JUSTIN AND ARNOBIUS ON ANNIHILATION
In our exhibition of the views of Irenaeus, we have finished what we have to say of the views of the school of Asia Minor. We have seen that the annihilation of the wicked after severe punishment was clearly taught by that eminent father. But we remarked that there were others by whom the same views substantially were held. We referred especially to Justin, the Martyr, and Arnobius. Of Justin we shall now speak, as the first in time and in importance. And that he may not be a mere abstraction to us, but a living personage with whom sympathy is possible, we will say a few words concerning his history and labors.
In the first place, he was not one of the regular clergy., He was not the bishop of any church. He wielded no ecclesiastical authority. He was not properly even a preacher upon whom the hands of the presbytery had been laid. What then, it may be asked, was he? He was a traveling Christian philosopher, engaged in the work of evangelization, and the world at large was his diocese. He was born in Palestine, in Flavia Neapolis, formerly Shechem, and lived between A.D. 100-166. He had a classical education, and was an ardent student of the Greek philosophers. In the opening part of his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, he tells us how he sought for the truth first under the guidance of a Stoic philosopher, then of an Aristotelian, then of a Pythagorean, but all in vain. At last, seeking a solitary walk for reflection, on the sea-shore, he was met by an old man, a Christian, by whom he was guided to the true philosophy in Christ. To parts of his dialogue with the old man we shall have occasion to refer, as throwing light on his views of future retribution.
Justin As Apologist.
From the time of this great change, he devoted himself to the promulgation and defense of Christianity. He stands as the leader of a class of writers known as Apologists, not that he was actually the first, but the first whose works have come down to us. He wrote two defenses of Christianity, called his first and second Apologies, addressed, as is generally believed, the first to that illustrious Roman emperor, Antoninus Pins, the second to the no less eminent Marcus Aurelius. These are of intense interest, by reason of the light which they throw on the state of Christianity and the churches in the first part of the second century. He seeks to lay open to the Roman emperors the whole truth as to the slandered and persecuted Christians. He describes their belief, their mode of life, their meetings, and worship, and invokes for them protection and justice at the hand of the mighty Emperors of Rome. He also defended Christianity against the assaults of the Jews, in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew.
Justin As Evangelist.
In his work of evangelization he traveled from place to place, talking with all to whom he could have access, and still wearing the philosopher’s cloak, as he did when he was converted, for he thought that thus he should gain more ready access to men of all classes. He was a very learned man and a great reader. He led the way in using the Platonic philosophy in the exposition and defense of Christianity, finding in it much truth, though he rejected, or intended to reject, all its errors. In this respect he was in sympathy with the Alexandrian school. He died as a martyr at Rome under Marcus Aurelius. His writings are very noteworthy in one respect.
Recognition of Christ’s Sentence.
We find in them the first full recognition of the words of Christ as judge at the last great day, and he sets forth the Christian doctrine of future retribution in language derived directly from the words of Christ. Especially he uses constantly the word aionios to denote its nature. To quote all the passages in which he does this would transcend our limits. We will exhibit only his presentation of the Christian doctrine to the Roman emperor. To him he says: “More than all men we are your helpers and allies in promoting peace, seeing we hold this view that it is alike impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and also for the virtuous, to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to aionian punishment or salvation, according to the desert of his actions. For if all men knew this, no one would choose wickedness, even for a short time, knowing that he goes to the aionian punishment of fire” (Apology I., chapter viii.). Again, he says to the emperor: “You can only kill us, which indeed does no harm to us, but to you, and to all that unjustly hate us and do not repent, brings aionian punishment by fire” (chapter xiv.).
If, now, we assert that Justin by aionian understood absolutely eternal, he is represented as not in accord with the general usage. But, as in the instance of Irenaeus, there are other parts of his writings inconsistent with that view.
These occur especially in his statement, in his dialogue with Trypho, of the reasonings of the old Christian by whom he was converted, and which, it is generally conceded, are indorsed [sic] by Justin as his own. Of these we propose now to give some account.
