Universal Salvation: What Are the Odds?

Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?–to this question Met Kallistos Ware tenders a qualified yes. God’s love for mankind is unconditional and absolute, but human freedom precludes us from affirming anything stronger than a paradoxical hope:

If the strongest argument in favor of universal salvation is the appeal to divine love, and if the strongest argument on the opposite side is the appeal to human freedom, then we are brought back to the dilemma with which we started: how are we to bring into concord the two principles “God is love” and “Human beings are free”? For the time being we cannot do more than hold fast with equal firmness to both principles at once, while admitting that the manner of their ultimate harmonization remains a mystery beyond our present comprehension. … Our belief in human freedom means that we have no right to categorically affirm, “All must be saved.” But our faith in God’s love makes us dare to hope that all will be saved. (Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, pp. 214-215)

But there are different kinds and degrees of hope, aren’t there? There is the hope that tomorrow will be a bright and sunny day when the weatherman has predicted a 10% chance of rain. We might call this a confident hope. And there is the hope of the Texas Holdem poker player that he will hit his four-outer on the river to fill his full house and make the winning hand, only an 8% chance. We might call this a desperate hope. Our hopes range the gamut of probabilities.

coin_toss_zpsd6eba78b.jpeg~original.jpegWhat kind of hope is the hope for universal salvation? As formulated by Ware, clearly it is impossible for us to assign a probability to universal salvation and thus impossible for us to know whether we may confidently hope, moderately hope, or desperately hope; indeed, “hope” may be the wrong word in this situation. “Faith is hope anticipated,” Richard John Neuhaus explains, “and hope is faith disposed toward the future.” I hope that God will raise me from the dead, because I believe that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and I have faith in him and his promises. But when we address the question of universal salvation, we face a different situation. The ability of God to save all appears to be limited by human free choice. As Paul Evdokimov writes, “God can do all things but force us to love him.” We thus seem to be at an impasse. We may dare to hope that all will be saved; but that hope appears to be a hope beyond hope. Yes, there are many passages in the Scriptures that suggest, or even promise, the universality of salvation; but the circumscription of human freedom remains—and with it looms the horror of hell and everlasting torment. Ware posits two principles—divine love and human freedom—that seem irreconcilable and tells us that “the manner of their ultimate harmonization remains a mystery beyond our present comprehension.” But perhaps it may be possible to see a bit further into this mystery.

An analysis of human freedom is necessary at this point, but I am not prepared to engage in it. The philosophical literature is extensive and intimidating. Let’s just say that matters are complex and difficult. Philosophers seem to fall into two camps—the compatibilists and the libertarians. But there are also hard determinists and radical incompatibilists, both of whom deny free will. It’s all very confusing.

It is generally believed that the Orthodox Church is committed to a libertarian understanding of free will. God does not determine or coerce human actions: the human agent determines his actions and he always remains free to do otherwise. Let us assume that the libertarian account is true and faithfully represents what Orthodox Christians should believe. Let’s also assume that some version of the free-will model of hell is true. How might we then understand the possibility, and likelihood, of universal salvation?

Five premises:

1) Human beings are created by God to enjoy eternal fellowship with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit: God is our supernatural end, fulfillment, supreme good, and true happiness.

This, I take it, is what it means to say that humanity is created in the image of God.

2) To turn away from God is to turn away from our supreme good and thus to turn away from true happiness: it is to create our own hell and to doom ourselves to ever-increasing anguish.

God does not damn; we damn ourselves. God simply allows us to experience the terrible consequences of our disbelief and sin.

3) God will not permit us to irrevocably decide against union with him based on either insufficient information or disordered desire.

In the words of philosopher Thomas Talbott: “If I am ignorant of, or deceived about, the true consequences of my choices, then I am in no position to embrace those consequences freely; and similarly, if I suffer from an illusion that conceals from me the true nature of God, or the true import of union with God, then I am again in no position to reject God freely” (The Inescapable Love of God, p. 187). Similarly, if I am enslaved to my destructive desires and passions, then I am not in a position to make a free decision. Just as addicts are incapable of making free and responsible decisions until they have secured liberation from the drugs that enslave them, so those who are in bondage to their passions are incapable, to the degree they are so bound, of free decisions and actions—they could not have done otherwise.

4) God never gives up on any sinner; he never withdraws his offer of forgiveness.

God has not set a time limit on the offer of salvation, nor has he configured the afterlife to render it impossible for sinners to repent and turn to him. God loves every human being with an infinite and absolute love. He truly wills the good and salvation of all (1 Tim 2:4) and welcomes all who come to him in contrition and faith.

5) When a person surrenders to God in death or in the afterlife, his orientation is definitively stabilized and his eternal bliss confirmed.

After death the redeemed no longer have the freedom to reject God, for their freedom has been fulfilled in God. Theologians advance various arguments to explain this truth, but all agree upon it. In heaven, once saved, always saved.

The first premise is, I think, uncontroversial. The second premise expresses the free-will model of hell that has become dominant in Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and mainline Protestantism. The third premise is rarely considered and therefore probably controversial. The fourth is definitely controversial, as it denies a widely held belief in post-patristic Catholicism, most Protestant denominations, and a large segment of Orthodoxy; yet the possibility of post-mortem salvation has been affirmed by some Eastern Christians throughout the history of the Church and is supported by the Orthodox practice of praying for the departed. The final premise is uncontroversial and enjoys ecumenical assent. The above premises can no doubt be formulated in better ways. I welcome suggestions. Remember: I ain’t no philosopher.

Assume, for the moment, that all five premises are true. How confident may we be that God will bring all humanity to salvation? The quick, too quick, answer: we don’t know. Every human possesses free will and is thus free to make the ultimate Luciferian decision: “Evil, be thou my good.” But why would any rational being make such a decision, with full and immediate knowledge that only God is his true good and happiness and that rejection of the divine offer of salvation will bring only an ever-increasing misery? Perhaps a person might delude themselves about this truth for a while, but as the agony and despair intensifies, how long can he hold out until the truth crashes down upon him? How long before his finite resources are exhausted and he hits bottom? How long before absolute reality shatters all illusions? Can we seriously entertain the possibility that this person, any person, might everlastingly persist in his hopeless rebellion? What is the gain? What is the rational motive? Is it even possible for an individual to deliberately choose evil? Herbert McCabe thinks not:

When we sin it is entirely our choice of something instead of God’s friendship. To come to God’s friendship in Christ is to choose a good, the greatest good and the greatest good for us; and the creative and gracious power of God is in us as we freely make this choice. It is both our free work and God’s work. To do good is to choose the highest good; but to fail to do this, to sin, is not to choose evil. Nobody chooses evil, it cannot be done. When we sin what we do is to choose some trivial good at the expense of choosing God’s friendship. Sin is sin not because of the thing we positively choose: the human satisfaction, the pleasure or the power. It is sin because of what we fail to choose, what we sacrifice for the sake of a minor good. Sin is sin because we have opted not to grow up to our flourishing, our happiness which is life in God’s love and friendship. (God Still Matters, p. 185)

Talbott also maintains that the notion that a free rational agent might decisively and definitively reject his supreme good is incoherent: “For no one rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent could possibly prefer an objective horror—the outer darkness, for example—to eternal bliss, nor could any such person both experience the horror of separation from God and continue to regard it as a desirable state” (“Towards a Better Understanding of Universalism,” in Universal Salvation?, p. 5).

But Satan and his demons rejected God, knowing full well the eternal consequences, we reply. But how do we know that to be true? We know nothing about angels and their fall into sin. We have only a few hints from Scripture. I suggest we put angels to the side for the moment (there’s no point invoking the unknown to explain the less known) and focus exclusively on humanity.

Perhaps the libertarian construal of freedom requires the option of choosing alienation from the Creator and the absolute misery it brings. Perhaps, despite the revelation given in the afterlife, a person can still hang on to the delusion that he can bear the ever-increasing torment. Perhaps, for no good reason at all, a person can still choose a destiny that contradicts his intrinsic good and happiness. “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven!” we cry. As irrational and self-destructive as such a decision might be, perhaps we cannot declare it impossible. And let us further stipulate that God will honor the individual’s refusal to convert and will allow that person to endure all the natural consequences of his decision. If this is so, can we still entertain a reasonable and confident hope of universal salvation? Philosopher Eric Reitan believes that we can.

The Reitan Maneuver

In his essay “Human Freedom and the Impossibility of Eternal Damnation,” Reitan analyzes the free-will model of hell. Like Talbott, Reitan is skeptical of the proposal that a rational agent might voluntarily choose a destiny of utter misery. Can we, he asks, imagine someone freely choosing an infernal state of being “knowing that doing so will doom them to eternal alienation from everything of value?” (Universal Salvation?, p. 133). Moreover, can we imagine this person enduring the ever-increasing loneliness, despair, and torment for all eternity, never once wondering whether he has chosen wisely, never once questioning his decision, despite the anguish it has brought him? Perhaps he chose perdition under the illusion that it wouldn’t be so bad, that he could find some measure of happiness independent of God. But this is a false belief. There is no happiness divorced from deifying union with God. Is it really possible, Reitan asks, to cling to a false belief forever when it produces only ever-increasing misery? Is it not more likely that the punishments of hell will eventually shatter all illusions and bring one to that point where one can only desperately cry out, “Jesus, help me”?

The doors of hell are locked only from the inside; but according to the libertarian, the damned inexplicably never turn the key. Reitan states the matter this way:

On the progressive view of DH [the doctrine of hell], the doors of hell are locked from the inside—that is, God never withdraws the offer of salvation. Hence, if any are damned eternally it is because they eternally reject God’s offer. It’s not enough to turn God down once. It must be done forever.

