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In defence of Origen's belief in pre-existence

Discussion in 'Controversial Christian Theology' started by Kameaux, Jul 18, 2021.

  1. Kameaux

    Kameaux New Member

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    In this thread i'd like to lay-out my arguments that, in my opinion, rule out the possibility of Origen being a mere heretic when he speaks about controversial subjects relating to theology. I will defend both his view of the possibility of previous worlds and the pre-existence of the soul as summarised within his book ''on the first principles''.

    In his book, Origen, though he admits to it being speculation, confirms his belief in the possibility of previous created-worlds (that would go back infinitely). He appeals to the idea that God couldn't have been in-active before creation as this absence of action would trespass on His omnipotence and unchanging nature (i.e. what is active but simultaneously unchanging, must have always been active). God being unchanging is, as far as i'm aware, something that's accepted by most branches of Christianity to one degree or another, having historically been perceived as the unmoved mover that Himself can't be moved by anything else, being ontologically above all changes. Origen uses a similar approach when he argues for the existence of the soul. His main argument seems to come down to his rejection of creation out of nothing, as for nothing to have existed God necessarily must have been inactive. It logically follows that if the possibility of creatio-ex-nihilo is ruled out, both matter and spirit must have had a pre-existence. This combined with God being unchanging, and we being a direct witness of the fact that God by His nature created a world, leads us to the conclusion that either;

    1. Endless created worlds exist at the same time.
    2. A created world must have always existed (as Origen argues).

    And that either;

    1. The soul, having been uncreated, was with God before birth.
    2. The soul, having been uncreated, was in a previous world before birth.
    3. The soul, having been uncreated, was in a previous body before birth.

    Having summarised his position i'd like to emphasise that i consider this to be a consistent approach to theology that argues from stable and logical first-principles, as this theory is based solely on induction from fundamentals that can be established through and deduced from direct perception (i.e. change can't be the foundation of change as this would cause an infinite regress which would exclude the possibility of a foundation for reality). The ultimate reason for why i belief that his teaching is possible, however, is not his reasoning alone, but predominantly the arguments against his theology, which i consider to be insufficient with regards to discrediting his speculations. With these i will end my defence, and will leave the final conclusion to the reader.

    The principle argument against Origen's conception of God generally boils down to two main arguments. One is an appeal to the teachings of the apostolic fathers, that don't actively support the possibility of pre-existence, the other is an appeal to Scripture, either to validate church consensus as being guided by the Holy Spirit, or to use specific verses that (seem to) contradict Origen's teachings. I consider both these arguments to be insufficient to discredit his theology for the following reasons;

    1. The apostolic fathers aren't an infallible source, and many of their statements could be considered heretical.
    2. Though Scripture may be inspired by the Holy Spirit, our interpretation of it isn't a infallible source either.
    This means that there is virtually nothing left to refute Origen's teachings in their totality, as even the supposed validity of the ecumenical councils is based on a specific interpretation of verses by clergy, who aren't infallible, with interpretations that aren't infallible either. That having said, the more we move away from direct perception with regards to our metaphysics, the more presuppositions we end up making about the reliability of our perception. Since we ourselves aren't infallible this is a position that i would argue to be philosophically unjustifiable. For this reason, a consistent reasoning based on first principles derived from broad generalisations of patterns in the external world (as discussed in the beginning by using the example of ''change''), will, in my opinion, lead to more sound theological conclusions. These generalisations being broad in nature would logically have a higher chance of encapsulating the truth than appealing to the consensus of small groups of fallible individuals, as a large fishing net has a higher chance of catching fish than a fishing rod. Being forced to conclude that Origen seems to have applied this technique to form his theological conclusions, i believe that, of all the early Christian writers, his worldview has the highest chance of being true.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2021
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  2. public hermit

    public hermit social troglodyte Supporter

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    Is it the case the souls are uncreated, for Origen? Or is it that they are created, yet pre exist embodiment? Assuming, for the sake of argument, that souls are uncreated, how would that solve the problem of God's activity, since whatever God was doing before creation is not answered by "creating souls"? Or, is the idea that there has always been a creation for the sake of uncreated souls?

    I'm still not sure he argued souls are uncreated, but it's been a long time since I read On First Principles. Do you have a quote to that effect, preferably from the Greek and not Rufinus's Latin?
     
  3. OldWiseGuy

    OldWiseGuy Wake me when it's soup. Supporter

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    That's a pretty big if.
     
