Church Fathers on Universalism

‘Fire and Brimestone’ has not always been a part of Christianity. Deep inside, I suspect that many today remain hopeful for universalism, but hold to the doctrines of Hell. It is interesting to note that as part and parcel with the development of the Logos Christology of Justin Martyr, and the 3rd century Alexandrians, that the idea of an eventual restoration of all things developed as well.

The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.—St. Basil the Great

There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments. — Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetural, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them…the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them. –Diodore of Tarsus, 320-394 A.D.

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.)

Wherefore also he drove him out of paradise and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some dare assert, but because He pitied him and desired that he should not be immortal and the evil interminable and irremediable. –Iraneaus of Lyons (182 A.D.)

These, if they will, may go Christ’s way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice. –Gregory of Nazianzeu, Bishop of Constantinople. (330 to 390 A.D.) Oracles 39:19

The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them. For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being.—St. Macrina the Blessed

In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one. –St. Jerome, 331-420

For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with iteself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. –Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of His grace. –Theodore of Mopsuestia, 350-428

We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life. –Clement of Alexandria

Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless eons (apeirou aionas) in Tartarus. Very properly, the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aionion period (aionios) calling its life and its allotted period of punishment, its aeon. –Olnmpiodorus (AD 550)

Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire.–Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.)

That in the world to come, those who have done evil all their life long, will be made worthy of the sweetness of the Divine bounty. For never would Christ have said, “You will never get out until you hqave paid the last penny” unless it were possible for us to get cleansed when we paid the debt. –Peter Chrysologus, 435

I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures. –St. Jerome

Our Lord is the One who delivers man , and who heals the inventor of evil himself. — Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

While the devil thought to kill One , he is deprived of all those cast out of hades, and he sitting by the gates, sees all fettered beings led forth by the courage of the Saviour.–Athanasius, the Great Father of Orthodoxy

Our Lord descends, and was shut up in the eternal bars, in order that He might set free all who had been shut up… The Lord descended to the place of punishment and torment, in which was the rich man, in order to liberate the prisoners. –Jerome

In the liberation of all no one remains a captive! At the time of the Lord’s passion the devil alone was injured by losing all the of the captives he was keeping. –Didymus, 370 AD

While the devil imagined that he got a hold of Christ, he really lost all of those he was keeping. –St. Chrysostom, 398 AD

Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to everyman. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil…to quote Zephaniah: “My determination to gather the nations, that I am assemble the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even say all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent”…Consider carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.—Origen (185 to 254 A.D.) He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.

The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal. in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus’ Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God’s enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies.—Jerome (340 to 420 A.D), commenting on Zephaniah 3:8-10

Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all. –Didymus the Blind

So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all” –Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3. (Origen founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.)

The Son “breaking in pieces” His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state. –Eusebius of Caesarea (65 to 340 A.D). Bishop of Caesarea

Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,’ for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection.– Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued…. for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. –Origen (185 to 254 A.D.) He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.

For it is needful that evil should some day be wholly and absolutely removed out of the circle of being. –Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

In the present life God is in all, for His nature is without limits, but he is not all in all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all. For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that He may check the course of impeity. –Theodoret the Blessed, 387-458

When death shall no longer exist, or the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all. –Origen

All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all?—Clement of Alexandria

T.C. has some interesting quotes from John Piper.

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122 Replies to “Church Fathers on Universalism”

  1. This is one of those doctrines that the East seems to give wonderment to…Apocatastasis. Here was Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. It was formally condemened in the first anathema against Origenism. It might have been put down by the Council of Constantinople,in 543. In so called modern times Schleiermacher was it’s proponent. Of course it was strongly attacked by Augustine. But the ultimate authority is of course the Holy Scripture, Matt. 25:29-46 / 2 Thess. 1:8-9, etc.
    Fr. R.

  2. In flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.
    2nd Thessalonians 1:8–9 (NLT)

    To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing [etc. through verse 46]
    Matthew 25:29–46 (NLT)

    Fear him who can cast both body and soul into hell… If your eye offends you pluck it out. It’s better to enter heaven with only one eye than enter hell with both.
    Matthew

    Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
    Mark 16:16 (NIV)

    He who does not believe is damned already.
    John 3

    He whose name was not written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
    Rev.

