There is no Biblical support for a notion that the majority will be right. But even so who's to say the Church Fathers were the majority? The warning against the Doctrine of the Nicolatians tells me that those who'd obtain that title should not be inherently more trusted. But they were the only ones who could write and so their sides of the arguments are what were preserved. We have no way of knowing how much the people in their own flocks even agreed with them.
I want to quote from a "Church Father" who I disagree with possibly the most of anyone, who's soterology certainly is not mine, being the prototype of Calvinism.
St Augustine (c.354-43): "There are very many ('imo quam plurimi', which can be translated majority) who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments." (Enchiria, ad Laurent. c. 29)
St. Basil the Great: (c. 329-379): "The mass of men say that there is to be an end of punishment to those who are punished." (De Asceticis)
Augustine of Hippo in his work City of God: Book 21 Chapters 17-22 describes six views on eternal punishment he disagrees with. The first two are forms of what we would today call Universal Reconciliation. The next three are forms of "Once Saved Always Saved". The last one is something of a works salvation view.
Is the fact that he lists the Universalists first evidence they were the largest groups? Or was his method to work downwards in terms how merciful they are? I can't say.
He mentions Origen, but distinguishes Origen from most who hold views like this for reasons partly similar to what I expressed in the supplemental part of the post I made yesterday.
Chapter 17.— Of Those Who Fancy that No Men Shall Be Punished Eternally.I must now, I see, enter the lists of amicable controversy with those tender-hearted Christians who decline to believe that any, or that all of those whom the infallibly just Judge may pronounce worthy of the punishment of hell, shall suffer eternally, and who suppose that they shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment, longer or shorter according to the amount of each man's sin. In respect of this matter, Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors, especially for his theory of the ceaseless alternation of happiness and misery, and the interminable transitions from the one state to the other at fixed periods of ages; for in this theory he lost even the credit of being merciful, by allotting to the saints real miseries for the expiation of their sins, and false happiness, which brought them no true and secure joy, that is, no fearless assurance of eternal blessedness. Very different, however, is the error we speak of, which is dictated by the tenderness of these Christians who suppose that the sufferings of those who are condemned in the judgment will be temporary, while the blessedness of all who are sooner or later set free will be eternal. Which opinion, if it is good and true because it is merciful, will be so much the better and truer in proportion as it becomes more merciful. Let, then, this fountain of mercy be extended, and flow forth even to the lost angels, and let them also be set free, at least after as many and long ages as seem fit! Why does this stream of mercy flow to all the human race, and dry up as soon as it reaches the angelic? And yet they dare not extend their pity further, and propose the deliverance of the devil himself. Or if any one is bold enough to do so, he does indeed put to shame their charity, but is himself convicted of error that is more unsightly, and a wresting of God's truth that is more perverse, in proportion as his clemency of sentiment seems to be greater.
Now when I had long ago on forums dealt with enemies of Eternal Security on the subject of the parts I'll get to later, one who emphasized the "Pre-Nicean Fathers" said Augustine in post-Nicean. In this case we see with Origen that who he speaks of existed before Nicea and Constantine. And expressed things in a way where it seems like Origen's version didn't come first, since he went further with it. If Origen came before the others he'd have said they didn't go as far.
There is no source outside Augustine for saying Origen was condemned for this. He wasn't formally condemned at all till later then Augustine. And Origen's earliest critics were far more concerned with his other more Platonic teachings. It is in those areas that Augustine rather resembles Origen suspiciously enough.
This view seems to be based on saying no one even temporarily enters the Lake of Fire. The logic of it I do like and understand and can play a role in my argument. But I'm still more like the first group.
