Category Archives: Church History

Hell Under Fire Book Review – Chapter 8 – Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved? Part 1



This chapter is written by J. I. Packer and presents itself as the meat of the book, according to my current beliefs about what the Bible says concerning salvation and the end of all things. This is a long chapter, compared to all the other chapters, weighing in at a meaty 24 pages. The most any other chapter has is 20 pages. I applaud Packer’s length, because on the surface, he must be taking more time to treat the subject than others have their subjects. I am not saying this is a good thing, necessarily, because I still believe the conclusions he arrives at are wrong, as well as the assumption that his belief is correct, at times, merely because so many have believed it through the years.



The chapter is divided into sections:



Definition of Universalism








Examining Universalism I: The Method of Assessment


Examining Universalism II: The Meaning of Salvation


       Salvation in Scriptures


      Universalists and Salvation


Examining Universalism III: The Meaning of Eternal Punishments


      The Biblical Teaching


      The Universalist Thesis




Examining Universalism IV: The Meaning of the Love of God


      Biblical Teaching on God’s Love






I think I will spend much time in this chapter and may only take a section or two at a time. One reason for this is that I plan on giving many links to materials in support of universalism that are referenced by Packer, or authors/theologians that are referenced in this chapter. It is important to me, and I hope to you, that you be the arbiter, the discerner of truth as to what the Word of God says, not some theologian you may hold in high esteem. The Word of God was given that ALL, meaning every last one, may know what it says and may understand who God is, Jesus is, and the Holy Spirit is. I mean all without exception, which is the true meaning of the word “all.” All never means all without distinction, because when there is a distinction, context qualifies its meaning. Otherwise there is too much ambiguity and too much left for someone to insert a wrong meaning. The Greek language, especially, is a very precise language, which English does not translate very well at times. Problems I have seen and experienced in translating normally stem from anachronism, reading back into the text our own meaning, rather than understanding the meaning of the period in question and considering immediate context, as well as overall context.



Let’s begin looking at the first section, Definition of Universalism, and see how far we get. Packer begins by giving a definition of universalist as “someone who believes that every human being whom God has created or will create will finally come to enjoy the everlasting salvation into which Christians enter here and now. Universalism is the recognized name for this belief.”



I can accept this definition and think that it is accurate. As far as definitions go, which isn’t very far, this is pretty generic and does not cause any concern for me. Packer continues and describes universalism as “extreme optimism about the future of our race.” He says that among Christian theological options it is an extreme optimism of grace or nature or both. It is a revisionist challenge to orthodoxy, whether that orthodoxy is Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant evangelical. He says the church officially deemed universalism a heresy ever since A.D. 533, the Council of Constantinople, or the 5th ecumenical council. He states that the doctrine of apokatastasis, or the universal return to God and the restoration of all souls as taught by Origen was anathematized.



Before I explain who Origen is and give you quotes and resources to see for yourself who this early church father was, I want to raise a few questions which are begged by statements Packer makes concerning the Council he cites. First, when did Origen live and die? Second, what was he famous for? What marked his life more than anything else? And after I answer a few of these questions, I will ask a few more that are pertinent to the case at hand. It is always worth defining who it is you are anathematizing before you make bold statements or stand on statements from 1500 years ago. So here goes.



One of the best resources that I have found to explain Origen and his impact on Christianity is Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During its First Five Hundred Years by J. W. Hanson, D.D., published in 1899. It can be found here



For a more full list of Origen’s writings and history of Origen check out:



The following are excerpts from Hanson’s work:



