Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

25. Origen

There is no single major discussion of baptism in Origen, but his voluminous writings contain abundant references to the subject.1 Origen sets the early Christian theology of baptism in his own distinctive theological system, and he makes occasional reference to the baptismal liturgy. Origen placed baptism, “like the other sacraments, in a series of symbolisms, corresponding to the triple distinction of the Old Testament as shadow, the temporal Gospel as image, and the eternal Gospel as reality.”2 With reference to Origen’s language of baptism itself, the baptism of John belonged with the Old Testament symbols as a shadow, baptism in the church is the image, and the eschatological baptism of fire and the final conforming to the resurrection of Christ are mystery.3 Putting these distinctions together, we may speak of a fourfold use of baptismal language by Origen: the shadows or types in the Old Testament (including the baptism of John), Christian baptism in water, the spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, and the eschatological

1. This chapter is based on my “Baptism according to Origen,” Evangelical Quarterly 78 (2006): 117-135. See also Hans Jörg Auf der Maur and Joop Waldram, “Illuminatio Verbi Divini — Confessio Fidei — Gratia Baptismi: Wort, Glaube und Sakrament in Katechumenat und Taufliturgie bei Origenes,” in H. J. Auf der Maur et al., eds., Fides Sacramenti Sacramentum Fidei (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1981), pp. 41–95, rich in bibliographical references and references in Origen; Cécile Blanc, “Le baptême d’après Origène,” Studia Patristica 11 (1972): 113–124; Henri Crouzel, “Origène et la structure du sacrement,” Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 63 (1962): 81–104 (83-92 on baptism); Victor Saxer, Les rites de l’initiation chrétienne du IIe au VIe siècle: Esquisse historique et signification d’après leur principaux témoins (Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo, 1988), pp. 145–194.

2. Henri Crouzel, Origen (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 223.

3. Crouzel, Origen, p. 225; Jean Daniélou, Origène (Paris: LaTable Ronde, 1948), pp. 71–72, for the purely figurative baptisms of the Old Testament and John, Christian baptism as the reality signified by the Old Testament figures and itself a figure of the reality to come, and baptism with fire by which Christians are purified before they enter glory. Crouzel, “Origène et la Structure,” pp. 82–83, points out that

for Origen refers to the spiritual, celestial, eschatological reality, and refers to the sensible image of that reality, a distinction not observed in Rufinus’s Latin translation.

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