One of the greatest blessings of social media in the 20th century is the ability to investigate statements which people have made (aka “calling BS on lies”). For way too long people have been held in terror by unscrupulous rulers who would make a pronouncement and then leave, expecting that the authority of their position would guarantee belief and compliance.
Thanks to the abundance of Internet libraries, books, and other postings from official sources, it is now possible to take statements made in a debate and put them to the scrutiny of actual experts, historians, and other sources which carry a far deeper authority than someone’s personal opinion or agenda.
For instance, as the title of this blog piece infers, there is a constant and oft-used fall-back defense of the hellists when they have been backed into a philosophical and theological corner from which there is no escape. Being unable to answer a question such as, “Does all really mean all?” as found in numerous scriptures, the common retort is, “Well, the Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned Apokatastasis and that settles it once and for all.”
One little problem – it didn’t.
At least, not from the official records we find from a source no less than the Papal Encyclicals Online the following statement:
The council did not debate ecclesiastical discipline nor did it issue disciplinary canons. Our edition does not include the text of the anathemas against Origen since recent studies have shown that these anathemas cannot be attributed to this council.
A reasonable person should be able to read such a statement and come to the conclusion that using Constantinople II to try to destroy Apokatastasis is not honest. Unfortunately, when people are defending long-held and cherished opinions (and perhaps scared spitless that God will smack them if they change their minds), they can become rather unreasonable to deal with.
But….but….but…..what about this statement from the council: “If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.” ?
Two problems immediately surface here. This is one of 15 Canons which anathematized Origen. They are not, as pointed out in the quote from Papal Encyclicals Online, attributed to this council AT ALL. They are part of Emperor Justinian’s blazing hatred of Origen and especially the teaching of Apokatastasis. If you read the history of Justinian’s violent actions towards the council members and especially Pope Vigilius, you have to wonder what, if any, legitimacy these extra canons even have? Do the Anathemas Against Origen really have a legitimate place in Constantinople II? An awful lot of people parrot this idea without any consideration of the violent, coercive, and intimidating nature of the council, as well as recent scholarship which shows otherwise.
The second problem is this: suppose we were to allow the above quoted anathema to be part of the council? What does it say? It condemns only that the “monstrous restoration” which follows from the pre-existence of souls. That is not the same as Apokatastasis. This is a specific act of restoration in which Origen speculated that resurrected bodies would be spherical in shape, along with other bizarre theories which connect a kind of Apokatastasis with the pre-existence of souls. It is profoundly dishonest to try to make this the same as Apokatastasis.
The final objection is to say that the councils that followed it – such as Constantinople III and the Quinisext Council – also condemned Apokatastasis. Again – they did not. What a lovely thing to be able to go online and dig up the canons from Constantinople III and the Quinisext Council and see that this is yet another distortion of truth. The closest thing I could come up with regarding such anathemas is this from Constantinople III:
and in addition to these, to the last, that is the Fifth holy Synod assembled in this place, against Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius, and the writings of Theodoret against the Twelve Chapters of the celebrated Cyril, and the Epistle which was said to be written by Ibas to Maris the Persian), renewing in all things the ancient decrees of religion, and chasing away the impious doctrines of irreligion.
But as I have proved from both the original canons of Constantinople II and that which followed, the condemnation of Origen (even if we do accept the spurious 15 canons of Justinian) is specifically NOT about Apokatastasis, but rather about his strange ideas regarding the pre-existence of souls and its effect on the Resurrection. Apokatastasis by name, is not mentioned, and neither are the well-known saints of the past who openly taught it, such as St. Gregory of Nyssa. If the councils were going to condemn Apokatastasis by itself, then they would have included all in the past who taught it, just as they included all in the past who held to or taught the errors of Nestorianism and Monothellitism.
Here is the sum and total I could find in the writings of Constantinople III regarding Constantinople II:
Following the five holy Ecumenical Councils and the holy and approved Fathers, with one voice defining that our Lord Jesus Christ must be confessed to be very God and very man, one of the holy and consubstantial and life-giving Trinity, perfect in Deity and perfect in humanity, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and human body subsisting; consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood; in all things like us, sin only excepted; begotten of his Father before all ages according to his Godhead, but in these last days for us men and for our salvation made man of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, strictly and properly the Mother of God according to the flesh; one and the same Christ our Lord the only-begotten Son of two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, inseparably indivisibly to be recognized, the peculiarities of neither nature being lost by the union but rather the proprieties of each nature being preserved, concurring in one Person and in one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons but one and the same only-begotten Son of God, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, according as the Prophets of old have taught us and as our Lord Jesus Christ himself has instructed us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has delivered to us; defining all this we likewise declare that in him are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but his human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to his divine and omnipotent will.
And for my Orthodox friends who might be reading this and insist that the Church (Orthodoxy) condemns Apokatastasis and therefore I am under condemnation if I believe it – your problem is that again you are stretching the truth. There is no online catechism of the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox still teach it to this day, and all the Orthodox sites I researched for this blog didn’t even mention Apokatastasis in their list of reasons for the calling of Constantinople II. They listed the heresies of the Three Chapters and THAT’S IT!!
So now, in closing, if this has you grinding your teeth in anger, in the spirit of David Bentley Hart, and because I am not a saint, I will say two things:
I’m sorry the truth pisses you off.
Grow up and get over it!