The family group of which Basil the Great, Macrina the Blessed, the distinguished bishop of Nyssa, Gregory, and the less-known Peter of Sebaste were members, deserves a volume rather than the few pages at our command. Three of the four were bishops at one time. Macrina, her father and mother, her grandmother Macrina, and three of her brothers were all canonized as saints in the ancient church. We are not surprised that Butler, in his "Lives of the Fathers," should say: "We admire to see a whole family of saints. This prodigy of grace, under God, was owing to the example, prayers and exhortation of the elder St. Macrina, which had this wonderful influence and effect." 1
Macrina was born A.D. 327. By her intellectual ability, force of character, and earnest piety she became the real head of the family, and largely shaped the lives of her distinguished brothers. She early added the name Thecla to her baptismal name, after the proto-martyr among Christian women. She was educated with great care by her mother, under whose direction she committed to memory large portions of the Bible, including the whole of the Psalms.
Her rare personal beauty, great accomplishments and large fortune attracted many suitors; Gregory says she surpassed in loveliness all of her age and country. She was betrothed to a young advocate, who was inspired and stimulated by her ambition and zeal, but was cut off by an early death. She thenceforth regarded herself as a wife in the eyes of God, and confident of a reunion hereafter, refused to listen to offers of marriage, saying that her betrothed was living in a distant realm, and that the resurrection would reunite them.
A.D. 349, when she was thirty-two, her father died, and thereafter she devoted herself to the care of her widowed mother and the family of nine children, and large estates which were scattered through three provinces. Her rare executive ability and personal devotedness to her mother and brothers and sisters were phenomenal, descending to the most minute domestic offices.
After the death of her father, and on the death of her brother Naucratius, A.D. 357, she never left her home, a beautiful place in Annesi, near Neo-Cæsarea.
A.D. 355, on the return of her brother Basil from Athens, full of conceit and the ambition inspired by his secular learning, Macrina filled his mind and heart with the love for a life of Christian service that animated herself, and he located himself near his sister. In 355 she established a religious sisterhood with her mother, and consecrated her life to retirement and religious meditation, holy thoughts and exercises--as she said, "to the attainment of the angelical life." The community consisted of herself, her mother, her female servants and slaves, and soon devout women of rank joined them, and the community became very prosperous.
Peter was made Presbyter A.D. 371. Her mother died in 373 and her distinguished brother in 379. Her own health had failed, when, some months after Basil's death, her brother Gregory visited her. 2 He found her in an incurable fever, stretched on planks on the ground, and, according to the ascetic ideas then beginning to prevail, the planks barely covered with sackcloth. Gregory relates what followed with great minuteness. He was overwhelmed with grief at Basil's death. Macrina comforted him, and even rebuked him for mourning like a heathen when he possessed the Christian's hope. He described the persecutions he had experienced, whereupon she chided and reminded him that he ought rather to thank his parents who had qualified him to be worthy of such experiences. Gregory relates that she controlled all evidences of suffering, and that her countenance continually wore a angelic smile.
He probably gives us her exact sentiments in his own language on universal restoration, in which she rises into a grand description of the purifying effects of all future punishment, and the separation thereby of the evil from the good in man, and the entire destruction of all evil. Her words tell us their mutual views. On the "all in all" 3 of Paul she says:
"The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them." "For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being. For since by its very nature evil cannot exist apart from free choice, when all free choice becomes in the power of God, shall not evil advance to utter annihilation so that no receptacle for it at all shall be left?"
In this conversation in which the sister sustains by far the leading part, the resurrection (anastasis) and the restoration (apokatastasis) are regarded as synonymous, as when Macrina declares that "the resurrection is only the restoration of human nature to its pristine condition."4
On Phil. 2:10, Macrina declares. "When the evil has been exterminated in the long cycles of the æons nothing shall be left outside the boundaries of good, but even from them shall be unanimously uttered the confession of the Lordship of Christ." 5
She said: "The process of healing shall be proportioned to the measure of evil in each of us, and when the evil is purged and blotted out, there shall come in each place to each immortality and life and honor."
