Origen: A Much-Abused Theologian

Some men are unfortunately fated to be remembered for their mistakes regardless of how much they accomplished. Robert E. Lee is forever framed in the popular mind as the main general of the wrong side of a war and his incredible talents in command are known only to “strategy nerds”. Richard Wagner brings to mind overly-long operas and antisemitism even though he wrote much excellent music. Origen is only ever brought up to defend universal salvation (see here to read of one such example).

From what I have read of Origen there is no indication that the idea was ever a central or very prominent one to the first theologian. It was just something that he at some point decided he believed and nobody thought much of it until the Origenists became obsessed with him centuries later. Personally, I am more attached to two of his other ideas:

1. That nothing in Scripture is incorrect, but not everything is to be taken in the absolute most literal sense (like the Psalms speaking of a flat earth or a circle being 10 cubits across and 30 cubits around instead of 3.14… cubits around). With both Protestant and Trad Catholic fundamentalism on one side and Alfred Loisy and the New American Bible on the other, the middle road of Marie-Joseph Lagrange, Pierre Batiffol, Maurice Blondel, St. Augustine, venerable Leo XIII, and Origen is the only sane one.

2. That all the souls of the just without exception must undergo a purgation to cleanse their fallen nature, however brief and minimal it may be (“Would you enter into Heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones; neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God, to those who can comprehend Heavenly things, is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works.” – Homilies on Jeremias). It is a great counterpoint to those who scour through popular devotions for “plenary indulgences” for the easiest way to get out of “purgatory time”.

And when will people stop bringing up both universal salvation and the idea that hell is “filled with souls”? As far as I am aware the various liturgies (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi) only condemn the wicked thief and Judas Iscariot to the eternal flames explicitly. Everyone else who is not known to be among the just is up for grabs as far as we know.  Why not just leave it at that and move on?

“It would not be fitting to probe God’s judgments with one’s hands” – Anastasius of Sinai


One thought on “Origen: A Much-Abused Theologian

  1. “And a certain man said to him: Lord, are they few that are saved? But he said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. But when the master of the house shall be gone in, and shall shut the door, you shall begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying: Lord, open to us. And he answering, shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are.

    “Then you shall begin to say: We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. And he shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are: depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And there shall come from the east and the west, and the north and the south; and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And behold, they are last that shall be first; and they are first that shall be last.”

    -The Gospel of St. Luke: 23-30

    May the writer of this blog and all who read this comment, pray for me, the chief of sinners, who deserves hell but is fully dependent on God’s mercy.


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