The School of Caesarea
The school of Caesarea was founded by Origen and “soon outshone that of Alexandria, and labored for the spread of the kingdom of God” (Schaff 1910). Considering the undeniable importance of universal restoration to Origen’s theological system, it is clear that this school also believed in and taught it. It is also clear its pupils were highly celebrated and influential in the church. On the influence of this school, the historian Eusebius (himself a bishop in Caesarea), tells us the following:
Whilst Origen was attending to his accustomed duties at Cesarea, many frequented his school, not only of the residents of the place, but also innumerable others from abroad, who left their country in order to attend his lectures. Of these the most noted whom we know is Thedorus, known also by the name of Gregory, and so celebrated among the bishops of our day; also his brother Athenodorus. Origen, seeing them excessively wrapt in the prosecution of the studies of the Greeks and Romans, infused into them the love of philosophy, and induced them to exchange their former zeal for the study of divine things. But after being with him five years, they made such improvement in the divine oracles, that both, though very young, were honoured with the episcopate in the churches of Pontus. (Ecclesiastical History, Chapter XXX, p. 249 or p.145 in e-book pagination)
From Eusebius’ testimony, it is apparent that the influence of the school was not confined to Caesarea but that “innumerable others from abroad” came to learn from it. In other words, it was highly respected and sought after for learning about the Christian faith. We also learn from this passage that this is the school from which came the highly esteemed Gregory Thaumaturgus and his brother Athenodorus.
Gregory Thaumaturgus, The Miracle-Worker
Gregory’s reputation in particular is one of such renown that it is worthwhile to spend some time on his person and views. His renown as a worker of miracles was well-known (Thaumaturgus is a title that means “wonder-worker” or “miracle-worker”) and he is venerated as a saint in several Christian traditions. Christianity Today, in a brief biography of Gregory’s life cites the renowned Basil the Great’s assessment of this church leader and saint:
"Gregory was a great and conspicuous lamp, illuminating the church of God," wrote Basil. "He possessed, from the co-operation of the Spirit, a formidable power against the demons, that he turned the course of rivers by giving them orders in the name of Christ; and that his predictions of the future made him the equal of other prophets."
By both his friends and his enemies, Basil concludes, Gregory was regarded "as another Moses."
Legends or no, Gregory's leadership must have been great, because during his ministry, most of the city of Pontus converted to Christianity.
Gregory was exceptionally effective at leading people to the Christian faith. One report shows just how effective he was, and what is meant by “most of the city” in the previous passage:
From an ancient source we learn a fact that is at once a curious coincidence, and throws light on his missionary zeal; whereas he began with only seventeen Christians, at his death there remained but seventeen pagans in the whole town of Caesarea (Leclercq 1910).
Gregory Thaumaturgus’ Views
So, what were the views of this man of such an illustrious reputation among Christians for virtue, evangelism and even miracle-working, in regards to universal salvation? It is apparent that he held to the view that all would be saved, similar to his teacher Origen. To prove this, we will first look at some indirect evidence showing that he was a very devoted follower of Origen and then look at some direct evidence from his own works. First, on his admiration of Origen, Gregory says the following:
Now that greatest gift this man has received from God, and that noblest of all endowments he has had bestowed upon him from heaven, that he should be an interpreter of the oracles of God to men, and that he might understand the words of God, even as if God spoke them to him, and that he might recount them to men in such wise as that they may hear them with intelligence. Therefore to us there was no forbidden subject of speech; for there was no matter of knowledge hidden or inaccessible to us, but we had it in our power to learn every kind of discourse, both foreign and Greek, both spiritual and political, both divine and human; and we were permitted with all freedom to go round the whole circle of knowledge, and investigate it, and satisfy ourselves with all kinds of doctrines, and enjoy the sweets of intellect. And whether it was some ancient system of truth, or whether it was something one might otherwise name that was before us, we had in him an apparatus and a power at once admirable and full of the most beautiful views. And to speak in brief, he was truly a paradise to us after the similitude of the paradise of God, wherein we were not set indeed to till the soil beneath us, or to make ourselves gross with bodily nurture, but only to increase the acquisitions of mind with all gladness and enjoyment — planting, so to speak, some fair growths ourselves, or having them planted in us by the Author of all things. (Oration and Panegyric Addressed to Origen, Argument 15)
Gregory’s description of Origen as a teacher and interpreter of Scripture is one of the highest praise. It demonstrates an obvious respect and adoration that few teachers ever receive. As a science teacher myself, I cannot imagine a student ever feeling as if my class was “truly a paradise to us after the similitude of the paradise of God.” I have, however, had students ask how much longer it was before the bell would ring and free them from the apparent torture of boredom they were being subjected to more times than I can count. I am more familiar with “why do I have to learn this?” than students enjoying the “sweets of intellect.” At any rate, it is highly doubtful, based on this passage alone and Gregory’s close association with Origen, that he held views substantially different from him, especially regarding something that was so fundamental to his theological system, and it is certain that he did not consider his views heretical.
