THE TESTIMONY OF CHURCH HISTORY
Up to this point we have looked strictly at the Word of God to shape our opinions. This is as it should be! Specific information about God and His will can only be found in His revelation to mankind, and not through the speculations or thinking of mankind.
But now we turn to the history of the early church. In doing so we do not place a greater emphasis on the beliefs of the early church than upon the Word of God, but we will see that a belief in the ultimate salvation of all is not a new thing. Universalism has had its witnesses throughout the history of the church.
I am not in this chapter attempting to prove the correctness of the understandings or teachings of the most average people in the first few centuries A.D., and many (if not most) of the
There are many books available concerning church history, but details concerning the doctrine of Universalism are not included in the popular works.
Complete information on all of these works can be found in the chapter entitled
Before observing the writings of church historians and the early
THE SIBYLLINE ORACLES: 500 B.C. - 150 A.D.
Written by different writers between 500 B.C. and 150 A.D., the Sibylline Oracles teach eonian suffering, followed by universal salvation. If nothing else, this shows us that
The Sibylline books provide evidence as to the beliefs which were held in this very early time period. In one of these books the end of the world is described as a time when all things, including hades, are to be melted down in the divine fire in order to be purified. (Allin, page 109)
In the second Sibylline book, speaking of the second death in Rev 20:14, we read that
THE FIRST 200 YEARS A.D.
Not many writings from this very early period are still in existence, but from the available documents we see a wide variety of beliefs concerning the future judgment and punishment.
Seven of the most prevalent
Ballou observes in his summary of this period in church history that there are two basic belief systems which co-existed within the church:
a. Those believing in the eventual salvation of all mankind, after a future punishment
of the wicked, and
b. Those believing in eternal punishment.
What is interesting is that at this point there are no apparent divisions or controversies, despite the difference in belief as to the destiny of mankind. And we learn that to the Believers in this period, the word
THE EARLY CREEDS
In defending eternal punishment, some will turn to the Creeds of the church. But it is interesting that for the first 500 years of Christianity not one creed hinted at eternal torment, and not one denied universal restoration, despite the fact that Universalism was very openly taught by many within the church.
Also during the first five centuries the first four General Councils were held at Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon. Even though Universalism was widely and openly taught, there is no condemnation of the doctrine. No one thought it proper or necessary to include a statement concerning endless punishment in the articles of the faith.
IRENAEUS: 130 - 200 A.D.
Irenaeus viewed death as God's merciful provision for a fallen mankind. He did not believe that evil would last forever.
from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some
dare to assert, but because He pitied him, [and desired] that he should not
continue always a sinner, and that the sin which surrounded him should
not be immortal, and the evil interminable and irremediable.
(Jukes, page 177)
Irenaeus is credited by the historian Pfaff for the following quote:
and to reconcile again all things, that there may be an end of all impurities.
(Allin, page 108)
CLEMENS ALEXANDRIUS: 150 - 220 A.D.
Clemens Alexandrinus (or Clement of Alexandria), a church father who was an illustrious writer, had much to say about Universalism. The learned and orthodox Daille says,
with blessings, and conduces to the improvement of the sinful. There are many
evil affections which are to be cured only by suffering. Punishment is, in its
operation, like medicine: it desolves 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. It is not from hatred, therefore, that
the Lord rebukes mankind.
preach the gospel there, he preached it either to all, or only to the Jews.
If to all, then all who believed there, were saved, whether Jews or Gentiles.
And the chastisements of God are salutary and instructive, leading to
amendment, and preferring the repentance to the death of the sinner;
especially as souls in their separate state, though darkened by evil passions,
have a clearer discernment than they had whilst in the body, because they
are no longer clouded and encumbered by the flesh.
faithful, but also for the whole world (1Jo 2:2): therefore he indeed saves
all; but converts some by punishments, and others by gaining their free will;
so that he has the high honor, that unto him every knee should bow, of
things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth...
to discipline, in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this
Saviour, not of some (only) and of the rest not ... for how is He Lord and
Saviour if He is not Lord and Saviour of all? ... But He is indeed Saviour
of those who believe ... while of those who do not believe He is Lord,
until having become able to confess Him, they obtain through Him the
benefit appropriate and suitable (to their case) ... He by the Father's
will directs the salvation of all.
through (by means of) the attendant angels, through various prior
judgments, through the final (pantelous) judgment, compels even
those who have become still more callous to repent.
follow Him of their own will ... that every knee may be bent to Him, of
those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
punishments, others by voluntary submission.
collectively or individually.
the Lord of the universe both generally and particularly.
