Friday 18 December 2015

Universalism and the Church Fathers

Origen, an early church Father is often considered the one whom universalism came from. Some suggest that Gregory of Nyssa even taught universalism, but that can be contested. Did the early Church Fathers teach universalism? Let's take a look at the letters of the Fathers
You can read Gregory of Nyssa's document here:

As I have said in a previous paper, To claim Universalism was taught by the early church because it wasn't condemned at that time but only later is an argument from silence. The fact the Bible itself doesn't teach universalism condemns their heresy regardless of a council, just as Anti Trinitarianism is condemned by the Bible regardless of a council opposing it. Tertullian in his letter against Praexeus condemned Modalism. Are we to assume that Modalism is valid just because a council condemned it later? A council isn't the ultimate authority, the Bible is but that doesn't mean it is the only authority. The council as an authority can be used but the council is subordinate to the Bible.

A church father not explicitly writing against or addressing universalism is irrelevant, but what they say about the destiny of man nevertheless, puts a lot of the arguments used by the universalists down.

Granted even if a church father was a hopeful universalist, it still gives NO credence to the universalist position as a valid position to take.

The argument that a church father saying "eternal punishment means he actually meant just punished for a long time" is not going to cut it either.

Irenaeus of Lyons may be explored in another article if the Lord Wills.

Ignatius of Antioch
We read the following from Ignatius of Antioch, a student of the apostle John and this is what he said:

"Chapter 16. The fate of false teachers

Do not err, my brethren. James 1:16 Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.

Chapter 17. Beware of false doctrines

For this end did the Lord allow the ointment to be poured upon His head, John 12:7 that He might breathe immortality into His Church. Be not anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us?

Ignatius gives us a stern warning with respect to false teachers and even tells us the fate of such men in the context. He warns us against the false doctrines of men and those who hold to the false teachings will be lost, as well as those who take those false teachings as true.

He doesn't explicitly or implicitly say that those in hell will eventually be redeemed, he rather indicates that their fate will go on forever, not purely for an age or a period.

Second Clement
Within the context of this letter, there is a common theme running through. To love not the world nor the things of this world and to submit to Christ.

The letter itself speaks of a severe penalty for those who do not obey Jesus and the Gospel:
"2Clement 5:5 And ye know, brethren, that the sojourn of this flesh in this world
is mean and for a short time, but the promise of Christ is great and
marvelous, even the rest of the kingdom that shall be and of life
eternal. 5:6 What then can we do to obtain them, but walk in holiness and
righteousness, and consider these worldly things as alien to us, and
not desire them? 5:7 For when we desire to obtain these things we fall away from the
righteous path. 6:1 But the Lord saith, No servant can serve two masters. If we
desire to serve both God and mammon, it is unprofitable for us: 6:2
For what advantage is it, if a man gain the whole world and forfeit
his soul? 6:3 Now this age and the future are two enemies. 6:4
The one speaketh of adultery and defilement and avarice and deceit,
but the other biddeth farewell to these. 6:5 We cannot therefore be friends of the two, but must bid farewell to the one and hold companionship with the other. 6:6
Let us consider that it is better to hate the things which are here,
because they are mean and for a short time and perishable, and to
love the things which are there, for they are good and imperishable.
For, if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; but if
otherwise, then nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if
we should disobey His commandments."

The warning is to believers, but the message still remains. Eternal punishment awaits those who do not listen to Jesus and resist his will, going their own way and making it clear we cannot live in the pleasures of sin and claim Christ as our rock and foundation. We also observe another point made by the writer:
"2Clem 8:1 While we are on earth then, let us repent: for we are clay under the
craftsman's hand. 8:2 For in like manner as the potter, if he be making a vessel, and it
get twisted or crushed in his hands, reshapeth it again; but if he have once put it into the fiery oven, he shall no longer mend it: so also let us, while we are in this world, repent with our whole heart of the evil things which we have done in the flesh, that we may be saved by the Lord, while we have yet time for repentance. 8:3 For after that we have departed out of the world, we can no more make confession there, or repent any more. 8:4 Wherefore, brethren, if we shall have done the will of the Father and kept the flesh pure and guarded the commandments of the Lord, we shall receive life eternal."

Once death occurs, the time for repentance and forgiveness ends. There is nothing in this letter to suggest that one has a second chance after death, Clement of Rome happens to believe there isn't such.

To further look into his words we see this:
"2Clem 16:1 Therefore, brethren, since we have found no small opportunity for
repentance, seeing that we have time, let us turn again unto God that
called us, while we have still One that receiveth us. 16:2 For if we bid farewell to these enjoyments and conquer our soul in refusing to fulfill its evil lusts, we shall be partakers of the mercy of Jesus. 16:3But ye know that the day of judgment cometh even now as a burning oven, and the powers of the heavens shall melt, and all the earth as lead melting on the fire, and then shall appear the secret and open works of men. 16:4 Almsgiving therefore is a good thing, even as repentance from sin> Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving better than both. And love covereth a multitude of sins, but prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death. Blessed is every man that is found full of these. For almsgiving lifteth off the burden of sin. 