  4. Kameaux

    Kameaux New Member

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    The arguments that Origen supposedly used are actually removed from many present and early editions of his ''On First Principles''. I have read two copies this year, one digital that i sadly can't find anymore and one Dutch edition from the early 20th century in which they were included. They were written in paragraphs 3 to 5 of chapter IV ''on defection and falling away''. The reason why they are removed in many editions is noted in the annotations of my Dutch copy as being so because they were considered to be unreliable by modern scholars with respect to actually coming form Origen. It might have been a Gnostic interpolation or a genuine idea of Origen which has been censured through the centuries. Having no time to translate old Dutch i'll summarise my position that i have developed through studying his writing, and if you're not convinced of them being in line with Origen's teaching, you're free to consider them to be my own conclusions based on my theological studies;
    1. We are witness of the fact that there is a world
    2. We can argue that underneath it's changes must be an unchanging factor responsible for said changes
    3. For nothing to have existed this necessary factor must have been in-active, meaning that it underwent change to create our current world, which is impossible (as it is by nature unchanging).
    4. For this reason everything that we perceive must have had a previous existence.
    5. The soul can't in any way be argued to be compound as it can't be perceived and analysed by the senses, it being itself the perceiver and analyser of the senses.
    6. That which isn't compound has no basis for undergoing change.
    7. Because of this the soul must have been either pre-existent in embodied form, disembodied form or in God, but non-existence is impossible.
     
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  5. public hermit

    public hermit social troglodyte Supporter

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    Okay, I think I see. I'm fairly confident Origen argued for the pre-existence of souls, just not that they are uncreated. An uncreated entity is eternal, of which there is only one, i.e. God.

    At any rate, like you I'm open to the possibility. It would make sense of why we are born into different circumstances, i.e. our current existence is related to the extent to which we fell in the pre-embodied state. And, of course, the pre-existing human soul of Jesus is the only soul that did not fall. That much I remember, lol.

    Great post!
     
  6. Michael Collum

    Michael Collum Everything began with a voice, use yours Supporter

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    This sounds like reincarnation mixed with multiverse theory and maybe a few animes.
     
  7. Eftsoon

    Eftsoon Well-Known Member

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    There is here an assumption that God's activity would have to be creation in a material sense. Christians hold that creation is superfluity. God doesn't need to create and creation adds nothing to Him. There is some trespass on this idea. It suggests that God is dependent to an extent on the material order. Certainly God is always and ever creative, but not necessarily in such a specific mode.

    To clarify, I'm referring to self-sufficiency.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2021
  8. Eftsoon

    Eftsoon Well-Known Member

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    It's not Origen's fault per se. A lot of what we know about him was inherited from his detractors.
     
  9. Kameaux

    Kameaux New Member

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    Whether God needs to create or not is, in my opinion, irrelevant. The fact is that God does create, whether He needs to or not. And creating, regardless of whether that which creates does so out of necessity or free-will, is certainly an indicator of activity. If the factor that creates is unchanging, it must therefore have always created. If the act of creating is part of God now, and if God can't change, it must have been always part of Him. If it wasn't, God underwent change. This doesn't refute God's free-will. If God has always created He has always done so through free-will, by the fact that He is completely independent. The act of creating could simply be considered what God is, in similar fashion as God is often argued to be His own existence. In the same way that God can't deny His own existence He can't deny his creative energy either, if this theory is correct.

    This doesn't mean that God is dependent on the material order. The material order is still dependent on God as it's foundation, as God by his unchanging nature is the only thing with a complete independent existence. Everything else therefore participates in the existence of God. Within the boundaries of this theory creation could be conceived to have an eternal creative relationship with the creator, as within the trinity the Son has an eternal generative relationship to the Father, but have always existed as a whole.
     
  10. public hermit

    public hermit social troglodyte Supporter

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    Exactly. This is probably the most significant issue with ex nihilo, especially if understood through a Thomistic/Aristotelian lens of God as pure act. Why would pure act begin to create, unless creativity is an aspect of this pure act? But if so, then creation is eternal, not in itself, but in the sense there is always something created.
     
  11. com7fy8

    com7fy8 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Even if God has not always had a creation as we see it now, there have been ways He could be creative which did not produce a universe or souls.

    In any case, Jesus did say He had glory with our Father "before the world was" > in the Lord's prayer in John 17 > in verse 5.

    Jesus also says - - in a certain context, of course > "if it were not so, I would have told you" > in John 14:2. He has not told us there have been preexisting souls and other creations or universes comparable to the one we are in now. But He does say He was with the Father.

    And not only is God creative, by nature, but He dearly loves His own Son Jesus. This we know was "before the world was". Jesus has told us this :)

    And what happened because of this love of our Father with Jesus? My opinion now is that our Father so delighted in Christ, that He decided to have many more who are like Jesus, as I consider Romans 8:29 means >

    "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29)

    Possibly, we could say this is the main way God is creative > how He changes a sinner into a new creature who is being conformed to the image of His Son Jesus. And because of this we become more and more pleasing to our Father, like Jesus is so pleasing, in personal and sensitive sharing with Him. And we become relating with one another the way Jesus has us sharing as family, while also we lovingly care for any and all people who are not of God.

