Rehabilitating Origen

David Bentley Hart is his own man, with his own distinctive voice and writing style—and thank God for that. His theological writings have been described as brilliant, incisive, penetrating, trenchant, over-blown, outrageous. He is impossible to pigeon-hole. He has read deeply in the Church Fathers, yet his theology can hardly be described as mere repetition of ancient views. He is a communicant of the Orthodox Church, yet his fellow Eastern theologians pay him little attention. One reviewer of his Beauty of the Infinite complained that the book is not Orthodox theology. Hart characteristically replied:

Of course it is. Admittedly it does not much resemble the sort of ‘neo-Palamite’, ‘neo-patristic’ books which have dominated Eastern theology since the middle of the last century, when the great ressourcements movement that has done so much to define modern Orthodoxy was inaugurated. But Orthodox theology has taken many forms over the centuries—mystical, scholastic, mystagogical, idealist, neo-patristic, even ‘Sophiological’—all of which have been perfectly legitimate expressions of the Eastern Church’s mind. And frankly, I think that the theological idiom to which Orthodox theology has been confined for the last fifty years or so has largely exhausted itself and has become tediously repetitive. It has also, to a very great extent, done much to distort the Orthodox understanding of the traditions of both East and West.

As I said, Hart is his own man. A few months ago, for example, he took on the predestinarianism of St Augustine in the May issue of First Things. He concluded with this indictment: “In the whole long, rich history of Christian misreadings of Scripture, none I think has ever been more consequential, more invincibly perennial, or more disastrous.” In the latest issue of First Things, Hart directs his ire toward his fellow Orthodox. The title is sure to grab attention: “Saint Origen“!

Hart begins his piece with observations about a recent intra-Orthodox internet debate on the theme of universal salvation. I wish I knew which blog or forum he had followed, though I have my suspicions. He notes that several modern Orthodox theologians, following in the footsteps of St Gregory of Nyssa, have affirmed the hope of universal salvation, at least as a theologoumenon; but there are also those who denounce the hope as heretical. Hart describes the debate:

But there are those who find this an intolerable state of affairs, sometimes because of an earnest if misguided devotion to what they believe Scripture or tradition demands, sometimes because the idea of the eternal torment of the derelict appeals to some unpleasantly obvious emotional pathologies on their parts. And the fiercest on this score seem to be certain converts from Evangelicalism who bristle at the thought that Orthodox tradition might be more diverse, indeterminate, and speculatively daring than what they signed on for. And so the argument went on, repeating a familiar pattern. Those who were keen to defend the gates of hell against every assault of hope cited the small handful of New Testament verses seeming to threaten everlasting damnation; those on the other side responded that none of those pericopes, when correctly interpreted and translated, says what the “infernalists” imagine, and then cited the (far more numerous) ­passages proclaiming universal rescue. The eternal-damnation party invoked various “binding” authorities, such as the 1583 edition of the Synodikon; the total-reconciliation party pointed out (quite correctly) that Orthodox dogma is the province only of the Seven Councils, not of some hoary collection of canonical pronouncements and para-canonical opinions. The hellions made vague appeals to “holy tradition”; the empyrealists (knowing that “holy tradition” can mean anything from unshaven priests to crypto-gnostic superstitions about departed souls rising through “aerial tollhouses” supervised by devils) were unimpressed.

But always when Orthodox (and Catholics) debate this question, the dogmatic authority of the Fifth Ecumenical Council is eventually invoked: this council, traditionalists allege, solemnly anathematized Origen and condemned all forms of apokatastasis. Hart’s reply is to the point: “In point of fact, no—absolutely not”:

It is true that something remembered by tradition as “Origenism” was condemned by someone in the sixth century, and that Origen was maligned as a heretic in the process; and it is also true that for well more than a millennium both those decisions were associated with the Council of 553 by what was simply accepted as the official record. But, embarrassingly, we now know, and have known for quite some time, that the record was falsified. And this is a considerable problem not only for Orthodoxy, but for the Catholic Church as well, inasmuch as the authority of the ecumenical councils must in some way be intimately—if obscurely—bound to some notion of the indefectibility of the Church’s transmission of the faith. (And, frankly, the prejudices of ecclesial fundamentalists are as impervious to historical fact as are the naivetes of young-earth creationists to science.)

When Hart says that the record was falsified, he is referring, I think, to the 15 anathemas against Origenism, which have traditionally been attributed to II Constantinople. But what many people do not realize is that historians have long debated whether they in fact belong to the council. There is no mention in the acts of the council that the anathemas were ever discussed or voted upon. Historians presently hypothesize that the Emperor Justinian, at some point prior to the formal opening of the synod, submitted the anathemas to the bishops then present in Constantinople. Presumably these bishops communicated their approval, or at least acquiescence, in some manner; but regardless their “decision” does not possess canonical authority. However the council did anathematize Origen by name in the anathemas directed against the Three Chapters: “If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their heretical books, and also all other heretics who have already been condemned and anathematized by the holy, catholic and apostolic church and by the four holy synods which have already been mentioned, and also all those who have thought or now think in the same way as the aforesaid heretics and who persist in their error even to death: let him be anathema.”

Putting aside the oddity of Origen being named at the end of the list out of historical order (which has led some historians to wonder whether we are dealing here with an interpolation), the real oddity—and for Hart the scandal—is the condemnation of a faithful Christian believer who died in the peace of the Church 300 years earlier than the council:

But, really, it is the most shameful episode in the history of Christian doctrine. For one thing, to have declared any man a heretic three centuries after dying in the peace of the Church, in respect of doctrinal determinations not reached during his life, was a gross violation of all legitimate canonical order; but in Origen’s case it was especially loathsome. After Paul, there is no single Christian figure to whom the whole tradition is more indebted. It was ­Origen who taught the Church how to read Scripture as a living mirror of Christ, who evolved the principles of later trinitarian theology and Christology, who majestically set the standard for Christian apologetics, who produced the first and richest expositions of contemplative ­spirituality, and who—simply said—laid the foundation of the whole edifice of developed Christian thought. Moreover, he was not only a man of extraordinary personal holiness, ­piety, and charity, but a martyr as well: Brutally tortured during the Decian persecution at the age of sixty-six, he never recovered, but slowly withered away over a period of three years. He was, in short, among the greatest of the Church Fathers and the most illustrious of the saints, and yet, disgracefully, official church tradition—East and West—commemorates him as neither.

I agree wholeheartedly. The conciliar condemnation of Origen was disagraceful, shameful, and unjust, no matter what his theological errors were.  Origen had already passed beyond the jurisdiction of the Church militant. He now stands before Christ and awaits his final judgment. Condemn specific teachings of Origen, if need be; but honor the man and celebrate the many gifts he bestowed upon the Church. We all stand on his shoulders. If our present understanding of conciliar infallibility requires us to join with the Constantinopolitan Fathers in their excommunication of Origen, then that understanding needs to be revised. There are anathemas and there are anathemas.

But what about the Emperor Justinian? Hart’s judgment is harsh. He refers to him as “vicious,” “insidiously stupid,” and a “murderous thug.” (But what do you really think about him, Dr Hart?) But is not Justinian a saint? Do we not commemorate him on November 14th? I will leave judgments about his life and character to the historians. I only have this to say:

That Justinian is a saint of the Church proves that apokatastasis must be true.

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93 Responses to Rehabilitating Origen

  1. John Carter says:

    Origin’s version of Apokatastasis rests on another of the 15 anathemas pointed at Origen’s teaching: the pre-existence of souls in a form belonging to Greek platonic schools rather than Christian thought. Origen’s apokatastasis is a universal return to that pre-existence from which we supposedly came. I wouldn’t fault Hart’s criticism of condemning Origen himself after the fact but I would support at least this aspect of the anathemas against the teaching. The Mormon idea of a pre-incarnate life together is a repeat, in my view, of Origen’s teaching named in the first of those 15 Anathemas: “If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.”

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    • Father Gregory says:

      That Origen taught some form of preexistence is evident. That he also taught a fall from a preexistent state into a bodily state has been called into question (see Mark Edwards, “Origen against Plato” and John Behr’s “The Way to Nicea,” vol I). It seems plausible (at least) that Origen taught that a soul is “incarnated” after the body has been created. He was far from the only one teaching this in early Christianity. St. Cyprian of Carthage held a version of it (I think he mentioned it in his commentary on the Our Father, but it has been many years since I read it perhaps google can fill the gaps in my memory). There is no “fall” into a body but a uniting of body and souls as the final part of the act of creating a human being. This is still much to weak of an expression of the unity of body and soul but it is not a condemned heresy.

      In older versions of Origen’s “On First Principles” we do of course find a text which specifically teaches a fall from preexistence into bodies. This text is however an editorial addition to Origen’s text composed of many different sources mostly hostile to Origen. This is “fragment 15” in the text. This fragment is a hypothetical reconstruction of what “we know Origen must have taught even though we lack textual evidence.” Edwards gets into this specifically and provides a thorough reading of Origen’s doctrine of the soul. Though Edwards’ reading is by no means universally accepted it does suffice to call into serious question the certainty about Origen’s presumed teaching.

      As far as the doctrines condemned in Justinian’s lists of anathemas it seems to me unproblematic to subscribe to them. Even Bp. Theodore Ascidas (one of the 6th century Origenists) signed one of Justinian’s lists and continued his Origenist activities. What exactly 6th century Origenism was is really hard to tell since most of the evidence we have comes exclusively from the anti-Origenist party. Yet if Augustine Casiday is right in his take on the relationship between the S1 and S2 text of Evagrius’ “Kephalaia Gnostica” (and it seems to me very likely that he is) the S2 distorted text may very well provide a look at the actual doctrine of some of these 6th century Origenists. That is if the S1 text is the Evagrian original the S2 text is the 6th century adaptation most likely produced in certain Origenist circles. It is against that doctrine that Justinian’s anathemas are directed.

      Anyway – just some ideas I’ve seen tossed around in patristic circles and are (I think) quite interesting.

      Fr. Gregory Wassen

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      John, I think you may be referring to the canons of the 543 Synod of Constantinople.

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  2. brian says:

    I think the best, most insightful explorers of reality, that is to say, those who have intimations of the depth and breadth of Christ’s victory over death and horrors and nothingness are also the ones who are certain to be misunderstood, condemned, and vilified by a timid, cautious religious sensibility that is more resistant to the gospel than a faithful witness to God’s daring love. With regards to Origen, his important gifts to a true ecclesial sensibility are rarely appreciated. Most people have scant knowledge of patristics. They generally defer to clerical authorities who in their vigilance are often hasty to condemn what is not easily circumscribed by a kind of rote catechetical mentality. It’s great and appropriate that David Bentley Hart has come to Origen’s defense. His work is precisely the kind of synthetic and creative voice that gives evidence that the Spirit continues to speak to those who will listen.

    The Gospel ought to be beautiful and mysterious and hopeful and larger than the best we can imagine, not less. Really, Hart and Eclectic Orthodoxy and a handful of other voices are what give one hope and encouragement amidst the arid desert of popular religious opinion.

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  3. Andrew says:

    Was Origen in his person anathematized at the 5th EC or just several of his teachings, supposedly?

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  4. Andrew says:

    Also curious whether the reference to 19th century Russia refers to a condemnation of universal reconciliation or whether it means the issue was hotly discussed at the time. Anyone know? While I wouldn’t be surprised if it was condemned by the synod it occurs to me that there has been much more Orthodox reflection upon universal reconciliation within the Russian milieu than within the Greek.

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  5. Maximus says:

    Wow!

    Fr. Kimel,

    I wasn’t going to respond to this post but I’m shocked, saddened and scandalized at the level of rebellion and hubris demonstrated therein.. The Councils, the Divine Services and the Saints universally received in our Church have fallen under the judgment of one of her own clerics and other private persons, and in the most inflammatory rhetoric. This type of polemical diatribe that labels the Saints as hopelessly stupid murderers does nothing to promote discussion among brethren, it promotes dissension, disputes and it sows doubt among those who are tempted by “knowing better”. Is one wrong or unintelligent to venerate whom the Church venerates and to anathematize whom She anathematizes as the Holy Councils informs us to do? Should brethren be labeled “infernalists” if they hold what even this blog in the past has admitted to be the “traditional view”?

    I know that the witness of the Ecumenical Councils will not sway you, but I offer it to you in the spirit of love nonetheless:

    Tarasius, the unworthy bishop of your God-protected royal city, new Rome, and all the holy Council which met at the good pleasure of God and upon the command of your Christ-loving majesty in the renowned metropolis of Nice, the second council to assemble in this city… we are bold to speak. Having but one mind by the inbreathing of the most Holy Spirit, and being all knit together in one, and understanding the harmonious tradition of the Catholic Church, we are in perfect harmony with the symphonies set forth by the six, holy and ecumenical councils; and accordingly we have anathematised the madness of Arius, the frenzy of Macedonius, the senseless understanding of Appolinarius, the man-worship of Nestorius, the irreverent mingling of the natures devised by Eutyches and Dioscorus, and the many-headed hydra which is their companion. We have also anathematised the idle tales of Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius; and the doctrine of one will held by Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, and Pyrrhus, or rather, we have anathematised their own evil will… Now anathema is nothing less than complete separation from God. For if any are quarrelsome and will not obediently accept what has now been decreed, they but kick against the pricks, and injure their own souls in their fighting against Christ. And in taking pleasure at the insults which are offered to the Church, they clearly show themselves to be of those who madly make war upon piety, and are therefore to be regarded as in the same category with the heretics of old times, and their companions and brethren in ungodliness. (The Letter of the Synod [Nicea II] to the Emperor and Empress)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Maximus, if you do not see the injustice in posthumously anathematizing a faithful man who suffered and died for the faith of Jesus Christ, then there is nothing I can say.

