APOCATASTASIS (Greek ’αποκταστασι&sigmaf [apokatastasis];—return, renewal, from ’αποκαθιστημι [apokathistemi]—to return to health, to re-establish)—a restoration of things to their first state; in the emanationist systems (Stoicism, neo-Platonism, Gnosticism) the theory of the return of the world or man to the original state (or place in the hierarchy); in Christian theology, a view that holds the ontological and moral restitution of spiritual beings at the end of history and the universality of salvation.
The term apocatastasis in ordinary speech meant a return to the original place, e.g., the return of a ship to its home port; in astronomy it meant the cyclical return of a planet to the point where it was found earlier, in medicine it meant the return of a patient to health (recovery), in history it meant the rebirth of a nation and the restoration of the existence of a state. In philosophy apocatastasis is a technical term used to describe the purposeful return of the cosmos (cosmic apocatastasis) or of spiritual beings (personal apocatastasis) to the (original) state in which a creature can perfectly realize (manifest) its nature.
Among the Stoics the phenomenon of apocatastasis occurs in cosmology; it is identified with the theory of the eternal coming into existence and return of all things; according to the theory, the world is born from fiery pneuma (shaped like a circle), and after a certain time it goes through a gradual burning (self-burning) (’εκπυρωσις [ekpyrosis]) and returns to the beginning; the process appears cyclically. In Iranian religions cosmic apocatastasis is connected with personal apocatastasis; according to the Parsis (Zarathustrians) man’s “rebirth” is the result of a cosmic judgment: it consists in a universal test by fire that divides the souls of the good from the souls of the evil and puts the good souls in a place of light and happiness, in a world renewed by Ahura-Mazda (the Lord-the Wise) In dualistic philosophies the restoration of the world is even more clearly connected with a spiritual “rebirth” (or it is identified with such a rebirth), since the rebirth restores the primitive (perfect) order in the world; Platonic eschatology was a statement of this conception of apocatastasis. In Gnosticism, the return of the soul to its original abode, to the pleroma (divine fullness) means a restoration of harmony in the spiritual world which was upset by man’s fall. Man’s apocatastasis may occur as the result of a knowledge (gnosis) of the truth about his divine origin (the pneumatics among the Valentinians), or a long purification of the soul until it is completely liberated from the faults of the body (Valentinian psychics); it can occur gradually in successive reincarnations (the Carpocratians, Basilidians, and the Valentinian Mark). Some Alexandrian philosophers were also proponents of personal apocatastasis: Philo (from the Jewish tradition), Plotinus (who drew on the Platonic tradition), and their disciples. According to Philo, man’s apocatastasis is connected with his recovery of perfection that was lost as a result of incarnation; it is possible because of the divine part of the soul (which is knowledge), and it is done through states of ecstasy and contemplation; its aim is the ultimate return to God. In Plotinus’ conception, the return of the soul to God is both an imperative and an aim, and apocatastasis is done through truth (knowledge), good (morality), and beauty (art).
In early Christian theology, apocatastasis has an additional dimension: it is connected with the salvific action of God (soteriology) ultimately completed at the end of history (eschatology). The term appears for the first time in the Acts of the Apostles (3, 21) to mean a time at which the Messiah will come to fulfill what the prophets said about the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth (the millenarians later cited this passage). The theory of apocatastasis was developed mostly by the writers of the Eastern Church. Justin Martyr speaks of the apocatastasis of all who keep Christ’s commands (partial apocatastasis—Dialogus cum Tryphone Judaeo, 134, 4); St. Irenaeus has a similar understanding of apocatastasis, but he connects it with the so-called theory of recapitulation, that is, the restoration of the original order in the world (Adversus haereses, V 12, 1; V 17, 1). Didymus the Blind, Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodorus of Mopsuestia, and Gregory Nazianzen also write of apocatastasis. Origen hypothetically considered the possibility of the salvation of all people and fallen spirits (complete apocatastasis); he taught that spirits, like the world, existed from eternity, but some of them fell when they chose evil and became connected with matter; they all may be saved by the action of Christ-Logos (apocatastasis in this conception would find additional support in the doctrine of the pre-existence of spirits, a theory developed under the influence of Platonic philosophy); the return of all things to their original source (God) would occur at the end of history (De principiis, I 6, 1–3; III 5, 7; Contra Celsum, VI 26). Gregory of Nyssa, a disciple of Origen, formulated the theory of the return of all things; he taught that Christ’s victory will be full only when evil (even Satan) is completely conquered; he also predicted the rebirth of man after the general resurrection (De anima et resurrectione, PG 46, 612). In the Western Church, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome accepted apocatastasis (they spoke of the salvation of all Christians). Eriugena also accepted apocatastasis and taught that God is the beginning and end of the world or universe (cosmic apocatastasis). Apocatastasis in the sense proposed by Origen was officially condemned in 543 at a synod in Constantinople (“If anyone judges that […] apocatastasis occurs for the devils and godless men, let him be anathema”, Brevarium Fidei, VIII 101). It was also condemned at the Second Constantinople Council (553), and the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure also spoke out against complete apocatastasis.
The theory of apocatastasis was revived in the sixteenth century in the teachings of the Anabaptists; in the seventeenth century it appeared in the theosophical writings of J. W. and J. E. Petersen (Philadelphia Society); Anglican universalists also proclaimed it. Protestant philosophers of religion (D. F. Schleiermacher, O. Pfleiderer), Protestant theologians (K. Barth, P. Althaus, E. Stauffer, W. Michaelis, E. Brunner), and Orthodox theologians (N. A. Bierdiayev, P. Evdokimov, O. Clément, S. B. Bulgakov) also referred to the idea of apocatastasis. The Orthodox theologians criticized the doctrine of condemnation (in the Orthodox Church they do not recognize the existence of eternal punishments as dogma), and invoke faith in the infinite grace and mercy of God or, like E. Troeltsch, some abstain from definitively accepting one of the two end states—apocatastasis or damnation. In the 1950s, P. Teilhard de Chardin also developed the theory of apocatastasis; he thought that apocatastasis was inscribed into the evolutionary theory of history—the rational motive power of God-Alpha is the beginning of everything, giving direction to the development of the world, and the purpose of the world’s development is God-Omega-Christ who unites everything; for mankind therefore the second coming of Christ would be the apex of personal development and would lead to a final and perfect union with Christ.
[C. A. Beckwith], The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Grand Rapids (Mi.) 1957, I, 210–212; P. Siniscalco, DPAC I 273–274; W. Myszor, “Anapausis” w teologii chrzeŶciańskich gnostyków [“Anapausis” in the theology of Christian Gnostics], in: Studia Antiquitatis Christianae, 5, Wwa 1984, 181 n.; H. Crouzel, L’apokatastase chez Origéne, in: Origeniana Quarta, In 1987; L. Scheffczyk, Apokatastaza: fascynacja i aporia [Apocatastasis: fascination and aporia], Communio 7 (1987) n. 2, 87–98; H. Pietras, Apokatastaza według Ojców KoŶcioła [Apocatastasis according to the Fathers of the Church], Collectanea Theologica 62 (1992) n. 3, 21–41.
Anna Z. Zmorzanka