Walker, “Period II. The Gnostic Crisis,” 2.7-2.10, pp. 67-86.

[5.1] Tertullian and Cyprian [5.2] Triumph of Logos Christology in the West;
[5.3] The Alexandrian School;  [5.4] Church & State from 180 to 260.








Tertullian was one of the most individual and remarkable personalities of the ancient church. Born (c. 150-155) of well-to-do pagan parentage in Carthage, he studied law and practised his profession in Rome. He was exceedingly well read in philosophy and history. Greek he had thoroughly mastered. About 190 to 195, he was converted to Christianity, probably in Rome, and now devoted himself with equal eagerness to the study of Christian literature, orthodox and heretical. Shortly after he returned to Carthage where he became a presbyter, and remained till his death (c. 222-225). At first in fellowship with the Roman Church, a wave of persecution that broke over North Africa in 202 under the Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211), strengthened his native Puritanism and brought him into sympathy with Montanism. Its ascetic and unworldly aspects most appealed to him. About 207 he broke with the Catholic Church, which he thenceforth bitterly criticised, and died in continuing protest, apparently, as the founder of a little sect of his own.

In 197 Tertullian began a career of literary activity in defense and explication of Christianity which lasted till 220. He was the first ecclesiastical writer of prominence to use Latin. Even the leaders of the Roman Church wrote in Greek till after his time. His style was vivid, satirical, readable. His method was often that of an advocate in the court-room. He was frequently unfair to opponents. He was not always consistent with himself. But he was of a fiery earnestness of spirit that makes what he wrote always impressive. He well deserves the title of father of Latin theology.

Tertullian was, primarily, no speculative theologian. His own thought was based on that of the Apologists, Irenæus, and to some extent on other bearers of the tradition of Asia Minor, and quite as much on Stoic teaching and legal conceptions. He had the Roman sense of order and authority. All that he touched, however, he formulated with the clearness of definition of a trained judicial mind, and hence he gave precision, as none had before him, to many theological conceptions that had heretofore been vaguely apprehended.

For Tertullian Christianity was a great divine foolishness, wiser than the highest philosophical wisdom of men, and in no way to be squared with existing philosophical systems.[1] In reality he looked upon it largely through Stoic spectacles. Christianity is primarily knowledge of God. It is based on reason— “the soul by nature Christian” [2]—and authority. That authority is seated in the church, and only in the orthodox church, which alone has the truth, expressed in the creed, and alone has a right to use the Scriptures.[3] As with Irenæus, these valid churches are those that agree in faith with those founded by the Apostles, wherein the apostolic tradition has been maintained by the succession of bishops.[4] These are utterances of the still Catholic Tertullian. As with Justin and common Gentile Christianity of the second century, Christianity for Tertullian is a new law. “Jesus Christ . . . preached the new law and the new promises of the kingdom of heaven.”[5] Admission to the church is by baptism, by which previous sins are removed. It is “our sacrament of water, in that by washing away the sins of our early blindness we are set free into eternal life.”[6] Those who have received it are thenceforth “competitors for salvation in earning the favor of God.”[7]

Tertullian had a deeper sense of sin than any Christian writer since Paul, and his teachings greatly aided the development of the Latin conceptions of sin and grace. Though not clearly worked out, and inconsistent with occasional expressions, Tertullian possessed a doctrine of original sin. “There is, then, besides the evil which supervenes on the soul from the intervention of the evil spirit, an antecedent, and in a certain sense natural evil, which arises from its corrupt origin.” [8]But “the power of the grace of God is more potent indeed than nature.” [9]The nature of grace he nowhere fully explains. It evidently included, however, not only “ forgiveness of sins,” [10]but also “the grace of divine inspiration,” by which power to do right is infused to give force to man’s feeble, but free, will.[11] Loofs has shown that this latter conception, of the utmost significance for the theology of Western Christendom, is of Stoic origin.[12] But though salvation is thus based on grace, man has much to do. Though God forgives previous sins at baptism, satisfaction must be made for those committed thereafter by voluntary sacrifices, chiefly ascetic. The more a man punishes himself, the less God will punish him.[13]

Tertullians Christology

Tertullian’s most influential work was the definition of the Logos Christology, though he preferred to use the designation Son rather than Logos. If he advanced its content little beyond what had already been presented by the theologians of Asia Minor, and especially by the Apologists, his legal mind gave a clearness to its explanation such as had not before existed. Here his chief work was one written in his Montanist period—Against Praxeas. He defines the Godhead in terms which almost anticipate the Nicene result of more than a century later.







As if in this way also one were not All, in that  2.4. quasi non sic quoque unus sit omnia
All are of one, by unity of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded which distributes the unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; THREE, however dum ex uno omnia, per substantiae scilicet unitatem, et nihilo minus custodiatur oikonomiaj sacramentum quae unitatem in trinitatem disponit, tres dirigens patrem et filium et spiritum, tres autem

not in condition [essence?]
but in degree;

non statu
   sed gradu,

NOT in substance
but in form;

not in power
but in appearance,

nec substantia
    sed forma,

nec potestate
    sed specie,

 for they are of ONE substance

and one condition [essence?]

and one power,

unius autem substantiae
  et unius status
   et unius potestatis,
inasmuch as He is one God from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”[14] quia unus deus ex quo et gradus isti et formae et species in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti deputantur.



Tertullian describes these distinctions of the Godhead as “persons,”[15] meaning by the word not our usage in the sense of personalities, but forms of manifestation.







