St Augustine of Hippo and the Misericordes

Over the past decade I have noticed—and perhaps you have too—that most Christians who have thought about matters eschatological believe that Origen of Alexandria concocted out of the blue the doctrine of universal salvation. But in truth the greater hope took on several distinct forms, both before and after Origen.1 In his City of God, St Augustine of Hippo identifies seven different universalist and semi-universalist positions present in the Church in the early fifth century, each group employing different biblical texts to support its convic­tions.2 He famously dubs them “misericordi nostri” (“our own compas­sionate ones”). With the exception of Origen and his followers, he does not regard the other six groups as heretical. His tone might even be described as cordial:

I must now, I see, enter the lists of amicable controversy with those tender-hearted Christians who decline to believe that any, or that all of those whom the infallibly just Judge may pronounce worthy of the punishment of hell, shall suffer eternally, and who suppose that they shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment, longer or shorter according to the amount of each man’s sins. (XXI.17)

Richard Bauckham has helpfully provided a table listing the seven doctrinal positions and favorite texts:3

(1) Origen: All, including the devil and his angels, will be saved, after purgatorial punishments.

De civ. Dei 21.17; reply: 21.23.
Also Ad Orosium 5-7 (415 C.E.)

(2) All human beings (but not devils) will be saved, after punishments of varying duration.

De civ. Dei 21.17; reply: 21.23.
Also Ad Orosium 5-7 (415 C.E.)

(3) All human beings (but not devils) will be saved by the intercession of the saints on the Day of Judgment. Thus no one will be punished at all. Hell is a threat of what the wicked deserve, but mercy will overrule it. Scripture is largely silent on this in order to promote the repentance of those who fear hell.

Texts: Psalm 76:10(77:9); Jonah 3; Psalm 30:20(31:19); Rom 11:32.
De civ. Dei 21.18; reply: 21.24.
Also Enchiridion 29 (112) (421 C.E.)
Text: Psalm 76:10(77:9)
and perhaps Serm. 75.9 (? 400 C.E.)

(4) All who participate in the Christian sacraments, including heretics, will be saved.

Text: John 6:50-51.
De civ. Dei 21.19; reply: 21.25.

(5) All who participate in the Catholic eucharist will be saved.

Text: 1 Corinthians 10:17.
De civ. Dei 21.20; reply: 21.25.

(6) All who remain in the Catholic church (hold the Catholic faith) will be saved, those who lived wickedly after temporary punishment.

Text: I Corinthians 3:11-15.
De civ. Dei 21.21; reply: 21.26.
Also Defide et operibus 15 (24-26) (413 C.E.)
Text: I Corinthians 3:11-15.
Enchiridion 18 (67-69) (421 C.E.)
Text: 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.
De octo Dulcitii quaestionibus 1 (423-5 C.E.)
Texts: Matthew 5:26; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.

(7) All who perform works of mercy will be saved.

Texts: James 2:13; Matthew 23:34-46; 6:12, 14-15.
De civ. Dei 21.22; reply 21.27.
Also Enchiridion 19-20 (70-77) (421 C.E.)
Text: Luke 11:41.

1) Origen: all shall be saved

Augustine begins with Origen, whom he describes as the most indulgent of the miseri­cordes because of his extension of compassion to Satan and the unholy angels. After severe and pro­longed purifying suffering, Origen teaches, God will deliver all rational beings from their wickedness and restore them to the company of the saints. For this belief and others (spe­cifically, “his theory of the ceaseless alternation of happiness and misery, and the intermi­na­ble transitions from the one state to the other at fixed periods of ages”), the Church, avers Augustine, has condemned Origen. He does not tell us when and where this condemnation took place. This is unsurprising. History has not recorded a formal synodical repudiation of the universalist views of Origen during the third through fifth centuries.4 Perhaps Augustine is invoking a growing consensus in the Latin Church. Perhaps he is referring to St Epipha­nius’ letter to the patriarch of Jerusalem (394), in which he exoriates Origen for teaching that Satan “will return to his former dignity and rise again to the kingdom of heaven.”5 Perhaps he is think­ing of Patriarch Theophilus’ synodal, in which he summarizes the eight condemnations of Origen by the 400 Synod of Alexandria (apokatastasis is not men­tioned).6 Perhaps he is mesmerized by St Jerome’s abrupt conversion from being a supporter of the Adamantine to being his zealous adversary.7 Whatever his sources and reasons, the bishop of Hippo is convinced that Origen has been condemned by the catholic Church—and surely, he not unreasonably infers, this must include his “obviously” heterodox doctrine of apokatastasis.

For the doctor of grace, the eternal reprobation of the incorrigibly wicked, demons and humans alike, is a biblical given that overrides compassion. He wheels out the usual prooftexts: Matt 25: 31-46; Rev 20:10. The Scripture clearly states that final judgment is eternal, which of course it does if one is relying on either the Vetus Latina or the Vulgate. He is particularly impressed by the parallelism in Matt 24:46:

Then what a fond fancy is it to suppose that eternal punishment means long continued punishment, while eternal life means life without end, since Christ in the very same passage spoke of both in similar terms in one and the same sentence, “These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” If both destinies are “eternal,” then we must either under­stand both as long-continued but at last terminating, or both as endless. For they are correlative—on the one hand, punishment eternal, on the other hand, life eternal. And to say in one and the same sense, life eternal shall be endless, punishment shall come to an end, is the height of absurdity. Where­fore, we the eternal life of the saints shall be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it shall have no end. (Civ. Dei XXI.23)