    Do you feel the that God’s wrath is on your head (John 3:16); His face was against you (Ps. 34:16); He hates you in your sins (Ps. 5:5); His curse and fury are your portion (Gal. 3:10)?
    If not, then I guess you’re not the type of Christian who believes that any of the above verses are necessarily telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    Personally, I’m agnostic and waiting for God to send down the latest edit (the N.T. is now older than the O.T. was when the N.T. was first written and still no further revelations?), and still no newer revelations or testament, something a bit clearer and more concise? For now I’m content to let the damnationists and non-damnationist Christians have fits over each other’s interpretations of Scripture and the relative importance they attach to various verses. Have at it guys!

    1. To bad non of those quotes has anything whatsoever to do with the question of eternal torment. They talk of eternal (not endless) destruction (not torment) condemnation, damnation and punishment but not a work of endless torment. The only plave you will find that is in Matt 25:41 and that is a mistranslation and a parable to boot.

        1. Not sure how to navigate the links you sent but looks like a good place for sharing and learning from others. I am one of the growing ranks of evangelical universalists. I was formerly a presbyterian minister so as you might imagine I am quite calvinistic. I simply do not believe there is one scripture verse properly translated and interpreted that teaches the retched doctrine of endless torment.

  3. Joel,
    Now a person who does not believe in the doctrine of development, is going to stand close to the developed doctrine of universalism? Again, strange…I must say I am a bit confused? Can you at least see my point to the historical, and methods? And again, this is certainly no attack!
    Fr. R.

    1. What’s sad is your refusal to read what is written, and instead, assume you know what is going on, and then judge EVERYONE and EVERYTHING on your presuppositions. Not once did I advocate universalism.

  4. Joel,
    I never said you “advocated” universalism, I said, you “stand close to” it. And you admit it, which is fine. But the main point is that it is a doctrine of development, and is not “orthodox”. There are doctrines that developed, that are both “orthodox” and heterodox. You seem to be riding on the edge in some doctrinal ideas. My thoughts at least. Again, not an attack, but the difference of both history and theology. I am one that is within both the Catholic and the Reformed positions as an Anglican and evangelical. You are simply not. Fair statement?
    Fr. R.

    1. I never admitted that I stand close to universalism. That’s silly. I said it was a hope for all compassionate people.

      Again, I have given up hope of having a decent conversation with you; it’s impossible.

      1. Joel,
        Well again, with Augustine, I do not see any form of universalism as “compassionate”. Nor would Calvin or Luther, or most of the Reformers I am sure. God must judge evil and sin! The “whosoever” of John 3:16 never includes evil.
        Fr. R.

        1. God judges evil and sin.

          At the same time our God did give his only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world (this text heavily borrowed from the traditional language Eucharistic Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer of TEC–which, at this point, essentially the same as 1662 BCP of the C of E).

          If God has once offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, what is there left to judge? The sin has been covered. It is finished.

          Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

          The only way to lose out is to deny so great a salvation. The decision on whether someone has denied so great a salvation is not for you or I to judge.

          Rather than looking forward to the judgment, it is wiser for humans to look forward to the grace.

          1. Grace is the true hope of humanity, I believe. While I hope that the unbelieving, the hopeless, the God deniers, the depraved will stand before God in grace, I fear hell and will not relax in human security.

  5. Joel,
    See there ya go again, with your poor judgment of history! Hope? for God to allow anybody and everybody? To my mind that makes no sense. Where is the holiness there? God is the Holy One not us. We can dream all day, but this is not just logic…simple.
    Fr. R.

      1. No Joel, I get ya point…I just don’t agree! In fact I am not sure the Atonement of Christ touches anything or I should say anyone that is not “elect”? Even the new creation will only allow the regenerate, at least in eternity.
        Fr. R.

        1. For God so loved the world. Not certain people of the world, but the world. The whole creation groans, as in childbirth.

