From Chaos to Cosmos, Part 2
Issue No. 365
During the Roman Catholic middle ages, Europe had a “Christian” worldview, not a Kingdom worldview. The Christian worldview of the church came out of an age that was the prophetic counterpart to the reign of King Saul, whose reign began on Pentecost—then known as the day of wheat harvest (1 Samuel 12:17).
The difference between Christian and Kingdom is the difference between the reigns of Saul and David. Saul was crowned on Pentecost; David was crowned in a Jubilee year. Each was crowned legitimately, and their callings were real, but Saul degenerated into a state of rebellion, while David was a man after God’s own heart. Prophetically speaking, we can say that Saul was a Christian and a type of the church, while David was an overcomer and a type of Christ.
We have now come to the end of the reign of Saul and are into the reign of David. Things are changing, but there is a bitter struggle for control as we transition into the Kingdom Age.
World philosophies have had a pessimistic view of man. Buddhism taught that self is an illusion and that liberation is recognizing the unreality of our existence. The goal was not to bring the creation into a state of harmony but to escape the suffering of an indifferent universe.
By the philosophy of silence and meditation they hoped to transcend this evil world. Buddhism did not celebrate existence, because in an evil material world suffering was seen as an inevitable essence of life. The solution was to reach the state or understanding of Anatman (non-self).
The Hindu doctrine of brahma (universal self) was somewhat different, but the result was similar. It discounted the individual self in favor of the collective consciousness. Individualism was subordinated to the collective or universal self, which largely negated the dignity of man. It sought to suppress one’s (Adamic) self without replacing one’s identity with the New Creation Man that is begotten by the Holy Spirit. Without Christ and His plan, these other religious philosophies caused men to seek dissolution rather than salvation.
Those who sought to lose their individual identity into the universal or collective self were also, as it were, lost at sea. Yet this fit well with Communist teachings, which also subordinated individuality to the state (the collective), sacrificing individuality at the altar of the state.
When combined with the teaching of reincarnation, entire cultures thought of life in terms of clothing which should be changed periodically, as one would discard old garments and put on new ones. So in the Hindu scriptures, Bhagavad Gita, the Lord Krishna told Arjuna not to feel pity for those he was going to kill but to think of it as assisting them in a chance to improve their state from the present misery to something better in the next reincarnation.
With such a worldview, there was little thought of alleviating the suffering of the people, because their suffering was well deserved and was paying off the karma of a past life. Such a view resulted in fatalism and caused people to remain indifferent to others. It was literally the opposite of biblical teaching which commands Christians to give to the poor out of a heart of love in order to manifest the love of God toward His creation.
The Christian Worldview
Church philosophers in the Middle Ages were influenced by the Greek worldview that the cosmos was the ultimate reality and that even God Himself could not change it. The sovereignty of God was unknown. Dualistic philosophy made good and evil, light and darkness, God and Satan, equal in power. In some ages of eternity, good appeared to win; at other times, evil appeared to win.
The ultimate goal was to separate the two into their own domains within the universe, but few (if any) believed that a good God would win to the point where “The All” (ta panta) would be reconciled under one Head, as Paul states in 1 Cor. 15:27, 28 and in Col. 1:16-20.
Church philosophers made a few alterations to the Greek view. God was given a little more power than Satan, although in the end, Satan was thought to be the practical winner in that he was to gain control of the vast majority of souls. Secondly, the Church philosophers recognized that God had created the heavens and the earth—hence, creation at least had a beginning, though not a genuine end.
It was assumed that the physical universe would be burned up (destroyed) in the end, but the souls themselves would continue their existence in a spiritual state, some in heaven and the vast majority in hell. In other words, while creation started out in unity, it ended in perpetual disunity with the universe divided into two realms: heaven and hell.
The Early Church Worldview
This Christian worldview came as a natural consequence of its rejection of the Restoration of All Things, which occurred from 400-553 A.D. Before the year 400, Universal Reconciliation was virtually unquestioned in the Greek-speaking world of John and Paul.
