May We Only Wish for the Salvation of All?

I have received several emails and text messages from fellow Orthodox Christians who share the universalist hope but who are now asking themselves whether they can, or even may, remain in the Orthodox Church. Over the past year, several parish priests and lay apologists have publicly declared the teaching of apokatastasis heretical, and even those who have distinguished between apokatastasis and hope have intimated that the hope will likely prove empty. Thus the wonderful Frederica Mathewes-Green:

So I don’t think we can assert with any confidence that everyone is going to be saved, and certainly we have not, throughout Christian history, throughout the history of all denominations until recent centuries, and of course in our Orthodox Church. The assumption has always been that some people are going to spend eternity in torment, because that’s what Jesus says, that there will be an outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There’s got to be somebody there making those noises. It’s not like it’s a “Halloween sounds” cassette. Those noises are being generated by someone in agony, and as horrible as it is to think about, that’s where our faith has always come down, and that we have been under tremendous pressure not to say that in the last few centuries as evident, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still true.

So we can’t assert with any confidence that all people are going to be saved. It might be things actually turn out that way, though; maybe they will. Nevertheless, we can’t say for sure, but it might be the case. I think it’s possible. I think about “God wills that all be saved,” and if God wills something, is his will ultimately done? Is his will going to be done? I don’t think we can rule it out. I see very clearly that we’re not allowed to assume it. We cannot assert that this is the case, but some people approach this, as we say, as we are allowed to hope; we are allowed to hope that hell will be empty; we are allowed to hope that no one will suffer eternal torment; we are allowed to hope.

I just sound like I’m being cranky, but I think it’s pretty clear that we’re not allowed to hope that. We’re not allowed to hope that.

At this point I think we have to be honest and admit that if Frederica is right (and Brad Jersak therefore wrong), then it is improper for Orthodox Christians to speak of a universalist hope. Perhaps we might speak of a universalist wish, but there is a difference between the truth and what we wish were true, a difference between hoping for an outcome based on solid grounds, such as the character of God and the paschal victory of Christ, and wishing for an exceptionally improbable, if not impossible, outcome, given the logic of libertarian freedom and the incorrigible wickedness of so many. Fr Patrick Reardon has gone so as to virtually forbid hoping for the salvation of all: “No, we do not dare to hope for such a thing. It is a delirious fantasy, not a proper object of Christian hope, or a proper subject for Christian speculation.” Fr Andrew Damick describes the preaching of universalism as “pastoral malpractice,” though he admits the permissibility of hope, for “hope admits the possibility that it may not happen but that we desire it anyway.” Again I have to wonder whether we talking about hoping or wishing.

Fr Lawrence Farley, pastor, author, and podcaster, has recently published several critical articles on the greater hope:

Will Everyone Finally Be Saved?

The Morality of Gehenna

The Fathers and the Fire

What Does Aionion Mean?

Fr Lawrence writes clearly and well. His articles invite substantive engagement and at specific points rebuttal. I intend to blog on them in the near future. I hope I can do so in the same thoughtful spirit in which these articles have been written.

May Orthodox Christians hope and pray for the salvation of all?  Yes, I say, yes! If we believe that God is absolute love, if we believe that by cross and resurrection Christ Jesus has conquered death, emptied hades, and given birth to a new creation, then we may, and indeed must, hope for the salvation of all. The gospel of Pascha invites such hope, commends such hope, demands such hope. Not mere wishing … but confident hoping and bold praying.

(Go to “Hula Hoops, Fads, and the Consensus Patrum”)

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97 Responses to May We Only Wish for the Salvation of All?

  1. I agree.
    If God has to do everything for anyone to be saved why wouldn’t He do everything for everybody?
    This is a more cogent argument than infernalists can make.
    Though I (and no one else) can be certain (of anything.)
    Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 407kwac says:

      To be fair, the argument for hell’s eternity is not that Christ has not done all for everyone to be saved (He has), but that in creating persons that are thus inherently not themselves God and bestowing on them a free will that is truly their own–one He does not coerce–there must remain the possibility some may choose forever to resist participation in Him (on account of their strong attachment to what is not God, having allowed their will in this life to be thoroughly corrupted by sin), which means, in effect, creating their own hell for eternity. Hell remains only because God will not overwhelm creaturely free will nor coerce our participation in His own love and goodness. The hopeful “universalist” simply believes in the possibility that all persons may in fact eventually come to their senses and repent (even if only at the “eleventh hour” somewhere in the shady area between their own death and the Final Judgment at the general resurrection) because of God’s endless and unchanging mercy toward all He has created–and hope and pray for that.

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      • Free will free from the creator or what we have been exposed to doesn’t exist.
        God must save all. It is all on His part.

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        • Karen says:

          Well, that’s what DBH is arguing, and I tend to be sympathetic to his arguments (though I’m admittedly quite philosophically challenged, which is why I tend to stick with what feeds my prayer life in a Christward direction and leave it there). “Free will” free from the Creator = bondage to sin. But it seems we may be allowed to bind ourselves to sin according to many holy people also trying to be faithful to the apostolic deposit in the Scriptures.

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        • Karen says:

          To clarify, “free-will” free from the Creator in the wake of the redemption wrought through Christ *may* equal bondage to sin if persist in giving in to temptations. The question is can we persist in this bondage if, having been corrupted by it, we genuinely will it? Does our theology of the personhood (as hypostasis) of the human being allow this possibility? Or does human nature (and natural will) eventually drive every person back to God (again of his own free–now truly free–will)–albeit through a process of purification from sin both in this life and, for many, also in the next?

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  2. kimfrank says:

    Thank you, so much, Father. I have not emailed you, but have had the same questions as those who have. It is not possible for me to live as an integrated real person who longs to be in right relationship with God and all Others without this hope. I cannot be a Christian without this hope because there would be no good news to share and live towards. Many of the pastoral edicts on this topic have been incredibly disheartening. My experience of the words/arguments is that they are quite dizzying and seem disconnected from Spirit and life. I look forward to your words and the Spirit with which you write. Thank you for caring and for writing for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol Sadosky says:

    I am being received as a Cathecumen in the Orthodox church this Sunday, and it is indeed this hope that I hope I don’t have to give up. Is the afterlife/judgment an issue of dogma one needs to believe for salvation?

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  4. Carol Sadosky says:

    Ok. Thank you.

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  5. bradjersak says:

    I would only ask that those who do not share this hope please refrain from preaching Chrysostom’s paschal homily, since for them, it must be regarded as a ‘delirious fantasy,’ or at least refrain from calling those who believe it ‘heretical.’ I would also implore the infernalists to lay aside the term ‘Saint’ for those who historically developed and shared this hope and to stop offering prayers to them — and this means not only universalists like Gregory but also those like Maximos who only preached hope. If a hopeful apokatastasis is to be expunged from Orthodoxy along with those who teach it, then please dont claim those who created the notion as your own. Leave them outside the faith with the rest of us. Happily, the creed I cited at my chrismation makes no such demands on either side of this imagined boundary and all are welcomed to the paschal table. Indeed, the creed enforces a freedom of thought re: eschatology vis-a-vis these suspiciously western delineation.

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    • Maximus says:

      It seems like the main problem lies in holding certain concepts together. One must question how Chrysostom’s homily is being interpreted since he was not a universalist preacher in his earthly sojourn. He held the concepts in his homily together with a view of an eternal damnation. In the Resurrection all are saved from dis-integration of the body and soul, and the reign Satan and Hades. Therefore, ‘hell is salvation’s lowest level’ (to quote Romanides) according to Chrysostom:

      “He calls it, however, ‘salvation’, you will say; ‘Why, what is the cause of his adding, “so as by fire”? Since we also used to say, ‘it is preserved in the fire’, when we speak of those substances which do not immediately burn up and become ashes. For do not at sound of the word ‘fire’ imagine that those who are burning pass into annihilation. And though he call such punishment “salvation”, be not astonished. For his custom is in things which have an ill sound to use fair expressions, and in good things the contrary…. And so here in saying, ‘he shall be saved’ he has but darkly hinted at the intensity of the penalty: as if he had said, ‘but himself shall remain forever in punishment’. (Homily 9 on First Corinthians)

      And why can’t we call someone a ‘Saint’ who erred? For we all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2) Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo are both Saints but their eschatological teachings have not been accepted. St. Maximus, like Chrysostom, also held many ideas together. One can see this in his explanation of St. Gregory the Theologian’s teaching on the fire(s) of God; there are various fires… and one of them is eternally damning:

      “’The fire of Sodom’ is poured down upon those who trample on the law of nature by abusing it. And this is the reproof of the conscience, whenever, like fire, it completely burns it. And ‘brimstone’ is the different circumstances, and ‘storms’ are the sudden circumstances, which when mixed together injure in a more violent way. And they burn the conscience in imitation of the ‘devil and his angels’ who through pride enviously slander the providence of God and employ treachery towards their neighbor. And the fire which ‘proceeds before the face of the Lord burning His enemies’ is the energies of God. For they characterize the face of God, that is, His goodness, love of humankind, meekness, and things similar to these. These energies enlighten those who are like them and burn up those who oppose and have been alienated from the likeness. And the passage did not say these, the forms of fire, are eternal, since according to Gregory of Nyssa nature must recover its own powers and be restored by full knowledge to what was from the beginning, so that the Creator may be proven not to be the cause of sin. And he [St. Gregory the Theologian] called the ‘more feared’ fire, that ‘which is fused eternally into one mass with worms, not able to be quenched but existing perpetually for wicked’. For this reason, when the divinity appears and is offered to the worthy for their enjoyment, they who do not, through good works, illumine themselves, like a little worm which always uproots one’s memory, are devoured, evaluated by their failure and endless deprivation of the good, and are continually put to test by a more violent fire.’ (St. Maximus the Confessor’s Questions and Doubts pp. 95-96. Question 99)

