I confess that my recent immersion in the eschatological views of Fr Dumitu Staniloae has been depressing and discouraging. Perhaps in his divine foresight God saw that this would be the case, and so he provided an antidote. Last week I received an email from my local library informing me that they had finally obtained through ILL a copy of Ilaria L. E. Ramelli’s massive work of scholarship, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis. The book weighs in at 890 pages, as well as at the hefty price of $328 (yep, you read that right). I have been dipping into the book from time to time in order to maintain my sanity. It is a remarkable work of critical scholarship. Ilaria Ramelli is no mean scholar. She is highly regarded by her professional peers and has published dozens of books, essays, and monographs in patristic scholarship.
The rehabilitation of Origen and a correct reading of his doctrine of apokatastasis has been one of her primary projects. She devotes over 90 pages of the book to Origen’s teachings. If her reading of Origen is correct, then the Emperor Justinian and his theological pereti did Origen a terrible injustice when they posthumously anathematized him and proscribed his writings. Two examples:
Indeed, in Origen’s view, like in Gregory of Nyssa’s afterwards, the eventual apokatastasis entirely depends on Christ, and not on a metaphysical necessity or even a physico-cosmological necessity, as in the case of Stoicism (in contrast to the purported dependence of the apokatastasis theory on “pagan philosophy”). In particular, apokatastasis depends on Christ’s inhumanation, death, and resurrection. (p. 190)
It clearly emerges that for Gregory [of Nyssa], just as for Origen, the doctrine of apokatastasis is a Christological, and indeed Christocentrical, doctrine. In their view, it is a specifically Christian doctrine. This is also why Origen was at such pains to distinguish his own, Christian notion of apokatastasis from the Stoic. Both in Origen’s and in Gregory’s view, universal apokatastasis is made possible, not by any metaphysical or cosmological necessity, but by Christ’s inhumanation, sacrifice, and resurrection, and by the grace of God. The very fact that for both Origen and Gregory the eventual universal restoration begins with, and coincides with a holistic vision of, the resurrection makes it clear that their concept of apokatastasis is throroughly Christian, given the Christian—and not “pagan” or “Platonic”—roots of the doctrine of the resurrection. Moreover, it is certainly the case that Origen’s and Gregory’s main metaphysical pillar for the eventual universal restoration, namely, the ontological non-subsistence of evil and its tenet of Platonism, and they both very probably deemed it a tenet of Christian Platonism as well, but they also found it in the Bible, especially in 1 Cor 15:23-28, and indeed they grounded it in the authority of Scripture, and not in that of Plato or Plotinus. (p. 390)
Ramelli makes clear that the universalist hope was affirmed by many Christian theologians. She lists the following: “Bardaisan, Clement, Origen, Didymus, St. Anthony, St. Pamphilius Martyr, Methodius, St Macrina, St. Gregory of Nyssa (and probably the two other Cappadocians [!]), St Evagrius Ponticus [saint in Oriental Orthodox Churches?], Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, St. John of Jerusalem, Rufinus, St. Jerome [until his famous repudiation of Origen] and St. Augustine (at least initially), Cassian, St. Isaac of Nineveh, St. John of Dalyatha, Ps. Dionysius the Areopagite, probably St. Maximus the Confessor, up to John the Eriugena” (p. 11). St Ambrose of Milan also comes close with his belief in the salvation of the baptized.
She concludes her study with this summary of her conclusions:
The doctrine of apokatastasis, as is found, from the New Testament to Eriugena, in many Christian texts and Patristic authors, is a Christian doctrine and is grounded in Christ. This Christocentrical characterization is especially evident in Bardaisan, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius, and Eriugena. Indeed, the Christian doctrine of apokatastasis is based on the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, and on God’s being the supreme Good. It is also founded upon God’s grace, which will “bestow mercy upon all,” and the divine will—which these Patristic authors saw as revealed by Scripture—“that all humans be saved and reach the knowledge of Truth.” They also considered it to be revealed in Scripture, and in particular in a prophecy by St. Paul, that in the telos, when all the powers of evil and death will be annihilated and all enemies will submit (for Origen and his followers, in a voluntary submission), “God will be all in all.” The apokatastasis doctrine is historically very far from having been produced by an isolated character, excessively influenced or even “contaminated” by Greek theories, such as Origen has been long considered to be. (817)
There are, of course, some presuppositions in Greek philosophy, but these were far from being simply taken over by Christian supporters of apokatastasis. Origen himself makes it crystal clear, as I have pointed out, that the Stoic concept of apokatastasis was very different from his own, Christian doctrine of apokatastasis, especially because of its necessitarianism—evident from the eternal repetition of the same people and things in each aeon—and of its idea of an infinite succession of aeons, without an end. Both of these elements are indeed opposite to Origen’s own notion of apokatastasis. From Origen’s point of view, the aeons will come to an end with the apokatastasis itself, and are the theatre of rational creatures’ free choices and their consequences. (p. 817)
The doctrine of apokatastasis as the eventual universal salvation is an authentically Christian, or Jewish-Christian, doctrine. Before Christianity, no religion or philosophy had ever maintained it, not even Plato or mystery religions. Outside Christianity, in the Patristic age, only some Neoplatonists, such as Macrobius and Proclus, seem to have maintained it, but only when “pagan” Neoplatonism was a sort of parallel to Christianity, and in any case in a different way from the Patristic doctrine of apokatastasis (e.g. excluding the resurrection, as I mentioned). (p. 819)
One fundamental characteristic of Patristic apokatastasis is, as I have mentioned, its Christocentrism. Another is—what at first might sound paradoxical—its orthodoxy. In fact, the main Patristic supporters of this theory, Origen and Nyssen, did support it in defense of Christian “orthodoxy,” against those which were regarded as the most dangerous heresies of their times, as I have argued: Origen supported it against “Gnosticism” and Marcionism, and Gregory against “Arianism.” (p. 823)
All who would claim that belief in eternal damnation and conscious torment is the dogmatic teaching of the Christian Church must now grapple with the massive scholarship of Dr. Ilaria Ramelli.
Unfortunately, I only have access to this book for another two months before I have to return it to the library. If anyone would like to give me a copy of this exorbitantly priced book … (hint, hint).