Origen Adamantius was born of Christian parents, in Alexandria, A.D. 185. He was early taught the Christian religion, and when a mere boy could recite long passages of Scripture from memory. During the persecution by Septimus Severus, A.D. 202, his father, Leonides, was imprisoned, and the son wrote to him not to deny Christ out of tenderness for his family, and was only prevented from surrendering himself to voluntary martyrdom by his mother, who secreted his clothes. Leonides died a martyr. In the year 203, then but eighteen years of age, Origen was appointed to the presidency of the theological school in Alexandria, a position left vacant by the flight of Clement from heathen persecution. He made himself proficient in the various branches of learning, traveled in the Orient and acquired the Hebrew language for the purpose of translating the Scriptures. His fame extended in all directions. He won eminent heathens to Christianity, and his instructions were sought by people of all lands. He renounced all but the barest necessities of life, rarely eating flesh, never drinking wine, slept on the naked floor, and devoted the greater part of the night to prayer and study. Eusebius says that he would not live upon the bounty of those who would have been glad to maintain him while he was at work for the world's good, and so he disposed of his valuable library to one who would allow him the daily pittance of four obols; and rigidly acted on our Lord's precept not to have "two coats, or wear shoes, and to have no anxiety for the morrow."1 Origen is even said to have mutilated himself (though this is disputed) from an erroneous construction of the Savior's command (Matt. xix: 12), and to guard himself from calumny that might proceed from his association with female catechumens. This act he lamented in later years. If done it was from the purest motives, and was an act of great self-sacrifice, for, as it was forbidden by canonical law, it debarred him from clerical promotion. He was ordained presbyter A.D. 228, by two bishops outside his diocese, and this irregular act performed by others than his own diocesan gave grounds to Demetrius of Alexandria, in whose jurisdiction he lived, to manifest the envy he had already felt at the growing reputation of the young scholar; and in two councils composed and controlled by Demetrius, A.D. 231 and 232, Origen was deposed. 2  Many of the church authorities condemned the action. In this persecution Origen proved himself as grand in spirit as in mind. To his friends he said: "We must pity them rather that hate them (his enemies), pray for them rather than curse them, for we were made for blessing, not for cursing." Origen went to Palestine A.D. 230, opened a school in Cæsarea, and enjoyed a continually increasing fame. The persecutions under Maximinus in 235, drove him away. He went to Cappadocia, then to Greece, and finally back to Palestine. Defamed at home he was honored abroad, but was at length called back to Alexandria, where his pupil Dionysius had succeeded Demetrius as bishop. But soon after, during the persecution under Decius, he was tortured and condemned to die at the stake, but he lingered, and at length died of his injuries and sufferings, a true martyr, in Tyre, A.D. 253 or 254, at the age of sixty-nine. His grave was known down to the Middle Ages. 

1 Eusebius Eccl. Hist. VI. Butler's Lives of the Saints, Vol. IV, pp. 224-231, contains quite a full sketch of Origen's life, though as he was not canonized he is only embalmed in a foot note. 

2 Demetrius is entitled to a paragraph in order to show the kind of men who sometimes controlled the scholarship and opinions of the period. When the patriarch Julian was dying he dreamed that his successor would come next day, and bring him a bunch of grapes. Next day this Demetrius came with his bunch of grapes, an ignorant rustic, and he was soon after seated in the episcopal chair. It was this ignoramus who tyrannically assumed control of ecclesiastical affairs, censured Origen, and compelled bishops of his own appointing to pass a sentence of degradation on Origen, which the legitimate 
presbyters had refused. 

One of the most notable and most often quoted historian, Philip Schaff, had this to say about Origen:

“It is impossible to deny a respectful sympathy to this extraordinary man, who, with all his brilliant talents, and a host of enthusiastic friends and admirers, was driven from his country, stripped of his sacred office, excommunicated from a part of the church, then thrown into a dungeon, loaded with chains, racked by torture, doomed to drag his aged frame and dislocated limbs in pain and poverty, and long after his death to have his memory branded, his name anathematized, and his salvation denied; but who, nevertheless, did more than all his enemies combined to advance the cause of sacred learning, to refute and convert heathens and heretics, and to make the church respected in the eyes of the world * * * Origen was the greatest scholar of his age, and the most learned and genial of all the ante-Nicene fathers. Even heathens and heretics admired or feared his brilliant talents. His knowledge embraced all departments of the philology, philosophy and theology of his day. With this he united profound and fertile thought, keen penetration, and glowing imagination. As a true divine he consecrated all his studies by prayer, and turned them, according to his best conventions, to the service of truth and piety.”3


3 Hist. Christ. Church, I, pp. 54-55. 

The First of Christian Theologians.

 The first system of Christian theology ever framed--let it never be forgotten--was published by Origen, A.D. 230, and it declared universal restoration as the issue of the divine government; so that this eminent Universalist has the grand pre-eminence of being not only the founder of scientific Christian theology, but also the first great defender of the Christian religion against its assailants. "De Principiis" is a profound book, a fundamental and essential element of which is the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union with God. Origen's most learned production was the "Hexapla." He was twenty-eight years on this great Biblical work. The first form was the "Tetrapla," containing in four columns the "Septuagint," and the texts of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. This he enlarged into "Hexapla" with the Hebrew text in both Hebrew and Greek letters. Many of the books of the Bible had two additional columns, and some a seventh Greek version. This was the "Octapla." This immense monument of learning and industry consisted of fifty volumes. It was never transcribed, and perished, probably destroyed by the Arabs in the destruction of the Alexandrian Library.11 

11 Kitto Cyclo; Davidson's Biblical Criticism, Vol. I. 

Dr. Bigg on Origen.

