The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Athanasius Contra ECT & Anni

Having previously lost track of where a Facebook discussion was on this topic, I thought I should archive my notes so far on St. Athanasius. These are collected somewhat secondhand from various sources (including most importantly Ramelli’s Tome), but I’ve double-checked a lot of the references from the Festal Letters and De Incarnatione (On the Incarnation of the Word, sometimes abbreviated OIW) via Schaff’s translation.

  • Bishop of Alexandria and disciple of Origen post-mortem. Gave Origen the nickname of {philoponôtatos} The Hardworking. Socrates the Historian (in his HE 6.13) testifies that Athanasius praised Origen as {thaumastos}, practically the product of a miracle.

  • defended Origen from charges of unorthodoxy, and appointed the martyr St. Pamphilus (Origen’s disciple and heir to Origen’s Caesarean library and second catechetical school) to write the apology (finished after Pamphilus’ death by Eusebius of Caesarea, Pamphilus’ own disciple), in which at the beginning the authors clarified that Origen taught remedial post-mortem punishments, not a lack of any punishments.

  • personally composed an apology for the trinitarian orthodoxy of the universalist theologian St. Dionysius of Alexandria.

  • personally wrote the first biography of St. Anthony the Great (who per Ramelli held universalist convictions).

  • per Rufinius’ report, appointed Didymus the Blind, well-known as a Christian universalist and follower of Origen, as head of the Alexandrian catechetical school (the Didaskelion).

  • considered Palladius the universalist to be orthodox. (In a somewhat disputed letter to Palladius, however.)

  • praised Theognostus the universalist for his orthodoxy. (in De decr. Nic. syn. 25.1)

  • (Per Bingh 2 p970, via Allin, check for other better citations) Calls the sin against the Holy Spirit unpardonable and its punishment eonian, yet says on repentance it may be pardoned.

  • Rescrip. ad. Lib, teaches that people can be set free by God from bonds which cannot be loosed, apparently referencing the {aidios} bonds of the rebel angels in Jude (mentioned by Jude to compare with the coming punishment of impenitent human rebels).

  • Christ’s incarnation as fully God and fully man, involves a salvific solidarity with all humanity. (e.g., Adv Ar 1.38, 2.70; Ep. ad Adelph 4.)

  • Taught in Adv. Ar. that human flesh was taken up by the Logos to liberate all persons {pantas anthrôpous} and resurrect {pantas} all of them from the dead and ransom all of them from sin; to set free {ta panta} the totality of all in Himself, to lead the cosmos to the Father and to pacify {ta panta} the totality of all in Himself, in heaven and on earth. (See col. 1081) He introduces this (col. 1077a) by means of Phil 2:10, that every knee will bow in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld (the pacification notion comes more explicitly from Paul’s source in Isaiah, but is implied in the notion of the Greek word translated “confess”), each one proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.

  • Tom. ad Ant 7, in Himself Christ has liberated humanity from sin completely and entirely, bringing it to life from the state of death in which it was lying, and into the kingdom of the heavens. (Not only are all people raised in the resurrection, but they shall enter the kingdom of God.)

  • Ep ad Afr 7, not only all humanity but the rebel angels need the grace of the Logos to be saved.

  • De Incarn 1, the Incarnation happens by the goodness of God the Father for the salvation of world by the same Logos Who created it.

  • De Incarn 3, all rational beings bear the stamp of the image of the Logos, and share in the rationality of the Logos, consequently all rational beings may become logikoi and so continue forever in the blessed life, the only true life, of the blessed in paradise.

  • De Incarn 4, sin tends toward non-existence (i.e. toward annihilation, not toward eternal conscious torment).

