Eusebius and Marcellus of Ancyra
In my research of Eusebius of Caesarea, I more or less stumbled into reading some very interesting excerpts by Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra, that were quoted by Eusebius. For this reason, I decided to include a small piece on him here, and depart briefly from my focus on the theological schools. A bit about Marcellus:
Marcellus of Ancyra (c. 280-375 A.D.) attended the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. as a strong opponent of Arianism (a view that largely denied Christ's divinity). Although it is not entirely clear how influential Marcellus was at this council, it is clear that he was one of the bishops who approved of the Nicene creed formulated there. As a reminder, the Nicene creed is a fundamental statement of orthodox Christian belief that the vast majority of Christians adhere to. Eusebius also attended the council of Nicaea with Marcellus, but later wrote two works against his writings about Christ. It seems that Marcellus' strong anti-Arian stance led him to embrace what could be considered the opposite error, unifying Christ to the Father so tightly that the distinction between the persons of the Trinity became blurred. Christ was considered more of a "mode" of the Godhead than a "person" of the Trinity. This over-emphasis on the unity of the Godhead (sometimes called modalism, or Sabellianism), is understandable given certain scriptural passages like John 10:30, in which Jesus states: "I and the Father are one." Perhaps this is why Saint Athanasius of Alexandria is reported to have said that Marcellus was “not far from error, but that he was to be excused” (Fourth Century Christianity, citing Epiphanius' Panarion 72.4.4).
Although this website is not about early Christological controversies, this context is necessary in order to understand what Eusebius was opposing in Marcellus. Both Marcellus and Eusebius, as well as many of the early church fathers who formulated the Nicene creed, believed in universal restoration. Eusebius opposed his Christology, not his views on restoration. This controversy, however, seems to have been useful in preserving Marcellus' thoughts for posterity since Eusebius quotes him extensively (and many of his own works have been lost). It is clear from these preserved passages that Marcellus too believed in the ultimate restoration of all to God and that he based this view on scripture.
One such scriptural passage referenced by Marcellus (and many other early church fathers) that deserves further attention is Acts 3:21. It says the following about Jesus: “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” This verse was highly significant for many of the early restorationists. In fact, the belief held by many of the church fathers that all would eventually be restored to God is often referred to by the Greek word used here: apokatastasis (ἀποκατάστασις). Apokatastasis means restoration and since Acts 3:21 refers to it as the “apokatastaseos panton,” it is clear that the restoration of all (everyone and everything) is the correct meaning of the verse (panton means all).
Another reason why the word apokatastasis is worth remembering is that it is the very word that Justinian sought (but failed) to fully anathematize: “If anyone supports the monstrous doctrine of apokatastasis [τὴν τερατώδη ἀποκατάστασιν ], be it anathema” (Kimel 2018). It is rather fascinating to note that emperor Justinian here attempted to curse a concept preached by the apostle Peter in his second sermon in the book of Acts. Ultimately, the council often associated with the condemnation of apokatastasis only ended up condemning the concept as it was associated with other Platonic and unscriptural ideas. Importantly, it did not anathematize the idea of universal restoration itself, but only as it was connected with these other ideas (e.g. the pre-existence of the soul, etc.) in certain writers.
Nevertheless, in spite of Justinian’s later attempt to anathematize Peter’s statement, and eviscerate it of its true meaning, Marcellus, like so many Greek-speaking early fathers, took it to mean what it said:
What else does the expression ‘until the times of apokatastasis’ [ἄχρι χρόνων ἀποκαταστάσεως] indicate to us, if not the aeon to come, in which all beings must receive their perfect restoration [δεῖ πάντα τῆς τελείας τυχεῖν ἀποκαταστάσεως]? [. . .] On the occasion of the restoration of absolutely all beings [τῆς ἀποκαταστάσεως ἁπάντων], as Paul says, the creation itself will pass on from slavery to freedom. For he says: ‘Creation itself will be liberated from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God,’ (etc). (Ramelli, citing Against Marcellus 2.4.11)
Ramelli points out that this view "characterizes the final apokatastasis as unity.” Marcellus undoubtedly derives this understanding from Ephesians 1:8-10 which tells us God’s ultimate purpose for everything is unity under Christ as follows: “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” The apokatastasis panton (restoration of all things) preached by Peter in Acts is this very unity of all under Christ. It is the same unity described in Philippians 2:9-11 (and elsewhere) when every knee bows and every tongue confesses Jesus as Lord to God’s glory, and is the reason why the Greek terms for bowing and confessing denote whole-hearted, willing worship . It is the reconciliation of all things to Christ described in Colossians 1 and the reason why 2 Corinthians 5:19 describes God as “reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” It is why Jesus is described in Scripture as the “Savior of the world” (John 4:42 and 1 John 4:14) and the "Savior of all people" (1 Timothy 4:10), and why He Himself says that he came to “save the world” (John 12:47).
