The Secret of the Universalist Hope

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“Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Confessions I.1)—perhaps the most famous sentence from one of the most famous prayers (and most certainly the longest) in the catholic tradition. St Augustine’s words have been quoted by preachers ever since they were penned. They point us to the most fundamental truth of our existence—we are created for God and can only find lasting happiness and fulfillment in him. Stephen J. Duffey offers the following commentary:

Grace is a comprehensive ambience for Augustine. No person, event, aspect of his life stood outside the divine intent to bring him to fulfillment. Conversion was not the first entrance of grace into his life, only the compass point from which he could read the presence of grace from the very beginning of his days. Wherever he meets himself, God is there before him. Thus the prayer of gratitude suffuses the Confessions. Grace is inescapable, wholly prevenient. Every movement of his heart, every initiative of his will is preceded by God who calls and sustains his holy restlessness. The relentless undertow in his life was the emptiness God had set within him, which only God could fill up, and the unfathomable Providence of God, which drew him, yet rescued him from being swallowed by the emptiness. In Augustine’s metaphysics of creation the substrate of every creature is the formless void of Genesis. The creature is mutable, defectible, teetering on the brink of nothingness whence it came. In the created spirit, this void is the innate desire for happiness. Attracting us to God yet unable to bring us to God, it leads to dangerous and restless questing. For the created spirit to be complete, this chaos within must be “formed” by the Word and stabilized by the Spirit. Often a dull ache, this inner desire could erupt in sharp pain. It was this experience that grounded Augustine’s understanding of grace. (The Dynamics of Grace, p. 82)

Created in the image of God we are incomplete without God. Of course, no one is truly without God. As divine Creator, God actively exists in the ontological depths of every person. He is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. Yet we suffer from an existential inquietude that evidences our brokenness and alienation. Imago Dei—we are divinely ordered to participation in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How is this reunion with the Creator established? By love, declares Augustine: “You do not see God. Love and you have God. God offers the total divine Self. God cries out to us: Love me and you will have me, yet you could not love me unless you already had me” (Sermon 34).

St Maximus the Confessor would later affirm that God has given to humanity “a natural desire and longing for Him” (Philokalia, II:284). Dumitru Staniloae, deeply influenced by Maximus, speaks of this longing and how it becomes perverted:

The human being has a spiritual basis and therefore a tendency toward the infinite which also is manifested in the passions; but in these passions the tendency is turned from the authentic infinite which is of a spiritual order, toward the world, which only gives an illusion of the infinite. Man, without being himself infinite, not only is fit, but is also thirsty for the infinite and precisely for this reason is also capable of, and longs for, God, the true and only infinite (homo capax divini—man capable of the divine). He has a capacity and is thirsty for the infinite not in the sense that he is in a state to win it, to absorb it in his nature—because then human nature itself would become infinite—but in the sense that he can and must be nourished spiritually from the infinite, and infinitely. He seeks and is able to live in a continual communication with it, in a sharing with it. But man didn’t want to be satisfied with this sharing in the infinite; he wanted to become himself the center of the infinite, or he believed that he is such a center; he let himself be tricked by his nature’s thirst for the infinite. (Orthodox Spirituality, p. 78)

Speaking from the Latin tradition, Duffy describes the contemporary Augustinian-Catholic understanding of the natural desire for God:

In the concrete nature of fallen humanity there is an interior, absolute desire of the Kingdom that correlates with the universal salvific divine will. This determination is an existential. It is prior to all personal options and persists through all possible acceptances or rejections of one’s end. Whatever one does, one remains interiorly ordered to absolute communion with God. Not that one is in a “state of grace,” to use the traditional language. But one is always in a graced order and under the influence of the offer of grace. To some degree this existential determination seeps into consciousness. It is an attraction and all attractions are necessarily consciously experienced in some measure. In this case it is perhaps confusedly experienced as an appreciation of the goods of the Kingdom. More often this attraction will be lived rather than reflected upon. But it can rise to the level of reflection and clear articulation, as in the case of Augustine’s “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless….” (The Graced Horizon, p. 23)

Humanity is created for communion with the living God. We cannot find happiness apart from him who is the immanent ground of our existence and the fulfillment of all our searchings. Deus intimior intimo meo. God is the origin and end of all human desire.