Chapter 18.— Of Those Who Fancy That, on Account of the Saints' Intercession, Man Shall Be Damned in the Last Judgment.There are others, again, with whose opinions I have become acquainted in conversation, who, though they seem to reverence the holy Scriptures, are yet of reprehensible life, and who accordingly, in their own interest, attribute to God a still greater compassion towards men. For they acknowledge that it is truly predicted in the divine word that the wicked and unbelieving are worthy of punishment, but they assert that, when the judgment comes, mercy will prevail. For, say they, God, having compassion on them, will give them up to the prayers and intercessions of His saints. For if the saints used to pray for them when they suffered from their cruel hatred, how much more will they do so when they see them prostrate and humble suppliants? For we cannot, they say, believe that the saints shall lose their bowels of compassion when they have attained the most perfect and complete holiness; so that they who, when still sinners, prayed for their enemies, should now, when they are freed from sin, withhold from interceding for their suppliants. Or shall God refuse to listen to so many of His beloved children, when their holiness has purged their prayers of all hindrance to His answering them? And the passage of the psalm which is cited by those who admit that wicked men and infidels shall be punished for a long time, though in the end delivered from all sufferings, is claimed also by the persons we are now speaking of as making much more for them. The verse runs:Shall God forget to be gracious? Shall He in anger shut up His tender mercies?His anger, they say, would condemn all that are unworthy of everlasting happiness to endless punishment. But if He suffer them to be punished for a long time, or even at all, must He not shut up His tender mercies, which the Psalmist implies He will not do? For he does not say, Shall He in anger shut up His tender mercies for a long period? But he implies that He will not shut them up at all.
And they deny that thus God's threat of judgment is proved to be false even though He condemn no man, any more than we can say that His threat to overthrow Nineveh was false, though the destruction which was absolutely predicted was not accomplished. For He did not say,Nineveh shall be overthrown if they do not repent and amend their ways,but without any such condition He foretold that the city should be overthrown. And this prediction, they maintain, was true because God predicted the punishment which they deserved, although He was not to inflict it. For though He spared them on their repentance yet He was certainly aware that they would repent, and, notwithstanding, absolutely and definitely predicted that the city should be overthrown. This was true, they say, in the truth of severity, because they were worthy of it; but in respect of the compassion which checked His anger, so that He spared the suppliants from the punishment with which He had threatened the rebellious, it was not true. If, then, He spared those whom His own holy prophet was provoked at His sparing, how much more shall He spare those more wretched suppliants for whom all His saints shall intercede? And they suppose that this conjecture of theirs is not hinted at in Scripture, for the sake of stimulating many to reformation of life through fear of very protracted or eternal sufferings, and of stimulating others to pray for those who have not reformed. However, they think that the divine oracles are not altogether silent on this point; for they ask to what purpose is it said,How great is Your goodness which You have hidden for them that fear You,if it be not to teach us that the great and hidden sweetness of God's mercy is concealed in order that men may fear? To the same purpose they think the apostle said,For God has concluded all men in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon all,Romans 11:32 signifying that no one should be condemned by God. And yet they who hold this opinion do not extend it to the acquittal or liberation of the devil and his angels. Their human tenderness is moved only towards men, and they plead chiefly their own cause, holding out false hopes of impunity to their own depraved lives by means of this quasi compassion of God to the whole race. Consequently they who promise this impunity even to the prince of the devils and his satellites make a still fuller exhibition of the mercy of God.
Augustine seems to be confused by the notion of allowing Universal Reconciliation to all humans but not including The Devil and Fallen Angels. I'm not entirely sure what I think on that issue. But the difference between them and Human Beings is Human Beings are Blood Relations of Jesus as children of Adam.
Now to the people I alluded to before who say this doesn't prove Eternal Security existed before Nicea. Well for one I have a quote of Origen I'd mentioned in an old post where he attacks people who seemed to believe in some form of Eternal Security.
Chapter 19.— Of Those Who Promise Impunity from All Sins Even to Heretics, Through Virtue of Their Participation of the Body of Christ.So, too, there are others who promise this deliverance from eternal punishment, not, indeed, to all men, but only to those who have been washed in Christian baptism, and who become partakers of the body of Christ, no matter how they have lived, or what heresy or impiety they have fallen into. They ground this opinion on the saying of Jesus,This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof, he shall not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If a man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.John 6:50-51 Therefore, say they, it follows that these persons must be delivered from death eternal, and at one time or other be introduced to everlasting life.
