The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Confirm if there are any UR proponents in this post?

Hi all,

According to the following linked post, universalism was not the predominant belief of the early church:

I’m pretty sure that most of the members of this forum who affirm UR are more than familiar with this topic and may not even disagree with the main assertion of the author. However, I do have the suspicion that some of the information presented in the linked post is portrayed somewhat inaccurately. I understand that the original Greek word(s) rendered in many of the English translations as ‘eternal’ etc. are debatable, and any early writing (i’m guessing ante-nicene) containing these Greek words doesn’t necessarily prove that the author affirmed ECT because of how the word could be translated and interpreted in context.

I was wondering if anyone from this forum would like to look over this linked post and confirm any of the persons/authors mentioned as proponents of UR (if it can be ascertained at all, or even argued based on their original language, other writings, etc.). If they can’t be confirmed as proponents of UR for certain based on any of their writings, can any of them at least be regarded as definitely not affirming ECT specifically? Or were they all mostly just repeating the content already written in the New Testament Scriptures and not delineating or attempting to systematize a position regarding the final destiny of mankind?

Thanks and may God’s grace be with you,


Unfortunately both URs & non-URs tend to interpret the historical data we have in their favour, not necessarily deliberately or maliciously, but because we don’t always have adequate context. I’m sure we’ve all experienced people completely misunderstanding a tweet or comment.

Anyway, hopefully Ilaria Ramelli’s new 3 part volume will clarify things for everyone (it’s taken her more than 13 years of research - she’s a heavy duty scholar who’s highly qualified - so I have high expectations).

Looking at link… as far as I know, yes, there were some who believed in ECT/P, but there were also some who believed in annihilation & some who believed in UR. The exact ratio is unclear. Augustine, for example, said there were “many” around him that didn’t hold ECT/P & it sounds as if he’s describing Universalists. Either way, it was a legitimate position, and that’s more than enough to make UR legit (remembering technically there weren’t modern Calvinists or Arminians in the early Church, however that doesn’t mean either aren’t legitimate Christians).

In that list, pretty sure Clement of Alexandria was actually a universalist :confused:

Clement is believed to be a teacher of apokatastasis. There is a useful page from the Catholic Encyclopedia here:

We’re also building a list here: List of those of who reject traditional hellism


Hi Jimmy,
I found the material on the link to be, well, inaccurate at best. For example, his first scentence states, “Universalism is the false belief that all men will ultimately be saved whether they believe in Christ in this life or not.” UR believes the Paul really meant what he wrote when He twice quoted Isaiah saying that “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess” that Jesus is Lord. So ultimately everyone will come to worship Jesus (bow) and joyfully proclaim allegiance (confess) Jesus. We believe that Jesus did not just come to save some people, but to save the world, the kosmos, all of creation, as scripture says. We believe that Jesus, speaking of His crucifiction, affirmed that if He was crucified, lifted up, He’d draw All to himself. He was not just poetically speaking but really meant what He said. Instead of believing that salvation is dependant upon our right choices (righteousness), we believe that salvation is completely by grace. Through faith we embrace this and without faith it impossible to even percieve the kingdom of God, but we are saved by the grace and mercy of God, not our own righteousness (right choice/actions).

As to what was the predominant belief in the early church - Infernalism, Annihilaitonism, or Universalism - that’s debatable. What is not debatable is that there were believers in all three camps. Does something being the “majority” opinion make it true? I think not. And from history, it most often seems that the truth is not believed by the “majority” but is persecuted by the “majority”.

Well, it is true that universalists believe all men will be saved from their sins even if they don’t accept Jesus in this life–we believe all rational creatures will accept Jesus as savior eventually.

So strictly speaking “Mike” isn’t actually inaccurate to say that (except where he says it is a false belief. :wink: )


Part of the problem is that people known to be universalists demonstrably used language that might otherwise be indicative of non-universalism. The list in the article includes Clement of Alexandria on that ground, because he used the term which the translator is calling “endless vengeance” (but also from a late post-Nicene fragment, which is suspect). Several of the early theologians on the list spoke of the punishment in terms much more like annihilation, so including them on the list is suspect anyway.

