EARLY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARIES AND RETRIBUTION
We have spoken in general terms of Origen and of his system of theology, based on preexistence and universal restoration. We have spoken of his age, and of his relations to it, and to the coming ages. We have spoken of his eminent piety, of his distinguished scholarship, of the great work accomplished by him in the field of sound literature, and of his educating power on the great minds of the generations that followed him. We have also, in general terms, given the debased character of the age in which his doctrine of universal restoration was denounced as heretical and subjected to an anathema by the local Council of Constantinople in the year 544. We now come back to his age to unfold it more fully in its relations to theological schools, which from his time were most fully developed. At the time when he published his system of theology he was the leading teacher in the great Theological School of Alexandria.
Dr. Shedd’s View.
But we are told by Dr. Shedd, in a passage which we have quoted in a preceding chapter, that the doctrine of future universal restoration was entirely confined to that school. He does not say how many other schools there were, nor what course these dissenting or opposed schools took, when, in a school so prominent and influential as that of Alexandria, a doctrine was promulgated which they regarded as erroneous and dangerous. It is, therefore, the more important for us, if we would get a true view of the facts of history, in all their relations, to consider these points. The idea conveyed by him is that of a general and united public sentiment in the Church, from which one theological school dissented as a kind of wandering star, while all the other luminaries revolved harmoniously around the great centre of truth.
Consequences of the View.
If this is a true view of the facts of the case, then it is morally necessary that certain other facts should be found in the records of history. It cannot be supposed that any teacher in a theological school would be allowed to continue from year to year to train up teachers hostile to the prevailing views of the main body of the churches, without some effort to arrest the course of the evil, either by his removal, or by founding opposing schools, or by elaborate argumentative refutations of the errors promulgated, or by all these measures at once.
Appeal to Facts.
What was done when Dr. Ware, a Unitarian, was appointed professor in Harvard College, and it was felt that the institution had come under the control of Unitarians, and would be used as a means of promulgating their views? Why was Andover founded, except because it was felt that the college, originally designed to train up godly, orthodox, religious teachers, was to be used in opposition to the doctrines of the churches by which it was founded? Why was Amherst College founded, except to make good the loss? Why did the Unitarian controversy break out, and lead to earnest argument and profound research? Was it not to vindicate and defend the endangered truth? Suppose now, after Andover had been founded, that Dr. Griffin, or Prof. Stuart, had published an elaborate system of theology, resulting in the doctrine of universal restoration, would an orthodox board have allowed them to continue to teach in peace? Would they not have been speedily removed? Or, if not, if they could carry the trustees and overseers with them, would not the seminary have become at once the object of ceaseless attacks from Princeton, and other schools devoted to the defense of the true faith?
If then, the state of opinion existed of old in the Church at large which is alleged by Prof. Shedd, ought we not to find in history facts analogous to those which have been briefly sketched from the history of the Church in New England? And, if we do not find them, is it not proof conclusive that the state of things alleged did not exist?
Real State of Facts.
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.
It is also true that the arguments by which they defended their views were never fairly stated and answered. Indeed, they were never stated at all. They may admit of a thorough answer and refutation, but, even if so, they were not condemned and anathematized on any such grounds, but simply in obedience to the arbitrary mandates of Justinian, whose final arguments were deposition and banishment for those who refused to do his will.
If all these things are so, it does not of course follow that the doctrine of universal restoration is true. That is a question to be decided on Scriptural grounds. But it does follow that the assumption that this question was settled by the Church, so called, in a manner deserving either confidence or respect, is utterly fallacious and delusive.
Demand of Proof.
Of course the statements that have been made by us demand proof. They differ greatly from the statements of Prof. Shedd, and, though they can be sustained by the combined testimony of all the most authoritative Church historians, yet they present the case in a stronger light than will be found in any one of them. But a careful examination of the original sources of evidence will abundantly sustain every historical proposition that we have laid down.
It will be in order, then, to mention the six leading theological schools of which we have spoken.
Geographically, they are situated around the Mediterranean Sea, except one, which is on the upper courses of the Euphrates. Beginning, then, at the great school of Alexandria, whose position on this question is conceded, and passing up on the east end of the Mediterranean Sea, we come to Cesarea, which for some years was the seat of a distinguished theological school, under the care of Origen and his friend Pamphilus.
For a time, Dr. Schaff tells us, it “outshone that at Alexandria, and labored for the spread of the kingdom of God.” From this school came the celebrated Gregory Thaumaturgus, ever the grateful scholar and admirer, and finally the eulogist of Origen. Passing on to the north we come to Antioch, in West Syria, where was the celebrated Antiochian school to which belonged such representatives as Diodore of Tarsus, and Theodore of Mopsuestia, those well-known advocates of universal restoration, not as followers of Origen, but on principles of their own. Passing on farther to the east, we come to Edessa, in Eastern Syria; and, farther on, to Nisibis. The Eastern Syrian great theological school was sometimes in one of these places, and sometimes in the other, according as they were tolerated or persecuted by the orthodox Greek Church and the emperor. But here was the great centre of the persecuted Nestorians, when excommunicated and anathematized by the orthodox Greek Church and the imperial decree.
Theodore of Mopsuestia.
