The Church Fathers and the Two Books: Origen of Alexandria, Part 2

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December 7, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now

Today's entry was written by Mark H. Mann. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Church Fathers and the Two Books: Origen of Alexandria, Part 2

Origen and the Book of Creation

Origen's thinking about creation was also extremely influential in the early Church. In opposition to pagan philosophies of the time, Origen affirmed the doctrine of creation ex nihilo—that God created the entire universe from nothing. He also affirmed the goodness of creation, and—like Justin Martyr—the important role of the Divine Logos (the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ) as the means through which God created and ordered the world.

Origen also affirmed that there were two creations—not unlike that affirmed by many today who believe that God first created the spiritual realm (including heaven and angels) and then the physical world (including the earth and humans). But Origen also saw a deeper continuity between the two creations than many who affirm two creations do. For Origen, the first was the timeless creation of free, rational, purely spiritual and immortal beings, all of whom lived in perfect contemplation of and union with God. Gradually the fire of their love for God began to cool, and they began to fall away. And it was this primordial fall of the rational beings that led to the second creation: that of the material universe. As all rational beings were created free, their fall from God did not obviate their reconciliation to God. But, despite being free, these beings were not capable of returning to God by their own efforts, and the material world was then created by God, through the divine Logos, as the gracious means through which all beings may learn of God’s grace and become restored to God. Indeed, so great is God’s mercy, Origen speculated, perhaps even Satan and the demons themselves might eventually come to salvation!

But if the material world is born of God’s mercy, so also it is created by God to express divine justice. Such justice is expressed in the place that the different beings now find themselves. Those whose love cooled the least became angels and other celestial beings (such as stars, which most ancient people believed to be living beings of some kind); while those whose love for God cooled the most fell the furthest were consigned to hell and became demonic beings, the chief of which—because he was first to fall and took many with him—was Satan himself. Those who fell further than the angels but not quite as far as the demons became human beings. God’s justice also became expressed in the fact that each of these beings experience suffering and pain commensurate to their placement by God in the hierarchy of the cosmos. This interweaving of divine mercy and justice became Origen’s answer to the so-called problem of pain: we suffer because we deserve to as beings who chose to fall from God, but our suffering is also graciously intended by God to turn our hearts back to God.

In this sense, the physical world as a kind of cosmic detention hall, the chief purpose of which was to remediate all the troubled souls of the world. All of life is to be an education in the truth of God's reality and of our fall from God that we might be restored to full communion with God. And our instructor is Jesus Christ himself, for it is through Christ that God created the world as a means of our education and it is Christ who points to and has opened the way back to the Father through his life, death, and resurrection.

Origen then understood the material creation as pivotal to God's plan for salvation. Although creation would ultimately pass away with the final resurrection and restoration of ‘all things’ to God (Col. 1:20), its purpose was salvific. Even corner and crevice of the universe had been designed perfectly by God with the sole purpose of revealing God's plan for salvation and inspiring persons to repent of their sinful rebellion from God and respond to God's gracious offer of redemption. Even the suffering we experience from having physical bodies that can experience disease, injury, and decay—all of it is designed by God to reveal our need for God and restore us to union with God. Origen would even go so far to suggest—in a way quite similar to C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce—that hell has been created as a place for remediation rather than eternal damnation, and that one day God's never-failing love would succeed in reaching all rational beings and enfolding them in saving grace. Such universalism was considered as radical then as it is now, but let us be clear: Origen was not affirming that anyone gets a free to heaven no matter what they have done. Indeed, for one thing, we all do suffer as embodied beings in this world of pain and death, and those who reject Christ will go to hell, which is a place of unfathomable suffering. What Origen was affirming was that even hell was a place sustained by God's love and grace, and that, as St. Paul would affirm in Phil. 2:10, "at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..."

Also pivotal for Origen was his identification of the divine Logos and Wisdom of God, and the relation of these to the eternality of Creation. For Origen, the Logos—as a kind of bridge between God and Creation—fully reveals the Wisdom (or mind) of God in creation. And this is neither limited to the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus Christ nor to some moment in time when God created the world. Ultimately, for Origen, creation in some sense flows eternally from God and therefore perpetually expresses the Logos, the Wisdom and the Mind (and not just the love, mercy and justice) of God. And, as rational beings created for the very purpose of contemplating God, we are in some sense specially equipped to discern God’s creative presence in creation, even if as fallen creatures we do so imperfectly. But this is why the incarnation of the divine Logos in Jesus Christ is so important: Christ perfectly embodies and bears witness to the Father and Creator of all, and through his life, death, and resurrection we may have our capacity to fully discern God’s presence and work in creation.7

