CHAPTER 28

THE SCHOOL OF AFRICA AND AIONIOS

 

We have considered the issues of the doctrine of Origen as to universal restoration, as taught in the two schools of Alexandria and Cesarea; and also the issues of the doctrine of Theodore of Mopsuestia, as taught in the schools of Antioch and Edessa. We have also considered the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked as taught in the school of Asia Minor. We now come to the last of the six schools which we have enumerated, the school of Northern Africa. This school lies to the west of Alexandria, and is composed of a series of teachers without a central location or buildings. Tertullian stands first in the series , and is followed by Cyprian, Minucius Felix and Augustine.

Characteristics.

The most striking characteristics of this school are three: the use of the Latin language instead of the Greek, in which Christianity was first promulgated; an exemption from the influence of Origen, who wrote in Greek; and the fact that their theology was developed by them under the influence of the great system of Roman law, to which they had access in the Latin language. 

Maine, in his history of ancient law, has not hesitated to say that the difference between Eastern and Western theology is accounted for by the fact that, in passing from the East to the West, theological speculation had passed from a region of Greek metaphysics to a climate of Roman law. The highest energies of the Roman mind had been employed in developing their wonderful system of law.

Latin Theology and Calvinism.

Hence in this school were laid the foundations of that Latin legal and anthropological theology which through Augustine gained such ascendency [sic] in Europe, and gave rise to Calvinism and the systems which have reacted from it. The fact that it was a legal school, and that it took a strong, deep hold of the question of human depravity and regeneration, gave it peculiar elements of power.

If any one would obtain a full impression of all that is involved in these facts, let him read the exposition of orthodox theology by John of Damascus, and compare it with any Augustinian or Calvinistic system.

The metaphysical energies of the Greek mind developed themselves in the subtile [sic] questions raised by the doctrine of the Trinity and the person of Christ, and were so absorbed by these that they never entered into the great legal questions which were the staple of Western theology. In particular, they did not enter into any profound investigations as to law, penalty, atonement, pardon, and retribution. But, as we have seen, decidedly the most powerful minds 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 centre.

Investigation Limited.

And yet they did not enter into an extended investigation of its deep foundations in the character of God, or of man. They published no treatises on it, but as occasion called for it they assumed it as true on the authority of the Latin version of the Greek Testament, in which aionios is rendered aeternus. There is no need of citing many passages in proof of this, inasmuch as it is conceded on all hands. Minucius Felix, quoted by Hagenbach, Section 78, says, “The torments of the wicked will be extreme and endless.” Cyprian, as quoted by him, says: “A burning hell and devouring punishment shall burn the condemned in living flames, nor can they ever find cessation or end to their torments. . . . They are preserved with their bodies for infinite mental torments and for suffering. . . . After this life there is no place for repentance, and no satisfaction for sin. Here life is lost or gained. Here eternal safety is gained, by the worship of God and works of faith (“Ad Demetriad.,” pp. 195, 196).

Question As to Aionios.

It is also worthy of note that, although this is a Latin school, yet it was in this that the argument now so familiar, for eternal punishment, from the necessary meaning of the word [Greek letters] (aionios), was first distinctly propounded by Augustine. It came to pass thus: Orosius, a Spanish presbyter, having a high respect for Augustine, visited him, about 413, to lay before him certain errors of Priscilian and Origen, with which he was troubled. Among these was the doctrine of universal restoration. Among other things, Orosius stated to Augustine that the Origenists affirmed that the word aionios did not denote an absolute eternity, but an indefinitely long duration. 

Augustine’s Argument.

In reply to this assertion, Augustine, in a letter to Orosius, informed him that although [Greek letters] (aion) could be applied to a limited age, as well as eternity, yet it was not so with aionios, since the Greeks applied this word only to things without end. But happening to think that in the Old Testament it was applied to the covenant and observances of the Mosaic economy, he was rather perplexed, and suggested that the things typified by the Mosaic dispensation were eternal; as if a type was not in its very idea temporal. Not resting quietly on this ground, he at length resorts to the idea that absolute eternity is taught in the words of our Lord, “Their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.” He resorts, also, to the argument that, as an absolute eternity is involved in the aionian life proclaimed by Christ, so an absolute eternity is involved in the anti-thetic aionian punishment. This is also the substance of his argument in his “City of God” (book xxi., 23), and in his “Manual of Theology” (Enchiridion) ch. cxii. The great influence of Augustine gave currency to these views in the Western Church.

Universal Restoration Not A Heresy.

