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Apocatastasis (also spelled "Apokatastasis") is a Greek word that means "Restoration." In Christian theology, Apocatastasis is the doctrine that Hell is not eternal, but a tool of divine teaching and correction, akin to Purgatory. Apocatastasis maintains that all moral creatures—angels, humans, and devils—will eventually come to a harmony in God's kingdom.
The doctrine is based on the Biblical passage in 1 Corinthians 15:28: "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (KJV) The Gospel of Philip contains the term itself and in other sayings expresses the idea that all comes from a common, eternal source: "Of what a nature is the resurrection! And the image must rise again through the image. The bridegroom and the image must enter through the image into the truth, which is the apocatastasis." The doctrine was extensively preached in the Eastern Church by Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century. The belief was also expressed by Clement of Alexandria, as well as Origen. Augustine of Hippo wrote against the doctrine:
"I am aware that I now have to engage in a debate, devoid of rancour, those compassionate Christians who refuse to believe that the punishment of hell will be everlasting either in the case of all those men whom the completely just Judge accounts deserving of that chastisement, or at least in the case of some of them; they hold that they are to be set free after fixed limits of time have been passed, the periods being longer or shorter in proportion to the magnitude offences. On this subject the most compassionate of all was Origen who believed that the Devil himself and his angels will be rescued from their torments and brought into the company of the holy angels, after the more severe and more lasting chastisements appropriate to their deserts. But the Church has rejected Origen's teaching, and not without good reason, on account of this opinion and a number of other...
"Very different, however, is the error, promoted by tenderness of heart and human compassion, of those who suppose that the miseries of those condemned by that judgement will be temporal, whereas the felicity of all men, who are released after a shorter or longer period, will be everlasting. Now if this opinion is good and true, just because it is compassionate, then it will be the better and the truer the more compassionate it is. Then let the fountain of compassion be deepened and enlarged until it extends as far as the evil angels, who must be set free, although, of course, after many ages, and ages of any length that can be imagined! ...For all that, his error would manifestly surpass all errors in its perversity, its wrong-headed contradiction of the express words of God, by the same margin as, in his own estimation, his belief surpasses all other opinions in its clemency." — City of God 21.17 (trans. Bettenson)
There have been diverse attempts to revive the idea over the centuries. In modern times it is associated with Universalism and the doctrine of "universal salvation" or the "eventual reconciliation of all with God." Known proponenents of a qualified doctrine of apocatastasis within Eastern Christianity include:
Some prominent theologians in Western Christianity who advocated this include:
- Apocatastasis - The Catholic Encyclopedia article with a more comprehensive look at the theological concept.
- In the Fulness of Time, a poem by James Stephens.
- Hope of the Gospel (1892) by George MacDonald.
- Will all be saved? - Richard J. Neuhaus, First Things 115 (August/September 2001): 77-104.
- The Population of Hell by Avery Cardinal Dulles, First Things</em(May 2003): 36-41
- On Hope, Heaven and Hell - by Nick Jr. Healy, The University Concourse, Volume II, Issue 9. May 6, 1997.
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