Thursday, February 26, 2009


Ramelli and Konstan on Wolfe on Ilaria Ramelli, David Konstan, Terms for Eternity: aiônios and aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts. Response to BMCR 2009.02.16.
Ilaria L.E. Ramelli (Catholic University of Milan, Italy; and David Konstan (Brown University, Providence;

We are grateful for the reviewer's appreciation of our work. However, since the review was so brief and somewhat perfunctory, it inevitably omitted mention of many of the themes and conclusions that we reached in our book, Terms for Eternity, and so, to help orient the reader of BMCR to its contents, we thought of providing the following summary and observations.

Although the review states that "it has been widely noted" that only life and beatitude is called aïdios in the Bible, but not death, punishment, and fire, this has, in fact, never been previously pointed out and demonstrated. Equally important, this same distinction holds for many Christian authors, as we show in detail.

While it is true that our conclusion is brief, we provide individual conclusions and comments not only in the general conclusion to the book but also at the end of each section and author; the reader will, we trust, find these useful. At the same time, it obviated the need to repeat these critical remarks at the end of the book.

The organization of the material is far from being simply chronological; in our systematic investigation we treat each of the philosophical schools in turn, pointing out, for example, the exceptional use of the terms for eternity in the Platonic tradition, and in the Bible (LXX and comparison with Hebrew background, plus the Greek New Testament), and then the reception of both biblical and philosophical language and concepts in Philo and the Patristic authors -- most of whom, as we point out, maintain the terminological distinction found in the Bible, and most rigorously those who supported the doctrine of apokatastasis. We could hardly have done otherwise, beginning with Patristic philosophers without investigating their main sources of inspiration, namely the Bible and the Greek philosophers, who in turn display very different uses of aïdios and aiônios according to their schools.

Among the points that may interest readers of BMCR, we note that aiônios is never used by Aristotle, but aïdios over 300 times: he was clearly rejecting the thesis of an atemporal eternity, for which his teacher, Plato, had invented the new term (we show that all attributions of aiônios to presocratic philosophers are late and probably not original); what is more, Simplicius and other commentators on Aristotle never use aiônios either. The Stoics use aiônios only in reference to the repeated aiônes, never for time, space, or other infinite quantities, and the Epicureans use only aïdios for matter and void, the only things that they regarded as eternal. As for the Old and New Testaments, aïdios appears only twice in each, in contrast to hundreds of uses of aiônios. This is a remarkable distribution, and we explained why it might be so. We also illustrate how all this forms the linguistic background to the Fathers.

We did not make this study into an argument concerning universal salvation, as the reviewer would have liked, for a reason that we indicate in the introduction and the conclusion, for we wished to concentrate on the linguistic evidence independently of doctrinal evidence (though of course we show where the linguistic evidence supports certain doctrinal conclusions). To do otherwise might have convicted us of circular reasoning. One of us (Ilaria Ramelli) is now preparing a fullscale study on apokatastasis, in which the thesis of the destruction of the wicked is also examined, along with the reasons that led Origen and his followers to reject it; but to do so in the present monograph would have rendered it tendentious, whereas we wished rather to provide a basis for many kinds of scholarly research.

We hope that these supplementary remarks will be helpful to the reader, even as we express our gratitude once again for the reviewer's kind assessment of our work. We very much hope that our research will prove useful to scholars in ancient philosophy, Patristics, ancient Greek, and classical and Christian thought generally.


  1. Many thanks for this elucidation. I would have missed the significance of the book if relying solely on the review.

    As regards what was "pointed out and demonstrated" in the book, the reviewer asks the badly-formed question,"Does this provide evidence for the apocatastatic view that punishment (viewed as corrective, not retributive) will come to an end, and those punished will also pass into eternal life?"

    The question is not well formed, because one hardly needs evidence that some Fathers held that view, and no linguistic or even scholarly study of the opinions of the Fathers, surely, could establish the truth of that view.--So then what precisely is the reviewer's question?

    For evidence pertaining to the theological question, one might prefer not general observations of usage, however invariant, but texts in which the terms are use asymmetrically, e.g. aïdios for the saved and aiônios for the putatively damned, in the same context, and then Mt. 25:46 will remain a very big counterexample.

  2. The response by the authors is certainly more helpful than the review itself - which was too short for the BMCR standards, anyway!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.