Like all the early church fathers, Clemens held to a position of free will, but he believes in the power of God to lead all mankind, through a variety of means, to an ultimate subjection to Him.
THEOPHILUS: 169 - 181 A.D.
Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, wrote in
to continue being in sin forever; but, as it were by a kind of banishment,
cast him out of Paradise, in order that, having by punishment expiated
within an appointed time the sin, and having been disciplined, he should
afterward be recalled.
ORIGEN: 185 - 254 A.D.
Origen Adamantius was respected in his lifetime as few others have ever been. He was the most learned man of his day, and many examples from his writings show that
In roughly 230 A.D. he published
subjected to punishments proportioned to their several sins; and how long
each one shall suffer, in order to receive his deserts, God only knows.
But we suppose that the goodness of God, through Christ, will certainly
restore all creatures into one final state; his very enemies being overcome
under his feet. But if there is any doubt what is meant by putting enemies
under his feet, let us hear the apostle still further, who says, for ALL things
must be subjected to him (1 Corinthians 15) ... For the very expression, subjected
to Christ, denotes the salvation of those who are subjected.
to Christ, death the last enemy be destroyed, and the kingdom be delivered up
to the Father, by Christ.
and says that rivers of fire go before his face (Dan 7:10), and that he shall
come as a refiner's fire and as fuller's soap, and purify the people (Mal 3:2).
As, therefore, God is a consuming fire, what is it that is to be consumed by
him? We say it is wickedness, and whatever proceeds from it, such as is
figuratively called wood, hay and stubble.
of God, will reserve himself for a dreadful and penal course of purification;
for the fire of hell shall, by its torments, purify him whom neither the apostolic
doctrine, nor the evangelical word has cleansed; as it is written, I will
thoroughly purify you with fire. (Isa 1:25) But how long, or for how
many ages, sinners shall be tormented in this course of purification which is
effected by the pain of fire, he only knows to whom the Father hath committed
all judgment, and who so loved his creatures that for them he laid aside the
form of God, took the form of a servant, and humbled himself unto death,
that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
(Ballou, page 118)
the whole creation is signified.
Origen has been described by many historians as a most qualified scholar, well versed in the Holy Scriptures. Of Origen the historian Phillip Schaff writes:
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 part of the church, then thrown into a dungeon,
lead 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.
and through his writing issued currents which were to help mold Christian
thought for generations.
of the Greek Testament, which is older than the received text ... The value
of his testimony is due to his rare opportunities and life-long study of
the Bible before the time when the traditional Syrian and Byzantine text
was formed. Origen was an uncommonly prolific author, but by no
means an idle bookmaker. Jerome says he wrote more than other men
can read. Epiphanius, an opponent of Origen, states the number of his
works as six thousand, which is perhaps not much beyond the mark.
Now we look at the words of Origen as he debates with a Greek philosopher named Celsus:
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 ... 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 swells in Him, and the healing He applies,
according to the will of God to every man.
Zephaniah: 'My determination is to gather the nations, that I may
assemble the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my
fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my
jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they
may call upon the Lord, to serve Him with one consent.' Consider
carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the name of the Lord and
serve Him with one consent; also that all contemptuous reproach shall
be taken away, and there shall be no longer any injustice or vain speech,
or a deceitful tongue.
Origen provides some valuable evidence as to the use of the word
Interestingly, Theodore of Mopsuestia, an opponent of Origen, agreed with him in calling the future penalty
In Origen's writings he never treats Universalism as a topic which is counter to orthodox teachings. It is interesting that despite Origen's voluminous writings, no one seems to take issue with his Universalism during his lifetime. Origen was challenged by the church in his day, but not concerning his views on Universalism. About forty years after Origen's death, controversy arose over his writings, but again no attack was made upon his stance on universal salvation, until the contention lasted a century.
Origen's influence was far stronger in the Eastern (Greek) churches than in the West (Latin), probably due at least in part to the language difference.
GREGORY THAUMATURGUS: 220 - 250 A.D.
Gregory Thaumaturgus, a student of Origen, became one of the most eminent bishops of the time. It was well known that Gregory held to the doctrine of Universal Restoration.
AFTER ORIGEN'S DEATH: 254 TO 390 A.D.
