ORIGEN (543 & 553)

Justinian, St. Vitale, Ravenna

Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.

THE Ten Anathems 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 the 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 I); the preexistence of Christ’s soul (II); the uniting of Christ’s body with both his preexistent soul and the divine Word (III); that Christ assumed the form of all the heavenly powers (IV); that in the world to come Christ will also be crucified for the demons (VII); that the resurrected body will be spherical and immaterial (V); that the celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars, and firmament) are ensouled, reasoning beings (VI); that the power of God is limited or that creation is eternal (VIII); and that a restoration (apokatastasis) of demons and evil human beings will put an end to temporal punishment (IX).[1]

          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.[2]  Associated with his letter are fifteen anathemas which until the late nineteenth century were generally appended to the fourteen anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Council;[3] however studies by Diekamp in 1889 led to the conclusion that these fifteen additional anathemas were not part of the original conciliar decrees.[4]

          These ‘Fifteen Anathemas of 553’ condemn several of the doctrines which had been described in 543, namely: the preexistence of souls and the apokatastasis (anathema I); the fall of ‘incorporeal intellects (noas),’[5] and their consequent embodiment as heavenly powers, human beings, or demons, (II and IV); the doctrine that the celestial bodies (sun, moon and stars) are fallen intellects (III); the spherical shape of the resurrected body; (X) and the restoration of all fallen powers in the apokatastasis (XII) to a state identical to that which they had possessed in the beginning (XV).

          As Guillaumont has discussed in detail, [6] the principal difference between these ’15 Anathemas of 553’ and the “Ten Anathemas of 543’ lies chiefly in the ‘very particular Christology’ explicated in anathemas VI-IX, XI, and 14 of 553, which correspond to anathemas II and III of 543 on the preexistent soul of Christ.[7]  He has pointed out, that whereas Justinian’s anathemas of 543 are directed against specific doctrines taken from Origen’s De Principiis, the subsequent anathemas of 553, although not mentioning Evagrius Ponticus by name, specifically condemn doctrines which appear to be taken from Evagrius’ Kephalaia Gnostica. 


[1] Text in Acta Conciliorum 3,213, f.; reprinted in Denziger, § 403-411.

[2] 'Diekamp, p. 90. 

[3] Some manuscripts of these fifteen anathemas specifically ascribe them to the council fathers  Diekamp, p. 90.

[4] Their exclusion from recent editions of the conciliar texts is briefly discussed in Tanner, Decrees, pp. 105-106 and Denzinger, Enchiridion p. 189.

[5] Diekamp, p. 90

[6] A. Guillaumont, Les ‘Kephalaia Gnostica,’ pp. 146-156.

[7] A. Guillaumont, Les ‘Kephalaia Gnostica,’ p. 147.

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