      St. Maximus makes distinctions between the fires of God, which are the diverse energies of God. He interprets St. Gregory of Nyssa to be referring to a temporary, relatively less violent fire whereas the one ‘fused with worms’ ends in ‘endless deprivation’. St. Maximus even intimates that the person who has fought against God for infinite ages embraces the nonexistent and this makes them incapable addressing the sentence, much less reversing it:

      ‘[I]f the soul, as I have said, uses its own powers properly, and if, consistent with God’s purpose, it passes through the sensible world by way of the spiritual principles that exist within it, so that with understanding it arrives at God. If, however, it makes the wrong or mistaken use of these powers, delving into the world in a manner contrary to what is proper, it is obvious that it will succumb to dishonorable passions, and in the coming life will rightly be cast away from the presence of the divine glory, receiving the dreadful condemnation of being estranged from relation with God for infinite ages, a sentence so distressing that the soul will not be able to contest it, for it will have as a perpetually relentless accuser its own disposition, which created for it a mode of existence that in fact did not exist.’ (Ambigua to John, Ambiguum 21)

      Fr. Florovsky has this brilliant concept wherein St. Maximus is the product of centuries of Orthodox ascesis and reflection who becomes the corrective to hellenistic anthropological optimism and universalism:

      ‘Only when we commit ourselves to a docetic view of history and deny the possibility of ultimate decisions in history, in this life, under the pretext that it is temporal, can we evade the paradox of ultimate resistance.

      St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated a kind of universal conversion of souls in the afterlife, when the truth of God will be revealed and manifested with compelling evidence. Just at that point the limitation of the Hellenic mind is obvious. Evidence seemed to it to be the decisive motive for the will, as if ‘sin’ were merely ignorance. The Hellenic mind had to pass through a long and hard experience of asceticism, of ascetic self-examination and self-control, in order to overcome this intellectualistic naïveté and illusion and discover a dark abyss in the fallen soul. Only in St. Maximus the Confessor, after some centuries of ascetic preparation, do we find a new and deepened interpretation of the apokatastasis. Indeed, the order of creation will be fully restored in the last days. But the dead souls will still be insensitive to the very revelation of Light. The Light Divine will shine to all, but those who once have chosen darkness will be still unwilling and unable to enjoy the eternal bliss. They will still cling to the nocturnal darkness of selfishness. They will be unable precisely to enjoy. They will stay “outside”—because union with God, which is the essence of salvation, presupposes and requires the determination of will. Human will is irrational and its motives cannot be rationalized. Even ‘evidence’ may fail to impress and move it.
      Eschatology is a realm of antinomies. These antinomies are rooted and grounded in the basic mystery of Creation. How can anything else exist alongside of God, if God is the plenitude of Being?’

      Lastly, as a word of caution, Elder Sophrony actually believed that some forms of eschatological hope can make one void of the type of compassionate prayer for the world possessed by St. Silouan:

      “The Lord said, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth’ (that is ‘crucified on the Cross’) ‘will draw all men unto me’. (cf. John 12:32) Thus Christ’s love hopes to draw all men to Him, and so reaches out to the last hell. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. (It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly RULE OUT the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz.)

      What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’. Awareness of the possibility of eternal damnation remained deeply engrained in his spirit. (St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 109)

      I write this not to debate, but to clarify and perhaps to demonstrate that revelations of the deep love of God for all men can be reconciled with eternal damnation.

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      • 407kwac says:

        Thanks, Maximus, for your thoughtful comment and for reminding us of this context.

        I have a few thoughts. The first is I especially appreciate Fr. Sophrony’s caution about the possible effects of deterministic Universalist schemes on prayer. This seems self-evident to me as well. I can tell you quite confidently, too, as a former Protestant, that deterministic understandings about the nature of judgment and hell after death (frequently trotted out as the “traditional view”) very effectively eradicate any prayer on behalf of the departed as well and replace it not with hope in Christ, but certain despair respecting those presumed lost (as well as a presumptuous complacency with regard to those presumed “saved”), which I believe equally mitigates against an active faith in Christ. Fr. Stephen Freeman wrote recently in comments under his post, “Is the Universe Tragic?” something I quote in a January 28 comment near the end of the comments thread here:

        http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2016/01/20/is-the-universe-tragic/comment-page-2/#comment-93485

        This best underscores the first point I would like to make here as well.

        Secondly, a supposedly overly optimistic “Hellenism” aside–arguing for all sin depending on some degree of ignorance/deception, we also have Genesis 3, Christ’s parable of the last judgment in Matthew 25, and His words from the Cross referring to arguably the most consciously premeditated sort of recalcitrant willful evil action taken by His enemies, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” (My emphasis.)

        Finally, a healthy appreciation for the critical value of aceticism in the life of the believer is one of the reasons Orthodox spirituality rings so true to those of us who have entered the Church from other Christian traditions and why we appreciate Orthodox monasticism, and it is enjoying something of a revival thanks to many converts also joining its ranks, while it has been neglected and even vilified as a corrupt relic of the past in some cradle Orthodox subcultures. Nevertheless, the Tradition seems equally adamant and clear that aceticism is *not* the Church’s Life, and that it is a profound and even damnable mistake to put our trust in the Church’s ascetic disciplines, rather than solely in the grace of God on Whom our salvation depends from first to last. I’m not sure the more mature and knowing faith that, in Fr. Florensky’s learned opinion, resulted from the largely self-imposed asceticism following the period of the early Church of the martyrs is necessarily more salvific, nor automatically grants any truer spiritual intuition than the child-like trust and faith in Christ’s power by which those escaping the corruption and death of Roman paganism and courageously defying the tortures imposed upon them by imperial fiat lived. It’s interesting to me that the debate about the legitimacy (and even theological incumbancy) of hoping and praying for the salvation of all arises in the modern period during an era of persecution and maryrdom of Christians (mostly Orthodox) on an unprecedented scale, and man’s brutality to man of the most depraved and vile kind is on display every day where even children can hear about and watch it thanks to modern mass media and its exploitation. I can’t say exactly what the nature of the connection may be for sure, but I am haunted by our Lord’s words telling us the Kingdom belongs to those who trust in Him in the simple manner of the very young.

        Karen

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        • Maximus says:

          Karen,

          I interpret Fr. Florovsky to say that the Church ‘grew in wisdom and stature’ in regards to expressing this teaching by ascetic reflection. St. Maximus apokatastasis is the product of successive generations made perfect through suffering, prayer and reflection. No one is asserting that Origen or St. Gregory weren’t ascetics, and no is endorsing falling into pride over podvigs.

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          • 407kwac says:

            Yes, I believe I understand the nature of Fr. Florovsky’s “brilliant concept” (sorry for the name confusion), and doubtless there is merit to what he says, but it seems to me this is still but the learned opinion of a faithful son of the Church and doesn’t rise to the level of the insight or teaching of a Saint or of inspired Scripture. Similarly, the asceticism of St. Isaac of Syria, and contemporary Saints like St. Silouan and St. Porphyrios (Bairaktaris) is not lost on me either, and so the reality that the effect on me of their prayerful approach to this subject runs so profoundly counter to that of those of most contemporary blogosphere apologetics for what is deemed the “traditional view” is not something I am inclined to ignore. Again, I believe Fr. Stephen’s comment summarized best what also lies at the heart of my experience, conviction and concerns in this regard.

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          • Maximus says:

            Karen,

            I endorse the spirituality of those Saints and eternal damnation. Apart from St. Isaac, all the men you mention did as well. As a matter of fact, Elder Sophrony sent Fr. Florovsky his confession of faith for approval because he trusted his learned opinion. Again, the evident problem is holding various concepts together.

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          • 407kwac says:

            Maximus, forgive me and allow me a small quibble with your wording here. I believe that even God does not “endorse eternal damnation”–we are rather told in the Scriptures that “God is not willing that any should perish” and that He “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” If you were to have written that Elder Sophrony and St. Silouan affirmed the Church’s teaching of the real possibility of eternal damnation, I would have no argument with that (and from what I gather from a talk by Met. Kallistos Ware, even St. Isaac acknowledged this as the Church’s teaching and his own thoughts about the purgative nature of Gehenna as but hopeful speculation).

            Holding concepts together is one issue perhaps. I am more comfortable saying we must be open to both the potential for universal salvation and eternal damnation because of the nature of personal freedom, both God’s and man’s.

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          • Maximus says:

            Your quibble is valid, and I accept the correction.