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      • Maximus says:

        Then that leaves us with an unjust Church at the dogmatic level as the witness of the view of the Holy Fathers of Seventh Council quoted above amply demonstrates. Origen is a saint (glorifed by whom?) and whole Councils and legitimately glorified Saints are impugned. If you are so sensitive about Origen’s injustices after his death, then how can you post a piece that insults and besmirch Saints after their deaths who are glorified by the Church? Is this any different?

        Fr. Aidan, I’ll plead with you if I must! In Pope St. Agatho’s letter, accepted by the Sixth Council, the Saint plainly states:

        …that emulator of the true and apostolic faith, the Emperor Justinian of pious memory, whose uprightness of faith exalted the Christian State as much as his sincere confession pleased God. And his pious memory is esteemed worthy of veneration by all nations, whose uprightness of faith was disseminated with praise throughout the whole world by his most august edicts…

        Should a Catholic Christian who seeks to hold the Orthodox faith trust in the wisdom and vitriol of DBH or glorified bishops in council along with their canonized documents? I’m not trying to insult him or you by any means, but this path will raze our Tradition to the ground.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Maximus, I have not questioned that Justinian is a saint. I believe that he is, because the Church commemorates him as a saint. Such is the mercy and grace of God. May God be merciful and gracious to each of us. And may the Blessed Justinian pray for us.

          But that still doesn’t make the posthumous condemnation of Origen right.

          I assume you are willing to willing to defend the conciliar condemnation. Please do so.

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          • Maximus says:

            Fr.

            If you truly believe that St. Justinian is a Saint then you have endorsed/applauded/recommended a mistaken brother who has viciously calumniated someone that God our Father and His Church, our Mother, has seen fit to glorify. The Lord Himself declares: …those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. (1 Sam. 2:30) Whatever his human failures may have been, God has indeed honored Him.

            Honestly, there are some canonized persons that I wonder about, but as an Orthodox Christian, is it my place to challenge or ridicule the ecumenical decisions of the Church? This post just seems very much like the views expressed by those wrongheaded zealots who deem St. Augustine to be the “fount of western heresy”. Hieromonk Seraphim Rose called such people who seek to unilaterally edit the menologion “college boys playing Orthodox”. Is this state good for our souls? No, not even in private but it’s even worse when it’s done bareheaded and publicly.

            Even prior to St. Justinian, many Saints had a problem with Origen. St. Vincent of Lerins, although offering praise to Origen, nevertheless, declared him to be a “trial for the Church”; a test to see if we would love God or eminent and gifted men. St. Vincent also declared, “Origen’s authority appears to be an effectual cause in leading people to embrace error”. (Commonitory, 17.45) The Saint tells Christians that “they must prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of a Universal Council to the temerity of one, or a very few…” (ibid, 27.70) Therefore, I will most certainly defend everything done in Ecumenical Council, those whom the Councils praise, I will certainly praise; those whom the Councils condemn; I will condemn.

            DBH mentioned the importance of the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in his article:

            “Orthodoxy’s entire dogmatic deposit resides in the canons of the seven ecumenical councils—everything else in Orthodox tradition, be it ever so venerable, beautiful, or spiritually nourishing, can possess at most the authority of accepted custom, licit conjecture, or fruitful practice—and the consensus of the most conscientious and historically literate Orthodox theologians and scholars over the past several decades (Evdokimov, Bulgakov, Clément, Turincev, Ware, Alfeyev, to name a few) is that universalism as such, as a permissible theologoumenon or plausible hope, has never been condemned by the Church. Doctrine is silent on the matter.”

            Well, here is Canon 1 of Trullo: “…We recognize as INSPIRED BY THE SPIRIT the pious voices of the one hundred and sixty-five God-bearing fathers who assembled in this imperial city in the time of our Emperor Justinian of blessed memory, and we teach them to those who come after us; for these synodically anathematized and execrated… Origen, and Didymus, and Evagrius, all of whom reintroduced feigned Greek myths, and brought back again the circlings of certain bodies and souls, and deranged turnings [or transmigrations] to the wanderings or dreamings of their minds, and impiously insulting the resurrection of the dead… we reject and anathematize those whom they rejected and anathematized, as being enemies of the truth, and as insane ragers against God, and as lifters up of iniquity.

            But if any one at all shall not observe and embrace the aforesaid pious decrees, and teach and preach in accordance therewith, but shall attempt to set himself in opposition thereto, let him be anathema, according to the decree already promulgated by the approved holy and blessed Fathers, and let him be cast out and stricken off as an alien from the number of Christians. For our decrees add nothing to the things previously defined, nor do they take anything away, NOR HAVE WE ANY SUCH POWER.”

            Apparently, Orthodox doctrine is not silent on this matter even according to the criteria offered in the article. DBH is incorrect about Met. Hilarion Alfeyev because he has strongly rejected Origenist and other forms and universalism as “contrary to the Gospel” and he also said that the recent scholarly endorsement of universalism does NOT allow one to believe contrary to the accepted teaching of the Church. Forgive me for my forwardness on your blog, Fr. I will not write any further unless you have a question for me.

            in ICXC,
            Maximus

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Maximus, but was it right, Maximus? What moral grounds justify this posthumous anathema?

            Even if, after 300 years of theological reflection and doctrinal development, it was determined that some of Origen’s theological teachings would not pass muster by the doctrinal standards of the 6th century, how does that justify anathematizing the man?

            Don’t you see how deleterious this has been for the Church? Not only did it result in the destruction of most of Origen’s commentaries and writings, but it has created a situation where people are willing to join in on this condemnation just because a General Council of bishops did it. (And let’s not forget the imperial coercion that was used to obtain the assent of the bishop of Rome for the conciliar decrees.)

            So again I ask, Was it right? What are the conditions for a posthumous anathema?

            Given, say, the profound destructive influence that St Augustine’s teaching on predestination have had on a large portion of the Church, would it be appropriate for a synod of bishops to anathematize him and all his writings? What about St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian. Both were exponents of universalism; indeed, Gregory was far more upfront about it than Origen. If the universalist hope is so obviously heretical, then doesn’t consistency require that they too be anathematized?

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    • Actually, the useful coinage ‘infernalism’ was the single best contribution of a certain recent exchange of views. We have long needed, and now have, a word for the opinion that *the almighty Creator is certainly known to be unable to renew the creation without at least some loss of souls that he created.* Now, finally able to name and define the view, we can directly investigate the grounds for believing it. As we do so, its defenders and its critics can both see, more clearly than before, that infernalism cannot be proven indirectly by disproving any of the several versions of universalism. This is a great advance over past conversations in which some tried to prove infernalism, not by advancing arguments for it, but by flailing away at whatever sort of universalism irritated them most. May the word ‘infernalism’ enter the vocabulary of educated Christians everywhere.

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  6. Michael says:

    I have a couple of questions here – if one decides, as David Bentley Hart does (in his usual slightly imperious and condescending way – I’m sorry, I am greatly indebted to him in many ways, but cannot understand the overlooking of the juxtaposition between his advocation of a ‘rhetoric of peace’ and the tone in which he refers to those with whom he disagrees) that those whom the Church has decided are saints are ‘insidiously stupid’ and those whom she has decided not to recommend as wholly trustworthy teachers are without doubt saints (with all that is associated with that word in the ecclesial sense) then on what grounds does one stand really?

    Wither the Church (at least in the sense normatively understood by Orthodox and Catholics) if one decides to take it upon oneself to make such statements? The problem, broken down, seems to be, that the universalist grounds their belief – with a significant degree of certainty – in what has been revealed, discerned, and decided by the Church (right down to even knowing about Jesus in the first place); then however, such belief leads one to deny many and various things which the universal Church has also defined. How does one get out of this trap – why is the Church trustworthy when defining who Christ is and the relations of the Persons within the Holy Trinity, but when it comes to canonisations and teaching on the afterlife…not so much? How does one consistently maintain faith in a divinely sanctioned visible Church and yet continue to question highly visible and self-consciously authoritative aspects of that Church’s being?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Michael, upon whose theory of ecclesial infallibility are you relying? Are all teachings of the Church de fide? Who determines that status? Who determines when a doctrinal question becomes definitively and irreversibly closed?

      I suppose an article like this inevitably raises these sorts of questions, and I’m happy to explore them with you all in this thread. I do believe that these matters are far more complex and difficult than you apparently do. And I certainly do not believe that it’s all black and white, as if, for example, the Church were to collapse if we were to acknowledge that the Church’s popular teaching on eternal perdition does not enjoy de fide status.

      If you make everything dogma, Michael, then there is no point in us even having a theological conversation. Let’s just get on with your prayers. Forget the reasons why we confess God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (and there are many compelling reasons why we do so), just confess it. Is that satisfactory to you? If do not recall your denominational affiliation, but is that what your Church teaches you?

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      • Michael says:

        Fr. Kimel,

        I certainly don’t think these things are as black and white as you think I do, and I do not assume that everything is dogma either. I just find it hard to reconcile any belief in ecclesial infallibility with the concomitant belief that the Church can err for long periods of her history in significant matters – this would seem to me to make the former belief provisional at best, or meaningless at worst.

        For most of the Church’s history (and to a certain extent even now) people have not had the time or resources to assess for themselves (or via the work of academics) whether or not councils were correct in all their declarations, or whether a minority view on our eternal fate (UR) might actually be more acceptable than was popularly believed to be the case. One may think it naive, but most of the faithful have taken a fairly straightforward view of ecclesial infallibility, believing that something like the existence of hell, even if not explicitly defined as de fide, was part of the Church’s ordinary teaching.

        Moreover, that (e.g.) David Bentley Hart believes UR to be reconcilable with belief in an infallible Church, and that another scholar might argue precisely the opposite, doesn’t really get us anywhere does it? Each of their arguments may be more persuasive to some than others, but none of them have any definitive voice, and we are either left each with our own preferred teachers on what the Church is and isn’t, what she does and doesn’t teach definitively, or we look to Tradition.

        As to your last point, I am certainly not saying that we just blindly receive everything handed down to us, ignoring the reasons why we hold to what we do (if that was your point – forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted here). All I am saying is that there comes a point where boundaries have been laid down, and that if we decide, for whatever reason, that those boundaries are not quite as extensive or as clear as previous ages held them to be, then there might be something wrong with our approach to the Church and her Tradition. Or, if instead we claim that we genuinely don’t know where those boundaries are, then…well, the claim to ecclesial infallibility does become meaningless.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I hope I didn’t sound peremptory in my previous remarks. If so, I apologize to you, to Maximus, and everyone else.

          There was once a time when I swallowed John Henry Newman whole. His driving concern was the need for a dogmatic Church. Without irreformable dogma, the Church cannot withstand the forces of liberalism (today we’d call it “modernity”). For Newman it was black and white. The only answer to private judgment is a magisterial Church. And so he turned to Rome. If one wants an infallible Church, then Catholicism is the place to be.

          Catholic theologians have thought through these matters far more thoroughly than Orthodox theologians. They have distinguished various levels of doctrinal authority, and they have a mechanism (the Pope and CDF) to enforce them. Of course, as we are well aware, having a theory of doctrinal authority does not make doctrinal debate go away. It simply means that people vigorously and contentiously debate the level of authority a particular teaching allegedly possesses (contraception is case in point).

          But I am now Orthodox (though many of my fellow Orthodox have told me that I am far too eclectic and “Protestant” to qualify as true Orthodox), and Orthodoxy lacks a magisterial apparatus comparable to that of Catholicism. The Orthodox temptation is to identify conservatism with doctrinal irreformability. Everything becomes dogma. Bulgakov strongly protested what he called dogmatic maximalism. He believed that this maximalism was contrary to the freedom and catholicity of Orthodoxy.

          Ultimately, I think it is far healthier for the life of the Church to think and argue about doctrinal questions than to prematurely close debate. This does mean that boundaries become more fluid. The alternative is Justinian and his Second Council of Constantinople. If ever there was a politicized council that lived under the threat of imperial coercion, it was this one. Just ask Pope Vigilius. He spent eight years under house arrest and was bullied and intimidated to sign the decrees of the council. Only after confirming the decrees was he released and allowed to go home. Justinian wanted a unified Church and he was willing to impose his imperial will upon the Church to achieve it. Ultimately, of course, he failed.

          Bottomline: I do not see any way to get around thorough doctrinal study and debate, even if it makes life in the Church more confusing in the long run than we would prefer it to be.

