Universal reconciliation, also called universal salvation or sometimes simply universalism, is the non-mainstream Christian doctrine that all people will at some point receive salvation, because of the love and mercy of God.
This is the main belief that distinguishes Christian Universalism from other forms of Christianity. Universal reconciliation states that every person will eventually experience salvation. Most forms of the doctrine assert that the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the mechanism that provides reconciliation for all humankind and atonement for all sins. This concept is distinct from Unitarian Universalism, which is a syncretic religion that does not attribute particular properties such as salvation to Jesus.
Universal reconciliation is intimately related with the Problem of Hell. There are various beliefs and views concerning the process or state of salvation, but all universalists conclude that it ultimately ends in the reconciliation and salvation of all mankind.
The belief in the eventual salvation of all humankind has been a topic of debate throughout the history of the Christian faith. In the early Church, universalism was a flourishing theological doctrine.
Various theologians, including Clement of Alexandria and Origen in the 3rd century, St. Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century, and St. Isaac the Syrian in the 7th century, expressed universalist positions in early Christianity. Though Gregory of Nyssa was a known universalist, he was never condemned. He was additionally declared "the father of fathers" by the seventh ecumenical council.
Modern universalists claim that universalism was the primary doctrine of the church until it was forcibly stamped out by the Catholic Church in the sixth century. Four of the six theological schools of thought in ancient Christendom supported universalism, and only one supported eternal damnation. Additionally, theological thought appears more varied before the strong influence of Augustine, who forcefully denied universal salvation. Some claim that Augustine's rejection of the doctrine was an unwarranted side-effect of Platonist pagan philosophy, rather than a conclusion based on his study of the Scriptures.[who?]
Origen and a form of apocatastasis were condemned in 544 by the Patriarch Mennas of Constantinople and the condemnation was ratified in 553 by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Many heteroclite views became associated with Origen, and the 15 anathemas against him attributed to the council condemn a form of apocatastasis along with the pre-existence of the soul, animism, a heterodox Christology, and a denial of real and lasting resurrection of the body. Some authorities believe these anathemas belong to an earlier local synod. It should also be noted, the Fifth Ecumenical Council has been contested as being an official and authorized Ecumenical Council, since it was established not by the Pope, but rather by the Emperor, because of the Pope's resistance to it. It should also be noted that the Fifth Ecumenical Council addressed what was called "The Three Chapters" and was against a form of Origenism which truly had nothing to do with Origen and Origenist views. In fact, Popes Vigilius, Pelagius I (556-61), Pelagius II (579-90), and Gregory the Great (590-604) were only aware that the Fifth Council specifically dealt with the Three Chapters and they made no mention of Origenism or Universalism, nor spoke as if they knew of its condemnation, even though Gregory the Great was opposed to the belief of universalism.
Apocatastasis is considered, in modern times, to refer to Origen's doctrine of Universal Reconciliation. However, until the middle of the sixth century, the word had a broader meaning. While it applied to a number of doctrines regarding universal salvation, it also referred to a return, both to a location and to an original condition. Thus, the Greek word's application to universalist theology was originally broad and metaphorical.
Christian universalists in history
"In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality (annihilationism); one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked”.
There has been a number of prominent and influential Church Fathers and Church leaders throughout Christian history who have held to the belief of Universal Reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ. Though disagreement has arisen on the basis of subjectivity of interpretation of their beliefs, many have expressed in writing and witness accounts, the hope of Universal Reconciliation at some time in their religious lives.
The Reformation era witnessed a rekindled interest in the theological doctrine of Universal Reconciliation. Figures such as Erasmus rekindled interested in the Greek Church Fathers. Historically early advocates of universalism, such as Origen, became more broadly known as new editions of their writings were published. The period between the Reformation and Enlightenment featured extended debates about salvation and hell.
A German Christian, Hans Denck converted to universalism in the sixteenth century. Hans Hut was deeply influenced by Denck and spread the doctrine of universalism. The teaching spread from Germany. Universalism was notably present in England by the seventeenth century. Universalism was brought to the American colonies in the early eighteenth century by the English physician George de Benneville, attracted by Pennsylvania's Quaker tolerance. North American universalism was active and organized. This was seen as a threat by the orthodox, Calvinist Congregationalists of New England such as Jonathan Edwards, who wrote prolifically against universalist teachings and preachers.
At the Vatican, on April 7, 2008, the Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna in his presentation at the First World Apostolic Congress of Divine Mercy, argued that God's mercy is so great that He does not condemn sinners to everlasting punishment. The Orthodox understanding of hell, Bishop Hilarion said, corresponds roughly to the Roman Catholic notion of purgatory.
On May 17, 2007, the Christian Universalist Association was founded at the historic Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington, D.C. This was a move to distinguish the modern Christian Universalist movement from Unitarian Universalism, and to promote ecumenical unity among Christian believers in universal reconciliation.
In 2005, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, reiterated that Universal Salvation was entirely compatible with Catholic teaching  and expressed his personal hope for universal salvation.
The Protestanst bishop Carlton Pearson received notoriety in 2004 when he was officially declared a heretic by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops. Bishop Pearson, who had attended Oral Roberts University, a conservative Protestant college, formally declared his belief in the doctrine of universal salvation. His church, called the New Dimensions Church, adopted this doctrine, and in 2008, the congregation was merged into All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the world.