            My main point is that wisdom is justified by all her children. St. Paisios the Athonite said that we should embrace the gentle Saints and the rigid ones, because we need them all to stay balanced. Of course, some will resonate with us better but no one should not parcel themselves off into a Nysso-Isaacian party. We should hold it all together without forced synthesis and without being partisan.

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          • Karen says:

            Thank you, Maximus, for the gracious concession to my quibble.

            There is no question that there are paradoxes and tensions in the Scriptures and in the words and lives of the Saints, which we must struggle to hold in the proper relationship to the whole and that there can be, as you say, no “forced synthesis.” The whole is nothing less than the fullness of Christ Himself in His Church. A proper synthesis can only come by the discernment given through the Holy Spirit and through His transformation of our hearts. That said, recognizing that what is medicine for one may be poison to another (depending on the individual constitution and ailment–regardless of the similarity of presenting symptoms) and that spiritual guidance in the Church is not a “one-size-fits-all because it’s all true Tradition”, but rather discretion to use strictness or economy depending on the patient’s needs are also points of wisdom in our Tradition I greatly appreciate. Recognizing a particular part or emphasis in the Tradition brings fuller integration to my own heart and draws me to more deeply trust and commit myself to Christ, while other parts may threaten to undo that is not necessarily partisanship–it is prudent partaking of the medicine, particularly when done with the oversight of my spiritual father.

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  6. andrewlukashonak@gmail.com says:

    Sounds more like theological small-mindedness & pastoral malpractice to me. When I read what these “beacons of Orthodoxy” write compared to some of the great minds of the Church it’s disappointing. Sad what many would make of Orthodoxy.

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  7. Eric Jobe says:

    The lack of a cogent epistemology in the vast proportion of Orthodox theological discourse renders these sorts of statements (on either side of the issue) exercises in rhetorical futility. Appeals to authority on the one hand and appeals to “hope” on the other underscore the lack of a common epistemological ground. In my opinion, it should be admitted by both sides that complete certainty about this issue cannot be known from either position, because ultimately it is an issue of metaphysics which has an imperfect and incomplete expression within human language, bound as it is within the confines of history and culture. Even appeals to authority skirt the epistemological problems with such authorities such as infallibility and the unchangeable nature of Christian belief and practice, which are hardly tenable from any philosophical point of view. The psychological nature of hope seems like grasping at straws, a last-ditch effort to preserve legitimacy. Appeals to emotion are just as logically fallacious as appeals to authority, and we are no closer to any clarity on the issue.

    However, rhetoric remains at the heart of the matter, for the rhetoric of hell and punishment is a common feature of biblical discourse. Even the ham-fisted “infernalist” position that the doors of hell are locked from the inside or that the tortures of Gehenna are merely the same energies of divine love experienced differently skirt the clear biblical rhetoric of active divine punishment. It seems few remain who are willing to chart that rhetorical course anymore. Even the appeal to some sort of ontological diminishment of the denizens of hell, that such persons are rendered by their sin irrevocably incapable of experiencing divine felicitation is a blatant disregard for biblical discourse, which knows no such concept.

    It is my opinion, therefore, unless one wishes to stand with the fire-and-brimstone revivalists of yore, that both sides of the issue have happily and willfully departed from the general tenor of biblical rhetoric on the subject of the eternal punishment of the wicked. Both sides have, I believe, rejected the very biblical authority they appeal to as well as to the emotion of its rhetoric, which is fear and trembling before the fiery wrath of Almighty God.

    The appeal to dubious ecumenical canons as well to an overly simplistic account of biblical teaching should be recognized for what it is, hand waving of a most egregious sort, which dismisses the real issue at hand for the security provided by authority structures or rather for fear of opposing them. Likewise, the appeal to emotion is a manipulative attempt to sway opinion by placing the hope of salvation as more psychologically palatable than fear of eternal torment.

    Hopefully we can all dispense with such things and be more honest with our distaste for “authoritative” statements of scripture and council, which, if taken at face value, are palatable to no one. Perhaps we can all acknowledge that we are speculating on matters that lie beyond the veil of phenomenal knowledge impenetrable by either authoritative canon or convincing emotion.

    The apparent contradiction of eternal hell and universal salvation is, rather, an antinomy, both of which must be allowed stand as pillars of heaven, transcendent and transcending. Their opposition leads only to epistemic failure in the rhetoric of logical fallacy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike H says:

      Eric,

      Great deal of respect for your work on your blog.

      I’d like to better understand your comment.

      On the one hand, you say that anyone who stands apart from “fire-and-brimstone revivalists” has “rejected the very biblical authority they appeal to” and has “happily and willfully departed from the general tenor of biblical rhetoric.” Your assertion seems clear.

      You seem to imply that there is nothing really up for discussion – that the “infernalist” truth is plain and obvious to anyone with the courage to admit it. Anyone who doesn’t see this is engaging in intellectual dishonesty, “hand waving of a most egregious sort”, a distaste for authority, or a manipulative appeal to emotion.

      But then at the end you say “Perhaps we can all acknowledge that we are speculating on matters that lie beyond the veil of phenomenal knowledge impenetrable by either authoritative canon or convincing emotion.”. Here you seem to make it sound like this is all pointless speculation.

      Are you saying that this is impenetrable, or not?

      Or are you saying that there is a degree of fallibility and multivocality inherent in all authoritative/canonical sources – including scripture – that this entire thing is an exercise in futility?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mike H says:

        Oddly enough, I meant to close up the italics in that last paragraph right after “fallibility”!

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      • Eric Jobe says:

        My point was that the plain sense of biblical discourse is more “fire-and-brimstone” than the soft sort of hell advocated by so many today. I didn’t say I agreed with it. My larger point was that, if those who advocate an eternal hell chastise universalists over departing from biblical teaching, they too, if they adhere to this “soft” version of hell, have done the same thing.

        I actually made the point that the “infernalist” appeal to authority, i.e. scripture and canon, is handwaving as are most appeals to authority.

        I believe that scripture and the councils are subject to the same epistemological limitations that all human discourse is, that trying to argue one over and against the other is impossible. I believe they stand as an antinomy not a contradiction, i.e. that they are both true in a limited sense and in a way that we can never fully understand.

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        • brian says:

          Eric,

          Have you read Pavel Florensky’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth? He has an interesting letter on Gehenna and emphasizes the importance of antinomy.

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          • Eric Jobe says:

            I’ve read portions of it, but I do not recall that particular part. I will look it up. Thanks! But yes, my use of the word antinomy does derive from that general school of thought, though Kant also uses the term.

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        • Mike H says:

          Thanks for the clarification Eric.

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Good points Eric.

      Limitations notwithstanding, I find UR more consistent with revealed truths of absolute Divine love (viz. God is love), creatio ex nihilo, and Divine simplicity.

      It seems to me the issue revolves around the persistence of evil. Does evil know no end? How can it be so without conjuring up a dualism of the most pernicious sort, in which evil stands side to side with good, without end?

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      • Eric Jobe says:

        Right. There are multiple levels of philosophical discourse here. The one is epistemological: Is universalism a justified belief? Can it amount to something we can *know*? The answer to the first is “yes” if one understands the inherent problems surrounding authority structures, which I argue are most often used as rhetorical bludgeons to put an end to the inquiry in the first place. In other words, is universalism a justified belief qua this or that authority structure understood absolutely? Well, then probably not. But, if we question the absolute nature of the authority structure and show its limitations (not necessarily errors), then we may say that universalism is justified on certain grounds. The answer to the second question, can we “know” universalism to be true, is going to be “no” in almost every case because of the antinomy that the authoritative texts of our tradition establish.

        The other level is metaphysical, which you have pointed out regarding the nature of God, evil, and the existence of the world. In my opinion, this is the strength of the universalist position. The standard “orthodoxy” of eternal hell tends to win the day by ending the conversation at the level of epistemology, whereas the more significant issues are metaphysical, which the so-called “infernalist” position has a more difficult time with

        Since I regard the concept of infallibility to be epistemologically impossible, I am much more comfortable laying aside appeals to authoritative texts for the sake of establishing epistemic boundaries and giving a fair hearing to the metaphysical issues you enumerate here.

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Agreed Eric. Helpful and important distinction between the metaphysical vs. the epistemological, thank you for calling attention to that.

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        • brian says:

          Eric,

          I appreciate many of your thoughts here and insofar as I follow you correctly, I suspect I hold pretty similar views. I would like to add as a point of clarification, however, that I think when Father Kimel speaks about a bold hope, he does not understand hope as a purely emotional stance (hence the distinction with wish.) Rather, there is a metaphysics of hope and it is rooted precisely in an understanding of reality that reflects meaningfully upon the implications of TriUne God, the constitutive place of relation in being, divine liberty and creatio ex nihilo, etc. In short, his views are not a kind of emotive counterpart to traditionalist assertions.

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          • Eric Jobe says:

            Good point. If hope is translated to “justified belief” or something similar as an epistemic mode of religious knowledge, then I’m fine with talking about “hope.”

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    • Eric,

      Have you read or listened to David Bentley Hart’s free will argument against ECT? If so, I would love to get your thoughts on it.

