Early Opposition to Origen
Origen Adamantius was born of Christian parents, in Alexandria, A.D. 185. He was early taught the Christian religion, and when a mere boy could recite long passages of Scripture from memory. During the persecution by Septimus Severus, A.D. 202, his father, Leonides, was imprisoned, and the son wrote to him not to deny Christ out of tenderness for his family, and was only prevented from surrendering himself to voluntary martyrdom by his mother, who hid his clothes. Leonides died a martyr. In the year 203, then but eighteen years of age, Origen was appointed to the presidency of the theological school in Alexandria, a position left vacant by the flight of Clement from heathen persecution. He made himself proficient in the various branches of learning, traveled in the Orient and acquired the Hebrew language for the purpose of translating the Scriptures. His fame extended in all directions. He won eminent heathens to Christianity, and his instructions were sought by people of all lands. He renounced all but the barest necessities of life, rarely eating flesh, never drinking wine, slept on the naked floor, and devoted the greater part of the night to prayer and study. Eusebius says that he would not live upon the bounty of those who would have been glad to maintain him while he was at work for the world's good, and so he disposed of his valuable library to one who would allow him the daily pittance of four obols (silver coins); and rigidly acted on our Lord's precept not to have "two coats, or wear shoes, and to have no anxiety for the morrow."1 Origen is even said to have mutilated himself (though this is disputed) from an erroneous construction of the Savior's command (Matt. 19:12), and to guard himself from slander that might proceed from his association with female students. This act he lamented in later years. If done it was from the purest motives, and was an act of great self-sacrifice, for, as it was forbidden by canonical law, it debarred him from clerical promotion. He was ordained presbyter A.D. 228, by two bishops outside his diocese, and this irregular act performed by others than his own diocesan gave grounds to Demetrius of Alexandria, in whose jurisdiction he lived, to manifest the envy he had already felt at the growing reputation of the young scholar; and in two councils composed and controlled by Demetrius, A.D. 231 and 232, Origen was deposed. 2 Many of the church authorities condemned the action. In this persecution Origen proved himself as grand in spirit as in mind. To his friends he said: "We must pity them rather that hate them (his enemies), pray for them rather than curse them, for we were made for blessing, not for cursing." Origen went to Palestine A.D. 230, opened a school in Cæsarea, and enjoyed a continually increasing fame. The persecutions under Maximinus in 235, drove him away. He went to Cappadocia, then to Greece, and finally back to Palestine. Defamed at home he was honored abroad, but was at length called back to Alexandria, where his pupil Dionysius had succeeded Demetrius as bishop. But soon after, during the persecution under Decius, he was tortured and condemned to die at the stake, but he lingered, and at length died of his injuries and sufferings, a true martyr, in Tyre, A.D. 253 or 254, at the age of sixty-nine. His grave was known down to the Middle Ages.
The historian Schaff declares: "It is impossible to deny a respectful sympathy to this extraordinary man, who, with all his brilliant talents, and a host of enthusiastic friends and admirers, was driven from his country, stripped of his sacred office, excommunicated from a part of the church, then thrown into a dungeon, loaded with chains, racked by torture, doomed to drag his aged frame and dislocated limbs in pain and poverty, and long after his death to have his memory branded, his name anathematized, and his salvation denied; but who, nevertheless, did more than all his enemies combined to advance the cause of sacred learning, to refute and convert heathens and heretics, and to make the church respected in the eyes of the world. Origen was the greatest scholar of his age, and the most learned and gracious of all the ante-Nicene fathers. Even heathens and heretics admired or feared his brilliant talents. His knowledge embraced all departments of the linguistics, philosophy and theology of his day. With this he united profound and fertile thought, keen penetration, and glowing imagination. As a true divine he consecrated all his studies by prayer, and turned them, according to his best conventions, to the service of truth and piety."3
While chained in prison, his feet in the stocks, his constant theme was: "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." His last thought was for his brethren. "He has left the memory of one of the greatest theologians and greatest saints the church has ever possessed. One of his own words strikes the key-note of his life: 'Love,' he says again and again, "is an agony, a passion;' 'Caritas est passio." To love the truth so as to suffer for it in the world and in the church; to love mankind with a tender sympathy; to extend the arms of compassion ever more widely, so as to over-pass all barriers of dogmatic difference under the far-reaching impulse of this pitying love; to realize that the essence of love is sacrifice, and to make self the unreserved and willing victim, such was the creed, such was the life of Origen."4
He described in letters now lost, the sufferings he endured without the martyrdom he so longed for, and yet in terms of patience and Christian forgiveness. Persecuted by Pagans for his Christian fidelity, and by Christians for heresy, driven from home and country, and after his death his morals questioned, his memory branded, his name anathematized, and even his salvation denied. 5 There is not a character in the annals of Christendom more unjustly treated.
Eusebiues relates how Origen bore in his old age, as in his youth, fearful sufferings for his fidelity to his Master, and carried the scars of persecution into his grave. No nobler witness to the truth is found in the records of Christian fidelity. And, as though the terrible persecutions he suffered during life were not enough, he has for fifteen hundred years borne condemnation, reproach, and denunciation from professing Christians who were unworthy to loosen his shoe latchets. Most of those who decried him during his lifetime, and for a century later, were men whose characters were of an inferior, and some of a very low order; but the candid Nicephorus, a hundred and fifty years after his death, wrote that he was "held in great glory in all the world."
This greatest of all Christian apologists and exegetes, and the first man in Christendom since Paul, was a distinctive Universalist. He could not have misunderstood or misrepresented the teachings of his Master. The language of the New Testament was his mother tongue. He derived the teachings of Christ from Christ himself in a direct line through his teacher Clement; and he placed the defense of Christianity on Universalistic grounds. When Celsus, in his "True Discourse," the first great assault on Christianity, objected to Christianity on the ground that it taught punishment by fire, Origen replied that the threatened fire possessed a disciplinary, purifying quality that will consume in the sinner whatever evil material it can find to consume.
