All shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
- TS Eliot, FOUR QUARTETS – Little Gidding III
(For the 1st entry in this series see: To Hell With Them? – Part 1)
From the outset I must make it clear that what I am arguing for is a Christocentric Universalism that holds that the only means by which anyone experiences final redemption is through the person and work of Jesus Christ in history through his life, death on the cross, and resurrection where he conquers both sin and death. The cross, St. Athanasius (323-378 AD) maintains is Christ’s trophy over the grave, and by extension all evil. As the drama of salvation unfolds in the present age and the coming age, the totality of Christ’s victory over all evil be revealed. This is the fundamental basis for the Universal Hope.
With these things in mind, it is important to underscore the fact that this view on Universal Salvation is not an aberration in church history. David Bentley Hart offers in his New Testament translation, which demonstrates how widespread the belief in Universal Salvation was in the early church:
“Late in the fourth century [300’s AD]… Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, reported that the vast majority of Christians… assumed that ‘hell’ is not an eternal condition, and that the ‘… punishment’ of the age to come would end when the soul had been purified of its sins and thus prepared for union with God.”
Among both lay Christians and some of the finest theological minds that arose in the early centuries after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the belief that all would be saved as the ages of eternity unfold was so widespread that attempts to dismiss this theological position as obscure can only be done through ignorance (often blatant) of the facts.
The reasons why Universalism fell out of favor are complex, and as bound up in the political situation in the late Roman Empire (early Byzantine period) as it was in matters of church authority. Down through history the church has often leveraged the threat of eternal damnation in ways that were either wrong-headed, corrupt, or both. This is not to disparage those who hold to the notion of the eternal conscious punishment of the damned as a matter of principled conscience – this view is also well attested in church history. However, for much of church history Christians held to both views and this was no impediment to the unity of the church. While I will continue to elaborate on this view – the nature of blogging and my own time constraints will limit this discussion to only the briefest summary of the view and simple arguments for its validity. I will do my best to link to important sources as I continue through this series, but I leave it to the reader to research the matter on a deeper level in order to draw stronger conclusions one way or the other.