Origen of Alexandra
Origen ( or Origen Adamantius, c.185–254) was an early Christian African scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church despite not being considered a Church father by most Christians who recognize this distinction. The patriarch of Alexandria at first supported Origen but later expelled him for being ordained without the patriarch's permission. He relocated to Caesarea Maritima and died there after being tortured during a persecution.
Souls and their Fall
According to Origen, God's first creation was a collectivity of
rational beings which he calls logika. "Although Origen speaks of the
logika as being created, they were not created in time. Creation with
respect to them means that they had a beginning, but not a temporal one"
(Tripolitis 1978, p. 94). Further, Origen explains that the
number of these rational beings is necessarily limited, since an
infinite creation would be incomprehensible, and unworthy of God. These
souls were originally created in close proximity to God, with the
intention that they should explore the divine mysteries in a state of
endless contemplation. They grew weary of this intense contemplation,
however, and lapsed, falling away from God and into an existence on
their own terms, apart from the divine presence and the wisdom to be
found there. This fall was not, it must be understood, the result of any
inherent imperfection in the creatures of God, rather, it was the result
of a misuse of the greatest gift of God to His creation: freedom. The
only rational creature who escaped the fall and remained with God is the
"soul of Christ" (Origen, On First Principles 2.6.5; Tripolitis
1978, p. 96). This individual soul is indicative of the intended
function of all souls, i.e., to reveal the divine mystery in unique
ways, insofar as the meaning of this mystery is deposited within them,
as theandric (God-human) potentiality, to be drawn out and revealed
through co-operation with God (On First Principles 2.9.2-8). As Origen
explains, the soul of Christ was no different from that of any of the
souls that fell away from God, for Christ's soul possessed the same
potential for communion with God as that of all other souls. What
distinguished the soul of Christ from all others - and what preserved
Him from falling away - was His supreme act of free choice, to remain
immersed in the divinity.
What are now souls (psukhê) began as minds, and through boredom or distraction grew "cold" (psukhesthai) as they moved away from the "divine warmth" (On First Principles 2.8.3). Thus departing from God, they came to be clothed in bodies, at first of "a fine ethereal and invisible nature," but later, as souls fell further away from God, their bodies changed "from a fine, ethereal and invisible body to a body of a coarser and more solid state. The purity and subtleness of the body with which a soul is enveloped depends upon the moral development and perfection of the soul to which it is joined. Origen states that there are varying degrees of subtleness even among the celestial and spiritual bodies" (Tripolitis 1978, p. 106). When a soul achieves salvation, according to Origen, it ceases being a soul, and returns to a state of pure "mind" or understanding. However, due to the fall, now "no rational spirit can ever exist without a body" (Tripolitis 1978, p. 114), but the bodies of redeemed souls are "spiritual bodies," made of the purest fire.
Multiple Ages, Metempsychosis, and the Restoration of All
Origen did not believe in the eternal suffering of sinners in hell.
For him, all souls, including the devil himself, will eventually achieve
salvation, even if it takes innumerable ages to do so; for Origen
believed that God's love is so powerful as to soften even the hardest
heart, and that the human intellect - being the image of God - will
never freely choose oblivion over proximity to God, the font of Wisdom
Himself. Certain critics of Origen have claimed that this teaching
undermines his otherwise firm insistence on free will, for, these
critics argue, the souls must maintain the freedom to ultimately reject
or accept God, or else free will becomes a mere illusion. What escapes
these critics is the fact that Origen's conception of free will is not
our own; he considered freedom in the Platonic sense of the ability to
choose the good. Since evil is not the polar opposite of good, but
rather simply the absence of good - and thus having no real existence -
then to 'choose' evil is not to make a conscious decision, but to act in
ignorance of the measure of all rational decision, i.e., the good.
Origen was unable to conceive of a God who would create souls that were
capable of dissolving into the oblivion of evil (non-being) for
all eternity. Therefore, he reasoned that a single lifetime is not
enough for a soul to achieve salvation, for certain souls require more
education or 'healing' than others. So he developed his doctrine of
multiple ages, in which souls would be re-born, to experience the
educative powers of God once again, with a view to ultimate salvation.
This doctrine, of course, implies some form of transmigration of souls
or metempsychosis. Yet Origen's version of metempsychosis was not the
same as that of the Pythagoreans, for example, who taught that the
basest of souls will eventually become incarnated as animals. For
Origen, some sort of continuity between the present body, and the body
in the age to come, was maintained (Jerome, Epistle to Avitus 7,
quoting Origen; see also Commentary on Matthew 11.17). Origen did
not, like many of his contemporaries, degrade the body to the status of
an unwanted encrustation imprisoning the soul; for him, the body is a
necessary principle of limitation, providing each soul with a unique
identity. This is an important point for an understanding of Origen's
epistemology, which is based upon the idea that God educates each soul
according to its inherent abilities, and that the abilities of each soul
will determine the manner of its knowledge. We may say, then, that the
uniqueness of the soul's body is an image of its uniqueness of mind.
This is the first inkling of the development of the concept of the
person and personality in the history of Western thought.
The restoration of all beings (apokatastasis) is the most important concept in Origen's philosophy, and the touchstone by which he judges all other theories. His concept of universal restoration is based on equally strong Scriptural and Hellenistic philosophical grounds and is not original, as it can be traced back to Heraclitus, who stated that "the beginning and end are common" (Fragment B 103, tr. J. Barnes 1987, p. 115). Considering that Origen's later opponents based their charges of heresy largely on this aspect of his teaching, it is surprising to see how well-grounded in scripture this doctrine really is. Origen's main biblical proof-text is 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, especially verse 28, which speaks of the time "when all things shall be subdued unto him [Christ], then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (KJV, my emphasis). This scriptural notion of God being "all in all" (panta en pasin) is a strong theological support for his theory of apokatastasis. There are, of course, numerous other passages in scripture that contradict this notion, but we must remember that Origen's strength resided in his philosophical ability to use reason and dialectic in support of humane doctrines, not in the ability to use scripture in support of dogmatical and anti-humanistic arguments. Origen imagined salvation not in terms of the saved rejoicing in heaven and the damned suffering in hell, but as a reunion of all souls with God.
~ Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
During the period from A.D. 250 to 553 controversy raged, at least intermittently, around the name of Origen, and from this controversy emerged the major objections that orthodox Christianity raises against reincarnation. Origen of Alexandria, one of Christianity's greatest systematic theologians, was a believer in reincarnation.
Origen was a person devoted to scriptural authority, a scourge to the enemies of
the church, and a martyr for the faith. He was the spiritual teacher
of a large and grateful posterity and yet his teachings were declared heresy in
553. The debates and controversies that flared up around his teachings are
in fact the record of reincarnation in the church.
~ Reincarnation and the Church