The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The "fathers" on eternal torment

As far as I’m concerned, the “fathers’” beliefs carry no more weight than anyone else’s. But I know they matter a great deal to many Christians. It’s funny how pro-ET protestants appeal to the fathers’ authority on soteriology while affirming sola scriptura.

Here’s another interesting perspective, on the church fathers and ET.

Is Hell Eternal Punishment, Eternal Death or Disciplinary Restoration?

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Being closer in time to the apostles (whom Jesus instructed) whose words were still “ringing in their ears” as one early Christian described it, surely they were in a better position to provide correct Christian instruction, than the thousands of current teachers in hundreds of disparate denominations.

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If you actually believe this then it seems to me you should believe in ET.

The fruit of the spirit to Infernalists such as this must be primarily cherries because they sure like to pick those. One would think that these were the only early church fathers who spoke on the matter
I would be interested to know where all these sources emerged from in terms of the major schools of theology in the first century. You can tell who is from Georgia by the way they talk.
Augustine seemed to indicate that there were a lot of Universalists running around and that they had not abandoned the scriptures. So who was leading these large bands of believers?

Wallace is a typical dismissive apologist. Rather than show the argument against he stacks the case in favor of eternal hell based on hand picked witnesses. Universalists have always acknowledged those voices. Thats why they are more honest than most infernalists who keep those they seek to instruct in the dark until forced to acknowledge the existence of opposing voices.

Hell has become popular again only because of Universalism. Before we heretics came along to talk about the crazy uncle Christianity had been keeping in the basement, they had all but forgotten about hell. Of course I am a very late heretic in this matter.

This description of eternal conscious torment in Hell is certainly horrifying. It is hard to believe and even harder to accept. It is not something that we would wish on our worst enemy, and it is not something that we, as believers, can ignore. The Church Fathers affirm the Biblical truth related to the orthodox doctrine of Hell. It is a place of eternal conscious torment and a place that should motivate us to reach others with the truth, even as it motivates us to live a life that is worthy of the God who created us. C.S. Lewis encouraged us to view Hell not only from the eyes of those who don’t believe, but also from our own concerned and cautious position as believers:

“In all discussions of hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends… but of ourselves” (C.S. Lewis in “The Problem of Pain”)

There is is. The final word on the matter. You better believe hell is forever or you will end up there!
He literally threatens the reader not to disagree with him! As if beliefs in eternal hell was an essential creedal doctrine.


WHY? Which of the second-century fathers believed in ET?

Origen (185-255) for example taught the reconciliation of all things to God:

The Reconciliation of All things to God (Including the Devil!)

The restoration to unity must not be imagined as a sudden happening. Rather it is to be thought of as gradually effected by stages during the passing of countless ages. Little by little and individually the correction and purification will be accomplished. Some will lead the way and climb to the heights with swifter progress, others following hard upon them; yet others will be far behind. Thus multitudes of individuals and countless orders will advance and reconcile themselves to God, who once were enemies; and so at length the last enemy will be reached. …
De Principiis,

Through His Repentance, the Devil Shall Be Destroyed

When it is said that ‘the last enemy shall be destroyed’, it is not to be understood as meaning that his substance, which is God’s creation, perishes, but that his purpose and hostile will perishes; for this does not come from God but from himself. Therefore his destruction means not his ceasing to exist but ceasing to be an enemy and ceasing to be death. Nothing is impossible to omnipotence; there is nothing that cannot be healed by its Maker. De Principiis,

The Remedial Judgments of God

[Isa. I. II … ‘the fire which you have kindled’.] This seems to indicate that the individual sinner kindles the flame of his persona! fire and that he is not plunged into some fire kindled by another, …
God acts in dealing with sinners as a physician … the fury of his anger is profitable for the purging of souls. Even that penalty which is said to be imposed by way of fire is understood as applied to assist a sinner to health …[cf. Isa. xlvii. 14,15, x. 17, Ixvi. 16; Mal. iii. 3]
De Principiis, II.x.4,6

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Did you click the link I posted in the OP?? Tertullian, Clement of Rome, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus. Origen was an anomaly.

