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Embodiment, Heresy, and the Hellenization of Christianity: The Descent of the Soul in Plato and Origen*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 September 2015

Peter W. Martens*
Saint Louis University


The Hellenization of Christianity is a long-standing and notoriously contentious historiographical construct in early Christian studies. While it has been deployed in surprisingly fluid ways, most scholars associate the thesis with Adolf von Harnack, for whom it acquired a decidedly critical valence. The “Hellenic spirit”—a concept Harnack usually left undefined—constituted a threat to the undogmatic gospel of Jesus. Whenever this adversarial Hellenic spirit triumphed, as it inevitably did, it corroded an authentic living Christianity into an institutionalized, dogmatic religion. For many others, both before and after Harnack, the Hellenization of Christianity has signaled a similar narrative of decline. The teachings and way of life that marked an authentic Christianity often stood in a disjunctive relationship with Greco-Roman culture, especially its philosophies. The influence of the latter precipitated a debasement of Christianity, the ossification of its teachings, or more seriously, the infiltration of heresy.

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2015 

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The first version of this essay was delivered during the Logos Conference (University of Notre Dame, 2012) at the invitation of Michael Rea. Many thanks to the respondent, Trenton Merricks, as well as to the helpful comments of the conference participants. The present version was revised while I was a fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion (Notre Dame, 2012–2013). Thanks to Gretchen Reydams-Schils, as well as the graduate students, fellows, and faculty affiliated with the Center, who provided valuable critique. Non-standard abbreviation: GK = Origenes: Vier Bücher von den Prinzipien (ed. Herwig Görgemanns and Heinrich Karpp; Texte zur Forschung 24; 3rd ed.; Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1992).


1 The concept of the Hellenization of Christianity is a subset of the larger issue of the impact of the Greek language and culture on non-Greek lands after the conquests of Alexander the Great—this earlier phenomenon is often designated “Hellenism.” For orientation to these concepts (with bibliographies), see Andresen, Carl, “Antike und Christentum,” TRE 3:5073Google Scholar; Betz, Hans Dieter, “Hellenism,” ABD 3:127–35Google Scholar; Koester, Helmut, History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age (Introduction to the New Testament; 2nd ed.; 2 vols.; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995) 1:4145Google Scholar; Gruen, Erich S., “Jews and Greeks,” in A Companion to the Hellenistic World (ed. Erskine, Andrew; Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World; Oxford: Blackwell, 2003) 264–79Google Scholar; Drobner, Hubertus R., “Christian Philosophy,” in The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (ed. Harvey, Susan Ashbrook and Hunter, David G.; Oxford Handbooks; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) 672–90Google Scholar; Markschies, Christoph, “Does it Make Sense to Speak of a ‘Hellenization of Christianity’ in Antiquity?Church History and Religious Culture 92 (2012) 3334CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma (trans. Neil Buchanan; 7 vols.; 3rd German edition; London: Williams and Norgate, 1897) esp. 1:4647Google Scholar (on the antagonistic model Harnack uses for Jewish and Hellenistic cultures), 1:56–57 (on the irreconcilability of Paul's theology with the Greek world), and 2:333 (on the “dangerous” atmosphere in which Origen lived as a Christian and philosopher). On the “Hellenic spirit,” 1:49.

3 Harnack describes the original gospel as a “religion” of “life and feeling of the heart” (ibid., 1:46) which suffered a “decomposition” as Hellenism increasingly overcame it (1:47, 49; on the “fate” of the gospel in the Greek world, see 1:56).

4 For more on the Hellenization of Christianity thesis, see esp. Glawe, Walter, Die Hellenisierung des Christentums in der Geschichte der Theologie von Luther bis auf die Gegenwart (Neue Studien zur Geschichte der Theologie und der Kirche 15; Berlin: Trowitzsch und Sohn, 1912)Google Scholar; Grillmeier, Aloys, Hellenisierung–Judaisierung des Christentums als Deuteprinzipien der Geschichte des kirchlichen Dogmas: Mit ihm und in ihm. Christologische Forschungen und Perspektiven (Freiburg: Herder, 1975)Google Scholar; Scheffczyk, Leo, Tendenzen und Brennpunkte der neueren Problematik um die Hellenisierung des Christentums (Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften; Munich: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1982)Google Scholar; Meijering, E. P., Die Hellenisierung des Christentums im Urteil Adolf von Harnacks (Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, nieuwe reeks, d. 128; Amsterdam: North Holland, 1985)Google Scholar. In the English-speaking world, this thesis has been put forward most clearly by Hatch, Edwin, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity (Library of Religion and Culture; London: Williams and Norgate, 1891; repr., New York: Harper & Row, 1957)Google Scholar. It has received its most extended critique in Gavrilyuk, Paul L., The Suffering of the Impassible God: the Dialectics of Patristic Thought (Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 See Harnack's distinction between Jewish and Hellenistic views of pre-existence and Origen's illustration of the latter variety (History of Dogma, 1:318–31). Note as well the perspective by one of Origen's most important modern biographers, Eugène de Faye, in his Origen and His Work (trans. F. Rothwell; London: George Allen & Unwin, 1926) 92; see also 94, as well as his Origène: sa vie, son oeuvre, sa pensée (3 vols.; Bibliothèque de l’école des hautes études, sciences religieuses 37, 43, 44; Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1928) 3:105–6. See the bibliographic essay by Ulrich Berner, Origenes (Erträge der Forschung 147; Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1981), for the divisive “Bible versus philosophy” portrait that has informed so much writing about Origen over the last two hundred years.

