Is Universalism Heretical? Part 4

In conclusion, it seems plausible to suppose that theologically orthodox versions of universalism can exist. However, one result of the ambiguity about whether the Council had condemned all forms of universalism or simply Origenist apokatastasis was that from this point on Christians avoided anything that looked remotely Origenist. In the western church this impulse was reinforced by the enormous influence of Augustine’s theology which was emphatic about the eternal conscious torment of the lost.
Some such as Maximus the Confessor (580-662) seemed to fly close to the wind at times but always pulled away before getting too close to the ‘dangers’ of apokatastasis. Those, like Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), who seemed to incline towards universalism did so very circumspectly. The thinker who came closest to a version of universalism was Irish Christian neo-Platonist John Scotus Eriugena (815-877) but even here it is not totally clear that he went all the way. Thus it was that universalism more or less disappeared from the scene of orthodox Christianity until after the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers opened the door for individual believers to interpret the Bible for themselves and, amongst those that did, a few came to affirm some kind of universalism.


James Goetz said…
Thank you, Robin. I found this series thought provoking, particularly comparing the Emperor's anathemas with the actual Council's anathemas. I find one of the ironies of this is that the Eastern Church made the Emperor a saint while many in the Eastern Church continued to believe in postmortem conversions and what we would call the possibility of universalism while the Western Church never made the Emperor a saint and rejected anything close to postmortem conversions. The sweeping generalization of my view of the medieval direction in the Western Christian doctrine of hell was its commitment to Augustinianism. And I currently know little about influences in medieval Eastern Christianity.
James Goetz said…
After rereading your Part 3, I suppose that we can say that the medieval Eastern Church revered Gregory of Nyssa as its primary father while the medieval Western Church revered Augustine as its primary father. And that helps to understand the direction of the doctrine of hell in both the Eastern Church and the Western Church. Perhaps the Eastern Church would have been all the more universalistic if it weren't for Emperor and Saint Justinian.
Rev Drew Tweedy said…
Very helpful series Robin. Also important to recognize that the views of Constantine, Justinian, Augustine and even Calvin became the norm not because of their superior biblical or theological merits but because they were happy to use the sword (or fire in Calvin's case) to silence their opponents (Tom Talbott's discussion of heresy and imperial politics in "The Inescapable Love of God" is helpful). I'm a CofE vicar from a conservative evangelical background and I have (with your help) become a convinced universalist. I try to share this teaching sensitively and some are suspicious, but most people respond with joy and relief that the gospel is in fact good and not bad news.
It is important to see how our theology fits in with the early church decisions, but more important to firmly reject the legitimacy of settling disagreements by force.

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