Concerning beginnings

Ethereal bodies

We saw Jerome engaging Jovinian about virginity and marriage. To Jerome any value marriage might have is because of two things: 1. marriage limits fornication by taming lust within the marital bond; 2. insofar as husband and wife are in fact applying celibacy and general abstinence their marriage receives value by realizing (however imperfectly) the ideal of virginity. Perhaps Jerome’s language is too similar  to a condemnation of marriage for our (certainly mine ! ) comfort, he still makes some interesting and valuable points. It is too bad we do not have access to Jovinian directly. I wonder how much he would have been able to agree with Jerome if we simply remove the unbalanced elements of Jerome’s teaching.

We have also seen Jerome argue that the condition in which the bodies of Adam and Eve found themselves in Paradise before the Fall differs from their condition after the Fall (into sin). We have also seen that the pre-existence of disembodied souls falling into bodies as a punishment for their sins, is a classic feature of whatever Origenism can be said to be. It is at this point that we must consider more closely what it is that Origen himself wrote about this subject. An interesting development can be seen in a footnote of a very important study on the sixth century Origenist crisis: The Second Origenist Controversy by Daniel Hombergen. Summarizing the First Origenist Controversy Hombergen writes:

They attacked Origen without a sense of history, failing to grasp the difference between hypotheses that are postulated by way of excercise (gymnastikos) and theses that are posited as doctrines (dogmatikos). As a result, Origen was charged with a doctrinal system that he had never advanced as such. The charges concerned primarily speculation about the pre-existence of human souls before the creation of the material world and a final restoration (apokatastasis) of all rational beings at the end of time.

Daniel Hombergen, The Second Origenist Controversy, p. 25-6.

In a footnote Hombergen expands on the accusation  of preexistence as follows:

In the Peri Archon, Origen had tried to resolve certain contemporary questions concerning the origins of the human soul, by speculating that the souls of all rational beings had pre-existed, in ethereal bodies, as intelligences (noi) united in the divine contemplation.

Daniel Hombergen, The Second Origenist Controversy, footnote 18, p. 25.

Hombergen’s description is indicative of a significant advance in recovering Origen’s true thought as opposed to how he is represented by Epiphanius, Jerome, Theophilus, and Justinian. Ever since it has been established that the 15 Anathemas of Justinian cannot be found in any of Origen’s writings there has been a re-interpretation afoot which holds that Origen could not have held to an actual disembodied and natural state for souls. Particularly since Origen asserts repeatedly that only Father, Son, and Holy Ghost exist entirely without bodies by nature. To be naturally without body is to be God. To be a creature is, necessarily, to be embodied. It is no longer acceptable today that the Anathemas against Origen are inserted in the text of On First Principles (Peri Archon), nor can we simply accept that fragments from sources hostile to Origen represent the doctrine of Origen more truly compared to Rufinus’s translations. With this development a long lost Origenist doctrine can be recovered: that souls are always in bodies and that bodies can exist in different conditions. The so-called preexistence is a state where souls inhabit ethereal bodies in a paradisaical environment. Sin is an embodied act and has bodily consequences. The bodies become corrupted and are no longer fit for life in Paradise so they are cast out of Eden and now must inhabit a world which fits their corrupted bodies. This is the world characterized the loss of virginity and by the presence of marriage!

To be continued

Fr. Gregory Wassen


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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