Friday, August 03, 2007


“The term [apokatastasis] is found in Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and developed into a doctrine of universal salvation by Origin. Origen was condemned by a synod in Constantinople…the general concept of a final apokatastasis is, however, found in Gregory of Nyssa and persists in a modified form in Byzantine theology, notably in Maximus the Confessor. It recurs in Modern Russian thinkers such as Solovyov, Bulgakov, and Berdiaev,” The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, 36.

As the implacable opponents of Eunomius, the Cappadocians were nevertheless dependent on Origen both for their biblical learning in the succession of his Hexapla and for their speculative thought; that becomes evident above all in the formulation of the doctrine of apokatastasis put forward by Gregory of Nyssa, which was spared the official condemnation visited upon Origen’s doctrines,” ibid. 482.

"Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God. It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. Until the Last Day comes, we must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception. No one must be excluded from our loving intercession. ‘What is a merciful heart?’ asked Isaac the Syrian. ‘It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures’ (Mystic Treatises, edited by A. J. Wensinck, Amsterdam, 1923, p. 341). Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the Devil."


  1. Off topic and I know you've probably covered this before, but...

  2. As to your post...

    Yet another reason not to enslave one's exegesis of Scripture to the church fathers. Good post.

  3. Funny coincidence, I ran into a Presbyterian minister's blog very soon after googling Apokalypto or whatever it is. And the Rev. wrote a review of "Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?" by Hans Urs Von Balthasar:

    Balthasar was one of the major Catholic theologians of the 20th century. He wrote dozens of books. In this book he surveys New Testament passages used by those on both sides of this issue. Then he looks at various theological writers of the church, beginning with the Church Father, Origen. Origen played with the idea of ‘apokatastasis’ – the notion that God will eventually restore all beings to heaven. In other words, everyone will be saved in the end (even the Devil). Others asserted this idea: Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus the Blind, and Jerome. He then looks at Augustine and Aquinas, as well as others. A key statement is quoted that comes from a German catechism published in 1985. It says, “Neither Holy Scripture nor the Church’s Tradition of faith asserts with certainty of any man that he is actually in hell.” Balthasar’s thesis is that threats of hell are found in Scripture, but a threat or possibility is not the same as an actual sentence of condemnation. So, we cannot say with certainty that anyone will end up in hell. But we have the right to hope that no one will be in hell.

    Of course God gives us the freedom to reject him. And if anyone ends up in hell, it is not because God desires it; it is because a human decides against God. But here is another key sentence:

    “Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted.”

    In other words, God will find a way to convince even the hardest sinner to change his/her mind and accept God’s grace. In the end, God will win out. No one will be in hell.

    BLOG SOURCE: Interim Report
    A Presbyterian pontificates, but not infallibly.

  4. Also, Chris Tilling, a British theology student in Germany who runs a popular blog, caled, "Chrisendom," has a number of recent posts on the question of "universalism." Worth checking out. (Along with his series on "inerrancy")

  5. Steve--

    I finally have a reply up to your last response. Check my blog if you get a chance; but if you simply don't want to continue the conversation that's fine too.

  6. Scripture is quite clear that not all men will be saved, so to hope for such is both foolish (insofar as it is a hope without foundation) and opposing the will of God.

    And, of course, God does not "lose" if some go to hell. This was an idea my neo-neo-Orthodox professor in college constantly put forward. But, in fact, He wins victory over the rebels and justly punishes them.

  7. Apparently an ArchBishop thought as much back in Edwards time:

    2. The doctrine of those who teach that it is not certain that God will fulfill those absolute threatenings, is blasphemous another way, and that is, as God, according to their supposition, was obliged to make use of a fallacy to govern the world. They own that it is needful that men should apprehend themselves liable to an eternal punishment, that they might thereby be restrained from sin, and that God has threatened such a punishment, for the very end that they might believe themselves exposed to it. But what an unworthy opinion does this convey of God and his government, of his infinite majesty, and wisdom, and all-sufficiency! — Beside, they suppose that though God has made use of such a fallacy, yet it is not such an one but that they have detected him in it. Though God intended men should believe it to be certain that sinners are liable to an eternal punishment, yet they suppose that they have been so cunning as to find out that it is not certain. And so that God had not laid his design so deep, but that such cunning men as they can discern the cheat and defeat the design, because they have found out that there is no necessary connection between the threatening of eternal punishment, and the execution of that threatening.

    Considering these things, is it not greatly to be wondered at, that Archbishop Tillotson, who has made so great a figure among the new-fashioned divines, should advance such an opinion as this?

    The Eternity of Hell’s Torments.
    A Sermon Preached in April, 1739
    By Jonathan Edwards, A.M.
    Pastor of the Church of Christ in Northampton.

  8. It is worth noting that the concept of 'restoration of all things' itself isn't specifically Christian, nor that it is restricted to theologian's debates. Indeed, it forms that basis of a spiritual movement that appeared in France in the mid 1700s under the influence of Martines de Pasqually and Louis-Claude de Saint Martin. There are other famous proponents of the finality of Hell, such as Pico della Mirandola who asked, in substance, if a sin is finite in time, shouldn't the retribution be finite too?
    But there are many inherent problems to be ironed out if one considers eternity of Hell and the perspective of a Judgement Day, just to pick two...

    I discuss these branches of 'apokatastasis' as well as neoplatonist ones on my blog (at