  • De Incarn 6.4-10, “it were unseemly that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin, and turn again toward non-existence by the way of corruption. 5. For it were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practised on men by the devil. 6. Especially it was unseemly to the last degree that God’s handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits. 7. So, as the rational creatures were wasting and such works in course of ruin, what was God in His goodness to do? Suffer corruption to prevail against them and death to hold them fast? And where were the profit of their having been made, to begin with? For better were they not made, than once made, left to neglect and ruin. 8. For neglect reveals weakness, and not goodness on God’s part – if, that is, He allows His own work to be ruined when once He had made it – more so than if He had never made man at all. 9. For if He had not made them, none could impute weakness; but once He had made them, and created them out of nothing, it were most monstrous for the work to be ruined, and that before the eyes of the Maker. 10. It was, then, out of the question to leave men to the current of corruption; because this would be unseemly, and unworthy of God’s goodness.” In other words, God would not leave any sinners to be annihilated through sin, whether by their chosen rebellion against the ongoing source of their life (the self-existent God by Whom all things cohere) or by God’s choice to annihilate them.

  • De Incarn. 8-9 (with pickups from the end of chapter 7), Christ underwent corruption together with us, delivering His body to corruption on behalf of all (because all were subject to corruption coming from death), so that what had been called into existence should not perish and His Father’s work should not be in vain, having death disappear from all for whom He died as chaff is devoured by fire. (This idea that nothing created by God must be lost was the same ground for which Origen also argued for the salvation of the devil. Origen also taught that God’s eonian fire destroys sin, not the sinner.) The goal is to drive back to incorruptibility the persons who have turned to corruptibility, and to stop the corruptibility of all the other human beings (Christ having been also fully human), so that all may have life. Consequently, all persons have been covered with incorruptibility in the promise of the resurrection.

  • Dec Incarn 10, through Christ’s own power, He has restored the whole human nature, in the sense that Ath quotes from Paul’s 1 Cor 15:21-22 – just as all die in Adam, so will all have life in Christ – which Ath says means the general resurrection of the good and the evil. Ditto his quotation of 15:53 on the final eviction of death from all those raised by Christ.

  • De Incarn 13, the aim and effect of Christ’s sacrifice is that death might be destroyed once and for all, and persons might be renewed according to the image of God.

  • De Incarn 16 and 45, Christ brings the knowledge of God (which Ath always connects with salvation) everywhere even in the abyss and hades.

  • De Incarn. 19, Christ submitted Himself to corruption as the {Sôtêr Pantôn}, Savior of All, so that corruption may disappear from all forever, thanks to the resurrection. He has in death paid all that was owed for all, a glorious deed truly worthy of God’s goodness to the highest degree, having {katorthôsas} rectified {panta ta tôn anthrôpôn} all things of humanity by means of His power, having died for the sake of all {huper pantôn} (using Paul’s phraseology there). This also involves Christ setting right the neglectfulness of all people by His teaching.

  • De Incarn 20, in the body of Christ the death of all took place; but because the Logos was there in this act, death and corruptibility were completely abolished. The debt owing from all had to be paid again (all men already paying by dying from sin into annihilation, but paid again by Christ out of God’s love for all men, as Ath explained previously), since (as he already explained but explains here again) it was owing that all should die, for which special cause, indeed, Christ came among us, He next offering up His sacrifice on behalf of all, yielding His Temple to death in the stead of all, as first-fruits of the resurrection of all. So it was that in Christ’s body two miracles in one came to pass, that the death of all was accomplished in the Lord’s body, and that death and corruption were wholly done away by reason of the Word that was united with it. For there was need of death, and death must be needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid. Thus Christ took on a mortal body that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and suffering on behalf of all through His union with it, bring to nothing him that has the power of death, namely the devil, and bring them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. Ath continues talking about this in chapter 21, though not in so much detail. (Ath has talked so often previously about Christ having suffered and died for all sinners, that in chapter 20 he goes so far as to quip an apology that he’s going to talk about it again lest his audience get bored with the repetition! That includes just previously in chapter 19.)

