Objections to the Universalist Hope: Carrot, Stick, and the Kimel Principle

I actually didn’t intend to write again on the universalist hope for at least a good while, but some thoughtful comments on my blog encouraged me to change my mind. For purposes of clarity, I’m going to structure this series in terms of objections to the universalist hope, followed by my brief responses.

1) The universalist hope undermines evangelism and the summons to repentance.

The objection has an initial plausibility. There is no question that fear can be a powerful motivator within the Church. One doesn’t have to look very hard to find examples where the threat of everlasting punishment has been effectively employed to move people to specific kinds of positive action, whether it be personal reform (“I don’t want to go to hell. I hereby repent of my adultery”) or the undertaking of the arduous task of mission (“I will go to China and preach the gospel, lest they never know Christ and be everlastingly damned”). It’s possible, of course, to mute or tone down the threat, yet to be effective it must always be present to some degree, if only as background music. The gospel thus becomes carrot and stick—the carrot of eternal good and the stick of everlasting torment. Its “if, then” rhetorical structure is similar to the discourse we find in many places in the Old Testament, with the prophetic threat of temporal punishment being replaced by interminable eschatological punishment. The only real difference is that the stakes have been infinitely raised. “I’ve got really good news and really bad news,” the preacher tells us. “Which one do you want to hear first?”

It should be noted that the terror generated by the threat of eternal damnation is not eliminated by the the increasingly popular free-will defense of hell. In the older presentations of perdition, God retributively punishes the wicked (see the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on hell). God is the one who actively inflicts suffering in the name of justice. But in the free-will model, God assumes an unbiblical passive role. He does not so much as judge as ratify the fundamental choice of those who stand before him in the eschatological dock. God continues to love the damned, yet because of the kind of people they have irreversibly become, they can only experience the divine presence as torment. The intent of this model is clear—to get God off the moral hook for the horrors of damnation. Whether it in fact accomplishes this goal is debatable, but one thing it does not do—it does not mitigate the fear of the future generated by the threat of eternal perdition. We can call it the Kimel principle: if we can find a way to damn ourselves forever, we probably will.

The important question: Should terror, anxiety, and dread be the principal motivators for repentance? Fear of painful consequence can certainly produce changes in behavior, but can it generate genuine love of God and heartfelt trust in his providence? No theologian in the Christian tradition has been more emphatic in his rejection of the “pedagogy of fear” than Fr Sergius Bulgakov. Not only is “this doctrine of terror … totally incapable of achieving its pedagogic goal,” states Bulgakov; but “striking sensitive hearts with horror, paralyzing filial love and the childlike trust in the Heavenly Father, this idea makes Christianity resemble Islam, replacing love with fear” (The Bride of the Lamb, p. 484).

Only the good news of God’s absolute love and infinite mercy, embodied in Jesus Christ and the community of the Church, can convert sinful hearts to the Savior.

Opponents of the universalist hope repeatedly speak as if advocates of apokatastasis reject Gehenna altogether, as if everyone gets into heaven without repentance and regeneration: “I’m okay, you’re okay, we will all be okay.”  This is patently false. Numerous contrary examples might be provided, ranging from Origen and St Gregory Nyssen to George MacDonald, Sergius Bulgakov, and Thomas Talbott. For each, perdition remains a horrible possibility for every sinner. If a person does not repent in this life, he will take his hell into the next. As Neil Gaiman remarks: “I think hell is something you carry around with you. Not somewhere you go to.” There can be no escape from the necessity of repentance, for only the pure in heart shall see God. The hopeful universalist, therefore, differs from the traditional infernalist not on the existence of hell but on its duration and purpose. St Isaac the Syrian writes:

Accordingly we say that, even in the matter of the afflictions and sentence of Gehenna, there is some hidden mystery, whereby the wise Maker has taken as a starting point for its future outcome the wickedness of our actions and wilfulness, using it as a way of bringing to perfection His dispensation wherein lies the teaching which makes wise, and the advantage beyond description, hidden from both angels and human beings, hidden too from those who are being chastised, whether they be demons or human beings, hidden for as long as the ordained period of time holds sway. (Second Part 39.20; also see “The Triumph of the Kingdom“)

The universalist refuses to limit either God’s love, omnipotence, or wisdom. Even Gehenna has a purpose, a terrible but ultimately converting purpose—to bring all into the Kingdom.

(cont)

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77 Responses to Objections to the Universalist Hope: Carrot, Stick, and the Kimel Principle

  1. Jonathan says:

    Isnt an obvious objection to the universalists all the quotes in the Bible that seem to support some kind of punishment? I am no theologian but Matthew 26:24 sounds pretty bad for Judas or 23:33 ‘ “how will you escape being condemned to hell’? And this from Jesus directly, not Paul etc.

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  2. Ed Smith says:

    I’ve repeatedly observed some who are aware of the possibility of extended stays in Gehenna in universalist belief, but still respond with “if we are all going to be in Heaven eventually, why would anyone want to get saved now?” There are some odd things about this response:
    1) They don’t seem to have progressed beyond a stick motivation themselves. They don’t seem to know what salvation really is and they don’t appear to want what salvation really is.
    2) They don’t actually feel that the afterlife is real. A sentence of a thousand years in torment (followed by paradise) does not count as a “stick” at all to them, while they’d probably do just about anything to avoid spending a couple of years in a nice prison in this life.

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  3. No Man's Land says:

    The thing is even if “all is permissible” it does not follow that “all results in the Good”. So even if one were to concede the primary premises of the, to borrow from Hart, Hellfire Club, it would still not entail the conclusion desired–that there is no point to evangelism or pastoral care or councils and so forth.

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Kyle Roberts just posted a blog on this very theme: “What if God Gets What God Wants?

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  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have edited this article. Some readers found the opening paragraph confusing, and on re-reading the piece this morning, I think they were right. Hopefully the revised article is a bit more clear.

    It does not say everything that I would like to say in response to the objection that the universalist hope undermines repentance and evangelism, but I wanted to keep the piece short.

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  6. While I’m certain that the crazy street preachers at my school would like to think that the warnings in the Bible of Hell and the loss of God were to those newly being converted, what I have realized is that throughout the missiological context of the book of Acts, not one mention of eternal damnation is made in order to get the pagans to convert. If Hell is the loss of God, then only Christians would be negatively affected by the results of Hell. Thus, Hell has realistically nothing to do with Evangelism regardless of whether one is a universalist or not. I find it nonsensical that so many people think that the existence of Hell is necessary for salvation. Christianity has become nothing more than a “Get out of Hell Free” card. If Christianity was turned into a Monopoly game though, would one only be able to get out of Hell via that card or would one automatically lose the game when they went there as they can no longer participate in the action?

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  7. Dino says:

    Father Aidan,
    One “objection” I have encountered very little in all these articles and comments has to do with ‘Time’ (the ages of ages) and whether this (time), or or the absence of Time as we now experience it (and upon which we base our reasonings), will seal each persons state for ‘ever’. Elder Sophrony in his ‘We shall see Him as He is’ somewhat accedes to this by describing our existence after Last Judgement as one that cannot change ‘as an object that has left the gravitational sphere of the Earth would not alter its trajectory’ (towards God or away from Him).

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Greetings, Dino. So good to see you back. Thank you for mentioning this objection. In one form or another, this objection is invoked by all supporters of eternal damnation as justification for eternal damnation. The logic is simple: alteration of the spiritual condition of the damned is impossible; therefore there is hell. Following St John of Damascus, Fr Dumitru Staniloae has stated this view quite forcefully.

      The entire debate regarding the universalist hope is whether the above is true, can be true. We have a conflict between two fundamentally opposed spiritual perceptions. Would God so make the human being that it can achieve an irreversible condition of hostility that not even God can heal? Must there be an everlastingly populated hell? “Love could not bear that. We must pray for all” (St Silouan).

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      • Dino says:

        Indeed this cannot ever be something one can bear. Indeed. St Silouan’s tears for all of Adam (as explained by Elder Sophrony) were because of this terrifying gift of eternal self-determination we have been granted…

        The parable of the Prodigal Son from the outset reveals to us the Father’s response to the son’s demands, as one of the most generous sacrificial acts of the Gospel, one that reveals this inconceivably painful love and respect of other ‘gods’ (the prodigal son in this case) irrespective of their willful clinging onto their ignorance (the eldest brother).

        In fact this act is comparable only to the Crucifixion as it has the same ‘kenotic’ character, the same “self-emptying”. This is because the Father of the parable accepts to be behaved towards by His children as if He is already dead. Their relationship implies, on the part of the son, this perception of the Father’s death, He can already be inherited and forgotten. This means for the son that he has been granted a perfect and absolute freedom of self-determination towards his Father: freedom to act as if there were no longer a Father for him; freedom to behave towards the One Who begot him as if He is nothing.

        This freedom given by God to man in his creation. He left him free to behave as if He did not exist, as if He, the Creator, were dead. Man can kill his God, even if this means that Man manages to make his ‘paradise’ into his very own hell, or -if worded differently- Man mistakes hell as a paradise. God made children that will eventually self-determine towards Him like gods.
        In this respect the creation of man contains withinit the Cross from the start. The creation of man by God, as an act of emptying and self-offering, includes the death of God on the Cross. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) went ahead and created entities that whose salvation can eternally be both afirmed or denied by themselves alone – (in that particular capacity) “gods”…

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        • brian says:

          I am not sure I would call a “terrifying gift of self-determination” much of a gift if it lands me in hell, chosen or not. I’d much rather never have been created than find myself eternally frustrated from what my heart by nature yearns for. I think you mistake the import of the parable. Well, there is much to this richest of parables, but this much seems clear. The prodigal is desiring, large of appetite, not careful, and, of course, wayward. Nonetheless, it is this path, and not the careful, moralizing, resentful minding of the elder brother that brought the child of God ultimately into the embrace of the Father.

