Origen on the Salvation of the Devil

Did Origen believe in the salvation of the devil? He clearly believed that all rational souls were able to be saved (Contra Celsum 4.99) and this would, on Origen's view of the nature of demonic forces, have included the devil and his demons. So the accusation was stirred up that he taught the salvation of demons. But, in a letter to his friends in Alexandria he explicitly denied that he thought the devil and his demons would be saved. So did he or didn't he? Tricky.

Perhaps the following passage explains how he could maintain both positions:

“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.”
Peri Archon 3.6.5
(trans. Marguerite Harl, Gilles Dorival, and Alain Le Boulluec. Paris, 1976, p.67)
In this case, it might be that Origen denied that Satan would be saved for "Satan" is to Lucifer what "the sinful nature"/"the flesh"/"the old man" is to us. For God to save us "the old must pass away" and there must be new creation (2 Cor 5). So perhaps, for God to redeem fallen angels he must annihilate their demonic aspect. Thus it would be that Satan and his demons would be lost forever — damned — even as God saves Lucifer and his angelic followers.

Gregory of Nyssa was even more bold than Origen on this issue: He maintained that "the originator of evil himself will be healed” (Catechetical Orations 26. The Catechetical Oration of Gregory of Nyssa. Edited by James H. Srawley. Cambridge, 1903, p. 101).

Again, it partly depends on what you think of the ontology of "the demonic." If you do not think that Satan and evil spirits are individual persons, created good yet now fallen (and there are various ways in which one may try to make that move), then they are essentially evil forces and thus irredeemable. But if you do take the classical view that demons are rational souls — non-human persons — then there is something to be said for the approach of Origen and Gregory. Food for thought.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Food for thought? I'm chocking !
How could Gregory "the Father of the Fathers" say such an heretical thing?

... or maybe there's something wrong with bits of our so called "orthodoxies".

Thanks for these quotes Robin; I'll mull them over.
Cody Lee said…
I don't feel like Gregory is being any more bold that Origin by saying,"the originator of evil himself will be healed".

It seems to me that by maintaining that God saves Lucifer, i.e the person, by removing the evil part, i.e. satan, thereby 'healing' him, would be the same thing as saying what Gregory has said. The person is the originator of evil, not a part of that person, it would seem to me. Lucifer is Satan, though I could talk in those other ways, just like saying there will be no drunks in the Kingdom of Heaven, yet Bill who is a drunk may be there, but his old self that has been crucified with Christ will not be there, it will be the Bill who has been recreated in Christ.

I don't know, I just kinda felt like they were saying the same thing, just in two different ways.

Origin said nothing is beyond being healed by it's maker, and then went on to say how he understood this to happen. Then Gregory affirms the same thing without making a dualism between what would be two persons, Lucifer, and Satan. I don't think Origin was making a dualism though, as far as person, but he was using those names to talk about the condition of that one person.

Ok I have rambled enough, I was just chewing on the food as I typed =)
Jon Hughes said…
Robin,

Perhaps Revelation 5:13 is relevant here.

I've just finished reading "The Evangelical Universalist" - absolutely superb. The biblical theology set out in chapters three and four makes sense, and your interpretation of Revelation in chapter five blew me away.

Who wouldn't want to be a 'hopeful dogmatic universalist'? Thanks for writing it, and God bless you. Hopefully, there will be more open discussion on this subject within the evangelical community in years to come.
Robin Parry said…
Jon

Thanks so much for your kind words

Robin
James Goetz said…
How convenient. Just now I needed a couple of quotes from Gregory of Nyssa on the conversion of demons. Your quote on the healing of the originator of evil is perhaps the best quote for this. My second one will be "evil spirits shall rise in harmony the confession of Christ’s Lordship." (On the Soul and the Resurrection)
Rowena Wilding said…
Pushing the boundaries and asking controversial questions as always, Robin. I really do thank God for people like you as I take my first steps into ministry. I've not yet read a book of yours that I haven't thought was excellent. 'The Evangelical Universalist' and 'Universal Salvation?' have been a blessing, and have finally helped me to formulate a coherent(!) argument to back up a gut feeling that I've had since becoming a Christian.
Thank you for raising these questions that are so often dismissed before they are given a second thought. I hope you forever continue to push, and I hope you know that you're not pushing alone.
Robin Parry said…
Thanks Rowena.

That's kind.

As a Baptist you may be interested to know that I am speaking at Regent's Park College on Oct 29th on "Elhanan Winchester: The Baptist Universalist."

