Vol. 2, Chapter XII (Cont’d) – Antitrinitarians. First Class: The Alogi, Theodotus, Artemon, Paul of Samosata


The works cited at § 144.

Schleiermacher: Ueber den Gegensatz der sabellianischen u. athanasianischen Vorstellung von der Trinität (Werke zur Theol. Vol. II.). A rare specimen of constructive criticism (in the interest of Sabellianism).

Lobeg. Lange: Geschichte u. Lehrbegriff der Unitarier vor der nicänischen Synode. Leipz. 1831.

Jos. Schwane (R.C.): Dogmengesch. der vornicän. Zeit (Münster, 1862), pp. 142-156; 199-203. Comp. his art. Antitrinitarier in “Wetzer und Welte,” new ed. I. 971-976.

Friedr. Nitzsch: Dogmengeschichte, Part I. (Berlin, 1870), 194-210.

Ad. Harnack: Monarchianismus. In Herzog2, vol. X. (1882), 178-213. A very elaborate article. Abridged in Schaff’s Herzog, II. 1548 sqq.

Ad. Hilgenfeld: Ketzergeschichte des Urchristenthums (1884) p. 608-628.

That this goal was at last happily reached, was in great part due again to those controversies with the opponents of the church doctrine of the Trinity, which filled the whole third century. These Antitrinitarians are commonly called Monarchians from (μοναρχία) or Unitarians, on account of the stress they laid upon the numerical. personal unity of the Godhead.

But we must carefully distinguish among them two opposite classes: the rationalistic or dynamic Monarchians, who denied the divinity of Christ, or explained it as a mere “power” and the patripassian or modalistic Monarchians, who identified the Son with the Father, and admitted at most only a modal trinity, that is a threefold mode of revelation, but not a tripersonality.

The first form of this heresy, involved in the abstract Jewish monotheism, deistically sundered the divine and the human, and rose little above Ebionism. After being defeated in the church this heresy arose outside of it on a grander scale, as a pretended revelation, and with marvellous success, in Mohammedanism which may be called the pseudo-Jewish and pseudo-Christian Unitarianism of the East.

The second form proceeded from the highest conception of the deity of Christ, but in part also from pantheistic notions which approached the ground of Gnostic docetism.

The one prejudiced the dignity of the Son, the other the dignity of the Father; yet the latter was by far the more profound and Christian, and accordingly met with the greater acceptance.

The Monarchians of the first class saw in Christ a mere man, filled with divine power; but conceived this divine power as operative in him, not from the baptism only, according to the Ebionite view, but from the beginning; and admitted his supernatural generation by the Holy Spirit. To this class belong:

1. The Alogians or Alogi, a heretical sect in Asia Minor about a.d. 170, of which very little is known. Epiphanius gave them this name because they rejected the Logos doctrine and the Logos Gospel, together with the Apocalypse. “What good,” they said, “is the Apocalypse to me, with its seven angels and seven seals? What have I to do with the four angels at Euphrates, whom another angel must loose, and the host of horsemen with breastplates of fire and brimstone?” They seem to have been jejune rationalists opposed to chiliasm and all mysterious doctrines. They absurdly attributed the writings of John to the Gnostic, Cerinthus, whom the aged apostle opposed. This is the first specimen of negative biblical criticism, next to Marcion’s mutilation of the canon.

2. The Theodotians; so called from their founder, the tanner Theodotus. He sprang from Byzantium; denied Christ in a persecution, with the apology that he denied only a man; but still held him to be the supernaturally begotten Messiah. He gained followers in Rome, but was excommunicated by the bishop Victor (192-202). After his death his sect chose the confessor Natalis bishop, who is said to have afterwards penitently returned into the bosom of the Catholic church. A younger Theodotus, the “money-changer,” put Melchizedek as mediator between God and the angels, above Christ, the mediator between God and men; and his followers were called Melchizedekians.

3. The Artemonites, or adherents of Artemon or Artemos, who came out somewhat later at Rome with a similar opinion, declared the doctrine of the divinity of Christ an innovation and a relapse to heathen polytheism; and was excommunicated by Zephyrinus (202-217) or afterwards. The Artemonites were charged with placing Euclid and Aristotle above Christ, and esteeming mathematics and dialectics higher than the gospel. This indicates a critical intellectual turn, averse to mystery, and shows that Aristotle was employed by some against the divinity of Christ, as Plato was engaged for it.

Their assertion, that the true doctrine was obscured in the Roman church only from the time of Zephyrinus, is explained by the fact brought to light recently through the Philosophumena of Hippolytus, that Zephyrinus (and perhaps his predecessor Victor), against the vehement opposition of a portion of the Roman church, favored Patripassianism, and probably in behalf of this doctrine condemned the Artemonites.

