Origen: Philosophy of History & Eschatology by Panayiotis Tzamalikos (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae: Brill Academic) A common accusation made against Origen is that he dissolves history into intellectual abstraction and that his eschatology (if this is recognized at all) is notoriously obscure. In this new work, the author draws on an impressive range of bibliography to consider Origen’s Philosophy of History and Eschatology in the widest context of facts, documents and streams of thought, including Classical and Late Antiquity Greek Philosophy, Gnosticism, Hebraism and Patristic Thought, both before Origen and well after his death. Against claims that he causes history to evaporate into barren idealism, his thought is shown to be firmly grounded on his particular vision of historical occurrences. Confronting assertions that Origen has no eschatological ideas, his eschatology is shown rather to have made a distinctive mark throughout his works, both explicitly and tacitly.
In Origen’s view, history was the foundation of scriptural interpretation, a
teleological process determined by factors and functions such as providence –
prophecy – promise – expectation – realization – anticipation – faith –
anticipation – hope – awaiting for – fulfillment – end. Since 1986, the author
has argued for the unpopular thesis that Origen is, in many respects, an
anti-Platonist. Nevertheless, the author casts light upon the Aristotelian
rationale of Origen’s doctrine of apokatastasis, arguing that its validity is
bolstered by ontological rather than historical premises. The extent of Origen’s
influence upon what is currently regarded as ‘orthodoxy’ turns out to be far
wider and more profound than has hitherto been acknowledged. This de-platonizing
of Origen’s thought moves his historical eschatology right back toward the
center of Christological concern. The jury is still out however if Tzamalikos
well stated theses will be given a full hearing.
To study Origen it will not suffice to study Origen's works. His name is in fact not simply that of a specific author, but a watchword marking a radical Christian transformation of the world effecting to the present day 'To peruse critically his challenging experience amidst philosophical and theological ideas takes much more than reading his theology Terms and notions did not arrive at the pen of authors in vacuum. Theorists read them somewhere, they discussed them with others, they reflected and debated upon them and expressed themselves to the degree and manner they found them articulate of their own philosophical thrust. To study Origen then takes more than just reading one's texts. It takes perusal of the interplay of ideas and attitudes during eighteen centuries at least from Homeric texts to 12th century A.D. In this line, there is a rich tradition of illuminating exchanges, debate, rebuffs, misrenderings, misunderstanding, fruitful conceptions of new ideas in old forms, neologisms, fertile alterations and productive advances through fresh approach to old notions. Unless this multifarious process is taken into account, it is hard to follow a dilettante of Greek such as Origen in the precarious adventure he took upon himself
In Antiquity there were differences on tenets, viewpoints and attitudes, but the actual people were parleying with each other. In Late Antiquity they often studied in common classes, despite being of different backgrounds and aiming at different purposes: pagans, Christians, agnostics, sceptics, eclecticists, atheists at least knew each other.
Today there is a hardly bridgeable chasm between theology and philosophy, and a parallel one between philosophy arid science. Philosophers despise theological assumptions on grounds afforded by modern Epistemology Theologians are barely interested in detailed acquaintance with philosophy whereas they pay some anxious attention to modern Cosmology, just in case theological doctrines might be vindicated (or, compromised) by modern science. Scientists, nonetheless, are wont to ignore philosophical reflection, even though there is no scientific method which is not in fact a philosophical method since the times of the Presocratics and Socrates himself A sheer dissent on the epistemological premises of constructing a theory is nevertheless there. Thus, the least one should do in aspiring to writing a book such as this is to be alert to the wider context possible regarding not only the theories expounded, but also the import of technical terms, and their alterations, if any, in the course of time. However hard the work, this is the real context for studying Origen.
Modern scholarship on Origen contents itself too much with commenting on modern scholarship, that is, on itself; rather than plunging into the huge (frequently conflicting) streams of thought which formed thinkers such as the Alexandrian. Sundry schools or individual approaches, both before and after him, are normally left out of serious consideration, with ancient and modern claims about his theology holding sway, although anemophilously reproduced and despite history and documents attesting to a sheer different reality.
