The Prevailing Doctrine
Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years
(and showing the influence of Greek Mythology and pagan philisophy on Christian Doctrine)
With Authorities and Extracts
By J.W. HANSON, D. D.
–I Corinthians xv. 28
Boston and Chicago
Universalist Publishing House
Put into electronic format by Glade Swope in 1999 for the benefit of all mankind.
Universalist Publishing House
|I||The Earliest Creeds||5|
|II||Early Christianity a Cheerful Religion||17|
|III||Origin of Endless Punishment||36|
|IV||Doctrines of Mitigation and Reserve||53|
|V||Two Kindred Topics||61|
|VI||The Apostles’ Immediate Successors||70|
|VII||The Gnostic Sects||90|
|VIII||The Sibylline Oracles||96|
|IX||Pantaenus and Clement||103|
|XII||The Eulogists of Origen||181|
|XIII||A Third Century Group||188|
|XVI||Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians||216|
|XVII||A Notable Family||226|
|XIX||The Deterioration of Christian Thought||260|
|XXI||Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism||282|
|XXII||The Eclipse of Universalism||296|
|XXIII||Summary of Conclusions||304|
Rev. J. S. Cantwell, D.D.
As a token of friendship of many years duration, and
as a merited, though an inadequate recognition
of life-long and valuable service ren-
dered to the great truth to which
this book is devoted, it is affec-
tionately inscribed by
The purpose of this book is to present some of the evidence of the prevalence in the early centuries of the Christian church, of the doctrine of the final holiness of all mankind. The author has endeavored to give the language of the early Christians, rather than to paraphrase their words, or state their sentiments in his own language. He has also somewhat copiously quoted the statements of modern scholars, historians and critics, of all sides of opinion, instead of condensing them with his own pen.
The large number of extracts which this course necessitates gives his pages a somewhat mosaic appearance, but he has preferred to sacrifice mere literary form to what seems larger utility.
He has aimed to present irrefragable proofs that the doctrine of Universal Salvation was the prevalent sentiment of the primitive Christian church. He believes his investigation has been somewhat thorough, for he has endeavored to consult not only all the fathers themselves, but the most distinguished modern writers who have considered the subject.
The first form of his manuscript contained a thousand copious notes, with citations of original Greek and Latin, but such an array was thought by judicious friends too formidable to attract the average reader, as well as too voluminous, and he has therefore retained only a fraction of the notes he had prepared.
The opinions of Christians in the first few centuries should predispose us to believe in their truthfulness, inasmuch as they were nearest to the divine Fountain of our religion. The doctrine of Universal Salvation was nowhere taught until they inculcated it. Where could they have obtained it but from the source whence they claim to have derived it–the New Testament?
The author believes that the following pages show that Universal Restitution was the faith of the early Christians for at least the First Five Hundred Years of the Christian Era.
Chicago, October 1899
The surviving writings of the Christian Fathers, of the first four or five centuries of the Christian Era, abound in evidences of the prevalence of the doctrine of universal salvation during those years. This important fact in the history of Christian eschatology was first brought out prominently in a volume, very valuable, and for its time very thorough: Hosea Ballou’s “Ancient History of Universalism,” (Boston, 1828, 1842, 1872). Dr. Ballou’s work has well been called “light in a dark place,” but the quotations he makes are but a fraction of what subsequent researches have discovered. Referring to Dr. Ballou’s third edition with “Notes” by the Rev. A. St. John Chambre, A. M. and T. J. Sawyer, D.D. (1872), T. B. Thayer, D.D., observes in the Universalist Quarterly, April, 1872: “As regards the additions to the work by the editors, we must say that they are not as numerous nor as extensive as we had hoped they might be. It would seem as if the studies of our own scholars for more than forty years since the first edition, and the many new and elaborate works on the history of the church and its doctrines by eminent theologians and critics, should have furnished more witnesses to the truth, and larger extracts from the early literature of the church, than are found in the ‘Notes.’ With the exception of three or four of them no important addition is made to the contents of the work. If the Notes are to be considered as final, or the last gleanings of the field, it shows how thoroughly Dr. Ballou did his work, notwithstanding the poverty of his resources, and the many and great disadvantages attending his first efforts. But we cannot help thinking that something remains still to be said respecting some of the apostolic fathers and Chrysostom, Augustine and others; as well as concerning the gnostic sects, the report of whose opinions, it must be remembered, comes to us mostly from their enemies, or at least those not friendly to them.” The want here indicated this volume aims to supply.
Dr. Ballou’s work was followed in 1878 by Dr. Edward Beecher’s “History of the Doctrine of Future Retribution,” a most truthful and candid volume, which adds much valuable material to that contained in Dr. Ballou’s work. About the same time Canon Farrar published “Eternal Hope” (1878), and “Mercy and Judgment” (1881), containing additional testimony showing that many of the Christian writers in the centuries immediately following our Lord and his apostles, were Universalists. In addition to these a contribution to the literature of the subject was made by the Rev. Thomas Allin, a clergyman of the English Episcopal Church, in a work entitled “Universalism Asserted.” Mr. Allin was led to his study of the patristic literature by finding a copy of Dr. Ballou’s work in the British Museum. Incited by its contents he microscopically searched the fathers, and found many valuable statements that incontestably prove that the most and the best of the successors of the apostles inculcated the doctrine of universal salvation. The defects of Mr. Allen’s very scholarly work, from this writer’s standpoint are, that he writes as an Episcopalian, merely from the view-point of the Nicene creed, to show by the example of the patristic writers that one can remain an Episcopalian and cherish the hope of universal salvation; and that he regards the doctrine as only a hope, and not a distinct teaching of the Christian religion. Meanwhile, the fact of the early prevalence of the doctrine has been brought out incidentally in such works as the “Dictionary of Christian Biography,” Farrar’s “Lives of the Fathers,” and other books, the salient statements and facts in all which will be found in these pages, which show that the most and best and ablest of the early fathers found the deliverance of all mankind from sin and sorrow specifically revealed in the Christian Scriptures. The author has not only quoted the words of the fathers themselves, but he has studiously endeavored, instead of his own words, to reproduce the language of historians, biographers, critics, scholars, and other writers of all schools of thought, and to demonstrate by these irrefragable testimonies that Universalism was the primitive Christianity.
The quotations, index, and other references indicated by foot notes, will show the reader that a large number of volumes has been consulted, and it is believed by the author that no important work in the copious literature of the theme has been omitted.
The plan of this work does not contemplate the presentation of the Scriptural evidence–which to Universalists is demonstrative–that our Lord and his apostles taught the final and universal prevalence of holiness and happiness. That work is thoroughly done in a library of volumes in the literature of the Universalist Church. Neither is it the purpose of the author of this book to write a history of the doctrine; but his sole object is to show that those who obtained their religion almost directly from the lips of its author, understood it to teach the doctrine of universal salvation.
Not only are copious citations given from the ancient Universalists themselves, but abstracts and compendiums of their opinions, and testimonials as to their scholarship and saintliness, are presented from the most eminent authors who have written of them. No equal number of the church’s early saints has ever received such glowing eulogies from so many scholars and critics as the ancient Universalists have extorted from such authors as Socrates, Neander, Mosheim, Huet, Dorner, Dietelmaier, Beecher, Schaff, Plumptre, Bigg, Farrar, Bunsen, Cave, Westcott, Robertson, Butler, Allen, De Pressense, Gieseler, Lardner, Hagenbach, Blunt, and others, not professed Universalists. Their eulogies found in these pages would alone justify the publication of this volume.
IN THE EARLY CENTURIES.
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.
An examination of the earliest Christian creeds and declarations of Christian opinion discloses the fact that no formulary of Christian belief for several centuries after Christ contained anything incompatible with the broad faith of the Gospel–the universal redemption of mankind from sin. The earliest of all the documents pertaining to this subject is the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” 1 This work was discovered in manuscript in the library of the Holy Sepulchre, in Constantinopole, by Philotheos Bryennios, and published in 1875. It was bound with Chrysostom’s “Synopsis of the Works of the Old Testament,” the “Epistle of Barnabas,” A.D. 70-120–two epistles of Clement, and less important works. The “Teaching” was quoted by Clement of Alexandria, by Eusebius and by Athanasius, so that it must have been recognized as early as A.D. 200. It was undoubtedly composed between A.D. 120 and 160. An American edition of the Greek text and an English translation were published in New York in 1884, with notes by Roswell D. Hitchcock and Francis Brown, professors in Union Theological Seminary, New York, from which we quote. It is entirely silent on the duration of punishment. It describes the two ways of life and death, in its sixteen chapters, and indicates the rewards and the penalties of the good way and of the evil way as any Universalist would do–as Origen and Basil did. God is thanked for giving spiritual food and drink and “aeonian life.” The last chapter exhorts Christians to watch against the terrors and judgments that shall come “when the earth shall be given unto his (the world’s deceiver’s) hands. Then all created men shall come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and perish. But they that endure in their faith shall be saved from this curse. And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an opening in heaven; then the sign of the trumpet’s sound; and, thirdly the resurrection from the dead, yet not of all, but as it hath been said: ‘The Lord will come and all his saints with him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.'” This resurrection must be regarded as a moral one, as it is not “of all the dead,” but of the saints only. There is not a whisper in this ancient document of endless punishment, and its testimony, therefore, is that that dogma was not in the second century regarded as a part of “the teaching of the apostles.” When describing the endlessness of being it uses the word athanasias, but describes the glory of Christ, as do the Scriptures, as for ages (cis tous aionas). In Chapter XI occurs this language: “Every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven” (the sin of an apostle asking money for his services); but that form of expression is clearly in accordance with the Scriptural method of adding force to an affirmative by a negative, and vice versa, as in the word (Matt. xviii: 22): “Not until seven times, but until seventy times seven.” In fine, the “Teaching” shows throughout that the most ancient doctrine of the church, after the apostles, was in perfect harmony with universal salvation. Cyprian, A.D. 250, in a letter to his son Magnus, tells us that in addition to the baptismal formula converts were asked, “Dost thou believe in the remission of sins and eternal life through the holy church?”
The Apostles’ Creed.
“The Apostles’ Creed,” so called, the oldest existing authorized declaration of Christian faith in the shape of a creed was probably in existence in various modified forms for a century or so before the beginning of the Fourth Century, when it took its present shape, possible between A.D. 250 and 350. It is first found in Rufinus, who wrote at the end of the Fourth and the beginning of the Fifth Century. No allusion is made to it before these dates by Justin Martyr, Clement, Origen, the historian Eusebius, or any of their contemporaries, all whom make declarations of Christian belief, nor is there any hint in antecedent literature that any such document existed. Individual declarations of faith were made, however, quite unlike the pseudo Apostles’ Creed, by Irenieus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Gregory Thaumaturgus, etc.
Hagenback2 assures us that it was “probably inspired of various confessions of faith used by the primitive church in the baptismal service. Mosheim declared: “All who have any knowledge of antiquity confess unanimously that the opinion (that the apostles composed the Apostles’ Creed) is a mistake, and has no foundation. 3”
The clauses “the Holy Catholic Church,” “the communion of Saints,” “the forgiveness of sins,” were added after A.D. 250. “He descended into hell” was later than the compilation of the original creed–as late as A.D. 359. The document is here given. The portion in Roman type was probably adopted in the earlier part or middle of the Second Century4 and was in Greek; the Italic portion was added later by the Roman Church, and was in Latin:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty (maker of heaven and earth) and it Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, who was (conceived) by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified (dead) and buried, (He descended into hell). The third day he arose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of (God) the Father (Almighty). From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy (Catholic) Church; (the communion of saints) the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; (and the life everlasting)5. Amen.”
It will be seen that not a word is here uttered of the duration of punishment. The later form speaks of “aionian life,” but does not refer to aionian death, or punishment. It is incredible that this declaration of faith, made at a time when the world was ignorant of what constituted the Christian belief, and which was made for the purpose of informing the world, should not convey a hint of so vital a doctrine as that of endless punishment, if at that time that dogma was a tenet of the church.
The Oldest Credal Statement.
The oldest credal statement by the Church of Rome says that Christ “shall come to judge the quick and the dead,” and announces belief in the resurrection of the body. The oldest of the Greek constitutions declares belief in the “resurrection of the flesh, remission of sins, and the aionian life.” And the Alexandrian statement speaks of “the life,” but there is not a word of everlasting death or punishment in any of them. And this is all that the most ancient creeds contain on the subject.6
In a germinal form of the Apostle’s Creed, Irenæus, A.D. 180, says that the judge, at the final assize, will cast the wicked into aionian fire. It is supposed that he used the word aionian, for the Greek in which he wrote has perished, and the Latin translation reads, “ignem aeternum.”
As Origen uses the same word, and expressly says it denotes limited duration, Irenæus’s testimony does not help the doctrine of endless punishment, nor can it be quoted to reinforce that of universal salvation. Dr. Beecher thinks that Irenæus taught “a final restitution of all things to unity and order by the annihilation of all the finally impenitent”7 –a pseudo-Universalism.
Even Tertullian, born about A.D. 160, though his personal belief was fearfully partialistic, could not assert that his pagan-born doctrine was generally accepted by Christians, and when he formed a creed for general acceptance he entirely omitted his lurid theology. It will be seen that Tertullian’s creed like that of Irenæus is one of the earlier forms of the so-called Apostles’ Creed: 8 ” We believe in only one God, omnipotent, maker of the world, and his son Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised from the dead the third day, received into the heavens, now sitting at the right hand of the Father, and who shall come to judge the living and the dead, through the resurrection of the flesh.” Tertullian did not put his private belief into his creed, and at that time he had not discovered that worst of dogmas relating to man, total depravity. If fact, he states the opposite. He says: “There is a portion of God in the soul. In the worst there is something good, and in the best something bad.” Neander says that Tertullian “held original goodness to be indelible.”
The Nicene Creed.
The next oldest creed, the first declaration authorized by a consensus of the whole church, was the Nicene, A.D. 325; completed in 381 at Constantinopole. Its sole reference to the future world is in these words: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world (æon) to come.” It does not contain a syllable referring to endless punishment, though the doctrine was then professed by a portion of the church, and was insisted upon by some, though it was not generally enough held to be stated as the average belief.
So dominant was the influence of the Greek fathers, who had learned Christianity in their native tongue, in the language in which it was announced, and so little had Tertullian’s cruel ideas prevailed, that it was not even attempted to make the horrid sentiment a part of the creed of the church. Moreover, Gregory Nazianzen presided over the council in Constantinople, in which the Nicean creed was finally shaped–the Niceo-Constantinopolitan creed–and as he was a Universalist, and as the clause, “I believe in the life of the world to come,” was added by Gregory of Nyssa, an “unflinching advocate of extreme Universalism, and the very flower of orthodoxy,” it must be apparent that the consensus of Christian sentiment was not yet anti-Universalistic.
General Sentiment in the Fourth Century.
This the general sentiment in the church from 325 A.D. to 381 A.D. demanded that the life beyond the grave must be stated, and as there is no hint of the existence of a world of torment, how can the conclusion be escaped that Christian faith did not then include the thought of endless woe? Would a council, composed even in part of believers in endless torment, permit a Universalist to preside, and another to shape its creed, and not even attempt to give expression to that idea? Is not the Nicene creed a witness, in what it does not say, to the broader faith that must have been the religion of the century that adopted it?
It is historical (See Socrates’s Ecclesiastical History) that the four great General Councils held in the first four centuries–those at Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon–gave expression to no condemnation of universal restoration, though, as will be shown, the doctrine had been prevalent all along.
In the Nicene creed adopted A.D. 325, by three hundred and twenty to two hundred and eighteen bishops, the only reference to the future world is where it is said that Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” This is the original form, subsequently changed. A.D. 341 the assembled bishops at Antioch made a declaration of faith in which these words occur: “The Lord Jesus Christ will come again with glory and power to judge the living and the dead.” A.D. 346 the bishops presented a declaration to the Emperor Constans affirming that Jesus Christ “shall come at the consummation of the ages, to judge the living and the dead, and render to every one according to his works.” The synod at Rimini, A.D. 359, affirmed that Christ “descended into the lower parts of the earth, and disposed matters there, at the sight of whom the door-keepers trembled–and at the last day he will come in his Father’s glory to render to every one according to his deeds.” This declaration opens the gates of mercy by recognizing the proclamation of the Gospel to the dead, and, as it was believed that when Christ preached in Hades the doors were opened and all those in ward were released, the words recited at Rimini that he “disposed matters there,” are very significant.
The Nicene and Constantinopolitan creeds, printed in one, will exhibit the nature of the changes made at Constantinople, and will show that the “life to come” and not the post-mortem woe of sinners, was the chief though with the early Christians. (The Nicene is here printed in Roman type, and the Constantinopolitan in Italic.)
The Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed.
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of (heaven and earth, and) all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds,) only begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God, begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, [transposed to the beginning] the things in heaven and things in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down (from heaven) and was incarnate (of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary) and made man (and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate), and suffered (and was buried), and rose again the third day (according to the Scriptures), who ascended into heaven (and sitteth on the right hand of the Father) and cometh again (in glory) to judge quick and dead (of whose kingdom there shall be no end). And in the Holy Ghost, (the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son, together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the prophets; in one holy Catholic, Apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.)” 9
This last clause was not in the original Nicene creed, but was added in the Constantinopolitan. The literal rendering of the Greek is “the life of the age about to come.”
The first Christians, it will be seen, said in their creeds, “I believe in the æonian life;” later, they modified the phrase “æonian life,” to “the life of the coming æon,” showing that the phrases are equivalent. But not a word of endless punishment. “The life of the age to come” was the first Christian creed, and later, Origen himself declares his belief in æonian punishment, and in æonian life beyond. How, then, could æonian punishment have been regarded as endless?
The differences of opinion that existed among the early Christians are easily accounted for, when we remember that they had been Jews or Heathens, who had brought from their previous religious associations all sorts of ideas, and were disposed to retain them and reconcile them with their new religion. Faith in Christ, and the acceptance of his teachings, could not at once eradicate the old opinions, which, in some cases, remained long, and caused honest Christians to differ from each other. As will be shown, while the Sibylline Oracles predisposed some of the fathers of Universalism, Philo gave others a tendency to the doctrine of annihilation, and Enoch to endless punishment.
Statements of the Early Councils.
Thus the credal declarations of the Christian church for almost four hundred years are entirely void of the lurid doctrine with which they afterwards blazed for more than a thousand years. The early creeds contain no hint of it, and no whisper of condemnation of the doctrine of universal restoration as taught by Clement, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, and multitudes besides. Discussions and declarations on the Trinity, and contests over homoousion (consubstantial) and homoiousion (of like substance) engrossed the energy of disputants, and filled libraries with volumes, but the doctrine of the great fathers remained unchallenged. Neither the Concilium Nicæum, A.D. 325, nor the Concilium Constantinopolitanum, A.D. 381, nor the Concilium Chalcedonenese, A.D. 451, lisped a syllable of the doctrine of man’s final woe. The reticence of all the ancient formularies of faith concerning endless punishment at the same time that the great fathers were proclaiming universal salvation, as appeared later on in these pages, is strong evidence that the former doctrine was not then accepted. It is apparent that the early Christian church did not dogmatize on man’s final destiny. It was engrossed in getting established among men the great truth of God’s universal Fatherhood, as revealed in the incarnation, “God in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” Some taught endless punishment for a portion of mankind; others, the annihilation of the wicked; others had no definite opinion on human destiny; but the larger part, especially from Clement of Alexandria on for three hundred years, taught universal salvation. It is insupposable that endless punishment was a doctrine of the early church, when it is seen that not one of the early creeds embodied it” 11
2 Text-book of Christian Doctrine: Gieseler’s Text Book: Neander.
3 Murdoch’s Mosheim Inst., Eccl. Hist.
4 Bunsen’s Hippolytus and His Age.
5 Aionian, the original of “everlasting.”
6 The Apostles’ Creed at first omitted the Fatherhood of God, and in its later forms did not mention God’s love for men, his reign, repentance, or the new life. Athanase Coquerel the Younger, First Hist. Transformations of Christianity, page 208.
7 History, Doct. Fut. Ret., pp. 108-205.
8 See Lamson’s Church of the First Three Centuries.
9 Hort’s Two Dissertations, pp. 106, 138-147.
11 The germ of all the earlier declarations of faith had been formulated even before A.D. 150. The reader can here consult the original Greek of the earliest declaration of faith as given in Harnack’s Outlines of the History of Dogma, Funk & Wagnall’s edition of 1893 pp. 44,45:
Early Christianity A Cheerful Religion.
Darkness at the Advent.
When our Lord announced his religion this world was in a condition of unutterable corruption, wretchedness and gloom. Slavery, poverty, vice that the pen is unwilling to name, almost universally prevailed, and even religion partook of the general degradation. 1 Decadence, depopulation, insecurity of property, person and life, according to Taine, were everywhere. Philosophy taught that it would be better for man never to have been created. In the first century Rome held supreme sway. 2 Nations had been destroyed by scores, and the civilized world had lost half of its population by the sword. In the first century forty out of seventy years were years of famine, accompanied by plague and pestilence. There were universal depression and deepest melancholy. When men were thus overborne with the gloom and horror of error and sin, into their night of darkness came the religion of Christ. Its announcements were all of hope and cheer. Its language was, “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” “We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Men were invited to accept the tidings of great joy. John, the herald of Jesus, was a recluse, mortifying body and spirit, but Jesus said, “John come neither eating nor drinking, but the Son of Man came eating and drinking.” He forbade all anxiety and care among his followers, and exhorted all to be as trustful as are the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air. Says Matthew Arnold, “Christ professed to bring in happiness. All the words that belong to his mission, Gospel, kingdom of God, Savior, grace, peace, living water, bread of life, are brimful of promise and joy.” And his cheerful, joyful religion at once won its way by its messages of peace and tranquillity, and for a while its converts were everywhere characterized by their joyfulness and cheerfulness. Haweis writes: “The three first centuries of the Christian church are almost idyllic in their simplicity, sincerity and purity. There is less admixture of evil, less intrusion of the world, the flesh, and the devil, more simple-hearted goodness, earnestness and reality to be found in the space between Nero and Constantine that in any other three centuries from A.D. 100 to A.D. 1800.” 3 De Pressense calls the early era of the church its “blessed childhood, all calmness and simplicity.”4 Cave, in “Lives of the Fathers,” states: “The noblest portion of church history * * * the most considerable age of the church, the years from Eusebius to Basil the Great.”
“Sweetness and Light”.
Christianity was everywhere at first, a religion of “sweetness and light.” The Greek fathers exemplified all these qualities, and Clement and Origen were ideals of its perfect spirit. But from Augustine downward the Latin reaction, prompted by the tendency of men in all ages to escape the exactions laid upon the soul by thought, and who flee to external authority to avoid the demands of reason, was away from the genius of Christianity, until Augustinianism ripened into Popery, and the beautiful system of the Greek fathers was succeeded by the nightmare of the theology of the medieval centuries, and later of Calvinism and Puritanism.5 Had the church followed the prevailing spirit of the ante-Nicene Fathers it would have conserved the best thought of Greece, the divine ideals of Plato, and joined them to the true interpretation of Christianity, and we may venture to declare that it would thus have continued the career of progress that had rendered the first three centuries so marvelous in their character; a progress that would have continued with accelerated speed, and Christendom would have widened its borders and deepened its sway immeasurably. With the prevalence of the Latin language the East and the West grew apart, and the latter, more and more discarding reason, and controlled, by the iron inflexibility of a semi-pagan secular government, gave Roman Catholicism its opportunity.
The influence of the ascetic religions of the Asiatic countries, especially Buddhism, contaminated Christianity, resulting later in celibacy, monasteries, convents, hermits, and all the worser elements of Catholicism in the Middle Ages.6 At the first contact Christianity absorbed more than it modified, till in the later ages the alien force became supreme. In fact, orientalism was already beginning to mar the beautiful simplicity of Christianity when John wrote his Gospel to counteract it. Schaff, in his “History of the Christian Church,” remarks:
All the germs of (Christian) asceticism appear in the third century. * * * The first two Christian hermits were not till Paul of Thebes, A.D. 250, and Anthony of Egypt, A.D. 270, appeared. Asceticism was in existence long before Christ. Jews, Nazarites, Essenes, Therapeutæ, Persians, Indians, Buddhists, all originated this Oriental heathenism. * * * The religion of the Chinese, Buddhism, Brahmanism, the religion of Zoroaster and of the Egyptians, more or less leavened Christianity in its earliest stages. So did Greek and Roman paganism with which the apostles and their followers came into direct contact.
The doctrines of substitutional atonement, resurrection of the body, native depravity, and endless punishment, are not lisped in the earliest creeds or formulas.7 The earliest Christians (Allen: Christian Thought) taught that man is the image of God, and that the in-dwelling Deity will lead him to holiness.
In Alexandria, the center of Greek culture and Christian thought, “more thoroughly Greek than Athens it its days of renown,” the theological atmosphere was more nearly akin to that of the Universalist church of the present day than to that of any other branch of the Christian church during the last fifteen centuries.8
Wonderful Progress of Christianity at First.
The wonderful progress made during the first three centuries by the simple, pure and cheerful faith of early Christianity shows us what its growth might have been made had not the morose spirit of Tertullian, reinforced by the “dark shadow of Augustine,” transformed it. As early as the beginning of the second century the heathen Pliny, the proprætor of Bithynia, reported to the emperor that his province was so filled with Christians that the worship of the heathen deities had nearly ceased. And they were not only of the poor and despised, but of all conditions of life–omnis ordinis. Milner thinks that Asia Minor was at this time quite thoroughly evangelized. As early as the close of the Second Century there were not only many converts from the humbler ranks, but “the main strength of Christianity lay in the middle, perhaps in the mercantile classes.” Gibbon says the Christians were not one-twentieth part of the Roman Empire, till Constantine gave them the sanction of his authority, but Robertson estimates them at one-fifth of the whole, and in some districts as the majority.9 Origen: “Against Celsus” says: “At the present day (A.D. 240) not only rich men, but persons of rank, and delicate and high-born ladies, receive the teachers of Christianity; and the religion of Christ is better known than the teachings of the best philosophers.” And Arnobius testifies that Christians included orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, and philosophers. And it was precisely their bright and cheerful views of life and death, of God’s universal fatherhood and man’s universal brotherhood–the divinity of its ethical principles and the purity of its professors, that account for the wonderful progress of Christianity during the three centuries that followed our Lord’s death. The pessimism of the oriental religions; the corruption and folly of the Greek and Roman mythology; the unutterable wickedness of the mass of mankind, and the universal depression of society invited its advance, and gave way before it. Justin Martyr wrote that in his time prayers and thanksgivings were offered in “the name of the Crucified, among every race of men, Greek or barbarian.” Tertullian states that all races and tribes, even to farthest Britain, had heard the news of salvation. He declared: “We are but of yesterday, and lo we fill the whole empire–your cities, your islands, your fortresses, your municipalities, your councils, nay even the camp, the tribune, the decory, the palace, the senate, the forum.”10 Chrysostom testifies that “the isles of Britain in the heard of the ocean had been converted.”
The talismanic word of the Alexandrian fathers, as of the New Testament, wasFATHER. This word, as now, unlocked all mysteries, solved all problems, and explained all the enigmas of time and eternity. Holding God as Father, punishment was held to be remedial, and therefore restorative, and final recovery from sin universal. It was only when the Father was lost sight of in the judge and tyrant, under the baneful reign of Augustinianism, the Deity was hated, and that Catholics transferred to Mary, and later, Protestants gave to Jesus that supreme love that is due alone to the Universal Father. For centuries in Christendom after the Alexandrine form of Christianity had waned, the Fatherhood of God was a lost truth, and most of the worst errors of the modern creeds are due to that single fact, more than to all other causes.
It was during those happy years more than in any subsequent three centuries, that, as Jerome observed, “the blood of Christ was yet warm in the breasts of Christians.” Says the accurate historian, Cave, in his “Primitive Christianity:” “Here he will find a piety active and zealous, shining through the blackest clouds of malice and cruelty; afflicted innocence triumphant, notwithstanding all the powerful or politic attempts of men or devils; a patience unconquerable under the biggest temptations; a charity truly catholic and unlimited; a simplicity and upright carriage in all transactions; a sobriety and temperance remarkable to the admiration of their enemies; and, in short, he will see the divine and holy precepts of the Christian religion drawn down into action, and the most excellent genius and spirit of the Gospel breathing in the hearts and lives of these good old Christians.”
Christianity, a Greek Religion.
“Christianity,” says Milman, “was almost from the first a Greek religion. Its primal records were all written in Greek language; it was promulgated with the greatest rapidity and success among nations either of Greek descent, or those which had been Grecized by the conquest of Alexander. In their polity the Grecian churches were a federation of republics.” At the first, art, literature, life, were Greek, cheerful, sunny, serene. The Latin type of character was morose, gloomy, characterized, says Milman, by “adherence to legal form; severe subordination to authority. The Roman Empire extended over Europe by a universal code, and by subordination to a spiritual Cæsar as absolute as he was in civil obedience. Thus the original simplicity of the Christian polity was entirely subverted; its pure democracy became a spiritual autocracy. The presbyters developed into bishops, the bishop of Rome became pope, and Christendom reflected Rome.” But during the first three centuries this change had not taken place. “It is there, therefore, among the Alexandrine fathers that we are to look to find Christianity in its pristine purity. The language, organization, writers, and Scriptures of the church in the first centuries were all Greek. The Gospels were everywhere read in Greek, the commercial and literary language of the Empire. The books were in Greek, and even in Gaul and Rome Greek was the liturgical language. The Octavius of Minucius Felix, and Novatian on the Trinity, were the earliest known works of Latin Christian literature.11
An Impressive Thought.
The Greek Fathers derived their Universalism directly and solely from the Greek Scriptures. Nothing to suggest the doctrine existed in Greek or Latin literature, mythology, or theology; all current thought on matters of eschatology was utterly opposed to any such view of human destiny. And, furthermore, the unutterable wickedness, degradation and woe that filled the world would have inclined the early Christians to the most pessimistic view of the future consistent with the teachings of the religion they had espoused. To know that, in those dreadful times, they derived the divine optimism of universal deliverance from sin and sorrow from the teachings of Christ and his apostles, should predispose every modern to agree with them. On this point Allin, in “Universalism Asserted,” eloquently says:
“The church was born into a world of whose moral rottenness few have or can have any idea. Even the sober historians of the later Roman Empire have their pages tainted with scenes impossible to translate. Lusts the foulest, debauchery to us happily inconceivable, raged on every side. To assert even faintly the final redemption of all this rottenness, whose depths we dare not try to sound, required the firmest faith in the larger hope, as an essential part of the Gospel. But this is not all; in a peculiar sense the church was militant in the early centuries. It was engaged in, at times, a struggle, for life or death, with a relentless persecution. Thus it must have seemed in that age almost an act of treason to the cross to teach that, though dying unrepentant, the bitter persecutor, or the votary of abominable lusts, should yet in the ages to come find salvation. Such considerations help us to see the extreme weight attaching even to the very least expression in the fathers which involves sympathy with the larger hope, * * * especially so when we consider that the idea of mercy was then but little known, and that truth, as we conceive it, was not then esteemed a duty. As the vices of the early centuries were great, so were their punishments cruel. The early fathers wrote when the wild beasts of the arena tore alike the innocent and the guilty, limb from limb, amid the applause even of gently-nurtured women; they wrote when the cross, with its living burden of agony, was a common sight, and evoked no protest. They wrote when every minister of justice was a torturer, and almost every criminal court a petty inquisition; when every household of the better class, even among Christians, swarmed with slaves liable to torture, to scourging, to mutilation, at the caprice of a master or the frown of a mistress. Let all these facts be fully weighed, and a conviction arises irresistibly, that, in such an age, no idea of Universalism could have originated unless inspired from above. If, now, when criminals are shielded from suffering with almost morbid care, men, the best of men, think with very little concern of the unutterable woe of the lost, how, I ask, could Universalism have arisen of itself in an age like that of the fathers? Consider further. The larger hope is not, we are informed, in the Bible; it is not, we know, in the heart of man naturally; still less was it there in days such as those we have described, when mercy was unknown, when the dearest interest of the church forbade its avowal. But it is found in many, very many, ancient fathers, and often, in the very broadest form, embracing every fallen spirit. Where, then, did they find it? Whence did they import this idea? Can we doubt that the fathers could only have drawn it, as their writings testify, from the Bible itself?”
Testimony of the Catacombs.
An illuminating side-light is cast on the opinions of the early Christians by the inscriptions and emblems on the monuments in the Roman Catacombs.12 It is well known that from the end of the First to the end of the Fourth Century the early Christians buried their dead, probably with the knowledge and consent of the pagan authorities, in subterranean galleries excavated in the soft rock (tufa) that underliesRome. These ancient cemeteries were first uncovered A.D. 1578. Already sixty excavations have been made extending five hundred and eighty-seven miles. More than six, some estimates say eight, million bodies are known to have been buried between A.D. 72 and A.D. 410. Eleven thousand epitaphs and inscriptions have been found; few dates are between A.D. 72 and 100; the most are from A.D. 150 to A.D. 410. The galleries are from three to five feet wide and eight feet high, and the niches for bodies are five tiers deep, one above another, each silent tenant in a separate cell. At the entrance of each cell is a tile or slab of marble, once securely cemented and inscribed with name, epitaph, or emblem. 13 Haweis beautifully says in his “Conquering Cross:” “The public life of the early Christian was persecution above ground; his private life was prayer underground.” The emblems and inscriptions are most suggestive. The principal device, scratched on slabs, carved on utensils and rings, and seen almost everywhere, is the Good Shepherd, surrounded by his flock and carrying a lamb. But most striking of all, he is found with a goat on his shoulder; which teaches us that even the wicked were at the early date regarded as the objects of the Savior’s solicitude, after departing from this life.13
Matthew Arnold has preserved this truth in his immortal verse:14
“He saves the sheep, the goats he doth not save!”
So rang Tertullian’s sentence on the side
of that unpitying Phrygian sect which cried,–
“Him can no fount of fresh forgiveness lave,
Whose sins once washed by the baptismal wave!”
So spake the fierce Tertullian. But she sighed,
The infant Church,–of love she felt the tide
Stream on her from her Lord’s yet recent grave,
And then she smiled, and in the Catacombs,
With eyes suffused but heart inspired true,
On those walls subterranean, where she hid
Her head in ignominy, death and tombs,
She her Good Shepherd’s hasty image drew
And on his shoulders not a lamb, a kid!
This picture is a “distinct protest” against the un-Christian sentiment then already creeping into the church from Paganism.
Everywhere in the Catacombs is the anchor, emblem of that hope which separated Christianity from Paganism. Another symbol is the fish, which plays a prominent part in Christian symbolry. It is curious and instructive to account for this ideograph. It is used as a cryptogram of Christ. The word is a sort of acrostic of the name and office of our Lord.
Early Funeral Emblems.
The Greek word fish, in capitals — — would be a secret cypher that would stand for our Lord’s name, when men dared not write or speak it; and the word or the picture of a fish meant to the Christian the name of his Savior; and he wore as a charm a fish cut in ivory, or mother-of-pearl, on his neck living, and bore to his grave to be exhumed centuries after his death an effigy of a fish to signify his faith. These and the vine, the sheep, the dove, the ark, the palm and other emblems in the Catacombs express only hope, faith, cheerful confidence. The horrid inventions of Augustine, the cruel monstrosities of Angelo and Dante, and the abominations of the medieval theology were all unthought of then, and have no hint in the Catacombs.
Stll more instructive are the inscriptions. As De Rossi observes, the most ancient inscriptions differ from those of Pagans “more by what they do not say than by what they do say.” While the Pagans denote the rank or social position of their dead asclarissima femine, or lady of senatorial rank, Christian epigraphy is destitute of all mention of distinctions. Only the name and some expression of endearment and confidence are inscribed. Says Northcote: “They proceed upon the assumption that there is an incessant interchange of kindly offices between this world and the next, between the living and the dead.” Mankind is a brotherhood, and not a word can be found to show any thought of the mutilation of the great fraternity, and the consignment of any portion of it to final despair. Such are these among the inscriptions: “Paxtecum, Urania;” “Peace with thee, Urania;” “Semper in D. vivas, dulcis anima;” “Always in God mayest thou live, sweet soul;” “Mayest thou live in the Lord, and pray for us.” They had “emigrated,” had been “translated,” “born into eternity,” but not a word is found expressive of doubt or fear, horror and gloom, such as in subsequent generations formed the staple of the literature of death and the grave, and rendered the Christian graveyard, up to the beginning of the seventeenth century, a horrible place. The first Christians regarded the grave as the doorway into a better world, and expressed only hope and trust in their emblems and inscriptions.
Following are additional specimen epitaphs: “Irene in Pace.” “Here lies Marcia put to rest in a dream of peace.” “Victorina dormit,” “Victoria sleeps;” “Zoticus hic ad dormiendum,” “Zoticus laid here to sleep; “Raptus eterne domus,” “Snatched home eternally.” “In Christ; Alexander is not dead but lives beyond the stars, and his body rests in this tomb.” Contrast these with the tone of heathen funeral inscriptions. In general the pagan epitaphs were like that which Sophocles expresses in OEdipus, at Colomus:
“Happiest beyond compare
Never to taste of life;
Happiest in order next,
Being born, with quickest speed
Thither again to turn,
From whence we came.”
“In a Roman monument which I had occasion to publish not long since, a father (Calus Sextus by name,) is represented bidding farewell to his daughter, and two words–‘Vale AEternam,‘ farewell forever–give an expressive utterance to the feeling of blank and hopeless severance with which Greeks and Romans were burdened when the reality of death was before their eyes.” (Mariott, p. 186.) Death was a cheerful event in the eyes of the early Christians. It was called birth. Anchors, harps, palms, crowns, surrounded the grave. They discarded lamentations and extravagant grief. The prayers for the dead were thanksgiving for God’s goodness. (Schaff, Hist. Christ. Church, Vol. 1. p. 342.) Their language is such as could not have been used by them had they entertained the views that prevailed from the Sixth to the Eighteenth Century, among the majority of Christians; and their remains all testify to the cheerfulness of early Christianity.
Cheerful Faith of the First Christians.
“The fathers of the church live in their voluminous works; the lower orders are only represented by these simple records, from which, with scarcely an exception, sorrow and complaint are banished; the boast of suffering, or an appeal to the revengeful passions is nowhere to be found. One expresses faith, another hope, a third charity. The genius of primitive Christianity–to believe, to love and to suffer–has never been better illustrated. These ‘sermons in stones’ are addressed to the heart and not to the head–to the feelings rather than to the taste. * * * In all the pictures and scriptures of our Lord’s history no reference is ever found to his sufferings or death. No gloomy subjects occur in the cycle of Christian art.” (Maitland.) Chrysostom says: “For this cause, too, the place itself is called a cemetery; that you may know that the dead laid there are not dead, but at rest and asleep. For before the coming of Christ death used to be called death, and not only so, but Hades, but after his coming and dying for the life of the world, death came to be called death no longer, but sleep and repose.” The word cemeteries, dormitories, shows us that death was regarded as a state of repose and thus a condition of hope. If fact, “in this auspicious world, 15 now for the first time applied to the tomb, there is manifest a sense of hope and immortality, the result of a new religion. A star had arisen on the borders of the grave, dispelling the horror of darkness which had hitherto reigned there; the prospect beyond was now cleared up, and so dazzling was the view of an ‘eternal city sculptured in the sky,’ that numbers were found eager to rush through the gate of martyrdom, for the hope of entering its starry portals.”16 Says Ruskin: “Not a cross as a symbol in the Catacombs. The earliest certain Latin cross is on the tomb of the Empress Galla Placidia, A.D. 451. No picture of the crucifixion till the Ninth Century, nor any portable crucifix till long after. To the early Christians Christ was living, the one agonized hour was lost in the thought of his glory and triumph. The fall of theology and Christian thought dates from the error of dwelling upon his death instead of his life.” 17 Farrar adds: “The symbols of the Catacombs, like every other indication of early teaching, show the glad, bright, loving character of the Christian faith. It was a religion of joy and not of gloom, of life and not of death, of tenderness not of severity. * * * We see in them as in the acts of the apostles, that the keynotes of the music of the Christian life were ‘exultation’ and ‘simplicity.’ And how far superior in beauty and significance were these early Christian symbols to the meaninglessness and pagan broken columns and broken rose-buds and skulls and weeping women and inverted torches of our cemeteries. We find in the Catacombs neither the cross of the fifth and sixth centuries nor the crucifixes of the twelfth, nor the torches and martyrdoms of the seventeenth, nor the skeletons of the fifteenth, not the cypresses and death’s heads of the eighteenth. Instead of these the symbols of beauty, hope and peace.” 18
Dean Stanley’s Testimony.
From A.D. 70, the date of the fall of Jerusalem, to about A.D. 150, there is very little Christian literature. It is only when Justin Martyr, who was executed A.D. 166, that there is any considerable literature of the church. The fathers before Justin are “shadows, formless phantoms, whose writings are uncertain and only partially genuine.” Speaking of the scarcity of literature pertaining to those times and the changes experienced by Christianity, says Dean Stanley: “No other change equally momentous has even since affected its features, yet none has ever been so silent and secret. The stream in that most critical moment of its passage from the everlasting hills to the plain below is lost to our view at the very point where we are most anxious to watch it. We may hear its struggles under the overarching rocks; we may catch its spray on the boughs that overlap its course, but the torrent itself we see not or see only by imperfect glimpses. * * * A fragment here, an allegory there; romances of unknown authorship; a handful of letters of which the genuineness of every portion is contested inch by inch; the summary explanation of a Roman magistrate; the pleadings of two or three Christian apologists; customs and opinions in the very act of change; last, but not least, the faded paintings, the broken sculptures, the rude epitaphs in the darkness of the Catacombs–these are the scanty, though attractive materials out of which the likeness of the early church must be produced, as it was working its way, in the literal sense of the word, underground, under camp and palace, under senate and forum.”19
There were eighty years between Paul’s latest epistle and the first of the writings of the Christian fathers. Besides the writings of Tacitus and Pliny, the long haitus is filled only by the emblems and inscriptions of the Catacombs. What an eloquent story they tell of the cheerfulness of primitive Christianity!20
1 Martial, Juvenal, Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, and other heathen writers, describe the well-nigh universal depravity and depression of the so-called civilized world. In Corinth the Acrocorinthus was occupied by a temple to the goddess of lust.
2 Uhlhorn’s Conflict of Christianity and Paganism.
3 Conquering Cross. Forewords.
4 Early Years of the Christian Church.
5 Allen’s Continuity of Christian Thought.
6 Milman’s Latin Christianity.
7 Shedd’s History of Christian Doctrine.
8 The early Christians never transferred the rigidity of the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday. Both Saturday and Sunday were observed religiously till towards the end of the second centurty–then Sunday alone was kept. Fasting and even kneeling in prayer was forbidden on Sunday with the early Christians. Ancient Christian writers always mean Saturday by the word “Sabbath.”
9 The Emperor Maximin in one of his edicts says that “Almost all had abandoned the worship of their ancestory for the new faith.”
10 Hesterni summus et vestra omnes implevimus urbes, insulas, castella, municipia, conciliabula, castra ipsa, tribus, decurias, palatium, senatum, forum. Apol. c. XXXVII. Moshein, however, thinks that the “African orator, who is inclined to exaggerate, “rhetoricates” a little here. The primitive Christians exulted at the wonderful progress and diffusion of the Gospel.
11 Milman’s Latin Christianity. “The breadth of the best Greek Fathers, such as Origen, or Clement of Alexandria, is a thousand times superior to the dry, harsh narrowness of the Latins.” Athanase Coquerel the Younger, First His. Trans. of Christianity, p. 215.
12 Cutts, Turning Points of Church History
13 See DeRossi, Northcote, Withrow, etc., on the Catacombs.
14 A suggestive thought in this connection is, that our Lord (Matt. xxv. 33), calls those on his left hand “kidlings,” “little kids,” a term for tenderness and regard.
15 Maitland’s Church and the Catacombs.
17 Bible of Amiens.
18 Lives of the Fathers.
19 Christian Institutions.
20 Martineau’s Hours of Thought, p. 155. “In the cycle of Christian emblems the death of Christ holds no place; it was not till six centuries after his death that artists began to venture upon the representation of Christ crucified. The crucifix dates only from the end of the Seventeenth Century.”–Athanase Coqueral
Origin of Endless Punishment.
When our Lord spoke, the doctrine of unending torment was believed by many of those who listened to his words, and they stated it in terms and employed others, entirely differently, in describing the duration of punishment, from the terms afterward used by those who taught universal salvation and annihilation, and so gave to the terms in question the sense of unlimited duration.
For example, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, regarded the penalty of sin as torment without end, and they stated the doctrine in unambiguous terms. They called iteirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment), while our Lord called the punishment of sin aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement).
Meaning of Scriptural Terms.
The language of Josephus is used by the profane Greeks, but is never found in the New Testament connected with punishment. Josephus, writing in Greek to Jews, frequently employs the word that our Lord used to define the duration of punishment (aionios), but he applies it to things that had ended or that will end.1 Can it be doubted that our Lord placed his ban on the doctrine that the Jews had derived from the heathen by never using their terms describing it, and that he taught a limited punishment by employing words to define it that only meant limited duration in contemporaneous literature? Josephus used the word aionos with its current meaning of limited duration. He applies it to the imprisonment of John the Tyrant; to Herod’s reputation; to the glory acquired by soldiers; to the fame of an army as a “happy life and aionian glory.” He used the words as do the Scriptures to denote limited duration, but when he would describe endless duration he uses different terms. Of the doctrine of the Pharisees he says:
“They believe * * * that wicked spirits are to be kept in an eternal imprisonment (eirgmon aidion). The Pharisees say all souls are incorruptible, but while those of good men are removed into other bodies those of bad men are subject to eternal punishment” (aidios timoria). Elsewhere he says that the Essenes, “allot to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing torment (timoria adialeipton), where they suffer a deathless torment” (athanaton timorion). Aidion and athanaton are his favorite terms for duration, and timoria (torment) for punishment.
Philo’s Use of the Words.
Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally used aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matt. xxv: 46, precisely as Christ used it: “It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and æonian punishment (chastisement) from such as are more powerful.” Here we have the precise terms employed by our Lord, which show that aionian did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ. Philo adopts athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. In one place occurs this sentence concerning the wicked: “to live always dying, and to undergo, as it were, an immortal and interminable death.”2 Stephens, in his valuable “Thesaurus,” quotes from a Jewish work: “These they called aionios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations.” 3 This shows conclusively that the expression “three generations” was then one full equivalent of aionian. Now, these eminent scholars were Jews who wrote in Greek, and who certainly knew the meaning of the words they employed, and they give to the aeonian words the sense of indefinite duration, to be determined in any case by the scope of the subject. Had our Lord intended to inculcate the doctrine of the Pharisees, he would have used the terms by which they described it. But his word defining the duration of punishment was aionian, while their words areaidion, adialeipton, and athanaton. Instead of saying with Philo and Josephus, thanaton athanaton, deathless or immortal death; eirgmon aidion, eternal imprisonment; aidion timorion, eternal torment; and thanaton ateleuteton, interminable death, he used aionion kolasin, an adjective in universal use for limited duration, and a noun denoting suffering issuing in amendment. The word by which our Lord describes punishment is the wordkolasin, which is thus defined: “Chastisement, punishment.” “The trimming of the luxuriant branches of a tree or vine to improve it and make it fruitful.” “The act of clipping or pruning–restriction, restraint, reproof, check, chastisement.” “The kind of punishment which tends to the improvement of the criminal is what the Greek philosopher calledkolasis or chastisement.” “Pruning, checking, punishment, chastisement, correction.” “Do we want to know what was uppermost in the minds of those who formed the word for punishment? The Latin poena or punio, to punish, the root pu in Sanscrit, which means to cleanse, to purify, tells us that the Latin derivation was originally formed, not to express mere striking or torture, but cleansing. correcting, delivering from the stain of sin.” 4 That it had this meaning in Greek usage, see Plato: “For the natural or accidental evils of others no one gets angry, or admonishes, or teaches, or punishes (kolazei) them, but we pity those afflicted with such misfortune * * * for if, O Socrates, if you will consider what is the design of punishing (kolazein) the wicked, this of itself will show you that men think virtue something that may be acquired; for no one punishes (kolazei) the wicked,
looking to the past only simply for the wrong he has done–that is, no one does this thing who does not act like a wild beast; desiring only revenge, without thought. Hence, he who seeks to punish (kolazein) with reason does not punish for the sake of the past wrong deed, * * * but for the sake of the future, that neither the man himself who is punished may do wrong again, nor any other who has seen him chastised. And he who entertains this thought must believe that virtue may be taught, and he punishes (kolazei) for the purpose of deterring from wickedness?” 5
Use of Gehenna.
So of the place of punishment (gehenna) the Jews at the time of Christ never understood it to denote endless punishment. The reader of Farrar’s “Mercy and Judgment,” and “Eternal Hope,” and Windet’s “De Vita functorum statu,” will find any number of statements from the Talmudic and other Jewish authorities, affirming in the most explicit language that Gehenna was understood by the people to whom our Lord addressed the word as a place or condition of temporary duration. They employed such terms as these “The wicked shall be judged in Gehenna until the righteous say concerning them, ‘We have seen enough.'”5 “Gehenna is nothing but a day in which the impious will be burned.” “After the last judgment Gehenna exists no longer.” “There will hereafter be no Gehenna.“6 These quotations might be multiplied indefinitely to demonstrate that the Jews to whom our Lord spoke regarded Gehenna as of limited duration, as did the Christian Fathers. Origen in his reply to Celsus (VI, xxv) gives an exposition of Gehenna, explaining its usage in his day. He says it is an analogue of the well-known valley of the Son of Hinnom, and signifies the fire of purification. Now observe: Christ carefully avoided the words in which his auditors expressed endless punishment (aidios, timoria and adialeiptos), and used terms they did not use with that meaning (aionios kolasis), and employed the term which by universal consent among the Jews has no such meaning (Gehenna); and as his immediate followers and the earliest of the Fathers pursued exactly the same course, is it not demonstrated that they intended to be understood as he was understood?7
Professor Plumptre in a letter concerning Canon Farrar’s sermons, says: “There were two words which the Evangelists might have used–kolasis, timoria. Of these, the first carries with it, by the definition of the greatest of Greek ethical writers, the idea of a reformatory process, (Aristotle, Rhet. I, x, 10-17). It is inflicted ‘for the sake of him who suffers it.’ The second, on the other hand, describes a penalty purely vindictive or retributive. St. Matthew chose–if we believe that our Lord spoke Greek, he himself chose–the former word, and not the latter.”
All the evidence conclusively shows that the terms defining punishment–“everlasting,” “eternal,” “Gehenna,” etc., in the Scriptures teach its limited duration, and were so regarded by sacred and profane authors, and that those outside of the Bible who taught unending torment always employed other words than those used by or Lord and his disciples.
Professor Allen concedes that the great prominence given to “hell-fire” in Christian preaching is a modern innovation. He says: “There is more ‘blood-theology’ and ‘hell-fire,’ that is, the vivid setting-forth of everlasting torment to terrify the soul, in one sermon of Jonathan Edwards, or one harangue at a modern ‘revival,’ than can be found in the whole body of homilies and epistles through all the dark ages put together. * * * Set beside more modern dispensations the Catholic position of this period (middle ages) is surprisingly merciful and mild.”3
Whence Came the Doctrine?
Of Heathen Origin.
When we ask the question: Where did those in the primitive Christian church who taught endless punishment find it, if not in the Bible?–we are met by these facts:–1. The New Testament was not in existence, as the canon had not been arranged. 2. The Old Testament did not contain the doctrine. 3. The Pagan and Jewish religions, the latter corrupted by heathen accretions, taught it (Hagenbach, I, First Period; Clark’s Foreign Theol. Lib. I, new series.) Westcott tells us: “The written Gospel of the first period of the apostolic age was the Old Testament, interpreted by the vivid recollection of the Savior’s ministry. * * * The knowledge of the teachings of Christ * * * to the close of the Second Century, were generally derived from tradition, and not from writings. The Old Testament was still the great store-house from which Christian teachers derived the sources of consolation and conviction.” 9 Hence the false ideas must have been brought by converts from Judaism or Paganism. The immediate followers of our Lord’s apostles do not explicitly treat matters of eschatology. It was the age of apologetics and not of polemics.10 The new revelation of the Divine Fatherhood through the Son occupied the chief attention of Christians, and the efforts seem to have been almost exclusively devoted to establish the truth of the Incarnation, “God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” We may reasonably conclude that if this great truth had been kept constantly in the foreground, uncorrupted by pagan error and human invention, there would have been none of those false conceptions of God that gave rise to the horrors of medieval times,–and no occasion in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries for the renascence of original Christianity in the form of Universalism. The first Christians, however, naturally brought heathen increments into their new faith, so that very early the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, or their endless torment, began to be avowed. Here and there these doctrines appeared from the very first, but the early writers generally either state the great truths that legitimately result in universal good, or in unmistakable terms avow the doctrine as a revealed truth of the Christian Scriptures. “Numbers flocked into the church who brought their heathen ways with them.” (Third Century, “Neoplatonism,” by C. Bigg, D.D., London: 1895, p. 160.)
At first Christianity was as a bit of leaven buried in foreign elements, modifying and being modified. The early Christians had individual opinions and idiosyncrasies, which at first their new faith did not eradicate; they still retained some of their former errors. This accounts for their different views of the future world. At the time of our Lord’s advent Judaism had been greatly corrupted. During the captivity 11 Chaldæan, Persian and Egyptian doctrines, and other oriental ideas had tinged the Mosaic religion, and in Alexandria, especially, there was a great mixture of borrowed opinions and systems of faith, it being supposed that no one form alone was complete and sufficient, but that each system possessed a portion of the perfect truth. “The prevailing tone of mind was eclectic,” and Christianity did not escape the influence.
The Apocryphal Book of Enoch.
More than a century before the birth of Christ 12 appeared the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which contains, so far as is known, the earliest statement extant of the doctrine of endless punishment in any work of Jewish origin. It became very popular during the early Christian centuries, and modified, it may be safely supposed, the views of Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and their followers. It is referred to or quoted from by Barnabas, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenæus, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome, Hilary, Epiphanius, Augustine, and others. Jude quotes from it in verses 14 and 15, and refers to it in verse 6, on which account some of the fathers considered Jude apocryphal; but it is probable that Jude quotes Enoch as Paul quotes the heathen poets, not to endorse its doctrine, but to illustrate a point, as writers nowadays quote fables and legends. Cave, in the “Lives of the Fathers,” attributes the prevalence of the doctrine of fallen angels to a perversion of the account (Gen. vi: 1-4) of “the sons of God and the daughters of men.” He refers the prevalence of the doctrine to “the authority of the ‘Book of Enoch,’ (highly valued by many in those days) wherein this story is related, as appears from the fragments of it still extant.” The entire work is now accessible through modern discovery.
A little later than Enoch appeared the Book of Ezra, advocating the same doctrine. These two books were popular among the Jews before the time of Christ, and it is supposed, as the Old Testament is silent on the subject, that the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees, of which our Lord warned his disciples to beware, 13 were obtained in part from these books, or from the Egyptian and Pagan sources whence they were derived. At any rate, though the Old Testament does not contain the doctrine, 14 Josephus, as has been seen, assures us that the Pharisees of his time accepted and taught it. Of course they must have obtained the doctrine from uninspired sources. As these and possibly other similar books had already corrupted the faith of the Jews, they seem later to have infused their virus into the faith of some of the early Christians. Nothing is better established in history than that the doctrine of endless punishment, as held by the Christian church in medieval times, was of Egyptian origin, 15 and that for purposes of state it and its accessories were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Montesquieu states that “Romulus, Tatius and Numa enslaved the gods to politics,” and made religion for the state.
Catholic Hell Copied from Heathen Sources.
Classic scholars know that the heathen hell was early copied by the Catholic church, and that almost its entire details afterwards entered into the creeds of Catholic and Protestant churches up to a century ago. Any reader may see this who will consult Pagan literature 16 and writers on the opinions of the ancients. And not only this, but the heathen writers declare that the doctrine was invented to awe and control the multitude. Polybius writes: “Since the multitude is ever fickle * * * there is no other way to keep them in order but by fear of the invisible world; on which account our ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to bring into the popular belief these notions of the gods and of the infernal regions.” Seneca says: “Those things which make the infernal regions terrible, the darkness, the prison, the river of flaming fire, the judgment seat, etc., are all a fable.” Livy declares that Numa invented the doctrine, “a most efficacious means of governing an ignorant and barbarous populace.” Strabo writes: “The multitude are restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, * * * for it is impossible to govern the crowd of women and all the common rabble by philosophical reasoning: these things the legislators used as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude.” Similar language is found in Dionysius Halicarnassus, Plato, and other writers. History records nothing more distinctly than that the Greek and Roman Pagans borrowed of the Egyptians, and that some of the early Christians unconsciously absorbed, or studiously appropriated, the doctrines of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans concerning post-mortem punishment, and gradually corrupted the “simplicity that is in Christ” 17 by the inventions of antiquity, as from the same sources the Jews at the time of Christ had already corrupted their religion. 18 What more natural than that the small reservoir of Christian truth should be contaminated by the opinions that converts from all these sources brought with them into their new religion at first, and later that the Roman Catholic priests and Pagan legislators should seize them as engines of power by which to control the world?
Coquerel describes the effect of the irruption of Pagans into the early Christian church: “The, at first, gradual entrance and soon rapid irruption of an idolatrous multitude into the bosom of Christianity was not effected without detriment to the truth. The Christianity of Jesus was too lofty, too pure, for this multitude escaped from the degrading cults of Olympus. The Pagans were not able to enter en masse into the church without bringing to it their habits, their tastes, and some of their ideas.”19 Milman and Neander think20 that old Jewish prejudices could not be extirpated in the proselytes of the infant church, and that latent Judaism lurked in it and was continued into the darker ages. Chrysostom complains that the Christians of his time (the Fourth Century) were “half Jews.” Enfield 21 declares that converts from the schools of Pagan philosophy interwove their old errors with the simple truths of Christianity until “heathen and Christian doctrines were still more intimately blended * * * and both were almost entirely lost in the thick clouds of ignorance and barbarism which covered the earth. * * * The fathers of the church departed from the simplicity of the apostolic church and corrupted the purity of the Christian faith.” Hagenbach reminds us that 22 “There were two errors which the newborn Christianity had to guard against if it was not to lose its peculiar religious features, and disappear in one of the already existing religions: against a relapse into Judaism on the one side, and against a mixture with Paganism and speculations borrowed from it, and a mythologizing tendency on the other.” The Sibylline Oracles, advocating universal restoration; Philo, who taught annihilation, and Enoch and Ezra, who taught endless punishment, were all read by the early Christians, and no doubt exerted an influence in forming early opinions.
Early Christianity Adulterated.
The Edinburgh Review concedes that “upon a full inspection it will be seen that the corruption of Christianity was itself the effect of the vitiated state of the human mind, of which the vices of the government were the great and primary cause.” “That the Christian religion suffered much from the influence of the Gentile philosophy is unquestionable.”23 Dr. Middleton, in a famous “Letter from Rome,” shows that from the pantheon down to heathen temples, shrines and altars were taken by the early church, and so used that Pagans could employ them as well as Christians, and retain their old superstitions and errors while professing Christianity. In other words, that much of Paganism, after the First Century or two, remained in and corrupted Christianity. Mosheim writes that “no one objected (in the Fifth Century) to Christians retaining the opinions of their Pagan ancestors;” and Tytler describes the confusion that resulted from the mixture of Pagan philosophy with the plain and simple doctrines of the
Christian religion, from which the church in its infant state “suffered in a most essential manner.” The Rev. T. B. Thayer, D. D., 24 thinks that the faith of the early Christian church “of the orthodox party was one-half Christian, one-quarter Jewish, and one-quarter Pagan; while that of the gnostic party was about one-quarter Christian and three-quarters philosophical Paganism.” The purpose of many of the fathers seems to have been to bridge the abyss between Paganism and Christianity, and, for the sake of proselytes, to tolerate Pagan doctrine. Says Merivale: In the Fifth Century, Paganism was assimilated, not extirpated, and Christendom has suffered from it more or less even since. * * * The church * * * was content to make terms with what survived of Paganism, content to lose even more than it gained in an unholy alliance with superstition and idolatry; enticing, no doubt, many of the vulgar, and some even of the more intelligent, to a nominal acceptance of the Christian faith, but conniving at the surrender by the great mass of its own baptized members of the highest and purest of their spiritual acquisitions.” 25 It is difficult to learn just how much surrounding influences affected ancient or modern Christians, for, as Schaff says (Hist. Apos. Ch. p. 23): “The theological views of the Greek Fathers were modified to a considerable extent by Platonism; those of the medieval schoolmen, by the logic and dialectics of Aristotle; those of the latter times by the system of Descartes, Spinoza, Bacon, Locke, Leibnitz, Kant, Fries, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Few scientific divines can absolutely emancipate themselves from the influence of the philosophy and public opinion of their age, and when they do they have commonly their own philosophy, etc.”
Original Greek New Testament.
That the Old Testament does not teach even post-mortem punishment is universally conceded by scholars, as has been seen; and that the Egyptians, and Greek and Roman Pagans did, is shown already. That the doctrine was early in the Christian church, is equally evident. As the early Christians did not obtain it from the Old Testament, which does not contain it, and as it was already a Pagan doctrine, where could they have procured it except from heathen sources? And as Universalism was nowhere taught, and as the first Universalist Christians after the apostles were Greeks, perfectly familiar with the language of the New Testament, where else could they have found their faith than where they declare they found it, in the New Testament? How can it be supposed that the Latins were correct in claiming that the Greek Scriptures teach a doctrine that the Greeks themselves did not find therein? And how can the Greek fathers in the primitive church mistake when they understand our Lord and his apostles to teach universal restoration? “It may be well to note here, that after the third century the descent of the church into errors of doctrine and practice grew more rapid. The worship of Jesus, of Mary, of saints, or relics, etc., followed each other. Mary was called ‘the Mother of God,’ ‘the Queen of Heaven.’ As God began to be represented more stern, implacable, cruel, the people worshiped Jesus to induce him to placate his Father’s wrath; and then as the Son was held up as the severe judge of sinners and the executioner of the Father’s vengeance, men prayed Mary to mollify the anger of her God-child; and when she became unfeeling or lacked influence, they turned to Joseph and other saints, and to martyrs, to intercede with their cold, implacable superiors. Thus theology became more hard and merciless–hell was intensified, and enlarged, and eternized–heaven shrunk, and receded, and lost its compassion–woman (despite the deification of Mary) was regarded as weak and despicable–the Agape were abolished and the Eucharist deified, and its cup withheld from the people–and woman deemed too impure to touch it! As among the heathen Romans, faith and reverence decreased as their gods were multiplied, so here, as objects of worship were increased, familiarity bred only sensuality, and sensuous worship drove out virtue and veneration, until, in the language of Mrs. Jameson’s “Legends of the Madonna,” (Int. p. xxxi): One of the frescoes in the Vatican represents Giulia Farnese (a noted impure woman and mistress of the pope!) in the character of the Madonna, and Pope Alexander VI. (the drunken, unchaste, beastly!) kneeling at her feet in the character of a votary! Under the influence of the Medici, the churches of Florence were filled with pictures of the Virgin in which the only thing aimed at was a meretricious beauty. Savonarola thundered from his pulpit in the garden of S. Marco against these impieties.” 26
1 See my “Aion-Aionious,” pp. 109-14; also Josephus, “Antiq.” and “Jewish Wars.”
2 “De Præmiis” and “Poenis” Tom. II, pp. 19-20. Mangey’s edition. Dollinger quoted by Beecher. Philo was learned in Greek philosophy, and especially reverenced Plato. His use of Greek is of the highest authority.
3 “Solom. Parab.”
4 Donnegan, Grotius, Liddel, Max Muller, Beecher, Hist. Doc. Fut. Ret. pp. 73-75.
5 The important passage may be found more fully quoted in “Aion-Aionios.”
6 Targum of Jonathan on Isaiah, xvi: 24. See also “Aion-Aionious” and “Bible Hell.”
7 Farrar’s “Mercy and Judgment.” pp. 380-381, where quotations are given from the Fourth Century, asserting that punishment must be limited because aionian correction (aionian kolasin), as in Matt. xxv: 46, must be terminable.
8 “Christian Hist. in its Three Great Periods.” pp. 257-8.
9 Introduction to Gospels. p. 181
10 The opinions of the Jews were modified at first by the captivity in Egypt fifteen centuries before Christ, and later by the Babylonian captivity, ending four hundred years before Christ, so that many of them, the Pharisees especially, no longer held the simple doctrines of Moses.
11 Robertson’s History of the Christian Church, vol. 1. pp. 38-39.
12 The Book of Enoch, translated from the Ethiopian, with Introduction and Notes. By Rev. George H. Schodde.
13 Mark vii: 13; Matthew xvi: 6, 12; Luke xxi, 1; Mark viii, 15.
14 Milman Hist. Jews; Warburton’s Divine Legation; Jahn, Archaeology.
15 Warburton. Leland’s Necessity of Divine Revelation.
16 Virgil’s æneid. Apollodorus, Hesiod, Herodotus, Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus, etc.
17 II Cor. xi: 3.
18 Milman’s Gibbon, Murdock’s Mosheim, Enfield’s Hist. Philos., Universalist Expositor, 1853.
19 Coquerel’s First Historical Transformations of Christianity.
20 See Conybeare’s “Paul,” Vol. I, Chapters 14,15.
21 See also Priestley’s “Corruptions of Christianity.”
22 Hist. Doct. I Sec. 22.
23 Vaughan’s Causes of the Corruption of Christianity; also Casaubon and Blunt’s “Vestiges.”
24 Hist. Doct. Endelss Punishment, pp. 192-193.
25 Early Church History, pp. 159-160.
26 Universalist Quartarly, January 1883.
Doctrines of “Mitigation” and of “Reserve.”
There was no controversy among Christians over the duration of the punishment of the wicked for at least three hundred years after the death of Christ. Scriptural terms were used with their Scriptural meanings, and while it is not probable that universal restoration was polemically or dogmatically announced, it is equally probable that the endless duration of punishment was not taught until the heathen corruptions had adulterated Christian truth. God’s fatherhood and boundless love, and the work of Christ in man’s behalf were dwelt upon, accompanied by the announcement of the fearful consequences of sin; but when those consequences, through Pagan influences, came to be regarded as endless in duration, then the antidotal truth of universal salvation assumed prominence through Clement, Origen, and other Alexandrine fathers. Even when some of the early Christians had so far been overcome by heathen error as to accept the dogma of endless torment for the wicked, they had no hard words for those who believed in universal restoration, and did not even controvert their views. The doctrines of Prayer for the Dead, and of Christ Preaching to those in Hades, and of Mitigation, were humane teachings of the primitive Christians that were subsequently discarded.
The doctrine of Mitigation was, that for some good deed on earth, the damned in hell would occasionally be let out on a respite or furlough, and have surcease of torment. This doctrine of mitigation was quite general among the fathers when they came to advocate the Pagan dogma. In fact, endless punishment in all its enormity, destitute of all benevolent features, was not fully developed until Protestantism was born, and prayers for the dead, mitigation of the condition of the “lost,” and other softening features were repudiated.1
It was taught that the worst sinners–Judas himself, even–had furloughs from hell for good deeds done on Earth. Matthew Arnold embodies one of the legends in his poem of St. Brandon. The saint once met, on an iceberg on the ocean, the soul of Judas Iscariot, released from hell for awhile, who explains his respite. He had once given a cloak to a leper in Joppa, and so he says–
“Once every year, when carols wake
On earth the Christmas night’s repose,
Arising from the sinner’s lake’
I journey to these healing snows.
“I stand with ice my burning breast,
With silence calm by burning brain;
O Brandon, to this hour of rest,
That Joppan leper’s ease was pain.”
It remained for Protestantism to discard all the softening features that Catholicism had added to the bequest of heathenism into Christianity, and to give the world the unmitigated horror that Protestantism taught from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century.
The Doctrine of “Reserve.”
We cannot read the patristic literature understandingly unless we constantly bear in mind the early fathers’ doctrine of “O Economy,” or “Reserve.”2 Plato distinctly taught it,3and says that error may be used as a medicine. He justifies the use of the “medicinal lie.” The resort of the early fathers to the esoteric is no doubt derived from Plato. Origen almost quotes him when he says that sometimes fictitious threats are necessary to secure obedience, as when Solon had purposely given imperfect laws. Many, in and out of the church, held that the wise possessor of truth might hold it in secret. when its impartation to the ignorant would seem to be fraught with danger, and that error might be properly substituted. The object was to save “Christians of the simpler sort” from waters too deep for them. It is possible to defend the practice if it be taken to represent the method of a skillfulteacher, who will not confuse the learner with principles beyond his comprehension. 4 Gieseler remarks that “the Alexandrians regarded a certain accommodation as necessary, which ventures to make use even of falsehood for the attainment of a good end; nay, which was even obliged to do so.” Neander declares that “the Orientals, according to their theology of oeconomy, allowed themselves manyliberties not to be reconciled with the strict laws of veracity.” 5
Some of the fathers who had achieved a faith in Universalism, were influenced by the mischievous notion that it was to be held esoterically, cherished in secret, or only communicated to the chosen few,–withheld from the multitude, who would not appreciate it, and even that the opposite error would, with some sinners, be more beneficial than the truth. Clement of Alexandria admits that he does not write or speak certain truths. Origen claims that there are doctrines not to be communicated to the ignorant. Clement says: “They are not in reality liars who use circumlocution 6 because of the oeconomy of salvation.” Origen said that “all that might be said on this theme is not expedient to explain now, or to all. For the mass need no further teaching on account of those who hardly through the fear of æonian punishment restrain their recklessness.” The reader of the patristic literature sees this opinion frequently, and unquestionably it caused many to hold out threats to the multitude in order to restrain them; threats that they did not themselves believe would be executed.8
The gross and carnal interpretation given to parts of the Gospel, causing some, as Origen said, to “believe of God what would not be believed of the cruelest of mankind,” caused him to dwell upon the duty of reserve, which he does in many of his homilies. He says that he can not fully express himself on the mystery of eternal punishment in an exoteric statement.9 The reserve advocated and practiced by Origen and the Alexandrians was, says Bigg, “the screen of an esoteric belief.” Beecher reminds his readers that while it was common with Pagan philosophers to teach false doctrines to the masses with the mistaken idea that they were needful, “the fathers of the Christian church did not escape the infection of the leprosy of pious fraud;” and he quotes Neander to show that Chrysostom was guilty of it, and also Gregory Nazianzen, Athanasius, and Basil the Great. The prevalence of this fraus pia in the early centuries is well known to scholars. After saying that the Sibylline Oracles were probably forged by a gnostic, Mosheim says: “I cannot yet take upon me to acquit the most strictly orthodox from all participation in this species of criminality; for it appears from evidence superior to all exception that a pernicious maxim was current, * * * namely, that those who made it their business to deceive with a view of promoting the cause of truth, were deserving rather of commendation that censure.”
What Was Held as to Doctrine.
It seems to have been held that “faith, the foundation of Christian knowledge, was fitted only for the rude mass, the animal men, who were incapable of higher things. Far above these were the privileged natures, the men of intellect, or spiritual men, whose vocation was not to believe but to know.”10
The ecclesiastical historians class as esoteric believers, Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen; and Beecher names Athanasius and Basil the Great as in the same category; and Beecher remarks: “We cannot fully understand such a proclamation of future endless punishment as has been described, while it was not believed, until we consider the influence of Plato on the age. * * * Socrates is introduced as saying in Grote’s Plato: ‘It is indispensable that this fiction should be circulated and accredited as the fundamental, consecrated, unquestioned creed of the whole city, from which the feeling of harmony and brotherhood among the citizens springs.” Such principles, as a leprosy, had corrupted the whole community, and especially the leaders. In the Roman Empire pagan magistrates and priests appealed to retribution in Tartarus, of which they had no belief, to affect the masses. This does not excuse, but it explains the preaching of eternal punishment by men who did not believe it. They dared not entrust the truth to the masses, and so held it in reserve–to deter men from sin.”
General as was the confession of a belief in universal salvation in the church’s first and best three centuries, there is ample reason the believe that it was the secret belief of more than gave expression to it, and that many a one who proclaimed a partial salvation, in his secret “heart of heart” agreed with the greatest of the church’s fathers during the first four hundred years of our era, that Christ would achieve a universal triumph, and that God would ultimately reign in all hearts.
Modern Theologians Equivocal.
There can be no doubt that many of the fathers threatened severer penalties than they believed would be visited on sinners, impelled to utter them because they considered them to be more salutary with the masses than the truth itself. So that we may believe that some of the patristic writers who seem to teach endless punishment did not believe it. Others, we know, who accepted universal restoration employed, for the sake of deterring sinners, threats that are inconsistent, literally interpreted, with that doctrine. This disposition to conceal the truth has actuated many a modern theologian. In Sermon XXXV, on the eternity of hell torments, Arch-bishop Tillotson, while he argues for the endless duration of punishment, suggests that the Judge has the right to omit inflicting it if he shall see it inconsistent with righteousness or goodness to make sinners miserable forever, and Burnet urges: “Whatever your opinion is within yourself, and in your breast, concerning these punishments, whether they are eternal or not, yet always with the people, and when you preach to the people, use the received doctrine and the received words in the sense in which the people receive them.” It is certainly allowable to think that many an ancient timid teacher discovered the truth without daring to entrust it to the mass of mankind.
Even Lying Defended.
Theophilus of Alexandria proposed making Synesius of Cyrene, bishop. The latter said: “The philosophical intelligence, in short, while it beholds the truth, admits the necessity of lying. Light corresponds to truth, but the eye is dull of vision; it can not without injury gaze on the infinite light. As twilight is more comfortable for the eye, so, I hold, is falsehood for the common run of people. The truth can only be harmful for those who are unable to gaze on the reality. If the laws of the priesthood permit me to hold this position, then I can accept consecration, keeping my philosophy to myself at home, and preaching fables out of doors.”11
1 Christian History in Three Great Periods. pp. 257,8.
2 Bigg’s Platonists of Alexandria. p. 58.
3 Grote’s Plato, Vol. III, xxxii. pp. 56, 7.
4 J.H. Newman, Arians; Apologia Pro Vita Sua
5 Allin, Univ. Asserted, shows at length the prevalence of the doctrine of “reserve” among the early Christians.
7 Against Celsus I, vii; and on Romans ii.
8 “St. Basil distinguishes in Christianity between what is openly proclaimed and which are kept secret.” Max Muller, Theosophy of Psychology, Lect. xiv.
9 Ag. Cels. De Prin.
10 Dean Mansell’s Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries. Introduction, p. 10.
11 Neoplatonism, by C. Bigg, D.D. London: 1895, p. 339.
Two Kindred Topics.
Gospel Preached to the Dead.
The early Christian church almost, if not quite, universally believed that Christ made proclamation of the Gospel to the dead in Hades. Says Huidekoper: “In the Second and Third Centuries every branch and division of Christians believed that Christ preached to the departed.” 1 Dietelmaier declares2 this doctrine was believed by all Christians. Of course, if souls were placed where their doom was irretrievable salvation would not be offered to them; whence it follows that the early Christians believed in post-mortem probation. Allin says that “some writers teach that the apostles also preached in Hades. Some say that the Blessed Virgin did the same. Some even say that Simeon went before Christ to Hades.” All these testimonies go to show that the earliest of the fathers did not regard the grave as the dead-line which the love of God could not cross, but that the door of mercy is open hereafter as here. “The platonic doctrine of a separate state, where the spirits of the departed are purified, and on which the later doctrine of purgatory was founded, was approved by all the expositors of Christianity who were of the Alexandrian school, as was the custom of performing religious services at the tombs of the dead. Nor was there much difference between them and Tertullian in these particulars.”
In the early ages of the church great stress was laid on I Pet. iii. 19: “He (Christ) went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” That this doctrine was prevalent as late as Augustine’s day is evident from the fact that the doctrine is anathemitised in his list of heresies–number 79. And even as late as the Ninth Century it was condemned by Pope Boniface VI. It was believed that our Lord not only proclaimed the Gospel to all the dead but that he liberated them all. How could it be possible for a Christian to entertain the thought that all the wicked who died before the advent of our Lord were released from bondage, and that any who died after his advent would suffer endless woe? Eusebius says: “Christ, caring for the salvation of all * * * opened a way of return to life for the dead bound in the chains of death.” Athanasius: “The devil * * * cast out of Hades, sees all the fettered beings led forth by the courage of the Savior.” 3 Origen on I Kings, xxviii:32: “Jesus descended into Hades, and the prophets before him, and they proclaimed beforehand the coming of Christ.” Didymus observes “In the liberation of all no one remains a captive; at the time of the Lord’s passion he alone (Satan) was injured, who lost all the captives he was keeping.” Cyril of Alexandria: “And wandering down even to Hades he has emptied the dark, secret, invisible treasures.” Gregory of Nazianzus: “Until Christ loosed by his blood all who groaned under Tartarian chains.” Jerome on Jonah ii: 6: “Our Lord was shut up in æonian bars in order that he might set free all who had been shut up.”
Such passages might be multiplied, demonstrating that the early church regarded the conquest by Christ of the departed as universal. He set free from bonds all the dead in Hades. If the primitive Christians believed that all the wicked of all the æons preceding the death of Christ were released, how can we suppose them to have regarded the wicked subsequent to his death as destined to suffer interminable torments? Clement of Alexandria is explicit in declaring that the Gospel was preached to all, both Jews and Gentiles, in Hades;–that “the sole cause of the Lord’s descent to the underworld was to preach the gospel.” (Strom. VI.) Origen says: “Not only while Jesus was in the body did he win over not a few only, * * * but when he became a soul, without the covering of the body, he dwelt among those souls (in Hades) which were without bodily covering, converting such of them as were fit for it.”
The Gospel of Nicodemus.
About a century after the death of John appeared the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, valuable as setting forth current eschatology. It describes the effect of Christ’s preaching in Hades: “When Jesus arrived in Hades, the gates burst open, and taking Adam by the hand Jesus said, “Come all with me, as many as have died through the tree which he touched, for behold I raise you all up through the tree of the cross.'” This book shows conclusively that the Christians of that date did not regard æonian punishment as interminable, inasmuch as those who had been sentenced to that condition were released. “If Christ preached to dead men who were once disobedient, then Scripture shows us that the moment of death does not necessarily involve a final and hopeless torment for every sinful soul. Of all the blunt weapons of ignorant controversy employed against those to whom has been revealed the possibility of a larger hope than is left to mankind by Augustine or by Calvin, the bluntest is the charge that such a hope renders null the necessity for the work of Christ. * * * We thus rescue the work of redemption from the appearance of having failed to achieve its end for the vast majority of those for whom Christ died. * * * In these passages, as has been truly said, ‘we may see an expansive paraphrase and exuberant variation of the original Pauline theme of the universalism of the evangelic embassage of Christ, and of his sovereignty over the world;’ and especially of the passage in the Philippians (ii. 9-11) where all they that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, are enumerated as classes of the subjects of the exalted Redeemer.” 5And Alford observes: “The inference every intelligent reader will draw from the fact here announced: it is not purgatory; it is not universal restitution; but it is one which throws blessed light on one of the darkest enigmas of divine justice.” Timotheus II., patriarch of the Nestorians, wrote that “by the prayers of the saints the souls of sinners may pass from Gehenna to Paradise,” (Asseman. IV. p. 344). See Prof. Plumptre’s “Spirits in Prison,” p. 141; Dict. Christ. Biog. Art. Eschatology, etc. Says Uhlhorn (Book I, ch. iii): “For deceased persons their relatives brought gifts on the anniversary of their death, a beautiful custom which vividly exhibited the connection between the church above and the church below.”
“One fact stands out very clearly from the passages of patristic literature, viz.: that all sects and divisions of the Christians in the second and third centuries united in the belief that Christ went down into Hades, or the Underworld, after his death on the cross, and remained there until his resurrection. Of course it was natural that the question should come up, What did he do there? As he came down from earth to preach the Gospel to, and save, the living, it was easy to infer that he went down into Hades to preach the same glad tidings there, and show the way of salvation to those who had died before his advent.” 6
Prayers for the Dead.
It need not here be claimed that the doctrine that Christ literally preached to the dead in Hades is true, or that such is the teaching of I. Pet. iii: 19, but it is perfectly apparent that if the primitive Christians held to the doctrine they could not have believed that the condition of the soul is fixed at death. That is comparatively a modern doctrine.
There can be no doubt that the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is a corruption of the Scriptural doctrine of the disciplinary character of all God’s punishments. Purgatory was never heard of in the earlier centuries.7 It is first fully stated by Pope Gregory the First, ‘its inventor,’ at the close of the Sixth Century, “For some light faults we must believe that there is before judgment a purgatorial fire.” This theory is a perversion of the idea held anciently, that all God’s punishments are purgative; what the Catholic regards as true of the errors of the good is just as true of the sins of the worst,– indeed, of all. The word rendered punishment in Matt. xxv: 46, (kolasin) implies all this.
Condition of the Dead not Final.
That the condition of the dead was not regarded as unalterably fixed is evident from the fact that prayers for the dead were customary anciently, and that, too, before the doctrine of purgatory was formulated. The living believed–and so should we believe–that the dead have migrated to another country, where the good offices of supervisors on earth avail. Perpetua begged for the help of her brother, child of a Pagan father, who had died unbaptized. In Tertullian the widow prays for the soul of her departed husband. Repentance by the dead is conceded by Clement, and the prayers of the good on earth help them.
The dogma of the purificatory character of future punishment did not degenerate into the doctrine of punishment for believers only, until the Fourth Century; nor did that error crystallize into the Catholic purgatory until later. Hagenbach says: “Comparing Gregory’s doctrine with the earlier, and more spiritual notions concerning the efficacy of the purifying fire of the intermediate state, we may adopt the statement of Schmidt that the belief in a lasting desire of perfection, which death itself cannot quench, degenerated into a belief in purgatory.”
Plumtre (“Spirits in Prison,” London, p. 25) has a valuable statement: “In every form; from the solemn liturgies which embodied the belief of her profoundest thinkers and truest worshippers, to the simple words of hope and love which were traced over the graves of the poor, her voice (the church of the first ages) went up without a doubt or misgiving, in prayers for the souls of the departed;” showing that they could not have regarded their condition as unalterably fixed at death. Prof. Plumptre quotes from Lee’s “Christian Doctrine of Prayer for the Departed,” to show the early Christians’ belief that intercessions for the dead would be of avail to them. Even Augustine accepted the doctrine. He prayed after his mother’s death, that her sins might be forgiven, and that his father might also receive pardon. (“Confessions,” ix, 13.)8
The Platonic doctrine of a separate state where the spirits of the departed are purified, and on which the later doctrine of purgatory was founded, was approved by all the expositors of Christianity who were of the Alexandrian school, as was the custom of performing religious services at the tombs of the dead. Uhlhorn gives similar testimony: “For deceased persons their relatives brought gifts on the anniversary of their death, a beautiful custom, which vividly exhibited the connection between the church above and the church below.” Origen’s tenet of Catharsis of Purification was absorbed by the growing belief in purgatory. 9
Let the reader reflect, (1) that the Primitive Christians so distrusted the effect of the truth on the popular mind that they withheld it, and only cherished it esoterically, and held up terrors for effect, in which they had no faith; (2) that they prayed for the wicked dead that they might be released from suffering; (3) that they universally held that Christ preached the Gospel to sinners in Hades; (4) that the earliest creeds are entirely silent as to the idea that the wicked dead were in irretrievable and endless torment; (5) that the terms used by some who are accused of teaching endless torment were precisely those employed by those acknowledged to have been Universalists; (6) that the first Christians were the happiest of people and infused a wonderful cheerfulness into a world of sorrow and gloom; (7) that there is not a shade of darkness nor a note of despair in any one of the thousands of epitaphs in the Catacombs; (8) that the doctrine of universal redemption was first made prominent by those to whom Greek was their native tongue, and that they declared that they derived it from the Greek Scriptures, while endless punishment was first taught by Africans and Latins, who derived it from a foreign tongue of which the great teacher of it confesses he was ignorant. (See ” Augustine” later on.) Let the reader give to these considerations their full and proper weight, and it will be impossible to believe that the fathers regarded the impenitent as consigned at death to hopeless and endless woe.
Note.–After giving the emphatic language of Clement and Origen and other ancient Christians declarative of universal holiness, Dr. Bigg, in his valuable book, “The Christian Platonists of Alexandria,” frequently quoted in these pages, remarks (pp. 292-3): “Neither Clement not Origen is, properly speaking, a Universalist. Nor is Universalism the logical result of their principles.” The reasons he gives are two: (1) They believed in the freedom of the will; and (2) they did not deny the eternity of punishment, because the soul that has sinned beyond a certain point can never become what it might have been!
To which it is only necessary to say (1) that Universalists generally accept the freedom of the will, and (2) no soul that has sinned, as all have sinned, can ever become what it might have been, so the Dr. Bigg’s premises would necessitate Universalism, but universal condemnation!
And, as if to contradict his own words, Dr. Bigg adds in the very next paragraph: “The hope of a general restitution of all souls through suffering to purity and blessedness, lingered on in the East for some time;” and the last words in his book are these: “It is the teaching of St. Paul,–Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God, even the Father. Then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” And these are the last words of his last note: “At the end all will be one because the Father’s will is all in all and all in each. Each will fill the place which the mystery of the economy assigns to him.”
It would be interesting to learn what sort of monstrosity Dr. Bigg has constructed, and labeled with the word which he declares could not be applied to Clement and Origen.
1 An excellent resume of the opinions of the fathers on Christ’s descent into Hades, and preaching the gospel to the dead, is Huidekoper’s “The Belief of the First Three Centuries Concerning Christ’s Mission to the Underworld;” also Huidekoper’s “Indirect Testimony to the Gospels;” also Dean Plumptre’s “Spirits in Prison.” London: 1884.
2 Historia Dogmatis do Descensu Christi ad Inferos. J. A. Dietelmaier.
3 De Passione et Cruce Domin. Migne, XXVIII, 186-240.
4 Carm. XXXV, v. 9
5 Farrar’s “Early Days of Christianity.” ch. vii.
6 Universalist Quarterly.
7 Archs. Usher and Wake, quoted by Farrar, “Mercy and Judgment.”
8 That these ideas were general in the primitive church, see Nitzsch, “Christian Doctrine,” Sec. III; Dorner, “System of Christian Doctrine,” Vol. IV (Eschatology). Also Vaughan’s “Causes of the Corruption of Christianity,” p. 319.
9 “Neoplatonism,” by C. Bigg, p. 334.
The Apostles’ Immediate Successors.
The First Christians not Explicit in Eschatological Matters.
As we read the writings of the immediate successors of the apostles, we discover that matters of eschatology do not occupy their thought. They dwell on the advent of our Lord, and dilate on its blessings to the world; they give the proofs of his divinity, and appeal to men to accept his religion. Most of the surviving documents of the First Century are hortatory. It was an apologetic, not a polemic age. A very partisan author, anxious to show that the doctrine of endless punishment was bequeathed to their immediate successors by the apostles, concedes this. He says that the first Christians “touched but lightly and incidentally on points of doctrine,” but gave “the doctrines of Christianity in the very words of Scripture, giving us often no certain clew to their interpretations of the language.1 ” The first Christians were converted Jews, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, differing in their theologies, and only agreeing in accepting Christ and Christianity; their ideas of our Lord’s teaching concerning human destiny and on other subjects were tinctured by their antecedent predilections.
Their doctrines on many points were colored by Jewish and Pagan errors, until their minds were clarified, when the more systematic teachers came,–Clement, Origen and others, who eliminated the errors Christian converts had brought with them from former associations, and presented Christianity as Christ taught it. The measures of meal were more or less impure until the leaven of genuine Christianity transformed them. But it is conceded that there is little left of this apostolic age, out of the New Testament, to tell us what their ideas of human destiny were.
It is probable, however, that the Pharisaic notion of a partial resurrection and the annihilation of the wicked was held by some, and the heathen ideas of endless punishment by others. We know that even while the apostles lived some of the early Christians had accepted new, or retained ancient errors, for which they were reprimanded by the apostles. “False teachers” and “philosophy and vain deceit” were alleged of them, and it is the testimony of scholars that errors abounded among them, errors that Christianity did not at first exorcise. But the questions concerning human destiny were not at all raised at first. True views and false ones undoubtedly prevailed, brought into the new communion from former associations. And it is conceded that while very little literature on this subject remains, there is enough to show that they differed, at first, and until wiser teachers systematized our religion, and sifted out the wheat from the chaff.
Views of Clement of Rome.
The first of the apostolic fathers was Clement of Rome, who was bishop A.D. 85. Eusebius and Origin thought he was Paul’s fellow laborer. His famous (first) epistle of fifty-nine chapters in about the length of Mark’s Gospel. He appeals to the destruction of the cities of the plains to illustrate the divine punishment, but gives no hint of the idea of endless woe, though he devotes three chapters to the resurrection. He has been thought to have held to a partial resurrection, for he asks: “Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the maker of all things to raise up again those who have proudly served him in the assurance of a good faith?” But this does not prove he held to the annihilation of the wicked, for Theophilus and Origen use similar language. He says: “Let us reflect how free from wrath he is towards all his creatures.” God “does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to his compassions,” etc. God is “the all-merciful and beneficent Father.” Neander affirms that he had the Pauline spirit,” with love as the motive, and A. St. J. Chambre, D.D.,2 thinks “he probably believed in the salvation of all men,” and Allin3 refers to Rufinus and says, “from which we may, I think, infer, that Clement, with other fathers, was a believer in the larger hope.” It cannot be said that he has left anything positive in relation to the subject, though it is probable that Chambre and Allin have correctly characterized him. He wrote a Greek epistle to the Corinthians which was lost for centuries, but was often quoted by subsequent writers, and whose contents were therefore only known in fragments. It was probably written before John’s Gospel. It was at length found complete, bound with the Alexandrian codex. It was read in church before and at the time of Eusebius, and even as late as the Firth Century.
Polycarp, a Destructionist.
Polycarp was bishop of the church in Smyrna, A.D. 108-117. He is thought to have been John’s disciple. Irenæus tells us that he and Ignatius were friends of Peter and John, and related what they had told them. His only surviving epistle contains this passage: To Christ “all things are made subject, both that are in heaven and that are on earth; whom every living creature shall worship; who shall come to judge the quick and the dead; whose blood God shall require of them that believe not in him.” He also says in the same chapter: “He who raised up Christ from the dead, will also raise us up if we do his will,” implying that the resurrection depended, as he thought, on conduct in this life. It seems probable that he was one of those who held to the Pharisaic doctrine of a partial resurrection. And yet this is only the most probable conjecture. There is nothing decisive in his language. When the proconsul Statius Quadratus wrote to Polycarp, threatening him with burning, the saint replied “Thou threatenest me with a fire that burns for an hour, and is presently extinct, but art ignorant, alas! of the fire of aioniancondemnation, and the judgment to come, reserved for the wicked in the other world.” After Polycarp there was no literature, that has descended to us, for several years, except a few quotations in later writings, which, however, contain nothing bearing on our theme, from Papias, Quadratus, Agrippa, Castor, etc.
“The Martyrdom of Polycarp” purports to be a letter from the church of Smyrna reciting the particulars of his death. But though it is the earliest of the Martyria, it is supposed to have a much later date than it alleges, and much has been interpolated by its transcribers. Eusebius omits much of it. It speaks of the fire that is “aionionpunishment,” and it is probable that the writer gave these terms the same sense that is given them by the Scriptures, Origen, Gregory and other Universalist writings and authors.
Tatian states the doctrine of endless punishment very strongly. He was a philosophical Platonist more than a Christian. He was a heathen convert and repeats the heathen doctrines in language unknown to the New Testament though common enough in heathen works. He calls punishment “death through punishment in immortality,” 4 terms used by Josephus and the Pagans, but never found in the New Testament. His “Diatessaron,” a collection of the Gospels, is of real value in determining the existence of the Gospels in the Second Century.
Barnabas’s “Way of Death.”
The Epistle of Barnabas was written by an Alexandrian Gnostic, probably about A.D. 70 to 120, not, as has been claimed, by Paul’s companion, and yet some of the best authorities think the author of the Epistle was the friend of Paul. Though often quoted by the ancients, the first four and a half chapters of the Epistle were only known in a Latin version until the entire Greek was discovered and published in 1863. It is the only Christian composition written while the New Testament was being written, except the “Wisdom of Solomon.” It is of small intrinsic value, and sheds but little light on eschatology. The first perfect manuscript was found with the Sinaitic manuscript of Tischendorf, a translation of which is given by Samuel Sharpe. (Williams & Norgate, London, 1880.) It was the first document after the New Testament to apply aionios to punishment; but there is nothing in the connection to show that it was used in any other than its Scriptural sense, indefinite duration. It is quoted by Origen on Cont. Cels., and by Clement of Alexandria. It is chiefly remarkable for standing alone among writings contemporary with the New Testament. The phrase, eis ton aiona, “to the age,” mistranslated in the New Testament “forever” (though correctly rendered in the margin of the Revision), is employed by Barnabas and applied to the rewards of goodness and the evil consequences of ill doing. He says, “The way of the Black one is an age-lasting way of death and punishment,” but the description accompanying shows that the Way and its results are confined to this life, for he precedes it by disclaiming all questions of eschatology. He says: “If I should write to you about things that are future you would not understand.” And when he speaks of God he says: “He is Lord from ages and to ages, but he (Satan) is prince of the present time of wickedness.” Long duration but not strict eternity seems to have been in his mind when he referred to the consequences of wickedness. This is confirmed by the following language: “He that chooseth those (evil) things will be destroyed together with his works. For the sake of this there will be a resurrection, for the sake of this a repayment. The day is at hand in which all things will perish together with the evil one. The Lord is at hand and his reward.” Barnabas probably held the Scriptural view of punishment, long-lasting but limited, though he employs timoria (torment) instead of kolasis (correction) for punishment.
