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He believed that all souls existed prior to birth, an idea condemned by the Church in the 6th century and repudiated by St. Thomas Aquinas.
Origen may have proposed a type of reincarnation but his surviving texts are too incomplete and fragmentary to be sure.
We do know that he believed in universal salvation–i.e. the idea that all souls are eventually redeemed and admitted to heaven, even the Devil’s.
A fierce ascetic, Origen castrated himself. C. G. Jung says that this self-castration enabled Origen to remain faithful to an extreme type of Gnosticism. But Jung’s claim is debatable because many mystics prize celibacy due to the transformative potential that is allegedly contained in sperm.
If Origen was a mystic in the way that Jung envisioned him, he most likely would not have castrated himself. Celibate Christian, Hindu and Buddhist mystics all seem to agree that there’s a bio-spirit relationship between profound contemplative states and retained semen (i.e. the ‘seed’ of religious scripture that is not to be spilled on the ground or wasted on lustful sex).
Arrested in 250 CE under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius, Origen suffered prolonged and repeated torture before dying two years later from his injuries.
Once deemed an important Church Father, his ideas continue to influence Protestant theologians.
Search Think Free » Anathema, Church Fathers, Excommunication, Universalism
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Church Fathers is the title usually given to those regarded as the brightest theological lights in the early Christian Church.
Influential and usually learned Christian thinkers contributing to the formation of Church dogma, aspects of their writings are often cited as supportive “truths” within the contemporary Roman Catholic Catechism.
The Church Fathers are considered exemplars of holiness and are usually, but not always, canonized. Tertullian (160–225) is a good example of a leading Christian who was never canonized.¹
The study of the Fathers’ writings is known as Patristics, although the Church Fathers fall into two periods, the Apostolic and the Patristic.
Since the 17th-century the Apostolic Fathers have been designated as those who wrote just after the New Testament period, to include Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp and Papias. This list also includes the anonymous writers of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, Clement and the Didache.
The well-known theologian Origen (184–254) was too far interested Platonism and ideas similar to reincarnation to be taken as a Church Father. He was excommunicated by the Church but his work continues to interest scholars. And sort of slipping in the back door, as it were, Origen’s writings are often included in compilations under the heading, “Church Fathers.”
The Patristics wrote up to the 8th-century, to include Isidore of Seville (7th-century) and John of Damascus (8th- century).
Feminists point out that there are no Church Mothers, perhaps because of the sexist environment of the early Christian era. This type of discrimination persists through the ages and, so they say, remains in many contemporary religious and secular organizations.
¹ Tertullian also demonstrates that the Church Fathers could be quite harsh against their opponents, in this case, the early Gnostics. As the British philosopher of religion, John Hick, points out in Evil and the God of Love, Tertullian wrote scathing attacks against the Gnostics.
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Gnosticism was an early Christian heresy containing many ideas previously existing in different forms and places within the ancient world. These unorthodox beliefs are mentioned in the New Testament by St. Paul, and were more systematically condemned by the Christian Church from the 2nd-century onward.
The Greek word gnosis means “knowledge.” In the context of gnosticism this isn’t bookish but experiential knowledge, supposedly of the divine.
Most gnostics believed that they fully understood the interconnected workings of the heavens, earth and hell and how this related to cosmic redemption. The gnostics’ chief aim was to gain spiritual knowledge and, in effect, become one with the Christ entity.
Some sects claimed that Christ did not die on the cross. Others envisioned him as a cosmic principle that incarnated to raise the world of matter to a higher level of love, awareness and compassion.
Among 49 Gnostic texts and versions of texts that have been unearthed in the early to mid-20th century, each claims to present the final truth about Christ and the nature of the cosmos. But ironically enough, these alleged truths differ considerably among Gnostic sects.
Possibly influenced by Manichaeism, Platonic and even Egyptian lore, Gnostic theories about ultimate reality are often intricate and esoteric. Only apparently ‘special’ people can understand and access elusive Gnostic truths.
By way of contrast, the New Testament is more concerned with universal salvation and less with complicated cosmological theories. Heaven is described in parables. No real attempt is made to ‘say it like it is,’ mainly because God’s creation is portrayed as far too great to be reduced to any human theory.
