The teaching of universalism is one which has divided Christian thinkers since the days of Clement of Alexandria and Origen. The subject has been raised in recent years with new force, so that it challenges consideration from the point of view of newer theological currents. The Christian Gospel raised the blunt question: “Will there be lost men who finally find themselves irrecoverably in outer darkness?” Universalism answers this question in the negative.
Early universalism held that man was created with opportunity of improvement as enduring as his being. This was the view of Clement of Alexandria. Origen, his pupil, rooted his universalism in the Platonic doctrine of the pre-existence of souls. The major thrust of his teaching was that human souls were now in bodily garb for the purposes of discipline and education, the outcome of which was held to be necessarily favorable. In similar vein Gregory of Nazianzen held that all punishments led necessarily to salvation. In his view God permitted evil only because he foresaw that all would be saved.
In the Middle Ages, John Scotus Erigena, following Plato’s view that our earthly life is the result of the imprisonment of the pre-existent soul in a body, taught that Jesus came to repair the entire damage, and finally to restore all to God. In general, medieval theology condemned universalism. Thomas Aquinas gave the classic formulation of the Roman church’s opposition to it, asserting that partialism was not only in keeping with the doctrine of God’s grace but that it was required by the clear statements of Scripture. Protestant orthodoxy continued the same teaching, asserting even more emphatically that the Scriptures are the final court of appeal at this point, and that they ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more