But all the rest of the created things He made in a similar way, who made the former ones—I mean the Word of God, “through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made.”(Jn 1.3) 12.5 sed et cetera utique idem fecit qui et priora, id est sermo dei per quem omnia facta sunt et sine quo factum est nihil.
Now if He too is God, according to John, (who says,) “The Word was God,” .(Jn 1.1) then you have two Beings—One that commands that the thing be made, and the Other that executes the order and creates. In what sense, however, you ought to understand Him [Christ] to be another, I have already explained, on the ground of Person, not of Substance—in the way of distinction, not of division. 12.66. qui si ipse deus est secundum Ioannem - Deus erat sermo - habes duos, alium dicentem ut fiat, alium facientem. alium autem quomodo accipere debeas iam professus sum, personae non substantiae nomine, ad distinctionem non ad divisionem.
 But although I must everywhere hold one only substance in three coherent and inseparable (Persons), yet I am bound to acknowledge, from the necessity of the case, that He who issues a command is different from Him who executes it. For, indeed, He would not be issuing a command if He were all the while doing the work Himself, while ordering it to be done by the second. But still He did issue the command, although He would not have intended to command Himself if He were only one; or else He must have worked without any command, because He would not have waited to command Himself. 12.7. ceterum <etsi> ubique teneo unam substantiam in tribus cohaerentibus, tamen alium dicam oportet ex necessitate sensus eum qui iubet et eum qui facit. nam nec iuberet, si ipse faceret dum iuberet fieri. per eum tamen iubebat, haud sibi iussurus si unus esset, aut sine iussu facturus; quia non expectasset ut sibi iuberet.

This unity of substance in Tertullian’s thought is material, for he was sufficiently a Stoic to hold that “ God is a body ... for spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind.”[16]

With a similar precision, Tertullian distinguished between the human and divine in Christ. “We see His double state, not intermixed but conjoined in one person, Jesus, God and man.”[17] Since both Son and Spirit are derived from the Father by emanation, both are subordinate to Him.[18] This doctrine of subordination, already taught in the Apologists, was to remain characteristic of the Logos Christology until the time of Augustine. These definitions were far more the work of a lawyer-like, judicial interpretation, than of philosophical consideration. As the first, also, to give technical usage to such expressions as trinitas, substantia, sacramentum, satisfacere, meritum, Tertullian left his permanent impress on Latin theology.


Cyprian was, in many ways, the intellectual heir of Tertullian, whom he called master. Born probably in Carthage, about 200, he spent all his life in that city. A man of wealth and education, he won distinction as a teacher of rhetoric. About 246 he was converted to the Christian faith, and two or three years later was chosen to the bishopric of Carthage. Here he showed high executive ability, and much practical good sense and kindliness of spirit without the touch of genius that characterized Tertullian. The persecution of 250 he escaped by flight; but in that of 258 he stood boldly forth and suffered as a martyr by beheading. Few leaders of the ancient church have been more highly regarded by subsequent ages.

Cyprian’s Ecclesiology

In Cyprian’s teaching the tendencies illustrated in the development of the Catholic Church received their full expression. The church is the one visible orthodox community of Christians. “There is one God, and Christ is one, and there is one church, and one chair (episcopate) founded upon the rock by the word of the Lord.” [19]“Whoever he may be and whatever he may be, he who is not in the church of Christ is not a Christian.” [20]He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother.” [21]“There is no salvation out of the church.” [22]The church is based on the unity of its bishops, “whence ye ought to know that the bishop is in the church and the church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the church.” [23]“The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one in its entirety.” [24]This last quotation has its bearing on a controversy still alive as to whether Cyprian regarded all bishops as equal sharers in a common episcopal authority, the possession of each and of all; or held to the superiority of the bishop of Rome. He certainly quoted Matt. 1618- 19.[25] He looked upon Peter as the typical bishop. He referred to Rome as “ the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source.” [26]Rome was to him evidently the highest church in dignity; but Cyprian was not ready to admit a judicial authority over others in the Roman bishop, or to regard him as more than the first among equals. Cyprian’s significance as a witness to the full development of the doctrine that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice offered by the priest to God will be considered in Section XIV. His conception of the Christian life, like that of Tertullian, was ascetic. Martyrdom is bringing forth fruit an hundredfold; voluntary celibacy, sixtyfold.[27]




in the



Though the Catholic Church was combating successfully the Gnostics, and though the Logos Christology was that of such formative minds as those of the writer of the fourth Gospel, Justin, Irenæus, and Tertullian, that Christology was not wholly regarded with sympathy by the rank and file of believers. Hermas had taught an adoptionist Christology at Rome as late as 140. The Apostles’ Creed has no reference to any Logos doctrine. Tertullian says significantly of his own time (213-218): “The simple—I will not call them unwise or unlearned—who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation of the three in one, on the ground that their very rule of faith withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the one only true God.”[28] It was difficult for them to see in trinitarian conceptions aught else but an assertion of tritheism. The last decade of the second and the first two of the third centuries were an important epoch, therefore, in Christological discussion, especially in Rome, where the question was in the balance.

To some extent this new Christological discussion seems to have been the indirect result of Montanism. That movement had made much of the fourth Gospel, proclaiming itself the inauguration of the dispensation of the Spirit, therein promised. Some opponents of Montanism in Asia Minor, in their reaction from its teachings, went so far as to reject the fourth Gospel and its doctrine of the Logos. Of these “Alogoi,” as Epiphanius (?-403), writing much later, nicknamed them, little is known in detail, but some of the critics of the Logos Christology who now came into prominence were apparently influenced by them. To these opponents in general the name Monarchians is usually given—a title coined by Tertullian [29]—since they asserted the unity of God. The Monarchians fell into two very unlike classes, those who held that Jesus was the Son of God by adoption, the so-called Dynamic Monarchians: and those who held that Christ was but a temporary ‘form of manifestation of the one God, the party known as the Modalistic Monarchians. Thus, with the supporters of the Logos view, three Christologies were contesting in Rome at the beginning of the third century.

The Dynamic Monarchians

The first Dynamic Monarchian of prominence was Theodotus, called the currier, or tanner, from Byzantium. He was a man of learning, and is said to have been a disciple of the Alogoi, though, unlike them, he accepted in some sense the fourth Gospel. About 190 he came to Rome, and there taught that Jesus was a man, born of the Virgin, of holy life, upon whom the divine Christ (or the Holy Spirit) descended at His baptism. Some of Theodotus’s followers denied to Jesus any title to divinity; but others held that He became in some sense divine at His resurrection.[30] One is reminded of the Christology of Hermas (Ante, p. 39). Theodotus was excommunicated by Bishop Victor of Rome (189-198); but his work there was continued by Theodotus, “the money-changer,” and Asclepiodorus, like their master, probably from the Orient; but their effort to found a rival communion outside the Catholic Church amounted to little. The last attempt to present a similar theology in Rome was that of a certain Artemon (230-40-270), but Dynamic Monarchianism in the West was already moribund. Yet it undoubtedly represented a type of Christology that was one of the oldest in the Christian Church.

The Dynamic Monarchian party was stronger and more persistent in the East. There it had its most famous representative in Paul of Samosata, the able and politically gifted bishop of Antioch from c. 260 to 272. He represented theLogos, which he also described as the Son of God, as an impersonal attribute of the Father. This Logos had inspired Moses and the prophets. Jesus was a man, unique in that He was born of the Virgin, who was filled with the power of God, i. e., by God’s Logos. By this indwelling inspiration Jesus was united in will by love to God, but did not become in substance one with God. That union is moral, but inseparable. By reason of it Christ was raised from the dead, and given a kind of delegated divinity. Between 264 and 269 three synods considered Paul of Samosata’s views, by the last of which he was excommunicated ; but he kept his place till driven out by the Emperor Aurelian (§ 2.18).

The Modalistic Monarchians

Much more numerous than the Dynamic Monarchians were the Modalistic Monarchians, who made an appeal to the many for the reason already quoted from Tertullian (§ 2.8), that in the presence of pagan polytheism, the unity of God seemed a prime article of the Christian faith, and any Logos conception or Dynamic Monarchianism seemed to them a denial of that unity. Cyprian coined for these Modalistic Monarchians the nickname Patripassians.[31] The leader of Modalistic Monarchianism was, like that of Dynamic Monarchianism, an Oriental Christian, Noetus, probably of Smyrna. The same controversies in Asia Minor may well have called forth both interpretations. Of Noetus little is known save that he taught in his native region in the period 180 to 200, “that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born and suffered and died.” [32]These views were transplanted to Rome, about 190, by a certain Praxeas, a follower of Noetus and an opponent of the Montanists, regarding whom Tertullian, then a Montanist and always a defender of the Logos Christology, said ; “ Praxeas did two works of the devil in Rome. He drove out prophecy and introduced heresy. He put to flight the Holy Spirit and crucified the Father.” [33]A little later two other disciples of Noetus, Epigonus and Cleomenes, came to Rome and won, in large measure, the sympathy of Bishop Zephyrinus (198-217) for the Modalistic Monarchian position.

The most noted leader of the Modalistic school, whose name became permanently associated with this Christology, was Sabellius, of whose early life little is known, but who was teaching in Rome about 215. His theology was essentially that of Noetus, but much more carefully wrought out, especially in that it gave a definite place to the Holy Spirit as well as to the Son. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one and the same. Each is a prosopon— —(a word of large later orthodox use), that is a character or form of manifestation, of the one God, who showed Himself in His character of creator as the Father, in that of redeemer as the Son, and now as the Holy Spirit. Sabellius, though soon excommunicated at Rome, found large following for his views in the East, especially in Egypt and Libya. Nor was he without considerable influence on the development of what became the orthodox Christology. His absolute identification of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was rejected; but it implied an equality which ultimately, as in Augustine, triumphed over the subordination of Son and Spirit characteristic of the Logos Christology both of Tertullian and Athanasius.


The great advocate of the Logos Christology at this juncture in Rome was Hippolytus (160-170—c. 235), the most learned Christian writer then in the city, and the last considerable theologian there to use Greek rather than Latin as his vehicle of expression. As a commentator, chronicler, calculator of Easter dates, Apologist, and opponent of heretics, he was held in such high repute that his followers erected after his death the earliest Christian portrait statue known. He opposed vigorously the Monarchians of both schools. The fight in Rome waxed hot. Bishop Zephyrinus (198-217) hardly knew what to do, though he leaned toward the Monarchian side. On his death he was succeeded by Kallistos (Calixtus, 217-222), the most energetic and assertive bishop that Rome had yet seen—a man who had been born a slave, had engaged unsuccessfully in banking, and had, for a time, been a sufferer for his Christian faith in the mines of Sardinia. Over Zephyrinus he acquired great influence, and on his own attainment of the bishopric, issued in his own name certain regulations as to the readmission to the church of those repentant of sins of licentiousness, which show higher ecclesiastical claims than any heretofore advanced by a Roman bishop (§ 2.6). Kallistos saw that these disputes were hurting the Roman Church. He therefore excommunicated Sabellius (c. 217), and charged Hippolytus with being a worshipper of two gods.[34] Hippolytus now broke with Kallistos, on this ground and on questions regarding discipline, and became the head of a rival communion in Rome —the first “counter-pope”—a position which he maintained till his banishment in the persecution of 235.