And here, I suggest, is the secret of the universalist hope. No matter how deeply we sink into our sin and egoism, no matter how thick the darkness that surrounds and penetrates our hearts becomes, we remain images of the divine Image. We are created for the Holy Trinity and interiorly ordered to eternal communion with him. The thirst for the beatific vision can never be eradicated from our being. Even the damned continue to thirst for God, even while denying the only One who can slake their thirst. “Those who are tormented in Gehenna are tormented by the invasion of love,” declares St Isaac the Syrian. Constituted by God for theosis, we always stand under his grace and universal salvific will.  God yearns for us to repent and enter into deifying communion with him. This is our fundamental truth.

Too often when reflecting on hell and eternal damnation, we think of human beings as created in a neutral relationship to God, perhaps even in a posture of indifference. We forget that we are ontologically oriented to God. We may have profoundly enslaved ourselves to our passions and egoism; but we can never obliterate the fundamental desire of our hearts nor cut ourselves off from our Creator. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” the psalmist sings. “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (Ps 139:7-8).

Thomas Talbott proposes that God can effect the salvation of all people simply by allowing them to suffer the immanent consequences of their sin. Talbott thus sees hell as a mode of purgatory. God does not need to interfere with human freedom; for he has structured human nature in such a way that every departure from the divine will results in interior suffering, dissatisfaction, and misery. All he needs to do is to not shield the damned from the terrible consequences of their sin. As their misery increases it will become increasingly impossible for them to sustain the illusion that they can find genuine beatitude anywhere but in their Creator.

Alcohol addiction serves as an apt analogy. For an alcoholic to begin the way of recovery, he needs to “hit bottom,” as the folks in AA like to say; and he reaches bottom through the process of experiencing the emotional and physical distress caused by his drinking. At some point, he reaches that point where he can no longer convince himself that the benefits of intoxication outweigh the pain and suffering that his drinking has brought upon himself and those he loves.

Those who die enslaved to the passions remain enslaved in the next life. This is their hell.  They are sundered from the goods of creation and thus unable to satisfy their disordered desires. Like the addict who is cut off from his drugs when he enters detox, the damned are cut off from anything that might, even momentarily, assuage their cravings. Thus St John of Damascus:

The righteous, by desiring and having God, rejoice forever; but the sinners, by desiring sin and not possessing the objects of sin, are tormented as if eaten by the worm and consumed by fire, with no consolation; for what is suffering if not the absence of that which is desired. According to the intensity of desire, those who desire God rejoice, and those who desire sin are tormented. (Against the Manicheans [PG 94:1573])

Talbott advances a similar understanding of hell, but unlike the Damascene he asserts that every condemned person will eventually hit his bottom; each will reach a point where he can no longer maintain the delusion that selfishness and autonomy will bring happiness. Unbearable suffering breaks us all; it cannot be forever endured.  Hence all who die in a state of mortal sin will become open to rediscovery of his natural desire for the Infinite. This tiny window is all the God of Love needs:

Pauline theology provides a clear picture of how the end of reconciliation could be foreordained even though each of us is genuinely free to choose which path we will follow in the present. The picture is this: The more one freely rebels against God in the present, the more miserable and tormented one eventually becomes, and the more miserable and tormented one becomes, the more incentive one has to repent of one’s sin and to give up one’s rebellious attitudes. But more than that, the consequences of sin are themselves a means of revelation; they reveal the true meaning of separation and enable us to see through the very self-deception that makes evil choices possible in the first place. We may think that we can promote our own interest at the expense of others or that our selfish attitudes are compatible with enduring happiness, but we cannot act upon such an illusion, at least not for a long period of time, without shattering it to pieces. So in that sense, all paths have the same destination, the end of reconciliation, but some are longer and windier than others. Because our choice of paths in the present is genuinely free, we are morally responsible for that choice; but because no illusion can endure forever, the end is foreordained. As Paul himself puts it: We are all predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (see Romans 8:29); that part is a matter of grace, not human will or effort. (The Inescapable Love of God, p. 189)

In my article “Rational Freedom and the Incoherence of Satan,” I raised the question whether we can imagine any lucid, fully informed person freely embracing eternal misery instead of eternal happiness. We are now in a better position to understand the insanity of self-damnation. If God is our absolute Good, then rejection of God is rejection of our own good and thus rejection of ourselves. As Talbott writes:

Religious people sometimes speak of God as if he were just another human magistrate who seeks his own glory and requires obedience for its own sake; they speak as if we might reject the Creator and Father of our souls without rejecting ourselves, oppose his will for our lives without opposing, schizophrenically perhaps, our own will for our lives. … But if God is our loving Creator, then he wills for us exactly what at the most fundamental level, we want for ourselves; he wills that we should experience supreme happiness, that our deepest yearnings should be satisfied, and that all of our needs should be met. (p. 185)

The identity of the absolute good we truly desire and the good our heavenly Father everlastingly wills for us—this is the secret of the universalist hope.

