The submergence of Christian Universalism in the dark waters of Augustinian Christo-paganism, after having been the prevailing theology of Christendom for centuries, is one of the strange phenomena in the history of religious thought. This volume explains, in part, this obscure phenomenon. History testifies that at the close of what Hagenbach calls the second period, from A.D. 254 to A.D. 730, the opinion in favor of endless punishment had become "more general." Only a few belonging to the "Origenist humanity still dared to express a glimmer of hope in favor of the damned. The doctrine of the restitution of all things shared the fate of Origenism, and made its appearance in after ages only in connection with other heretical notions."
Kingsley attributes the decadence and deterioration of the Alexandrine School and its doctrines and methods, to the abandonment of its intense activity, to the relinquishment of the great enthusiasm for humanity that characterized Clement, Origen and their co-workers. He says: "Having no more Heathens to fight, they began fighting each other; they became dogmatists they lost the knowledge of God, of righteousness, and love, and peace. That Divine Logos, and theology as a whole receded farther and farther aloft into abysmal heights, as it became a mere dreary system of dead scientific terms, having no practical bearing on their hearts and lives." In a word, their abandonment of the principles of Clement and his school, left the field open to the more practical, direct and methodical, though degraded and corrupt theories of Augustine and his associates. This process continued till toward the middle of the Seventh Century, when, as Kingsley observes: "In the year 640, the Alexandrians who were tearing each other in pieces about some Jacobite and Melchite controversy, to me incomprehensible in the midst of these Jacobite and Melchite controversies and riots, appeared before the city the armies of certain wild and unlettered Arab tribes. A short and fruitless struggle followed; and strange to say, a few months swept away from the face of the earth, not only the wealth, the commerce, the castles, and the liberty, but the philosophy and the Christianity of Alexandria; crushed to powder, by one fearful blow, all that had been built up by Alexander and the Ptolemies, by Clement and the philosophers, and made void, to all appearance, nine hundred years of human toil. The people, having no real hold on their hereditary creed, accepted, by tens of thousands, that of the Mussulman invaders. The Christian remnant became tributaries, and Alexandria dwindled from that time forth into a petty seaport town." 1
The "Universalist Quartarly," January, 1878, attributes the decline and disappearance of Universalism to an entire absence of argument on the part of its advocates; and to regarding the doctrine as esoteric, instead of for all; in other words, the undemocratic methods of those who accepted it. These factors, no doubt, contributed, but they are not alone sufficient to account for its disappearance. 2
It is not a part of the plan of this work to follow its fate after its almost entire disappearance for centuries. The combined efforts of Augustine and his assistants and successors, or popes and emperors, of Paganism and Latin secularism, of ignorant half-converted hordes of heathen barbarians, and of a hierarchy that could not employ it in its ambitious schemes, at length crystallized into the pseudo-Christianity that reigned like a nightmare over Christendom, from the Seventh to the Fifteenth Century. Ignorance, cruelty, oppression, were well-nigh universal, and the condition of mankind reflected the views held by the church, of the character of God and of man, of time and of eternity, of heaven and of hell. Perhaps the darkest hour of the night of ages was just before the dawn of the Reformation. The prevalent Christian thought was represented in literature and art, and its best exponents of the sentiment of a thousand years are the works of the great artist, Michael Angelo, and of the equally great poet, Dante. They agree in spirit, and black and white, darkness and light, truth and falsehood are not more opposite than is the theology of Dante and Angelo contrasted with the cheerful simplicity, the divine purity of the primitive Christian faith. "That was a dark night that fell upon Christianity when its thought became Latinized. When Christianity came to be interpreted by the divinely uninspired, unspiritual legal mind of Rome, the Gospel went into a fearful eclipse. When the Greek thought of Christ gave way to the Latin a night came upon the Christian world that has extended to the present day. Then were born all those half-views, distorted views, and false views of Christian doctrine and Christian life that have perverted the Gospel, puzzled the human intellect and grieved the human heart through all the long centuries from that day to this." 3