 "There will come a time when man, completely subjected to Christ by the operation of the Holy Ghost," says Bigg, epitomizing Origen, "shall in Christ be completely subjected to the Father. But now," he adds, "the end is always like the beginning. The manifold diversity of the world is to close in unity, it must then have sprung from unity. His expansion of this theory is in fact an elaborate commentary upon the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans and the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Those, he felt, were the two keys, the one to the eternity before, and other to the eternity after. What the church cannot pardon, God may. The sin which has no forgiveness in this æon or the æon to come, may be atoned for in some one of the countless æons of the vast hereafter." This exegesis serves to show us how primitive church treated the "unpardonable sins." (Matt. xii: 32.) The sin against the Holy Ghost "shall not be forgiven in this world (aion, age) nor in the world (aion, age) to come." According to Origen, it may be in "some one of the countless æons of the vast hereafter."

 The historian Schaff concedes that among those quickened and inspired to follow Origen were Pamphilus, Eusebius of Cæsarea, Didymus of Alexandria, Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Gregory of Nyssa; and among the Latin fathers, Hilary and Jerome. And he feels obliged to add: "Gregory of Nyssa and perhaps also Didymus, even adhered to Origen's doctrine of the final salvation of all created intelligences."2 

2 "The theology of Christendom and its character for the first three centuries was shaped by three men. Ignatius, Irenæus and Cyprian gave its organization; Clement and Origen its form of religious thought." British Quarterly Review, 1879. 

Origen Cruelly Treated.

 The treatment experienced by Origen is one of the anomalies of history. The first hostility to him, followed by his deposition and excommunication, A.D. 232, is conceded to have been in consequence of his opposition to the Episcopal tendencies of Bishop Demetrius, and the envy of the bishop. His Universalism was not in question. Lardner says that he was "not expelled from Alexandria for heresy, but for envy." Bunsen says: "Demetrius induced a numerous synod of Egyptian bishops to condemn as heretical * * * Origen's opinion respecting the universality of final salvation." But Bunsen seems to 
contradict his own words by adding: "This opinion he had certainly stated so as even to hold out a prospect of the conversion of Satan himself by the irresistible power of the love of the Almighty," bet he was condemned "'not,' as says St. Jerome, who was no friend to his theology, 'on account of novelty of doctrine--not for heresy--but because they could not bear the glory of his learning and eloquence.'" The opposition to Origen seems to have begun in the petty anger of Demetrius, who was incensed because of Origen, a layman, delivered discourses in the presence of bishops (Alexander and Theoctistus), though at their request, and because he was ordained our of his diocese. Demetrius continued his persecutions until he had degraded Origen from the office of presbyter, though all the ecclesiastical authorities in Palestine refused to recognize the validity of the sentence. His excommunication, however, was disregarded by the bishops of Palestine, Arabia and Greece. Going from Alexandria to Greece and Palestine, Origen was befriended by Bishop Firmilian in Cappadocia for two years; and was also welcomed in Nicomedia and Athens.4

4 De Pressense charges the acrimony of Demetrius to Origen's opposition to the encroachments of the Episcopate and to his disapproval of the ambition of the hierarchy. Martyrs and Apologists, p. 332. 

Origen's Theology Generally Accepted.

 That his opinions were not obnoxious is proved by the fact that most of his friends and followers were placed in charge of the most important churches. Says De Pressense: "The Eastern church of the Third Century canceled, in fact, the sentence passed upon Origen under the influence of the hierarchical party. At Alexandria itself his disciples maintained the pre-eminence, and at the death of Demetrius, Heraclas, who had been the most intimate friend and trusted disciple of Origen, was raised to the Episcopal dignity by the free choice of the elders. * * * Heraclas died A.D. 249 and was succeeded by another disciple of Origen, * * * Dionysius of Alexandria. * * * He was an assiduous disciple of Origen, and with his death the halcyon days of the school of Alexandria were now over. Dionysius was the last of its great masters." It is to be deplored that none of the writings of Dionysius are known to exist.

