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The Debate on Apokatastasis in Pagan and Christian Platonists:

Martianus, Macrobius, Origen,

Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine
This contribution studies how the doctrine of apokatastasis was common
to pagan and Christian Platonism, and how both pagans and Christians
especially Macrobius and Origenconfronted Platos eschatology. The
concept of apokatastasis as universal salvation and return to the Good
seems to be a Christian novelty. Indeed, to uphold this doctrine, Origen
had to correct Plato using an argument from the omnipotence of God,
and Gregory of Nyssa, following Origen, supported the doctrine of
apokatastasis on the grounds of Christs inhumanation and redemptive
work. But later pagan Neoplatonists, such as Macrobius, definitely
embraced this doctrine, to the point of (wrongly) ascribing it to Plato
himself to legitimize it and make it nobler. Pagan Neoplatonists may
here have been influenced by Christian Neoplatonists, although they
would never have admitted that they had drawn inspiration from them.
This would not be the only example of Christian Neoplatonic influence
on pagan Neoplatonism

1. Presentation and Methodological Guidelines

The theory of apokatastasis (!!"#$%"&%$&'#, restoration, reconstitution,
reestablishment) involves the restoration and return of fallen beings to their
original condition and, in general, to their adhesion to the supreme Good.1
Universal apokatastasis implies that all fallen beings will be restored; if only
some beings are supposed to be restored, apokatastasis is not universal. Here
I shall study Martianus conception of the origin and destiny of the soul,
which seems to entail a nonuniversal apokatastasis (at least, this was surely
the interpretation of his commentator John the Scot Eriugena, as I shall point

This article is the revised and expanded version of a paper I presented at the
session on Martianus Capella at the International Mediaeval Congress, Leeds, July
1217, 2009. I am very grateful to the participants for discussion. Special thanks to
Danuta Shanzer for her invitation to the session and to submission to ICS, and to the
anonymous readers of ICS for helpful comments.



Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

out), and I shall draw a parallel with Macrobius, who has a doctrine of
universal apokatastasis, which he ascribes to Plato. I shall then consider the
relationship between this pagan theory and the Christian doctrine of
apokatastasiswhich was subsequently considered to be hereticalin two
contemporaries of Martianus and Macrobius: Gregory of Nyssa and the early
Augustine. The latter, as I shall argue, initially embraced this doctrine along
with other tenets of Origens thought.
I start from the fundamental premise that Neoplatonism, just like Middle
Platonism, was compatible both with paganism and with Christianity.2 Since
true Platonism is not pagan Platonism (for both pagan and Christian
Platonism are equally Platonic and equally well attested historically), it
makes no sense even to ask whether Platonism is reconcilable or
irreconcilable with Christianity, since this very question presupposes the
identification of Platonism with pagan Platonism, which is to beg the
question. This, of course, is an important debate that I shall not enter here.3
Some think that speaking of Christian Platonism, or patristic Platonism,
makes no sense, in that only a heretical Christian could be a Platonist. This is
because they consider Platonism as necessarily pagan and increasingly a
religion, and a pagan religion at that. It is of course true that pagan
Neoplatonism exhibited this development, but a Plotinus, for instance, would
probably have abhorred Iamblichus pagan mysteriosophywhich
nevertheless is regarded as Neoplatonicno less than, say, Gregory of
Nyssas Christian Neoplatonism.
In fact, both Middle and Neoplatonism had pagan and Christian sides, the
latter represented, for example, by Justin, Athenagoras, Clement, Origen,
Gregory of Nyssa, and the whole of patristic philosophy, which was
prevalently Platonic.4 In this connection, I set out to investigate here how the

See my Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Re-thinking the

Christianization of Hellenism, VigChr 63 (2009) 21763.
I have discussed it in Gregorio di Nissa SullAnima e la Resurrezione (Milan
2007), second integrative essay.
There was even a Jewish Middle Platonism with Philo of Alexandria, who was a
precursor of the Christian Middle Platonism insofar as he realized the first synthesis
between Platonism and the Bible thanks to the powerful instrument of allegory, which
was used by both pagan Middle and Neoplatonists, who applied it to myths (Plutarch,
Porphyry), and Christian Middle and Neoplatonists, who applied it to the Bible. See

Ilaria Ramelli


doctrine of apokatastasis was common to pagan and Christian Platonism, and

how both pagans and Christiansespecially Macrobius and Origen
confronted Platos eschatology.
2. Martianus Capella and Pagan Apokatastasis: Not Universal?
Martianus work is strongly imbued with Middle Platonism, Neoplatonism,
Pythagoreanism, and the doctrine of the Chaldaean Oracles. He seems either
to have been a contemporary of Augustine or, more probably, to have lived
slightly later, in the second half of the fifth century,5 and, like Augustine, in
Africa. He was a paganas is also maintained by Praux, Lenaz, Turcan, and
Shanzer, against Cappuyns or Bttgers doubtsand there is anti-Christian
polemic behind his De Nuptiis.6
In Martianus view, the apokatastasis of the soul, its return to its original
condition, is a Platonic $!'&%(")%, the third Neoplatonic movement after

my Philosophical Allegoresis of Scripture in Philo and Its Legacy in Gregory of

Nyssa, StudPhilon 20 (2008) 5599.
I discuss the chronology in Tutti i commenti a Marziano Capella: Scoto
Eriugena, Remigio di Auxerre, Bernardo Silvestre e anonimi, Essays, improved
editions, translations, commentaries, appendixes, bibliography (Milan 2006) 76970
and 7756; more briefly in the entry Martianus Capella in the The Blackwell
Encyclopedia of Ancient History (forthcoming). See also Konrad Vssing,
Augustinus und Martianus Capellaein Diskurs im Sptantiken Karthago? in Die
christlich-philosophischen Diskurse der Sptantike: Texte, Personen, Institutionen,
ed. Therese Fuhrer (Stuttgart 2008), who, however, prefers the high chronology.
M. Cappuyns, Capella (Martianus), in Dictionnaire dHistoire et Gographie
Ecclsiastiques (Paris 1949) 2.83547, esp. 838 and 843; James Willis, Martianus
Capella and His Early Commentators (diss. Univ. of London 1952); idem, Martianus
und die mittelalterliche Schulbildung, Altertum 19 (1973) 16474, esp. 165; Jean
Praux, Jean Scot et Martin de Laon en face du De Nuptiis du Martianus Capella,
in Jean Scot rigne et lhistoire de la philosophie, ed. Ren Roques (Paris 1977)
16170, esp. 16263; idem, Les manuscrits principaux du De nuptiis Philologiae et
Mercurii de Martianus Capella, in Lettres latines du Moyen ge et de la
Renaissance (Bruxelles 1987) 76128, esp. 76; Danuta Shanzer, A Philosophical and
Literary Commentary on Martianus Capellas De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii
Book 1 (Berkeley 1986) 16 and 21ff.; and Danuta Shanzer, Martianus and
Christianity Reconsidered, delivered at Martians Landing Under Our Radar?:
Contextualizing Martianus Capellas Deviancy or Heresy, at the International
Medieval Congress, Leeds, 14 July, 2009.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

*"+% and !(&","#, and, as such, a -'.&'#a notion that was common to
both pagan and Christian Neoplatonism.7 He undoubtedly has a doctrine of
some souls apokatastasis, but he is not at all explicit concerning the
possibility of all souls returning. I shall show that Macrobius, who has so
much in common with him, including pagan Neoplatonism, is much more
interested in the universalistic issue and closer to contemporary Christian
Neoplatonists who supported the doctrine of apokatastasislater on
condemned as heretical by the churchin the form of universal salvation
famously in Origen for the devil himself.8
Martianus work revolved around the elevation of the wise soul,
represented by Philologia, who loves the Logos, to heaven, to marry
Mercury, that is, Hermes the Logos, according to an ancient allegorical
tradition. The Logos is not only the word, but also, and above all, reason; the
soul who loves it is the philosophical soul, who must get rid of all mundane
learning in order to access free wisdom. Philologia is not only love for words
and thus our discipline of philology, but it is the love of the soul for wisdom,
rationality, thought, and knowledge. This is why Martianus emphasizes
Philologias vast knowledge, which embraces all human knowledge.
Philologia symbolizes the human soul that is divinized through philosophy.
According to Remigius of Auxerre,9 Mercury represents sermo, rhetorically
crafted speech, and Philologia human reason and the knowledge that it
acquires. According to Lenaz,10 Mercury represents God, and Philology the
human soul: their marriage symbolizes the union between the human and the
divine. Martianus identifies Mercury with the Neoplatonic Intellect (De nupt.
1.92), the hypostasis derived from the One and prior to the third hypostasis,
the Soul.
Philosophy, broadly conceived, including all human knowledge and
behavior, leads to the divinization of the human soul. The gods decree, of
which Martianus speaks in the narrative frame, concedes immortality to those
human beings who have deserved it with their conduct and study. The model

See my Divinization/Theosis in the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception

(Berlin 2011).
See below 21517.
Edition, translation, and commentary in my Commentari.
Preface to Martiani Capellae de nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii liber secundus,
ed. L. Lenaz (Padova 1975) 117.