The Shepherd or Pastor of Hermas.
In the middle of the Second Century, say A.D. 141 to 156, a book entitled the “Shepherd,” or “Pastor of Hermas,” was read in the churches, and was regarded as almost equal to the Scriptures. The author was commissioned to write it by Clemens Romanus. Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius and Athanasius quote from it, and rank it among the sacred writings. Clement says it is “divinely expressed,” and Origin calls it “divinely inspired.” Irenæus designates the book as “The Scripture.” According to Rothe, Hefele, and the editors of Bib. Max. Patrum, Hermas teaches the possibility of repentance after death, but seems to imply the annihilation of the wicked. Farrar says that the parable of the tower “certainly taught a possible amelioration after death: for a possibility of repentance and so of being built into the tower is granted to some of the rejected stones.” The “Pastor” does not avow Universalism, but he is much further from the eschatology of the church for the last fifteen centuries, than from universal restoration. Only fragments of this work were preserved for a long time, and they were in a Latin translation, until 1859, when one-fourth of the original Greek was discovered. This, with the fragments previously possessed, and the æthiopic version, give us the full text of this ancient document. The book is a sort of Ante-Nicene Pilgrim’s Progress–an incoherent imitation of Revelation.5 The theology of the “Shepherd” can be gauged from his language: “Put on, therefore, gladness, that hath always favor before God, and is acceptable to him, and delight thyself in it; for every man that is glad doeth the things that are good, but thinketh good thoughts, despising grief.” How different this sentiment from that which prevailed later, when saints mortified body and soul, and made religion the apotheosis of melancholy and despair.
Of some fifteen epistles ascribed to Ignatius, it has been settled by modern scholarship that seven are genuine. There are passages in these that seem to indicate that he believed in the annihilation of the wicked. He was probably a convert from heathenism who had not gotten rid of his former opinions. He says: “It would have been better for them to love that they might rise.” If he believed in a partial resurrection he could not have used words that denote endless consequences to sin any more than did Origen, for if annihilation followed those consequences, they must be limited. When Ignatius and Barnabas speak of “eternal” punishment or death, we might perhaps suppose that they regarded the punishment of sin as endless, did we not find that Origen and other Universalists used the same terms, and did we not know that the Scriptures do the same. To find aionion attached to punishment proves nothing of its duration. In his Epist. ad Trall., he says that Christ descended into Hades and cleft theaionion barrier.
Ignatius Probably a Destructionist.
It seems on the whole probable that while Ignatius did not dogmatize on human destiny, he regarded the resurrection as conditional. But here, as elsewhere, the student should remember that the pernicious doctrine of “reserve” or “oeconomy” continually controlled the minds of the early Christian teachers, so that they not only withheld their real views of the future, lest ignorant people should take advantage of God’s goodness, but threatened consequences of sin to sinners, in order to supply the inducements that they thought the masses of people required to deter them from sin. Dr. Ballou thinks that this father held that the wicked “will not be raised from the dead, but exist hereafter as incorporeal spirits.” He was martyred A.D. 107.
Justin Martyr’s Views.
Justin Martyr, A.D. 89-166, is the first scholar produced by the Church, and the first conspicuous father the authenticity of whose writings is not disputed. His surviving works are his two Apologies, and his Dialogue with Trypho. It is difficult to ascertain his exact views. Cave says: “Justin Martyr maintains that the souls of good men are not received into heaven until the resurrection * * * that the souls of the wicked are thrustinto a worse condition, where they expect the judgment of the great day.” Justin himself says that “the punishment is age-long chastisement (aionion kolasin) and not for a thousand years as Plato says, “(in Phoedra). “It is unlimited; men are chastised for an unlimited period, and the kingdom is aionion and the chastening fire (kolasis puros)aionion, too. * * * “God delays the destruction of the world, which will cause wicked angels and demons and men to cease to exist, in order to their repentance. * * * Some which appeared worthy of God never die, others are punished as long as God wills them to exist and be punished. * * * Souls both die and are punished.” He calls the fire of punishment unquenchable (asbeston). He sometimes seems to have taught a pseudo-Universalism, that is, the salvation of all who should be permitted to be immortal; at other times endless punishment. Again he favors universal salvation. He not only condemned those who forbade the reading of the Sibylline Oracles, but commended the book. His language is, “We not only read them without fear, but offer them for inspection, knowing that they will appear well-pleasing to all.” As the Oracles distinctly advocate universal salvation, it is not easy to believe that Justin discarded their teachings. And yet he says: “If the death of wicked men had ended in insensibility,” it would have been a “god-send” to them. Instead, he says, death is followed by aionionpunishment. If he used the word as Origen did, the two statements are reconcilable with each other. Justin taught a “general and everlasting resurrection and judgment. Body and soul are to be raised and the wicked with the devil and his angels, and demons, sent to Gehenna. 6 * * * Christ has declared that Satan and his host, together with those men who follow him, shall be sent into fire, and punished for an endless period.7” But it may be that he speaks rhetorically, and not literally. It is the general opinion, however, that he regarded punishment as limited, to be followed by annihilation. He himself says: “The soul, therefore, partakes of life, because God wills it should live; and, accordingly, it will not partake of life whenever God shall will that it should not live.” And yet he says that bodies are consumed in the fire, and at the same time remain immortal.
Justin was a heathen philosopher before his conversion, and his Christianity is of a mongrel type. He wore a pagan philosopher’s robe, or pallium, after his conversion, calls himself a Platonist, and always seems half a heathen. His effort appears to be to fuse Christianity and Paganism, and it is not easy to harmonize his statements. His Pagan idiosyncrasies colored his Christianity. But, as Farrar says, the theology of the first one or two centuries had not been crystallized, the “language was fluid and untechnical, and great stress should not be laid on the expressions of the earliest fathers. He nowhere calls punishment endless, but aionion; and yet it can not be proved that he was at all aware of the true philosophic meaning of aionios as a word expressive of quality, and exclusive of–or rather the absolute antithesis to–time. He says that demons and wicked men will be punished for a boundless age (aperanto aiona), but in some passages he seems to be at least uncertain whether God may not will that evil souls should cease to exist.” 8 When Justin says that transgressors are to remain deathless (athanata) while devoured by the worm and fire, may he not mean that they cannot die while thus exposed? So, too, when he used the word aionios, and says the sinner must undergo punishment during that period, why not read literally “for ages, and not as Plato said, for a thousand years only?”
When, therefore, these terms are found unexplained, as in Justin Martyr, they should be read in the bright light cast upon them by the interpretations of Clement and Origen, who employ them as forcibly as does Justin, but who explain them–“eternal fire” and “everlasting punishment”–as in perfect harmony with the great fact of universal restoration. Doctor Farrar regards Justin Martyr as holding “views more or less analogous to Universalism. 9”
We cannot do better here than to quote H. Ballou, 2d D.D.:
“The question turns on the construction of a single passage. Justin had argued that souls are not, in their own nature, immortal, since they were created, or begotten; and whatever thus begins to exist, may come to an end. ‘But, still, I do not say that souls wholly die; for that would truly be good fortune to the bad. What then? The souls of the pious dwell in a certain better place; but those of the unjust and wicked, in a worse place, expecting the time of judgment. Thus, those who are judged of God to be worthy, die no more; but the others are punished as long as God shall will that they should exist and be punished. * * * For, whatever is, or ever shall be, subsequent to God, has a corruptible nature, and is such as may be abolished and cease to exist. God alone is unbegotten and incorruptible, and, therefore, he is God; but everything else, subsequent to him, is begotten and corruptible. For this reason, souls both die and are punished.” 10
Punishment Not Endless.
The Epistle to Diognetus.–This letter was long ascribed to Justin Martyr, but it is now generally regarded as anonymous. It was written not far from A.D. 100, perhaps by Marcion, possibly by Justin Martyr. It is a beautiful composition, full of the most apostolic spirit. It has very little belonging to our theme, except that at the close of Chapter X it speaks of “those who shall be condemned to the aionion fire which shall chastise those who are committed to it even unto an end,” 11 (mechri telous). Even if aionion usually meant endless, it is limited here by the word “unto” which has the force of until, as doesaidios in Jude 6,–“aidios chains under darkness, unto (or until) the judgment of the great day.” Such a limited chastisement, it would seem, could only be believed in by one who regarded God as Diognetus’s correspondent did, as one who “still is, was always, and ever will be kind and good, and free from wrath.”
This brief passage shows us that at the beginning of the Second Century Christians dwelt upon the severity of the penalties of sin, but supplemented them by restoration wherever they had occasion to refer to the ultimate outcome. A few years later (as will appear further on) when Christianity was systematized by Clement and Origen, this was fully shown, and explains the obscurities, and sometimes the apparent incongruities of earlier writers. The lovely spirit and sublime ethics of this epistle foreshadow the Christian theology so soon to be fully developed by Clement and Origen. Bunsen thinks (Hipp. and His Age, I, pp. 170, 171) the letter “indisputably, after Scripture, the finest monument we know of sound Christian feeling, noble courage, and manly eloquence.”
Irenæus (A.D. 120, died 202) was a friend of Ignatius, and says that in his youth he saw Polycarp, who was contemporary with John. He had known several who had personally listened to the apostles. His principle work, “Against Heresies,” was written A.D., 182 to 188. No complete copy of it exists in the original Greek: only a Latin translation is extant, though a part of the first book is found in Greek in the copious quotations from it in the writings of Hippolytus and Epiphanius. Its authority is weakened by the wretched Latin in which most of it stands. One fact, however, is incontrovertible: he did not regard Universalism as among the heresies of his times, for he nowhere condemns it, though the doctrine is contained in the “Sibylline Oracles,” then in general use, and though he mentions the doctrine without disapproval in his description of the theology of the Carpocratians.
Interesting Exposition of Irenæus.
Irenæus has been quoted as teaching that the Apostles’ creed was meant to inculcate endless punishment, because in a paraphrase of that document he says that the Judge, at the final assize, will cast the wicked into “eternal” fire. But the terms he uses are “ignem aeternum” (aionion pur.) As just stated, though he reprehends the Carpocratians for teaching the transmigration of souls, he declares without protest that they explain the text “until thou pay the uttermost farthing,” as inculcating the idea that “all souls are saved.” Irenæus says: “God drove Adam out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, in compassion for him, that he might not remain a transgressor always, and that the sin in which he was involved might not be immortal, nor be without end and incurable. He prevented further transgression by the interposition of death, and by causing sin to cease by the dissolution of the flesh * * * that man ceasing to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.”
The Creed or Irenæus.
Irenæus states the creed of the church in his day, A.D. 160, as a belief in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensation of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, and his manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father ‘to gather all things in one,” (Eph. 1:10) and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess to him,'(Phil. ii:10,11) and that he should execute just judgment towards all; that he may send ‘spiritual wickedness,’ (Eph. vi:12) and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly and unrighteous, and wicked and profane among men, intoaionion fire; and may in the exercise of his grace, confer immortality upon the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept his commandments, and have persevered in his love, some from the beginning, and others from their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.”
The reader must not forget that the use of the phrase, aionion fire, does not give any color to the idea that Irenæus taught endless punishment, for Origen, Clement, Gregory Nyssen, and other Universalists conveyed their ideas of punishment by the use of the same terms, and held that salvation is beyond, and even by means of the aionion fire and punishment.
Probably a Universalist.
Schaff admits that the opinions of Irenaeus are doubtful from his (Schaff’s) orthodox standpoint and says: 12 “In the fourth Pfaffian fragment ascribed to him (Stieren I, 889) he says that ‘Christ will come at the end of time to destroy all evil—-and to reconcile all things– from Col. i:20–that there may be an end of all impurity.’ This passage, like I. Cor. xv:28, and Col. i:20, looks toward universal restoration rather than annihilation,” but good, orthodox Dr. Schaff admits that it, like the Pauline passages, allows an interpretation consistent with eternal punishment. (See the long note in Stieren.) Dr. Beecher writes that Irenæus “taught a final restitution of all things to unity and order by the annihilation of all the finally impenitent. * * * The inference from this is plain. He did not understand aionios in the sense of eternal; but in the sense claimed by Prof. Lewis, that is, ‘pertaining to the world to come,'” not endless. Irenæus thought “that man should not last forever as a sinner and that the sin which was in him might not be immortal and infinite and incurable.”
Says Bunsen: “The eternal decree of redemption, is, to Irenæus, throughout, an act of God’s love. The atonement, is, according to him, a satisfaction paid, not to God, but to the Devil, under whose power the human mind and body were lying. But the Devil himself only serves God’s purpose, for nothing can resist to the last, the Almighty power of divine love, which works not by constraint (the Devil’s way) but by persuasion.13 The different statements of Irenæus are hard to reconcile with each other, but a fair inference from his language seems to be that he hovered between the doctrines of annihilation and endless punishment, and yet learned not a little hopefully to that of restoration. He certainly says that death ends sin, which forecloses all idea of endless torments. It is probable that the fathers differed, as their successors have since differed, according to antecedent and surrounding influences, and their own idiosyncrasies.
Of Christian writers up to date, all assert future punishment, seven apply the word rendered everlasting (aionios) to it; three, certainly did not regard it as endless, two holding to annihilation and one to universal restoration. Remembering, however, the doctrine of Reserve, we can by no means be certain that the heathen words used denoting absolute endlessness were not used “pedagogically,” to deter sinners from sin.
Quadratus.–Quadratus, A.D. 131, addressed an Apology to the Emperor Adrian, a fragment of which survives, but there is no word in it relating to the final condition of mankind.
The Clementine Homilies, once thought to have been written by Clement of Rome, but properly entitled by Baur “Pseudo Clementine,” the work of some Gnostic Christian–teach the final triumph of good. One passage speaks of the destruction of the wicked by the punishment of fire, “punished with aionion fire,” but this is more than canceled by other passages in which it is clearly taught that the Devil is but a temporal evil, a servant of good, and agent of God, who, with all his evil works, are finally to be transformed into good. On the one hand, the Devil is not properly an evil, but a God-serving being; on the other, there is a final transformation of the Devil, of the evil into good. The sentiments of the Homilies seem, however, somewhat contradictory.
It is an important consideration not always realized, when studying the opinions that prevailed in the primitive church, that the earliest copies of the Gospels were not in existence until A.D. 60; that the first Epistle written by Paul–1st Thessalonians–was not written till A.D. 52; that the New Testament canon was not completed until A.D. 170; that for a long time the only Christian Bible was the Old Testament; 14 that the account of the judgment in Matt. xxv is never referred to in the writings of the apostolic fathers, who probably never saw or heard of it till towards the end of the Second Century; and, therefore, when considering the opinions of the fathers for at least a century and a half, we must in all cases interpret them by the Old Testament, which scholars of all churches concede does not reveal the doctrine of endless woe. Probably not a single Christian writer heretofore quoted ever saw a copy of the Gospels.
Athenagoras and Theophilus.
Athenagoras wrote an “Apology,” about A.D. 178, and a “Treatise on the Resurrection.” He was a scholar and a philosopher, and made great efforts to convert the heathen to Christianity. He declared that there shall be a judgment, the award of which shall be distributed according to conduct; but he nowhere refers to the duration of punishment. He was, however, the head of the Catechetical school in Alexandria, before Pantænus, and must have shared the Universalist views of Pantænus, Clement and Origen, his successors.
Theophilus (A.D. 180). This author has left a “Treatise” in behalf of Christianity, addressed to Autolycus, a learned heathen. He uses current language on the subject of punishment, but says: “Just as a vessel, which, after it has been made, has some flaw, is remade or remodeled, that it may become new and right, so it comes to man by death. For, in some way or other he is broken up, that he may come forth in the resurrection whole, I mean spotless, and righteous, and immortal.”
The preceding writers were “orthodox,” but there were at the same time Gnostic Christians, none of whose writings remain except in quotations contained in orthodox authors, with the exception of a few fragments. They seem to have amalgamated Christianity with Orientalism. But they have been so misrepresented by their opponents that it is very difficult to arrive at their real opinions on all subjects. Happily they speak distinctly on human destiny.
1 Dr. Alvah Hovey, State of the Impenitent Dead, pp. 131, 2.
2 Anc. Hist. Univ., Note.
3 Univer. Assorted, p. 105.
5 Bunsen, Hipp. and His Age, Vol. I, p. 182
6 Apol. 1, 8.
7 But Gregory Nyssen the Universalist par excellence, says that Gehenna is a purifying agency. So does Origen.
8 Lives of the Fathers, p. 112.
9 Eternal Hope, p. 84.
10 Univer. Quar., July, 1846, pp. 299, 300.
11 Migne, II, p. 1184.
12 Vol. I, p. 490.
13 Longfellow gives expression to the same thought:
“It is Lucifer, Son of Mystery
And since God suffers him to be,
He, too, is God’s minister
And labors for some good
By us not understood.”
14 Westcott Int. to Gospels, p. 181.
Three Gnostic Sects.
Three Gnostic sects flourished nearly simultaneously in the Second Century, all which accepted universal salvation: the Basilidians, the Valentinians, and the Carpocratians.
The Basilidians were followers of Basilides, who lived about A.D. 117-138. He was a Gnostic Christian and an Egyptian philosopher. He wrote an alleged Gospel–exegetical rather than historical–no trace of which remains. As some of his theories did not agree with those generally advocated by Christians, he and his followers were regarded as heretics and their writings were destroyed, though no evidence exists to show that their view of human destiny was obnoxious. Greek philosophy and Christian faith are mingled in the electicism of the Basilidians. Basilides taught that man’s universal redemption will result from the birth and death of Christ. According to the “Dictionary of Christian Biography,” 1 Hippolytus gives an exposition of the mystic Christian sect. Basilides himself was a sincere Christian, and “the first Gnostic teacher who has left an individual, personal stamp upon the age.” 2 He accepted the entire Gospel narrative, and taughtthat the wicked will be condemned to migrate into the bodies of men or animals until purified, when they will be saved with all the rest of mankind. He did not pretend that his ideas of transmigration were obtained from the Scriptures but affirmed that he derived them from philosophy. He held that the doctrines of Christianity have a two-fold character–one phrase simple, popular, obtained from the plain reading of the New Testament; the other sublime, secret, mysteriously imparted to favored ones. His system was a sort of Egyptian metempsychosis grafted on Christianity, an Oriental mysticism endeavoring to stand on a Christian foundation, and thus solve the problem of human destiny. Man and nature are represented as struggling upwards. “The restoration of all things that in the beginning were established in the seed of the universe shall be restored in their own season.”
Irenæus charges the Basilidians with immortality, but Clement, who knew them better, denies it, and defends them. 3
The Carpocratians were followers of Carpocrates, a Platonic philosopher, who incorporated some of the elements of the Christian religion into his system of philosophy. The sect flourished in Egypt and vicinity early in the Second Century. Like the Basilidians they called themselves Gnostics, and inculcated a somewhat similar set of theories. Irenæus says that the Carpocratians explained the text: “Thou shalt not go out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,” as teaching “that no one can escape from the power of those angels who made the world, but that he must pass from body to body until he has experience of every kind of action which can be practiced in this world, and when nothing is wanting longer to him, then his liberated soul should soar upwards to that God who is above the angels, the makers of the world. In this way all souls are saved,” etc. But while Irenæus calls the Carpocratians a heretical sect, and denounces some of their tenets, he had no hard words for their doctrine of man’s final destiny.
The Valentinians (A.D. 130) taught that all souls will be finally admitted to the realms of bliss. They denied the resurrection of the body. Their doctrines were widely disseminated in Asia, Africa and Europe, after the death of their Egyptian founder, Valentine. They resembled the teachings of Basilides in efforts to solve the problem of human destiny philosophically. Valentine flourished, in Rome from A.D. 129 to 132. A devout Christian, and a man of the highest genius, he was never accused of anything worse than heresy. He was “a pioneer in Christian theology.” His was an attempt to show, in dramatic form, how “the work of universal redemption is going on to the ever-increasing glory of the ineffable and unfathomable Father, and the ever-increasing blessedness of souls.” There was a germ of truth in the hybrid Christian theogony and Hellenic philosophizing that made up Valentinianism. It was a struggle after the only view of human destiny that can satisfy the human heart.
These three sects were bitterly opposed by the “orthodox” fathers in some of their tenets, but their Universalism was never condemned.
Phases of Gnosticism.
It would be interesting to give an exposition of the Gnosticism that for some of the earlier centuries agitated the Christian Church; it will suffice for our purpose here to say that its manifold phases were attempts to reach satisfactory conclusions on the great subjects of man’s relations to his Maker, to his fellow-men, to himself, and to the universe–to solve the problems of time and eternity. The Gnostic philosophers in the church show the results of blending the Oriental, the Jewish, and the Platonic philosophies with the new religion. “Gnosticism, 4 was a philosophy of religion,” and Christian Gnosticism was an effort to explain the new revelation philosophically. But there were Gnostics and Gnostics. Some of the Christian Fathers used the term reproachfully, and others appropriated it as one of honor. Gnosis, knowledge, philosophy applied to religion, was deemed all-important by Clement, Origen, and the most prominent of the Fathers. Mere Gnostics were only Pagan philosophers, but Christian Gnostics were those who accepted Christ as the author of a new and divine revelation, and interpreted it by those principles that had long antedated the religion of Jesus.5 “The Gnostics were the first regular commentators on the New Testament. * * * The Gnostics were also the first practitioners of the higher criticism. * * * It (Gnosticism) may be regarded as a half-way house, though which many Pagans, like Ambrosius or St. Augustine, found their way into the church.” (“Neoplatonism, by Rev. Dr. Charles Bigg.) The Valentinians, Basilidians, Carpocratians, Manichæans, Marcionites and others were Christian Gnostics; but Clement, Origen and the great Alexandrians and their associates were Gnostic Christians. In fact, the Gnostic theories sought a solution of the problem of evil; to answer the question, “Can the world as we know it have been made by God?” “Cease,” says Basilides, 6 “from idle and curious variety, and let us rather discuss the opinions which even barbarians have held on the subject of good and evil. * * * I will say anything rather than admit Providence is wicked.” Valentinus declared, “I dare not affirm that God is the author of all this.” Tertullian says that Marcion, like many men of our time, and especially the heretics, “is bewildered by the question of evil.” The generally accepted Gnostic view was that while the good would at death ascend to dwell with the Father, the wicked would pass through transformations until purified.
Says Prof. Allen: “Gnosticism is a genuine and legitimate outgrowth of the same general movement of thought that shaped the Christian dogma. Quite evidently it regarded itself as the true interpreter of the Gospel.” Baur quotes a German writer as giving a full exposition of one of the latest attempts “to bring back Gnosticism to a greater harmony with the spirit of Christianity.” Briefly, sophia (wisdom), as the type of mankind, falls, rises, and is united to the eternal Good. Baur says that Gnosticism declares that “either through conversion and amendment, or through utter annihilation, evil is to disappear, and the final goal of the whole world process is to be reached, viz., the purification of the universe from all that is unworthy and perverted.” Harnack says that Gnosticism “aimed at the winning of a world-religion. The Gnostics were the theologians of the First Century; they were the first to transform Christianity into a system of doctrines (dogmas). They essayed * * * to conquer Christianity for Hellenic culture and Hellenic culture from Christianity.”7
Differing from the so-called “orthodox” Christians on many points, the three great Gnostic sects of the Second Century were in full agreement with Clement and Origen and the Alexandrine school, and probably with the great majority of Christians, in their views on human destiny. They taught the ultimate holiness and happiness of the human family, and it is noteworthy that though all the Gnostics advocated the final salvation of all souls, and though the orthodox fathers savagely attacked them on many points, they never reckoned their Universalism as a fault. This doctrine was not obnoxious to either orthodox or heterodox in the early centuries.
1 Vol. I, pp. 271, 2.
2 Bunsen’s Hipp. and His Age, Vol. I, p. 107.
3 T he standard authorities on the subject of Gnosticism are Neander, Baur, Matter, Bigg, Mansel (Gnostic Heresies).
4 Baur, Ch. Hist. First Three Cent., I, pp. 184-200. Baring Gould’s Lost and Hostile Gospels, p. 278.
5 Mansel, Baur, etc.
6 Stieren’s Irenæus V, 901-3. Clem. Strom. IV, 12.
7 Outlines of the Hist. of Dogma, pp. 58,9.
The Sibylline Oracles.
The oldest Christian document since the New Testament, explicitly avowing the doctrine of universal restoration, is the “Sibylline Oracles.”1 Different portions of this composition were written at different dates, from 181 B.C. to 267 A.D. The portion expressing universal salvation was written by an Alexandrine Christian, about A.D. 80, and the “Oracles” were in general circulation from A.D. 100 onward, and are referred to with great consideration for many centuries subsequently.
The Righteous Pray for the Wicked.
After describing the destruction of the world, which Sibyl prophesies, and the consignments of the wicked to aionion torment, such as our Lord teaches in Matt. xxv: 46, the blessed inhabitants of heaven are represented as being made wretched by the thought of the sufferings of the lost, and as beseeching God with united voice to release them. God accedes to their request, and delivers them from their torment and bestows happiness upon them. The “Oracles” declare: “The omnipotent, incorruptible God shall confer another favor on his worshipers, when they shall ask him. He shall save mankind from the pernicious fire and immortal (athanaton) agonies. * * * Having gathered them and safely secured them from the unwearied flame, * * * he shall send them, for his people’s sake, into another and æonian life with the immortals on the Elysian plain, where flow perpetually the long dark waves of the deep sea of Acheron.” 2
The punishments of the wicked are here described in the strongest possible terms; they are “eternal,” (aionion), “immortal” (athanaton), and yet it is declared that at the request of the righteous, God will deliver them from those torments.
The Sibyl anticipates the poet Whittier:
“Still thy love, O Christ arisen,
Yearns to reach those souls in prison;
Through all depths of sin and loss
Drops the plummet of thy cross;
Never yet abyss was found
Deeper than that cross could sound;
Deep below as high above
Sweeps the circle of God’s love.”
Holmes expresses the same sentiment:
“What if (a) spirit redeemed, amid the host
Of chanting angels, in some transient lull
Of the eternal anthem heard the cry
Of its lost darling. * * *
Would it not long to leave the bliss of heaven
Bearing a little water in its hand,
To moisten those poor lips that plead in vain
With him we call Our Father?”
This famous document was quoted by Athenagoras, Theophilus, Justin Martyr, Lactantius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Augustine. Clement calls the author “the prophetess.”
As late as the Middle Ages the “Oracles” was well known, and its author was ranked with David. When Thomas of Celano composed the great Hymn of the Judgment, he said:
“Dies Iræ, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla,”–
“the dreadful day of wrath shall dissolve the world into ashes, as David and the Sibyl testify.”
The best scholars concede the Universalism of the “Oracles.” Says Musardus,3 the “Oracles” teach “that the damned shall be liberated after they shall have endured infernal punishments for many ages, * * * which was an error of Origen.” And Opsopoeus adds 4 “that the ‘Oracles’ teach that the wicked suffering in hell (Gehenna) after a certain period, and through expiations of griefs, would be released from punishments, which was the opinion of Origen,” etc. Hades, and all things and persons are cast into unquenchable fire for purification; that is, the fire is unquenchable until it has accomplished its purpose of purification. Gehenna itself, as Origen afterwards insisted, purifies and surrenders its prisoners. The wicked are to suffer “immortal” agonies and then be saved.
The Oracles are Early Christian Classics.
Dr. Westcott remarks of the “Oracles:” “They stand alone as an attempt to embrace all history, even it its details, in one great, theocratic view, and to regard the kingdoms of the world as destined to from provinces in a future Kingdom of God.”
While the views of retribution are not elevated, and represent the punishment of the wicked as in literal fire, and not a moral discipline, such as Origen taught, they clearly teach universal salvation beyond all æonian, even athanaton suffering. A noted writer 5declares: “The doctrine of Universalism is brought forward in more than one passage of this piece;” though elsewhere Dr. Deane misstates, inconsistently enough, the language of the Sibyl, thus: “God, hearkening to the prayers of the saints, shall save some from the pains of hell.” He mistranslates anthropois into “some” instead of “mankind,” the meaning of the word, in order to show that Sibyl “does not, like Origen, believe in universal salvation.” And yet he is forced at add: “This notion of the salvation of any is opposed to the sentiment elsewhere expressed * * * where in picturing the torments of hell the writer asserts that there is no place for repentance or any mercy or hope.” But Dr. Deane forgets that the acknowledged Universalists of the early church employed equally strong terms concerning the duration of punishment. The use of the terms signifying endless torment employed by the Sibyl, as by Origen and others, did not preclude the idea of the ultimate salvation of those thus punished. Origen taught that the most stubborn sins will be “extinguished” by the “eternal fire,” just as Sibyl says the wicked perish in “immortal” fire and are subsequently saved.
Sir John Floyer’s Blunder.
In line with Deane’s strange contradictions may be mentioned another of the many curiosities of criticism. An English prose version of the Sibyl’s Homeric hexameters was made in 1713 by Sir John Floyer.6 He denies that the “Oracles” teach universal salvation at all, but it order to sustain his position he omits to translate one word, and mistranslates another! He renders the entire passage thus: “The Almighty and incorruptible God shall grant this also to the righteous when they shall pray to him; that he will preserve them (literally save mankind, anthropois sosai) from the pernicious fire and everlasting gnashing of teeth; and this will he do when he gathers the faithful from the eternal fire, placing them in another region, he shall send them by his own angels into another life, which will be eternal to them that are immortal, in the Elysian fields,” etc.
It is only by rendering the words denoting “save mankind,” “deliver them,” that he makes his point. A correct rendering coincides with the declarations of most scholars, that universal salvation is taught in this unique document.
The Sibyl declares that the just and the unjust pass through “unquenchable fire,” and that all things, even Hades, are to be purified by the divine fire. And after the unjust have been released from Hades, they are committed to Gehenna, and then at the desire of the righteous, they are to be removed thence to “a life eternal for immortals.” (B. II, vv: 211-250-340).
Augustine (De Civ. Dei. B., XVIII) cited the famous acrostic on the Savior’s name as a proof that the Sibyl foretold the coming of Jesus. And it is curious to note that in his “City of God,” when stating that certain “merciful doctors” denied the eternity of punishment, he gives the same reasons they assign for their belief that the Sibyl names. He quotes the “merciful doctors” as saying that Christians in this world possess the disposition to forgive their enemies, they will not lay aside those traits at death, but will pity, forgive, and pray for the wicked. The redeemed will unite in this prayer and will not God feel pity, and answer the prayer in which all the saved unite? Augustine presents these unanswerable objections, and devotes many pages to a very feeble reply to them.
So fully did the Christians of the First Century recognize the “Oracles,” and appeal to them, that they were frequently styled the Sibylists. Celsus applied the word to them, and Origen, though he accepted the Sibyl’s teachings concerning destiny, objected that the term was not justly applied. This he does in “Ag. Cels.” V. 61. Clement of Alexandria not only calls the Sibyl a prophetess, but her “Oracles” a saving hymn.
Lactantius cited fifty passages from the Sibyl in his evidences of Christianity.
No book, not even the New Testament, exerted a wider influence on the first centuries of the church, than the “Sibylline Oracles.”
Quite a literature of the subject exists in the periodical publications of the past few years, but there are very few references to the Universalism of the “Oracles.” The “Edinburgh Review” (July, 1867) is an exception. It states that the “Oracles” declare “the Origenist belief of a universal restoration (V. 33) of all men, even to the unjust, and the devils themselves.” The “Oracles” are specially valuable in showing the opinions of the first Christians after the apostles, and, as they aim to convert Pagans to Christ, and employ this doctrine as one of the weapons, it must at that time have been considered a prominent Christian tenet, and the candid student is forced to conclude that they give expression to the prevalent opinion of those days on the subject of human destiny.
The reader must not fail to observe that the “Sibylline Oracles” explicitly state the deliverance of the damned from the torments of hell. They repeatedly call the suffering everlasting, even “immortal,” yet declare that it shell end in the restoration of the lost.
2 B. VIII. ii, verses 195-340 Ed. Opsopoei, Paris: 1667.
3 Historia Deorum Fatidicorum, Vaturn Sibyllorum, etc., p. 184: (1675.) Dicit damnatos liberandos postquam poenas infernales per aliquot secula erunt perpessi, qui Origenis fuit error.
4 Notes (p. 27) to Bib. Orac (Paris:1607). “Impii gehennæ supplicio addicti post certi temporis metas et peccatorum per dolores expiationem, ex poenis liberentur. Quæ sententia fuit Origenis, etc.”
5 William J. Deane, Pseudepigrapha, p. 329.
6 “The Sibylline Oracles, Translated from the Best Greek Copies and Compared with the Sacred Prophecies.”
PANTæNUS AND CLEMENT.
There is nothing known to exist from the pen of Pantænus, but we learn from Eusebius that his distinguished scholar and teacher was at the head of the Catechetical school in Alexandria as early as A.D. 100-120. Tradition asserts that it was founded by the apostles. 1 Jerome says, “a Marco Evangelista sempher ecclesiastici fuere doctores.” It had been up to the time of Pantænus a school of proselytes, but he made it a theological seminary, and so was the real founder of the Catechetical institution.2
Pantænus, the “Sicilian Bee.”
Pantænus was a convert from Stoicism, and is described by Clement, Jerome, and others as a man of superior learning and abilities. Clement calls him “that Sicilian bee gathering the spoil of the flowers of the prophetic and apostolic meadow;” “the deepest Gnostic,” by which he means “the deepest philosophical Christian, the man who best understood and practiced Scripture.” It could not be otherwise than that the teacher of Clement cherished the religious views with which his great disciple was graduated, for of Pantænus, Clement says: “I know what is the weakness of these reflections, if I compare them with the gifted and gracious teaching I was privileged to hear.” Some of his writings are alluded to, but though nothing remains, yet in Clement, who was inspired by him, he gave to the church a priceless legacy.
A.D. 189 Pantænus went on a missionary tour to India, and Eusebius says that while there he found the seeds of the Christian faith that had been sown by previous missionaries, and that he brought home with him the Gospel of Matthew, in Hebrew, that had been carried to India by Bartholomew. May it not be that some of the precepts of Buddhism resembling those of Christ, which the best Oriental scholars admit are of later origin than Buddha, were caught from the teachings of early Christian missionaries? Pantænus was martyred A.D. 216.
The Universalism of Clement, Origen and their successors must, beyond question, have been taught by their great predecessor, Pantaenus, and there is every reason to believe that the Alexandrine school had never known any contrary teaching, from its foundation.
The Alexandrine School.
Alexandria and its Famous School.
At this time Alexandria was the second city in the world, with a population of 600,000; its great library contained from 400,000 to 700,000 volumes; at one time 14,000 students are said to have been assembled; and it was the center of the world’s learning, culture, thought; the seekers for truth and knowledge from all climes sought inspiration at its shrines, and it was most of all in its interest to us, not only the radiating center of Christian influence, but its teachers and school made universal salvation the theme of Christian teaching.
“To those old Christians, a being who was not seeking after every single creature, and trying to raise him, could not be a being of absolute righteousness, power, love; could not be a being worthy of respect or admiration, even of philosophic speculation. The Alexandrian Christians expounded and corroborated Christianity, and adapted it to all classes and conditions of men, and made the best, perhaps the only, attempt yet made by man to proclaim a true world-philosophy * * * embracing the whole phenomena of humanity, capable of being understood and appreciated by every human being from the highest to the lowest.” The result was, “they were enabled to produce, in the lives of millions, generation after generation, a more immense moral improvement than the world had ever seen before. Their disciples did actually become righteous and good men, just in proportion as they were true to the lessons they learnt. They did for centuries work a distinct and palpable deliverance on the earth.” 3
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, 332 B.C., and it speedily became a great city. After two centuries, however, it declined, until B.C. 30 when Augustine made in an imperial city. In 196 A.D. its municipality, which had been lost for two centuries, was restored, from this time on it resumed its old prosperity, which continued until internal dissensions weakened it, and A.D. 640, after a siege of fourteen months, it was taken by the Arabs under Amru, and among other disasters the great library was destroyed. This library contained the precious manuscripts of Origen and multitudes of others that might shed great light on our theme. Abulpharagius relates that John the Grammarian, a famous peripatetic philosopher, begged Amru to give him the library. Amru forwarded the request to Omar, who replied that if the books contained the same doctrines as the Koran they were not needed; if contrary to it they ought not to be preserved, and they were therefore ordered to be burnt. Accordingly they were distributed among the 4,000 public baths of the city, where they furnished the fuel for six months!
Alexandria continued to decline until the discovery of the route to the East in 1497 ruined its commerce, and it sank to a population of 6,000. But the opening of the Mahmoudieh canal in 1820 has increased its prosperity, and it is now one of the most important cities of the world. In 1871 it had a population of 219,602. At the time of Christ, and for two hundred years after, Alexandria was at the height of its greatness. From the time of Ptolemy Soter (306-285 B.C.), the books, scholars and learning of the world were centered in this great city. The religions and philosophies of the world met here and created an intense life of thought. Jews, Christians, Pagans were gathered and met in intellectual conflict as nowhere else. It was here that Clement, Origen, and their followers exerted their best influence, and that Christianity preserved its purity for centuries.
“The north of Africa was then crowded with rich and populous cities, and formed with Egypt the granary of the world. * * * In no part of the empire had Christianity taken more deep and permanent root. * * * Africa, rather than Rome, was the parent of Latin Christianity. Tertullian was at this period the chief representative of African Christianity * * * still later Cyprian, and later still Augustine. To us, preoccupied with the modern insignificance of the Egyptian town, it requires an effort of the mind to realize that Alexandria was once the second largest city in the world, and the second greatest patriarchate of the church, the church of Clement, Origen, Athanasius and Cyril. It gives us a kind of mental shock when we recall that the land of Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine is the modern Tunis and Algiers.”
Alexandria the Christian Metropolis.
“The seat and center of Christianity during the first three centuries was Alexandria. West of Alexandria the influence of the Latins, Tertullian, Cyprian, Minucius Felix and Augustine prevailed, and their type of Christianity was warped and developed by the influence of Roman law. Maine says that in going from East to West theological speculation passed from Greek metaphysics to Roman law. The genius of Augustine, thus controlled, gave rise to Calvinism. The gloomy and precise Tertullian, the vigorous and austere Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and Augustine, the gloomiest and most materialistic of theologians, who may almost be said to have invented the hell of the Middle Ages, contributed the forces that later adulterated the genuine Christian faith. Even yet the Greek population of the Eastern church, who read the Greek Gospels as we read the English, are like the Greek fathers of the first ages of the church; they know nothing of the doctrine invented by the Latin theologians.” (Stanley’s Eastern Church, p.49.)
“In such a city as Alexandria–with its museum, its libraries, its lectures, its schools of philosophy, its splendid synagogue, its avowed atheists, its deep-thinking Oriental mystics–the Gospel would have been powerless if it had been unable to produce teachers who were capable of meeting Pagan philosophers and Jewish Philoists on their own ground. Such thinkers would refuse their attention to men who could not understand their reasonings, sympathize with their perplexities, refute their fundamental arguments, and meet them in the spirit of Christian courtesy. 4 Different instruments are needed for different ends. Where Clement of Rome might have been useless, Clement of Alexandria became deeply influential. Where a Tertullian would only have aroused contempt and indignation, an Origen won leading Pagans to the faith of Christ. From Alexandria came the refutation of Celsus; from Alexandria the defeat of Arius. It was the cradle of Christian theology.5 “There can be no doubt that the wonderful advance of Christianity among the cultivated, during the First and Second Centuries, was made bythe remarkable men who founded and maintained the Alexandrian school of Christian thought. While the common people heard gladly the simple story of the Gospel, the world’s scholars were attracted and won by the consummate learning and genius of Clement and Origen, and their coadjutors.” “Pagan thinkers would have paid attention to Clement when he spoke of Plato as truly noble and half-inspired; they would have looked on the African father as an ignorant railer, who had nothing better to say of Socrates than that he was ‘the Attic buffoon,” of Aristotle than ‘miserum Aristotelem!‘ Such arguments as Tertullian’s: It is credible because it is absurd, it is certain because it is impossible, would have been regarded as worse than useless in reasoning with philosophers.” The Alexandrine Universalists met philosophers and scholars on their own ground and conquered them with their own weapons. Under God, the agency that gave Christianity its standing and wonderful progress during the first three centuries, was the Catechetical school of Alexandria, and the saintly scholars and Christian philosophers who immortalized the famous city that was the scene of their labors. They met and surpassed the apostles of culture, and proved at the very beginning that Christianity is no less the religion of the wise and learned than of the unlettered and simple. The Universalist Church has never sufficiently recalled and celebrated the great labors and marvelous successes of the progenitors in the primitive years of Christianity.
The Alexandrine Teachers.
“Those who are truly called the fathers and founders of the Christian church were not the simpleminded fishermen of Galilee, but men who had received the highest education which could be obtained at the time, that is Greek education. * * * In Alexandria, at the time the very center of the world, it had either to vanquish the world or to vanish. * * * Christianity came no doubt from the small room in the house of Mary, where many were gathered together praying, but as early as the Second Century it became a very different Christianity in the Catechetical school of Alexandria. * * * What Clement had most at heart was not the letter but the spirit, not the historical events, but their deeper meaning in universal history.” 6
Max Muller’s Words.
Muller points out the fact that the Alexandrine “current of Christian thought was never entirely lost, but rose to the surface again and again at the most critical periods in the history of the Christian religion. Unchecked by the Council of Nicæa, A.D. 325, that ancient stream of philosophical and religious thought flows on, and we can hear the distant echoes of Alexandria in the writings of St. Basil (A.D. 329-379), Gregory of Nyssa (A.D. 332-395), Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 328-389), as well as in the works of St. Augustine (A.D. 364-430).”
The reader of the history of those times cannot help deploring the subsequent substitutions of Latin Augustinianism and its long train of errors and evils from Greek Alexandrianism, nor can the Christian student avoid wishing that the Alexandrine Christians could have been permitted to transmit their beneficent principles uncorrupted. How different would have been the Middle Ages! How far beyond its present condition would be the Christendom of today!
Clement of Alexandria.
Titus Flavius Clemens, Clemens Alexandrinus, or Clement of Alexandria–born A.D. 150, died A.D. 220–was reared in heathenism. Before his conversion to Christianity he had been thoroughly educated in Hellenic literature and philosophy. It is uncertain whether he was born in Athens of Alexandria. He became a Christian early in his adult years; was presbyter in the church in Alexandria, and in 189 he succeeded Pantænus as president of the celebrated Catechetical school in Alexandria. During the persecution by Septimius Severus in 202 he fled, and was in Jerusalem in 211. He never returned to Alexandria, but died about 220. This is all that is known of his life.
He was the father of the Alexandrine Christian Philosophy, or ancient Philosophical Christianity. Many of his works have perished; the principle ones that survive are his “Exhortation to the Heathen,” the “Teacher,” or “Pedagogue,” and “Stromata,” or “Miscellanies,” literally “Tapestries,” or freely translated “Carpet Bag.”7
It is the verdict of scholars that Clement’s “Stromata” is the greatest of all the Christian apologies except Origen’s. It starts “from the essential affinity between man and God, (and) goes on to show how, in Christianity, we have the complete restoration of the normal relation between the creature and the Creator.”
The influence of the Greek philosophers, and especially of Plato, on the Alexandrine fathers, is conceded. 8 Clement held that the true Gnostic was the perfect Christian. The Alexandrine fathers had no hostility to the word Gnostic, properly understood; to them it signified the Christian who brings reason and philosophy to bear on his faith, in contradistinction from the ignorant believer. Irenæus had declared “genuine gnosis,” or Gnosticism, to be “the doctrine of the apostles,” insisting on “the plenary use of Scripture, admitting neither addition nor curtailment, and the reading of Scripture, and legitimate and diligent preaching, according to the word of God.” And Justin had bequeathed to the Alexandrine school the central truth that the Divine Word is in the germ in every human being. This great fact was never lost sight of, but was more and more developed by the three great teachers–Pantænus, Clement and Origen.
The materialistic philosophy of Epicureanism, that happiness is the highest good and can best be procured in a well-regulated enjoyment of the pleasures of life; the Pantheistic system of Stoicism, that one should live within himself, superior to the accidents of time; the logical Aristotelianism, and the Platonism that regarded the universe as the work of a Supreme Spirit, in which man is a permanent individuality possessing a spark of the divinity that would ultimately purify him and elevate him to a higher life; and that virtue would accelerate and sin retard his upward progress–these different systems all had their votaries, but the noblest of all, the Platonic, was most influential with the Alexandrine fathers, though, like Clement, they exercised a wise and rational eclecticism, in adopting the best features of each system. This Clement claimed to do, He says: “And by philosophy I mean not the Stoic, nor the Platonic, nor the Epicurean, nor that of Aristotle; but whatever any of these sects had said that was fit and just, that taught righteousness with a divine and religious knowledge, this I call eclectic philosophy.”9
Matters of speculation he solved by philosophy, but his theology he derived from the Scriptures. He was not, therefore, a mere philosopher, but one who used philosophy as a help to the interpretation of the religion of Christ. He says; “We wait for no human testimony, but bring proof of what we assert from the Word of the Lord, which is the most trustworthy, or, rather, the only evidence.”
The thoroughly Greek mind of Clement, with his great imagination, vast learning and research, splendid ability, and divine spirit, could scarcely misinterpret or misunderstand the New Testament Scriptures, written as they were in his mother tongue, and it is not difficult to believe with Bunsen, that in this seat and center of Christian culture and Christian learning, he became “the first Christian philosopher of the history of mankind. He believed in a universal plan of a divine education of the human race. * * * This is the grand position occupied by Clemens, the Alexandrian, in the history of the church and of mankind and the key to his doctrine about God and his word, Christ and his spirit, God and man. * * * A profound respect for the piety and holiness of Clemens is as universal in the ancient church as for his learning and eloquence. I rejoice to find that Reinkins, a Roman Catholic, expressed his regret, not to say indignation, that this holy man and writer, the object of the unmixed admiration of the ancient Christian, should have been struck out of the catalogue of saints by Benedict XIV.” 10
A Transition Period.
When Clement, wrote Christian doctrine was passing from oral tradition to written definition, and he avers when setting forth the Christian religion, that he is “reproducing an original, unwritten tradition,” which he learned from a disciple of the apostles. This had been communicated by the Lord to the apostles, Peter and James and John and Paul, and handed down from father to son till, at length, Clement set forth accurately in writing, what had been before delivered orally. We can, therefore, scarcely hope to find unadulterated Christianity anywhere out of the New Testament, if not in the writings of Clement. Max Muller (Theosophy or Psychological Religion, Preface, p. xiv) declares that Clement, having been born in the middle of the Second Century, may possibly have known Papias, or some of his friends who knew the apostles, and therefore he was most competent to represent the teachings of Christ. Farrar writes: “There can be no doubt that after the date of the Clementine Recognitions, and unceasingly during the close of the third and during the fourth and following centuries, the abstract idea of endlessness was deliberately faced, and from imperfect acquaintance with the meaning and history of the word aionios it was used by many writers as though it were identical in meaning with aidios or endless.” Which is to say that ignorance of the real meaning of the word on the part of those who were not familiar with Greek, subverted the current belief in universal restoration, cherished, as we shall directly show, by Clement and the Alexandrine Christians.
