Origen of Alexandria

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Origen of Alexandria, Illustration from Les Vrais Portraits Et Vies Des Hommes Illustres, by André Thévet (1584)

Origen of Alexandria (c.185–c.254), writer, teacher and Church Father, drew forth from the Bible the very fire of the teachings of Christ and made these teachings understandable to his contemporaries. He exerted enormous influence on the early Church. Dictating to a staff of stenographers, copyists and calligraphers provided by a wealthy patron, Origen wrote almost two thousand books. He ranks as the greatest Christian thinker of his age.

Despite his prominent place in the early Church, Origen fell into disfavor in the fourth and fifth centuries, in large part for his teachings on the origin and fate of the soul. Yet the Church had difficulty constructing its theology without him. Church Fathers like Jerome and Gregory of Nyssa publicly criticized Origen’s radical ideas while carefully cribbing his homilies.

Origen was an embodiment of the ascended master Lanello.

Early life

Origen was born in Egypt, probably at Alexandria, about the year 185 A.D. The name Origen means “son of Or or Horus,” the Egyptian sun-god. Rev. William Fairweather describes his early life:

His father Leonides was a prominent member of the Christian community at Alexandria ... and ... was in a position personally to superintend the education of his son. At an early age Origen showed unusual talent, and his training both on the scientific and on the Christian side was to his father a matter of conscientious care. Drilled in every branch of Greek learning..., his naturally acute mind was disciplined and developed to the best advantage
To the good Leonides the moral and spiritual welfare of his son was an object of equal and even greater solicitude. From his childhood ... Origen learned ... the Holy Scriptures.... Daily his father selected a portion of the Bible for him to commit to memory, and heard him repeat it.... [Leonides] formed the habit, it is said, of reverently kissing the bosom of the sleeping boy, in the firm conviction that the Holy Spirit had marked it for His dwelling-place....
The terrible persecution of Christians which arose in the tenth year of Septimius Severus (A.D. 202) bore with special severity upon the Christian Church at Egypt. One of the first victims was Leonides, who was arrested and thrown into prison. Although Origen had not then completed his seventeenth year, he ardently desired the martyr’s crown, and was minded to appear before the authorities as an avowed Christian in order that he might die along with his father. As no entreaties could dissuade him from his purpose, his mother contrived effectually to defeat it by the simple stratagem of hiding his clothes. Finding himself thus thwarted, he wrote to his father imploring him to stand firm, and not to change his mind out of consideration for his family. Leonides did not disappoint the hopes of his son—he died a martyr....
[Origen continued the] studies which he had begun under the direction of his father, and his proficiency in grammar, philology, and Greek literature soon became a ladder to independence.... He had by reason of his literary attainments and his Christian zeal already won for himself a front-rank place in the Egyptian Church. This was recognized by Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, who now appointed him to the office of teacher in the Catechetical School.[1]
Artist’s impression of Ancient Alexandria

Teaching in Alexandria

In this office, Origen was responsible for teaching the young men and women who came to Christianity with their minds full of questions. These students would have been intelligent people searching for sophisticated answers—they lived in the cultural and scientific center of the Roman Empire, a city with the cosmopolitan air of a New York or a Paris.

Alexandria had replaced Athens as the center of philosophy. Neoplatonism, Neo-Pythagoreanism and Stoicism vied for attention. Mystery cults were prominent, with pursuit of personal immortality the foremost goal. It was in this setting that Alexandrian Christianity developed.[2] If it was to compete with pagan religion and philosophy, it had to provide some good answers to the questions of life. Origen answered them and gave Christianity a coherent voice.

He began writing in an attempt to explain the Christian faith to educated Alexandrians. One of his early converts to Christianity was Ambrosius, a wealthy Gnostic who became his patron. Ambrosius had originally rejected Christianity because, as Origen wrote, it seemed to be “an irrational and ignorant faith.”[3] But Origen made sense of it.

