In my previous post we surveyed the history of the condemnation of universalism in John Italus and in particular the role of St Maximus looming large behind the Orthodox articulation. Yet, St Maximus isn’t the only figure influencing this late medieval condemnation. To discover our second influencer we need to return to the condemnation:
To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others: Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!
– Contra John Italus, Chapter 10, Synodikon of Orthodoxy
The key point of the condemnation is that the Kingdom is eternal and that therefore the punishment will be eternal. Although there may not be any direct influence on this much later condemnation, if we turn back the clock nearly 900 years to the late 2nd century, we find that St Irenaeus has something quite similar. This quote, from The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (a recently discovered text), highlights precisely the assertion made in the Synodikon. He says:
For hereby the Son of God is proclaimed both as being born and also as eternal King. But they shall wish that they had been burned with fire (is said) of those who believe not on Him, and who have done to Him all that they have done: for they shall say in the judgment, How much better that we had been burned with fire before the Son of God was born, than that, when He was born, we should not have believed on Him. Because for those who died before Christ appeared there is hope that in the judgment of the Risen One they may obtain salvation, even such as feared God and died in righteousness and had in them the Spirit of God, as the patriarchs and prophets and righteous men. But for those who after Christ’s appearing believed not on Him, there is a vengeance without pardon in the judgment.
– The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 56
At first glance, the two thoughts (eternal Kingdom and eternal punishment) may not appear directly related in this quote. To discover the direct relation we must turn to the middle sentences. Irenaeus posits a temporary torment for those who died before the advent of the Christ (“… burned with fire before the Son of God was born”). Yet this temporary torment ceases after the advent. That is to say that the birth of Christ ushers in a new eternal Kingdom by which the temporal punishment is made eternal.