Extracts from the Fathers.
The following extracts from some of the greatest of the Greek Fathers will sufficiently shew what were their views on this subject.
I give an extract from Origen first, as, though not the earliest, he is the best known advocate of the doctrine of Universal Restitution. He writes as follows: (Comment. In Epist. ad Rom. lib. viii. cap. xi.)—"Qui vero verbi Dei et doctrinae evangelicae purificationem spreverit, tristibus et poenalibus purificationibus semetipsum reservat, ut ignis gehennae in cruciatibus purget quem nec apostolica doctrina nec evangelicus sermo purgaverit, secundum illud quod scriptum est, Et purificabo te igne ad purificationem. Verum haec ipsa purgatio, quae per poenam ignis adhibetur, quantis temporibus, quantisve saeculis, de peccatoribus exigat cruciatus, solus scire potest Ille cui Pater omne judicium tradidit. ... Veruntamen meminisse semper debemus quod praesentem locum Apostolus quasi mysterium habere voluit, quo scilicet hujusmodi sensus fideles quique et perfecti intra semetipsos velut mysterium Dei silentio tegant, nec passim imperfectis et minus capacibus proferant."
That is,—"But he that despises the purification of the word of God, and the doctrine of the gospel, only keeps himself for dreadful and penal purifications afterwards; that so the fire of hell may purge him in torments whom neither apostolical doctrine nor gospel preaching has cleansed, according to that which is written of being 'purified by fire.' But how long this purification which is wrought out by penal fire shall endure, or for how many periods or ages it shall torment sinners, He only knows to whom all judgment is committed by the Father. ... But we must still remember that the Apostle would have this text accounted as a secret, so that the faithful and perfect may keep their perceptions of it as one of God's secrets in silence among themselves, and not divulge it everywhere to the imperfect and those less capable of receiving it."
We find the same doctrine still more fully stated by Origen, in his work De Principiis, lib. i. c. 6, § 1, 2, where he quotes Psalm 110:1, 1 Cor. 15:25, John 17:20-23, Phil. 2:10, and other passages of Scripture, in support of it. At the same time he did not deny, Contr. Celsum, lib. vi. c. 26, that the doctrine might be dangerous to the unconverted. He therefore, on the principle of reserving some things from those who might abuse them, speaks in Hom. xviii. in Jerem. § 1, of "the impossibility of being renewed except in this world." Yet in the very next homily, Hom. xix. in Jer. § 4, he calls the fear of everlasting punishment, (according to Jer. 20:7,) ἀπάτη, that is "a deceit," though it is beneficial in its results, and is brought about by God Himself as a pedagogical artifice. "For many wise men, or such as were thought wise, having apprehended the truth, and rejected the delusion, respecting the divine punishments, gave themselves up to a vicious life, while it would have been much better for them to believe as they once did in the undying worm and the fire which is not quenched."
It is, I believe, owing to this principle of reserve in communicating certain points of religious knowledge, that we find comparatively so little on the subject of Restitution in the public writings of the early Fathers. For, in accordance with the Apostle's words, "Which things we speak," and again, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect," (1 Cor. 2:6, 13) they felt that they might "speak" to mature and well-instructed souls things which it would not be wise to "write" for all.
But to pass on to a second witness to the doctrine of Restitution. Clement of Alexandria, who, in the 5th and 6th books of his Stromata has written so fully on this subject of reserve,—see especially book 6, chapter 15,—in his notes on the Epistle of St. John, (Adumbrat. in Ep. i. Johan., printed at the end of his Treatise, Quis dives salvetur, p. 1009, Potter's Edit.) has these words:—"Nec solem autem, inquit, pro nostris peccatis Dominus propitiator est, hoc est fidelium, sed etiam pro toto mundo. Proinde universos quidem salvat, sed alios per supplicia convertens, alios autem spontanea assequentes voluntate, et cum honoris dignitate, ut omne genu flectatur Ei, coelestium, terrestrium, et infernorum, hoc est, angeli, homines, et animae, quae ante adventum Ejus de hac vita migravere temporali."
That is, "The Lord, he says, is a propitiation, 'not for our sins only,' that is, of the faithful, 'but also for the whole world.' Therefore He indeed saves all universally; but some as converted by punishments, others by voluntary submission, thus obtaining the honour and dignity, that 'to Him every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth,' that is angels, and men, and souls who departed this life before His coming into the world."
Other writers of the Alexandrian School might be here cited as holding substantially the same doctrine.