Yes, I did. I will offer the following information. Clement of Rome didn’t write “Second Clement.” He is believed to have been born in A.D. 30 and to have died about A.D. 100. He wrote a long letter to the Corinthians shortly after Paul and Peter’s deaths, and it contains nothing about eternal torment.

Also, it is important to note the word "αιονιος΅ translated as “eternal” in the Greek writings actually means “lasting” just as is the case in the New Testament.

Did Jesus believe in the possibility of eternal damnation? According to the authorized translation of Mark 3:29, He did!

Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation (Mark 3:28, 29)

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I have heard many contradictions on what the “fathers” taught, unless you are able to study the writings of the “fathers” entirely and in the original language, you will not be able to judge what they believed and taught since their writings are poorly translated as well. Some here have read the work from Ramelli, she investigated this issue thoroughly.

PS: You must also consider:

  • writings might have been ascribed to the wrong authors or might have been interpolated
  • a usage of words like “aionios” does not proof a believe in everlasting punishment
  • some taught everlasting punishment to the masses contrary to their own believe

BTW there are plenty papyri found and translated of early Christians:

Maybe this will give new insights within time, especially in their eschatology. Few of the findings have been translated yet due to a lack of Greek scholars.

As I see it… this point above is basically true but really of little difference in terms of credence, for example:

Someone might claim the likes of Clement’s thoughts on a given matter are questionable to which someone else might suggest there is a difference between authors named Clement. Well like big deal… like does that make one Clement’s thoughts on a given matter any more reliable than the other Clement’s thoughts etc? Someone might suggest one Clement was closer in time to the apostles and thus more reliable… really, how does matter?

One might biblically argue that the word of an elder has more weight than the word of some lunatic or cultist.

Does it matter? Since there were false teachers already at the time of Paul, maybe not - but we should address all arguments in a scholarly manner and consider historical evidence.

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Yep very true… it comes down to how the available evidence is determined on these things.

Please consider the last post on this thread by FineLinen in which many of the early church writers are quoted who indicate that all will ultimately be reconciled to God. That being the case, they didn’t believe that any would undergo eternal punishment.

The cases where aionios doesn’t mean eternal are the minority in ancient Greek literature. Unless there’s compelling contextual evidence indicating the standard definition isn’t being used in a given case, it’s best to assume the word means what it normally meant: eternal. There’s no indication in Tertullian or Irenaeus that the word meant anything less than eternal. Tertullian btw wrote this:

What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation?—as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in aught that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more “dissolute” in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord.

That doesn’t sound anything remotely like “correction”. Tertullian is describing retributive torture.

Here are some more quotes.

@Hermano @Bob_Wilson @JasonPratt what do you think of these quotes?

150 AD Justin Martyr: 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 everlasting punishment; and not only, as Plato said, for a period of a thousand years.

You’re making a compelling case for ET. :thinking: However although the Church Fathers are important, they aren’t infallible any more than Luther, Calvin or other more recent influential Christian.

The following passage is from from John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D) in his Homily of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians , Homily 4:

Here again he means, that Satan occupies the space under Heaven, and that the incorporeal powers are spirits of the air, under his operation. For that his kingdom is αιωνιος, in other words that it will cease with the present age

@Paidion that quote from Chrysostom is an aberration. I wish I still had this bookônios-Classical-Christian/dp/1611439701/ref=mp_s_a_1_11?keywords=ramelli&qid=1563936719&s=gateway&sr=8-11

For every instance you could post of aionios clearly being used to indicate less than eternal, I could quote 9 instances of it being used in ancient Greek literature indicating it clearly meant eternal.

Please do so. I thought aionios was scarcely used in ancient Greek but rather aidios. Are you familiar with the use of the word in the Septuagint which I consider more important in our case?

