The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Professor Ilaria Ramelli & her Apokatastasis project

It’s certainly suggestive – I don’t know enough about Ir to be sure of the contexts, so this may have to be a dispute between Dr. R and other Patriologists. (I mean, I could check the contexts myself in Schaff, but more fragments have been found since then and after all I’d be relying on a translation, albeit by someone not antithetic to Christian universalism to say the least.)

A quick read through the first part of Dr. R’s main discussion of Ir in the book this afternoon, reinforces the idea that Ir was universalistic about human salvation but not about angelic salvation (although God was generous even to them) precisely on the point of human physical death sparing them from everlasting perdition. Irenaeus certainly has a scope of total salvation in view, and from his references to various famous Pauline ‘universalistic’ texts (like Rom 11 and 1 Cor 15) as well as Jonah, stresses that God will surely succeed in that salvation. (Where I’m at, Dr. R hasn’t yet talked about reasons why people would regard Ir as non-universalistic in regard to humans.)

I’ll provide more details later. Maybe Alex can post up more before then.

Assuming the row boat makes it all the way to Tassie :wink:

Hi Jason -

Long time no old chum. Nice to see your face again :slight_smile:


I wonder if she says anything about Zoroastrianism during its second period - from the time of Cyrus onwards. I know hat when I was younger the big authority on Zoroastrianism - R.C. Zahener - maintained that the Zoroastrians in this period did believe in a universal saviour and in universal salvation (he gave the evidence for this in his ‘Religion of the Magi’ and his article in the Hutchinson Encyclopaedia of World Faiths on Zoroastrianism I remember. I wonder if Professor Ramelli mentions this - its; very possible that things have moved on since Zahener was writing in the 60s and early 70s. If you come across anything she says about eh Zoroastrians and its not too difficult to communicate in little space I’d be interested in what she has to say.


Dick :slight_smile:

I’m interested in that, too, Dick (and hugs to see you again btw!), but I haven’t really begun reading her book yet (or barely have, a few minutes at work on occasion) and she hasn’t talked about Zoroastrianism yet. It’s possible that what was available from that direction from the Persian Empire in the first Christian centuries (which were the final centuries of the Persian Empire – they started to fall not long after the 4th century) wasn’t universalism anymore but perhaps the kind of God/Anti-God dualism the religion became known for (which inspired Manes to put it together with Christianity for Manichaeism). If Ormuzd and Ahriman are equivalent to Michael and Satan under the ultimate self-existent Ahura Mazda (not to be confused with the Japanese car maker :wink: ), then Ahriman can be reconciled back to Mazda. But if Ahriman is an equal and opposite anti-God (conflating Ormuzd and Mazda together) then there could not possibly ever be any reconciliation – nor any defeat of Ahriman eventually either!

So I don’t know what the deal was in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries as Christian universalism developed (wherever it historically came from), but my guess at the moment from what she said is that it didn’t come from anything the first Christians had contact with, thus Zoroastrianism wasn’t universalistic anymore by then, regardless of whether it had been centuries earlier (during the reign of Cyrus the pagan messiah, who doesn’t know God yet but whom God promises will come to know Him?? – that would be interesting…)

Dr. R will most likely address this in more detail when she finishes her followup work on non-Christian universalism. But I’ll keep an eye out for comments in this book (since she does talk to some extent about what was happening in other religions and the Gnostic offshoots.)

Hi Jason –

Thanks my friend – and big hugs to you too. Here’s a précis of the relevant bits of Zaehener’s article in the Hutchinson Encyclopaedia.

From an analysis of the Gathas, Zahener concludes that Zoroaster taught a strict monotheism – rejecting the whole sacrificial system of Aryan polytheism. There is one god – Ahura Mazda – who has created the world good – and Ahura Mazda is the source of all moral goodness and excellence. Ahura Mazda also creates two spirits; one spirit – The Holy Spirit – who chooses freely to obey the will of Ahura; and the other Spirit – the evil spirit – chooses freely to disobey. The two spirits are in each human being – we can choose freely to follow the good spirit and do the will of the creator, or choose to follow the bad spirit and frustrate the creator’s will. So in original Zoroastrianism we have a spiritual struggle between good and evil – but a clear belief that good will triumph in the end. As Zoroastrianism developed, one strand held on to this vision – but another unofficial strand started to speak as if the spirits of good and evil were not actually created, but coeternal principles locked in eternal combat – the holy spirit now became identified with Ahura Mazda, and the evil Spirit became Ahriman. The dualistic strand of Zorosatrianim’s later morphed into Manicheanism in which the dualism became cosmic rather than moral – Ahura Mazda now represented pure spirit while Ahriman, the evil one, represented matter.