Kallistos tried to find a compromise formula in this Christological confusion. Father, Son and Logos, he held, are all names of “one indivisible spirit.” Yet Son is also the proper designation of that which was visible, Jesus; while the Father was the spirit in Him. This presence of the Father in Jesus is the Logos. Kallistos was positive that the Father did not suffer on the cross, but suffered with the sufferings of the Son, Jesus; yet the Father “after He had taken unto Himself our flesh, raised it to the nature of deity, by bringing it into union with Himself, and made it one, so that Father and Son must be styled one God.”[35] This is, indeed, far from logical or clear. One cannot blame Hippolytus or Sabellius for not liking it. Yet it was a compromise which recognized a pre-existent Logos in Christ, even if it identified that Logos with the Father; it insisted on the identity of that which indwelt Jesus with God; and it claimed a human Jesus, raised to divinity by the Father, and made one with Him, thus really showing a distinction between the Father and the Son, while denying in words that one exists. This compromise won the majority in Rome, and opened the door for the full victory of the Logos Christology there. That victory was determined by the able exposition of that Christology which came at the turning-point in this conflict (213-218) from the pen of Tertullian of Carthage—Against Praxeas (see ante, p. 69), with its clear definitions of a Trinity in three persons and of a distinction between the divine and human in Christ.

Victory of the Logos Christology

How completely this Christology won its way in Western Christendom is shown by the treatise on the Trinity, written by the Roman presbyter, Novatian, between 240 and 250. That eminent scholar was the first in the local Roman communion to use Latin rather than Greek. His quarrel with the dominant party in the church will be described later (§ 2.16). Novatian did little more than reproduce and expand Tertullian’s views. But it is important that he treated this exposition as the only normal and legitimate interpretation of the “rule of truth”—the “Apostles’ Creed.” That symbol had been silent regarding the Logos Christology. To Novatian the Logos Christology is its only proper meaning. Between Father and Son a “communion of substance” exists.[36] The Latin equivalent of the later famous Nicene Homoousion - ὁμοούσιον - was therefore current in Rome before 250. Novatian has even a social Trinity. Commenting on John 10:30, “I and the Father are one,” he declares that Christ “said one thing (unum). Let the heretics understand that He did not say one person. For one placed in the neuter intimates the social concord, not the personal unity.” [37]The most valuable thing in Novatian is that he emphasized what was the heart of the conviction of the church in all this involved Christological controversy, that Christ was fully God and equally fully man.[38] Finally, about 262, the Roman bishop, Dionysius (259-268), writing against the Sabellians, expressed the Logos Christology in terms more nearly approximating to what was to be the Nicene decision of 325 than any other third- century theologian.[39] Thus the West had reached conclusions readily harmonizable with the result at Nicaea, more than sixty years before that great council. The East had attained no such uniformity.







Alexandria was, for more than six centuries, the second city of the ancient world, surpassed only by Rome, and later by Constantinople, in importance. Founded by Alexander the Great in B. C. 332, it was primarily a trading community, and as such, attracted numbers of Greeks and Jews. Its intellectual life was no less remarkable. Its library was the most famous in the empire. In its streets East and West met. There Greek philosophy entered into association, or competed in rivalry, with Judaism and many other Oriental cults, while the influence of ancient Egyptian thought persisted. It was the most cosmopolitan city of the ancient world. There the Old Testament was translated into Greek, and there Philo reinterpreted Judaism in terms of Hellenic philosophy. There Neo-Platonism was to arise in the third century of our era. Of the introduction of Christianity into Alexandria, or into Egypt generally, nothing is known, but it must have been early, since when the veil of silence was lifted Christianity was evidently strongly rooted there. The Gnostic, Basilides, taught in Alexandria in the reign of Hadrian (117-138). There the various philosophical systems had their “schools,” where instruction could be obtained by all inquirers, and it was but natural that Christian teachers should imitate this good example, though it would appear that the beginnings of this work were independent of the Alexandrian Church authorities.

Clement of Alexandria

By about 185 a famous catechetical school existed in Alexandria, then under the leadership of a converted Stoic philosopher, Pantænus. Whether it originated with him, or what his own theological position may have been, it is impossible to determine. With Clement of Alexandria (?-c. 215), Pantænus’s pupil and successor, it comes into the light. The course of religious development in Alexandria had evidently differed from that in Asia Minor and the West. In the latter regions the contest with Gnosticism had bred a distrust of philosophy such that Tertullian could declare that there was no possible connection between it and Christianity. That contest had, also, immensely strengthened the appeal to apostolic tradition and consolidated organization. In Alexandria these characteristics of the Catholic Church had not so fully developed, while philosophy was regarded not as inconsistent with Christianity, but as its handmaid. Here a union of what was best in ancient philosophy, chiefly Platonism and Stoicism, was effected to a degree nowhere else realized in orthodox circles, and the result was a Christian Gnosticism. Clement of Alexandria was typical of this movement. At the same time he was a presbyter in the Alexandrian Church, thus serving as a connecting-link between the church and the school.