His Universalism Never Condemned.

 The state of opinion on the subject of universal salvation is shown by the fact that through Ignatius, Irenænus, Hippolytus and others wrote against the prevalent heresies of their times, Universalism is never named among them. Some of the alleged errors of Origen were condemned, but his doctrine of universal salvation, never. Methodius, who wrote A.D. 300; Pamphilus and Eusebius, A.D. 310; Eustathius, A.D. 380; Epiphanius, A.D. 376 and 394; Theophilus, A.D. 400-404, and Jerome, A.D. 400; all give lists of Origen's errors, but none name his Universalism among them. Besides, some of those who condemned his errors were Universalists, as the school of Antioch. And many who were opponents of Origenism were mentioned by Origen's enemies with honor notwithstanding they were Universalists, as Clement of Alexandria, and Gregory of Nyssa.

 Pamphilus and Eusebius, A.D. 307-310, jointly wrote an Apology for Origen that contained declarations from the ancient fathers endorsing his views of the Restitution. This work, had it survived, would undoubtedly be an invaluable repository of evidence to show the general prevalence of his views on the part of those whose writings have not been preserved. All Christians must lament with Lardner the loss of a work that would have told us so much of the great Alexandrian. It seems to have been the fashion with the ancient Latin theologians to burn the books they could not refute.

 Farrar names the eminent ancients who mention Origen with greatest honor and respect. Some, like Augustine, do not accept his views, but all utter eulogistic words, many adopt his sentiments, and Eusebius added a sixth book to the production of Pamphilus, in consequence of the detractions against Origen. While he had his opponents and defamers, the best and the most of his contemporaries and immediate successors either accepted his doctrines or eulogized his goodness and greatness.

 Origen bitterly lamented the misrepresentation of his views even during his lifetime. How much more might he have said could he have foreseen what would be said of him after his death.

 Pamphilus, who was martyred A.D. 294, and Eusebius, in their lost Apology for Origen, which is mentioned by at least two writers who had seen it, gave many testimonies of fathers preceding Orien, favoring Universalism,5 and Domitian, Bishop of Ancyra, complains that those who condemn therestorationism of Origen "anathematize all those saints who preceded and followed him," implying the general prevalence of Universalism before and after the days of Origen. 

Universalism in Good Repute in the Fifth Century.

 A.D. 402, when Epiphanius came for Cyprus to Constantinople with a synodical decree condemning Origen's books without excommunicating Origen, he declined Chrysostom's invitation to lodge at the Episcopal palace, as Chrysostom was a friend and advocate of Origen. He urged that clergy of the city to sign the decree, but, Socrates says, "many refused, among them Theotinus, Bishop of Scythia, who said, 'I choose not, Epiphanius, to insult the memory of one who ended his life piously long ago; not dare I be guilty of so impious an act, as that of condemning what our predecessors by no means rejected; and specially when I know of no evil doctrine contained in Origen's books. * * * Those who attempt to fix a stigma on these writings are unconsciously casting a dishonor upon the sacred volume whence their principles are drawn.' Such was the reply which Theotinus, a prelate, eminent for his piety and rectitude of life, made to Epiphanius." In the next chapter (xiii), Socrates states that only worthless characters decried Origen. Among them he mentions Methodius, Eustathius, Apollinaris and Theophilus, as "four revilers," whose "censure was his commendation." Socrates was born about A.D. 380, and his book continues Eusebius's history to A.D. 445, and he records what he received from those who knew the facts. This makes it clear that while Origen's views were rejected by some, they were in good repute by the most and the best, two hundred years after his death. 9

Even Augustine admits that "some, nay, very many" (nonnulli, quam plurimi), pity with human feeling, the everlasting punishment of the damned, and do not believe that it is so."  10  The kind of people thus 
believing are described by Doederlein, "The more highly distinguished in Christian antiquity any one was for learning, so much the more did he cherish and defend the hope of future torments sometime ending." 

Different Opinions on Human Destiny.