Since 1986, Tzamalikos has argued for the unpopular thesis that Origen is an anti-Platonist in many respects. This was received with suspicion and distrust within a mindset where branding him a 'Christian Platonist' was (and still is) a matter of course. To be sure, Hellenism in theological reflection is a detraction, appearing as a phantasm to be exorcized. Tzamalikos advanced this thesis of anti-Platonism in this book, too, but only in respect of points related to the historical and eschatological topic. Although these points are numerous in number and diverse in content, is has been out of my scope to afford a comprehensive account of Origen's anti-Platonism. Besides, since in theological orthodoxy Platonism is regarded as obloquy, Tzamalikos does not set out to be Origen's defender, but simply an accurate scholar. This is all about scholarship, not allegiance to persons, schools, or religious denominations. Tzamalikos argues for historical truth about Origen rather than for defending the status quo of philosophical convictions, which do not matter too much in this specific book. One point should be made, however: although Origen was a theologian, not a philosopher, philosophy is indispensable for studying his thought.
The scope of this book is to explore Origen's philosophy of history and eschatology and to see whether or not he assigns an intrinsic meaning to history. His conception of certain functions in time provides the basis for him to establish a view of the historical process, since they play a crucial role in establishing a particular and unique character of history.
His conceptions of prolongation of time and causality raised the question of the existence of human being throughout an aeon, while the event of incarnation of Christ, and its significance, play a decisive part in forming a theology of history—by 'history' meaning the origin and ultimate perspectives of the entire world, not only of human existential condition. How the function of prophecy is perceived and what the actual significance of kairos is (quite at variance with some modern accounts of it)—these are questions, the treatment of which renders the character of Origen's history a teleological and, nonetheless, a dramatic one.
Part II is entitled 'The notion of eternal', deliberately refraining from using the term 'eternity'. Not only because this non-scriptural term is never used by Origen, but mainly because the notion of eternal is in fact a homonym attributed to no less than three different realities. It is one thing to speak of `eternal God', but it is quite another to speak of 'eternal life', whereas to speak of 'eternal death' alludes to a different reality. Analysis of the actual existential standing in either of these realities evinces the differences of Origen's dialectics from respective conceptions in Platonism, Neoplatonism and Gnosticism.
Whereas for the ontology of time Origen made some use of Stoic conceptions without capitulating to Stoicism, on the question of philosophy of history his liability to Hellenism is virtually nil. Regarding the significance of historical being and action, his grasp of this is alien to any Greek stream of thought and he conspicuously moves in a different vein from pagan philosophy. Certain technical terms may receive a countersign from Greek thought, but this is most perfunctory and functions in a quite different rationale. The term 'extension' does not make Origen a Stoic, the 'arc of heavens' does not make him a Platonist, the `Ogdoad' does not make him a Gnostic any more than the term `homoousios' makes the council of Nicaea an assembly of Valentinian Gnostics—assuming they had any inkling of the philosophical import of ousia (let alone homoousios) at all. He did not fear semblance with heterodox nomenclature and imagery, since his philosophy of history and eschatology is what it is not because of this terminology, but because this attitude procures a novel import peculiar to his own philosophy of history and eschatology. Alien terms are there, but the heretical doctrines composed by means of those terms are not. Origen upheld pagan terms, but he eschewd the doctrines they were designed to couch. The sheer range of arguments which bolster up this specific conception of history is fully found and understood only within the context of his theology.
Tzamalikos refrains from making claims about 'orthodoxy' or 'non-orthodoxy' in Origen, since assessments of this kind were not within his scope. To approach this thought from either a 'polemical' or a 'sympathizing' point of view would be scholarship of mean value. Between being a defender or detractor of Origen, there is assiduous study, both in Greek and Latin, in a manner similar to which he himself perused and interpreted Scripture. That is, to study not only the general views of his entire theology, but also to ponder upon the crucial nuances of his phrases and even words, with a constant cross examination between ideas as well as usages found both in him and others, prior and posterior to him. The study of any aspect of Origen's through takes much more than studying work alone. His epoch was at the crossroads of different streams of thought, different mentalities and sundry traditions that had inevitably been part of the education of this polymath cannot be left out of consideration. As stressed before, terms and notions do not arrive at the pen of authors in vacuum. Philosophers read them somewhere they discussed them with others, they reflected and debated upon them and expressed themselves to the degree and manner they found them articulate of their own philosophical thrust. Being a theologian, Origen has always deserves a hearing by theologians—which he did not actually receive. Perhaps the reason for this is his philosophical erudition that no theologian ever had, probably with the exception of Didymus the Blind, John Philoponus and Thomas Acquinas Hippolytus should be included, but he was an older contemporary to Origen Well after his death, pagan and Christians went on discussing with each other, not rarely sharing common teachers and classes. The difference is that whenever philosophers disagreed, they simply (but not always) parted way with each other, articulately expounding their own dissent: they did not anathematize each other, they did not send opponents to exile, let alone to fire. Theologians after Origen to the present day find it all too convenient to trade on the notoriety of Plato, of the Stoics, on Aristotle's opinions of providence and Plotinus's inferiority ontological scheme, but hardly the real import of Origen's writings has been studied in detailed juxtaposition to the writings of those philosophers. Modern Christian scholarship appears to have utterly discounted these qualifying factors.. Philosophical studies to the level and. extent that they match and address the intellectual and historical reality of Late Antiquity, are hardly a theologian's interest and scarcely could be found in the syllabus. Philosophers, on the other hand, content themselves with the (originated in modernity) patrimonial shunning of theology, in an epoch when a new world-picture revealed by science renders their inveterate hackneyed convictions obsolete.
Origen was a Christian who knew and had assimilated philosophy, being at the same time aware of practices of oriental cults, astrologers, magicians, apocrypha of all kinds and Judaic mentality and conduct, both austere and liberal. The texts are there not only those of Origen's, but also of divers thinkers well before and well after him. He cannot be studied on his own apart from his dialectical relations with his past and his contemporary mindset, or ignoring the dependence of his posterity on him. Origen does not need defenders any more than detractors—only truth needs defenders, and this has always has been a very heavy and difficult undertaking. This is what Tzamalikos attempts to do in this work.
In his philosophy of history, the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus stands in the center and determines the core of his thought and exegesis of Scripture. The Cross and Resurrection is the pivotal point designating all history: it reveals all its inherent meaning since the dawn of it, and exemplifies in prefiguration its ultimate objective. Putting alongside and considering in juxtaposition the opening of Genesis, the opening of John's Gospel and the cosmic significance accorded to the Cross by Paul, he did fulfill the task of a Christian thinker of his era, which was to develop an entirely new conception of history, stemming from the historical events related to the life of Jesus, affording at the same time a universal fresh hold of all history from start to finish. His entire work shows, in the clearest and strongest terms possible, that he formed a completely new philosophy of history, a meaning for both the origin and the final destiny of the entire world, through the light cast upon past, present and future occurrences after the incarnation of the Logos.
The nature of the divine / creaturely relation is enlightened by the end, toward which history is directed. The primary concern is with the relation between Now and After by reason of the teleological character of history. The relation between present time and the eschatological eventuality has entered a new stage after the incarnation of Christ. A critical stress is put upon the vicarious passion of Christ and its significance of cosmic proportions in terms of philosophy of history The world is regarded as being in a 'fallen' state, and yet at the same time it is has already been 'saved' out of God's action, which nevertheless requires creaturely voluntary cooperation within the context of a certain relation in order to attain to the anticipated end. Along with faith, the dynamic idea of an incessant action of righteousness is constantly entertained. At no moment of his considerations are these two (viz. faith and action) disentangled from each other. He stresses the necessity of human cooperation in salvation—a cooperation which extends to all that pertains to salvation: election, self-transformation and perseverance.
Paul's main theme in Romans is highlighted, which is the transfer of religion from Judaism to Christianity, from the letter to the spirit, from salvation of the individual to rectification of all history.