4. Paul of Samosata, from 260 bishop of Antioch, and at the same time a high civil officer, is the most famous of these rationalistic Unitarians, and contaminated one of the first apostolic churches with his heresy. He denied the personality of the Logos and of the Holy Spirit, and considered them merely powers of God, like reason and mind in man; but granted that the Logos dwelt in Christ in larger measure than in any former messenger of God, and taught, like the Socinians in later times, a gradual elevation of Christ, determined by his own moral development, to divine dignity. He admitted that Christ remained free from sin, conquered the sin of our forefathers, and then became the Saviour of the race. To introduce his Christology into the mind of the people, he undertook to alter the church hymns, but was shrewd enough to accommodate himself to the orthodox formulas, calling Christ, for example, “God from the Virgin,” and ascribing to him even homo-ousias with the Father, but of course in his own sense.

The bishops under him in Syria accused him not only of heresy but also of extreme vanity, arrogance, pompousness, avarice, and undue concern with secular business; and at a third synod held in Antioch a.d. 269 or 268, they pronounced his deposition. The number of bishops present is variously reported (70, 80, 180). Dominus was appointed successor. The result was communicated to the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and to all the churches. But as Paul was favored by the queen Zenobia of Palmyra, the deposition could not be executed till after her subjection by the emperor Aurelian in 272, and after consultation with the Italian bishops.

His overthrow decided the fall of the Monarchians; though they still appear at the end of the fourth century as condemned heretics, under the name of Samosatians, Paulianists, and Sabellians.


151. Second Class of Antitrinitarians: Praxeas, Noëtus, Callistus, Berryllus

The second class of Monarchians, called by Tertullian “Patripassians” (as afterwards a branch of the Monophysites was called “Theopaschites”), together with their unitarian zeal felt the deeper Christian impulse to hold fast the divinity of Christ; but they sacrificed to it his independent personality, which they merged in the essence of the Father. They taught that the one supreme God by his own free will, and by an act of self-limitation became man, so that the Son is the Father veiled in the flesh. They knew no other God but the one manifested in Christ, and charged their opponents with ditheism. They were more dangerous than the rationalistic Unitarians, and for a number of years had even the sympathy and support of the papal chair. They had a succession of teachers in Rome, and were numerous there even at the time of Epiphanius towards the close of the fourth century.

1. The first prominent advocate of the Patripassian heresy was Praxeas of Asia Minor. He came to Rome under Marcus Aurelius with the renown of a confessor; procured there the condemnation of Montanism; and propounded his Patripassianism, to which he gained even the bishop Victor. But Tertullian met him in vindication at once of Montanism and of hypostasianism with crushing logic, and sarcastically charged him with having executed at Rome two commissions of the devil: having driven away the Holy Ghost, and having crucified the Father. Praxeas, constantly appealing to Isa_45:5; Joh_10:30 (“I and my Father are one”), and Joh_14:9 (“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”), as if the whole Bible consisted of these three passages, taught that the Father himself became man, hungered, thirsted, suffered, and died in Christ. True, he would not be understood as speaking directly of a suffering (pati) of the Father, but only of a sympathy (copati) of the Father with the Son; but in any case he lost the independent personality of the Son. He conceived the relation of the Father to the Son as like that of the spirit to the flesh. The same subject, as spirit, is the Father; as flesh, the Son. He thought the Catholic doctrine tritheistic.

2. Noëtus of Smyrna published the same view about a.d. 200, appealing also to Rom_9:5, where Christ is called “the one God over all.” When censured by a council he argued in vindication of himself, that his doctrine enhanced the glory of Christ. The author of the Philosophumena places him in connection with the pantheistic philosophy of Heraclitus, who, as we here for the first time learn, viewed nature as the harmony of all antitheses, and called the universe at once dissoluble and indissoluble, originated and unoriginated, mortal and immortal; and thus Noëtus supposed that the same divine subject must be able to combine opposite attributes in itself.

Two of his disciples, Epigonus and Cleomenes, propagated this doctrine in Rome under favor of Pope Zephyrinus.

3. Callistus (pope Calixtus I.) adopted and advocated the doctrine of Noëtus. He declared the Son merely the manifestation of the Father in human form; the Father animating the Son, as the spirit animates the body, Joh_14:11, and suffering with him on the cross. “The Father,” said he, “who was in the Son, took flesh and made it God, uniting it with himself and made it one. Father and Son were therefore the name of the one God, and this one person cannot be two; thus the Father suffered with the Son.” He considered his opponents “ditheists,” and they in return called his followers “Callistians.”

These and other disclosures respecting the church at Rome during the first quarter of the third century, we owe, as already observed, to the ninth book of the Philosophumena of Hippolytus, who was, however, it must be remembered, the leading opponent and rival of Callistus, and in his own doctrine of the Trinity inclined to the opposite subordinatian extreme. He calls Callistus, evidently with passion, an “unreasonable and treacherous man, who brought together blasphemies from above and below only to speak against the truth, and was not ashamed to fall now into the error of Sabellius, now into that of Theodotius” (of which latter, however, he shows no trace, but the very opposite). Callistus differed from the ditheistic separation of the Logos from God, but also from the Sabellian confusion of the Father and the Son, and insisted on the mutual indwelling (περιχώρησις) of the divine Persons; in other words, he sought the way from modalistic unitarianism to the Nicene trinitarianism; but he was not explicit and consistent in his statements. He excommunicated both Sabellius and Hippolytus; the Roman church sided with him, and made his name one of the most prominent among the ancient popes.