The more important of the works of Clement which have survived are three: his Exhortation to the Pagan , an apologetic treatise, giving incidentally no little information as to the mystery religions; his Instructor, the first treatise on Christian conduct, and an invaluable mine of information as to the customs of the age; and his Stromata, or Miscellanies, a collection of profound thoughts on religion and theology, arranged without much regard to system. Throughout he shows the mind of a highly trained and widely read thinker. Clement would interpret Christianity as Philo did Judaism, by philosophy, into scientific dogmatics. To him, as to Justin, whom he far surpassed in clearness of intellectual grasp, the divine Logos has always been the source of all the intelligence and morality of the human race—the teacher of mankind everywhere. “Our instructor is the holy God, Jesus, the Word who is the guide of all humanity.” [40]He was the source of all true philosophy. “ God is the cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New Testament; and of others by consequence, as of philosophy. Perchance, too, philosophy was given to the Greeks directly and primarily, till the Lord should call the Greeks. For this was a schoolmaster to bring the Hellenic mind, as the law the Hebrews, to Christ.” [41]

This training of humanity by the Logos has been, therefore, a progressive education. So it is, also, in the church. “ Faith,” that is simple, traditional Christianity, is enough for salvation; but the man who adds to his faith “knowledge,” has a higher possession.[42] He is the true, Christian Gnostic. “To him that hath shall be given; to faith, knowledge; to knowledge, love; and to love, the inheritance.” [43]The highest good to which knowledge leads—a good even greater than the salvation which it necessarily involves—is the knowledge of God. “Could we then suppose any one proposing to the Gnostic whether he would choose the knowledge of God or everlasting salvation; and if these, which are entirely identical, were separable, he would without the least hesitation choose the knowledge of God.” [44]That highest good brings with it an almost Stoic absence of feeling, either of pleasure or of pain—a condition of blessedness in which Clement believes Christ stood, and to which the Apostles attained through His teaching.[45] One can readily comprehend that Clement, like Justin, had no real interest in the earthly life of Jesus. The Logos then became incarnate, indeed, but Clement’s view of Christ’s life is almost Docetic, certainly more so than that of any teacher of orthodox standing in the church of his own day.


        Clement wrought out no complete theological system. That was to be the task of his even more celebrated successor in the headship of the Alexandrian catechetical school—Origen [n.b although Origen is often called Clement’s “pupil”, there is no clear evidence that their relationship was ever that of teacher and student]. Born of Christian parentage, probably in Alexandria, between 182 and 185, Origen grew up there into a familiarity with the Scriptures that was to render him the most fully acquainted with the Bible of any of the writers in the early church. His study of philosophy must also have been early begun. A youth of intense feeling and eager mental curiosity, he was as remarkable for his precocity as for the later ripeness of his scholarship. The persecution under Septimius Severus, in 202, cost the life of Origen’s father, and he would have shared the same fate had not his mother frustrated his wishes by a stratagem. This persecution had driven Clement, from the city; and now, in 203, in spite of his youth, he gathered round himself inquirers with whom he reconstituted the catechetical school. This position he held with great success and with the approval of Bishop Demetrius, till 215, when the Emperor Caracalla drove all teachers of philosophy from Alexandria. His instruction had before been interrupted by visits to Rome (c. 211-212), where he met Hippolytus, and to Arabia (c. 213-214). His manner of life was ascetic in the extreme: later biographers [basing themselves on hostile reports of dubious value] accused Origen of having himself castrated in order to avoid slander arising out of his relations with his numerous students, taking Matt. 19:12 as a counsel of perfection. The year 215 saw Origen in Caesarea in Palestine, where he made friends of permanent value. Permitted to return to Alexandria, probably in 216, he resumed his instruction, and began a period of scholarly productivity the results of which were little short of marvellous.

        Origen’s labors in Alexandria were broken by a journey to Greece and Palestine in 230 or 231. He was still a layman; but, by friendly Palestinian bishops he was ordained a presbyter, in Caesarea, probably that he might be free to preach. This ordination of an Alexandrian layman, Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria not unnaturally viewed as an intrusion on his jurisdiction, and jealousy of the successful teacher may have added to his resentment. At all events, Demetrius held synods by which Origen was banished from Alexandria, and as far as was in their power, deposed from the ministry. He now found a congenial home in friendly Caesarea. Here he continued his indefatigable studies, his teaching, and to them he added frequent preaching. He made occasional journeys. He was surrounded by friends who held him in the highest esteem. With the great Decian persecution (see p. 86) of 250, this period of peace ended, He was imprisoned and tortured, and died either in Cæsarea or Tyre, probably in 251 (254 ?) as a consequence of the cruelties he had undergone. No man of purer spirit or nobler aims ornaments the history of the ancient church.

Origen’s Theology

Origen was a man of many-sided scholarship. The field to which he devoted most attention was that of Biblical text- criticism and exegesis. Here his chief productions were his monumental Hexapla, giving the Hebrew and four parallel Greek translations of the Old Testament; and a long series of commentaries and briefer notes treating nearly the entire range of Scripture. It was the most valuable work that had yet been done by any Christian scholar. In the field of theology his De Principiis, written before 231, was not merely the first great systematic presentation of Christianity, but its thoughts and methods thenceforth controlled Greek dogmatic development. His Against Celsus, written between 246 and 248, in reply to the ablest criticism of Christianity that pagan ism had produced—that of the Platonist Celsus (c. 177)—was the keenest and most convincing defense of the Christian faith that the ancient world brought forth, and one fully worthy of the greatness of the controversy. Besides these monumental undertakings he found time for the discussion of practical Christian themes, such as prayer and martyrdom, and for the preparation of many sermons. His was indeed a life of unwearied industry.

