Friday, May 30, 2008

Updated Version of Origen and the Eternal Generation

B. Origen and the Eternal Generation of the Son

There is some debate to what extent Origen affirms God’s paternity. Does he teach the eternal generation doctrine? In what sense is God “Father” in Origenian thought? While the ancient writer is not altogether clear in this respect, there probably is a sense in which Hall’s analysis of Origen aptly encapsulates his thought: “God was however always Father; he could not change from one condition (not-Father) to another (Father). So the Son exists in God’s timeless eternity.” Origen himself possibly affirms the eternal generation of the Son in view of his sentential locution “There was not when he was not.” Nonetheless, his theological account suggests that the Son is not intrinsically God (autotheos), but God by derivation only (Commentary on the Gospel of John 2.2). The Son is not “self-sufficiently” God ; only the Father is Godself (autotheos) in Origen’s theological paradigm. The Son is God in a strictly predicative manner or to a lesser degree than the Father is. But in what sense is the Father greater than the Son in Origen’s system?

Hall indicates that Origen possibly balances his alleged subordinationism by means of the eternal generation doctrine, which would mean that the inferiority which he evidently ascribes to the Son is not ontological in nature. On the other hand, William J. Hill observes: “Still, eternal generation does not of itself give divine status because Origen views all spiritual beings, both what he calls theoi and human souls, as eternal.” Similarly, Brown laments Origen’s problematic approach to Christology and the Trinity since “he also taught the preexistence of individual human souls and spoke of those who are in Christ as eternally begotten.” Nevertheless, it has been argued that this speculation about eternal souls does not diminish Origen’s trinitarian contribution to the church. Nevertheless, Brown acknowledges that while Origen’s eternal generation doctrine seemingly defeated the notion that the Son is temporally posterior to the Father, it “did not entirely throw off the assumptions of earlier Christian thinkers that the Son is subordinate to the Father” or not fully divine. Studer equally concludes that Origen “does not succeed in ruling out subordinationism.” He points to Origen’s belief that there are hierarchical grades in deity with the Son possibly being one of the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision of YHWH’s glory (Peri Archon 1.3.4). Yet, certain scholars attempt to resolve the intricacies of Origen’s scheme by positing the Son’s subordination to the Father in an economic sense. What makes matters more problematic, however, is that the extant writings of Origen suggest that he himself may have inconsistently formulated his doctrine of the Father and the Son. It is possible that Origen views the Son as ontologically subordinate to the Father (Contra Celsum 8.15) whereas other passages appear to teach that he does not think the Son is lesser in relation to his Father. The treatises of Origen accordingly tend to be aporetic.

Another factor lending itself to the aporetic tendencies of Origen's theology is his use of the term “creature” (kti,sma) for the Son. This usage has generated many discussions in Origen studies, discussions that have not led to wholly satisfactory conclusions. The first systematic theologian evidently derives kti,sma from Proverbs 8:22-25 (LXX). Neoplatonism may also influence what seems to be an idiosyncratic utilization of “creature” (kti,sma). Crouzel in fact believes that “creation” (kti,sij) for Origen applies to “everything that comes from God.” Along with Prestige and Wiles, he notes the fluid synonymity that existed between the words “generate” (genna,w) and “create” (gi,nomai) prior to Nicea. If this line of reasoning corresponds with the speech strategy of Origen, there would appear to be no genuine conflict between his supposed affirmation of the eternal generation doctrine and his manifest employment of “creature.” Yet although the Father putatively generates the Son timelessly in the thought of Origen, he clearly adheres to the notion that there are grades of being in the divine. Bulgakov thinks that Origen does not master cosmological subordinationism “with reference to the mutual relations of the hypostases, with reference to their equal dignity and divinity.” Even if he did posit a timeless or eternal generation for the Son, Origen also argues that other “created” rational spirits are eternal. In the final analysis, if “Father” is a metaphor for Christianity’s first systematic theologian, it is a rather curious trope that appears in his writings.

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