Looking at the sequence of creation from its inception to its conclusion, one could summarize Origen’s system as follows: Originally all beings existed as pure mind on an ideational or thought level. Humans, angels, and heavenly bodies lacked incarnate existence and had their being only as ideas. This is a very natural view for anyone like Origen who was trained in both Christian and Platonic thought. Since there is no account in the scriptures of what preceded creation, it seemed perfectly natural to Origen to appeal to Plato for his answers.
God for the Platonist is pure intelligence and all things were reconciled with God before creation – an assumption which scripture does not appear to contradict. Then as the process of fall began, individual beings became weary of their union with God and chose to defect or grow cold in their divine ardor. As the mind became cool toward God, it made the first step down in its fall and became soul. The soul, now already once removed from its original state, continued with its defection to the point of taking on a body. This, as we know from Platonism, is indeed a degradation, for the highest type of manifestation is on the mental level and the lowest is on the physical.
Such an account of man’s fall does not mean that Origen rejected Genesis. It only means that he was willing to allow for allegorical interpretation; thus Eden is not necessarily spacially located, but is a cosmic and metaphysical event wherein pure disincarnate idea became fettered to physical matter. What was essential for Christianity, as Origen perceived, is that the fall be voluntary and result in a degree of estrangement from God.
Where there is a fall, there must follow the drama of reconciliation. Love is one of God’s qualities, as Origen himself acknowledged, and from this it follows that God will take an interest in the redemption of his creatures. For Origen this means that after the drama of incarnation the soul assumes once again its identity as mind and recovers its ardor for God.
It was to hasten this evolution that in the fullness of time God sent the Christ. The Christ of Origen was the Incarnate Word (he was also the only being that did not grow cold toward God), and he came both as a mediator and as an incarnate image of God’s goodness. By allowing the wisdom and light of God to shine in one’s life through the inspiration of Jesus Christ, the individual soul could swiftly regain its ardor for God, leave behind the burden of the body, and regain complete reconciliation with God. In fact, said Origen, much to the outrage of his critics, the
extent and power of God’s love is so great that eventually all things will be restored to him, even Satan and his legions.
Since the soul’s tenancy of any given body is but one of many episodes in its journey from God and back again, the doctrine of reincarnation is implicit. As for the resurrection of the body, Origen created a tempest of controversy by insisting that the physical body wastes away and returns to dust, while the resurrection takes on a spiritual or
transformed body. This is of course handy for the reincarnationist, for it means that the resurrected body either can be the summation and climax of all the physical bodies that came before or indeed may bear no resemblance at all to the many physical bodies.
There will come a time when the great defection from God that initiated physical creation will come to an end. All things, both heavenly bodies and human souls, will be so pure and ardent in their love for God that physical existence will no longer be necessary. The entire cohesion of creation will come apart, for matter will be superfluous. Then, to cite one of Origen’s favorite passages, all things will be made subject to God and God will be “all in all.” ( 1 Cor 15:28 ) This restoration of all things proposed by Origen gave offense in later centuries. It seemed quite sensible to Origen that anything that defects from God must eventually be brought back to him. As he triumphantly affirmed at the end of his “On First Principles”, men are the “blood brothers” of God himself and cannot stay away forever.