This is connected to the problem of the doctrine of reserve, where teachers would explain things to the common masses one way but actually mean them a different way when discussing it among themselves: known universalists like Origen recommended universalism be reserved for educated theologians and hopeless punishment taught to the uneducated, due to fear that the common people would misunderstand it as a license to behave however they wanted.

The practical result of those problems is that it introduces an unwanted level of agnosticism about whether a writer really was advocating some kind of hopeless punishment (anni or ECT) or not. Since non-universalists tend not to be carefully agnostic on the matter, that leads some universalists (like Hanson notoriously, who was the universalist the article appears to be quoting from) to overstate the case in the other direction.

The overstating can be interesting in itself sometimes. Hanson promotes the theory that if a writer like Athanasius often speaks like a universalist, and admires and follows Origen citing him as authority in controversies and defending him as orthodox, nominates a known universalist (Didymus the Blind) as president of the Alexandrian catechetical school, and doesn’t spend his heresy-hunting energy going after universalism, and only once mentions eonian punishment in a context not very contextually obviously indicating hopeless punishment of some sort, THEN CHALK HIM UP AS A UNIVERSALIST! :wink: Or if the one time he mentions eonian punishment he does seem to be talking about hopeless punishment, then instead of being merely agnostic because of the doctrine of reserve, CHALK HIM UP AS PROBABLY A UNIVERSALIST!–which is not entirely unreasonable as a Bayesian induction, but that depends on how any particular person “weighs” the “weight” of the different pieces of evidence. (Theodore of Mopsuestia is one notable theologian who explicitly followed the teaching of Athanasius into universal salvation, by the way.)

It would probably be quicker to just refer to you the Hanson and Beecher texts for more information, although Hanson should be used cautiously. The short version is that Barnabas (which is suspected of being a Gnostic text anyway), Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr are more probably anni than ECT. The first and only genuinely accepted epistle from Clement of Rome (to the Corinthians) is cited with indications he was either an anni or a univ; notably the article from which Mike555 cites, only quotes from the Second Epistle, which is widely regarded as spurious and of late composition. Tatian is indisputably ECT (as even Hanson recognizes, and he tries to read Justin as possibly universalistic!)

Athenagoras says the wicked will suffer a worse life in fire, and in his surviving work doesn’t mention restoration but doesn’t mention duration per se either. (As even Mike555’s source cannot find a quote on.) He was the original head of the catechetical school in Alexandria, so at least his successors for several generations (through the 200s and 300s) followed universal restoration; Hanson thinks this is enough to certainly include him, too, other evidence against not being strong enough. He was certainly not an annihilationist for he spoke specifically against it.

While Theophilus of Antioch (in 181) wrote with the usual language of eonian fire and eonian punishments (as quoted by Mike’s source), he also wrote (in the same Treatise to Autolycus) that the purpose of the punishment is to remake or remodel a flawed vessel so that it becomes right, and so it comes that a wicked man is broken up by death so that he may come forth in the resurrection righteous and immortal. Consequently he would seem to belong to the universalists, apparently of a rare sort who believes in post-mortem punishment in hades but not after the resurrection. He also wrote some passages that would seem to involve annihilation. The most coherent way to harmonize his views would be annihilation of the wicked and their sins as such through post-mortem punishment but the salvation of their souls. (Theophilus of Egypt, much later around 400, teams up with Jerome and Epiphanius to finally assault the universalism of Origen, but even then they only oppose his belief in the salvation of Satan, not his belief in the salvation of all men.)

Clement of Alexandria is discussed by knowledgable authorities far moreso than the mere quote ascribed to him in Mike’s source, and has strong evidence for using his eonian language in a universalistic fashion: he believes all God’s punishments are remedial and even that the devil can repent. (Hanson extrapolates his predecessor Panteus’ universalism on the basis of Clement’s claim to have learned everything from his beloved teacher, but at most this can only be probable to some degree. I learned everything from Lewis myself, even my universalism in some real ways, but he was hardly one himself!)