  • De Incarn 21, Ath reiterates (as he has done occasionally before in De Incarn) that apart from the grace of God, sin leads eventually to non-existence and annihilation. Ath also reiterates (as he has done so often already that he apologized in the previous chapter in case his audience is getting bored with his repetition!) that Christ suffered and died in the place of all. “Why, then, one might say, if it were necessary for Him to yield up His body to death in the stead of all, did He not lay it aside as man privately, instead of going as far as even to be crucified?” – the expected objection being that this is shameful and so unworthy of God. Part of Ath’s answer includes once again the rationale that Christ was sharing the death of all men, for “since He was, firstly, the Life and the Word of God, and it was necessary secondly, for the death on behalf of all to be accomplished, for this cause,” etc. “Hence,” Ath concludes, “even if He died to ransom all, yet He saw not corruption.” At this point the sacrifice for all is simply being reiterated, as a point long claimed by Athanasius, while he is busy arguing on other details.

  • De Incarn 27 (cf 30, 32 etc.) Christ’s salvation is not so much the destruction of physical death, which is present before and after Christ’s sacrifice, but the destruction of spiritual death, a destruction which continues in the world to come. Refers again to 1 Cor 15:26 in connection to this.

  • In the finale to De Incarn, Athanasius acknowledges (as did Origen) that those who do good will have the Kingdom of the Heavens at the second manifestation of Christ, while those who do evil will have the outer darkness and the eonian fire; but He comes in glory to bestow upon all of us the fruit of His cross, resurrection and incorruptibility, which is part of His judgment of all people according to the good or evil deeds they performed while in the body.

(Note: my check of De Incarn is not complete. There may be more there along these lines.)

  • Festal Letter 5.3.5, “Thanks to the Savior’s death, hell has been trodden; He has opened the gates of heaven by paving a way without obstacles to those who go up.”

  • Festal Letter 10.10.23, Christ has redeemed from death and liberated from hell all humanity.

  • Festal Letter 27.24, Christ has died for all to abolish death with His blood and has thereby gained all humanity; the totality of people has entered (into Christ’s humanity) so that every person shall be saved.

  • Festal Letter 6.9.21, Christ’s death as Savior has liberated the world, and by His wounds all of us have been healed.

  • Festal Letter 27.19, Athanasius comments on the parable of the Rich Man in hades that in the final judgment sinners will repent by aid of Christ. (Origen, Methodius, and Gregory Nyssus argue the same in regard to the Rich Man.)

  • Festal Letter 10.4.8-9, Christ’s providential action to save sinners from sin does not force one’s will beyond what is possible, and love does not address only the perfect, but it descends among those who are in a middle and even a third position, in such a way as to redeem all human beings to salvation. Christ’s cross is the salvation of all humans in all places.

  • Festal Letter 6.7.16, even those who have been cursed by the Lord can have His mercy, and will be inserted anew once they have abandoned their unbelief.

  • Festal Letter 3.4.8-9, Christ came in His goodness and love to bring fire onto the earth in order to burn away all evilness from all persons, because He wanted the repentance and conversion of the person rather than its death. The ungrateful suffer this as punishment in the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

  • Festal Letter 7.2.6-7, the Judgment does condemn impious people to death, but Ath does not describe the death as eternal.

  • Athanasius frequently uses {aidios}, almost always to describe God, rarely to describe intelligble things and creatures in comparison to the material world, who yet have a lesser {aidios} than God. Punishment, death, and fire in the future world or judgment, are never called {aidia} but only {aiônia}, just as in Origen.

  • Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 27.64.3, (but not in the Epistle for expositing the Psalms, source reported by Ramelli not identified by me yet) Jesus’ words “go away from Me into the aonian fire” are a threat that is good to take into consideration, for those who will hear these words addressed to themselves will fall down, and rightly so, given that they have not adhered steadfastly to Christ, Who is the solid basis of believers." Ath goes on to say that during the reign of Christ, the unjust which are called “nations” shall be cast into “the fire the eonian”, because they do not live according to the law, but savagely, like pagans and barbarians. Of these people Scripture requires the exclusion, saying “Go ruin”, and addressing them with “a dreadful threat”. Ath goes on immediately to say that the aim of the threat is correction, conversion, and life, “that these may revive, and those may correct themselves.”

