Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years
(and showing the influence of Greek Mythology and pagan philosophy on Christian Doctrine)
With Authorities and Extracts
By J.W. HANSON, D. D.
--I Corinthians xv. 28
Boston and Chicago
Universalist Publishing House
Universalist Publishing House
I The Earliest Creeds 5
II Early Christianity a Cheerful Religion 17
III Origin of Endless Punishment 36
IV Doctrines of Mitigation and Reserve 53
V Two Kindred Topics 61
VI The Apostles' Immediate Successors 70
VII The Gnostic Sects 90
VIII The Sibylline Oracles 96
IX Pantaenus and Clement 103
X Origen 129
XI Origen--Continued 165
XII The Eulogists of Origen 181
XIII A Third Century Group 188
XIV Minor Authorities 200
XV Gregory Nazianzen 211
XVI Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians 216
XVII A Notable Family 226
XVIII Additional Authorities 244
XIX The Deterioration of Christian Thought 260
XX Augustine--Deterioration Continued 271
XXI Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism 282
XXII The Eclipse of Universalism 296
XXIII Summary of Conclusions 304
Rev. J. S. Cantwell, D.D.
As a token of friendship of many years duration, and
as a merited, though an inadequate recognition
of life-long and valuable service ren-
dered to the great truth to which
this book is devoted, it is affec-
tionately inscribed by
The purpose of this book is to present some of the evidence of the prevalence in the early centuries of the Christian church, of the doctrine of the final holiness of all mankind. The author has endeavored to give the language of the early Christians, rather than to paraphrase their words, or state their sentiments in his own language. He has also somewhat copiously quoted the statements of modern scholars, historians and critics, of all sides of opinion, instead of condensing them with his own pen.
The large number of extracts which this course necessitates gives his pages a somewhat mosaic appearance, but he has preferred to sacrifice mere literary form to what seems larger utility.
He has aimed to present irrefragable proofs that the doctrine of Universal Salvation was the prevalent sentiment of the primitive Christian church. He believes his investigation has been somewhat thorough, for he has endeavored to consult not only all the fathers themselves, but the most distinguished modern writers who have considered the subject.
The first form of his manuscript contained a thousand copious notes, with citations of original Greek and Latin, but such an array was thought by judicious friends too formidable to attract the average reader, as well as too voluminous, and he has therefore retained only a fraction of the notes he had prepared.
The opinions of Christians in the first few centuries should predispose us to believe in their truthfulness, inasmuch as they were nearest to the divine Fountain of our religion. The doctrine of Universal Salvation was nowhere taught until they inculcated it. Where could they have obtained it but from the source whence they claim to have derived it--the New Testament?
The author believes that the following pages show that Universal Restitution was the faith of the early Christians for at least the First Five Hundred Years of the Christian Era.
Chicago, October 1899
The surviving writings of the Christian Fathers, of the first four or five centuries of the Christian Era, abound in evidences of the prevalence of the doctrine of universal salvation during those years. This important fact in the history of Christian eschatology was first brought out prominently in a volume, very valuable, and for its time very thorough: Hosea Ballou's "Ancient History of Universalism," (Boston, 1828, 1842, 1872). Dr. Ballou's work has well been called "light in a dark place," but the quotations he makes are but a fraction of what subsequent researches have discovered. Referring to Dr. Ballou's third edition with "Notes" by the Rev. A. St. John Chambre, A. M. and T. J. Sawyer, D.D. (1872), T. B. Thayer, D.D., observes in the Universalist Quarterly, April, 1872: "As regards the additions to the work by the editors, we must say that they are not as numerous nor as extensive as we had hoped they might be. It would seem as if the studies of our own scholars for more than forty years since the first edition, and the many new and elaborate works on the history of the church and its doctrines by eminent theologians and critics, should have furnished more witnesses to the truth, and larger extracts from the early literature of the church, than are found in the 'Notes.' With the exception of three or four of them no important addition is made to the contents of the work. If the Notes are to be considered as final, or the last gleanings of the field, it shows how thoroughly Dr. Ballou did his work, notwithstanding the poverty of his resources, and the many and great disadvantages attending his first efforts. But we cannot help thinking that something remains still to be said respecting some of the apostolic fathers and Chrysostom, Augustine and others; as well as concerning the gnostic sects, the report of whose opinions, it must be remembered, comes to us mostly from their enemies, or at least those not friendly to them." The want here indicated this volume aims to supply.
Dr. Ballou's work was followed in 1878 by Dr. Edward Beecher's "History of the Doctrine of Future Retribution," a most truthful and candid volume, which adds much valuable material to that contained in Dr. Ballou's work. About the same time Canon Farrar published "Eternal Hope" (1878), and "Mercy and Judgment" (1881), containing additional testimony showing that many of the Christian writers in the centuries immediately following our Lord and his apostles, were Universalists. In addition to these a contribution to the literature of the subject was made by the Rev. Thomas Allin, a clergyman of the English Episcopal Church, in a work entitled "Universalism Asserted." Mr. Allin was led to his study of the patristic literature by finding a copy of Dr. Ballou's work in the British Museum. Incited by its contents he microscopically searched the fathers, and found many valuable statements that incontestably prove that the most and the best of the successors of the apostles inculcated the doctrine of universal salvation. The defects of Mr. Allen's very scholarly work, from this writer's standpoint are, that he writes as an Episcopalian, merely from the view-point of the Nicene creed, to show by the example of the patristic writers that one can remain an Episcopalian and cherish the hope of universal salvation; and that he regards the doctrine as only a hope, and not a distinct teaching of the Christian religion. Meanwhile, the fact of the early prevalence of the doctrine has been brought out incidentally in such works as the "Dictionary of Christian Biography," Farrar's "Lives of the Fathers," and other books, the salient statements and facts in all which will be found in these pages, which show that the most and best and ablest of the early fathers found the deliverance of all mankind from sin and sorrow specifically revealed in the Christian Scriptures. The author has not only quoted the words of the fathers themselves, but he has studiously endeavored, instead of his own words, to reproduce the language of historians, biographers, critics, scholars, and other writers of all schools of thought, and to demonstrate by these irrefragable testimonies that Universalism was the primitive Christianity.
The quotations, index, and other references indicated by foot notes, will show the reader that a large number of volumes has been consulted, and it is believed by the author that no important work in the copious literature of the theme has been omitted.
The plan of this work does not contemplate the presentation of the Scriptural evidence--which to Universalists is demonstrative--that our Lord and his apostles taught the final and universal prevalence of holiness and happiness. That work is thoroughly done in a library of volumes in the literature of the Universalist Church. Neither is it the purpose of the author of this book to write a history of the doctrine; but his sole object is to show that those who obtained their religion almost directly from the lips of its author, understood it to teach the doctrine of universal salvation.
Not only are copious citations given from the ancient Universalists themselves, but abstracts and compendiums of their opinions, and testimonials as to their scholarship and saintliness, are presented from the most eminent authors who have written of them. No equal number of the church's early saints has ever received such glowing eulogies from so many scholars and critics as the ancient Universalists have extorted from such authors as Socrates, Neander, Mosheim, Huet, Dorner, Dietelmaier, Beecher, Schaff, Plumptre, Bigg, Farrar, Bunsen, Cave, Westcott, Robertson, Butler, Allen, De Pressense, Gieseler, Lardner, Hagenbach, Blunt, and others, not professed Universalists. Their eulogies found in these pages would alone justify the publication of this volume.
UNIVERSALISM IN THE EARLY CENTURIES.
The Earliest Creeds.
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.