We are assuming that, to have libertarian freedom on the matter of our eternal destiny, we must be able to reject God’s offer of salvation even when we know what we are doing and are not in bondage to sin. But this means that it must be possible for us to make a choice that we have no motive to make, and every motive not to make. To say that this is possible is not to say that it is likely. In fact, it seems clear that, however possible it may be for us to act against all our interests, it is very unlikely at any moment that we would actually do so. But in order for someone to be eternally damned, the person must not only make this unlikely choice once. The person must unwaveringly choose to reject God at every moment for the rest of eternity, even though the person sees absolutely no good reason for doing so, has every reason not to do so, and has absolutely no compelling desire to do so. Is that really possible? (p. 136)

But if we hold to a libertarian understanding of human freedom, then it must indeed be possible for a person to reject God for no good reason whatsoever when he has every compelling reason to surrender to God and experience the absolute good that is his authentic fulfillment. Yet the state of alienation is infinitely inferior to the state of salvation: if the agent goes ahead and chooses it anyway, this must mean either that his decision is grounded on delusion or pathology or that it is purely random and arbitrary.

Reitan advances two responses to this formulation of damnation. First, is libertarian freedom as valuable as it is often claimed?

Libertarian freedom as described does not seem worth having. In fact, as described, I sincerely hope that I lack it. The capacity to eternally act against all of my motives would introduce into my life a potential for profound irrationality that I would rather do without. And if I exercise my libertarian freedom as described above, dooming myself to the outer darkness without reason, I sincerely hope that God would act to stop me—just as I hope a friend would stop me if I decided to leap from a rooftop for no reason. I would not regard the actions of that friend as a violation of any valuable freedom, but would see it as a welcome antidote to arbitrary stupidity. (p. 137)

Yet even if extreme libertarian freedom obtains, Reitan believes that we may still have a guarantee, or at least mathematical certainty, of universal salvation. He proposes this thought experiment:

Imagine a box of pennies, spread out heads-side up. Suppose that the heads-side of each penny is covered with a thin film of superglue, such that if the penny were to flip over in the box it would stick to the bottom and remain heads-side down from thereon out. Imagine that this box is rattled every few seconds. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that there is no chance of the pennies getting stuck to the walls of the box or anything like that. Let us suppose, furthermore, that for any penny that is heads-side up at the same time that the box is rattled, there is exactly a fifty percent chance that after the box is rattled the penny will land heads-side up, and a fifty percent chance that it will land heads-side down. Once a penny lands heads-side down, however, it sticks to the bottom of the box and remains that way, regardless of how much the box is subsequently rattled. Let us imagine, furthermore, that the box is rattled every five seconds indefinitely, stopping only once all the pennies have landed heads-side down and become stuck that way.

In this situation, we would expect that eventually the rattling would stop, because eventually every single penny in the box would become stuck heads-side down. We expect this outcome even though every penny started out heads-side up, and even though at any given time a heads-side-up penny has a fifty percent chance of staying heads-side up. If the rattling continued forever, we would be inclined to say that this outcome is inevitable. (p. 138)

Reitan argues that the question of libertarian freedom and universal salvation is analogous to the box of pennies. If we assume that God never withdraws the offer of his forgiveness, and if we assume that those who have chosen perdition remain free at any point to choose otherwise, then “there must be some possible world in which the person does accept the offer. Thus, the person who has yet to accept the offer of salvation is like the bad penny: While the person has not yet chosen to be saved, at every moment there is some probability that the person will so choose” (p. 140). Recall, the damned have every good reason to change their minds and no good reason not to: the fundamental happiness that they desire for themselves is ultimately identical to the happiness that God wills for them.

Given that the opportunities for repentance are infinite, the probability that any one person will hold out against God approaches zero. This is not to say that the probability ever reaches zero; it is still possible to say that it remains theoretically possible for someone to reject God forever. “But,” counters Reitan, “the possible world in which this occurs is so remote that there seems to be no good reason to think that it is actual” (p. 140). Thus we have what Reitan calls a “mathematical certainty” that all will freely embrace the salvation of God given in Jesus Christ (see God’s Final Victory by John Kronen and Eric Reitan).

I confess that I am reluctant to speak of a guarantee of universal salvation, as Reitan does; but Talbott’s and Reitan’s arguments should encourage us in a confident and robust hope for the salvation of every human being. God does not need to force anyone to repent of his sins and embrace heaven. Precisely because we are created for him, all he needs to do is to allow us to experience the hell that we think we want. Suffering, divine grace, and the prayers of the Church will do the rest.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:15-21)

(Return to first article)

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102 Responses to Universal Salvation: What Are the Odds?

  1. We complicate things soooo much.
    I am personally convinced God will save all.
    Anything less than that is to me inconceivable.

    I feel no need whatsoever to defend my views (though I can).
    I think my duty as a Christian is to love God and to love all around me as much as I can.

    I really liked your series on St Isaac the Syrian.
    My views are very similar to his.

    Why we believe what we believe is most important to me.
    I believe God will save all in spite of the Church’s traditional teaching
    and in spite of the beliefs I inherited growing up.

    It doesn’t bother me one bit I hold to a (supposedly heretical) minority position on the afterlife.

    Thanks for sharing, Fr.

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    • Nathaniel McCallum says:

      If God will eventually save all, why didn’t he just do so in the first place? A God who will eventually save all but permitted the fall is a tyrant.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        This argument doesn’t work. One could just as easily say, “A God who foreknew the Fall but went ahead and created human beings anyway, knowing that some, many, most of humanity would fail to avail themselves of salvation in Christ and thus suffer eternal perdition is a tyrant.”

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      • Nathaniel McCallum says:

        Fr Aidan, if you wish to pursue this line of thought you are no longer in a hopeful universalism but a necessary one. You will also end up with a necessary creation and the rest of Origenism.

        Your argument is predicated on the insistance that it would be better for all humanity to not exist rather than for one person to exist in hell eternally while the rest of humanity exists in divine bliss. I don’t think I would grant this premise.

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      • Marc says:

        Good point Nathaniel. I believe that Satan and the demons have been under sentence of death since before the fall of human beings. This is what makes Satan’s lie, “you shall not surely die,” so very very evil. I believe that those who deny annihilation, are still deceived by this first lie. Because evil will not exist in the New Creation, all those rational creatures that will enter into the New Creation must reject evil for all eternity. Two thirds of the angels have past this test, yet it remains to be seen how many human beings will do like wise.

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      • Nathaniel McCallum says:

        Marc, annihilation is directly contradicted by St Athanasius in On the Incarnation. On this basis I believe it is precluded in Orthodoxy.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Nathaniel, you will need to unpack “necessity” and then show how your understanding of necessity both contravenes essential Church teachings and how it applies to what I have written. I particularly do not see how you can accuse Reitan of necessity. His argument (I’m referring here to the coins) is based on a libertarian formulation of human freedom. If you read him carefully, you will see that, within the parameters of his argument, he explicitly states that universal salvation is not 100% certain, just exceptionally probable (99.9999+%). How is that metaphysical necessity?

        Your criticism just doesn’t apply. What we are ultimately talking about is the incredibly persuasive power of God who is willing to patiently wait on his creatures to finally learn that he is their true and only good. God is not compelling faith and repentance. If you want to launch an attack on universalism, your best bet is to tackle one of the five premises I identified.

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      • Marc says:

        Fr. Aidan,
        I believe that your premise number 2 does in fact point to the possibility of annihilation. God will not force us to exist against our own will.

        Nathaniel,
        Annihilation, although a minority view, does not fall outside the boundaries of Holy Apostolic Tradition. In fact, it has a bit more weight in Scriptural revelation than universal salvation, and many times more weight than eterna torment.

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  2. dino says:

    There is virtually no end to this…
    What we see of God invariably makes us certain of a salvation for all, so that the unbearable Hell that we humans can experience in this world (at times, rarely) might seem like a subjectively ‘eternal’ experience (perhaps worse than hades / hell in the afterlife) which however, has an end and makes us wiser like no other experience can…
    THAT type of Hell exists and many have known it, yet, I know not how Christ would not save us from it ever, if that is what hell in the afterlife is…
    What we see of demons however, sometimes gives us a glimpse into another type of hell: the pure pride that would never want to be saved, to admit needing anything other than all others to say sorry to THEM. It is the type of hell that being INSIDE the ‘Father’s house’ (paradise) is interpreted as hell simply because they cannot stand the prodigal being there too. That is a mystery of our experience of the Other – an experience that can be bereft of Grace and full of pride or vice versa. It is a mystery indeed…

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  3. PJ says:

    “Your mercy is everlasting.”

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  4. Marc says:

    How does evil factor into this equation? Evil is not part of the created order of God, but rather a parasite that corrupts the created order. As Jesus Christ is the personification of life and love, are Satan and the demons not the personifications of evil and death? The Scriptures tell us that the Lake of Fire, Gehenna, is prepared for Satan and the demons, not human beings (see Matthew 25:41). The affect of Gehenna on Satan and the demons appears to be annihilation (see Ezekiel 28:13-19). God’s revelation gives us no reason to believe that Satan and the demons can or will repent from evil, yet we know that human beings can and do repent from evil. So will the affect of Gehenna which destroys all evil, be a sucessful final treatment for all humans who experience it?

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  5. Marc says:

    Regarding the question of statistical probabilites of salvation, I will opine 95-100% for human beings, and 0-5% for Satan and the demons. At this point I believe that odds for universal salvation are quite good for human beings, and quite poor for Satan and the demons. But that is just my opinion. I look forward to seeing the opinions of the other readers of this fine blog.

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  6. Rhonda says:

    I think that the biggest “gripe” by those Christians arguing against Universal Salvation is that of consequences for our actions, whether good or bad. After all, why go through all of the persecution/martyrdom, strife, ascetic struggles & etc. if the “bad guys” are going to get the same “reward” as the “good guys”? Why not eat, drink & be merry if the “eternal results” are the same in the end? However, that being said, I just have a sneaky feeling that allowing yourself to be transformed now in this bodily existence is a whole lot easier & a whole lot less traumatic than finding oneself in God’s presence being transformed in that existence. As my mother used to say, “Rhonda, you really need to go do it for yourself, because I guarantee you really don’t want me to do it for you!”

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  7. Rhonda says:

    “The ability of God to save all appears to be limited by human free choice. As Paul Evdokimov writes, “God can do all things but force us to love him.” We thus seem to be at an impasse. We may dare to hope that all will be saved, but that hope appears to be a hope beyond hope.”

    I have always had a problem with us being able to claim that we finite beings are capable of limiting the infinite being of God in any way. Perhaps God allows our free-will (free choice) to limit what he does now, but does this dichotomy necessarily hold at the 2nd Great Coming throughout all of eternity? If God’s presence is a purifying fire, then might we assume that His presence will purify all, removing all that clouds our judgement or negatively affects us now? Why can He not purge us & our senses (both physical & spiritual) & our minds without purging our free-will as well? It seems to me the only difference between now & then would be that of difficulty. Those that engage on the path now despite all the strife, doubts, secularism, sin & etc. have a much more difficult set of circumstances for their choice while later, those afterwards the choice would be easy with all deception removed. After all, if the choice is perfectly clear & judgement unclouded, then the “right” choice becomes easy. Personally, for me choosing the path was easy as it just made sense, it’s continuing to live the path that’s hard due to my weakness (Thank God for Confession & Repentance!).

    There is just so much out there in the secular world that seems to make better sense than this “touchy feely mystical stuff” (I merely play “devil’s advocate” here on behalf of those that are trying; as I fully believe already). In my experience, for some it’s not really all that easy to “see” spiritually, despite what many think. All of the bad theology out there, all of the contradictions in argument points, all of the science, all of the whatevers, take your pick…but it is really easy to be deceived.

    At times I cringe when I hear Christians tell unbelievers to just open their heart; & I have said this myself. But even as a Christian, just how does one do such a thing? I surely cannot tell anyone “how” I opened my own heart. I also know that there is no “process” by which we can tell them to follow. I have yet to be able to figure out how to explain to another how to open their heart. Even to my own ears the answer seems hollow to say you just do or be willing or go repent or be humble… Many are really trying…failing. Furthermore, I have an even harder time declaring that God’s grace is the answer (although I know that it is God’s grace that opens hearts), when it seems that I have been blessed with God’s grace for my own openness of heart (such that it is) while they are not. Am I in essence saying that God is showing favoritism to me & not to them; thus making God seem unfair?

    Anyway just rambling thoughts… Thanks, Rhonda

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Rhonda, I think St Gregory of Nyssa would agree with you on the purifying fire, as would Sergius Bulgakov.

      Your comment reminded me of a passage from Fr Waclaw Hryniewicz:

      In defending human freedom traditional theology assumes that we are able to reject God ultimately and irreversibly. This assumption is one of the foundations of the doctrine on the actual possibility of eternal damnation and the real existence of hell. But the question arises whether human freedom can indeed persist in an everlasting state of separation from God. Can a decision to reject Him be truly ultimate and irrevocable? It is God himself who knows and defines the mystery of created freedom. He is its ultimate horizon and goal. It is in Him that it can attain to the ultimate purpose for which it has been created. Creating humans and calling them to participation in his eternal life, God wanted to have free and creative beings rather than slaves. The human being able to shape his or her own fate and history is a person longed for and beloved, given the admirable ability to take free decisions. The gift of freedom is a gift for eternity in order to achieve the ultimate fulfillment of the whole of existence. One must not forget this positive and ultimate purpose of freedom, this dramatic but wonderful gift.

      There is something astonishing in the mystery of freedom: the ability to reject God comes from His own gift! Many things seem to indicate that the Creator is not afraid of granting this dramatic and dangerous gift to His rational creatures. He behaves as if He were sure that He will be able to save this gift and rescue it from the most dangerous and harmful situation of being lost. Freedom may be ill and blind but it never ceases to be God’s gift. It carries in itself a promise and hope for achieving its ultimate goal because it does not cease to be, even in case of wrong and sinful decisions, an ability given by God himself. There is always hope that every freedom will finally prove to be what God wanted, namely, freedom to the right decision. He alone can save the created freedom in a truly divine manner without destroying His own gift.

      A deeper understanding of the gift of freedom is able to open new perspectives of universalist eschatological thinking. One can then perceive that God is always present in the very depths of His creatures. A created being is unable to free itself entirely from this immanent presence of the Creator. It may ignore or reject it, but it cannot change the very fact of being created and its dependence in existence on the all-embracing reality of God. This fact already implies a mysterious promise stemming from the indestructible bond between God and each creature. No fault, nor the state of getting completely lost, can destroy this ontological bond. The human being is and will always remain an icon of God, a being who with the help of the Creator is able to overcome all resistance and make the ultimate and irreversible choice of the Infinite Goodness.

      Another understanding of freedom makes God helpless, unable to overcome its resistance and denies Him any possibility of saving those who got lost. Is not the sovereign freedom of God limited in this way? Is not God’s gift of freedom turned then into a logical idol before which He himself has to capitulate? It seems that this logic does not allow us to perceive the truly divine manner of reaching the deepest secrets of freedom and transforming it from within without violence.

      What we seem to forget is human freedom is a gift from the Creator. God wills our freedom and is actively present in it. God is not bound by what seems to us, from our finite perspective, to an either/or situation. He is not helpless before our rejection of him, and it’s certainly not possible for us to close ourselves off to him completely. The chess grandmaster always has another move to play.

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      • Rhonda says:

        “The chess grandmaster always has another move to play.”
        I like that! 🙂

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      • Isaac says:

        If one cannot enter into communion of Trinitarian being without making a free choice to do so then the emphasis does not need to be on freedom, which I think we have come to agree is a poor idol and something to quickly be dispensed with if it leads us to perdition. Save me from myself Lord if I make such choices. However, I see no way that one can be part of a communion of agape love without freely giving up the self to that communion. First we are given ourselves for we cannot have selves unless they are ours to retain or to give up. If we dies to ourselves we join the dance of love. I think that is more important that upholding freedom as a think in an of itself. The big question is “having been given selves (and having been made a part of a larger creation that is also being transformed by being united with the life of the Trinity) will we give up those selves or retain them? I have certainly seen plenty of people who develop a death grip on their selves in this life (in whatever form that happens to take for them) and I have and continue to experience that reluctance to die to myself personally as well. But it is God’s plan to make a creation that can, in a sense, make itself and then pass through death and fire to be united with him. It seems odd that there would be hold-outs or those things which are still born into the redeemed creation. It seems more likely that Gehenna is the word for the liminal state whereby a person still stuck in the first stage of creation resists the final and culminating stage it was always made for.

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    • Marc says:

      I like your rambling thoughts Rhonda, please keep them coming. Regarding your points about our efforts to overcome and strive to work out our salvation if are all going to be saved anyway, It brought to mind an old commercial for oil filters. .I think it was a Fram Oil Filter commercial that had an old mechanic talking about the benefits of frequent oil filter change in which he said, “you can pay me now, or pay me more later.” The repair procedures and costs will be much more painful after death for those who neglect spiritual maintenance in this life. Regarding the purification provided by the presence of God, it seems that His presence has the capacity to illuminate, purify, or consume. To be consumed, is to be annihilated. Regarding your last point about opening the heart to the Gospel, it truly is a hard thing to do because of the hardness of the heart. Many of the Fathers speak of our ascetical efforts as cultivating the heart so that we can acquire the Holy Spirit.

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  8. Nathaniel McCallum says:

    A post about the will and the eschaton that prefers Talbott and Reitan but not St Maximus or the 6th Council could hardly be called Orthodox. These latter two, of course, deal specifically with the issue at hand. They resolve the problems that have existed since Origen, of which Talbott and Reitan are just ruminating.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I was wondering when someone would make the allegation “This ain’t Orthodox.” But simply making vague appeals to Maximus and the 6th Ecumenical Council, with no explanation or argumentation whatsoever, is not an argument. I asked you in a previous thread to explain why you think that dyothelitism excludes the hope of universal salvation. You did not do so. You have your own blog. I suggest that you compose a substantive article on precisely this question. Perhaps we will then be able to consider the matter.

      If you would like in this thread to address the arguments of Talbott and Reitan and to demonstrate their deficiencies, feel free to do so. But please offer theological and philosophical arguments. Appeals to ecclesial authority are insufficient and hardly encourage constructive discussion. If you wish to reject universal salvation because, and only because, the 5th Ecumenical Council allegedly anathematized it, well, that’s your opinion. I have already indicated why I do not believe that the conciliar anathemas apply to the views of Sts Gregory Nyssen and Isaac the Syrian, and I just happen to be in good Orthodox company. But what I will not permit on my blog are your allegations of heresy. Consider this your first and last warning.

      Like

      • Nathaniel McCallum says:

        I think you have perhaps misunderstood my comment. By saying it “could hardly be called Orthodox” I was not implying that it was heretical. I was merely saying that proper theological method when doing speculative theology (of which we both agree this is), is to begin with our dogma and move “outward” from there. You are beginning with speculative Protestant theology and attempting to do speculative Orthodox theology. This seems a bad theological method to me. I would start with the 5th and 6th councils and their later developments in the Synodikon. From there I would move to speculative theology. I think this method could properly be called “Orthodox speculative theology.” You haven’t done this. That doesn’t mean you’re theologically incorrect. It just means you’re not giving dogmatic theology its due. Ss Gregory and Isaac aren’t dogma on these points, but St Maximus is.

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      • Rhonda says:

        Well said & thank you.

        Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Nathaniel, if I misunderstood your comment, I apologize.

        You write: “I was merely saying that proper theological method when doing speculative theology (of which we both agree this is), is to begin with our dogma and move “outward” from there.”

        In other words, you think that I should do theological reflection differently. But your criticism presumes there is a “proper” way to do Orthodox theology, namely, the way you propose. But there are of course many ways to reflect theologically in the Orthodox tradition, and I honestly do not any good reason why I should abide by your preferred style.

        Where do I begin my theological reflections? With Pascha, with the resurrection, with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I certainly do not begin with conciliar dogmas, which only set a few of the grammatical rules for theological discourse. Dogmas set the boundaries. They are not the gospel.

        Old-style Roman Catholic theology used to begin with dogmatic statements. Yves Congar called it “Denizinger theology.” It’s a dry and unproductive way to reflect on Scripture and the faith celebrated in the liturgical life of the Church.

        One Orthodox theologian wrote to me recently and suggested that I should begin with the liturgical hymnody of the Church in my theological reflection on the Last Things. I think that is a good and helpful suggestion; but it elides one problem–namely, even hymns need to be interpreted, just as the Holy Scriptures do, just as the Church Fathers do, just as dogmatic definitions do. There is no way to avoid the hermeneutical circle, not in this life anyway-or at least not until the Spirit himself leads us into the truth. We all pray that he will do so.

        You write: “You are beginning with speculative Protestant theology and attempting to do speculative Orthodox theology.”

        This is false. It’s as if you have not read any of my previous postings. I refer you not only to the immediately prior postings on hell but especially to my postings on St Isaac the Theologian. I don’t think he counts as Protestant.

        You write: “Ss Gregory and Isaac aren’t dogma on these points, but St Maximus is.”

        How is St Maximus dogma? He is but one Church Father. His reflections and arguments on the two wills of Christ are not dogma. Dogmas are set by church councils. If one wants to know what the dogma of the Church is regarding the two wills of Christ, one begins with the published dogmatic definition of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. You will not find any mention of Maximus within the dogmatic definition itself. Maximus’s writings were of course decisively influential for many of the council fathers, though I wonder how influential they were for the Latin Church, which had its own theological arguments for opposing monothelitism, as evidenced in Pope Agatho’s letters to the Emperor and the Decree of the Roman Synod. I doubt that the conciliar definition was received by Rome on the basis of St Maximus’s writings, and that fact alone is decisive for properly interpreting and applying the definition. The Sixth Ecumenical Council is a council of the entire Church, not just the Eastern part of it. This raises a host of interesting hermeneutical questions for the interpretation of dogmatic statements, but those questions are unavoidable and Orthodox theologians have only begun to address them. They have had other fish to fry.

        In any case, I still do not see how dyothelitism impacts the question of universal salvation. No one here is talking about anyone being converted to Christ against his or her will. No one is talking about the “metaphysical necessity” of apocatastasis.

        Finally, I am happy to learn from both Catholic and Protestant theologians and philosophers. To disparage Talbott and Reitan because they are non-Orthodox verges on a form of sectarianism of which I strongly disapprove. The simple fact is, some of the most interesting and instructive reflection on hell and damnation is being presently done by Catholic and Protestant philosophers (e.g., Jonathan Kvanvig and Jerry Walls, whom I have mentioned previously). If you wish to criticize Talbott or Reitan’s arguments (or any other non-Orthodox philosopher/theologian which I cite on my blog), by all means do so; but stick with their arguments and show where they go wrong. Quite honestly, I think that any Orthodox who desires to reflect on the question of universal salvation needs to read Talbott carefully and seriously, as well as George MacDonald. I think we can learn a lot from them.

        It’s all about the good news of Jesus Christ!

        Like

  9. PJ says:

    Father,

    You write, “Appeals to ecclesial authority are insufficient and hardly encourage constructive discussion.” This is a surprising statement, coming from an Orthodox. Ecclesial authority is insufficient? What else is there? The Scripture, of course. But the Scripture is interpreted through and in and by the Church. Right?

    Personally, I’m skittish about spending too much time on this matter of universal salvation. Perhaps — perhaps — it is an acceptable theologumenon. But can we ever really know? And how can we ever really know? And what is the potential for scandal? Hmm …

    Like

    • Rhonda says:

      PJ,
      “You write, “Appeals to ecclesial authority are insufficient and hardly encourage constructive discussion.” This is a surprising statement, coming from an Orthodox.”

      Especially from an Orthodox priest no less…normally. Remember context in comments to include who said what & why. However, I think what Fr. Aidan is implying is that mentioning of ecclesial authority in this response (& only this response) is being used to curtail all discussion rather than to augment it…i.e., we have a bad attitude here. I also suspect from the context that there is some “history” here that we have not been privy to (thankfully). Have you ever heard the phrase: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” when trying to discuss an issue with a Protestant fundamentalist? How far can discussion & communication go with this statement? Honestly, not an inch further!

      I am sure that Father did not mean that overall he does not believe in or adhere to ecclesial authority (or think it insufficient)…he is a priest afterall. To take his response to one commenter (a very combative one at that) in this very narrow context & then assume that is his attitude in its proper broad-based context would be erroneous on our part IMO. It is the mindset that is abusing ecclesial authority that he is commenting against, not ecclesial authority properly understood. The Holy Canons are not meant to be, nor were they ever meant to be used as proverbial billyclubs any more than the Holy Scriptures. To do so only strips all that is Holy out of them.

      Orthodox guardians of right belief…eesh!

      Like

      • PJ says:

        “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!””

        Sounds like Queen Elizabeth’s bit of eucharistic doggerel:

        He was the Word that spake it;
        He took the bread and brake it;
        And what that Word did make it;
        I do believe and take it.

        Like

  10. dino says:

    St Nicholas Velimirovich somewhere describes the Pharisees (and this seems to be a most germane description of those who carry on maintaining their own -locked from the inside- Hell) as wanting God’s death (Love’s death) far more than their own eternal life.

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  11. This is a really good blog. I am basically a protestant, but I have read some of Talbott’s stuff and have considered myself hopeful for the salvation of all mankind through the blood of Jesus Christ. There were some really good points made here. Like the analogy of pennies with glue sticking to the bottom of the box. I don’t believe God ever gives up on a human being. He is love throughout all eternity.

    Like

  12. Edward says:

    Father Aidan,
    You wrote:
    “Perhaps a person might delude themselves about this truth for a while, but as the agony and despair intensifies, how long can he hold out until the truth crashes down upon him? How long before his finite resources are exhausted and he hits bottom? How long before absolute reality shatters all illusions? Can we seriously entertain the possibility that this person, any person, might everlastingly persist in his hopeless rebellion? What is the gain? What is the rational motive?”

    I can think of a possible way that an individual might prefer to remain in his/her misery rather than turn to God. It might be that , from the individual’s point of view, turning to God would seem worse than the alternative. An earthly analogy might be someone who is so totally addicted to drugs that he views any individual who would try to rehabilitate him as his enemy. Could it not be that the so-called “fixed state” in eternity is psychological rather than metaphysical and ontological? In other words, while the sinner could, in principle, turn to God, he/she will find it psychologically impossible to do so. We see something of the same kind of pattern here on earth in a reverse direction. I would find it psychologically impossible to wilfully smash my head through a window or to jump off a bridge to my death. Nevertheless, it is not physically impossible for me to do so.
    Having said this,however, it cannot be denied that God can overcome even the impossible. The following quotation from St. Edith Stein has always impressed me:

    ” The more that grace wins ground from the things that had filled the soul before it, the more it repels the effects of the acts directed against it. And to this process of displacement there are, in principle, no limits. If all the impulses opposed to the spirit of light have been expelled from the soul, then any free decision against this has become infinitely improbable. Then faith in the unboundedness of divine love and grace also justifies hope for the universality of redemption, although, through the possibility of resistance to grace that remains open in principle, the possibility of eternal damnation also persists. Seen in this way, what were described earlier as limits to divine omnipotence are also canceled out again. They exist only as long as we oppose divine and human freedom to each other and fail to consider the sphere that forms the basis of human freedom. Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted. ”

    Hans Urs Von Balthasar, in his book, “Dare we Hope….” points out that the saints, who were utterly convinced of the reality of hell, nevertheless, prayed that none would enter into it. Even saints who had visions of souls falling into hell saw this not as a reason to give up in despair, but rather to throw themselves in the breach, as Moses and St. Paul were willing to do. St. Catherine of Siena is a case in point. Von Balthasar quotes here as follows:

    “How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hands? No, in absolutely no case do I want to see a single one of my brethren meet with ruin, nor a single one of those who, through their like birth, are one with me by nature and by grace. I want them all to be wrested from the grasp of the ancient enemy, so that they all become yours to the honor and greater glorification of your name.”

    And further:
    “If only your truth and your justice were to reveal themselves, then I would desire that there no longer be a hell, or at least that no soul would go there. If I could remain united with you in love while, at the same time, placing myself before the entrance to hell and blocking it off in such a way that no one could enter again, then that would be the greatest of joys for me, for all those whom I love would then be saved.”

    I am certainly no saint, but St. Catherine has expressed my feelings exactly. If only I had the courage to live as she lived.

    Ed

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      The Edith Stein quotation has intrigued me ever since I first read the Balthasar book. Unfortunately, Stein’s book has yet to be translated into English, so I’ve never been able to see if she discussed this question at greater length. But I especially like the last sentence: “Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted. ”

      May St Catherine of Siena continue to block the gates of hell, for all of us.

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      “I can think of a possible way that an individual might prefer to remain in his/her misery rather than turn to God. It might be that , from the individual’s point of view, turning to God would seem worse than the alternative.”

      Edward, you seem to be describing someone who is operating under a false belief or delusion. Objectively speaking, communion with God cannot be understood as “worse than the alternative.” Talbott would suggest that such a person cannot be described as possessing the necessary freedom. The question then becomes, Would our God allow a person under these circumstances to eternally damn himself? If not, what might he do? If Talbott and Reitan are right, the punishment of hades/hell will eventually shatter his delusion and persuade him to turn to God for relief and help. But perhaps a special intervention might be possible, just as we might arrange an intervention for an alcoholic or drug addict. Perhaps that’s what the prayers of the Church are–special interventions.

      Like

  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    For those who might be interested in knowing a bit more about Dr Eric Reitan, see this interview.

    Like

  14. dino says:

    Father,
    I recall the Elder Paisios mentioning that the prayers for the departed can, and do indeed have the power to “take a soul out of hell and place it into heaven”.
    However, he emphatically added that this is only ever possible in those cases that those who were saved in this way were people who (had, perhaps, fallen into grave and unrepented – in this life- sins but), were not totally given over to pride;
    there were certain other people who had a “demonic pride”, and on whom all prayers, all love, all help was wasted…
    Elder Aimilianos similarly says that man’s Egoism can actually become such a tightly held and worshipped god to that man, that no matter how much, or for how long God strives to embrace that man and bring him to his senses (or that demon even), that man will never ever desire to swap gods…
    Although I will not say I do not agree with the hope of eternal universal salvation, it is indeed our constant hope against all hope, at the same time, my own understanding is that, as we never have total Freedom until we are united to God, but only a lesser freedom (of choice), we are in danger of seeing the given paradise -“paradise as communion”-, the given being -“being as communion”-, as undesirable, and therefore carry on indefinitely avoiding the ‘exit’ from the maize, the ‘exit’ from the labyrinth of hell, as we keep looking for another exit from it every time we encounter the given exit…

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, Dino. Elders Paisios and Aimilianos appear to be expressing what I earlier called the classic Orthodox view.

      I agree with your thoughts about total freedom only being possible when we are fully and perfectly united to God. What degree of freedom is necessary, therefore, to make an informed and responsible decision against our good? Or do such considerations not matter?

      Like

  15. Marc says:

    Fr. Aidan,
    One important issue regarding salvation is reconciliation. This reconciliation must include all those whom we have sinned against, in addition to God. It may be that for a Stalin or Hitler this prospect is so painful that they would prefer the fate of Satan and the demons.

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  16. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    If Hades may be thought, in some sense, as purgatorial, which is what Bulgakov and Evdokimov believed, then a body of recent Western reflection on the therapeutic nature of purgatory becomes available to us. I mention this only to mention this one nice blog article written by a Byzantine Catholic priest: “Purgatory and the Christian East.” The Methodist philosopher Jerry Walls has also recently published a very helpful book on the subject: Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. Walls also wrote an article several years ago titled “Purgatory for Everyone.”

    I would hypothesize that the difference between hell and purgatory (both understood as states and not locations) is that in the former the individual is oriented away from God and in the latter the individual is oriented toward God. The latter have already signed the papers for rehab; the former have yet to hit their bottom and still think that sin ain’t their problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Dino, Marc, et.al.,

    As I understand your key point, we must allow the possibility that an individual can become so fixed in pride and hatred that he becomes irredemable. No matter what God might do, he will NOT, under any circumstances, no matter how much time is given to him, repent. There’s no longer anything God can do. He is like the dwarfs in The Last Battle–impervious to God’s Word and influence. Does that sound right?

    A few more thoughts:

    1) How did the damned become that way? Did they, at a single moment, with full knowledge of the consequences of their decision and sufficient freedom, choose to become that way? Or did they simply begin begin a journey away from God, one step at a time, without fully understanding the consequences? If the latter, does it matter?

    2) Now that they have become impervious and incorrigible to God, how are they different from a sociopath or psychopath? Are they sick or evil? Is there a difference? Does it matter?

    3) If they are incapable of repentance and change, then what is the point in punishing them any further? I presume that they do and will find hell increasingly and unbearably painful. What should a God of infinite love do, keep them alive in their torment or annihilate them from existence? If they should choose annihilation as a means of escape from the pain, will God honor that request?

    4) Finally, can a human being, who is made in the image of God and who is therefore constituted by grace with a natural desire for union with God, who is their supreme happiness and good, actually become irredeemable as you suggest. Is he 100% evil or only 99.9999% evil? If the latter, doesn’t that mean that there is a .0001% chance that the person will turn to God for help? If so, doesn’t that mean that, given infinite time, that person will probably do precisely that, just as in Reitan’s coin box. Or are we really speaking of a one-time eschatological offer of forgiveness, which if turned down fixes that individual in a state of eternal, timeless condemnation? In other words, premise #4 in my article is wrong.

    Thank you for this constructive and helpful conversation.

    Like

    • Dino says:

      Father,
      sticking to the “classic Orthodox view”, I think that the logismos of annihlationalism, (“What should a God of infinite love do, keep them alive in their torment or annihilate them from existence? “) is partly refuted on the grounds that God is being, and Hell is as close as possible to non-being as a “free being” (Creature) can ever get , but, without ever completely going back to the “Nil”, the nothingness from which we were once created… It is, therefore, not possible for a being (created to be the First Angel , or the Theotokos, a Son and a Daughter of God) to ever completely not exist, we are all created as One and they are also created as the Saved saints are created, we are one and the same…
      Saying “Or did they simply begin a journey away from God, one step at a time, without fully understanding the consequences?” seems to forget that the persons that traveled the opposite journey, (whether St John the who never fell, or the Thief St Desmas) had the same freedom respecting providence granted them by God.
      Otherwise we might end up blaming Him…
      Also, another point is that God always gives us according to our intent (προαίρεση), which certainly implies that those in Hell have a crazy desire for it(!) as hard as that is to reasonably grasp…

      Like

    • Marc says:

      Fr. Aidan,
      Thanks for your blog and all your thougtful posts. Regarding your important questions, I think we have to remember that our God is omniscient. This means that your premise number 4 does have limits. However regarding your other questions, I do not have answers that have any more weight than the answers you have offered. When we try to understand these very important issues with what has been revealed to us, we are left with gaps. Based on what has been revealed to us we can evaluate the possibilities, and probabilities, yet we must be very reserved concerning the certainties.

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      For everyone’s further reflection: Thomas Talbott, “Freedom, Damnation, and the Power to Sin with Impunity.”

      Like

  18. dino says:

    Also, concerning “If they should choose annihilation as a means of escape from the pain, will God honor that request?” brings to mind that, in Hell, if we liken Hell to a labyrinth, to a maze, the ‘damned’ are given the exit from Hell by God, but always look for another exit.
    In other words, they might wish annihilation on themselves due to the desperate pain, but, “practically”, that most horrible feeling never makes them actually ask for annihilation, but for yet another “exit”.
    In a sense, all creature created by God, do eternally “wish for God” (He is the only “exit” in our above example), however, those in the Hell (of pride, luciferean pride) will never ever accept God as their God as they keep on being their own gods…
    This mode of existence keeps looking for the exit which is right in front of its very eyes but never sees it. They say: “How can I see God as God when I am god, He is something else…”
    As Saint Silouan used to say, if you place an egotist in Paradise, he will naturally say, “I want a bit better, how about higher up a bit”, and he will never stop until (like Lucifer) he desires to displace God from His throne and take it for himself.
    The great irony however, is that God does actually place us on His throne -when we have Him as our God rather than ourself as god-, but Luciferean pride is never content with its situation, not even in paradise, it will eventually desire God to be out of His throne, everyone in Hell and only him on the throne and still won’t be content; and if this were possible, if this could actually somehow take place, he would have actually reassembled Hell for himself again – in heaven…
    The fact that we are created in God’s image (our very “greatness”) is part and parcel of this scary possibility that goes from the depths of Luciferean pride all the way to the heights of Christ-like humility and Christ-like Love, which is of course Paradise.

    Like

    • Marc says:

      Dino,
      As creatures who have a beginning, and may have an end, we must be humble. Most of the life forms created by God are now extinct. Yes we are created in the image of God, with the potential to be like God, yet we are and always will be creatures. Evil will not exist in the New Creation, so those rational creatures who cling to evil will not be allowed to exist in the New Creation.

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      “In other words, they might wish annihilation on themselves due to the desperate pain, but, ‘practically’, that most horrible feeling never makes them actually ask for annihilation, but for yet another ‘exit’.”

      I wonder. Assuming eternal conscious torment, and I would think ever-increasing torment as alienation from God grows, it is hard for me to believe that the damned would not cry out for an end to the torture–namely, for annihilation. We have too many examples in this world to rule this out. Even Adolph Hitler preferred nothingness to living in a conquered Germany. As finite beings we can only bear so much suffering, after which we cry out for death, for nothingness. If the damned have irrevocably rejected God, and therefore rejected the one exit God has provided for them, then the only other alternative is metaphysical suicide. If the reprobate were to will their annihilation, why would God not respect their free choice?

      If God will not annihilate them, or at least render them eternally comatose, we must wonder why. What good does he hope to achieve by keeping them alive in everlasting anguish? We have excluded the possibility that the torment will be good for them, because their suffering cannot lead to their conversion. I can only think of one justification–divine retribution. And as we have seen, this is precisely what many of the Church Fathers believed.

      Like

      • Marc says:

        Fr. Aidan,
        I keep coming back to your premise number 3 from your essay, and number 2 on your list of a few more thoughts. It may be the the manifestation of evil among humans is indeed a matter of infection that is dealt a mighty therapeutic blow with the death of the body and continued therapies in the intermediate state No one who has studied the history of Stalin and Hitler can deny that in some very powerful ways they were victims. It may be in the end that only Satan and the demons are completely evil and beyond redemption. The weight of the Scriptural revelation seems to support this.

        Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Marc, have you read George MacDonald’s remarkable sermon “Consuming Fire“? MacDonald and St Isaac are on the same page, I think.

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      • Marc says:

        Thanks for the link Father. The fire of God’s presence illumines, purifies, or consumes.

        Like

  19. dino says:

    Marc,
    concerning humans and angels (unlike other creatures), St Justin Popvich’s celebrated saying is germane:
    “we are ‘condemned’ to immortality”.
    This is a quality that can be thought of as a necessary ‘prerequisite’ in order to yield eternal saints.
    So, although we have no life in us apart from God and we would constantly “tend” towards non-existence apart from His Grace, although we are as mortal as can be “according to nature”, and “immortal according to Grace”, we cannot self-annihilate. It is quite a mystery that both makes and doesn’t make sense, depending on how you look at it…

    Like

    • Marc says:

      dino,
      Although St. Justin has blessed the Church with much wisdom, his assertion that, “we are condemned to immortality,” lacks the weight of Scripture. Only God is naturally immortal, and He alone decides who is worthy of the gift of immortality. It is unfitting of creatures to opine about eternity as though they are not subject to the second death, because their own immortality remains in doubt.