Modern biblically-based teachers of ultimate reconciliation include Thomas Talbott, Stephen Jones, J. Preston Eby, Bill and Elaine Cook, and Tony Salmon.
Presence International, a non-profit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, holds yearly conferences that teach that Jesus Christ returned to the Earth in the year 70 A.D. at the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans, and He has already reconciled all of humanity with God.
Roman Catholic and Orthodox teaching
Roman Catholicism, unlike most other forms of Christianity, asserts the existence of purgatory. In theological terminology, "purgatory" is a separate and distinct term from "hell". It is possible to loosely describe purgatory as "a temporary hell", or as "a temporary period in hell", but these statements would, according popular consensus among Roman Catholics, be using Catholic terminology incorrectly, since all souls in purgatory are said to be destined for Heaven.
As the Catholic Church teaches that Christians must believe in the existence of hell, it has been the standard belief of Catholics that certain people go to hell. For Roman Catholics, the doctrine of universal reconciliation is considered heterodox, although most of them do believe in purgatory, and universal reconciliation is accepted by some clergymen as compatible with current church teaching.
The Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, on April 9, 2008, in his presentation at the First World Apostolic Congress of Divine Mercy at the Vatican, argued that God's mercy is so great that He does not condemn sinners to everlasting punishment. Bishop Hilarion stated that the Orthodox Catholic understanding of hell corresponds roughly to the Roman Catholic notion of purgatory.
This claim contradicts a canon of the Synod of Constantinople, held in 1722. Although the Synod declared that the teaching of the existence of purgatory is heresy, it still spoke of some sort of reconciliation for the damned:
We do not accept a third place, a purgatory, by any means, since neither Scripture nor the Holy Fathers have taught us any such thing. However, we believe these two places have many abodes [...] None of the teachers of the Church have handed down or taught such a purgatory, but they all speak of one single place of punishment, hades, just as they teach about one luminous and bright place, paradise. But both the souls of the holy and the righteous go indisputably to paradise and those of the sinners go to hades, of whom the profane and those who have sinned unforgivably are punished forever and those who have offended forgivably and moderately hope to gain freedom through the unspeakable mercy of God. [...] [W]e hope there will be comfort for them from God, but not through fire and purgatory, but through divine love for mankind, whereby the infinite goodness of God is seen.
- Christian Universalism
- Problem of Hell
- Unitarian Universalism
- Traditionalist School
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 12, p. 96; Retrieved April 29, 2007. “In the West this doctrine had fewer adherents and was never accepted by the Church at large. In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional mortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked.”
* Seymour, Charles. A Theodicy of Hell. p. 25. Springer (2000). ISBN 0792363647.
* Ludlow, Morwenna. Universal Salvation: eschatology in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner. Pp. 1-2. Oxford University Press (2000). ISBN 0198270224.
- ↑ St. Isaac of Nineveh
- ↑ Schmithals, Walter. The Theology of the First Christians. Pp 85-88. Westminster John Knox Press (1998). ISBN 0664256155.
- ↑ St. Gregory of Nyssa
- ↑ Gregory of Nyssa
- ↑ The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 12, p. 96; Retrieved April 29, 2007. “In the West this doctrine had fewer adherents and was never accepted by the Church at large. In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional mortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked.”
- ↑ Seymour, Charles. A Theodicy of Hell. Pg 25. Springer (2000). ISBN 0792363647.
- ↑ Ludlow, Morwenna. Universal Salvation: eschatology in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner. Pp 1-2. Oxford University Press (2000). ISBN 0198270224.
- ↑ Von Balthasar, Hans Urs & Greer, Rowan A. Origen. Pg 3. Paulist Press (1979). ISBN 0809121980.
- ↑ The Anathemas Against Origen
- ↑ Excursus on the XV. Anathemas Against Origen
- ↑ "Three Chapters". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14707b.htm. Retrieved 2007-09-04.
- ↑ "Origen and Origenism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11306b.htm. Retrieved 2007-09-04.
- ↑ Ludlow, pp. 39-42
- ↑ "Universalist Thought Through Church History". http://www.tentmaker.org/tracts/Universalists.html. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
- ↑ Ludlow, pp. 2-3
- ↑ Seymour, Charles. A Theodicy of Hell. Pp. 30-31. Springer (2000). ISBN 0792363647.
- ↑ 18.0 18.1 Lawler, Phil (2008-04-07). "Divine Mercy congress ends-- spiced by theological disagreement". Catholic World News. http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=57674. Retrieved 2008-04-08.
- ↑ "Founding Board Meeting of the CUA". The Christian Universalist Association. May 17, 2007. http://www.christianuniversalist.org/events/foundingmeeting.html. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
- ↑ 20.0 20.1 "Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor Speaks of His Hope for Universal Salvation". Romancatholicism.org. http://www.romancatholicism.org/cormac-apokatastasis.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- ↑ "'Inclusionism' deemed heresy". The Washington Times. 2004-04-21. http://www.washtimes.com/news/2004/apr/20/20040420-104557-5370r/. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- ↑ Bill Sherman, "After last sermon, no regrets" Tulsa World, September 21, 2008
- ↑ Climenhaga, Arthur. "UNIVERSALISM IN PRESENT DAY THEOLOGY". Northwest Nazarene University. http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/01-05/02-6.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-10.
- ↑ http://www.geocities.com/trvalentine/orthodox/synodschart.html