The True Fate of “the so-called Devil” in Origen

Post by
Ambrose Andreano

Universalism must affirm the ultimate restoration even of the originator of evil itself if it is to remain logically consistent on the restoration of all rational creatures and all creation. To deny this is to simply deny the universality of the restoration.

Category
Perspective

Did Origen really think even the devil would be saved? Some have argued that Origen did not believe this. Some wish even to assert that Origen was not even a universalist, which is even more perplexing to me, since this conclusion is logically impossible to arrive at when one understands the systematic exegetical logic of his thought. I will explain why these interpretations of Origen are incorrect, and why Origen was not only a universalist, but one that also affirms, by necessity, the restoration of even he who authored death. But first, a little on the seeming contradictions...

In his Commentary on Romans, Origen says:

“For I saw that Satan had fallen like lightning from heaven”; and that fall of which Isaiah says, “How has Lucifer fallen from heaven, who was rising in the morning?” He is denying, then, that Israel had fallen by this kind of fall. For indeed there will be a conversion for them at the end of the age, at that time when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, and all Israel will be saved; but for that one who is said to have fallen from heaven, there will not be any conversion at the end of the age.[1]

These readers interpret Origen’s words to mean that he did not believe Satan, the celestial person, can ever be restored at any point in our future. However, what these readers fail to notice is that Origen specifically says there would not be a conversion "at the end of the age," which is to say this age, because mankind is restored first. Origen does not mean all future ages, because he imagines different demographics being restored at different future ages.

First we must understand that Origen, who is a supremely nuanced thinker, has a multi-dimensional definition of what Satan (usually translated to mean “Enemy”) actually means. “Satan” can refer to (a) “The Enemy” called Lucifer (but more precisely called Samma’el by the mystics[2]): one specific heavenly being that fell from blessedness at some point in the distant past, which Origen would call the “strict” sense, (b) “The Enemy” called death - which is simply death personified, being a more metaphorical sense, (c) “The Enemy” called immorality - which is anything contrary to virtue, being a more mystical sense concerning the “Satan within” (that is, our immorality). Therefore, correctly interpreting what Origen says about Satan can only be accomplished by intentionally examining which sense he means when he says “Satan.” Origen explains these different “Satans” in Against Celsus:

The word Satan in Hebrew, which some spell in a more Hellenic fashion as Satan as, means adversary when translated into Greek. Every man who has chosen evil and to live an evil life so that he does everything contrary to virtue is a Satan, that is, an adversary to the Son of God who is righteousness, truth, and wisdom. But speaking more strictly, the Adversary is the first of all beings that were in peace and lived in blessedness who lost his wings and fell from the blessed state. According to Ezekiel he walked blameless in all his ways until iniquity was found in him, and being 'a seal of likeness and a crown of beauty' in the paradise of God he became, as it were, sated with good things and came to destruction, as the Word tells us which mysteriously says to him: 'Thou didst become destruction and shalt not exist for ever.' However, although we have boldly and rashly committed these few remarks to writing in this book, perhaps we have said nothing significant. But if anyone with the time to examine the holy scriptures were to collect texts from all sources and were to give a coherent account of evil, both how it first came to exist and how it is being destroyed, he would see that the meaning of Moses and the prophets with regard to Satan has not even been dreamt of by Celsus or by any of the people who are dragged down by this wicked daemon and are drawn away in their soul from God and the right conception of Him and from His Word.[3]

And prior to this, Origen has already stated the distinction between the devil as devil, and the devil as a rational creation of God:

And no one will be able to know the origin of evils who has not grasped the truth about the so-called devil and his angels, and who he was before he became a devil, and how he became a devil, and what caused his so-called angels to rebel with him. Anyone who intends to know this must possess an accurate understanding of daemons, and be aware that they are not God's creation in so far as they are daemons, but only in so far as they are rational beings of some sort. And he must understand how they came to be such that their mind put them in the position of daemons. Accordingly if there is any subject among those that need study among men which is baffling to our comprehension, the origin of evil may be reckoned as such.[4]

Here we see that Origen conceives of “the so-called devil” as simply he who first fell. He interprets “devil” (which can be viewed as synonymous with “Satan”) to be fundamentally the enslavement of the will. The devil is not called “devil” because he is a devil by nature, but by will. In other words, option (c) above. The devil is immoral by will, therefore he is the Devil (which is true of every wicked man, including Paul, as we will see below). The devil was the first to be immoral by will, therefore he is The devil, being head of the headless. And if anyone be confused as to how it is all they who are wicked are called “the devil,” let them be asked how it is that elsewhere all they who are contrary to Christ are called “Antichrist.” For the scriptures say “every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God; and such is the spirit of Antichrist.”[5]