Two great men of genius of the first order, the marvelous artist, Michael Angelo, and the equally great poet, Dante, on canvas and in verse, gathered at its climax the nightmare of unbelief that had darkened the preceding centuries. In Dante are "Christian heroes appearing in heathenish aspect, and heathenish poets and thinkers half-warmed by the light of Christianity," a happy characterization of the mixed product of truth and error that Dante describes, and that passed for Christianity during the Sixteenth Century, and with modifications, has since prevailed. The "Last Judgment" of Michael Angelo harmonizes with the thought of the great poet. It is a Pagan reminiscence--a hideous heathen dream. The meek and lowly Man of Nazareth who would not break the bruised reed was travestied by a monstrous caricature. "An unclothed, broad-shouldered hero, with arms upraised that could strike down a Hercules, distributing blessings and curses, his hair fluttering like flames which the storm blows back, and his angry countenance looking down on the condemned with frightful eyes, as if he wished to hasten forward the destruction in which his word has plunged them. The whole figure recalls the words of Dante, in which he calls Christ 'Sommo Giove,'--the most-high Jupiter. This he is here; not the suffering Son of Man, gentle as the moon, silent rather than speaking, with the foreboding of his fate written in his sad eyes. Yet, if a Last Judgment were to be painted, with everlasting condemnation, and Christ as the judge who pronounces it, how could he appear otherwise than in such terribleness? Such is Michael Angelo's Last Judgment. While we cherish a feeling that at that day, whenever it occurs, the love of God will pardon all sins as earthly error, the Roman sees alone anger and revenge, as proceeding from the Supreme Being, when he comes in contact with humanity for the last time. For the sinner is forever from henceforth to be condemned. It is an echo of the old idea, often enough recurring in the Old Testament, that the Divine Being is an angry and fearful power, which must be appeased, instead of the Source of good alone, abolishing at last all evil as an influence that has beguiled mankind. As we look, however, at the Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, it is no longer a similitude to us, but a monument of the imaginative spirit of a past age and of a strange people, whose ideas are no longer ours. Dante created a new world for the Romanic nations by remodeling the forms of heathen antiquity for his Christian mythology." 4 Materialistic, gross, was the Christianity that ruled and oppressed mankind for nearly a thousand years, and it is reflected in the pages of Dante, and on the canvas of Angelo, and it reverberates with ever decreasing echoes--thank God!--in the subsequent creeds of Christendom. Almost the only gleam of light, that relieved while it intensified the blackness of the darkness of Christendom during those dreadful centuries was the worship of Mary.
The resurrection of Universalism after an eclipse of a millennium of years is as remarkable as was its strange disappearance. No better illustration can be found than the history of our faith gives, of the tenacity of life, the immortality, of truth. It calls to mind the language of the German sage, Schopenhauer: "Doubtless error can play its part, like owls in the night. But we should sooner expect the owls to cause the terrified sun to retire to the East, than to see the truth, once proclaimed, to be so repressed as that ancient error might recover its lost ground, and re-establish itself there in peace." To truth belong "God's eternal years," and her emergence after so long a disappearance is an illustration of her immortal vitality. "Crushed to earth" she has "risen again," and is fast being accepted by a regenerated Christendom.
With the invention of printing, the dawn of light in the Reformation,5 and the increase of intelligence, our distinctive form of faith has not only grown and extended, but its leavening power has modified the creeds of Christendom, softening all harsh theories, and unfolding a "rose of dawn" in all Christian lands. Though, like its author and revealer, it seemed to die, it was, like him, to come forth to a new and glorious resurrection, for the views held by the great saints and scholars in the first centuries of Christianity were substantially those that are taught by the Universalist Church for the current century, so far as they include the character of God, the nature and final destiny of mankind, the resurrection, the judgment, the purpose and end of punishment, and other related themes. On these subjects the great Church fathers stand as representatives of the Universalism of to-day, so that the progress of Christian ideas that the end of the present (19th) century is witnessing, is not, as many think, towards something new, but is towards the position of the early Christians seventeen hundred years ago. It is a re-birth, a restoration of Christianity to its primitive purity. As Max Muller has recently written: "If we want to be true and honest Christians, we must go back to those earliest ante-Nicene authorities, the true fathers of the church."6 This is being done by Christians in all branches of the church. The Bible, which the hands of ignorance has overwritten into a hideous reworked manuscripts, is being read with something of its divine meaning, and as increasing light pours upon the sacred page, more and more men are learning to spell its blessed messages correctly, as they were spoken or written at the beginning--as the ante-Nicene fathers read them--in harmony with man's intellectual, moral and affectional nature, and with the character and attributes of the Universal Father.1 Alexandria and her Schools.
Chapter 23--Summary of Conclusions - Contents
Spirit of the Word - Covenant Eschatology - Introductory Note - New Stuff
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