Origen on Theology and Christology 11

And it is He whom we call Son of God— Son of that God, namely, whom, to quote the words of Celsus, we most highly reverence; and He is the Son who has been most highly exalted by the Father. Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitudes of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Saviour is the Most High God; however, we do not hold with them, but rather believe Him when He says, The Father who sent Me is greater than I. We would not therefore make Him whom we call Father inferior — as Celsus accuses us of doing — to the Son of God. (Origen, Celsum, 8.14)

. . .

For we who say that the visible world is under the government to Him who created all things, do thereby declare that the Son is not mightier than the Father, but inferior to Him. And this belief we ground on the saying of Jesus Himself, The Father who sent Me is greater than I. And none of us is so insane as to affirm that the Son of man is Lord over God. But when we regard the Saviour as God the Word, and Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Truth, we certainly do say that He has dominion over all things which have been subjected to Him in this capacity, but not that His dominion extends over the God and Father who is Ruler over all. (Origen, Celsum, 8.14)

Origen explicitly excludes those who assert that the Son is the Most High God, meaning Origen would, it seems, anathematize Trinitarians had they been around (although here it most likely seems as though he is referring to Modalists since I don’t think there were any actual Trinitarians around, but the statement he makes applies equally to Trinitarians). He then says clearly that the Son is inferior to the Father, and certainly not vice versa, the Son has dominion over all things, but not over God and Father

Origen on Theology and Christology 10

We worship, therefore, the Father of truth, and the Son, who is the truth; and these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will. So entirely are they one, that he who has seen the Son, who is the brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His person, has seen in Him who is the image of God, God Himself. (Origen, Celsum, 8.12)

The Son and the Father are two substances, but one in the sense that they are one in thought and harmony of will, which is the exact way Jehovah’s Witnesses say the Father and Son are one, and how we interpret the passages in the Gospel of John where Jesus proclaims himself to be one with the Father. Their “oneness” is that of will, purpose, and thought; not ontological “oneness.”

Origen on Theology and Christology 9

For no one can worthily know the uncreated and first-born of all created nature like the Father who begot Him (Οὔτε γὰρ τὸν ἀγένητον καὶ πάσης γενητῆς φύσεως πρωτότοκον κατ’ ἀξίαν εἰδέναι τις δύναται ὡς ὁ γεννήσας αὐτὸν πατήρ), nor any one the Father like the living Logos, and His Wisdom and Truth. (Origen, Celsum, 6.17)

The English translation I’m using is by Frederick Crombie from the Ante-Nicean collection (edited by Roberts, Donaldson, Cox), and in that translation ἀγένητον is translated as uncreated, which is a strange translation, since γίνομαι is not the usual word used for create,  κτίζω is the usual choice. In fact, Jesus is explicitly μονογενὴς in John, as Origen obviously understands. However right after that, he says that the Logos id the first born of all things of a generated nature (γενητῆς φύσεως), and that the Father generated him (ὡς ὁ γεννήσας αὐτὸν πατήρ). So what’s going on here? I think the answer, consistent with the rest of Origen’s Christology and Theology, is that there is a hierarchy of being as well as a hierarchy of generation. The point is not that the Logos is not created at all, but rather that the Logos is not created in the same way that man is created, in relation to man he is “unbegotten”, since his existence comes directly from the Father, through direct participation in his uncreated divinity, whereas all of mankind is posterior to the first-born of all creation, the rest of creation gets its being, not through participation through the Father (the only AutoTheos), but from the Son.

Origen on Theology and Christology 8

For the Son of God, the First-born of all creation, although He seemed recently to have become incarnate, is not by any means on that account recent. For the holy Scriptures know Him to be the most ancient of all the works of creation (Πρεσβύτατον γὰρ αὐτὸν πάντων τῶν δημιουργημάτων ἴσασιν οἱ θεῖοι λόγοι,); for it was to Him that God said regarding the creation of man, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. (Origen, Celsum, 5.37)

Origen clearly, again, puts the Son of God on the creation side of the creation/creator divide. Origen is following Philo here in claiming that man is made in the image of the Logos, who himself is made in the image of God. Origen here confirms his position on a hierarchy of being, and the analogy between the generation of the Logos and the creation of man. Later on, in Contra Celsum 5.58, Origen speaks of Jesus as the Angel of God, who was helped out of the tomb by another angel, the argument Origen was countering was the idea that the fact that Christ received help from other angels was somehow unworthy of the Son of God; but for my purpose what is relevant is that the Son of God is the angel of God, in the same category as other angels.

