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SAINT LEONIDES OF ALEXANDRIA (DIED 202)
Roman Catholic Martyr
His feast transferred from April 22
ORIGENES ADAMANTIUS (185-254)
Roman Catholic Theologian
SAINT DEMETRIUS OF ALEXANDRIA (126-231)
Roman Catholic Bishop of Alexandria
His feast transferred from October 9
SAINT ALEXANDER OF JERUSALEM (DIED 251)
Roman Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem
St. Leonides of Alexandria (died 202) was a scholar whom Roman imperial authorities beheaded for being a Christian. He was also the father of Origen Adamantius (185-254), Origen for short, and his son’s first teacher in Christian theology. Origen also studied under Ammonius Saccas (circa 175-250), an Alexandrian philosopher who influenced Plotinus (204-270), founder of Neoplatonism. Another teacher was Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215), the Father of Christian Scholarship, who proved so controversial that the Roman Catholic Church decanonized him in 1584. Origen supported his mother and sister after his father’s martyrdom and became director of the Catechetical School at Alexandria in 203, when he was eighteen years old. And he was a much sought-after catechist, teaching large groups of eager learners.
This was the Catechetical School which St. Demetrius of Alexandria (126-231), Bishop of Alexandria from 188 to 231, built up. St. Demetrius mentored Origen, making him school director in 203 and defending him from criticisms for years before becoming a critic. Origen taught in Alexandria for years yet had to flee to Palestine in 215. There bishops permitted him, a layman, to preach. This disturbed St. Demetrius, who condemned him for preaching without being ordained. Origen returned to Alexandria in time.
St. Alexander of Jerusalem (died 251), as a young man, had been a classmate with Origen at the Catechetical School at Alexandria. And he had gone to prison during the same persecution during which Origen’s father died. St. Alexander became a bishop in his native Cappadocia, in modern-day Turkey, before undertaking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 212. There he became Bishop Coadjutor of Jerusalem. This was the first instance of a Bishop Coadjutor in church history. So it happened that St. Alexander, as Bishop of Jerusalem, was in a position to grant his old friend sanctuary during exile in 215 and permission to preach. The Bishop of Jerusalem also ordained Origen to the priesthood in 227. St. Demetrius objected to this, refused to recognized Origen as a priest, prohibited him from teaching in Alexandria, banished him, and excommunicated him. The Pope and many other bishops confirmed this excommunication. Yet Origen found refuge in Greece and Asia, where many bishops supported him.
This seems like a good time to reflect on what made Origen so controversial. He was an influential theologian and Biblical scholar. His concepts regarding the Trinity (a century prior to the First Council of Nicaea, 325) anticipated the decrees of that Council in some ways and differed from them in others. It seems also that Origen ran afoul of those who favored a clear distinction between the laity and the clergy. More importantly, though, he, more than others who preceded him, blended Christianity with Greek philosophy, namely Platonism. This attracted much criticism during and after this life.
Such was blending was not without precedent. There was the immediate example of his teacher, Clement of Alexandria. Earlier than that, however, was the Letter to the Hebrews. Read Chapter 9, for example. There, O reader, you will find a blending of Christianity and Aristotelian thought. A thousand years after Clement and Origen, St. Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274) whose works defined Roman Catholic theology for centuries, reconciled Aristotelian thought with Christianity. So the blending of philosophy and Christian theology is not a sin in Roman Catholicism. (I wonder how Clement and Origen would have fared had they been Aristotelians instead of Platonists.) Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas stood on Origen’s shoulders. Origen, denied sainthood in Roman Catholicism, established the respected status of philosophy in Christian theology.
Origen survived the persecution under Emperor Maximinus I (reigned 235-238) unscathed. Afterward Origen refuted one Bishop Beryllus in Arabia. The bishop claimed that Christ’s divine nature had not existed prior to his human nature. Origen convinced Beryllus that this was a heresy.
Emperor Decius (reigned 249-251) launched another persecution of Christians. At this time St. Alexander died in prison in Caesarea. He had done more than aid Origen and irritate St Demetrius; he had also built a respected library and a school at Jerusalem. Origen also went to prison during the Decian persecution. He died at Tyre in 254, never having recovered from the sufferings of his incarceration.
Origen lived in a time when certain Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity, were developing. Theological development of Christianity with regard to core doctrines took a few centuries. He strove to remain faithful to the Apostolic traditions, yet subsequent theological developments defined him as too heterodox for sainthood. For example, Origen thought that the coeternal Son was subordinate to the Father and affirmed the pre-existence of souls. To be fair, even St. Paul the Apostle (died 64) was fuzzy in aspects of his Trinitarian theology. In Romans 8:9-11, for example, he is unclear regarding the distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit. But this has not prevented him from being St. Paul. Doctrines did not fall from Heaven fully formed; theologians debated and developed them, based on interpretations of Biblical texts. And, for that matter, there remain major theological differences between Eastern and Western Christianity. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father or from the Father and the Son? Is that an important point? I think not.
Regarding Origen, the best succinct analysis comes from Ross Mackenzie, in Volume 3 of The University of the South’s Education for Ministry study materials:
Origen (who stood up when courage was needed) never achieved that recognition [canonization]. But his wide influence on later Christian thought and spirituality is his best memorial.–page 177
The Church might deny Origen a feast day (He is not even on The Episcopal Church’s calendar, but his teacher, Clement, is), but I honor him with one–March 18.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 17, 2011 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF MARIA STEWART, EDUCATOR
THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB, FOUNDER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN
THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER
THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS, ORTHODOX DEACONESS
you have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses.
Grant that we, encouraged by the example of your servants
Saint Leonides of Alexandria,
Saint Demetrius of Alexandria,
and Saint Alexander of Jerusalem,
may persevere in the course that is set before us and,
at the last, share in your eternal joy with all the saints in light,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59
Revised on December 24, 2016