While we mourn that so little of the literature of the early days of our religion remains, the wonder is that we have so much, rather than so little. The persecutions of Decius and Diocletian--especially of the latter--were most unrelenting towards Christian books. 1 "The volumes which escaped from the perils of those days were like brands snatched from the fire." "A little dust--precious, indeed, as gold--in a few sepulchral urns, is all that now remains." And later, the burning of the Alexandrine library by the Arabs, the destructive persecutions of heretics, the ban of council, and the curse of pope and priest, in the church's long eclipse, destroyed innumerable volumes, so that there is ample reason to believe that, could we inspect all that Clement, Origen and others wrote, in the original Greek, untampered with, we should have pages where we now have sentences avowing Universalism. Occasionally an ancient volume is yet found, accidentally buried, as was the Philosophumena of Hippolytus, formerly attributed to Origen, discovered by a learned Greek in a monastery on Mount Athos, in the year 1842. Of the ten books contained in the volume, the second, the third, and the beginning of the fourth are gone.
Hippolytus (about A.D. 220) enumerates and comments on thirty-two heresies, but universal restoration is not named among them. 2 And yet, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen--then living--were everywhere regarded as the great teachers of the church, and their view of man's future destiny was generally prevalent, according to Augustine, Jerome and others. It could not then have been regarded as a "heresy" or Hippolytus would have named it. What a force there is in fact that not one of those who wrote against the heresies of their times ever named universal salvation as one of them! Hippolytus mentions thirty-two. Epiphanius wrote his Panarion and epitomizes it in his Anacephalæosis or Recapitulation, but not one of the heresy-hunters includes our faith in his maledictions. Can there be stronger evidence than this fact that the doctrine was not then heretical?
It is curious to notice how the mind of a theologian can be prejudiced. Dean Wordsworth in his translation of Hippolytus gives the language of that contemporary of Origen, to show that the former had no sympathy with the broad faith of the latter. He quotes Hippolytus thus: "The coming threat of the judgment of fire, and the dark and rayless aspect of tartarus, not radiated by the voice of the Word, and the surge of the everflowing lake, generating fire, and the eye of tartarean avenging angels ever fixed in calling down curses," etc. The Dean unwarrantably, because inaccurately, translates kolaston "avenging," a meaning it does not possess. It is rendered punish, chastise, correct, but never carries the sense of revenge. Furthermore, disregarding the fact that the acknowledged Universalist fathers denounce the sinner with words as intense as is the above language, which may be literally fulfilled and yet restoration ensue beyond it all, the Dean renders the very next paragraph thus: "You will have your body immortal and incorruptible, together with your soul" (life). Now had Hippolytus intended to teach the absolutely interminable duration of the "tartarean fire," would he not have used these stronger terms, aphtharton and athanaton, which are never employed in the New Testament to teach limited duration, and is not the fact that he used the weaker word to describe punishment, evidence that he did not in this passage in the "Philosophumena" intend to teach the sinner's endless torment?
Not less surprising is the language of Dean Wordsworth, and his misreading of the facts of history, when he comments on the harsh and bitter tone of Hippolytus, in his treatment of heretics, in the "Philosophumena." Contrasting the unpleasantly sharp temper of Hippolytus with the sweetness of Origen, Dean Wordsworth says:
"The opinion of Origen with regard to future punishments is well known. The same feelings which induced him to moderate the errors of heretics, beguiled him into exercising his ingenuity in tampering with the declarations of Scripture concerning the eternal duration of the future punishment of sin. Thus false charity betrayed him into heresy." 3
This is a sad reversal of cause and effect. Why not say that the sublime fact of God's goodness resulting in universal salvation, created in Origen's heart that generous charity and divine sweetness that caused him to look with pity rather than with anger on human error, in imitation of the God he worshipped?
Theophilus of Antioch, who wrote about A.D. 180, and was bishop of Antioch, speaks of aionian torments, and aionian fire, but he must have used the terms as did Origen and the other ancient Universalists, for he says: "For just as a vessel which, after it has been made, has some flaw, is remade or remolded, that it may become new and bright, so it comes to man by death. For in some way or other he is broken up, that he may come forth in the resurrection whole, I mean spotless, and righteous, and immortal."4
Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) was born in Carthage, Africa, about A.D. 160, and died A.D. 220. He had a fine Pagan education in Roman law and rhetoric, but lived a heathen into mature manhood, and confesses that his life had been one of vice and licentiousness.5 Converted to Christianity he became in later years a elder. He lived a moral and religious life after his conversion, but the heathen doctrines he retained rendered his spirit harsh and bitter. About A.D. 202 he joined the Montanists, a schismatic, ascetic sect. Those who sympathized with him were known as Tertullianists as late as the Fifth Century. His abilities were great, but, as Schaff says, he was the opposite of the equally genial, less vigorous, but more learned and comprehensive Origen.
