St Maximus the Universalist?

By Mark Chenoweth

“There was no universalist saint after the fifth ecumenical council (553 CE) because it con­demned universalism as heresy!” Although this exact sentence has never been uttered ver­batim (as far as I am aware), many popular websites certainly seem to believe it. In con­trast to that prevalent assumption, in what follows, I’m going to argue that there is at least one crucially important post-553 universalist or universalist-sympathetic saint: Maximus the Confessor.1 If Maximus was a universalist or at least considered universalism a permis­sible theological opinion, then he did not interpret the 553 Origenist anathemas as for­bid­ding a belief in universal salvation. In this essay I will demonstrate:

  • that the entire thrust of Maximus’ theology points almost unequivocally in a universalist direction;
  • that in an often overlooked passage in Ambiguum 42, Maximus supports universalism, while at the same time clueing us in to the actual aim of those mysterious 553 Origenist anathemas;
  • that the passages of “honorable silence” make the best sense when interpreted as referring to universal salvation—spiritual beginners should never be let in on the “universalist secret,” lest it make them spiritually lazy;
  • that the terrifying passages in Maximus’ writings must be interpreted within the larger context of his theology.

While it is true that Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ilaria Ramelli, and Andreas Andreopoulos have trod similar ground before me, there are certain nuances of Maximus’ thought that have not yet been sufficiently explored relating to universal salvation.


In the introduction to his new and helpful translation of Gregory of Nyssa’s Catechetical Discourse, Fr Ignatius Green argues that Maximus did not see Gregory as a universalist and also lacked a belief in universal salvation himself. As evidence of this, he quotes a particular passage from the Confessor’s Questions and Doubts where Maximus discusses Gregory of Nyssa’s understanding of the term apokatastasis. This passage from Maximus deserves to be quoted in full:

The third meaning [of apokatastasis] is used by Gregory especially in refer­ence to the qualities of the soul that had been corrupted by sin and then are restored to their original state. Just as all nature will regain, at the expected time, its completeness in the flesh [at the resurrection], so also will the pow­ers of the soul, by necessity, shed all imprints of evil clinging to them; and this after aeons have elapsed, after a long time of being driven about without rest [stasis]. And so in the end they reach God, who is without limitations [peras]. Thus they are restored to their original state [apokatastēnai] through their knowledge [of God], but do not participate in [his] gifts. It also will appear that the Creator cannot be blamed for any sinfulness.2

Green rightly goes on to point out that this apokatastasis should not be equated with universal salvation, since in Maximus’ Ecclesiastical Mystagogy, he says the soul of the saved will experience rather than merely know God. It seems that for Maximus, experience or participation should be linked with salvation, while knowledge should not. Neverthe­less, as we shall see, this passage is not Maximus’s last word on universal salvation, though it may indeed be his last word on apokatastasis. Having plumbed the depths of Gregory of Nyssa’s universalism, Morwenna Ludlow argues that the modern scholarly community has too quickly equated the Greek word apokatastasis (which simply means “restoration”) with universal salvation, whereas Nyssa himself didn’t necessarily do so.3 She writes, “Gregory clearly does believe that all humanity, indeed the whole cosmos, will be saved and purified of evil; however, he does not appear to think that the word [apokatastasis] necessarily carries with it any universalist implications.”4 In the above passage from Maximus, he may simply be laying out how he saw Gregory use the word, and like Ludlow, he may not have equated the Greek word apokatastasis with Gregory’s belief in universal salvation, though for both authors, there is no question that the two concepts share an extremely intimate connection. Maximus may have also been wary of linking “necessity” (see the above passage) with universal salvation. Perhaps wanting to allow for free will, he only said that purified souls would reach a knowledge of God “through necessity,” while not participating in God. However, as Ramelli says, “this participation … can well come later,”5 and as we will soon see, Maximus speaks of universal participation in several other passages. In fact, in his Commen­tary on Psalm 59, he speaks of a universal restoration of “deliberative will and free choice” that takes place at the “end of time,” which implies that all humans will eventually freely choose Christ.6

Universal Salvation Proclaimed Through Abstraction

Even though the above passage on apokatastasis is not Maximus’ most universalist passage, it does offer a number of insights into Maximus’ use of Gregory of Nyssa, which will help us understand why Maximus’ theology points heavily in the universalist direction. Brian Daley, a scholar who is skeptical that Maximus espoused universalism, nevertheless believes that in the passage quoted above, Maximus was referring to a particular section of Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Making of Humanity. In this passage, Gregory writes that

when [a being] has finished the course of wickedness and reached the extreme limit of evil, then that which is ever moving, finding no halting point for its impulse natural to itself when it has run through the lengths that can be run in wickedness, of necessity, turns its motion towards good.7

When compared with Maximus’ passage above, it is obvious that Maximus seems to approve of the Nyssen’s understanding of motion, a theme featured prominently throughout all of Maximus’ theology. Both fathers’ understanding of movement or motion leads in a universa­list direction. For both Maximus and Gregory, a being will remain in some type of motion until it reaches God. A being whose motion is towards evil can remain in wickedness until, through necessity, it finally finds itself unsatisfied due the limitedness and finiteness of evil and will then turns its motion towards the unlimited and infinite good (God), eventually finding rest. Although Gregory does not say that all beings find their rest in God through necessity, he does say that it is impossible for a being to remain eternally satisfied with evil, and in Maximus’ passage above on apokatastasis, he supports Gregory’s assertion. This would imply that there will always be hope for every individual’s salvation; that it is not possible for a being to irrevocably cut itself off from God. That Maximus supports Gregory’s understanding of motion is also emphatically confirmed throughout his corpus, but most noticeably in Ambigua 7 and 15, his Two Hundred Chapters on Theology 2.86, and his Ecclesiastical Mystagogy 370-405.

At the end of his proof of the limitedness of evil, Gregory of Nyssa does say that “paradise therefore will be restored, that tree will be restored which is in truth the tree of life.”8 Maximus, as we saw, says that everyone is restored to knowledge but not participation, which leads some to think he is saying that those who have reached this knowledge but lack participation will stay that way forever. However, as we have already seen, in his Commen­tary on Psalm 59, Maximus seems to imply the opposite. Furthermore, surely Maximus was aware that it sounds quite contradictory for a being that has shed all memory of evil and whose motion has come to rest in God to never find salvation. Not surprisingly, in other passages, Maximus follows his own logic and does speak about the experience of and not just knowledge of God for those beings whose motion has come to rest in God. For example:

And this [God’s creation of the universe] is because it is for the sake of Christ—that is, for the whole mystery of Christ—that all the ages and the beings existing within those ages [i.e. everyone] received their beginning and end in Christ. For the union of the limit of the age and the limit­less­ness, of measure and immeasurability, of finitude and infinity, of Creator and creation, and of rest and motion, was conceived before the ages. This union has been manifested in Christ at the end of time, and through itself bestows fulfillment of God’s foreknowledge, so that creatures in motion by nature might find rest around that which is absolutely immovable by essence, departing completely from their movement toward themselves and each other, so that they might acquire by experience, an active knowledge of him in whom they were made worthy to find their stability, a knowledge which is unalterable and always the same, and which bestows upon them the enjoyment of the One they have come to know.9

While it is true that Maximus speaks of this enjoyment, experience, and rest in God in the subjunctive (“that they might acquire by experience, an active knowledge of him”), which implies no complete “eschatological closure,” he nevertheless speaks of this participation as the fulfillment of God’s foreknowledge. Moreover, if only some beings and not all beings eventually “acquire by experience, an active knowledge” of God, then it is very difficult to see how all beings are receiving their “end” in Christ, which he so clearly speaks about at the beginning of this passage. Surely, this “end” in Christ, of which he says all beings will receive, should be connected to the “experience” and “enjoyment” and “rest” that he speaks about near the end of this passage. It could be argued that perhaps some creatures never achieve this “end,” though Maximus seems to imply the opposite in the above passage, and as has been shown on this blog before, and as Ramelli has demon­strated, Maximus seems to say in several different places that through God’s providence, all beings will eventually fulfill the logos or purpose for which they were created.

In Maximus’s Responses to Thalassius, Maximus says that the logos (the “teleological code” or principle) of “beings” has been fulfilled through Christ because each logos is given well-being by God,10 a term that Maximus only associates with those who are saved.11 If every logos is given well-being, then it seems to follow that every creature is saved. Elsewhere, he writes of a restorative reorientation of every human will where Christ’s crucifixion “effects the utter abolition of all unnatural qualities and movements that have added themselves to our natures owing to the disobedience, and restores all the original natural qualities and movements. In this apokatastasis, not even one of the logoi of creatures will be found falsified.”12 Maximus elsewhere differentiates between a being’s logos and its mode or tropos of existence.13 According to Maximus, Christ came to unite humanity’s current mode of existence to its logos of existence. Maximus refers to the logos as “divinely perfect.”14 If “not even one logoi … will be found falsified,” (i.e. every mode of existence will align with its “divinely perfect” logos) it seems to follow from this, that all will be saved. Maximus says in abstraction what he never is entirely comfortable saying in every-day language (this relates to his “honorable silence,” which we will speak about later).

As another example of Maximus’ very abstract way of pointing towards universal salvation, his understanding of universals (for example, human nature) and particulars (for example, a human being: Fr Aidan, myself, Hitler, etc.) seems to clearly point in a universalist direction. For Maximus, if one particular is not united to its universal, then the universal cannot itself be unified, or really even exist. As Maximus scholar Jordan Daniel Wood puts it, for Maxi­mus, “universals subsist only in particulars.”15 In Amb. 41, Maximus states:

For nothing that is universal, or which contains something else … can be divided in any way by what is particular, contained, and individual. For that which does not draw together things that are naturally separated is no longer able to be generic, but rather divided up together with them and so departs from its original unity.16

This strongly implies that only if every single “particular” of human nature is saved (i.e. every human being) can human nature itself be saved or restored. In Ad Thal. 2, Maximus states that God will unite all particulars and universals “to each other and to the whole universe in an identity of movement.”17 If all particulars and universals are united, again, it seems to follow that all will be saved.

If we follow Maximus’ own logic, it appears to lead inexorably to the conclusion that, as David Bentley Hart pithily puts it, “either all persons must be saved, or none can be.”18 Some may object and say that human nature can be restored and God can be “all in all” because at the parousia, He will be equally present in each person, only for the wicked, His presence will be experienced as unending hell. However, for Maximus, the unification of particulars to universals seems to imply more unity than this popular Orthodox picture of hell allows. Maximus concludes Amb. 41 by writing that Christ

sustains the universals of beings, and through the prudence of under­stand­ing embraces the parts from which they are completed, since He is by nature the Creator and Provider of all things, and through Himself draws into one those that are separated, dissolving strife among beings, and binding together all things, in peaceful friendship and undivided concord, both in heaven and on earth, as the divine apostle says.19

Are we to imagine humans freely misusing their natural powers in hell while existing in “peaceful friendship and undivided concord” with those in heaven? It seems unlikely that this is what Maximus has in mind. Just as Maximus shares his understanding of universals and particulars with Gregory of Nyssa,20 this “peaceful friendship and undivided concord” sounds quite similar to the Nyssen’s speculation that after those in hell have been purged of every last evil, there will be a universal thanksgiving that arises from all creation. These statements are scattered throughout Nyssa’s various works:

One and the same gladness will be set before all, with no difference any longer dividing off the rational nature [Maximus also speaks of no more division above] from an equal participation in the good, for those who through vice are now outside shall be admitted within the inner shrine of the divine blessedness…21 even from these [the previously damned but now fully purified] shall arise in accord the confession of Christ’s Lordship…22 there will be thanksgiving in unison from all creation, both from those who have been chastised in purification [hell] and also those who had no need of purification from the beginning.23

Maximus certainly knew of all these statements,24 and therefore his language of “concord,” “peace,” “dissolving of strife,” and of course, the uniting of all particulars to universals, seems to at least hint at universal salvation. The language is of course scriptural (e.g. Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 5:13), but Origen and Nyssa gave the scriptures a very particular interpreta­tion. Given the context of this passage in Maximus, he seems to be following their lead. What else could this language be referring to?

Given Maximus’ understanding of particulars and universals, when he speaks of human nature being saved, in at least some cases, we should probably understand the implication of this to mean that all human beings will be saved, though as we will see below, Maximus hesitates to explicitly spell out these implications. For example, in his Commentary on Our Father 1.82, he speaks of the entire human nature’s participation in and not just knowledge of God. Moreover, he uses the Greek word aidion to describe this participation, which unequivocally means eternal. Maximus uses this word only to describe the life of the saved, never the damned. He says that human nature will be bestowed

participation [not just knowledge] in absolutely eternal life [tēn aidion zōēn], restoration [apokatestēsen] of the human nature, which will return to harmony with itself in apatheia, [and] destruction of the law of sin [Nomou tēs hamartias katalēsin].25

If, as I suggest, we interpret at least some of Maximus’ statements regarding Christ saving the entire human nature as meaning Christ saving every human individual, this would push the number of universalist statements by Maximus to a fairly high number.26

The Fire of Judgment in Maximus

Maximus’ understanding of the nature of God’s eschatological judgment is also in-line with Origen and Nyssa. When commenting on 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Maximus separates people into two groups, the righteous and sinners. For the righteous, he says fire will reveal their good deeds.

And in the case of sinners, the works are completely consumed while discernment renders conscience righteous and diminishes the sins through repentance and saves the human being; and he is responsible for the loss of time that has passed as a result of the neglect of the virtues. But also, in the future age, the works of sin give way to nothingness and nature saves its own powers by taking them through the fire of judg­ment.27

He says that sinners suffer a “loss of time” because of their “neglect of the virtues.” Here, Maximus seems to be speaking of the time in between Christ’s second coming and the wicked individual’s eventual restoration to God through the refining fire of judgment. If the fires of hell make sinners righteous, and the sinners are said to be saved (which Maximus does say above), the “loss of time” spoken of cannot be an eternal loss of time. Maximus also speaks about human nature itself being “saved” through the “fire of judgment” which implies (based on the analysis above) that the fire saves all humans.

