With God’s cooperation we omit none of the aforementioned steps, lest through even minor negligence we render our faith blind and devoid of eyes, and thus be deprived of the illuminations of the Spirit which are given through actual deeds, and be justly punished for endless ages (κολασθῶμεν δικαίως εἰς ἀπείρους αἰώνας), for to the extent that it depended upon us, we blinded the divine eyes of faith which had opened within us according to the measure of our faith. (Questions to Thalassius, 54)
Inasmuch, then, as in both Testaments there is the same righteousness of God [displayed] when God takes vengeance, in the one case indeed typically, temporarily, and more moderately; but in the other, really, enduringly, and more rigidly: for the fire is eternal, and the wrath of God which shall be revealed from heaven from the Face of our Lord (as David also says,
But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth ), entails a heavier punishment on those who incur it—the Elders pointed out that those men are devoid of sense, who, [arguing] from what happened to those who formerly did not obey God, do endeavor to bring in another Father, setting over against [these punishments] what great things the Lord had done at His coming to save those who received Him, taking compassion upon them; while they keep silence with regard to His judgment; and all those things which shall come upon such as have heard His words, but done them not, and that it were better for them if they had not been born, Matthew 26:24 and that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the judgment than for that city which did not receive the word of His disciples. Matthew 10:15
For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say,
Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, Matthew 25:41 these shall be damned forever; and to whomsoever He shall say,
Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity, Matthew 25:34 these do receive the kingdom forever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word. (Against Heresies Bk. 4.28.1-2)
When [Maximus] speaks of the condition of the sinner after Christ’s Judgment, on the other hand, [he] stresses in a number of places that change, repentance and forgiveness will then no longer be possible. In contrast to this present life, the coming age is one “in which one may not expect any forgiveness of sins, but only the recompense of a fitting reward for the way one has lived, appropriate for each person”. (Amb. Io. 53: PG91, 1376B10-13. Cf. Ep.1: PG 91, 381 D11-384A7)
The reason is not merely that God has fixed an arbitrary time-limit to His mercy, but something much more profoundly anthropological: the end of this human history, its transformation at the moment of Resurrection and Judgment, will necessarily put an end both to human action and to human change by removing the conditions which made them possible:
The ages of the flesh, in which we now live … are characterized by doing; but the ages which will belong to the Spirit, after this present life, will be transformed into ages of undergoing. (Quest. Thal. 22: PG 90: 320- C7-13.)
Being itself, the most elementary mode of existence for rational creatures, is essentially “a matter of potency”, which free actualization, by means of conscious choice of the good, seeks to change into the higher existential mode of well-being (Amb. Io. 65: PG 91, 1392A4-B4). Both of these modes of existence are limited by time and finitude, however, and the creature can only be raised to the third and highest mode, that of ever-being by God’s gift. The gift, then, involves self-transcendence on the part of the creature: a movement beyond the limits of both potency and conscious, determinate act into a timeless, changeless state of rest:
As, then, voluntary activity makes use of the potentiality of nature, either in accord with nature or against nature it reaches nature’s limit of well-being or ill-being; this is ever-being, in which the souls have their Sabbath, receiving rest from all motion. The eighth and first, or better the one and endless day is the unadulterated, wholly radiant presence of God, which comes after things in motion have come to rest. It abides totally, in the appropriate way, for the total being of those who have freely used the structure of their being in accord with nature, and bestows on them ever-well-being, by giving a share in itself, because it alone, properly speaking, is and is forever and is good; but for those who freely have used the structure of their being contrary to nature, it properly bestows not well-being but ever-ill-being, since well-being is no longer accessible to them who have taken up an opposing stand to it, who have no power at all to move after the revelation of what has been sought – the revelation to seekers of the goal of their seeking. (ibid., C9-D13)
Universal salvation or individual damnation; the totally transcendent self-gift of God, satisfying the natural longing of every creature, or the final self-destruction of the creature through his own free refusal of the fulfilling gift: these are the two poles that define the complex but ordered field of Maximus’s eschatology. Far from being an unresolved paradox, caused by the conflicting desires to preserve both the systematic optimism of Origen and the salutary fear instilled by traditional teaching, Maximus’ Christian vision of the future is, in my opinion, consistent both in itself and with the rest of his theology. Here, as in his Christology or his theology of creation, he is primarily concerned to keep the central paradox of Christianity intact: faith in a totally transcendent God who is both source and goal of a dynamically developing nature, who is Himself the only adequate fulfillment of nature’s needs and desires, and yet Who is wholly beyond nature’s right or ability to claim for itself; and at the same time, faith in a world of distinct, independent creatures whose metaphysical and existential integrity may never be compromised by pantheism or determinism, faith in a human world where freedom and moral goodness are indispensable steps, on the creature’s part, towards receiving the gift that saves. Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, too, had been passionately committed to preserving intact both the sovereign goodness of God and the freedom of the created spirit; but their solution of a universal apokatastasis or restoration of fallen spirits to grace, after whatever amount of medicinal suffering may be necessary to bring them to accept that grace, must have struck Maximus as not taking seriously enough either the gratuitousness of grace or the seriousness of created freedom. In any case, while he mounts no direct attack on the Origenist conception of apokatastasis, he offers – as we have already seen in detail – a rather different eschatological prospect, and uses the word apokatastasis – when he does use it – in a very different way.
One passage in the Ambigua sums up with particular clarity the eschatological implications of this nicely-measured interplay between what later Western theologians would call the natural and the super-natural, freedom and grace; it shows, in addition, how closely linked with that tension, in Maximus’s thinking, a real alternative between divinization and damnation must be:
For all things which exist and will exist according to an essence or which become or will become, or appear or will appear, their concepts pre-exist immovably in God; in accord with those concepts, all things are and have come to be and remain, always drawing closer to their own predetermined ideas through natural motion, and ever more closely approximated to being by particular kinds and degrees of motion and momentum of the will. They receive well-being through goodness and through their direct progress towards the concept to which they correspond; or they receive ill-being through vice and their movement against the concept to which they correspond. To put it concisely, (they move) in accordance with their possession or their lack of the power they have naturally, to share in him who exists completely imparticipable in nature, and who simply offers himself in his totality, by grace, to all – worthy and unworthy – in his unlimited goodness, and who endows each with the permanence of eternal being, corresponding to the way that each disposes himself and is. And for those who share or do not share, proportionately, in him who in the truest sense is and is well and is forever, there is an intensification and in- crease of punishment for those who cannot share, and of enjoyment for those who can share (Amb. 10.42:PG 91, 1329 A1-B7).