An examination of the earliest Christian creeds and declarations of Christian opinion discloses the fact that no formulary of Christian belief for several centuries after Christ contained anything incompatible with the broad faith of the Gospel--the universal redemption of mankind from sin. The earliest of all the documents pertaining to this subject is the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles." 1 This work was discovered in manuscript in the library of the Holy Sepulchre, in Constantinopole, by Philotheos Bryennios, and published in 1875. It was bound with Chrysostom's "Synopsis of the Works of the Old Testament," the "Epistle of Barnabas," A.D. 70-120--two epistles of Clement, and less important works. The "Teaching" was quoted by Clement of Alexandria, by Eusebius and by Athanasius, so that it must have been recognized as early as A.D. 200. It was undoubtedly composed between A.D. 120 and 160. An American edition of the Greek text and an English translation were published in New York in 1884, with notes by Roswell D. Hitchcock and Francis Brown, professors in Union Theological Seminary, New York, from which we quote. It is entirely silent on the duration of punishment. It describes the two ways of life and death, in its sixteen chapters, and indicates the rewards and the penalties of the good way and of the evil way as any Universalist would do--as Origen and Basil did. God is thanked for giving spiritual food and drink and "aeonian life." The last chapter exhorts Christians to watch against the terrors and judgments that shall come "when the earth shall be given unto his (the world's deceiver's) hands. Then all created men shall come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and perish. But they that endure in their faith shall be saved from this curse. And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an opening in heaven; then the sign of the trumpet's sound; and, thirdly the resurrection from the dead, yet not of all, but as it hath been said: 'The Lord will come and all his saints with him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.'" This resurrection must be regarded as a moral one, as it is not "of all the dead," but of the saints only. There is not a whisper in this ancient document of endless punishment, and its testimony, therefore, is that that dogma was not in the second century regarded as a part of "the teaching of the apostles." When describing the endlessness of being it uses the word athanasias, but describes the glory of Christ, as do the Scriptures, as for ages (cis tous aionas). In Chapter XI occurs this language: "Every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven" (the sin of an apostle asking money for his services); but that form of expression is clearly in accordance with the Scriptural method of adding force to an affirmative by a negative, and vice versa, as in the word (Matt. xviii: 22): "Not until seven times, but until seventy times seven." In fine, the "Teaching" shows throughout that the most ancient doctrine of the church, after the apostles, was in perfect harmony with universal salvation. Cyprian, A.D. 250, in a letter to his son Magnus, tells us that in addition to the baptismal formula converts were asked, "Dost thou believe in the remission of sins and eternal life through the holy church?"
The Apostles' Creed.
"The Apostles' Creed," so called, the oldest existing authorized declaration of Christian faith in the shape of a creed was probably in existence in various modified forms for a century or so before the beginning of the Fourth Century, when it took its present shape, possible between A.D. 250 and 350. It is first found in Rufinus, who wrote at the end of the Fourth and the beginning of the Fifth Century. No allusion is made to it before these dates by Justin Martyr, Clement, Origen, the historian Eusebius, or any of their contemporaries, all whom make declarations of Christian belief, nor is there any hint in antecedent literature that any such document existed. Individual declarations of faith were made, however, quite unlike the pseudo Apostles' Creed, by Irenieus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Gregory Thaumaturgus, etc.
Hagenback2 assures us that it was "probably inspired of various confessions of faith used by the primitive church in the baptismal service. Mosheim declared: "All who have any knowledge of antiquity confess unanimously that the opinion (that the apostles composed the Apostles' Creed) is a mistake, and has no foundation. 3"
The clauses "the Holy Catholic Church," "the communion of Saints," "the forgiveness of sins," were added after A.D. 250. "He descended into hell" was later than the compilation of the original creed--as late as A.D. 359. The document is here given. The portion in Roman type was probably adopted in the earlier part or middle of the Second Century4 and was in Greek; the Italic portion was added later by the Roman Church, and was in Latin:
"I believe in God the Father Almighty (maker of heaven and earth) and it Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, who was (conceived) by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified (dead) and buried, (He descended into hell). The third day he arose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of (God) the Father (Almighty). From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy (Catholic) Church; (the communion of saints) the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; (and the life everlasting)5. Amen."
It will be seen that not a word is here uttered of the duration of punishment. The later form speaks of "aionian life," but does not refer to aionian death, or punishment. It is incredible that this declaration of faith, made at a time when the world was ignorant of what constituted the Christian belief, and which was made for the purpose of informing the world, should not convey a hint of so vital a doctrine as that of endless punishment, if at that time that dogma was a tenet of the church.
The Oldest Credal Statement.
The oldest credal statement by the Church of Rome says that Christ "shall come to judge the quick and the dead," and announces belief in the resurrection of the body. The oldest of the Greek constitutions declares belief in the "resurrection of the flesh, remission of sins, and the aionian life." And the Alexandrian statement speaks of "the life," but there is not a word of everlasting death or punishment in any of them. And this is all that the most ancient creeds contain on the subject. 6
In a germinal form of the Apostle's Creed, Irenæus, A.D. 180, says that the judge, at the final assize, will cast the wicked into aionian fire. It is supposed that he used the word aionian, for the Greek in which he wrote has perished, and the Latin translation reads, "ignem aeternum."
As Origen uses the same word, and expressly says it denotes limited duration, Irenæus's testimony does not help the doctrine of endless punishment, nor can it be quoted to reinforce that of universal salvation. Dr. Beecher thinks that Irenæus taught "a final restitution of all things to unity and order by the annihilation of all the finally impenitent"7 --a pseudo-Universalism.
Even Tertullian, born about A.D. 160, though his personal belief was fearfully partialistic, could not assert that his pagan-born doctrine was generally accepted by Christians, and when he formed a creed for general acceptance he entirely omitted his lurid theology. It will be seen that Tertullian's creed like that of Irenæus is one of the earlier forms of the so-called Apostles' Creed: 8 " We believe in only one God, omnipotent, maker of the world, and his son Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised from the dead the third day, received into the heavens, now sitting at the right hand of the Father, and who shall come to judge the living and the dead, through the resurrection of the flesh." Tertullian did not put his private belief into his creed, and at that time he had not discovered that worst of dogmas relating to man, total depravity. If fact, he states the opposite. He says: "There is a portion of God in the soul. In the worst there is something good, and in the best something bad." Neander says that Tertullian "held original goodness to be indelible."
The Nicene Creed.
The next oldest creed, the first declaration authorized by a consensus of the whole church, was the Nicene, A.D. 325; completed in 381 at Constantinopole. Its sole reference to the future world is in these words: "I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world (æon) to come." It does not contain a syllable referring to endless punishment, though the doctrine was then professed by a portion of the church, and was insisted upon by some, though it was not generally enough held to be stated as the average belief.
So dominant was the influence of the Greek fathers, who had learned Christianity in their native tongue, in the language in which it was announced, and so little had Tertullian's cruel ideas prevailed, that it was not even attempted to make the horrid sentiment a part of the creed of the church. Moreover, Gregory Nazianzen presided over the council in Constantinople, in which the Nicean creed was finally shaped--the Niceo-Constantinopolitan creed--and as he was a Universalist, and as the clause, "I believe in the life of the world to come," was added by Gregory of Nyssa, an "unflinching advocate of extreme Universalism, and the very flower of orthodoxy," it must be apparent that the consensus of Christian sentiment was not yet anti-Universalistic.
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? Would a council, composed even in part of believers in endless torment, permit a Universalist to preside, and another to shape its creed, and not even attempt to give expression to that idea? Is not the Nicene creed a witness, in what it does not say, to the broader faith that must have been the religion of the century that adopted it?
It is historical (See Socrates's Ecclesiastical History) that the four great General Councils held in the first four centuries--those at Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon--gave expression to no condemnation of universal restoration, though, as will be shown, the doctrine had been prevalent all along.