The following passage from Theophilus of Antioch, a.d. 168, is perhaps even more striking; (Ad Autolychum, lib. ii. c. 26:)Καὶ τοῦτο δὲ ὁ θεὸς μεγάλην εὐεργεσίαν παρέσχε τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ, τὸ μὴ διαμεῖναι ἀυτὸν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ἐν ἁμαρτίᾳ ὄντα, ἀλλὰ τρόπῳ τινὶ ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἐξορισμοῦ ἐξέβαλεν αὐτὸν ἐκ τοῦ παραδείσου, ὅπως διὰ τῆς ἐπιτιμίας τακτῷ ἀποτίσας χρόνῳ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν καὶ παιδευθεὶς ἐξ ὑστέρου ἀνακληθῇ. Διὸ καὶ πλασθέντος ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ, μυστηριωδῶς ἐν τῇ Γενέσει γέγραπται, ὠς δὶς αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ τεθέντος· ἵνα τὸ μὲν ἅπαξ ᾗ πεπληρωμένον ὁτὲ ἐτέθη· τὸ δὲ δεύτερον μέλλῃ πληροῦσθαι μετὰ τὴν ἀνάστασιν καὶ κρίσιν. Οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ καθάπερ σκεῦός τι, ἐπὰν πλασθὲν αἰτίαν τινὰ σχῇ, ἀναχωνεύεται, ἣ ἀναπλάσσεται, εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι καινὸν καὶ ὁλόκληρον· οὕτω γίνεται καὶ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ διὰ θανάτου· δυμάμει γὰρ τέθραυσται, ἵνα ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει ὑγινς εὑρεθῇ, λέγω δὲ ἄσπιλος, καὶ δίκαιος, καὶ ἀθάνατος.
That is, "And God shewed great kindness to man, in this, that He did not suffer him to continue being in sin for ever; but, as it were, by a kind of banishment, cast him out of Paradise, in order that, having by punishment expiated, within an appointed time, the sin, and having been disciplined, he should afterwards be recalled. Wherefore also, when man had been formed in this world, it is mystically written in Genesis, as if he had been twice placed in Paradise; so that the one was fulfilled when he was placed there, and the second will be fulfilled after the resurrection and judgment. Nay further, just as a vessel, when on being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or re-made, 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, and righteous, and immortal."
Irenaeus, a.d. 182, holds the same view, of death being a merciful provision for a fallen creature. His words, (Contr. Hoer. lib. iii. c. 23, § 6,) are:—"Quapropter et ejecit eum de paradiso, et a ligno vitae longe transtulit; non invidens ei lignum vitae, quemadmodum quidam audent dicere, sed miserans ejus, ut non perseveraret semper transgressor, neque immortale esset quod esset circa eum peccatum, et malum interminabile et insanabile."
That is, "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 to assert, but because He pitied him, [and desired] that he should not continue always a sinner, and that the sin which surrounded him should not be immortal, and the evil interminable and irremediable."
Origen has the same doctrine, (Hom. xviii. in Jerem.) as have others of the Fathers.
To the same effect is the whole work of Athenagoras, a.d. 177, On the Resurrection. The argument throughout is so connected that it is not easy to make a brief extract. The following concluding sentence of the work may however sufficiently shew the general doctrine: (De Resurr. c. xxv.)Τούτου δ᾽ ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἐπομενου, δεῖ πάντως γενέσθαι τῶν νεκρωθέντων ἢ καὶ πάντη διαλυθέντων σωμάτων ἀνάστασιν, καὶ τοὺς αὐτοὺς ἀνθρώπους συστῆναι πάλιν. ... ταύτης γάρ γενομένης καὶ τὸ τῇ φύσει τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρόσφορον ἐπακολουθεῖ τέλος. Τέλος δὲ ζωῆς ἔμφρονος καὶ λογικῆς κρίσεως οὐκ ἂν ἁμάρτοι τις εἰπὼν τὸ τούτοις ἀπερισπάστως συνδιαιωνίζειν, οἷς μάλιστα καὶ πρώτως ὁ φυσικὸς συνήρμοσται λόγος, τῇ τε θεωρίᾳ τοῦ ὄντος καὶ τῶν ἐκείνῳ δεδογμένων ἀπαύστως ἐπαγάλλεσθαι· κἂν οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἐμπαθέστερον καὶ σφοδρότερον τοῖς τῇδε προσπεπονθότες ἄστοχοι τούτου διατελῶσιν. Οὐ γὰρ ἀκυροῖ τὴν κοινὴν ἀποκλήρωσιν τὸ πλῆθοσ τῶν ἀποπιπτόντων τοῦ προσήκοντος αὐτοῖς τέλους, ιδιαζούσης τῆς ἐπὶ τούτοις ἐξετάσεως, καὶ τῆς ἑκάστῳ συμμετρουμένης ὑπὲρ τῶν εὖ ἣ κακῶς βεβιωμένων τιμῆς ἣ δίκης.