We do not, however, have to rely on such conjecture. Gregory himself makes it quite clear that he shares Origen’s views as to universal restoration (apokatastasis in Greek).
In the same work cited above, for example Gregory says: “there lives still the Saviour of all men, even of the half-dead and the despoiled, the Protector and Physician for all, the Word, that sleepless Keeper of all” (Oration and Panegyric Addressed to Origen , Argument 17). Here we see Gregory making the claim that Jesus is the Savior, Protector, Physician and Keeper of all men. Is he only speaking of Christians when he says “all men"? Clearly not, for he makes it clear that he means everyone, even those who are half-dead and those who are ruined, destroyed, and stripped of apparent worth (despoiled). It is worth dissecting the titles Gregory ascribes to Jesus, to avoid glossing over them. Otherwise, we might miss the deep meaning of what he is saying:
1. As the Savior of all men, he saves all men.
2. As the Protector of all men, He protects all men.
3. As the Physician of all men, He heals all men.
4. As the Keeper of all men, He keeps all men.
In his work, A Sectional Confession of the Faith, Gregory makes many more statements that attest to his view that all will be saved eventually, even if they are currently outside of the true saving faith he professes. His primary purpose in this work is to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, and in so doing he expounds upon the role of the Son as follows:
We believe, therefore, that it was without any change in the Divinity that the incarnation of the Word took place with a view to the renewal of humanity. For there took place neither mutation nor transposition, nor any circumscription in will, as regards the holy energy of God; but while that remained in itself the same, it also effected the work of the incarnation with a view to the salvation of the world … For the Lord of glory appeared in fashion as a man when He undertook the economy upon the earth; and He fulfilled the law for men by His deeds, and by His sufferings He did away with man's sufferings, and by His death He abolished death, and by his resurrection He brought life to light; and now we look for His appearing from heaven in glory for the life and judgment of all, when the resurrection of the dead shall take place, to the end that recompense may be made to all according to their desert. (A Sectional Confession of the Faith, Section 6)
There are several important aspects of this passage that merit comment. First, it is clear that Gregory rightly perceived that the purpose of the incarnation of Jesus was to renew all of humanity and save the world. This concept is repeated several times throughout this work. For example, Gregory refers to the Church’s confession of Christ as “the Creed that brings salvation to the world” (Section 2) and speaks of the Trinity as having “power to sanctify the whole creation” (Section 18). These ideas are, of course, derived from the many scriptural verses that we have already discussed in detail that make the clear claims that Jesus is the Savior of the world and the Savior of all people, and that God was reconciling the world to Himself through the cross. There are too many to list here and they have been referenced many times already throughout this work.
