Patristic Universalism

Post by
Ambrose Andreano

It becomes apparent in these debates that very few people have a working understanding as to what universalism asserts on its own terms, so I thought it might be helpful to explain to people what “Patristic universalism" is, and, perhaps more importantly for the contemporary reader: what it is not.

Category
Perspective
And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?[...]Turn from thy fierce wrath and repent of this evil against thy people[...]And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. (Exodus 32:11-14)

I want you to see the future. Think of that dreadful judgment day when God gathers all the “goats” together in what must be a most wicked city, tied down to the altar like Isaac: prepared and ready to face that infamous Gehenna we have all read so much about, how will you react? If I brought you a lawn chair, would you sit and eagerly await the death of the wicked? Would you grab the popcorn as you search to find Adolf Hitler in the crowd? Would you weep, perhaps seeing your son or daughter among them, and beg Christ not to do it? Would you be indifferent? Would you be pondering all the reasons why they became this way, and the environmental factors over which they had no control? Would you wonder why Christ would make these people in the first place, knowing this was their ultimate fate? Would you be tempted to ask Christ to explain how it is that the punishment fits the crime? Really think about all the possible variables at play in this scenario.

I ask you readers, because I can see you in this situation, and I can see Christ looking at you in a most curious manner from the corner of His eye, testing you, waiting to see your reaction to what has been decreed. He is waiting to see which theology you have loved in this life and what fruit you have bore up until this very moment.

Supposing you had a choice, what outcome would bring you the most peace?

The Universalists vs The Infernalists[1]

Ever since Eastern Orthodox philosopher and scholar of religious studies David Bentley Hart released his new book on universalism, reactionaries have been jumping at the opportunity to tell everyone how wrong they think he is: often either with (a) tired and easily refutable misconceptions about universalism, (b) dishonest engagement with the claims due to an underlying desire to submit to what is believed to be “the tradition,” or (c) criticisms of Hart’s polemical rhetoric. And thus, universalism has once again become a trending topic, but once again with a malnourished understanding that remains stagnant.

Christianity Today has published a 2019 interview with Michael McClymond, a Professor of Modern Christianity at Saint Louis University, calling Universalism “the opiate of the theologians.” This is a title which acts like a giant rhetorical billboard intentionally meant to imply the eschatological position were some kind of irrational addiction with a basis neither in reason, nor sobriety, nor tradition, nor scripture.

David Bradshaw, an Orthodox Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky, recently wrote an article (rather hopelessly) titled “No Repentance After Death: Facing Hard Questions About Salvation,” wherein he asserts (in harmony with McClymond) that universalism is “incompatible with both scripture and the great majority of our patristic and liturgical tradition.” However, this is an assertion that is as misleading as it is intoxicating (let alone the questionable validity of the claim), not too dissimilar from, say, an opiate. Striking universalism like this is to strike with a double-edged sword, rendering the attacker highly vulnerable to a basic parry. Perhaps it is actually the drunken rhetoric and uninformed propaganda against universalism that is the true opiate of the theologians.

Over the course of this article, I will attempt to present honestly the objective patristic data, drawing heavily on Origen, while giving universalism a more charitable examination than Christendom has, to date, been willing to do. My attempt to “steelman” the universalist position; arguing in the voice of a universalist, should therefore be understood as an attempt to improve the infernalist response against it wherever it can be improved, mostly because I (someone who is fairly agnostic on the subject) find the majority of them weak and unconvincing as they stand currently. Therefore, infernalist readers should pay careful attention to the texts I engage with, and notice what universalists do not believe, in order to refine the infernalist engagement with this subject. I also want it to be clear that I am not acting out of some kind of "emotional" response to infernalism (as some infernalists like to suppose for rhetorical purposes), but because I am of a rational intellect desiring a sound and persuasive exegesis of the scriptures. And concerning the hasty attacks against universalism: I will not just parry such attacks, but I will also make my own intellectual slashes of rhetorical precision. Not to harm those of the infernalist persuasion of course (I genuinely want infernalists to improve), but to cut the belt off the sloppy arguments, that they end up looking rather silly when the guise of objective scholarship falls down to their ankles.

Misconceptions

It becomes apparent in these debates that very few people have a working understanding as to what universalism asserts on its own terms, so I thought it might be helpful to explain to people what “patristic universalism" is, and, perhaps more importantly for the contemporary reader: what it is not. If one were to ask me a few years ago if I would ever take universalism (also called “apokatastasis”) seriously, I would have immediately said no, thinking the very same things that most people think. “Obviously universalism is false, because the Bible repeatedly talks about hell!” Of course, presuming falsely that universalism is a denial of hell. However, at the time, I never honestly investigated the claims precisely because I did not see a reason to take it seriously. Now that I am older, a little wiser and more informed, my zealous ignorance has taken a back seat for the sake of an honest evaluation of a teaching that was held by more theologians than most people want to admit. And that alone is a reason to take it seriously, even if only to understand the actual assertions rather than the presumed assertions. 

Many know about the universalist poster boy Origen, but many others also either believed in the universal restoration of all things or made statements with universalist implications. Such figures include (but are not limited to) Theophilus of Antioch,[2] Irenaeus of Lyons,[3] Clement of Alexandria,[4] Gregory of Nyssa,[5] (Early) Jerome,[6] Theodoret of Cyrus,[7] and Isaac the Syrian.[8] There are also those who could be described more accurately as sympathetic, unclear, hopeful, a “closet” universalist, or agnostic, such as Gregory Nazianzen,[9] Ambrose of Milan,[10] and Maximus the Confessor.[11] Suffice it to say, overt hostility towards universalism was historically not the norm among the most popular theologians of the patristic corpus, despite how the historical narrative is usually articulated in such a way as to erase all the complicated or controversial parts of history in order to make it conceptually conform to a far tidier image.

Patristic universalism is the teaching that is primarily founded in the Pauline words of scripture which says that (1) “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess,”[12] believing not the common infernalist interpretation that Christ will one day force those unwilling to bow against their will, but that Christ will eventually entice all to Himself freely of their own volition, to display not His authoritative power, but the charismatic gravity of His goodness, that (2) “Christ must reign until all enemies are put under his feet,”[13] death itself being the enemy in view here, rather than individual persons, and that (3) “God may be all in all,”[14] and everywhere present as a purgatorial fire, of which Paul says: (4) “If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”[15] The universalist would point inquirers to the text of scripture, which says to we who already believe in Christ: “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”[16] There are also many more texts, which I will reference throughout the course of this essay.