That is, "And as this follows of necessity, there must by all means be a resurrection of the bodies which are dead or even entirely dissolved, and the same men must be formed anew. ... for if this takes place, the end befitting the nature of men follows also. And the end of an intelligent life and of a rational judgment, we shall make no mistake in saying, is to be occupied uninterruptedly with those objects to which the natural reason is chiefly and primarily adapted, and to delight unceasingly in the contemplation of Him who is, and of His decrees; notwithstanding that the majority of men, because they are affected too passionately and too violently by things below, pass through life without attaining this object. For the large number of those who fail of the end that belongs to them does not make void the common lot, since the examination relates to individuals, and the reward or punishment of lives ill or well spent is proportioned to what each has done."
We find the same doctrine just hinted at in Gregory of Nazianzus; (Orat. Quadrag. § 36. p. 664, Ed. Paris. 1630.)Οἶδα καὶ πῦρ οὐ καθαρτήριον, ἀλλὰ κολαστήριον, εἴτε Σοδομιτικὸν .... εἴτε τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ, .... εἴτε ὃ πρὸ προσώπου Κυρίου πορεύεται, καὶ τούτων ἔτι φοβερώτερον, ὃ τῷ ἀκοιμήτῷ σκώληκι συντέτακται, μὴ σβεννύμενον, ἀλλὰ διαιώνιζον τοῖς πονηροῖς. Πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα ἀφανιστικῆς ἔστι δυνάμεως· εἰ μὴ τὸ φίλον κ᾽ανταῦθα νοεῖν τοῦτο φιλανθρωπότερον, καὶ τοῦ κολάζοντος ἐπαξίως.
That is, "There is another fire, I know, not for purging, but for punishing; whether it be of that kind by which Sodom was destroyed, .... or whether that prepared for the devil, .... or that which goes before the face of the Lord, and which, more to be dreaded than all, is conjoined with the undying worm, which is not quenched, but lasts perpetually, (or through the ages) for the wicked. All these are of a destructive nature. Unless even here to regard this as done in love is more in accordance with (God's) love to man, and more worthy of Him who punishes."
Gregory of Nyssa speaks more clearly; (Dial. de Anima et Resurrect. tom. iii. p. 227, Ed. Paris. 1638.)Χρὴ γὰρ πάντῃ καὶ πάντως ἐξαιρεθῆναι ποτὲ τὸ κακὸν ἐκ τοῦ ὄντος· .... ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἔξω τῆς προαιρέσεως ἡ κακία εἶναι φύσιν οὐκ ἔχει, ὅταν πᾶσα προαίρεσις ἐν τῷ θεῷ γένηται, εἰς παντελῆ ἀφανισμὸν ἡ κακία μὴ χωρήσει, τῷ μηδὲν αὐτῆς ἀπολειφθῆναι δοχεῖον; κ.τ.λ.
And again, (Catechet. Orat. cap. 26, tom. iii. p. 85,) Christ is spoken of as τόν τε ἄνθρωπον τῆς κακίας ἐλευθερῶν, καὶ αὐτὸν τῆς κακίας εὐρετὴν ἰώμενος.
That is,—"For it is needful that evil should some day be wholly and absolutely removed out of the circle of being. .... For inasmuch as it is not in the nature of evil to exist without the will, when every will comes to be in God, will not evil go on to absolute extinction, by reason of there being no receptacle of it left."
And again, in his Catechetical Orations, (chapter 26,) Christ is spoken of as "the One who both delivers man from evil, and who heals the inventor of evil himself."
Both the passages, and their contexts, are well worth turning to. Referring to them Neander says, (Church Hist. vol. iv. p. 455,) "We may notice here another after-influence of the great Origen upon individual church-teachers, ... as for example on Didymus, and Gregory Naziansen. Though in the writings of Didymus, which have come to our knowledge, there are no distinct traces to be found of the doctrine of Restoration, (ἀποκατάστασις,) yet in his work De Trinitate, published by Mingarelli, (Bologna 1769,) an intimation of this kind may be found in his exposition and application of the passage in Phil. 2:10, where, in reference to the καταχθόνια as well as the ἐπίγεια, he speaks of 'every knee bowing at the name of Jesus:' (lib. iii. c. 10.) But this particular doctrine was expounded and maintained with the greatest ability in works written expressly for that purpose by Gregory of Nyssa. God, he maintained, had created rational beings in order that they might be self-conscious and free vessels for the communications of the original fountain of all good. All punishments are means of purification, ordained by divine love to purge rational beings from moral evil, and to restore them back to that communion with God which corresponds to their nature. God would not have permitted the existence of evil, unless He had foreseen that by the Redemption all rational beings would in the end, according to their destination, attain to the same blessed fellowship with Himself."
