Divine Humanity and God’s Plan of Universal Salvation
By Eric Stetson — 2008
(Note: This article is excerpted, with minor revisions, from a 2008 book, Christian Universalism: God’s Good News for All People. Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.)
Perhaps the most important event in Christian history after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine (272-337), who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in the year 313 and became a patron of the Christian clergy. Christianity quickly went from a persecuted minority group to the dominant and semi-official religion of Rome.
One of the side effects of Constantine’s conversion was that the Bible increasingly came to be read in Latin translation, rather than the original Greek and Hebrew. This allowed for distortions of the scriptures to be seen as part of the Judeo-Christian message. Tragically, the most important church theologian of the post-Constantine Christian empire was a man who could not even read Greek and thus had no command of the language in which the New Testament was written and in which the early Christians had read the Bible. This theologian was Augustine (354-430), considered the father of all Western theology. He was responsible for a wholesale change in Christian thinking, replacing the belief system of the Apostles and most of the early Church Fathers with a completely different version of the gospel that has been handed down to us as the fundamental basis of Catholic and Protestant Christianity.
Augustine was the turning point in the development of Western church-approved theology because he enunciated the central concepts of the religious paradigm that took hold in the middle ages and persisted in large part to the present day. His most important ideas which are contrary to the Biblical Gospel include, first and foremost, the belief that the very essence of our being is evil, because humans are defined in God’s eyes by our “original sin” that is passed on as a sexually transmitted disease at birth, and therefore damnation is the default destiny of all people — even unbaptized babies who die in infancy — because of God’s furious anger. Secondly, he taught that hell is eternal and anyone who is not saved from divine condemnation during life on earth will experience eternal conscious torment. Along with this idea is the teaching of predestination by God of some people to heaven and all others to hell, not because of their works either in this life or any past existence, but because of arbitrary favoritism.
Some other important ideas developed by the Roman Catholic Church, which have continued in most forms of Protestantism, are the notion that God and man are totally separate and different in nature — we are only creatures, not children of God — and that humans can never rise into the station of divine sonship like Jesus Christ.
These ideas completely changed the substance of the Christian message and mission from what it was originally. The faith of Christ has been mangled almost beyond recognition, such that key aspects of the original Gospel might seem more “new age” than “Christian” to a follower of Western church orthodoxy. Fortunately, long-forgotten truths have been revived and restored by pioneering spiritual thinkers in modern times — and this article summarizes the Christian faith as it once was and as it is increasingly being rediscovered.
The Nature and Essence of God
To understand the “good news” that is the Gospel, we first need to understand that God is the beginning and end of this message. Christianity is based on belief in a benevolent Higher Being who is fully in control of what happens in the universe. Our own being and destiny is inherently tied to our relationship with God. Without God, we are nothing, and in fact nothing at all could exist.
There are certain characteristics that define the nature of the Deity and affect the laws of reality. At the core of God’s essence are two important features: light and love. Light is perhaps more significant in defining who God is in and of Himself, without reference to other things that exist. We read in the Bible that “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5). Light is the most basic and essential description of God because light is energy, and energy is the very basis of existence, as modern physics attests. God is the energy source from which all creation has originated. There is no darkness in God because God is perfect and pure creative energy, and darkness (or its features, such as cold, void, and the lack of what is good) is the antithesis of God. Dark and empty space is simply the relative absence of the divine essence, the deprivation of the energy that undergirds and gives meaning and beauty to the universe. In a more metaphorical sense, darkness represents evil, so if God is light without darkness that means that God is totally good. In contrast to God, the creation contains evil intermixed with good, because created reality is a combination of both light and darkness. In creation, there really is no such thing as total darkness or total light anywhere, because all existence is sustained by the Light of God, and therefore dependent on it while being less than it.
God is light of infinite intensity and glory — not diminished in any way by darkness — and that means God is greater than everything else that exists. Although all creation is made from light energy, God’s vibration, so to speak, is the highest and most powerful. No other being could ever become a greater light than God, because creation by its very definition involves separating light from darkness to create structure and diversity: greater lights, lesser lights, different patterns and colors of light, and so forth. God is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Tim. 6:15-16). No one can see God in His/Her/Its own essence of pure and omnipotent light because comprehension of such a transcendent reality is impossible for any lesser being. Our limitations in comparison to Almighty God mean we can only see aspects of God — as much light in whatever form as we are capable of perceiving and accepting at a given time, but never the whole thing as it really is in itself. God alone is immortal in the sense that only God is self-subsisting, independent of all creation; whereas all other beings depend on God’s existence, the creative and sustaining power for their own existence.
Love is the characteristic of God that is most essential in understanding God’s relationship to His creation. But even if there were no creation, nothing at all outside of God, He would still be defined by love. God loves Himself. The Christian concept of the Trinity implies that God is capable of self-reflection and therefore self-love, because God’s consciousness involves three different aspects or personas. Therefore God is a sentient Being, not merely an impersonal force. This is much like the way a human being has a mind, body, and spirit, giving depth and dimensionality and the capability of knowing and loving oneself. In the case of God, the triune nature is described as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and the Spirit of God or “Holy Spirit” is the form that God takes when interacting with people’s spirits, directly influencing us through an infusion of divine light and love. The Biblical description of the Holy Spirit as “fire” alludes to God’s essence of powerful light-energy that transforms creation according to the pattern God has determined.