In the Nicene creed adopted A.D. 325, by three hundred and twenty to two hundred and eighteen bishops, the only reference to the future world is where it is said that Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead." This is the original form, subsequently changed. A.D. 341 the assembled bishops at Antioch made a declaration of faith in which these words occur: "The Lord Jesus Christ will come again with glory and power to judge the living and the dead." A.D. 346 the bishops presented a declaration to the Emperor Constans affirming that Jesus Christ "shall come at the consummation of the ages, to judge the living and the dead, and render to every one according to his works." The synod at Rimini, A.D. 359, affirmed that Christ "descended into the lower parts of the earth, and disposed matters there, at the sight of whom the door-keepers trembled--and at the last day he will come in his Father's glory to render to every one according to his deeds." This declaration opens the gates of mercy by recognizing the proclamation of the Gospel to the dead, and, as it was believed that when Christ preached in Hades the doors were opened and all those in ward were released, the words recited at Rimini that he "disposed matters there," are very significant.
The Nicene and Constantinopolitan creeds, printed in one, will exhibit the nature of the changes made at Constantinople, and will show that the "life to come" and not the post-mortem woe of sinners, was the chief though with the early Christians. (The Nicene is here printed in Roman type, and the Constantinopolitan in Italic.)
The Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed.
"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of (heaven and earth, and) all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds,) only begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God, begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, [transposed to the beginning] the things in heaven and things in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down (from heaven) and was incarnate (of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary) and made man (and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate), and suffered (and was buried), and rose again the third day (according to the Scriptures), who ascended into heaven (and sitteth on the right hand of the Father) and cometh again (in glory) to judge quick and dead (of whose kingdom there shall be no end). And in the Holy Ghost, (the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son, together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the prophets; in one holy Catholic, Apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.)" 9
This last clause was not in the original Nicene creed, but was added in the Constantinopolitan. The literal rendering of the Greek is "the life of the age about to come."
The first Christians, it will be seen, said in their creeds, "I believe in the æonian life;" later, they modified the phrase "æonian life," to "the life of the coming æon," showing that the phrases are equivalent. But not a word of endless punishment. "The life of the age to come" was the first Christian creed, and later, Origen himself declares his belief in æonian punishment, and in æonian life beyond. How, then, could æonian punishment have been regarded as endless?
The differences of opinion that existed among the early Christians are easily accounted for, when we remember that they had been Jews or Heathens, who had brought from their previous religious associations all sorts of ideas, and were disposed to retain them and reconcile them with their new religion. Faith in Christ, and the acceptance of his teachings, could not at once eradicate the old opinions, which, in some cases, remained long, and caused honest Christians to differ from each other. As will be shown, while the Sibylline Oracles predisposed some of the fathers of Universalism, Philo gave others a tendency to the doctrine of annihilation, and Enoch to endless punishment.
Statements of the Early Councils.
Thus the credal declarations of the Christian church for almost four hundred years are entirely void of the lurid doctrine with which they afterwards blazed for more than a thousand years. The early creeds contain no hint of it, and no whisper of condemnation of the doctrine of universal restoration as taught by Clement, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, and multitudes besides. Discussions and declarations on the Trinity, and contests over homoousion (consubstantial) and homoiousion (of like substance) engrossed the energy of disputants, and filled libraries with volumes, but the doctrine of the great fathers remained unchallenged. Neither the Concilium Nicæum, A.D. 325, nor the Concilium Constantinopolitanum, A.D. 381, nor the Concilium Chalcedonenese, A.D. 451, lisped a syllable of the doctrine of man's final woe. The reticence of all the ancient formularies of faith concerning endless punishment at the same time that the great fathers were proclaiming universal salvation, as appeared later on in these pages, is strong evidence that the former doctrine was not then accepted. It is apparent that the early Christian church did not dogmatize on man's final destiny. It was engrossed in getting established among men the great truth of God's universal Fatherhood, as revealed in the incarnation, "God in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." Some taught endless punishment for a portion of mankind; others, the annihilation of the wicked; others had no definite opinion on human destiny; but the larger part, especially from Clement of Alexandria on for three hundred years, taught universal salvation. It is insupposable that endless punishment was a doctrine of the early church, when it is seen that not one of the early creeds embodied it" 11
1 [Note missing from e-text]
2 Text-book of Christian Doctrine: Gieseler's Text Book: Neander.
3 Murdoch's Mosheim Inst., Eccl. Hist.
4 Bunsen's Hippolytus and His Age.
5 Aionian, the original of "everlasting."
6 The Apostles' Creed at first omitted the Fatherhood of God, and in its later forms did not mention God's love for men, his reign, repentance, or the new life. Athanase Coquerel the Younger, First Hist. Transformations of Christianity, page 208.
7 History, Doct. Fut. Ret., pp. 108-205.
8 See Lamson's Church of the First Three Centuries.
9 Hort's Two Dissertations, pp. 106, 138-147.
10 [note missing from e-text]
11 The germ of all the earlier declarations of faith had been formulated even before A.D. 150. The reader can here consult the original Greek of the earliest declaration of faith as given in Harnack's Outlines of the History of Dogma, Funk & Wagnall's edition of 1893 pp. 44,45:
Early Christianity A Cheerful Religion.
Darkness at the Advent.
When our Lord announced his religion this world was in a condition of unutterable corruption, wretchedness and gloom. Slavery, poverty, vice that the pen is unwilling to name, almost universally prevailed, and even religion partook of the general degradation. 1 Decadence, depopulation, insecurity of property, person and life, according to Taine, were everywhere. Philosophy taught that it would be better for man never to have been created. In the first century Rome held supreme sway. 2 Nations had been destroyed by scores, and the civilized world had lost half of its population by the sword. In the first century forty out of seventy years were years of famine, accompanied by plague and pestilence. There were universal depression and deepest melancholy. When men were thus overborne with the gloom and horror of error and sin, into their night of darkness came the religion of Christ. Its announcements were all of hope and cheer. Its language was, "Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." "We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Men were invited to accept the tidings of great joy. John, the herald of Jesus, was a recluse, mortifying body and spirit, but Jesus said, "John come neither eating nor drinking, but the Son of Man came eating and drinking." He forbade all anxiety and care among his followers, and exhorted all to be as trustful as are the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air. Says Matthew Arnold, "Christ professed to bring in happiness. All the words that belong to his mission, Gospel, kingdom of God, Savior, grace, peace, living water, bread of life, are brimful of promise and joy." And his cheerful, joyful religion at once won its way by its messages of peace and tranquillity, and for a while its converts were everywhere characterized by their joyfulness and cheerfulness. Haweis writes: "The three first centuries of the Christian church are almost idyllic in their simplicity, sincerity and purity. There is less admixture of evil, less intrusion of the world, the flesh, and the devil, more simple-hearted goodness, earnestness and reality to be found in the space between Nero and Constantine that in any other three centuries from A.D. 100 to A.D. 1800." 3 De Pressense calls the early era of the church its "blessed childhood, all calmness and simplicity."4 Cave, in "Lives of the Fathers," states: "The noblest portion of church history * * * the most considerable age of the church, the years from Eusebius to Basil the Great."
"Sweetness and Light".
Christianity was everywhere at first, a religion of "sweetness and light." The Greek fathers exemplified all these qualities, and Clement and Origen were ideals of its perfect spirit. But from Augustine downward the Latin reaction, prompted by the tendency of men in all ages to escape the exactions laid upon the soul by thought, and who flee to external authority to avoid the demands of reason, was away from the genius of Christianity, until Augustinianism ripened into Popery, and the beautiful system of the Greek fathers was succeeded by the nightmare of the theology of the medieval centuries, and later of Calvinism and Puritanism.5 Had the church followed the prevailing spirit of the ante-Nicene Fathers it would have conserved the best thought of Greece, the divine ideals of Plato, and joined them to the true interpretation of Christianity, and we may venture to declare that it would thus have continued the career of progress that had rendered the first three centuries so marvelous in their character; a progress that would have continued with accelerated speed, and Christendom would have widened its borders and deepened its sway immeasurably. With the prevalence of the Latin language the East and the West grew apart, and the latter, more and more discarding reason, and controlled, by the iron inflexibility of a semi-pagan secular government, gave Roman Catholicism its opportunity.