Now when it is borne in mind that Gregory of Nazianzus presided at the Second General Council, and that to Gregory of Nyssa tradition ascribes all those additions to the original Nicene Creed, which were made at the same Second General Council, and which we now recite as portions of it, (Nicephor. Eccl. Hist. lib. xii. c. 13,)—when we remember the esteem in which the name and works of this same Gregory of Nyssa have ever been held, both during his life and since his death, and that he was referred to both by the Fifth and Seventh General Councils, as amongst the highest authorities of the Church, (Tillemont, Memoires, tom. ix. p. 601,)—we shall be better able to judge the worth of the assertion, which is sometimes made, that the doctrine of final restitution is a heresy.
Diodorus of Tarsus, the tutor of Chrysostom, in his work on the Incarnation, (De Oeconomia,) may also be cited as holding the same view; as also Theodore of Mopsuestia, the most distinguished critic of the Syrian School; (Comment. in Evang.) The passages are given in Assemanni Biblioth. Orient. tom. iii. part. i. pp. 323, 324.
Here perhaps I ought to add, that, while the doctrine of Universal Restoration was clearly held by the above-named Fathers, two even earlier Christian writers, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, seem to have held the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, c. viii., says indeed that the wicked will undergo "everlasting punishment;" but elsewhere, (in Dial. c. Tryph. c. 5,) he plainly says, that "those who have appeared worthy of God die no more, but others are punished as long as God wills them to exist and be punished"—ἐστ᾽ ἂν αὐτὰς καὶ εἶναι καὶ κολάζεσθαι ὁ θεὸς θέλῃ. Irenaeus has the same language. "The Father of all," he says, "imparts continuance for ever and ever to those who are saved; for life does not arise from us, nor from our own nature, but is bestowed according to the grace of God. He therefore who shall keep the life given to him, and render thanks to Him who imparted it, shall receive also length of days for ever and ever. But he who shall reject it, and shew himself ungrateful to his Maker, deprives himself of continuance for ever and ever"—ipse se privat in saeculum saeculi perseverantia. (Contr. Hoeres. lib. ii. c. 34, § 3.) We find the same doctrine also in the Clementine Homilies, (Hom. iii. 6.)
It is instructive also to notice how Augustine, the great champion of the doctrine of endless punishment, writes of those who held Universal Restoration. He says, (De Civ. Dei, lib. xxi. c. 17.)—"Nunc jam cum misericordibus nostris agendum esse video et pacifice disputandum, qui vel omnibus illis hominibus quos justissimus Judex dignos gehennae supplicio judicabit, vel quibusdam eorum, nolunt credere poenam sempiternam futuram, sed post certi temporis metam pro cujusque peccati quantitate longioris sive brevioris eos inde existimant liberandos."
That is,—"And now I see I must have a gentle disputation with certain tender hearts of our own religion, who are unwilling to believe that everlasting punishment will be inflicted, either on all those whom the just Judge shall condemn to the pains of hell, or even on some of them, but who think that after certain periods of time, longer or shorter according to the proportion of their crimes, they shall be delivered out of that state."
Augustine's "gentle disputation," thus introduced, occupies several succeeding chapters of the same book. In chapter 18 he alludes to some of the passages, such as Psalm 77:7-9, on which these "tender hearts" rested their hopes, and to the view, then held by some, (see chapters 18, 24, and 27,) that the saints would be the instruments for saving all. His main reply, in chapter 23, is that the punishment of the wicked, according to Matt. 25:46, is as everlasting as the kingdom prepared for the righteous. The passage is worth turning to. To me one chief point of interest in it lies in the evidence it affords, that the views which Augustine combats were in his day held, and could be defended, by true Catholics, "nostri misericordes," even in the West, and that Augustine only proposes "gently to dispute," "pacifice disputandum," with them. I may add that in another place also, (Enchirid. ad Laurent. c. 29,) Augustine refers to the "very many" (imo quam plurimi,) in his day, "who, though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments."
