This chief Universalist of the centuries immediately succeeding the apostles was, by general consent, the most learned and saintly of all the Christian fathers. Historians, scholars, critics, men of all shades of thought and opinion emulate one another in exalting his name, and praising his character. This volume could be filled with their eulogiums. Says one of the most judicious historians: "If any man deserves to stand first in the catalogue of saints and martyrs, and the be annually held up as an example to Christians, this is the man, for except the apostles of Jesus Christ, and their companions, I know of no one among all those enrolled and honored as saints who excel him in virtue and holiness." 1
A discriminating critic declares: "His work upon the text of Scripture alone would entitle Origen to undying gratitude. There has been no truly great man in the church who did not love him a little." 2 Bunsen remarks: "Origen's death is the real end of free Christianity, and in particular, of free intellectual theology." 3
The learned author of "The Martyrs and Apologists" truthfully observes: "Origen never swerved from this Christian charitableness, and he remains the model of the theologian persecuted by haughty bigotry. Gentle as Fenelon under hierarchical anathemas, he maintained his convictions without faltering, and neither retracted nor rebelled. We may well say with the candid Tillemont that although such a man might hold heretical opinions he could not be a heretic, since he was utterly free from that spirit which constitutes the guilt of heresy." 4 Canon Westcott writes: "He examines with a reverence, an insight, a grandeur of feeling never surpassed, the questions of the inspiration and the interpretation of the Bible. The intellectual value of the work may best be characterized by one fact: a single sentence taken from it was quoted by Butler as containing the germ of his 'Analogy.' After sixteen hundred years we have not yet made good the positions which he marked out as belonging to the domain of Christian philosophy. His whole life was 'one unbroken prayer' to use his own language of what an ideal life should be."5 The sober historian Lardner records only a candid appreciation of the man when he says: "He had the happiness of uniting different accomplishments, being at once the greatest preacher and the most learned and voluminous writer of the age; nor is it easy to say which is most admirable, his learning or his virtue." 6 Plumptre vies with Origen's other eulogists, and Farrar in all his remarkable books can never say enough in his praise. A brief extract from him will suffice: "The greatest of all the fathers, the most apostolic man since the days of the apostles, the father who on every branch of study rendered to the church the deepest and widest services--the immortal Origen. The first writer, the profoundest thinker, the greatest educator, the most laborious critic, the most honored preacher, the holiest confessor of his age. We know no man in the whole Christian era, except St. Paul, who labored so incessantly, and rendered to the church such immearsurable services. We know of no man, except St. Paul, who had to suffer from such black and bitter ingratitude. He, the converter of the heathen, the strengthener of the martyrs, the profoundest of Christian teachers, the greatest and most learned of the interpreters of Scripture--he to whom kings and bishops and philosophers had been proud to listen--he who had refuted the ablest of all the assailants of Christianity.--He who had founded the first school of Biblical exegesis and Biblical linguistics--he who had done more for the honor and the knowledge of the Oracles of God not only than all his assailants (for that is not saying much), but than all the then bishops and writers of the church put together--he who had known the Scriptures from infancy, who had vainly tried to grasp in boyhood the crown of martyrdom, who had been the honored teacher of saints, who had been all his life long a confessor--he in the very errors of whose life was more of nobleness than in the whole lives of his assailants,--who had lived a life more apostolic, who did more and suffered more for the truth of Christ than any man after the first century of our era, and whose accurately measurable services stand all but unapproachable by all the centuries--I, for one, will never mention the name of Origen without the love, and the admiration, and the reverence due to one of the greatest and one of the best of the saints of God."