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          • Michael says:

            I hope I didn’t sound peremptory in my previous remarks.

            Not at all! No need to apologise on that front – you are always incredibly civil, and tolerant as well I might add.

            If one wants an infallible Church, then Catholicism is the place to be.

            I agree. But Orthodoxy claims ecclesial infallibility too. I guess I am just struggling to see how this actually works in practice without the organs of authority one finds in Catholicism, and the clear definitions that follow from that (N. B. I certainly agree that this doesn’t do away with doctrinal debate, or even open dissent) – is it just the Ecumenical Councils and no more, or does the ordinary teaching of the Church come into play as well? A corollary question to this is if Orthodoxy does not limit its claims of infallibility to the ECs (is there a definitive answer on whether this is the case or not?) then are there not areas where doctrinal debate can go thus far and no further?

            Ultimately, I think it is far healthier for the life of the Church to think and argue about doctrinal questions than to prematurely close debate. This does mean that boundaries become more fluid. The alternative is Justinian and his Second Council of Constantinople.

            Again, I agree that debate is healthy, and would argue that most dogmatic definitions are the result of some process of debate and consideration (the answer to the question of when it is ‘premature’ to stop debating of course depends on who you’re asking!). But without some clear boundaries, either clarity is sacrificed for openness (so the faithful become confused as to what can or can’t be held) or too much latitude is given, and the faithful are led into indifference.

            So, I don’t see the alternatives as robust doctrinal debate vs. politicised coercion and intimidation – there is a third option, which is limited debate, carried out according to clearly defined ideas of what, from the start, is non-negotiable (or not). If Orthodoxy really doesn’t have any guidelines of this kind outside of the Ecumenical Councils, then that’s fine, but there are many who argue otherwise – who am I to believe?

            The bottom line for me is that the fact of Our Lord having founded a visible Church with a clear commission to (amongst other things) lead us into truth is hard to reconcile with the idea that certain of that Church’s teachings (however one conceives of ecclesial infallibility working) that look straightforwardly to be part of its ordinary message, could then be overturned on the basis of what is essentially private judgement (no matter how convincing the arguments put forward for UR might be, by Hart or anyone else).

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Michael, I can see the practical value of limiting debate (but how long?), but I don’t think one can “guarantee” that what the council produces will be Spirit-inspired irrevocable dogma. But that is the difference between being Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I think.

          As I see it, the 5th century simply was not the appropriate time in the life of the Church to consider the apokatastasis proposal of St Gregory of Nyssa (and others), nor does the evidence encourage us to believe that the Constantinopolitan Fathers (assuming that they in fact promulgated the 15 anathemas) intended to include his proposal within the anathemas. Even by Roman Catholic standards, therefore, one may legitimately question whether the matter is definitively and irrevocably settled. One might of course assert that eternal perdition has been infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium, and that is a strong argument, I admit. But if that were the case, then one would have expected a stronger response from the magisterium to the hopeful universalism of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

          You are Roman Catholic, correct? Then consider also how it was possible for the Roman magisterium to finally determine that the Tridentine anathemas do not in fact condemn the Lutheran understanding of justification by faith.

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          • Michael says:

            You are Roman Catholic, correct? Then consider also how it was possible for the Roman magisterium to finally determine that the Tridentine anathemas do not in fact condemn the Lutheran understanding of justification by faith.

            Correct indeed 🙂 If you are referring to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, then I don’t see this as actually clashing with what Trent condemned. The latter was anathematising the idea that faith as distinct from hope and charity is sufficient for justification – the Declaration affirms that faith understood as including the latter two virtues is indeed sufficient. The problem was that, at the time of the Reformation, people like Luther redefined faith from its typical usage (i.e.; as distinguished from hope and charity, as Saint Paul does in 1 Corinthians 13:13, Romans 14:22-23 and Saint James does in 2:14-26 of his Epistle) and it was necessary for Trent to condemn a non-biblical understanding of justification by faith, lest the faithful be misled (as happened in some Protestant communities, where antinomianism was supported on the basis of sola fide). The Declaration, on the other hand, is responding to a situation where it is clearer to all involved that different usages of the word ‘faith’ are being employed. Thus, the condemnation of Trent still stands (and is still necessary, as the idea that purely intellectual assent justifies is not an idea that has completely gone away) and the Declaration complements its assertions by further clarifying what can be held once considering a broader definition of the term ‘faith’.

            As to the Magisterium’s response to von Balthasar’s writings on universalism, I’m not really surprised by this – for one, it shows that Rome is not nearly as authoritarian as is often thought, and allows for quite a lot of discussion to go before actively condemning something or suppressing someone; also, in this case a specific condemnation was not necessary, as the reality of hell had already been affirmed in Church documents (not least the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

            I don’t think one can “guarantee” that what the council produces will be Spirit-inspired irrevocable dogma. But that is the difference between being Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I think.

            I agree that (if this is what you are saying) not everything mentioned at a Council will necessarily have to be received as dogma – councils themselves usually make clear what is being stated definitively in terms of doctrine and what is being mentioned as a matter that needs clarification but is not of central importance (usually applying to matters of discipline). Furthermore, there are usually (but not always obviously, or there’d never be any controversy over these matters!) external criteria by which one can assess what findings of a Council are definitive or not. Out of interest though, what particular means does Orthodoxy have of saying a.) whether a Council is ecumenical or not, and b.) whether, once it is accepted as such, how much of it is binding on the faithful and how much subject to further negotiation or clarification? Also (returning to the main subject of this thread) is dissent allowable from the Church’s decision on a person’s standing as a teacher of the faith (i.e.; Origen and Justinian respectively) – for instance, can one legitimately say for themselves that Origen is a saint, despite this seemingly going against what the Church has said about his teaching on pre-existence of souls, etc?

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          • Michael says:

            P.S. To put it another way I suppose, when David Bentley Hart says that his view of things is part of ‘the consensus of the most conscientious and historically literate Orthodox theologians and scholars over the past several decades’, why should I take his word for it? Presumably there are people who argue precisely the opposite who would say that contemporary scholarship is on their side.

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    • “Why is the Church trustworthy when defining who Christ is and the relations of the persons within the Holy Trinity, but when it comes to canonisations and teaching on the afterlife….not so much?”

      If you point out the moon to a dog, he will look at your hand.

      Some would say, without prejudice to what Orthodox and Catholics believe in practice, that (1) organically prior belief is necessarily more foundational than later belief, and that (2) no trust whatever is inspired by the magisterial institutions formed after, say, the first millennium, and that (3) the altogether worldly magisteria that churches have are sufficient to their limited pastoral purpose.

      ‘Who Christ is’ has roots even in the faith of ancient Israel by which Jesus was recognized as the Christ in his own day. Similarly, ‘the relations of the persons within the Holy Trinity’ are already being revealed in such prophecies as the night vision of Daniel 7, and it was on that basis that the apostles and fathers recognized the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Were it not for this organic self-revelation of God in Israel, there would have been no possibility that either the authors of the scriptures or the fathers of the councils could have defined truth about him. As there is a general consensus among Christians that this sort of revelation has ended, what the scriptures and the fathers did cannot be institutionalized. Institutions that systematize and codify their definitions are pastorally useful, of course, but they have no intrinsic credibility of their own, need not completely agree among themselves, and cannot expand on the scope of the original revelation. A fortiori theories about how these institutions have operated or should operate have even less authority. They are not substitutes for God’s self-revelation, but they are not useless.

      So, for example, as there is no reason to doubt that the sanctity of Justinian is as organically posterior to the two thrones of Daniel 7, so no reasonable person should fear that recoiling from his cruelties undermines faith in the self-revelation of the Trinity that began several centuries before. Indeed, had Justinian never existed, Christian faith in the Trinity would have been the same.

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      • Michael says:

        Institutions that systematize and codify their definitions are pastorally useful, of course, but they have no intrinsic credibility of their own, need not completely agree among themselves, and cannot expand on the scope of the original revelation.

        This is not an argument against whether the Church is justified in her claim to be the guarantor of the ‘original revelation’ and/or to be able to continue to interpret the deposit of faith in light of new challenges. You are merely asserting that this can’t be the case.

        My question was that, given that we rely on the Church’s authority for believing even the most basic facts about God’s self-revelation in Christ (whoever else may have realised what was being revealed at the time is by the by – we rely on persons chosen by Christ Himself, and sanctioned to perpetuate a system of authoritative teaching thereafter) what reason is there for believing the Church’s testimony at one point and not another, or on one topic and not another? To say that one cannot trust magisterial pronouncements after the first millenium is both subjective and arbitrary – it doesn’t actually address the question of what reason we have for believing in things that are only there for us to believe because they were preserved (and elucidated) for us by the Church. but then that we choose to disbelieve that same legitimate authority on other things.

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        • Many Christians find it easier to believe a bureau in Rome than to believe the multiple witnesses to Christian origins that we have from Second Temple Judaism. It would be unkind to trouble them. For what is to be gained by arguing against the authority on which their faith depends? Likewise, it is hard to conceal the fact that there are myriad other Christians, no less faithful, for whom just the opposite is the case. And again, what is to be gained by arguing against the credibility of the sources on which they rely? Authority is for those who need it.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Forgive the intrusion. I feel obliged to point out that everyone appeals to authority. Any argumentative statement, including one against the necessity of authority, rests on some claim to authority — presumably in this case some sort of authority of personal experience.

            Certain essential facts of the Biblical narrative must have been literally true or the Christian faith is a delusion. Empirical investigation cannot demonstrate the truth of those facts. Neither can it disprove them. So anyone who believes or wishes to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a real man who died and was raised from the dead must rely on various kinds of authority to do so. None of us saw it happen. We trust the report of others, a report which has been codified and amplified in certain institutions and traditions.

            Christian universalists, in common with people who dissent from the teaching of those institutions and traditions on some other matter — sexual mores, for example — do so from one or both of two positions, which some might insist are characteristically modern: the authority of the individual conscience, or the authority of the intellectual specialist, i.e. historians, theologians, philosophers, or other (usually academic) “experts.” I suppose there is also the authority of the artist. These alternative authorities can be arrayed against the authorities of tradition and technocracy. (Although they can also — particularly the expert’s authority — be appropriated by systemic power.) One way or another, we always appeal to some kind of authority.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jonathan, a case for reliabilism in general is not a case for authoritarianism in particular, still less for any putatively exclusive authority. It is not clear to me that Michael went so far in his comment as to assert that.

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          • Jonathan says:

            I guess it depends on what one means by authoritarianism. I’m not sure I grasp what you intend by the statement “authority is for those who need it.”

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          • Michael says:

            Authority is for those who need it.

            Yes, I agree – I certainly do. My point I suppose is that the all Christians need it (and rely upon it), whether they think they do or not.

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          • Any of the human moral sentiments– eg autonomy, fairness, caring, obedience, solidarity, purity– can be indulged as an end in itself, at which point it becomes, not a virtue but a vice. Online disputes about ‘authority’ per se very often seem to me to match persons having an excessive attachment to autonomy (or, on the topics that Jonathan mentions, fairness) with others having an excessive attachment to obedience. The sign that this is happening is that the two sides more and more debate the stereotypes that they enjoy opposing rather than engaging with normal curiosity the grounds and subtleties of the respective arguments. The uselessness of debates like that is inevitable, since neither side seeks anything but self-indulgence.

            There are many indications that the three of us are on mostly common ground in this discussion. However, my position frames reliance on the testimony of others in a way that minimizes both vicious illusions of self-sufficiency (self-indulgent autonomy) and vicious attachments to witnesses (self-indulgent obedience). If it is successful, some who are now suspicious of nearly all authority will be persuaded that it can be used without irresponsibility, and enabled to do so. Likewise, some who now indulge authority to excess through fear that nothing is otherwise knowable will see that the sacrifice of personal initiative is not in itself illuminating, and enabled to replace their vicious attachment with a virtuous use. Personally, I am interested in arguments that advance those purposes. The master theorist of such arguments is probably the Catholic philosopher, Linda Zagzebski, and some of the most helpful arguments to these ends were made by another Catholic, Joseph Ratzinger.

            Michael seems to me to have asked– is this what you asked, Michael?– how can one go on believing such upstream beliefs as ‘Jesus is Lord’ if one doubts such downstream beliefs as ‘Justinian is a saint,’ given that one learned of both beliefs from the same ecclesiatical source? My reply is that back of the source is the stream itself which has an undisputed headwaters, extent, and direction. Persons who do not recognize that Galileans rightly identified Jesus as the One that Daniel saw in his night vision (cf Daniel 7:13, Mark 14:62) cannot believe that Justinian is a saint. And persons who do not believe that Justinian is a saint can still recognize the insight of the Galileans. The independence of belief that ‘Jesus is Lord’ of belief that ‘Justinian is a saint’ is assured by the organic priority of the former.

            Moreover, in God’s providence, the headwaters of the stream were in Israel, not the Church. The most organically prior beliefs explain the content of the posterior ones: if one does not understand Daniel’s night vision then one does not know what Christians mean by ‘saint’ nor how Justinian might plausibly have been one. In general, knowledge of the headwaters enables more explicit faith than knowledge of the delta.

