Hula Hoops, Fads, and the Consensus Patrum

Who remembers the hula hoop? Released in 1958 by Wham-O, it swept the country. I was six years old and I had to have one, just like all the other kids in my neighborhood. And not just little kids. Even teenagers embraced the fad. I never became adept at hula-hooping, but I can tell you that my life was enriched immeasurably by just owning one—until the next fad came around. Thank you, Wham-O. Thank you, Mom & Dad.

Why did the hula hoop become popular? It just did. “Nobody creates a fad,” Jim Henson once remarked. “It just happens. People love going along with the idea of a beautiful pig. It’s like a conspiracy.”

Fads also come and go in the theological world, and Scripture warns us to beware of them: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4). Perhaps not all theological fads qualify as heresies, but the fact remains that we sinners find novelty attractive. Who before St Augustine of Hippo believed that God arbitrarily selects some of the massa damnata to be saved, while allowing the rest to continue in an everlasting state of condemnation; yet for hundreds of years Orthodox bishops and priests in the Latin tradition taught this doctrine. We are all susceptible to the itching ear disease. As Karl Barth once quipped (perhaps apocryphally): “The Church is always running after the train that has just left the station.”

Fr Lawrence Farley contends that modern advocacy of the universalist hope represents just another fad in the history of the Church:

When they are in fashion, fads are never recognized as fads. Those under their influence and promoting them feel that they have come across An Important New Truth, or (if Orthodox) An Important But Neglected Part of Our Tradition. Recognizing them as fads or, (worse yet for Orthodox) as deviations from genuine Tradition, would only serve to dismiss them from serious consideration. Thus fads never ’fess up. I suggest that the latest interest in Universalism, the belief that everyone will eventually be saved, is the latest fad (or, if preferred, that it is currently fashionable).

Fr Lawrence concedes that some Christians in the past have proclaimed the ultimate salvation of all, but as with Arianism, “the majority of Christians have decided to pass on it.” Under the guidance of the Spirit the Church refused the temptation of Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa and resolutely affirmed, and re-affirmed, the eternity of perdition. Numerous authorities, Eastern and Western, can be cited to document the existence of a churchly consensus, formulated in the 15 anti-Origenist anathemas problematically attributed to the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Few can be cited as publicly supporting apokatastasis after this council. Perhaps St Maximus the Confessor, but if so only elliptically. Perhaps Dame Julian of Norwich, but did she really intend her “all shall be well” to include the reprobate (scholars disagree)? Within both Orthodoxy and Catholicism the consensual rejection of the universalist hope stood relatively uncontested for over 1300 years. “For centuries,” writes Fr Lawrence, “Orthodox Christians have believed that the doctrine of an ultimate apokatastasis was off the table, and this cannot be ignored.” But then the 20th century arrived, and the universalist hope, so prevalent in the early centuries of the Church, surprisingly re-awakened. Apokatastasis was back on the table.

In 1914 Fr Pavel Florensky published a collection of essays, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth. In his essay “Gehenna,” Florensky affirms the antinomy of eternal damnation and apokatastasis. Because of creaturely freedom we must affirm the possibility that some will irrevocably damn themselves, yet the gospel presses us to affirm universal salvation: “From the point of view of eternity, everything is forgiven, everything is forgotten: ‘God will be all in all’. In brief, the impossibility of universal salvation is impossible” (pp. 153-154). Fr Sergius Bulgakov, who was profoundly influenced by Florensky, would later affirm apokatastasis in even stronger terms in his book The Bride of the Lamb, published posthumously in 1945. When Christ Jesus returns in glory, human beings will find it impossible to resist his judgment and illumination: “A human being cannot fail to love the Christ who is revealed in him, and he cannot fail to love himself revealed in Christ” (p. 459; also see Paul Gavrilyuk, “Universal Salvation in the Eschatology of Sergius Bulgakov“). The universalist hope of Florensky and Bulgakov was continued in the teaching of Paul Evdokimov, Olivier Clément, and Alexandre Turincev.  Clearly these theologians did not believe that the consensual assertion of everlasting damnation enjoys dogmatic authority. Clearly they believed that Orthodox theology is free to reexamine the theological question of universal salvation. And apparently the Orthodox Church agrees, as not one of these men was formally disciplined. More recently, Met Kallistos Ware has also advanced an antinomic version of the greater hope, and he continues to represent the Orthodox Church at the highest levels in ecumenical dialogue. “Those who deny the orthodoxy of Ware’s hope are free to do so,” comments Brad Jersak, “but I will happily hide in the theological folds of his cassock.”

A similar development also occurred in the Roman Catholic Church, though it had to wait a few decades. In the 50s Karl Rahner proposed the possibility that Christians might hope for the salvation of all, but only if they had first attended to the real possibility of damnation. As he would later put it: “The existence of the possibility that freedom will end in eternal loss stands alongside the doctrine that the world and the history of the world as a whole will in fact enter into eternal life with God” (Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 444). But it was Hans Urs von Balthasar who brought the universalist hope to the fore in Catholic theology. Like Rahner, he denies that we may know that all will be saved. Damnation is a real possibility that we ignore at our peril. “We stand completely and utterly under judgment, and have no right, nor is it possible for us, to peer in advance at the judge’s cards” (Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?, p. 166).  Yet despite this existential possibility, not only may we hope for the salvation of all human beings, it is our Christian duty to do so. I deem that Balthasar’s cautious position represents the consensus of Catholic theologians today (see John R. Sachs, “Current Eschatology“), despite recent pushback from Alyssa Lyra Pitstick and Ralph Martin. I am acquainted with only one serious Catholic scholar who has been willing to express a confidence in apokatastasis that goes beyond Rahner and Balthasar, Wacław Hryniewicz. Hryneiwicz has called for a revalorization of hope in the strongest terms. Like David B. Hart, he provocatively challenges the thesis that creaturely freedom limits the ability of God to effect his salvific purposes for the world:

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

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

A deeper understanding of the gift of freedom is able to open new perspectives of universalist eschatological thinking. One can then perceive that God is always present in the very depths of His creatures. A created being is unable to free itself entirely from this immanent presence of the Creator. It may ignore or reject it, but it cannot change the very fact of being created and its dependence in existence on the all-embracing reality of God. This fact already implies a mysterious promise stemming from the indestructible bond between God and each creature. No fault, nor the state of getting completely lost, can destroy this ontological bond. The human being is and will always remain an icon of God, a being who with the help of the Creator is able to overcome all resistance and make the ultimate and irreversible choice of the Infinite Goodness. (“Universal Salvation,” The Challenge of Our Hope, pp. 58-59)

The list of theologians can be multiplied, especially if we were to open up the discussion to include Protestant thinkers. But let me ask, does the rediscovery of the greater hope really sound like a fad? The more one reads the literature, the more one realizes that these theologians are addressing pressing evangelical questions that cannot be dismissed by the mere wave of a dogmatic hand.  As weighty as the theological tradition may seem at this point, we may not responsibly declare that Holy Church has definitively spoken her mind on apokatastasis and the universalist hope.

This brings us back to Fr Lawrence’s assertion that patristic tradition authoritatively excludes the universalist hope. This claim raises many questions. Who determines the content of this consensus, and when does it become dogmatically binding?  How are interpretative and applicational questions resolved? Perhaps most importantly, has the Orthodox Church ever formally imposed upon herself a particular construal of the consensus patrum and its authority?

