In three previous posts, we surveyed Thomas Allin's 1885 masterpiece, Christ Triumphant, by looking at Part One: Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Reason and the first half of Part Two: Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Tradition. This week's post completes our summary of Part Two. All italics below are in the original.
"The dominant influence," Allin reminds us, was "exercised over early Christian thought...by Eastern theology, couched in the language of the New Testament." The church Fathers for the first few centuries wrote and spoke in Greek, and this was the time period when belief in universalism was widespread. But as the Italian churches rose to power and Greek became an unfamiliar language, "no obstacle was left to stem the fast rising tide of Augustinianism, naturally triumphant in an age cruel, corrupt, and superstitious...the whole framework of Western theology, to its infinite loss, bears to this day the imprint of... [this] pitiless creed, which slanders at once God and man..."
Allin next surveys a dozen or so of the Latin Fathers. He sets Jerome up in striking contrast to his contemporary, Augustine: "...St. Jerome is the last of a long line of Latin Fathers, drawing their inspiration from Eastern sources." The following quotes Allin includes from Jerome are worth reproducing here:
Allin next looks at what a consideration of the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed, and the ecumenical councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, can tell us of the acceptance of universalism in the early church. "It is a highly significant fact," writes Allin, "that though universalist views were then widely prevalent, no syllable of condemnation was breathed against them at any of these councils. Nobody ever thought of including amongst the articles of the faith a belief in endless punishment; and this...though the very question of the life to come was distinctly raised at Constantinople, in the clauses then added to the creed." In a footnote, editor Robin Parry observes that Allin is referring to "We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come," which in 352 "became the climactic clauses of the whole [Nicene] creed."
It was St. Gregory of Nazianzus who presided over the Council where the Nicene Creed received its final shape. "To a known and outspoken believer in universal salvation is entrusted prcinipally, by the church in her council, the duty of defining the faith; and that definition runs thus, "I believe in the life of the world to come." What but the larger hope could such words, under such circumstances, have conveyed to the council? "
"[T]his universalism was essentially and first of all based on Scripture," Allin pauses to point out, "on those promises of a 'restitution of all things'...repeated so often by the psalmists; and echoed clearly and distinctly in the New Testament."
"There is another point, whose importance...seems to me very great: it is the teaching of so many, and such illustrious aFathers, that death is no penalt, but is, indeed a cure...the sinner's destruction means but the destruction of the sin--the sinner perishes, the man lives."
Next week we'll begin to look at Part Three, Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Scripture.