Passages from the works of Clement, only a few of which we quote, will sufficiently establish the fact that he taught universal restoration. “For all things are ordered both universally and in particular by the Lord of the universe, with a view to the salvation of the universe. * * * But needful corrections, by the goodness of the great, overseeing judge, through the attendant angels, through various prior judgments, through the final judgment, compel even those who have become more callous to repent.” “So he saves all; but some he converts by penalties, others who follow him of their own will, and in accordance with the worthiness of his honor, that every knee may be bent to him of celestial, terrestrial and infernal things (Phil. ii:10), that is angels, men, and souls who before his advent migrated from this mortal life.” “For there are partial corrections (padeiai) which are called chastisements (kolasis), which many of us who have been in transgression incur by falling away from the Lord’s people. But as children are chastised by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish (timoria) for punishment (timoria) is retaliation for evil. He chastises, however, for good to those who are chastised collectively and individually.” 11
This important passage is very instructive in the light it sheds on the usage of Greek words. The word from which “corrections” is rendered is the same as that in Hebrews xii: 9, “correction” “chastening” (paideia); “chastisement” is from kolasis, translated punishment in Matt. xxv: 46, and “punishment” is timoria, with which Josephus defined punishment, but a word our Lord never employs, and which Clement declares that God never influcts. This agrees with the uniform contention of Universalist scholars.
“The divine nature is not angry but is at the farthest from it, for it is an excellent artifice to frighten in order that we may not sin. * * * Nothing is hated by God.” 12 So that even ifaionios meant endless duration, Clement would argue that it was used pedigogically–to restrain the sinner. It should be said, however, that Clement rarely uses aionion in connection with suffering.
Clement insists that punishment in Hades is remedial and restorative, and that punished souls are cleansed by fire. The fire is spiritual, purifying13 the soul. “God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of the sinner, (Ezek. xviii, 23, 32; xxxiii: II, etc.,) and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly because of their being no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.” 14
He again defines the important word kolasis our Lord uses in Matt. xxv: 46, and shows how it differs from the wholly different word timoria used by Josephus and the Greek writers who believed in irremediable suffering. He says: “He (God) chastises the disobedient, for chastisement (kolasis) is for the good and advantage of him who is punished, for it is the amendment of one who resists; I will not grant that he wishes to take vengeance. Vengeance (timoria) is a requital of evil sent for the interest of the avenger. He (God) would not desire to avenge himself on us who teaches us to pray for those who despitefully use us (Matt. v: 44). 15 * * * Therefore the good God punishes for these three causes: First, that he who is punished (paidenomenos) may become better than his former self; then that those who are capable of being saved by examples may be drawn back, being admonished; and thirdly, that he who is injured may not readily be despised, and be apt to receive injury. And there are two methods of correction, the instructive and the punitive, 16 which we have called the disciplinary.”
The English reader of the translations of the Greek fathers is misled by the indiscriminate rendering of different Greek words into “punish.” Timoria should always be translated “vengeance,” or “torment;” kolasis, “punishment,” and paideia“chastisement,” or “correction.”
“If in this life there are so many ways for purification and repentance, how much more should there be after death! The purification of souls, when separated from the body, will be easier. We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer; to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, is his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.” 17
Clement did not deem it well to express himself more fully and frequently respecting this point of doctrine, because he considered it a part of the Gnostic or esoteric knowledge which it might not be well for the unenlightened to hear lest it should result in the injury of the ignorant; hence he says: “As to the rest I am silent and praise the Lord.” He “fears to set down in writing what he would not venture to read aloud.” He thinks this knowledge not useful for all, and that the fear of hell may keep sinners from sin. And yet he can not resist declaring: “And how is he Savior and Lord and not Savior and Lord of all? But he (Christ) is the Savior of those who have believed, because of their wishing to know, and of those who have not believed he is Lord, until by being brought to confess him they shall receive the proper and well-adapted blessing for themselves which comes by him.”
This extension of the day of grace through eternity is also expressed in the “Exhortation to the Heathen” (ix): “For great is the grace of his promise, ‘if today we hear his voice.’ And that today is lengthened out day by day, while it is called today. And to the end the today and the instruction continue; and then the true today, the never ending day of God, extends over eternity.” His reference to the resurrection shows that he regarded it as deliverance from the ills of this state of being. Before the final state of perfection the purifying fire which makes wise will separate errors from the soul; the purgating punishment will heal and cure.
Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem, wrote to Origen on the death of Clement, says Eusebius, “for we know these blessed fathers who have gone before us and with whom we shall shortly be, I mean Pantænus, truly blessed and my master; and the sacred Clement, who was my master and profitable to me.”
This passage would indicate the fraternity of feeling between these three, and seems to show that there was no suspicion of the heresy of the others on the part of Alexander.
Further words of Clement.
Clement distinctly shows that the perversion of the truth so long taught, that the coming of Christ placated the Father, had no place in primitive Christianity. He says: God is good on his own account, and just also on ours, and he is just because he is good, * * * for before he became Creator he was God. He was good. And therefore he wished to be Creator and Father. And the nature of that love was the source of righteousness; the cause too of his lightning up his sun, and sending down his own son. * * * The feeling of anger (if it is proper to call his admonition anger) is full of love to man, God condescending to emotion on man’s account, etc. (Paed. I, 10. Strom. I, 27.)
He represents that God is never angry; he hates sin with unlimited hatred, but loves the sinner with illimitable love. His omnipotence is directed by omniscience and can and will overcome all evil and transform it to good. His threats and punishments have but one purpose, and that the good of the punished. Hereafter those who have here remained obdurate will be chastened until converted. Man’s freedom will never be lost, and ultimately it will be converted in the last and wickedest sinner.
Fire is an emblem of the divine punishments which purify the bad.18 “Punishment is, in its operation, like medicine; it dissolves the hard heart, purges away the filth of uncleanness, and reduces the swellings of pride and haughtiness; thus restoring its subject to a sound and healthful state.”
“The Lord is the propitiation, not only for our sins, that is of the faithful, but also for the whole world (I John ii: 2); therefore he truly saves all, converting some by punishments, and others by gaining their free will, so that he has the high honor that unto him every knee should bow, angels, men and the souls of those who died before his advent.”
That the foregoing passage from Clement distinctly state the sublime sentiments we have supposed them to express, will fully appear from those who have made the most careful study of his opinions, and whose interpretations are unprejudiced and just. Says one of the most thoughtful of modern writers, the candid Hagenbach:
“The works of Clement, in particular, abound with passages referring to the love and mercy of God. He loves men because they are kindred with God. God’s love follows men, seeks them out, as the bird the young that has fallen from its nest.” 19
Clement, like Tertullian, denied original depravity, and held that “man now stands in the same relation to the tempter in which Adam stood before the Fall.” Clement’s doctrine of the Resurrection was like that of Paul; it is not a mere rising from death, but a standing up higher, in a greater fullness of life, and a better life, as the word anastasisproperly signifies.
Allen in his valuable work, “Continuity of Christian Thought,” epitomizes the teachings of Clement in language that describes the Universalistic contention. “The judgment is not conceived as the final assize of the universe in some remote future, but as a present, continuous element in the process of human education. The purpose of the judgment, as of all the divine penalties, is always remedial. Judgment enters into the work of redemption as a constructive factor. God does not teach in order that he may finally judge, but he judges in order that he may teach. The censures, the punishments, the judgments of God are a necessary element of the educational process in the life of humanity, and the motive which underlies them is goodness and love. * * * The idea of life as an education under the immediate superintendence of a Divine instructor who is God himself indwelling in the world, constitutes the central truth in Clement’s theology. * * * There is no necessity that God should be reconciled with humanity, for there is no schism in the divine nature between love and justice which needs to be overcome before love can go forth in free and full forgiveness. The idea that justice and love are distinct attributes of God, differing widely in their operation, is regarded by Clement as having its origin in a mistaken conception of their nature. Justice and love are in reality the same attribute, or, to speak from the point of view which distinguishes them, God is most loving when he is most just, and most just when he is most loving. * * * God works all things up to what is better.
Clement would not tolerate the thought that any soul would continue forever to resist the force of redeeming love. Somehow and somewhere in the long run of ages, that love must prove weightier than sin and death, and vindicate its power in one universal triumph.”
Bigg on Clement.
One of the best modern statements of the views of the Alexandrine fathers is given by Bigg in Christian Platonists, pp. 75,89,112: Clement regarded the object of kolasis as “threefold; amendment, example, and protection of the weak. Strom. i:26,168; iv:24,154; vi:12,99. The distinction between kolasis and timoria, Strom. iv:14, 153; Paed. i:8, 70, the latter is the rendering of evil for evil and this is not the desire of God. Both kolasisand timoria are spoken in Strom. v:14, 90, but this is not to be pressed, for in Strom. vi:14, 109, the distinction between the words is dropped and both signify purgatorial chastisement. * * * Fear he has handled in the truly Christian spirit. It is not the fear of the slave who hates his master; it is a reverence of a child for its father, of a citizen for the good magistrate. Tertullian, an African and a lawyer, dwells with fierce satisfaction on terrible visions of torment. The cultivated Greek shrinks not only from the idea of retribution which it implies. He is never tired of repeating that justice is but another name for mercy. Chastisement is not to be dreaded but to be embraced.” * * * Here or hereafter God’s desire is not vengeance but correction. Though Clement’s view of man’s destiny is called restorationism(apokatastasis) it was “not as the restitution of that which was lost at the Fall, but as the crown and consummation of the destiny of man leading to a righteousness such as Adam never knew, and to heights of glory and power as yet unscaled and undreamed. * * * His books are in many ways the most valuable monument of the early church; the more precious to all intelligent students because he lived, not like Origen, in the full stream of events, but it a quiet backwater where primitive thoughts and habits lingered longer than elsewhere.” “Clement had no enemies in life or in death.” The great effort of Clement and Origen seems to have been to reconcile the revelation of God in Christ with the older revelation of God in nature.
Says De Pressense: “That which strikes us in Clement is his serenity. We feel that he himself enjoys that deep and abiding peace which he urges the Corinthians to seek. It is impressed on every page he writes, while his thoughts flow on like a broad and quiet stream, never swelling into a full impetuous tide. * * * We feel that this man has a great love for Jesus Christ.” Compare, contrast rather, his serenity and peacefulness with the stormy tempestuousness of Tertullian, his “narrow and passionate realism,” and we see a demonstration of the power and beauty of the Restorationist faith.
Frederick Denison Maurice’s Eulogy.
Frederick Denison Maurice declares: 20 “I do not know where we shall look for a purer or a truer man that this Clemens of Alexandria. * * * He seems to me that one of the old fathers whom we should all have reverenced most as a teacher, and loved best as a friend.”
Baur remarks; “Alexandria, the birthplace of Gnosticism, is also the birthplace of Christian theology, which in fact in its earliest forms, aimed at being nothing but a Christian Gnosticism. Among the fathers, Clement of Alexandria and Origen stand nearest to the Gnostics. They rank gnosis (knowledge) above pistis (faith), and place the two in such an immanent relation to one another that neither can exist without the other. Thus they adopt the same point of view as the Gnostics. It is their aim, by drawing into their service all that the philosophy of the age could contribute, to interpret Christianity in its historical connection, and to take up its subject-matter into their thinking consciousness.”21
A candid historian observes: “Clemens may, perhaps, be esteemed the most profoundly learned of the fathers of the church. A keen desire for information had prompted him to explore the regions of universal knowledge, to dive into the mysteries of Paganism, and to dwell upon the abtruser doctrines of Holy Writ. His works are richly stored and variegated with illustrations and extracts from the poets and philosophers with whose sentiments he was familiarly acquainted. He lays open the curiosities of history, the secrets of motley superstitions, and the reveries of speculative wanderers, at the same time that he develops the cast of opinions and peculiarities of discipline which distinguished the members of the Christian state.”22
Daille writes: “It is manifest throughout his works that Clement thought all the punishments that God inflicts upon men are salutary. Of this kind he reckons the torments which the damned in hell suffer. * * * Clemens was of the same opinion as his scholar Origen, who everywhere teaches that all the punishments of those in hell are purgatorial, that they are not endless, but will at length cease when the damned are sufficiently purified by the fire.” 23
Farrar gives Clement’s views, and shows that the great Alexandrian really anticipated substantially the thought for which our church has contended for a century:
“There are very few of the Christian fathers whose fundamental conceptions are better suited to correct the narrowness, the rigidity and the formalism of Latin theology. * * * It is his lofty and wholesome doctrine that man is made in the image of God; that man’s will is free; that he is redeemed from sin by a divine education and a corrective discipline; that fear and punishment are but remedial instruments in man’s training; that Justice is but another aspect of perfect Love; that the physical world is good and not evil; that Christ is a Living not a Dead Christ; that all mankind from one great brotherhood in him; that salvation is an ethical process, not an external reward; that the atonement was not the pacification of wrath, but the revelation of God’s eternal mercy. * * * That judgment is a continuous process, not a single sentence; that God works all things up to what is better; that souls may be purified beyond the grave.”
Lamson says that Clement declares: “Punishment, as Plato taught, is remedial, and souls are benefited by it by being amended. Far from being incompatible with God’s goodness it is a striking proof of it. For punishment is for the good and benefit of him who is punished. It is the bringing back to rectitude of that which was swerved from it.”24
It may be stated that neither original sin, depravity, infant guilt and damnation, election, vicarious atonement, and endless punishment as the penalty of human sin, in fact, “none of the individual doctrines or tenets which have so long been the object of dislike and animadversion to the modern theological mind formed any constituent part in Greek theology.” 25 They were abhorrent to Clement, Origen, and their associates.
The views held by Clement and taught by his predecessor, Pantænus, and, as seems apparent, by Anathegoras and his predecessors beck to the apostles themselves, and by their successor Origen, and, as will appear on subsequent pages by others down to Didymus, (A.D. 395), the last president of the greatest theological school of the Second and Third Centuries, were substantially those taught by the Universalist church of today, so far as they included the character of God, the nature and final destiny of mankind, the effect of the resurrection, the judgment, the nature and end of punishment, and other cognate themes. In fact Clement stands on the subject of God’s purpose and plan, and man’s ultimate destiny, as substantially a representative of the Universalist church of the Nineteenth Century, as well as a type of ancient scholarship.
1 Robertson Hist. Ch., Vol. I, p. 90. Bingham, Vol. III, x, 5; Neander Hist., Ch. ii, 227; Mosheim Com. I, p. 263; Butler’s Lives of the Saints VII pp. 55-59.
2 Similar institutions were in Antioch, Athens, Edessa, Nisibis and Cæsarea.
3 Kingsley’s Alexandria and Her Schools.
4 Matter’s Hist. de l’Ecole d’Alexandrie; Kingsley’s Alexandria and Her Schools.
5 Farrar’s Lives of the Fathers, I, pp. 262, 263.
6 Max Muller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion, Lecture XIII.
7 The edition of Clemens used in preparing this work is Bibliotheca Sacra Patrum Ecclesiæ Græcorum, Pars. III. Titi Flaui Clementis Alexandrini Opera Omnia Tom. I, IV. Recognouit Reinholdus Klotz. Lipsiæ, Sumptibus, E. B. Schwickertl, I, 182. Also Migne’s Patrologue.
8 Norton’s Statement of Reasons, pp. 94, 95; Cudworth; Brucker.
The extent to which early Christians appealed to the Pagan philosophies may be gauged from the fact that in Origen thirty-five allusions are made to the Stoics, six to the Epicureans, fifteen to the Platonists, and six to the Phytagoreans; it Tertullian five to the Stoics and five to the Epicureans; in Clement of Alexandria, repeatedly. Huidekoper’s Inderect Testomony to the Gospels.
9 Strom. i: 7.
10 Hipp. and His Age, I.
11 Strom, VII, ii; Pedag. I, 8; on I John ii, 2; Comments on sed etiam pro toto mundo, etc. (“Proinde universos quidem salvat, sed alios per supplicia convertens, alios autem spontanea, assequentes, voluntate, et cum honoris dignitate (Phil. ii: 10) ut omne genu flectatur ei, cælestium, terrestrium et infernorum; hoc est angeli, homines, et animæ quæ ante adventum ejus de hac vita migravere temporali.”) Strom. VII, 16.
12 Paed I, viii.
13 Strom. VII, vi.
14 VI, vi; VII, xvi; VI, xiv; VII, ii.
15 Poedag. I, viii.
16 Strom. IV, xxiv.
17 Quoted by Neander.
19 Christian Doct., Period I, Sec. 39.
20 Lectures on the Ecc. Hist. of the First and Second Centuries, pp. 230-239.
21 Church Hist. First Three Centuries.
22 Hist. Christ. Church, Second and Third Centuries, Jeremie, p. 38.
23 Hom. VI., 4, in Exod. Qui salvus fit per ignem salvus fit, ut, si quid forte de specie plumbi habuerit admixtum, id ignis decoquat et resolvat, ut efficiantur omnes aurum purum.
24 Church of the First Three Centuries, p. 158.
25 Continuity of Christian Thought, p. 19.
Early Opposition to Origen.
Origen Adamantius was born of Christian parents, in Alexandria, A.D. 185. He was early taught the Christian religion, and when a mere boy could recite long passages of Scripture from memory. During the persecution by Septimus Severus, A.D. 202, his father, Leonides, was imprisoned, and the son wrote to him not to deny Christ out of tenderness for his family, and was only prevented from surrendering himself to voluntary martyrdom by his mother, who secreted his clothes. Leonides died a martyr. In the year 203, then but eighteen years of age, Origen was appointed to the presidency of the theological school in Alexandria, a position left vacant by the flight of Clement from heathen persecution. He made himself proficient in the various branches of learning, traveled in the Orient and acquired the Hebrew language for the purpose of translating the Scriptures. His fame extended in all directions. He won eminent heathens to Christianity, and his instructions were sought by people of all lands. He renounced all but the barest necessities of life, rarely eating flesh, never drinking wine, slept on the naked floor, and devoted the greater part of the night to prayer and study. Eusebius says that he would not live upon the bounty of those who would have been glad to maintain him while he was at work for the world’s good, and so he disposed of his valuable library to one who would allow him the daily pittance of four obols; and rigidly acted on our Lord’s precept not to have “two coats, or wear shoes, and to have no anxiety for the morrow.”1 Origen is even said to have mutilated himself (though this is disputed) from an erroneous construction of the Savior’s command (Matt. xix: 12), and to guard himself from calumny that might proceed from his association with female catechumens. This act he lamented in later years. If done it was from the purest motives, and was an act of great self-sacrifice, for, as it was forbidden by canonical law, it debarred him from clerical promotion. He was ordained presbyter A.D. 228, by two bishops outside his diocese, and this irregular act performed by others than his own diocesan gave grounds to Demetrius of Alexandria, in whose jurisdiction he lived, to manifest the envy he had already felt at the growing reputation of the young scholar; and in two councils composed and controlled by Demetrius, A.D. 231 and 232, Origen was deposed. 2Many of the church authorities condemned the action. In this persecution Origen proved himself as grand in spirit as in mind. To his friends he said: “We must pity them rather that hate them (his enemies), pray for them rather than curse them, for we were made for blessing, not for cursing.” Origen went to Palestine A.D. 230, opened a school in Cæsarea, and enjoyed a continually increasing fame. The persecutions under Maximinus in 235, drove him away. He went to Cappadocia, then to Greece, and finally back to Palestine. Defamed at home he was honored abroad, but was at length called back to Alexandria, where his pupil Dionysius had succeeded Demetrius as bishop. But soon after, during the persecution under Decius, he was tortured and condemned to die at the stake, but he lingered, and at length died of his injuries and sufferings, a true martyr, in Tyre, A.D. 253 or 254, at the age of sixty-nine. His grave was known down to the Middle Ages.
Professor Schaff on Origen.
The historian Schaff declares: “It is impossible to deny a respectful sympathy to this extraordinary man, who, with all his brilliant talents, and a host of enthusiastic friends and admirers, was driven from his country, stripped of his sacred office, excommunicated from a part of the church, then thrown into a dungeon, loaded with chains, racked by torture, doomed to drag his aged frame and dislocated limbs in pain and poverty, and long after his death to have his memory branded, his name anathematized, and his salvation denied; but who, nevertheless, did more than all his enemies combined to advance the cause of sacred learning, to refute and convert heathens and heretics, and to make the church respected in the eyes of the world * * * Origen was the greatest scholar of his age, and the most learned and genial of all the ante-Nicene fathers. Even heathens and heretics admired or feared his brilliant talents. His knowledge embraced all departments of the philology, philosophy and theology of his day. With this he united profound and fertile thought, keen penetration, and glowing imagination. As a true divine he consecrated all his studies by prayer, and turned them, according to his best conventions, to the service of truth and piety.”3
While chained in prison, his feet in the stocks, his constant theme was: “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” His last thought was for his brethren. “He has left the memory of one of the greatest theologians and greatest saints the church has ever possessed. One of his own words strikes the key-note of his life: ‘Love,’ he says again and again, “is an agony, a passion;’ ‘Caritas est passio.” To love the truth so as to suffer for it in the world and in the church; to love mankind with a tender sympathy; to extend the arms of compassion ever more widely, so as to over-pass all barriers of dogmatic difference under the far-reaching impulse of this pitying love; to realize that the essence of love is sacrifice, and to make self the unreserved and willing victim, such was the creed, such was the life of Origen.”4
He described in letters now lost, the sufferings he endured without the martyrdom he so longed for, and yet in terms of patience and Christian forgiveness. Persecuted by Pagans for his Christian fidelity, and by Christians for heresy, driven from home and country, and after his death his morals questioned, his memory branded, his name anathematized, and even his salvation denied. 5 There is not a character in the annals of Christendom more unjustly treated.
Eusebiues relates how Origen bore in his old age, as in his youth, fearful sufferings for his fidelity to his Master, and carried the scars of persecution into his grave. No nobler witness to the truth is found in the records of Christian fidelity. And, as though the terrible persecutions he suffered during life were not enough, he has for fifteen hundred years borne obloquy, reproach, and denunciation from professing Christians who were unworthy to loosen his shoe latchets. Most of those who decried him during his lifetime, and for a century later, were men whose characters were of an inferior, and some of a very low order; but the candid Nicephorus, a hundred and fifty years after his death, wrote that he was “held in great glory in all the world.”
This greatest of all Christian apologists and exegetes, and the first man in Christendom since Paul, was a distinctive Universalist. He could not have misunderstood or misrepresented the teachings of his Master. The language of the New Testament was his mother tongue. He derived the teachings of Christ from Christ himself in a direct line through his teacher Clement; and he placed the defense of Christianity on Universalistic grounds. When Celsus, in his “True Discourse,” the first great assault on Christianity, objected to Christianity on the ground that it taught punishment by fire, Origen replied that the threatened fire possessed a disciplinary, purifying quality that will consume in the sinner whatever evil material it can find to consume.
Gehenna Denotes a Purifying Fire.
Origen declares that Gehenna is an analogue of the Valley of Hinnom and connotes a purifying fire6 but intimates that it is not prudent to go further, showing that the idea of “reserve” controlled him from saying what might not be judicious. That God’s fire is not material, but spiritual remorse ending in reformation, Origen teaches in many passages. He repeatedly speaks of punishment as aionion (mistranslated in the New Testament “everlasting,” “eternal”) and then elaborately states and defends as Christian doctrine universal salvation beyond all aionion suffering and sin. Says the candid historian Robertson: “The great object of this eminent teacher was to harmonize Christianity with philosophy. He sought to combine in a Christian scheme the fragmentary truths scattered throughout other systems, to establish the Gospel in a form which should not present obstacles to the conversion of Jews, of Gnostics, and of cultivated heathens; and his errors arose from a too eager pursuit of this idea.7”
The effect of his broad faith on his spirit and treatment of others, is in strong contrast to the bitter and cruel disposition exhibited by some of the early Christians towards heretics, such as Tertullian and Augustine. In reply to the charge that Christians of different creeds were in enmity, he said, “Such of us as follow the doctrines of Jesus, and endeavor to be conformed to his precepts, in our thoughts, words and actions; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed. we entreat. Nor do we say injurious things of those who think differently of us. They who consider the words of our Lord, Blessed are the peaceable, and Blessed are the meek, will not hate those who corrupt the Christian religion, not give opprobious names to those who are in error.”
When a young teacher his zeal and firmness vindicated his name Adamantius, man of steel or adamant. Says De Pressense: “The example of Origen was of much force in sustaining the courage of his disciples. He might be seen constantly in the prison of the pious captives carrying to them the consolation they needed. He stood by them till the last moment of triumph came, and gave them the parting kiss of peace on the very threshold of the arena or at the foot of the stake.” One day he was carried to the temple of Serapis, and palms were placed in his hands to lay on the altar of the Egyptian god. Brandishing the boughs, he exclaimed, “Here are the triumphal palms, not of the idol, but of Christ.” In a work of Origen’s now only existing in a Latin translation is the characteristic thought: “The fields of the angels are our hearts; each one of them therefore out of the field which he cultivates, offers first fruits to God. If I should be able to produce today some choice interpretation, worthy to be presented to the Supreme High Priest, so that out of all those thinks which we speak and teach, there should be somewhat considerable which may please the great High Priest, it might possibly happen that the angel who presides over the church, out of all our words, might choose something, and offer it as a kind of first fruits to the Lord, out of the small field of my heart. But I know I do not deserve it; nor am I conscious to myself that any interpretation is discovered by me which the angel who cultivates us should judge worthy to offer to the Lord, as first fruits, or first born.”8
His Critics are his Eulogists.
Origen’s critics are his eulogists. Gieseler remarks: “To the wide extended influence of his writings it is to be attributed, that, in the midst of these furious controversies (in the Fifth Century) there remained any freedom of theological speculation whatever.” Bunsen: “Origen’s death is the real end of free Christianity and, in particular, of free intellectual theology.” Schaff says: “Origen is father of the scientific and critical investigation of Scripture.” Jerome says he wrote more than other men can read. Epiphanius, an opponent, states the number of his works as six thousand. His books that survive are mostly in Latin, more or less mutilated by translators.
Eusebius says that his life is worthy of being recorded from “his tender infancy.” Even when a child “he was wholly borne away by the desire of becoming a martyr,” and so divine a spirit did he show, and such devotedness to his religion, even as a child, that his father, frequently, “when standing over his sleeping boy, would uncover his breast, and as a shrine consecrated by the Divine Spirit, reverently kiss the breast of his favorite offspring. * * * As his doctrine so was his life; and as his life, so also was his doctrine.” His Bishop, Demetrius, praised him highly, till “seeing him doing well, great and illustrious and celebrated by all, was overcome by human infirmity,” and traduced him throughout the church.
Origen was followed as teacher in the Alexandrine school by his pupil Heraclas, who in turn was succeeded by Dionysius, another pupil, so that from Pantænus, to Clemens, Origen, Heraclas and Dionysius, to Didymus, from say A.D. 160 to A.D. 390, more than two centuries, the teaching in Alexandria, the very center of Christian learning, was Universalistic.
The struggles of such a spirit, scholar, saint, philosopher, must have been a martyrdom, and illustrate the power of his sublime faith, not only to sustain in the terrific trials through which he passed, but to preserve the spirit he always manifested–akin to that which cried on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
The Death of Origen.
The death of Origen marks an epoch in Christianity, and signalizes the beginning of a period of decadence. The republicanism of Christianity began to give way before the monarchical tendencies that ripened with Constantine (A.D. 313) and the Nicean council (A.D. 325). Clement and Origen represented freedom of thought, and a rational creed founded on the Bible, but the evil change that Christianity was soon to experience, was fairly seen, says Bunsen, about the time of Origen’s death. “Origen, who had made a last attempt to preserve liberty of thought along with a rational belief in historical facts based upon the historical records, had failed in his gigantic efforts; he died of a broken heart rather than of the wounds inflicted by his heathen torturers. His followers * * * retained only his mystical scholasticism, without possessing either his genius or his learning, his great and wide heart, or his free, truth-speaking spirit. More and more the teachers became bishops, and the bishops absolute governors, the majority of whom strove to establish as law their speculations upon Christianity.
His comprehensive mind and vast sympathy, and his intense tendency to generalization, caused Origen to entertain hospitality in his philosophical system many ideas that now are seen inconsistent and intenable; but his fantastic, allegorical interpretation of Scripture, his vagaries concerning pre-existence, and his disposition to include all themes and theories in his system, did not swerve him from the truths and facts of Christian revelation. His defects were but as spots on the sun. And his vagaries were by no means in excess of those of the average theologian of his times.
A Christian Philosopher.
Origen considered philosophy as necessary to Christianity as is geometry to philosophy; but that all things essential to salvation are plainly taught in the Scriptures, within the comprehension of the ordinary mind. “Origen * * * was the prince of schoolmen and scholars, as subtle as Aquinas, as erudite as Routh or Tischendorf. He is a man of one book, in a sense. The Bible, its text, its exposition, furnished him with the motive for incessant toil.” (Neoplatonism, by C. Bigg, D.D., London, 1895, p. 163.) The truths taught in the Bible may be made by philosophers themes on which the mind may indefinitely expatiate; and those competent will find interior, spiritual, recondite meanings not seen on the surface. Yet he constantly taught “that such affinity and congruity exists between Christianity and human reason, that not only the grounds, but also the forms, of all Christian doctrines may be explained by the dictates of philosophy. * * * That it is vastly important to the honor and advantage of Christianity that all its doctrines be traced back to the sources of all truth, or be shown to flow from the principles of philosophy; and consequently that a Christian theologian should exert his ingenuity and his industry primarily to demonstrate the harmony between religion and reason, and to show that there is nothing taught it the Scriptures but what is founded in reason.”
A Bible Universalist.
He held to the “most scrupulous Biblicism and the most conscientious regard for the rule of faith, conjoined with the philosophy of religion.” * * * He “was the most influential theologian in the Oriental church, the father of theological science, the author of ecclesiastical dogmatics. * * * An orthodox traditionalist, a strong Biblical theologian, a keen idealistic philosopher who translated the content of faith into ideas, completed the structure of the world that is within, and finally let nothing pass save knowledge of God and of self, in closest union, which exalts us above the world, and conducts unto edification. * * * Life is a discipline, a conflict under the permission and leading of God, which will end with the conquest and destruction of evil. * * * According to Origen, all spirits will, in the form of their individual lives, be finally rescued and glorified (apokatastasis).” 9 Mosheim considered these fatal errors, while we should regard them as valuable principles. The famous historian assures us the Origen was entirely ignorant of the doctrine of Christ’s substitutional sacrifice. He had no faith in the idea that Christ suffered in man’s stead, but taught that he died in man’s behalf.
The Works of Origen.
The known works of Origen consist of brief “Notes on Scripture,” only a few fragments of which are left; his “Commentaries,” many of which are in Migne’s collection; his “Contra Celsum,” or “Against Celsus,” which is complete and in the original Greek; “Stromata,” only three fragments of which survive in a Latin translation; a fragment on the “Resurrection;” practical “Essays and Letters,” but two of the latter remaining, and “Of Principles,” “De Principiis,” or . Nearly all the original Greek of this great work has perished. The Latin translation by Rufinus is very loose and inaccurate. It is frequently a mere paraphrase. Jerome, whose translation is better than that of Rufinus, accuses the latter of unfaithfulness in his translation, and made a new version, only small portions of which have come down to modern times, so that we cannot accurately judge of the character of this great work. A comparison of the Greek of Origen’s “Against Celsus” with the Latin version of Rufinus exhibits great discrepancies. Indeed, Rufinus confesses that he had so “smoothed and corrected” as to leave “nothing which could appear discordant with our belief.” He claimed, however, that he had done so because “his (Origen’s) books had been corrupted by heretics and malevolent persons,” and accordingly he had suppressed or enlarged the text to what he taught Origen ought to have said! And having acknowledged so much he adjures all by their “belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” to make no further alterations! He reiterates his confession elsewhere, and says he has translated nothing that seems to him to contradict Origen’s other opinions, but has passed it by, as “interpolated and forged.” For the sake of “brevity,” he says he has sometimes “curtailed.”
Says De Pressense: “Celsus collected in his quiver all the objections possible to be made, and there is scarcely one missing of all the arrows which in subsequent times have been aimed against the supernatural in Christianity.” To every point made by Celsus, Origen made a triumphant reply, anticipating, in fact, modern objections, and “gave to Christian antiquity its most complete apology. * * * Many centuries were to elapse before the church could present to the world any other defense of her faith comparable to this noble book.” “It remains the masterpiece of ancient apology, for solidity of basis, vigor of argument, and breadth of eloquent exposition. The apologists of every age were to find in it an inexhaustible mine, as well as incomparable model of that royal, moral method inaugurated by St. Paul and St. John.”
An illustration of his manner may be given in his reference to the attack of Celsus on the miracles of Christ. Celsus dares not deny them, only a hundred years after Christ, and says: “Be it so, we accept the facts as genuine,” and then proceeds to rank them with the tricks of Egyptian sorcerers, and asks: “Did anyone ever look upon those impostors as divinely aided, who for hire healed the sick and wrought wonderful works?” If Jesus did work miracles it was through sorcery, and deserves therefore the greater contempt.” In reply Origin insists on the miracles, but places the higher evidence of Christianity on a moral basis. He says: “Show me the magician who calls upon the spectators of his prodigies to reform their life, or who teaches his admirers the fear of God, and seeks to persuade them to act as those who must appear before him as their judge. The magicians do nothing of the sort, either because they are incapable of it, or because they have no such desire. Themselves charged with crimes the most shameful and infamous, how should they attempt the reformation of the morals of others? The miracles of Christ, on the contrary, all bear the impress of his own holiness, and he ever uses them as a means of winning to the cause of goodness and truth those who witness them. Thus he presented his own life as the perfect model, not only to his immediate disciples, but to all men. He taught his disciples to make known to those who heard them, the perfect will of God; and he revealed to mankind, far more by his life and works than by his miracles, the secret of that holiness by which it is possible in all things to please God. If such was the life of Jesus, how can he be compared to mere charlatans, and why may we not believe that he was indeed God manifested in the flesh for the salvation of our race?” 10
The historian Cave says: “Celsus was an Epicurean philosopher contemporary with Lucian, the witty atheist, * * * a man of wit and parts, and had all the advantages which learning, philosophy, and eloquence could add to him; but a severe and incurable enemy to the Christian religion, against which he wrote a book entitled , or ‘The True Discourse,” wherein he attempted Christianity with all the arts of insinuation, all the wicked reflections, virulent aspersions, plausible reasons, whereunto a man of parts and malice was capable to assault it. To this Origen returns a full and solid answer, in eight books; wherein, as he had the better cause, so he managed it with that strength of reason, clearness of argument, and convictive evidence of truth, that were there nothing else to testify the abilities of this great man, this book alone were enough to do it.”
The Final Answer to Skepticism.
Eusebius declared that Origen “not only answered all the objections that had ever been brought, but had supplied in anticipation answers to all that ever could be brought against Christianity.” Celsus, the ablest of all the assailants of Christianity, wrote his “True Discourse” about a century before Origen’s time. It is the fountain whence the enemies of Christianity have obtained the materials for their attacks on the Christian religion. In garbles texts, confounds the different heresies with the accepted form of Christianity, and employs the keenest logic, the bitterest sarcasm, and all the weapons of the most accomplished and unscrupulous controversy, and exhausts learning, argument, irony, calumny, and all the skilled resources of one of the ablest of men in his assault on the new religion. Origen’s reply, written A.D., 249, proceeds on the ground already established by Clement: the essential relation between God and man; the universal operation of God’s grace; the preparation for the Gospel by Paganism; the residence of the genius of divinity in each human soul; the resurrection of the soul rather than of the body, and the curative power of all the divine punishments. He triumphantly meets Celsus on every point, argument with argument, invective with invective, satire with satire, and through all breathes a sublime and lofty spirit, immeasurably superior to that of his opponent. He leaves nothing of the great skeptic’s unanswered.
Among the points made by Celsus and thoroughly disposed of by Origen were some that have in recent years been presented: that there is nothing new in Christian teaching; that the pretended miracles were not by the supernatural act of God; that the prophecies were misapplied and unfulfilled; that Christ borrowed from Plato, etc.
The First of Christian Theologians.
The first system of Christian theology ever framed–let it never be forgotten–was published by Origen, A.D. 230, and it declared universal restoration as the issue of the divine government; so that this eminent Universalist has the grand pre-eminence of being not only the founder of scientific Christian theology, but also the first great defender of the Christian religion against its assailants. “De Principiis” is a profound book, a fundamental and essential element of which is the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union with God.
Origen’s most learned production was the “Hexapla.” He was twenty-eight years on this great Biblical work. The first form was the “Tetrapla,” containing in four columns the “Septuagint,” and the texts of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. This he enlarged into “Hexapla” with the Hebrew text in both Hebrew and Greek letters. Many of the books of the Bible had two additional columns, and some a seventh Greek version. This was the “Octapla.” This immense monument of learning and industry consisted of fifty volumes. It was never transcribed, and perished, probably destroyed by the Arabs in the destruction of the Alexandrian Library.11
Origen was of medium height, but of such vigor and physical endurance that he acquired the title Adamantius, the man of steel, or adamant. But he constantly wore a demeanor of benignity and majesty, of kindliness and sanctity, that won all with whom he came in contact.
Quotation of Origen’s Language.
The following statements from the pen of Origen, and abstracts of his views by eminent authors of different creeds, will show the great scholar’s ideas of human destiny. Many more than are here given might be presented, but enough are quoted to demonstrate beyond a peradventure that the great philosopher and divine, the equally great scholar and saint, was a Universalist. There is no little difficulty in reaching Origen’s opinions on some topics–happily not on man’s final destiny–in consequence of most of his works existing only in Latin translations confessedly inaccurate. He complained of perversions while living, and warned against misconstruction. 12 But no believer in endless punishment can claim the sanction of his great name.
Origen’s Exact Words.
He writes: “The end of the world, then, and the final consummation will take place when everyone shall be subjected to punishment for his sins; a time which God alone knows, when he will bestow on each one what he deserves. We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through his Christ, may recall all his creatures to one end, even his enemies being conquered and subdued. For thus says Holy Scripture, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.’ And if the meaning of the prophet be less clear, we may ascertain it from the apostle Paul, who speaks more openly, thus: ‘For Christ must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet.’ But even if that unreserved declaration of the apostle do not sufficiently inform us what is meant by ‘enemies being placed under his feet,’ listen to what he says in the following words: “For all things must be put under him.’ What, then, is this ‘putting under’ by which all things must be made subject to Christ? I am of opinion that it is this very subjection by which we also which to be subject to him, by which the apostles also were subject, and all the saints who have been followers of Christ. For the word ‘subjection,’ by which we are subject to Christ, indicates that the salvation which proceeds from him belongs to his subjects, agreeably to the declaration of David, ‘Shall not my soul be subject unto God? From him cometh my salvation.'” * * * “Seeing, then, that such is the end, when all enemies will be subdued to Christ, when death–the last enemy–shall be destroyed, and when the kingdom shall be delivered up by Christ (to whom all things are subject) to God the Father; let us, I say, from such an end as this, contemplate the beginnings of things.” * * * “The apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, beings destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this.” De Prin. I, vi: 1, 2.
Unquestionably Origen, in the original Greek of which the Latin translation only exists, here used “aionion” (inaccurately rendered everlasting and eternal in the New Testament) in the sense of limited duration; and fire, as an emblem of purification, for he says:
“When thou hearest of the wrath of God, believe not that this wrath and indignation are passions of God; they are condescensions of language designed to convert and improve the child. * * * So God is described as angry, and says that he is indignant, in order that thou mayest convert and be improved, while in fact he is not angry.” 13
Origen severely condemns those who cherish unworthy thoughts of God, regarding him, he says, as possessing a disposition that would be a slander on a wicked savage. He insists that the purpose of all punishment, by a good God, must be medicinal. 14
Meaning of Aionios
In arguing that aionios as applied to punishment does not mean endless, he says that the sin that is not forgiven in the æon or the æon to come, would be in some one of the æons following. His argument that age (undoubtedly aion in the original, of which, unfortunately, we have only the Latin translation) is limited, is quite complete in “De Principiis.” This word is an age (saeculum, aion) and a conclusion of many ages (seculorum). He concludes his argument by referring to the time when, beyond “an age and ages, perhaps even more than ages of ages,” that period will come, viz., when all things are no longer in an age, but when God is all in all.15
He quotes the Scripture phrase “Forever and ever and beyond” (in saeculum et in saeculum et edhuc, forever and further), and insists that evil, being a negation, cannot be eternal.
Dr. Bigg sums up Origen’s views: “Slowly yet certainly the blessed change must come, the purifying fire must eat up the dross and leave the pure gold. * * * One by one we shall enter into rest, never to stray again. Then when death, the last enemy, is destroyed, when the tale of his children is complete, Christ will ‘drink wine in the kingdom of his Father.’ This is the end, when ‘all shall be one, as Christ and the Father are one,’ when ‘God shall be all in all.'”
Origen never dogmatizes; rests largely on general principles; says that “justice and goodness are in their highest manifestations identical; that God does not punish, but has made man so that in virtue only can he find peace and happiness, because he has made him like himself; that suffering is not a tax upon sin, but the wholesome reaction by which the diseased soul struggles to cast out the poison of its malady; that, therefore, if we have done wrong it is good to suffer, because the anguish of returning health will cease when health is restored, and cannot cease till then. Again, that evil is against the plan of God, is created not by him but by ourselves; is therefore, properly speaking, a negation, and as such cannot be eternal. These are, in the main, Greekthoughts, their chief source is the Gorgias of Plato; but his final appeal is always to Scripture.”
Huet quotes Leontius as saying that Origen argued from the fact that aionion means finite duration, the limited duration of future punishment. Origen’s argument for the terminability of punishment was based on the meaning of this word aionios. 16 Surely he, a Platonist in his knowledge of Greek, should know its signification. 17
Origen on the Purifying Fire.
On I Cor. iii: 2, he says (Ag. Cels. V. xv.): The fire that will consume the world at the last day is a purifying fire, which all must pass through, though it will impart no pain to the good. In expressing eternity Origen does not depend upon aion, but qualifies the word by an adjective, thus:—ton apeiron aiona. Barnabas, Hermas, “Sibylline Oracles,” Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Theophilus and Irenæus all apply the word aionios to punishment, but two of these taught annihilation, and one universal salvation beyondaionion punishment.
God is a “Consuming Fire,” Origen thinks, because he “does indeed consume and utterly destroy; that he consumes evil thoughts, wicked actions, and sinful desires when they find their way into the minds of believers.” He teaches that “God’s consuming fire works with the good as with the evil, annihilating that which harms his children. This fire is one that each one kindles; the fuel and food is each one’s sins.” 18 “What is the meaning of eternal fire?” he asks: “When the soul has gathered together a multitude of evil works, and an abundance of sins against itself, at a suitable time all that assembly of evils boils up to punishment, and is set on fire to chastisement,” etc. Just as physicians employ drugs, and sometimes “the evil has to be burned out by fire, how much more is it to be understood that God our Physician, desiring to remove the defects of our souls, should apply the punishment of fire.” * * * “Our God is a ‘consuming fire’ in the sense in which we have taken the word; and thus he enters in as a ‘refiner’s fire’ to refine the rational nature, which has been filled with the lead of wickedness, and to free it from the other impure materials which adulterate the natural gold or silver, so to speak, of the soul.” Towards the conclusion of his reply to Celsus, Origen has the following passage: “The Stoics, indeed hold that when the strongest of the elements prevails all things shall be turned into fire. But our belief is that the Word shall prevail over the entire rational creation, and change every soul into his own perfection; in which state every one, by the mere exercise of his power, will choose what he desires, and obtain what he chooses. For although, in the diseases and wounds of the body, there are some which no medical skill can cure, yet we hold that in the mind there is no evil so strong that it may not be overcome by the Supreme Word and God. For stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him; and this healing he applies, according to the will of God, to every man. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil, although as to the question whether it shall be so destroyed that it can never anywhere rise again, it is beyond our present purpose to say. Many things are said obscurely in the prophecies on the total destruction of evil, and the restoration to righteousness of every soul; but it will be enough for our present purpose to quote the following passage from Zephaniah,” etc. Ag. Cels. VIII. 1xxii.
Thus Origen interprets “fire” in the Bible not only as a symbol of the sinner’s suffering but of his purification. The “consuming fire” is a “refiner’s fire.” It consumes the sins, and refines and purifies the sinner. It burns the sinner’s works, “hay wood and stubble,” that result from wickedness. The torture is real, the purification sure; fire is a symbol of God’s service, certain, but salutary discipline. God’s “wrath” is apparent, not real. There is no passion on his part. What we call wrath is another name for his disciplinary process. God would not tell us to put away anger, wrath (Origen says) and then be guilty himself of what he prohibits of us. He declares that the punishment which is said to be by fire is understood to be applied with the object of healing, as taught by Isaiah, etc. (xiii:16; xlvii: 14,15; x: 17). The “eternal fire” is curative.
Origen on Gehenna
Gehenna and its fires have the same signification: “We find that what was termed ‘Gehenna’ or ‘the Valley of Ennom,’ was included in the lot of the tribe of Benjamin, in which Jerusalem also was situated. And seeking to ascertain what might be the inference from the heavenly Jerusalem belonging to the lot of Benjamin, and the Valley of Ennom, we find a certain confirmation of what is said regarding the place of punishment, intended from the purification of such souls as are to be purified by torments, agreeably to the same,–‘the Lord cometh like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifies of silver and of gold.'” Ag. Cels., VI. xxvi.
Views of “Foolish Christians” on Fire.
In reply to the charge of Celsus that Christians teach that sinners will be burnt up by the fires of judgment, Origen replies that such thoughts had been entertained by certain foolish Christians, who were unable to see distinctly the sense of each particular passage, or unwilling to devote the necessary labor to the investigation of Scripture. * * * And perhaps, as it is appropriate to children that some things should be addressed to them in a manner befitting their infantile condition, to convert them, * * * so such ideas as Celsus refers to are taught.” But he adds that “those who require the administration of punishment by fire” experience it “with a view to an end which is suitable for God to bring upon those who have been created in his image.” In reply to the charge of Celsus that Christians teach that God will act the part of a cook in burning men, Origen says,–“not like a cook but like a God who is a benefactor of those who stand in need of discipline of fire.” V. xv, xvi.
Origen declares that sinners who are “incurable” are converted by the threat of punishment. “As to the punishments threatened against the ungodly, these will come upon them after they have refused all remedies, and have been, as we may say, visited with an incurable malady of sinfulness. Such is our doctrine of punishment; and the inculcation of this doctrine turns many away from their sins.” 19
Pamphilus and Eusebius in their “Apology for Origen” quote these words from him: “We are to understand that God, our physician, in order to remove those disorders which our souls contract from various sins and abominations, uses that painful mode of cure, and brings those torments of fire upon such as have lost the health of the soul, just as an earthly physician in extreme cases subjects his patients to cautery.”
But Origen always makes salvation depend on the consenting will; hence he says, (De Prin. II, i:2), “God the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all his creatures through the ineffable plan of his Word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than to which the motives of his own mind led him.”
