 came under the influence of a Montanist sect

7. Cyprian (258 AD)

Major work

• On the Unity of the Church


• Bishop of the church in Carthage during period of fierce persecution

• The second most important Latin-speaking leader of the church after Tertullian

• Important and influential in the area of ecclesiology; his views shaped the church’s ecclesiology through Augustine and the Middle Ages

• Argued that the unity of church was Episcopal not theological

• Condemned Novatian schism

• Famous statements: “He is not a Christian who is not in Christ’s church”; “He cannot have God for his father who has not the church for his mother;” “There is no salvation outside the church.”

• Important to development of the Mass

• Was martyred in 258

8. Clement of Alexandria (150-215)

Major works

• Protreptikos

• Paedagogos

• Stromata

• Hypotyposes


• Christian teacher at Alexandria, Egypt

• First significant representative of Alexandrian theological tradition

• Positive approach to philosophy which he saw as a “handmaiden” to theology

• Idea of Logos dominated his thinking

• Origen was one of his pupils

9. Origen (185-254)

Major works

• On First Principles

• Against Celsus (apologetic)

• Fundamental Doctrines (Christian theology)

• Hexapla


• “Father of Christian theology” and best Christian scholar of his time

• Most prolific writer of Pre-Nicene Church (2,000 works)

• Wrote doctrinal and apologetical works as well as commentaries

• Known for theological speculation and allegorizing

• Taught a lesser divinity of the Son? (Christology hierarchal, not well worked through)

• Believed every creature would be saved (apocatastasis)

• Was a pupil of Clement of Alexandria

• Controversy with bishop in Alexandria led to his dismissal from church in Alexandria

• Spent last years in Caesarea

• Tortured during Decian persecution

• Took Matthew 19:12 literally and became a eunuch for the kingdom of God; was an ascetic

• Died at Tyre in 254

10. Arius (250-336)


• Presbyter of church at Alexandria who taught that Jesus was of a different nature/substance (homoiousios) than the father. He also said Jesus was created out of nothing. Thus, “there was a time when he [Jesus] was not.”

• His primary foe was Athanasius

• His views were condemned at the Council of Nicea (325) but his views continued on.

• Modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses have adopted views of Christ that are similar to those of Arius.

11. Athanasius (296-373)

Major works

• Contra Gentiles;

• De incarnatione (argued that God assumed human nature in Christ)


• Bishop of Alexandria from 328-73 whose name became synonymous with Nicene orthodoxy

• Defended deity of Christ and monotheism

• Strong foe of Arianism

• Brought about condemnation of Arianism at Council of Nicea (325)

• Said Christ must be divine to save mankind

• Argued for deity of Holy Spirit

• Said if Christ was not divine then Christians were involved with idolatry

• Exiled five times as a determined fighter for orthodoxy

12. Eusebius (270-340)

Major work

• Ecclesiastical History (principle source for history of church from first century until Constantine)


• Bishop of church in Caesarea during Emperor Constantine’s reign

• Had a close relationship with Constantine

• Related Constantine’s reign to the messianic kingdom

13. Basil of Caesarea (330-79)

Major works

• The Rule of St. Basil

• De Spiritu Sancto

• Adversus Eunomium


• One of the Cappadocian Fathers along with Gregory of Nazianzus and brother Gregory of Nyssa

• Defended orthodox doctrine of the Trinity; He fixed the formula “one substance and three persons”;

• Defended deity of the Holy Spirit

• Attacked the Arian heresy

• Introduced the idea of communal monasticism; founded a small monastic community in 358

14. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-89)

Major work

• Theological Orations


• One of the Cappadocian Fathers

• Helped clarify Trinitarian and Christological doctrines

• His sermons were instrumental in defeating Arianism and establishing the Nicene confession of Christ’s full deity as orthodox

• During Council of Constantinople (381) he was elected bishop of Constantinople

• Held that the incarnation was necessary for salvation to occur

15. John Chrysostom (347-407)


• Known for his preaching, scholarship and piety

• Known as “the golden-mouthed”

• Used literal and grammatical exegesis of Scripture

16. Theodore of Mopsuestia (4th cent.)

Major works

• On the Incarnation

• What is the Difference between Theory and Allegory


• Greatest interpreter of the Antiochene school

• Argued for interpretation of Scripture that stresses a single consistent historical or literal meaning

• Argued that the Logos assumed a specific human being and not just ‘human nature’ in general

• Denied the Canonicity of several Bible books

17. Augustine (354-430)

Major works

• City of God

• On Christian Doctrine

• On the Trinity (self-proclaimed most important work)

• Confessions


• Antiquity’s greatest theologian and most important church theologian until the Reformation

• Father of orthodox theology

• Developed theology as an academic discipline

• Council of Carthage decided for Augustine’s views on grace and sin and condemned Pelagianism

