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Many individuals have died and continue to die without ever having heard the message of salvation. Illustrative examples of this are everyone who was born before Jesus, individuals contemporary to Jesus but too far away at the time to even have a chance to hear about Him in their lifetimes (e.g. Native Americans and all tribes from the Pre-Columbian era before the first missionaries arrived), isolated jungle tribes in Africa and the Amazon, and uncontacted peoples in general.

What did the Early Church Fathers believe about the fate of the unreached? Is there any hope for them to get saved, according to early patristic writings?

Related: What is an overview of Christian viewpoints on the eternal destiny of individuals who die never hearing the Gospel?

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  • 1
    good question to find out what specifically the early church fathers thought/wrote about that subject
    – Mike
    Sep 26 at 2:07
  • 4
    What research have you done already? Are there any church fathers in particular that you found difficult to answer this question for?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 26 at 2:13
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As requested from above here are some quotes from the early church fathers concerning the salvation of all, including those who never had a chance to hear.

Clement Of Alexandria (150-215 AD)

“He says that the Lord is the Propitiator, ‘not only for our sins’ – that is, for those of the faithful – ‘but also for the whole world.’ He indeed, saves all. But [He saves] some by converting them through punishments. However, those who follow voluntarily, [He saves] with dignity of honor.”

“All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, now of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all?“

Theophilus Of Antioch (168 A.D.)

“And God showed great kindness to man, in this, that He did not suffer him to continue being in sin forever; but as it were, by a kind of banishment, cast him out of paradise in order that, having punishment expiated within an appointed time, and having been disciplined, he should afterwards be recalled…just as a vessel, when one being fashioned it has some flaw, is remolded or remade that it may become new and entire; so also it happens to man by death. For he is broken up by force, that in the resurrection he may be found whole; I mean spotless, righteous and immortal.”

Origen (185 To 254 A.D.)

He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church.

“‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ Is the ‘world’ here to be taken spiritually to mean the church? Is the taking away of sin limited to the church? If so, what are we to make of the saying of the same disciple? …. Paul’s words appear to me to be the same effect, when he says, ‘Who is the Savior of all men, especially of the faithful.”

“Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to every man. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil…to quote Zephaniah: “My determination to gather the nations, that I am assemble the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even say all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent”…Consider carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.”

St. Basil The Great, (330-379 AD)

“The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.”

Gregory Of Nyssa, (335-390 AD)

“For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body.”

Diodore Of Tarsus, (???-390 AD)

“For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetual, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them…the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them.”

St. Chrysostom, 398 AD

“While the devil imagined that he got a hold of Christ, he really lost all of those he was keeping.”

Ambrose, Bishop Of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

“Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,’ for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection.”

Augustine, (354-430 AD)

“There are very many in our day who – though not denying the Holy Scriptures – do not believe in endless torments.”

St. Jerome, (347-420 AD)

“In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.”

“Our Lord descends, and was shut up in the eternal bars, in order that He might set free all who had been shut up… The Lord descended to the place of punishment and torment, in which was the rich man, in order to liberate the prisoners.”

Commenting on Zephaniah 3:8-10

“The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal. in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus’ Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God’s enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies.”

Theodore Of Mopsuestia, 350-428

“The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means,

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    A great collection of quotes here! However some of them might not be universalists, but instead annihilationists. Both reject the idea of eternal punishment in hell.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 27 at 2:27
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    I don't think quotes are useful without the book and page number they are quoted from, otherwise there is no means to look at the context. I am sure St Augustine is not properly represented in that quote. However, overall, it would not surprise me if some of the fathers thought along these lines so if references cold be added to real books, it would be a very good answer.
    – Mike
    Sep 27 at 11:51
  • Mike, Glad you asked. bereanpatriot.com/… If you scroll down to the early church fathers that's where I got the quotes.
    – Sherrie
    Sep 27 at 13:00
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The only person I could find clear on the matters is St Augustine that offers no hope to those who have not heard:

CHAPTER 2 [II.]—FAITH IN CHRIST NOT NECESSARY TO SALVATION, IF A MAN WITHOUT IT CAN LEAD A RIGHTEOUS LIFE Therefore the nature of the human race, generated from the flesh of the one transgressor, if it is self-sufficient for fulfilling the law and for perfecting righteousness, ought to be sure of its reward, that is, of everlasting life, even if in any nation or at any former time faith in the blood of Christ was unknown to it. For God is not so unjust as to defraud righteous persons of the reward of righteousness, because there has not been announced to them the mystery of Christ’s divinity and humanity, which was manifested in the flesh For how could they believe what they had not heard of; or how could they hear without a preacher?8 For “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” But I say (adds he): Have they not heard? “Yea, verily; their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” Before, however, all this had been accomplished, before the actual preaching of the gospel reaches the ends of all the earth—because there are some remote nations still (although it is said they are very few) to whom the preached gospel has not found its way,—what must human nature do, or what has it done—for it had either not heard that all this was to take place, or has not yet learnt that it was accomplished—but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been itself created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: “Then Christ died in vain.”10 For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the law of nature, which the whole human race has received, “If righteousness come by nature, then Christ died in vain.” If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God’s most righteous wrath—in a word, from punishment—except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ.( Augustine of Hippo. (1887). A Treatise on Nature and Grace. In P. Schaff (Ed.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings (Vol. 5, p. 122). New York: Christian Literature Company.)

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Some of the early church fathers believed that all would be saved by the Lord Jesus, That would include those who never heard about him.

Quite a few the early church fathers believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all. Here is a list of some of them.

Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)

Theophilus of Antioch (168 A.D.)

Origen (185 to 254 A.D.) St. Basil the Great, (330-379 AD)

Gregory of Nyssa, (335-390 AD)

Diodore of Tarsus, (???-390 AD)

St. Chrysostom, 398 AD Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

St. Jerome, (347-420 AD) Theodore of Mopsuestia, 350-428

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  • It would help to have some explicit quotes from them as evidence of their support for the doctrine of "ultimate reconciliation of all". Sep 27 at 0:54
  • Curiousdannii, I don't understand why you edited out relevant scriptures that were related to the question. Related: What is an overview of Christian viewpoints on the eternal destiny of individuals who die never hearing the Gospel? I'll go ahead and post The quotes from those church fathers.
    – Sherrie
    Sep 27 at 2:12
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    @Sherrie This question is solely focused on historical matters, and it doesn't ask for what any of us think the Bible indicates about hell/punishment/those who haven't heard the gospel. We have other questions where those verses would be more appropriate.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 27 at 2:28
  • Got it, Thanks for clarifying that.
    – Sherrie
    Sep 27 at 2:42

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