However, there are many misconceptions about this teaching, and the majority of the wider Christian culture simply does not understand it. Therefore, I will present some arguments I often hear leveled against universalism that any honest and objective thinker (one that actually wants to investigate the validity of assertions like a theological auditor, instead of trying only to find clever rhetorical tricks to remain in blind submission to “authority” or “tradition”) will find to be lacking in weight. This is all in the hope that the conversation might be moved (at the popular level) beyond poor argumentation.

“Universalists don’t believe in hell.”

When most Christians hear the term universalism, they interpret it to be a denial of hell. However, this is not actually true. Universalism does not deny the existence of hell, it denies specifically the absolute neverendingness of hell. From the universalist perspective, the fires of hell are inherently purifying, like that of a divine reforge. Hell in the universalist paradigm is a purgatory for everyone, until they pay their uttermost farthing. As scripture says mystically concerning those in spiritual prison, “Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”[17]

Hell is like a self-created ontological prison, but prisons we are familiar with have the option to support its prisoners with behavioral therapy. The purpose of prison, when designed with any thought whatsoever for human beings, is not a punitive torture chamber, but a temporary rehabilitative quarantine. Listen to the scriptures speak about the heart of God, saying, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”[18] Since the heart of God is such that desires that none should perish, and that God is infinitely more charitable than us, it is therefore unthinkable in the universalist paradigm that God would not have systematically built in anything constructive into His prison when He is warden. Those therapy sessions and family visits, one could argue, are the effectual prayers of the saints. And for the universalist, such prayers will continue into the future age until every last person leaves the cell of sin and death, bowing the knee to Christ of his own accord. For scripture says, “Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess.”[19]

“Universal restoration in scripture can refer only to immortality, not salvation.”

In Kevin Allen's AFR podcast episode titled, "Will Everyone Eventually Be Saved (Universalism)?," Perry Robinson says the following:

In the Orthodox Church, our teaching is that everyone is made immortal by the work of Christ. Everybody is going to exist forever. And so, sure its a restoration of all things because sin has lost its power. Sin can't bring death anymore. So people are impervious to death and annihilation because Christ has united all people to himself in taking up flesh. And so, we can say there's a restoration of all things because sin has lost its power. There's no more death after this. There's no more threat of death.[20]

This is not a convincing argument, mainly because it is false, but later on in this essay I will use Origen to explain exactly why affirming the eternality of spiritual death is problematic. Yes everyone is made immortal, and yes everybody is going to exist in an embodied mode forever. But no, sin does not truly lose its power in the infernalist paradigm merely due to immortality, because the power of sin is ontological: having also to do with the corruption of mind and will. Not only this, but scripture says God is the primary cause of mortality to begin with, and it is implied to be an unfortunate but necessary preventative measure to limit the spread and perpetuation of sin and its effects in the material world. Listen to the scriptures saying “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”[21] Irenaeus explains,

“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 venture to assert, but because He pitied him, and did not desire that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his state of sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.”[22]

Christ did not have to come and die merely to make man immortal, nor does one need faith in Christ to become immortal (this will become a reality for every person, including the wicked, as scripture testifies), which means there must be more to the divine story than Christ simply removing His own mandate of mortality (what Athanasius calls "The Law of Death") from His creatures. Immortality is incidental to the main objective, i.e. not merely the removal of mortality from the body (which He could have accomplished at any time after Adam and Eve left the garden) but death's total destruction with regards to its enslaving the inner man, which entails a transfiguration of the “heart, soul, mind, and strength,” unto total ontological unity with the divine. If Christ's primary objective was to make man immortal, and there is a substantial portion of people who continue to live in sin and corruption (inner death) forever, then why make man mortal to begin with? It undermines the entire scriptural purpose of mortality. Therefore, I must admit that this point is actually quite strong for the universalist position because a resurrection to immortality must itself be a sign that the continuing of inner sin and death either must no longer exist, or will be finally purged in its entirety (if we take the stated biblical rationale all the way to its logical conclusion).

“People will grow lax in their spiritual life if hell is said to have an end! If hell is not eternal, then our choices are meaningless and there are no consequences!”

This is a common assertion when speaking to the pedagogical reasons for keeping infernalism in its current rhetorical form. Leaving aside the ironic fact that the universalist theologians of Christian history happen to be some of the most sober and holy men who have ever walked the earth (certainly those who could never be described as “lax”), merely translating this argument is sufficient for its own refutation. Imagine someone saying: “If all crime does not result in a prison sentence, and all prison sentences are not for life, then our choices are meaningless and there are no consequences!” Putting it this way reveals the silliness of the claim, precisely because of the obnoxious extent of its unmeasured severity. What kind of person would think it makes sense for both the candy bar thief and the murderer to get the maximum prison sentence? Nobody who could accurately be described as “human” would believe that this is a good or just notion.

Furthermore, since we are on the topic of future punishment working to scare us away from bad decisions: would the threat of a life sentence in prison prevent any wicked man from committing a crime simply because it is not a twenty-year sentence? Does the inevitable convict say to himself prior to robbing a bank: “Thank God the maximum punishment for bank robbing is only thirty years in prison! Because if it was for life, I am not sure I could go through with this?” Therefore, taking into consideration how human psychology actually works in this life, it makes far more sense to suppose that the fear of hell is founded primarily on the reality and inevitability of the torment itself (alongside the fact that the severity and duration of the torment is unknown), and not necessarily on the supposed neverendingness of the torment. Neverendingness unto itself does not add fear to the immoral fool incapable of being threatened, nor does it add fear to one who already fears the Lord and dreads the reality and inevitability of hell. Neverendingness therefore serves no discernible purpose to prevent people from growing lax in the spiritual life, because this objective is already met by the reality and inevitability of torment.

The universalist could easily argue that (a) the reality and inevitability of torment, (b) its measured severity in relation to the crime, and (c) the mystery surrounding its duration is sufficient enough fear to keep anyone in line.[23] And that going any further than this starts to become counterproductive: causing people to altogether give up trying to attain what is a seemingly unattainable goal, one with everlasting and irreversible consequences if unsuccessful, and all for the sake of worshiping an apparently powerless deity with less compassion for his own creatures than his own creatures.

“Universalism removes free will.”

Another, rather odd misconception about universalism is that it removes free will. People say things like "God never saves people against their will!" And all throughout the same podcast on universalism, Perry Robinson keeps making a point to talk about the importance of the "freedom to choose" against God (forever, being the implication) and that if universalism is true, it therefore removes human freedom.

