The Evangelical Universalist Forum


I have a problem with Polycarp. Irenaeus was the first one who wrote the manuscript of his martyrdum(Polycarp 22:2
This account Gaius copied from the papers of Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp. The same also lived with Irenaeus.), but the author of this clearly believed in eternal conscious torment.

“Polycarp 2:3
And giving heed unto the grace of Christ they despised the tortures of this world, purchasing at the cost of one hour a release from eternal punishment. And they found the fire of their inhuman torturers cold: for they set before their eyes the escape from the eternal fire which is never quenched”

This is at the begining of the text. The author believed that the time of torture in fire was an hour, so Polycarp’s appointment who comes after it (“Thou threatenest me with fire that burneth but for a season, and is soon quenched. For thou art ignorant of the fire of the judgment to come, and of the eternal punishment reserved for the wicked”.) is clearly in connection with the words of the Irenaeus.

Being Irenaeus a disciple of Polycarp, he could have not lie about the doctrine of his master. And Polycarp, who teaches eternal conscious torment in this martyrdum, being a disciple of apostle John, knows betther than anyone the orthodox doctrine.

Assuming the line of tradition is accurate (which seems to be the majority consensus), I’m not overly concerned. Disciples don’t always understand their teachers for one thing (as the apostles themselves often demonstrated!) For another thing, universalists back in that day had a definite track record of warning hardcore sinners as though there was a hopeless punishment coming, even though in their other writings we can see they didn’t really believe that.

More to the point, I warn people about going up against the unquenchable fire, too, and I’m certainly a universalist! Just because salting by the unquenchable fire is the best of things and leads to peace with one another, as at Mark 9:49-50, doesn’t mean defying the unquenchable fire is a good idea. :wink: And again, the eternal unquenchable fire isn’t ever going to go out: outlasting the Holy Spirit is a losing strategy! :laughing:

However, the idea of escaping the eonian fire, as a rumination of the people suffering martyrdom (they set before their eyes the escape from the eonian fire), probably means the author (and/or the martyrs) weren’t thinking of the unquenchable fire as the best of things which everyone is salted with, leading to peace with one another.

Considering that even Peter (by extension of GosMatt’s account) had trouble accepting that, maybe it isn’t surprising that the apostles afterward or their disciples had trouble remembering it.

Slight update: I haven’t read far enough to be sure yet, but Dr. R’s tome doesn’t refer to the Martyrdom in her index and I haven’t been able to locate any reference to it yet in her text. She does mention (via Beauchemin’s Hope Beyond Hell, incidentally) that in the Letter to Diognetus, which may be ascribable to Polycarp, the author says that the aiônion fire works {mechri telous}, until an/the end. The implication is that the fire has a purpose that comes to an end, even if the fire itself doesn’t, and that wouldn’t fit ECT (though it would fit annihilation as well as universalism, so far as the reference goes).

It should be noted that if Polycarp taught ECT, then one way or another some disciples got something important way wrong, because Irenaeus and his Ephesian school of thought sound more anni than ECT. Allin thinks Polycarp (or the Epistle to the Philippians attributed to him) denied a resurrection of the wicked, which would again point to a huge failure of detail passed from teacher to disciple one way or another.

Beecher regards the Martrydom as being too redacted, at best, to use as evidence for what Polycarp thought. Commenting on Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, Beecher (pp203-204) writes,

Toward the end of his assessment of Patristic history of retribution, having explained briefly why he regards the Martyrdom as too interpolated to be of historical use, Beecher repeats of the Ad.Phil, “Of eternal punishment, or of restoration, or of annihilation, [Polycarp] says literally nothing.”

Hanson, by contrast, is willing to accept that the reply of Polycarp to Statius Quadratus is historical although the Martyrdom is interpolated; and translates the reply (I suspect following Schaff) as, “Thou threatenest me with a fire that burns for an hour, and is presently extinct, but art ignorant, alas! of the fire of eonian condemnation, and the judgment to come, reserved for the wicked in the other world.”

On the Martyrdom, Hanson observes that Eusebius (himself a universalist, which might be said to color his actions) omits much of it; but Hanson was willing (via Eusebius? – he isn’t clear) to regard the phraseology of the fire being eonian punishment as original. But “it is probable that the writer gave these terms the same sense that is given them by the Scriptures, Origen, Gregory and other Universalist writings and authors.” I would say “possible” not “probable” – that’s Hanson conveniently overreaching to count Polycarp as being among “the prevailing view”. :wink:

Thanks Jason. I didn´t know some of the references that you has posted. I will be reading that stuff.

But I doubt that Irenaeus hold annihilationism. For example, in Against Heresies chapter 28 Irenaeus criticizes Gnostics for believing in “temporal punishment”. He speaks of punishments harshers than others at the beggining, that it would be better for unbelievers that they had not born; he is talking about pain. And then he says that punishment will last forever. So it does not seem to refer only to “eternal death”, and state of death that will last forever. Justin also used the term punish in relation with pain and not death ““Plato used to say that Rhadamanthus and Minos would punish the wicked who came before them for a thousand years; and we say that the same thing will be done, but at the hand of Christ, and upon the wicked in the same bodies, united again to their spirits, which are now to undergo the punishment of ages, and not, as Plato said, for a period of only a thousand years.””. Many of the expressions of the New Testament about hell are rooted in the Old, but there are others as “eternal punishment” or “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” that does´t have scriptural base for conditionalism. If the punish implies concious pain, and the punishment is eternal, Irinenaeus is talking about infernalism.

I forgot that Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus and the fact that Against Heresies is known to be a rude translation of the original greek in 380 C.E. This does not prove nothing, but the fact that Hippolytus was his disciple, the “eternal punishment” contrasted with “temporal punishment” who appears in that chapter of Heresies 4 (this is the best argument, where he talks about degrees of punishment (from temporal to eternal, mentioning those sinners who would had been better they had not be born) that I have post.

And I know that the martyrdum has been interpolated, but Eusebius mentions that eternal fire stuff. At any rate, it is not the quote of Polycarp who makes me think that the author of the martyrdom hold an ECT view. It is the second chapter, which speaks of the sacrifice of the martyrs to suffer for an hour (the same time that Polycarp mentions) so they could get rid of eternal fire. The author understood the words of Polycarp not from flee from death, not as escape death, but as flee from punishment that would last more than an hour and a fire that will never be extinguished.

There seems to be many apostolic teachings that were not fully understood, or had agreement, within the early church fathers; universalism (or ECT) being typical. The millennium was constantly contradicted from father to father; as was Easter, the trinity, the soul, immortality, papacy, etc. That many of the early church fathers simply quoted biblical texts verbatim, or even sometimes extrapolated on them, does not in itself prove that there was a consensus of agreement among the ECF (nor that Polycarp or Justin actually believed that the fire was literal). Some things were understood in uncertain terms as mysteries - so that the only thing that they could do was to quote verbatim from similar biblical language. This does not guarantee that Polycarp (or Justin) viewed these terms in a literal sense.

Some ECF, such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, gave clear and unequivocal teaching on the nature of the dead, and the nature of punishments. These fathers, who lived at the same time as Iranaeus, were not contradicted nor challenged on their universalism. Origen’s anathemas were related to different subjects; besides, Origen, although dead, was a political adversary of Rome coveting complete dominion and authority over the entire church; so Origens anathema’s need to be understood from a perspective of politics, not heresy. Jerome taught many of the same things as Origen (such as our pre-earth existence as souls), and Jerome was not anathematized. In fact, Jerome, as subject to Pope Damasus, was an “enemy” of Origen! Rome sought to destroy the influence that Egypt (hence Origen) had over the christian world, so Origen was a political target in order to elevate Rome above Egypt as the center of religious authority.

It is because of these political incursions into the toddler church that we need to re-evaluate these teachings systematically, if truth is actually sought.