The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Early Church Father issue

I’ve become a Universalist because of how I view what The Bible says, and in the face of that would not care if none of the Early Church Fathers agreed.

If supplemental to the Biblical Argument I will bring the Church Fathers into it at all, my interest in them is selective. The common statement that Universalism was believed or at least no contradicted by any Greek father and that Eternal Damnation came solely from Latin speakers like Tertulian seems rather simplistic to me.

Clement of Alexandria and Origen are among the pre-nicean fathers the ones with whom the most air tight case can be made. There are a number of views they hold I consider quite wrong, so I certainly can pin the antiquity of Universalism on them.

The so called, Apostolic Father I know said nothing definitive either way on the issue

There are mainly three who are both early enough and respected enough for me to even reasonably care if their Soterology was the same as mine. Justin Martyr, Theopholus of Antioch, and Ireaneus of Lyons.

In the case of Justin this Blogpost seeks to claim he clearly wasn’t a Universalist.

First would be the question of is the word translated Everlasting is Aionos or something else. But even if it is, there follows the question of what is meant by the contrasting to Plato supposedly saying a Thousand years.

One website claiming Irenaus was not a Universlaist is this one with doesn’t make much of an argument, no quotes.

A comment on this blog post quotes Ireneaus.

The question again is if the word translated Everlasting is Aionos.

Theopholius has been quotes often as Supporting Unvierslaism, and has no quotes particularity used by thosoe against it. But I’m not yet aware of anything he wrote that goes in-depth on on his Soterology.

So all three of these men I intend to research more in depth. If anyone here knows anything useful I would appreciate it?

The church fathers were no different than us. They are prone to bad theology. We are all prone to it. That said, I don’t really care who said what, when, where or why, aside from God himself. I guess there comes a point where one comes to terms that humans, even human ‘Fathers’ spiritual or physical can still be a case of the blind leading the blind. Imagine the freedom to discover that most Christians are frauds who cover up their faults and act like they don’t have them. This perpetuates to the gullible (myself included at one time) that some people “have it figured out”. Once you witness the moral failings of these supposed ‘people who have attained’ you wake up from your stupor and stop looking to them for the answers. Instead you trust that God is going to lead you the truth. He might do that THROUGH people, but not from some sermon or theological discourse.

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There are some very interesting remarks on Theopholus of Antioch’s & others’ writings in the early church
in the following discussion:

“And God showed great kindness to man, in this, that He did not suffer him to continue being in sin forever;
but as it were, by a kind of banishement, cast him out of paradise in order that, having punishment expiated
within an appointed time, and having been disciplined, he should afterwards be recalled…just as a vessel,
when one being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or remade that it may become new and entire; so also
it happens to man by death. For he is broken up by force, that in the resurrection he may be found whole; I
mean spotless, righteous and immortal. --Theophilus of Antioch (168 A.D.)”

If Theophilus is counted, that’s probably late enough to count Bardaisan of Syria, who was pretty clearly a Christian universalist philosopher of no small importance in his day. He was instrumental in finally leading one of the Agbar kings to Christianity, and with his friend (and fellow Christian) Julius Africanus (a Roman historian and scientist/engineer responsible for the new aquaduct to Rome in that day), helped promote Christianity at the Imperial court. He’s probably the honored Syrian sage who sent Clement to Alexandria to be converted, too.

(He got pilloried for being supposedly heretical on other points, primarily by another Christian universalist much later – who obviously had no problem with that idea – but evidently he was picked up by Gnostics claiming him as their teacher after his death. He definitely opposed the sort of things they attributed to him later. But he also had a very mystical way of talking about natural reality, and this led to a lot of misunderstandings.)

Keeping in mind the variable scope of the terms being used (they were “eonian”, not “aidios”), I think there is still enough contextual evidence to regard Justin not as universalist but probably annihilationist. Ditto Irenaeus, although there’s some question about whether he thought Christ would save all human sinners at last, just not the rebel angels. Dr. Ramelli argues he believed in universal human salvation; on further examination I’m not so sure I’d follow her on that, but he does say some pretty suggestive things.