The world is regarded as resurrected already, while at the same time it is not resurrected yet. In this apparent paradox lies the tension between Present and Future. In the dramatic character of history (due to the encounter of divine and creaturely will in it) the element of urgency has been established after the incarnation of the Logos. What Tzamalikos means by dramatic character of history is this: for all his emphasis upon divine omnipotence, Origen is not all too quick to bargain for God being always the master of circumstances. Quite often God is the mere adjutant of them. This philosophy is more expedient in stipulating and securing the divine omniscience vis-a-vis creaturely freedom, rather than standing still before the divine omnipotence. Divine impassibility notwithstanding, Origen lays more stress on God's 'impartiality' with respect to moral choice and on the ongoing 'passion' of Christ along with his 're-crucifixion' by wickedness at any time.
A characteristic of this teleological thought is the typological thesis that the former events bear in them an image of the latter ones. The dramatic character of history has become particularly intense and the element of urgency is already established in it, since the event of death and resurrection 'prefigured' and 'exemplified' the end toward which the entire world is directed. This event was a real historical occurrence, as well as an anticipation of the future: an eschatological perspective and expectation, which is to be fulfilled in the real future. This means that the eschatological fulfillment is looked out for coming to pass through time and only through time. By now, however, the eschatological reality is present 'in betrothal' only in the Church. The Church herself, by way of her established relation with the expected end, constitutes an eschatological reality in the present time. This is expressively pointed out through the homonym Jerusalem', attributed to realities both primeval, current (the Church, or the soul), as well as eschatological ones. In the Church, and through the sacraments of the Church, the urgent character of history is most vividly realized. Not only the Incarnation unveiled the meaning of history before that event, but also it enlightened the meaning of history until the very end. The teleological character of the historical process has become more intense since the eschatological direction of the entire world has already been realized in the person of Jesus. If there is a notion of `cyclicity' in Origen's thought, this can be found only in his affirmations that `cyclicity' is a manifestation of 'vanity', which is the antipodal of the meaningful and earnestly desired end, toward which the entire world is directed.
In the light of this conception, the natural reality of space/time is conceived of as the milieu where a struggle takes place. In this drama, the divine and creaturely volition are fully and ceaselessly involved. The dramatic character of history is stressed by the fact that each moment of history is a kairos. The Incarnation introduced a particular tension in this struggle, thus the dramatic character of history reached its culmination. The end has been realized already, still the struggle is going on and it will not be finished until the 'subjection' of all to Christ becomes a reality in terms of a future, still actual, not mythical, historical reality.
It is patently clear that what he saw through in Gnosticism was virtually their deprecation of history. Far from being slavery, this milieu serves freedom and renders it meaningful. Time is not a Platonic 'image' of the divine life; far less is this a Gnostic 'caricature' of it, and certainly not a 'lie'. This is simply the indispensable means through which the world will be able to return to God. There is nothing of the Gnostic negation of the world, nothing of their anticosmic or acosmic attitude. The world is a 'perfect creature.' He inculcated his entire philosophy of history with the notion that space / time makes up the world in order to serve creaturely freedom within the context of a meaningful process, and this is a cause for admiring God's creative work and to be grateful to Him for His grace.
Regarding the earnestly desired future eschatological fulfillment, Origen proclaims salvation through history--not from history. Time in itself means hope, not despair, certainly not 'panic terror', as it did to the Gnostics. It means freedom, not slavery. It means expectation, because through history the promise will be fulfilled, indeed it has already been fulfilled in anticipation, and is already realized in the sacraments of the Church: Being in history as a responsible person is not a source of anguish. On the contrary, historical action is earnestly needed so that the anticipated reality can be eventually reached. Evil proper is only a tendency of mind, it is not the world itself; evil is certainly not matter proper, evil is not actually being, it is simply an accident realized as the denial and absence of the Logos. Thus, the attitude towards the reality of being in time and history is alien to any sense of emptiness and melancholy. Neither has it anything to do with the Gnostic negation of time as 'lie' or, at most, as having no full reality. Origen is then far from the subsequent Gnostic disgust, hatred, terror, anguish and despondency at the existence of being in history. Abhorrence and revolt are feelings against evil, not time. Once history does not nullify freedom but serves it, there is nothing of the Gnostic attitude of hopelessness, uselessness and fruitlessness. On the contrary, it is because Praxis is first and Knowledge comes subsequently to this, that Knowledge has an entirely different significance than that in the Gnostics. This causative relation between Praxis and Knowledge, being antipodal to both the Platonic and Gnostic conceptions of knowledge, places Origen definitively on the side opposite to those streams of thought. This Praxis is not a passive self-sinking into an atemporal mysticism; it is an active motion within a meaningful process perceived in real spatio-temporal terms. It is because 'salvation' is understood to lie in the real future time, and to be not an `escape' from the world into a personal mysticism, that history is considered with an existential attitude at odds with either the Greek or the Gnostic ones.
