by Mark Chenoweth
If St Maximus the Confessor read Jordan Daniel Woods’ essay on the differences between Hans Urs von Balthasar’s hopeful universalism and George MacDonald’s fully confident universalism, with which modern theologian would the saint find himself in agreement? I know some would say this hypothetical question is absurd because Maximus was convinced of the necessity of an eternal hell, and if you find yourself in this position, I would ask that you please thoughtfully consider the articles and books on Maximus by Andreas Andreopoulos, Ilaria Ramelli, and myself linked to in Fr Aidan’s “readings in universalism” page. For the rest of us who already see a definite universalist tendency in Maximus, if he was some type of universalist, surely the type of universalism to which he was closest should have some bearing on today’s conversation regarding the permissibility of the doctrine. Although I am taking what is probably a minority position, I’m going to maintain that Maximus would find Balthasar’s personal view rather exotic and innovative, and actually feel more at home with the fully confident universalism of MacDonald.
I will begin by looking at whether Maximus would have been more familiar with Balthasar’s “tensioned” approach to the damnation and universalist passages in scripture or David Bentley Hart’s “dual eschatological horizon” view, wherein the damnation passages refer to one eschatological horizon while the universalist passages refer to a much further horizon after the long and circuitous period of judgment and purgation has reached its completion. Most of our investigation will consist of looking at some of Maximus’ favorite theologians (Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, but also Origen), and if they did advocate a universalist view, whether it was (anachronistically) “Balthasarian,” or a more confident understanding. Following suggestions from my last post, I will also offer an explanation for how many fathers could have fully confident universalist statements on the one hand, but in other works, still give us horrifying pictures of hell that imply its eternity. Last of all, we’ll turn to a few popular reasons some deny Maximus was a universalist that I didn’t fully address in my last post. I contend that when interpreted with sufficient background knowledge, some non-universalist readings of Maximus are a misunderstanding of his language of divinization, and other readings end up making his theology needlessly incoherent. Reading Maximus as a confident universalist along the lines of Nyssen makes better sense out of his language and allows the theology of this great philosophical mind to exist more seamlessly without internal contradictions. I admit that one of my criterion of a good interpretation of Maximus is one that lets his theology exist with the least amount of internal contradictions, but if anyone is familiar with Maximus’ exhaustingly precise logic, it seems unlikely for a thinker of his caliber to not notice when his theology contains glaring inconsistencies.
“Dual Eschatological Horizons” vs. “Scriptures in Tension”
Damnation: (Matt. 25:45; 2 Thess. 1:6 – 9; Rev. 14:11; 20:10 – 15)
Universal Salvation: (Rom. 5:18; 11:32; 1 Cor. 15:22; Phil. 2:11; Col. 1:20)
For many hopeful universalists like Von Balthasar, these two sets of scriptures should not be harmonized but should sit side-by-side as two different possible eschatological outcomes. For Hart, these two sets of statements mark two different points in the history of the cosmos. The first set marks the final judgment, the second, the restoration and end of judgment. Since Balthasar’s view has been more prominent in Catholic and Orthodox circles for the last couple decades, we will look more at Hart’s “dual eschatological horizons” view, despite most faithful readers of this site being thoroughly familiar with it. In his That All Shall Be Saved, Hart writes:
Each horizon is, of course, absolute within its own sphere: one is the final verdict on the totality of human history, the other the final verdict on the eternal purposes of God—just as the judgment of the cross is a verdict upon the violence and cruelty of human order and human history, and Easter the verdict upon creation as conceived in God’s eternal counsels.
Would Maximus see, for example, Romans 5:18 (“one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men” [RSV]) and Matthew 25:46 (“and they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life”) as two contrasting possibilities for the end of history? Or would he read Matthew 25:46 as Hart does, as only describing the immediate outcome of Christ’s return in judgment, where aionios (translated above as “eternal” in the RSV) would mean “aeonal” chastisement, or chastisement pertaining to the future aeon (from which the word aionios is derived), but not eternal chastisement? One of the best ways to begin answering this would be to see how Maximus’ greatest influences interpreted the kolasin aionion (“eternal punishment” vs “age-enduring chastisement”) of Matthew 25:46.
Clues from Maximus’ Predecessors
Hart’s dual eschatological approach does indeed seem to be Gregory of Nyssa’s. For example, in his The Life of Moses, Nyssen speaks explicitly about restoration after those whose sentence in Gehenna has reached its limit and the newly purified and divinely transformed can be admitted into the kingdom of heaven:
Perhaps someone, taking his departure from the fact that after three days of distress in darkness the Egyptians did share in the light, might be led to perceive the final restoration, which is expected to take place later in the kingdom of heaven for those who have suffered condemnation in Gehenna. For that darkness that could be felt, as the history says, has a great affinity both in its name and in its actual meaning to the exterior darkness. Both are dispelled when Moses, as we have perceived before, stretched forth his hand on behalf of those in darkness. In the same way we would perceive the true meaning of the furnace of ashes which according to the text, produced painful boils on the Egyptians. In the figure of what is called the “furnace” we perceive the threatened punishment of fire in Gehenna which touches only those who imitate the Egyptians in their manner of life.
Obviously, Nyssen interpreted Matthew 25:46 as implying that the wicked would depart into the fire of Gehenna in the age to come while the righteous would go into the life of the age to come, while indefinite ages later, those in Gehenna would finally be brought into heaven as well. Notice how matter-of-factly Nyssen says that this restoration is expected to take place. He does not display any anxiousness about expressing this interpretation. He isn’t even speaking for himself, since he says this restoration “is expected to take place,” which presumably means that it is expected to take place by Gregory’s fellow orthodox Christians. This would seem to confirm that the non-eternity of hell, and the reality of “dual eschatological horizons” was a fairly prevalent viewpoint in Gregory’s day, just as Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, and Basil seem to say (much to some of their chagrins). Although Ilaria Ramelli overstates her case from time to time, her broad argument that for the first 500 years of Christianity, much of the Church in both East and West was universalist is a claim that patristic luminaries like Andrew Louth and Frances Young have mostly endorsed. Citing Fr John Behr’s new translation of Origen’s On First Principles and the work of Ilaria Ramelli, Louth concludes that “the dismissal of universalism as an aberration (however influential) in the Christian dogmatic tradition on Origen’s part is less and less defensible.” The notion of a restoration after judgment, which was first fully articulated by Origen, was not an unusual one in antiquity.
Origen as the “Whetstone”
Most are aware that Origen of Alexandria was the first major craftsman of the doctrine of universal salvation, but it is sometimes forgotten what a great influence he had on many of our most beloved saints. We know that Gregory of Nyssa and his brother Basil were taught Christianity by their grandmother who converted to Christianity after hearing the preaching of Gregory the Wonderworker, who had himself converted by hearing Origen preach. Gregory of Nyssa refers to Origen favorably twice in his writings. Nazianzen, who was educated with Basil and Nyssen, is reported by ancient church historians to have called Origen “the lover of the good,” and “the pumice stone of us all.” He most likely praises Origen in one particular homily without naming him, and most scholars believe he helped compile Origen’s Philokalia along with Basil.