During this time period no evidence is found to imply that Origen's Universalism created any controversy within the church, even though his writings were scrutinized and were often attacked in other subject matters. Even Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis (Cyprus), a believer in endless punishment, did not attack Origen's doctrine of Universalism, even though he persecuted the
Between 370 and 383 A.D. Universalism seems to have been, at least for a time, the belief of a majority of the most eminent orthodox church fathers in the East. Gregory Nyssen, Didymus, and Jerome advocated Universalism, while Gregory Nazianzen vacillated between this doctrine and the doctrine of endless punishment. The latter wrote:
should not be immortal: and so the penalty turns out a kindness, for thus I
am of opinion it is God punishes.
In this era it appears that the majority of early Christians believed that all mankind, through Christ, would be ultimately restored. St. Basil the Great (c. 329-379) was not a believer in the doctrine of universal reconciliation, but he writes in his
those who are punished.
A momentous event in church history took place in 313 A.D. when Christianity was officially declared tolerable. In the years that followed, Christianity continued to grow in favor with Constantine. But as persecution gave way to acceptance, councils frequently assembled, and arguments ensued. Deposition and excommunication were decreed. But even in the midst of this, Athanasius, the guardian of the Nicene faith, always quoted Origen as orthodox.
Lest we think of the church leaders of this age as without blemish, the highly respected Gregory Nazianzen described the clergy as
NOTES FROM CHURCH HISTORIANS
Ethelbert Stauffer, writing on the early church:
All-Merciful and All-Powerful God would overcome even the final 'no' of
the self-sufficient world.
According to historian Henry Nutcomb Oxenham:
holiest and wisest of the Fathers, and was not taught as an integral part
of the Christian faith by any even of those who believed it as an opinion.
The historian Pfaff writes:
many Jewish teachers, and some of the Fathers.
in the East and West, and had very many defenders.
recommended by very many of the greatest thinkers of the ancient
church, and of modern times.
C. B. Schleuter:
Basil, Ambrose himself, and Jerome, taught everywhere the universal
restitution of things, asserting simultaneously with it, an end of
In the Schaff-Herzog
schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa or
Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional
immortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of
Geisler, a great church historian, writes:
creatures, and the finiteness of the torments of hell, was so common in the
West, and so widely diffused among opponents of Origen, that though it
might not have sprung up without the influence of his school, yet it had
become quite independent of it.
permeated, from Gregory of Nyssa downwards, with the wider
EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA: 265 - 340 A.D.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and friend of Constantine, wrote:
as a potter his own work, as Jer 18:6 says: i.e., to restore them once again
to their former state.
opened a way of return to life for the dead bound in chains of death.
(Allin, page 99)
and in hades, may obtain salvation from Him.
ATHANASIUS: 296 - 373 A.D.
Especially known for defending the deity of Christ, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, was called
of hades, and sitting by the gates, sees all the fettered beings led
forth by the courage of the Saviour.
MARCELLUS OF ANCYRA: 315 A.D.
Some of the writings of Marcellus were preserved by Eusebius:
but that the Apostle designed to point out that time, in which all things
partake of that perfect restoration.
DIDYMUS - ROUGHLY 300 TO 390 A.D.
Jerome also said that Didymus was
From his writings and from the fact that he was condemned for his views over 150 years later by the General Council of Constantinople, we know that Didymus was clearly a Universalist.
opinion on the conversion of devils.
Didymus himself writes:
in the fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all.
(Commentary on 1 Peter 3)
Didymus was a voluminous writer, but only a few of his works survived the passing of time and the destruction by decree of later councils. During his lifetime he was fully accepted as orthodox.
GREGORY NYSSEN: 332 - 398 A.D.
A respected bishop and theologian who followed many of Origen's teachings, Gregory Nyssen (or Gregory of Nyssa) taught frequently on the matter of Universalism, and it could even be said that Universalism was at the very heart of his teachings. Yet Gregory was always well respected, and considered to be very orthodox. Following are a few direct quotations:
immortal goodness embrace within itself every rational creature; so that of
all who were made by God, not one shall be excluded from his kingdom.