          And once again, you are assuming a particular concept in regards to what would constitute “a perfect and absolute freedom of self-determination.” But perhaps such a perfected freedom, properly understood would be the kind of metaphysical freedom synonymous with theosis. You are free to disagree, but not to presume that the term as you define it is indisputable.

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          • Dino says:

            I am just following the reasoning of all the fathers – up to and including Elder Sophrony and Elder Aimilianos of our time – by saying what you correctly stated:

            “perhaps such a perfected freedom, properly understood would be the kind of metaphysical freedom synonymous with theosis

            This terrifying gift of “freely accepted Theosis” can never be bestowed without its opposite potential…

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          • brian says:

            Dino,
            There is a kind of thinking that believes that evil is necessary if there is also to be good. In the same manner, some believe a choice between good and evil is necessary for freedom to exist. Both are erroneous. Since evil is parasitic upon the good, the good of being is primary and does not need even the shadow of evil for good to be good. Likewise, the perfected freedom of theosis is “beyond good and evil.” The height of freedom does not require the possibility of choosing evil or choosing wrongly. If God intends all his creatures to achieve freedom in Christ, they will no longer be trapped by the limitations and frustrations of libertarian freedom. Moreover, the latter is ultimately a misnomer. If you like, the ambiguities of the gnomic will are destined to be overcome by grace. The fact that the gnomic will can fail now, in time, is not apodictic proof that it is destined to remain a stumbling block or a guarantee that for some God’s loving purposes will be subverted by human obstinacy.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Dino, I suggest you are not giving “Love could not bear that” its full force.” If the Love who is Holy Trinity cannot bear it, then he will not. He will find a way to reconcile every sinner to himself—he has done so already on the Cross!—even if it means casting the reprobate into the Outer Darkness that they might experience the full extent of their rejection of his Love. God is the Good Shepherd who searches for that one lost sheep, the housekeeper who cleans the entire house to find the lost coin. The parable of the prodigal son needs to be read in conjunction with the two other parables of Luke 15, as the Evangelist surely intended.

          If I may be so bold, I’d like to invite you to temporarily step outside the Athonite Elders whom you know so well and to read George MacDonald’s homily “The Consuming Fire.” MacDonald was a 19th century Reformed Christian, yet in his writings I hear the voice of St Isaac the Syrian—indeed, the voice of Christ himself—powerfully spoken. Near the conclusion of this unspoken sermon he imagines the personal consequences of being cast into the Outer Darkness. (MacDonald elaborates on this possibility in his fantasy novel Lilith.) Cast into the Outer Darkness, will not the damned eventually turn to the Light:

          “But when God withdraws from a man as far as that can be without the man’s ceasing to be; when the man feels himself abandoned, hanging in a ceaseless vertigo of existence upon the verge of the gulf of his being, without support, without refuge, without aim, without end–for the soul has no weapons wherewith to destroy herself–with no inbreathing of joy, with nothing to make life good;–then will he listen in agony for the faintest sound of life from the closed door; then, if the moan of suffering humanity ever reaches the ear of the outcast of darkness, he will be ready to rush into the very heart of the Consuming Fire to know life once more, to change this terror of sick negation, of unspeakable death, for that region of painful hope. Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God–that one living death.”

          At no point does MacDonald envision a violation of human freedom and personal integrity. He simply brings together three profoundly Christian convictions: (1) We are made for God and cannot find true happiness except in union with him. (2) Because God is the transcendent source and ground of our being, consciousness, and freedom, we can never close ourselves to his grace and love. (3) In his absolute love and infinite mercy, God will never abandon us to the hells we create for ourselves. “Love could not bear that.”

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          • Dino says:

            Father,
            although that is precisely my own experience too, and this rare experience of the depths of the utmost hellish balckness and “eternal” (for as long as the experience lasted) despair [experienced as an eternity] is the very thing that returned this wretched soul (through these ‘Athonite Elders’) to Christ himself, I still cannot share your confidence in what is being asserted here concerning the rational inevitability of universal salvation (like a universalist calvinist predestination).
            As Elder Sophrony also repeats (in his St Silouan the Athonite speaking of Silouan) these same sentiments I heed:

            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…
            …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 [St Silouan].
            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’.

            These are not my words but words of one I know knew God better than any other rational thinker (with the exception perhaps of Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra)

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  8. Dino says:

    Father,
    Although I too hope and pray that all would be saved, what I often see missing from these talks on universalism (and therefore devaluing these conversations), what even some of the greatest thinkers on the final salvation of all rational beings [and their ‘coming to their their senses’ when set free from ignorance] seem to lack is a suitable understanding of all the correlations between: love (God’s) and freedom (of the creatures’ self-determination towards His love), as well as (quite significantly) all of this self-determination occurring ‘outside’ of time as we know it (and based upon which experience, we reason on these matters). God’s initial gift of self-determination towards Him to the point of allowing for other ‘gods’, means that one can make their own little ‘nothingness’ into the centre of all that exists [a false god], instead of God Himself who is the actual ground of all being. They can remain eternally in this state or trajectory (with this delusional uninformed ‘freedom’ [“προαίρεση”]), ‘free’ to have to despise any “other” as a rival god –no matter how loving the Other is, and no matter how painful their self-centred seclusion. To use an extreme example, if a fallen angel, like the elder brother of the prodigal, is so perverted that he cannot ever perceive a paradise that includes a shifting from self-centredness to other-centeredness; and if the Kingdom of Heaven is –as it is in truth- this ‘other-centeredness’ or letting go of his egocentricity, but, -as far as he is concerned- this ‘other-centeredness’ of letting go is perceived by him as hell, well, then no amount of being set free from ignorance would change his interpretation of Light as fire, of paradise as hell, and will not be also perceived as hell; it is this very interpretative liberty (to the point of, on the one hand, such self-secluded slavery that can only ever exploit any love coming towards him for further selfish sclerosis, as well as, on the other, to the diametrically opposite Joy of the Truth experienced by the Theotokos) that is God’s original gift [and crucificial risk] that makes him a self-determined being capable of becoming a god.
    The classic childlike philosophical paradox Sister Magdalene of Essex uses applies here: A Russian theologian wondered about God’s omnipotence (she mentions it in combination with God’s all-lovingness and the suffering we sometimes witness – that can scandalise) in youth: ‘If God is all-powerful, could He make a stone so big that even He could not carry it?’ [for if God can make it, He cannot carry it, and if He can carry it then He cannot make it]. 45 years later he remembered St John Chrysostom’s phrase: ‘God can do anything except force us to be saved.’ And he thought: ‘Yes, the stone that is too heavy for God to carry is mankind’. He made children that will eventually self-determine towards Him like gods…
    (I repost this on Father Stephen’s blog too)

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    • brian says:

      Dino, if you look closely at David Hart’s discussion of freedom, particularly the part where he links his understanding to that of Maximus the Confessor, you will discover an argument that at least claims to repudiate the substance of your argument. You think there is a logic (the stone so big) that compels a less sanguine universalism, but honestly, that is a pretty basic proposition. Do you really think it is that easy to subvert universalist views or that universalists are just somehow too dim to be cognizant of that sort of thing?

      The quandary of the rock is a false question, because the rock is a finite being, and lifting such a rock is an action within the natural world. Since God is the infinite ground of all being, he is always already sustaining the rock, whatever it’s size, in whatever location it discovers itself. In short, it’s really a bad question, rather than a probative one that somehow skewers universalist assertions. Ironically, this objection partakes of the very time-bound parochialism you surmise is somehow in effect in universalism.

      On the contrary, universalism is precisely not confined to limited notions of volition, identity, or even eternity. You presuppose, for instance, a kind of static conception of eternity, but this is more in line with eliatic philosophy, than the biblical God. As Balthasar has noted in his Theo-Drama, such a static eternity lacks the room for drama, surprise, wonder: it is impoverished compared to temporal experience. Surely, this is a mistake. Eternity must be richer by far in all these goods. Hence, Balthasar argues for a kind of “super-time” in eternity. One may prefer a better term (I am fine with it,) but what it aims to articulate is a space for God’s loving creativity that exceeds the very time-bound imagination your objections exemplify.

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  9. Stephen says:

    Kyle Roberts’ article is good. However, he seems to exhibit the trend of many who side with universalism to lean to the left. His blog has articles about accepting gay marriage and the gay lifestyle. For some reason, there is a trend among a certain brand of universalist to become more libertine in moral or doctrinal issues. It seems like sometimes a change in belief about the unconditional love of God causes people to throw the moral baby out with the bath water.

    While myself believing fairly strongly in the eventual salvation of all as understood by St. Isaac and holding on to what I consider traditional morality which leads to theosis, it seems for others it causes a trent towards liberalism. I don’t know if this is simply a result of the current zeitgeist or if the two beliefs are somehow connected.

    As a universalist I am not at all tempted to throw out traditional morality as held by all religious faiths and cultures until a few short years ago (i.e. gay marriage).

    Does anyone have any ideas why these two things often go hand in hand?

    My own guess is that often the converted universalists who are Protestant do not hold onto Tradition which Catholics and Orthodox believe to be the life of the Holy Spirit. Thus they feel no need to hold onto age old beliefs. But this is only a guess. Any other ideas?

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    • Jonathan says:

      If morality is understood as prohibition, and universalism is understood to eliminate grounds for prohibition, then universalism will vindicate the throwing off of burdensome (because in this system illusory and arbitrary) prohibitions, a.k.a. traditional morality. And I have to say that if morality really were just prohibitions, then universalism would pretty neatly disembowel it. Thankfully, morality is not really about refraining from what one would otherwise do, even though it usually looks that way to most of us most of the time, at present.