Love is absolutely central to God’s nature. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8). Even though we cannot see God in His own being as the Infinite Light, we can know Him for His love, which defines who He is. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” (vs. 12). By loving others, we are filled with God’s Spirit, and therefore we are made holy. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. … We love because He first loved us.” (vss. 16,19). Our own capability to love derives from the fact that God is love. Because we are loved by God, we are enabled to love. In the same way that a candle cannot burn until its wick is touched by fire, we could not manifest the love of God unless God’s light had first touched us. When we are infused with the power of the Holy Spirit, we gain power in our own lives to spread the light and love that is God.
The Apostle John also noted that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (vs. 18). It is not in God’s nature to spread fear and terror. His creation stands in awe of His might and glory, but should not tremble in anticipation of eternal torment or rejection by God. Where there is fear, it is because of darkness — which is not of God — and it is a natural consequence of entering the darkness of sin and evil rather than abiding in the divine light and recognizing His love for all beings.
According to the Bible, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.” (Ps. 145:8-9). The scriptures also tell us that “The Lord is just.” (2 Chr. 12:6). Justice is actually a characteristic of love, because it serves for the ultimate benefit of all — even if it doesn’t seem that way in the beginning. Contrary to the common notion that God has competing impulses of love and mercy, anger and justice, the truth is that justice is simply part of God’s plan and the laws of His universe for bringing about the complete and perfect triumph of His love and light. If any being is in the darkness, bereft of the Spirit, God will not be satisfied until that part of creation is returned to Him. Through the exercise of the cosmic laws of justice, God reclaims that which is lost until divine love reigns in all things. Love is a pulling, drawing force whose goal is harmony and reunion — and that is who God is!
The Sonship of Jesus and All People
In addition to Spirit, God’s nature is also described in the Bible as a Father and a Son. That’s not to say that God has masculine characteristics alone. Lest we think God is only masculine and not also feminine, we should reflect on the fact that in the creation story in Genesis, God is said to have created human beings both male and female in the divine image (see Gen. 1:27). Since women also reflect the image and likeness of God, that means that God contains characteristics associated with both genders.
Most English translations of the Bible deliberately mistranslate pronouns referring to the Holy Spirit, to conform to the traditional church doctrine of God’s exclusively male gender. Proverbs chapter 8 is particularly interesting in the original Hebrew, to see the personification of the Holy Spirit as a female spirit of Wisdom who was God the Father’s co-worker in creation from the beginning of the universe. God is sometimes portrayed in the Bible as having a motherly nature (e.g. see Isa. 66:13, Mat. 23:37), but the Bible emphasizes God’s Fatherhood and the Sonship of His human incarnation, Jesus Christ. The focus on the masculine side of God in the Judeo-Christian scriptures may reflect God’s role as head of household, the leader of a divine family, which was the father in the patriarchal cultures of Biblical times.
One of the personas of God is the human form. Specifically, the Bible informs us that the historical man Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ (Hebrew: Mashiach, “Messiah”), who is the very embodiment of the divine essence. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). That is why Christians call Jesus “Lord.” Jesus Christ is described in the Gospel as the Son of God, which is a title intended to convey his special relationship and kinship with God the Father. The Son is separate from the Father in the sense that a human being is not the same thing as the Infinite Source of all being; yet in a mysterious way, it is still accurate to refer to Christ as God. Perhaps it is similar to the way a cup of water drawn from the ocean is the ocean, yet it is not the entire ocean. Jesus is divine, but as a human being with the limitations of a physical body, he is certainly not the whole sum of divinity. Here’s another analogy: The relationship of God the Son and God the Father might be likened to the way that we can look at a painting of a man and say, “There is a man.” We can even recognize who it is, if we know the subject. The painting is the image of the man, just as Paul says Christ is the “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
But Jesus Christ’s Sonship is more than just that. Because God is the Father, Christ as Son of God is begotten by God. This idea was demonstrated in a miraculous way through the virgin birth of Jesus. God brought this miracle to pass because he wanted to make the point that Jesus’ Father truly was God, rather than merely an imperfect man. The point is, Jesus is perfect because his Father is perfect — and the only Father who brought Jesus into being was God Himself.
Nevertheless, we should not read too much into the title “Son of God.” It was intended to set Jesus apart as especially holy, but not as totally unique. In the Old Testament, the king of Israel was also described as God’s son. He even was said to have been “begotten” by God, though in a metaphorical rather than literal sense. God says, “I have set my king on Zion, My holy hill.” The king of Israel responds, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are My son; today I have begotten you.’” (Ps. 2:6-7 NRSV). This psalm is believed to have been used on occasion of the coronation of a king. It also has significance as a prophecy of the Messiah, who will reign spiritually from Jerusalem over all the nations. It was simultaneously a statement about God’s special relationship with the Hebrew king of the day, and with the spiritual King who was yet to come, who came as Jesus and manifested the fullest reality of the concept of a begotten Son of God.
God as Father does not only apply to God’s relationship with Jesus. Far from it! God says, “I have found David My servant; with My sacred oil I have anointed him. … He will call out to Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ I will also appoint him My firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.” (Ps. 89:20,26-27). But not only King David was regarded as God’s firstborn son. Long before he ever received this title, Adam was the son of God — and as the first man on earth, he was the archetype of all men. Unlike other men but like Jesus, Adam had no earthly father. The difference is that Adam fell into sin whereas Jesus overcame it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Adam is also regarded as God’s offspring. In the New Testament, this archetypal ancestor of the entire human race is referred to as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). The implication is that since we are all descended from Adam, we all are in some way the children of God.
“Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?…” asks the prophet Malachi (Mal. 2:10). The Apostle Paul answers the question: There is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:6). Paul preached in a sermon to the Athenians that God “is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’” (Acts 17:27-28).
The word used in Greek for “offspring” in this verse is genos, which implies the relationship of a father begetting a child. Paul could have chosen a Greek word indicating only physical creation such as one might make an object, but instead he specifically decided to use a word conveying the idea of generation, kinship, same-species birth. By affirming the belief of the Athenian poets and philosophers that humans are intimately related and connected to God — not mere creatures like the animals but in fact the very kin of God, sons and daughters of the Spirit — Paul is stating a truth that may strike many Christians today as radical and revolutionary. But this was clearly taught as an important theme of the Gospel in the early church. This idea fits naturally with the teaching in Genesis that Adam and Eve, the first parents of the human race, were made in the image of God and therefore all human beings are God’s descendants bearing His divine resemblance. Somehow, this essential Biblical concept has largely escaped the notice of most Christians for hundreds of years.
If sonship is not only for Jesus but for all people, then that means we are all to be like Jesus, manifesting the light and love of our heavenly Father God who is “the Father of our spirits” (Heb. 12:9). Jesus teaches us to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35). Jesus said to crowds of people in his famous Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” (Mat. 5:14). Imagine that! How often do we hear traditional Christian ministers preaching that the divine light is not only limited to Jesus but also resides in us? Jesus continues: “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (vss. 14-16). We are called to openly manifest our sonship even as Jesus did, not hiding it for fear that people may think us arrogant to believe we are the offspring of God. Jesus makes it clear that when we do what is right and good, we are showing our true nature and living up to our station as children of the Divine Light.
Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). He said, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the One who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the One who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:44-46). When we call Jesus the Light, we are recognizing that the light of God within him is stronger than our own — even though Jesus said we can also be the light of the world. Knowing Jesus as the perfect Light who came into this world that is filled with darkness means that we understand our need to follow one who has more light than we do, so that we, too, can learn how to be filled with light and spread it to others until the whole world may be filled with God’s Spirit of light and love.
Jesus warned that he was going to die and ascend to his Father, and that after that it would be more difficult for people to follow his path because they would not be able to see his living example. He instructed people to follow him earnestly while he was alive on earth, so that they could learn how to become like him to manifest the divine light as children of God: “The light [Jesus] is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:35-36 NRSV). Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means coming into the knowledge of our own sonship, and developing and practicing our capability of living according to the way of light that Jesus showed during his earthly incarnation.
Indeed, discipleship means both recognition of our station as well as action to live accordingly, which is often difficult. Because we are the children of Adam in addition to the children of God, we also have the fallen Adamic nature within us, not only the divine nature. We must struggle to overcome these sinful tendencies and learn to live according to the spirit (Christ) rather than the flesh (Adam). This means rejecting the temptations of darkness and evil we are prone to fall into, and embracing the spiritual path of Christ. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8-10). Our transformation from darkness to light, from our fallen inheritance of corruption and death in Adam to our glorious station of sonship and eternal life in Christ, is a process of awakening to our true potential for which we were originally created. When the morning of spiritual rebirth arrives — at a time and in a way that is different for each person — God says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (vs. 14).
The Fall and Resurrection of Human Nature
If we are all the children of God, why does acting in a godly way not come naturally to us? Why are we living in darkness and need to be restored to our true selves? Why did the first man, Adam, rebel against the way of God and become the father of a fallen race of men? Couldn’t God have prevented this, and ensured that Adam and his descendants would only be inclined toward good and never evil?
These are profound philosophical questions that go to the root of the nature of God’s plan and the very purpose of existence. In the Biblical accounts of creation, we read the story of the forbidden fruit — the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil — which Adam and Eve ate in defiance of God. They were tempted by the promise of immortality and godhood which is the fruit of divine knowledge. But in receiving this knowledge of good and evil, light and darkness, they took something that they were not yet ready for and could not handle. It was like a young child seeking to learn about things suitable only for an adult to know. This resulted not in instant maturity, but loss of innocence and a time of suffering. These natural consequences are represented in the story by Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the simple and serene Garden of Eden, the nursery of mankind, and into the larger world with all its excitement and trouble. Man got what he asked for! He wanted knowledge, and he got it along with all its implications, both positive and negative.
God wasn’t going to keep us in the Garden of Eden forever. One day, Adam and his descendants would have been let out of the metaphorical playpen. But perhaps the development of humanity would have happened in a more gradual, less turbulent way, without all the bitter fruits of premature knowledge. As soon as man rebelled against God and could no longer stay in a state of blissful ignorance and ease, evil began to rear its ugly head. We read in Genesis that immediately following the sudden departure from Eden, man began to descend into wickedness: jealousy and hatred, brother killing brother, tribal divisions, and all other manner of corruption. Things got so bad that “The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” (Gen. 6:6).
So man was fallen into darkness. Though we were created in light, we rebelled because we wanted knowledge of dark things. The craving for such knowledge and experience of things other than God and His light was what set humanity on the path of sin and destruction. We would have to experience judgment in order to be restored.
