The Hamartiology of Origen of Alexandria

Having studied under Clement of Alexandria,[1] Origen is considered more Platonist than Christian, which stands to reason why he “reject[ed] the doctrines of Marcion[2] and of the Gnostics that the world is the creation of an inferior being [and, by this, arriving at the] conclusion that the existence of the physical world is the result of sin.”[3] Sin was, in effect, the result of the Fall.[4] Because of the Fall and the act of sin, humankind was punished by being condemned to a physical existence subordinate to their previous spiritual existence. For Origen, then, before sinning and before the Fall, all human souls preexisted as pure spirits “before being born into the world, and that the reason why we are here is that we have sinned in that prior, purely spiritual existence.”[5] Moreover, Origen believed that because the Devil and his demons hold us captive in this present world, in this physical existence, evidence of God’s forgiveness of the sins committed in that prior, purely spiritual existence is in Jesus Christ “[coming] to break the power of Satan and to show us the path to follow in our return to our spiritual home.”[6] Once that occurs, not only will Satan be saved due to the Devil being a spirit fashioned similarly to that of the human soul, but “the entire creation will return to its original state, where everything was pure spirit.”[7] Even though all of creation’s return to its original state of being pure spirits will mark a sort of salvation by way of the redemptive powers of Jesus Christ, Origen viewed this as not singular, one-time event but, instead, a cycle of fall and salvation that could possibly go on forever since spirits are irrevocably free.

[1] One of the beliefs that Origen surely carried forward from Clement of Alexandria, would have been the idea that God the Father is the Absolute, the Monrad, devoid of all characteristics because of God’s superiority to sensible distinctions. Refer to William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press Inc., 1980), 95.

[2] Marcion of Sinope held the belief that humankind was created by the Demiurge (or maker of the world in Platonism), a just and wrathful God who placed humankind under a rule of law. Since humankind couldn’t keep the law, the whole human race fell under a divine curse.  Refer to Ibid., 331.

[3] Refer to Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation: Volume 1 (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1984), 81.

[4] It is evident that, for Origen, the prehistorical Fall explains not only the limitations of human finitude such as death and bodily material existence, but also the reality of human sinfulness. Refer to Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought (New York, NY: Oxford University press, 1995), 139.

[5] Refer to Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation: Volume 1 (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1984), 79.

[6] Ibid., 80.

[7] Ibid.

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