Maximus’ interpretation of the fire of judgment as the burning away of sin in individuals rather than eternally burning the individuals themselves also seems to be confirmed in a passage in Amb. 46.6, where he interprets Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:38-42, 3:12; Lk 3:17). Origen of course interpreted the parable as speaking about God burning away the evil or chaff in individuals rather than burning sinners for all eternity.28 Gregory of Nazianzus subtly followed Origen in this interpre­tation,29 as does Gregory of Nyssa, but also, in Maximus’ view, Basil of Caesarea in his commentary on Isaiah (its attribution to Basil is now questioned by some scholars, though it was not by Maximus).30 Basil (or possibly deutero-Basil) spoke of God burning away “darnel” or weeds:

[Evil] will be devoured by fire like dry darnel, and will be burnt out … if we put off sin by means of its acknowledgment, we shall transform it into dry darnel, worthy of being devoured by the purifying fire.31

Similarly, at the end of the Nyssen’s On the Soul and the Resurrection, he says that the farmer [God] will gather up the tares that have grown along with the seed, and the fire will consume

whatever is contrary to nature [a phrase Maximus seems to have picked up from Gregory], then the nature of these people also will flourish and will ripen into fruit … each of the better qualities will enter in their place: incorruptibility, life, honor, grace, glory, power, and whatever else we recognize in God Himself and in His image, which is our human nature.32

Given Maximus’ previous statement on the nature of the fire and his great admiration of all the Cappadocians, it is very probable that Maximus followed them in his own interpre­tation of Jesus’ parable. If this was Maximus’ understanding of the “chaff,” and “tares,” his state­ment in Amb. 46.4 can be interpreted in no other way than a statement of universal­ism:

[God] deigned to vary the modes of His presence so that the good things He planted in beings might ripen to full maturity, until all the ages will have reached their appointed limit. At that point He will gather together the fruits of His own sowing—unmixed with tares, and having not so much as even a trace of dust from any chaff—and the whole reason for the movement of things in motion will reach its completion. 33

Maximus follows Gregory of Nyssa in seeing the seeds not as good people but “good things” which themselves are then planted “in beings,” and it is these “good things” in beings that will ripen. If the seeds are “good things” rather than “good people,” the chaff has to be “bad things” or evil, rather than “bad people.” The good things in people grow, while the evil in people will be burned away so that “not so much as even a trace of dust from any chaff” will remain. This is probably his subtle way of saying that the fire of judgment will finally elimi­nate all traces of evil, and all beings will, after much burning, be made “worthy” (one of Maximus’ favorite terms, which he uses here) to “receive the promised, ultimate beatitude of Divinization.”34 The notion that the reference to “chaff” refers to eternally suffering sinners makes no sense given Maximus’ previous discussion of the nature of judgement, his theolog­ical influences, his overall philosophy of motion, and the construction of the passage itself including its universal language (i.e. “the whole reason for the movement of things in motion”). As for why Maximus only gives an interpretation of the “seeds” in the parable while leaving us to guess at what the “chaff” means, an answer will have to wait until our section on Maximus’ “honorable silence.”

Maximus’ Explicit Universalist Statements

Perhaps the most traditional affirmation of universalism from Maximus comes from Ambiguum 7. At this particular point in the ambiguum, he references Origen and Gregory of Nyssa’s favorite universalist passage: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. Gregory of Nyssa inter­preted the passage as affirming that all creatures would eventually voluntarily submit to Christ. Gregory, following Origen, argues that if God is to be “all in all,” as St. Paul says, then evil will at some point no longer exist since God could never be in evil. We already saw that for Maximus, the ultimate elimination of evil does not automatically equate with universal salvation, but what exactly is supposed to happen to these individuals who have no evil left in them? Since it is evil to turn away from God, what else could these individ­uals do but turn towards God? In fact, in Amb. 7, this universal voluntary subjection to God and turning away from evil is what Maximus seems to envision:

The Godhead will really be all in all, embracing all and giving substance to all in itself, in that no being will have any movement separate from it and nobody will be deprived of its presence. Thanks to this presence, we will be, and will be called, gods and children, body and limbs, because we shall be restored to the perfection of God’s project.35

It is very difficult to see how Maximus could possibly call those in hell gods since the language of being made gods is the language of deification, which is almost a synonym for salvation. It is also a stretch to argue that Maximus is saying God’s project has been “perfected,” that no being has any movement apart from God, and that all will be part of Christ’s body (this is the language used to refer to members of the Church) while some are still misusing their natural powers in hell. Earlier in the same ambiguum, Maximus states that “man as a whole will be divinized, being made God by the grace of God who became man.”36 The most plausible interpretation of Maximus in these passages is that he is indeed endorsing the universalist vision of Gregory of Nyssa. This is one of the few places where Maximus appears to explicitly endorse Nyssa’s universalist vision without either speaking very abstractly (i.e. “not even one of the logoi of creatures will be found falsified37) or secretively.

On another occasion, he does give an even more explicit endorsement of universal salvation that he does not attribute to himself but a wise elder, which Ramelli sees as evidence of Maximus’s reticence to speak about the issue openly (more will be said about this reticence below). He says that Christ “accomplished the complete salvation of all humanity (holēn eirgasato tou genous tēn sōtērian) making ours what is his own … [Christ] divinized all humanity.”38 These statements do not exhaust Maximus’ rather straightforward sounding universalist statements, although his other ones are connected with themes that will be discussed later on.

There are certainly objections that can be raised at this point. The critic can point out numerous passages where Maximus speaks in absolutely horrifying terms of an age-enduring (aiōnion), even “infinite” (apeiros) or “unending” (ateleutētos) punishment.39 However, we will need to explore more facets of Maximus’ theology before looking more closely at these passages. Whatever the explanation of them may be, and I believe there is a plausible one,40 we have several abstract affirmations of universalism and a few straight­forward universalist statements by Maximus after the alleged condemnation of univer­salism at the 553 ecumenical council.

Maximus on the Type of Apokatastasis Condemned in 553

Another line of evidence that Maximus did not consider Gregory of Nyssa’s universalism to be condemned in 553 is the fact that he mercilessly criticizes those who believe in an apoka­tastasis where the bodies of each person are shed while not uttering a word of criticism towards those who believe in an apokatastasis of universal salvation. We will look at what exactly Maximus says below, but before we do, it is important to consider the significance of what Maximus says on this topic. If what I argue is true, it seems we have a saint extremely close in time to the fifth ecumenical council that supports Met. Kallistos Ware’s interpreta­tion of the 553 Origenist anathemas. Ware has argued, as has David Bentley Hart, that what was condemned in the 553 Origenist anathemas was not the universalism of Gregory of Nyssa, but the restoration (apokatastasis) to a bodiless undifferentiated unity of souls at the end of time. Ware’s interpretation has come under criticism by some over at the Ancient Faith blogs, but also, more noteworthily, by Fr Ignatius Green in his introduction to his translation of Gregory of Nyssa’s Catechetical Discourse. In support of the idea that universalism was indeed condemned in the Origenist anathemas of 553, certain saints of the Church are quoted who believed that universalism was condemned in 553. I will grant that a few centuries after the council was held, it was a widespread assumption that universalism was condemned, but an historical assumption is not the same thing as Holy Tradition, even if it becomes the majority assumption for over a thousand years.41 Furthermore, surely Maximus is a more trustworthy guide to what was actually condemned at the council than saints who lived several hundred years after the council was held. Maximus would have been a young man when at least some of those who had attended the council had not yet died. It is by no means implausible to think Maximus would have spoken with those who attended the council and almost certain that he spoke with those who knew someone who had. Therefore, what Maximus has to say on this topic is of more historical import than what almost any other saint of the church has ever said.

In Amb. 42, Maximus launches into a couple different digressions against those who believe souls preexisted bodies, but also against those who believe that souls postexist bodies. We can find belief in both of these things condemned in the 553 Origenist anathemas: “If anyone advocates the mythical pre-existence of souls and the monstrous restoration [apokatastasis] that follows from this, let him be anathema.” What seems to be condemned here is a belief that before bodies existed, souls existed in some sort of undifferentiated unity, and at the end of time, they will exist, without bodies, in this undifferentiated unity again. Some have asserted that because the word apokatastasis (restoration) is used here, universal salvation is also condemned, but this opinion seems to too closely associate the word apokatastasis with universal salvation. Maximus does not seem to associate the apokatastasis condemned here with universal salvation. In fact, he seems to presuppose universal salvation in the midst of his criticism of a restoration (apokatastasis) to bodiless existence:

Who would be so obstinate and reckless (as if he knew aught but to rush impetuously into battle against things that are perfectly clear and obvious) to entertain even the merest thought that bodies will pass into nonbeing after (pote)rational beings will have completed their progress to perfection—for this is precisely what they argue but how, I wonder, could anyone think such a thing, believing at the same time that our Lord himself, the God of all, is now and will be forever embodied, for it is He who grants to others the power enabling them to make progress, and it is He who leads and calls everyone to His own glory (as much as is possible for them) by the power of his incarna­tion, inasmuch as He is the pioneer of the salvation of all (pantōn), totally (holois) cleansing them from their defilement? But it is not the case—even if they should dare to think such a thing—that the tokens of his perfection lead to the casting aside of the body.42

Maximus helps to inform us of an “Origenist” eschatology that is crucially important to the apokatastasis condemned in 553. He tells us that these (most likely Neo-Evagrian) heretics envision the shedding of bodies not at the resurrection, but after the resurrection, only after “rational beings will have completed their progress to perfection.” The apoka­tastasis con­demned in the first 553 anathema is to be made distinct from the progress of all beings to perfection, which can only be interpreted as universal salvation. Nowhere does Maximus say that those who believe in this progress of all beings to perfection are wrong. He only says those who assert a shedding of bodies after this perfection is achieved are wrong. In addition to making a distinction between the shedding of bodies and universal salvation, if Maximus believed that Constantinople II condemned universalism, he certainly would not have spoken of “the salvation of all” a few sentences after discussing other items condemned at the council. Without question, he would have feared looking like a heretic. And yet, this is exactly what he does in the above passage. In essence, Maximus seems to be arguing that yes, Christ does bring about perfection for all, but the shedding of bodies is not part of the perfection that Christ imparts to the human race. There is no criticism of universalism here or in the rest of his criticism of this strange apokatastasis to a bodiless existence.43 Rather, Maximus seems to support universal salvation in the midst of speaking of topics condemned at Constantinople II. Having made our way through Maximus’ abstract and explicit state­ments of universal salvation, along with his conspicuous absence of criticism of the doctrine, we will now take a look at his more implicit or secretive statements of universalism, or “honorable silences” as Balthasar put it.

Honorable Silence

The great Maximus scholar Hans Urs Von Balthasar was the first to argue that there are certain passages where Maximus implicitly refers to universal salvation as a theological opinion to be “honored with silence.” Balthasar argues that Maximus saw universal salvation as a secretive doctrine that should only be disclosed to the spiritually mature. Maximus would not be the first early Christian to have referred to universalism in such a manner. Origen (and in my judgment as well as Balthasar’s and Ramelli’s, Gregory of Nazianzus) also spoke about universal salvation as a somewhat secretive theological opinion to be kept under wraps.44 Origen explains his reasoning behind concealing this great reconciliation of all things from the public in a crucial passage that we will quote in full so that we can compare it with strikingly similar passages in Maximus:

The remarks which might be made on this topic [of hell/universal salva­tion] are neither to be made to all, nor to be uttered on the present occasion; for it is not unattended with danger to commit to writing the explanation of such subjects, seeing the multitude need no further instruction than that which relates to the punishment of sinners; while to ascend beyond this is not expedient for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of age-enduring punishment, from plunging into any degree of wickedness, and into the flood of evils which result from sin.45

With this passage from Origen in mind, we can look at Maximus’s alleged instances of “honorable silence,” and then begin to analyze them. It is not necessary for my argument that Maximus would have been aware of this exact passage in Origen, only that he was aware of a tradition within the Church of not speaking openly of universal salvation.

In relation to Christ’s conquering the “principalities and authorities,” or Christ’s victory over evil, Maximus says,

It would have been possible to give this theme a more mystical and sublime interpretation. But because, as you know, the deeper secrets of the divine doctrines must not be committed to writing [notice that Origen says the same exact thing above], let the above be enough to satisfy those who seek a more detailed understanding of this question. When God grants us to come together again, we shall inquire assiduously into the apostolic mind regarding this question.46

In another classic “honorable silence,” passage, Maximus speaks about the two trees in the garden of Eden by again saying it would be possible to offer another interpretation of the trees, but most of the Fathers refrained from doing so because they discerned that “the minds of most people are not able to reach the depth of the written words … Thus, for your sake, I will say what is suitable for all, and meaningful for both beginners and the more ad­vanced.”47 If the Fathers did offer this more mystical interpretation, “it was only after they first discerned the capacity of their listeners.”48 Again, in relation to Adam’s state free of sin before he fell, Maximus states in Ambiguum 45 that “it would have been possible to venture a contemplation of this particular difficulty by means of another, more sublime mode of interpretation, but for now let us leave that aside for the reason I gave at the outset of my remarks.”49 The comment he made “at the outset” of his remarks is in regard to Gregory of Nazianzus speaking of Adam’s “prelapsarian” way of life. Maximus tells us that the Nazianzen wrote of these things in such a way that “secretly reveals” the meaning of the biblical theme “to those who have received his same gift of wisdom and knowl­edge.”50 Maximus humbly seems to know what is secretly revealed but refuses to enlighten his reader(s).

All these silences have one main theme in common: humanity’s state in the garden before sin was brought into the world. Even in relation to Maximus’ first statement on Christ’s victory over evil, the first thing he mentions in his response to Thalassius’s question is Adam’s original creation “free from corruption and sin.”51 The two trees of the garden, which, as we saw above, he honors with silence, are obviously connected with humanity’s original state, and the last silence mentioned above is explicitly related to humanity’s prelapsarian state. Maximus was surely aware of Gregory of Nyssa’s numerous statements regarding humanity’s eventual restoration to a life free from sin just as humanity was free from sin in the garden,52 and this universal restoration is probably what Maximus says is the more “sublime” interpretation of humanity’s prelapsarian state: we were sinless once, we will be made sinless again. In Gregory of Nyssa’s clearest statement of this thesis, he says that “every being that had its origin from God will return such as it was from the beginning, when it had not yet received evil.”53 Gregory also makes it clear that this restoration will bring all to salvation: “No creature will fall out of the kingdom of God,” and the category of “the saved” will include every being.54

In another instance of “honorable silence,” Maximus almost certainly alludes to universal salvation when he interprets the parables in Luke 15 of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. Origen connected the parable of the return of the lost sheep to the return of every last person to God at the end of time.55 Origen’s interpretation was picked up by Hilary of Poitiers in his commentary on Matthew,56 in the mysterious fourth century Origenian “Dialogue of Adamantius,”57 by Peter Chrysologus,58 and of course, Gregory of Nyssa. The Nyssen wrote that before humanity fell into sin,

we too went to make up the sacred hundred sheep, the rational beings. But when the one sheep—our nature—was led astray from the heavenly way of evil … the flock which had not strayed did not add up to the same number as before, but are said to be ninety-nine … Therefore [Christ] came to seek and save that which was lost … so that the total of God’s creation should be complete again, when the lost has been restored to those who are not lost.59

When Maximus mentions the meaning of the numbers in the parables (the return of the one sheep to make a flock of 100, the return of the one coin to make a set of 10, the return of the son to complete his family), he says, “we can for the moment refrain from commenting on these numbers, and God granting us the opportunity, undertake at some later time a detailed study of their hidden meaning.”60 Again, Maximus seems aware of an interpretation that he is unwilling to commit to writing,61 as he says elsewhere. Unlike the other instances of “honorable silence,” however, he seems to “slip up” here when he says a few lines later that God placed humanity “in the ranks of the heavenly powers thereby filling the void in each heavenly number by the salvation of humanity … [Christ brought about] on his own the salvation (sotērian) of all (pantōn).”62

One other possible “honorable silence” is Maximus’ interpretation of the “eternal chains” of the demons spoken of in Jude 6.63 At the beginning of the passage, he says that the “exact account of these matters is known only to those who have the mind of the apostles to whom the Word directly taught the true knowledge of beings and their good and just administra­tion by wise Providence.” He then humbly says that he is “earthbound and [possesses] many obstacles hindering the Word’s passage to his mind,” and goes on to answer the question in an “earthbound” manner. Though he does not say that he himself knows of an interpretation he refuses to offer, he says that others know of an interpreta­tion that he will not offer. It is possible, though not as certain as his other instances, that this is another one of Maximus’ “honorable silences,” perhaps keeping Gregory of Nyssa’s opinion on the salvation of the devil safe from “earthbound” individuals, again, out of fear of scandalizing them.