Seeing the weariness of her brother she bade him rest. Revisiting her at the close of the day she reviewed thankfully her past life and rejoiced that she had never in her life refused any one who had asked a charity of her, and had never been compelled to ask a charity for herself.
Next morning, Gregory says, she consoled and cheered him as long as she could talk, and when her voice failed she conversed with her hands and silent lips. Repeating the sign of the cross to the latest moment she finished her life and her prayers together. Her last words were in advocacy of the doctrine of universal salvation, of which Gregory's writings are full.6
She was buried by her brother in the grave of her parents, in the Chapel of the "Forty Martyrs."
We have here a most suggestive picture to contemplate. Macrina at the head of a sisterhood, consisted of several hundred women of all grades, from her own rank down to slaves. Their sole object was the cultivation of the religious life. Can it be otherwise than that the views of human destiny she held were dwelt upon by her in the religious exercises of the institution, and must they not have been generally sympathized with by the devout in mates? And can we doubt that those who had here retired from the world to cultivate their religious natures, were representative in their views of human destiny of the Christian community generally? The fact that Macrina and her brothers, high functionaries in the church, express Universalism, not argumentatively or disputingly, but as a matter uncontested, should persuade us that it was the unchallenged sentiment of the time.
Curiously enough, Cave, in his "Lives of the Fathers," questions Macrina's Universalism. In his life of Gregory he says, after sketching Macrina's life: "She is said by some to have been infected with Origen's opinions, but finding it reported by no other than Nicephorus, I suppose he mistook her for her grandmother, Macrina, auditor of St. Gregory, who had Origen for his tutor." This is a specimen instance of the manner in which historians have read history through theological spectacles, and written history in ink squeezed from their creeds.
There is no doubt that the elder Macrina was of the same faith as her granddaughter, for she was a disciple of Gregory Thaumaturgus, who idolized Origen. On the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, "the blessed Macrina" lived a holy life and died the death of a perfect Christian, molded, guided and sustained by the influence and power of Universalism. And the careful reader of the history of those early days can but feel that she represents the prevailing religious faith of the three first and three best centuries of the church.
Basil the Great was born in Cæsarea, A.D. 329. His family were wealthy Christians. The preceding sketch shows that his grandmother Macrina, and his mother, Emmelia, were canonized. His brothers, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste, and his sister Macrina are all saints in both the Greek and the Roman churches. His was a most lovable and loving spirit. His works abound in descriptions of the beauties of nature, which is something rare in ancient literature, outside the Bible. He resided for many years in a romantic locality, with his mother and sister. A.D. 364, against his will, he was made presbyter, and in 370 was elected bishop of Cæsarea. He died A.D. 379. He devoted himself to the sick, and founded the splendid hospital Basilias, for lepers, of whom he took care, not even neglecting to kiss them in defiance of contagion. He stands in the highest group of pulpit orators, theologians, pastors, and rulers, and most eminent writers and noble men of the church's first five hundred years.
Basil says: "The Lord's peace is co-extensive with all time. For all things shall be subject to him, and all things shall acknowledge his empire; and when God shall be all in all, those who now excite discord by revolts having been pacified, shall praise God in peaceful concord." On the words in Isaiah 1:24, "My anger will not cease, I will burn them," he says, "And why is this? In order that I may purify."
Basil was "the strenuous champion of orthodoxy in the East, the restorer of union to the divided Oriental church, and the promoter of unity between the East and the West." Theodoret styles him "one of the lights of the world." 7
Among other quotable passages is this: "For we have often observed that it is the sins which are consumed, not the very persons to whom the sins have befallen." But there are passages to be found in Basil susceptible of sustaining the doctrine of interminable punishment. This great theologian was infected with the wretched idea prevalent in his day, that the wise could accept truths not to be taught to the multitude. But the brother of, and co-laborer with, Gregory of Nyssa, and the "Blessed Macrina," he could but have sympathized with their awe inspiring faith.
