Origen’s Neo-Platonism

OrigenOrigen was an early merger of Neo-Platonism and Christian theology. In his writings, he represents creation as a departion from God. God is immutable and changeless.

God, therefore, is not to be thought of as being either a body or as existing in a body, but as an uncompounded intellectual nature, admitting within Himself no addition of any kind; so that He cannot be believed to have within him a greater and a less, but is such that He is in all parts Monas, and, so to speak, Enas, and is the mind and source from which all intellectual nature or mind takes its beginning. But mind, for its movements or operations, needs no physical space, nor sensible magnitude, nor bodily shape, nor colour, nor any other of those adjuncts which are the properties of body or matter. Wherefore that simple and wholly intellectual nature can admit of no delay or hesitation in its movements or operations, lest the simplicity of the divine nature should appear to be circumscribed or in some degree hampered by such adjuncts, and lest that which is the beginning of all things should be found composite and differing, and that which ought to be free from all bodily intermixture, in virtue of being the one sole species of Deity, so to speak, should prove, instead of being one, to consist of many things.

In a sense, God is omnipotent, but since gaining power is impossible for an immutable being, this necessitates that everything has always existed (later Origen represents cycles of Earths, the universe is in constant ebb and flow):

As no one can be a father without having a son, nor a master without possessing a servant, so even God cannot be called omnipotent unless there exist those over whom He may exercise His power; and therefore, that God may be shown to be almighty, it is necessary that all things should exist. For if any one would have some ages or portions of time, or whatever else he likes to call them, to have passed away, while those things which were afterwards made did not yet exist, he would undoubtedly show that during those ages or periods God was not omnipotent, but became so afterwards, viz., from the time that He began to have persons over whom to exercise power; and in this way He will appear to have received a certain increase, and to have risen from a lower to a higher condition; since there can be no doubt that it is better for Him to be omnipotent than not to be so.

God created homogeneously good beings (the Intellects). And these beings were responsible for creating evil on Earth. Because God did not directly create the evil (the evil was created by these Intellects per their free will) then God is not to blame for evil:

He created all whom He made equal and alike, because there was in Himself no reason for producing variety and diversity. But since those rational creatures themselves, as we have frequently shown, and will yet show in the proper place, were endowed with the power of free-will, this freedom of will incited each one either to progress by imitation of God, or reduced him to failure through negligence. And this, as we have already stated, is the cause of the diversity among rational creatures, deriving its origin not from the will or judgment of the Creator, but from the freedom of the individual will.

Because of free will, all that departs from God was created by the Intellects:

For the Creator gave, as an indulgence to the understandings created by Him, the power of free and voluntary action, by which the good that was in them might become their own, being preserved by the exertion of their own will; but slothfulness, and a dislike of labour in preserving what is good, and an aversion to and a neglect of better things, furnished the beginning of a departure from goodness. But to depart from good is nothing else than to be made bad. For it is certain that to want goodness is to be wicked. Whence it happens that, in proportion as one falls away from goodness, in the same proportion does he become involved in wickedness. In which condition, according to its actions, each understanding, neglecting goodness either to a greater or more limited extent, was dragged into the opposite of good, which undoubtedly is evil. From which it appears that the Creator of all things admitted certain seeds and causes of variety and diversity, that He might create variety and diversity in proportion to the diversity of understandings, i.e., of rational creatures, which diversity they must be supposed to have conceived from that cause which we have mentioned above. And what we mean by variety and diversity is what we now wish to explain.

So God creates the world (“admitted certain seeds and causes of variety and diversity”) in proportion to the fallen Intellegences. The Intellegences, then, freely chose to fall away and creation was built around their fall. The goal, then, of all reality is to return to perfection:

Whence also the working of the Father, which confers existence upon all things, is found to be more glorious and magnificent, while each one, by participation in Christ, as being wisdom, and knowledge, and sanctification, makes progress, and advances to higher degrees of perfection; and seeing it is by partaking of the Holy Spirit that any one is made purer and holier, he obtains, when he is made worthy, the grace of wisdom and knowledge, in order that, after all stains of pollution and ignorance are cleansed and taken away, he may make so great an advance in holiness and purity, that the nature which he received from God may become such as is worthy of Him who gave it to be pure and perfect, so that the being which exists may be as worthy as He who called it into existence. For, in this way, he who is such as his Creator wished him to be, will receive from God power always to exist, and to abide for ever. That this may be the case, and that those whom He has created may be unceasingly and inseparably present with HIM, WHO IS, it is the business of wisdom to instruct and train them, and to bring them to perfection by confirmation of His Holy Spirit and unceasing sanctification, by which alone are they capable of receiving God.

Everything had to undergo cycles of purification and perfection. This would lead them to ultimately joining with God. The substance would merge to immutable and simple perfection. But the world is fallen, and needs to become pure. The Intellects pushed away from God and thus created the world. Included in this fall was the creation of the Soul. To Origen, the Soul was the lifeblood of creatures. All animals had Souls:

Now, that there are souls in all living things, even in those which live in the waters, is, I suppose, doubted by no one. For the general opinion of all men maintains this; and confirmation from the authority of holy Scripture is added, when it is said that “God made great whales, and every living creature that moveth which the waters brought forth after their kind.”