Conclusion

While Origen did not make any contribution to the canonization of the Book of Scripture, he had a tremendous impact on the development of the ways that Christians read Scripture by developing a multi-layered approach (including allegorical interpretation) that would become widely used among theologians in early Christianity and which continues to provide fruitful ways of reading Scripture today. Indeed, as I have argued in a previous blog, although I do not believe that all of Scripture should be read this way, it seems clear to me that there are many parts of Scripture (such as Genesis 1–3) that are intended to be read allegorically rather than literally, and that allowing for allegorical readings opens up opportunities for reading the Book of Scripture and the Book of Creation together fruitfully.8

And, although Origen did not explicitly identify creation as a kind of book, it is also clear that he is not far off. For Origen, as for Justin and Irenaeus, creation was brought into being by and through the divine Logos, Jesus Christ, and therefore fully expresses the goodness and love of God. But, Origen pushes this point perhaps even further than his predecessors. The sole purpose of creation is to reveal God's plan for salvation and to draw rational creatures to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In this sense, Scripture and creation have the same central purpose: to reveal to us the God who became flesh in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, then, what they tell us about God is fully commensurate, and insofar as they might seem to be in conflict, it is because we are reading one or the other incorrectly. And it really can be one or the other. Because there is not just one way of reading Scripture, for Origen, it is entirely possible that our reading of creation (even if he would not quite put it that way) may lead us to a deeper and richer understanding of the mysteries of God revealed in Scripture that a literal or overly simplistic reading of Scripture will not allow.

In our next blog, we look to St. Augustine of Hippo, who is—without doubt—the most important figure in the development of Western (Catholic and Protestant) Christianity. In Augustine we will find much in common with Origen (especially in their reading of Scripture), but also some very significant differences, especially in their view of sin and salvation.

Notes

1. Cf. Gerald Bostock, “Origen’s Doctrine of Creation,” Expository Times 118:5 (Fall 2007): 222-227.
2. As Bostock (ibid) points out: “Origen would regard as absurd the idea that creation took place in a six-day sequence. He states emphatically that ‘everything was made at once…but for the sake of clarity a list of days and their events was given’. In other words, the Bible gives us a story so that we can imagine the unimaginable.” Bostock is quoting here from an extant fragment from Origen’s commentary on Genesis (FrGn 2,2).


Mark H. Mann is the director of the Wesleyan Center, Point Loma Press, and Honors Program at Point Loma Nazarene University. Mark received his bachelor's degree from Eastern Nazarene College and went on to earn both an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Religious and Theological Studies (2004) from Boston University. Mann previously served at Colgate University where he was both chaplain and professor. Mann has previous experience in editing, student development and staff ministry at the local church level.

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Chip - #75078

December 7th 2012

The sole purpose of creation is to reveal God’s plan for salvation and to draw rational creatures to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In this sense, Scripture and creation have the same central purpose: to reveal to us the God who became flesh in Jesus Christ.

Interesting.  While I generally agree with a creation implies creator perspective (and Paul in Romans 1 certainly seems to agree as well), you take it even much further than that. 

I guess I’m a little surprised to hear such a view come from a contributor to Biologos, which generally rejects the much more circumspect ID perspective of creation implies intelligence.  But you shoot way past this all the way to creation reveals God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

Given the strength of the statement, I wonder if you’d be willing to explain this a little more fully:  namely, in what ways does creation lead people to Christ?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #75085

December 7th 2012

Chip,

The irony is that Jesus Christ as the Logos is the basis of Christian belief that the universe is a logical orderly entity, which is the basis of modern science. 

Now people think that science has a monopoly on rationality and faith is per se irrational.  Possibly the fact that this is not true is one of the reasons that some people are wary of science.   


Jw Farquhar - #75100

December 8th 2012

Mark Man wrote: The sole purpose of creation is to reveal God’s plan for salvation and to draw rational creatures to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In this sense, Scripture and creation have the same central purpose: to reveal to us the God who became flesh in Jesus Christ.

Chip wrote: Given the strength of the statement, I wonder if you’d be willing to explain this a little more fully:  namely, in what ways does creation lead people to Christ?

If you understand that morning in the Creation is the Bright Morning Star in Revelation, who is Jesus, then here is your answer:

“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” or “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” The words are those of the medieval English philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Ockham (ca. 1285-1349) (skeptics distionary)

Occam’s razor is the law of parsimony, economy or succinctness. It is a principle urging one to select among competing hypotheses that which makes the fewest assumptions and thereby offers the simplest explanation of the effect.