            Most recognize that the delta began amid the ecumenical councils and stretched through several events dividing Christendom to 1054. After that rupture, the possibility that the Body of Christ as a whole could adopt new belief ended so far as we can know. This is not the end of the faith, nor of authoritative guidance, but it has meant that the authority of churches is dependent on that of Daniel, Paul, and other historical sources of our knowledge of the stream. Some acknowledge a few sources more or less than others; Ratzinger’s arguments for a few more seem to have traction. But dependence on the stream remains the great reality; no subsequent proposal of doctrine has been accepted by all Christians, and those who have claimed to be the stream (eg Mormons) have been rejected by all other Christian bodies.

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          • Michael says:

            some who now indulge authority to excess through fear that nothing is otherwise knowable will see that the sacrifice of personal initiative is not in itself illuminating

            My point is not that nothing is knowable – it is that it is inconsistent to implicitly acknowledge the authority of a body that has guaranteed, preserved and perpetuated the grounds of our faith, and then reject it when it continues to exercise that role in elaborating on the original data. Following your stream analogy, this is a bit like saying that because you don’t like the way a river flows, or the width it has extended to, further downstream, that you don’t recognise it as being the very same river which you found refreshing at its source – it is the same river, whether you like it or not. Again, this is not to say that one cannot know about the most primitive aspects of the revelation without recognising the right of the Church which preserved that very revelation to clarify, expand, etc, later on, only to say that this is inconsistent.

            The most organically prior beliefs explain the content of the posterior ones

            Not definitively they don’t. There were plenty of differing interpretations over what the self-revelation of God in Christ meant and implied back in the early Church, and there are still many and various interpretations over core aspects of Christian theology now (even including those foundational ones hammered out in the first few Ecumenical Councils).

            Most recognize that the delta began amid the ecumenical councils and stretched through several events dividing Christendom to 1054.

            Again, who are this ‘most’? The different claims made about when the Church became apostate/lost its way/stopped being reliable all of a sudden are as multifarious as the number of denominations that have arisen from other theological disagreements.

            After that rupture, the possibility that the Body of Christ as a whole could adopt new belief ended so far as we can know. This is not the end of the faith, nor of authoritative guidance, but it has meant that the authority of churches is dependent on that of Daniel, Paul, and other historical sources of our knowledge of the stream.

            According to you, yes. But many others would make different claims about timing, the degree and number of sources that are reliable, and on the importance of Daniel.

            But dependence on the stream remains the great reality

            This I agree with. There are some beliefs shared by nigh on all Christians, and these should be the starting point for all ecumenical engagement. But let’s not pretend that this actually solves the problem of authority, or of the inevitable arbitrariness involved in the rejection of some beliefs and not others – simply choosing one’s own interpretative grid and claiming this makes the best sense of how Christian history has unfolded does not carry any weight ultimately, as others can do just the same, all with differing degrees of plausibility but all suffering from the same problem.

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          • Michael, responses to your odds and ends.

            As I read them, those on the thread who do believe in some sort of universalism or who do not find Justinian saintly seem clear that no doctrinal bureau existing today was the Source of their beliefs which originate in the ancient world. On the face of it, historical investigation could confirm that all existing bureaus, including even the CDF, are creatures in time, were founded by men, inhabit buildings, have staffs with vacations dental plans, etc, and were unheard of in the time when God was revealing himself. Can you present evidence that these modern institutions are the origin of, say, the scriptures of ancient Israel?

            From their perspectiive, all their convictions arise from the Self-revelation itself, the Source of all consistency. Do you think that they are kidding about this?

            Any belief with no upstream source in God’s self-revelation is beyond the scope of Christian interest. Christians believe what God reveals.

            Positive revelation is in the providence of God. That it came to an apparent completion is not something a believer in God can mourn. Christians glorify God in all things.

            Jesus in Mark 14:62 explains the meaning of Daniel 7. Those who disagree with Jesus on his identity are not of Christian interest. Christians know that Jesus was the ‘son of man’ of Daniel’s prophecy.

            Here and there in your comment, you allude to the multiplication of opinions as a danger. Virtuous souls indeed find that some are better than others in that they better reveal ‘God with us.’

            But the danger arises from philodoxy– the vicious love of opinion that is not governed by a spiritual sense illumined from God. No bureau has ever saved a soul from philodoxy by supplying more opinions, even the very best opinions, to that corrupt love. Only the Holy Spirit frees us from philodoxy.

            Christians who will feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb will have met Him many times before.

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          • Michael says:

            Can you present evidence that these modern institutions are the origin of, say, the scriptures of ancient Israel?

            No, and I don’t have to as I am not claiming that at all. However, you seem to think that because various facets of the institutional Church emerged in time and were the result of human endeavours, that this invalidates any claim that the Church could be of divine origin – I don’t see why this is so.

            From their perspectiive, all their convictions arise from the Self-revelation itself, the Source of all consistency. Do you think that they are kidding about this?

            No of course not, and as I said before, I am not claiming that one cannot know about Christ without recognising and/or submitting to the authority of the Church! My claim, as I said several times before, is about the consistency of such a position, not whether any knowledge is possible without recognising ecclesial authority.

            Christians believe what God reveals. Positive revelation is in the providence of God. That it came to an apparent completion is not something a believer in God can mourn.

            The extent of what He has revealed is precisely what is being debated here, and simply stating that positive revelation (which I do indeed believe lies within the providence of God, which is – partly – why I believe what I do about the Church) has ended at a particular time is not actually an argument for this; it is an assertion.

            No bureau has ever saved a soul from philodoxy by supplying more opinions, even the very best opinions, to that corrupt love. Only the Holy Spirit frees us from philodoxy.

            I certainly don’t believe that any ‘bureau’ (by which you mean presumably the various organs of the Magisterium responsible for doctrine) intends to multiply opinion – my claim is precisely the opposite; that by providing a clear description of how doctrine unfolds over time in response to engagement with the world, it saves us from the confusion of mixed interpretations that results from private judgement alone, and provides a defined, reliable guide to living in Christ – we are thus able to know with confidence which of the many rivers is the one which goes right back to the source. Many claim to be illumined by the Holy Spirit in what they proclaim as the ‘authentic’ version of Christianity – they cannot all be right, and simply invoking illumination by the Spirit as guarantor for one’s beliefs doesn’t carry much weight in that context; there has to be a touchstone so that we can discern which of those claims really is authentic.

            Just to try one more time to make myself clear, let’s take the statement of faith ‘Jesus is Lord’ – this is, on the surface of things, a simple statement. Most people will have received this from a religious figure (priest or minister), a family member or friend. Eventually though, they will have to ask themselves why they should believe it – in many cases they will be referred to the Bible. But the Bible cannot authenticate itself – it receives its authority from the Church that wrote it, preserved it, canonised it, interpreted it over time, etc. Thus to ground the trustworthiness of one’s beliefs in Scripture alone would be inconsistent.

            The statement itself ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not as simple as it seems either – when we receive this, we also receive it with predetermined definitions of who this man Jesus is, what His relationship to God is, why it makes sense to call Him Lord over all, etc. These assumptions are also grounded in doctrinal definitions made by the Church, after having perpetuated that original revelation in the first place. Whether we like it or not, we would not know Jesus, as we understand that name and all it represents, without the Church; and by accepting the Church’s having made those decisions for us to the extent that her definitions are not only trustworthy but binding and normative for our faith, we implicitly accept her authority. I hope this makes what I am trying to say a bit clearer. If not, it is probably best to leave it here.

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          • Thank you, Michael, for responding at length. I’m just now seeing your post in transit. Your position is clear; the challenge is to relate that to what others in the thread are saying. When I get to my destination, I’ll think it over and reply over the weekend.

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          • Again, Michael, thank you for the patient exposition of your views.

            On the general subject of authority, Jonathan’s comment at 25th September says with a certain flair nearly all that I would want to say. He is also right to draw a contrast between my emphasis on the organicity of tradition and the emphasis that others place on official promulgation. He is no less right in tacitly noting that Brian’s rejection of both alienated individualism and ‘view from nowhere’ institutionalism is the central position here. It is only worth adding that the faulty promulgation of doctrine in the present case lends no support to unqualified institutional authority.

            On authority in Orthodoxy, I note my agreement with ecumenical representatives of the Orthodox churches that the balance that Brian seeks is given to Orthodox by the Holy Spirit, who speaks both in illumined individuals and in official promulgators of doctrine. The reversal of the iconoclasm and the cases of St Maximus the Confessor and St Simeon the New Theologian are often cited as instances in which the former prevailed against the latter in the later and authoritative consensus. This does seem to work. From a human point of view, the multipolar conciliarity of the Orthodox churches is very stable. They do initially disagree among themselves about truly novel developments (eg response to the Reformation in the West, application of canon law to the Western Hemisphere), but as the Spirit leads consensus forms itself over time. And the uncertainty about the meaning of settled doctrine that you describe seems remote from Orthodox experience. Orthodox investigation of universal redemption does not seem likely to mar this picture.

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          • Michael says:

            Terribly sorry Bowman old chap – I was under the impression that a.) you are a Protestant of some kind, and b.) we were discussing the problem of authority with respect to Protestantism, given its lack of any conclusive means of adjudicating between different positions. I recognise that the Orthodox claim ecclesial infallibility, and that in practice this is rooted in conciliarity and consensus, but I’m just not convinced that this always works in practice (particularly when it comes to responding to contemporary challenges to Christian ethics, etc).

            But yes, speaking more generally, Jonathan’s comments have been very edifying (and clear as well, which is always helpful), and there is a lot in what he says that I would agree with.

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          • No problem, Michael. Your arguments have more traction against later non-magisterial Protestants than against the original magisterial ones, but with due allowance for ‘perspicacity’ and ‘adiaphora,’ they still explain how that very difference reproduces the conflict between Wittenburg and Rome within Protestantism itself.

            Because Orthodoxy is exceptionally clear that the Holy Spirit, by a personal and immanent act, inaugurated the Church at Pentecost (cf Vigil of Pentecost), Orthodox churches have long recognized a prophetic aspect of the discernment of the truth. Alongside the record of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, Orthodox set the hagiography of witnesses to truth who have suffered false accusation, torture, and death at the hands of apparently legitimate authority (eg faithful iconodules, St Simeon the New Theologian and his geronta, St Maximus the Confessor). Orthodox hymns celebrate the divine truth, but also the victory of persecuted saints over wicked patriarchs and councils. Orthodox theologians have seen faith in this activity of the Spirit as the reason why the East has known, not the Western pendulum swinging between faceless authoritarianism and alienated individualism, but communion. And any Orthodox rehabilitation of Origen ultimately appeals to that faith.

            So the challenge here has been to make sense of the way someone who would rehabilitate Origen (eg Brian) might in so doing integrate person and tradition in that communion. In his studies on Luther, Joseph Ratzinger has already explained that the personal pole of that communion is an ‘anima ecclesiatica’ which is “the self of that person through whom the whole of the Church expresses itself.” He elsewhere notes that “For the Catholic, the Church is itself comprised in the deep source of the act of faith. It is only in that I believe with the Church that I share in that certainty in which I can entrust my life.” However, we await an equally helpful explanation of the tradition as something uncovered by the Spirit in that ‘anima ecclesiastica.’ From time to time, I make forays into that deep forest. Here, I have speculated that the tradition is articulated in time as a series of recognitions.

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          • Michael says:

            If you don’t mind Bowman, I’ll respond to specific excerpts from your reply – just makes it easier for me to hone in on the specific points at issue.

            Your arguments have more traction against later non-magisterial Protestants than against the original magisterial ones

            Very interesting. Personally, I think the only real difference between foundational Protestant confessions and later movements is that the incredible denominational proliferation of later Protestantism (and not that much later either – even Luther was dismayed at the end of his life by how much division had already arisen by that point) is the natural outworking of the Protestant principle of private judgement over time.

            The first Protestants had no less of a problem with authority, and to describe them as ‘magisterial’ seems strange in that, although they were conscious of establishing and teaching confessions of faith, they were doing this in clear contradistinction to an already established Magisterium. They rejected the Pope only to set themselves up as individual popes, and that thousands upon thousands of later Protestants have done the same was inevitable, and hardly surprising.

            Orthodox theologians have seen faith in this activity of the Spirit as the reason why the East has known, not the Western pendulum swinging between faceless authoritarianism and alienated individualism, but communion. And any Orthodox rehabilitation of Origen ultimately appeals to that faith.

            Essentially, in the text preceding this, you are describing the basic fact that Orthodoxy finds its source of authority in the entire breadth of Tradition, both lived and taught, which I understand and acknowledge. To this I would make two points – firstly, this actually makes it more difficult to set the ‘activity of the Spirit’ against official pronouncements of the institutional Church, as this closely interconnected view of ecclesiology and pneumatology presupposes that it is one and the same Spirit who animanes them both.

            Secondly, in acknowledging this (which I had indeed thought to be the case; though others, such as David Bentley Hart, have claimed that only the Councils have binding and non-negotiable authority) I would say it makes it even harder to rehabilitate Origen, as one has even more weight of Tradition (again, taking this as a whole, not just the bits that we like or are favourable to our case) against such a move. If you said that authority resided, at bottom, in the Councils, you would have a lot more elbow room.

            “For the Catholic, the Church is itself comprised in the deep source of the act of faith. It is only in that I believe with the Church that I share in that certainty in which I can entrust my life.”

            Agreed, but I cannot see how one can believe ‘with’ the Church without recognising and acknowledging her clear right and duty to set boundaries to what can justifiably be believed, and our accompanying duty to submit to her judgements even if we don’t happen to like them all.

            Here, I have speculated that the tradition is articulated in time as a series of recognitions.

            Tradition is indeed articulated in time, and involves a series of recognitions. The question is how we can distinguish between recognitions which resonate with the Faith revealed to us (i.e.; those which are genuinely inspired by the Holy Spirit) and those which, whilst they may have some value to them, essentially are divergences from the essence of that Faith in some way. Recognising the Church’s divinely sanctioned role to legitimately pronounce on matters of faith and morals, and thus to set limits to our belief, does not mean a negation of the historical unfolding of our faith – it is precisely the opposite, in that the Church, as the Body of Christ, is an extension of the Incarnation in and through history, and only in her can we know what is and is not of the Spirit.

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          • Michael, Jonathan, Brian, et al– Michael’s latest leads me to think that my prior post was unclear where it asserts a relation between trinitarian theology and the way authority arises in the Church. This is a brief expansion of that point. Later, I will apply this to Origen, Justinian, and DBH.

            What is at issue for believers in Nicene orthodoxy are the consequences for our conception of ecclesial authority of the equal personality and immanent agency of the Holy Spirit. Where this is recognized and lived without contradiction, the same Spirit both forms and structures the Church in the mystery of Pentecost (Orthodox belief) and also enables the subjective response of believers to the meeting of the Father and the Son (universal belief), so that wise believers seek and in patience find the convergence of the two.

            Nicene belief in this convergence enables Spirit-given authority in the Church. So yes (as Anabaptists, Anglicans, Catholics, and Lutherans might agree), the Spirit can be seen to have acted in some of the products of the Church’s decision making. And yes (as Quakers and Pentecostals might agree), the Spirit can be seen to have acted in inspiriting individuals so that the deposit of revelation has been illumined. And yes, (as historians of many traditions see), the Spirit can be seen to have assembled the canons of scripture, liturgical ordos, church orders, etc in organic processes that are neither wholly institutional nor wholly charismatic. But no, banging away for the ‘objectivity’ of either institution or charism over against its merely ‘subjective’ other is contrary to God’s self-revelation as Orthodox understand it. So too is all magnification of either at the expense of the other.

            This mistaken banging away happens only where ecclesiology is in the grip of a false polarity: the objective Church arises from the meeting of the Father and Son, so that subjective apprehension of that meeting in believers is all that the Spirit accomplishes. This misunderstanding sets institution against charism, and vice versa. Where it prevails there are inevitably institutionaiist ‘conservatives’ and spiritualist ‘liberals,’ each side blaming its divisions on the ignorance, blindness, disloyalty, bad morals, exasperating stupidity, etc of the other.

            This false polarity of *objective Church v subjective individual* expresses the prior false polarity *personal Father and personal Son v impersonal Spirit* in the idea that the Spirit is only the ‘vinculum amoris’ between the Father and the Son. Since in the Nicene faith the polarity itself is false, an exclusive preference for either pole is wrongheaded. So far as I can see, Joseph Ratzinger and Brian have scrupulously avoided both traps.

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          • Michael says:

            Bowman,

            I think you were probably clearer (on balance) earlier on actually 🙂

            The issue as I see it is that your (apparent) rejection of ecclesial authority, at least in the sense that the Church has a living voice which can not only guide us but set limits to our belief and practice, is itself at odds with the organic view you have been setting out. If there is truly one Spirit animating all the effective actions of the Church’s life, then individual and corporate charismatic movements will not, finally, be at odds with the voice of the institutional Church.

            You have mentioned Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger a few times now – have you read his essay ‘Church Movements and Their Place in Theology’ (published with some other pieces as ‘New Outpourings of the Spirit’)? It touches on quite a few of these issues, and one of the central points he makes is that the essential framework of the institutional Church is rooted in the sacrament of Holy Orders, which precisely is a gift of the Spirit -i.e.; the institutional Church is no less charismatic than any movement that might occur within or without that structure.

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          • Michael, I don’t mind disagreement, but there is a limited value in responding to misunderstanding. If you think that my comments reject ecclesial authority, then that limit has been passed, at least for now. All best.

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          • Michael says:

            Haha – yes, probably for the best 🙂 Regardless, if you haven’t read that Ratzinger essay, I certainly recommend it.

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  7. Edward De Vita says:

    “Origen, and Didymus, and Evagrius, all of whom reintroduced feigned Greek myths, and brought back again the circlings of certain bodies and souls, and deranged turnings [or transmigrations] to the wanderings or dreamings of their minds, and impiously insulting the resurrection of the dead”

    This may be what the Council in Trullo states, but, in fact, as any objective look at his writings would reveal, it is simply untrue that Origen ever taught the “circlings of certain bodies and souls”, Nor, I believe, did Didymus or Evagrius. If St. Vincent of Lerins had a problem with Origen, we know with certainty that other great saints such as St. Athanasius, St. Gregory Thaumaturgas, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Basil, who were all very familiar with his writings, had nothing but admiration for him. Indeed, St. Gregory Thaumaturgas wrote a panegyric in praise of Origen. Do you think that this would be so if Origen had indeed taught the “circling of bodies and souls”? Would it not be impugning the memory of such great saints to state or to imply that they admired and supported one who was such an abominable heretic?
    Just so everyone knows, I am not Orthodox. I am a Catholic. And in my discussion with Orthodox believers over the years, I have always been told that, from an Orthodox point of view, the ecumenicity of a Church Council depends upon its reception by the whole Church. As far as I know, the Council in Trullo was never received in the west. How then, on Orthodoxy’s own principles can it be considered authoritative? Moreover, if we look at the 5th ecumenical Council, there is no evidence (as far as I know) that Pope Vigilius ever signed on to anything other than the condemnation of the Three Chapters. Hence, I am left wondering about the ecumenicity of the other supposed decrees of that council. Of course, this brings up the whole question of what makes a council ecumenical and how the decrees of councils are to be read. I really don’t want to get into that discussion here.
    As for DBH’s harsh words vis-a-vis Justinian, I agree that he spoke somewhat imprudently. Nevertheless, there is certainly something odd about an Emperor, who was indeed known for sometimes being brutal with his subjects, vehemently condemning someone who had lived centuries before him, had been admired for his intellect, gentleness, and holiness by a host of holy men and women of God, and had died (as a martyr, no less) in the peace of the church. This is especially galling when one considers that Justinian was not well-read in Origen’s original works. If you’re going to condemn someone, at least take the time to try to understand his authentic teaching.

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    • Maximus says:

      Edward,

      If you are interested in further exploration, here is some info on Trullo:

      ‘…Pope Hadrian I distinctly recognizes all the Trullan decrees in his letter to Tenasius of Constantinople and attributes them to the Sixth Synod. “All the holy six synods I receive with all their canons, which rightly and divinely were promulgated by them, among which is contained that in which reference is made to a Lamb being pointed to by the Precursor as being found in certain of the venerable images.” Here the reference is unmistakably to the Trullan Canon LXXXII.” http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/trullo.asp

      Also, St. Tarasios in Session 4 of the Seventh Council:

      ‘There are certain affected with the sickness of ignorance who are scandalized by these canons [viz. of the Trullan Synod] and say, And do you really think they were adopted at the Sixth Synod? Now let all such know that the holy great Sixth Synod was assembled at Constantinople concerning those who said that there was but one energy and will in Christ. These anathematized the heretics, and having expounded the orthodox faith, they went to their homes in the fourteenth year of Constantine. But after four or five years the same fathers came together under Justinian, the son of Constantine, and set forth the before-mentioned canons. And let no one doubt concerning them. For they who subscribed under Constantine were the same as they who under Justinian signed the present chart, as can manifestly be established from the unchangeable similarity of their own handwriting. For it was right that they who had appeared at an ecumenical synod should also set forth ecclesiastical canons.’

      The Canons of Trullo have been accepted by all the local churches, including Rome, at least at some point. They have definitely been accepted by the Orthodox Church since the Schism.

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  8. It is handy to have a meta-theory of authority that identifies every stamp in the album. But it matters more to know where the Holy Spirit’s witness in the Church is supporting the faith by which he saves souls. So, about the condemnation of Origen and Origenism, one wonders how it is thought to have been helpful to souls, and whether in later saints it is seen to have been in fact helpful.

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  9. While I may not agree on everything Origen taught, his biblical teaching on the ultimate salvation of all and “apocatastasis” is biblical true! Apocatastasis is a biblical word used by St. Peter in Acts 3, and no 6th century church council can rightly condemn it! David Hart is correct in his assessment of Justinian, and I don’t know how any church council or tradition can consider Justinian as a saint! I’ll always consider biblical truth over church traditions and “councils”! How can a Roman or Byzantine emperor order what church bishops should anathatimize, especially the truths of a final reconciliation and apocatastasis of all?

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  10. Westerly thinking about both UR and the magisteria often tries to conserve the premise that there is a fixed order that lies back of the timely narrative of salvation history. Juridical soteriology, standard in the West, needs an unchanging law to make sense, and nothing in it directly motivates interest in God’s ongoing creativity. Theologians in high towers there search the scriptures for the precise arrangement of the Lego blocks; magisteria exhibit their diagrams to the peasants toiling in the fields below.

    But theosis soteriologies, standard in the East, have no need for a frozen law and some interest in a cosmos responsive to souls being changed from glory to glory. They induce theologians of another kind to relate the microcosm and macrocosm being transformed by a reconciling Christ. The consent of tradition conserves what the best have found for any others on the same path. So easterly thinking about UR does not read the scriptures as a river frozen through the aquifer, nor does it see the magisteria of churches as mirrors of an untimely order.

    Since Law is one of the five ways in which God made himself known to Israel, one would not want to wholly dismiss all insights from juridical soteriology, and sanctified reason is its own defense anywhere. But even retaining a better calibrated respect for westerly thinking than some have recently had, those with easterly inclinations are probably still unsure why anyone would want authority to be a crystal in the present aeon.

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  11. Whether tradition or councils can be wrong, and whether such errors undermine the truth of the Orthodox Church, is a very important topic of discussion, especially because history is showing not only that certain figures in the Church got Origen wrong, but that they have likely misunderstood Nestorius.

    Ultimately, the purpose of the Church is to heal us and give us the tools necessary for drawing nearer to God. Whether or not Origen had been canonized or anathemized, our calling would still be to work out our salvation and deification.

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  12. Grant says:

    I already consider Origen to be a saint so I’m in full agreement with Hart and think he is right on tge money, and despite that fact there is a unique human being in there with admirable qualities that no doubt we will fully see one day in the future, that emperor Justinian was a tyrant by any standard, and attempts at white-washing or trying to justify his record do not impress me very much. If he is a saint then it’s part for happened through his rule in spit of his actions and as Father Kimel says, if he is a saint then there is no doubt apokatastasis is true 🙂 .

    But then I’m a hetrodox Christian who doesn’t look like to be able to join the Church anytime soon for various reasons and finds tge company of most Christians (despite being one) a difficult and draining experience in person, often finding the views and attitude by those in the Church to be tragic and full of anger, hate and concerned with putting down others within ir without what they see as the Church.

    Therefore I’m content as a to be solo and hetrodox, and just to God’s mercy for niw, and feel no need to try justify an what is to me obviously unjust anathema on a lovibg, kind and brilliant Christian man and martyr who did so much to shape Christian thought and practice, based on either incorrect understanding of his teaching (thinking that heretical teaching of others calling tgemselves Origenists, despite one assumes having access to sone of hus writings, includung sone that don’t exist anymore because of this apparent commendation, if the bishops did in fact agree wuth his condemnation at all) ir was a deliberate smear campaign that the Christians in the Church knowingly and unknowingly (I hope it is more the latter) perpetuated down the centuries so a man who died in the peace of the Church and whom other Church fathers and saints regarded with the utmost respect and reverence as a felliw father and saint.

    And if the Church still unwilling to consider the evidence around thus decision or to think about it’s decision to collude with an imperial smear campaign by condemning a man centuries past dying the peace of the Church before certain dogmas had even been clarified (even if you do bekueve he had sone things really wrong) then that is as telling about the state of things the Church as anything else. After all if tgis is how thungs should be almost all the earliest saints and fatgers should be anathematized vecause they held some undeveloped or other ideas that were developed or rejected later after their deaths.

    To me, the fact soneone so clearly unChristian in behaviour through most of his life prior to death can be considered a saint while Origen is cast out says all it needs to really, it is something truly ugly to behold.

