When early in the fourth century Eusebius Bishop of Caesarea came to write his history of the Church, his sixth book offered a triumphant climax in a biography of his intellectual hero Origen.
Eusebius knew Origen's writings intimately, and felt himself to be a pupil, though Origen, born about 184, died in 254 and the two men had never met. However, Origen's library was preserved at Caesarea (Palestine), a church proud to have been the place where St Peter was granted the first conversion of a Gentile, Cornelius (Acts 10). Origen was a prolific producer. Jerome, who in his early years as a biblical exegete, thought Origen 'the greatest teacher of the Church since the apostles', preserves in one letter (33) a long catalogue of Origen's writings, with the cry 'Which of us can read everything he has written?' Origen was helped in producing this overflowing mass of matter by a wealthy patron named Ambrosius who provided shorthand writers to take down what he dictated and to make copies. (Publication in antiquity was by the reading of the text usually by the author to a circle of friends, who would then commission copies to be made at commercial rates. Once an author was known he might send a letter to a distant correspondent suggesting that he should pay for a copy to be made of his latest pieces.)
The central task for his lifework, as Origen himself understood it, was to write biblical commentaries, to interpret the scriptures for his generation in the Church, thereby warding off gnostic exegesis and also rebutting criticism from the pagan intelligentsia. He needed to provide exegesis implicitly refuting Marcion's rejection of the Hebrew scriptures but also disallowing rabbinic literalism. In addition to full-scale commentaries, some of remarkable length so that none survives complete, he was in demand as a preacher. Sermons on the Hexateuch, on the Song of Songs, Isaiah, and Ezekiel were translated into Latin by Rufinus or his one-time friend Jerome. Sermons on St Luke's gospel also survive in Latin. Commentaries on some Pauline epistles, notably Ephesians, survive mainly through the work of Jerome making use of Origen for his own exegesis. The sermons belong to the second half of his life after he had migrated from Alexandria to Palestinian Caesarea, where he received ordination as presbyter, an event highly displeasing to Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria. Throughout the medieval millennium the Latin