“The Blasphemy of the Damned Will Stop in the End”: The Universalism of Hans Denck

by Andrew Raines

In 1527, around eight months before his death, the popular yet controversial Anabaptist leader Hans Denck privately confessed to Nicolaus Thomae Sigelsbach, a Protestant pastor in Bergzabern, that he believed that it was “evident that the blasphemy of the damned will stop in the end,” allowing for people in hell to enter into heaven.¹ In that same meeting, Denck expressed his conviction that God is “a fire — an eternal fire — who consumes whatever ought to be consumed; and that which ought to be consumed is that which is resistant to God.”² Therefore, according to Denck, hellfire does not only torture dead souls for the sake of God’s commitment to retributive justice — as was the dominant opinion among Christians in Denck’s day. Rather, God uses hellfire to purify souls from sin so they can be reconciled with God. Hell — a place or state wherein God is said to punish forever and ever humans who reject him — was a very real threat in the minds of Denck’s contempo­raries. A perpetual refugee, he was thus exiled from city after city for, among other things, his universalism. From where, then, did Denck’s confident assurance that people need not fear that at their death God would irreversibly condemn them to be burned in supernatural fire come? In this essay, I will summarize his theological outlook and examine his contem­poraries’ response to his controversial teaching. Finally, I will consider more recent scholarly assertions that Denck did not in fact believe all people would eventually be reconciled to God in the afterlife, and I will contend that these arguments are unconvincing because they do not take into account key sources and offer unsatisfying explanations for Denck’s reputation as someone who taught that the damned’s punishment will not go on forever.

Hell

When speaking of postmortem punishment, the New Testament often places it in γέεννα (Gehenna), an actual valley to the southwest of Jerusalem which took on eschatological meaning because of its association with child sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2–6). Gehenna is described as a place of punishment “where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9:48) and is characterized by darkness and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13). Although this fire is described as “eternal,” the image is taken from Isaiah, where these punishments are inflicted on corpses rather than conscious people (Matthew 25:41; Isaiah 66:24).³ The final outcome seems to be that the wicked will die permanently, whereas the righteous will be resurrected to everlasting life.

The earliest extant description of what we have come to recognize as Christian hell is, according to Dimitris Kyrtatas, in the second-century Apocalypse of Peter, not the canonical New Testament.⁴ There were some in the early church who believed this text to be inspired scripture and thus included it in the New Testament canon. It narrates Jesus revealing truths about the afterlife to St. Peter:

And behold another place. And there is a pit, large and full. In it are those who have rejected righteousness. And the angels of punishment will keep watch [and] there in it and light the fire of their punishment (Apocalypse of Peter 7:3–4).

The subsequent depictions of various torments meted out based on sinners’ various transgressions rival Dante’s Inferno in their grotesqueness. By the fifth century, Augustine, the most influential Father of the Western Church, insisted that in hell, “by a miracle of their most omnipotent Creator, [the damned] can burn without being consumed, and suffer without dying.”⁵ In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, wrote that “a place is assigned to souls in keeping with their reward or punishment, as soon as the soul is set free from the body it is either plunged into hell or soars to heaven.”⁶

And so, by the sixteenth century, a great deal of the average Christian’s traditional beliefs and practices were related to belief in an everlasting hell of torment. With a predilection for the legendary and the fabulous, Catholic preachers in Denck’s day warned of souls tortured in eternal fire.⁷ Also, a popular devotion that began in the eleventh century focused on the “four last things:” death, judgment, heaven and hell.⁸ Preachers often encouraged their parishioners to fear an unprepared death, for such a circumstance might cause someone to wake up in never-ending flames.⁹ Alongside such sermons, medieval mystery plays dramatized the Last Judgment. In these public performances portraying Christian themes, performers characterized hell as a place whose determining qualities were God’s absence¹⁰ and torture that lasted forever.¹¹ In addition, church buildings in this period more and more began to contain “horrifying scenes of hell’s torment” painted on the walls.¹² Thus, the concept of hell held sway in the popular imagination. Every time a loved one died, the faithful would experience the church’s rites for the dead which prayed,

O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the bottomless pit: deliver them from the lion’s mouth, that hell not swallow them up…¹³

It is clear how icons like Denck and his contemporaries would have seen in their churches which depicted hell swallowing damned souls are based on prayers like this one.¹⁴

Outside of the liturgy, anxiety over their souls’ fates led wealthy Christians to fund charitable endeavors and church building as well as to establish trust funds for chantries to ensure believers would pray for them once they had died.¹⁵ Despite the absence of the word “purgatory” in liturgical texts or scripture, the existence of a place separate from hell where Christian souls would be purified before entering heaven had become more settled by this time, but all the imagery of fiery punishment was the same.¹⁶ Nevertheless, hell was still a possibility even for Christians if they died unprepared, so practices hoping to aid oneself in escaping hell remained relevant. As the iconography of the period shows, hell was clearly presented as an option for everyone — those in power most especially. The figures taking up the most prominent position in demon’s mouths and those most clearly engulfed in flames are often kings and bishops — not just commonfolk. Though this may have just been cunning realpolitik, reading these icons in good faith leads to the conclusion that the teaching of the doctrine of hell was not merely for the sake of controlling the populace. It was seen as God’s great meting out of justice at the end of time, making sure every single criminal got his just deserts.

For those recognized as outside of the Christian fold, hell was obviously an even livelier threat. Authorities would burn heretics at the stake both to mimic the hellfire in which the executors believed the blasphemers would awake and to warn onlookers that not only temporal earthly punishment but never-ending divine punishment awaited those who espoused heterodox doctrines.¹⁷ And the belief in hell had major consequences not just for sacred but also temporal power. After Denck’s death, religious wars would be fought not only to maintain temporal power but also, in the minds of those who fought them, to save men’s souls. Denck’s assertion that a fate of never-ending fiery pain need not be feared could classify all this struggle as, if not unnecessary, excessive. A great deal could be unsettled by Denck’s belief that God is love “not anger and is therefore always merciful.”¹⁸

Universalism through the Ages

Next, it is helpful to gain some understanding of the history of the doctrine of universal salvation’s reception among Christian thinkers leading up to Denck. He was not, of course, its first proponent. Already in the Apocalypse of Peter (the same text which introduced frightful images of postmortem torture specific to the transgression), there is also the teaching that the righteous in heaven will have mercy on the wicked in hell and ask God to free them.¹⁹ Yet ‘Peter’ is warned that he was told this that he “might not reveal it but scare them with the judgment of burning fire so that they will repent from the sin” — it seems fears about the consequences of such a hope were already present. In the late fourth and early fifth centuries, three Church Fathers, themselves believers in an everlasting hell, recorded that many if not most Christians in their day supported the idea of universal salvation in one form or another.

In Commentary on Jonah, Jerome (c. 342–420), who translated the Bible into vernacular Latin and is thus a key figure in the formation of Christianity in the West, admits that he knows that plerosque, “most people,” believed that the devil would repent and be restored to his former position as a good angel.²⁰ Basil the Great (330–379), a bishop from Asia Minor who played an essential role in the formation of the Church’s vocabulary for the doctrine of the Trinity, reports that τοὺς πολλοὺς τῶν ἀνθρώπων, “the masses of the people” — perhaps intending the majority of at least the laity — believed there would be an end to any punishments in the afterlife.²¹ Augustine of Hippo (354–430) too, the preeminent theologian of the Western Church (as opposed to the Greek-speaking East) who had been a universalist earlier in his life but later became a firm believer in a perpetual hell, conveys that at his time many Christians disagreed with the idea of unending postmortem punishment, writing that

It is in vain, then, that some, indeed very many, make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; not, indeed, that they directly oppose themselves to Holy Scripture, but, at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, and give a milder turn to statements which they think are rather designed to terrify than to be received as literally true. For “Hath God,” they say, “forgotten to be gracious?”²²

In fact, Augustine outlines six different types of Christian universalism in City of God 21.17–25, and — with the exception of Origen of Alexandria (c. 184–c. 253) and his followers who include the devil and his fallen angels in redemption — the bishop of Hippo does not view those who hold to these positions as heretical.²³ In this passage, Augustine, seemingly with a note of mockery or condescension, refers to such Christian universalists as misericordes, “tender-hearted.” Alongside these testimonies, Italian scholar Ilaria Ramelli contends that she has demonstrated that universalism “was present in more thinkers than is commonly assumed… and was in fact prominent in patristic thought, down to the last great Western Patristic philosopher, Eriugena” in the ninth century.²⁴

This apparently widespread doctrine fell into decline in later centuries. In the East, Emperor Justinian (482­–565) took steps to undermine its supporters, especially the followers of Origen.²⁵ In the West, the powerful influence of Augustine of Hippo meant that his ideological descendants eschewed the universalist hope. Indeed, it seems that for many “at a certain point theories of apokatastasis (universal salvation) were perceived as socially and politically destabilizing.”²⁶