In an article published last month on the website of the Orthodox Church in America, “The Consensus of the Fathers,” Fr Lawrence explicates the consensus patrum as a rule for theology and proclamation. He is particularly concerned to counter the doctrinal innovations given birth by the Protestant principle of sola scriptura. The consensual tradition provides a bulwark against theological relativism and fads:

A belief in the reliability of the Church’s received doctrine as the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15) is the foundation for a belief in the consensus of the Fathers, for we access the former through the latter. God may indeed guide all the Christians so that it is the consensus fidelium that really counts. But most of the faithful live and die without leaving written records; their consensus therefore lives in the consensus of those who did leave written records—namely the Fathers. Through the broad agreement which the Fathers share we can discern the faith of the Church. To do otherwise is to cast any ultimate certainty to the wind. In the absence of a patristic lens for reading the Scripture we Orthodox are left at the mercy of the loudest voices—either the voice of the latest popular author writing the latest best-seller, or perhaps the voice of the scholar whose theories happen to be currently ascendant in the academic world. But all such popularity fades, as best-sellers are relegated to the dusty shelves of second-hand bookshops, and as one academic theory succeeds another. (my emphasis)

I am more than a bit sympathetic with Fr Lawrence’s concerns. Thirteen years ago I found myself in a crisis of conscience. I was an Episcopal priest who could no longer invite non-Episcopalians into the fellowship of the Anglican Communion. It appeared to me that the Episcopal Church had become a sect whose only dogma was inclusivity. All beliefs and opinions were welcome. No one was required to affirm the constitutive dogmas of classical Christianity. If a Bishop Spong wanted to deny the resurrection of Jesus or the Nicene assertion of the homoousion, that was perfectly acceptable. If a priest wanted to admit the unbaptized to the Eucharist, that was just fine. It finally became clear to me that Anglicanism, like the rest of Protestantism, was incapable of asserting orthodoxy as being anything more than optional—Neuhaus’s Law! As one of my parishioners bluntly told me, dissenting from my teaching on the eucharistic real presence: “Father, we’ve had Anglo-Catholic priests who taught it, and we’ve had evangelical priests who rejected it. Yours is just an opinion. Our next priest will probably teach something else.” She was right.

During my crisis I began to voraciously read the writings of John Henry Newman. Newman was driven by the quest to find a certainty beyond private judgment and beyond the always fallible appeal to antiquity. He found it, so he believed, in the magisterial teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church, an office that has the power to dogmatically define and interpret dogma. Only divine teaching can properly bind the conscience of the human being. Newman’s contemporary, Archbishop Henry Manning, bluntly stated what Newman never said quite so bluntly:

It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church? No individual, no number of individuals can go back through eighteen hundred years to reach the doctrines of antiquity. We may say with the woman of Samaria, ‘Sir, the well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with.’ No individual now has contact with the revelation of Pentecost, except through the Church. Historical evidence and biblical criticism are human after all, and amount at most to no more than opinion, probability, human judgment, human tradition. (The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost, p. 227)

Here is a powerful antidote to modernity, rationalism, liberalism; yet most Orthodox will be loathe to embrace it, requiring as it does an ultramontanist understanding of the papacy. Ironically, some Eastern Christians approximate Cardinal Manning in their invocation of the living experience of the Elders as infallible guides to doctrine.

I understand Fr Lawrence’s appeal to the consensus patrum and his desire to employ it as an infallible touchstone in doctrinal controversy. Many Orthodox join him in this belief and practice. Yet can it reasonably function in the way he desires? Is this the best way to do Orthodox theology? These are questions that need to be explored before we can address traditionalist objections to the universalist hope.

(Go to “Dogma and Doctrine“)

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81 Responses to Hula Hoops, Fads, and the Consensus Patrum

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Fr Aidan, I believe you have touched on the epistemological “nerve” that motivates the contemporary “fad” of evangelical and Protestant conversions to Roman Catholicism / Orthodoxy. When one’s predilection toward heteronomous, conscience-binding certitude is challenged, thus uncovering an abyss of existential angst and exposing the inner flight from freedom, the patient may turn. . . violent.

    Liked by 2 people

    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      I concur wholeheartedly. The fear is that without an absolute, clear, self-evident, infallible magisterium (however constituted – scripture, hierarchy, patristics, and so forth) all truth claims are invalidated. It is to profoundly misunderstand the nature and proposition of Christian faith.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In part, I would say that the modern recovery of the universalist hope does have something to do with responding to modernist objections to the concept of Hell that pre-dominated such as the middle ages.

    Which is not to say it is necessarily heretical but that rather in recent times Christians have been trying various ways to “rationalize” Hell to those who lack the proper rationality to understand the faith in the first place.

    So my question is not whether the universalist hope is a fad per se but whether the rationalization of a theological concept of Hell is the actual fad that has come into existence. I’ve been working through Balthasar’s Love Alone is Credible right now and he mentions how love is not trying to rationalize a theological dogma about Hell. I’m at school and I don’t have the book with me right now but I’ll try to get the exact quote if you’re interested.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. brian says:

    Does consensus end up being what I call a “holy plebiscite”? Does majority opinion simply rule the day? If Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Nineveh are outvoted, do they have to shut up?

    Does taking comfort in tradition mean one does not have to actually consider the implications of revelation? Does it mean, for instance, that a consideration of the nature of Triune God and divine freedom in light of creatio ex nihilo is immaterial because “consensus” means the traditional view cannot be put in question? Does it mean that an understanding of personhood in light of Trinity as the model of personhood or of relation as constitutive to one’s person is rendered unimportant? Is it just simply not worth bothering that the traditional view seems more logically in line with a modern, atomized sense of the individual?

    Is the kind of claim that Hart makes, for instance, that the traditional hell subverts Christology and makes the bliss of the new heavens and earth dependent on the eternally tormented something one need not consider? Can one just sweep deeply thought and heart-felt objections under the rug because, you know, it’s a fad? Is that a truly responsible and intellectually defensible position? Does it take seriously the hearts and minds of those who are troubled by “consensus opinion”?

    Since many aspects of Christology or Trinitarian teaching or soteriology gained more specific articulation through the impetus of various historical crises, is it not possible that there are elements of eschatological reality that are now called to be thought upon with the mind of the Church? At the very least, universalism’s claim that the traditional hell retains elements not consistent with the gospel ought to spur real dialogue and real answers to the objections, not a steady refusal to actually face the arguments with a lazy invocation of shallow novelty.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Consensus patrum needs to be defined, it is too slippery – it can be made to stand for anything, that is to say, it stands for nothing at all.

    I believe that consensus can signify binding meaning only in the primary context of its usage in ecumenicity, that is to say from the seven councils. These councils were post facto recognized as binding, that is say, as reflecting true “ecumenical conciliar consensus.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peregrinus says:

      In that case we’re beholden to a history of text transmission that lacks original autographs. Your New Testament just got that much bigger.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        For the issue at hand, the anathemas attributed to the 5th Ecumenical Council are decisive. But as noted in my May 2015 article, there’s a real question whether the council formally promulgated these anathemas. Do they possess an ecumenical authority in the same way, say, that the Nicene rejection of Arianism does (which had to be clarified by a second council)? Take a look at how Fr Farley treats the council in his cited article.

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Fr Aidan,

          If it can be established that the 5th Council indeed formally agreed upon and issued these anathemas, I would say it would be binding.

          The more important question to me is that what these anathemas mean – i.e. what/do do they anathemize? It is not altogether clear, at least to me, that is in an outright denunciation of UR. It denounces without qualification as heresy the teaching of apokatastasis as return to soul-less, personless, bodiless state. I don’t understand the apokatastasis of Sts. Gregory, Maximus, et al to signify such a meaning at all.

          But maybe I’m wrong, in which case I would like to find out where I am missing it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Apophaticallyspeaking (okay, I have to ask for a first name), at this point I don’t have anything to add to what I have already written. Two points in particular: (1) I have yet to see an argument, much less than a convincing one, that 2 Constantinople promulgated the 15 anti-Origenist anathemas. (2) I agree with you on the challenge of interpretation, which seems to me inescapable.

            Every written text needs to be interpreted, and unless God himself should directly and self-evidently speak, we, as the Church, must interpret. Those who have entered into Orthodoxy in the hopes of evading this challenge have done so under a mistaken assumption.

