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The Recognition of Universal Reconciliation - Part 3
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By David Sielaff, August 2008

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Why then was not the understanding of universal reconciliation more strongly stated? One reason was given by Origen himself (responding to a critic of Christianity) in Against Celsus. Origen believed that proclaiming universal reconciliation to the unconverted might be dangerous for them. It should be presented guardedly. He writes about the purification of sinners, which was a part of Origin’s view of universal reconciliation,

“But the remarks which might be made on this topic are neither to be made at all, ... [but] for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of eternal [aeternum] punishment, from plunging into any degree of wickedness, and into the flood of evils which result from sin.”

• Origen, Against Celsus, 6:26

When we come to Jerome (as Dr. Martin indicated in Part 2 of this article), he says some seemingly contradictory things. Rufinus, Jerome’s former friend and rival in the faith, directly accuses Jerome of believing Origen’s doctrines and specifically in universal reconciliation, at least in Jerome’s early works (“Rufinus’ Apology, p. 431). Both men translated Origen’s works into Latin.

Like Origen, Jerome too felt that belief in universal reconciliation should not be promoted. Concerning the judgment, Jerome writes, in his Commentary on Isaiah (Book 18, cap. 66),

“All of which nevertheless they allow should not now be openly told to those with whom fear yet acts as a motive, and who may be kept from sinning by the terror of punishment. But this question we ought to leave to the wisdom of God alone, whose judgments as well as mercies are by weight and measure, and who, well knows whom and how long, He ought to judge.”

• Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah, Book 18, cap. 66

Although this vaguely hints at an end to punishment, Jerome himself admits,

“I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures.”

• Jerome, Commentary on Jonah

The best evidence of the full extent of belief in universal reconciliation can be determined by a question put to Basil of Ceasarea. The question was part of Basil’s Rules which became the basis of monastic rules of order even to the present day. Basil was a hermit but a great organizer. The full body of instructions he left for fellow monks was called the Rule of St. Basil. Within these instructions there were questions and answers. One question regarding eternal torment was,

“If one man shall be beaten with many, another with few stripes, how do some say there is no end of punishment? [Basil answers] “... this comes also from the devil’s plots that many men ... assign to themselves an end of punishment in order that they may sin more boldly.”

• Basil of Caesarea, The Ascetic Works of St. Basil, pp. 329-30

The “many men” (tous pollus ton anthropon) in Greek has a definite article before the adjective “many.” This means the translation is “the many men” or “most men.” Such is the understanding of Kelley in Early Christian Doctrines, p.483 and Texeront in History of Dogmas, p.197.

Origenist Controversy

A long-lasting dispute within the church called by historians the Origenist Controversy (“Origenism,” in Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church) began around the year 394 C.E. Several church leaders confronted Jerome, Rufinus, John (the Bishop of Jerusalem) and others, accusing them with promoting Origen’s “heresies.” The controversy originally centered around Origen’s doctrine of the salvation of Satan, not on universal reconciliation of all men. In Christian Alexandria the dispute broke out into riots breaking out between rival factions. According to Charles Bigg, even then the issue was not universal reconciliation,

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