A Universalist

By Denck’s time, the belief in a hell of never-ending conscious torment for the wicked was the unquestionable orthodoxy.²⁷ Just as Justinian saw universalism as dangerous politically, so too Denck’s Lutheran opponents saw his teaching as damaging to their social project, with figures like Vadian expressing in a letter that “neither the Pope nor the Sophists nor the hypocrites have done so much harm to solid piety during so many centuries as those [Denck and his fellows] have been harmful in a few years.”²⁸ Their resistance to Denck was first of all because of what they saw as his heretical beliefs, not only about the afterlife but about so many other topics as well. Yet Denck’s universalism, the “opinion of Origen,” stands out again and again as one of his ideas that caused them particular concern. For them, “children of the devil and the world are eternally rejected,” and to suggest otherwise could cause all sorts of issues.²⁹ For example, even reformers more friendly and sympathetic to Denck like Nicolaus Thomae Sigelsbach, Denck’s confidant in Bergzabern, worried very much about Denck’s belief that everyone would one day be saved, cautioning that In my view, it would be better not to spread this opinion, even if it were true; for the believers who, after godlessness and false trust in works have been suppressed have already begun to be more fully born again through the Word, would become lukewarm; but those who have made more progress will, as it were, repent of repenting and of having spent too much time on the mortification of their flesh, while they see the others so willfully living in fleshly indolence and luxury, and, having not yet fully denied themselves on account of God’s forbearance, will thus become indignant at God’s indulgence [secret judgment].”³⁰ Sigelsbach also wrote that he wondered what the point was of exhorting a Christian congregation toward holy living if there were no threat of unending punishment in the hereafter “since in [Denck’s] opinion it is certain that they would be saved even without it.”³¹ Other magisterial reformers, similar to Sigelsbach, likely worried that without the threat of everlasting torture in hell looming over them, most people would have little reason to apply themselves toward self-improvement — just as the author of the Apocalypse of Peter and Justinian had.

So, Denck’s beliefs were highly controversial. For example, Rhegius, Augsburg’s main Lutheran reformer, was furious that Denck had “hid his teaching from [him] for more than a year and denied it from [him].”³² When Rhegius found out, he “sent for [Denck]… and asked him why he had brought [universalism] here, because it was a poisoned Origenian error, by which all God’s power was at once extinguished…”³³ Denck first denied this accusation, “but then he began to weep and confessed to [Rhegius] that he believed that no devil or man was eternally damned.”³⁴ Denck attempted to defend himself, arguing that “it is written… that God wants all men to be saved, that he does not want the sinner to die, and he brought forth a number of sayings about God’s mercy, thinking that they apply to all men and devils.”³⁵ Rhegius shot these points down and emphasized that universalism was a heresy. Rather than meet with the council for a public disputation, Denck fled the next morning, knowing what punishment he could expect otherwise. Rhegius soon recommended “Folter und Richtbeil,” martyrdom or torture and execution, for Anabaptists in Augsburg.³⁶

In the last two years of his life, Hans Denck published five major theological treatises.³⁷ None of these is devoted entirely to what our current study is focusing on, i.e., humans’ final fate in the afterlife. Nevertheless, they give us an adequate picture of his overall religious outlook. For Denck, the Word of God and the Bible were not identical because “those who actually have the truth [in their hearts] can recognize it without any Scriptures.”³⁸ He believed that an “Inner Word” dwells in everything, as opposed to the outer word found in the Church’s scriptures. While this may sound mystical, and surely it is, Denck did not mean by the Inner Word some ecstasy or vision. Rather, it describes for him an unspectacular, spontaneously occurring internal realization that comes once a person makes way for the voice of God’s spirit in his heart. This voice of the Inner Word lives, according to Denck, in every single human being, “including pagans and Jews, and indeed all creation, ‘the dumb, deaf and blind, indeed, unreasoning animals, yes, foliage and grass, stone and wood, heaven and earth, and all that is.'”³⁹ It may be that focus on the inner disposition of the believer rather than on outward ceremonies and on the obedient lifestyle of the believer versus intellectual belief in theological constructs moved Denck to think that all people, including non-Christians, could please God despite any number of differences in religious belief and practice.

Denck was confident that God worked directly in people’s hearts instead of through rituals — and that God did not give up on saving people — all people — after they died. To Denck, an unending hell would make little sense because, as he told Nicholaus Thomae Sigelsbach, “God teaches and preaches through Christ [that we should] love [our] enemies, which would by no means happen if he himself did not do so; for then the essence of God would contradict his teaching.”⁴⁰ Sebastian Franck (1499-c.1543) corroborates this testimony with a similar report that Denck taught that “God has shown his mercy and grace to all men, otherwise the merciless or the wicked would be innocent and excused.”⁴¹ In other words, to Denck, it does not make sense for God to command people to forgive their unrepentant enemies if God is not willing to do so himself, i.e. forgive the damned in hell. Therefore, Denck’s idea of hell could be likened to the medieval concept of purgatory. According to him, “God is a fire, an eternal fire, which consumes whatever should always be consumed… that which is repulsive to God.”⁴² In Denck’s scheme, the traditional doctrine that hell burns the damned forever is not consonant with the purpose of fire, that is, to consume. Once this fire has consumed the damned’s sins and thereby accomplished its purpose of purification, the souls in hell need not remain there any longer. As Jeremiah 3:5 asks, which Denck cites to Sigelsbach along with 13 other Bible verses, “will [God] be angry forever, will he be indignant to the end?”⁴³ Thus, for Denck, hell must be a tool God uses to correct people because “God sincerely and paternally intends to do good for us when he brings about such evil things.”⁴⁴ Even in hell, “he persists, everywhere and in every way, in making us hungry.”⁴⁵ The reason drastic methods like hellfire are necessary is “because we are now so perverted,” so that “God uses perverted means to deal with mankind.”⁴⁶ While humans obviously perceive such punishment as severe, it is precisely “because [they] seek salvation that [God in his power] seems like damnation”⁴⁷ For Denck, “God’s breaking, as it appears to us, is the best making.”⁴⁸ “The only way to salvation,” the only way for humans to exit hell, therefore, is “to lose oneself” in God.⁴⁹

Denck outlines this system in a more philosophical way in his “Etliche Hauptreden,” Propositions. There, Denck proclaims that “GOD is one, and unity derives and issues solely from him and yet not of him, otherwise, it would diminish and become inferior.”⁵⁰ Indeed, “This ONE [i.e., God] wills oneness and opposes all duplicity.”⁵¹ Therefore, it would follow that God cannot allow for the universe to be everlastingly at odds with him in some corner of hell. Thus, “In order that everything might be rightfully restored soon, the ONE presents itself so perfectly as to set aright all that was divided within itself.”⁵² The life of the Christian is to willingly submit to this process of unification. According to Urbanus Rhegius (1489–1541), the head reformer of Augsburg, Denck used this same concept to argue for universalism when confronted about the subject. Rhegius wrote that “…[Denck] has raised a fantasy, how God was one, and that in the same unity, all things contrary to God would be united.”⁵³ Everything, therefore, is about “returning from all duplicity to the ONE; that must be pursued throughout all life. Whoever will, can do it; whoever does not believe it, let him try it.”⁵⁴

Such surrender, gelassenheit in German, to the divine is possible, according to Denck, for all people — not just Christians.⁵⁵ He reprimands those who would say otherwise, asking, “Has [God the Father] not, however, given [to Jesus] all pagans and Jews? Why do you, then, close to them the way which you yourself do not want to follow?”⁵⁶ It is evident here that Denck’s emphasis is on people following in the good life of Jesus. Denck and other Anabaptists denied salvation by faith alone, which they condemned as leading to a lack of effort toward holiness. If salvation only happens insofar as one faithfully walks in Jesus’ footsteps and obeys God, then it is natural to conceive of that process as possibly continuing into the afterlife. Thus, the image Denck presented to Sigelsbach is much like the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, only with the caveat that all peoples undergo this postmortem purification, not just Christians who die in a state of grace.

It is necessary to clarify here that Denck is not merely saying that all religious paths are equal and everyone gets into heaven regardless of confessional affiliation or morality. Many Anabaptists, including the great Münzter before Denck, already believed that non-Christians could be saved, in accordance with their idea of the “gospel of all creatures.” Anabaptist proponents existed for such a view among Italian Spiritualists like Johannes Baptista Italus, who believed after visiting Turkey that the predestined could include good pagans, Muslims, and Jews.⁵⁷ A Roman Catholic such as Erasmus also seems to suggest that the pagan philosopher Socrates will be in heaven, giving an interlocutor in the dialogue The Godly Feast the line “St Socrates, pray for us!”⁵⁸ Even Zuricher Protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli, in the dedication of his commentary on the Lord’s Supper which he sent to King Francis I, urges the monarch to rule well so that he would be able to join exalted kings in heaven: “Then you may hope to see the whole company and assemblage of all the saints, the wise, the faithful, brave, and good who have lived since the world began. Here you will see… Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, the Catos and Scipios… In short there has not been a good man and will not be a holy heart or faithful soul from the beginning of the world to the end thereof that you will not see in heaven with God.”⁵⁹ So, if even a major reformer like Zwingli can include pagan Greeks and Romans, Denck’s inclusion of non-Christians in salvation is not too improbable. Moreover, though figures like Luther rebuked Zwingli on this point, it shows that such a belief was not confused with universalism. Denck’s contribution is that, because of God’s love, not only does every individual human have the opportunity open to her as far as she cooperates with the light of reason, rather, this will happen for everybody. And it will come through the true God’s purification, making Denck’s universalism ‘exclusive’ in that it depends on the veracity of one religion rather than including all religions as equals. As Franck outlined Denck’s position, “as all things fell in Adam, they must be restored and brought again in Christ.”⁶⁰

Controversy

In the last century, however, whether or not Denck actually believed in universal restoration has come into question. In quite a few letters sent back and forth between magisterial reformers, they often negatively identified Denck as spreading the perfidious doctrine of universal salvation. The issue is, though, that Denck nowhere in his extant writings gives explicit credence to the doctrine of universalism⁶¹ — as scholars Jan J. Kiwiet, William Klassen, William Estep, and Morwenna Ludlow have sought to emphasize. So, were these antagonistic reports merely rumors? Were his accusers slandering him? Or did they simply misapprehend the preacher’s thought?