Origen views the devil as the personification of that which is contrary to life and virtue, which is option (b) in the list above. In other words, sin is the devil; death is the devil. He explains both this and why the first fallen angel is uniquely called “the devil” because he was first to fall in his Commentary on Romans:

It may be the case that, just as he said that all these good things come into being through our Lord Jesus Christ, so also he wanted it to be understood that those evils have arisen through the devil. But he has remained silent about the name of the originator of those things in order that he might attribute the superabundance in all things to grace. For just as Christ is indeed one in essence but may be designated in many ways according to his virtues and operations (for example he is understood to be grace itself, as well as righteousness, peace, life, truth, the Word) so perhaps also the devil can himself be understood by various designations. For he should be thought of as the sin which is said to exercise dominion. Also one has to believe that he is that death of which it is said, “For the last enemy, death, will be destroyed.” Moreover he is understood to be a desolation according to what has been spoken by the prophet, “You have become a desolation and you will not exist in eternal time.” Furthermore I think that what the Apostle says, “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies,” could be said even more about the devil. For he is the author of sin and death and desolation, and the author of an invention is logically named after the things he has invented. So then, it is impossible that a soul exists at any time without having a ruler. But we must make provision that Christ should be that ruler, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, and not the devil, whose dominion is burdensome. For it is wickedness which sits enthroned upon a leaden weight; but wherever Christ reigns, there grace and righteousness superabound unto eternal life.[6]

We know that Origen believed that all these celestial archons, regardless of rank or moral status, are essentially rational and dynamic beings like us: able to will and change and so on. He says this explicitly in On First Principles:

Then, in the next place, one should know that every rational being that turns aside from the measures and ordinances of reason is undoubtedly involved in sin by this departure from what is right and just. Every rational being, therefore, is capable of praise and censure: of praise, if, in conformity to that reason which he has in himself, he advance to better things; of censure, if he depart from the order and course of what is right, for which he is rightly subject to pains and penalties. And this is also thought to apply to the devil himself and those who are with him and are called his angels.[7]
Origen’s Doctrine of Destruction

Does this mean Origen thinks the devil will be saved and not be destroyed? No. On the contrary, Origen believes the angelic entity (we shall call Samma’el) will be restored through the destruction of “Satan.” That is, that which is “the enemy” within Samma’el will be destroyed so that the  creature can be restored. Christ says the divine flames of the coming age are prepared “for the devil and his angels.”[8] We know that these flames are the presence of God Himself, because scripture says “God is a consuming fire,”[9] and that the destruction and punishment comes from the presence of the Lord,”[10] destroying “with the brightness of his coming.”[11] And what kind of fire is this except the refiner’s fire? For scripture says “who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers'soap”[12] And elsewhere scripture says, “when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”[13] Therefore, the devil is destroyed because his works are destroyed, and this is precisely the mechanism through which salvation occurs. As the apostle says, “If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”[14] To understand this, we must understand Origen’s mystical understanding of what it means for God to “destroy” persons.

He says the following in his Homilies on Jeremiah:

But the words of God do not end with these: to uproot, demolish and destroy. For let what is bad be uprooted from me, the inferior demolished! If the superior was not planted before the others were uprooted, what does it matter to me? What does it matter to me if what is distinguished cannot be built up before these others? On account of this, first the words of God fulfill the need to uproot, demolish and destroy, then to build and to plant. In Scripture we always note that those acts which are “unpleasant-seeming,” as I will name them, are listed first, then those acts which seem gladdening are mentioned second. I will kill and I will make alive. He did not say, I will make alive and then I will kill. For it is impossible that what God has made to live would be taken away by himself or by someone else. But, I will kill and I will make alive. Whom will I kill? Paul the traitor, Paul the persecutor. And I will make alive so that he becomes Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ.[15]

And again in On First Principles:

For the destruction of the last enemy must be understood in this way, not that its substance which was made by God shall perish, but that the hostile purpose and will which proceeded, not from God but from itself, will come to an end. It will be destroyed, therefore, not in the sense of ceasing to exist, but of being no longer an enemy and no longer death. For to the Almighty nothing is impossible, nor is anything beyond the reach of cure by its maker.[16]

According to Origen, St Paul was "destroyed" by God. This does not mean to suggest that Paul was annihilated from existence, or tormented without end. It simply means Paul "the persecutor;" Paul “the Satan” was destroyed, that he may become Paul "the apostle of Jesus Christ." Paul as Satan is not truly Paul, but a shadow or void of the true Paul that must be burned away. This Paul that must be destroyed is not the Apostle Paul, but Paul Achamoth, having not the heavenly wisdom of life, but one who has fallen into the lesser wisdom of death. The shadow self is what must be completely destroyed, that the true self can emerge and live everlasting life. This is the mystical sense in which God destroys.

