The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Why was apokatastasis rejected

One recurring issue I have with the doctrine of apokatastasis is the fact that the church moved quickly away from affirming it after the condemnations of Origen in the fifth ecumenical council. At lot of the teachers who espoused it earlier were either condemned or corrected by tradition. Typically the answers I’ve seen given on this score are that Augustine misread Greek and so introduced a pagan idea, but this does little to score with the eastward movement against apokatastasis by Justinian and the church and the long history that both rejected apokatastasis and annihilation as the ultimate fate of the wicked. Why did this move occur if it wasn’t in some sense important for the truth to guide us into wisdom?

A lot of people who are universalists remain outside the bounds of Catholicism and orthodoxy, yet I am of the former tradition and I see it as deeply problematic that the church would be mislead on this score. I also find the answer relatively unsatisfying - that imperial authorities sought to control people through fear and so used eternal torment as a stick to goad people into good behavior. This almost seems a Marxist criticism to the faith and one that is difficult for me to believe of the saints and theologians in the church’s history. A protestant may have an easier time dispensing with the doctrine as part of “reforming” the church, but I believe tradition is an important pillar of the church and one that guides us today as to how we are to treat God’s revelation in Christ Jesus.

Keep in mind, there is nothing sweeter to me than Catherine of Siena being granted her petition to God to finally abolish Hell so that none may suffer eternal torment and come into repentance and light and joy. If this be the final end of all I would be OVERJOYED at God’s abundance of goodness and mercy. I do not doubt that His mercy triumphs over His judgement, but the biblical text leaves me little to believe that there isn’t a terrible judgement for those who do not continue in charity with God and neighbor.

I am looking forward to Ilaria’s work on the score, the rejection of apokatastasis by the church, but if it’s not substantial and just a Marxist explanation of the church trying to control people then I’ll be disappointed. God is not a tyrant, he frees us from the tyranny of selfishness. I don’t think people in his church would be principally concerned with controlling people, or at least the movement of the church wouldn’t be totally controlled by those people.

Another question I have is related to the doctrine of praying for the dead, again, a Cathodox important point. Ilaria mentioned that in the Petrine tradition there are some oracles that mention the saints praying for the damned in the fire of judgement and God granting their prayers. They obviously aren’t changing God’s mind but fulfilling his will in doing so. My point here is that if prayers for the dead and damned are blessed by God, then this is a doctrine for the elect, the saints, and it’s important to follow this example in preaching. For those outside the ekklesia we pray for their conversion and preach repentance, not telling them an advanced doctrine for the beatified. Origen, if he be right in his construal, thought not to preach universalism.

These are just some of my questions, God bless you all.

Thanks for posting, David, and welcome to this forum. I will have to read again the points you make and questions you pose and do some research before attempting any response or suggesting any answers. Your past is so very different from mine, lol.

The church became corrupted and a political institution in early centuries, the doctrine of hell is better to control people so it is no surprise that it became the dogma.

Mainstream Judaism develeped no hell since you are born into Judaism and you do not have to control your crowd by fear since you are already tied by blood, hope you get my point.

Hiya David :slight_smile:

The answers to these questions are all very complex. I can certainly unpack the stuff that you’ve heard about Augustine for you, for starters.

The doctrine of everlasting punishment – as a Christian doctrine – certainly predates Augustine. For example Tertullian in the early third century – was also a keen advocate, and there are other plenty of other earlier examples. However, prior to the fifth century – especially among the Fathers who were Greek speakers – universalism was far more widely believed and taught, and by many highly significant people, than later history has lead us to believe. (This is Illaria Ramelli’s conclusion based on exhaustive research that has been praised by her peers in Patristic scholarship).

It is true that Augustine could not read Greek and only knew Jerome’s Vulgate translation of the New Testament into Latin. Therefore he didn’t understand the nuances of the Greek words aionos (meaning ‘age long’ or ‘of the world to come) and aidivos (meaning ‘eternal’ and denoting the life of God and the life God can bestow on us).

But the point about Augustine is not that he introduced the doctrine of eternal torment into the Church but that he was massively influential in making it into the only option for Christians in the West, because of the status and authority his writings were given in the Western Church.

The deficiency of Augustine’s source material also shows in his development of the idea of ‘original sin’, btw. The translation of Romans that he worked with, in particular, was faulty. As an aside. :slight_smile:

Did you mean to say ‘denoting’, Dick?

1 Like

I did :smiley: