The church leader most well-known for taking on the Gnostic eschatology that was being promoted was Irenaeus. (130 – c. 202 AD) A Greek bishop noted for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities in what is now the south of France and, more widely, for the development of Christian theology by combatting heresy and defining orthodoxy.
During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161–180, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyon. The clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the faith, sent him in 177 to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleutherius concerning the heresy Montanism, and that occasion bore emphatic testimony to his merits. While Irenaeus was in Rome, persecution took place in Lyon. Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyr Saint Pothinus and became the second Bishop of Lyon
Irenaeus- stresses unities: the unity of God as creator and savior, in contrast to the Marcionite and Gnostic tendency to see in the world continuing conflict between warring supercosmic forces; the personal unity of Christ, as both the eternal Word, the agent of creation, and a full participant in our fleshly, human life; the unity of every person, as a single composite of spirit and flesh who is called, as such, to salvation through Christ: and the unity and continuity of all human history, which begins in its creation by a loving God, endures the temporary defeat of sin and is now – thanks to the Incarnation of the Word – drawing near to the lasting union of the human race with God that was history’s goal from the start. P. 28 (The Hope of the Early Church)
Irenaeus returns the church to a primary view of personal eschatology that focuses on the process of spiritual growth leading to unity with the purpose of God.
In our age (an event-oriented age – i.e. the most recent news) with so many social pressures and the influence of postmodern thought that challenges all authority, many individuals are again turning to the idea of a universal struggle of good and evil (Star Wars – Avengers) and the idea of our being in a cultural war with non-Christians have to lead to a distraction from a personal process oriented eschatology and push us again into a speculative event oriented general eschatology.
Eschatology from 200 AD on – a struggle with event-driven eschatology versus a personal eschatology has gone on in the church.
Beginning after 235 AD (with the death of Alexander Severus) the Roman Empire was thrown into chaos. So, not only were Christians persecuted for their faith, but their whole culture was also in turmoil. Again, in times of turmoil, masses of people are looking for a reason, excuse, or scapegoat for their situation. Theologically, a millennium (event-oriented) theology once again gained hold of the church.
Tertullian was a lawyer who had been part of the Catholic communion (orthodox) and joined the Montanist sect (207 AD). Tertullian advocated an event-oriented eschatology in which the battle between good and evil would be fought out, good would win and then be rewarded while the evil would lose and face punishment.
The evil (non-believer in Jesus) would be punished. Tertullian believed there would be a resurrection in which the evil would be given bodies because for there to be real punishment, a body that could be made to suffer was required. For Tertullian, part of the joy of blessed would be their ability to watch with joy the torture and suffering of these souls.
Even though he had left the church, his writing would have an effect on how the Latin church would develop its view of eschatology (i.e. Dante).
Cyprian (Bishop of Carthage) 248-258 AD was convinced by the events of his day that the world was in the end times. He warned Christians that, as bad as it seemed then, worse was yet to come and so their hope must be placed in “the peace of the church.”
To be in “the peace of the church,” one had to be in communion with the legitimately recognized Christian community, to gain the kingdom. Even a martyr who dies outside of the Church’s community will not be “crowned.”
Even though Cyprian was event-oriented, he also urged Christians to look beyond this world for their security in difficult times, (“since being a Christian is, for us, essentially a matter of faith and hope.”
Clement of Alexandria – His eschatological views include a school for souls in which human beings, after death, would be trained by angels to become like angels. He taught a personal eschatology that focuses on being prepared so that death would never be an unwelcome surprise for a Christian. He taught a form of gnostic belief that was not secret knowledge but orthodox in content but was focused on the life to come should be our primary focus. He was very platonic in his views, looking for our being perfect in our escape from the cares of this world.
Punishment (in this life and in the life to come) is about purification to develop an understanding with certainty that produces restoration. Clement is the one who paves the way for the church to develop a doctrine of purgatory.
Origen used this thinking in developing his eschatological views as well. Origen was also more event-oriented in his thinking even though He viewed the concept of last things as a means (process) of purification. Origen did not believe in eternal punishment. He believed that eventually all people would be saved (universalism). Fear of eternal punishment was a good social control device but in reality, a loving God would not condemn someone forever.
(Remember, the Scriptural cannon had not been accepted. (Council of Nicea in 325 AD)
Augustine of Hippo moved the direction of eschatology back toward a process-thinking mode. The fall of Rome had brought a mindset of fear back into the Church. Augustine wrote to quell these fears. Augustine look at the church as the KOG on earth. Christ did not abandon the church. Christ lives in the church. So will there be a time in which Jesus returns physically, right now, he is with us in spirit and in the Eucharist.
Two types of people: those of self-love whose focus is the world and those who love God whose focus is the incarnate Word. Augustine believed there was the visible church with its institution and the invisible church which is the spiritual community.
We would differ by saying there is only the church visible. Not a spiritual force but called out people.
Augustine also divided the church up into three categories: the church militant-those who are living, the church dormant – those who have died, and the church triumphant – the church resurrected.
We would argue with Augustine on this, especially the church dormant – for we believe in the advocation of the saints on our behalf. This is primarily a time-bound oriented understanding of eschatology in terms of a linear view of past present and future. A triune God is not time-bound. Yes, we are the church militant as we are the salt and light living in the process of the last days, but we are also the church triumphant because Christ is triumphant. It is the process we live through that determines our status. This is why some will say, “Lord, Lord I did this or that,” and the Lord will reply, “I never knew you.”
With Augustine, we move again into an eschatology that is primarily process-oriented (teleological). It is the development of the believer in spiritual maturity that prepares on for service in the Kingdom now and prepares for what God has intended next.
From these church fathers, we can see that there is some interaction or overlap in those who hold to an event orientation and those who are process-oriented and vis-versa.
In eschatological studies today, there are three approaches to understanding last things. There is the millennial approach, the pastoral approach, and the social approach.