Antecedents of New Thought: Origin

Origen of Alexandria 185-254

Origen of Alexandria 185-254

Origen was one of the most distinguished theologians and scholars of the early Christian Church (“Origen”, New World Encyclopedia). He is thought to have been born at Alexandria around 185 C.E., and died at Caesarea around 254 C.E. Known for his brilliant and extensive writings, Origen also became famous for his voluntary castration and championing of the ascetic lifestyle. His writings represent one of the first serious intellectual attempts to articulate and defend Christianity.

Tom Shepherd, in chapter two of Friends in High Places (:19-22), speaks of Origen's three great contributions to New Thought: “his Christology, or theology of the nature and person of Jesus; his concept of universal salvation, or universalism; and his use of allegory to interpret the Bible.”

Christology

Origen, trained in the school of Clement of Alexandria and by his father, was essentially a Platonist and was thus a pronounced idealist, regarding all things temporal and material as insignificant and indifferent, the only real and eternal things being comprised in the idea or form. He therefore regarded as the purely ideal center of this spiritual and eternal world, God (one power, one presence), the pure reason, whose creative powers call into being the world with matter as the necessary substratum. Shepherd writes “Origen believed Jesus of Nazareth was the earthly manifestation of the Divine Mind or Logos. He saw Jesus Christ as preexistent, i.e., having lived before incarnation in this world as Jesus of Nazareth … For Origen, Christ consciousness was attained, not ordained.”

Universalism

Perhaps the most widely known—and subsequently widely denounced—idea proposed by Origen is that of apokatastasis, or universal restoration. Origen, for many years an educator by profession, likened the Creator to a divine teacher. Being divine, this teacher is unable to fail in instructing its students, and thus Origen concluded that in time all students (that is, all creation) will be restored to their former status, perfect and in the midst of God. Hellfire is not eternal, and it is a purifying fire that consumes and cleanses evil from sinners and restores them eventually. This idea of Origen was eventually condemned alongside other heretical teachings.

Allegory

When we interpret the Bible metaphysically, we can thank Origen and his predecessor, Philo of Alexandria, who came out of the same hellenist, Alexandrian school. New Thought congregants are often embarrassed by some Bible stories, such as Abraham's near sacrifice of his son, God's wiping out of Sodom and the virgin birth narrative. These stories, however, are mild compared to some stories in Greek mythology and many hellenists of the day, specifically the stodgy Stoics, were also embarrassed by the immorality of Greek gods. So Origen, and Philo before him, convinced of the absolute Truth of scripture, had no choice but to abstract away the physical reality of the stories in favor of the underlying Truth. We in New Thought carry on this allegorical interpretation, taking a Platonist view to uncover the metaphysical meaning.

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