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          • Eric Jobe says:

            What we need is a good Orthodox philosophy of history and a hermeneutic of history. The problem with the ECs and any notion of them being infallible is that they must be interpreted both historically and linguistically, which is, of course, fallible. Even if we say that they are binding, that binding must bridge the same hermeneutical gap between us and the council. This is yet one more reason why the untimely death of Fr. Matthew Baker was such a tragedy. He was working on this very thing within the context of Florovski (who developed the notion of the neo-patristic synthesis) and the broader scope of the philosophy of history (Hegel, Heidegger, etc.).

            Liked by 1 person

      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        I am referring to the post Apostolic era, which I take Fr Lawrence to refer to as well. That is to say, that if we are to make any meaningful (and faithful) reference to the so-called “patristic consensus” I suggest we can do so only when we refer to that which has been recognized as authoritative, viz. the declarations (and at times the canons) of the Councils. Short of this, refernce to consensus I see as hand waiving, the sort Eric Jobe has referred to in recent comments.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Jobe says:

        Peregrinus! Yes! I’ve been ranting about the same thing of late. We advocate a sola scriptura of sorts without realizing it. We got rid of the “scriptura” but not the “sola,” meaning that the epistemology remained the same, only the scope changed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Peregrinus says:

          It’s why post-protestant neuroses are so at-home in Orthodoxy.

          I might equally commend your comment above re: Orthodox philosophy of history. It is precisely in the realm of philosophy that we are weak — the historic philosophical tradition(s) need to be engaged honestly by Orthodox intellectuals, and dare I say with a certain degree of recklessness and abandon vis a vis the shibboleths of recent (20th century) formulations of what constitutes Orthodox teaching such as neohesychasm – a modernist intrusion if ever there was one. I predict there will be a great many local (because pan-Orthodox unity is not realistic in our day) condemnations of “heretics” before Orthodoxy is to emerge out of its academic-intellectual troglodyte existence – if indeed St Theophan’s prophetic “band of firebrands” is ever to emerge from the shadows of our church’s historic groaning and modern dis-ease (because yes, our Church is ailing, “pressed down but not destroyed” as it were).

          Truth is, the Orthodox Church has lost its epistemic center of gravity because our post-Byzantine sense of identity is so frail. This I take as not entirely a negative thing, by the by. We really shouldn’t have to rely on Roman legal codification to be assured of what we believe and who we are.

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          That is a valid point. What alternative epistemology model(s) do you suggest Eric?

          Like

  5. Andrew says:

    Thank you for another great article, Fr. Aidan.

    The consensus partum regarding eschatological matters seems to have fluctuated over the centuries to say the least!

    For instance, what would Fr. Lawrence make of the fact that most fathers from the first three centuries (Irenaeus, Justin, Cyprian, etc) clearly taught chiliasm, a doctrine which has huge implications for the faith yet after the conversion of Constantine was almost universally derided and discredited?
    What about the fact for from the late 3rd to the mid 5th century the consensus partum seems to have been precisely the universalist hope?

    I like to compare the changing eschatological consensus of the Church and the “revival” of universalist hope in the 20th century with another “revival” which is still problematic in some parts of the Orthodox Church-the “revival” of the laity participating (hearing) the “secret” priestly prayers of the liturgy. After all, the “consensus partum” up until the time of Justinian seems to have been that the prayers should be read aloud. However, from the 6th through the early 20th centuries the practice was for these prayers not to be read aloud. A fundamental change occurred in the liturgical practice of the Church with the revival of these prayers being said aloud and the greater participation of the laity in the Church services and yet this was a break from the “consensus partum” of the preceding 1300 years. I am assuming Fr. Lawrence advocates the saying aloud of the priestly prayers (being a priest in the OCA, correct?) and yet there is no support for this practice in the life of the Church from the 6th-early 20th centuries. What justifies this change? What about lex orandi lex credendi? What justifies the revival of the universalist hope?

    Another couple observations-I find it interesting that the “consensus partum” against the universalist hope only developed after Justinian and specifically because of his influence. After the time of Justinian it became an unacceptable teaching precisely because the imperial power said so. Isn’t it interesting that the revival of the universalist hope (and under this umbrella I would also include the “universalist hope” at the heart of Saint Silouan’s experience) coincides exactly with taking away of the imperial power within the Church-the abdication of Nicholas II. Just a thought.

    Another thought-it is precisely the “consensus partum” that developed after the time of Justinian which St Isaac directly and forcefully challenges in homilies 38-41 in the second part. It is as if St Isaac had this audience in mind when he wrote these homilies. St Isaac in a way is maintaining the “consensus partum” which did exist in the 4th and 5th centuries against the “consensus partum” which developed after the 5th ecumenical council under the influence of the imperial power (which St Isaac did not live under!).

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Tom says:

    “Few can be cited as publicly supporting apokatastasis after this council. Perhaps St Maximus the Confessor…Perhaps Dame Julian of Norwich….”

    Don’t forget Isaac of Nineveh! 😀

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  7. “If, however, it [the soul] 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.”

    Maximus the Confessor, Ambig. 21 1252B (On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, trans. Nicholas Constas, vol. 1, 439)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Are you aware of universalist readings of Maximus regarding such passages? Have you checked out Ramelli’s review of Maximus (pp. 738-757)?

      Liked by 2 people

        • Tom says:

          Whew! Thanks Nate. I’m so glad you cleared that up for me! My shelves were over-crowded before trying to fit Ramelli’s fat-wrong book in anyhow. What a relief. I’ll save room for your scholarship where Ramelli’s was. Who’s your publisher? 😀

          Liked by 2 people

          • Ramelli just throws spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. So she finds anything, particularly in saints, that sounds like universalism. But she ignores the (really, really important) textual issues in the Bible in the verses she uses. She also ignores all the heretics that plainly taught it. She also ignores all the counter arguments against it that appear immediately after the apostles.

            You’re free to disagree with me. But ad hominem attacks do not advance your case.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            I see others are engaging various points with you, so I’ll let this convo go.

            Like

  8. christianhollums says:

    Nathaniel McCallum,

    “God will truly come to be “all in all,” embracing all and giving substance to all in himself, in that no being will have any more a movement independent of God, and no being will be deprived of God’s presence. Thanks to this presence, we shall be, and shall be called, gods and children, body and limbs, because we shall be restored to the perfection of God’s project.”

    -St. Maximus the Confessor
    Ambigua to Thomas 7,1092C. Cited in Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 739.

    Nathaniel what exactly is the purpose of your quote?
    Have you been following the blogs and discussions?

    Perhaps you missed Brad Jersak’s article “Permit Me to Hope”
    https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/permit-me-to-hope/

    It is a bit disheartening to see someone who I know has contributed to many articles, and blogs on ancient faith radio just drop a random quote. It seems to me to miss the entire thread of the conversation and what has been discussed concerning quoting the Fathers in general. Perhaps Nathaniel you could offer us something more than just a random quote unless we are going to play Sola Patristica.

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    • I’m traveling in Europe right now and don’t have time for a more substantial engagement.

      However, in Maximus God is all in all because he embraces all giving it subsistence. But the *mode* of that subsistence is deformed in those who practice evil. This is all clearly laid out in Maximus’ triple ontology of nature (physis), subsistence (hypostasis) and mode (tropos). The only people that think Maximus is a universalist are those who are doing Sola Patristica with the Fathers looking for universalist sounding phrases.

      Those arguing for the “hope” have a much more serious problem in that the universalist view emerges in the gnostics and is fought against consistently from immediately after the apostles.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peregrinus says:

        To be fair, “homoousios” also appears in the gnostics. Hence, in part, its controversial status in the 4th century. That argument requires more hermeneutical leg work.

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        • That is a non-starter. Homoousious wasn’t fought against early on. For instance, Behr believes it also appears in Irenaeus. There is absolutely no problem with a doctrine found both in the Catholics and the gnostics. However, Irenaeus also says this:

          For hereby the Son of God is proclaimed both as being born and also as eternal King. But they shall wish that they had been burned with fire (is said) of those who believe not on Him, and who have done to Him all that they have done: for they shall say in the judgment, How much better that we had been burned with fire before the Son of God was born, than that, when He was born, we should not have believed on Him. Because for those who died before Christ appeared there is hope that in the judgment of the risen they may obtain salvation, even such as feared God and died in righteousness and had in them the Spirit of God, as the patriarchs and prophets and righteous men. But for those who after Christ’s appearing believed not on Him, there is a vengeance without pardon in the judgment.

          – Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 56

          This notion of Christ as eternal King bringing eternal reward and eternal judgment is the foundation of the case for the divinity of Christ in the following centuries where the focus is that if Christ is not divine he cannot bring truly eternal reward as the eternal King. This is abundantly clear in Athanasius and Hillary.

          So the universalist hope appears in the gnostics and Polycarp anathematizes it (7:1, using the Johanine formula) and Irenaeus refutes it, telling us precisely where hope lies (even using the word hope). This scheme is then the foundation of Nicene Christology.

          This is a problem.

          If orthodoxy is not found in Polycarp and Irenaeus as used in Nicea, the whole Christian project has failed and we should go home and spend our time and money doing other things (or at least become Mormons and profess that the apostolic authority ended with John).

          Liked by 1 person

          • brian says:

            Well, Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote well-respected works on Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, and Maximus the Confessor and somehow he absurdly believed that the universalist hope was not rendered obsolete by patristic witness. Beyond that, as I repeatedly emphasize, though the traditionalists just ignore the protest, everyone has a metaphysics. Even those who think they are beyond metaphysics are implicitly importing one. There are metaphysical reasons derived from the gospel that give support to a universalist understanding. It may be that the experience of modernity has heightened the difference between an isolated individualism and personhood in light of Trinity. In that case, the patristic witness could not have focused on an element of truth that became more pronounced later in ecclesial history. We are still called to think and wrestle for the truth. And really, as if the universalist position is unable to celebrate the kingship of Christ or reward only makes sense if there is an eternal hell or to reject the infernal interpretation is to reject tradition outright or to be forced to play tiddlywinks or become Mormons . . .

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          • Brian, as I have found typical among universalists, my actual argument has been completely ignored in favor of hand-wavy appeals.

            Do the gnostics teach universalism? Yes.
            Was it argued against by the post-apostolic Fathers? Yes.
            Was this argument the basis of Nicene Christology? Yes.

            You have not addressed one of these points.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Peregrinus says:

            Nathaniel, for the record I am no universalist. I offer Pascal’s wager as the only rationale as to why I resist the temptation to buy fully into it. That might be morally repugnant, but I consider it a matter of prudence.

            The evidence you offer in support of the traditional understanding is compelling enough if we’re discussing the history of dogma. What I think the evidence does not imply, and this is what I think complicates the issue as it raises the more complicated question of ecclesiastical authority, is that the traditional “infernalist” (call it what you will) position is in fact conscience binding, compulsory, and, as dogma, necessary for salvation thus making apokatastasis plainly heretical. Otherwise its a valid theologoumenon – or is it?

            What say you?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Mike H says:

            Nathaniel,

            As far as I can tell, your initial argument seems to be targeted at Gnosticism in particular. Reading between the lines, you seem to be asserting that universalism is absolutely inseparable from Gnosticism. That ALL forms of universalism are nothing more than Gnosticism in disguise. You then argue that the post-apostolic Fathers and ultimately the Nicene Creed argue against Gnosticism. As your argument goes, if you condemn Gnosticism then you condemn universalism.

            Is this an accurate representation of your argument?

            But without establishing that universalism and Gnosticism are one and the same thing, there is very little to address in your argument because you’re knocking down straw men.

            Merely asserting that “Gnostics taught universalism” proves nothing other than….. “the Gnostics taught universalism” (and I’m quite certain there is variety within Gnostic thought). Prior to even getting to points 2 & 3, you’d need to provide demonstrable proof that all forms of universalism are absolutely inseparable from Gnosticism, that there are no forms of universalism that exist outside of Gnosticsm. Not a supportable assertion IMO.

            Is that ultimately your argument, that universalism was invented by the Gnostics, and is inseparable from it? If that’s not your assertion, then your 1st point holds no weight. If that IS your assertion, then I’m certain there are folks ready to discuss that.

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          • Mike H,

            That is not my argument. Universalism and gnosticism are different. However, gnostics were universalists. This means universalism appeared from the beginning. From the beginning, the church taught against *universalism* as it appeared in the gnostics. Then again as it appeared in Origen. Then again as it appeared in the Pelagians. Then again as it appeared in the Nestorians. Then again as it appeared in Evagrius. Then again as it appeared in Italus. Get the point?

            All heresies reappear in different forms. If the church continues to consistently teach against them whenever and wherever they appear since the time of the apostles, that is called the deposit of faith.

            Like

          • Mike H says:

            Nathaniel,

            Appreciate the clarification.

            So if the reference to Gnosticism in your 1st statement isn’t guilt by association (as it clearly appears to be), what’s the reason to reference it? If you’re simply trying to infer that Gnosticism is THE heretical movement which gave birth to the heretical idea of “apokatastasis” (nobody had EVER conceived of it before the Gnostics) but that apokatastasis has no essential connection to Gnosticism, then I’ll just skip over the 1st component of the argument. Gnosticism itself is separate and has only an incidental bearing on the universalist argument, per your own words, so I’ll move on.

            So you’re ultimately just arguing that “universalism has been condemned” – patristically (#2) and per Nicene Christology (#3).

            Straight forward. But in that case, I don’t know how you could possibly say that your argument is being ignored in favor of “hand-wavy appeals”. Ummm, it’s being discussed quite fervently. Not every comment addresses this specific issue, but my goodness. There are many, many people debating the nature of authority and what exactly had been condemned, (separate from any biblical, theological, or philosophical arguments). You obviously don’t agree with the arguments, but to assert that the “typical universalist” flat out ignores them is demonstrably false.

            Liked by 1 person

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Nathaniel,

            How is it in your understanding that Nicene Christology specifically condemns UR?

            Like

      • christianhollums says:

        Nathaniel,

        Let me give you the full quote from Amb. 7,1092Cff in context Maximus is relating to 1 Cor. 15:28 a text concerning the Resurrection of the dead

        “God will truly come to be “all in all,” embracing ALL and giving substance to ALL himself, in that NO BEING will have any more a movement independent of God, and NO BEING will be deprived of God’s presence. Thanks to this presence, we shall be, and shall be called, gods and children, body and limbs, because we shall be restored to the perfection of God’s project.”

        Interestingly enough according to Sebastian Brock’s Syriac biography it is reported that Maximus received his spiritual education in a monastery of “Origenists” in Palestine.

        I like that you bring up Maximus’s ontology but you seem to skim over a very important part concerning his ontology (Maybe you are to busy in Europe). Namely the ontology of Evil as non-being which is in fact the main metaphysical pillar of apokatastasis (Universal Restoration). In the eyes of Maximus death is a providential gift from God and Fr. John Behr hints at this too in his work “The Mystery of Christ”. Death or non-being is in fact a unnatural natural consequence of evil according to Maximus. In Amb.71,1412D: “the first and the last realities are alike; moreover, they really are, whereas the intermediate realities pass away.” Now, in Amb. ad Thom.5,1048B Maximus declares that in the ἀρχή “sin did not belong to human nature”; therefore, neither will it in the end. According to Maximus our salvation is a restoration to a condition free of passions and sins. What is interesting is that no where does Maximus state that the sinful condition is an eternal condition and in fact he states quite the opposite ontologically which you seem to negate when you bring up ontology. I can’t help but wonder if it is due to your lack of time; which in all fairness if you don’t have time to engage in the topic thoroughly perhaps you shouldn’t engage at all for the sake of confusing those who might read your comments, or you are uninformed; yet that is highly doubtful as you have clearly read Ramelli’s work, so perhaps you are just being intellectually dishonest? Only the Lord knows.

