Letter XCVIII. ---- OF MAR SAINT SEVEROS FROM THE 5th LETTER OF THE 4th BOOK OF THOSE AFTER EXILE, ADDRESSED TO CAESARIA THE HYPATISSA.
But to the question which your excellency's magnificence has asked me by letter I return an easy answer, that for my part I have never accepted or expressed agreement with those who speak of an apokatastasis, and an end to the judgment involved in the torments that are threatened us in the future world, and the man who says that he has a letter of mine which proclaims this opinion manifestly lies. Therefore I praised your God-loving magnificence for asking for such a letter to be shown to you; a letter which the man who concocted it necessarily set himself falsely to show to be my composition. Those who hold such an opinion, wishing to accomplish their desires, as if forsooth on the basis of plausible suppositions, make use of arguments that are gratifying to the hearers, saying that it is unbecomingto or unworthy |371 of God, and far removed from his mercifulness, that the man who has sinned for 50 or 100 years in this world should endure torments for unending ages, forgetting this, that God's laws and those which, prevail among men think fit to requite sins according to the intention of the sinner, and one may hear even wise men outside saying of certain persons who have done foul deeds and acts that are not permitted, ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«This man deserves to die not once but many timesÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â»975. But, when a man hears as we do that God who became incarnate and was humanized without variation for our salvation, and who for this reason came down from heaven and conversed with us plainly threatens 976 fire that is not quenched and an undying worm 977, and 978 makes light of it, how does he not deserve, if it is possible to say so, to be condemned |372 twice over to 979 endless torment? If a man live 100 years or more in this present world and spend such a period in vanity, it is certain that this man, if he were allowed to live this same temporal life 980 without end 981, would not cease from his eternal 980 greed and wantonness 982. How therefore will this man in accordance with his disposition not justly 980 be tormented without end? Even the very men who introduce an apokatastasis 983 say of sinners that they will be tormented for many 984 and long periods so to speak 985, and then afterwards will be purified and admitted to clemency and attain to the promised blessedness. But they 986 forget that their human reasonings |373 themselves show God to be unrighteous in his judgments 987. If a man lives 988 in sin 50 or 80 years, but 989 endures torments many long generations, it is again apparent on their principle that this is not worthy of God's mercifulness 990, to extend the period of torment beyond the time of the life in sins, If God agreed with the reasonings of those who think thus 991, the man who sins for 50 years should endure torment for 50 years, and it 992 should not be thus long extended over many generations, as they say 993. For our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ also, in the holy words of his preaching, when |374 separating the righteous from the sinners, said, ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«These shall go to eternal torment, and the righteous to eternal lifeÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â» 994, and with regard to both the classes 995, that of the former and that of the latter, he spoke in exactly the same fashion of an equality without distinction, applying the word ' eternal' to both without distinction. Basil the great among teachers of the truth shows this clearly in the teaching composed by him in the form of question and answer addressed to the brethren of the convents; and it is the 219th question, which is expressed as follows:
ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«The brethren say 996.
'If 997 one shall be beaten with many stripes and another with few, how |375 say some that there is no end to the sentence of those who are tormented?'
Basil 998 says.
Points which are matters of dispute and seen to be obscurely expressed m various places of the Holy Scriptures are elucidated by clear statements in other places. Since therefore our Lord says at one time, 'These shall go into eternal torment 999', and at another dismisses some to 'the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels', and at another mentions 'the gehenna of fire', uttering further the words,1000 'Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched', and again said before through the prophet about certain |376 men, 1001 'Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched'; while these and similar expressions, are often 1002 used in the divine Scriptures, this also was brought about by the machination of the devil, in order that men, forgetting these and similar decrees of our Lord, might presume to sin without restraint, persuading themselves that there is an end to judgment. For, if it is possible for there to be 1003 an end to eternal judgment, there will assuredly also be an end to eternal life. But, if we do not consent to think this with regard to 1004 life, what plausibility is there in our assigning 1005 an end to eternal judgment? For the addition of the word 'eternal' is made equally in both cases. 'These shall go into eternal |377 judgment, and the righteous into eternal life'. These things therefore being thus admitted, we must know that the words 'He shall be beaten with many stripes' and 'shall be beaten with few' are not an end, but signify a difference of torment. For, if God is an upright judge, not only to the good but also to the evil 1006, and requites each according to his deeds, it is possible for one to be in the fire that is not quenched 1007, burning either less or more than the other, and another in the worm that dies not, both one that hurts little and one that hurts much 1008, each as he deserves, and another in gehenna that has a variety of torments, and another in outer darkness, and that there |378 is a place where a man is found amidst weeping only, and there is a place where he is amidst gnashing of teeth also from the severity of the pains 1009. But the outer darkness signifies that there is in truth an inner darkness also.1010 And the words used in the Proverbs 1011 'at the bottom of Sheol 1012' signify that there are persons in Sheol and not at the bottom of it, because their torment is smaller 1013. And this is depicted now also in bodily afflictions. For there is aman who is in a fever together with other pains, and another |379 who is in a fever only, and the latter is not like the former, and another has no fever, but is troubled by pain in some limb 1014, and one again either less or more than another. But this expression 'much' or 'little' is employed by our Lord in accordance with customary usage, as are also many other similar phrases. For we know that this form of speech is frequently adopted even with regard to those who are suffering from one disease 1015. For example, in the case of a man who has a fever only, or has pain in the eye only 1016 we 1017 say in astonishment ' How much he has suffered! ' or ' What anguish he has endured!' Accordingly the expression 'shall be beaten with many' |380 and 'with few', I say again, stands not in the extent of the time and the shortness1018, but in the difference of the tormentÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â» 1019. These things this great ruler and shepherd of rational souls Basil taught and stated with great completeness.1020 And Gregory, who became bishop of Nazianzus, himself in the homily of defence thinks that the future torment is endless, teaching thus: ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«But for us, the salvation of whose blessed and immortal soul is in danger, which will be undyingly tormented or glorified1021 by reason of wickedness or of virtue, how great do you think should the contest be1022?ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â»1023 And John in the 66th homily1024 of the commentary on the Gospel of Matthew |381 states things consonant with these as follows: ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«For all these reasons accordingly let us first pay the taxes; for it is indeed very easy, and the reward is greater, and there is great abundance of profit, and worse is the torture if we do not understand, and a torture that has no endÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â»4. And the same again in the 79th exposition when speaking of the Passion referred to the kingdom, and to the endless torment. And in the 82nd about the man who approaches the communion of the holy mysteries in a careless mood and without caution he gives teaching in the following words: ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«He who approaches after he has sinned is worse than a demoniac; for the: latter because they have a demon do not receive punishment, but the |382 former, because they approach unworthily, are delivered to undying torment 1025ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â» 1026. And at the end of the commentary on the epistle to the Ephesians he 1027 expressed himself thus: ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«For a man to be burnt 1028 and not consumed, and to be perpetually gnawed by a 1029 worm is indestructible 1030 destruction, as happened to the blessed Job, who was in process of destruction and did not perish for a considerable time, but was constantly suffering and wasting away, while he scraped off putrid matter from his body 1031 for a long time. Something similar will happen to the soul at that time, when the 1032 worms surround and gnaw it, not for two years 1033 nor for ten nor for a hundred nor |383 for myriads 1034, but for years without end; for 'their worm', he says, 'shall not die'ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â» 1035. The wise Cyril 1036 also in the 1st book of the commentary on the Gospel of John said: "We ought not to be ungrateful to God but on the contrary 1037 to thank him because by means of the Resurrection from the dead he has appointed for us torment that does not pass away 1038ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â»1039.