Even Jerome, at the end of his Commentary on Isaiah, (lib. xviii. in cap. lxvi.) could write:—"Porro qui volunt supplicia aliquando finiri, et licet post multa tempora tamen terminum habere tormenta, his utuntur testimoniis: Quum intraverit plenitudo gentium, tunc omnis Israel salvus fiet. Et iterum: Conclusit Deus omnia sub peccato, ut omnibus misereatur. Et rursum: Benedicam te, Domine, quoniam iratus es mihi. Avertisti faciem a me, et misertus es mei. Dominus quoque loquitur ad peccatorem: Quum ira furoris fuerit, rursus sanabo. Et hoc est quod in alio loco dicitur: Quam grandis multitudo bonitatis tuoe, Domine, quam abscondisti timentibus te. Quae omnia replicant, asseverare cupientes, post cruciatus atque tormenta, futura refrigeria: quae nunc abscondenda sunt ab his quibus timor utilis est, ut, dum supplicia reformidant, peccare desistant. Quod nos Dei solius debemus scientiae derelinquere, cujus non solum misericordiae sed et tormenta in pondere sunt, et novit quem, quomodo, et quamdiu, debet judicare. Solumque dicamus, quod humanae convenit fragilitati: Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me, neque in ira tua corripias me."
That is,—"But further, those who maintain that punishment will one day come to an end, and that torments have a limit, though after long periods, use as proofs the following testimonies of Scripture:—'When the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in, then all Israel shall be saved;' and again, 'God hath concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all;' and again, 'I will praise Thee, O Lord, for Thou wast angry with me; Thou hadst turned thy face from me; but Thou hast comforted me.' The Lord Himself also says to the sinner, 'When the fierceness of my wrath hath passed, I will heal him.' And this is what is said in another place:—'Oh, how great is thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee.' All which testimonies of Scripture they urge in reply against us, while they earnestly assert that after certain sufferings and torments there will be restoration. All which nevertheless they allow should not now be openly told to those with whom fear yet acts as a motive, and who may be kept from sinning by the terror of punishment. But this question we ought to leave to the wisdom of God alone, whose judgments as well as mercies are by weight and measure, and who well knows whom, and how, and how long, He ought to judge."
To these testimonies I add one more from Facundus, bishop of Hermiane, who was chosen by the bishops of Africa to represent them at Constantinople in their protest against an edict of Justinian's, which seemed to them to impugn the judgment of the Council of Chalcedon; and of whose writings Neander says, (Church Hist. vol. iv. p. 274,) that they are "eminently characterized by qualities seldom to be met with in this age,—a freedom of spirit unshackled by human fear, and a candid, thorough criticism, superior in many respects to the prejudices of the times." The passage is interesting too, as shewing that when Facundus wrote, other bishops besides himself regarded those who held the doctrine of the final salvation of all men to be "most holy and glorious teachers." Facundus (Pro defens. trium capit. lib. iv. c. 4; in Sirmondi's Opera Varia, tom. 2. p. 384. Ed. Venet. 1728,) says,—"His omnibus accedit et confessio Domitiani Galatae Ancyrencis olim episcopi. ... Nam in libello quem ad Vigilium scripsit, conquerens de his qui contradicebant dogmatibus Origenis, asserentis animas humanas ante corpora in quadam beata vita praeextitisse, et omnes quae fuerint aeterno supplicio destinatae in pristinam beatitudinem, cum diabolo et angelis ejus, restitui; dicit etiam haec: 'Prosiluerunt ad anathematizandos sanctissimos et gloriosissimos doctores, sub occasione eorum quae de praeexistentia et restitutione mota sunt dogmatum; sub specie quidem Origenis, omnes autem qui ante eum et post eum fuerant sanctos anathematizantes.'"
That is,—"To all this is also to be added the confession of Domitian of Galatia, formerly bishop of Ancyra. ... For in the book which he wrote to Vigilius, where he is complaining of those who contradicted the doctrines of Origen,—who maintained that the souls of men had pre-existed in some state of blessedness before they came into bodies, and that all those who were doomed to the eternal punishment should, together with the devil and his angels, be restored to their former state of blessedness,—he says, 'They have hastily run out to anathematize most holy and glorious teachers on account of those doctrines which have been advanced concerning pre-existence and restitution; and this indeed under pretext of Origen, but thereby anathematizing all those saints who were before and have been after him.'"
These passages shew how widely the doctrine of Universal Restoration was held in the Church during the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Centuries. I will now give two or three extracts, which might easily be multiplied, as evidencing the views of many of the Fathers, not only as to God's end in punishment, and the purification of all by fire, but also as to the ministry of Christ and His elect after death to the departed.
First, as to God's end in punishment,—Clement of Alexandria (Strom. lib. vii. cap. 16,) says,—κολάζει πρὸς τὸ χρήσιμον καὶ κοινῇ καὶ ἰδίᾳ τοῖς κολαζομένοις: that is, "He punishes for their good those who are punished, whether collectively or individually." Clement continually repeats the same doctrine: see Strom. lib. i. cap. 27; lib. vii. cap. 2, and cap. 6; Poedag. lib. i. cap. 8.
