Which early church fathers (pre 500) taught it was possible for a person after their death to hear and receive salvation in Christ Jesus?

We know some groups teach the necessity of water baptism to be saved. So for example, for them, a baby born but not baptized would be consigned to hell.

Who taught it is possible to be saved even after one died, rather than go to and stay in hell for all eternity?

  • Is the "hear and receive" part a necessary component that you want to see in an answer, or just the "you can be sent to hell and later end up in heaven" idea? Oct 27, 2018 at 2:19
  • @SLM My answer to another question included listing many early Christians who believed in postmortem salvation. Maybe someone can utilize my answer there as a starting point for an answer here. christianity.stackexchange.com/a/66847/16611 Oct 27, 2018 at 5:17
  • The question may be somewhat loaded, since the Church Fathers in general did not have the same understanding of salvation as many Protestants do today (i.e. escape from Hell).
    – guest37
    Oct 29, 2018 at 19:56

2 Answers 2


KJV 1 Peter 4:1-6, but especially verse 6, might have a bit of an answer about this idea in the decades after Christ left the earth.

6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

To me that means that the basic doctrinal text of Christianity doesn't entirely preclude the notion. The prime example of teaching this doctrine would actually be Peter.

Whether or not pre-500 orthodox clergymen actually taught it as Peter said it is obviously going to be less common. I don't know any specifics.

I would count being able to come to Christ and learn of Him postmortem to be about as good as baptism as you can get when you're dead, since most Christians' definition of the afterlife and what we can do in it are really fuzzy.

However, the only specific denomination of Christianity I know of that practices any sort of proxy ordinance for the dead (baptism being the first) is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Cit: I'm a member.

  • Oh right; LDS does practice baptism in proxy for the dead with the idea that will "save" them from eternal hell, right? So, for LDS, there is the idea that salvation is possible after death. Other denominations I'm aware of all teach today that you have to hear/believe or be water baptized, else you're one of the lost. IOW, there is no potential for salvation after death. Was it Augustine who first argued the necessity of water baptism for salvation and thus infants must be baptized or go to hell?
    – SLM
    Oct 28, 2018 at 23:30
  • Rings a bell that it was Augustine who pushed the water baptism as a necessity.
    – Connor
    Oct 30, 2018 at 18:14

Clement of Alexandria (AD 155 to 220) a teacher of Origen, taught the doctrine of apocatastasis.

Origen (AD 185 to 254) apparently believed that eventually everyone, including the Devil, would be saved.

Gregory of Nyssa- (AD 335 to 394) espoused universal salvation as supported by Origen.

Apocatastasis was taught by Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, but it is not a doctrine derived from a pure study of Scripture. Holding such a position requires mental gymnastics and blatant disregard for the plethora of passages that teach otherwise.

John 3:16–18, Matthew 25:41, 46, and 1 John 5:12 explicitly define the difference between those who “have life” and those who are condemned. John 3:36, in particular, makes it clear that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Universalists contend that the word remains means “remains until some future date when it is lifted.” But that is human conjecture and not a faithful interpretation of the text. “Remains” means what it says. God’s wrath remains where disobedience remains (Romans 1:18; 2:5; Colossians 3:6; Ephesians 5:6). There are no second chances after death, according to Hebrews 9:27.

Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/apocatastasis.html

  • I was hoping to read the original quotes from the ECFs if possible, rather than someone else's interpretation. You may also want to clearly define "apocatastasis". Incidentally, would LDS and these people basically understand the concept in the same way?
    – SLM
    Oct 29, 2018 at 17:19
  • You provided a couple of sources in your question about Origen being considered a heretic: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/66864/…
    – Lesley
    Oct 30, 2018 at 10:12
  • As for defining apocatastasis and the idea of universal salvation, I gave an answer to that in this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/66061/…
    – Lesley
    Oct 30, 2018 at 10:16
  • Another source of information comes from a Wiki article. "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." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Lesley
    Oct 30, 2018 at 10:23
  • 1
    Regarding the beliefs of Latter Day Saints, my understanding is that they believe that people who have not had an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Redeemer in this life will have one after they die. However, I have no intention of being drawn into any discussion about that given this question is asking for the views of the early church fathers (pre 500 A.D.)
    – Lesley
    Oct 30, 2018 at 10:38

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