Cave scarcely alludes to Basil's views of destiny, but faintly suggests the truth when he says: "For though his enemies, to serve their own ends by blasting his reputation, did sometimes charge him with corrupting the Christian doctrine, and entertaining impious and unorthodox sentiments, and that too in some of the greater articles, yet the objection, when looked into, did quickly vanish, himself solemnly professing upon this occasion, that however in other respects he had enough to answer for, yet this was his glory and triumph, that he had never entertained false notions of God, but had constantly kept the faith pure and unviolated, as he had received it from his ancestors."
Remembering his sainted grandmother, Macrina, and his spiritual fathers, Origen and Clemens Alexandrinus, we can understand his disclaimer.8
Notwithstanding Basil's probable belief in the final restoration, he employs as severe language in reference to the sinner's sufferings so do any of the fathers who have left no record on the subject of man's final destiny. He says: "With what body shall it endure those interminable and unendurable scourges, where is the quenchless fire and the worm punishing deathlessly, and the dark and horrible abyss of hell, and the bitter groans, and the vehement wailing, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth, where the evils have no end."9
He is said to have had learning the most ample, eloquence of the highest order, argumentative powers unsurpassed, literary ability unequaled, "a style of writing admirable, almost matchless, proper, clearly expressed, significant, soft, smooth and easy, and yet persuasive and powerful;" as a philosopher as wise as he was accomplished as a theologian. Erasmus gives him the pre-eminence above Pericles, Isocrates and Demosthenes, and ranks him higher than Athanasius, Nazianzen, Nyssen and Chrysostom. And Cave exhausts eulogy and praise in describing his "moral and divine accomplishments," and closes his account by saying: "Perhaps it is an instance hardly to be paralleled in any age, for three brothers, all men of note and eminency, to be bishops at the same time." 10 He might have added--and with a sister their full equal.
Basil's grand spirit can be seen in his reply to the emperor, when the latter threatened him, should he not obey the sovereign's command. His noble answer compelled the emperor to forego his purpose. Basil said he did not fear the emperor's threats; confiscation could not harm one who only possessed a suit of plain clothes and a few books; he could not be banished for he could not find a home anywhere, as the earth was God's, and himself everywhere a stranger; his frail body could endure but little torture, and death would be a favor, as it would only conduct him to God, his eternal home.
Basil says in one place, in a work attributed to him, "The mass of men (Christians) say that there is to be an end of punishment to those who are punished."11 If the work is not Basil's, the testimony as to the state of opinion at that time is no less valuable: "The mass of men say that there is to be an end of punishment."
He was born about A.D. 335, and died 390. He was made bishop 372. From the time he was thirty-five until his death, he, Didymus and Diodorus of Tarsus, were the unopposed advocates of universal redemption. Most unique and valuable of all his works was the biography of his sister, described in our sketch of Macrina. His descriptions of her life, conversations and death are gems of early Chrstian literature. They overflow with declarations of universal salvation.
Gregory was devoted to the memory of Origen as his spiritual godfather, and teacher, as were his saintly brother and sister. He has well been called "the flower of orthodoxy." He declared that Christ "frees mankind from their wickedness, healing the very inventor of wickedness." He asks: "What is then the scope of St. Paul's argument in this place? That the nature of evil shall one day be wholly exterminated, and divine, immortal goodness embrace within itself all intelligent natures; so that of all who were made by God, not one shall be exiled from his kingdom; when all the mixtures of evil that like a corrupt matter is mingled in things, shall be dissolved, and consumed in the furnace of purifying fire, and everything that had its origin from God shall be restored to its pristine state of purity." "This is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the divine life, penetrating all things, shall absolutely destroy death from existing things, sin having been previously destroyed," etc.12 "For it is evident that God will in truth be 'in all' when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. Now the body of Christ, as I have often said, is the whole of humanity." 13 On the Psalms, "Neither is sin from eternity, not will it last to eternity. For that which did not always exist shall not last forever."
His language demonstrates the fact that the word aionios did not have the meaning of endless duration in his day. He distinctly says: "Whoever considers the divine power will plainly perceive that it is able at length to restore by means of the aionion purging and atoning sufferings, those who have gone even to this extremity of wickedness." Thus "everlasting" punishment will end in salvation, according to one of the greatest of the fathers of the Fourth Century.