So too Theodoret (Hom. in Ezech. cap. vi. vers. 6,) says,—Ἔδειξε τῆς τιμωρίας τὰς αἰτίας· ἰατρικῶς γὰρ ὁ φιλάνθρωπος κολάζει Δεσπότης ἵνα παύσῃ τῆς ἀσεβείας τὸν δρόμον· ταῦτα γὰρ πάντα, φησι, ποιῶ, καὶ τήν ἐρημίαν ἐπάξω, ἵνα σβέσω τὴν περὶ τὰ εἴδωλα μανίαν καὶ λύτταν. That is, "He shews here the reason for punishment; for the Lord, the lover of men, torments us only to cure us, that He may put a stop to the course of our iniquity. All these things, He says, I do, and bring in desolation, that I may extinguish men's madness and rage after idols."
Then as to the baptism by fire,—Gregory of Nazianzus, in a passage where he is alluding to the Novatians, (Orat. xxxix. § 19, p. 690. Ed. Paris. 1778,) says,—Οὗτοι μὲν οὖν εἰ μὲν βούλοιντο, τὴν ἡμετέραν ὁδὸν καὶ Χριστοῦ, εἰ δὲ μὴ, τὴν ἐαυτῶν πορευέσθωσαν· τυχὸν ἐκεῖ τῷ πυρὶ βαπτισθήσονται τῷ τελευταίῳ βαπτίσματι, τῷ ἐπιπονωτέρῳ καὶ μακροτέρα, ὃ ἐσθίει ὡς χόρτον τὴν ὕλην, καὶ δαπανᾷ πάσης κακίας κουθότητα. That is, "These, if they will, may go our way, which indeed is Christ's; but if not, let them go their own way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only very painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice."
So too Gregory of Nyssa (Orat. pro Mortuis, ad. fin. p. 634, Ed. Paris. 1638,) says,—Ὡς ἂν οὖν καὶ ἡ ἐξουσία μένοι τῇ φύσει, καὶ τὸ κακὸν ἀπογένοιτο, ταύτην εὗρεν ἡ σοφία τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ἐπίνοιαν, τὸ ἐᾶσαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐν οἷς ἐβουλήθη γενέσθαι, ἵνα γευσάμενος τῶν κακῶν ὧν ἐπεθύμησεν, καὶ τῇ πείρᾳ μαθὼν οἷα ἀνθ᾽ οἵων ἠλλάξετο, παλινδρομήσῃ διὰ τῆς ἐπιθυμίας ἑκουσίως πρὸς τὴν πρώτην μακαριότητα. ... ἤτοι κατὰ τὴν παροῦσαν ζωὴν διὰ προσευχῆς καὶ φιλοσοφίας ἐκκαθαρθεὶς, ἢ μετὰ τὴν ἐνθένδε μετανάστασιν διὰ τῆς τοῦ καθαρσίου πυρὸς χωνείας. That is,—"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."
So too Ambrose, (Serm. xx. § 12, in Psalm cxviii. p. 1225, Ed. Paris. 1686.)—"Omnes oportet per ignem probari, quicunque ad Paradisum redire desiderant; non enim otiose, scriptum est, quod, ejectis Adam et Eva de Paradisi sede, posuit Deus in exitu Paradisi gladium igneum versatilem. Omnes oportet transire per flammas, sive ille Johannes Evangelista sit, quem ita dilexit Dominus, .... sive ille sit Petrus qui claves accepit regni coelorum, &c." That is,—"It is necessary that all should be proved by fire, whosoever they are that desire to return to Paradise. For not in vain is it written, that, when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, God placed at the outlet a flaming sword which turned every way. All therefore must pass through these fires, whether it be that Evangelist John whom the Lord so loved, .... or Peter, who received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, &c."
So again, (in Psalm i. § 54, p. 763, Ed. Paris. 1686,) he says,—"Salvator duo genera resurrectionis posuit, ut Johannes in Apocalypsi dixit, Beatus qui habet partem in prima resurrectione; isti enim sine judicio veniunt ad gratiam. Qui autem non veniunt ad primam resurrectionem, sed ad secundam reservantur, isti urentur donec impleant tempora inter primam et secundam ressurectionem: aut si non impleverint, diutius in supplicio permanebunt." That is,—"Our Saviour has appointed two kinds of resurrection, in accordance with which John says, 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 until the second, resurrection, these shall be burnt, until they fulfil their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection; or, if they should not have fulfilled them then, they shall remain still longer in punishment."
The same views are constantly stated by Origen; (Hom. vi. § 4, in Exod.; Hom. xxv. § 6, in Num.; Hom. iii. § 1, in Psalm xxxvi. 14; and elsewhere;) and in more general terms by Clement of Alexandria; (Strom. lib. vii. c. 6.)
