The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Was Universalism a major view of the Early Church?

Putting aside J.W. Hanson’s book “The first 500 Years”(which I have read some people question the validity of), is there proof that the Early Church believed in Universal Salvation? According to what I have found it would appear so, however I want to hear your opinions on this. I remember how much easier it made it for me to accept UR when I saw the possibility that many early believers held to it, it stopped sounding like a cultish teaching and gave it credibility. I will quickly quote some of the writings which I found on this subject,

All of these quotes come from this article
And you can see Gary himself explain why he thinks the early Church believed in UR here:

, Robin Parry (aka Gregory MacDonald)"]Universalism has often been labeled as heresy. It is considered by many to be unbiblical, unorthodox, unsavory, unhelpful, and unchristian— something to be avoided! Some universalists have attempted to strike back by arguing not only that their views are consistent with the Bible but also that universal restoration was the prevailing view of the church in its first five hundred years. The view that hell is an everlasting punishment is, they maintain, a theology that arose as pagan thinking infected the church! So the purer, more original Christianity is universalist, and those who affirm everlasting hell are the true heretics. The claim that all will be saved was believed by some universalists to be the gospel itself—the true heart of Christian faith.

I think that both of these approaches are unhelpful and that if we are to be true to the historic faith we need eschew both of these extremes and to relocate universalism somewhere between heresy and dogma.
However, from memory both TEU & TILoG reference Augustine’s comments you mention about there being at least very many universalists around at his time.

We discussed some of the issues with Schaff’s reference (& I posted Gary’s email to me about it):

Basically the problem is, as far as I know, no one knows what Schaff’s primary sources were (I’ll try to dig deeper into the Basil & Jerome quotes above…)! :frowning:

I also found another interesting thread about it:

We really need Ilaria Ramelli to publish her 13 years of research on the topic!

not much to add, but i can see a problem with St Jerome’s view. Ninevah and its king may have repented, but it didn’t take too long for Nahum to be sent with news they ignored, and destruction came.

The Early Christians probably got this idea from when Jonah was angry at God for saving Nineveh,

**“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents concerning calamity.” **

If God relents from calamity( the Hebrew word here is evil), then it follows that God will not harm people forever.

Also I have read elsewhere that Nahum was a later prophet to a different generation of Ninevites. I’m inclined to believe that this is the case since Jesus says in Luke 11,

"The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. "

From memory, some put the prophet of Nahum about a century after Jonah. And while God may have finished with the Assyrian generation of Nahum’s day. Overall, God isn’t really finished with reforming Assyria as a nation (Isaiah 19:18-25).

true, but i was talking on a national level…they as a people rejected the God of Israel a few hundred years later.

granted, on an individual scale, that makes no difference to Jonah’s Ninevite chums, but Jerome was talking sort of collectively (the king is an office), and given the way he words it, it sounds like “the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures” could eventually be neglected by those rational creatures, something i don’t see happening…it just made Nineveh appear to me not the strongest case for a universal reconciliation that holds, and doesn’t need renewing or more punishment in the future.
however, yes, i agree…“a God that relents” and who sends “one greater than Jonah” (albeit the context here is judgement to Israel for rejecting that “one”) is not the kind of God that needlessly torments forever.

It would appear that so many of the early church fathers who were “heavy hitters” and closest to the original biblical languages believed it or taught it, that it would seem somewhat self evident. I remember Julie Ferwerda bringing this issue up in her own research, and she seemed to agree. I don’t recall what her sources were. It is evident that this was a common, if not majority position in the early church. Folks like Augustine who imported their pagan views into christianity, as well as clear ulterior motives from others for promoting endless hell seem to show that what we now have was an idea imported in much later.

here’s a tentmaker video on this topic, that re-iterates some points here:

I’m not sure I really understand what the problem is, or what we’re discussing exactly, but Corpselight, hasn’t God warned Nineveh (Jonah and Nahum), then He has struck them (Nahum), and then He will heal them (Isaiah); kind of like Egypt, “they will return to the Lord, and He will be entreated by them and heal them”. Isn’t that the purely national aspect of reconciliation you were inquiring about? And I know all nations are thoroughly apostate, but man, if God can love the Assyrians, God can love any other nation (and could definitely love the Devil himself!). But I agree with what you said, I think Jonah is indeed a strong argument for God’s profound, redemptive love, if not an indirect argument for UR.

I think scripture testifies that God will reconcile most (if not all) nations to Him. If you could just convince me that the “reconciliation of nations” necessarily means the “reconciliation of all its citizens throughout all time”, I’d probably convert to a dogmatic universalism instantly. And that claim, as far as I understand, could only be argued from Paul.