Klassen and Ludlow have argued that universalism does not accurately describe Denck’s thought, mainly pointing to the fact that his surviving writings lack any explicit statements asserting humanity’s eventual total reconciliation with God.⁶² Ludlow, the more recent of the two, argues that Denck’s opponents “would have found it genuinely difficult to understand how one could claim on the one hand that God wills all to be saved, Christ died for all and all are free, and on the other that some people may escape salvation.”⁶³ And so, “it was precisely because his opponents had not fully grasped his arguments that they assumed that they entailed the positive assertion that all would be saved.”⁶⁴ Thus, Ludlow argues that Denck’s reputation as a universalist is an example of “first, the tendency to associate one’s opponents with a known heresy and secondly the tendency to associate a doctrine which one holds to be false with a group which is famously supposed to be extreme or heretical.”⁶⁵

This is indeed a possibility. Still, with so many figures roundly condemning him for publicly espousing universalism, there is not sufficient evidence to eliminate the possibility of Denck’s support for the idea. It will help us to take a close look at some other parts of Denck’s published works. Denck makes several remarks about God’s mercy that could conceivably alarm his contemporaries. In Vom gesetz Gottes (On the Law of God), published in Augsburg in 1526, Denck assures that “God cannot be other than merciful, even when he is most wrathful.”⁶⁶ Again, “God sincerely and paternally intends to do good for us when he brings about such evil things.”⁶⁷ According to Denck, God only ever allows evil or only ever punishes humans as a teaching aid in order to help them realize their faults and turn to God for mercy.

So far, Denck’s views about salvation seem rather optimistic. Nonetheless, Denck also writes passages that seem to directly contradict these hopeful statements. In On the Law of God, he says, “God is indeed merciful, and one reads that he has forgiven many great sinners. But however merciful he is, one seldom reads about people who sin after knowing the truth and who are again forgiven.”⁶⁸ Not so encouraging a statement. Furthermore, Denck preaches that there will come “the time when, although they seek him, they will not be able to find him; although they flee him, they will not be able to escape him.”⁶⁹ Indeed, he warns in Whether God Is the Cause of Evil, “If you do not return while the Lord gives you opportunity and time, then you will have part with him who from the beginning bore forth the lie out of his own substance [John 8:44]. This inheritance is the gnawing worm that none can kill and the eternal fire that none quench [Mark 9:44].”⁷⁰ Where is the infamous universalism in these lines?

After all of Denck’s earlier appeals to God’s mercy which makes up for every moment of human unrepentance, he has here a final and short appeal to his reader to repent before it’s too late. This feels a rather jarring move in both treatises. In such lines, he does not even seem to have a particularly optimistic view of the majority’s fate. The question, then, is how to reconcile the seemingly definitive — though contradictory — statements for and against God’s mercy preserved in his published writings with each other and with the views he is reported by his contemporaries to have espoused. If these statements cannot be reconciled, then perhaps the multitude of reformers accusing Denck, as Ludlow suggests, were simply mistaken.

What do his accusers actually say, though? For example, in his history of heresies, Swabian radical Sebastian Franck (1499–1543), someone favorable to Denck, outlines how

Some hold the opinion of Johannis Denck and Origen, long ago condemned, that finally all will be saved, even the lost spirits, and that through Christ all will be brought back into that from which it came out: Then as all things fell in Adam, they must be restored and brought again in Christ. They point to many scriptures about this, speaking of it in different ways; they conceive of a terrible hell, in which the ungodly are tortured in their spirits eternally — which they consider means a long time.⁷¹

Next, Vadian (1484–1541), reformer of St. Gall, says in a letter to Zwiccius, after positively describing Denck as “that remarkable young man, whose talents were so extraordinarily developed, that he surpassed his years,”⁷² that

[Denck] so misused his mind that he defended with all efforts the opinion of Origen concerning the liberation and salvation of those who are condemned. The bountiful love of our God was praised so much… that he seemed to give hope even to the most wicked and most hopeless people that they would obtain salvation, which would be granted to them someday however distant it might be.⁷³

Vadian’s fellow St. Gall reformer, Johannes Kessler (1502–1574) wrote that

He held steadfastly that no man in hell nor the Devil himself were eternally lost, but after a time past all were saved, because Paul says: ‘God wants to save all people and let them come to the knowledge of the truth,’ [1 Timothy 2:4] and Christ says: ‘There is one shepherd and one sheepfold,’ [John 10:16] and through the prophet Hosea: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory, death where is thy sting?’ [Hosea 13:14] etc.⁷⁴

Finally, Peter Gynoraeus offers a congruent accusation:

A certain author, John Denck, who acts here, outlawed at Nuremberg, because of some strange factions, a remarkably toxic and slick man, who deceives not a few, as the people of Augsburg are inquisitive. And, among other things, he says, “Scripture is by no means necessary to us”; ‘The demons will also be saved in the end, according to Origen’s teaching”…⁷⁵

All of these men were pastors in the towns that Denck had lived in for varying periods of time, men who had come into contact with and knew whom they were accusing. Many others testify to hearing Denck making similar pronouncements in public and private. Knowing this can allow us to further reconcile Denck’s thought in a more convincing manner.

As we have seen, for Denck, God does punish — but only for the sake of correction. He thought that “Because we are now so perverted, God uses perverted means to deal with mankind.”⁷⁶ Particularly illuminating is that, according to Bullinger’s account of Denck, he professed that God can indeed be angry but not forever and that “eternal” only means for a very long time.⁷⁷ Kessler says the same.⁷⁸ In a clear demonstration of his linguistic genius and likely because of his knowledge of Hebrew — and likely familiarity with Origen — Denck seems to have anticipated the modern revival of arguments about how exactly the Greek word for “eternal,” αἰώνιος, ought to be translated.⁷⁹ With this in mind, Denck’s written warnings about eternal punishments have much less bite than they might at first seem. The terrifying and seemingly final “eternal fire that none quench” is actually a penal fire extremely protracted in time. This is exactly what Sigelsbach says Denck told him about his view. Denck told him that “God is a fire, an eternal fire, which consumes whatever should always be consumed… that which is repulsive to God.”⁸⁰ Like the extenuated period of time Christian souls were thought to spend in purgatory, in Denck’s mind all souls would spend time being purified by God in hell — which is only “a long time” rather than “everlasting.” And this is precisely the accusation that made its way all the way up to the official confessions of the Lutheran and Anglican churches, who respectively condemned Anabaptists who believed that “that to damned men and devils there will be an end of punishments”⁸¹ and “that al menne, be thei neuer so vngodlie, shall at lenght bee saued, when thei haue suffered paines for their sinnes a certaine time appoincted by Goddes iustice.”⁸²

All these testimonies seem to amount to solid secondhand evidence. The report of Denck’s opinion on αἰώνιος (eternal, age-enduring) is a particularly specific detail, an odd thing to include if it were untrue and a distinction, though implicit, nowhere explicitly delineated in prior sources. Nevertheless, scholars like Ludlow contend that such reports cannot be trusted, arguing that the men describing their understanding of Denck’s thought were simply mistaken. One reason why scholars arguing Denck was not a universalist may have concluded that his accusers’ reports do not represent convincing enough evidence is that they do not engage with all the witnesses. In her essay, Ludlow nowhere acknowledges Nichlaus Thomae Sigelsbach’s account of his private conversation with Denck. As I have pointed out, this letter is dedicated to the matter of Denck’s opinions on the afterlife and includes claims that seem to irrefutably attest to his universalism. Sigelsbach is thus our clearest witness to Denck’s universalism, giving a detailed account which lines up well with all the reports of Denck’s doctrine, associating it with Origen’s, and thus offering these other sources enhanced credibility. If a comprehensive account like Sigelsbach’s did not exist, the reports of the hostile magisterial Reformers could be attributed to a sort of mass hysteria, a set of ‘good ol’ boys’ simply trusting one another’s word. But with a precise first-hand witness of Denck’s own arguments for universalism such as Sigelsbach’s in our possession, these reports are validated, their consistency and unanimous character proving their reliability. Ludlow says one should not be fooled by the specificity of Denck’s opponents’ accusations.⁸³ But some of these accounts are specific not only in terms of doctrine but also in terms of the encounters they narrate. Figures like Sigelsbach and Rhegius recount not just the common details about Denck’s teaching but the dates and places in which they personally spoke with Denck about his universalism. To deny the truthfulness of these testimonies simply because such figures were religious rivals is unconvincing. Rhegius — like the majority of authorities at the time — may have supported and practiced punishment for those he viewed as heretics, but examples of actual dishonesty on his and others’ parts would be necessary to prove that they were committing libel in accusing Denck of universalism.