The influence of the ascetic religions of the Asiatic countries, especially Buddhism, contaminated Christianity, resulting later in celibacy, monasteries, convents, hermits, and all the worser elements of Catholicism in the Middle Ages.6 At the first contact Christianity absorbed more than it modified, till in the later ages the alien force became supreme. In fact, orientalism was already beginning to mar the beautiful simplicity of Christianity when John wrote his Gospel to counteract it. Schaff, in his "History of the Christian Church," remarks:
All the germs of (Christian) asceticism appear in the third century. * * * The first two Christian hermits were not till Paul of Thebes, A.D. 250, and Anthony of Egypt, A.D. 270, appeared. Asceticism was in existence long before Christ. Jews, Nazarites, Essenes, Therapeutæ, Persians, Indians, Buddhists, all originated this Oriental heathenism. * * * The religion of the Chinese, Buddhism, Brahmanism, the religion of Zoroaster and of the Egyptians, more or less leavened Christianity in its earliest stages. So did Greek and Roman paganism with which the apostles and their followers came into direct contact.
The doctrines of substitutional atonement, resurrection of the body, native depravity, and endless punishment, are not lisped in the earliest creeds or formulas.7 The earliest Christians (Allen: Christian Thought) taught that man is the image of God, and that the in-dwelling Deity will lead him to holiness.
In Alexandria, the center of Greek culture and Christian thought, "more thoroughly Greek than Athens it its days of renown," the theological atmosphere was more nearly akin to that of the Universalist church of the present day than to that of any other branch of the Christian church during the last fifteen centuries.8
Wonderful Progress of Christianity at First.
The wonderful progress made during the first three centuries by the simple, pure and cheerful faith of early Christianity shows us what its growth might have been made had not the morose spirit of Tertullian, reinforced by the "dark shadow of Augustine," transformed it. As early as the beginning of the second century the heathen Pliny, the proprætor of Bithynia, reported to the emperor that his province was so filled with Christians that the worship of the heathen deities had nearly ceased. And they were not only of the poor and despised, but of all conditions of life--omnis ordinis. Milner thinks that Asia Minor was at this time quite thoroughly evangelized. As early as the close of the Second Century there were not only many converts from the humbler ranks, but "the main strength of Christianity lay in the middle, perhaps in the mercantile classes." Gibbon says the Christians were not one-twentieth part of the Roman Empire, till Constantine gave them the sanction of his authority, but Robertson estimates them at one-fifth of the whole, and in some districts as the majority.9 Origen: "Against Celsus" says: "At the present day (A.D. 240) not only rich men, but persons of rank, and delicate and high-born ladies, receive the teachers of Christianity; and the religion of Christ is better known than the teachings of the best philosophers." And Arnobius testifies that Christians included orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, and philosophers. And it was precisely their bright and cheerful views of life and death, of God's universal fatherhood and man's universal brotherhood--the divinity of its ethical principles and the purity of its professors, that account for the wonderful progress of Christianity during the three centuries that followed our Lord's death. The pessimism of the oriental religions; the corruption and folly of the Greek and Roman mythology; the unutterable wickedness of the mass of mankind, and the universal depression of society invited its advance, and gave way before it. Justin Martyr wrote that in his time prayers and thanksgivings were offered in "the name of the Crucified, among every race of men, Greek or barbarian." Tertullian states that all races and tribes, even to farthest Britain, had heard the news of salvation. He declared: "We are but of yesterday, and lo we fill the whole empire--your cities, your islands, your fortresses, your municipalities, your councils, nay even the camp, the tribune, the decory, the palace, the senate, the forum."10 Chrysostom testifies that "the isles of Britain in the heard of the ocean had been converted."
The talismanic word of the Alexandrian fathers, as of the New Testament, was FATHER. This word, as now, unlocked all mysteries, solved all problems, and explained all the enigmas of time and eternity. Holding God as Father, punishment was held to be remedial, and therefore restorative, and final recovery from sin universal. It was only when the Father was lost sight of in the judge and tyrant, under the baneful reign of Augustinianism, the Deity was hated, and that Catholics transferred to Mary, and later, Protestants gave to Jesus that supreme love that is due alone to the Universal Father. For centuries in Christendom after the Alexandrine form of Christianity had waned, the Fatherhood of God was a lost truth, and most of the worst errors of the modern creeds are due to that single fact, more than to all other causes.
It was during those happy years more than in any subsequent three centuries, that, as Jerome observed, "the blood of Christ was yet warm in the breasts of Christians." Says the accurate historian, Cave, in his "Primitive Christianity:" "Here he will find a piety active and zealous, shining through the blackest clouds of malice and cruelty; afflicted innocence triumphant, notwithstanding all the powerful or politic attempts of men or devils; a patience unconquerable under the biggest temptations; a charity truly catholic and unlimited; a simplicity and upright carriage in all transactions; a sobriety and temperance remarkable to the admiration of their enemies; and, in short, he will see the divine and holy precepts of the Christian religion drawn down into action, and the most excellent genius and spirit of the Gospel breathing in the hearts and lives of these good old Christians."
Christianity, a Greek Religion.
"Christianity," says Milman, "was almost from the first a Greek religion. Its primal records were all written in Greek language; it was promulgated with the greatest rapidity and success among nations either of Greek descent, or those which had been Grecized by the conquest of Alexander. In their polity the Grecian churches were a federation of republics." At the first, art, literature, life, were Greek, cheerful, sunny, serene. The Latin type of character was morose, gloomy, characterized, says Milman, by "adherence to legal form; severe subordination to authority. The Roman Empire extended over Europe by a universal code, and by subordination to a spiritual Cæsar as absolute as he was in civil obedience. Thus the original simplicity of the Christian polity was entirely subverted; its pure democracy became a spiritual autocracy. The presbyters developed into bishops, the bishop of Rome became pope, and Christendom reflected Rome." But during the first three centuries this change had not taken place. "It is there, therefore, among the Alexandrine fathers that we are to look to find Christianity in its pristine purity. The language, organization, writers, and Scriptures of the church in the first centuries were all Greek. The Gospels were everywhere read in Greek, the commercial and literary language of the Empire. The books were in Greek, and even in Gaul and Rome Greek was the liturgical language. The Octavius of Minucius Felix, and Novatian on the Trinity, were the earliest known works of Latin Christian literature.11
An Impressive Thought.