6 Justinian, Letter of Justinian to the Holy Council about Origen and those Like-Minded, in The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553, with related texts on the Three Chapters Controversy (trans. Richard Price; 2 vols.; Translated Texts for Historians 51; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009) 2:283–84 (Georgius Monachus, Chronicon [ed. Carl. de Boor; 2 vols.; Stuttgart: Teubner, 1904] 2:630–33]). For other criticisms of Origen's excessive Hellenism, see Marcellus of Ancyra (Eusebius, Marc. 1.4); Porphyry (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.19.5–8); Epiphanius, Pan. 64.72.

7 The eleventh canon approved during the final session of that council reads: “If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, along with their impious writings . . . and those who have thought or continue to think things resembling the aforementioned heretics . . . let him be anathema” (ACO 4.1, 242.32–37—transl. mine). There used to be a debate in the literature over whether this council also published, in addition to its condemnation of Origen in the eleventh canon, a series of fifteen anathemas against his controversial teachings, pre-existence included (see esp. anathemas 1–9 and 13–15). Today the consensus is that this did not occur. Rather, these anathemas were issued by Justinian, and approved by the bishops, in the weeks leading up to the council. Thus, while not formally included in the acts of the council, the bishops certainly had Justinian's letter and these anathemas fresh in mind when they formally condemned Origen at the council. On this series of fifteen anathemas, and their relationship to the council, see Price, Acts of Constantinople, 2:270–286.

8 Jean Daniélou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture (trans. John Austin Baker; 3 vols.; A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicaea; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972) 2:415.

9 Ibid., 416.

10 Henri Crouzel, Origen (trans. A. S. Worrall; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989) 217 (the comment on Plato at 207). Elsewhere: “the only regrettable doctrine that has a real basis in his writings is the doctrine of the preexistence of souls” (The Patristic Period [ed. Angelo Di Berardino and Basil Studer; trans. Matthew J. O'Connell; 3 vols.; History of Theology; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996] 1:170).

11 Mark Edwards, Origen against Plato (Ashgate Studies in Philosophy & Theology in Late Antiquity; Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002) 159 (and 114). Note as well the medicinal simile in the concluding lines of the work: “far from exhibiting the symptoms of contagion, Origen's work contains the antibodies to Platonism as proof that he has suffered and resisted its attacks” (161).

12 Tzamalikos, Panayiotis, Origen: Cosmology and Ontology of Time (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 77; Leiden: Brill, 2006) 8081Google Scholar. For additional passages where Origen is contrasted with an invariably deficient Plato, see: 4–5; 25; 28–29; 36–38; 41–42; 61; 68–69; 72; 87; 88 n. 146; 93–95.

13 Origen was as aware as Justinian (or Harnack) of the potential danger of philosophy to corrode the church's central convictions. He expresses reserve about the value of philosophy, particular philosophical doctrines, or philosophers at Hom. Gen. 16.3; Princ. 2.3.4; Cels. 3.47; 4.67–68; 4.54; 5.6–13; 6.1–4; 7.42; 7.44; esp. Ep. Greg. 2. At the same time, Origen was convinced that philosophers were not an unalloyed evil. “We have some ideas in common with them,” he plainly announces (Cels. 3.81 [SC 136, 182.3–4]). Other positive statements on the value of philosophy: Hom. Gen. 13.3; Cels. 1.4; 6.3; 6.13–14; 7.6; 7.45–47; 7.71; Princ. 1.3.1; Ep. ad Greg. 2; cf. Jerome, Ep. 70.4 on the lost Stromateis of Origen, in which he compared Christian teachings with those of the philosophers, especially Plato, Aristotle, Numenius, and Cornutus. For a concise and balanced discussion of how Origen interacted with particular philosophical positions, see Chadwick, Henry, “Origen,” in Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (ed. Armstrong, A. H.; London: Cambridge University Press, 1967) 182–92Google Scholar. For a larger discussion of how philosophy engendered heresy for Origen, but could also be assessed positively, see Martens, Peter W., Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 7277 and 119–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the association of Greek culture with heresy in early Christianity, see esp. Le Boulluec, Alain, La notion d'hérésie dans la littérature grecque, IIe–IIIe siècles (2 vols. Paris: Études augustiniennes, 1985)Google Scholar.

14 Cels. 4.40 (SC 156, 290.25/Origen: Contra Celsum [trans. Henry Chadwick; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1953] 216–17)—allusion to Phaedr. 246b–c.

