The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


I. Build-up and Penetration of Immortal-Soul Concept

Volume one presented the Biblical norm by which we are to test all testimony and to weigh all evidence. We examined the multiple declarations of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures-the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. We compassed the amplified evidence presented in the New Testament-the explicit declarations of Christ and the apostles, which started the newborn Christian Church on its fateful way, outlined its course and its conflicts together with the triumph of truth restored ere the second advent of our Lord. That is the inspired basis of the Christian faith, the source of all truth concerning the origin, nature, and destiny of man. CFF2 1258.2


We then traced the alien origin of the postulate of universal Innate Immortality. Springing out of Orientalism-with its pantheism, pre-existence, emanations, transmigration, and reabsorption concepts-it was joined by the Egyptian version of ImmortalSoulism, and by the gross perversion of Persian Dualism. These elements began, around 900 B.C., to penetrate the thinking of the pagan Greek poets, cults, and mysteries. Thus Hesiod came to hold to the separate survival of the soul, the Dionysiac cults to transmigration, and the Orphic Mysteries to their pantheism and reincarnation, and the Eleusinian Mysteries to their reincarnationism, and the concept of the body as the prison house of the soul, longing to be freed. CFF2 1258.3

Thence, around 640 B.C., this composite notion was espoused by the Greek speculative schools of philosophy-the Ionic, Pythagorean, Eleatic, Atomist, and the Compromisers. Despite their divergent views on emanated sparks, pre-existence, pantheism, reincarnation, transmigration, and Dualism, they had one common denominator-the Innate Immortality of the soul. But the intense reaction of the Sophists checked this speculative phase. Meantime the Old Testament canon had closed, about 425 B.C., and we entered the shadowy twilight zone of the Inter-Testament period. CFF2 1259.1


In the fourth century before Christ, under Socrates and Plato, we entered the era of systematic philosophy, likewise with its preexistence of the soul, its successive incarnations, with the soul acclaimed immortal and indestructible. And, significantly enough, Greek philosophy’s four problems were: (1) the origin of the world, (2) the nature of the soul, (3) the existence of God, and (4) the criteria of truth. Immortal Soulism thus lay at the heart of its speculation. CFF2 1259.2

But Aristotle abandoned the idea of personal immortality, and denied Plato’s pre-existence and reincarnation postulates. The reactions of the Stoics set in, with their materialistic philosophy, along with the licentious Epicurean notions of unbridled indulgence, followed by permanent oblivion, and the Sceptics with their quibbles. The Roman writers carried on from here. CFF2 1259.3


That was the situation when something happened among the Jewish Inter-Testament writers of apocryphal and pseudepigraphal fame. First came the maintainers of Conditionalism, holding to the Old Testament teachings. These included Tobit, Serach, the Sibyllines (with man mortal and the wicked turning to ashes), the Ethiopic and Slavonic Enochs (likewise with the wicked reverting to ashes), the Syriac Baruch (with the righteous sleeping in death, and punishment terminating), the Essene Dead Sea Scrolls (with the righteous living forever, but the wicked ceasing to exist, and with wrong disappearing forever), and the Second Esdras (with the sleepers called forth and the wicked extinguished). These represented one school, beginning about 200 B.C. CFF2 1259.4

Then, starting about 150 B.C. a second school appeared, adopting and adapting the Platonic philosophy-Second Maccabees (proclaiming Innate Immortality and introducing prayers for the dead); the Jubilees (with the soul surviving, and the resurrection abandoned); Wisdom (with its contradictions); followed by the famous Philo, who allegorized the Old Testament, taught emanationism, pre-existence, incarnations, embodied souls, and eternal punishing. And Philo’s career largely paralleled the life of Christ. Jewry had been split into two irreconcilable schools through the inroads of Platonism and other Hellenizing influences. This created a grave and continuing dilemma in Jewry. CFF2 1260.1