Hence, the New Testament’s clear and undoubtedly universal invitation: “Knock and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9).
Gnosticism was effectively silenced by the Church Fathers but resurfaced in the Middle ages within Jewish mysticism. And the Gnostic idea of ‘knowing from direct experience’ flourishes today.
Religious studies scholars such as Wayne Meeks say that Gnosticism was particularly threatening to the early Church precisely because it had much in common with orthodox belief. Both say “You are gods” (Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34). And the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which some say was written by a twin brother of Jesus, contains sayings of Christ that coincide with those in the New Testament. Other points do differ, however, and virtually no events in the life of Christ are recorded in Thomas.
On the issue of the apparent exclusivity of Gnosticism in contrast to orthodox Christianity, some might say this difference is arguably one of degree. Not a few Christian mystical saints have been regarded as persons more loved by or special to God than, say, the rest of the clergy. Claims like this run throughout, for instance, The Divine Mercy Diary of Saint Kowalska.
More recently, Gnosticism is generally used to denote any kind of spirituality that involves relaxation, meditation or contemplation. The photo featured in this entry, for instance, has the tag line “Practicing zen gnosticism.”
- Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 2 (vridar.wordpress.com)
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Hell is believed to be the abode of evil spirits, and a nasty place of temporary or eternal punishment for departed souls.
In Western religions, especially Christianity, hell is typically defined as the freely chosen absence of God’s presence.
Historically, most religions exhibit some conception of hell. Wikipedia suggests the following general distinction:
The ancient Hittites believed that unresolved violations and quarrels were carried over into a netherworld where the recently deceased would be tormented by a spirit until a settlement was reached, at which point the deceased would proceed to the land of the dead.
Christian theologians generally define hell as a deprivation of God’s presence, the horrific and eternal outcome of a conscious choice to follow one’s own will instead of God’s.
Islam posits a fiery hell called Jahannam, from the Judaic Gehenna, which may be permanent or temporary.
Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism portray multiple hells, varying in degrees of horror and misery. But, as indicated above, these hells aren’t permanent. They are temporary places of punishment and purification in a long journey involving reincarnation (or some variation of reincarnation).
Many traditional Christians regard this Hindu and Buddhist view of hell as a kind of cosmic ‘detention center’ as essentially misguided. Critics of reincarnation theory say that it gives seekers a presumptuous and, perhaps, reckless sense of overconfidence.
Because reincarnation theory indicates that hell is only temporary, its critics say that believers in reincarnation might do whatever they want and wrongly believe that it doesn’t matter, that they’ll still get to heaven anyway.
Some Christians, however, believe in the idea of universal salvation where even the most hardened sinners are eventually saved. This approach is much closer to the Hindu and Buddhist view.
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The word ‘mystic’ refers to one who engages in mysticism, and is often used pejoratively or as a caricature (e.g. wooly-headed mystic). This usage arguably arises, in part, from the worldly bias of contemporary consumer-oriented culture.
Many individuals, religious and secular, seem to value only that which they can buy, sell, and most of all, see. Subtle religious feelings may not be accessible to them, so naturally they’d think the whole idea of mysticism is hogwash.
Fortunately, this almost animalistic perspective of reality is not all pervasive–although it does seem to be dominant in the scientific, legal and political aspects of 21C culture.
There always have been and continues to be mystics who suggest there’s more, much more to life than meets the eye.
By the same token, some mystics seem to make grandiose claims and have allowed their sense of reason to be eclipsed by personal biases.
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Also known as metempsychosis and transmigration, reincarnation is a manmade theory based on beliefs found in different philosophical systems and religions, including ancient Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jain, African and New Age perspectives.
Reincarnation usually involves ideas of karma and grace. It’s believed that after the death of the physical body, the soul (or in some schools, temporary personality attributes) returns for another birth.
In most traditions the self is on an evolutionary path from unconsciousness to consciousness–that is, from lower to higher, or gross to subtle forms of consciousness.
In some branches of contemplative Hinduism, the soul is said to begin in the mineral world and then move upward to the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Eventually it takes birth as a human being. After learning about and practicing good ethics from innumerable human incarnations, the soul may reincarnate in astral and heavenly realms before reaching ultimate liberation, awareness and bliss.
But bad ethical choices send the evolutionary process into reverse. If a human being abuses their freedom, they may reincarnate backwards into the animal kingdom or possibly further down into one of various temporary hells.
According to popular wisdom it’s often said that God provides perfect punishments and rewards for one’s deeds. So generally speaking, if one makes good ethical choices in an embodied life, one gains merit and reincarnates into a more auspicious life the next time around.
However, if one makes bad ethical choices, one returns to a less auspicious life. Again, the alleged purpose of reincarnation is to instruct the soul, preparing it for an ultimately perfect, eternal existence. The exact nature of this perfection is described differently among various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Taoism.
Once complete liberation is achieved, the soul (or temporary personality attributes) no longer returns to a body, gross or subtle. This idea is expressed in an old Taoist tale, paraphrased as follows:
A man had led a dissolute life and reincarnates as a horse. After a few years the horse grows weary of being whipped by his masters, refuses to eat and dies. He then returns as a dog. Despising this incarnation the dog bites his master’s leg who has him destroyed. He returns as a snake. By now he’s finally learned his lesson. One must play out the hand one is dealt, patiently seeing it through to learn how to be virtuous. As a reformed soul, the snake avoids doing harm to other animals by eating berries and tries to keep itself out of danger. But one day the snake mistakenly dies under the wheel of a cart. Pleading his case before the King of Purgatory, he finds himself reborn a man—a reward for his good intentions (Raymond Van Over, ed. Taoist Tales, New York: Meridian Classic, 1973, pp. 52-53).
According to this view, suicide is like ‘skipping school’ (in the cosmic sense) and causes regression to a less desirable birth.
But not all believers in reincarnation would take this attitude. Some believe that the very same kind of life situation would arise again, as if the suicide is forced to repeat the same cosmic classroom he or she didn’t pass the first time around.
Meanwhile some New Age thinkers say that every life is consciously chosen prior to birth.
In most Asian religions God’s grace can mitigate or even erase the effects of bad karma, a fact often overlooked in specious critiques of reincarnation.
African pre-colonial tribal beliefs about reincarnation differ from Asian variants. African ancestors are believed to reincarnate into one or several descendents to give a particular family more power. Somewhat similar to the Asian idea, however, the African Ibo believe that one chooses between two bundles before birth – one bundle holds auspicious fortune, the other inauspicious. While the spirit tries its best to choose a favorable incarnation, a formerly evil person undergoes a difficult incarnation as a human or animal.
In contrast to the belief in reincarnation, the Old Testament says that evil actions are repaid with evil, but not through reincarnation. Evil begets evil through one’s offspring:
The Lord…a God merciful and gracious…forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:7).
For when they were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil…not of works, but of Him that calleth, it was said to her: The elder shall serve the younger.
The Christian New Testament view of the body and its relation to the afterlife is expressed in I Corinthians 15; 51-52; 2 Corinthians 5:1; I Thessalonians 4:14; John 3: 4-7.
Some suggest that the Catholic notion of purgatory was created as a Christian counterpart to the temporary process of punishment and purification as found in non-Christian theories of reincarnation.
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The idea of the soul has innumerable meanings around the world and throughout history.
A distinction is often made between an individual soul and a world soul. Some regard the soul as a multiple entity, as in ancient Egyptian religion or the contemporary views of the trance channeler Jane Roberts/Seth.
Others insist the soul is single.
Some say the soul is the conceptual “I” that apparently remains constant throughout life.
Plato viewed the soul as single but containing multiple functions.
Aristotle saw the soul as a partly rational and partly irrational function governing bodily needs, desires and actions that disappears at death. Soul is also envisioned as a spiritual, self-motivating and eternal agent or substance.
St. Thomas Aquinas insists it is united to the body but not of the body. For Aquinas it “operates through corporeal organs” with its “proper function” being “in the understanding.”