Salvation’s path in its simplest form = man, Jesus, God

Time in its simplest form = Past, present, future

God of time introduction in its simplest form = Evening, Morning, Day

Man’s spiritual attributes in its simplest form = body, soul, spirit

Salvation’s path in its simplest form (again) = Evening for man’s body leads to darkness, unless man finds morning, who leads to Light and Day (That Day).

Simply put: The Creation’s message specifies that man must return to God just as man was created in the image of God to do—EVEning (mother of all living flesh and blood) to morning (Jesus) to God ie: 1, 2, 3.

Occam’s razor is the law of succinctness; a principle urging one to select among competing hypotheses (Biblical Creation, Judaism, Christianity, Islam) that which makes the fewest assumptions and thereby offers the simplest explanation of the effect.

The fact that ALL scripture validates this pathway to salvation verifies the authenticity of the Creation’s pathway.


PNG - #75113

December 9th 2012

Not sure that Mark is agreeing with Origen or just telling us what he thought. He can speak for himself. I’m more inclined to agree with Pascal on this:

“I wonder at the hardihood with which such persons undertake to talk
about God. In a treatise addressed to infidels they begin with a chapter
proving the existence of God from Nature. ... this only gives their readers
grounds for thinking that the proofs of our religion are very weak.. ... It
is a remarkable fact that no canonical writer has ever used Nature to prove
God.”

“And that is why I shall not undertake here to prove by reasons
from nature either the existence of God, or the Trinity or the
immortality of the soul, or anything of that kind: not just
because I should not feel confident to find in nature
arguments which would convince hardened atheists, but also
because such knowledge, without Christ, is useless and sterile.
Even if someone were convinced that the proportions between
numbers are immaterial, eternal truths, depending on a first
truth in which they subsist, called God, I should not consider
that he had made much progress towards his salvation. [ ... ]
All those who seek God apart from Christ, and who go no further
than nature, either find no light to satisfy them or come to
devise a means of knowing and serving God without a mediator,
thus falling into either atheism or deism, two things almost
equally abhorrent to Christianity.
—Pascal, Pensees

C. S. Lewis used the first paragraph as the epigram for Ch. 1 of The Problem of Pain.


Merv - #75082

December 7th 2012

I wonder if Origen’s view of the world (and underworld) as calculated places of designed suffering for the purpose of leading us back to God—I wonder if his view survived his own tortured existence when he was dismissed from his imprisonment as “a broken man” as the last thread described.  I hate to even think of what was probably done to him and find it morbid to think about, let alone ponder that we humans can and do commit such atrocities against each other.  Regardless of whatever heresies for which he was posthumously  condemned (the great ‘sin’ of daring to think that God may have enough grace to eventually reach everyone—even Origen’s torturers?), whatever scandalous ideas Origen may have had, my admiration for him has grown leaps and bounds.

-Merv


Seenoevo - #75086

December 7th 2012

“Those who fell further than the angels but not quite as far as the demons became human beings… that hell has been created as a place for remediation rather than eternal damnation…”

Considering the above views, and apparently some others [“His views of a hierarchical structure in the Trinity, the temporality of matter, “the fabulous preexistence of souls”, and “the monstrous restoration which follows from it” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Fathers  ],

Is it any wonder why Origen is not considered a Church Father in some quarters?

 

“those who reject Christ will go to hell, which is a place of unfathomable suffering.”

This may sound like a stupid question (but at least it’s important, apparently), but

 How does one reject Christ?


wesseldawn - #75198

December 11th 2012

People tend to create their own egocentric-Christ that they portray to the world around them but it is a narrow view and often rejected. So then it’s not Christ that’s being rejected but rather the individual! God would not reject anyone based on the egocentric view.

Jesus said:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:21-23)

“Prophesying”, “casting out devils”, “wonderful works” - these are what Christians look for as the supposed evidence that Christ is truly with someone…yet they are rejected.  

 


Jw Farquhar - #75217

December 12th 2012

Seenoevo wrote in #75086: This may sound like a stupid question (but at least it’s important, apparently), but How does one reject Christ?

wesseldawn - #75198 responded with Jesus’ message of rejection:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:21-23)

Here is another Jesus’ message of rejection from the Gospel of Thomas # 3:
When you know yourselves, (marked 666 in the beginning) then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”

Poverty in the material realm is lack of money. Poverty in the spiritual realm is lack of salvation.