Origen teaches that in the final estate of universal human happiness there will be differing degrees of blessedness. After quoting I Thess. iv:15-17, he says: “A diversity of translation and a different glory will be given to every one according to the merits of his actions; and every one will be in that order which the merits of his work have procured for him.”
Mosheim and Robertson.
Mosheim thus expresses Origen’s views: “As all divine punishments are salutary and useful, so also that which divine justice has inflicted on vitiated souls, although it is a great evil, is nevertheless salutary in its tendency, and should conduct them to blessedness. For the tiresome conflict of opposite propensities, the onsets of the passions, the pains and sorrows and other evils arising from the connection of the mind with the body, and with a sentient soul, may and should excite the captive soul to long for the recovery of its lost happiness, and lead it to concentrate all its energies in order to escape from its misery. For God acts like a physician, who employs harsh and bitter remedies, not only to cure the diseased, but also to induce them to preserve their health and to avoid whatever might impair it.”20
The candid historian Robertson gives an accurate statement of Origen’s eschatology, with references to his works, as follows: “All punishment, he holds, is merely corrective and remedial, being ordained in order that all creatures may be restored to their original perfection. At the resurrection all mankind will have to pass through a fire; the purged spirits will enter into Paradise, a place of training for the consummation; the wicked will remain in the ‘fire,’ which, however, is not described as material, but as a mental and spiritual misery. The matter and food of it, he says, are our sins, which, when swollen to the height, are inflamed to become our punishment; and the outer darkness is the darkness of ignorance. But the condition of these spirits is not without hope, although thousands of years may elapse before their suffering shall have wrought its due effect on them. On the other hand, those who are admitted into Paradise may abuse their free will, as in the beginning, and may consequently be doomed to a renewal of their sojourn in the flesh. Every reasonable creature-even Satan himself-may be turned from evil to good, so as not to be excluded from salvation.” 21
Notwithstanding Robertson’s doubt, expressed elsewhere in his history, whether Origen taught the salvability of “devils,” Origen’s language is clear. He says: “But whether any of these orders who act under the government of the Devil * * * will in a future world be converted to righteousness * * * or whether persistent and inveterate wickedness may be changed by the power of habit into nature, is a result which you yourself, reader, may approve of;” but he goes on to say that in the eternal and invisible worlds, “all those beings are arranged according to a regular plan, in the order and degree of their merits; so that some of them in the first, others in the second, some even in the last times, after having undergone heavier and severer punishments, endured for a lengthened period, and for many ages, so to speak, improved by this stern method of training, and restored at first by the instruction of the angels, and subsequently by the powers of a higher grade and thus advancing through each stage to a better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal, having traveled through, by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers. From which, I think, this will appear to follow as an inference that every rational nature may, in passing from one order to another, go through each to all, and advance from all to each, while made the subject of various degrees of proficiency and failure according to its own actions and endeavors, put forth in the enjoyment of its power of freedom of will.” 22
The “Dictionary of Christian Biography.”
Says the “Dictionary of Christian Biography:” Origen “openly proclaims his belief that the goodness of God, when each sinner shall have received the penalty of his sins, will, through Christ, lead the whole universe to one end.” “He is led to examine into the nature of the fire which tries every man’s work, and is the penalty of evil, and he finds it in the mind itself–in the memory of evil. The sinner’s life lies before him as an open scroll, and he looks on it with shame and anguish unspeakable. The Physician of our souls can use his own processes of healing. The ‘outer darkness’ and Paradise are but different stages in the education of the great school of souls, and their upward and onward progress depends on their purity and love of truth. He who is saved is saved as by fire, that if he has in him any mixture of lead the fire may melt it out, so that all may be made as the pure gold. The more the lead the greater will be the burning, so that even if there be but little gold, that little will be purified. * * * The fire of the last day, will, it may be, be at once a punishment and a remedy, burning up the wood, hay, stubble, according to each man’s merits, yet all working to the destined end of restoring man to the image of God, though, as yet, men must be treated as children, and the terrors of the judgment rather than the final restoration have to be brought before those who can be converted only by fears and threats. * * * Gehenna stands for the torments that cleanse the soul, but for the many who are scarcely restrained by the fears of eternal torments, it is not expedient to go far into that matter, hardly, indeed, to commit our thoughts to writing, but to dwell on the certain and inevitable retribution for all evil. * * * God is indeed a consuming fire, but that which he consumes is the evil that is in the souls of men, not the souls themselves.” (Dr. A. W. W. Dale.)
Translation of Origen’s Language on Universal Restoration.
Crombie’s translation (Ante-Nicene Library, Edinburgh, 1872) thus renders Origen: “But as it is in mockery that Celsus says we speak of ‘God coming down like a torturer bearing fire’ and thus compels us unseasonably to investigate words of deeper meaning, we shall make a few remarks. * * * The divine Word says that our ‘God is a consuming fire’ and that ‘He draws rivers of fire before him;’ nay, that he even entereth in as ‘a refiner’s fire, and as a fuller’s herb’ to purify his own people. But when he is said to be a ‘consuming fire’ we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God. And we assert that they are wickedness and the works which result from it, and which, being figuratively called ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ God consumes as a fire. The wicked man, accordingly, is said to build up on the previously laid foundation of reason, ‘wood, and hay, and stubble.’ If, then, any one can show that these words were differently understood by the writer, and can prove that the wicked man literally builds up ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,’ it is evident that the fire must be understood to be material, and an object of sense. But if, on the contrary, the works of the wicked man are spoken of figuratively, under the names of ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,’ why does it not at once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word ‘fire’ is to be taken, so that ‘wood’ of such a kind should be consumed? For the Scripture says: “The fire shall try each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work be burned, he shall suffer loss.’ But what work can be spoken of in these words as being ‘burned,’ save all that result from wickedness?” Ag. Cels: IV. xiii; xciv.
One of the unaccountable mysteries of religious thinking is that all Christians should not have agreed with Origen on this point. “God is Love;” love, which from its nature can only consume that which is inimical to its object,–Man, and not man himself.
Again, “If then that subjection be good and salutary by which the Son is said to be subject to the Father, it is an extremely rational and logical inference to deduce that the subjection also of enemies which is said to be made to the Son of God, should be understood as being also salutary and useful; as if, when the Son is said to be subject to the Father, the perfect restoration of the whole of creation is signified, so also, when enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the salvation of the conquered and the restoration of the lost is in that understood to consist. This subjection, however, will be accomplished in certain ways, and after certain training, and at certain times; for it is not to be imagined that the subjection is to be brought about by the pressure of necessity (lest the whole world should then appear to be subdued to God by force), but by word, reason and doctrine; by a call to a better course of things; by the best systems of training; by the employment also of suitable and appropriate threatenings, which will justly impend over those who despise any care or attention to their salvation and usefulness.” De Prin. III, v. “I am of opinion that the expression by which God is said to be ‘all in all,’ means that he is ‘all’ in each individual person. Now he will be ‘all’ in each individual in this way: when all which any rational understanding cleansed from the dregs of every sort of vice, and with every cloud of wickedness completely swept away, can either feel, or understand, or think, will be wholly God; and when it will no longer behold or retain anything else than God, but when God will be the measure and standard of all its movements, and thus God will be ‘all,’ for there will no longer be any distinction of good and evil, seeing evil nowhere exists; for God is all things, and to him no evil is near. * * * So, then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be reestablished in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that, when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, he who alone is the one good God becomes to him ‘all,’ and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but he himself is ‘all in all.’ And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be ‘all in all.'” Thus the final restoration of the moral universe is not to be wrought in violation of the will of the creature: the work of ‘transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all,” no “soul or rational existence is compelled by force against the liberty of his own will.” DePrin. III, vi.
Again: “Let us see now what is the freedom of the creature, or the termination of its bondage. When Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, then also those living things, when they shall have first been made the kingdom of Christ, shall be delivered, along with the whole of that kingdom, to the rule of the Father, that when God shall be all in all, they also, since they are a part of all things, may have God in themselves, as he is in all things.” Origen regarded the application topunishment of the word aionios, mistranslated everlasting, as in perfect harmony with this view, saying that the punishment of sin, “though ‘aionion,’ is not endless.” He observes further: “The last enemy, moreover, who is called death, is said on this account (that all may be one, without diversity) to be destroyed that there may not be anything left of a mournful kind, when death does not exist, nor anything that is adverse when there is no enemy. The destruction of the last enemy, indeed, is to be understood not as if its substance, which was formed by God, is to perish, but because its mind and hostile will, which came not from God, but from itself, are to be destroyed. Its destruction, therefore, will not be its non-existence, but its ceasing to be an enemy, and (to be) death. And this result must be understood as being brought about not suddenly, but slowly and gradually, seeing that the process of amendment and correction will take place imperceptibly in the individual instances during the lapse of countless and unmeasured ages, some outstripping others, and tending by a swifter course towards perfection, while others again follow close at hand, and some again a long way behind; and thus, through the numerous and uncounted orders of progressive beings who are being reconciled to God from a state of enmity, the last enemy is finally reached, who is called death, so that he also may be destroyed and no longer be an enemy. When, therefore, all rational souls shall have been restored to a condition of this kind, then the nature of this body of ours will undergo a change into the glory of the spiritual body.”
In “Contra Celsum” (B.VIII.), Origen says: “We assert that the Word, who is the Wisdom of God, shall bring together all intelligent creatures, and convert them into his own perfection, through the instrumentality of their free will and of their own exertions. The Word is more powerful than all the diseases of the soul, and he applies his remedies to each one according to the pleasure of God–for the name of God is to be invoked by all, so that all shall serve him with one consent.”
Mercy and Justice Harmonious.
The heresy that has wrought so much harm in modern theology, that justness and goodness in God are different and hostile attributes was advocated, Origen says, by “some” in his day, and he meets it admirably (De Prin. II, v:1-4), by showing that the two attributes are identical in their purpose. “Justice is goodness,” he declares. “God confers benefits justly, and punishes with kindness, since neither goodness without justice, nor justice without goodness, can display the dignity of the divine nature.”
Origen’s Grand Statement.
Origen argues that God must be passionless because unchanging. Wrath, hatred, repentance, are ascribed to him in the Bible because human infirmities require such a presentation. Punishment results from sin as a legitimate consequence, and is not God’s direct work. * * * In the Restitution God’s wrath will not be spoken of. God really has but one passion–Love. All he does illustrates some phase of this divine emotion. He declares that with God the one fixed point is the End, when God shall be all in all. All intelligent work has a perfect end. Of Col. i: 20 and Heb. ii: 19, he says: Christ is “the Great High Priest, not only for man but for every rational creature.” In his Homilies on Ezekiel, he says: “If it had not been conductive to the conversion of sinners to employ suffering, never would a compassionate and benevolent God have inflicted punishment.” Love, which “never faileth,” will preserve the whole creation from all possibility of further fall; and “God will be all in all,” forever.
Note.–Celsus seems to have been the first heathen author to name the Christian books, so that they were well-known within a century of our Lord’s death. We, undoubtedly, have every objection, advanced by him against Christianity, preserved in Origen’s reply. He not only attacks our faith on minor points, but his chief assaults are directed to show that the new religion is not a special revelation; that its doctrines are not new; that it is not superior to other religions; that its doctrines are unreasonable; that if God really spoke to men, it would not be to one small nation, in an obscure corner; that the miracles (though actual occurrences) were not wrought by divine power; that Jesus was not divine, and did not rise from the dead; that Christianity is an evolution. He took the same view as Renan, Strauss and modern “Rationalists,” charging the supposed appearance of Jesus after his crucifixion to the imaginings of “a distracted woman,” or to the delusions of those who fancied what they desired to see.
Celsus sometimes selected the views of unauthorized Christians, as when he charged that they worshipped Christ as God. Origen’s reply proves that Christ was held to be divine, but not Deity. He says: “Granted that there may be some individuals among the multitude of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Savior is the most High God; we do not hold with them, but rather believe him when he says: “The Father who sent me is greater than I.” Had Christians then held Christ to be God, he could not have said this.
Celsus was the father of “Rationalism,” and Origen the exponent of a reverent and rational Christian belief.
1 Eusebius Eccl. Hist. VI. Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Vol. IV, pp. 224-231, contains quite a full sketch of Origen’s life, though as he was not canonized he is only embalmed in a foot note.
2 Demetrius is entitled to a paragraph in order to show the kind of men who sometimes controlled the scholarship and opinions of the period. When the patriarch Julian was dying he dreamed that his successor would come next day, and bring him a bunch of grapes. Next day this Demetrius came with his bunch of grapes, an ignorant rustic, and he was soon after seated in the episcopal chair. It was this ignoramus who tyrannically assumed control of ecclesiastical affairs, censured Origen, and compelled bishops of his own appointing to pass a sentence of degradation on Origen, which the legitimate presbyters had refused.
3 Hist. Christ. Church, I, pp. 54-55.
4 De Pressense’ Martyrs and Apologists II, p. 340.
5 Bayle, Dict. Hist. Art. Origene.
6 Cont. Cels. VI. 25.
7 Consult also, Mosheim, Dorner and De Pressense.
8 Homily XI in Numbers, in Migne.
9 Harnack’s Outlines, pp. 150-154.
10 Uhlhorn (B, II, c. ii) says that in Celsus’s attack “Every argument is to be found which has been brought against Christianity up to the present day.” “The True Word of Celsus * * * is to be found almost entire in the treatise which Origen wrote in reply.” Neoplatonism, by C. Bigg, D.D.
11 Kitto Cyclo; Davidson’s Biblical Criticism, Vol. I.
12 De Principiis, Crombie’s Translation. Epist. ad Amicos.
13 In Jeremiah Hom. xviii: 6, Ag. Cels. IV. xxii.
14 Selecta in Exodum: Also, De Prin. I, vi: 3.
15 De Prin. II. iii: 5.
16 Canon Farrar says in Mercy and Judgment, p. 409, “For an exhaustive treatment of this word aionios see Hanson’s Aion Aionios.”
17 Some of the texts Origen quotes in proof of universal salvation: Luke iii:16; I Cor. iii:15; Isa. xvi:4; xii:1; xxiv:22; xlvi:14,15; Micah vii:9; Ezek. xvi:53,55; Jer. xxv:15,16; Matt. xviii:30; John x:16; Rom. xi:25,26; Rom. xi:32; I Pet. iii:18-21, etc.
18 De Prin. II, x: 3, 4. I, i. Ag. Cels. iv, 13.
19 Ag. Cels. VIII. xxxix. xl.
20 Com. II, pp. 194,195.
21 Hist. Christ. Church, I, p. 114.
22 Origen held that meant limited duration, and consequently that must mean limited. See De Prin. I, vi: 3.
The students, biographers and critics of Origen of all schools of thought and theology mainly agree in representing him as an explicit promulgator of Universalism. Canon Westcott styles him the great corrector of that Africanism which since Augustine has dominated Western theology. He thus defines his views: “All future punishments exactly answer to individual sinfulness, and, like punishments on earth, they are directed to the amendment of the sufferers. Lighter offenses can be chastised on earth; the heavier remain to be visited hereafter. In every case the uttermost farthing must be paid, though final deliverance is promised.”
Blunt on Origen.
Blunt, in his excellent work, describes the heathen admixtures and corruptions in manner, custom, habit, conduct and life that began to prevail during the latter part of the Third Century, as the influence of the great Alexandrine fathers waned, and the Latinizing of the church began to assert itself.1
Dr. Bigg on Origen.
“There will come a time when man, completely subjected to Christ by the operation of the Holy Ghost,” says Bigg, epitomizing Origen, “shall in Christ be completely subjected to the Father. But now,” he adds, “the end is always like the beginning. The manifold diversity of the world is to close in unity, it must then have sprung from unity. His expansion of this theory is in fact an elaborate commentary upon the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans and the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Those, he felt, were the two keys, the one to the eternity before, and other to the eternity after. What the church cannot pardon, God may. The sin which has no forgiveness in this æon or the æon to come, may be atoned for in some one of the countless æons of the vast hereafter.” This exegesis serves to show us how primitive church treated the “unpardonable sins.” (Matt. xii: 32.) The sin against the Holy Ghost “shall not be forgiven in this world (aion, age) nor in the world (aion, age) to come.” According to Origen, it may be in “some one of the countless æons of the vast hereafter.”
The historian Schaff concedes that among those quickened and inspired to follow Origen were Pamphilus, Eusebius of Cæsarea, Didymus of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Gregory of Nyssa; and among the Latin fathers, Hilary and Jerome. And he feels obliged to add: “Gregory of Nyssa and perhaps also Didymus, even adhered to Origen’s doctrine of the final salvation of all created intelligences.”2
Bunsen on Origen.
Bunsen declares that Origen adduces in “De Principiis,” in favor of “the universality of final salvation,” the arguments of “nearly all the “Ante-Nicene fathers before him.” And Bunsen proceeds to show that the conviction that so broad a faith would not enable hierarchs to control the people, inclined his opponents to resort to the terrors of an indefinite, and thus, to their apprehension, infinite and eternal punishment, which has vengeance and not amendment for its end. “Away with Origen! What is to become of virtue, and heaven, and–clerical power, if the fear of eternal punishment is not forever kept before men’s eyes as the prop of human and divine authority?” So thought Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria in 230. Bunsen adds that Origen taught that “the soul, having a substance and life of her own, will receive her reward, according to her merits, either obtaining the inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, or being delivered over to eternal death and torments,” after which comes the resurrection, the anastasis, the rising into incorruption and glory, when “finally at the end of time, God will be all in all; not by the destruction of the creature, but by its gradual elevation into his divine being. This is life eternal, according to Christ’s own teaching.” Of the grand faith in universal redemption, Prof. Plumptre says: “It has been, and is, the creed of the great poets whom we accept as the spokesmen of a nation’s thoughts.” 3
Origen Cruelly Treated.
The treatment experienced by Origen is one of the anomalies of history. The first hostility to him, followed by his deposition and excommunication, A.D. 232, is conceded to have been in consequence of his opposition to the Episcopal tendencies of Bishop Demetrius, and the envy of the bishop. His Universalism was not in question. Lardner says that he was “not expelled from Alexandria for heresy, but for envy.” Bunsen says: “Demetrius induced a numerous synod of Egyptian bishops to condemn as heretical * * * Origen’s opinion respecting the universality of final salvation.” But Bunsen seems to contradict his own words by adding: “This opinion he had certainly stated so as even to hold out a prospect of the conversion of Satan himself by the irresistible power of the love of the Almighty,” bet he was condemned “‘not,’ as says St. Jerome, who was no friend to his theology, ‘on account of novelty of doctrine–not for heresy–but because they could not bear the glory of his learning and eloquence.'” The opposition to Origen seems to have begun in the petty anger of Demetrius, who was incensed because of Origen, a layman, delivered discourses in the presence of bishops (Alexander and Theoctistus), though at their request, and because he was ordained our of his diocese. Demetrius continued his persecutions until he had degraded Origen from the office of presbyter, though all the ecclesiastical authorities in Palestine refused to recognize the validity of the sentence. His excommunication, however, was disregarded by the bishops of Palestine, Arabia and Greece. Going from Alexandria to Greece and Palestine, Origen was befriended by Bishop Firmilian in Cappadocia for two years; and was also welcomed in Nicomedia and Athens.4
Huet says: “Everyone, with hardly an exception, adhered to Origen.” And Doucin: “Provided one had Origen on his side, he believed himself certain to have the truth.”
Origen’s Theology Generally Accepted.
That his opinions were not obnoxious is proved by the fact that most of his friends and followers were placed in charge of the most important churches. Says De Pressense: “The Eastern church of the Third Century canceled, in fact, the sentence passed upon Origen under the influence of the hierarchical party. At Alexandria itself his disciples maintained the pre-eminence, and at the death of Demetrius, Heraclas, who had been the most intimate friend and trusted disciple of Origen, was raised to the Episcopal dignity by the free choice of the elders. * * * Heraclas died A.D. 249 and was succeeded by another disciple of Origen, * * * Dionysius of Alexandria. * * * He was an assiduous disciple of Origen, and with his death the halcyon days of the school of Alexandria were now over. Dionysius was the last of its great masters.” It is to be deplored that none of the writings of Dionysius are known to exist.
Theophylact, Bishop of Cæsarea, expressed the most ardent friendship for Origen, and offered him a refuge in Cæsarea, and a position as teacher. Firmilian, Bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, received Origen during Maximin’s persecution, and was always a fast friend. The majority of the Palestinian bishops were friendly. Jerome mentions Trypho as a disciple of Origen. He was author of several commentaries on the Old Testament. Hippolytus is spoken of as “a disciple of Origen and Dionysius of Alexandria, ‘the Origen of the West'” * * * attracted to Origen “by all the affinities of heart and mind.”
His Universalism Never Condemned.
The state of opinion on the subject of universal salvation is shown by the fact that through Ignatius, Irenænus, Hippolytus and others wrote against the prevalent heresies of their times, Universalism is never named among them. Some of the alleged errors of Origen were condemned, but his doctrine of universal salvation, never. Methodius, who wrote A.D. 300; Pamphilus and Eusebius, A.D. 310; Eustathius, A.D. 380; Epiphanius, A.D. 376 and 394; Theophilus, A.D. 400-404, and Jerome, A.D. 400; all give lists of Origen’s errors, but none name his Universalism among them. Besides, some of those who condemned his errors were Universalists, as the school of Antioch. And many who were opponents of Origenism were mentioned by Origen’s enemies with honor notwithstanding they were Universalists, as Clement of Alexandria, and Gregory of Nyssa.
Pamphilus and Eusebius, A.D. 307-310, jointly wrote an Apology for Origen that contained declarations from the ancient fathers endorsing his views of the Restitution. This work, had it survived, would undoubtedly be an invaluable repository of evidence to show the general prevalence of his views on the part of those whose writings have not been preserved. All Christians must lament with Lardner the loss of a work that would have told us so much of the great Alexandrian. It seems to have been the fashion with the ancient Latin theologians to burn the books they could not refute.
Farrar names the eminent ancients who mention Origen with greatest honor and respect. Some, like Augustine, do not accept his views, but all utter eulogistic words, many adopt his sentiments, and Eusebius added a sixth book to the production of Pamphilus, in consequence of the detractions against Origen. While he had his opponents and defamers, the best and the most of his contemporaries and immediate successors either accepted his doctrines or eulogized his goodness and greatness.
Origen bitterly lamented the misrepresentation of his views even during his lifetime. How much more might he have said could he have foreseen what would be said of him after his death.
Pamphilus, who was martyred A.D. 294, and Eusebius, in their lost Apology for Origen, which is mentioned by at least two writers who had seen it, gave many testimonies of fathers preceding Origen, favoring Universalism,5 and Domitian, Bishop of Ancyra, complains that those who condemn the restorationism of Origen “anathematize all those saints who preceded and followed him,” implying the generalprevalence of Universalism before and after the days of Origen.
Among the celebrated contemporaries and immediate successors of Origen whose writings on the question of man’s final destiny do not survive, but who, from the relations they sustained to this greatest of the Fathers, must have sympathized with his belief in universal restoration, may be mentioned Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem (A.D. 216), a fellow student; Theoctistus, Bishop of Cæsarea (A.D. 240-260); Heraclas, Bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 200-248); Ambrose (A.D. 200-230); Firmilian, Bishop of Cæsarea (A.D. 200-270); Athenodore, his brother (A.D. 210-270); all friends and adherents of Origen. They must have cherished what was at the time the prevalent sentiment among Oriental Christians–a belief in universal restoration–though we have no testimonies from them.
On the unsupported statement of Jerome, Origen is declared to have protested his orthodoxy to the reigning Pope, Fabian, A.D. 246, and solicited re-admission to the communion of the church. He is said to have laid the blame of the publication of some of his heterodox sentiments to the haste of his friend Ambrose. But as Origen continued to teach Universalism all the rest of his life the statement of Jerome must be rejected, or universal restoration was not among the heterodox doctrines. At the time Origen is said to have written the letter, his pupil and friend, Dionysius, was Patriarch of Alexandria, and he wrote to Pope Fabian and other bishops, it is probable, to effect a reconciliation, to which Dionysius and most of the bishops would be favorable. Besides, Origen is on record as classing all bishops as of equal eminence, except as goodness gave them superior rank, so that he could not have regarded Fabian as pope. That the general sentiment during Origen’s times and for some time after was universalistic is thus made apparent. 6
Ancient Universalist Schools.
Dr. Beecher’s Testimony.
Dr. Beecher says: “Two great facts stand out on the page of ecclesiastical history. One, that the first system of Christian theology was composed and issued by Origen in the year 230 after Christ, of which a fundamental and essential element was the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union with God. The second is, that after the lapse of a little more than three centuries, in the year 544, this doctrine was for the first time condemned and anathematized as heretical. * * * From and after this point (A.D. 553) the doctrine of eternal punishment reigned with undisputed sway during the Middle Ages that preceded the Reformation. * * * What, then, was the state of facts as to the leading theological schools of the Christian world, in the age of Origen, and some centuries after? It was in brief this: There were at least six theological schools in the church at large. Of these six schools, one, and only one, was decidedly and earnestly in favor of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. One was in favor of the annihilation of the wicked, two were in favor of the doctrine of universal restoration on the principles of Origen, and two in favor of universal restoration on the principles of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It is also true that the prominent defenders of the doctrine of universal restoration were decided believers in the divinity of Christ, in the Trinity, in the incarnation and atonement, and in the great Christian doctrine of regeneration; and were in piety, devotion, Christian activity, and missionary enterprise, as well as in learning and intellectual power and attainments, inferior to none in the best ages of the church, and were greatly superior to those by whom, in after ages, they were condemned and anathematized. From two theological schools there went forth an opposition to the doctrine of eternal punishment, which had its ground in a deeper Christian interest; inasmuch as the doctrine of a universal restoration was closely connected with the entire dogmatic systems of both of these schools, namely that of Origen (Alexandrian), and the school of Antioch.” “Three at least of the greatest of the ancient schools of Christian theology–the schools of Alexandria, Antioch and Cæsarea–leaned on this subject to the views of Origen, not in their details, but in their general hopefulness. * * * The fact that even these Origenistic fathers were able, with perfect honesty, to use the current phraseology, shows that such phraseology was at least capable of a different interpretation from that (now) commonly put upon it.” The school in Northern Africa favored the doctrine of endless punishment; that in Asia Minor annihilation. The two in Alexandria and Cæsarea were Universalistic of the school of Origen; those at Antioch and Edessa were Universalistic of the school of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus. “Decidedly the most powerful minds (300 to 400 A.D.) adopted the doctrine of universal restoration, and those who did not adopt it entered into no controversy about it with those who did. In the African school all this was reversed. From the very beginning they took strong ground in favor of the doctrine of eternal punishment, as an essential part of a great system of law of which God was the center.” 7
It should be noted, however, that the schools in Asia Minor and Northern Africa, where annihilation and endless punishment were taught, were not strictly divinity schools, but mere seminaries.
The one school out of the six in Christendom that taught endless punishment was in Africa, and the doctrine was derived by Latins from misunderstanding a foreign language, through mis-translations of the original Greek Scriptures, and was obtained by infusing the virus of Roman secularism into the simplicity of Christianity. Maine in his “Ancient Law” attributes the difference between Eastern and Western theology to this cause. The student of primitive Christianity will see than Tertullian, Cyprian, Minucius Felix, down to Augustine, were influenced by these causes, and created the theological travesty that ruled the Christian world for dark and sorrowful centuries.
On this point (that Origen’s views were general) Neale observes: “In reading the works of Origen, we are not to consider his tenets and opinions as those of one isolated doctor;–they are rather an embodiment of the doctrines handed down in the Catechetical school of Alexandria. And this school was the type, or model, according to which the mind of the Alexandrine church was cast; the philosophy of Pantænus descended to Clemens,–and from him it was caught by Origen.” 8
From these facts it is easily seen that the heresies of which Origen was accused did not touch the doctrine of universal restoration. They were for teaching inequality between the persons of the Trinity, the pre-existence of the human soul, denying the resurrection of the body, affirming that wicked angels will not suffer endless punishment, and that all souls will be absorbed into the Infinite Fountain whence they sprang, like drops falling into the sea. This latter accusation was a perversion of his teaching that God will be “all in all.” Some of these doctrines are only found in alleged quotations in the works of his opponents, as Jerome and others who wrote against him. His language was sometimes misunderstood, and oftener ignorantly or purposely perverted. Many quotations are from works of his not in existence. Interpolations and alterations were made by his enemies in his works even during his lifetime, as he complained. Epiphanius “attacked Origen in Jerusalem after he was dead, and tried to make Bishop John denounce him. Failing here he tried to compel Jerome, through fear for his reputation for orthodoxy, to do the same, and succeeded so far as to disgrace Jerome forever for his meanness, and cowardice, and double dealing. The Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, came to his aid in anathematizing Origen. He called a synod A.D. 399, in which he condemned Origen and anathematized all who should read his works.” “After this, Epiphanius died. But his followers pursued the same work in his spirit, until Origen was condemned again by Justinian;” this time for his Universalism, but, as will be seen hereafter, the church did not sustain Justinian’s attack.9
Dr. Pond’s Misrepresentation of Origen.
The reprehensible practices to which the odium theologicum has impelled good men, is illustrated by Dr. Enoch Pond, professor in Bangor Theological Seminary. Displeased with the wonderfully candid statements of Dr. Edward Beecher, in his articles in “The Christian Union,” afterwards contained in “History of the Doctrine of Future Retribution,” he reviewed the articles in the same paper, and in order to convict Dr. Beecher of inaccuracy, Dr. Pond quotes from Crombie’s translation of Rufinus’s Latin version instead of from Crombie’s rendering of the actual Greek of Origen, and this, too, when not only does Rufinus confess that he has altered the sense but in the very book (III) from which Dr. Pond quotes is Crombie’s translation of the Greek, and the following note from Crombie is at the beginning of the chapter: “The whole of this chapter has been preserved in the original Greek, which is literally translated in corresponding portions on each page, so that the differences between Origen’s own words and the amplifications and alterations of the paraphrase of Rufinus may be at once patent to the reader.” It almost seems that there is a fatality attendant upon all hostile critics who deal with Origen. The injustice he received in life seems to have dogged his name in every age.
The manner in which theological questions were settled and creeds established in those days, is shown by Athanasius. He says that when the Emperor Constantius at the council of Milan, A.D. 355, commanded the bishops to subscribe against Athanasius and they replied that there was no ecclesiastical canon to that effect, the Emperor said, “Whatever I will, let that be esteemed a canon.”
Universalism in Good Repute in the Fifth Century.
A.D. 402, when Epiphanius came for Cyprus to Constantinople with a synodical decree condemning Origen’s books without excommunicating Origen, he declined Chrysostom’s invitation to lodge at the Episcopal palace, as Chrysostom was a friend and advocate of Origen. He urged that clergy of the city to sign the decree, but, Socrates says, “many refused, among them Theotinus, Bishop of Scythia, who said, ‘I choose not, Epiphanius, to insult the memory of one who ended his life piously long ago; not dare I be guilty of so impious an act, as that of condemning what our predecessors by no means rejected; and specially when I know of no evil doctrine contained in Origen’s books. * * * Those who attempt to fix a stigma on these writings are unconsciously casting a dishonor upon the sacred volume whence their principles are drawn.’ Such was the reply which Theotinus, a prelate, eminent for his piety and rectitude of life, made to Epiphanius.” In the next chapter (xiii), Socrates states that only worthless characters decried Origen. Among them he mentions Methodius, Eustathius, Apollinaris and Theophilus, as “four revilers,” whose “censure was his commendation.” Socrates was born about A.D. 380, and his book continues Eusebius’s history to A.D. 445, and he records what he received from those who knew the facts. This makes it clear that while Origen’s views were rejected by some, they were in good repute by the most and the best, two hundred years after his death.
Even Augustine admits that “some, nay, very many” (nonnulli, quam plurimi), pity with human feeling, the everlasting punishment of the damned, and do not believe that it is so.” 10 The kind of people thus believing are described by Doederlein, “The more highly distinguished in Christian antiquity any one was for learning, so much the more did he cherish and defend the hope of future torments sometime ending.”
Different Opinions on Human Destiny.
Previous to A.D. 200 three different opinions were held among Christians–endless punishment, annihilation, and universal salvation; but, so far as the literature of the times shows, the subject was never one of controversy, and the last-named doctrine prevailed most, if the assertions of it in literature are any test of its acceptance by the people. For a hundred and fifty years, A.D. 250 to 400, though Origen and his heresies on many points are frequently attacked and condemned, there is scarcely a whisper on record against his Universalism. On the other hand, to be called an Origenist was a high honor, from 260 to 290. A.D. 300 on, the doctrine of endless punishment began to be more explicitly stated, notably by Arnobius and Lactantius. And thenceforward to 370, while some of the fathers taught endless punishment, and others annihilation, the doctrine of most is not stated. One fact, however, is conspicuous: though all kinds of heresy were attacked, Universalism was not considered sufficiently heretical to entitle it to censure.11
1 Copious references have already been made on this point.
2 “The theology of Christendom and its character for the first three centuries was shaped by three men. Ignatius, Irenæus and Cyprian gave its organization; Clement and Origen its form of religious thought.” British Quarterly Review, 1879.
3 Spirits in Prison, p. 13. Dr. Ballou in his Ancient History of Universalism, p. 95, note, gives at length references to the passages in Delarue’s edition of Origen in which the doctrine of universal salvation is expressed in Origen’s own words.
4 De Pressense charges the acrimony of Demetrius to Origen’s opposition to the encroachments of the Episcopate and to his disapproval of the ambition of the hierarchy. Martyrs and Apologists, p. 332.
5 Routh, Reliquiæ Sacræ, iii, p. 498.
6 “At the close of the Second Century the church in Alexandria was wealthy and numerous. Demetrius, the bishop, gave the finishing stroke to the congregationalism of the church by censuring Origen and by appointing suffragan bishops whom he persuaded to pass a sentence upon Origen which the presbyters had refused to sanction.” Redepenning, as quoted by Bigg.
7 Hist. Doct. Fut. Ret.
8 Holv Eastern Church. p. 37.
9 Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, defends Origen from the attacks of his enemies, and finding him sound on the co-eternity of Christ with God, will not hear of any heresy in him. Eccl. Hist., b. vi, ch. xiii.
10 Enchirid. ch. 112.
11 According to Reuss “The doctrine of a general restoration of all rational creatures has been recommended by very many of the greatest thinkers of the ancient church and of modern times.
The Eulogists of Origen.
This chief Universalist of the centuries immediately succeeding the apostles was, by general consent, the most erudite and saintly of all the Christian fathers. Historians, scholars, critics, men of all shades of thought and opinion emulate one another in exalting his name, and praising his character. This volume could be filled with their eulogiums. Says one of the most judicious historians: “If any man deserves to stand first in the catalogue of saints and martyrs, and the be annually held up as an example to Christians, this is the man, for except the apostles of Jesus Christ, and their companions, I know of no one among all those enrolled and honored as saints who excel him in virtue and holiness.” 1 A discriminating critic declares: “His work upon the text of Scripture alone would entitle Origen to undying gratitude. There has been no truly great man in the church who did not love him a little.” 2 Bunsen remarks: “Origen’s death is the real end of free Christianity, and in particular, of free intellectual theology.” 3
The Tributes of Scholars.
The learned author of “The Martyrs and Apologists” truthfully observes: “Origen never swerved from this Christian magnanimity, and he remains the model of the theologian persecuted by haughty bigotry. Gentle as Fenelon under hierarchical anathemas, he maintained his convictions without faltering, and neither retracted nor rebelled. We may well say with the candid Tillemont that although such a man might hold heretical opinions he could not be a heretic, since he was utterly free from that spirit which constitutes the guilt of heresy.” 4 Canon Westcott writes: “He examines with a reverence, an insight, a grandeur of feeling never surpassed, the questions of the inspiration and the interpretation of the Bible. The intellectual value of the work may best be characterized by one fact: a single sentence taken from it was quoted by Butler as containing the germ of his ‘Analogy.’ After sixteen hundred years we have not yet made good the positions which he marked out as belonging to the domain of Christian philosophy. * * * His whole life was ‘one unbroken prayer’ to use his own language of what an ideal life should be.”5 The sober historian Lardner records only a candid appreciation of the man when he says: “He had the happiness of uniting different accomplishments, being at once the greatest preacher and the most learned and voluminous writer of the age; nor is it easy to say which is most admirable, his learning or his virtue.” 6 Plumptre vies with Origen’s other eulogists, and Farrar in all his remarkable books can never say enough in his praise. A brief extract from him will suffice: “The greatest of all the fathers, the most apostolic man since the days of the apostles, the father who on every branch of study rendered to the church the deepest and widest services–the immortal Origen. * * * The first writer, the profoundest thinker, the greatest educator, the most laborious critic, the most honored preacher, the holiest confessor of his age. We know no man in the whole Christian era, except St. Paul, who labored so incessantly, and rendered to the church such inestimable services. We know of no man, except St. Paul, who had to suffer from such black and bitter ingratitude. He, the converter of the heathen, the strengthener of the martyrs, the profoundest of Christian teachers, the greatest and most learned of the interpreters of Scripture–he to whom kings and bishops and philosophers had been proud to listen–he who had refuted the ablest of all the assailants of Christianity.–he who had founded the first school of Biblical exegesis and Biblical philology–he who had done more for the honor and the knowledge of the Oracles of God not only than all his assailants (for that is not saying much), but than all the then bishops and writers of the church put together–he who had known the Scriptures from infancy, who had vainly tried to grasp in boyhood the crown of martyrdom, who had been the honored teacher of saints, who had been all his life long a confessor–he in the very errors of whose life was more of nobleness than in the whole lives of his assailants,–who had lived a life more apostolic, who did more and suffered more for the truth of Christ than any man after the first century of our era, and whose accurately measurable services stand all but unapproachable by all the centuries–I, for one, will never mention the name of Origen without the love, and the admiration, and the reverence due to one of the greatest and one of the best of the saints of God.”
A Catholic Eulogy.
Even modern Catholics–in spite of the ban of pope and council–join the great army of Origen’s eulogists. Says the “Catholic World:”
“Alexandria, the cradle of Eastern genius at that time, became the Christian Thermopylæ, and Origen the Christian Leonidas. It was he who headed the forces, and, by the splendor of his genius, prepared in his school illustrations men to lead on the van. He vindicated the truth from calumny, supported it by facts, disengaged it from the sophisms in which enemies had obscured it, and held it up to view in all its natural beauty and attraction. * * * Heathens were delighted with his language, full of unction and charm, and the literati of the age, who had been lost in the intricacies of Aristotle, the obscurities of Plato, and the absurdities of Epicurus, wondered at the young Christian philosopher.”7
Referring to the hard words that most advocates of universal redemption who are past middle life have received, Red. Edward Beecher, D.D., declares, in his “History of the Doctrine of Future Retribution:” “An evil spirit was developed at that time in putting down Origen which has ever since poisoned the church of all denominations. It has been as a leprosy in all Christendom. Nor is this all: measures were then resorted to for the suppression of error which exerted a deadly hostility against all free investigation, from the influence of which the church universal has not yet recovered.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica, article Origen, (Prof. Adolf Harnack), voices the conclusions of the scholarly world:
“Of all the theologians of the ancient church, with the possible exception of Augustine, Origen is the most distinguished and the most influential. He is the father of the church’s science; he is the founder of a theology which was brought to perfection in the Forth and Fifth Centuries, and which still retained the stamp of his genius when in the Sixth Century it disowned its author. It was Origen who created the dogmatic of the church and laid the foundations of the scientific criticism of the Old and New Testaments. He could not have been what he was unless two generations before him had labored at the problem of finding an intellectual expression and a philosophic basis for Christianity: (Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Pantænus, Clement.) But their attempts, in comparison with his, are like a schoolboy’s essays beside the finished work of a master. * * * By proclaiming the reconciliation of science with the Christian faith, of the highest culture with the Gospel, Origen did more than any other man to win the Old World to the Christian religion. But he entered into no diplomatic compromises; it was his deepest and most solemn conviction that the sacred oracles of Christendom embraced all the ideals of antiquity. His character was as transparent as his life was blameless; there are few church fathers whose biography leaves so pure an impression on the reader. The atmosphere around him was a dangerous one for a philosopher and theologian to breathe, but he kept his spiritual health unimpaired and even his sense of truth suffered less injury than was the case with most of his contemporaries. * * * Orthodox theology has never, in any of these confessions, ventured beyond the circle which the mind of Origen first measured out.”
Fourth Century Universalists Ideal Christians.
We conclude these eulogies, which might be multiplied indefinitely, by giving the high authority of Max Muller: “Origen was as honest as a Christian as he was as a philosopher, and it was this honesty which made Christianity victorious in the Third Century, and will make it victorious again whenever it finds supporters who are determined not to sacrifice their philosophical convictions to their religious faith or their religious faith to their philosophical convictions. * * * If we consider the time in which he lived, and study the testimony which his contemporaries bore of his character, we may well say of him, as of others who have been misjudged by posterity:
‘Denn wer den Besten seiner Zeit genug gelebt,
Der hat genug gelebt fur alle Zeiten.'”8
If any man since the death of Paul should rank as the patron saint of the Universalist church, it is the greatest and best of all the ancient fathers, Origen Adamantius.
Note.–It has been asserted that Origen did not actually teach the ultimate salvation of all souls, because he insisted that the human will is eternally free, and therefore it is argued that he must have held that souls may repent and be saved, and sin and fall forever. But this is not true, for Origen taught that at some period in the future, love and holiness will be so absorbed by all souls that, though, theoretically, they will be free, they will so will that lapse will be impossible. Jerome, Justinian, Dr. Pond, and others are explicitly confuted by the great scholar and saint. In his comments on Romans vi:9,10, he says: “The apostle decides, by an absolute decision, that now Christ dies no more, in order that those who live together with him may be secure of the endlessness of their life. * * * Free-will indeed remains, but the power of the cross suffices for all orders, and all ages, past and to come. And that free-will will not lead to sin, is plain, because love never faileth, and when God is loved with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, where is the place for sin?” In his great work “De Principiis,” he declares: “The nature of this body of ours will be changed into the glory of the spiritual body, in which state we are to believe that it will remain always and immutably by the will of the Creator,” etc. Though Origen insisted that the human will must forever be free, he did not admit that the soul could abuse its freedom by continuing forever to lapse into sin.
1 Mosheim, Hist. Com. in Christ, before Constantine, ii, p. 149.
2 Christ. Plat. of Alex., p. 303.
3 Hipp. and his Age, pp. 285, 286.
4 Bunsen, pp. 326, 327.
5 Essays, pp. 236-252.
6 Cred. Gos. Hist., Vol. II, p. 486.
7 April, 1874.
8 Theos. or Psych. Rel. Lect. XIII.
A Third Century Group.
While we mourn that so little of the literature of the early days of our religion remains, the wonder is that we have so much, rather than so little. The persecutions of Decius and Diocletian–especially of the latter–were most unrelenting towards Christian books.1 “The volumes which escaped from the perils of those days were like brands snatched from the fire.” “A little dust–precious, indeed, as gold–in a few sepulchral urns, is all that now remains.” And later, the burning of the Alexandrine library by the Arabs, the destructive persecutions of heretics, the ban of council, and the curse of pope and priest, in the church’s long eclipse, destroyed innumerable volumes, so that there is ample reason to believe that, could we inspect all that Clement, Origen and others wrote, in the original Greek, untampered with, we should have pages where we now have sentences avowing Universalism. Occasionally an ancient volume is yet found, accidentally buried, as was the Philosophumena of Hippolytus, formerly attributed to Origen, discovered by a learned Greek in a monastery on Mount Athos, in the year 1842. Of the ten books contained in the volume, the second, the third, and the beginning of the fourth are gone.
Hippolytus (about A.D. 220) enumerates and comments on thirty-two heresies, but universal restoration is not named among them. 2 And yet, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen–then living–were everywhere regarded as the great teachers of the church, and their view of man’s future destiny was generally prevalent, according to Augustine, Jerome and others. It could not then have been regarded as a “heresy” or Hippolytus would have named it. What a force there is in fact that not one of those who wrote against the heresies of their times ever named universal salvation as one of them! Hippolytus mentions thirty-two. Epiphanius wrote his Panarion and epitomizes it in his Anacephalæosis or Recapitulation, but not one of the heresy-hunters includes our faith in his maledictions. Can there be stronger evidence than this fact that the doctrine was not then heretical?
Dean Wordsworth’s Error.
It is curious to notice how the mind of a theologian can be prejudiced. Dean Wordsworth in his translation of Hippolytus gives the language of that contemporary of Origen, to show that the former had no sympathy with the broad faith of the latter. He quotes Hippolytus thus: “The coming malediction of the judgment of fire, and the dark and rayless aspect of tartarus, not irradiated by the voice of the Word, and the surge of the everflowing lake, generating fire, and the eye of tartarean avenging angels ever fixed in malediction,” etc. The Dean unwarrantably, because inaccurately, translateskolaston “avenging,” a meaning it does not possess. It is rendered punish, chastise, correct, but never carries the sense of revenge. Furthermore, disregarding the fact that the acknowledged Universalist fathers denounce the sinner with words as intense as is the above language, which may be literally fulfilled and yet restoration ensue beyond it all, the Dean renders the very next paragraph thus: “You will have your body immortal () and incorruptible (), together with your soul” (, life). Now had Hippolytus intended to teach the absolutely interminable duration of the “tartarean fire,” would he not have used these stronger terms, aphtharton and athanaton, which are never employed in the New Testament to teach limited duration, and is not the fact that he used the weaker word to describe punishment, evidence that he did not in this passage in the “Philosophumena” intend to teach the sinner’s endless torment?
Not less surprising is the language of Dean Wordsworth, and his misreading of the facts of history, when he comments on the harsh and bitter tone of Hippolytus, in his treatment of heretics, in the “Philosophumena.” Contrasting the acrid temper of Hippolytus with the sweetness of Origen, Dean Wordsworth says:
“The opinion of Origen with regard to future punishments is well known. The same feelings which induced him to palliate the errors of heretics, beguiled him into exercising his ingenuity in tampering with the declarations of Scripture concerning the eternal duration of the future punishment of sin. Thus false charity betrayed him into heresy.” 3
This is a sad reversal of cause and effect. Why not say that the sublime fact of God’s goodness resulting in universal salvation, created in Origen’s heart that generous charity and divine sweetness that caused him to look with pity rather than with anger on human error, in imitation of the God he worshipped?
Theophilus of Antioch, who wrote about A.D. 180, and was bishop of Antioch, speaks of aionian torments, and aionian fire, but he must have used the terms as did Origen and the other ancient Universalists, for he says: “For just as a vessel which, after it has been made, has some flaw, is remade or remolded, that it may become new and bright, so it comes to man by death. For in some way or other he is broken up, that he may come forth in the resurrection whole, I mean spotless, and righteous, and immortal.”4
Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) was born in Carthage, Africa, about A.D. 160, and died A.D. 220. He had a fine Pagan education in Roman law and rhetoric, but lived a heathen into mature manhood, and confesses that his life had been one of vice and licentiousness.5 Converted to Christianity he became in later years a presbyter. He lived a moral and religious life after his conversion, but the heathen doctrines he retained rendered his spirit harsh and bitter. About A.D. 202 he joined the Montanists, a schismatic, ascetic sect. Those who sympathized with him were known as Tertullianists as late as the Fifth Century. His abilities were great, but, as Schaff says, he was the opposite of the equally genial, less vigorous, but more learned and comprehensive Origen.