Well that’s the background – but let’s focus on Zoroastrian eschatology. Zoroaster spoke of both resurrection and judgement. He looked forward to the resurrection of the body at the end of time (or at least hinted at this). He also believed in the judgement after death where souls will be tested with molten metal and with fire; the righteous will be rewarded with heaven, ‘the best existence’, united with the ‘Good Mind’ they will ‘Rejoice in the House of Song’; the wicked on the other hand will be afflicted with a lasting torment, ‘feeding on foul food.’ The Gathas also speak of Saoshyant – the Saviour – but this seems either to refer to Zoroaster himself or to a secular ruler who would establish righteousness on earth (like the Persian King of Kings).

However, during the Achaemenian period (550 – 3330 B.C.) which begins with the rule of Cyrus the Great, mainstream Zoroastrian eschatology develops somewhat. The developed doctrine is that souls are individually judged at death and sent to heaven or hell according to their deserts. But at the end of time the Saoshayant (the saviour/bringer of good fortune) will be born and finally defeat the powers of evil and the dead shall rise again. Bodies and souls will be reunited, and all will be plunged into a sea of molten metal which will purge them from all remaining stain of sin. After this final purgation the whole human race will enter paradise where they will rejoice for ever and ever. ‘ All men will become of one voice and give praise with a loud voice to the Wise Lord …and the material world will become immortal forever and ever. The evil one and his hosts will be cast into hell where they will either be annihilated or made powerless for all time.

It is interesting indeed that the pagan anointed one should be expecting the universal saviour (and I wonder if the Three Kings/Magi were inspired in their journey by the same expectation? (I guess it’s perfectly possible that a bogy of hopes and beliefs can persist beyond it’s first flourishing)



A very interesting report! – moreso because the Cyrus pagan-messiah prophecy in Isaiah ends up connected to the famous universalistic “every knee shall bow” declaration of successful evangelism (though Cyrus has dropped out of sight topically long before then and YHWH Himself is doing the action). It’s also directly connected with Romans 9, as that’s one of the potter/clay/ who are you to answer back passages, criticizing Israel for doubting that God intends to save those He punishes (Israel specifically) from their sins.

I suspect by the first Christian centuries we’ve already seen the shift into cosmological dualism, though, because Manichaeism starts up not long before (or during?) the 5th century, and Manes picked that up from Zoro as you noted.

(Though now that I think of it I kind of recall Manes originally going the more ancient route and his successors taking that into cos-du. The more ancient route would certainly fit better with Christian theology, including the earlier Christological fractures and disputes.)

Hi Jason

I’d never really thought this through. As far as I know Cyrus and the Empire of Medes and Persians had the enlightened policy – in those days – of returning people who had been exiled by previous and less enlightened empires to their homelands and allowing a degree of autonomy to their colonies. I think that ‘King of kings, Lord of Lords’ was a title of the Persian King/Emperor. I seem to remember that Alexander the Great also borrowed some of the symbolism of Persian universalistic kingship and presided over sort of mixed race marriages as a Priest King in order to demonstrate the unity of his disparate peoples in his sacred kingship. But of course the idea of a universal king here on earth is but a shadowing of the real thing – so in the Hebrew Bible there is already a critique of Cyrus the anointed as well as gratitude for his enlightened policy of ‘return’. And it seems to me that this critique of earthly universal kingship must also have been felt somewhere deep down in Zoroastrianism –the emergence of the eschatological universal saviour figure just when the Empire was most powerful suggests this. Whenever I’ve looked at articles concerning cross fertilisation between

Zoroastrianism in this period with Hebraic Judaism I’m always left a bit befuddled – i think the evidence is fragmentary and scholarship is often partisan. But perhaps the Zoroastrians picked up a messianic discontent with earthly kingship from the Jews – perhaps the Jews really were a prophetic example to them despite their small numbers (the Biblical evidence suggest that Jews held important posts in the court of the earthly king of kings).