Conflict with Church hierarchy

By 215, Origen had headed the Catechetical School for over ten years, and Origen’s bishop, Demetrius, was jealous of his growing prestige and nervous about his philosophical speculations. Demetrius refused to let him preach in church because he was not an ordained priest. He was, however, in great demand elsewhere. On a visit to Caesarea (in Palestine), he preached at the local bishop’s request. Demetrius angrily summoned him back to Alexandria. Yet his fame continued to spread across the empire, even to the imperial court. Julia Mammaea, the mother of Emperor Alexander Severus and the power behind the throne, sent for Origen and commanded him to explain Christianity to her.

Sometime around 231 Origen left Alexandria and again went to Caesarea, where the bishop ordained him without Demetrius’ approval. Demetrius began a campaign against Origen on the grounds of his unauthorized ordination and questionable views. He accused Origen of having said the Devil would be saved. Demetrius gained the support of the rest of the bishops of Egypt, who rescinded Origen’s ordination and excommunicated him. Origen defended himself, pointing out that he had said only that the Devil could be saved. This question about the Devil is pivotal to Origen’s doctrines of free will and God’s justice.

After Demetrius died, Origen gained a respite. He settled in Caesarea, which had become the most prominent city in Palestine after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Under the protection of the Palestinian bishops, Origen finally got the respect he deserved.

The conflict between Origen and his bishop, Demetrius, represents in miniature the later conflicts between the Church and “heretics.” Origen, studying Greek philosophy as well as Jewish and Christian scriptures, came in the tradition of Greek and Jewish sages—solitary, inspired teachers who took truth where they found it. The Church, as it attempted to establish a structure and consolidate its authority, could not allow such teachers to remain autonomous. Over the next centuries, the Church severely curtailed their freedom as it codified doctrine and defined scripture, substituting order for illumination.

Origen

Final years

From his safe harbor in Caesarea, Origen preached for nearly twenty years. His popular sermons and commentaries—which highlighted the idea of the soul’s union with God—were widely disseminated. Rather than rejecting him, the congregations welcomed and revered him. He became so closely associated with the Church that at about the age of 68 he was arrested by the Romans at the order of Emperor Decius.

Origen dreamed of martyrdom, but he was not to receive it. Although Decius fed other Christians to the lions, he only tortured Origen. The torture must have been intense, however, for Origen died soon after his release—a martyr in spirit if not by strict definition. Little did he know that his writings would cause centuries of controversy in the Church he had given his life for—and that the Church would ultimately declare his writings heretical, curse and burn them.

Origen’s teachings

His approach to scripture

In contrast with many of the early Church Fathers, Origen insisted on a philosophical approach to the Bible. He came to many of the same conclusions modern man has reached.

For example, it is common today to view the Creation story as allegory. Origen also took it figuratively. He tells us that the first chapters of Genesis do not describe actual events but indicate “certain mysteries.” He also tells us we can’t take everything in the Gospels literally, concluding that “episodes which did not occur are inserted among those which are literally recorded.”[4]

In contrast, Saints Irenaeus and Epiphanius tell us that paradise was a real place on earth with real trees and rivers.[5] And Augustine argues that the world has existed for only six thousand years.[6] Their ideas monopolized religion for more than fifteen hundred years.

Clement of Alexandria, Illustration from Les Vrais Portraits Et Vies Des Hommes Illustres, by André Thévet (1584)

Secret teaching

Clement, Origen’s predecessor at the Catechetical School in Alexandria, claimed to possess a secret tradition handed down from Peter, James, John and Paul, which was meant to be reserved for the select few who could understand it. Clement said that the hidden mysteries that Christ revealed to the apostles were different from the teaching given to ordinary Christians.

Origen also had a secret teaching. Unlike Clement, he did not claim that it had been passed down from the apostles but said that it was embedded in the scriptures. He claimed to have the inspiration, knowledge and grace to uncover it.

