Origen and the Theory of Transmigration
by Panayiotis Tzamalikos
This book is a step beyond the analyses made in my Anaxagoras, Origen and Neoplatonism, using some fundamental conclusions built therein, which confute current and long-established fallacies. I have struggled to demonstrate that not only was Origen an anti-Platonist, but also all of the accusations on which his official condemnation was based were fanciful and rancorous allegations by the well-known perennial species of certain theologians of all eras. Since 1986, when my PhD at Glasgow University was complete, my claim has been that Origen was an anti-Platonist in many respects, which appeared as tantamount to arguing that the earth is flat. For I argued that ‘beginningless creation’ is a tomfoolery laid at the door of Origen; that he maintained creation out of nothing; that the Stoic and Aristotelian axioms and phraseology in him are too striking to ignore; and that he had a clear Eschatology, which I expounded in detail. One just should imagine what would have happened, if in the ‘synod’ convened at Justinian’s behest in 553, theologians such as the three Cappadocians and Athanasius were present and they had been requested to anathematise Origen, given their distinctive loans from, and respect for, their illustrious predecessor. That is, theologians who in Origen’s genius saw the future, and opted for acknowledging rather than denying their own intellectual history. The Nicene formula was meant and ←ix | x→supposed to determine and embrace the future; but Athanasius informed that it also acknowledged the past and was entwined with that.
Plato took up the theory of transmigration of souls from Egypt (just as Pythagoras, and then Empedocles had done), but hardly did he assimilate the knowledge he amassed therefrom. For example, he claimed that sinful action causes man’s soul to transmigrate and ‘fall’ to that of a woman, then to a bird, then to a fish, and finally to an oyster. However, he never explained what is the kind of ‘sin’ that a bird could possibly perpetrate so as to incur becoming a fish, or how could a fish possibly ‘sin’ so as to ‘transmigrate’ to an oyster.1
Part of the persistent allegation that Origen was a Platonist is the banality that he maintained the theory of transmigration. This fallacy populates hundreds of ‘works’ that parrot the ancient verdict, but I have always declined to dignify such balderdash with references – except for a few cases. For example, Henri Crouzel alleged that Origen ‘succumbed to Plato’s pre-existent soul’ and the ‘theory of pre-existence … is a hypothesis’ ‘that comes from Platonism’, which is ‘the most vulnerable part of Origen’s thought’. And Marguerite Harl harped on the same string: to Origen’s theology, ‘the doctrine of pre-existence of souls is absolutely central’ (‘tout à fait central’). But she brought only a knife to a gunfight, since she simply parroted the sixth-century allegation imposed on a ‘synod’ of poltroons by a rough-cut barbarian, namely, Justinian.
However, what was ‘most vulnerable’ is the ken of those scholars rather than Origen’s perspicacity and fecundity of ideas. For that reason, those who keep abiding by such ancient and modern fatuities will be in for a surprise out of this book. Origen himself had given fair warning that his theory of soul was ‘superior to Plato’s one’ which preached that ‘the soul which has lost its wings roams about until it gets hold of something solid, when it settles down, taking upon itself an earthly body’ (Cels, IV.40; Plato, Phaedrus, 246c). Furthermore, in reference to his own theory, notably, concerning ‘the essence and beginnings of the soul’, he caveated once again that his own theory of soul ‘had nothing to do with Plato’s transmigration’ since that was ‘a more sublime theory’ (Cels, IV.17). In both cases, he cared to apprise his readers of the superiority of his own theory over that of Plato’s (Cels, IV.17: κατ’ ἄλλην τινὰ ὑψηλοτέραν θεωρίαν. Cels, IV.40: μυστικὸν ἔχει λόγον, ὑπὲρ τὴν κατὰ Πλάτωνα κάθοδον τῆς ψυχῆς).
Of these warning notifications the modern supposedly ‘authoritative’ scholars made absolutely nothing. Things could have not gone otherwise, since those ←x | xi→were theologians that had no idea of philosophy, and it was impossible for them to make out what Origen meant when he dropped a hint about his own theory.