Gregory is also fond of discussing the fact that Christ abolished or destroyed death and mentions this several times. This is a clear allusion to 1 Corinthians 15:26-28 which states that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death … When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” The destruction of death in Scripture is tied intimately with the end result of God being all in all, which means that his righteousness, goodness, and love will so consume the entire being of every person that sin and evil will have no place. He will be everything to everyone.
Gregory rightly understands that such an end does not preclude judgment, and acknowledges that Christ’s return will be “for the life and judgment of all.” It is important to note that Gregory is saying that all will experience both life and judgment and that all will receive recompense according to what they deserve. These concepts echo the Bible as well, which tells us that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22) and that God will “reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 32:10, 17:10, 25:14, see also Revelation 2:23, 20:12-13, 22:12). There is no good reason to believe that Christians experience no judgment based on what they have done. Everyone is judged, but fortunately judgment is not synonymous with eternal agony in the flames of hell, as many would have you believe. There are consequences to our actions, but Gregory also acknowledges that the same who will experience judgment will also experience the life given freely to the world by Christ.
We could continue to cite Gregory’s writings to show that he held to the hope that all will be saved, but it seems advisable at this point to wrap it up with one final passage that should remove all doubt as to his position on the matter:
The Son sojourned in the world, having of the Virgin received flesh, which He filled with the Holy Spirit for the sanctification of us all; and having given up the flesh to death, He destroyed death through the resurrection that had in view the resurrection of us all; and He ascended to heaven, exalting and glorifying men in Himself; and He comes the second time to bring us again eternal life.
One is the Son, both before the incarnation and after the incarnation. The same (Son) is both man and God, both these together as though one; and the God the Word is not one person, and the man Jesus another person, but the same who subsisted as Son before was made one with flesh by Mary, so constituting Himself a perfect, and holy, and sinless man, and using that economical position for the renewal of mankind and the salvation of all the world. (A Sectional Confession of the Faith, Section 18-19)
The sanctification and resurrection of all people were, according to Gregory, Christ’s aims in coming to earth. He makes this as explicit as possible when he says that His perfect, holy and sinless life was used “for the renewal of mankind and the salvation of all the world .” It must be noted that “mankind” is a word that denotes all human beings corporately and includes every person. If you are a person, you are part of mankind and are therefore a member of the collective group that is being renewed through the work of Christ. It also must be pointed out that Gregory emphasizes the universality of salvation by saying that Christ is the salvation of all the world. It seems that Gregory felt it was not sufficient to simply state his purpose as the salvation of the world; it was necessary to underscore its fullness by calling it the salvation of all the world. This is reminiscent of 1 John 2:2 in which John tells us that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the “sins of the whole world.” It seems that both of these authors anticipated that people would wish to reduce the scope of salvation and thus misinterpret their words, so they made it undeniably clear that they were referring to the entire world and not just a part of it.
Since it seems to me that all reasonable doubt has been removed as to Gregory’s doctrine of universal salvation of mankind, let’s know examine another eminent Church Father from Caesarea: Eusebius.
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Citations and Notes
“Gregory Thaumaturgus.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church , www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/gregory-thaumaturgus.html .
Eusebius Pamphilus. The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Cesarea, in Palestine: In Ten Books . Translated by C. F. Cruse, REV. R. DAVIS & BROTHER. NEW YORK: SWORDS, STANFORD, & CO., 1833, play.google.com/books/reader?id=W59UAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA249 .
Gregory Thaumaturgus. Oration and Panegyric Addressed to Origen. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0604.htm .
Gregory Thaumaturgus. A Sectional Confession of the Faith. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0605.htm
Leclercq, Henri. "St. Gregory of Neocaesarea." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 23 Jun. 2018 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07015a.htm
Schaff, Philip. “Chapter XIII: Ecclesiastical Literature of the Ante-Nicene Age, and Biographical Sketches of the Church-Fathers.” History of the Christian Church, Volume II, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910. Electronically published 1998. http://www.bible.ca/history/philip-schaff/2_ch13.htm .