However, just because someone believes all of mankind will be ultimately restored (in some distant post-Gehenna age) does not mean they also believe they avoid hell and God forced them into the kingdom against their will (something He obviously could have done from the very beginning). Patristic universalists were also synergists just like most everyone else, believing that all mankind will eventually choose God of their own will (not without help from God and the prayers of the saints). Also, granting Perry's libertarian notion of freedom, human freedom is contingent only on the potentiality of rejecting God generally, not actually rejecting God forever. The length of the rejection is accidental to the nature of libertarian freedom, since nobody would seriously argue a limited rejection of God is a display of inherently less freedom than everlasting rejection. Also, a man who rejects God and spends a thousand years in hell only to realize his errors and willingly desires the good, has still done no damage to a libertarian notion of freedom. Therefore, this argument from libertarian freedom is so weak that it falls apart even when I grant its own paradigm.

“The Church Fathers condemned universalism.”

In his recent article, Bradshaw writes, "Just as [The Fathers] took for granted that some will be eternally damned, so they assumed that there can be no repentance after death..." I'm always wary when people talk about the church fathers as if they were a monolithic unity. Usually whenever someone says "the Fathers say," what they mean is "the Fathers (who agree with me) say." When one faces toward a field of a thousand theologians lined up horizontally, and then narrowly squints through a cardboard tube, its very easy to spot the "consensus of the Fathers." Of course this is only an illusion caused by anathematizing all dissenters from the periphery. In other words, the consensus of a handful of theologians, or even the majority of theologians in the patristic corpus, is not a "consensus of the Fathers." These are different individuals living in different times and in different contexts, all having different agendas and positions which may be a majority or a minority position depending on the specific era. Bradshaw's conception of the patristic corpus is, in my opinion, far too neat and tidy: serving only to aid his rhetorical aims.

The fact of the matter is, some explicitly believed universalism (e.g. Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Isaac of Nineveh), others liked it but perhaps did not ultimately have the time in their limited days on this planet to work through all the implications to land anywhere conclusively (ie: Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen), still others found it interesting at first but ultimately disagreed (ie: Augustine, Jerome), and others were scandalized and made hostile by it (ie: Epiphanius, Justinian). There are even those (e.g. Maximus, Chrysostom, Basil) who are thought to have believed in universalism privately but thought public infernalism was a necessary pastoral move, and that pedagogical fear was necessary for the majority of believers, who were children of the faith, while those who have ascended to a more sublime understanding of God would know infernalism is not literally the case.

As one can see, opinions on the matter are all over the place. Some fathers condemned universalism, others did not. Saying "the Fathers" believed this or that about universalism is highly misleading, and the false narrative does damage to the historical reality. This nuanced picture should tell us that much of Christian eschatology was (and still is) up for debate and in the realm of theological opinion (theologoumena). Further, it would not only be dishonest, but a most deceptive lie to point to the one hostile group (ignoring both the large and small distinctions between the others) and call it "consensus" just so we can sleep a little easier at night.

Whenever his seminary students used the general phrase "the Fathers say," the great Fr. Thomas Hopko would always sharply and knowingly respond with the challenge: "Which ones?"

“There is no repentance after death. Disembodiment is a static existence.”

As evident in Bradshaw's article, many people are under the assumption that disembodiment means ontological stasis: that somehow, man can never again make motions of the will. However, this is a premise that could not be more arguable, and the mere fact that many influential theologians believed this does not make it true. As Cyprian of Carthage once said, "Custom without truth is the antiquity of error."[24] Though it is true in a technical sense that one may not be able to "repent," strictly in an embodied sense, this detail is irrelevant when one remembers not only the common belief that the prayers for the departed are effectual and salvific, but also that embodiment is returning. The reason why this argument was made is because it rests on the presumption that ontological dynamism is caused by an embodied mode of nature: that man must be embodied to be a dynamic creature: able to will the good and repent and change and so on. And without this embodied mode, man is a static soul.

However, let us put aside disagreements on this premise for now, and grant Bradshaw that it is true. My biggest criticism of this conception of eschatology is the inherent logical implication that the wicked are not resurrected. The conceptualizing does not think far enough into the future. Re-embodiment is a thing. The Nicene Creed calls it: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” Therefore, even granting the premise, one can only conceive of being “fixed” in this way for the precise duration of disembodiment, which is not forever if one believes all will be resurrected bodily. Because embodiment is inherently dynamic (as the premise goes), ultimately everyone post-resurrection will, in theory, have the potential to change.

Of course what I said is granting the idea, for the sake of argument, that disembodiment is static, which I personally do not find very convincing for the moment, since I think ontological dynamism more likely comes from persons themselves (embodied or not), not a particular state of the nature of persons. So long as personhood exists (that is the subject of individual consciousness), then willing and internal motion exists, which means dynamism exists even for the disembodied (if we grant that disembodied conscious existence is true). It seems to me that the potential for this kind of change is linked to our ontological capacity in Love. Stasis can only be a stasis in the sense of a perfection in love, with every imperfect love a dynamic potentiality, not unlike the difference between one resting on the mountain summit and all those below who still have a distance to climb.

Predicting the inevitable implication to what he asserts, Bradshaw goes on to say, "Nonetheless, it is true that what prayers can accomplish inevitably depends a great deal on the state of the soul of the deceased. No prayer can transform someone into someone he was not." What exactly is such an argument meant to suggest? Are we really going to believe that prayer is only effective for souls already set to be saved? This idea simply turns prayer into an optional privilege for those who are already heaven-bound, which of course makes it altogether superfluous. Prayer here acts like a physician who only tends to healthy patients. Listen to the Lord who says, "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."[25] Who among us, having a faithful grandmother, can say prayer has not turned them into someone they were not? Who I am today is inseparable from all they who have uttered my name to God in prayer. Believing that man cannot be changed by prayer only serves to prevent us from praying for those who most need it.

“Universalism destroys the distinction between good and evil.”

Just because someone believes all of mankind will be ultimately saved does not mean they also believe everyone will avoid going to hell. There are certainly consequences for evil in a universalist paradigm in spite of an ultimate salvation of all. Therefore, a distinction exists in universalist soteriological thought between (a) being imminently saved from entrance into hell as a result of the actions in this life and (b) being ultimately saved from remaining in hell in the next life as a result of the prayers of the saints and the paying the uttermost farthing. In other words, there are two salvations depending on the demographic and sense: (1) the biblical sense: sheep working towards perfection in this life to be prevented from hell’s torments in the next, and (2) the speculative sense: goats who end up in hell have the potential of being saved out of it. Therefore, the two salvations are the salvation of the righteous and unrighteous (in that order): the found sheep in this life who are the firstfruits of salvation, saved by baptismal water, and the salvation of the lost goats in the next who are saved as by baptismal hellfire. As the scriptures say, “he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”[26]

It is for this reason that I find it makes more sense to rebrand the concept “universal restoration” rather than universal salvation, since the word salvation is already conceptually tied to an escape from having to enter hell as opposed to being saved through hell.

