Michael McClymond vs Dr. Ramelli on patristics


I have received the following link from Caleb of Dr McClymond’s review of Illaria Ramelli plus her reply to him. Both were posted by Father Kimel at Eclectic Orthodoxy.

afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/04/0 … coming-in/

Footnote 7 seems important to me. The fall and restoration of souls found in the Nag Hammadi community that Dr Mike refers to and says Dr Ramelli ignores is not universalist (even if there are affinities between Origen and the Gnostics and some respects – which Dr Ramelli has shown is debatable). I’m not a patristic scholar but when I had a conversation with Dr Mike about this contention I’d did read the sources he was citing at this time to back up his argument about universalism coming from Gnosticism and other relevant sources translated in the Nag Hamadi Library reader. None of these taught universalism as far as I could see.

A note on Williams book ‘Re-thinking Gnosticism’ cited as being very important in Dr Mike’s Footnote:

Williams argues broadly that our current view of the Gnostics has been distorted by the polemics of the Church Father’s against Gnosticism and that a careful reading of the texts that we have will show that there was more diversity and more subtlety amongst Gnostic thinkers than has previously been acknowledged. Dr Mike is obviously referring to the following argument by Williams as something that Dr Ramelli has not taken into account (from the publisher’s blurb):

‘’Williams takes up the question of “gnostic determinism”: the oft-repeated modern assertion that the gnostics believed mankind to be strictly divided into different types (the spirituals, the psychics, the materials) or different races (the race of Seth, the race of Cain), and that the doctrinal upshot of such divisions was that each individual’s potential for salvation was understood to be already determined at birth. Williams shows that this modern notion of Gnostic determinism is not supported by the original texts. A careful reading of the sources shows that one is not “born into” the race of Seth: rather it is a status one may attain or earn. The race of Seth is more a spiritual community than a biological “race” in our modern sense. Likewise with the division into three types: one’s status as a spiritual is seen to be linked to one’s behaviour: one may lose this status through abandoning the truth, and thus to be born as a spiritual is no guarantee of salvation. The assertion that the ancient gnostics were elitists in the sense of believing themselves predestined to salvation (saved in essence) is misguided. Williams demonstrates that there was at least as much flexibility in these gnostic notions as there is in more recent Protestant doctrines of the elect’’.

I’ve read the Chapter from ‘Re-Thinking Gnosticism on Gnostic determinism. It has nothing to say about Universalism. The author does make a good that not all Gnostic sects were rigid in their determinism; that salvation through gnosis was seen as conditional upon diligently effort in seeking and finding; and that even the spiritual ‘elect’ could lose salvation through backsliding. However, with my little knowledge I was always aware that the ‘psychics’ – those with a mental and emotional life who were not yet fully spiritual –could either attain or lose salvation. All that this study does is extend this conditionally to the elect spirituals. The author is less convincing about the fate of those who are merely physical/sarkic/hylical. These are the people who are bound to the cycle of toil – the majority of the population and he does not produce evidence to soften any of the contemptuous texts I have seen towards this large class of people that the Gnostics produced (and dismissed to destruction). It would be interesting to know what Dr Ramelli has written about this new study. However, it does not impact directly on her case for universalism.


P.S. The ‘Rethinking Gnosticism’ book actually imagines Gnostics to have a subtle view of determinism more akin to some of the New England Puritans (which is amusing since Dr Mike is a Calvinist). Also I doubt that the other studies cited by Dr Mike concerning cross pollination between Gnostic views and Origen have anything to say about universalism but rather about the middle Platonism that they shared even as opponents (as says Dr Ramelli). ON the whole however I think this is a very technical discussion for specialists in the field. It’s ceritainly beyond little old me - but I simply await the evidence that Christian universalism could have developed from Gnosticism when all the evidence I’ve seen - including the Rethinking Gnosticism chapter - points precisely the opposite way:-/


Thanks for the update, Sobor!

I know Dr. R was working on a companion Tome to more fully examine Gnostic and pagan uses of apokatastasis (as a term) and soteriology in general, which the first tome summarized. I don’t know where that project is, in comparison to her forthcoming work (being edited by Dr. Parry apparently) on Christian universalism in the medieval periods (leading in from what we might otherwise call the Middle Dark Ages where her original book left off).


