The First Origenist Controversy – 393

Epiphanius, Atarbius and Jerome

We begin in Palestine, the year is 393. Atarbius, likely on behalf of Epiphanius of Salamis, is on a mission to procure a condemnation of Origen. The great master heresy hunter himself – Epiphanius – had already connected Origen to several heresies and Arianism in particular. Atarbius approached Rufinus to condemn Origen and was resolutely shown the door. Jerome was also approached and invited o condemn Origen. To the surprise of most Jerome obliged and did indeed condemn Origen. Today Origen’s name is almost automatically connected with heresy. This is in contrast to the 4th century where to a great many well-educated people Origen was the defender of orthodoxy par excellence! Epiphanius’s hostility is a lonely voice.

Jerome had studied under several (in)famous Origenists and is well known for having translated some of Origen’s writings and for his priase of Origen’s commentary on the Song of Songs where , so Jerome mused, Origen even surpassed himself in excellence. What changed Jerome’s mind? It is difficult to be sure about this, but a reasonable conjecture would be that Jerome had been under Epiphanius’s influence for some time and had come to see Origen as the father of Arianism. Jerome shared a strong feeling of disgust – if not hatred – toward this particular heresy with Epiphanius and their relationship seems to have been a natural fit for both.

Epiphanius, by now some 80 years old, came to Jerusalem around Easter 393 to make an attempt at converting John, the Bishop of Jerusalem, and to get him to recant his Origenist errors. At some point Epiphanius preached a homily in the presence of John of Jerusalem and in his homily the old heresy hunter spoke against Origen and in favor of condemning the Alexandrian teacher. The Bishop of Jerusalem responded in a homily preached in the presence of Epiphanius and John went after the Anthropomorphists. Epiphanius painted John and Origenist and in return John painted Epiphanius an Anthropomorphite.

Up until this point the entire Origenist Controversy is essentially a doctrinal issue, as Fr. Gabriel Bunge has noted. It is not until 394 that things take an unfortunate and personal turn. Of which more in the next post.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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