p. 249 Book VI.
Chapter I.—The Persecution under Severus.
When Severus began to persecute the churches, 1765 glorious testimonies were given everywhere by the athletes of religion. This was especially the case in Alexandria, to which city, as to a most prominent theater, athletes of God were brought from Egypt and all Thebais according to their merit, and won crowns from God through their great patience under many tortures and every mode of death. Among these was Leonides, who was called the father of Origen, 1766 and who was beheaded while his son was still young. How remarkable the predilection of this son was for the Divine Word, in consequence of his fathers instruction, it will not be amiss to state briefly, as his fame has been very greatly celebrated by many.
During the early years of the reign of Septimius Severus the Christians enjoyed comparative peace, and Severus himself showed them considerable favor. Early in the third century a change set in, and in 202 the emperor issued an edict forbidding conversions to Christianity and to Judaism (Spartianus, in Severo, c. 16; cf. Tillemont, Hist. des Emp. III. p. 58). The cause of this radical change of conduct we do not know, but it is possible that the excesses of the Montanists produced a reaction in the emperors mind against the Christians, or that the rapidity with which Christianity was spreading caused him to fear that the old Roman institutions would be overturned, and hence produced a reaction against it. Why the Jews, too, should have been attacked, it is hard to say,—possibly because of a new attempt on their part to throw off the Roman yoke (see Spartianus, in Severo, c. 16); or perhaps there underlay the whole movement a reaction in the emperors mind toward the old Roman paganism (he was always superstitious), and Judaism and Christianity being looked upon as alike opposed to it, were alike to be held in check. The edict was aimed, not against those already Christians, but only against new converts, the idea being to prevent the further spread of Christianity. But the change in the emperors attitude, thus published abroad, at once intensified all the elements which were hostile to Christianity; and the popular disfavor, which continued widespread and was continually venting itself in local persecutions, now allowed itself freer rein, and the result was that severe persecutions broke out, which were confined, however, almost wholly to Egypt and North Africa. Our principal authorities for these persecutions (which went on intermittently, during the rest of Severus reign) are the first twelve chapters of this book of Eusebius History, and a number of Tertullians works, especially his De corona milites, Ad Scap., and De fuga in persecutione.249:1766
We know very little about Origens father. The fame of the son overshadowed that of the father, even though the latter was a martyr. The phrase used in this passage to describe him has caused some trouble. Λεωνίδης ὁ λεγόμενος ᾽Ωριγένους πατήρ. Taken in its usual sense, the expression means “said to be the father of Origen,” or the “so-called father of Origen,” both of which appear strange, for there can have been no doubt as to his identity. It seems better, with Westcott, to understand that Eusebius means that Origens fame had so eclipsed his fathers that the latter was distinguished as “Leonides, the father of Origen,” and hence says here, “Leonides, who was known as the father of Origen.” The name Leonides is Greek, and that he was of Greek nationality is further confirmed by the words of Porphyry (quoted in chap. 19, below), who calls Origen “a Greek, and educated in Greek literature.” Porphyry may simply have concluded from his knowledge of Greek letters that he was a Greek by birth, and hence his statement taken alone has little weight; but taken in conjunction with Leonides name, it makes it probable that the latter was at least of Greek descent; whether a native of Greece or not we do not know. A late tradition makes him a bishop, but there is no foundation for such a report. From the next chapter we learn that Leonides martyrdom took place in the tenth year of Severus (201–202 a.d.), which is stated also by the Chron.