Why is the brilliant Augustine unwilling to consider alternative readings of the damnation texts? At no point does he ask, Is eternal torment worthy of the God who is absolute goodness and cruciform love? In his On Christian Doctrine, Augustine instructs us that we have misunderstood a given text of Scripture if our interpretation does not build up our love of God and neighbor (I.36.40), yet throughout his analysis of the misericordes, he urges the reader to restrict their love and compassion before the sovereignty of the divine will. I have to wonder if Augustine’s developing reflection on divine predestination and the massa damnata now precludes the evangelical question posed above. Already in 397 he could write:

So the apostle represses the impudent questioner. “O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” A man so speaks back to God when he is displeased that God finds fault with sinners, as if God compelled any man to sin when he simply does not bestow his justifying mercy on some sinners, and for that reason is said to harden some sinners; not because he drives them to sin but because he does not have mercy upon them. He decides who are not to be offered mercy by a standard of equity which is most secret and far removed from human powers of understanding. (Ad Simplicianum 2.16)

Here we have the beginnings of Augustine’s doctrine of preterition. Why do some sin? Because God chooses not to bestow upon them his justifying mercy. At this point Augustine has introduced a cleavage in the heart of God. Once the schism between the divine love and justice is accepted, who are we to object to God’s decision to everlastingly punish the wicked? The “standard of equity” is inscrutable.8

2) Origen Lite: all shall be saved, except Satan

If Origen’s universalist views are heretical, then the second position should also be consid­ered heretical, declares Augustine—if only its proponents were logically consistent in their reasoning:

Very different, however, is the error we speak of, which is dicta­ted by the tenderness of these Christians who suppose that the sufferings of those who are condemned in the judgment will be temporary, while the blessedness of all who are sooner or later set free will be eternal. Which opinion, if it is good and true because it is merciful, will be so much the better and truer in pro­por­tion as it becomes more merciful. Let, then, this fountain of mercy be extended, and flow forth even to the lost angels, and let them also be set free, at least after as many and long ages as seem fit! Why does this stream of mercy flow to all the human race, and dry up as soon as it reaches the angelic? And yet they dare not extend their pity further, and propose the deliverance of the devil himself. Or if any one is bold enough to do so, he does indeed put to shame their charity, but is himself convicted of error that is more unsightly, and a resting of God’s truth that is more perverse, in proportion as his clemency of sentiment seems to be greater. (Civ. Dei I.17)

If compassion and mercy are to be our guide, then at least be consistent! Why should God’s compassion and ours stop with human beings. Limiting the divine mercy to humanity is purely arbitrary. Does not God also love the unholy angels? If you are willing to allow Satan to suffer eternal torment, have you not betrayed and violated pity itself? Augustine confronts the anthropic universalist with a stark choice: to follow Origen into heresy or to embrace the teaching of Christ and affirm the justice of everlasting damnation.

Note: Augustine does not name this compassionate view heretical. Apparently it was still permissible in the fifth century for Christians to believe that the Holy Trinity will bring all mankind to salvation, as long as they also taught the eternal punishment of the unholy spirits.

Augustine knew something about Origen’s theology from Jerome, but he learned of this “anthropic universalism” from Orosius, who had contacted Augustine in 415 about the growing influence of Priscillianism and Origenism in Spain. “A certain Avitus had brought a volume of Origen (probably the Peri Archon) back from Jerusalem to Spain,” Bauckham explains, “and Origen’s views on universal salvation were being propagated in Spain. But the salvation of devils seems not to have been adopted by the Spanish.”9

3) Intercessory Universalism

Whereas Augustine’s knowledge of Origen and Spanish Origenism is largely based on second-hand reports, his knowledge of this third group, what we might call “intercessory universalism,” has been acquired through personal conversation with its proponents. Unlike the Origenists, who propose a purgatorial fire by which the damned will be transformed and made fit for heaven, the intercessory universalists maintain that at the last judgment God will revoke his eschatological sentence of eternal punishment in response to the entreaties of the saints:

There are others, again, with whose opinions I have become acquainted in conversation, who, though they seem to reverence the holy Scriptures, are yet of reprehensible life [the ad hominem gloves come off!], and who ac­cord­ingly, in their own interest, attribute to God a still greater compassion towards men. For they acknowledge that it is truly predicted in the divine word that the wicked and unbelieving are worthy of punishment, but they assert that, when the judgment comes, mercy will prevail. For, say they, God, having compassion on them, will give them up to the prayers and inter­ces­sions of His saints. For if the saints used to pray for them when they suffered from their cruel hatred, how much more will they do so when they see them prostrate and humble suppliants? For we cannot, they say, believe that the saints shall lose their bowels of compassion when they have attained the most perfect and complete holiness; so that they who, when still sinners, prayed for their enemies, should now, when they are freed from sin, withhold from interceding for their suppliants. Or shall God refuse to listen to so many of His beloved children, when their holiness has purged their prayers of all hindrance to His answering them? And the passage of the psalm which is cited by those who admit that wicked men and infidels shall be punished for a long time, though in the end delivered from all sufferings, is claimed also by the persons we are now speaking of as making much more for them. The verse runs: “Shall God forget to be gracious? Shall He in anger sut up His tender mercies?” [Ps 77.9]. His anger, they say, would condemn all that are unworthy of everlasting happiness to endless punishment. But if He suffer them to be punished for a long time, or even at all, must He not shup up His tender mercies, which the Psalmist implies he will not do? For he does not say, Shall He in anger shut up His tender mercies for a long period? but he implies that He will not shut them up at all. (Civ. Dei XXI.18)