        Back to the quote on 1 Cor 15:28 this specific verse as you may well know was a biblical pilar of the apokatastasis doctrine for Origen; in Myst. 24, in all fairness this quote is concerning those who will be saved by their own free will (Amb. 65,1392D.). Ironically Origen would have agreed as well as St. Gregory of Nyssa. Which is what I think many misunderstand concerning this subject and those who are open to it, hope for it, or are confident in it. Salvation which is offered to every human being is also freely chosen by every human being. The real difficulty here and I think DB Hart is right to acknowledge it is how free is the will when it is marred in Sin? Is that will truly free? On some level sin has made us all a bit delusional, we all confess we have sinned, we in fact confess we are the Chief of Sinners every Sunday. By virtue of our confession we are also confessing to our own insanity of freely choosing death on a continual basis (but is that truly a free choice). So if in the final Judgement NO BEING is outside of the presence of God one should wonder if the regeneration of our faculties (gnomic will) of the soul, will any truly free person continue to refuse the love and beauty of our Creator and Savior? For Origen, and Nyssa all submission to God in the end will be absolutely voluntary, and not forced in the least and every human being will in fact voluntarily choose God. “Every knee shall bow and EVERY tongue confess Jesus is Lord.” (Phil. 2:10)

        Ramelli makes this observation:
        “In Car. 1,71, Maximus states that God, at the end of all aeons, will be united to all humans, both those who are worthy of this and those who are unworthy. Does this mean “those who are unworthy now, but will be worthy of it in the end”? According to Larchet, Maximus’s enigmatic words imply that the eventual θέωσις will not embrace all human beings. However this was precisely God’s plan at the beginning of creation and is still such. And partial θέωσις would seem to contradict the passage that I have quoted at the beginning from Amb. 7,1092Cff. Moreover, the work of Christ is “to join together the natural ruptures in all of universal nature, and bring to perfection all the logoi of individual beings, by which the unification of the divided is fulfilled. He reveals and performs God his Father’s ‘Great Will’, recapitulating all beings in himself, in heaven and on earth (Eph 1:10)” -Amb.ad10.2,36).
        -Ramelli pg. 747

        So my dear friend lets be honest that it’s highly debatable whether Maximus affirmed the apokatastasis doctrine and for good reason as I’ve mentioned but you seem to neglect or even acknowledge the fact which frankly isn’t intellectually honest. Let’s not discount a scholar who spent 15 years of her life studying patristics and wrote a rather lengthy book on the subject material at hand with peer approval.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It really isn’t debatable. Existence relates to the level of subsistance (hypostasis). Evil relates to the level of mode (tropos). Evil doesn’t exist because it relates to a different level than existence. This is the basic doctrine of privation. Maximus is entirely Augustinian on this topic.

          Maximus didn’t live just among Origenists. He also lived among Augustinians. Given that his ontology entirely conforms to Augustine and that he explicitly affirms “the dreadful condemnation of being estranged from relation with God for infinite ages” it is entirely unreasonable to think he is affirming universalism here.

          In short, God’s being “all in all” relates to hypostasis and grants being to all, resulting in persons (hypostasis) having a mode of existence that is estranged both from God and himself for eternity.

          Liked by 2 people

          • christianhollums says:

            Nathaniel,

            If it wasn’t debatable we wouldn’t have so many scholars who debate the subject at hand. It may not be debatable in your mind but it’s definitely being debated and for good reasons.

            Ramelli states:

            “Maximus repeatedly identifies life eternal—really eternal and without
            end: ἀΐδιος, not αἰώνιος—with the eventual apokatastasis, which is associated
            with the elimination of sin. God will “give to the human nature, through
            pathos, apatheia; through tribulations, relief, and through death, life absolutely
            eternal [τὴν ἀΐδιον ζωήν], and will thus have it restored [πάλιν ἀποκα-
            τέστησεν]” (Q. ad Thal. 61). What is even more, in In Or. Dom. l. 82 Maximus
            describes the absolutely eternal life as the restoration of human nature freed
            from sin:

            “participation in absolutely eternal life [ἀϊδίου ζωῆς], restoration [ἀποκατάστα-
            σιν] of the human nature, which will return to harmony with itself in apatheia,
            destruction of the law of sin [νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας κατάλυσιν].”

            An illuminating depiction of Maximus’s eschatological conception is found
            in Amb. 65, in which he is engaging with the interpretation of Nazianzen’s
            discourse concerning the eighth day, which is described as the first, the
            last, and indestructible, on which the souls will even cease to celebrate the
            Sabbath. He surely remembered Gregory of Nyssa’s interpretation as well:
            in In Inscr. Ps. 83–84 Nyssen identified the eighth day with the final day
            in which Christ will rise as Sol Iustitiae and will never set. And in In sext.
            Ps. 188–189 Gregory identifies the seven days with time (χρόνος) and the
            movement of the world, and the eighth day with the eternal new creation.238
            Maximus offers three exegeses: in the first he observes that the seven days indicate time and the sequence of aeons, at the end of which there will come
            the cessation of all aeons and the access to “being always” (τὸ ἀεὶ εἶναι) by
            grace. This condition will be peace and quiet, without beginning or end,
            when, after the movements239 (according to the meaning that “movement”
            bears in Origen, as moral movement of choice toward good or evil) of
            the limited beings, there will be the manifestation of the realities that are
            beyond any limit and measure. Souls will then rejoice in the Sabbath, when
            they will receive peace after their movement. The end will be the eighth day,
            God’s Parousia, which determines “being always well” (τὸ εὖ ἀεὶ εἶναι) with a
            participation in it, or else “being always badly” (τὸ κακῶς ἀεὶ εἶναι) to those
            who have used “the logos of being” against nature.

            Now, the very notion of being eternally in evil would heavily contradict
            Maximus’s theory of the ontological non-subsistence of evil, which he
            shares with Origen and Nyssen and which he declares, for instance, in Amb.
            42,1332A: “What is absolutely deprived of rationality and wisdom is only evil,
            whose being is characterised by non-subsistence: may we never imagine that
            God is the creator of evil!” Likewise, evil is declared to be non-being in Amb.
            20,1237C, in which the “children of perdition,” “hell,” and so on are identified
            by Maximus with “those who, in their own mental disposition, have put nonbeing
            at their own basis, and in their ways have become similar to non-being
            in all respects.” Maximus does not go on to say that this situation is eternal;
            in fact, it could not be such, because it would resolve into non-being. But
            divine Providence prevents every creature form ending up into non-being.
            Maximus insists on the notion that evil is non-being also in Amb. 7,1085A.
            What is more, precisely in his mystical interpretation of the Sabbath in Q. et
            dub. 10, he understands that eschatological “day” as the giving up of all evil
            and its complete vanishing. This clearly excludes both that evil will exist
            eternally and that creatures will subsist in evil eternally.”
            -Ramelli pg. 748-749

            I don’t disagree that Maximus and Augustine shared ontological understandings of Evil ironically enough the one example given by Ramelli that demonstrates Augustine in the beginning of his writings supported Apokatastasis was his work disputing gnositic ontological dualism and it was on the non-being of Evil. But Augustine got this from Origen not the other way around.

            Liked by 1 person

      • “Ramelli just throws spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.”
        Talk about ‘ad hominem attacks’, that statement wasn’t very nice!

        Like

  9. Justin says:

    I’m sympathetic with the various universalist positions, but I don’t think any careful reading of Saint Maximos’ works can put Saint Maximos in the universalist camp. From his _Questions and Answers_ (PG 90: 796 A-C): “The Church recognizes three sorts of apokatastasis. One is the restoration of each being through the logos of virtue, when he is restored after fulfilling the logos of virtue which exists for that end. The second is the restoration of the entire nature to incorruption and immortality at the resurrection. The third, which Gregory of Nyssa misuses in his homilies, is the restoration of the soul’s powers, which had succumb to sin, to [the state in which] they were created. For as the whole [of human] nature at the resurrection will receive incorruption of the flesh in the time hoped for, even so, as the ages go by, the perverted powers of the soul should put off the memories of evil instilled into the soul. And when the soul has passed through all the ages and found no place to stop, it will come to God who has no end. And thus the soul will regain its powers in terms of understanding, though not in terms of participation in good things, and will be restored to its original state. And it will be shown that the Creator is not to blame for sin.”