Origen, however, did not reveal the secret teaching to everyone. He tells us that the man who finds the hidden meaning of the scriptures conceals it: “A man who comes to the field ... finds the hidden treasure of wisdom.... And, having found it, he hides it, thinking that it is not without danger to reveal to everybody the secret meanings of the Scriptures, or the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ.”[7]

What was the content of this secret teaching? In First Principles, Origen gives us a hint. In a list of the most important doctrines necessary to learn, he includes the “question of the differences between souls and how these differences arose.”[8] Scholar R. P. C. Hanson concludes that this list of doctrines clearly represents “the articles of Origen’s secret teaching.”[9] If Origen’s secret teaching included the issue of why souls are different at birth, it would be logical that it included preexistence and reincarnation.

Karma and reincarnation

Since many of Origen’s writings were destroyed and the rest heavily edited, scholars debate whether he actually taught reincarnation. Some say he merely taught preexistence, that the soul existed before the body. But in Origen’s day, preexistence and reincarnation were inseparable. Although in one case Origen denies reincarnation, we must take his single denial in the context of his other writings, the times in which he lived and his deliberate practice of secrecy. For Origen, reincarnation was part of the whole scheme of salvation—salvation based on individual effort, the soul’s relationship to the God within, leading ultimately to union with God.

If Origen had rejected reincarnation, he would have had to argue that position coherently for his educated audience because many of them, being Neoplatonists and Gnostics, held the belief. But there is no record of his doing this. Instead, he persistently asks whether actions in previous existences are the cause of people’s present troubles.

Origen’s On First Principles explains that souls are assigned to their “place or region or condition” based on their actions “before the present life.” God has “arranged the universe on the principle of a most impartial retribution,” he tells us.[10] God didn’t create “from any favouritism” but gave souls bodies “according to the sin of each.” Origen asks, “If souls did not preexist, why is it that we find some blind from their birth, having done no sin, while others are born having nothing wrong with them?”[11] He answers his own question: “It is clear that certain sins existed [i.e., were committed] before the souls [came into bodies], and as a result of these sins each soul receives a recompense in proportion to its deserts.”[12] In other words, people’s fates are based on their past actions.

By saying this, Origen is telling us that we have had some form of existence prior to our present bodies. For Origen, the obvious implication is that this previous existence was also in human form.

Free will

Reincarnation is closely linked with two of Origen’s favorite themes: God is just, and human beings have free will. God’s justice can be defended, Origen argued, only if each person “contains within himself the reasons why he has been placed in this or in that rank of life.”[13] Thus, we can believe God is just only if we believe that our actions in some previous existence are the cause of our present fate. If we are unfortunate, we can either blame God or see our misfortune as the result of our own past actions—and then do something to change it.

The idea that we are responsible for our fate leads directly to the other key concept in Origen’s thought: free will. It was for this idea, as much as any other, that his writings came under fire. The concept of free will made the orthodox uncomfortable because it implied that someone who had been saved could someday fall again and that a beggar or a prostitute could rise to the level of the angels.

Origen believed that God had created earth as a place for human beings to exercise free will. For Origen, there wasn’t much point to a religion in which God predestined everyone, even for salvation. He wrote:

God ... for the salvation of all his creatures ... thus ordered all these things in such a way that no spirit or soul ... might be forced against the freedom of their own wills in any direction other than that in which the motion of their own minds might lead them, and thus the faculty of freewill be taken away from them (which would indeed change the quality of their very nature).[14]

Origen’s worldview tells us that we can fall down the ladder of soul evolution, but it also tells us that we can climb back up again. As scholar G. W. Butterworth puts it, Origen placed no limit on “the power of God’s love, when once the human soul had responded to its healing and uplifting influence.”[15]

Reincarnation goes along with the idea that the soul, with God’s help, is responsible for achieving salvation. It provides the repeated opportunity, lifetime after lifetime, for the soul to “work out” her own salvation.[16]

The conflict between a budding orthodoxy on the one side and the Neoplatonists, mystery adherents, Gnostics and Origenists on the other is the perennial conflict between those who want a lockstep, guaranteed path to salvation and those who see religion as an individualized, unpredictable path.

