Most are aware of Augustine's abandonment of his universalism and his later adoption of eternal conscious torment in literal fire. His rejection of universalism is ultimately founded upon a predestination of the elect and a passive reprobation of the damned for the purposes of accomplishing God's love and justice.

In contemporary debates, however, universalists are not only rebutted by Augustinians like Thomists and Calvinists, but are also rebutted by non-Augustinians like Molinist and Arminians.

Were there any teachers in the early Church who offered theological arguments against universalism which were not Augustinian?

  • Are you specifically asking for responses to universalism – e.g., that of Origen? Some fathers before Origen were pretty explicit about eternal suffering, but they weren't writing in response to anyone who espoused Christian universalism. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 13:14
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    Yes, like I believe Tertullian had a strong statement showing his belief in ETC, but he didn’t have a theology which accounted for ETC. Augustine’s theology is unique because he actually explains why some go to hell for eternity with theological backing (passive or active reprobation). Origen and Gregory’s apokatastasis had theological backing too. There are multiple theologies for apokatastasis (i.e. a basis in preexistence of souls vs creation ex nihilo), so I’m wondering if there are theologies other than Augustianism which are ever used as a basis for ETC. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 21:31
  • Hmm, okay. That seems like a fuzzy distinction... what counts as "theological backing"? At some level, even saying "the Bible says it so I believe it" is theological backing, even if rather undeveloped. But I think I understand what you are looking for. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 12:58
  • A theological backing akin to molinism or Arminianism Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 15:46

2 Answers 2


Two church fathers who (a) reject Origen's universal salvation and (b) are not influenced by Augustine are Basil (d. 379) and Chrysostom (d. 407). Their theological systems, however, are not nearly as well-developed as that of Augustine with respect to the interaction of divine and human will. More speculatively, Pelagius (d. 420?) may also have assumed anti-universalistic premises in developing his anti-Augustinian theology.


Brian Edward Daley, The Hope of the Early Church, remarks that Basil was "an admirer of Origen in his younger days" (81) and was closely familiar with his work. However, in his later years he became "more severe in his own expectations of the future" and found the teaching of judgment valuable for the spiritual development of Christians.

Basil deals with this most clearly in Question 267 of his Shorter Rule, where he calls Matthew 25:46 ("These shall go away into eternal punishment") an "explicit statement" that there is no end of punishment. The editor of a critical edition, Anna Silvas, comments on the controversy, noting that Basil affirms Origen's "alienation of God" understanding of hell, but rejecting the idea that it has an end (418). Daley summarizes Basil's comments:

To imagine that the fires of hell will ever go out, he insists, is a deceit of the devil: eternal punishment can no more come to an end than can eternal life. (81)

Thus, we can see Basil rejected universalism. However, he seems to do so on scriptural and prudential grounds, unlike Augustine who developed a theology in defense of an eternal hell.


Like Basil, Chrysostom saw eschatological themes as a crucial part of his preaching ministry. And thus he makes repeated reference to them, and explicitly teaches eternal punishment, for example, in his Homilies on Matthew, 43:

But we have a sea of fire, a sea not like that, either in kind or in size, but far greater and fiercer, having its waves of fire, of some strange and horrible fire. A great abyss is there, of most intolerable flame. [...] Concerning that day, hear the prophets, saying, “The day of the Lord is incurable, full of anger and wrath.” For there will be none to stand by, none to rescue, nowhere the face of Christ, so mild and calm. But as those who work in the mines are delivered over to certain cruel men, and see none of their friends, but those only that are set over them; so will it be then also: or rather not so, but even far more grievous. For here it is possible to go unto the king, and entreat, and free the condemned person: but there, no longer; for He permits it not, but they continue in the scorching torment, and in so great anguish, as it is not possible for words to tell.

Chrysostom explains the need for such eternal punishment elsewhere. For example, in his 15th homily on 1 Timothy, he emphasizes the value of fear in constraining sin:

Since the greater part are virtuous from constraint rather than from choice, the principle of fear is of great advantage to them in eradicating their desires. Let us therefore listen to the threatenings of hell fire, that we may be benefited by the wholesome fear of it.

And ultimately, the existence of such punishments is a sign of God's regard for human dignity (in comparison to animals), and of the responsibility men have for their deeds:

For, say, if He did not call us to account, would human life then have endured? Should we not then have fallen into the state of beasts? [...]

In the case of men then, it is a mark of goodness to punish, and of cruelty not to punish, and is it not so in the case of God? So that because He is good, therefore He has prepared a hell. [...]

The men before the flood, if they had feared the threat, would not have experienced the execution of it. And we, if we fear the threat, shall not expose ourselves to experience the reality. God forbid we should. (Third homily on Philemon)

Daley writes that Chrysostom "often shows a self-consciously anti-Origenist bias" (108) and clearly rejects tenets of that system, like the "the notion that God's punishment is always medicinal" and that "demons have hope of redemption." He also makes it clear that repentance is not possible after death:

As long as we are here we have good hope, but when we come there, we no longer have it in our power to repent nor to cleanse ourselves from our sins. (Second discourse on Lazarus and the Rich man, 3)

So like Basil, Chrysostom argues against universalism on scriptural and prudential grounds. He sees scripture teaching eternal hell and sees the benefit the doctrine has in scaring sinners away from their sins.