Now, Sigelsbach is an admittedly marginal figure, so it would make sense for his letter to escape notice. In Anglophone scholarship, only Jan J. Kiwiet and Werner O. Packull reference this letter. In his 1957 “Life of Hans Denck,” Kiwiet cites the letter but only says that Sigelsbach was “very much impressed by Denck’s teaching on redemption and pondered over the various Scripture passages which Denck had given him,” without letting the reader know that Denck’s “teaching on redemption,” according to Sigelsbach, was explicitly universalist.⁸⁴ The more recent scholarly reference to this letter is by Packull in Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement 1525–1531 from 1977. There, however, Packull does not directly quote Sigelsbach either and only notes that he read J.P. Gelbert’s German translation of the Latin letter.⁸⁵ Thus, the clearest attestation to Denck’s universalism is not available in English and so may be yet more easily overlooked.⁸⁶ Still, Sigelsbach is an open-minded and sympathetic witness to Denck’s universalism, and rejecting his testimony as either libel or erroneous is unwarranted.

Be that as it may, the testimonies of Denck’s other contemporaries are quite explicit in what they maintain Denck believed about the afterlife. Why should the testimony of so many, which includes persons also willing to testify to Denck’s superior virtue, be so systematically distrusted? Scholars dismissing these accusations assume they must have misunderstood what Denck was saying, mistaking his belief that all could be saved with the belief that all would be. To them, surely Denck’s “theology was not so much an echo of Origen [the early church father who taught everyone make their way into heaven] as an anticipation of Jacobus Arminius [a seventeenth-century Dutch theologian who denied strictly “unconditional” predestination].”⁸⁷ Perhaps Denck’s accusers were unable to grasp the complexities of his non-predestinarian schema. Most of them believed that only a select number of people that God had chosen before time began, or “predestined,” would make it into heaven, with everyone else doomed to burn in hell for eternity. Indeed, in the next century English and Dutch Calvinists a few generations later would condemn the Arminians of their day for believing that any and every person had salvation on offer to them if they believed — not just those unconditionally predestined to it. Exponents of this view were in fact so many in number that the view was regarded as a real threat to orthodoxy. Consequently, many ecclesiastical leaders denounced “that erroneous, detestable, and damnable doctrine of the Arminians, dreaming of an vniuersall grace as they call it.”⁸⁸

It seems unlikely that Denck’s intelligent interlocutors could not understand his non-predestinarian schema and thus mistook it for the idea that everyone will make it into heaven, however. Denck was by no means the only or first to support such a view and confusing the idea that anyone can be saved with the idea that one day every human — and the devil — will be saved is quite a feat. Other dissidents who believed that Jesus died for everyone rather than just for the chosen few were not similarly arraigned. More specifically, Hubmaier, Denck’s fellow Anabaptist and probably the man who rebaptized him, also denied Luther’s doctrine of the bondage of the will and predestination,⁸⁹ but he is nowhere accused of universalism. The same is the case for another “Arminian” Anabaptist, Melchior Hoffman, who, being far more radical than Hubmaier, could have caught more fire. Hoffman denies that God unconditionally elects some to salvation leaving others side, instead saying that everyone has a free choice:

The noble and high testimony of God is this: that God is no respecter of persons… [so that] that [every man] from this time on might be prepared to have his own choice or election whether he would now taste of good or evil, whether he would choose life or death, whether he would walk in the way of God or remain the property of Satan.⁹⁰

Despite this clearly non-predestinarian stance, Hoffman was not accused of universalism. In fact, his magisterial counterparts seem to have understood him clearly. Martin Bucer, in a tract outlining the matters they disagreed over, wrote under the heading “Of God’s will, the salvation of our Savior Jesus Christ, and the free will or inability of our nature to do good”⁹¹ that Hoffman taught “that Christ redeemed all mankind from the sin of Adam and that God desired all men to inherit eternal life.”⁹² Bucer thus describes Hoffman as teaching that Jesus made atonement for all human beings but that this salvation must be actively received through the use of each individual’s free will (magisterial reformers typically denied the reality of free will). Hoffman did not extend this universal possibility of salvation to the afterlife as Denck had though, and magisterial reformers like Bucer and others in England were able to discern this.

Of course, both the reformers of Nuremberg and Strasburg complained that Denck’s manner of speech could be opaque; the Nurembergers gave up on trying him because he “was so skillful that dealing with him verbally was seen as useless”⁹³ and the Strasburgers found public disputations with him worthless because “he covered everything in astonishing darkness.”⁹⁴ Denck’s “admirable obscurity” agitated Bucer and the Strasbourg preachers.⁹⁵ When summoned to a disputation with the Augsburger ministers after his views were found out, Denck found himself cornered, and when he did not know how to answer, he lay down and cried, and confessed to his Anabaptist views.⁹⁶ Therefore, it is clear that Denck could be inconsistent in how he presented his beliefs. Denck could flop back and forth on things based on whom he was speaking with and the respective levels of danger they brought with them — as Peter Gynoraeus derided him for (quanquam nebulo post mutarit verba, “although the rascal later changed his words”) — or he could intentionally veil his thoughts with obscure language.⁹⁷ Nevertheless, these reports come from interactions where Denck was under intense pressure to prove his orthodoxy so that he would not be exiled or imprisoned. It seems Denck knew that his views if revealed forthrightly would get him in trouble, so he shrouded them in difficult language. Testimony from men with whom he spoke in confidence, however, does not include the same frustration. With a relatively politically weak pastor like Sigelsbach, he seems to have felt free to unburden his true thoughts on the matter of universal salvation. Sigelsbach quite clearly testifies that Denck told him in private that the Anabaptist believed “that the blasphemy of the damned must finally stop,” allowing for them to enter heaven.⁹⁸ Either way, the magisterial reformers did not need to come up with fantastic accusations in order to discredit or punish men like Denck — they executed a vast number of Anabaptists for far less. Unless there were some vast magisterial Protestant conspiracy seeking to falsely tar Denck with an odd and ancient heresy, it does not make sense to so wholly distrust their witness.

It may be — if scholars like Ludlow are correct in denying that Denck wrote anything arguing for the salvation of all people and arguing that his accusers are not to be trusted — that Denck’s seemingly contradictory passages demonstrate that he was struggling with these ideas himself and could not come down strongly either way. Or perhaps he was trying to hedge his bets and not go too far in his writing. Some Anabaptists did approach their universalism in this way. Johann Bader reported that “the blind Anabaptists are now confessing (some openly, but others secretly out of great mischief) that the devil, together with all his people and unbelievers, will finally be saved.”⁹⁹ This would make sense, as Nicodemites — individuals who pretended to be orthodox in public but espoused heretical beliefs in private — abounded in the sixteenth century.¹⁰⁰ Nevertheless, it was not required of Denck to put down words professing universalism anywhere in his writing. He wrote when occasion arose, usually on account a particular argument with the reformed clergy where he was living. Furthermore, Denck does not shy away from yet more controversial ideas concerning the nature and authority of the Bible. It would seem odd for him to draw back from proclaiming his true thoughts on the matter.

Instead, it appears that Denck, in an idiosyncratic way, took the opposite course of Origen. Rather than writing about universalism in secret and not publicly preaching it to the common people like the Alexandrian, Denck decided to preach it confidently out in the open or in private conversation but to refrain from explicitly defending it in his writing.¹⁰¹ As Hubmaier had said about Erasmus on the similar topic of purgatory, Denck may well have ‘spoken freely but written narrowly.’¹⁰² This might have been a survival tactic, i.e., if his accusers could not directly point to an unquestionably universalistic passage in his writing, the charge based off of his spoken professions could likewise be explained away with his infamously crafty language.

Influence(s)

Several influences could lead a Bavarian Christian in the early 1500s to embrace universalism. Unlike those of many sixteenth-century reformers, Denck’s library or information about its contents are no longer extant. In any case, once Denck’s doctrine and ministry had caused him to become an almost constant refugee, his access to literature would be almost impossible to trace with absolute certainty. Nevertheless, as a university student and broad-minded scholar (associated with groups like Veit Bild’s or the “Godless Painters”) and as a proofreader in one of Europe’s busiest presses, Denck would have been exposed to any number of sources and ideas that could have led him to question the doctrinal status quo. And, despite his lack of citations, traces of other authors’ thoughts and phrases in Denck’s writing are clearly evident to the informed reader. Therefore, considering what sources were available to someone of Denck’s expertise in the 1520s can provide us with a solid impression of how Denck could have formed his opinions on the topic of universal salvation. Hans Denck was most likely influenced to embrace universalism by five sources: his familiarity with lexical factors (e.g., the translation of αἰώνιος), Jewish insights, patristic ressourcement (especially Origen), Rhenish mysticism (particularly Tauler and the Theologia Deutsch), and Hussite (known as Moravian in the U.S.) teaching.