Ilaria Ramelli


is Philologia herself, who, as Martianus says, had her birth on earth, but the
intention to tend to the stars (sed cui terreus/ortus, propositum in sidera
tendere; De nupt. 1.93). She ascends to heaven thanks to her efforts in study
and the exercise of reason. Philosophical culture, including the liberal arts, is
conceived by Martianus as an instrument of elevation and a means to attain
immortality. The interest in humans eternal destiny and in prizes or
punishments in the other world according to ones conduct in this one is
shared by Martianus and his possible contemporary Macrobius; both of them
were influenced by Neoplatonism and by Ciceros Somnium Scipionis.
The deities are represented as having a heavenly abode, around the zodiac
circle (De nupt. 1.4560), at different levels, from the sphere of fixed stars to
the circles comprised between this and the sun, then those between the sun
and the moon, and finally the sublunary region down to earth. Human souls,
which have a fiery nature, after leaving the body, can be lifted to different
planes of this celestial hierarchy. Of course, the idea of the bodys liberation
and the souls return to its original place owes much to (Neo)platonic and
(Neo)pythagorean asceticism, which deeply influenced Martianus.
Martianus conception of the apokatastasiswhether or not universal
comes close to what Marrou called the religion of culture in his Histoire de
lducation dans lantiquit: eternal beatitude is the fruit of culture, of a
moral and intellectual elevation, pursued through philosophy and the liberal
arts, the symbol of which is the marriage between Philologia and Mercury.
The latter, indeed, assumes the characteristics of Hermes Psychopompus,
who guided the souls of the dead to the other world, in particular those
destined to beatitude. Indeed, the theory that underlies Martianus work and
is only cursorily described therein is that humans are endowed with a fiery
soul that comes from heaven and there must return. This is also close to the
doctrine of astral immortality already described in Ciceros Somnium
Scipionis, and hence in Macrobius commentary on it, where Macrobius
expounds his apokatastasis theory. Humans must tend to eternal beatitude
through the attainment of wisdom.
Martianus ethical intellectualism is typical of Neoplatonists, both pagan
and Christian, and it is especially clear in Gregory of Nyssa and in the other
patristic philosophers who supported the doctrine of apokatastasis. Medieval
commentators highlight this trait and make it even more pronounced.
Intellectual engagement in philosophy (which tends to include all
knowledge and virtues) is the key to eternal beatitude. Philosophical study
can reach the whole cosmos and the divine sphere (De nupt. 1.22), which is
the end of the apokatastasis.
Another conception that, against a typical Platonic backdrop, Martianus
shares with Macrobius and is related to the apokatastasis of the soula


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

doctrine that was already present in Philo, who was by no means a

universalist11 is the understanding of the sublunary world as the true
Hades. This means that the world of the dead is this world, in which souls are
incarnated. In De nupt. 2.16066, he interprets the infernal river
Pyriphlegethon as a reference to the air that surrounds the earth and connects
it to the relationship of the souls to their bodies. This air around the earth is
that which obstacles the separation of the souls from the bodies and thus the
true life of the souls, conceived as a disembodied life. The souls that must be
reincarnated are those who are condemned: it is no accident that Pluto and
Proserpine, the deities who presided over Hades, are said by Martianus to
rule over the terrestrial deities. The true Hades is on earth. This is why
Philologia, to acquire immortality, must leave the earth and cross all the
celestial circles (De nupt. 2.14299).12
Among the commentators of Martianus,13 the one who most highlighted
this idea, explicitly ascribing it to the Platonic tradition, is John the Scot
Eriugena in his Glosae Martiani 13.5 (ed. Jeauneau), in a section entitled
<Secundum> sectam Platonicam antiquissimorum Graecorum de lapsu et
apostrophia animarum,14 where apostrophia indicates the Neoplatonic
!!"&%(")% or $!'&%(")% and in fact the apokatastasis. Eriugena in this
passage also presents the same etymologies of the infernal rivers that
Macrobius does and the identification of these rivers with the planetary
orbits, which are located under the fixed stars, which are described as the
natural seat of the souls, whereas the earth is not their natural seat. Eriugena
also identifies the return of the soul to its original place with its divinization,
which he calls, not -'.&'#, but !!"-'.&'#. And, taking !!"- in the sense of
back, he interprets it as a redivinization, i.e., a return or restoration to the
divine state that was the original state of the soul. This return is clearly the


See my Apokatastasis (forthcoming).

See my Marziano Capella (Milan 2001) and commentary ad loc.
All Latin Medieval commentators on Martianus are found, with critical essays,
translations, editions, and commentaries, in my Tutti i commenti a Marziano Capella:
Scoto Eriugena, Remigio di Auxerre, Bernardo Silvestre e anonimi (Milan: Istituto
Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, 2006).
In the Oxford manuscript: sectam Platonicam antiquissimorum Graecorum de
lapsu et apostrophia animarum. I accept Liebeschtzs integration <secundum>
sectam Platonicam; H. Liebeschtz, Zur Geschichte der Erklrung des Martianus
Capella bei Eriugena, Philologus 104 (1960) 131n1.

Ilaria Ramelli


apokatastasis of the soul, and this is hardly surprising, for Eriugena himself
was one of the few Latin supporters of the doctrine of apokatastasis. Indeed,
what he describes, the original unity of all beings in God and their return to
this condition in the end, is the Origenistic-Evagrian doctrine that Eriugena
himself was to develop and reinterpret in his Periphyseon, even though both
the Origenian authors and Eriugena dropped the astral doctrine of descent
and purification through the planetary orbits. This is the most important
section of this treatment:
And since they [sc. the Platonists] thought that there was nothing outside
the universe, they were convinced that the souls return to the same orbits
of the planets through which they imagined that they had fallen into the
bodies, and that thus they find again their original and natural abode.
However, since they had been contaminated by the stains of the body,
they could not return without the purification that they call !!"-'.&'#,
that is, redivinization. Because at the beginning they [sc. the souls]
were linked to the divinity in unity, in their [sc. the Platonists] opinion,
and then they return to it after purification; therefore, they [sc. the
Platonists] thought that souls are purified in the planetary orbits . . . and
they assigned a particular space to each single soul, according to the
quality of their merits. And they called the orbit of Saturn Styx, which
means sadness . . . that of Mars, on the other side, was called
/0()123'-.+ [sic], that is, flaming fire. In these two orbits the impious
souls are either tormented eternally, if characterized by an excessive
wickedness, or purified, in order to return, at a certain moment, to
peace. And they [sc. the Platonists] thought that this peace was found in
the orbit of Jupiter and Venus, where they thought that the Elysian Fields
were found, the fields of $1(&2"# [sic], that is, of liberation from pains
. . . even after purification some of them [sc. the souls] wish to return
again to some bodies; others, on the contrary, completely despise bodies
and reach their natural abodes among stars, from which they had fallen.
. . . The souls free examination, with which they decide whether to
return back to the body or to despise any corporeal abode and to return
to their original place, is indicated by the peregrination of the Fortunae
from river to river and their return from river to river in the opposite


In my edition I have corrected quandam, p. 132 l. 1 Jeauneau, into quondam,

which is the perfect pendant to semper, eternally, in the preceding line.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

Eriugena clearly does not ascribe a universalistic apokatastasis to

Martianus, as he states that, according to him, there are some souls that are
not purified by torments after this life, but only punished, and these must
endure hell forever. This was also Platos view, but I shall soon demonstrate
that Macrobius opinion was very different, that he took the apokatastasis as
universal and even attributed this universality to Plato himself.16
3. Macrobius and the Attribution of Universal Apokatastasis to Plato
Martianus conception of the apokatastasis of the soul finds a close
parallelbut with one remarkable differencein that of his (probable)
contemporary Macrobius, a Latin Neoplatonist17 and a member of the
senatorial order and vir illustris. He might be identifiable with the Macrobius
cited in Codex Theodosianus as a prefect of Spain in A.D. 399 or proconsul
in Africa in 410, or, as maintained by Mazzarino and Cameron,18 with a
Theodosius who was the Praetorian Prefect of Italy in A.D. 430, also
mentioned in the codex. The two might even be the same person. Many
scholars tend nowadays to place the composition of Macrobius commentary


Some aspects of these interpretations are taken up by Eriugena in several points

of his Commentary on Martianus as well, for instance in 68.16 and 69.2. This
philosophical discourse is less developed in Remigius of Auxerres commentary,
which nevertheless has some traces of these exegeses, especially in 13.6 (15.8) and
69.1 (166.49). The anonymous Berlin-Zwettl commentary, too, written by an author
who was close to the Platonic School of Chartres, takes over the Platonic-Pythagorean
exegesis reflected in Martianus and locates the true hell on earth as the place of the
incarnation of the souls.
Mireille Armisen Marchetti, Macrobe: Commentaire au Songe de Scipion (Paris
2001) vii ff.; Averil Cameron, Macrobius, Avienus, and Avianus, CQ n.s. 17 (1967)
38699; Nicola Marinone, Per la cronologia di Servio, AAT 104 (1970): 181211 =
idem, Analecta Graecolatina (Bologna 1990) 26586; J. Flamant, Macrobe et le noplatonisme latin la fin du IVe siecle (Leiden 1977) 91141; S. Dpp, Zur Datierung
von Macrobius Saturnalia, Hermes 106 (1978) 61932; Silvio Panciera, Iscrizioni
senatorie di Roma e dintorni 38, in Epigrafia e ordine senatorio: Atti del Colloquio
internazionale AIEGL, Roma, 1420 maggio 1981 (Roma 1982) 2.65860; Joan M.
Norris, Macrobius, AugStud 28 (1997) 81100.
Santo Mazzarino, La politica religiosa di Stilicone, RIL 71 (1938) 23562; and
Averil Cameron, The Date and Identity of Macrobius, JRS 56 (1966) 2538.