“No doubt Origen was visionary on some points. But while many of his opinions were condemned, yet, for three hundred years after his death his Universalism was not censured or complained of by the most bitter of his opponents. In this fact we have evidence that most of the members of the Christian Church, during that long period, sympathized with him in his doctrine of the worlds salvation. It was also maintained by Ambrosius, Titus of Bostra, Gregory Nissen, Gregory Nazianzen, Dydimus of Alexandria, and many other of the most eminent Fathers. Some of these prominent Universalists were sent out by the orthodox party of the church to preach against the heresies which then prevailed — thus showing that Universalism was the orthodoxy of the early Christian Church.” [Rev. J. M. Austin, Brief History of Universalism, p. 1 (written in 1855)]
In the first 500 years of Christian history there are records of six theological schools. Four of them (Antioch, Caesarea, Edessa, and Alexandria) clearly taught Universal Reconciliation. The school in Ephesus taught conditional immortality. Rome/Carthage taught eternal hell.
Origen of Alexandria was the best-known theologian who taught Universal Reconciliation, but he was by no means the first nor was he the only such teacher. In fact, he learned it through the teachings of his predecessors who led his church at Alexandria.
Our present purpose is not to discuss the validity of the doctrine itself but to show its history and its effect upon our worldview. I have discussed Universal Reconciliation more thoroughly in my book, The Restoration of All Things.
The Golden Age of Restoration Teaching came in the latter half of the fourth century with such writers as Gregory of Nazianzen (or Nazianzus), who was one of the most eminent bishops of his day.
“Of all the Fathers of the Church, he [Gregory] was the only one to be granted after his death the title ‘Theologian,’ which until this time was reserved for an apostle—John of Patmos” (Robert Payne, The Fathers of the Eastern Church, p. 179).
In Gregory’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:28, he wrote,
"So I begin by asking what is the truth that the divine apostle intends to convey in this passage? It is this. In due course evil will pass over into non-existence; it will disappear utterly from the realm of existence. Divine and uncompounded goodness will encompass within itself every rational creature; no single being created by God will fail to achieve the kingdom of God. The evil that is now present in everything will be consumed like a base metal melted by the purifying flame. Then everything which derives from God will be as it was in the beginning before it had ever received an admixture of evil."
Gregory and his good friend, Basil of Caesarea (the father of Monasticism) compiled a Panagyric on Origen, a book celebrating Origen, the most influential of all Christian teachers of the previous century. So great was his influence that modern theologians tend to equate Universal Reconciliation with “Origenism,” as if to imply that he had been its inventor. But Origen had received this teaching from his predecessor, Clement of Alexandria (190 A.D.), who had fled the city in 203 during the persecution of the church in the time of the Roman Emperor Severus.
Clement himself had been schooled under Pantaenus and took over the Christian School in Alexandria after his teacher went to India as a missionary. Pantaenus, in turn, was the disciple of the Apostle Thomas, who was the founder of the Church in Alexandria and who had also gone to India as a missionary. Church historians tell us:
“Alexandria continues to be the head of Christian learning… We have already observed the continuity of the great Alexandrian school; how it arose, and how Pantaenus begat Clement, and Clement begat Origen. So Origen begat Gregory, and so the Lord has provided for the spiritual generation of the Church teachers, age after age, from the beginning. Truly, the Lord gave to Origen a holy seed, better than natural sons and daughters” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VI, p. 3).
Gregory of Nazianzen was the most prolific writer of the fourth century. His good friend, Basil, had a brother, Gregory of Nyassa, who was also a prominent bishop in the Church. He too wrote extensively about the goal of history that was to end in universal reconciliation.
Basil died in 379. Gregory of Nazianzen died in 390 A.D. The other Gregory (of Nyassa) died in 394 or 395. Neither lived to see the turbulent year 400, when the Church worldview began to turn down the road toward Christian Dualism. Yet historians give them a good report on account of their personal character and teachings.