In Origen the process was complete which had long been interpreting Christian truths in terms of Hellenic thinking. He gave to the Christian system the fullest scientific standing, as tested by the science of that age, which was almost entirely comprised in philosophy and ethics. His philosophic standpoint was essentially Platonic and Stoic, with a decided leaning toward positions similar to those of the rising Neo-Platonism, the lectures of whose founder, Ammonius Saccas, he is said to have heard.[46] These philosophic principles he sought to bring into harmony with the Scriptures, as his great Hebrew fellow townsman, Philo, had done, by allegorical interpretation of the Bible. All normal Scripture, he held, has a threefold meaning. “The simple man may be edified by the ‘flesh’ as it were of the Scriptures, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way may be edified by the ‘soul’ as it were; the perfect man . . may receive edification from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body and soul and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.”[47] This allegorical system [was of great value in expressing mystical experience; however, it had the negative effect of permitting exegetes to discover practically anything they wished in the Scriptures].

As a necessary foundation for his theological system, Origen posited that “which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.”[48] These fundamentals of traditional Christianity include belief (1) “in one God . . the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, [who] Himself gave the law and the prophets and the Gospels, being also the God of the Apostles and of the Old and New Testaments”; (2) “that Jesus Christ Himself . . . was born of the Father before all creatures . . . became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was . . was born of a Virgin . . . was truly born and did truly suffer and . . . did truly die . . . did truly rise from the dead “; (3) “ that the Holy Spirit was associated in honor and dignity with the Father and the Son”; (4) in the resurrection and in future rewards and punishments; (5) in free will; (6) in the existence and opposition of the devil and his angels; (7) that the world was made in time and will “be destroyed on account of its wickedness”; (8) “that the Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God”; (9) “that there are certain angels of God, and certain good influences which are His servants in accomplishing the salvation of men.” [49]These are essential beliefs for all Christians, learned and unlearned, as taught by the church; and on them Origen proceeded to erect his mighty fabric of systematic theology—that explanation of Christianity for him who would add to his faith knowledge.

Origen’s conception of the universe was strongly Platonic. The real world is the spiritual reality behind this temporary, phenomenal, visible world. In that world great transactions have had their place. There, as with Plato, our spirits existed. There sin first entered. There we fell, and thither the redeemed will return. God, the uncreated, perfect Spirit, is the source of all. From Him the Son is eternally generated. “ His generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliancy which is produced from the sun.”[50] Yet Christ is “a second God.” [51]a “creature.” Christ’s position, as Loofs has pointed out, was viewed by Origen as the same as that of the nous—mind, thought—in the Neo-Platonic system. He is the “mediator” between God and His world of creatures, the being through whom they were made. Highest of these creatures is the Holy Spirit, whom Origen reckons to the Godhead, by reason of churchly tradition, but for whom he has no real necessity in his system.

All spiritual beings, including the spirits of men, were made by God, through the Son, in the true spiritual world. “He had no other reason for creating them than on account of Himself, i. e. His own goodness.” [52]All were good, though their goodness, unlike that of God, was “an accidental and perishable quality.”[53] All had free will. Hence some fell by sin in the invisible spiritual world. It was as a place of punishment and of reform that God created this visible universe, placing fallen spirits therein in proportion to the heinousness of their sins. The least sinful are angels and have as bodies the stars. Those of greater sinfulness are on the face of the earth, with animal souls, also, and mortal bodies. They constitute mankind. The worst are the.demons, led by the devil himself.

Salvation was wrought by the Logos-Son becoming man, by uniting with a human soul that had not sinned in its previous existence and a pure body. While here Christ was God and man; but at the resurrection and ascension Christ’s humanity was given the glory of His divinity, and is no longer human but divine.[54] That transformation Christ effects for all His disciple a “From Him there began the union of the divine with the human nature, in order that the human, by communion with the divine, might rise to be divine, not in Jesus alone, but in all those who not only believe but enter upon the life which Jesus taught.” [55]Origen, more than any theologian since Paul, emphasized the sacrificial character of Christ’s death; but he interpreted it in many ways, some of which were not very consistent with others. Christ suffered what was “ for the good of the human race” as a representative and an example.[56] He was in some sense a propitiatory offering to God. He was a ransom paid to the powers of evil.[57] He conquered the demons.[58] He frustrated their expectation that they could hold Him by the bonds of death and brought their kingdom to an end.[59] Those of mankind who are His disciples are received at death into Paradise; the evil find their place in hell. Yet, ultimately, not only all men, but even the devil and all spirits with him will be saved.[60] This will be the restoration of all things, when God will be all in all.

Origen’s theological structure is the greatest intellectual achievement of the ante-Nicene Church. It influenced profoundly all after-thinking in the Orient. Yet it is easy to see how he could be quoted on either side in the later Christological controversies, and to understand, in the light of a later rigid orthodoxy, how he came to be regarded as a heretic, whose views were condemned by a synod in his native Alexandria in 399 or 400, by the Emperor Justinian in 443, and by the Fifth General Council in 553. His work was professedly for the learned, not for the common Christian. Because its science is not our science it [can seem] strange to us. But it gave to Christianity full scientific standing in that age. In particular, the teachings of Clement and Origen greatly advanced the dominance of the Logos Christology in the Orient, though Sabellianism was still wide-spread there, and an adoptionist Christology had an eminent representative in the bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, as late as 272.

