Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Origen Matters

A back and forth over whether Origen of Alexandria matters. I find Father Barron's commentary on Bell's book sums up why Origen --and for me-- the case against Origen matters.
In the third century, Origen of Alexandria, one of the most remarkable and influential theologians in the entire tradition, formulated a teaching he termed apokatastasis (restoration). According to this doctrine, all sinners—and indeed all of the fallen angels, including Satan himself—would be, through Christ’s grace, brought to salvation in the end. There might be hellfire, Origen thought, but it cannot be everlasting, for if it were, sin would prove more powerful than grace. Well, the official church reacted against Origen’s universalism, for she saw it as insufficiently respectful of freedom, both human and angelic. If God’s grace is simply irresistible, then the real freedom to reject God’s love appears compromised.
I like to think that if there is a god, God would take us seriously as beings free to reject God's love; because our freedom, and accepting the consequences of our choices, that makes us noble creatures. More noble than God, who seems locked into a job without many choices.

Update: Thanks to UU World for the link.

7 comments:

kinsi said...

My point is that telling someone if they don't know Origen then they aren't somehow "relevant" or don't have the "vocabulary" to speak their beliefs. The problem I have is with the attitude there.

Being an intellectual is fine, knowing history is fine, being an intellectual elitist or intellectual snob, however, I don't believe is fine.

kinsi said...

Hmm. Comment posting fail there - the top paragraph disappeared. One more time:

I want to be clear - I'm not saying it's wrong to know theological history. My point is that you can be just as good of a church member, just as good of a Unitarian Universalist, without knowing it.

My point is that telling someone if they don't know Origen then they aren't somehow "relevant" or don't have the "vocabulary" to speak their beliefs is wrong. The problem I have is with the attitude there.

Being an intellectual is fine, knowing history is fine, being an intellectual elitist or intellectual snob, however, I don't believe is fine.

Bill Baar said...

The real danger though is being an intellectual eltist and still not knowing Origen.

UUism today is not a history friendly faith. (PolityWonk had a good posting on this a few weeks ago, or not the absence of much said on the passing of Conrad Wright).

History's a drag UUs liberate themselves from, and not a tradition one can learn from.

The danger's we forget much of what we debate's been debated before, and that Origen mattered because the response to him was so powerful: Origen's restorationism robbed us of our freedom to reject God's love. That God takes our choices seriously as acts of serious creations. We accept the consequences and the humanist in me wonders at that because it's something God can't quite do.

SM said...

Is there a book of popular history a new (or any) UU can turn to that covers the major thinkers and trends from the earliest Christians to the modern UUA? After all, I know I don't know much, but I'm not ready to build a library of nearly 2,000 years worth of theology and scholarly works on denominational history in the USA.

Bill Baar said...

I like Ernest Cassara's Universalism in America: A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith not for the History but for a sense of the theology and how it evolved on the Universalist side of the House. Here's a link to the UUA profile of Cassara http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/authors/ernestcassara.html

Do you belong to a UU Church? If so, the Library I would hope would have the standard histories. Conrad Wright being one of the authors.

Also, I like Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 from the OUP's history of America. He's written on Unitarianism too and I think he gives you a very good sense of Unitarian thought rooted in the larger frame of American History.

There's also Earl Morse Wilbur's History of Unitarianism that get you into the roots of the ideas in Europe.

Join the UU http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/uuhs-chat and ask this question. You'll get many suggestions.

SM said...

Bill,

Thank you for the recommendations. I'll be looking into them, and probably visiting the UUA list you cited, too.

I'm new to UU. The UU congregation I've been attending this past year is small, located in a very small city, and has trouble maintaining a lease on a place to meet for, on average, more than a few years. I'm sure they'd love to have a library... alas...

But, Michigan Electronic Library can move books to me from all over the state, including university libraries, so that's the good news.

Ron S. said...

I would add David E. Bumbaugh's book, Unitarian Universalism - A Narrative History. It touches on some of the vwery early Christian theology (beliefs and practices) that provide early foundation to today's UU principles and beliefs. It's interssting, balanced and informative, without excessive opinionating on theological positions or changes over time. Ron S.