Origen’s Theology in the Context of Valentinian Gnosticism: A Comparative Essay

Doctoral Dissertation


In this dissertation, I call into question an interpretative trend that assimilates Origen’s theology to Valentinian Gnosticism. This interpretation proposes that Origen’s theology is an all-encompassing system based on the axiom that ‘the end will be like the beginning.’ In this view, all rational beings were incorporeal minds that were with God eternally, but later fell from unity, thus becoming souls and eventually bodies. In being saved, we return to a state of pure incorporeality. Furthermore, since this return is metaphysically necessary, Christ’s role as redeemer is limited. He may teach us about our real nature, but he does not effect our salvation. Christ’s historical passion is thus evacuated of meaning.

In the four chapters of this study, I argue for a different interpretation of Origen. In the first, I evaluate the Gospel of Truth as a representative Valentinian text. Although some have claimed that this text approaches mainstream Christian theology, I argue against this position.

In the second, I examine the opening sections of Origen’s Peri archn. I argue that Origen’s discussion of incorporeality is foundational for his theology, especially in the context of Gnosticism. I then examine Origen’s tractate on Christ, focusing on what he says about creation as taking place within the eternal Wisdom of God according to providence and foreknowledge.

In the third, I continue my evaluation of Origen’s understanding of creation, focusing on the eschatological underpinning of his theology. In light of this eschatological framework, I then offer re-interpretations of some of Origen’s most troubling claims about the soul and creation.

In the fourth, I analyze Origen’s understanding of the return of rational creatures to God. Although many have alleged that Origen minimized Christ’s redemptive work, I argue that it is the key to his theology. Moreover, I argue that, since Christ’s experience of deification in the passion is the model for all believers, Origen’s theology does not diminish the significance of life in the world, but rather validates it to the uttermost.

Finally, I briefly comment on the implications of this view (and its particular importance in the Gnostic context) in a concluding Epilogue.


Attribute NameValues
Author Mark Edward Therrien
Contributor Cyril O'Regan, Committee Member
Contributor Brian Daley, Committee Member
Contributor John C. Cavadini, Research Director
Contributor Khaled Anatolios, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Theology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2019-05-16

Submission Date 2019-07-07
  • Origen

  • Valentinianism

  • Theology

  • Early Christianity

  • Valentinian Gnosticism

  • Soul

  • Biblical interpretation

  • Kosmos

  • Christology

  • Creation

  • World

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


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