Ilaria Ramelli


on the Somnium Scipionis after A.D. 410 or 430;19 some, however, with
Courcelle, Georgii, Dpp, and others, advocate a date toward the end of the
fourth century.20
Just like Martianus, Macrobius was a pagan and probably also had some
anti-Christian points. In his Saturnalia, the name Evangelus, designating a
very unpleasant character, ignorant and arrogant, who offends people and
sows hatred, might be significant. This is a person with whom a serene
conversation is impossible.21 His identification with the historical person
mentioned by Symmachus in Ep. 6.7 is uncertain. Evangelus name, together
with his designation of Virgil as vester rather than noster, suggests an
allusion to Christianity as well,22 and a negative allusion at that. Moreover,
the three major characters who make their houses available for conversation
are among the most illustrious pagan figures of that time: Symmachus is the
orator who asked for the restoration of the Altar of Victory to the Senate and,
to defend paganism, developed the motif of religious relativism that had
already been adduced by Themistius in support of religious freedom; his
famous opponent was Ambrose of Milan.23 Flavianus favored Eugenius


See, e.g., Marinone, La cronologia; Flamant, Macrobe et le no-platonisme

latin, 8081; Armisen Marchetti, Macrobe: Commentaire, xviii.
H. Georgii, Zur Bestimmung der Zeit des Servius, Philologus 71 (1912) 518
26, proposed 395410; Pierre Courcelle, Nouveaux aspects du Platonisme chez S.
Ambroise, REL 34 (1956) 22039, thought that the Commentary was earlier than
Ambroses Hexameron, of the years 38687; against M. Fuhrmann, Macrobius und
Ambrosius, Philologus 10 (1963) 3018. End of century: Dpp, Zur Datierung; R.
Cristescu-Ochesanu, Controverse recente cu privire la cronologia di lui Macrobius,
StudClas 14 (1972) 23137.
This is his characterization from his very first appearance in 1.7.12: Dum ista
narrantur, unus e famulitio, cui provincia erat admittere volentes dominum convenire,
Evangelum adesse nuntiat cum Disario, qui tunc Romae praestare videbatur ceteris
medendi artem professis. Conrugato indicavere vultu plerique de considentibus
Evangeli interventum otio suo inamoenum minusque placido conventui congruentem.
Erat enim amarulenta dicacitate et lingua proterve mordaci, procax ac securus
offensarum quas sine delectu cari vel non amici in se passim verbis odia serentibus
See my review of Fuhrer, Die christlich-philosophischen Diskurse, in BMCR
See my Vie diverse allunico mistero: la concezione delle religioni in
Temistio ed il suo atteggiamento verso il Cristianesimo, RIL 139 (2005) 45583; and


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

against Theodosius. So when Theodosius defeated Eugenius and made

Christianity the State religion, Flavianus committed suicide. Praetextatus,
too, who is presented very positively by Macrobius, and precisely in contrast
to Evangelus,24 was a pagan and for some time also an important pagan
priest; he was an expert in Eastern cults.
Macrobius treatment of apokatastasis is found in his philosophical work,
the Commentarii in Somnium Scipionis,25 a commentary on the famous
fragment from the last book of Ciceros Republic inspired by Platos
homonymous work. The Somnium corresponded, in position and content, to
the myth of Er in Platos Republic, as Macrobius himself remarks in Comm.
1.1 and as other ancient authors, such as Favonius Eulogius (Disp. 1.1) and

Apofatismo cristiano e relativismo pagano: un confronto tra filosofi platonici, in

Verit e mistero fra tradizione greco romana e multiculturalismo tardo antico, ed.
Angela M. Mazzanti (Bologna 2009) 10169.
Saturnalia 1.7.27: Erat enim [Evangelus] amarulenta dicacitate et lingua
proterve mordaci, procax ac securus offensarum quas sine delectu cari vel non amici
in se passim verbis odia serentibus provocabat. Sed Praetextatus, ut erat in omnes
aeque placidus ac mitis, ut admitterentur missis obviis imperavit. Quos Horus
ingredientes commodum consecutus comitabatur, vir corpore atque animo iuxta
validus, qui post inter pugiles palmas ad philosophiae studia migravit, sectamque
Antisthenis et Cratetis atque ipsius Diogenis secutus inter Cynicos non incelebris
habebatur. Sed Evangelus, postquam tantum coetum adsurgentem sibi ingressus
offendit: Casusne, inquit, hos omnes ad te, Praetextate, contraxit, an altius quiddam
cui remotis arbitris opus sit cogitaturi ex disposito convenistis? Quod si ita est, ut
aestimo, abibo potius quam me vestris miscebo secretis, a quibus me amovebit
voluntas, licet fortuna fecisset inruere. Tunc Vettius, quamvis ad omnem patientiam
constanter animi tranquillitate firmus, nonnihil tamen consultatione tam proterva
motus: Si aut me, inquit, Evangele, aut haec innocentiae lumina cogitasses, nullum
inter nos tale secretum opinarere, quod non vel tibi vel etiam vulgo fieri dilucidum
posset, quia neque ego sum inmemor nec horum quemquam inscium credo sancti
illius praecepti philosophiae, sic loquendum esse cum hominibus, tamquam dii
audiant; sic loquendum cum diis, tamquam homines audiant: cuius secunda pars sancit
ne quid a dis petamus quod velle nos indecorum sit hominibus confiteri. Nos vero, ut
et honorem sacris feriis haberemus et vitaremus tamen torporem feriandi atque otium
in negotium utile verteremus, convenimus diem totum doctis fabulis velut ex symbola
conferendis daturi.
Ed. Ambrosii Theodosii Macrobii Commentarii in Somnium Scipionis, ed. I. [J.]
Willis (Stutgardiae/Lipsiae 1994).

Ilaria Ramelli


Augustine (CD 22.28), observed.26 To the Pythagorean-Platonic myth of Er,

in which Er is revealed the otherworldly destiny of souls, Cicero added Stoic
Already in Ciceros Somnium the astral beatitude of the virtuous is
understood as truly eternal, and not liable to the cyclical destructions of the
cosmos. This clearly was not in line with orthodox Stoicism, which subjected
everything to cyclical destructionsincluding souls, which were conceived
as materialapart from the supreme deity-Logos-Pneuma. Of course, the
Stoic doctrine of the periodical and total cosmic destruction, expounded in
2.10, is at odds with the Platonic conception, and Macrobius must have
recourse to the trick of regarding these destructions as only partial, that is,
limited to some parts of the world, which, in its wholeness, endures eternally.
The Somnium Scipionis joined Stoic, Platonic, and Pythagorean ideas;
Macrobius read it mainly in the light of Neoplatonism. He viewed Cicero as
Platos spokesman.
Thus, the dogma of the absolute eternity of the soul, which is strongly
asserted in Ciceros Somnium (fragile corpus animus sempiternus mouet)
and was demonstrated by Plato by many proofs,27 taken up by Plotinus and
then greatly developed by Macrobius in his commentary, contrasted with the
orthodox Stoic doctrine according to which souls, being material, vanish at
each cosmic destruction. Scipio indeed describes the so-called great year
which is complete at each apokatastasis, that is, in this case, at each return of


Imitatione Platonis Cicero de re publica scribens locum etiam de Eris

Pamphylii reditu in vitam . . . commentus est.
Cf. M. L. McPherran, Socrates on the Immortality of the Soul, JHPh 32
(1994) 122; F. Karfik, Die Beseelung des Kosmos: Untersuchungen zur Kosmologie,
Seelenlehre, und Theologie in Platons Phaidon und Timaios (Leipzig/Mnchen
2004) 5784; H. Bonitz, Platonische Studien (Hildesheim 1968) 293323; E. A.
Brown, A Defense of Platos Argument for the Immortality of the Soul at Republic
X 608C611A, Apeiron 30 (1997) 21138; G. R. F. Ferrari, City and Soul in Platos
Republic (Sankt Augustin 2003); Z. Planinc, ed., Politics, Philosophy, Writing:
Platos Art of Caring for Souls (Columbia, MO 2001); J. D. Evans, Souls,
Attunements, and Variation in Degree, IPQ 34 (1994) 27787; C. Quarch, Sein und
Seele (Mnster 1998). A. S. Mason, Immortality in the Timaeus, Phronesis 39
(1994) 9097. D. Apolloni, Platos Affinity Argument for the Immortality of the
Soul, JHPh 34 (1996) 532.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

all the stars to their initial position.28 It was Plato who, on the contrary, had
demonstrated the immortality of the soul, which he considered to be
immaterial. But Platonic elements had infiltrated Middle and Neostoicism.
Thus, Scipio Senior, in Macrobius, directly asserts that the soul is immortal
and will never perish, as it never had a beginning. Souls must therefore be
educated to immortality, not be immersed in sense perception. The soul must
be trained in what is best, detached from the body bent on the contemplation
of eternal realities. Those who, on the contrary, indulge their souls in bodily
pleasures make it a slave to the body. Thus, after death, such souls shall be
unable to return to the place where Scipio Senior is, but will have to wander
for many aeons before returning to their homeland. Macrobius, however,
does not mention the case of souls that never return to their original place.
But in Cicero there was no precise universalistic assertion about the beatitude
of souls. It is Macrobius who stresses this, as I shall point out, and I shall
hypothesize that this may be due to the influence of the Christian doctrine of
apokatastasis that had developed meanwhile.
Macrobius, like Plato, posits the Good, i.e., the first Cause, at the top of
the hierarchy of beings. The Nous or Intellect (mens, animus) comes
immediately after; it derives from God and contains the models of all
realities. These are the Ideas, which already in Middle Platonism were
conceived as thoughts of God. Alcinoous in Didaskalikos 9 described them as
+"%&2'# -2") $*.++"0 (thoughts of the eternal God), which are eternal in
turn. Only in the Platonic tradition does $*,+'"# means eternal in the sense
of atemporal.29 When the Nous turns to itself instead of turning to the Good,
it produces the Soul (anima), the third Plotinian hypostasis. In it, all
individual souls are comprised, but some separate themselves from it, falling
into a body in that they abandon the contemplation of superior realities.
Bodies are Platonically described as tombs to souls, and the latters
liberation from matter and its plurality and dispersion is Platonic as well:
reminiscencewhen souls can finally remember their origin and true nature.
This return to their origin and the attainment of unity is the apokatastasis.


