« Apocalyptic Literature, Jewish Apocatastasis Apocrisiarius »


APOCATASTASIS, ap"o-ca-tas’ta-sis.

Earliest Advocates (§ 1).

Opponents (§ 2).

In the Middle Ages (§ 3).

The Reformation (§ 4).

In Modern Times (§ 5).

1. Earliest Advocates.

By Apocatastasis (“restoration”) is meant the ultimate restitution of all things, including the doctrine that eventually all men will be saved. The term comes from the Greek of Acts iii. 21, but is given a wider meaning than it has in that passage. The doctrine first appears in Clement of Alexandria (flourished 200) in the declaration that the punishments of God are “saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion” (Strom., vi. 6). His successor at the head of the Alexandrian catechetical school, Origen (186-253), taught that all the wicked would be restored after they had undergone severe punishment and had received instruction from angels and then from those of higher grade (De principiis, I. vi. 1-3). He also raised the question whether after this world there perhaps would be another or others in which this instruction would be given (De principiis, II. iii. 1), and interpreted Paul’s teaching respecting the subjection of all things to God as implying the salvation of the “lost” (De principiis, III. v. 7). These beliefs and speculations he based on Bible statements (especially on Ps. cx. 1; I Cor. xv. 25 sqq.), but declared that the doctrine would be dangerous to disseminate (Contra Celsum, vi. 26). He, and it would seem, Clement of Alexandria also, advocated the Apocatastasis as part of a theory of the divine attributes which subordinated righteousness to mercy; of human freedom, which made the will never finally fixed; and of sin, which represented it rather as weakness and ignorance.

Similar ideas of the divine goodness, human freedom, and sin led to the advocacy of the Apocatastasis by Gregory Nazianzen (328-389), but not openly; by Gregory of Nyssa (332-398), publicly, as in his treatise “On the Soul and the Resurrection” (MPG, xlvi. 104); by Didymus of Alexandria (308-395), in his commentary on I Peter iii. (in Galland, Bibliotheca patrum, vi. 292 sqq.); and by Diodorus of Tarsus (flourished 375), in his treatise “On the Divine Economy” (in J. S. Assemanus, Bibliotheca orientalis, III. i. 324). Even Chrysostom (347-407), when commenting on I Cor. xv. 28, quoted without contradiction the view that by the expression “God shall be all in all” was meant universal cessation of opposition to God (MPG, lxi. 342). So also the Monophysite, Stephen bar-Sudaili, abbot of a monastery at Edessa in the sixth century, advocated the Apocatastasis in a treatise which he wrote on the subject under the name of Hierotheus (as is stated in Assemanus, ut sup., ii. 290 sqq.). It was taught also by Maximus Confessor (580-662), called by the Greeks Theologos and revered as the leader of the Orthodox against the Monothelites, drawing from Gregory of Nyssa, as in his answer to the thirteenth question of his “Questions and Doubts” (MPG, xc. 796). The existence of this belief in the eighth century is shown by the warning against it given in 718 by Pope Gregory II., when sending out missionaries (MPL, lxxxix. 534). In the ninth century it was roundly asserted by that very independent speculative theologian Johannes Scotus Erigena, in the third book of his treatise “On the Division of Nature” (MPL, cxxii. 619-742). He drew from Origen, pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita, Gregory of Nyssa, and still more directly, from Maximus Confessor.

2. Opponents.

But the writers defending the Apocatastasis are decidedly in the minority; and so bad was the repute of Origen for sound thinking that any theory known to be derived from him was looked at askance by the sober-minded. Jerome (d. 420), for example, reckoned the Apocatastasis among the “abhorrent” heresies of Origen (Epist., cxxxiv.). The emperor Justinian, in his edict against Origen, issued in 545, made it the ninth of the ten doctrines for which the latter should be anathematized; and when, at Justinian’s call, a council met in Constantinople that same year to condemn Origen, the doctrine appears as the fourteenth of the fifteen for which he was cursed (Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, ii. 789, 797, Eng. transl., iv. 220, 228).

In the West, Augustine (354-430) threw his influence against the Apocatastasis, teaching in the most unmistakable language the absolute endlessness of future punishment (e.g., “City of God,” xxi, 11-23).