Origen believed that free will is implied throughout scripture and that free will in turn implies reincarnation. He saw any passage affirming moral responsibility as also affirming free will. As historian Joseph W. Trigg writes, “Since [such passages] affirm moral responsibility they presume that we have within ourselves the power to do the good and to shun evil.”[17]

In First Principles, Origen cites twelve texts to prove that people have free will. For example, Deuteronomy 30:15, 19 says: “See, I have set before you today life and ... death.... Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

If God encourages us to choose good, Origen reasoned, then we must have the freedom to choose either good or evil. If God has given us that freedom, then we advance or decline on our own merits. If we advance or decline on our own merits but are destined to return to God, then, logically, we must have more than one chance to do it.

For Origen, freedom equals opportunity. If there is only one opportunity—and that often cut short—then there is no freedom. And he believed that freedom is a part of God’s plan. Hadn’t Paul written, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”?[18]

The Fall of man

Origen’s interpretation of the Fall in the Garden implies both free will and reincarnation. He taught that the story represents the experience of every soul. Each of us once existed in a primordial state of divine union. Then came the Fall, after which our souls were imprisoned in matter, bound to return to earth again and again, each time acting and experiencing the corresponding reaction. Thus the differences in our circumstances are not based on God’s whim but on our own actions. God’s creation was equal and just—in the beginning.

Origen may have been the first person to articulate the belief enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” He wrote that God “created all those whom he did create equal and alike.”[19] In other words, God gave all of us the same opportunities and potential. But our own actions have caused our differences.

Court of the Emperor Justinian

Origen’s teachings anathamatized

Origen’s followers and his teachings were attacked in later centuries in the controversial crossfire of ecclesiastical canon. Three centuries after Origen’s death, the Byzantine emperor Justinian declared Origen a heretic. At the emperor’s instigation, a Church council (the Second Council of Constantinople, 553 A.D.) anathematized (“cursed”) Origen’s teaching on the preexistence of the soul, the fall of souls into bodies and the physical incarnation of both good and bad angels. Origenist monks were expelled and Origen’s writings destroyed.

Since there are no records documenting papal approval of these anathemas, scholars today question their legitimacy. But the council’s action, accepted in practice by the Church, made reincarnation incompatible with Christianity. Between the third and sixth centuries, the authorities of Church and State gradually rejected Christians who believed in reincarnation, banning and finally destroying their manuscripts.

Today we have restored the kind of intellectual freedom that existed in Greco-Roman times, and so we need to reexamine our theology. We may find that there is more sense in Origen than in the orthodox Fathers.

Origen’s teachings parallel ascended master law

Many of Origen’s beliefs parallel those being released by the ascended masters today. In On First Principles, he teaches that God is Spirit, that he is a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He discusses the Fall of Lucifer and the fact that man is free to rise or fall by the gift of free will.

He proclaims that the sun, moon and stars are living beings. He believes in the pre-existence of souls and in reembodiment. He says that Matter was created by God and that the use of bodies will cease, that the bodily nature returns to non-existence (to Spirit), just as formerly it did not exist.

Origen speaks of the Christ as the Mediator between God and man. He also refers to a place of instruction for souls after death. He concludes that since the teaching of the Church includes the doctrine of the righteous judgment of God, man must have a free will to choose to live a good life by avoiding sin.

The concepts that were revealed by the Christ and the Brotherhood to Origen are today being brought forth through him to be organized as sacred scripture for the coming two-thousand-year cycle, not displacing that which has gone before but adding to it, breaking (explaining) the Word and building upon the foundations that have been laid by all who have gone before.