In his "Sermo Catecheticus Magnus," a work of forty chapters, for the teaching of theological learners, written to show the harmony of Christianity with the instincts of the human heart, he asserts "the annihilation of evil, the restitution of all things, and the final restoration of evil men and evil spirits to the blessedness of union with God, so that he may be 'all in all,' embracing all things endowed with sense and reason"--doctrines derived by him from Origen. To save the credit of a doctor of the church of acknowledged orthodoxy, it has been asserted from the time of Germanus of Constantinople, that these passages were foisted in by heretical writers. But there is no foundation for this assumption, and we may safely say that "the wish is father to the thought," and that the final restitution of all things was distinctly held and taught by him in his writings.
He teaches that "when death approaches to life, and darkness to light, and the corruptible to the incorruptible, the inferior is done away with and reduced to non-existence, and the thing purged is benefited, just as the dross is purged from gold by fire. In the same way in the long circuits of time, when the evil of nature which is now mingled and implanted in them has been taken away, whensoever the restoration to their old condition of the things that now lie in wickedness takes place, there will be a unanimous thanksgiving from the whole creation, both of those who have been punished in the purification and of those who have not at all needed purification.
"I believe that punishment will be administered in proportion to each one's corruptness. Therefore to whom there is much corruption attached, with him it is necessary that the purgatorial time which is to consume it should be great, and of long duration; but to him in whom the wicked disposition has been already in part subjected, a proportionate degree of that sharper and more vehement punishment shall be forgiven. All evil, however, must at length be entirely removed from everything, so that it shall no more exist. For such being the nature of sin that it cannot exist without a corrupt motive, it must of course be perfectly dissolved, and wholly destroyed, so that nothing can remain a receptacle of it, when all motive and influence shall spring from God alone," etc.
The manner in which historians and biographers have been guilty of suppression by their prejudices or lack of perception to fact, is illustrated by Cave in his "Lives of the Fathers," when, speaking of this most out-spoken Universalist, he says, that on the occasion of the death of his sister Macrina, "he penned his excellent book ('Life and Resurrection,') wherein if some later hand have interspersed some few Origenian dogmata, it is no more than what they have done to some few other of his tracts, to give his thoughts vent upon those noble arguments." The "later" hands were impelled by altogether different "dogmata," and suppressed or modified Origen's doctrines, as Rufinus confessed, instead of inserting them in the works of their predecessors. If Gregory has suffered at all at the hands of mutilators, it has been by those who have minimized and not those who have magnified his Universalism. But this aspersion originated with Germanus, bishop of Constantinople (A.D. 730), in harmony with a favorite mode of opposition to Universalism. In Germanus's Antapodotikos he endeavored to show that all the passages in Gregory which treat of the apokatastasis were interpolated by heretics.14 This charge has often been echoed since. But the prejudiced Daille calls it "the last resort of those who with a stupid and absurd persistance will have it that the ancients wrote nothing different from the faith at present received; for the whole of Gregory Nyssen's orations are so deeply permeated with the perncious doctrine in question, than it can have been inserted by none other that the author himself."15 The conduct of historians, not only of those who were theologically warped, but of such as sought to be impartial on the opinions of the early Christians on man's final destiny, is something phenomenal. Even Lecky writes: "Origen, and his disciple Gregory of Nyssa, in a somewhat hesitating manner, diverged from the prevailing opinion (eternal torments) and strongly inclined to the belief in the ultimate salvation of all.1 The materials of this sketch and of the article on Gregory Nyssen were chiefly procured from "Our Holy Father Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa's Thoughts concerning the Life of the Blessed Macrina, his Sister, to the Monk Olympius;" and "Dialogue Concerning Life and Resurrection, with the Opinions of his Sister Macrina;" Leipsic, 1858. The work is in Greek and German. Also from Migne's Patrologiæ, vol. XLVI.