“Of the three Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nyassa is the one closest to us, the least proud, the most subtle, the one most committed to the magnificence of men. That strange, simple, happy, unhappy, intelligent, and God-tormented man was possessed by angels… In Eastern Christianity his Great Catechism follows immediately after Origen’s First Principles. These were the two seminal works, close-woven, astonishingly lucid, final… Athanasius was the hammer, Basil the stern commander, Gregory of Nazianzus the tormented singer, and it was left to Gregory of Nyassa to be the man enchanted with Christ… Four hundred years after his death, at the Seventh General Council held in A.D. 787, the assembled princes of the Church granted him a title which exceeded in their eyes all the other titles granted to men; he was called ‘Father of Fathers’.” (Robert Payne, The Fathers of the Eastern Church, pp. 178, 169)
The point is that the most prominent bishops of the fourth century all taught the biblical worldview of the Universal Reconciliation. Far from being alone, however, they were part of mainstream Christianity in the fourth century. The Roman Church even to this day honors them, although they try to suppress the fact that their worldview was quite different from what the Roman Church believes today.
The Great Disruption in 400 A.D.
It started out in 391 A.D. as a controversy over certain teachings of Origen that were unrelated to Universal Reconciliation. In that year Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus, visited Jerusalem, where a man named John was the bishop. John (as with so many others) was an admirer of Origen, but Epiphanius did not like Origen. The controversy centered mostly on Origen’s belief that the resurrection was spiritual and not a bodily resurrection.
Nonetheless, as a courtesy, John invited Epiphanius to address the Jerusalem church. Epiphanius used the occasion to attack Origen and to reproach John publicly for allowing “heresy” in the church.
Two years later, Epiphanius again travelled from Cyprus to Jerusalem, choosing to stay at a monastery 20 miles west instead of lodging with John. About that time, Paulinianus came to nearby Bethlehem on business and to see his brother Jerome, who was the bishop of Bethlehem. (Jerome was soon to translate the Bible into Latin, called the Vulgate.)
Epiphanius gave orders to seize Paulinianus, to bind and gag him, and then forcibly ordained him a deacon—a practice that was not without precedent in those days! This act offended John of Jerusalem, because Epiphanius had acted outside of Cyprus, his jurisdiction. It is one thing to ordain a deacon in Cyprus, but it was a violation of Church protocol to do so in another bishop’s diocese.
When John threatened to write letters of complaint to all the churches, Epiphanius retorted that John’s complaint was not really about this breach of protocol but about the Origenist dispute! Hence, in 394 he published the first censure on Universalism that we have on record. In it, Epiphanius did not dispute the salvation of all men but only Origen’s teaching that the devil himself would be saved.
In fact, in Epiphanius’ commentary on Ephesians and in other works, as with most of the bishops of the day, he had already taught the salvation of all men. If he had attacked Origen on those grounds, Epiphanius himself might have been censured for heresy! As it was, his letter divided the bishops in Palestine into opposing camps over whether or not the devil would be saved in the end.
Meanwhile, Jerome, the bishop of Bethlehem, wanted to support his brother Paulinianus as an ordained minister under Epiphanius, so he withdrew from the communion of John of Jerusalem. He also translated Epiphanius’ letter into Latin in order to increase its circulation.
This, in turn, caused an open breach with Jerome’s long-time friend and scholar, Rufinus, with whom he had studied the works of Origen under the tutelage of Gregory of Nazianzen in Constantinople. Thus, the Origenist war widened.
News of the war arrived in Alexandria, where Origen had ministered faithfully in the previous century, even enduring torture for his faith. In Alexandria at the time was Isidorus, the elderly patron of Origen, who then wrote encouraging letters appealing for unity. He then carried letters from his archbishop, Theophilus, to both John and Jerome.
The dispute continued, so Theophilus himself went to Palestine to try to settle it. Isidorus learned that his old friends in Bethlehem (under Jerome) had turned against Origen in their desire to support Jerome’s brother who had been ordained by Epiphanius. By this time the scope of the war had widened to include Origen’s views on pre-existence and Trinity, in addition to the nature of the resurrected body and the salvation of the devil.