Legacy

G.W. Butterworth notes in his introduction to Origen: On First Principles:

Origen is one of those figures, none too common even in Church history, of whose character we can say that we know nothing but what is good. He was humble and free from envy, caring neither for power nor wealth. He bore unmerited suffering, from friends and foes alike, without complaint. His life, from beginning to end, was hard and strenuous. His courage never failed, and he died, in reality, a martyr’s death. He loved truth with a sincerity and devotion rarely equaled, and never excelled. Intellectually he stands pre-eminent and alone, towering above the Greek fathers.... The wide sweep of his thought is amazing. He contemplates a universe, not small and narrow as was that of many of his contemporaries, but of immense magnitude, world following world in almost infinite sequence, from the dim primeval epoch when God created all souls equal and free, to the far-off event when after countless vicissitudes of degradation and suffering they shall return to their original unity and perfection, and “God shall be all in all.”[20]

The students of the ascended masters will enjoy reading Origen: On First Principles, edited by G. W. Butterworth. Page by page they will see the realities of ascended master law unfolding through the lens of a higher consciousness than that of Origen. They will see the universal message of the Brotherhood that belongs to no single age but to all ages, to no single prophet but to all prophets. That it was suppressed by the powers of darkness during the Dark Ages is not surprising, for we have been told that the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world.

Origen’s works are very deep. One cannot excerpt them because every morsel and every phrase is another cadence, another spiral of the depth of his penetration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One feels his absolute oneness with the Lord, and therefore in his uninhibited pursuit of truth and love of Jesus we find that even in the fragments which somehow were left after the destruction of his writings, all that we find there anticipates the teachings of the Great White Brotherhood we have today.

For more information

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Fallen Angels and the Origins of Evil, “The Origen Conspiracy,” pp. 365–73.

Origen, On First Principles, trans. G.W. Butterworth (1936; reprint, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973).

Sources

Elizabeth Clare Prophet with Erin L. Prophet, Reincarnation: The Missing Link in Christianty, pp. 176–87.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Patricia Spadaro, Karma and Reincarnation: Transcending Your Past, Transforming Your Future, pp. 27–28.

Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Path to Immortality, pp. 445–48.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, August 16, 1981.

  1. William Fairweather, Origen and Greek Patristic Theology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901), pp. 36–41.
  2. See Robert M. Grant, “Early Alexandrian Christianity,” Church History 40 (June 1971): 135–44.
  3. Origen, Commentary on John 5.8, quoted in Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-Century Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983), p. 82.
  4. Origen, On First Principles 4.1.17, quoted in Robert Payne, The Fathers of the Eastern Church (1957; reprint, New York: Marboro Books, Dorset Press, 1989), p. 53.
  5. See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.23, 5.23, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, 10 vols., ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978–81), 1:455–58, 551–52; and Jon F. Dechow, Dogma and Mysticism in Early Christianity: Epiphanius of Cyprus and the Legacy of Origen, Patristic Monograph Series, 13 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1988), pp. 334–47.
  6. Augustine, City of God 12.10, in Schaff, Philip, ed., A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 1st ser. (Reprint. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979–80), 2:232.
  7. Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.6, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10:416.
  8. Origen, On First Principles, trans. G.W. Butterworth (1936; reprint, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973), p. 283.
  9. R. P. C. Hanson, Origen’s Doctrine of Tradition (London: SPCK, 1954), p. 79.
  10. Origen, On First Principles, trans. Butterworth,, pp. 137, 136.
  11. Origen, On First Principles, quoted in Jean Danielou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, pp. 418–19.
  12. Origen, On First Principles, trans. Butterworth, p. 67.
  13. Ibid., p. 241.
  14. Origen, On First Principles, quoted in Danielou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, pp. 420–21.
  15. Butterworth, introduction to Origen: On First Principles, p. lvi.
  16. Phil. 2:12.
  17. Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-Century Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983), p. 117.
  18. 2 Cor. 3:17.
  19. Origen, On First Principles, quoted in Danielou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, p. 416.
  20. Butterworth, Origen: On First Principles (New York: Harper & Row, 1973). p. xxvii.