(Go to “Universalism and the Vision of the Good”)

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20 Responses to The Secret of the Universalist Hope

  1. Michael Bauman says:

    Full universalism I liken to those enabling that alcoholic to continue to live in self-destruction. Akin to saying: “Hey, it don’t matter man, God will take care of everything, don’t sweat it.”

    Even the hell-as-purgatory contains somewhat of the same dilemma for me even though I am inclined to embrace it. Still are there not alcoholics who never find the bottom?

    It is also at odds, or so it seems, with the narrow road. I can see the Patristic insistence on the difficulty of salvation and the struggle it entails dove-tailing with the hell-as-purgatory idea in a kind of “pay the price now or pay it later” approach.

    Still, I find it troubling on a basic level that is difficult to articulate.

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    • On the surface, it may sound like God will take care of everything so why bother. Indeed, that is why those who promoted the doctrine tried to reserve it to the more spiritually serious who would be least likely to abuse it.

      However, entrance into heaven entails a real conversion of the heart and soul towards God – a purification and reorientation we all need in some fashion. We all know it can be a long, even disheartening experience at times to let go of what we consider ourselves – “hell on earth” as we call it. To enter Hell with that mentality of “paying it later” means one would never leave until that submission to God takes place, a rejection of that mentality or false ego. That will either happen now or in the future…but it will ultimately be one’s own choice. I would venture to say that in this world, through God’s creation, we experience veiled revelation of God’s goodness in a way not possible in Hell. On the one hand, this can make our imperfections more masked through daily experience; on the other hand, if approached rightly, it is a balm. I’m thinking of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” (Dante’s “Inferno” might work, too) where the ghosts such as Marley’s are unable to participate in created life and thus atone or reorient themselves in an ordinary way. In the purgatorial vision of Hell, one is left precisely with the shorn goodness of God in preserving our existence. It might be easier now. My point is that whether within time here and now or in Hell real conversion must take place and will not take place until one assents to it.

      To use an analogy from Buddhism or Hinduism, honestly, the multitude of hells they depict are just as terrifying as any Christian Last Judgment scene. The whole root of reincarnation – aside from its socio-political imperfections – is that the reincarnated work through their delusions by reentering life progressively before reaching moksha, which takes eons and eons. I’m not sure that working through damnation is any easier. Oddly enough, the Buddha even referred to this life as a house burning which nobody realizes, living in their delusions.

      I probably could have structured this better as I’m thinking through this. My point, I think, is that, yes, I agree with you that could be a danger but that is entirely the wrong approach to true conversion and purification of the soul which will, in the end, not lead to God. Second, the healing of the soul might be easier on this side of creation due to a more immediate experience of God’s grace. If the emphasis is placed more on theosis of the self rather than God’s judgment (which seems external and legal to the soul’s medication as nothing has to change before union with God), then the danger would be lessened.

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      • Agni Ashwin says:

        It should also be pointed out that not all Hindu and Buddhist traditions are universalist. Some teach either that (1) there are persons who will definitely continue to cycle throughout samsara for eternity without being liberated (because they will continue to make that choice); or (2) there is no guarantee that all persons will want to be liberated from samsara. Even the Hindu and Buddhist traditions that are universalist, do not take the view that a person’s liberation will occur without that person’s conscious and spiritual will and surrender.

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        • Interesting. Are there any good, scholarly resources on historical Buddhist or Hindu eschatology you would recommend? Eastern religions, while interesting to read about and compare, are not my forte.

          That last sentence was the point I was trying to drive at as a means of illustration – namely, that universalism is by no means a getting off the hook from real repentance. Now I don’t know, but, in universalist strains, are there Buddhists or Hindus – or opponents – who try to “take advantage” of the reincarnation system by just leaving it off to the next round? It seems to me that might be a response very Christian specific.