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Just passing through Qaz :slight_smile: Here are my thoughts on the article for you :slight_smile:

No historian of universalism has ever claimed that all of the Church Fathers were Universalists. Hanson in the late nineteenth century argued that universalism was ‘the prevailing doctrine of the Church’ but not that it was the only eschatological doctrine. Hanson talks about their having been six schools (or traditions) of Christian thought in the early Church – and although four were Universalist one was clearly infernalist and another annihilationist.

Ramelli in this century seems more guarded than Hanson – as far as I can see she merely argues that the ‘Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis’ was a doctrine of fine orthodox pedigree which was held by figures who made a hugely important contribution to the orthodox Christian faith – for example Origen was the first systematic theologian (and his real teachings have been distorted by his enemies), Eusebius was the first Church historian, Macrina was the founder of female monasticism, Gregory of Nyssa was named the ‘Father of the Fathers’ by the seventh ecumenical council for his contribution to Trinitarian doctrine, and there were also martyrs for the faith who were universalists such as St Pamphilus (indeed Origen is said to have died from the long term effects of torture). Additionally she suggest that the doctrine of Apocatastasis was held more widely than those keen to brand it as ‘heresy’ are prepared to credit.

My point here is that no historian of Universalism has ever claimed that Tertullian was a Universalist; he clearly was not (and Hanson saw him as the exemplar of the infernalist theology of the school of Carthage). I’ve never seen a case made for Cyprian or for any of the other Latin fathers mentioned in the list being Universalists either. So the article – although it tries to dismantle the Universalists’ historical claims - has completely misunderstood what that case is it would seem.

The writer of the article also seems not to be up to speed on the sources he using (which are only snippets to which he doesn’t appear to know the context sometimes – he needs to know more to make a convincing case I reckon). A few examples will suffice:

  1. Of course Paidon is right that the Second Epistle of Clement which the writer quotes as evidence of the third bishop of Rome’s infernalist beliefs is inadmissible. This was not by Clement – Eusebius in the fourth century knew that the attribution was false, and modern scholarship has established that it is not a pastoral epistle written in the first century but a homily written in the section century by someone who was not Clement of Rome. The only genuine letter we have by Clement is his first Epistle – and this does not contain any mention of eternal punishment.

  2. The writer fails to mention that the only full edition we have of Irenaeus’ ‘Against Heresies’ is a Latin translation of the Greek original in which any distinctions that Irenaeus might have originally made between aionos (age lasting, pertaining to the world to come) and aidios (eternal, the life of God that is shared/bestowed by God) are lost. Irenaeus clearly does believe in the punishment of the wicked – but is this punishment everlasting? Many fragments have survived of the Greek original of ‘Against Heresies’. And if Dr Ramelli is correct, the evidence suggests that in the original Greek Irenaeus does recognise and use the distinction between aionos and aidios. Also, there are many aspects of the theology of Irenaeus that point towards what was soon to become the doctrine of Apokatastasis although these are not worked out systematically – for example his repeated affirmation of the recapitulation of all beings in Christ. As far as I can see we cannot claim that Irenaeus was a universalist but we can infer that aspects of his theology were tending towards universalism.

  3. Titus Clement of Alexandria in his Stromateis does clearly suggest the doctrine of Apokatastasis in some cautious statements about the salvation of all beings and in his view of otherworldly punishment as being remedial and as being a ‘wise fire’ which discerningly burns away what is bad and leaves what is good. The author of the article has served up a fragment by Clement which has no context - it is from his ‘Book on the Soul’ and only two brief and disconnected fragment are extant). Clement, like Origen in 'Against Celsus and elsewhere, spent some time discussing contemporary philosophical views which he did not himself hold – and this fragment may well have formed part of a discussion of this type. It is certainly Plato’s view in his ‘Myth of Er’ that the soul is immortal and that certain categories of especially wicked sinners - including tyrants - suffer forever in a hell of torment. Perhaps Clement is discussing this view.