Theophilus at first took the side of John of Jerusalem in the dispute. But Jerome sent flattering letters to him and soon won his support for Epiphanius.
The Theophilus Massacre
In 399 A.D. in Alexandria, a wealthy widow donated a large sum of money to the Church. Her desire was that it should be used to assist poor women and widows instead of going toward one of Theophilus’ large building projects. So she gave it to Isidorus, who was the keeper of the almshouse for the Alexandrian Church, with the stipulation that her donation would be kept secret.
However, Theophilus heard about it, for it is hardly possible to keep such a thing secret. He immediately flew into a rage and banished Isidorus with false accusations. Isidorus found refuge among the Nitrian monks in the desert. Theophilus sent troops to burn their monasteries, torturing those monks who refused to deliver Isidorus into his hands. This caused great horror and indignation among the Christians in Alexandria who revered these holy men.
Then, because Isidorus was a great admirer of Origen, Theophilus sided with Jerome and Epiphanius and, in the year 400, hastily called a Synod of his bishops. He then issued an official decree condemning Origen himself and all who approved of his works.
John of Jerusalem was forced to submit to Theophilus’ decree in order to avoid excommunication. But now the war spread to Constantinople, where John Crysostom was the most influential bishop in the Greek Church. Isidorus had escaped to Constantinople, along with 80 of the Nitrian monks who had escaped Theophilus’ murderous wrath.
They appealed to John, who was horrified and reduced to tears upon hearing their account of the murder and destruction at the hands of Theophilus. He immediately summoned Theophilus to Constantinople for a hearing. But Theophilus succeeded in overthrowing John by political machinations, ultimately sending John into exile and driving the old man to his death in 407.
The accusations against John were gleefully translated into Latin by Jerome, who “lost all feeling of decency and veracity” (Hans von Campenhausen, The Fathers of the Latin Church, p. 178). All church historians agree that John was a righteous man, while Theophilus was unscrupulous and had no business being a church leader of any kind.
Constantinople’s influence in those days was greater than that of Alexandria and Rome. The bishops of these cities often engaged in political maneuvering to assert their superiority over the others. In this case, the Roman bishop was only too happy to support anyone who stood against the bishop of Constantinople. Likewise, when Jerome wrote to the Roman bishop, asking him what position he should take on the doctrinal issue, he was told to support the view of eternal torment and to oppose Origen.
Eternal torment had not been held universally up to that point—not even in the Latin church. However, it had been taught by Lactantius a century earlier and by the Roman lawyer Tertullian in the early third century. But with the condemnation of Origen over issues other than Universal Reconciliation, the theory of eternal torment gradually ascended to a position of orthodoxy, and the Church lost its original worldview.
In the sixth century, the Emperor Justinian, who fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy of the Little Horn, officially condemned Origen in Anathema IX, which reads,
“If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.”
The Fifth General Council in 553 A.D. officially condemned Origen in a Church Council, attended by a mere 148 bishops. Another Church Council in 692 again condemned Origen for his belief that the devil would be saved in the end. Strangely enough, the Cappadocian fathers who had also taught Universal Reconciliation remained in their positions of reverence and honor.
After this, a veil of darkness settled upon Europe. These “Dark Ages” were described by historians as “The Golden Age of Profound Ignorance.” The light of the Word did not reappear until the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. When it did, it did not take long for men to rediscover the early church teachings on Universal Reconciliation. The first book teaching this was printed about 1740.
Laying New Foundations
The suppression of the early Church teaching on the Restoration of All Things, or Universal Reconciliation, changed the worldview of the Church, moving it in the direction of religious but non-biblical philosophy.
Many other teachings contributed to the blindness of the Church during its “Saul” era, but none so much as their rejection of God’s sovereignty and His wise and loving plan to reconcile all things back to Himself. The time has now come to upgrade our worldview from Christian to Kingdom.