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Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Origen

Next we examine Origen who was probably the greatest theologian the church saw in the first few centuries, if not all of the way to Aquinas. Christology was one of a few areas where Origen came under fire after his death. The criticism leveled against him was unfair in many ways. We will attempt to sketch out the main contours of his understanding of the Son in what follows covering pre-existence, the relationship of Son to Father, and the nature and purposes of the incarnation.

For Origen, the Son is the eternal image of God, which entailed a preservation of the ‘unity of nature and substance.’[1] There never was a time when he was not with the Father and their unity did not override their individuality.[2] But, while Origen did see distinctions, and even a degree of subordination in the Son,[3] he did not see subordination ever entailing that there were cross purposes between Son and Father. Their wills were a unity, but they were not the same.[4] For example, Origen clearly sees the Father as the embodiment of goodness, but he is at least willing to discuss whether or not that is true of the Son.[5] As the image, he makes the Father known. His role is revelatory.[6] He exists in the intermediate space between the uncreated God and created humanity.[7] Origen interprets Phil. 2:6 to mean that in the incarnation, the incorporeal, pre-existent Son emptied himself of his equality with God. In his role as the Christ he was subordinate to the Father.[8] It resulted in no loss of divinity. In human flesh, the fullness of the Word and wisdom of God resided.[9]

The most fascinating aspect of Origen’s Christology is his speculative suggestion that even in his pre-existence, the Son had a dual nature. Origen believed that all souls pre-existed and the soul of the human Jesus, pre-existed in union with the divine Word.[10] This soul remained unsullied when all other souls fell prior to creation, which made it the “…ideal meeting-point between the infinite Word and finite human nature.[11] The comingling resulted in the deification of Jesus’ humanity and his participation in the life of God.[12] It served as the pattern for our own participation.[13] Like Justin, the divine Son forms the necessary link between God and creation. The Son must occupy some sort of intermediate space to make mediation possible, that is to say there must be real distinction between Father and Son.[14]

More specifically, Origen sees the Son as the divine Word, or rational principle which is rooted in God’s wisdom.[15] Here, again, in some ways, his views are similar to Justin’s, though there is a stronger emphasis on the Son’s role as revealing God and his wisdom.[16] The incarnation itself, its emptying, for Origen, was the epitome of God’s wisdom and showed us the fullness of the Son’s deity.[17] “…the Word became man in order to translate his message into a human person, into human acts and deeds: it is in fact the whole life of the incarnate Logos that is the Word.”[18] Through the life of Jesus we see God’s wisdom on display.

Interestingly, Origen believes that in his second coming that the Son will return in his divine nature alone.[19] Presumably this is due to the way he downplays the corporeality of the resurrection. Origen, thus sees the Son as the Messiah as a purely divine king after his resurrection and in his return.[20] This is probably rooted in the fact that his kingship is rooted in his status as firstborn of all creation.[21] Origen was not a millenarian, so Christ as king focuses mainly on the judicial image and thus plays a more focused role in his eschatology than Justin or Irenaeus. That in no way implies Origen did not see the resurrected Son as king now, he clearly did,[22] but it isn’t made to bear much weight and seems more of a traditional affirmation than a central conviction.

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[1] First Principles I.ii.6, trans. Butterworth. See also IV.iv.1 for a clear statement on the relationship of Father and Son.
[2] Ramelli 2011 pp. 26-43.
[3] On subordination, see e.g., First Principles I.iii.5 in a Greek fragment from Justinian, which is corroborated by Jerome. It is difficult to determine the precisely how much of a subordinationist Origen was. Neither Rufinus or Jerome represented him completely accurately. My method is to follow Rufinus, unless there is corroboration of Jerome’s reading from another source. See comments in Balthasar 1984, p. 14 on the necessity of not-overemphasizing Origen’s subordinationism. Trigg 1998 pp. 23-24, too, emphasizes Origen did not anticipate Arianism as does Crouzel 1989 pp. 174-75, 186-88 and Heine 2010 p. 97. Ramelli 2011 passim­ argues that Origen was in no way a subordinationist which I think goes too far. Hildebrand 2011 pp.104-05 sees tension in Origen’s thought that could lead to Arianism or Nicean orthodoxy. That seems probably right, though I think the balance tilts more toward orthodoxy.
[4] Lyman 2010 p. 120. See Heine 2010 p. 99 for a discussion of how Origen differentiates himself from other contemporary views of the Trinity.
[5] First Principles I.ii.13 again from a Greek fragment in Justinian, corroborated by Jerome.
[6] Ibid. I.ii.8. His being the image coalesces with his identity as Word and wisdom.
[7] Contra Celsum III.34.
[8]First Principles I.ii.8.
[9] Trigg 1998 pp. 25-26.
[10] Crouzel 1989 pp. 192-93
[11] Kelly 1978 p. 155.
[12] Ibid. 156-57.
[13] Ibid. pp. 156-157 and Grillmeier 1975 p. 141.
[14] Young 2006 p. 464-65. As we will see later on, this is where Augustine’s views run into difficulty.
[15] Heine 2010 p. 93.
[16] See, e.g., Contra Celsum VI.69-71. Trigg 1998, p. 23.
[17] Jer J 8, 8 and First Principles I.ii.8 from Balthasar 1984, p. 122.
[18] Crouzel 1989 p. 69.
[19] Contra Celsum I.56.
[20] Kelly 1978 p. 157-58.
[21] Grillmeier 1975 p. 144.
[22] See e.g., First Principles I.ii.10.

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