“Universalists don’t care about the Bible.”

Another misconception is the idea that Universalists do not care about the Bible. “How could they? They reject such obvious passages about the eternality of hell,” right? Well, no. Not unless one seriously believes that someone like Origen (who seems to have had multiple versions of the Scriptures memorized) was somehow unaware of all those verses.

Universalists simply define the biblical word aiōn/aiōnios (often translated in English as “eternal,” but can also be translated “age”) to mean an indefinite/unspecified amount of time rather than something with absolutely no end, which is in keeping with the ambiguity of the biblical Greek (if the word itself was not ambiguous, how could there be disagreement?). “Eternal” can be used as a kind of hyperbolic length of time that means to say it is either beyond comprehension, beyond numerical value, or having an unseen end that has not yet been revealed (similar to “thousand” and “ten thousand” in scripture).

As an example, let us suppose a phoenix to be a real creature, and that the mythology surround it was true that it has a lifespan of a thousand years before it dies and is reborn in an egg of myrrh to repeat the process, and that it can only be seen by mankind once every five hundred years.[27] And for the sake of argument, let’s say a phoenix lives on this planet for a grand total of exactly ten thousand years through this process of death and rebirth before it finally dies for good. Because we have very few years on this planet, we would have no way of knowing the phoenix technically has a limited lifespan because it is hidden from our vantage point. This fact would require divine revelation for us to know. Thus, there is no real difference (for us observers) between that finite number of years and a truly infinite number of years. Both are perceived as eternity to us. We simply have no frame of reference to mentally categorize what it would even look like for anything to live ten thousand years. Thus, it would absolutely make sense to say the phoenix is an “eternal” creature from the perspective of the human being who lives but “seventy or eighty years.”[28]

Thus, aside from having a different definition of eternity, the universalist could argue that when scripture says people suffer torment for eternity, it is a reflection either of the fact that the actual number is out of view, or it speaks to how such an experience is internalized by the conscience and not how it exists in any objective external sense within time (similar to how time seems to stop when idle, or how it speeds up when busy). Therefore, the universalist would say “eternal” is a highly misleading English translation, because our culture has solidified the definition of this word, making it unambiguous. Eternality may be extremely long, and it may seem to be unending to the eyes, and it may be beyond what we can categorize, and it may be unspecified and hidden, but nonetheless it is not necessarily without end.

This objection that universalists deny scripture is also ironic not merely because it makes the absurd implication that universalists are somehow woefully unaware of some basic and obvious passages that a teenager would have read, but also because Origen explicitly anchors his definition of words like “eternal” to the text of scripture. This is most clearly expressed in his Commentary on Romans, where he says:

In the Scriptures, “eternity” is sometimes recorded because the end is not known, but sometimes because the time period designated does not have an end in the present age, though it does end in the future. Sometimes a period of time or even the length of one man’s life may be designated as eternity, as, for example, is written in the law concerning a Hebrew slave.[29] 

Origen here is referencing Exodus 21:5-6, where the text says concerning the cultural tradition among the Hebrews: “and he will be your slave eternally.” He also goes on to reference Ecclesiastes 1:4, which talks about the Earth standing “eternally.” It is clear, of course, that none of these examples are actually meant to suggest instances of endlessness, which is why the word is not as clear as we might have been inclined to think. We need to take Origen seriously here if we claim to be followers of scripture, because scripture itself does not define eternal as a duration which is absolutely and unambiguously unending. And if we believe that the word is to be defined solely in this way, then we unknowingly run contrary to the word as it is defined and used by scripture.

“Universalism should never be taught”

Interestingly, there is evidence that Origen may have thought universalism should not be preached to everyone, but was only for those numbered among the mature who are ready to hear it:

It is in the precincts of Jerusalem, then, that punishments will be inflicted upon those who undergo the process of purification, who have received into the substance of their soul the elements of wickedness, which in a certain place is figuratively termed lead, and on that account iniquity is represented in Zechariah as sitting upon a talent of lead. But the remarks which might be made on this topic are neither to be made to all, nor to be uttered on the present occasion; for it is not unattended with danger to commit to writing the explanation of such subjects, seeing the multitude need no further instruction than that which relates to the punishment of sinners; while to ascend beyond this is not expedient, for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of eternal punishment, from plunging into any degree of wickedness, and into the flood of evils which result from sin.[30]

Perhaps universalism was only for those who have labored through all the textual and philosophical difficulties. Origen was fully aware of how such a teaching could potentially be interpreted by certain people in a way that tempts them to not take the spiritual life seriously. He says something similar in his exposition of Romans, explaining why Paul in his epistle to the Romans says in Adam “all” are negatively affected,[31] and in Christ “many,”[32] but he uses the word “all” both times in his epistle to the Corinthians:[33]

For this reason he restrains his words and does not put down “all men,” as is usual in other places, but “many,” who have been made sinners through the transgression of the one. Similarly he does not assert that the gift in the grace of God through the one man Jesus Christ abounds to “all” but to “very many,” in order to keep the more negligent of his hearers in check with fear and to make them apprehensive, without closing the mysteries of the divine goodness for those who are more perfect.[34]

It is highly ironic what Origen is doing here, and I must explain what is happening. According to Origen, Paul is shrouding the truth about universalism, particularly in Romans, for pastoral reasons. Origen has to explain to his more academic audience what he thinks Paul is doing, and this is an act which itself exposes precisely what Paul intentionally shrouded. When it concerns the explanation of Paul’s eschatology: Origen is forced to take off his pastoral hat in order to put on his academic hat.[35]

However, because the spirit of inquiry prompts me to inquire further: the same could be said of any eschatological perspective. Just because a doctrine has the potential to be incorrectly put into practice among its hearers does not necessarily mean the doctrine itself is wrong. If such a thing were true, the understanding of unending torment would have the same problem, because people even today are scandalized and interpret infernalism to mean that God is unjust, therefore such a God cannot exist for He would no longer be God, therefore religion is pointless, etc. No, the universalist could easily anticipate such a response, as Origen did, and say along with Paul who did the same, saying: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”[36]

Thus, viewed within a pastoral framework, universalism was seen as an elevated mystical exegesis that is edifying only for the spiritually and intellectually mature, and potentially scandalous for the infants of the faith needing to ingest doctrines in their most simplistic liquid form.[37] However, pastors and theologians throughout the ages have largely failed to notice that the opposite is also true: forced infernalism acts as a scandal to the mature, precisely because of all the heretical things it would imply about the nature of God that runs contrary to the whole counsel of scripture. Must the church anathematize those whose food is solid as a means to prevent the young from choking on knowledge, or can the adult and the infant actually coexist? Is it wise for Mount Ebal to anathematize Mount Gerazim? I wonder which is better: Situation A, a person who leaves the faith and lives according to the imaginations of the mind because infernalism has in the eyes of him or her made the church lose all intellectual credibility, or Situation B, a person who enters the faith and lives according to Christ because of an intellectually mature patristic understanding of universalism?

