Chapter XXIV.—The Commentaries which he prepared at Alexandria.
1. It may be well to add that in the sixth book of his exposition of the Gospel of John 1963 he states that he prepared the first five while in Alexandria. Of his work on the entire Gospel only twenty-two volumes have come down to us.
2. In the ninth of those on Genesis, 1964 of which there are twelve in all, he p. 272 states that not only the preceding eight had been composed at Alexandria, but also those on the first twenty-five Psalms 1965 and on Lamentations. 1966 Of these last five volumes have reached us.
3. In them he mentions also his books On the Resurrection, 1967 of which there are two. He wrote also the books De Principiis 1968 before leaving Alexandria; and the discourses entitled Stromata, 1969 ten in number, he composed in the same city during the reign of Alexander, as the notes by his own hand preceding the volumes indicate.
Origens commentary upon the Gospel of John was the “first fruits of his labors at Alexandria,” as he informs us in Tom. I. §4. It must have been commenced, therefore, soon after he formed the connection with Ambrose mentioned in the previous chapter, and that it was one of the fruits of this connection is proved by the way in which Ambrose is addressed in the commentary itself (Tom. I. §3). The date at which the work was begun cannot be determined; but if Eusebius follows the chronological order of events, it cannot have been before 218 (see chap. 21, note 8). Eusebius speaks as if Origen had expounded the entire Gospel (τῆς δ᾽ εἰς τὸ πᾶν εὐαγγέλιον αὐτὸ δὲ τοῦτο πραγματείας), but Jerome, in his catalogue of Origens works given in his epistle to Paula (in a fragmentary form in Mignes ed., Ep. 33, complete in the Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol. 1851, p. 75 sq.), reports that the commentary consisted of thirty-two books and some notes (cf. his prologue to his translation of Origens homilies on Luke, Mignes ed., VII. 219), and Rufinus likewise (Apol. II. 22) speaks of thirty-two books only. But in the thirty-second book, which is still extant, Origen discusses the thirteenth chapter of John, and does not promise to continue the commentary, as he does at the close of some of the other books. We may therefore conclude that Eusebius rather indefinite statement (which was probably not based upon personal knowledge, for he says that he had seen only twenty-two books), is incorrect, and that the commentary extended no further than the thirteenth chapter. We learn from the preface to the sixth book that the first five were composed while the author was still in Alexandria, the remaining books after his removal to Cæsarea, and at least part of them after the persecution of Maximinus (235–238), to which reference was made in the twenty-second book, according to Eusebius, chap. 28, below. There are still extant Books I., II., VI., X., XIII., XX., XXVIII., XXXII., small fragments of IV. and V., and the greater part of XIX. (printed in Lommatzschs ed., Vols. I and II.). The production of this commentary marked an epoch in the history of theological thought, and it remains in many respects the most important of Origens exegetical works. It is full of original and suggestive thought, and reveals Origens genius perhaps in the clearest and best light, though the exegesis is everywhere marred by the allegorizing method and by neglect of the grammatical and historical sense.271:1964
Of the commentary on Genesis, only some fragments from the first and third books are extant, together with some extracts (ἐκλογαί), and seventeen homilies (nearly complete) in the Latin translation of Rufinus (see Lommatzschs ed., Vol. VIII.). Eight of the books, Eusebius tells us, were written in Alexandria, and they must, of course, have been begun after the commencement of the commentary on John. Jerome (according to Rufinus, Apol. II. 20) gave the number of the book as thirteen (though in his catalogue mentioned in the previous note, he speaks of fourteen), and said that the thirteenth discussed Gen. iv. 15; and in his Contra Cels. VI. 49 Origen speaks of his work upon Genesis “from the beginning of the book up to” V. 1. We may therefore conclude that the commentary covered only the early chapters of Genesis. The homilies, however, discuss brief passages taken from various parts of the book.272:1965
Origens writings on the Psalms comprised a complete commentary (cf. Jeromes Ep. ad Augustinum, §20; Mignes ed.; Ep. 112), brief notes (“quod Enchiridion ille vocabat,” see Mignes edition of Jeromes works, Vol. VIII. 821, and compare the entire Breviarium in Psalmos which follows, and which doubtless contains much of Origens work; see Smith and Wace, IV. p. 108) and homilies. Of these there are still extant numerous fragments in Greek, and nine complete homilies in the Latin version of Rufinus (printed by Lommatzsch in Vols. XI.–XIII.). The catalogue of Jerome mentions forty-six books of notes on the Psalms and 118 homilies. The commentary on the 26th and following Psalms seem to have been written after leaving Alexandria (to judge from Eusebius statement here).272:1966
There are extant some extracts (ἐκλογαί) of Origens expositions of the book of Lamentations, which are printed by Lommatzsch, XIII. 167–218. They are probably from the commentary which Eusebius tells us was written before Origen left Alexandria, and five books of which were extant in his time. The catalogue of Jerome also mentions five books.272:1967
Jerome (in the catalogue and in the passage quoted by Rufinus, Apol. II. 20) mentions two books and two dialogues on the Resurrection (De Resurrectione libros duos. Et alios de Resurrectione dialogos duos). Whether the dialogues formed an independent work we do not know. We hear of them from no other source. The work was bitterly attacked by Methodius, but there are no traces of heresy in the extant fragments.272:1968
Of Origens De Principiis (περὶ ἀρχῶν), which was written before he left Alexandria, there are still extant some fragments in Greek, together with brief portions of a translation by Jerome (in his epistle to Avitus; Mignes ed.; Ep. 124), and a complete but greatly altered translation by Rufinus. The latter, together with the extant fragments, is printed by Lommatzsch, Vol. XXI.; and also separately by Redepenning (Lips. 1836); Engl. trans. by Crombie, in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. The work is the most important of all Origens writings, and from it we gather our fullest knowledge as to his opinions, philosophical and theological; though unfortunately Rufinus alterations have made it doubtful in many cases what Origens original meaning was. The work constitutes the first attempt to form a system of Christian doctrine. It contains a great many peculiar, often startling errors, and was the chief source of the attacks made upon Origen for heterodoxy; and yet the authors object was only to set forth the doctrines accepted by the Church, and to show how they could be systematized by the aid of Scripture or of reason. He did not intend to bring forward doctrines inconsistent with the received faith of the Church. The work consists of four books. To quote from Westcott: “The composition is not strictly methodical. Digressions and repetitions interfere with the symmetry of the plan. But to speak generally, the first book deals with God and creation (religious statics); the second and third books with creation and providence, with man and redemption (religious dynamics); and the fourth book with Holy Scripture.”
Intellectually the work is of a very high order, abounding in deep and original thought as well as in grand and lofty sentiments.272:1969
In his catalogue, Jerome gives among the commentaries on the Old Testament the simple title Stromatum, without any description of the work. But in his Ep. ad Magnum, §4 (Mignes ed., Ep. 70), he says that Origen wrote ten books of Stromata in imitation of Clements work, and in it compared the opinions of Christians and philosophers, and confirmed the dogmas of Christianity by appeals to Plato and other Greek philosophers (Hunc imitatus Origines, decem scripsit Stromateas, Christianorum et philosophorum inter se sententias comparans: et omnia nostræ religionis dogmata de Platone et Aristotele, Numenio, Cornutoque confirmans). Only three brief fragments of a Latin translation of the work are now extant (printed in Lommatzschs ed., XVII. 69–78). These fragments are sufficient to show us that the work was exegetical as well as doctrinal, and discussed topics of various kinds in the light of Scripture as well as in the light of philosophy.