Posts Tagged Origen of Alexandria
David Bentley Hart (born 1965) is an American Orthodox Christian philosophical theologian, cultural commentator and polemicist. Here, in one short essay published in First Things in 2015, Prof. Hart addresses three topics that institutional Orthodoxy would prefer to avoid: apokatastasis, Saint Origen, and the church’s chronic propensity to sleep with worldly empire (e.g., Byzantium and Russia)
Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) (born 1934) – is an English-born bishop and theologian of the Eastern Orthodox Church. From 1966 to 2001, Ware was Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. He has authored numerous books and articles pertaining to the Orthodox Christian faith.
“If the strongest argument in favor of universal salvation is the appeal to divine love, and if the strongest argument on the opposite side is the appeal to human freedom, then we are brought back to the dilemma with which we started: how are we to bring into concord the two principles God is love and Human beings are free? For the time being we cannot do more than hold fast with equal firmness to both principles at once, while admitting that the manner of their ultimate harmonization remains a mystery beyond our present comprehension. What St Paul said about the reconciliation of Christianity and Judaism is applicable also to the final reconciliation of the total creation: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (Rom 11:33).
When I am waiting at Oxford Station for the train to London, sometimes I walk up to the northernmost stretch of the long platform until I reach a notice: “Passengers must not proceed beyond this point. Penalty: £50.” In discussion of the future hope, we need a similar notice: “Theologians must not proceed beyond this point”—Let my readers devise a suitable penalty. Doubtless, Origen’s mistake was that he tried to say too much. It is a fault that I admire rather than execrate, but it was a mistake nonetheless.
Our belief in human freedom means that we have no right to categorically affirm, “All must be saved.” But our faith in God’s love makes us dare to hope that all will be saved.
Is there anybody there? said the traveler,
Knocking on the moonlit door.
Hell exists as a possibility because free will exists. Yet, trusting in the inexhaustible attractiveness of God’s love, we venture to express the hope—it is no more than a hope—that in the end, like Walter de la Mare’s Traveller, we shall find that there is nobody there. Let us leave the last word, then, with St Silouan of Mount Athos: ‘Love could not bear that… We must pray for all’.”
~ From “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All? Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian”
Fr. Andrew Louth is Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, England. In the last chapter of his book, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Dr. Louth writes the following about “Universal Salvation” :
“Origen hoped for the ‘restoration of all’, apokatastasis panton… His conviction did not simply rest on a philosophical belief that ‘the end is like the beginning’ a principle he affirmed several times in On First Principles… There is a deeper reason for Origen’s conviction of final restoration for all: for him it is inconceivable that Christ is to remain in sorrow for all eternity on account of the failure of any rational creature to respond to his love and benefit from his sacrifice.
Whereas in Western theology, such a conviction rapidly dies out, in Orthodox theology hope in universal salvation, based on a conviction of the boundlessness of God’s love, has never gone away. St. Gregory of Nyssa interprets the words of the apostle Paul’s teaching that God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15.28) to mean the ‘complete annihilation of evil.’ St. Maximos the Confessor likewise holds out the hope of the salvation of all. The grounds for this are principally the long-suffering love of God for all creation, and also the conviction that evil is without substance, but is rather a corruption of distortion of what is good. These two motives find striking expression in St Maximos’ contemporary, St. Isaac the Syrian, who asserts that,
‘there exists within the Creator a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, a love which is without alteration, timeless and everlasting… No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernatural kingdom’
and then adds, quoting Diodore of Tarsus, ‘not even the immense wickedness of the demons can overcome the measure of God’s goodness.’ The pain of hell is the result of love: ‘those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love… For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment.’ Evil and hell cannot be eternal: ‘Sin, Gehenna, and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.’
This conviction that there is nothing outside God’s loving care finds expression in the prayers of the Orthodox Church. In the service of kneeling at Vespers on the evening of Pentecost, we pray ‘for those who are held fast in hell, granting us great hopes that there will be sent down from you to the departed repose and comfort from the pains which hold them’. This hope, amounting to a conviction, that there is nothing beyond the infinite love of God, that there is no limit to our hope in the power of his love, at least regards as a legitimate hope the universal salvation of all rational creatures, maybe even of the devil himself and his demons. Such a belief has found its defenders among modern Orthodox theologians, such as Olivier Clément, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. It was also the conviction of one of the greatest Orthodox saints of recent times, St. Silouan of Athos, manifest in a conversation with another Athonite hermit, who declared ‘with evident satisfaction’,
‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in hell in everlasting fire’.
Obviously upset, the Staretz said,
‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?’
‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault’, said the hermit.
The Staretz answered with a sorrowful countenance:
‘Love could not bear that’, he said, ‘We must pray for all’.”
One of my main goals in writing is to discover and bring the ancient theology and doctrines of the early charismatic Christian church to the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement.
There is a clear disconnect between the doxis of Western Latin Christianity and the praxis of the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement which operates in the gifts and fruit of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Renewal Movement certainly has the basic praxis (how beliefs are practiced, embodied and realized in conduct) of the early charismatic Apostolic church, but does not have a corresponding supportive, complementary doxis (religious beliefs, worship, doctrines, and creeds) which explains and supports that praxis.
The world needs to see lives transformed, but it also needs to know why and how they have been transformed. To do this, the world must see a complementary balance of belief and action at work. But, just as vital, the world must see something else in mutual support and balance: orthodoxy and orthopraxis– that is, right belief and right action.
A key essential in an orthodoxy which supports a Renewal Movement (apostolic church) orthopraxis is an understanding of the Essence and Energies of God and the distinction between them. It is only in understanding Essence (transliterated ousía in Greek) and Energies (transliterated enérgeia in Greek) of God that we can reconcile the seeming paradox of the unknowable transcendence of God with the universal, yet very personal indwelling presence and power of God in all humankind.
Throughout this discussion, I will rely heavily on the writings of 20th century theologians including Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, and Fr. John Meyendorff. They, in turn, refer to the authority of many early Church Fathers including St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Macarius the Great (all 4th century); St. Dionysius the Aeropagite (5th century); St. Maximus the Confessor (7th century); St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th century); and last, but not least, St. Gregory Pálamas (14th century). I make all of these citations so that the reader may understand that the theology and doctrines on the Essence and Energies of God are both ancient and continuously attested to throughout the Patristic literature up to this day. These citations also make it clear that none of what you are about to read is my original work or thoughts.
To be continued…
D.B. Hart: “For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles.”
“For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles. And the contrary claims made by a brutish imbecile Emperor are of no consequence.” – D.B. Hart, from a blog post 11 May 2015.
Origen of Alexandria, (c. 184 – c. 254) was Head of the famed Catechetical School in Alexandria at age 18 and arguably the most brilliant theologian of the early Christian church. He was probably the most able and successful defender of the faith against the heresy of Gnosticism in the third century. In this quote he tells us that Scripture ought to be interpreted at three levels: starting with the lowest level, the body or literal interpretation; followed by the more advanced at the soul level, or moral interpretation; and culminating with the highest level of interpretation, the spiritual, or allegorical interpretation. 1,800 years ago, Origen very clearly articulated what contemporary Christian fundamentalists still haven’t figured out.
“The individual ought, then to portray the ideas of holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul; in order that the simple man may be edified by the “flesh”, as it were, of the Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way (may be edified) by the “soul”, as it were. The perfect man, again… (may receive edification) from the “spiritual” law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of men.” ~ Peri Archon; First Principles, Book IV, Chapter 1