The doctrine itself
at the sequence of creation from its inception to its conclusion, one could summarize
Origen's theological system as follows: Originally all beings existed as pure mind
on an ideational or thought level. Humans, angels, and heavenly bodies lacked
incarnate existence and had their being only as ideas. This is a very natural view
for anyone like Origen who was trained in both Christian and Platonic thought. Since
there is no account in the scriptures of what preceded creation, it seemed perfectly
natural to Origen to appeal to Plato for his answers.
God, for the Platonist, is pure intelligence
and all things were reconciled with God before creation - an assumption which
scripture does not appear to contradict. Then as the process of the fall began,
individual beings became weary of their union with God and chose to defect or grow cold in
their divine ardor. As the mind became cool toward God, it made the first step down
in its fall and became soul. The soul, now already once removed from its original
state, continued with its defection to the point of taking on a body. This, as we
know from Platonism, is indeed a degradation, for the highest type of manifestation is on
the mental level and the lowest is on the physical.
Such an account of man's fall does not mean
that Origen rejected Genesis. It only means that he was willing to allow for
allegorical interpretation; thus Eden is not necessarily spatially located, but is a
cosmic and metaphysical event wherein pure disincarnate idea became fettered to physical
matter. What was essential for Christianity, as Origen perceived, is that the fall
be voluntary and result in a degree of estrangement from God.
Where there is a fall, there must follow the
drama of reconciliation. Love is one of God's qualities, as Origen himself
acknowledged, and from this it follows that God will take an interest in the redemption of
his creatures. For Origen, this means that after the drama of incarnation the soul
assumes once again its identity as mind and recovers its ardor for God.
It was to hasten this evolution that in the
fullness of time God sent the Christ. The Christ of Origen was the Incarnate Word
(he was also the only being that did not grow cold toward God), and he came both as a
mediator and as an incarnate image of God's goodness. By allowing the wisdom and
light of God to shine in one's life through the inspiration of Christ, the individual soul
could swiftly regain its ardor for God, leave behind the burden of the body, and regain
complete reconciliation with God. In fact, said Origen, much to the outrage of his
critics, the extent and power of God's love is so great that eventually all things will be
restored to him, even Satan and his legions.
Since the soul's tenancy of any given body is
but one of many episodes in its journey from God and back again, the doctrine of
reincarnation is implicit. As for the resurrection of the body, Origen created a
tempest of controversy by insisting that the physical body wastes away and returns to
dust, while the resurrection takes on a spiritual or transformed body. This is of
course handy for the reincarnationist, for it means that the resurrected body either can
be the summation and climax of all the physical bodies that came before or indeed may bear
no resemblance at all to the many physical bodies.
There will come a time when the great
defection from God that initiated physical creation will come to an end. All things,
both heavenly bodies and human souls, will be so pure and ardent in their love for God
that physical existence will no longer be necessary. The entire cohesion of creation
will come apart, for matter will be superfluous. Then, to cite one of Origen's favorite
passages, all things will be made subject to God and God will be "all in
all." ( 1 Cor 15:28 ) This restoration of all things
proposed by Origen gave offense in later centuries. It seemed quite sensible to
Origen that anything that defects from God must eventually be brought back to him.
As he triumphantly affirmed at the end of his "On First Principles", men
are the "blood brothers" of God himself and cannot stay away forever.
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