The students, biographers and critics of Origen of all schools of thought and theology mainly agree in representing him as an explicit proclaimer of Universalism. Canon Westcott styles him the great corrector of that Africanism which since Augustine has dominated Western theology. He thus defines his views: "All future punishments exactly answer to individual sinfulness, and, like punishments on earth, they are directed to the amendment of the sufferers. Lighter offenses can be chastised on earth; the heavier remain to be visited hereafter. In every case the uttermost farthing must be paid, though final deliverance is promised."
Blunt, in his excellent work, describes the heathen mixtures and corruptions in manner, custom, habit, conduct and life that began to prevail during the latter part of the Third Century, as the influence of the great Alexandrine fathers waned, and the Latinizing of the church began to assert itself.1
"There will come a time when man, completely subjected to Christ by the operation of the Holy Ghost," says Bigg, epitomizing Origen, "shall in Christ be completely subjected to the Father. But now," he adds, "the end is always like the beginning. The manifold diversity of the world is to close in unity, it must then have sprung from unity. His expansion of this theory is in fact an elaborate commentary upon the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans and the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Those, he felt, were the two keys, the one to the eternity before, and other to the eternity after. What the church cannot pardon, God may. The sin which has no forgiveness in this æon or the æon to come, may be atoned for in some one of the countless æons of the vast hereafter." This exegesis serves to show us how primitive church treated the "unpardonable sins." (Matt. 12:32). The sin against the Holy Ghost "shall not be forgiven in this world (aion, age) nor in the world (aion, age) to come." According to Origen, it may be in "some one of the countless æons of the vast hereafter."
The historian Schaff concedes that among those quickened and inspired to follow Origen were Pamphilus, Eusebius of Cæsarea, Didymus of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Gregory of Nyssa; and among the Latin fathers, Hilary and Jerome. And he feels obliged to add: "Gregory of Nyssa and perhaps also Didymus, even adhered to Origen's doctrine of the final salvation of all created intelligences."2
Bunsen declares that Origen proves in "De Principiis," in favor of "the universality of final salvation," the arguments of "nearly all the "Ante-Nicene fathers before him." And Bunsen proceeds to show that the conviction that so broad a faith would not enable hierarchs to control the people, inclined his opponents to resort to the terrors of an indefinite, and thus, to their apprehension, infinite and eternal punishment, which has vengeance and not amendment for its end. "Away with Origen! What is to become of virtue, and heaven, and--clerical power, if the fear of eternal punishment is not forever kept before men's eyes as the prop of human and divine authority?" So thought Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria in 230. Bunsen adds that Origen taught that "the soul, having a substance and life of her own, will receive her reward, according to her merits, either obtaining the inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, or being delivered over to eternal death and torments," after which comes the resurrection, the anastasis, the rising into incorruption and glory, when "finally at the end of time, God will be all in all; not by the destruction of the creature, but by its gradual elevation into his divine being. This is life eternal, according to Christ's own teaching." Of the grand faith in universal redemption, Prof. Plumptre says: "It has been, and is, the creed of the great poets whom we accept as the spokesmen of a nation's thoughts." 3
The treatment experienced by Origen is one of the abnormalities of history. The first hostility to him, followed by his deposition and excommunication, A.D. 232, is conceded to have been in consequence of his opposition to the Episcopal tendencies of Bishop Demetrius, and the envy of the bishop. His Universalism was not in question. Lardner says that he was "not expelled from Alexandria for heresy, but for envy." Bunsen says: "Demetrius induced a numerous synod of Egyptian bishops to condemn as heretical Origen's opinion respecting the universality of final salvation." But Bunsen seems to contradict his own words by adding: "This opinion he had certainly stated so as even to hold out a prospect of the conversion of Satan himself by the irresistible power of the love of the Almighty," bet he was condemned "'not,' as says St. Jerome, who was no friend to his theology, 'on account of novelty of doctrine--not for heresy--but because they could not bear the glory of his learning and eloquence.'" The opposition to Origen seems to have begun in the petty anger of Demetrius, who was incensed because of Origen, a layman, delivered discourses in the presence of bishops (Alexander and Theoctistus), though at their request, and because he was ordained out of his diocese. Demetrius continued his persecutions until he had degraded Origen from the office of presbyter, though all the ecclesiastical authorities in Palestine refused to recognize the validity of the sentence. His excommunication, however, was disregarded by the bishops of Palestine, Arabia and Greece. Going from Alexandria to Greece and Palestine, Origen was befriended by Bishop Firmilian in Cappadocia for two years; and was also welcomed in Nicomedia and Athens.4
Huet says: "Everyone, with hardly an exception, adhered to Origen." And Doucin: "Provided one had Origen on his side, he believed himself certain to have the truth."