Even modern Catholics--in spite of the ban of pope and council--join the great army of Origen's eulogists. Says the "Catholic World:"
"Alexandria, the cradle of Eastern genius at that time, became the Christian Thermopylæ, and Origen the Christian Leonidas. It was he who headed the forces, and, by the splendor of his genius, prepared in his school illustrations men to lead on the van. He vindicated the truth from malicious slander, supported it by facts, disengaged it from the deceptive arguments in which enemies had obscured it, and held it up to view in all its natural beauty and attraction. Heathens were delighted with his language, full of grace and charm, and the intellectual literate of the age, who had been lost in the intricacies of Aristotle, the obscurities of Plato, and the absurdities of Epicurus, wondered at the young Christian philosopher."7
Referring to the hard words that most advocates of universal redemption who are past middle life have received, Red. Edward Beecher, D.D., declares, in his "History of the Doctrine of Future Retribution:" "An evil spirit was developed at that time in putting down Origen which has ever since poisoned the church of all denominations. It has been as a leprosy in all Christendom. Nor is this all: measures were then resorted to for the suppression of error which exerted a deadly hostility against all free investigation, from the influence of which the church universal has not yet recovered."
The Encyclopedia Britannica, article Origen, (Prof. Adolf Harnack), voices the conclusions of the scholarly world:
"Of all the theologians of the ancient church, with the possible exception of Augustine, Origen is the most distinguished and the most influential. He is the father of the church's science; he is the founder of a theology which was brought to perfection in the Forth and Fifth Centuries, and which still retained the stamp of his genius when in the Sixth Century it disowned its author. It was Origen who created the decree of the church and laid the foundations of the scientific criticism of the Old and New Testaments. He could not have been what he was unless two generations before him had labored at the problem of finding an intellectual expression and a philosophic basis for Christianity: (Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Pantænus, Clement.) But their attempts, in comparison with his, are like a schoolboy's essays beside the finished work of a master. By proclaiming the reconciliation of science with the Christian faith, of the highest culture with the Gospel, Origen did more than any other man to win the Old World to the Christian religion. But he entered into no diplomatic compromises; it was his deepest and most solemn conviction that the sacred oracles of Christendom embraced all the ideals of antiquity. His character was as transparent as his life was blameless; there are few church fathers whose biography leaves so pure an impression on the reader. The atmosphere around him was a dangerous one for a philosopher and theologian to breathe, but he kept his spiritual health unimpaired and even his sense of truth suffered less injury than was the case with most of his contemporaries. Orthodox theology has never, in any of these confessions, ventured beyond the circle which the mind of Origen first measured out."
We conclude these eulogies, which might be multiplied indefinitely, by giving the high authority of Max Muller: "Origen was as honest as a Christian as he was as a philosopher, and it was this honesty which made Christianity victorious in the Third Century, and will make it victorious again whenever it finds supporters who are determined not to sacrifice their philosophical convictions to their religious faith or their religious faith to their philosophical convictions. If we consider the time in which he lived, and study the testimony which his contemporaries bore of his character, we may well say of him, as of others who have been misjudged by posterity:
Note.--It has been asserted that Origen did not actually teach the ultimate salvation of all souls, because he insisted that the human will is eternally free, and therefore it is argued that he must have held that souls may repent and be saved, and sin and fall forever. But this is not true, for Origen taught that at some period in the future, love and holiness will be so absorbed by all souls that, though, theoretically, they will be free, they will so will that lapse will be impossible. Jerome, Justinian, Dr. Pond, and others are explicitly confuted by the great scholar and saint. In his comments on Romans 6:9,10, he says: "The apostle decides, by an absolute decision, that now Christ dies no more, in order that those who live together with him may be secure of the endlessness of their life. Free-will indeed remains, but the power of the cross suffices for all orders, and all ages, past and to come. And that free-will will not lead to sin, is plain, because love never faileth, and when God is loved with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, where is the place for sin?" In his great work "De Principiis," he declares: "The nature of this body of ours will be changed into the glory of the spiritual body, in which state we are to believe that it will remain always and immutably by the will of the Creator," etc. Though Origen insisted that the human will must forever be free, he did not admit that the soul could abuse its freedom by continuing forever to lapse into sin.
Chapter 13--A Third Century Group - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology - Introductory Note - New Stuff
1 Mosheim, Hist. Com. in Christ, before Constantine, ii, p. 149.
2 Christ. Plat. of Alex., p. 303.
3 Hipp. and his Age, pp. 285, 286.
4 Bunsen, pp. 326, 327.
5 Essays, pp. 236-252.
6 Cred. Gos. Hist., Vol. II, p. 486.
7 April, 1874.
8 Theos. or Psych. Rel. Lect. XIII.
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