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    • brian says:

      Grant,

      Obviously, I don’ t know everything you believe — heterodox can mean many different things, but I am sympathetic to many of the views you state here. I also feel frequently marginalized, though I think my views are orthodox (small “o”.) In any event, I respect where you’re at. If you haven’t been reading them, please give a look to the meditations Father has been hosting under the Searching for Our Human Face title.

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  13. Edward De Vita says:

    Dear Maximus,
    I don’t want to get into a polemical dispute with you on this matter. I would simply refer you to the following Catholic Encyclopedia article: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04311b.htm .
    The Church of Rome never accepted the Trullan Council. Indeed, given that the Council was highly critical of the Latin practice of priestly celibacy, it is highly unlikely that it would have received a favourable reception in Rome. Moreover, there are some of its canons that are not followed even by Orthodoxy today, such as the mandate to receive communion in the hand.
    As I don’t have much time to write on these blogs, this will be my last word on the matter. I wish you all the best.

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  14. Looking into the matter, Origen’s supposed self-Orchiectomy is most startling – Ouch! Is this a contrived bit of Patristic nostalgia meat to impress upon us the seriousness with which he practiced his asceticism, or is it a canard designed by critics to malign his character?

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  15. Teaching “traditions of men as orthodoxy of God’s Word”, condemned by Christ, was one of the accusations by Christ to the Pharisees and Sadducces of His day! Down through church history this been done countless times! Let’s get back to the original truths of God’s LITERAL WORD! Teaching distorted non-literal translations as God’s Word is just one of the many reasons why “church councils” and “church traditions” have created so much confusion over the centuries! Origen and other early church saints have been anathematized for merely proposing their extra-biblical “hypothesis” (not necesarily biblical truths)! The biblical truths of the final reconciliation and “apocatastasis” of ALL are Apostolic Universal Truths believed and taught by the overwheming numbers of saints of the Primative Apostolic Universal Church from as west in Africa to as far east as the church missionaries carried it!

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  16. Mina says:

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    In my endless approach to do “commentaries” on ancient Church fathers, I have not even half-way finished with the first one I started, which is St. Clement of Rome. Yet, I cannot contain myself to show that I am a huge fan of “Saint” Origen. I wish perhaps to give a letter to our Coptic Pope on the idea to create an Orthodox feast of “All Deans’ Day” (like “All Saints’ Day” or “All Martyrs’ Day” in our respective Orthodox traditions), where if at the very least we cannot venerate Origen, we can indirectly venerate all the Deans of the Church of Alexandria, from Pope St. Justus all the way to Archdeacon St. Habib Girgis.

    Holy and Blessed martyr Origen, pray for us all!

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  17. Loup says:

    First , I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer my question and second, English is not my native tongue and I will probably express myself poorly. As Christians we should think in terms of finality, here is where my problem lies with apokatastasis.

    I will begin by referring to atheism and the consequences of its finality. If inexistence is the inexorable finality of everything, then it doesn’t matter what precedes it. It does not matter if you win the nobel prize for chemistry or decapitate an infant with a screwdriver, because both actions have the same finality. Our existence is no more significant than that of dog feces, because both existences have the same finality. A heap of subatomic particles that ephemerally occupy a form. Inexistence cancels all.

    Regarding apokatastasis I have great concerns, because applying the same principle, I have to ask you , if universal salvation is the inexorable finality of creation why does is matter what precedes it?

    That’s why I asked you what’s the point of Christianity or belief in a universalist context if they have the same finality as nonbelief and let’s say Hindusim. Isn’t syncretism an immediate consequence of Universalism if salvation is the fate of all men?

    Why then speak about injustice, speak against abortion, talk about sanctity, when every devout christian will have the same fate as a child molester or a rapist. Why should I be Christian and not become a tibetan yogi who practices tummo meditation in a cave ? Or have nothing to do with a religious life whatsoever, if the finality is the same for all, church fathers and pagans alike.

    I view things in terms of their finality and the consequences of the respective end. Could you please enlighten me ? am I viewing this wrong? And there is of course the question of freedom if there is only one possible outcome.

    You may see a loving God behind Universalism, but I can only see nihilism. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • brian says:

      Loup,

      Your objection is a common one. A proper answer would require something more than brevity allows. I do think it is correct to think eschatologically. I believe you are thinking too much in terms of the modern individual. The person is something more and different. The relational aspect between persons and the rest of reality, including that of other persons is drawn with more permeability than you are allowing. But put that aside, as it involves a metaphysical argument of some complexity. The pithy response is that salvation is more than simply avoiding hell or finding oneself in heaven or being declared absolved of past sins. Participation in divine life is also the realization of a unique, singular identity that is a gift for all. In this respect, each person must realize salvation in Christ in a way that is irreplaceable and incommensurate with the path of anyone else. One shouldn’t be looking at other persons and deciding if it is “fair” that their path ended up in the same place, because among other things, it isn’t the same place. Further, the redemption of each being, of everyone, is part of your beatitude. If they were missing, your “reward” would be less and your flourishing impoverished.

      Your notion of freedom assumes a modern, voluntarist understanding of choice. An older notion of freedom as metaphysical and perfective is not touched by your objection. All this has been talked about elsewhere. I touch on it in earlier installments of Searching for Our Human Face, a series of meditations Father Kimel has been hosting. I join voluntarist notions of freedom to nihilism. In short, I think you have conceived matters along ways of thinking absorbed from the zeitgeist. The biblical alternative should take you elsewhere. Faulty presuppositions will always lead to false conclusions.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Loup,

      I second Brian’s comment to you (though I recognize nuanced distinctions between one ‘voluntarist’ view of choice and another, but never mind that here; I do agree with Brian that one’s notion of freedom’s truest form shapes our eschatology).

      I can appreciate your point from finality. I agree it follows from the kind of finality atheism embraces that any rational basis for grounding morality and aesthetics vanishes. But it’s fairly easy to see that the case is very different with the kind of finality Christian universalists posit. These are in fact very different ‘finalities’. This might be clearer if I try to address two of your questions: “What’s the point of Christianity or belief in a universalist context if they have the same finality as nonbelief and Hindusim?” and “Isn’t syncretism an immediate consequence of Universalism if salvation is the fate of all men?”

      To answer the first, no Christian universalism worth embracing thinks heaven is the final end of both belief and unbelief. Unbelief does not end finally in heaven. It defines hell, and remains hell so long as unbelief persists. This is an important point to make, because it distinguishes a universalist eschatology from an atheist one. Secondly, universalism doesn’t suppose that any belief (syncretism) will deliver one to the same blissful end. Fundamentally false beliefs, beliefs that shape choice and identity, cannot result in union with God.

      I hope that helps. The universalism being promoted here (as I understand it) claims not that all roads lead to God (many do not), but rather that no false road can lead one irrevocably away from God; no false end can absolutely foreclose upon all possibility of Godward movement. One may always ‘come home’. But this is very different from saying every path just is home.

      Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Loup, see my response here: “The Game of Life.”

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    • Michael Coleman says:

      As has probably been stated elsewhere, one of the problems with universalism if understood as an apokatastasis of persons [AoP] (as opposed to the traditional/Orthodox view of an apokatastasis of things/natures [AoN]) is that, if true, AoP means that Christ is united to humanity-qua-persons in a predestinarian sense. This also would raise the question as to why God didn’t just forcibly save us before we even fell into sin in the Garden? Because force is exactly what predestination implies, and predestination is what AoP implies.

      Too, if we allow Origen’s thoughts to intrude here, we must also admit that if the wicked can come up to heaven, then the righteous in the eschaton can fall out of heaven. This is the well known cycle of ascent and descent. If the righteous can, and will, fall out of heaven, then in this schema, those united to Christ on the level of person [AoP] are united only contingently. This would also bring into question christology itself, since Christ has become incarnate and united himself to humanity-qua-person (as well as, presumably, nature). So, if we can fall away from that unity, then is Christ really and fully incarnate?

      We do believe that Christ will restore all things (natures [AoN], which is why we all – including the wicked – receive the restoration of our natural integrity, i.e., resurrection. Whether the wicked want it or not, they will be “saved” in this manner.

      One cannot avoid either predestinarian or christological impacts whichever way one looks at this issue.

      This is not to mention that the whole universalism-as-teaching is not found in the apostolic deposit of any of the apostolic sees. It is a distinct minority opinion, if even it is found at all. But, the traditional teaching is found everywhere, is never condemned conciliarly, whereas AoP is in the 5th Council, even if indirectly … and it is confirmed by all the apostolic sees, east and west.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tgbelt says:

        Michael,

        Not sure I’m following you, but I’m intrigued.

        If salvation as union with God is our coming to enjoy the fullness of personal existence (AoP), then predestinarian understandings of that are, to my mind, ruled out. The reasons for this, for me, are metaphysical and they extend to whatever post-mortem context we might imagine in which God pursues and wins us.

        But the only sort of universalistic claim this would rule out would be the claim that God draws a line in the sand, determines some terminus ad quem, a point at which God essentially says, “Enough unbelief already! Be saved!” and effects our embrace of him in predestinarian manner. But per our last extended engagement (with DBH) over this very question, that doesn’t seem to be the prevailing view here.

        I don’t see why we must also insist that creatures remain irrevocably vulnerable to falling out of this fulfilled state of union with God. A carefully expressed libertarianism (not absolute unconstrained voluntarism) may be a metaphysical necessity to our coming to achieve fulfilled personal existence, but it doesn’t follow that once achieved (glorified), the will cannot then be sufficiently solidified (the character sufficiently shaped) to foreclose upon all possibility of apostasy. We can rest irrevocably in God, and only God, as our telos. That’s all I’m saying. We have to choose our way into our ‘end’. But one into it, it doesn’t follow that we must remain irrevocably vulnerable to abandoning it. A libertarian disposition can, through its own proper exercise, foreclose into a non-libertarian disposition where God is the end chosen.

        So we can posit the final salvation of all in irreducibly personal terms and in non-predestinarian fashion if by “final” we just mean that God in love pursues us indefinitely, ‘as long as it takes’ one might say, until all come home. This doesn’t get you a “final” terminus ad quem (which I agree would require predestinarian measures). It’s a bit more open-ended than that; i.e., love pursues the beloved as long as it takes. It’s not like we’re going anywhere. God’s not in a rush to prove anything to anyone. And he doesn’t get tired of loving us.

        Tom

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        • Tom, might you describe your process in reaching your anti-infernalist conclusion as simplification of unwarranted complexity?

          (1) Believing that Jesus was both God and man is a costly tension– clear cognition of this is hard– but that tension has been received by the whole community of the faithful as the heart of Christianity. Even Monophysites who reject the agreed language affirm the point.

          (2) Believing that God loves all that he has made, and yet disapproves of its fallen state is a costly tension, but that tension has been received by the whole community of the faithful as integral to life in Christ.

          (3) Believing both that God loves sinners and yet also that he transforms them is another costly tension, but again, it has been accepted by the whole community of the faithful as integral to life in Christ.

          (4) Believing that God’s transformation requires not only his grace but also the full participation of the sinner is another costly tension, again accepted by the whole community as integral to life in Christ.

          (5) Believing that God’s death on the cross atoned for the sins of the whole world, and yet that it is effective for only some of the world is likewise a costly tension, but it has not been accepted by the community of the faithful as integral to life in Christ.

          (6) Indeed (5) appears to be an unwarranted reversal of (2).

          (7) And, to the contrary, this particular costly tension has shattered that community, since every particular way of thinking that tension transgresses something already accepted by the whole community as integral to life in Christ.

          (8) Against anti-infernalism, some cite various authorities. But none of these reflect the whole community of the faithful as an authority should do if it acknowledges (2).

          (9) An argument that a part of the community of the faithful should be believed in what divides the whole community of the faithful also presupposes an unwarranted reversal of (2).

          (10) Anti-infernalism conserves with consistency all of the costly tensions that the whole community of faith has accepted as integral to life in Christ; it rejects a costly tension that is (a) inconsistent with the faith of the whole expressed in (2); (b) not accepted by the whole as integral to life in Christ; (c) divisive to the whole community of the faithful.

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          • tgbelt says:

            Bowman,

            I’m struggling to follow your overall point from your innumerated points. I wasn’t offering a summary of my process re: universalism. In any case, I wouldn’t say a particular intolerance of theological tension had anything to do with it. I was only responding to Michael by describing generally how a universalist could do what Michael seems to feel is impossible, namely, affirm the final salvation of all in terms of libertarian choice and the irrevocable security of persons thus finally saved.

            Tom

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          • Tom, I was thinking of your general position, not simply your comment. Still, I see your argument to Michael as a variation on (5). Universalist arguments have often appeared to me to be defending a simpler, stronger orthodoxy in the face of failed and divisive innovations required by infernalism.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Michael, of the universalist theologians you have read, which ones advocate a coercive predestinarianism as you have defined it?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Loup, may I also suggest that you may have misunderstood the universalist hope. No Christian universalist, whether Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Isaac the Syrian, Sergius Bulgakov, or Tom Talbott, believes that all will be saved, irrespective of their personal orientation toward God. Rather, what Christian universalists teach is that God will find a way to bring all human beings to repentance and faith—one way or another. For example, take a look at this article of mine: “The Secret of the Universalist Hope.” Please do not confuse apokatastasis with soteriological relativism.

