Mercy And Judgment by Canon F.W. Farrar

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"The arbitrary will of an Emperor governed by court intrigue brought it about that a great Church-teacher, whose influence had been of no small weight in the development of theological doctrines, should be condemned as a heretic*(1); while the fickle mind of a Roman bishop whose instability of character made him the sport of circumstances, must triumph over the better spirit of the West." — NEANDER, iv. 281.

*(1) I shall give reasons for doubting this assertion.

"Generalia Concilia…quia ex hominibus constant qui non omnes Spiritu et Verbo Dei reguntur, et errare possunt, et interdum errarunt." — Art. xxi.

Another century and a half rolled away, and we are told of another condemnation of Origen — equally vague; even more disputable; absolutely unconnected with the wider hope of God's mercy; beside the mark even as regards Universalism; and proceeding from persons no less disreputable than those whose conduct we have just been passing in review.

It is the condemnation of "Origenism" by the Home Synod at Constantinople , and the asserted condemnation of Origen by the Fifth Oecumenical Council.

The former synods bring us into contact with such persons as Theophilus and Eudoxia; the latter were due to the ecclesiastical jealousies and court intrigues which surrounded the persons of Theodora and Justinian. I will endeavour to narrate these events with the utmost possible brevity.

The Monophysite heresy — which "confounded the substance" of Christ — had been condemned by the Council of Chalcedon. Theodora — whose past infamies should have prevented her, as they ought also to have prevented Eudoxia, from profanely meddling with the Church's theology — was an active intriguer on behalf of the Monophysites. She made a tool of her dull and pedantic husband, whose favourite passion it was to lay down dogmas for the Church's guidance, and to enforce their acceptance by cruelty and persecution when bribes and cajolery had failed. Keen in the detection, and remorseless in the punishment, of what he deemed to be heresy, Justinian ended by inventing a new heresy and died in the attempt to corrupt the doctrines to which, by the practice of the syllogism of violence, it had been his special pride to give an imperial security.

In pursuit of her design Theodora had bribed Vigilius, by the offer of the Bishopric of Rome and a large sum of money, to give a written agreement that he would try to overthrow the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. Being a man who knew but little of theological questions, and cared less, he secretly declared himself a Monophysite, and pledged himself to anathematize the three great Syrian Fathers, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, and Ibas of Edessa, whom the Monophysites hated, but of whom the two latter had been declared orthodox by the Council of Chalcedon.

Meanwhile two Monophysites who belonged to the party which was called "Origenist," but which was very unworthy of bearing the great name of Origen, were busy and influential in the palace of Justinian . These were Theodorus Ascidas, Bishop of the Cappadocian Caesarea, and Domitian, Bishop of Ancyra. Jealous of their influence*(1), Peter of Jerusalem engaged a Roman deacon named Pelagius*(2) to draw up an indictment against Origen and his works, and to send it through Mennas, Patriarch of Constantinople, to the Emperor. Justinian was thus furnished with an opportunity in which he specially delighted — that of dictating Church dogmas. He urged Mennas to summon a Home Synod — a synod of bishops — or, as we should rather call them, rectors of large parishes residing at Constantinople . Justinian wrote to Mennas a lengthy epistle still extant —

"Verbosa et grandis epistola venit Ex Capreis" —

in which he entered at great length into the doctrines of Origen, and required the synod to condemn them in nine canons, one of which was, that "If any one says or thinks that the punishment of devils and impious men is temporary, and that it will one day end, or that there will be a restitution and redintegration of devils or of impious men, let him be anathema." Passages from this entirely unauthoritative letter of Justinian are in this controversy often palmed off as a part of the edicts of the Home Synod, or even of the Fifth Oecumenial Council!*(3)

*(1) Liberatus, Breviar. 33.

*(2) Afterwards Pope, successor to Vigilius, A.D. 555.

*(3) As in quite recent works.