Advocates Endless Torment.
Tertullian was the first of the Africo-Latin writers who commanded the public ear, and there is strong ground for supposing that since Tertullian quotes the sacred writings perpetually and copiously, the earliest of those many Latin versions noticed by Augustine and on which Jerome grounded his vulgate, were African. * * * “Africa, not Rome, gave birth to Latin Christianity.” A learned writer states: “His own authority is small, he was not a sound divine, became heterodox, and fell away into one of the heresies of his times.” 6 The fountain of Paganism in the heart of Tertullian discharged its noxious waters into into the larger reservoir in the mighty brain of Augustine, and thence in the Sixth Century it submerged Christendom with a deluge that lasted for a thousand years,–now happily subsiding, to give place to those primal Christian truths that were in the hearts of Clement and Origen. Tertullian and Origen were as unlike as the churches they represent,–the Latin and the Greek. Narrow, Pagan, cruel, un-Christian, the dark path of the Tertullian-Augustine type of Christianity through the centuries is strewn with the wrecks of ignorance and sorrow. He retained his heathen notions and gave them a Christian label. He makes the Underworld, like the heathen, divided by an impassable gulf into two parts. The abode of the righteous is sinus Abrahae, that of the wicked ignis or inferi. Tertullian was probably the first of the fathers to assert that the torments of the lost will be of equal duration with the happiness of the saved. “God will recompense his worshipers with life eternal; and cast the profane into a fire equally perpetual and unintermitted.” 7
In Tertullian’s Apology are fifty arguments for the Christian religion, but not once does he state that endless punishment was one of the doctrines of the church. He seems to have been half-inclined to the truth, for he speaks of the sinner as being able, after death, to pay “the uttermost farthing.”
Tertullian illustrates the effect of the doctrine he advocated in his almost infernal exultations over the future torments of the enemies of the church. “How I shall admire, how I shall laugh, how exult,” he cries with fiendish glee, “to see the torments of the wicked.” * * * “I shall then have a better chance of hearing the tragedians call louder in their own distress; of seeing the actors more lively in the dissolving flame; of beholding the charioteer glowing in his fiery chariot; of seeing their wrestlers tossing on fiery waves instead of in their gymnasium,” etc.8 Referring to the “spectacles” he anticipates, he says: “Faith grants us to enjoy them even now, by lively anticipation; but what shall the reality be of those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive? They may well compensate, surely, the circus and both amphitheatres and all the spectacles the world can offer.” No wonder DePressense says, “This joy in the anticipation of the doom of the enemies of Christ is altogether alien to the spirit of the Gospel; that mocking laugh, ringing across the abyss which opens to swallow up the persecutors,” etc. But why “alien,” if a God of love ordained, and the gentle Christ executes, the appalling doom? Was not Tertullian nearer the mood a Christian should cultivate than are those who are shocked by his description, if it is true? Max Muller calls attention to the fact that Tertullian and the Latin fathers were obliged to cripple the Greek Christian thought by being destitute of even words to express it. He has to use two words, verbum and ratio, to express Logos. “Not having Greek tools to work with,” he says, “his verbal picture often becomes blurred.”
Hase says that Tertullian was a “gloomy, fiery character, who conquered for Christianity, out of the Punic Latin, a literature in which ingenious rhetoric, a wild imagination, a gross, sensuous perception of the ideal, profound feeling, and a juridical understanding struggled with each other.”
Ambrose of Alexandria.
Ambrose of Alexandria, A.D. 180-250, was of a noble and wealthy family. Meeting Origen he accepted Christianity as taught by the magister orientis, and urged and stimulated his great teacher to write his many books, and used his fortune to further them. Thus we owe generally, it is said, nearly all the exegetical works of Origen to Ambrose’s influence and money; and especially his commentary on St. John. It was at his request also that Origen composed his greatest work, the answer to Celsus. He left no writings of his own except some letters, but his devotedness to Origen, and his agency in promoting the publication of his works, should convince us that Origen’s views are substantially his own.9
The Manichæans, followers of Mani, were a considerable sect that had a following over a large part of Christendom from A.D. 277 to 500. Eusebius is very bitter in describing the sect and its founder. “He was a madman,” and his “ism, patched up of many faults and impious heresies, long since extinct.” Socrates calls it “a kind of heathenish Christianity,” and says it is composed of a union of Christianity with the doctrines of Empedocles and Pythagoras. Lardner quotes the evident misrepresentations of Eusebius and Socrates and exposes their inaccuracies.
A large amount of literature was expended on some of their doctrines, but not on their denial of endless torment. In fact, Didymus the Blind, as well as Augustine, seems to have opposed their errors, though the “merciful doctor” gives them, as Lardner says, “no hard names,” while the father of Calvinism treats them with characteristic severity, ignoring what he himself acknowledges elsewhere, that for eight or nine years he accepted their tenets. Referring to the vile practices and doctrines with which they are charged, Lardner says: “The thing is altogether incredible, especially when related of people who by profession were Christians; who believed that Jesus Christ was a perfect model of all virtues; who acknowledged the reasonableness and excellence of the precepts of the Gospel, and that the essence of religion lies in obeying them.” The consensus of ancient authorities proves the Manichæans to have been an unpopular but reputable Christian sect.
Mani was a Persian, a scholar, and a Christian. Beginning his debate with Archelaus, he says: “I, brethren, am a disciple and an apostle of Jesus Christ;” and he and his followers everywhere claim to be disciples of our Lord. Among their dogmas, was one that denied endless existence to the devil, who was then considered to be almost the fourth person in the popular Godhead,–they repudiated the resurrection of the body and clearly taught universal restoration. Lardner quotes Mani in his dispute with Archelaus, as saying: “All sorts of souls will be saved, and the lost sheep will be brought back to the fold.” And after quoting their adversaries as stating that the Manichæans taught the eternity of hell torments, Lardner says, quoting Beausobre: “All which means no more than a privation of happiness, or a labor and task, rather than a punishment. Indeed it is reasonable to think the Manichæans should allow but very few, if any, souls to be lost and perish forever. That could not be reckoned honorable to the Deity, considering how souls were sent into matter.”10 Lardner is certainly within bounds when he says: “But it is doubtful whether they believed the eternity of hell torments.”
Prof. Shedd’s Historical Inaccuracy.
The astonishing way in which, as Wendell Phillips once said, “what passes for history,” is written, may be seen in Professor William G. T. Shedd’s “History of Christian Doctrine.” He says: “The punishment inflicted upon the lost was regarded by the fathers of the ancient church, with very few exceptions, as endless. * * * The only exception to the belief in the eternity of future punishment in the ancient church appears in the Alexandrine school. Their denial of the doctrine sprang logically out of their anthropology. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, we have seen, asserted with great earnestness the tenet of a plenary and inalienable power in the human will to overcome sin. The destiny of the soul is thus placed in the soul itself. The power of free will cannot be lost, and if not exerted in this world, it still can be in the next; and under the full light of the eternal world; and under the stimulus of suffering there experienced, nothing is more probable than that it will be exerted. The views of Origen were almost wholly confined to this school. Faint traces of a belief in the remission of punishments in the future world are visible in the writings of Didymus of Alexandria, and in Gregory of Nyssa. * * * With these exceptions, the ancient church held that the everlasting destiny of the human soul is decided in this earthly state.”11 The reader who will turn to the sketches of Didymus and Gregory will discover what Prof. Shedd denominates “faint traces,” and in the multitudes of quotations from others of the fathers who were not of the Alexandrine school, he will see how utterly inaccurate is this religious historian. Numerous quotations flatly contradict his assertion. The verbal resemblance of Dr. Shedd’s language to that of Hagenbach, cannot be wholly due to accident.12 Prof. Shedd, however, contradicts what Schaff and Hagenbach declare to be the truth of history. He says that the Alexandrine school was the only exception to a universal belief in endless punishment, except the faint traces in Gregory of Nyssa; while Hagenbach insists that Gregory is more explicit, and Neander affirms that the school of Antioch as well as that of Alexandria, were Universalistic. Furthermore, Prof. Shedd does not seem to have remembered the words he had written with his own pen in his translation of Guerike’s Church History: 13“It is noticeable that the exegetico-grammatical school of Antioch, as well as the allegorizing Alexandrian, adopted and maintained the doctrine of restoration.” Says Hagenbach, “Some faint traces of a belief in the final remission of punishments in the world to come are to be found in those writings of Didymus of Alexandria, which are yet extant. * * * Gregory of Nyssa speaks more distinctly upon this point, pointing out the corrective design of the punishments inflicted upon the wicked.” Hagenbach expressly places Gregory and Didymus as differing, while Shedd makes them agree. But Neander declares: “From two theological schools there went forth an opposition to the doctrine of everlasting punishment, which had its ground in a deeper Christian interest; inasmuch as the doctrine of a universal restoration was closely connected with the entire dogmatic systems of both these schools, namely, that of Origen, and the school of Antioch.” 14
1 Wordsworth’s St. Hippolytus and the Church of Rome, p. 144.
2 Philosophumena or Refutation of Heresy.
3 Hippolytus followed up at Rome the Alexandrine doctrine and position of Pantænus and Clemens, and was the predecessor of Origen, etc. Bunsen.
4 Ad Autolicum, lib. II, cap. 26, Vol. VI, Migne’s Patrologiæ
5 De resur. carn., chap. 59. “Ego me scio neque alia carne adulteria commisso, neque nunc alia carne ad continentian eniti.”
6 Oxford Tracts for the Times, No. XVII.
7 Apol., cap. 18.
8 Quid admirer? quid rideam? ubi gaudeam, ubi exsultem, spectans tot et tantos, etc. De Spectaculis, xxx.
9 Euseb. Hist. Eccl. B. vi.
10 Beausobre, Hist. de Manich. I, 9, chs. 7-9. See the remarkable quotations concerning Mani in Lardner Vol. III.
11 Vol. II, pp. 414-416.
12 Hist. Doct. II, Sec. 142. Edin. Ed. 1884.
13 P. 349, note.
14 Vol. II, p. 676.
Among the celebrated fathers who have left no record of their views of human destiny, but who, from their positions, and the relations they sustained, must, beyond all rational doubt, have been Universalists, may be mentioned Athenodorus, who was a student of Origen’s, and a bishop in Pontus; Heraclas, a convert of Origen’s, his assistant and successor in the school at Alexandria, and bishop of Alexandria; Firmilian, a scholar of Origen’s, and bishop of Cæsarea; and Palladius, bishop in Asia Minor.
Firmilian, though he wrote little, and is therefore not much known, was certainly very conspicuous in his day. His theology may be gauged from the fact that “he held Origen in such high honor that he sometimes invited him into his own district for the benefit of the churches, and even journeyed to Judea to visit him, spending long periods of time with him in order to improve in his knowledge of theology.” 1 He was a warm friend of Dionysius, Cyprian, and Gregory Thaumaturgus, and was chosen president of the Council of Antioch.
Dionysius–styled by Eusebius “the great bishop of the doctrine. He says: “My guardian angel, on our arrival to Cæsarea, handed us over to the care and tuition of Origen, that leader of all, who speaks in undertones to God’s dear prophets, and suggests to them all their prophesy and their mystic and divine word, has so honored this man Origen as a friend, as to appoint him to be their interpreter.” As Origen spoke, Gregory tells us he kindled a love “in my heart I had not known before. This love induced me to give up country and friends, the aims which I had proposed to myself, the study of law of which I was proud. I had but one passion, one philosophy, and the god-like man who directed me in the pursuit of it.” He became bishop of Cæsarea, and was regarded as the incarnation of the orthodoxy of his times. Almost nothing of his writings has survived, but Rufinus, the apologist and defender of Origen, gives a passage, says Allin, showing that he taught the divine truth he learned from his master.
Pamphilus, A.D. 250-309, was one of the greatest scholars of his times. He founded the famous library of Cæsarea, which contained some of the most ancient codices of the New Testament, and also Origen’s books in their original Greek. Pamphilus wrote an “Apology” and defense of Origen, with whom he was in full sympathy. Eusebius wrote the biography of Pamphilus in three books. Unfortunately it has been lost, so that nothing survives of the works of this eminent Christian writer and scholar. The esteem in which he was held by Eusebius may be gauged from the fact that after his death Eusebius, “the father of ecclesiastical history,” changed his own name to “Pamphilus’s Eusebius.” The “Apology” contained “very many testimonies of fathers earlier than Origen in favor of restitution.”3 How lamentable that these “testimonies” are lost! What light they would shed on early opinion on the great theme of this book. As Origen was born about ninety years after St. John’s death, these very numerous “testimonies” would carry back these doctrines very close, or altogether to the apostolic age.
“With Pamphilus, the era of free Christian theology of the Eastern church ends.” Pamphilus, according to Eusebius, was “a man who excelled in every virtue through his whole life whether by a renunciation and contempt of the world, by distributing his substance among the needy, or by a disregard of worldly expectations, and by a philosophical deportment and self-denial. But he was chiefly distinguished above the rest of us by his sincere devotedness to the sacred Scriptures, and by an indefatigable industry in what he proposed to accomplish, by his great kindness and alacrity to serve all his relatives, and all that approached him.” He copied, for the great library in Cæsarea, most of Origen’s manuscripts, with his own hands.
Eusebius was probably born in Cæsarea. He was a friend of Origen, and fellow-teacher with him in the Cæsarean school, and published with Pamphilus a glowing defense of Origen in six books, of which five are lost. He also copied and edited many of his works. Dr. Beecher, in his “History of Future Retribution,” asserts the Universalism of Eusebius, though Dr. Ballou, in his “Ancient History” does not quote them.
On I Cor. xv:28, Eusebius says: “If the subjection of the Son to the Father means union with him, then the subjection of all to the Son means union with him. * * * Christ is to subject all things to himself. We ought to conceive of this as such a salutary subjection as that by which the Son will be subject to him who subjects all to him.” 4Again on the second psalm: “The Son breaking in pieces his enemies for the sake of remolding them as a potter his own work, as Jer. xviii: 6, is to restore them once more to their former state.” Jerome distinctly says of Eusebius: “He, in the most evident manner, acquiesced in Origen’s tenets.” His understanding of terms is seen where he twice calls the fire that consumed two martyrs unquenchable” (asbesto puri). Eusebius is as severe in describing the sinner’s woes as Augustine himself. He says: “Who those were (whose worm dieth not) he showed in the beginning of the prophecy, ‘I have nourished and brought up children and they have set me at nought.’ He spoke darkly then of those of the Jews who set at nought the saving grace. Which end of the ungodly our Savior himself also appoints in the Gospel, saying to those who shall stand on the left hand, ‘Go ye into the aionian fire, prepared from the devil and his angels.’ As then the fire is said to be aionion, se here ‘unquenchable,’ one and the same substance encircling them according to the Scriptures.”
In varied and extensive learning, and as a theologian and writer, and most of all as an historian, Eusebius was far before most of those of his times; and though high in the confidence of his Emperor, Constantine, he did not make his influence contribute to his own personal aggrandizement. He was so kind toward the Arians, with whom he did not agree, that he was accused of Arianism by such as could not see how one could differ from another without hating him. Most of his writings have perished. Of course his name is chiefly immortalized by his “Ecclesiastical History.”
Athanasius (A.D. 296-373). This great man was a student of Origen and speaks of him with favor, defends him as orthodox, and quotes him as authority. He argues for the possibility and pardon for even the sin against the Holy Ghost. He says: “Christ captured over again the souls captured by the devil, for that he promised in saying, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.'” On Ps. lxviii, 18: “When, then, the whole creation shall meet the Son in the clouds, and shall be subject to him, then, too, shall the Son himself be subject to the Father, as being a faithful Apostle, and High Priest of all creation, that God may be all in all.”5 Athanasius nominated Didymus the Blind as president of the Catechetical school of Alexandria, where he presided sixty years, an acknowledged Universalist, which is certainly evidence of the sympathies, if not of the real views of Athanasius. He called Origen a “wonderful and most laborious man,” and offers no condemnation of his eschatology.
Didymus, “the illustrations,” the Blind, was born, it is supposed, in Alexandria, A.D. 309. He became entirely blind when four years of age, and learned to write by using tablets of wood. He knew the Scriptures by heart, through hearing them read. He died, universally esteemed, A.D. 395. He was held to be strictly orthodox, though known to cherish the views of Origen on universal restoration. After his death, in the councils of A.D. 553, 680, and 787, he was anathematized for advocating Origen’s “Abominable doctrine of the transmigration of souls,” but nothing is said in condemnation of his pronounced Universalism.
Of the Descent of Christ into Hades, he says,–as translated by Ambrose: “In the liberation of all no one remains a captive; at the time of the Lord’s passion, he alone (the devil) was injured, who lost all the captives he was keeping.” 6 Didymus argues the final remission of punishment, and universal salvation, in comments on I Timothy and I Peter. He was condemned by name in the council of Constantinople and his works ordered destroyed. Were they in existence no doubt many extracts might be given. Jerome and Rufinus state that he was an advocate of universal restoration. Yet he was honored by the best Christians of his times. Schaff says: “Even men like Jerome, Rufinus, Palladius, and Isadore sat at his feet with admiration.” After Jerome turned against Origen (See sketch of Jerome) he declares that Didymus defended Origen’s words as pious and Catholic, words that “all churches condemn.”
And he adds: “In Didymus we extol his great power of memory, and his purity of faith in the Trinity, but on other points, as to which he unduly trusted Origen, we draw back from him.” Schaff declares him to have been a faithful follower of Origen. Socrates calls him “the great bulwark of the true faith,” and quotes Antony as saying: “Didymus, let not the loss of your bodily eyes distress you; for although you are deprived of such organs as confer a faculty of perception common to gnats and flies, you should rather rejoice that you have eyes such as angels see with, by which the Deity himself is discerned, and his light comprehended.” According to the great Jerome, he “surpassed all of his day in knowledge of the Scriptures.” He wrote voluminously, but very little remains.
He says: “For although the Judge at times inflicts tortures and anguish on those who merit them, yet he who more deeply scans the reasons of things, perceiving the purpose of his goodness, who desires to amend the sinner, confesses him to be good.”
Again he says: “As men, by giving up their sins, are made subject to him (Christ), so too, the higher intelligences, freed by correction from their willful sins, are made subject to him, on the completion of the dispensation ordered for the salvation of all. God desires to destroy evil, therefore evil is (one) of those things liable to destruction. Now that which is of those things liable to destruction will be destroyed.” He is said by Basnage to have held to universal salvation.
These are samples of a large number of extracts that might be made from the most celebrated of the Alexandrine school, representing the type of theology that prevailed in the East, during almost four hundred years. They are not from a few isolated authorities but from the most eminent in the church, and those who gave tone to theological thought, and shaped and gave expression to public opinion. There can be no doubt that they are true exponents of the doctrines of their day, and that man’s universal deliverance from sin was the generally accepted view of human destiny, prevalent in the Alexandrine church from the death of the apostles to the end of the Fourth Century. And in this connection it may be repeated that the Catechetical school in Alexandria was taught by Anaxagoras, Pantænus, Origen, Clement, Heraclas, Dionysius, Pierius, Theognostus, Peter Martyr, Arius and Didymus, all Universalists, so far as is known. The last teacher in the Alexandrine school was Didymus. After his day it was removed to Sida in Pamphylia, and soon after it ceased to exist.7
The historian Gieseler records that “the belief in the inalienable capability of improvement in all rational beings, and the limited duration of future punishment, was so general, even in the West, and among the opponents of Origen that, whatever may be said of its not having risen without the influence of Origen’s school, it had become entirely independent of his system.” So that doctrine may be said to have prevailed all over Christendom, East and West, among “orthodox” and heterodox alike.
Epiphanius, a narrow-minded, credulous, violent-tempered, but sincere man, A.D. 310-404, was bishop of Constantia in Cyprus, A.D. 367. He bitterly opposed Origen, and denounced him for a multitude of errors, but he does not hint that his views of restoration were objectionable to himself, or to the church, at the time he wrote. He “began those miserable Origenistic controversies in which monkish fanaticism combined with personal hatreds and jealousies to brand with heresy the greatest theologian of the primitive church.”8 To his personal hatred and bitterness is due much, if not most, of the opposition to Origenism that began in the latter part of the Fourth Century. In an indictment of eighteen counts, published A.D. 380, we find what possibly may have been the first intended censure of Universalism on record, though it will be observed that its animus is not against the salvation of all mankind, but against the salvability of evil spirits. Epiphanius says: “That which he strove to establish I know not whether to laugh at or grieve. Origen, the renowned doctor, dared to teach that the devil is again to become what he originally was–to return to his former dignity. Oh, wickedness! Who is so mad and stupid as to believe that holy John Baptist, and Peter, and John the Apostle and Evangelist, and that Isaiah also and Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets, are to become fellow-heirs with the devil in the kingdom of Heaven!”9 The reader can here see the possible origin of the familiar argument of recent times.
In his book against heresies, “The Panarion,” this “hammer of heretics” names eighty; but universal salvation is not among them. The sixty-fourth is “Origenism,” but, as is seen elsewhere in this volume, that stood for other dogmas of Origen and not for his Universalism.
Methodius, bishop of Tyre (A.D. 293). His writings, like so many of the works of the early fathers, have been lost, but Epiphanius and Photius have preserved extracts from his work on the resurrection. He says: “God, for this cause, pronounced him (man) mortal, and clothed him with mortality, that man might not be an undying evil, in order that by the dissolution of the body, sin might be destroyed root and branch from beneath, that there might not be left even the smallest particle of root, from which new shoots of sin might break forth.” Again, “Christ was crucified that he might be adored by all created things equally, for ‘unto him every knee shall bow,'” etc. Again: “The Scriptures usually call ‘destruction’ the turning to the better at some future time.” Again: “The world shall be set on fire in order to purification and renewal.”10
The general drift, as well as the definite statements of the minor authorities cited in this chapter, show the dominant sentiment of the times.
1 Eusebius, VI:26.
2 Holy Eastern Church, I:84. Eusebius repeatedly speaks of him in the loftiest terms.
3 Routh, Rel. Sac., III, p. 498. Oxford ed., 1846.
4 De Eccl. Theol., Migne, Vol. XXIV, pp. 1030-33.
5 Sermon Major de fide. Migne, vol. XXVI, pp. 1263-1294.
6 De Spir. Sanct., Ch. 44.
7 Neander, Hist. Christ. Dogmas, I, p. 265 (London, 1866), who cites Nieder (Kirchengeschichte), for full description of the different theological schools.
8 Dict. Christ. Biog., II, p. 150.
9 Epiph. Epist. ad Johan. inter Hieron. Opp. IV, part. ii, in Ballou’s Anc. Hist, p. 194.
10 De Resurr., VIII.
Bishop of Constantinople.
Gregory of Nazianzus, born A.D. 330, was one of the greatest orators of the ancient church. Gibbon sarcastically says: “The title of Saint has been added to his name, but the tenderness of his heart, and the elegance of his genius, reflect a more pleasing luster on the memory of Gregory Nazianzen.” The child of a Christian mother, Nonna, he was instructed in youth in the elements of religion. He enjoyed an early acquaintance with Basil, and in Alexandria with Athanasius. With Basil his friendship was so strong that Gregory says it was only one soul in two bodies. A.D. 361, he became presbyter, and in 379 he was called to the charge of the small, divided orthodox church in Constantinople, which had been almost annihilated by the prevalence of Arianism. He so strengthened and increased it, that the little chapel became the splendid “Church of the Resurrection.” A.D. 380 the Emperor Theodosius deposed the Arian bishop, and transferred the cathedral to Gregory. He was elected bishop of Constantinople in May, 381, and was president of the OEcumenical council in Constantinople, while Gregory Nyssa added the clauses to the Nicene creed. He resigned because of the hostility of other bishops, and passed his remaining days in religious and literary pursuits. He died A.D. 390 or 391. He was second to Chrysostom as an orator in the Greek church. More than this, he was one of the purest and best of men, and his was one of the five or six greatest names in the church’s first five hundred years. Prof. Schaff styles him “one of the champions of Orthodoxy.”
Gregory says: “God brings the dead to life as partakers of fire or light. But whether even all shall hereafter partake of God, let it be elsewhere discussed.” Again he says: “I know also of a fire not cleansing () but chastising (), * * * unless anyone chooses even in this case to regard it more humanely, and creditably to the Chastiser.” This is a remarkable instance of the esoteric, and well may Petavius say: “It is manifest that in this place St. Gregory is speaking of the punishments of the damned, and doubted whether they would be eternal, or rather to be estimated in accordance with the goodness of God, so as at some time to be terminated.” And Farrar well observes: “If this last sentence had not been added the passage would have been always quoted as a most decisive proof that this eminently great father and theologian held, without any modification, the severest form of the doctrine of endless torments.”
The Penalties of Sin.
Gregory tells us: “When you read in Scripture of God’s being angry, or threatening a sword against the wicked * * * understand this rightly, and not wrongly * * * how then are these metaphors used? Figuratively. In what way? With a view to terrifying minds of the simpler sort.”
He writes again: “A few drops of blood renew the whole world, and become for all men that which rennet is for milk, uniting and drawing us into one.” Christ is “like leaven for the entire mass, and having made that which was damned one with himself, frees the whole from damnation.” And yet Gregory describes the penalties of sin in language as fearful as though he did not teach restoration beyond it. He says: “That sentence after which is no appeal, no higher judge, no defense through subsequent work, no oil from the wise virgins or from those who sell, for the failing lamps; * * * but one last fearful judgment, even more just than formidable, yea, rather the more formidable because it is also just; when thrones are set and the Ancient of Days sitteth, and books are open, and a stream of fire sweepeth * * * and they who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment * * * (where) the torment will be, with the rest, or rather above all the rest, to be cast off from God, and that shame in the conscience which hath no end.” 1
The character of Gregory shows us the kind of mind that leans to the larger hope, or, perhaps, the disposition that the larger hope produces. Says Farrar: “Poet, orator, theologian; a man as great theologically as he was personally winning 2 * * * the sole man whom the church has suffered to share that title (Theologian) with the Evangelist St. John, * * * the most learned and the most eloquent bishop in one of the most learned ages of the church, whom St. Basil called ‘a vessel of election, a deep well, a mouth of Christ;’ whom Rudinus calls ‘incomparable in life and doctrine.” Gregory of Nazianzus deserved the honor of sainthood if any man has ever done, being as he was, one of the bravest men in an age of confessors, one of the holiest men in an age of saints.” * * * “In questions of eschatology he seems more or less to have shared, though with wavering language, in some of the views of Origen, which the church has partly adopted and partially uncondemned–the view, especially, that there shall be hereafter a probatory and purifying fire, and that we may indulge a hope in the possible cessation, for many, if not for all, of the punishments which await sin beyond the grave. He speaks indeed far less openly than Gregory of Nyssa, of a belief in the final restoration of all things, but even this belief lies involved in his remarks on the prophecy of St. Paul, concerning the day when ‘God shall be all in all.'”
When Gregory and his congregation had been attacked in their church, while celebrating our Lord’s baptism, by the Arian rabble of Constantinople, in consequence of the report that they were Tritheists, Gregory heard that Theodorus was about to appeal for redness to Theodosius, whereupon the good man wrote that while punishment might possibly prevent recurrence of such conduct, it was better to give an example of long-suffering. “Let us,” said he, “overcome them by gentleness, and win them by piety; let their punishment be found in their own consciences, not in our resentment. Dry not up the fig-tree that may yet bear fruit.” The Seventh General Council called him “Father of Fathers.”
That he regarded punishment after death as limited, is sufficiently evident from his reference to the heretical Novatians: “Let them, if they will, walk in our way and in Christ’s. If not, let them walk in their own way. Perchance there they will be baptized with fire, with that last, that more laborious and longer baptism, which devours the substance like hay, and consumes the lightness of all evil.” 3
Neander says: “Gregory of Nazianzen did not venture to express his own doctrine so openly (as Gregory Nyssen) but allows it sometimes to escape when he is speaking of eternal punishment. The Antiochan school were led to this doctrine, not by Origen but by their own thinkings and examinations of the Scripture. They regarded the two-fold division of the development of the creature as a general law of the universe. This led to the final result of universal participation in the unchangeable divine life. Hence the was taught by Diodorus of Tarsus, in his treatise on the Incarnation of God, and also by Theodorus. He applied Matt. v:26, to prove a rule of proportion, and an end of punishment. God would not call the wicked to rise again if they must endure punishment without amendment.” 4
1 Orat. xi, Carm. xxi, Orat. xlii; Migne, Vols. XXXVI, XXI.
2 See Newman’s Hist. Essays, Vol. III.
3 Assemani Bibl. Orient. Tom. III, p. 323.
4 Hist. Christ. Dogmas, Vol. II. Hagenbach testifies to the same. Dogmas, Vol. I.
Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians.
Theodore of Mopsuestia was born in Antioch, A.D. 350, and died 428 or 429. He ranked next to Origen in the esteem of the ancient church. For nearly fifty years he maintained the cause of the church in controversy with various classes of assailants, and throughout his life his orthodoxy was regarded as unimpeachable. He was bishop for thirty-six years, and died fill of honors; but after he had been in his grave a hundred and twenty-five years, the church had become so corrupted by heathenism that it condemned him for heresy. He was anathematized for Nestorianism, but his Universalism was not stigmatized. His great renown and popularity must have caused his exalted views of God’s character and man’s destiny to prevail more extensively among the masses than appears in the surviving literature of his times.
His own words are: “The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of his grace. For he never would have said, ‘until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,’ unless we can be released from suffering after having suffered adequately for sin; nor would he have said, ‘he shall be beaten with many stripes,’ and again, ‘he shall be beaten with few stripes,’ unless the punishment to be endured for sin will have an end.” 1
Views Defined by Great Scholars.
Professor E. H. Plumptre writes: “Theodore of Mopsuestia teaches that in the world to come those who have done evil all their life long will be made worthy of the sweetness of the divine beauty.” And in the course of a statement of Theodore’s doctrine, Prof. Swete observes 2 that Theodore teaches that “the punishments of the condemned will indeed be in their nature eternal, being such as belong to eternity and not to time, but both reason and Scripture lead us to the conclusion that they will be remissible upon repentance. ‘Where,’ he asks, ‘would be the benefit of a resurrection to such persons, if they were raised only to be punished without end?’ Moreover, Theodore’s fundamental conception of the mission and person of Christ tells him to believe that there will be a final restoration of all creation.”3 Theodore writes on Rom. vi, 6: “All have the hope of rising with Christ, so that the body having obtained immortality, thenceforward the proclivity to evil should be removed. God recapitulated all things in Christ * * * as though making a compendious renewal and restoration of the whole creation to him. Now this will take place in a future age, when all mankind, and all powers possessed of reason, look up to him as is right, and obtain mutual concord and firm peace.” 4
Author of Nestorian Declarations.
Theodore is said to have introduced universal restoration into the liturgy of the Nestorians, of which sect he was one of the founders. His words were translated into the Syriac, and constituted the office of devotion among that remarkable people for centuries. His works were circulated all through Eastern Asia, through which, says Neander, the Nestorians diffused Christianity. This great body of Christians exerted a mighty influence until they were nearly annihilated by the merciless Tamerlane. He is still venerated among the Nestorians as the “Interpreter.”
In Theodore’s confession of faith he says, after stating that Adam began the first and mortal state, “But Christ the Lord began the second state. He in the future, revealed from heaven, will restore us all into communion with himself. For the apostle says: ‘The first man was of the earth earthly, the second man is the Lord from heaven,’ that is, who is to appear hereafter thence, that he may restore all to the likeness of himself.”5
Dorner on Theodore.
The moderate and evangelical Dorner becomes eulogistic when referring to this eminent Universalist: “Theodore of Mopsuestia was the crown and climax of the school of Antioch. The compass of his learning, his acuteness, and as we must suppose also, the force of his personal character, conjoined with his labors through many years as a teacher both of churches and of young and talented disciples, and as a prolific writer, gained for him the title of Magister Orientis.” 6 He “was regarded with an appreciation the more widely extended as he was the first Oriental theologian of his time.” Theodore held that evil was permitted by the Creator, in order that it might become the source of good to each and all. He says:
“God knew that men would sin in all ways, but permitted this result to come to pass, knowing that it would ultimately be for their advantage. For since God created man when he did not exist, and made him ruler of so extended a system, and offered so great blessings for his enjoyment, it was impossible that he should not have prevented the entrance of sin, if he had not known that it would be ultimately for his advantage.” He also says that God has demonstrated that “the same result (that is seen in the example of Christ) shall be effected in all his creatures.” * * * God has determined “that there should be first a dispensation including evils, and that then they should be removed and universal good take their place.” He taught that Christ is an illustration of universal humanity, which will ultimately achieve his status.
Unity in Diversity.
It may be mentioned that though Origen and Theodore were Universalists, they reached their conclusions by different processes. Origen exalted the freedom of the will, and taught that it could never be trammeled, so that reformation could never be excluded from any soul. He held to man’s pre-existence, and that his native sinfulness resulted from misconduct in a previous state of being. He was also extremely mystical, and allegorized and spiritualized the Scripture. Its literal meaning was in his eyes of secondary account. Theodore, on the other hand, developed the grammatical and historical meaning of the Word, and discarded Origen’s mysticism and allegorizing, and his doctrine of man’s pre-existence, and instead of regarding man as absolutely free, considered him as part of a divine plan to be ultimately guided by God into holiness. Both were Universalists, but they pursued different routes to the same divine goal. It is interesting to note the emphasis the early Universalists placed upon different points. The Gnostics argued universal salvation from the disciplinary process of transmigration; the Sibylline Oracles from the prayers of the good who could not tolerate the sufferings of the damned; Clemens Alexandrinus proved it from the remedial influence of all God’s punishments; Origen urged the foregoing, but added the freedom of the will, which would ultimately embrace the good; Diodorus put it on the ground that God’s mercy exceeds all the desert of sin; Theodore of Mopsuestia, that sin is an incidental part of human education, etc.
After the condemnation of Origen, Theodore and Gregory, most of their works were destroyed by their bigoted enemies. The loss to the world by the destruction of their writings is irreparable. Some of Theodore’s works are thought to exist in Syriac, in the Nestorian literature. The future may recover some of them, as the recent past has rescued the Sinaitic codex, the “Book of Enoch,” and other ancient manuscripts.
The liturgies of the Nestorians, largely composed by Theodore, breathe the spirit of the universal Gospel. In the sacramental liturgy he introduces Col. i: 19,20, to sustain the idea of universal restoration: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell, and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”7
The creed of the Nestorians never did, and does not in modern times, contain any recognition of endless punishment. Mosheim says: “It is to the honor of this sect that, of all the Christian residents of the East, they have preserved themselves free from the numberless superstitions which have found their way into the Greek and Latin churches.”
A.D. 431, Nestorius and his followers were ex-communicated from the orthodox church for holding that Christ existed in two persons instead of two natures. They denied the accusation, but their enemies prevailed. Nestorius refused to call Mary “The Mother of God,” but was willing to compromise between those who held her to be such, and those who regarded her as “Mother of man,” by calling her “Mother of Christ.” 8 The wonderful preservation and Christian zeal of the Nestorians under the yoke of Islam is one of the marvels of history.
The Nestorian Liturgies.
The worse than heathen Athanasian creed is not contained in any Nestorian ritual. Nor is the so-called Apostles creed. But the Nicene is recognized. Among those immortalized in the “Gezza” are Gregory, Basil, Theodore or Mopsuestia, and Diodore, all Universalists. In the liturgy, said to be by Nestorius himself, but in which Theodore probably had a hand, occurs this language: “All the dead have slept in the hope of Thee, that by thy glorious resurrection Thou wouldest raise them up in glory.” 9
Subsequent hands have corrupted the faith of Nestorius and Theodore. For example, the “Jewel,” written by Mar Abd Yeshua, A.D. 1298, says that the wicked “shall remain on the earth” after the resurrection of the righteous, and “shall be consumed with the fire of remorse * * * this is the true Hell whose fire is not quenched and whose worm dieth not.” But the earlier faith did not contain these ideas. The litany in the Khudra, for Easter eve, has these words: “O Thou Living One who descendest to the abode of the dead and preachedst a good hope to the souls which were detained in Sheol, we pray thee, O Lord, to have mercy upon us.” “Blessed is the king who hath descended into Sheol and hath raised us up, and who, by his resurrection, hath given the promise of regeneration to the human race.”
Dr. Beecher on Theodore.
After giving numerous testimonials to the educational, missionary and Christian zeal of the Nestorians and other followers of Theodore, Beecher says that these advocates of ancient Restorationism were “in all other respects Orthodox,” and that their views did not prevent them “from establishing wide-spread systems of education, from illuminating the Arabs, and through them the dark churches who had sunk into midnight gloom.” The Universalism of Theodore was salutary in its effects on himself and his followers. It did not “cut the nerve of missionary enterprise.”
It is then apparent in the writings of the fathers, during the first centuries of the Christian Era, that whatever views they entertained on human destiny,–whether they inculcate endless punishment, the annihilation of the wicked, or universal salvation, they use the word aionios to describe the duration of punishment, showing that for half a millennium of years the word did not possess the sense of endlessness. And it is noticeable that there is no controversy on the apparent difference of opinion among them on the subject of man’s destiny. And it is probable that many of the writers who say nothing explicit, held to the doctrine of universal restoration, as it is seen that as soon as an author unmistakably accepts endless punishment he warmly advocates it.
Character of Early Universalists.
And can the fact be otherwise than significant, that while Tertullian and other prominent defenders of the doctrine of endless punishment were reared as heathen, and even confess to have lived corrupt and vicious lives in their youth, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, Didymus, Theodore, Theodorus and others were not only the greatest among the saints in their maturity, but were reared from birth by Christian parents, and grew up “in the nature and admonition of the Lord?”
Dr. Beecher pays this remarkable testimony: “I do not know an unworthy, low, or mean character in any prominent, open, and avowed Restorationist of that age of freedom of inquiry which was inaugurated by the Alexandrine school, and defended by Origen. But besides this it is true * * * that these ancient believers in final restoration lived and toiled and suffered, in an atmosphere of joy and hope, and were not loaded with a painful and crushing burden of sorrow in view of the endless misery of innumerable multitudes. * * * It may not be true that these results were owing mainly to the doctrine of universal restoration. It may be that their views of Christ and the Gospel, which were decidedly Orthodox, exerted the main power to produce these results. But one thing is true: the doctrine of universal restoration did not hinder them. If not, then the inquiry will arise, Why should it now?” “In that famous age of the church’s story, the period embracing the Fourth and the earlier years of the Fifth Century, Universalism seems to have been the creed of the majority of Christians in East and West alike; perhaps even of a large majority * * * and in the roll of its teachers * * * were * * * most of the greatest names of the greatest age of primitive Christianity. * * * And this teaching, be it noted, is strongest where the language of the New Testament was a living tongue; i.e., in the great Greek fathers; it is strongest in the church’s greatest era, and declines as knowledge and purity decline. On the other hand, endless penalty is most strongly taught precisely in those quarters where the New Testament was less read in the original, and also in the most corrupt ages of the church.” 10
1 Assemani Bib. Orient. Tom. III.
2 Dict. Christ. Biog. II, p. 194.
3 Ibid. IV, p. 946.
4 “Omnia * * * recapitulavit in Christo quasi quandam compendio-sam renovationem et adintegrationem totius faciens creaturæ per eum * * * hoc autem in futuro sæculo erit. quando homines cuncti necnon et rationabiles virtutes ad illum inspiciant, ut fas exigit, et condordiam inter se pacemque firmam obtineant”
5 “The doctrine of universal restoration in the Nestorian churches disappeared by a nearly universal extermination of those churches.” Beecher, Hist. Doc. Fut. Ret., p. 290.
6 Doct. and Per. of Christ., Div. II, Vol. I, p. 50.
7 Renaudot’s Oriental Liturgies, Vol. II, p. 610.
8 Theodoret, Hist. of Ch., pp. 2,3. Theodore wrote two works on Heresies in whic he professes to condemn all the heresies of his times, but he does not mention Universalism.
9 Badger’s Nestorians and their Rituals, Vol. II.; Gibbon, Chap. XLVII. Draper, Hist. Int. Dev. Europe; Layard’s Nineveh.
10 Universalism Asserted, p. 148.
Note.–Olshausen declares that the opposition to the doctrine of endless punishment and the advocacy of universal restoration has always been found in the church, and that it has “a deep root in noble minds.” His language is (Com. I., on Matt. xii:32.:)
A Notable Family.
The family group of which Basil the Great, Macrina the Blessed, the distinguished bishop of Nyssa, Gregory, and the less-known Peter of Sebaste were members, deserves a volume rather than the few pages at our command. Three of the four were bishops at one time. Macrina, her father and mother, her grandmother Macrina, and three of her brothers were all canonized as saints in the ancient church. We are not surprised that Butler, in his “Lives of the Fathers,” should say: “We admire to see a whole family of saints. This prodigy of grace, under God, was owing to the example, prayers and exhortation of the elder St. Macrina, which had this wonderful influence and effect.” 1
“Macrina the Blessed.”
Macrina was born A.D. 327. By her intellectual ability, force of character, and earnest piety she became the real head of the family, and largely shaped the lives of her distinguished brothers. She early added the name Thecla to her baptismal name, after the proto-martyr among Christian women. She was educated with great care by her mother, under whose direction she committed to memory large portions of the Bible, including the whole of the Psalms.
Her rare personal beauty, great accomplishments and large fortune attracted many suitors; Gregory says she surpassed in loveliness all of her age and country. She was betrothed to a young advocate, who was inspired and stimulated by her ambition and zeal, but was cut off by an early death. She thenceforth regarded herself as a wife in the eyes of God, and confident of a reunion hereafter, refused to listen to offers of marriage, saying that her betrothed was living in a distant realm, and that the resurrection would reunite them.
A Saintly Woman.
A.D. 349, when she was thirty-two, her father died, and thenceforth she devoted herself to the care of her widowed mother and the family of nine children, and large estates which were scattered through three provinces. Her rare executive ability and personal devotedness to her mother and brothers and sisters were phenomenal, descending to the most minute domestic offices.
After the death of her father, and on the death of her brother Naucratius, A.D. 357, she never left her home, a beautiful place in Annesi, near Neo-Cæsarea.
A.D. 355, on the return of her brother Basil from Athens, full of conceit and the ambition inspired by his secular learning, Macrina filled his mind and heart with the love for a life of Christian service that animated herself, and he located himself near his sister. In 355 she established a religious sisterhood with her mother, and consecrated her life to retirement and religious meditation, holy thoughts and exercises–as she said, “to the attainment of the angelical life.” The community consisted of herself, her mother, her female servants and slaves, and soon devout women of rank joined them, and the community became very prosperous.
Peter was made Presbyter A.D. 371. Her mother died in 373 and her distinguished brother in 379. Her own health had failed, when, some months after Basil’s death, her brother Gregory visited her. 2 He found her in an incurable fever, stretched on planks on the ground, and, according to the ascetic ideas then beginning to prevail, the planks barely covered with sackcloth. Gregory relates what followed with great minuteness. He was overwhelmed with grief at Basil’s death. Macrina comforted him, and even rebuked him for mourning like a heathen when he possessed the Christian’s hope. He described the persecutions he had experienced, whereupon she chided and reminded him that he ought rather to thank his parents who had qualified him to be worthy of such experiences. Gregory relates that she controlled all evidences of suffering, and that her countenance continually wore a seraphic smile.
Macrina’s Religious Sentiments.
He probably gives us her exact sentiments in his own language on universal restoration, in which she rises into a grand description of the purifying effects of all future punishment, and the separation thereby of the evil from the good in man, and the entire destruction of all evil. Her words tell us their mutual views. On the “all in all” 3 of Paul she says:
“The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them.” “For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being. * * * For since by its very nature evil cannot exist apart from free choice, when all free choice becomes in the power of God, shall not evil advance to utter annihilation so that no receptacle for it at all shall be left?”
In this conversation in which the sister sustains by far the leading part, the resurrection (anastasis) and the restoration (apokatastasis) are regarded as synonymous, as when Macrina declares that “the resurrection is only the restoration of human nature to its pristine condition.”4
On Phil. ii:10, Macrina declares. “When the evil has been extirpated in the long cycles of the æons nothing shall be left outside the boundaries of good, but even from them shall be unanimously uttered the confession of the Lordship of Christ.” 5
She said: “The process of healing shall be proportioned to the measure of evil in each of us, and when the evil is purged and blotted out, there shall come in each place to each immortality and life and honor.”
Her Last Days.
Seeing the weariness of her brother she bade him rest. Revisiting her at the close of the day she reviewed thankfully her past life and rejoiced that she had never in her life refused any one who had asked a charity of her, and had never been compelled to ask a charity for herself.
Next morning, Gregory says, she consoled and cheered him as long as she could talk, and when her voice failed she conversed with her hands and silent lips. Repeating the sign of the cross to the latest moment she finished her life and her prayers together. Her last words were in advocacy of the doctrine of universal salvation, of which Gregory’s writings are full.6
She was buried by her brother in the grave of her parents, in the Chapel of the “Forty Martyrs.”
Macrina a Representative Universalist.
We have here a most suggestive picture to contemplate. Macrina at the head of a sisterhood, consisted of several hundred women of all grades, from her own rank down to salves. Their sole object was the cultivation of the religious life. Can it be otherwise than that the views of human destiny she held were dwelt upon by her in the religious exercises of the institution, and must they not have been generally sympathized with by the devout in mates? And can we doubt that those who had here retired from the world to cultivate their religious natures, were representative in their views of human destiny of the Christian community generally? The fact that Macrina, and her brothers, high functionaries in the church, express Universalism, not polemically or disputatiously, but as a matter uncontested, should persuade us that it was the unchallenged sentiment of the time.
Curiously enough, Cave, in his “Lives of the Fathers,” questions Macrina’s Universalism. In his life of Gregory he says, after sketching Macrina’s life: “She is said by some to have been infected with Origen’s opinions, but finding it reported by no other than Nicephorus, I suppose he mistook her for her grandmother, Macrina, auditor of St. Gregory, who had Origen for his tutor.” This is a specimen instance of the manner in which historians have read history through theological spectacles, and written history in ink squeezed from their creeds.
There is no doubt that the elder Macrina was of the same faith as her granddaughter, for she was a disciple of Gregory Thaumaturgus, who idolized Origen. On the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, “the blessed Macrina” lived a holy life and died the death of a perfect Christian, molded, guided and sustained by the influence and power of Universalism. And the careful reader of the history of those early days can but feel that she represents the prevailing religious faith of the three first and three best centuries of the church.
Basil the Great.
Basil the Great was born in Cæsarea, A.D. 329. His family were wealthy Christians. The preceding sketch shows that his grandmother Macrina, and his mother, Emmelia, were canonized. His brothers, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste, and his sister Macrina are all saints in both the Greek and the Roman churches. His was a most lovable and loving spirit. His works abound in descriptions of the beauties of nature, which is something rare in ancient literature, outside the Bible. He resided for many years in a romantic locality, with his mother and sister. A.D. 364, against his will, he was made presbyter, and in 370 was elected bishop of Cæsarea. He died A.D. 379. He devoted himself to the sick, and founded the splendid hospital Basilias, for lepers, of whom he took care, not even neglecting to kiss them in defiance of contagion. He stands in the highest group of pulpit orators, theologians, pastors, and rulers, and most eminent writers and noble men of the church’s first five hundred years.