In much of Hinduism the soul reincarnates, ultimately to merge with God, as a drop of water returns to the ocean from whence it came. In this sense, individuality is temporary at best. Ramanuja‘s Visistadvaita school of Hinduism is an important exception to this idea. For Ramanuja individual souls (jivas) emerge from and ultimately rest within God (Brahman), retaining some aspect of their individuality, existence and, therefore, reality.
The anatman doctrine of Buddhism contends that the idea of a soul is just a conceptual illusion and, in reality, does not exist.
Catholics believe that the soul is created by God at the moment of human conception, a view that has sparked intense debate among pro-life and pro-choice groups. Concerning death and the afterlife, Catholic believers say the soul rises to heaven or is purified in purgatory in preparation for heaven or descends to eternal hell.
In music “soul” refers to a form of music originating in America that blends gospel music with rhythm and blues. Although soul music was created by black Americans, its contemporary offshoots are composed and performed by anyone, anywhere.
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1) In theology this is the idea that everyone will be saved in the fullness of time.
Recent versions of this theology exclude for need for Jesus and argue that all persons will be saved in all religions, paths and life-situations.
2) In philosophy universals are ideals like Plato‘s forms.
It’s often debated as to whether universals exist in themselves or merely as a product of language (i.e. conceptualism). » Origen, William of Ockham
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While in a Dominican monastery his family members were unwilling to accept his decision and abducted him, taking him prisoner for two years.
He fled to Germany where he taught in 1248 after studying under Albertus Magnus.
His theological work borrows heavily from Aristotle, recasting his arguments within a Christian framework.
This is particularly evident in his treatment of time and eternity, which for him are different.
Aquinas takes Aristotle’s notion of a “prime mover” and says God is eternal and knows what will be for all time.
This does not mean, as some say, that the future exists in its own right. Rather, for Aquinas the mind of God has perfect knowledge of the future, aspects of which may be imparted to individuals in the present through prophecy.
Although Aquinas wrote extensively on angels and spiritual powers, his work recognized the importance of knowledge gained from sense experience and experimentation.
His Summa Theologia attempted to provide a comprehensive theology and outlined Five Ways to prove the existence of God. Like most theological proofs of God, these will probably seem self-evident to believers but somewhat lacking to skeptics.
To this day much of the contemporary Catholic catechism cites Aquinas to support Catholic teachings. This might be a little ironic if, indeed, legends are true about what Aquinas said after apparently receiving some kind of heavenly vision toward the close of his life:
All my works seem like straw after what I have seen”, St Thomas told Brother Reginald.
Meanwhile, another legend says:
Aquinas heard a voice from a cross that told him he had written well.”
Neither, one or both of these legends could be true. That both might be true is possible because theoretical discourse is often a necessary precursor to more immediate forms of experience in not just spirituality but most human endeavors.†
Despite its medieval limitations, the sheer scope of Aquinas’ work is impressive, like any kind of intricate intellectual system. No wonder the popular writer Umberto Eco likened St. Thomas to a “medieval computer.”
To modern thinkers, however, it seems unwarranted for one person to set out to definitively explain the workings of God.
While Aquinas may have humbly admitted his intellectual grandiosity after having a direct experience of the godhead, it seems that some contemporary theologians continue to adhere to his kind of medieval analytical framework, with all the intellectual (and ethical) strengths and weaknesses that such an approach will likely provide.
Aquinas was canonized in 1323 and was given the formal title, Doctor Angelicus. His feast day is 28 January. » Adam, Alchemy, Archangel, Anselm (St.), Augustine (St.), Evil, Heaven, Origen, Original Sin, Providence, Reason, Reincarnation, Scotus (Duns), Soul, Suicide
† We often learn conceptual basics before actually doing. Not to say that theory and practice are mutually exclusive, but one can look at the problem in terms of a dynamic continuum. For example, one studies rules of the road before taking a driver’s test. But licenced drivers still need to know and revise their driving theory as a result of ongoing experience. And so the same might apply to some forms of spirituality.
On the World Wide Web:
“The existence of God can be proved in five ways”» http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/aquinasFiveWays.htm
“Thomas Aquinas” by Niall McAuley http://www.flickr.com/photos/gnmcauley/1328768103/, Creative Commons License
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