The Greek Fathers derived their Universalism directly and solely from the Greek Scriptures. Nothing to suggest the doctrine existed in Greek or Latin literature, mythology, or theology; all current thought on matters of eschatology was utterly opposed to any such view of human destiny. And, furthermore, the unutterable wickedness, degradation and woe that filled the world would have inclined the early Christians to the most pessimistic view of the future consistent with the teachings of the religion they had espoused. To know that, in those dreadful times, they derived the divine optimism of universal deliverance from sin and sorrow from the teachings of Christ and his apostles, should predispose every modern to agree with them. On this point Allin, in "Universalism Asserted," eloquently says:
"The church was born into a world of whose moral rottenness few have or can have any idea. Even the sober historians of the later Roman Empire have their pages tainted with scenes impossible to translate. Lusts the foulest, debauchery to us happily inconceivable, raged on every side. To assert even faintly the final redemption of all this rottenness, whose depths we dare not try to sound, required the firmest faith in the larger hope, as an essential part of the Gospel. But this is not all; in a peculiar sense the church was militant in the early centuries. It was engaged in, at times, a struggle, for life or death, with a relentless persecution. Thus it must have seemed in that age almost an act of treason to the cross to teach that, though dying unrepentant, the bitter persecutor, or the votary of abominable lusts, should yet in the ages to come find salvation. Such considerations help us to see the extreme weight attaching even to the very least expression in the fathers which involves sympathy with the larger hope, * * * especially so when we consider that the idea of mercy was then but little known, and that truth, as we conceive it, was not then esteemed a duty. As the vices of the early centuries were great, so were their punishments cruel. The early fathers wrote when the wild beasts of the arena tore alike the innocent and the guilty, limb from limb, amid the applause even of gently-nurtured women; they wrote when the cross, with its living burden of agony, was a common sight, and evoked no protest. They wrote when every minister of justice was a torturer, and almost every criminal court a petty inquisition; when every household of the better class, even among Christians, swarmed with slaves liable to torture, to scourging, to mutilation, at the caprice of a master or the frown of a mistress. Let all these facts be fully weighed, and a conviction arises irresistibly, that, in such an age, no idea of Universalism could have originated unless inspired from above. If, now, when criminals are shielded from suffering with almost morbid care, men, the best of men, think with very little concern of the unutterable woe of the lost, how, I ask, could Universalism have arisen of itself in an age like that of the fathers? Consider further. The larger hope is not, we are informed, in the Bible; it is not, we know, in the heart of man naturally; still less was it there in days such as those we have described, when mercy was unknown, when the dearest interest of the church forbade its avowal. But it is found in many, very many, ancient fathers, and often, in the very broadest form, embracing every fallen spirit. Where, then, did they find it? Whence did they import this idea? Can we doubt that the fathers could only have drawn it, as their writings testify, from the Bible itself?"
Testimony of the Catacombs.
An illuminating side-light is cast on the opinions of the early Christians by the inscriptions and emblems on the monuments in the Roman Catacombs.12 It is well known that from the end of the First to the end of the Fourth Century the early Christians buried their dead, probably with the knowledge and consent of the pagan authorities, in subterranean galleries excavated in the soft rock (tufa) that underlies Rome. These ancient cemeteries were first uncovered A.D. 1578. Already sixty excavations have been made extending five hundred and eighty-seven miles. More than six, some estimates say eight, million bodies are known to have been buried between A.D. 72 and A.D. 410. Eleven thousand epitaphs and inscriptions have been found; few dates are between A.D. 72 and 100; the most are from A.D. 150 to A.D. 410. The galleries are from three to five feet wide and eight feet high, and the niches for bodies are five tiers deep, one above another, each silent tenant in a separate cell. At the entrance of each cell is a tile or slab of marble, once securely cemented and inscribed with name, epitaph, or emblem. 13 Haweis beautifully says in his "Conquering Cross:" "The public life of the early Christian was persecution above ground; his private life was prayer underground." The emblems and inscriptions are most suggestive. The principal device, scratched on slabs, carved on utensils and rings, and seen almost everywhere, is the Good Shepherd, surrounded by his flock and carrying a lamb. But most striking of all, he is found with a goat on his shoulder; which teaches us that even the wicked were at the early date regarded as the objects of the Savior's solicitude, after departing from this life.13
Matthew Arnold has preserved this truth in his immortal verse:14
"He saves the sheep, the goats he doth not save!"
So rang Tertullian's sentence on the side
of that unpitying Phrygian sect which cried,--
"Him can no fount of fresh forgiveness lave,
Whose sins once washed by the baptismal wave!"
So spake the fierce Tertullian. But she sighed,
The infant Church,--of love she felt the tide
Stream on her from her Lord's yet recent grave,
And then she smiled, and in the Catacombs,
With eyes suffused but heart inspired true,
On those walls subterranean, where she hid
Her head in ignominy, death and tombs,
She her Good Shepherd's hasty image drew
And on his shoulders not a lamb, a kid!
This picture is a "distinct protest" against the un-Christian sentiment then already creeping into the church from Paganism.
Everywhere in the Catacombs is the anchor, emblem of that hope which separated Christianity from Paganism. Another symbol is the fish, which plays a prominent part in Christian symbolry. It is curious and instructive to account for this ideograph. It is used as a cryptogram of Christ. The word is a sort of acrostic of the name and office of our Lord.
Early Funeral Emblems.
The Greek word fish, in capitals -- -- would be a secret cypher that would stand for our Lord's name, when men dared not write or speak it; and the word or the picture of a fish meant to the Christian the name of his Savior; and he wore as a charm a fish cut in ivory, or mother-of-pearl, on his neck living, and bore to his grave to be exhumed centuries after his death an effigy of a fish to signify his faith. These and the vine, the sheep, the dove, the ark, the palm and other emblems in the Catacombs express only hope, faith, cheerful confidence. The horrid inventions of Augustine, the cruel monstrosities of Angelo and Dante, and the abominations of the medieval theology were all unthought of then, and have no hint in the Catacombs.
Stll more instructive are the inscriptions. As De Rossi observes, the most ancient inscriptions differ from those of Pagans "more by what they do not say than by what they do say." While the Pagans denote the rank or social position of their dead as clarissima femine, or lady of senatorial rank, Christian epigraphy is destitute of all mention of distinctions. Only the name and some expression of endearment and confidence are inscribed. Says Northcote: "They proceed upon the assumption that there is an incessant interchange of kindly offices between this world and the next, between the living and the dead." Mankind is a brotherhood, and not a word can be found to show any thought of the mutilation of the great fraternity, and the consignment of any portion of it to final despair. Such are these among the inscriptions: "Paxtecum, Urania;" "Peace with thee, Urania;" "Semper in D. vivas, dulcis anima;" "Always in God mayest thou live, sweet soul;" "Mayest thou live in the Lord, and pray for us." They had "emigrated," had been "translated," "born into eternity," but not a word is found expressive of doubt or fear, horror and gloom, such as in subsequent generations formed the staple of the literature of death and the grave, and rendered the Christian graveyard, up to the beginning of the seventeenth century, a horrible place. The first Christians regarded the grave as the doorway into a better world, and expressed only hope and trust in their emblems and inscriptions.
Following are additional specimen epitaphs: "Irene in Pace." "Here lies Marcia put to rest in a dream of peace." "Victorina dormit," "Victoria sleeps;" "Zoticus hic ad dormiendum," "Zoticus laid here to sleep; "Raptus eterne domus," "Snatched home eternally." "In Christ; Alexander is not dead but lives beyond the stars, and his body rests in this tomb." Contrast these with the tone of heathen funeral inscriptions. In general the pagan epitaphs were like that which Sophocles expresses in OEdipus, at Colomus:
"Happiest beyond compare
Never to taste of life;
Happiest in order next,
Being born, with quickest speed
Thither again to turn,
From whence we came."
"In a Roman monument which I had occasion to publish not long since, a father (Calus Sextus by name,) is represented bidding farewell to his daughter, and two words--'Vale AEternam,' farewell forever--give an expressive utterance to the feeling of blank and hopeless severance with which Greeks and Romans were burdened when the reality of death was before their eyes." (Mariott, p. 186.) Death was a cheerful event in the eyes of the early Christians. It was called birth. Anchors, harps, palms, crowns, surrounded the grave. They discarded lamentations and extravagant grief. The prayers for the dead were thanksgiving for God's goodness. (Schaff, Hist. Christ. Church, Vol. 1. p. 342.) Their language is such as could not have been used by them had they entertained the views that prevailed from the Sixth to the Eighteenth Century, among the majority of Christians; and their remains all testify to the cheerfulness of early Christianity.
Cheerful Faith of the First Christians.
