Is Universalism Heretical? Part 2

The worry concerns the Fifth Ecumenical Council—the second to be held in Constantinople—in 553. The council of one hundred and fifty seven eastern Bishops and eleven western Bishops was primarily called together to try and form an official consensus position on Christology—one that would continue to affirm the Chalcedonian definition (which a lot of people then had rejected), but do it in terms that would be more acceptable to those who were uncomfortable with it: affirm it as emphasizing the personal, divine unity of subject in the two natures of the incarnate Word. There is no doubt that the Council condemned Origen by name in its eleventh anathema:
"If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches, and Origen, as well as their impious writings, as also all other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and by the aforesaid four Holy Synods and [if anyone does not equally anathematize] all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema."

But no mention of apokatsatasis is connected with this condemnation nor in any of the other thirteen anathemas. In the context of the other anathemas, the concern is quite possibly Christological (by this time Origen’s Christology was thought to be problematic, in part due to misunderstandings of his work).

However, outside the main sessions of the Council it appears that some fifteen additional anathemas against Origen were appended. We should also note that ten years earlier, in 543, the emperor Justinian produced nine anathemas against Origen. Both lists, which overlap considerably, concern other supposed teachings of Origen that by then were considered risky or misleading. The idea of apokatastasis is one of these: that at the end of history, all created intellects will be restored to their original condition of union with God.

It is useful to look at the relevant anathemas. From the Council’s fifteen anathemas consider I, XIV and XV:

If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration (apokatastasis) which follows from it: let him be anathema.

If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the gnōsis and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apokatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the life of the spirits shall be like to the life which was in the beginning while as yet the spirits had not come down or fallen, so that the end and the beginning shall be alike, and that the end shall be the true measure of the beginning: let him be anathema.

Of Justinian’s earlier nine anathemas the directly relevant ones are seven and nine:
If anyone says or thinks that Christ the Lord in a future time will be crucified for demons as he was for men, let him be anathema.

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (apokatastasis) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.


Martin Trench said…
Thanks for including a look at church history in this discussion. Scince moving accross the pond to North America, I have become aware of how little pre-Reformation church history (in fact, usually pre-20th century) most Christians' know. And how often people are accused of "heresey" for non-essential beliefs that no Eccumenical Council would even have considered. Just listened to your interview on premier radio's "beyond belief" as well. Loved it.
Anonymous said…
Thank you. It's good to have all these resources together in one place.

I'm interested in the problem of the NT Greek word "aionios". Being the adjective of "aion" (an age) it should mean "belonging to an age", specifically the NT "Age to Come".

Thus "aionios" should be translated "of the age to come" or "eternal" or best of all "Holy".

Thus in the NT: Holy Life, Holy punishment, Holy destruction, Holy judgement, Holy redemption etc.

But the early Church, especially the Latin speaking Church, seems to have drifted into an "everlasting" meaning.

And the Justinian you mention had to add another word to "aionios" to insure it carried his "everlasting" preference. Is this what the NIV translators did to get their "everlasting destruction" in II Thes 1:9 ? Only kidding!

If you include this issue later on, I'll be very interested to hear what you've found.
James Goetz said…
I want to make sure I understand the chronology because at quick glance I thought they all dated to 553. The Justian anathemas dated 543, the Council actually 553, and when were the fifteen additional anathemas dated?
Robin Parry said…
Martin - thanks. I include myself in those who don't know very much of it (there is too much of it!). But alas you are right!

Anonymous - I fear that it is not as simple as that. There is a case for reading aionion as "eternal" and I am aware of no case for reading it as "holy". But you are correct to suggest that it can refer to the age to come. That is the way that I go myself but I think that the whole issue needs more careful attention than I have yet given it.

James - the 15 anathemas are also from 553 and form an appendix to the main deliberations of the council. You'd need to ask a specialist to get the details.
TN said…

Thanks for not ignoring my off-topic comment on aionios.

I think it's a good idea to drive a wedge between our English words "eternal" and "everlasting", thus reserving "eternal" for its special NT meaning. Most modern translations seem to avoid using the AV's "everlasting" (eg everlasting punishment) and seem to leave the issue open by consistently using "eternal". I think we can work with that if we insist on seperating everlasting (never ending) from eternal.

Thus the popular abbreviation ECT should mean the idea of Everlasting Conscious Torment NOT Eternal Conscious Torment.

Just to clarify my defining of aionios as "holy".

It's my own idea, but based on the many commentaries that will use that word as one way to describe what aionios is getting at.

This is especially true of some comments on "Eternal Gospel" (Rev 14:6) "Eternal judgement" (Heb 6:2) "Eternal Redemption" (Heb 11:12) and "Eternal Spirit" (Heb 11:14).

Indeed, the last one has quite a number of early texts with "Holy Spirit" instead of "Eternal Spirit" (The Hermeneia Commentary lists them I think).
tn said…
my "holy" is just an attempt to find one English adjective word to translate the one Greek adjective word aionios. Like you, I'm sure that it is "belonging to the Age [to Come]", but that is so awkward, a long four word phrase to translate one word.

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