But it deserves notice that he does not at that time speak of the doctrine of universal restoration as a heresy condemned by the Church. The doctrine of the salvation of the devil he speaks of as already condemned (book xxi., 17), and heretical, and he argues against the doctrine of universal restoration, that its principles tend to the restoration of the devil, a doctrine condemned by the Church. In the controversies in Palestine during the fifth and sixth centuries, this tendency was realized more and more, until at length, when the opposers of the Origenists called in Justinian to plead and defend their cause, the doctrine of the restoration of the human race was condemned, as well as the restoration of the devil.

Justinian’s Letter.

The letter of Justinian to Mennas, the Patriarch of Constantinople, is an interesting letter, as developing what the enemies of Origen regarded as his greatest errors. It is also important as a specimen of imperial reasoning, designed as a guide for ecclesiastical legislation. The argument of the emperor against the doctrine of universal restoration is in substance the same with that of Augustine. He does not, however, venture with Augustine to say that aionios is applied by the Greeks only to that which has no end, but he argues that the punishment must be endless because the life is; and at the end of his argument, as we have previously said, he exchanges aionios for an unambiguous word, to denote absolute endlessness of punishment, and qualifies it by the same word to denote eternal life. 

But Justinian understood Greek. On the other hand, Augustine bases his argument solely on the assumption that aionios always means endless. We see from these statements how true was the confession of Augustine that he knew little or nothing of Greek. He says, “I am not so accustomed to the Greek language that I am at all competent to read and understand books on such subjects” (“De Trinitate,” iii., Proem); and again, “I have learned very little of the Greek language, and almost nothing” (“Contra literas Petiliani,” I., ii., c. 38, written in 400). For these extracts Dr. Schaff is my authority.

Hence we need not be surprised that Augustine treats aionios as if it had the one simple sense endless. He did not seem to be aware that aion had many senses, and that therefore the adjective aionios, based on it, might also have many senses. He did not seem to be aware that aion had many senses, and that therefore the adjective aionios, based on it, might also have many senses. He did not seem to be aware that it might mean pertaining to or existing in the coming age or world, as shown by Dr. Tayler Lewis, or that it could mean occurring at the opening of an age, as is shown by Herodian (iii., 8, 18), who calls the secular games celebrated at the close of one period and the beginning of another aionian games. He did not know that the word could mean having the characteristics of an age, or lasting through an age, or that, taking aion to denote a spirit, it could mean spiritual.

Our English word age has no adjective that can represent aionios in its range of meanings, and hence to translate it properly we are obliged to resort to periphrases.

There may be no doubt cases in which it can imply endlessness. If it relates to an age that is by concession endless, or if it relates to God as the God of all ages, and as therefore the aionian God – in such cases it implies the idea endless, but not from its own proper force, but from the age or ages to which it refers. But to assert, as Augustine did, that it means endless in all cases and of necessity, is possible only to one who is ignorant of the meaning of aion and the usages of aionios, in the Greek language.

If Augustine had thoroughly studied the usages of the Greek language as to aion and aionios, and had compared them with those of the same words when transferred into the Latin language, he would have found a very striking and instructive coincidence between them. The Greek [Greek letters] was thus transferred. How was the transfer effected? Thus: It has a digamma after ai, which is equivalent to our v. This appears in the Latin word, and by the change of the diphthong ai into [Greek letters] , and [Greek letters] into um, as was usual in such cases, [Greek letters] was transferred into Latin as aevum; but the word in both cases is essentially the same. How, then, is aevum used in Latin? Augustine would have found that it is not used to denote eternity, but life, lifetime, time, age, period, and the men of an age or period, just as [Greek letters] is in Greek. I am aware that some lexicographers, among whom is Andrews, under the influence of Aristotle’s derivation of [Greek letters], wrongly translated, introduce, as the first and original sense, eternity. But of this they give only a few alleged instances, and these are cases where the word means time, and an adjective is expressed or understood which gives it universality. Thus, Horace, “Odes,” iii., 11, 35, 36, eloquently says of Hypermnestra, the only daughter of Danaus who refused to murder her husband on the bridal night, after promising to do so that she was

“Splendide mendax, et in omne virgo Nobilis aevum;”

that is, “a virgin gloriously false to her promise, and illustrious to every age.” This implies eternity, though the word age does not mean it of its own force.

The four cases given by Andrews in his Lexicon are easily explained thus: And the great river of usage is at war with the idea of eternity, and shows that it could not have been the original and primitive sense. Facciolatus, also, than whom there is no higher authority, says that in aevum is the same as in omne aevum, that is, for every age, for all time, and thus sustains the position assumed by me. 

Take, now, another word, based on this. From aevum was formed aevitas, and by syncope this became aetas. What, now, does aetas denote? It is not even pretended that it ever means eternity. It denotes, like aion, life, the lifetime of man, an age, a space of time, time, the men of an age. These senses are abundantly illustrated by Andrews in his “Latin Lexicon.”