It is only in reference to themes traditionally connected with universal salvation that Maximus says he knows of one particular interpretation that he refuses to commit to writing.64 On many other occasions, he does offer various reasons for not giving other interpretations, but nowhere else does he say he only knows of one interpretation that he simply won’t offer. For example, on one occasion, when interpreting “the bodies and the blood of irrational animals that the Jews used in their worship,” Maximus tells us that there are too many beneficial interpretations to write on all of them.65 On another occasion, when discussing his interpretation of the Lord’s sending an angel to destroy everyone in the camp of Ashur in 2 Chronicles 32, he exhorts his reader(s) to give their own interpretation since it may be more beneficial than his own.66 Elsewhere when speaking of a more mystical interpretation of scripture’s precise numbering of mules and donkeys returning from exile, Maximus says that the higher and mystical interpretation can actually benefit those of lower intellectual and spiritual capacity, which is the opposite of what he says in his passages of “honorable silence.”67 Again, in Ad Thal. 65, he says that the spiritually immature cannot understand the Scriptures, but since he knows his reader has experienced Divine things, he again proceeds to offer his mystical interpretation of why “justice [was] demanded of David … after the death of Saul,” in 2 Kings 21.68 Again, only on themes traditionally connected with universal salvation does Maximus say he knows of one interpretation that would be inappropriate to disclose.

Beyond the thematic elements common to universalism in the “honorable silence” passages, there are a number of similarities between what Maximus says in these passages and what we see in Origen’s passage quoted above. One obvious similarity is that both Origen and Maximus say that whatever it is they are referring to should not “be committed to writing.” Secondly, they both argue that what is to be said on their secret topic should only be said to the spiritually mature. Moreover, both Origen and Maximus agree on what “beginners” in the spiritual life should focus on: punishments in hell. Origen reveals this in the passage quoted above, while Maximus tells us this in his Chapters on Theology:

the fear of Gehenna prepares beginners to flee from vice; the desire of the reward of good things encourages eagerness for the performance of the virtues in those who are progressing; yet, the mystery of love elevates the mind above all things after God. For the Lord makes wise only those who have become blind to all things after God, showing them more divine things.69

In his Ecclesiastical Mystagogy, Maximus again says that spiritual beginners are “those who, because of the fear of threats, are faithful and fulfill the commandments of their master,” whereas the perfect are those who love the good simply because it is good and not “because of the fear of threats.”70 Maximus states explicitly regarding his “honorable silence” in Ad Thal. 43 that he will say “what is suitable … for both beginners and the more ad­vanced.”71 If, as Maximus says above, beginners grow in their salvation through the fear of hell, it would certainly not be “suitable” for them to hear an interpretation of a passage that denies hell’s eternity. By Maximus’ logic, if he spoke to the spiritually immature about universal salvation, this would be cause for them to become lazy in their spiritual efforts, and Maximus would be partially to blame for this. This would be unthinkable to Maximus. The theologoumenon of universal salvation should only be revealed to the “perfect.”

In response to Patristics scholar Brian Daley, Balthasar has also persuasively argued that Maximus’ silence is not simple apophaticism.72 Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite, following earlier Fathers, said that we cannot describe God’s essence because it cannot be fathomed. Nothing can be said about it. He did not say that we can only speak of God’s essence to the spiritually mature. There simply was nothing one could possibly utter regarding it. To say otherwise would be heresy. Yet Maximus tells us he knows of an interpretation, that it would have been possible to offer another interpretation, but he won’t reveal it. The very fact that an interpretation exists means Maximus is not simply being apophatic. Given that Maximus only honors “with silence” passages that are traditionally connected with univer­sal­ism, and the striking similarity between Origen and Maximus’ statements both in concept (beginners grow through fear of hell) and wording (“not committed to writing”), the most natural explanation for Maximus’ silence on this topic is that he believes these scriptural and patristic passages hint at universal salvation.

These instances of “honorable silence” help us make sense of Maximus’ “hell” passages. Without the “silence,” we would simply have two irreconcilable sets of statements in Maximus. The “silence” passages clue us into the fact that his “eternal hell” statements are designed to be “threats,” as Maximus says.73 They exist more to keep people from spiritual laziness than to give us an accurate picture of what Maximus actually believes. Neverthe­less, because Maximus’ “hell” passages show up not just in rhetorical texts, but serious theological ones as well, we will look in-depth at the most frightening.

Maximus’ “Hell texts”

As Ramelli notes, although Maximus speaks in several places of damnation, he never uses the Greek word aidios to describe it, which is the Greek word that unequivocally means eternal. Maximus reserves this word only for the telos once beings have completed their progress through all the ages and arrived at perfection. That Maximus envisions an end to the progression of ages where all beings reach God is evident in Maximus’ passage on the meaning of the word apokatastasis quoted at the beginning of this article, but also in other passages like In Ps. 59: “[Transformation of humanity’s gnomic will will happen] because of the general change and renewal which will take place in the future, at the end of the ages, through God our Savior: a universal renewal of the whole human race, natural but by grace.”74 In his Questions and Doubts, he also says, “for [the telos, or “eighth day”] is beyond a state of time and characterizes the future condition.”75 That Maximus envisioned an “end to all aeons” where time itself would be transformed into a nonlinear eternity beyond time is not a theory concocted to avoid a Maximian eternal hell. It is in fact supported by Sotiris Mitralexis who devoted an entire book to Maximus’ concept of time.76 In light of this fact, when Maximus says that wicked individuals will be punished for “infinite” (apeirois) or “unending” (ateleutētos) aeons, or perpetually (diaiōnizon), his use of these words are probably an exaggeration or “threat,” as he says, intended to horrify spiritual beginners and keep them vigilant in fighting their passions.77

Keeping Maximus’ timeline of the cosmos in mind also helps to make sense of his passages that speak of God uniting himself to all humans at their resurrection, both to those who have moved against nature, and those who have moved in accordance with nature.78 Some have cited passages such as these as indicating that Maximus interpreted Paul’s statement of God being “all in all” as simply meaning He would unite himself to all human beings, both the worthy and unworthy, and this situation would endure for all eternity. However, it seems more likely, given Maximus’ love of Gregory of Nazianzus, that he, like Nazianzus, did not feel comfortable explicitly mentioning the notion of a final restoration after the resurrected “unworthy” have endured aeons of purgative chastisement in Gehenna.

Nazianzus did speak of a possible restoration to God of all people long after Christ’s parousia when the purgative chastisements of hell will have reached their completion. Regarding Christ’s coming in judgment at his parousia, Nazianzus says, “we will inherit either the fire or you, God, the originator of light; but if God, will it then some day be all of us? That is for another to decide.”79

As for whether God can be “all in all” while there are still some misusing their motion in hell, the Nazianzen seems to forbid the idea. When he speaks of God being “all in all,” he says that God cannot currently be “all in all” in us because we have a “multiplicity of impulses and emotions” in ourselves contrary to God.80 According to Nazianzus, we currently have “little or nothing of God in us” due to our evil impulses, and yet Nazianzus assures us that in the end, God will be “all in all.”81 He connects the “all in all” exclusively with human beings having been purified of all evil.

Maximus surely knew of this twofold sequence of events from Nyssa, probably noticed subtle nods to it in Nazianzus and followed Nazianzus’ subtlety on this front. When Maximus speaks of beings completing their progress towards perfection,82 or of all beings finding “rest” in God,83 or every logoi being fulfilled,84 or all particulars being united to universals,85 or of peace and friendship in heaven and on earth,86 these statements sound nothing like the terrifying judgment of the righteous and wicked. These are statements he applies to all beings, and there is no mention of anyone suffering in hell. More likely than not, they apply to the universal restoration after the wicked have been purified through long ages in the fire of judgment. On the other hand, when Maximus speaks of God uniting himself to the worthy and unworthy, these statements most likely apply to the judgment at Christ’s parousia before the final restoration.

One interesting test case for this eschatological distinction is Maximus’ troubling statement in Ad Thal. 61 that at Christ’s parousia and judgment, the sinner will “be like a part of the body utterly bereft of the soul’s vital energy.”87 The “body” being referred to appears to be the eschatological body of Christ. Maximus is saying that the sinner will be part of Christ’s body, but nevertheless a rotting, gangrene member. Some type of dramatic unification with Christ is implied here, but is this the same unification Maximus speaks about when he says that humans “will be called, gods and children, body and limbs, because we shall be restored to the perfection of God’s project”?88 It certainly does not sound like Maximus is describing the same situation.

This suspicion seems to be confirmed only a paragraph later when Maximus uses the same image of Christ’s eschatological body, but this time, says that if God becomes

’all in all’ in proportion to their righteousness … where will the impious man and sinner appear? For ‘where’ will one, who is unable to receive the presence of God, actualized in the state of well-being ‘appear’ after having suffered separation from the divine life, which transcends age, time and place?89

First of all, Maximus only says that God becomes “all in all” in the righteous, though these righteous seem to be righteous in different proportions. He is not said to be “all in all” including in sinners. So where are the sinners? The “diseased members” spoken about in his first interpretation do not exist in the second interpretation, and it is only in this interpreta­tion that God is said to be “all in all.” It doesn’t seem likely that these sinners were simply annihilated either, since in Amb. 42, Maximus emphatically states more than once that each “essential existence” that God created “cannot pass into nonbeing.”90

Interestingly, the same image of God being the “soul” of the body is used, but this time, no member is said to be “bereft of the soul’s vital energy.” Instead, the “soul” (i.e. God) is said to “sustain” the life of each part of the body.91 As for “where” the sinner is actually located when God is “all in all,” Maximus says that “there is no ‘where’ by which he [the sinner] might appear.”92 According to Jordan Daniel Wood, when God is truly “all in all,” the place of the sinner is in fact nowhere, because “there is no sinner at all to be anywhere at all.”93 In other words, when God is all in all, and Christ’s eschatological body has reached perfection, the fires of judgment have purified every individual from every last sin so that only “the righteous” or “the worthy” exist.

In another very similar discourse, when Maximus specifies that “all flesh” in Luke 3:4-6 only means “all flesh that is faithful,” everything we have seen up until this point, especially his understanding of particulars and universals, informs us that Maximus’ statement here is probably not a definitive anti-universalist statement.94 Rather, it becomes more obvious near the end of the passage that Maximus speaks this way to encourage great ascetical effort while slightly concealing the fact that all flesh will indeed be found faithful in the end. Just as in the passage above, he implies a more universalist interpretation of the same Lukan pericope in what he calls a “loftier” contemplation. Here, he does not equivocate on the meaning of “all.” Instead, he appears to speak in very universal terms of the Word’s descent to every different type of person God created: “Time will fail the contemplative intellect in its cognitive efforts to grasp the divine ascents of the Word, and to adapt His transcendent and loving manifestations to each according to which he “becomes ‘all things in all’ that He might ‘save all through the riches of his goodness.’”95 Maximus appears to be saying that there is no class of people that Christ does not descend low enough to save and convince to be faithful to him.

In another troubling “hell” passage, Maximus seems to state the non-eternity of hell but only immediately before stating its eternity. Commenting on Gregory Nazianzen’s discussion of types of fire in scripture, he says,

[The flames] burn the conscience in imitation of “the devil” and his “angels” who through pride enviously slander the providence of God and employ treachery towards their neighbor. And the fire “which proceeds before the face of the Lord” burning “his enemies” is the activities of God. For they characterize the face of God, that is, his goodness, love of humankind, meekness, and things similar to these. These activities enlighten those who are like them and burn up those who oppose and have been alienated from the likeness. And the passage did not say these, the forms of fire, are perpetual (diaiōnizein), because according to Gregory of Nyssa, nature must recover its own powers and be restored by full knowledge to what it was from the beginning, so that the creator may be proven not to be the cause of sin. And he called that the “more feared” fire, that “which is fused with worms in the coming age, not able to be quenched, but existing perpetually (diaiōnizon) for the wicked.” For this reason, when the divinity appears and is offered to the worthy for their enjoyment, they who do not, through good works, illumine themselves, like a little worm which always uproots one’s memory, are devoured, evaluated up by their failure and endless deprivation of the good, and are continually put to the test by a more violent fire.96

Is Maximus saying that there are multiple forms of fire in the afterlife, one that burns perpetually and one that does not? It seems unlikely, since in the other passage on this fire in Q. et Dub., he separated humanity into two groups and said that the fire saves the sinners. Similarly, Gregory of Nazianzus’ speaks often about the purifying function of the fire of Gehenna while failing to mention any third class of people incapable of being purified unto salvation.97 In addition to this, the idea of wicked people remaining wicked forever implies the eternality of evil, which is something Maximus insists is not the case only one sentence earlier, but also in Q. et Dub. 13, 159, and In. or. Dom. 1.82.

The main cause of impenetrable confusion in this passage is the fact that Maximus uses the Greek word diaiōnizein to reassure us that the fires are not perpetual, and then in the very next sentence quotes Nazianzus who called the “more feared fire” perpetual using a modified form of the same Greek word (diaiōnizon). Maximus has to know that what he says here seems to be an outright contradiction. Given this seemingly obvious contradic­tion, it’s possible that he is following Gregory of Nazianzus even more closely than the casual reader realizes. Though not quoted by Maximus in Dub., after his sentence on the “more feared fire” quoted above, the Nazianzen immediately adds this qualification: “For all these fires belong to the destroying power, unless some prefer even here to understand this fire as showing more love to humankind, in a way worthy of the punisher.”98 Nazianzen’s probable “wink” at his friend Gregory of Nyssa here is evident to his translator Nonna Verna Harrison when she writes in a footnote:

Gregory is saying that he considers universal salvation … as a possibility. However, unlike his friend Gregory of Nyssa, whom he probably has in mind here, he stops short of affirming it as a necessary outcome of God’s infinite goodness and patience with creaturely freedom.99

It’s equally possible the Nazianzen “stops short of affirming” it not due to any theological disagreement with Nyssa, but due to a pastoral disagreement, where like Origen and Maximus, he is afraid of encouraging spiritual laziness in his listeners by openly proclaiming universal salvation. It is virtually certain that Maximus was well aware of this statement from the Nazianzen and was probably imitating his reluctance to proclaim universal salvation, which unfortunately resulted in a convoluted and contradictory passage. The perplexing fact that Maximus lets Gregory’s comments on a fire more “worthy” of God go completely unmentioned seems to confirm Maximus’ reticence to speak openly about universal salvation.

