Suffering, Theodicy, and Apokatastasis

“What then, one might well ask, is divine providence?” David Bentley Hart poses this question after pondering upon the evil and suffering of the world in his beautiful little book The Doors of the Sea. In the preceding eighty-one pages Hart compares the orthodox Christian understanding of God to the watchmaker deity of the Enlightenment, who fashions a cosmic machine designed to maximize human flourishing, and the all-sovereign deity of Calvinism, who wills equally life and death, goodness and evil, beatitude and suffering, salvation and damnation. The former is easy enough to refute. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 need only be remembered. In the words of Voltaire:

All is well, you say, and all is necessary. What? The entire universe, but for this infernal abyss engulfing Lisbon, would have been worse off?

But the absolute divinity of naked power, who determines every historical event in every detail, who directly causes weal and woe—this god is not so easily exorcised. It satisfies a deep desire in the human soul for a comprehensive and sufficient explanation for our misery and sorrows. There must be a divine plan, we think, that can justify the loss of hundreds of thousands of souls in the great tsunami of 2004, the countless barbarities of modern totalitarianism, the murder of a single child at the hands of a serial predator. And so all of history becomes a manifestation of the will of the Creator, majestic and terrifying.

That there is a transcendent providence that will bring God’s good ends out of the darkness of history—in spite of every evil—no Christian can fail to affirm. But providence (as even Voltaire seems to have understood) is not simply a “total sum” or “infinite equation” that leaves nothing behind. … There is a point at which an explanation becomes so comprehensive that it ceases to explain anything at all. In the case of a pure determinism, this is always so. To assert that every finite contingency is solely and unambiguously the effect of a single will working all things—without any deeper mystery of created freedom—is to assert nothing but that the world is what it is, for any meaningful distinction between the will of God and the simple totality of cosmic eventuality has collapsed. If all that occurs, in the minutest detail and in the entirety of its design, is only the expression of one infinite volition that makes no real room within its transcendent determinations for other, secondary, subsidiary but free agencies (and so for some element of chance and absurdity), then the world is both arbitrary and necessary, both meaningful in every part and meaningless in its totality, an expression of pure power and nothing else. Even if the purpose of such a world is to prepare creatures to know the majesty and justice of God, that majesty and justice are, in a very real sense, fictions of his will, impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, merciful and cruel, radiant and monstrous—some are created for eternal bliss and others for eternal torment, and all for the sake of the divine drama of perfect and irresistible might. Such a God, at the end of the day, is nothing but will, and so nothing but an infinite event; and the only adoration that such a God can evoke is an almost perfect coincidence of faith and nihilism. (pp. 29-30)

Against the determinist deity the catholic faith stands firm. God is not the author of evil; iniquity is not divinely ordained. Suffering, grief, evil, mortality—they are but “cosmic contingencies, ontological shadows, intrinsically devoid of substance or purpose” (p. 61). They do not have ultimate meaning. God may make them the occasions of his redemptive grace and incorporate them into his providential ends; but they are not good in themselves. From them the eternal Word came to deliver us.

Hart does not shrink from the provisional dualism intimated by his words. Did not our Lord tell us that his Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)? And did not the Apostle Paul warn us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12)? The texts may be easily multiplied. Nor should we dismiss them as mere mythology, for how else but in the language of mythology may we speak truly of the profound intuition “that we exist in the long melancholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe: that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is a phantom of true time, that we live in one umbratile interval between creation in its fullness and the nothingness from which it was called, that the universe languishes in bondage to the ‘powers’ and ‘principalities’ of this age, which never cease in their enmity towards the Kingdom of God”? (pp. 61-62). The ascetics and elders of the Church have always known this truth, even if we moderns have now forgotten it in our spiritual amnesia.

The God of the gospel is not the author of sin and death; he is their conqueror. There can be no peace with the Enemy and certainly no suggestion that evil and death secretly reside in the heart of the Creator. Our God is uncreated Light and in him darkness is banished; our God is eternal Love and in him evil enjoys not even a sliver of existence. Christ is risen from the dead, hell is harrowed, the tomb is empty, the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh.

Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces—whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance—that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. And we are not only permitted but required to believe that cosmic time as we know it, through all the immensity of its geological age and historical epochs, is only a shadow of true time, and this world only a shadow of the fuller, richer, more substantial, more glorious creation that God intends; and to believe also that all of nature is a shattered mirror of divine beauty, still full of light, but riven by darkness. (pp. 101-102)

What then is divine providence? We must distinguish, Hart instructs, between the view that God has ordained evil and death as necessary to his plan for creation and the view “that God has willed his good in creatures from eternity and will bring it to pass, despite their rebellion, by so ordering all things toward his goodness that even evil (which he does not cause) becomes an occasion of the operations of grace” (p. 82). Only the latter is properly described as Christian and orthodox. The difference between the two views may be summed up in the critical distinction between what God wills and what he permits. God does not will death. He does not will evil and damnation. He may temporarily allow human beings to defy him, to deny their identity as images of the incarnate Logos and turn away from the Good who alone can quench their thirst for happiness; but his Kingdom will and must ultimately triumph:

God has fashioned creatures in his image so that they might be joined in a perfect union with him in the rational freedom of love. For that very reason, what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills. But there is no contradiction in saying that, in his omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendence of time, God can both allow created freedom its scope and yet so constitute the world that nothing can prevent him from bringing about the beatitude of his Kingdom. Indeed we must say this: as God did not will the fall, and yet always wills all things toward himself, the entire history of sin and death is in an ultimate sense a pure contingency, one that is not as such desired by God, but that is nevertheless constrained by providence to serve his transcendent purpose. God does not will evil in the sinner. Neither does he will that the sinner should perish (2 Peter 3:9; Ezek. 33:11). He does not place evil in the heart. He does not desire the convulsive reign of death in nature. But neither will he suffer defeat in these things.

Providence works at the level of what Aquinas would call primary causality: that is, it is so transcendent of the operation of secondary causes—which is to say, finite and contingent causes immanent to the realm of created things—that it can at once create freedom and also assure that no consequence of the misuse of that freedom will prevent him from accomplishing the good he intends in all things. … As God is the source and end of all being, nothing that is can be completely alienated from him; all things exist by virtue of being called from nothingness toward his goodness; every instance of finite becoming or thought or desire subsists in the creature’s “ecstasy” out of nonbeing and into the infinite splendor of God. And it for just this reason that providence does not and cannot in any way betray the true freedom of the creature: every free movement of the will is possible only by virtue of the more primordial longing of all things for the beauty of God (to borrow the language of Maximus the Confessor, our “gnomic will” depends upon our “natural will”), and so every free act—even the act of hating God—arises from and is sustained by a more original love of God. It is impossible to desire anything without implicitly desiring the infinite source of all things. (pp. 83-84)

When I first read The Doors of the Sea many years ago, I did not note the apokatastatic implications of Hart’s presentation. Nor did I note the implications in his essay “Providence and Causality,” written four years after Doors. In this essay Hart attacks the sophistry of Banezian Thomism and its doctrine of preterition—God antecedently wills to save all mankind, while consequently willing that some be allowed to fall into irredeemable alienation and obduracy. It’s not that God expressly wills the damnation of the damned; rather he quietly refrains from raising them into faith and new life. This negative reprobation is too close to the Calvinist deity that Hart so emphatically rejects. If God refuses to supply to some the grace necessary for salvation, then this logically implies that he does not will the salvation of all; but this cannot be true. Scripture teaches that God positively wills the salvation of every human being (1 Tim 2:4). We must therefore conclude that “God’s good will and his permission of evil, then, are simply two aspects of a single creative act, one that does not differ in intention from soul to soul” (p. 46). The Creator has given to humanity “a dynamic orientation towards the infinite goodness of God that is the source of all rational life and of all desire within us” (p. 47), yet he also permits the human being, in its divinely-given autonomy, to reject the Good which he himself is:

It is the movement of the natural will towards God, moreover, whose primordial motion allows the gnomic will its liberty and its power to assent to or rejection of God. In the interval between these two movements—both of which are rational—the rational soul becomes who God intends her to be or, through apostasy from her own nature, fabricates a distance between herself and God that is nothing less than the distance of dereliction. For, whatever we do, the desire of our natural will for God will be consummated; it will return to God, whether the gnomic will consents or not, and will be glorified with the glory the Son shares with the Father from eternity. And, if the gnomic will within us has not surrendered to its natural supernatural end, our own glorified nature becomes hell to us, that holy thing we cannot touch. Rejection of God becomes estrangement from ourselves, the Kingdom of God within us becomes our exile, and the transfiguring glory of God within us—through our refusal to submit to love—becomes the unnatural experience of reprobation. God fashions all rational natures for free union with himself, and all of creation as the deathless vessel of his eternal glory. To this end, he wills that the dependent freedom of the creature be joined to his absolute freedom; but an indispensable condition of what he wills is the real power of the creature’s deliberative will to resist the irresistible work of grace. And God both wills the ultimate good of all things and accomplishes that good, and knows the good and evil acts of his creatures, and reacts to neither. This is the true sublimity of divine apatheia: an infinite innocence that wills to the last the glorification of the creature, in the depths of its nature, and that never ceases to sustain the rational will in its power to seek its end either in God or itself. (pp. 47-48)

I think readers may be excused for reading Hart here as affirming a free-will model of damnation, something along the lines of what the Orthodox popularly speak of as the River of Fire. Yet he stops just short of saying that human beings can create for themselves an everlasting Gehenna from which not even God can rescue them. How could such ever be the case if every human being has been given an insatiable hunger for the Good and if God never ceases to will the redemption of all? Is not an everlasting hell that victory of Satan that Hart has assured us can never occur? As he writes in The Doors of the Sea: “At the heart of the gospel, of course, is an ineradicable triumphalism, a conviction that the will of God cannot ultimately be defeated and that the victory over evil and death has already been won” (p. 66). In his recent essay “God, Creation and Evil,” Hart finally connects the theodicial dots for all to controversially see:

If God is the good creator of all, he is the savior of all, without fail, who brings to himself all he has made, including all rational wills, and only thus returns to himself in all that goes forth from him. If he is not the savior of all, the Kingdom is only a dream, and creation something considerably worse than a nightmare. But, again, it is not so. God saw that it was good; and, in the ages, so shall we. (pp. 16-17)

Here is the answer, the only existentially satisfying answer, to the evils we commit and the sufferings we endure.