    I think Nathaniel’s glosses are correct. I’m sure it’s been mentioned before, but Florovsky clearly taught that Maximos was no universalist–for whatever that’s worth.

    Like

    • I don’t just make this stuff up! 🙂

      I have no personal bias on this issue. I just think the evidence is so thoroughly overwhelming from the earliest Christian writings that rethinking it results in viewing all Christian dogma as merely provisional. It is this aspect that bothers me sufficiently to comment about it. Because I honestly wish I could be a universalist.

      Like

      • christianhollums says:

        Nathaniel,

        Everyone has a personal bias on this issue what is at stake is the eternal destiny of our souls and humanity. Lets be realistic here.

        Like

    • christianhollums says:

      Justin,

      It might be helpful to see how a scholar has actually engaged your comment in question concerning Maximus’s engagement with the doctrine of Apokatastasis.

      Ramelli’s states:
      “One of the few texts in which Maximus expresses his view of the eventual
      apokatastasis is Q. et dub. 19.232 He is commenting on the notion of apokatastasis
      as found in Gregory of Nyssa and, probably also in order to keep his distance
      from conceptions of restoration such as those of the “Isochristoi” or of
      Bar Sudhaili, which ended up with coinciding with pantheism, he observes
      that the Church knows three kinds of apokatastasis, which, I note, were all
      embraced by Origen and Nyssen as well:
      1) the restoration of an individual to his or her original condition thanks
      to virtue;
      2) the restoration of humanity in the resurrection, which is a restoration
      to incorruptibility and immortality;
      3) the restoration for which Maximus invokes Gregory of Nyssa as a witness:
      the eschatological restoration of the faculties of the soul to the
      state in which they were before being ruined by sin: ἡ τῶν ψυχικῶν δυ-
      νάμεων τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ ὑποπεσουσῶν εἰς ὅπερ ἐκτίσθεσαν πάλιν ἀποκατάστασις.
      This spiritual restoration, too, like the resurrection of the body, will be
      universal, and will take place at the end of all aeons:

      “For, just as the whole of human nature in the resurrection must have back
      the incorruptibility of the flesh in the time we hope for, so also the subverted
      faculties of the soul, during a long succession of aeons, will have to
      lose all memories of evilness [κακία] found in it. Then the soul, after crossing
      all aeons without finding rest, will arrive at God, who has no limit, and
      thus, by virtue of knowledge of—if not yet of participation in—the goods,
      will recover its faculties and be restored to its original state [εἰς τὸ ἀρχαῖονἀποκαταστῆναι]. And the Creator will be manifested to it, the Creator, who
      is not responsible [ἀναίτιος] for sin.”

      The close relationship between resurrection and restoration that Maximus
      posits here derives from Origen and Nyssen, just as the idea that the
      resurrection of human bodies is only a part of the general resurrection and
      transformation of the whole universe, and that the restoration of the faculties
      of the soul will eliminate the effects of sin

      In Ps. 59, PG 90,857A, in which Maximus reflects on universal restoration (see also Myst. 7). The transformation of human free will shall take place “thanks to the general transformation and renovation that will occur in the future, at the end of aeons, due to God our Saviour: a universal renovation of the whole human nature, natural, and yet
      by grace.” If human will itself will be transformed, qua faculty of the human
      soul, no will shall adhere to evil forever. This is indeed in perfect accord
      with what Maximus observes in Q. ad Thal. 59: because of sin, human noetic
      faculty—on which human will depends—has been impaired, but the Spirit
      restores them: ἀποκατέστησε δύναμιν.”

      -Ramelli pg. 743-744

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      • brian says:

        Christian,

        I am poor and still spend an inordinate amount on books. I have not been able to obtain Ramelli’s book. Thank you for the quotes. It’s simply dishonest to assert that there is no patristic witness for a universalist understanding of the gospel. Then one is brought to the question of the nature of authority — and here finesse is needed, but many prefer a kind of extrinsic objectivity. There’s a kind of fear that admitting that insight rather than mere number ought to be persuasive amounts to no genuine authority at all. Yet consider that God’s abiding, agapeic giving is present in a manner easily lost to mindfulness, always patient and unrelenting, yet the obverse of heavy-handed and univocal. The plenitude of God leaves room for wandering error, but the Shepherd will not rest until the last sheep is found. The Cross of Christ and the descent into Hell is the silent, companionable presence of the loving God, an intimacy both stranger and deeper than we can imagine or think. Any appeal to authority that lacks sensitivity to the elusive and to the mysterious power of love is ultimately tied to an idol of God.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Justin says:

        Thanks for this, Christian. And my reply, again, is not about universalism per se, but about Saint Maximos’ teaching. Because Saint Maximos doesn’t teach universalism (at least not by my lights, and I’ve taught him for years), this doesn’t invalidate universalism as a teaching within the Church.

        So let me engage Ramelli here a bit:
        “3) the restoration for which Maximus invokes Gregory of Nyssa as a witness:
        the eschatological restoration of the faculties of the soul to the
        state in which they were before being ruined by sin”
        ***This seems a bit slippery. I quoted Saint Maximos in full above: “The third, which Gregory of Nyssa misuses in his homilies, is the restoration of the soul’s powers, which had succumb to sin, to [the state in which] they were created.” Saint Maximos states explicitly that Saint Gregory misuses the third understanding of restoration.

        So when Ramelli writes, “The close relationship between resurrection and restoration that Maximus posits here derives from Origen and Nyssen,” I can only respond by saying that he’s explicitly trying to correct Saint Gregory in some respects (the third understanding of restoration). His teaching on restoration *may derive* from Origen and Nyssa but only in so much as he’s trying to correct them. The key, I think, is acknowledging that “understanding” for Saint Maximos is different from a “participation in goods,” i.e., communion with the God.

        I’ve been influenced by bad reviews of Ramelli’s work and so haven’t read it. But I think I’m obviously going to have to. So thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

        • christianhollums says:

          Justin,

          Thanks for your charitable reply I would encourage you to pick up her work. Ramelli doesn’t say that St. Maximus openly taught Apokatastasis, but that he believed it in silence. She says that it was kept in silence due to the Justinian anathema’s which would make it more difficult to profess openly, and for pastoral concerns, which she states were already present in Origen. She observes that at the end of Q. 43 Maximus observes that those who are endowed with that wisdom which comes by grace know what is evil can be such in some respects but not in others, and the same is the case with what is good.

          Ὑπὲρ νόησιν παμμακάριστος σιγή: the saint “calls through an eloquent
          and musical silence from the altar of his mind, to that other oft-sung silence in the hidden
          shrines of the Godhead […] he joins in it by mystical theology, insofar as possible for a human.”
          -Myst. 72

          Ramelli states:
          “Maximus exalts again “the most blessed silence superior to any intellection.”231 That this mystical silence is related to the telos is indicated by its very description as μέθεξις, πεῖρα, and ἀπόλαυσις of ineffable goods, a participation and enjoyment that correspond to insensitivity to this αἰών, evidently because of the immersion in the other. Moreover, in Q. ad Thal. 65 Maximus honours with silence the mystical interpretation of the Sabbath (ἡ τελεία μόνη κέκραγε σιγὴ καὶ ἡ παντελὴς καθ’ ὑπεροχὴν ἀγνωσία), which is related to the eventual apokatastasis.”
          -pg. 742

          Liked by 1 person

          • Put more accurately, Ramelli’s argument is that if we ignore his very clear teaching on Hell, some vague passages might represent that he secretly believed universalism when it was politically untenable. She makes no attempt to see if these passages can be metaphysically reconciled with his clear teaching. Because if they can, Ockham’s Razor.