      The history of why morality has come to be construed as arbitrary prohibition is long and complex and extremely depressing, as it seems to be the story of the rise of idiocracy. Alasdair MacIntyre’s account across his major books is the best I’ve read; also Servais Pinckaers’ is to be recommended. The bottom line is that we have gone from a virtue ethics to a deontological system. Morality is just rules, and we all know what rules are made for. . .

      To the extent that proponents of behavior that runs against the grain of traditional morality argue that their new morality is, like the virtue ethics of old, geared toward the good and a path toward fulfillment, one can only take such arguments at their word. The problem is not a lack of sincerity. The problem is a lack of agreement on what is good. If my good isn’t your good, then my good will look to you like. . . a whole bunch of arbitrary rules, just waiting to be broken or, to use the sexy academic word, subverted.

      Although we can’t admit this, because the mythos of rationalistic, Enlightenment democracy prohibits admitting it, in fact all morality is based on revelation of some kind. Morality is supernatural. Natural law arguments don’t suffice in the wake of the hermeneutics of suspicion, which is why the Catholic Church, for instance, gets exactly nowhere in trying to talk natural law: one man’s nature is another man’s cruelly repressed appetite.

      In terms of “traditional marriage” — I think it would be better to call it Christian marriage, or perhaps Judeo-Christian marriage. Traditional marriage has always been between males and females, but it has not always been indissoluble or between a man and just one woman. Obviously, the historical Church has for part of its heritage an intricate symbolism built around the image of the man and the woman together. But in an age when symbols are always “just” symbols, nifty literary things and no more, this way of thinking can have little influence on how people order marriage or any other relation between the sexes. If the Church would catechize and preach its symbolism like it actually mattered, maybe more nominal Christians would at least think twice before accepting the interpretation of the Zeitgeist on all matters sexual. But then again, maybe not. Wide is the gate and broad is the way to pleasure and fulfillment, according to the Zeitgeist.

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      • brian says:

        Plus one, Jonathan.
        On an unrelated note, how much money you have now cost me by introducing me to Lafferty. But thanks, really.

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  10. MTreat says:

    Regarding Stephen’s question about the perceived tendency for Universalists to be more liberal regarding issues such as gay marriage, I will offer the possible explanation that Universalists also tend to not view Scripture as inerrant and fully inspired. With that foundation, there’s opportunity to look at the totality of the revealed nature of God (rather than a very few passages here and there) and conclude that it’s likely God is much more interested in the higher principles of love, fidelity, and integrity in human relationships than whose genitalia we are bumping up against. Personally, I value Scripture but do not expect or require it to be perfect, complete, or fully inspired. The Truth of Christianity is fascinating, revolutionary, and world-changing simply because of who God is and what God did. That is an objective Truth that stands on its own. Giving undue primacy to a collection of writings is a recipe for legalism as each person inevitably gives power to their interpretations of those writings (not to mention the interpretations handed to each of us by our individual tribes and traditions). That *Interpretation* then becomes our own personal God and sets us up to be able justify all kinds of less than optimal attitudes and behaviors towards those that violate or fail to comply with our Interpretation. As for me, I choose to trust God’s ability to lead me and guide me as I listen to that still, small voice. A collection of writings and my ability to interpret them could never do half as good a job.

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  11. Marc says:

    One objection to Universal salvation is the apparent belief by many in the natural immortality of the human soul shared with those who believe in eternal torment. This extra Scriptural belief stems from the pagan concepts of the Greco-Roman world of the early Church. There are those who believe we have no real choice in the matter even though from Genesis to Revelation human beings are admonished to choose life rather than death. This theme is also at the core of the Didache written very early in Church history. The revelation of the Holy Scripture is that only God is immortal by nature, and that His creatures can only receive eternal life conditionally. Satan and the demons have already been judged and condemned to eternal death in the lake of fire. It remains to be seen if any human beings will experience the annihilation of the second death with Satan and the demons in the lake of fire. To hope that all human beings will escape this fate by meeting the conditions necessary to inherit eternal life is reasonable. To insist that all human beings will make this choice, or that they have no choice between life and death, is dangerous conjecture that should be dismissed.

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    • brian says:

      It’s only dangerous if it isn’t true, of course.

      I appreciate the reservations people have about preaching it, though I don’t really share their sensibility. I think it’s a mistake to try and extract a “biblical” revelation from Greco-Roman adulterations. For one, the first century ancient world was not hermetically sealed between cultures. The Greek influence on Jewish thinking is evident in the scriptures. Further, revelation creatively adapts, it doesn’t simply take over wholesale without integrating into prior understanding.

      One should also distinguish between a putative natural immortality and perhaps, a conditional immortality that is dependent on the loving will of the Father. However, since the nature of the natural is also determined by the creator God, it is possibly redundant. Pagans do not really think creation, so the nature of their “natural” is different. If the condition is ultimately secured by the dramatic action of the Triune God, one is not forced to interpret the willing of humanity as the aggregate of individuals nominalistically construed. The person might involve intrinsic relation and what happens to one might be metaphysically linked to what happens to all.

      My view is that such an understanding of the person is much more deeply consistent with the revelation of the Gospel.

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  12. Dino says:

    So it is one who is here described as a hopeful Universalist (Sophrony on Silouan) that says that some will meet Love with a: “rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’.
    May it be not so Lord!

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    • brian says:

      I share the “May it be not so Lord!”
      If one was convinced that “some will meet Love with a rejection, even on the eternal level,” one could not be even a hopeful Universalist.

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  13. Dino says:

    Elder Sophrony’s life was spent on prayer for the salvation of the damned, far more than anyone reasoning on the inevitability of this salvation of all. The mere harkening of his sobbing would break one’s heart and leave an indelible mark on it; however he still asserted this on the eternal level… I would certainly describe him as hopeful against hope.

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  14. Edward De Vita says:

    “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’.”

    “These are not my words but words of one I know knew God better than any other rational
    thinker.”

    Certainly, the fact that Elder Sophrony knew God well is good reason to weigh his words carefully.
    But, in the end, is it not really a matter of attending to the merit of the argument rather than relying merely on the holiness of the one making it? After all, both St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac of Nineveh would disagree with Elder Sophrony. Were they not also holy?

    Now to get to the argument. The Elder states that man’s freedom “concedes no determinism in his destiny.” But if it was God’s plan from the very beginning to bring all men back to Him, why must we think that this plan can only be fulfilled deterministically? This would be true if we held to a mechanistic cosmology in which all events are already virtually contained in the initial conditions of the universe. But this is not the Christian cosmology. In the Christian cosmology, all human beings (and all things, for that matter) are ordered to God as their final Good. There is no choice in this matter; it is simply our nature as God made it. And it is precisely this fact which is the very condition of our freedom, properly understood. Precisely because man is ordered to the good, he will always freely choose it when it is made abundantly clear to him how fully satisfying and fulfilling it is in contrast to other choices set before him. I wonder sometimes if the story of the prodigal son is not a kind of reflection on the way in which God deals with humanity in general both now and in the world to come. Consider that after the son leaves his father, he does not immediately desire to return home. As long as there are other goods that attract him outside his father’s house, he continues to live the life of sin. It is only when he is reduced to utter wretchedness (the outer darkness?) that he is able to see the true consequences of the life he has chosen. At the same time, by way of contrast, he also sees the goodness of his father and of the life he had lived before departing. And when he sees his true good, he begins his journey home.
    One more thing. Elder Sophrony holds out the possibility that many human beings may be damned. I hope that this is not so, but, not being more than a hopeful universalist, I can’t say for certain that this is not so. Nevertheless, I wonder about the theology behind such a belief. Does it not imply that our Lord’s sacrifice was an utter failure? My choice of the word “utter” is deliberate here. Scripture is very clear that Christ came to save the whole world. If then, he should lose even one, has He not utterly failed in his task?

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    • Edward writes: “I wonder sometimes if the story of the prodigal son is not a kind of reflection on the way in which God deals with humanity in general both now and in the world to come.”

      Didn’t the Fathers say that the whole of the gospel is contained and can be preached from this one parable of Christ’s? It seems to me Fr. Stephen Freeman wrote something to this effect on his blog–perhaps he may have a reference for the source.

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  15. Dino says:

    No, we cannot rationalise like that and call Christ’s sacrifice an utter failure. The greatness of Love is in its continued respect of freedom exactly as much as it is in its success in coercing the loved one. St Nikodemus (speaking on the greatness of the Mother of God and her complete free fulfilment of human destiny) famously states that even if everything int the universe was to end in perdition and only the Theotokos be saved, her greatness would easily counterbalance it all. A very maximalisttic statement of course.

    I came across this (in Greek) last night and I found a certain significance in it because it manifests both the cosmic power of love, sacrifice, suffering, solidarity to save all, but also admits that a (Luciferean) resistance to this is possible, not because God made it so, but because salvation that cannot be denied (or accepted) ceases to be called salvation, the imperial greatness of rational entities lies in this eternal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that only they can maintain in the face of the Lord…:
    The Bishop Neophytos of Morphou in Cyprus recounts about the great Father Evmenios (Sarithakis) – “the joyous Saint” – a great hidden saint of our time (the book is called “the hidden saint” [Elder Evmenios was equally clairvoyant to Saint Porphyrios and had been through a period of being demonically possessed in his earlier life]):
    “A very important event, which I recall from elder Eumenios is a prayer of his:

    “Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to save all people.”
    “And the Lord was joyed,” he told me.
    “And then I prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to save all Catholics. And all Protestants, Jesus, I want you to save them, to save them all. “And God was joyed at this prayer.
    “I want you to save Muslims and people belonging to all religions, and even Atheists, I want you to save them my Lord” And God was overjoyed…
    And then I said: “My Christ, I want you to save all the deceased from Adam until now.” And God was exceedingly overjoyed at this…
    And then I said: “God, I want you to save Judas.” And I prayed: “I want you to save, the devil.” And God was saddened at this.”