A couple of months ago I published a series on Hugh J. McCann’s understanding of divine sovereignty and creaturely freedom. The commonalities and differences between McCann and Hart are instructive. Both assert a noncompetitive understanding of divine transcendence, thus allowing the Creator to be deeply immanent within the processes of nature and history. God, as McCann likes to say, is too close to the creature to be seen as an other existing on the same metaphysical plane. Hart would agree. McCann and Hart are also one in their rejection of Molinism. But I suspect that Hart would find McCann’s construal of divinity as drawing too close to the Banezian Thomism to which he so strongly objects. McCann describes God as the ultimate micromanager (“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will” [Matt 10:29]) and then strains to explain why his position does not fall into determinism. Creatures, he states, are the immediate expression of the eternal act of divine creation rather than being a consequence of it. He provocatively likens the relationship between Creator and creation as that of author and novel: “The author of the novel never makes her creatures do something; she only makes them doing it. It is the same with us and God. He does not make us act; he makes us acting, so that the freedom that goes with genuine action can still be present” (Creation and the Sovereignty of God, p. 108). McCann thus rejects a model of command-and-causation and distinguishes his construal of double agency from the concurrence theories of Calvinism and Neo-Thomism (he explicitly mentions Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange), advancing a version of transcendent causality that he believes upholds and grounds genuine human freedom, while also granting the Creator the kind of sovereign control of history that perfect divinity should have. The divine rule is marked by neither violence nor manipulation. “It is true that our destinies are written; but the handwriting is ours” (p. 111). Hart, on the other hand, eschews any intimation of an all-embracing “universal teleology” in which history becomes “a positive determination of God’s will whereby he brings to pass a comprehensive design that, in the absence of any single one of these events, would not have been possible” (Doors, p. 85). It seems to me that some of Hart’s criticisms of Bañez and his fellow Baroque Thomists strike home against the position articulated by McCann. With McCann, we are left wondering how God is not in fact the author of sin and calamity—at the very least divinity has a lot to answer for. McCann even speculates that the fall was necessary for the achievement of personal autonomy and genuine friendship with God. This is all quite heterodox. Evil becomes intrinsic to the divine. As Hart writes: “Simply said, if God required evil to accomplish his good ends—the revelation of his nature to finite minds—then not only would evil possess a real existence over against the good, but God himself would be dependent upon evil: to the point of it constituting a dimension of his identity (even if only as a ‘contrast’)” (“Providence,” p. 49). Yet with Hart, we are left wondering how the omnipotent and wise Creator could have allowed the serpent to enter the Garden to begin with. Does “permission” absolve the sovereign Creator of his responsibility for the chaos, tragedies, and horrors of cosmic history? C. S. Lewis appealed to personal autonomy and free will to explain the presence of moral evil in the world, yet this sounds too libertarian for Hart’s metaphysics of freedom. And how can God make things right if humanity remains free to resist him till the bitter end?

Every novel is ultimately judged by its conclusion. A bad ending can ruin the story, while a great ending can redeem a mediocre plot. What then of reprobation and hell? Although expressing a measure of sympathy for the universalist hope, McCann takes his stand with the long tradition of the Western Church:

How, then, might God be justified in consigning a sinner to damnation? The answer to this question will depend in part of what the sufferings of the lost consist in. And I think that here it is easy to be misled by the concept of hell as mere retribution: as endless suffering imposed on the sinner in recompense for unrepented evils—especially, perhaps, the evil of offending an infinitely magisterial God. The more plausible view is that whatever else their fate may include, the greatest evil sustained by the lost is final and irremediable separation from God. Nothing could be worse than to be cut off from the love and friendship of a Father whose power extends to every detail of the universe, and who invites us to a share in his very life. But if this is the greatest evil of damnation, then no one who ends that way is treated unfairly, for this separation is precisely what one chooses by insisting on a life of rebellion rather than seeking reconciliation with God. Indeed, having once created beings destined to be lost, it is hard to see how a loving God could do anything but honor their choice in the matter. The alternative, after all, would be to undercut the capacity of would-be reprobates to frame their own destinies—perhaps by simply refusing to take No for an answer, and waiting out the millennia it might take for them to change their minds; or, should that fail, by simply overriding their freedom, and placing them in some motivational situation where there is no legitimate alternative but to accept his rule over their lives. Either of these courses would amount to God diminishing his own project of creation, by effectively nullifying the dignity not just of those headed for perdition but of all free agents: those who would reject his friendship would find their capacity for effective decision making destroyed, and those who would join with him would find their choice trivialized. If God were reduced to dealing in this way with those who try to refuse him, then evil would indeed have scored a major victory. Humans may begin as God’s children, but if any are truly to become his friends as well, then he must finally treat all as adults and potential partners—which means honoring their decisions. (p. 129)

I find McCann’s theodicy of hell curious and disap­pointing. Throughout his book McCann distances himself from the free-will defense of suffering, insisting that the relation between divine and creaturely agency cannot be understood as a zero-sum game. Yet at the last moment he tells us that the author of the cosmic novel is incapable of saving those who choose perdition over the transcendent Good. God has no choice but to “honor” the definitive decisions of his creatures. Anything else would be a form of coercion. Thus is the justice of God revealed: “Terrible though the end of the lost may be, therefore, this manifestation of the good that is justice could not exist but for the creation of those destined for unrepen­tance” (p. 131).

Hart would be appalled by McCann’s justification of the morally unjustifiable. If God creates the world, knowing that even one soul will be condemned to everlasting perdition, then the asserted goodness of God has become mere equivocation. Even if, as the open theists claim, he does not actually foresee this one person’s doom, he at least knows that his damnation is a genuine possibility. Oh well. As the Royalist general François de Charette nonchalantly remarked when asked about the deaths of so many during the War in the Vendée: “Omlets are not made without breaking eggs.” Now compare Hart’s judgment:

Not to wax too anthropomorphizing here, like some analytic philosopher of religion, but let us say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into Tartarus forever; this still means that, morally, he has purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price—even if, in the end, no one at all happens to be damned. The logic is irresistible. God creates. Alea iacta est. But, as Mallarmé says, “un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard“: for what is hazarded has already been surrendered, entirely, no matter how the dice fall; the aleatory venture may be intentionally indeterminate, but the wager is an irrevocable intentional decision, wherein every possible cost has already been accepted; the irrecuperable expenditure has been offered even if, happily, it is never actually lost, and so the moral nature of the act is the same in either case. To venture the life of your child for some other end is, morally, already to have killed your child, even if at the last moment Artemis or Heracles or the Angel of the LORD should stay your hand. And so, the revelation of God’s glory in creatures would still always be dependent upon that evil, that venture beyond good and evil, even if at the last no one perishes. Creation could never then be called “good” in an unconditional sense; nor God the “Good as such,” no matter what conditional goods he might accomplish in creating. And, here too, the losing lot might just as well have fallen to the blessed, given the stochastic vagaries of existence: accidents of birth, congenital qualities of character, natural intellectual endowments, native moral aptitudes, material circumstances, personal powers of resolve, impersonal forces of chance, the grim encumbrances of sin and mortality… Once again, who would the damned be but the redeemers of the blessed, the price eternally paid by God for the sake of the Kingdom’s felicity? (“God, Creation, and Evil,” pp. 13-14)

If God truly is an eternal communion of Love enhypostasized as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then he will not be satisfied with anything less than a glorious consummation of the story of creation. It is still unclear to me how Hart envisages the conversion of the impenitent. In his essay on divine providence he speaks of God respecting the evil choices of human beings, thus bringing upon themselves the sufferings due to separation from the Good who is their ultimate good. In his essay on God and evil, though, he speaks of apokatastasis as virtually a foregone conclusion. Yet how? It seems to me that speculation along the lines of Sergius Bulgakov’s proposal of “universal purgatory” or of George MacDonald’s vision of the alienated soul cast into the outer darkness is legitimate and necessary. Thus MacDonald:

If the man resists the burning of God, the consuming fire of Love, a terrible doom awaits him, and its day will come. He shall be cast into the outer darkness who hates the fire of God. What sick dismay shall then seize upon him! For let a man think and care ever so little about God, he does not therefore exist without God. God is here with him, upholding, warming, delighting, teaching him–making life a good thing to him. God gives him himself, though he knows it not. But when God withdraws from a man as far as that can be without the man’s ceasing to be; when the man feels himself abandoned, hanging in a ceaseless vertigo of existence upon the verge of the gulf of his being, without support, without refuge, without aim, without end–for the soul has no weapons wherewith to destroy herself–with no inbreathing of joy, with nothing to make life good;–then will he listen in agony for the faintest sound of life from the closed door; then, if the moan of suffering humanity ever reaches the ear of the outcast of darkness, he will be ready to rush into the very heart of the Consuming Fire to know life once more, to change this terror of sick negation, of unspeakable death, for that region of painful hope. (“The Consuming Fire“; also see “The Last Farthing“)

But perhaps, given the logic of transcendence, neither rational nor imaginative explanation is possible. Perhaps we may only hope—yet confidently hope—that the absolute Love made known in Jesus Christ will bring all to happy consummation. In faith we confess the triumphant and glorious apokatastasis that Pascha must entail if God be truly good and evil vanquished. Surely this is sufficient for the present moment.

“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4).

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82 Responses to Suffering, Theodicy, and Apokatastasis

  1. brian says:

    Strong, interesting reflections, Father. Hart’s analysis of the best-case scenario for the defenders of libertarian hell is acute. Universal beatitude is then more a lucky role of the dice than the serene work of all powerful Love; a good fortune vitiated by the deep contradiction that just that form of risk fundamentally impugns the Goodness of God. (Those who resist this judgment have yet to offer a compelling counter argument.) The rough assertion that a creation with free creatures requires such a risk does not answer, for the Triune God of Christianity is not driven by lack to create in order to establish love or flourishing aseity. The freedom of the Christian God is precisely that creation is utterly gratuitous. God need not create, so he need not accept preconditions that are morally repugnant.

    I am currently working through a project that contemplates the matter of the conversion of those viciously defiant of the Good. Bulgakov and MacDonald seem hard to dispense with. Does the vision of the Good with temporal blinders off simply eradicate destructive habits and the spiritual woundedness of sin, often grotesquely enacted? If the Good is always already teleologically affirmed, then some redirection of the gnomic will should “naturally” occur, but to what extent of that immediately ameliorates character derived from prior acts is perhaps beyond human ken. Whatever the reality, I suspect that the role of Ecclesia, in the between of nothingness and the fullness of the eschaton, is to suffer and affirm solidarity.

    Further, I emphasize that our reigning conception of reason is too weak and limited. A more robust understanding of reason would recognize the imagination not as moderns do, as an exercise in secondary fantasy divorced from esse. On the contrary, love’s imagination is the very stuff of creation. When we participate in the love of God, we participate in divine imagination. The refusal of eternal hell ought to be the signature of advancing in divine charity. What it requires is not at all the sentimental kitsch that opponents routinely ascribe to the universalist understanding of the gospel. Indeed, the Christian imagination is rooted in a realist metaphysics that refuses to sidestep the genuine consequences of creaturely, secondary freedom, so it asks much more of us. It is easy to consign the unlovely to hell. It is consonant with our emotions to want to destroy those who are disgusting and cruel, who glory in their wickedness. It is hard to imagine the transformation of souls that prefer the dark. But we are given help, for Christ on the Cross has joined himself to all and the descent into Hell on Holy Saturday is the imageless portrait of the God-Man going out even unto the outer darkness, that his creature might not be alone.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Brian, I am eagerly awaiting the completion and publication of your book! May God inspire you and give you the grace to bring it to fruition.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Mike H says:

    –McCann: ”Terrible though the end of the lost may be, therefore, this manifestation of the good that is justice could not exist but for the creation of those destined for unrepentant.”

    So McCann is saying that within the essence of “the good” (“justice” as a “manifestation of the good” rather than its opposite) lies the necessity of the reprobate – those unfortunate folks (in a manner of speaking) who are the recipients of this “good”, a good that in the final verdict could not be if it weren’t for them?

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    • brian says:

      Mike, I have not read McCann, but from the quotes, it seems to me that he simply presumes that libertarian freedom is required for human freedom to be authentic. Nullifying libertarian freedom is equated with abrogating the dignity of personal freedom; also, as a trivialization of the freedom of those who choose God. There are too many disputable presuppositions built into his analyses for brief review and I do not have time for lengthy exposition. It seems to me that the latter objection often holds a disguised egotism on the part of the “saved.” And as long as I am throwing out conjecture, it also seems to me a mistake to divide God’s justice and mercy and then treat the damnation of souls as a necessary exhibition of justice. The whole thing is rife with misconception and ridiculous for those who would claim a Thomist metaphysics. The Good does not need evil to be clarified or recognized. Imo, God’s simplicity and a proper sense of what is involved in creation ought to imply that God’s Mercy is his Justice. They are reversible and at one with Creation which ultimately requires eschatological realization. Moreover, pace standard critics of universalist claims, His Mercy is not a dismissal of the seriousness of temporal actions. The wounds of Christs’ Resurrected Body, among other things, witness to a redemption that does not simply ignore the realities of unique histories.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Brian,

        ‘The whole thing is rife with misconception and ridiculous for those who would claim a Thomist metaphysics.’

        The problem though is that Aquinas himself gives rise to the conception that God allows evil for the express purpose in order to bring about the good. What comes to mind is Aquinas’ reply to in ST part 1, Question 2: ‘This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.’ He no less relates the existence of evil to the existence of God: there is evil in the world therefore God does exist.

        Your point though, as I understand it, is that such a take on the nature of evil is otherwise not ancillary to his metaphysics. But we can see why many do think a theodicy of hell is necessary to Thomist metaphysics, which I think we both agree is mistaken.

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        • brian says:

          Robert,

          I never actually had an official Thomist card to lose, but I would certainly have lost it by now if I had. I generally go with Thomistically-inspired which I stole from Norris Clarke. That way I can assent to much in Thomas that is insightful — I think his basic take on esse and essence, along with his synthesis of Aristotelian and neoplatonist elements into a specifically Christian metaphysics are of enduring value. (This means that in practical terms, I am a Thomist in significant ways, but not slavishly committed to all his opinions.) I have noted before that fellas like Feser are not only following the majority view of Catholic dogma, but represent a faithful interpretation of Thomas’ eschatology. I have also speculated that the silence at the end of Thomas’ life may indicate a powerful counter to his prior certitudes, but that, of course, is unprovable. In any event, as you say, there is nothing in the fundamental metaphysics that compels Aquinas’ eschatological surmise.

          With regards to that specific thought of Thomas’, it seems to me that one can allow the providential permission of evil for the purposes of a greater good. One might even, as I think Thomas does, imply that certain goods would not occur without the acceptance of certain accidental evils. For example, Berdyaev remarks upon the particular good of a bohemian poet and says that if the bohemian poet had been a saint, one would not have that unique splendor of just that kind of poet. If one thinks sanctity as somehow excluding a rich wealth of particularities, then the good appears too constricted. I think there must be a way to affirm something valid in Berdyaev’s (implicit) objection. I suppose that something similar is intended in Aquinas’s quite different method of exposition. Granting all this is controversial and a certain kind of moralist would strongly object. Yannaras is good on this, btw. I am not on the side of the moralists.

          Regardless, none of this impacts the ultimate metaphysical claims that evil is privative and that the flourishing of the Good does not need evil to be clarified. The refusal of such, I take it, is partly behind the eschatology that seems to require hell as a function of justice and justice divorced from mercy as necessary to the full revelation of God’s goodness. That, I strongly object to.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Mike, my guess is that McCann’s judgment here is determined by his dogmatic commitments. If eternal damnation is a given, and if we know that hell is or will be populated, and if we are trying think up a theodicy of hell, then something like what McCann has written is virtually inevitable.

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      • Mike H says:

        Yeah, you’re probably right about that. When the cards are on the table, there are really only a few explanatory options. And one of those explanatory options is that the depravity of the depraved provides the occasion for the revealing of some aspect of divine “goodness” (aka “justice”) that might otherwise not be made manifest. Not a new explanation by any stretch. But it seems inconsistent with some of McCann’s underlying theological assumptions & makes me think that I’m grossly misunderstanding him. He may be arguing that the combination of goodness-as-“justice” and “freedom” demands the possibility of final loss, but it seems a stretch to read it that way. It reads that goodness-as-“justice” needs the unrepentant to be complete. I certainly agree that goodness requires justice, but what sort of justice?

        Forget systematic theology and hard logic for a moment though. “..this manifestation of the good that is justice could not exist but for the creation of those destined for unrepentance”, for me, is gazing into an abyss of darkness and equivocation.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I am as confused as you, Mike. But McCann’s theodicy of hell is really no different than any Augustinian-Thomist theologian who believes in efficacious grace and then has to explain why God did not save the reprobate when he could have.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, you make a slip there at the end, at least in reference to McCann. His great insight (whether or not you agree) is that modal notions do not apply to God’s action. Thus to say God “could have” saved the lost is false. Nor does this imply that God “had to” create some to be damned. I.e. while it is false that God could do otherwise than he does, it is not therefore true that he has to do whatever he does. Rather, as McCann labors to say, God transcends these distinctions altogether. The reality is simply that God in fact creates beings who resist him to the point of damnation. The question is, not whether he could have done differently (which is meaningless), but whether this act is a loving act, since God is perfectly loving. And it seems to me, supposing created beings exist who consistently rebel against God, it is in fact a loving thing to do to give them what they want: separation from him. So if you want to fault McCann’s theology you can do so but not by imagining that there are lost creatures out there who God “could have saved.” For that is simply meaningless: apart from our immediate creation – and the entirety our “careers” as McCann said – there is no “possible being” to speak of who may or may not be saved, considered in the abstract.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Young and Rested says:

    McCann uses the language of hell as separation from God in one of the sections above. I may be simply showing my ignorance here, but can somebody explain to me how anyone can be separated from God without slipping into nonexistence?

    It is very common for people to speak of hell as separation from God, but most accounts of it that I’ve heard seem to treat it like God lives in a house and the damned live in a dumpster a few blocks away, cut off from all interaction. This seems too anthropomorphic to me. If God is the ground of our existence, our creator and sustainer, then wouldn’t a strict separation be impossible? Would “hell as separation” then need to be seen as not a total, but a partial separation? And if only partial, then isn’t the door of hope left ajar?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bob Sacamano says:

      The simple insight that we did not “choose” our way into existence, and that we cannot “choose” our way out of existence has had a profound effect on my understanding of God, freedom, and the gift of life. How much better for us when we accept this gift as truly a gift, and not as a curse.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Young and Rested says:

    “…what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what He wills.”

    So if I’m putting Hart’s entire position together correctly, evil is in every way contrary to the will of God and is unnecessary for the attainment of His good ends, yet God permits it to occur and will eventually redeem every evil.

    What I feel I’m still left with is the ‘why’ part of evil. It seems that Hart’s position shuts the door on there being any sort of ‘because’ to answer with. Evil need not be, is contrary to the will of God and plays no positive role in achieving the final blessedness of creation, so why permit it?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Regarding the “why?” I can only refer you to *The Doors of the Sea*. It’s a short book and really worth reading.

      Like

      • Young and Rested says:

        I will definitely give it a read. Hart can be a bit intimidating to read sometimes, but after reading your blog for some time, I feel more up to the challenge!

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Young and Rested, here’s a short article by DBH on theodicy. This will give you a glimpse into his book on the subject: “Tsunami and Theodicy

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          • Young and Rested says:

            That certainly piqued my interest in the book (and as Providence would have it, I already had a copy lying around at home). I’ll be curious to see how he further develops the ideas presented in the essay. He seems be arguing that all the evils we presently experience are the result of some primordial alienation of what was a perfectly good creation and that, far from being fully explicable, evil is the ultimate absurdity. Thus,”…God enters “this cosmos” not simply to disclose its immanent rationality, but to break the boundaries of fallen nature asunder, and to refashion creation after its ancient beauty — wherein neither sin nor death had any place.”