17:1 Let us therefore repent with our whole heart, lest any of us perish by the way. For if we have received commands, that we should make this our business, to tear men away from idols and to instruct them, how much more is it wrong that a soul which knoweth God already should perish! 17:2 Therefore let us assist one another, that we may also lead the weak upward as touching that which is good, to the end that we all may be saved: and let us convert and admonish one another. 17:3 And let us not think to give heed and believe now only, while we have departed home, let us remember the commandments of the Lord, and not suffer ourselves to be dragged off the other way by our worldly lusts; but coming hither more frequently, let us strive to go forward in the commandments of the Lord, that we all having the same mind may be gathered together unto life. 17:4 For the Lord said, I come to gather together all the nations, tribes, and languages. Herein He speaketh of the day of His appearing, when He shall come and redeem us, each man according to his works. 17:5 And the unbelievers shall see His glory and His might: and they shall be amazed when they see the kingdom of the world given to Jesus, saying, Woe unto us, for Thou wast, and we knew it not, and believed not; and we obeyed not the presbyters when they told us of our salvation. And Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be for a spectacle unto all flesh. 17:6 He speaketh of that day of judgment, when men shall see those among us that live ungodly lives and dealt falsely with the commandments of Jesus Christ. 17:7 But the righteous, done good and endured torments and hated pleasures of the soul, when they shall behold them that have
done amiss and denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds, how that they are punished with grievous torments in unquenchable fire, shall give glory to God, saying, There will be hope for him that hath served God with his whole heart."

Pleasure is not the highest calling of the Christian life. While there may be debates about certain issues such as hobbies, sports, movies etc as to whether or not a Christian can do these things or not, Regardless of such, they are NOT the highest calling of Christian people.

There is a penalty on those who live wicked lives and not repent. They may witness the glory of Christ, but they will never be saved, neither in this age nor the age to come. We are told by Clement to repent NOW, to receive Christ NOW and not later.
You can read the letter in question here:

The Martyrdom of Polycarp
In this letter, we observe a few things:
"Polycarp 2:1 Blessed therefore and noble are all the martyrdoms which have taken place according to the will of God (for it behoveth us to be very scrupulous and to assign to God the power over all things). 2:2 For who could fail to admire their nobleness and patient endurance and loyalty to the Master? seeing that when they were so torn by lashes that the mechanism of their flesh was visible even as far as the inward veins and arteries, they endured patiently, so that the very bystanders had pity and wept; while they themselves reached such a pitch of bravery that none of them uttered a cry or a groan, thus showing to us all that at that hour the martyrs of Christ being tortured were absent from the flesh, or rather that the Lord was standing by and conversing with them. 2:3 And giving heed unto the grace of Christ they despised the tortures of this world, purchasing at the cost of one hour a release from eternal punishment. And they found the fire of their inhuman torturers cold: for they set before their eyes the escape from the eternal fire which is never quenched; while with the eyes of their heart they gazed upon the good things which are reserved for those that endure patiently, things which neither ear hath heard nor eye hath seen, neither have they entered into the heart of man, but were shown by the Lord to them, for they were no longer men but angels already. 2:4 And in like manner also those that were condemned to the wild beasts endured fearful punishments, being made to lie on sharp shells and buffeted with other forms of manifold tortures, that the devil might, if possible, by the persistence of the punishment bring them to a denial; for he tried many wiles against them.

Polycarp 3:1 But thanks be to God; for He verily prevailed against all. For the right noble Germanicus encouraged their timorousness through the constancy which was in him; and he fought with the wild beasts in a signal way. For when the proconsul wished to prevail upon him and bade him have pity on his youth, he used violence and dragged the wild beast towards him, desiring the more speedily to obtain a release from their unrighteous and lawless life. 3:2 So after this all the multitude, marvelling at the bravery of the God-beloved and God-fearing people of the Christians, raised a cry, 'Away with the atheists; let search be made for Polycarp.'

Polycarp 4:1
But one man, Quintus by name, a Phrygian newly arrived from Phrygia, when he saw the wild beasts, turned coward. He it was who had forced himself and some others to come forward of their own free will. This man the proconsul by much entreaty persuaded to swear the oath and to offer incense. For this cause therefore, brethren, we praise not those who deliver themselves up, since the Gospel doth not so teach us."

The believers who suffered for the name of Jesus were quite willing to endure a short time of persecution for the sake of Jesus and recognized the price of rejecting Jesus or not believing in him, which would result in not hell fire lasting for a season, but hell fire lasting for eternity.