15 Below I focus on Phaedrus since Origen specifically alludes to this work when discussing pre-existence. However, it is important to mention that among Platonists in antiquity, and indeed, even within Plato's writings, there was substantial debate, and differing views, about how souls became embodied. Significant statements on pre-existence in Plato's writings surface at Meno 80d–81c; 85e–86b; Phaed. 72e–77c; Resp. X.617e–618d; Tim. 41c–43a. For an orientation to the debates on this issue among later Platonists, see Iamblichus, De Anima 26–34 and Finamore, J. F., Iamblichus and the Theory of the Vehicle of the Soul (American Classical Studies 14; Chico: Scholars Press, 1985)Google Scholar. This essay obviously does not allow for a fully developed comparison of Origen's teaching on the soul's embodiment with the panoply of views on pre-existence that were in circulation in antiquity. For the most extensive comparison, see the recent study by Blosser, Benjamin P., Become Like the Angels: Origen's Doctrine of the Soul (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2012) 145219CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 See Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.3.9; 6.3.13; 6.8.6; 6.17.2–3; 6.18.2–4; 6.19.12–14 (teaching philosophy in Alexandria); 6.30; Gregory, Address 6; 13; 14 (teaching philosophy in Caesarea). Also see Hom. Gen. 11.2, Ep. ad Greg. 2, and Cels. 5.62 for Origen's open acknowledgment that he read philosophical texts. For a good rehearsal of Origen's expertise in philosophy, see Dorival, Gilles, “L'apport d'Origène pour la connaissance de la philosophie grecque,” in Origeniana Quinta (ed. Daly, Robert J.; Bibliotheca Ephemeridum theologicarum Lovaniensium 105; Louvain: University Press, 1992) 189216Google Scholar; Ramelli, Ilaria L. E., “Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Re-Thinking the Christianisation of Hellenism,” VC 63 (2009) 217–39Google Scholar. Note as well that Ramelli has recently revived the thesis that it is possible that Origen the Christian and Origen the Platonist were one and the same person—see, “Origen the Christian Middle/Neoplatonist: New Arguments for a Possible Identification,” IECH 1 (2011) 98–130.

17 Henry Chadwick proposes that “there was a standard list of questions in philosophical schools” about the soul and notes in particular Seneca's list in Ep. 88.34 that parallels Origen's lists (“Philosophical Tradition and the Self,” in Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World [ed. Glen Bowersock, Peter Brown and Oleg Grabar; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999] 76).

18 Comm. Cant. 2.5.6 (GCS 8, 142.24–25/Origen: The Song of Songs, Commentary and Homilies [trans. R. P. Lawson; ACW 26; New York: Newman Press, 1957] 130).

19 Comm. Cant. 2.5.22–23 (GCS 8, 147.1–8/Lawson, 134–35). For similar lists of questions about the soul, see Princ. 1.pref.5; Cels. 4.30; Comm. Jo. 6.14.

20 See Comm. Ti. 3:10–11 (= Pamphilus, Apol. 163) where Origen only mentions two views, traducianism and pre-existence.

21 Aristotle, Gen. an. 2.1; 2.3 (736a31–6); 2.4.25 (738b).

22 Galen, de semine 2.2 (on Athenaeus, founder of the “pneumatic” school of physicians, who followed Aristotle); Alexander of Aphrodisias, de anima, 36.22–23. For more on the Aristotelian and Stoic views of embodiment, and their presence in Christian circles, see; Waszink, J. H., Quinti Septimi Florentis Tertulliani De Anima (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 100; Leiden: Brill, 2010) 342–47Google Scholar. Note, however, that the simultaneous origin of soul and body was not exclusively yoked to the Aristotelian theory of the embryo. The Stoics (for whom the soul of the embryo derived from the souls of both parents) also accepted the theory of simultaneous origins, and apparently so too did some Platonists.

23 De Anima 27 (see also 25 and 34 and the corresponding discussions in Waszink, De Anima).

24 Princ. 3.4.2 (GK, 607, 264.23–24)—translation mine. Note that this lower soul, should it be derived according to traducianist principles, exists alongside a higher soul that emerges according to the theory of pre-existence. On two souls: Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 12 and 16; Tertullian, De Anima 10; Clement, Strom. 2.20.112–114; 6.12.135, Exc. 50. See the extensive recent discussion of this topic by Blosser, Become Like the Angels, 60–141.

25 All these verses (as well as Lev 17:14, Rom 7:23 and Gal 5:19) are listed and discussed at Princ. 3.4.2. See also Dial. 16–23.

26 Lactantius, Opif. 19 asserts that our souls are produced by God alone and in no way can be attributed to our parents, but it is not clear whether this creation happens with the emergence of the body or precedes it. On the difficulties of finding a creationist view prior to Origen, see esp. Heinrich Karpp, Probleme altchristlicher Anthropologie: Biblische Anthropologie und philosophische Psychologie bei den Kirchenvätern des dritten Jahrhunderts (Beiträge zur Förderung christlicher Theologie 44. Bd., 3. Hft; Gütersloh, Germany: C. Berteslmann, 1950) 92–185. However, creationism becomes, according to J. N. D. Kelly, the “prevalent Greek theory” by the fourth century (Early Christian Doctrines [5th ed.; London: A. & C. Black, 1977] 345).

27 Givens, Terryl L., When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) esp. 970Google Scholar.

28 Comm. Jo. 2.181–82 (GCS 4, 87.6–15/Origen: Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Books 1–10, [trans. Ronald E. Heine; FC 80; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989] 143–44).

29 Cels. 4.40; 6.43; 6.44. At Cels. 1.32 (SC 132 164.31–32) he refers by name to Pythagoras, Plato and Empedocles whom he is following when he proposes the pre-existence of Jesus's soul. Edwards remarks that Origen's “representation of their philosophy [i.e., Platonists’] is schematic, seldom conscious of its varieties and often anachronistic” (“Origen's Platonism,” 35). While this claim might often be true, in the case of pre-existence, Origen was highly conscious of pre-Socratic and Platonic precedents.