Because of Origen’s great influence, we shouldn’t be surprised to find universalist statements in Nazianzen. We can begin with this text from Nazianzen, which showed up in my last post, but it bears repeating here: “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.” Whether Nazianzen himself actually adopts view of punishment, we find out in a different homily, when he says that God’s punishment of death for the first human beings was instituted “so that evil should not be immortal. And so punishment became an act of love for humanity; For I am persuaded that this is the way in which God punishes.” Nazianzen repeats this passage verbatim in both his Christmas and Paschal orations, so it is not just a haphazard throw-away statement. If Nazianzen adopts this understanding of punishment, this at least makes it possible that there would be a restoration after judgment. When we look further into his corpus to see how confident he was in such a restoration, there isn’t any indication from his Origenian interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:28 that he had any doubts about the restoration at all:
God will be “all in all” at the time of restoration (apokatastaseos) …God will be “all in all” when we are no longer what we are now, a multiplicity of impulses and emotions, with little or nothing of God in us, but are fully like God, with room for God and God alone. Paul himself guarantees us of this. What he predicates of “God” without further specification in this passage, he elsewhere assigns clearly to Christ. I quote, “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision, nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is “all in all.”
This interpretation of God being “all in all,” when no evil movements exist in the soul and everyone is made holy, is exactly the same as Origen’s and Nyssen’s. Furthermore, what Gregory hints at in one sermon by asking whether God freed all from Hades, or only those who currently believed, he answers in several other places: Christ “loosed all those who groaned under the chains of Tartarus,” he restores “all, and not just some,” to salvation. Moreover, he insists that the “eighth day” symbolizes the life to come, which is given due to “our good works in this life and universal restoration [apokatastasis panton] in the next.” We see no agnosticism here regarding what Gregory believed would happen. We are here, only dealing with small samplings of many more universalist texts, all of which can be found in either of Ramelli’s works. When Nazianzen does speak on universalism, he categorically affirms it, and there is little indication he sees it as one possibility alongside eternal damnation. He does, of course, have several texts that speak horrifically of hell, and we will address how to make sense of these opposite streams of thought in the next section.
Other less developed visions of this confidence exist in earlier Fathers other than Origen such as Athanasius. Regarding where Athanasius drew his universalist influence, there is no question that he held Origen’s theology in the highest regard. He wrote a biography of the Origenian St. Anthony, appointed the Origenian Didymus the Blind to be the head of the theological school at Alexandria, and explicitly referred to Origen as “Origen the hardworking,” and the “the most learned and active writer among the ancient.” Finally, he remarked that it was Origen’s arguments for the coeternity of the Son and the Father that won approval at Nicea. Although his application of allegory was far more moderate than Origen’s, he still seems to have sided with Origen that Genesis represented paradise “figuratively,” as the “contemplation of intelligible reality,” and also believed that that being spiritually pure was essential to fully comprehending the meaning of scripture.
St. Athanasius seems to clearly state that all will be saved when in one of his festal letters he writes that Christ’s mercy does not just descend to the perfect, or those in the middle, but
even among those who come third, in sum, in such a way as to redeem all human beings to salvation. To this intent He has prepared many mansions with the Father, so that although the dwelling-place is various in proportion to the advance in moral attainment, yet all of us are within the wall, and all of us enter within the same fence, the adversary being cast out, and all his host expelled thence.
Athanasius is not simply making a statement of God’s intent to save, since his phrase “all human beings” should be linked with “all of us,” which he insists are within the walls, within the same fence, in contrast to the devil, whose army is expelled. This language of “entering” is not uncharacteristic for Athanasius either, since in a different festal letter, he says the same thing: “the totality of the peoples has entered so that every human be saved.” How did sinners enter within heaven’s walls? Athanasius seems to provide us with an answer in another festal letter: Christ “wants the repentance and conversion of the human being rather in its death. In this way, evilness, all of it, will be burnt away from all humans.” This was, of course, Origen’s understanding of the function of the fire of Gehenna. In another passage, he also hints that the fires of Gehenna are meant for painful and agonizing correction rather than eternal torment:
during the reign of Christ [evildoers] will be cast into the fire of the world to come [to pur to aiōnon]. Scripture calls ‘nations’ the iniquitous, because they do not live according to the law, but savagely, like pagans and barbarians. Of these people Scripture requires the exclusion, saying: ‘Go ruin’, and addressing them with a dreadful threat that these may revive, and those may correct themselves.”
It is statements like this that make us take a second look at his plethora of other statements which most of us are used to reading as statements of Christ’s only opening up the potential of salvation to all, and nothing more. For example, “the Father works its [the world’s] salvation in the same one [Christ] who created it,” or “Christ became a human being…to set free all beings in himself, to lead the world to the Father and to pacify all beings in himself, in heaven and on earth,” or “flesh was taken up by the logos to liberate all humans and resurrect all of them from the dead, and ransom all of them from sin,” or his often repeated phrase that Christ is the “savior of all.” Although Athanasius probably didn’t intentionally make these statements with universal salvation in mind, his broader theology of Christ’s deifying all of human nature is a theme that Gregory of Nyssa (and arguably St. Maximus) extended into an explicit (implicit in Maximus’ case) affirmation of universalism. Once again, in none of these statements does Athanasius sound agnostic or only mildly hopeful.
More on “Honorable Silence” in the Church Fathers
Despite all the quotes above, as most of us know, all we have to do is a simple internet search to find quotes from the same fathers mentioned above used to support an eternal hell. Even if, due to Ramelli’s work on the meaning of the Greek word aionios, we change “everlasting” or “eternal,” in these quotations to “age-enduring,” these quotes still seem to at least hint at eternal suffering. Ramelli could then provide some more universalist quotes from Cyril of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Ambrose, and we would simply end up stuck with two sets of warring quotes with no easy way to reconcile them. This is one reason some might argue that there is a “hopeful universalist” precedent in some fathers. Since we do in fact find terrifying hell statements and blatantly universalist statements in the same fathers including Gregory of Nyssa, one could argue that these Fathers saw either outcome as an equally likely possibility, thus making them “hopeful universalists.” However, we have no statement from any author stating that this tensioned approach is actually how they thought about eschatology. We simply have one sermon with one view and another theological writing from the same father with a seemingly totally contradictory view. For some very early authors like Irenaeus, one can indeed find statements perhaps implying an eternal hell, annihilationism, and universal salvation, and it’s quite possible that he generally didn’t have a set view of hell. However, it’s much more difficult to believe that later theologians like Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa also didn’t know what they believed and just haphazardly threw around different contradictory statements on hell. I suggest, expanding on the ideas in Ramelli, and ironically, Balthasar’s historical scholarship on the fathers, that these apparent contradictions can be explained by understanding the eternal hell statements as corresponding to Origen’s understanding of the “letter of scripture,” and the universalist statements as corresponding to the “divine” meaning of scripture. Most of us are at least familiar with the fact that Origen believed there was a common literal meaning to scripture and another more elevated allegorical or spiritual meaning to scripture. It seems that for him and his followers, the New Testament’s literal statements on hell were one of the few occasions when sticking to “the letter” of scripture was a good idea when preaching to the masses.
The tendency among all the Church fathers mentioned above seems to be to speak of hell in terrifying terms in their homilies while only making vague references to universal salvation, but to support universalism in more serious theological or philosophical works. Origen began this precedent by speaking openly of universal salvation in his On First Principles and Commentary on John, while his references to it in his homilies tend to be more muted. For example, in his homilies on Luke, when referring to the life to come, he says, “I do not know whether I should expose such mysteries before such a public […] it is dangerous.” He hints at universal salvation again in his Lukan homilies when he says, “‘all flesh will see God’s salvation’ [Luke3:6] […] what does Scripture mean by saying ‘all flesh’? That there is no flesh that is excepted so as not to see God’s salvation. I leave this to be understood by those who grasp the mysteries of Scripture.” In Origen’s homilies, these veiled references to universal salvation are certainly not the triumphant statements of universalism we find in his far more technical and theological On First Principles.
