Moving from authors of the Bible, Origen is next in line as one of the “Early Church Fathers,” a group of men who, because of their close historical proximity to Jesus, are taken very seriously as far as shapers of Christianity go. Indeed, living in the third century AD, he is considered the first theologian, due to his being the first Christian to systematize the message of Jesus as it was taught by the apostles. Taking after his teacher, the great Clement of Alexandria, Origen also supplied Christian answers to the questions that Greek intellectuals had posed for centuries. He was one of the very first Christian philosophers, and for that reason, he not only spoke in Platonic terms, but understood Christianity in a Platonic way. The following video isn’t the most exciting, but does a good job unpacking why he’s important to Christianity:
Similarly, you can find out why he’s important in the history of philosophy more broadly here.
Perhaps most central to Origen’s thinking was his understanding of how God created humanity. Similar to Platonism, Origen understood the basic composition of a human to reflect the trinitarian nature of God. Because of his commitment to Scripture, he saw a person as body, soul, and spirit, and so diverged from Plato’s body-soul dualism on this point. His tripartite understanding of human nature is significant because, as the video informs us, he studied the Scripture in this way: searching for the literal (physical), moral (soul-like), and philosophical (spiritual) meanings of every passage.
This led to a fascinating interpretation of one passage in the Epistle to the Galatians that ultimately brought him back to Plato. Basically, he claimed that the body is on one end of the moral spectrum and the spirit is on the other, making the soul a monkey in the middle being pulled by both in either direction. The body wants the soul to make one decision, while the spirit wants the soul to make another. This is the very same understanding as Plato, who saw, “the divisions of the soul… between two kinds of motive: rational concerns that aim at the good, and mere desire,” (Williams, as qtd. in Miller Jr., 89). So while Origen claimed a unique tripartite human nature, he ended up back at the tripartite nature of the soul itself that Plato established in his Republic. According to both Plato and Origen, the eternal soul is made up of the reasoning part, the instinctual part, and the desiring part (Kries, 74-75).
Now, to a lot of people, this is just a bunch of abstract garbage that is practically meaningless and irrelevant to life. But it’s actually not. And for Christians throughout history, it’s especially not. A lot of people have believed what Origen taught: that the body is basically working against the soul in all forms of decision-making. While the Apostle Paul never taught this (see the previous post on him), Origen apparently did. So, decisions in the day-to-day must be made in spite of the body’s influence. The soul by means of rationale must overcome the evil material things around it. This process continues until we (our souls) are finally set free in death and carried off to a disembodied spirit-world–heaven, according to Origen.
I’ll close this post out with the following video, in which Origen is singled out specifically for having contributed to this sort of thinking in Christian circles, and why he perhaps thought too Platonically about this subject:
Kries, Douglas. “Origen, Plato, and Conscience (Synderesis) In Jerome’s Ezekiel Commentary.” Traditio Vol. 57 (2002): Project MUSE. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.
Miller Jr., Fred D. “Plato on the Parts of the Soul.” Plato and Platonism. Ed. Johannes Van Ophuijisen. The Catholic University of America Press, 2014. 84-101. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Bibliography/for further reading:
Alcorn, Randy. Heaven. Tyndale House Publishers, 2004. Print. p. 460-4
Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Print. p. 80-87.