Tertullian, like Tatian, was certainly ECT, although he does not regard endless torment as one of the doctrines of the church per se and speaks of the sinner after death being able to pay the uttermost farthing. Felix of Minucius was a disciple of Tertullian of the Latin school and his language may be safely interpreted as ECT as well. Cyprian of Carthage and Lactantius of North Africa, both of the Latin school obviously, followed suit later.

Hippolytus of Rome, who lived in the days of Clement and Origen, certainly speaks strongly of the punishment to come, but he was also avowedly a disciple of Origen and Dionysius of Alexandria (the latter of whom was also a well-known universalist and became famous as the Origen of the West), and Jerome (who started out a universalist supporter of Origen) says Hippolytus was attracted to Origen by all the affinities of heart and mind. (The Philosophumena of Hippolytus had originally been ascribed to Origen when first rediscovered. It uses limited punishment terms like {kolaston}.) Like other anti-heretics of his time, he never wrote against universalism, nor even against other points of Origen disputed by the anti-heretics of his time (such as Jerome, thus explaining in his own denunciations of Origen–but not for his universalism–why Hippolytus did not oppose him). If we may safely categorize the beliefs of Cyprian and Felix as following the school of Tertullian’s thought in their language, in continuity with Augustine after them (of the same local school), Hippolytus’ strong connections to Origen would tend to lend weight to the meaning of his language.

Hanson does not mention Cyril of Jerusalem at all; Beecher does but only briefly reckons him as perhaps being in Augustine’s camp. Cyril was a known anti-heretic but Beecher notes he never opposed universalism per se. I am suspicious of the citations from the “Convince Me” article, which on one hand rely on a refutation of annihilationism (with an eternal body for the wicked); and on the other hand simply rely on a convenient English translation of eonian as eternal in quoting from the judgment of the goats, after a whole paragraph exhorting us in the strongest language how necessary it is for us to believe that Christ can and will save sinners from sin since what is impossible with man is possible with God.

As Alex notes, it would be better to wait for the report by Ilaria (or a summary of it rather), although a Baptist historian (whose name escapes me and Amazon is currently down) has recently written a decent study of the period.

Thanks all for the responses.

Amazon is back up. That Baptist dissertation can be found here: … 0761827196

What I heard from other people is that he covers multiple authors, but only three seem discussed in the Amazon review and the book description (ClementAlex, Origen, and GregoryNys).

Followup to the comment about Clement of Rome (which I looked up recently for reply elsewhere):

One of the contentious points of the dispute between Jerome and Rufinus, was that Rufinus did not appreciate how Jerome was willing to throw Origen under the bus on account of his universalism while excusing other saints and teachers revered by both Rufinus and Jerome (as Jerome had also once revered Origen) on the same doctrine.

Thus in one of their exchanges, Rufinus concludes by sarcastically restating Jerome as saying that these and those men who hold the error as Jerome once did should be excused as Jerome wishes to be excused, but that Origen should not be excused for holding the error. Rufinus also attributes to Jerome himself the now-standard list of all the errors of Origen, including universal salvation of even devils, but the single “error” apparently held by the great teachers whom Jerome admires instead of censuring must be something they did not in fact oppose themselves and the writings of those men oppose all the other errors except one, so we know which “error” Rufinus was talking about.

In that list, which includes Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Thamaturges (Gregory the wonder-worker, aka St. Gregory of Pontus, led to conversion by the help of Origen himself), Gregory Nazianzus (one of the Cappadochian fathers and relative of the equally famous Gregory Nyssus), and Didymus the Blind (the well-known universalist nominated to the Alexandrian catechetical chair by Athanasius, whom Jerome admired so much he called him Didymus the Seer instead), Rufinus and Jerome both apparently include Clement of Rome as proponent of the “error” in question.

There cannot be much doubt they did so on the ground of the genuine epistle to the Corinthians, although Rufinus also translated (one form of the) Clementine Recognitions (now regarded by practically all scholars as composed well into the 2nd century at the earliest, or rather source of both known forms of 2nd Clement was then composed), because 2nd Clement contains no teaching pertaining to universal salvation, whereas 1st Clement seems to borrow from Isaiah 27:4-5 in explaining the redemptive purposes of the wrath of God.