Dr. O’Brien to Prof. Ramelli

I recently had the privilege of contributing to a volume in honour of Dominic O’Meara. The editors had given strict instructions that my contribution was not to exceed twelve pages, and I therefore made only one point, that a passage from the Enneads paraphrased by Augustine in the last of the autobiographical books of the Confessions does not have the meaning that modern scholars, notably Paul Henry, have consistently given it.

Professor Ramelli, the author of a review of the O’Meara volume, published in a recent issue of this Journal (Vol 8, no.2, 2014), complains that, in my few pages, I did not engage with a wide range of topics on which the reviewer herself has published extensively. But how could I possibly have been expected to do so? To have launched into a study of all or any of the topics alluded to would have vastly exceeded the space that the two editors had put at my disposal, might indeed have approached the many pages that the reviewer has herself devoted to those same topics—and would have added not one jot or tittle to what it was that I had to say on the one specific topic that I had chosen to write on.

The first duty of a reviewer is to give the reader some idea of what the author in question is up to, and to offer critical comment on the same. Ilaria Ramelli fails on both points: she gives the reader of the Journal no inkling of my radically new interpretation of a well-worn passage in the Enneads, and offers no comment of her own on whether I am right or wrong. I am glad that Ramelli should have put the space she was given in the Journal to good use, in drawing attention to her own publications on a number of quite different topics, but such a piece of self-advertisement should not be graced with the name of a review.

Denis O’Brien

Centre for the Study of the Platonic Tradition,

Trinity College, Dublin


Prof. Ramelli to Fr. Meredith S.J.

I am profoundly grateful to Fr. Anthony Meredith sj for his insightful reading and very positive evaluation of my book, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 120), published in the last issue of this Journal (vol. 8, no. 2, 2014). His comments and reflections are really generous and inspiring.

I would only like to express a very minor disagreement concerning the label “universalist” that the review attaches to the author. This is actually irrelevant at best (it is as though one were to claim that historians of religions who study ancient “pagan” cults without remarking negatively every moment on their “idolatric” nature and the like, are “pagans” themselves; many of them, on the contrary, happen to be Christians) and would seem more at home in a review of a book in systematic theology or apologetics. My monograph, instead, is a work of historical theology and Patristic philosophy, and neither of systematic theology nor of apologetics. As such, it does not aim at either defending or refuting the hypothesis of universal salvation—which, moreover, does not simply coincide with the apokatastasis theory.

I have rather argued, I hope forcefully and carefully, and for the first time in a comprehensive monograph, how the doctrine of apokatastasis is Biblically, philosophically, and above all Christologically grounded in its Patristic supporters. I have painstakingly traced and disentangled its various strands and I have dismantled widespread assumptions about its opposition to the doctrine of free will and its dependence on “pagan” philosophy more than on Scripture in the Patristic era. I have also demonstrated that this theory was present in many more thinkers than is commonly assumed—even in Augustine for a while—and was in fact prominent in Patristic thought, down to the last great Patristic philosopher in the West, John the Scot Eriugena in the high Middle Ages.

Ilaria L.E. Ramelli

Angelicum – Catholic University – Erfurt University




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