I’m very glad Robin Parry is doing the editing - because it sounds like Illaria Ramelli needs a good one to bring out the best :slight_smile:


I have no idea why Dr McClymond in his review of Dr Ramelli’s tome again asserts that Origen was forgotten and/or shunned in the West before the Jesuit ‘new theologians’ in the twentieth century. Origen’s writings went through eight printed editions during the late fifteenth, early sixteenth century Renaissance – including Erasmus’s annotated edition published two years after his death (the first was Jacques Merlin’s 1512 edition).Yes Origen’s works were popular in the Italian Florentine academy and in this setting his ‘metaphysical speculations’ were savoured by those who were highly syncretism in their Christian Platonism and mingled the Greek Fathers with Hermetic writings and with Cabala. However, I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that these aristocrats were universalists – Pico of the Florentine academy simply opened up the debate that Origen himself might be saved; and Dr Mike does refer to this alone in passing in his review.

However, the reception of Origen with the Northern Christian humanists was different. Erasmus praised Origen as a hero of the Faith, an exemplar of the spiritual life, and commended him as a prince of scriptural exegesis and philology. He did not commend Origen’s ‘speculations’ (as they seemed at this date) but argued in mitigation that these were made at a time when Christian orthodoxy was still fluid. He also sometimes questioned Origen’s allegorizing when he deemed that this was taken to excess –but did not attack allegorizing in principle.

Erasmus himself emphasised the goodness of God as primary and of God’s overflowing mercy that fully desires to save everyone and the asserted – using the early Greek Fathers as his authority including Origen – that human beings have a limited freedom in responding to this mercy.
He had a wide hope beyond confessional boundaries in believing that following the Way of Christ – which he called ‘The Philosophy of Christ’ – in response to justification through faith, was what ensured salvation rather than adhering to a confessional faith narrowly defined.

He put the philology of ancient Greek firmly on the map of European scholarship through his Textus Receptus of the New Testament which paved the way for later discussions of the meaning of ‘Aionian’(but James Windett and George Rust in England later in the seventeenth century for example).

And of course the Church Father he loved best and raised the profile of most was Origen – citing him liberally as an authority in his Annotations of the New Testament and in his widely translated Paraphrases of the New Testament . The Paraphrases were given royal approval to be read in Churches both by Edward IV and Elizabeth 1st in the English Reformation for example and were often cited in controversies with Anglican Calvinists against the doctrine of double predestination. Erasmus did not affirm apocatastasis in the Annotations or the Paraphrases – but through these Origen became rehabilitated as someone to take note of.

For these reasons – and because of his widespread influence among so many in the early modern period (of all confessional denominations and shades of belief – radicals and conservatives too) – Erasmus’ rehabilitation of Origen has to be reckoned with as a major influence on the revival of universalism in the late seventeenth century in scholarly circles I think.

Also his influence on the Reformation radicals in the sixteenth century is now well attested to and some substantial research has been done in this field. For example, Morwena Ludlow in her paper of Hans Denck’s universalism attest to this. She has found no evidence that Denck actually taught that everyone would be saved from his writings’ He was simply accused of this by those who misunderstood his writings, although she says that he may probably have hoped for this. Nor does she find any evidence that Denck knew Origen’s writings – because he has no post mortem salvation scheme in his works. However, she attests to the influence of Erasmus in his wide hope and his emphasis on the saving goodness of God towards all people (and through historical connections between the two). There are a number of other Anabaptist radicals who are said to have taught universalism that have not been scrutinised yet in the way that Morwena Ludlow does with Hands Denck. Perhaps they were Universalists by report only, and there is no way of assessing the claim as there is with Denck whose extensive writings have survived (the Dunker sect of Anabaptists who certainly were universalists arose later in the seventeenth century).

We do know that the fear that some Anabaptists were Universalists – a belief was wrongly associated with the libertine Anabaptists who took over Munster – was often to do with them questioning late medieval notions of Satan as the one who can cause crop failure, cattle diseases, and cause people to fly on broomsticks. They were sometimes accused of atheism for this and again the ideas go back to Erasmus who mocked medieval superstitions and saw Satan as primarily a force in the human heart.