          What isn’t touched be that?

          Put down your copy of Calvin’s Institutes and start reading something that takes the whole of scripture into account. Maybe Luther’s Bondage of the Will is a good place to start.

          If that isn’t good enough, try CFW Walther’s Law and Gospel. The 1929 version is online here: http://www.lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG/

          If you don’t want to read the long form of Law and Gospel, go to the Concordia Publishing House website and find God’s No and God’s Yes. This is a greatly edited version of Law and Gospel, and is an easier read.

          1. Robert,
            I have read Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and Walther’s Law and Gopsel. I am not saying I buy Calvin hook, line and sinker. He may not have taught limited atonement? That is a question. But, the whole idea of seeing some form, or any form of a universalism, well the scriptures certainly don’t teach that either. No, we must be biblical in our theology. And this is something all theolog’s have a problem with often. I know, I hold both the D. Phil. and Th.D. I taught theology in Jerusalem for several years. No, we must again be honest in the mystery of Scripture, and always so! I may be an Anglican, but I was also at one time a Roman Catholic. So I have seen both sides of this track also. The question however will always be for me, the biblical Text! So I am more Reformed in grace, the church is also always subject here., ever “reforming” itself by word & sacrament.
            Fr. R.

          2. What thesis of Walther do you think to be the most important?

            Meanwhile, you said:

            “No Joel, I get ya point…I just don’t agree! In fact I am not sure the Atonement of Christ touches anything or I should say anyone that is not “elect”? Even the new creation will only allow the regenerate, at least in eternity.”

            My response is that the Atonement of Christ touches everyone. Since you seem to like proof texts, I have one for you:

            “If any man sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.”

            If you really are an Anglican priest, I have no need to give you the reference on this one.

          3. Robert Chapman (I think?)

            That would be 1 John 2:1-2… A better rendering would be:
            “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate (Paraclete) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” Nothing here about the “sins” of the whole world!
            Father Robert

          4. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1Jo 2:1-2 ESV)

          5. The literal Greek text does not have “sins” of the whole world. Literally “the sins of us”, it is at the end of the text, “for the whole world”. The “efficacy” is not at all faulty, but it is for the believer, the unbelieving do not experience this, simply.
            Fr. R.

          6. You can skip the very real fact if you want, but it says what is says. And this being the ESV!

            καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστιν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, οὐ περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου. (1Jo 2:2 BGT)

            Take out ‘sins’, still says the same thing…

            Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also of the whole world.

          7. and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1Jo 2:2 NAS)

            Yep – same thing. ‘those’ in the NASB refers to what? SINS.

          8. Further,

            The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Joh 1:29 ESV)

            Augustine –

            Both of these, then, that is, both baptism and death, were submitted to by Him, not through a pitiable necessity, but of His own free pity for us, and as part of an arrangement by which, as one man brought sin into the world, that is, upon the whole human race, so one man was to take away the sin of the world.

          9. But never “the sins of the whole world” – the believers in the whole world. As the literal text, “the propitiation of our sins”….those of the whole world, can also only be believers. See the Greek Text alone Joel! It can be said to be the whole world, but not the “sins” of the whole world!
            Fr. R.

          10. I posted the Greek text and the NASB. Both say the same thing. ‘those…of the world’ refers back to the ‘sins’. You are reading your Calvinism into the passage. Dangerous.

          11. Joel,
            No, I am reading the Greek text myself. Can you read the Greek text? It says “sins of us”, and “the whole world”. Logic, Christ has not died for the “sins” but “sin” of the world! Big difference! And not just Calvin.
            Fr. R.

          12. Yes, I can read the Greek text and yes, just like every other English translation, it says what it says. ‘Sins of the world’ not just a few

          13. Note also in 2 Peter 2:1, Christ “bought” them, but they are not redeemed. The efficacy is but to the redeemed. To speak and old scholastic term, “sufficient” for all, but “efficient” only for the believer, or the elect (chosen). Like 1 John 2:1-2 also.
            Fr. R.