Chapter 20.— Of Those Who Promise This Indulgence Not to All, But Only to Those Who Have Been Baptized as Catholics, Though Afterwards They Have Broken Out into Many Crimes and Heresies.There are others still who make this promise not even to all who have received the sacraments of the baptism of Christ and of His body, but only to the Catholics, however badly they have lived. For these have eaten the body of Christ, not only sacramentally but really, being incorporated in His body, as the apostle says,We, being many, are one bread, one body;1 Corinthians 10:17 so that, though they have afterwards lapsed into some heresy, or even into heathenism and idolatry, yet by virtue of this one thing, that they have received the baptism of Christ, and eaten the body of Christ, in the body of Christ, that is to say, in the Catholic Church, they shall not die eternally, but at one time or other obtain eternal life; and all that wickedness of theirs shall not avail to make their punishment eternal, but only proportionately long and severe.
Chapter 21.— Of Those Who Assert that All Catholics Who Continue in the Faith Even Though by the Depravity of Their Lives They Have Merited Hell Fire, Shall Be Saved on Account of theThere are some, too, who found upon the expression of Scripture,FoundationOf Their Faith.He that endures to the end shall be saved,Matthew 24:13 and who promise salvation only to those who continue in the Catholic Church; and though such persons have lived badly, yet, say they, they shall be saved as by fire through virtue of the foundation of which the apostle says,For other foundation has no man laid than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day of the Lord shall declare it, for it shall be revealed by fire; and each man's work shall be proved of what sort it is. If any man's work shall endure which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. But if any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.1 Corinthians 3:11-15 They say, accordingly, that the Catholic Christian, no matter what his life be, has Christ as his foundation, while this foundation is not possessed by any heresy which is separated from the unity of His body. And therefore, through virtue of this foundation, even though the Catholic Christian by the inconsistency of his life has been as one building up wood, hay, stubble, upon it, they believe that he shall be saved by fire, in other words, that he shall be delivered after tasting the pain of that fire to which the wicked shall be condemned at the last judgment.
But I'd also say that Augustine isn't that long after Nicea, it's silly to suggest three different forms of this could develop in entirely that short a period of time and become significant enough for Augustine to find worth addressing.
And that last one is a works Salvation view basically. Easy enough to refute. But Augustine's objection to it is the opposite of mine.
Chapter 22.— Of Those Who Fancy that the Sins Which are Intermingled with Alms-Deeds Shall Not Be Charged at the Day of Judgment.I have also met with some who are of opinion that such only as neglect to cover their sins with almsdeeds shall be punished in everlasting fire; and they cite the words of the Apostle James,He shall have judgment without mercy who has shown no mercy.James 2:13 Therefore, say they, he who has not amended his ways, but yet has intermingled his profligate and wicked actions with works of mercy, shall receive mercy in the judgment, so that he shall either quite escape condemnation, or shall be liberated from his doom after some time shorter or longer. They suppose that this was the reason why the Judge Himself of quick and dead declined to mention anything else than works of mercy done or omitted, when awarding to those on His right hand life eternal, and to those on His left everlasting punishment. Matthew 25:33 To the same purpose, they say, is the daily petition we make in the Lord's prayer,Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.Matthew 6:12 For, no doubt, whoever pardons the person who has wronged him does a charitable action. And this has been so highly commended by the Lord Himself, that He says,For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:14-15 And so it is to this kind of almsdeeds that the saying of the Apostle James refers,He shall have judgment without mercy that has shown no mercy.And our Lord, they say, made no distinction of great and small sins, butYour Father will forgive your sins, if you forgive men theirs.Consequently they conclude that, though a man has led an abandoned life up to the last day of it, yet whatsoever his sins have been, they are all remitted by virtue of this daily prayer, if only he has been mindful to attend to this one thing, that when they who have done him any injury ask his pardon, he forgive them from his heart.
Chapters 23-27 are Augustine giving his counter arguments to these. I don't feel like addressing those here, maybe in a future follow up post. Needless to say much of it comes down to Augustine not knowing Greek and going by flawed Latin translations of Aionion as Eternal.
My objective today is just to show that a variety of views existed.