Fascinating that +BXVI has spoken so much of late about a man who was anathemized as a Universalist heretic. He was also a major league Platonist. Of course, much of what he wrote he clearly labeled as speculation and it is clear that he was himself unsure of some of his positions. All in all, though, I think he is a theologian to stay away from.
Well, in his defense, Origen was a great favorite with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzus, as the “Philokalia” attests.
Origen was a very early philosopher, prior even to the major Creeds, and dealt with things that hadn’t been handled before, working with only minimal guidelines. He got some of them right, and some of them he either got wrong or expressed in a very ambiguous manner. He was definitely a Platonist, but at the same time he seems to have been very dedicated to Orthodoxy (even having re-converted some of the heretics that abounded in the area), and he was certainly dedicated to Scripture. But he was, as I said, working in completely new territory. Furthermore, the things that were later condemned are actually not his doctrine, but those of an extreme group who claimed to be his followers.
One of the problems with all of the early philosophical fathers of teh Church is that they were creating a new language and new concepts. Furthermore, they lived in a world where philosophy was as important as “American Idol” nowadays to most Americans (not me!), and people actually used to riot and kill each other over rival philosophies. This led to extreme overreactions and overcorrections, which then became heresies themselves.
So I think that all of the early writers have to be read with great care, simply because the body of tradition didn’t exist at the time they were writing. Now we can rely on a church which has defined orthodoxy through its centuries of thought and accumulated tradition to keep us from seizing one bit of somebody’s work and running amok with it. So I think that if Origen - or similar early thinkers - are viewed through the lens of the Church, it’s possible to detect what is good and screen out what is bad. And Origen definitely had some good points, which I think the Pope is pointing out.