Ambiguum 65: Maximus’ Most Theologically Rigorous “Hell” Text

The most difficult passage to explain if Maximus was sympathetic towards universalism would be his separation of humanity into two groups in Amb. 65, one half of which appears to be irrevocably cut off from God for all eternity. In the Sabbath, at the end of the ages, to those who have used their logos according to nature, God bestows “being always well” (to eu aei ainai) but to those who have used their logos “against nature,” God renders “being always badly” (to kakōs aei ainai).100 Maximus even goes as far as to say that

Being-always-well is no longer accessible to those who have placed themselves in opposition to it, and they have absolutely no motion after the manifestation of what was sought, by which what is sought is naturally revealed to those who seek it.101

The fact that Maximus appears to say a being’s motion or movement has actually stopped, and in a sense, reposed in evil, given Maximus’ theological system, seems to definitively rule out universalism. But it also seems to contradict Maximus’ theology altogether.

First of all, if Maximus is saying that a being can actually come to rest in evil, he is con­tradicting his insistence on several separate occasions (see above) that evil will eventually completely disappear. David Bradshaw seems to imply that Maximus’ conception of “being always badly” might correspond to the state of those who reach only a knowledge of God without reaching participation in God. This could be true in a temporal sense since an individual could conceivably remain in a state of “being badly” for many aeons in Gehenna, but not in an eternal sense because of Maximus’ insistence on the eventual disappearance of all evil (see above). “Being always badly (kakōs)” could well be translated “being always evil,” which, if taken to imply an eternal state, would certainly mean an eternity of evil. If interpreted to be eternal, “being always badly” has no coherent home in Maximus’ theology.

Second of all, if taken as a complete immobility in evil, this statement also directly contradicts Maximus’ meticulously thought-through philosophy of motion. For example, the entirety of Amb. 15 stands in stark contradiction to the statement in Amb. 65, as does Amb. 7, 60.4, and 9, Ad Thalassium 65, Ecclesiastical Mystagogy 370-405, and Chapters on Theology 2.86.

In one particularly striking passage in Amb. 15, Maximus categorically states the exact opposite of what he seems to say in Amb. 65:

The end of the natural motion of whatever has been originated is rest, which, after the passage beyond finite things, is produced completely by infinity, for in the absence of any spatial or temporal interval, every motion of whatever is naturally moved ceases, henceforth having nowhere, and no means whereby, and nothing to which it could be moved, since it has attained its goal and cause, which is God, who is Himself the limit of the infinite horizon that limits all motion. Thus the beginning and end of every origin and motion of beings is God, for it is from Him that they have come into being, and by Him that they are moved, and it is in Him that they will achieve restThus when the word “rest” is spoken, I understand it to mean solely the cessation of motion.102

In this passage, the only way any being can come to “rest” (stasis) and cease from its motion is for it to reach God. It follows counterfactually that anything that has not found its rest in God and is trying to seek its end in evil will continue its movement. This is why Maximus states in his discussion of Gregory’s apokatastasis that “the powers of the soul, by necessity, [will] shed all imprints of evil clinging to them; and this after aeons have elapsed, after a long time of being driven about without rest [stasis]. And so in the end they reach God, who is without limitations [peras].”103 Throughout Amb. 7, we find the same emphatic emphasis that a soul will continue its motion until it reaches God:

Accordingly, no created being has yet ceased from the natural power that moves it to its proper end, neither has it found rest from the activity that impels it toward its proper end, nor harvested the fruit of this passible movement, by which I mean impassibility and immobility. For it belongs to God alone to be that end.104

These passages from Maximus are only snapshots of a much larger canvass on which he paints the same picture of souls never ceasing from motion till they find their rest in God.105 In all the cases above, it is also clear that the soul arrives at this cessation of motion only because it finds itself satisfied and rejoicing in God. There is no room in these descriptions for the popular Orthodox refrain, “hell is heaven experienced differently.” Cessation of motion is only equated with salvation, never with damnation. This is made abundantly clear in Amb. 7, where Maximus describes what occurs to beings who eventually cease from motion:

[If a being] knows, it surely loves that which it knows; and if it loves, it certainly suffers an ecstasy toward it as an object of love. If it suffers this ecstasy, it obviously urges itself onward, and if it urges itself onward, it surely intensifies and greatly accelerates its motion. If its motion is intensified in this way, it will not cease until it is wholly present in the whole beloved, and wholly encompassed by it … in the same way that air is thoroughly permeated by light, or iron in a forge is completely penetrated by the fire, or anything of this sort.106

Words like love, ecstasy, and beloved could not apply to anything else other than a being that has found its salvation in God. Other than resting in God, in no other way, other than in Amb. 65, is a being said to cease from its motion.

In addition to “rest” or immobility, all of Maximus’ unique terminology parallels the same universal trajectory or teleology towards God with deviations from this trajectory only making sense as temporal not eternal deviations. The idea of one eternally turning away from one’s logos contradicts his statements regarding the future eventual fulfilment of every single logos,107 since those who use their logos against nature eternally will never have it fulfilled. In addition to this problem, all the particulars of human nature could no longer be united to their universals, which Maximus speaks about on more than one occasion.108

Due to the section from Amb. 65 seemingly contradicting the thrust of Maximus’s entire corpus, Panayotis Tzamalikos does not even believe Maximus wrote it, and Ramelli seems to at least consider it as a possibility.109 Some scholars have used Amb. 65 to help them craft an entire Maximian theology of hell and free will, but given that it goes against more than one of his central theological tenets, and at least two well-respected scholars are raising questions about its authenticity, its value for a “Maximian theology” is dubious to say the least.

The themes and vocabulary of  Ambiguum 65 are certainly Maximian and the phrase “being badly” also appears in Amb. 10, but (significantly) without the word “ever” or “always” (aei) attached to the phrase.110 The idea of a being moving “against nature” after one’s life on earth is also spoken of throughout the Maximian corpus. However, the notion of a possibly absolute immobility in evil is curiously only found in one other location in Maximus’ writing: in the same passage where a possible “honorable silence” regarding the salvation of the demons is found. After his possible “honorable silence,” he says that the “eternal chains” of the demons in Jude 6 may be “the total and continuous immobility of their free will to do good, as a result of which they will never in any way enjoy divine rest.”111 Though a possible (and thus, orthodox) interpretation of the eternal chains, what he says regarding the immo­bility of the will of the devils may not be an interpretation that Maximus personally favors. He does, after all, offer a totally different explanation as well: “Or [the eternal chains] signify the providential power of God, which for the sake of our salvation restrains their fury against us.”112 He ends his response by saying that the fate of the demons on the day of judgment (scripture makes clear the “eternal chains” only bind demons till judgment day) “is some­thing known only to the just judge.”113 Since both the “eighth day” (which is what Amb. 65 is about) and the judgment of demons are two themes connected with universal salvation,114 Maximus may have let himself seem somewhat at odds with his other statements regarding motion in order to avoid giving the spiritually immature an opportunity to indulge in licentiousness, as discussed above regarding his “honorable silences.”

However, there is still a possibility that Maximus is not technically contradicting himself in Amb. 65. Despite what it looks like at first glance, he may not be implying complete, total and irrevocable immobility in evil. Maximus does not say that a being that is bestowed “ever being badly” has absolutely no motion whatsoever. He says that the being has absolutely no motion towards God. The Greek preposition here, meta, which Nicholas Constas translates as “after,”could mean that a being completely stops all of its motion chronologically after Christ’s parousia, but the preposition around Maximus’ time could also mean “towards” or “in accordance with,” and is used by Chrysostom and Nazianzus in this way.115 If this is how Maximus is using the preposition, he is not implying a total and irrevocable rejection of God. Rather, he is speaking of a being with absolutely no current motion towards God and all of its motion towards evil,116 currently having no movement towards “the good.” This is why Maximus says that “well-being is no longer accessible to those who placed themselves in opposition to it.”117 If one reads Amb. 65 carefully, nowhere does Maximus say that this being enters into the “eighth day,” where beings receive a “cessation from all motion.”118 Rather, the being bestowed “ever being badly” is on the outside of the eighth day, waiting to enter into it. It is still lost pursuing evil, and as Gregory of Nyssa says, which Maximus offers his stamp of approval to in his Q. et Dub. 13, once this being “has finished the course of wickedness and reached the extreme limit of evil [Maximus speaks of this limit above], then that which is ever moving, finding no halting point for its impulse natural to itself when it has run through the lengths that can be run in wickedness, of necessity, turns its motion towards good.”119 Therefore, although certainly a quite philosophical “hellfire” passage, Amb. 65 does not seem to outright contradict Maximus’ philosophy.

If beings moving against nature are interpreted to be devoid of motion in a relative rather than absolute manner, the ambiguum would fit with the rest of Maximus’ corpus quite comfortably. For example, in Ad Thal. 22.7, after the resurrection and parousia, all beings are said by Maximus to exist in a passive state, which could be understood as relatively motionless. Maximus even speaks about beings reaching their “limit,” which is the same language he uses in Amb. 65:

Existing here and now [“the age of the flesh,” as Maximus says elsewhere in this response to Thalassius], we will reach the end of the ages [the end of the “age of the flesh,” inaugurated at the Parousia] in a state of activity, at which point our power and ability to act will reach its limit. In the ages that will follow, we shall passively experience by grace the transformation of divinization, no longer being active but passive, and for this reason we will not cease being divinized.120

Based on Maximus’ own definitions, those who have just began to exist in the ages that follow the parousia have not yet fully come to rest in God, and so are awaiting or only beginning their Divinization so their motion has not yet come to complete rest. As to whether the wicked departed still have a chance at this Divinization, we saw that Maximus says that “sinners” will suffer a loss of time away from God in the fire of judgment, but ultimately, the fire will burn away their sin and save them.121

David Bradshaw says that for Maximus there must be a category of sinners completely incapable of postmortem conversion, but given Maximus’ understanding of the fire of judgment, his universalist passages and the theological thrust of his corpus, this seems implausible. Moreover, whenever Maximus speaks of Christ’s descent into Hades, he never says that there is a certain class of sinners so wicked that Christ is totally incapable of ever persuading them to follow Him.122 Although sinners remain relatively motionless in the afterlife, it remains possible for God to “move” towards them and for them to respond by “faith alone,” as Maximus says in Amb. 59 of those in Hades.123

Critics will allege that I am “discarding” the importance of Amb. 65 from Maximus’ theology because I want Maximus to be a universalist. While I can’t deny that I would like it if Maximus were sympathetic to some form of universalism, I certainly hope that out of a love for truth and responsible scholarship, I would be able to accept the importance of Amb. 65 if I thought it sat well with the rest of his theology. Universalists and anti-universalists alike are all in danger of looking “down the long well of history and [seeing our] own face reflected at the bottom.”124 Nevertheless, I have presented multiple examples from more than one area of Maximus’ theology that seem to contradict Amb. 65 if it is read in a way that totally excludes the possibility of universal salvation. I have shown how it can be read in a manner more consistent with what Maximus says of motion and the non-subsistence of evil through­out the rest of his corpus. Letting one questionable reading of one particular passage in Maximus guide the rest of our interpretation of Maximus’ work turns a great deal of his theology on its head.


Although Fr Aidan’s article “Apokatastasis: The Heresy that Never Was” has helped to respond to a lot of misunderstandings about what Constantinople II did or did not condemn, many critics seem to believe they have a trump card: All the Church Fathers after Constan­tinople II believed that the fifth ecumenical council condemned universal­ism and who are we to question this consensus? The most common response from universal­ists is that simply counting heads doesn’t make something true. While both sides have good points, rarely are anti-universalists questioned on the factual accuracy of their claim that every Church Father after 553 believed universalism had been ecumenically condemned. In Maximus, we have a saint that still had a chance to talk to those who were alive in 553, and he gives us no indication that he believed universalism was condemned. His theology of motion and rest, modes and logoi, particulars and universals all point exclusively in the universalist direction. His “honorable silences” and the conspicuous absence of criticism of the doctrine when given the perfect opportunity to do so also push us towards the conclusion that not only did Maximus consider the doctrine permissible but probably held to some form of it himself. Those who want to declare universalism an absolutely impermissible opinion should thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the figure of Maximus before pronouncing David Bentley Hart, Kallistos Ware, and anyone who follows them heretics. Maximus may be wrong, of course, but as Fr Thomas Hopko wrote of the daringly confident universalist Fr Sergius Bulgakov, “whatever he was … [he] was not a heretic.”125


1 Anastasius of Sinai may be another post-553 universalist saint, though he also may have strongly opposed the doctrine. On one occasion, he writes that “our holy Fathers define resurrection as the restoration (apokatastasin) to the original condition of the first human being” (Questiones et Responsiones 19.11). Elsewhere, he uses Maximus’ language of silence referring to the two trees in the garden of Eden, which, as argued below, is an indication of universalism (On the Hexaemeron 8). However, in a different quote, he also argues that Gregory of Nyssa’s writings on apokatastasis were interpolated (Viaea Dux 22.3). Given the well-known ambiguity regarding the authorship of all of Anastastius’ works, it seems that these texts probably come from different authors. Nevertheless, whoever wrote the universalist passages was certainly writing after 553.

2 Questiones et Dubia 13, PG 90:796AC. I took this translation from Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?”, 2nd Edition (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), Location 2887 of 2937, Kindle Edition.

3 Morwenna Ludlow, Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 44.

4 Ibid.

5 Ilaria Ramelli, A Larger Hope? Universal Salvation from Christian Beginnings to Julian of Norwich (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2019), 179.

6 Exp. Ps. 59, trans. Paul Blowers, “A Psalm Unto the End: Eschatology and Anthropology in Maximus the Confessor’s Commentary on Psalm 59,” in Brian Daley and Paul Kolbet, eds., The Harp of Prophecy: Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), 270.

7 De Hom. Op. 21.2. Notice that beings aren’t saved through necessity, but evil, due its very nature, or by necessity, will never fully satisfy human desire, or for Gregory and Maximus, a being’s movement will never find its “rest” in evil.

8 De Hom. Op. 21.4

9 Ad Thal. 60.4, in St. Maximus the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thallasios, trans. Maximos Constas (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2018), 429. Emphasis added. 10 Ad. Thal. 2. Taken from Ramelli, A Larger Hope?, 84.

11 For a good discussion of this, see Paul Blowers and Robert Wilken’s introduction to Maximus in On the Cosmic Mystery of Christ (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2003), 38-43.

12 Ad. Thal. 445-51, taken from Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 185, emphasis added.
13 Amb. 42.5 (1317d), Maximus the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volume II, ed. and trans. Nicholas Constas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2014), 127.

14 Amb. 42.4 (1317c), trans. Constas, 127.

15 Jordan Daniel Wood, private email correspondence.

16 Amb. 41.10 (1312c), trans. Constas, 116-17; Cf. Amb. 10.101 in Constas, 314-15; Amb. 17.4 (1225b-c) in Constas, 384-85.