Meantime, among the Roman writers pantheistic despair became preponderant. Manilius, with his pantheism, Cicero holding to pre-existence, and Vergil, with his “world soul,” composed the discordant picture painted by these writers. Horace held to eternal sleep, Ovid to the divine spark, but Cato believed that death was the utter end. Seneca the Stoic with his pantheism, Epictetus with refusion, Plutarch with his Platonism, Juvenal and his everlasting sleep, and Aurelius with his reabsorption, present a motley Roman picture. CFF2 1260.2

Such was the situation among the Jews and the Romans, with their recovering and regrouping eclecticism, when Christ appeared on the scene and reaffirmed the Conditionalism taught in the Old Testament, and expanded the truth to sublime proportions. Without pausing to rehearse the clear Conditionalism taught by Christ and the apostles, we note that in the pagan Neoplatonic School, the last stand of pagan philosophy was taking place. Lucius Apuleius held to the world-soul, Numensius to his incarnations and punishments, Plotinus to emanation, Dualism, and reabsorption, and Porphyry to the universal-soul notion. And finally Proclus, in the fifth century A.D., likewise taught emanation, reabsorption, and mysticism, tinctured with Orientalism. Such was the situation when these pagan teachings were forbidden by Justinian in A.D. 529. CFF2 1260.3


That forms the setting for the spreading Christian Church. The first group of writers, the Apostolic Fathers, were largely Conditionalist-Clement, with immortality as a gift; Ignatius, with death as a sleep; Barnabas, with ultimate death eternal; Hermes, with the wicked consumed; Polycarp, with the resurrection as the supreme question; and Diognetus, with the wicked terminated. CFF2 1261.1

That brings us to the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Justin Martyr, with man a candidate for immortality, and utter destruction for the wicked. Next came Irenaeus, with eternal life bestowed, and eternal loss for the wicked, who cease to exist. Then came Novatian, Arnobius, and Lactantius, with immortality as a reward, and presenting a true eschatology. CFF2 1261.2

But under the pressures that followed, the Conditionalist voices waned, and in a developing trilemma only an occasional testimony was heard from this first school. Three competing schools of eschatology existed from now on. These were: (1) Conditionalism, (2) Eternal Tormentism, and (3) Universal Restorationism-the latter two with their false eschatologies. Such was the trilemma that was to confuse and plague the Christian Church until the end of the age. CFF2 1261.3


Now recall the second school. After a fatal time gap, Athenagoras, about A.D. 188 (first Christian Father to use the term “immortal Soul”), contended that the soul is immortal and imperishable. Tertullian then developed this into a system. His argument was: Since all souls are immortal, the punishment of the wicked must be eternal. He stressed a sacred fire that never consumes but renews as it burns, eternally killing but never terminating. Following Chrysostum and Jerome, Augustine finally added his great prestige to the postulate of inherent immortality for all men, and conscious torment for the wicked forever. This soon became the predominant faith of the dominant church, continuing largely unchallenged through the medieval centuries. Meanwhile, Gnosticism and Manichaeism, with its Dualism and fantastic postulates, plagued the church and complicated the situation. CFF2 1261.4


But the great name of the third school was Origen of Alexandria, home of Philo the Jew. Adopting the view of indefeasible immortality for all, Origen rejected the contention of Eternal Torment for the wicked, holding the fires to be purgative and restorative. His was a determined revolt against the EternalTorment thesis. He contended for pre-existence, transmigration, a spiritual resurrection, and the ultimate restoration of all the wicked-though it involved a forced salvation. His principle of allegorization-with a spiritual resurrection, a figurative advent, and a false eschatology-was maintained by many in the developing Catholic Church. But his Restorationism was condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople in A.D. 544, and went into oblivion. CFF2 1262.1

So with Conditionalism largely strangled, and Universal Restorationism suppressed, Augustinianism, with its universal Innate Immortality and its Endless Torment of the wicked, became the dominant faith of the controlling church for a thousand years. The radical departures from the apostolic platform were crystallized and established. That was the essence of the story unfolded in volume one. CFF2 1262.2