            There is something appealing here to me, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m still unclear as to how or why creation fell from its original state of beauty and how irrationality invaded the rational order, but I suppose that’s why I should read the book!

            Thanks for the link!

            Like

          • Mike H says:

            Y&R,

            Yeah, I think you’re right re: “primordial alienation”.

            This appears about halfway through The Doors of the Sea:

            –”Perhaps no doctrine strikes non-Christians as more insufferably fabulous than the claim that we exist in the long melancholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe: that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is a phantom of true time, that we live in an umbratile interval between creation in its fullness and the nothingness from which it was called, that the universe languishes in bondage to the “powers” and “principalities” of this age, which never cease in their enmity toward the Kingdom of God.”

            He proceeds to talk about a “provisional” cosmic dualism.

            And towards the end of the book:

            –”The fall of rational creation and the subjection of the cosmos to death is something that appears to us nowhere within the unbroken time of nature or history; we cannot search it out within the closed continuum of the wounded world; it belongs to another frame of time, another kind of time, one more real than the time of death.”

            Both of these quotes are thick with stuff to talk about (the whole book is), but I’m not aware of any further discussion of the nature of this “primordial catastrophe” that goes beyond bald assertion.

            And his thoughts elsewhere add layers of complexity. Like this:

            –“To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never have been free to choose it.”
            -The Moral Meaning of Creation ex Nihilo p.10

            If this is true, what did man “fall” from and to? This fall could not have been from “perfection”. Isn’t there a dilemma here?

            As much as the questions re: the exact nature of the fall and it’s implications continue to haunt me, in the end, I’m not sure that DBH really cares a whole lot about the answer – or at the very least does not treat it as a finality in and of itself. As much as a poor answer might destroy the possibility of faith, no answer intellectually satisfies. The answer is the hope of Easter. The book ends (citing the vision of Rev 21):

            and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits about the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

            Liked by 2 people

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Mike, you quote the following: “To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never have been free to choose it.”

            This, I think, may be the most striking thing DBH has said about the apokatastasis. It hit me right in the middle of my brain when I first heard his talk.

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  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Here is a passage from Beauty of the Infinite that summarizes St Gregory of Nyssen’s understanding of apokatastasis:

    Every creature that can see and contemplate is drawn irresistibly, from its creation, toward God’s beauty, turning from it only through spiritual blindness. As the soul is fashioned in the image of that beauty, its very being is an eros for the perfect goodness of God; and so long as it is deficient in the good, it can neither cease to conceive a desire for a greater indwelling of the limitless beauty its deepest nature craves – and in which it can arrive at no final satiety – nor halt its progress into eternity (CE 1: 285-87). The salvation of all souls is inevitable because each soul is a changing image of the infinite God; the dynamism of the soul has
    only God’s absolute, changeless fullness as its source and end, and God’s eternity as its element. Salvation, for Gregory, is simply that same act – but made perfect in Christ – by which God rouses us each moment from nonbeing, as a pure stirring of love, seeking union with him. In its endless pilgrimage toward God, the creature is always being created anew (ICC 6: 174), always entering into that one act by which God gives being to beings; coming from God, then, and going to God are one and the same thing. Within the core of Gregory’s “creationist” metaphysics, a scheme of egressus and regressus is retained, but is drawn into a unity: the single gesture of the ontological difference, God’s creative actus constituting its ontic expression as a pilgrimage into the infinite, a journey from nothingness into God’s beauty, forever. The “ontico-ontological difference” is a gift that is its own return, and is itself also the unity of what it differentiates. If, then, the finite is joined to the infinite by being drawn always out of its limitations, evil – which is finitude itself, the nothingness and formlessness of a self-positing sublime – must pass away; confronted by the infinite in Christ, it cannot persist. There is no dark underside to God’s infinity, no shadow subsistence of evil, no dialectical and coterminous current of the negative; the creature’s free progress must ultimately move beyond evil, for in being joined to God’s endlessness, and in being in itself endless mutability, the soul cannot be contained within the bounds of evil’s pure negation. Evil is, says Gregory, like a cone of shadow cast out weakly into a universe of light (which is how the geocentric cosmology of late antiquity conceived of night); the moving soul cannot but pass beyond it into the infinite good (DHO 21: 2o1B-4A). Moreover, for Gregory there are not separate species of evil – sin, suffering, death, hell – but only the single fact of that which strives against the will of God in creation, a limitation absurdly opposing itself to his limitlessness, and so the “failure” of God to save all creation would ap pear, in Gregory’s eyes, to involve an impossible dualism: the notion of an eternal hell, of an endless godlessness parallel to the endlessness of God, would involve the logical nonsense of a dual eternity, an eternity that is not God (IIP 2.8: ioo-ioi). (pp. 155-156)

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    • Micah says:

      If evil is defined as “finitude itself” and our salvation as “a pilgrimage into the infinite, a journey from nothingness into God’s beauty, forever” then wouldn’t evil be eternal? After all, a finite thing can continue expanding indefinitely without ever actually becoming infinite.

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      • brian says:

        I think one would have to allow for some contextual leeway in defining evil as finitude itself. If finitude is the very condition of creation, one risks introducing metaphysical alienation of a gnostic variety. Clearly, this is not what is intended. Within the theological narrative that plots finitude, finitude as evil would be a refusal of the natural dynamism of the spirit; it would also be a refusal of the infinite source of finitude, so ultimately an illogical attempt to secure one’s being apart from the gift that grounds one’s existence. Modern philosophies of the immanent resist the transcendent and assert the inviolability of the claims of the finite will (following a logic of nominalist, voluntarist nihilism.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Micah says:

          Would it fair for me for to think of evil as that which pulls in the direction of nonexistence and/or promotes stagnation in the soul’s journey into God’s infinitude? It’s not that being finite is itself an imperfection of a soul, but that the orientation towards finitude is? This way evil is any sort of ‘boundary wall’ that keeps us from travelling further into a certain ‘area’ of God and sin is the willful building of such walls. Am I barking up the right tree?

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          • brian says:

            I think that sounds pretty good. My only caveat is there is a certain ambiguity in “orientation towards finitude.” One would need to take care not to imply that our journey towards the infinite was competitive with the cosmos. We do not, as in certain dualistic Christianities, have to choose between God and cosmos — paradoxically, Creation is raised upon in the Body of Christ into eternal splendor. The “world” is as advaitist vedantism claims “Neti, neti” — an illusion of “Not this, not this,” but the cosmos is not the world. Further, while mysticism generally privileges the apophatic over the cataphatic image, I think it is a mistake to prioritize the mystical as contrary to the sacramental. The latter recognizes the inherent receptivity of matter to the spirit and that the infinite is mediated through the finite. Further, the finite is “always already” a participation in the infinite and graced with infinite depths itself, but such vision must transcend the univocal, positivist proclivities of the age.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Micah says:

            Thanks for the response, Brian.

            I must admit that there’s a bit more in your reply than I’m presently equipped to understand, but let me have a crack at refining my thoughts from what you wrote.

            Could it be said that sin is the preference for one’s own finitude over and against that of God’s infinite being? Or indeed the preference for anything created over its uncreated source? There is no competition between God and the cosmos, so to put them into competition would be a wrong move (and to subsequently choose cosmos over God would be catastrophic). Thus, sin is a kind of misguided, self-harming pridefulness or an unwitting attempt at self-destruction disguised to the soul as an assertion of autonomy?

            I’m getting the feeling that there isn’t necessarily a single go-to account of sin that will suffice for all conversations, but that there are different ways of speaking of it depending on the context.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Brian is right here Micah. Consider how Hart defines finitude in its immediate context: ‘which is finitude itself, the nothingness and formlessness of a self-positing sublime‘ The nothingness of finitude does not consist in finitude per se, but rather it consists in self-willed intentionality. We do believe that finitude is God’s very own handiwork, and He saw that it was good.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. stanrock says:

    With the discovery of chaos theory in the 20th century, the traditionally-supposed corollary from “adequate determinism” to “catastrophic teleological reduction” is no longer the case.

    Under deterministic chaos, surgical purposes evaporate over time, whereby it can be that God is exhaustively superordinately responsible for everything that happens, and yet creation (not just mankind, but all creation, like mosquitoes) has freedom — compatibilistic freedom, but an authentic (teleologically novel/emergent) kind, not a disingenuous kind.

    Here, God must assert (and reassert) any surgical purposes by supernatural fiat. From there, things begin to drift and wander, not unlike the meandering relationship of Moses and his fellow adventurers.

    (He has also the option to, if he is very crafty about it, plant the acorn of some surgical purpose in a prior, even distant, intervention — from which he knows causation will be tethered to his later aim, however indirectly. There would also be mega-acorns that link to many aims. The Beginning, and later Incarnation, would be mega-acorns.)

    In other words, when you plug-in chaos theory to adequate determinism, suddenly what plays-out looks precisely like what we observe in the Christian experience and story. And evil remains a teleological “lack.”

    The function of deterministic chaos is to generate natural freedom, like the function of a toaster is to make toast. For a rundown of what sovereign intersts would foster deterministic chaos, including a computer game that conveys what deterministic chaos feels like, Google “stanrock micromanaging.”

    More broadly, I also suspect the purgatorial conclusion is inevitable. For your interest, my helicopter view is at “stanrock sovereignties,” which concludes with quotes from St. Isaac.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Paul Paulsen says:

    I really love to listen to Tom Waits…

    One of his songs always remindes me of God bringing us home…

    Listen for yourself. Love and peace to all…

    Greetings form Germany

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Steve Miller says:

    Thanks for a great blog. It seems to me to be well framed and a good way in to a tricky subject.
    As mentioned elsewhere, I found Vernon White’s, ‘Purpose and Providence: Taking Soundings in Western Thought, Literature and Theology’ (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), to be a worthwhile book on the subject of providence. I recommend it if you haven’t come across it. It makes some reference to DBH’s ‘Providence & Causality: On Divine Innocence’ (in ‘The Providence of God’, Eds. Murphy & Ziegler).

