Universal Reconciliation & the Church Fathers

ThatallshallbesavedIn years past, I delved into the doctrine of hell and came across the teaching often referred to as Universal Reconciliation (UR).  As a tried and true Eternal Torment (ET) believer, I struggled with the initial concept of this teaching.

Emotionally, this is my baby, this is my hope against all hope, my desire and heart.  But my heart is a deceitful animal and my flesh often (always?) whispers sweet nothings in my ear.  I so want to believe this in my heart, but my head is screaming no.  My understanding of the Word, at this point, will not allow this to become a settled belief.

But if I am honest with myself, the doctrine has much more biblical support than I first assumed. (More support than ET?)  A recent post on this blog  “God – What is HE like?” gives a list of verses that UR proponents point to in order to justify this teaching.  It may be interesting to consider in light of the quotes supplied below.

I’ve read that a great many of the church fathers expressed their faith in this teaching, and the following are quotes from them.

The Church Fathers on Universal Reconciliation (UR)

The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.

St. Basil the Great

There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.

Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetual, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them…the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them.

Diodore of Tarsus, 320-394 A.D.

And God showed great kindness to man, in this, that He did not suffer him to continue being in sin forever; but as it were, by a kind of banishement, cast him out of paradise in order that, having punishment expiated within an appointed time, and having been disciplined, he should afterwards be recalled…just as a vessel, when one being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or remade that it may become new and entire; so also it happens to man by death. For he is broken up by force, that in the resurrection he may be found whole; I mean spotless, righteous and immortal.

Theophilus of Antioch (168 A.D.)

Wherefore also he drove him out of paradise and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some dare assert, but because He pitied him and desired that he should not be immortal and the evil interminable and irremediable.

Iraneaus of Lyons (182 A.D.)

These, if they will, may go Christ’s way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice.

Gregory of Nazianzeu, Bishop of Constantinople. (330 to 390 A.D.) Oracles 39:19

The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them. For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being.

St. Macrina the Blessed

In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.

St. Jerome, 331-420

For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with iteself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body.

Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of His grace.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, 350-428

We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.

Clement of Alexandria

Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless eons (apeirou aionas) in Tartarus. Very properly, the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aionion period (aionios) calling its life and its allotted period of punishment, its aeon.

Olnmpiodorus (AD 550)

Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire.

Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.)

That in the world to come, those who have done evil all their life long, will be made worthy of the sweetness of the Divine bounty. For never would Christ have said, “You will never get out until you hqave paid the last penny” unless it were possible for us to get cleansed when we paid the debt.

Peter Chrysologus, 435

I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures.

St. Jerome

“In the end or consummation of things, all shall be restored to their original state, and be again united in one body. We cannot be ignorant that Christ’s blood benefited the angels and those who are in hell; though we know not the manner in which it produced such effects. The apostate angels shall become such as they were created; and man, who has been cast out of paradise, shall be restored thither again. And this shall be accomplished in such a way, that all shall be united together by mutual charity, so that the members will delight in each other, and rejoice in each other’s promotion. The apostate angels, and the prince of this world, though now ungovernable, plunging themselves into the depths of sin, shall, in the end, embrace the happy dominion of Christ and His saints.”

COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT – Jerome (347-420 A.D.)

Our Lord is the One who delivers man [all men], and who heals the inventor of evil himself.

Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

While the devil thought to kill One [Christ], he is deprived of all those cast out of hades, and he [the devil] sitting by the gates, sees all fettered beings led forth by the courage of the Saviour.

Athanasius, the Great Father of Orthodoxy

Our Lord descends, and was shut up in the eternal bars, in order that He might set free all who had been shut up… The Lord descended to the place of punishment and torment, in which was the rich man, in order to liberate the prisoners.

Jerome

In the liberation of all no one remains a captive! At the time of the Lord’s passion the devil alone was injured by losing all the of the captives he was keeping.

Didymus, 370 AD

While the devil imagined that he got a hold of Christ, he really lost all of those he was keeping.

St. Chrysostom, 398 AD

Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to everyman. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil…to quote Zephaniah: “My determination to gather the nations, that I am assemble the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even say all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent”…Consider carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.

Origen (185 to 254 A.D.) He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.

The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal. in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus’ Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God’s enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies.

Jerome (340 to 420 A.D), commenting on Zephaniah 3:8-10

Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all.

Didymus the Blind

So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all”

Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3. (Origen founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.)

The Son “breaking in pieces” His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state.

Eusebius of Caesarea (65 to 340 A.D). Bishop of Caesarea

Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,’ for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection.

Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued…. for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.

Origen (185 to 254 A.D.) He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.

For it is needful that evil should some day be wholly and absolutely removed out of the circle of being.

Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

In the present life God is in all, for His nature is without limits, but he is not allin all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all. For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that He may check the course of impeity.

Theodoret the Blessed, 387-458

When death shall no longer exist, or the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all.

Origen

All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all?

Clement of Alexandria

What think ye?  This is a list of fallible men’s thoughts and I by no means imply the list carries the weight of Scripture.

I suppose the quotes above bear the same weight as, I suppose, an elder or deacon you may know in your church, whom has lived for Christ and is worthy of listening to and comparing with Scripture.


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4 thoughts on “Universal Reconciliation & the Church Fathers

  1. It is an understandable emotion. We have seen God’s great love toward us, so it is difficult to believe that God would discriminate and only love certain people. I have wrestled with this and perhaps will always wrestle with it as well.

    Regarding the Church fathers, it seems that a lot of the quotes are referring to annihilation, not reconciliation.

    My first thoughts are: Universal Reconciliation completely disregards the doctrine of predestination and election. “Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated” is completely expunged by UR, and election is rendered meaningless. The fact that God chose us is no longer meaningful or special – since it is only natural for God to save everyone according to UR. Since everyone is “chosen” according to UR, being chosen is not exciting; it is expected. So while election and predestination are certainly mysterious, they still must be upheld and believed.

    And secondly: I do not think that UR coheres with our experiences and inclinations. For when the child of a mother and father dies to cancer or is brutally murdered, the consequences are seemingly “eternal.” The child doesn’t come back to life. Moreover, the parents of this child would never say, “Well since I’ll see my child again someday, I don’t need to be feel the emotional impact of this situation – I’ll just forget about it and move on as if it never happened.” No, choices seem to have consequences, and some experiences produce incredibly profound effects. To say that sinners will undergo punishment for a period of time, but then be redeemed just doesn’t make sense.

    Universal Reconciliation really doesn’t seem to make sense (hence your reluctance towards accepting it fully). It would be far better to, with the church fathers, hold to annihilationism than to Universal Reconciliation. But in the end, we don’t know the fine details after we die. “It is not yet clear what we shall become (1 John 3:2).” So then, Christians ought not hold Eternal Torment or Annihiliationism too tightly – for we cannot say with certainty which one is true. But the Scriptures give us very little reason to believe in Universal Reconciliationism and the doctrine really has to perform interpretive gymnastics to get around the other clear teachings of Scripture (and the implications that follow from them).

    Sincerely,
    -Matt

    Like

    1. Thankyou for your comment.

      Many of your thoughts have travelling through my head. I have considered the election issue, but I also have considered the great love God has shown toward sinners, lost and helpless, blind and deaf to His grace.

      If push came to shove, I lean towards annihilation, but I freely admit my weakness in understanding the Fathers love for us.

      Thanks again for such good thoughts.
      May God bless you and your loved ones.

      Liked by 1 person

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