A Feast for Origen & Universalism

A Feast for Origen & Universalism April 27, 2024

Origen with his students
Jan Luyken

I find myself thinking of Origen The German Lutheran church celebrates his life on the 27th of April.

Sometimes called the greatest mind of early Christian antiquity, Origen lived between the late second and the middle of the third centuries of our common era. He lived principally in Alexandria. Ordained a priest, he was always a controversial figure. Some of his teachings were condemned even in his lifetime.

Origen’s theological speculations were complex. The two I find interesting are his views that are, I gather, inadequately captured by the terms “reincarnation” and “universal reconciliation” or more simply “universalism.”

I’m less interested in the reincarnation thing. And more in the universalism. But as with Gautama Siddhartha’s path of awakening, that rebirthing thing is connected with his understanding of universal salvation.

In Origen’s case it seems that universalism needed to have a place for free will. If I understand it he taught a sequence of something like the same life, perhaps vaguely like the film Groundhog Day, where the soul eventually gets it right. He is said to have taught that even the devil would one day be reconciled to heaven.

It’s certainly true that Christian thinking about universalism in any systematic way begins with Origen. Some, like the Orthodox theologian David Bently Hart point out he didn’t invent the idea, but rather was the first to attempt that systematic approach to this core teaching.

For a variety of reasons, Origen has not made it into the Orthodox or Catholic calendars as one of the saints. Although he has been counted as such by many. As I noted, the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland does mark the 27th of April as a saint’s feast for him.

One could consider this day a festival for Christian Universalism.

Me, I hope this catches on.


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