Church Fathers against the teaching of Eternal Security: Origen of Alexandria (200 AD)
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
Even since the earliest centuries of Christianity, there have been people who believed in a form of the doctrine of eternal security. The Gnostics taught that someone had either a good nature or a bad one, and that those natures could never be changed. Protestants continued that line of thought with their teachings on the perseverance of the saints, meaning that once a Christian became saved, i.e., profess faith in Christ, he or she could not lose that salvation. Heaven is guaranteed.
Origen of Alexandria, on the other hand, combatted the Gnostic heresy with his belief that a saved Christian could in fact lose his salvation, which by extension, contradicts the Protestant heresy. This is important because Origen was the truly first Christian exegete of Scripture, writing numerous commentaries on Sacred Scripture in the early third century. Here is a sampling of the "mortal sins" Origen saw: not repenting after sinning, speaking and teaching falsehood, pride, and using magic. All of this will be shown just from his Homilies on Numbers.
Mortal Sin: Not Repenting
Origen spoke about what would happen to Christians if God chastised them for their sins, but they did not do three particular things. Those three things were that they had to repent with confession of their sins, “make satisfaction for [their] transgressions…[and] make supplication for [their] faults.” If they did not do those three things, then they would not be able to “escape the destruction of imminent death.” That signifies that the Christian is not eternally secure. However, if the three things are done, then God’s anger “will at once cease, the indignation will grow quiet, the Lord will be propitiated, as if Moses and Aaron were interceding for [them] and were making supplication for the whole people.”
Notice how those three things that Origen said to do are exactly what happens during the Sacrament of Confession. During a verbal Confession, Christians make exterior what is interior, an outward manifestation of their inward repentance from sin. Then they make satisfaction through the penance the priest gives, and they make supplication for their faults by reciting the Act of Contrition prayer. S,o Origen agreed with Catholicism, that those three things need to be done after sin. Origen did not think that Christians are guaranteed salvation.
Mortal Sin: Teaching Heresy
Origen thought that the things he said and taught could cause his salvation to be lost as well. He said, “But would that what we speak and teach would be of such quality that we should not deserve to be condemned for our words.” If the next generation of Gnostics, that is, the Protestants, claimed that that is impossible for a Christian to do, notice how Origen was actually citing what Jesus Christ Himself said, “By your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). Jesus taught that it was possible to be condemned, that is, the loss of salvation, by certain words that people say.
Mortal Sin: Pride
Origen believed that the deadly sin of pride could cause a Christian to lose his salvation. For pride was the sin that thrusted the devil out of the presence of God, when the devil said, “I will be like the Most High” (Is. 14:14). However, what if Christians imitated that horrific sin of the devil, by being proud of heart? Origen responded, “Everyone who is puffed up will be condemned with a judgment similar to the devil’s.” Christians could lose their state of salvation.
Mortal Sin: Magic
The sin of magic would make a Christian lose his salvation. In Origen’s long homily on Balaam, Origen said that, “Balaam was very famous in the magic art, and was very powerful in effecting harmful incantations…for demons are invited to curse, not to bless.” Balaam had been hired to curse Israel by the evil king Balak, because Balak was afraid of the Israelites. God did not allow that though, but instead God made Balaam bless Israel, to the great anger of the king. Now, if Balaam had cursed Israel through his magic, it would not be of God, according to Origen, for “Scripture…forbids the use of magic…since the ministers of magic are renegade angels and evil spirits…for none of the holy spirits [such as Michael, Raphael or Gabriel] obey a magician.”
A magician cannot invoke the name of Jesus Christ either, for “We alone have received authority for invoking his Only Begotten Jesus Christ.” However, that great authority that Christians have could be abused, for “he who has now received authority to invoke Christ, cannot again invoke demons…For if he invokes unclean spirits, the Holy Spirit flees from him.” It is at this point that the Protestant who believed in eternal security would have to ask himself the question, “Would I too say that the Holy Spirit flees from a person who does magic?” If they do not believe in Mortal sin, then they will say "no."
Now, Protestants would try to get out of a question like that by saying that the Christian who did the act of magic was never a Christian to begin with, he never possessed the Holy Spirit. But, if that was the case, then Origen would be wrong to imply that the Christian who did the act of magic did possess the Holy Spirit, and subsequently lose that third person of the Trinity. So a Christian could lose his salvation.
As seen, Origen did not hold to the belief that a saved Christian could lose his or her salvation. He instead believed that a Christian has to live a holy life, one filled with good works and warfare against temptations, to maintain his or her salvation. Many more quotes from Origen could be used to show how clearly he did not believe in eternal security, however, this paper has been restricted to just one of his works. Sins such as pride, serious doubt about God’s provision, and magic are sins that cause the Holy Spirit to flee from a Christian.
Origen of Alexandria. Homilies on Numbers. Translated by Thomas Scheck. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005.