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  9. Gregory of Nyssa is considered the leading Church Father in the Greek and Orthodox Church, along with all the Eastern Universal (Catholic) Churches is he not? I can understand why! He follows True Apostolic Universalism, along with many other saints in the Church for the first five centuries of church history! What I can’t understand, is why did Augustine and other Latin theologians come up with the falsehood of an “eternal duality of good and evil” and an “everlasting” hell? Was it because of a faulty mistranslated Latin Bible, where the Latin word “aeternium” (eternal) was used for biblical Greek words meaning an Age or Ages; the then common use of “the doctrine of reserve”, (I’m sure you know what that is); or Augustine’s several years of being in the gnostic sect of “Manecheans” (who believed and taught the eternal duality of good and evil); or a combination of all three? Didn’t Gregory pre-date Augustine’s writings of his theological books, such as “The City of God” in the early fifth century? I know that it is written that Augustine didn’t know Koine Greek, nor had any desire to know it! Weren’t the two Gregories the leading orthodox bishops at The Council of Nicea in AD 325? Please furnish any more information that you know about all of this. Thank you, Ron Murphy

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      It’s probably more accurate to say that St Gregory Nyssen is well respected and honored in the Orthodox Church but is not considered the leading Church Father. St Basil of Caesarea is known as St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nazianzus as St Gregory the Theologian.

      The best scholarly work on the universalist hope of the Church Fathers is Ilaria Ramelli’s The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis, but it is exorbitantly priced. Wipf & Stock promises that sometime before Jesus returns in glory they will publish a short, popular book by her on the topic.

      I’m afraid I can’t address your questions at the moment. I’m preparing to fly to Charleston in a few hours. Hopefully others can join in.

      Like

  10. I posted a long comment just now about universalism and St. Gregory of Nyssa. I don’t see it posted, what happened?

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  11. brian says:

    With regards to the exact nature of the Fall, though it is dogmatically secure, the historical or meta-historical details are necessarily speculative. Yannaras plainly refuses any historical reality and excoriates some of the moralizing use made of Adamic guilt. I am sympathetic to some of his chagrin. John Milbank has a pertinent thought in The Word Made Strange which I quote below:

    As regards the fall, we cannot possibly substitute Darwin’s narrative for our mythology; only the unwise would search for paradise among primaeval swamps, whose weirdly monstrous inhabitants betray to faith their non-belonging to the primarily intended order. I pose this issue because it raises most acutely the question of Christian realism. For the Christian, a realistic apprehension of the world does not consist in factual survey and surmise, but in an evaluative reading of its signs as clues to ultimate meanings and causes. Thus the world is construed as gift and promise, and we construct the narrative picture of a Creator God. But also the world is construed as in some way already, before any traceable historical action, involved in a refusal or wrong apprehension of this gift; it is a world of death as well as life (only masochism can imagine that death is part of the primordial Creation). So we construct the narrative of the fall. In either case, we know the narrative form to be woefully inadequate, but in either case also this form is seen to be indispensable to our doctrine and ontology and, in either case again, to mean what we want to mean, we must uphold its reference to reality – a real Creation, a real loss.

    Thus the Christian grasp of reality right from the start is utterly at variance with anything the world supposes to be ‘realistic’. This is why it is so absurd deliberately to import the world’s realism into the sphere of Christian ethics as if, when it came to the practical crunch, we could set aside our entire religious vision to one side. In Christian terms, it is the world that will never understand the world aright.

    Milbank is not the stylist Hart is, but he is still a fecund, intriguing thinker. Original Sin and the Fall become clarified in the light of the revelation of Christ; the aetiology of evil remains obscure, but it was more obscure before the advent of the God-Man whose eschatological light helps illuminate both alpha and omega. A more acute understanding of the relation between ontology and epistemology (Przywara speaks of meta-ontics and meta-noetics) would help undermine the simplistic positivism that surrounds our typical view of “facts.” In any case, reason is complex and its famished modern version is ill-equipped to deal with questions of origin and ultimacy. Yet the pithy conclusion to all this is that what umbratile sense of origins we have is beholden to the open-ended semiotic of an eschatological imagination. This is what brings us closer to a true understanding, though to a modern it will appear one is building castles in the sky, whilst their own primitive fabrications are treated as “facts” fully endorsed by an unquestioned experimental methodology whose epistemic limitations are ignored, soon forgotten — and then what falls outside is treated as fantastical surmise of the terminally superstitious.

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    • Mike H says:

      Brian,

      This, I suppose, is what it boils down to:

      “(only masochism can imagine that death is part of the primordial Creation). So we construct the narrative of the fall.”

      It is necessary. A dogmatically secure plug generated by the other variables.

      Ancient creation myths seemingly had no reservations about embedding violence and death into the very fabric of primordial and ordered existence. But the creation narrative of Genesis is subversive in that respect. And Easter “victory” ultimately rings hollow – “triumphalism” in words only – if all historical moments in their suffering and tragedy are simply a marching onward of an unthwarted meticulous providence. Easter protests against this. And DBH recognizes that the stakes are high.

      Can’t one be forgiven, though, for attempting to comprehend this fall narrative within the field of actual existence? It has been ontologically placed there by the vast vast majority of theologians across the centuries after all….

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      • brian says:

        Mike,

        I can’t really speak for Milbank, but I don’t read him as denying the fall as something within the “field of actual existence.” Yannaras is a more complicated matter, but in either case, I think it’s important to note that if one talks about “meta-physics,” or the “meta-historical,” etc., one is not asserting something devoid of reality. Rather, one is alluding to realities that transcend the narrower parameters of “mere physics” or “chronicle.” In regards to the fall, I take it that Milbank simply notes that 1) we are dealing with a prehistorical reality, so in terms of history we are either without data or restricted to highly speculative conjecture and 2) the “global” nature of the fall touching upon substantial ontological change invokes realities that are intrinsically larger than what can reasonably be handled by the categories of the historical — so mythology is not a second-best because we lack sufficient historical record, but the proper genre to engage realities that could not be fully comprehended by history. (MIlbank would point to Annunciation, Incarnation, and Resurrection as events that obviously leave historical markers, but explode the capacities of mere historical narrative. Hence, John’s passing explanation near the end of his gospel that Christ’s action could not be contained by all the books in the world.)

        Ancient creation myths, of course, are implicitly rooted in an agonic metaphysics where the divine is not really transcendent of the cosmos. Thus the divine may be construed as constituted by a cyclic “battle” between divine order and divine chaos or the divine may be thought of as forces of order that must wrest order from a resistant, entropic chaotic matter. In either case, the “other” or difference is encoded as either hostile to the divine or as giving warrant to a flux of endless change synonymous with Heraclitian “war.” Only the Triune God of Christianity truly allows one to think a transcendence that establishes immanence, a unity that is also an original peace of loving difference. I think Milbank’s point is that in the light of revelation, one is able to “read” creation in a manner opaque to those who are ignorant of or reject the gospel. One can then “retrospectively” understand that our historical condition simply must presuppose a fall as our anguished time is not compatible with Christian theo-logic. I don’t see this as a departure from the traditional view of the fall. It is a more sophisticated way of getting there and presents a more nuanced argument, imo.

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        • Grant says:

          In some respects I’m finding it more difficult to understand the Fall in mostly historical terms, as beyond other things there is a vast span of time in which there weren’t humans at all, vastly more than any period in which humans have been present on this planet (let alone the universe). And all the evidence given to us indicates it was a world not unlike present conditions in terms of being as filled with death as with life, where death reigns every bit as much as it does now, where life was fragile with the very environment prior animals lived in could be as hostile and ruthlessly merciless to them as it could be beneficial and supporting the flourishing of life. It was one where cancers and diseases existed just as they do now, I always remember the fossil found in the Gobi desert of a velociraptor and a protoceratops locked together in a death struggle from the velociraptor’s hunt, and both killed simultaneously by a sudden sandstorm. It seems to exist at times that one requires the other, and it makes you wonder why is the universe so constituted so, one in which death and suffering are a consistent of existence from the beginning it seems.

          This persistence of natural evil is a difficulty to at least easily see the fall historically, after all human’s can have no seemingly direct responsibility for this since they weren’t around for almost all of it, these things, all what is defined under natural evil where all already a part of life when humans emerged and was part of the existence they came into and were a part of.

          It is not surprising that all the early creation myths had chaos and suffering as interwoven into the universe, since that is exactly what would seem to be the case, it is only with Christ we have a counter to that, that would cause us to believe or at least hope differently.

          But as understanding it historically, it’s difficult, as I have said, in this decree of vast sweeping suffering and death, humans had no part and can’t really be responsible for it in any way. That part of the Fall seems difficult to place with us, and it’s hard understand in the light of what Christ reveals God to be, why it is so, since animals don’t have fully rational natures to mistake the Good, and even less anything else, they are or should be as God would have them be at that point in affairs, unless it involves something to do with the angelic entities and their agency?

          To be honest, I find this part of things troubling, and understanding natural evil and what it might say about God and how to square that with the revelation in Christ difficult as well particularly when combined with the completely free creation in creatio ex nihilo.

          But in anycase, I guess the Fall can’t be comprehended in purely historical terms, and mythic is probably the best to approach it.

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          • brian says:

            I sympathize with pretty much all of this, Grant. Yannaras is a strange case, because he is generally engaged in a strong polemic against the West, but his take on nature seems to me evocative of certain forms of Western pessimism with regards to nature. So, he simply accepts death in nature as a primal truth; then he posits love and the emergence of personhood as the victory of grace over nature. I am more inclined towards a “grace fulfilling nature” dynamic, but I continue to find Yannaras a fruitful interlocutor for reflection.

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    • Bob Sacamano says:

      Does anybody else find it impossible to read Milbank? It’s not like he uses uncommon vocabulary. The words are simple enough to understand. And yet at the end of a paragraph I’ll think to myself “what the heck did I just read?” I can’t put my finger on why I can’t process his writing.

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      • brian says:

        Well, I am aware that Milbank frustrates many readers. I think I generally understand him, though it’s always possible my interpretation is a mere palimpsest that projects my own sensibility and preoccupations. He is one of those thinkers who “colors outside the lines.” He is also very allusive and frequently requires prior erudition to make sense of a structure that is sometimes a chasing after rabbit trails. I still find him an immensely rewarding thinker.