All the viciousness, that like a corrupt matter is mingled in things, shall be
dissolved and consumed in the furnace of purgatorial fire; and everything
that had its origin from God, shall be restored to its pristine state of
[Speaking on 1Co 15:22-28]
declares the extinction of all sin, saying, that God will be all in all. For God
will be truly all in all only when no evil shall remain in the nature of things,
as he is never engaged in evil...
to restore by means of the everlasting purgation and expiatory sufferings, those
who have gone even to this extremity of wickedness.
those who have sinned, but works good alone by separating from evil, and
drawing to a share in blessedness.
(Pridgeon, page 286)
the creature, which he has formed, back to that state of grace which first
out of the circle of being.
inventor of evil himself.
Like others of his day, Gregory often used the word
Gregory was always viewed as one of the most influential leaders of orthodoxy, and he was not condemned for his very blatant views concerning Universalism during his lifetime. The historian Neander writes:
and maintained with the greatest ability in works written expressly for that
purpose by Gregory of Nyssa ... All punishments are means of purification,
ordained by divine love to purge rational beings from moral evil, and to
restore them back to that communion with God which corresponds to their
nature. God would not have permitted the existence of evil, unless He had
forseen that by the Redemption all rational beings would in the end,
according to their destination, attain to the same blessed fellowship with
It was not until two or three centuries after his death that Gregory's Universalism became a point of contention.
HILLARY: 354 A.D.
Hillary, Bishop of Poictiers, is considered one of the champions of orthodoxy. He very much respected the writings of Origen, and translated some 40,000 lines of Origen's writings according to Jerome. Hillary said:
destined to be found by the Good Shepherd.
As for giving Christ the ends of the earth as His possession, Hillary insists this refers to a universal dominion which is summed up in Paul's words,
EVAGRIUS PONTICUS: ROUGHLY 390 A.D.
Evagrius Ponticus was a respected scholar and monk, and a Universalist. Due to the later condemnation of Universalism over 150 years after his death, most of his writings were destroyed.
AMBROSE OF MILAN: 339 TO 397 A.D.
Most of the others mentioned were from the Eastern church, but now we turn to the Western church to look at Ambrose, archbishop of Milan in Italy. Ambrose was a man of moderate learning, but he became a very powerful figure in the church, and in the state.
Ambrose believed that nearly all who are tried on Judgment Day would sooner or later be saved. He did speak of a class of individuals, the impious or infidels, who, along with the Devil and his angels, would have no chance for restoration.
resurrection, these shall be burnt, until they fulfill their appointed times, between
the first and the second resurrection; or, if they should not have fulfilled them
then, they shall remain still longer in punishment.
the infernal abodes, should be set free from their perpetual bonds.
Christ, when among the dead,
destroying the law of death.
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
remedy as the end of evil ... God did not appoint death from the beginning, but
gave it as a remedy.
is elsewhere said, 'the whole creation shall be set free from the bondage of
Adam all die, so, too, in Christ shall all be made alive.
Ambrose insisted that subjection to Christ is loving submission, and that in this sense all must become Christ's subjects.
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.
THE FIRST CENSURE AGAINST UNIVERSALISM: 394 A.D.
It was not until 394 A.D. that we find the first censure, on record, of Universalism. But at this point the censure is not against the salvation of all mankind, but opposes only the salvation of the devil.
ORIGEN STILL RESPECTED IN 397 - 398 A.D.
JEROME: 340 - 420 A.D.
Jerome began by supporting the view of a restoration from hell.
all the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal...
in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in
Jesus' Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He
is Lord. All God's enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but
cease to be enemies...
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
will not annihilate them; but will prolong its visit, till the impiety which is
in them shall be consumed.
In one instance Jerome referred to the fire of Gehenna as
Jerome had actually incorporated some of the writings of Origen and others into his own works, without censuring the writings in any way. Under growing pressure, Jerome changed his position and began to deny the salvation of the devil and of the damned. But even with his new position, he did not appear to consider Universalism one of the significant errors of Origen.
Even while distancing himself from the writings of Origen, Jerome still continued to quote Origen as a qualified expounder of scripture. Later in life, though, he kept silent on the issue of Universalism. But as to the prevalence of the doctrine of Universalism in his day, Jerome states:
its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures.
(Allin, page 150)
Jerome once went so far as to say in a letter that Origen was condemned not on account of his doctrines, but because of jealousy. (Allin, page 135)
TITUS: 340 - 370 A.D.
Titus, bishop of Bostra, was referred to by Jerome as
it exist in the original constitution of nature. It was made 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 upon transgressors; for they are
inflicted, not to preserve them in their wickedness, but to make them cease
from their wickedness.