Basil says: “The Lord’s peace is co-extensive with all time. For all things shall be subject to him, and all things shall acknowledge his empire; and when God shall be all in all, those who now excite discord by revolts having been pacified, shall praise God in peaceful concord.” * * * On the words in Isaiah, i:24: “My anger will not cease, I will burn them,” he says, “And why is this? In order that I may purify.”
Basil was “the strenuous champion of orthodoxy in the East, the restorer of union to the divided Oriental church, and the promoter of unity between the East and the West.” Theodoret styles him “one of the lights of the world.” 7
Among other quotable passages is this: “For we have often observed that it is the sins which are consumed, not the very persons to whom the sins have befallen.” But there are passages to be found in Basil susceptible of sustaining the doctrine of interminable punishment. This great theologian was infected with the wretched idea prevalent in his day, that the wise could accept truths not to be taught to the multitude. But the brother of, and co-laborer with, Gregory of Nyssa, and the “Blessed Macrina,” he could but have sympathized with their sublime faith.
Cave scarcely alludes to Basil’s views of destiny, but faintly intimates the truth when he says: “For though his enemies, to serve their own ends by blasting his reputation, did sometimes charge him with corrupting the Christian doctrine, and entertaining impious and unorthodox sentiments, and that too in some of the greater articles, yet the objection, when looked into, did quickly vanish, himself solemnly professing upon this occasion, that however in other respects he had enough to answer for, yet this was his glory and triumph, that he had never entertained false notions of God, but had constantly kept the faith pure and inviolate, as he had received it from his ancestors.”
Remembering his sainted grandmother, Macrina, and his spiritual fathers, Origen and Clemens Alexandrinus, we can understand his disclaimer.8
Notwithstanding Basil’s probable belief in the final restoration, he employs as severe language in reference to the sinner’s sufferings so do any of the fathers who have left no record on the subject of man’s final destiny. He says: “With what body shall it endure those interminable and unendurable scourges, where is the quenchless fire and the worm punishing deathlessly, and the dark and horrible abyss of hell, and the bitter groans, and the vehement wailing, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth, where the evils have no end.”9
Eulogies of Basil.
He is said to have had learning the most ample, eloquence of the highest order, forensic powers unsurpassed, literary ability unequaled, “a style of writing admirable, almost inimitable, proper, perspicuous, significant, soft, smooth and easy, and yet persuasive and powerful;” as a philosopher as wise as he was accomplished as a theologian. Erasmus gives him the pre-eminence above Pericles, Isocrates and Demosthenes, and ranks him higher than Athanasius, Nazianzen, Nyssen and Chrysostom. And Cave exhausts eulogy and panegyric in describing his “moral and divine accomplishments,” and closes his account by saying: “Perhaps it is an instance hardly to be paralleled in any age, for three brothers, all men of note and eminency, to be bishops at the same time.” 10 He might have added–and with a sister their full equal.
Basil’s grand spirit can be seen in his reply to the emperor, when the latter threatened him, should he not obey the sovereign’s command. His noble answer compelled the emperor to forego his purpose. Basil said he did not fear the emperor’s threats; confiscation could not harm one who only possessed a suit of plain clothes and a few books; he could not be banished for he could not find a home anywhere, as the earth was God’s, and himself everywhere a stranger; his frail body could endure but little torture, and death would be a favor, as it would only conduct him to God, his eternal home.
The Mass of Christians Universalists.
Basil says in one place, in a work attributed to him, “The mass of men (Christians) say that there is to be an end of punishment to those who are punished.”11 If the work is not Basil’s, the testimony as to the state of opinion at that time is no less valuable: “The mass of men say that there is to be an end of punishment.”
He was born about A.D. 335, and died 390. He was made bishop 372. From the time he was thirty-five until his death, he, Didymus and Diodorus of Tarsus, were the unopposed advocates of universal redemption. Most unique and valuable of all his works was the biography of his sister, described in our sketch of Macrina. His descriptions of her life, conversations and death are gems of patristic literature. They overflow with declarations of universal salvation.
Gregory was devoted to the memory of Origen as his spiritual godfather, and teacher, as were his saintly brother and sister. He has well been called “the flower of orthodoxy.” He declared that Christ “frees mankind from their wickedness, healing the very inventor of wickedness.” He asks: “What is then the scope of St. Paul’s argument in this place? That the nature of evil shall one day be wholly exterminated, and divine, immortal goodness embrace within itself all intelligent natures; so that of all who were made by God, not one shall be exiled from his kingdom; when all the alloy of evil that like a corrupt matter is mingled in things, shall be dissolved, and consumed in the furnace of purifying fire, and everything that had its origin from God shall be restored to its pristine state of purity.” “This is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the divine life, penetrating all things, shall absolutely destroy death from existing things, sin having been previously destroyed,” etc.12 “For it is evident that God will in truth be ‘in all’ when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. Now the body of Christ, as I have often said, is the whole of humanity.” 13 On the Psalms, “Neither is sin from eternity, not will it last to eternity. For that which did not always exist shall not last forever.”
His language demonstrates the fact that the word aionios did not have the meaning of endless duration in his day. He distinctly says: “Whoever considers the divine power will plainly perceive that it is able at length to restore by means of the aionion purgation and expiatory sufferings, those who have gone even to this extremity of wickedness.” Thus “everlasting” punishment will end in salvation, according to one of the greatest of the fathers of the Fourth Century.
In his “Sermo Catecheticus Magnus,” a work of forty chapters, for the teaching of theological learners, written to show the harmony of Christianity with the instincts of the human heart, he asserts “the annihilation of evil, the restitution of all things, and the final restoration of evil men and evil spirits to the blessedness of union with God, so that he may be ‘all in all,’ embracing all things endued with sense and reason”–doctrines derived by him from Origen. To save the credit of a doctor of the church of acknowledged orthodoxy, it has been asserted from the time of Germanus of Constantinople, that these passages were foisted in by heretical writers. But there is no foundation for this hypothesis, and we may safely say that “the wish is father to the thought,” and that the final restitution of all things was distinctly held and taught by him in his writings.
He teaches that “when death approaches to life, and darkness to light, and the corruptible to the incorruptible, the inferior is done away with and reduced to non-existence, and the thing purged is benefited, just as the dross is purged from gold by fire. * * * In the same way in the long circuits of time, when the evil of nature which is now mingled and implanted in them has been taken away, whensoever the restoration () to their old condition of the things that now lie in wickedness takes place, there will be a unanimous thanksgiving from the whole creation, both of those who have been punished () in the purification () and of those who have not at all needed purification ().
“I believe that punishment will be administered in proportion to each one’s corruptness. * * * Therefore to whom there is much corruption attached, with him it is necessary that the purgatorial time which is to consume it should be great, and of long duration; but to him in whom the wicked disposition has been already in part subjected, a proportionate degree of that sharper and more vehement punishment shall be remitted. All evil, however, must at length be entirely removed from everything, so that it shall no more exist. For such being the nature of sin that it cannot exist without a corrupt motive, it must of course be perfectly dissolved, and wholly destroyed, so that nothing can remain a receptacle of it, when all motive and influence shall spring from God alone,” etc.
Perversion of Historians.
The manner in which historians and biographers have been guilty of suppressio veriby their prejudices or obtuseness to fact, is illustrated by Cave in his “Lives of the Fathers,” when, speaking of this most out-spoken Universalist, he says, that on the occasion of the death of his sister Macrina, “he penned his excellent book (‘Life and Resurrection,’) wherein if some later hand have interspersed some few Origenian dogmata, it is no more than what they have done to some few other of his tracts, to give his thoughts vent upon those noble arguments.” The “later” hands were impelled by altogether different “dogmata,” and suppressed or modified Origen’s doctrines, as Rufinus confessed, instead of inserting them in the works of their predecessors. If Gregory has suffered at all at the hands of mutilators, it has been by those who have minimized and not those who have magnified his Universalism. But this aspersion originated with Germanus, bishop of Constantinople (A.D. 730), in harmony with a favorite mode of opposition to Universalism. In Germanus’s Antapodotikos he endeavored to show that all the passages in Gregory which treat of the apokatastasiswere interpolated by heretics.14 This charge has often been echoed since. But the prejudiced Daille calls it “the last resort of those who with a stupid and absurd pertinacity will have it that the ancients wrote nothing different from the faith at present received; for the whole of Gregory Nyssen’s orations are so deeply imbued with the pestiferous doctrine in question, than it can have been inserted by none other that the author himself.”15 The conduct of historians, not only of those who were theologically warped, but of such as sought to be impartial on the opinions of the early Christians on man’s final destiny, is something phenomenal. Even Lecky writes: “Origen, and his disciple Gregory of Nyssa, in a somewhat hesitating manner, diverged from the prevailing opinion (eternal torments) and strongly inclined * * * to the belief in the ultimate salvation of all.
But they were alone in their opinion. With these two exceptions, all the fathers proclaimed the eternity of torments.” 16 It is shown in this volume that not only were Diodore, Theodore, and others of the Antiochan school Universalists but that for centuries four theological schools taught the doctrine. A most singular fact in this connection is the Prof. Shedd, elsewhere in this book, denies his own statement similar to Lecky’s, as shown on a previous page. This is the testimony of Dr. Schaff in his valuable history:
“Gregory adopts the doctrine of the final restoration of all things. The plan of redemption is in his view absolutely universal, and embraces all spiritual beings. Good is the only positive reality; evil is the negative, the non-existent, and must finally abolish itself, because it is not of God. Unbelievers must indeed pass through a second death, in order to be purged from the filthiness of the flesh. But God does not give them up, for they are his property, spiritual natures allied to him. His love, which draws pure souls easily and without pain to itself, becomes a purifying fire to all who cleave to the earthly, till the impure element is driven off. As all comes forth from God, so must all return into him at last.” “Universal salvation (including Satan) was clearly taught by Gregory of Nyssa, a profound thinker of the school of Origen.”
In his comments on the Psalms, Gregory says: “By which God shows that neither is sin from eternity nor will it last to eternity. Wickedness being thus destroyed, and its imprint being left in none, all shall be fashioned after Christ, and in all that one character shall shine, which originally was imprinted on our nature.” “Sin, * * * whose end is extinction, and a change to nothingness * * * from evil to a state of blessedness.” On Ps. lvii: I: “Sin * * * is like a plant on a house top, not rooted, not sown, not ploughed in * * * in the restoration to goodness of all things, it passes away and vanishes. So not even a trace of the evil which now abounds in us, shall remain, etc.” If sin be not cured here its cure will be effected hereafter. And God’s threats are that “through fear we may be trained to avoid evil; but by those who are more intelligent it (the judgment) is believed to be a medicine,” etc. “God himself is not really seen in wrath.” “The soul which is united to sin must be set in the fire, so that that which is unnatural and vile * * * may be removed, consumed by the aionion fire.”17 Thus the (aionion) fire was regarded by Gregory as purifying. “If it (the soul) remains (in the present life) the healing is accomplished in the life beyond.” (Orat. Catech.)
Farrar tells us: “There is no scholar of any weight in any school of theology who does not now admit that two at least of the three great Cappadocians believed in the final and universal restoration of human souls. * * * And the remarkable fact is that Gregory developed these views without in any way imperiling his reputation for orthodoxy, and without the faintest reminder that he was deviating from the strictest paths of Catholic opinion.” Professor Plumptre truthfully says: “His Universalism is as wide and unlimited as that of Bishop Newton of Bristol.”
Opinions in the Fourth Century.
The Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, which perfected the Nicene Creed, was participated in by the two Gregorys; Gregory Nazianzen presided and Gregory Nyssen added the clauses to the Nicene creed that are in italics on a previous page in this volume. They were both Universalists. Would any council, in ancient or modern times, composed of believers in endless punishment, select an avowed Universalist to preside over its deliberations, and guide its “doctrinal transactions?” And can anyone consistently think that Gregory’s Universalism was unacceptable to the great council over which he presided?” Some of the strongest statements of Gregory’s views will be found in his enthusiastic reports of Macrina’s conversations, related in the preceding chapter, with which, every reader will see, he was in the fullest sympathy. Besides the works of Gregory named above, passages expressive of universal salvation may be found in “Oratio de Mortuis,” “De Perfectione Christiani,” etc.
“By the days of Gregory of Nyssa it (Universalism), aided by the unrivaled learning, genius and piety of Origen, had prevailed, and had succeeded in leavening, not the East alone, but much of the West. While the doctrine of annihilation has practically disappeared, Universalism has established itself, has become the prevailing opinion, even in quarters antagonistic to the school of Alexandria. * * * The church of North Africa, in the person of Augustine, enters the field. The Greek tongue soon becomes unknown in the West, and the Greek fathers forgotten. * * * On the throne of Him whose name is Love is now seated a stern Judge (a sort of Roman governor). The Father is lost in the Magistrate.” 18
Dean Stanley candidly ascribes to Gregory “the blessed hope that God’s justice and mercy are not controlled by the power of evil, that sin is not everlasting, and that in the world to come punishment will be corrective and not final, and will be ordered by a love and justice, the height and depths of which we cannot here fathom or comprehend.” 19
1 The materials of this sketch and of the article on Gregory Nyssen were chiefly procured from “Our Holy Father Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa’s Thoughts concerning the Life of the Blessed Macrina, his Sister, to the Monk Olympius;” and “Dialogue Concerning Life and Resurrection, with the Opinions of his Sister Macrina;” Leipsic, 1858. The work is in Greek and German. Also from Migne’s Patrologiæ, vol. XLVI.
2 Dict. Christ. Biog. III, p. 780.
3 (“all things in all men.”)
4 p. 154. Oehler’s ed. Life and Resurrection.
5 Life and Resurrection, p. 68. In this passage Macrina employs the word aionion in its proper sense of ages. The German version translates it centuries (jahrhunderte).
6 Butler, “Lives of the Saints,” Vol. VII. pp. 260,261. This Catholic work does not make the faintest allusion to Macrina’s Universalism. And even our Dr. Ballou, in his valuable Ancient History, while he mentions the grandmother, overlooks the far more eminent granddaughter.
7 History of the Church, p. 176.
8 Lives of the Fathers, II, p. 451.
9 Ep. XLVI, Classis I, ad virginem.
10 Cave, Lives of the Fathers, II, 397.
11 De Ascetics.
12 Life and Resurrection and Letter to the Monk Olympius.
13 Cat. Orat. ch. 26, Migne, Tract. Filius subjicietur,–on I Cor. xv:28–pasa he anthropine phusis, “The whole of humanity.”
14 Photius, Cod., 233.
15 De Usu Patrum, lib. II, cap. 4.
16 Lecky’s Rationalism in Europe, I, p. 316.
17 On the Psalms.
18 Allin, Univ. Asserted, p. 169.
19 Essays on Church and State.
Going back a little we find several authors whose works in part have escaped the ravages of time and the destructive hostility of opponents. We have found ourselves a hundred times wishing, while pursuing these enquiries, that the literature of the first five centuries could have been printed and scattered to the world’s ends, instead of having been limited, as it was, of course, before the invention of printing, to a few manuscripts so easily destroyed by the bigoted opponents of our faith into whose hands they fell. We should have many fold more testimonies than have survived to tell the story of primitive belief.
Marcellus of Ancyra, A.D. 315, quoted by Eusebius, says: “For what else do the words mean, ‘until the times of the restitution’ (Acts, iii: 21), but that the apostle designed to point out that time in which all things partake of that perfect restoration.”
Titus of Bostra, A.D. 338-378. The editor of his works says that Titus was “the most learned among the bishops of his age, and a most famous champion of the truth.” Tillemont unwillingly admits that “he seems to have followed the dangerous error ascribed to Origen, that the pains of the damned, and even those of the demons themselves, will not be eternal.”1 Certainly Titus’s own language justifies this excellent suspicion. He says:
Words of Titus of Bostra.
“Thus the mystery was completed by the Savior in order that, perfection being completed through all things, and in all things, by Christ, all universally shall be made one through Christ and in Christ.” He says again: “The very abyss of torment is indeed the place of chastisement, but it is not eternal (aionion) nor did it exist in the original constitution of nature. It was afterwards, as a remedy for sinners, that it might cure them. And the punishments are holy, as they are remedial and salutary in their effect on transgressors; for they are inflicted, not to preserve them in their wickedness, but to make them cease from their wickedness. The anguish of their suffering compels them to break off their vices. * * * If death were an evil, blame would rightfully fall on him who appointed it.” 2
Ambrose of Milan.
Ambrose of Milan, A.D. 340-398, says: “What then hinders our believing that he who is beaten small as the dust is not annihilated, but is changed for the better; so that, instead of an earthly man, he is made a spiritual man, and our believing that he who is destroyed, is so destroyed that all taint is removed, and there remains but what is pure and clean. And in God’s saying of the adversaries of
Jerusalem, ‘They shall be as though they were not,” you are to understand they shall exist substantially, and as converted, but shall not exist as enemies. * * * God gave death, not as a penalty, but as a remedy; death was given for a remedy as the end of evils.” * * * “How shall the sinner exist in the future, seeing the place of sin cannot be of long continuance?” 3 * * * Because God’s image is that of the one God, it like Him starts from one, and is diffused to infinity. And, once again, from an infinite number all things return into one as into their end, because God is both beginning and end of all things.4* * * How then, shall (all things) be subject to Christ? In this very way in which the Lord Himself said. “Take my yoke upon you,’ for it is not the untamed who bear the yoke, but the humble and gentle, * * * so that in Jesus’s name every knee shall bend. * * * Is this subjection of Christ not completed? Not at all. Because the subjection of Christ consists not in few, but in all. * * * Christ will be subject to God in us by means of the obedience of all; * * * when vices having been cast away, and sin reduced to submission, one spirit of all people, in one sentiment, shall with one accord begin to cleave to God, then God will be all in all, * * * when all then shall have believed and done the will of God, Christ will be all and in all; and when Christ shall be all in all, God will be all in all.5 * * * At present he is over all by his power, but it is necessary that he be in all by their free will:6* * * So the Son of man came to save that which was lost, that is, all, for, ‘As in Adam all died, so, too, in Christ shall all be made alive.'” 7 “For, if the guilty die, who have been unwilling to leave the path of sin, even against their will they still gain, not of nature but of fault, that they may sin no more.” * * * “Death is not bitter; but to the sinner it is bitter, and yet life is more bitter, for it is a deadlier thing to live in sin than to die in sin, because the sinner as long as he lives increases in sin, but if he dies he ceases to sin.” 8
Cave says that Ambrose quotes and adapts many of the writings of the Greek Fathers, particularly Origen; and Jerome declares that Ambrose was indebted to Didymus for the most of his de Spiritu Sanctu. Both these, it will be noted, were Universalists. Augustine tells us that every day after his morning devotions Ambrose studied the Scriptures, chiefly by the aid of the Greek commentators, and especially of Origen and Hippolytus, and of Didymus and Basil. 9 Three of these at least were Universalists. “Perhaps his most original book is ‘On the Blessing of Death,” in which he takes a singularly mild view of the punishment of the wicked, expresses his belief in a purifying fire, and argues that whatever the punishment be, it is a state distinctly preferable to a sinful life. His eschatology was deeply influenced by the larger hopes of Origen.”10
The language of Ambrose in his comments on Ps. cxviii, is as follows: “Dives in the Gospel, although a sinner, is pressed with penal agonies, that he may escape the sooner.” 11 * * * Again: “Those who do not come to the first, but are reserved for the second resurrection, shall be burned till they fill up the times between the first and second resurrection, or should they not have done so, will remain longer in punishment.”
The Amrbosiaster is by an unknown author, anciently erroneously supposed to be Ambrose, as it was bound with the works of this father. On I Cor. xv: 28, the Ambrosiaster says: “This is implied in the Savior’s subjecting himself to the Father; this is involved in God’s being all in all, namely, when every creature thinks one and the same thing, so that every tongue of celestials, terrestials, and infernals shall confess God as the great One from whom all things are derived.” This sentiment he avows in other passages.
Serapion, the companion of Athanasius, A.D. 346, says of evil: “It is of itself nothing, nor can it in itself exist, or exist always; but it is in process of vanishing, and by vanishing proved to be unable to exist.”12
Macarius Magnes, A.D. 370, says that death was ordained at the first, “in order that, by the dissolution of the body, all the sin proceeding from the connection (of soul and body) should be totally destroyed.”13
Marius Victorinus, A.D. 360, was born in Africa, and was a famous rhetorician, whose writings abound with expressions of the faith of Universalism. On I Cor. xv: 28, he says: “All things shall be rendered spiritual at the consummation of the world. At the consummation all things shall be one.14 * * * Therefore all things converted to him shall become one, i.e., spiritual; through the Son all things shall be made one, for all things are by him, for all things that exist are one, though they be different. For the body of the entire universe is not like a mere heap, which becomes a body, only by the contact of its particles; but it is a body chiefly in its several parts being closely and mutually bound together–it forms a continuous chain. For the chain is this, God: Jesus: the Spirit: the intellect: the soul: the angelic host: and lastly, all subordinate bodily existences.” On Eph. i, iv: “The the mystery was completed by the Savior in order that, perfection having been completed throughout all things, and in all things by Christ, all universally should be made one through Christ and in Christ. * * * And because he (Christ) is the life, he is that by whom all things have been made, for all things cleansed by him return into eternal life.”
Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, (died, A.D. 368), is said by Jerome to have translated nearly 40,000 lines of Origen. On Luke xv: 4, he says: “This one sheep (lost) is man, and by one man the entire race is to be understood; the ninety and nine are the heavenly angels * * * and by us (mankind) who are all one, the number of the heavenly church is to be filled up. And therefore it is that every creature awaits the revelation of the sons of God.” On Psalm. lxix: 32,33: “Even the abode of hell is to praise God.” Also, “‘As thou hast given him power over all flesh in order that he should give eternal life to all that thou hast given him,’ * * * so the Father gave all things, and the Son accepted all things, * * * and honored by the Father was to honor the Father, and to employ the power received in giving eternity of life to all flesh. * * * Now this is life eternal that they may know thee.”15
John Cassian, A.D. 390-440. This celebrated man was educated in the monastery in Bethlehem, and was the founder of two monasteries in Marseilles. He wrote much, and drew the fire of Augustine, whose doctrines he strenuously assailed. Neander declares of him, that his views of the divine love extended to all men, “which wills the salvation of all, and refers everything to this; even subordinating the punishment of the wicked to this simple end.16 Ueberweg says Cassian “could not admit that God would save only a portion of the human race, and that Christ died only for the elect.” Hagenbach states that the erroneous idea that God “would save only a few” is in the opinion of Cassianingene sacrilegium, a great sacrilege or blasphemy. Neander, in his “History of Dogmas,” remarks: “The practically Christian guided him in treating the doctrines of faith; he admitted nothing which was not suited to satisfy thoroughly the religious wants of men. * * * The idea of divine justice in the determination of man’s lot after the first transgression did not preponderate in Cassian’s writings as in Augustine’s, but the idea of a disciplinary divine love, by the leadings of which men are to be led to repentance. He appeals also to the mysteriousness of God’s ways, not as concerns predestination, but the variety of the leadings by which God leads different individuals to salvation. In no instance, however, can divine grace operate independently of the free self determination of man; as the husbandman must do his part, but all this avails nothing without the divine blessing, so man must do his part, yet this profits nothing without divine grace.” To which T. B. Thayer, D.D., adds in the “Universalist Quarterly”: “It is a fact worth noting in the connection, that Cassianus went to Constantinople in A.D. 403, where he listened to the celebrated Chrysostom, by whom he was ordained as Deacon. Speaking of Chrysostom, Neander says that but for the necessity of opposing those who made too light of sin and its retributions and would fain reason away the doctrine of eternal punishment, ‘his mild and amiable spirit might not otherwise be altogether disinclined to the doctrine of universal restoration, with which he must have become acquainted at an earlier period, from being a disciple of Diodorus of Tarsus.’
* * * This justifies the remark of Neander that we may perhaps ‘discern in these traits of Cassianus the spirit of the great Chrysostom, with whom he long lived in the capacity of deacon, and whose disciple he delighted to call himself.'”
Theodoret, the Blessed, was born A.D. 387, and died 458. He was ordained Bishop of Cyrus in Syria, 420. He was a pupil of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and was also a student of eloquence and sacred literature of Chrysostom. Dr. Schaff calls his continuation of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History most valuable. Neander, Murdoch, and Mosheim rank him high in learning, eloquence and goodness. He illustrates one of the many contradictions of the assertions of merely sectarian scholars. Though Dr. Shedd says that “the only exception to the belief in the eternity of future punishment in the ancient church appears in the Alexandrian school,” yet, Theodoret, Theodore, Diodore and others were all of the Antiochan school. Dr. Orello Cone first called the attention of our church to this father, who is not even mentioned by Dr. Ballou, in his “Ancient History of Universalism,” and we quote from his article, copied in part form “The New York Christian Ambassador” into “The Universalist Quarterly,” April, 1866. Dr. Cone says that Theodoret regarded the resurrection as the elevation and quickening of man’s entire nature. “He gives this higher spiritual view of the resurrection (anastasis) in his commentary on Eph. i:10, ‘For through the dispensation or incarnation of Christ the nature of men arises,’ anista, or is resurrected, ‘and puts on incorruption.’ He does not say the bodies of men, but the nature (phusis) is resurrected.”
Theodoret says, on “Gathering all things in Christ:” “And the visible creation shall be liberated from corruption, and shall attain incorruption, and the inhabitants of the invisible worlds shall live in perpetual joy, for grief and sadness and groaning shall be done away.” * * * On the universal atonement:–“Teaching that he would free from the power of death not only his own body, but at the same time the entire nature of the human race, he presently adds: ‘And I, if I be lifted from the earth will draw all men unto me;’ For I will not suffer what I have undertaken to raise the body only, but I will fully accomplish the resurrection to all men. * * * He has paid the debt for us, and blotted out the handwriting that was against us, * * * and having done these things, he quickened together with himself the entire nature of men.”
He formed his Christian system on Theodore’s, and on that of Diodore of Tarsus, both Universalists. Allin says, he “was perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most learned teacher of his age; uniting to a noble intellect a character and accomplishments equally noble.” He published a defense of Diodore and Theodore, unfortunately lost. On I Cor. xv: 28, Theodoret says: “But in the future life corruption ceasing and immortality being conferred, the passions have no place, and these being removed, no kind of sin is committed. So from that time God is all in all, when all, freed from sin, and turned to him, shall have no inclination to evil.” On Eph. i: 23, he says: “In the present life God is in all, for his nature is without limits, but is not all in all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all.17 For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that he may check the course of impiety.”
Works of Theodoret.
Gregory the Great says that the Roman church refused to acknowledge Theodoret’s History because he praised Theodore of Mopsuestia, and insisted that he was a great doctor in the church. Theodoret says that Theodore was “the teacher of all the churches, and the opponent of all the sects of heresy,” so that in his opinion Universalism was not heretical.
Evagrius Ponticus, A.D. 390. The works of this eminent saint and scholar were destroyed by the Fifth General Council that condemned him–though not as a Universalist–a hundred and fifty years after his death. The council anathematized him with Didymus. It is most apparent that the great multitude of Christians must have accepted views which were so generally advocated and unchallenged during those early years, by the best and greatest of the fathers. Evagrius is said by Jerome in his epistle to Ctesiphon against the Pelagrians, to have been an Origenist. He wrote three books, the “Saint” or “Gnostic,” the “Monk,” and the “Refutation.”
Cyril of Alexandria (A.D. 412) says: “Traversing the lowest recesses of the infernal regions, after that he (Christ) had preached to the spirits there, he led forth the captives in his strength.” 18 “Now when sin has been destroyed, how should it be but that death too, should wholly perish?” * * * “Through Christ has been saved the holy multitude of the fathers, nay, the whole human race altogether, which was earlier in time (than Christ’s death) for he died for all, and the death of all was done away in him.” 19
Rufinus, A.D. 345-410, wrote an elaborate defense of Origen, and in the preface to “De Principiis” he declares that he excised from that work of Origen all that was “discordant with our (the accepted Christian) belief.” As the work still abounds in expressions of Universalism, not only his sympathy with that belief, but also the fact that it was then the prevailing Christian belief can not be questioned. Huet says that he taught the temporary duration of punishment. 20
Dr. Ballou quotes Domitian, Bishop of Galatia, as probably a Universalist (A.D. 546), who is reported by Facundus to have written a book in which he declares that those who condemned Origen have “condemned all the saints who were before him, and who have been after him.”21
Diodore of Tarsus.
Diodore, Bishop of Tarsus, from A.D. 378 to 394, was of the Antiochan or Syrian school. He opposed Origen on some subjects, but agreed with his Universalism. He says: “For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetual, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them * * * the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed them. The resurrection, therefore, is regarded as a blessing not only to the good, but also to the evil.”22 The same authority affirms that many Nestorian bishops taught the same doctrine. The “Dictionary of Christian Biography” observes: “Diodorus of Tarsus taught that the penalty of sin is not perpetual, but issues in the blessedness of immortality, and (he) was followed by Stephanus, Bishop of Edessa, and Salomo of Bassora, and Isaac of Nineveh.” “Even those who are tortured in Gehenna are under the discipline of the divine charity.” “And they were followed in their turn by Georgius of Arbela, and Ebed Jesu of Soba.” Diodore contended that God’s mercy would punish the wicked less than their sins deserved, inasmuch as his mercy gave the good more than they deserved. He denied that Deity would bestow immortality for the purpose of prolonging and perpetuating suffering. Diodore and Theodore, the first, Chrysostom’s teacher, and the second his fellow-student, were really the pioneers in teaching Scripture by help of history, criticism and philology.23 They may be regarded as the forerunners of modern interpretation. Like so many others of the ancient writings Diodore’s works have perished, and we have only a few quotations from them, contained in the works of others. But we have enough to qualify him to occupy an honorable place among the Universalists of the Fourth Century.
Even Dr. Pusey is compelled to admit the Universalism of Diodore of Tarsus, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. He says, quoting from Salomo of Bassora, 1222, some eight hundred years after their death: “The two writers use different arguments and have different theories. Theodorus rests his on Holy Scripture, ‘Until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,’ and ‘the many and few stripes,’ and attributes the amendment of those who have done ill all their lives to the discovery of their mistake. Diodorus says that punishment must not be perpetual, lest the immortality prepared for them be useless to them; he twice repeats that punishment, though varied according to their deserts, would be for a short time. His ground was his conviction that since God’s rewards so far exceed the deserts of the good, the like mercy would be shown to the evil.” 24
Though somewhat later than the projected limits of this work, two or three authors may be named.
Macarius is said by Evagrius to have been ejected from his see, A.D. 552, for maintaining the opinions of Origen. Whether universal restitution was among them is uncertain.
Peter Chrysologus, A.D. 433, Bishop of Ravenna, in a sermon on the Good Shepherd, says the lost sheep represents “the whole human race lost in Adam,” and that Christ “followed the one, seeks the one, in order that in the one he may restore all.”
Stephan Bar-sudaili, Abbot of Edessa, in Mesopotamia, at the end of the Fifth Century, taught Universalism,–the termination of all punishments in the future world, and their purifying character. The fallen angels are to receive mercy, and all things are to be restored, so that God may be all in all.25 He was at the head of a monastery. Attacked as a heretic he left Edessa and repaired to Palestine, which in those days seems to have been the refuge of those who desired freedom of opinion. How many might have sympathized with him in Mesopotamia or in Palestine cannot be known.
Maximus, the Confessor. As late as the Seventh Century, in spite of the power of Roman tyranny and Pagan error, the truth survived. Maximus–A.D. 580-662–was secretary of the Emperor Heraclius, and confidential friend of Pope Martin I. He opposed the Emperor Constans II, in his attempts to control the religious convictions of his subjects, and was banished, A.D. 653, and died of ill treatment. He was both scholar and saint. Neander says:
“The fundamental ideas of Maximus seem to lead to the doctrine of a final universal restoration, which in fact is intimately connected also with the system of Gregory of Nyssa, to which he most closely adhered. Yet he was too much fettered by the church system of doctrine distinctly to express anything of the sort.” Neander adds, that in his aphorisms “the reunion of all rational essences with God is established as the final end.” “Him who wholly unites all things in the end of the ages, or in eternity.” Ueberweg states that “Maximus taught that God had revealed himself through nature and by his Word. The incarnation of God in Christ was the culmination of revelation, and would therefore have taken place even if man had not fallen. The Universe will end in the union of all things with God.”
1 Tillemont, p. 671. Quoted by Lardner. Vol. III, p. 273.
2 Migne, Vol. XVIII, p. 1118. Observe here that aionios is used in the sense of endless; also that the word rendered “abyss” is the word translated “bottomless pit” in Revelation.
3 On Ps. xxxvii.
4 Epis. Lib. I.
5 De Fide.
6 On Ps. lxii.
7 On Luke, xv. 3.
8 Blessing of Death, Ch. vii.
9 Conf. vi, 3, Ep. xlvii, 1.
10 Farrar: Lives of the Fathers, II, p. 144.
11 Ideo Dives ille in Evangelio, licet peccator, poenalibus torquetur aerumnis, ut citicus possit evadere.
12 Adv. Man., Ch. iv.
13 Not. et Frag., xix.
14 Adv. Arium, lib. I: 25; Migne, viii, p. 1059.
15 De Trin. lib. IX.
16 Hist. Christ Ch., ii:628. Hist. Christ. Dogmas, ii:377.
17 Migne, lxxxii, p. 360.
18 Homilia. Pasch. xx. Migne, lxxvii.
19 Glaph. in Ex., lib. II.
20 Origen. II, p. 160.
21 Anc. Hist. Univ., p. 265.
22 Assemani Bib. Orientalis, III, p. 324.
23 Robertson’s Hist. Christ. Ch., I, p. 455.
24 What is of Faith, p. 231.
25 Assemani Bibl. Orient., II, p. 291.
The Deterioration of Christian Thought.
Transition of Christianity.
The great transition from the Christianity of the Apostles to the pseudo-Christianity of the patriarchs and emperors–the transformation of Christianity to Churchianity–may be said to have begun with Constantine, at the beginning of the Fourth Century. Its relations to the temporal power experienced an entire change. Heathenism surrendered to it. As the stones of the heathen temples were rebuilt into Christian churches, so the Pagan principles held by the masses modified and corrupted the religion of Christ; while the worldliness of secular interests derived from the union of church and state, exerted a debasing influence, and the Christianity of the Catacombs and of Origen became the church of the popes, of the Inquisition, and of the Middle Ages.
“The writers of the Fourth Century generally contradict those of the Second, who were in part witnesses, or reported credible evidence and plausible traditions, whereas those later fathers were only critics, and most of them very indifferent and biased ones. For they often proceed from systems, historical and doctrinal, which strongly impair their qualifications for being judges.” There seems an entire change in the church after the Nicene Council. “The Anti-Nicene age was the World against the Church; the Post-Nicene age is the history of the World in the Church. As an antagonist the World was powerless; as an ally it became dangerous and its influence disastrous.” 1
“From the time of Constantine,” says Schaff, “church discipline declines; the whole Roman world having become nominally Christian, and the host of hypocritical professors multiplying beyond all control.” It was during Constantine’s reign that, among other foreign corruptions, monasticism came into Christianity, from the Hindoo religions and other sources, and gave rise to those ascetic organizations so foreign to the spirit of the author of our religion, and so productive of error and evil. Perhaps the deterioration of Christian doctrine and life may be dated from the edict of Milan (A.D. 313), when “unhappily, the church also entered on an altogether new career–that of patronage and state protection. That which it was about to gain in material power it would lose in moral force and independence.” It is probable that the beginning of the conventual life of women from which grew the nunneries and convents that covered Christendom in the succeeding centuries, was with Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, who A.D. 331 closed a pious life at the age of eighty years. She was accustomed to gather the virgins of the church to repasts, serving them with her own hands at a table and praying in their company.
Robertson says: “Theophilus succeeded Timothy at Alexandria A.D. 385, and held the see till 412. He was able, bold, crafty, unscrupulous, corrupt, rapacious, domineering. In the first controversy between Jerome and Rufinus he had acted the credible part of a mediator. His own inclinations were undoubtedly in favor of Origen; he had even deposed a bishop named Paul for his hostility to that teacher, but he now found it expedient to adopt a different line of conduct.” Jerome and Theophilus subsequently joined hands and united in a bitter and relentless warfare against the great Alexandrian. There seems to have been very little principle in the course they pursued.
Jerome–A.D. 331-420–was one of the ablest of the fathers of the century in which he lived–“the most learned except Origen,” up to his time. He wrote in Latin, and was contemporary with Augustine, but did not accept all the Paganism of the great corruptor of Christianity. He stood in line with his Oriental predecessors. At first he was an enthusiastic partisan of Origen, but later, when opposition to the great Alexandrian set in, he became an equally violent component. Schaff says he was a great trimmer and time server, and at length seemed to acquiesce in the growing influence of Augustinianism. Jerome had “originally belonged, like the friend of his youth, Rufinus, and John, Bishop of Jerusalem, to the warmest admirers of the great Alexandrian father. 2 But attacked as he now was, with remonstrances from different sides, he beganout of anxiety for his own reputation for orthodoxy, to separate himself with the utmost care from the heresies with which he was charged.” One of Origen’s works, in the handwriting of Pamphilus, came into Jerome’s possession, who says, owning it, he “owns the wealth of Croesus; it is signed, as it were, with the very blood of the martyr.”
Jerome translated fourteen homilies of Origen on Jerimiah, and fourteen on Ezekiel, and quotes Didymus as saying that Origen was the greatest teacher of the church since St. Paul. During his residence in Rome Jerome highly praised Origen, but soon after, when he found himself accused of heresy for so doing, he declared that he had only read him as he had read other heretics. In a letter to Vigilantius he says: “I praise him as an interpreter, not as a dogmatic teacher; for his genius, not for his faith; as a philosopher, not as an apostle. * * * If you believe me, I was never an Origenist; if you do not believe me, I have now ceased to be one.”3 But when in Cæsarea he borrowed the manuscript of Origen’s Hexapla and collated it, and in Alexandria he passed a month with the great Universalist, the blind Didymus.
It is curious to notice, however, that Jerome does not oppose Origen’s universal restoration, but erroneously accuses him of advocating the universal equality of the restored–of holding that Gabriel and the devil, Paul and Caiaphas, the virgin and the prostitute, will be alike in the immortal world. The idea of the universal restoration of mankind, divested of pre-existence, universal equality, the salvability of evil spirits, etc., does not seem to have been much objected to in the days of Jerome, even by those who did not accept it.
Jerome’s Politic Course.
Jerome’s later language is: “And though Origen declares that no rational being will be lost, and gives penitence to the evil one, what is that to us who believe that the evil one and his satellites, and all the wicked will perish eternally, and that Christians, if they have been cut off in sin, shall after punishment be saved.” This, however, was after the cautious and politic churchman had begun to hedge in order to conciliate the growing influence of Augustinianism. And the words italicized above show that his endless punishment was very elastic.
Jerome uses the word rendered eternal in the Bible (aionios) in the sense of limited duration, as that Jerusalem was burnt with aionian fire by Hadrian; that Israel experienced aionion woe, etc. In his commentary on Isaiah his language is:
“Those who think that the punishment of the wicked will one day, after many ages, have an end, rely on these testimonies: Rom. xi. 25; Gal. iii. 22; Mic. vii. 9; Isa. xii. 1; Ps. xxx. 20,” which he quotes, and adds: “And this we ought to leave to the knowledge of God alone, whose torments, no less than his compassion, are in due measure, and who knows how and how long to punish. This only let us say as suiting our human frailty, “Lord, rebuke me not in thy fury, not chasten me with thine anger.'”4
Commenting on Isaiah xxiv, he says: “This seems to favor those friends of mine who grant the grace of repentance to the devil and to demons after many ages, that they too shall be visited after a time. * * * Human frailty cannot know the judgment of God, nor venture to form an opinion of the greatness and the measure of his punishment.” Jerome frequently exposes his sympathy with the doctrine of restoration, as when he says: “Israel and all heretics, because they had the works of Sodom and Gomorrah, are overthrown like Sodom and Gomorrah, that they may be set free like a brand snatched from the burning. And this is the meaning of the prophet’s words, ‘Sodom shall be restored as of old,’ that he who by his vice is as an inhabitant of Sodom, after the works of Sodom have been burnt in him, may be restored to his ancient state.” 5
In quoting from this father, Allin says, in Universalism Asserted: “Nor are these isolated instances; I have found nearly one hundred passages in his works (and there are doubtless others) indicating Jerome’s sympathy with Universalism. Further, we should note that when towards the year 400 A.D., Jerome took part with Epiphanius and the disreputable Theophilus against Origen (whom he had hitherto extravagantly praised), he, as Huet points out, kept a significant silence on the question of human restoration. ‘Though you adduce,’ says Huet, six hundred testimonies, you thereby only prove that he changed his opinion.’ But did he ever change his opinion? And if so, how far? Thus in his “Epis. ad Avit.,’ where he goes at length into Origen’s errors, he says nothing of the larger hope; and when charged with Origenism he refers time over to his commentaries on Ephesians, which teach the most outspoken Universalism. As a specimen of his praise of Origen, he says, in a letter to Paula that Origen was blamed, “not on account of the novelty of his doctrines, not an account of heresy, as now mad dogs pretend, but from jealousy,” so that to call Origen a heretic is the part of a mad dog! Note this, from the most orthodox Jerome.”
A Miserable Story.
Translating Origen’s “Homilies,” which affirm Universalism continually, he said in his preface, that Origen was only inferior to the Apostles–“alterum post apostolum ecclesiarum magistrum.” The manner in which he retracted these sentiments, and became the detractor and enemy of the man to whom he had admitted his indebtedness is disgraceful to his memory. Farrar accurately calls the record of his behavior “a miserable story.” Jerome’s morbid dread of being held to be heretical, led him, it is feared, to deny some of his real opinions, and to violently attack those who held them, in order to divert attention from himself. 6
A few if his expressions are here given out of the many quotable. On Eph. iv; 16: “In the end of things, the whole body which had been dissipated and torn into divers parts shall be restored. Let us understand the whole number of rational creatures under the figure of a single rational animal. Let us imagine this animal to be torn so that no bone adheres to bone, nor nerve to nerve. * * * In the restitution of all things when Christ the true physician shall have come to heal the body of the universal church * * * every one * * * shall receive his proper place. * * * What I mean is, the fallen angel will begin to be that which he was created, and man who has been expelled from Paradise will be once more restored to the tilling of Paradise. * * * These things then will take place universally.” * * * On Mic. v: 8: “Death shall come as a visitor to the impious; it will not be perpetual; it will not annihilate them; but will prolong its visit till the impiety which is in them shall be consumed.” * * * On Eph. iv: 13, he says: “The question should arise who those are of whom he says that they all shall come into the unity of the faith? Does he mean all men, or all the saints, or all rational beings? He appears to me to be speaking of all men.” On John xvii: 21: “In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man, and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.” In his homily on Jonah he says: “Most persons (plerique, very many), regard the story of Jonah as teaching the ultimate forgiveness of all rational creatures, even the devil.” This shows us the prevalence of the doctrine in the Fourth Century. His words are: “The apostate angels, and the prince of this world, and Lucifer, the morning star, though now ungovernable, licentiously wandering about, and plunging themselves into the depths of sin, shall in the end, embrace the happy dominion of Christ and his saints.” Gieseler quotes the following sentence from Jerome’s comments on Gal. v: 22: “No rational creature before God will perish forever,” and from this language the historian not only classes Jerome as a Universalist, but considers it proof that the doctrine was then prevalent in the West. “The learned, the famous Jerome (A.D. 380-390), was at this time a Universalist of Origen’s school. He was, indeed, a Latin writer; but it may be more proper to introduce him with the Greek fathers, since he completed his theological education in the East, and there spent the larger part of his manhood and old age. A follower of Origen, from whose works he borrowed without reserve, he nevertheless modified his scheme of universal salvation with little amendment. * * At a later period he was led, by a theological and personal quarrel, to take sides against this doctrine.” 7
John Chrysostom, A.D. 347-407, was born of Christian parentage in Antioch, and became the golden-mouthed orator and one of the most celebrated of the fathers. He was the intimate friend of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Diodore of Tarsus, and a pupil of the latter for six years. He was no controversialist, his works are chiefly expository and hortatory. His praise of his Universalist friends, Theodore and Diodore, should predispose us to regard him as cherishing their view of human destiny, notwithstanding his lurid descriptions of the horrors of future torments.
In answer to the question, “Whether hell fire have any end,” Chrysostom says, “Christ declares that it hath no end. Well,” he adds, “I know that a chill comes over you on hearing these things, but what am I to do? For this is God’s own command, * * * that it hath no end Christ hath declared. Pail also saith, in pointing out the eternity of punishment, that the sinner shall pay the penalty of destruction, and that forever.” 8 The reasonableness of the apparently disproportioned penalty he feebly argues. A specimen of the utter inadequacy of his argument is seen where he comments on the language, “If any man’s work be burned he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” He says it means “that while the sinner’s works shall perish, he shall be preserved in fire for the purpose of torment.” And he gives the very details: “A river of fire, and a poisonous worm, and darkness interminable, and undying tortures.” 9 And yet he asks with a significant emphasis that seems to preclude the thought of the sinner’s irremediable suffering: “Tell me on what account do you mourn for him that is departed? Is it because he was wicked? But for that very reason you ought to give thanks, because his evil works are put a stop to.” “God is equally to be praised when he chastises, and when he frees from chastisement. For both spring from goodness. * * * It is right, then, to praise him equally both for placing Adam in Paradise, and for expelling him; and to give thanks not alone for the kingdom, but for Gehenna as well. * * * Christ went to the utterly black and joyless portion of Hades, and turned it into heaven, transferring all its wealth, the race of man, into his royal treasury.” 10
Neander and Schaff.
Dr. Schaff informs us that “Nitzsch includes Gregory Nazianzen and possibly Chrysostom among Universalists, and says that Chrysostom praised Origen and Diodorus, and that his comments on I. Cor. xv. 28, looked toward an apokatastasis.”
Dr. Beecher ranks him among the “esoteric believers.” Neander thinks he believed in Universalism, but felt that the opposite doctrine was necessary to alarm the multitude. On the words, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,” Chrysostom says: “What does this mean of ‘things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth?’ It means the whole world, and angels, and men, and demons. Or, it signifies both the holy and sinners.” A pupil of Diodore, of Tarsus, for six years, and a fellow-student with Theodore of Mopsuestia, both Universalists, he cannot be regarded as otherwise than in sympathy with them on this theme of themes. He must have been one of those esoteric believers elsewhere described, for he says according to Neander, that he had found the doctrine of endless punishment necessary to the welfare of sinners, and on that account had preached it. The influence of the Alexandrians was waning, and the heathen environment was leavening Christianity, which soon assumed a phase wholly foreign to its primal purity.
