The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2
Part I — From Repression and Obscurity to Restoration (600 to 1800)
CHAPTER ONE: Sundry Voices Break General Medieval Silence
I. Jerusalem Patriarch Sophronius Asserts Immortality a Gift
By the sixth century the Innate Immortality concept of Tertullian and of Augustine of Hippo had become the preponderant view, particularly in the West. And with it the corollary of unending life in inescapable misery for the unrepentant sinner had become established. Nevertheless, according to Charles A. Swainson, former canon of Chichester and professor of divinity at Cambridge, 1 the teaching of Conditional Immortality persisted in some of the churches for several centuries after the time of fourth-century Athanasius, and sporadically came to the surface. CFF2 15.1
One notable seventh-century example was SOPHRONIUS (C. 560-638), learned monk of Damascus, who later removed to Palestine. He was noted as an ecclesiastical writer and teacher and tireless champion of orthodoxy, who became patriarch of Jerusalem in 634. He was, in fact, the presiding bishop when Jerusalem fell to the Saracenic Muslims about 637. And it was he who was compelled to sign the humiliating capitulation of the city. CFF2 15.2
Sophronius was conspicuous for his learning, and was the principal opponent of Monothelitism, which held to a single nature for Christ. Soon after his elevation to the patriarchate, Sophronius wrote a lengthy synodical (or pastoral) letter protesting against the heresies and errors opposed to the purer faith and setting forth his views on the Trinitarian and Christological questions still under discussion at the time. This even included the immortality issues, wherein he denied the Innate Immortality position on the soul. This treatise he sent to the pope, but was reproved therefor. 2 Monothelitism, with its involvements, was still a living and divisive issue. CFF2 15.3
Picture 1: Sophronius, Averroes, Nicholas
Left: Sophronius (d. 638), Patriarch of Jerusalem Asserts Immortality a Gift.
Center: Averroes (d. 1198), Arabian Philosopher of Cordova.
Right: Nicholas, Medieval Greek Bishop Declared Against Neoplantonic Philosophy.
Emperor Heraclius issued an edict—the famous Ecthesis, or “Profession of Faith”—in answer to Sophronius, designed to end the discussion. Sophronius, in turn, promised he would refrain from further public expression and from participation in all public disputes. But before Sophronius’ death the emperor sent an emissary to Rome to demand a solemn condemnation of Monothelitism. Two synods at Constantinople (in 638 and 639) adopted the Ecthesis, or “Profession,” but in remote provinces it met with considerable resistance. So in 648 the emperor issued an edict commanding silence. Thus the question of Monothelitism was repressed for a time, and Sophronius’ missive lay dormant for several decades. CFF2 16.1
1. IMMORTALITY THE GRANT OF GOD
Then in 680 Emperor Constantine Pogonatus, seeking to restore harmony between East and West, called the third Council of Constantinople (the sixth Ecumenical), which was convened in the imperial palace. At this time a certain Macarius was under trial and cross-examination for his belief in Monothelitism, which pertains to the divine and human nature. And in connection therewith the twenty-one-page synodical letter of the former patriarch Sophronius was brought forth and read into the record of the eleventh session. 3 In this Sophronius succinctly stated the true faith concerning immortality to be this: CFF2 17.1
“Men’s souls have not a natural immortality, it is by the gift of God that they receive the grant of immortality and incorruptibility.” 4 CFF2 17.2
That was a startlingly clear and definitive statement for such a time, and from such a source and place. CFF2 17.3
2. READ INTO A GENERAL COUNCIL RECORD
The background of the episode is simply this: The elements of Neoplatonism—with its theology based on the spiritualizing principle of interpretation and its concept of the Innate Immortality—had to some extent also crept into the Greek Church. But according to Du Pin, Sophronius “opposed the error as springing up at Alexandria,” 5 and attributed to Origen the introduction of such an opinion into the church. Sophronius was apparently one of the first patriarchs to oppose it, 6 thus coming under considerable criticism and restriction. CFF2 17.4
So the question of Conditional Immortality, repressed for a time in this hazy period, now began to be brought out into the open again. And the Conditionalist faith of Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was read into the record of the General Council of Constantinople in 680. CFF2 17.5