It is inevitable that any child will rebel against his parents, whether it happens sooner or later. To some degree, this is a necessary learning process. Children cannot grow into mature adults unless they experience what it is like to make mistakes and learn from the consequences. That is the reason why God did not stop man from rejecting His authority and following the path of sin. By respecting human free will and allowing us to do wrong and face the resulting judgments, God was actually showing His desire for people to be more than mere automatons. The plan is not for robotic obedience, but for the development of a true desire and appreciation for the ways of our Father, which can only come about by discovering the misery and shame of the alternative.
Human nature is resurrected after the fall into sin through the process of judgment and salvation. The Bible tells this story throughout its pages. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Prov. 3:11-12). Punishment is not for vengeance, but for purging of evil and ultimate healing and reconciliation: “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.” (Job 5:17-18). And as Job so beautifully put it, “when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10).
Even though the fall of man was the result of free will, it was also part of a greater plan not of our own choosing and understanding. God explains that He is the master of all creation: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isa. 45:7). God said He would allow the people of Israel to fail to perceive and heed His warnings for a period of time, so that they could experience harsh judgments and punishments for their sins (see Isa. 6:9-12). This was part of God’s plan for their full redemption and restoration, and indeed their transformation to a higher degree of glory.
The same sort of plan is in effect for all people, with the goal of all God’s children rising through adversity and tests into the foreordained destiny of mature sonship. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:19-20).
Christ is the key to God’s plan for humanity. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is a powerful sign of the potential for liberation and glorious divine immortality latent within all of us. We only have to learn how to tap into this potential and make it a visible reality. All of us as the descendants of Adam are imperfect, but our destiny is to be made new in the image of Christ — not only some of us, but all of us, as the scriptures declare. This destiny was anticipated from the very beginning of the divine plan, and the fall of man could not stop it — because even despite our fall into sin, God has the remedy in Christ. Since we are created in God’s image, our sins cannot forever define who we are. Since we are all to be resurrected with Christ, the mistakes of the race of Adam shall one day pass away, replaced by Christlike perfection.
But before we can experience this resurrection, first we must go through a crucifixion. As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). To become sons of God like Jesus Christ, we must embrace the purifying judgments of God and die to this world. We must do as Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (14:27). If we strive for discipleship and live in the self-sacrificial spirit as Jesus lived, “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… [C]ount yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:6,11). Christians are taught to “put off your old self” and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22,24). “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (5:1-2).
Suffering is part of the purgatorial process that leads to maturity and glorification. Paul says that “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:16-18). Our spiritual inheritance is truly great. But to receive it, we must become like Jesus Christ, who like us was a descendant of Adam but resisted temptation, accepted divine judgment that he didn’t even deserve, and conquered the Adamic nature of sin and replaced it with the divine nature of righteousness. He has inherited all things as God’s firstborn Son, and we will inherit with him as soon as we are ready.
God thought we were ready 2,000 years ago! Humanity had come through phases of development under the law, like a child who must obey rigid rules set by parents. But that time was coming to an end and man was growing up. Paul described the unfolding of God’s plan for His human offspring, saying “as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Gal. 4:1-5). We are called to move beyond the immature, childish stage of bowing down to a Lord and receiving punishments for our sins, and rise into the inheritance of spiritual adulthood.
Paul says that “all of us” are supposed to come “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. … [W]e must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:13,15 NRSV). He says that “the word of God in its fullness — the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints… is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Col. 1:25-28).
Greek Orthodox Christians call this concept theosis, which means “becoming divine” or divinization. The idea is that Christians are to become perfected like Christ as the mature sons of God, so that he will be more like an elder brother to us than a Lord. Accepting Jesus as Lord is only the first step of salvation, not the last as many Christians erroneously believe. If we continue to grow in the salvation process, we will mature past the need to bow down to Jesus as a Lord, in the same way that an apprentice outgrows the initially exaggerated reverence for his master. Eventually, a more collegial and less authoritarian relationship can develop. As Jesus said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40).
If we have Christ as our teacher, then someday we will be just like Christ. That’s not a “new age” heresy; it’s what the Gospel promises. We are not to remain in spiritual kindergarten forever, but as students of Christ we are to learn from him until we attain a similar station, graduating from the elementary levels of life to a higher divine calling. As children of God the Father, we are not to stay childish, but to grow up into a Christlike maturity even as Christ perfectly embodied the essence of divinity as the Son of God.
Divine Potential of Man Revealed through Christ and the Saints
Some people have been specially called by God to be co-workers with Christ in this age of creation, before all will be reconciled and restored to glory. As Christ was chosen by God to show others the way of salvation, so too are Christians given this calling as brothers of Christ, manifesting his image. That’s why even though God is the “Savior of all men,” this is true “especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim. 4:10). God already knows who is going to believe and walk in the path of Christ before they are even born in this world. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Rom. 8:29).
Saints — those people who follow the path of Christ as his true disciples — are set apart for a glorious purpose in which not all souls will yet participate. They are called to intercede on behalf of sinners and help show them the way out of hell, as Jesus did and surely still does. Paul describes the life and mission of the saints: “[I]f anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:17-20). Paul is explaining that true Christians, who have received salvation already and are remade in the image of Christ, are specially chosen by God to share the Good News of universal reconciliation with everyone else and lead people back to God so that they, too, can become like Christ.
