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Universalism: The First 500 Years


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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 08:28 PM

Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years
http://www.tentmaker...Prevailing.html


A bold title, but unfortunately the article fails to substantiate the claim.

Here are the various headings, and my comments on each section:

Teaching of the Twelve Apostles


It is noted by the Tentmaker article that the 'Teaching of the Twelve Apostles' says nothing of endless torment. But it should also be noted that this Christian work says absolutely nothing of the doctrine of universal reconcilation.

The Apostles' Creed


Same again - no mention of endless torment, but no mention either of universal reconciliation. Reference to eternal life is explicit, however.

The Oldest Credal Statement


Same again - no mention of endless torment, but no mention either of universal reconciliation. Reference to eternal life is explicit, however.

Tertullian's Belief


It is acknowledged by the Tentmaker article that Tertullian did believe in eternal punishment. The creed he quotes does not make any mention of eternal punishment, but likewise it says nothing of universal resurrection.

The Nicene Creed


Same again - no mention of endless torment, but no mention either of universal reconciliation. Reference to eternal life is explicit, however.

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 08:29 PM

At this point in the article we then come to the astonishing statement here:

General Sentiment in the Fourth Century.

This the general sentiment in the church from 325 A.D. to 381 A.D. demanded that the life beyond the grave must be stated, and as there is no hint of the existence of a world of torment, how can the conclusion be escaped that Christian faith did not then include the thought of endless woe?


This is selective reading if ever I've seen it. It ignores the following Early Fathers and early Christian witnesses who wrote explicitly declaring the doctrines of eternal punishment in the form of either torment or anihiliation:
  • 150 AD Second Clement
  • 150 AD Justin Martyr
  • 155 AD The Martyrdom of Polycarp
  • 160 AD Mathetes
  • 177 AD Athenagoras
  • 181 AD Theophilus of Antioch
  • 185 AD Irenaeus
  • 190 AD Tertullian
  • 200 AD Hippolytus
  • 226 AD Minucius Felix
  • 250 AD Ignatius
  • 252 AD Cyprian of Carthage
  • 300 AD Lactantius
  • 350 AD Cyril of Jerusalem
  • 430 Jerome
  • 452 AD Patrick
The article at Tentmaker fails to deal with these witnesses. It refers to a handful of them, but rarely quotes them directly, and makes assertions regarding their beliefs which it fails to support.

#3 Fortigurn

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 08:29 PM

Whilst the article occasionally acknowledges that one of these Early Fathers taught a post-mortem destruction or punishment, it often asserts (completely without evidence), that they didn't actually mean that the destruction or punishment was everlasting.

At other times, no reference whatever is made to explicit anihilationist or torment statements made by these Early Fathers and witnesses. Instead, it is simply assumed that they were Universalists, for reasons sometimes unstated, or else otherwise asserted without evidence.

Here's one example:

Among the celebrated fathers who have left no record of their views of human destiny, but who, from their positions, and the relations they sustained, must, beyond all rational doubt, have been Universalists...


Incredibly, whilst acknowledging that these 'celebrated fathers... left no record of their views of human destiny', the article asserts without any evidence at all that they 'must, beyond all rational doubt, have been Universalists'. This kind of reasoning is intellectually dishonest.

Here is another example:

Athenagoras wrote an "Apology," about A.D. 178, and a "Treatise on the Resurrection." He was a scholar and a philosopher, and made great efforts to convert the heathen to Christianity. He declared that there shall be a judgment, the award of which shall be distributed according to conduct; but he nowhere refers to the duration of punishment.

He was, however, the head of the Catechetical school in Alexandria, before Pant├Žnus, and must have shared the Universalist views of Pant├Žnus, Clement and Origen, his successors.


That's all we're told about Athenagoras. There is no attempt made to actually assess what he wrote. And he wrote things like this:

'...we are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one...  Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul...  or if we fall with the rest, a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated.'

Plea for the Christians 31


Such a statement is as explicit a declaration of eternal torment as it is a rejection of anihilationism. Yet this is not even mentioned by the Tentmaker article, which never reveals to its reader the existence of such statements by Athenagoras.

Instead, we find that the Tentmaker article fails completely to substantiate the bold claim made in its title - 'Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years'.

In fact, when we read the article carefully, the first positive witness to the doctrine is not presented before 190 AD, when Clement is offered to us. He is followed by Origen, and then Gregory Nazianzen.

And that's all we get. Out of the 'First Five Hundred Years' of the Christian church, the article can provide us with only three witnesses to the doctrine of universal reconciliation.

Edited by Fortigurn, 12 September 2005 - 08:29 PM.





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