Erasmus never asserted universal salvation. But due to his notion of the goodness of God for much of his life he asserted that the fires of hell are torments of conscience from the habit of not being able to stop sinning – and this is a radical idea that got him into lots of trouble. It suggests that the punishments of hell are not inflicted by God but are self inflicted. And this idea in the hands of radicals like Sebastian Frank who commented on it very sympathetically in his Chronicles of Heretics certainly could and did later inspire some Universalists.

Whatever Erasmus may have intended he had a huge influence on the positive reception of Origen and of the universalism of seventeenth century Origenists such as Le Clerc and some of the Cambridge Platonists. I think it wrong to ignore Erasmus and the reception of Origen in the Northern Renaissance when looking at the history of early modern universalism because this sticks out like a sore thumb. Well I think he’s very important.

I think D.P. Walker makes an excellent case in Decline of Hell– that I’ve never seen gainsaid- that the decline of belief in eternal damnation is part and parcel of a shift in sentiment about cruelty - to animals, in child rearing, in punishment of criminals etc - that took place during the seventeenth century. It’s difficult to say which came first – the shift in sentiment or the ideas (they were probably interrelated I think). They were influenced by the gradual mitigation of the power of Magisterial Churches to control thought and sentiment too - which comes with the invention of the printing press. Whether it comes from wide hopers like Curione, mitigators like Simon Episcopus and the Remonstrant College in Holland, annihilationist like Socinus’ followers Sonor and Camphuysen, or cautious universalists like Le Clerc and George Rust, the influence of Erasmus is seminal in the sphere of the ideas that expressed this shift – including ideas about religious toleration that he expressed first too in a tentative way. I think there is certainly a link between universalism and toleration being ideas that arrived in the mainstream at the same time.


I’d just like to add that I’ve realised that Dr McClymond’s favoured secondary sources that imply Origen was influenced by the Gnostics - Jonas and Struwolf – are both dependent on Koetschau and Butterworth’s translations of the Peri Archon

In the latest critical edition of Peri Archon by John C. Cavadini gives the details -

''G.W. Butterworth’s translation of Origen’s On First Principles, originally published in 1936 and twice reprinted (1966, 1973), is the only complete English translation based on the critical edition of the text (Koetschau, 1913).

Butterworth translated the only complete attestation of the text remaining from antiquity, Rufinus’s Latin translation. But, following Koetschau’s edition, Butterworth supplemented it with translations of Greek fragments taken from various sources…

Koetschau’s presentation was predicated on a hermeneutic of thoroughgoing suspicion regarding Rufinus’s translation, alleging a systematic purge of opinions of Origen that by the late fourth century were not considered orthodox. Butterworth fully adopted, and even extended, Koetschau’s hermeneutic of suspicion, as anyone who reads his Introduction will easily discover. The average reader could miss the fact that the “Greek” columns and supplements were not taken from a continuous ancient source, but were, in effect, a running polemic against the translation of Rufinus, using texts from sources as hostile as the anathemata of Justinian (along with the anathemas appended to the deliberations of the of the Fifth Ecumenical Council), and Jerome’s ‘translation’ of parts of the Peri Archon after he had turned against Origen with vituperative bile inspired by Epiphanius, as though they were unbiased, objective witnesses to the original Greek.

In the seventy-five years since initial publication, scholarly consensus regarding the reliability of Rufinus’s translation has considerably shifted (in his favour). Instructors who wanted to use Butterworth’s On First Principles found the bias governing the original presentation of the text increasingly glaring’’.


Fascinating, Dick!


