01 May, 2010

Origen on the Primacy of Scripture

We know Jesus Christ is God, and we seek to expound the words which are spoken, according to the dignity of the person. Wherefore it is necessary for us to call the Scriptures into testimony; for our meanings and enarrations, without these witnesses, have no credibility.
Origen (c. 185-254AD), Tractatus 5 on Matthew

No man ought, for the confirmation of doctrines, use books which are not canonised Scriptures.
Origen, Tractatus 26 on Matthew

Note: Here Origen speaks unambiguously on the need to prove doctrine from scripture alone.

Possible Objections:
a) Origen was a heretic.
Response: Strictly speaking, Origen is not a church father it is true, as he was anathematised posthumously by the 5th Ecumenical Council for teaching nine heresies (no, sola scriptura wasn't one of them!). Nevertheless, he is recognised as a seminal early theologian whose reflections on the Trinity and Christology served to deepen the church's understanding of these doctrines and were indeed foundational to later definitions. A teacher may be orthodox on most points of doctrine, and yet commit errors in several places; this does not render his thought without value, particularly as testimony to what was believed at a particular time in church history.

b) Origen's conception of the canon was wider than the present church's, including writings we now recognise as sub-apostolic.
Response: This objection is beside the point, which is that Origen regarded the canon of scripture as he understood to have primacy over the writings of any other authority, to the extent that scripture alone should be used to prove doctrine. His error concerning the canonicity of certain sub-apostolic writings is understandable given that the church was still discerning which writings were indeed canonical.
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