The Evangelical Universalist Forum

On the eternality of Gehenna Article on ClassicalChristianity - responses?

Just wondering if anyone has offered a Pro-Universalist response to this article here?

Not looking for explanations on how Gehenna is not eternal (the title of the piece)…I already am confident about that…but I’m wondering if anyone has written a proper rebuttal to this article and some or all of its claims? I would love to read it! Thanks!

  • Brett S.
1 Like

All of the Scripture citations have been addressed in multiple threads on this site & easily found via the excellent search engine. As for the rest, for example:

“But Polycarp said, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.” (The Martyrdom of Polycarp)”

The word “eternal”, assuming it is the Greek word aionios, is what is at issue & debated as to its meaning. Is the rendering “eternal” erroneous, misleading & outright deceptive? Consider, for example ECF John Chrysostom who said:

“For that his[Satan’s] kingdom is of this age,[αἰώνιος] i.e., will cease with the present age[αιώνι] …” (Homily 4 on Ephesians, Chapter II. Verses 1-3).

Where aionios is obviously of finite, not “eternal”, duration.

This topic - aionios - has been recently much discussed in the following thread:

In the following thread i (username ClementofA) address other early church quotes:

1 Like

Some ECF quotes are also addressed in this discussion:

1 Like

Bless you for your persistence. I wish I had the credentials of historical documentation through hours of laborious study that you do to even attempt to represent for the Christian Universalist position. I don’t mean to derail the train of OP’s original post but I’d love a thread held by you, where you express in depth, your nuanced understanding of Purgatorial Universal Restoration in the context of personal and collective eschatology. Such examples may touch on the Intermediate state (Hades v. Paradise) – the Rapture – the Resurrection – the Lake of Fire and/or Gehenna. Thanks again brother. You ought wear that moniker with moderate pride and honor held in steed of St. Origen’s gruesome martyrdom as well as the rest of the Christian Universalist fathers who were martyrs. Maybe, possibly, you have a loosely compiled list of that particular strain of saints, who died for the Faith (?)

1 Like

I appreciate the responses, and the references, I was just hoping I guess for a link of a direct refutation of the actual article, something that could be shared when someone else posts this, rather than expecting people to do the many diligent hours (years) of study necessary to come to a much better understanding. (which is something that you, and I have done).

I often overwhelm people with my responses, so I was just hoping for an article that responded directly to that piece. :slight_smile:

There’s many dozens of articles opposing (& in favor of) universalism on the internet. It’s unrealistic to expect they’d each have a tailor made thorough point by point response to them.

The article you referred to in the OP, much like that in the “Thoughts On This” thread article i refer to above, is just a compilation of interpretations (so called translations) of ancient writings into the English language. These so-called “articles” don’t even consider the possibility that key words like “eternal” have been mistranslated. The authors probably have no idea what the Greek words are that are behind such key words. To discover that takes time, since the original language texts are often hard if not practically impossible to find. In the “Thoughts On This” thread some of those original language texts are revealed & the conclusions do not support what the English translations that were posted in the article presumed was true.

I don’t think it’s unrealistic at all, I was just hopeful someone took the time, as many hopeless-hellists articles have direct responses for them online, I was just curious if this one specifically did. (EX:

Perhaps I’ll compile a more direct (and shareable) response to this myself.

Thanks for your contributions!

By unrealistic i was referring to the many dozens (pro & con) of universalism articles. And it would be unrealistic to expect that - all - of these have already had “a tailor made thorough point by point response to them”. I think it highly probable that very few of them have had such a response to them, perhaps less than one percent. Matt Slick’s articles from CARM are one exception i was already aware of that have had some detailed rebuttals to (though your link doesn’t qualify as the type of response i am speaking of). But, then, unlike the author you referred to, he appears to know some Greek & his site is very popular, while the one you referred to was unknown to me & appears to be quite amateurish (e.g. the obvious misquote at the very beginning re Mt.12:31-32 to which he adds the words that appear in Mt.25:46).

IME lists of church fathers quotes such as at the OP often have quite a few or many quotes that have the word “eternal” in them, which is almost certainly the Greek word aionios. Those that do can generally be dismissed on that basis alone, as per my initial post in this thread. Likewise with the verse list at the beginning of the OP “article” which all rely on aionios & the associated Greek noun aion, for their anti-universalist bias.

1 Like

The “article” posted this quote, allegedly from “St Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165”, i.e. from Justin Martyr:

“For among us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings. And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration, Christ foretold. (First Apology 28)”

Actually Christ & Scripture never “foretold” anywhere that anyone will be “punished for an endless duration”. The author appears to be referring to Mt.25:41 & uses the Greek word ἀπέραντον, which has been translated “endless”, but this Greek word doesn’t exist in that verse. Neither does it exist anywhere in the Scriptures in regards to anyone being punished.