    I then responded to the Elder: “Why was God ‘saddened’ at this last request?”.

    “For God wants this and they do not want it themselves” I replied, “there isn’t even a trace of goodwill for salvation in the devil.”

    “Well” I said, “how did you understand when God was pleased and when He was grieved?”. And he says: “Once your heart becomes one with the heart of Christ, you feel what he feels.”

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  16. Dino says:

    St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac of Nineveh taken as a whole rather than quoted selectively most certainly agree with this same thinking I believe.

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  17. brian says:

    Well, it seems to me that Edward’s question is still germane.
    I am also certain that the Theotokos would not agree that her salvation counter-balanced the loss of every other creature. I far prefer the words of Berdyaev — and I don’t really care that he’s questionable to many Orthodox — that all should be saved, down to the least blade of grass.

    What Dino is calling rationalizing is what I call thinking.

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  18. Dino says:

    What this (and many other such witnesses of the saints) demonstrates is that the terrifying gift of potential ‘god-ness’ -that makes us ‘savable’- involves an eternal sovereignty of one’s interpretation of salvation (this way or that, as paradise or as hell), and even the blatantly ignorant delusion of this interpretation, can never be violated…

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  19. brian says:

    Dino,

    You see the authenticity of freedom as requiring the possibility of eternal delusion.
    I do not believe this is correct. I have pointed you to discussions that elucidate why.
    Evidently, you do not find this convincing. We must agree to differ.

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  20. Dino says:

    Not so much freedom, knowledge and gnomic will, as humility. There’s another conversation with Fr Evmenios where he is persistently asked about the salvation of the devil and he keeps repeatedly answering that ‘the devil can never be saved because he does not ever want to be humbled’ there is this ‘prerequisite’ to salvation you see…

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  21. Dino says:

    Of course this means that (as Elder Paisios asserted) ‘all (others) who can be humbled, all who do not suffer from pure, luciferean pride, irrespective of their despair and sinfullness, can be saved’

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  22. brian says:

    I suppose you are aware of Bulgakov’s speculations in this direction?
    That at some point the demons will be faced with a worldless solitude that may engender even their repentance. Bulgakov is, of course, always speculative. I like him and I am not really troubled by the censure thrown his way by a certain kind of traditionalist. It helps that I am not Orthodox, I suppose.

    The natural will desires God. The natural will is also made for communion with the entire cosmos. Humility, true freedom, and knowledge go together, I think. Pride, among other things, is a form of blindness.

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    • Dino says:

      If Hell is that ‘Luciferean pride’ that renders even the final gift of omniscience powerless in bringing the “gnomic will” into alignment with the “natural will”, then the key argument used by all pro-universalism speculators collapses. May such pride be annihilated…

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  23. Dino says:

    Omniscience would indeed force one’s gnomic will to finally correspond with their natural will. Agreed. However, this would violate an entity’s potential for negative self-determination towards God, others, and being itself. There is no ‘god-ness’ without this eternal potential. When we say that man’s calling is vertigously profound, it is this eternal potential of god-like self-determination we are considering (even if, when used wrongly, it can make me into a demon who would rather not have come into existence than repent). The drama that created beings – created from nothing and called to be gods- , find themselves in when eternally preferring the direction of “non-beingness” through pride, is what makes Bulgakov’s speculation (and how can one not distrust ‘speculations’ – even if you are not Orhtodox- compared to the certitude of knowedged bestowed through grace?) philosophically shakey. I can be accused that I speculate myself here of course as I am clearly doing.
    Preferring eternal suicide (even if one cannot actually ever stop existing) rather than humbling oneself, and continuing in this madness, is truly the ultimate prideful blindness, but, it is also the very best defintion of traditional hell. (the natural result of the classic Luciferean: “I am God and therefore THOU art my rival”). Dostoyevsky might ponder on this “preferring” differently, eg: as ‘preferring to not be in the company of those others one cannot cease hating’, but denying its possibility -as much as I would love it to be so- compromises the creature’s God-given sovereignity and turns it into an automaton.
    Kenosis, on the other hand, is the Theosis of those creatures which can self-determine lucifereanly (‘gnomically’), yet infinitely and eternaly wonder at ‘THOU’ in gratitude and love (‘gnomically’ according to their nature if you like).
    Lord have mercy!

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    • tgbelt says:

      Dino,

      I appreciate the belief in the necessity of the will’s freely choosing God. If you check back up on one of Brian’s previous responses to you, you’ll see his link to a conversation a number of us had with D B Hart on this very question. I’m particularly interested in the question of the relationship between the creature’s (free) agency and its integrity before God. You might find that helpful.

      I’m just finishing up Ilaria Ramelli’s wonderful work on the history of universalism. I recommend it. You’ll see lengthy exposition of Origen and Gregory of N both arguing for universalism as the gradual conversation of the will in its capacity for self-determination. The wicked (if we’re considering thing postmortem) choose their way home. Restoration is therapeutic, educational and volitional-based.

      Gregory is clear on the importance of the will’s free movement en route to theosis , and when you consider the forms of determinism (for want of a better word) that Origen passionately argued against (viz., Stocism’s deterministic/repetitive apokatastasis and Valentinian determinism), his emphasis upon the will’s free movement toward fulfillment of its telos in Christ is all the more assuring.

      What settles the issue for Origen and Gregory is a certain asymmetricality to the Creator/created distinction, which the more one contemplates I believe the more convinced one will be. We can rest finally and irrevocably in God but not possibly in anything else, and the unconditionally benevolent nature of our divine grounding means our future is irrevocably open toward God. We may choose to prolong our rejection, but we cannot utter a final ‘no’ by which means we place ourselves irrevocably out of reach.

      There’s more to say about the nature of the agency by which means we come to finally rest in God, but I think this is different than (and follows) the question of our asymmetrical grounding in God as our telos.

      Tom

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  24. bradjersak says:

    Hi Dino,
    Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts and input.

    I would call myself a ‘hopeful inclusivist’ (a term sometimes used to describe Kallistos Ware or Von Balthasar), but am becoming persuaded, especially through Father Aiden’s comment sections, that there are perhaps two tribes within that camp. First, there are those who hope, pray and work for the universal hope, but (like Ware and I think perhaps yourself) insist that one must hold out for the possibility (even if only in principle) that human freedom cannot be compromised by any determinism that would make universalism a pure inevitability. I think that is a valid argument.

    On the other hand, Gregory, Maximos and now DBH and Fr. Aiden have persuaded me to consider how the nature of human freedom is more complex than “a terrifying gift of self-determination.” Indeed, ‘self-determination’ may not be freedom at all, but rather, precisely the grand delusion of the fall itself. And so for DHB (at least), when at the final judgment, ‘delusion’ itself is eradicated and the deluded will (gnomic will) is healed of deception, and the source of deception removed, then the ‘freed will’ (the natural will restored) will incline to love without any determinism other our own natural (and real) desire for the Good once seen. IF that doesn’t lead us to the universalism of Hart and Fr. Aiden, then it may at least lead us to a second form of ‘hopeful inclusivism’ whereby the heart becomes convinced that alternatives to ultimate redemption have become unthinkable (love could not bear that), but merely unwilling to dogmatize universalism (retaining both mystery and perhaps issues of pastoral oikonomia re: the folly of some Christians’ presumption). I think this is where I’m at at this moment.

    But Dino, I am very inclined towards your arguments around ‘kenosis’ and the ‘Lamb slain before the foundations of the world.’ I have ‘gone there’ quite heavily in A More Christlike God … however, I would tweak your definitions slightly, which may actually have important implications for this discussion which steer us clear of Calvinist determinism. Rather than saying that God’s kenotic nature (and I do believe it is his very nature) gives the ‘terrifying gift of self-determination’ (which seems to ignore the reality of unjust, external deception and the consequent bondage of the will) … instead, could we say that God kenotically ‘makes space / gives consent for the authentic other.’ That is, he does not coerce or control his children … he makes space for them to love or to turn from love.

    However, even our authentic otherness is vulnerable to deception and bondage, from which he seeks to free us in this life and through the judgement of the age to come. Freeing us from this bondage is not coercion. It is not resorting to determinism. Rather, it is the very work of redemption (out of bondage) through love. In this life, it’s a slow, messy and incomplete business because our authentic otherness continues to be swayed by the deceiver and wooed by the world and prone even to the self-deception of the broken gnomic will. At the final judgement, in the age to come, (whether in a flash over the course of many cycles, as our dear St Macrina would say), God will continue, by nature, to relate to us as the kenotic God of consent to authentic otherness … but he will also freely burn up the blind-folds, dissolve the chains and remove the sources that have made our otherness less than authentic, less than free. When such is the case, what will our completely ‘freed will’ naturally choose than that which it ultimately desires? This in no way compromises human freedom, but rather, graciously undoes the ways it was compromised in this life.

    I suppose I should be a universalist on that basis, for I can’t conceive a more perfect (i.e. divine) alternative, but both enemies and proponents of universalism are prone to leap upon such hope as somehow connected to a very low view of divine judgement or justice (I don’t hear a low view of judgement or presumption in DBH or Fr. Aiden). Well, I certainly don’t see that in St Macrina! If I understand ‘the teacher’s’ conversation with her little brother, the process of ‘letting go’ of worldly attachments may be quite a great and terrible day, not unlike being dragged out of a house that’s collapsed upon us and impaled us with splinters and nails and rebar. This is ‘the judgement of the age to come,’ but she says that eventually, everything external to the good must be eradicated for it cannot be eternal, and when that happens, we will come to ‘the end of the ages’ (end of process) and only then will God be ‘all and in all.’