This, be it observed, was Justinian's opinion — valeat quantum! — and this was what he required. And of what possible value can the opinion of such a man be in any question as to the orthodoxy of Origen? With such a mind as Origen's, such a mind as Justinian's was wholly incompatible. He had no capacity for understanding him; he had still less power to sympathise with him. "For good or for evil, Justinian was wholly cast in the mould of formulas, he knew nothing higher than an edict"; and though he prided himself on being a defender of the faith, he died not only a heretic, but a heretic who was endeavouring by sheer tyranny to enforce his heresy upon the Church. If Origen was happy in the holiness and greatness of his friends, he was no less happy in the disrepute and incompetence of many of his enemies.

The synod met; they read the garbled, second-hand, and virulently ex parte account of Origen's errors, and proceeded to condemn them in fifteen canons. Most happily for the cause of truth these fifteen canons are still extant. But among these fifteen canons, which any one may read for himself, the canon which Justinian had dictated to the synod does not occur, and the only reference made by the synod to Origen's views as to the future lies in the one single word "restitution". This was in their first canon, which ran as follows: -

"If any one asserts the fabulous prae-existence of souls, and the monstrous restitution which follows from it, let him be anathema."

The Emperor asked them to condemn Origen's Universalism, which included the conversion of devils. They in reply do not say a single definite word about any hope for the future of sinners, or about any probatory fire, or indeed about any single separate problem of eschatology, but, purposely leaving everything as vague as they found it, they combine together "prae-existence and that portentous restitution ( thn teratwdh apokatastasin ) consequent on it," and condemn that in a lump.

Even if they had distinctly condemned Universalism, their decision — having no pretence to Oecumenical authority — would merely show the opinion then prevalent at Constantinople. But in a most marked manner they abstained from doing so. They do not follow the Emperor's guidance in this matter; they do not adopt his suggested canon; they only pronounce their anathema against a very complex system of theological philosophy which comprised prae-existence, cycles of probation, the salvability of devils as well as men, and a multitude of other details which, with very inconvenient comprehensiveness, they describe as "that monstrous restitution consequent on the doctrine of prae-existence." It would have been perfectly open to any of the holy and learned Churchmen who accepted Origen's larger hope to subscribe to this anathema, and to say, I, too, reject (not indeed the Scriptural doctrine of a restitution), but "that portentous restitution." And accordingly this canon, as well as the rest, was subscribed — whether honestly or not — by Theordorus Ascidas and Domitian, avowed Origenists as they both were.

But happily the synod do not leave us in doubt as to what was the sense in which they used the word "restitution". They use the word again in the fourteenth canon, to which I shall call special attention.

"If any one says that there will be a single unity (unam henadem) of all rational beings, their substances and individualities being taken away together with their bodies, and also that there will be an identity of cognition as also of persons, and that in the fabulous restitution they will only be naked even as they had existed in that prae-existence which they insanely introduce, let him be anathema."

What has this to do with the "larger hope"? If any one wishes to see how little a condemnation of "Origenism" necessarily involved any condemnation of Universalism, he has only to read the strange medley of vagaries attributed to Origen in all the fourteen succeeding canons, which touch on questions as dead and as unpractical as it is possible to conceive. Those canons condemn opinions which most persons would now pronounce to be unintelligible nonsense, and which probably represent philosophical speculations refracted and reflected through the hazy brains of those who had not the least conception of what the great Alexandrian thinker had really meant to convey. Of such opinions we shall be quite safe in asserting that they cannot in the least represent Origen's real views; and the wonder is that no one — like Pelagius at Diospolis — asked leave "to condemn any who held them as fools, rather than to anathematize them as heretics."*(1)

*(1) "Solche Ketzereien waren es mit deren Verdammung sich eine Kirchenersammlung beschaftigte grosstentheils Grillen und Traumereien uber ein vergangenes oder noch kunftiges Leben, wovon die eine Parthey so viel verstand als die andere. Bannfluche auf dieselben zu schleudern war daher beinahe lacherlich, wenigstens sehr unnutz; denn die Anhanger derselben wurden dadurch nicht zue Erkenntniss eines Irrthums gefuhrt, sondern mehr darinnen durch eine solche Heftigkeit bestarkt." — SCHROCKH, xviii. 55.

