Archive for category Universal Restoration
Olivier-Maurice Clément (1921 – 2009) – was an Orthodox Christian theologian, who taught at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, France. There he became one of the most highly regarded witnesses to early Christianity, as well as one of the most prolific.
“Thus will come about the completion of all things, when the Spirit of life, through the communion of saints, will manifest the whole universe as the glorified Body of Christ. Then each person, in giving his face to the transfigured universe, will rediscover his flesh; flesh vibrant with all its natural sensitivity, our earthly flesh, but bathed in the life and fullness of God, who will be ‘all in all’, abolishing the separations of time and space, making possible among the risen a communion beyond anything we can now imagine…
Nevertheless, although the hell of our fallen state has been secretly abolished in Christ, and although God must be revealed at the Last Day as ‘all in all’, there remains the heartrending mystery of the ‘second death’ of the Revelation, the final death of the human being without love plunged into the divine love. For God will never reject anybody, his love is offered to all. But the fire of that love, as St Isaac the Syrian says, is eternal joy for those who welcome it and infernal torment for those who refuse it. Generic hell, as we might call it, may have been destroyed by Christ, but for each free individual there remains the terrible possibility of personal hell. But does this not amount to a fatal obstruction to the divine plan for that universal communion which is the only hope for the fulfilment of the person?” ~ Olivier Clément, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology
David Bentley Hart (born 1965) is an American Orthodox Christian philosophical theologian, cultural commentator and polemicist. Here, in one short essay published in First Things in 2015, Prof. Hart addresses three topics that institutional Orthodoxy would prefer to avoid: apokatastasis, Saint Origen, and the church’s chronic propensity to sleep with worldly empire (e.g., Byzantium and Russia)
Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) (born 1934) – is an English-born bishop and theologian of the Eastern Orthodox Church. From 1966 to 2001, Ware was Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. He has authored numerous books and articles pertaining to the Orthodox Christian faith.
“If the strongest argument in favor of universal salvation is the appeal to divine love, and if the strongest argument on the opposite side is the appeal to human freedom, then we are brought back to the dilemma with which we started: how are we to bring into concord the two principles God is love and Human beings are free? For the time being we cannot do more than hold fast with equal firmness to both principles at once, while admitting that the manner of their ultimate harmonization remains a mystery beyond our present comprehension. What St Paul said about the reconciliation of Christianity and Judaism is applicable also to the final reconciliation of the total creation: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (Rom 11:33).
When I am waiting at Oxford Station for the train to London, sometimes I walk up to the northernmost stretch of the long platform until I reach a notice: “Passengers must not proceed beyond this point. Penalty: £50.” In discussion of the future hope, we need a similar notice: “Theologians must not proceed beyond this point”—Let my readers devise a suitable penalty. Doubtless, Origen’s mistake was that he tried to say too much. It is a fault that I admire rather than execrate, but it was a mistake nonetheless.
Our belief in human freedom means that we have no right to categorically affirm, “All must be saved.” But our faith in God’s love makes us dare to hope that all will be saved.
Is there anybody there? said the traveler,
Knocking on the moonlit door.
Hell exists as a possibility because free will exists. Yet, trusting in the inexhaustible attractiveness of God’s love, we venture to express the hope—it is no more than a hope—that in the end, like Walter de la Mare’s Traveller, we shall find that there is nobody there. Let us leave the last word, then, with St Silouan of Mount Athos: ‘Love could not bear that… We must pray for all’.”
~ From “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All? Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian”
David Bentley Hart (born 1965) is an American Orthodox Christian philosophical theologian, cultural commentator and polemicist.
“If God is the good creator of all, he is the savior of all, without fail, who brings to himself all he has made, including all rational wills, and only thus returns to himself in all that goes forth from him. If he is not the savior of all, the Kingdom is only a dream, and creation something considerably worse than a nightmare. But, again, it is not so. God saw that it was good; and, in the ages, so shall we.” ~From the essay, “God, Creation, and Evil“, (pp. 16-17)
Fr. Andrew Louth is Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, England. In the last chapter of his book, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Dr. Louth writes the following about “Universal Salvation” :
“Origen hoped for the ‘restoration of all’, apokatastasis panton… His conviction did not simply rest on a philosophical belief that ‘the end is like the beginning’ a principle he affirmed several times in On First Principles… There is a deeper reason for Origen’s conviction of final restoration for all: for him it is inconceivable that Christ is to remain in sorrow for all eternity on account of the failure of any rational creature to respond to his love and benefit from his sacrifice.