After the death of Callistus, who occupied the papal chair between 218 and 223 or 224, Patripassianism disappeared from the Roman church.

4. Beryllus of Bostra (now Bosra and Bosseret), in Arabia Petraea. From him we have only a somewhat obscure and very variously interpreted passage preserved in Eusebius. He denied the personal pre-existence and in general the independent divinity of Christ, but at the same time asserted the indwelling of the divinity of the Father in him during his earthly life. He forms, in some sense, the stepping-stone from simple Patripassianism to Sabellian modalism. At an Arabian synod in 244, where the presbyter Origen, then himself accused of heresy, was called into consultation, Beryllus was convinced of his error by that great teacher, and was persuaded particularly of the existence of a human soul in Christ, in place of which he had probably put his πατρικὴ θεότος, as Apollinaris in a later period put the λόγος. He is said to have thanked Origen afterwards for his instruction. Here we have one of the very few theological disputations which have resulted in unity instead of greater division.


152. Sabellianism

Sources: Hippolytyus: Philos. IX. 11 (D. and Schn. p. 450, 456, 458). Rather meagre, but important. Epiphan.: Haer. 62. The fragments of letters of Dionysius of Alex. in Athanasius, De Sentent. Dion., and later writers, collected in Routh, Reliqu. sacr. Novatian: De Trinit. Euseb.: Contra Marcellum. The references in the writings of Athanasius (De Syn.; De Decr. Nic. Syn.; Contra Arian.). Basil M.: Ep. 207, 210, 214, 235. Gregory of Naz.: λόγος κατὰ Ἀρείου κ. Σαβελλίου.

Comp. Schleiermacher, Neander, Baur, Dorner, Harnack, l. c., and Zahn, Marcellus von. Ancyra (Gotha, 1867); Nitzsch, Dogmengesch. I. 206-209, 223-225.

5. Sabellius is by far the most original, profound, and ingenious of the ante-Nicene Unitarians, and his system the most plausible rival of orthodox trinitarianism. It revives from time to time in various modifications. We know very little of his life. He was probably a Lybian from the Pentapolis. He spent some time in Rome in the beginning of the third century, and was first gained by Callistus to Patripassianism, but when the latter became bishop be was excommunicated. The former fact is doubtful. His doctrine spread in Rome, and especially also in the Pentapolis in Egypt. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, excommunicated him in 260 or 261 at a council in that city, and, in vehement opposition to him declared in almost Arian terms for the hypostatical independence and subordination of the Son in relation to the Father. This led the Sabellians to complain of that bishop to Dionysius of Rome, who held a council in 262, and in a special treatise controverted Sabellianism, as well as subordinatianism and tritheism, with nice orthodox tact. The bishop of Alexandria very cheerfully yielded, and retracted his assertion of the creaturely inferiority of the Son in favor of the orthodox homo-ousious. Thus the strife was for a while allayed, to be renewed with still greater violence by Arius half a century later.

The system of Sabellius is known to us only from a few fragments, and some of these not altogether consistent, in Athanasius and other fathers.

While the other Monarchians confine their inquiry to the relation of Father and Son, Sabellius embraces the Holy Spirit in his speculation, and reaches a trinity, not a simultaneous trinity of essence, however, but only a successive trinity of revelation. He starts from a distinction of the monad and the triad in the divine nature. His fundamental thought is, that the unity of God, without distinction in itself, unfolds or extends itself in the course of the world’s development in three different forms and periods of revelation and, after the completion of redemption, returns into unity. The Father reveals himself in the giving of the law or the Old Testament economy (not in the creation also, which in his view precedes the trinitarian revelation); the Son, in the incarnation; the Holy Ghost, in inspiration. The revelation of the Son ends with the ascension; the revelation of the Spirit goes on in regeneration and sanctification. He illustrates the trinitarian relation by comparing the Father to the disc of the sun, the Son to its enlightening power, the Spirit to its warming influence. He is said also to have likened the Father to the body, the Son to the soul, the Holy Ghost to the spirit of man; but this is unworthy of his evident speculative discrimination. His view of the Logos, too, is peculiar. The Logos is not identical with the Son, but is the monad itself in its transition to triad; that is, God conceived as vital motion and creating principle, the speaking God, in distinction from the silent God. Each πρόσωπον is another διαλέγεσθαι and the three πρόσωπα together are only successive evolutions of the Logos or the worldward aspect of the divine nature. As the Logos proceeded from God, so he returns at last into him, and the process of trinitarian development closes.

Athanasius traced the doctrine of Sabellius to the Stoic philosophy. The common element is the pantheistic leading view of an expansion and contraction of the divine nature immanent in the world. In the Pythagorean system also, in the Gospel of the Egyptians, and in the pseudo-Clementine Homilies, there are kindred ideas. But the originality of Sabellius cannot be brought into question by these. His theory broke the way for the Nicene church doctrine, by its full coordination of the three persons. He differs from the orthodox standard mainly in denying the trinity of essence and the permanence of the trinity of manifestation; making Father, Son, and Holy Ghost only temporary phenomena, which fulfil their mission and return into the abstract monad.