The first step in preparing the way for the doctrine of the final annihilation of the wicked is to refute the Platonic doctrine, of which we have before spoken, of the self-existence and necessary and essential immortality of the soul. Denoting the old man by S. (Senex), and Justin by J., the dialogue thus proceeds:
“S. These philosophers know nothing on this point, nor can they even prove that the soul exists at all.
“J. Very likely they cannot.
“S. Certainly they ought not to call it immortal, for if it is immortal it must be uncreated, and self-existent.
“J. In fact, it is held to be thus immortal by some who are called Platonic philosophers.
“S. But do you believe that this world is uncreated, and self-existent?
“J. There are those who say so, but I do not agree with them.
“S. In this you are right. For what show of reason can there be for supposing that a body which has such solidity and reaction, and which is composite and changeable, and subject every day to decay and new growth, can exist without an originating cause? But if this world is not self-existent, but created, it is necessary that souls also should have been created from previous non-existence. For they were made for the sake of man, and other living beings, even if you say that they were first created by themselves, and not in connection with their proper bodies.
“J. It appears to me that you are correct.
“S. so, then, they are not essentially immortal?
“J. No; since we are agreed in the fact that the world was created.
“S. Nevertheless, I do not affirm that all souls do in fact cease to exist at death. This truly would be a fine arrangement for the wicked! But how is it, then? Thus: The souls of the good still continue to exist somewhere in a better place, all awaiting the time of the judgment. Then the good, being manifested as worthy of the favor of God, shall never die, but the wicked are punished so long as God wills to have them exist, and be punished.”
Here by antithesis he asserts that the wicked do finally cease to exist but that they exist and are punished as long as God pleases.
This View Indorsed by Justin.
This view Justin indorses [sic] as in accordance with what Plato has obscurely said about the world, as existing by the will of God. This he applies to the soul and all things else, and thus sustains his view: “All things which have come into being, or shall begin to exist, are by nature liable to die, and can disappear and be no more. For God only is uncreated and incorruptible, and, therefore, is God. But all things that come into being after him are created and mortal – for this reason souls also die and are punished;” i.e., after they have been sufficiently punished, as he had before said, they cease to exist.
Old Man Responds.
To this view the old man responds with additional reasoning, as follows:
“The soul either has life in itself, or it receives it from something else. But if it has life in itself it would be the cause of life to something else, and not to itself; as motion may be said rather to move something else than itself. That the soul lives no one can deny, but, if it lives, it lives not as being itself life, but as receiving life. Now, whatever partakes of anything is different from that of which it partakes. But the soul partakes of life, because God wills it to live; and just so, too, it will no longer partake of life, whenever he does not desire it to live. For it cannot live of itself as God does. But as the personal man does not always exist, and body and soul are not ever united, but the soul leaves the body, and the man ceases to exist whenever this unity is dissolved, so also, when it is necessary that the soul should no longer exist, the vital spirit leaves it, and the soul is no more, but returns again thither whence it was taken,” i.e., to non-existence.
In parts of this reasoning a striking similarity to the reasoning of Irenaeus is seen, and, as Justin was his senior, Irenaeus may have followed his line of thought.
We have carefully considered what has been said in favor of a different translation of the old man’s statement, “I do not affirm that all souls do in fact cease to exist at death.” We cannot now enter into the principles of the case, but are assured that the translation which we have given is required by the whole context, and is the only one capable of a sound philological defense.
That Justin did hold and teach the final annihilation of the wicked the most eminent scholars concede. In the number of such Mr. Hudson appeals to Grotius, Huet, Ropler, Du Pin, Doederlein, Munscher, Munter, Daniel, Hase, Starck, Kern, Otto, Ritter, J.P. Smith, Bloomfield, and Gieseler.
Reasons For Doubt.
The only reason for another view is found in the strong language used by him as to aionian punishment. To those who have not considered the view defended by Prof. Tayler Lewis, the subject must seem to be involved in an inextricable contradiction. But, even without this principle of harmony, J. Donaldson, in his learned work on the writings of the fathers, comes definitely to the conclusion that Justin did not intend to teach a philosophical eternity of punishment, even by his strongest expressions, and that aionios is an indefinite word.
