The Evidence of the Centuries on the Immortal-Soul Theory

This is a part of the epilogue to the forthcoming two volumes by L. E. Froom entitled The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers.

Professor of Historical Theology, Andrews University

 And now this sweeping portrayal of the centuries is before us—the age-old conflict over man's origin, nature, and destiny, the unceasing battle of conflicting schools of thought across the years. With rapid summarizing strokes let us epitomize this vast pag­eant that has been spread before us in documented detail in these two volumes.

Let us spotlight the leading wit­nesses to conditionalism, epoch upon epoch, so as to get the panoramic picture compactly before us. In this way we may fairly and faithfully evaluate the evidence and arrive at a verdict that will be sound and true. And this must be reached upon the basis of revealed Bible truth—the only dependable norm for evaluating the evidence, the lie detec­tor for all testimony, the basis for all right con­clusions, the authority for any sound verdict. We will thus find our own individual relation to it all.

While we are but distant spectators of the past, we are close-up observers of the present. Yes, we are more than observers—we are ines­capable participants in the final clash between truth and error. The continuing conflict of the centuries is to reach its consummation in our day. We are to witness the climax of the strug­gle. And, on the basis of the Word the out­come is assured. Nor is this some vain specula­tion or empty, groundless hope. It is founded upon the covenanted Word of the living God who formed man, has guided his destiny across the ages, and according to the inviolable pledge of His promise, is soon to overthrow all error and establish truth forever.

He will end the controversy. He will over­throw Satan, the father of the twin lies spawned in Eden. He will expose those deceptions that have marred and scarred

the centuries. lie will crush this mas­terpiece of deception that has brought the conflict of the ages to the peak of the life and death struggle between God's truth and the devil's lie. The conflict will end at the personal re­turn in the clouds of glory of Him who is the Truth and the Life, the Creator and Redeemer, the Resurrec­tion and the Restorer. Let us go back, then, and first seek the main import of volume 5.

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

Volume 5 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.

A. Triple Origin of Immortal-Soul Innova­tion.—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 immortal soulism 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 the separate survival of the soul, the Dionysiac cults to transmigration, and the Orphic Mys­teries to their pantheism and reincarnation, and the Eleucinian Mysteries to their reincar­nationism and the concept of the body as the prison house of the soul, longing to be freed.

From 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 intertestament period.

B.     Becomes Potent Philosophy Under Plato. —In the foupth century before Christ, under Socrates and Plato we entered the era of syste­matic philosophy, likewise with its pre-existence 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.

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

C.    Jewry split Into Two Schools on Immor­tality.—That was the situation when something happened among the Jewish intertestamental writers of apocryphal and pseudepigraphical 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 Syriac Baruch (with the right­eous sleeping in death and punishment termi­nating), and 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.

Then, beginning 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 and 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. This created a grave and continuing dilemma in Jewry.

D.    Motley Situation When Christ Appeared. —Meantime, among the Roman writers pan­theistic despair became preponderant. Manil­ius with his pantheism, Cicero holding to pre­existence, and Virgil with his "world soul" were the discordant picture painted by these writers. Horace held to eternal sleep, Ovid to the di­vine spark, Cato with death as 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.

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 such pagan teachings were forbidden by Justinian in 529.

E.    Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Conditionalists.—That forms the setting for the spreading Christian church. The first group of writers, the apostolic fathers, were largely conditionalists —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.

That brought 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.

But under the pressures that followed, the conditionalist voices waned, and only an oc­casional testimony was heard from this first school in a developing trilemma. Three com­peting schools of eschatology existed from now on. These were: (I) 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.

F. Eternal Tormentism Established by Ter­tullian.—Now recall the second school. After a fatal time gap, Athenagoras (first Christian Father to use the term "immortal soul"), about A.D. 188 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.

G. Universal Restorationisrn Projected by Origen.—But the great name of the third school was Origert of Alexandria, home of Philo the Jew. Adopting the view of indefeasible immor­tality for all, he rejected the contention of eternal torment for the wicked, holding the fires to be purgative and restorative. His was a de­termined revolt against the eternal-torment 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 544, and went into oblivion.

So with conditionalism largely strangled and universal restorationism suppressed, Augustin­ianism with its universal innate immortality and its endless torment of the wicked be­comes 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 5.

II. Reformation Sparks Resurgence of  Conditionalism

A. Bleak and Largely Silent Centuries.—The sweep of volume 6 covers the conflict over this theological trilemma from the sixth century on to 1963. Restorationism is banned and quies­cent all through the Middle Ages. Not until after the Protestant Reformation was under way did it, under the name and concept of universalism, become active again, first in Eu­rope and then appearing in Colonial America. But its real resurgence was reserved for mod­ern times.

The dogma that all men are innately immor­tal, along with paralleling insistence on the eternal torment of the wicked, was the position relentlessly imposed by the dominant papal church for a thousand years. To this had now been added the innovating concept of purga­tory, based upon the Apocrypha, to mitigate the horrifics of hell. Classically portrayed by Dante, it prevailed until the time of the Renaissance.