"The fathers of the church live in their voluminous works; the lower orders are only represented by these simple records, from which, with scarcely an exception, sorrow and complaint are banished; the boast of suffering, or an appeal to the revengeful passions is nowhere to be found. One expresses faith, another hope, a third charity. The genius of primitive Christianity--to believe, to love and to suffer--has never been better illustrated. These 'sermons in stones' are addressed to the heart and not to the head--to the feelings rather than to the taste. * * * In all the pictures and scriptures of our Lord's history no reference is ever found to his sufferings or death. No gloomy subjects occur in the cycle of Christian art." (Maitland.) Chrysostom says: "For this cause, too, the place itself is called a cemetery; that you may know that the dead laid there are not dead, but at rest and asleep. For before the coming of Christ death used to be called death, and not only so, but Hades, but after his coming and dying for the life of the world, death came to be called death no longer, but sleep and repose." The word cemeteries, dormitories, shows us that death was regarded as a state of repose and thus a condition of hope. If fact, "in this auspicious world, 15 now for the first time applied to the tomb, there is manifest a sense of hope and immortality, the result of a new religion. A star had arisen on the borders of the grave, dispelling the horror of darkness which had hitherto reigned there; the prospect beyond was now cleared up, and so dazzling was the view of an 'eternal city sculptured in the sky,' that numbers were found eager to rush through the gate of martyrdom, for the hope of entering its starry portals." 16 Says Ruskin: "Not a cross as a symbol in the Catacombs. The earliest certain Latin cross is on the tomb of the Empress Galla Placidia, A.D. 451. No picture of the crucifixion till the Ninth Century, nor any portable crucifix till long after. To the early Christians Christ was living, the one agonized hour was lost in the thought of his glory and triumph. The fall of theology and Christian thought dates from the error of dwelling upon his death instead of his life." 17 Farrar adds: "The symbols of the Catacombs, like every other indication of early teaching, show the glad, bright, loving character of the Christian faith. It was a religion of joy and not of gloom, of life and not of death, of tenderness not of severity. * * * We see in them as in the acts of the apostles, that the keynotes of the music of the Christian life were 'exultation' and 'simplicity.' And how far superior in beauty and significance were these early Christian symbols to the meaninglessness and pagan broken columns and broken rose-buds and skulls and weeping women and inverted torches of our cemeteries. We find in the Catacombs neither the cross of the fifth and sixth centuries nor the crucifixes of the twelfth, nor the torches and martyrdoms of the seventeenth, nor the skeletons of the fifteenth, not the cypresses and death's heads of the eighteenth. Instead of these the symbols of beauty, hope and peace." 18
Dean Stanley's Testimony.
From A.D. 70, the date of the fall of Jerusalem, to about A.D. 150, there is very little Christian literature. It is only when Justin Martyr, who was executed A.D. 166, that there is any considerable literature of the church. The fathers before Justin are "shadows, formless phantoms, whose writings are uncertain and only partially genuine." Speaking of the scarcity of literature pertaining to those times and the changes experienced by Christianity, says Dean Stanley: "No other change equally momentous has even since affected its features, yet none has ever been so silent and secret. The stream in that most critical moment of its passage from the everlasting hills to the plain below is lost to our view at the very point where we are most anxious to watch it. We may hear its struggles under the overarching rocks; we may catch its spray on the boughs that overlap its course, but the torrent itself we see not or see only by imperfect glimpses. * * * A fragment here, an allegory there; romances of unknown authorship; a handful of letters of which the genuineness of every portion is contested inch by inch; the summary explanation of a Roman magistrate; the pleadings of two or three Christian apologists; customs and opinions in the very act of change; last, but not least, the faded paintings, the broken sculptures, the rude epitaphs in the darkness of the Catacombs--these are the scanty, though attractive materials out of which the likeness of the early church must be produced, as it was working its way, in the literal sense of the word, underground, under camp and palace, under senate and forum."19
There were eighty years between Paul's latest epistle and the first of the writings of the Christian fathers. Besides the writings of Tacitus and Pliny, the long haitus is filled only by the emblems and inscriptions of the Catacombs. What an eloquent story they tell of the cheerfulness of primitive Christianity!20
1 Martial, Juvenal, Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, and other heathen writers, describe the well-nigh universal depravity and depression of the so-called civilized world. In Corinth the Acrocorinthus was occupied by a temple to the goddess of lust.
2 Uhlhorn's Conflict of Christianity and Paganism.
3 Conquering Cross. Forewords.
4 Early Years of the Christian Church.
5 Allen's Continuity of Christian Thought.
6 Milman's Latin Christianity.
7 Shedd's History of Christian Doctrine.
8 The early Christians never transferred the rigidity of the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday. Both Saturday and Sunday were observed religiously till towards the end of the second centurty--then Sunday alone was kept. Fasting and even kneeling in prayer was forbidden on Sunday with the early Christians. Ancient Christian writers always mean Saturday by the word "Sabbath."
9 The Emperor Maximin in one of his edicts says that "Almost all had abandoned the worship of their ancestory for the new faith."
10 Hesterni summus et vestra omnes implevimus urbes, insulas, castella, municipia, conciliabula, castra ipsa, tribus, decurias, palatium, senatum, forum. Apol. c. XXXVII. Moshein, however, thinks that the "African orator, who is inclined to exaggerate, "rhetoricates" a little here. The primitive Christians exulted at the wonderful progress and diffusion of the Gospel.
11 Milman's Latin Christianity. "The breadth of the best Greek Fathers, such as Origen, or Clement of Alexandria, is a thousand times superior to the dry, harsh narrowness of the Latins." Athanase Coquerel the Younger, First His. Trans. of Christianity, p. 215.
12 Cutts, Turning Points of Church History
13 See DeRossi, Northcote, Withrow, etc., on the Catacombs.
14 A suggestive thought in this connection is, that our Lord (Matt. xxv. 33), calls those on his left hand "kidlings," "little kids," a term for tenderness and regard.
15 Maitland's Church and the Catacombs.
17 Bible of Amiens.
18 Lives of the Fathers.
19 Christian Institutions.
20 Martineau's Hours of Thought, p. 155. "In the cycle of Christian emblems the death of Christ holds no place; it was not till six centuries after his death that artists began to venture upon the representation of Christ crucified. The crucifix dates only from the end of the Seventeenth Century."--Athanase Coqueral
Origin of Endless Punishment.
When our Lord spoke, the doctrine of unending torment was believed by many of those who listened to his words, and they stated it in terms and employed others, entirely differently, in describing the duration of punishment, from the terms afterward used by those who taught universal salvation and annihilation, and so gave to the terms in question the sense of unlimited duration.
For example, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, regarded the penalty of sin as torment without end, and they stated the doctrine in unambiguous terms. They called it eirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment), while our Lord called the punishment of sin aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement).
Meaning of Scriptural Terms.
The language of Josephus is used by the profane Greeks, but is never found in the New Testament connected with punishment. Josephus, writing in Greek to Jews, frequently employs the word that our Lord used to define the duration of punishment (aionios), but he applies it to things that had ended or that will end.1 Can it be doubted that our Lord placed his ban on the doctrine that the Jews had derived from the heathen by never using their terms describing it, and that he taught a limited punishment by employing words to define it that only meant limited duration in contemporaneous literature? Josephus used the word aionos with its current meaning of limited duration. He applies it to the imprisonment of John the Tyrant; to Herod's reputation; to the glory acquired by soldiers; to the fame of an army as a "happy life and aionian glory." He used the words as do the Scriptures to denote limited duration, but when he would describe endless duration he uses different terms. Of the doctrine of the Pharisees he says:
"They believe * * * that wicked spirits are to be kept in an eternal imprisonment (eirgmon aidion). The Pharisees say all souls are incorruptible, but while those of good men are removed into other bodies those of bad men are subject to eternal punishment" (aidios timoria). Elsewhere he says that the Essenes, "allot to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing torment (timoria adialeipton), where they suffer a deathless torment" (athanaton timorion). Aidion and athanaton are his favorite terms for duration, and timoria (torment) for punishment.