            That she never attempts to engage the most simple and obvious conclusion is evidence that she is grinding an axe.

            Like

  10. brian says:

    Alright Nathan,

    I could equally explain that you simply ignore my arguments. Do you think the patristic witness is uniform with regards to universalism? It isn’t. Just because the gnostics affirmed something doesn’t mean it is wrong. This is a logical fallacy of guilt by association. Further, the metaphysics behind gnostic thinking is not the same as that behind Christian universalism. Do you really think that Nicene Christology stands or falls by the traditional view of hell? You haven’t offered an argument that makes that clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t state that it was wrong because the gnostics taught it. That would be guilt by association, as you rightfully pointed it out. I stated that it is wrong because the post-apostolic Fathers condemned it as part and parcel of their refutation of the gnostics and that, further, the schema which they established was used as normative during the Nicene debates. Please try and pay attention to the words I say.

      I didn’t say that the patristic witness is uniform. It isn’t; on any topic. I did, however, call it “thoroughly overwhelming.” It is one thing to say “Someone taught X, but we can rethink the issue.” It is another thing to say “Almost everyone taught X and the theological reasoning of ecumenical councils was based upon X, but we can rethink the issue.”

      I’m not claiming that if we rethink Hell that Nicene Christology falls. Rather, I’m saying that Hell is clearly accepted from the earliest period of Christianity and is understood to be normative since that point (with, granted, a few exceptions; all of whom were influenced by a single man [nee heresiarch]: Origen). And, in fact, this point is the complete refutation of Fr. Aidan’s view of 2 Constantinople. The condemnations were agreed upon before the council by all Patriarchs precisely because it was already agreed upon since the apostles. It simply wasn’t controversial, just like it had never been. The record of the council bears this out. The only debate was not the condemnations themselves but the personal condemnation of Origen after death.

      This whole methodology of finding this extreme minority trail of references to universalism and building a case on it is frankly Protestant. It is precisely the “Trail of Blood” methodology. Whatever it is, it isn’t catholic.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Also, my name is Nathaniel.

      Like

      • brian says:

        Well, Nathaniel, unlike you, I am not in Europe. I am at work and write when I find time to do so. No slight to you was intended by reference to Nathan. Your sense of what it means to be Catholic and of tradition is common. I do not share your sensibility or your judgements. I certainly do not feel overwhelmed by what you believe to be a consensus amounting to certitude. I think your interpretation of universalism amongst the patristics and of Origen is tendentious. Dismissing the whole thing as the bad effects of a heresiarch is a calumny against Origen — and also false. There are ways of reading Paul as a universalist. Doesn’t matter that you will disagree. The point is, no one is compelled to accept your genealogy of universalism, nor your explanation for all who articulate universalist views or sympathies. You seem to have backed off from saying Nicene Christology is intrinsically linked to a traditional hell. Now you are simply subsuming both into your understanding of ecclesial authority. If you were capable of metaphysical thinking, which you clearly are not interested in, I could point to the coincidence of aspects of Protestant theology and precisely what you seem to think necessary for Catholic orthodoxy.

        Like

        • Peregrinus says:

          I’ve never understood the temptation to tar one’s opponent with Protestantism. It’s like mud wrestling – both come out covered in that filth.

          Like

        • “If you were capable of metaphysical thinking, which you clearly are not interested in”

          I have degrees in both Philosophy and Historical Theology. My argument regarding Maximus was metaphysical in extremis: God’s being all in all bestows the qualities of being and right function irregardles of the modal state of the will. That’s what you call metaphysics. The suffering of Hell results in the

          I have also not backed away from Nicea at all. Rejection of universalism as a basis for Nicene Christology represents both evidence for early (pre-Nicene!) consensus on this topic as well as a metaphysical relationship between both universalism and Nicene Christology.

          Also, “ways of reading Paul” is not a good argument. There are all sorts of heretical ways to read Paul. What matters is how the doctors of the church read Paul. And they consistently, over centuries took the anti-universalist reading. Vincentian canon and all that.

          Like

  11. Stephen says:

    If it was good enough for St. Isaac of Syria and father of fathers St. Gregory of Nyssa, it’s good enough for me. Also, from a biblical standpoint, I’ve read numerous books that have gone back to the original Greek or other original languages, and have made extremely convincing cases for universalism through Christ. I haven’t found ANY passage in scripture which correctly interpreted mitigates against apakatastasis. DB Hart has said he is putting out a NT translation that will clarify the “controversial” passages and also (God willing) write a book in favor of Apocatastasis. This is far from a closed Patristic, Biblical or reasonable case! Thank God for you Fr. Aiden for being unabashed in your views.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Brian Stephen says:

    Nathaniel,

    By the way, I enjoy a good discussion and disagreement! I hope you are having a great time in Europe. I can only say one thing and that is “I’m jealous”. Also, I see that you go to St. Athanasius in Nicholasville. About 27 or so years ago, I used to come down there (Nicholasville or Asbury– can’t remember which) regularly with a priest from the EOC who taught the catechism to David Rucker and the other small group of people who who eventually came to be St. Athanasius Orthodox Church and the much esteemed Fr. David! Very cool!

    Also, sorry for misspelling Fr. “Aidan”!

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  13. Whew! I gave up trying to read all these replies, and leaving my paltry contribution seems an exercise in futility. However, I actually understood your entire essay, Fr. Aidan, and I learned a new word as well: ultramontanism. Thank you.

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  14. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have not read (most of) the comments (yet?), but your post got me wondering if there is any (historical) vocabulary for something like ‘a protracted fad’. Something can presumably go on for a long time whether it is a ‘true dogma’, a ‘heresy/heretical dogma’, or not certainly one or the other of those.

    I also wonder what ‘details of consensus’ (so to call them) might be required by someone defending a particular ‘thing’ as example of authoritative consensus.

    It’s been a while since I read D.P. Walker’s The Decline of Hell (1964), and do not have access to a copy, but I have the impression of features which have been strongly asserted in the past, which I do not have the impression all now consider equally necessary to assert (I can’t recall what, if any, evidence there is for a history of their rise, establishment, etc.) .

    For example, not only that the Blessed will be fully aware of the suffering of the Eternally Damned, and that particularly, but that its contemplation will be radically part of the Joy of Heaven.

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  15. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Exercising my magisterial authority, I am intervening into this conversation and directing everyone back to the original article. If someone wants to talk about the arguments advanced in or suggested by the article, well and good. Otherwise, please restrain yourself. Perhaps a future article will offer an opportunity for you to argue about something that is close to your heart (or perhaps not).

    I am reminded me of my days on the debate team in high school. In each debate we kept flow sheets of our opponents’ arguments. We knew that if we did not respond to an argument or refutation advanced by one of our two opponents, that would count against us and could be the difference between victory or defeat. Eclectic Orthodoxy and the discussions it promotes is not a debating forum of this kind. It is not a Facebook forum. The folks who read this blog really are interested in good arguments, supported by documentation and evidence, presented in a spirit of Christian civility.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. christianhollums says:

    Father please forgive me if I have derailed the subject at hand.

    I wanted to draw particular attention to your comments on the 15 anathema’s in the 5th Council. I recognize there are differing opinions on this council, some say it wasn’t a genuine EC and the anathema’s were falsifications; and yet the opposing view is that the Council was in fact Ecumenical and is dogmatically binding and it is later affirmed by the Orthodox Church as a whole in the Synodikon.

    Putting that debate aside for a moment let’s just say hypothetically that the 15 anathema’s were in fact promulgated by the Council therefore making them dogma. What do we do if we discover that Origen who was condemned a heretic actually never taught what he was accused of teaching namely the pre-existence of souls or any of the other 14 anathema’s associated with his name or that particular council? As you already know there are scholars who contend Origen never taught many of the concepts he was charged with teaching in that Council. If a council can make such a huge error that has had such a tremendous impact on Theological reflection on Eschatology what does this say to the actual infallibility of the Council itself? What does it say to other councils?