In my estimation, the strongest of these is the confluence of sources having to do with the lexical ambiguity of the word αἰώνιος. Several of Denck’s contemporaries point out this very specific point in his preaching, leading me to believe both that these are genuine reports and that it must have been a key aspect of Denck’s arguments for universalism. There was ample evidence in the early 1500s that anyone with the competence could have availed himself of, and Hans Denck seems to be the one to do have done so. Once Denck had this realization about an alternative manner of translating the hell passages in the Bible, his mind would have been more open to the various cases for universalism available to him in other sources. The next most likely inspiration, in my estimation, is that of patristic ressourcement. Every student of theology, scholarly or not, was engaging in this movement ad fontes, back to the original sources, so there is no question that someone of Denck’s caliber and education was as well. Furthermore, whenever Denck’s universalism is discussed by his contemporaries, Origen’s name is never far behind. In part, this is because Origen was the most notorious universalist in history. But there are also parallels in almost every aspect of Denck and Origen’s reasoning concerning it. This is why Denck’s contemporaries said that he was bringing back Origen’s doctrine rather than simply saying he thought everyone was getting into heaven. For example, according to Denck, “God’s breaking, as it appears to us, is the best making.” This line of Denck’s is particularly evocative another from Origen in On First Principles: “But when the soul, thus dissolved and rent asunder, has been tried by the application of rational fire, it is undoubtedly reinforced in the consolidation and re-establishment of its structure” (De Principiis 2.10.5). Denck also shares with Origen 1 Corinthians 15 as a favorite passage for discussing this matter. Overall, it is undoubtable that after sitting under the tutelage of Origen-loving scholars like Erasmus and Hubmaier, Denck would have himself been familiar with and, at least in imitation, well-disposed toward Origen’s way of thought. Whereas Erasmus and Hubmaier received Origen’s doctrine of free will while abstaining from his teachings on apokatastasis, Denck seems to have embraced the whole package.

In terms of Denck’s influence on others, his student Clement Ziegler stands out. Ziegler was an uneducated gardener, a simple sharecropper, who before meeting Denck had been a leader in peasant riots in Strasbourg — the Anabaptist movement was bringing all sorts of people into its fold and into its leadership.¹⁰³ Some years after having met Denck, Ziegler changed from a negative to a positive view of Origen — going so far as to write two treatises dedicated to arguing for universal salvation in 1532, Of the Eternal Salvation of All Men’s Souls and A Substantial Explanation of the Preceding Booklet on the Eternal Salvation of All Souls.¹⁰⁴ Of the Eternal Salvation of All Men’s Souls is truly a remarkable text. Ziegler, who had published tracts on controversial subjects before, was not afraid to air his beliefs in the public square. Of the Eternal Salvation of All Men’s Souls stands — as far as I can tell — as the first extended written defense of the doctrine of apokatastasis in the West since Book III of John Scottus Eriugena’s (c.800–c.877) Periphyseon in the 800s.¹⁰⁵ Ziegler argues for universal salvation, saying “God has created man in his image, therefore all are called.”¹⁰⁶ According to Ziegler, even though non-Christians do not explicitly know Christ, they can still reap the benefits of his atonement “just as bread nourishes those who do not know anything about agriculture, milling and bakeries.”¹⁰⁷ Defending himself to the Strasbourg synod in 1533, Ziegler retorted that the announcement made to the shepherds at the first Christmas (“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14)) could not actually be good news if it did not include everyon.¹⁰⁸ Despite his courage before the synod, Ziegler passed the last twenty years of his life in prudential silence about such matters.¹⁰⁹

Finally, we know that wandering Anabaptist preachers like Denck, after arriving in a village, first visited the pastor and asked him to discuss religious matters. If they came to a disagreement, the Anabaptist pilgrim would request a public disputation, which the local pastor usually refused. Afterward, the wanderer would feel free to spread the Gospel among the people in the area.¹¹⁰ Therefore, as Denck went up and down the Rhine, he likely practiced this evangelistic pattern over and over again, influencing any number of men and women in small towns and in the countryside. For example, in 1528, some heretics were imprisoned in Baiersdorf. One of them, Wolfgang, an 18-year-old farmhand from near the River Zenn in northern Bavaria, explained his views on the end of time in this way: “There will be a new kingdom on earth, which will not be eternal but so long that it would be called ‘eternal’; the damned must suffer until they have had enough, always one after the other. After that, the Son will give the Father his kingdom back, just as he inherited it. After that there will be a shepherd and a sheepfold.”¹¹¹

Here in a prison confession is an instance of the theological controversy we have been investigating — not from a trained theologian or a pastor but from a teenage farm laborer in rural Bavaria. Wolfgang’s testimony includes Denck’s distinctive parsing of “eternal,” ewig, αἰώνιος; Origen’s favorite biblical passage for universalism (1 Corinthians 15:24–28);¹¹² and Denck’s narrative of one “shepherd and sheepfold.”

Conclusion

It is impossible to say how many other Anabaptists subscribed to universalism. For every outspoken proponent, there may have been a corresponding individual held to the universalist hope in a more private, covert manner. Denck left no institutional legacy behind, no organized group of faithful subscribing to his doctrines or to his universalism. Yet large bodies of Christians backed by their respective princes devoted space in their confession to denouncing the doctrine of universal salvation, which Denck had resurrected after a long period of dormancy. The confessions of the Lutheran and Anglican churches were formed, in part, in response to the preaching of Hans Denck and are still relevant to millions of Christians in their communions across the globe today.

Either way, if only numbers mattered, Denck could be overlooked, yet his contribution to the shaping of so many western Christian conversations is unavoidable. South German Anabaptism, under the influence of Hans Denck and others, embraced a medieval mystical conceptualization of suffering which prepared its followers to accept the physical suffering inflicted by their persecutors for, as they saw it, simply following Christ. Many Anabaptists broke down under pressure and recanted, but many others kept the faith and went to the stake praying for their judges and executioners.¹¹³ Furthermore, Denck’s ideas, especially his universalist position or tendencies, caused himself and influenced others to champion toleration and the individual right to choose faith long before Enlightenment liberalism. In many ways, he and his fellow radical Protestants seem “eerily modern” with their embodiment and defense of the solitary quest for eternal truth hidden within the self rather than in the pages of a book.¹¹⁴

For this reason, Hans Denck’s life was a tempestuous one. Magisterial Protestant reformers of all sorts feared him, regarding his life and teaching as a threat to their project of societal transformation. Had he not died of the plague at around twenty-seven, he would have either been tortured and executed in some creative fashion as so many of his brethren were or spent his days wandering about the countryside as a perpetual refugee. For Denck’s opponents, “children of the devil and the world are eternally rejected,” and to suggest otherwise could have serious side effects.¹¹⁵ Out of obedience to their interpretation of scripture, magisterial Protestants viewed belief in eternal hell as necessary. Indeed, those who disagreed with Denck seem to have been worried that without the threat of everlasting torture in hell looming over them, most people would have little reason to apply themselves toward self-improvement.¹¹⁶ Despite the ire of these detractors, however, Denck was confident in his trust that in time God would save every human being and thus earned lasting recognition in the denunciations of various defining magisterial Protestant confessions.

Hostility to this doctrine that every human — perhaps even the Devil — would eventually find a place in God’s kingdom shaped all the established and most of the nonconformist churches of Europe as a key tenet. Encountering a man like Denck who stood outside this overwhelming current allows us to appreciate the courage of such individual thought and imagine an alternative history. In addition, the contemporary theological world is vigorously debating the strengths and weaknesses of a belief in universal salvation.¹¹⁷ Scholar David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, for example, has engendered numerous responses, most of them either highly complimentary or intensely hostile. Analyzing an earlier incarnation of the controversy, especially in a Radical Protestant context, can broaden the conversation. Finally, while the Christian question of humanity’s final salvation may seem rarefied or irrelevant in the ever-secularizing West of today, there remain millions of individuals across the globe whose lives are shaped by their belief in an everlasting hell. And for those who do not fear such a fate, the basic query accompanying it is always pertinent: What will become of outsiders, those whom we deem outside the possibility of aid, whose causes we view as hopeless?

 