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  18. To paraphrase St. Vincent of Lerins, “I would rather be wrong with Origen, than be right with others” (Commonitory 17.44). Thank you for this post and for your entire blog, Fr. Aidan.

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  19. Michael Coleman says:

    If those righteous ones who died outside the communion of the Church, but were later vindicated by the Church, what are we to say of such ones? “The Church cannot rehabilitate you because it is done posthumously.”?

    Or the Roman Emperor who, after the death of a wrongly accused saint, led a procession with the saint’s relics in order to ask the saint – posthumously – for his forgiveness for his parents’ evil exile and murder of him?

    If someone dies wrongly in exile from the Church due to wrong accusations or even wrong excommunication from the Church, is that person damned, Fr Aidan? For someone who seems to promote the possible salvation of those in hell, it seems rather inconsistent to believe that a person’s ecclesial status upon death is the final word.

    Wouldn’t the truth of the situation – revealed subsequently to the Church (as has been done several times before) – be the factor?

    And, didn’t Christ give the power of binding and loosing “anything in heaven or on earth” to the Apostles, and of course, to their successors? If the Church can loose posthumously, why san’t She bind posthumously?

    (Besides, as Origen hinted, a fall from heaven during the eschaton was to be expected, so even if he were in heaven, he wouldn’t be surprised if he were dragged out of it. #halfsarcasm)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Michael, l’m curious what I said in my article that would lead you to infer that I believe that a person’s ecclesial status at death is the final word. I agree. That would be a silly thing to say.

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      • Michael Coleman says:

        It’s more in your comments. My *perception* is that you see Origen’s posthumous anathematization as wrong/unjust/unjustifiable. My thought is that it goes both ways: a posthumous rehabilitation is also unjust if the person in question’s status was already determined. I may have misunderstood your reasoning.

        You may not be denying the Church’s *posthumous* change in Origen’s status, so much as her *unjust* change to an anathematization. If so, forgive my misunderstanding.

        Then, to me, that would bring the conversation to a couple points:

        1. Is it unjust if the Church’s action is ecumenically performed? Can the Church ecumenically perform something unjust towards a person or towards a heresy? By what authority is the “unjust” name applied?
        2. Is a moral life, ostensibly Origen’s, enough to overcome the heresy(ies) that resulted from his teachings? Are not teachers subject to a stricter judgment?
        (I’m not sure here how much to say regarding the oft-invoked Gregory and Isaac of Syria. The former has been interpreted reverentially by St Maximus and others, and some of the latter’s works’ authenticity is in doubt.)

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Thanks, Michael. I can see how why you jumped to your conclusion, but my concern about the conciliar anathema has nothing to do with a concern about Origen’s eternal salvation, but everything to do (1) with the damaging of the reputation of a faithful churchman who was martyred for the faith and (2) who was never condemned as a heretic by an ecumenical council while he was alive. He was not a heresiarch. By the standards of later doctrinal developments the theology of Origen should be criticized at various points, but that is hindsight. In the words of John Henry Newman: “The refutation and remedy of errors cannot precede their rise; and thus the fact of false developments or corruptions involves the correspondent manifestation of true ones.”

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          • Michael Coleman says:

            Fr Aidan,

            Thank you for your response. So, I guess the question is – what do you do with all the “shoulds* vis-a-vis an ecumenical council which itself is, and is considered to be, infallible in its pronouncements; and further, with all the subsequent ecumenical (6th, 7th, and if you accept the 8th and 9th), and presumably infallible as well, councils that *without question or controversy* accepted its rulings?

            This is not to mention the Liturgical commemoration of both the 5th Council, but the First 6. There is the Synodikon (as controversial as it seems to be in modern times, it was not so before). All of the Pan-Orthodox Councils in the 16th, 18th, 19 centuries affirm the foregoing. Again, presumably all the deified saints, from St Maximus to St John of Damascus, Photios, Mark of Ephesus, all down to the present day – accepted all the ecumenically authoritative statements.

            So, were there to be a indictment of the 5th Council, wouldn’t it need to ultimately be a charge laid on the whole Church for 1460 years? Can we rightfully indict the whole Church?

            Or ought we to prayerfully labor to understand her first? Shouldn’t she teach us, rather than the other way around?

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Michael, you raise several interesting questions, for which I do not have satisfactory answers. The simple fact is, a comprehensive, authoritative Orthodox theory of conciliar infallibility simply does not exist. What one has are the opinions of various theologians, and what they have to say about it is quite limited. Few Orthodox theologians (at least the ones who have been translated into English) have devoted much time at all to the topic, and they have devoted even less time to the even more important topic of the hermeneutics of dogmatic statements.

          My suspicion is that David Hart’s recent article on Origen touched a nerve in some Orthodox, because they tend to think that either everything an ecumenical council says and does is infallible or none of it is. If this were true, then this would, ironically, mean that Orthodoxy holds a significantly stronger, and more inflexible, view of infallibility than Roman Catholicism. But it’s not either/or. It’s a mistake to think so.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Michael, you ask, “Is a moral life, ostensibly Origen’s, enough to overcome the heresy(ies) that resulted from his teachings?”

          Why in the world should a teacher be held responsible for the perverse misuse and development of his teachings by people 300 years after he died? That makes no sense at all to me. Anybody’s teaching can be misused, abused, corrupted. You cannot hold Origen personally responsible for the sixth century “Origenists,” whose own teachings were significantly different than Origen’s in several ways (at least that’s what the scholars say).

          Buy all means, censure the abuses. Excommunicate the “living” heretics.

          Orthodox theology didn’t just appear full-blown upon the historical scene. It slowly developed over centuries (and continues to develop). No other person contributed more to this development in the first five centuries of the Church than Origen. Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy because of Origen. Just ask St Gregory Thaumaturgos, St Athanasius of Alexandria, St Basil of Caesarea, St Gregory of Nyssa. Did Origen make mistakes? Of course he did (all pioneers do), but his mistakes enabled those who came after him to clarify the faith of the Church more fully. There would be no doctrine of the Holy Trinity apart from the theological reflection of Origen.

          My question to you: Would you support an Orthodox condemnation of St Augustine of Hippo and all of his writings? Augustine’s hard predestinarianism arguable has done far more damage to the life of Christians than any of Origen’s speculations. Yet Augustine continues to be commemorated as a saint.

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          • brian says:

            Just a comment as an “outsider.” I am ostensibly Roman Catholic, though I am not fully comfortable with any designation beyond Christian. I acknowledge that authority is necessary and unavoidable. The apostolic witness, including scripture, cannot be separated from some understanding of ecclesial authority. Nonetheless, it seems to me that some attachments to authority are similar to a fundamentalist sensibility regarding scripture. A fundamentalist wishes to escape the discomfort of a certain indeterminacy that is inevitable where interpretation is involved. Hence, the refusal by sola scriptura adherents to properly recognize that they are engaged in interpretation at all. If one disagrees with them, one is not disagreeing with an interpretation, but with God’s word. Similarly, a type of traditionalism sometimes wishes to ignore that even the saints are living “in the middle,” amidst ambiguities and confusions. The saint’s articulation of sacred truth is not automatically a pure distillation. One still has to use discernment and weigh their insight against the witness of others and against one’s own experience.

            I note that the latter assertion frequently garners consternation and rebuke among “the faithful.” One is accused of, what is it?, privatized, individualist departures from an infallible tradition. I generally do not engage those who think that way, so we probably mutually dismiss each other. I have found that dialogue in those cases is futile. It’s best to offer what one understands as truth. The Spirit will see that those who need to hear are able to do so. And presumably, if one is wrong, the Spirit will help protect others from error. Regardless, it is my judgment and experience that Origen is a worthy guide. This does not relegate one to a mechanical reception. Take what is good, put aside what one finds in error. I find Thomas Aquinas very helpful in many matters, but there are places where I think he is quite wrong. There are many Thomisms after Thomas and some of them are terrible! It would never occur to me to blame Aquinas for the failures and distortions of those who came after him. Indeed, it is much more likely that those who follow someone of rare sagacity and insight are likely to get it wrong, distort, dumb down, or simply find themselves confronted with novel perplexities that engender awkward ad hoc attempts to apply a wisdom that has been extrinsically learned by rote rather than lived out in an existential manner.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Brian,

            I couldn’t agree more with your position, but have to ask: Do you see this position as a claim on authority? For myself, I cannot help but see it as such. We are effectively claiming that the individual conscience, molded by inherently subjective and inter-subjective experience, is the final court of appeal. We are saying that at the end of the day the heart, which is never abstract, trumps the law, which can never fully divest itself of abstraction. It’s not a particularly modern claim. What is modern is the relative loss of traction of alternative (and, some might claim, balancing) paradigms of authority — those of family, state, church, tradition, etc. A large part of what this discussion revolves around is a competition among paradigms of authority. I think MacIntyre was right to point out that this is the basic situation of modern discourse. I see no resolution. I’m also not the type to be very bothered by that state of affairs.

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          • Jonathan, you seem to have this figured out.

            I would be much obliged to you for some assistance in understanding what our estimable threadmates are doing with the word ‘authority.’ I thought I knew. But as I read comments on this thread, it sometimes seems to like the primal substance of Ionic philosophers. At midnight all cats are gray; in the brain, all thoughts are authority. If authority were everything, would it not be nothing?

            How can we identify some cognition that is not authority? I think of this in terms of a story.

            Imagine an art history graduate student who plans to write her dissertation on scroll paintings of the Southern Sung Dynasty. She grew up happily godless among secular humanists in China who were making pots of money. Like others in her milieu, she sees religious people as superstitious and probably unpatriotic, but she does have an academic acquaintance with the iconography of Buddhism in East Asia.

            She never thinks about Christianity if she can possibly avoid it. However, as a teaching assistant, she has to give some lectures for a survey course on the art of medieval Europe from circa AD 400 to 1400. To save time, she pays no attention to anything about the religion that does not come from her fellow art historians and does not relate to the monuments in the text. So she prepares rather wooden explanations of several sets of images– the Book of Kells; The Cathedral at Chartres; The Church of the Holy Savior at Chora; the Isenheim Altarpiece, etc. She gives her lectures; the students ask questions; she answers what she can and writes down the rest to research and answer later.

            About the Isenheim Altarpiece, one student asks whether it was painted by an atheist.

            “Why do you ask?”

            “Because it shows that Jesus’s body decayed too much for it to come back to life. Why would someone who believed that he did come back to life paint that? I think the painter was an atheist.”

            “Good point. I’ll check it out and get back to you.”

            Reading a standard art history reference work, she finds that, contrary to what she had thought, the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus received a new spiritual body at his resurrection, and that this new body, although unique at the time, was a sample of the future of the whole cosmos. The entry alluded to the fresco of the resurrection in Chora, which her class has seen. From Buddhist iconography, she is acquainted with the use of iconography to depict cosmic reality.

            She reports: “I think the painter was a believer. If the Christians believed that Jesus was raised with a new body, then the more decayed his old body was, the more wonderful his new body is by contrast.”

            A hand shoots up. “My minister says not to take this so literally. This is really a symbol for the experience of seeing Jesus in the poor and marginal of society.”

            “Right,” agreed the original inquirer, “Lots of Christians don’t actually believe in God; they just like church. So it makes sense that a Christian like that would paint an atheistic painting about the crucifixion.”

            The Chinese graduate student was not prepared for the possibility that a believer would speak up to correct her weak grasp of Christianity. (Next year, a lectureship in which she could teach on the T’ang!) The class looked at her with one burning question in mind: will this be on the midterm?

            “The Isenheim Altarpiece must reflect the beliefs of people before it, not the beliefs of people after it. I don’t know much about Christianity, but if the earlier belief was that Jesus got a new body– and we see that in the fresco at Chora– then that is the belief that matters for the later middle ages.”

            Thinking about this story, I am wondering (1) whether ‘authority’ is apparent in it somewhere. And if you do see authorities in it, (2) are any of them like eg the anathema against Origen? Finally, (3) what authority if any did the godless graduate student use to resolve the disputed question?

            Again Jonathan, I ask this huge favor of you, not as though we disagreed, but because it appears that you more clearly understand what our colleagues on the thread are doing with the word ‘authority.’

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  20. brian says:

    Jonathan,

    Well, you are the sort of person I would be comfortable speaking frankly with.
    I think this matter is a little like what Plato refers to in his seventh letter. It probably ought to be confined to oral teaching, because otherwise it is likely to be dangerous since writing cannot “defend itself.” If pressed, I do not have a truly satisfactory resolution to competing paradigms of authority. I think you are right to recognize the need to moderate any single claimant. Traditionalists generally do not recognize any requirement to balance and just write off any recalcitrance of the heart as subjective error, pride, sin, etc. While I can certainly see how idiosyncratic paths can become errant (particularly when its someone else’s idiosyncratic path,) I am unwilling to jettison the belief that truth must be grasped existentially. Further, since I see transformation in Christ as first and foremost an ontological change prior to any theological assent, I am wary of notions of authority that can degrade into a kind of formalized assent to dogma properly catechized.