I don’t know whether you read it but I did once find out about Manichean eschatology for a thread here. I’ll copy my precis because you may find it interesting :slight_smile:

In Manichaeism the physical world is created by the Evil one as a trap for the light of spirit. At the end of time Jesus will come to separate the majority of humanity who are sunk in carnality from the spiritual elect. He will first separate the righteous elect from sinners, probably the fallen elect; then he will separate the followers of the Manichean church from the children of the world. The righteous must, like the sheep in the Gospel, stand on his right side; the condemned, like the goats, will be banished to his left. The redeemed elect will enter into the joy of the gods (i.e., into the New Paradise), and the condemned will be thrust into hell. All other men will live on this earth under the rule of Christ, in a golden age. Gods, angels, and redeemed men will be together there; evil will have vanished from the world, and men will, if they wish, leave their bodies and travel to heaven. A large quantity of holy light will be freed from this world .

After that the world will end;. Christ will abandon the world, flesh will waste away, and the earth will stand empty.
Then the spheres will plunge down to the earth, and the “great fire” will destroy the ruins of the world, finally deprived of its function. In the world conflagration the last redeemable parts of the light will be freed. As a Final Statue light will ascend to the New Paradise. The fire will, however, punish demons and sinners, and the gods and the righteous will witness their torment without being able to help them.

The special significance of this doctrine, however, rests on the conviction that the victory of light is ultimately an imperfect one, for a certain part of it, trapped in souls, imprisoned in the world, cannot be released because it has been irredeemably corrupted by wickedness. It will be enclosed in the Bôlos prison with the powers of darkness and so condemned to eternal damnation. The fate of these souls is also called the “second death,” an image borrowed from the Revelation of John). In itself the idea of the unredeemability of the damned is nothing unusual. In the Manichean view, however, it takes on unique and poignant/tragic weight because the light in the cosmos is the suffering part of the substance of God Himself. This Manichean rejection of universal redemption at the end of time had the scandalous implication that God Himself is and will remain imperfect; Augustine threw this implication in the teeth of the Manicheans (Contra Secundinum 20; cf. Böhlig, p. 27; Adam, p. 92: par. 7 of the great Latin abjuration formula).



Hm, yes; I expect that’s going to fit with Dr. R’s eventual discussion of Augustine’s early universalistic opposition to (his former) Manichaeism.

(I’m pretty sure I read her article reproducing the argument in her book pre-publication, when it was linked and discussed here earlier this year, but I don’t recall even one of the details… :frowning: Oh well, when I get to the book presumably all the details will be there. :slight_smile: )

This is an interesting topic…i didn’t know until recently that Zoroastrianism ever had a Universalist concept. I was only aware of the later Dualistic beliefs they had, and their rather nasty teachings about Heaven and Hell (which of course the Christian church was happy to take on board with a few minor alterations in the name of power over people instead of love :imp: )

i will be watching to see what new revelations come out.

I’ve just had a look at Zaehner again and have made some supplementary notes

*The victorious Saoshyant and those others who help him will make the world most excellent, un-ageing, un-decaying, neither passing away nor falling into corruption; forever shall it live and forever prosper. The dead shall rise again and the living shall be visited by immortality, and all existence shall be made most excellent in accordance with its true nature. The material world will no more pass away …and the Lie shall perish. All men will become of one voice and give praise with a loud voice to the Wise Lord and the Bounteous Immortals *(Yasht 19;89-90)

The Zoroastrian doctrine that the cosmic drama will end with the release of all sinner from hell and deliverance of all creation from bondage is known as the Frashkart – the refreshment or final rehabilitation of all Creation.
It probably arose in the Achaemenian period – although this cannot be proved – and is largely developed in the later literature.

During the Achaemenian period Zoroastrianism was probably mostly non dualist.

In the Sassanian Empire (A,d, 226 – 652) non dualist Zoroastrianism – that posited a supreme God above and prior to the warring principles of light and darkness - seems to have co-existed alongside the dualistic version.