In another homily on Jeremiah, Origen says that God is portrayed as wrathful in scripture in order to convert those who are like infants, that they might repent, even though in reality, God has no wrath. As Origen reiterates in Contra Celsum (see my previous piece), he believed threats of age-enduring punishments in hell without mentioning any hope of final salvation were helpful to spiritual “newborns” who could only progress in virtue through fear of punishment.
Although Nyssen sometimes speaks of universal salvation in his homilies more openly than any other saint, we still find him giving hellfire homilies that give John Chrysostom and Jonathan Edwards a run for their money. He speaks in terrifying terms of the unquenchable fire and the undying worm (e.g. Mk. 9:48) and even makes it sound like we should interpret these images as implying something like an eternal loss of hope. In his homily on the beatitudes, he says that those who neglected to help the poor will receive no mercy in hell:
You prized want of mercy, so take what you have loved; you looked not with compassion, you will get no merciful looks, you ignored suffering, you will be ignored as you perish; you fled from mercy, mercy will flee from you…what use will [your wealth] be against weeping and grinding of teeth? Who will illuminate the darkness, who quench the flame, who ward off the undying worm? Let us then take note, my brothers, of the voice of the Lord, who has taught us so much about the future in few words, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
Gregory’s aim is made clear at the end of this passage: He wants to encourage repentance. But in this instance, he, like Origen, and like Jesus himself upon whose words these homilies are based, seems to think it beneficial to only speak of punishment without ever mentioning any hope of redemption (even if Origen, Jesus, and Gregory strongly held to this hope).
However, in what is probably his last work, his Homilies on the Song of Songs, Gregory tells us that many passages in the Old Testament, and the hell passages in the New Testament, should not be interpreted according to their most literal meaning. This helps us understand that in his homilies, he was giving the meaning of the hell passages “according to the letter” for the sake of his audience’s salvation. In his homilies on the Song of Songs, he doesn’t tell us how we should interpret the hell passages, but he does say that their literal meaning is ultimately unworthy of God. He begins his explanation by arguing against some people in the church who insist on interpreting all of scripture according to “the letter”:
It seems right to some church leaders, however, to stand by the letter of the Holy Scriptures in all circumstances, and they do not agree that Scripture says anything for our profit by way of enigmas and below-the-surface meanings. For this reason I judge it necessary first of all to defend my practice against those who thus charge us.
Like Origen, he says that he is following Paul’s use of allegory in scripture (e.g. Gal. 4:22-24). He then goes on to write that many things in the Old Testament, if interpreted literally, make Christianity out to be an embarrassment, a myth, and entirely unhelpful in the spiritual life. He gives a handful of examples from Genesis 1-3, and several other Old Testament passages, such as Hosea’s fathering a child through “sexual malfeasance,” and King David’s adultery and murder. But then, he moves to the New Testament and says that Jesus spoke to his disciples through dark sayings and enigmas, but “in private,” he would reveal what his parables meant to those closest to him. Gregory then writes,
This [discerning a meaning worthy of God] applies not only to the words of the Old Covenant but also to the greater part of the Gospel teaching: the winnowing fork that clears the threshing floor, the chaff being blown away, the wheat remaining at the feet of the winnower, the unquenchable fire, the good granary, the fertile tree of the wicked, the threat of the axe that terrifyingly exhibits its sharp edge to the tree beforehand, the stones being altered to human nature (Matt. 3:9-12; Luke 3:8-9).
Almost all the things in the New Testament that should not be interpreted according to the letter are the passages about hell or the final judgment. Just as Gregory says that “in private,” Jesus explained the meaning of his parables to his disciples, in what might be his last work, Gregory clues us in to why it seems like he and most other Fathers have such contradictory passages on hell. One set of statements is probably geared towards “infants” in Christ, who can only be urged to good works through punishment and attention to “the letter.” As Gregory writes in his first homily on the Song of Songs, “salvation comes to some people even through fear…in the face of the threats of punishment in Gehenna.” However, for Nyssen and others, this “hellfire and brimstone” way of reading is only interpreting the text in its most literal and superficial fashion. On the other hand, the universalist readings of the same passages are discerning the meaning “worthy of God” that describes more accurately the true nature of hell to those spiritually mature enough to hear it.
We have to look to Gregory’s more theological or doctrinal works to get a sense of the more elevated meaning he believes God intended for scripture’s “hell” texts. Some may consider Nyssen’s Catechetical Discourse an exception to this rule, where Gregory tells a general audience about universal salvation. However, as Ignatius Green argues, the discourse was most likely intended as a handbook for catechists, and wasn’t something that Nyssen simply stood up in Church one Sunday and preached to everyone. As Nyssen says in his preface to the work, “the same manner of teaching will not be made suitable for all who approach the word.” Although this statement is in reference to his arguments against the truth of other religions, what he says equally applies to his teaching of universal salvation. The Catechetical Discourse contains the entire gospel teaching and catechists must pick and choose which teachings they deem appropriate to discuss with their catechumens.
In his more theological works (the Catechetical Discourse should be included here), when he speaks about the unquenchable fire, or the wheat and the chaff (both phrases mentioned in his quoted text above), gone are his homiletical references to the (perhaps) endless burning of sinners. Now, all these gospel images are metaphors for the separation of evil from good. The unquenchable fire slowly and painfully burns up people’s sins rather than the sinners themselves. As we saw in my previous post, he argues that because of evil’s finite nature, all people will eventually reach the furthest limit in evil possible, and when God gives them over to experience the painful consequences of their sins (presumably in Gehenna), this will at some point provoke in them a desire for the good. They will then willingly submit to the unquenchable fire of God that “burns as long as it has fuel [evil]” until “no creature will fall out of the kingdom of God,” and the category of “the saved” will include every being.
This emphasis on multiple levels of meaning in scripture probably made it possible for Church Fathers in the “Alexandrian” tradition to speak of hell in two totally different ways without feeling as if they were lying in one interpretation and telling the truth in another. Their biggest concern was interpreting scripture in a way that would bring spiritual benefit to their listeners. Sometimes this meant giving the meaning according to “the letter,” and telling one’s audience that in the age to come, the fire and worm would burn sinners unceasingly. On other occasions, it meant saying that the fire and worm in Gehenna actually eat away at sin and enable salvation (we can find both types of “contradictory” statements in Athanasius, Nazianzen, Nyssen, and of course, Maximus).