Origen’s Doctrine of Life and Death

However, there are other reasons besides these why it cannot be said that Origen was not a universalist or believed that Samma’el would not be saved. For example, in his Commentary on Romans he explicitly says life and death logically cannot both exist forever, because this makes death equal to life:

Nevertheless no matter how much a person may continue in sin, no matter how much he should hold out under the dominion and authority of death, I do not think that the kingdom of death is therefore of eternal duration in the same way as that of life and righteousness, especially when I hear from the Apostle that the last enemy, death, is going to be destroyed. And in fact, if the duration of the eternity of death is supposed to be the same as that of life, death will no longer be the contrary to life but its equal. For an eternal will not be contrary to an eternal, but identical. Now it is certain that death is contrary to life; therefore it is certain that if life is eternal, death cannot be eternal; whence also the resurrection of the dead necessarily takes place. For when the death of the soul, who is the last enemy, should be destroyed, likewise this common death, which, we have said to be like the shadow of the other one, shall necessarily be abolished. Logically, at that time room will be made for the resurrection of the dead, when the dominion of death has been destroyed equally with death.[17]

Origen here says not just death, but “the dominion of death” must cease to exist. In other words, not just the mortality of the flesh, but spiritual death: the dominion death has over the soul. Because the destruction of the body cannot exist in an everlasting form, neither can the destruction of the soul. In other words, there will be no one left as an enemy.

Listen to what Origen says in his Commentary on John:

I think its stopping point and goal is in the so-called restoration because no one is left as an enemy then, if indeed the statement is true, ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. But the last enemy to be destroyed is death’[18]

And we know that the cessation of sin is what Origen means by “the dominion of death” because he says the following:

But I would like to ask particularly: Since we have indeed said that death had held dominion until the arrival of Christ, who is life, but the Apostle says that Christ had come not only to destroy death but also him who was holding the power of death, i.e., the devil, who is reigning? That is, before that which is written happens, “Then comes the end when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father.” For if we should say what seems logical, that life reigns when death has been destroyed, it could be objected to us: Why then is sin still being committed? It is clear that death exercises its dominion through sin. But if we should say that Christ, i.e., life, reigns in certain souls, and death in certain others, what persons shall we find in whom the dominion of life exists in such a way that the dominion of death has no authority in them? In other words, who is entirely free from sin? These matters seem to me to pertain instead to the future kingdom, and there those things are to be fulfilled where it is said, “That God may be all in all.” For this is why we are taught to say in the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come!” as if it has not yet come. And the Lord himself, when he began to preach, does not say: The kingdom of heaven has come, but: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”[19]
Origen’s Doctrine of Subjection

Another reason why Origen is, in fact, a universalist, is his doctrine of subjection as founded in 1 Corinthians 15. I have explained this elsewhere in my essay Origen Against Arius, but I will quickly explain it again:

[A]s long as I am not subjected to the Father, neither is he said to be "subjected,” to the Father. Not that he himself is in need of subjection before the Father but for me, in whom he has not yet completed his work, he is said not to be subjected, for, as we read, "we are the body of Christ and members in part.”[20]

Origen talks about Christ within us, His followers, being subordinate to the Father when we are, by faith, subordinate to the Father. Christ subjects the whole of humanity to the Father because the head subjects the members of the body to itself. For Christ, who is the head of the human race that sees the Father, is eternally fixed upon the Father: "for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner." Therefore, when all members of the body are subject to the head, all members of the body are subject to the Father, and God is all in all. This is why the destiny of man is to become as Christ, having Christ say to His mother concerning us: "Behold, your son."[21] To be a “right hand” of Christ, that is, a worker of the Church,[22] Christ says mystically concerning them: "This is my body." To be Body, possessed of His Spirit, is to be united with Christ. For Origen, every single person must have Christ reign within them in order for it to be said that God is “all in all.”[23] And for “all” enemies to be put under His feet,[24] death (in all its forms) must be no more, which means even the fallen angels have bowed to Christ. For scripture says “every knee will bow before me, and every tongue will confess.”[25] And not just confess, but confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”[26]