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      • Eric Jobe says:

        Yes, and I thought it was rather strong. The problem is that most of his co-religionists are incapable of listening to his philosophical arguments without filtering them through their authority structures. But more to the point, I think that Hart is right to revisit the protology-eschatology link, which Origen messed up so badly. It frames the question in such a way as to render creation an act of infinite contingency with any possible outcome, even the damnation of all or most persons, or an act with a deliberately conceived end consistent with the nature of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect. The former seems to be the prevailing orthodoxy, though it is rightfully questioned. I have never been entirely comfortable with the orthodox emphasis on free will. It is as if free will has been elevated to some absolute value that must be protected at all costs and cannot even be violated by God. Free will as an absolute in this sense is very difficult if not impossible to demonstrate either scientifically (through either psychology or physics) or philosophically. In fact, Hart himself points out, if I remember correctly, that the only true freedom belongs to God in his completely free act of creation. All other freedoms are dependent or limited to that freedom. The other possibility, then, is the determined or non-contingent eschatology. There are two options here, the double predestination of hypercalvinism or universalism. The first is not consistent with the moral perfection of God, which leaves only universalism as the only tenable option. If, however, one is comfortable with infinite contingency and the absolute nature of free will, then one can avoid a determined eschatology. So metaphysically, it seems to be a rather simple issue to resolve, though universalism requires a radical reorientation of the epistemology of revealed religion away from absolutely binding texts. This properly belongs to the epistemology of religion per se, but to the epistemology of religious society, i.e. of the social sciences (cf. Quinn, pg. 512 in the Oxford Handbook of Epistemology).

        Liked by 2 people

        • Great thoughts. Thanks for your reply.

          Like

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Eric,

          As points of clarification, a couple of thoughts:

          1.) UR does not require a violation of freewill as the telos of nature (no meaningful distinction between nature and freewill is understood) is its perfection in its Final Cause. St Maximus’ logoi theology here is quite meaningful.

          2.) As to binding texts I suggest a subtle, but not unimportant, elucidation: a radical reorientation away from non-binding interpretations of authoritative texts is required. The canon of scripture is a non-negotiable, binding and authoritative.

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          • Eric Jobe says:

            Regarding #1, agreed, though someone arguing against UR might think otherwise.
            Regarding #2, the scriptures may be non-negotiable, binding, and authoritative, but their interpretation is not. And how they are authoritative, or in what way an interpretation of them is authoritative is a massive epistemological problem.

            Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Welcome, Eric. Good to see you here and thank you for your comment.

      Your initial comment confused me. It appeared to contain a rebuke, presumably directed at my article, but your subsequent comments have encouraged me to believe that I misread it.

      Regarding epistemology and doctrine, as far as I can tell, this is a relatively unexplored area in recent Orthodox dogmatics. I’m not even sure what it would mean to say, “I know that all will be saved,” just as I do not know what it means to say, “I know that Jesus will return in glory.” I believe both with relative degrees of confidence, but my faith always remains faith. So in what sense is a faith-claim a knowledge-claim? This isn’t perhaps the thread in which to discuss this, but it’s an interesting question.

      More pressing, I think, is the question of dogma. How is dogma defined and established in Orthodoxy? All Orthodox look to the ecumenical councils, of course; and I think this is right; but Orthodox theology doesn’t seem to have gotten much further than that. What makes a council ecumenical? Which propositions enunciated by an ecumenical council enjoy irreformable dogmatic status? Roman Catholic theology has discussed these kinds of questions at great (perhaps ridiculous) depth; but Orthodoxy theology (at least that which is available in English) has hardly begun to address them. And then there is the question of the interpretation of dogmatic statements. Too many Orthodox believers treat dogmatic statements as if they simply fell from heaven, without any historical context and limitation.

      You state that given the conflicting testimonies within the tradition, we can never know the truth of the universalist hope. I’m not sure I agree with you. Why might not a future ecumenical council dogmatize on this question, if the Church felt a dogmatic resolution was necessary? At least in theory, I do not see why it could not. All she needs to do is dogmatically declare that Orthodox believers may not teach and believe, for example, the eschatological views of St Gregory Nyssen. Fortunately, I do not believe that she has done that.

      Like

      • Eric Jobe says:

        My initial comment was intended as a sort of rebuke of universalism argued as an appeal to emotion (thought to be sure, Brian, above, rightly pointed out that “hope” is not necessarily an appeal to emotion but could be conceived as an epistemic mode, which I am okay with.)

        Your point about the possibility of future dogmatic statements on the issue, which I grant, though I think the very nature of such dogmatic statements as infallible or inerrant is problematic epistemologically. I think that we need to develop an understanding of authority, revelation, and truth that does not depend on the concepts of infallibility or inerrancy, which I find to be logical absurdities.

        Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I hate to show my ignorance but I honestly do not know what it means to speak of hope as an epistemic mode. (Sorry, Brian) 🙂

          I approach all of these questions, first and foremost, as a preacher. For 28 years I preached (or attempted to preach) the gospel, Sunday after Sunday. From the pulpit, I believe, is where theology is finally accomplished. Unless I had a particular theological topic in mind, I always preached a particular text, and as taught in seminary, I would prepare by both spiritual reflection on the text and reading the commentaries. Yet no matter how much or how little my exegetical preparation, I was charged to stand before my congregation and proclaim the Word. What I quickly discovered is that there is no scientific hermeneutic that guides one in making the transition from thinking or talking about the text to actually proclaiming the text as gospel. At that point all the exegesis is left behind. The Spirit alone ensures (or does not ensure) fidelity to the written Word.

          Eric, I was, and still am, bewildered by your construal of my invocation of hope in my article as an appeal to emotion and sentiment. (I may be passionate, but few would accuse me of being sentimental—except when it comes to movies like Casablanca. 🙂 ) In 2001 Richard Neuhaus wrote an article on the universalist hope. He was, as you probably know, deeply influenced by Balthasar on this topic. He explains the relation of faith and hope this way: “Faith is hope anticipated, and hope is faith disposed toward the future.” This seems right to me.

          Hope looks to the future through the promises of Christ, not just specific promises spoken in words but the promise that Jesus eternally is. It is on this basis that I proclaim the absolute love of God and his unmerited grace. The universalist hope, as I see it, is simply the projection of this love into the future—hence hope!

          And that is why the universalist hope is not wishful thinking.

          Like

          • Karen says:

            Thank you. Your comments about hope as “faith disposed toward the future” are what I wanted to say to Eric, but you said it better. Wishing/desiring is closer in my thinking to mere emotion or sentiment. “Hope” in the sense I would use it regarding the restoration of all things in Christ is based on faith in Christ, based on the revelation of Christ in the gospel. It is not an emotion.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Eric Jobe says:

            First of all, I would respectfully say that my critique of the appeal to emotion was not a charge of sentimentalism in the least. Appeal to emotion is simply a type of logical fallacy, which if applied to universalism, does it no service. For example, if hope is construed as a desire for a particular future, even if it is justified, it is still primarily grounded in emotion, i.e. what I desire to happen. Therefore, to base an argument for universal redemption on the basis of such a desire would be fallacious. Now, that is not sentimentalism per se, but simply an appeal to emotions that we all have. The opposite is true, for example, when the opposing side asserts the necessity of an eternal hell, because we cannot bear to see the wicked relieved of their punishments. There the emotion appealed to is righteous anger.

            Now, if hope is construed, as you say, as faith turned toward the future, then it becomes less of an emotion and more of an epistemic mode, i.e. a particular way in which we go about acquiring knowledge. In this way, to hope for something is to set an expectation about something (however dispassionately) and await its confirmation. It is a sort of scientific method, wherein a hypothesis is made and an experiment is run in order to collect data that will either confirm or refute the hypothesis. In our case, the data collection will await the eschaton, yet our hope (our hypothesis) remains expectant of universal redemption.

            So, it just depends on how “hope” is understood by your readers. If they are more inclined toward emotion (not necessarily sentimentalism), then they might construe it as a logical fallacy. If they are more analytically minded, then they might understand the latter, “scientific” approach.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Thank you, Eric, for your clarification. I’m not sure if your identification of desire and emotion is helpful here—I wonder what St Thomas Aquinas would say about that—but I don’t have the philosophical chops to argue the matter one way or the other. Perhaps Brian Moore has some thoughts about this.

            But I do want to reply to your comment regarding the appeal to emotion as logical fallacy. I of course—and I’m sure everyone in this thread—agree with you that the rhetorical manipulation of emotions and feelings does not constitute a valid argument. Hence if I should ever fall into that fallacy, I hope that you or someone else will point it out to me (but please be specific). We bloggers are particularly susceptible to this fallacy, and I am no exception.

            But that being said, I do not know of any serious universalist who claims, “Universal salvation must be true because I want it to be true.” The appeal to emotion does not characterize the theologians and philosophers whose views I have presented on this blog over the past three years.

            Liked by 1 person

      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        “Orthodox theology doesn’t seem to have gotten much further than that.”

        It is quite developed I would think. The overriding principle is tradition, which includes scripture, the councils, hymnography, the saints, liturgy, iconography.

        As to interpretation of dogma, the Councils are, in part at least, such. Perhaps Tradition en toto can be seen as such.

        My understanding is that the authority of the Councils, i.e. their status as ecumenical, derives from several factors that come to mind: scope of post facto acceptance, status and representation of participants, subject and importance of pronouncements.