Affirmation to the very existence of being in history, hope, and a profound feeling of a certain responsible freedom, constitute fundamental existential characteristics of this Christian attitude. The course in space / time is perceived as a continuous movement forward --a movement towards the future: a process perceived not as a machinelike natural procedure, but as movement towards salvation. In Origen's thought such a meaningful course is unthinkable outside of the actual history. Knowledge through mystical experience here and now is possible only to a limited extent. Salvation will be attained in the real future time.
The 'perfection of resurrection' will take place when all rational natures will have been 'subjected' to Christ. This universal salvation marks the absolute end. Eternal life is also an end, which, however, has a personal and individual character. This is a telos of an individual rational hypostasis, not the absolute end of the world. Eternal life is a 'place' to be reached only through history, therefore in the future time; yet it is a place within the world, it is a spatio-temporal status, like the rest of the world. This is a state of activity appropriate to that condition. According to the existential causality then, a 'fall' from this standing (a notion that has nothing to do with the original Fall from the divine reality) is contingent. Perpetual activity and the dramatic character of time pertain to eternal life, as it happens with the rest of the world.
The absolute end will occur when evil will have been entirely abolished and there will be no rational creature in need of the existence of space / time in order to entertain freedom. It is only then that the 'perfection of resurrection' will come to pass and history will reach its end, since the raison d'être of it will have ceased to exist. The notion of 'body' of Christ plays a decisive role. For the non-individualistic and non-egocentric character of resurrection is underlined through the notion of the 'delayed judgement'. Salvation is not a self-centered prospect: it can come to pass only as salvation of the entire Body of the Son. The considerations surrounding this point constitute a rejection of the Platonic and Gnostic aristocratic conception of salvation. In this eschatology, sanctification is bestowed by the Holy Spirit at the end, indeed all the three Persons of the Trinity are involved in the ultimate end coming to pass.
This discussion confirms the intense eschatological character of Origen's thought. The teleological character of history is determined by the fact that the world is directed towards an end, the actual meaning of which is canvassed in Part III. One can see how Origen conceives of the reality in the end of history, as well as of the reality ensuing, so to speak, this end, which portrays the ultimate destiny of what came into being out of non-being by God's benevolent decision. Discussion of how will the end be reached and why will history reach an end in the sense of termination makes the raison d' être of history come forth as a coherent theory. He was after all aware of the crucial distinction made in John 3, 3-5, between `seeing' the `kingdom' and 'entering' into this.
The final eschatological reality is adumbrated to the extent this is possible. If anything, Origen's theory of recurrent worlds does not lead to hopeless depression, since the number of these worlds is not endless. Still the object of original creation, that which Origen regards as having come into being out of non-being, will not pass away.
Tzamalikos considers certain views about various kinds of eschatology making some remarks (though not a full assessment) about the simplistic criteria established in order to classify and discern what is 'Greek' and what is 'Hebrew'. Origen's eschatology is beyond criteria of this kind, since his theory involves both rectification of the world and consummation of nature. His conception of history is profoundly determined by a fact which does not exist either in Greek or Hebraic thought: this is the historical event of the Incarnation and its crucial eschatological implicationsn Therefore, the way to eliminate misconception of Origen's thought must not be vitiated by over-simplistic and misleading criteria of what is 'Greek' or what is 'Hebrew'. Granted, the cultural environment of Hellenistic Alexandria was impregnated with Platonic idealism. Granted, the critical interplay between Christianity and paganism is not absent from Origen's thought. In this environment, the idea of incarnation of the Deity was uncongenial to people imbued with Greek philosophical culture. Still, his background was profitably and fruitfully brought into the study of these questions. Coping with daunted challenges, Origen put a confluence of ideas into a single stream and created a philosophy of history of distinct Christian coloration, which is indeed the furthest reach that any theologian has attained. Therefore, claims that he simply draws on the common stock of philosophical teaching are simply plain wrong. His way of writing is brilliant and has nothing of the obscure and off-putting manner in which many Middle and Neo-Platonists wrote. He handled these questions in a readable way. He was sturdy in his abiding by the Biblical tradition and the canon of the New Testament, from which he struggles to bring forth what was the purport of Revelation, assuming that Old Testament must have been utterly superseded by the new law proclaimed by the Saviour. Valid though this contrast of the two Testaments is, it should not be pressed to the extent of overlooking the underlying unity of Scripture.