That his opinions were not obnoxious is proved by the fact that most of his friends and followers were placed in charge of the most important churches. Says De Pressense: "The Eastern church of the Third Century canceled, in fact, the sentence passed upon Origen under the influence of the hierarchical party. At Alexandria itself his disciples maintained the pre-eminence, and at the death of Demetrius, Heraclas, who had been the most intimate friend and trusted disciple of Origen, was raised to the Episcopal dignity by the free choice of the elders. Heraclas died A.D. 249 and was succeeded by another disciple of Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria. He was an diligent disciple of Origen, and with his death the golden, peaceful days of the school of Alexandria were now over. Dionysius was the last of its great masters." It is to be deplored that none of the writings of Dionysius are known to exist.
Theophylact, Bishop of Cæsarea, expressed the most ardent friendship for Origen, and offered him a refuge in Cæsarea, and a position as teacher. Firmilian, Bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, received Origen during Maximin's persecution, and was always a fast friend. The majority of the Palestinian bishops were friendly. Jerome mentions Trypho as a disciple of Origen. He was author of several commentaries on the Old Testament. Hippolytus is spoken of as "a disciple of Origen and Dionysius of Alexandria, 'the Origen of the West'" attracted to Origen "by all the similarities of heart and mind."
The state of opinion on the subject of universal salvation is shown by the fact that through Ignatius, Irenænus, Hippolytus and others wrote against the prevalent heresies of their times, Universalism is never named among them. Some of the alleged errors of Origen were condemned, but his doctrine of universal salvation, never. Methodius, who wrote A.D. 300; Pamphilus and Eusebius, A.D. 310; Eustathius, A.D. 380; Epiphanius, A.D. 376 and 394; Theophilus, A.D. 400-404, and Jerome, A.D. 400; all give lists of Origen's errors, but none name his Universalism among them. Besides, some of those who condemned his errors were Universalists, as the school of Antioch. And many who were opponents of Origenism were mentioned by Origen's enemies with honor notwithstanding they were Universalists, as Clement of Alexandria, and Gregory of Nyssa.
Pamphilus and Eusebius, A.D. 307-310, jointly wrote an Apology for Origen that contained declarations from the ancient fathers endorsing his views of the Restitution. This work, had it survived, would undoubtedly be an invaluable repository of evidence to show the general prevalence of his views on the part of those whose writings have not been preserved. All Christians must lament with Lardner the loss of a work that would have told us so much of the great Alexandrian. It seems to have been the fashion with the ancient Latin theologians to burn the books they could not refute.
Farrar names the eminent ancients who mention Origen with greatest honor and respect. Some, like Augustine, do not accept his views, but all utter eulogistic words, many adopt his sentiments, and Eusebius added a sixth book to the production of Pamphilus, in consequence of the detractions against Origen. While he had his opponents and defamers, the best and the most of his contemporaries and immediate successors either accepted his doctrines or eulogized his goodness and greatness.
Origen bitterly lamented the misrepresentation of his views even during his lifetime. How much more might he have said could he have foreseen what would be said of him after his death.
Pamphilus, who was martyred A.D. 294, and Eusebius, in their lost Apology for Origen, which is mentioned by at least two writers who had seen it, gave many testimonies of fathers preceding Origen, favoring Universalism,5 and Domitian, Bishop of Ancyra, complains that those who condemn the restorationism of Origen "anathematize all those saints who preceded and followed him," implying the general prevalence of Universalism before and after the days of Origen.
Among the celebrated contemporaries and immediate successors of Origen whose writings on the question of man's final destiny do not survive, but who, from the relations they sustained to this greatest of the Fathers, must have sympathized with his belief in universal restoration, may be mentioned Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem (A.D. 216), a fellow student; Theoctistus, Bishop of Cæsarea (A.D. 240-260); Heraclas, Bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 200-248); Ambrose (A.D. 200-230); Firmilian, Bishop of Cæsarea (A.D. 200-270); Athenodore, his brother (A.D. 210-270); all friends and adherents of Origen. They must have cherished what was at the time the prevalent sentiment among Oriental Christians--a belief in universal restoration--though we have no testimonies from them.