The intercessory universalist does not deny that God has spoken clearly about the eternal punishment of the wicked, but this need not be determinative, he replies. Scripture teaches us that God may declare his retributive intent in the most absolute and uncon­di­tional terms yet choose not to enact his intent. Jonah and the Ninevites is the paradig­ma­tic example. When Jonah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, he did not say that the city will be des­troyed if its inhabitants do not repent and change their ways. He spoke without qualifi­ca­tion: Nineveh will be overthrown in forty days. No ifs, ands, or buts. Yet even so, God forgave the Ninevites when they beseeched his mercy. God threatens punish­ment in order to evoke the terror of the wicked and hopefully their repentance. The condi­tion of repentance need not be explicitly stated; indeed the threat is more effective if it is not. The example of Nineveh, therefore, teaches us that “the great and hidden sweetness of God’s mercy is concealed in order that men may fear” (Civ. Dei XXI.18). “If, then,” Augus­tine continues, speaking on behalf of the intercessory universalists, “He spared those whom His own holy prophet was provoked at His sparing, how much more shall He spare those more wretched suppliants for whom all His saints shall intercede?” (Civ. Dei XXI.18). Surely this is the meaning and intent of the words of the Apostle: “For God hath concluded all men in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32).

Are you surprised by this particular formulation of universal salvation? I know I was when I first read about it. Yet it goes back at least to the first half of the second century! In the Apocalypse of Peter, which the Muratorian canon lists as an inspired text that was read in the churches, the risen Christ declares:

Then I will grant to my called and elect ones whomsoever they request from me, out of the punishment. And I will give them [i.e. those for whom the elect pray] a fine baptism in salvation from the Acherousian lake a portion of righteousness with my holy ones.10

In the context of the Apocalypse, the words of the Lord are not explicitly universalist. The damned are identified as those who have persecuted the faithful, and the mercy of Christ reaches only as far as the compassion of the saints. Bauckham elaborates:

Thus Peter’s desire for mercy, so severely rebuked in chapter 3, is granted eventually, when taken up by the elect on the Day of Judgment and after the justice of hell has been carefully demonstrated. . . . There is a kind of logic in the sequence. The justice of the punishment of the persecutors is a justice owed primarily to the persecuted. But in that case it is a punishment that can be remitted if the martyrs themselves desire mercy for their perse­cu­tors. No one else has the right to forgive oppressors, but those whom they have oppressed do have this right. So if it is for his people’s sake that God must punish their oppressors, then for his people’s sake (as SibOr 2:355, inter­preting ApPet 14, states) he can save those for whom they desire mercy. In this way the conflict of justice and mercy is resolved. One obstacle to universal salvation—that of which the apocalyptic tradition, because of its origins in situations of injustice and persecution, was most aware—is effectively removed by the compassion and forgiveness of the saints. Other obstacles are not considered, and it is not, of course, actually stated that salvation will be universal, but as extensive as the compassion of the elect.11

But if the saints will have compassion on their oppressors, will they not also extend their compassion to all the damned? For their wills are perfectly aligned with the will of their Savior, “who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).

Bauckham believes that the beliefs of the third group of the misericordes, the intercessory universalists, clearly has its source in the Apocalypse of Peter:

This group of people, then, envisage that at the Day of Judgment (a) the damned will implore the saints to pray for them, (b) the saints will indeed pray for them, and (c) God ‘will grant them to the prayers and intercessions of his saints.’ It is clear that this expectation must derive from the apoca­lyp­tic tradition about the intercession of the saints for the damned at the Last Judgment. . . . The oldest source in which tradition is now extant is the Apocalypse of Peter, which contains all three points (a, b, c) in Augustine’s report of what the Christians he knew expected: (a) in 13:4; (b) and (c) in 14:1, which reads: ‘I will give to my called and elect ones whomsoever they request from me, out of the punishment’ (Rainer fragment). The phraseol­ogy is strikingly close to Augustine’s: God ‘will grant them to the prayers and intercessions of his saints.’12

Augustine does not mention the Apocalypse of Peter. Perhaps the members of the group did not refer to it in their conversations with him, knowing that he was skeptical of apoc­ryphal writings. Instead they invoked Scriptural texts to support their convictions. As Bauckham notes: “The appeal to Scripture must be understood as defence of a doctrine Augustine’s interlocutors had derived from extra-canonical apocalyptic literature but now needed to defend in a period when apocryphal literature was being increasingly discred­ited.”13

Augustine offers a lengthy critique of the intercessory position, combined with a fair amount of ad hominem polemic. He appeals to the liturgical practice of the Church, observing that the Church does not pray for Satan and his fellow fallen angels or for incorrigible departed sinners:

The reason, then, which prevents the Church from now praying for the wicked angels, whom she knows to be her enemies, is the identical reason which shall prevent her, however perfected in holiness, from praying at the last judgment for those men who are to be punished in eternal fire. At the present she prays for her enemies among men, because they have yet opportunity for fruitful repentance. For what does she especially beg for them but that “God would grant them repentance,” as the apostle says, “that they may return to soberness out of the snare of the devil, by whom they are held captive according to his will?” [2 Tim 2:25-26]. But if the Church were certified who who those are, who, though they are still abiding in this life, are yet predestinated to go with the devil into eternal fire, then for them she could no more pray than for him. But since she has this certainty regarding no man, she prays for all her enemies who yet live in this world; and yet she is not heard in behalf of all. But she is heard in the case of those only who, though they oppose the Church, are yet predesti­nated to become her sons through her intercession. But if any retain an impenitent heart until death, and are not converted from enemies into sons, does the Church continue to pray for them, for the spirits, i.e., of such persons deceased? And why does she cease to pray for them, unless because the man who was not translated into Christ’s kingdom while he was in the body, is now judged to be of Satan’s following?