      Like

  20. dino says:

    Also, as you rightly state Marc, God’s omniscience does indeed limit premise no.4; and supports that God always gives us according to our intent (προαίρεση), implying that those in Hell have a impossible to understand “desire” for it.

    Like

  21. Karen says:

    Regarding the “impossible to understand” desire for hell on the part of those who may enter Gehenna, I am again reminded of my discovery of the book entitled “2 Esdras” (or sometimes 4 Esdras) in some Bibles, which shows that first to second century Jewish believers were asking exactly these same kind of questions (and were being given the same kind of answers as we get from many Fathers in the Christian tradition). According to some scholarly opinions, this is a piece of pseudo-epigraphic apocalyptic Jewish literature, having some Christian interpolations, dating from some time after A.D. 70. It is a much-disputed text. There is more info. in the link below, and it should be possible to find a copy of the text online as well, which I recommend those interested in this topic read. It certainly informed the thinking of some early Fathers of the Church:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_Esdras

    Like

  22. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Olivier Clément once asked Elder Sophrony what would happen if a person does not agree to open his or her heart and accept the love of God. Sophrony replied, “You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.”

    Elder Sophrony speaks of a conversation he heard between St Silouan and an hermit:

    I remember a conversation between him and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, ‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’

    Obviously upset, the Staretz said:

    ‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?’

    ‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit.

    The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance:

    ‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all’

    “Love could not bear that.”

    Like

    • Marc says:

      I think this is a very powerful reason to believe that all people will be saved. Our lives are so connected to each other. We all have parents and relatives connecting us all the way back to Adam and Eve. Once we accept that we are a part of the greater human family, then it is hard to imagine that the eternal loss of anyone would not negatively effect the rest of the family.

      Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I cannot imagine heaven without my wife and children and family and dear friends. How could I be happy knowing one or more of them are suffering eternal torment?

        Western theology solved this by saying that we come to hate the damned, just as God hates the damned and rejoices in their just punishment. We see this in Dante’s Inferno.

        Like

      • Marc says:

        I can not come close to believe that God hates anyone. I think Dante might have had a drug abuse problem.

        Would the mothers of Stalin and Hitler be able forget about their sons if they were experiencing eternal torment or annihilation? On the other hand who is going to miss Satan and the demons if they are annihilated?

        Like

      • Isaac says:

        And what about the creation and the cosmos itself? I find that many of these conversations tend to focus on the salvation of persons alone rather than the biblical idea of a “new creation” in which this fallen and material world itself is transformed. I think the original purpose of humans was to “shepherd” or “garden” the creation into communion with God. I don’t take this to mean that every plant or animal that lived its time and went extinct will be “raised eternal” but that this world and this experience are not a throw away world and are “essential” to the final culmination of things. People tend to forget that the world to come is not biblically described as “heaven” as in an ethereal place of harps and clouds, but rather the “new heavens and new earth” meaning this world transformed in a like manner as the body of Jesus was raised and transformed. While a heaven without our loved ones is nearly impossible to imagine. I also think a heaven that is not somehow connected to this old and fallen creation would be lacking something as well.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        For a discussion on reprobation in Dante and Aquinas, see “Dante’s Hell” by Eleonore Stump.

        Like

  23. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    The example of Satan inevitably pops up in these discussions as we reflect on the possibility of eternal rebellion against the reign and love of God. If Satan can do it, perhaps human beings can, too. I have avoided talking about Satan, because I do not think we really know anything about Satan apart from the terrible malice that he directs against us. We do not know what it means for an angelic being to be trapped in the world, as he apparently is. He lives in and by his hatred for the world. His malice feeds off the world. Perhaps this is why the spiritual elders experience him as one incapable of repentance. As long as he exists in the world, he cannot confront the true nature of his plight; he cannot hit his spiritual bottom. He enjoys his demonic work of destruction too much.

    But what will happen to him when he is finally expelled from the world and no longer has the world as an object of his hatred? Bulgakov speculates on this in The Bride of the Lamb. It is only after his expulsion from the world, Bulgakov suggests, that “Satan’s duel with God begins” (p. 508). Perhaps one day in the future I will blog on this aspect of Bulgakov’s thought. But not now. I don’t like thinking about demons. It is sufficient to pray for divine protection against them.

    Like

  24. dino says:

    Very interesting responses here Father,
    Elder Sophrony’s words: “You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.”, are partcularly dear to my heart, and they ring true to those persons who have experienced Hell in this life.
    Perhaps our perception of time (and the change of that in the end times) might be at the root of why many Fathers insist on the eternal aspect of both states.
    St Silouan also had the logismos: “I cannot imagine heaven without my wife and children and family and dear friends. How could I be happy knowing one or more of them are suffering eternal torment?” and so did Elder Paisios and they both had that answered in similar ways.
    The Russian proverb comes to mind, “The only thing that a person can do alone is perish.”
    But also, the Orthodox ascetical understanding of combining Love with non-attachment through the 1st commandment. So, we love and we find all others (as per the 2nd commandment of love of neighbour) in Christ, through the 1st commandment…

    Like

  25. dino says:

    Let’s see if this pictorial (further) explanation of love, through Christ (without “attachment”) works!

    This type of love towards others:

    > God >
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > >
    Self > > Neigbour

    Rather than this love:

    Self > > > > > > > > > > > Neigbour

    Like

  26. dino says:

    I am afraid it did not work… The first picture was a trianglular line going up towards God first and then down towards neighbour (from God) afterwards, without a direct connection from Self to neighbour, but the space bar did not register and my drawing came out completely different to what I intended…! 🙂

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      This is no doubt related to the divine incomprehensibility, which WordPress is no doubt respecting. 🙂

      Like

      • dino says:

        Indeed Father!
        I have marvelled at the astute discernment of when WordPress chooses to work and when not to many a time… 🙂

        Like

  27. Karen says:

    Regarding this aspect of our interconnectedness with all of humanity, the quote from Elder Porphyrios of Greece that I brought up in the other thread (here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/what-is-orthodox-hell/#comment-2920) also comes to mind. I sometimes picture the actual event of the Final Judgment as a cascading event of mutual forgiveness on the part of all humanity beginning with the most sanctified humans beings (the Saints on on down through the ranks of sinners from the least sinful to the most). Out of our perfectly healed awareness of how much for which we have been forgiven (both by God and by others) in the full light of Christ, we will in turn release those who have sinned against us. Like the accusers of the adulteress brought before Christ in the Gospel of John, all the accusers of the most notorious sinners will one by one fall away until at last all are able to receive Christ’s word of non-condemnation and go and sin no more!

    Like

    • Marc says:

      That is a beautiful picture indeed Karen. I think this is a good explanation of how those who have caused so much pain and suffering throughout the course of history my be forgiven by their victims and be able to realize reconciliation.

      Like

      • Dino says:

        I also agree with Marc, Karen, very much so…
        It is also, all quite reminiscent of Elder Paisios’ (and others’) words on how blessed indeed it is to be persecuted, wronged, accused, sinned against;
        and what a “curse” it is (in this completely inverted from secular understanding) to never have been persecuted, wronged, accused, sinned against…!

        Like

  28. bedwere says:

    Hi, I’ve been a lurker so far. I’m not a theologian but simply a Roman Catholic faithful sticking to the Magisterium. Having said that, I’d like to tell you that in this world ( I don’t know what is in store in next) there are objects the defy our understanding of time and eternity: black holes. If we consider an observer who is in free fall towards the center of a black hole and another who is observing from far away, the first will feel that it takes a finite amount of time for him to cross the event horizon, the point of no-return beyond which light cannot escape. However, the second observer will measure that the trip of the first observer takes an infinite amount of time. So in this world we have an example of an experience which is both eternal and temporary depending on who is living it.

    Like

    • dino says:

      Bedwere,
      very astute observation indeed, it brings us back to the possible root of the problem being “Time” and our experience of it…

      Like

  29. I too have not commented before, but I have been reading since I discovered that the “new” Pontifications was going on over here. I don’t want to pose as full of gnomic wisdom or anything, but what I have to say really seems to be summed up very briefly: When I consider my sins, I am sure I am lost. When I look to Christ, I can hope. If the greatest of sinners may be saved, then there is no reason to doubt the possibility for anyone else.

    Like

  30. Drew says:

    Fr. Aidan, concerning your comments about how one can be happy in heaven knowing that your love ones are perishing in hell, I give you a simple argument by Tallbott. He, Reitan, McDonald, Parry, and Dr. Beck have been extremely influential in my thinking on this issue. From your posts, it sounds like they have been for you as well. Blessings. Also, are you on facebook father? http://www.willamette.edu/~ttalbott/basic.shtml

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I came across Talbott’s writings two years ago or so. When my son died, his argument became utterly convincing: I cannot imagine heaven without my son.

      Yes, I am on FB but I restrict my friends’ list to immediate family and old friends.

      Like

      • Drew says:

        I understand that you just want to keep your old friends and immediate family. I totally respect that. One of the reasons I began exploring the notion of universal reconciliation was due to the deconversion of my close cousin. My cousin had been a Christian many years and eventually lost his faith kicking and screaming. I can’t imagine heaven without Nathan. We were like brothers. Nathan is brilliant having graduated from Wash U and later went to Emory University where he got a masters in biblical studies. We used to talk a lot more but it has been harder to talk with him this past year. I often wonder how we could look at the same things and come to radically different conclusions. I miss him and have cried over him. Yet I deeply respect at the same time for going where he believes the evidence leads. In the meantime, here is Dr. BECKS series on universalism. Blessings.http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2006/11/why-i-am-universalist-summing-up-and.html?m=1

        Like

  31. Benedict says:

    Coming very late to this discussion, but I just wanted to add one little thought. (And perhaps I missed this in the comments above.) It occurs to me that another aspect of this discussion is the relationship between free will and “time”. Part of our experience of free will now is that we exist in time. “Hell” as such (as opposed to Sheol) is by its nature a state that exists outside of time as we know it and experience it. Perhaps the issue of people who reject God eternally and are therefore in a state of hell (which is by nature eternal simply because God is eternal) is incomprehensible to us now because we can’t imagine what free will will be in eternity, outside time as we have known it. I believe some of the fathers spoke to the fact that the demons are resolute in their free choice of rebellion against God because they experience time differently from how human beings experience it.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio provide an interesting contrast. In hell the damned experience their lives as an endless repetition of the same. But the souls in purgatory live in anticipation: they remember who they were and they look forward to their healing and transformation; they look forward to heaven.