153. Redemption

Cotta: Histor. doctrinae de redemptione sanguine J. Chr. facta, in Gerhard: Loci theol., vol. IV. p. 105-134.

Ziegler: Hist. dogmatis de redemptione. Gott. 1791. Rationalistic.

K. Baehr.: Die Lehre der Kirche vom Tode Jesu in den drei ersten Jahrh., Sulz b. 1832. Against the orthodox doctrine of the satisfactio vicaria.

F. C. Baur: Die christl. Lehre von der Versöhnung in ihrer geschichtl. Entw. von der ältesten Zeit bis auf die neueste. Tüb. 1838. 764 pages, (See pp. 23-67). Very learned, critical, and philosophical, but resulting in Hegelian pantheism.

L. Duncker: Des heil. Irenaeus Christologie. Gött. 1843 (p. 217 sqq.; purely objective).

Baumgarten Crusius: Compendium der christl. Dogmengeschichte. Leipz. 2d Part 1846, § 95 sqq. (p. 257 sqq.)

Albrecht Ritschl (Prof. in Göttingen): Die christl. Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, Bonn, 1870, second revised ed. 1882, sqq., 3 vols. The first vol. (pages 656) contains the history of the doctrine, but devotes only a few introductory pages to our period (p. 4), being occupied chiefly with the Anselmic, the orthodox Lutheran and Calvinistic, and the modern German theories of redemption. Ritschl belonged originally to the Tübingen school, but pursues now an independent path, and lays greater stress on the ethical forces in history.

The work of the triune God, in his self-revelation, is the salvation, or redemption and reconciliation of the world: negatively, the emancipation of humanity from the guilt and power of sin and death; positively, the communication of the righteousness and life of fellowship with God. First, the discord between the Creator and the creature must be adjusted; and then man can be carried onward to his destined perfection. Reconciliation with God is the ultimate aim of every religion. In heathenism it was only darkly guessed and felt after, or anticipated in perverted, fleshly forms. In Judaism it was divinely promised, typically foreshadowed, and historically prepared. In Christianity it is revealed in objective reality, according to the eternal counsel of the love and wisdom of God, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and is being continually applied subjectively to individuals in the church by the Holy Spirit, through the means of grace, on condition of repentance and faith. Christ is, exclusively and absolutely, the Saviour of the world, and the Mediator between God and man.

The apostolic scriptures, in the fulness of their inspiration, everywhere bear witness of this salvation wrought through Christ, as a living fact of experience. But it required time for the profound ideas of a Paul and a John to come up clearly to the view of the church; indeed, to this day they remain unfathomed. Here again experience anticipated theology. The church lived from the first on the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The cross ruled all Christian thought and conduct, and fed the spirit of martyrdom. But the primitive church teachers lived more in the thankful enjoyment of redemption than in logical reflection upon it. We perceive in their exhibitions of this blessed mystery the language rather of enthusiastic feeling than of careful definition and acute analysis. Moreover, this doctrine was never, like Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity, a subject of special controversy within the ancient church. The ecumenical symbols touch it only in general terms. The Apostles’ Creed presents it in the article on the forgiveness of sins on the ground of the divine-human life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Nicene Creed says, a little more definitely, that Christ became man for our salvation, and died for us, and rose again.

Nevertheless, all the essential elements of the later church doctrine of redemption may be found, either expressed or implied, before the close of the second century. The negative part of the doctrine, the subjection of the devil, the prince of the kingdom of sin and death, was naturally most dwelt on in the patristic period, on account of the existing conflict of Christianity with heathenism, which was regarded as wholly ruled by Satan and demons. Even in the New Testament, particularly in Col_2:15, Heb_2:14, and 1Jo_3:8, the victory over the devil is made an integral part of the work of Christ. But this view was carried out in the early church in a very peculiar and, to some extent, mythical way; and in this form continued current, until the satisfaction theory of Anselm gave a new turn to the development of the dogma. Satan is supposed to have acquired, by the disobedience of our first parents, a legal claim (whether just or unjust) upon mankind, and held them bound in the chains of sin and death (Comp. Heb_2:14, Heb_2:15). Christ came to our release. The victory over Satan was conceived now as a legal ransom by the payment of a stipulated price, to wit, the death of Christ; now as a cheat upon him, either intentional and deserved, or due to his own infatuation.

The theological development of the doctrine of the work of Christ began with the struggle against Jewish and heathen influences, and at the same time with the development of the doctrine of the person of Christ, which is inseparable from that of his work, and indeed fundamental to it. Ebionism, with its deistic and legal spirit, could not raise its view above the prophetic office of Christ to the priestly and the kingly, but saw in him only a new teacher and legislator. Gnosticism, from the naturalistic and pantheistic position of heathendom, looked upon redemption as a physical and intellectual process, liberating the spirit from the bonds of matter, the supposed principle of evil; reduced the human life and passion of Christ to a vain show; and could ascribe at best only a symbolical virtue to his death. For this reason even Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, in their opposition to docetism, insist most earnestly on the reality of the humanity and death of Jesus, as the source of our reconciliation with God.