Consequently, what this ‘more sublime theory’ was about is an issue that theologians always dodged and apprehensively sidestepped. Given ineptness to comprehend Origen’s theory, it was deemed more convenient to speak about ‘pre-existence of souls’ being ‘absolutely central to Origen’s theory’, which was postulated as his alleged weakness for that matter. In other words, all those scholars were out of their depth and unqualified to make hair or tail out of Origen’s own caveating statements banning transmigration. It turned out that they were only able to ruminate on the basis of ‘a lesson on Platonism for beginners’, and the ancient myth about the ‘Platonist Origen’ was all they were capable of making out.
Of course, never did Origen have in mind any fanciful ‘primal population of souls or minds’, nor did he ever maintain any incorporeal and yet independent individual entities hovering around from place to place. For an accomplished a philosopher as he was, he knew the fundamentals about the notion of incorporeal, wherefore spatial transition is interwoven with material existence – an elementary axiom that Porphyry copied from him to the letter, as demonstrated in Chapter 2.
However, this logically errant (indeed schizophrenic) mythology is what the uninformed have been claiming about Origen since the sixth century, although Gregory of Nyssa (and Maximus Confessor, to some extent) took up Origen theory of generation to the letter, as I have discussed in detail in the past.
All of this nonsense persistently laid at Origen’s door is but the measles of Origenian studies – only this infantile disease has lasted for far too many centuries, and has been eternised by fake ‘authorities’.
Following my study of Origen over a span of decades, I have come to be convinced that the ‘work’ of the aforementioned scholars and their like is but sheer detriment to Origen’s thought, and, from bad to worse, the scholars that have been misled by those ‘works’ are legion.
Not long ago, someone from the Midwestern United States who poses as ‘Origen scholar’, reviewing a book of mine ridiculously wrote, ‘I am not certain that Origen held that the minds or souls are truly incorporeal … everything (except God) has some kind of materiality, even souls or minds’. This person had absolutely no idea of Origen’s Aristotelian point of departure, namely, that no incorporeal can exist apart from a body – although a soul per se is incorporeal for that matter. Origen’s Aristotelian logic makes an indelible mark throughout his works, notably, that, to Aristotle, it is the First Immovable Mover alone that exists as sheer incorporeal; to Origen, it is the Trinitarian God alone that exists as sheer incorporeal, too. Nevertheless, Aristotle posited the soul (as indeed any ←xi | xii→thing’s εἶδος) as incorporeal, and Origen conveniently spoke of the soul being incorporeal at legion of points. To take those axioms as inconsistent would only take arrant ignorance and mental darkness.
Rufinus at points translated ‘minds or souls’, only because he had no inkling of Origen’s real thought. Nevertheless, as clumsy as Rufinus’ Latin translation is, at points he could not help rendering Origen’s theory concerning God’s object of creation as initia, causas, rationes, semina, which were but Origen’s terms, ἀρχαί, αἰτίαι, λόγοι, σπέρματα. Anyway, I have always argued that the Latin De Principiis should not be used as a primal source; instead, this should be used and explained in light of Origen’s extant works in Greek.
Besides, recently, a minor American scholar and unfortunately Origen’s translator, who unremittingly made Origen a ‘Platonist’ that allegedly maintained a primeval ‘world’ of ‘souls’, or of ‘intellects’, or of ‘souls or intellects’, and certainly ‘pre-existence of souls’, began to have suspicions about the soundness of such a folly, and suddenly ‘discovered’ my books and the unsettling theses I have been expounding and arguing for since 1986. However, he did so in a mood struggling to deny facts, then to deny that he denied them, and eventually to allege that he made a point although no hide or hair of this could be found, since, concerning all of the cardinal points, he remained at a loss.
Consequently, from some moment onwards, I felt that it was not possible for me to read that blowhard brag any longer. This is why the present book has been written, and I am delighted that I worked together with the open-minded and highly erudite Editor Dr. Philip Dunshea, whom I sincerely thank. No less am I grateful to the Production Manager, Jackie Pavlovic, for her unfailing help and patience throughout the process of transforming manuscript to a book.