Origen declares that Gehenna is an analogue of the Valley of Hinnom and means a purifying fire6 but suggests that it is not prudent to go further, showing that the idea of "reserve" controlled him from saying what might not be discreet. That God's fire is not material, but spiritual remorse ending in reformation, Origen teaches in many passages. He repeatedly speaks of punishment as aionion (mistranslated in the New Testament "everlasting," "eternal") and then elaborately states and defends as Christian doctrine universal salvation beyond all aionion suffering and sin. Says the candid historian Robertson: "The great object of this eminent teacher was to harmonize Christianity with philosophy. He sought to combine in a Christian scheme the fragmentary truths scattered throughout other systems, to establish the Gospel in a form which should not present obstacles to the conversion of Jews, of Gnostics, and of cultivated heathens; and his errors arose from a too eager pursuit of this idea.7"
The effect of his broad faith on his spirit and treatment of others, is in strong contrast to the bitter and cruel disposition exhibited by some of the early Christians towards heretics, such as Tertullian and Augustine. In reply to the charge that Christians of different creeds were in enmity, he said, "Such of us as follow the doctrines of Jesus, and endeavor to be conformed to his precepts, in our thoughts, words and actions; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed. we entreat. Nor do we say injurious things of those who think differently of us. They who consider the words of our Lord, Blessed are the peaceable, and Blessed are the meek, who will not hate those who corrupt the Christian religion, nor give contemptuous reproach
to those who are in error."
When a young teacher his zeal and firmness vindicated his name Adamantius, man of steel or adamant. Says De Pressense: "The example of Origen was of much force in sustaining the courage of his disciples. He might be seen constantly in the prison of the pious captives carrying to them the consolation they needed. He stood by them till the last moment of triumph came, and gave them the parting kiss of peace on the very threshold of the arena or at the foot of the stake." One day he was carried to the temple of Serapis, and palms were placed in his hands to lay on the altar of the Egyptian god. Brandishing the boughs, he exclaimed, "Here are the triumphal palms, not of the idol, but of Christ." In a work of Origen's now only existing in a Latin translation is the characteristic thought: "The fields of the angels are our hearts; each one of them therefore out of the field which he cultivates, offers first fruits to God. If I should be able to produce today some choice interpretation, worthy to be presented to the Supreme High Priest, so that out of all those thinks which we speak and teach, there should be somewhat considerable which may please the great High Priest, it might possibly happen that the angel who presides over the church, out of all our words, might choose something, and offer it as a kind of first fruits to the Lord, out of the small field of my heart. But I know I do not deserve it; nor am I conscious to myself that any interpretation is discovered by me which the angel who cultivates us should judge worthy to offer to the Lord, as first fruits, or first born."8
Origen's critics are his eulogists. Gieseler remarks: "To the wide extended influence of his writings it is to be attributed, that, in the midst of these furious controversies (in the Fifth Century) there remained any freedom of theological speculation whatever." Bunsen: "Origen's death is the real end of free Christianity and, in particular, of free intellectual theology." Schaff says: "Origen is father of the scientific and critical investigation of Scripture." Jerome says he wrote more than other men can read. Epiphanius, an opponent, states the number of his works as six thousand. His books that survive are mostly in Latin, more or less mutilated by translators.
Eusebius says that his life is worthy of being recorded from "his tender infancy." Even when a child "he was wholly borne away by the desire of becoming a martyr," and so divine a spirit did he show, and such devotedness to his religion, even as a child, that his father, frequently, "when standing over his sleeping boy, would uncover his breast, and as a shrine consecrated by the Divine Spirit, reverently kiss the breast of his favorite offspring. As his doctrine so was his life; and as his life, so also was his doctrine." His Bishop, Demetrius, praised him highly, till "seeing him doing well, great and illustrious and celebrated by all, was overcome by human infirmity," and maligned him throughout the church.
Origen was followed as teacher in the Alexandrine school by his pupil Heraclas, who in turn was succeeded by Dionysius, another pupil, so that from Pantænus, to Clemens, Origen, Heraclas and Dionysius, to Didymus, from say A.D. 160 to A.D. 390, more than two centuries, the teaching in Alexandria, the very center of Christian learning, was Universalistic.
The struggles of such a spirit, scholar, saint, philosopher, must have been a martyrdom, and illustrate the power of his sublime faith, not only to sustain in the terrific trials through which he passed, but to preserve the spirit he always manifested--akin to that which cried on the cross, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
The death of Origen marks an epoch in Christianity, and signalizes the beginning of a period of decadence. The republicanism of Christianity began to give way before the monarchical tendencies that ripened with Constantine (A.D. 313) and the Nicean council (A.D. 325). Clement and Origen represented freedom of thought, and a rational creed founded on the Bible, but the evil change that Christianity was soon to experience, was fairly seen, says Bunsen, about the time of Origen's death. "Origen, who had made a last attempt to preserve liberty of thought along with a rational belief in historical facts based upon the historical records, had failed in his gigantic efforts; he died of a broken heart rather than of the wounds inflicted by his heathen torturers. His followers retained only his mystical scholasticism, without possessing either his genius or his learning, his great and wide heart, or his free, truth-speaking spirit. More and more the teachers became bishops, and the bishops absolute governors, the majority of whom strove to establish as law their speculations upon Christianity.
His comprehensive mind and vast sympathy, and his intense tendency to generalization, caused Origen to entertain hospitality in his philosophical system many ideas that now are seen inconsistent and illogical; but his fantastic, allegorical interpretation of Scripture, his whimsies concerning pre-existence, and his disposition to include all themes and theories in his system, did not swerve him from the truths and facts of Christian revelation. His defects were but as spots on the sun. And his erratic notions were by no means in excess of those of the average theologian of his times.