JOHN CASSIAN: 360 - 435 A.D.
John Cassian is described in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia as follows:
and John Cassian) many theologians believed in universal salvation;
and indeed the whole Eastern Church until after 500 A.D. was inclined
DIODORE: 370 - 390 A.D.
Diodore was bishop of Tarsus and bishop of Jerusalem. In McClintock-Strong's
of Jerusalem, was also a Universalist, who, in opposition to the then
general prevalence of allegorical interpretation, strictly adhered to the
natural import of the text in his many commentaries on the Scriptures.
He defended Universalism on the ground that the divine mercy far exceeds
all the effects and all the deserts of sin.
Diodore himself wrote:
for a certain 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 crimes are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the
mercy to be shewed them. The resurrection, therefore is regarded as a blessing
not only to the good but also to the evil.
GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS: 370 A.D.
President of the second great Ecumenical Council, Gregory of Nazianzus was considered the most learned bishop in one of the most learned ages of the Church. (Allin, page 117)
Perhaps the foremost man in the entire Church during his day, Gregory raised no objection to the teaching of Universalism, and there is reason to contend that he himself held this belief. He taught that when Christ descended into hades, He liberated all the souls there in prison, not just some of them. (Allin, page 118)
RUFINUS: 390 A.D.
Rufinus clearly taught that the future punishment of the wicked was to be temporary. (Allin, page 137)
THEODORET THE BLESSED: 393 - 466 A.D.
Theodoret the Blessed was bishop of Cyrrhus, or Cyprus, in Syria, and a historian. He continued the historian Eusibius' work to 428 A.D. McClintock-Strong describes Theodoret as,
in order to heal, like a physician, that he may arrest the course of our
As all men became mortal through Adam,
mankind (all men) follow the Lord Christ, and be made partaker of the
may put a stop to the course of our iniquity.
Theodoret describes Christ as saying to the devil:
Theodoret clearly teaches that death is a medicine, not a penalty. According to Theodoret, to imagine that God, in anger at a little eating, inflicted death as a penalty, is to copy the abominable (heretic) Marcion. (Allin, page 140)
As opposition grew, some of the Origenists fell under great persecution, including a group of Origenist monks at Nitria who were captured and tortured.
Theophilus called a Synod of bishops at Alexandria in 399 A.D. and a decree was issued condemning Origen, and athematizing all who approved of his works. This was the first decree of its kind. Origenists fled to other countries.
Anastasius, the new Pope in 400 A.D. issued a decree which was received through all the West, condemning the works of Origen.
UNIVERSALISM STILL NOT CONDEMNED
What is most amazing is that now, nearly 400 years after the departure of Christ, we see the very first official condemnations of Origen, but even now his view on the salvation of all mankind has not been condemned. The salvation of the devil and his angels is here condemned along with some other issues, but the salvation of all mankind is not addressed. As a matter of fact, during this time period some of the orthodox clearly continue to hold to this doctrine.
Others who deserve mention from this time period who supported the doctrine of Universalism are the Basilidians (130 A.D.), the Carpocratians (140 A.D.), Isidore of Alexandria (370-400 A.D.) and Palladius of Gallatia (400 A.D.).
AUGUSTINE: 354 - 430 A.D.
When a disturbance over various theological issues arose at Tarraco (Spain), two of the bishops called upon Augustine in Africa. Augustine immediately wrote a small book, always meant
Admitting that there might be some exceptions, he used Mat 25:46 as his overriding authority, where the same Greek word is used for the torments of the damned as for the life of the saints. Augustine reasoned that if
It appears that this is the very earliest claim that the original word
Augustine's opinions carried great weight within the church, especially in the West. Because of his influence, and because of the ignorance of both Greek and Hebrew for most men in the years to follow, the doctrine of universal reconciliation became silenced until its revival in the 16th century, and the doctrine of an endless torment became the norm within the orthodox church.
By all accounts, Augustine was a great man. He was very familiar with the scriptures, competent in his learning, warm, devotional, pious, moral, and very fair even with his opponents. He became the father of the present orthodox system. But Augustine was, like many of the other church fathers, a hasty writer, and not strong in the Greek language.
As a final note on Augustine; while he was one of the strongest proponents of the doctrine of eternal torment, he admits:
not believe in endless torments.
