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 is 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.

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 ApostlesThe Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed (325 AD, 381 AD).

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.

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.

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, 11. Origen (Continued), and 12. The Eulogists of Origen.

Origen, the greatest of the Alexandrine (Eastern) school of theologians, is here examined.

13. A Third Century Group.

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

14. Minor Authorities.

15. Gregory Nazianzen.

16. Theodore of Mopsuestia and the Nestorians.

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.

Jerome, John Chrysostom.

20. Augustine (Deterioration Continues).

21. Unsuccessful Attempts to Suppress Universalism.

22. The Eclipse of Universalism.

23. Summary of Conclusions.