Origen considered philosophy as necessary to Christianity as is geometry to philosophy; but that all things essential to salvation are plainly taught in the Scriptures, within the comprehension of the ordinary mind. "Origen was the prince of schoolmen and scholars, as subtle as Aquinas, as learned as Routh or Tischendorf. He is a man of one book, in a sense. The Bible, its text, its exposition, furnished him with the motive for incessant toil." (Neoplatonism, by C. Bigg, D.D., London, 1895, p. 163.) The truths taught in the Bible may be made by philosophers themes on which the mind may indefinitely wander; and those competent will find interior, spiritual, concealed meanings not seen on the surface. Yet he constantly taught "that such natural attraction and similarities exists between Christianity and human reason, that not only the grounds, but also the forms, of all Christian doctrines may be explained by the dictates of philosophy. That it is vastly important to the honor and advantage of Christianity that all its doctrines be traced back to the sources of all truth, or be shown to flow from the principles of philosophy; and consequently that a Christian theologian should exert his ingenuity and his industry primarily to demonstrate the harmony between religion and reason, and to show that there is nothing taught it the Scriptures but what is founded in reason."
He held to the "most scrupulous Biblicism and the most conscientious regard for the rule of faith, united with the philosophy of religion." He "was the most influential theologian in the Oriental church, the father of theological science, the author of ecclesiastical dogmatics. An orthodox traditionalist, a strong Biblical theologian, a keen idealistic philosopher who translated the content of faith into ideas, completed the structure of the world that is within, and finally let nothing pass save knowledge of God and of self, in closest union, which exalts us above the world, and conducts unto edification. Life is a discipline, a conflict under the permission and leading of God, which will end with the conquest and destruction of evil. According to Origen, all spirits will, in the form of their individual lives, be finally rescued and glorified (apokatastasis)." 9 Mosheim considered these fatal errors, while we should regard them as valuable principles. The famous historian assures us the Origen was entirely ignorant of the doctrine of Christ's substitutional sacrifice. He had no faith in the idea that Christ suffered in man's stead, but taught that he died in man's behalf.
The known works of Origen consist of brief "Notes on Scripture," only a few fragments of which are left; his "Commentaries," many of which are in Migne's collection; his "Contra Celsum," or "Against Celsus," which is complete and in the original Greek; "Stromata," only three fragments of which survive in a Latin translation; a fragment on the "Resurrection;" practical "Essays and Letters," but two of the latter remaining, and "Of Principles," "De Principiis," or nearly all the original Greek of this great work has perished. The Latin translation by Rufinus is very loose and inaccurate. It is frequently a mere paraphrase. Jerome, whose translation is better than that of Rufinus, accuses the latter of unfaithfulness in his translation, and made a new version, only small portions of which have come down to modern times, so that we cannot accurately judge of the character of this great work. A comparison of the Greek of Origen's "Against Celsus" with the Latin version of Rufinus exhibits great discrepancies. Indeed, Rufinus confesses that he had so "smoothed and corrected" as to leave "nothing which could appear conflicting with our belief." He claimed, however, that he had done so because "his (Origen's) books had been corrupted by heretics and malicious persons," and accordingly he had suppressed or enlarged the text to what he taught Origen ought to have said! And having acknowledged so much he enjoins all by their "belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" to make no further alterations! He reiterates his confession elsewhere, and says he has translated nothing that seems to him to contradict Origen's other opinions, but has passed it by, as "interpolated and forged." For the sake of "brevity," he says he has sometimes "curtailed."
Says De Pressense: "Celsus collected in his quiver all the objections possible to be made, and there is scarcely one missing of all the arrows which in subsequent times have been aimed against the supernatural in Christianity." To every point made by Celsus, Origen made a triumphant reply, anticipating, in fact, modern objections, and "gave to Christian antiquity its most complete apology. Many centuries were to elapse before the church could present to the world any other defense of her faith comparable to this noble book." "It remains the masterpiece of ancient apology, for solidity of basis, vigor of argument, and breadth of eloquent exposition. The apologists of every age were to find in it an inexhaustible mine, as well as incomparable model of that royal, moral method inaugurated by St. Paul and St. John."
An illustration of his manner may be given in his reference to the attack of Celsus on the miracles of Christ. Celsus dares not deny them, only a hundred years after Christ, and says: "Be it so, we accept the facts as genuine," and then proceeds to rank them with the tricks of Egyptian sorcerers, and asks: "Did anyone ever look upon those impostors as divinely aided, who for hire healed the sick and wrought wonderful works?" If Jesus did work miracles it was through sorcery, and deserves therefore the greater contempt." In reply Origin insists on the miracles, but places the higher evidence of Christianity on a moral basis. He says: "Show me the magician who calls upon the spectators of his prodigies to reform their life, or who teaches his admirers the fear of God, and seeks to persuade them to act as those who must appear before him as their judge. The magicians do nothing of the sort, either because they are incapable of it, or because they have no such desire. Themselves charged with crimes the most shameful and infamous, how should they attempt the reformation of the morals of others? The miracles of Christ, on the contrary, all bear the impress of his own holiness, and he ever uses them as a means of winning to the cause of goodness and truth those who witness them. Thus he presented his own life as the perfect model, not only to his immediate disciples, but to all men. He taught his disciples to make known to those who heard them, the perfect will of God; and he revealed to mankind, far more by his life and works than by his miracles, the secret of that holiness by which it is possible in all things to please God. If such was the life of Jesus, how can he be compared to mere charlatans, and why may we not believe that he was indeed God manifested in the flesh for the salvation of our race?" 10
The historian Cave says: "Celsus was an Epicurean philosopher contemporary with Lucian, the witty atheist, a man of wit and parts, and had all the advantages which learning, philosophy, and eloquence could add to him; but a severe and incurable enemy to the Christian religion, against which he wrote a book entitled 'The True Discourse," wherein he attempted Christianity with all the arts of insinuation, all the wicked reflections, bitter slanders, plausible reasons, whereunto a man of parts and malice was capable to assault it. To this Origen returns a full and solid answer, in eight books; wherein, as he had the better cause, so he managed it with that strength of reason, clearness of argument, and convincing evidence of truth, that were there nothing else to testify the abilities of this great man, this book alone were enough to do it."
Eusebius declared that Origen "not only answered all the objections that had ever been brought, but had supplied in anticipation answers to all that ever could be brought against Christianity." Celsus, the ablest of all the assailants of Christianity, wrote his "True Discourse" about a century before Origen's time. It is the fountain whence the enemies of Christianity have obtained the materials for their attacks on the Christian religion. In garbled texts, confounds the different heresies with the accepted form of Christianity, and employs the keenest logic, the bitterest sarcasm, and all the weapons of the most accomplished and unscrupulous controversy, and exhausts learning, argument, irony, slander, and all the skilled resources of one of the ablest of men in his assault on the new religion. Origen's reply, written A.D., 249, proceeds on the ground already established by Clement: the essential relation between God and man; the universal operation of God's grace; the preparation for the Gospel by Paganism; the residence of the genius of divinity in each human soul; the resurrection of the soul rather than of the body, and the remedial power of all the divine punishments. He triumphantly meets Celsus on every point, argument with argument, denouncement with denouncement, satire with satire, and through all breathes a supreme and lofty spirit, immeasurably superior to that of his opponent. He leaves nothing of the great skeptic's unanswered.
Among the points made by Celsus and thoroughly disposed of by Origen were some that have in recent years been presented: that there is nothing new in Christian teaching; that the pretended miracles were not by the supernatural act of God; that the prophecies were misapplied and unfulfilled; that Christ borrowed from Plato, etc.
The first system of Christian theology ever framed--let it never be forgotten--was published by Origen, A.D. 230, and it declared universal restoration as the issue of the divine government; so that this eminent Universalist has the grand pre-eminence of being not only the founder of scientific Christian theology, but also the first great defender of the Christian religion against its assailants. "De Principiis" is a profound book, a fundamental and essential element of which is the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union with God.
Origen's most learned production was the "Hexapla." He was twenty-eight years on this great Biblical work. The first form was the "Tetrapla," containing in four columns the "Septuagint," and the texts of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. This he enlarged into "Hexapla" with the Hebrew text in both Hebrew and Greek letters. Many of the books of the Bible had two additional columns, and some a seventh Greek version. This was the "Octapla." This immense monument of learning and industry consisted of fifty volumes. It was never transcribed, and perished, probably destroyed by the Arabs in the destruction of the Alexandrian Library.11
Origen was of medium height, but of such vigor and physical endurance that he acquired the title Adamantius, the man of steel, or adamant. But he constantly wore a demeanor of gentleness and majesty, of kindliness and saintliness, that won all with whom he came in contact.
The following statements from the pen of Origen, and summary of his views by eminent authors of different creeds, will show the great scholar's ideas of human destiny. Many more than are here given might be presented, but enough are quoted to demonstrate beyond a peradventure that the great philosopher and divine, the equally great scholar and saint, was a Universalist. There is no little difficulty in reaching Origen's opinions on some topics--happily not on man's final destiny--in consequence of most of his works existing only in Latin translations confessedly inaccurate. He complained of perversions while living, and warned against misconstruction. 12 But no believer in endless punishment can claim the sanction of his great name.
He writes: "The end of the world, then, and the final consummation will take place when everyone shall be subjected to punishment for his sins; a time which God alone knows, when he will bestow on each one what he deserves. We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through his Christ, may recall all his creatures to one end, even his enemies being conquered and subdued. For thus says Holy Scripture, 'The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.' And if the meaning of the prophet be less clear, we may ascertain it from the apostle Paul, who speaks more openly, thus: 'For Christ must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet.' But even if that unreserved declaration of the apostle do not sufficiently inform us what is meant by 'enemies being placed under his feet,' listen to what he says in the following words: "For all things must be put under him.' What, then, is this 'putting under' by which all things must be made subject to Christ? I am of opinion that it is this very subjection by which we also which to be subject to him, by which the apostles also were subject, and all the saints who have been followers of Christ. For the word 'subjection,' by which we are subject to Christ, indicates that the salvation which proceeds from him belongs to his subjects, agreeably to the declaration of David, 'Shall not my soul be subject unto God? From him cometh my salvation.'" "Seeing, then, that such is the end, when all enemies will be subdued to Christ, when death--the last enemy--shall be destroyed, and when the kingdom shall be delivered up by Christ (to whom all things are subject) to God the Father; let us, I say, from such an end as this, contemplate the beginnings of things." "The apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, beings destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this." De Prin. I, vi: 1, 2.
Unquestionably Origen, in the original Greek of which the Latin translation only exists, here used "aionion" (inaccurately rendered everlasting and eternal in the New Testament) in the sense of limited duration; and fire, as an emblem of purification, for he says:
"When thou hearest of the wrath of God, believe not that this wrath and indignation are passions of God; they are condescensions of language designed to convert and improve the child. So God is described as angry, and says that he is indignant, in order that thou mayest convert and be improved, while in fact he is not angry." 13
Origen severely condemns those who cherish unworthy thoughts of God, regarding him, he says, as possessing a disposition that would be a slander on a wicked savage. He insists that the purpose of all punishment, by a good God, must be remedial. 14
In arguing that aionios as applied to punishment does not mean endless, he says that the sin that is not forgiven in the æon or the æon to come, would be in some one of the æons following. His argument that age (undoubtedly aion in the original, of which, unfortunately, we have only the Latin translation) is limited, is quite complete in "De Principiis." This word is an age (saeculum, aion) and a conclusion of many ages (seculorum). He concludes his argument by referring to the time when, beyond "an age and ages, perhaps even more than ages of ages," that period will come, viz., when all things are no longer in an age, but when God is all in all.15
He quotes the Scripture phrase "Forever and ever and beyond" (in saeculum et in saeculum et edhuc, forever and further), and insists that evil, being a negation, cannot be eternal.
Dr. Bigg sums up Origen's views: "Slowly yet certainly the blessed change must come, the purifying fire must eat up the dross and leave the pure gold. One by one we shall enter into rest, never to stray again. Then when death, the last enemy, is destroyed, when the tale of his children is complete, Christ will 'drink wine in the kingdom of his Father.' This is the end, when 'all shall be one, as Christ and the Father are one,' when 'God shall be all in all.'"
Origen never dogmatizes; rests largely on general principles; says that "justice and goodness are in their highest manifestations identical; that God does not punish, but has made man so that in virtue only can he find peace and happiness, because he has made him like himself; that suffering is not a tax upon sin, but the wholesome reaction by which the diseased soul struggles to cast out the poison of its disease; that, therefore, if we have done wrong it is good to suffer, because the anguish of returning health will cease when health is restored, and cannot cease till then. Again, that evil is against the plan of God, is created not by him but by ourselves; is therefore, properly speaking, a negation, and as such cannot be eternal. These are, in the main, Greek thoughts, their chief source is the Gorgias of Plato; but his final appeal is always to Scripture."
Huet quotes Leontius as saying that Origen argued from the fact that aionion means finite duration, the limited duration of future punishment. Origen's argument for the terminability of punishment was based on the meaning of this word aionios. 16 Surely he, a Platonist in his knowledge of Greek, should know its signification. 17
On I Cor. 3:2, he says (Ag. Cels. V. xv.): The fire that will consume the world at the last day is a purifying fire, which all must pass through, though it will impart no pain to the good. In expressing eternity Origen does not depend upon aion, but qualifies the word by an adjective, thus:---ton apeiron aiona. Barnabas, Hermas, "Sibylline Oracles," Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Theophilus and Irenæus all apply the word aionios to punishment, but two of these taught annihilation, and one universal salvation beyond aionion punishment.
God is a "Consuming Fire," Origen thinks, because he "does indeed consume and utterly destroy; that he consumes evil thoughts, wicked actions, and sinful desires when they find their way into the minds of believers." He teaches that "God's consuming fire works with the good as with the evil, annihilating that which harms his children. This fire is one that each one kindles; the fuel and food is each one's sins." 18 "What is the meaning of eternal fire?" he asks: "When the soul has gathered together a multitude of evil works, and an abundance of sins against itself, at a suitable time all that assembly of evils boils up to punishment, and is set on fire to chastisement," etc. Just as physicians employ drugs, and sometimes "the evil has to be burned out by fire, how much more is it to be understood that God our Physician, desiring to remove the defects of our souls, should apply the punishment of fire." "Our God is a 'consuming fire' in the sense in which we have taken the word; and thus he enters in as a 'refiner's fire' to refine the rational nature, which has been filled with the lead of wickedness, and to free it from the other impure materials which adulterate the natural gold or silver, so to speak, of the soul." Towards the conclusion of his reply to Celsus, Origen has the following passage: "The Stoics, indeed hold that when the strongest of the elements prevails all things shall be turned into fire. But our belief is that the Word shall prevail over the entire rational creation, and change every soul into his own perfection; in which state every one, by the mere exercise of his power, will choose what he desires, and obtain what he chooses. For although, in the diseases and wounds of the body, there are some which no medical skill can cure, yet we hold that in the mind there is no evil so strong that it may not be overcome by the Supreme Word and God. For stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him; and this healing he applies, according to the will of God, to every man. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil, although as to the question whether it shall be so destroyed that it can never anywhere rise again, it is beyond our present purpose to say. Many things are said obscurely in the prophecies on the total destruction of evil, and the restoration to righteousness of every soul; but it will be enough for our present purpose to quote the following passage from Zephaniah," etc. (Ag. Cels. VIII. 1xxii.)
Thus Origen interprets "fire" in the Bible not only as a symbol of the sinner's suffering but of his purification. The "consuming fire" is a "refiner's fire." It consumes the sins, and refines and purifies the sinner. It burns the sinner's works, "hay wood and stubble," that result from wickedness. The torture is real, the purification sure; fire is a symbol of God's service, certain, but salutary discipline. God's "wrath" is apparent, not real. There is no passion on his part. What we call wrath is another name for his disciplinary process. God would not tell us to put away anger, wrath (Origen says) and then be guilty himself of what he prohibits of us. He declares that the punishment which is said to be by fire is understood to be applied with the object of healing, as taught by Isaiah, etc. (13:16; 47:14,15; 10:17). The "eternal fire" is curative.
Gehenna and its fires have the same signification: "We find that what was termed 'Gehenna' or 'the Valley of Ennom,' was included in the lot of the tribe of Benjamin, in which Jerusalem also was situated. And seeking to ascertain what might be the inference from the heavenly Jerusalem belonging to the lot of Benjamin, and the Valley of Ennom, we find a certain confirmation of what is said regarding the place of punishment, intended from the purification of such souls as are to be purified by torments, agreeably to the same,--'the Lord cometh like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifies of silver and of gold.'" Ag. Cels., VI. xxvi.
In reply to the charge of Celsus that Christians teach that sinners will be burnt up by the fires of judgment, Origen replies that such thoughts had been entertained by certain foolish Christians, who were unable to see distinctly the sense of each particular passage, or unwilling to devote the necessary labor to the investigation of Scripture. And perhaps, as it is appropriate to children that some things should be addressed to them in a manner befitting their infantile condition, to convert them, so such ideas as Celsus refers to are taught." But he adds that "those who require the administration of punishment by fire" experience it "with a view to an end which is suitable for God to bring upon those who have been created in his image." In reply to the charge of Celsus that Christians teach that God will act the part of a cook in burning men, Origen says,--"not like a cook but like a God who is a benefactor of those who stand in need of discipline of fire." V. xv, xvi.
Origen declares that sinners who are "incurable" are converted by the threat of punishment. "As to the punishments threatened against the ungodly, these will come upon them after they have refused all remedies, and have been, as we may say, visited with an incurable malady of sinfulness. Such is our doctrine of punishment; and the instruction of this doctrine turns many away from their sins." 19
Pamphilus and Eusebius in their "Apology for Origen" quote these words from him: "We are to understand that God, our physician, in order to remove those disorders which our souls contract from various sins and abominations, uses that painful mode of cure, and brings those torments of fire upon such as have lost the health of the soul, just as an earthly physician in extreme cases subjects his patients to searing or burning abnormal tissues."
But Origen always makes salvation depend on the consenting will; hence he says, (De Prin. II, i:2), "God the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all his creatures through the indescribable plan of his Word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than to which the motives of his own mind led him."
Origen teaches that in the final estate of universal human happiness there will be differing degrees of blessedness. After quoting I Thess. 4:15-17, he says: "A diversity of translation and a different glory will be given to every one according to the merits of his actions; and every one will be in that order which the merits of his work have procured for him."
Mosheim thus expresses Origen's views: "As all divine punishments are remedial and useful, so also that which divine justice has inflicted on corrupted souls, although it is a great evil, is nevertheless designed for improvement in its tendency, and should conduct them to blessedness. For the tiresome conflict of opposite inclinations, the onsets of the passions, the pains and sorrows and other evils arising from the connection of the mind with the body, and with a perceptive soul, may and should excite the captive soul to long for the recovery of its lost happiness, and lead it to concentrate all its energies in order to escape from its misery. For God acts like a physician, who employs harsh and bitter remedies, not only to cure the diseased, but also to induce them to preserve their health and to avoid whatever might impair it."20
The candid historian Robertson gives an accurate statement of Origen's eschatology, with references to his works, as follows: "All punishment, he holds, is merely corrective and remedial, being ordained in order that all creatures may be restored to their original perfection. At the resurrection all mankind will have to pass through a fire; the purged spirits will enter into Paradise, a place of training for the consummation; the wicked will remain in the 'fire,' which, however, is not described as material, but as a mental and spiritual misery. The matter and food of it, he says, are our sins, which, when swollen to the height, are inflamed to become our punishment; and the outer darkness is the darkness of ignorance. But the condition of these spirits is not without hope, although thousands of years may elapse before their suffering shall have wrought its due effect on them. On the other hand, those who are admitted into Paradise may abuse their free will, as in the beginning, and may consequently be doomed to a renewal of their sojourn in the flesh. Every reasonable creature-even Satan himself-may be turned from evil to good, so as not to be excluded from salvation." 21
Notwithstanding Robertson's doubt, expressed elsewhere in his history, whether Origen taught the salvation of "devils," Origen's language is clear. He says: "But whether any of these orders who act under the government of the Devil will in a future world be converted to righteousness or whether persistent and deeply rooted wickedness may be changed by the power of habit into nature, is a result which you yourself, reader, may approve of;" but he goes on to say that in the eternal and invisible worlds, "all those beings are arranged according to a regular plan, in the order and degree of their merits; so that some of them in the first, others in the second, some even in the last times, after having undergone heavier and severer punishments, endured for a lengthened period, and for many ages, so to speak, improved by this stern method of training, and restored at first by the instruction of the angels, and subsequently by the powers of a higher grade and thus advancing through each stage to a better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal, having traveled through, by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers. From which, I think, this will appear to follow as an inference that every rational nature may, in passing from one order to another, go through each to all, and advance from all to each, while made the subject of various degrees of proficiency and failure according to its own actions and endeavors, put forth in the enjoyment of its power of freedom of will." 22
Says the "Dictionary of Christian Biography:" Origen "openly proclaims his belief that the goodness of God, when each sinner shall have received the penalty of his sins, will, through Christ, lead the whole universe to one end." "He is led to examine into the nature of the fire which tries every man's work, and is the penalty of evil, and he finds it in the mind itself--in the memory of evil. The sinner's life lies before him as an open scroll, and he looks on it with shame and anguish unspeakable. The Physician of our souls can use his own processes of healing. The 'outer darkness' and Paradise are but different stages in the education of the great school of souls, and their upward and onward progress depends on their purity and love of truth. He who is saved is saved as by fire, that if he has in him any mixture of lead the fire may melt it out, so that all may be made as the pure gold. The more the lead the greater will be the burning, so that even if there be but little gold, that little will be purified. The fire of the last day, will, it may be, be at once a punishment and a remedy, burning up the wood, hay, stubble, according to each man's merits, yet all working to the destined end of restoring man to the image of God, though, as yet, men must be treated as children, and the terrors of the judgment rather than the final restoration have to be brought before those who can be converted only by fears and threats. Gehenna stands for the torments that cleanse the soul, but for the many who are scarcely restrained by the fears of eternal torments, it is not expedient to go far into that matter, hardly, indeed, to commit our thoughts to writing, but to dwell on the certain and inevitable retribution for all evil. God is indeed a consuming fire, but that which he consumes is the evil that is in the souls of men, not the souls themselves." (Dr. A. W. W. Dale.)
