Among the students of Clement of Alexandria was a gifted teenager named Origen, who had been reared in a Christian home. When Origen was 17, a severe persecution broke out in Alexandria, and his father was imprisoned. Origen wrote his father in prison and encouraged him to remain faithful and not to renounce Christ out of fatherly concern for his family. After a date was set for his father's trial, Origen decided to appear at the trial by his father's side and die with him. However, on the night before the trial, while Origen was asleep, his mother hid all of his clothes, preventing him from leaving the house the next morning in time for the trial.
Although he was only 17, Origen distinguished himself in the church of Alexandria by the loving care he gave to his fellow Christians during the fierce persecution raging at the time. The angry mobs noticed his acts of mercy, and he barely survived the persecution with his own life.
Origen had learned grammar and Greek literature from his father, and he began giving private lessons in those subjects to support his younger brothers and sisters. He was so unusually brilliant that many pagan parents sent their sons to be instructed by Origen, and many of these youths became Christians as a result of Origen's witnessing to them.
Meanwhile, Clement, the teacher in charge of training new Christians, had put his life at risk. To the pagan officials he was a marked man. So he was forced to escape to another city to continue his Christian ministry. In an unusual move, the elders of Alexandria appointed Origen, only 18 at the time, to take Clement's place as head of the training school. They chose wisely, and Origen poured his very soul into the task. He quit his short-lived profession as an instructor of grammar and literature, and he sold all of his Greek literary books on credit to another man. He subsisted in poverty off of the small monthly installment payments he received from the sale of his Greek literary books. He refused to accept any payment for his services as a Christian teacher. After teaching new Christian believers all day, he would study the Scriptures far into the night.
Before long, Origen became one of the most respected Christian teachers of his age. Eventually, some of his friends asked him to give a series of lectures on the Bible, discussing each book of the Bible, passage by passage. His friends paid scribes to take down his words, and these became the first set of Bible commentaries ever written by a Christian. Origen didn't intend for his commentaries to be taken as dogmatic pronouncements, since he frequently went off on tangents and personal surmises. Throughout the commentaries, he displayed an amiable, flexible disposition, frequently ending a discussion by saying, “Well, that's the best I can do with that passage. Maybe someone with more insight has a better explanation.” Sometimes in his speculations, Origen expressed some unorthodox views that were not representative of early Christian thought in general. For that reason, we are cautious in quoting from him.
Despite his erroneous speculations, Origen possessed one of the most brilliant minds of his day—among Christians and non-Christians alike. He even carried on personal correspondence with one of the Roman emperors. But his fame also attracted the attention of the enemies of Christianity, and several times he was forced to move to new towns in order to escape persecution. Nevertheless, he managed to live until he was 70, when he was finally caught and tortured. No amount of torture could make him deny Jesus, and his tormentors finally gave up in exasperation. However, Origen eventually died from their inhumane treatment.