FOOD AND FASTING IN ORIGEN AND EUSEBIUS
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FOOD AND FASTING IN ORIGEN AND EUSEBIUS book
Origen, the prolific Biblical scholar, whose views fuelled controversy and often furious clashes among Christians for centuries, is another Alexandrian whose writings may provide insight into Christian attitudes to food and fasting in the early third century. More than that, his figure, as it emerges from the pen of his biographer, may also point to important changes in these attitudes that were taking place in the following century. As in the case of Clement or Tertullian, so too in Origen’s, contemporary evidence concerning his life is minimal. Outside of the meagre information that can be gained from his extant works concerning his personal history, most of what is known about his life and personality comes from a biography written more than fifty years after his death, in the early fourth century, by an enthusiastic admirer, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, who devoted Book VI of his Ecclesiastical History to Origen’s life.1 Considering that Eusebius was born probably more than a decade after Origen died, and that he had relatively little information at his disposal about Origen’s life, most modern scholars tend to agree that Eusebius’s account of Origen’s life is not always reliable. It is often noted that he seems to have accepted gossip and rejected or suppressed evidence that did not accord with the ideal of an orthodox saint of his own time and taste. Some critics see the Life as belonging more in the genre of hagiography than history.2 The historians often differ among themselves as to which detail or aspect of Eusebius’s biography they accept or reject. Strangely, however, they all seem to believe Eusebius when it comes to Origen’s extreme asceticism, to which point I shall return later. My purpose here is not to add to the attempts to discern the ‘real Origen’, since I agree with Patricia Cox3 that on the basis of the information available today it is impossible to write a true life of Origen.