The gates of hell are locked from the inside, and the Gospel is all about encouraging people to open the door of their hearts to their heavenly Father and let Him in. Christianity is supposed to be a “message of reconciliation,” and adherents to the faith of Christ are supposed to minister to people by focusing not on their sins but on their divine potential. As John says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!… and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when [Christ] appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3).
In the age to come, the saints “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6). This special group of people are those who became disciples of Christ during their life on earth. They are called “the first resurrection,” because they have been raised up from the life of corruption to a higher level of being before everyone else. Their goal is to work with Christ to accomplish God’s larger purpose of restoring all people and all things to a blessed state.
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth,” prophesies John (Rev. 5:10). These saintly souls leave heaven and return to earth not for their own chastisement and correction, but to embody and share God’s blessing. Through their presence here, they will transform this world into the paradise of justice, righteousness, and universal love and brotherhood that numerous prophets have dreamed of and written about in the scriptures. The Kingdom of God will finally be visibly established on earth, after centuries of waiting and longing for it while we have lived in a corrupt and wicked world. Some of the saints will “take charge of ten cities” and others of fewer (Luke 19:17-19), according to how worthy their service to God has been during ordinary life. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?… Do you not know that we will judge angels?” says Paul (1 Cor. 6:2-3). Yes, the people who have proven themselves fit for this station will be given authority formerly reserved only for God Himself.
These glorious prophecies about the future role of saints may be understood either literally or in a more poetic and mystical sense. My own opinion is that the details do not really matter; what is clear is that human beings are called to participate intimately in the process of the reconciliation of all things, both now and in ages to come. People who demonstrate in their lives that they are effective servants in God’s cause will ascend into a station of great spiritual power, and will continue to assist — in ever more meaningful and responsible ways as part of the Heavenly Father’s household — to accomplish the goals of the divine plan.
Very few people have even begun to comprehend what we will become when we are in Christ. John hinted at it, and so did Paul. God says bluntly, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals…” (Ps. 82:6-7 NRSV). Jesus confirms that this statement is in reference to human beings, not to mythological pagan gods as many interpreters of the Bible choose to believe. He says to the Jews who were accusing him of blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If He called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be broken — what about the one whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (John 10:34-36). Jesus goes on to say that “the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (vs. 38).
Jesus prays to God for his followers, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You. May they also be in Us… I have given them the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in me. …” (John 17:21-23). Jesus is saying that those who follow him will also attain a state of glorification and oneness with God, by being filled with the Spirit of Christ and living in harmony with the divine. Jesus continues his prayer, saying, “Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (vs. 25-26). Jesus is emphasizing his station as the manifestation of God in this world, and our potential to become one with Christ by manifesting the love of God ourselves.
There is no limit to our potential to manifest divine qualities. Jesus makes this remarkable statement: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” (John 14:12 NRSV). We could someday do greater works than Jesus? — unthinkable! But Jesus did say it. Obviously, no human being can even do works as great as Jesus did, currently. A few people on this planet might perhaps be able to miraculously heal the sick, but we are unable to give sight to the blind, walk on water, feed multitudes with one loaf of bread, literally raise the dead and rise from the dead ourselves in bodily form. But someday that will change, if Jesus’ words are to be believed. Jesus promises that by following him, we will be able to ascend to a spiritual level where we will have powers we could only dream of during ordinary life today. “I tell you the truth,” he says, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mat. 17:20). It may take long ages of growth and development, but before the end of time we can truly become like Jesus and attain powers worthy of gods, as Jesus called us all. The saints, practicing discipleship, will reach this point sooner and will show the way for others, as Christ did first.
Christians should not be shy about openly affirming such ideas. We may be reticent and hold back our proclamation of these amazing truths of the Gospel for fear of being labeled heretics, new age kooks, or some other term of derision. But we are called to share the light, not conceal it. Paul alluded to the way Moses covered his face which was shining with the divine light when he returned to the people of Israel after communing with God. He criticized the Jews for following in this spirit of concealment, saying that “their minds were made dull” and “a veil covers their hearts” (2 Cor. 3:14,15). Christians, Paul says, should be “very bold” (vs. 12), not veiling their glory or the glorious message of the Gospel but letting the divine light shine. It is God’s will for people to manifest the image and likeness of God. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (vs. 18).
Restoration and Reunion of All Beings — Life on Earth
At some point in the vast eternity before the present time, every one of us came out from God’s inapproachable, incomprehensible Light as tiny flaming sparks of spirit and descended into the universe, which undoubtedly contains many different realms and dimensions of existence. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1:15), says God to Jeremiah, affirming the preexistence of human spirits in a world beyond this one. Now we have incarnated into a physical body on the planet we call “earth,” which we often erroneously believe to be our home — but if we understood our true spiritual origin and divine nature as the offspring of God, we would realize we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Pet. 2:11) and would seek to return home to the Light from which we originated.
Nevertheless, all of this is a necessary process of separation, experience and learning, and the development of an individual perspective on reality. If we had never left the innermost court of the Divine Presence, we could never have become unique individuals contributing ever-increasing richness to the canvas of creation. Our lives in the universe, separated to some degree from God, weave diverse and colorful threads in the tapestry of existence, expanding and infilling it with the realization of specific aspects of infinite potential. When we someday return to oneness with God, it will not be the extinction of individuality, an empty nirvana that swallows up souls in a uniform and meaningless bliss; it will be something far more wonderful, a veritable unity in diversity in which we become like the cells of one body, the Body of Christ, united while remaining individuals. Nothing valuable that we have experienced in our journey of separation from God shall be lost.