Thanks [tag]Caleb Fogg[/tag] -

On a related point, apparently is was Eugène de Faye, in his ‘Origène’ who was one of the first to observe that Origen’s system has affinities with the Gnostic speculations of his time inasmuch as like them Origen in Peri Archon sees the drama of creation, fall and redemption in terms of a descent from Unity into division and an ascent of restoration into Unity. However, as Dr Ramelli argues – rightly I think now I know what she’s talking about – this is not evidence of Origen being influenced by the Gnostics who he disputed with. It is evidence that Origen, the Gnostics, (and Philo of Alexandria, and the pagan Platonist Celsus who Origen composed a refutation of etc…)were all arguing with each other within the parameters of the thought world of Middle Platonism where the pattern of descent and ascent were part and parcel of the discourse about cosmology – but Origen was defining an Orthodox Christian Middle Platonism against his detractors (and this of course meant discarding those parts of Plato that did not agree with Christian Revelation – one example of many is that he discarded the assertion in Plato’s dialogues that the really wicked, the murderers and the tyrants – will remain in torment in Tartarus forever).

The Gnostics taught of a series of descents from spirit into matter, to be followed at last by a restoration of the spiritual seeds/sparks imprisoned in matter to their original home. On this theme they played with all manner of mythic variations. Strutwolf – cited by McClymond - sees Origen as being influenced by the ‘Fall of the Eternities’ in the Valentian Gnostics. Jonas – again cited by McClymond – makes similar connections drawing on Butterworth’s now discredited translation as an authoritative text.

However, the Christian theology of Origen in Peri Archon, avoids this mythologizing. Yes the process of descent and ascent runs through it all. The Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal act of will. But Gnostic theories of emanation are rejected on the ground that they involve a division of the divine nature.

When Origen speak of the creation of rational beings, called either minds or souls these are definitely outside the Godhead, as the Son and Spirit are definitely within. Whereas for the Gnostics rational beings are the fallen eternities that originally existed as uncreated parts of the divine unity. And so on …

Of course the Gnostics, as we know from the original texts now available from the Nag Hammadi library, did not teach universal restoration of souls, but only the restoration of some souls (and then this restoration was not if individuals as individuals but of individuals absorbed into the divine monad). I have recently found out that there is actually one mention of ‘apocatastasis’ in the Nag Hammadi texts –

The Gnostic Gospel of Philip 180–350c – probably a Valentian text - contains the term:

‘’There is a rebirth and an image of rebirth. It is certainly necessary to be born again through the image. Which one? Resurrection. The image must rise again through the image. The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the restoration (apokatastasis). Not only must those who produce the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, do so, but have produced them for you. If one does not acquire them, the name (“Christian”) will also be taken from him’’

Whatever this text may mean (and its exact meaning is a matter of debate) it is clear that those who do not produce/acquire the theurgic formula of the divine name will have their name taken from them. And this exclusivsm is affirmed right at the end of the Gospel:

‘’If anyone becomes a son of the bridal chamber, he will receive the light. If anyone does not receive it while he is here, he will not be able to receive it in the other place’’.

So I am now convinced that Dr McClymond is wrongly conflating a few ideas in his assertion that Gnosticism is the source of Christian Universalism:

  1. Yes there are affinities between the Gnostics and Origen in the very basic pattern of descent and ascent in the cosmic drama a pattern which they share because both work within the discourse of the cosmology of Middle Platonism .

  2. However, the Gnostics did not teach universal salvation – this is clear from the Nag Hammadi texts. The idea that they did teach universal salvation comes from nineteenth century scholars such as Neander used by and referred to by Hanson and the source of McClymond’s assertion about Valentinian, Basilledian and Carpocration Gnostic universalism in his review. But they made their claims in the absence of any proper evidence. We now have the evidence in the Nag Hammadi texts etc that proves them wrong. No scholar of Gnosticism today would claim that the Gnostics taught universal salvation. (I’m not sure where the nineteenth century scholars got their ideas from. I am aware that Ireanaeus in ‘Against Heresies’ claims that the Carpocrations claimed that ‘all souls will be saved’ – but no Carpocration texts have survived to corroborate this, and the original teaching (as far as I can see) may well have been that all ‘psychics’ as a class of begins will be saved rather than all individual beings.