What about Pelagius?

Pelagius, the founder of Pelagianism, was a theologian whose system of thought emphasized the free will of man: he strongly opposed the doctrine of original sin, and claimed that perfection in this life was possible for followers of God.

This system was opposed by the likes of Augustine and Jerome, among others, and many of his beliefs were condemned in AD 418 at the Council of Carthage. However, none of the condemned views relate specifically to the question of eternal suffering in hell. And in more recent times, several books have been written on the thought of Pelagius, based on his own writings (not just those of his opponents).

Two such books (both entitled Pelagius), by Robert Evans and John Ferguson, devote significant space to explaining many details of his thought regarding salvation, sin, and grace, but do not cover his views on hell or judgment.

Based on this evidence, it seems likely, but not certain, that Pelagius did hold to the doctrine of eternal torment, or that at least he did not address it.

Thus we might conjecture that Pelagius developed his views on the free will of man while operating on the premise that evildoers would be subjected to eternal suffering in hell. This seems plausible, as an uncorrupted free will would both allow individual men to avoid hell (if they so choose) and would protect God from the charge of unilaterally sending sinners to hell. But it is difficult to explicitly demonstrated that this is Pelagius's rationale.

More difficulty arises in that scholarship on Pelagius has tended to show that Pelagius may not have held to what Augustine accused him of. Thus, it is far too difficult to really say if Pelagius actually developed a theological rational for his (probable) belief in an eternal hell.


So here we see two church fathers, and perhaps a third early church writer, who believed in the eternality of hell, and who did not base their views on those of Augustine. Basil and Chrysostom see the doctrine of hell as clearly biblical, and reject the spiritual interpretations of Origen that weaken the threat of hell. However, in Basil and Chrysostom there is no systemic, theological explanation for their eschatology as is present in the writings of Augustine and Origen. Therefore, it is likely that if a non-Augustian theology existed in the early Church which explicitly defended the notion of an eternal hell, we can only know of it by speculating.


IF I understand your question correctly, this form of Universalism is known as Apocatastasis. Apocatastasis refers to the restoration of all things to their original state, which includes the notion of universal reconciliation (even going so far as to insist that Satan himself will eventually be reconciled to God).

With regard to the doctrine of Universalism, I found this quote:

The theory that hell is essentially a kind of purgatory in which sins are expiated, so that eventually everyone will be saved. Also called apokatastasis, it was condemned by the Church in A.D. 543, against the Origenists, who claimed that "the punishment of devils and wicked men is temporary and will eventually cease, that is to say, that devils or the ungodly will be completely restored to their original state." (Source: Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, A Modern Catholic Dictionary (1980) p. 553)

From there, I found a Wikipedia article on the subject, part of which says this:

Early Christianity: In the first 600 years of Christian history, researchers have identified six main theological schools concerning apokatastasis. Four of them were Universalists, one taught "conditional immortality" and the last taught Eternal hell. [14] Many early church fathers have been quoted as either embracing or hoping for the ultimate reconciliation of God with His creation. Those that did not embrace the teaching, such as Augustine, acknowledged that it was a common enough belief among Christians of the day.[15] The concept of a final restoration of all souls particularly had large appeal in the East during the fourth and fifth centuries.[2]

Origen, traditionally considered a 3rd-century proponent of Universal Reconciliation - Origen (c. 185 – 254) and a form of apocatastasis were condemned in 544 by the Patriarch Mennas of Constantinople and the condemnation was allegedly ratified in 553 by the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

Alexandria: The most important school of Universalist thought was the Didascalium in Alexandria, Egypt, which was founded by Saint Pantaenus ca. 190 C.E.[24] Alexandria was the center of learning and intellectual discourse in the ancient Mediterranean world, and was the theological center of gravity of Christianity prior to the rise of the Roman Church.[25][26]

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215): The Universalists Hosea Ballou (1829), Thomas Whittemore (1830), John Wesley Hanson (1899) and George T. Knight (1911) claimed that Clement of Alexandria expressed universalist positions in early Christianity. These claims have been controversial since they were first made.[27] Some scholars believe that Clement used the term apocatastasis to refer only to the "restoration" of a select few.[28]

The article also includes information about Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – 390s). Here is the link to the article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_reconciliation#Early_Christianity

This may not be the information you seek, but perhaps it might help to stimulate some sort of response from others who have access to documents written by the early church fathers.

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    You have done a good job identifying the topic I'm asking about. Hopefully others can find if there was a theological response to apokatastasis believers which is non-Augustinian. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 13:29
  • @Joseph Hinkle - thanks. I'm still looking for more information and found this article, although I doubt it gives you a non-Augustinian view: tentmaker.org/articles/universal_salvation_roman_catholic.html
    – Lesley
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 17:11

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