HAS THE CHURCH DECIDED IT?
I have already presented the view of Dr. Shedd, that the doctrine of eternal misery is a Catholic doctrine, firmly held by the early Church, with a few exceptions, and by the Church universal in every subsequent age. This history will probably awaken inquiry on that point, and perhaps lead to a revision of judgments.
Others besides Dr. Shedd have assumed that the doctrine of endless punishment has been the doctrine of the Church universal from the beginning. Many have said that there is no way to explain this fact except to admit that the doctrine is plainly taught in the Word of God, for it is a doctrine repugnant to the natural feelings and wishes of mankind. This view once had great weight with me, for I relied on the statements of Hagenbach and Munscher, and I am disposed to treat all who hold it with great respect.
But, after a careful investigation, I have come to the conclusion that the fact alleged does not exist. In this history I have given my reasons for this belief, and, if well founded, they may effect a change of opinion in those who have been wont to appeal to an early Church united in the belief of endless punishment. I have shown that until the sixth century, under Justinian, there was no decision against universal restoration, and in favor of endless punishment, and that it had never been made the subject of elaborate and profound discussion, as was the case with the Trinity and the person of Christ. I have shown the reason of this, that previous influential writings, generally read in the days of Christ and the apostles, had presented conflicting views on the subject. I have also shown that when universal restoration was developed in the Alexandrine school, and in the school at Antioch, and at Cesarea, and at Edessa, there was but one school that defended eternal punishment. It is also true that the defenders of the doctrine of restoration were not exceeded in intellectual power, learning, and Christian character, by any men of the age. Who were greater in all these respects than Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Didymus the Blind, Gregory of Nyssa, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Eusebius of Cesarea, and Theodoret? All these were avowed restorationists. And there is no reason to doubt that Heraclas of Alexandria, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and Athenodorus of Pontus, should be added tot he list. These were all illustrious men. They were zealous, working Christians. They were honorable men. Who, on the side of future punishment, deserves such a eulogy as Dr. Schaff has given to Origen, and Dorner to Theodore of Mopsuestia? If Jerome is mentioned, I concede his learning; but he would have been counted on the side of Origen if he had been a bold and honorable man, for he has left on eternal record, and unretracted, a full declaration of the principles of Origen as his own. And his subsequent abbreviated and eviscerated doctrine of endless punishment was only a shield against attacks by Epiphanius and others on his orthodoxy. Great in learning he was, but he was not a noble-spirited and honorable man, or he would boldly and openly have taken a stand with Origen, to whom he owed so much – not indeed on all points, but certainly on this.
Are Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzum, mentioned? They were great men; but they all had been taught by restorationist teachers, and were in intimate fellowship with restorationists, and never attacked the system of restoration, but gave indications that they, esoterically at least, believed it.
But, at least, there was Augustine. Yes, and he was a great and good man; and there may have been Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyril of Alexandria, who was not an honorable man; and Lactantius and Hilary. But, of all these, Augustine only has come out as an open and decided opposer of the doctrine of restoration. But, if the others had believed and taught endless punishment, weigh them and compare them with the other side. Are they the Church? After all, the statement of Doederlein is in perfect accordance with facts: (“Quanto quis altius eruditione in antiquitate Christiana eminuit, tanto magis spem finiendorum olim eruciatuum aluit atque defendit” (“Theology,” Section 223, Obs. 8). That is, “The more profoundly learned any one was in Christian antiquity, so much the more did he cherish and defend the hope that the sufferings of the wicked would at some time come to an end.”
In fact, there was no early organized decision of a council on the subject; but, beyond all doubt, in the age of Origen and his scholars, and in the times of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the weight of learned and influential ecclesiastics was on the side of universal restoration.
There were in this age all the materials of an elaborate and profound discussion, if the advocates of eternal punishment had known how to use them. The mind of Origen was of wide reach and fruitful. He introduced elements of great power. By his doctrine of preexistence he enabled them to remove the difficulties from the doctrine of original sin, that made eternal punishment so horrible to Ezra. But Epiphanius and the monks were incapable of seeing the relations of this powerful element to the system. As pearls before swine, so were the enlarged views of Origen before them. There was a lamentable and humiliating course of things downward till the days of Justinian. Then that despotic emperor assumed to declare, by his subservient council, in the name of the Church, what the Church had never debated or decided, and what, in her best days, her most eminent leaders had rejected.
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