Of course, and since old habits die hard, I have not any illusions that entrenched convictions could be eradicated easily, no matter what the evidence I adduce.
In view of such a quality of ‘scholarship’, along with other instances of human behaviour that I have experienced, I realised that I had enough of raised eyebrows, which for too long have harped on distortions of Origen’s thought under the cover of prouptuous ignorance, or condescendence stemming from the illusion of a fantasised ‘authority’, or the smiling complacent cynicism of vacuous wry humour, sardonic supercilious sniffiness, or claptrap struggling to save the remnants of an imperious snootiness which is risible rather than disturbing. Nor indeed do I care lest my demolition of the hedonistic cradlesong about ‘a pre-existent world of intellects or souls’ would shock the brazen flouters of Origen’s true thought and spirit.←xii | xiii→
It is high time we forgot about euphemisms and sought catharsis from the theatricality of braggart imposture and the concomitant high-and-mighty autolatry and lordolatry of some well-known pooh-bahs. It is high time for the rambling bloated windbags of both braggart ‘famous’ and petty academia to evanesce and come to terms with their true stature. For quest for the truth is not a matter of niceties, especially opposite braggadocios and swelled supercilious heads: it is a laborious unyielding struggle in order to eliminate contortion, no matter whether this is owing to the ancient bigotry and subjugation to the imperial caesaropapism, or modern arrant ignorance of philosophy, the field that played a pivotal role in Origen’s formulations. For if per impossibile were it allowed that philosophy and true theology are different fields (qua non), the case would be definitely that, first and foremost, Origen was a philosopher.
As a matter of fact, he was a philosopher par excellence, who had been hailed by eminent Greeks (such as Porphyry and Proclus) for his erudition and justified renown. But it was Origen himself who wrote that ‘in philosophy, there are many ones who are fake’ (πολλοὶ ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ νόθοι). It is this kind of self-appointed modern spurious ‘philosophers’ and ‘theologians’ that simply parrot the claims of spiteful prelates of the Late Antiquity and Byzantium, who crassly strove to present Origen’s ingenious analyses and exposition as ignominious failure, such as the allegation that he was a ‘Platonist’, which modern ignorance turned to the asinine ‘Christian Platonist’, so that ‘the last deception should be worse than the first’.
What if Origen dismissed the Platonic Ideas as figments fantasised by human mind? What if Origen postulated the final abolition of Evil and eschatological Universal Restoration (let alone creation ex nihilo and a Philosophy of History – both of which were theories all too alien to Plato), contrary to Plato who had declared that ‘it is impossible for evils ever to be done away with’? (Theaetetus, 176a). Whereas to Plato souls themselves were a primary beginningless reality and could exist in themselves as incorporeal ones, to Origen these were but subsequent fallen dilapidated products, which could not exist apart from bodies – only because Origen dismissed Plato’s anthropological duality body/soul, and maintained that human being is a tripartite entity comprising body/soul/mind or nous, and embraced Aristotle’s theory of the ‘mind that comes from without’ (θύραθεν νοῦς) along with the Aristotelian (in fact, Anaxagorean) axiom that nothing except God can exist in incorporeal form and apart from a body. To both Aristotle and Origen, the soul is certainly incorporeal, but there is no soul existing per se as an incorporeal personal entity apart from an appurtenant body. Origen (just like Aristotle) maintained that, although a soul per se is certainly ←xiii | xiv→incorporeal, there is no way for this to be a self-existent being: to Aristotle, the soul is always associated with a body, and the only self-existent incorporeal being is the First Immovable Mover. Likewise, to Origen, the only self-existent incorporeal being is the Trinity; rational creatures are always endowed with bodies of different kinds (i.e. of different stuff and form). Accordingly, a human being comprises ‘body / soul / mind’, but the ‘mind’ ‘comes from without’ (θύραθεν νοῦς), which is a distinctive loan, apparently from Aristotle, but ultimately from Anaxagoras. To Origen, this ‘outside’ is God (for which he appealed to Ecclesiastes, 12:7), notably, the created Body of Logos.
