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Origen on Imputed Righteousness

Despite his penchant for allegory and Platonic speculation Origen quite often produces insightful conclusions based on the literal meaning of the text in his biblical commentaries. Historians argue that it was partly his reading of Origen’s Commentary on Romans that inspired Erasmus’s Bible-centered philosophia Christi. It was perhaps Origen’s conclusion that the “priests” of the New Israel are those who attend only to the revealed word that sparked Erasmus’s radical turn toward the text. Erasmus’s translation of ἐλογίσθη as imputatum est rather than the traditional reputatum est of the Vulgate in his Novum Instrumentum may have also been motivated by his earlier reading of Origen’s exposition of Romans 4 in the original Greek. In that chapter Origen argues in a manner that resembles the later theologies of Erasmus and Luther that justification occurs by imputed (or ‘reckoned’) righteousness before good works are produced:

So then in connection with the forgiveness of iniquities and the covering of sins and [the fact] that the Lord does not impute sins, the Apostle fittingly says that only on the basis that he believes in him who justifies the ungodly, righteousness would be reckoned to a man, even if he has not yet produced the works of righteousness. For faith which believes in the one who justifies is the beginning of being justified by God. And this faith, when it has been justified, is firmly embedded in the soil of the soul like a root that has received rain, so that when it begins to be cultivated by God’s law, branches arise from it, which bring for the fruit of works. The root of righteousness, therefore, does not grow out of the works, but rather the fruit of works grows out of the root of righteousness, that root, of course, of righteousness which God also credits even apart from works.1

  1. Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Books 1-5), trans. Thomas P. Scheck, Fathers of the Church, Vol. 103., (Baltimore: Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 245.

By Eric Parker

Eric Parker (PhD McGill University) is the editor of the Library of Early English Protestantism (LEEP) at the Davenant Institute. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children, where he is currently preparing for ordination to the diaconate in the Reformed Episcopal Church.

One reply on “Origen on Imputed Righteousness”

Really enjoyed this. I am only familiar enough with Origen to know that sometimes he gets a bit “out there” (even though I, with him, enjoy Plato)- so I was really surprised by this- loved it. As would be in line with his allegorical approach- I love the use of his metaphor for justifying faith as being “firmly embedded in the soil of the soul like a root that has received rain.” Thanks!

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