Did these Fathers we surveyed see the eternal damnation of some or many and the salvation of all as two eschatological outcomes that we just have to hold in equal tension? Gregory of Nyssa certainly did not. He, like all the universalist fathers, had one set of terrifying statements of hell, which contained the most “fleshly” (to use Origen’s terminology) meaning of scripture appropriate for spiritual beginners. For the more advanced, he had another set of statements advocating the deeper and more spiritual universalist meaning of these same exact scriptural texts. We also see evidence that Nazianzen was well aware of this twofold meaning of the hell texts, since he hints that the fire has another meaning in one of his public sermons: “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.” As was mentioned before, Athanasius did not speak as much as Nazianzen or Nyssen of the spiritual meaning of scripture, but we have no reason to believe he completely rejected Origen’s famous distinction between the “letter” and “the spirit” of scripture. No entirely literal interpretation of scripture would enable Athanasius to say that “no one else is found in the scriptures [the Old Testament] except the Savior common to all, the God Word, our Lord Jesus Christ,” which is a Pauline and Origenian statement if there ever was one. It is therefore not implausible that he would have been somewhat familiar with a distinction between “the spirt” and “the letter” in regards to his interpretation of hell.
In addition to the textual evidence from the fathers above, as we saw in my last post, Maximus also has several passages that almost certainly suggest that he saw threats of punishment in Gehenna as suitable for beginners to contemplate while universal salvation was only suitable for the advanced to hear about. With all that as a background, we have good reason to believe these fathers’ universalist statements represent their actual views while their terrifyingly violent eternal hell statements represent their condescension to what they saw as the spiritual infancy of their listeners/readers. On the other hand, the hypothesis that the fathers simply held the universalist scripture passages and damnation passages in equal tension fails to take account for both these fathers’ allegorical or “apocalyptic” way of reading scripture, their strategy to motivate spiritual beginners through fear, and their fully confident statements of universal salvation.
Maximus as an Inheritor of Intentional Duplicity
Although Maximus sometimes mentions fathers like John Chrysostom in his writings, whose sermons could probably be used to more easily support an anti-universalist position, there is no question that Maximus’ greatest love was for more theological thinkers like Nazianzen, Nyssen, Athanasius, but also (with modifications) Evagrius and Origen. If, as I argued in the last article, Maximus did not understand universalism to be condemned at the fifth ecumenical council, there is no good reason to believe he completely rejected the universalism of his predecessors . He did have to modify how openly he spoke of universal salvation because St. Justinian’s anti-universalist presence still loomed large in the empire, but this is only another reason for Maximus’ “honorable silence” on universalism (spoken about at length in the previous post), not his rejection of the doctrine. Before we leave this topic, we will look at one particular text from Maximus, the importance of which should not be underestimated:
[When Christ is experienced by a purified mind,] he does not include parables and enigmas, nor necessary stories and allegories; but when he is present to humans incapable of approaching denuded thoughts with a denuded mind, discoursing on the basis of means customary for them — framed through a diversity of stories, enigmas, parables and obscure words — he becomes flesh. For according to the first approach, our mind does not approach the denuded Word- who is Word by nature, but flesh by sight, so that the many see him seeming to be flesh and not Word, even though he is Word in truth. For that which does not seem to be the case to the many, but is other than what it seems, that is the meaning of scripture. For the Word becomes flesh through every single written word.
If, for Maximus, the meaning of scripture is “other than what it seems,” this should give us great pause when considering how matter-of-factly we should understand his terrifying hell texts, which at times, do imply hell existing in perpetuity. Since he has other statements that imply hell’s non-eternity, and we saw that these statements give us the more “spiritual meaning,” we should place Maximus’ terrifying hell statements in the category of the “fleshly” meaning of scripture, and the universalist texts in the category of the “divine” meaning of scripture. In one of Maximus’ most probable “honorable silences” on universal salvation, he does in fact say that the Fathers offered the more mystical (in this case, universalist) interpretations of a passage “only after they first discerned the capacity of their listeners,” and Maximus himself chooses not to offer this interpretation but “say what is suitable for all, and meaningful for both beginners and the more advanced.”
The very fact that Maximus has honorable silences makes more sense if he was in fact quite confident in his hope for universal salvation. There doesn’t seem to be a plausible pastoral reason to avoid speaking of something that only might happen. Aside from the question of whether “honorable silence” would be a wise pastoral practice for universalists today, one can at least understand these fathers’ fears that unqualifiedly telling every single parishioner that “all will be saved” could cause spiritual negligence in beginning Christians. But why keep an agnostic universalism so tightly under wraps? The very fact that an eternal hell may be real and I might end up there should be enough to put terror in even the laziest individual. Maximus gives no indication in his “honorable silences” that the interpretation he refuses to disclose is simply “a possibility.” For example, in one “honorable silence,” he says, “the deeper secrets of the divine doctrines must not be committed to writing.” It makes little sense to think of the mere possibility that all may saved as “a deep secret of a divine doctrine.” On another occasion, he calls this secret “sublime.” Maximus seems to have something far more glorious and scandalous in mind here than universalist agnosticism.
Clues from Maximus’ Texts
Now that we have looked at whether Maximus’ universalist predecessors were timidly hopeful or confidently expectant, we can look further into this question in the writings of Maximus. Before we look at any new issues, however, I will briefly quote from the conclusion of my last blog post in order to remind the reader of what we have already seen from Maximus.
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,” [I would also add that Maximus has a few explicitly universalist statements], 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.
Following up on that last sentence, we now want to ask, to what form of universalism did Maximus hold? As we saw last time, he certainly speaks of a terrifying judgment of the righteous and the wicked, and in other places, speaks of a universal harmony, unison, and perfection of all creatures. I gave many examples in my last piece, so here are just two new examples of each type of statement:
Universal Restoration: This [image] may perhaps be the subjection of which Paul speaks [1 Cor. 15:28] when he describes the Son subjecting to the Father those who freely accept to be subjected to Him…on account of which, the last enemy, death [he obviously interprets this as spiritual death], will be destroyed…henceforth [the will] has neither the inclination nor the ability to be carried elsewhere…it will become God by divinization…for in that state nothing will appear apart from God, nor will there be anything opposed to God that could entice our will to desire it, since all things intelligible and sensible will be enveloped in the ineffable manifestation and presence of God.
Some may see his remark that “those who freely accept to be subjected to Him,” implies that some don’t freely accept this submission, but since the rest of the language here is universal, it’s more likely this is his very underhanded way of saying all will freely accept this subjection, which would fit well with his honorable silence, and much more will be said about confusing phrases like this later. As a confirmation that Maximus understands the abolition of the “last enemy, death,” in 1 Corinthians 15 to be the complete eradication of spiritual death, in his Questions and Doubts he says:
“death is the last enemy to be destroyed” means whenever we, ourselves, submit the entire self-determining will to God, then the last enemy is also abolished. And it is called “death” since God is life, and that which is opposed to life is fittingly called death.
Maximus interprets this death on an individual basis, but if the death being referred to in 1 Cor. 15 is a spiritual one, there is no question that this would mean a universal abolition of spiritual death. If spiritual death is totally and universally destroyed in all humans, all that is left is the submission of the entire self-determining will to God. St. Paul mentions no stragglers still “in death” when God is “all in all.” This is confirmed in the rest of Ambiguum 7, where Maximus speaks of all of humanity being divinized and being part of the body of Christ (see my previous article). For Maximus, this abolition of death is universal salvation, and was explicitly interpreted as such by both Origen and Nyssen, and Maximus follows them on every single detail of interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15, only without explicitly spelling out the implications.
Now on to his “damnation” passage:
Damnation: [Beings] move in accordance with their possession or privation of the potential they have naturally to participate in Him who is by nature absolutely imparticipable, and who offers Himself wholly and simply to all – worthy and unworthy – by grace through His infinite goodness, and who endows each with the permeance of eternal being [or “ever being”], corresponding to the way that each disposes himself and is. And for those who participate or do not participate proportionately in Him who, in the truest sense, is and is good, and is forever, there is an intensification and increase of punishment for those who cannot participate, and of enjoyment for those who can participate.