Yet Origen was not without serious critics in the century in which he lived. Of these the most important, theologically, was Methodius, bishop of Olympus, in Lycia, who died about 311. Taking his stand on the tradition of Asia Minor, Methodius denied Origen’s doctrines of the soul’s pre-existence and imprisonment in this world, and affirmed the resurrection of the body. In ability he was not to be compared with Origen.

[5].4. CHURCH and STATE from 180 to 260



[5.4] CHURCH and STATE from 180 to 260



Decline of Empire, Growth of Church

The visible decline of the Roman Empire is usually reckoned from the death of Marcus Aurelius (180), though its causes go back much further[:]

[1] Population was diminishing.

[2] Trade and industry were fettered by heavy taxation.

[3] The leadership passed more and more from the hands of the cultivated classes.

[4] The army was largely recruited from the outlying provinces of the empire, and even from tribes beyond its borders.

From the death of Commodus (192), [the army] dictated the choice of Emperors, who, in general, were very far from representing the higher type of Græco-Roman culture, as had the Antonines.

[5] The whole administrative machinery of the empire was increasingly inefficient,

[6] and the defense of its borders inadequate.

From a military point of view, conditions grew steadily worse till the time of Aurelian (270-275), and were hardly securely bettered till that of Diocletian (284-305). In other respects no considerable pause was achieved in the decline.

[7] Yet this period was also one of increasing feeling of popular unity in the empire.

[8] The lines of distinction between the races were breaking down. In 212 the Roman citizenship was extended by Caracalla, not wholly from disinterested motives, to all free inhabitants of the empire.

[9] Above all, from a religious point of view, the close of the second and the whole of the third centuries were an age of syncretism, a period of deepening religious feeling, in which the mystery religions of the Orient—and Christianity also— made exceedingly rapid increase in the number of their adherents.

This growth of the church was extensive as well as intensive. To near the close of the second century it had penetrated little beyond those whose ordinary tongue was Greek. By the dawn of the third century the church was rapidly advancing in Latin- speaking North Africa and, though more slowly, in Spain and Gaul, and reaching toward, if it had not already arrived in, Britain. In Egypt Christianity was now penetrating the native population, while by 190 it was well represented in Syriac- speaking Edessa. The church was also reaching more extensively than earlier into the higher classes of society. It was being better understood; and though Tertullian shows that the old popular slanders of cannibalism and gross immorality were still prevalent in 197,[1] as the third century went on they seem to have much decreased, doubtless through growing ac-quaintance with the real significance of Christianity.

The Attitude of the Emperors

 The relations of the state to the church during the period from 180 to 260 were most various, depending on the will of the several Emperors, but, on the whole, such as to aid rather than to hinder its growth till the last decade of this period. Legally, Christianity was condemned. It had no right to exist.[2] Practically, it enjoyed a considerable degree of toleration during most of this epoch. The persecution which had been begun under Marcus Aurelius continued into the reign of Commodus, but he soon neglected the church as he did about everything else not connected with his own pleasures. This freedom from persecution continued till well into the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211); but was broken in 202 by a persecution of considerable severity, especially in Carthage and Egypt. Under Caracalla (211-217), persecution again raged in North Africa. Elagabalus (218- 222), though an ardent supporter of sun-worship, was disposed to a syncretism which was not openly hostile to Christianity. Alexander Severus (222-235) was distinctly favorable. A syncretist who would unite many religions, he placed a bust of Christ in his private chapel along with images of leaders of other faiths; while his mother, Julia Mamæa, under whose influence he stood, heard lectures by Origen. He even decided a dispute as to whether a piece of property in Rome should be used by its Christian claimants, doubtless as a place of worship, or by their opponents as a cook-shop, in favor of the Christians. A change of policy came under Maximinus (235-238), by whom an edict against the Christians was issued, which, though not extensively enforced, thrust both the Catholic bishop, Pontianus, and his schismatic rival Hippolytus from Rome into the cruel slavery of the mines, where they soon lost their lives. In eastern Asia Minor and Palestine this persecution made itself felt. Under Gordian (238-244) and till near the end of the reign of Philip the Arabian (244- 249) the church had rest. For that new outbreak Philip was in no way responsible. Indeed, an erroneous rumor declared him to be secretly a Christian. The number of martyrs in these persecutions was not large, as Origen testified, writing between 246 and 248,[3] and these outbreaks were local, if at times of considerable extent. Though Christians were deprived of all legal protection, the average believer must have thought that the condition of the church was approaching practical safety.

The Decian and Valerian Persecutions

This growing feeling of security was rudely dispelled. The year 248 saw the celebration of the thousandth anniversary of the founding of Rome. It was a time of revival of ancient traditions and of the memories of former splendors. The empire was never more threatened by barbarian attack or torn by internal disputes. The populace attributed these troubles to the cessation of persecution.[4] A fierce mob attack broke out in Alexandria before the death of Philip the Arabian. To the more observant pagan s the growth of a rigidly organized church might well seem that of a state within the state, the more dangerous that Christians still largely refused army service or the duties of public office.[5] Nearer at hand lay the plausible, though fallacious, argument that as Rome had grown great when the old gods were worshipped by all, so now their rejection by a portion of the population had cost Rome their aid, and had caused the calamities evident on every hand. This was apparently the feeling of the new Emperor, Decius (249-251), and of a conservative Roman noble, Valerian, with whom Decius was intimately associated. The result was the edict of 250, which initiated the first universal and systematic persecution of Christianity.