          14. Since it is a difficult time at making you see something, I’m going to break it down for you,

            ‘Stupid’ refers to your ad hom attack against me about being ‘universalist.’ That was stupid.

          15. From AT Roberton:

            For the whole world (peri holou tou kosmou). It is possible to supply the ellipsis here of tōn hamartiōn (the sins of) as we have it in Heb_7:27, but a simpler way is just to regard “the whole world” as a mass of sin (1Jo_5:19). At any rate, the propitiation by Christ provides for salvation for all (Heb_2:9) if they will only be reconciled with God (2Co_5:19-21).

            Barnes:

            The phrase “the sins of” is not in the original, but is not improperly supplied, for the connection demands it. This is one of the expressions occurring in the New Testament which demonstrate that the atonement was made for all people, and which cannot be reconciled with any other opinion.

          16. I was just quoting it out of the Book of Common Prayer (TEC), although previous versions clearly say sins, also.

            This passage of scripture, as every Anglican priest knows, is part of the Comfortable Words. The complete set (Matthew 11.28, John 3.16, 1 Timothy 1.15, and 1 John 2.1-2) are read by the priest after declaring the absolution of sins in the traditional services.

            You can try to turn “sins” in to “sin” all you want. Better people than you and I have translated it “sins” through about 500 years right now in the BCP. We can also refer directly to the Authorized Version up to any modern translation: all use “sins.”

            Anyone that claims to be an Anglican priest that lets the Comfortable Words slip by him is either (1) not really a priest or (2) not a very knowledgeable priest. Either you are a fraud or a poor example.

            More importantly, a simple Google search of one of the phrases you used on this post shows that you infect other web pages with the same one-note tripe. You don’t even argue Calvinism well.

            It is now clear to me that you are a troll.

          17. Robert Chapman,
            Your lucky mate, I am also a former Royal Marine also, besides an Anglican priest. I have, as Joel knows been in process here. I am not really arguing for Calvinism either. My point was the mystery of Scripture, thus some of Calvin’s thought. I don’t have to “prove” anything. It is just sad, that people are just so bliblically ignorant, such as yourself. As to the Anglican Communion, there are many so-called Calvinist rectors, etc. Perhaps not in the US however? But I am done with your lack of both scripture and honest biblical mystery, that means search.

            Fr. Robert

          18. What in the world does being a ‘Royal Marine’ have to do with anything?

            Seems the only person who knows anything about anything is you.

            Arrogance is assuming that because someone doesn’t agree with you, they are ‘uneducated.’

  6. Joel and Robert, I note the lack of scripture in most of your arguments. As another Anglican has said, “I only think in Scripture”. Here is the ballgame for me! Theology simply MUST be biblical. Check out some of the writings of Geerhardus Vos.
    Fr. R.

    1. What arguments? You think everything is an argument. Neither of us is arguing for Universalism, yet, you think we are, and thus, your presuppose that you must hit the nail with the hammer. Shame.

      1. Oh please Joel, your middle name is argument! Least your version, always some form of your historical. I could challenge you to read Calvin (as I have). He is always foremost an exegete that’s from scripture.
        Fr. R.

          1. Sadly Joel, you “prove” nothing! My point…always! And biblical argument is simply the logic of the text, whatever it says. My point again, text and scripture, please? Often it is just “I” think etc.Just as the doctrine of the Trinity must rest ultimately on the Person of Christ and His relation to the Father. But it must be confirmed by the religious experience of redemption through the Son, and of sanctification thru the Spirit. Thus no universalism, just a paticular redemption of the elect! (2 Thess. 2:13-14)
            Fr. R.

  7. Joel,

    I never made any ad hom statements about you! Look in your dictionary about what ad hominem means…to the man – of an argument directed at one’s prejudices rather than one’s intellect.

    This will be my last time on your blog. If you care to? You can e-mail me. But right now, I am done here.

    Father Robert

    1. Read your last comment here, in which you accused me of being, of all things, a universalist, claiming for yourself, ‘Augustine and Tertullian.’ Now, this is contrary to everything I have stated, yet, you have your own presuppositions. Shame.

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