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Hell in the Fathers


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#1 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 07:47 PM

Isaac the Syrian's presentation of Hell is currently very popular in Orthodox preaching and teaching--indeed, it is often presented as THE Orthodox view. My question is this: Can it really be said to represent the consensual position of the Fathers of the Church or even of the Eastern Fathers? Can anyone recommend a scholarly study of the theme of Hell in the Fathers?

For example, how do the views of St John Chrysostom (see #31 of his Romans homilies) compare to St Isaac?

#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 12:17 AM

They are perfectly consistent and harmonious with each other.

#3 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 12:29 AM

They are perfectly consistent and harmonious with each other.


That's fine, but I'm looking for some in-depth exegesis of the Church Fathers.

#4 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 01:12 AM

Are you looking for it from a respondent here, or are you looking for a bibliographic reference? Some academic, thematic treatment of the Fathers on the subject of Hell? You gave a specific case comparison so I responded to that. There is no academic exegesis required if you look at what the two are saying through spiritual eyes. St. Isaac is saying that the worst torment possible is the most likely torment of Hell, that is, that we would be in the presence of God's love and not capable of responding to it. St. John Chrysostom is responding to those who say there must not be a hell at all, because look at all the punishments and torments we suffer in this life, and other arguments. St. Isaac is very explicit in saying it is his opinion. But because he is a Father of the Church and a saint, it carries great weight and is worthy of deep contemplation. We find many of the statements of the Fathers fall into this category, and do not lead to formulaic doctrines. If we look at statements such as these as dogmatic statements, we miss the great spiritual import they convey and we are prevented from changing, from being changed. We are just looking for a kind of informational knowledge which does violence to the message. And so by contemplating hell I can put my suffering and torment in this world into its proper perspective, and not become bitter; instead, I can be thankful. And by contemplating the worst possible kind of torment in the next life: to be immediately confronted by God's love and yet not able to respond -- I confess that I am without the capacity of love in this life, that I consistently turn my back on God's love, that I exhibit the most unholy thoughts toward God's creatures, that only by confessing my wretchedness in this matter can I possibly acquire a pure and contrite heart, which is a necessary precondition for being able to experience God's love in such a way that I can manifest His love in the way in which I treat His creatures. This is my exegesis. So to ask what do the Orthodox believe and teach on this subject I think is missing the point, somewhat. One might just as well ask, how many Orthodox have been glorified? How many Orthodox are there who truly manifest the Love of God in their hearts? How is this manifest? And how can I (you) acquire this love based on your example and your teachings? i.e. what must I do to inherit the Kingdom? Now, an Orthodox triumphalist might respond by saying that you must become Orthodox; but reading the Fathers through spiritual eyes can take us very far.

#5 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 09:11 PM

Alvin Kimel wrote:

Isaac the Syrian's presentation of Hell is currently very popular in Orthodox preaching and teaching--indeed, it is often presented as THE Orthodox view.



From the perspective of the parish faithful I would say that St Isaac is far from being very well known; and even among the clergy for whom he would be more familiar his views on universal salvation would be far from being the most influential. As in many other things the clergy 'view' is usually formed from a synthesis of what is learned as the tradition over the years.

Where St Isaac is far more known and venerated however is within the monastic world. Here too though I would say that his influence is seen within the wider tradition.

My question is this: Can it really be said to represent the consensual position of the Fathers of the Church or even of the Eastern Fathers? Can anyone recommend a scholarly study of the theme of Hell in the Fathers?

For example, how do the views of St John Chrysostom (see #31 of his Romans homilies) compare to St Isaac?


In a way though the main point would be how St Isaac along with the other saints is seen as part of a larger chorus. Thus although St Isaac is one person he is not read as an individual but as a voice within the larger context of the Church. It is the Church which provides the context for how we 'hear' the words we read so that they are always part of a greater whole. So where others could see contradiction we see difference in stress or focus.

In any case I am presently reading Abp Hilarion Alfeyev's The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian. But I have not yet come to the final chapter on 'universal salvation' so I am not sure of the details of what St Isaac writes. After I have read this perhaps I could post some comments here.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#6 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 11:29 PM

I would not have thought in the few items I have read from St. Isaac on the subject of hell that one could derive a doctrine of universal salvation. Was he explicit on this? And, by the way, is this the underlying point to your question, Fr. Alvin? Were you really asking the question: do Orthodox believe in universal salvation?

#7 Evan

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 12:21 AM

I'll bite:

CAN Orthodox believe in universal salvation? Not simply hope and pray for it, but claim it is something the Scriptures and the Fathers lead us to expect?

#8 Owen

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 02:07 AM

It is not Orthodox to believe that all must be saved, as an affect of the economy of creation. However, the salvific work of Christ is sufficient to save everyone, assuming everyone wants to be saved and enters into union with the Church and theosis to that end. But in fact, not everyone wants to be seved on these terms.

#9 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 12:50 PM

I'd like to bring the thread back to my original question: What do specific Church Fathers teach about Hell? Let's address the texts directly please. Perhaps Fr Matthew can be persuaded to share his research with us.

#10 Michael Stickles

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 02:13 PM

I'd like to bring the thread back to my original question: What do specific Church Fathers teach about Hell? Let's address the texts directly please.


I found a Free Republic post which presents quotes on hell from a number of early Fathers, but as they're fairly short I don't know how good the context is.

A couple of more comprehensive documents online are What Did the Early Church Fathers Believe About Hell? (MS Word document at the evangelical apologetics blog PleaseConvinceMe) and Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife (article by Peter Chopelas at aggreen.net; sections for what the OT, NT and the Fathers say, plus an RC/Protestant section and a section on Uncreated Energies). While I didn't read them extensively, these two appear to have very different perspectives, so might make for an interesting comparison.

I'm sure there are many more Fathers who've spoken on hell than are covered by these, but that's what I found with a quick search (which is all I've got time for at the moment - I'll see if I can find more later).

In Christ,
Michael

#11 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 02:48 PM

Thanks, Michael. Florilegia, I think, are a good start, but as you note, it's so easy to misunderstand specific statements when they are ripped out of their literary context. This is especially true when they are subsequently employed for polemical purposes. This is why I have asked if anyone has studied specific fathers in sufficient depth to share with us what they actually appeared to have taught.

I came across the Chopelas just last week, and it was his piece that in large part prompted me to start this thread on Monachos. Given Chopelas's polemical purposes, as well as his misrepresentation of what at least most contemporary Catholics believe and teach on the subject, I am reluctant to simply accept his interpretation of patristic teaching. We all like to read back into the Fathers our own beliefs and opinions.

#12 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 03:20 PM

We should be clear here. Hell is a teaching of the Church and already referred to by Christ. None of the Fathers deny this, nor- to keep on track- does St Isaac.

Rather what St Isaac and other Fathers delve into is the 'nature of hell'. Here certainly the focus can be different from one Father to another. Although this still gives us a consensus based on: responsibility during our lives here; the effect of free human will; and the ever presence of God's grace as creation moves towards its final resolution. I have never nor could I ever think there could be any Father who would dispute these fundamental points.

My own personal thought however is that Hell, no matter what it's nature is, does involve great personal suffering. Any effort to deny this as if the suffering is 'merely subjective' (due to the objective presence of Christ's grace for both those in a state of heaven & hell) is wrong and I have never encountered it in any of the Fathers.

In Christ- Fr Raphael
PS: sorry I'm posting so much today. The topics interest me so much!

#13 Alexander Zhdanov

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 07:22 AM

Dear Fr. Alvin,

1. I would suggest you to esteem "Eschatology" by Justin Popovich. I do not know whether you will find there answers to questions exciting you , but anyway there it is a lot of references to the Church Fathers.

2. I think that the basic distinction in an orthodox and Catholic sight on hell lies in the relation to sin. In the Catholic divinity a sin is concerned as a crime whereas orthodox Fathers consider the sin as an illness which can recover only in Church. Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus means: "Outside the Church there is no salvation"."Those who remains out of Church remains with their not cured nature." St. Hillarion of Vereja. I think that it is a basic point in an orthodox view on hell.

3. I do not think that St. Isaak really had thoughts on universal salvation because this point of view was rejected by Church though I did not read his works.

Sorry,

Alexander

#14 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 03:09 PM

Thank you, Alexander, for the reference to Fr Popovitch. Unfortunately, his book Eschatology does not appear to have been translated yet into English, at least I cannot find it listed anywhere on the internet.

#15 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 03:16 PM

Thank you, Alexander, for the reference to Fr Popovitch. Unfortunately, his book Eschatology does not appear to have been translated yet into English, at least I cannot find it listed anywhere on the internet.


The Orthodox Word made reference about a year ago that the St Herman Brotherhood plans on a translation of Fr Justin's dogmatic theology. Perhaps this book will be part of that effort?

In any case- stay tuned for their new publications over the next year or so or else email them to find out more.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#16 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 12:45 PM

We should be clear here. Hell is a teaching of the Church and already referred to by Christ.


Hades and hell

At Pascha we celebrated the destruction of hades. This was the realm of the dead where all souls of the departed went, righteous and unrighteous. Christ, by His despoiling of hades, broke its dominion over the departed. As we know, hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew sheol.

Hell is something different. The English word ‘hell’ suggests a place. The Greek word ‘kolasi’ though comes from the verb ‘kolazo’ meaning to punish. In the NT, we find hades and gehenna in the Greek but not ‘kolasi’.

In these passages, hell is a translation of gehenna:

• Matthew 5:22 KJV
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say , Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
• Matthew 5:29 KJV
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out , and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish , and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
• Matthew 5:30 KJV
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off , and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish , and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
• Matthew 10:28 KJV
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
• Matthew 18:9 KJV
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out , and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
• Matthew 23:15 KJV
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made , ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
• Matthew 23:33 KJV
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
• James 3:6 KJV
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.


In these passages, hell is a translation of hades:

• Matthew 11:23 KJV
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
• Matthew 16:18 KJV
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
• Luke 16:23 KJV
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
• Acts 2:27 KJV
Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell

Only in 2 Peter 2:9 is the verb kolazo used (in the sense of punishment for sins):
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished

References to hell in Revelation are actually references to hades in the Greek (1:18 and elsewhere).

Some questions arise. First, where did our conception of hell as a place of punishment come from? Secondly, gehenna is clearly a place of fire (cf ‘fire’ in Mark 9:48) – there is no mention of cold and other tortures, so from where did these further ideas come? (The ‘worm’ is only mentioned in Mark.) Why does Christ refer to hades at Matthew 11:23 since hades will have been despoiled? Why does Revelation use the term hades again since it was despoiled? In Orthodox thought, should we take hell to mean gehenna and leave it at that?

#17 Jesse Dominick

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 12:33 AM

Fr. Nicholas Aiello has recently finished a thesis on Hell in the Fathers for St. Tikhon's Seminary. You can contact him at nick@saintbasil.org, although he is a very busy (newly-ordained) man, so i cant promise any kind of quick response.

#18 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 06:19 AM

Thank you, Jesse. Any contributions from members here?

#19 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 08:57 PM

Dear Reader Andreas,
Christ is Risen,

Your post inspired my to do a bit of research and it appears that the word hell has been used for both in English at least since the Wessex/West Saxon Gospels were translated. The word itself is related to cell (in the sense of a cave or cavern) and means the underworld/abode of the dead literally "concealed place" in this sense it is related to the Hebrew sheol literally "the grave". However for some reason it was also used for gehenna though I am unsure as to why.

Why does Christ refer to hades at Matthew 11:23 since hades will have been despoiled? Why does Revelation use the term hades again since it was despoiled?

They are interesting askings.

In the Risen Christ.
Daniel,

#20 Grigore Noica

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 03:56 AM

Clark Carlton has a little series on this which may be helpful in some way:

1) http://ancientfaith....modest_proposal

2) http://ancientfaith....rlton/purgatory

3) http://ancientfaith...._again_in_glory




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