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      • Agni Ashwin says:

        “Interesting. Are there any good, scholarly resources on historical Buddhist or Hindu eschatology you would recommend? Eastern religions, while interesting to read about and compare, are not my forte.”

        Deepak Sarma’s “An Introduction to Madhva Vedanta” gives a summary of Hindu eschatology in the introduction, and has a chapter on “Madhva soteriology”, where he discusses Madhva’s distinctive (in a Hindu context) non-universalistic soteriology.

        On the Buddhist side, Peter Harvey’s, “The Selfless Mind” discusses how Early Buddhism (which survives today as the Theravada tradition) viewed how “the world ends” (chp. 5), and mentions how in the Theravada texts, when the Buddha was asked whether everyone will eventually realize freedom from reincarnation, remained silent. Buddhist traditions (other than Theravada) are not hesitant or quiet about the ultimate liberation of all beings from reincarnation.

        “That last sentence was the point I was trying to drive at as a means of illustration – namely, that universalism is by no means a getting off the hook from real repentance. Now I don’t know, but, in universalist strains, are there Buddhists or Hindus – or opponents – who try to “take advantage” of the reincarnation system by just leaving it off to the next round? It seems to me that might be a response very Christian specific.”

        I’m sure many Hindus or Buddhists might think,”Why not wait?”, using reincarnation as an excuse to not devote themselves to God, or to the teaching of the Buddha; which is why other Hindus and Buddhists stress the idea that there is no guarantee that one’s next lifetime (or more) will be as “pleasant” as one’s present lifetime. In Buddhism, there’s the idea that gaining another human life, in one’s next birth, is as likely as a sea-turtle poking his neck through a particular hula-hoop floating in the vast oceans — so one had best use one’s present life to the best of one’s ability.

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    • Agni Ashwin says:

      ” Full universalism I liken to those enabling that alcoholic to continue to live in self-destruction. Akin to saying: “Hey, it don’t matter man, God will take care of everything, don’t sweat it.” ”

      I would suggest that universalism is akin to say, “Don’t despair. See God in all things.”

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    • Tom Talbott says:

      Michael Bauman wrote: “Full universalism I liken to those enabling that alcoholic to continue to live in self-destruction. Akin to saying: ‘Hey, it don’t matter man, God will take care of everything, don’t sweat it.’”

      Thanks for expressing one of the most common worries about universalism, Michael. Here is how I deal with such a worry in the second edition of The Inescapable Love of God (forthcoming):

      “But if our salvation is guaranteed from the beginning and guaranteed no matter what choices we make in the present, then where is the incentive, many would ask, to repent and to enter into communion with God? Why not just keep on sinning if we are going to be saved anyway? That very question, however, betrays a terrible confusion, and Paul himself, I might add, exposed a similar confusion when his interlocutor had asked: ‘Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?’ (Rom 6:1). Nor did Paul ever reject the assumption behind the question: namely, that the more we sin, the more grace will indeed abound. To the contrary, he endorsed this very assumption when he wrote: ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ (Rom 5:20). Not in a million, or a billion, or even a trillion years could our sins ever out-duel the grace of God.

      “So why, then, did Paul answer his own question, correctly, with his characteristic ‘By no means’? He did so because of his firm conviction that sin is utterly irrational and utterly contrary to our own best interest. For how, he in effect asked, could those who have ‘died to sin’ and therefore understand its true nature continue to sin (6:2)? Is not sin (or anything that separates us from God) precisely the problem, the very thing making our lives miserable? That the pain I experience when I thrust my hand into a flame may serve a beneficial purpose—because it enables me to avoid an even greater injury in the future—hardly entails that I have a good reason to thrust my hand into the flame again and again. And similarly, that the misery and discontent that sin brings into a life can serve a redemptive purpose—because it can provide in the end a compelling motive to repent—hardly implies that one has a good reason to keep on sinning and to continue making oneself more and more miserable in the process.”

      Does that make any sense to you? Thanks again for your contribution to the discussion.

      -Tom

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Tom, any idea when the 2nd edition of your book will be out?

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        • Tom Talbott says:

          It should not be long now, though I don’t know the exact date. My understanding is that the editorial review should be completed by the end of this month; and if issues arise for me to address, that should not take long either. But exactly how long it will be before the book will be available, I cannot say for sure.

