The Teachers of the Church: Origen of Alexandria (Part 3)

Origen of Alexandria
Origen of Alexandria

The History of Christianity #55

Our Scripture verse today is John 4:24 which reads: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Our quote today is from Sam Storms. He said: “God doesn’t simply give us His Spirit, He gives the Spirit “into” us. Not just “to” us, but by an act of what can only be called intimate impartation His Spirit resides within to encourage, energize, and enable. The Spirit isn’t just here, He’s inside.”

Today, we are looking at “The Teachers of the Church” (Part 12) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Origen of Alexandria (Part 3)

In the present world, the Devil and his demons have us captive, and therefore Jesus Christ has come to break the power of Satan and to show us the path we are to follow in our return to our spiritual home. Furthermore, since the Devil is no more than a spirit like ours, and since God is love, in the end even Satan will be saved, and the entire creation will return to its original state, where everything was pure spirit. However, since these spirits will still be free, there is nothing to guarantee that there will not be a new fall, a new material world, and a new history, and that the cycle of fall, restoration, and fall will not go on forever.

In evaluating all of this, one has to begin by marveling at the width of Origen’s mental scope. For this reason, he has had fervent admirers at various times throughout the history of the church. One must also remember that Origen proposes all of this, not as truths to be generally accepted, nor as something that will supersede the doctrines of the church, but as his own tentative speculations, which ought not to be compared with the authoritative teaching of the church.

However, once this has been said, it is also important to note that on many points Origen is more Platonist than Christian. Thus, for instance, Origen rejects the doctrines of Marcion and of the Gnostics, that the world is the creation of an inferior being; but then he comes to the conclusion that the existence of the physical world — as well as of history — is the result of sin. At this point there is a marked difference with Irenaeus, for whom the existence of history was part of the eternal purpose of God. And when it comes to the preexistence of souls, and to the eternal cycle of fall and restoration, there is no doubt that Origen strays from what Christianity has usually taught.

As one studies the writings of these great teachers of the church, it is evident that different trends or theological tendencies are begining to emerge. First, Irenaeus reflects the sort of theology that will become dominant in his native area of Asia Minor as well as in Syria. This is a theology dominated by the story of what God has done, is doing, and will do. It sees salvation as union with the Christ who has conquered death — a union established by baptism and fed by communion. Secondly, particularly in Alexandria, a theological trend is emerging whose main concern is to show the connection between Christianity and the best of classical philosophy. This theology is dominated by the quest for philosophical, unchanging truth. For it, salvation consists in being so illuminated by God as to be able to return to the spiritual world. Finally, in the Latin-speaking West Tertullian is the first exponent of a theology that will be profoundly concerned over moral issues — sometimes to the point of legalism — and for which salvation is attained by moral purity. In later centuries, these three theologies would continue evolving. The Latin-speaking West, dominated by a theological outlook patterned after Tertullian’s, would be involved in repeated debates on how to preserve the purity of the church, and much later — particularly in the sixteenth century – over the role of works in salvation. The Greek-speaking East would soon be divided by differences reflecting the tradition expounded by Irenaeus on the other hand, and the philosophical outlook of Origen on the other.

Next time, we will look at Persecution in the Third Century.

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