17 Ad Thal. 2, trans. Constas, 98.

18 David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019), Location 2163 of 3097, Kindle Edition. I must state that Hart’s language of necessity (“must”) makes me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, Kallistos Ware’s warning that we should never say “all must be saved” is in reference to a type of universalism where God forces people into heaven against their will, and Hart would never affirm this. See Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, 2nd ed. (London, England: Penguin), 262.

19 Amb. 41.11 (1313b-c), trans. Constas, 119.

20 See Johannes Zachuber, “Once Again: Gregory of Nyssa on Universals,” Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 56, Part 1 (April, 2005): 87-9. In Nyssa’s Ad Ablabium, he states: “We say, then, to begin with, that the practice of calling those who are not divided in nature by the very name of their common nature in the plural, and saying they are many men, is a customary abuse of language, and that it would be much the same thing to say they are many human natures … Thus there are many who have shared in the nature—many disciples, say, or apostles, or martyrs—but the man in them all is one; since, as has been said, the term man does not belong to the nature of the individual as such, but to that which is common.” For one example of how this theory relates to his universalism, see his Catechetical Discourse (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2019) 27.1-2, trans. Green, 121.

21 De Anima 10.23-24. Anna M. Silvas, Macrina the Younger, Philosopher of God (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 2008). Taken from Ignatius Green’s introduction to Gregory’s Catechetical Discourse, 49, emphasis added.

22 De Anima 4.17, trans. Silvas, taken from Green, 49, emphasis added. 23 Cat. Or. 26.8, trans. Green, 120, emphasis added.

24 There is no modern Maximian scholar that questions Maximus’ knowledge of the Nyssen’s corpus. For example, see Doru Costache, “Living above Gender: Insights from Saint Maximus the Confessor,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 21, no. 2, (2013); Luis Joshua Sale’s introduction to Maximus’ Two Hundred Chapters on Theology (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2015), 36; Paul Blowers, Maximus the Confessor: Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration of the Cosmos (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 252.

25 In. Or. Dom. 1.82, trans. Ilaria Ramelli, from her book The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 748.

26 See Balthasar’s list in his Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2003), 355, n. 293. Just a few on Balthasar’s extensive list include Ambigua 1044b and d, 1280a, 1280c, and 1314ab.

27 Q. et Dub. 159, trans. Despina Prassas, taken from her St. Maximus the Confessor’s Questions and Doubts (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010), 122. Emphasis added.

28 Hom. in Ier. 1.15–1, Hom. In Mat. 10.1-3.

29 See PG 36,356BC; Or. 39.15; Or. 40.34.

30 See Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 360.

31 Enarr in Is. 10.544AB and In Hex. 6.336–338, trans. Ramelli, “Basil and Apokatastasis: New Findings,” Journal of Early Christian History 4 (2): 124.

32 Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, trans. Catherine P. Roth (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 120-22.

33 Amb. 46.4 (1357b), trans. Constas, 205.

34 Ibid.

35 Amb. 7.31 (1092c). From Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 184. Emphasis added.

36 Ibid. 7.26 (1088c), trans. Constas, 113.

37 Ad. Thal. 445-51, taken from ibid., 185, emphasis added.

38 Amb. 4 (1044a-b).

39 See, e.g. On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy (CCSG 44); Amb. 21.12; Ep. 1 (389 a8-b9).

40 This explanation will be dealt with in the section on “honorable silence” in Maximus. I will say here, however, that I find it very implausible that a thinker of Maximus’ caliber simply did not have his theology of hell fully developed and so says very different things at different times regarding the subject. In my estimation, he knew exactly what he was doing in both his “hell” statements, and his universalist statements.

41 As for what does constitute Holy Tradition, one source beyond the seven ecumenical councils that would seem to offer clear authority would be the universal canonization of a particular person for defending a particular doctrine. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this would include saints like St. Mark of Ephesus, and St. Gregory Palamas. The Orthodox Church has not canonized anyone for either defeating or upholding the theologoumenon of universal salvation. Even with the canonized saints, it goes without saying that what these saints declared needs to be interpreted, and it is not always glaringly obvious what opinions of theirs they were canonized for upholding.

42 Amb. 42 (1332d), trans. Constas, 157, emphasis added.

43 Amb. 42 (1326d-1336c).

44 Gregory of Nazianzus has several statements pushing forth the idea of universal salvation without making his support of it explicit: “For all these fires belong to the destroying power, unless some prefer even here to understand this fire as showing more love to humankind, in a way worthy of the punisher,” from Or. 40:36; “God, who formed us when we were nothing, and formed us anew when we had afterward [in death] disintegrated: we will inherit either the fire or you, God, the originator of light; but if God, will it then some day be all of us? That is for another to decide.” (Poemata de seipso; PL 37:1010); “If he descends into hell, descend with Him. Learn to know the mysteries of Christ there also: what is the providential purpose of the twofold descent, to save all humans by his manifestation or there, too, only them that believe? (Or. 45.24, PG 36:357a).

The first quote is borrowed directly from Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope, Kindle Ed., n. 37, 82 percent. The second is translated by Nonna Verna Harrison, Festal Orations: Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), 132. The last quote was taken from Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 58.

For more explicit statements from Nazianzen in support of universalism, see Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 129-134. Perhaps Gregory’s strongest statement is in Or. 30.6.

45 C. Cels. VI, 26 (SC 3:242-44), in Origen, Against Celsus, trans. Frederick Crombie, D.D., in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, emphasis added. I also changed Crombie’s translation of aioniou kolaseus as “eternal punishment” to “age-enduring punishment,” since this fits better with Origen’s use of aionion elsewhere. Quoted in Balthasar, Dare We Hope, Kindle Ed., 71 percent.

46 Ad Thal. 21,8, trans. Constas, 148. 47 Ad Thal. 43.2, trans. Constas., 246.

48 Ibid.

49 Amb. 45.4, (PG 1353-1356a), trans. Constas, 199. Emphasis added.

50 Amb. 45.2 (PG 1352b), trans. Constas, 193.

51 Ad Thal. 21.2, trans. Constas.

52 See De Virg. 12, GNO VIII/1, 302; De hom. op. PG 44:188CD; De perf. GNO/VIII/1, 194-195. For more on this theme, see Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 118-19.

53 In Illud 14D, trans. Ramelli, 110-11.

54 In Illud 21 and 14D., trans. Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 110-11.

55 See Origen, Hom. In Jer. 11.16, Fr. In Ps. 18.6.

56 See his Commentary on Matthew, 18.

57 848e

58 Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 572.

59 Homilies on Ecclesiastes 2 (304.23), trans. Stuart George Hall and Rachel Moriarty (De Gruyter, 1993) 52-53. 60 Amb. 31 (1277c-d), trans. Constas.

61 Ad Thal. 21.8.

62 Ibid., trans. Constas

63 Ad Thal. 11.3, trans. Constas.

64 See Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy, 356.

65 Ad Thal. 36.1 and 36.9, trans. Constas.

66 Ibid., 50.14, trans. Constas.

67 Ibid., 55.2.

68 Ibid., 65.1, trans. Constas.

69 Cap. Theol. 2.9, trans. Sales, 111. Cf. Cap. Theol. 2.99, p. 179 in Sales.

70 Myst. 1060-70, trans. Armstrong, 93.

71 Ad Thal. 43.2, trans. Constas, 246, emphasis added.

72 See Balthasar’s lengthy footnote 21 in Dare We Hope, 99 percent, Kindle version.

73 Myst. 1060-70, trans. Armstrong, 93.

74 In Ps. 59 (PG 90, 857-A4-15), trans. by Andreas Andreopoulos in “Eschatology and final restoration (apokatastasis) in Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor,” in Theandros, Vol. 3, 2004.

75 Q. et Dub., 191, trans. Despina Prassas (Dekalb, IL: Northern University Press, 2010), 138.

76 See Sotiris Mitralexis, Ever Moving Repose: A Contemporary Reading of Maximus the Confessor’s Theory of Time (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017), see chapter 9 and 10. Though Mitralexis does not consider Maximus to be a universalist, he never says how an eternal hell could fit within Maximus’ trajectory of time. When Mitralexis discusses the concept of hell, he sees some passages in Maximus that point towards free will annihilationism and others that points towards an eternal conscious rejection of God, and he is unsatisfied with both options. See pp. 60-64.

77 E.g. Ecclesiastical Mystagogy (CCSG 44); Amb. 21.12; Ep. 1 (389 a8-b9).

78 E.g. Cent. On Love 1.71, cited in Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 747.

79 Poemata de seipso; PL 37:1010, trans. Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope, Kindle Ed., n. 37, 82 percent.

80 Gregory of Nazianzus Or. 30.6, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius, trans. Frederick Williams and Lionel Wickham (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 98.

81 Ibid.

82 Amb. 42 (1332d), trans. Constas, 157.

83 This is spoken of throughout my posts, but for one example, see Ad Thal 60.4, trans. Constas, 429. 84 Ad. Thal. 445-51, taken from Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 185.

85 Ad Thal. 2, trans. Constas, 98.

86 Amb. 41.11 (1313b-c), trans. Constas, 119.

87 Ad Thal. 61.13, trans. Constas, 444.

88 Amb. 7.31 (1092c). From Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 184. Emphasis added.

89 Ad Thal. 61.14, trans. Constas, 444-45.

90 Amb. 42.15, trans. Constas, 151.

91 Ibid.

92 Ad Thal. 61.15, trans. Constas, 445.

93 Private correspondence.

94 Ad Thal. 47.8, trans. Constas, 262.

95 Ibid.,

96 Q. et. Dub. 99, trans. Prassas, 96.

97 See Or. 39.15; PG 36: 365bc; PG 37:773 and 1010. See Ramelli’s discussion in Apokatastasis, 447-453. 98 Or. 40.36, trans. Nonna Verna Harrison, Festal Orations, 132. 99 Ibid.

100 It is important to note that Maximus never indicates that those who are evil enter the eighth day or sabbath celebration and simply experience God as hell, as David Bradshaw seems to suggest.

101 Amb. 65 (1392d), trans. is mainly Constas’s from The Ambigua Vol. II, 281, though I inserted a few words from Ramelli’s translation and took out Constas’s. Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 749.

102 Amb. 15 (1217c- 1220d), trans. Constas, 369, 371, 375. Emphasis added.

103 Q. et Dub. 13, PG 90:796AC. Trans. Balthasar, Dare We Hope, Location 2887 of 2937, Kindle Edition.

104 Amb. 7, (1073a-1073b), trans. Constas., 85. Emphasis added.

105 Cf. Amb. 60.4 and 9, Cap. Theol. 2.86.

106 Amb. 7 (1073c-1076a), trans. Constas, 87-89. Emphasis added.

107 Ad. Thal. 445-51, Cf. Amb. 41 (1309a-1313c).

108 Amb. 41.10 (1312c), trans. Constas, 116-17; Cf. Amb. 10.101 in Constas, 314-15; Amb. 17.4 (1225b-c) in Constas, 384-85; Ad Thal. 2, trans. Constas, 98.

109 See Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 751. 110 PG 91: 1116a-d.

111 Ad Thal. 11.3, trans. Constas, 121. In an ironic way, this passage seems to confirm that Maximus only associates Divine rest with the saved.

112 Ibid.

113 Ibid.

114 See Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 748-50 on the “eighth day.”

115 See G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, 848.

116 Of course, this being would mistake in some sense, evil for “the good,” rather than choosing evil as evil. 117 Amb. 65.3 (1392d), trans. Constas, 281.

118 Amb. 65.3 (1392c), trans. Constas, 279.

119 De Hom. Op. 21.2. Notice that beings aren’t saved through necessity, but evil, due its very nature, or by necessity, will never fully satisfy human desire, or for Gregory and Maximus, a being’s movement will never find its “rest” in evil.

120 I am following Andreopoulos in “Eschatology and final restoration (apokatastasis) in Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor,” and his suggestion regarding how Ad Thal. 22 may help to untangle the mysterious Amb. 65.

121 Q. et Dub. 159.

122 See Amb. 59.3 (1384c); Ad Thal. 7.2-3. In the passage in Ad Thal., he does specify that at least in 1 Peter 4:6, those being referred to were already “judged in the flesh,” so they might respond to Christ when he descended to Hades. However, as we have seen, Maximus sees the final judgment itself as ultimately salvific for “sinners.” Maximus also makes a very general statement in Ad Thal. 7 that Christ descended to hades to “save the dead,” without specifying a certain class of “the dead” who are beyond redemption.

123 Amb. 59.3 (1384c), 261.

124 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Third Edition) (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books. 2008), 218. Craig is summarizing George Tyrell’s Christianity at the Cross-Roads (London: Longman, Green, 1910), 44. The original quote was in the context of a summary of the results of the first and unsuccessful quest for the “historical Jesus.”

125 Thomas Hopko, foreword to The Orthodox Church, by Sergius Bulgakov, trans. revised by Lydia Kesich (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988), X. Emphasis added. Hopko did believe Bulgakov was mistaken in his universalism but not to a heretical extent.

(Go to “Hopeful Universalist?”)

* * *

Mark Chenoweth received his M.Div. and Th.M. from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and is currently an adjunct professor of theology at St. John’s University.

This entry was posted in Eschatology, Mark Chenoweth, Maximus the Confessor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to St Maximus the Universalist?

  1. Tom says:

    Mark, that was awesome. Thanks for the hard work. I’ll need a second thorough read for sure. In the meantime, one thought…

    Mark: In Amb. 41, Maximus states: “For nothing that is universal, or which contains something else … can be divided in any way by what is particular, contained, and individual. For that which does not draw together things that are naturally separated is no longer able to be generic, but rather divided up together with them and so departs from its original unity.” This strongly implies that only if every single “particular” of human nature is saved (i.e. every human being) can human nature itself be saved or restored.

    Tom: I’m struggling a bit with wondering how best to relate the necessity of final reconciliation qua ‘eventuality’ (i.e., that about Christ’s humanity which is the source and guarantee of the final union of all particulars) with the measure of individual beatitude available to glorified individual’s in the eschaton this side of the last individual’s arrival.

    That was poorly said, no doubt. Let try again. It’s one thing to say the salvation of some is undermined by the irrevocable loss of others. The ‘loss’ endures as a part of the truth known and instantiated by the ‘some’ who are saved. But it seems a different thing to say no individual can be saved until all are saved. The first obvious exception to this would be Christ himself, for his humanity is certainly both ‘particular’ (a particular instantiation of human nature) and ‘saved’ (in the sense of its being ‘fully realized’), and as particularly-fully realized it is thus the source of the same for all other particulars. But if ‘no particular human being’ is saved ‘until all are’, then how is Christ’s particular humanity the source and principle and life of all who are saved in him?