  3. Dr McClymond cites articles that draw attention to affinities/influences between Origen’s thought on cosomology in terms of descent and ascent to try and suggest that these prove that Origen got his universalism form the Gnostics – but this is a smoke screen. The articles only talk about descent from Unity and ascent to Unity as common ground and not about finding ‘Apocatastasis Panton’ - meaning the restoration of all beings - in the Gnostic scriptures (and the Williams article about Gnosticism and Determinism cited by Dr McClymond does not claim that the Gnostics were universalists – far from it)


[tag]Jason Pratt[/tag] see two posts above when you have time :slight_smile: Caleb alerted me to the Doc’s review of Ramelli earlier this year. Ach I was reluctant to look and engage - but when you have tried to figure someone out in the past and spent a lot of time on it the synapses soon start clicking into place (if rather hazily at first). Anyway - from recent reading I think I’m finally beginning to understand the precise basis of the Doc’s premise that Universalism came from Gnosticism - and yes it’s a false correlation :slight_smile:


Just read them this morning, Sobor. (Note: the reason I didn’t get a tag notice, is because forum names can’t have spaces in them, so properly including a space between my first and last name broke the tag function.)

Looks legit, although I think I recall Dr. R saying that the term apokatastasis does show up in Gnostic texts with some regularity as a term borrowed from Platonism, although she doesn’t give many examples. (There’s a whole other tome coming on this topic, though!)

She definitely agrees in the Tome that the Gnostics only expected the spiritual people to be restored, and in a few cases also at least some of the soulish people (the pneumas and the psuches respectively), but not the vast majority who are only animals really. Whether the Gnostics treated the vast majority as being really people seems debatable, and one could make an argument I suppose that those Gnostics who went the distance as far as the soulish people (but not all did) might have believed that all actual persons would be restored, and so be universal salvationists of a sort in that sense. But they either didn’t consider all humans were real people, or else didn’t believe that all humans would be restored.

And of course their notion of restoration wasn’t salvation of persons from sin as persons either, but more like a pantheistic elimination of personhood, the ‘person’ (however real it might or might not be as a person) being a false and tragic division of the divine monad and/or its energies.

When Dr. R quotes Irenaeus lambasting Mark the (Gnostic) Magician, Ir does seem to be quoting him that all beings (not merely all spiritual and perhaps also all soulish people) shall return to one note and one same utterance. But Ir’s complaint is that this undoes creation altogether as having been an evil or a mistake, with the creation eventually ceasing to exist as such. Dr. R goes on to quote Ir somewhat extensively as teaching that God shall save and clean all reality, including all persons (or all human persons anyway, leaving aside the rebel spiritual powers), in the apokatastasis (explicitly mentioned by Ir as such) with the disappearance of all evil. Ir brings up Jonah’s descent into and, repentantly, out of hell, swallowed by Satan as the great sea dragon, as a figure of the experience of all humanity since primal rebellion against God.


If anything, then, a denial of universalism indicates a similarity on that point with the Gnostics.


More ironically (as we’ve noted upthread or on one of the related threads), Calvinists like Dr. McCly have a strong relation to Gnosticism in the idea of only some people specially chosen to be saved. While Calv/Augustinian election doesn’t overtly promote the idea that these are a spiritually elite minority, but rather what might as well be a random selection from God’s entirely inscrutable but gracious purpose, it isn’t hard to elide into having that attitude.

To be fair, Calv theologians do recognize and warn against lapsing into that attitude: on Gnostic plans (generally speaking) the idea of spiritual elitism makes inherent sense because those who shall be saved are fractions (roughly speaking) of that-which-is-God, all other reality being dross or worse. Their return to the monad divine nature is even a natural inevitability, akin to the Greco-Roman ideas of the never-ending cycle of natural development, breakdown, and recapitulation, albeit filtered through a Platonic application of such ideas (thence via early Middle Platonism). But even on Calv soteriology, there is no natural progressive necessity in the return of the elect, but rather God’s gracious choice when, theoretically, He could have let them burn hopelessly (whether eternally or in annihilation) in their sins.

The assurance of Christian salvation by contrast (and this is a point relevant to us, too, since universalists per se share the Calv gospel assurance of persistence to victory) isn’t a mechanical inevitability but rooted in God’s personal skill and omni-capability worthy of our personal trust even when things are temporarily going badly for us (and very badly).