As to the ministry of Christ and His elect after death to the departed, several of the Fathers speak very distinctly.
Clement of Alexandria (Strom. lib. vi. cap. 6, p. 763, Ed. Potter,) says,—Διόπερ ὁ Κύριος εὐηγγελίσατο καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἅδου, κ.τ.λ. Further on, in the same chapter, he says, Καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι καθάπερ ἐνταῦθα, οὕτως κ᾽ᾳκεῖ (in hades) τοὺς ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἐπιτηδείους εἰς ἐπιστραφὴν εὐηγγελίσαντο, κ.τ.λ. That is, "Wherefore the Lord preached the gospel to them also who were in hades, &c. ... And His apostles also, as here, so there also, preached the gospel to those of the heathen who were ready to be converted." After which immediately follows a quotation from the Shepherd of Hermas, (lib. iii. cap. 16.) to the same effect.
We have the same doctrine stated again by Clement, in the second book of the Stromata, and the ninth chapter; (p. 452, Ed. Potter;) also by Ignatius; (Epist. ad Trall. cap. ix.) and by Irenaeus; (Hoer. lib. iv. cap. 22.) and by Justin Martyr; (Dial. c. Tryph. cap. 72.)
The following passage from Gieseler, (Eccl. Hist. vol. i. § 82,) will shew that these views have not been confined to followers of Origen. He says,—"The opinion of the indestructible capacity for reformation in all rational creatures, and the finiteness of the torments of hell, was so common even in the West, and so widely diffused among opponents of Origen, that though it might not have sprung up without the influence of his school, yet it had become quite independent of it."
My own conviction, the result of some acquaintance with the Fathers, is, that the doctrine of Universal Restitution was held by many who in their public teaching distinctly asserted endless punishment. To take the great and good Chrysostom as an example. If we only looked at his statements as to the end of punishment, we should say that he must also hold Universal Restoration. For his doctrine is, that "if punishment were an evil to the sinner, God would not have added evils to the evil;" that "all punishment is owing to His loving us, by pains to recover us and lead us to Him, and to deliver us from sin which is worse than hell." (Hom. ix. in Ep. ad Rom. v. 11. See also Hom. v. § 13, de Statuis, and Hom. iii. § 2, in Ep. ad Philem. i. 25.) Yet in his sermons he repeatedly states the doctrine of everlasting punishment; (e.g. Hom. ix. § 1, 2, in Ep. 1. ad. Cor. iii. 12; Hom. x. § 6, in Ep. 2. ad Cor. v. 10; and Hom. viii. § 2, in Ep. 1. ad. Thess. iv. 15; &c.) His view however of what he calls an "oeconomy," (that is some particular line of conduct, whether of God or man, pursued for the benefit of certain other persons,) that "those who are to derive benefit from an oeconomy should be unacquainted with the course of it: otherwise the benefit of it will be lost;" (Comment. in Galat. ii. 5, 6;) and the strong feeling which he often expresses as to the evil of communicating certain higher truths to the uninitiated; (e.g. Hom. xl. § 2, in Ep. 1. ad. Cor. xv. 29; and Hom. xviii. § 3, in Ep. 2. ad Cor. viii. 24;) go far to explain why in sermons addressed to the multitude he has spoken as he has on this subject. We know however, that, spite of his popular language as to everlasting punishment, among the accusations brought against him when he was summoned to the Synod of the Oak, one distinct charge was his Origenism. It is certainly significant, that, in his 39th Homily on the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, he alludes to the opinion of those who asserted that St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 15:28, taught an ἀναίρεσις τῆς κακίας, without answering it.
So again with Ambrose. Not only are there passages, in his book De Bono Mortis, which, as it appears to me, can never be reconciled with the doctrine of never-ending punishment, but the whole drift of the book is in an entirely opposite direction. For he asserts that "death is the end of sin;" (cap. iv.) that, even with the wicked, "it is worse to live to sin than to die in sin; for, while the wicked man lives, he encreases his sin: if he dies, he ceases to sin." (cap. vii.) The whole 4th chapter is to prove, that "death is altogether good, as well because it is the end of sin, as because it redeemed the world." In a word, according to Ambrose, sin is the great evil, while what we call death is God's means to deliver man from the evil; "for those who are unbelievers descend into hell, even while they live: though they seem to live with us, they are in hell." (cap. xii.) But all this is directly opposed to the popular notion of future punishment, which regards the second death as hopeless, endless torment.