Philo's Use of the Words.
Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally used aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matt. xxv: 46, precisely as Christ used it: "It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and æonian punishment (chastisement) from such as are more powerful." Here we have the precise terms employed by our Lord, which show that aionian did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ. Philo adopts athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary duration. In one place occurs this sentence concerning the wicked: "to live always dying, and to undergo, as it were, an immortal and interminable death."2 Stephens, in his valuable "Thesaurus," quotes from a Jewish work: "These they called aionios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations." 3 This shows conclusively that the expression "three generations" was then one full equivalent of aionian. Now, these eminent scholars were Jews who wrote in Greek, and who certainly knew the meaning of the words they employed, and they give to the aeonian words the sense of indefinite duration, to be determined in any case by the scope of the subject. Had our Lord intended to inculcate the doctrine of the Pharisees, he would have used the terms by which they described it. But his word defining the duration of punishment was aionian, while their words are aidion, adialeipton, and athanaton. Instead of saying with Philo and Josephus, thanaton athanaton, deathless or immortal death; eirgmon aidion, eternal imprisonment; aidion timorion, eternal torment; and thanaton ateleuteton, interminable death, he used aionion kolasin, an adjective in universal use for limited duration, and a noun denoting suffering issuing in amendment. The word by which our Lord describes punishment is the word kolasin, which is thus defined: "Chastisement, punishment." "The trimming of the luxuriant branches of a tree or vine to improve it and make it fruitful." "The act of clipping or pruning--restriction, restraint, reproof, check, chastisement." "The kind of punishment which tends to the improvement of the criminal is what the Greek philosopher called kolasis or chastisement." "Pruning, checking, punishment, chastisement, correction." "Do we want to know what was uppermost in the minds of those who formed the word for punishment? The Latin poena or punio, to punish, the root pu in Sanscrit, which means to cleanse, to purify, tells us that the Latin derivation was originally formed, not to express mere striking or torture, but cleansing. correcting, delivering from the stain of sin." 4 That it had this meaning in Greek usage, see Plato: "For the natural or accidental evils of others no one gets angry, or admonishes, or teaches, or punishes (kolazei) them, but we pity those afflicted with such misfortune * * * for if, O Socrates, if you will consider what is the design of punishing (kolazein) the wicked, this of itself will show you that men think virtue something that may be acquired; for no one punishes (kolazei) the wicked,
looking to the past only simply for the wrong he has done--that is, no one does this thing who does not act like a wild beast; desiring only revenge, without thought. Hence, he who seeks to punish (kolazein) with reason does not punish for the sake of the past wrong deed, * * * but for the sake of the future, that neither the man himself who is punished may do wrong again, nor any other who has seen him chastised. And he who entertains this thought must believe that virtue may be taught, and he punishes (kolazei) for the purpose of deterring from wickedness?" 5
Use of Gehenna.
So of the place of punishment (gehenna) the Jews at the time of Christ never understood it to denote endless punishment. The reader of Farrar's "Mercy and Judgment," and "Eternal Hope," and Windet's "De Vita functorum statu," will find any number of statements from the Talmudic and other Jewish authorities, affirming in the most explicit language that Gehenna was understood by the people to whom our Lord addressed the word as a place or condition of temporary duration. They employed such terms as these "The wicked shall be judged in Gehenna until the righteous say concerning them, 'We have seen enough.'"5 "Gehenna is nothing but a day in which the impious will be burned." "After the last judgment Gehenna exists no longer." "There will hereafter be no Gehenna."6 These quotations might be multiplied indefinitely to demonstrate that the Jews to whom our Lord spoke regarded Gehenna as of limited duration, as did the Christian Fathers. Origen in his reply to Celsus (VI, xxv) gives an exposition of Gehenna, explaining its usage in his day. He says it is an analogue of the well-known valley of the Son of Hinnom, and signifies the fire of purification. Now observe: Christ carefully avoided the words in which his auditors expressed endless punishment (aidios, timoria and adialeiptos), and used terms they did not use with that meaning (aionios kolasis), and employed the term which by universal consent among the Jews has no such meaning (Gehenna); and as his immediate followers and the earliest of the Fathers pursued exactly the same course, is it not demonstrated that they intended to be understood as he was understood?7
Professor Plumptre in a letter concerning Canon Farrar's sermons, says: "There were two words which the Evangelists might have used--kolasis, timoria. Of these, the first carries with it, by the definition of the greatest of Greek ethical writers, the idea of a reformatory process, (Aristotle, Rhet. I, x, 10-17). It is inflicted 'for the sake of him who suffers it.' The second, on the other hand, describes a penalty purely vindictive or retributive. St. Matthew chose--if we believe that our Lord spoke Greek, he himself chose--the former word, and not the latter."
All the evidence conclusively shows that the terms defining punishment--"everlasting," "eternal," "Gehenna," etc., in the Scriptures teach its limited duration, and were so regarded by sacred and profane authors, and that those outside of the Bible who taught unending torment always employed other words than those used by or Lord and his disciples.
Professor Allen concedes that the great prominence given to "hell-fire" in Christian preaching is a modern innovation. He says: "There is more 'blood-theology' and 'hell-fire,' that is, the vivid setting-forth of everlasting torment to terrify the soul, in one sermon of Jonathan Edwards, or one harangue at a modern 'revival,' than can be found in the whole body of homilies and epistles through all the dark ages put together. * * * Set beside more modern dispensations the Catholic position of this period (middle ages) is surprisingly merciful and mild."3
Whence Came the Doctrine?
Of Heathen Origin.
When we ask the question: Where did those in the primitive Christian church who taught endless punishment find it, if not in the Bible?--we are met by these facts:--1. The New Testament was not in existence, as the canon had not been arranged. 2. The Old Testament did not contain the doctrine. 3. The Pagan and Jewish religions, the latter corrupted by heathen accretions, taught it (Hagenbach, I, First Period; Clark's Foreign Theol. Lib. I, new series.) Westcott tells us: "The written Gospel of the first period of the apostolic age was the Old Testament, interpreted by the vivid recollection of the Savior's ministry. * * * The knowledge of the teachings of Christ * * * to the close of the Second Century, were generally derived from tradition, and not from writings. The Old Testament was still the great store-house from which Christian teachers derived the sources of consolation and conviction." 9 Hence the false ideas must have been brought by converts from Judaism or Paganism. The immediate followers of our Lord's apostles do not explicitly treat matters of eschatology. It was the age of apologetics and not of polemics.10 The new revelation of the Divine Fatherhood through the Son occupied the chief attention of Christians, and the efforts seem to have been almost exclusively devoted to establish the truth of the Incarnation, "God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." We may reasonably conclude that if this great truth had been kept constantly in the foreground, uncorrupted by pagan error and human invention, there would have been none of those false conceptions of God that gave rise to the horrors of medieval times,--and no occasion in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries for the renascence of original Christianity in the form of Universalism. The first Christians, however, naturally brought heathen increments into their new faith, so that very early the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, or their endless torment, began to be avowed. Here and there these doctrines appeared from the very first, but the early writers generally either state the great truths that legitimately result in universal good, or in unmistakable terms avow the doctrine as a revealed truth of the Christian Scriptures. "Numbers flocked into the church who brought their heathen ways with them." (Third Century, "Neoplatonism," by C. Bigg, D.D., London: 1895, p. 160.)