        “All she needs to do is dogmatically declare that Orthodox believers may not teach and believe” – It is not so simple – such a purported dogma would have to be confirmed to be, and accepted as being faithful to the Apostolic tradition by the Church catholic.

        Like

        • Peregrinus says:

          Interpretations of such kind also need to be interpreted. The devil of infinite deferral is not so easy to outsmart.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Haha! Exactly. I have no idea how one escapes the hermeneutical circle

            Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            It would be an infinite deferral if epistemological certainty is operative – but such turns out to be an delusional exercise to dispense of faith.

            Like

          • Peregrinus says:

            It’s not a matter of certitude so much as signification. If a proposition is presumed to mean anything at all, meaning is deferred through the medium of interpretation. From a theological vantage, this is what Tradition inevitably becomes. It is why Tradition cannot be treated as an authoritative source in a heteronomous sense, but is rather descriptive of the performance of hermeneutical exercise than of the content of revealed truth in itself.

            Liked by 1 person

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Peregrinus,

            Right, to wit the notion of “handing down” as on ongoing contextual process so instrumental in the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. This process is ultimately understood and accepted, in faith, as God-in-our-midst.

            Like

          • Peregrinus says:

            apophaticallyspeaking, God in our midst indeed. Except I would hesitate to describe Tradition as such as a postulate of faith, as if faith covered a minus of warrant, a kind of Kierkegaardian existential resignation or merely the antidote in treating an inevitable epistemic despair. Faith in this imprecatory sense has its place in religious experience, and may inform philosophy in the proper sense, but ought not intrude upon its substance. There is a second, sapiential sense in which we speak of Faith, and it relates to knowledge as movement to repose. Knowledge is repose in the Given, Faith is an extroverted orientation and movement in relation to that which Gives itself; a kind of appetite for infinity. It in this this latter sense which I think Tradition is rather a fruit of faith than vice versa. Tradition (paradosis) is an epektasis of communion, a sobornic motion “peri theon,” analogous to the circular motion of the angels “around God,” to borrow an image from Dionysios. The richness of this image yields a positive content when we consider infinite deferral in an ecclesial context, and necessitates that Tradition be “living and active” in that it is an infinite “peritheonic” progress. This is why the “theology of repetition” that characterizes much modern Orthodox theology, in particular certain spokespersons of the so-called neopalamite school, is thoroughly un-traditional, anti-traditional even. It is also why we have to treat verbal formulations of certain heteronomous structures and institutions like conciliar dogma in a non-absolutist sense, and ought to treat them rather as iconic significations of an inexhaustible and veritable content.

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Good points all, thank you.

            We refer to the Creed as symbol, a placeholder of sorts that points us to that inexhaustible Truth, for which it stands. But it is not to be mistaken for the Absolute, for Truth itself. Same could be said for Holy Scripture, for that matter. I would only hasten to add that non-absolute is not to be mistaken for indistinctness, unreliability, or worse, error.

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Re: Tradition/faith.

            I think of it as a mutual, two-way relation and movement, rather than faith a postulate of Tradition, or Tradition a postulate of faith. A sharp distinction between one direction or another I find misleading and seems to conflict with the Areopagitean vision of circular motion. The point being though, which is yours, that Tradition is a movement and not a static absolute.

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          • Peregrinus says:

            apophaticallyspeaking, thanks for the helpful comments. You touched on, I think, what I meant to communicate through the circular imagery. However I do believe we can speak of a forward motion (I guess a spiraling) which does entail a kind of aeviternal progress.

            Regarding the “symbolic” nature of dogma, I agree wholeheartedly. Theological language is sacramental and does not lend itself to demythologization. They are, like icons, windows into eternity. Too often in theological discourse the dogmas are treated as a kind of glass ceiling, dense and significant but untouchable and uninterpretable, shutting down theological debate as Fr Aidan observes. This needs to be acknowledged as an abuse of dogma and a gnosomachic intellectualist Origenism – positing that the only kind of motion is motion *away* from the All, rather than further into it.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          apophaticallyspeaking (love your comments, by the way), you write: “It is quite developed I would think. The overriding principle is tradition, which includes scripture, the councils, hymnography, the saints, liturgy, iconography.”

          One does find some great stuff on Holy Tradition (I’m thinking at the moment of Lossky and Florovsky); yet what one does not find is sustained reflection on how we deal with contentious theological and ethical questions, i.e., the hermeneutics of dogma. The practical consequence is premature closure of debate in the name of Tradition.

          Like

  8. Peregrinus says:

    There’s an interesting commonality in the authors you mention above, besides rejecting universalism, and it might all just be coincidental… but they are all associated in some way with Ancient Faith Radio, which is rather pronounced in its post-Protestant content and ethos. Not that that applies to the arguments in question — I just find the common denominator interesting.

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    • The vast majority of Ancient Faith-ers who speak on this topic are squarely in the infernalist camp, but there are a few Ancient Faith bloggers and podcasters, such as Fr. Stephen Freeman, Fr. Michael Gillis, and Eric Jobe who are more sympathetic to the universalist hope.

      Like

  9. Tom says:

    In the ‘Morality of Gehenna’ piece Fr Lawrence says:

    “In Orthodoxy, the consensus of the Fathers is authoritative.”

    I’m a non-Orthodox looking in, but this seems wrong. If it’s indeed authoritative in the sense Fr Lawrence seems to mean it (i.e., in the sense of ruling something out of bounds), it’s authoritative for all, in which case you’d have unanimity, not a consensus. A consensus only guides/directs with authority as a consensus, which means it doesn’t end conversation regarding the subject matter in question. It’s authority as a consensus would be to preclude any one view in question from dismissing any other as not compatibly orthodox. And so it seems that Fr Lawrence is the one violating the authority of consensus by insisting upon unanimity.

    Tom

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      …from dismissing any other view as *not* compatibly orthodox. (For Fr Aidan & Brian!)

      Like

    • Peregrinus says:

      The consensus patrum thesis has some epistemological issues. What constitutes consensus as opposed to unanimity is only the beginning of our woes if this is what we claim as a bedrock from which to derive authoritative propositions as true or false. It gets even more difficult if the consensus includes propositions which are demonstrably false (as is the case in most situations when juxtaposing Orthodoxy theology over and against the proverbial “West”).

      Authority in Orthodox epistemology is much more of a phronetic matter, and is both extremely flexible but also historically contingent enough to cause a good deal of anxiety to the more probing enquirer. The reality is that nothing is authoritative in Orthodoxy except for Orthodoxy – the authority lies in the tautology, which only serves to invalidate the question. Certitude of boundaries is not the goal so much as a common witness to the realities which pertain to our salvation.

      Such is my understanding, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Eric Jobe says:

      Also, the consensus patrum is a rather recent idea, if I am not mistaken. It is difficult to say that such a consensus could be authoritative, because a consensus of that sort requires interpretation, which is subject to dispute, not to mention that anything that is “authoritative” must have some means of enforcing that authority. In my opinion, the consensus patrum is not something that is capable of itself being authoritative. Only a governing body can be authoritative. The consensus patrum, if adduced correctly, can be a criterion for authoritative statements, but it itself is simply a proposition about this or that. Propositional knowledge cannot be authoritative unless an external body imposes it upon a community as a criterion of being in the community. E.g., the Holy Trinity is not authoritative. The dogmatic decision of Nicaea about the Holy Trinity is authoritative.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Peregrinus says:

        Well said, Eric. I agree. I think the unraveling of the Anglican experiment is one example of how the consensus patrum model can serve as a criterion but cannot provide the same indelible rock of authority as a living magisterum (not necessarily in the Roman Catholic sense) precisely because the need to interpret the data interposes itself between us and authoritative propositions.

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Yes Tom, your take on that is correct. Not having read the context of Fr Lawrence comment, but it is at face value an oversimplification which lends itself to error.

      If however, by “consensus” Fr Lawrence means the Ecumenical Councils, then he would be correct.

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      “In Orthodoxy, the consensus of the Fathers is authoritative.”

      I do not object to this statement by Fr Lawrence, though I question it can carry the kind of theological weight that he wishes to put on it (for all the reasons folks have already mentioned in this thread). If a patristic consensus can be identified (what qualifies as a consensus? unanimity? majority?), then it clearly needs to be received with the utmost seriousness, as enjoying a relative degree of authority within the Church.

      But Fr Lawrence apparently wants this consensus to function dogmatically, as a way of defining doctrinal boundaries and defintitively excluding false teaching (and therefore false teachers). The first question that comes to my mind is, does a consensus exist within the Orthodox Church that patristic consensus establishes dogma. And the answer to this is clearly no. To quote just one Orthodox theologian:

      Christian doctrine can claim infallibility only if it is faithful to the dogmas decreed by the councils. Many theologians have confused the teaching of the Fathers with the dogmas of the Church. You hear it said that because some particular Father taught a doctrine, that it cannot be mistaken, but this is not so. For the teaching of a Father to acquire real authority, it must be confirmed by the experience of the saints, in the furnace of the ‘fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ and made explicit in the ruling of an ecumenical council. (Lectures in Christian Dogmatics, p. 15)

      Zizioulas could be wrong, of course. I cite him only as evidence that a consensus does not exist that consensual teaching alone establishes dogma.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, I was wondering if you could restate your comment about consensus and unanimity. I suspect I have misunderstood you.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        Sure. (Very helpful Zizioulas quote too. Thank you!)