 Previous to A.D. 200 three different opinions were held among Christians--endless punishment, annihilation, and universal salvation; but, so far as the literature of the times shows, the subject was never one of controversy, and the last-named doctrine prevailed most, if the assertions of it in literature are any test of its acceptance by the people. For a hundred and fifty years, A.D. 250 to 400, though Origen and his heresies on many points are frequently attacked and condemned, there is scarcely a whisper on record against his Universalism. On the other hand, to be called an Origenist was a high honor, from 260 to 290. A.D. 300 on, the doctrine of endless punishment began to be more explicitly stated, notably by Arnobius and Lactantius. And thenceforward to 370, while some of the fathers taught endless punishment, and others annihilation, the doctrine of most is not stated. One fact, however, is conspicuous: though all kinds of heresy were attacked, Universalism was not considered sufficiently heretical to entitle it to censure.11 

9 Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, defends Origen from the attacks of his enemies, and finding him sound on the co-eternity of Christ with God, will not hear of any heresy in him. Eccl. Hist., b. vi, ch. xiii. 

10 [Augustine's] Enchirid[ion]. ch. 112. 

11According to Reuss "The doctrine of a general restoration of all rational creatures has been recommended by very many of the greatest thinkers of the ancient church and of modern times.

There is much more that can and should be said regarding this man of God.  I encourage reading Hanson's work and specifically those chapters devoted to Origen.  Many of the works and those cited in endnotes can be found online or in bookstores today.  These quotes help us answer the questions I posed up front.



First, when did Origen live and die? Somewhere between A.D. 203-250. Second, what was he famous for? He was famous for being the first Christian apologist, defending the faith and promoting, among many beliefs, universalism. What marked his life more than anything else? His piety, love for Christ, his desire to be a martyr for the Lord, his steadfast pursuit and teaching of the truth, and more. And after I answer a few of these questions, I will ask a few more that are pertinent to the case at hand.



Now, the other questions to ask are: Why did it take so many years to anathematize Origen’s universalism? Even though he taught universalism and many of the early teachers, his students, believed and taught the same thing, why were they not anathematized by the church? Where did our belief in eternal conscious torment really come from?



First, I think it took so long because this was a “traditional” or “orthodox” belief held by the early church and early church fathers and was the prevailing doctrine of the church until the Roman Catholic Church assumed and held more money, power, and influence than the Eastern church and simply overpowered it and split from it. I hope to be able to publish papers supporting these beliefs in the future. However, many already have published papers concerning the early Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and its rise to power that what I have to write may not add much to the conversation. I am willing, time permitting, to b ring my own flavor to the argument though.



Second, I think that Origen’s followers were still very popular and therefore were not named or called out by name by the RCC because that would have diminished some of the influence they were seeking to amass. That is why , I believe, in the anathema of Origen in the Synod of Constantinople of A.D 543, only Origen was named, and the statement





If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (apokatastasis) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.



Anathema to Origen and to that Adamantius, who set forth these opinions together with his nefarious and execrable and wicked doctrine2 and to whomsoever there is who thinks thus, or defends these opinions, or in any way hereafter at any time shall presume to protect them.




Thirdly, from the history of the early church, especially the first 500 years that I have studied, ECT was one of three beliefs held during the middle years, say A.D. 250-500, that ECT became more prominent, largely due to the fear instilled in people to continue to give power and money to the RCC. It is easy to see where the doctrine of indulgences, seen prominently in the 1500’s came from and how it was raised up. If you were threatened with ECT in hell wouldn’t you do more to keep yourself out of it? Wouldn’t you pay whatever the cost was and work whatever work needed to be worked to stay out of there? Sure you would, as do so many throughout history. Well, let me leave that discussion for another time.



To close out this section and portion of the chapter review, let me conclude with this. As you read these quotes and hopefully will read more on your own, is it accurate to say that universalism is extreme optimism, connoting something radical that is on the fringes of belief, as Packer intimates? Is universalism truly a heresy deemed so by the earliest of Christian fathers and disciples, or did it, in fact, come many years later, and possibly to aid the RCC in consolidating its power and influence and money? As you hopefully continue to read Hanson’s work, I think you will find definitive answer to those questions and come away feeling as I have; to the victor goes the writing of history, regardless of truth or error. I can say this, after taking several church history classes in seminary, I can say I was never taught this belief of the early church. I was taught more that when Augustine came along, he reiterated the doctrine of the church and its history and that he was the foremost authority on it. How wrong I have come to see those things and how deceived I have felt by those who have trained me through the years. The shame isn’t all on them, and maybe very little at all they should rightly bear. The shame should be more on me for not being a true Berean and searching all these things for truth, and holding fast to what is in fact true.



That should be more than enough to chew on for now. I will take on the next sections soon. Godspeed and blessings to you!






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