What could possibly be more un-Platonic than this?
Moreover, Plato expelled Homer from his ideal State (Respublica, 387b; cf. 334a; 377d; 378d; 379c–d; 606–607; etc.), which Origen recalled in Contra Celsum, VII.54. Contrast to this, Origen cared to make a decision of his own without being swayed by Plato’s opinion: thus, while still a pagan philosopher, ‘he kept shouting and blushing and very much sweated for a good three days in order to determine whether Homer’s poetry sufficed to induce to virtuous action’. Finally, he decided that it did. Proclus reported this by reproducing Porphyry’s narrative (both of these, in their commentaries on Timaeus), but what matters is also the vocabulary: the ‘pagan’ Origen decided that no one’s speech is more lofty (τίς γὰρ Ὁμήρου μεγαλοφωνότερος;), whereas the ‘Christian’ Origen wrote that ‘there are many things in Homer which are full of loftiness of mind’ (μεγαλονοίας πεπληρωμένα, Contra Celsum, VI.7). Of course, the ‘pagan’ and the ‘Christian’ Origen were but the selfsame person, who believed that ‘Homer was an admirable poet’ (ὁ ἐν ποιήσει θαυμαστὸς Ὅμηρος, Contra Celsum, IV.91 & Philocalia, 20.18); actually, ‘Homer was the best of all poets’ (ὁ τῶν ποιητῶν ἄριστος, Contra Celsum, VII.6).
One more point attesting to the tender philosophical relationship between Porphyry and Origen comes from Gennadius Scholarius seeking to determine whether ‘ousia’ is a common genus of both corporeals and incorporeals. Actually, Gennadius did not engage in too much of reasoning; instead, he wrote, ‘I am going to say this without argument: as Porphyry believes, the first classification of ousia is that between the corporeal and the incorporeal.’2 Origen had determined that the incorporeality of the Deity and that of incorporeal things of the world ←xiv | xv→(such as notions, theorems, etc.) do not belong to the same ontological order.3 On the other hand, although both corporeal and incorporeal things of the world do belong to the same ontological status, this incorporeality is determined by them both being created. This creaturliness is the element which places both of these in the same ontological rank. Scholarius explained this to somewhat more extent, without really deviating from Porphyry: whereas corporeal and incorporeal substances belong to the same logical genus, they do not belong to the same natural genus. But this was exactly the classification Origen had made by speaking of ‘corporeals, incorporeals, and the Holy Trinity’.4
Furthermore, Origen’s theory of knowledge was sheer different from the Platonic one. True knowledge is not any sort of mythological ‘recollection’ (ἀνάμνησις) by the soul recalling the state of its pure pre-existence contemplating the Good in the realm of Ideas.5 Instead, knowledge (especially in its most sublime form, i.e. theology) is granted by God the Logos, in a context of a personal relationship with any individual man, and as a dynamic process.
Unless I learn by You, I cannot learn by any man. For whom other than God behoves teaching about God? Therefore, revelation comes from on high, following willingness accompanied by merit.6
On this, Origen reflects in Stoic terms: the soul reaches its fullness and maturity gradually. To those who struggle to discover Platonism in Origen, it should be said that nowhere does he consider the soul as something that knows everything on account of its previous incorporeal life, and now is in need of ‘recollecting’ what it ‘forgot’ following its association with matter. There is no idea of, not even hint to, ‘recollection’ (ἀνάμνησις). His logic is clearly Stoic, including his notion is ‘completion of logos’ (συμπλήρωσις τοῦ λόγου), but there were differences as to the exact age at which the ‘completion of logos’ takes place, as discussed in previous works of mine. Nevertheless, what matters is the idea, namely, one’s rationality is pervious of improvement and becomes perfect by means of diligent and devout practice. This is precisely what Origen held. To him, there is no notion of the souls recollecting any previous life, and no author did ever make more of that ←xv | xvi→Stoic idea.7 This is why, in him, also the Stoic idea of ‘progress’ (προκοπή) is abundantly present: this progress has not only a moral character, but also a cognitive one. The soul explores and learns: it does not strive to ‘recollect’ any pre-existing knowledge.8 Hence, adhering to reason does not suggest ‘recollection’, far less subjection to any assumed part of the soul, but obeying to and being guided by something external9 (namely, the Reason / Logos), which grants humans their nous or pneuma as part of their constitution.10
I believe that one of the many respects of which Origen’s thought is unique is this: since I have argued that his thought constitutes a separate chapter of its own in the history of Philosophy, I subsequently have been convinced that if an assessment and accurate rendering of his ideas have chances of being correct, this task should be carried out by philosophers well-informed in Christian theology, not by Christian theologians having some encyclopedic knowledge of philosophy.