One of Maximus’s replies in the Quaestiones ad Thalassium makes the same point, more briefly and more boldly:
For nature does not contain the characteristics of the super-natural, just as it does not contain the laws of what is against nature. By ‘supernatural’ I mean the divine and inconceivable joy, which God naturally creates when he is united by grace to those who are worthy. By ‘against nature’, I mean the unspeakable anguish which is involved in the deprivation of this (joy), which God naturally creates when He is united with the unworthy against grace. For God is united with all, according to the quality of the fundamental state of each person; in a way that He understands, he supplies sensation to each one, corresponding to the way each is made by Him to receive the One Who is completely united to all, at the end of the ages (Quest. Thal. 59 PG 90, 609B14-C12).
Just as the human creature, in his freedom, has been given the crucial power to realize or to destroy the plan God had in creating him, the ability to act either (~according to nature) or (~against nature), so God, Who loves all creatures equally — even the damned — and offers Himself equally and totally to each, will not (perhaps cannot) prevent His love and presence from becoming Hell itself for those who have refused them. It is a paradox – perhaps even a paradox one honors best by a reverential silence – but a paradox at the very heart of the Christian doctrine of creation. (Apokatastasis and Honorable Silence in the Eschatalogy of Maximus the Confessor)
A brother asked the holy Old Man, Abba Barsanuphius, saying: “Father, I do not know how I came upon the books of Origen and Didymus, as well as the Gnostic Chapters of Evagrius and the writing of his disciples. These books say… that the future hell must have an end and that human beings, angels, and demons can return to the state they first enjoyed as naked intellects, something they call apokatastasis… Therefore, my soul is afflicted, falling into doubt as to whether these things are true are not. Master, I entreat you to show me the truth so that I may hold to this and not perish. For nothing is said about these things in sacred Scripture. As Origen himself affirms in his Commentary on the Letter to Titus (Fragments in PG 14.1303-1306), this is neither of the Apostles nor of the Church… Evagrius, too, bears witness to this in his Gnostic Chapters, that no one has spoken of these things, nor has the Spirit Itself explained them. For in his sixty-fourth chapter of the second century of his Gnostic Chapters, he writes: ‘On the former, no one has spoken to us; on the latter, only the one on Mt. Horeb has explained to us.’… That there is no apokatastasis or end to hell, the Lord Himself revealed to us in the Gospel, saying: ‘These will go away into eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46); and again: ‘Where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.’ (Mk. 9:48) Therefore, master, how could these people expound such teachings, when the Apostles have not passed them down to us and the Holy Spirit has not explained them to us, as they themselves bear witness and the Gospels contradict? Be merciful, then, with my weakness, since you are a father of compassion, and show me clearly what these doctrines are about.”
Response by St. Barsanuphius the Great ca. 6th cent.
The heavens tremble over the preoccupations of human beings. The earth shakes over how people want to scrutinize the incomprehensible. These are the doctrines of the [heathen] Greeks; they are the vain talk of people who claim to be something (cf. Acts 5:6)… Avoid these things, brother, so that their word may not be established in your heart. They dry tears, blind the heart, and quite simply destroy those who pay any attention to them. Do not dwell on them; do not study them; for they are filled with bitterness and produce fruit unto death. As for knowledge about things to come, do not be deceived. Whatever you sow here, you will reap there (cf. Gal. 6:7-8). It is not possible for anyone to make progress after leaving this place. God will not labor to recreate the soul after anyone’s death… Brother, here is the place for labor; there is the place for reward. Here is the place of struggle; there is the place for crowns. Brother, if you want to be saved, do not preoccupy yourself with these things. For I bear witness before God that you have fallen into a pit of the devil and into ultimate death. Therefore, avoid these things and follow in the footsteps of the fathers. Acquire humility and obedience for yourself, as well as mourning, ascetic discipline, poverty, not reckoning yourself as anything, and other such virtues, which you will find in their Sayings and in the Lives. Bear “fruits worthy of repentance” (Lk. 3:8); and do not pay any attention to me, who talk but do not practice. (Letter 600)
The same brother asked the same question to the Other Old Man, Abba John.
Response by St. John the Prophet of Gaza ca. 6th cent.
Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is unspiritual and demonic. (cf. Jas. 3:1-5) This teaching is from the devil, leading to eternal hell those who pay attention to it. Anyone who is preoccupied with this teaching becomes a heretic; anyone who believes in it has deviated from the truth; anyone who adheres to it is alienated from God’s way. The workers of Christ, however, are not like this; the disciples of Christ have not taught this. Those who accept the word of truth do not accept such teachings. Brother, quickly detach yourself from these. Do not burn your heart with the fire of the devil. Do not sow thorns on your soil instead of grain; do not receive death instead of life. In short, do not receive the devil instead of Christ. Do not delay in these, and you will be saved like Lot from Sodom (cf. Gen. 19:15-29), through the prayers of the Saints. Amen. (Letter 601)
The same brother asked the same Old Man: “Should we not, then, read even the works of Evagrius?”
Response by St. John the Prophet.
Do not accept such doctrines from his works; but go ahead and read, if you like, those works that are beneficial for the soul, according to the parable about the net in the Gospel. For it is written: “They placed the good into baskets, but threw out the bad” (Mt. 13:48). You, too, should do the same. (Letter 602)
Question from the same person… “in regard to the subject of apokatastasis, the holy Gregory of Nyssa himself clearly speaks about it, but not in the manner in which they say he does, namely: ‘When hell ceases, humanity will return to its original condition, namely, that of pure intellects’; rather, he does in fact say that hell will cease and assume an end. (On the Soul and on the Resurrection, PG 46.108) Therefore, father, tell us why such a person does not speak correctly, as befits a holy person who has been counted worthy of speaking for the Holy Spirit. For some of the fathers and teachers even disagree about Paradise, saying that is not material but spiritual. And on other chapters of Scripture, one finds disagreements among some of them. So clarify this for us, master, we implore you, in order that we may be illumined by you and give glory to God, and so that we may not doubt our holy Fathers.”
