Conditionalism and The Second Council of Constantinople

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read the claim that conditionalism was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Constantinople. Most recently, I encountered the claim here. As usual, the assertion is not substantiated with an actual citation from the council.

To the best of my knowledge, the alleged condemnation comes from a section called The Anathematisms of the Emperor Justinian Against Origen. The relevant text comes exclusively from anathematism IX:

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.

A few obvious observations:

1. Origen was not a conditionalist. This alone should be a tip-off that this portion of the council is unrelated to conditionalism.
2. What is condemned here is clearly universal restoration.
3. Conditionalists affirm eternal punishment. To anyone who disputes this, I suggest you read Henry Constable’s classic treatment of the subject, The Duration and Nature of Future Punishment (1871). The first chapter is entitled “Future Punishment is Eternal”.

Christopher Morgan makes this claim on page 197 of Hell Under Fire, which is interesting because just a few chapters earlier, Albert Mohler quotes the ninth anathematism while clearly explaining that it was directed against Origen’s universalism (this isn’t the only instance that certain authors of the book seem to be unfamiliar with the contributions of the other authors, but I’ll write about that later).

Humorously, this traditionalist blogger quotes the anathematism but replaces the clause about restoration with ellipses! I can’t help but think that’s at least slightly dishonest.

If anyone is aware of another part of the Council that explicitly condemns conditionalism, I’d be happy to see it. As for the only section that I’ve ever seen quoted in the defense of the claim, Justinian did not condemn conditionalism; he condemned universalism.

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13 Responses to Conditionalism and The Second Council of Constantinople

  1. SC says:

    What part of “against Origen” did you miss and what part of “the punishment is only temporary and will one day have an end” don’t you understand?

    looking for the humor…

    • Ronnie says:

      Origen wasn’t a conditionalist. Conditionalists do not affirm that final punishment is temporary.

      Feel free to actually read the post before replying again.

  2. SC says:

    Who is using this quote to say anything about conditionalism? How does it change the point if it’s aimed at universalism? It is a clear statement against the notion that “the punishment is only temporary and will one day have an end.”

    • Ronnie says:

      Who is using this quote to say anything about conditionalism?

      You are, clearly. Your blog post is titled “Eternal Punishing or Annihilation”. The entire post is arguing against conditionalism (aka “annihilationism”). Universalism is not mentioned a single time. It’s also why you conspicuously truncated the portion of the anathematism which mentions universal restoration (in the middle of a compound sentence).

      It is a clear statement against the notion that “the punishment is only temporary and will one day have an end.”

      A statement that conditionalists/annihilationists wholeheartedly agree with– but this was stated in my last comment, as well as explained in my post, so I won’t go into more detail.

  3. SC says:

    When you say, “Conditionalists do not affirm that final punishment is temporary” (if you are using the term aka “annihilationism”), it depends upon what you mean by temporary. As my post indicated, some do in fact see it as temporary. As I wrote: “The debate centers on whether ‘eternal’ is in consequence (i.e. eternal punishment not punishing; the result is eternal destruction,) or in duration (i.e. never-ending –a process rather than a result).”

    • Ronnie says:

      Steve, conditionalists have always affirmed that the punishment for sin is death/destruction, and that this punishment will be eternal– your assertion that “some” see the punishment as temporary notwithstanding. Of course, conditionalists deny that the pain or torment associated with said destruction will be eternal, but anathematism IX refers to “punishment”, not “torment”.

      More to point, however, is the fact that the anathematism is a conjunctive, not disjunctive, compound sentence. The condemnation is clearly directed at those who posit a period of punishment followed by a restoration. To cut out the last clause and act as if the three clauses are disjunctively joined is just irresponsible.

  4. Jay Hess says:

    Is the torment eternal? The Greek word for torment, which occurs at Mt 14:24, describes the striking of an object. It originally referred to using a test stone to strike a rock to see if it was gold. The word eventually came to have 2 meanings: 1) to test, 2) to strike. The striking does not necessarily require a conscious response. Thus if a boat were to be struck for all eternity, the ‘torment’ would necessarily also be eternal, yet no conscious pain.

    • Ronnie says:

      Jay, what do your comments here have to do with the Second Council of Constantinople?

      As for “torment”:

      1. The Greek word (basanizo) absolutely can refer to physical pain and torture. Your characterization that it only means to test or strike is deficient. It’s assertions like these that make me suspicious of universalistic interpretations.

      2. What you say about the boat is true, but we’re interested in what the word means when used in reference to people. I can beat a rug and I can beat a child. The fact that the rug feels no pain gives me no insight into what the word means when used in reference to a child.

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  6. wm tanksley says:

    It’s also notable that Justinian’s anathemas were provided to the counsel, and they clearly based their anathemas on them, but that anathema was changed into a condemnation of Origen’s beliefs in a way that doesn’t even anathematize most (or any) modern universalists — it condemns the belief that reconciliation implied a union of beings into God’s being. (Seriously, it’s some weird stuff.)

    So Justinian didn’t mention conditionalists, and the counsel took out Justinian’s clear mention of universalists and replaced it with a condemnation of Origen’s very specific type of universalism.

  7. No one raised the question yet whether 2nd Contantinople formally issued the 15 anathemas. Historians over the past few centuries have seriously questioned whether these anathemas were ever officially promulgated by II Constantinople. The council was convened by the Emperor Justinian for the express purpose of dealing with the Three Chapters. Not only is there no mention of the apocatastasis controversy in Justinian’s letter to the bishops, but the fifteen anathemas are neither cited nor discussed in the official records of the council. Hence when church historian Norman P. Tanner edited his collection of the Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (published in 1990), he did not include the anti-Origenist anathemas, offering the following explanation: “Our edition does not include the text of the anathemas against Origen since recent studies have shown that these anathemas cannot be attributed to this council.”

    Who then wrote the anathemas and when? Over the past century different hypotheses have been advanced, but historians appear to have settled on the following scenario, first proposed by Wilhelm Diekamp in 1899 and more recently advanced by Richard Price in his book The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553 (published in 2009): the anathemas were most likely composed by Justinian and his advisors and submitted for approval to the bishops who had come to Constantinople for the council. This probably occurred sometime before the council formally convened on 5 May 553. We do not know how long before the council this meeting took place (days? weeks? months?) nor do we know who attended; but one thing is clear—the Emperor wanted the anathemas cloaked with conciliar authority. We may confidently affirm, therefore, that the 5th Ecumenical Council never officially issued an anathema against apocatastasis.

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  9. Giles says:

    I am afraid this discussion is moot. The anathema you quote is from the nine anathema, by a local council. It’s not in the 15 anathema of the ecumenical council. There is a condemnation in the fifteen of the pre-existence of souls and universal restoration. Nothing on conditionalism.

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