The Great Chasm of Luke 16:26 and Its Interpretations in Byzantine Patristics

In: Scrinium
Dmitry Kurdybaylo PhD, Research Fellow at Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities Senior Researcher at Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia Saint Petersburg Russia

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The ‘great chasm’ mentioned in Luke 16:26 is a hapax legomenon in the New Testament. However, the same wording appears in the Theogony of Hesiod and in several later classical Greek writings, which connect the great chasm with the mythology of the underworld or some metaphysical conceptions. Byzantine exegetes of Luke could hardly avoid correlating Luke’s great chasm with its long history in the pagan culture. Thus, several exegetical paths were developed. Origen, with several followers, omit the great chasm at all. Comparing this fact with later anti-Origenian polemic writings, it is plausible that Luke 16:26 was used to argue the rejection of the doctrine of apokatastasis. Other writers, prone to apokatastatic position, such as Didymus the Blind and Gregory of Nyssa, introduced interpretations of the great chasm that unite ethical and metaphysical perspectives. Gregory of Nazianzus and Maximus the Confessor brought allegorical interpretations of the great chasm to the highest level of generalisation. The evolution of understanding the great chasm reveals the shift in the conceptions of a human soul’s destiny and afterlife, its fate and deliverance from it.

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