Response by St. Barsanuphius
May all the fathers who have pleased God, the saints and the righteous and genuine servants of God pray for me. Do not think that, because they were saints, they were able actually to comprehend all the depths of God. For the Apostle says: “We know only in part.” (1 Cor. 13:9) And again: “To one is given through the Spirit such and such, and not all of these gifts to one and the same person; but to one person it was given in this way, to another in that way, and al of these gists are activated by one in the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11). Knowing then, that the [mysteries] of God are incomprehensible, the Apostle cried out: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” (Rom. 11:33-34), and so forth. Applying themselves, therefore, to becoming teachers of their own accord, or else obliged by others to come to this point, they achieved great progress, sometimes even surpassing their own teachers. Moreover, they were assured about the truth in developing new doctrines, while at the same time remaining faithful to the traditions of their teachers.
In this way, there are also some [brothers] here who have received certain doctrines from their teachers, which are not, however, correct. For after achieving progress and themselves becoming spiritual teachers, nevertheless, they did not pray to God about their teachers, in order to learn whether what they said was spoken through the Holy Spirit. Rather, trusting that their teachers possessed wisdom and knowledge, they did not in fact bother to discern their teachings. And so the teachings of their teachers became mingled with their own teachings, and they spoke sometimes from the doctrines learned from their masters, while at other times from the brilliance of their own intellect. Thus, even the words of their teachers were ascribed to their name. For while they received these words from others, they progressed and improved more than their teachers, and they spoke through the Holy Spirit; that is to say, they were assured by the Spirit and spoke from the doctrines of their teachers who proceeded them, but they did not actually examine these words in order to discern whether they needed to be assured by God through supplication and prayer in regard to their truth. So the teachings [of the two] were mingled together. Thus, since it was they who spoke the words, it was to their names that they were ultimately ascribed. Therefore, when you hear that one of them received from the Holy Spirit whatever he speaks, then this is clear assurance that we ought to trust him. When, however, this person speaks on those matters, it does not seem that he refers to the same kind of assurance, but rather to the teachings and tradition of those who preceded him. In this way, while paying attention to their knowledge and wisdom, nonetheless, they did not ask God about these matters, as to whether or not they are true.
There then! You have heard all my foolishness. So be calm, and commit yourselves to God, ceasing from such idle talk and paying attention to your passions, about which you will be asked to give account on the Day of Judgment. For you will not be asked about these matters, why you do not understand them or why you have not learned them. Therefore, weep and mourn. Follow in the footsteps of our fathers, of Poemen and all the other like him, and “run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor. 9:24) in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be the glory to the ages. Amen. (Letter 604)
Met. Kallistos Ware frequently quotes St. Vincent of Lerins in his talks and writing as ancient testimony in approval of the condemned theologian Origen of Alexandria. The Metropolitan routinely claims that he is agreement with St. Vincent when he wrote, “Who would not rather be wrong with Origen than right with everyone else?”. But what actually did St. Vincent say in context?
St. Vincent of Lerins died ca. 445
…[I]n the Church of God the teacher’s error is the people’s trial, a trial by so much the greater in proportion to the greater learning of the erring teacher… An important fact truly, useful to be learned, and necessary to be remembered, and to be illustrated and enforced again and again, by example upon example, in order that all true Catholics may understand that it behooves them with the Church to receive Teachers, not with Teachers to desert the faith of the Church.
My belief is, that among many instances of this sort of trial which might be produced, there is not one to be compared with that of Origen, in whom there were many things so excellent, so unique, so admirable, that antecedently any one would readily deem that implicit faith was to be placed all his assertions. For if the conversation and manner of life carry authority, great was his industry, great his modesty, his patience, his endurance; if his descent or his erudition, what more noble than his birth of a house rendered illustrious by martyrdom? Afterwards, when in the cause of Christ he had been deprived not only of his father, but also of all his property, he attained so high a standard in the midst of the straits of holy poverty, that he suffered several times, it is said, as a Confessor. Nor were these the only circumstances connected with him, all of which afterwards proved an occasion of trial. He had a genius so powerful, so profound, so acute, so elegant, that there was hardly any one whom he did not very far surpass. The splendor of his learning, and of his erudition generally, was such that there were few points of divine philosophy, hardly any of human which he did not thoroughly master. When Greek had yielded to his industry, he made himself a proficient in Hebrew. What shall I say of his eloquence, the style of which was so charming, so soft, so sweet, that honey rather than words seemed to flow from his mouth! What subjects were there, however difficult, which he did not render clear and perspicuous by the force of his reasoning? What undertakings, however hard to accomplish, which he did not make to appear most easy? But perhaps his assertions rested simply on ingeniously woven argumentation? On the contrary, no teacher ever used more proofs drawn from Scripture. Then I suppose he wrote little? No man more, so that, if I mistake not, his writings not only cannot all be read through, they cannot all be found; for that nothing might be wanting to his opportunities of obtaining knowledge, he had the additional advantage of a life greatly prolonged. But perhaps he was not particularly happy in his disciples? Who ever more so? From his school came forth doctors, priests, confessors, martyrs, without number. Then who can express how much he was admired by all, how great his renown, how wide his influence? Who was there whose religion was at all above the common standard that did not hasten to him from the ends of the earth? What Christian did not reverence him almost as a prophet; what philosopher as a master? How great was the veneration with which he was regarded, not only by private persons, but also by the Court, is declared by the histories which relate how he was sent for by the mother of the Emperor Alexander, moved by the heavenly wisdom with the love of which she, as he, was inflamed. To this also his letters bear witness, which, with the authority which he assumed as a Christian Teacher, he wrote to the Emperor Philip, the first Roman prince that was a Christian. As to his incredible learning, if any one is unwilling to receive the testimony of Christians at our hands, let him at least accept that of heathens at the hands of philosophers. For that impious Porphyry says that when he was little more than a boy, incited by his fame, he went toAlexandria, and there saw him, then an old man, but a man evidently of so great attainments, that he had reached the summit of universal knowledge.
Time would fail me to recount, even in a very small measure, the excellencies of this man, all of which, nevertheless, not only contributed to the glory of religion, but also increased the magnitude of the trial. For who in the world would lightly desert a man of so great genius, so great learning, so great influence, and would not rather adopt that saying, ‘That he would rather be wrong with Origen, than be right with others’.