We are all like the Prodigal Son — both as individual spirits and the human race collectively — because we have all fallen and left the Father’s house. No human being alive on earth is yet perfect. That will come later as the destiny of all people to grow up into Christ and attain reconciliation with the Father, returning to our true home in God’s Kingdom. “[W]hen perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:10-12).
We find ourselves on earth because God saw fit to put our spirits in this realm. Right now, we are not fit for heaven. It may be that this planet is like a school for the developing human soul, and when we learn our lessons and pass, we go on to a higher level of existence in a heavenly plane, closer to God. When we fail, we find ourselves in the temporary punishment of a hellish state. Perhaps then we may be required to “repeat a grade.”
One question that many people ask about universalism is how the souls of the wicked are reformed. How does this process actually work? Early Christians held a great diversity of views about the nature of the afterlife, so this was a subject of much debate. Among universalists in the early church, many believed that earth itself is an upper level of hell through which fallen souls must pass on the way back to heaven. Some discussed the possibility that a spirit could live more than one human life on earth as a way to become perfected and return ever closer to God. They found support for this concept in the Bible: James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Church in Jerusalem, penned a classic description of how sin, such as wrongful speech leading to evil actions, is the driving force for the “cycle of nature” or “wheel of birth” (Jas. 3:6 NRSV). The Greek term he used in the original text was a common term describing reincarnation in Greek philosophy. At the time, both Jews and Greeks were open to the idea that coming to earth for multiple lives could be part of the divine plan for human existence. The apostles said that people who heard of Jesus were speculating that he might be the return of the prophet Elijah or another prophet such as Jeremiah (see Mat. 16:13-14). Some also interpreted Jesus’ controversial teaching that John the Baptist was Elijah as a reference to reincarnation (see Mat. 11:13-15, 17:12-13).
These ideas have been blotted out of the Christian religion over the centuries, and today, most Bible versions try to obscure the presence of reincarnation in the early Christian tradition through deliberately faulty translations. It is important to note, however, that Biblical evidence on the subject is mixed, and not all early Christians agreed with this idea. Even those who did always limited its scope specifically to multiple human lives — not the Hindu concept in which a person might come back as a lower species of animal.
Regardless of one’s beliefs about how the afterlife works, what really matters is that God knows what’s best for each and every soul He has created. I believe that God will put us wherever we need to be at any particular time — whether on earth or in hell or somewhere else unknown — until we have reached the full stature of divinity that we were created to reflect and manifest in our lives. When we finally do reach that point, perhaps that is the meaning of the resurrection, the state of being in which sin and death can no longer have any power and one’s soul-identity shall remain eternally preserved.
No one wants to be here in this earthly place of imperfection and struggle instead of the peace of heaven. But despite its problems, the realm of earth is meant to exist for a purpose, and God says its creation is “very good.” (Gen. 1:31). There is much beauty in the earthly realm alongside the suffering and sorrows, and it seems as though throughout the history of human existence on this planet after the Fall, the higher powers have always maintained a delicate balance between good and evil on earth. This gives humans the ability to choose various directions while we are living here. This cannot be just a coincidence, but seems to have great significance as a program for the winnowing and refinement of character. Earth may be a very unique and special place for the growth of souls.
As the souls of human beings grow closer to divine perfection, earth should come to resemble heaven more than hell. Jesus Christ instructs us to pray to our heavenly Father, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mat. 6:10). Christ is the cornerstone of the divine plan. Jesus speaks of “the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man [Christ] sits on his glorious throne…” (Mat. 19:28). He says that at that time, “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (vs. 30), but he does not mention anyone being left out completely. The renewal and regeneration will extend to all beings, until all are eventually made one in Christ.
Peter also speaks of this renewal of all creation in one of his sermons, calling it “the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through His holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21 NRSV). Let’s look at some of those Old Testament prophecies. In the Psalms, it says that “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before Him. … [B]efore Him shall bow all who go down to the dust… Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim His deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that He has done it.” (Ps. 22:27,29-31 NRSV). “O You who hear prayer, to You all men will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, You forgave our transgressions.” (Ps. 65:2-3).
The prophet Isaiah envisioned a time when “the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine… He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’” (Isa. 25:6-9). Isaiah also wrote these moving words that have inspired countless souls to look forward to a day of peace on earth and brotherhood of all people: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. … He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths. … He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (2:2-4). Micah echoes this same prophecy in his own book (see Mic. 4:1-3).
There are even visions of miraculous changes in the natural world, made possible by the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together… The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy… for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:6,8-9). This is not all necessarily literal, but the prophecy speaks to the idea of a restored and improved natural order. People, too, will be different. God promises, “I will pour out My Spirit on all people.” (Joel 2:28). Human civilization will be regenerated to a state of perfect justice and righteousness, under the leadership of Christ. The Messiah will have “authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:14).
The Bible also teaches that before the visible establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth, first there will be an apocalyptic time of trouble, during which evil will rear its ugly head for one last triumph before finally being defeated. This difficult transition will be like the “birth pangs” of a new era (Mat. 24:8 NRSV). However, we are cautioned not to try to predict when these things will happen, because even Jesus himself says that he doesn’t know! “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mat. 24:36). Only God knows the timetable and details of the divine plan for the transformation of our world.