But you can read much of what I'll talk about in my chapter on Winchester in "All Shall Be Well"

Robin
James Goetz said…
Hey Robin,

Origen's quote is interesting compared to this quote from Augustine: "And if this be so, how can it be believed that all men, or even some, shall be withdrawn from the endurance of punishment after some time has been spent in it? How can this be believed without enervating our faith in the eternal punishment of the devils?" (City of God, Book 21, chapter 23)

Augustine essentially promoted the importance of faith in the everlasting punishment of the devil and his angels, and that belief in postmortem conversions of humans would weaken that faith. But as you pointed out, Origen never said that the devil as we know him would enter heaven, but only a radically changed being formerly known as the devil would enter heaven. I also find it sad that Augustine promoted the hope of everlasting damnation of some enemies.

Thank you for pointing out the quote from Origen, which I find handy for my current project. :)
James Goetz said…
Well, after more thought, I see three possibilities behind Augustine's remarks.
1. Augustine misunderstood Origenism and supposed that it taught about evil angels eventually causing havoc in heaven, which Origen addressed in his quote above.
2. Augustine despised the possibility of the devil and other evil angels eventually repenting and rediscovering the favor of God, which I hope was not Augustine's Christian motivation.
3. Augustine condemned Origenist teaching that said the devil would forever alternate between good periods and evil periods.
For now, I am undecided on which option was the historical context.
Anonymous said…
Robin, how could Satan and the fallen angels be anything other than individual persons? Not sure I follow you. Could you please expand on that?
Robin Parry said…
Anonymous,

Well, I suppose that I have in mind various possibilities. For instance, the classical Christian tradition sees evil not as a substance or a thing but as a lack in a thing, a fault in a thing, a privation. So what if talk of demonic forces was a way of speaking about such evil by means of personifying it. The evil would be no less "real" but its reality would have a very different ontological status.

Or, perhaps something along the lines of what Walter Wink speaks about in relation to principalities and powers is "the sober truth." Wink sees "the powers" as real and active in the world but not as independent entities. Rather, they supervene upon human social inter-relationships. They are not, however, reducible to those relationships and they exercise power in the human world that transcends their origins. But they are not conscious beings (except in personification).

You'd need to read Wink on that.

I am not saying that this is the way things are but I am open to it as a possibility.
Anonymous said…
Hmm, interesting. I suppose I would be more open to that idea if Jesus didn't refer to Satan as "the father of lies", carry on a conversation with him in the wilderness, and say "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Those examples seem to me to indicate that Satan is a person. Thoughts?
Robin Parry said…
Perhaps. And that is why I am tentative. But I don't think that the issue can be settled simply by pointing out that the Bible presents the devil as if he were a literal conscious being — such is the nature of personification.

I am open to either view (see my introduction to the book Exorcism and Deliverance for a long discussion on all the different approaches to the demonic and the issues raised by each)

I am agnostic on the issue (not on the issue of the reality of Satan but on the specific nature of his reality)
Anonymous said…
I'm afraid many believe that even Satan will be saved... And this can help them hope that Heaven is a place for them also, no matter their life (it can't be worst than what Satan did). Many Christians in our generation live their life as if God is too good to leave them outside of His Kingdom. The Jesus preached today is not so much the Jesus from the Bible... May the Lord have mercy...
TNungesser said…
The Bible is silent on the salvation of Satan and evil spirits. But it is very clear and vocal as to the truth that every being in the heavens and earth which is at enmity to God will one day be reconciled to God. All enmity will give way to peaceful co-existence.

Col 1:20 and through Him to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His cross), through Him, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens" (Concordant Literal New Testament).
Paul Olson said…
It is interesting that many of these comments touch on the concept that is well-articulated by C.S. Lewis' mentor, George McDonald, in his sermon, "The Consuming Fire." The concept is that God himself is the consuming fire and he will burn away all our iniquities, including those of Satan, who will emerge from the experience as the purified Lucifer, as he was created to be. This is what at is pictured in Isaiah 66:24 where all beings will look upon their old selves as carcasses burning in God's eternally consuming fire. To understand this picture one must realize that the perspective is that of a totally redeemed eternal being looking back on his or her past life and sensing some regret for their own sins. This concept allows for a new understanding of what Jesus meant when he said that the lake of fire is reserved for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41), which is the same thing as the river of fire in Daniel 7:10, which is the same thing as the river of life in Ezekiel 47:1-11 (who is Jesus as he describes himself in John 4:10-13).

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