Lent: Day 10 of 40 - Origen

What’s really real, and what’s ideal, in this matrix of ours?

Let’s end with one born in 185AD - Origen of Alexandria, who dances a line of speculation in Egypt that seems like many of he 2nd century heresies to me. Imagine pre-existent souls waiting to assume bodies and live. Real humans are spirit, wearing a body for a while, then freed to return.

Clergy sexual abuse is not a modern invention. Origen taught both children and women, and read Matthew 19:12 so strictly that he castrated himself to preclude allegations of abuse. Perhaps that is why his later work favoured a less literal and more allegorical reading of the bible!

Persecution in Egypt killed his father, exiled his elder Clement in turn exiled Origen to Rome, Arabia, and Caesarea, before he returned to Alexandria to teach. In turn, he was exiled again to Caesarea, though he kept speaking and publishing until he was martyred under Decius.

Origen made a leap to use Neoplatonist philosophy to understand the bible and the faith. That seems hopelessly esoteric now: elaborate allegorical interpretation of scripture and traditions, the image of Jesus in the chalice, or of souls returning to the ‘real’ world after death, assume a whole cosmology. It’s hard to get inside it now, play with it as you might science fiction and fantasy speculation in our generation.

Imagine this work as restating the faith comprehensively in the language and terms of popular contemporary culture, and it makes a bit more sense. The faith survived its transition beyond its original Semitic base and culture, and was prepared to make sense across the Roman empire in Greek cultural terms. George Grant, Canadian icon of religious studies, appealed to Neoplatonism late in the 20th century.

Origen’s heresies rejected by the church included: universal salvation rather than an elect, a ranking hierarchy within the trinity, and the migration of souls. Some of his followers’ extrapolations of his original ideas, in matters of interpretation, extended to reincarnation, but his own heresies were likely more modest.

Origen’s distinction between the ideal ‘real’ church and the visible one also made him more tolerant of backsliders in our midst, or corruption in our practice.

What’s really real for you, and what's ideal, in our matrix?