Footnotes

[1] “Hic dicit manifestum esse, damnatorum blasphemiam tandem oportere cessare.” “Nikolaus Thomae an Oekolampad, Bergzabern, den 1. April 1527,” inBriefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads: Zum Vierhundertjährigen Jubiläum der Basler Reformation II: 1527–1593, ed., Ernst Staehelin, Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationgeschichte, vol. 19 (Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachfolger, 1934), Nr. 479, p. 51–55.
[2] “Deum ignem esse et æternum ignem, et qui consumit, quicquid est consumendum; consumenda autem sunt, quæcumque adversantur Deo.” “Nicholaus Thomae” in Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads.
[3] “And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” The idea seems to be that the fire or its effect will be eternal, not the suffering it induces along the way.
[4] Dimitris Kyrtatas, “The Origins of Christian Hell,” Numen 56, no. 2–3 (2009): 282–297, https://doi.org/10.1163/156852709×405017, 288–9. See also Jan N. Bremmer, The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife: The 1995 Read-Tuckwell Lectures at the University of Bristol (London: Routledge, 2009); Richard J. Bauckham, “The Apocalypse of Peter: An Account of Research,” in Aufstieg Und Niedergang Der Römischen Welt, ed. W. Haase, vol. 2.25.6 (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), 4712–4750.
[5] Augustine, “City of God XXI,” in Augustine: City of God, Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887).
[6] Thomas Aquinas, “Matters Concerning the Resurrection, and First of the Place Where Souls Are after Death (Supplementum, Q. 69),” in Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 2nd ed., 1920, https://www.newadvent.org/summa/5069.htm#article2.
[7] Erwin R. Gane, “Late-Medieval Sermons in England: An Analysis of Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Preaching.” Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1982, Vol. 20, №3, 179–203, 192.
[8] Teresa McLean. “Thinking on the Last Things.” New Blackfriars 69, no. 821 (1988): 497–503, 498.
[9] Juanita Feros Ruys, “Dying 101: Emotion, Experience, and Learning How to Die in the Late Medieval Artes Moriendi.” Parergon 31, no. 2 (2014), 55.
[10] Jody Enders, The Medieval Theater of Cruelty: Rhetoric, Memory, Violence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 78.
[11] Jill Stevenson, “Poised at the Threatening Edge: Feeling the Future in Medieval Last Judgment Performances.” Theatre Journal 67, no. 2 (2015), 273–293, 286.
[12] Pamela Sheingorn, “‘For God Is Such a Doomsman’: Origins and Development of the Theme of Last Judgment,” in Homo, Memento Finis, 15–58.
[13] Missale Ad Sacrosancte Romane Ecclesie Usum. Lyon, 1520. https://login.proxy.lib.duke.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/books/missale-ad-sacrosancte-romane-ecclesie-usum/docview/2090313654/se-2?accountid=10598. On lay understanding of the liturgy: Virginia Reinburg, “Liturgy and the Laity in Late Medieval and Reformation France.” In The Sixteenth Century Journal, Autumn, 1992, Vol. 23, №3 (Autumn, 1992), 526–547.
[14] Johannes Pommeranz, “Die Hölle Und Ihr Rachen: Gedanken Zur Alltäglichkeit Eines Christlichen Bildmotivs,” in Monster. Fantastische Bilderwelten Zwischen Grauen Und Komik Begleitband Zur Gleichnamigen Ausstellung Im Germanischen Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg Vom 7. Mai Bis 6. September 2015, ed. Peggy Große, G. Ulrich Großmann, and Johannes Pommeranz (Nürnberg: Germanisches Nationalmuseum Abt. Verlag, 2015), 378–405.
[15] Gary Richardson, “Craft Guilds and Christianity in Late-Medieval England: A Rational-Choice Analysis.” Rationality and Society 17, no. 2 (May 2005): 139–89. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043463105051631.
[16] Brian Patrick McGuire, “Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and Medieval Change.” Viator 20, (1989): 61–84.
Hannah Weaver, “A Pilgrimage to Purgatory: Overcoming Doubt through Vernacular Narrative Conventions in the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 January 2021; 51 (1): 9–35. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-8796222.
[17] Michael D. Barbezat, “The Fires of Hell and the Burning of Heretics in the Accounts of the Executions at Orleans in 1022,” Journal of Medieval History40, no. 4 (February 2014): 399–420, https://doi.org/10.1080/03044181.2014.953194.
[18] “Item 1. Jo[hannis] 4 [, 8]: “Deus charitas est;” id est: non ira est, sed omnium miserebitur.” “Nikolaus Thomae an Oekolampad, Bergzabern, den 1. April 1527,”in Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads.
[19] “I will give to my called and my elect whomever they ask of me out of punishment, and I will give them a good baptism in the salvation of the so-called Acherusian Lake in the Elysian Field, a part of righteousness with my holy ones. And I will depart, I and my elect, rejoicing with the patriarchs to my eternal kingdom. And I will accomplish with them my promises, which I promised to them, I and my father who is in heaven” (Apoc. Pet. 14:1–3). Eric J Beck, “Perceiving the Mystery of the Merciful Son of God: An Analysis of the Purpose of the Apocalypse of Peter,” A Thesis Submitted to The University of Edinburgh, New College, 2018.
[20] “I know that many understand this… to be the devil, who at the end of the world, since no creature that is rational and which was made by God may perish, will come down from his pride and repent and be restored to his former place.” Timothy Michael Hegedus, “Jerome’s commentary on Jonah: Translation with introduction and critical notes” (1991). Wilfrid Laurier University Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 115, 51. T.M. Hegedus interestingly mistranslates plerosque as “many.” Original available in “Commentariorum In Jonam Prophetam Liber Unus,” in Patrologia Cursus Completus. Series Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, vol. 25 (Paris, 1845), 1117–50, 1141.
[21] “…many human beings, by disregarding such weighty and solemn words and declarations of the Lord, award to themselves an end of punishment in order that they may sin with greater bravado.” Anna Silvas, The Asketikon of St. Basil the Great (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007), 418–9. Again, Silvas gives a translation of τοὺς πολλοὺς τῶν ἀνθρώπων that, though correct, does not quite convey the numerical sense οἱ πολλοί usually connotes. Literally “the many,” it signifies “the masses,” which for Basil most likely means “(the vast majority of) the laity.” Original: “Regulæ Brevius Tractatæ,” in Patrologia Cursus Completus. Series Graeca, ed. J.P. Migne, vol. 31 (Imprimerie Catholique, Paris, 1847), 1051–1321, 1264–5.
[22] Augustine, “The Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J.F. Shaw, vol. 3 (Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), §112, italics mine. Original: “Enchiridion de fide, spe et charitate Liber Unus,” in Patrologia Cursus Completus. Series Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, vol. 40 (Paris, 1845), 231–90.
[23] Richard Bauckham provides a helpful table listing the seven universalist positions with the accompanying favorite scripture texts in The Fate of the Dead (Brill, 1998), 150–51.
[24] Iliaria L.E. Ramelli, “Reply to Professor Michael McClymond,” Theological Studies 2015, Vol. 76(4), 827–35, 833.
[25] Justinian had a provincial synod condemn Origenism: “If anyone claims or maintains that the punishment of demons and of impious people is temporary, and that it will cease sooner or later, or that the complete restoration of demons and impious humans will take place, be it anathema.” Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis a Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 734.
[26] Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Christian Apokatastasis and Zoroastrian Frashegird,” Religion & Theology 24, no. 3–4 (2017): 350–406, https://doi.org/10.1163/15743012-02403007, 351.
[27] And it remains so for most Christians today. Many Christians have become uncomfortable with this and explain the doctrine in as irenic a manner as possible — no longer believing that most humans will end up in hell. On how such developments have grown and are a real change in Christian thought, see Guillaume Cuchet, “Une Révolution Théologique Oubliée. Le Triomphe De La Thèse Du Grand Nombre Des Élus Dans Le Discours Catholique Du XIXe Siècle,” Revue D’histoire Du XIXe Siècle, no. 41 (2010): 131–148, https://doi.org/10.4000/rh19.4054.
[28] Vadian, Letter to Zwiccius (1540), 20. Quoted in Jan J. Kiwiet, “Life of Hans Denck (Ca 1500–1527),” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 31, no. 4 (1957): 227–259, 243n126.
[29] “Kinder des teufels vnd der welt seind alleyn die ewig verworffenen.” “1524 [April-August]. — Ausführungen des Laienpredigers Clemens Ziegler über das Abendmahl und die Taufe,” Elsaß, I. Teil: Stadt Straßburg 1522–1532, ed. Manfred Krebs and Hans George Rott, Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, vol. VII (Heidelberg: Gütersloher verlagshaus gerd mohn, 1959), 95.
[30] “Satius meo iudicio foret, opinionem hanc, etsi veram, non vulgari. Credentes enim postergata impietate et fiducia operum, iam plenius verbo renasci incipientes, tepescunt, perfectiores vero pænitet quasi pænitentiæ et nimis in tempore susceptæ mortifiicationis carnis, quando alios tam licenter in carnis ocio et luxu agere vident et sic longanimitate divina nondum plene semetipsis abnegatis et omnibus Deo eiusque occulto iudicio resignatis torquentur.” “Nikolaus Thomae an Oekolampad, Bergzabern, den 1. April 1527,” in Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads, Nr. 479, p. 51–55.
[31] “Tum, cur in tantum adhortetur ad sui mortificationem homines, cum absque ea eos salvari sit certum, interrogatus respondit, se malle una morte cito mori quam mille mortibus lente torqueri.” Ibid.
[32] “Johann Denck hat mir mehr denn ein ganz Jahr verborgen seine Lehre und sie vor mir verleugnet; mittlerweil hat er in Winklen nichts desto minder gelehrt und getauft.” Rhegius, “Zween wunderseltzan Sendbrief” in Heberle, Theol. Studien u. Kritiken 1851/1/121. Cited in Bauman, 12.
[33] “…do ichs nun erfur / beschickt ich ihn im 15.26. jar / und fragt in warumb er es herte gethon / dieweyl es aynn vergiffter Origemscher irechum were / Durch welche alle gotß forcht auff ain mal außgereut…” Urbanus Rhegius, Ein Sendbrieff Hans huthen etwa ains furnemen Vorsteers widertaufferordem verantwort (Augsburg: A. Weyssenhorn, 1528), E i v.
[34] “…zum erst leugnet er seyner leer / ye doch zum leisten hub er an zu waynen und bekennet mir / er hieltees also das kayn teuffell und mensch ewigklich verdampt wurde.” Ibid.
[35] “Er Antwort. Es stehet geschrieben / Got wir nicht imer dar zurnen / er will das ale menschen selig werden / er will des sunders tod nicht / und der gleych etlich spruch die von Gottes barmhertzigkeyt lauten / bracht er herfur und vermaynt sie giengen auff alle menschen und teuffel…” Ibid.
[36] Bauman, 13.
[37] Whether God is the Cause of Evil (Augsburg 1526), Concerning the Law of God (Augsburg 1526), He who Truly Loves the Truth (Augsburg, Summer 1526), Concerning True Love (Worms: Schöffer, 1527), and The Order of God (Worms: Schöffer, 1527).
[38] “On the Law of God,” in The Radical Reformation, 143.
[39] Hans Denck, “Was Geredt Sei, Das Die Schrift Sagt,” in Hans Denck: Schriften, ed. Walter Fellmann and Georg Baring (Bertelsman: Gütersloh, 1956), 99.
[40] “Deum per Christum docere et præcipere dilectionem inimicorum, quod minime fieret, si idem ipse non faceret (pugnaret enim natura divina cum doctrina)…” “Nikolaus Thomae an Oekolampad, Bergzabern, den 1. April 1527,” in Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads, Nr. 479, 51–55.
[41] “Gott geusst sein Gnad und Barmhertzigkeit über alle Menschen auss, sonst weren die Gnadlosen oder Gottlosen unschuldig und entschuldigt.” Ludwig Keller, ed., “Sebastian Francks Aufzeichnung Über Joh. Denck (1527) Aus Dem Jahre 1531,” Monatshefte Der Comenius-Gesellschaft 10, no. 3 & 4 (1901): 173–179, 178.
[42] “Deum ignem esse et æternum ignem, et qui consumit, quicquid est consumendum; consumenda autem sunt, quæcumque adversantur Deo.” Ibid.
[43] The 13 other verses: Isaiah 28:21, Ezekiel 18:23, Psalm 77:7, Romans 5:18, Romans 11:32, 1 Corinthians 15:22–25, Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20, 1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6, 1 John 4:8, Matthew 25:41, Genesis 6:7b.
[44] “On the Law of God,” in The Radical Reformation, 132.
[45] Ibid., 132.
[46] Ibid., 134.
[47] “Whether God Is the Cause of Evil,” in Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, 95.
[48] Ibid., 95.
[49] Ibid., 95.
[50] Bauman, 263.
[51] Bauman, 263.
[52] Bauman, 265, emphasis mine.