From this, Origen defines the Soul as anything that moves. When Origin uses the word “Soul” it is not with the modern Christian meaning. To Origen, the “Soul” was the lifeblood of all living things. This Soul was part of the fallen creation (all creation except for the Intellegence is evil).

If, then, those things which are holy are named fire, and light, and fervent, while those which are of an opposite nature are said to be cold; and if the love of many is said to wax cold; we have to inquire whether perhaps the name soul, which in Greek is termed yukh, be so termed from growing cold out of a better and more divine condition, and be thence derived, because it seems to have cooled from that natural and divine warmth, and therefore has been placed in its present position, and called by its present name. Finally, see if you can easily find a place in holy Scripture where the soul is properly mentioned in terms of praise: it frequently occurs, on the contrary, accompanied with expressions of censure, as in the passage, “An evil soul ruins him who possesses it;” and, “The soul which sinneth, it shall die.” For after it has been said, “All souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine,” it seemed to follow that He would say, “The soul that doeth righteousness, it shall be saved,” and “The soul which sinneth, it shall die.” But now we see that He has associated with the soul what is censurable, and has been silent as to that which was deserving of praise. We have therefore to see if, perchance, as we have said is declared by the name itself, it was called yukh, i.e., anima, because it has waxed cold from the fervour of just things, and from participation in the divine fire, and yet has not lost the power of restoring itself to that condition of fervour in which it was at the beginning. Whence the prophet also appears to point out some such state of things by the words, “Return, O my soul, unto thy rest.” From all which this appears to be made out, that the understanding, falling away from its status and dignity, was made or named soul; and that, if repaired and corrected, it returns to the condition of the understanding.

So to Origen, the Soul was a fallen aspect of creation. This Soul would have to remerge with what it once was in order to become once again perfected. It would have to be “repaired and corrected”. Once the Soul did this, to Origen, it was no longer a Soul:

If the soul neither prays nor sings with the spirit, how shall it hope for salvation? or when it attains to blessedness, shall it be no longer called a soul?s Let us see if perhaps an answer may be given in this way, that as the Saviour came to save what was lost, that which formerly was said to be lost is not lost when it is saved; so also, perhaps, this which is saved is called a soul, and when it has been placed in a state of salvation will receive a name from the Word that denotes its more perfect condition.

In order to become one again with the substance (the Intellect) from which it fell, each Soul would have to be animated by “the Spirit”:

For if the animal man receive not the things of the Spirit of God, and because he is animal, is unable to admit the understanding of a better, i.e., of a divine nature, it is for this reason perhaps that Paul, wishing to teach us more plainly what that is by means of which we are able to comprehend those things which are of the Spirit, i.e., spiritual things, conjoins and associates with the Holy Spirit an understanding rather than a soul. For this, I think, he indicates when he says, “I will pray with the spirit, I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, I will sing with the understanding also.’ And he does not say that “I will pray with the soul,” but with the spirit and the understanding. Nor does he say, “I will sing with the soul,” but with the spirit and the understanding.

But not all Souls could be animated. Origen represents a type of man that is more an animal than a man. These men walked and talked like human beings, but had the inability to understand the Spiritual:

Paul indeed intimates that there is a kind of animal-man who, he says, cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, but declares that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit seems to him foolish, and that he cannot understand what is to be spiritually discerned.

This animal-man was Totally Depraved. He held no spark of the divine and was completely animal. These individuals Origen said were “altogether incapable of instruction”:

Now, if this be the case, it seems to me that this very decay and falling away of the understanding is not the same in all, but that this conversion into a soul is carried to a greater or less degree in different instances, and that certain understandings retain something even of their former vigour, and others again either nothing or a very small amount. Whence some are found from the very commencement of their lives to be of more active intellect, others again of a slower habit of mind, and some are born wholly obtuse, and altogether incapable of instruction.

This is Origen’s version of Total Depravity. These individuals should be avoided and not evangelized (quote from Homilies on Leviticus):

Therefore, these teachers of the Church, in procreating such generations, sometimes use the binding of the thighs and abstain from begetting, since they find such hearers in whom they know they could not have fruit. Finally, also in the Acts of the Apostles, it is related concerning some of these that ‘we could not speak the word of God in Asia’ (Cf. Acts 16:6). That is, they had put on the thigh covering and preserved themselves that they not beget sons, for certainly these were such hearers in whom both the seed would die and could not have offspring. Thus therefore, the priests of the Church, when they see incapable ears or when they encounter counterfeit and hypocritical hearers,

But Jesus also had a Soul. Jesus, Origen states, is the “Soul” of God, as God does not have an actual Soul:

“How then is there said to be also a soul of God?” To which we answer as follows: That as with respect to everything corporeal which is spoken of God, such as fingers, or hands, or arms, or eyes, or feet, or mouth, we say that these are not to be understood as human members, but that certain of His powers are indicated by these names of members of the body; so also we are to suppose that it is something else which is pointed out by this title–soul of God. And if it is allowable for us to venture to say anything more on such a subject, the soul of God may perhaps be understood to mean the only-begotten Son of God. For as the soul, when implanted in the body, moves all things in it, and exerts its force over everything on which it operates; so also the only-begotten Son of God, who is His Word and Wisdom, stretches and extends to every power of God, being implanted in it; and perhaps to indicate this mystery is God either called Or described in Scripture as a body. We must, indeed, take into consideration whether it is not perhaps on this account that the soul of God may be understood to mean His only-begotten Son, because He Himself came into this world of affliction, and descended into this valley of tears, and into this place of our humiliation; as He says in the Psalm, “Because Thou hast humiliated us in the place of affliction.”

But this soul was not an ordinary Soul. To Origen, Jesus had an immutable Soul (which allowed Jesus to transcend the problem of a Soul being evil):

5. Now, if our having shown above that Christ possessed a rational soul should cause a difficulty to any one, seeing we have frequently proved throughout all our discussions that the nature of souls is capable both of good and evil, the difficulty will be explained in the following way. That the nature, indeed, of His soul was the same as that of all others cannot be doubted otherwise it could not be called a soul were it not truly one. But since the power of choosing good and evil is within the reach of all, this soul which belonged to Christ elected to love righteousness, so that in proportion to the immensity of its love it clung to it unchangeably and inseparably, so that firmness of purpose, and immensity of affection, and an inextinguishable warmth of love, destroyed all susceptibility (sensum) for alteration and change; and that which formerly depended upon the will was changed by the power of long custom into nature; and so we must believe that there existed in Christ a human and rational soul, without supposing that it had any feeling or possibility of sin.

The function of Jesus was an intermediator, to bring the fallen back into communion with the perfect:

because human frailty can neither see all things with the bodily eye nor comprehend them by reason, seeing we men are weaker and frailer than any other rational beings (for those which are in heaven, or are supposed to exist above the heaven, are superior), it remains that we seek a being intermediate between all created things and God, i.e., a Mediator, whom the Apostle Paul styles the “first-born of every creature.”

This intermediator would lead individuals to God. The Holy Spirit would give them knowledge (those capable of receiving the knowledge):

And as there are many ways of apprehending Christ, who, although He is wisdom, does not act the part or possess the power of wisdom in all men, but only in those who give themselves to the study of wisdom in Him; and who, although called a physician, does not act as one towards all, but only towards those who understand their feeble and sickly condition, and flee to His compassion that they may obtain health; so also I think is it with the Holy Spirit, in whom is contained every kind of gifts, For on some is bestowed by the Spirit the word of wisdom, on others the word of knowledge, on others faith; and so to each individual of those who are capable of receiving Him, is the Spirit Himself made to be that quality, or understood to be that which is needed by the individual who has deserved to participate.

But some followers of Jesus just will not understand the nature of reality. When they die, they will be given special classes, teaching them that the physical world is not the endgame, and to strive for a return to the One, the essence of God. In this manner, these Christians can purify themselves for eventual inclusion with the One:

We are therefore to suppose that the saints will remain there until they recognise the twofold mode of government in those things which are performed in the air. And when I say “twofold mode,” I mean this: When we were upon earth, we saw either animals or trees, and beheld the differences among them, and also the very great diversity among men; but although we saw these things, we did not understand the reason of them; and this only was suggested to us from the visible diversity, that we should examine and inquire upon what principle these things were either created or diversely arranged. And a zeal or desire for knowledge of this kind being conceived by us on earth, the full understanding and comprehension of it will be granted after death, if indeed the result should follow according to our expectations. When, therefore, we shall have fury comprehended its nature, we shall understand in a twofold manner what we saw on earth. Some such view, then, must we hold regarding this abode in the air. I think, therefore, that all the saints who depart from this life will remain in some place situated on the earth, which holy Scripture calls paradise, as in some place of instruction, and, so to speak, class-room or school of souls, in which they are to be instructed regarding all the things which they had seen on earth, and are to receive also some information respecting things that are to follow in the future, as even when in this life they had obtained in some degree indications of future events, although “through a glass darkly,” all of which are revealed more clearly and distinctly to the saints in their proper time and place. If any one indeed be pure in heart, and holy in mind, and more practised in perception, he will, by making more rapid progress, quickly ascend to a place in the air, and reach the kingdom of heaven, through those mansions, so to speak, in the various places which the Greeks have termed spheres, i.e., globes, but which holy Scripture has called heavens; in each of which he will first see clearly what is done there, and in the second place, will discover the reason why things are so done: and thus he will in order pass through all gradations, following Him who hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, who said, “I will that where I am, these may be also.”

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Church Fathers, History, Platonism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Origen’s Neo-Platonism

  1. The “wax cold” part of Origen is bizarre. :-D

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