    Put crudely (but in a sense we can hardly ignore), what are we supposed to imagine the resurrected glorified beatitude of an individual to be in the absence of that last yet-to-yield wicked person? We certainly enjoy the transforming vision of Christ ‘now’ in spite of others who reject Christ. Indeed, one aspect of the individuating of Christ within one’s life (“I, not I, but Christ”) involves discovering who Christ is and can be to me in spite of others who reject Christ – Christ present in the human heart. What exactly might it mean to say glorified individuals who behold Christ will nevertheless fail to enjoy him as they might otherwise because ‘some’ have yet to join? What I can imagine is fully enjoy Christ with others knowing that ‘eventually’ the rest will join. But this is quite different from saying the enjoyment of Christ itself awaits their arrival.

    (Too tired to check my post for typoze!)


    • Mark Chenoweth says:


      Fortunately, all I had to do above was say what I think Maximus thought! If you asked him what is supposed to happen to all the purified while they are waiting on everyone else, who knows what he might say!

      Just for the record, I would probably put myself in the camp of a “confident hope,” which best fits with where Brad Jersak seems to be at and Andreopoulos as well. I also think Ware has been interpreted to be almost “agnostic” on whether all will be saved, and that seems to be incorrect. In his famous article, he characterizes Nyssa as having a “confident hope,” and also says that we can have a “confident hope.” That’s not agnosticism. Unfortunately, the way he ends the article does sound like agnosticism and I think that’s made a lot of people confused. Andreopoulos says that universal salvation seems like “almost a certainty” in light of God’s providence and love. I know such a position doesn’t satisfy Hart’s powerful logic and I’m alright with that.

      Anyways, your point about Christ being perfect NOW is an interesting one. I wonder if we can speak about this in terms of already/not yet. If universalism IS true, maybe Fr John Behr’s intro to his translation of On First Principles helps:

      It is, I would suggest, an apocalyptic vision created by the intersection of eternity and time, with the former opened up to us in and through the Passion of Christ, while we yet remain in the latter. We are, simultaneously, in both; and we are brought into close approximation with our true being, now “hidden with Christ in God,” in the earthly liturgy, which is an image of the heavenly liturgy. Our end, in Christ, is to be a participant in the heavenly court, celebrating the heavenly liturgy in the eternity of God; and although this will only be a “present reality,” as it were, for us after our sojourn (and being fashioned) upon earth, yet as an eternal reality, we are always already there, and have always been so. For our election or calling by God precedes our formation and our eventual creation. Moreover, our “place” in the heavenly court is determined by our choices in this life. Yet,. that is a reality that nevertheless “precedes” our place in this life in this world, and so in Origen’s terms, it determines our place in this life as an “antecedent cause,” enabling us, through this life governed by the economy of God, to be perfected in him in the end in him.” pg lxxxviii

      Maximus speaks in almost identical terms about the intersection of eternity and time, and so perhaps in one sense, our “being saved” could “precede” our life in this world. After all, Maximus says that the ever moving rest/sabbath/eighth day is “one perpetual day.”

      I hope Dr. Jordan Wood doesn’t mind me quoting his email to me: “In fact, given the way the ‘Sabbath’ is said to possess ‘neither beginning, nor end, nor created origin (genesis),’ it reminds me of the ‘beginningless works’ of God described in CT 1.48-50, and Melchizedek’s deified state which renders him “vaulted over every time and age…the divine Melchizedek unfolded his intellect to the divine, beginningless, immortal divine rays of God the Father….” (Amb 10.44).

      Though he doesn’t see Maximus as a universalist, Sotiris Mitralexis explains Maximus’ understanding of time very well, and we could see how this would help us understand Maximus’ universalism.

      Does any of that help?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Mark, thanks again. I’m doing such a poor job of explaining myself. I should begin by saying I do agree all are eventually saved. So I don’t mean to call that part into question. And I suspect too this was Maximus’ true belief.

        My question was about the nature of individual participation in final rest vis-à-vis the fact that some may not have yet have reconciled to this. If we understand ‘being saved’ as theosis (rest from all deliberative movement of the will, the beatific vision and the experienced beatitude of such a state), then I don’t understand the sense in which that is diminished for those in Christ so long as (per DBH) a single sinner remains unreconciled to Christ. This part of Hart’s argument is escaping me. As I say, I fully grant that personhood is an irreducibly relational reality (we are ‘interdividuals’ as opposed to ‘individuals’). No single individual can make the journey from origin to end in God without others, without all the social dynamics of development and relations fully engaged and redeemed, glorified. But that all this qua ‘salvation’ is held captive for all glorified human beings by that last rebellious sinner who has yet to surrender?

        Personally, I don’t think any other human being can stand inside another to ‘co-constitute’ the Spirit’s introduction of the Son’s personal ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom 8.15) in the human heart. However much others share their experience of the same, and celebrate it, and worship God in the sharing of it, and however better it is that all share it rather than 99 out of 100, that’s not to say the experienced beatitude of the 99 remains ‘on hold’ (so to speak) until the 1 is on board.

        I can see how a ‘relational anthropology’ makes morally impossible the beatitude of the 99 who know that final 1 is irrevocably lost to God and them. I can’t see how such an ontology undermines the beatitude knowing that this final 1 ‘will eventually’ join the party. I’m trying to find out if Hart is arguing the latter.

        Sorry for being so unclear.



    • Tom says:

      Next to last sentence: What I can imagine is fully *enjoying* Christ…

      I’m not even gonna scan for other mistakes.

      As Maximus said (Chapter 401 of his Chapters on Love): Όσο υπάρχουν αναρτήσεις ιστολογίου με τυπογραφικά λάθη σε αυτά, καμία δημοσίευση ιστολογίου χωρίς τυπογραφικά λάθη δεν έχει πραγματικά τέλεια ορθογραφία.

      Translation: “As long as there are any blog posts with typos in them, no blog post without typos has truly perfect spelling.”


  2. santascoffee says:

    I look forward in hope to the opportunity to digest this long article. Meanwhile, that’s a nice icon at the top of the page, but it’s of this much later Athonite saint:


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Oh, no. I got this from a well-known Orthodox site that identified it as the Confessor. I will make a change!


  3. Pingback: Universalism after 553? – Orthodox Diary

  4. Jonathan says:

    A thoroughgoing and consistent Preterism is capable of establishing universalism as a pillar of soteriology in the Orthodox Church I am an Orthodox Christian in ROCOR):

    As far as I can tell, only one text in the Bible points to the future (postmillennial) return of Christ – when the fullness of the new heavens and new earth arrive, when the New Jerusalem descends out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:1-2, 10).

    All other texts in the Gospels, Epistles, and Revelation regarding the judgment, the coming of the Son of Man, the Day of the Lord, the last days, the second temple, etc. are with direct reference to the first century (i.e., the Parousia in 70 AD).

    Please hear me out, if you will:

    Both Daniel (esp. Dan. 7) as well as John (in the Apocalypse, esp. Rev. 19:20-20:4) could not be any clearer in declaring that the millennial kingdom was established AFTER the destruction of the Beast. The beast is not a fixture of the Millennium, though the Church obviously continues to do battle with enemies.

    The majority of Orthodox people hold to a strange hybrid of quasi-Dispensational theology (we are somehow still contending with the beast) and Amillennialism (the beast remains active now, during the Millennium).

    It should be obvious by now that Christ’s Olivet Discourse must be linked directly to Dan 12. A comparison of Dan. 12:1 with Matt. 24:21 alone makes this manifestly clear. But if that is the case, then the general resurrection of the dead out of Hades – of both the righteous and the wicked (Dan. 12:2) – began at that time. And the wicked did not remain in Hades. They went to Gehenna.

    Thus, Matt 24-25 is a unified, harmonious, continuous narrative that refers to the beginning of the judgment and millennial reign of the saints in 70 AD at the Parousia. The Millennium is characterized by the ONGOING separation of the wheat and tares, the sheep and the goats.

    The implications of the general resurrection being a process that begins in the middle of history rather than at the end of time are enormous:

    Compare Rev. 7:13-15 w/ Rev. 19:20-20:4. The martyrs who came out of the “great tribulation” (7:14) and started serving in the “temple of God” “day and night” are those who did not worship the beast or his image, and who did not take his mark upon themselves (20:4).

    In Rev. 14:9-11, those who did worship the beast and receive his mark are in torments “day and night forever and ever”. The beast and false prophet were at that time also cast into the lake of fire (19:20), which coincided with Satan’s millennial binding (20:2-3).

    Rev. 20 is not a recapitulation of what immediately preceded. We know this because Dan. 7:9-11 shows: (1) thrones set up (vs. 9), the books open (vs. 10), and the beast delivered to the burning flame (vs. 11). Rev. 19-20 are bound together by the fact that the beast is cast into the lake of fire (19:20) and the thrones are set up (20:4).

    So here is what we see:

    The martyrs serve with “day and night” in the “temple of God” (Rev. 7:15) as “priests of God and of Christ” (Rev. 20:6), while those who worshiped the beast (together with the beast) are in torments “day and night” (Rev. 14:11).

    Hell has a terminus. We know this because the heavenly temple that is a fixture of the millennial reign ceases to exist in the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21:22), AND the day/night (sun/moon) cycle ceases at the same time (cf. Rev. 21:23-25; 22:5).

    Further, we know that even Satan himself will be among the redeemed eventually because of Rev. 20:10. After the millennium, during his short release, he deceives the nations, gathers the armies of Gog & Magog and surrounds the “beloved city” (20:9, the earthly Jerusalem) after the conversion of the Jews per Ezekiel 38-39 and Rom. 11. God destroys Satan and his armies at this time, casting Satan into the “lake of fire” where he remains in torment “day and night forever and ever” [ages of ages] (20:10).

    So I take from this that the New Jerusalem does not descend out of heaven from God immediately after the battle with Gog & Magog. There will be more history first, during which time Satan will be undergoing purgation one Gehenna. When Satan is cast into the lake of fire, he goes “where the beast and the false prophet [already] are” (20:10).

    The Son of Man receives the kingdom from the Ancient of Days in AD 70 (Dan. 7:14; I Cor. 15:23). The postmillennial return of Christ is Christ delivering the kingdom back to the Father (I Cor. 15:24).

    Now we have a (universalist) foundation for interpreting Rev. 20:5: “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished”. The “rest of the dead” are the wicked undergoing the “second death”; they are set apart from the righteous during the Millennium who participate in the “first resurrection” (20:5b) unto blessedness. These will all “live again” when the thousand years are finished.

    So the wicked do not receive an incorruptible body to suffer in during their purgation in Gehenna. We have been misinterpreting Matt. 10:28. Rather, when the wicked are released from the second after “Death and Hades” are “cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14), they will receive (together with the millennial saints) the immortal and incorruptible body of Paul in I Cor. 15, which is just the capstone on (or completion of) the resurrection.


  5. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It seems to me, if the article and the universalists are right, that the universalist Church Fathers’ “honourable silence” was far from honourable, and a great mistake, in that it allowed infernalism to become the settled opinion of the majority of the church, against what it appears to have been before, to the great detriment of the Church and the Christian faith.
    I hesitate to criticise a saint, but it seems an unfortunately prideful and superior attitude towards ordinary Christians to say that they can’t cope with a truth that to Maximus and others inspires them to seek God.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Iain, I have to agree with you. Hindsight, of course, is always 20/20, but the decision to keep apokatastasis under wraps effectively abandoned the evangelical ground to the moralistic threat of eternal torment. Once that occurred, the gospel proclamation was reduced to conditional promise and works righteousness (ascetic and moral). It’s been an evangelical disaster. The amazing thing is how Christ and his absolute has managed to shine through all the distortion and make himself known in grace and liberating power.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mark Chenoweth says:

        I think Maximus and the Nazianzen would look back and regret their opaqueness on this topic.

        I think they would be saddened by priests giving sermons against it in their parishes.

        Eriugena seems to have noticed Maximus’ universalism but most everyone else up until modern times seems to have missed it. I do think church history would look different had Maximus spoken with the boldness of the Nyssen on the topic.

        Not sure why they thought hell had to be eternal for it be a deterrent. I find Sergius Bulgakov and Isaac the Syrian’s discussion of hell absolutely terrifying. What could be more terrifying than the light of Christ showing us just how much our sins have marred his beautiful image in us? This would only need to last an instant for us to regret every sin we’ve ever committed, and yet Nyssa and the Syrian seem to envision long ages of confronting our sinfulness face-to-face while Christ’s perfect image burns away the chaff. What could possibly be more painful than this? I just don’t see why hell has to be eternal to be terrifying.

        The Nyssen has a great passage where he speaks of the terrors of hell right alongside of his universalism. I’m trying to find it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Well, Iain, if that’s what the “honorable silence” was, recall a few things. Maximus belonged to a long classical tradition of teaching and discipleship in which it was assumed (not unreasonably) that persons require intellectual and spiritual formation in order to prepare themselves for the “inmost mysteries.” More to the point, Maximus did not live in the fourth century, when it was possible for someone like Gregory of Nyssa to speak openly as a universalist or someone like Gregory of Nazianzus to speak elliptically, as either deemed appropriate. Recall that he was imprisoned and tortured, then had his tongue torn out and his right hand hacked away, then died in exile as a result of his injuries, all over a rather recherché point of Christology that set him at odds with imperial policy. In the circumstances of his time, it would have been odd for him to expose his disciples to institutional disfavor of any kind.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        Fair enough for Maximus himself, and I apologise for slighting him. My understanding, though, is that the same reluctance to let the plebs know the good news for fear that they would get uppity was quite prevalent among many even back in the day when universalism was a common and perfectly respectable opinion to hold.


      • Tom says:

        I have to say, David, how good it is to see you well enough to engage. We all heard you were quite ill and we’ve kept you in our prayers.


      • Mark Chenoweth says:

        It does seem to me that the 543 council did intend to condemn some type of universalism, and even though it wasn’t ecumenical, I’m sure Justinian’s presence was still felt by Maximus long after the emperor’s death.

        I see this as another reason for his “honorable silence,” and considered mentioning it in the blog post but I figured it was long enough without it.


      • apoorcatinstasis says:

        Apart from the points you make here, and those already made by other people responding to Ian, I think the question is complicated by the fact that it is not only “ordinary Christians” (if by that one means non-theologians), who sometimes have trouble reconciling reasons for following Christ with the denial of an eternal punishment for failing to do so. I have certainly come across many seemingly very intelligent Christians (including philosophers and theologians, as well as others with a sophisticated grasp of their tradition) who still make the absurd claim that in the absence of the threat of hell there would be no reason to be a Christian or to refrain from doing whatever one wants, however sinful. So, while I I sympathise with Ian’s concern, and do find such silence troubling, it seems to me that the question of what would actually have happened if the vast majority of Christians had, from the beginning, been formed by a universalist faith is a serious one. I would very much like to believe that the effect of a more beautiful and coherent message would have transformed historical humanity more powerfully and broadly than the threat of hell, and avoided many of the religious and social pathologies that stem from infernalism. But who knows?