Hear also what Polycarp says to the proconsul in the context:
"Polycarp 11:1 Whereupon the proconsul said; 'I have wild beasts here and I will throw thee to them, except thou repent' But he said, 'Call for them: for the repentance from better to worse is a change not permitted to us; but it is a noble thing to change from untowardness to righteousness' 11:2 Then he said to him again, 'I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, if thou despisest the wild beasts, unless thou repent.' But Polycarp said; 'Thou threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched: for thou art ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why delayest thou? Come, do what thou wilt.'"

Here is a point to drive home, The proconsol would not be threatened by a judgement by that was temporary, that would not instill a fear into his heart, because it would be a place where he would look forward to getting out of said hellfire.

Here is the whole of The Martyrdom of Polycarp for you to read:

The Epistle to Diognetis
Mathetes wrote this letter to give an exposition on the Christian faith to Diognetis, a ruler. This is what Mathetes says in Chapter 10 of his letter:
"10:5 For happiness consisteth not in lordship over one's neighbours, nor in desiring to have more than weaker men, nor in possessing wealth and using force to inferiors; neither can any one imitate God in these matters; nay, these lie outside His greatness. 10:6 But whosoever taketh upon himself the burden of his neighbour, whosoever desireth to benefit one that is worse off in that in which he himself is superior, whosoever by supplying to those that are in want possessions which he received from God becomes a God to those who receive them from him, he is an imitator of God.

10:7 Then, though thou art placed on earth, thou shalt behold that God liveth in heaven; then shalt thou begin to declare the mysteries of God; then shalt thou both love and admire those that are punished because they will not deny God; then shalt thou condemn the deceit and error of the world; when thou shalt perceive the true life which is in heaven, when thou shalt despise the apparent death which is here on earth, when thou shalt fear the real death, which is reserved for those that shall be condemned to the eternal fire that shall punish those delivered over to it unto the end. 10:8 Then shalt thou admire those who endure for righteousness' sake the fire that is for a season, and shalt count them blessed when thou perceivest that fire ...

Christians endure persecution for a season but will receive the gift of heaven at the end of their struggle, whereas the unrighteous people's punishment will last for ever. Why fear the second death if it doesn't have eternal consequences?

To Autolycus Book 1 chapters 1-14
"Therefore, do not be sceptical, but believe; for I myself also used to disbelieve that this would take place, but now, having taken these things into consideration, I believe. At the same time, I met with the sacred Scriptures of the holy prophets, who also by the Spirit of God foretold the things that have already happened, just as they came to pass, and the things now occurring as they are now happening, and things future in the order in which they shall be accomplished. Admitting, therefore, the proof which events happening as predicted afford, I do not disbelieve, but I believe, obedient to God, whom, if you please, do you also submit to, believing Him, lest if now you continue unbelieving, you be convinced hereafter, when you are tormented with eternal punishments; which punishments, when they had been foretold by the prophets, the later-born poets and philosophers stole from the holy Scriptures, to make their doctrines worthy of credit. Yet these also have spoken beforehand of the punishments that are to light upon the profane and unbelieving, in order that none be left without a witness, or be able to say, We have not heard, neither have we known. But do you also, if you please, give reverential attention to the prophetic Scriptures, and they will make your way plainer for escaping the eternal punishments, and obtaining the eternal prizes of God. For He who gave the mouth for speech, and formed the ear to hear, and made the eye to see, will examine all things, and will judge righteous judgment, rendering merited awards to each. To those who by patient continuance in well-doing Romans 2:7 seek immortality, He will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest, and abundance of good things, which neither has eye seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive. 1 Corinthians 2:9 But to the unbelieving and despisers, who obey not the truth, but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they shall have been filled with adulteries and fornications, and filthiness, and covetousness, and unlawful idolatries, there shall be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish, Romans 2:8-9 and at the last everlasting fire shall possess such men. Since you said, Show me your God, this is my God, and I counsel you to fear Him and to trust Him.

I think Theophilis who wrote the letter speaks for himself quite plainly. Need any explanation regarding hellfire?

In his plea for the Christians, this is what Athengoras said:
"But they have further also made up stories against us of impious feasts and forbidden intercourse between the sexes, both that they may appear to themselves to have rational grounds of hatred, and because they think either by fear to lead us away from our way of life, or to render the rulers harsh and inexorable by the magnitude of the charges they bring. But they lose their labour with those who know that from of old it has been the custom, and not in our time only, for vice to make war on virtue. Thus Pythagoras, with three hundred others, was burnt to death; Heraclitus and Democritus were banished, the one from the city of the Ephesians, the other from Abdera, because he was charged with being mad; and the Athenians condemned Socrates to death. But as they were none the worse in respect of virtue because of the opinion of the multitude, so neither does the undiscriminating calumny of some persons cast any shade upon us as regards rectitude of life, for with God we stand in good repute. Nevertheless, I will meet these charges also, although I am well assured that by what has been already said I have cleared myself to you. For as you excel all men in intelligence, you know that those whose life is directed towards God as its rule, so that each one among us may be blameless and irreproachable before Him, will not entertain even the thought of the slightest sin. For if we believed that we should live only the present life, then we might be suspected of sinning, through being enslaved to flesh and blood, or overmastered by gain or carnal desire; but since we know that God is witness to what we think and what we say both by night and by day, and that He, being Himself light, sees all things in our heart, we are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life we shall live another life, better than the present one, and heavenly, not earthly (since we shall abide near God, and with God, free from all change or suffering in the soul, not as flesh, even though we shall have flesh, but as heavenly spirit), or, falling with the rest, a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere by-work, and that we should perish and be annihilated. On these grounds it is not likely that we should wish to do evil, or deliver ourselves over to the great Judge to be punished.

The context of the letter is a plea to the government to treat Christians in a dignified way, as well as dealing with misconceptions about the Christian life, what polytheism is, true conduct among believers etc. Basically it is a lengthy paper dealing with numerous points. Athengoras points out that there are two destinies awaiting man, one of eternal joy and one of eternal damnation, but not hint of leaving hell is given implicitly.

Tertullian of Carthage, Apology
Let us now take a look at Tertullian. Here is Chapter 18:
"But, that we might attain an ampler and more authoritative knowledge at once of Himself, and of His counsels and will, God has added a written revelation for the benefit of every one whose heart is set on seeking Him, that seeking he may find, and finding believe, and believing obey. For from the first He sent messengers into the world—men whose stainless righteousness made them worthy to know the Most High, and to reveal Him—men abundantly endowed with the Holy Spirit, that they might proclaim that there is one God only who made all things, who formed man from the dust of the ground (for He is the true Prometheus who gave order to the world by arranging the seasons and their course)—these have further set before us the proofs He has given of His majesty in His judgments by floods and fires, the rules appointed by Him for securing His favour, as well as the retribution in store for the ignoring, forsaking and keeping them, as being about at the end of all to adjudge His worshippers to everlasting life, and the wicked to the doom of fire at once without ending and without break, raising up again all the dead from the beginning, reforming and renewing them with the object of awarding either recompense."

While he is giving an exposition on the Christian faith, Tertullian himself points out that hell itself doesn't end. He doesn't give any implicit evidence of hell ceasing.

We'll also look at Chapter 45:
"We, then, alone are without crime. Is there ought wonderful in that, if it be a very necessity with us? For a necessity indeed it is. Taught of God himself what goodness is, we have both a perfect knowledge of it as revealed to us by a perfect Master; and faithfully we do His will, as enjoined on us by a Judge we dare not despise. But your ideas of virtue you have got from mere human opinion; on human authority, too, its obligation rests: hence your system of practical morality is deficient, both in the fullness and authority requisite to produce a life of real virtue. Man's wisdom to point out what is good, is no greater than his authority to exact the keeping of it; the one is as easily deceived as the other is despised. And so, which is the ampler rule, to say, You shall not kill, or to teach, Be not even angry? Which is more perfect, to forbid adultery, or to restrain from even a single lustful look? Which indicates the higher intelligence, interdicting evil-doing, or evil-speaking? Which is more thorough, not allowing an injury, or not even suffering an injury done to you to be repaid? Though withal you know that these very laws also of yours, which seem to lead to virtue, have been borrowed from the law of God as the ancient model. Of the age of Moses we have already spoken. But what is the real authority of human laws, when it is in man's power both to evade them, by generally managing to hide himself out of sight in his crimes, and to despise them sometimes, if inclination or necessity leads him to offend? Think of these things, too, in the light of the brevity of any punishment you can inflict— never to last longer than till death. On this ground Epicurus makes light of all suffering and pain, maintaining that if it is small, it is contemptible; and if it is great, it is not long-continued. No doubt about it, we, who receive our awards under the judgment of an all-seeing God, and who look forward to eternal punishment from Him for sin—we alone make real effort to attain a blameless life, under the influence of our ampler knowledge, the impossibility of concealment, and the greatness of the threatened torment, not merely long-enduring but everlasting, fearing Him, whom he too should fear who the fearing judges,— even God, I mean, and not the proconsul."

Tertullian makes an interesting point regarding human morality from their own opinion to human morality from a divine perspective, that goodness is revealed by God and no one else and talks about what makes a blameless life. He even confirms a point that I have made previously, what everlasting actually means, namely something that lasts forever and not merely for a time.

We shall take a look at more church fathers in another paper.

Answering Judaism.

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