Allin, page 150)
It is interesting that in making this observation, Augustine does not declare those not believing in endless torments to be unorthodox.
INFLUENCE OF THE LATIN VULGATE TRANSLATION
It would seem that the more learned a Christian was in the original languages, the more likely he or she was to see the doctrine of the restitution of all things. Augustine, who said he hated the Greek language and who read only the Latin Vulgate translation, began to incline toward the doctrine of eternal torment. The Greek
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA: 412 A.D.
Cyril frequently taught that every soul would be freed from hades by Christ.
future ... The souls of men who had been caught in his toils to their ruin,
came out of the underground gates, and, leaving the hiding places of the
Cyril describes that Christ spoiled hades, and:
THEODORUS: 380 TO 429 A.D.
Theodorus (or Theodore), bishop of Mopsuestia, was an eminent orthodox father in the Eastern church, and a voluminous writer. He was not a follower of Origen, and even opposed his allegorical system of interpreting scripture. But he was clearly a believer in Universalism.
Theodore, and perhaps Diodorus, after they were dead for 125 years, were condemned as Nestorians in the Fifth Council, a gathering that was unrecognized by many. But even here their position favoring Universalism was not raised as an issue.
Some quotations from Theodore:
immortality, thenceforeward the proclivity to evil should be removed.
(Allin, page 142)
renewal, and restoration of the whole creation, through Him, ... Now this
will take place in a future age, when all mankind and all powers (virtues)
possessed of reason, look up to Him, as is right, and obtain mutual concord
and firm peace.
MAXIMUS OF TURIN: 422 A.D.
Maximus appears from his extant writings to teach the liberation of all souls from hades, and that the purpose of death is to correct the sinner.
all, as says the Evangelist: 'The Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of
the world.' ... We read in the Scriptures, that the salvation of the entire
human race, was won by the Redemption of the Saviour ... the everlasting
safety of the entire world.
430 TO 450 A.D.
Universalism was accepted by a significant number of monks around Cesarea in Palestine.
PETER CHRYSOLOGUS: 435 A.D.
Peter Chrysologus, bishop of Ravenna, said in a sermon on the Good Shepherd that the lost sheep represents:
one, seeks the one in order that in the one he may restore all.
GENNADIUS: 458 A.D.
Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople, said:
the head ... For, said He, when lifted up, I will draw all men unto Myself.
(Allin, page 152)
BARSUDAILI (HIEROTHEUS): END OF 5TH CENTURY
Toward the end of the fifth century Barsudaili, an Abbot of Edessa, taught Universalism under the name
JUSTINIAN: 540 A.D.
Justinian ruled the throne of the eastern empire, and was one of the few sovereigns who had ambitions of taking part in theological disputes. He ordered a long Edict to be drawn up, addressed to Mennas (archbishop of Constantinople), which was published around 540 A.D. This decree was aimed directly against Universalism, and went forth with the full force of law in the land.
ALEXANDER OF ABYLA: 540 TO 546 A.D.
Alexander, bishop of Abyla, was bold enough to stand against the emperor's authority. As a result he was excluded from the catholic communion.
THE HOME SYNOD: 541 A.D.
In 541 A.D. the Emperor Justinian caused the Patriarch Mennas to convene at Constantinople the
THE FIFTH GENERAL COUNCIL: 553 A.D.
Under the watchful eye of Emperor Justinian, the Fifth General Council was opened in Constantinople with 151 bishops present from the Greek and African churches. During the course of the meeting, Justinian sent a message exhorting the bishops to examine the doctrine of
Included in the actions of the council:
are temporal, so that they will, at length, come to an end, or whoever holds a
restoration either of the demons or of the impious, let him be anathema.
This decree fixed the orthodox faith to the present day.
MAXIMUS: 645 A.D.
Maximus criticized the teachings of Gregory of Nyssa, but he did teach Universalism.
immortality of the flesh ... so, too, the fallen powers of the soul must,
in the process of the ages, cast off the memories of sin implanted in
them, and having passed all the ages ... come to God; and so by the
knowledge, not the fruition of good, receive strength and be restored
to their original state.
CLEMENT OF IRELAND: 740 A.D.
Clement, a native of Ireland, became an ordained minister in the Romish communion. He later discarded certain superstitions of the church, renounced its authority, rejected its decrees, and insisted that the Bible only was to be the authoritative guide to faith. He taught that Christ, when he descended into hell, restored all the damned.
