Edward Beecher:

Concerning Early Usages of Aionios


Like his brother, the popular American preacher Henry Ward Beecher, and his sister, the famous writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as several other family members, Dr. Edward Beecher did not openly declare an unambiguous belief in universal salvation. But like his brothers and sisters he was inclined to this view. The following selections are taken from his book, HISTORY OF OPINIONS ON THE DOCTRINE OF RETRIBUTION (D. Appleton, New York, 1878):
    The earlier creeds introduce “aionios” to qualify life. The later creeds drop it, and in place of it introduce the idea “of the world to come,” as a perfect equivalent to aionios. Thus the early creeds say, “I believe in the aionian life”; the later creeds say as a perfect equivalent, “I believe in the life of the world to come;” and this change was made without controversy or protest . . . .
    Some centuries . . . after the death of Origen, that great theologian in his own esteem, the Emperor Justinian, directed Mennas, the Patriarch of Constantinople, to call a local council in the year 544 to condemn the errors of Origen. Among these errors was the doctrine of universal salvation. Justinian, in his letter to Mennas, presents an elaborate argument against that doctrine among others, and concludes it with a careful statement of the true faith. Here, now was a call for an unambiguous word to denote eternal, as applied to life and punishment. The emperor, writing in Greek, had his choice of words. What word, then, from the full vocabulary of Greece, did he select? Did he rely on the word aionios as, of itself, sufficient for his purpose? Not at all. As if aware that it could denote simply “pertaining to the world to come,” he prefixes to it a word properly denoting eternal, so that his language is this, “The Holy Church of Christ teaches an endless aionian life to the righteous, and endless punishment to the wicked.” Here the word used to denote endless in both cases is ateleutetos. In the case of punishment he omits aionios entirely. To denote the endless life of the righteous he uses the same unambiguous word ateleutetos, but prefixes it to aionios . . . . It deserves . . . particular notice, that, in a deliberate and formal effort to characterize the punishment of the wicked as strictly eternal, he does not rely on or use the word aionios at all, but employs an entirely different word, ateleutetos.

Edward Beecher: Concerning Theodore of Mopsuestia
(A.D. 350-428)

    In the view of Theodore . . . this universal restitution of all to holiness was the end aimed at in the first dispensation, involving sin and to be effected through it. Christ and his cross, moreover, he regarded as the centre of the great movement toward universal restitution. In support of this view he appealed to such passages as Col.1:19,20: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.” These, then, were the doctrines of Theodore “the Interpreter,” the great oracle of the Nestorians and of their schools.

Dean Hough

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