    So, how God mainly is creative, is certainly not by making material universes ! ! But He is changing us to be like Jesus and to love like Jesus . . . our Example >

    "And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." (Ephesians 5:2)

    Now . . . I am curious > does Origen give attention to this? Is this one of the things Origen is known for saying in his writings, and does he prioritize this truth of what God is sure to do because of Him being creative . . . in His love for Jesus?
     
  12. Michael Collum

    Michael Collum Everything began with a voice, use yours Supporter

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    so hyperbole perhaps.
     
  13. mmksparbud

    mmksparbud Well-Known Member

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    Yah, it sounds like Mormonism.
     
  14. Michael Collum

    Michael Collum Everything began with a voice, use yours Supporter

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    I guess a lot of that new age theology started with conservative groups in the 1800s, then worked its way through the pentecostal and charismatic groups because they were new, and is now mostly new age since the ideology isn't Christian.
     
  15. Kameaux

    Kameaux New Member

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    Whether a theory has similarities to other (non-Christian) ideologies is irrelevant with regards to determining whether it is true or false, likely or unlikely, possible or impossible. The five ways of Thomas Aquinas have become highly respected within Catholic circles since their publication, purely on the basis of the logic of their argumentation, even though they are nowhere to be found in the Bible, and actually have more in common with Aristotelianism and Platonism than with early Patristic teachings.
     
  16. TedT

    TedT Member since Job 38:7

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    It has been my calling of some 40 years to understand from the scripture, our pre-conception existence (pce). I found Origen to be too dependant upon philosophical logic which is too sophisticated for me.

    My studies have concluded with over 150 support verses or verse clusters as the basis for Pre-Conception Existence Theology, PCE, as a reconciliation of some of the attributes of GOD with the reality we live in, the whys and hows of a life of suffering under a loving GOD. I do not use such verses as supposed PROOF of our pce because we do not live by proof but by faith and I find NO version on any doctrine to be a final proof.

    I present verses to show that if the words are taken at face value without being interpreted by orthodox doctrine (which is fully steeped in our being created on earth), they are easily seen as able to be interpreted to support our pre-earth existence. I also have a standing challenge for any verse of scripture that even hints that our pre-earth existence is biblically impossible... Many have offered verses but all they ever prove is that the pce interpretation of our reality is anti-orthodox Christian dogma, not the verses themselves. The battle of dueling interpretations goes on.. :)
     
  17. TedT

    TedT Member since Job 38:7

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    Yes, this is what I remember of him also...
     
  18. TedT

    TedT Member since Job 38:7

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    We only need to be changed because we are sinners. Sin can only be judged of a person who chose to rebel by their free will with an intent to rebel. No one can brought into creation as sinful.

    Christ's work restored those able to be HIS bride back to being able to fulfill this purpose from their corruption of themselves making them unable to fulfill this purpose without HIS grace.

    IF the true (unforced, freely chosen) heavenly marriage based upon true (unforced, freely chosen) love IS the culmination of HIS work of [this] creation then surely this indicates that the increase of love and the sharing of that love in reality was the purpose of our creation.

    So I ask, why fulfill this purpose by creating HIS Bride as evil by being born into the system of being sinful by our creation in Adam?

    Thus I suggest that the creation of every person in HIS image, ie suitable to be a proper bride for HIM, was created with a free will with an equal ability and opportunity to choose to put their faith, their strongest unproven hope, in HIS declaration of Deity and the gospel of salvation or to reject HIS claims, by faith (their unproven hope), as the lies of a mentally imbalanced person, ie, a false god.
     
  19. mmksparbud

    mmksparbud Well-Known Member

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    Can you point to somewhere in Genesis (or elsewhere in the bible) where pre-existence is even vaguely hinted at?
     
  20. sawdust

    sawdust Well-Known Member

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    I remember coming home from work one day, plonking myself down on the couch (it had been a long day) and sat there thinking. My son came in, saw me staring in the direction of the TV which wasn't on and queried "what was I doing?". I told him I was thinking. He responded "Oh so you are dong nothing?"; to which I said "no, I am thinking". He insisted that must mean I was doing nothing so I told him to tell his father what I was doing and whether or not that meant I was doing nothing. His father responded "that's dangerous!". ;)

    I wasn't producing anything that could be seen or was not me yet I was very active. I see no reason why God is forced to produce something outside of Himself in order to maintain activity.
     
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