As I discuss in more detail in my last post, some scholars like David Bradshaw and Fr Ignatius Green, admittedly following the dominant (but by no means binding) interpretation of the Orthodox Church, argue that both sets of Maximus’ statements above apply to the same event: the Parousia where Christ is “all in all,” but for the wicked, this is experienced as eternal torment. Despite this being how most Orthodox saints after Maximus interpreted him, I just can’t bring myself to see how this is a reasonable explanation of Maximus’ statements, and I spend a considerable amount of time showing why in my previous piece. Even in the two contrasting statements above, it certainly doesn’t seem like “those who cannot participate” (“damnation passage”) are the same people that have “become God by Divinization” (universalist passage). The two sets of statements seem to be speaking about two different situations, and I suggest that one event is the final judgment while the other is the universal restoration.
Much more was said in the last piece about Maximus phrase “ever being badly” (each word is used above, but separated by a few phrases in between), but it should be pointed out that for Maximus, God gives everyone “eternal being,” while “being well,” or “being badly” are always subject to some type of change (not to be confused with the possibility of a “second fall”). “Being well” describes a life of dynamic and constantly increasing participation in the life of God, while “being badly” describes a life literally grounded in instability and finiteness and therefore, a life not necessarily subject to eternal suffering. As Andrew Louth points out, “aei eu einai and aei pheu einai [“ever being well” and “ever being badly”] are not parallel options; pheu einai seems to frustrate God’s plan for human kind. Maximos does not, so far as I can tell, dwell on this: he has reached a surd and refuses to incorporate it into his understanding of God’s purposes.”
By way of further response to Bradshaw and Green’s interpretation, when Maximus says in many places that the whole human nature is divinized, sometimes he may only be speaking about the potential of each hypostasis to partake in the divinized human nature, but there are also several statements from Maximus where he speaks about every or all humans being divinized. It is much more difficult to take these statements as a reference to Christ’s potentially divinizing each individual. In some cases, Maximus specifically states that the divinization is present not just in potentiality but in actuality: “they [the prophets] researched and investigated that other time, by which I mean the age or aeon according to which divinization (ektheoseos) will be present in actuality to all (pantas), transforming (metapoiousa) all human beings into the divine likeness…”
The above statement sounds about as explicit a universalist statement as anyone could make. One could perhaps respond that Maximus doesn’t actually mean divinization here, but only resurrection. However, as Jordan Wood helpfully pointed out to me, Maximus also uses the word transformation (metapoiousa) here, which he often uses in place of deification, and our own Eucharistic transformation into gods. Maximus also uses two different words that mean all here, pantas, and omoiosin. This isn’t simply a reference to the one human nature that is divinized, but the deification of each individual hypostatsis or particular of human nature.
Other scholars dismiss statements like the above because Maximus immediately adds that this divinization which is present in actuality to all is present “in a manner proportionate to each, to the extent that each one is receptive of it.” This little additional phrase makes many of us now reconsider whether what came before is actually a universalist statement. We assume that if God is in all but only in a manner “that each one is receptive of it,” this must mean that some people aren’t receptive of it for all eternity. But this would then mean that we have to evacuate Maximus’ phrase “divinization” (ektheoseos) of almost all its meaning. Under this interpretation, those in hell are individually divinized while being simultaneously eternally damned. While Maximus may be able to speak of Christ divinizing human nature while still damning some individuals for all eternity, his words begin to mean nothing if we start speaking of God simultaneously divinizing and damning the same individual. If in any other circumstance, we were to hear of an individual being divinized and made into the divine likeness, the last thing we would think this means is that the person has eternally rejected God in hell, and yet this is what Bradshaw’s and Green’s interpretation of Maximus ultimately seems to require us to believe. Fortunately, there is a more exegetically pleasing alternative that makes sense both of the “divinization” language and the language of proportionality.
Maximus’ Language of Proportionality
Like much of his theology, Maximus was trying to keep the good elements of the Evagrian theological system while discarding the bad elements that were condemned in 553. The anathemas of 553 give a perfect indication of exactly what Maximus was trying to avoid by stressing proportionality:
- If anyone says that there will not be a single difference at all between Christ and other rational beings, neither in substance nor in knowledge nor in power over everything nor in operation, but that all will be at the right hand of God as Christ beside them will be, as indeed they were also in their mythical pre-existence, let him be anathema.
- 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 preexistence, let him be anathema.
By speaking of God in all, but proportionately, Maximus was speaking against any sense of an abolition of hypostases, or a loss of each human’s identity in the apokatastasis. For Maximus, everyone is Divinized but retains their uniqueness as a human being. As Jordan Daniel Wood points out in one of his comments on my last blog, Maximus’ “point is nearly always that an expressed activity is expressed principally according to the character of the medium that expresses it…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.’”
In Amb. 47, Maximus explains his own language of proportionality completely along the lines of what Wood suggests:
If Christ…is one, how is it that the law, when ritually celebrating the type of Christ, commands that a multiplicity of lambs be slain in the house of the families? [Ex. 12:3]…Thus it happens that each of us in his own rank…sacrifices the Divine Lamb, partakes of its fleshes, and takes his fill of Jesus. For to each person, Christ Jesus becomes his own proper lamb, to the extent that each is able to contain and consume Him. He becomes something proper to Paul…something distinctively proper to Peter…and something distinctively proper for each of the saints…becoming all things to everyone.
In another passage in his Chapters on Theology, he writes that God has “become all things for all that he might save all,” and goes on to specify that God appears to spiritual beginners different from how he appears to the advanced “in a way appropriate to the capacity of each.” In both of these passages, (which properly represent Maximus’ larger corpus) there is no mention whatsoever of any sinners or wicked people, just people at different levels of holiness. It’s part and parcel of both Maximus’ and Nyssen’s vision of epektasis that all are at different levels of participation in God, and will always be at different levels, but all are ever moving into deeper participation in God. John might be further along than Peter, who is further along than Mark, but once universal salvation has been achieved, all are moving in the same direction towards deeper and deeper participation. Given this background of Maximus’ statements of proportionality, the great Maximus scholar Paul Blowers seems mistaken when he says that Maximus’ language of God being “all in all” should not be interpreted in a straightforwardly universalist manner because “Maximus stresses how the Logos becomes all things to all human beings ‘proportionately in each one.’” This statement from Maximus doesn’t disqualify his universalist statements in the slightest.
Lastly, Maximus may have actually borrowed his language of proportionality from Gregory of Nyssa, who most scholars sees as the quintessential patristic universalist. Most would agree that by using this language, Gregory isn’t saying some are eternally in hell. Both Maximus and Gregory use the Greek word idios to emphasize that God appears in a particular manner to each individual. For example, in his sixth homily on the Song of Songs, Nyssen describes how God is like an actor in a drama in that as people progress in perfection, God appears to them in proportion to the degree of perfection they have reached:
In proportion to the perfection that each has attained for the moment through good things, some special quality illumines his manner of life, one such appearing and succeeding to another by reason of his increase in good things.