    Anyway, Dino, I think by introducing the relationship of God’s kenotic relationship to human freedom, you have taken the discussion forward. Hopefully, by shifting freedom from ‘self-determination’ to ‘authentic otherness,’ maybe that will help us envision a non-deterministic hope for all.

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    • tgbelt says:

      BradJ (to Dino): Indeed, ‘self-determination’ may not be freedom at all, but rather, precisely the grand delusion of the fall itself.

      Tom: This may be a mistake in the opposite direction. I don’t want to derail Fr Aidan’s post here (which is about UR and evangelism, not freedom), but:

      (a) I agree it has to be the case that our truest ‘freedom’ is the freedom of a settled character and love for God which is no longer capable of contradicting its telos. That said…

      (b) How does one arrive there? How does one get created, finite sentient beings into such a loving state? Not by divine fiat (nor of course by any manner of absolute, freedom of the independent human will).

      There is a metaphysical price-tag to getting created sentient beings to theosis, and that price-tag is the agency (call it whatever—libertarian, contra-causal freedom, self-determining agency, the gnomic will, or a measure of ‘say-so’) which is our God-given means to become what we’re destined to be, an agency which is neither (Dino’s) “a terrifying gift of self-determination” (if by terrifying Dino means the sort of misuse of ‘will’ that may end in irrevocable torment) nor a “grand delusion of the fall itself.” It’s simply the original (but eschatologically unfulfilled) goodness of created finitude set in motion Godward by an implicit and undeniable desire for the Good. It is ‘good’, but it is the goodness of ‘becoming’ toward God as final end.

      There is no divine fiat that can—poof—produce finally fulfilled and polished versions of us. We have (of metaphysical necessity) to ‘become’ what God intends, and we have to become it (of metaphysical necessity) freely (in whatever sense the word might be used here), and we can only become it (of metaphysical necessity) if reason is enlightened enough to responsibly determine either ‘yes’ and ‘no’ with respect to the Good but which reason also becomes increasingly defined by the Good over time by offering itself as ‘yes’ to God. Eventually, the gnomic will’s journey is fulfilled as irrevocable ‘yes’ to God, but an irrevocability synergistically determined. The truth increasingly sets us free…as we choose it. My point to Dino is that none of this requires the possibility of irrevocably disposing of ourselves outside of our telos.

      It’s 2:30 AM and I hope this is making sense. ;o)

      Tom

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  25. Dino says:

    bradjersak, tgbelt,

    I cannot disagree that “God kenotically ‘makes space / gives consent for the authentic other.’ That is, he does not coerce or control his children … he makes space for them to love or to turn from love.”

    But this: “authentic otherness [a very good term] which is vulnerable to deception and bondage, from which God seeks to free us in this life and through the judgement of the age to come. Freeing us from this bondage is not coercion. It is not resorting to determinism. Rather, it is the very work of redemption (out of bondage) through love.” can be more problematic.

    I have to state this as a corollary of the definition of Hell (Hell’s ‘luciferean heart’ if you like) as being: that pride that renders even the final gift of omniscience (resulting in freedom from deception and the bondage of ignorance) still powerless in bringing the “gnomic will” into alignment with the “natural will”!

    When the Elder Aimilianos or Elder Ephraim of Katounakia -whose very countenance left an indelible mark on you, a mark of a person that did not speak from his mind on such matters but from the Spirit, or else they remained silent- (these are persons who flooded their cells in tears for many years for the salvation of the damned – Fr Ephraim Katounakiotis, for example, celebrated one thousand six hundred [40×40] Liturgies for the salvation of the one person who had previously made his life unbearable), when these giants of the Spiritual realms asserted that there is potentially a ‘power of pride in every person that can eternally resist God’, I am very afraid that it describes this dark side of ‘authentic otherness’. It implies that for such a being (Fr Evmenios would always only speak of Satan in this position/state), the very act of “a loving process, freeing them from bondage” is perceived as itself as a hell that -unfortunately- only produces greater resistance, deception, bondage rather than the redemption it produces on others… This perversion of a fastened ‘authentic otherness’ is the diametrical opposite of kenosis, and the fact that being ‘saved’ requires an agent that saves who is ‘other than the self’ becomes an insurmountable problem. It is what is referred to by the continuous ‘darkening’ of the previously radiant angel-lucifer.

    It’s a wordy explanation of “he has no desire to be humbled” or “no trace of will to be saved”. Sorry. The Fathers say that we mustn’t pray for his salvation and waste our energy on him (saddening God) because of this. -even though it is Grace itself that produces such love in us that we are compelled to do this even for the demons and with tears!

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  26. brian says:

    Nicely said, Tom, especially for 2:30 in the morning.

    Since the nature of time in post-mortem existence, of the body, of knowing is opaque to us, it is really not possible to speak with the kind of clarity you desire. Some believe there are ages upon ages after this vale of tears. There may be much history, much experience required to bring a recalcitrant soul to loving union with God — or it may all happen in a twinkling, what appears to us requiring many ages somehow compactly achieved. However the soul is brought to God, not only do I think it will involve “becoming,” but I think, as Gregory of Nyssa indicates, that there will continue a life of becoming in eternity, a growing infinitely in goodness full of novelty, surprise, discovery, with no shadow of turning. (Look at the closing pages of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle if you have it at hand.)

    Dino, it appears to me that you have accepted the theologoumenon of particular saints as decisive. I realize there is dispute about the status of universalism in Orthodoxy, but I think the case for it not being dogmatically ruled out is strong.

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  27. Dino says:

    Granted, there will always be a case for it, I would not call it strong though.

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    • brian says:

      I said that it was strongly indicated that universalism was not dogmatically ruled out. This is not the same as saying the case for universalism is strong in Orthodox thought. It is true that the Orthodox thinkers I find compelling are, in fact, usually universalists of one kind or another. Outside of questions of sectarian allegiance to particular doctrines, I personally think Christian universalism is the Gospel. Pretty much anyone who holds this view is used to being informed that such a position is heretical or to being shown proof texts of infernal destinies or of being reminded that they are in the minority. In general, people who come to hold the Christian universalist perspective have a more critical grasp of their position, because it is so commonly opposed.

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  28. Mike H says:

    I’m curious, is there an Orthodox doctrine of the “age of accountability”? If so, whether it’s applied to an eschatology defined by traditional infernalism, conditional immortality, “love experienced as wrath”, some kind of free will “door is locked from the inside”, or universal reconciliation (with hell as refinement) is largely irrelevant as it seems to be a sort of loophole within any of them.

    I’ve found that the vast majority of Christians are effectively “child universalists”. Most arguments about pride, sin, God violating “free will”, etc seem to go right out the window.

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  29. Dino says:

    Mike,
    I’ve made the point before, good point. These points have never been scrupulously doctrined one way or another in a way that precludes these speculations in my knowledge

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    • Mike H says:

      Dino,

      Right.

      It’s more than acknowledging how much we don’t know and/or getting to the point at which the “appeal to mystery” theological escape clause kicks in though. In many cases, the question of the “age of accountability” is a necessary one that arises precisely from theology that HAS been scrupulously doctrined and is held as dogma (or very close to it). The implications of these answers to the question – often necessary and logical answers given the starting points – just aren’t tenable. It should lead to a more thorough look at the underlying theological starting points themselves – the ones that lead inexorably to an “age of accountability” in the first place.

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  30. Dino says:

    Mike,

    I think the “very close to dogma” notion is that of the “eternity of hell” (as of heaven of course) and hence universalism of the variety discussed here (i.e.: that there is a hell but its duration is the what is being argued – sorry everyone for the oversimplification) is indisputably in the minority. The other important argument is who (including the fallen angelic order we know extremely little about) will be remaining in eternally in hell, if so.

    One thing is sure, in this life, those who have tasted ‘some’ of hell cannot bare the idea (even without the magnitude of compassion of a St Silouan, and just with a bare minimum sense of compassion) of anyone at all having to go through that eternally… Of course, the Fathers speak of Heaven eventually not “knowing” Hell in a sense, (they speak of every individual person, in fact, not knowing the state of others in a way that would ‘mar’ their unceasing, infinitely joyous movement towards God – an experience that has been imparted for a limited time to many Saints in this life through the Uncreated Light of God).

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  31. Dino says:

    And, admittedly, a select few of the Fathers, it must certainly be said, [I say this sounding ‘universalist’] speculating on God’s “cunning” goodness, say that although we cannot and should not say it, if gehenna’s “punishment” potentially has a concealed ‘apokatastatic’ effect even on luciferean pride (Isaiah 2:11), this is not without a certain precursor (in the way death and suffering that followed the Fall had an effect that was entirely concealed at the time). After the Fall, death seemed like a punishment; however, Christ’s salvific work has made that into an infinitely greater blessing than what man, angel or demon could have ever conceived at the time.

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  32. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Dino, now that this thread appears to have come to a close, I thought I would offer a brief rejoinder. I hope sometime in the future to address at greater length the objections you have raised to the universalist hope. But let me mention three points in particular:

    1) You seem to believe that the universalist hope is grounded on philosophical speculation (“rational inevitability”); but this most certainly is not the case. It is grounded, rather, upon divine revelation—the revelation of God’s infinite, absolute, and unconditional Love in Jesus Christ. We dare to hope, truly hope (as opposed to sentimental wishing) in the salvation of all because we have encountered and experienced this Love. For those of us who have been brought, by the Spirit, into the universalist hope, the possibility that the Good Shepherd would ever abandon even one of his lambs is inconceivable. I do not think of apokatastasis as a metaphysical necessity, analogous to the law of gravity or thermodynamics. I confidently hope and pray for apokatastasis because I trust the Creator who eternally wills our good and only our good. I will not put a limit upon God’s omnipotent Love.