It is, then, I say, the same reason which prevents the Church at any time from praying for the wicked angels, which prevents her from praying hereafter for those men who are to be punished in eternal fire; and this also is the reason why, though she prays even for the wicked so long as they live, she yet does not even in this world pray for the unbelieving and godless who are dead. For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they an be judged unwor­thy of such com­pas­sion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it. As also, after the resurrection, there will be some of the dead to whom, after they have endured the pains proper to the spirits of the dead to whom, after they have endured the pains proper to the spirits of the dead, mercy shall be accorded, and acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, “They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come” [Matt 12:32]. But when the Judge of quick and dead has said, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and to those on the other side, “Depart from me, ye cursed into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels,” and “These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal fire” [Matt 25:34, 41, 46], it were excessively presumptuous to say that the punishment of any of those whom God has said shall go away into eternal punishment shall not be eternal, and so bring either despair or doubt upon the corresponding promise of life eternal. (Civ. Dei XXI.24)

Augustine’s objection is simple: the saints will not pray for the damned at the last judg­ment because they will see that the wicked are frozen in their obduracy and impenitence and therefore incapable of changing their fundamental orientation.14 Hence they are rightly excluded from the divine mercy, just as the unholy angels now are. To pray for the damned at this eschatological moment would be to set oneself against the holy will and judgment of God, which is impossible for the saints.

The intercessory universalists have at hand, I think, a ready rejoinder: if the damned were incapable of repentance, as Augustine presupposes, they would not be crying out to the saints for their supplications. The key difference between Augustine and the universalists is the latter’s refusal to limit the grace and mercy of God. Bauckham summarizes the conflict­ing theological principles:

In the debate between Augustine and these ‘merciful Christians’ there is a serious clash of theological principles. On the side of the apocalyptic tradition taken up by the ‘merciful Christians’ there are two key principles. The first is the solidarity of the human race, such that the compassion of the saints extends to all humans, however wicked, since they understand themselves to be bound up with them, to some extent even in their sin. Therefore they feel bound to plead the case of the damned with God. The second principle is an understanding of prayer in which the saints persist in prayer even against the apparent will of God. They plead God’s mercy against God’s justice and, as it were, win God over. On Augustine’s side of the debate, the overriding principle is the sovereign will of God. As a result the solidarity of the human race is radically severed by God’s will in the form of predestination. Even in this life the church prays for the reprobate only through ignorance. If she knew who the elect were, she would pray only for them. Prayer, in Augus­tine’s understanding, is wholly subordin­a­ted to God’s will. Therefore, once the will of God with regard to the repro­bate is known, as it will be at the Last Judgment, the perfection of the saints will show itself in their absolute concurrence with that divine will.15

At this point I bring my article to a close. I will not discuss the remaining misericorde parties, as they do not represent a genuine universalist hope, restricting, as they do, their eschatological expectations to the baptized and merciful. But it is interesting to note that by St Augustine’s standards, St Ambrose and St Jerome qualify as compassionate Christians.16



[1] See Ilaria Ramelli’s magisterial monograph The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis (2013).

[2] De Civitate Dei XXI.17-25. My quotations from Civ. Dei are from Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, ed. Whitney J. Oates.

[3] Richard Bauckham, The Fate of the Dead (1998), pp. 150-151.

[4] See “Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?

[5] On Epiphanius, see Elizabeth A. Clark, The Origenist Controversy (1992), pp. 86-104. Regarding Origen’s own beliefs on the salvation of the demons, see C. A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” Journal of the History of Ideas 28 (1967): 467-478; Lisa Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved?Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009): 1-23; Ambrose Andreano, “The True Fate of the ‘So-called Devil’ in Origen“; Ramelli, Apokatastasis, pp. 141-156.]

[6] On Theophilus, see Clark, pp. 105-121.

[7] On Jerome, see Clark, pp. 121-151. While Augustine does not explicitly name Origen a “heretic,” Jerome certainly does:

Origen is a heretic, true; but what does that take from me who do not deny that on very many points he is heretical? He has erred concerning the resurrection of the body, he has erred concerning the condition of souls, he has erred by supposing it possible that the devil may repent, and—an error more important than these—he has declared in his commentary upon Isaiah that the Seraphim mentioned by the prophet are the divine Son and the Holy Ghost. (Ep. 61)

[8] Which comes first for Augustine, everlasting damnation or divine predestination? The chicken-and-egg problem can be run both ways. Also see Ilaria Ramelli’s fascinating article “Origen in Augustine,” Numen 60 (2013): 280-307.

[9] Bauckham, p. 152.

[10] Rainer fragment, quoted by Bauckham, p. 145.

[11] Ibid, p. 146.

[12] Ibid., pp. 155-156; also see my brief discussion of the Apocalypse of Peter and the Sybyline Oracles in “The Eucatastrophe of the Jesus Story.”