          -Tom

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      • Michael Bauman says:

        Tom, “Does it make sense to sin?” No because sin is irrational in the first place, self-destructive. But rationality is such an incredibly contingent and secondary part of our being as to be irrelevant in many cases.

        Does it make ‘sense’ for God provide a rescue for us from our irrational behavior? No, because God and His love are ineffably supra-rational. The Incarnation and all that it entails makes no sense whatsoever.

        It is not just that our sins are forgiven so we ‘get in the door’. It is that we need to be transformed by love so that we can experience the presence of love.

        Unfortunately, some people seem to be irrevocably focused on destruction because the demonic spirit has taken hold of them. Such a drive to destruction has a certain seductive quality to it so that it becomes a passionate pleasure to engage in it (even though it produces what to others is pain). It becomes rational to those who follow that path.

        It is God’s will for everyone to be saved. That is clear. But to declare that everyone will be saved is far beyond the scope of the Scriptures, the clear words of Jesus Christ Himself and the testimony of the saints, including St. John Maxomovitch.

        Such testimony does not deny God’s love at all, nor does it limit it. He is there no matter what we do to blind ourselves to Him and He is always reminding us of His presence. That does not mean He will always get through.

        Certainly, we are called to pray for all and never to forgive all. Certainly, what is loosed on earth, will be loosed in heaven but that just releases someone to move in a different direction. As Satre pointed out in “No Exit”, just because a door is opened, does not mean someone will walk through it.

        I do find it curious that universalism in many forms is coming up in this time and this place. Frankly, it smacks too much of the ‘spirit of the age’ to not raise objections. It may well keep people from running the race to the end. That is my concern. It can easily become part of the seduction of darkness. I know you do not mean it that way, but that does not mean that it won’t be taken that way, used that way.

        It is interesting that Kalamoros used a sermon by St. John Maxomovitch (which is pretty close to a hellfire and damnation sermon) as a support for some of his ideas in River of Fire. Check the footnotes.

        Somehow, the issues raised here are an antinomy and need to be seen as a whole. Universalism does not do that, IMO. As another commentator noted, such an idea has the capacity to make God seem just as sadistic as Calvinism makes Him seem.

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    • I too find it difficult to accept full universalism for similar reasons. How one is able to come to a universalist understanding after reading the scriptures escapes me.

      Personally I find this life utterly pointless and cruel if universalism is the truth. Ok, a little dramatic. My point is, why has God placed us in this life, with temptation, sickness, pain, death? Why have we had to live in this harsh state where God is not fully visible and often seems far away? Why if we are to be given an eternity, in a place where the flesh is not a barrier, to meet Him, do we have to begin in such a wretched place? I find this cruel.

      Not that I would only find satisfaction in knowing those who have succumbed to the pain are in a lower place then me who supposedly has not. I would rejoice knowing they will find their way eventually. Perhaps I would have liked to chase a bit more pleasure with them in this temporal life if I had known it ultimately did not matter. I would rejoice though. Want to rejoice! But we have the warnings of the prophets and the apostles and our messiah. I cannot get past those.

      I do not feel the choice must lie between universalism and saying a magic prayer before death. God’s judgment is outside our knowledge. I most definitely hope for those I know who were lost. But I cannot teach others that this is the truth.

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      • Tom Talbott says:

        Grand Inquisitive wrote: “How one is able to come to a universalist understanding after reading the Scriptures escapes me.”

        Thanks for expressing a concern common to many evangelicals as well as to many others. But doesn’t the statement I have just quoted also strike you as rather odd? Suppose I were to write: “How one is able to come to a belief in everlasting damnation after reading the Scriptures escapes me.” If I were to write something like that, I think you could justifiably respond as follows: “Good heavens, man, if you don’t understand how some have come to accept a doctrine of everlasting punishment after reading the Scriptures, why not at least read some of those, starting with Augustine perhaps, who at least think they find such a doctrine in the Scriptures?

