One would think that the Scripture’s teaching that reprobates will be eternally damned is uncontroversial. However, those with itching ears are liable to be deceived by the oldest lie in recorded history: “Surely, you will not die” (Gen 3:4). Believing this lie, they doubt the clear words of Jesus Christ Himself who teaches that the damned will be told, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41).
God teaches the same through the Apostles. Rev 20:10 teaches that, “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” 2 Thes 1:7-9 states that the “Lord Jesus” will take “vengeance on those who do not know God” who “shall be punished with everlasting destruction.”
And so, apart from a consensus of God’s people teaching the contrary, it would seem that the argument is settled.
However, it is not. We have very intelligent, but sadly demonically deceived, men claiming that the alleged teaching of a few saints (though this is questionable) not only casts doubt upon the majority teaching of the Church, but actually gives us grounds to believe that God will save everyone eventually; i.e. universalism. One of these writers goes so far as to add Origen to the list of “saints,”and asserts he was never anathematized by an ecumenical council. These same voices cry out that because the Church has allegedly never settled the issue, that they may legitimately hold out the hope that they are correct in repeating the serpent’s lie.
Interestingly enough, anyone may easily dispense with both of their lies by citing the indisputably ecumenical Council of Nicea II. I will put additional passages in an appendix, but I will cite two passages that definitively address the issues at hand.
First, when the council gives a definitive response to the iconoclast Council of Hieria, Epiphanius (speaking for the council) explicitly says that the existence of eternal damnation “is the confession of…the divinely inspired Apostles” and “the Catholic Church,” calling those who oppose the teaching “heretics.”
Definition 18 [of Hieria]: If any one confess not the resurrection of the dead, the judgment to come, the retribution of each one according to his merits, in the righteous balance of the Lord that neither will there be any end of punishment nor indeed of the kingdom of heaven, that is the full enjoyment of God, for the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink but righteousness joy and peace in the Holy Ghost, as the divine Apostle teaches, let him be anathema.
Epiphanius [in giving the definitive reply of Nicea II to Hiera] reads: This is the confession of the patrons of our true faith the holy Apostles, the divinely inspired Fathers–this is the confession of the Catholic Church and not of heretics. That which follows, however, their own full of ignorance and absurdity for thus they bluster… (Source, p. 423)
Second, the council during the seventh session gives a “sentence” which, for both Orthodox and Roman Catholics, is a summation of infallible teaching on faith and morals. This sentence teaches as follows pertaining to both the fifth ecumenical council and Origen:
With whom we also anathematise the fables of Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus in accordance with the fifth General Council assembled at Constantinople (Ibid., p. 438).
So, even if we were to take view that the historicity of the claim made by Nicea II is questionable, what is not questionable is that it condemns Origen’s teachings (in the Appendix, I will show that the council also condemned Origen himself.) Hence, if Constantinople II never officially condemned Origen’s teachings and these were later inserted into the record of the council, Nicea II officially recognized these anathemas as legitimate, thereby adding them retroactively.
What if you disagree with Nicea II? I suppose you can join a High Church Anglican congregation near you, because the seventh council is not dogmatically accepted by them while it is non-negotiable to the Orthodox Church.
In closing, “universalism” is an embarrassment to Orthodox Christians. It betrays that there is massive ignorance among the supposed “experts” and “scholars” who ignore easily available, definitive teachings on the matter. The council is clear. Universalism cannot be true if judgement is coming and punishment will never end.
No amount of philosophizing and tangential reasoning of the “ramifications” of the fathers’ teachings undoes clear statements from the Scriptures and the council fathers to the contrary.
As for those who teach falsehoods about universalism, the Scriptures warn, “God will send them a strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thes 2:11). May God have mercy on all of us, because apart from His grace, we are all prone to believe any number of lies and forswear the Gospel of our Lord.
Appendix for Eternal Damnation
Nicea II cites a creed from the ecumenical patriarch to the Church at large in the affirmative:
Moreover I look for the resurrection of the dead and for the eternal retribution of all things which have been done whether they be good or evil (Ibid., p. 94).
It also cites “the Synodals of Theodore, most holy Patriarch of Jerusalem” which states in the third session:
And we confess also the resurrection of the dead in the last day, consequence of the sound of the archangelic trumpet, and the retribution according to the just judgment of Christ our God awarded those who have lived well or who have lived otherwise and the of the world to come, which has no end (Ibid., p. 106).
During the sentence of the council (seventh session), eternal damnation is referenced again:
‘But the Lord awakened as a man out of sleep and as a mighty man refreshed with wine and He smote His enemies in the hinder parts and put them to a perpetual shame.’ If then eternal shame was by His resurrection put on His enemies that is the power of darkness, how then can Christians any more serve idols” (Ibid., p. 454)?
Appendix for Origen’s Condemnation
During the first session, the life of “Father Sabbas” was read as it taught on the “canons” of the Church:
Cosmas the Deacon and Chamberlain reads from the Life of our holy Father Sabbas: At the fifth holy General Council held at Constantinople, Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, together with the speculations of Evagrius and Didymus concerning the pre-existence and restitution of all things, were all subjected to one common and Catholic anathema all the four Patriarchs being present and consistent thereto (Ibid., p. 36).
The compelling thing about the preceding passage is that the condemnation of the “restitution of all things” is explicitly a condemnation of Origenist universalism. In doing so, it ascribes the 14th anathema against Origen to “the fifth holy General Council.” So, even if this is not explicitly true historically speaking, it shows dogmatically the anathema itself is of ecumenical authority and apocatastasis’ condemnation is affirmed by the council, at the very least, retroactively.
The same condemnation is cited elsewhere during Nicea II.
After which followed the Fifth Ecumenical Council of one hundred and sixty Fathers which was assembled in the Royal City and guided by the Holy Spirit confirmed the four Councils which preceded it and in pursuance of their orthodox decisions anathematised Nestorius, Eutyches, and Theodore of Mopsuestia with his blasphemies and moreover it anathematised Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus and their fabulous and heathen mystifications, together with the epistle said to be sent from Ibas to Maris of Persia and the writings of Theodoret against the twelve orthodox chapters of St Cyril (Ibid., p. 110-112).
Later in the council “Stephen the Monk read ‘The First Book of the Confutation of Eusebius’s Defence of Origen’ by Antipater Bishop of Bostra,” which condemns Origen’s teaching that Jesus Christ is created and the pre-existence of souls. Eusebius’ writings, for defending Origen, are called “alien from the Catholic Church” (Ibid., p. 276-277).
The “Letter from the Council to the Empress Irene and Her Son” reiterates the council’s sentence:
[W]e anathematize the madness of Arius, the frenzy of Macedonius, the absurd of Apollinarius, the man worship of Nestorius, the confusing insanity of Eutyches and Dioscorus, and the many headed hydra which followed them the trifling confabulations of Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius and with these the one will or rather the bad will of Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, Pyrrhus, and their partisans and the innovation quite on a par with the rest which after these have been vainly absurdly set forth against holy and venerable images this since day we with one voice and soul taking our words from the and from that source having drawn pure water (p. 445).
Final notes: I personally believe Origen himself is misunderstood and he was a very good man. However, I also think the teachings of the councils are correct. I will leave the issue there for now.
As for the universalists, I make no judgements upon their souls, but only their false doctrine, bad historical claims, and the source of all falsehoods (the father of lies, John 8:44). My falsehoods and immorality may greatly exceed them. So, I do not exalt myself above them. Rather, I commend all of us to submit to the Scriptures and the clear teaching of the Church in this matter.