But, to judge fairly of the case, let us take a thorough modern believer in the absolute eternity of punishment, and is it supposable that he should, by any possibility, write such statements as have been quoted from Justin as to the annihilation of the wicked? Could any man have written them who thoroughly believed in eternal punishment?
But to remove all uncertainty, there are in Justin still other passages which put his views beyond all doubt.
Apol. I., xxi., he says, “We have been taught that only those who live near to God in holiness and virtue are made immortal, but that those who live unjustly and do not reform shall be punished in aionian fire,” that is, in the fire of the world to come.
Here he expressly states that the Christians for whom he is pleading had been taught that only the holy who live near to god are made immortal. Apparently to evade this conclusion, Dodds, in Clark’s translations, renders [Greek letters] (apathanatizesthai) are deified. But this implies that Christians were taught in the days of Justin that the holy were in fact deified, which is false. No trace of such a doctrine can be found among the early Christians. The doctrine which Justin declares Christians were taught was, that only the holy were made immortal. His words can properly mean nothing else.
Again, in Trypho 45, he speaks of the wicked and the righteous in these words: “The wicked shall be sent to the judgment and to condemnation to fire, to be punished incessantly, but the righteous shall be free from pain and grief, incorruptible and immortal, and together with God.” Here immortality is presented as peculiar to the righteous.
Again, in Apol. I., lii., he says that Christ “will raise the bodies of all men, and invest with immortality those of the worthy.” Here the immortality of the wicked is by implication denied.
It is indeed true that Justin speaks of punishment as extending beyond any boundary that can be defined by man, and not limited to one thousand years, as Plato taught.
But in all this his motive is plain. He says that to teach that the wicked are annihilated at death would be a god-send to them, as removing all fears of future punishment. To avoid this result, and increase the power of motives to repent, he teaches the existence and sensibility of sinners in a future state, and their punishment in fire for a very long but undefinable period, because, as he says, the wicked will exist and be punished in the world to come, as long as God pleases, and no man can tell how long that is.
To make him teach more, and to assert the eternal existence and punishment of the wicked, is to involve him in a direct and inevitable self-contradiction. We are not at liberty to impute such a contradiction to him if his statements can be so interpreted as to agree. But his statements, that the holy alone are rendered immortal, are absolute and positive, and cannot be explained away.
But his statements as to the wicked can all of them be properly explained as teaching no more than that the wicked will live in the future world, and be punished by God as long as he sees fit, even to many ages; that neither Plato nor any other man can fix a definite limit to this time; that as it depends on the will of God, it cannot be defined or bounded by man; and that it may properly be spoken of as the punishment of ages, which no man can limit, but which finally results in annihilation.
In Apol. I., xxviii., when Justin says that the devil and his angels, and the men who follow him shall be sent into fire to be punished for an unbounded ([Greek letters], aperanton) age, he uses the word as does Pindar, when he says, N. viii., 64, “Some men seek gold, and others ([Greek letters]) a vast or unbounded extent of land;” or when in P. ix., 61, he speaks of unbounded or immeasurable strength ([Greek letters]). Again, when Justin says (Trypho 45) that the wicked are punished ([Greek letters]) incessantly or without cessation, he means that this is true during the time of their punishment, however long it may be.
To illustrate the sensibility of the wicked in the future world, he quotes (Apol. I., lii.) Is. lxiv. 24, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched,” and says that their bodies shall be raised, and in the future life be invested with sensibility, and that God will send them into the fire of the world to come, or, as it may be translated, into the fire of ages.
In Apol. I., viii., he says, “Plato used to say that Rhadamanthus and Minos would punish the wicked who came before them for a thousand years; and we say that the same thing will be done, but at the hand of Christ, and upon the wicked in the same bodies, united again to their spirits, which are now to undergo the punishment of ages, and not, as Plato said, for a period of only a thousand years.” It is only by assuming, without reason, that in this passage aionios means eternal, instead of for ages, that eternal punishment can be proved.
