Origen of Alexandria, Principles


9.1) Satan as the rebel Lucifer, well before Adam:

The hijacking of Isaiah 14 by Origen of Alexandria


It’s time, finally, to take a detailed look at the passage from Isaiah that was to give rise to the Satanic Lucifer we all know and hate.

Biblical scholars have produced a lot of fascinating speculation over the original Hebrew text of Isaiah 14, specifically concerning the mythological background of the Lucifer-figure, Helel ben Shahar, “the Shining One, Son of Dawn.”  It is taken to be a reference to some Canaanite Deity used as a poetic metaphor, much as Christian poets used to refer to God and the Saints in terms of Greek and Roman Gods—Zeus and Hera on the one hand and Jupiter and Juno on the other.

But by the time that Isaiah 14 was pressed into service against Satan, it was the Greek text that was consulted, not the Hebrew,1 and it is the Greek that I translate here.  The context of the passage is that the Israelites are to be taken from their Babylonian Exile and brought back to Jerusalem.  The Prophet gives them a taunt that they are to shout out against the King of Babylon.  It turns out at the end that the words of this taunt are those of the Lord, transmitted by the Prophet.


1)  Introduction to the tirade against the King of Babylon:

(14.3)  And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow and vexation, and from thy hard servitude wherein thou didst serve them.



(14.4a)  And thou shalt take up this lamentation against the King of Babylon:

2)  God’s action against Babylon:

(14.4b)  How has the extortioner ceased, and the taskmaster ceased!

(14.5)  The Lord has broken the yoke of sinners, the yoke of princes.

(14.6)  Having smitten a nation in wrath, with an incurable plague, smiting a nation with a wrathful plague, which spared them not, He rested in quiet.

3)  The Earth and the Cedars of Lebanon rejoice:

(14.7)  All the Earth cries aloud with joy.

(14.8)  The Trees also of Libanus rejoice against thee, and the Cedar of Libanus, saying:  “From the time that thou hast been laid low, no one has come up to cut us down.”

4)  The King of Babylon’s reception in Hell:

(14.9)  Hades from beneath is provoked to meet thee.  All the Giants who have ruled over the Earth have risen up together against thee, raising up from their thrones all the Kings of the Nations.

(14.10)  All shall answer and say to thee:  “Thou also has been taken, even as we, and thou art numbered amongst us!”

(14.11)  Thy glory has come down to the Realm of Hades, and thy great mirth.  Thou shalt be rotted from below and covered with worms from above.

5)  The King has fallen to Earth like the Morning Star:

(14.12)  How has the Dawn-Bringer (Heosphoros) fallen from Heaven, after rising up in the morning!  He is crushed to the Earth, after dispatching his forces to all the Nations.

6)  The boast of the King as Morning Star:

(14.13)  For thou saidst in thine heart, “I will go up to Heaven, I will set my throne above the Stars of Heaven, I will sit on a lofty mount, on the lofty mountains towards the North.

(14.14)  I will go up above the clouds, I will be like the Most High!”

7)  The King will go to Hell:

(14.15)  But now thou shalt go down to the Realm of Hades, even to the foundations of the Earth.

(14.16)  They that see thee shall wonder at thee, and say:  “This is the man that troubled the Earth, that made Kings to shake.

(14.17)  He made the whole World desolate, and destroyed its cities, and did not release those who were in captivity!”



8)  Other Kings have tombs; not so this King:

(14.18)  All the Kings of the Nations lie in honor, as men in their houses.

(14.19)  But thou shalt be cast forth on the mountains, as a loathed carcass, with many dead who have been pierced with swords, going down to the Realm of Hades.

9)  The Lord is speaking; a final threat against Babylon:

(14.20)  As a garment defiled with blood shall not be pure, so neither shalt thou be pure, because thou hast destroyed My Earth and hast slain My People.  Thou shalt not endure forever—thou art a bad seed.

(14.21)  Prepare thy children to be slain for the sins of their father, that they arise not and inherit the Earth, nor fill the Earth with wars.

(14.22)  And I will rise up against them (thus saith the Lord of Hosts). And I will destroy their name and remnant and seed.  Thus saith the Lord.


There is one notable application of a part of this passage in the Gospels, in Jesus’s denunciation of three villages on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The episode is in both Matthew and Luke (Matt. 11.20-24, Luke 10.13-15), so the usual diagnosis is that it was taken from Q, the hypothetical common source for those two Gospels.

It goes like this:  Jesus addresses the villages directly, and says that because they have not repented after seeing His works, things will go worse for them on the Day of Judgment than for Tyre and Sidon and Sodom.  When He addresses Capernaum, He says, in Luke’s version:  “And thou, Capernaum, wilt thou be exalted to Heaven?  No, thou shalt go down to the Realm of Hades (Luke 10.15, quoting Isa. 14.15, no. 7 above).