Whereas in Western theology, such a conviction rapidly dies out, in Orthodox theology hope in universal salvation, based on a conviction of the boundlessness of God’s love, has never gone away. St. Gregory of Nyssa interprets the words of the apostle Paul’s teaching that God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15.28) to mean the ‘complete annihilation of evil.’ St. Maximos the Confessor likewise holds out the hope of the salvation of all. The grounds for this are principally the long-suffering love of God for all creation, and also the conviction that evil is without substance, but is rather a corruption of distortion of what is good. These two motives find striking expression in St Maximos’ contemporary, St. Isaac the Syrian, who asserts that,
‘there exists within the Creator a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, a love which is without alteration, timeless and everlasting… No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernatural kingdom’
and then adds, quoting Diodore of Tarsus, ‘not even the immense wickedness of the demons can overcome the measure of God’s goodness.’ The pain of hell is the result of love: ‘those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love… For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment.’ Evil and hell cannot be eternal: ‘Sin, Gehenna, and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.’
This conviction that there is nothing outside God’s loving care finds expression in the prayers of the Orthodox Church. In the service of kneeling at Vespers on the evening of Pentecost, we pray ‘for those who are held fast in hell, granting us great hopes that there will be sent down from you to the departed repose and comfort from the pains which hold them’. This hope, amounting to a conviction, that there is nothing beyond the infinite love of God, that there is no limit to our hope in the power of his love, at least regards as a legitimate hope the universal salvation of all rational creatures, maybe even of the devil himself and his demons. Such a belief has found its defenders among modern Orthodox theologians, such as Olivier Clément, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. It was also the conviction of one of the greatest Orthodox saints of recent times, St. Silouan of Athos, manifest in a conversation with another Athonite hermit, who declared ‘with evident satisfaction’,
‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in hell in everlasting fire’.
Obviously upset, the Staretz said,
‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?’
‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault’, said the hermit.
The Staretz answered with a sorrowful countenance:
‘Love could not bear that’, he said, ‘We must pray for all’.”
Dr. Andreas Andreopoulos (1966- ) – Orthodox priest, studied in Greece, Canada and the UK, obtaining his Ph.D. in Theology and Art at Durham University.
“Alexandrian theology in the second/third century starts a particularly Eastern theological strand of eschatology that leads all the way to Mark of Ephesus in the fifteenth, one which differs from most Western views if not necessarily and officially on the eternity of evil, at least on the question as to where this evil is to be found and therefore comes from – in doctrinal contrast to the views of Western theologians such as Abelard, who saw the torments of hell as a punishment very often more cruel than the sins that warranted it, in a place that had specifically been created by God for this purpose, as it was believed after Augustine. The ancient as well as the late Byzantine position, certainly before the Western influences on Greek and Russian theology after the Renaissance, was that nothing evil can come from God, not even punishment. The punishment and torments of hell are only inflicted from ourselves, both in this world and in the next one. Hell and its fire is not different, essentially, from the benevolent energy of God, when experienced by the sinners. The restoration of all, at best an interesting and possible speculation though not a doctrine, is an idea not too far from all this.” ~ Andreas Andreopoulos from “Eschatology and Final Restoration (Apokatastasis) in Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximos the Confessor”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881) – Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist, and philosopher.
“… And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek… And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us, ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth without shame and shall stand before Him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘O Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ’This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him… and we shall weep… and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!… and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even… she will understand… Lord, Thy kingdom come!” And he sank down on the bench exhausted and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again.” ~ Marmeladov’s Vision from “Crime and Punishment”
Meyendorff: “The fact that the Logos assumed human nature as such implied the universal validity of redemption…”
Fr. John Meyendorff (1926 – 1992) – was a leading theologian of the Orthodox Church as well as a writer and teacher. He was a great student of 14th century Saint, Gregory Palamas. Meyendorff served as the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York until 1992. Here, Meyendorff explains that the Orthodox church does not reject the idea of universal salvation, or apokatastasis, because it conflicts with the notion of eternal damnation, but “because it presupposes an ultimate limitation of human freedom”.
