New book on Origen by Lenka Karfíková

Prof. Lenka Karfíková from Universita Karlova in Prague has recently published a book entitled Duše, prozřetelnost a svoboda podle Origena - The soul, providence, and freedom according to Origen. It contains six studies centering on this topic and includes discussions of Origen’s place among other authors. The book is in Hungarian, but if you are not fluent in this language, it also contains a lengthy summary in English, which we are happy to bring in this article.

The soul, providence, and freedom according to Origen: Six studies on Origen’s thinking and its reception in the West

- by Lenka Karfíková

This book is a collection of studies, which – although written on different occasions – were all motivated by my interest in the Christian reception of Platonism; more precisely, the effort of the authors of the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD to formulate Christian thinking against the backdrop of the philosophy of Platonism in its various stages. Origen’s place among other authors is discussed in most studies included in this volume: he is compared to theologians of the following centuries who wrote in Latin, leaving aside the issue of the extent to which these authors were directly inspired by Origen.

1) Nature perfected by the will: Origen and Augustine

This study shows the similarities in the points of departure of both theologians, namely the self-choice of rational beings, which, however, led to very diverse consequences; while according to Origen, rational beings themselves decide on their ontological status, and this possibility is available to them as long as the world lasts, in Augustine – following the gradual tightening of his doctrine on grace – we witness an increased emphasis on the perfection of the natures of angels and humans by the unfathomable divine will, although not in respect of their ontological status, but of the ultimate salvation or rejection.

The first study is a revised version of a 2008 paper entitled Přirozenost završená vůlí: Augustin a Origenes (Nature perfected by the will: Augustine and Origen), in: „Přirozenost“ ve filosofii minulosti a současnosti („Nature“ in the philosophy of the past and the future), ed. L. Chvátal – V. Hušek, Brno 2008, pp. 91–108.

2) Pre-existence of the soul according to Origen and Augustine in light of the biblical line Romans 9:11

The comparison of Origen and Augustine is also the topic of the 2nd study, in which I show similarities and differences between the authors using the motif of the exposition of the difficult biblical passage in Romans 9:10 –13 concerning the twins Esau and Jacob. In De principiis, Origen postulates the idea of the pre-existence and different attitudes of rational beings before their incarnation, which explains why God’s love for Jacob and his hatred of Esau before their birth is just. In his later works, however, this motif is replaced by other, especially allegorical, interpretations of the passage. Augustine, too, employs Romans 9:11 to seek the answer to the question regarding the origin of individual souls. In his case, nevertheless, it is not used to support the answer relying on the merits of souls before their incarnation, but, on the contrary, to reject Origen’s view on the basis of the inscrutability of God’s judgements (according to the apostle, neither Esau nor Jacob had done „anything good or evil“ before they were born which would have justified the election of one and repudiation of the other). Leaning, among others, on the line in Romans 9:11, Augustine departed from the pre-existence hypothesis, which he considered in his youth, and gradually went on to challenge it.

This study was presented in a very shortened English form entitled "Is Romans 9:11 proof for or against the pre-existence of the soul? Origen and Augustine in comparison" at the conference Origeniana XII, 25– 29.6, 2017 in Jerusalem.

3) The descent of the soul into the body according to Origen and Marius Victorinus: the exposition of line Eph. 1:4

The pre-existence of souls is also dealt with in the 3rd study, which, too, is based on the interpretation of a New Testament line provided by both authors, namely Eph. 1:4 concerning the election of the saints before the creation of the world. The comparison with Plotinus’ treatise On the descent of the soul into bodies (Enn. IV,8[6]) makes the contours of both Christian conceptions more apparent: both Origen’s concern for the moral justice of God and the universe and Victorinus’ belief in the value of the created world in which the soul can realise its possibilities and, thanks to this experience of „another“, become fully itself.

The study was presented in English at a conference on Marius Victorinus, 14–15.9, 2017 in Prague.

4) Providence, fate, and freedom: Origen and Boethius

Origen’s emphasis on freedom is clearly visible in his concept of providence as well, in which he anticipates in many respects the questions Boethius posed later. The 4th study points out, apart from many similarities, some differences between the authors, conditioned, among other things, by their philosophical sources. While both emphasise the freedom of rational beings and its moral implications, Origen’s concept reaches further than Boethius’. Not only does he seriously consider the freedom of the stars and other rational beings in addition to the freedom of the humans, but, above all, he allows divine providence to be affected by these beings. According to Origen, the divine care of the world does not so much consist in the realisation of the perfect plan of the divine mind by means of the chains of fate, as Boethius had it, as in the harmonisation of freedoms which God deliberately does not determine, but allows himself to be determined by in his arrangement of the world.

The English version of the study was written for the conference Pronoia in East and West 31.8. – 3.9, 2017 in Warsaw.

5) Christ, God and Man according to Origen

This study deals with a purely theological topic, one in which Christianity may have departed from Platonism to the largest extent, namely the idea of God’s incarnation. It is very interesting to observe how the author, who was deeply inspired by Platonism but who was also a distinguished expert on biblical texts, coped with it. Origen’s Christology is based on Christ’s double nature, but it seems to be centred around the human soul of Jesus’, which is a mediator between divinity and the human body. The exceptional love which this soul holds for the divine Logos links it with the Logos, and it even bestows divinity on the human body which the soul put on. It is as if Jesus’ soul alone were the mediator with God, but a certain soteriological importance is also attributed to Christ’s human body, as especially some passages of Origen’s exegetic works suggest.

The original German version "Christologie bei Origenes" was written for the conference Jesus der Christus im Glauben der einen Kirche (Symposium zu Ehren von Kardinal Alois Grillmeier) 20– 23.9, 2017 in Frankfurt am Main.

6) … that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:28): Resurrection of the body and the final renewal of all things

The concluding paper is an eschatological counterpart of the study which compares Origen and Augustine with respect to their ideas regarding the pre-existence of souls. As the account of Augustine’s eschatology follows his late work De civitate Dei, the difference between both authors is obvious. While Origen hopes for the restoration of all rational beings at the end of time and investigates the nature of their „spiritual bodies“, Augustine is convinced of two very different final destinies which await both cities of humans and angels, namely the eternal salvation of the city of God and the eternal damnation of the city of the devil. Augustine does not express any doubt about the corporeal resurrection; instead, he deals with the question of how the human body can be tortured eternally in the infernal fire without being liberated by death.

The study has been written for Professor Petr Pokorný’s project „Biblical Roots of Christian Culture“ (Donatio UC) and will be published in its proceedings.

The recurrent motifs of these studies expressed in the title of the book, "The soul, providence, and freedom", represent the key topics of Origen’s thinking in general. That is why the book will hopefully provide the reader with insight into the main accents of Origen’s systematic work as well as his similarities and differences with respect to the analogous attempts, which took place later on the Latin ground.

Published: 2019, Vyšehrad
Pages: 216 (hardcover)
ISBN: 978-80-7601-083-3

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