When commenting on Jeremiah’s lament, where he says, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived,”[38] Origen speaks about how scripture speaks to us as if we are children:

When guiding children we speak to children, and we do not speak to them as we do to mature people but we speak to them as children who need training, and we deceive children when we frighten children in order that it may halt the lack of education in youth. And we frighten children when we speak through words of deceit on account of what is basic to their infancy, in order that through the deceit we may cause them to be afraid and to resort to teachers both to declare and to do what is applicable for the progress of children.[39]

The topic of universalism is a pastoral question that goes both ways, and Christians must discuss honestly and objectively the possibility of there being room for some to have such a perspective in the church, even if it be tolerated as a mere disagreeable theological opinion.

“Everlasting destruction brings glory to God just like salvation brings glory to God.”

It must then be asked, “which is the greater outcome for criminals in this world: capital punishment or rehabilitative reintegration?” Surely not even the most brutish and hard-hearted among men would suggest the former to be greater. Therefore, even if one were to grant that the damnation of some were to be a positive for God’s glory, this would only make the restoration of those same people an even greater glory. This is for one simple reason: life is always superior to death. Condemnation and punishment can never logically be viewed as an inverse equal to salvation and forgiveness.

This means that were the salvation of all human beings possible, God would absolutely prefer it over the condemnation of some because, again, salvation is better than condemnation. Listen to the Lord who speaks mystically to the spiritually blind and deaf: “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’[40] For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”[41] This means that one cannot logically say with any consistency that universal salvation is possible, without also affirming it to be true, because scripture tells us that this is God’s will. As the scriptures declare, God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”[42] And again we hear the Lord saying “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”[43]

Therefore, one has to either say universalism is (a) incorrect because it is impossible, or (b) correct because it is possible. I use the word “possible” because I make a distinction from that which is “conceivable.” The conceivable is one thing, and that which is actually possible (that which can be actualized) is another. For there are things that are conceivable which are not also possible for actualization.[44] Therefore, logically and exegetically speaking, there is for me no conceivable way in which universalism (in connection with a consistent exegetical logic concerning the nature of God) can be both possible and incorrect. Therefore, the status of universalism, like that of infernalism, rests entirely on its possibility.[45]

This is the fundamental distinction between universalism, hopeful universalism, and infernalism: Universalists believe it to be actually possible for God to save all, self-described hopeful universalists remain unsure of the possibility of this but nonetheless hope that it is possible (because it is conceivably a better eschatological outcome than the infernalist vision), and infernalists believe it is impossible for God to save all, rendering the lost to be beyond the reach of what the work of Christ is actually capable of achieving (due to a libertarian notion of free will).

However, there is another often neglected subject of inquiry that I find to be necessary when talking about universalism, and that is the precise nature of death in relation to life, and what it truly means for “death” and “hell” to be “thrown into the lake of fire.”[46] Are we to understand death to be an everlasting antithesis of life, forever existing merely to forever die? Or does death, in all its forms, actually cease to exist at some point in our future?

Origen: Life and Death are not Equals
Nevertheless no matter how much a person may continue in sin, no matter how much he should hold out under the dominion and authority of death, I do not think that the kingdom of death is therefore of eternal duration in the same way as that of life and righteousness, especially when I hear from the Apostle that the last enemy, death, is going to be destroyed [cf. 1 Cor. 15:26]. And in fact, if the duration of the eternity of death is supposed to be the same as that of life, death will no longer be the contrary to life but its equal. For an eternal will not be contrary to an eternal, but identical. Now it is certain that death is contrary to life; therefore it is certain that if life is eternal, death cannot be eternal; whence also the resurrection of the dead necessarily takes place. For when the death of the soul, who is the last enemy, should be destroyed, likewise this common death, which, we have said to be like the shadow of the other one, shall necessarily be abolished. Logically, at that time room will be made for the resurrection of the dead, when the dominion of death has been destroyed equally with death.[47]

Origen argues that life and death are not to be conceived as equals, and for both to exist without end makes neither ultimately superior to the other. This argument from Origen needs far more engagement from those who want to argue for the infernalist position, because Origen here meditates honestly on the implications of certain interpretations of the scriptural text.

In other words, how can life be said to truly conquer death if death exists forever? Further, how can we say that Christ conquered death for all, if life and death (like water and oil) coexist in the same reality forever, and the one never overcomes the other? If, as scripture tells us, Christ’s desires that “none should perish,” then where exactly is the victory over death when the devil has ultimately, through his successful temptations, caused God to condemn a significant portion of His own creatures, made in His own image, to an unending death unto ages of ages? This would mean that God is actually the one who is more at fault. The devil merely lit the match of sin and death and threw it in the forest of mankind, whereas God is said to actively keep the forest burning in this way forever (perhaps deciding that the flames of wickedness on a few trees would extinguish themselves by free libertarian choice), rather than simply putting out the fire wholesale (granting the possibility of universalism), or allowing the trees to burn out of existence (ie: annihilationism).

And if one were to say, “God cannot be caused to do anything He does not desire,” then one is ultimately admitting that God desires some, and not “none,” to perish, which is not only contrary to scripture, but it has heretical implications about the character of God. And if one says “God is sovereign over the devil,” and “God is love,” yet affirms infernalism, what does that say about a God who knew the horrifying fate of those people: not only knowing they are without hope, but intending for them to be without hope from the beginning, since He knew they would be better off never having been born as He knit them in the womb. What does this say about how we define “love?”