Besides, Greek philosophers of all eras, as well as Aristotle’s commentators, will be discussed abundantly, all the more so since the Commentators have come to be taken as a field liable to ‘specialism’ by scholars being spellbound by only one or a few of them while ignoring all the others.
Since 1986, I have been at odds with virtually the totality of those who are usually called ‘Origen scholars’, bar, of course, the brilliant Mark Edwards (not incidentally, also a trained philosopher) and the insightful John Behr. For all of them fantasised an ‘Origen’ of their own reverie, who supposedly posited a primeval population of independent ‘incorporeal intellects’ somehow roaming about or around God. How those ‘incorporeal beings’ were called is highly indicative of the pertinent bemusement. Some scholars fancied this primal reality as ‘a population of individual souls’. Consequently, when Gregory of Nyssa spoke of ‘scholars of old who treated the question of the first principles’ and they postulated ‘a sort of population of pre-existent souls living in their own realm, in which the Paradigms of both virtue and evil exist’, Origen’s detractors were cheerfully quick to triumphantly sing out ‘I got you!’ Actually, the gauche Justinian was ←xvi | xvii→happy to take up this statement of Gregory (otherwise, always a suspect of heresy, namely, ‘Origenism’) in his Edict Against Origen, and naturally, his ‘synod’ promptly endorsed this officially and condemned Origen.
What if Origen himself styled transmigration ‘folly’ (μωρία), ‘myth’ (μυθικὴν μετενσωμάτωσιν or μῦθον), ‘false teaching’ (ψευδῆ λόγον, ψευδοδοξίαν), ‘a doctrine which is alien to the Church of God’ (ἀλλότριον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τοῦ θεοῦ περὶ τῆς μετενσωματώσεως δόγμα)?
What if he referred to those who ‘maintain’ or ‘introduce’ the ‘myth of transmigration’ as naïve ones, who ‘have been afflicted by the inanity (ἄνοια) of this absurdity’?
What if Gregory of Nyssa cogently took up and accounted for Origen’s theory of generation, that is, the Theory of Logoi, which I have demonstrated by means of detailed accounts?
What if Origen at scores of points emphasised that ‘soul’ is not a primal reality, but a subsequent (indeed fallen) one, which has to overcome and transform itself and cease to be soul?
What if Origen wrote extensively in order to inform his audience that ‘mind’ (νοῦς), on the one hand, and ‘soul’ (ψυχή), on the other, are two ontologically different realities?
What if he made it an integral part of his thought that ‘evil did not exist in the beginning, nor is this destined to survive at the end’, hence, ‘Restoration pertains to neither soul nor body, but to mind / spirit alone’?
What if Eusebius rebutting Marcellus’ obloquy against Origen exclaimed, ‘what has Origen to do with Plato?’
Origen’s detractors have always remained recalcitrant and unflinching in their aplomb: Gregory had Origen in mind!