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  12. brian says:

    Micah,

    The idol is a function of maya. It is an illusion. If one places any creature, including oneself, at the center, you grasp at nothing. The paradox is that in choosing God, you get the reality of everything else as well. The cosmos is theophanic, so all true being is iconic.

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    • Micah says:

      That just totally blew my mind in the best possible way. I had to stop thinking and sit in wonder for a while. If this is true, then these waters are deeper than I thought and I am marvelously in over my head.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. John H says:

    Finitude is not evil per se. But are not some of the inevitable consequences of finitude death, natural evils like tornados and tsunamis and even the second law of thermodynamics which indicates that the amount of disorder and chaos in our universe increases as time progresses? So how can finitude, standing alone, not be evil? Didn’t Paul write that the last enemy to be destroyed in the eschaton is death?

    I know that this is not an orthodox thought, but the idea that creation and the fall are one and the same thing seems right to me. When God continuously calls all creatures into existence from the void, both finitude and death commence at that moment. No primordial fall is necessary; the creation is filled with the tamasic elements of suffering, decay and death from its very beginning.

    But God nonetheless sees that everything is good, at least from His perspective. Is this because God sees everything and all times perfectly at once; the beginning, middle and end of all things is always known to Him. He sees all things in their fullness, as they are when they return home to Him and are no longer constrained by finitude or death.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      John,

      Creation as contingent being is wholly dependent for its existence as constituting the flourishing of divine act. Evil is no such flourishing, but wholly lacking divine act, an absolute privation of grounding in the Good. It is, we might say, as such not only a departure from the Good but also departure from creaturely finitude. Whereas creaturely finitude bears the image of the Infinite as a mirror, evil is endowed with no such reflective capacities whatsoever: it is not endowed at all.

      Here is the problem I see with your formulation of creation: eliminate perspectives and God’s ‘good’ is our death. Time becomes but a bothersome particularity in need of erasure: the creature stands in the way of God’s ultimate ‘good’ plan (which may also be our death, we have no indication as to what ‘good’ denotes).

      I think it better to consider sin, death, decay, suffering, etc., as an aberration, a departure from God’s prior will for creation which he intended from eternity. Such a departure utterly lacks divine grounding, it is unnecessary, irrational, without purpose, without meaning. But the whole (not even its true) story of historical humanity is not its departure: rather it is its recapitulation in the eschatological plan of God, which is no other than the prior plan of God.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Morgan Hunter says:

    Hart’s wonderful declaration that good things intended by God can never require evils in order to be realized seems to me to imply some kind of doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul, as theologically dubious as this may be. After all, what is each individual irreplaceable immortal person created in God’s image and likeness if not a good thing? And yet, reflecting back on the events that led up to our conceptions, there always appears sooner or later some evil event which played a necessary causal role in bringing about our existence. Somehow, there must be some ‘supralapsarian’ divine intention to bring into existence all potential persons, regardless of how the vagaries of fallen history affect the circumstances of their incarnations.

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    • brian says:

      Morgan, I suspect this is too strong a reading of what Hart is saying. He is objecting to a theodicy in which every historical happening is construed as a necessary part of God’s providence. The notion that a good God somehow required the Holocaust in order to bring about the eschatological kingdom is a vile, blasphemous notion, but in some notions of providence it would be conceptually impossible to deny it. I rather doubt that Hart is asserting the possibility that in our fallen, temporal world, anyone could existentially realize their teleological vocation without finding their path impinged by evil. Indeed, isn’t the Cross the definitive contrary evidence?

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      • Morgan Hunter says:

        I definitely agree with what you’re saying about how it’s impossible for any of us to realize our vocations in this fallen world without encountering evil. I guess my question is more about whether not merely the teleological unfolding of our lives but the very fact of our existence can absolutely require evil. Jerry Walls first made me think about this issue in an interesting essay where he questioned whether someone whose parents only met as a result of the vast population displacements following the Second World War could honestly say that they completely regret the horrors of that conflict without in some sense regretting their own existence. So, while I completely agree with what you and Hart are saying about how it’s blasphemous to say that the Holocaust was required to bring about the eschatological kingdom, I would go further and say that I’m at least uncomfortable with the idea that the Holocaust was required to bring a single immortal soul into existence. While I definitely acknowledge that certain limited ‘earthly’ goods may require evil to bring them about, I’d be inclined to place immortal souls in the same ‘transcendent’ category as the eschatological kingdom itself. To use the life of Christ as an analogy, one could say that while the Cross was of course only made necessary by the Fall, the Incarnation itself was (at least per Irenaeus and per Hart himself, who firmly rejects the whole ‘felix culpa’ idea) ‘supralapsarianly’ intended by God to take place even if the Fall hadn’t occurred.

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        • Morgan Hunter says:

          Expanding on my last point–it has been often observed by Biblical commentators that Matthew’s genealogy of Christ seems to emphasize certain pairings that only arose as the direct or indirect result of human sin. Specifically, it mentions Tamar’s bearing a child by Judah, which would never have happened if Onan had done his duty, and much more obviously David’s begetting Solomon by his act of adultery by Uriah’s wife. (While Mattthew is of course not here enumerating Christ’s genetic ancestry through Mary but his legal place in the Davidic line of succession through Joseph, it seems obvious that as the Mother of God’s ancestors were just as much fallen human beings similar events must have occurred there as well.) Thus, even if the fact of the Incarnation would have happened regardless, the contingent causal chain that led up to Christ’s conception in actual history included as necessary ‘links’ some acts of evil.

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          • brian says:

            Morgan,

            I still have the feeling we are talking past one another somehow. I think it is self-evident that just looking along the temporal-historical plane, every chain of causation is ultimately part of the whole. So naturally, one will not find concrete situations that are not closely or distantly connected. Further, if one brings in vertical causality and formal and final considerations, the unity of human nature across space and time is understood to involve relations much more than adventitious. This implies that adventitious relation is a minimum, not a maximal disclosure of how “everything is connected.”

            I would certainly concur and have said as much here a number of times that it is a mistake to understand the Incarnation as an ad hoc reaction to the fall. What one wants to avoid is the notion that Voltaire ridiculed so effectively, i.e., the idea that everything that happens was necessary or we would not have the good we become acquainted with. If one makes that claim, one is tacitly justifying anything that happens, because quite evidently, the particular causal chains that we can discern or even not discern obviously resulted in the concrete existential situations that do, in fact, happen to be.

            It’s a bit tricky, because how does one present a counter-historical argument that isn’t simply begging the question? The answer, I take it, is not to offer one. Rather, one should recur to the more metaphysical argument derived from revelation, which is what I think Hart does. It is from an understanding of the nature of the Triune God as love that one grounds a proper ontology. Modern “onto-theology” thinks in terms of potential being a larger set than the actual. It also tends to think of being univocally, so it cannot properly think the transcendence of God which paradoxically founds an intimacy beyond the material and efficient causality that constrains the deist conceptions of creation. Modern notions of creation see providence as shuffling through possibilities, but God does not create in that way. God’s simplicity precludes the kind of deliberative choice involved in creaturely acts of “creation.” God does not choose from options. He simply creates who and what He wants; the actual is a flourishing aseity that founds creaturely possibility. Esse is larger than essence with all its temporal unfolding. (There is a paradox here that would complicate what I just said, but this is sufficiently abstruse, no?) Thus, all the historical permutations you are considering are rooted in a prior act of creation. Just like the Incarnation of the Logos would have happened whether there had been a fall or not, your unique being — all the cosmos, as John’s Gospel and Ephesians indicate, has its eternal root in Christ — would have come into being. We simply cannot conjecture the hypotheticals of an unfallen world, but the main point is your being as much as the Incarnation is hardly restricted to a reactive “creation.”

            I hope I have been reasonably clear here. I did not anticipate writing at such length, but the subject is inherently complex.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Morgan,

            Interventionist and reactive models of divine agency rest on univocal assumptions of divine knowledge and activity, such as Brian is keen to point out. The fallacies of such notions invariably rest on construals of inevitability and determination outside God’s eternal will. The historical unfolding of time in violence can only be rescued by rupture of the absolute at the cost of humanity’s freedom. Divine action in such formulations requires evil to bring about its ends. I think it better (and more Scriptural) to understand divine agency in spite of the unfolding of the violence of sin: the Good works for the good as eternally willed, redeeming creation by overtaking finitude in the plenitude of infinity. In this the creative act is not different from the redemptive act. For evil, as pure finitude, it means its end.

            Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Yes, regardless and despite. Preexistence of the soul is an unnecessary conclusion: God’s eternally willed creation of humanity preexists in the mind of God; the temporal unfolding is reaching, albeit by detour of sin, its ultimate fulfillment for which it was intended before its creation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Morgan Hunter says:

        Brian and Robert–
        I’m going to have to sit for a bit to properly digest your very thoughtful responses! I’m very glad to see that you share my basic concern–I’m pretty sure we’re fundamentally on the same page here, even if I was expressing myself a bit awkwardly…Thank you so much for taking the time to respond at such length!

        Liked by 2 people

  15. This is a small question in comparison to the weighty comments I have read, but it struck me in the portion you wrote about the permissive will of God. I recall a set of sermons concerning the will of God by Leslie Weatherhead, in which he makes five distinctions as we think of the will of God. Is Hart thinking in that direction? I must say also that his argument for the universal thrust of salvation is persuasive. I was struck by Pannenberg, who I think would largely agree. However, he leaves the door for some who might pass through the fire of judgment (we all must) and have nothing redeemable left. These would not suffer eternally, but rather, be destroyed.

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    • Young and Rested says:

      Someone please correct me if I’m wrong here, but I got the impression from Hart (not sure of a specific passage right now) that he believes the apokatastasis extends to everything that has a positive existence. In other words, that everything is redeemable except for evil itself which, properly speaking, has no existence but is merely a privation of the good (e.g. of that which exists, because existence is good). If that is the case, then the fire of judgment would seem to be one that destroys evil by consuming nothingness. It does not destroy anything that is real about us, but is lethal to the false self. To pass through the fire and have absolutely nothing left would mean that the person who entered it was purely false and entirely evil. In other words, what God had created was already annihilated prior to the judgment. This could only be the case if persons have the power to destroy themselves.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes that is a fair assessment, with the clarification to note that the complete destruction of the good is not a possibility; the reach and power of sin is not a match to the Good and to the image of the Good in the good.