On the unsupported statement of Jerome, Origen is declared to have protested his orthodoxy to the reigning Pope, Fabian, A.D. 246, and solicited re-admission to the communion of the church. He is said to have laid the blame of the publication of some of his unorthodox sentiments to the haste of his friend Ambrose. But as Origen continued to teach Universalism all the rest of his life the statement of Jerome must be rejected, or universal restoration was not among the unorthodox doctrines. At the time Origen is said to have written the letter, his pupil and friend, Dionysius, was Patriarch of Alexandria, and he wrote to Pope Fabian and other bishops, it is probable, to effect a reconciliation, to which Dionysius and most of the bishops would be favorable. Besides, Origen is on record as classifying all bishops as of equal eminence, except as goodness gave them superior rank, so that he could not have regarded Fabian as pope. That the general sentiment during Origen's times and for some time after was universalistic is thus made apparent. 6
Dr. Beecher says: "Two great facts stand out on the page of ecclesiastical history. One, that the first system of Christian theology was composed and issued by Origen in the year 230 after Christ, of which a fundamental and essential element was the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union with God. The second is, that after the lapse of a little more than three centuries, in the year 544, this doctrine was for the first time condemned and anathematized as heretical. From and after this point (A.D. 553) the doctrine of eternal punishment reigned with undisputed sway during the Middle Ages that preceded the Reformation. What, then, was the state of facts as to the leading theological schools of the Christian world, in the age of Origen, and some centuries after? It was in brief this: There were at least six theological schools in the church at large. Of these six schools, one, and only one, was decidedly and earnestly in favor of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. One was in favor of the annihilation of the wicked, two were in favor of the doctrine of universal restoration on the principles of Origen, and two in favor of universal restoration on the principles of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It is also true that the prominent defenders of the doctrine of universal restoration were decided believers in the divinity of Christ, in the Trinity, in the incarnation and atonement, and in the great Christian doctrine of regeneration; and were in piety, devotion, Christian activity, and missionary enterprise, as well as in learning and intellectual power and attainments, inferior to none in the best ages of the church, and were greatly superior to those by whom, in after ages, they were condemned and anathematized. From two theological schools there went forth an opposition to the doctrine of eternal punishment, which had its ground in a deeper Christian interest; inasmuch as the doctrine of a universal restoration was closely connected with the entire dogmatic systems of both of these schools, namely that of Origen (Alexandrian), and the school of Antioch." "Three at least of the greatest of the ancient schools of Christian theology--the schools of Alexandria, Antioch and Cæsarea--leaned on this subject to the views of Origen, not in their details, but in their general hopefulness. The fact that even these Origenistic fathers were able, with perfect honesty, to use the current phraseology, shows that such phraseology was at least capable of a different interpretation from that (now) commonly put upon it." The school in Northern Africa favored the doctrine of endless punishment; that in Asia Minor annihilation. The two in Alexandria and Cæsarea were Universalistic of the school of Origen; those at Antioch and Edessa were Universalistic of the school of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus. "Decidedly the most powerful minds (300 to 400 A.D.) adopted the doctrine of universal restoration, and those who did not adopt it entered into no controversy about it with those who did. In the African school all this was reversed. From the very beginning they took strong ground in favor of the doctrine of eternal punishment, as an essential part of a great system of law of which God was the center." 7
It should be noted, however, that the schools in Asia Minor and Northern Africa, where annihilation and endless punishment were taught, were not strictly divinity schools, but mere seminaries.
The one school out of the six in Christendom that taught endless punishment was in Africa, and the doctrine was derived by Latins from misunderstanding a foreign language, through mis-translations of the original Greek Scriptures, and was obtained by infusing the virus of Roman secularism into the simplicity of Christianity. Maine in his "Ancient Law" attributes the difference between Eastern and Western theology to this cause. The student of primitive Christianity will see than Tertullian, Cyprian, Minucius Felix, down to Augustine, were influenced by these causes, and created the theological travesty that ruled the Christian world for dark and sorrowful centuries.
