Origen on Justification

Doesn't he look like the creepy scientist from Looney Tunes?

Origen (185 A.D. – 245 A.D.) was one of the earliest Biblical scholars in Church history. Though considered heretical in some of teachings (i.e. universalism), his commentary on Romans was highly influential in the Church’s understanding of Paul.[1] This commentary was widely known due to its many Latin translations by such men as Rufinus and Jerome. [2] C.P. Bammel even makes the argument that Augustine’s Pauline understanding comes from Origen.[3]

Origen’s view on justification is tricky to pin point. In the works that we have today, he never explicitly gives a definition of it. There are a few things that we should note that are implicit in his writings though. The robber crucified with Christ is brought up multiple times, but it is especially focused on in his commentary of Romans 3. This is his main example of a person being justified without any previous works. At bare minimum, this shows that all works prior to faith are worthless.

He also believes faith itself is a gift from the Holy Spirit that should result in good works.[4] Does Origen fall in line with the traditional protestant view of how Justification and Sanctification relate to one another? Surprisingly, the answer is no. For Origen, justification by faith seems to consist in two parts. On one hand, by faith, one is reconciled to God through the blood of Christ. This eliminates all past sins from life of Christian.[5] On the other hand, faith continually justifies a person before God as well. Origen in his commentary of Romans 4 examines the life of Abraham. He describes how Abraham’s works were evidence of his faith and that these also justified him before God: In some sense faith is perfected by works. [6] M. F. Wiles notes, with Origen, faith in Jesus was servant like faith, which he lived out the reality of Christ.[7] Justification by faith is a two sided coin that cleanses the sinner’s past and transforms the saint’s future.

[1] Origen’s commentary on Romans was largely historically based. He is often misunderstood as one who merely practices allegorical interpretation; but, this seems to be practiced mainly with Narrative.

[2] D.H. Williams, Ibid., p. 656.

[3] C.P. Bammel , “Justification by Faith in Augustine and Origen.” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 47 (1996) , pp. 223-35.

[4] Ibid. pp. 228-229.

[5] Ibid., pgs. 228.

[6] Ibid. pgs. 229-230.

[7] M. F. Wiles, The Divine Apostle: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles in the Early Church, (London: 1967), 114.


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