“Endurance is the queen of virtues, the foundation of virtue, a haven of tranquility”

In time of trial it is of great profit to us patiently to endure for God’s sake, for the Lord says: “By patient endurance you will win life for yourselves.” He did not say by your fasting, or your solitude and silence, or your singing of psalms, although all of these are helpful in saving your soul. But he said: “By patient endurance” in every trial that over­takes you, and in every affliction, whether this be insolent and contemptuous treatment, or any kind of disgrace, either small or great; whether it be bodily weakness, or the belliger­ent attacks of Satan, or any trial whatsoever caused either by other people or by evil spirits.

“By patient endurance you will win life for yourselves,” although to this must be added wholehearted thanksgiving, and prayer, and humility. For you must be ready to bless and praise your benefactor, God the Savior of the world, who disposes all things, good or other­wise, for your benefit. The apostle writes: “With patient endurance we run the race of faith set before us.” For what has more power than virtue? What more firmness or strength than patient endurance? Endurance, that is, for God’s sake.

This is the queen of virtues, the foundation of virtue, a haven of tranquility. It is peace in time of war, calm in rough waters, safety amidst treachery and danger. It makes those who practice it stronger than steel. No weapons or brandished bows, no turbulent troops or advancing siege engines, no flying spears or arrows can shake it. Not even the host of evil spirits, not the dark array of hostile powers, nor the devil himself standing by with all his armies and devices will have power to injure the man or woman who has acquired this virtue through Christ.

St Nilus of Ancyra

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Theodicy, Hell, and David Bentley Hart

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

In his recent blog post “The Morality of Gehenna,” Father Lawrence Farley defends the com­patibility of traditional notions of hell with the Goodness of the Christian God. His voice is certainly not inhumane. He recognizes that hell is “not tolerable,” yet he remains convinced that Scripture and tradition require that, in fact, one must tolerate it. In the course of his apologia for the “sad truth,” he makes frequent application to C. S. Lewis’ works, as well as adverting to an important article by David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil,” as an example of a counter-argument that “simply underestimates the power of evil.” Fr Lawrence classifies the disagreement as a conflict in which “the philosopher smacks up against the exegete.” The relationship between faith and reason is illuminated by discernment, intellect, and lived experience. The idea that philosophy is ultimately trivial and superseded by theology and revelation is not self-evident. At minimum, one should recognize that faith does not eradicate the life of the mind and the need for thought. Rather, faith casts a greater light upon reality and poses new questions for philosophy. Scripture and tradition do not close down inquiry. Dogma properly under­stood advances the mind into greater wonder and sometimes into deeper perplexity. It is unjust to simply pull a quote out of context, dismiss it out of hand, and then to act as if an argument has been rendered toothless. However, it may be no such dodgy sleight of hand was intended. Indeed, what I surmise is that a complacent satisfaction with a particular notion of tradition has caused one to make a show of opposing what is assumed to be already defeated by the consensus of patristic opinion. In that case, of course, the render­ing plausible of infernalist views is less a withstanding of inquiry than an exercise in justification to those who at heart feel no need to actually do so. Since I am not convinced that Dr. Hart’s argument has been actually understood, I will give a rough recapitulation of some key elements in the hopes of making the central claims and the real putting into question of traditional assumptions more vividly evident.

One should pay attention to several key concepts, among them a discussion of divine free­dom, human liberty, and the nature of personhood, as well as the requirements of lan­guage necessary for any kind of divine revelation to become meaningfully possible at all. All of these are germane and to attempt to give a just assessment of the argument with little or no care to properly represent them is either dishonest or demonstrative of a lack of compre­hension. The central assertion asks us to carefully ponder the logical import of creatio ex nihilo. It may help first to quickly glance at a few alternate conceptions. Hegel posits, for instance, an indeterminate Abso­lute at the origin. What does this mean? Hegel’s “God” needs the world, for it is through all the drama and tragedy of time that the Abso­lute comes to determinate knowledge of itself. In short, the “divine” as Hegel understands it requires the world for self-realization. Such a God would not be supremely free with regards to creation. Some outside Necessity impels the act of creation. Plato’s Demiurge works to make the cosmos as beautiful as possible. Hence, the Demiurge has a kind of ethical imperative to model a recalcitrant material to be good. Still, the Demiurge is not creating “from nothing.” The Demiurge must make do with starting stuff that contains within it the seeds of defatiga­tion and resistance to the Good. Or consider Aristotle’s serene God—thought thinking itself. Such an Absolute in its beauty and self-sufficiency acts as a perfect exemplar that all of reality imperfectly models. But such a divine is far from Yahweh pining for His faithless people. What happens in the sublunary world does not touch its enclosed contemplation of self.

Now here is where the uniqueness of the Triune God and creatio ex nihilo involve a very different and singular story. This first aspect has become a commonplace in theology, though it is always worth reflecting upon. The God of Christian revelation is not a solitude of completion like Aristotle’s Absolute. Indeed, beyond the simplicity of Jewish monothe­ism and the later rejection of paradox in Islamic theology, the Triune God contains within Himself community, drama, relation. The act of Being, hidden within the apophatic reserve of the East—or as Aquinas has it, the coincidence of essence and existence—is a dynamic, flourishing plenitude that is anything but merely serene self-contemplation or an inert completion of surfeit. The very short version is that only the Christian God is love. Unlike Hegel’s deity whose origin is incomplete, indeterminate, needy for worldly action in order to develop into a mature fullness, the God of the Gospel is infinitely determinate, infinitely rich in uncircumscribable Being. This Absolute most assuredly does not need the world as a necessary ingredient in coming to perfection. It is because of this plenitude at the origin that God is supremely free. God does not need created being in order to discover an Other. He does not need creation in order to be admired. He does not need creation in order to display a capacity to love. In no way or fashion is God compelled to create—and one must emphasize that this is uniquely true of the God of Jesus Christ.

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If Trinity properly negates any sense of erotic need in the Christian God, creatio ex nihilo radically separates Biblical creation from any notion of a Demiurgic dependency upon already existing material. As Hart puts it: “there is no element of the ‘irrational’; some­thing purely spontaneous, or organic, or even mechanical, beyond the power of God’s rational freedom.” In plain language, one might forgive Plato’s Demiurge for evil due to faulty build­ing material that was beyond help. A God who creates from nothing cannot be so easily absolved of complicity in evil. So, if one could construe Hegel’s dialectic as a modern theog­ony, a birth of a god, Hart advances that the Christian story is the cosmos as theophany, an icon of divine beauty. Note that Hart has purposed to place side-by-side the theophanic and the genuine weight of evil. The very tired and common apologia, of course, is that much evil is the result of the abuse of creaturely freedom, but this, really, does not “get God off the hook.” It might work for a Demiurge, but not for the supremely free Christian God. There is something sly and evasive in the traditional theodicy. A nature called into being from nothing, with all its potencies, for good and evil, remains a mystery that ought, properly, to baffle the sensitive soul. It is ironic that Job’s courageous inquiry, supposedly abashing the doctrinal certitudes of Job’s counselors, has, with time, been taken over by tradition and made to serve the very complacency of Job’s friends. Hart will have none of that. He returns us to stark perplexities that faith should not prematurely vanquish by acknowledgement of human sin and the monstrous in the depths of the human soul:

Thus every evil that time comprises, natural or moral—a worthless distinction, really, since human nature is a natural phenomenon—is an arraignment of God’s goodness: every death of a child, every chance calamity, every act of malice; everything diseased, thwarted, pitiless, purposeless or cruel, and, until the end of all things, no answer has been given.

Equivocity is inalienable from our experience: our path is irreducibly both wonder and anguish. All of this brings into question the assertion that creation is a theophany. The dark perversities, the cruelties, the mass horrors and singular, savage sorrows mirror misery, death, and despair. And such fragile lives engender narrow, defensive postures, tyranny and a mob mentality that seeks power and redress through aggregation, manip­ulation into abstract simplicities, the harnessing of rage for political gain. Such deforma­tions include as well as the imbecilic crudities, the vulgar satisfactions and coarse heehaws at the expense of delicacy, tact, a courtly festivity that joys in the elemental, yet dances with finesse, grace, wise equilibrium. What manner of theophany is this? There are certain creatures pulled up from the opaque ocean deeps, made to gawk in monstrous nakedness before the gaze of fascinated horror. One puzzles as to what of God is revealed in such a signature. The sage path of love is both compassion and patience. And here, the simple answer is that the iconic beauty of the cosmic theophany may be discovered in hints, in moments of charity, and hope, of artistic insight and garden delights, but the fullness of theophanic glory awaits the eschaton, when all things are made new. This eschatological fulfillment whereby the Sabbath rest explodes into the celebratory Eighth Day is surmised in Hart’s reflections. I place together some of the relevant quotes into a single exposition:

The Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is not merely a cosmological or metaphysical claim, but also an eschatological claim about the world’s relation to God, and hence a moral claim about the nature of God himself . . . protology and eschatology are a single science . . . No matter how great the autonomy one grants the realm of secondary causes two things are certain. First, as God’s act of creation is free, constrained by neither necessity nor ignorance, all contingent ends are intentionally enfolded within his decision. . . . It would be impious, I suppose, to suggest that, in his final judgment of creatures, God will judge himself; but one must hold that by that judgment God truly will disclose himself (which, of course, is to say the same thing, in a more hushed and reverential voice).

Another probative objection to traditional infernalist views is rooted in the conception of personhood integral to its espousal. This cannot properly be articulated in a pithy manner, so I will only make a brief gesture. The kernel of the matter is sketched by Hart:

After all, what is a person other than a whole history of associations, loves, memories, attachments, and affinities? Who are we, other than all the others who have made us who we are, and to whom we belong as much as they to us? We are those others. To say that the sufferings of the damned will either be clouded from the eyes of the blessed or, worse, increase the pitiless bliss of heaven is also to say that no persons can possibly be saved: for, if the memo­ries of others are removed, or lost, or one’s knowledge of their misery is converted into indifference or, God forbid, into greater beatitude, what remains of one in one’s last bliss? Some other being altogether, surely: a spiritual anonymity, a vapid spark of pure intellection, the residue of a soul reduced to no one.

Curiously, this sounds remarkably like Lewis’ discussion of personless remains in the The Great Divorce. Indeed, it begins to look like the Heaven of infernalists is precisely the Hell of Lewis’ allegorical fable. The definitive point, however, is that such a position is meta­phys­ically incoherent. To return to the metaphysics of personhood, one might peruse Norris Clarke’s Person and Being, a brief but compelling demonstration that relationality is not adventitious or an associative dimension added onto an initially atomized and separate identity. Even more astute meditations upon the depth dimension of the created person are discoverable in the profound work of William Desmond. James E. Loder’s The Logic of the Spirit closely follows human development, showing how fear is intrinsic ingredient to ego formation constructed in fragility and deep, preconceptual awareness that we come from nothing: a conatus is already postured towards the other as potentially hostile and untrust­worthy, even though the personal call to being is engendered by loving hospitality. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously focused on the importance of the mother’s smile in concretely call­ing the infant into personal being. This human dimension, however, is merely a participation in an eternal grounding. One must ponder what William Des­mond calls the passio essendi, the intimacy of our origin called into being by the eternal agapeic God, to recover a prior root lost to our determinate, conceptual awareness. If one further infers from the analogy of being that Triune God is the archetype of all person­hood, one should acknowledge that our personhood is not a pure given, but a task in which we grow into a love that is identical with flourishing personhood. Such a personhood, modeled after divine reality, suffers no detached, isolated selfhood. The modern concep­tion, begun in the doubt and fear of the Cartesian cogito renders an individualism of rights and “free expression” indistinguishable from nihilism. Without the originating call to singular being from God, the modern individ­ual only languishes in a false liberty that leads into a void. But just as a unique teleology is given from the origin, so is the community of being that is imperfectly realized in our temporal sojourns. The refusal of a Triune model of personhood by modern notions of the Self is matched by a truncated sense of commu­nity. Modern, nominalist Christians lack a bountiful, cosmic dimension to their imagina­tion. Their eschatology pales in breadth of generosity next to Hindu or Buddhist concep­tions that at least envision a whole without remainder in their spiritual conceptions of the Good, however deficient they may be in other respects.

What is perhaps most innovative in Hart’s critique, however, is the exposure of the hidden soteriology of the infernalist postion. If the whole of creation is founded on the real possibil­ity of the damned, then the presence of the damned, real or merely countenanced as genuine possibility, becomes the secret engine at the heart of the enterprise:

. . . let us say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into Tartarus forever; this still means that, morally, he has purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price— even if, in the end, no one at all happens to be damned . . . for what is hazarded has already been surrendered entirely.

And this cost, more than a vindication of God’s justice, provokes a monstrous overturning of Christology; “for the redeemed, each of whom might just as well have been denied effica­cious grace had God so pleased, who is that wretch who endures God’s final wrath, forever and ever, other than the surrogate, their redeemer, the one who suffers in their stead—their Christ?” Audacious, certainly, but not easy to dismiss. One surmises that the morally repug­nant implications of such a celestial bliss will be denied by advocates for the traditional hell. Whether they can do so reasonably is another matter. The infernalist tradition spans the historical range of much of ecclesial history—I think it is begging the question to say that it was always dominant or the first interpretive teaching. One might determine that a proper reading of Paul contradicts such a notion. Regardless, a focus on Reformation soteriology is not meant to separate out Protestantism. Reformed thinking merely offers a particularly pure working out of a certain logic of modern freedom. The freedom ascribed to God in the wake of voluntarist and nominalist conceptions in the early modern period bequeathed an inscrutable and capricious God. The spirit of the Reforma­tion imbibed the regnant philo­sophical conceptions of the day and then read them into Scripture. Far from a Triune God of agapeic love, one is given a sovereignty whereby murder or torture might be decreed the good should the Absolute power declare it so. Make no mistake; this is what is entailed when the Reformed tradition “elevates divine sovereignty to the status of the absolute theological value.” A nihilism comes to infect all language about God. One is “still dogmatically obliged” to ascribe to God biblical predi­cates such as “good,” “just,” “merciful,” “wise,” and “truthful”; “but transparently, all have been rendered equivocal by the doctrines that surround them; and this equivocity is necessarily contagious; it reduces all theological language to vacuity, for none of it can now be trusted.” As Hart also points out, one may posit as large a gap between finite creatures and the infinite God as one will, but distance that would stretch the analogy of being to a breaking point would destroy our capacity to understand and speak about the Good at all. One is left with the bare worship of power in which case there is little to distinguish love of God from respect for the devils. Orthodox apophaticism and mystical awareness of an overabundant light experienced as conceptual darkness should not be elided with early modern proclivities. Acknowledgement of apophatic mystery cannot undercut meaningful language without turning revelation into a faux enchantment that belies a genuine revelation of God.

In order to discuss human liberty, Father Lawrence notes that “there is no reason to think that eternity is as linear as time, or that it is like time as we experience it,” but he then goes on to make a positive assertion that seems to forget the limited purchase we actually pos­sess on the nature of eternity. Father Lawrence asserts, and surely with some biblical warrant, that “time and eternity are related to one another as the foundation is to the house built on it.” What exactly this means, however, and how it will ultimately work out remains beyond comfortable conjecture. Analogies are helpful, but imperfect. One must take care to note where analogies fail, as well as where they are genuinely suggestive. For instance, the notion of a small error at the beginning projected out over a large span of time has a rough appeal and no doubt it can apply in some ways to human experience. It has significant limitations. Eternity is not a lot or even an infinite amount of time. Drawing a univocal parallel between an action begun in time to an “eternal” conclusion involves a lot of surmise that is not in any way justified by experience or reason. Further, a human being is not, for instance, an inani­mate projectile that is determined by its initial flight path. It is a common surmise that time “sets” without capacity for alteration a mode of being that will simply be “confirmed” in eternity. The fact that a common tradition thinks this way does not in any way prove its metaphysical certitude. Indeed, it is quite possible, as Sergius Bulgakov surmised, that growth and development is part of human post-mortem experience. If the latter is possible, again, the analogy fails.

Yet this is first and foremost not a question of what humans can or cannot do, but about who God is, what He is like. Notice that Hart’s discussion of human will is conditioned by a prior understanding of God’s loving providence.

No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it. It makes no more sense to say that God allows creatures to damn themselves than to say a father might reasonably allow his deranged child to thrust her face into a fire out of tender respect for her moral autonomy. And the argument becomes quite insufferable when one considers the personal conditions—ignorance, mortality, defectibility of intellect and will—under which each soul enters the world, and the circumstances—the suffering of all creatures, even the most innocent and delightful of them—with which that world confronts the soul.

The equation of protology with eschatology founds a genuine understanding of human freedom. Just as it is a category mistake to consider the Being of God somehow in compe­tition with the creaturely being that would vanish into nothingness without constant divine solicitude, the freedom that men and women aim at is not a zero sum game in which finite liberty fights against a tyrannical divine heteronomy. The human will is constituted in its origins precisely as desire for the Good. It’s confusions and malevolent failures never touch a peaceful, generous, patient giving that marks the agapeic plenitude of the Origin. And if God’s freedom is manifest in a perfect eschatological realization of the cosmos he desires, then ultimately this is why one cannot simply dismiss Hart’s view of human freedom as hopelessly naïve.

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Though on the surface the doctrine of election is overtly about unmerited grace, hiddenly, the elect in infernalist theology often treat the grace given to them as a personal property either through a secret merit that allows them to tolerate its absence in others or simply as a lucky draw that one shouldn’t overly question. There is no significant meditation upon just those mitigating factors to human liberty specified by Hart. The most charitable way to conceive the majority opinion of the Church on this matter is to see it as similar to the attachment to Ptolemy’s geocentric conceptions. While I have little sympathy for Galileo and some awareness of the complexity and ambiguities of the history comprising the debate over heliocentrism—Galileo’s import was covertly more anthropocentric and he marshaled in the disastrous distinction of primary and secondary qualities, the whole modern mathesis that gave us a cold, mechanical universe and love reduced to subjective, emotive ephemera—one can see the fusion of the old astronomy, ancient worldviews remaindered in the Scripture, and the Gospel witness as a false and unnecessary alloy. Likewise, the conviction that the Gospel stands or falls by attachment to traditional ideas of hell is false. A more open and charitable spirit would not seek justification for a split between the redeemed and the damned. There would be more thought in line with a recent quote given in a dialogue between the Catholic, Martin Mosebach, and his Muslim friend, the author Navid Kermani: “If people cannot be with Christ in good faith, the fault lies with Christians who have not portrayed Christianity convincingly enough.”

When Father Lawrence accentuates the asymmetry between the metaphysical reality of transfigured and redeemed reality and the nullity of hell and residual remains, what he thinks he is doing is emphasizing the vacuity of what is putatively a source of grievous pity. If one imagines the division of sheep and goats, wheat and tares as intrapersonal, the basic gesture is unobjectionable. We all have sins and predilections or capacities for darkness for which death is the only cure. But to imagine that a lost soul becomes less and less a source of rational grief because less and less a personal presence is at bottom an aspiration to assuage what is otherwise an obvious, perhaps intractable anguish for those who feel compelled to defend a traditional understanding of hell. I revere C. S. Lewis and prize his imaginative works, including The Great Divorce, but I believe Lewis has not fully worked through the logic of creation from nothing. Even if one posits the reduction to virtual inanity and near zero as a person—and it is not self-evident that this is an actual meta­physical possibility—Hart’s proposal remains unaddressed and one suspects, not truly thought. Either God creates in the liberty of agape love, with assurance grounded in his radically unencumbered will to achieve a true, theophanic cosmos—his risk is always already caught up in a prior determination to make good all wounds and secure the flour­ishing good of all creation—or creation is a gamble that accepts provisional allowance for eternal loss. The latter would not impugn the goodness of a Demiurge, for the Demiurge is not omnipotent and not fully free. To argue, as is often done, that risk of perdition is the price required in order for God to create creatures capable of liberty and love utterly fails to see the moral seriousness of creatio ex nihilo. The question is, would a truly good God create a world where such a cost was possible? Hart’s argument claims that Goodness would be irredeemably impugned; a fully powerful Good would only countenance a creation that was truly and fully Good and such a creation must not have or avail itself of the possibility of a remainder of unhealed loss. Those who claim that following Hart’s argument involves imposing on revelation a purely philosophical constraint fail to recog­nize that the logic of the argument derives from revelation. It would never have been possible to a philosopher lacking awareness of the gospel. Hence, a philosophical reflection upon the deep consequences and implications of revelation is itself part of the wondering vocation of theology itself.

(27 January 2016)

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Dr Moore has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Dallas. He has been a contrib­utor to Eclectic Orthodoxy since before the beginning of time. There is, it must be said, no truth to the rumor that he comes from a family of Druids or that he will drink only plum wine, though it is possibly true that he prefers cats to humans, allowing for exceptions. He is the author of the recently published tale of Noah and the ark, Beneath the Silent Heavens.

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The Harlotry of Jerusalem

Ezekiel 16

The LORD commands Ezekiel to speak to Jerusalem a narrative of its history of judgment and salvation under the figure of a waif who becomes his adulterous bride. We might think of the story as a kind of allegory, but in this allegory the LORD himself appears, as Robert W. Jenson writes, “as a speaker within the story that he tells, and there directly addresses his bride Jerusalem, so that the line between the figure and what is figured is constantly erased” (Ezekiel, p. 126). YHWH is both the author of Israel’s history and a dramatic actor “within it as his own history” (p. 126). That he is both, Jenson comments, “is decisive for the Bible’s whole account of God” (pp. 126-127).

Contrary to the expectations of the reader, the narrative of Israel’s early history begins not with the LORD‘s election of faithful Abraham and the divine deliverance of the twelve tribes from their bondage in Egypt and the bestowal of Torah but with Jerusalem’s heathen genesis: “Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite” (Ezek 1:3). But even worse, she was rejected by her parents and exposed to the elements:

And as for your birth, on the day you were born your navel string was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor swathed with bands. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you; but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. (Ezek 1:4-5)

Jerusalem’s existence, in other words, begins in an act of brutal dehumanization under pagan ungodliness. She is denied the love of parents and community and cast into the wilderness to die. In this pitiable condition God rescues the foundling infant. “Thus in the version of salvation history here narrated, Jerusalem is outside humanity when the Lord comes along” (p. 127). “Comes along” is particularly appropriate, suggests Jenson, as it bespeaks the contingency of the city’s election: “the Lord is on his way to somewhere else and might have gone a different route. As it is, he finds this reject from humanity in his way, ‘flailing’ in placental blood. And he chooses her for himself” (pp. 127-128). Why Jerusalem and not some other city? No reason is given; none can be given. All that matters is the LORD‘s choosing. The child doomed to death is delivered into new life by incorpora­tion into the salvation history of Israel.

Ezekiel notes a two-step betrothal: (1) “And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live, and grow up like a plant of the field'” (Ezek 1:6). By his prophetic word (“live!”) the LORD grants Jerusalem a new beginning under his rule and protection. She prospers and grows into maturity. (2) At the age of maidenhood, the LORD returns to her and makes her his bride:

And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed, and your [pubic] hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with leather, I swathed you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I decked you with ornaments, and put bracelets on your arms, and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon you, says the Lord God. (Ezek 1:7-14)

The LORD woos Jerusalem and wins her love. He takes her out of her loneliness and poverty, making her his wife and consort. He joyously gives her gifts beyond number. She blooms into queenly beauty, becoming the envy of the nations.

I do not know if Ezekiel intends the two-step election to correlate with actual historical events. If so, perhaps it corresponds to David’s initial conquest (1 Chron 11:4-5), followed by prosperity under Solomon. If this scenario is plausible, then perhaps the making of the covenant corresponds with the building and consecration of the temple. But that is purely conjecture on my part and likely incorrect, given that the commentaries I have looked at make no mention of it. But the key point is the supplanting of the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants by the covenant made with Jerusalem: “Thus Jerusalem replaces Abraham or the tribes at Sinai as the original recipient of the covenant—to cast her ominous shadow over Israel’s whole history” (p. 128). The import of this move becomes immediately clear, as Ezekiel then proceeds to recount the city’s abominations. Jerusalem’s heathen ancestry reasserts itself. YHWH’s bride becomes adulterer and harlot. The prophet identifies three abominations: polytheistic idolatry, child sacrifice, and the worship of Astarte:

But you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotries on any passer-by. You took some of your garments, and made for yourself gaily decked shrines, and on them played the harlot; the like has never been, nor ever shall be. You also took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the harlot; and you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread which I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing odor, says the Lord God. And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and deliv­ered them up as an offering by fire to them? And in all your abominations and your harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, weltering in your blood.

And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! says the Lord God), you built yourself a vaulted chamber, and made yourself a lofty place in every square; at the head of every street you built your lofty place and prostituted your beauty, offering yourself to any passer-by, and multiplying your har­lotry. You also played the harlot with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, mul­tiplying your harlotry, to provoke me to anger. Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you, and diminished your allotted portion, and deliv­ered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philis­tines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You played the harlot also with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; yea, you played the harlot with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your harlotry also with the trading land of Chalde′a; and even with this you were not satisfied.

How lovesick is your heart, says the Lord God, seeing you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot; building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned hire. Adulterous wife, who receives stran­gers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all harlots; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side for your harlotries. So you were different from other women in your harlotries: none solicited you to play the harlot; and you gave hire, while no hire was given to you; therefore you were different. (Ezek 16:15-34)

The imagery is vividly salacious and pornographic. The honeymoon lasts but for a time. Israel forgets both her previous abandonment and her nuptial happiness. At the height of her beauty and desirability she turns to other lovers and adopts their religious and immoral practices. She becomes a whore, but worse than a whore. A harlot offers herself for hire and receives gifts from her lovers; but Israel instead humiliates herself and pays the heathen to take her and exploit her in the game of thrones. She does not trust the LORD to keep her safe and prosper her. And so she spreads her legs and invites all comers (first Egypt and then Assyria and Babylon [Ezek 16:26-29]) to come and possess her. With each successive overlord, Jerusalem makes its gods her own. Thus Jerusalem returns to the ungodliness of her pagan parents. Walther Eichrodt describes her fall:

In mistaken reliance on the power ofher beauty, seduced by the flattering attentions of the world around her, she who was so highly exalted forgets her past and her wonderful deliverance, and dishonours herself and her husband by surrendering as any harlot would to her adorers. Indeed, she sinks to being a common prostitute who serves the demands of the whole public. The parable thus changes into being an indictment against Israel for the cultic excesses of Canaanite nature-worship, and compares its high places, defiled as they were by cultic prostitution, to brothels set up at every street-corner. (Ezekiel, pp. 206-207)

Ezekiel’s ultimate gravamen against Jerusalem is that she does not trust YHWH to secure and protect her welfare. But we need to ask, Did not the geopolitical realities demand alliances with the pagans?

We may well ask whether Jerusalem could have done otherwise. Could her leaders really have said, “We won’t have your image of . . . in our city”? Or, “We won’t pay tribute”? In fact they sometimes attempted at least the latter, and it led to disaster every time; indeed, another prophet, Jeremiah, denounced resistance to Babylon’s impositions as resistance to the Lord’s own chastisement. Moreover, in the verses immediately following Ezekiel’s peculiar salvation history, he also will proclaim the catastrophe of Jerusa­lem’s revolt against Babylon as the Lord’s own act, done precisely as punishment for Jerusalem’s faithlessness (16:35–43).

Thus what was demanded of Jerusalem/Israel, and what during her entire existence as a national state or states she never quite managed, was total trust in the Lord and in him alone. She was not, like other nations, to depend on armaments or financial power or judicious tribute or alliances—and assuredly not on the gods of the nations—but solely on the Lord. Only insofar as the allegory measures by that standard is its depiction and judgment of Jerusalem’s history just and coherent.

But again: Is trust only in God a possibility in this age? Is it possible even for persons, never mind for nations? Is not the sort of faithfulness the Lord demands by Ezekiel and other prophets possible only in a new kind of history, with utterly different dynamics than those now in force? Would not in fact the present age inevitably kill any person or community that lived as Israel is told to live, as though a better world had begun?

Christian faith says that Jesus the Christ—and in this age only he—man­aged pure trust in God and that the power structures of this age did indeed kill him for it and have with little interruption continued to kill those of his disciples who have followed most closely in his footsteps. Thus the coher­ence and truth of Ezekiel’s allegory is finally established only by this Jesus’s resurrection into a new creation and his commitment to bring God’s people after him. (Jenson, p. 131)

Disciples of Jesus wrestle every day with the demands of discipleship as articulated in the Sermon of the Mount. Does God expect us to embrace an absolute pacifism or to give all of our wealth to the poor? It’s easy enough to verbally affirm that he does, but what if we are responsible for spouses and children? These are not easy questions for those of us who have not been called to the monastic life. Harlotry seems to be inevitable. The Spirit has been poured out, yet the historical conditions of violence and privation still obtain. We live under the judgment of the cross. Lord, have mercy.

(cont)

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Sin, Hell, and the Victory of Pascha

I am reposting this 2016 article by Brian Moore because it is one of the finest articles on universal salvation that has been published on Eclectic Orthodoxy during its seven glorious years of existence. Given that we are presently living in the season of apokatastasis (thanks largely to the recent publication of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved—though I humbly, or perhaps not so humbly, point out that here at Eclectic Orthodoxy we have been talking about the topic before it became fashionable in Orthodox and Catholic circles), it merits your reading and rumination. Also see Brian’s multi-part series “Searching for Our Human Face,” “Theodicy, Hell, and David B. Hart,” and “The Vates Jesus and the Struggle to Say Amen,” as well as his five-part review of That All Shall Be Saved.

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by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

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We are made for joy and love and creativity. We are embodied because the care of the soul requires human touch and beauty, music and vision in order to thrive. Yet we live in a broken, wounded world. Everything good and necessary is so easily corrupted, abused, lost, and wasted. We often bear our torment within ourselves, carrying it wherever we go. I, myself, frequently sorrow over existence. I am not good at life. I was born two months premature in an era where survival was by no means certain. My parents and grandpar­ents prayed ardently that the tiny babe might live; and evidently he did or he would not be writing you now. To what end? Life is often a burden and a disappointment. I have a gift of language and a poet’s sensitivity. I have devoted decades of my life pursuing wisdom, but most days the weather of my soul is a perpetual Scotland. It is a kind of betrayal of the heartfelt love gifted to me by my family who hoped and prayed so passionately that I might live and have the opportunity to experience this life. And surely, they knew or know that I am different and stubborn and weirdly sensitive, a canary in the mine singing vatic songs and complaining of being misunderstood.

Some people think the Christian teaching on the Fall is a gloomy, pessimistic doctrine. They could not be more wrong. Assume for a moment that this is not a broken world, that history, as Hegel noted, is a slaughterboard, an empty, adventitious chronicle without providential care, without resources beyond the limits of a shrewd animal. Indeed, this is the world that people think we inhabit. As James Arraj sketches it, “the stone is made the explanation of the cathedral. Biology and psychology are nothing but physics in disguise. The intricate order the universe manifests is caused by random mutations and the survival of the fittest” (The Mystery of Matter, p. 149). The highest levels of education largely exist to inculcate just such a view of reality. And we have ordered our notions of wealth and leisure, labor and entertainment, social relations and value upon what is taken to be cold logic and scientific knowledge. The apathy of youth and the coddled, neuralgic bathos of their protests are symptomatic. The deep disease is spiritual. They have been assured that there are no grand narratives when humanity is made for stories. They have been encour­aged to pursue plea­sure when joy is the soul’s delight. They have been told love is a trick of selfish genes or the manifestly sentimental twaddle pushed off by advertising and bad cinema. They have forgotten the divine springs of inspiration and turn the human vocation to participate in God’s act of creation into Gnostic contempt for nature, celebrating deviancy as freedom.

We are Plato’s fevered city and the sickness is grave indeed. I began this meditation with confession, because I don’t want to pretend to be putting one over on anyone. Rhetorical gifts and a modicum of erudition is not a flourishing wisdom. My life has been longing and failure and paralysis before powers and thrones I despise and resist ineffectively. Though on my better days, I would still choose this path — or I assent to a path chosen for me — for surely there is a providential care and my temperament and my kin are not an accident. Like Jacob, I wrestle with angels. I struggle to rise above bitterness and anguish. I walk with a limp. Because of this, I refuse to be satisfied with a gospel that does not answer to the abyssal depths of the heart. And too often, the Tradition seems to me to be offering a mess of pottage. Yet many Traditionalists consider my understanding of the gospel to be heretical. If they are charitable, they think it a perhaps forgivable saccharine indulgence that bends the realism of the gospel towards a dangerous and unfounded optimism. Ironically, the very aesthetic of a pliable virtual world, of Hallmark cards and mawkish romance that I abhor is attributed to the theological vision I hold to be true.

For example, a well-known Thomist with a penchant for polemic recently penned an explanation for why the option of eschatological annihilation of the damned is metaphys­ically incoherent. I happen to agree with him on this point, but our reasoning differs dramatically. I suppose I might as well name him. Edward Feser is one of those staunch Thomists who resist the kind of “creative retrieval” of Aquinas exhibited by someone like Norris Clarke, for instance. None of what follows will convince Feser, nor am I engaged in a properly argued refutation. When I allude to Dr. Feser, he merely stands in as a represen­tative for a broad Tradition with a large consensus, though there is a roughly dialectical stance towards some of his determinations regarding the nature of the person, freedom, and eternity. So, for what it is worth, I offer the following. The first two I have written about numerous times.

1) Traditionalists consistently do not see any potential impugning of God’s goodness in a creation where some or many end up in eternal hell. I am not really sure that Feser isn’t so unreconstructed in his sensibility that he wouldn’t actually be fine with a purely retributive model of justice. But even if he embraces the modernist fig leaf of a self-chosen hell, nothing in his argument addresses the implications of creatio ex nihilo. Would a good God who is not in any way compelled to create truly assent to a creation where the potential cost was such an eternal torment? (It does not matter if souls “choose” their eternal deformation. They are suffering, nonetheless, precisely the privation of the flourishing excellence that God intended for them in their creation. Even if they are supposedly insensible of their loss, it is ridiculous to assert that God and those in communion through theosis would lack awareness or compassion for those trapped in such a state.) Further, as David Bentley Hart clarifies, this traditional view of creation actually makes the allowance for such a creaturely damna­tion part of the necessary economy that makes creation possible in the first place. Logically, then, the suffering souls in hell become the engine that permits and sustains whatever part of the creation actually attains eternal beatitude. Not only is this a perverse metaphysical picture, but it subtly denies the victory of Christ’s Cross in addition to positing a creator god hardly to be distinguished from Descartes’ malicious devil.

2) Almost all the tradition post Augustine lacks awareness of the pleromatic unity of human­kind. However, one can discern a witness that stretches from the patristics to modern times. Nyssa knows of it. Origen, too, but one isn’t supposed to mention him. I think Dostoyevsky and Charles Williams knew about it. But as I have frequently asserted, if Triune Being is the archetype of truly personal being, then the relational aspect of personhood is not some elective association. Rather, our relations are metaphysically an irreplaceable constituent of our unique personhood. It is more in line with a blithe modern individualism to think that the loss of any being to an eternal hell is not in any manner a diminution of my own personhood and hence, flourishing beatitude.

3) I also surmise a tendency of self-congratulatory elitism in a moral diagnosis that can make such “clear metaphysical judgments.” I recollect Marilyn McCord Adams in Christ and Horrors reflecting upon the typical Catholic view of Communion where the Eucharist is reserved for those in a perfect state of grace. One can certainly understand the desire of the medieval Church to have a higher standard of sanctity and to ask that clerics and parish­ioners strive for holiness. I do not condemn such aspirations. Yet surely the grace of the Eucharist, as Adams avers, is a grace for wounded souls. It is the deeply flawed, strug­gling, difficult soul that needs it most, not those who comfortably embrace the offer of grace. Analogously, Traditionalists often appear to offer salvation to those least in need of it. (I speak colloquially, for obviously we are all deeply in need of rescue.) In any event, I always wonder about folks like Feser. Like many of them, I acknowledge the value and intellectual coherence of a virtue ethics, but unlike them, I also embrace the “outburst of the heart” exemplified in the theological existentialist impulse of figures like Berdyaev and Shestov. One may regard this as “irrational” or one may discern a suffocating “rationalism” in the builders of systems that seek to comprehend love. I do not believe the celebrated silence of Thomas at the end of his life is a repudiation of his estimable work. There is much wisdom in it, but as Alasdair MacIntyre recognized, it is a mode of inquiry meant to keep one open to an infinitely mysterious reality. Love is always ecstatic, is always renewed in wonder, even if it’s subtle sweetness is sometimes lived out in a companionable domesticity that keeps in reserve the night from which the sun of love emerges. Some scholars have reduced Thomas’ silence to the result of a stroke brought on by overwork and perhaps a concussion due to striking his head against a tree limb. Plausible, perhaps; I prefer to imagine his silence wrought in child-like awe before the overwhelming artistry of God’s love. This, I think, may have been gifted him.

4) Indeed, I simply don’t believe that any of us are pure wheat, even the saints. Bad hagiog­raphy cannot bear the alloy of human frailty. At minimum, if many who seek Christ are a mixture of wheat and tares, this means that our approach to the Good is enmeshed in confusion, sin, and imperfect union. It is this awkward and unseemly mélange that God kenotically abides in patience for He is not a destroyer of the good. Rather than see this imperfection, this “persistence amidst tares” as an indication of a preference for false goods over the genuine Good, I take it to be a delusion that continues to affirm that the soul is made to desire the Good. Now Feser wants to assert that post-mortem, the soul is “trapped in amber” in the condition attained at the moment of death. (I actually prize Dante as a poet, whilst abhorring his infernalist eschatology. But one of the things I find disturbingly capri­cious is the way some soul is “saved” after a “life of crime” by a last minute “Ave Maria,” whist others are irredeemable victims of “untimely accident.”) The whole picture of grace as a kind of game of musical chairs invites forms of neurotic religious life, scrupulosity, and obsessive individualism — one becomes a hypochondriac regarding whether one is currently in a state of grace, etc. And like all hypochondriacs, it results in a damaged, egocentric life that is largely joyless and lacking in generosity. Anyway, I think the Traditionalist mindset lacks generosity . . . and mirth, though it remains austerely convinced. It has its metaphys­ical ducks in a row and just try to find a flaw in its syllogistic logic. What is the gospel next to logic?

5) I suspect that often a persistence in evil is not only a delusional, inept, if you will, search for the Good, but also, and here is where the Church needs imagination and to think more deeply, partly a reaction against the lack of mystery and amplitude in the concept of the Good as it is taught and exhibited in the lives of the “faithful.” Machiavelli painted a picture of heroic amoralism where the leader “prudentially” is “beyond good and evil.” Machiavel­lian wickedness, like the initial impression of Milton’s Satan, is clever, interest­ing, daring, and victorious. In contrast, the good man is represented to be a gullible dupe. Dante certainly understood evil better. At the metaphysical nadir of Satan’s cold hell, evil is a bestial inanity. Yet the point here is that persistence in evil is sometimes due to the dull, undesirable, at times grotesquely sentimental image of the Good that no one of proper sensibility could desire. And occasionally what we take for evil is a principled refusal. Again, to reference Hart, the theological idol of voluntarist and nominalist provenance is actually a repugnant devil. To be an atheist in regards to such a god is to be closer to the true God. Historically, the Jews and early Christians were thought atheist, as was Socrates, because they uniformly rejected the deformations of paganism as unworthy of God.

6) This is not to whitewash persistent, addictive evil. I have already affirmed Dante’s-Thomas’ privative metaphysics of evil. Moreover, I am no bleeding-heart liberal. I am more given to Swiftean satire, melancholia, and misanthropy for the whole miserable mass of imbecilic humanity. The first really intellectual book I remember reading is Gabriel Marcel’s Man Against Mass Society. When one is confronted with evil, particularly wicked­ness of such cruelty and malice as to invite speculation that devils must be exacerbating such malice, hatred for evil is just and necessary. But can this ever be the last word? My view is that each unique person has an incommunicable role, no matter how humble or seemingly negligible — but nothing and no one is negligible. There is a Sophianic Wholeness that requires the entirety of the Cosmos for the realization of God’s “it is good.” I see the Last Judgment as a “resetting of the spiritual eye/heart” — for all true seeing is “cardiognosis.” The separation of wheat and tares is to decisively know the distance between one’s unique logoi chosen in Christ from “before creation” or from the “alpha” and what one has attained in time. Some will have had no chance to achieve this teleological destiny. They were aborted or died in infancy. Others are limited by genetic abnormalities, catastrophic illness, or horrific circumstances so that the ambit of possible action is severely curtailed. Everyone will have an incomplete, imperfect actualization. Some will have built with nothing but straw . . . but if God’s giving is truly agapeic, the primal passio essendi remains. Why should this gift be withdrawn? If one asserts that it is not withdrawn, with the proviso that it is a gift doomed to be rejected and abused, I say such a conclusion is to misconstrue gift. Love is meant to be requited; the gift is not gift unless it is ultimately received. Grace is either victorious or not. I continue to think that Thomists, fundamentalists, a certain kind of traditionalist Orthodox, etc. are locked into a pagan metaphysics where difference is intrinsically agonic, not harmonious. (John Milbank is good on this in Theology and Social Theory.) Hence, they are satisfied with the victory of the warrior, the conquest of the foe where the enemy is subjugated or annihi­lated. But God did not make death . . . the victory of Pascha is not so meager.

7) So, like Bulgakov, I question the notion that the person can be reduced to what is no longer in any significant sense a “will.” I’m sure Feser sees no illogic, and intelligent Traditionalists may assert that I am changing the terms of the argument and that so long as one assents to Feser’s premises, the logical consequences follow. I still discern at least the suggestion of an aporia in his claims. What separates modern, libertarian notions of freedom from those of “classical, virtue ethics” is precisely the understanding that the will is directed by the intellectual grasp of the Good. If the latter becomes impossible, one is no longer capable of freedom. This is merely to reiterate that metaphysical freedom is equiva­lent to the sanctification of theosis. The truth will set you free. Or, as Christ repeatedly asserts and shows in his action, liberty is to do the will of the Father — not in a model of obedience after the arbitrary “command theory” of voluntarism — but following the proper consideration of divine simplicity — freedom is convertible with the perfect flourishing of being that is the plenitude of divine aseity. The chief point here is that the traditional infernalist wants to claim a perduring will to remain in delusion, but this can only be a madness, not a genuine choice of the will, because such choice is dependent upon the availability of the Good as a guide to the will. In reality, Feser, like my beloved C. S. Lewis, contemplates “remains” that are no longer human and therefore no longer in need of our compassion. (All that, however, fails to take into account the objections stated above, especially #1 and #2.) For infernalists, the Last Judgment is a radical loss of vision of the Good. As I said in #6, I believe it is a clarifying of the Good. One sees God without the distorting lens of bad theology and the harm of having lived in a fallen world. God is a healer and a lover; his Justice is his Mercy — this, too, derives from the simplicity of God. Thomists think, “Oh, isn’t it better to have heaven and hell where hell is an exhibition of God’s justice.” The rationale is that heaven is mercy alone. Balthasar disdained this “balancing picture” that required the “black of damnation” for the “light of salvation.” Such an aesthetics is hardly that of the glory of the gospel of Christ.

49d002f6d4473e7aee4dc8b4518b0a0c.jpg8) If God’s justice is his Mercy, the proper conclusion of his Creation is the perfection of the Eighth Day. It is true that we will have to lucidly understand and acknowledge the evil and deformation in our lives. To be honest, however, I suspect that often there is good in our evil and evil in our good. When we strive to be holy, there is an intractable and residual egotism only the Cross can kill. If our evil choices are inseparable from an imperfect desire for the Good, isn’t it more likely that the full revelation of the Good would ultimately result in the actual choosing of the Good? Feser has asserted a metaphysics whereby this kind of redirection of choice is impossible. As a counter-argument, one might propose Gregory of Nyssa’s ever increasing advance into the infinite Good. I see no reason why such an advance could not or would not include a remedial “time” in which the damage of sinful dereliction is undone.

(12 December 2016)

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Dr Moore has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Dallas. He has been a contrib­utor to Eclectic Orthodoxy since before the beginning of time. There is, it must be said, no truth to the rumor that he comes from a family of Druids or that he will drink only plum wine, though it is possibly true that he prefers cats to humans, allowing for exceptions. He is the author of the recently published tale of Noah and the ark, Beneath the Silent Heavens.

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“Tell them that there is NO refuge from the compelling love of God”

Once more Falconer retired, but not to take his violin. He could play no more. Hope and love were swelling within him. He could not rest. Was it a sign from heaven that the hour for speech had arrived? He paced up and down the room. He kneeled and prayed for guidance and help. Something within urged him to try the rusted lock of his father’s heart. Without any formed resolution, without any conscious volition, he found himself again in his room. There the old man still sat, with his back to the door, and his gaze fixed on the fire, which had sunk low in the grate. Robert went round in front of him, kneeled on the rug before him, and said the one word,

‘Father!’

Andrew started violently, raised his hand, which trembled as with a palsy, to his head, and stared wildly at Robert. But he did not speak. Robert repeated the one great word. Then Andrew spoke, and said in a trembling, hardly audible voice,

‘Are you my son?–my boy Robert, sir?’

‘I am. I am. Oh, father, I have longed for you by day, and dreamed about you by night, ever since I saw that other boys had fathers, and I had none. Years and years of my life–I hardly know how many–have been spent in searching for you. And now I have found you!’

The great tall man, in the prime of life and strength, laid his big head down on the old man’s knee, as if he had been a little child. His father said nothing, but laid his hand on the head. For some moments the two remained thus, motionless and silent. Andrew was the first to speak. And his words were the voice of the spirit that striveth with man.

‘What am I to do, Robert?’

No other words, not even those of passionate sorrow, or overflowing affection, could have been half so precious in the ears of Robert. When a man once asks what he is to do, there is hope for him. Robert answered instantly,

‘You must come home to your mother.’

‘My mother!’ Andrew exclaimed. ‘You don’t mean to say she’s alive?’

‘I heard from her yesterday–in her own hand, too,’ said Robert.

‘I daren’t. I daren’t,’ murmured Andrew.

‘You must, father,’ returned Robert. ‘It is a long way, but I will make the journey easy for you. She knows I have found you. She is waiting and longing for you. She has hardly thought of anything but you ever since she lost you. She is only waiting to see you, and then she will go home, she says. I wrote to her and said, “Grannie, I have found your Andrew.” And she wrote back to me and said, “God be praised. I shall die in peace.”‘

A silence followed.

‘Will she forgive me?’ said Andrew.

‘She loves you more than her own soul,’ answered Robert. ‘She loves you as much as I do. She loves you as God loves you.’

‘God can’t love me,’ said Andrews, feebly. ‘He would never have left me if he had loved me.’

‘He has never left you from the very first. You would not take his way, father, and he just let you try your own. But long before that he had begun to get me ready to go after you. He put such love to you in my heart, and gave me such teaching and such training, that I have found you at last. And now I have found you, I will hold you. You cannot escape–you will not want to escape any more, father?’

Andrew made no reply to this appeal. It sounded like imprisonment for life, I suppose. But thought was moving in him. After a long pause, during which the son’s heart was hungering for a word whereon to hang a further hope, the old man spoke again, muttering as if he were only speaking his thoughts unconsciously.

‘Where’s the use? There’s no forgiveness for me. My mother is going to heaven. I must go to hell. No. It’s no good. Better leave it as it is. I daren’t see her. It would kill me to see her.’

‘It will kill her not to see you; and that will be one sin more on your conscience, father.’

Andrew got up and walked about the room. And Robert only then arose from his knees.

‘And there’s my mother,’ he said.

Andrew did not reply; but Robert saw when he turned next towards the light, that the sweat was standing in beads on his forehead.

‘Father,’ he said, going up to him.

The old man stopped in his walk, turned, and faced his son.

‘Father,’ repeated Robert, ‘you’ve go to repent; and God won’t let you off; and you needn’t think it. You’ll have to repent some day.’

‘In hell, Robert,’ said Andrew, looking him full in the eyes, as he had never looked at him before. It seemed as if even so much acknowledgment of the truth had already made him bolder and honester.

‘Yes. Either on earth or in hell. Would it not be better on earth?’

‘But it will be no use in hell,’ he murmured.

In those few words lay the germ of the preference for hell of poor souls, enfeebled by wickedness. They will not have to do anything there–only to moan and cry and suffer for ever, they think. It is effort, the out-going of the living will that they dread. The sorrow, the remorse of repentance, they do not so much regard: it is the action it involves; it is the having to turn, be different, and do differently, that they shrink from; and they have been taught to believe that this will not be required of them there–in that awful refuge of the will-less. I do not say they think thus: I only say their dim, vague, feeble feelings are such as, if they grew into thought, would take this form. But tell them that the fire of God without and within them will compel them to bethink themselves; that the vision of an open door beyond the smoke and the flames will ever urge them to call up the ice-bound will, that it may obey; that the torturing spirit of God in them will keep their consciences awake, not to remind them of what they ought to have done, but to tell them what they must do now, and hell will no longer fascinate them. Tell them that there is no refuge from the compelling Love of God, save that Love itself–that He is in hell too, and that if they make their bed in hell they shall not escape him, and then, perhaps, they will have some true presentiment of the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched.

‘Father, it will be of use in hell,’ said Robert. ‘God will give you no rest even there. You will have to repent some day, I do believe–if not now under the sunshine of heaven, then in the torture of the awful world where there is no light but that of the conscience. Would it not be better and easier to repent now, with your wife waiting for you in heaven, and your mother waiting for you on earth?’

Will it be credible to my reader, that Andrew interrupted his son with the words,

‘Robert, it is dreadful to hear you talk like that. Why, you don’t believe in the Bible!’

His words will be startling to one who has never heard the lips of a hoary old sinner drivel out religion. To me they are not so startling as the words of Christian women and bishops of the Church of England, when they say that the doctrine of the everlasting happiness of the righteous stands or falls with the doctrine of the hopeless damnation of the wicked. Can it be that to such the word is everything, the spirit nothing? No. It is only that the devil is playing a very wicked prank, not with them, but in them: they are pluming themselves on being selfish after a godly sort.

‘I do believe the Bible, father,’ returned Robert, ‘and have ordered my life by it. If I had not believed the Bible, I fear I should never have looked for you. But I won’t dispute about it. I only say I believe that you will be compelled to repent some day, and that now is the best time. Then, you will not only have to repent, but to repent that you did not repent now. And I tell you, father, that you shall go to my grandmother.’

George MacDonald

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“Abraham is still alive in the dust, though not risen thence”

God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, and called himself the “God of Abraham”; and Christ tells us that in this simple announcement was contained the promise that Abraham should rise again from the dead.

In truth, if we may say it with reverence, the all-wise, all-knowing God cannot speak without meaning many things at once. He sees the end from the beginning; he understands the numberless connections and relations of all things one with another. Look at Christ’s words, and this same character of them will strike you; whatever he says is fruitful in meaning, and refers to many things. It is well to keep this in mind when we read scripture.

When God called himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He implied that those holy patriarchs were still alive, though they were no more seen on earth. This may seem evident at first sight; but it may be asked how the text proves that their “bodies” would live; for, if their “souls” were still living, that would be enough to account for their being still called in the Book of Exodus servants of God.

Our Blessed Lord seems to tell us, that in some sense or other Abraham’s body might be considered still alive as a pledge of his resurrection, though it was dead in the common sense in which we apply the word. His announcement is, Abraham “shall” rise from the dead, because in truth he “is”still alive. He cannot in the end be held under the power of the grave, any more than a sleeping man can be kept from waking. Abraham is still alive in the dust, though not risen thence. He is alive because all God’s saints live to him, though they seem to perish.

We are apt to talk about our bodies as if we knew how or what they really were; whereas we only know what our eyes tell us. They seem to grow, to come to maturity, to decay; but after all we know no more about them than meets our senses. We have no direct cognizance of what may be called the substantive existence of the body, only of its accidents.

Again, we are apt to speak of “soul and body,” and if we could distinguish between them, and knew much about them; but for the most part we use words without meaning. It is useful to make the distinction, and scripture makes it; but after all the gospel speaks of our nature, in a religious sense, “as one.” Soul and body make up one man, which is born once and never dies.

Philosophers of old time thought the soul indeed might live for ever, but that the body perished at death; but Christ tells us otherwise, he tells us the body will live for ever. In the text he seems to intimate that it never really dies; that we lose sight indeed of what we are accustomed to see, but that God still sees the elements of it which are not exposed to our senses.

God graciously called himself “the God of Abraham.” He did not say the God of Abraham’s soul, but simply of “Abraham.” He blest Abraham, and he gave him eternal life; not to his soul only, without his body, but to Abraham as one man.

John Henry Newman

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Huis Clos

by Tom Belt

JPM1To repeat David Hart: I never get my own title. I was going to go with something a bit lighter (‘Come Hell or High Water’, ‘A Bat Out of Hell’, ‘To Hell and Back’), but in the end there was no escaping Sartre’s Huis Clos (the French title of his play, variously translated No Exit, Dead End, or No Way Out). The phrase (without meaning everything Sartre meant by it) encap­sulates Fr John Manous­sakis’s account of hell in Ch. 9 of his The Ethics of Time: A Phenom­enology and Hermeneutics of Change.[1] I was hoping the essential points of Fr John’s account would find their way into his own review here of Hart’s recent reflections on universalism, but that review, it turns out, is to be published elsewhere, and Hart has already responded to it here last week. So what I’d like to do here then is simply summarize Manous­sakis’s account of hell as he describes it in Ch. 9 in the hope of widening the discussion at bit.

In The Ethics of Time, Manoussakis takes up the challenge of recovering the goodness and beauty of temporal becoming (kinesis or movement) from “the negative Platonic and Neo­platonic views, according to which time and history are seen as the byproducts of being’s fall into materiality.” (xiii) For Manoussakis, there is no way creation can begin at the end. There can only be a beginning fitted to become, through an embodied history of change and trans­formation, what God intends. “Time,” Manoussakis writes, “is made possible by the givens of a consciousness that is eschatologically oriented” (xiii) and which is “the means to partici­pate in a process of perfection.” (25) But “no beginning qua beginning can be perfect.” (32) Manoussakis concludes we best understand evil as “a moment in the temporal unfolding of the good,” what he labels the “scandal of the good.” Defending the goodness of such an unfolding, with the contingent suffering it entails (yes, entails), without collapsing into Manichaeism, is the larger aim of the book.

Such an account obviously has to fit hell into its vision of things, which brings us to his Ch. 9. I found this account of hell particularly interesting in a couple of ways. First, Manous­sakis seeks to offer a phenomenology of hell, traditionally understood, as both punitive and eternal torment. The phenomenological approach alone placed him closer to Hart than others who have thus far responded to Hart. Secondly, Manoussakis does not attempt to ignore the transcendental givens of consciousness, the sense in which the good, the true, and the beautiful ground, shape and inform conscious experience and which play a key role in Hart’s account. Surprisingly, for Manoussakis this orientation grounds and sustains the punitive and unending torment of final judgment. Indeed, “the beginning reverberates through any act of consciousness.” (133)

JPM2Hell manifests the Self’s eschatological orientation.
In spite of creation’s precarious beginning, Manoussakis insists upon the “eschatological constitution of consciousness” (24), our “capacity to perceive beauty, pleasure, and perfection,” (26) a capacity that is our “orien­tation toward the ‘not-yet’,” an “opening to the eschatological.” (26) Indeed, this capacity for beauty and perfection “presupposes an uncon­ditional passivity” (28), an original receptivity to what is given. Not only is beauty perceived in what is “pleasing or interes­ting,” but it is mani­fest also “in what one finds unpleasant or boring,” not that everything that appears within consciousness is itself beautiful, but that all that appears addresses us as a call to beauty and perfection (28). Beauty renders every­thing visible, and indeed “is the condition of visi­bility” as such. (30) In addition, this orientation is a longing “which cannot be understood except in terms of direction, movement, and desire that stretches out to its ultimate good.” (33) If I may quote from another chapter of his,[2] Manoussakis sees both ‘intentionality’ and ‘imagination’ as defining consciousness’s eschatological orientation:

Imagination foresees the future and affords us a view that no here and now could furnish, not even at the final state of things. It is not, therefore, that through the dioptra of imagination we can get a glimpse of what lies ahead but rather that teleological imagination “opens” the present by adding along with the incomplete state of the present thing the image of its completion, that is, of its perfection. If, indeed, only the end (in the double sense of telos as finality and purposiveness) makes things perfect (teleia), then imagination keeps reminding us of such perfection amidst incompletion and imperfection It is as if the human mind were indeed made in such a way as to understand only the perfect and the complete. For even if this is lacking in the present state of things (and it can only be lacking) it feels compelled to supply it by itself.

I confess that as I read through such statements I saw an irresistible (i.e., transcendental) openness to Godward becoming which to my mind logically contradicts the notion of an irrevocable foreclosure of intentionality and imagination. All the features one finds in Hart’s account – the teleological structure of consciousness, its capacity to perceive beauty and perfection, its essential openness to the future, the ecstatic orientation of desire and inten­tionality, all of which constitute, shape and inform experience as such – are present in Manoussakis. But for Manoussakis these features end up in a phenomenology of hell as irrevocable self-alienation, desire severed from all ecstatic attraction, and being’s fore­closure upon every possibility of Godward becoming. And yet this phenomenology of hell, it is argued, manifests rather than denies being’s transcen­dental structure.[3]

… in approaching the idea of judgment and condemnation, the idea of hell, we are immediately presented with a wealth of vivid images that the poetic imagination, from Homer to Plato to Dante and beyond, has bequeathed to us through the literary canon of our tradition…. These images can be summarized under two broad ideas common to them all: that of a hopeless existence of pain and suffering which is to last forever. In this chapter, we would like to discuss how these two ideas (hell’s punitive character and hell’s eternity) could be presented in a manner that is both philosophi­cally accept­able and consistent with the phenomenological tenets of our foregoing analysis. (132)

JPM3Hell as self-deception.
The first move is to secure the self-imposed nature of hell’s suffering. Hell is self-deception, “not a condition imposed on [the wicked] externally.” It is found in and comes from each one, in “the compulsion of repeating [one’s] desire.” Sin is relentless and “repeats itself almost compulsorily—although its compulsion is but an illusion facilitated precisely by its lack of continuity.” (134) This involves a (kind of) foreclosure of temporal becoming, for “in Hades time does not move forward, in fact it does not move at all; it falls back upon itself in a sem­blance of movement that is nothing else than an everlasting present.” (134)

… as a series of spasms do not make up a gesture, let alone a movement, so the repetition of sin over a given amount of time fails to make up the content it lacks.” Removed from time, sin’s static repetition emulates a bad eternity, such that we find underlining the punishments in Hades. Is it possible, then, to understand hell as a self-inflicted punishment? Kierkegaard thinks so, and he goes on to add more: not only hell is self-inflicted, hell is nothing more and nothing less than the self itself—a self that has infected itself with the sickness unto death. (134)

There follows a careful appropriation of Kierkegaard’s phenomenology of the Self and his notion of despair which provide the terms in which this final foreclosure is achieved and maintained. I shan’t attempt here to lay out Kierkegaard’s account of the Self’s transcen­dental structure. Zachary Manis also appropriates Kierkegaard in a defense of hell as eternal conscious torment, and his summary is a bit easier to follow than Manoussakis.[4] In the end:

Despairing over oneself is, for Kierkegaard, a sin: the denial of oneself is ultimately the denial my self ’s creator. Sin as the denial of God is always a refusal, that is, as much reaction as resistance over against the self ’s return to itself. Yet, since no matter how desperately one might try, one cannot cease from being oneself, damnation, that is, the experience of hell, amounts to the perpetual reminder that you are who you are: you are yourself. The self ’s very identity becomes its hell or, seen from a different perspective, its paradise. (138)

… Yet, in the illusion of his autonomy, he cannot abdicate his self-mastery to anyone else other than himself. By himself, however, he cannot re-create himself (since he did not create himself in the first place). Thus, he decides to remain an error, going even further than that: loving himself as an error, “enjoying his symptom,” becom­ing one with his sickness. What, after all, could stop a sickness that survives even death? (139)

Nothing, above all not God, could save such a self from itself, for if hell were only a place, we would be sure that God would have descended there in order to save the self from its torments. But when the self itself has become for itself its own hell, God is powerless for he cannot destroy what he has created and it is only such destruc­tion, an absolute annihilation, that could save the despairing self from its despair. It is through this perspective that we come to grasp the reality of hell. (139)

There is little that’s controversial about Kierkegaard’s basic psychology of what makes the Self the kind of thing that can self-alienate in its refusal to acknowledge its origin and ground in God. Of course, whether the Self’s ability to misrelate (itself to itself, and to God) logically implies a capacity to absolutely foreclose upon itself is the crucial question. That it does imply such a thing is central to Manoussakis’s account. That it is Kierke­gaard’s obvious meaning is debatable. That it is a logically coherent account of the transcendental nature of intentionality seems impossible.

JPM4

Hell’s eternity implied in the nature of the claim laid upon the Self.
A further appropriation of Kierkegaard’s phenomenology explains the irrevocable nature of the Self’s foreclosure:

If Kierkegaard’s discussion of the despairing self reads like an existential horror story this is only on one condition that is central to the outline of despair provided so far: that eternity had laid a claim upon the self. “Eternity is obliged to do this, because to have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession, an infinite concession given to man, but it is also eternity’s claim upon him.” This means that, for better or worse, one cannot escape oneself for all eternity. And indeed, we could add that in eternity such an escape would be impossible. For in this life, time and the body—that is, the body’s temporalization of the self—provided the anguished self with many a distraction from itself. The descent to the bodily offered the greatest of consolations to such a self that now, left to itself, abandoned to itself, has no place to go, no place to escape to, because it has no place at all. Kierkegaard’s sobering reading reveals a certain darkness in the light of the resurrection: in the end of all this, we come to realize that hell is a condem­nation to life, a perpetual insomnia…. Humanity might have had condemned God to death, but God “retaliated” by condemning humanity to life. Humanity’s dream to be like a god is finally granted, but that dream is proven to be a nightmare, for it is perhaps unbearable for a finite being, as finite, to be infinitely. (139)

If I understand Manoussakis here, the claim that comes to us in the gift of being presents itself as an either/or choice which we must make. But given the infinite nature of the divine offer and its claim upon us, each possibility of choice is implicated in that infinity. Equally consequential futures lay on both sides of the process by which the Self deter­mines itself relative to eternity. This just is the weight of so wonderful and awful a call. Final refusal is thus convertible in consequence with acceptance. I could be entirely misreading Manous­sakis here, but I suspect he would say that all the transcendental features of consciousness he earlier describes are here found manifest, not denied. The infinite nature of God’s free concession of being, in all its possibilities, defines what is at stake in the choice, and to be at stake in a choice is to be contingent upon that choice. If not, choice is without any real integrity.