      If Bulgakov is right that the afterlife needs to be understood as process and becoming, then it seems appropriate to think of it in terms of temporality, as different as it might be from our fallen experience and as impossible as it might be for us to correlate the two.

      And if we start thinking about life after the general resurrection and the new heaven and the new earth, it’s hard to think about bodies without thinking about space and time (though I have no idea what that might mean in the Kingdom).

      Like

  32. dino says:

    The “box of coins” example -I am afraid- misses a key point – perhaps the key point on the “being locked from inside forever” issue. And it has nothing to do with the non-existence of ‘time’. The point is that there is no ‘other’ state, no ‘other’ place, there is only another viewpoint of the same state, the same place. I cannot change ‘my surroundings’ (which is all that exists in a sense!) by “opening up to the Lord” due to my increasing unbearable misery, forcing me to finally repent, if I could I would have done this a very long time ago.
    If paradise, in truth, is the other, and most especially the true Other -God-; then my seeing this very thing: the ‘others’, especially God (which is in fact my only ‘escape’ from my true hell – and which is constantly being offered me) as “hell” for me (as Sartre astutely stated subjectively: ‘hell is the others’), how can I ever exit that luciferean experience of all that exists?

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dino, may I suggest that, as you understand the matter, the problem lies not with the coin box but with one or more of the premises that underlie the coin box experiment. The coin box presupposes (1) that the damned retain a measure of freedom and (2) that the damned always have the opportunity to change their mind. As you have analyzed damnation, you appear to disagree with both presuppositions.

      In your hell the damned have no measure of freedom. They are completely trapped in their selves and enslaved to their passions. Moreover, they appear to have lost the good of reason. They are incapable of re-evaluating their decision and the bogus reasons and delusions that underlie that decision. Hence there is zero probability that they will ever change their minds. No matter how many times God shakes the box, the coins will never flip heads-side down because in fact the coins are already stuck in position and cannot flip over.

      Hence the damned do not have the opportunity to change their minds. I suppose one might continue to affirm that God continues to will the salvation of the damned; but in fact, for them, this has no meaning. God has so configured his world that at the point of death the person’s orientation toward God or away from God is irrevocably fixed and confirmed. Not only are the coins stuck in position but God does not shake the box–there’s no point to it.

      If one is committed to eternal damnation and to the classical teaching that orientation is eternally established at death, then your existential analysis of the state of perdition is very persuasive as a way to understand why things are as they are. But your analysis in fact presupposes the classical teaching. If one begins to seriously entertain the universal salvation proposed by St Isaac, however, then your analysis becomes less compelling, especially when supplemented by the arguments of Talbott and Reitan … and Kimel, of course. 😉

      I love your reflections, Dino. You approach these questions in a very different way than I do. Hence I always learn something new. Thanks.

      Like

      • dino says:

        Father,
        what I see in St Isaac, I also see in St Silouan, as well as many others (ok maybe not in St John Chrysostom…) – always sticking with a “Romanides-style” preference for those who have encountered and beheld and come to know first-hand the Uncreated Light of God as opposed to those who talk “from their own mind”…..
        Although they all clearly hope for a universal salvation, – why else would they spend their lives praying for that very thing?, although they have reached an ontological understanding that they (like Christ) bear upon themselves all of humanity with which they are one and cannot separate themselves from the damned, they still hold to a classical understanding of hell…!
        The paradox I see, and sort of adhere to, is that of combining:
        1) prayer for universal salvation with
        2) belief in the very clear possibility of eternal perdition.
        Two complete opposites. A “mind in Hell (eternal) that hopes” (to paraphrase ‘Keep thy mind in hell and despair not’)
        In fact, as elder Sophrony used to say (about another subject) the ontological tree will only ever reach its cosmic destiny in every person -encompassing all that exists- and reach up to the highest heavens if it also has root in the depths of hell.
        The creation of man therefore contains within it the eternal Cross from the very beginning.

        I know that analysis and speculation of the mechanisms of this might not make sense to our reasoning mathematics, but that is what I see in all of these Saints, no?

        Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Based on my reading of his eschatological homilies in the Second Part of his discourses, I believe that St Isaac’s hope for universal salvation was much stronger than the hopeful universalism of, say, Met Kallistos. He emphatically declares that Gehenna will finally be emptied. He does not speculate further on the mystery; he just prophesies it. God will persuade all in Gehenna to embrace his love. The alternative of an eternally populated hell was intolerable to him, as I think it should be intolerable to all of us. The God of absolute Love would not permit that. God only punishes in order to heal. Isaac certainly does not believe that the damned can ever place themselves in an existential position beyond the converting power of God.

        St Isaac had the advantage of not being dogmatically bound to the anti-Origen anathemas attributed to the 6th Ecumenical Council. He was free to speak his mind and heart–and free to experience the revelation of universal hope in all of its depth. Perhaps Elder Sophrony and others would have spoken more forthrightly, if they did not believe that the Church had dogmatically rejected apocatastasis.

        Like

  33. dino says:

    certainty vs hope

    St Isaac the Syrian still (as a whole) seems somewhat evasive on the subject of apocatastasis though… There is not that much in his writings that is different to the “Metalinos and co” view… Sometimes he could very probably be talking of the intermediate hades (as most hearts filled with God’s mercies towards all seem to often be), sometimes admittedly not (very very rarely), sometimes he is blatantly ‘hopeful’ sometimes quite ‘strict’ too…

    Other “beholders” of God’s love who still adhere to a classical model of hell (as St Silouan and others) who in their words maintain their careful adherence to the classical eternal hell after the Last Judgement model, while in their prayers most obviously hope for the eternal apocatastasis of all in all, seem to somehow “combine the un-combine-able”.
    They clearly KNOW that God is Love and therefore loves (as St Nikodemus the Hagiorite says) the ‘first’ (His all Holy Mother) no more than the ‘last’ (Satan), and He desires the salvation of all equally, yet they still maintain what they have seen of the complete un-persuedability of some.

    I am reminded here of the scary insight into this scary ‘freedom’. Although it is the only freedom that can ever yield saints, it yields demons too and the scary insight is documented in the book “my elder Joseph the Hesychast and cave-dweller” (I am not entirely sure what the official English title is). It describes how a possessed man struggled to be freed through the constant use of the Jesus prayer. The demon inside him had the peculiarity of screeching with a clearly female voice – an oddity in the Holy Mountain. When he eventually was nearing freedom and was palpably tasting that compunctionate love and mercy towards all, the man felt God’s love for all and started praying for the poor demon that had possessed and tortured him for so long. However (this is the insight into the unexplainable freedom that on the one hand spawns saints while on the other spawns pride – the seed of Gehenna), the demon spoke back when hearing the man saying “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on this poor demon I have inside of me”, by screeching: “I do NOT need any “mercy”, HE is to blame and HE must say sorry to me!”, showing that if a soul cannot be freely and voluntarily humbled – how can it change its state?

    An eternal hell is indeed intolerable all, especially to the saints and the holier they are, – the closer they are to Christ’s Cross rather than just the ‘Good Thief’s (Saint Desmas’s) Cross’-, the more intolerable it is. However, like Christ they can only hope that “If they be lifted up, like Christ on the Cross, (praying the Gethsemanynian prayer for the salvation of all) they too will will draw all men to Him”. They have a knowledge of the aforementioned ‘scary freedom’ that cannot ever be certain and can only hope, it is not just carefully worded arguments, but it seems to me to be an ontological knowledge that gives birth to this…
    The words of ‘certainty’ (rather than hope) on universal salvation seem to only ever spring up from a somewhat different tasting “reasoning” and are only to be found in more philosophical rather than ascetical writers…

    Like

  34. dino says:

    So, in a nutshell, we hope for the salvation of all, we cannot tolerate any of God’s creation being in eternal perdition -not a single demon-; yet, we also know that if God risked creating free beings, there will be a “difference” (to put it very very mildly) in their experience of Him.

    Here is another image:
    The afterlife is a little like a magnificent theatrical play, unimaginably enticing, in one of those ancient Greek amphitheatres, where supposedly every single seat has the same good view and good sound as any other seat, yet one person has a doctorate and an all consuming interest in the play, another entered by accident and knows next to nothing about it but enjoys it immensely nonetheless, another one still cannot stop generating complaints in his well-trained (in “complaining”) mind about this and that and the other…
    God tries to entice this last one too, constantly, but the training that makes the one with the doctorate (eg St Paul) enjoy it more than the one who who entered by accident -that same “training” – makes the other one fidget and complain forever…

    Like

  35. dino says:

    One final point concerning the newly found writings of St Isaac not found in the original highly respected ascetical homilies is that there is still a great deal of speculation as to whether these belong to the same St Isaac the Syrian or to another (very likely a Nestorian) writer… As i personally read mostly in Greek I only -unfortunately know of the Greek sources for this, some of which are fairly ‘polemical’ eg: http://www.egolpion.com/isaaksuros_oikoumenismos.print.el.aspx I mention this as they are the main ‘ascetical’ work that is used by Bishop Hylarion to make the point for certainty vs hope…

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dino, I am intrigued. When you state that there is serious question about the authenticity of the Second Part, on what scholars are you relying? This is the first I have heard of this. I have actually corresponded with Sebastian Brock, one of the world’s foremost scholars on Syrian Christianity, and he certainly that the discourses are authentic. The existence of these discourses have been well known in the Syrian Christian world since at least the 800s. Hilarion Alfeyev believes in their authenticity as well. Brock surveys the manuscript tradition in the introduction of his English translation of the Second Part.