1 Hipp. and his Age.
2 Canon Freemantle in Dict. Christ. Biog. Vol. III., 1 Art. Hieronymus.
3 Epist. xxxiii. Migne Vol. XXII.
4 Plumptre, Dict. Christ Biog. II, Art. “Eschatology.”
5 Com. on Amos.
6 He calls Origen “that immortal intellect.”
7 Univ. Quar, May, 1838.
8 Hom. IX on I Cor. iii: 12-16.
9 Hom. XI on I Cor. iv: 3.
10 Sermon xxxiv; on Ps. cxlviii; Ser. xxx.
Aurelius Augustinus was born in Tagaste, Numidia, November 13, 354, and died in 420. He was the great fountain of error destined to adulterate Christianity, and change its character for long ages. In disposition and spirit he was wholly unlike the amiable and learned fathers who proclaimed an earlier and purer faith. He fully developed that change in opinion which was destined to influence Christianity for many centuries. He himself informs us that he spent his youth in the brothels of Carthage after a mean, thieving boyhood.1 He cast off the mother of his illegitimate son, Adeodatus, whom he ought to have married, as his sainted mother, Monica, urged him to do. It is an interesting indication of the Latin type of piety to know that his mother allowed him to live at home during his shameless life, but that when he adopted the Manichæan heresy she forbade him her house. And afterward, when he become ” orthodox,” though still living immorally, she received him in her home. His life was destitute of the claims of that paternal relation on which society rests, and which our Lord makes the fundamental fact of his religion, Fatherhood. He transferred to God the characteristics of semi-Pagan kings, and his theology was a hybrid born of the Roman Code of Law and Pagan Mythology.
Augustine and Origen Contrasted.
The contrast between Origen’s system and Augustine’s is as that of light and darkness; with the first, Fatherhood, Love, Hope, Joy, Salvation; with the other, Vengeance, Punishment, Sin, Eternal Despair. With Origen God triumphs in final unity; with Augustine man continues in endless rebellion, and God is defeated, and an eternal dualism prevails. And the effect on the believer was in the one case a pitying love and charity that gave the melting heart that could not bear to think of even the devil unsaved, and that antedated the poet’s prayer,–
“Oh, wad ye tak a thought and mend,”
and that believed the prayer would be answered; and in the other a stony-hearted indifference to the misery of mankind, which he called “one damned batch and mass of perdition.”2
Augustine brought his theology with him from Manichæism when he became a Christian, only he added perpetuity to the dualism that Mani made temporal. “The doctrine of endless punishment assumed in the writings of Augustine a prominence and rigidity which had no parallel in the earlier history if theology * * * and which savors of the teaching of Mohammed more than of Christ. 3 Hitherto, even in the West, it had been an open question whether the punishment hereafter of sin unrepented of and not forsaken was to be endless. Augustine has left on record the fact that some, indeed very many, still fell back upon the mercy and love of God as a ground of hope for the ultimate restoration of humanity 4 * * * he is the first writer to undertake a long and elaborate defense of the doctrine of endless punishment, and to wage a polemic against its impugners. * * * He rallies the ‘tender-hearted Christians,’ as he calls them, who cannot accept it.” About 420 he speaks of his “merciful brethren,” 5 or party of pity, among the orthodox Christians, who advocate the salvation of all, and he challenges them, like Origen, to advocate also the redemption of the devil and his angels. Thus though the virus of Roman Paganism was extending, the truth of the Gospel was yet largely held. And it was the immense power Augustine came to wield that so dominated the church that it afterwards stamped out the doctrine of universal salvation.
Augustine’s Criticisms and Mistakes.
Augustine assumed and insisted that the words defining the duration of punishment, in the New Testament, teach its endlessness, and the claim set up by Augustine is the one still held by the advocates of “the dying belief,” that aeternus in the Latin, andaionios in the original Greek, mean interminable duration. It seems that a Spanish presbyter, Orosius, visited Augustine in the year 413, and besought him for arguments to meet the
position that punishment is not to be without end, because aionios does not denote eternal, but limited duration. Augustine replied that though aion signifies limited as well as endless duration, the Greeks only used aionios for endless, and he originated the argument so much resorted to even yet, based in the fact that in Matt. xxv: 46, the same word is applied to “life,” and to “punishment.” The student of Greek need not be told that Augustine’s argument is incorrect, and he scarcely needs to be assured that Augustine did not know Greek. This he confesses. He says he “hates Greek,” and the “grammar learning of the Greeks.” 6 it is anomalous in the history of criticism that generations of scholars should take their cue in a matter of Greek definition from one who admits that he had “learned almost nothing of Greek,” and was “not competent to read and understand” the language, and reject the position held by those who were born Greeks! That such a man should contradict and subvert the teachings of such men as Clement, Origen, the Gregories and others whose mother-tongue was Greek, is passing strange. But his powerful influence, aided by civil arm, established his doctrine till it came to rule the centuries. Augustine always quotes the New Testament from the old Latin version, the Itala, from which the Vulgate was formed, instead of the original Greek. See Preface to “Confessions.” It seems that the doctrine of Origen prevailed in Northeastern Spain at this time, and that Jerome’s translation of Origen’s “Principiis” had circulated with good effect, and that Augustine, to counteract the influence of Origen’s book, wrote in 415, a small work, “Against the Priscillianists and Origenists.” From about this time began the efforts of Augustine and his followers that subsequently entirely changed the character of Christian theology.
Milman on Augustinianism.
Says Milman: “The Augustinian theology coincided with the tendencies of the age towards the growth of the strong sacerdotal system; and the sacerdotal system reconciled Christendom with the Augustinian theology.” And it was in the age of Augustine, at the maturity of his powers, that the Latin church developed its theological system, “differing at every point from the earlier Greek theology, starting from different premises, and actuated throughout by another motive,” 7 and from that time, for nearly fifteen centuries it held sway, and for more than a thousand years the sentiment of Christendom was little more or less than the echo of the voice of Augustine. “When Augustine appeared the Greek tongue was dying out, the Greek s pirit was waning, the Paganism of Rome and its civil genius were combined, and a Roman emperor usurped the throne of the God of love.”8
Augustine declared that God had no kind purpose in punishing; that it would not be unjust to torment all souls forever; a few are saved to illustrate God’s mercy. The majority “are predestined to eternal fire with the devil.” He held, however, that all punishments beyond the grave are not endless. He says, “Non autem omnes veniunt in sempiternas poenas, quæ post illud judicium sunt futuræ, qui post mortem sustinent temporales.”9
Augustine Less Severe Than Modern Orthodoxy.
Augustine, however, held the penalties of sin in a much milder form than do his degenerate theological descendants in modern times. He teaches that the lost still retain goodness,–too valuable to be destroyed, and on that account the worst are not in absolute evil, but only in a lower degree of good. “Grief for lost good in a state of punishment is a witness of a good nature. For he who grieves for the lost peace for his nature, grieves for it by means of some remains of peace, by which it is caused that nature should be friendly to itself.” He taught that while unbaptized children must be damned in a Gehenna of fire, their torments would be light (levissima) compared with the torment of other sinners, and that their condition would be far preferable to non-existence, and so on the whole a blessing. In a limbus infantum they would only receive a mitissima damnatio. He also taught that death did not necessary end probation, as isquite fully shown under “Christ’s Descent into Hades.” Augustine’s idea was reduced to rhyme in the sixteenth century by the Rev. Michael Wigglesworth, of Malden, Mass., who was the Puritan pastor of the church in that place. A curious fact in the history of the parish is this,–that the church in which these ridiculous sentiments were uttered became, in 1828, by vote of the parish, Universalist, and is now the Universalist church in Malden. The poem represents God as saying to non-elect infants:
“You sinners are, and such a share
As sinners may expect,
Such you shall have, for I do save
None but my own elect.
Yet to compare your sin with theirs
Who lived a longer time,
I do confess yours is much less
Though every sin’s a crime.
A crime it is, therefore in bliss
You may not hope to dwell,
But unto you I shall allow
The easiest room in hell!”
Augustine thought that the cleansing fire might burn away venial sins between death and the resurrection. He says: “I do not refute it, because, perhaps, it is true;” 10 and that the sins of the good may be eradicated by a similar process.
He was certainly an example that might advantageously have been copied by opponents of Universalism in very recent years. Though he said the church “detested” it, he kindly added: “They who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be deceived by a certain human tenderness,” and he urged Jerome to continue to translate Origen for the benefit of the African church!11
Decadence and Deterioration.
Under such malign influences, however, the broad and generous theology of the East soon passed away; the language in which it was expressed–the language of Clement, Origen, Basil, the Gregories, became unknown among the Christians of the West; the cruel doctrines of Augustine harmonized with the cruelty of the barbarians and of Roman Paganism amalgamated, and thus Africa smothered the milder spirit of Christendom, and Augustine riveted the fetters that were to manacle the church for more than ten long centuries. “The triumph of Latin theology was the death of rational exegesis.”
But before this evil influence prevailed, some of the great Latin fathers rivaled the immortal leaders in the Oriental church. Among these was Ambrose, of whom Jerome says, “nearly all his books are full of Origenism,” which Huet repeats, while the “Dictionary of Christian Biography” tells us that he teaches that “even to the wicked death is a gain.” Thus the genial thought of Origen was still potent, even in the West, though a harder theology was overcoming it.
Says Hagenbach: “In proportion to the development of ecclesiastical orthodoxy into fixed and systematic shape was the loss of individual freedom in respect to the formulation of doctrines, and the increased peril of becoming heretical. The more liberaltendency of former theologians, such as Origen, could no longer be tolerated, and was at length condemned. But, notwithstanding this external condemnation, the spirit of Origen continued to animate the chief theologians of the East, though it was kept within narrower limits. The works of this great teacher were also made known in the West by Jerome and Rufinus, and exerted an influence even upon his opponents.” After Justinian the Greek empire and influence contracted, and the Latin and Roman power expanded. Latin became the language of Christianity, and Augustine’s system and followers used it as the instrument of molding Christianity into an Africo-Romano heathenism. The Apostles’ and Nicene creeds were disregarded, and Arianism, Origenism, Pelagianism, Manichæism and other so-called heresies were nearly or quite obliterated, and the Augustinian inventions of original and inherited depravity, predestination, and endless hell torments, became the theology of Christendom.
Thus, says Schaff, “the Roman state, with its laws, institutions, and usages, was still deeply rooted in heathenism. The Christianizing of the state amounted therefore to a paganizing and secularizing of the church. The world overcame the church as much as the church overcame the world, and the temporal gain of Christianity was in many respects canceled by spiritual loss. The mass of the Roman Empire was baptized only with water, not with the spirit and fire of the Gospel, and it smuggled heathen practices and manners into the sanctuary under a new name.” The broad faith of the primitive Christians paled and faded before the lurid terrors of Augustinianism. It vanished in the Sixth Century, “crushed out,” says Bigg, “by tyranny and the leaden ignorance of the age.” It remained in the East a while, was “widely diffused among the monasteries of Egypt and Palestine,” and only ceased when Augustinianism and Catholicism and the power of Rome ushered in and fostered the darkness of the Dark Ages. Says an accurate writer: “If Augustine had not been born an African, and trained as a Manichee, nay, if he had only faced the labor of learning Greek–a labor from which he confesses that he had shrunk–the who stream of Christian theology might have been purer and more sweet.”
In no other respect did Augustine differ more widely from Origen and the Alexandrians that in his intolerant spirit. Even Tertullian conceded to all the right of opinion. Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Athanasius and Augustine himself in his earlier days, recorded the tolerance that Christianity demands. But he afterwards came to advocate and defend the persecution of religious opponents. Milman observes: “With shame and horror we hear from Augustine himself that fatal axiom which impiously arrayed cruelty in the garb of Christian charity.” 12 He was the first in the long line of Christian persecutors, and illustrates the character of the theology that swayed him in the wicked spirit that impelled him to advocate the right to persecute Christians who differ from those in power. The dark pages that bear the record of subsequent centuries are a damning witness to the cruel spirit that actuated Christians, and the cruel theology that impelled it. Augustine “was the first and ablest asserter of the principle which led to Albigensian crusades, Spanish armadas, Netherland’s butcheries, St. Bartholomew massacres, the accursed infamies of the Inquisition, the vile espionage, the hideous bale fires of Seville and Smithfield, the racks, the gibbets, the thumbscrews, the subterranean torture-chambers used by churchly torturers.”13 And George Sand well says that the Roman church committed suicide the day she invented an implacable God and eternal damnation.14
1 Confessions, III, Chap. i-iii.
2 Conspersio damnata, massa perditionis.
3 Allen, Cont. Christ. Thought.
4 Enchiridion cxii: “Frustra itaque nonulli, imo quam plurimi, æternam damnatorum poenam et cruciatus sine intermissione perpetuos humano miserantur affectu, atque ita futurum esse non credunt.”
5 Misericordibus nostris. De Civ. Dei., xxi: 17.
6 Græcæ autem linguæ non sit nobis tantus habitus, ut talium rerum libris legendis et intelligendis ullo modo reperiamur idonei, (De Trin. lib III); and, et ego quidem græcæ linguæ perparum assecutus sum, et prope nihil. (Contra litteras Petiliani, lib II, xxxviii, 91. Migne, Vol. XLIII.) Quid autem erat causæ cur græcas litteras oderam quibus puerulus imbuebar ne nunc quidem mihi satis exploratum est: “But what was the cause of my dislike of Greek literature, which I studied from my boyhood, I cannot even now understand.” Conf. I:13. This ignorance of the original Scriptures was a poor outfit with which to furnish orthodox critics for a thousand years. See Rosenmuller, Hist. Interp., iii, 40.
7 Latin Christ. I.
8 Allen, Cont. Christ Thought, p. 156.
9 De Civ. Dei.
10 De Civ. Dei. “non redarguo, quia forsitan verum est.”
11 Ep. 8.
12 Latin Christianity, I, 127.
13 Farrar’s Lives of the Fathers.
14 ” L’ Eglise Romaine s’est porte le dernier coup: elle a consomme son suicide le jour on elle a fait Dieu implacable et la damnation eternelle.” Spiridion.
Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism.
Historians and writers on the state of opinion in the early church have quite often erred in declaring that an ecclesiastical council pronounced the doctrine of universal salvation heretical, as early as the Sixth Century. Even so learned and accurate a writer as our own Dr. Ballou, has fallen into this error, though his editor, the Rev. A. St. John Chambre, D.D., subsequently corrected the mistake in a brief note.
A.D. 399 a council in Jerusalem condemned the Origenists, and all who held with them, that the Son was in any way subordinate to the Father. In 401 a council in Alexandria anathematized the writings of Origen, presumably for the same reason as above. Certainly his views of human destiny were not mentioned.
In 544-6, a condemnation of Origen’s views of human salvation was attempted to be extorted from a small, local council in Constantinople, by the emperor Justinian, but his edict was not obeyed by the council. He issued an edict to Mennas, patriarch of Constantinople, requiring him to assemble the bishops resident, or casually present there, to condemn the doctrine of universal restoration. Fulminating ten anathemas, he especially urged Mennas to anathematize the doctrine “that wicked men and devils will at length be discharged from their torments, and re-established in their original state.” 1He wrote to Mennas requiring him to frame a canon in these words:
“Whoever says or thinks that the torments of the demons and of impious men are temporal, so that they will at length come to an end, or whoever holds to a restoration either of the demons or of the impious, let him be anathema.”
It is conceded that the half-heathen emperor held to the idea of endless misery, for he proceeds not only to defend, but to define the doctrine.2 He does not merely say, “We believe in aionion kolasin,” for that was just what Origen himself taught. Nor does he say “the word aionion has been misunderstood; it denotes endless duration,” as he would have said, had there been such a disagreement. But, writing in Greek, with all the words of that copious language from which to choose, he says: “The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aeonian (ateleutetos aionios) life to the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked.” If he supposed aionios denoted endless duration, he would not have added the stronger word to it. The fact that he qualified it by ateleutetos, demonstrated that as late as the sixth century the former word did not signify endless duration.
Justinian need only to have consulted his contemporary, Olympiodorus, who wrote on this very subject, to vindicate his language. In his commentary on the Meteorologica of Aristotle, 8 he says: “Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless ages () in Tartarus. Very properly the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aeonian period, calling its life, and its allotted period of punishment, its aeon.” It will be noticed that he not only denies endless punishment, and denies that the doctrine can be expressed byaionios declares that punishment is temporary and results in the sinner’s improvement. Justinian not only concedes that aionios requires a word denoting endlessness to give it the sense of limitless duration, but he insists that the council shall frame a canon containing a word that shall indisputably express the doctrine of endless woe, while it shall condemn those who advocate universal salvation. Now though the emperor exerted his great influence to foist his heathen doctrine into the Church canons, he failed; for nothing resembling it appears in the canons enacted by the synodical council.
The synod voted fifteen canons, not one of which condemns universal restoration.
Home Synod Canons.
The first canon reads thus: “If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and the monstrous restitution which follows from it, let him be anathema.”
This condemnation, it will be readily seen, is not of universal salvation, but of a”monstrous” restitution based on the soul’s pre-existence. That this view is correct appears from the fourteenth anathema:
“If anyone says that there will be a single unity of all rational beings, their substances and individualities being taken away together with their bodies, and also that there will be an identity of cognition as also of persons, and that in the fabulous restitution they will only be naked even as they had existed in that præ-existence which they insanely introduced, let him be anathema.”
The reader will at once perceive that these canons do not describe any genuine form of our faith, but only a distorted caricature which no doubt was thought to represent the doctrine they opposed. But not one of the nine anathemas ordered by Justinian was sanctioned by the council. They were laid before the Home Synod, but the Synod did not indorse them. Fifteen canons were passed, but the Synod refused to reprobate universal salvation. Justinian was unable to compel the bishops under his control to condemn the doctrine he hated, but which they must have favored. The theory here condemned is not that of universal salvation, but the “fabulous pre-existence of souls, and the monstrous restitution that results from it.”4
The bishops, says Landon, declared that they adhered to the doctrines of Athanasius, Basil and the Gregories. The doctrine of Theodore on the Sonship of Christ was condemned, also the teachings of Theodoret. “Origen was not condemned.” 5
The Council Refused to Condemn Universalism.
Even the influence of Justinian and his obsequious bishop, and his disreputable queen, failed to force the measure through. The action of this local Synod has been incorrectly ascribed to the Fifth OEcumenical Council, nine years later, which has also been inaccurately supposed to have condemned Universalism, when it merely reprehended some of the vagaries of “Origenism”–doctrines that even Origen himself never accepted, but that were falsely ascribed to him by ignorant or malicious opponents; doctrines that no more resemble universal restoration, as taught by the Alexandrine fathers, than they resemble Theosophy or Buddhism. So that, though the Home Synod was called by the Emperor Justinian expressly to condemn Universalism, and was commanded by imperial edict to anathematize it, and though it formulated fifteen canons, it refused to obey the Emperor, and did not say one word against the doctrine the Emperor wished to anathematize. The local council came to no decision. Justinian had just arbitrarily condemned the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret, and a terrible controversy and division ensued, and Theodorus, of Cesaræa, declared that both himself and Pelagius, who had sought the condemnation of Origen, ought to be burnt alive for their conduct.6
In the Fifth General Council of 553 the name of Origen appears with others in the eleventh canon, but the best scholars think that the insertion of his name is a forgery.
Whether so or not, there is not a word referring to his views of human destiny. His name only appears among the names of the heretics, such as “Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Eutyches, Origen and other impious men, and all other heretics who are condemned and anathematized by the Catholic and Apostolical Church, etc.” 7 The Fifth Ecumenical Council, which was held nine years later than the local, neither condemned Origen by name, nor anathematized his Universalism. The object of this council was to condemn certain Nestorian doctrines; and Gregory of Nyssa, the most explicit of Universalists, is referred to with honor by the council, and as the denial of endless punishment by Origen, and his advocacy of Universalism are not named, we cannot avoid the conviction that the council was controlled by those who held, or at least did not repudiate Universalism.
Great confusion exists among the authorities on this subject. The local council has been confounded with the general. Hefele has disentangled the perplexities.
It was not even at that late day–three centuries after his death–the Universalism of Origen that caused the hatred of his opponents, but his opposition to the Episcopizing policy of the church, his insisting on the triple sense of the Word, etc., and the peculiar form of a mis-stated doctrine of the restoration.8
Universalism not Condemned for Five Centuries.
Now, let the reader remember that for more than five hundred years, during which Universalism had prevailed, not a single treatise against it is known to have been written. And with the exception of Augustine, no opposition appears to have been aroused against it on the part of any eminent Christian writer. And not only so, but A.D. 381, at the first great Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, the intellectual leader was Gregory of Nyssa, who was only second to Origen as an advocate of universal restoration. Thus his followers, not only, but his opponents on other topics, accepted the great truth of the Gospel. As Dr. Beecher pointedly observes: “It is also a striking fact that while Origen lies under a load of odium as a heretic, Gregory of Nyssa, who taught the doctrine of the restoration of all things more fully even than Origen, has been canonized, and stands high on the roll of eminent saints, even in the orthodox Roman Catholic Church.” Beecher’s conclusion is, “That the modern orthodox views as to the doctrine of eternal punishment, as opposed to final restoration, were not fully developed and established till the middle of the Sixth Century, and that then they were not established by thorough argument, but by imperial authority.” But the fact is that they were not even then matured and established.
The learned Professor Plumptre says in the “Dictionary of Christian Biography”: “We have no evidence that the belief in the , which prevailed in the fourth and fifth centuries was ever definitely condemned by any council of the Church, and so far as Origen was named as coming under the church’s censure it was rather as if involved in the general sentence passed upon the leaders of Nestorianism, than singled out for special and characteristic errors. So the council of Constantinople, the so-called Fifth General Council, A.D. 553, condemns Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen in a lump, but does not specify the errors of the last-named, as though they differed in kind from theirs, and it is not till in the council of Constantinople, known as in Trullo (A.D. 696) that we find an anathema which specifies somewhat cloudily the guilt of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Origen, and Didymus, and Evagrius, as consists in their ‘inventing a mythology after the manner of the Greeks, and inventing changes and migrations for our souls and bodies, and impiously uttering drunken ravings as to the future life of the dead.’ It deserves to be noted that this ambiguous anathema pronounced by a council of no authority, under the weak and vicious Emperor Justinian II, is the only approach to a condemnation of the eschatology of Origen which the annals of the church councils present.”9
Significant Facts and Conclusions.
Now let the reader recapitulate: (1) Origen during his life-time was never opposed for his Universalism; (2) after his death Methodius, about A.D. 300, attacked his views of the resurrection, creation and pre-existence, but said not a word against his Universalism; (3) ten years later Pamphilus and Eusebius (A.D. 310) defended him against nine charges that had been brought against his views, but his Universalism was not among them; (4) in 330 Marcellus of Ancyra, a Universalist, opposed him for his views of the Trinity, and (5) Eustathius for his teachings concerning the Witch of Endor, but limited their arraignment to those items; (6) in 376 Epiphanius assailed his heresies, but he did not name Universalism as among them, and in 394 he condemned Origen’s doctrine of the salvation of the Devil, but not of all mankind; (7) in 399 and 401, his views of Christ’s death to save the Devil were attacked by Epiphanius, Jerome and Theophilus, and his advocacy of the subordination of Christ to God was condemned, but not his teachings of man’s universal salvation; and (8) it was not till 544 and again in 553 that his enemies formulated attacks on that doctrine, and made a cat’s-paw of a half-heathen Emperor, and even then, though the latter framed a canon for the synod, it was never adopted, and the council adjourned–owing, it must have been, to the Universalistic sentiment in it–without a word of condemnation of Origen’s Universalism. With the exception of Augustine, the doctrine which had been constantly advocated, often by the most eminent, did not evoke a frown of opposition from any eminent scholar or saint.
The Ancient Councils.
The character of these ancient synods and councils is well described by Gregory Nazianzen, A.D. 382, in a letter to Procopius: “I am determined to avoid every assembly of bishops. I have never seen a single instance in which a synod did any good. Strife and ambition dominate them to an incredible degree. * * * From councils and synods I will keep myself at a distance, for I have experienced that most of them, to speak with moderation, are not worth much. * * * I will not sit in the seat of synods, while geese and cranes confused wrangle. Discord is there, and shameful things, hidden before, are gathered into one meeting place of rivals.” Milman tells us: “Nowhere is Christianity less attractive, and if we look to the ordinary tone and character of the proceedings, less authoritative than in the Councils of the Church. It is in general a fierce collision of rival fact~~~ neither of which will yield, each of which is solemnly pledged against conviction. Intrigue, injustice, violence, decisions on authority alone, and that the authority of a turbulent majority, decisions by wild acclamation rather than after sober inquiry, detract from the reverence, and impugn the judgments, at least of the later councils. The close is almost invariably a terrible anathema, in which it is impossible not to discern the tones of human hatred, of arrogant triumph, of rejoicing at the damnation imprecated against the humiliated adversary.” 10 Scenes of strife and even murder in connection with ancient ecclesiastical councils were not uncommon.
There is no evidence whatever to show that it was not entirely allowable for five hundred years after Christ, to entertain the belief in universal salvation. Besides, the Council of Nice, A.D. 325, had, as an active member, Eusebius, Origen’s apologist, a pronounced Universalist; the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, had as active members the two Gregories, Nazianzus and Nyssa, the latter as outspoken a Universalist as Origen himself; the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431, declared that Gregory Nyssen’s writings were the great bulwark against heresy. The fact that the doctrine was and had been for centuries prevalent, if not the prevailing sentiment, demonstrates that it must have been regarded as a Christian doctrine by the members of these great councils, or they would have fulminated against it.
How preposterous the idea that the prevailing sentiment of Christendom was adverse to the doctrine of universal restoration even as late as the middle of the Sixth Century, when these great, heresy-hunting bodies met and dispersed without condemning it, even at the dictation of a tyrannical Emperor, who expressly demanded its condemnation.
- Neander and Gieseler say that the name of Origen was foisted into the declaration of the Fifth Council by forgery at a later date. 2. But if the condemnation was actually adopted it was of “Origenism,” which was synonymous with other opinions. 3. “Origenism” could not have meant Universalism, for several of the leaders of the council that condemned Origenism held to universal restitution. 4. Besides, the council eulogistically referred to the Gregories (Nazianzen and Nyssen) who were Universalists as explicit as was Origen. Manifestly, if the Council had meant Universalism by “Origenism,” it would not have condemned as a deadly heresy in Origen what Gregory of Nyssa advocated, and anathematized the one, and glorified the other.
Justinian’s Suppression of the Truth.
Justinian not only commanded the council to suppress Universalism, but he arbitrarily closed the schools in Athens, Alexandria and Antioch, and drove out the great church centers that theological science that had been its glory. He had “brought the whole empire under his sway and he wished in like manner to settle finally the law and the dogmatics of the empire.” To accomplish this evil work he found an aid in Rome, in a “characterless Pope (Vigilius) who, in gratifying the emperor covered himself with disgrace, and jeopardized his position in the Occident.” But he succeeded in inaugurating measures that extinguished the broad faith of the greatest fathers of the church. “Henceforth,” says Harnack, “there was no longer a theological science going back to first principles.”11
The historians inform us that Justinian the great opponent of Universalism was positive, irritable, apt to change his views, and accessible to the flatteries and influences of those who surrounded him, yet withal, very opinionated in insisting upon any view he happened at the time to hold, and prepared to enforce compliance by the free employment of his despotic power,” a “temporal pope.” 12 The corrupt Bishop Theophilus, the vile Eudoxia and the equally disreputable, though beautiful, crafty and unscrupulous Theodora, exercised a malign influence on Justinian, the Emperor, and, thus was dictated the action of the council described above.
Justinian and His Age.
Milman declares: “The Emperor Justinian unites in himself the most opposite vices,–insatiable rapacity and lavish prodigality, intense pride and contemptible weakness, unmeasured ambition and dastardly cowardice. He is the uxorious slave of his Empress, whom, after she had ministered to the licentious pleasures of the populace as a courtesan and so an actress in the most immodest exhibitions, in defiance of decency, of honor, of the remonstrances of his friends, and of religion, he had made the partner of his throne. In the Christian Emperor seemed to meet the crimes of those who won or secured their empire by the assassination of all whom they feared, the passion for public diversions without the accomplishments of Nero, the brute strength of Commodus, or the dotage of Claudius.” And he was the champion of endless punishment in the Sixth Century!
Justinian is described as an ascetic, a scholastic, and a pedant, “neither beloved in his life, nor regretted at his death.”
The age of Justinian, says Lecky, that condemned Origen, is conceded to have been the vilest of the Christian centuries. The doctrine of a hell of literal fire and endless duration had begun to be an engine of tyranny in the hands of an unscrupulous priesthood, and a tyrannical emperor, and moral degradation had kept pace with the theological declination. “The universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilization has yet assumed.” Contrasted with the age of Origen it was as night to day. And the persons who were most active and prominent in the condemnation of the great Alexandrian were fit implements for the task. On this point the language of Farrar in “Mercy and Judgment” is accurate: “Every fresh study of the original authorities only leaves on my mind a deeper impression that even in the Fifth Century Universalism as regards mankind was regarded as a perfectly tenable opinion.”
The Divine Light Eclipsed.
Thus the record of the times shows, and the testimony of the scholars who have made the subject a careful study concedes, that though there were sporadic assaults on the doctrine of universal restitution in the fourth and fifth centuries; they were not successful in placing the ban of a single council upon it; even to the middle of the Sixth Century. So far as history shows the sublime fact which the great Alexandrians made prominent–the
“One divine event to which the whole creation moves,”
had never been stigmatized by any considerable portion of the Christian church for at least its first half a millennium of years.
The subsequent history of Christianity shows but too plainly that the continued influence of Roman law and Pagan theology as incarnated in the mighty brain of Augustine, came to dominate the Christian world, and at length almost obliterate the faith once delivered to the saints–the faith that exerted so vast an influence in the church’s earliest and best centuries–and spread the pall of darkness over Christendom, so that the light of the central fact of the Gospel was scarcely seen for sad and cruel centuries.
1 Nicephorus, Eccle. Hist., xvii: 27. Hefele, iv: 220.
2 Murdock’s Mosheim I, pp. 410-11; Gieseler, Hist. vi, p. 478. Also Hagenbach and Neander. Cave’s Historia Literaria.
3 Vol. 1, p. 282. Ideler’s edition.
4 Mansi IX, p. 395; Hefele, iv: 336.
5 Landon, pp. 177-8.
6 Landon, Manual of Councils, London, 1846, p. 174.
7 The canon reads: “Si quis non anathematizat Arium, Eunomium, Macedonium, Apollinarium, Nestorium, Eutychen, Origenem cum impiis eorum conscriptis, et alios omnes hæreticos, qui condemnati et anathematizati sunt a Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia,” etc.
8 Dietelmaier declares that many of the church doctors agreed with Origen in advocating the salvability of the devil.
9 Article Eschatology p. 194; also Spirits in Prison, p. 41.
10 Latin Christ. I, p. 227.
11 Outlines Hist. Dog., pp. 204, 8, 320, 323.
12 Sozomen, Eccl. Hist.; Gibbon, Decline and Fall.
The Eclipse of Universalism.
The submergence of Christian Universalism in the dark waters of Augustinian Christo-paganism, after having been the prevailing theology of Christendom for centuries, is one of the strange phenomena in the history of religious thought. This volume explains, in part, this obscure phenomenon. History testifies that at the close of what Hagenbach calls the second period, from A.D. 254 to A.D. 730, the opinion in favor of endless punishment had become “more general.” Only a few belonging to the “Origenist humanity * * * still dared to express a glimmer of hope in favor of the damned * * * the doctrine of the restitution of all things shared the fate of Origenism, and made its appearance in after ages only in connection with other heretical notions.”
Disappearance of the Truth.
Kingsley attributes the decadence and deterioration of the Alexandrine School and its doctrines and methods, to the abandonment of its intense activity, to the relinquishment of the great enthusiasm for humanity that characterized Clement, Origen and their co-workers. He says: “Having no more Heathens to fight, they began fighting each other; * * * they became dogmatists * * * they lost the knowledge of God, of righteousness, and love, and peace. That Divine Logos, and theology as a whole receded farther and farther aloft into abysmal heights, as it became a mere dreary system of dead scientific terms, having no practical bearing on their hearts and lives.” In a word, their abandonment of the principles of Clement and his school, left the field open to the more practical, direct and methodical, though degraded and corrupt theories of Augustine and his associates. This process continued till toward the middle of the Seventh Century, when, as Kingsley observes: “In the year 640, the Alexandrians who were tearing each other in pieces about some Jacobite and Melchite controversy, to me incomprehensible * * * in the midst of these Jacobite and Melchite controversies and riots, appeared before the city the armies of certain wild and unlettered Arab tribes. A short and fruitless struggle followed; and strange to say, a few months swept away from the face of the earth, not only the wealth, the commerce, the castles, and the liberty, but the philosophy and the Christianity of Alexandria; crushed to powder, by one fearful blow, all that had been built up by Alexander and the Ptolemies, by Clement and the philosophers, and made void, to all appearance, nine hundred years of human toil. The people, having no real hold on their hereditary creed, accepted, by tens of thousands, that of the Mussulman invaders. The Christian remnant became tributaries, and Alexandria dwindled from that time forth into a petty seaport town.” 1
The “Universalist Quartarly,” January, 1878, attributes the decline and disappearance of Universalism to an entire absence of polemic on the part of its advocates; and to regarding the doctrine as esoteric, instead of for all; in other words, the undemocratic methods of those who accepted it. These factors, no doubt, contributed, but they are not alone sufficient to account for its disappearance. 2
It is not a part of the plan of this work to follow its fate after its almost entire disappearance for centuries. The combined efforts of Augustine and his coadjutors and successors, or popes and emperors, of Paganism and Latin secularism, of ignorant half-converted hordes of heathen barbarians, and of a hierarchy that could not employ it in its ambitious schemes, at length crystallized into the pseudo-Christianity that reigned like a nightmare over Christendom, from the Seventh to the Fifteenth Century. Ignorance, cruelty, oppression, were well-nigh universal, and the condition of mankind reflected the views held by the church, of the character of God and of man, of time and of eternity, of heaven and of hell. Perhaps the darkest hour of the night of ages was just before the dawn of the Reformation. The prevalent Christian thought was represented in literature and art, and its best exponents of the sentiment of a thousand years are the works of the great artist, Michael Angelo, and of the equally great poet, Dante. They agree in spirit, and black and white, darkness and light, truth and falsehood are not more antipodal than is the theology of Dante and Angelo contrasted with the cheerfulsimplicity, the divine purity of the primitive Christian faith. “That was a dark night that fell upon Christianity when its thought became Latinized. When Christianity came to be interpreted by the prosaic, unspiritual legal mind of Rome, the Gospel went into a fearful eclipse. When the Greek thought of Christ gave way to the Latin a night came upon the Christian world that has extended to the present day. Then were born all those half-views, distorted views, and false views of Christian doctrine and Christian life that have perverted the Gospel, puzzled the human intellect and grieved the human heart through all the long centuries from that day to this.” 3
The Caricatures of Dante and Angelo.
Two great men of genius of the first order, the marvelous artist, Michael Angelo, and the equally great poet, Dante, on canvas and in verse, gathered at its culmination the nightmare of unbelief that had darkened the preceding centuries. In Dante are “Christian heroes appearing in heathenish aspect, and heathenish poets and thinkers half-warmed by the light of Christianity,” a happy characterization of the hybrid product of truth and error that Dante describes, and that passed for Christianity during the Sixteenth Century, and with modifications, has since prevailed. The “Last Judgment” of Michael Angelo harmonizes with the thought of the great poet. It is a Pagan reminiscence–a hideous heathen dream. The meek and lowly Man of Nazareth who would not break the bruised reed was travestied by a monstrous caricature. “An unclothed, broad-shouldered hero, with arms upraised that could strike down a Hercules, distributing blessings and curses, his hair fluttering like flames which the storm blows back, and his angry countenance looking down on the condemned with frightful eyes, as if he wished to hasten forward the destruction in which his word has plunged them * * * the whole figure recalls the words of Dante, in which he calls Christ ‘Sommo Giove,’–the most-high Jupiter. This he is here; not the suffering Son of Man, gentle as the moon, silent rather than speaking, with the foreboding of his fate written in his sad eyes. Yet, if a Last Judgment were to be painted, with everlasting condemnation, and Christ as the judge who pronounces it, how could he appear otherwise than in such terribleness? * * * Such is Michael Angelo’s Last Judgment. While we cherish a feeling that at that day, whenever it occurs, the love of God will remit all sins as earthly error, the Roman sees alone anger and revenge, as proceeding from the Supreme Being, when he comes in contact with humanity for the last time. For the sinner is forever from henceforth to be condemned. It is an echo of the old idea, often enough recurring in the Old Testament, that the Divine Being is an angry and fearful power, which must be appeased, instead of the Source of good alone, abolishing at last all evil as an influence that has beguiled mankind. * * * As we look, however, at the Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, it is no longer a similitude to us, but a monument of the imaginative spirit of a past age and of a strange people, whose ideas are no longer ours. Dante created a new world for the Romanic nations by remodeling the forms of heathen antiquity for his Christian mythology.” 4 Materialistic, gross, was the Christianity that ruled and oppressed mankind for nearly a thousand years, and it is reflected in the pages of Dante, and on the canvas of Angelo, and it reverberates with ever decreasing echoes–thank God!–in the subsequent creeds of Christendom. Almost the only gleam of light, that relieved while it intensified the blackness of the darkness of Christendom during those dreadful centuries was the worship of Mary.
Re-birth of Universalism.
The resurrection of Universalism after an eclipse of a millennium of years is as remarkable as was its strange disappearance. No better illustration can be found than the history of our faith gives, of the tenacity of life, the immortality, of truth. It calls to mind the language of the German sage, Schopenhauer: “Doubtless error can play its part, like owls in the night. But we should sooner expect the owls to cause the terrified sun to retire to the East, than to see the truth, once proclaimed, to be so repressed as that ancient error might recover its lost ground, and re-establish itself there in peace.” To truth belong “God’s eternal years,” and her emergence after so long a disappearance is an illustration of her immortal vitality. “Crushed to earth” she has “risen again,” and is fast being accepted by a regenerated Christendom.
The Dawn of Truth.
With the invention of printing, the dawn of light in the Reformation,5 and the increase of intelligence, our distinctive form of faith has not only grown and extended, but its leavening power has modified the creeds of Christendom, softening all harsh theories, and unfolding a “rose of dawn” in all Christian lands. Though, like its author and revealer, it seemed to die, it was, like him, to come forth to a new and glorious resurrection, for the views held by the great saints and scholars in the first centuries of Christianity were substantially those that are taught by the Universalist Church for the current century, so far as they include the character of God, the nature and final destiny of mankind, the resurrection, the judgment, the purpose and end of punishment, and other cognate themes. On these subjects the great Church fathers stand as representatives of the Universalism of to-day, so that the progress of Christian ideas that the end of the present century is witnessing, is not, as many think, towards something new, but is towards the position of the early Christians seventeen hundred years ago. It is a re-birth, a restoration of Christianity to its primitive purity. As Max Muller has recently written: “If we want to be true and honest Christians, we must go back to those earliest ante-Nicene authorities, the true fathers of the church.”6 This is being done by Christians in all branches of the church. The Bible, which the hands of ignorance has overwritten into a hideous palimpsest, is being read with something of its divine meaning, and as increasing light pours upon the sacred page, more and more men are learning to spell its blessed messages correctly, as they were spoken or written at the beginning–as the ante-Nicene fathers read them–in harmony with man’s intellectual, moral and affectional nature, and with the character and attributes of the Universal Father.
1 Alexandria and her Schools.
2 Rev. S. S. Hebberd.
3 Rev. S. Crane, D.D., in The Universalist.
4 Grimm’s Michael Angelo.
5 “In Germany alone, in six years from the promulgation of the ninety-five theses at Wittenberg, the number of annual publications increased twelvefold.” Rev. W. W. Ramsay, Methodism and Literature, p. 232.
6 Paper read at the World’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago, September, 1893.
Summary of Conclusions.
A few of the many points established in the foregoing pages may here be named:
(1) During the First Century the primitive Christians did not dwell on matters of eschatology, but devoted their attention to apologetics; they were chiefly anxious to establish the fact of Christ’s advent, and of its blessings to the world. Possibly the question of destiny was an open one, till Paganism and Judaism introduced erroneous ideas, when the New Testament doctrine of the apokatastasis was asserted, and universal restoration became an accepted belief, as stated later by Clement and Origen, A.D. 180-230.
(2) The Catacombs give us the views of the unlearned, as Clement and Origen state the doctrine of scholars and teachers. Not a syllable is found hinting at the horrors of Augustinianism, but the inscription on every monument harmonizes with the Universalism of the early fathers.
(3) Clement declares that all punishment, however severe, is purificatory; that even the “torments of the damned” are curative. Origen explains even Gehenna as signifying limited and curative punishment, and both, as all the other ancient Universalists, declare that “everlasting” (aionion) punishment, is consonant with universal salvation. So that it is no proof that other primitive Christians who are less explicit as to the final result, taught endless punishment when they employ the same terms.
(4) Like our Lord and his Apostles, the primitive Christians avoided the words with which the Pagans and Jews defined endless punishment aidios or adialeipton timoria(endless torment), a doctrine the latter believed, and knew how to describe; but they, the early Christians, called punishment, as did our Lord, kolasis aionios, discipline, chastisement, of indefinite, limited duration.
(5) The early Christians taught that Christ preached the Gospel to the dead, and for that purpose descended into Hades. Many held that he released all who were in ward. This shows that repentance beyond the grave, perpetual probation, was then accepted, which precludes the modern error that the soul’s destiny is decided at death.
(6) Prayers for the dead were universal in the early church, which would be absurd, if their condition is unalterably fixed at the grave.
(7) The idea that false threats were necessary to keep the common people in check, and that the truth might be held esoterically, prevailed among the earlier Christians, so that there can be no doubt that many who seem to teach endless punishment, really held the broader views, as we know the most did, and preached terrors pedagogically.
(8) The first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world was by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, and universal salvation was one of the tenets.
(9) The first complete presentation of Christianity as a system was by Origen (A.D. 220) and universal salvation was explicitly contained in it.
(10) Universal salvation was the prevailing doctrine in Christendom as long as Greek, the language of the New Testament, was the language of Christendom.
(11) Universalism was generally believed in the best centuries, the first three, when Christians were most remarkable for simplicity, goodness and missionary zeal.
(12) Universalism was least known when Greek, the language of the New Testament was least known, and when Latin was the language of the Church in its darkest, most ignorant, and corrupt ages.
(13) Not a writer among those who describe the heresies of the first three hundred years intimates that Universalism was then a heresy, though it was believed by many, if not be a majority, and certainly by the greatest of the fathers.
(14) Not a single creed for five hundred years expresses any idea contrary to universal restoration, or in favor of endless punishment.
(15) With the exception of the arguments of Augustine (A.D. 420), there is not an argument known to have been framed against Universalism for at least four hundred years after Christ, by any of the ancient fathers.
(16) While the councils that assembled in various parts of Christendom, anathematized every kind of doctrine supposed to be heretical, no oecumenical council, for more than five hundred years, condemned Universalism, though it had been advocated in every century by the principal scholars and most revered saints.
(17) As late as A.D. 400, Jerome says “most people” (plerique). and Augustine “very many” (quam plurimi), believed in Universalism, notwithstanding that the tremendous influence of Augustine, and the mighty power of the semi-pagan secular arm were arrayed against it.
(18) The principal ancient Universalists were Christian born and reared, and were among the most scholarly and saintly of all the ancient saints.
(19) The most celebrated of the earlier advocates of endless punishment were heathen born, and led corrupt lives in their youth. Tertullian one of the first, and Augustine, the greatest of them, confess to having been among the vilest.
(20) The first advocates of endless punishment, Minucius Felix, Tertullian and Augustine, were Latins, ignorant of Greek, and less competent to interpret the meaning of Greek Scriptures than were the Greek scholars.
(21) The first advocates of Universalism, after the Apostles, were Greeks, in whose mother-tongue the New Testament was written. They found their Universalism in the Greek Bible. Who should be correct, they or the Latins?
(22) The Greek Fathers announced the great truth of universal restoration in an age of darkness, sin and corruption. There was nothing to suggest it to them in the world’s literature or religion. It was wholly contrary to everything around them. Where else could they have found it, but where they say they did, in the Gospel?
(23) All ecclesiastical historians and the best Biblical critics and scholars agree to the prevalence of Universalism in the earlier centuries.
(24) From the days of Clement of Alexandria to those of Gregory of Nyssa and Theodore of Mopsuestia (A.D. 180-428), the great theologians and teachers, almost without exception, were Universalists. No equal number in the same centuries were comparable to them for learning and goodness.
(25) The first theological school in Christendom, that in Alexandria, taught Universalism for more than two hundred years.
(26) In all Christendom, from A.D. 170 to 430, there were six Christian schools. Of these four, the only strictly theological schools, taught Universalism, and but one endless punishment.
(27) The three earliest Gnostic sects, the Basilidians, the Carpocratians and the Valentinians (A.D. 117-132) are condemned by Christian writers, and their heresies pointed out, but though they taught Universalism, that doctrine is never condemned by those who oppose them. Irenaeus condemned the errors of the Carpocratians, but does not reprehend their Universalism, though he ascribes the doctrine to them.
(28) The first defense of Christianity against Infidelity (Origen against Celsus) puts the defense on Universalistic grounds. Celsus charged the Christians’ God with cruelty, because he punished with fire. Origen replied that God’s fire is curative; that he is a “Consuming Fire,” because he consumes sin and not the sinner.
(29) Origen, the chief representative of Universalism in the ancient centuries, was bitterly opposed and condemned for various heresies by ignorant and cruel fanatics. He was accused of opposing Episcopacy, believing in pre-existence, etc., but never was condemned for his Universalism. The very council that anathematized “Origenism” eulogized Gregory of Nyssa, who was explicitly a Universalist as was Origen. Lists of his errors are given by Methodius, Pamphilus and Eusebius, Marcellus, Eustathius and Jerome, but Universalism is not named by one of his opponents. Fancy a list of Ballou’s errors and his Universalism omitted; Hippolytus (A.D. 320) names thirty-two known heresies, but Universalism is not mentioned as among them. Epiphanius, “the hammer of heretics,” describes eighty heresies, but he does not mention universal salvation, though Gregory of Nyssa, an outspoken Universalist, was, at the time he wrote, the most conspicuous figure in Christendom.
(30) Justinian, a half-pagan emperor, who attempted to have Universalism officially condemned, lived in the most corrupt epoch of the Christian centuries. He closed the theological schools, and demanded the condemnation of Universalism by law; but the doctrine was so prevalent in the church that the council refused to obey his edict to suppress it. Lecky says the age of Justinian was “the worst form civilization has assumed.”
(31) The first clear and definite statement of human destiny by any Christian writer after the days of the Apostles, includes universal restoration, and that doctrine was advocated by most of the greatest and best of the Christian Fathers for the first five hundred years of the Christian Era.
In one word, a careful study of the early history of the Christian religion, will show that the doctrine of universal restoration was least prevalent in the darkest, and prevailed most in the most enlightened, of the earliest centuries–that it was the prevailing doctrine in the Primitive Christian Church.