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        • brian says:

          One of these days we may actually disagree about something Robert . . . but not today. Well stated.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Young and Rested says:

          That’s an excellent point. Too often people seem to speak of evil as though it were equal in power with goodness. I think that this raising of evil to an ontological par with the Good is one of the main reasons why it is difficult for many to imagine that God can gain a total victory.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Y&R,

            I believe evil as ‘steresis’ (utter deprivation of the good and of subsistence) to be the only biblically warranted view (not to speak of metaphysical consistency), even though critics will decry it to be influenced by Hellenistic philosophy (i.e. Platonism). In the words of Origen and of the bishop of Nyssa, ‘the non-existent cannot exist for ever.’ Evil must pass away, it is the ultimate in derivative finitude, it was not made by God and will therefore not exist forever as God will be all in all.

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  16. John H says:

    Robert,

    The following quote by Hart from the The Beauty of the Infinite cited by Father supra, seems to, if that is possible, capture the quintessence of God’s original plan for creation, as revealed in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa. For Gregory, it seems that creation, salvation and theosis are all part of a single timeless act. God sees both the exitus and reditus of each being as a single tapestry of unbroken wholeness and ultimate felicity as they journey back to their eternal Source:

    The salvation of all souls is inevitable because each soul is a changing image of the infinite God; the dynamism of the soul has only God’s absolute, changeless fullness as its source and end, and God’s eternity as its element. Salvation, for Gregory, is simply that same act – but made perfect in Christ – by which God rouses us each moment from nonbeing, as a pure stirring of love, seeking union with him. In its endless pilgrimage toward God, the creature is always being created anew (ICC 6: 174), always entering into that one act by which God gives being to beings; coming from God, then, and going to God are one and the same thing. Within the core of Gregory’s “creationist” metaphysics, a scheme of egressus and regressus is retained, but is drawn into a unity: the single gesture of the ontological difference, God’s creative actus constituting its ontic expression as a pilgrimage into the infinite, a journey from nothingness into God’s beauty, forever. The “ontico-ontological difference” is a gift that is its own return, and is itself also the unity of what it differentiates. (p. 206)

    And where is evil in that scheme of things? As you point out, it does not exist because it never was a part of God’s original plan and will not be present at all in the eschaton.

    OK, so now I understand better. Creation and the Fall are not identical because that would mean that God as ipsum esse subsistens would be the creator of evil and that evil would have some type of positive existence which may even persist into the eschaton. And it would also mean that God could not be the Good as such. Thanks for the clarification.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. Tom says:

    When you’re too busy to frequent Fr Al’s posts – you’re just too darn busy. I’ve been too busy!

    Thanks for another great reflection. You included some of my favorite Hart passages too. Those who know me here will know why I especially smiled at the emphasis in ‘Doors of the Sea’ upon the integrity, autonomy (Hart’s choice of words), and liberty of created freedom to accept or reject God. This metaphysics of creaturely becoming, as you noted too I think, can hardly be abandoned in the afterlife. It just is our path to union with God, though we are left without a final explanation of a terminus ad quem. I appreciated the contrast with McCann too, and that you noted how McCann finally explained irrevocable hell by appealing to a notion of created autonomy which his whole project sought to dismiss.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. christianhollums says:

    Hey gents, I wanted to share a comment made on the subject of suffering that I read the other day while engaging with a blog by Fr. Stephen Freeman. I am a great admirer of Fr. Stephen and this comment wasn’t made by him however there has been quite a good deal of disucssion on the topic of suffering on his blog that perhaps some of you might find interest in engaging with. I would love to get some feedback from you guys on the following comment:

    A lot of the comments feel like they’re trying to hedge around that, which is understandable because of the pain—even shame—of it all, but there is no getting around it. Talk of necessity is not, I think, the way to approach this; we’re way beyond that language here. We’re speaking of Actuality, of Reality. We are created in the image of Christ. And not Christ “generally”, if there is such thing—some well-groomed guy in the clouds with a white robe, a light step, and a large, anesthetized, Disneyland smile—but Christ Crucified. That means suffering is also not avoidable, an accident, or a plan B because of a mistake (the fall and sin), but part of the prototype of humanity. To avoid suffering is to reject what it means to be human at a fundamental level. But it goes deeper than that, though we can only bear a little more depth perhaps. Christ Is The Image Of The Father. Again, not Christ “generally” or “ideally”, but Christ Crucified. Christ Crucified Is The Revelation Of The Father Himself. That is bold and that is powerful and that is beyond scandalous (and it is no crass patrispassianism or anything that like that), but that is The Faith. And so I would go beyond what was said and say that true suffering is not only not evil, but positively good—it can be no other way, for evil does not create, as you have reiterated. And I would go yet one step further here, for this is important: suffering is a Divine attribute. Obviously we cannot speak of such suffering any more than we can speak of God’s love or mercy or anything else—it is completely beyond us—but it, too, is part of Who God Is, in an unchanging, utterly passionless, and pure way. God is not the author of evil, but He Is The Author Of Suffering, and simultaneously The Suffering God. That is tough and it sounds very bold phrased like that, but it is unavoidable. No hedging can get us away from that. But if we enter into it, if we bear it a little and gives thanks in the midst of it, Hell is transformed to Heaven before our eyes like the man who did get to sit on the right hand of Christ when He Came In Glory and we can enter enter The Joy Of The Resurrection, the resurrection which, far from erasing or denying what came before, bears the very marks of the Crucifixion and the death-destroying power *by death*. (Joseph Barabbas, 2/23/17)

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Such incoherent poppycock! After denying patripassionism, suffering is said to be a divine attribute. To add to this non-sense the discussion is foreclosed because we can’t really talk about suffering, as we can’t talk about divine love or mercy. This of course on the heels of making a cataphathic pronouncement about suffering and divinity.

      What more is there to add?

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  19. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Thank you, Christian, for directing us to Fr Stephen’s blog article and its comment thread. I’m going to have to mull over the comment by Joseph Barabbas a bit, but my immediate reaction is disagreement. He appears to import suffering and death not only into Eden (however we understand it) but into the essential life of the Trinity. To love, even for God apparently, is to suffer. Does that mean that God needs a fallen world in which he can enflesh himself and suffer and die? Does that mean that even in the Kingdom the redeemed will continue to suffer, must suffer, because that is what it means to be human and to share in the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit?

    It’s quite one thing to confess Jesus as “slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8) in the mystery of God’s predestinating grace. There’s a mystery here, to be sure; but I believe we need to be careful not to collapse theologia into the economia. Joseph’s comment seems to come very close to doing precisely that.

    Perhaps there is a blindness here in my own understanding and spiritual development; but I resist the romantic glorification of suffering. I do not for a moment believe that this was the transforming message that issued from the tomb on that Easter morning.

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  20. brian says:

    Posed against the backdrop of a sentimental kitsch (Disneyfied Christ,) Joseph Barrabas posits an aesthetic that “takes the Cross seriously.” However, there is a sour kitsch as well as sweet. One would need dialogue to discern the substance of a vision, but it seems to me that there is a danger of something a little too much like a gnosis whereby Enlightenment too easily conflates heaven and hell. While I surmise there is awareness of the need for analogical distance, I am not sure there is sufficient distance to avoid positing a kind of holy masochism hardly compatible, as Father asserts, with Easter joy. David Hart has a longish discussion of Donald MacKinnon and NIcholas Lash in The Beauty of the Infinite where he talks about the limits of a Christian theology that wrestles with Greek Tragedy. A genre that bravely stares into the abyss of suffering; the comic in Christian understanding turns out to be more profound.

    I am not dismissive of the effort, though. Barrabas is right to draw attention to the perduring wounds of the Resurrected Body. Hans Urs von Balthasar, who has also been accused by some of a gnosis that “mythologically” incorporates the tragic into the immanent Trinity certainly wished to locate all creaturely possibility (including death and suffering) within the ground of Triune Being. I don’t think Balthasar is guilty of the charge as it is usually made, but there is a current in some Catholic thought inclusive of Balthasar that would see death and suffering as not only a negation of the Good, but as alluding obscurely towards a dark, “apophatic” dimension that evades the kind of complacent comfort that I take it Barrabas wishes to disturb. Similarly, Hart has spoken about the unique Christian aesthetic of the Cross and how there is identity between Christ’s economic action and his “immanent” action: Cf. Hart’s lecture “Beauty Form, and Violence” as part of the Biola art symposium. (I was unable to embed the link.)

    But aside from all the quibbles of erudition, I have to say that I both abhor the certitudes of a shallow “heaven” of sentimental satisfactions and what appears to me quasi-Hegelian pseudo-profundity that abjures delight in preference to a gloomy German funk. The “som great thing” (sic) that Thomas Traherne discerns as the telos of all our desiring is a weight of glory surely mirthful with life that overcomes our sorrows, rather than glories in them.

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  21. christianhollums says:

    Brian,

    Can you break that down in kid language? lol

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    • brian says:

      Sorry, Christian. I always like your posts, so I wanted to respond. It’s actually much harder to try and speak more simply. I think one needs to tell a story and let images and narrative carry one further than intellectual exposition alone can achieve.

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  22. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Perhaps of relevance here is this passage from John Henry Newmans Apologia:

    “To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths, the progress of things, as if from unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle’s words, “having no hope and without God in the world,”—all this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution.
    “What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact? I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence. Did I see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provision, unable to say whence he came, his birthplace or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, from one cause or other, his parents were ashamed. Thus only should I be able to account for the contrast between the promise and the condition of his being. And so I argue about the world;—if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God.”

    Note the phrase “aboriginal calamity.” I wonder if DBH read the Apologia Pro Vita Sua at some point–probably unlikely that he hasn’t. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Also of interest here is Fr Panteleimon Manoussakis’s essay “St. Augustine and St. Maximus the Confessor between the Beginning and the End.”

    Discuss.