“The fact that the Logos assumed human nature as such implied the universal validity of redemption, but not the ‘apokatastasis’, or universal salvation, a doctrine which in 553 was formally condemned as Origenistic. Freedom must remain an inalienable element of every man, and no one is to be forced into the Kingdom of God against his own free choice; the ‘apokatastasis’ had to be rejected precisely because it presupposes an ultimate limitation of human freedom – the freedom to remain outside of God.” ~ Byzantine Theology, 163
I was reading a meditation by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, a noted contemporary Christian mystic. One line caught my particular attention. He said, “God is calling everyone and everything to God’s self (Gen. 8:16-17, Eph. 1:9-10, Col. 1:15-20, Acts 3:21, 1 Tim. 2:4, John 3:17).”
Rohr’s quote above holds within it the possibility of a form of universal restoration or return of the entire created universe to God. This is an ancient idea in Christianity, albeit a controversial one. We can summarize the whole controversy in one Greek word: ἀποκατάστᾰσις , [transliterated as apocatastasis] meaning restoration, re-establishment.
The concept of “restore” or “re-establish” is found in the Old Testament in the Hebrew verb שׁוּב (shuwb/shuv) and is used when referring to “restoring” of the fortunes of Job. It is also used in the sense of “rescue” or “return” of captives, and in the “restoration” of Jerusalem. In terms of shuwb as apocatastasis, Malachi 4:6 is the only use of the verb form of apocatastasis in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, ca. 250 – 100 BC; also abbreviated “LXX”). It reads:
“He will turn (restore –apokatastesei) the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (NRSV and LXX)
The word apocatastasis only appears once in the New Testament, in Acts 3:21. After healing a beggar, Peter speaks to the astonished onlookers. In his sermon, Peter places Jesus in a very Jewish context as the fulfilment of the Old Covenant, saying:
“[Jesus] whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apokatastaseos) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”
The idea of apocatastasis is supported further in the New Testament by the writer of 1 Timothy who declares that it is God’s will that all men should be saved (cf., 1 Timothy 2:4).
The concept of apocatastasis is also found in many writings of the early Church Fathers. In early Christian theological usage, apocatastasis meant the ultimate restoration of all things to their original state, which early exponents believed would still entail a purgatorial or cathartic, cleansing state. The meaning of the word was still very flexible during that time. For example, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) generally uses the term apocatastasis to refer to the “restoration” of the mature, or “gnostic”, Christians, rather than that of the universe or of all Christians, but with universal implications. The position of Origen (186–284) is disputed, with works as recent as the New Westminster Dictionary of Church History presenting him as speculating that the apocatastasis would involve universal salvation. Most historians today would recognize a distinction between Origen’s own teachings (or at least those that have survived) and the theological positions of later “Origenists” (a later school of theological thought based on his teachings). A form of apocatastasis is also attributed to two sainted Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century; both Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus discussed it without reaching a decision.
Theological discourse continued until by the mid-6th century apocatastasis had virtually become a technical term referring, as it usually does today, to a specifically Origenistic doctrine of universal salvation. An Anathema (a formal curse by an ecumenical council of the Church, excommunicating a person or denouncing a doctrine) against apocatastasis, or more accurately, against the belief that hell is not eternal, was formally submitted to the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (AD 553). Despite support from the Roman Emperor Justinian, the famous Anathema against apocatastasis is not one of the Anathemas spoken against Origen by the fifth council.
As late as the 7th century, Maximus the Confessor (580-662) outlined God’s plan for “universal” salvation alongside warnings of everlasting punishment for the wicked. Maximus was very clear that the “telos”, the ultimate end, was a mystery.
So, why does the concept of Apocatastasis persist down to this day, in men like Roman Catholic Fr. Richard Rohr and Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in spite of the Western institutional church’s absolute obsession with the concept and threat of eternal hell, damnation, and torment? To me, it’s quite simple. The idea of apocatastasis persists because it appeals to a heart enlightened by the love of God.
The universe was created “good”. It is God’s will that all men should be saved. God is love. Love is patient, kind, is not irritable or resentful, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; Love never ends. Greater is He (the Son, the Logos, the Word) that is immanent in the spirit of all created beings, than he (Satan, evil) who is in the world. Deep in my heart, I believe that ultimately, in some future age, in the end (telos), God (Love) wins. (Gen. 1:31, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 John 4:8, 1 Cor. 13, 1 John 4:4).