The Fifteen Anathemas Against Origen

The Fifth Ecumenical Council, A.D. 553

The Anathemas Against Origen


If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the creation (τὴυ παραγωγὴν) of all reasonable things includes only intelligences (νόας) without bodies and altogether immaterial, having neither number nor name, so that there is unity between them all by identity of substance, force and energy, and by their union with and knowledge of God the Word; but that no longer desiring the sight of God, they gave themselves over to worse things, each one following his own inclinations, and that they have taken bodies more or less subtile, and have received names, for among the heavenly Powers there is a difference of names as there is also a difference of bodies; and thence some became and are called Cherubims, others Seraphims, and Principalities, and Powers, and Dominations, and Thrones, and Angels, and as many other heavenly orders as there may be: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the sun, the moon and the stars are also reasonable beings, and that they have only become what they are because they turned towards evil: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the reasonable creatures in whom the divine love had grown cold have been hidden in gross bodies such as ours, and have been called men, while those who have attained the lowest degree of wickedness have shared cold and obscure bodies and are become and called demons and evil spirits: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that a psychic (ψυχικὴν) condition has come from an angelic or archangelic state, and moreover that a demoniac and a human condition has come from a psychic condition, and that from a human state they may become again angels and demons, and that each order of heavenly virtues is either all from those below or from those above, or from those above and below: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that there is a twofold race of demons, of which the one includes the souls of men and the other the superior spirits who fell to this, and that of all the number of reasonable beings there is but one which has remained unshaken in the love and contemplation of God, and that that spirit is become Christ and the king of all reasonable beings, and that he has created all the bodies which exist in heaven, on earth, and between heaven and earth; and that the world which has in itself elements more ancient than itself, and which exists by themselves, viz.: dryness, damp, heat and cold, and the image (ιδέαν) to which it was formed, was so formed, and that the most holy and consubstantial Trinity did not create the world, but that it was created by the working intelligence (Νοῦς δημιρυργός) which is more ancient than the world, and which communicates to it its being: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that Christ, of whom it is said that he appeared in the form of God, and that he was united before all time with God the Word, and humbled himself in these last days even to humanity, had (according to their expression) pity upon the divers falls which had appeared in the spirits united in the same unity (of which he himself is part), and that to restore them he passed through divers classes, had different bodies and different names, became all to all, an Angel among Angels, a Power among Powers, has clothed himself in the different classes of reasonable beings with a form corresponding to that class, and finally has taken flesh and blood like ours and is become man for men; [if anyone says all this] and does not profess that God the Word humbled himself and became man: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall not acknowledge that God the Word, of the same substance with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and who was made flesh and became man, one of the Trinity, is Christ in every sense of the word, but [shall affirm] that he is so only in an inaccurate manner, and because of the abasement (κενώσαντα), as they call it, of the intelligence (νοῦς); if anyone shall affirm that this intelligence united (συνημμένον ) to God the Word, is the Christ in the true sense of the word, while the Logos is only called Christ because of this union with the intelligence, and likewise that the intelligence is only called God because of the Logos: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that it was not the Divine Logos made man by taking an animated body with a rational soul (ψυχὴ λογικὴ) and mind (νοερὰ), that he descended into hell and ascended into heaven, but shall pretend that it is the Νοῦς which has done this, that Νοῦς of which they say (in an impious fashion) he is Christ properly so called, and that he is become so by the knowledge of the Monad: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that after the resurrection the body of the Lord was ethereal, having the form of a sphere, and that such shall be the bodies of all after the resurrection; and that after the Lord himself shall have rejected his true body and after the others who rise shall have rejected theirs, the nature of their bodies shall be annihilated: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the future judgment signifies the destruction of the body and that the end of the story will be an immaterial ψύσις, and that thereafter there will no longer be any matter, but only spirit νοῦς): let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the heavenly Powers and all men and the Devil and evil spirits are united with the Word of God in all respects, as the Νοῦς which is by them called Christ and which is in the form of God, and which humbled itself as they say; and [if anyone shall say] that the Kingdom of Christ shall have an end: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that Christ [i.e., the Νοῦς] is in no wise different from other reasonable beings, neither substantially nor by wisdom nor by his power and might over all things but that all will be placed at the right hand of God, as well as he that is called by them Christ [the Νοῦς], as also they were in the feigned pre-existence of all things: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the γνῶσις and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apocatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the life of the spirits (νοῶν) shall be like to the life which was in the beginning while as yet the spirits had not come down or fallen, so that the end and the beginning shall be alike, and that the end shall be the true measure of the beginning: let him be anathema.