        To be honest, that parallels exactly my own response to your statement. If you don’t understand how some have come to a universalist understanding after reading the Scriptures, why not start by reading some of those who do come to such an understanding? Why not read Robin Parry’s The Evangelical Universalist, or Jan Bonda’s The One Purpose of God, or the sermons of George MacDonald, or some of the older works such as Andrew Jukes’ Restitution of all Things and Elhanan Winchester’s The Universal Restoration, or even an early church father such as St. Gregory of Nyssa? Perhaps you have read some of these or similar works and have concluded that they rest upon a host of confusions. I would certainly not want to prejudge that. But if you should have read some such works and have indeed found them confused, then you would still know how some arrive at a universalist understanding and what confusions you think are involved. You could then provide a hint of what you think these confusions are.

        You went on to write: “Perhaps I would have liked to chase a bit more pleasure with them [various sinners] in this temporal life if I had known it ultimately did not matter.” I address this sentiment along with Paul’s emphatic rejection of it in my response to Michael Bauman. Do you have a rejoinder to what I say there?

        With all best wishes,

        -Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      As a preacher, Michael, I have always found that the preaching of the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection generates far deeper conversion and repentance than the threat of damnation.

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  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    One of my readers (who will remain nameless but whose initials are TT) has pointed out that I omitted an entire clause in the long quotation from Talbott. I have corrected the quotation. It now makes sense. 🙂

    I always welcome such corrections from my readers, not just from the authors I am misquoting. 🙂

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  3. Jon Anderson says:

    Reblogged this on Hipsterdox.

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I did some very light editing of the article late last night. Upon re-reading I realized there were a couple of sentences that really didn’t make much sense and that a line from Duffy that I had quoted didn’t say what I thought it said, so I deleted it. Sigh–I thought the article was perfect when I published it. 🙂

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  5. Joe Anderson says:

    Father Kimel,

    You rightly point out that the Damascene defines Hell as such, but does not allow the person to “hit bottom.” It may be worth quoting that part of his work as well:

    “… after death, there is no means for repentance, not because God does not accept repentance – He cannot deny Himself nor lose His compassion – but the soul does not change anymore … people after death are unchangeable, so that on the one hand the righteous desire God and always have Him to rejoice in, while sinners desire sin though they do not have the material means to sin … they are punished without any consolation. For what is hell but the deprivation of that which is exceedingly desired by someone? Therefore, according to the analogy of desire, whoever desires God rejoices and whoever desires sin is punished.” (Against the Manicheans, PG 94:1573ΑΒ)

    (Note: I have taken the quote from John Sanidopoulos’s website.)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I wish St John’s tract Against the Manicheans was available in an English translation.

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  6. Edward De Vita says:

    Just wondering how it is that one can desire to sin without sinning. It is not outward acts that constitute sin, but rather the inner desires. A surgeon cuts his patient open with a knife in order to heal him; the murderer cuts his victim with a knife in order to destroy him. The same outward act in each case, but different motivations. Clearly, the sin lies not in the outward material act, but in the inward desire of the heart.
    Moreover, is not the condition of being turned away from God — which, I presume, is the state of the souls in hell — a sinful condition? Are not these souls continually and eternally sinning?
    Both St. John Damascene and Fr. Staniloae seem to believe that the souls in hell cannot sin because they do not have the “material means to sin.” This makes very little sense to me. Sin is in the will. And if the human will is constantly ordered to things that are contrary to the will of God, then it is a sinful will. It would seem that there are only two ways to maintain that the souls in hell are incapable of sinning. One is to argue that they readily acknowledge that they are wrong and God is right and that their punishment is a just one. The other, is to maintain that they no longer have a will. The former implies a kind of post-mortem “conversion” of the sinner, but a conversion which is not accepted by God, since it has come too late and the sinner must be punished for the sins committed while on earth. The latter implies that those in hell are no longer human in any recognizable sense of the word.
    Have I missed any other possibilities?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      “Moreover, is not the condition of being turned away from God — which, I presume, is the state of the souls in hell — a sinful condition? Are not these souls continually and eternally sinning?”

      I would think so, in the most fundamental sense. Clearly they have acquired an evil character and are now permanently settled in that character, at least according to St John of Damascus and Fr Staniloae. And both would say that that damned are incapable of genuine repentance; hence it’s difficult to see how they could acknowledge the justice of their punishment. If they did, would that not be the beginnings of repentance?

      ‘…those in hell are no longer human in any recognizable sense of the word.”

      Good point. C. S. Lewis seems to make the same point in The Great Divorce.

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