This, then, was "the monstrous restitution" as defined by the synod itself! Will any one say that this is a condemnation of the simple hope that God may reach and save the souls even of all men, much less of the majority, beyond the grave? What living Universalist would scruple to subscribe to such canons as these? And the whole movement caused such a scandal that Theodorus Ascidas afterwards said that "Pelagius, who had caused the condemnation of Origen, and himself, who had caused that of 'the Three Chapters,' deserved to be burnt alive for what they had done."

The trouble excited by the action of Peter of Jerusalem, the Roman Pelagius, and Justinian, did not, however, end with the Home Synod. Theodorus Ascidas and Domitian, wishing to divert attention from Origen altogether, tried to stir up an agitation against the three eminent Syrian teachers, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, and Ibas of Edessa, who, from their controversial ability, had always been hateful to the Monophysites. Now it is more than probable that all three of these great leaders of the school of Antioch agreed with Origen in is so-called Universalism, although they had written against his allegorical method of exegesis. Nothing, therefore, was farther from the wishes of Theodorus and Domitian than to call in question the Origenistic eschatology, which was held by themselves as well as by the teachers who were condemned in the edict of Justinian (A.D. 544) "on the Three Chapters." The Fifth Oecumenical Council was summoned (A.D. 553) for the express purpose of making every bishop subscribe to the condemnation of these "three Chapters."

Happily I am not here obliged to relate the miserable shiftings and tergiversations of the Pope Vigilius when he found himself in the Emperor's power at Constantinople. The only questions which concern us are I., Did the Fifth Oecumenical Council condemn Origen? And II., Did a dcondemnation of Origen involve a condemnation of his view that all men would be ultimately saved?

I. Did the Fifth Oecumenical Council condemn Origen?

The answer is that, i., Even if it did, it only did so — in spite of all ecclesiastical precedent, - when he was undefended, and without any evidence as to his real views (of which there is not so much as a trace in the Acts of the Council),*(1) by a cursory and grossly unjust mention of his name in the eleventh canon, together with those of "Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, and Eutyches and all other heretics, with their impious writings," in the fourteenth canon.

*(1) See Dupin, v. 189-207; Basnage, Hist. De l' Egl. I. 519-542.

ii. Even if it did, yet I say, with Canon Westcott, that "there is in a life of humble self-sacrifice something too majestic, too divine, to be overthrown by the uncandid sentence of an ecclesiastical synod."

iii. A condemnation of "Origen" means a condemnation of a vast number of opinions*(1), probably misunderstood and misrepresented, which were attributed to him, but which have no connection with a simple hope of man's final restitution.

*(1) Even Doucin admits this. — Hist. De l'Origenisme, p. 388.

iv. But "it is not impossible" as Neander says, "that the name of Origen was but a later insertion."*(1) Neander gives no reasons, but eh following may be offered: -

*(1) Neander, Ch. Hist. iv. 492, E. tr. Gieseler says without hesitation (Eccles. Hist. ii. 102, E. tr.), "No further notice was taken of the Origenists." Cave says, "Nec Origenis, nec Origenistarum, nisi capitulo xi. [where, as I shall show, the name of Origen is of doubtful genuineness] vel levissima mentio; multo minus causae istius plenaria cognitio." — Hist. Literar. P. 558.

a. The Acts of the Council have been accidentally or intentionally mixed up and confused with the Canons of the mere Home Synod of A.D. 541, and with the letters of Justinian to that Synod and to Mennas.*(1) The genuineness of the fifteen canons is far from certain, and passages of Justinian's letter are often ignorantly quoted as though they were part of these canons.

