Thanks for responding, Dan. The medium.com link you provided is actually a VERY good article, and I encourage all to read it. But you (I assume inadvertently) mischaracterized the portion you quoted. The article clearly states that for a thousand years the Latin vulgate was pretty much the only known translation (from Latin) up and until the KJV. That was indeed translated from the Greek, but the translators did not stray from the tendency of the vulgate to identify “aionian” with eternal whenever punishment was in view.
From the same medium.com article: “Out of the six theological schools in Tertullian’s day and beyond (170–430 A.D.), the only school that taught the doctrine of eternal torment or hell to its students was the Latin (Roman) school in Carthage, Africa. Four of the other five taught that, through the death and resurrection of Christ, all people would be saved through restorative judgment and reconciliation in a plan of Ages.” Aionian being “ages.”
Similarly, from the tentmaker.org article (link provided below): Previous to A.D. 200 three different opinions were held among Christians–endless punishment, annihilation, and universal salvation; but, so far as the literature of the times shows, the subject was never one of controversy, and the last-named doctrine prevailed most, if the assertions of it in literature are any test of its acceptance by the people. For a hundred and fifty years, A.D. 250 to 400, though Origen and his heresies on many points are frequently attacked and condemned, there is scarcely a whisper on record against his Universalism. On the other hand, to be called an Origenist was a high honor, from 260 to 290. A.D. 300 on, the doctrine of endless punishment began to be more explicitly stated, notably by Arnobius and Lactantius. And thenceforward to 370, while some of the fathers taught endless punishment, and others annihilation, the doctrine of most is not stated. One fact, however, is conspicuous: though all kinds of heresy were attacked, Universalism was not considered sufficiently heretical to entitle it to censure.
The “Cold Case Christianity” site strikes me as rather simplistic. No discussion of the meaning of aionian that I saw, and so it just quotes the father’s as though they said and meant “eternal” and “everlasting” when a more nuanced exploration will show that it is not so. It’s like citing Bible verses in English as though that proves “everlasting torment.” It is ignoring the question of whether their words should be translated into English as “everlasting”! For example, you would think the quote of Irenaeus by the Cold Case article would be conclusive, BUT IRENAEUS WAS A STAUNCH TEACHER OF ANNIHILATION! I don’t have the time to do this study for you.
The whole point of the books I have referenced is that they prove from the Bible itself that such an interpretation is virtually impossible! So I really am reluctant to try to persuade on this topic by simply relying on the early church, since so much of their writings has either been destroyed, misquoted by opponents, or lied about by historians. The books by Beauchemin rely on the bible to interpret the bible.
Nevertheless, the tentmaker.org I talked about has a wealth of information regarding the early fathers. Here is a couple of paragraphs from the very long and well-documented link from that site (https://www.tentmaker.org/books/DoctrineOfRetribution.html#AT) on the development of the doctrine of Christian Retribution, with a discussion of the Greek word often translated “everlasting” in the KJV and others:
The first Christians, it will be seen, said in their creeds, “I believe in the æonian life;” later, they modified the phrase “æonian life,” to “the life of the coming æon,” showing that the phrases are equivalent. But not a word of endless punishment. “The life of the age to come” was the first Christian creed, and later, Origen himself declares his belief in æonian punishment, and in æonian life beyond. How, then, could æonian punishment have been regarded as endless?
The differences of opinion that existed among the early Christians are easily accounted for, when we remember that they had been Jews or Heathens, who had brought from their previous religious associations all sorts of ideas, and were disposed to retain them and reconcile them with their new religion. Faith in Christ, and the acceptance of his teachings, could not at once eradicate the old opinions, which, in some cases, remained long, and caused honest Christians to differ from each other. As will be shown, while the Sibylline Oracles predisposed some of the fathers of Universalism, Philo gave others a tendency to the doctrine of annihilation, and Enoch to endless punishment.
It is very telling that the Emperor Justinian, directed Mennas, the Patriarch of Constantinople, to call a local council in the year 544 to condemn errors of Origen, especially the doctrine of ultimate universal salvation. In doing so, Mennas decided he could not make a convincing argument by using the word aionios alone, and uses the modifier ateleutetos, so that his language reads like: "The Holy Church of Christ teaches an endless aionian life to the righteous and endless punishment to the wicked.” He gets rid of the word ionios completely when speaking of punishment, because it weakens his case.