Subjection by Reason, not Force

Now, here is the most important detail: the subjection cannot be one by force and necessity, but by Word and Reason, because many will say “yes, everyone will bow and confess but not everyone will like it!” It is this very interpretation that Origen explicitly rejects. He wants to make this point so clear that he emphasizes it multiple times in the same paragraph:

And we add this, so that it may be more clearly understood what the glory of omnipotence is. The God and Father is Almighty because he has power over all things, that is, over heaven and earth, sun and moon, and all things in them. And he exercises power over them through his Word, for at the name of Jesus every knee bows, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth. And, if every knee bows to Jesus, then, without doubt, it is Jesus to whom all things have been subjected, and he it is who exercised power over all things, and through whom all things have been subjected to the Father; for it is through Wisdom, that is by Word and Reason, not by force and necessity, that they have been subjected. And therefore his glory is in the very fact that he possesses all things, and this is the purest and most clear glory of omnipotence, that by Reason and Wisdom, not by force and necessity, all things have been subjected. Now the purest and most clear glory of Wisdom is a convenient designation to distinguish it from that glory which is not called pure or genuine.[27]

And later on he says Christ restores not just mankind in particular, but the whole of creation itself, which encompasses all enemies, not just on earth but also those powers and principalities in high places:[28]

If, then, that subjection, by which the Son is said to be subject to the Father, is good and salvific, it is very logically and coherently concluded that the subjection also of enemies, which is said of the Son of God, is to be understood as something salvific and useful; so that, just as when the Son is said to be subjected to the Father, the perfect restoration of the whole creation is announced, so also when the enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the salvation of the subjected and the restoration of the lost is understood in that.[29]
I think its stopping point and goal is in the so-called restoration because no one is left as an enemy then, if indeed the statement is true, ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. But the last enemy to be destroyed is death’[30]

If even a single person bow and confess because they are forced to bow and confess, this only means death has not been destroyed. But if death is truly destroyed, then the bowing and confessing can only be done willingly, without coercion, by Word and Reason. And if this is the case for all rational creatures, then the only logical conclusion is that even Samma’el must be restored in the very end because death is destroyed. This is why anyone who understands Origen’s exegetical logic cannot assert that Origen rejects the restoration of the first fallen being. St Gregory of Nyssa correctly understood Origen's logic, which is why he said "the originator of evil himself will be healed.”[31] Nyssen's understanding of what it means for God to heal is identical to Origen's: to be healed is to be healed through wounding, as scripture testifies saying, "I wound, and I heal."[32] The idea here is the surgeon who must wound in order to heal. St Isaac the Syrian believes the same thing concerning the fallen archons,[33] as do others.

The First Fallen Shall Be The Last Fallen

Origen does not elaborate, but the Origenian interpreter can easily presume that because Samma’el was the first to fall, he would theoretically be the last to be restored, since the moral distance necessary for the first-fallen to traverse will be greatest, and as the Lord says mystically concerning the mysteries of salvation: “so shall the last be first, and the first last.”[34] The fact that the devil is not mortal, he does not have an inherent limiting mechanism that inhibits the potential damage caused, and this shows that the number and depth of sins are far greater than even the worst among men, living a mere “seventy or eighty years,”[35] give or take. This can only mean that the first-fallen will be the last remaining fallen.

However, I must take the time to comment on a now lost private letter from Origen’s hand that is quoted by Rufinus (as well as Jerome[36]). Origen says the following concerning those who were in his day manipulating his words after he had published them, creating contradictions:

They say that I claim that the father of wickedness and perdition, and of those who are cast out of the kingdom of God, that is, the devil, is to be saved. This is something which not even a madman and someone who is manifestly insane can say.[37]

This letter is by far the most obvious challenge to the idea that Origen believed in the salvation of the devil. We know for certain that Rufinus also believed Samma’el became The Devil through free choice and not by nature,[38] so we know they did not conceive of angels as having an ontological stasis (like much of the later medieval theologians). The question becomes: “Why did Origen say this, and what does he mean?