        I was taking ‘consensus’ to refer to general or widespread agreement but less than unanimity. If you have 100% agreement on an issue, the question of consensus wouldn’t arise (not in this sort of context). If there’s consensus, there’s unanimous agreement to tolerate certain differences of opinion. And a “consensus” has authority in just this sense, it forbids exiling difference of opinion.

        Tom

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  10. Connie says:

    Eric, I respect your desire to tone down emotional and/or “authoritative” rhetoric on both sides of this issue. But there is still a massive amount of misunderstanding among “ECTers” over what Christian universalism really asserts and it needs to be corrected. And one of those mistaken notions is your belief that universalists don’t take in properly the “Biblical rhetoric of divine punishment.” Just read George MacDonald’s The Last Farthing or his Consuming Fire. It may surprise you how much more seriously he takes the wrath of God than Lewis’s “the door is locked from the inside” does. Weeping and gnashing of teeth play a very marked, rather horrifying role in the bigger picture of universal salvation.

    Also, I would submit that just participating in the love that God has for ALL His children does give at least some of us the confidence that His will will be accomplished and His love will reach all people, and it gives us the further conviction that the universalist passages in Scripture are true. We know we can’t convince by rhetoric those who are convinced otherwise because our belief begins as a deeply experiential conviction. But it is necessary for someone (and who better than Fr Aidan!) to show that it is okay to have this conviction as a personal hope and remain Orthodox. The attempt to squelch that hope is simply not right. No one is asking to teach this as dogma. But it is inexpressibly sad that such a glorious hope is being so trampled upon. And this needs to be addressed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eric Jobe says:

      Connie, respectfully, I did not say that universalists do not take properly the biblical rhetoric of divine punishment. Quite the opposite! I claimed that the so-called “infernalist” position, which advocates a “soft” hell of divine love perceived as torture, does not.

      Like

      • Connie says:

        Thank you, Eric. I see my mistake now. Later when you mentioned that “both sides” ignore Biblical rhetoric, I equated it in my memory with what you said earlier about wrath. I really should not be jumping into these more erudite discussions!

        Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Connie, you should always jump into these discussions! You were absolutely correct to emphasize that it is our participation in the love of the Father that gives us “confidence that His will will be accomplished and His love will reach all people, and it gives us the further conviction that the universalist passages in Scripture are true.” Yes, yes, yes! Sometimes this fundamental truth gets lost in these “erudite” discussions.

          Like

          • Connie says:

            Dear Father, this means a lot to me. I would jump in more if I could. Unfortunately, as you know, I don’t seem to have that philosophical bent (or interest) that so many people here do. But in spite of sometimes being unable to follow the theological or philosophical points made here at this site, I confess I am like a bear protecting her cubs when it comes to the unfailing universal love of God.

            Liked by 2 people

  11. Connie says:

    Fr Aidan, thank you so much for this. I submitted myself to the torture of reading those blog posts. I don’t mean that disrespectfully to Fr Lawrence, who is truly trying to defend what he thinks is the consensus of the Church. But what a depressing task he has set himself! For me at least, his “clear teaching of Scripture” takes the heart and glory right out of the Gospel. God is so much bigger than that! We are counting on you, dear Fr Aidan, in your own honest and fair way, to show another “clear teaching of Scripture” 🙂 that doesn’t dismiss the multitude of Scriptural passages that indicate a final restitution of all things. Not to put any pressure on you or anything. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. One subtopic in this debate that, IMO, doesn’t receive enough attention is whether ECT is “chooseable.” I’ve always found the idea that ECT is something that can be chosen to be more absurd than the belief that God punishes us whether we like it or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eric Jobe says:

      That is another way of saying that no one can actually choose evil, only relative good that is imperfectly understood. It does bring up a good point, where the orthodoxy of so-called “infernalism” depends entirely, I would assert, on the absolute freedom of the will, absolute meaning that the free choice of the individual is allowed to stand absolutely in eternity. If this is true, then ECT is not something that is chosen but that is imposed upon a choice for a lesser good. This lines up with what I wrote above about the unbiblical nature of the “soft” view of hell, that its “doors are locked from the inside” or that it is the love of God experienced differently. The nature of ECT being imposed by God is the clearest sense of biblical discourse, if we were to confine ourselves to authoritative texts. This however, would be a violation of free will the same as “imposing” salvation upon the wicked. I am open to discussing problems with this line of reasoning if anyone out there can find any holes in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. luca says:

    Thank you again for running this debate. From a catholic perspective, I googled the john paul II catechesis on hell. It is interesting that i’ve found two versions, which differ just on the universalist hope issue: point 4, second par.
    the first version says, sadly just in italian, that we don’t know if anyone and who will be damned.
    http://www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/magazine/documents/ju_mag_01101999_p-16_it.html

    the second version scraps the “if”: it is not granted to us, without special divine revelation, to know which human beings
    http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/it/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999.html

    i don’t know if you mentioned the liturgical argument anywhere else, but since we pray that everybody will be saved… then i guess we are allowed at leat to hope that our prayers may be fulfilled.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jonathan says:

    This idea that, as Eric Jobe puts it, “no one can actually choose evil, only relative good that is imperfectly understood,” has always troubled me. Or rather, I’m troubled because I can’t believe it.

    I think of Aaron, in Titus Andronicus, declaring

    I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
    I should repent the evils I have done:
    Ten thousand worse than ever yet I did
    Would I perform, if I might have my will;
    If one good deed in all my life I did,
    I do repent it from my very soul.

    More famously from the Shakespearian canon there’s the character of Iago in Othello, who is generally agreed to be “evil for the sake of evil.” Okay, so these are fictional characters. To my way of thinking, that in no way demotes the reality at stake. Anyway, I’ve met their real-life counterparts. And a handful of times, I’ve been them. I’m talking about deliberately doing what you know to be wrong and possibly harmful while the good option is not only obvious to you but feasible, maybe even the easier and more clearly beneficial or less risky thing to do (or refrain from doing). The RCC seems to retain a basic understanding like this when it defines “mortal sin” as involving “grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate consent.” Is there something comparable in the Orthodox tradition?

    I’m not trying to argue against the description of evil as privatio boni. I get that and am persuaded by it. But why does this description of evil lead so easily to a sugar-coated picture of the world? Neither the world nor fiction are populated exclusively by people who mean well but get it wrong sometimes. Not by a long shot. That privation of the good — that is something we can choose. To me this is inarguable, both in the sense that I can’t imagine myself being persuaded to the contrary and that I don’t know how to argue for it other than to point to my experience of life and everything I’ve read that seemed to be grounded in the gritty concrete matter of life, the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” as Yeats called it, rather than in speculation, i.e. literature rather than philosophy and theology. I’m not saying this kind of evil is commonplace — I think mostly we muddle through and make mistakes, get confused — but it is general.

    I could be completely misreading Cameron’s objection to the idea of consciously choosing eternal hell (or what the subject in question has been taught entails eternal hell), in which case: mea culpa. Anyhow, I don’t fear that this interpretation of morality impinges on universalism. I’m not trying to argue against that either. But the inability to choose evil? I just can’t go along, no matter how hard I try. Is anyone else in the same boat?

    Like

    • Eric Jobe says:

      It’s not that a person cannot choose evil, but that a person cannot knowingly chooses evil for evil’s sake, for in any actual evil choice, the evil is chosen because it is perceived to be good. It’s a sort of logical technicality and thus perhaps not very satisfying.

      Like

      • Jonathan says:

        I get that spin on it. But I’m talking about deliberate, conscious choice, like what the RCC talks about in terms of mortal sin. I’m not saying the logic’s unsatisfying, I’m saying it’s unbelievable, unless one defines “the good” as “whatever I desire and act to obtain.”

        I’ve brought up this issue here before, and in other philosophy- or theology-themed venues, and it never gets much traction. But when I talk about it with writers, or with certain Catholic friends, we’re all pretty much on the same page. So this is interesting to me.

        Like

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Jonathan,

          Is not the good so defined as “whatever one desires and acts to obtain” precisely what is denoted by “relative good”? It is a meaningful distinction, and certainly believable IMO based on my own experience. Isn’t it also true that holiness (to become God-like) can be understood to be an alignment of the creaturely desire and will, with the will and “desire” of God?

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          • Jonathan says:

            I’m totally with you on the holiness part. Not sure that’s how I understand “relative good.” There is a distinction in the good, to be sure. As for me, though, I’m quite sure I’ve done things that do not even merit the name of “relative good.” It has to do, in part, with moral norms to which one assents, and which one might easily and happily fulfill, while pursuing instead either what you want to call relative good or what I would call (at least in some circumstances) deliberately chosen evil. Saying that the evil in this world is, at worst, people mistaking relative good for absolute good — for me this is inadequate. But mistakes about relative good are indeed where a great deal of suffering and sorrow comes from, in part because they have a cumulative and multiplicative effect.

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            A few additional thoughts, hopefully of use:

            I would not downplay relation here – “deliberately chosen evil” is judged to be evil by virtue (pardon the pun) of its relation to the good.