Thus, they formed cliques, which are never prone to dispute one another. A member of them kept arguing that Origen maintained a ‘beginningless creation’. Another took a fancy to the absurdity of souls constituting ‘a primeval world’. Another thought that there was an initial creation of ‘living personal incorporeal intellects’, which ‘fell’ and became ‘souls’ – actually, those of his lot were happy to lay at Origen’s door the (rare) pagan etymology which urged that, to Origen, ‘soul’ (ψυχή) is so called because it came to be ‘cooled’ (ἐψύχη) because it sinned. There is also a third group: those supposed-to-be ‘scholars’ who, while having no inkling of the sordid sixth-century details, spoke of Origen allegedly maintaining ‘souls or intellects’, sometimes as the object of the initial creation and sometimes as a beginningless primal reality. Why then should we bother about trifles such ←xvii | xviii→as a possible difference between ‘souls’ and ‘intellects’? After all, here is Justinian and here is his ‘synod’ that thought exactly the same way.
From this point to arguing that Origen maintained ‘transmigration of souls’ appeared all too small a step to take.
Now, if Origen was fully conscious of patently true and inescapable fundamental ‘details’, such as that any incorporeal cannot occupy a certain space or volume, but this is everywhere; or that counting independent incorporeals is impossible, since individuality is inexorably linked with materiality – this was but ‘minutiae’ that his unfortunate ‘audience’ were all but suspicious of. However, these and suchlike incommoding ‘details’ had been pointed out by Aristotle, whose philosophy (via Alexander of Aphrodisias) Origen made abundant use of.
The shenanigan about Origen maintaining (depending on each scholar’s favourite lullaby) a primeval ‘world of souls’ or of ‘intellects’, or (which is worse) of ‘souls or intellects’, or ‘pre-existence of souls’, hopefully now will receive a proper reply once and for all – all the more so since all of this humdrum is but prolix allegations by people who have no philosophical background, let alone basic philosophical training, so as to be able to recognise what underlies Origen’s legion of indomitable formulations. To my experience, once I set out to eradicate entrenched fatuities root and branch already since my Glasgow PhD thesis, I knew full well that this would earn me enemies who were loath to accept (hence, they have been in for a surprise) that their ‘works’ on Origen were hopeless and bootless stuff. But I am not writing to please cliques; I am researching in order to discover and expound the truth about the real Origen.
Concerning the specific topic of the present book, Origen had caveated that such matters were impossible to treat unless a clear theory about the soul and the principles that determine its generation had been laid down and properly grasped in the first place. But this has never happened to date, until I wrote a couple of thousand pages in my book on Anaxagoras and Origen.
Grasping Origen’s real thought is a proposition far tougher than it has been thought to be, not only because of his ingenious and creative constructions, but also because of his vast heathen background, which is present throughout his work and imbues thoroughly it, even though he allowed this to make some explicit mark only in the Contra Celsum. To believe that it is possible to understand, let alone render, his real thought without consummate knowledge of that background is simply delusion – a delusion though which has played a fatal role in the present deplorable state of Origenian studies.
This is why the structure of the present book is determined by a series of methodical steps, which are indispensable for understanding both Origen’s ←xviii | xix→theory and the reasons why he declared that this theory was sheer different from Plato’s one.
Part of the aim of the Introduction to this volume is to bring to light the representations of Origen by detractors, such as Epiphanius of Salamis and Antipater of Bostra (both of whom were gladly yet uncritically quoted by John of Damascus, indeed views that Justinian simply parroted), as well as by present day scholars, who unfortunately have been taken seriously and fatally misled modern scholarship. I should, therefore, say a few words about the logical train of my exposition and its intrinsic permeating line, which both of peer-reviewers of this book were as erudite as to point out themselves, but perhaps this should be helpful to others.
Chapter 1 builds on my previous book on Anaxagoras in relation to Origen’s concept of the soul: I demonstrate that this is impossible to grasp unless seen from the philosophical perspective (e.g. his understanding of the nature of the soul, mind, etc.), wherefore, one cannot speak about what Origen ‘believed’ while lacking knowledge of ancient philosophy, as well as the marks this made on the Patristic and Byzantine tradition, and on the contemporary philosophical tradition nonetheless.
Chapter 2 explores the notion of ‘incorporeal’, which could have been unnecessary had scholars consistently ruminated on this – but they did not, which is why Porphyry wrote a brilliant series of pithy propositions so that his contemporary and later intellectuals should come to their senses concerning this issue.
