3. Abiding in the Doctrine of Christ
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn 1:9).
Origen’s impact on the early church, even extending to present day evangelical thinking, cannot be understated. As discussed above many of his contributions where of great value and laid a firm foundation for others to subsequently build upon.
It is now to his doctrinal views which went beyond the apostolic teaching that we turn. This paper does not have scope to deal with every theologically errant view however I will evaluate those I feel are most relevant and demonstrate how his doctrinal influence reaches beyond the early church – even to the present day.
3.1. Mystical Mystifications
Clement reigned as bishop of Alexander until 202 AD when he was forced to flee due to persecution. He was formally training in philosophy and actively “sought to reconcile two worlds, to persuade Christians of the wisdom of Greek philosophy, and to persuade philosophers of the truth of Christianity… …Clement read Scripture as more allegorical than literal” (Roy 13:2012).
Under Clement’s oversight the Catechetical School in Alexander had “become famous for its use of the allegorical method in biblical interpretation” (Pillay 16:1999) “An allegory is a symbolic representation… …and is usually resorted to when the literal sense seems unacceptable to the interpretator” (Ryrie 125:1999).
It was this school of thought which birthed the mind of Origen and his more fanciful (heretical by another name) doctrines spring out of his use of allegory.
3.2. Erroneous Eschatology
Up until Origen the early church had stressed a literal hermeneutic. As such the Fathers were premillennialists (they expected Christ’s imminent return followed by a literal 1000 year reign). According to Ryrie Origen was the first to spiritualise the future kingdom, understanding “it to be the present Church age from Adam on. This amillennial eschatology was popularised by Augustine” (Ryrie 520:1999).
All Covenantalists, who apply an allegorical interpretation to unfulfilled prophecy as it applies to the nation of Israel, can therefore trace Origen as their theological forbearer.
3.3. Anti-Accepted Atonement
In his wonderful book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which ironically is an allegory), in chapter 14, titled The Triumph of the Witch, C.S. Lewis depicts Aslan, the lion, suffering young Edmund’s penalty by paying the price for him to the White Witch (Lewis 150 – 161:2005).
Origen held that in “the cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil, Satan established control over man…. …Satan now is the governing power in the world.” The ransom therefore “must have been paid to the evil one, for it was he who held us captive until the ransom, namely, the soul of Jesus, was paid” (Erickson 793:1988).
The Biblical view, called The Satisfaction Theory is that the atonement was as compensation to the Father. The key verse being, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23). The concept has been articulated so beautifully in the hymn In Christ Alone (Getty 2001) as:
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
3.4. Sacrilegious Souls
What got Origen branded as a heretic was his views on the pre-existence of the human soul. He taught God created spiritual intelligences before the foundation of the world. At first devoted to their creator over time these created beings’ first love waned. Those whose love diminished most became demons, those whose love diminished less became human and those whose love diminished least became angels.
The charge against him was comprehensive and spanned numerous councils and anathemas however the key indictment reads, “IF anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema” (IMSB 2012).
3.5. Unorthodox Universalism
William Barclay, the prominent Church of Scotland theologian, boldly declared, “I am a convinced universalist” (Barclay 65 – 67:1977). By this he expressed belief “that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.” In the same paragraph he writes “Origen was the great name connected with universalism… …Origen did not eliminate hell; he believed that some people would have to go to heaven via hell.”
Origen’s influence and legacy continues to this day. Rob Bell, in his New York Times Bestseller Love Wins (Bell 2011), writes, “Whatever objections a person may have of [the Universal Reconciliation view], and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it.”
Origen towers in history as an academic giant and dedicated scholar. He should be remembered for the contributions that he made to textual criticism, exegesis, systematics and other practical theologies.
Negatively, his desire to be relevant to the society around him (specifically the Hellenistic Greek academics) meant he sacrificed the apostolic tradition. His method of approach to Scripture, allegory, resulted in many heresies spilling off his pen.
Origen’s was a massively influential figure in the early church and his impact can be felt even today as the church continues to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).