Restoration and Reunion of All Beings — No One Excluded
One of the most important prophecies in the Old Testament concerns the covenant God made with Abraham. God said to the great patriarch Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3 NRSV). This was an unconditional promise that God made, and we know that God is true to His word. Therefore, we can be confident that in the ultimate restoration of the world that is coming, all people will enter into a state of blessing rather than condemnation. The vast majority of families of human beings who have ever lived never had a single member who was a Christian. Yet they will be blessed anyway, because the power of Christ to save souls does not depend on our religious beliefs. God says, “Turn to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By Myself I have sworn, My mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before Me every knee will bow; by Me every tongue will swear.” (Isa. 45:22-23).
We need to understand the monumental import of this statement in scripture. Every knee will bend before the Lord and every tongue confess His divine authority — not only humans, but all beings “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10) — in other words, the entire creation. This will be “to the glory of God the Father” (vs. 11), rather than the forced submission of still-rebellious souls tormented in hell. The clear implication is that even demons and evil spirits — and yes, even the devil himself — can eventually be saved. At the end of the ages, the Spirit of Christ will “fill the whole universe” (Eph. 4:10).
Paul says, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn. … For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. … When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to Him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:22-23,25,28). “As in Adam all die” refers to spiritual death, the fall of man which also brought death of the body, mind, and soul. “In Christ all will be made alive” refers to a total spiritual rebirth, the resurrection of the whole person without exceptions. “Each in his own turn” means that some people will be reborn before others: first the true Christians who pattern their life after Christ, and then other people later. Some people will be saved during their earthly life, while others will not be saved until after physical death. Eventually Christ will conquer all of God’s enemies in the entire universe, both human and non-human, and transform them from a life of sin and rebellion to the new life in Christ. The ultimate goal is for God to be “all in all,” meaning that the Holy Spirit of God will abide and abound in all beings. Paul states this as a prophecy, not a mere possibility.
Christians are privileged to know this amazing and wonderful outcome of God’s plan while it is still a long time in coming. “He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:9-12). This passage describes the way God has saved true followers of Jesus through predestination and grace, for salvation in this life according to God’s will. Furthermore, it states that God’s will always becomes a reality in due time, and that His will and “good pleasure” is for all people to be brought together under the leadership of Christ. Paul emphasizes over and over again that this will be accomplished, in the same way God predestined the Christians to be the first people to believe in Jesus. Saying that the Christians are the “first” to praise God’s glory also implies that there will be others who have not yet experienced salvation, but will become part of the body of Christ at a later time.
Becoming one with Christ means a total transformation of one’s being, liberation from the separation and division that is the chief characteristic of the fallen state. Paul says to the followers of Christ, “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Col. 3:9-11). If he were writing today, he could have also said there is no black or white, male or female, “Christian” or “heathen,” even human or extraterrestrial. All are one in Christ. Returning to God, all distinctions that have separated and divided us melt away in the fire of God’s universal light and love. We will remain unique individuals, while becoming one in the greater whole of the Divine Being. This ultimate goal of mystical reunion of all beings with God through Christ — no matter how far we may have fallen and how separated we have become from the Light in which we were created — is what it means for God to become “all in all.”
We dream of the day when, after long ages in darker realms — often not even able to perceive the Light of the Spirit in our lives — we will finally be reunited with the Source of our being, letting our light shine in perfect harmony with the great Lamp of creation. In the meantime, we look forward to a coming age in which our world will be restored, becoming more like the kingdom of heaven and less like the hell on earth that generations of humans sadly have known. With an unfailing hope, we pray that these things are coming soon, knowing that the dreams of great prophets and saints shall indeed become a reality in the fullness of time. This knowledge and the joy it brings is the Good News, the true Gospel, that believers in Christ are commissioned to share with an aching world.
Church Fathers Who Taught the True Gospel
Universalism was the prevailing view of salvation in the early church. In Greek, it was called apokatastasis, the restitution of all things; and this was a mainstream teaching of Christianity. We know this to be the case because of textual evidence from early Christian sources, such as the Church Fathers who wrote about and taught the faith as the most important leaders of Christian thought in their time. Many of these influential men discussed the divine plan for the ultimate restoration of all things. For example, Saint Irenaeus the Bishop of Lyons (130-202 C.E.) and Saint Theophilus the Bishop of Antioch (died circa 185) both left behind significant statements in their writings that attest to their belief that all will eventually be saved through God’s redemptive judgment. It is particularly noteworthy that St. Irenaeus wrote a lengthy book called Against Heresies, but never once mentioned universalism as a heretical belief. (1)
The greatest exponents of universalism in the early church were based in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, the center of learning and intellectual culture for the entire ancient world. This cosmopolitan metropolis was the meeting place of philosophers, theologians, writers, teachers and students of various belief systems, and during the first three centuries of Christian history it became the most important city in the Christian world. Saint Clement of Alexandria (150-220) was the first great father of the church to arise from this climate of higher education and scholarly discourse. Nevertheless, he also had a direct connection to the Apostles of Jesus Christ, having studied Christianity with one of their disciples. The mixture of unadulterated oral tradition he received from the earliest Christians and his Greek philosophical foundation and intellectual ability made St. Clement of Alexandria a uniquely significant figure. On the issue of salvation, St. Clement wrote:
For all things are ordered both universally and in particular by the Lord of the universe, with a view to the salvation of the universe. But needful corrections, by the goodness of the great, overseeing judge, through the attendant angels, through various prior judgments, through the final judgment, compel even those who have become more callous to repent. … So He saves all; but some He converts by penalties, others who follow Him of their own will, and in accordance with the worthiness of His honor, that every knee may be bent to Him of celestial, terrestrial and infernal things (Phil. 2:10), that is angels, men, and souls who before his [Christ’s] advent migrated from this mortal life. … For there are partial corrections (paideiai) which are called chastisements (kolasis), which many of us who have been in transgression incur by falling away from the Lord’s people. But as children are chastised by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish (timoria) for punishment (timoria) is retaliation for evil. He chastises, however, for good to those who are chastised collectively and individually. (2)
St. Clement’s student and successor was Origen (185-254), the greatest early Christian theologian and church father. Origen began his work in Alexandria, was ordained as a priest in Greece, and later founded a school at Caesarea, the provincial capital of Palestine. He wrote the first systematic commentary and exegesis of the entire Bible, including concordance, and he produced a Bible in six columns, showing parallel versions of the Greek and Hebrew text. His greatest contribution was to develop a comprehensive understanding of the Biblical Gospel that was based on belief in God’s plan for the ultimate redemption and restoration of all as the foundation of the Christian message. Origen died as a martyr, enduring torture at the hands of the Roman government for his faith in Christ, during a time of great persecution of the Christian community.