Take, now, another case. From the Latin aevum was formed the adjective aeviternus, synonymous with aionios. This, by syncope of the syllable vi, became aeternus, and was used in the Latin version of the words of Christ, as an equivalent to aionios. From this, too, comes our word eternal, which therefore has its roots in aion.

What, now, are the facts as to the Latin usage of the word aeternus? I answer, in popular usage, it very rarely denotes endlessness. I have examined its usages in Virgil, of which there are at least twenty-six, and in other authors, and will state some facts. It means, frequently, during life. Thus, in Plautus, “Captivi,” iv., 1-13, “I hope that, because of this message, I shall obtain eternal food” (aeternum cibum). He did. His king was restored, and he had abundant food for life, not for eternity. Again (Most. i., 3, 37, 38). A friend says to a confiding young girl, enticed by a deceitful lover: “You are a fool to think that he will be an eternal friend to you” (that is, a friend for life); “I warn you that, by reason of increasing age and satiety, he will desert you.”

Again (“Captivi,” iv., 2, 117), “I will give you eternal food, if you speak the truth.” In this case, food for eternity was out of the question. Food for life was the meaning. Hence we see clearly that the meaning life, in aion, still lived in the Latin aeternus. 

In view of these cases, Facciolatus, in his great “Lexicon,” says, “It is very frequently used to denote what endures for life.”

A striking instance occurs in Cicero (“Catiline,” iv., 5), in the debate on the punishment of Lentulus, an associate of Catiline. In that, Cicero speaks thus of the opinion of Caesar, that he should be confined for life, “That very mild and merciful man doesn’t hesitate to consign P. Lentulus to eternal darkness and chains.” Caesar had just disavowed a belief in a future life, in the hearing of Cicero. All that eternal so used can mean, is, for life. 

Ovid says (“Trist.,” v., 2, 15), “Telephus, wasted by an eternal disease, would have died, if the right hand that wounded him had not brought a cure.” Telephus was wounded by Achilles, and cured by him by the rust of the wounding spear.

Virgil (“Georgies,” ii., 400) says, “The soil must eternally be pulverized by cross-ploughing,” i.e., this must be a fixed and stated usage in agriculture. Of Cerberus, vi., 401, he says that “he is eternally barking.” He speaks of eternal leagues between lenders, or between nations, and of the eternal fires of Vesta. To Camilla he ascribes an “eternal love of weapons and of virginity,” that is, a love for life. He comes nearest to an absolute eternity in speaking of the immortality of Juturna (“Aeneid,"”xii., 879), and the power of the gods (“Aeneid,"”i., 2, 30; x. 18). But here the things spoken of impart this sense to the word. Horace (“Ep.,” i., 10, 41), says of one who cannot live without riches, and fears poverty as the greatest evil, “He will be an eternal slave because he does not know how to live on a little.” Here the sense is a slave for life. Pliny, xiii., 5, 11, speaks of the “eternity of the wood of the cedar-tree.”

Virgil (“Aeneid,"”ii., 154), calls the sun, moon, and stars eternal fires. So, by an inspired writer, the same worlds are called eternal. And yet both writers believed that they would pass away and be dissolved.

Such cases represent the popular use of the word. But in Cicero’s philosophical writings, when he is under the influence of the Greek philosophers, he introduces the philosophical sense of an absolute eternity which they originated in later ages. 

Still another word used in translating aion in the Latin version deserves notice.

Seculum is used by Jerome in translating the reduplications of [Greek letters], aions of aions, which our version renders forever and ever; that is, truly translated, for ages of ages. In the book of Revelation this expression occurs fourteen times. What, now, is the rendering of Jerome? He in every instance renders it “secula seculorum.” What, now, is the sense of seculum in Latin? Does it ever mean eternity?

No. It means a race or generation of animals or of men; then a lifetime; then an age; then the men of an age; then an indefinite period – of marked characteristics, as “in our age.”

Thus the expression in secula seculorum may be rendered for generations of generations, or for ages of ages.

Indeed, our expression forever and ever, traced to its original sense, means “for an age and an age.” For our word ever is, in fact, the old Greek word aion, or the Latin aevum, modified by transmission to our times. (See Webster’s “Dictionary.”) To our expression “forever and ever” we attach the idea of endlessness, by usage and habit. But, in fact, as a translation of the Bible, it means no more than the Greek for aions of aions, or the Latin for secula of secula, or the English for ages of ages. If Augustine had fully understood the Greek usages of aion and aionios, and the Latin usages of aevum, aestas, aeternus and seculum, he would have placed no stress on aion, or aionios, or aeternus, as proving endless punishment.

But it so happened that the Latin school of Augustine, in Africa, in which the leading writers were not Greek scholars, was mainly instrumental in establishing the doctrine of endless punishment on this false basis. Even if the doctrine were true, the basis on which they placed it was false.  

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