“If the life of punishment of the wicked is limited in days, then so is the life of the righteous, according to Matthew 25:46, because both use the word aiōnios

If aiōnios can be interpreted to mean, as I have already argued: an indefinite/unspecified amount of time, then there is no dilemma here. Both the duration of hell and the duration of heaven is indefinite and unspecified, even if the actual duration of the two experiences are not the same. The meaning of the word is defined by the context of what it describes. In other words, the text could read: “And these shall go away into eternal punishment (which is an indefinite number of days with no foreseeable ending because the duration is unknown and presumably different for every person): but the righteous into life eternal (which is also an indefinite number of days with no foreseeable ending because man is transfigured in God and time has ceased to exist in any understandable form).”

If we accept Origen’s argument that life and death are not equals (which we must, considering only life is truly and unarguably without beginning), then we must also accept that what is said of the eternality of death cannot logically be synonymous with what is said about the eternality of life, simply because the word eternal is used for both. Therefore, it seems to me that this argument does not truly work against the universalist position.

These are just a few of the difficult questions we must engage seriously, and I raise them precisely because I am, quite frankly, frustrated with the embarrassingly low degree of intellectual rigor surrounding infernalist engagement with this topic. If infernalists cannot form a morally coherent and philosophically consistent argument that competently and exegetically addresses these extremely reasonable concerns, then the most successful evangelist for universalism will not be Origen, it will be the infernalists themselves.

Mount Gerazim vs Mount Ebal

In the ninth homily of his Homilies on Joshua, Origen provides a mystical exposition on what the text says about Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal. He uses this image to convey two types of people in the church, each having a different spiritual motivation to help them ascend the “mountain top” of the spiritual life. For further clarity, imagine that Gerazim is a mountain in the day, having people guided to the summit by the sun, whereas Ebal is a mountain in the shadow of night, with people guided to the summit by candlelight. Origen says Gerazim people are motivated to do good because they love the good (ie: people who live by the apostle John’s words “perfect love casts out fear”[48]), whereas Ebal people are primarily motivated to do good by fear of punishment (ie: people who live by Solomon’s words “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”49). To be clear, Origen is not saying Gerazim people are saved and Ebal people are damned, he is making a distinction between two paths of salvation that he observes among people in the church: the one mature and the other immature. The mature are given the blessings of joy, freedom, and liberty, but the immature are given a list of curses/consequences to keep in mind so they can stay the course. Origen writes the following:

Indeed these histories of the ancients report their deeds. But how shall we ourselves apply this narration of history to mystic discernment so that we may make known who they are who go near Mount Gerizim and who they are who go near Mount Ebal? As I myself see, there are two species of those who through faith hasten and go quickly toward salvation. One of them are those who, kindled by the longing for the promise of heaven, press forward with the greatest zeal and diligence so that not even the least happiness may pass them by. They have the desire not only to lay hold of blessings and to be made “to have a share in the lot of the saints,” but also to station themselves in the sight of God and to be always with the Lord. There are others, however, who also reach toward salvation, but they are not inflamed so much by the love of blessings or by the desires for the promises. Instead their view is much more like this, as they say, “It is enough for me not to go into Gehenna, it is enough for me not to be sent into eternal fire, it is enough for me not to be expelled ‘into outer darkness.’” Since there is such a variety of aims among individual ones of the faithful, it seems to me that what is designated in this place is this: The half who go near Mount Gerizim, those who have been chosen for blessings, indicate figuratively the ones who come to salvation not by fear of punishment, but by desire of blessings and renewed promises. But the half who go near Mount Ebal, where curses were produced, indicate those others who, by fulfilling what was written in the Law, attain salvation by fear of evil things and dread of torments. Now it is for God alone to know who of all of us sons of Israel is kindled by desire of the good itself to do what is good, and who of us, out of fear of Gehenna and the terror of eternal fire, strives toward the good and is diligent and hastens to fulfill the things that have been written. It is certain that the nobler ones are those who do what is good by the desire of the good itself and by the love of blessings, rather than those who run after the good through the fear of evil. Therefore, Jesus alone is the one who is able to distinguish the minds and spirits of all such people, and to station some on Mount Gerizim for blessings and others on Mount Ebal for cursings. Not so that they may receive curses but that they may guard against incurring them by gazing at the curses prescribed and punishments set down for sinners.50

This passage is significant, because it is a window into how Origen personally understood the place of universalism in the church. For Origen, universalism was, in essence, a Gerazim doctrine (being for mature people who do not need eschatological fear as spiritual motivation to do good), and infernalism was seen as a doctrine of Ebal. Origen understood the pedagogical place for infernalism among the “Ebalites,” even though he himself was a member of Gerazim.

“Scripture says the fire of hell is 'unquenchable,' therefore it can only be without end”

 When scripture speaks of a fire that is "unquenchable," it can refer to a variety of things:

  1. It refers to the fact that the fire is in reference to God Himself (as opposed to that fire on the birthday cake which can be easily extinguished with a single breath of wind).

    For the fire of divinity is itself unquenchable by nature, until what must be refined is finally refined, or the Lord allows the tormenting experience of it to be quenched.[51] The fire itself is never quenched because divinity is never quenched, but this does not mean the negative experience of the fire cannot ever be quenched. As scripture says, “our God is a consuming fire,”[52] and that sin is eternally consumed by “the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power,” and concerning the nature and purpose of His eschatological fire it says, “who may abide in the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.”[53] In other words, God’s presence is where the metaphorical language of “unquenchable fire” points. God’s “anger” towards sin and death cannot be quenched. In other words, there is never a day when God will cease consuming the sin within us, and for the sinner to be near to God is also the experience of being consumed until there is no more sin for the fire to consume.
  2. It is a biblical image that is often directly associated with God’s “wrath.”

    The ancient Hebrews often simplistically reasoned that if divine fire is present, and death is involved, divine anger must also be present. This is how Christ gets questions thrown at Him like: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”[54] However, the mature theologians do not reason like a child in this way. Listen to the scriptures, saying: “when I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” They have all taught us that the wrath of God is not to be understood literally, but is, as many have described, analogical human phraseology as a way to explain these events from the experiential perspective of mankind looking upwards at the sky. “Wrath of God” is therefore a biblical expression analogous to saying “the sun revolves around the Earth.” However, anyone who thinks this unquenchable fire of God (when spoke of to mean wrath) cannot also be quenched must listen to the scriptures saying "And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched."[55] The infernalist would surely respond by saying “the quenching of the fire is linked to the extermination of the sinner,” but this is not true. The death of the wicked was a pedagogical sign to those who live among the living that unquenchable fire is quenched by repentance, and that the “unquenchable” aspect of the fire is itself contingent upon the extent and duration of the wickedness. All those people who died were not truly exterminated, because they still remain in a disembodied form, like all who live among the dead in Hades. To be consistent with such an infernalist interpretation of the passage, one would have to also believe God utterly annihilates the wicked in the eschaton, destroying “both soul and body” to nonexistence.[56]
  3. It is a hyperbolic Old Testament expression speaking to the inevitability of judgment and the lack of relief during the time of judgment, indefinitely, until the presence of sin is gone.

