Archives For Origen

If Grace is true“How can you believe that God’s grace isn’t sufficient, that many of God’s children will languish in hell forever, that they’ll never be restored to their Father, that evil will claim victory in so many lives? How can you believe that?”

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 89-90). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Some think the idea of universal salvation is a new thing but in reality it goes back to the founding fathers of the church. Origen and Gregory of Nyssa believed in the salvation of all people. But of course we know that the champions of God’s grace were often silenced by future theologians especially by those who followed King Constantine several hundred years later. Much like the old saying that “history is written by the victors”, much of Christian dogma was written by those who charged their opponents with heresy and got that claim to stick.

As I have mentioned before I am still wrestling with the idea of universal salvation. It is easy to show with pride how I am saved while so many are damned to hell for eternity.  Like the return of the prodigal son I don’t want to admit that some who have led totally broken lives will  somehow sit alongside me in God’s presence.

In the end I simply will not diminish God’s grace in order to sustain the belief of God’s wrath.  I want to finish the post with some final words from the book that took hold of me and shook me.

I insisted we were free to reject God’s grace. It never occurred to me that God might be free to reject our rejection.

Who is more powerful God or human will? I think I know the answer to that question….

As we have learned in several of my recent posts Origen was one of the most influential theologians in the early church who was later deemed a heretic and then after that a saint again.  He spent quite a bit of time reading the “scripture” of his day. I put scripture in parens here because there was no Bible as we know it today in existence.

Today Origen is definitely not one of the more popular early Christian figures with some in our establishment churches. That is particularly true of those that believe all of the Bible comes from God’s lips and is totally factual and inerrant. That belief has never been as universal as some would have us believe. Here is another quote from A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story  by Diana Butler Bass.

Origen pointed out scriptural contradictions from Genesis through the Gospels. Not intending to ridicule God’s Word, Origen claimed, The object of all these statements on our part, is to show that it was the design of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to bestow upon us the sacred Scriptures, to show that we were not to be edified by the letter alone, or by everything in it—a thing which we see to be frequently impossible and inconsistent; for in that way not only absurdities, but impossibilities, would be the result; but that we are to understand that certain occurrences were interwoven in this “visible” history which, when considered and understood in the inner meaning, give forth a law which is advantageous to men and worthy of God.

Origen believed that scripture was much like Jesus’ teaching in that he used parables which are fictional stories to relay a message and so to do the other writers of ancient script.   Origen was not an infrequent visitor to the scripture. In fact he spent twenty years on his Hexaple which was a massive work of Old Testament analysis. There was probably no one in his day that had more knowledge of the ancient writings than him.

This will probably conclude our study of Origen. As I have said before he definitely shows that the earliest versions of Christianity were very diverse. It was not until the power struggles that frequently occurred within the church establishment did this willingness to accept a diversity of belief become stifled. I celebrate the fact that the current emergent movement is willing, in fact they actually celebrate diversity in their midst.  They accept that there is more than one “right” way to being a follower of Jesus Christ and that gives me confidence that the church of Jesus Christ just might live to see a bright future.

There are many today who believe that all of the Bible must be taken as absolutely happening and the stories are without the possibility of error. But this is not the case with many of us follower of Jesus.. Several of the early fathers of the church warned against taking things literally. One of those was Origen.

Here is a quote from People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diane Butler Bass from him:

The problem with literalism began, according to Origen, in Genesis: Who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.

It is clear that Origen was saying that the Genesis story is simply a story to relay a message and should be taken figuratively only.  For those who might want more info about Origen you can see that at my post From Saint to Heretic to Saint Again .  Origen tells us that it is just too simplistic to believe that eating an apple gives one the knowledge of good and evil.

One of the problems with many churches today is that they have boxed themselves into such a corner by their literal interpretations that the only way thing they can do is to deny established science or just plain common sense when it contradicts biblical stories.

Here is another quote from the book cited above to explain what is happening today:

Jesus fascinates millions, but Christianity, the religion that began with Jesus, leaves countless people cold. What happened after Jesus—oppression, heresy trials, schisms, inquisitions, witch hunts, pogroms, and religious wars—witnesses to much human ambition and cruelty. The things people do in Jesus’s name often contradict his teachings. From Constantine to Christendom to the Christian Right, “after Jesus” can be remarkably depressing for thoughtful and sensitive souls. This dismal historical record surely was not what Jesus intended as he preached a merciful kingdom based on the transformative power of God’s love. 

This “dismal historical record” as the author mentions is man-made often as a result of personal power struggles. It is definitely not what Jesus intended. We need to wrestle back the true messages of Jesus so that those who are still fascinated with him can hear the true story about him.

That is what the emergent church is all about.

With this post I will begin looking at some of the early church leaders.  We will start with Origen.

Here a quote from another Diana Butler Bass book. This one is entitled A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story

While Tertullian emphasized the negative aspects of the military to Christian discipleship, Origen pointed out the positive vision of a life of Christian peacemaking. He criticized the army as a society of “professional violence,” pointing out that Jesus forbids any kind of violence or vengeance against another. “We will not raise arms against any other nation, we will not practice the art of war,” he wrote, “because through Jesus Christ we have become the children of peace.” To him the spiritual life means rejecting all forms of violence, an “absolute pacifism.”

Origen lived between 185 – 254AD. He was considered one of the most distinguished writer of the early church. One of his beliefs was in the pre-existence of souls and universal reconciliation. That is he believed that all our souls have been in existence just waiting for our time on earth. He also believed that because God loves all of mankind and wishes all of them to be saved that he will indeed bring all souls back to him. Origen was not the first prominent person in the church to believe this as Clement of Alexandria, whom we will be studying soon was also in the group.  When Constantine era bishops took power this is one the ideas that they rejected. They therefore deemed Origen a heretic. But today he is again generally regarded as one of the Church Fathers by the Catholic church.

Origen also believed that there was just too much inconsistencies within the documents that made up the then bible for it to be taken literally. He believed that it was necessary to gather all of the existing copies of many documents in order to try to discern just what the original writer intended. This included many of the document that later made up the “official bible”.

Origen’s views of the Trinity were also contrary to later authors. He saw the Son of God as subordinate to God the Father and not as an equal. This later became a common view of many of the “ante-Nicene Fathers” For this and many other beliefs that were later purged in the post-Constantine church where he was deemed a heretic but fortunately, unlike many declared heretics that followed him, some of his writings survived the purge to be included in church history.

Here are some additional comments made about him in Wikipedia:

Origen was born in Alexandria to Christian parents. He was educated by his father, Leonides of Alexandria, who gave him a standard Hellenistic education, but also had him study the Christian Scriptures. Name of his mother is unknown.

In 202, Origen’s father was martyred in the outbreak of the persecution during the reign of Septimius Severus. A story reported by Eusebius has it that Origen wished to follow him in martyrdom, but was prevented only by his mother hiding his clothes…

Eusebius reported that Origen, following Matthew 19:12 literally, castrated himself. This story was accepted during the Middle Ages.  Scholars within the past century however have questioned this, surmising that this may have been a rumor circulated by his detractors.

As you can see from this commentary Origen held many beliefs that are not part of the “official” beliefs of the current day church. But it was not until the purges of the post-Nicene period that he posthumously felt the sting of the “church”. To end this post Origen was one of those mentioned previously who was a  Saint then a Heretic and then a Saint again.

Church history is messy indeed….