For the meanings of !!"#$%"&%$&'# in classical Greek, see my Apokatastasis

See Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan, Terms for Eternity (Piscataway, NJ

Ilaria Ramelli


Thanks to its very nature and derivation, the soul can never completely
detach itself from its origin. In its upper, rational and intellectual part, it
keeps an innate knowledge of the divine and can join it again thanks to its
virtues. In this way, the role of ethics is mainly that of metaphysical bridge.
This perfectly fits in Platonic ethical intellectualism (which also functioned in
Christian Platonism and significantly contributed to the construction of the
Christian doctrine of apokatastasis). Plato and the Neoplatonists were the
main sources used by Macrobius.30
In book 1, chap. 4, Macrobius makes clear the skopos (a technical term of
Neoplatonic allegorical interpretation) of Ciceros allegory in the Somnium. It
is aimed at teaching that animas bene de re publica meritorum post corpora
caelo reddi et illic frui beatitatis perpetuitate. The theme is ethical and
eschatological. The reward for virtue will be eternal beatitude: omnibus qui
patriam conseruarint adiuuerint auxerint, certum esse in caelo definitum
locum ubi beati aeuo sempiterno fruantur. Cicero focused on civic virtues,
whereas Macrobius expands his interpretation to all virtues: all of them pave
the way for the attainment of eternal bliss. This is Scipio Seniors
recommendation, in which the doctrine of astral beatitude is transparent:
iustitiam cole et pietatem . . . ea uita uia est in caelum et in hunc coetum
eorum qui iam uixere et corpore laxati illum incolunt locum quem uides
significans galaxian. Indeed, the promise of eternal bliss to virtuous people
is commented on by Macrobius in chap. 8. He resumes a typical Stoic and
Platonic ethical tenet: solae faciunt uirtutes beatum. In particular, he
indicates the four cardinal virtues, already theorized by Plato in his Republic,
and then preached by the Stoics. Macrobius also cites Plotinus on this score;
he assigns him the first place in philosophy together with Plato: Plotinus
inter philosophiae professores cum Platone princeps.
In chap. 9 Macrobius explains in which sense Scipio says that souls come
from heaven and return to heaven.31 Those who philosophize in the right way


For the problem of Macrobius sources, and whether he read Plato directly, see
my Macrobio allegorista neoplatonico.
It has been noted long since that chaps. 910 in the Somnium Scipionis
constitute a particular section, characterized by a great many Latin quotations, from
Virgil, Persius, Juvenal, and even the ancient Accius. Another oddity is given by the
story of Damocles, which does not fit well in the context. Hence the hypothesis of
Bitsch and other scholars, among whom Courcelle and Hadot, that Macrobius was
using a Neoplatonic commentary on Virgil, perhaps by Marius Victorinus. Pierre


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

do not doubt that the origin of the souls is in heaven and these, while they
make use of the body, can reach the highest wisdom if they recognize their
origin. He also expounds the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Two
points ought to be stressed in this connection:
1. This Orphic-Pythagorean doctrine was described by Platonot,
however, as a theoretical statement, but only as a myth.
2. Pagan Neoplatonists received it to different degrees, some even
admitting of a reincarnation of human souls in animals or plants, others
accepting only a reincarnation in human bodies. But Christian
Neoplatonists who adopted the doctrine of apokatastasis and, like
Origen, were accused of professing the reincarnation of souls in fact did
not adhere to it at all; Origen and Gregory of Nyssa even openly refuted
it.32 Macrobius envisaged a more or less long series of reincarnations at
the end of which came the definitive liberation from the body (which is
physically located in the Milky Way, in the sky of fixed stars, the
firmament). The virtuous attain this liberation at once, whereas the
wicked reach it much later, but all will gain access to it in the end.
In chap. 10 Scipio Africanus Senior declares that those who have got rid of
the body as of a prison are really alive, whereas life on earth is a death,
according to the Orphic-Pythagorean-Platonic tradition in Martianus and his
commentators. Macrobius continues along these lines and states that Hades
and its torments are the imprisonment experienced by the soul during its stay
in the body. Therefore, according to an interpretation also present in
Martianus, the river Lethe is the error of the soul that forgets its origin and
preceding life; Styx is hatred, Cocytus sorrow; Titius legendary vulture
remorse; Tantalus thirst desire, and so on. Lucretius famously identified
punishments in Hades with the torments that people experience on earth
because of empty fears and desires;33 Macrobius calls theologi those who

Courcelle, Les Pres de lglise devant les enfers virgiliens, AHMA 30 (1955) 574;
Pierre Hadot, Marius Victorinus: Recherches sur sa vie et ses uvres (Paris 1971)
21531, who also draws parallels between Macrobius, Servius, and Favonius
Eulogius; Flamant, Macrobe et le neo-platonisme, 580.
Origen in several passages and Nyssen in De anima; see my Gregorio di Nissa
See my Allegoria, vol. 1: Let classica (Milan 2004) chap. 5.

Ilaria Ramelli


interpreted Hades in this way, meaning allegorical exegetes of myths. One of

those was Porphyry, well known to Macrobius, who in fragments 37778
Smith 34 interprets the Homeric geography of Hades as a progressive
detachment of the soul from the sense-perceptible world to approach closer to
the intelligible world, which is its authentic dimension, that of its union with
the divine. In chap. 11 Macrobius explicitly ascribes to Plato and the
Pythagoreans this conception of the true life as the life of the soul prior to
incarnation and after the death of the body, and also mentions the &-*$-&.*$
pun.35 He moreover states that the Platonists locate Hades not in the body
unlike the above-mentioned theologybut in a part of the cosmos, either in
the sublunary space, that is, the space between the earth and the moon, or in
all the celestial spheres, crossing which the soul descends to earth or reaches
its homeland. Chapter 12 describes this descent, not without many
astrological notions. But Macrobius also relies on Platos Timaeus and
Phaedo, in order to describe the passage of the soul from the monad to the
When the soul is dragged to the body, it begins to feel the silvestrem
tumultum, that is, the disorder of matter (silva = /15 = matter). This
expression is well attested in Neoplatonism and derives from Platos notion
of matter as disorder; for example, Iamblichus in Theologumena Arithmeticae
44.7, speaks of /15# !#"&*+$. This is why Macrobius mentions that,
according to Platos Phaedo, the soul, when it enters the body, falls prey to a
sort of drunkenness, precisely because of the disorder that characterizes
matter. This drunkenness is also a forgetting: the soul can no longer
remember divine realities (in Plato, the Ideas) that it had contemplated at
home. Ciceros Milky Way becomes an allegory for Platos hyperouranios.
The proof of this oblivion is, according to Macrobius, human disagreement
concerning the divine and truth in general, which demonstrates that truth is
no longer immediately evident. It is philosophy that provides its recovery and
the liberation of the soul from the body. Philosophy brings about detachment
from passions and from all that is corporeal. In this way the soul, even if it is
still in a body, elevates itself to its heavenly homeland. This is a prelude to
the definitive liberation that will come with death for those who have led a


Porphyrii Fragmenta, ed. A. Smith (Leipzig 1993).

Ideo corpus demas hoc est uinculum nuncupatur, et soma quasi quoddam sema
id est animae sepulcrum.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

philosophical life. This is why philosophy is considered by Macrobius, just as

by Plato (Phaedo 67E and 81A) and Plotinus, a meditatio mortis.
The basis for this whole conception is a tenet of Platonic anthropology that
is well outlined in chap. 12 of book 2: it is the identification of the human
being with its soul, which is immortal and uses the body as an instrument.
The soul is the most divine part in each human being. Plato in his Timaeus
had defined the human intellectual soul %0 -21"+ in us, and the -2'&%2("+ part
in a human being in his Alcibiades I 133C, from which also the identification
of the human being with its soul (130C) and the notion of care of ones self
as care of ones soul stem.36
In the last chapter of his work Macrobius comments on the conclusion of
Ciceros Somnium. Scipio Senior recommends the exercise of the soul in the
noblest activities. In this way, the soul will return home at once, and all the
more speedily if it is more detached from the body and attentive to the
contemplation of the superior realities: Si iam tum cum erit inclusus in
corpore, eminebit foras, et ea quae extra erunt contemplans quam maxime se
a corpore abstrahet. The last sentence is a warning against the kind of life in
which the soul serves the body and its pleasures and desires. The souls of
such people, after death, will long wander around the earth and will return to
their original seat, and thus experience their apokatastasis, only after many
saecula (i.e., the $*-+2# of the Stoic and Platonic temporal cycles).
Macrobius observes that Scipios words on the contemplation of superior
realities and detachment from the body precisely refer to the theoretical
virtues, and comments that those who strive for these virtues are
philosophers: these people, adhuc in corpore positi, corpus ut alienam
sarcinam, in quantum patitur natura, despiciant. As for the final sanction
against the souls that are excessively attached to the body, Macrobius relates
it to the long sections of the myth of Er at the end of Platos Republic,
devoted to the eschatological destiny of such souls:
Et facile nunc atque oportune uirtutes suadet, postquam quanta et quam diuina
praemia uirtutibus debeantur edixit.
Sed quia inter leges quoque illa imperfecta dicitur in qua nulla deuiantibus
poena sancitur, ideo in conclusione operis poenam sancit extra haec praecepta
uiuentibus, quem locum Er ille Platonicus copiosius executus est saecula


Cf. D. J. Johnson, God as the True Self: Platos Alcibiades I, AncPhil 19

(1999) 120.

