The Quincunque Vult
Earlier in the day I had learned that a well-meaning priest wanted me to affirm the "Creed of Saint Athanasius," also called the Quincunque Vult, which, as I was reminded, holds out "the possibility of eternal damnation." Indeed, it does appear to do so in the opening and closing remarks:
"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith. Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly..."
"...Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sittith on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire (ignem aeternum). This is the Catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved."
But this has to be considered in line with our "Three legged Stool" of Scripture, Right Reason, and Tradition. As I mentioned yesterday, and will address again below, in the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures there is no such thing as eternal or everlasting Hell. So, the first leg does not bear up the notion of eternal damnation.
Right Reason unfolds everything according to logic. So let us weigh this against logic. Frankly, if such a terrible fate awaits all "they who have done evil," then we may as well quit right now, stop trying to be Christians, and accept the dreaded punishment to come. Inasmuch as "All have sinned" it is only logical to accept that sins can be forgiven, and that apart from the sinless One Himself, "We all like sheep have gone astray." But if we believe also that "the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," we cannot simply accept the statement as having been intended to be absolute and without exception. If believing the Catholic Faith is part of how we attain forgiveness of sins, then we must consider that anyone who has faced God in judgment has been, thereby, converted to belief in the Catholic Faith. Even this Medieval doctrinal statement does not say that one cannot believe and be saved after departing this earthly life. So, it is quite logical to say that this so-called creed cannot really obligate anyone to believe in the possibility of eternal damnation. Indeed, it manages, when considered with Right Reason, to hold out, at the very least, hope for everybody.
Finally, if the Quincunque Vult is to be considered part of the Tradition, then we must limit our understanding of what constitutes the Church to the West, and effectively regard all of our Eastern brethren to be excommunicated. Because this "creed" affirms filioque, the Orthodox Church does not hold to it. This explains why it is only written in Latin, and there is no corresponding Greek original. Finally, it is in form not a creed at all, having no "I believe" or "We believe" (no credo) in its contents. Nor is it by Saint Athanasius, as is quite obvious. Its Trinitarian theology is very good (as long as one is so very Western as to regard filioque as dogma, which raises other problems that are beyond the purpose of this post); but it is not part of the Tradition of the Universal Church, which is why the 1928 American edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which happens to be the edition we use in the diocese wherein I am resident, makes no mention of it, even in the Articles of Religion. I will not treat any document in a Fundamentalist manner. If the Affirmation of Saint Louis affirms this "creed" then that means we accept its Trinitarian theology, the problem of filioque not withstanding, nor resolved. It does not bind us to even so much as consider the possibility of something so horrifying as an eternal damnation to suffering.
Two verses were quoted in a recent discussion, one most probably aimed at saving my soul and the souls I would endanger by teaching ἀποκατάστᾰσις. Those two verses were Matthew 25:46 and II Thessalonians 2:16. In the quotation from Matthew we see the words "eternal punishment" in the King James Bible. In II Thessalonians we see the term "everlasting destruction" in the same King James Bible. After centuries of custom, rather than Tradition (one of those three legs) it became standard to translate the Greek word αἰώνιος (aiōnios) as "eternal" and "everlasting." However, custom does not have the same weight as Tradition. The fact is, αἰώνιος was very often used to mean something that lasts a long time as opposed to lasting forever. Indeed St. John Chrysostom made a point of using the word αἰώνιος in describing the devil's time of power over the world as temporary rather than as eternal. Also, αἰώνιος is from the Greek word αἰών, which has been carried over into our own language as the English word "aeon." It means a very long period of time.
When I point this out, some people are troubled because the same word is used for "eternal" when the term "eternal life" (or "everlasting life") is employed in the King James Bible, and other translations. And I do say that this is also a technically incorrect translation of the word. But our faith in eternal life does not depend on that one word αἰώνιος. The New Testament teaches very clearly that our sure and certain hope is based on the solid fact of Christ's resurrection from death; but not merely as in the case of Lazarus: Rather, fully and completely from mortality itself; that is, from even the possibility of dying again. The strongest part of the New Testament that explains this is the fifteenth chapter of Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians.
I will also point out, in the case of Matthew 25:46, the word for punishment κόλασις (kolasis) indicates correction. If the punishment takes forever, then it fails to correct. In the case of II Thessalonians 2:16, where the King James Bible says "everlasting destruction," it must be pointed out that in the scriptures we see destruction often followed by God making all things new, even those things that had been destroyed. This is true of everything from the Temple in Jerusalem to the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, even to "a new heaven and a new earth." More to the point, it is surprising that the same brilliant minds who translated the King James Bible fell into such an obvious trap as self-contradiction. Destruction cannot be an everlasting process, because if it goes on forever the person is never destroyed. The word "destruction" has to mean a temporal process of bringing about the ruin and removal of something. It cannot go on forever. And this very phrase itself should indicate that, with all due respect for those brilliant Anglican scholars, we have run into a problem of faulty translation. They were bound by Western custom to mistranslate the word, a custom inflicted by the flawed Latin translation of αἰώνιος into aeternum.
The simple truth is, eternal punishment is not in the Bible, not in the Tradition, and very weak when weighed against Right Reason. Believe it if you want to; but your position will be the one that is quite fragile. At the very least, you have no basis for calling Universalism a heresy.
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