In Justin Martyr appear traces of the doctrine of satisfaction, though in very indefinite terms. He often refers to the Messianic fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.

The anonymous author of the Epistle to an unknown heathen, Diognetus, which has sometimes been ascribed to Justin, but is probably of much earlier date, has a beautiful and forcible passage on the mystery of redemption, which shows that the root of the matter was apprehended by faith long before a logical analysis was attempted. “When our wickedness” he says, “had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward — punishment and death — was impending over us … God himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!”

Irenaeus is the first of all the church teachers to give a careful analysis of the work of redemption, and his view is by far the deepest and soundest we find in the first three centuries. Christ, he teaches, as the second Adam, repeated in himself the entire life of man, from childhood to manhood, from birth to death and hades, and as it were summed up that life and brought it under one head, with the double purpose of restoring humanity from its fall and carrying it to perfection. Redemption comprises the taking away of sin by the perfect obedience of Christ; the destruction of death by victory over the devil; and the communication of a new divine life to man. To accomplish this work, the Redeemer must unite in himself the divine and human natures; for only as God could he do what man could not, and only as man could he do in a legitimate way, what man should. By the voluntary disobedience of Adam the devil gained a power over man, but in an unfair way, by fraud. By the voluntary obedience of Christ that power was wrested from him by lawful means. This took place first in the temptation, in which Christ renewed or recapitulated the struggle of Adam with Satan, but defeated the seducer, and thereby liberated man from his thraldom. But then the whole life of Christ was a continuous victorious conflict with Satan, and a constant obedience to God. This obedience completed itself in the suffering and death on the tree of the cross, and thus blotted out the disobedience which the first Adam had committed on the tree of knowledge. This, however, is only the negative side. To this is added, as already remarked, the communication of a new divine principle of life, and the perfecting of the idea of humanity first effected by Christ.

Origen differs from Irenaeus in considering man, in consequence of sin, the lawful property of Satan, and in representing the victory over Satan as an outwitting of the enemy, who had no claim to the sinless soul of Jesus, and therefore could not keep it in death. The ransom was paid, not to God, but to Satan, who thereby lost his right to man. Here Origen touches on mythical Gnosticism. He contemplates the death of Christ, however, from other points of view also, as an atoning sacrifice of love offered to God for the sins of the world; as the highest proof of perfect obedience to God; and as an example of patience. He singularly extends the virtue of this redemption to the whole spirit world, to fallen angels as well as men, in connection with his hypothesis of a final restoration. The only one of the fathers who accompanies him in this is Gregory of Nyssa.

Athanasius, in his early youth, at the beginning of the next period, wrote the first systematic treatise on redemption and answer to the question “Cur Deus homo?” But it was left for the Latin church, after the epoch-making treatise of Anselm, to develop this important doctrine in its various aspects.


154. Other Doctrines

The doctrine of the subjective appropriation of salvation, including faith, justification, and sanctification, was as yet far less perfectly formed than the objective dogmas; and in the nature of the case, must follow the latter. If any one expects to find in this period, or in any of the church fathers, Augustin himself not excepted, the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, as the “articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae” be will be greatly disappointed. The incarnation of the Logos, his true divinity and true humanity, stand almost unmistakably in the foreground, as the fundamental truths. Paul’s doctrine of justification, except perhaps in Clement of Rome, who joins it with the doctrine of James, is left very much out of view, and awaits the age of the Reformation to be more thoroughly established and understood. The fathers lay chief stress on sanctification and good works, and show the already existing germs of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the meritoriousness and even the supererogatory meritoriousness of Christian virtue. It was left to modern evangelical theology to develop more fully the doctrines of soteriology and subjective Christianity.

The doctrine of the church, as the communion of grace , we have already considered in the chapter on the constitution of the church, and the doctrine of the sacraments, as the objective means of appropriating grace, in the chapter on worship.


155. Eschatology. Immortality and Resurrection

I. General Eschatology

Chr. W Flugge: Geschichte des Glaubens an Unsterblichkeit, Auferstchung, Gericht und Vergeltung. 3 Theile, Leipz. 1794-1800. Part III. in 2 vols. gives a history of the Christian doctrine. Not completed.

William Rounseville Alger (Unitarian): A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life. With a Complete Literature on the Subject. Philad. 1864, tenth ed. with six new chs. Boston, 1878. He treats of the patristic doctrine in Part Fourth, ch. 1. p. 394-407. The Bibliographical Index by Prof. Ezra Abbot, of Cambridge, contains a classified list of over 5000 books on the subject, and is unequalled in bibliographical literature for completeness and accuracy.

Edm. Spiess: Entwicklungsgeschichte der Vorstellungen vom Zustand nach dem Tode. Jena, 1877. This book of 616 pages omits the Christian eschatology.