[13] Bauckham, p. 157.

[14] But is God incapable of changing their orientation? Even the old Catholic Ency­clo­pedia is forced to admit, in Augustinian-Thomistic fashion, that he is not: “The proximate cause of impenitence in hell is God’s refusal of every grace and every impulse for good. It would not be intrinsically impossible for God to move the damned to repentance; yet such a course would be out of keeping with the state of final reprobation.” Why then does God not do so? The author’s final clause hardly provides a probative answer. And while it is true that the traditional liturgical prayers for the dead are restricted to the faithful departed, it is also true that the Latin Church has also prayed for all the departed, as documented by Hans Urs von Balthasar.

[15] Bauckham, pp. 158-159.

[16] Brian Daley, The Hope of the Early Church (2002), pp. 97-104.

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36 Responses to St Augustine of Hippo and the Misericordes

  1. It’s interesting that the Orthodox church has no prayers for Satan and demons in the liturgy. And yet, maybe Met. Kallistos’s instinct is right on this. Maybe it would do US spiritual damage to pray for such things but this does not mean the devil will not be saved. There are saints that have prayed for this. Maybe that’s because they are saints and can handle such things.

    For a “promised universalism” (the equivalent to “certain universalism”) where hell exists as a post-judgment phenomenon that will eventually cease, the goal of prayers for the departed would change from a hope that God MIGHT answer them to the promise that he WILL answer them, we just don’t know when. I don’t think that would make the prayers any less intense. God promised a savior to Israel, and this may have increased their prayers for God to bring this about as soon as possible. “Your kingdom come.”

    Interesting essay, Fr.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      I myself would be more encouraged to pray for something promised than if I thought my prayers might be futile.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sonya says:

        Maybe. Or perhaps we pray most fervently for what we long for with our whole heart. For what we love is the Kingdom we pray for, whether we are fully aware of it or not. Out of the fullness of the heart….


    • Owen-Maximus says:

      Mark, just wondering, how do you understand Hebrews 2 and Christ’s assumption of human nature (only)? Do you think the assumption of angelic nature would be necessary for their salvation in Christ?

      “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same…. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest…” (vs. 14, 16-17).

      Since the context here is the conquest of the devil, I’m wondering if the apostles explicitly preclude Christ’s priestly intercession on his behalf.


      • All finite nature(s) are ultimately human in the Divine humainty of Logos. Modality, dimensional location, etc. are all accidents of finitude, not essential. In assuming a finite nature, Christ has already set the preconditions for their final redemption and eschatological beatitude.


        • Owen-Maximus says:

          Thanks for the response. What distinction then is Hebrews making between angels, who get no help, and “the children that share in flesh and blood” who do? Just wondering how to faithfully teach the scriptures on this one. Thanks again.


          • In the context of Hebrews, I would place this under the NT rubric of the age to come (and the powers thereof that the Hebrews are tasting of). In this present age, it is humans, who are the locus of Christ’s redemptive work, and as such are invited into the life of the coming age. For those heavenly powers in rebellion, that redemption, as I understand it, still awaits them (likely after severe chastisement for the disastrous effects of their rebellion). While I don’t take Hebrews to be Paul, it is highly Pauline in its theological orientation (and thankfully it is also rhetorically more lucid), but we don’t get to the ‘all in all’ of 1 Cor 15 all at once, it appears to be bound up in an aionian structure that will unfold gradually in cosmic time. I know that’s a short response to what is tantamount to a gigantic ontological claim that all rational creatures are *in some way* always already human, but hopefully it is clear enough to make some sense.


          • Owen-Maximus says:

            Makes sense to me. Speculative but not illogical. Perhaps there’s an interesting link between Hebrew’s statement, “since the children share in flesh and blood,” and 1 Corinthians’ claim, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The Logos assumed our nature in order to bring us beyond it, to a spiritualized body, the transfiguration of flesh and blood. God became man that man might become God. Still, the term “man” rings out here as the limited focus of theosis in Christ.

            One way around this limited focus, perhaps, is Man as Microcosm. When the sons of God are revealed, *all creation* will be liberated from the chains of decay—namely because Man just is a little world, containing within himself *all creation* in miniature. Thus by becoming Man, Christ deifies all creation in himself. Admittedly, I’m not really seeing that, in some way, all rational creatures are really human. But maybe the microcosm idea provides an alternative (or complementary) way forward here.

            Liked by 2 people

      • Mark Chenoweth says:


        Have you read Jordan Wood’s dissertation on Creation as Incarnation?

        Although I haven’t thought about it deeply, Wood seems right that Maximus REALLY meant that God became incarnate in scripture AND in creation. He works out some of the implications of this in the dissertation and in an extra chapter that will be in his book with UNDP. I still have to think more about the implications.

        But I was headed to where you were headed about humanity being a microcosm. This is sort of a theme of my paper on Maximus and evolution on my page.

        So maybe that’s the answer to angels?

        But what about extraterrestrials, if God chose to create them? C.S. Lewis and Karl Rahner seemed to be open to the idea of multiple incarnations, so God could take on Klingon nature, etc. I like that idea, but then what do we do with the scriptural passages about Christ recapitulating ALL THINGS in Himself? I don’t know. Should we think of Christ as merely the Logos here? That seems too dehistoricizing.