• Saved when he heard a child say, “Tolle lege” (“take up and read”)

• He adopted an amillennial view when Ambrose taught him it was okay to allegorize the OT

Theological/Doctrinal Views


• Held to the eternal subordination of the Son

• Distinctions within the Trinity are primarily relational

• Viewed the Holy Spirit as the bond of love


• Augustine is first father to seriously address soteriology; discussed areas such as predestination, original sin, and free will

• Man’s election is based upon God’s eternal decree of predestination

• Faith itself is a gift of God

• Avoids extremes of Manicheans and Pelagains—both grace and free will are to be affirmed

• Changed views on free will–from free will to free will held captive

• Free will is not lost but incapacitated and can be healed by grace

• The free will of the individual before salvation is only capable of evil—only after regeneration (operative grace) is free will capable of responding positively to God with the aid of continuing grace (co-operative grace)

• God’s prevenient grace prepares man’s will for justification

• Grace is intimately connected with the sacrament of baptism (thus no salvation w/o baptism)

• His view of justification underwent significant development

• He says “to justify” means to “make righteous” not “declare righteous” (this became the view of the Roman Catholic Church); thus righteousness is “inherent” and not “imputed”

• Justification is an event and a process

• Righteousness is located within man

• His view of justification is close to the Greek concept of justification

• Merit is important but even this comes from God

• By justification, Augustine comes close to understanding the restoration of the entire universe to its original order

• The motif of the “love of God” dominates his theology of justification

• Faith is adherence to the Word of God


• Said failed brethren should be accepted back into fellowship

• Said sacraments are not invalid because of a bad administrator (contra Donatists)


• Known as the father of Amillennialism

18. Nestorius (451 AD)


• Preferred Christotokos and denounced Theotokos

• Rejected term “hypostatic union”

• Jesus and the Father had a unity of wills not unity of essence

• Thought in terms of a “conjunction” of natures and not a “union”

• Most significant opponent was Cyril of Alexandria

• Nestorious denounced by the Council of Ephesus (431)

• Modern research has found a book by Nestorius known as the Book of Heracleides in which Nestorius explicitly denies the heresy for which he was condemned.

19. Leo the Great (Leo I) (440-61)


• Now known as the “pioneer pope”

• Believed in a hierarchical church with everything converging on Rome

• Believed in papal supremacy

• Held to idea of plenitudo potestatis (plentitude of power) for the See of Peter where the pope as heir of Peter, ruled over the whole church

• His teachings on the nature of Christ were adopted as orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon (451)

• Persuaded Attila the Hun to stop a raid on Rome

20. Gregory of Nyssa (335-94)

Major work

• Against Eunomius (refutation of Arius)


• One of the Cappadocian Fathers

• Defended findings of Nicea at Council of Constantinople (381)

• Refuted Arius and Apollinarius

• Held to a clear distinction between the two natures in Christ

• Held to Mary as Theotokos (God-bearer)

• Worked out Basil’s distinction between ousia and hypostasis (individuality of each member of Trinity)

• Adopted some of Origen’s thinking concerning universalism

21. Ambrose (340-97)

Major works

• De officiis ministrorum (Christian ethics for clergy)

• Thirty-five treatises and ninety-one letters


• One of the Doctors of the church

• A foe of Arianism

• Had a large influence on Augustine whom he baptized and instructed

• Taught Augustine that it was legitimate to allegorize the Old Testament

22. Jerome (331-420)

Major work

• Vulgate (Latin Bible)


• Biblical scholar and translator was the most learned man in the Latin-speaking church in the late fourth century

• Brought best of Greek thinking to Western Christianity

• Gave Latin Christianity its Bible

• Argued for allegorical interpretation of Scripture

23. Pelagius (early 5th cent.)


• Held that man is not born with original sin

• Man has free will

• Men advance in holiness by merit alone

• Held that God’s grace is giving commandments to men (i.e. the Ten Commandments)

• Views were condemned at Council of Ephesus (431)

• Views opposed to Augustine’s positions

• Lived for a time in England

24. Cyril of Alexandria (444 AD)


• Known for his controversies with Nestorius concerning the person of Christ

• Accused Nestorius of heresy because Nestorius insisted that Mary could be called Christotokos but not Theotokos

• He condemned Nestorius at Council of Ephesus (431)

• Saw a “hypostatic union” where humanity and divinity of Christ are viewed as two distinct, inseparable natures

25. Eutyches


• Known for his views on the doctrine of Christ

• Rejected idea that Christ had two natures. There were two natures before the incarnation, one after (monophysite); Jesus’ deity and humanity were fused into something different, a third substances (hybrid)

• His views rejected by the Council of Chalcedon (451)

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