Nyssen repeats these statements of proportionality throughout his corpus and most of them don’t mention anyone in hell, just different degrees of perfection in everyone. Given that Maximus expanded on Nyssen’s conception of epektasis (terming it “ever moving rest”), it is quite probable that he would have picked up this language of proportionality from Nyssen. Maximus’ language is certainly not an argument for Maximus being identified as a universalist, but neither should it be part of an argument against his universalism. The language of proportionality is compatible with Maximus’ hell statements and his universalist statements, and he uses the language in both. The terminology doesn’t have anything to do with who is saved or damned, but simply emphasizes the distinction and uniqueness of all people, all of whom are at different levels of perfection. With this as a background, we can look with fresh eyes at Maximus’ statement quoted above and notice that he is not saying anything different from what Nyssen repeatedly asserted:
[The prophets] researched and investigated that other time, by which I mean the age or aeon according to which divinization will be present in actuality to all, transforming all human beings into the divine likeness, in a manner proportionate to each, to the extent that each one is receptive of it.
Objection: God Will be All in All, but
the Righteous Will Experience Him as Torment
Another objection to reading Maximus a confident universalist would be that sometimes, Maximus appears to say that the final judgment is the final event of eschatological history, leaving no room for any restoration to follow. By far, the best passage to support this view comes from Ad Thalassium 59:
For nature does not contain the characteristics of the super-natural, just as it does not contain the laws of what is against nature. By ‘supernatural’ I mean the divine and inconceivable joy, which God naturally creates when he is united by grace to those who are worthy. By ‘against nature’, I mean the unspeakable anguish which is involved in the deprivation of this (joy), which God naturally creates when He is united with the unworthy against grace. For God is united with all, according to the quality of the fundamental state of each person; in a way that He understands, he supplies sensation to each one, corresponding to the way each is made by Him to receive the One Who is completely united to all, at the end of the ages.
At first, much like Amb. 65, there seems to be absolutely no room here whatsoever for a universalist interpretation of Maximus. It is statements like this that push great Maximus scholars like Paul Blowers to say that Maximus considered eternal damnation one eschatological possibility alongside universal salvation. Maximus’ statement above that this will happen at “the end of the ages” certainly seems to mean that there is no restoration to be looked forward to after this. It is possible that this phrase of Maximus above, “completely united to all, at the end of the ages,” is actually a reference to the universal restoration, but it’s also possible that the phrase is referring to the last judgment, which tends to make better sense given its context. Supposing the phrase is indeed a reference to the final judgment and not to the restoration, we must keep in mind that for Maximus, there seems to be not one “end of the ages,” but three different “end(s) of the ages”! In Ambiguum 22, he writes,
existing here and now, we will reach the end of the ages. 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 … the power of the intellect, which by potential is unconditionally receptive of all knowledge, passes through the whole nature of beings and whatever can be known, and leaves behind itself all the ages…Thus in truth “the ends of the ages have come upon us,” though we have not yet received through the grace that is in Christ the gift of the good things that transcend the ages and nature…[The divinity] possesses the infinite power to divinize, a power which in fact transcends all infinity, and which never comes to an end in the things it has brought into being.
As strange as it may sound, even though Maximus says God will be united to all, the worthy and the unworthy, at “the end of the ages,” this does not necessarily mean that he didn’t envision more ages to come, the last age being the “aeon according to which divinization will be present in actuality to all.” We can postulate three “end of the ages” for Maximus that show up in the passage above. The first would be Christ’s incarnation (“the end of the ages have come upon us”), the second Christ’s return in judgment (“existing in the here and now we will reach the end of the ages”), and last of all, the universal restoration of humanity (God divinizes all “the things it has brought into being”), when any last trace of time is transformed into absolute eternity, which “transcends all infinity.” Maximus also says the same thing in regard to the “ages” in his Chapters on Theology 2.85. With three different “ends of the ages,” we once again, seem to come close to a view of Hart’s “dual eschatological horizons.”
Objection: But Only the “Worthy” are Divinized!
Finally, some argue that because Maximus repeatedly says that only the “worthy” are divinized, this implies that some, i.e. the unworthy, will never be divinized, and thus in hell for all eternity. This is probably one of the strongest arguments against seeing Maximus as a universalist, but as we will see, postulating that the qualifier “worthy” implies that some must be unworthy, ultimately creates needless contradictions in Maximus’ writings. Moreover, there is again, a plausible reason why Maximus would keep using the “worthy” qualifier despite the fact that it makes his writing quite confusing at times, and does create the initial impression that all are not saved.
Before we look at any particular passages, it must be stated that all Christian universalists agree that only the absolutely pure and totally holy will ever enter the kingdom of heaven, so asserting that only the worthy are saved does not in any way contradict universal salvation, and Maximus certainly knew this from his reading of Nyssen and other early fathers. This is why Maximus says that the fire of the final judgment will painfully transform sinners into saints over long aeons of anguishing yet corrective chastisement. Emphasizing that only “the worthy” are saved was also another way for Maximus to endorse that it is only through our free will and cooperation with God that we can be saved. As for the historical reason behind using the term, this will have to wait until after our look at Maximus’ key texts.
In his commentary on the Divine Liturgy, Maximus sees the closing of the doors and the dismissal as symbolizing the final judgment and the sending away of the wicked to hell. We all know that the purpose of the dismissal of the catechumens in the first place is to prepare them to eventually partake of communion, and this fact was probably not lost on Maximus. His commentary on the “kiss of peace,” which comes after the dismissal, is striking. Its symbolic meaning takes on a universal scope since, as Maximus says, the mouth symbolizes rationality, of which all rational beings (logikoi, i.e. all people) partake. Still, Maximus specifies that only the worthy will participate:
The spiritual kiss of peace, which is addressed to all the people, prefigures and portrays in advance the unanimity, agreement, and identity in rationality that we all shall possess toward one another at the time when the unspeakable blessings to come will be revealed according to faith and love; and it is through this identity that the worthy [axioi] receive kinship with God the Word. For the mouth is a symbol of reason- the reason by which in fact all who participate in rationality are united to all things as rational beings and united to the first and only Word and Cause of all rationality.
During the Sanctus in the Anaphora prayers, which again, occur after the dismissal of the catechumens and shortly after the kiss of peace, Maximus says that “human nature will be taught to sing in harmony with the powers above,” and have a “ceaseless motion around God,” and that there will be “oneness and equality of honor” between the “incorporeal and intellectual powers…[of] “everyone with everyone” (pros pantas panton). Yet we must keep in mind that Maximus tells us elsewhere that this takes place only in the worthy. This is not Maximus’ description of the final judgment. There is no mention of any wicked people suffering torment, or anyone moving against nature. Given Maximus’ understanding of motion (see the previous post), if all of human nature moves ceaselessly around God, this means there would no longer be any human with any movement contrary to nature, which is often how he characterizes the damned in the final judgment. In other words, no one is damned in Maximus’ above description.
Yet, Maximus still adds the “worthy” qualifier. It should become obvious at this point that the only way that all of human nature can move ceaselessly around God, etc. and for this to only occur in those who are worthy would be if all of human nature (i.e. every human being) is, at this point, made worthy. Once again, if one argues that the phrase “the worthy” implies that some are in hell, then how is it that all of human nature is said to move ceaselessly around the Divinity? And if one argues that all of human nature ceaselessly moving around God does not imply universal salvation, then why is it that this is said to only take place in the worthy? Universal salvation is the only solution that makes sense of the text.