II. Greek and Roman Eschatology

C. Fr. Mägelsbach: Die homerische Theologie in ihrem Zusammenhang dargestellt. Nürnberg, 1840.

The same: Die nachhomerische Theologie des griechischen Volksglaubens bis auf Alexander. Nürnberg, 1857.

Aug Arndt: Die Ansichten der Alten über Leben, Tod und Unsterblichkeit. Frankfurt a. M. 1874.

Lehrs: Vorstellungen der Griechen über das Fortleben nach dem Tode. Second ed. 1875.

Ludwig Friedländer: Sittengeschichte Roms, fifth ed. Leipz. 1881, vol. III. p. 681-717 (Der Unsterblichkeitsglaube).


III. Jewish Eschatology

A. Kahle: Biblische Eschatologie des Alten Testaments. Gotha, 1870.

A. Wahl: Unsterblichkeits-und Vergeltungslehre des alttestamentlichen Hebraismus. Jena, 1871.

Dr. Ferdinand Weber (d. 1879): System der Altsynagogalen Palästinischen Theologie aus Targum, Midrasch und Talmud. Ed. by Franz Delitzsch and Georg Schnedermann. Leipzig, 1880. See chs. XXI. 322-332; XXIV. 371-386.

Aug Wünsche: Die Vorstellungen vom Zustande nach dem Tode nach apokryphen, Talmud, und Kirchenvätern In the “Jahrbücher für Prot. Theol.” Leipz. 1880

Bissel: The Eschatology of the Apocrypha. In the “ Bibliotheca Sacra,” 1879.


IV. Christian Eschatology

See the relevant chapters in Flügge, and Alger, as above.

Dr. Edward Beecher: History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution. New York, 1878 (334 pages).

The relevant sections in the Doctrine Histories Of Münscher, Neander, Gieseler, Baur, Hagenbach (H. B. Smith’s ed. vol. I. 213 sqq. and 368 sqq.), Shedd, Friedrich Nitzsch (I. 397 sqq.)

A large number of monographs on Death, Hades, Purgatory, Resurrection, Future Punishment. See the next sections.



Christianity — and human life itself, with its countless problems and mysteries — has no meaning without the certainty of a future world of rewards and punishments, for which the present life serves as a preparatory school. Christ represents himself as “the Resurrection and the Life,” and promises “eternal life” to all who believe in Him. On his resurrection the church is built, and without it the church could never have come into existence. The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting are among the fundamental articles of the early baptismal creeds. The doctrine of the future life, though last in the logical order of systematic theology, was among the first in the consciousness of the Christians, and an unfailing source of comfort and strength in times of trial and persecution. It stood in close connection with the expectation of the Lord’s glorious reappearance. It is the subject of Paul’s first Epistles, those to the Thessalonians, and is prominently discussed in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. He declares the Christians “the most pitiable,” because the most deluded and uselessly self-sacrificing, “of all men,” if their hope in Christ were confined to this life.

The ante-Nicene church was a stranger in the midst of a hostile world, and longed for the unfading crown which awaited the faithful confessor and martyr beyond the grave. Such a mighty revolution as the conversion of the heathen emperor was not dreamed of even as a remote possibility, except perhaps by the far-sighted Origen. Among the five causes to which Gibbon traces the rapid progress of the Christian religion he assigns the second place to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. We know nothing whatever of a future world which lies beyond the boundaries of our observation and experience, except what God has chosen to reveal to us. Left to the instincts and aspirations of nature, which strongly crave after immortality and glory, we can reach at best only probabilities; while the gospel gives us absolute certainty, sealed by the resurrection of Christ.

1. The heathen notions of the future life were vague and confused. The Hindoos, Babylonians, and Egyptians had a lively sense of immortality, but mixed with the idea of endless migrations and transformations. The Buddhists, starting from the idea that existence is want, and want is suffering, make it the chief end of man to escape such migrations, and by various mortifications to prepare for final absorption in Nirwana. The popular belief among the ancient Greeks and Romans was that man passes after death into the Underworld, the Greek Hades, the Roman Orcus. According to Homer, Hades is a dark abode in the interior of the earth, with an entrance at the Western extremity of the Ocean, where the rays of the sun do not penetrate. Charon carries the dead over the stream Acheron, and the three-headed dog Cerberus watches the entrance and allows none to pass out. There the spirits exist in a disembodied state and lead a shadowy dream-life. A vague distinction was made between two regions in Hades, an Elysium (also “the Islands of the Blessed”) for the good, and Tartarus for the bad. “Poets and painters,” says Gibbon, peopled the infernal regions with so many phantoms and monsters, who dispensed their rewards and punishments with so little equity, that a solemn truth, the most congenial to the human heart, was oppressed and disgraced by the absurd mixture of the wildest fictions. The eleventh book of the Odyssey gives a very dreary and incoherent account of the infernal shades. Pindar and Virgil have embellished the picture; but even those poets, though more correct than their great model, are guilty of very strange inconsistencies.”

Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch rose highest among the ancient philosophers in their views of the future life, but they reached only to belief in its probability — not in its certainty. Socrates, after be was condemned to death, said to his judges: “Death is either an eternal sleep, or the transition to a new life; but in neither case is it an evil;” and he drank with playful irony the fatal hemlock. Plato, viewing the human soul as a portion of the eternal, infinite, all-pervading deity, believed in its pre-existence before this present life, and thus had a strong ground of hope for its continuance after death. All the souls (according to his Phaedon and Gorgias, pass into the spirit-world, the righteous into the abodes of bliss, where they live forever in a disembodied state, the wicked into Tartarus for punishment and purification (which notion prepared the way for purgatory). Plutarch, the purest and noblest among the Platonists, thought that immortality was inseparably connected with belief in an all-ruling Providence, and looked with Plato to the life beyond as promising a higher knowledge of, and closer conformity to God, but only for those few who are here purified by virtue and piety. In such rare cases, departure might be called an ascent to the stars, to heaven, to the gods, rather than a descent to Hades. He also, at the death of his daughter, expresses his faith in the blissful state of infants who die in infancy. Cicero, in his Tusculan Questions and treatise De Senectute, reflects in classical language “the ignorance, the errors, and the uncertainty of the ancient philosophers with regard to the immortality of the soul.” Though strongly leaning to a positive view, he yet found it no superfluous task to quiet the fear of death in case the soul should perish with the body. The Stoics believed only in a limited immortality, or denied it altogether, and justified suicide when life became unendurable. The great men of Greece and Rome were not influenced by the idea of a future world as a motive of action. During the debate on the punishment of Catiline and his fellow-conspirators, Julius Caesar openly declared in the Roman Senate that death dissolves all the ills of mortality, and is the boundary of existence beyond which there is no more care nor joy, no more punishment for sin, nor any reward for virtue. The younger Cato, the model Stoic, agreed with Caesar; yet before he made an end to his life at Utica, he read Plato’s Phaedon. Seneca once dreamed of immortality, and almost approached the Christian hope of the birth-day of eternity, if we are to trust his rhetoric, but afterwards he awoke from the beautiful dream and committed suicide. The elder Pliny, who found a tragic death under the lava of Vesuvius, speaks of the future life as an invention of man’s vanity and selfishness, and thinks that body and soul have no more sensation after death than before birth; death becomes doubly painful if it is only the beginning of another indefinite existence. Tacitus speaks but once of immortality, and then conditionally; and he believed only in the immortality of fame. Marcus Aurelius, in sad resignation, bids nature, “Give what thou wilt, and take back again what and when thou wilt.”

These were noble and earnest Romans. What can be expected from the crowd of frivolous men of the world who moved within the limits of matter and sense and made present pleasure and enjoyment the chief end of life? The surviving wife of an Epicurean philosopher erected a monument to him, with the inscription “to the eternal sleep.” Not a few heathen epitaphs openly profess the doctrine that death ends all; while, in striking contrast with them, the humble Christian inscriptions in the catacombs express the confident hope of future bliss and glory in the uninterrupted communion of the believer with Christ and God.

Yet the scepticism of the educated and half-educated could not extinguish the popular belief in the imperial age. The number of cheerless and hopeless materialistic epitaphs is, after all, very small as compared with the many thousands which reveal no such doubt, or express a belief in some kind of existence beyond the grave.

Of a resurrection of the body the Greeks and Romans had no conception, except in the form of shades and spectral outlines, which were supposed to surround the disembodied spirits, and to make them to some degree recognizable. Heathen philosophers, like Celsus, ridiculed the resurrection of the body as useless, absurd, and impossible.

2. The Jewish doctrine is far in advance of heathen notions and conjectures, but presents different phases of development.

(a) The Mosaic writings are remarkably silent about the future life, and emphasize the present rather than future consequences of the observance or non-observance of the law (because it had a civil or political as well as spiritual import); and hence the Sadducees accepted them, although they denied the resurrection (perhaps also the immortality of the soul). The Pentateuch contains, however, some remote and significant hints of immortality, as in the tree of life with its symbolic import (Gen_2:9; Gen_3:22, Gen_3:24); in the mysterious translation of Enoch as a reward for his piety (Gen_5:24); in the prohibition of necromancy (Deu_18:11; comp. 1Sa_28:7); in the patriarchal phrase for dying: “to be gathered to his fathers,” or “to his people;” (Gen_25:8; Gen_35:29; Gen_49:29, Gen_49:33) and last, though not least, in the self-designation of Jehovah as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” which implies their immortality, since “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Exo_3:6, Exo_3:16; comp. Mat_22:32). What has an eternal meaning for God must itself be eternal.

(b) In the later writings of the Old Testament, especially during and after the exile, the doctrine of immortality and resurrection comes out plainly. Daniel’s vision reaches out even to the final resurrection of “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth to everlasting life,” and of “some to shame and everlasting contempt,” and prophesies that “they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.” (Dan_12:2, Dan_12:3; Comp. Isa_65:17; Isa_66:22-24)

But before Christ, who first revealed true life, the Hebrew Sheol, the general receptacle of departing souls, remained, like the Greek Hades, a dark and dreary abode, and is so described in the Old Testament. Cases like Enoch’s translation and Elijah’s ascent are altogether unique and exceptional, and imply the meaning that death is contrary to man’s original destination, and may be overcome by the power of holiness.