Origen on Theology and Christology 7

We consider, therefore, that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father. We therefore, as the more pious and the truer course, admit that all things were made by the Logos, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was made by the Father through Christ. (Origen, John, 2.6)

Here Origen is explicit with his Theology and Christology. He is trinitarian in the same way Tertullian was, he is an economic trinitarian, but an ontological subordinationist. The Son is not in the category of uncreated, the Holy Spirit was the first in order, made by the Father through Christ. Only the Father is uncreated. This is clearly ontological subordination, and incompatible with traditional trinitarian theology.

Origen on Theology and Christology 6

Now there are many who are sincerely concerned about religion, and who fall here into great perplexity. They are afraid that they may be proclaiming two Gods, and their fear drives them into doctrines which are false and wicked. Either they deny that the Son has a distinct nature of His own besides that of the Father (ἰδιότητα υἱοῦ ἑτέραν παρὰ τὴν τοῦ πατρὸς), and make Him whom they call the Son to be God all but the name , or they deny the divinity of the Son, giving Him a separate existence of His own, and making His sphere of essence fall outside that of the Father (ἢ ἀρνουμένους τὴν θεότητα τοῦ υἱοῦ τιθέντας δὲ αὐτοῦ τὴν ἰδιότητα καὶ τὴν οὐσίαν κατὰ περιγραφὴν τυγχά νουσαν ἑτέραν τοῦ πατρός), so that they are separable from each other (ἐντεῦθεν λύεσθαι δύναται). To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God ( ὅτι τότε μὲν αὐτόθεος ὁ θεός ἐστι); and so the Saviour says in His prayer to the Father, John 17:3 That they may know You the only true God; but that all beyond the Very God is made God by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article), but rather God (without article). And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, The God of gods, the Lord, has spoken and called the earth. It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is The God, and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God, not possessing that of Himself, but by His being with the Father, and not continuing to be God, if we should think of this, except by remaining always in uninterrupted contemplation of the depths of the Father. (Origen, John, 2.2)

This section here shows how nuanced and careful Origen is in his Christology. He juxtaposes two positions: 1. The Son does not have his own being (or nature or existence) distinct from the Father, and thus make the Son God; 2. The deny the divinity of the Son and place his existence outside the sphere of the Father, or give him a separate existence. Origen’s solution is that God is AutoTheos, God in himself, whereas the Logos is made God by participation. So, his existence is not separate from the Father, he is not like creation which is undivine and alienated from the Father; but he is not AutoTheos. However, as we saw before, we have the same hierarchy of being. The Logos is made God through participation in God, the Logos is in this sense divine, but he is the firstborn of creation, the first to be with God; after the Logos you have other gods who are made gods getting their divinity from God through the Logos.

Now, the Logos is said to be with the Father at all times, this does not mean that the Logos does not come into being, is not part of creation, because, as Origen recognizes, time itself is part of creation and God transcends time (Origen, First Principles 3.5.3), which is why, for Origen, there is an analogy between the Logos’s origin in in God and creation’s coming to be through the Logos.

Origen on Theology and Christology 5

He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God. (Origen, John, 2.2)

Here Origen, following Philo (On Dreams, 1.229–1.230; Questions and Answers on Genesis, 2.62) distinguishes theos with the article with theos without the article, the former referencing the uncreated cause of all things, the Father, whereas without the article it references the Logos (who is not the uncreated cause of all things). Dare I say, the New World Translation of John 1:1 is the one most faithful to the most ancient exegetical tradition.