260). This cosmological discussion is one reason Origen is said to have "created, indeed embodied, the first model of a scientific theology;" his approach to the notion of metempsychosis, like nearly all of his theological work, is rooted in a steadfast determination to distinguish "between the dogmata of the church tradition and the problemata which were to be discussed" according to reason, logic, and a prototype of the scientific method (Kung 1994, pp. 48-49). As will be seen, Origen's focus on not-yet-determined points of Christianity would ultimately contribute to his condemnation as a heretic, because could be considered genuine, innocent investigation in the third century would rapidly become dangerous propaganda to the Church's ruling powers.
Origen's description of an ultimate, total reunification should not be taken to mean that he is arguing that the actions one takes within the temporal world is meaningless, since everything will ultimately be united once again in Christ. Rather, Origen is suggesting that while every created thing's ultimate fate will be the same (subjugation to Christ), that subjugation will be seen as either defeat or reward, depending on the merit of the individual. Thus, for "those who fell from a better condition without at all looking back, and who are called the devil and his angels, and the other orders of evil," this subjugation and return to Christ will represent the ultimate defeat, because their efforts to descend to a lower position will have proved futile; regardless the extent of their own depravity and rebellion, they will ultimately fail at achieving any lasting effect, because they cannot corrupt the eternal God (2007b, p. 261). Likewise, for those who have "remained in that beginning which we have described as resembling the end which is to come" and "obtained, in the ordering and arrangement of the world, the rank of angels," as well as those who have, through struggle and commitment, been "restored to their condition of happiness," subjugation and return to Christ represents the ultimate goal of all their efforts, as "the individual soul enjoys an intimate union with the Word of God" (2007b, p. 261, Dively Lauro 2010, p. 200).
In this way, Origen is able "to reconcile the conflicting claims of perfect justice and infinite mercy," because his notion of metempsychosis simultaneously includes the punishment of sin and the eventual reconciliation in Christ without diminishing either (Bowen 1881, p. 318). Origen suggests that "the time is coming when the Logos will overpower every rational nature and perfect each soul so that it will choose from its own freedom what the Logos wills," but this is not the self-contradictory proposition it might appear to be upon first glance (Heine 2011, "But on the other hand"). Instead, when considered in the context of the end of the world as described by Origen, it becomes clear that those righteous souls will already have reached the point whereby they would naturally assent to the will of the Logos (Origen's term for that element of God that interacts with temporality), and conversely, the punishment for those sinful souls will be the overpowering of their rebellious will and subjugation under Christ.
Within this context, one may begin to understand how Origen's notion of metempsychosis differs from the transmigration he condemns, because Origen is careful to highlight how this metempsychosis confirms and conforms to the very same Scriptural notions transmigration supposedly defies. Returning to Paul's assertion that "the fashion of this world passeth away," Origen suggests that "if the fashion of the world passes away, it is by no means an annihilation or destruction of their material substance that is shown to take place, but a kind of change of quality and transformation of appearance" (2007b, p. 262). In other words, while transmigration...
Thus, where transmigration suggests a process by which all souls are oriented towards, and will ultimately reach, an idealized state prior to the end, Origen proposes a system wherein souls may endeavor towards a multiplicity of states, and only fully attain an idealized state after Christ's return and the "consummation" promised. Recognizing this highlights another point where transmigration defies Scripture and Origen's particular form of metempsychosis conforms to it; Origen notes that the Scriptures predict "a multitude of sinners at the time of the destruction of the world," something that would be impossible with transmigration but essentially demanded by Origen's metempsychosis (2007a, p. 474).
One may also return to Origen's discussion of bodies in order to better understand how he is able to argue for metempsychosis while disavowing transmigration. To reiterate, Origen does not limit the bodies a soul might inhabit to solely human forms, but instead suggests that the soul may travel through, "by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers" (2007b, p. 261). Origen finds the possibility of these alternate bodies within his view of the eternal God, because he questions "how beings so numerous and powerful are able to live and to exist without bodies, since it is an attribute of the divine nature alone -- i.e., of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- to exist without any material substance, and without partaking in any degree of a bodily adjunct" (2007b, p. 262). As stated above, a cursory reading suggests that this inclusion of angelic or demonic bodies merely adds to the number of potentially inhabitable bodies without addressing the problem of a finite supply of ever-improving souls. However, when considered within the context of Origen's larger cosmology regarding the nature of the temporal universe, it becomes clear that this inclusion of angelic and demonic bodies is more than a mere addition of potential bodies; instead, it reflects the exponential possibility of movement and change within Origen's notion of metempsychosis.
Furthermore, the possibility of inhabiting angelic or demonic bodies depending on one's actions is crucial to understanding Origen's position regarding "the existence of human souls before birth [and] previous formative activities, the consequences of which are brought into earthly incarnation, showing positive or negative effects" (Frieling 1997, p. 10). Origen views every station of life, whether one is talking about angels and demons or masters and slaves, as predicated upon earlier actions and "conferred by Divine Providence in just and impartial judgment according to their merits" (2007b, p. 261). Therefore, one must further view Origen's inclusion of angelic and demonic bodies as not merely potential habitats for the human soul following a "first" life, but rather the potential origin of any given soul; that is, because all souls were initially created in what one might call a neutral (yet righteous) state, one must presume that any given human at some point must have inhabited that same rank as angels (even if only briefly), and furthermore, that any given human may have even previously existed in a state of moral lack lower than humans. Although Origen notes that there are "certain beings who fell away from that one beginning of which we have spoken" and:
Have sunk to such a depth of unworthiness and wickedness as to be deemed altogether undeserving of that training and instruction by which the human race, while in the flesh, are trained and instructed with the assistance of the heavenly powers; and continue, on the contrary, in a way state of enmity and opposition to those who are receiving this instruction and teaching, he does not explicitly deny the possibility that these lower beings "will in a future world be converted to righteousness because of their possessing the faculty of freedom of will" (2007b, p. 261). As such, one must conclude that in Origen's view, the human experience is not necessarily the lowest point at which a soul may find itself, and furthermore, that this human experience may actually be an elevated position relative to the soul's past experience.
Within 4th century Christianity, Origen is not alone in proposing a form of reincarnation, even if his is more unique and somewhat more refined than his contemporaries (as evidenced by the comparison between transmigration and Origen's metempsychosis) (Bovon 2010, pp. 392-393, Hurtado 2005, p. 122). Furthermore, as recently as the last century certain tenets of Origen's thought have been reiterated by theologians and scholars; for example, a group of clergymen from the Church of England assert that "the only hypothesis which covers all the facts, is simply this: that the history of souls does not begin…
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