    Listen to how the Lord speaks to His people saying, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”[57] And again, “O house of David, thus saith the LORD; Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go out like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”[58] And elsewhere it says, “Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel.”[59]

    Here we see how the notion of “unquenchable” in the Old Testament is in reference to God staying the course and doing what He has set out to do. Scripture uses anger to make this point. Anger is an inward motivating agent, and anger provokes us to do a thing without relent. Listen to the unquenchable fire of Saul, saying, “cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies.”[60] When God says His fire will not be quenched, it simply means justice will be served, that which is wrong will be made right, there is no escaping the penalty, and there will be no rest until this comes to pass. The prophets do not mean to tell us that God intended to literally and forever burn the nation of Israel with a fire that cannot be put out, damning them forever. The truly unquenchable fire of God is the fire of love. For scripture says not only that “God is a consuming fire,”[61] but it explains the essential nature of this fire when it says elsewhere: “God is love,”[62] and we would do well to remember that “many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”[63]

    And concerning the meaning of relief: elsewhere scripture says the following concerning the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: ”And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”[64] It is worth noting that the rich man in this example does not ask to be removed from the fire, he asks for relief in the form of a reduction in its intensity. The rich man is not given his water break. This is what it means for hell to be without relief. The rich man wants a cup of water, but instead he is given the full and bitter cup of wrath, and he must drink without ceasing until there is nothing left to drink. Therefore, unquenchable fire in this context means not that there is no end to the torment, but no relief in the midst of it.
Gerazim’s Universalist Desire vs. Ebal’s Infernalist Desire

Like Moses, a man of Gerazim, it is the heart of love that persistently seeks to change God’s mind, so to speak, to give wicked people what they do not deserve.[65] This prayer request is constantly uttered to God by the saints on behalf of all humanity like the persistent widow,[66] and of course the original patriarch of all who are of Gerazim: Abraham. For, truly, it was Abraham who, with a widow’s persistence, reasoned with the King of Creation concerning the wicked, perpetually saying with increasing measure: “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Suppose thirty should be found there?” So God said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”[67] And if anyone instead desired to condemn the sinners to justice, rather than to forgive them of their iniquity, scripture would surely cry out: “and such were some of you!”[68] Therefore, it seems to me our desire should be aligned with they who rest on the summit of Gerazim.

Hopeful universalism has been the default position of Christians (including infernalists) from the beginning, whether they realized it or not. The reason is as follows: if you pray for the salvation of all persons no matter how wicked, even after they die, and you believe your prayer to be effectual, or at least believe in the chance that your prayer could be effectual, then you at a minimum function as a hopeful universalist. To be a functionally consistent infernalist (having a theology that reflects practice), one would have to pray not for the salvation of wicked human persons who reject Christ, but their annihilation: calling for everlasting destruction not to the power of death over them (that they would repent), but to their personal existence. Paul knew a great number of Jews rejected Christ, committing a most terrible sin, and yet he still desires their salvation and even speaks of its possibility. He does not accept the idea that it is good and just for them to be tormented forever because of their sin against the living God. The infernalist prayer life, if consistent in this way, is therefore not a war against hell, but on all the righteous who wish to kick down the gates from the outside.

Looking within myself, honestly reflecting on the content of my own prayer and finding the desire to see the wicked repent and not be condemned, is the major reason why my former antagonism for universalism is gone. And because man cannot surpass God in love, it must be understood that wherever man is correct in his understanding of love, God far exceeds. Therefore, if man desires that all be saved, and that this desire can be said to be an accurate exegetical portrait of Christ’s love, then it cannot be true that God’s desire could fall short of man’s desire. On the contrary, what God desires in love is exceedingly greater than what man can achieve.

Therefore, the fundamental point of argumentation must be with regards to what is most reflective of love’s desire according to divine revelation: (a) the salvation of the wicked or (b) the destruction of the wicked. This is where it all hinges. Of course, the scriptures (when read discerning the spirit of the whole in light of the gospels) seem to side with the former.[69] Thus, it seems to me that we are all, for the most part, functionally universalist already, since we are encouraged to pray for the ultimate salvation of our enemies, rather than their ultimate destruction. We pray for “the destruction of the wicked” in the immediate: insofar as it relates to wicked works, and wickedness as a category itself, but we do not pray for human persons (who happen to also be wicked), made in the image of God, to forever be destroyed, nor would we want to imply that God is some distraught iconoclast forever burning His own images in the wroth flames of cruelty.

It seems to me to be at least theoretically possible (in light of all the intercessory passages in scripture) that the actualizing of a future universalist reality may be itself contingent on our wanting it. In other words, universalism can be possible and true if we want it and persistently pray for it to come true. That we who are united to Christ hold the future in our hands. Certainly the biblical thing for Christians to do, whether one believes in universalism or not, would be to be like Abraham and Moses: praying that God would "repent"[70] of a hopelessly infernalist future. However, to do this, we must first wish our hearts be softer than Jonah’s: resisting the impassioned desire to watch sinners burn in order to satisfy the wrath of a self-righteous inner man. I say "self-righteous" and not "righteous" intentionally, because this kind of anger is deceptive and causes mankind everywhere to believe they are justified in the righteousness of God by the passions of the flesh. Indeed, the great and peculiar conclusion of Jonah shows us that God cares more about cattle than angry men of God seem to care about other human beings made in His image. Men of wrath cannot truly be seated in the light of Christ and still desire the death of the wicked, since God tells us not once but multiple times in the same book: "I desire not the death of the wicked."[71] They can only desire the death of the wicked once they leave the light to sit in the darkness of shadow. And if anyone is tempted to escape the dilemma by saying death is one thing and gehenna another,[72] listen to the scriptures speaking of the lake which “burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”[73] As scripture says concerning they who make their dwelling among shadows, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."[74] And again it says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."[75] And yet again it says that Jonah sat not in the light, but "in the shadow."[76] Such men of wrath would surely respond by saying, “But you have not seen Nineveh’s works! You do not know the extent of their wickedness! They are vile animals worthy of judgment!” However, though one may be correct in saying another is deserving of punishment, and one may have a very good reason to be filled with wrath (like Jonah did), one should nonetheless hear the scriptures saying, "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."[77] And this divine stiff-arming to our own seemingly just rage is truly its own kind of hellfire. Many have spoken of Jonah’s descent into hell when he was in the belly of leviathan, but few have articulated Jonah’s fall into hell as he waited to watch hell fall on others. Indeed, it was he (not Nineveh) who was cast into hell, and his hell was the tormenting rebuke of Christ saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”[78]

Perhaps being a universalist is not about any of this. Perhaps it is about simply believing that the Father was really listening when the Son prayed on behalf of the entire human race, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”[79]  However, scripture and reason prompts me to ask you the reader: do you sit on Gerazim in The Light of Love, made restless by the thought of sinners suffering unending torment, or do you like Jonah sit uncomfortably on Ebal in the shadow of anger: made restless by the thought of sinners not suffering unending torment?