Meanwhile, conditionalism — the original Christian school of conviction in the age-old conflict over man's nature and destiny—had passed through its bleak and largely silent cen­turies. Only voices such as seventh-century Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, twelfth-cen­tury Greek Bishop Nicholas, and certain Pari­sian professors gave voice to conditionalist sentiments, followed by Wyclif in Britain. But these made scarcely a ripple in the vast ocean of immortal soulism.

B.     Waldensian Adherents and Rabbinical Revolters.—There were, however, certain me­dieval exceptions — definite connecting links traceable back to early church times and its conditionalism. The Waldenses of the Pied­montese Alps, in Northern Italy, left record of holding to the mortality of man, which view they had preserved from early times, along with rejection of the consciousness of souls in purgatory. Averroes, noted twelfth-century Ara­bic philosopher, had openly denied the innate immortality of the soul, and all who similarly denied the papal dogma were castigated as Aver­ro ists.

The most notable medieval break with eter­nal tormentism was among the most celebrated of the medieval rabbis, beginning with Maimon­ides, then Machmanides, and Abravanel, who took their stand on the complete, ultimate "ex­cision" of the wicked. Theirs was a repudia­tion of the divergent Jewish tenet introduced by Philo. And this dissent continued on up to Protestant Reformation times, when the burden was taken up by Christian leaders.

C.    Ethiopian and Malabar Rejectors of Im­mortal Soulisnz.—Meanwhile, down in Ethio­pian Africa and over on the Malabar coast among the St. Thomas Christians of Southern India, both had perpetrated the positions of their founding fathers, pioneering missionaries from Europe. Like the Waldenses, they had never accepted the papal innovations, but held that man sleeps in the interval between death and the resurrection.

D.   Pomponatius Forces Declaration of Cath­olic Dogma.—But in Italy celebrated philoso­pher-teacher Pietro Pomponatius revived and pressed the dormant concept that man does not possess an undefeasibly immortal soul. This thought spread among scholars of different lands and forced Pope Leo X to declare in his famous bull of 1513 the Catholic position on the natural immortal soulism and eternal tormentism—and this just before Luther's break with Rome. That meant war upon all chal­lengers.

E.    Conditionalism Sparks split in Protestant Ranks.—Then, beginning with Luther in Ger­many and Tyndale in England, certain con­spicuous Protestant leaders advanced the posi­tion that in death man sleeps until the awaken­ing call of Christ the Life-giver on the resur­rection morn at His second advent. Likewise, among the Anabaptists of Poland, England, and the Continent, and the Socinians of Poland, there was further challenge of immortal soul-ism. A number were burned at the stake for holding the conditionalist position, along with other views anathema to Rome. There were other Protestants, however, who insistently re­tained the dominant Roman Catholic position —such as Calvin with his violent attacks against the "sleep of souls."

Thus a split developed among Protestant bodies, though most Protestant creeds incor­porated innatism and eternal torment. The An­glican Articles, however, reduced from forty-two to thirty-nine, left the issue of the nature and destiny of man to the conviction of the individual clergyman. Then the conflict inten­sified as ministers and teachers, physicians and poets, philosophers and scientists, statesmen and publishers, and barristers of prominence in steadily increasing numbers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries took their stand for conditionalism and left their ringing testimony on record.

F.     Notable Recruits to Conditionalist Cause. —Richard Overton went to prison for his con­ditionalist faith. Man, he held, is wholly mor­tal, with immortality bestowed as a gift at the Second Advent. The celebrated seventeenth-century poet-statesman John Milton so held. And Dr. Peter Chamberlen, physician to James I, Charles I, and Charles II, likewise maintained the conditionalist view. A whole succession of witnesses in England and on the Continent so professed. High clerics, like Archbishop Tillot­son, took their stand on the conditionalist platform. The battle raged, with steadily in­creasing recruits to the conditionalist cause, with its threefold position of immortality only in Christ, sleep in the grave during death, and ultimate and utter destruction of the wicked.

In the eighteenth century, scholars like Wil­liam Whiston, poets like Isaac Watts, physicians like Dr. Scott, clerics like bishops Warburton and Law, scientists like Priestly, educators like Dr. Peter Pecard, swelled the growing chorus. Condi tionalis t Archdeacon Blackburne pro­duced his priceless history of the witnesses, ex­tending from the Council of Florence to his own day in the mid-eighteenth century.

G.  New-World Voices Add Their Testimony. —Meantime in the New World, along with the conflict over revived universalism and such avid champions of eternal torment as Jonathan Ed­wards and Samuel Hopkins, there developed a revulsion against Calvinism. In 1795 the first North American treatise appeared, maintain­ing that after the sleep of death man's immor­tality is conferred at the resurrection.

And as the nineteenth century dawned the chorus of conditionalists grew stronger, and the parts were augmented by noted scholars. The caliber of the proponents creates respect. Bish­ops such as Porteus and Hampden, and Free Churchmen like Watson and Hall lend the luster of their names. And Archbishop Whatley became a standard-bearer. A conditionalist con­gregation—the Crescent Meeting House—is the first of its kind. (Prior to this, conditionalism was confined to individual adherents.) And there was wide denominational spread.