Not only did Origen outdistance his forebears of Apologetism, but also his philosophy of history set him apart from his successors. For if we look into the discussion of time and history, they seem to have added little that proved influential. Although it is not hard to find subsequent authors who did capitalize on his inspirations, still there are ideas which he bequeathed to his successors that have not always been fruitfully appropriated. Christians by upbringing declined to apply proposals put forward by Origen: Gregory of Nazianzus and John of Damascus appear to have no inkling of his notion of 'aeon' as a 'natural system', a signification through which the term aions reverted to its original meaning.'
To be sure, it was not only Plato himself, but also subsequent Christian authors, such as John Philoponus, who argued against eternity having duration, while, on the other hand, the Neoplatonist Proclus upheld the idea that eternity has duration and it was against him that Philoponus argued on this issue. Indeed Philoponus departed from Plotinus, when he gave extension to eternity Regarding Philo, who has been advertised as having influenced Origen, it has been disputed whether he had an unwavering grasp of the idea even of timeless eternity. At points where he is vague on this issue, this is not because he assigns time to this state, but simply because he falls short of the timeless conception.
Hence the character of Origen's thought arises as, Tzamalikos thinks, it really is: an intensely eschatological thought, searching for God and his will within history, since there is nowhere else to find God as nowhere else does God speak. History, in the sense of action making its mark in the scenery of the world, spans from the Genesis to the end of space / time. In this incessant process, the pivotal and illuminating point is the historical life of Jesus and its implications in terms of philosophy of history. This grasp of history is profoundly imbued and determined by notions such as providence, prophecy, promise, expectation, realization, anticipation, faith, hope, awaiting for—fulfillment, end. This is an attitude earnestly orientated towards a promised and, thus, anticipated end: a thought clearly visualizing the realization of this end through a historical view of the world, of its function and its perspectives.
This is what Tzamalikos calls recapturing historicity. This means revealing and experiencing the proper relations within the real historicity of things and occurrences, far from any intellectual search of any tantalizing abstract 'essence' in history. If a certain value is to be found in typology, this value lies only in proper orientation of disposition and action within the real circumstances of the present and of the forthcoming chain of events in life. If there should be an intensive assiduousness in trying to reveal the 'sequence of things'. This is so because history is understood to embody the potentiality of salvation in the course of a teleological process. Origen is chiefly preoccupied with the historical process and its inherent meaning the apocalyptic meaning that will lead to salvation once properly comprehended and followed through praxis. This is why typology plays so important a role in his understanding of history. His typological exegeses par excellence underline his teleological conception of history. References of this kind are scattered throughout his work.' The Old Testament prefigured the New one; and the New Testament contains the 'signs' designating the meaning and actual content of the eschatological reality.' However, 'the perceptible story of things', that is, the palpable historical truth of the scriptural events, is not denied. On the contrary, the study of the scriptural narration in its literal sense is regarded as 'highly beneficial', and Origen himself spent much of his time in search of all kinds of evidence confirming the literal narration of Scripture.