The Decian persecution was by far the worst trial that the church as a whole had undergone—the more severe because it had principle and determination behind it. The aim was not primarily to take life, though there were numerous and cruel martyrdoms, but rather to compel Christians by torture, imprisonment, or fear to sacrifice to the old gods. Bishops Fabian of Rome and Babylas of Antioch died as martyrs. Origen and hosts of others were tortured. The number of these “confessors” was very great. So, also, was the number of the “lapsed”—that is, of those who, through fear or torture, sacrificed, burned incense, or procured certificates from friendly or venal officials that they had duly worshipped in the form prescribed by the state.[6] Many of these lapsed, when the persecution was over, returned to seek in bitter penitence read- mission to the church. The question of their treatment caused a long, enduring schism in Rome, and much trouble elsewhere (see p. 101). Fierce as it was, the persecution under Decius and Valerian was soon over; but only to be renewed in somewhat milder form by Decius’s successor, Gallus (251-253). In 253 Decius’s old associate in persecution, Valerian, obtained possession of the empire (253-260). Though he at first left the Christians undisturbed, in 257 and 258 he renewed the attack with greater ferocity. Christian assemblies were forbidden; Christian churches and cemeteries confiscated; bishops, priests, and deacons ordered to be executed, and lay Christians in high places disgraced, banished, and their goods held forfeited. Under this persecution Cyprian died in Carthage, Bishop Sixtus II and the Deacon Laurentius in Rome, and Bishop Fructuosus in Tarragona in Spain. It was a fearful period of trial, lasting, with intermissions indeed, from 250 to 259. In 260 Valerian became a prisoner in the hands of the victorious Persians. His son, associate Emperor and successor, Gallienus (260-268), a thoroughly weak and incompetent ruler, promptly gave up the struggle with Christianity. Church property was returned, and a degree of favor shown that has sometimes, though erroneously, been interpreted as a legal toleration. That the act of Gallienus was not. The old laws against Christianity were unrepealed. Practically, however, a peace began which was to last till the outbreak of the persecution under Diocletian, in 303, though probably threatened by Aurelian just before his death in 275. The church had come out of the struggle stronger than ever before

[1] Prescription, 7.

[2] Apology, 17.

[3] Prescription, 13-19.

[4] Prescription., 32.

[5] Prescription., 13.

[6] Baptism, 1.

[7] Repentance, 6.

[8] Anima, 41.

[9] Anima., 21.

[10] Baptism, 10.

[11] Patience, 1.

[12] Leitfaden zum Stadium der Dogmengeschichte, p. 164.

[13] Repentance, 2, 9.

[14] Praxeas, 2.

[15] Praxeas., 12.

[16] Praxeas., 7.

[17] Praxeas., 27.

[18] Praxeas, 7, 9.

[19] Letters, 39-43.5.

[20] Ibid., 51-55.24.

[21] Unity of the Church, 6.

[22] Letters, 72-73.21.

[23] Ibid., 68-66.8.

[24] Unity of the Church, 5; Ayer, p. 242.

[25] E. g., Unity of the Church, 4.

[26] Letters, 54-59.14.

[27] Ibid., 76.6.

[28] Praxeas, 3.

[29] Praxeas, 3, 10.

[30] Hippolytus, Refutation, 7.33, 10.19; Ayer, p. 172.

[31] Letters, 72-734.

[32] Hippolytus, Against Noetus, 1; Ayer, p. 177.

[33] Praxeas, 1; Ayer, p. 179.

[34] Hippolytus, Refutation, 96.

[35] Ibid., 97.

[36] Trinity, 31.

[37] Ibid., 27.

[38] Ibid., 11, 24.

[39] In Athanasius, De Decretis, 26.

[40] Instructor, 1.7.

[41] Stromata, 1.5; Ayer, p. 190.

[42] Ibid., 1.6.

[43] Ibid., 7.10.

[44] Ibid., 4.22

[45] Ibid., 6.9.

[46] Eusebius, Church History, 6:19.6.

[47] De Principiis, 4:1.11; Ayer, pp. 200, 201.

[48] De Principiis, Preface.

[49] All ibid.

[50] De Principiis, 1: 2.4.

[51] Celsus, 5.39.

[52] De Principiis, 2: 94.

[53] Ibid., 1:62.

[54] Celsus, 3.41.

[55] Celsus, 3.28.

[56] Celsus, 717; Ayer, p. 197.

[57] Com. on Matt., 1228, 16”; Ayer, p. 197.

[58] Com. on John, 6.37

[59] Com. on Matt., 13.9.

[60] De Principiis, 1;6.1-4; Ayer, p. 198.


[1] Apology, 7.

[2] Tertullian, Apology, 4.

[3] Celsus, 3.8.

[4] Origen, Celsus, 3.15; Ayer, p. 206.

[5] Origen, Celsus, 8.73, 75.

[6] Ayer, p. 210, for specimens.



There are monographs on Clement of Alexandria by R. B. Tollinton (1914, 2 vols.), on Origen by H. Crouzel (ET 1989). On Clement and Origen the best single study is C. Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (2nd ed. 1913). On Origen’s Biblical exegesis see R. P. C. Hanson, Allegory and Event (1959), and R. M. Grant, The Letter and the Spirit (1957). On all these writers the relevant chapters in Harnack’s History of Dogma remain important. On the synthesis with Greek philosophy in Justin, Clement and Origen, see H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966); Origen contra Celsum (1980); B. A. Pearson and J. E. Goehring, The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (1986).



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