The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


II. Archbishop Temple Presents the Case for Conditionalism

One of the clearest notes on Conditionalism in the twentieth century was struck by Dr. WILLIAM TEMPLE (18811944), eminent Archbishop of Canterbury. He was educated at Rugby and Oxford. He became president of the Oxford Union in 1904, then lecturer in philosophy at Queen’s College, Oxford, from 1904 to 1910. Later he was ordained deacon and then priest in the Church of England. From 1910 to 1914 he was headmaster of Repton School, then rector of St. James, London, 1914-1918. Next he was canon of Westminster, 19191921, after which he was consecutively bishop of Manchester, 1921-1929, Archbishop of York, 1929-1942, and from 1942 to 1944 Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest post in the Anglican episcopate. There was no more prominent cleric in Protestantism. CFF2 749.1

Temple, a leader in social reform and ecumenical movements, was a delegate to the Jerusalem Conference of 1928. He presided over the Edinburgh Conference of 1937. He was Gifford Lecturer in Scotland and the United States, and author of eight books, including The Faith and Modern Thought (1915); Nature, Man anal God (1934); and Christianity and the Social Order (1942). He was, moreover, chairman of the commission that produced the report Doctrine in the Church of England (1938). He was an independent thinker and a philosopher of some significance. Since Temple was one of the most distinguished of the primates of England, what he had to say on Conditionalism and its corollaries is unusually significant. There are three discussions, issued in 1931, 1932, and 1934 (and running through various editions), that enter the field of our quest. CFF2 749.2


In February, 1931, while Archbishop of York, Dr. Temple gave a series of eight addresses at St. Mary’s church, Oxford, which were published in April as Christian Faith and Life. In Lecture (or chapter) V, on “The Meaning of the Crucifixion,” he contrasts the power of creation and the power of redemption that cost Christ’s “agony and the bloody sweat and the death upon the cross.” He shows how the atonement and the cross must both “start from the love of God,” and explains how the cross “makes righteous the forgiving love of God.” Temple then observes that the “propitiation,” or “mercy seat,” is the “meeting-place of God’s holy love and man’s sin.” And the resultant forgiveness is “the cancelling of the alienation and the bringing us into true fellowship and communion.” 1 CFF2 749.3

Temple then mentions “the bewildering subject of the ultimate fate of the soul which refuses the love of God” and exercises the freedom of man’s will, for “it seems clear that we have the power to refuse, and He God] will not override it.” Leaving the final solution of the “problem” to God, as “one which peculiarly belongs to the eternal world,” he makes this significant observation on the punishment of the wicked: CFF2 750.1

“But one thing we can say with confidence: everlasting torment is to be ruled out. If men had not imported the Greek and unbiblical notion of the natural indestructibility of the individual soul, and then read the New Testament with that already in their minds, they would have drawn from it a belief, not in everlasting torment, but in annihilation. It is the fire that is called aeonian, not the life cast into it. But what the New Testament does most surely teach is the reality of ‘abiding consequences’ of all we do.” 2 CFF2 751.1


While still Archbishop of York, 3. Temple contributed an important article to The Congregational Quarterly, in January, 1932, entitled, “The Idea of Immortality in Relation to Religion and Ethics.” Its appearance in a Free Church journal gave it wider circulation than simply in Anglican circles. It also indicated that there was no antagonistic attitude in Congregational circles. Opening with the statement that we are at the end of the “period of reaction from the Middle Ages,” Temple observes that the “medieval scheme” is still “presented by the Roman Catholic Church.” This is their fourfold destination of the human soul: CFF2 751.2

“Universal immortality is assumed; for those who are beyond pardon there is Hell; for those who are pardonable, Purgatory; for those whose pardon is accomplished, Paradise. And alongside of these, for the unawakened soul there is Limbo.” 4 CFF2 751.3


After discussing the “overwhelming” difficulties in “drawing a sharp line between the awakened and the unawakened, and again, between the pardonable and the unpardonable,“ Temple sets forth the “modern reaction” to an eternally burning Hell: CFF2 751.4

“How can there be Paradise for any while there is Hell, conceived as unending torment, for some? Each supposedly damned soul was born into the world as a mother’s child; and Paradise cannot be Paradise for her if her child is in such a Hell. The scheme is unworkable in practice even by omniscience, and moreover it offends against the deepest Christian sentiments.” 5; CFF2 752.1

Then he immediately observes, “What happened at the Reformation was very different.” And he adds, concerning the elimination of Purgatory: CFF2 752.2