Tertullian was the first of the Africo-Latin writers who commanded the public ear, and there is strong ground for supposing that since Tertullian quotes the sacred writings perpetually and abundantly, the earliest of those many Latin versions noticed by Augustine and on which Jerome grounded his vulgate, were African. "Africa, not Rome, gave birth to Latin Christianity." A learned writer states: "His own authority is small, he was not a sound divine, became what was then considered unorthodox, and fell away into one of the heresies of his times." 6 The fountain of Paganism in the heart of Tertullian discharged its noxious waters into into the larger reservoir in the mighty brain of Augustine, and thence in the Sixth Century it submerged Christendom with a deluge that lasted for a thousand years,--now happily subsiding, to give place to those primal Christian truths that were in the hearts of Clement and Origen. Tertullian and Origen were as unlike as the churches they represent,--the Latin and the Greek. Narrow, Pagan, cruel, un-Christian, the dark path of the Tertullian-Augustine type of Christianity through the centuries is strewn with the wrecks of ignorance and sorrow. He retained his heathen notions and gave them a Christian label. He makes the Underworld, like the heathen, divided by an impassable gulf into two parts. The abode of the righteous is sinus Abrahae, that of the wicked ignis or inferi. Tertullian was probably the first of the fathers to assert that the torments of the lost will be of equal duration with the happiness of the saved. "God will recompense his worshipers with life eternal; and cast the profane into a fire equally perpetual and unintermitted." 7
In Tertullian's Apology are fifty arguments for the Christian religion, but not once does he state that endless punishment was one of the doctrines of the church. He seems to have been half-inclined to the truth, for he speaks of the sinner as being able, after death, to pay "the uttermost farthing."
Tertullian illustrates the effect of the doctrine he advocated in his almost infernal exultations over the future torments of the enemies of the church. "How I shall admire, how I shall laugh, how exult," he cries with fiendish glee, "to see the torments of the wicked." "I shall then have a better chance of hearing the actors of tragedy call louder in their own distress; of seeing the actors more lively in the dissolving flame; of beholding the charioteer glowing in his fiery chariot; of seeing their wrestlers tossing on fiery waves instead of in their gymnasium," etc.8 Referring to the "spectacles" he anticipates, he says: "Faith grants us to enjoy them even now, by lively anticipation; but what shall the reality be of those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive? They may well compensate, surely, the circus and both amphitheatres and all the spectacles the world can offer." No wonder DePressense says, "This joy in the anticipation of the doom of the enemies of Christ is altogether alien to the spirit of the Gospel; that mocking laugh, ringing across the abyss which opens to swallow up the persecutors," etc. But why "alien," if a God of love ordained, and the gentle Christ executes, the appalling doom? Was not Tertullian nearer the mood a Christian should cultivate than are those who are shocked by his description, if it is true? Max Muller calls attention to the fact that Tertullian and the Latin fathers were obliged to cripple the Greek Christian thought by being destitute of even words to express it. He has to use two words, verbum and ratio, to express Logos. "Not having Greek tools to work with," he says, "his verbal picture often becomes blurred."
Hase says that Tertullian was a "gloomy, fiery character, who conquered for Christianity, out of the Punic Latin, a literature in which ingenious rhetoric, a wild imagination, a gross, sensuous perception of the ideal, profound feeling, and a judical understanding struggled with each other."
Ambrose of Alexandria, A.D. 180-250, was of a noble and wealthy family. Meeting Origen he accepted Christianity as taught by the magister orientis, and urged and stimulated his great teacher to write his many books, and used his fortune to further them. Thus we owe generally, it is said, nearly all the exegetical works of Origen to Ambrose's influence and money; and especially his commentary on St. John. It was at his request also that Origen composed his greatest work, the answer to Celsus. He left no writings of his own except some letters, but his devotedness to Origen, and his agency in promoting the publication of his works, should convince us that Origen's views are substantially his own.9
The Manichæans, followers of Mani, were a considerable sect that had a following over a large part of Christendom from A.D. 277 to 500. Eusebius is very bitter in describing the sect and its founder. "He was a madman," and his "ism, patched up of many faults and impious heresies, long since extinct." Socrates calls it "a kind of heathenish Christianity," and says it is composed of a union of Christianity with the doctrines of Empedocles and Pythagoras. Lardner quotes the evident misrepresentations of Eusebius and Socrates and exposes their inaccuracies.
A large amount of literature was expended on some of their doctrines, but not on their denial of endless torment. In fact, Didymus the Blind, as well as Augustine, seems to have opposed their errors, though the "merciful doctor" gives them, as Lardner says, "no hard names," while the father of Calvinism treats them with characteristic severity, ignoring what he himself acknowledges elsewhere, that for eight or nine years he accepted their tenets. Referring to the vile practices and doctrines with which they are charged, Lardner says: "The thing is altogether incredible, especially when related of people who by profession were Christians; who believed that Jesus Christ was a perfect model of all virtues; who acknowledged the reasonableness and excellence of the precepts of the Gospel, and that the essence of religion lies in obeying them." The consensus of ancient authorities proves the Manichæans to have been an unpopular but reputable Christian sect.
