Christian Universalism is a belief held commonly (and, there is good evidence, in places and times, even predominantly) within the Church over the coarse of the first 500 years of its existence.
“The great fourth-century church father Basil of Caesarea (c. 329–379) once observed that, in his time, a large majority of his fellow Christians… believed that hell was not everlasting, and that all in the end would attain salvation.”
[It is worth noting here (though Hart fails to) that even Augustine acknowledged: “There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” Enchirdion cxii. (The Latin for “very many” is imo quam plurimi, which can be translated majority).]
Historic Christian Universalism’s essential definition: “They… believed in hell, though not in its eternity… hell was the fire of purification described by the Apostle Paul… the healing assault of unyielding divine love upon obdurate souls”
Hart sees this book as logically flowing from and out of his recent translation of the New Testament: “And I hope that my translation—simply by restoring certain ambiguities I believe to be present in the original texts—might help modern readers understand how it is that a considerable number of educated late antique Eastern Christians, all of whom were familiar with the New Testament in the original Greek, felt entirely comfortable with a universalist construal of its language.”
“… if Christianity taken as a whole is indeed an entirely coherent and credible system of belief, then the universalist understanding of its message is the only one possible.”
The gauntlet of Christian Universalism has been thrown down…
The Question of an Eternal Hell
Framing the Question
A story about the desert Father, Abba Macarius, got Hart’s attention at about the age of 14… In essence a great saint encounters the soul of a dead and damned pagan priest (his skull along a path, actually). After a brief conversation, the Abba buries the unearthed skull – and goes on his way.
Harts main take-away was that the Abba apparently possessed more mercy that did the God who had forever condemned the priest. He basically wondered, does not one have to be morally obtuse to not observe such an apparent fact?
…(more to come…)