    2) In your comments you repeatedly emphasize “the terrifying gift of eternal self-determination,” which you believe logically entails the possibility of eternal self-damnation. I emphasize here “logically” because in fact you are asserting against the universalist hope a piece of philosophical speculation. I do not criticize you for speculating on the meaning of human freedom—what other choice do we have—but I do criticize you for treating it as a datum of divine revelation or churchly dogma. It is not. And because it is not, it may and must be subjected to rational scrutiny and debate.

    The weakness of your formulation of (libertarian) freedom is revealed in the lengthy quotation from Elder Sophrony above. He presents us with an either/or dilemma: God has only two choices—to leave us alone in our self-determination or to coercively violate our personal integrity. I too used to think along these lines, too, but I have come to believe that this formulation is critically flawed. It treats God as if he is a god, an entity external to the human being, rather than as the transcendent Creator who is radically immanent and active within the depths of the human being. God does not need to create a God-free zone for the exercise of our freedom. He is actively and directly present in our freedom, closer to us than we are to ourselves. As St Augustine puts it in his Confessions: “interior intimo meo et superior summo meo.” We cannot conceive the mystery of divine transcendence/immanence and how God creatively works in the depths of the soul; but we can, I think, arrive at the point where we recognize the limits of imposing our creaturely notions of freedom and self-determination upon him. God cannot be ultimately constrained by our “definitive” decisions and actions, because he is God and not a god. And because he is Love, he will find a way to accomplish his salvific will. This is my hope, and I hope it will one day become the confident hope of the Church.

    The fact that Elder Sophrony was a godly man does not confer infallibility upon his specific view of freedom and eternal hell, no matter how popular it may be within Orthodoxy.

    3) You cite St Nicodemus’s statement about the Theotokos. I had to do some Google searching to find it:

    With every right the Holy Triune God, enjoyed and greatly rejoiced before the ages foreknowing according to His divine knowledge, the Ever Virgin Mary. Because it is the opinion of certain theologians that if we were to assume that all the nine ranks of angels would be torn down from the heavens and would become demons, if all of the people from the ages would become evil and all go to hell … With all of this, all these evils compared to the Theotokos’ fullness of holiness would not be able to sadden God, because the Lady Theotokos alone would be able to please Him in all and for all. … she alone loved Him above all, because she alone obeyed His will, above all, and because she alone was capable and receptive of all those natural, optional, and supernatural gifts—which God distributed to all creation. [my emphasis]

    If we take these words as hyperbolic expression of praise of the Theotokos, then they are acceptable. But if we take them literally (and I trust St Nicodemus did not intend them to be taken literally), then they are truly horrifying. The billions of the damned become a kind of acceptable collateral damage justified by the coming into being of one perfect human being. It reminds me of the skewed rhetoric one sometimes hears from Calvinists when they attempt to justify their views on double predestination and limited atonement. Brian is surely correct when he states “the Theotokos would not agree that her salvation counter-balanced the loss of every other creature.” Love could not bear that.

    I wish to thank you, Dino, and everyone else for a thoughtful and edifying conversation.

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  33. Dino says:

    Father,
    I think the point that is missed is the “crucificiality”(to coin term), the eternal “crucificiality” of Christ’s love that respects freedom to such a degree that is scandalous to our human feelings, our attachments and even our love which is never as respectful as that and perceives this respect of another’s otherness to such a degree as folly – with many good arguments to support this perception.
    The patristic phronema I perceive is that His love and nobility is demonstrated not just in his omnipotence and final persuasion (as St Isaac asserts) but also in his respect of another’s pride (and I have always only used the example of the devil in this and attached to that, only anyone who would share his luciferean pride). This scandalous respect goes so far as to accept to remain eternally crucified, by accepting that a rational creature of His (the originally greatest one – Lucifer) to eternally resist his love and prefer gehenna to repentance…!
    A run-of-the-mill example occurred to me a few minutes ago when an acquaintance who had separated from her husband -after two failed affairs- admitted to a friend of mine that, even though her life had now become hell for her and her children, she cannot perceive her persistently loving and forgiving ex-husband as what she once did, and the more he tries the more repulsive he is to her…! Its not a very good example but it reminded me of the power of delusion that our mode of being allows for.
    I will of course admit that –from human reasoning and experience- the power of suffering, the power of hell/gehenna is immense. It can indeed bring the prideful to humility and eventually repentance. But when the experience of the overwhelming majority of the saints speaks out that there is a pride (satan’s) that would never be humbled, why should I maintain something different to them, even if I, myself, feel that God might have something concealed from all, regarding his power to coerce without coercing…
    It’s the stone example again: saving all [irrespective of what they want -because He would not have gone ahead with creating beings in the first place that would not eventually be freely saveable after purgation and would have eternally chosen the movement towards non-being (hell)] is creating an unliftable stone and yet lifting it (He never therefore made it unliftable). [showing the power of his love]
    Creating beings with such self-determination that some might eventually resist Him [resisting all illumination and love, eternally interpreting all being (God especially) as hell/gehenna due to their self-worshipping pride] is creating an unliftable stone. [showing the kenotic respectfulness of His love]

    I do not really side one way or another in a real sense, but would argue the balance in both cases…

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  34. Dino says:

    And, it goes without saying that I would absolutely be far more contented -although I hope I will forever accept whatever it is that God has preordained, in trust of His love being made manifest even in Hell, even if this now surpasses our understanding- in the knowledge and understanding that the drama of human (and angelic) salvation extends to incorporate even Gehenna as part of what is required for the maturity (and purgation) into repentance of His greatest ” resistors “.

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    • brian says:

      Dino,

      At risk of perpetuating a conversation that probably must inevitably flounder in unresolved interpretive disagreement, I’d like to revisit some of the assertions you have made in this thread.

      1) It seems to me that you generally ignore the Biblical case for universalism. If, indeed, the Gospel is universalist, all your arguments fall to the ground. I am not presuming here that the universalist view is correct, just that you don’t actually credit it as possibly true, even though you say there is a slim chance of it being so and that you would be far more contented if it were so. The latter, of course, is a worthy hope and I commend you for it. Still, as I said before, it appears that you have taken the theologoumenon of particular saints as decisive, or nearly so, at least.

      2) Your analogies, like all analogies, fail in some respects. I already pointed the fallacy of the unliftable rock, why it is more a kind of bad question than a valid way of speculating about God. You ignored the refutation because you don’t understand it, don’t agree with it, or your find that particular analogy too useful to your own argument to disgard it.

      The forgiving human husband anecdote is similarly flawed. A failed marriage is a failed relation between creatures. The husband is not responsible for the creation of his wife. He did not form her from nothing. He does not know her better than she knows herself. He does not have any kind of responsibility, even if we think of it as a responsibility the Creator would simply owe himself, to seeing that she ultimately reaches the goal of a complete flourishing of her being. Further, the husband, no matter how saintly, is a sinful human being. In some ways, he must have contributed to the marital problems. In addition, anyone who thinks that one can persistently and eternally have contempt for God because he is generous and forgiving has not read the Bible very much. Any revelation of God’s glory, from Moses to the prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel) to the Transfiguration induces awe, humility, mindless babbling before what is too much for fallen flesh. It is simply not credible in the light of revelation to carry the analogy in the direction you want.

      3) I continue to argue that while revelation is not bound by philosophy, our interpretive capacities are always shaped by at least an implicit metaphysics. In my opinion, Dino, you continue to read Scripture with modern, libertarian notions of freedom as unproblematic. You think you are only following Scripture, so you are not bothered by the accusation that you have imported a particular understanding of liberty that is disputable. In my view, the kind of metaphysical freedom that was discussed in the lengthy dialogue with Hart is much more accurate simply as philosophy and also more amenable to the witness of revelation. Just as creatio ex nihilo opens up the Scripture without actually being stated, metaphysical freedom opens up the Gospel.

      4) Honestly, anyone who could read the anecdote about the Theotokos as anything other than a piece of hyperbolic rhetoric is far, far from my own sensibility, reading of Scripture, understanding of God. I do not understand how one could even hypothetically accept it as an assertion of metaphysical truth and be truly authentic in the hope for all. I go back to the supreme freedom of God. The Biblical God is not like the neoplatonic One or Aristotle’s Thought thinking itself. For Plotinus, the world is a defatigation from the compact purity of the Absolute. The material universe is a kind of natural overflow from the One, not a loved creation that need not be. Aristotle’s Absolute inclines everything that is towards it by the power of its beautiful being, but this enchantment is one way. We are erotically drawn towards the Unmatched, but the Absolute remains serenely indifferent, perhaps even unaware, really.

      The Biblical God is not so. Not even bare monotheism can approach the truth of the Triune God. Ontologically Love, generous, relational, creative, kenotic, courteous, playful, mirthful, daring, this God is Plenitude, yet unlike the static, inert fullness of Parmenides One. There is always already drama, dynamism, loving novelty in the Life of God. Only such a God could actually create. And if we are a creation, we are always already loved into existence.

      Now if one wants to use analogies from human relations, one should think more of a loving parent. What loving parent could be reconciled to the eternal misery of a beloved? Is such resignation “the kenotic respectfulness of his love,” as you would have it? I’m sorry, there is something either terribly callous in such a view or, to be more charitable, terribly lacking in imagination. From the beginning, I found it ironic that you were asserting that the universalist view was confined by, to use Ivan Karamazov’s phrase “Euclidean geometry,” whilst your own more traditionalist views were supposedly beyond such limits because rooted in Orthodox tradition. On the contrary, it is precisely the universalist views that ask one to consider possibilities of the nature of love, fatherhood, personhood, identity, that extend far beyond what we ordinarily imagine and encounter.