At first Christianity was as a bit of leaven buried in foreign elements, modifying and being modified. The early Christians had individual opinions and idiosyncrasies, which at first their new faith did not eradicate; they still retained some of their former errors. This accounts for their different views of the future world. At the time of our Lord's advent Judaism had been greatly corrupted. During the captivity 11 Chaldæan, Persian and Egyptian doctrines, and other oriental ideas had tinged the Mosaic religion, and in Alexandria, especially, there was a great mixture of borrowed opinions and systems of faith, it being supposed that no one form alone was complete and sufficient, but that each system possessed a portion of the perfect truth. "The prevailing tone of mind was eclectic," and Christianity did not escape the influence.
The Apocryphal Book of Enoch.
More than a century before the birth of Christ 12 appeared the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which contains, so far as is known, the earliest statement extant of the doctrine of endless punishment in any work of Jewish origin. It became very popular during the early Christian centuries, and modified, it may be safely supposed, the views of Tatian, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and their followers. It is referred to or quoted from by Barnabas, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenæus, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome, Hilary, Epiphanius, Augustine, and others. Jude quotes from it in verses 14 and 15, and refers to it in verse 6, on which account some of the fathers considered Jude apocryphal; but it is probable that Jude quotes Enoch as Paul quotes the heathen poets, not to endorse its doctrine, but to illustrate a point, as writers nowadays quote fables and legends. Cave, in the "Lives of the Fathers," attributes the prevalence of the doctrine of fallen angels to a perversion of the account (Gen. vi: 1-4) of "the sons of God and the daughters of men." He refers the prevalence of the doctrine to "the authority of the 'Book of Enoch,' (highly valued by many in those days) wherein this story is related, as appears from the fragments of it still extant." The entire work is now accessible through modern discovery.
A little later than Enoch appeared the Book of Ezra, advocating the same doctrine. These two books were popular among the Jews before the time of Christ, and it is supposed, as the Old Testament is silent on the subject, that the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees, of which our Lord warned his disciples to beware, 13 were obtained in part from these books, or from the Egyptian and Pagan sources whence they were derived. At any rate, though the Old Testament does not contain the doctrine, 14 Josephus, as has been seen, assures us that the Pharisees of his time accepted and taught it. Of course they must have obtained the doctrine from uninspired sources. As these and possibly other similar books had already corrupted the faith of the Jews, they seem later to have infused their virus into the faith of some of the early Christians. Nothing is better established in history than that the doctrine of endless punishment, as held by the Christian church in medieval times, was of Egyptian origin, 15 and that for purposes of state it and its accessories were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Montesquieu states that "Romulus, Tatius and Numa enslaved the gods to politics," and made religion for the state.
Catholic Hell Copied from Heathen Sources.
Classic scholars know that the heathen hell was early copied by the Catholic church, and that almost its entire details afterwards entered into the creeds of Catholic and Protestant churches up to a century ago. Any reader may see this who will consult Pagan literature 16 and writers on the opinions of the ancients. And not only this, but the heathen writers declare that the doctrine was invented to awe and control the multitude. Polybius writes: "Since the multitude is ever fickle * * * there is no other way to keep them in order but by fear of the invisible world; on which account our ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to bring into the popular belief these notions of the gods and of the infernal regions." Seneca says: "Those things which make the infernal regions terrible, the darkness, the prison, the river of flaming fire, the judgment seat, etc., are all a fable." Livy declares that Numa invented the doctrine, "a most efficacious means of governing an ignorant and barbarous populace." Strabo writes: "The multitude are restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, * * * for it is impossible to govern the crowd of women and all the common rabble by philosophical reasoning: these things the legislators used as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude." Similar language is found in Dionysius Halicarnassus, Plato, and other writers. History records nothing more distinctly than that the Greek and Roman Pagans borrowed of the Egyptians, and that some of the early Christians unconsciously absorbed, or studiously appropriated, the doctrines of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans concerning post-mortem punishment, and gradually corrupted the "simplicity that is in Christ" 17 by the inventions of antiquity, as from the same sources the Jews at the time of Christ had already corrupted their religion. 18 What more natural than that the small reservoir of Christian truth should be contaminated by the opinions that converts from all these sources brought with them into their new religion at first, and later that the Roman Catholic priests and Pagan legislators should seize them as engines of power by which to control the world?
Coquerel describes the effect of the irruption of Pagans into the early Christian church: "The, at first, gradual entrance and soon rapid irruption of an idolatrous multitude into the bosom of Christianity was not effected without detriment to the truth. The Christianity of Jesus was too lofty, too pure, for this multitude escaped from the degrading cults of Olympus. The Pagans were not able to enter en masse into the church without bringing to it their habits, their tastes, and some of their ideas."19 Milman and Neander think20 that old Jewish prejudices could not be extirpated in the proselytes of the infant church, and that latent Judaism lurked in it and was continued into the darker ages. Chrysostom complains that the Christians of his time (the Fourth Century) were "half Jews." Enfield 21 declares that converts from the schools of Pagan philosophy interwove their old errors with the simple truths of Christianity until "heathen and Christian doctrines were still more intimately blended * * * and both were almost entirely lost in the thick clouds of ignorance and barbarism which covered the earth. * * * The fathers of the church departed from the simplicity of the apostolic church and corrupted the purity of the Christian faith." Hagenbach reminds us that 22 "There were two errors which the newborn Christianity had to guard against if it was not to lose its peculiar religious features, and disappear in one of the already existing religions: against a relapse into Judaism on the one side, and against a mixture with Paganism and speculations borrowed from it, and a mythologizing tendency on the other." The Sibylline Oracles, advocating universal restoration; Philo, who taught annihilation, and Enoch and Ezra, who taught endless punishment, were all read by the early Christians, and no doubt exerted an influence in forming early opinions.
Early Christianity Adulterated.
The Edinburgh Review concedes that "upon a full inspection it will be seen that the corruption of Christianity was itself the effect of the vitiated state of the human mind, of which the vices of the government were the great and primary cause." "That the Christian religion suffered much from the influence of the Gentile philosophy is unquestionable."23 Dr. Middleton, in a famous "Letter from Rome," shows that from the pantheon down to heathen temples, shrines and altars were taken by the early church, and so used that Pagans could employ them as well as Christians, and retain their old superstitions and errors while professing Christianity. In other words, that much of Paganism, after the First Century or two, remained in and corrupted Christianity. Mosheim writes that "no one objected (in the Fifth Century) to Christians retaining the opinions of their Pagan ancestors;" and Tytler describes the confusion that resulted from the mixture of Pagan philosophy with the plain and simple doctrines of the
Christian religion, from which the church in its infant state "suffered in a most essential manner." The Rev. T. B. Thayer, D. D., 24 thinks that the faith of the early Christian church "of the orthodox party was one-half Christian, one-quarter Jewish, and one-quarter Pagan; while that of the gnostic party was about one-quarter Christian and three-quarters philosophical Paganism." The purpose of many of the fathers seems to have been to bridge the abyss between Paganism and Christianity, and, for the sake of proselytes, to tolerate Pagan doctrine. Says Merivale: In the Fifth Century, Paganism was assimilated, not extirpated, and Christendom has suffered from it more or less even since. * * * The church * * * was content to make terms with what survived of Paganism, content to lose even more than it gained in an unholy alliance with superstition and idolatry; enticing, no doubt, many of the vulgar, and some even of the more intelligent, to a nominal acceptance of the Christian faith, but conniving at the surrender by the great mass of its own baptized members of the highest and purest of their spiritual acquisitions." 25 It is difficult to learn just how much surrounding influences affected ancient or modern Christians, for, as Schaff says (Hist. Apos. Ch. p. 23): "The theological views of the Greek Fathers were modified to a considerable extent by Platonism; those of the medieval schoolmen, by the logic and dialectics of Aristotle; those of the latter times by the system of Descartes, Spinoza, Bacon, Locke, Leibnitz, Kant, Fries, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Few scientific divines can absolutely emancipate themselves from the influence of the philosophy and public opinion of their age, and when they do they have commonly their own philosophy, etc."