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.
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)