      If we are loved into existence, I take it that God always purposed to bring his creation to a victorious conclusion. Anything short of the universalist hope is at least a partial defeat. (I agreed with Edward de Vita’s query in this thread.) As I have stated elsewhere on Father’s blog, God dares, because He is resolved to see it through. (Seeing it through means rescuing everyone and everything.) It seems to me that while kenosis is a valuable element in understanding Christian theology, some of this talk of the cruciform founders on what Hart terms “suffering, tragic wisdom.” The atonement is not complete without the Resurrection. I think one should not forget that. Bulgakov says it is not complete until the Ascension, until Christ is at the right hand of the Father. There’s something altogether too provisional in a Gospel of limited, precarious, incomplete joy.

      Our path is, of course, precarious and difficult, but Romans 8 rings with the confidence of victorious love. Was the Father in Christ’s parable watching for the Prodigal because he hoped in a human fashion that the child might return? Or is hope not a mere element of psychic emotion, but as Peguy remarks in his long poem, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, a winsome grace, shyly unrelenting, playfully certain of the triumph of love?

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  35. Dino says:

    Hi Brian,
    I didn’t ‘ignore the refutation of the stone analogy’ because of not understanding it, etc. in fact I originally introduced it “as a childish philosophical paradox” if you check. It was introduced knowing it’s a false question that does however have a didactic purpose, a paradoxical simplistic device to demonstrate the potential impasse of all our speculations, the stone being “a finite being” as you originally said, and lifting such a rock “an action within the natural world” (your original refutation) takes nothing away from it. I wish it did, but the speculation of eternal respect of otherness to the point of an eternal crucificiallity (and hell) [stone too big] and its opposite speculation of eventual apokatastasis irrespective of ‘age of accoutability questions’ [lifting the stone] always remain. The first position is a demonstration of God’s love (and respect) and the second position is equally a demonstration of God’s love and (and “cunning” plan). The husband example was also introduced as “not a very good example” in my comment by the way, as, inevitably, all such analogies can end up, whether they argue for the one position or the other. As I said I would argue the balance either way
    The “Biblical case for universalism” is certainly not ignored, but Orthodox do not read the Bible individually like that, as a Quaran, or else the ‘Biblical case against universalism’ (another 47 points or more would simply be measured up to balance out the argument. Little point in that…
    Scripture is interpreted the right way by the Spirit-filled Saints that have encountered God and whose first hand experience is infinitely more valuable than our philosophically robust speculations. Heresy is built on such speculations. I will state clearly that my beloved St Isaac the Syrian and Gregory the Theologian make a very good case for an eternal apokatastasis of all, including the devil, however, what we have in the patristic corpus concerning the exact opposite case is so overwhelming that it cannot possibly be brushed off the way you might like to…

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  36. Dino says:

    Saying all that, I would also be arguing in favour of the possibility of what St Isaac describes with an equal fervour, if this was a blog against universalism. But I think that we cannot proclaim the confidence displayed by some here, defying the constant cautions to the contrary of the vast majority of first-hand encounterers of God (saints).

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dino, I need to respectfully challenge your statement “Saying all that, I would also be arguing in favour of the possibility of what St Isaac describes with an equal fervour, if this was a blog against universalism.” I know you believe this, but I do not believe that your theology allows you to argue in support of the universalist hope, not really and certainly not publicly. In this thread you have confidently and unconditionally advanced two basic arguments against the universalist hope. Please correct me if I misrepresent your views in what follows.

      (1) The experience of the overwhelming majority of the saints argue in favor of the eternity of hell. If it’s not dogma, it’s very close to dogma. If you believe this to be true, then how can you entertain the possibility that the dogma is false? Given what you believe to be the authoritative teaching of the Orthodox Church, are you really in a position to publicly affirm the possibility that Sts. Gregory Nyssen and Isaac the Syrian were right and most Orthodox theologians and ascetics of the second millennium were mistaken? (I specify the second millennium, because the testimony of the first millennium saints and teachers is far more complicated.) Perhaps you are able to entertain the universalist hope in a purely theoretical way, say within the privacy of your inner thoughts, but could you stand before an Orthodox congregation and tell them that they may hope for the salvation of all and share this hope with others? What will you say to those who tell you that the Church condemned apokatastasis at the Fifth Ecumenical Council? One cannot hope for what is impossible; one cannot hope for what has been infallibly condemned. Perhaps one might hope that the number of the damned will be few but hoping for the salvation of all would seem to be out of court.

      Perhaps you are willing to acknowledge that the 6th century anathemas addressing universal salvation do not in fact include the versions of apokatastasis espoused by St Gregory and St Isaac. I do not recall you mentioning this, however. If you are willing to acknowledge this, then you must also acknowledge, with Bulgakov, Evdokimov, and Ware, that the question of apokatastasis remains open within Orthodoxy. But in your view, it really isn’t open, is it?

      (2) Human freedom logically entails the possibility of eternal damnation. As you have repeatedly and emphatically stated, God so respects the freedom of the human being that he is willing to allow a person to irrevocably commit themselves to eternal perdition and torment. As far as I can tell, you believe this argument to be a clincher, supported both by reason and the judgment of the saints. In fact, you are so confident in this argument that you are willing to claim that our limited understanding of love must be crucified in light of the Father’s acceptance of eternal damnation. I can’t think of any stronger way to make this point than your invocation of St Nicodemus’s statement that the salvation of the Theotokos outweighs the eternal loss of everyone else!

      If you believe that the free-will defense of hell is probative, then once again you find yourself in a position where you cannot seriously entertain, much less advocate, the real possibility of universal salvation. At the very best, everything else being equal, you might appropriately maintain an agnostic position: we just do not know and cannot know how many will be saved, whether all, many, or few. That many will be saved is no more likely than only the few will be saved. St John Chrysostom certainly thought that the latter will be the case: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.” All we do know, if you are right, is that God is ultimately helpless against human freedom. As Sister Magdalene’s Russian theologian came to realize: “Yes, the stone that is too heavy for God to carry is mankind.” This must be the conclusion that all free-will defenders of hell must eventually reach. It’s just the logic of the position.

      Note that I am not presently engaging you on the respective merits of these two arguments. Rather, I am challenging your freedom to entertain even a modest universalist hope, given your dogmatic convictions.

      Why does this matter? Because for those of us who confess the universalist hope, what is at stake is nothing less than hope in the eschatological triumph of Love and Meaning. Hope is so much more than entertaining a counterfactual. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a dreaming for an unachievable utopia. It is not a sentimental hoping against all hope. Hope—genuine Christian hope—is a fundamental existential stance toward Reality. It is nothing less than faith in the risen Christ as disposed toward the Final Future. Hence apokatastasis cannot be believed as merely one possible future out of a million other possible futures—such a belief would be trite, irrelevant to our lives, and thoroughly unpreachable. We hope and pray for the salvation of all because we believe that the God of Pascha cannot be bound to our logic and necessities—because we trust, not in ourselves, but in the incarnate Son’s victory over death and sin. There is no stone too heavy for God to carry.

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      • brian says:

        The equivocity of language is something that must be wrestled with.
        I think you are surely right, Father, that Christian hope is not at all akin to a gambler’s probability. Likewise, entertaining something as a notional possibility is nothing like the conviction that apokatastasis is intimately part of recognizing the infinitely surprising creativity of the God who is Love.

        In any event, I am with you. There is no stone too heavy for God to carry.

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      • Dino says:

        Father (et al),
        The attachment to a position is discretely unlike the adherence to a phronema… Our faith’s paradoxes, scandalous to the rational mind, are ‘logical to the praying heart.
        How can the universalist hope be eradicated?
        How can this be when our relentless prayer is for the salvation of all?
        There is no separation of others and the ‘me’ of a Christian, we are all communicating vessels and, as I stated earlier, it is God’s grace Itself that teaches such prayer… [despite God Himself commanding his children not to waste their precious energy on the prayer for the salvation of the adversary stated earlier] The possibility of complete apokatastasis has to be acknowledged, it cannot be entirely ruled out (even though, the saints warn sternly against its public declaration). I have taken issue with its reckless preaching, especially by persons, like myself, who spend more time speculating and philosophizing “from their own intellects” than praying and mourning for the salvation of all. There is nothing more painful than one who has experienced hell than knowing that even a single soul might even approach such an experience without it being a temporary, educational experience. Coupled with the love that God grants for all of creation this becomes inconceivably painful, as the experience of Saints such as Silouan and Sophrony testifies, even though their position is identical to mine…
        Why would anyone try to corner this position out of someone like that beats me. They were utterly against the sort of confident universalism preached by some, yet spent their entire lives praying all men out of hell. I don’t see that much of a point in verbally contesting such a position on the internet either. Moreover –I repeat my previous commenting- we can never know one way or the other while on this side of the eschata, but we mustn’t allow for the impasse one prepares for himself (when he potentially sides with the accuser of God) if faced with the possibility of an eternal gehenna for (even just) one rational being that will pridefully, eternally prefer hell to (the subjectively perceived by him even worse hell of) ever humbling himself to repentance. We are going over the same points though… And equally, we cannot discard St Isaac’s position which is what we hope for and we see the logic in that too…

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      • Connie says:

        Fr Aidan, thank you so much for these last thoughts. They are wonderfully to the point.

