Origen of Alexandria was perhaps the first theologian of the early church.
Born in 184 or 185 AD, his writings on the Old Testament and his commentaries on the letters that became the New Testament were critical in a time of wide-spread persecution and developing doctrine. More than anyone, it was Origen who formulated Christian doctrine in response to the competing philosophies of the day.
An important aspect, or maybe the important aspect of Origen’s doctrine and philosophy was the idea of apokatastasis or the “restoration of all things.” Origen believed strongly in the free will of humanity, but he also believed that God would draw all things back to himself, that each person, ultimately, would choose the good, even if it took some a while to get there. Of course, Origen did not believe in eternal conscious torment, but was instead confident that 1 Corinthians 15:28 (God will be “all in all”) meant that God would reconcile all things to himself.
In an article (click here) on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward Moore says this: “Origen believed that God’s love is so powerful as to soften even the hardest heart, and that the human intellect – being the image of God – will never freely choose oblivion over proximity to God, the font of Wisdom Himself.” Origen believed that, given the freedom to choose, eventually everyone will respond to God in Christ.
Now, you don’t have to study Origen very long to determine he was later charged with heresy by some and some of his teachings were condemned at a church council a few hundred years later; however, it seems important to remember, compared to the open discussion at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD (in a Roman Empire that had since embrace Christianity), Origen was working in a vacuum. He was responding to several different sects and ideas and working by himself, in a period of persecution, to establish that which had not yet been discussed by a formal church gathering. He surely didn’t get it all right (none of us do) but Origen is considered a church father, and (in the same article) Edward Moore calls him, “the first systematic theologian and philosopher of the Christian church.” The theology and doctrine that the church would later refine began, in large part, with Origen.
Of course, as we said a few days ago, responding to competing ideas and establishing the bounds of orthodoxy was a purpose for the New Testament writings as well. Paul and the other NT authors, those who had lived and walked with Jesus, were the authoritative voices in the early church and they wrote to encourage and instruct believers in matters of life and doctrine in the face of competing voices and ideas.
However, since the time of the writings that were eventually put together to become the canon of Scripture known as the New Testament, church leaders and theologians have been studying those writings and trying to “distill them down into a doctrine,” trying to interpret them carefully so they can teach people the principles and truths they find in them. And, to me, it seems noteworthy that the first such person, the first systematic theologian, reading and interpreting the same letters you and I read today, believed God would ultimately redeem everyone. At a time when interpretive lenses from our denominational differences were non-existent, Origen found ultimate redemption in the Scriptures. Not that he didn’t have his own set of lenses, but at least it seems significant that he, the early church’s first theologian, was an ultimate redemptionist.
It seems like good news.
Really good news, really.