Ignatius would be another Apostolic Father to keep track of, but his writings either don’t talk about the topic or seem heavily interpolated to the point that it’s hard to figure out what he did believe about the scope and/or persistence of salvation.

It might be worth noting that during the 4th century spat over universal salvation between the Latin super-Fathers Jerome and Rufinius, Ruf used to remind Jerome that they both still acknowledged Clement of Rome (2nd or 3rd pope) was a Christian universalist. It’s hard to say whether they’re doing so thanks to some spurious epistles from him, or whether it was from writing still extant in their day.

I hadn’t heard of him, Thanks.

Clement of Rome is complicated because many writings are attributed to him, but only First Clement is likely to be authentic, I’ve seen anti-Universlaists use Second Clement.

Here is my modus operandi concerning this issue:

I’ve posts about the Hades, Gehenna distinction on my Blog.

Gabe, I don’t understand this sentiment. The church fathers WERE different from us. They lived much closer to apostolic teaching than we, 2000 years later. They were more likely to correctly understand the teaching of the apostles, including apostolic practice in the churches.

Also, how do you know what God said? Were Paul’s words, the words of God? Were the words that Paul wrote in his letters dictated to him by God?
Are only the Biblical writings inspired by God? If so, how do you know what list of writings are the inspired ones? The Catholic canon of Scripture? The Orthodox canon? The Protestant canon? The Mormon canon?

Wow, that’s damn good stuff being offered in this thread.


Thank you all.

I hadn’t heard of Bardaisan of Syria, either. The other day i saw him mentioned in reviews of a book by Ilaria Ramelli, namely The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Brill, 2013. 890 pp).

One reviewer said it “is the most important book on universalism and the Church Fathers to be published in the past hundred years.”

In response to a different and critical review of her book by Michael McClymond (McC), she wrote:

“Augustine himself, after rejecting apokatastasis, and Basil attest that still late in the fourth and fifth centuries this doctrine was upheld by the vast majority of Christians (immo quam plurimi).”

"Of course there were antiuniversalists also in the ancient church, but scholars must be careful not to list among them — as is the case with the list of “the 68” antiuniversalists repeatedly cited by McC on the basis of Brian Daley’s The Hope of the Early Church — an author just because he uses πῦρ αἰώνιον, κόλασις αἰώνιος, θάνατος αἰώνιος, or the like, since these biblical expressions do not necessarily refer to eternal damnation. Indeed all universalists, from Origen to Gregory Nyssen to Evagrius, used these phrases without problems, for universalists understood these expressions as “otherworldly,” or “long-lasting,” fire, educative punishment, and death. Thus, the mere presence of such phrases is not enough to conclude that a patristic thinker “affirmed the idea of everlasting punishment” (p. 822). Didache mentions the ways of life and death, but not eternal death or torment; Ignatius, as others among “the 68,” never mentions eternal punishment. Ephrem does not speak
of eternal damnation, but has many hints of healing and restoration. For Theodore of Mopsuestia, another of “the 68,” if one takes into account also the Syriac and Latin evidence, given that the Greek is mostly lost, it becomes impossible to list him among the antiuniversalists. He explicitly ruled out unending retributive punishment, sine fine et sine correctione.

I have shown, indeed, that a few of “the 68” were not antiuniversalist, and that the uncertain were in fact universalists, for example, Clement of Alexandria, Apocalypse of Peter, Sibylline Oracles (in one passage), Eusebius, Nazianzen, perhaps even Basil and Athanasius, Ambrose, Jerome before his change of mind, and Augustine in his anti-Manichaean years. Maximus too, another of “the 68,” speaks only of punishment aionios, not aidios and talks about restoration with circumspection after Justinian, also using a persona to express it. Torstein Tollefsen, Panayiotis Tzamalikos, and Maria Luisa Gatti, for instance, agree that he affirmed apokatastasis.