            Relative good is used philosophically and not a means to call good evil, and evil good. It is not used to lessen the evil, but rather to put it in perspective (i.e. relation) of the absolute good.

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          • Jonathan says:

            It is useful, and I appreciate the response. A couple of thoughts:

            While I think I understand the dependence of evil on good (the inverse not holding) and the usage and importance of “relative” here, I think it can lead to obfuscation, because it’s hard to see what in this life would not be a relative good — among our consciously pursued goals, I mean. There’s more than a difference of degree between cold-blooded murder and, say, failing to properly reprimand your teen for getting drunk (either by excess or negligence).

            But having said that, I think that what preoccupies me is the “deliberate” part more than the question of whether the chosen end is properly classed as a “relative good” or something else. Again, I point to the Catholic formula about mortal sin. You can’t be coerced into a mortal sin, it has to be deliberately undertaken. If you’re coerced then you’re partially off the hook. And in order for it to be a sin it has to be. . . well, a sin of grave matter, something that it would never be good to do, something that may even “cry to heaven for vengeance” in the old terrifying phrase. It’s probably “technically” supposed to, yet I don’t see how this fits in with “relative good.” But it’s the deliberation bit that is in this case quite literally damning — according to the Catholic model. I’m not speaking for or against it, just trying to get into the implied view. Incidentally, this kind of thing matters hugely in criminal court, too.

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Isn’t even our very best only but relative good? “Why callest thou me good?” Jesus asked. But I do not think that Christ thereby erased distinctions of culpability.

            Universal salvation does not necessitate the leveling of all evils, making each offense as egregious as the other; neither does it necessitate the elimination of punishment altogether.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Yes indeed, our very best is only relative good. Only God is good. That’s just it. I’m not saying our very best isn’t relative good. I’m saying our very worst isn’t.

            I don’t in any way think universalism levels all evils or implies a lack of punishment. I’m not at all arguing against universalism when I lay out my confusion over the metaphysical assertion that it is impossible to deliberately choose evil. Although it must be significant that this confusion (for people like me) has a tendency to arise in discussions of universalism. One thing I fear for the rhetoric of universalism is a too roseate metaphysics. The concepts of mortal sin and malice aforethought are two prominent instances where I think “relative good” becomes an empty signifier.

            But if people are content with “relative good,” I don’t want to rock the boat.

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      • Hi Eric,
        The action or situation is perceived to be good for themself at the expense of, or at least with no consideration for the good of the other.
        That is why evil is evil.
        Blessings.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Let me throw this quote from Herbert McCabe into the mix:

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

      Liked by 1 person

    • brian says:

      Jonathan,

      One of William Desmond’s useful (to me, at least) philosophical terms is the erotic sovereign. This is that level of human development that seeks the full flourishing of being by a transcending that ultimately flows back towards the completion of self. The erotic sovereign is capable of great things (heroes, knights, great artists can come from this ardent daring.) However, this kind of striving effort which by the scope of its imagination tends to break past conventional platitudes, mediocre aims, the world of utility and “just so” following of rules has an implicit limit and a dangerous equivocity.

      The limit is that this kind of heroism begins from lack and while it can and often does think of the good of the other, ultimately it subsumes the good of the other into the project of self-completion. Hence, it lacks the radical generosity of agapeic love that can and does will the good of the other simply for the sake of the beautiful, unique, irreplaceable other. Now, this agapeic reach is also connected to an original plenitude. It is purely the divine that can love like that; creatures that come from nothing cannot do so by nature, but as persons elevated by grace into divine life, it becomes possible. In this life, of course, we are mixed creatures and it is even more complicated, in my view, for the agapeic can contain in its own way the real goods of erotic striving.

      So, having “placed” the scope and limit of erotic striving, to the danger, which is meant to directly (after all this) touch on your quandary. As one can see in a figure like Nietzsche or the imagined hero “beyond good and evil” that Dostoevsky’s Raskalnikov hopes to become, the erotic sovereign experiences a rush of perceived freedom in transcending moral limits that are felt to be conventional, constraining, regulative habits that actually prevent a glorified apotheosis or beautiful darkness that is aristocratically beyond the low and servile pettiness of, say, the shopkeepers, lick-spittle religious folk, all the narrow, shrewd herd that play it safe and gift lofty names to their ignoble calculation. I think at some level of conscious or it may be less developed, subconscious motivation, the most perverse and loathsome actions are at least in their immediacy perceived to be a breaking of restrictive taboos or a destruction of the good that is somehow an offense to the perpetrator of wickedness. Even if one gives some allegiance to conventional categories of good and evil, one can experience the lure and plunge into evil as “liberating” or “scratching an itch, assuaging desires from monstrous depths one cannot bring into the light.” Still, can one not see that then what is sought is in one sense or another always understood as “good for me,” even if it is conflicted, which it may not be?
      In short, even if evil is baldly chosen, it is evil taken as my good, not my evil. And if one is masochistic or thinks one’s destruction or self-torture or wounding is somehow right, just, or pleasurable, it’s impossible to get away from the intrinsic connection between choice and a transcendental attachment to the Good.

      I certainly do not have any kind of roseate view of human nature. I am naturally a misanthrope and a melancholic, whilst also being a romantic, a poet, and one who hopes in Christ. In my view, the gospel simply is universal in scope if it is true at all. But as you say, this does not commit one to blindness to the breadth and viciousness of evil in human beings and in the world.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Thanks for taking the time to respond, Brian. You write of an “intrinsic connection between choice and a transcendental attachment to the Good.” I’ll have to think about that.

        I think what’s tripping me up is the category of malice, as understood legally and, I believe, by the Catholic Church. Malice isn’t just about the bad thing you choose to do. Malice also implies an available good: available because it is known to the perpetrator, and something he could accomplish in lieu of the bad thing he in fact does. In other words, what’s involved is a wider context than simply what goes down in the psyche. Psychologically, yes, we can define good as the erotic object. Whatever I want, by virtue of my wanting it, becomes a good at least to me. But an action or event takes place in more than just the soul of the agent. There is also his rational mind and his cultural circumstances. When you stand in chains before a man wearing a black robe, it’s not because you have faulty desires. It’s because you’ve broken a law to which you are understood to have given tacit consent. What does this mean? It means that at some point you consciously chose to commit a crime which you knew was a crime and were not forced to commit. If your counsel says to the judge, “You see, he knew it was wrong in the absolute sense, but he just really, really wanted that man dead, for him it was the highest good” — it ain’t gonna work. Not with the judge. Christ will bring you to paradise with him, but the Romans will crucify you. And here’s the kicker: We all believe that’s how it should be. As it is with the law of the land, so it is presumed to be with so-called natural law.

        The French have an expression, “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.” To understand all is to forgive all. I think it comes from Madame de Stael. To which I say: Yes, exactly, that is Jesus on the cross to the thief. But there are moments when it seems impossible. Historically, the attitude of Christian culture is the attitude that says to the felon, just before the headsman’s axe falls, “May God have mercy on your soul.” And it was said in sincerity, not as a cheap rhetorical trick to get the state off the hook for being mean. We feel trapped in this lower world. Hopefully God will sort things out in eternity, but down here on Earth, we have to kill the bugger. That is the historical attitude. It has changed somewhat in the last half century. A great many people, including Christians of all sorts, no longer support the death penalty, for instance. I’m not trying to stake out a position. Just meditating in a clumsy way on how we perceive evil. I guess the short of what I’m saying is that when metaphysics talks about relative good, this to me feels cut off from the full context of human actions. How as Christians we deal with this context is an endless question. You bring up Crime and Punishment. That book ends with a vision of divine mercy. Raskolnikov experiences repentance and regeneration. But he does it in Siberia, serving his time. As a matter of fact I think that’s the perfect image for me to end on, just the contradiction I’m pointing to. Why must crime be punished if indeed understanding — divine knowledge of the human heart — means forgiveness?

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        • That’s exactly the point, Jonathan;
          There are 2 views; that the person who is without complete love (and who isn’t this person?) must be made to suffer or that God’s “justice” restores all.
          In my opinion the second is the only view I can (at the moment) give credence to.
          Why God allows (intends?) this current imperfect condition of His creation I cannot answer apart from maybe it is only by seeing our need for Him and His perfect love for us demonstrated in Christ’s passion that we can truly know/ experience/ feel it to be true? (but If so I strongly believe that the timescale for the apprehension of this revelation is not restricted to the time our current bodies survive for.)
          God wants good for all and ONLY He can deliver it for ANYONE.
          I cannot see how anyone cannot hope for (and therefore believe in) the salvation of all despite all the proof texts to the contrary that people for whatever reason want to use to support a contrary reality.
          Many blessings.

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        • brian says:

          Jonathan,

          I know we have had these discussions before and I have to confess, there’s still some kind of disconnect. I don’t think the argument about the necessary connection between willing and the Good is primarily psychological. It is metaphysical, something inescapably true. People can choose crime, can knowingly choose an evil path, but in doing so, they think that doing so is expedient, desirable, or justified at some level. All sin at some level is delusion. It doesn’t matter if someone says, “Look, I see options. I could do what I think is good, but here, I choose this evil act, even if it is inconvenient or more difficult or painful or humiliating or has no benefit. Maybe I choose it precisely because it is irrational or mean or destructive or vile.” Dostoevsky’s Underground Man was neuralgic, conflicted, and deeply aware that sometimes it is a pleasure to assert one’s will by choosing what does not make sense.