*(1) The confusion partly arose from the fact aht the Second Council of Constantinople, A.D. 553, was the Fifth Oecumenical Council, and the Home Synod, A.D. 541, was the fifth council or synod which met at Constantinople. — See F. N. Oxenham, Letter on Everlasting Punishment, p. 21. The Rev. J. S. Blunt seems to have arrived at the same conclusion, though he strongly opposes any form of Universalism. He says, "When the Fifth General Council met they did not take any notice of these fifteen canons [of the Home Synod] or of the Origenistic opinions which had been condemned, and notwithstanding the agitation raised concerning the three chapters, the only conciliar condemnation of their opinions was in the obscure synod referred to." — Dict. Of Sects, ?. v. Origenists.

b. There was a strong desire, in later times, to be able to say that Origen had been condemned by an Oecumenical synod, so that there was every temptation to insert his name. The same causes produce the same effects, and lead to the scarcely honest assertion so often repeated, that Universalism was condemned by synods and councils which never so much as touched upon the question.

g. It is certain that the writings of Origen were not discussed at this council, but only in the synod, if even there.*(1)

*(1) Even there they seem only to have read the garbled and misunderstood extracts scraped together without possibility of explanation by Pelagius, &c.

d. The other heretics mentioned had all been more or less directly condemned in the first Four Councils, to which this canon expressly refers; Origen alone had not.

e. It is, to say the least, very suspicious that Origen's name, first in order of chronology, should stand last in the list.*(1)

*(1) If it be said that this is because he was last condemned it throws fresh light on the fact that even his opinions on the nature of Christ — which were probably quite misunderstood — had not been condemned by any conciliar decree for the three centuries which had elapsed since his death. Origen died A.D. 253. The Fifth Council was held in A.D. 553.

z. Theodorus Ascidas, as Bishop of Caesarea, took a very leading part in the Fifth Council, and he would certainly have endeavoured to keep out the name of Origen, from whom it had been his express object to divert attention.*(1)

*(1) Liberatus, Brev. 24.

h. His name does not occur in the preamble to the Acts of the Council or in the subscription to it by the Patriarch Eutychius.*(1)

*(1) Harduin III., Collat. viii. p. 193.

q. He is not mentioned by Vigilius, Pelagius II., or Gregory the Great, who mention the Three Chapters.*(1)

*(1) See Schrockh, xviii. 56.

i. It is certain that there has been some confusion. Cyril of Scythopolis, in his life of St. Saba, and Evagrius (H. E. iv. 38) do indeed say that "Origen" was condemned at this Council, but they may very easily have fallen into the confusion which I have mentioned, and it is Gieseler's opinion that they did.

If they made this not unnatural mistake, others would follow him. The later authorities quoted by Dr. Pusey have therefore no independent value, nor can their assertions outweigh the silence of three contemporaries — Facundus of Hermiane; Liberatus in his Breviarum; and Victor of Tununum.*(1) Besides this we have the silence of the Acts of the Council themselves. The error once rooted, it would naturally be perpetuated; and as for Nicephorus, who wrote nine centuries afterwards, the mistake into which he fell is obvious on the face of his own narrative. He as well as others failed to observe that the Fifth Council of Constantinople was a term which applied alike to the Home Synod and to the Fifth Oecumenical Council, which was held at Constantinople.

*(1) Dr. Pusey claims the authority of the latter (p. 137); but Victor does not mention the condemnation of Origen.

k. The silence of the Acts of the Council about Origen ought to weigh far more than the authorities adduced on the other side, for there is not the least probability in the suggestion that they were mutilated. They could not have been mutilated without the connivance of Eutychius the Patriarch, and his character is above all suspicion. He would have no temptation whatever to suppress facts which told against Origen; but there were multitudes who would be very strongly tempted to invent such facts. It is, for instance, all but certain that some of the documents collected against Theodore of Mopsuestia in the proceedings of this Council are later additions.*(1)

*(1) See Gieseler, ii. I; Walch, Ketzerhistorie, viii. 281-291.

But (II.) Even if we grant that "Origen" was condemned, did that involve any condemnation of his "Universalism"?