Ilaria Ramelli


infinita dinumerans, quibus nocentium animae, in easdem poenas saepe

reuolutae, sero de tartaris permittuntur emergere et ad naturae suae principia,
quod est caelum, tandem impetrata purgatione remeare.
Necesse est enim omnem animam ad originis suae sedem reuerti, sed quae
corpus tamquam peregrinae incolunt cito post corpus uelut ad patriam
reuertuntur, quae uero corporum illecebris ut suis sedibus inhaerent, quanto ab
illis uiolentius separantur, tanto ad supera serius reuertuntur. (Comm. in Somn.
Scip. 2.17.1214)

Now, it is notable that Macrobius affirms that, according to Plato, all souls
will return to their original place, some sooner and others later, but all of
them will eventually return. Even those souls that have erred most of all, after
a very long stay in Tartarus, will return, purified, to their seats. In fact, Plato
admitted of some exceptions, for souls who are absolutely irrecoverable.
According to him, these will remain in Tartarus forever. For he thought that
pains were therapeutic and cured the souls, but that some were incurable
because the crimes they committed were too extreme; therefore, they would
never leave Tartarus, where they undergo an eternal punishment. This is
stated by Plato in several passages, in particular in Phaedo 113E, Gorgias
525C, and Republic 10.615C616A, where the worst pains are those suffered
by tyrants, even though in his Phaedrus the law of Adrasteia (248C2)
prescribes that, after migrations and purifications, souls return to their
original place, after three thousand years for the souls of philosophers, which
become winged again at that time, or after ten thousand years for common
souls. This is the only passageagainst several othersthat might suggest
that apokatastasis for Plato was universal.
Whereas Plato repeatedly stated that some souls would not return to their
original place, Macrobius, just like his contemporary Gregory of Nyssa, the
Christian Neoplatonist and follower of the Christian Platonist Origen of
Alexandria,37 thought that all the souls, without exception, would return to
their homeland. Those who had erred the most would take a very long time
to do so, but nevertheless would return. For Macrobius, apokatastasis would
really be universal. He interprets Plato by radicalizing his thought and giving
priority to ontology over ethics. Indeed, it is true that souls quae corpus
tamquam peregrinae incolunt, cito post corpus uelut ad patriam reuertuntur,


See my Gregorio di Nissa: sullanima e la resurrezione (Milan 2007); and



Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

quae uero corporum illecebris ut suis sedibus inhaerent, quanto ab illis

uiolentius separantur, tanto ad supera serius reuertuntur; however, all souls
will be restored to their original seat, because necesse est omnem animam ad
originis suae sedem reuerti. Universal apokatastasis is grounded in an
ontological necessity according to Macrobius. This is an important element of
differentiation between Macrobius and Origens doctrines of apokatastasis,
but in the interest of focus and balance I shall not develop this point further in
the present essay.
If Macrobius distances himself from Plato on this score, or rather presents
him as saying something slightly different from what he actually maintained,
this means that Macrobius conviction concerning universal apokatastasis,
the return of absolutely all souls to their original state and place, was truly
This conviction was equally strong in roughly contemporary Christian
Neoplatonists who supported the doctrine of apokatastasis, such as Gregory
of Nyssa or Evagrius, but with the difference that in their viewwhich is
directly based on Origens viewthis was not simply an ontological
necessity, but depended on Christs incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection.38
4. Origens Universal Apokatastasis: How Origen Corrected Plato on This
Macrobius, however, was not the only Platonist and supporter of the doctrine
of apokatastasis who corrected Plato in regard to the universality of the
apokatastasis itself. A Christian Greek Middle-Neoplatonist, Origen, who
was the first to consistently and explicitly support this theory,39 had already
done so, between the end of the second and the first half of the third century.
Origen not only praised Plato for his choice of myth as a means to present the
arkh and the telos, as I have argued elsewhere,40 but at the same time did


See demonstration in my Gregorio di Nissa, integrative essay I. For Origen see

also my Origen and the Apokatastasis: A Reassessment, lecture at the Origeniana
X, Cracow, August 31September 4, 2009, forthcoming in the proceedings, ed.
Henryk Pietras (Leuven).
In fact he may have been preceded by Bardaisan of Edessa; see my Origen,
Bardaisan, and the Origin of Universal Salvation, HTR 102.2 (2009) 13568.
See Ilaria Ramelli, The Philosophical Stance of Allegory in Stoicism and Its
Reception in Platonism, Pagan and Christian: Origen in Dialogue with the Stoics and

Ilaria Ramelli


not hesitate on occasion to rectify them. With respect to the doctrine of

apokatastasis, he corrected Platos eschatological myths, in order to affirm
the universality of the restoration of the souls, something Plato did not admit.
Therefore, Origen corrected Platos aforementioned postulation of the
existence of some incurable souls, a notion that made universal
apokatastasis impossible and thus had to be rejected by the Christian
Let me briefly return in more detail to Platos position, with which Origen
was well acquainted. According to Plato, some people have committed too
much injustice, i.e., evil, in their earthly lives, and therefore become
incurable. This means that, after their death, their souls cannot be healed
through suffering and restored to the contemplation of the Ideas, but must
remain in hell (Tartarus) forever. This notion of people who are
incurable, on earth and/or in hell, occurs frequently in Plato. In particular,
let me shortly take into consideration the three above-mentioned passages
from Platos descriptions of otherworldly punishments in Phaedo, Gorgias,
and Republic. In Phaed. 113E2 Plato claims that those who are incurable
because of the gravity of their sins are destined to Tartarus and will never go
Those who seem to be in an incurable condition [!+'"%.# 262'+] due to
the enormity of their sins, having committed, for instance, many grave
profanations of temples, or many illicit murders against the law, or other
similar crimes, well, the appropriate Fate throws these people into
Tartarus, from where they never exit [3-2+ "4!"%2 $#7$++"0&'+].

Likewise, in Resp. 615E3 Plato remarks that tyrants, the worst sinners in his
opinion, and other people who committed dreadful sins are incurable and
thus will never be allowed to leave their place of torment:
We suddenly saw him down there, and othersmost of them tyrants, but
there were also some private citizens who had committed terrible sins
who believed they were finally about to go up, but whom the opening
did not receive, but it mooed every time one of these people who were in
such a situation of incurability ["/%.# !+'"%.# $6&+%.+] in respect to
wickedness, or one who had not paid enough, attempted to go up.

Plato, lecture delivered on November 15, 2010 at Boston University, forthcoming in



Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

Here Plato, piling up therapeutic and debt metaphors, distinguishes those who
finish paying their debt to justice and can exit the place of punishment at a
certain point, in that they have been cured, and those who are utterly
incurable and will never finish paying; in this way, they will never leave
their place of punishment.
Moreover, after remarking that only through suffering is it possible to be
purified from evil, in Gorg. 525C2 Plato claims that those who committed
extremely serious sins have become incurable, and their torments, which
are expressly described as eternal, do not purify them, but are simply
retributive and useful for other people, as a paradigm, and not for these
sinners themselves:
As for those who commit the most extreme kinds of injustice and
because of such crimes become incurable [!++$%"' 3'+.+%$'], these
people provide examples to others. They are no longer useful to
themselves in anything, precisely because they are incurable [5%2
!++$%"' 6+%2#], but they are useful to others, who see them endure the
greatest and most painful and dreadful sufferings perpetually [%0+ !27
6(&+"+], due to their sins.

Besides these passages, there are several others in which sin is depicted by
Plato as an illness of the soul that may become incurable, likewise in contexts
in which he is speaking of human justice.
Faced with Platos conviction that some sinners are incurable, Origen
decided to correct Plato on this point by stating that no being is incurable
for its creator. His argument is based on Christian revelation, which was
unknown to Plato. In Origens view, Christ-Logos, who is God, having
created all creatures, will be able to heal all of them from the illness of evil:
Nihil enim omnipotenti impossibile est, nec insanabile est aliquid factori
suo (De princ. 3.6.5). Origen, who inserts this declaration in the context of a
discussion of the eventual conversion and salvation of the devil on the
grounds that he is creature of God, is in fact arguing on the basis of Gods
omnipotence, which comes, not from Greek philosophy, but from Scripture
(e.g., Matt. 19.2526; Mark 10.2627). His conclusion is that those who are
incurable by man or by themselvesthose whom Plato labeled incurable
are not incurable for God. The consequence of such a position is that, in
Origens view, universal apokatastasis, which would be humanly impossible,
will in fact be a miracle performed by the Godhead in its omnipotence.
It is possible that Macrobius, who had a very good command of Greek
(and in whose day, moreover, Latin translations of Origen were available),
may have been influenced by Origens correction of Platos postulated
incurable souls. If this is the case, this would be a further, extremely

Ilaria Ramelli


interesting instance of osmosis between pagan and the Christian

Neoplatonism in Late Antiquity.
5. Christian Universal Apokatastasis, Greek and Latin: Gregory of Nyssa
and the Early Augustine
Gregory of Nyssa inherited the doctrine of apokatastasis directly from
Origen. In Gregorys day, in the second half of the fourth century, it was
already a well-developed theory, whose roots went back to the very origin of
Christianity and partially rested also on Stoic and Platonic thought; Evagrius
also elaborated it on the basis of the ideas of Origen and Didymus the
Gregorywho has never been regarded as a heretic, even though he
manifestly embraced a doctrine that had been already criticized in his time
and was later condemnedfollowing Origen, maintained the universality of
apokatastasis, saving at the same time both human freedom and the biblical
foundation for each doctrine. One of the forms in which Gregory expressed
the doctrine of apokatastasis was through the use of the so-called theology of
the image, which is based on the Genesis account of the creation of the
human being in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1.2627). In this
connection, Gregory also identifies the souls homeland with God their
Father: all human souls bear the seal of God, which is Gods image, in
themselves (from this also derives the immense dignity of each human being
and Gregorys condemnation of slavery both de jure and de facto).42 This
image will be finally restored in absolutely all souls, however blurred and
covered with filthi.e., sinsthey may have become. For the image of God
in each human soul is indelible, and, after the due purification, however hard
and long, it will shine forth again. This will happen in the eventual
apokatastasis, when all will return to their homeland, that is, God, who is the
Good, and thus God will be all in all.
Indeed, 1 Cor. 15.28 is the favorite biblical passage quoted, along with
many others, by both Origen and Gregory of Nyssa in support of the theory
of apokatastasis. Gregory even devoted a whole treatise, In illud: Tunc et
ipse Filius, to its exegesis, in which he put forward a veritable syllogism:


For all this see my Apokatastasis.

