An influence on Christian thought “exceeded by no one except the apostle Paul himself”
If you've never heard of Origen of Alexandria, let me share why Origen is important to anyone with metaphysical Christian leanings today and what I have on TruthUnity. I won't go into his life and work so much because there are already plenty of concise and readable biographies about him on the Internet.
Justo Gonzalez, an authoritative writer of Christian thought and and a well regarded professor at a mainline Christian seminary, devotes 24 pages in A History of Christian Thought to explain the impact of who was to become a condemned Christian heretic. Gonzalez concludes “Origen goes beyond Clement at least in two points: in the wide scope and total coherence of his theological system, and in the audacity of his doctrine. The first made him one of the principal sources of Eastern theology. The second was the reason why that very theology found it necessary to condemn him repeatedly (p.233).”
Henry Chadwick, a preeminent Christian historian and writer of the The Early Church (Penguin History), has 15 pages devoted to Origen. He writes “no Greek commentator on scripture could escape his influence. Even Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus, who regarded Origen as a heretic who had corrupted Christianity with the poison of Greek culture, admitted that there was excellent stuff in his Bible commentaries (p.112).”
Louis Markos, Professor in English at Houston Baptist University and author of From Plato to Christ, writes that Origen was an “heterodox early church father who yearned to honor Plato withut compromising basic Christian orthodoxy. Indeed, he established a famous school that enrolled Christians and (Neoplatonic) pagans alike and that sought to use the classical liberal arts as a preparation for the fuller truth of the Bible and the gospel (p. 241).”
Robert Louis Wilken, author of The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity, writes “When he [Origen] began to write, even philosophers knew he was someone to be reckoned with. His name was Origen, and what he accomplished during his lifetime has reverberated down to the centuries to this day. His work announced that Christianity would be not only a community of faith but also a tradition of learning (p.55).”
Robert J. Daly, S.J. of Boston College writes in The Encylopedia of Early Christianity, “Thus, for many, Origen has been a sign of contradiction. Yet not only because he was so admired by the great Cappadocians, but also because even “enemies” like Jerome copied extensively from his works into their own, he has exerted an influence on Christian thought, exceeded perhaps by no one except the apostle Paul himself (p.668).”
Did you catch that? An influence on Christian thought “exceeded by no one except the apostle Paul himself”?
The impact of Origen of Alexandria—referred to by Gonzalez as “coherence” and “audacity”, referred to by Chadwick as his inescapable “influence”, referred to by Markos as “the fuller truth of the Bible and the gospel”, and referred to by Wilken as “a tradition of learning”—was a mix of Platonism and Biblical faith. And what Origen taught is an influence on Christian thought exceeded perhaps by no one except the apostle Paul himself.
Metaphysical Christianity is a current expression of that mix of Platonism and biblical faith. Last week I spoke about Pentecost as the founding of the church, found in Acts, chapter 2. But it just may be that the founding of what we know as metaphysical Christianity occurred in Acts, chapter 17, when the apostle Paul stepped into the marketplace of Athens and engaged Stoic and Epicurean philosophers of Greece. There he encountered people who desired not salvation, but wisdom.
That event, Paul’s engaging people seeking wisdom, in the marketplace (of ideas), set in motion a religious tradition, metaphysically referred to as a “first cause”, that was carried on though Augustine, Aquinas, Eckhart and Erasmus and eventually found its way through Emerson to Mary Baker Eddy, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Emilie Cady and Charles Fillmore. It is a tradition that finds our “ground of being” to be transcendent world of truth, goodness and beauty.
It is my soul’s deepest desire that all we read and teach in the Unity movement today will be a “second cause” of establishing the wisdom and power of that transcendent world in our life today. Here are two resources that may help us on our way.
An essay I wrote on Origen of Alexandra back in 2010 as part of an 84-page book entitled Background of New Thought, giving a high-level overview of the life and impact of Origen. This material was mainly drawn from Unity's SEE class syllabus.
A collection of the twenty-seven remaining writings of Origen, preserved over the centuries by Eastern Orthodox theologians, assembled and published in Greek in 1883 as The Philocalia of Origen (Love of Beauty) and translated and published in English in 1911. A PDF of the 1911 book is downloadable (thanks to The Internet Archive) and I have digitized and made a downloadable page for chapter 1: Of the Inspiration of the Divine Scripture. So there are 22 chapters left to digitize and comment on. I will do that as the need arises for research and understanding about the history of metaphysical Christianity. If you find a chapter in the PDF that is particularly relevant to you, please email me and share your insight.
Trinity Sunday, June 4, 2023
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