[53] “Auff dise schrifft unnd gotliche warheytt wisset Hans Denck nichts zu anntworten / Sonder zoch herfur ain phantasey / wie Gott aynig were und in der selben aynigkeit / mochten allle zwytrachtige ding veraynt werden…” Urbanus Rhegius, Ein Sendbrieff Hans huthen etwa ains furnemen Vorsteers widertaufferordem verantwort (Augsburg: A. Weyssenhorn, 1528), E ii v.
[54] Bauman, 267.
[55] Denck calls this “gelassenheit,” yieldedness, letting be, or submission, which has become a very important part of Anabaptist piety. Johannes Aakjær Steenbuch, “Kærlighedens Dialektiker: Karakteristik Af Hans Dencks Kritiske Spiritualisme,” Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift 77, no. 3 (October 2014): 217–234, https://doi.org/10.7146/dtt.v77i3.105719.
[56] Ibid., 95.
[57] “Whether God Is the Cause of Evil,” in Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, 843.
[58] Desiderius Erasmus, “The Godly Feast,” in Collected Works of Erasmus: Colloquies , ed. and trans. Craig R. Thompson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 170–243, 194.
[59] F. Bruce Gordon, Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021), 238. This obviously angered Luther.
[60] “Dann wie es alles in Adam sei gefallen, müß es in Christo erstattet und wider bracht werde…” Sebastian Franck, Chronick: Geschichte Und Zeitbuch Aller Nammhafftigsten Und Gedechtnuszwierdigsten Geystlichen Und Weltlichen Sachen… Von Anbegin Der Welt… Bisz Auff Das Gegenwertige Jar Christi M.D.LXXXV Verlengt… Zusammen Getragen… Durch Sebastian Francken… Bisz Auff… Das Jar 1531, (Frankfurt, 1585), p. ccclxiiij, emphasis mine in translation and original.
[61] Also called apokatastasis, its traditional Greek name taken from the Greek of Acts 3:21. In German, Wiederherstellung aller Dinge or Wiederbringung alle Dinge.
[62] See William Klassen, “Was Hans Denck a Universalist?,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 39 (1965), 152–4. Citing W. F. Neff’s entry ‘Universalism,’ in H. S. Bender and C. H. Smith (eds), Mennonite Encyclopedia, Scottsdale, Penn. 1959. And Morwenna Ludlow, “Why Was Hans Denck Thought To Be a Universalist?,” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 55, no. 2 (2004): 257–274, https://doi.org/10.1017/s002204690400990x.
[63] Morwenna Ludlow, “Why Was Hans Denck Thought To Be a Universalist?,” 273.
[64] Ibid., 273.
[65] Ibid., 274.
[66] “On the Law of God,” in The Radical Reformation, 131.
[67] Ibid., 132.
[68] Ibid., 140.
[69] Ibid., 146.
[70] “Whether God Is the Cause of Evil,” in Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, 110.
[71] “Etlich halten die Meinung Johannis Denck und Origenis, vor langem verdampt, daß endlich alles selig werde, auch die verlornen Hosen Geisten, und werde durch Christum alles wider in das gebracht, davon es sei außgangen: Dann wie es alles in Adam sei gefallen, müß es in Christo erstattet und wider bracht werde: zeigen darauff viel Schrift, reden seltzam und underschiedlich darvon, machen ein grawsame Hell, darinn die Gottlosen geplagt werden mit jhren Geystern ewig, daß sie auff ein lange zeit deuten.” Sebastian Franck, Chronick: Geschichte Und Zeitbuch Aller Nammhafftigsten Und Gedechtnuszwierdigsten Geystlichen Und Weltlichen Sachen… Von Anbegin Der Welt… Bisz Auff Das Gegenwertige Jar Christi M.D.LXXXV Verlengt… Zusammen Getragen… Durch Sebastian Francken… Bisz Auff… Das Jar 1531, (Frankfurt, 1585), p. ccclxiiij, emphasis mine in translation and original.
Elsewhere, Franck wrote that “Among others, he held the opinion of Origen that God will finally have mercy on all, that God will and may not be eternally angry or displeased, and that in sum all will finally be blessed, even the displeased spirits and devils.” Ludwig Keller, ed., “Sebastian Francks Aufzeichnung Über Joh. Denck (1527) Aus Dem Jahre 1531,” Monatshefte Der Comenius-Gesellschaft 10, no. 3 & 4 (1901): 173–179, 174.
[72] “Joach. Vad. Ad Jo. Zuiccium Constant. ep.,” Füsslin Beit., (Cal. Aug. 1540), V.p., 396.
[73] D. Joachimi Vadiani ad D. Joannem Zuiccium epistola, Zurich 1540, fo. 19r–v; Kiwiet, “The Life of Hans Denck,” 242.
[74] Johann Kessler, Johannes Kesslers Sabbata Mit Kleineren Schriften Und Briefen, ed. Emil Egli and Johann Kessler (St. Gallen: Fehr’sche Buchhandlung, 1902), 151–152.
[75] “Iohanne Denckio quodam authore, qui hic agit, Norimbergae proscriptus, ob nescio quas factiones, homo mire pestilens ac lubricus, qui non paucos seducit, ut sunt Augustani curiosi. Et inter caetera dicit, Scripturam minime nobis necessariam; Daemones in fine etiam salvandos, iuxta Origenis dogma…” Epistolae MDXXII, 531–2. [Also Peter Gynoraeus to Zwingli, 22 August 1526, ZW, VIII, №520, p. 689.]
[76] “On the Law of God,” in The Radical Reformation, 134.
[77] Heinrich Bullinger, Der Wiedertäufer Ursprung, etc., Fol. 64B, 65B. Heberle, Theol. Stud. u. Krit., 1855, 827–29.
[78] Johann Kessler, Johannes Kesslers Sabbata Mit Kleineren Schriften Und Briefen, ed. Emil Egli and Johann Kessler (St. Gallen: Fehr’sche Buchhandlung, 1902), 151–152.
[79] αἰώνιος is simply the adjectival form of αἰών, lifetime/eon/ephoch/world. Therefore, it could mean something like “age-enduring” rather than “forever” — especially depending on the noun it modifies. See Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan, Terms for Eternity: aiônios and aídios in Classical and Christian Texts(Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2013). Also David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 444–448.
[80] “Nikolaus Thomae an Oekolampad, Bergzabern, den 1. April 1527,” in Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads, Nr. 479, p. 51–55.
[81] “Damnant Anabaptistas, qui sentiunt hominibus damnatis ac diabolis finem pænarum futurum esse.” Philipp Melanchthon, “Die Augsburger Confession,” ed. Theodore Mayes, Gutenberg, February 1, 2021, https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/607/pg607.html.
[82] Church of England, Articles Agreed on by the Bishoppes, and Other Learned Menne in the Synode at London, in the Yere of Our Lorde Godde, M.D.LII. for the Auoiding of Controuersie in Opinions, and the Establishement of a Godlie Concorde, in Certeine Matiers of Religion. (London, Richardus Craftonus [sic] typographus Regius excudebat. Londini, 1553), 25.
[83] Morwenna Ludlow, “Why Was Hans Denck Thought To Be a Universalist?,” 274.
[84] Kiwiet, “Life of Hans Denck,” 251.
[85] Werner O. Packull, Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement 1525–1531 (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 194n63.
[86] I do not mean to be presumptuous. These scholars are obviously not monolingual, I am only wondering why this source has not been attended to.
[87] William Roscoe Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1996), 111. Dutch theologian Arminius broke with traditional Reformed thought on predestination, provoking uproar and leading to the Synod of Dort where an international group of Reformed theologians condemned his ideas. Since then, people who believe Jesus died for everyone, not just the elect, are often called Arminians.
[88] William Name, Christs Starre (London, 1625), 281. Cited in C. A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” Journal of the History of Ideas 28, no. 4 (1967): 467–278, https://doi.org/10.2307/2708524, 474.
[89] Bucer seems quite upset that Anabaptists “praedestinationis et electionis Dei certitudinem rident,” “certainly laugh at predestination and the sovereign choice of God.” Elsaß, I. Teil: Stadt Straßburg 1522–1532, ed. Manfred Krebs and Hans George Rott, Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, vol. VII (Heidelberg: Gütersloher verlagshaus gerd mohn, 1959), Nr. 99, 127.
[90] Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica, V, 188, 194. Translation: George Huntston Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), 839.
[91] Martin Butzer, Handlung inn dem offentlichen gesprech zu Straszburg… gehaten, gegen Melchior Hoffman (Strassburg, 1533), A ii.
[92] Irvin Buckwalter Horst, The Radical Brethren: Anabaptism and the English Reformation to 1558 (Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1972), 172.
[93] “Johann Denck, schulmaister bei S. Sebold, dermassen geschickt gewest, das mundlich mit ime zu handeln fur unnutzlich ist angesehen worden.” Denck Schriften, 3. Teil, p. 136.
[94] “Nur verhüllte er Alles in erstaunliche Dunkelheit.” J.P. Gelbert, “10) Johann Denck in Strassburg. Sein Gespräch mit den dortigen Predigern und seine Berweisung aus der Stadt,” Magister Johann Bader’s Leben und Schriften, Nicolaus Thomae und seine Briefe Ein Beitrag zur Reformationgeschichte der Städte Landau, Bergzabern und der linksrheinischen Pfalz, (Neustadt: 1868), 156.
[95] Clasen, Anabaptism: A Social History, 397.
[96] Bauman, 12n19.
[97] Epistolae MDXXII, 531–2. [Also Peter Gynoraeus to Zwingli, 22 August 1526, Zwingli Werke, VIII, №520, p. 689.]
[98] “Nikolaus Thomae an Oekolampad, Bergzabern, den 1. April 1527,” in Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads, Nr. 479, p. 51–55.
[99] Johann Bader, Brüderliche warnung für dem newen Abgöttischen orden der Widertaeuffer… (n.p., 1527), K iv v. “Syhe über solch strenge offenbarlich wort Gottes / kumen yetzundt die blinden Tauffstürmer / und bekenen (etlich offentlich / die anoun aber / uß sonderlicher lüstigkeit / heymlich) das der teüfel / sampt aller seiner geselschafft und uungläubige entlich selig werde.”
[100] J. Martin in “Nicodemismo,” Dizionario storico dell’Inquisizione vol. II, Adriano Prosperi, Vincenzo Lavenia, and John Tedeschi, eds., (Pisa: Edizioni della Normale, 2010).
[101] Mark S. M. Scott, “Guarding the Mysteries of Salvation: The Pastoral Pedagogy of Origen’s Universalism,” Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 18, Number 3, Fall 2010, 347–368, https://doi.org/10.1353/earl.2010.0007, 347, italics mine.
[102] “Libere loquitur Erasmus, sed anguste scribit.” Letter to Adelphius, June 23, 1522 (Veesenmeyer, 1826, 233 f.) Cited by Jarold Knox Zeman, The Anabaptists and the Czech Brethren in Moravia: a Study of Origins and Contacts (The Hague: Mouton, 1969), 125n10.
[103] See Rodolphe Peter, “Clement Ziegler the Gardener, The Man and His Work: A Translation of ‘Le Maraîcher Clément Ziegler, L’Homme Et Son Oeuver’ (1954),” trans. John Derksen and Cynthia Reimer, Mennonite Quarterly Review 69, no. 4 (October 1995): 421–451.
[104] Cited in Kiwiet, “Theology of Hans Denck,” 425n16. Available in Elsaß, I. Teil: Stadt Straßburg 1522–1532, ed. Manfred Krebs and Hans George Rott, Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, vol. VII (Heidelberg: Gütersloher verlagshaus gerd mohn, 1959), 563–574. I have been unable to access the second treatise.
[105] Johannes Scotus Erigena, Periphyseon: The Division of Nature, ed. John J. O’Meara, trans. I. P. Sheldon-Williams and John J. O’Meara (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 2020).
[106] „Ich sprich, got hab den menschen geschaffen noch sim bild…, dorum sint… alle berieft…” Elsaß, I. Teil: Stadt Straßburg 1522–1532, ed. Manfred Krebs and Hans George Rott, Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, vol. VII (Heidelberg: Gütersloher verlagshaus gerd mohn, 1959), 563–574.
[107] „wie auch das Brot den nährt, der im Ackerbau, Mühlenu. Bäckergeschäft keinen Bescheid weiß.” Elsaß, I. Teil: Stadt Straßburg 1522–1532, ed. Manfred Krebs and Hans George Rott, Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, vol. VII (Heidelberg: Gütersloher verlagshaus gerd mohn, 1959), 563–574.
[108] Peter, “Clement Ziegler the Gardener, The Man and His Work: A Translation of ‘Le Maraîcher Clément Ziegler, L’Homme Et Son Oeuver’ (1954),” 447.
[109]Ibid., 448.
[110] Kiwiet, “Life of Hans Denck,” 251.
[111] “Volk hab in und andre gelert: es werd ein neu reich uf ertrich, werd nit ewig, aber solang weren, das es wol “ewig” haiß; mussen die verdamten solang leiden, bis sie gnug ton, immer einer nach dem andern. Darnach werd der sun dem vater sein reich wider geben, wie ers im eingeantwurt hab. Darnach werde ein hirt und ein schafstall sein.” “82. Bekenntnisse der Baiersdorfer Gefangenen 1528,” Markgraftum Brandenburg (Bayern I. Abteillung), ed. Karl Schornbaum, Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer, vol. II (Leipzig: Nachfolger, 1934), 78–94, 83.
[112] “…When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all” (NRSV).
[113] Goertz Hans-Jürgen, The Anabaptists (London: Routledge, 2008), 125.
[114] Ibid., 285.
[115] “Kinder des teufels vnd der welt seind alleyn die ewig verworffenen.” “1524 [April-August]. — Ausführungen des Laienpredigers Clemens Ziegler über das Abendmahl und die Taufe,” Elsaß, I. Teil: Stadt Straßburg 1522–1532, ed. Manfred Krebs and Hans George Rott, Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, vol. VII (Heidelberg: Gütersloher verlagshaus gerd mohn, 1959), 95.
[116] “Tum, cur in…” Quoted above. “Nikolaus Thomae an Oekolampad, Bergzabern, den 1. April 1527,” in Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads.
[117] For an extended bibliography, see https://afkimel.wordpress.com/essential-readings-on-universalism/.