Clement gathered several independent congregations in France and Germany.
In 744 A.D. Clement was deposed from the priesthood, condemned as a heretic, and imprisoned. It is probable that he died in prison.
JOHN PICUS: 1480 TO 1494
John Picus, earl of Mirandola and Concordia, was a distinguished scholar in Italy. He alarmed the church during this period by advancing his theological opinions.
merits but finite punishment.
The Pope ordered his examination, and brought a judgment censuring Picus, forbidding the reading of his books.
MARTIN LUTHER: 1483 - 1546
The reader may be surprised to find that the following words are attributed to the well known reformer, Martin Luther:
In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future.
(Phillips, page 43)
DANIEL DEFOE: 1660 - 1731
Daniel DeFoe, author of
WILLIAM LAW: 1686 - 1761
William Law, author of the classic
and that when, in Scripture his wrath, vengeance, etc. are spoken of, such
expressions are only used in condescension to human weakness, by way of
adapting the subject of the mysterious workings of God's providence to
Law held that God punishes no one, and that all evil originates either from matter, from the free will of man, and God permits suffering for the sake of a greater good. All beings will finally be happy. (From Southey's
GEORGE STONEHOUSE: 1714 - 1793
Sir George Stonehouse, a staunch Universalist, was a member of the well known
THOMAS NEWTON: 1761
Thomas Newton was nominated Bishop of Bristol in 1761, and was well respected as a man of learning and virtue. Newton wrote:
a torment and curse to all eternity ... His chastisements, like those of a
loving father, are designed, not to harden men in sin, but to recover them
to goodness, to correct and meliorate their nature.
nothing, and therefore guilty of no prior offence, sent into this world of
frailty, which it is well known beforehand they will so use as to abuse it,
and then for the excesses of a few years delivered over to torments of
endless ages, without the least hope or possibility of relaxation or
redemption. Imagine it you may, but you can never seriously believe it,
nor reconcile it to God and goodness.
JOHN HENDERSON: 1757 - 1788
John Henderson was born in Ireland in 1757. His father was an itinerant Methodist preacher. By the age of twelve, Henderson was teaching Latin and Greek in Lady Huntington's college in Wales. He eventually became fluent in Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Saxon, French, Spanish, Italian and German. Henderson wrote:
and certainly knows they will eat of them, it is of no importance in the
consideration of common sense, that he cautions, forbids, forewarns, or
that they having free will may avoid the poison. Who will not accuse him
of their death in sending them into circumstances where he fore-knew it
would happen? God fore-knows every thing - to his knowledge every
thing is certain.
the universe, I conclude them to be neither the will nor the work of God.
(Whittemore, page 241, 243)
GEORGE MACDONALD: 1824 - 1905
A Scottish preacher, poet and novelist, George MacDonald was referred to by C.S. Lewis as his
even into thine own consuming self? Death shall then die everlastingly, and
Hell itself will pass away, and leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day.
Then indeed wilt thou be all in all. For then our poor brothers and sisters, every
one - O God, we trust in thee, the Consuming Fire - shall have been burnt clean
and brought home. For if their moans, myriads of ages away, would turn heaven
for us into hell - shall a man be more merciful than God? Shall, of all his glories,
his mercy alone not be infinite?
Elsewhere MacDonald writes:
destruction of sin.
HANNAH WHITALL SMITH: 1832 - 1911
Best known for her classic
From Chapter 22,
world, it must necessarily be that He would be compelled, in common
fairness, to provide a remedy that would be equal to the disease. I
remembered some mothers I had known, with children suffering from
inherited diseases, who were only too thankful to lay down their lives
in self-sacrifice for their children.
the universe, and I saw that it was true, as the Bible says, that 'as in Adam
all die even so in Christ should all be made alive.' As was the first, even
so was the second. The 'all' in one case could not in fairness mean less
than the 'all' in the other. I saw therefore that the remedy must necessarily
be equal to the disease, the salvation must be as universal as the fall.
final destiny of the human race.
every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things
under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.' Every knee, every tongue - words could
not be more all embracing. The how and the when I could not see; but the
one essential fact was all I needed - somewhere and somehow God was
going to make everything right for all the creatures He had created.
discovered could possibly have been all this time in the Bible, and I not have
seen it; and the moment I entered the house, I did not wait to take off my
bonnet, but rushed at once to the table where I always kept my Bible and
Concordance ready for use, and began my search. Immediately the whole
Book seemed to be illuminated. On every page the truth concerning the
'times of restitution of all things,' of which the Apostle Peter says 'God
hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began,'
shone forth, and no room was left for questioning.
