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Also spelled "Apokatastasis."
Apocatastasis is, in essence, the belief that hell as popularly defined does not exist. Rather, the "fires of hell" are not an eternal punishment, but a tool of divine teaching and correction, akin to purgatory.
St. Augustine wrote the following about Origen:
- "I am aware that I now have to engage in a debate, devoid of rancor, 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."
- — St. Augustine of Hippo, City of God 21.17 (trans. Bettenson)
- St. Varsanofios the Great, criticizing the doctrine of apocatastasis, when asked about St. Gregory's opinion, has answered: “do not think that people, though also saints, could completely understand all depths of God... Even if a saint speaks about such opinions, you will not find that he confirmed the words as though had the statement from above, but that they resulted from the doctrine of his former teachers, and he, trusting their knowledge of them, did not inquire of God whether it was true.