"ἀπέραντος, ἀπέραντον; (περαίνω to go through, finish; cf. ἀμάραντος), that cannot be passed through, boundless, endless: γενεαλογιαι, protracted interminably, 1 Timothy 1:4. (Job 36:26; 3Macc. 2:9; in Greek writings from Pindar down.) "

Job 36:26 Behold the Almighty is multifarious in operations beyond our comprehension. The number of his years are indeed infinite[#562 Strongs]

The cherry picked compiled list of quotes in the “article” of the OP ignores all those of universalist persuasion in the early church. It has been argued that some of those quoted (e.g. Jerome) were, or may, have been of universalist persuasion.

Scholar Illaria Ramelli’s comments are pertinent to this topic:

“Augustine himself, after rejecting apokatastasis, and Basil attest that still late in the fourth and fifth centuries this doctrine was upheld by the vast majority of Christians (immo quam plurimi).”

“Of course there were antiuniversalists also in the ancient church, but scholars must be careful not to list among them — as is the case with the list of “the 68” antiuniversalists repeatedly cited by McC on the basis of Brian Daley’s The Hope of the Early Church — an author just because he uses πῦρ αἰώνιον, κόλασις αἰώνιος, θάνατος αἰώνιος, or the like, since these biblical expressions do not necessarily refer to eternal damnation. Indeed all universalists, from Origen to Gregory Nyssen to Evagrius, used these phrases without problems, for universalists understood these expressions as “otherworldly,” or “long-lasting,” fire, educative punishment, and death. Thus, the mere presence of such phrases is not enough to conclude that a patristic thinker “affirmed the idea of everlasting punishment” (p. 822). Didache mentions the ways of life and death, but not eternal death or torment; Ignatius, as others among “the 68,” never mentions eternal punishment. Ephrem does not speak of eternal damnation, but has many hints of healing and restoration. For Theodore of Mopsuestia, another of “the 68,” if one takes into account also the Syriac and Latin evidence, given that the Greek is mostly lost, it becomes impossible to list him among the antiuniversalists. He explicitly ruled out unending retributive punishment, sine fine et sine correctione.”

“I have shown, indeed, that a few of “the 68” were not antiuniversalist, and that the uncertain were in fact universalists, for example, Clement of Alexandria, Apocalypse of Peter, Sibylline Oracles (in one passage), Eusebius, Nazianzen, perhaps even Basil and Athanasius, Ambrose, Jerome before his change of mind, and Augustine in his anti-Manichaean years. Maximus too, another of “the 68,” speaks only of punishment aionios, not aidios and talks about restoration with circumspection after Justinian, also using a persona to express it. Torstein Tollefsen, Panayiotis Tzamalikos, and Maria Luisa Gatti, for instance, agree that he affirmed apokatastasis.”

“It is not the case that “the support for universalism is paltry compared with opposition to it” (p. 823). Not only were “the 68” in fact fewer than 68, and not only did many “uncertain” in fact support apokatastasis, but the theologians who remain in the list of antiuniversalists tend to be much less important. Look at the theological weight of Origen, the Cappadocians, Athanasius, or Maximus, for instance, on all of whom much of Christian doctrine and dogmas depends. Or think of the cultural significance of Eusebius, the spiritual impact of Evagrius or Isaac of Nineveh, or the philosophico-theological importance of Eriugena, the only author of a comprehensive treatise of systematic theology and theoretical philosophy between Origen’s Peri Archon and Aquinas’s Summa theologiae. Then compare, for instance, Barsanuphius, Victorinus of Pettau, Gaudentius of Brescia, Maximus of Turin, Tyconius, Evodius of Uzala, or Orientius, listed among “the 68” (and mostly ignorant of Greek). McC’s statement, “there are no unambiguous cases of universalist teaching prior to Origen” (p. 823), should also be at least nuanced, in light of Bardaisan, Clement, the Apocalypse of Peter’s Rainer Fragment, parts of the Sibylline Oracles, and arguably of the NT, especially Paul’s letters.”

“Certainly, “there was a diversity of views in the early church on the scope of final salvation.” Tertullian, for instance, did not embrace apokatastasis. But my monograph is not on patristic eschatology or soteriology in general, but specifically on the doctrine of apokatastasis. Thus, I treated the theologians who supported it, and not others.”

The article of the OP says:

“5th Ecumenical Council: Second Council of Constantinople 553”

“The Anathemas Against Origen”

An opinion on this subject is as follows by Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart:

"Did not the Fifth Ecumenical Council, in 553, name Origen of Alexandria (a.d. 185–254) a heretic, and condemn “Origenism,” and thus the very idea of universal salvation?

"In point of fact, no—absolutely not.

"It is true that something remembered by tradition as “Origenism” was condemned by someone in the sixth century, and that Origen was maligned as a heretic in the process; and it is also true that for well more than a millennium both those decisions were associated with the Council of 553 by what was simply accepted as the official record. But, embarrassingly, we now know, and have known for quite some time, that the record was falsified. And this is a considerable problem not only for Orthodoxy, but for the Catholic Church as well, inasmuch as the authority of the ecumenical councils must in some way be intimately—if obscurely—bound to some notion of the indefectibility of the Church’s transmission of the faith.

"But, really, it is the most shameful episode in the history of Christian doctrine. For one thing, to have declared any man a heretic three centuries after dying in the peace of the Church, in respect of doctrinal determinations not reached during his life, was a gross violation of all legitimate canonical order; but in Origen’s case it was especially loathsome. After Paul, there is no single Christian figure to whom the whole tradition is more indebted. It was ­Origen who taught the Church how to read Scripture as a living mirror of Christ, who evolved the principles of later trinitarian theology and Christology, who majestically set the standard for Christian apologetics, who produced the first and richest expositions of contemplative ­spirituality, and who—simply said—laid the foundation of the whole edifice of developed Christian thought. Moreover, he was not only a man of extraordinary personal holiness, ­piety, and charity, but a martyr as well: Brutally tortured during the Decian persecution at the age of sixty-six, he never recovered, but slowly withered away over a period of three years. He was, in short, among the greatest of the Church Fathers and the most illustrious of the saints, and yet, disgracefully, official church tradition—East and West—commemorates him as neither.

"I cannot really say what irks me more, though: that it happened or that, in fact, it really never did. The oldest records of the council (which was convened to deal solely with certain Antiochian theologians) make it clear that those fifteen anathemas were never even discussed by the assembled bishops, let alone ratified, published, or promulgated. And since the late nineteenth century various scholars have convincingly established that neither Origen nor “Origenism” was ever the subject of any condemnation pronounced by the “holy fathers” in 553. The best modern critical edition of the Seven Councils—Norman Tanner’s—simply omits the anathemas as spurious interpolations.

"As for where they came from, the evidence suggests they were prepared beforehand by the vicious and insidiously stupid Emperor Justinian, who liked to play theologian, who saw the Church as a pillar of imperial unity, and who took implacable umbrage at dissident theologies. A decade earlier, he had sent ten similar anathemas of Origen (or what he imagined Origen to have taught) to Patriarch Menas; and on the council’s eve he apparently submitted the fifteen anathemas of 553 to a lesser synod of bishops, in hope of securing some kind of ecclesial approbation for them. Or they may instead have been proposed at a synod as much as nine years before. Whatever the case, it was only well after the Fifth Ecumenical Council’s close that they were attached to its canons, and Origen’s name inserted into its list of condemned heretics. In this way the anathemas “went on the books,” where they remain: peremptory, garbed in immemorial authority, and false as hell.

"In themselves, the fifteen anathemas are an odd relic of disputes of which we can now glimpse only the shadows. Few of them are even remotely reminiscent of ­Origen’s actual ideas, except in almost comically distorted form, and he in fact is never named in any of them. Perhaps some of the ideas denounced vaguely echo aspects of the thought of Stephen bar Sudhaile (late fifth century); others have a faintly “gnostic” or “orphic” hue; still others might have been concocted by Aristophanes and Edward Lear during a long night’s assault on a distillery; but they all emanate from schools that have left no other historical traces. Even if the anathemas had actually been approved by the council, they no more constitute a serious condemnation of Origen than they do a recipe for brioche.

"And I am not entirely certain why anti-universalists cling to them so pertinaciously, since they do not even really condemn universalism as such at all. The first anathema speaks of the idea of a “monstrous restoration” (apokatastasis), but only the version of that idea that logically follows from a particular “fabulous” account of the soul’s preexistence. And the succeeding anathemas fill in the details of the tale: an undifferentiated substantial unity of all rational natures at the beginning and then, identically, at the end; the spherical shape of resurrected bodies (Christ’s included); christological speculations that more parody than promote Origen’s beliefs; caricatures of ­Origen’s views of angels and demons; and so on.

“In any event, I stopped following the debate when I was sent a link to a fatuous screed by some converso polemicist who not only defended the fifteen anathemas, but insisted on praising “St Justinian’s” rebukes of “Origen.” Admittedly, technically he was within his rights. East or West, all Christians are burdened with the absurdities of Christian imperial history. But any conception of orthodoxy that obliges one to grant the title of “saint” to a murderous thug like Justinian while denying it to a man as holy as Origen is obviously—indeed ludicrously—self-refuting. And one does not defend tradition well by making it appear not only atrociously unjust, but utterly ridiculous.”

1 Like