Crombie's translation (Ante-Nicene Library, Edinburgh, 1872) thus renders Origen: "But as it is in mockery that Celsus says we speak of 'God coming down like a torturer bearing fire' and thus compels us unseasonably to investigate words of deeper meaning, we shall make a few remarks. The divine Word says that our 'God is a consuming fire' and that 'He draws rivers of fire before him;' nay, that he even entereth in as 'a refiner's fire, and as a fuller's herb' to purify his own people. But when he is said to be a 'consuming fire' we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God. And we assert that they are wickedness and the works which result from it, and which, being figuratively called 'wood, hay, stubble,' God consumes as a fire. The wicked man, accordingly, is said to build up on the previously laid foundation of reason, 'wood, and hay, and stubble.' If, then, any one can show that these words were differently understood by the writer, and can prove that the wicked man literally builds up 'wood, or hay, or stubble,' it is evident that the fire must be understood to be material, and an object of sense. But if, on the contrary, the works of the wicked man are spoken of figuratively, under the names of 'wood, or hay, or stubble,' why does it not at once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word 'fire' is to be taken, so that 'wood' of such a kind should be consumed? For the Scripture says: "The fire shall try each man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work be burned, he shall suffer loss.' But what work can be spoken of in these words as being 'burned,' save all that result from wickedness?" Ag. Cels: IV. xiii; xciv.
One of the unaccountable mysteries of religious thinking is that all Christians should not have agreed with Origen on this point. "God is Love;" love, which from its nature can only consume that which is harmful to its object,--Man, and not man himself.
Again, "If then that subjection be good and favorable by which the Son is said to be subject to the Father, it is an extremely rational and logical inference to deduce that the subjection also of enemies which is said to be made to the Son of God, should be understood as being also remedial and useful; as if, when the Son is said to be subject to the Father, the perfect restoration of the whole of creation is signified, so also, when enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the salvation of the conquered and the restoration of the lost is in that understood to consist. This subjection, however, will be accomplished in certain ways, and after certain training, and at certain times; for it is not to be imagined that the subjection is to be brought about by the pressure of necessity (lest the whole world should then appear to be subdued to God by force), but by word, reason and doctrine; by a call to a better course of things; by the best systems of training; by the employment also of suitable and appropriate threatenings, which will justly impend over those who despise any care or attention to their salvation and usefulness." (De Prin. III, v). "I am of opinion that the expression by which God is said to be 'all in all,' means that he is 'all' in each individual person. Now he will be 'all' in each individual in this way: when all which any rational understanding cleansed from the dregs of every sort of vice, and with every cloud of wickedness completely swept away, can either feel, or understand, or think, will be wholly God; and when it will no longer behold or retain anything else than God, but when God will be the measure and standard of all its movements, and thus God will be 'all,' for there will no longer be any distinction of good and evil, seeing evil nowhere exists; for God is all things, and to him no evil is near. So, then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be reestablished in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that, when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, he who alone is the one good God becomes to him 'all,' and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but he himself is 'all in all.' And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be 'all in all.'" Thus the final restoration of the moral universe is not to be wrought in violation of the will of the creature: the work of 'transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all," no "soul or rational existence is compelled by force against the liberty of his own will." (DePrin. III, vi.)
Again: "Let us see now what is the freedom of the creature, or the termination of its bondage. When Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, then also those living things, when they shall have first been made the kingdom of Christ, shall be delivered, along with the whole of that kingdom, to the rule of the Father, that when God shall be all in all, they also, since they are a part of all things, may have God in themselves, as he is in all things." Origen regarded the application to punishment of the word aionios, mistranslated everlasting, as in perfect harmony with this view, saying that the punishment of sin, "though 'aionion,' is not endless." He observes further: "The last enemy, moreover, who is called death, is said on this account (that all may be one, without diversity) to be destroyed that there may not be anything left of a mournful kind, when death does not exist, nor anything that is adverse when there is no enemy. The destruction of the last enemy, indeed, is to be understood not as if its substance, which was formed by God, is to perish, but because its mind and hostile will, which came not from God, but from itself, are to be destroyed. Its destruction, therefore, will not be its non-existence, but its ceasing to be an enemy, and (to be) death. And this result must be understood as being brought about not suddenly, but slowly and gradually, seeing that the process of amendment and correction will take place imperceptibly in the individual instances during the lapse of countless and unmeasured ages, some outstripping others, and tending by a swifter course towards perfection, while others again follow close at hand, and some again a long way behind; and thus, through the numerous and uncounted orders of progressive beings who are being reconciled to God from a state of enmity, the last enemy is finally reached, who is called death, so that he also may be destroyed and no longer be an enemy. When, therefore, all rational souls shall have been restored to a condition of this kind, then the nature of this body of ours will undergo a change into the glory of the spiritual body."
In "Contra Celsum" (B.VIII.), Origen says: "We assert that the Word, who is the Wisdom of God, shall bring together all intelligent creatures, and convert them into his own perfection, through the instrumentality of their free will and of their own exertions. The Word is more powerful than all the diseases of the soul, and he applies his remedies to each one according to the pleasure of God--for the name of God is to be invoked by all, so that all shall serve him with one consent."
The heresy that has wrought so much harm in modern theology, that justness and goodness in God are different and hostile attributes was advocated, Origen says, by "some" in his day, and he meets it admirably (De Prin. II, v:1-4), by showing that the two attributes are identical in their purpose. "Justice is goodness," he declares. "God confers benefits justly, and punishes with kindness, since neither goodness without justice, nor justice without goodness, can display the dignity of the divine nature."