        This brings me to a question that seems to me related, and I would very much like to know your thoughts on this, David. Recently, a still rather inchoate intuition came to me that there is some deep link between infernalism and integralism. This may seem like a leap, but it seems to me that the question of possible pedagogical reasons for concealing, or even denying, universalism, is not unrelated to the question of how far one is willing to countenance coercion. Everyone, apart from some impossibly pure theoretical libertarian, accepts some degree of coercion, and admits that there are cases in which coercion (or at least something that is experienced as coercion by the one undergoing it) may be in the best interests of a person (whether they at first recognise this or not) in forming them so that they are able to freely recognise certain truths and the necessity of changing their behaviour in a certain way.

        A lot of the debate about integralism seems to be about the degree to which coercion is acceptable. But the more fundamental question seems to be whether one understands it as always only a partial good (or, perhaps, more strongly, a necessary evil). In this sense, infernalism seems to represent a picture of the ultimate state of the cosmos and of humanity in its relation with God, that corresponds to a sort of pure, fully realised integralism, of a certain sort, in which coercion is eternalised and seen not as a transitory, pragmatic necessity, but as a good in and of itself: either in the form of punishment on the part of God, without any restorative function, or, in the form of self-coercion (if one thinks of damnation solely in terms of the damned “choosing hell”). With regard to the latter, what I mean is that as long as an infernalist still holds onto the classical conception of freedom, and is not wholeheartedly libertarian, they seem to be committed to a sort of incoherent vision in which the damned engage in a completely irrational violence against themselves (they act against their true freedom and good). In this sense, the infernalist seems, after all, to treat coercion (here, self-coercion) as a good, in the sense that they accept that it is right and proper for God to allow such a possibility.

        In any case, the core of my intuition is that the question of whether there is some justification for concealing, or even opposing, universalism provides the most extreme limit case for any consideration of the nature and merits of coercion. One of the things I have long found puzzling about the integralist case (I’m thinking of someone like Vermeule), is that it is not altogether clear what they want, over and above what already exists (at least in the Catholic church), since the threat of an eternal hell (so long as one really believes in it) is clearly the most extreme possible form of coercive deterrent. I suspect some of them would say that they want an increase in coercion of a more mundane sort, because most people are insufficiently sincere in their belief in an eternal hell, and that they require other, more immediate forms of coercion to be kept to the straight and narrow. But that said, the deeper theoretical issue seems to be more perfectly illustrated in relation to the question of whether it was not only understandable (given the historical and theological context) for the majority of the Church to reject universalism (and for a part of the minority to conceal it), but also whether it was in some sense pragmatically necessary. I am completely convinced of the truth of universalism, and my deepest inclination is certainly answer this question with a no, but I don’t yet feel able to do so with complete equanimity.


  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    “There was no universalist saint after the fifth ecumenical council (553 CE) because it con­demned universalism as heresy!”

    Technically, this opening statement is false, given that St Isaac the Syrian was born a half-century after Constantinople II. I suppose that he doesn’t count, though, given that he and his Church did not recognize the imperial council as in any way binding upon them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mark Chenoweth says:

    Fr Aidan,

    I suppose you’re right!

    He was canonized by a church that accepted the fifth council though, so that’s interesting. Did the church that canonized him not recognize his universalism? Did they see it as acceptable still? His canonization is an interesting question. I don’t know much about him, but his “part 2” would have been available for people to read back then, right? It was only “lost” in recent times…is that right?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Isaac’s universalist homilies (contained in what is now called “The Second Part” were never translated into Greek. Hence both the Byzantine and Latin Churches remained ignorant of his universalism. For this reason there are many Orthodox who insist that the Second Part is a forgery, not on scholarly grounds but on pious grounds.


  8. danaames says:

    Thank you, Mark. The length of the read was more than mitigated by your clarity of expression 🙂 I agree with you that there will be nothing more painful than fully confronting the depth of the consequences of our turning away from God, in beholding Christ. That thought restrains me (if I am restrained from sin at all) more than anything about the common understanding of “hellfire”. May God grant that it will only last a split second!

    I’ve been enjoying hearing Fr John Behr’s latest lectures, and the prospect of eventual union with God as the telos for which we were created connects so wonderfully as part of the unfolding of the meaning of The Passion (Cross+Resurrection). There is so much Good News to announce!



    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dana, what lectures by Fr Behr are you referring to?


      • danaames says:

        There’s a set of them on YouTube that he gave during Advent at Little Portion Hermitage, John Michael Talbot’s place in AK. Fr John had time in 10 sessions (!) to pretty much fully explicate all he’s written about Christian Anthropology in the past 5 years or so. It’s the same talk he always gives in this kind of venue, but with much more detail and clarity leading from one conclusion to the next – the multiple big-picture connections that my brain groks.

        p.s. I’m still mulling over the “without blood there is no forgiveness of sins” thing. I know the good news is there to be explicated; I just don’t know yet how to put it into words a Protestant theologian could consider, without writing a whole thesis. I’ve been out of that world for a long time now, and I feel hampered by not knowing Greek. Anyway, I’m hopeful God will help me at some point 🙂



  9. John H says:


    Following up on your allusion to Eriugena above, do you think that an analogous situation is found in the section of Periphyseon, Book V where he seems to affirm the eternity of hell? Like Amb. 65, which as you point out, contradicts Maximus’ theology if interpreted literally, the Hell Portion of Periphyseon Book V contradicts Eriugena’s thesis that all of creation must finally return to That which neither creates nor is created, God as Final Cause.

    I believe that many scholars think that the Hell portion of Periphyseon Book V may actually be a later interpolation. But even if that is not so I can think of several reasons why it should not be interpreted as advocating the notion of eternal hell. Firstly, as with Amb. 65, it creates an eternal dualism between God and phantasmogoric illusions that persist eternally in the minds of the damned–Eriugena conceived hell as attachment by the will to illusory desires based upon the sins committed during one’s lifetime. Secondly, again, as with your interpretation of Amb. 65, It implies that the souls of the reprobate must in a sense find their final rest in wicked desires, which is precisely what the phantasms to which their wills are attached represent. But this contradicts the fundamental tenet of classical Christianity that the will can find its rest only in the Good as such, one of the names of the God of classical Christianity.

    Do you believe that there was also an “honorable silence” motive involved with Eriugena’s exposition? Might the Hell text in Periphyseon V been meant for those who were less spiritually mature? Could it have also been a nod towards Augustine–a primary influence on Eriugena’s thought? In other words, he could not conceive of not including a section in the Periphyseon expostulating on eternal hell as taught by Augustine?

    How do Eriugenian scholars deal with the Hell portion of Periphyseon V today? I do hope theat Eriugena is actually a universalist since we both share the same ethnic background and it would be comforting to know that an early Irish scholar got this one right! Thanks for this profoundly enlightening article.


  10. Mark Chenoweth says:

    John H,

    I have absolutely no knowledge of Eriugena whatsoever. The extent of my reading of him is only through a cursory skim of Ramelli’s chapter on him in her “A Larger Hope,” and references Balthasar has made to him. I do have a friend who did his PhD on Eriugena though. I have no idea if he is partial to the greater hope, but I can see if he wants to answer your questions.

    Anyone else, feel free to jump in.


  11. Jeff says:

    Didn’t Daley already do piece on this ?

    Brian E. DALEY 5J: Apokatastasis and «Honorable Silence» in the Eschatology of Maximusthe Confessor .. ”

    Blowers research confirms Daley’s reading too.


    • Mark Chenoweth says:


      I mention Daley more than once in the article above. If I thought what he wrote was sufficient on the subject, I wouldn’t have written this.

      And I wouldn’t exactly put Blowers in the same camp as Daley. He sees Maximus as probably the FIRST hopeful universalist.

      It’s not exactly clear what he thinks about the “honorable silence” in his book on Maximus. All he says is that Daley finds Balthasar’s arguments implausible, but Balthasar has responded in kind, yet some of Balthasar’s conclusions are far-fetched.

      I think Maximus was a much more confident universalist than Blowers does, but I don’t see Blowers’ conclusions as completely opposed to my own.

      Lastly, you can’t dismiss an entire piece of work by saying, “hasn’t someone already written on this?”

      That’s like dismissing Bauckham’s “Jesus’ and the Eyewitnesses” by saying, “hasn’t Bultmann already written on this?” (Not that I think what I wrote here at all compares to Bauckham’s stunning book.) Yes, Bultmann wrote on it, and Bauckham responded with a tour-de-force.

      Rather than dismissing what I wrote by saying, “that’s been done before,” is there anything in particular you don’t find convincing in the article? If Maximus was not a universalist, I want to know!

      Thanks Jeff

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff says:

        His book on psalm 59 , oh 249 and Blowers says “And yet some of von Balthasar’s conclusions are overdrawn. For example, in Questions and Responses to Thalassius 47 Maximus imagines the Logos (Christ) speaking through Paul, as becoming all things to all human (p.250) beings, so that I might save all (1 Cor. 9:22). Maximus’ New Testament text has the variant “all” ( πάντας‎) rather than “some” ( τινάς‎). Von Balthasar understands this passage at face value as supporting universal salvation, but ignores the larger passage in which it is found, where Maximus stresses how the Logos becomes all things to all human beings “ proportionately in each one” ( κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν ἐκάστου‎).


        • Mark Chenoweth says:

          Right. This is where I think Blowers mistakes Maximus’ language as indicating that some here are damned because Maximus said “proportionately in each one.” But the Nyssen speaks similarly. Both the Nyssen’s and Maximus’s understanding of “ever moving rest” seems to presuppose that each individual will have different degrees of RIGHTEOUSNESS, since in both of their visions, all creatures move perpetually toward God, but we all started at a different place and so we aren’t all at the same place in our level of perfection, once universal salvation has been achieved. Our perfection is ever increasing because God’s perfection is infinite. We are individuals after all, yet the great mass of human nature will indeed be healed.

          In the portion you quote from in Ad Thal. 47, Maximus says NOTHING about sinners. God is only “all in all” in respect to the righteous, because sinners no longer exist. Yet, of course, proportionately in each one.

          He says the same thing in ad thal 61: God becomes

          ’all in all’ in proportion to their righteousness … where will the impious man and sinner appear? For ‘where’ will one, who is unable to receive the presence of God, actualized in the state of well-being ‘appear’ after having suffered separation from the divine life, which transcends age, time and place?89

          See how he talks about God being “all in all” in proportion to people’s righteousness, AND THEN CONTRASTS this with the lot of a sinner? He says a sinner’s place is in fact, “nowhere,” when God is “all in all.” And I highly doubt that’s because Maximus thinks God annihilated them.

          You will try in vain to find any “sinners” in the section that Blowers quotes from in Ad Thal. 47. Just righteous or “worthy” in different proportions. I think Maximus meant what he said here when he says, God “becomes ‘all things in all’ that He might ‘save all through the riches of his goodness.’”95

          Where do you think I’ve gone wrong in this assessment?

          Something that would greatly weaken my case is if someone could point out a passage where Maximus speaks of God being “all in all” at the end of all the ages, in both sinners and righteous. Though I don’t think it would completely destroy my case, it would definitely weaken it. He speaks about all humanity experiencing God at the Parousia and some experience him as bliss and some as torture, but he doesn’t seem to associate this with God being “all in all” from Corinthians. This seems to come later after purification of the sinners.


          • Jeff says:

            Well, Maximus does keep the tension ( I think universalists use All in All in ways Maximus doesn’t ) M Ambigua 42 uses that tension ;

            …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 increase of punishment for those who cannot share,’ and of enjoyment for those who can share “

            Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff says:

        I was thinking when I read your post about participation vs knowledge that Daley’s dealt with that already ;

        This phrase is usually translated: by knowledge, not by a participation in the
        (divine) goods»: cf. SHERWOOD, Taken that way, it would suggest that Maximus is making a subtle refinement in Gregory’s understanding of apokatastasis, in order to make it doctrinally acceptable: presenting it no longer as the restoration of every fallen soul to full union with God, but simply as the restoration of every soul’s original power to know God. Such an apokatastasis could conceivably be compatible with a doctrine of final damnation for unrepentant sinners. This interpretation does not seem warranted by the Greek text, however, which simply contrasts knowledge with the sharing of goods . As far as I know the neuter plural substantive is never used by Greek Christian writers to refer to the uncreated goodness of God, but rather precisely for created goods, whether earthly or heavenly.


    • Mark Chenoweth says:

      Also, just thinking about this.

      Something that pretty much ALL modern Maximus scholars agree on, as far as I can tell, is his absence of a direct criticism of the doctrine of universal salvation. Daley acknowledges this, as well as Balthasar, Blowers, and Ramelli. Though Daley doesn’t think Maximus held out much hope for a universal reconciliation, they all agree that Maximus’ changes to the “Origenian” system were not really changes that dealt with universalism, but with the Neo-Evagrianism condemned in the 553 anathemas.

      For an Eastern Orthodox Christian, this (probably) consensus is very interesting, because as I say in the piece, it seems to imply (whether Maximus was a universalist or not) that Maximus didn’t see the 553 anathemas as addressing universalism. Which means that holding to universalism would be permitted for an Orthodox Christian.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff says:

        I mean, to be honest one has to deal with all those gloomy hell passages that Daley quotes, along with Maximus’ ever – ill being, what well being means in Maximus’ etc., … and that honorable silence has universalism as it’s subject matter is ineffably weird


        • Mark Chenoweth says:


          1. What you quote in Amb. 42 doesn’t seem to me an instance where Maximus refers God being “all in all.” Again, he makes a distinction between those who CAN participate and those who cannot. What are we supposed to do with the passages where says ALL PARTICIPATE?

          He also does not say “panta en pasin,” or a rough equivalent, which he usually says when referring to the last of all eschatological horizons, but just “kai pasin aplos eauton axiois te kai anaxiois.” Constas doesn’t see it as a reference to 1 Cor. either, since he usually puts scripture passages in parenthesis.

          This seems to support the idea that Maximus foresees two eschatological horizons, one where God first offers himself to all beings and his presence is a “punishment” to those who cannot participate, and a second eschatological horizon after this where God is all in all, embracing all, and giving substance to all after those in Gehenna have peen purifiied through long ages.

          In this passage in Amb. 42, he speaks of people who have used their motion against nature, but not in his universalist passages. In those, he says all motion against God has finally been abolished.

          He also speaks of universal participation in more than one passage. If there is not a second eschatological horizon, where those who have used their motion against nature are eventually restored to God, then Maximus definitely seems to be contradicting himself on multiple occasions. Unless he simply sees the two as different possibilities. But this is not how either Nazianzus or Nyssa understood things, and Maximus followed them very faithfully.

          2. I don’t really disagree that much with Daley’s assessment of Maximus’ use of Gregory’s apokatastasis in q. et dub. He says that Maximus presented three understandings of apokatastasis he found acceptable while leaving the question of universal salvation unaddressed. However, I don’t think Daley would say that every instance where Maximus uses the word participation, it ISN’T meant to refer to any type of salvation. Is that what you’re implying? Where could we verify Maximus actually speaks of salvation then? Almost nowhere, since he speaks of enjoyment or participation in many other instances, and most scholars I know of don’t question that Maximus is referring to salvation in these passages.