This whole tirade from Q is plopped into both Gospels completely out of context, but it’s particularly interesting to see where it comes in Luke:  right in the middle of Jesus’s instructions to the seventy Disciples, and right before their return, when Jesus reports having seen Satan fallen like lightning (Luke 10.18).  In other words,



Capernaum, not Satan, will fall like Lucifer.  Satan, rather, will fall like Fulgur (lightning).

We have seen above (chap. 8.1) that Tertullian applied the boasting words of Heosphorus (Lucifer) in section 6 above to Satan after he assumed control of the Earth’s Atmosphere, and that Tertullian’s “follower” Cyprian applied the same passage to the Antichrist in the future, together with the promise of section 7 that he will go to Hades’s abode and the inhabitants there will “admire” him.

I also noted the report of John of Antioch that according to Justin Martyr, Isaiah’s Chapter 14, while ostensibly being a drama of The Fall of the Assyrian, was really The Tragedy of Satan, predicting the Devil’s future catastrophe under the guise of the Assyrian King of Babylon (chap. 8.1).  Finally, we saw that in the fourth century, in the Life of Adam and Eve, the Devil used the boast of section 6 while still in Heaven, after refusing to worship the image of God in Adam (chap. 8.2).

* * *

Now let us see what Origen of Alexandria had to say on the subject of Satan.  Origen was born around 185 and died a few years after 250, after being imprisoned and tortured in the Decian persecution.  He divided his prolific career as a Christian writer between Alexandria in Egypt and Caesarea in nearby Palestine.

So far, as we have seen, the early Fathers envisaged Satan’s first fall from Divine favor as somehow connected with Mankind.  The sole exception was Athenagoras, according to whom Satan failed in his Cosmic duties in some unspecified way. But, unlike Athenagoras, Origen placed Satan’s apostasy before there is mention of a Cosmos.

The most elaborate  presentation of Origen’s ideas undoubtedly was contained in his grand treatise, Principles, written in the 220s, but, except for a few excerpts that have been preserved in the Original Greek, that work exists only in the Latin of Rufinus of Aquileia, under



the title of De principiis.2  Rufinus, who finished his project around the year 398, admits to having edited out all suspect notions that appeared in Origen’s text, on the grounds that they must have been inauthentic interpolations.  He seems to have been particularly careful to tone down suggestions of a “final restoration” (apokatastasis) of all rational creatures.

As the text of Principles stands in Rufinus’s version, Origen says that all rational creatures were originally created as equals, with free will that allowed either progress in imitating God, or failure through negligence.  Unfortunately, every one of these creatures failed, to a greater or lesser degree (Origen, Prin. 2.9.2, 6).

Satan failed in the worst way, of course.  What was his problem?  Well, Origen says, let’s look at Scripture, and be alert to hidden meanings.  Our method will be to read deeper significance in to passages addressed to men that cannot literally apply to them.  Here is what we find:  “What is said in many places, and especially in Isaiah, of Nebuchadnezzar cannot be explained of that individual.  For the man Nebuchadnezzar neither ‘fell from Heaven,’ nor was he ‘the Morning Star,’ nor did he ‘arise upon the Earth in the morning'” (Prin.  4.1.22 ANF)

This is the reading of Origen’s Greek text, which happens to have been preserved in this case.  Rufinus’s Latin version says much the same thing:  “And how could we possibly accept, as spoken of a man, what is related in many passages of Scripture, and especially in Isaiah, regarding Nebuchadnezzar?  For he is not a man who is said to have ‘fallen from Heaven,’ or who was ‘Lucifer,’ or who ‘arose in the morning.'”

Earlier in the same work, Origen quotes a large swatch of Isaiah 14, beginning with verse 12 (“How is Lucifer, who used to arise in the morning, fallen from Heaven!”) and going on through verse 22, as we cited above.  He comments (in Rufinus’s version):



Most evidently, by these words, is he shown to have fallen from Heaven who used to arise in the morning.  For if, as some think, he was a nature of Darkness, how is Lucifer said to have existed before?  Or how could he arise in the morning, who had in himself nothing of the Light?

Nay, even the Savior Himself teaches us, saying of the Devil, “Behold, I see Satan fallen from Heaven like Lightning” [Luke 10.18].  For at one time he was Light.

Moreover, Our Lord, who is the Truth, compared the power of His own glorious advent to Lightning, in the words, “For as the Lightning shineth from the height of Heaven even to its height again, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” [Matt. 24.27].

And notwithstanding, He compares Satan to Lightning, and says that he fell from Heaven, that He might show by this that he had been at one time in Heaven, and had had a place among the Holy Ones, and had enjoyed a share in that Light in which the Holy Ones participate, by which they are made Angels of Light, and by which the Apostles are termed by the Lord the Light of the World.

In this manner, then, did that being once exist as Light before he went astray and fell to this place, and had his glory turned into dust.  (Origen, Prin. 1.5.5)

* * *

Just before analyzing the reality behind the denunciation of the King of Babylon in Principles, Origen did the same with the lamentations against the Prince of Tyre in Ezekiel 28.  Here is how the prophet speaks, as given in the text of Origen-Rufinus:

Thus saith the Lord God:

Thou hast been the Seal of a Similitude, and a Crown of Comeliness among the delights of Paradise.  Thou wert adorned with every good stone and gem. . . .

