In this long thread on the Trinity I have been trying to explain how Christians came to the view that Jesus was God but that he was separate from God the Father – that both were God, but they were two different persons, and yet there was only one God. I will have far less to say about the Spirit, since he/she/it got added to the mix more or less because Christ was already in it, as we will see.
So far I have taken us up to the early third century, where one view had come to be widely rejected even though earlier it had been prominent: that Jesus actually *was* God the Father, come in the flesh (often called “modalism”). Now I want to look at a more sophisticated way of understanding the relationship of Christ to the Father. This one comes in the writings of Origen, one of the truly important Christian thinkers of the first three Christian centuries.
Origen came from Alexandria and was exceptionally learned and unbelievably prolific. According to the church father Jerome, Origen published 2000 books: including commentaries on the Bible, treatises, and homilies. He was without a doubt the most influential theologian before St. Augustine. In part that was because he accepted the “orthodox” view of things but tried to figure out how they actually *worked*. No one had done that before, at least in anything like this depth.
Origen provided an overview of his thinking in his book “On First Principles” (sometimes it goes by it’s Latin name, De Principiis, even though he wrote it in Greek). You can still buy it today! It’s very interesting reading if you are intrigued by early Christian theology. Among other things, Origen tries to figure out how Christ could be equal with God, fully God himself, yet distinct from God, and human too.
How exactly could a pre-existing divine figure become human? How, in becoming human, did it not diminish its divinity? And how can the human be divine without ceasing to be human? Origen’s solution is one of the ideas that ended up making him susceptible to the charge of heresy – centuries after his death. He came to believe in the “pre-existence of souls.” In this view, not only did Christ pre-exist his appearance on earth as a human, so did everyone else.
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