For those of you who wish a few more salient quotes, rather than read the long tentmaker article yourself, I will provide a few more examples. The first is about Methodius, bishop of Tyre (A.D. 293).
His writings, like so many of the works of the early fathers, have been lost, but Epiphanius and Photius have preserved extracts from his work on the resurrection. He says: “God, for this cause, pronounced him (man) mortal, and clothed him with mortality, that man might not be an undying evil, in order that by the dissolution of the body, sin might be destroyed root and branch from beneath, that there might not be left even the smallest particle of root, from which new shoots of sin might break forth.” Again, “Christ was crucified that he might be adored by all created things equally, for ‘unto him every knee shall bow,’” etc. Again: “The Scriptures usually call ‘destruction’ the turning to the better at some future time.” Again: “The world shall be set on fire in order to purification and renewal.”
Then there is Theodore of Mopsuestia (early 400s A.D.)
“The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of his grace. For he never would have said, ‘until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,’ unless we can be released from suffering after having suffered adequately for sin; nor would he have said, ‘he shall be beaten with many stripes,’ and again, ‘he shall be beaten with few stripes,’ unless the punishment to be endured for sin will have an end.”
It is important to know that while some kind of ultimate universal salvation was common among the fathers, the reasons for it were not consistent. When Origen, Theodore, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Gregory of Nyssa (and others) were condemn (anathematized) after the Augustinian revolution (infection?), most of these fathers’ writing were destroyed. And inestimable loss.
Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, one of the great Cappadocian Fathers (who were mostly universalists) accepted by Catholicism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, is one whose writings were not so thoroughly destroyed. The tentmaker article states:
Gregory was devoted to the memory of Origen as his spiritual godfather, and teacher, as were his saintly brother and sister. He has well been called “the flower of orthodoxy.” He declared that Christ “frees mankind from their wickedness, healing the very inventor of wickedness.” He asks: "What is then the scope of St. Paul’s argument in this place? That the nature of evil shall one day be wholly exterminated, and divine, immortal goodness embrace within itself all intelligent natures; so that of all who were made by God, not one shall be exiled from his kingdom; when all the alloy of evil that like a corrupt matter is mingled in things, shall be dissolved, and consumed in the furnace of purifying fire, and everything that had its origin from God shall be restored to its pristine state of purity." "This is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the divine life, penetrating all things, shall absolutely destroy death from existing things, sin having been previously destroyed…
"For it is evident that God will in truth be ‘in all’ when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. Now the body of Christ, as I have often said, is the whole of humanity.”
The medium.com article you linked to, Dan, also mentions the importance of Gregory, and quotes him thusly:
Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire.
On the off chance that ANY of you SpareOomers are still with me, here, from the tentmaker article, are citations regarding two more fathers who are important in this regard.
Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, (died, A.D. 368), is said by Jerome to have translated nearly 40,000 lines of Origen. On Luke xv: 4, he says: “This one sheep (lost) is man, and by one man the entire race is to be understood; the ninety and nine are the heavenly angels… and by us (mankind) who are all one, the number of the heavenly church is to be filled up. And therefore it is that every creature awaits the revelation of the sons of God.” On Psalm. lxix: 32,33: “Even the abode of hell is to praise God.” Also, "‘As thou hast given him power over all flesh in order that he should give eternal life to all that thou hast given him,’ … so the Father gave all things, and the Son accepted all things, … and honored by the Father was to honor the Father, and to employ the power received in giving eternity of life to all flesh.
Finally, closer to the time of Augustine:
John Cassian, A.D. 390-440. This celebrated man was educated in the monastery in Bethlehem, and was the founder of two monasteries in Marseilles. He wrote much, and drew the fire of Augustine, whose doctrines he strenuously assailed. Neander declares of him, that his views of the divine love extended to all men, "which wills the salvation of all, and refers everything to this; even subordinating the punishment of the wicked to this simple end.
But again, to Dan and everyone: I am not staking my view on the opinions of the admittedly varying opinions of the early fathers. On the other hand, it may be helpful to know that the claim that the early church was simply devoted to endless and eternal punishment of non-believers IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE.
I pray that the Spirit of God will guide you into all truth. To the extent I may of help toward that end, I am your willing servant.
Lord High Heretic of SpareOom and lowly denizen of the central Oregon coast