        Or is one incarnation sufficient for all creatures including potential extraterrestrials? I don’t know. Relativizing passages about Christ’s restoration of ALL THINGS is one reason I don’t find “infernalism” very convincing, so I don’t want to do it for extraterrestrials either. Perhaps there are no ETs, in which case there’d be no problem. Anyways, I know I just brought up more questions, but maybe someone else has some interesting thoughts.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Owen-Maximus says:

          The issue of ETs did occur to me when thinking of man as, and thus Christ as, microcosm. I don’t see why our otherworldly friends shouldn’t be included if Man sym-ballizes (Gr. “throws together”) the whole world in Himself. The notion of multiple incarnations kinda destroys the Christian claim, I think, namely because our claim is anthropocentric: (1) Man alone is the microcosm; (2) the Logos became Man in Christ; therefore, (3) Christ recapitulates all things as God-Man. Further, man is also the Mediator of all creation. It’s not as if the Logos could have become any other created being in order to sum up the story of creation. There’s only one Mediator, and he’s the Man (1 Tim 2:5). 🙂

          Thanks for the dissertation link!


          • Joel says:

            While I know it’s apocryphal, what about the Ascension of Isaiah and Christ taking different forms of angels passing through different heavens? Is that usually seen as Christologically docetic or at least amenable to proto-orthodoxy? That might be relevant to extraterrestrials, angels, and the Incarnation.


          • Owen-Maximus says:

            Joel, I’m honestly not sure. I think the examples you give are analogous to the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. The Logos took various forms (and the Spirit took the form of the dove), but these are not incarnations per se, in the sense of the hypostatic union. The Word is forever and always Man. I don’t think there’s another comparable instance of divine embodiment which is possible. I list some of the reasons above (i.e. man as microcosm and mediator of all creation).


          • Just because I always like to bring this up, and I know Jordan concurs….Berdyaev is good on the microcosm/macrocosm discussion without having to weed through the patristic technicalities. Not that one shouldn’t see that in Maximus, it is there, but it gets seemingly technical. Berdyaev finds a way to say the same thing in a much easier manner to understand…at least IMO.


        • Grant says:

          All things will be brought under the authority of Christ and summed up in Him, all things, in heavens, earth, and all worlds, all things reconciled in Christ, all shall declare Christ is Lord, all freed, and death will be destroyed and Christ will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father who will be all in all and death will be no more anywhere.

          How can angels, ETs and all other beings not be saved through Christ, it seems clearly whatever anything nature they are. All Things are, which means all, or those promises are nonsensical.

          So to me the answer is obvious, of course they are, and you should pray for them.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Owen-Maximus, now that everyone else has chimed in, here’s my five cents. If I were doing a Bible study with my parishioners, I would be very cautious about speaking of how the salvation of the angels (particularly the fallen angels, if one is of universalist sympathies) relates to the salvific work of Christ. I would always qualify my remarks by the statement: “It’s all speculation! We know next to nothing about angels, either about their nature, their creation, their involvement in the creation of the corporeal world, and how Satan & company fell into alienation from God and how God intends to restore them to his fellowship.”

        I have found Paul Griffith’s speculations on angels in his book Decreation provocative and interesting, but he would also insist that he is speculating.

        On apokatastasis and angels, see Sergius Bulgakov’s essay on this topic:

        Liked by 1 person

        • The problem with homotheologicus is that he tends to take speculation and make doctrine out of it, while ignoring doctrine, especially that of Scripture, and making it into speculation. Most annoying.


  2. One thing I most certainly think we will answer to God for, is not going to the source and using second hand information to make judgments. Just like Augustine of Hippo did. We have a brain and we are expected to use it. And to be so influential in Theology and be so spiritually lazy is a serious matter. This leads thousands astray. The other, concerning universal salvation, which I most certainly do believe in, is the essential character of God Himself. Why would His mercy endures forever, unless there was a need for it to do so? That for me is as simple as that. I love Origen’s heart. And logic. If I go to be with my Father with a heart full of mercy like that, then I know I will be at least a tiny little glimmer like Jesus was a beam on the cross. For God did not send His Son into the world to be its judge. End of story. But to be it’s Saviour. Jesus is Judge. Because Jesus is God-Man. The Father merely works and waits for everyone to get to the place where, of their own volition, they say, ‘Amen.’


  3. Tom says:

    1) “Origen knew something about Origen’s theology from Jerome….” I think you meant to say “Augustine knew something about Origen’s….”

    2) “Misericordi Nostri” is a cool name for a blog. Hmmm.

    3) Fr Al, thanks again for this first-rate blog!

    4) Regarding the final salvation of the Devil, Kallistos Ware writes: “This raises an interesting question, which I once put to a Greek archbishop at the beginning of a four-hour car journey, in the hope that it would help us while away the time, ‘If it is possible that the Devil, who must surely be a very lonely and unhappy person, may eventually repent and be saved, why do we never pray for him?’ To my disappointment…the archbishop settled the matter with a sharp and brief rejoinder: ‘Mind your own business’.”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Tom says:

    Fr Al, I’m asking your question as well: Why is Augustine unable or unwilling to consider alternative readings of the damnation texts? Perhaps, as you say, “at no point does he ask: Is eternal torment worthy of the God who is absolute goodness.” It’s hard to imagine him not asking the question. Perhaps he contemplates an everlasting hell in light of God’s goodness but really does not see the problem. Lots of brilliant theologians who espouse infernalism today do not see the problem either. They see a puzzle at best. But it never becomes a deep existential struggle. Perhaps they defer resolution in the belief that they will see how it all ‘fits’.