What shall I say more? The result was that very many were led astray from the integrity of the faith, not by any human excellencies of this so great man, this so great doctor, this so great prophet, but, as the event showed, by the too perilous trial which he proved to be. Hence it came to pass, that this Origen, such and so great as he was, wantonly abusing the grace of God, rashly following the bent of his own genius, and placing overmuch confidence in himself, making light account of the ancient simplicity of the Christian religion, presuming that he knew more than all the world besides, despising the traditions of the Church and the determinations of the ancients, and interpreting certain passages of Scripture in a novel way, deserved for himself the warning given to the Church of God, as applicable in his case as in that of others, If there arise a prophet in the midst of you,… you shall not hearken to the words of that prophet,…because the Lord your God does make trial of you, whether you love Him or not. (Deut. 13:1) Truly, thus of a sudden to seduce the Church which was devoted to him, and hung upon him through admiration of his genius, his learning, his eloquence, his manner of life and influence, while she had no fear, no suspicion for herself—thus, I say, to seduce the Church, slowly and little by little, from the old religion to a new profaneness, was not only a trial, but a great trial.
But some one will say, Origen’s books have been corrupted. I do not deny it; nay, I grant it readily. For that such is the case has been handed down both orally and in writing, not only by Catholics, but by heretics as well. But the point is, that though himself be not, yet books published under his name are, a great trial, which, abounding in many hurtful blasphemies, are both read and delighted in, not as being some one else’s, but as being believed to be his, so that, although there was no error in Origen’s original meaning, yet Origen’s authority appears to be an effectual cause in leading people to embrace error.
The case is the same with Tertullian. For as Origen holds by far the first place among the Greeks, so does Tertullian among the Latins. For who more learned than he, who more versed in knowledge whether divine or human? With marvelous capacity of mind he comprehended all philosophy, and had a knowledge of all schools of philosophers, and of the founders and upholders of schools, and was acquainted with all their rules and observances, and with their various histories and studies. Was not his genius of such unrivalled strength and vehemence that there was scarcely any obstacle which he proposed to himself to overcome, that he did not penetrate by acuteness, or crush by weight? As to his style, who can sufficiently set forth its praise? It was knit together with so much cogency of argument that it compelled assent, even where it failed to persuade. Every word almost was a sentence; every sentence a victory…Yet this man also, notwithstanding all that I have mentioned, this Tertullian, I say, too little tenacious of Catholic doctrine, that is, of the universal and ancient faith, more eloquent by far than faithful, changed his belief, and justified what the blessed Confessor, Hilary, writes of him, namely, that by his subsequent error he detracted from the authority of his approved writings. He also was a great trial in the Church. But of Tertullian I am unwilling to say more. This only I will add, that, contrary to the injunction of Moses, by asserting the novel furies of Montanus which arose in the Church, and those mad dreams of new doctrine dreamed by mad women, to be true prophecies, he deservedly made both himself and his writings obnoxious to the words, If there arise a prophet in the midst of you,…you shall not hearken to the words of that prophet. For why? Because the Lord your God does make trial of you, whether you love Him or not.
It behooves us, then, to give heed to these instances from Church History, so many and so great, and others of the same description, and to understand distinctly, in accordance with the rule laid down in Deuteronomy, that if at any time a Doctor in the Church have erred from the faith, Divine Providence permits it in order to make trial of us, whether or not we love God with all our heart and with all our mind. (The Commonitory: 27-29, 42-47)
St. Vincent actually says the exact opposite in context.
(1 Tim. 4:16) Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
And when they [St. Maximus and his co-Confessors] had been dismissed to the prisons, Menas laid hold of the old man, saying in the presence of the officials: ‘God has struck you and brought you here so that you might accept the consequences of what you did to others, when you led everyone into the teachings of Origen.’
The servant of God said to him in the presence of everyone: ‘Anathema on Origen and his teachings, and on everyone of the same mind as himself.’
And the patrician Epiphanius said: ‘The censure adduced by you against him, Lord Menas, has come to an end, such that, even if he were an Origenist, he freed himself from a charge like that when he pronounced the anathema. From now on I won’t have a charge of that nature made about him any longer.’ (Record of the Trial, 5. Maximus the Confessor and His Companions: Documents From Exile edited by Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil, p. 59-61. Oxford Early Christian Texts)
Now, sin has been destroyed and abrogated—it can not be said that “sin” has been redeemed, only persons may be redeemed. But it is not enough to acknowledge by faith the deed of the divine redemption—one has to be born anew. The whole personality must be cleansed and healed. Forgiveness must be accepted and assessed in freedom. It cannot be imputed—apart from an act of faith and gratitude, an act of love. Paradoxically, nobody can be saved by love divine alone, unless it is responded to by grateful love of human persons. Indeed, there is always an abstract possibility of “repentance” and “conversion” in the course of this earthly or historic life. Can we admit that this possibility continues after death? [E]ven in the concept of Purgatory no chance of radical conversion is implied. Purgatory includes but believers, those of good intentions, pledged to Christ, but deficient in growth and achievement. Human personality is made and shaped in this life—at least, it is oriented in this life. The difficulty of universal salvation is not on the divine side—indeed, God wants every man “to be saved,” not so much, probably, in order that His will should be accomplished and His Holiness secured, as in order that man’s existence may be complete and blessed. Yet, insuperable difficulties may be erected on the creaturely side. After all, is “ultimate resistance” a greater paradox, and a greater offense, than any resistance or revolt, which actually did pervert the whole order of Creation, did handicap the deed of redemption? Only when we commit ourselves to a docetic view of history and deny the possibility of ultimate decisions in history, in this life, under the pretext that it is temporal, can we evade the paradox of ultimate resistance.
St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated a kind of universal conversion of souls in the afterlife, when the truth of God will be revealed and manifested with compelling evidence. Just at that point the limitation of the Hellenic mind is obvious. Evidence seemed to it to be the decisive motive for the will, as if “sin” were merely ignorance. The Hellenic mind had to pass through a long and hard experience of asceticism, of ascetic self-examination and self-control, in order to overcome this intellectualistic naïveté and illusion and discover a dark abyss in the fallen soul. Only in St. Maximus the Confessor, after some centuries of ascetic preparation, do we find a new and deepened interpretation of the apokatastasis. Indeed, the order of creation will be fully restored in the last days. But the dead souls will still be insensitive to the very revelation of Light. The Light Divine will shine to all, but those who once have chosen darkness will be still unwilling and unable to enjoy the eternal bliss. They will still cling to the nocturnal darkness of selfishness. They will be unable precisely to enjoy. They will stay “outside”—because union with God, which is the essence of salvation, presupposes and requires the determination of will. Human will is irrational and its motives cannot be rationalized. Even “evidence” may fail to impress and move it.