The dualistic version was finally adopted as official orthodoxy probably under Khrusraw I (531-78)

Mani, was born 216 AD and was put to death in 274 or 277. As we know, Zoroastrian moral dualism is transformed by him into a cosmic dualism of spirit versus matter. Interestingly Mani’s parents were members of the religious sect of Elcesaites thought to have links with the Ebonite Jewish Christians.



By the way R.C. Zaehner was an interesting scholar for a number of reasons. He had been brought up a Calvinist. If any of you have ever read writings of the Dutch Calvinist or those inspired by them you’ll know that much of their logic centres on antithesis – of A and non A. Now Zahener was much influenced by this logic – of the requirement to keep A ad non A separate. However, he turned the logic against the God of classical Calvinism. He argued that God is wholly good – and therefore it is illogical to think that God would do evil (for this is to mix up the categories of A and non-A). He eventually became a Roman Catholic. He also wrote thoughtful books about mysticism in the world religions, drawing a clear distinction between those mystics of whatever religion who identify the absolute with absolute goodness and those who identify the absolute as somehow being beyond good and evil (he deplored the latter as false mysticism, and I agree with him)

And Lo, he did finish something like 20 percent of the book or thereabouts, and decided “I had better try to write some preliminary summaries of what can be found here before my brain implodes and I forget what the heck went on in earlier portions! …of it!”

So, the most important first thing to know about this book, aside from it costing north of US$300 (plus shipping), is that the table of contents IS OF ALMOST NO USE WHATSOEVER. There are four chapters in this book, and those are listed in the ToC, and if you want more detail than that you clearly shouldn’t be spending north of US$300 on a 825 page text liberally scattered with untranslated Greek and Latin phrases, sentences and paragraphs (and the occasional Syriac where appropriate. And Bohairic Coptic.)

Therefore my first goal shall be to try to give a topical map as I go, and maybe add some details later (and a few along the way), with alerts when I add more details. (And more pseudo-chapters.) I may also add summary quotes from Dr. R in regard to her own sections.

1.) THE ROOTS OF THE DOCTRINE OF APOKATASTASIS – this first giant chapter (or part or whatever) runs for 222 pages up through Origen.

1.1.) By Way of Introduction: What Is Apokatastasis? And How Does The Present Research Contribute To Advancing Scholarship? pp 1-10. – Briefly introduces pre-Christian usage of apokatastasis in several contexts, showing that in each the term refers to a restoration to an original condition (including when used in a military judicial fashion). It was not used in non-Christian philosophical sources (until perhaps long after Christian philosophers started using it), except where Christians were quoting non-Christians. (I am unsure this is what Dr. Ramelli means on page 7, but it is the only way her statement kind of makes sense after quoting a bunch of non-Christians including philosophers on using the term.) Dr. R briefly contrasts how non-Christian philosophers used the term (?) with how Origen used it. For the Stoics, the eons never ended, but kept repeating the same events over and over forever; whereas Origin insisted the eons would eventually end with apokatastasis. He also critiqued Stoics on their (implicit or explicit) denial of free will.

1.2.) The Roots of the Doctrine of Apokatastasis in the Bible, pp 10-24 – Dr. R considers all the occurrences of the term in the Greek Bible (OT and NT) with some comparison with text transmission in other ancient language versions; then digresses for a while to give an overview of how Origen also used the term; then reports the controversy between Jerome and Rufinus with an eye on how Jerome originally used the term the same way as Origen, to refer to universal salvation, but then repudiated that meaning when in his day the doctrine became controversial. (Along the way she reports Jerome being unable to make up his mind whether St. Pamphilus wrote the Apology for Origen, advocating universal salvation, or if this was written by the church historian Eusebius whom Jerome calls a heretic.) Then it’s back to scriptural occurrences of the term.

1.3.) Scriptural Sources of Inspiration without [apokatastasis] and the Value of {aiônios} in the Bible, pp 25-62 – much more extensive scriptural exegetical cases can be found elsewhere (as Dr. R acknowledges), but she gives an overview partly focusing on verses popular among Patristic universalists as an introduction to their thought, and partly summarizing her work with Dr. Konstans on checking how authors used eonian and aidios.

More to come (including on 1.3)…

Thanks for doing this Jason. I’ve been looking forward to hear more about Ramelli’s findings. Sounds like it can be a bit of a slog at times, though.