See my Slavery as a Necessary Evil or as an Evil That Must Be Abolished?
lecture delivered at the Annual Meeting of the SBL, Boston, November 2125, 2008.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

since all that is found in Christ will be saved, and the body of Christ is the
whole of humanity, which Christ has taken up in both his incarnation and his
resurrection, then the whole of humanity will be found in Christ and therefore
will be saved in the end, when all evil will perish, according to its nature,
because it has no ontological existence (this is a Platonic tenet as well, but
Christian Platonists also grounded it in the fact that evil, like death, is not a
creature of God: this is why it has no ontological substance; it is only a
negation, and will have to disappear).43 The dependence of universal
apokatastasis on Christ is one of the very many features that Gregory
inherited from Origen.44 It rests on a Nicene understanding of the Trinity and
an antisubordinationistic view that was already present in Origen, as an antiArian tendency ante litteram, that became explicit in Gregory of Nyssa who
in In illud grounded the doctrine of apokatastasis in his anti-Arian
interpretation of 1 Cor. 15.28.45
But in the Latin landscape too, that of Martianus and Macrobius, this
doctrine emerges in Late Platonism, perhaps in Victorinus, and surely in the
early Augustine, in addition of course to Rufinus and (for a long time)
Jerome.46 Here I shall briefly concentrate on the young Augustine, probably
a contemporary of Macrobius. For intellectual depth in ancient philosophy,
and especially in Platonism, Augustine is comparable to the most important
patristic philosophers, that is, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. At a later date,
however, just when he was losing his confidence in philosophy, he also
rejected the doctrine of apokatastasis, which he had formerly embraced.
Augustines first attack on it seems to stem from A.D. 413, in De fide et
operibus 15.24, where he criticized the supporters of this doctrine for


See my In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius . . . (1 Cor 15,2728): Gregory of Nyssas

Exegesis, Its Derivations from Origen, and Early Patristic Interpretations Related to
Origens, seminar paper at the 2007 Oxford Patristic Conference, in Studia Patristica
44, ed. J. Baun, A. Cameron, M. Edwards, M. Vinzent (Leuven 2010) 25974.
Demonstration in my The Universal and Eternal Validity of Jesuss HighPriestly Sacrifice: The Epistle to the Hebrews in Support of Origens Theory of
Apokatastasis, in A Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in Its Ancient
Contexts, ed. Richard J. Bauckham, Daniel R. Driver, Trevor A. Hart, and Nathan
MacDonald (London 2008) 21021.
I have argued this in Origens Anti-Subordinationism.
For hints of this doctrine in Victorinus and for Rufinus and Jerome, see my

Ilaria Ramelli


adducing 1 Cor. 3.1115 to demonstrate the saving purpose of otherworldly

punishments. In A.D. 415 Augustine published a short refutation of
Origenianism in Ad Orosium 8.10; cf. 5.5.47 He argued that this world was
not created for the purification of the fallen souls and that ignis aeternus must
mean eternal fire, to parallel the eternal beatitude of the righteous. This
argument had already been adduced against universal apokatastasis in a
passage ascribed to Basil, but Origen had refuted it earlier in his Commentary
on Romans by means of a syllogism.48 Augustines argument is further
weakened by a datum I have already pointed out before: in the Bible only life
in the next world is called !8,'"# (eternal), whereas otherworldly
punishment, death, and fire applied to human beings are only called $*,+'$,
which in the Bible means otherwordly, remote in past or future, of long
duration, mundane, and so on; it means eternal only if it refers to God, and
only by virtue of Gods intrinsic eternity. This terminological distinction is
also observed by many patristic authors.49
In De gestis Pelagii 1.3.10 Augustine observes:
In Origene dignissime detestatur Ecclesia, quod etiam illi quos Dominus
dicit aeterno supplicio puniendos, et ipse diabolus et angeli eius, post
tempus licet prolixum purgati liberabuntur a poenis, et sanctis cum Deo
regnantibus societate beatitudinis adhrebunt. . . . Detestabiliter cum
Origene sentiat quisquis dixerit aliquando eorum finiri posse supplicium,
quod Dominus dixit aeternum.

Aeternus renders $*,+'"#, in reference to #&1$&'#, in this biblical allusion.

And $*,+'"# does not mean eternal, but it simply indicates that the
aforementioned punishment will take place in the next world. But in Latin the
same adjective, aeternus (or sempiternus), translated both $*,+'"# and
In Contra Iulianum Augustine rejected the theory of the eventual
conversion and restoration of the devil, for example, in 5.47 and 6.10: nisi
forte dices etiam diabolum voluntate a bono lapsus; si voluerit, in bonum
quod deseruit reverturum, et Origenis nobis instaurabis errorem. The same
error is ascribed to Origen by Augustine in his polemics against Pelagius,


PL 42.66978.
See the section devoted to Basil in my Apokatastasis, with demonstration and
full documentation.
Demonstration in Ramelli and Konstan, Terms for Eternity.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

wrongly considered by him to be inspired by Origen, in De gestis Pelagii

1.3.9. Augustine criticized those compassionate Christians who refuse to
believe that the punishments of hell will be eternal; among those, Origen
was the most compassionate, qua supporter of the eschatological restoration
of the devil. According to some critics, this theory was not even supported by
Origen.50 At any rate, Gregory of Nyssa embraced it with no hesitation and
without Origens doubts.
Augustine also rejected the theory, allegedly supported by Origen, of
unending shifts between misery and beatitude, in an infinite fluctuation
(CD 21.17). The church does not admit of these ideas, Augustine approvingly
remarks (Ep. 169.4.43). He does not know, or take into account, that Origen
did not postulate unending shifts or infinite fluctuations, but a finite series of
aeons, the end of which would be the eventual apokatastasis, the telos.
Analogously, in his De praedestinatione sanctorum (A.D. 429/430),
Augustine, in order to turn the accusation of predestinationism against the
Origenians,51 maintained that their supposed doctrine of an eternal revolving
of $*-+2# did not respect human freedom, and that universal apokatastasis
did not respect divine justice. Augustine fails to grasp the main difference
between Origens and the Stoics concepts of aeons. For Origen, the aeons
constitute a finite sequence, which will come to an end in the final telos, and
are in the service of rational creatures freedom and intellectual and spiritual
growth. For the Stoics, the aeons succeed to one another with no end, and in


This is maintained today by Lisa R. Holliday, Will Satan Be Saved?

Reconsidering Origens Theory of Volition in Peri Archon, VigChr 63 (2009) 123,
on the basis of the importance of free will for Origen, but without considering that still
in Commentary on Romans 5.10.21222 Origen excluded that human free will may
prevent universal apokatastasis: si haec omnia quae enumerauit apostolus separare
nos non possunt a caritate Dei . . . multo magis libertas arbitrii nos ab eius caritate
separare non poterit. Moreover, he thought that the devil will be saved not as devil,
enemy, and death (this is why ibid. 8.8 he says that of Satan nec in fine saeculi erit
ulla conversio), but as a creature of God, when he will be no longer an enemy. And
still in his Commentary on John 32.3 Origen identifies the telos with the apokatastasis
even of the devil: for even Satan will be among those who will submit to Christ,
conquered because he will have yielded to the Logos and will have submitted to the
Image of God, becoming a stool to his feet.
See Vittorino Grossi, Il termine praedestinatio tra il 420 e il 435,
Augustinianum 25 (1985) 2764.

Ilaria Ramelli


each of them the same people will live, and the same things will take place.
Also, Augustine does not consider that in Origens view the justice of God
would certainly be satisfied by the purifying suffering of sinners before the
eventual apokatastasis, since their suffering would be commensurate with
their sins. Likewise, in De haeresibus 43 Augustine accused Origen of
teaching an infinite sequence of aeons in which the devil would be purified
and rational creatures would fall again and again, in an infinite repetition:
Sunt huius Origenis alia dogmata quae catholica ecclesia omnino non
recipit . . . de purgatione et liberatione, ac rursus post longum tempus ad
eadem mala revolutione rationalis universae creaturae . . . ipsum etiam
postremo diabolum atque angelos eius, quamvis post longissima
tempora, purgatos atque liberatos, regno Dei lucique restitui, et rursus
post longissima tempora omnes qui liberati sunt ad haec mala denuo
relabi et reverti, et has vices alternantes beatitudinis et miseriarum
rationalis creaturae semper fuisse, semper fore?

Augustine does not grasp, or know, that for Origen this succession would
eventually come to an end, and all rational creatures would be united in love
and unable to fall again, because in Pauls words that Origen quotes, love
never falls.52
Augustine criticizes Origens doctrine of the origin of the rational
creatures and their fall and eschatology,53 or rather what he regards as
Origens, in his intent to prove the eternity of punishment against what he
considers to be the Platonic and Origenian error of deeming otherworldly
suffering purifying, therapeutic, and limited (CD 21.17, 23). Similarly, in
A.D. 417, in De haer. 43, Augustine denounced what he thought to be the
Platonic roots of Origens mistakes: a quibus [sc. Platonicis] ista didicit
Origenes. Like Macrobius, Augustine too overlooks, or does not know, that
Plato did not support universal apokatastasis. Augustine may have used
Orosius Commonitorium, which offered a very imprecise account of
Origens doctrine of apokatastasis.54 At any rate, Augustines source in this


See my Gregorio SullAnima, integrative essay I, with demonstration.

Giulia S. Gasparro, Origene e la tradizione origeniana in occidente (Roma
1998) 12350.
PL 31.121116 = CSEL 18.15157, in which he also presented Origens
presumed doctrine of the rational creatures fall and on the creation of this world as a
place of expiation.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

period was anti-Origenian lore, probably already sclerotized in heresiological

What emerges from this overview is that Augustine had quite a vague and
inaccurate notion of Origens doctrines, and one, moreover, acquired later in
his life. However, earlier works of his, especially those belonging to his antiManichaean phase, seem to reveal a distinctive Origenian influence. Yet,
Augustine seems to have been unaware, at that time, that he was being
inspired by Origen. Indeed, at the beginning of his episcopate, Augustine
manifested a desire to know Origens thought better,55 thus giving the
impression that he thought he knew very little or nothing of it. I suspect that
in fact Augustine already knew, and even adopted, some of Origens
arguments, including the theory of apokatastasis, but did not yet know them
to be Origens. Indeed, shortly after, but before the Pelagian controversy,
Augustine manifested esteem for Origen; hostility emerged only during
Augustines anti-Pelagian phase (41119). The condemnation of Pelagianism
actually facilitated that of Origens thought, which was mistakenly
considered to have led to Pelagianism. But before the Pelagian controversy,
in A.D. 404/405 Augustine criticized Jerome for vilifying Origen while
earlier he had praised him greatly (Ep. 82). The Origenistic controversy,
indeed, had arisen in A.D. 393 in Palestine, where Jerome and Rufinus were,
and reached the West shortly afterward.
Augustine received a (pagan and Christian) Platonic education from
readings of Plotinus, Porphyry, Ambrose, and Victorinus; there seem to be
traces of a direct reading of Origen, in Latin, around A.D. 400, especially on
the doctrine of justification.56 As emerges from Enarr. 2 in Ps. 31 (A.D.


See Vittorino Grossi, Lorigenismo latino negli scritti agostiniani,

Augustinianum 36 (2006) 5188 at 55; also G. Heidl, Origens Influence on the Young
Augustine: A Chapter of the History of Origenism (Louaize/Piscataway 2003). Cf.
idem, Did the Young Augustine Read Origens Homily on Paradise? in Origeniana
VII 597604; B. Altaner, Augustinus und Origenes: Eine quellenkritische
Untersuchung, Historisches Jahrbuch 70 (1951) 1541 = idem, Kleine patristische
Schriften (Berlin 1967) 22452; Agostino Trap, Nota sul giudizio di s. Agostino su
Origene, Augustinianum 26 (1986) 22327.
According to Pierre Courcelle, Les lettres grecques en Occident (Paris 19482)
18587, Augustine knew Origens eschatological theories from the controversy
between Jerome and Rufinus in A.D. 397 and by consulting Orosius in A.D. 414; after

Ilaria Ramelli


401), Augustine read Origens Commentary on Romans, in Rufinus version,

and borrowed from it many ideas on justification.57 But he may have
encountered Origens ideas even earlier, without knowing that they were his.
In the light of Augustines initial knowledge of Origen, for which I shall
argue, and which also implied his adhesion to the doctrine of apokatastasis
and to Origens theodicy, protology, and eschatology, one can understand
why the De Incarnatione Verbi ad Ianuarium was ascribed to Augustine,
although it was a collection of passages from Origens De Principiis. This
would be impossible to explain without what I am going to argue.
Indeed, from De ordine 1.11.32 it emerges that Augustine shared Origens
Platonic distinction between the sense-perceptible and the intelligible world
and his appreciation of Greek philosophy.58 The theme of the return to ones
true identity, in Contra Academicos 2.2.5, which Augustine applied to his
return to Catholicism, and the motif of the return of the human being, image
of God, to its prelapsarian condition are very close to Origens ideas. Further
similarities can be traced with Origens exegesis of the Song of Songs
(Contra Academicos 2.2.5 and De ordine 1.8.24).59 Conf. 9.2.3 also shows
Augustines familiarity with Origens exegesis of the Song of Songs.
Jean Ppin realized that Augustines first commentaries on Genesis
depend on Origen because of the similarity of their interpretation of the skin
tunics. And Roland Teske hypothesized that Augustine had been acquainted
with Origen since A.D. 385 and speculated about a possible mediation by
Ambrose and the Milanese circle.60 This is the right direction to pursue in
further research, which is badly needed, and I shall argue that indeed in his
anti-Manichaean works Augustine largely availed himself of Origens

about ten years, he read the translation of Origens Homilies on Genesis and probably
of his De principiis.
Cf. Caroline P. Hammond Bammel, Justification by Faith in Augustine and
Origen, JEH 47 (1996) 22335.
Ambrose reproached this to Origen in De Abr. 2.8.54: etiam ipsum plurimum
indulgere philosophorum traditioni pleraque eius scripta testantur.
Augustines teaching method in his first works also seems to have been inspired
by Origen: Heidl, Origens Influence, 3761.
Jean Ppin, Saint Augustin et le symbolisme noplatonicien de la vture, in
Augustinus Magister (Paris 1954) 1.293306; cf. Roland J. Teske, Origen and St
Augustines First Commentaries on Genesis, in Origeniana V (Leuven 1992) 179


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

arguments, especially concerning ontology and apokatastasis. Here I shall of

course concentrate on the latter.
Augustine in De Genesi adversus Manichaeos takes up several Origenian
elements: allegorical exegesis of Scripture, which he would subsequently
reject in De Genesi ad litteram (and this would significantly arouse the
protestations of an Origenian such as Eriugena);61 the interpretation of the
skin tunics in Gen. 3.21 as mortal corporeality in De Gen. adv. Man.
2.21.32 (which is the same as Origens exegesis in Hom. In Lev. 6.2.27678
and probably in his Commentary on Genesis) and the interpretation of
individual Hebrew words. Augustines argument against divine
anthropomorphism in De Gen. adv. Man. 1.17.27 62 is also derived from
Origen. Indeed, both Augustines protology and eschatology in his antiManichaean phase are Origenian. For instance, the existence of the ideas of
creatures ab aeterno in Gods Wisdom is shared by both Augustine and
Origen. De Gen. adv. Man. 2.8.10 shows remarkable parallels with Origens
notion of the original condition of humanity before the introduction of the
heavy, mortal body. Likewise, Origens concept of the different conditions of
rational natures as a consequence of their free choices emerges in another
important work of his anti-Manichaean phase: De moribus ecclesiae
catholicae et de moribus Manichaeorum (about A.D. 391). This is,
remarkably, one of his most Platonic works, but of course it is a Christian
Platonic work, like those of Origen.63
What scholars in general have overlooked is that in this work Augustine
embraced Origens conception of apokatastasis and, more broadly, his
metaphysics and protology. From the very beginning of his work, Augustine
describes God as the supreme and absolute Good, immutable, transcendent,
but possessing Being to the highest degree, whose opposite is nonbeing.64


See my chapter on Eriugena in Apokatastasis.

For this passage it is possible to draw a parallel with Origens Selecta in
Genesim PG 12.93, and with Tractatus Origenis 1.13, 56: Heidl, Origens
Influence, 10510. Cf. Teske, Origen and St Augustines First Commentaries, 180
PL 32.130978, then ed. J. B. Bauer (CSEL 90, 1992); commentary by K. Coyle
(Palermo 1991).
1.1: Hoc enim maxime esse dicendum est, quod semper eodem modo sese
habet, quod omnimodo sui simile est, quod nulla ex parte corrumpi ac mutari potest,

Ilaria Ramelli


Manichaeans, on the contrary, posited evil as the opposite of God and

regarded it as a substance, therefore a being: asseritis quamdam naturam
atque substantiam malum esse (2.2). While every being derives from God,
evil does not; it is not a creature of God (omnium naturarum atque
substantiarum esse auctorem Deum . . . non esse Deum auctorem mali). Just
as it was the case with Origen, also for Augustine the primary concern was
theodicy. God, the Being, is the only absolute Good, the Good per se; all that
does not participate in this Good and Being does not even exist; hence, evil is
not: bonum quod summe ac per se bonum est, non participatione alicuius
boni, sed propria natura et essentia . . . malum ostenditur non secundum
essentiam, sed secundum privationem (4.6). This doctrine of the ontological
nonsubsistence of evil was one of the main metaphysical pillars of Origens
Only God exists, and Gods creatures, unlike evil, participate in God qua
Being. God does not allow any of them to fall into nonbeing, i.e., evil,
because God created them so that they might exist. This is Origens
argument, by means of which he also supported the eventual conversion and
restoration of the devil: a creature of God cannot progress on the path to evil
to the point of falling into nonbeing, since God created it in order for it to
exist.65 This is what Augustine too maintains and what underlies his
exposition in De mor. 2.7.910, in which he, very consistently, claims that
God, qua supreme Good, will restore all creatures into the original condition
from which they have fallen, in a universal apokatastasis:
Sed Dei bonitas eo rem perduci non sinit, et omnia deficientia sic ordinat
ut ibi sint ubi congruentissime possint esse, donec ordinatis motibus ad
id recurrant unde defecerunt. Itaque etiam animas rationales, in quibus
potentissimum est liberum arbitrium, deficientes a se in inferioribus
creaturae gradibus ordinat ubi esse tales decet. Fiunt ergo miserae divino
iudicio dum convenienter pro meritis ordinantur. Ex quo illud optime
dictum est, quod insectari maxime soletis: Ego facio bona et creo mala.
Creare namque dicitur condere et ordinare. Itaque in plerisque

quod non subiacet tempori . . . cui si contrarium recte quaeras, nihil omnino est. Esse
enim contrarium non habet nisi non esse. Nulla est ergo Deo natura contraria.
Gabriel Bunge, Cr pour tre, BLE 98 (1997) 2129; Ilaria Ramelli, La
coerenza della soteriologia origeniana: dalla polemica contro il determinismo gnostico
alluniversale restaurazione escatologica, in Pagani e cristiani alla ricerca della
salvezza (Roma 2006) 66188; eadem, Christian Soteriology, 337.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

exemplaribus sic scriptum est: Ego facio bona et condo mala. Facere
enim est, omnino quod non erat; condere autem, ordinare quod
utcumque iam erat, ut melius magisque sit. Ea namque condit Deus, id
est ordinat, cum dicit: Condo mala quae deficiunt, id est ad non esse
tendunt. . . . Nihil per divinam providentiam ad id ut non sit pervenire
permittitur . . . quidquid est, in quantum est, ex Deo sit, in quantum
autem ab essentia deficit, non sit ex Deo, sed tamen divina providentia
semper sicut universitati congruit ordinetur.

Augustines statement in 2.7.9 (Dei bonitas . . . omnia deficientia sic

ordinat . . . donec ad id recurrant unde defecerunt) corresponds to Origens
doctrine of apokatastasis. An exact parallel with Origens text can even be
drawn, for example with De princ. 1.6.1: In unum sane finem putamus quod
bonitas Dei per Christum suum universam revocet creaturam. Both Origen
and Augustine think that Dei bonitas is the agent of the apokatastasis, and
not that of some individual creatures, but of all creatures (omnia deficientia
in Augustine perfectly corresponds to Origens universam creaturam).
Augustine may have known Origens passage in a Latin version or anthology;
indeed, partial versions and selections seem to have already circulated before
Rufinus translation of De Principiis. Likewise, Origen insisted on the link
between Gods goodness and apokatastasis in Comm. in Io. 6.57. There he
argued that the submission of all rational creatures to Christ and to God in the
end would correspond to the salvation of all (i.e., universal apokatastasis)
because only this was worthy of the goodness [%.# !3$-&%5%"#] of the God
of all beings [%") %-+ 31.+ 82")]. For Augustine, just as for Origen, the
final universal apokatastasis would be a work of Dei bonitas; the expression
is the same in both authors. This bonitas is not simply Gods kindness and
mercy, but it is a metaphysical truth: namely, that God is the supreme Good,
the fullness of Good, and the only true and absolute Being, as opposed to evil
which is a lack of good and of being. It is easy to see that Augustines antiManichaean polemic, at that time, induced him to emphasize the idea of God
as the Good and the Being and of evil as nonbeing.
The fallen creatures of which Augustine speaks in the passage quoted are
the rational creatures that Origen called noes or logika, who are assigned by
God to different orders, as Augustine says. Likewise, Origen spoke of the
orders of angels, humans, and demons, and of different conditions of rational
creatures within each order. These differences depend on the gravity of the
various creatures falls and on the choices (the movements) of their free
will. But even if these choices are oriented toward evil, God does not permit
rational creatures to fall into absolute evil, which is nonbeing. Thus, divine
Providence always assists them, until all return to the original state from
which they fell: omnia deficientia sic ordinat . . . donec ad id recurrant unde

Ilaria Ramelli


defecerunt. A further close correspondence with Origens doctrine of

apokatastasis is found in Augustines statement that this return will take
place ordinatis motibus. There will be an order in the restoration. The same
was maintained by Origen: each rational creature will be restored, but each
one in its own order, which depends on the merits and demerits acquired
through the exercise of its free will.
It is patent that Origen closely inspired the whole of Augustines argument
in his De moribus. In light of this, it is telling that later on, when the
Origenistic controversy surfaced again, and the Pelagian controversy further
jeopardized Origens reputation and heritage (albeit on no grounds),
Augustine was especially worried by the passage of De moribus I cited.
Therefore, in Retractationes 1.7.6 he warned that his old declaration was in
fact not meant in an Origenian sense: non sic accipiendum est, tanquam
omnia recurrant ad id unde defecerunt sicut Origeni visum est . . . non enim
recurrunt ad Deum, a quo defecerunt, qui sempiterno igne punientur. But
many years earlier Augustine clearly supported the doctrine of apokatastasis,
which was embedded in a metaphysical viewthat of Origenthat was
perfect for combatting Manichaean dualism.
Indeed, Augustine received from Origen the notion of the possibility of a
(more or less metaphorical) passage of rational creatures between the human,
the angelic, and the demonic states, not only in the locus from De moribus
that I have quoted, but also in De lib. arb. 3.217 and Serm. 45.10. In this
period Augustine also shared with Origen the conception of the resurrected
body as spiritual, angelic, luminous, and ethereal.
Later on, owing to the upsurge of the Origenistic controversy and to his
own anti-Pelagian polemics, Augustine rejected Origens ideas, and in
particular his doctrine of universal apokatastasis. He was convinced
meanwhile that he had learnt Origens thought, although what was described
to him by Orosius and others as Origens thought was mostly a distorted
account. But earlier, during his anti-Manichaean phase, while Augustine
believed that he didnt know Origens thought, he in fact both knew and used
It is necessary to endeavor to identify the channels through which
Augustine had access to Origens thought, and in particular to his theory of
apokatastasis, so to speak anonymously. Some of these channels might have
included Ambrose, the Milanese circle, and partial translations, anthologies,
and anonymous manuscripts that contained translations of Origens works
without indicating him as the author. That such manuscripts circulated is
proved by two examples. One is the following: in Aurelius library in
Carthage Augustine could read some commentarioli in Matthaeum that
Aurelius considered to have been composed or translated by Jerome. But the


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

latter denied that they were his. In fact, they probably are a Latin translation
of exegetical passages from Origen, whose interpretation of the Lords Prayer
was taken up by Augustine in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount,
which he began in A.D. 393/394.66 The other example is provided by
Pamphilus, who in Apol. 12 attests that already toward the beginning of the
fourth century manuscripts containing works of Origen circulated, which did
not bear the name of their author. Pamphilus was denouncing Origens
detractors, who often did not even read his works and yet deemed them
Accidere solet, vel casu vel interdum studio, ut nomine in codice non
praetitulato legatur aliquid ipsius [sc. Origenis] in auribus obtrectatorum
quasi alterius tractatoris; quod tam diu placet et laudatur atque in omni
admiratione habetur quam diu nomen non fuerit indicatum. At ubi
Origenis cognita fuerint esse quae placebant, statim displicent, statim
haeretica esse dicuntur!

Origens homilies on the Song of Songs were known to Augustine through

Jeromes translation, which was completed in Rome in A.D. 383. For his
part, Ambrose was perfectly conversant with the ideas of Origen. He took up
his exegesis of the Song of Songs in his own homilies De bono mortis and
Isaac De Anima, which Augustine very probably knew even before his
conversion. Ambrose and the Milanese circle could even have transmitted
more of Origens thought to Augustine. Passages of Origens works could
have reached Augustine through the translation of one of the members of this
circle. It is also worth considering the possible influence of Marius
Victorinus on Augustine, given that this Neoplatonist who converted late to
Christianity was well known to Augustine and, at the same time, is likely to
have had a penchant for the doctrine of apokatastasis; indeed, he would seem
to have shared Origens protology and eschatology.67
6. Conclusions
Thus, it seems that, during his anti-Manichaean phase, Augustine embraced
several tenets of Origens thought, and in particular the theory of
apokatastasis, precisely when he was convinced that he was not yet


Other intermediate sources can be excluded, as Tertullian, Cyprian, and

Ambrose have different interpretations. See Heidl, Origens Influence, 21935.
Argument in the section on Victorinus in my Apokatastasis.

Ilaria Ramelli


conversant with Origens doctrines. Later on, when he assimilated a rather

imperfect and distorted picture of Origens thought, and moreover was
profoundly influenced by the Pelagian controversy and by a new outburst of
the Origenistic controversy, he condemned the doctrine of apokatastasis as
heretical, and even recanted it in his Retractationes. Here, he explains that in
his De moribus he did not really mean to support universal apokatastasis, and
that when he said therein that restoration will involve all creatures that have
fallen (omnia deficentia), with omnia he did not actually mean all, but only
some. Indeed, in his later phase, Augustine offers other remarkable
examples in which he claims that omnia/omnes and omnis do not mean all,
but in fact some, for instance in his exegesis of 1 Cor. 15.28, in which Paul
proclaims that God will be omnia in omnibus, but in which omnes refers to
the sole elect for Augustine, and in his exegesis of Rom. 11.26: cum
plenitudo gentium introierit, omnis Israel salvabitur. For the mature
Augustine (Ep. 149 to Paulinus, 19), plenitudo gentium was not the totality of
the Gentiles, but the small part of them that is elected by God: plenitudo
autem gentium in his intrat, qui secundum propositum vocati sunt; likewise,
omnis Israel does not mean all of Israel, but those Jews and Gentiles who
are elected by God: et sic omnis Israel salvus fiet, quia et ex Iudaeis et ex
Gentibus, qui secundum propositum vocati sunt, ipsi verus sunt Israel . . . non
utique omnium Iudaeorum, sed dilectorum. In this light, it does not come as
a surprise that in his Retractationes Augustine maintains that omnia in his old
De moribus did not mean all, but in fact only some.
The case of Augustine, and even more that of Jerome and the whole
Origenistic controversy,68 show how the doctrine of apokatastasis had
become an object of much concern and acrimonious debate. At that time, as
the present investigation suggests, the theory of apokatastasis was
transversal between pagan and Christian Platonismeven at the expenses
of Platos own position. For Plato does not seem to have supported a doctrine
of universal restoration. This is why both pagan and Christian supporters of
this theory, such as Origen and Macrobius, engaged in a confrontation with
Platos eschatology in order either to correct it (Origen, who argued against
the notion of the incurability of some souls) or to present it straightforward
as universalistic (Macrobius, who claimed that Plato did actually support a
universal apokatastasis).


Documentation in Ramelli, Apokatastasis.


Illinois Classical Studies 3334 (20082009)

It is notable that the concept of apokatastasis as universal salvation and

universal return to the Good is a Christian novelty, grounded in Scripture, in
the omnipotence of God, and in the work of Christ.69 Indeed, Origen had to
correct Plato using precisely the argument from the omnipotence of God, and
Gregory of Nyssa, following Origen, supported the doctrine of apokatastasis
in his In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius on the grounds of Christs inhumanation
and redemptive work.70 But later pagan Neoplatonists, such as Macrobius,
definitely embraced this doctrine, to the point of ascribing it to Plato himself
(quite a forced operation!) in order to legitimize it and make it nobler. My
suspicion is that pagan Neoplatonists were here influenced by Christian
Neoplatonism, even though they would never have overtly admitted that they
had drawn inspiration from them and their barbarian books. Indeed, this
would not be the only example of Christian Neoplatonic influence on pagan
Neoplatonists. While usually an influence of pagan Neoplatonism on
Christian Neoplatonism is acknowledged (and often deplored!), the reverse is
virtually never admitted; however, there are in fact many instances that can
be argued for. But that will require a separate study.
Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan


Demonstration in Ramelli, Apokatastasis, especially the conclusions.

See my The Trinitarian Theology and, with further arguments, Origens
Anti-Subordinationism and Its Heritage in the Nicene and Cappadocian Line, VigChr
65 (2011) 2149.