Geoffrey, I’m sorry that I somehow missed your 9/27 reply.
“I’d be interested to see primary sources from the first five centuries regarding the prevalence of Universalism.”
We have translated sources from the Ancient Church which indicate that universalism was a prevailing doctrine in the Ancient Church. I need to clarify the fine line between saying universalism was a prevailing doctrine versus universalism was the prevailing doctrine. I’m positive that it was a prevailing doctrine while I’m unsure about the latter. My two primary handy slices of Ancient Church history sources in regards to universalism are from Clement of Alexandria (150-211/216) and Augustine (354-430). Clement supported universalism while Augustine refuted universalism, and they both indicate that universalism was widespread in their respective time in Church history. Both Clement from the second century and Augustine from the fifth century discussed widespread debates about 1 Peter 3:18-20.
Clement of Alexandria Stromata, Book 6, Chapter 6 (logoslibrary.org/clement/stromata/606.html).
Augustine Letters 163 (logoslibrary.org/augustine/letters/163.html) & 164 (logoslibrary.org/augustine/letters/164.html).
Clement defended that 1 Peter 3:18-20 teaches that Christ descended to Hades between His death and resurrection while Christ preached the gospel in Hades to both Jews and gentiles, including the disobedient contemporaries of Noah. This interpretation went hand-in-hand with Ancient Church universalism. And opponents to universalism in the second century Church claimed that 1 Peter 3:18-20 describes Christ preaching the gospel in Hades only to Old Testament believers.
Over two centuries later in 414, Bishop Evodius wrote a letter to Bishop Augustine, which is now called Letter 163. Evodius asked Augustine about the identity of the “spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19.
“I ask also a fourth question: Who are those spirits in reference to whom the Apostle Peter testifies concerning the Lord in these words: “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit, in which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison?” giving us to understand that they were in hell, and that Christ descending into hell, preached the gospel to them all, and by grace delivered them all from darkness and punishment, so that from the time of the resurrection of the Lord judgment is expected, hell having then been completely emptied.”
The context of this question implies a widespread belief that Christ descended to hell and preached the gospel to everybody in hell. Particularly look at the phrase, “giving us to understand” implies that this was a common view in 414. And Augustine replied to Evodius per Letter 164 and described the contemporary debates about 1 Peter 3:18-20, which have some noticeable similarities to the second century debate per Clement.
We know that Augustine went on to become the premier father of Western Christianity. And Western Christianity mostly rejected universalism while Eastern Christianity kept universalism as an option to this day.
“True, but that same historical study (AFAIK) shows that the Church in ancient history believed that the judgment of the dead included unending postmortem punishments for people who died lost.”
Have I given you enough evidence that the Church in ancient history believed both universalism and unending postmortem punishments?
‘For that matter, the Church that composed the Nicene Creed (which includes a section about belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”) had a VERY different idea than do Evangelicals about what the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” is.’
I don’t see the phrase “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” including the sacraments, but it could imply apostolic succession, which I believe backslid terribly. And I agree that I understand water baptism somewhat differently than the Nicene Fathers, so “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” has some differences. On the other hand, I don’t see that these differences compare in magnitude to the differences between the Ancient Church view of the judgment of the living and the dead and Ultra-Universalism. And I suspect that your soteriology compares to inclusion theologies which require no faith, but I’ll have to see your exegesis to know for sure.
I guess with strictest technicality, I agree with you and Jason.