          Culpability is impossible to fully determine from the resources of human discernment and the person is always already inextricably tied to at its largest, the entire cosmos from origin to eschaton. Still, there are, of course, all kinds of malicious acts and because men do evil, there is a necessary prudent recourse to court systems and prisons. There is also a natural repugnance to grave evil and nothing about the relation of the natural will to the Good is meant to repudiate that or to absolve persons of responsibility. Whatever the value of retributive justice, the person is still marked by his or her choices. Forgiveness is not as Luther conceived it, for instance, an imputation where “the snow covers the dunghill.” One is not meant to be a dunghill and divine healing involves ontological transformation. I’m not sure if this will help and it is slightly tangential perhaps, but below is something I wrote to Tom in another thread that may further add to your meditations on this subject:

          Asserting that our being is ground transcendentally in the Good or that incomprehensions and delusions regarding the Good are healed by an apocalyptic vision of the Good does not mean that the eradication of evils automatically removes every and any effect of our journey in time. Seeing the Good clearly would also include seeing the immense gulf between our character and actions and the full flourishing of our being as God desires. Choosing the Good (even in a cloudless sky) will require choice, action, in a word, effort. It isn’t the equivalent of magic or a transfiguration that simply ignores the specifics of our unique journeys. (On the other hand, our unique journeys are always already caught up with the unique journeys of the entire community of being, so one is always asked to make a complex and paradoxical judgement of these things.)

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          • Jonathan says:

            Alas, it is so, there is a disconnect. The fault lies with me. I’m with Ezra Pound when he writes, “I am not a demigod, I cannot make it cohere.” I have two charts of the same territory and they little resemble each other. I would marry this discourse to that, but they will have nothing of each other, not so much as a friendly glance. I have so much difficulty fitting Christ and his inescapable truths into a world that seems to escape him at every turn — and yet it is that very escape that leads back to Christ. The situation is a parallax. The best I can do is try to find, through reflection, some consolation of beauty in its infinite complexity.

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  15. Stephen says:

    Add to you list, Fr, of modern theologians, the most recent podcast by Fr. John Whiteford entitled “The Undying Worm and the Unquenchable Fire”. Having heard other things from Fr. John, I don’t need to listen to it to figure out his viewpoint. Somehow “infernalist” can’t quite help themselves. Some or many must go to hell fire or God isn’t God. It’s like they relish the thought.

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    • Karen says:

      Stephen, I’m not sure I’d call Fr. John a “theologian.” (Only three in Orthodox history have merited this as a formal title, after all.) He’s a Priest, and I believe a good and faithful one. It may seem like those who feel the need to emphasize the finality and truth of eternal punishment “relish the thought”, but I think upon any deeper, more honest reflection, we can see what really drives Priests like Fr. John are: 1) they believe hell as ECT is Orthodox dogma, and 2) they are concerned that if this is not clearly taught, many who might otherwise have done so will fail to repent.

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    • Cameron Davis says:

      If someone wishes to defend ECT, then so be it, but it’s defenders really need to stop making arguments that have been shown time and time again to be disingenuous and historically and logically problematic.

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  16. Why can’t we trust God’s Word solely from the Holy Scriptures, instead of 5th century theologians such as Augustine–who declared that “he didn’t know biblical Greek and had no desire to learn it”, and his reliance on a faulty Latin translation that used the Latin word “aeternium”=”eternal” (maybe, in beginning Latin meant series of “seculuri”-ages?) instead of Biblical Greek words–aion, aionon– meaning age, ages? This and the “Jerome conspiracy”, I believe, is what got started the false doctrine of an “eternal” hell. In addition to that Augustine’s several years of belonging to the heretical Manichean gnostic sect’s teaching of “an eternal duality of good and evil” may have affected Augustine’s beliefs. Finally, the practice of the “doctrine of reserve” (reserve biblical truths for the esoteric scholarly few, and teach something contrary to the masses, for fear that the truth would lead the pagans to sin more and commit more crimes in the Empire) was widely practiced in that era. The Literal Translation of the Bible makes it perfectly clear that “God WILL have all mankind to be saved and come to the FULL knowledge of the Truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), “God is the Savior of ALL MANKIND, especially those that believe” (1 Timothy 4:10), “That God will ultimately reconcile His fallen creation, by the blood of His Cross” (Colossians 1:15-20), “that God will finally recapitulate His fallen creation, at the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times” (Ephesians 1:9-10), “that God will finally subject All to the ‘Footstool of His Feet” (1 Corinthians 15:22-28), “that the creation itself shall finally be delivered from the bondage of corruption unto the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21), and many O.T. passages such as (Isaiah 45:21-25 and Hosea 13:14)! The Holy Scriptures take complete precedent over later theologians, a multitude of church councils, and ‘church traditions’ oven the span of church history!

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  17. brian says:

    Eric,

    It is sometimes hard to find a space to reply to comments. This is in regards to your comments this morning on hope, emotions, hypotheses and the like. I think I see your point. I would not accept simply emotive expressions as an argument. That being said, I think there is something in modernity and it’s conception of reason that is deeply flawed that might be nibbling at the edges of your assertions. (I am not accusing you of being a modern rationalist.) Still, our desires are part of our ontological make-up. Augustine and C. S. Lewis are two notable figures who stress the heuristic value, at least, of desire — and I would be inclined to go further. Eva Brann, for instance, wrote a book called Feeling Our Feelings, that argues for the epistemic and cognitive value of our emotions. Martha Nussbaum in Love’s Knowledge and various other works also makes epistemological claims for emotion. One might recall Pascal and Maritain following him — who speak of a cardiognosis. In The Catholicity of Reason, D. C. Schindler expands the range of reason beyond the discursive operations moderns generally treat as a limit. The critic, Marion Montgomery, liked to draw attention to the medieval distinction between ratio and intellectus. Much of what we call inspiration, the intuitive, and the like would have been understood as part of reason’s broader range prior to intellectual movements that arise in the late medieval, early modern period and reach a crescendo with Enlightenment complacencies.

    One might look at various writers who have drawn a distinction between say, the science of Newton and that of Goethe — or note how Catherine Pickstock talks about the advent of modern mathesis and Galileo. Galileo’s subjectivizing of secondary qualities to a purely private mode rendered them useless as intelligible knowledge, but this is certainly a mistake. If one peruses William Desmond’s Desire, Dialectic, and Otherness, well, indeed, much in his oeuvre is germane here, there is a case for the philosophical value of what is often dismissed as merely emotive. Now, of course, you may not intend any of this and I am sure you have a nuanced take. I am going off of very brief posts. Still, I have made this quick inventory in order to make a gesture at perhaps complicating your argument.

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  18. So I don’t think we can assert with any confidence that everyone is going to be saved, and certainly we have not, throughout Christian history, throughout the history of all denominations until recent centuries, and of course in our Orthodox Church. The assumption has always been that some people are going to spend eternity in torment, because that’s what Jesus says, that there will be an outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There’s got to be somebody there making those noises. It’s not like it’s a “Halloween sounds” cassette. Those noises are being generated by someone in agony, and as horrible as it is to think about, that’s where our faith has always come down, and that we have been under tremendous pressure not to say that in the last few centuries as evident, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still true.
    Fr Kimel,
    As much as I know that Frederica Matthews-Green is quite a knowledgable lady when it comes to the Orthodox Christian faith, it seems she is neglecting something quite significant about the “outer darkness”. The term “outer darkness” first shows up in Matt. 8:5-13 when a centurion comes to Jesus acknowledging Jesus as “Lord” in spite of the fact that this centurion has many under him and one would expect the centurion would not call such a man as Jesus “Lord”. I would vouch “master” in this context is what the centurion means as I am not quite certain the centurion had processed the divinity of Christ in fullness but knew nonetheless that there was something significant about Jesus. Any way, Jesus then contrasts the centurion’s faith with the faith of that of Israel as he asserts that Israel is the very heirs of the kingdom but will be thrown into outer darkness while those showing the faith of the centurion will be dining with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–the fathers of Israel. “Outer darkness” is an eschatological term there is no doubt but Matthews-Green is taking this far too literal. It does not seem to be a Hellish location but rather it seems to be a much lower state in Heaven that the fullness of God is not being quite experienced by these heirs of the kingdom. Heirs of the kingdom in Hell??? Regardless, there is significant exegetical debate centering around what the “outer darkness” actually is.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Outer darkness as a “lower state of heaven”? I’d like to see some corroborating evidence for that, Daniel.

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      • Well regretfully, all of this is speculative theology and as such no corroborating evidence but one of the first books I was given on spirituality (albeit from an Evangelical perspective) touches very briefly upon the “outer darkness”.

        Charles A. Haun specifically in Becoming the Expression of the Father (15-18). Basic sum of his position is that while our works do not save us, they do prepare us for a higher place in Heaven preparing a wedding gown for us. But those who do not do this won’t necessarily be condemned but won’t experience all the kingdom has to offer either.

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