Eschatology is a realm of antinomies. These antinomies are rooted and grounded in the basic mystery of Creation. How can anything else exist alongside of God, if God is the plenitude of Being ? One has attempted to solve the paradox, or rather to escape it, by alleging the motives of Creation, sometimes to such an extent and in such a manner as to compromise the absoluteness and sovereignty of God. Yet, God creates in perfect freedom, ex mera liberalitate, that is, without any “sufficient reasons.” Creation is a free gift of unfathomable love. Moreover, man in Creation is granted this mysterious and enigmatic authority of free decision, in which the most enigmatic is not the possibility of failure or resistance, but the very possibility of assent. Is not the will of God of such a dimension that it should be simply obeyed— without any real, that is, free and responsible, assent? The mystery is in the reality of creaturely freedom. Why should it be wanted in the world created and ruled by God, by His infinite wisdom and love ? In order to be real, human response must be more than a mere resonance. It must be a personal act, an inward commitment. In any case, the shape of human life—and now we may probably add, the shape and destiny of the cosmos—depends upon the synergism or conflict of the two wills, divine and creaturely. Many things are happening which God abhors—in the world which is His work and His subject. Strangely enough, God respects human freedom, as St. Irenaeus once said, although, in fact, the most conspicuous manifestation of this freedom was revolt and disorder. Are we entitled to expect that finally human disobedience will be disregarded and “disrespected” by God, and His holy will shall be enforced, regardless of any assent? Or it would make a dreadful “masquerade” of human history? What is the meaning of this dreadful story of sin, perversion, and rebellion, if finally everything will be smoothed down and reconciled by the exercise of divine Omnipotence?
Indeed, the existence of Hell, that is, of radical opposition, implies, as it were, some partial “unsuccess” of the creative design. Yet, it was more than just a design, a plan, a pattern. It was the calling to existence, or even “to being,” of living persons. One speaks sometimes of the “divine risk”—le risque divin, says Jean Guitton. It is probably a better word than kenosis. Indeed, it is a mystery, which cannot be rationalized—it is the primordial mystery of creaturely existence.
Brunner takes the possibility of Hell quite seriously.
There is no security of “universal salvation/’ although this is, abstractly speaking, still possible—for the omnipotent God of Love. But Brunner still hopes that there will be no Hell. The trouble is that there is Hell already. Its existence does not depend upon divine decision. God never sends anyone to Hell. Hell is made by creatures themselves. It is human creation, outside, as it were, of “the order of creation”. The Last Judgment remains a mystery. (Creation and Redemption, Vol. 3 in the Collected Works, p. 262-265. Chap VII Eschatology: The Last Things and the Last Events)
According to the contemporary view, shared by Berdyaev, the acceptance of an eternal hell smacks of obscurantism. But in my view the denial of the possibility of an eternal hell cancels human freedom and deprives it of seriousness. ‘Theomachy’ is already ‘hell,’ although many may presently enjoy it. (Gavrilyuk, Paul L. 2013-12-19. Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance [Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology], p. 143. Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition)
There is a domain in human life where a limit is set even to love — where even love is not supreme. This domain is freedom.
Man’s freedom is positive, real. It concedes no determinism in his destiny, so that neither the sacrifice of Christ Himself nor the sacrifices of all those who have trodden in His footsteps lead necessarily to victory.
The Lord said, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth’ (that is ‘crucified on the cross’) ‘will draw all men unto me’. (cf. John 12:32) Thus Christ’s love hopes to draw all men to Him, and so reaches out to the last hell. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. (It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz.)
What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’. Awareness of the possibility of eternal damnation remained deeply engrained in his spirit. (St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 109)
Read a book which has the name of St. Germanus as the author, who was first chosen for Cyzicus and then was Bishop of Constantinople. It has as its title The Punisher or The Legitimate which are equivalent to “On the Legitimate Retribution to Men According to the Actions of Their Life.”
The subject that defines this book which is a polemical work is to demonstrate that St. Gregory of Nyssa and his writings are free of any taint of Origenism. In fact those to whom this silly idea of the redemption of demons and men freed from everlasting punishment is dear are those, I say, —- because they know the man by the elevation of his teaching and the abundance of his writings and because they see his distinguished conception of the faith spread among all men, —- who have attempted to mix into his works, full of the light of salvation, informed, troubled and disastrous ideas from the dreams of Origen as part of the design to soil with heresy by a method which overturns the virtue and distinguished wisdom of the great man.
This is why, sometimes by faked additions, sometimes by their relentless efforts to pervert correct thinking, they have attempted to falsify many of his works which were beyond reproach. It is against these that Germanus, the defender of the true faith, has directed the sword sharpended with truth and leaving his enemies mortally wounded, he makes the victory apparent and his mastery over the legion of heretics who created these pitfalls. (Myriobiblion, 233)
Mat 12:31-32 Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Mat 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
2Th 1:7-9 And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of his power: In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his power…
Rev 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
St. Polycarp of Smryna ca. 69-155
The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast you, unless you repent.”
But he answered, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.”
But again the proconsul said to him, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.”