It is not the case that “the support for universalism is paltry compared with opposition to it” (p. 823). Not only were “the 68” in fact fewer than 68, and not only did many “uncertain” in fact support apokatastasis, but the theologians who remain in the list of antiuniversalists tend to be much less important. Look at the theological weight of Origen, the Cappadocians, Athanasius, or Maximus, for instance, on all of whom much of Christian doctrine and dogmas depends. Or think of the cultural significance of Eusebius, the spiritual impact of Evagrius or Isaac of Nineveh, or the philosophico-theological importance of Eriugena, the only author of a comprehensive treatise of systematic theology and theoretical philosophy between Origen’s Peri Archon and Aquinas’s Summa theologiae. Then compare, for instance, Barsanuphius, Victorinus of Pettau, Gaudentius of Brescia, Maximus of Turin, Tyconius, Evodius of Uzala, or Orientius, listed among “the 68” (and mostly ignorant of Greek). McC’s statement, “there are no unambiguous cases of universalist teaching prior to Origen” (p. 823), should also be at least nuanced, in light of Bardaisan, Clement, the Apocalypse of Peter’s Rainer Fragment, parts of the Sibylline Oracles, and arguably of the NT, especially Paul’s letters.

Certainly, “there was a diversity of views in the early church on the scope of final salvation.” Tertullian, for instance, did not embrace apokatastasis. But my monograph is not on patristic eschatology or soteriology in general, but specifically on the doctrine of apokatastasis. Thus, I treated the theologians who supported it, and not others." … coming-in/

Michael McClymond vs Dr. Ramelli on patristics … =69&t=5719

Polycarp and Irenaeus

“…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).” … =11&t=4519

Thing is those who left writings behind are only a minority of them. And we know from the New Testament false doctrines popped up very early on.

Indeed, they are different in ways that we are different from those 200 years ago and those will be different from us 200 years from now. Essentially the differences that exist between all people. This is what I would call a ‘given’, it is so plain, it need not be explained. Therefore, based on my context, I think it is clear that they are no different than us in regards to their theology disputes. Having better odds of being right doesn’t make one’s beliefs less error prone. The equation itself and the variables may be faulty in your reasoning as to why being closer would mean being more accurate. One could argue being further away allows one to see the larger picture and thus, maybe the odds of that being more accurate play into the part. But, in the end, the dispute is somewhat silly, because you appear to be basing it all off of odds anyway. We all do that, but when we do that we must understand that no matter what equation we used, they are still just odds and thus we are capable of theological error. Whether we are more likely, or less likely is largely irrelevant, because truth is truth, no matter the odds. We either get it right, or we don’t. Simple as that.

This question is very difficult to answer without facing persecution. That said, I am quite comfortable with answering it now. As I mentioned in the my prior post, once you realize others have no advantage over you when it comes to following God, then the fear of man vanishes. Now, to answer your question from my perspective. I believe many books and writings contain truth. But I do not believe any one book has the monopoly on the truth. I believe the Bible contains a lot of truth. Many treasures in there. But the treasures are not limited to the Bible, nor does the Bible contain only truth. There is most definitely error contained therein, at least from my viewpoint. So, who determines what is truth? I think ultimately that comes down to each of us individually. I can already hear the evangelicals accusing me of moral relativity, which is NOT what I said, nor what I believe. I said, it comes down to each of us individually to believe the truth. God, through his spirit must guide us into this truth. It is a process and we learn along the way… For example, if someone writes an article in the paper and it is truth, the spirit will tell me. Hence, God is living and active. That is what i believe.

Never a truer word spoke Gabe… excellent!!

Where could i find a quote of that?

Are there any known spurious epistles of Clement that support universalism?

How seriously should we take these writers? Irenaeus, for example, thought Jesus died at about 50 years old:

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears (Acts 20:29-31).

There is only one genuine writing of the apostolic Clement , Paul’s fellow worker, (born around A.D. 30) and that is Clement’s letter to the Corinthians.

As for factual errors, you find them in the early Christian writings, in the New Testament as well as in those early Christian writings that didn’t make Athanasius’ list known as the “New Testament canon.” For a New Testament example, Jude quotes from the book of Enoch, stating that its author the the historic Enoch, the 7th from Adam. This is clearly false. For the author of Enoch refers to the Parthians in chapter 54 verse 9. However, the Parthians were altogether unknown in history before 250 B.C.