Universalism in the Early Church


This book is part of an ongoing series of works I have been modernizing primarily from the 19th century chronicling the conflict between Christian orthodoxy and Universalism. John Wesley Hanson was one of the most able advocates of the Universalist position during this time frame – and Universalism in the Early Church is one of several works he has written upon the subject.

You can download the book for free here (in Microsoft Word format) or a PDF version here. If you are familiar with GitHub, you can browse the entire repository.

Books Contents

This volume is an examination of the early churches’ thought on the final destiny of the unbeliever post-mortem.

1. Earliest Creeds

Explores the Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, The Apostles’ Creed, and The Nicene Creed.

2. Early Christianity a Cheerful Religion

Argues that early Christianity reflects a cheerful perspective on the future life rather than a negative focus on eternal punishment.

Includes a section on the Catacombs and the lack of despair found in the Catacombs contrary to more modern despair over death.

3. Origin of Endless Punishment

First Hanson examines the Greek and Hebrew terms in Scripture which are usually identified with eternal punishment – questioning whether this is a correct interpretation. Then Hanson asks where the doctrine came from and suggests that its origins were in the intertestamental period and heavily influenced by pagan thought.

4. Doctrines of “Mitigation” and “Reserve.”

The doctrine of “mitigation” held that for good deeds done on earth one received “furloughs” from hell.

The doctrine of “reserve” held that it was right to withhold from the common people some truths that were necessary for maintaining civil order, etc.

5. Two Kindred Thoughts

Reflects upon the custom of praying for the dead and its implications for the fate of the damned. Continues on to consider the practice of early church father’s of “hiding” some truths from the general populace – that is, believing one thing but teaching another in public. Explains the moral thought behind this and its implications for eternal punishment.

6. The Apostles’ Immediate Successors.

This includes Clement of Rome (ca. 85 AD), Polycarp (108-117 AD), Tatian, Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 70-120 AD), Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 141-156 AD), Ignatius (ca. 107 AD), Justin Martyr (89-166 AD), Irenaeus (120-202 AD), Quadratus (ca 131 AD), Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, Athenagoras (ca. 178 AD), and Theophilus (ca. 180 AD).

7. Three Gnostic Sects.

Looks at three early (heretical) Gnostic sects – the Basilidians, Carpocratians, and Valentinians – which all taught universalism and were rebuked by the church, yet not for their universalism.

8. The Sibylline Oracles.

Investigates the teachings of the Sibylline Oracles, which were popular among some early church fathers, regarding post-mortem punishment.

9. Pantaenus and Clement.

Looks at the teachings of Pantaenus (ca. 179 AD), the Alexandrine School, and Clement of Alexandria (150-220 AD).

10. Origen

Looks at Origen’s overall language regarding the nature of future punishment as well as on purifying fire specifically.

11. Origen (Continued)

Looks at the acceptance of Origen’s theology in the early church and the presence of multiple schools teaching Universalism in the early church.

12. The Eulogists of Origen.

Includes praise by contemporary authorities of Origen and his influence upon the church

  • Mosheim
  • Bunsen
  • Westcott
  • Lardner
  • Plumptre
  • Harnack
  • Max Muller

13. A Third Century Group.

Covers Hippolytus, Theophilus, Tertullian, Ambrose of Alexandria, and the Manichaeans.

14. Minor Authorities.

Covers Firmilian, Dionysius, Theognostus, Pierius, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Pamphilus, Eusebius, Athanasius, Didymus, Epiphanius, Methodius

15. Gregory Nazianzen.

The Bishop of Constantinople, commentary on the penalties of sin, overall spirit of Gregory.

16. Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians.

Author of the Nestorian Declarations.

17. A Notable Family.

Macrina the Blessed, Basil the Great, and Gregory Nyssen.

18. Additional Authorities.

Marcellus of Ancyra, Titus of Bostra, Ambrose of Milan, Serapion, Macarius Magnes, Marius Victorinus, Hilary (Bishop of Poictiers), John Cassian, Theodoret the Blessed, Evagrius Ponticus, Cyril of Alexandria, Rufinus, Domitian (Bishop of Galatia), Diodore (Bishop of Tarsus), Macarius, Peter Chrysologus, Stephan Bar-Sudaili, Maximums the Confessor.

19. The Deterioration of Christian Thought.

Particularly in the thought of Jerome and John Chrysostom.

20. Augustine (Deterioration Continues).

Includes Augustine’s acknowledgment that universalism was a belief held by early Christians, a discussion of his mistakes, and general spirit.

21. Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism.

Covers Justinian and the Ancient Church Councils.

22. The Eclipse of Universalism.

Covers Universalism’s fade from Christianity including in the works of Dante and Michelangelo.

23. Summary of Conclusions.

Summarizes the conclusions to be drawn from the book.

Appendix A. Biographies of Those Referenced

Attempts to provide background info. on many of the scholars/authors/personages mentioned throughout the book.

Appendix B. Works Referenced Herein.

Partial bibliography of various works referenced in this book.

Appendix C. Bibliography.

A bibliography of books used by myself to augment the contents of this book, but not part of the original books contents.

Appendix D. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

Includes the full text of the Didache.

Appendix E. The Nicene Creed.

Includes the full text of The Nicene Creed.

Appendix Y. What Has Changed?

Provides release notes detailing how the work has changed from the original in an attempt at clarity and accuracy.

Appendix Z. Changing of Particular Words

While minor words (e.g. thus and thou) are not included, significant words that have been changed in the next have had an endnote added with the original wording.