      Take a look at this brief internet discussion. It appears to me that some folks do not want the Second Part to be authentic precisely because of their universalism.

      Like

      • dino says:

        Sorry Father,
        there is a great deal of this ‘clarification’ (on far more than St Isaac, as there are now quite a few of western introduced or influenced writings flooding these coutries) going on in the traditional Orthodox countries and immense discernment is needed to discern whether some are erring in the name of “discernment” or not!….

        Protopresbyter John Photopoulos has written extensively in Greek about the misattribution of the texts from a ‘pseudo-Isaac’ to St Isaac the Syrian. He is generally quite strict in his views (that is my own thought and I could be wrong) on many other ‘modernist’ and liberal Orthodox books, without being an outright traditionalist ‘zealot’ though.

        I am afraid I do not know anything in English concerning this!

        Protopresbyter John Photopoulos’s claims are sometimes concerned with the fact that: “from some of the writings of Bishop K. Ware and the book of Bishop Hilarion it is immediately understood that the ecclesiastical tradition on St Isaac has been deleted from their conscience and they have now “learned” both by Wensinck and other treatises that Abba Isaac is Nestorian!”

        I am afraid that -if need be- I could currently do no more than a (pretty atrocious!) “google translation” from some online Greek I have found, (anyone can do this of course) here is one link:
        http://www.egolpion.com/isaaksuros_oikoumenismos.el.aspx

        Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Dino, I emailed Sebastian Brock about the question of authenticity of the Second Part. He replied this morning. He acknowledged that some have questioned the authenticity of the Second Part because of the last chapters (i.e., the eschatological homilies). “I don’t however know of any serious Syriac scholars who take that line,” he writes, “and the ideas and usage in Parts I and II are very similar.”

        That suffices for me. That some people in Russia and Greece may dispute the authenticity of the Second Part because of its alleged heterodoxy does not mean that there is an actual scholarly debate occurring on the question.

        Like

        • dino says:

          Regarding scholarly debate I certainly agree. However it is more a question of ecclesial adoption that concerns us in Orthodoxy. We want the truth, no matter what it is…
          To get back to Elder Sophrony and St Silouan – who clearly combine ultimate love with the classical view of hell -; here are some very pertinent and clearly explanatory quotes from the book on St Silouan the Athonite from “On Freedom” (the word mostly used in Greek and Russian is actually slightly more nuanced “προαίρεση”):

          The Staretz [St Silouan] both said and wrote that Christ-like love cannot suffer any man to perish, and in its care for the salvation of all men walks the way of Calvary.
          …‘by virtue of this love the monk’s heart sorrows over the people because not all men are working out their salvation. The Lord Himself so grieved over the people that He gave Himself to death on the cross. And the Mother of God bore in her heart a like sorrow for men. And she. Like her beloved Son, desired with her whole being the salvation of all…’
          In the really Christian sense the work of salvation can only be done through love – by attracting people. There is no place for any kind of compulsion. In seeking the salvation of all men love feels impelled to embrace not only the world of the living but also the world of the dead, the underworld and the world of the as yet unborn – that is, the whole race of Adam. And if love rejoices and is glad at the salvation of abrother, she also weeps and prays over a brother who perishes…’
          …The power of love is vast and pregnant with success but it does not override. There is a domain in human life where a limit is set even to love – where love is not supreme. This domain is freedom [“προαίρεση”].
          Man’s freedom is positive, real. It concedes no determinism in his destiny, so that neither the sacrifice of Christ Himself nor the sacrifices of all those who have trodden in His footsteps lead necessarily to victory. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz.
          What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’.
          The Staretz was unlettered but no one surpassed him in craving for true knowledge. The path he took was, however, quite unlike that of speculative philosophers. Knowing this, I follwed with the deepest interest the way in which the most heterogeneous problems were distilled in the alembic of his mind, to emerge in his consciousness as solutions. He could not develop a question dialectically and express it in a system of rational concepts – he was afraid of ‘erring in intellectual argument’; but the propositions he pronounced bore the imprint of exceptional profundity…
          …Christianity is not a philosophy, not a doctrine, but life; and all the Staretz’ conversations and writings are witness to this life…

          Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Thanks, Dino, for the citation from St Silouan. It’s a keeper.

        I understand about ecclesial and spiritual reception. I just don’t think that a question of patristic authorship can be determined by it. Even if one disagrees with St Isaac’s position on apocatastasis, that in no way detracts from the theological and spiritual value of his other writings nor of his sanctity.

        My concern here is that each of the Fathers need to be heard in both their common and distinctive witness to the truth, rather than homogenizing them into a bland testimony which only confirms what we already think we know and believe (always in and by the Spirit, of course). Nor need we be concerned about this, as we do not confess the inerrancy of any individual Church Father.

        If the recent discovery of homilies of St Isaac should compel us to re-think the question of universal salvation, that is all to the good and should not be feared. But this takes us into the topic of ecclesial infallibility and authority, and that is best discussed another time. 🙂

        Thanks, Dino, for the conversation.

        Like

  36. Rhonda says:

    Interesting exchange, Dino & Father. Thanks.

    “we do not confess the inerrancy of any individual Church Father”
    I just had that conversation a few days ago with an evangelical who did not realize otherwise! Ironically, a few minutes later as we were discussing the Trinity & dual-natures of Christ, he began quoting Athanasius!

    Like

    • You have the most interesting conversations, Rhonda! Except for those here on Eclectic Orthodoxy, most of my conversations center on my dog Tiriel and duplicate bridge. 😉

      Like

      • Rhonda says:

        Well, I could talk about my cat Pepper, but he is a 15# lump that doesn’t do much unless he wants fed. A conversation about bridge would consist of me spelling it 😉

        The previous conversation was mundane compared to the recent one with my daughter who is home from college for the summer. Her & hubby aren’t getting along at the moment. I recommended that she talk with my priest about “bottle-necked communication issues”. That was a mistake…apparently talking to him is considered “punishment”! A few minutes later she asked that I invite him & the matushka to dinner sometime??? Apparently he is a wonderful human-shield whom she can hide behind as she introduces her father to her new boyfriend 😉 Fortunately, Fr. Punishment-Shield has a good sense of humor & great patience with our family 🙂

        Like

  37. Nathan says:

    Father Kimel,

    I have only recently had time to briefly look at this conversation. I hope to read your post and the ensuing discussion in the coming days. For now, I thought you may find this article to be of interest: http://logia.org/blogia/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Keller_Choosing_Hell.pdf

    I have also not read this but just discovered it. Not being familiar with this territory, about all I noticed is that the author also talks about libertarian and compatibilist parties. He argues for a “Lutheran compatibilist” theory.

    Blessings to you. Doing a post which mentions some of your recent posts this morning.

    +Nathan

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good to have you back, Nathan! And thank you for the link. I look forward to reading the article.

      Like

  38. Seraphim says:

    Hello Fr. Kimel,
    I have been reading your blog for a few months now, but this is my first time posting. I became interested (and am still interested) in Orthodoxy a couple years ago, and finally began speaking with a priest last month.
    Universalism is a topic I frequently ponder, and I have often thought that if anything keeps me out of Orthodoxy it will be my seeming inability to be anything other than a universalist. Nothing else, save it be the God of Calvinism who I could only ever protest, seems feasible to me. I don’t think human beings choose evil unless their freedom has been compromised, and I don’t think a loving God would seal our fate at death as a result of our compromised choices. Anyways, thank you for your contributions. It is good to see that there are sympathizers of universal reconciliation in the ancient faith.

    + Seraphim

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      You are welcome, Seraphim. I’m delighted you have found some of my articles helpful. Did you take a look at my postings on St Isaac the Syrian?

      Like

      • dino says:

        Seraphim,
        Although I understand your predicament well, I feel it too; however, it comes across as if you are saying to God, ‘I am only accepting You this way and no other, these are Your options’… But then what are “my” options if the knowledge I require prior to giving my ‘consent’ is never granted?

        Like

      • seraphim says:

        I have yet to give them the attention they deserve, but I have seen them. Thank you for pointing them out.

        Like

  39. seraphim says:

    To Dino:
    I can understand how it might seem as though I have a “God has to meet my standards” perspective, but in reality my belief in universalism is more a belief I can’t help but hold given years of considering the arguments on both sides and my philosophical considerations of free will and human choices. There have been a few times where my personal opinion on an issue, such as gay “marriage” for instance, has been altered after thorough consideration of the arguments on both sides of the issue, along with the moral presuppositions. In short, I am not a universalist because I feel like it; I am a universalist because, after giving what I believe is a thorough consideration to the subject, the alternatives don’t make sense to me. I read St. Isaac the Syrian, Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, Met. Kallistos Ware, George MacDonald, and Fr. Aidan and they resonate with me on both an emotional and intellectual level while their opponents fall flat, seeming to cling to a more traditional view merely because it has been more prevalent in the Fathers. All that being said, I am more than willing to have my mind changed, and I pray daily for God’s guidance.

    Like

  40. Nathan says:

    seraphim,

    “There have been a few times where my personal opinion on an issue, such as gay “marriage” for instance, has been altered after thorough consideration of the arguments on both sides of the issue, along with the moral presuppositions. In short, I am not a universalist because I feel like it; I am a universalist because, after giving what I believe is a thorough consideration to the subject, the alternatives don’t make sense to me.”

    I am wondering how your view of gay “marriage” may have changed – if you are willing to share that information.

    Thank you,
    Nathan

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Let’s keep the subject of gay marriage completely out of this thread. Thanks!

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    • Seraphim says:

      Out of respect for Fr. Kimel I won’t go into my answer here, but perhaps I will take up the question on my own blog when I have time.

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