Origen – Early Christian thinker often associated with celibacy


Origen (allegedly) castrating himself before a nun – via Wikipedia

Origen (185-254) was a religious scholar, intellectual and ascetic born in Alexandria who tried to synthesize Greek philosophy and Christian belief.

He believed that all souls existed prior to birth, an idea condemned by the Church in the 6th century and rejected by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Origen may have proposed a type of reincarnation but his surviving texts are too fragmentary to be sure.

His orthodox contemporaries believed that he favored a form of universal salvation stipulating that all souls are ultimately admitted to heaven, even the Devil’s. But he, himself, denied that Satan would be saved.

A fierce ascetic, for many years the accepted story was that Origen castrated himself. But in light of recent scholarship and the dissemination of information through the internet, this claim seems dubious today.¹

Carl Jung and others wrote about Origen’s alleged castration. For Jung, Origen did the deed to get closer to his God. But I remember reading this and thinking that Jung was way off here. Most religious traditions demand celibacy for advanced mystics and contemplatives, not because sex is perceived as bad, per se, but because the proverbial seed is said to contain power that facilitates connection with the deity.²

Hence saint Paul said, to paraphrase:

If you can’t be like me (celibate), get married and have regular sex
1 Cor 7 ³

“Universal Man”, an illumination from a 13th-century copy of Hildegard von Bingen’s Liber Divinorum Operum (“Book of Divine Works”, c. 1165) via Wikipedia

Arrested in 250 CE under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius, Origen suffered prolonged torture before dying two years later from his ordeal.

Once deemed an important Church Father, he is still regarded as an important theologian. His ideas continue to influence philosophers and Protestant theologians.

¹ For more on this and universal salvation, see my highlights at LINER.

² I don’t know about the physiology of women and how female celibacy relates to spirituality. Spirituality is variously defined, so this is a complicated topic, any way you look at it. See for instance, Elizabeth Abbot, A History of Celibacy. For Abbot, celibacy combined with spirituality seems to mean she gets more out of her creative life from abstaining. But for deep contemplatives, the meaning seems more esoteric, having to do with the value of contemplative intercession.

³ Like so much in the Bible, this seems a rather general statement. As if all human sexual needs can be boiled down to two types! In reality, I think we see a continuum of needs, often changing over time as individuals not only age but also evolve.

Related » Anathema, Church Fathers, Excommunication, Universalism

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