H.  Fresh Revolts Add New Impetus.—Mean­time, in North America, Bishop William White, who arranged for the New Episcopal daughter church of Anglicanism, so held. Elias Smith, founder of the Christian Connection, gave impetus to conditionalism. Man after man joined the ranks in the New World.

Shortly after, in the Old World, beginning about 1877 there was a fresh revolt against eternal tormentism that forced the issues to the fore and now spread to overseas continents. Various conditionalist journals were launched, and both a scholarly and popular literature developed—along with a wave of reprisals. Lay­men were ostracised and clergymen were sev­ered from their denominations for espousing conditionalism.

I.    Notable Champions Arise in Britain and on the Continent.—In England, Congregation­alist Dr. Edward White became a shining figure with his emphasis on life only in Christ. Canon Constable produced classic books in the field. And noted Congregationalist Dr. R. W. Dale declared his conditionalist faith. Dean F. AV. Farrar startled the religious world in 1877 by his famous sermons in Westminster Abbey de­nouncing eternal tormentism. Scores, yes, hun­dreds of clergymen took up their positions, pro or con. An intradenomin.ational conditionalist association was formed in Britain, with mem­bers comprised of clergymen of all faiths.

Symposiums appeared in periodicals and books. Numerous journals, such as The Rain­bow, The Messenger, The Bible Echo, and The Standard championed the conditionalist cause. A whole library of conditionalist works was produced. Outstanding scholars stood up and were counted. Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland, and Italy contributed their witnesses. Missionary leaders in Australia, Af­rica, India, China, and Japan added their voices and sometimes were sent home as a con­sequence.

Statesmen like Prime Minister Gladstone wrote with singular soundness, and scholars like Dr. R. F. Weymouth and Bishop Perowne lent their support. Famous preachers like London's Joseph Parker voiced their convictions. Great conditionalist classics, like Dr. Emmanuel Pet­avel's French work, soon translated into English, stand on record for all time, as do the writ­ings of Dr. E. W. Bullinger. Well-known missioners like Hay Aitken gave strong impetus. So closed the nineteenth century in the Old World. But because these men championed an unpopular cause their witness is not well known. It has been given voice in this volume.

J.   America Keeps Pace With Old World.—We must also bear in mind the paralleling American testimony. In the mid-nineteenth cen­tury Deacon Henry Grew inspired George Storrs, who with his Bible Examiner gave great impetus to this then-unpopular testimony. The widespread revival of the study of Bible proph­ecy and eschatology in the early decades of the nineteenth century had laid the foundation for the awakening interest. Professor Hudson pro­duced several American classics on condition­alism. Physician Dr. Charles Ives of Yale Medi­cal School made a notable contribution. Pet­tingell produced important books, and clergy­men like Bishop Mann, and Denniston in Ja­maica, Dr. C. D. Boardman of Philadelphia, Moncrief in Canada, Dr. A. J. Gordon, and many others, added their influential voices in emphasizing various aspects of the conditionalist truth and exposing the errors of the tradi­tional position. The stage is now set for greater advances in the twentieth century.

III. Brilliant Array of Witnesses Mark Twentieth Century

As the nineteenth century saw certain entire denominations adopt conditionalism so in the twentieth century the past three decades have witnessed augmenting radio and television mass communication coverages present the condition­alist faith on occasion. At the same time, an in­creasing number of outstanding scholars in Britain and on the Continent as well as in the United States and Canada have been cham­pions of conditionalism. Anglican and Free Church leaders have adapted the conditionalist faith, endorsing it in whole or in part.

Ground Swell of Revolt Against Traditional Positions.—A group of some six Swedish and Norwegian bishops repudiated the dogma of eternal torment amid heated debate. In truth, a wide-ranging ground swell of revolt against the traditional positions has swept over large sections of Christendom. The issues are being more sharply defined, and the battle lines drawn between the three great schools con­cerning this age-old theological trilemma—eter­nal tormentism, universalism, and condition­alism. Men are choosing sides and changing sides in harmony with what they discern to be truth.

The spread is impressive. In this twentieth century scholarly Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, German, French, British, American, Ca­nadian, and Japanese voices have broken forth. University professors, college presidents, arch­bishops, bishops, deans and canons of cathe­drals have spoken—such as Canterbury, St. Paul's, and Birmingham. Bible translators, com­mentators, editors, rectors, and pastors have borne witness. And these voices have appeared in Anglican, Episcopalian, Baptist, Presbyte­rian, Lutheran, Reformed, Congregational, Methodist, and various other communions.

Many hold high posts in famous universities —such as Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aber­deen, London, Bristol, Manchester, Birming­ham, Erlangen, Zurich, Harvard, Yale, Prince­ton, McGill, Toronto. And they are found, for example, in such theological seminaries as Un­ion, General, Augsburg, Drew, Hamma, and Butler. Books and periodicals have been aug­mented by the use of radio and television chan­nels. Conditionalism is growing, spreading through largely unpublicized contemporary de­velopment.

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Professor of Historical Theology, Andrews University

January 1964

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