On this point (that Origen's views were general) Neale observes: "In reading the works of Origen, we are not to consider his doctrines and opinions as those of one isolated doctor;--they are rather an embodiment of the doctrines handed down in the Catechetical school of Alexandria. And this school was the type, or model, according to which the mind of the Alexandrine church was cast; the philosophy of Pantænus descended to Clemens,--and from him it was caught by Origen." 8
From these facts it is easily seen that the heresies of which Origen was accused did not touch the doctrine of universal restoration. They were for teaching inequality between the persons of the Trinity, the pre-existence of the human soul, denying the resurrection of the body, affirming that wicked angels will not suffer endless punishment, and that all souls will be absorbed into the Infinite Fountain whence they sprang, like drops falling into the sea. This latter accusation was a perversion of his teaching that God will be "all in all." Some of these doctrines are only found in alleged quotations in the works of his opponents, as Jerome and others who wrote against him. His language was sometimes misunderstood, and oftener ignorantly or purposely perverted. Many quotations are from works of his not in existence. Interpolations and alterations were made by his enemies in his works even during his lifetime, as he complained. Epiphanius "attacked Origen in Jerusalem after he was dead, and tried to make Bishop John denounce him. Failing here he tried to compel Jerome, through fear for his reputation for orthodoxy, to do the same, and succeeded so far as to disgrace Jerome forever for his meanness, and cowardice, and double dealing. The Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, came to his aid in anathematizing Origen. He called a synod A.D. 399, in which he condemned Origen and anathematized all who should read his works." "After this, Epiphanius died. But his followers pursued the same work in his spirit, until Origen was condemned again by Justinian;" this time for his Universalism, but, as will be seen hereafter, the church did not sustain Justinian's attack.9
The reprehensible practices to which the odium theologicum has impelled good men, is illustrated by Dr. Enoch Pond, professor in Bangor Theological Seminary. Displeased with the wonderfully candid statements of Dr. Edward Beecher, in his articles in "The Christian Union," afterwards contained in "History of the Doctrine of Future Retribution," he reviewed the articles in the same paper, and in order to convict Dr. Beecher of inaccuracy, Dr. Pond quotes from Crombie's translation of Rufinus's Latin version instead of from Crombie's rendering of the actual Greek of Origen, and this, too, when not only does Rufinus confess that he has altered the sense but in the very book (III) from which Dr. Pond quotes is Crombie's translation of the Greek, and the following note from Crombie is at the beginning of the chapter: "The whole of this chapter has been preserved in the original Greek, which is literally translated in corresponding portions on each page, so that the differences between Origen's own words and the amplifications and alterations of the paraphrase of Rufinus may be at once patent to the reader." It almost seems that there is a fatality attendant upon all hostile critics who deal with Origen. The injustice he received in life seems to have dogged his name in every age.
The manner in which theological questions were settled and creeds established in those days, is shown by Athanasius. He says that when the Emperor Constantius at the council of Milan, A.D. 355, commanded the bishops to subscribe against Athanasius and they replied that there was no ecclesiastical canon to that effect, the Emperor said, "Whatever I will, let that be esteemed a canon."
A.D. 402, when Epiphanius came for Cyprus to Constantinople with a synodical decree condemning Origen's books without excommunicating Origen, he declined Chrysostom's invitation to lodge at the Episcopal palace, as Chrysostom was a friend and advocate of Origen. He urged that clergy of the city to sign the decree, but, Socrates says, "many refused, among them Theotinus, Bishop of Scythia, who said, 'I choose not, Epiphanius, to insult the memory of one who ended his life piously long ago; not dare I be guilty of so impious an act, as that of condemning what our predecessors by no means rejected; and specially when I know of no evil doctrine contained in Origen's books.
Those who attempt to fix a stigma on these writings are unconsciously casting a dishonor upon the sacred volume whence their principles are drawn.' Such was the reply which Theotinus, a prelate, eminent for his piety and rectitude of life, made to Epiphanius." In the next chapter (xiii), Socrates states that only worthless characters decried Origen. Among them he mentions Methodius, Eustathius, Apollinaris and Theophilus, as "four revilers," whose "censure was his commendation." Socrates was born about A.D. 380, and his book continues Eusebius's history to A.D. 445, and he records what he received from those who knew the facts. This makes it clear that while Origen's views were rejected by some, they were in good repute by the most and the best, two hundred years after his death.
Even Augustine admits that "some, nay, very many" (nonnulli, quam plurimi), pity with human feeling, the everlasting punishment of the damned, and do not believe that it is so." 10 The kind of people thus believing are described by Doederlein, "The more highly distinguished in Christian antiquity any one was for learning, so much the more did he cherish and defend the hope of future torments sometime ending."
Previous to A.D. 200 three different opinions were held among Christians--endless punishment, annihilation, and universal salvation; but, so far as the literature of the times shows, the subject was never one of controversy, and the last-named doctrine prevailed most, if the assertions of it in literature are any test of its acceptance by the people. For a hundred and fifty years, A.D. 250 to 400, though Origen and his heresies on many points are frequently attacked and condemned, there is scarcely a whisper on record against his Universalism. On the other hand, to be called an Origenist was a high honor, from 260 to 290. A.D. 300 on, the doctrine of endless punishment began to be more explicitly stated, notably by Arnobius and Lactantius. And thenceforward to 370, while some of the fathers taught endless punishment, and others annihilation, the doctrine of most is not stated. One fact, however, is conspicuous: though all kinds of heresy were attacked, Universalism was not considered sufficiently heretical to entitle it to censure.111 Copious references have already been made on this point.
Chapter 12--The Eulogists of Origen - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology - Introductory Note - New Stuff
Chapter 12--The Eulogists of Origen - 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