3. In the Middle Ages.

At a later period the doctrine appears in the teachings of the great pantheistic thinker Amalric of Bena (d. 1204), only to be again condemned by the Western Church; for it was one of the counts upon which Amalric was declared a heretic by Pope Innocent III., and for which his followers, the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit, after his 211 death, were condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215 (Hefele, ut sup., pp. 863, 881). It appears also among the mystics. Jan Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), Johann Middle Tauler (1300-61), and Johann von Goch (d. 1475) are said to have accepted it; but it was rejected by Eckhart (flourished 1300), Suso (1300-65), and their followers (cf. C. Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, i., Edinburgh, 1855). Still later it is found as one of the 900 theses which that brilliant scholar Giovanni Pico della Mirandola proposed to defend in public debate in Rome in 1487, and was thus expressed: “A mortal sin of finite duration is not deserving of eternal but only of temporal punishment.” But it was among the theses pronounced heretical by Pope Innocent VIII. in his bull of Aug. 4, 1484; and the debate was never held (cf. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, ed. J. M. Rigg, London, 1890, pp. vii. sqq.).

4. The Reformation.

The Apocatastasis emerged in the Protestant Church of the earliest days. Thus Luther, writing on Aug. 18, 1522, to Hans von Rechenberg, who had asked him if there was any salvation for those out of Christ at death, states that a belief in the ultimate salvation of all men, and even of the devil and his angels, was held among the sect of Free Spirits in the Netherlands, one of whom was then in Wittenberg. They based it on Ps. lxxvii. 9, 10 and on I Tim. ii. 4. He then proceeds to refute it. Again Luther warns against this belief when writing to the Christians in Antwerp in 1525 (cf. de Wette’s ed. of Luther’s letters, ii. 453 and iii. 62). The doctrine was held among the Anabaptists. Hans Denk taught it in its extreme form, saying that not only all men, but even the devil and his angels, would ultimately be saved; and another Anabaptist leader, Jacob Kautz (Cucius), in 1527 at Worms put as the fifth of seven articles he propounded for debate: “All that was lost in the first Adam is and will be found more richly restored in the Second Adam, Christ; yea, in Christ shall all men be quickened and blessed forever” (Zwingli, Opera, viii. 77; cf. S. M. Jackson, Selections from Zwingli, p. 148). So, too, Zwingli asserts that it was part of the Anabaptist creed that the devil and all the impious will be blessed (Opera, iii. 435; cf. Jackson, ut sup., p. 256). Indeed, while perhaps not universally accepted by Anabaptists, it was held by so many of the party in Switzerland, Upper Germany, and Alsace that in Article xvii. of the Augsburg Confession are these words: “They [the Lutherans] condemn the Anabaptists, who think that to condemned men and the devils shall be an end of torments.” It is, however, not put in the Formula of Concord among the erroneous teachings of the Anabaptists.

5. In Modern Times.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century the doctrine of the Apocatastasis again appeared, and ever since it has found numerous defenders. The earliest were Mrs. Jane Lead, of London (1623-1704), Johann Wilhelm Petersen (1649-1727), and the Philadelphian Society which Mrs. Lead founded. With them the doctrine was established not only on the Bible, but also on personal revelations. It is noteworthy that Jakob Boehme (1575-1624), who so greatly influenced them, did not teach it (cf. his Beschreibung der drei Prinzipien göttlichen Wesens; Eng. transl., Concerning the Three Principles of the Divine Essence, London, 1648, chap. xxvii. § 20). There is an elaborate defense of the Apocatastasis by Ludwig Gerhard, Vollständiger Lehrbegriff der ewigen Evangelli von der Widerbringung aller Dinge (Hamburg, 1727). The Philadelphians won over the authors of the Berleburg Bibel (1726-42; see Bibles, Annotated, and Bible Summaries); but their chief convert was Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-82), who wove this tenet into his theological system, depending chiefly upon I Cor. xv. and Eph. i. 9-11. It is said that Bengel (1687-1752), the father of modern exegesis, believed in it, but thought it dangerous to teach publicly.