Most unquestionably not; for these reasons: -

i. The name "Origenist" had many different meanings.*(1)

*(1) Schrockh, xviii. 60.

ii. The leading promoters of the Council held the eschatological opinions of Origen.

iii. The assembled Bishops expressly referred to St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and to other Fathers who were avowed admirers of Origen, and of whom one at least had repeatedly, and in the most public manner, expressed approval of Universalist hopes. The last circumstance seems to me decisive. If Universalism had been at all in question, would it not have been the most monstrous injustice to quote St. Gregory of Nyssa as a canonized defender of orthodoxy in the same breath in which Origen was condemned as an impious heretic? No honest reader can deny the force of these considerations.

III. But, after all, the authority of the Fifth Council goes for very little.*(1) It was by no means a creditable assembly. No one can entertain much respect for its authority who is adequately acquainted with its history. Its determination are in no sense binding on the English Church. It was born and died in jealousies and counter-jealousies. It was disgraced by the machinations of corrupt courtiers. Intrigue stood by its cradle, and intrigue followed its hearse. It reversed the decision of the Council of Chalcedon, which had listened, without impatience, to the praises of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and had admitted the orthodoxy of Ibas as well as that of Theodoret, after hearing the very letter which the Fifth Council condemned.*(2) It originated in a disingenuous attempt to undermine the authority of the Council of Chalcedon in the interests of the Monophysite heresy; it laid itself open to the just accusation of breaking an understood principle in attacking the honoured dead who could not answer for themselves.*(3) It awoke the indignant protests of Pontianus, Fulgentius Ferrandus, Liberatus, Victor of Tununum, Rusticus, Facundus of Hermiane, and others, against its uncalled-for dogmatism, caused by the zeal of those who wanted to teach what they had never learned. It led to an outburst of cruel and wanton persecution. Its decisions were for a long time rejected by the Churches of North Africa, Spain, and Gaul. It was slightly regarded by Pope Gregory the Great. It displayed nothing so much as the arbitrary will of a meddling and heretical Emperor, and the fickle mind of an ignorant and simoniacal Pope.*(4) It had the directly mischievous effect of stifling free inquiry, checking theological development, and depriving the Church of the writings of some of her greatest and holiest scholars. It was a condemnation of philosophic thinkers by men incapable of philosophic thought.*(5) And, after all, it is doubtful whether its canons are genuine, and whether it condemned Origen at all. Even if it did, that condemnation has no bearing on the simple question, "Will all men ultimately find God's mercy or not?" still less on the only question with which I am personally concerned, "Is there any hope beyond the grave for souls which have died in imperfect penitence?"

*(1) Undoubtedly the Fifth Council did condemn Theodoret for alleged Nestorianism; yet the Jesuit Sirmond, in his Life of Theodoret, did not hesitate to declare that Theodoret was quite innocent of Nestorianism.

*(2) Mansi, vii. 189.

*(3) For this reason several protests were raised against it, e.g. by Fulgentius Ferrandus (Ep. Ad Pelag.). "Ut pro mortuis fratribus non generentur inter vivos scandala." The North African Bishop Pontianus spoke in similar terms. Vigilius, in one of his many wavering moods, urged the same objection. Eutychius got the Patriarchate (from which Justinian subsequently deposed him) for proving that it was quite fair to anathematize the dead, since Josiah had burned the bones of the priests of Bethel! If the great writers whom the Council condemned were by that time in the company of saints and angels, they must, says Gibbon, "have smiled at the idle fury of the theological insects who still crawled on the surface of the earth."

*(4) See Neander, Ch. Hist. iv. 281; Gibbon, iv. 366-388. Justinian before his death in A.D. 564 was endeavouring to force on the Church by persecution the heresy of the Aphthartodocetae, which happily died with him. Baronius "almost pronounces his damnation."

*(5) Let the reader study the perfectly unbiased criticism of Schrockh, xviii. 55, and he will find these views amply supported.




ch. 1 ch. 2 ch. 3 ch. 4 ch. 5 ch. 6 ch. 7 ch. 8 ch. 9 pt. 1 ch. pt. 2 ch. 10 ch. 11 ch. 12 ch. 13 ch. 14

ch. 15 ch. 16 Last Page of Mercy and Judgment

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