Chapter 3 discusses the issue of identity, which has suffered enormously nonetheless.
Chapter 4 is about how new souls are generated, a topic which hinges on Origen’s theory of generation, therefore, on his theory of the Body of the Logos and of the logoi as generative, cohesive, and dissolving causes, which produce, maintain, and transform all aspects of reality.
Chapter 5 ponders on how did Origen understand the notion of causality in relation to souls and human identity, and how do these function ontologically rather than temporally. The point is that Origen maintained a notion of antecedent worlds and antecedent causes, but he flatly rejected any notion of pre-existent souls.
Chapter 6 is about how a soul is related to the body.
Given that Origen dismissed the Platonic duality body/soul, and maintained the Aristotelian body/soul/mind or nous, Chapter 7 considers the notion of soul as ‘priest’ serving the mind. This analysis is called for since what scholars, such as H. Crouzel and M. Simonetti, read in De Principiis was that ‘the mind is the ←xix | xx→superior part of the soul’[!] (v. 2, p. 202: ‘C’est-à-dire, νοῦς, mens, intelligence, partie supérieure de l’âme’), which evinces complete and hopeless ignorance of Origen’s anthropology.
Chapter 8 is about Origen’s (Anaxagorean, then, Aristotelian) concept of ‘the mind from without’ (θύραθεν νοῦς), which is critical in order to comprehend why could he have never gone along with the (inconsistent, anyway) Platonic anthropology and its capricious ramifications, which never managed to stand up to elementary logical analyses.
The short and the long of it is that the structure of this book aims to show that determining Origen’s views of the present topic is a tough proposition and can be carried out by means of sound methodology, not dogmatic proclamations, never mind bigotry, or parroting ancient nonsense, and to this purpose, knowledge of not only the entire Patristic thought but also Greek philosophy is impossible to circumvent, let alone evade.
To put this flat out: Origen should be studied by philosophers and by theologians who have a good command of philosophy (and indeed there are such scholars). For Origen wrote his own chapter in the history of philosophy, of which theologians have no inkling whatsoever, since among them knowledge of philosophy is an extremely rare commodity. Their general attitude is that Origen was a virtuous man and a theologian – yet at the end of the day he is a damned heretic, who was rightly anathematised.
In all of my books, I have tried to call attention to the need for studying primary sources and deliverance from the distorting glasses, through which scholars that are venerated as ‘authorities’ saw Origen’s thought, and their unstudious works keep on tormenting Origenian studies. In this book, I discuss allegations made by scholars such as H. Crouzel, M. Simonetti, M. Harl, C.P.H. Bammel, coupled with H. Chadwick’s dangerous translation of Contra Celsum, which (as I have shown since the years of my PhD thesis) tacitly takes for granted the old fatuities – let alone the conspicuously shameful case of old, P. Koetschau. Such people made incredible allegations only because they lacked either the perspicacity or the philosophical background, or both, in order to grasp Origen’s vast erudition, which is abundantly present throughout his exposition and determines his arguments almost in every line of his oeuvre. But the problem was that, once Origen had caveated that his theory of soul was superior to that of Plato’s, the onus he placed upon his readers was to try and fathom what his theory was about – and it is exactly this that turned out a long row to hoe to his ancient and modern students alike.←xx | xxi→
Whereas modern theologians, who unfortunately were taken seriously and swayed modern Origenian studies, have argued that ‘to Origen, pre-existence of souls is absolutely central’ and the ‘theory of pre-existence … is a hypothesis that comes from Platonism’, which is ‘the most vulnerable part of Origen’s thought’, I will be arguing that (1) to Origen, pre-existence of souls was far too alien a theory; and (2) although Origen declared that his theory of soul had ‘nothing to do with Plato’s transmigration, but it was a more sublime theory’, modern as well as earlier scholars have had recourse to the ancient folly, only because of inability make out what Origen’s ‘more sublime theory’ was about. However, the vast majority of modern works more or less keep counterfeiting the sixth-century allegations imposed by Justinian’s barbarous caesaropapism and have been uncritically regurgitated by modern ‘scholars’ who unfortunately have been taken as ‘authorities’ and (which is the most ridiculous yet tragic irony) one of them was styled ‘patriarch of Origenian studies’.
