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Re-Thinking our Theology

Origen and Orthodoxy?

 

Many believe that 'Universalism'  or rather the Greek term apokatastasis is an old heresy that was condemned at the  Fifth Ecumenical Council (A.D. 553). Much of this assertion  is up for debate.  Patristic Universalism will explore  some of these common objections  through scripture, reason, and church history.    



"Like many fields of study, once information is out there and accepted, it takes a long time to reverse the thinking".....



Thankfully, due to the work of a few dedicated scholars, Origen’s credibility and skill as an exegete is being slowly restored. According to Harmon, opinions on Origen's theology underwent a major change in the mid-twentieth century. Prior to this period, Origen was often tied to the dogmas of later Origenism but in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950 breakthroughs in the understanding of Origen's theology restored—in the minds of scholars at least—Origen's place as a "towering figure" of early Christianity with one scholar describing Origen as the second most widely read of the ecclesiastical writers after Augustine. ....



  It should be noted that while Origen was known for the allegorical approach to Scripture—another area for which he is often ridiculed—it is also true that Origen believed there were very few passage of Scripture for which the “literal, historical meaning” was absent and that he believed—unlike many Christians today—most of the Bible “recounts historical facts that really happened at a certain time.”Origen’s allegorical interpretations were intended as deeper meanings to the literal, historical view, not as a replacement for it.



The other common misconception about Origen – that he was a heretic – is still widely promoted even though the foundation for this claim is extremely shaky. And while Geisler is correct that Origen’s name does appear alongside other ‘heretics’ at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in A.D. 553, let me make a few points in response.



  1. First, the council in A.D. 553 was not the first of such meetings and Origen’s universalism had survived all such prior gatherings (i.e. A.D. 325, 381, and 431[574]) without being condemned.
  2. Second, Origen died around A.D. 254, which means even if his universalism was condemned in A.D. 553, this was 300 years after his death!
  3. Third, how can it be said that Origen’s universalism was deemed heretical if Gregory of Nyssa – who held almost the same view of universalism as Origen – and who was given the title, “Father of fathers” was never condemned?
  4. Fourth, there’s no clear indication Origen was ever condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical council in A.D. 553. As Ludlow states, Origen was never mentioned by name in the fifteen anathemas (of the 5th Ecumenical Council in A.D. 553); it was later incorrectly assumed that this council condemned universalism and Origen by name but this was not true.


Read more in Chapter Seven, Patristic Universalism by David Burnfield