    And as you probably already have surmised, though I have read quite a bit of theology and philosophy, I remain an artist at heart. I am too drawn to an incalculable inspiration; the Holy Spirit as artist is one of Balthasar’s recurrent motifs — so, while I strongly object to the modern individualism that I believe often coincides with Protestantism, there’s a personal “idiotic” quality to the quest for truth that belies many complacent notions of tradition. I think Newman actually had some idea of this with his illative sense, though undoubtedly he would find my own speculation dangerously bohemian.

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  21. tgbelt says:

    In a slightly different vein, I’d like to ask a question of those who deny final universal reconciliation (affirming the more traditional view of hell as irrevocable torment). Church councils and their authority aside for the moment (if you can manage that!), what theological error do you feel lies at the heart of the universalist position? That is, what is it about God (or the world for that matter) that ought to be affirmed which you feel the universalist cannot affirm? If there were violations of core theological commitments, I’d be interested in hearing what they are. Or, is the only real objection to the universalist claim is that in your view it rejects, snubs or undermines the integrity of conciliar authority?

    Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      This is a very important question, Tom. I believe that appeal to dogma is often misused by Orthodox and Catholics by the quick invocation of (alleged) conciliar condemnation in the apokatastasis debate. This appeal in fact functions as a way to avoid the hard theological and evangelical questions that are raised by the assertion of everlasting damnation. If everlasting damnation is true, then its proponents should be able to provide convincing arguments in support, just as proponents of the Nicene homoousion can provide convincing arguments on its behalf. The appeal to dogmatic authority should not be the first, and too often only, argument advanced in defense of hell.

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    • A well-known infernalist recently exclaimed that he “[could] not believe that God became a pacifistic hippie after the Flood.” I suspect that he was exactly right. An infernalist sometimes imagines an emotionally masculine God who inflicts pain on his creatures that is meaningful in terms of rank, desert, and implicit masculinity. By inference from his own experience, he believes that a universalist imagines a bland, ‘happy face’ feminine God who does little to make hierarchy, punishment, or fatherhood meaningful. Such an infernalist’s ‘core theological commitment’ can be to an analogy from an earthly father of a certain type to a heavenly Father of the same type.

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      • 407kwac says:

        “[could] not believe God became a pacifist hippie after the flood.”

        Well, that’s sure a nice theological argument! Please tell me this was not an “Orthodox” infernalist who (it would seem) imagines God is like John Wayne or Dirty Harry.

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        • Ah, but a bad theological argument that shows what really runs people is so much more important than a good theological argument that no heart actually follows! If early experiences of of one’s parents are the armature on which the implicit mind builds inner representations of God, then yes, a father who long ago projected a John Wayne or Dirty Harry model of authority is likely to have made a certain sadocalvinism seem plausible in a way that a father who projected some other model of authority would not have done. Moral: rationalism is not enough; it takes prayer to internalize the theology that transforms childhood religion into mature faith.

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  22. Jonathan says:

    Bowman,

    The basic way of imagining authority that I’m bringing to bear here is as a function of what, in literary studies, would be called discourse. The ancients would call it rhetoric. I also have in mind the Roman concept of auctoritas, which is something like what we might today call charisma. It is an aura of command that falls short of legal injunction, but is stronger than request or suggestion. Even today we say that certain people exude authority, or ‘carry it’ as part of their personality. Perhaps this is helpful in understanding authority as a function of rhetoric. It may point to the way authority, or at least the interpersonal varieties of it, constitute a mystery, something that exceeds exposition. Having said that, however, I shall now expound. . .

    When entering into discourse, a person often must resort to one or more sources of authority in order that his or her utterances will be heard (or read) and understood in the hoped for way and have the hoped for effects. Some of these sources inhere in the person speaking or writing, while others are more or less extrinsic. In your hypothetical scenario, the grad student relies on the authority of academic expertise to explain the beliefs of early Christians. More importantly, and really quite differently, she invokes the authority of the modern intellectual’s critical hermeneutic to make her statement to the effect that the art work in question is a reflection of its time and not of a subsequent one or of the artist’s personal convictions. This is actually her more important exercise of authority. The scholarly expertise alone would not suffice, since it is purely factual; she also must deploy the intellectual’s authority to espouse a basic hermeneutical tenet. The Christian student, on the other hand, is countering with a different sort of authority. It is a cross between the authority of personal experience and that of a religious leader, the minister (whose statements are perhaps being misread or misused by the student). In point of fact, no one knows or can know what Matthias Grünewald and Nicholas Haguenau actually believed. The artists themselves may not have known or been able to verbally articulate in any precise fashion what their deepest convictions were, and those convictions may not have aligned perfectly with what they felt tasked to depict. It doesn’t matter with this kind of art, because it does not and did not serve the purpose of enunciating the artist’s personal convictions or experiences. The student in your scenario who thinks the artists were atheists, even if he happens to be right (we can never know, although we can know it is highly unlikely), is missing the point. He is taking a romantic theory of art and applying it to a mostly unromantic work of art. In order to convince him of his mistake, the instructor has to rely on the authority of critical thinking. She has to be able to explain that the student’s entire approach to thinking about the work in question is not so much wrong as out of place. (If it were me, I would start the conversation by addressing the pervasiveness of plague in the time and place of the altarpiece’s construction. This would go a long way to explaining the plague-like sores on the crucified one, and it would still leave open the possibility, for whatever it might be worth, that the artists were more concerned to represent a pressing sorrow of their neighbors than to work out some speculative theology — which, by the way, seems likely to me, though of course it’s not an either/or scenario.)

    From a linguistic, critical point of view, authority is how we make our speech acts effective. There are many ways to do it, many sources of authority to tap into. Perhaps the modern era, with roots in the high middle ages, can be understood as in part a project to activate previously dormant or underutilized modes of authority, in contradistinction to the better established authorities of family, church, custom, and of course naked force. And we may experience the result as an increase in the level of epistemological tension and paradox with which we have to live. I embrace this state of affairs — at least I try not to fear it — and believe that it is in keeping with the personal revelation in Christ. However, to borrow a phrase from Johnny Cash, we walk the line. Maybe many lines, and very fine ones at that. Brian has, in this thread and elsewhere, eloquently articulated the deliquescent zone in which our judgments and passions play out. One must shirk a starkly individualist chaos and nihilism; on the other hand, entirely extrinsic sources of authority and order cannot possibly satisfy people of deep and cultivated sensibility who have experienced something of the pathos of life and require hermeneutical nuance to cope.

    For me, questions of authority become most urgent when creating and interpreting works of art, in my case works of verbal art. We speak of poets and other writers as establishing their authority in one way or another. To take two very basic scenarios: The romantic artist establishes his authority by demonstrating (what may not be very truthful) a high degree of spontaneity, authenticity, sincerity. The ironic or classical artist, on the other hand, grounds her authority in a style that bespeaks deliberate formal mastery and a highly attenuated awareness of self and audience. The unreliable narrator of a novel, for example, only works artistically if we believe that the author has deliberately written the narrator as unreliable, and has not produced such a voice out of clumsiness because the author himself is undisciplined and unreliable (i.e. without authority, a false author — the etymological coincidence is telling here). Authority is how we get ourselves taken seriously or humorously or in whatever way is appropriate.

    Confusion arises when discourses cross without interlocutors being aware of the entanglement. A discourse is partly defined by its hierarchical arrangement of authority. Two people may be discussing the same topic, but use totally different discursive modes to defend their respective positions. I think this happens a lot, far more frequently than we realize it’s happening. The result is arguments in which both sides are right, but only — as I’m afraid Obi Wan Kenobi said, to the young Luke Skywalker’s consternation — from a certain point of view. We live in a world of parallax. This assertion can sound, to a particular cast of mind, as unadulterated (or perhaps I should say utterly adulterous) relativism. I recognize the frustration, but I don’t think one need despair. Meaning rests on more than convention, and so there are discursive boundaries which cannot be crossed without entering upon senselessness (this is of course not to say that those boundaries are infrangible and that there is no senselessness in the world; we are in fact up to our necks most days in Orwellian double speak and mindless marketing/professionalist doggerel).

    I’m sorry this has been grotesquely verbose. Probably half of it is dead obvious, and the other half is bilge. Suffice it to say in conclusion that I think people in this thread are not using “authority” very much in the epistemological way you have done, nor is anyone employing your unique historical hermeneutic. People are for the most part invoking various degrees of transhistorical legal authority, backed more or less by that of scholarly expertise. I think. Can’t go back and read through it all now. Anyway, my most basic point is that when people enter into a discussion, when they discourse, they invoke various kinds of authority. If this weren’t the case then all discussion would end with a clear and satisfying result, and the blogosphere would flash out of existence in a nanosecond. Perhaps we would be merry for a span, but I fear we would grow bored at last. Or maybe we’d go back to doing what we always used to do before, sitting around in pubs and coffee houses having entirely different kinds of conversations from those that transpire in the modern, argumentative world. . . but that is a speculation on which I can’t elaborate at this juncture.

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    • Thank you, Jonathan, this looks useful and enjoyable. As you guessed, parts of what you said were not unexpected, but the thread needed the explanation to get to clarity about what is and is not relevant to an authority claim. I will reply on Tuesday.

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    • brian says:

      Immensely interesting. Thank you for these thoughts, Jonathan.

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    • Jonathan, in a later thread, we should take up the question: how, in terms of your general theory, have the Orthodox maintained the openness to charismatic authority that the West has nearly lost? The history is well known, but the way in which this authority works precisely as authority could be rewarding to consider. Thank you again for your ‘intervention’ and responses.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Brian, Bowman, and anyone else:

      It heartens me that my remarks have proven interesting. I wish to give some credit where it is due. My thinking about authority is influenced by my mentor during five years of graduate work, Robert von Hallberg. His book, Lyric Powers (University of Chicago Press, 2008) might speak to some here. I was privileged to be RvH’s student during his final years at the UofC, when he was putting that book together. It is something of an outlier in the world of literary criticism, though not completely out of bounds. The study of poetics, my specialization when I was his protégé, inevitably leads to what von Hallberg calls “religious affirmation” and “orphic” discourse. When RvH retired, the UofC Eng. Dept. effectively scuttled the Poetry & Poetics program, and there are few if any programs today such as that one was “back then” — all of five or six years ago. (By the way, one of the more interesting poets working today in the US, Michael Robbins, was in my cohort at the UofC.) RvH wasn’t a religious man in a conventional, confessional sense. But he had more affinity for the supernatural, for the Spirit, as it plays out and guides through art, than anyone I’ve known. Though academia may be allergic to certain discourses, and young poets in this country are far too academic; yet the poetic, when it is genuinely poetic, is still what it has always been, real and charismatic. In a partial response to Bowman (assuming I am reading his brief aside correctly, which I fear I may not be), I would say that the West has never lost its sense for charismatic authority. However, for at least two centuries, and really probably more like five or seven, we Westerners have not turned in the first instance to institutional religion to find the Spirit. We have looked to art, and we still do. For the most part, despite everything, we have not been disappointed. Our religious institutions, on the other hand, have ossified. Kierkegaard was right in his attack on the established church of his day. The irredentist and revanchist tendencies in contemporary churches (never mind liberalism and ecumenism, mere rhetoric if ever there was such — or as I would put it: marketing) are no more promising, in my opinion, than the complacent hegemony of SK’s day. In fact the situation is only the flip side of the coin. So I have tried to build my life, before and after my conversion to Christ, in part around art and around people who think and feel similarly about art. Thus whatever I have to say here is, in a broader sense, shaped by the education I have sought in theory and criticism. I say this as one who abandoned that education at a crucial point, when I felt I had reached its limits both personally and professionally. I have little philosophy and less theology, and grew up with no religion in the home. My Christian commitment and comment should be taken in light of the foregoing.

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      • brian says:

        Jonathan,

        Thank you for the expression of gratitude towards a wise mentor. I’ve added Lyric Powers to my next book order. I appreciate your journey and very much share your sensibility.

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      • Thank you, Jonathan, for a useful biographical and bibliographical note.

        By “the West,” I meant churches in the West, not general culture in the West. However, your aesthetic turn is not irrelevant to the point that I was making. It is not unusual to find an assertion that, where churches have a sensibility better integrated than those marred by institutionalist-individualist tensions, an aesthetic sensibility can emerge in them that does important spiritual work. To understand Yahwism read the Song of Songs; to understand St Thomas read Dante; to understand Luther listen to Bach; etc. Several have written about Orthodox iconography in this way. The best known systematician in this mode is Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose work straddled West and East.

        I sometimes discuss ‘tradition’ in dialogue with the philosophy of the ‘artworld,’ though I have not done that here.

        The argument that I have presented here has been influenced mainly by theologians– Vladimir Lossky, Joseph Ratzinger, Robert Jenson, and Rowan Williams– who are well acquainted with each other in print and sometimes in person. It would not be surprising if some of the ‘ecumenical’ assumptions in it were unclear to persons acquainted with only one tradition. Moreover, some assumed understandings of scripture and church history are seen at fairs but not yet in stores. If anything is unclear, please do not be shy about asking.

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