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Yes, Hell Is Still Eternal

Does an ecumenical Church council show that all men are saved? Not at all.

Here is a question a reader asked me recently:

I have a friend who says the Catholic Church has never actually condemned the idea of final apokatastasis, or the final salvation of all at the end of time, as taught by Origen in the second century. He claims there are only the alleged “anti-Origenist” canons from II Constantinople, in 553, that condemn this teaching, but they have been demonstrated to be interposed and not authentic. Is that true?

This is a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

To start with, there are plenty of other magisterial reasons for Catholics to know that hell is eternal. But to answer the question at hand, the claim of “anti-Origenist” interpolation regarding II Constantinople and what it teaches is false, at least in part.

Granted, at least some of these canons, alleged to be from the council, were later interposed—that is, added in after the fact—and included wrongly as part of the canons of II Constantinople. But that does not mean they are not authentic and authoritative. The truth is, at least nine of these canons were licitly promulgated at a validly convened synod at Constantinople in 343, about ten years before the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople II. And very importantly, these canons, too, were confirmed by Pope Vigilius.

As we will see below, the Church cites nine of the famous anti-Origenist canons as authoritative. (There are fifteen others that are generally not considered authoritative.) The error people commonly make is to go to an excellent work like Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, edited by Norman Tanner, S.J., and there discover that these canons were not original to II Constantinople. That is not the error, because it is true that these canons were not original to Constantinople. But some conclude from this that the canons themselves are bogus, or at least not magisterial.

But a work like Tanner’s is not where you want to go for this kind of information. He is only dealing with what documents constitute the actual documents of ecumenical councils. And it is correct to say, as the above inquirer’s friend does, that these anti-Origenist canons were not original to the council.

But if you want the whole story, you have to go to Heinrich Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, which I recommend for your normal go-to source even with regard to ecumenical councils. The Church cites Denzinger as its general go-to in its magisterial documents. (At least when considering sections of the councils, you can use Denzinger. Because the councils are not exhaustively cited there, you’ll have to supplement with Tanner or Flannery.)

At any rate, here are four points to consider:

First, In paragraph 1035 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, footnote 617, we find anathemas #7 and #9, from the Synod of Constantinople, as authoritative (DS 409, 411), which explicitly condemns Origenism with regard to final apokatastasis:

If anyone says or holds that the Lord Christ in the future age will be crucified in behalf of the demons, just as [he was] for the sake of men, let him be anathema.

If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious men is temporary and that it will have an end at some time, that is to say, there will be a complete restoration of the demons or of impious men, let him be anathema.

Second, according to Denzinger, we have evidence from Cassidorus’s Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning indicating that Pope Vigilius did indeed confirm the Synod of Constantinople (Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, p. 114). And so

(a) the condemnation of Origen’s position of final apokatastasis has papal, magisterial authority, and

(b) in its “Index of Citations,” the Catechism, under the heading “Particular Councils and Synods,” cites and acknowledges “the Synod of Constantinople” (543) to be magisterial.

As far as the magisterial authority of this teaching is concerned, it is not because of this declaration from the Synod of Constantinople alone. Rather, this teaching represents the universal and ordinary teaching of the Church and is infallible. That is, the teaching of the final salvation of all angels, including the demons, and all men, including the impious, is infallibly condemned.

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