So what did Jesus say about this when His disciples asked Him?

18. The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us, how will our end come?”
Jesus said, “Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.”
Gospel of Thomas Saying 6+6+6 distilled to 666

Here is the beginning.


wesseldawn - #75310

December 14th 2012

The difficulty with egocentricity is that those that are under its delusion never know that they are!


Jw Farquhar - #75328

December 15th 2012

Response to: wesseldawn - #75310

You wrote; The difficulty with egocentricity is that those that are under its delusion never know that they are!

The difficulty with traditional theology is that those that are under its delusion of partial salvation never know that they are! The biggest problem that Jesus had was with traditional Pharisees.

I believe you have mistaken my confidence in knowing the true God of the beginning as ego.


wesseldawn - #75311

December 14th 2012

Poverty in the spiritual realm is a lack of wisdom:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. ((James 1:5)


Jw Farquhar - #75329

December 15th 2012

Response to wesseldawn- #75311

You wrote; Poverty in the spiritual realm is a lack of wisdom:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. ((James 1:5)

Here is the surrounding context of your James 1:5 verse:

4.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

5. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

6. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

7. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

8. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

James 1-4: The Apostle Paul explains that the perfect (understanding) will come and the partial (salvation) will done away in 1 Cor 13:9-11

9. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10. but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

James 1-5: In contrast to your definition for who receives wisdom is Dan 2:21:

He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.

James 1-6 (faith) If I believe 2+2=4 and you believe 2+1=4, we are both right, because all you need is faith.

James 1-8: The modern word for double minded is cognitive dissidence. This is where a human maintains two conflicting ideas, such as God can have a Son without a mother, or God can create a male and female human from His own image with having both male and female attributes.

Without an understanding of my God of the beginning, posted at the end of #75217, I challenge you, or anyone else on this site to explain either of these two phenomena’s.


wesseldawn - #75337

December 15th 2012

The surrounding text will not explain the meaning but creates confusion, you have to find repetitious information and let it explain everything:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. (Prov. 4:7)

Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. (Prov. 4:5)The fear of the LORD

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments (Psalm 111:10)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Prov. 9:10)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov. 1:7)

To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. (Prov. 1:6)

And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure. (Isaiah 33:6)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. (Matt. 13:33)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jw Farquhar - #75345

December 16th 2012

Response to Wesseldawn #75337

Nice repetition list wesseldawn, but you didn’t answer the question. Did you forget? I will repeat it for you.

I challenge you, or anyone else, on this site to explain either of these two questions:

1)     How can God have a Son without a mother?

2)     How can God create a male and female human from His own image without having both male and female attributes?

I notice that your repetition list includes the fear of the Lord 4 times, like the 4-way cross of God. I also notice the 3-fold pathway (Holy Trifecta—EVEning, Morning, Day) leads to the 4th destination as the Lord’s treasure—strength of salvation.

1)     A good understanding of the Lord’s commandments (pathway 1)

2)     Knowledge of the holy is understanding (pathway 2)

3)     Fools despise wisdom and instruction (don’t despise mine) (pathway 3)

4)     Strength of salvation is his treasure (destination 4th)

Your last paragraph about the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field not coincidentally follows this same 4-way pattern:

1)     a man found (pathway 1)

2)      selleth all (pathway 2)

3)     he hideth (pathway 3)

4)     buyeth that field (destination 4th)

This is just like Jesus’ witness to Nicodemus about 3 births to enter the destination kingdom of God (John3-5, 6):

1)     birth in the flesh (pathway 1)

2)     birth in the water (pathway 2)

3)     birth in the spirit (pathway 3)

4)     Entry to the kingdom of God (destination 4th)


You wrote: you have to find repetitious information and let it explain everything:
Is it a coincidence that Jesus specified a 4th year for the fig tree?, or 4 days before raising Lazarus?, or 4 months to the harvest?, or 4 sowings in the parable of the sower? or specified thine is 4-ways as kingdom, power, glory, forever, or that 4 gospels fit perfectly on the cross, or that Jesus died on a 4-way cross?


wesseldawn - #75312

December 14th 2012

If Origen was a creationist then he was not a defender of the Bible! The Bible clearly states that man (ruddy/soul/the animal principle) was of the dust of the ground, which agrees with evolutionary thought (primodial soup). The difference between the Bible and evolution is that according to the Bible, a creature/man (had to have been a mammal) gained something in the garden (a spirit) that the other animals did not and was able to change as a result of that!


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March 29th 2013

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