As Nestorians, they could not but revere the great Theodore of Mopsuestia, who was, in fact, the father of Nestorianism. Accordingly, his works were translated into Syriac, and he was revered in the Nestorian churches, as “The Interpreter” of the Word of God. It must be conceded that he was especially honored as the father and defender of Nestorianism. But it is impossible that his views of restoration should have been unknown, for they are an essential element of his system, and are prominently declared in his works and in his creed. In addition to this they are, as has been said, introduced into the liturgy which he drew up for the Nestorian Church. Yet his views on this point were not enforced as a creed, and the eminent James of Nisibis, and Ephraim the Syrian, in their popular discourses, teach future eternal punishment. Whether this was their interior belief we cannot say, but the fact that Theodore was so honored, as “the interpreter,” and that his works were translated, studied in the seminary, by the students, and circulated without protest, authorizes the statement that the influence of this school was in favor of universal restoration.
To see the force of these facts, suppose that the theological works of the most eminent modern advocate of universal restoration were to be introduced into the Union Theological Seminary at New York, or into the Princeton Theological Seminary, as a text-book, and that he was highly honored as “the interpreter” of the Word of God, and that no protest was uttered against the doctrine of universal restoration, would it be unfair to say that the influence of those seminaries was in favor of that doctrine? Add to this that he was permitted to introduce it into certain acts of public worship in that denomination, and would not the evidence be complete?
Testimony to Theodore.
Consider, now, who Theodore of Mopsuestia was, not as viewed by a slavish packed council, met to execute the will of a Byzantine despot, but as judged by one of the most eminent evangelical scholars of Germany, Dorner. Of him, he says: “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 (“Master of the East”). He labored on uninterruptedly till his death in the year 427, and was regarded with an appreciation the more widely extended as he was the first Oriental theologian of his time,” (“Doctrine of the Person of Christ,” Div. Ii., vol. i., p. 50, Edinburgh).
Statement of Neander.
Add to this the statement of Neander as to other schools springing from the school of Edessa and Nisibis: “From this school arose others among this church party (the Nestorian); and through many centuries it contributed to diffuse great enthusiasm for Christian knowledge and theological culture, and particularly for Biblical studies, to which the spirit of Theodore of Mopsuestia had given the incentives; and the Nestorian churches became an important instrument of diffusing Christianity in Eastern Asia” (“Church history,” vol. ii., p. 552).
We cannot at this point speak of the wonderful missionary spirit of the Nestorian churches whom Theodore thus inspired, nor of their connection, through the Saracens, with the revival of Europe from the paralysis and darkness into which they had been plunged by the corrupt and persecuting despotism which anathematized Theodore. Humboldt, Dr. Draper, and Lecky have noticed it as one of the sublime and wonderful dispensations of Providence, and at another time we may speak of it more fully. But now we must resume our circuit of theological schools.
School of John.
Returning, then, to Antioch, and passing to the north of the Mediterranean, we come to Asia Minor, the field of the seven churches of the Apocalypse, and of the apostle John. As the evangelist Mark is said to have founded the school of Alexandria, so the apostle John is regarded as the founder in Ephesus of the school of Asia Minor, from which came Polycarp, Melito, and Irenaeus, the great defender of the Church against the Gnostic heresies, and Hippolytus his hearer and follower.
Dr. Schaff on Irenaeus.
Of this father Dr. Schaff says: “Irenaeus was the leading representative of the Asiatic Johannean school in the second half of the second century, the champion of Catholic orthodoxy against Gnostic heresy, and the mediator between the Eastern and Western Churches. He united a learned Greek education and philosophical penetration with practical wisdom and moderation, and a sound sense of the simple and essential in Christianity. We may plainly trace in him the influence of the spirit of John” (“Church History,” vol. i., p. 488).
Of this school Dr. Kurtz says that it was “distinguished by its firm adherence to the Bible, its strong faith, its scientific liberality, its conciliatory tone, and its trenchant polemics against heretics” (“Text-book of Church History,” p. 137, Philadelphia). It is, therefore, the more remarkable that the doctrine of future eternal punishment was not taught by any of this school so far as we know, nor the doctrine of universal restoration; but, on the other hand, the doctrine of the final annihilation of the wicked was clearly taught by so eminent a man as Irenaeus. Thus in five out of six of the early theological schools we do not find the doctrine of future eternal punishment. Nor do we find any assault on the schools of Alexandria, Cesarea, Antioch, Edessa, and Asia Minor, from any quarter, for their unfaithfulness to that doctrine, nor any general combination against them, nor any effort to found seminaries against them, nor any general excitement and controversy in behalf of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. What shall we say, then? Was it held in no school? Yes, in one – the school of Northern Africa. Making the complete circuit of the Mediterranean Sea, we come at last to the field in which labored Tertullian, Cyprian, Minucius Felix, and, greatest and last of all, Augustine. In this school the doctrine of future eternal punishment had faithful defenders, and universal restoration and final annihilation found no place. From it came an influence that, maturing during the course of centuries, united at last with other attacks on both Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, and led to their condemnation for their heresy as to future eternal punishment.
This, however, is but a general view of the position of these schools on the question of future retribution. But it illustrates and confirms our previous statement as to the freedom of opinion that long prevailed on the subject, for the believers in eternal punishment encountered no odium from any quarter.
But a more particular view of these schools and their eminent teachers and scholars is necessary to a clear understanding of the state of things at large in the churches, and the course of events. We shall first look a little more closely at the school of Asia Minor founded by the apostle John, and of which Polycarp and Irenaeus are representatives. It is of great moment to verify the statements which we have often made concerning Irenaeus, of his belief of the annihilation of the wicked, and also to inquire to what extent these views were adopted by others. After this it will be in order to consider the different grounds on which the doctrine of universal restitution was held and defended in the different schools.
FORWARD>> (Next Chapter: IRENAEUS AND THE SCHOOL OF JOHN)