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)
St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165
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)
St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202
Inasmuch, then, as in both Testaments there is the same righteousness of God [displayed] when God takes vengeance, in the one case indeed typically, temporarily, and more moderately; but in the other, really, enduringly, and more rigidly: for the fire is eternal, and the wrath of God which shall be revealed from heaven from the face of our Lord (as David also says, “But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” ), entails a heavier punishment on those who incur it—the elders pointed out that those men are devoid of sense, who, [arguing] from what happened to those who formerly did not obey God, do endeavour to bring in another Father, setting over against [these punishments] what great things the Lord had done at His coming to save those who received Him, taking compassion upon them; while they keep silence with regard to His judgment; and all those things which shall come upon such as have heard His words, but done them not, and that it were better for them if they had not been born, Matthew 26:24 and that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the judgment than for that city which did not receive the word of His disciples. Matthew 10:15
For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire,” Matthew 25:41 these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity,” Matthew 25:34 these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word. (Against Heresies Bk. 4:28:1-2)
Mathetes ca. 150
[H]e who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. Then you shall see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe]; then you shall begin to speak the mysteries of God; then shall you both love and admire those that suffer punishment because they will not deny God; then shall you condemn the deceit and error of the world when you shall know what it is to live truly in heaven, when you shall despise that which is here esteemed to be death, when you shall fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it. Then shall you admire those who for righteousness’ sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and shall count them happy when you shall know [the nature of] that fire. (Letter to Diognetus 10)
2nd Clement ca. 150
This world and the next are two enemies. The one urges to adultery and corruption, avarice and deceit; the other bids farewell to these things. We cannot, therefore, be the friends of both; and it behoves us, by renouncing the one, to make sure of the other. Let us reckon that it is better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, and transient, and corruptible; and to love those [which are to come,] as being good and incorruptible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. For thus also saith the Scripture in Ezekiel, “If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity.” Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness? (2nd Epistle of Clement 6)
St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235
Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just if your judgment!’ And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which doesnot die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appealof interceding friends will profit them. (Against the Greeks 3)
St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258
When the day of judgment shall come, what joy of believers, what sorrow of unbelievers; that they should have been unwilling to believe here, and now that they should be unable to return that they might believe! An ever-burning Gehenna will burn up the condemned, and a punishment devouring with living flames; nor will there be any source whence at any time they may have either respite or end to their torments. Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering. Thus the man will be for ever seen by us who here gazed upon us for a season; and the short joy of those cruel eyes in the persecutions that they made for us will be compensated by a perpetual spectacle, according to the truth of Holy Scripture, which says, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be for a vision to all flesh.” Isaiah 66:24 And again: “Then shall the righteous men stand in great constancy before the face of those who have afflicted them, and have taken away their labours. When they see it, they shall be troubled with horrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation; and they, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, shall say within themselves, These are they whom we had some time in derision, and a proverb of reproach; we fools counted their life madness, and their end to be without honour. How are they numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints! Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness has not shined upon us, and the sun rose not on us. We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction; we have gone through deserts where there lay no way; but we have not known the way of the Lord. What has pride profited us, or what good has the boasting of riches done us? All those things are passed away like a shadow.” Wisdom 5:1-9 The pain of punishment will then be without the fruit of penitence; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late they will believe in eternal punishment who would not believe in eternal life.(Treatise V: To Demetrianus 24)
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus ca. 213-270
Aforetime did the devil deride the nature of man with great laughter, and he has had his joy over the times of our calamity as his festal-days. But the laughter is only a three days’ pleasure, while the wailing is eternal; and his great laughter has prepared for him a greater wailing and ceaseless tears, and inconsolable weeping, and a sword in his heart. This sword did our Leader forge against the enemy with fire in the virgin furnace, in such wise and after such fashion as He willed, and gave it its point by the energy of His invincible divinity, and dipped it in the water of an undefiled baptism, and sharpened it by sufferings without passion in them, and made it bright by the mystical resurrection; and herewith by Himself He put to death the vengeful adversary, together with his whole host. What manner of word, therefore, will express our joy or his misery? (On All Saints)
St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 297-373
But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn. And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory—no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence—He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness. (On the Incarnation 56)
St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368
Thus there will be given no rest to the pagans nor will the onset of death bring the peace they desire. Instead, their bodies are destined to suffer eternally because their punishment of eternal fire will be physical. What they endure, along with everything else destined for eternity, will have no end. If pagans are given a body destined for eternity in order to suffer the fire of judgment, how great is the impiety of those saints who doubt the glory of eternity since eternal punishment is certain for sinners! (On Matthew 5.12)
St. Ephrem of Syria ca. 306-373
The children of light
dwell on the heights of Paradise,
and beyond the Abyss
they espy the rich man;
he too, as he raises his eyes,
and calls out to Abrhaham
to have pity on him.
But Abraham, that man so full of pity,
who even had pity on Sodom,
has no pity yonder
for him who showed no pity.
The Abyss severs any love
which might act as a mediary,
thus preventing the love of the just
from being bound to the wicked,
so that the good should not be tortured
by the sight, in Gehenna,
of their children or brothers
or family –
a mother, who denied Christ,
imploring mercy from her son
or her maid or her daughter,
who had all suffered affliction for the sake of
…The children of light reside
in their lofty abode
and, as they gaze on the wicked
they are amazed to what extent these people
have cut off all hope by committing such iniquity.
(The Hymns on Paradise 1.12-14)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386
We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with Angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past. (Catechetical Lectures 18:19)
St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389
I know the glittering sword, Ezekiel 21:9 and the blade made drunk in heaven, bidden to slay, to bring to naught, to make childless, and to spare neither flesh, nor marrow, nor bones. I know Him, Who, though free from passion, meets us like a bear robbed of her whelps, like a leopard in the way of the Assyrians, Hosea 13:7-8 not only those of that day, but if anyone now is an Assyrian in wickedness: nor is it possible to escape the might and speed of His wrath when He watches over our impieties, and His jealousy, which knows to devour His adversaries, pursues His enemies to the death. Hosea 8:3 I know the emptying, the making void, the making waste, the melting of the heart, and knocking of the knees together, Nahum 2:10 such are the punishments of the ungodly. I do not dwell on the judgments to come, to which indulgence in this world delivers us, as it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be transmitted to the torment to come, when it is the time of chastisement, not of cleansing. (Oration 16:7)
St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379