30 See Her. 49(240); Gig. 3(12–14); Plant. 4(14); Somn. 1.22(138–140) (at Cels. 6.21 Origen refers explicitly to Philo's interpretation of Jacob's ladder in this latter work where Philo's view of pre-existence is developed—see also Jerome, Jo. Hier. 19). Gerald Bostock claims that Origen's “doctrine of pre-existence stems essentially from Philo rather than from Plato,” but this is too strong a contrast and overlooks that Origen also cites Plato when discussing his own account of pre-existence (“The Sources of Origen's Doctrine of Pre-Existence,” in Origeniana Quarta [ed. Lothar Lies; Innsbrucker theologische Studien 19; Innsbruck: Tyrolia Verlag, 1987] 260).

31 Comm. Jo. 2.188–92. See as well his comment about transmigration as “derived from their [i.e., Jews’] fathers” and that this is “not alien to their secret teaching” (Comm. Jo. 6.73/GCS 4, 121.29–30). For pre-existence in other Jewish texts from this same era, see Bostock, “The Sources,” 260–361; Givens, When Souls Had Wings, 46–51.

32 For earlier writers, and bibliography, see Luc Brésard, Henri Crouzel, Marcel Borret, Origène. Commentaire sur le Cantique des Cantiques, SC 375 (Paris: Cerf, 1991) 408–9, n. 1.

33 All three passages are cited at Princ. 1.7.4 (see also Princ. 2.9.7; 3.3.5). Other verses that suggest this doctrine include: Eccl 1:9–10 (Princ. 1.4.5); Ps 44:8[45:7] (Princ. 2.6.4); Eph 1:4 (Princ. 3.5.4; Comm. Jo. 19.149–150; Comm. Cant. 2.8.4–8; Jerome, Comm. Eph. 1:4); John 9:2 (Hom. Gen. 12.4; Fr. Jo. 72). Note as well that Origen treated many biblical pericopes as symbolic of pre-existence. On the opening chapters of Genesis as an allegory of the drama of pre-existent souls and their fall, see Peter W. Martens, “Origen's Doctrine of Pre-Existence and the Opening Chapters of Genesis,” ZAC 16 (2012) 516–49.

34 Princ. 1.pref.2 (GK 84, 8.19–27/Origen: On First Principles [trans. G. W. Butterworth; Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973] 2).

35 Princ. 1.pref.5 (GK 90, 11.11–12.9/Butterworth, 4). Origen defines the soul “as an existence possessing imagination and desire [φανταστική ετ ὁρμητική]” (Princ. 2.8.1/GK 380, 152.20). Later at Princ. 3.1.2, Origen writes that living or ensouled things (τὰ ἔμψυχα) “are moved from within themselves when there arises within them an image [φαντασίας] which calls forth an impulse [ὁρμὴν]” (GK 464, 196.14–197.1). These definitions are in keeping with definitions in the wider philosophical literature: for example, Aristotle, De an. 3.9 (432a) and Philo, Leg. 2.7(23). On Stoic definitions, see esp. Byers, Sarah C., Perception, Sensibility, and Moral Motivation in Augustine: A Stoic-Platonic Synthesis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. As for the human soul in particular, Origen notes that besides having imaginative and impulsive capabilities, it also possesses reason (λόγος), which allows it to adjudicate on the myriad of images that bombard it every day. “Some it rejects, others it approves of, the object being that the creature may be guided in accordance with these latter images.” Thus, Origen continues, “since there are in the nature of reason possibilities of contemplating good and evil, by following out which and contemplating them both we are led to choose good and avoid evil” (Princ. 3.1.3/GK 466, 197.9–468, 198.2). Here Origen adumbrates a major theme in his anthropology: the capacity for choice (τὸ αὐτεξούσιον)—usually rendered “free will” in English translations—that he thought was characteristic of rationality (Princ. 3.1.1/GK 462, 195.8). The clearest discussion of human reason and free will is at Princ. 3.1.3–5. For other places where Origen describes or defines souls, see esp. Princ. 2.8.2; 2.8.5; 2.11.1; 3.4.1; 3.4.4.

36 Princ. 1.pref.5 (GK 92, 13.7–11/Butterworth, 4). Origen makes the very same point in Comm. Ti. 3:10–11 (= Pamphilus, Apol. 163): the church's rule is silent about the issue of the origin of the soul. See as well, Pamphilus, Apol. 160.

37 Princ. 1.pref.3, 9.

38 Crouzel, Henri, Origène (Paris: Lethielleux, 1985) 216–23Google Scholar. For more on the distinction between the church's teaching and the scholar's research, see esp., Kettler, Franz Heinrich, Der ursprüngliche Sinn der Dogmatik des Origenes (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 31; Berlin: Alfred Töpelmann, 1966)Google Scholar.

39 See Princ. 1.8.4 (end); 2.8.4; 2.9.2; 2.9.6; 3.4.5; Comm. Jo. 2.181–82; Comm. Matt. 15.35; Comm. Rom. 5.1.35; 5.4.3; Cels. 1.32. Already Pamphilus underscored the conjectural nature of Origen's overall thought: “he is not declaring these things by a definitive pronouncement, nor is he defining them as secure dogma” (Apol. 3; see as well Apol. 4–8). Pamphilus continued this observation, noting that Origen spoke hesitantly about the issue of the pre-existent soul (Apol. 160). See as well, Athanasius, Decr. 27.1–2, on the research-quality of Origen's theology. The misleading tendency to present Origen as a dogmatizer on pre-existence is already clearly developed by Epiphanius (see his Ep. Jo. Hier. = Jerome, Ep. 51.7).

40 Givens, When Souls Had Wings, 46. So too Bostock: “It must be recognized however that the Platonic or Pythagorean doctrine of pre-existence was not antagonistic to Jewish belief and that the difference between them was one of emphasis and viewpoint rather than of fundamental philosophy” (“The Sources,” 260).

41 Harnack, History of Dogma, 1:9. Note as well the claim that “in the doctrine of the faith” of the early church there resided “the philosophic spirit of the Greeks” (ibid., 45).

42 Harnack, History of Dogma, 1:51. See also, M. Edwards, Origen against Plato, 7.

43 Note as well that by adopting pre-existence, Origen was going against the view of Clement, who had probably been his teacher in Alexandria (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.6; 6.14.8–10). Jean Hering, Étude sur la doctrine de la chute et de la préexistence des âmes chez Clément d'Alexandrie (Bibliothèque de l’école des hautes études, sciences religieuses 38; Paris: E. Leroux, 1923) 28–34.

44 Harnack, History of Dogma, 1:1 and 18 (where dogma is sinisterly described as a “real world power”).

45 Princ. 1.pref.2, but esp. Comm. Ti. 3:10–11 (=Pamphilus, Apol. 33) where Origen explains at length “what is meant by a heretic,” and does so exclusively in terms of the violation of the church's rule of faith.

46 See esp. Comm. Ti. 3:10–11 (= Pamphilus, Apol. 163, 165) where Origen appears to exclude the possibility of being labeled a heretic for one's view on the origin of the soul, since the church's rule has not handed down a pronouncement on the matter:But there are also certain other dogmas that are not included in the apostolic traditions. You may be asking whether it is necessary to consider as heretics those who hold various opinions on these matters, or who investigate them in various ways. Consider for instance—and I mean this as an example—whether one should be considered a heretic who investigates the question of the human soul, since concerning it the Church's rule has handed down neither that it is derived from the propagation of the seed, nor that it is more honorable and more ancient than the structure of bodies. For that reason many have been unable to comprehend what their opinion should be concerning the question of the soul. . . . Moreover, when you yourself reflect on these matters, consider whether it is necessary rashly to define as a heretic or a churchman the one who thinks in some way, whatever it may be, about these things, or whether it is not dangerous to pronounce about him that “he is perverse and is sinning and is self-condemned” (cf. Titus 3:10–11)—that is spoken of heretics—if perchance, on the subjects that we mentioned above, he seems to introduce an opinion, whatever it may be, that sometimes sounds strange to many (SC 464, 248–250/St. Pamphilus: Apology for Origen, with the Letter of Rufinus: On the Falsification of the Books of Origen [trans. Thomas P. Scheck; FC 120; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010] 110–11).Pamphilus also makes Origen's view his own (Apol. 171–172) as, it appears, does Rufinus (Princ. translator's preface to book 3).

47 Indeed, for several centuries after Origen's death, there was vigorous debate—and open confusion—in Christian circles about how to think about the soul's embodiment. See esp. Pamphilus, Apol. 166; 171–72; Jerome, Ep. 126.1; Rufinus, Anast. 6; Nemesius, Nat. hom. 2, 30.18–32.19; Augustine, Acad. 2.9(22) (where he seems to endorse pre-existence) and Ep. 166.27 (where he rejects it); Retract. 1.1.3; Lib. 3.21; C. Jul. 2.178; Ep. 166; Cassiodorus, De Anima 7; Gregory the Great, Ep. II.147.13 (IX.147). On the uncertainty about the origin of the soul in the Latin middle ages, see Evans, G. R., Philosophy and Theology in the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 1993) 9295CrossRefGoogle Scholar; on the persistence of pre-existence, see Nauta, Lodi, “The Preexistence of the Soul in Medieval Thought,” RTAM 63 (1996) 93135Google Scholar.

48 Daniélou, Origen, 209. For more on the problem of evil in Origen, see Wörmer, Anneliese Meis, El problema del mal en Orígenes: importancia y significado teológico del tiempo en la argumentación sobre el mal del Peri archon III, 1–24 (Santiago: Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 1988)Google Scholar; Roukema, Riemer, “L'origine du mal selon Origène et dans ses sources,” RHPR 83 (2003) 405–20Google Scholar; Scott, Mark S. M., Journey Back to God: Origen on the Problem of Evil (American Academy of Religion Academy Series; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 2340, 50–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Princ. 2.9.3 (GK 406, 166.21–167.9/Butterworth, 131).

