The Evangelical Universalist Forum

6 Schools of teology

I read that to the 5th century or six were six theological schools, and four of them were taught universalism. Who were the founders of the school that taught that all would be saved? And who were the founders of the school of annihilationism, what church fathers were recognized there? (I do not want to know who taught ECT, I’ve spent a lot of time informing me that)

From what little I’ve read on it, it was the Roman school that affirmed infernalism. This makes sense considering the Roman mindset of controlling the world through fear.

According to legend, John Mark founded the catechetical school of Alexandria (he does seem to have ended up in the region) and the Apostle John founded the catechetical school of Ephesus. While this is not impossible, we first catch sight of them in the historical record at about the same time, late in the second century, with Ireneus (disciple of Polycarp, disciple of ApostJohn, friend of Ignatius whom he says heard both John and Peter) at Ephesus around 160 (and for about 30 years afterward), and Athenagoras at Alexandria in 178. We do not know the beliefs of Athenagoras on the topic, but at least two of his three successors as head of the Alexandrian school (Clement of Alexandria and Origen) were certainly universalists; Ireneus has been interpreted a number of different ways, including as a universalist, although he is generally regarded as an annihilationist and the Ephesian school after him trended that way. What is certain is that while Ireneus was the first great systematic anti-heretical author (of whom we know anyway), and assailed teachers we know to have had universalistic beliefs, he never assailed them on that topic and did not list the belief among the heresies.

While Ireneus is attached to the Ephesian school, it does not seem clear to me yet that he was the head of it; in fact there is no evidence of the Ephesian ‘school’ being a seminary at all, nor that around Carthage in North Africa later. Rather they were schools of thought (much as I would say I am a follower of C. S. Lewis’ school), closely connected to centers of proselyte training. In that sense there were actually only four “schools” (in the modern sense of universities or seminaries) in the first Christian centuries, and all four were universalistic. (At some point Athens came to have such a seminary, too, but this may have been of the Ephesian school of annihilationistic thought.)

The Alexandrian school was traced by early Christian historians back certainly as far as the early 2nd century (100-120), although Athenagoras and/or Anaxagoras (who may be the same person) is the first stated head of it in surviving writing late in the 170s. Pantaenus, the immediate successor of one or both men, upgraded the proselyte school to the first Christian theological seminary, in line with Alexandria’s reputation as the center of all science and learning in the Roman Empire (and the 2nd largest Imperial city of that time). Pantaenus traveled to India on a missionary tour in 189 and returned with a copy of GosMatt in Hebrew (a text lost afterward, possibly in one of the destructions of Alexandria’s famous library which strove to collect originals or accurate copies of all the world’s literature, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of volumes) reportedly brought to India by the apostle Bartholemew. He was martyred in 216 by Roman persecution, and we have no remaining records of his writing, but Clement of Alexandria, his successor, praised him unreservedly and declared he learned everything from him, so the balance of evidence would be that Clement learned his universalism from Pantaenus, too.

From the founding conversion of the Alexandrian proselyte school to the first Christian theological seminary, also came the inspiration to convert Ephesus to a theological seminary, and indeed came the inspiration of the founding of the other ancient six schools.

Origen Adamantius, after heading the school himself in succession to Clement, was ousted due to political reasons (not for his universalism) and founded the satellite catechetical school at Caesarea Palestine, which followed his lead in trending to universalism.

His successors as president of the Alexandrian seminary, Heraclas (who later also became bishop), Dionysius and Didymus (to the late 300s) were known as universalists; after this time the school schismed in the belief that central orthodoxy was too strongly emphasizing the human nature of Christ (although the detractors have never denied Christ’s humanity, as has often been falsely accused of them), and it ceased being one of the six ‘orthodox’ seminaries on that ground.

Theodore of Mopsuestia founded the Antioch seminary (converted as usual from a proselyte school tracing its roots back to St. Paul and beyond) sometime in the 400s, along with his disciple Diodore of Tarsus who succeeded him; both are well-known as universalists, partially because they opposed Origen on several topics (including his grounds for universalism)! Theodore became known as “The Master of the Orient” and the greatest scholar of his time ranking only behind Origen’s legendary apex of fame. Regarded as perfectly orthodox in his day, he came under fire later for having inadvertently inspired the Nestorians, who separated the human and divine natures farther than central orthodoxy deemed appropriate (possibly as a reaction in defense of the Alexandrian charge of emphasizing too much the humanity of Christ). The early Nestorians, including Nestorius himself, would be easily defended from such charges (as they themselves protested) by modern scholars, but the point of contention became a badge of honor via persecution to their successors, who in reality did take the schism as far as Nestorius was accused of. Antioch itself continued as one of the orthodox seminaries in any event, and founded a satellite seminary (also universalistic in its tendencies) at Edessa.

Edessa under persecution for championing Nestorius and defending his orthodox honor, eventually moved to Nisibis, outside the Roman Empire altogether, where the seminary also became the world’s first dedicated medical university. From Nisibis, further universities, primarily theological but also teaching grammar, rhetoric, poetry, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy and of course medicine, spread through the Far Middle East throughout the late first millennium. It was by these Nisibian universities that the Muslims first became educated, learning the classical Greco-Roman heritage with improvements made by Christians since then. (The Muslims would generally continue this habit of appointing and learning from Christian university intellectuals as they moved west into Roman Imperial lands, too.)

Thus the four first great orthodox Christian seminaries and universities: Alexandria, Caesaria Palestine, Antioch, Edessa. Eventually Alexandria became Oriental Orthodox, but remained universalistic. Edessa eventually became Nestorian (the Church of the East, also generally universalistic in tendency) and moved to Nisibis, where they evangelized an area far larger than the Roman Empire, out to China and even Japan briefly. Caesaria and Antioch remained until overrun by the Muslims (along with the other universalist universities; and the school of North Africa for that matter.)

The ‘schools’ of Asia Minor and North Africa were not seminaries in the same sense, although well respected and influential. North Africa was Latin in the vicinity of Carthage and Tunisia, and dates back as far as the mid to late 2nd century. Asia Minor was attached to Ephesus from early times, although it may have moved to Athens later in upgrading to a proper seminary.

All six schools (whether seminary or not) were inspired by ancient centers for training evangelists and those whom the evangelists brought to the faith: they taught the teachers of the catechisms. Asia Minor traced its tradition via Ephesus back to the Apostle John; Antioch to the Apostle Paul (and indeed to his teachers); Alexandria, the first to be converted to a proper seminary, to John Mark (and presumably thus back to Peter and Paul, also possibly to John as Mark reportedly came to Alexandria from the region of Ephesus bringing the teachings of ApostJohn, too.) I don’t know who specifically Edessa, Caesaria and North Africa traced their heritage back to; North Africa perhaps to Peter given its Latin connections.

Thanks for all that info of you guys. Jason, I think one thing about Athenagoras is not correct: if I´m not mistaken, he was an ECT supporter. Clement and Origen obviously were universalist, but he said things like this:

“The mortal body must put on immortality and incorruption if it is to endure an eternity of pain.”