And in Trypho, 130, where Justin says that the bodies of those who have transgressed are to be devoured by the worm and ceaseless fire, remaining deathless, no stress can be laid on the word deathless (athanata), for it simply denotes the fact that, during the time of exposure to the fire, the bodies cannot die, but not that they cannot be annihilated by God, at such time as he shall see fit.
It now is manifest that both Justin and Irenaeus are intent on so stating the doctrine of annihilation that the terrors and moving power of future punishments shall not be diminished. Both of them are very careful to deny that the soul ceases to exist at death, they do not, at all, teach that the soul is material, and is dissolved with the body. They are very careful to state, in strong terms, that, after the day of judgment, there will be a fearful and long-continued punishment, enduring for ages which no one could bound.
In these things they were very unlike many modern advocates of the annihilation of the wicked. They use the very strongest language as to the nature and duration of future punishment, not being willing to release the wicked from the restraining powers of salutary fear.
We come now to Arnobius. But his case need not detain us long as to the historic fact, for it is denied by no one that he taught the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked. Prof. Shedd fully concedes it. But we will briefly consider his opinions. They agree substantially with those of Irenaeus and Justin. He taught that souls have such a nature that they need God in order to secure eternal existence. If they refuse to acknowledge him, and reject his gifts and favors, they will finally be annihilated. He says, “This is the real death of man, when souls that know not God are annihilated by long-continued torment in a fierce fire.” Any alleged immortality of the soul that is inconsistent with this he repudiates and disproves. And certainly no considerate Christian can adopt or defend the idea of an endless existence that is not upheld by God, and that cannot be annihilated if God sees fit. It is a question as to the fact. Arnobius believed the fact to be that the wicked will be annihilated, in the manner above stated.
But the questions may arise: “Who was Arnobius? What is the weight of his opinion? Was he eminent as a Christian?”
We reply, he was an African, from Sicca in Numidia, once a teacher of rhetoric and an opponent of Christianity. After his conversion he wrote a vigorous work in its defense. He also taught theological scholars, among whom was the eminent and classical Lactantius. Jerome commends his writings as worthy of study, for their learning, with those of Origen, Tertullian, and others. Neander speaks highly of his defense of Christianity, conceding at the same time that in a number of points he was not orthodox according to the views of the Church. Certainly he has never had the prestige and influence of Irenaeus. He lived about A.D. 250-300.
These, then, are the leading defenders of the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked. We mention none of the apostolic fathers as teaching this doctrine, herein differing materially from Mr. Hudson and others. But even he concedes that it is not expressly taught by them or by the early creeds. It is inferred rather from such facts as this, that Christ is spoken of as the giver of immortality to the good, and that the endless punishment of the wicked is not expressly taught. But, as we have said, that question was not then up for discussion, and it is unsafe to infer any doctrine from incidental remarks, or from omissions. We shall advert to them again in speaking of the doctrine of endless punishment, for, though none of them refer at all to Christ’s sentence on the wicked, yet one of them, Hermas, speaks of endless sin, and endless exclusion from heaven – but says nothing of fire, or of physical torment of any kind.
Mr. Hudson’s appeal to Athanasius we also reject. It is true that that eminent father taught that man was by the sin of Adam made liable to annihilation, and that if Christ had not interposed he would have been annihilated. But he did interpose, and by his death secured the resurrection of all men, and redeemed them from annihilation. Theodore of Mopsuestia from these premises inferred the doctrine of universal restoration, otherwise the resurrection would be no blessing but a curse to the majority of mankind. Athanasius did not carry out his premises to this issue, nor did he teach annihilation. He was busy with the Trinity, and is quite reticent as to the details of eternal retribution.
We turn next to the Christian schools in which the doctrine of universal restoration was taught. From the days of Origen, as we have seen, an extended and widespread movement existed in favor of that doctrine. Of the leading agents in this movement we propose to take a comprehensive and critical view.
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