A thoughtful reader too cannot but be struck with the way in which in their controversies with the Manichees and others, who held the eternity of two opposing principles of good and evil, the advocates of the truth, that there is but One God, only prove their point either by asserting that all evil shall one day cease, or else by arguing that evil is really nothing. Thus in the Debate between Manes and Archelaus, (a.d. 277,) the truth that there is but One God, and He a good one, is only sustained against the Manichean view by the declaration that all evil may and will cease. "When," asks Manes, (§ 17,) "will that happen which you tell of?" "I am only a man," replies Archelaus, "and do not know what will come: nevertheless I will not leave that point without saying something on it." He afterwards says, (§ 29,) "Therefore it (death) has an end, because it began in time; and that is true which was spoken, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' It is plain therefore that death cannot be unbegotten, seeing that it is shewn to have both a beginning and an end." (Routh's Reliq. Sacr. vol. v. p. 111. Ed. Oxon. 1848.) The argument of Athanasius is, that evil in its own nature is nothing. "Those things," he says, "are, which are good: those things are not, which are evil. And good things have being, because their patterns are in God, who truly is; but evil things have not being, because, nothing in themselves, they are the fictions of men." And again, "As a substance, and in its own nature, evil is nothing; the Creator has made all things." (Orat c. Gentes, c. 4, & 6. Opp. tom. i. pp. 4, 6.) Basil has the same doctrine:—"Evil is no real thing, but a negation or privation." (Hom. Quod Deus non est auctor malorum, c. 5.) Gregory of Nyssa also uses very similar language. (Orat. Catech. c. 28.) And so too Augustine, replying to the Manichees, says, "Who is so blind as not to see that evil is that which is opposed to the nature of a thing? And by this principle is your heresy refuted; for evil, as opposed to nature, is not a nature. But you say that evil is a certain nature and substance. Then what is opposed to nature struggles against it and would destroy it. So that which exists tends to make non-existence. For nature itself is only what is understood, after its kind, to be something. ... If then you will consider the matter, evil consists in this very thing, namely in a defection from being, and a tendency to non-being." (De Moribus Manich. lib. ii. § 2, & 3.) We find the same doctrine also in his Confessions: (lib. vii. c. 12.) But if this be so, what becomes of Augustine's doctrine of never-ending punishment, which surely is never-ending existence in evil?
So much then as to the views of some of the greatest teachers of the Early Church. After Augustine's time, partly through his great authority, but even more in consequence of the general ignorance both of Greek and Hebrew, which for centuries prevailed in the Western Church, and which kept men from reading the Scriptures in the original languages, the doctrine of Universal Restoration was well-nigh silenced in the West until the revival of learning in the 16th century. My own impression is that the doctrine of Purgatory, properly so called, which gradually grew up from the 5th to the 7th century, in contradistinction to the earlier view of purifying fire held by Clement of Alexandria and Origen, was a natural result of the efforts of Augustine and others to silence the doctrine of Restitution. In the 9th century, however, John Scotus Erigena once again, and in the most decided way, bore witness to the hope of Universal Restitution. Having at an early age visited Greece, he brought back with him into the West a system of doctrine which was the fruit of a careful study of the Greek Fathers, particularly of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus. For a brief but good account of this writer's teaching, I may refer the reader to Oxenham's Catholic Doctrine of the Atonement, Second Edition, pp. 151-154, or to Neander's Church History, vol. vi. pp. 254-260. Since the Reformation many of our English divines,—among the Puritans, Jeremiah White and Peter Sterry,—and in the English Church, Richard Clarke, William Law, and George Stonehouse,—in Scotland, Thomas Erskine of Linlathen and Bishop Ewing,—and among those on the Continent, Bengel, Oberlin, Hahn, and Tholuck,—have been believers in final restitution.
I may perhaps add here that it is confessed by the highest authorities of the Roman Church, that the opinion of the mitigation or intermission of the sufferings of the damned, which has been held by some, is nowhere condemned by the Catholic Church. Dr. Newman in his Grammar of Assent, p. 417, has quoted, without contradiction, and apparently with sympathy, the following passage from Petavius, (De Angelis, ad. fin.)—"De hac damnatorum saltem hominum respiratione, nihil adhuc certi decretum est ab Ecclesia Catholica; ut propterea non temere tanquam absurda sit explodenda sanctissimorum Patrum hoec opinio; quamvis a communi sensu Catholicorum hoc tempore sit aliena."
It ought not to be forgotten also, that our English Church, having in her original Forty-two Articles had a Forty-first, declaring of "Millenarians," that they "cast themselves headlong into a Jewish dotage," and a Forty-second, asserting, that "All men shall not be saved at length," within a very few years, in Elizabeth's reign, struck out both these Articles. Surely this is not without its significance. The Creeds, which are received both by East and West, not only make no mention whatever of endless punishment, but in their declaration of "the forgiveness of sins" seem to teach a very different doctrine.
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