Did St Ephrem Teach Universalism?

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12 Responses to Did St Ephrem Teach Universalism?

  1. He’s making a fairly good case that he wasn’t. I think Ramelli’s best work is on Origen, the Alexandrians, and I think her work on Maximus is undervalued. But I’ve come to think that her case for Eriugena is overstated and misstated. I now see Eriugena’s eschatology of salvation as a hopelessly confused mess. He’s terribly inconsistent, and unlike Maximus, I don’t think there’s a method to his madness. Just an obsession with harmonizing Augustine and Origen’s eschatology (and I just don’t think he succeeds).

    Maybe Ramelli overstated her case on Ephrem too. But this guy’s critique is a welcome change from the less than mediocre stuff passing as a “refutation” of Ramelli on a lot of internet sites these days.

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    • John H says:


      I agree with Ramelli regarding her classification of Eriugena as a universalist. Though I certainly do understand the point that you make regarding Eriugena’s unsuccessful attempt to reconcile Augustine and Origen

      Really, the so called Hell portions of the Periphyseon, which constitute only a small portion of that work, are Eriugena’s nod to Augustine. Yet the picture of hell painted by him is far milder than the eternal conscious torment proffered by Augustine. Thus, for Eriugena in hell the irrational will is punished by unquenchsble desires and lusts. Human nature in its totality is completely restored to union with God, while the irrational, gnomic will, which was never a part of human nature to begin with, is lost and perishes in its yearnings which tend towards non-being and oblivion. Therefore, only our shadow selves which were added after the Fall, are punished and ultimately perish. But our true image, made in the Word of God, is saved and restored to its pristine purity.

      As to to question whether death and damnation are eternal, I would direct your attention to Periphyseon, Par 934d to 935b, where Eriugena makes the following observations:

      The nature of demons is both good and a creation of the highest Good. The only part of them which is permanent and never to be punished is that in them which is created by the most high God, while that in them which is not of God, that is their wickedness, will be done away with, lest evil come into existence with any creature whatsoever, whether angelic or human. Everlasting and coeternal with the Good.

      The same thing is to be understood concerning death and damnation, lest anything which is contrary to Life and Blessedness could be thought coeternal with them. For when humanity is restored in the resurrection it shall be purged of all impiety, damnation and death. Therefore there shall be no resurrection of evil and wicked for only nature shall rise again. Evil and wickedness shall perish.


  2. armsopenwide says:

    I wonder if the passages he uses to prove his point could be additions by a copyist who opposed apocatastasis. I’m reaching here, I know. St. Ephrem is my patron saint.


    • My guess is the statements are genuine. But there are certainly directions of his thought that point towards universalism. There has to be something in his thought that was later picked up by St. Isaac, etc.


  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Out of curiosity, I checked Ramelli’s book A Larger Hope? to compare his treatment of Ephrem with that of her big book. To my surprise Ephrem is not mention, which suggests to me that she is no longer confident of her universalist construal of his writings.


  4. Ed says:

    In her larger book, as I recall, Ramelli does not place St. Ephrem among the universalists. But she does argue that Ephrem believed in the possibility of post-mortem repentance and release from the torments of Gehenna.


  5. arthurjaco says:

    Yeah, it’s not so clear what *most* Church Fathers believed about the Last Things anyways, otherwise scholars would agree a bit more with each other on this matter, I would imagine…

    The more I read on this topic, the more I find scholars disagreeing with each other (be it on Ephrem, the early Augustine, Methodius of Olympus… You name them).

    At the end of the day, even though a good case can be made that the Wonderworker, Eusebius, Marcellus, Titus, Melania, Palladius, Nazianzen et al were all probably universalists, it really seems to me that there’s only 10 or 11 Church Fathers and Mothers *most* scholars agree were universalists, namely Clement, Origen, Pamphilus, Macrina, Gregory, Didymus, Evagrius, Diodore, Theodore, Theodoret and Isaac… And even then, I’m not sure most scholars agree that Pamphilus was a universalist (I know many scholars would say he definitely was a universalist and there’s some pretty good evidence to back up that claim, but I can’t help noticing how Dr Hart has never mentioned him in any of his lists of Fathers whom he thinks were explicit universalists, contrarily to the 10 others).

    So… Is that very much it?
    Only 10 or 11 names most scholars appear to agree on? Or am I being too minimalist here, which I certainly hope I am?

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    • As far as MOST scholars? Yeah, you’re probably right. In my own mind, the case for Nazianzen and Maximus is pretty much a slam dunk. Only a little less confident on Athanasius only because he’s less systematic, but I’m pretty sure on him too. Cyril too.

      I think scholars are also pretty agreed upon Diodore and Theodore too.

      Assuming I’m right, this would mean you have the heroes (and heretics! Haha) of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 6th ec. Councils vs. Damascene, Palamas, Symeon the New Theologian, and Mark of Ephesus. And if those later fathers hasn’t read those earlier fathers through the faulty pseudo-dogmatic hermeneutic lens of the imperial opinion of an eternal hell, things might look a lot better.

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      • arthurjaco says:

        So I am right, or so it seems… Well, thanks for confirming!
        It’s true that those 10 or 11 names are the *usual* ones, those that come up most frequently.

        Athanasius, Cyril and Maximus… Yeah, definitely part of the “et al”, obviously (as well as Pierius, Theognostus, Pope Dionysius and perhaps also Pseudo-Dionysius, as Ramelli, Perczel and those two german scholars she mentions all think).

        You mention the “imperial opinion of an eternal Hell” and now I’m wondering; is the idea of the *inevitability* of the concept of an eternal Hell triumphing as the Empire adopted Christianity something DBH, Ramelli and/or other scholars have elaborated on anywhere?
        I mean, it obviously makes a lot of sense for an Emperor or any ruler at all to want to regulate his people’s behaviour as much as possible, through fear if necessary… But is there actual, rock-solid evidence that that’s what “Saint” Justinian (and they *wouldn’t* make a Saint out of Origen, I mean seriously) was intent on doing?
        I recall DBH talking about this in a number of interviews but I cannot recall him elaborating in any depth on that matter.
        Is that something that is well established, in your opinion?


        • There’s probably no consensus. This is honestly something that’s only talked about or discussed among those who are universalist and/or have strongly anti-state leanings. Brad Jersak calls himself Menodox, which is a good summary of the types of people that talk about this.

          Not that it’s not well-supported.

          Also, I don’t mean to imply that Justinian was wholly evil. “Only begotten Son and Immortal Word of God” is a nice hymn. Similarly, someone like Cyril of Alexandria was certainly not wholly good. But we’re getting off topic.

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          • arthurjaco says:

            That’s what I suspected : there is some evidence but it won’t really be discussed by anyone who doesn’t fall into the few categories of people you’ve just mentioned.

            Of course, I do not think either that Justinian was *completely* evil but I think it’s a fair assessment to say that the guy was pretty far from being Saint-like either… As for Cyril, there’s that whole Hypatia affair that could potentially do away with *his* sainthood if it were proven that he indeed conspired to have the poor lady murdered… Imagine this, the whole of Christendom officially canonising some kind of partner in crime…

            But yeah, we’re getting off topic, you’re absolutely right.


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