In my last post I said that I would be taking a look at the time period BEFORE the 1600 years Chan referred to in his “almost no major theologian” statement.
A look at the creeds, the churches and the Catacombs of very early Christianity show that universalism was an accepted…perhaps the most accepted…belief of the very early Christians.
An examination of the earliest Christian creeds and declarations of Christian opinion discloses the fact that no formulary of Christian belief for several centuries after Christ contained anything incompatible with the broad faith of the Gospel--the universal redemption of mankind from sin. Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church its First Five Hundred Years
None of the earliest creeds…the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” the Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed…contain any statements that would eliminate the possibility of universal reconciliation. ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment) cannot be found in any of the early creeds.
Thus the credal declarations of the Christian church for almost four hundred years are entirely void of the lurid doctrine with which they afterwards blazed for more than a thousand years. The early creeds contain no hint of it, and no whisper of condemnation of the doctrine of universal restoration as taught by Clement, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, and multitudes besides…... Neither the Concilium Nicæum, A.D. 325, nor the Concilium Constantinopolitanum, A.D. 381, nor the Concilium Chalcedonenese, A.D. 451, lisped a syllable of the doctrine of man's final woe. Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church its First Five Hundred Years
The Early Churches:
According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years - four were Universalist ( Alexandria , Cesarea, Antioch , and Edessa ). One advocated annihilation ( Ephesus ) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa) The Salvation Conspiracy: How Hell Became Eternal by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
It seems I’ve written about the Catacombs before…HERE.
There were eighty years between Paul's latest epistle and the first of the writings of the Christian fathers. Besides the writings of Tacitus and Pliny, the long hiatus is filled only by the emblems and inscriptions of the Catacombs. What an eloquent story they tell of the cheerfulness of primitive Christianity!
I came upon several (free ) Google books about the Catacombs. The following quote came from a book called The Catacombs of Rome and Their Testimony Relative to Primitive Christianity. It appears in a section of the book that deals with the many drawings of the Good Shepherd throughout the Catacombs…
Sometime the shepherd is represented as leading or bearing on his shoulders a kid or goat instead of a sheep or lamb. This apparent solecism has been thought a careless imitation of pagan figures of the sylvan deity Pan, who frequently appears in art in this manner. It is more probable, however, that it was an intentional departure from the usual type, as if to illustrate the words of Our Lord, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” and to indicate his tenderness toward the fallen, rejoicing more over the lost sheep that was found than over the ninety and nine that went not astray.
Tertullian is believed to be the first person to write about an eternal hell. Then, influenced by Augustine in AD 430(ish) the concept of eternal conscious torment in hell became an accepted belief in the Catholic Church in the west. And it was all downhill from there. This is roughly…give or take a decade or two… the beginning of the period of time Chan alluded to….the past 1600 years.
He should have gone back a bit farther.
Following are links to some of the books I’ve mentioned in this article…and a few others that take a closer look at the beliefs of the very early Christian.