Brief update: I’m just short of 350 pages through the book, chugging along at 10% a day on average, using a chess clock to help enforce a one minute-to-page-read average. (Except I don’t have a chess clock, so I’m using my monstrous computer to simulate one on a 40" flatscreen, while I reset the clock after every page with a mouseclick. This could be considered a first-world problem. :wink: )

I’m trying to get the energy up to finish prooftexting some chapters in a friend’s book, which I really should have finished about 3 weeks ago, so I’m going to use that to help explain my delay in adding to the post-hoc table of contents and topical summary. But I’ll be getting to it eventually.

If anyone cares, I’ve passed sections on Athanasius and Eusebius, and just finished one on the first Syriac Ephrem, and have started on Basil the first of the Cappadochians. Dr. R presents a lot of evidence in favor of Ath the Great being a UR proponent though not one who ever went out of his way to talk about it much. Which makes those gnostic wrapping statements around the so-called Athanasian Creed even more painful – and possibly also a little more explicable, since Roman Catholics at the time might have been looking for ways to one-up their Greek brothers by claiming Ath preached something the EOx knew he preached against. :unamused:

Anyway, one of the big themes of Dr. R’s book is that the fathers most responsible in the early centuries for formulating orthodox trinitarian theism were not only Christian universalists (or leaning strongly in that direction) but their universalism logically followed from their trinitarianism.

Obviously someone like me would eat this up like cake, so I’m having to be careful not to get to squee-ish about it. Making my brain bleed out my ears every night is helping with that. :wink:

This is a reminder to myself (or to some enterprising member who is willing to do so first), to check Basil the Great (aka Basil the Cappadochian) in his commentary on Isaiah. Dr. R seems to be analyzing this commentary when she quotes Basil at some length interpreting Jesus’ wheat/weeds parable to refer to individual sins in the heart, but she doesn’t give a specific reference.

I’m not at the office so I can’t check my pdfs of Schaff’s Patristics; would anyone care to try finding that in his collection of Basil’s works? Or a web search? If Basil is connecting this parable with something specific in Isaiah, that could be huge evidence toward the proper interpretation of the parable.

Back to tonight’s march. :slight_smile:

Update: going back a couple of pages, I think Dr. R is saying this is part of Basil’s commentary on Isaiah 9 (maybe verse 19). This is the famous Messianic chapter typically connected with the previous prophecy of Immanuel, giving the names of the Messiah; and also opens with the prophecy of salvation of the Gentiles in Galilee of the Nations (in Jewish inherited territory apportioned to two tribes), which the Gospels refer to Jesus’ missionary work there. The relevant verses do seem to be 18 and 19, where God throws burning anger to join the wickedness of rebel Israel already burning up the land; in chapter 10 (as often elsewhere) this means the coming of the Assyrians to conquer the two kingdoms, later to be overthrown by God for their willingness to participate in this slaughter. Unsure if Basil wasn’t instead looking at (in modern and Hebrew Bibles) chapter 10:16-19, which involve the same notion of Israel being destroyed soul and body (although a remnant survives to be loyal afterward) due to the thorns and briars of Israel being destroyed by God.

These don’t seem (in the NASB anyway) to be the same term as the darnels/weeds in the parable, and on the face of it it doesn’t seem to be referring to God zorching sin in people’s souls, but rather killing individual (and masses of) people; although that connection with the thorns and brambles is certainly made later in that verse I like to quote from Isaiah where God has no wrath in Him and only goes out to war against those who insist on warring against Him, burning up their thorns and brambles with which they war against Him, so that they will repent and be friends with God instead.

66 PAGES TO GO OR THEREABOUTS! {thousand-yard stare}

I have good reason to believe I’ll finally be finished tomorrow night (7 days behind schedule); but I’ll be out of pocket for much of Friday and Saturday (for niece-sitting, where nieces will sit on me I suspect :wink: ), so while I may come back tomorrow to announce my {telos} of the book :mrgreen: don’t expect to hear anything further from me until Sunday at the very earliest.

You can do it Jason!!!

Jason, Alex,

How’s reading Ramelli coming along? Would love to hear further reflections on the book when you get a chance.


Done, and trying to juggle things around to work up notes on it. :slight_smile:

Cool, looking forward to it!