Eusebius did not oppose this reasoning; he agreed with it. The part of Marcellus' reasoning that Eusebius contradicted was the notion that Christ was merely a "mode" of God that had a beginning and that would be essentially re-absorbed into God and have an end. He refers to this as reckless innovation, "granting a beginning... to the kingdom of Christ, and having determined an end of this, and denying the truly only-begotten Son of God and assuming [that he is] a mere word, without being and non-subsistent..." (Against Marcellus page 152). So, what Eusebius is criticizing in Marcellus is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Trinity. He never mentions a word against apokatastasis. He does, however, explain how his view of apokatastasis differed from that of Marcellus in his second work against his modalism, as follows:
As the apostle when he said all shall be subjected to the Son did not mean union of essence, but obedience flowing from free-will, together with the honor and glory which all give him as the Saviour, and King of all, in the same way his subjection to the Father means nothing else than the glory, and honor, and veneration, and exaltation, and voluntary subjection, which he is to give to God the Father, when he has made all worthy of his paternal Godhead. For, so long as they are not worthy of this, he, anticipating the future as a common Saviour of all, administers a kingdom restorative of the imperfect and curative of those who need healing... Christ is to subject all things to himself. We ought to conceive of this as such a salutary subjection as that by which the Son will be subjected to him, who subjects all to him. We ought to believe that he will effect a subjection ineffable, indescribable, and befitting him alone, when he shall present to God, even the Father, those subjected to himself, collecting them like a heavenly choir ascribing to him glory and honor and salvation and majesty, who is the source and cause of all good things. (Beecher 1878, citing Eusebius' work, On Ecclesiastical Theology, Migne vi., p. 1030-1031)
It is critical to notice that Eusebius agrees with Marcellus that all will be restored. His contention is that this restoration will consist in free, voluntary, whole-hearted obedience to God for all, rather than in "union of essence." He will make everyone worthy to partake of God in loving submission while still retaining individuality and personhood. Neither Jesus nor humanity will be absorbed into God in such a way that we become non-existent. Instead we will be restored by becoming like Christ, perfect in our faithfulness to the Father.
What is most interesting to me about this whole debate is that the restoration of all is never even questioned; it is assumed. Of course all will be restored. It is practically taken for granted that everyone in the church agrees on that fact. The apokatastaseos panton preached by Peter in Acts is never doubted, even by church fathers who disagreed sharply about Christology.
In short, the interpretations of Eusebius, Marcellus, and many other Greek-speaking fathers of the restoration of all things is a harmonious reading of many passages of Scripture. It does not require the intellectual gymnastics of those who deny what the Bible is teaching and thereby insist that “the world” does not really mean “the world,” and that “all” really only means “some (who happen to be us)” or that reconciliation and unity actually mean “separation and torment” for most people. Instead, these early church fathers, reading the Bible in their native tongue, understood its plain meaning and did not feel the need to rewrite the text to fit preconceived notions and traditions about the eternality of hell. They were free, as we should be, to read these beautiful passages as they were intended, without imposing centuries of dark ages theology and confusion on the text.
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Citations and Notes
Beecher, Edward. History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution. Chapter 29. D. Appleton, 1878, http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Retribution/retribution29.htm
Eusebius of Caesarea. “Against Marcellus and Ecclesiastical Theology.” Translated by Kelley McCarthy Spoerl and Markus Vinzent, Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=Z-1DDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA9&lpg=PA9&dq=eusebius+against+marcellus&source=bl&ots=D4C0YeClkW&sig=rlQHrFdj8MjByrOTHFHI_-3Jnog&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj3x6vN2oXdAhUKeawKHUp0DIw4ChDoATACegQICBAB#v=onepage&q=Restoration&f=false. From the Fathers of the Church series.
“Fourth Century Christianity.” Fourth Century Christianity Home, Wisconsin Lutheran College, www.fourthcentury.com/marcellus-of-ancyra/. Copyright 2018
Kimel, Aidan. “Apocatastasis: The Heresy That Never Was.” Eclectic Orthodoxy, 18 June 2018, https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/apocatastasis-the-heresy-that-never-was/
Ramelli, Ilaria. “Origen, Eusebius, the Doctrine of Apokatastasis, and Its Relation to Christology.” Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University, https://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5881.15-origen-eusebius-the-doctrine-of-apokatastasis-and-its-relation-to-christology-ilaria-ramelli .