“The doctrine of Purgatory was the focus of many grave abusessales of indulgences and the like. These called for remedy, and thus set moving the normal method of the Reformers the method of referring whatever was found to call for remedy to the touchstone of Scripture. And Scripture supplied no basis for a doctrine of Purgatory. So the doctrine was not freed from its abuses but was eliminated, and the Protestant world was left with the stark alternatives of Heaven and Hell.”’ CFF2 752.3


But when the Reformers left out Purgatory and Limbo there was left only the “terrible alternative” of “torment in Hell” or “Unending bliss in Heaven.” Temple then comments on the shift of emphasis from Purgatory to Hell: 6 CFF2 752.4

“The new form of the scheme gave a new prominence to Hell, and whereas the popular mind in the Middle Ages was mainly concerned with Purgatory and with ways of shortening or mitigating its cleansing pains, it was now Hell that alone supplied the deterrent influence of belief in a future life. And this, while it lasted, reacted on the conception of God. For punishment which is unending is plainly retributive only in the long run; it may have a deterrent use while this life lasts, but from the Day of judgment onwards it would lose that quality, and it obviously has no reformative aim. And it requires much ingenuity to save from the charge of vindictiveness a character which inflicts forever a punishment which can be no other than retributive.” 7 CFF2 752.5


Coming to the modern revulsion against such a vindictive punishment, indicated in many eighteenth-century sermons, Temple declares concerning this change of beliefs: CFF2 752.6

“Steadily the conviction has gained ground that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be conceived as inflicting on any soul that He has made unending torment. So Hell has in effect been banished from popular belief; and as Purgatory had been banished long before, we are left with a very widespread sentimental notion that all persons who die are forthwith in Paradise or Heaven. And this seems to involve a conception of God as so genially tolerant as to be morally indifferent, and converts the belief in immortality from a moral stimulant to a moral narcotic. There is a very strong case for thinking out the whole subject again in as complete independence as possible alike of medieval and of Protestant traditions.” 8 CFF2 753.1

This call for rethinking is highly significant, coming from such a source. This he proceeded to do. CFF2 753.2


Passing to the thought that “the hope of immortality is strictly dependent on and subordinate to faith in God,” Temple repeats that “our hope of immortality is... a necessary consequence of our faith in God.” After these introductory thoughts, and allusions to unwarranted ecclesiastical accretions added to the teaching of Scripture, Temple presents these conclusions: CFF2 753.3

“The authentic Christian doctrine of the future life is free from the objections which lie against the general notion of Immortality, while it contains all which in that notion is of religious value or of ethical utility. This Christian doctrine has three special characteristics:
“(a) It is a doctrine, not of Immortality, but of Resurrection.
“(b) It regards this Resurrection as an act and gift of God, not an inherent right of the human soul as such.
“(c) It is not a doctrine of rewards and punishments, but is the proclamation of the inherent joy of love and the inherent misery of selfishness.” 9
CFF2 753.4

That is the heart of Temple’s position. CFF2 753.5


Remarking that “the method of all non-Christian systems is to seek an escape from the evils and the misery of life,” he observes that while the “Stoics teach an indifference to death; the Gospel teaches victory over it.” Temple next discusses the Platonic concept of immortality: CFF2 753.6

“Plato had sought to demonstrate the inherent immortality of the individual soul. In the Phaedo he fashioned an argument which seems for the moment to have satisfied him. But in fact it is invalid. What Plato proves in the Phaedo is that the soul cannot both be, and be dead; he does not prove that it cannot pass out of existence altogether. In the Republic he advances an argument of which the minor premise seems to be simply untrue. He says that what perishes does so by its own defeat; but the essential disease of the soul-injustice-does not cause, or tend towards, the decay of the soul; therefore the soul is imperishable. But there is every reason to deny the second proposition.... CFF2 754.1

“It is in the Phaedrus that Plato first reaches the clear conception of the soul as characterized essentially by self-motion, and argues from this its indestructibility. But not each individual soul is completely self-moved, and the argument, supposing it to be valid, as I think it is, only establishes the indestructibility of the spiritual principle in the universe, not the immortality of each individual soul. Plato seems to have accepted that result, for in the Laws, where we find his final conclusion, he declares that only God is immortal in His own right, and that He of His bounty bestows on individual souls an immortality which is not theirs by nature.” 10 CFF2 754.2


Taking his stand on the inspired declaration, “who [God] only hath immortality,” Temple adds that immortality is offered only “conditionally” to man: CFF2 754.3

