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

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“Even Epiphanius [Bishop of Salamis] and Theolphilus [Bishop of Alexandria] , the fierce antagonists of Originism, appear to have regarded this particular article with indifference, except insofar as it embraced fallen angels.”

• Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, p. 274

Augustine 354-430 C.E.

A contemporary who conducted an extensive and tempestuous correspondence with Jerome, Augustine did not believe in universal reconciliation. His views are clear on eternal torment of hell, but his discussions in opposition to universal reconciliation are most interesting. Augustine had only an “amicable controversy” with those who “decline to believe” in an eternal hell and believed that the wicked “shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment.” Augustine, writing in 421 C.E., specifically explains that Origen was not to be condemned about his beliefs regarding mankind, but only for his beliefs regarding the salvation of Satan and his angels,

“I must now, I see, enter the lists of amicable controversy with those tender-hearted Christians who decline to believe that any, or that all of those whom the infallibly just Judge may pronounce worthy of the punishment of hell, shall suffer eternally, and who suppose that they shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment, longer or shorter according to the amount of each man's sin. In respect of this matter, Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, ... Very different, however, is the error we speak of, which is dictated by the tenderness of these Christians who suppose that the sufferings of those who are condemned in the judgment will be temporary, while the blessedness of all who are sooner or later set free will be eternal.”

• Augustine, The City of God, Book 21, Ch 17

Later in c.428-429 Augustine wrote about Origen’s beliefs,

“But there are other teachings of this Origen which the Catholic Church does not accept at all. On these matters she does not accuse him unwarrantedly, and cannot herself be deceived by his defenders. Specifically they are teachings on purgation, liberation and the return of all rational creation to the same trials after a long interval. Now what Catholic Christian, ... would not shrink in horror from what Origen calls the purgation of evils? According to him, even they who die in infancy, crime, sacrilege and the greatest possible impiety, and at last even the devil himself and his angels, though after very long periods of time, will be purged, liberated and restored to the Kingdom of God and of light. ... In my City of God I have argued most carefully in the matter of this senseless blasphemy against the philosophers from whom Origen derived these teachings.”

• Cited in Muller, “The De Haerebesibus of St. Augustine,” pp. 83-85

It is important to understand what Augustine was saying:

(1) The tender-hearted Christians are not not to be blamed, but they are merely deceived.

(2) Augustine does not accuse.

(3) He argues “carefully” with them.

(4) The blasphemy was on the part of the philosophers.

Augustine mentions six views of “mercyism” (misericordes) believed in by the laity of the churches in his part of the world. They differed from Augustine’s own views. Two of the six views were,

“(1) All men would be saved after hell, (2) Prayers of the saints would obtain salvation for everyone at the last Judgment, without any passage through hell.”

• LeGoff, The Birth of Purgatory, pp. 68-69

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