Being in history is something different from just being under the sun. For being in history means action, perception and understanding of being-in-relation-to, as well as a dynamic influence on the transformation of the world. This presupposes an active person, who is operative, influential and effective not only upon his own life, but also upon the lives of his fellow-persons. It takes active historical consciousness, agents being able to read the meaning and ultimate consequences of historical situations and events. It takes a subject able to discover the innate reasons which make up history at each moment; a subject who responds instrumentally to the circumstances which denote whether the telos of history is supported or undermined within the context of one's action, and nonetheless within the actions of every other person playing his own part in history. Origen addresses himself to human beings endowed with freedom of will, that is, to responsible persons, who justify their own qualities through deeds. Hence, he saw philosophy of history not as an intellectual exercise, but as a drama in which things progress or regress, are carried through or relapse, all of them being within the historical time, within a dynamic whole moving towards a telos. Everything taking place is of interest to him not as an essence, but as a volatile nature of precarious perspectives, capable however of either achieving the best or falling into the worst of potential outcomes.
Origen's theology does not relegate salvation to heaven in an undetermined mythical future. His references to 'deification' here on earth allows for this as of now. Redemption is possible, and should be pursued, within history, although its perspectives are of a neither egoistic nor aristocratic character. He highlights the immense significance of man himself in formation and evolution of history Time is historical, time is historical only. Episodes and circumstances appear as an incessant challenge. At each moment man has to undertake his own personal struggle, to reveal the real task arising from specific historical events. This disclosure assigns a particular meaning upon specific historical circumstances, a meaning proven to be related to both past and future once grasped accurately. This is the real meaning of 'wisdom', defined as comprehension of the 'reasons of things', pace Aristotle. In order to grasp this meaning, illumination by the Logos and the Holy Spirit is indispensable. This encounter however does not introduce any a-historic experience. For it is not man who gets out of space / time, it is the Logos who acts into history, indeed upon the person who receives the gift. Man receives history and acts within it as his own history, as a process morally shaped by man himself, under his own responsibility.
History of salvation is a sequence of real occurrences within the`world, it is accomplished through time, not through any subjective, if illusory, escape from time. There is no possibility for salvation other than through time, that is, through history. Salvation by means of escaping time does not exist, this is rejected as an absurd fanciful delusion.
Hence any subsequent moment, the future coming as the next second, is not something that a human being has to undergo or endure. This is something which is received as a hopeful challenge, a venture undertaken as a real and promising opportunity. The future is held to arrive as a benefaction, as a gift. Any forthcoming moment is extended before rational agents, inviting them to participate actively in history for a certain common goal to be attained. This moment is not proffered in order to escape this. Salvation is not possible for inert agents.
Origen emphasized the need and value of historicity obviously out of necessities and exigencies of his own epoch. Christianity enjoyed neither political privileges nor social immunity. On the contrary, it was persecuted by the state and ridiculed and held in contempt by the intelligentsia. His reaction was not consolation forwarded to the mythical atemporality, but a hic et nunc response, opting for historicity as the milieu for the way out from distressing social predicament and lethal intellectual stalemate. He laid stress on the capacity for salvation through historical action and accented eternal life being experienced within this life, even though this is a real spatio/temporal situation to be actually lived in the future. Eternal life can nonetheless be experienced as of the next moment within the Church, which is both a present as well as an eschatological reality.
Origen took part in the affairs which had to do with the formation of Christianity at his time, his sway reaching until our day through his influence upon Christian reflection and scholarship. He was a man of history, of action, of historicity, firmly sustaining that salvation will come about through time, not out of time, which was a point of his contraposition with the Gnostics. Moreover, he believed not in endless meditation on inert immobility, such as reflection upon notions such as ousiaa (this is why he bypassed such philosophical questions in rather indifferent disposition), but in transforming rational nature. This was one more of his differences from the Gnostics. Origen urges man to encounter and come upon God, neither through symbolic mythological characters nor through headlong jump into esoteric meditation, but through active historical action and consideration of the adventures of both the historical and the allegorized Israel. To this, his exemplary personalities were Abraham, Moses and his great hero, Paul.
It was Origen who perceived history as a movement towards a certain telos through time, as a meaning of events which has to be disclosed, who saw history not as a simply temporal flux. He made all this (that is, quest for the historical purport of events) out of the desire to demonstrate how Christianity can show the way forward as of now, within real historical circumstances. This de-platonizing of Origen’s thought moves his historical eschatology right back toward the center of Christological concern. The jury is still out however if Tzamalikos well stated theses will be given a full hearing.
