Archive for the ‘Saints of the 190s’ Category

Feast of St. Leonides of Alexandria, Origen, St. Demetrius of Alexandria, and St. Alexander of Jerusalem (March 18)   27 comments

Above:  Origen

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT LEONIDES OF ALEXANDRIA (DIED 202)

Roman Catholic Martyr

His feast transferred from April 22

Father of 

ORIGENES ADAMANTIUS (185-254)

Roman Catholic Theologian

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SAINT DEMETRIUS OF ALEXANDRIA (126-231)

Roman Catholic Bishop of Alexandria

His feast transferred from October 9

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SAINT ALEXANDER OF JERUSALEM (DIED 251)

Roman Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem

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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.  Origen also 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

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Lord God,

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,

Origen,

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.

Micah 6:6-8

Psalm 9:1-10

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Luke 6:20-23

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59

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Revised on December 24, 2016

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Feast of St. Clement of Alexandria (December 5)   12 comments

Clement of Alexandria

SAINT CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (CIRCA 150-CIRCA 210/215)

“The Pioneer of Christian Scholarship”

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Over ten years ago, in southern Georgia, U.S.A., I heard a member of my father’s church disparage intellectuals.

Smart people don’t have the kind of faith common people do,

he said in a manner which indicated that he placed insufficient value on the intellect.  (So I have to dumb down to have proper faith?  No, I don’t!)  I did not reply for for diplomatic reasons.  Yet I refuse to check my brain at the church door.  Neither did Clement of Alexandria check his brain at the church door.  I like him.

Clement of Alexandria, a.k.a. Titus Flavius Clemens Alexandrius, converted to Christianity from paganism.  (Paganism is a very broad term.)  He studied at the Catechetical School at Alexandria, serving as its director from circa 190 to circa 202, when he retired to Palestine.  Origen, his pupil, succeeded him.  Clement has been a hot potato for a long time.  Once upon a time he was a saint in the Roman Catholic Church; his feast day was December 4.  Yet Pope Sixtus V, of whom J. N. D. Kelly, writing in The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986), accused of repressiveness, decanonized Clement in 1586.  Nevertheless, The Episcopal Church celebrates him on December 5.  And The Hymnal 1982 (published in 1985, by the way) contains two of his hymns.  Hymns #163 and #478 affirm the sacrificial death of Jesus.

Why was Clement so controversial?  Why is he still that way?  There are reasons.

Clement, the Ante-Nicene Church Father most acquainted with Greek philosophy and literature, welcomed insights from them.  Philosophy was, he wrote, the necessary preparation for the Christian gospel.  Said gospel is sufficient and pagan doctrines are insufficient, he maintained, but even pagan Greek philosophy (especially Platonism) contains truth.  So, Clement continued, we ought to accept truth regardless of its source.

Clement sought to affirm orthodoxy; he was certainly no Gnostic.  For Clement, knowledge was the goal of Christian perfection.  This knowledge was manifest in Jesus, the Logos of God.  So, he wrote, this knowledge is in the world; it is not a secret.

Perhaps Clement’s unabashed, even elitist intellectualism explains his lack of popularity.  This knowledge, which is the goal of Christian perfection, is superior to the run-of-the-mill faith which common people have,  he argued.  Furthermore, he insisted, many people are incapable of walking in the better path.  Such a perspective is inconsistent with spiritual populism.

We all bring our baggage to the theological table; let us be honest about that.  I bring a distrust of anti-intellectualism, which I have witnessed.  Egalitarianism, despite its virtues, can devolve into a dumbed-down lowest common denominator.  We would not want to injure anybody’s self-esteem, would we?  I bring a dislike for that mentality also.  So I am an unapologetic intellectual, like Clement.  He might have been impolitic, but he was right about a great deal.  And yes, many people are incapable of certain levels of intellectual attainment.  He was also correct about that that.

History tells me that subsequent theological developments in Western Christianity included, for a time, reflexive rejection of pagan, pre-Christian philosophy and other learning.  The Byzantines retained such knowledge and the Muslims embraced it, but one reason the Dark Ages were so dark in Western Europe was the rejection of so much of the Greco-Roman heritage.

We are all prone to errors.  Yes, Clement was wrong about certain points.  But he was correct more often than not, which is a good way to be.  Perhaps Clement’s greatest legacy is his broad-minded approach to knowledge and truth.  All truth is of God, regardless of through whom God communicates it.  May we, like Clement of Alexandria, listen to and read attentively to that truth wherever we find it.

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

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O God of unsearchable wisdom,

you gave your servant Clement

grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, the source of all truth:

Grant to your church the same grace to discern your Word wherever truth is found;

through Jesus Christ our unfailing light,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Samuel 12:20-24

Psalm 34:9-14

Colossians 1:11-20

John 6:57-63

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010)