50 Princ. 2.9.4 (GK 408, 167.27–31/Butterworth, 132).

51 Princ. 2.9.5 (GK 408, 168.12–410, 168.28/Butterworth, 133). See also Princ. 1.8.2.

52 It is helpful to note that Origen never labeled his main Christian adversaries gnostikoi. He customarily mentioned Marcion, Valentinus and Basilides by name, or grouped them together as “heretics” (Princ. 4.2.1), “opponents” (Princ. 3.1.16), or “those who profess to believe in Christ” (Princ. pref.2). “Gnostic” and “Gnosticism” are modern labels that usually designate a distinctive subset of Christians. Origen occasionally used terms like gnosis or gnostikos to describe his opponents (Comm. Io. 5.8), but he also used these terms to describe Christians he deemed orthodox (Comm. Cor. 2; Cels. 3.33). For further discussion, see Williams, Michael A., Rethinking ‘Gnosticism’: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996)Google Scholar; King, Karen L., What is Gnosticism? (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003)Google Scholar.

53 Princ. 2.9.5 (GK 410, 169.4–6/Butterworth, 133).

54 Princ. 2.9.5 (GK 410, 169.6–13/Butterworth, 133–34).

55 As Origen presents the Gnostic view of human nature, it entailed a denial that humans had the capacity to make decisions for which God held them accountable. Instead, they possessed pre-determined rational natures, some lost, incapable of receiving salvation, and others saved, incapable of being lost. See Princ. 1.7.2; 1.8.2; 2.9.5; 3.1.1; 3.1.23; Cels. 5.61; Comm. Jo. 20.54; 20.135; 28.179.

56 There are a number of accounts of Origen's protology: see, for instance, Cadiou, René, Introduction au système d'Origène (Collection d’études anciennes; Paris: Belles Lettres, 1932)Google Scholar; Karpp, Probleme altchristlicher Anthropologie, 186–211. The classic discussion of Origen's theodicy is by Hal Koch, Pronoia und Paideusis: Studien über Origenes und sein Verhältnis zum Platonismus (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 22; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1932); more recently, see Scott, Journey Back to God, esp. 49–73.

57 Princ. 1.pref.4.

58 Princ. 1.pref.5.

59 Princ. 2.9.6 (GK 412, 169.21–28/Butterworth, 134). For additional passages on the creation of these rational beings, including their potential existence in God's Wisdom (i.e., Son), see Comm. Gen. 1 (=Eusebius, Marc. 1.4); Princ. 1.2.2; 1.2.4; 1.2.9–11; 1.4.4; 1.5.5; 4.4.1.

60 Princ. 2.9.6 (GK 412, 169.28–170.5/Butterworth, 134). For related statements on the capacity for choice (τὸ αὐτεξούσιον)—usually rendered “free will” in English translations—see: Princ. 3.1.1 and esp. 3.1.3–5.

61 There is a substantial debate in the literature about whether rational souls were originally discarnate or were always associated with some sort of body. I incline to the former view: see esp. Hom. Jer. 1.10.1; Comm. Matt. 14.16; Hom. Luc. 39.5; Comm. Jo. 20.182) (so also Bürke, Georg, “Des Origenes Lehre vom Urstand des Menschen,” ZKT 72 [1950] 3033Google Scholar; Crouzel, Henri, Théologie de l'image de dieu chez Origène [Théologie (Aubier) 34; Paris: Aubier, 1956], 148–53Google Scholar; Giulia Sfameni Gasparro, “Doppia creazione e peccato di Adamo nel Peri Archon: Fondamenti biblici e presupposti Platonici dell’ esegesi Origeniana,” in Origeniana Secunda: Second Colloque international des Études origéniennes, Bari 20–23 septembre 1977 [ed. Henri Crouzel and Antonio Quacquarelli; Quaderni di “Vetera Christianorum” 15; Rome: Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 1980] 63–64). Yet others insist on the latter interpretation, most notably Simonetti, Manlio, “Alcune osservazioni sull’ interpretazione Origeniana di Genesi 2,7 e 3,21,” Aev 36 (1962) 370–78Google Scholar; Blosser, Become like the Angels, 176–80; Ramelli, Ilaria, “Origen, Greek Philosophy, and the Birth of the Trinitarian Meaning of Hypostasis,” HTR 105 (2012) 302–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 Princ. 2.9.2 (GK 404, 165.23–166.1).

63 Princ. 1.6.2 (GK 220, 81.11–12/Butterworth, 154).

64 Princ. 2.1.1 (GK 286, 107.14–15).

65 Princ. 1.6.2 (GK 220, 81.13–16).

66 Princ. 1.6.2–3 (also see 1.8.1). For another extended account of the fall, see the discussion that begins at Cels. 5.29, with commentary by Martens, Peter W., “On the Confusion of Tongues and Origen's Allegory of the Dispersion of Nations,” SPhilo 24 (2011) 107–27Google Scholar.

67 See esp. Princ. 2.6.3–7.

68 Princ. 2.9.2 (GK 404, 166.6–10/Butterworth, 130–31). See also Princ. 2.1.1–3; Comm. Matt. 12.41.

69 Princ. 2.9.6 (GK 412, 170.12–414, 170.17/Butterworth, 134–5). On the divine justice behind the diversity in this world, see Princ. 1.5.3; 1.6.2; 3.3.5.

70 For Origen, as for other early Christian authors, the attractiveness of pre-existence was its ability to function as a theodicy. See, for instance, Pamphilus, Apol. 167; Jerome, Comm. Eph. 1:4. Augustine and Cassiodorus provide indirect evidence for this benefit of the theory. In Ep. 166.16–17 Augustine openly acknowledges the inability of the creationist view to adequately address the sufferings of infants and the diversity of their talents, precisely the existential problem Origen's view of pre-existence was attempting to address. In his De Anima 7, Cassiodorus endorses the creationist view but acknowledges that it is a difficult mystery how God can create souls and assign to them Adam's guilt when they have done no prior wrong. For Origen, a just and good God would not assign blame to a soul that had not committed sin itself. This was not a “mystery” to be guarded but rather a problem that pre-existence could solve.