In one place the Lord declares that “these shall go to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46), and in another place He sends some “to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); and speaks elsewhere of the fire of gehenna, specifying that it is a place “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mk. 9:44-49) and even of old and through the Prophet it was foretold of some that “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be extinguished” (Isa. 66:24). Although these and the like declarations are to be found in numerous places of divinely inspired Scripture, it is one of the artifices of the devil, that many forgetting these and other such statements and utterances of the Lord, ascribe an end to punishment, so that they can sin the more boldly. If, however, there were going to be and end of eternal punishment, there would likewise be and end to eternal life. If we cannot conceive of an end to that life, how are we to suppose there will be and end to eternal punishment? The qualification of “eternal” is ascribed equally to both of them. “For these are going,” He says, “into eternal punishment; the just, however, into eternal life.” (Mt. 25:46) If we profess these things we must recognize that the “he shall be flogged with many stripes” and the “he shall be flogged with few stripes” refer not to an end but to a distinction of punishment. (Rules Briefly Treated 267)
St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 337-397
[H]ow can they dare to reckon the Holy Spirit among all things, since the Lord Himself said: “He who shall blaspheme against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven, either here or hereafter.” Matthew 12:32 How, then, can any one dare to reckon the Holy Spirit among creatures? Or who will so blind himself as to think that if he have injured any creature he cannot be forgiven in any wise? For if the Jews because they worshipped the host of heaven were deprived of divine protection, while he who worships and confesses the Holy Spirit is accepted of God, but he who confesses Him not is convicted of sacrilege without forgiveness: certainly it follows from this that the Holy Spirit cannot be reckoned among all things, but that He is above all things, an offense against Whom is avenged by eternal punishment. (On the Holy Spirit Bk. 1:53)
Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420
If all rational creatures are equal, and by their own free will are, in view of their virtues or of their vices, either raised up to the heights or plunged down to the depths, and after the lengthy passage of infinite ages there will be a restitution of all things and but a single destiny for all soldiers, how far apart will a virgin be from a whore? What difference between the Mother of the Lord – and it impious even to say it – the victims of public licentiousness? Will Gabriel and the devil be the same? The Apostles and the demons the same? The Prophets and the pseudo-prophets the same? Martyrs and their persecutors the same? (Commentaries on Jonas 3,6)
St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407
There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance. (Homily 3 on 2nd Thessalonians)
Blessed Augustine ca. 354-430
It is in vain, then, that some, indeed very many, make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; not, indeed, that they directly oppose themselves to Holy Scripture, but, at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, and give a milder turn to statements which they think are rather designed to terrify than to be received as literally true. For “Hath God” they say, forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Now, they read this in one of the holy psalms. But without doubt we are to understand it as spoken of those who are elsewhere called “vessels of mercy,” because even they are freed from misery not on account of any merit of their own, but solely through the pity of God. Or, if the men we speak of insist that this passage applies to all mankind, there is no reason why they should therefore suppose that there will be an end to the punishment of those of whom it is said, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment;” for this shall end in the same manner and at the same time as the happiness of those of whom it is said, “but the righteous unto life eternal.” But let them suppose, if the thought gives them pleasure, that the pains of the damned are, at certain intervals, in some degree assuaged. For even in this case the wrath of God, that is, their condemnation (for it is this, and not any disturbed feeling in the mind of God that is called His wrath), abides upon them; that is, His wrath, though it still remains, does not shut up His tender mercies; though His tender mercies are exhibited, not in putting an end to their eternal punishment, but in mitigating, or in granting them a respite from, their torments; for the psalm does not say, “to put an end to His anger,” or, “when His anger is passed by,” but “in His anger.” Now, if this anger stood alone, or if it existed in the smallest conceivable degree, yet to be lost out of the kingdom of God, to be an exile from the city of God, to be alienated from the life of God, to have no share in that great goodness which God has laid up for them that fear Him, and has wrought out for them that trust in Him, would be a punishment so great, that, supposing it to be eternal, no torments that we know of, continued through as many ages as man’s imagination can conceive, could be compared with it.
This perpetual death of the wicked, then, that is, their alienation from the life of God, shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever men, prompted by their human affections, may conjecture as to a variety of punishments, or as to a mitigation or intermission of their woes; just as the eternal life of the saints shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever grades of rank and honor there may be among those who shine with an harmonious effulgence. (Enchiridion 112-113)
St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444
And this too we must bear in mind, that the crowns are to be won by labour. It is strong exertion united with skill that perfects those mighty athletes in the games. It is courage and a brave mind that are most serviceable to those who are skilled in battles: while the man who throws away his shield is ridiculed even by the foe: and if the runaway live, he leads a life of disgrace. But he who was steadfast in the battle, and stood stoutly and courageously with all his might against the enemy, is honoured if he win the victory; and if he fall, is looked upon with admiration. And so ought we to reckon for ourselves; for to endure patiently, and maintain the conflict with courage, brings with it great reward, and is highly desirable, and wins for us the blessings bestowed by God: while to refuse to suffer death in the flesh for the love of Christ, brings upon us lasting, or rather never-ending punishment. For the wrath of man reaches at most to the body, and the death of the flesh is the utmost that they can contrive against us: but when God punishes, the loss reaches not to the flesh alone;—-how could it?—-but the wretched soul also is cast alone; with it into torments. (Sermon 87, On Luke)
St. Patrick of Ireland ca. 387-493
Far from the love of God is a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots. Ravening wolves have devoured the flock of the Lord, which in Ireland was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care; and the sons and daughters of kings were monks and virgins of Christ — I cannot count their number. Wherefore, be not pleased with the wrong done to the just; even to hell it shall not please (Sirach 9:3). Who of the saints would not shudder to be merry with such persons or to enjoy a meal with them? They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder. They do not know, the wretches, that what they offer their friends and sons as food is deadly poison, just as Eve did not understand that it was death she gave to her husband. So are all that do evil: they work death as their eternal punishment. (Letter to Coroticus)
St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604
GREGORY. Certain it is, and without all doubt most true, that as the good shall have no end of their joys, so the wicked never any release of their torments: for our Saviour himself saith: The wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, and the just into everlasting life. Seeing, then, true it is, that which He hath promised to His friends: out of all question false it cannot be, that which He hath threatened to His enemies.
PETER. What if it be said that He did threaten eternal pain to wicked livers, that He might thereby restrain them from committing of sins?
GREGORY. If that which He did threaten be false, because His intent was by that means to keep men from wicked life: then likewise must we say that those things are false which He did promise: and that His mind was thereby to provoke us to virtue. But what man, though mad, dare presume so to say? For if He threatened that which he meant not to put into execution: whiles we are desirous to make Him merciful, enforced we are likewise (which is horrible to speak) to affirm Him to be deceitful.
PETER. Willing I am to know how that sin can justly be punished without end, which had an end when it was committed.
GREGORY. This which you say might have some reason, if the just judge did only consider the sins committed, and not the minds with which they were committed: for the reason why wicked men made an end of sinning was, because they also made an end of their life: for willingly they would, had it been in their power, have lived without end, that they might in like manner have sinned without end. For they do plainly declare that they desired always to live in sin, who never, so long as they were in this world, gave over their wicked life: and therefore it belongeth to the great justice of the supreme judge, that they should never want torments and punishment in the next world, who in this would never give over their wicked and sinful life.
PETER. But no judge that loveth justice taketh pleasure in cruelty: and the end why the just master commandeth his wicked servant to be punished is, that he may give over his lewd life. If, then, the wicked that are tormented in hell fire never come to amend themselves, to what end shall they always burn in those flames?