Hell is the coincidence of salvation and condemnation.
There is another movement Manoussakis makes which renders a punitive and eternal hell consistent with being’s transcendental structure. Appropriating Florensky, Manoussakis writes:

This existential vision of damnation should be supplemented with a theory already found in Origen and later developed and radicalized by Florensky. It is a theory that offers the hope of salvation at the very place where Anti-Climacus left us with the inescapable reality of self-condemnation. This unique theory resolves the much-debated dilemma between an all-forgiving God (universal salvation) and the self-condemnation of the self (universal damnation) by upholding both positions. (139)

Florensky (as quoted by Manoussakis):

Thus, if you ask me, “Will there in fact be eternal torments?” I would answer “Yes.” But if you were also to ask me, “Will there be universal restoration in bliss?” I would again say “Yes.” The two are thesis and antithesis…. It is neither a simple “yes” nor a simple “no.” It is both “yes” and “no.” It is an antinomy. (140)

This antinomic unity of heaven and hell is explored in a comparison of Origen and Florensky’s handling of 1Cor 3.10-15 and Heb. 4.12:

In the Exhortation to Martyrdom we meet the idea of the self ’s division (διαίρεσις) and separation (χωρισμός) from itself, or at least from a part of itself. Already at this nascent stage, this theory is invoking the scriptural passage of 1 Cor. 3:10–15 on which both Origen and Florensky will exercise their exegetical acumen. Later in the same work the idea of the coincidence of salvation and condemnation is articulated with the aid of a double metaphor: that of the word of God as a sword that cuts through the self’s interiority (based on Heb. 4:12), and that of God as a purifying fire (attested in a number of scriptural passages). These two metaphors are then combined in order to support the theory that, at the end of times, the self in its duplicity will be “cut asunder” (διχοτόμησις): all that is good in us will be preserved and thus saved; all that is evil will be consumed by fire. In this image, both heaven and hell, salvation and perdition, is [sic] a common destiny awaiting every human being—they are both universal. (140)

… the whole scope of human endeavors is compared to the material we have chosen to construct our lives. Their value and truth will be tested only at the end, on the last day—if they shall endure the coming of the eschaton then they will abide, otherwise, when he appears “like a refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2), they will be lost, but the human person in itself “will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). (140)

Manoussakis notes Origen’s universalist reading of 1 Cor 3 (adopted by Gregory of Nyssa, St. Theodore the Studite, and others), but questions its logic:

At first sight, Origen’s and Theodore’s readings seems to lead to the well-known position of apokatastasis, that is, of the eschatological restoration of all, for which Origen was later condemned. However, this is not necessarily so. For one could raise two questions: firstly, “how much” of the self is lost as a result of this purification, provided that one’s life may be entirely or mostly built by the material of wicked­ness? And secondly, how long does this trial by fire last—or rather for how long may the self that undergoes such a burning purification perceive this process as lasting? Floren­sky’s treatment of eschatology offers a more detailed, though more gruesome as well, answer to these questions. (141)

Regarding the double-edged sword of Heb. 4.12, Manoussakis “agrees with Origen’s basic idea of an eschatological catharsis” but notes that “for [Florensky] condemnation takes the form of a separation that cuts the self asunder.” (142)

Every impure thought, every idle word, every evil deed, everything whose source is not God, everything whose roots are not fed by the water of eternal life and is inwardly condemned because it does not conform with the Ideal which is in Christ and because it is incapable of receiving the Spirit—all this will be torn out of the formed empirical person, out of human selfhood. (142)

What is separated is one’s ‘person’ (for Florensky, the “in itself”) from one’s ‘character’ (one’s “for itself”), and thus the self that has been cut away from itself does not perish but it endures in the pain of separation that persists forever. Manoussakis leads us to the next logical step:

JPM5The question, however, that immediately arises is: which part of the self in this list of distinctions is saved and which is con­demned?… [I]t would seem that for Floren­sky what is condemned is precisely that aspect of the self which distinguishes our­selves from others and which individuates our selfhood. “The entire content of con­sciousness will perish to the extent that it is not from faith, hope, and love,” he writes in one instance, and he continues later in the text, “for the entire self-consciousness of wicked will is cast out, into the fiery dark­ness of the black and nonluminous fire of Gehen­na.” What is, then, saved? The “per­son,” as Florensky calls it, is the “image of God”—that which, in principle, cannot be destroyed, but also that undifferentiated characteristic which we all hold in common. Therefore, it would seem that for Florensky it is only the human nature that God saves, a faceless abstraction, but not particular individuals. Since we began this chapter with a discussion of Kierkegaard, it may be fitting to invoke at this point his warning that Christ did not come to save the human race, but rather to save us “out of the race.” (143)

In the end, then, the defining features of consciousness (its eschatological orientation, its teleology, the ecstatic movement of its desire, its intentionality and imagination) define either choice we make with respect to the eternity’s claim upon us but also dictate that what God creates, the nature which bears his image, cannot be lost or destroyed. It is saved, albeit only — and the dash should run on infinitely to introduce so vacuous a rescue of God’s image —  “as a faceless abstraction.”

Heaven undiminished by the suffering of the damned.
A final movement of closure in Manoussakis phenomenology of hell is made as he inquires into whether the final bliss of the glorified will be diminished or undermined by their knowledge of the suffering of the condemned. Florensky answers:

Do we feel any sorrow about cut fingernails or even about amputated limbs? So, the righteous feel no sorrow about eternally burning selfhoods, which exist just as little for them as the unknown thoughts of other people exist for us. (142)

Manoussakis appears to embrace Florensky’s answer but finds in it an occasion to clarify an unaddressed question about the nature of the resurrected body which he takes up in an extended critique of Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Soul and Resurrection as well as in the following chapter. But it is not clear to me how this critique of Gregory, even if valid, has anything to do with the question of how it is the saved are rendered ignorant or apprecia­tive of, or indifferent to, the torments of the eternally damned.

I should bring this to a close. These are what I understand to be the main features of Manoussakis’s phenomenology of hell. He did a vastly better job of presenting and arguing it than I have done in summarizing it, so I encourage those interested to read his book for themselves. There are insights in it which I was very happy to see proposed and defended, but I confess that his account of hell left me unconvinced.

One last parting thought, if I may. At the beginning of Ch. 9 Manoussakis says that in approaching the idea of hell we are presented with images which over time shaped in the Greek mind an understanding of judgment as unending punishment, and if we qualify away the unending nature of it, we also do away with any punishment. He mentions Sisyphus, Prometheus, Tantalus, etc. But I thought of Orpheus, that famous poet and musician who was taught to sing and play the lyre by Apollo. The story goes that one day Orpheus’s wife Eurydice fell into a nest of vipers and was fatally bitten. The grieving Orpheus mourned her through his music and song. His art was so beautiful the gods advised him to go to the Underworld and through his song beg Hades to release Eurydice. Orpheus did so. As he began to play and sing, all Hades was brought to a stand still. Sisyphus stopped rolling his boulder up the hill to listen to Orpheus. Tantalus stopped reaching for the water he was condemned to reach out for but never possess to give attention to Orpheus’s song. The Furies (demonic goddesses of vengeance) wept. Upon hearing Orpheus sing, Hades and his wife Persephone were so moved they released Eurydice.

There’s more to the story (Orpheus ends up not saving his wife due to his own fault), but my point is that within the images humanity has over time engaged to express our beliefs and intuitions about choice, consequence, and judgment, there are images of the power of love, beauty, mercy, tenderness, etc., to intrude upon suffering and rewrite our stories. Orpheus’s song interrupts tragic suffering. Love triumphs over judgment, not by making choice and its consequences false or irrelevant (which one can see clearly in his review of Hart is what Manoussakis is concerned about), but by circumscribing its terms within a larger horizon of possibilities. It’s simply false, as Manoussakis claims, that if we remove the unending nature of suffering from divine judgment “there is no punishment anymore.” (134)

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[1] The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology of Hermeneutics and Change (Bloomsbury Academic: 2017). Fr John was born in Athens, received his PhD from Boston College (2005), and has been at The College of the Holy Cross for over a decade. He is the author of three books and many articles and is co-editor-in-chief of The Journal for Continental Philosophy of Religion.
[2] “The Promise of the New and the Tyranny of the Same,” in Phenomenology and Eschatology (Ashgate, 2009), p. 87.
[3] I got the sense that teleology functions in Manoussakis’s account as it does for Feser. As I tried to show elsewhere, Feser understands the transcendental orientation of consciousness to abide in beings who enjoy no potentiality for Godward becoming. I suspect Manoussakis would agree. As long as the mind is choosing for ‘some reason or other’, teleology is operative. But this is hardly adequate.
[4] “‘Eternity will nail him to himself’: the logic of damnation in Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death.” Religious Studies (2016) 52, 287–314. Manis deals with two choice models used to defend hell as eternal torment. The first model sees damnation as the explicit and direct object of choice. This faces the challenge of explaining why anyone would choose to suffering eternally. The second model sees damnation as the natural consequence of a history of choices. This faces the challenge of explaining why God wouldn’t simply annihilate the damned. Manis means to offer a Kierkegaardian response to both these challenges which demonstrates “the means by which one’s perspective could become twisted to the point that one is blind to the most fundamental truths about God and oneself” and which also “makes it clear that the process itself is something for which the individual is blameworthy.” (291)

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Tom is a happily married father of four and grandfather to four. He is a former missionary of more than 20 years to the Middle East and continues to serve the Arabic-speaking world from Sacramento where he manages a nonprof dedicated to the translation and publication of the Bible (and other discipleship material) in Arabic.

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