    Can’t recall where I heard this, but I think it’s true: All theology is autobiography. Our theology always has our personal stories woven into our beliefs. How could it be otherwise? Something about Augustine’s story, how he learned to make sense of his life, required God to be (and here I’m asking all you experts on Augustine to educate me) just so-and-so, or such-and-such, which grounds infernalism. What is in Augustine’s personal story that was held in place or given meaning by imagining infernalism to be true?

    Unlike Hart who never held it to be true, I think most of us (who are now universalists) did once hold infernalism to be true and we made the trek to our present beliefs. So obviously something about how we do theology, how we self-narrate with respect to ultimate questions, didn’t require the infernalist story. We moved on. But for infernalists, something of crucial importance to how they self-narrate is invested in the infernalist outcome – and what that is is now for me the only interesting thing about infernalists; i.e., the psychology behind believing it to be true. The exegetical/theological (and other) arguments in its defense have zero influence at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alura says:

      At least in the De praedestinatione sanctorum, one of his final works, Augustine says that the best argument for predestination is the eternal damnation of dead unbaptized babies. It probably was not the only thing that convinced him of his position. The infant mortality rate of the time was likely high, and perhaps it was very soul-crushing for Augustine to witness this as a pastor.

      I’m still curious about his logic, however. He insists on one hand that baptism by water is necessary for salvation, but on the other hand he also makes room for the baptism by blood (ie the martyrdom of say catechumens) as sufficient for salvation.

      One other point in the aformentioned work. Augustine says that God’s salvific love cannot be embodied in any way in human nature (he is arguing against basic synergism here). So for Augustine, only at the level of providence do the eternally damned even perform goodness, though not as individuals. The damned themselves as individuals are void of any goodness or virtue beyond mere existence. Their virtue is only displayed in the orchestration of God’s plan which is to turn their evil works towards the greater good. When counteracting the synergetic claim that humans are fallen, but not totally depraved and therefore have some innate gifts of grace capable of individual virtue, Augustine asks the rhetorical question that basically goes like this (I am paraphrasing), “How then, with such a gift being common to all people, is one to be distinguished from the damned?” Perhaps I’ve read to much into it, but I think it reveals that at some level, Augustine wanted to feel special, and having a wide array of losers (the damned) as a point of contradistinction to the winners (the saved) helped feed that need.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Alura, your last sentence captures my own suspicion perfectly; it’s the belief that there can’t be final winners unless there are final losers.

        Liked by 1 person

    • JBG says:

      Tom: “Unlike Hart who never held it to be true, I think most of us (who are now universalists) did once hold infernalism to be true and we made the trek to our present beliefs.”

      I too never held any belief in infernalism. I have come to realize that this belief seems to be perpetually nagging to those that once held it, especially those raised on it during their formative years. It seems that so many former believers can never quite completely divorce themselves from it. There seems to be an ever-present “What if” lurking in the background of thought. It seems like so many “hopeful universalists” are in a lifelong battle to prove to themselves that it is true.

      I suppose the deep trauma of the infernalism belief never quite goes away, like any form of abuse. Yes, I consider the preaching of “eternal torment” to be psychological abuse of the highest order. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I was never subjected to this horrific abuse.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        Pretty sure I’m over the issue/question itself at this point. What interests me now is what keeps committed infernalists fixed in their view. Is it really academic questions about texts or a deeper existential angst over perceived problems with a universalist outcome.


        • Eckley says:

          For Catholics, there is the problem of the magisterium. I think many Catholics either accept infernalism just because it’s taught and they are terrified that the whole structure will tumble if so many popes, saints, and theologians were wrong on this issue.

          I agree that there are people out there (especially online) that need losers to feel like winners, but I think most people don’t like the doctrine but think piety demands the suspension of reason.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Yes, the magisterium is a huge problem for Catholics if it disallows critical reflection on the gospel.

            As I wrote in my first article on That All Shall Be Saved, an infallible dogma cannot be an infallible dogma if conflicts with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church cannot dogmatize irreformable error.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Some of us believe that the whole structure since Charlemagne and the Frankish takeover of the Roman Church needs to tumble. I have been doing a tremendous amount of study in preparation for my upcoming book A LAYMAN INVESTIGATES UNIVERSAL SALVATION (Publication by Wipf & Stock this winter) and the more I learned about the church at Rome, the more distaste I have come to feel for it. They ran that sucker off the rails 1,000 years ago and have not recovered since.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Tom says:

    I can’t get this comment farther in and up under Fr Al’s reply to Eckley re: the magisterium.

    Fr Al, if Catholics take magisterial dogma to infallibly define the gospel, then dogma can never be seen to conflict with the gospel. Conflicts never arise, because you don’t get ‘the Gospel’ until dogma tells you what it is. Isn’t that the rock-n-hard place they’re in?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Yep. And this, I believe, is why most Catholic reviewers of TASBS have been unable to thoughtfully engage the Hart’s arguments (or anybody else’s). All they can do is reiterate the dogma of damnation. Rome has spoken. Case closed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eckley says:

        My first comment here and the big man himself drops by. Made my day! Agreed re the Catholic reviews. Always just catechism quotes, “the road is wide…”, and maybe a bit of the free will defense if they’re feeling brave. I still hold out hope that Larry Chapp will return to his initial reaction to TASBS. He at least said he prefers us to scolds.