“That this is the prevailing doctrine of the New Testament seems to me beyond question as soon as we approach its books free from the Hellenistic assumption that each soul is inherently immortal in virtue of its nature as soul.... CFF2 754.4

“But its prevailing doctrine, as I think, is that God alone is immortal, being in His own Nature eternal; and that He offers immortality to men not universally but conditionally.” 11 CFF2 754.5

Denying as an “unwarrantable assumption” that “the survival of physical death is the same thing as immortality,” Temple succinctly states: “Quite clearly it is not; for a man might survive the death of his body only to enter then upon a process of slow or rapid annihilation.” 12 CFF2 754.6


Coming to the issue of Eternal Torment for the lost, Temple next clearly sets forth his matured convictions: CFF2 754.7

“Are there not, however, many passages which speak of the endless torment of the lost? No; as far as my knowledge goes there is none at all. There are sayings which speak of being cast into undying fire. But if we do not approach these with the pre-supposition that what is thus cast in is indestructible, we shall get the impression, not that it will burn for ever, but that it will be destroyed. And so far as the difficulty is connected with the terms ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting,’ as in Matthew 26 [25] 46 (‘eternal punishment’) it must be remembered that the Greek word used is “aionios”, which has primary reference to the quality of the age to come and not to its infinity. The word that strictly means ‘eternal’ is not frequent in the New Testament, but it does occur, so that we must not treat the commoner word as though it alone had been available, and when a vital issue turns on the distinction it is fair to lay some stress upon it. And after all, annihilation is an everlasting punishment though it is not unending torment.” 13 CFF2 755.1


After stressing the individual’s power of choice and the freedom of the human will, Temple refers to man’s “response to and communion with the eternal God, which makes these capable of receiving from God the gift of His own immortality.” Temple then concludes: CFF2 755.2

“On the one hand is the supreme significance of human freedom, which seems to involve the possibility for every soul that it may utterly and finally reject the love of God; and this must involve it in perdition. God must assuredly abolish sin; and if the sinner so sinks himself in his sin as to become truly identified with it, God must destroy him also.” 14 CFF2 755.3

Then Temple remarks, “He asserts His supremacy by destruction of the wicked.” CFF2 755.4


After telling why he could not accept Universalism, and commenting on the superiority of the motive power of love rather than fear as the impelling motive, Temple sums up his contentions thus: CFF2 755.5

“And the core of the doctrine is this: Man is not immortal by nature or of right; but there is offered to him resurrection from the dead and life eternal if he will receive it from God and on God’s terms. There is nothing arbitrary in that offer or in those terms, for God is perfect Wisdom and perfect Love. But Man, the creature and helpless sinner, cannot attain to eternal life unless he gives himself to God, the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and receive from Him both worthiness for life eternal and with that worthiness eternal life.” 15 CFF2 755.6


Two years later, in the academical year 1933-1934, in the Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow, Dr. Temple there used the substance of his 1932 article as Lecture XIII, on “The Moral and Religious Conditions of Eternal Life.” He simply restates his position, without change of view. The entire series was immediately put into book form by Macmillan and Co. Limited, London, in 1934, under the title, Nature, Man anal Goal. This has already run through five editions. The second and third editions were issued while Temple was still Archbishop of York, and the last three after his elevation to the archbishopric of Canterbury, as primate of England. CFF2 756.1

This indicates that Temple’s oral presentation in academic circles, and then in published form in three other editions (1949, 1951, and 1953), was not considered incompatible with the teachings of the Anglican Church, of which he became titular head. And in the summarization of the chapters, which appears under the “Contents,” the epitomizing sentence says expressly, “Man is not by nature immortal, but capable of immortality.” 16 Here are two added expressions reaffirming his positions: “God alone is immortal, being in His own Nature eternal”; and “He offers immortality to men not universally but conditionally.” 17 Again, “Eternal life is always the gift of God,” and not the “natural property of human nature.” 18 CFF2 756.2


Such was the explicit and repeated testimony of the highest prelate of the Anglican Church in 1942-1944, compressed into a sentence, on Conditional Immortality and the consequent corollary, the final utter destruction of the wicked. In this he concurs with three previous archbishops of Canterbury. Comparison of Dr. Temple’s address of 1931 with the book of 1934, and its subsequent editions, shows that they all parallel almost paragraph for paragraph, and sometimes word for word, except that in the Gifford Lectures a few comments or amplifying paragraphs are added without altering the original thought or phrasing. Two deductions are to be drawn from this: (1) Archbishop Temple never changed his view, and (2) neither was he considered as being at variance with the doctrinal position of the Anglican Church. CFF2 756.3