Note: I don’t personally agree with Athanasius’ Platonic rationale for all rational creatures being taken up by the Logos in the Incarnation, but I recognize the points of it, and I respect that he was deploying it for purposes of emphasizing the total humanity of Christ: a total humanity which only God Most High Who created all humanity could achieve, no creature. A mere demiurge might assume all characteristics of humanity, thus all human nature in that limited extent, but wouldn’t be able to cosmically bring all humans, much less all creatures, into a Platonic ideal union. Arians might dispute that a created demiurge would have those limitations, but Ath is pushing the full humanity of Christ beyond what he thinks an Arian Christ could logically achieve, as a way of arguing for Christ’s full deity. Apparently he thought the Arians were arguing that the demiurge could fully incarnate in a limited assumption of human nature; this was Ath’s way of taking their point and going beyond it: our Christ is MORE fully human than yours, in a way that only God Most High could make Himself be, booyah!

Thank you for the great post, Jason. I remember last time I read On the Incarnation being struck by how the teachings of St. Athanasios make sense only in a universalistic context.

I cam across this from an article today, from the Evangelical site Patheos. I like this from Why Some Christians Are Universalists (Letting Go of Hell Series):

The other thing that struck me from the article is terms. While Annihilationists talk about conditional immortality, Kurt Willems calls his hybrid view purgatorial conditionalism. or in his own words - from the article:

But these are areas I put as primary:

We can experience God in the here and now - to some degree. And thoughts and feelings effect reality. My own contemplation is a creative fusion of the traditions of Vedanta, Vipassanā and Zen, centered around the Golden Key of Emmet Fox. We just need to change it to a contemplation of God’s Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent . And do this constantly. Or in the word’s of St. Paul - pray without ceasing.
We continue to grow in Christ through a process of Sanctification in Anglicanism and Theosis in Eastern Orthodoxy.
I follow the view of Kurt Williams (A hybrid universalism/annihilationalism view called purgatorial conditionalism). But will add this (the universalism aspect is a strong possibility - as asserted above - not a certainty): That the Eastern Orthodox have the best understanding of Heaven and Hell, as being equal in God’s presence. How we experience God’s presence is heaven or hell for us. But add also that we may be reconciled to God through Christ, whether we know it or not (as inclusivism would emphasize).


Immense post Jason, thank you! Is this the same Athanasius who argued with Arius?

Yes. :slight_smile:


It was kind of amazing listening (verbally) to Calvs and Arms having conniptions when I posted this elsewhere. The annis on either side could not believe that Ath went on to argue (rather like MacDonald) that even though technically sin does lead to annihilation apart from the grace of God, God would not in fact allow sin to annihilate any of His creations!

The Arms meanwhile couldn’t believe Ath was arguing that God will surely save whomever He intends to save, i.e. for whom Christ died – a point the Calvs immediately recognized of course.

But the Calvs were even more bizarre. They insisted that Ath never said that Christ suffered and/or died for all, and wanted to know where he ever said that; and they would not only quote right around it – one of them literally started where that topic stopped, stopped where it started, then picked back up again after Ath finished, then stopped when Ath started talking about it again – but nearby Ath was literally quipping about how his reader might be bored about him talking about it again after talking about it so often already, but it’s important and he wants to make sure his readers get it! :open_mouth: :astonished: Naturally the Arm in the group agreed that Ath was thinking of universal atonement; just not that all those atoned by Christ would be saved. :unamused:

This kind of thing plus his obvious friendliness and admiration for known universalists, doesn’t leave much wiggle room: he meant something other than never-endingly everlasting by the eonian punishment. And not that the punishment would end in annihilation either.

WHAT COULD IT EVER HAVE BEEN!? :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

:laughing: Funny stuff!