His teacher, St Clement of Alexandria, taught him to use the best aspects of pagan philosophy as tools for theological analysis. For Origen, the method pagan philosophers used to interpret their own religious writings was more important than the philosophical ideas they produced. Pagan philosophers interpreted Homer allegorically. Origen believed that Christian Scriptures needed to be interpreted the same way. While he believed some Scriptures could easily be believed and followed on a literal level, when he noticed difficulties in Scripture, such as contradictions inherent in a literal understanding of Genesis, he believed they were put in Scripture on purpose to indicate to the careful reader that there were deeper, more important, truths to be discerned in the text. The Song of Songs, he believed, could be seen as a very base work if one understood it literally, but when one understood it as the relationship between a perfect soul or the church with God, its true intent becomes clear. His critics thought this use of allegory as the mean to interpret Scripture was excessive, and relatives its message.
It would be very surprising to find Origen taking a passage of Scripture literally when no one else, not even his opponents, does so. Yet this is a claim we find spread about Origen. According to Book VI of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History Origen, after reading the Gospels took Jesus’ words, “there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:12) literally and had himself castrated. Eusebius, it must be noted, did not invent this story, but reported the rumor that had by his time been accepted as true. Does this make any sense? Would one who took Scripture hyper-allegorically take this one text literally? Probably not!
While it has become normative to joke about Origen and his self-castration, is this bit of “orthodox” history really true? We do not find it mentioned in any of his writings. Looking to the source of this tradition (the one whom Eusebius notes first told others about this so-called event in the life of Origen), it seems it is more likely a piece of malicious gossip than truth. For its source is Patriarch Demetrius of Alexandria. Demetrius originally was one of Origen’s supporters. However, in 215, Origen was in Jerusalem and Bishop Alexander of Jerusalem requested Origen, a layman, to preach in his presence. Demetrius was upset, believing a layman should never preach when a bishop is present. After a brief reprimand, Demetrius’ anger cooled off. Then, in 230, Origen was asked to settle a dispute in Achaea. He used the opportunity to revisit Caesarea; the bishop there, remembering the conflict of 215, decided to have Origen ordained so that Origen could be given a chance to preach. When Demetrius heard about this, he was enraged: Origen was one of his subjects and his ordination was seen as a breach of ecclesiastical etiquette. Demetrius had Origen banished from Alexandria, and it was at this time that he, bitter at Origen, suggested the story of Origen’s self-castration. If true, it would suggest Origen’s ordination was invalid. Yet, in his exile, his ordination was not rejected. Would not his supporters have been curious about the validity of the claims and checked into them to make sure Origen was indeed a valid priest?
Combing these two lines of reasoning, that is, it seems to contradict Origen’s hermeneutical principles for him to take the Gospel passage literally and that the source of our information on Origen’s so-called self-castration is a biased source who could not prove its truth, it seems to me that this rumor was nothing more than malicious gossip. Origen did not castrate himself. He had no reason to do so. Just because this story was often repeated does not make it anything more than a rumor. It was uncritically accepted as true, in part, because those who believed it wanted it to be true. They did not like Origen's theological ideas. They helped to make this story repeated so often it just was accepted as true. Yet, it seems to be an ad hominen written against him to make him look foolish. It was spread by those who were jealous of his genius. They could not argue against his intellectual arguments, and so it appears, they tried to make it so they would not have to do so.