There are at least three main possibilities as to what is going on here:

  1. Origen really did believe Samma’el and the other fallen angels would not be restored at the time of writing this letter, and then later changed his tune and better refined his understanding the more he thought about the implications of this being true.
  2. Origen had a moment of weakness and caved under the pressure of having his entire reputation ruined over something that ultimately does not matter, so he condescended to the majority opinion as an attempt to stop the controversy from continuing.
  3. What Origen meant by the devil being “saved” was that Samma’el would be forgiven in the sense of escaping the punishment of hellfire rather than have to be restored through it. In other words, Origen is rejecting that the devil will be saved specifically at the end of this age and the age immediately following this one (see the quote at the beginning of this essay).

The fact of the matter is, Origen’s logic about this is spread out across many of his works, so all of them being interpolations is quite unlikely. And the exegetical logic is very obviously his own and not from another, as it is grounded in both scripture and airtight reasoning. Therefore, Origen not believing Samma’el would be ultimately restored is actually far more destructive to the underlying logic of his corpus as a whole, rather than if the reverse were true. Thus, regardless of whatever the case may be for this passage in question, it is almost certainly the case that he died believing in the restoration of all fallen angels.

The universalism that denies the salvation of all fallen angels is simply half-cocked. Universalism must affirm the ultimate restoration even of the originator of evil itself if it is to remain logically consistent on the restoration of all rational creatures and all creation. To deny this is to simply deny the universality of the restoration. Origen and his mystical descendants all knew this, which is why they all follow him in this. The archons are rational and dynamic creatures like we are, capable of change. Otherwise, how is it possible for them to fall to begin with? And if they can change enough to fall, it stands to reason that they can change enough to rise again. However, the question inevitably becomes, “How is it that Christ saves even the angels?” Origen responds:

[I]n those ages to come God will show the riches ‘of His grace in kindness,’ since the worst sinner, who has blasphemed the Holy Spirit and been ruled by sin from beginning to end in the whole of this present age, will afterwards in the age to come be brought into order, I know not how.[39]

 _______________

[1]  Origen, Commentary on Romans, 8.9.4.

[2]  In most esoteric Jewish and Christian literature, Satan is not called "Lucifer," but rather "Samma'el." He is also seen as "the venom of God," and is associated with blindness. In On the Origin of the World for example, Samma'el is a blind lion-headed serpent entity also named Yaldabaoth who mistakenly thought he was the only God. The word "Lucifer" really just means something like "shining/morning star," which is more of a figurative description than a name. Something similar occurs in Revelation 2:28 and 22:16 but as a description of Christ. Therefore in the scriptures the angelic entity called “Satan” and “Lucifer” remains, in actuality, unnamed.

[3]  Origen, Against Celsus 6.44.

[4]  Origen, Against Celsus 4.65.

[5]  1 John 4:3.

[6]  Origen, Commentary on Romans, 5.6.7-8.

[7]  Origen, On First Principles, 1.5.2.

[8]  Matthew 25:41.

[9]  Hebrews 12:29.

[10]  2 Thessalonians 1:9.

[11]  2 Thessalonians 2:8.

[12]  Malachi 3:2.

[13]  Job 23:10.

[14]  1 Corinthians 3:15.

[15]  Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah, 1.

[16]  Origen, On First Principles, 3.6.5.

[17]  Origen, Commentary on Romans, 5.7.8.

[18]  Origen, Commentary on John, 1.91.

[19]  Origen, Commentary on Romans, 5.3.7.

[20]  Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, 7.

[21]  cf. Commentary on John 1.23.

[22]  cf. Homilies on Joshua 14.

[23]  1 Corinthians 15:28.

[24]  1 Corinthians 15:25.

[25]  Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11

[26]  Philippians 2:10-11.

[27]  Origen, On First Principles 1.2.10.

[28]  cf. Ephesians 6:12.

[29]  Origen, On First Principles 3.5.7.

[30]  Origen, Commentary on John, 1.91.

[31]  Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Orations, 26.9.

[32]  Deuteronomy 32:39.

[33]  Isaac the Syrian, The Second Part, II.40.2-7.

[34]  Matthew 20:16.

[35]  cf. Psalm 90:10.

[36] Jerome, Apology Against Rufinus, 2.18.

[37]  Pamphilus, Apology for Origen (FOTC 120), trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010),p. 128.

[38]  Ibid., p. 126. Rufinus states, “Then again, the following kind of falsification is introduced: that the nature of the devil and of other demons was produced not from the wickedness of their purpose and will, but from an exceptional and separate quality of their creation. Yet assuredly elsewhere Clement taught that every rational creature was endowed with the faculty of free choice”

[39]  Origen, On Prayer, 27.15.

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