Mani was a Persian, a scholar, and a Christian. Beginning his debate with Archelaus, he says: "I, brethren, am a disciple and an apostle of Jesus Christ;" and he and his followers everywhere claim to be disciples of our Lord. Among their dogmas, was one that denied endless existence to the devil, who was then considered to be almost the fourth person in the popular Godhead,--they repudiated the resurrection of the body and clearly taught universal restoration. Lardner quotes Mani in his dispute with Archelaus, as saying: "All sorts of souls will be saved, and the lost sheep will be brought back to the fold." And after quoting their adversaries as stating that the Manichæans taught the eternity of hell torments, Lardner says, quoting Beausobre: "All which means no more than a lack of happiness, or a labor and task, rather than a punishment. Indeed it is reasonable to think the Manichæans should allow but very few, if any, souls to be lost and perish forever. That could not be reckoned honorable to the Deity, considering how souls were sent into matter."10 Lardner is certainly within bounds when he says: "But it is doubtful whether they believed the eternity of hell torments."
The astonishing way in which, as Wendell Phillips once said, "what passes for history," is written, may be seen in Professor William G. T. Shedd's "History of Christian Doctrine." He says: "The punishment inflicted upon the lost was regarded by the fathers of the ancient church, with very few exceptions, as endless. The only exception to the belief in the eternity of future punishment in the ancient church appears in the Alexandrine school. Their denial of the doctrine sprang logically out of their anthropology. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, we have seen, asserted with great earnestness the tenet of a complete and inalienable power in the human will to overcome sin. The destiny of the soul is thus placed in the soul itself. The power of free will cannot be lost, and if not exerted in this world, it still can be in the next; and under the full light of the eternal world; and under the stimulus of suffering there experienced, nothing is more probable than that it will be exerted. The views of Origen were almost wholly confined to this school. Faint traces of a belief in the remission of punishments in the future world are visible in the writings of Didymus of Alexandria, and in Gregory of Nyssa. With these exceptions, the ancient church held that the everlasting destiny of the human soul is decided in this earthly state."11 The reader who will turn to the sketches of Didymus and Gregory will discover what Prof. Shedd denominates "faint traces," and in the multitudes of quotations from others of the fathers who were not of the Alexandrine school, he will see how utterly inaccurate is this religious historian. Numerous quotations flatly contradict his assertion. The verbal resemblance of Dr. Shedd's language to that of Hagenbach, cannot be wholly due to accident.12 Prof. Shedd, however, contradicts what Schaff and Hagenbach declare to be the truth of history. He says that the Alexandrine school was the only exception to a universal belief in endless punishment, except the faint traces in Gregory of Nyssa; while Hagenbach insists that Gregory is more explicit, and Neander affirms that the school of Antioch as well as that of Alexandria, were Universalistic. Furthermore, Prof. Shedd does not seem to have remembered the words he had written with his own pen in his translation of Guerike's Church History: 13 "It is noticeable that the exegetico- grammatical school of Antioch, as well as the allegorizing Alexandrian, adopted and maintained the doctrine of restoration." Says Hagenbach, "Some faint traces of a belief in the final remission of punishments in the world to come are to be found in those writings of Didymus of Alexandria, which are yet extant. Gregory of Nyssa speaks more distinctly upon this point, pointing out the corrective design of the punishments inflicted upon the wicked." Hagenbach expressly places Gregory and Didymus as differing, while Shedd makes them agree. But Neander declares: "From two theological schools there went forth an opposition to the doctrine of everlasting punishment, which had its ground in a deeper Christian interest; inasmuch as the doctrine of a universal restoration was closely connected with the entire dogmatic systems of both these schools, namely, that of Origen, and the school of Antioch." 141 Wordsworth's St. Hippolytus and the Church of Rome, p. 144.
Chapter 14--Minor Authorities - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology - Introductory Note - New Stuff
Chapter 14--Minor Authorities - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology
Chapter 1 - The Earliest Creeds
Chapter 2 - Early Christianity-A Cheerful Religion
Chapter 3 - Origin of Endless Punishment
Chapter 4 - Doctrines of Mitigation and Reserve
Chapter 5 - Two Kindred Topics
Chapter 6 - The Apostles' Immediate Successors
Chapter 7 - The Gnostic Sects
Chapter 8 - The Sibylline Oracles
Chapter 9 - Pantaenus and Clement
Chapter 10 - Origen
Chapter 11 - Origen-Continued
Chapter 12 - The Eulogists of Origen
Chapter 13 - A Third Century Group
Chapter 14 - Minor Authorities
Chapter 15 - Gregory Nazianzen
Chapter 16 - Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians
Chapter 17 - A Notable Family
Chapter 18 - Additional Authorities
Chapter 19 - The Deterioration of Christian Thought
Chapter 20 - Augustine--Deterioration Continued
Chapter 21 - Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism
Chapter 22 - The Eclipse of Universalism
Chapter 23 - Summary of Conclusions