But they were alone in their opinion. With these two exceptions, all the fathers proclaimed the eternity of torments." 16 It is shown in this volume that not only were Diodore, Theodore, and others of the Antiochan school Universalists but that for centuries four theological schools taught the doctrine. A most singular fact in this connection is the Prof. Shedd, elsewhere in this book, denies his own statement similar to Lecky's, as shown on a previous page. This is the testimony of Dr. Schaff in his valuable history:
"Gregory adopts the doctrine of the final restoration of all things. The plan of redemption is in his view absolutely universal, and embraces all spiritual beings. Good is the only positive reality; evil is the negative, the non-existent, and must finally abolish itself, because it is not of God. Unbelievers must indeed pass through a second death, in order to be purged from the filthiness of the flesh. But God does not give them up, for they are his property, spiritual natures allied to him. His love, which draws pure souls easily and without pain to itself, becomes a purifying fire to all who cleave to the earthly, till the impure element is driven off. As all comes forth from God, so must all return into him at last." "Universal salvation (including Satan) was clearly taught by Gregory of Nyssa, a profound thinker of the school of Origen."
In his comments on the Psalms, Gregory says: "By which God shows that neither is sin from eternity nor will it last to eternity. Wickedness being thus destroyed, and its imprint being left in none, all shall be fashioned after Christ, and in all that one character shall shine, which originally was imprinted on our nature." "Sin, whose end is extinction, and a change to nothingness from evil to a state of blessedness." On Ps. 57:1, "Sin is like a plant on a house top, not rooted, not sown, not ploughed in the restoration to goodness of all things, it passes away and vanishes. So not even a trace of the evil which now abounds in us, shall remain, etc." If sin be not cured here its cure will be effected hereafter. And God's threats are that "through fear we may be trained to avoid evil; but by those who are more intelligent it (the judgment) is believed to be a medicine," etc. "God himself is not really seen in wrath." "The soul which is united to sin must be set in the fire, so that that which is unnatural and vile may be removed, consumed by the aionion fire."17 Thus the (aionion) fire was regarded by Gregory as purifying. "If it (the soul) remains (in the present life) the healing is accomplished in the life beyond." (Orat. Catech.)
Farrar tells us: "There is no scholar of any weight in any school of theology who does not now admit that two at least of the three great Cappadocians believed in the final and universal restoration of human souls. And the remarkable fact is that Gregory developed these views without in any way imperiling his reputation for orthodoxy, and without the faintest reminder that he was deviating from the strictest paths of Catholic opinion." Professor Plumptre truthfully says: "His Universalism is as wide and unlimited as that of Bishop Newton of Bristol."
Opinions in the Fourth Century.The Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, which perfected the Nicene Creed, was participated in by the two Gregorys; Gregory Nazianzen presided and Gregory Nyssen added the clauses to the Nicene creed that are in italics on a previous page in this volume. They were both Universalists. Would any council, in ancient or modern times, composed of believers in endless punishment, select an avowed Universalist to preside over its deliberations, and guide its "doctrinal transactions?" And can anyone consistently think that Gregory's Universalism was unacceptable to the great council over which he presided?" Some of the strongest statements of Gregory's views will be found in his enthusiastic reports of Macrina's conversations, related in the preceding chapter, with which, every reader will see, he was in the fullest sympathy. Besides the works of Gregory named above, passages expressive of universal salvation may be found in "Oratio de Mortuis," "De Perfectione Christiani," etc.
"By the days of Gregory of Nyssa it (Universalism), aided by the unrivaled learning, genius and piety of Origen, had prevailed, and had succeeded in leavening, not the East alone, but much of the West. While the doctrine of annihilation has practically disappeared, Universalism has established itself, has become the prevailing opinion, even in quarters antagonistic to the school of Alexandria. The church of North Africa, in the person of Augustine, enters the field. The Greek tongue soon becomes unknown in the West, and the Greek fathers forgotten. On the throne of Him whose name is Love is now seated a stern Judge (a sort of Roman governor). The Father is lost in the Magistrate." 18
Dean Stanley candidly ascribes to Gregory "the blessed hope that God's justice and mercy are not controlled by the power of evil, that sin is not everlasting, and that in the world to come punishment will be corrective and not final, and will be ordered by a love and justice, the height and depths of which we cannot here fathom or comprehend." 19
Chapter 18--Additional Authorities - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology - Introductory Note - New Stuff
Chapter 18--Additional 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