71 See, for example, Bigg, Charles, Christian Platonists of Alexandria (Bampton Lectures, 1886; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886) 198Google Scholar (Origen “adopted” the “Platonic doctrine” of pre-existence); Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas, 204; Karpp, Probleme altchristlicher Anthropologie, 195.

72 Edwards, Origen against Plato, 4–10, 159–61. See as well Edwards, Mark, “Origen's Platonism. Questions and Caveats,” ZAC 12 (2008) 2038CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Edwards's reading of Origen's relation to Plato resembles the earlier view of Heinrich Dörrie, who argued that Platonism only superficially influenced Christianity through its terminology, not its underlying ideas, and that we should speak instead of christlicher Gegenplatonismus, i.e., “Christian anti-Platonism” (see esp. “Was ist ‘spätantiker Platonismus’? Überlegungen zur Grenzziehung zwischen Platonismus und Christentum,” TRu 36 [1971] 285–302). A similar position was expressed even earlier in the Origenian scholarship. See Walther Völker, Das Vollkommenheitsideal des Origenes: eine Untersuchung zur Geschichte der Frömmigkeit und zu den Anfängen christlicher Mystik (Beiträge zur historischen Theologie 7; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1931), where he argues for a merely formal influence of philosophy on Origen.

73 Edwards's view appears to be that for Origen the soul was created by God and had an existence tethered to some sort of body for only the briefest moment of time before it was united to its earthly body. This latter union was the result of a descent, but it was not precipitated by a sinful fall (see Origen against Plato, 89–97; the arguments are rehearsed at “Origen's Platonism,” 34–35). The following are Edwards's main charges against the standard view. I offer only quick responses. (1) Fragment 15 in P. Koetschau's edition of Princ., which speaks of pre-existent rational beings falling (angels, human souls and demons), is not authentic (Origen against Plato, 90–91). Edwards correctly notes that there is no corresponding Greek or Rufinian Latin translation to this pastiche of texts, and most scholars would follow him in considering it a misleading editorial interpolation. However, this is not the only passage relied upon to reconstruct Origen's account of pre-existence, and indeed, one can develop the case without reference to any of Origen's enemies (pace “Origen's Platonism,” 34). (2) Edwards notes that the sun, moon, and stars have been subjected to embodiment but that this did not happen as a result of previous sins (see Princ. 1.7.2; 1.7.5; 2.9.7). This is correct, but it is not relevant to the discussion of humans, whose pre-existent souls Origen says did sin prior to their embodiment (Origen against Plato, 92). (3) Edwards then discusses Princ. 1.3.8–1.4.1 which he claims “is often said to adumbrate a fall from the incorporeal to the bodily condition” (ibid., 92). I know of no one who reads these passages as pointing to a pre-existent fall—they read far more obviously (with Edwards) as falls that transpire either in this life or in the eschatological life. There follows (4) a brief argument against the pre-existence of the soul of Christ (ibid., 93–94), an error attributed to the English translation of the phrase ab initio creaturae (Princ. 2.6.3 [GK 362, 142.5]). Butterworth renders this phrase “from the beginning of the creation,” implying that Christ's soul was created from the very beginning, and was there united to its Creator, long before it became embodied. Edwards, however, suggests that we read the phrase as “from the beginning of his creation,” i.e., Christ's soul was only created with his body and that from this beginning it clung to the Word. While the Latin phrase is ambiguous, the larger context clarifies how it should be understood: in the lines that immediately follow, Origen says that Jesus's soul “had already (iam) completely entered” the Word before it was united to the body (GK 362, 143.1–2). Note also Cels. 1.32 for the pre-existence of Jesus's soul. Lastly (5) Edwards claims that when Origen says newly-created human souls or minds are immaterial or incorporeal, he does not mean to imply that they ever existed without a body—“mind” refers to the mind proper as well as some sort of body (Origen against Plato, 94–97). One of the reasons used to justify this reading is that Origen says several times in Princ. that only the Trinity is incorporeal (see 2.2.2; 2.3.3). However this is a notoriously difficult claim, often regarded in the literature as a Rufinian modification of Origen designed to bring him into conformity with Latin orthodoxy at the turn of the fifth century (see the lit. in n. 61 above). Moreover, in many of these passages Origen speaks of a contrast between a discarnate and incarnate existence, and this distinction seems to lose its force if discarnate does not really mean discarnate (e.g., Princ. 1.6.4; 1.7.1).Beyond these points, I think there are three additional worries with Edwards's reconstruction: (1) he does not address the full range of passages in Origen's corpus where he speaks of souls or minds existing before their bodies, including those passages that speak of these rational creatures falling in the primordial realm prior to their embodiment (among others, Princ. 1.6.2; 2.9.1–2; 2.9.6; 3.5.4; Hom. Gen. 1.13; Comm. Cant. 2.8; Hom. Jer. 1.10.1; Comm. Matt. 14.16–17; 15.34–36; Hom. Luc. 34.5; Comm. Jo. 2.181–82; 20.182; Dial. 15–16; Cels. 1.32–33; 5.29–33). It is difficult (2) to explain how such a wide spectrum of figures fluent in Greek, both foe and friend to Origen, erroneously attributed pre-existence to him (e.g., Pamphilus, Epiphanius, Rufinus, Jerome, Theophilus, John of Jerusalem, Theodore of Mopsuestia, among others). (3) Edwards does not appear to provide any texts from which we can positively reconstruct the view of the soul's origin and embodiment that he attributes to Origen.

74 Platonic Opera (ed. John Burnet; vol. 2; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1901). Translation: Plato, Phaedrus (trans. Robin Waterfield; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Jean Daniélou says that the source of Origen's “doctrine of the descent of souls into the body” “is undoubtedly Platonist, deriving (to be more precise) from Middle Platonism and especially Albinus” (Gospel Message, 423). Daniélou refers the reader to Albinus/Alkinoos, Didaskalikos 16.2, however it is not this treatise, but Plato's Phaedrus, that Origen mentions several times in Cels. (allusions at 4.40; 6.43; 6.44).

75 There are numerous references to Phaedrus in Origen's writings—see, for example, the index to Cels. in GCS 2, 436.

76 For a partial commentary on this passage, see Robinson, T. M., Plato's Psychology (Phoenix, Supplementary Volume 8; 2nd ed.; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995) 119–25Google Scholar.

77 The theory of recollection is used in Phaed. 72e–77a to argue for the soul's pre-existent state where it contemplated the forms. Here the prenatal state is described exclusively as a knowledge of forms (see esp. 75c–d). A similar argument occurs at Meno 80d. For more on this theme, see Scott, D., Recollection and Experience: Plato's Theory of Learning and Its Successors (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 One of Plato's metaphors for this activity is nourishment (Phaedr. 246d–e; 248c), which Origen also uses in Cels. 5.30 (SC 147, 88.9).

79 For Origen, this comes close to the imitation of Christ's soul contemplating its Maker (see esp. Princ. 2.6.3–7).

80 For additional dissonances between Plato and Origen, see Scott, Journey back to God, 53–69; Blosser, Become Like the Angels, 163–72, 216–19.

81 Princ. 2.9.2 and 2.9.6.

82 See also Princ. 2.9.2 where Origen claims that the goodness of these prelapsarian souls was the “result of their Creator's beneficence” (GK 404, 165.21).

83 Princ. 2.3.6.

84 Princ. 1.pref.4. Since these are personal objects of contemplation, there is nothing strained when Origen envisions souls not only contemplating, but also loving God and the Son (Princ. 2.6.3). At least in Phaedrus, Plato only describes this pre-existent activity as contemplative.

85 Note esp. the following claim about Jesus's pre-existent soul: “To prove that it was the perfection of his love and the sincerity of his true affection which gained for him this inseparable unity with God, so that the taking up of his soul was neither accidental nor the result of personal preference, but was a privilege conferred upon it as a reward for its virtues” (Princ. 2.6.4 [GK 364, 143.24–27]).

86 Princ. 2.9.5 (GK 410, 169.12–13) and 2.9.6 (GK 412, 170.14) where accident and chance do not explain how this universe is organized.

87 It is rarely noted that some Platonists who preceded Origen rejected pre-existence. See esp. Iamblichus, De Anima 26: “Another set of Platonists . . . posit that the soul is always in a body (as Eratosthenes, Ptolemy the Platonist, and others do) and make it pass from subtler bodies into dense bodies” (John F. Finamore and John M. Dillon, Iamblichus De Anima: Text, Translation, and Commentary [Philosophia antiqua 92; Boston: Brill, 2002], 55). This alternative view of the soul's embodiment within the Platonic tradition is an important corrective to the tendency to make the “Platonic” view on embodiment stand exclusively for pre-existence.

88 Hom. Luc. 16.6 (GCS 9, 97.28–98.3). Also see Hom. Lev. 1.1.4–6; Hom. Jes. Nav. 7.6; Comm. Jo. 6.66, and discussion at Chadwick, “Origen,” Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, 185; Martens, Origen and Scripture, 111–14.

89 This terminology is in concert with a growing number of scholars who have argued that the prevailing approach of early Christian intellectuals to philosophy was neither wholesale acceptance nor straightforward rejection, but a transformation of the vocabulary, themes, arguments and assumptions of philosophers for Christian ends. See esp. von Ivánka, Endre, Plato Christianus: Übernahme und Umgestaltung des Platonismus durch die Väter (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1964)Google Scholar; Meijering, E. P., “Wie platonisierten Christen?,” VC 28 (1974) 1528Google Scholar; de Vogel, Cornelia, “Platonism and Christianity: A Mere Antagonism or a Profound Common Ground?,” VC 39 (1985) 162Google Scholar; Christian Gnilka in Der Begriff des “rechten Gebrauchs” (ΧΡΗΣΙΣ: Die Methode der Kirchenväter im Umgang mit der Antiken Kultur [9 vols; Basel: Schwabe, 1984]) 1: 54–63; Werner Beierwaltes, Platonismus im Christentum (Philosophische Abhandlungen 73; Frankfurt A. M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1998); most recently, I. Ramelli, “Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism,” 256–263.

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