(c) The Jewish Apocrypha (the Book of Wisdom, and the Second Book of Maccabees), and later Jewish writings (the Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Ezra) show some progress: they distinguish between two regions in Sheol — Paradise or Abraham’s Bosom for the righteous, and Gehinnom or Gehenna for the wicked; they emphasize the resurrection of the body, and the future rewards and punishments.

(d) The Talmud adds various fanciful embellishments. It puts Paradise and Gehenna in close proximity, measures their extent, and distinguishes different departments in both corresponding to the degrees of merit and guilt. Paradise is sixty times as large as the world, and Hell sixty times as large as Paradise, for the bad preponderate here and hereafter. According to other rabbinical testimonies, both are well nigh boundless. The Talmudic descriptions of Paradise (as those of the Koran) mix sensual and spiritual delights. The righteous enjoy the vision of the Shechina and feast with the patriarchs, and with Moses and David of the flesh of leviathan, and drink wine from the cup of salvation. Each inhabitant has a house according to his merit. Among the punishments of hell the chief place is assigned to fire, which is renewed every week after the Sabbath. The wicked are boiled like the flesh in the pot, but the bad Israelites are not touched by fire, and are otherwise tormented. The severest punishment is reserved for idolaters, hypocrites, traitors, and apostates. As to the duration of future punishment the school of Shammai held that it was everlasting; while the school of Hillel inclined to the milder view of a possible redemption after repentance and purification. Some Rabbis taught that hell will cease, and that the sun will burn up and annihilate the wicked.

3. The Christian doctrine of the future life differs from the heathen, and to a less extent also from the Jewish, in the following important points:

(a) It gives to the belief in a future state the absolute certainty of divine revelation, sealed by the fact of Christ’s resurrection, and thereby imparts to the present life an immeasurable importance, involving endless issues.

(b) It connects the resurrection of the body with the immortality of the soul, and thus gives concrete completion to the latter, and saves the whole individuality of man from destruction.

(c) It views death as the punishment of sin, and therefore as something terrible, from which nature shrinks. But its terror has been broken, and its sting extracted by Christ.

(d) It qualifies the idea of a future state by the doctrine of sin and redemption, and thus makes it to the believer a state of absolute holiness and happiness, to the impenitent sinner a state of absolute misery. Death and immortality are a blessing to the one, but a terror to the other; the former can hail them with joy; the latter has reason to tremble.

(e) It gives great prominence to the general judgment, after the resurrection, which determines the ultimate fate of all men according to their works done in this earthly life.

But we must distinguish, in this mysterious article, what is of faith, and what is private opinion and speculation.

The return of Christ to judgment with its eternal rewards and punishment is the centre of the eschatological faith of the church. The judgment is preceded by the general resurrection, and followed by life everlasting.

This faith is expressed in the ecumenical creeds.

The Apostles’ Creed:

“He shall come to judge the quick and the dead,” and “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

The Nicene Creed:

“He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” “And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

The Athanasian Creed, so called, adds to these simple statements a damnatory clause at the beginning, middle, and end, and makes salvation depend on belief in the orthodox catholic doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation, as therein stated. But that document is of much later origin, and cannot be traced beyond the sixth century.

The liturgies which claim apostolic or post-apostolic origin, give devotional expression to the same essential points in the eucharistic sacrifice.

The Clementine liturgy:

“Being mindful, therefore, of His passion and death, and resurrection from the dead, and return into the heavens, and His future second appearing, wherein He is to come with glory and power to judge the quick and the dead, and to recompense to every one according to his works.”

The liturgy of James:

“His second glorious and awful appearing, when He shall come with glory to judge the quick and the dead, and render to every one according to his works.”

The liturgy of Mark:

“His second terrible and dreadful coming, in which He will come to judge righteously the quick and the dead, and to render to each man according to his works.”

All that is beyond these revealed and generally received articles must be left free. The time of the Second Advent, the preceding revelation of Antichrist, the millennium before or after the general judgment, the nature of the disembodied state between death and resurrection, the mode and degree of future punishment, the proportion of the saved and lost, the fate of the heathen and all who die ignorant of Christianity, the locality of heaven and hell, are open questions in eschatology about which wise and good men in the church have always differed, and will differ to the end. The Bible speaks indeed of ascending to heaven and descending to hell, but this is simply the unavoidable popular language, as when it speaks of the rising and setting sun. We do the same, although we know that in the universe of God there is neither above nor below, and that the sun does not move around the earth. The supernatural world may be very far from us, beyond the stars and beyond the boundaries of the visible created world (if it has any boundaries), or very near and round about us. At all events there is an abundance of room for all God’s children. “In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you” (Joh_14:2). This suffices for faith.