The rationalists of Germany, after the second half of the eighteenth century, commonly and supernaturalists frequently have upon various grounds advocated the Apocatastasis. Thus, Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was pronounced in its favor, deriving his principal arguments from his doctrines of the will and of the atonement, and remarking that the sensitiveness of conscience in the damned, as revealed in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, shows that they may be better in the next life than in this, and also that if a portion of God’s creatures were forever debarred from participation in the redemption of Christ, then there would be an inexplicable dissonance in God’s universe. Martensen and Dorner considered the probability that between death and the last judgment there might be a fresh offer of the gospel, but put a rejection and consequent exclusion from salvation among the possibilities. The difficulties of the estate of the “lost” have driven others, as Rothe, Hermann Plitt, and Edward White, to the theory of annihilationism. Ritschl thought that such information as the New Testament gives hardly admits of a decision between the theories of endless punishment and complete annihilation. Friedrich Nitzsch considered belief in a final restoration as well founded as the opposite view, and admitted the hypothesis of annihilationism as a third possibility. In America opposition to the orthodox teaching as to the absolute endlessness of conscious suffering after death of those excluded from heaven has led to the formation of the Universalist denomination (see Universalists); and there are many of other religious connections in the United States, England, and other countries who favor the doctrine of an Apocatastasis in more or less modified form. For further discussion consult the histories of Christian doctrine and the works mentioned in the article Universalists. The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, which is flatly against the doctrine, is presented by J. B. Kraus in Die Apokatastasis der unfreien Kreatur (Regensburg, 1850).

[Many significant facts indicate a relaxing of the traditional rigidity of belief with reference to this subject. There is an unwillingness on the 212 part of many to assume any dogmatic attitude concerning God’s dealing with those who die impenitent. Again, there is a refusal to limit probation to the earthly life merely, fixing, instead, the decisive moment at the judgment, thus making room for those to whom an adequate offer of the gospel has been wanting here (cf. Progressive Orthodoxy, by professors of Andover Theological Seminary, Boston, 1886). Further, denominational approval or disapproval of the theory of an Apocatastasis is not so much in evidence as wide and influential advocacy of it by distinguished writers and preachers in many communions—the attitude partly of dogmatic belief, and partly of the “larger hope.” It has been represented in Great Britain in the Established Church by F. D. Maurice (The Word “Eternal” and the Punishment of the Wicked, Cambridge, 1853), F. W. Farrar (Eternal Hope, London, 1878; Mercy and Judgment, 1881), E. H. Plumptre (The Spirits in Prison, London, 1886); among Baptists by Samuel Cox (Salvator Mundi, London, 1877; The Larger Hope, 1883); among Independents by J. Baldwin Brown (The Doctrine of Annihilation in the Light of the Gospel of Love, London, 1875) and R. J. Campbell of the London City Temple. In America it has found expression among Congregationalists by George A. Gordon (Immortality and the New Theodicy, Boston, 1896), and among Baptists the grounds for it have been suggested by W. N. Clarke (Outline of Christian Theology, New York, 1898, pp. 476-480). Important theoretical considerations have influenced this result: (1) The tendency toward a monistic theory of the universe. (2) A change in the idea of God from that of sovereign and judge to that of father. (3) Election conceived of not as limited to a definite portion of mankind but, with Schleiermacher, as a historical process, therefore in this world only partially, in the world to come to be completely, realized. (4) The universal immanence of God and hence the presence of ethical and redemptive relations wherever the moral consciousness exists. (5) Life regarded less as probation than as discipline. (6) Sin defined not so much as wilful and incorrigible perversity as natural defect, ignorance, and emotional excess, as well as result of unfortunate heredity and unworthy environment.

C. A. B.].

Bibliography: In favor of the doctrine may be mentioned: F. Delitzsch, Biblische Psychologie, pp. 469-476, Leipsic, 1855, Eng. transl., Edinburgh, 1865; T. R. Birks, Victory of Divine Goodness, London, 1870; A. Jukes, Second Death and Restitution of All Things, ib. 1878; I. A. Dorner, Eschatology, ed. by Newman Smyth, New York, 1883; F. W. Farrar, Eternal Hope, London, 1892; Tennyson, In Memoriam, § liv. Against it: A. A. Hodge, Popular Lectures on Theological Themes, Philadelphia, 1887; A. Hovey, Biblical Eschatology, ib. 1888; and in general the orthodox writers on systematic theology. The subject may be studied in the various histories of doctrine and in the compends and systems of divinity in the sections on “Eschatology."

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