Origen Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 – c. 253) was an early Christian scholar, ascetic, and prolific writer. He produced roughly 2,000 treatises, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and spirituality. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology, apologetics, and asceticism.

Though ardent in faith, indeed suffering two years of torture for Christ, he lived long before the age of the great christological heresies and Ecumenical Councils, and appears to have been largely self-taught. As a result, his writing displays both personal genius and certain eccentric assumptions.

Origen came into conflict with Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, in 231 after he was ordained as a priest while on a journey through Palestine. Demetrius condemned Origen for insubordination and accused him of having become a eunuch, and thus ineligible for ordination. This appears to have been slander, given Origen’s own extended commentary on Matthew 19:12 that such self-mutilation “gives a bad reputation to the Word… One would not be able to believe that these words come from the Savior unless they could be interpreted allegorically.”

Some of the anathemas issued against Origenism refer to dogmas he himself taught in his writings; others refer to a body of heresies generally called "Origenism" and not necesarily Origen's own teaching. But it should be noted that in addition to Origen's own condemnation in the Ecumenical Council's eleventh anathema, these specific doctrines are anathematized here, regardless who originated them.

Father Luke Dysinger writes:

The Ten Anathemas against Origen of 543 were written ten years before the Fifth Ecumenical Council. They consist of a letter with appended anathemas written by the Emperor Justinian to the Patriarch Menas. Justinian quotes from Origen’s De Principiis in order to expose Origen’s errors in detail, and he concludes with ten anathemas summarizing the condemned doctrines. The errors condemned in the Ten Anathemas include the following: the preexistence and fall of souls through satiety (κόρος) of divine contemplation, and their chastisement through descent into bodies (Anathema 1); the preexistence of Christ’s soul (2); the uniting of Christ’s body with both his preexistent soul and the divine Word (3); that Christ assumed the form of all the heavenly powers (4); that in the world to come Christ will also be crucified for the demons (7); that the resurrected body will be spherical and immaterial (5); that the celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars, and firmament) are ensouled, reasoning beings (6); that the power of God is limited or that creation is eternal (8); and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) of demons and evil human beings will put an end to temporal punishment (9).

The Fifteen Anathemas of 553 are similar in form to the Ten Anathemas of 543: They, too, consist of a letter from the Emperor Justinian with attached condemnations. In this letter Justinian writes to the council fathers “concerning Origen and his sympathizers,” to warn them about the teachings of certain monks of Jerusalem whom he describes as devotees not only of Origen, but also of Pythagoras and Plotinus. Associated with his letter are fifteen anathemas which until recently were commonly appended to the fourteen canons of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, though modern academics assert that these fifteen additional anathemas were not part of the original conciliar decrees…

The principal difference between these Fifteen Anathemas of 553 and the Ten Anathemas of 543 lies chiefly in the very particular christology described in anathemas 6–9, 11, and 14 of 553, which correspond to anathemas 2 and 3 of 543 regarding the preexistent soul of Christ. Justinian’s anathemas of 543 are directed against specific doctrines taken from Origen’s De Principiis, while the subsequent anathemas of 553, although not mentioning Evagrius Ponticus by name, specifically condemn doctrines which appear to be taken from Evagrius’ Kephalaia Gnostica.

It has been proposed that th name of Origen was added to the Ecumenical Council's eleventh anathema long after the event. Yet Roman Catholic bishop Karl Josef von Hefele (1809-1893), in his History of the Councils of the Church, notes persuasively

(a) that the copy of the synodal Acts extant in the Roman archives, which has the highest credibility, and was probably prepared for [Pope] Vigilius himself, contains the name of Origen in the eleventh anathema; and (b) that the monks of the new Lama in Palestine, who are known to have been zealous Origenists, withdrew Church communion from the bishops of Palestine after these had subscribed the Acts of the Fifth Synod… it could only be by the synod attacking their darling Origen. (c) Finally, only on the ground that the name of Origen really stood in the eleventh anathema can we explain the widely-circulated ancient rumour that the Fifth Synod anathematized Origen and the Origenists.