From Chapter 23,
that a large proportion of the beings He had Himself created were
doomed to eternal misery, unless He were a selfish God?
any wideness that I could even conceive of.
Good Shepherd, and that the Good Shepherd is bound, by the very
duties of His ownership, to go after that which is lost, and to go until
He finds it. The word 'lost' therefore, to my mind, contains in itself the
strongest proof of ownership that one could desire. Who can imagine a
mother with a lost child ever having a ray of comfort until the child is
found, and who can imagine God being more indifferent than a mother?
HANNAH HURNARD: 1905 - 1990
The author of the best selling
Who loves righteousness and cannot bear evil, if that victory really means that
He cannot bring His own creatures at last to hate evil as He hates it, but must
confirm multitudes, indeed the majority of them, in their choice of evil for
ever and ever?
saw that any supposed interpretation of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures
which taught otherwise must be mistaken interpretations, because they are
totally at variance to the revelation of a Holy God Who loves righteousness
and hates evil, and Who only permits its existence temporarily that all
creatures may learn to hate it and turn from it for ever.
the words everlasting, eternal, or forever and ever in connection with hell.
(Quotations from pages 5-30 of
WILLIAM BARCLAY: 1907 - 1978
William Barclay devoted his entire life to the study of Scripture. Few, if any, knew the Greek language as well as Barclay.
In his autobiography entitled
universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the
love of God.
Barclay cites other believers in Universalism, including Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, but he goes on to delineate his own reasons for coming to a conclusion of universalism:
than justify this belief. Jesus said: 'I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will
draw all men to myself.' (Joh 12:32) Paul writes to the Romans: 'God has consigned
all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.' (Rom 11:32) He writes to
the Corinthians: 'As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive'
(1Co 15:22); and he looks to the final total triumph when God will be
everything to everyone. (1Co 15:28) In the First Letter to Timothy we read
of God 'who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,'
and of Christ Jesus 'who gave himself a ransom for all.' (1Ti 2:4-6) The New
Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all.
Mat 25:46 where it is said that the
rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life.
The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical
word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better.
I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used
of anything but remedial punishment. The word for eternal is aionios. The
simplest way to put it is that aionios cannot be used properly of anyone but
God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then
literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which
only God can give.
not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is
still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of
the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide
as the universe.
when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to
everyone. (1Co 15:24-28) For me this has certain consequences. If one man
remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man
has defeated the love of God - and that is impossible. Further, there is only one
way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a
King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies
were still agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped
out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father - he is indeed Father more
than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his
family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the
disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to
have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when
its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph
is a universe loved by and in love with God.
OTHERS ACCEPTING THE DOCTRINE OF UNIVERSAL RECONCILIATION
Jukes writes in
Jeremiah White and Peter Sterry,--and in the English Church, Richard
Clarke, William Law, and George Stonehouse, -- in Scotland, Thomas
Erskine of Linlathen and Bishop Ewing, -- and among those on the
Continent, Bengel, Oberlin, Hahn, and Tholuck, -- have been believers
in final restitution.
Thomas Allin, in
Tennyson, Browning and Mrs. Browning, Whitman, George MacDonald,
Florence Nightingale, Emerson, Longfellow, Mrs. Beecher Stowe, Bishop
Ewing of Argyll, Canon Kingsley, Bishop Westcott, F. W. Robertson,
Phillips Brooks, Canon Farrar, Schleiermacher, Pastor Oberlin.
(Allin, pages 166-7)
LESSONS FROM CHURCH HISTORY
1. As we have seen, a belief in an endless torment has not always been the dominant belief among Believers. Many, if not the majority of those within the early church, adhered to the doctrine of the ultimate reconciliation of all, including many of the most eminent
2. By the time the Creeds were finally revised to include the doctrine of eternal punishment, those in power within
3. One reason that the beliefs in universal reconciliation which existing in the early church are not better known is that many writings were destroyed when
4. The primary opposition to Universalism in
5. Perhaps the primary reason the orthodox church developed its doctrine of eternal punishment stemmed from its fear that if reasoning, and not a close study of Scripture in its original languages, that led to this doctrine. Had the leaders of
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