Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Origen of Alexandria: Purgatory or Paradisiacal School of Souls?

with 3 comments

The usual Roman Catholic and Anglican belief is that, after death, souls go to Purgatory. This is traditionally envisioned as a purifying fire, though many suggest that ‘fire’ is to be understood in a metaphorical sense, representing a potentially painful purification.

While it is believed that souls of the good will eventually join God in heaven, this would actually happen after the end of the world, the General Resurrection and the Last Judgment.  So, even one who lived the most saintly life on earth would not go to heaven immediately, but would need to wait until after end times before receiving his or her final reward.

So what do souls of the good do in the meantime?  If they sinned little, why would they  remain in Purgatory for a protracted period?

Some theologians suggest that in the intermediate state, that is, the period between death and the General Resurrection, redeemed and sufficiently purified souls may go to not to heaven, but to different place, which is itself pleasant enough to merit the name Paradise.

Scriptural evidence comes from Jesus’ words on the cross to the penitent thief: Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)   Jesus said not “some day” but today the thief would be in Paradise.

Origen (184 – 254 AD), the enigmatic and mystical Church Father from Alexandria, Egypt, conjectured on the intermediate state in his speculative work, On First Principles (De Principiis).  He suggested that perhaps the just, after death, go to a place, Paradise, which is a school for souls.  He also mentioned an ascent through various spheres of heaven, using some of the same imagery as Gnostics (who were active in Alexandria at the same time, and whose work Origen knew well).  There are also associations to Jewish Merkabah mysticism, something which Origen also was exposed to by virtue of his tenure as a teacher in Caesarea, Palestine.

An extract of his work follows.  (As Origen’s sentences tend to be long, I’ve parsed them into something like blank verse poetry to aid understanding.)

Origen on the School of Souls

On First Principles, Book 2, Chapter 11, Sections 6-7 (2.11.6-7)

6… I think, therefore, that all the saints who depart from this life

will [first] remain in some place situated on the earth,

which holy Scripture calls paradise,

as in some place of instruction, and,

so to speak, class-room or school of souls,

in which they are to be instructed regarding all the things

which they had seen on earth,

and are to receive also some information respecting

things that are to follow in the future,

as even when in this life they had obtained

in some degree indications of future events,

although through a glass darkly,

all of which are revealed more clearly and distinctly

to the saints in their proper time and place.

If any one indeed be pure in heart, and holy in mind,

and more practised in perception, he will,

by making more rapid progress, [then]

quickly ascend to a place in the air,

and reach the kingdom of heaven,

through those mansions, so to speak,

in the various places which the Greeks

have termed spheres, i.e., globes,

but which holy Scripture has called heavens;

in each of which he will first see clearly what is done there,

and in the second place, will discover the reason

why things are so done:

and thus he will in order pass through all gradations,

 following Him who has passed into the heavens,

Jesus the Son of God, who said,

I will that where I am, these may be also.

And of this diversity of places He speaks, when

He says, In My Father’s house are many mansions….

7. When, then, the saints shall have

reached the celestial abodes,

they will clearly see the nature of the stars

one by one,

and will understand

whether they are endued with life,

or their condition, whatever it is.

And they will comprehend also the

other reasons for the works of God,

which He Himself will reveal to them.

For He will show to them, as to children,

the causes of things and the power of His creation,

and will explain why that star was placed

in that particular quarter of the sky,

and why it was separated from another

by so great an intervening space;

what, e.g., would have been the consequence

if it had been nearer or more remote;

or if that star had been larger than this,

how the totality of things would not have remained the same,

but all would have been transformed

into a different condition of being.

And so, when they have finished all those matters

which are connected with the stars,

and with the heavenly revolutions,

they will come to those which are not seen,

or to those whose names only we have heard,

and to things which are invisible,

which the Apostle Paul has informed us are numerous,

although what they are, or what difference may exist among them,

we cannot even conjecture by our feeble intellect.

 

And thus the rational nature,

growing by each individual step,

not as it grew in this life in flesh, and body, and soul,

but enlarged in understanding and in power of perception,

is raised as a mind already perfect to perfect knowledge,

no longer at all impeded by those carnal senses,

but increased in intellectual growth; and ever gazing purely,

and, so to speak, face to face, on the causes of things, it attains perfection,

firstly, viz., that by which it ascends to (the truth),

and secondly, that by which it abides in it,

having problems and the understanding of things,

and the causes of events, as the food on which it may feast.

For as in this life our bodies grow physically to what they are,

through a sufficiency of food in early life supplying the means of increase,

but after the due height has been attained we use food no longer to grow,

but to live, and to be preserved in life by it;

so also I think that the mind, when it has attained perfection,

eats and avails itself of suitable and appropriate food in such a degree,

that nothing ought to be either deficient or superfluous.

And in all things this food is to be understood

as the contemplation and understanding of God,

which is of a measure appropriate and suitable to this nature,

which was made and created;

and this measure it is proper should be observed by

every one of those who are beginning to see God,

i.e., to understand Him through purity of heart.

Source

Origen. De Principiis. Tr. Frederick Crombie. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV (ANF4). Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Eds. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1866-1872.

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Written by John Uebersax

February 23, 2012 at 11:37 pm

3 Responses

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  1. (about your pic) of COURSE the hot girl in the nude would be in Hell.

    Sick Boy McCoy

    February 24, 2012 at 2:16 am

    • I don’t understand why you say that. It’s a post about Purgatory, right? Why would one suppose that it shows her in Hell and not Purgatory? Also, who says the fire is hurting her? Maybe it’s a painless kind of fire. Maybe it even feels good in a way. Perhaps the point is that it makes her yearn for God. In any case, it seems like you’ve drawn conclusions based on your own a priori premises. You’re not alone there. That’s the human condition.

      John Uebersax

      March 11, 2012 at 5:06 pm


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