* * *

Andrew Raines is currently a senior at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, studying history and Attic Greek. He loves to sing (especially in Duke’s co-ed Christian a cappella group SBSB) and play organ and piano (and at one point viola). He grew up near Olanta, South Carolina and was raised on the Southern arts of story-telling and (vinegar) barbecue. You can find his blog reflections at “Andrew Raines.” Andrew’s full thesis on Hans Denck is available from Lulu.

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4 Responses to “The Blasphemy of the Damned Will Stop in the End”: The Universalism of Hans Denck

  1. Thank you for this post. Very interesting and I really enjoyed reading it.

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  2. I value this analysis as it provides a depthful case study, the specifics of which can provide a generic template for any who may earnestly inquire about universalism.

    Like DBH’s TASBS, it offers an inventory of the types of diverse arguments & influences that can (should?) come into play in anyone’s deliberations & dispositions.

    Taken together, diverse arguments have cohered for me as in a cumulative case type approach. Their consistency & coherence have bolstered the intrinsic authority of my own stance, grounded in the primacy of my conscience.

    But, of course, I am also very interested in being accountable to extrinsic authorities, too. I feel my universalist stance has been bolstered by a sufficient number of authoritative sources, patristic & contemporary, even if a minority position. So, again, it bolsters my belief that I have followed my conscience in an upright, mature & defensible manner (not unlike the way moral probabilism operates).

    For Roman Catholics, like me, don’t for a moment buy into that worn out tautology that a conscience has de facto not been properly formed if it’s at odds with magisterial teachings. The truth of universalism is solidly probable and those who’ve dutifully done their conscience formation homework & prayerfully discerned the authoritativeness of this universalist belief have – not only a right, but – a responsibility to – not only follow their conscience, but – respectfully voice their dissent.

    At any rate, that’s why I was so heartened to learn yesterday that Fr Al was working on a book. I rely on others of large intellect & profound goodwill to identify for & explain the authoritative sources to me. Most of us do. And it will make it easier for me to share this part of the Gospel with others.

    Thanks, Father.

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Andrew, I take it that Clement Ziegler’s tract Of the Eternal Salvation of All Men’s Souls has not been translated into English. Please consider writing an essay on this work for Eclectic Orthodoxy! 😎

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