On the other hand, I’ve run across one or two Calvs before who regard the hopelessly lost as not even being really persons but only what philosophers now call philosophical zombies, indistinguishable from real people by us from our perspective but really only just fictional creations puppeted into existence by Satan, or perhaps by God to serve dramatic purposes, like non-player characters created by a game-master for players to interact with in a game. Those Calvs would actually be universalists somewhat like the sort of Gnostics mentioned above who regarded the finally lost as only animals and not really people, all real people being restored eventually. (But most Calvs realize this would make a hash of moral warnings lodged against the apparently hopelessly lost.)


Amen! As well as His “eudokia” (good will/kind intention) towards all men, especially those who believe.

3 Blessed [is] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did bless us in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
4 according as He did choose us in him before the foundation of the world, for our being holy and unblemished before Him, in love,
5 having foreordained us to the adoption of sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to** the good pleasure of His will**,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He did make us accepted in the beloved,
7 in whom we have the redemption through his blood, the remission of the trespasses, according to the riches of His grace,
8 in which He did abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence,
9 having made known to us the secret of His will, according to His good pleasure, that He purposed in Himself,
10 in regard to the dispensation of the fulness of the times, to bring into one the whole in the Christ, both the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth – in him;
11 in whom also we did obtain an inheritance, being foreordained according to the purpose of Him who causes all things to work according to the counsel of His will,


Aha – yes thanks (I stand by the rest but nuance it all in the light of your comments Jason). Yes that’s good clarification; and the return to one note sounds like all human beings absorbed back into the monad and ceasing to exist as people.

And it’s good to know about the more extensive use of ‘Apocatastasis in the Nag Hammadi texts than the Gospel of Phillip. I have read a paper on Pagan apocatastasis by Dr Ramelli and in this she says that the apocatastasis spoken of is about the return of the philosophical soul to the monad – often envisaged as an ascent to above the stars (so Dr McClmond has a partial point but the Gnostics don’t speak about the apocatastasis panton). In this paper she said that pagan Apocatastasis panton is first found in late antiquity in the Neo-Platonist Macrobius (although the idea is certainly not found in Plotinus and his immediate followers). Macrobius thinks the idea was taught by Plato – but it was not. So she speculates that he has mistaken Plato for Origen.


Well, in the Tome (during in her brief overview specifically dedicated to apokatastasis in contemporary Gnostic and Gnostic Christian writings, though she talks about them more farther on throughout the book I think), Dr. R does say they refer {ta panta} to the apokatastasis, and also… I forget the grammatic form but it’s the Greek word for “the whole” which she allows means “all beings” synonymously with {ta panta} the all. But again, it’s really more about everything ceasing to exist as “everything” and becoming the monad again or else going out of existence altogether.

Also, I should make a slight correction that the Gnostics regarded most people as not even having animal life! – it was the psychic or soulish people who were basically only animals, and the Gnostic groups disputed about whether they would be annihilated or absorbed back into the monad, and whether that would be all or only some. There doesn’t seem to have been any dispute about whether the less-than-animal people would be annihilated, any more than they disputed about whether any of the spiritual pneumatic people would fail to be resolved back into the monad: obviously the absolute trash wouldn’t have any (Gnostic version of) salvation.


OK Jason :slight_smile: - so I’ll drop the ‘panton’ bit to make the distinction (Leibniz made it - and he’s erm slightly dated :-/ :smiley:). Did I suggest somewhere that the psychics were not animals? We’ll that was careless of me - animal means having an anima or soul. Good to talk precision with you Jason :slight_smile: :slight_smile: It’s the only way I can focus on these things :slight_smile:


No, I was the one that said the Gnostics didn’t treat the psychics as animals. They did, but they had differences between themselves about whether animals could also be persons or not, which came out in their differences between whether the soulish/psychic humans could become spiritual persons or not.


Aha :slight_smile:


According to Amazon, “The Devil’s Redemption…” will be available in April, 2018:

amazon.com/Devils-Redemptio … 0801048567

Here is Ramelli’s 890 page tome on Universalism in the early church for free reading & download:

www.faulknerfornewyork.com/library/down … &type=full


It’s due to be released electronically & by paper in 2 volumes on the 5th:



For a free preview:


A related thread is: