Christian Universalism: The Prevailing
Doctrine of the First 500 Years?
It has been claimed by some that the majority
view for approximately the first 500 years of the Church was
that of universalism or "the restoration of all things".
However this has been contested and not proven conclusively.
But there remain at least several reasons to retain this as
at least a credible theory:
1. Although it remains unknown if this was
the prevailing doctrine of the early Church it also has not
been proven that it was not. There is conflicting evidence
2. Also one fact cannot be ignored, that Augustine
clearly stated that by his lifetime there were "very
many" who held to this doctrine:
"It is quite in vain, then, that some-
indeed very many- yield to merely human feelings
and deplore the notion of eternal punishment of the damned
and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not
believe that such things will be. Not that they would go
counter to divine Scripture but, yielding to their own human
feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder
emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify
than to express the literal truth." (Augustine, Enchiridion,
Ch XXIX, 112, italics my own).”
So we know that there were "very many"
and that he regarded them as believers.
3. We also need to be honest about the "anathemas"
instigated by the despot pagan Emperor Justinian against Origen's
universalism. We know for a fact that his motive was not a
love for the truth but rather a political motive. It needs
to be considered why it was that Origen's view of the restoration
of all things was not condemned until nearly 200 years after
4. In addition it appears that even though
Origen's Universalism was eventually condemned it was in response
to a type of universalism that had morphed over time.
For further study I refer you to Randy Boswell's
blog, "Reformed and Always Reforming"
for many excellent posts on universalism and it's history,
from a Reformed perspective:
Also his review of God Wins by Mark Galli is
thorough, extremely perceptive and very gracious:
A link is provided for Hanson's "The Prevailing
Doctrine for the first 500 Years" to look at the claim
for yourself keeping in mind that it is currently controversial
as credible proof of what the early Church believed in relation
to universalism. So we conclude for now that the jury is out
and it perhaps will always remain a mystery. But tradition
is not our authority but the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ,
as He reveals His word through the Holy Spirit invoked in
community, not individuals attempting to interpret Scripture
by themselves in isolation. I do not believe God wants us
to lean on tradition but rather upon Himself as the Head,
and Shepherd and Counselor of His Church.
"The Prevailing Doctrine"