As in most cases, Maximus obscurely affirms what Gregory of Nyssa says explicitly. In Gregory’s On the Soul and the Resurrection, one notices three clustered themes Maximus speaks about above: The mention of all of human nature, the “unspeakable blessings to come,” and the “oneness and equality of honor.” Although the wording is slightly different, it’s difficult to argue that the clustering of these themes in both writers is simply coincidental:
[God] has one goal: When the whole fullness of our nature has been perfected in each man, some straightaway even in this life purified from evil, others healed thereafter through fire for the appropriate length of time, and others ignorant of the experience equally of good and of evil in the life here, God intends to set before everyone the participation of the good things in Him [“oneness and equality of honor”], which the scripture says eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor thought attained [“the unspeakable blessings to come,” 1 Cor. 2:9].”
Given all we know of Maximus at this point, the Origenian Eusebius of Caesarea summarizes beautifully what Maximus means when he simultaneously says only the worthy will experience “the unspeakable blessings to come,” and yet all of “human nature” will ceaselessly move around the Divinity: “But after the end and perfection of all, at the constitution of the new aeon, God will no longer inhabit few, but all, those who by then have become worthy [tois tote axios] of the kingdom of heavens.”
Given that Maximus sees a definite progression in the liturgy corresponding to a progression in the life of the cosmos, there is good reason to believe we see here another instance of Hart’s dual eschatological horizons. We can think of the parallelism in this way: Catechumens/those in Gehenna have finally spent enough time outside of the nave/outside of the heavenly courts in preparation/purification to receive the Eucharist/ enter the heavenly courts. Although this is certainly a speculative outworking of Maximus’ thought, perhaps it is no coincidence that historically, catechumens are chrismated or confirmed on Easter, the time of the Orthodox church year where the hymns most confidently proclaim Christ’s total emptying of the realms of hades (e.g. “Thou didst close the chambers of death, O Christ, Thou hast emptied all the palaces of Hell”). The season of Lent could be seen as symbolically mirroring the final suffering and purification of those in Gehenna before the final and glorious bestowal of “unspeakable blessings” (to use the Confessor’s terminology) upon everything and everyone God has created at his Paschal victory.
Was Maximus Speaking “In Code”?
Adding the word “worthy” to his statements made it possible for Maximus to speak of universal salvation without most people noticing, including imperial elites who were still undoubtedly quite averse to the doctrine after St. Justinian’s (unsuccessful) attempts to have it ecumenically condemned. Maximus probably knew that only the most attentive reader would catch on to what he was actually saying. We can see evidence of this stealthy approach in his interpretation of Luke 3:6 (“All flesh shall see the salvation of God”), where, at first, he says that the verse means only “all faithful flesh” will see salvation; but later says he knows a “loftier contemplation” of the verse, and here he writes with no qualifications that God “becomes ‘all things in all’ that He might ‘save all through the riches of his goodness.’” We saw above that Origen also commented on this verse and said that he will “leave this [what is implied in the verse] to be understood by those who grasp the mysteries of Scripture.” Maximus is following Origen here, implying that, yes, only faithful flesh will see salvation, but in fact, all flesh will be found faithful.
Lest someone think this suggestion my desperate attempt to “make Maximus into a universalist,” there is more to be said in favor of this almost “coded” speech. As we saw above, Origen and the fathers that followed him only let the universalist secret out to those they felt were spiritually mature, but what was vague in these fathers almost had to become a secret “code” in Maximus’ time. As Istvan Perczel convincingly shows, after the condemnation of “Origenism” in 553, “Origenists” like Theodore of Caesarea developed what could almost be called a secret code in their writings to allow themselves to speak of their “Origenist” myths without imperial detection. By Maximus’ time, “Origenists” had had enough time to put their beliefs in-line with the 553 council while retaining the best of what Origen and Evagrius had to offer. As Perczel argues, along with Blowers and Ramelli, Maximus most likely learned the monastic life in one of these “reformed” or “orthodox Origenist” Palestinian monasteries. Still, any insight from Origen or Evagrius, even if it wasn’t condemned (universalism was not condemned, see here and here) was certainly not welcome on the imperial level, and so a certain degree of discreetness was necessary. Maximus’ famous refutations of “Origenist” myths are just as much responses to accusations that he himself was an Origenist as much as they are responses to an actual group of monks. This would make sense in light of the fact that one of his biographies tells us that he was put on trial in 665, and accused of the heretical Origenism condemned in 553. This is not surprising since all of his writings, but especially his Ad Thalassium is more full of allegorical and spiritual interpretations of scripture than almost anything else in the seventh century.
As we saw last time, Maximus has several universalist statements that don’t have the “worthy” qualifier in them, and given the above analysis, it would be completely unnecessary to see the universalist sounding statements with the qualifier as speaking of some other eschatological situation. Both types of statements are speaking of the same universal restoration. Maximus had very good reasons to keep his opinion hidden, which is why it requires a considerable amount of work to realize he is in fact making a universalist statement. We must remember that for Maximus, one must also look beneath the surface of scripture to understand it as well: “For that which does not seem to be the case to the many, but is other than what it seems, that is the meaning of scripture.” Perhaps this is also how some of Maximus’ own texts work.
Was Maximus a hopeful universalist? It depends on what we mean by “hope.” If by “hope,” we mean an agnosticism regarding whether some will be forever lost, which is how Balthasar is traditionally interpreted, then no. But if we mean a confident expectation that God will persuade every last soul in Gehenna that only he can fulfill their deepest desires, then yes. If we mean an assured hope that after indefinite aeons in hell, all beings will voluntarily choose to undergo purification and enter the heavenly courts, then yes. However, I doubt Maximus would attribute all his confidence to a theological or philosophical argument. Although as we saw before, Maximus has several streams of philosophical thought that all point exclusively towards universal salvation, for him, as for all the Fathers and especially Origen, they copiously used philosophy to support what they first saw revealed through their crucified Lord who opened the scriptures. In my view, Kallistos Ware speaks for Maximus when he writes that universal salvation is not a “logical certainty.” However, if Maximus believed that Christ was proclaimed not just as the potential savior of all, but the actual savior of all (e.g. Lk. 16:16; Rom.5; Phil 2:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:28), if he believed that God gave all people to Christ, and in the age to come that Christ will give life to everyone God has entrusted to him (Jn. 17:2), then surely God wouldn’t have made these promises unless he knew he would be able to providentially bring them to a complete and perfect fulfillment. If Maximus firmly believed that the “divine” meaning of scripture was a promise of universal salvation, then to be less than a fully confident universalist would be to doubt what he saw as the assured guarantee of his savoir, and as we know from the epithet attached to the saint’s name, this is something Maximus would have rather died than do.
 I am making a distinction between Balthasar’s personal view and the view that he ascribes to Maximus, since Balthasar was a theologian in his own right, but also one of the greatest Maximus scholars that ever lived.
 Robin Parry, “A Universalist View,” in Four Views on Hell, ed. Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2016), 102.
 David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019), location 1433 of 3097.
 Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, trans. Abraham Malherbe and Everett Ferguson (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 73. Emphasis mine.
 Ench. 112.
 Commentary on Jonah 3.
 See their glowing recommendations of Ramelli’s work on the back of her newest book: A Larger Hope?: Universal Salvation from Christian Beginnings to Julian of Norwich (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2019).