From the day when thou wert created along with the Cherubim, I placed thee in the Holy Mount of God, thou wert in the midst of the fiery stones.  Thou wert stainless in thy days,



from the day when thou wert created, until iniquities were found in thee.  From the greatness of thy trade, thou didst fill thy storehouses with iniquity, and didst sin, and wert wounded from the Mount of God.  And a Cherub drove thee forth from the midst of the burning stones.

And thy heart was elated because of thy comeliness, thy discipline was corrupted along with thy beauty.  On account of the multitude of thy sins, I cast thee forth to the Earth before Kings.  I gave thee for a show and a mockery on account of the multitude of thy sins, and of thine iniquities.  Because of thy trade thou hast polluted thy holy places.

And I shall bring forth fire from the midst of thee, and it shall devour thee, and I shall give thee for ashes and cinders on the Earth in the sight of all who see thee.  And all who know thee among the Nations shall mourn over thee.  Thou hast been made destruction, and thou shalt exist no longer for ever.  (Origen, Prin. 1.5.4; cf. Ezek. 28.11-19)

As with the Isaiah chapter, Origen maintains that much of this passage cannot be said of a human being.  It must therefore refer to “a certain Angel who had received the office of governing the nation of the Tyrians,” but when iniquity was found in him he was hurled to the Earth (Prin. 1.5.4).  In other words, he thinks it is meant to describe one of the Principalities and Powers who became sinful and derelict in his duties.

But when Origen came to write his polemic Against Celsus twenty or so years later, he concluded that this passage, like Isaiah 14, deals with none other than Satan.  It tells us that “he was the first among those that were living a peaceful and happy life to lose his wings and to fall from blessedness” (Celsus 6.44).  So Ezekiel makes it clear that Satan’s original sin was that he was “full of himself,” over-impressed with his great beauty.

This conclusion is also obvious from the characterization of Lucifer in Isaiah.  In another context, in his twelfth homily on the Book of Numbers (c. 4). Origen elaborates at length upon the main



characteristics of the Devil as “proud” and “puffed up,” quoting the boast of Isaiah 14.13-14 and similar passages.

In sum, the Devil’s fall was caused by internal faults that had nothing to do with Adam.  It was only after he was ejected from Heaven that, as the Serpent, he caused Man’s explusion from Paradise, deceiving the Female with promises, with the Male following her example (Celsus, 6.43).

* * *

Let’s look again at Origen’s explanation of the Isaiah 14 passage in Principles.  He specifically says that he is answering the theory of “some” who say that Satan’s original nature was Darkness.  Perhaps these opponents of Origen’s were infected with Zoroastrian ideas.

Yes!  All right!  At last!  Finally we are seeing the plausibility of the influence of Radical Dualism upon the development of the Devil’s dossier.  Let me lay out this new Zoroastrian Hypothesis in Hegelian terms:

1)  A “Dark Thesis” was proposed in Origen’s time to explain the existence of Satan:  he was an Evil Principle opposed by nature to the Good Principle (God).

2)  Origen countered with a “Light Antithesis,” a theory that Satan was originally an Angel of Light.

3)  This resulted in a “Light-to-Dark Synthesis.”

Such a Synthesis, this compromise with “Darkism,” was a bad day for Christianity.  Let me state it more strongly:  it was A.  BAD.   DAY.

The net result, after the dust settled—and I’m not talking about the dust that Satan’s glory turned into, according to Origen—is that the Devil became much, much worse than he had been before, and the Christian religion was transformed, in effect, into a Zoroastrian system.  The main difference between Iranian Dualism and the New Christian Dualism is that in the former the Principle of Evil always existed as such, whereas in post-Origen Christianity the Principle of Good created the Principle of Evil!

But this is just a quibble.  All right, so God didn’t exactly create Satan Evil—He created him Good.  Then Satan went and blew it and



became irretrievably Evil.  But whose fault was it to begin with, when we come down to brass tacks?

Actually, this was not the way that Origen wanted it, it seems.  Even though in AD 230, shortly after writing the Principles, he vigorously denied that the Devil would or could be saved (PL 23.442), and even though he talks about the Devil and his Angels as “those who can see no way back to the better state from which they fell” (Prin. 1.6.3), his hope for universal salvation shines through even in Rufinus’s translation:  “We believe that the goodness of God through His Christ may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued” (Prin. 1.6.1).

9.1          1For an analysis of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 14, see Hugh Rowland Page, Jr., The Myth of Cosmic Rebellion:  A Study of Its Reflexes in Ugaritic and Biblical Literature (Leiden 1996), pp. 120-40.

                2An English translation of Origen’s Principles and Against Celsus is in ANF vol. 4, and the writings of Lactantius and Victorinus are translated in vol. 7.