Origen — Cosmology and Ontology of Time by P. Tzamalikos (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae: Brill Academic) constitute a major catalyst and a massive transformation in the development of Christian doctrine. The author challenges the widespread impression about this theology being bowled head over heels by its encounter with Platonism, Gnosticism, or Neoplatonism, and casts new light on Origen's grasp of the relation between Hellenism, Hebrew thought and Christianity. Against all ancient and modern accounts, the ingrained claim that Origen sustained the theory of a beginningless world is disconfirmed. He is argued to be the anticipator and forerunner of critical notions, with his innovations never having been superseded. While some of the accounts afforded by subsequent Christian writers were more extended, they were not fuller. Of them, Augustine just fell short of even accurately echoing this Theory of Time, since he introduced affinity with Platonism at points where Origen had instituted a radical dissimilarity. With his background fruitfully brought into the study of these questions, Origen's propositions are genuine innovations, not mere advances, however massive.'Professor Panayotis Tzamalikos has become a recognised authority on Origen’s understanding of Time. This erudite and closely argued new study sheds further light on a pivotal theme in Origen’s thought, uncovering generalised misapprehensions about ‘Platonism’ and ‘Greek views’ of complex issues. A fine achievement.' George Newlands, Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow.
THE ANCIENT WISDOM OF ORIGEN by John Clark Smith ($49.50, hardcover, Bucknell University Press; ISBN: 0838752047)
Given the stature of Origen as was of the chief architects of Ancient Christian doctrine such a thorough study of the implications of his thought is long overdue. This intense study of Origen's thought offers probing chapters on how he viewed the beginning and the end, education, spiritual growth, the devil, the Fall, all of which is documented from primary sources. The first book in English to consider the whole range of Origen's thought through the concept of spiritual transformation. Though well documented and indexed, the scholarly depth does not affect the style, which is quite smooth and can be read by someone without knowledge of the field.
THE ANCIENT WISDOM OF ORIGEN provides important introduction to the central doctrines of Ancient Christianity. It also provides the best conserved philosophical vision of Christianity and its Biblical and hermeneutical basis. Also, and not least Origen's thought reveals a wisdom into the character of spiritual transformation.
HOMILIES ON JEREMIAH, Homily on 1 Kings 28 by Origen, John Clark Smith (Translator) ($36.95, hardcover, 312 pages, Fathers of the Church Series, Vol. 97, Catholic University of America Press; ISBN: 0813200970)
Presents the first English translation of Origen's captivating homilies on Jeremiah and I Kings 28. Souls existing before their bodies, witches summoning dead prophets from the underworld, the return of the damned--and the Devil himself--to God in the end, and many other theological speculations surprise the reader of Origen's HOMILIES ON JEREMIAH. Some of these very theses of the third-century priest from Alexandria, Egypt, were condemned in the Second Council of Constantinople. But plumbing the mystical depths of the Prophecy of Jeremiah is the central point of the homilies. Presented in this volume are the remains of twenty-two homilies and a collection of fragments delivered by Origen around A.D. 240. The original texts of the homilies on Jeremiah have not come down to us completely; two of the homilies survive only in a Latin translation of St. Jerome. The homily on I Kings 28, while not a part of the homilies on Jeremiah, deals with the Witch of Endor and has been added to this volume in virtue of its own inherent interest. In this collection, Origen seeks understanding of the significance of the hostility of the Chosen People towards the Prophet Jeremiah before their captivity in Babylon. Origen in many ways identified with the great prophet and thought of Jeremiah as a type for Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures. Origen realized that Jeremiah came at a crucial time in the history of Israel, the time of captivity, and he views this event and the events around it as pregnant with meaning for the people of his time.
Watching a master grapple with admittedly difficult, obscure texts and give them compelling, forceful delivery must have impressed Origen's congregation. Readers will find it no less engaging to read his homilies now and experience some of that exhilaration of hearing a true expert highlight every subtlety of the pericope and make plain what once was obscure.
John Clark Smith studied religion, theology, and philosophy at Syracuse University, Duke University, and the University of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto, where he was also a lecturer for several years. He is the author of THE ANCIENT WISDOM OF ORIGEN, the most comprehensive introduction to Origen's thought in English, and numerous articles.
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