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Following Clement, Origen (184/185-253/254) became the next renowned teacher of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. It was there his prodigious talent, purity of character, and capacity for learning first developed. With the martyrdom of his father Leonides (and the confiscation of his property), Origen came to rely on a wealthy patron before going on to become the president of the catechetical school at the young age of 18!  A strict ascetic, he grew into the most industrious of the ante-Nicene Fathers, seeking to guide seekers from non-Christian philosophies and heretical Gnostics into the Christian faith.

Numerous reasons give us hope of finding adoption nuggets in Origen’s writings: the amount he wrote (6,000 publications!); his “fertile thought, keen penetration, and glowing imagination”; his emphasis on catholic or universal theology (inclusive of the preceding Greek Fathers’ interest in adoption?); and his influence on the exegesis of Scripture.

Allowing for the fact that the Hendrickson series only includes certain representative samples of Origen’s writing ~ the theological treatise De Principiis on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity; sample commentaries such as those on the Gospels of Matthew and John; and his apologetic treatise Against Celsus ~ it is nevertheless surprising to find only three mentions of the doctrine of adoption in these  760 pages of small print. The doctrinal intent of De Principiis and the long history of reading the adoption motif into the writings of John suggested many more would have been found.

The first mention occurs amid Origen’s claim that every rational creature needs participation in the Trinity. Whereas participation in the Son of God grants adoption, participation in the Spirit of God grants holiness (De PrincipiisAnte-Nicene Fathers 4:379).

The second occurs in Against Celsus as a quotation of Romans 8:15: “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4:421).

The third, also in Against Celsus, applies the idea of participation in God. Such a participation is a divine blessedness in which we are “imbued with that excellent spirit of adoption which in the sons of the heavenly Father cries, not with words, but with deep effect in the inmost heart, ‘Abba, Father’” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4: 642).

While I leave it to others to search the remainder of Origen’s writings (you’ll be relieved to know that only a third of them have survived!), two main concluding comments may be made.

First, we would be mistaken to isolate adoption as the neglected aspect of Origen’s doctrine of salvation.  Like others of the period, this great but erring biblical theologian, scholar, exegete, and systematic thinker says remarkably little of the constituent elements of salvation in his theological and apologetical treatises.

Second, the absence of relevant comment in Origen’s commentaries on Matthew (“sons of the kingdom”) and John (the new birth, children of God), has nothing to do with the fact that adoption is not there (with the possible exception of John 1:12). It has everything to do with his allegorizing approach to biblical exposition which took him away from the context and exegesis of the text. Ironically, this fallacious approach kept him from the fallacious exegesis of many of his critics down to the present. They wouldn’t be “seen dead” allegorizing Scripture as Origen did, but think nothing of reading adoption into Matthean and Johannine texts without demonstrable warrant.


* At this post follows on in chronological order from that of Clement of Alexandria. See the “EighthNugget” and “Ninth Nugget.” 


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