        • I have profoundly no respect for Roman Catholic theologians who should know better but decide to put their brains in a bin when discussing theology. No amount of doctorial discussion of “aionios” (Illaria Ramelli & David Bentley Hart) no discussion of the violent nature of Constantinople II and its subsequent (in my opinion) illegitimacy (it should be declare a Robber’s Council and dropped), no discussion of five hundred years of Apokatastasis being taught in the Church until the thug emperor, Justinian, attacked it with a zeal that was more political than theological, suffices to wake their dormant cognitive facilities. They are robots. As Fr. Aidan has said “Roma locuta est. Causa finita”

          Just to share with you how acerbic I have become in this regard, here is my take on one of those Thomist philosophers:


  6. Counter-Rebel says:

    There are 2 15 footnotes and no 14 footnote in the article, even though 14 appears in the footnotes.

    I don’t currently call myself a Roman Catholic, but I’m part of a Catholic Universalism group on Facebook. A gentleman argues that Vatican I was a stillborn council and that it could be revoked and/or its definition of papal infallibility revised (weakened), hence allowing universalism. He says Vatican II closed I in its unfinished state and without declaring it to be definitively binding.

    Universalism could be the main subject of the final ecumenical council when the Catholic and Orthodox get together to put an end to psychological abuse. The end of the document(s) shall read:

    “If anyone says or thinks that the free will of rational creatures apart from grace has the natural power to determine its own fundamental eschatological orientation eternally and immutably, let him be anathema.” -Aforementioned gentleman


  7. myshkin says:

    it would seem seem that Sacred Scripture lends credence to aspects of the intercessory position. If we look at the lives of Moses, Noah, Abraham, Jesus, St Stephen, and St Paul as models we see that the one who knows God is consumed w/love of neighbor such that you get the intercessory prayers of Ex 32:32 from Moses, Noah before the flood, Abraham before the destruction of Sodom, St Stephen during his martyrdom, St Paul in Romans 9, and of course Our Lord on the Cross.
    Now consider the sheep in Matt 25; the judge of the goats is the same One who whilst being murdered forgave His murderers, interceded for them, if you will. We already know the sheep are sensitive to the presence of their Beloved in the poor and here they are confronted with the poorest of the poor in the silly wicked goats who knew not what they were doing and are now consigned to eternal loss. The sheep would do as Jesus did and intercede; in fact any sheep who didn’t would have never been a sheep at all. the impact of their intercession is not to change the unchanging God, but these prayers allow the goats to see reality: the great and terrible judge is actually Goodness itself, and as we know once this happens there is little question as to the outcome: “to know the good is to desire it insatiably”.
    As to prayers for the devil. I was recently at Mass in the mountains where the Prayer of St Michael was prayed at the end, and i was struck how the insights from this blog and others impacted my ability to pray the prayer. I could not in good conscience pray for the damnation of the devil. i want his restoration and am hopeful that he too shall be well, but the truth is, even with this hope, i cannot pray for him yet, the best i can do is not pray for his damnation.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. John H says:

    I believe that it is more complicated than simply a desire to be in the winner’s circle. In many instances, there is outright schadenfreude, as in Tertullian’s statement that he would revel in the spectacle of pagans, heretics and the wicked roasting in the eternal flames. Or others loath themselves so completely that they actually believe that they should be consigned to hell. If paradise was offered, they would decline the invitation because they do not believe that they belong there. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, they would never join a club that would accept them as members.

    So infernalism survives because of a deep and dark psychological need that is an unfortunate part of fallen human nature, which undoubtedly also accounts for the continuing popularity of horror as a literary genre. The Inferno is without question the most popular portion of the Divine Comedy, as is Chapter 3 of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Both contain graphic descriptions of the eternal torture chamber to which the damned are consigned, and, like Tetullian, we are entertained and amused by such spectacles.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Father: I like the third option, the intercessory one. Here is what I wrote on this:

    Here is one last thing regarding love and justice. Think of the man or woman who meets their murderer in heaven. The soul of the murderer, now seeing the reality of its being and what it did, is now consumed with grief for its actions. The murdered person comes to the murderer and says “Father, forgive him, for he did not know what he was doing.” This beautiful act of forgiveness does several things. It deepens the repentance of the murderer’s soul. It also brings, after the sorrow, the union of the two souls in the love of God, which is a forgiving love. But most importantly, it makes the soul of the murdered one to be like Christ, who while being murdered said to His Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This action of praying for one’s murderers has been the testimony of millions of martyrs throughout the ages. It is Christ in them, acting through them, displaying His loving forgiveness for the world to see. There is no revenge in heaven, despite what the Infernalists say. The forgiveness of God is greater than we can wrap our minds around. The martyrs are but a small picture of this immense, forgiving love which we barely understand.

    Perhaps, in God’s justice, each one of us will have to meet the people we sinned against and go through the purgative torment of knowing deeply and truly what we did to them. For the person who has done little against his fellow man, this will be a relatively short experience, as opposed to a man like King Leopold of Belgium, whose behavior makes that of Adolph Hitler look like a Boy Scout. Imagine Leopole meeting every single man and woman who suffered under his horrendous reign, experiencing deeply what they felt, all the horror and shame of it. Then imagine each person becoming like our Savior by saying to Leopold “I forgive you.”

    This is a two-fold benefit: to Leopold it is cleansing and brings deep repentance. To the one who forgives, it becomes an ever deepening experience of becoming like our Lord, who said of the people who had just horrifically tortured Him: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”


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