GREGORY. Almighty God, because He is merciful and full of pity, taketh no pleasure in the torments of wretched men: but because He is also just, therefore doth He never give over to punish the wicked. All which being condemned to perpetual pains, punished they are for their own wickedness: and yet shall they always there burn in fire for some end, and that is, that all those which be just and God’s servants may in God behold the joys which they possess, and in them see the torments which they have escaped: to the end that they may thereby always acknowledge themselves grateful to God for His grace, in that they perceive through His divine assistance, what sins they have overcome, which they behold in others to be punished everlastingly.
PETER. And how, I pray you, can they be holy and saints, if they pray not for their enemies, whom they see to lie in such torments? when it is said to them: Pray for your enemies.
GREGORY. They pray for their enemies at such time as their hearts may be turned to fruitful penance, and so be saved: for what purpose else do we pray for our enemies, but, as the Apostle saith, that God may give them repentance to know the truth, and recover themselves from the devil, of whom they are held captive at his will?
PETER. I like very well of your saying: for how shall they pray for them, who by no means can be converted from their wickedness, and brought to do the works of justice?
GREGORY. You see, then, that the reason is all one, why, in the next life, none shall pray for men condemned for ever to hell fire: that there is now of not praying for the devil and his angels, sentenced to everlasting torments: and this also is the very reason why holy men do not now pray for them that die in their infidelity and known wicked life: for seeing certain it is that they be condemned to endless pains, to what purpose should they pray for them, when they know that no petition will be admitted of God, their just judge? And therefore, if now holy men living upon earth take no compassion of those that be dead and damned for their sins, when as yet they know that themselves do some thing through the frailty of the flesh, which is also to be judged: how much more straightly and severely do they behold the torments of the damned, when they be themselves delivered from all vice of corruption, and be more nearly united to true justice itself: for the force of justice doth so possess their souls, in that they be so intrinsical with the most just judge, that they list not by any means to do that which they know is not conformable to his divine pleasure. (Dialogues Bk. 4:44)
Mat 25:11-12 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
The door of the kingdom will close forever to those left outside, who will then weep; that door is now open to all penitents. There will be repentance then, but it will be fruitless. The Lord does not hear virgins call Him, because once the door of the kingdom is closed they can no longer approach Him, Who was so formerly approachable. (The Ten Virgins, Orthodox New Testament: Endnotes-Matthew pg. 121)
5th Ecumenical Council: Second Council of Constantinople 553
The Anathemas Against Origen
If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema. (Anathema 1)
The Anathemas of the Emperor Justinian Against OrigenIf 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. (Anathema 7)
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 (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema. (Anathema 9)
St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662
Indeed there exists but one happiness, a communion of life with the Word, the loss of which is an endless punishment which goes on for all eternity. And that is why abandoning his body and whatever is the body’s he strives intensely toward that communion of life with God, thinking that the only loss – even he were master of everything on earth – would be in the failure of the deification by grace which he pursues. (Commentary on the Our Father)
St. Andrew of Caesarea ca. 6th cent.
Rev 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.
This smoke must imply either the labored breath that cornes out along with the groaning of those being punished emanating up from below, or the smoke coming forth from the fire punishing those who have fallen. It is to ascend forever and ever, it says, that we might learn that it is endless, just as the bliss of the righteous (will be endless), in like manner also, the torment of the sinners. (Commentary on the Apocalypse)
Rev 19:3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
And the smoke rises forever and ever from the city signifies either the uninterrupted never-to-be-forgotten (nature) of the punishments coming upon her into perpetuity, or the judgments partly rendered to her, to be tormented more fittingly but nevertheless eternally in the future. (ibid.)
Rev. 19:21 And the rest were slain by the sword of Him Who sits upon the horse, the sword which cornes from his mouth, and ail the birds were gorged with their flesh.
There are two deaths; the first is the separation of the soul and the body, the second is being cast into Gehenna. If (this is applied to) those (who are) together with the Antichrist, it is said they will be led to the first death in the flesh by the sword of God, that is, by his command, and thus afterward the second will follow, if this is correct. If it is not thus, they will (only) participate in the second death, the eternal torment with the ones who had deceived them. (ibid.)
Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735
For the fire which once punished the people of Sodom also plainly shows what the wicked are going to suffer without end. And the fact that their smoke-producing land remains, that its most admirable fruits have ashes and a bad smell within, clearly signifies to all ages that although bodily pleasure delights the minds of the foolish for the present, nevertheless in what concerns that which cannot be seen restains for itelf nothing except that the smoke of its torments rise up for ever and ever. (Commentary on 2nd Peter)
St. John Damascene ca. 676-749
All wickedness, then, and all impure passions are the work of their mind. But while the liberty to attack man has been granted to them, they have not the strength to over-master any one: for we have it in our power to receive or not to receive the attack. Wherefore there has been prepared for the devil and his demons, and those who follow him, fire unquenchable and everlasting punishment Matthew 25:41 .
Note, further, that what in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance. (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Book II. 4)
St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022
So let us see, if you are willing, who is he “who hates to be reformed” and who it is who “casts His words behind him.” He who does not obey God’s laws hates the instruction that comes from the words of the Lord. He “stops his ears” (Ps. 58:5) so that he may not hear the word about the final retribution for sinners or about that eternal fire and the punishments of hell and that everlasting condemnation, from which retribution he who has fallen into cannot escape. (The Discourses, Discourse 7.1)
St. Theophylact of Ochrid ca. 1055-1107
A conclusion to be drawn against the Origenists who say that there will be a time when there is an end to hell, that the sinners will be united with the righteous and with God, and thus God will be all in all. Let us hear what Abraham says, that they who would pass from hence to you, or from thence to us, cannot. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to go from the place apportioned to the righteous to the place of sinners, and likewise, Abraham teaches us, it is impossible to go from the place of punishment to the place of the righteous. And Abraham, I presume, is more trustworthy than Origen. (Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke, Chap. 16)
St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359
Although in the future restoration, when the bodies of the righteous shall be raised, the bodies of the lawless and sinners will also be raised, they will be raised only so as to be subjected to the ‘second death’, that is, to eternal torment, the unsleeping worm (Mk. 9:48), the gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12), the outer and inpenetrable darkness (Mt. 8:12), to dark and inextinguishable Gehenna (Mt. 5:22). The prophet says, ‘The lawless and the sinners shall be burnt together, and there shall be none to quench (Is. 1:31; cf. Jer. 4:4)’. For this is the ‘second death’, as John teaches us in his Apocalypse. (To the Nun Xenia, P.G. 150:1043-1088)