Therefore, the ongoing detriment to Origen’s real thought stems from the fact that knowledge of philosophy, bar a few brilliant exceptions, is far too rare a commodity among modern theologians. One of my arguments in the present book is that Origen’s enormous and demanding Greek philosophical background should be part of syllabus in faculties of philosophy and hauled from the hands of uninformed scholars, in which Origen’s tragic fate has been perpetuated.
However, this is not the full story. For indeed modern brilliant intellectuals have taken exception to the caricature of Origen concocted since the times of Epiphanius of Salamis and Antipater of Bostra (which served as the basis for Origen’s anathematisation).
As an example, I should note the brilliant works by Mark Edwards, who did not hesitate to stand up to current universally maintained follies about Origen, and was criticised for that matter by some scholars who either stuck to the ingrained hogwash about ‘a Platonist Origen’, or argued for the unscholarly drivel ‘Christian Platonism’ – yet none of his critics did ever manage to do away with or abate the force of Edwards’ perceptive analyses.
A second example is John Behr’s excellent new translation of De Principiis: not only his learned rendering of the Latin text itself, but also his perspicacious comments clearly evince a scholar who realised that the caricature of Origen from his earliest detractors to the present day was entirely wrong. At least, we should be grateful to this scholar for ridding the text of De Principiis from some amalgams of ancient calumnies that Koetschau promptly interpolated, as if those were ‘Greek’ excerpts from Rufinus’ Latin translation. On that account, Behr’s learned rendering puts to rest G. Butterworth’s translation, which (although not bad on ←xxi | xxii→its own merit) printed Koetschau’s unschooled interpolations that he had taken up from all sorts of detractors and calumniators – wherefore, Butterworth’s book (along with his own atrocious comments) misled some generations of scholars.
If, to some, reading and studying primary sources appears far too hard a proposition and probably impossible to carry out, and having recourse to second-hand entrenched follies of old seems a more convenient practice, then, the best for them to do is abandon and stay away from Origen’s works and thought altogether. As for myself, over many years, I have read ‘reports’ by ‘readers’ craving to enforce references to their ‘work’ under the pretext of foisting ‘guidance to modern scholarship’. To this purpose, on the one hand, they demanded from publishers not to reveal their names, while, on the other, they ‘signed’ their reports by anxiously demanding references to their own works, and declaring themselves ready to assent to publication only if they read my work again, in order to make sure that their ‘works’ have been referenced. Never did I cave in to such a blackmailing, which unsuccessfully went underground by means of taking refuge to anonymity, and none of such a quality of ‘readers’ did ever manage to impede a single book of mine from being published.
In this treatise, as it happened with my previous ones, I will not dignify such presumptuousness with references, far less would I converse with trespassers that are infesting the Origenian studies. I am not in the least interested in offering either the facility, which is priggishly styled ‘guidance to modern scholarship’, or the enjoyment of truffle hunting from a concomitant ‘reference preying’. I know that this is not the way things are supposed to be done. But I am not doing things the way they are supposed to be done, nor do I dignify the trite practice that strives to conceal ignorance of the glorious world of ancient philosophers and of the Commentators by means of ‘mutual’ (or, reciprocal) ‘references’ backhandedly exchanged between modern authors. Instead, ample space will be given primarily to exposition and discussion of ancient scholars, which is a methodology that I have prescribed and defended in my book on Anaxagoras.
Opposite this throng, I know of no true scholar who would not be happy, indeed eager, to see the pestilent characteristics that scourge Origenian studies being chucked out not only from the specific field, but also from the cultural physiognomy of any genuine quest for the truth.
For as Shakespeare’s Edgar said upon the conclusion of King Lear, when the tragedy had been consummated, The weight of this sad time we must obey, speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most.