The Kingdom of Jesus Christ
One of the accusations Theophilus of Alexandria spends a significant number of words on is the idea that there is a sharp distinction between the Kingdoms of the Father and that of His Son, Jesus Christ. Because of this difference in kingdoms, Theophilus argues, the eternity of Christ’s Kingdom is denied and therefore:
We read in the Gospel that when the Lord and Saviour, showing us a model of fortitude and patience, mounted the cross, ‘Pilate wrote a title and put it over his head; it read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. Many of the Jews read this title, which was written in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek. The Chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate: “Do not write, “The King of the Jews’.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” Therefore if Pilate could not be moved either by civil discord or by entreaty to remove Christ’s kingdom from the title, Origen should know that without any compulsion he is doing what the Jews did in reckoning that Christ’s kingdom would come to an end. They, indeed, denied that he was a king when he was on earth; Origen strives so far as he can, to disparage him as one reigning in heaven. As a result he has Pilate who replied to the Jews: ‘What I have written, I have written’ as the accuser of his crime.”
Theophilus of Alexandria, Sixteenth Festal Letter, par. 9.
This seems to be an interpretation of Origen’s teaching on “the end or consummation” as we find it in On First Principles (Book, I, Chapter 6). For Origen the Son of God contains within Himself the eternal principles (what St. Maximus the Confessor would say are the “logoi”) of all creation:
… Wisdom was the beginning of the ways of God, and is said to be created, forming beforehand and containing within herself the species and beginnings of all creatures …
Origen, On First Principles, Bk. I, Ch. 2, Par. 3.
In this sense the Son – who is Wisdom – is the beginning of all creation. In fact it is the Father who creates the world in and through the Son. It is important to notice here that Origen does not here attribute actual existence in a preexistent state to pre-incarnate spirits or souls. From there Origen argues that the relationship between creation and the Son enables the Father to orchestrate salvation:
We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued. For thus says holy Scripture,The Lord said to My Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. And if the meaning of the prophet’s language here be less clear, we may ascertain it from the Apostle Paul, who speaks more openly, thus:For Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.
Origen, On First Principles, Bk. I, Chap. 6, Par. 1.
Because the Son is the one who became incarnate the Father works salvation through Him. This – Origen argues – is what it means to say that God’s enemies are “conquered and subdued” Jesus Christ is therefore a conquering King. But what could Scripture mean when it asserts that this Kingdom is temporal and lasts only until ? It is here that Theophilus terribly misunderstands (or more maliciously, perhaps, misrepresents) Origen’s teaching. Theophilus, in his Sixteenth Festal Letter, points out that denying the eternity of the Kingdom of Christ implies that Father and Son are not one but separate. This would make Origen a proto-Arian in denying the consubstantiality of Father and Son:
Anyone who sets a term on the kingdom must be thought to feel the same about the divinity, which naturally possesses a perpetual sovereignty. Since the Word of God reigns, he is certainly God, and for that reason it follows that anyone who attempts to set term to the kingdom is compelled, as I have argued, to believe that Christ will also cease to be God.
Theophilus of Alexandria, Sixteenth Festal Letter, Par. 7.
For Theophilus Christ’s divinity depends on the eternity of Christ’s Kingdom insofar that when one asserts the temporality of one it of necessity implies the temporal nature of the other. This is not how Origen wants his teaching of the kingdom to be understood. For Origen Christ’s Kingdom is to be understood under two aspects as it were. First of all because Jesus Christ came to save us His kingship has a salvific aspect to it. Salvation is not an eternally ongoing process. The suffering of Christ is sufficient to end evil and sin. If sin and evil indeed come to an end – which they will – than salvation has a terminus. It is this that Origen undestands to be indicated when he asserts (from Scripture) that Christ’s Kingdom is until. But until when? Origen answers this question as follows:
Seeing, then, that such is the end, when all enemies will be subdued to Christ, when death— the last enemy— shall be destroyed, and when the kingdom shall be delivered up by Christ (to whom all things are subject) to God the Father; let us, I say, from such an end as this, contemplate the beginnings of things. For the end is always like the beginning: and, therefore, as there is one end to all things, so ought we to understand that there was one beginning; and as there is one end to many things, so there spring from one beginning many differences and varieties, which again, through the goodness of God, and by subjection to Christ, and through the unity of the Holy Spirit, are recalled to one end, which is like the beginning: all those, viz., who, bending the knee at the name of Jesus, make known by so doing their subjection to Him: and these are they who are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: by which three classes the whole universe of things is pointed out, those, viz., who from that one beginning were arranged, each according to the diversity of his conduct, among the different orders, in accordance with their desert; for there was no goodness in them by essential being, as in God and His Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. For in the Trinity alone, which is the author of all things, does goodness exist in virtue of essential being; while others possess it as an accidental and perishable quality, and only then enjoy blessedness, when they participate in holiness and wisdom, and in divinity itself.
Origen, On First Principles, Bk. I, Chap. 6, par 2.
The until is when Christ renders His Kingdom to His Father as St. Paul clearly says:
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
1 Corinthians 15, 24-28.
This – of course – is conveniently ignored in Theophilus’ argument. Nothing is here said about Jesus Christ ceasing to be God. What is argued here is that Christ’s Kingdom, insofar as it entails salvation history, has a conclusion. At this conclusion the Son renders the world (now free from all evil and sin) to the Father so that God will be “all in all.” To turn the tables on Theophilus a bit one could wonder if he believes that Christ’s salvific action is insufficient to complete the task of salvation? Presuming some sort of unending balance between the powers of good and evil? That the devil is in fact not defeated but will continue – forever – to wage war against Christ and the Saints? And if indeed Christ is not strong enough to defeat the devil and sin … can such a Christ really be God? It would seem that Theophilus’ God is equally matched by His own creation. Surely Theophilus would not have wanted to assert such folly?
In the end it would seem that God reigns over His creatures and that this reign has different aspects. The aspect of salvation history is temporal. The aspect of divine sovereignty is not. To say that the Father is saving creation through Jesus Christ is not to assert the lesser divinity of Jesus, anymore than it diminishes the Son’s divinity when we say that the father created the world through and in Him. In fact, I would argue, it implies the Son’s divinity.
In Evagrius’ Praktikos we will encounter this idea again. Right from the beginning he asserts that there are two Kingdoms. That of Christ (Heaven) and that of God. The next post will be looking into that more deeply.
Fr. Gregory Wassen