Most of Origen’s copious writings have been lost or destroyed, but what remains shows a picture of a spiritual thinker almost unparalleled in the depth of understanding he demonstrated concerning the Bible, the nature of God and humanity, and the divine plan of ascent and reunion of all beings with their Creator through successive ages and trials. Origen wrote concerning the way God will restore all beings to Himself:
God’s consuming fire works with the good as with the evil, annihilating that which harms His children. This fire is one that each one kindles; the fuel and food is each one’s sins. … When the soul has gathered together a multitude of evil works, and an abundance of sins against itself, at a suitable time all that assembly of evils boils up to punishment, and is set on fire to chastisement… [I]t is to be understood that God our Physician, desiring to remove the defects of our souls, should apply the punishment of fire. … Our God is a “consuming fire” in the sense in which we have taken the word; and thus He enters in as a “refiner’s fire” to refine the rational nature, which has been filled with the lead of wickedness, and to free it from the other impure materials which adulterate the natural gold or silver, so to speak, of the soul. [O]ur belief is that the Word [i.e. Christ] shall prevail over the entire rational creation, and change every soul into his own perfection. … For stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him; and this healing he applies, according to the will of God, to every man. (3)
After Origen, two other significant Christians of the ancient world who believed in universalism were Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Macrina the Younger, who were brother and sister. St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) was a bishop and theologian. He was much influenced by Origen’s religious views, but made significant contributions of his own to the development of Christian theology. Gregory’s main issues of interest were the Trinity, the nature of God, and God’s plan for humanity. One of his most significant teachings is the idea that God is infinite and beyond any limited human understanding. Another is his teaching of epektasis, the constant progress of human beings toward greater and greater levels of divine perfection. The combination of this idea with the infinite transcendence of God was an important development in the Christian belief in theosis (divinization of man through spiritual growth).
St. Macrina the Younger (324-380) was a nun who founded a sisterhood of several hundred women, and is honored as one of the most prominent nuns of the Eastern Church. Her grandmother was St. Macrina the Elder, also a universalist. Macrina the Younger was well educated and well versed in scripture, and was a supporter of Origen’s teachings. She was an avowed believer in the salvation of all, and believed that the resurrection is the restoration of human nature to its pristine condition of harmony with the divine. Macrina was known for her skill as a manager of her family and religious community, her life of piety and force of character.
Other prominent Christian Universalists of the ancient world include Saint Pantaenus (d. ca. 216), who founded the theological school in Alexandria where St. Clement and Origen later taught; Saint Didymus the Blind (313-398), who headed this school for half a century and invented a system of reading for the blind based on letters carved into wood (a precursor to Braille), which enabled blind students to study the scriptures; and Bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428), one of the founders of the Nestorian Church which still exists today as the Assyrian Church of the East.
Most people do not realize that Christian Universalism has a solid history in the early church, and was in fact the predominant view of the Gospel for the first few centuries of the history of Christianity. The controversial ideas we have discussed, as well as the basic belief in universal reconciliation, date back to the time of the Apostles and Church Fathers of ancient Christian faith. Origen, for example, was a believer in all major aspects of the interpretation of Christianity presented in this article, and he was regarded as the greatest Christian thinker of his era and a serious Bible scholar. Today, we are only rediscovering the original message of the Gospel as expounded by its earliest believers, not creating a brand new theological system. These are timeless truths that seem new to us today, not because they are recently invented, but simply because they have been suppressed by institutional religion for so long — to the point that people have forgotten what Biblical Christianity is really supposed to be.
- Hanson, J. W. Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine Of the Christian Church During Its First Five-Hundred Years. Chapter 6. Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1899. Republished online at http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Prevailing.html
- Stromata, VII, ii; Pedagogue, I, 8; on I John ii, 2. Quoted in Hanson. Ibid. Chapter 9.
- De Principiis, II, x: 3, 4. I, i. Against Celsus, iv, 13; VIII. 1xxii. Quoted in Hanson. Ibid. Chapter 10.