          3. I spend the equivalent of 10 pages in Microsoft Word in the above article dealing with Maximus’ honorable silence. Your response is: It’s “ineffably weird.” Surely this isn’t sufficient. Can you read through what I wrote in the article above again, from beginning to end, and point out where you think I go wrong in my reasoning?

          4. I spend the equivalent of about 20 PAGES in Word (see the above article) going through Maximus’ “gloomy hell passages,” and spent a considerable amount of time on his “eternal ill being.” I did “deal” with them, as you say. Is there something about the way I dealt with them in the above article you find implausible? Please read the article in its fullness again, because a lot of the things you are saying I at least tried answering thoroughly in the article above . You write as if they’ve gone unaddressed. I do want substantial criticism here, because I want to know the truth. If Maximus was a universalist, this is a pretty big deal.

          Thanks Jeff.

          Liked by 4 people

          • Jeff says:

            Mark ; Ok I read that long paper , probably too many assumptions that I disagree with , But!…., you’ve covered a lot of material. I leave you with this ( il have to read Jordan’s posts )

            Quest 59 ;

            … the divine and incomprehensible pleasure of God, which God inherently brings about by nature when He unites Himself according to grace to those who are worthy. When, on the other hand, I say “things that are contrary to nature,” I mean the privation of grace producing unspeakable pain and suffering, which God is accustomed to bring about by nature when He unites Himself contrary to grace to those who are unworthy. For God, in a manner known only to Himself, by uniting Himself to all in accordance with the quality of the disposition that underlies each, imparts perception to each one, inasmuch as each one was formed by Himself for the reception of Him who at the end of the ages will be completely united to all.

            …and Daley’s conclusion ;
            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.

            Your paper can’t live with the tension , It doesn’t have to be that simplistic


        • jordandanielwood says:

          A few thoughts:

          First, as is true with any Christian universalist, to say Maximus might have at least thought it licit to believe in universal salvation need not at all mean that he deny Hell, divine judgment, etc. The question is rather whether those things are final in the way deification itself is–that is, are they ends in themselves (and final ones at that) or are they at least conditions that might give way to a greater end. The fact that, as Mark has carefully shown, one can find clear instances of the latter in Maximus as well as Hell passages suggests that one can read Maximus quite comfortably in the latter sense. In fact, that seems to be just what Maximus is doing in QThal 61, as Mark explains.

          Second, no universalist reading of Maximus denies Maximus’s emphasis on synergy. It won’t do to observe simply that Maximus thinks deification comes by way of our own free activity in virtue and goodness and God’s other “beginningless works,” as if this alone undermines the idea that all will eventually be deified by each’s own free cooperation in deifying grace. The grace-nature or grace-works relation is one thing, the eschatological outcome of that relation is another. These need not be confused. In fact, Maximus himself was so emphatic about the “one divine activity” that “solely” deifies the human being (Amb 7) that even he had to clarify his meaning in such a way as to show that he did not deny synergy (Opusc 1)–but that is quite a distinct, though not irrelevant, concern. One needs to do more work than simply noting synergy in order to make this a convincing argument about the eschatological result of such synergy. To put it bluntly: both universalists (Nyssen) & infernalists alike can be synergists here, so it doesn’t advance the discussion to note this fact about Maximus.

          Third and related, Maximus’s language about “proportion” or “in proportion to” (kata ten analogian) in no way implies a definite eschatological view. His point is nearly always that an expressed activity is expressed principally according to the character of the medium that expresses it. Analogy in Maximus always means “in the way X uniquely can express” this or that activity. One might compare this to the body-soul relation in oneself: different parts of the body “express” the vital energy of the soul “according to their own unique character” or “in proportion to” (kata ten analogian) the sort of part it is. My face expresses my soul in one way, my big toe in another: and yet surely both parts possess and are identical with my one soul to the same extent; they just express my life “in their own unique way.” This is why Maximus can speak of “analogy” or “proportion” even when he envisions the eschatological self-distribution of the Word in deified creation, i.e., in the fully realized, cosmic Body of Christ:

          “…who is truly able to contain all things, and who, to all who are worthy of His grace, *in proportion to* the quality and quantity of each one’s virtue, divides Himself indivisibly in the form, as it were, of different distributions, without in any way being separated into parts among those who share in Him…. And this is true even if, owing to the different degrees of worthiness among those who share in Him, He paradoxically appears in a separate manner within the many shares, according to the ineffable union (which the Word knows)” (Amb 10.85; cf. QThal 2).

          So the fact that the God who will be “all in all” will be expressed “in proportion to” each creature–what and who and how it is in its uniqueness–indicates only that the individuality and integral character of each creature will perdure even in its ineffable union with the Word who incarnates in that creature. It says nothing about the final fate of any particular creature. For that, one would need to consider the many other passages that do seem to envision the Word’s being fully expressed–as soul in an enlivened Body–in each and every member of the cosmic Body, which Mark has done here. And then the picture sways fairly clearly in the direction that Maximus’s entire vision, even if sometimes circumspect, tends towards universal salvation–or, as I think he’d prefer, to the fullness of Christ’s Body being really and truly realized.

          And even if Maximus’s were only a “hopeful” universalism, Mark’s fundamental point stands: Maximus, at least, didn’t think such a hope would contradict Constantinople II. That is, whatever universal salvation “might” in fact be achieved would not have been–de facto–what was condemned at that Council.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Thanks for joining the discussion, Jordan. For those who are unacquainted with Dr Jordan Wood, he wrote his dissertation on St Maximus.


          • Mark Chenoweth says:

            Thanks Jordan.

            I knew that Maximus’ language of being “in proportion,” at least in some of his passages, couldn’t mean “some are in hell,” but I’m glad you clarified what he actually means by this. I wonder if his constant use of this phrase, is again, is to be in contrast with the neo-Evagrian idea that at the end, there won’t be any distinction between persons or Christ:

            14. If anyone says that there will be one henad of all rational beings, when the hypostases and numbers are annihilated together with bodies, and that knowledge about rational beings will be accompanied by the destruction of the universe, the shedding of bodies, and the abolition of names, and there will be identity of knowledge as of hypostases, and that in this mythical restoration there will be only pure spirits, as there were in their nonsensical notion of pre-existence, let him be anathema.

            Maybe that is what Maximus is protesting, especially the annihilation of hypostases and numbers. Reading through these anathemas again, Hart definitely seems on the right track as describing the beliefs condemned here as the product of a long night’s assault on the distillery. Are we sure The Beatles didn’t do a movie about this in their Yellow Submarine phase?

            Liked by 2 people

          • Jeff says:

            Yes, The last point on scholia in Question 61 sums it up


        • Mark Chenoweth says:


          Sorry! For some reason, WordPress isn’t allowing me to reply directly to your last post. But here is my reply:

          Now we’re talking! Thanks for reading the article. Ok. You responded quite broadly, which is fine. I’ll do the same.

          This “tension” you speak of seems more like a modern invention of Balthasar and Ware than something we find in Origen, or Nyssen, or even Nazianzen. It seems like Balthasar speaks of this tension more as something he personally sees rather than something Nyssa or Maximus see in scripture.

          As I point out in the piece, both the Nyssen and Nazianzen saw two distinct eschatological horizons. The first would be the judgment (Matt. 25; Mark 9:42 – 48; 2 Thessalonians 1:6 – 10; Jude 7, 13; Revelation 14:9 – 11; 20:10, 14 – 15.8, etc.), and the second, later horizon would be the final restoration of all to God after the judgment (Rom. 5:18; 11:32; 1 Cor. 15:22; Phil. 2:11; Col. 1:20, etc.).

          The question for us is, are Maximus’ “hell texts” to be seen as 1. One possibility among universal salvation (which seems to be where you lean in your last post) or 2. the first of two eschatological horizons?

          Given Maximus’ passage on the nature of judgment, and his interpretation of the parable of the wheat and tares, I think Maximus is more of an option 2 kind of guy. (Well, I think this for a lot of reasons. But these instances seem to hint at something happening AFTER judgment more directly than others.)

          If tension is indeed what scripture and the universalist Fathers envision here between these two types of scriptural texts, then that’s fine. I think I can live with that. As I said before, I’m most comfortable with Andreopoulos’s statement that universal salvation, given God’s love and providence seems like ALMOST a certainty, so I would not fall in Hart’s “certain” camp, though I know the philosophical problems my position causes.

          However! You speak as if tension is a more respectable and perhaps more pious way to go. But why? Keep in mind this is how people around the time of Nazianzus spoke of the Holy Spirit. They said that scripture seems silent on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, so we should remain silent on it as well. We should be careful not go beyond what scripture explicitly says itself. Sounds like this “careful,” more “hopeful” universalism doesn’t it? Gregory acknowledged that scripture doesn’t explicitly state that the Holy Spirit is God, but still argued against some sort of mediating position. He wanted to eliminate the “tension,” and be the first Christian to outright say that the Holy Spirit is “God.”

          So perhaps this silent tension isn’t always the more pious way to go.

          Thanks again for reading through the article. I hope more people on your side of the fence read it. Although I know that the majority of its readers will already be sympathetic to it, it’s written mainly for those who still believe universalism is a totally impermissible opinion but are still open to new arguments on the issue.


          • Mark Chenoweth says:


            I know that Constas says that the scholia of 61 were used in the hesychast controversy, and so I can’t deny that the Orthodox Church obviously sees them as fairly authoritative. I don’t see any reason to disagree with that on the whole, but…

            This scholion was definitely not written by Maximus. Clearly, whoever it was had a good grasp of the confessor’s terminology, and like some scholars today, PROBABLY interpreted the confessor to be an infernalist (I don’t like this word by the way, but I don’t know what else to use). But what do you see as so decisive about this scholion? “sums it up” is rather vague. Does it sum up how you interpret Maximus? I think Jordan has responded adequately to that below.

            Also, some scholia ARE written by Eriugena, who as far as I can tell, most scholars see as a universalist.

            Jordan, do you have anything to add on this point? It certainly seems like the scholion Jeff is talking about what probably written by an infernalist.


  12. jordandanielwood says:

    Yes, Mark, your observation about Maximus is, in my judgment, quite right. The “Neo-Evagrian” impulse–which was really the impulse of any monotheist outlook that envisions a final return to the sole source of multiplicity–that in the eschatological (re-)union of all things with God all “numbers” and “ages” and “names” would vanish into the infinite sea of divinity, is among Maximus’s clear concerns. What makes him such an interesting case is that he worries at this impulse precisely because he shares it. He too says that all things will “be enhypostasized in Himself [i.e. the Word]” (Amb 7.31), and that all things will be “one and the same” with God in Christ (Amb 7.37). But then he also stresses that this final identity comes about only in and as the Word’s incarnation into “all things,” when he becomes “all in all,” which includes, significantly, the Word’s becoming “what is distinctively proper” to each individual–i.e. the singular property that marks out the hypostasis of each (Amb 47.2). That’s an astounding claim, since several anti-Origenist polemics before Maximus had worried at that exact claim. Maximus can claim both a final identity–even to the point of the Word’s being the hypostasis of each–AND yet that this identity simultaneously secures the individuality of each in that final identity, and he can do this only because he strictly and systematically applies the Neochalcedonian logic of Christ to the entire God-world relation (which is perfected in the universe’s deification). That’s what my dissertation is about, so I won’t bore folks with the details in this comment! All to say just this: Maximus is very keen to avoid the pitfalls of Neo-Evagrianism (condemned at Constantinople II–as Guillaumont’s work still proves, in my view) even as he retains and radicalizes other so-called “Origenist” intuitions. So his understanding of “analogy” and “identity” and even the “body of Christ” very much responds to all this.

    A quick note on Daley’s comment, which Jeff quoted above (after QThal 59). Daley’s analysis is wrong or misleading in three ways. First, Maximus would never call the motion “contrary to nature” a “power” or “ability” God gave to rational creatures. Motion against nature is precisely an inability, a failure to actualize natural power, and so no positive thing at all. Daley here sneaks into his analysis a notion of libertine “freedom” quite foreign to Maximus’s thought. Second, and again, all Maximus says in this passage (and others) is something rather banal and uncontroversial: deprivation of grace is experienced as pain and suffering and punishment. But again, Origen and Nyssen said the exact same. That Maximus too says this doesn’t really indicate pro- or contra-universalism at all. Third, and in accordance with Mark’s characterization of Maximus’s circumspect way of speaking about these things, here again we get no absolute statement whether this suffering is *final*, as in, totally and completely fixed, with no further eschatological horizon to come. In fact, a much stronger passage would have been QThal 11.3, where Maximus interprets the “everlasting chains” of the angels mentioned in Jude 6 thus: they “signify the total and continuous immobility of their free will to do good, as a result of which they will never in any way enjoy divine rest.” Even Constas notes that this would “seem to rule out any possibility of their repentance and restoration to their previous state” (n.10). But that’s not how Maximus himself concludes this interpretation. Instead he openly admits ignorance–or at least reticence to state anything final–about the last horizon: “What will happen to them on the terrible Day of Judgment is something known only to the Just Judge” (QThal 11.3). So this is an instance where Maximus both seems to make an absolute statement about the fallen angels’ fate, AND then goes on a few lines later to admit there’s yet a further horizon that God alone knows. Daley therefore makes far more of QThal 59 than the text itself merits, and even manages to organize it in a rather suspect, pseudo-Augustinian manner.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff says:

      Usually Kata/ para phusin , gnomic / tropos texts relate to the hypostatic use of the will , ….point being that the fall came about through the exercise of gnomic will, and with this modified will man is exposed to the bewildering situations of decision-making, but by the gnomic will man may adjust himself also to a life in accordance with the logos


      • jordandanielwood says:

        Right, but my point is that it’s wrong of and yet significant to Daley’s characterization to speak of the “power” to “realize or destroy” God’s plan for creation. There is no such thing as a “power” to “destroy,” since that would imply that God created a positive power that could destroy his own purposes in creation–which is both an absurdity (since it means God intended to create something that might oppose his own intentions in creating at all) and in fact something Maximus explicitly denies (Amb 42). Maximus also rejected the idea, floated by monothelitists such as Theodore of Pharan, of a “hypostatic will,” since for him willing is an activity of nature. It’s true that each hypostasis expresses (or fails to express) this natural will in its unique mode (though even this is not the same as gnomic will, which is only an unrealized natural will). But the problem with Daley’s formulation is that it furtively characterizes the resistant will as some “power” in opposition to God, when in fact it is no power at all; it is an imperfection of the creature to actualize its natural powers, i.e. to be fully human. And if, as Maximus (with Nyssen) insist, universals such as “humanity” subsist only in the fullness of all its particular instances, then even one resistant will is a failure to realize humanity to its fullness–a failure, I mean, of God really to create what he set out to create: humanity (and by extension, the whole cosmos).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jeff says:

          Power in simple case of contrary They receive
          well-being through virtue and through their direct progress
          toward the principle according to which they exist; or they
          receive ill-being ( even ever ill being) through vice and their movement contrary
          to the principle by which they exist. It’s always the hypostatic use of the faculty, the faculty can’t be actualized without the person , maybe it’s an equivocation ,but I’ve never understood the faculty itself as determinative


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