I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry? (Jonah 4:2-4)

__________

[1]  Throughout this essay, I will be using the term "infernalism" to refer to the eschatological position which believes in everlasting conscious torment: a term used by Hans Urs Von Balthasar and David Bentley Hart. This is not meant as a derogatory attack on the position, but merely a means to refer to the position.

[2]  Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, 2.26.

[3]  Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3.23.6.

[4]  Clement of Alexandria, Commentary on 1 John:

[5]  Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Orations, 8.

[6]  Jerome, Commentary on Isa. 14:7, Zeph. 3:8-10.

[7]  Theodoret, Homily on Eze. 6:6.

[8]  Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetical Homilies, Part I, 51; Part II, 39-41.

[9]  Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 39.19, 42.

[10]  Ambrose of Milan, Commentary on Psalm 1:54.

[11]  Maximus the Confessor, Amb. 15; 41.11; 42; 45; 65, Ad Thal. 2; 21.2-8; 36.1-9; 43.

[12]  Isaiah 45:23, restated in Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10-11.

[13]  1 Corinthians 15:25.

[14]  1 Corinthians 15:28.

[15]  1 Corinthians 3:15.

[16]  1 John 2:2.

[17]  Matthew 5:26.

[18]  2 Peter 3:9.

[19]  Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10-11.

[20]  Section begins at around the 24:50 mark.

[21]  Genesis 3:22-23.

[22]  Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.23.6.

[23]  I have elsewhere argued in my liturgical commentary that everyone will be surprised to see how much sin they have actually caused in the world because of the ripple-effect, which means the punishment for the evil we have caused will be more severe than we expect (because there is more of our sins we cannot see than we can see, as if a tree with roots having a depth measured to be multiple times the height of the tree), and that this is the mystical meaning of the words “committed in knowledge or ignorance.

[24]  Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 73.9

[25]  Luke 5:31-32.

[26]  Matthew 3:11.

[27]  cf. Herodotus, The Histories, Book II.73-75; cf. 1 Clement 25.

[28]  Psalm 90:10.

[29]  Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 6-10 (FOTC 104), trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), 16.

[30]  Origen, Against Celsus VI.25-26.

[31]  Romans 5:12.

[32]  Romans 5:19.

[33]  1 Corinthians 15:22

[34]  Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 1-5 (FOTC 103), trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 331.

[35]  To give a contextual analogy to further explain this: imagine Paul says to his immediate audience “never say the f-word.” Centuries later, Origen teaches the scriptures to people who are removed from Paul’s context, and do not know what the shrouded term “f-word” refers to. Origen then openly says the expletive to educate his audience about the word they should not say, which goes against what Paul originally said not to do. This is analogous to the ironic dilemma Origen found himself in when trying to explain universalism in Paul. He has to explain where Paul's universalism can be seen, why it is shrouded in Romans, that it is shrouded for pastoral reasons, and explaining all of this, in of itself, uncovers what is shrouded.

[36]  Romans 6:1-3.

[37]  cf. 1 Corinthians 3:2.

[38]  Jeremiah 20:7.

[39]  Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah & 1 Kings 28 (FOTC 97), trans. John Clark Smith (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1998), 217.

[40]  Hosea 6:6.

[41]  Matthew 9:13.

[42]  2 Peter 3:9.

[43]  Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11.

[44]  For example, I can conceive of a talking dog in my imagination, but this does not mean it is possible to actually teach a dog how to speak. This means that not all conceivable things are possible things.

[45]  To clarify: for universalism to be true, it must be possible for all of mankind to eventually repent and believe. For infernalism to be true, it must be possible for some of mankind to never repent and believe.

[46]  Revelation 20:10.

[47]  Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 1-5 (FOTC 103), trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 352.

[48]  1 John 4:18.

[49]  Proverbs 1:7; 9:10.

[50]  Origen, Homilies on Joshua, (FOTC 105), trans. Barbara J. Bruce (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), 102-103.

[51]  See Numbers 11:1-2 for an example of this unquenchable fire being quenched through prayer.

[52]  Hebrews 12:29.

[53]  Malachi 3:2.

[54]  John 9:2.

[55]  Numbers 11:1-2.

[56]  cf. Matthew 10:28. The church has largely rejected annihilationist interpretations, considering proper and consistent annihilationism would require that the souls of the wicked cannot be resurrected, because resurrected life is itself contingent upon those righteous who have united themselves by faith to Christ. The scriptures say in Daniel 12:2, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”And again it says in John 5:29, “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

[57]  Jeremiah 4:4.

[58]  Jeremiah 21:12.

[59]  Amos 5:6.

[60]  1 Samuel 14:24.

[61]  Hebrews 12:29.

[62]  1 John 4:7.

[63]  Song of Songs 8:7.

[64]  Luke 16:24

[65]  Exodus 32:14.

[66]  cf. Luke 18.

[67]  Genesis 18:30.

[68]  1 Corinthians 6:11.

[69]  cf. Ezekiel 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9.

[70]  The scriptural language put it in this way, but this is not to be understood literally. God is immutable and omniscient, and He knows what you will ask before you ask it (cf. Matt. 6:8). It would be an absurd proposition to suggest that omniscience can be somehow persuaded by mankind, when mankind has a level of ignorance that is near unlimited by comparison. We can offer nothing that God has not already considered in eternity past.

[71]  Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11.

[72]  As if God does not desire wicked men to die physically, but somehow does desire that they spiritually die an everlasting death.

[73]  Revelation 21:8.

[74]  1 John 1:5.

[75]  James 1:17.

[76]  Jonah 4:5.

[77]  James 1:20.

[78]  Luke 9:55.

[79]  Luke 23:34.



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