Origen argues that God must be passionless because unchanging. Wrath, hatred, repentance, are ascribed to him in the Bible because human infirmities require such a presentation. Punishment results from sin as a legitimate consequence, and is not God's direct work. In the Restitution God's wrath will not be spoken of. God really has but one passion--Love. All he does illustrates some phase of this divine emotion. He declares that with God the one fixed point is the End, when God shall be all in all. All intelligent work has a perfect end. Of Col. 1:20 and Heb. 2:19, he says: Christ is "the Great High Priest, not only for man but for every rational creature." In his Homilies on Ezekiel, he says: "If it had not been conductive to the conversion of sinners to employ suffering, never would a compassionate and benevolent God have inflicted punishment." Love, which "never faileth," will preserve the whole creation from all possibility of further fall; and "God will be all in all," forever.
Note.--Celsus seems to have been the first heathen author to name the Christian books, so that they were well-known within a century of our Lord's death. We, undoubtedly, have every objection, advanced by him against Christianity, preserved in Origen's reply. He not only attacks our faith on minor points, but his chief assaults are directed to show that the new religion is not a special revelation; that its doctrines are not new; that it is not superior to other religions; that its doctrines are unreasonable; that if God really spoke to men, it would not be to one small nation, in an obscure corner; that the miracles (though actual occurrences) were not wrought by divine power; that Jesus was not divine, and did not rise from the dead; that Christianity is an evolution. He took the same view as Renan, Strauss and modern "Rationalists," charging the supposed appearance of Jesus after his crucifixion to the imaginings of "a distracted woman," or to the delusions of those who fancied what they desired to see.
Celsus sometimes selected the views of unauthorized Christians, as when he charged that they worshipped Christ as God. Origen's reply proves that Christ was held to be divine, but not Deity. He says: "Granted that there may be some individuals among the multitude of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Savior is the most High God; we do not hold with them, but rather believe him when he says: "The Father who sent me is greater than I." Had Christians then held Christ to be God, he could not have said this.
Celsus was the father of "Rationalism," and Origen the exponent of a reverent and rational Christian belief.
Chapter 11--Origen-Continued - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology - Introductory Note - New Stuff
1 Eusebius Eccl. Hist. VI. Butler's Lives of the Saints, Vol. IV, pp. 224-231, contains quite a full sketch of Origen's life, though as he was not canonized he is only embalmed in a foot note.
2 Demetrius is entitled to a paragraph in order to show the kind of men who sometimes controlled the scholarship and opinions of the period. When the patriarch Julian was dying he dreamed that his successor would come next day, and bring him a bunch of grapes. Next day this Demetrius came with his bunch of grapes, an ignorant rustic, and he was soon after seated in the episcopal chair. It was this ignoramus who tyrannically assumed control of ecclesiastical affairs, censured Origen, and compelled bishops of his own appointing to pass a sentence of degradation on Origen, which the legitimate presbyters had refused.
3 Hist. Christ. Church, I, pp. 54-55.
4 De Pressense' Martyrs and Apologists II, p. 340.
5 Bayle, Dict. Hist. Art. Origene.
6 Cont. Cels. VI. 25.
7 Consult also, Mosheim, Dorner and De Pressense.
8 Homily XI in Numbers, in Migne.
9 Harnack's Outlines, pp. 150-154.
10 Uhlhorn (B, II, c. ii) says that in Celsus's attack "Every argument is to be found which has been brought against Christianity up to the present day." "The True Word of Celsus is to be found almost entire in the treatise which Origen wrote in reply." Neoplatonism, by C. Bigg, D.D.
11 Kitto Cyclo; Davidson's Biblical Criticism, Vol. I.
12 De Principiis, Crombie's Translation. Epist. ad Amicos.
13 In Jeremiah Hom. xviii: 6, Ag. Cels. IV. xxii.
14 Selecta in Exodum: Also, De Prin. I, vi: 3.
15 De Prin. II. iii: 5.
16 Canon Farrar says in Mercy and Judgment, p. 409, "For an exhaustive treatment of this word aionios see Hanson's Aion Aionios."
17 Some of the texts Origen quotes in proof of universal salvation: Luke 3:16;
I Cor. 3:15; Isa. 16:4; 12:1; 24:22; 46:14,15; Micah 7:9; Ezek. 16:53,55;
Jer. 25:15,16; Matt. 18:30; John 10:16; Rom. 11:25,26; Rom. 11:32; I Pet. 3:18-21, etc.
18 De Prin. II, x: 3, 4. I, i. Ag. Cels. iv, 13.
19 Ag. Cels. VIII. xxxix. xl.
20 Com. II, pp. 194,195.
21 Hist. Christ. Church, I, p. 114.
22 Origen held that meant limited duration, and consequently that must mean limited. See De Prin. I, vi: 3.
Chapter 11--Origen-Continued - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology
Chapter 1 - The Earliest Creeds
Chapter 2 - Early Christianity-A Cheerful Religion
Chapter 3 - Origin of Endless Punishment
Chapter 4 - Doctrines of Mitigation and Reserve
Chapter 5 - Two Kindred Topics
Chapter 6 - The Apostles' Immediate Successors
Chapter 7 - The Gnostic Sects
Chapter 8 - The Sibylline Oracles
Chapter 9 - Pantaenus and Clement
Chapter 10 - Origen
Chapter 11 - Origen-Continued
Chapter 12 - The Eulogists of Origen
Chapter 13 - A Third Century Group
Chapter 14 - Minor Authorities
Chapter 15 - Gregory Nazianzen
Chapter 16 - Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians
Chapter 17 - A Notable Family
Chapter 18 - Additional Authorities
Chapter 19 - The Deterioration of Christian Thought
Chapter 20 - Augustine--Deterioration Continued
Chapter 21 - Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism
Chapter 22 - The Eclipse of Universalism
Chapter 23 - Summary of Conclusions