    When Eric Jobe said : “The problem with the ECs and any notion of them being infallible is that they must be interpreted both historically and linguistically, which is, of course, fallible. Even if we say that they are binding, that binding must bridge the same hermeneutical gap between us and the council.”

    I think this is such a good point, and that we really need to reflect that it is clear that at the 5th Council history had to be interpreted namely the history of Origen and his teachings. It seems if Ramelli is correct in her scholarship that the 5th Council got the history wrong and the Empire had influence on this council. Perhaps the Church on some level has operated outside of the actual work Christ has given her? I enjoy what Fr. John Behr has to say regarding the actual Canon of truth namely that the OT Scriptures revealed by Christ on the damascus road is the Passion Narrative that is the Tradition and it’s an infallible tradition because it came from Christ, not because it came from the Church that is what we hold sacred and infallible. I guess I personally have just never met a group of people who were able to determine anything with infallibility. I realize I’ve never attended an EC (because there hasn’t been one in my life) but still the more I think about the idea that the Church developed infallible DOGMA outside of what Christ revealed to the Apostles is hard to stomach and honestly unbelievable. I may be way off track here but it’s something that came to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peregrinus says:

      Behr’s thesis is cute but it does not say much. It’s like when Bulgakov (I think it was him) who suggested that the Theotokos would preside over a theoretical reunion council of East and West. Florovsky responded by saying “It used to be said that man was a rational animal. . . ”

      Infallibility cannot be divorced from Jesus Christ, but we also have no right to treat history as an obstruction to Truth (the ad fontes approach). That is the liberal Protestant project, and it is failing before our eyes. Neither can we saddle history with excessive binding authority, as if such authority were somehow impersonal and distinct from Jesus Christ as the supreme hypostasization of ecclesiastical existence (this is Newman’s theory).

      What it comes down to is theodicy. Will the gates of hell prevail over the Church? Our Lord promises that they will not. But that is because the Church’s source is the divine hypostasis of the Son and, consequently, Trinitarian communion. The rest is contingent, but we dare not venture to say unnecessary or accidental. I think if our sense of history was more iconic, and less idolatrous, we’d all feel more at ease.

      Liked by 2 people

      • christianhollums says:

        Peregrinus,

        I think I agree with you for the most part and I may be misunderstood. I have to admit I was having a difficult time writing down what was actually in my head. I think Behr actually agrees with you in regards to the ‘ad fontes approach of history being an obstruction to Truth’, and I agree with you too. According to Behr being historically present during the incarnation served as no advantage to the disciples or the rest of humanities perception of who Christ was.

        I think what I was getting at is that our perception of truth or a particular historical event can obstruct what is actually true or what actually happened on both a physical and spiritual level. So for example if St. Justinian’s perception of Origen was incorrect that doesn’t change or obstruct Truth it only means the emperor and his peers were in error, and if the Council was part of that process they in fact were also in error. This does however present serious difficulties for the hypothesis that EC’s were infallible and I think it presents the same questions raised in this article.

        “Who determines the content of this consensus, and when does it become dogmatically binding? How are interpretative and applicational questions resolved?”

        Will the gates of hell prevail against the Church? Absolutely not, but can the Kingdom of God exist fully on earth without a King? I think not yet we are called to bring it into existence. Forgive me if my questions seem binary.

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Christian,

          I don’t think it a tenable position to question the validity of the 5th Council en toto. The 15 anathemas however is another matter, there are good reasons to question these – did the Council agree to them, were they appended post facto? It is not altogether clear, nor without controversy. We do know Justinian condemned Origen at a local council in 543. Then strangely, in the sessions of the 5th Council, Origen or Origenism is not condemned (and if I am not mistaken – not even mentioned!).

          As to infallibility of the Councils (and of Scripture, patristics, etc.), this is a problematic position due to the need for interpretation – regardless anyone is deemed to be “in error” (or not). Infallibility per se (and thus a rigid, absolutist application) is problematic as it understands knowledge to be unmediated. It conflates the type for the prototype, the symbol for that which it stands.

          That said, I do think that the ecumenicity of the seven councils stands for something – we must take into account why they were, and are, deemed to be ecumenical. But this must be done in context, considering historical factors, understanding the complexity of and need for interpretation, mediated revelation, etc.

          It does not make the Christian faith any less true or necessary.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            This is such an interesting and challenging topic. As one who cut his eyeteeth on George Lindbeck and Robert Jenson, I keep coming back to dogmas as grammatical rules: speak thusly in order to speak the language of faith properly. This approach has some clear advantages over the revelation-as-proposition approach (which characterizes both biblical and conciliar fundamentalism) and liberal experientialism (which reduces theological statements to expressions of a pre-linguistic mystical/religious experience). But as far as I know, Orthodox theologians have yet to explore Lindbeck’s post-liberal approach.

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            The Orthodox theology, and practice, of the icon seems most fruitful in approaching this important topic.

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          • Peregrinus says:

            The Seven Councils stand for something. Scripture stands for something. The liturgical tradition stands for something. All of history stands for something – has a formal cause, so to speak.

            I’m in favor of conceiving of dogma as a kind of grammar. I think we have to find a way, however, to make sense of the need to translate rival traditions through immanent critique as well, transcending the contemporary Babel – a la Gadamer. The Church, hypostatized in the Paternal Logos, has no mother tongue though he condescends to be uttered, albeit mutably (contingently).

            Something like an Augustinian semiotic approach informed by the Chalcedonian Christology which undergirds Orthodox iconology, articulated in terms of contemporary phenomenology and theological aesthetics (Balthasar’s theory of indication is prime material here) – all of this and more should be taken into account in developing a consistent hermeneutic and philosophy of history so as to examine dogma productively – for the sake of dogma. Even sophiological notions of Godmanhood – our approach needs must be eclectic as the “language” must be catholic and all-embracing; a kind of para-dogmatic Pentecost.

            One of my own paradigmatic presuppositions on this issue is John Paul II’s closing statement from Fides et Ratio — as Mary, “Seat of Wisdom,” is the Mother of God, so philosophy is the mother of theology.

            Liked by 1 person

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Grammar is not without rules and structure – so this does not solve the epistemological conundrum. Furthermore, can we conceive of a “universal grammar” transcending the diversity of languages, each with its own particular grammar? Perhaps here the metaphor breaks down.

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          • Peregrinus says:

            Apophaticallyspeaking (Robert?), no we cannot access any sort of “higher” transcendental language. That is why I mention immanent critique as a useful tool in learning to more effectively interact both across traditio-linguistic paradigms and among intra-traditional “dialects” as it were. MacIntyre’s “Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry” is a solid example of what I am describing.

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Agreed – I waxed rhetorical, and failed to communicate. 🙂

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  17. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Peregrinus, Brian, Eric Lobe, & company, I gather from your comments that you (as I am) are particularly interested in the hermeneutical questions generated by dogmatic statements. I am presently reading (and re-reading) Sergius Bulgakov’s essay “Dogma and Dogmatic Statements.” I hope to blog on this later this week or early next week. I invite you to read it now and reflect on it with me when the blog gets published.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Jonathan says:

    Quick point about grammar for those who are interested in pursuing the science as a metaphor for dogma or anything else:

    Grammar these days is understood as primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive. At the same time, it is almost infinitely generative. Whether linguistics can understand something like universal grammar is an open question. To say that all language demonstrates certain basic categories of speech is to presuppose those categories, which for the most part were thought up in the first place to describe Indo-European languages. That is, at bottom, all grammar is: a way to describe how a language works. Language works when it is understood. There is at present no widely accepted “higher” criterion. The idea of “proper speech” has gone the way of whalebone corsets.

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