 Andrew Louth, “Response to Tom Greggs,” in Five Views on the Extent of the Atonement, ed. Adam J. Johnson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 218.
 Or. 40.36, trans. Nonna Verna Harrison, Festal Orations: Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), 132.
 Or. 38 (36.324) and 45 (36.633), trans. Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 457.
 Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 30.6 (PG 36, 112), trans. Frederick Williams and Lionel Wickham (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 98. I slightly altered their translation inserting part of Ramelli’s translation of this passage. See Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 453-4. The word “guarantee” is more faithful to the greek word tekmerioi, which has the sense of “to prove positively.” The “guarantee” probably does refer to the following sentences, and Ramelli unfortunately gives the opposite impression. However, in a broader sense, the “guarantee” should probably apply to all of what it means for God to be all in all for Gregory.
 Or. 45.24
 Carm. 35.9; Or. 33.9, trans. Ramelli,
 Or. 34.5. I gladly rely here on Ramelli’s panoply of quotes from Nazianzus from her A Larger Hope?, 133-34.
 See ibid., 87.
 On the Incarnation, 57.
 Festal letter 10.4, trans. Ilaria Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 92. The first sentence is Ramelli’s translation, and the rest of it is taken from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2806010.htm. Emphasis, mine.
 Festal letter 27.24, trans. ibid., 90.
 Festal Letter 3.4-8, trans. Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 91.
 Exp. In Ps. PG 92, trans. Ilaria Ramelli, from her book The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 254.
 On the Incarnation 1, trans. John Behr (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2011), 53. Although all of these quotations can be found in either of Ramelli’s large works, I am trying, from time to time, to quote other translations of the fathers to avoid the accusation that I am biased. One might say that given Behr’s blurb on the back of Hart’s book, he is by no means unbiased. However, Behr’s translation came out in 2011, and at that time, he seemed to quite clearly dismiss universalism as an option. See his interview on the question of universal salvation here.
 Col. 1081, trans. Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 88.
 The first quote is from the Letter to Adelphius, and the second refers to a number of different places in Athanasius’ writings. See Ramelli, chapter 5, n. 29.
 For more on this, see my previous piece, particularly on Nyssen and the Confessor’s understanding of particulars and universals.
 Hom.in Luc. 23, trans. Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 206-7.
 Hom.in Luc. 22,5; cf. 32,5, ibid., 206, cf. Homilies on Jeremiah 5.4.
 See n. 53 in ibid, Cf. Ronald Heine, Origen: Scholarship in the Service of the Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
 Hom. In Jer. 18.6, cf. 20.1.
 See Ignatius Green’s thorough citation of all these very frightening homilies in his introduction to St Gregory of Nyssa: Catechetical Discourse (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2019), 51-57. Green attributes this alleged lack of coherence in Gregory’s thought to Gregory having an undeveloped opinion regarding the last things, but as I argue above, I think something more systematic and purposeful is going on.
 Beatitudes 5.8, from Homilies on the Beatitudes, trans. Stuart George Hall (Boston, MA: Brill, 2000), 65.
 Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Song of Songs 1.4, trans. Richard A. Norris Jr. (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), 3.
 Preface to Hom. in Song. 7-13.
 Preface to Hom. in Song. 12,
 Hom. in Song. 1.16, trans. Norris, 17.
 See Green’s enlightening introduction to the Discourse, 18-24.
 Prologue to Cat. Or.
 Ex. Cat. Or. 26.8.
 De Hom. Op. 21.2.
 In Illud 21 and 14D., trans. Ramelli, A Larger Hope, 110-11.
 Or. 40.36, trans. Nonna Verna Harrison, Festal Orations: Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), 132, emphasis mine.
 Inc. 37, trans. Behr.
 Cap. Theol. 2.9, Cf. Cap. Theol. 2.99, Ad Thal. 43.2.
 Questions and Doubts 119.
 See Paul Blowers’ discussion of Maximus’ influences in his Maximus the Confessor: Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration of the World (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016), 66-68, 88.
 Two Hundred Chapters on Theology 2.60, trans. Luis Joshua Salés (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2015), 145-47.
 E.g. On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy (CCSG 44); Amb. 21.12; Ep. 1 (389 a8-b9).
 Ad Thal. 43.2, trans. Constas., 246, emphasis added.
 Ad Thal. 21.8, trans. Constas, 148.
 Ad Thal. 21.8.
 E.g. Amb. 42.15 (1329b), along with all the texts mentioned in my section on Maximus’ “hell” passages in “St. Maximus the Universalist?”
 E.g. Amb. 41.11 (1313b). Again, see Maximus’ most universalist texts at the beginning of my “St. Maximus the Universalist” essay.
 Amb. 7.11-12 (1076a-1077a), Maximus the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volume I, ed. and trans. Nicholas Constas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2014), 89-93.
 Questions and Doubts 21.
 Amb. 7.31 (1092c).
 Amb. 42.15 (1392a-1392b), trans. Constas, 149, notes in bracket, my own.
 Andrew Louth, “Response to Tom Greggs,” in Five Views, 222. Louth doesn’t say what he does with Amb. 65, where Maximus does seem to incorporate “ever being badly” into his theology. I offer an explanation in my previous post.
 Ad Thal. 59.11, trans. Constas, 421.
 Ad Thal. 1.2.18 (CCSG 7, 37; cf. too Exp. orat. dom. 2; CCSG 23, 32-3); Myst. 21 (PG 91, 697A); Myst. 24 (PG 91, 704A; CCSG 69, 55-6). I thank Dr. Wood for these excellent references.
 Amb. 47.2 (1357d-1361a), trans. Constas, 207-11, emphasis added.
 Paul Blowers, Maximus the Confessor, 250.
 Hom. In Song., trans. Norris, 198-99, emphasis added.
 E.g. Hom. In Song. 33, 159, On the Soul and the Resurrection 104.4.
 Ad Thal. 59.11, trans. Constas, 421, emphasis added.
 Ad Thal. 59 (609B14-C12).
 Ad Thal. 22.7, trans. Constas, emphasis added.
 Q. et Dub. 159
 Ecclesiastical Mystagogy 17 (740), trans. Jonathan Armstrong (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2019), 79.
 Myst. 19, 24, trans. Armstrong, 79, 87.
 Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, trans. Catherine P. Roth (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary press, 2002), 115-16.
 Eusebius of Caesarea, Eccl.Theol 2.8, trans. Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 328. Emphasis mine.
 Ad Thal. 47.8, trans. Constas, 262.
 Hom.in Luc. 22,5; cf. 32,5, ibid., 206, cf. Homilies on Jeremiah 5.4.
 Istvan Perczel, “Theodore of Caesarea at the Court of Justinian,” in New Themes, New Styles in the Eastern Mediterranean: Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Encounters, 5th-8th Centuries, ed. Hagit Amirav and Francesco Celia (Bristol, CT: Peeters, 2017), 137- 171.
 Istvan Perczel, “Saint Maximus on the Lord’s Prayer: An Inquiry into his relationship to the Origenist tradition,” in The Architecture of the Cosmos: St Maximus the Confessor, New Perspectives, ed. Antione Levy, Pauli Annala, Olli Hallamaa and Tuomo Lankila (Helsinki, Finland: Luther-Agricola-Society, 2015), 221- 278. Cf. Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 738-39; Paul Blowers, Maximus the Confessor, 36.
 Life of Maximus, BHG 1234.23A;93A
(Return to first article)
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.