        Dino has quoted p. 109 from Sophrony’s book on St. Silouan several times now to suggest that St. Silouan bowed to the free-will possibility of eternal hell for some people. My reading of that page suggests that it is only Sophrony himself who holds that belief and that the entire page is merely Sophrony’s commentary. Sophrony states that St Silouan’s prayers with tears for all human beings implies that he had to have believed that perhaps not everyone will be saved. But isn’t this a false assumption? In Romans 9 St. Paul agonizes over the fate of his Jewish brethren, while two chapters later he lets his readers “in on the secret” that they would ALL eventually be saved. The universalist hope does not take away agony and suffering for the (temporarily) lost, and I’m surprised Sophrony apparently thinks it does.

        That entire page raises questions, to me at least, about what St. Silouan’s true beliefs are, especially when on the same page Sophrony quotes the verse “I will draw all men to myself” and interprets it to say, “Christ’s love HOPES to draw all men to Him.” I can’t help thinking that Sophrony is pretty free with offering his own opinions.

        The actual direct quotes of St. Silouan that I have heard line up beautifully with the universalist belief. But I know and have read very little of either St Silouan or Sophrony, and I don’t want to misrepresent Sophrony. Fr Aidan, Dino, Brian, or anyone: Do you know of any actual, direct teaching of St. Silouan’s that would confirm Sophrony’s claim that “awareness of the possibility of eternal damnation remained deeply engrained in [St. Silouan’s] spirit” – other than what Dino has quoted above?

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        • Dino says:

          I cannot recall any from the top of my head Connie. I think it is more a case of understanding the disposition that results from humble obedience to the Church. It is what I meant by

          The attachment to a position is discretely unlike the adherence to a phronema…

          Someone who would heed their own deliberations and rationalisations -even if they spring from a well meaning, loving and humble personal disposition- more than the Church’s tradition is in grave danger of opening up to a protesting type of blasphemy.
          What I mean to say is that the words of the saints, even the words of Christ Himself might be understood as unduly harsh as if I am , somehow, (…) more holy, and more compassionate and meeker than them!
          It’s the sort of unconsciously self-regarding thinking that can make. e.g.. a staunch vegan- who would never eat any meat or fish out of a deep respect ‘for life’- criticise Christ Himself for eating fish…

          Fr Sophrony knew St Silouan more than any other person ever did and belonged to the same living stream of tradition. The universalist hope mourning and the ‘keeping one’s mind in hell’, as well as many other notions expounded on in “St Silouan the Athonite” would not stand in the same way in Light of a confident, proclaimed (and somewhat “disobedient” and “separationist ) universalism…

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          • Dino says:

            And it is precisely this paradoxical combination of the universalist belief -or hope to be more precise- on the one hand, with that “awareness of the possibility of eternal damnation remained deeply engrained in [St. Silouan’s] spirit” on the other hand, that is the way to avoid possibly becoming a ‘dissenter’ in the name of speculated “truth” while retaining that burning hope and hypostatic repentance witnessed in Saints of such stature.
            Sorry, I keep mentioning the idea of ‘dissenting’ because I see very sharply such a possibility when anyone might try to zealously corner those who do not agree with their theologoumeni opinion/position as any more than a ‘possibility’ to the point that they are not prepared to accept a Father-God as the Mother-Church describes Him. Perhaps I am presuming more zeal than there is on the matter. As Dostoyevsky exclaimed somewhere, even if someone could prove that the truth (or paradise or any other matter) is somewhere else, and Christ somewhere else, we would rather be with Christ.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Thanks, Connie, for your comment and for locating the Sophrony citation in the English translation. I had a similar reaction to yours when I read Elder Sophrony’s book on St Silouan. Where does Silouan end and Sophrony begin? In light of Sophrony’s other books, one gets the feeling that the former often gets assimilated to the latter. Sophrony has a recognizable, well-developed theology of his own. And it’s a theology, quite frankly, that is sometimes beyond my sympathies.

          Personally, I would be surprised if St Silouan (or anyone on Mt Athos) explicitly espoused the universalist hope. The assertion of the eternity of hell has long been considered dogma in the Orthodox Church, as you know, defined by the 5th Ecumenical Council. I doubt one would survive very long on the Holy Mountain if one began to publicly call the dogma into question. And once the eternity of hell is acknowledged as dogma, it enters into, shapes, and defines one’s religious and mystical experience.

          It will be very interesting to see what develops on the Holy Mountain as the eschatological discourses of St Isaac (found in the Second Part) are meditated upon. Will they be simply dismissed as spurious, as some have done, or will they be internalized into the spiritual and intellectual lives of the monks? If the latter should happen, perhaps the question of the universalist hope will be re-opened on the Holy Mountain. At that point it will no longer suffice to employ “experience” as a dogmatic club to beat down dissent and close debate. We will need to return to the Holy Scriptures and attend to their testimony with open hearts and fresh eyes.

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          • Dino says:

            That’s a very good point indeed Father, St Isaac has enjoyed a continuous and somewhat unique respect in the Holy Mountain and his eschatological discourses found in the Second Part are only very very recently starting to appear in the Greek language, most people are not even aware of their existence or think that there’s more than enough in the first part anyway, I don’t think I’ll see their eventual effect in my lifetime!

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          • Dino says:

            I also mentioned in a comment [a long time ago] that there’s already people in Greece focusing on the supposed “controversy” of whether the second part should be ascribed to Isaac of Nineveh, mainly due to the difficulty of the apokatastasis ever being accepted as a doctrine by the Church and because the last few (eschatological) homilies of part two, contain the ideas of a purgative gehenna as a concealed, cunning strategy of God to bring the unrepentant to repentance, “coercing without coercing” and reconciling them to Himself.

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          • Marc says:

            Fr. Aidan,
            Although eternal torment in an eternal hell maybe a majority opinion in the Orthodox Church today, my understanding was that it is not considered official dogma. There are clearly writings of early Church Fathers like St. Irenaeus, St. Justin, and St. Athanasius that point to conditional immortality and eternal death rather than eternal torment. St. John Chrysostom is anything but consistent. You quoted him as stating that less than 10% would be saved, yet at every Pascha celebration we read his homily in which he implies that all those in Hades were saved. There are far more Scriptures that support the possibility of the annihilation of eternal death or the possibility of the salvation of all humanity, than the possibility of eternal torment. I believe that the Church has picked up some very harmful baggage during the Imperial period. The pagan concept of natural immortality that is at the heart of the belief in eternal torment, is the worst of the baggage because of how it distorts God’s true character. Although the punishments (therapies) of God may be painful, they are meant to heal. God does not torment people for eternity. Those who believe in eternal torment have been deceived by the same devil that spoke the first lie in Eden, “you shall not surely die.”

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Dino, you might want to see this article by Eric Jobe: “Will the Real St Isaac of Nineveh Please Stand Up.”

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Thank you, Marc, for reminding us of the very early patristic testimony to conditional immortality. That too needs to be brought into the mix. It certainly is not the case that the Church first first believed in eternal retributive punishment and torment, which then got corrupted by Origen. Matters are far more complex.

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          • Dino says:

            The early Church’s far more varied word on the escheat and the greater percentage of acceptance of apokatastasis is indeed one of the strongest cases for respecting it as a possibility that cannot ever be denied, I think Father Stephen also spoke of this in his blog… thanks for the reminders

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          • Marc says:

            I am convinced that the revelation of Holy Tradition confirms that the choice for human beings has always been between eternal life and eternal death, not eternal torment. What is so interesting about this site is the exploration of many factors that may effect how a person makes that choice. We have discussed how God’s will is an important factor, yet we have not yet really explored how the influence of Satan and the demons may also be a factor.

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          • Dino says:

            Thank you Father for pointing me there, I think I will now heed Saint Isaac’s advise finally and “Flee from discussions of dogma as from an unruly lion; never embark upon them yourself, either with those raised in the Church, or with strangers.” 🙂

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          • Connie says:

            Interesting quote by St Isaac, Dino. He didn’t argue over the teaching of eternal torment. He simply said “God forbid!” to it and went on from there. 🙂

            Fr Aidan, again, your words in answer to my question were wonderful. Thank you so much!

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  37. brian says:

    Okay, Dino, but the didactic efficacy of even a flawed analogy is still dependent on the logical force of the perceived dichotomy. It still seems to me that the “loving respect” side of your opposition is rooted in a libertarian or voluntarist notion of freedom that I do not believe is ultimately cogent, though it has a common sense appearance of being self-evident.

    I don’t believe I am reading the Scriptures in a purely individualist manner. I am not a Protestant. Certainly, one should be able to read “with the Tradition” without being compelled to simply side with the majority opinion, as it were. So long as nothing has been dogmatically excluded by a magisterium, it should be open, shouldn’t it?

    Heresy may be built on philosophically robust speculations, but it’s my judgment that many heresies derive from a lack of philosophical insight. The philosopher needs to engage and respect what the artist or the theologian can tell him about reality. Likewise, the artist and theologian should recognize that the longing search for wisdom is not something that is forestalled by revelation or made redundant by church councils. Rather, revelation is infinitely rich. A kind of sterile “just so” can occur when “speculation” is dismissed as inevitably erroneous or something that is trumped by the sayings of various saints, etc.

    Not that you necessarily imply such a stark contrast, though I think that is where your proclivities lie. Here is a question for you. If the perception of the saints is so powerfully decisive, how do you explain Isaac of Nineveh or Gregory of Nyssa? There does not appear to be complete, serene agreement amongst the saints. Does one simply adjust the rhetoric of the minority so that the conflict is only apparent?

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  38. Dino says:

    I agree with what you just said Brian and I certainly heed the precious voices of St Isaac and Gregory of Nyssa, I simply add to that, that I cannot possibly ignore the many more voices of all the others, that’s all.

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