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    • christianhollums says:

      I had some difficulty with this article. I didn’t really follow as to where Fr. Panteleimon actually lands? I also wonder if he has read Ramelli’s work on Origen. He seems to come to conclusions about Origen that Ramelli disagrees with.

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  24. christianhollums says:

    Brian, Fr. Aidan, Tom, et all,

    I brought into the conversation the comment by Barrabas from another blog on the subject of suffering. That conversation has continued and has brought up some ideas that I haven’t seen addressed here. Fr. Stephen Freeman who I greatly admire has brought up the idea of “unfallen suffering” and sees this suffering in the Genesis account from the very beginning.I’m not sure I agree with the language he uses but I think he makes an excellent observation concerning the primordial fast from the beginning.

    Below is my response to his thought. Also if you would like to familiarize yourself with his podcast on the topic of this idea please go here to here the segment it’s pretty short only 11:34 minutes. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/freeman/the_marriage_of_love_and_hate

    Father,

    Incredible answers!I agree with everything you have said. “Evil is groundless, because it was not created for some purpose, it therefore lacks natural definition. For it has no logos to interpret what it is, and hence of necessity it is not in accordance with nature. If then it is contrary to nature, it will not have any logos (rationale) in nature, just as artless construction has no logos (rationale) in art.”

    This resonates with my experience of evil; it is senseless and awful, and destructive precisely for that reason. This does not “get God off the hook,” beyond saying that He is not the creator of evil, but it does explain why theodicies ought to be avoided. For, in the end, they become cruel attempts to gloss over the existential reality of people’s suffering with abstract syllogisms that cannot speak to the core of their suffering.

    If I am understanding you correctly I think we agree on suffering’s unintelligible purpose in our life. I think this is what DBH and those who resonate with him agree on and to this I think DBH is faithful to the Orthodox Tradition. To your concept of “unfallen suffering” I think this is an excellent point. If we take the scriptures, and tradition seriously and simply reflect on our Christian lives this can’t be avoided. I’ve not heard it in such terms and when the topic of suffering is addressed this element is not something I’ve really heard anyone speak of directly. I wonder however if suffering is the proper word we should use here and if it doesn’t create more confusion than clarity, and more argument than agreement. Perhaps we should speak of subordination instead? I think we can speak of subordination as part of our human and divine being without using terminology such as “suffering” and be faithful to the scriptures and the tradition as a whole.

    The Son is co-equal with the Father, yet the Son is obedient to the Father. A thing so sweetly known in many relations of human love is, beyond imagination, present in the midmost secrets of heaven. For the Son in his eternal Now desires subordination, and it is his. He wills to be so; he co-inheres obediently and filially in the Father, as the Father authoritatively and paternally co-inheres in him. And the whole Three Persons are co-eternal together—and coequal. Perhaps this is the “unfallen suffering” you refer to? If so maybe we should say that obedience to the Father is embedded into an unfallen cosmos and is in fact divine. Your usage of suffering maybe why I’ve misunderstood or on so many occasions we have talked past one another in this thread.

    At the end of the day the problem I have with open theism and the related field of modern kenotic theology is it seems to me like these theologies start with the problem of evil and build their doctrine of God on top of it. Yet, if evil is something so outside of the good order of things, so incoherent, then building our understanding of God on it is problematic. Of course, this does leave open the very important question of how to deal with pre-human suffering in the natural world. I don’t know what to do with this.

    I have no problem with philosophical speculation when the Scriptures or Tradition are silent on an issue, but when it actively seems to speak against a certain kind of answer I do see a problem

    *A Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor’s Eschatological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity by Nikolaos Loudovikos, (Brookline,MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2010), 276. 70.
    *https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2017/02/20/standing-judgment-seat-christ/#comment-113541

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Christian,

      Any suffering, whether ‘fallen’ or ‘unfallen’ is problematic as it doesn’t explain why God permits evil in the first place. It may help in understanding how God may use it for His purposes – especially pastorally this may be helpful. But I don’t think it ultimately helps in explaining the existence of suffering or evil, and we certainly don’t want to project suffering into the immanent Trinity. I don’t find it helpful.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Christian. I have no particular insight on the mystery of the Fall. As you know, over at the DBH Facebook forum a couple of thoughtful members suggested that the answer is to be found in the divine foreknowledge:

      Human sin is unquestionably the cause of the world’s fall (according to Maximus and to the entire Christian tradition). The question is *how* this causal sequence played out temporally. The most sensible view, I think, is that creation’s initial conditions were formed in accordance with God’s foreknowledge of human sin. Several of the fathers suggested something like this with regard to the formation of the human body (e.g., Theodore, Nyssa, Maximus); and this seems to me to be the only approach that takes both the evolutionary data and New Testament’s animosity toward death seriously.

      I do not find this line of speculation persuasive, as the appeal to divine foreknowledge would seem to generate more problems than it solves. It sounds like God is able to peek into the future, seeing what’s going to happen, and then do things differently: “Oh, it appears that Adam and Eve are going to eat the apple, despite the perfect conditions of the Garden; so in light of that fact, I’m going to go ahead and create a world of finite organic creatures that flourish by death and suffering. Another commentator suggests that time really doesn’t begin until the Incarnation:

      I’d also add – because why not?! – that saying creation fell “together” or “at the moment” of its generation is a necessary expression of serial speech. Since, though, time’s “fullness” is only actual first in the historical Christ (Gal 4.4), then every prior “moment” – including the “first” one – is not yet a true moment at all. In other words, “at the same moment” is a necessarily nondescript expression of temporality because the first “time” is not yet true time.

      This sounds pretty cool, but my little mind can’t get a handle on it.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        I don’t see a problem here, not with foreknowledge, not quite so acute. For one, time is not an issue of past/present/future to God. Neither can it be denied that God responds to our free agency (He is the cause that makes our free choices). God responds to the unfortunate choice made by Adam and goes to plan B. Except it is not plan B as there would be for us finite agents, but there’s only one plan (no surprises). God’s will and our will together make neither two nor one will. God creates the ideal and good cosmos, and we get the actual as a consequence of our free choice to go it alone without God. The rest is histoire.

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  25. christianhollums says:

    Thanks for the response.

    Robert,

    I’m not sure I’m following your response as it applies to my comments. I agree the language of suffering is probably not the appropriate term. I would like to see some engagement with the idea of Subordination to the Father as being embedded to an unfallen cosmos. This is in fact what we see in the Son (Christ) and he is the prototype for all of humanity. I like that Fr. Stephen mentions a “primordial fast” I think this is undeniable for us. I think our desire to explain the existence of evil is an endeavor made in vain. Why give logos to evil? Aren’t we in some sense attempting to do so when we feel the necessity to explain the existence of evil? This is where I think DBH moves in the right direction and is faithful to the tradition rendering evil meaningless but ironically by attributing it to something even if it’s nothing we make into something (logos). What Obedience to the Father looks like apart from the Fall I do not know nor do I think we can do anything other than speculate. What seems undeniable to me is that we are called to Obedience from the beginning and to Faith. As Paul says “anything not done in faith is sin”. Thanks for your responses gentlemen.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Christian,

      What I meant is much of what Brian wrote in his response, especially the reference of Milbank. Suffering and passion denotes being acted upon, and this is not something we can say properly of God (irrespective of fallen or unfallen – I am not sure what is meant by the latter to be honest). I do also think we must be very careful with subordination and obedience, this can easily take on a moralistic pathos given our fallen tendencies and then ‘read into’ Trinitarian relations.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Christian, I don’t think exploring the origins and meaning of evil provides true logos to evil – by definition as utter ontological parasitic deprivation it cannot be given true subsistence regardless of inquiry, discourse, explanation. As Gregory of Nyssa puts it – evil is without its own hypostasis.

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  26. brian says:

    Christian,

    I listened to Father Freeman’s podcast. I wrote my dissertation on the nature of the person at the University of Dallas. I had chosen UD because the Institute of Philosophic Studies there is advertised as a truly interdisciplinary doctoral program. Though in the end, they ask one to concentrate in a particular field. As they did not have a concentration in Theology, I wrote under the aegis of Literature and focused on Dostoevsky. So, I am very familiar with Dostoevsky’s work and greatly admire it. My interest and growing awareness of Orthodox thought is due to Dostoevsky.

    I did not discern much in Father Freeman’s podcast with which to extrapolate a significantly worked out theology of suffering with regards to God. I agree, of course, that there is a mystery involved with the Lamb slain before the foundation of the worlds — I read this as part of God’s original intent to create which involved the consent to follow the creature wherever the creature went, i.e. if the sheep stray as far as the outer darkness, the God who is Love resolves to accompany the creature. On the Cross and in the descent into Hell on Holy Saturday, Christ gives a “yes” to the Father where the oblivion seeking creature madly speaks “no.” One can determine a metaphysics of obedience from this and an understanding of flourishing being as a return of the Original Gift of being in gratitude. One can see the ground for such a creaturely act in the gratitude of the Son in the eternal act of Generation that constitutes the Trinity.

    I am less convinced that the presence of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the prohibition against eating the fruit is somehow an ascesis that indicates suffering in any conceptually significant sense within the Immanent Trinity. I have quoted before from John Milbank’s The Word Made Strange. Here is a passage I find relevant to the discussion:

    “our worldly logic wonders, why should we trust the giver fro whom giving is easy? Thus so much Victorian theology falls into the pseudo-profundity of seeing God’s love as taking its origin from the sacrifice on the cross, or else as only guaranteed by the cross. Under the dispensation of death indeed, we only see gift via sacrifice, but the genuine sacrifice, supremely that of the cross, is only recognized as such in so far as it is the sustaining of joyful, non- reactive giving . . . ”

    Milbank then attempts to emphasize that we must locate soteriological suffering within the overarching intent of Creation which comes from a plenitude that is the flourishing of an aseity filled with a joy, I think, devoid of suffering:

    “to act morally is to act out of God’s original intention of plenitude, and this is why the torah of the Old Testament (the least legal of all law codes) condemns not just human but animal shedding of blood — the shedding of the blood of animals and by animals — and treats death as an alien impurity. Despite scarcity, despite our submission to the law which it imposes, we must act as if there were plenitude, and no death, since to believe is to believe that this is what really pertains, despite the fall. . . . To believe in plenitude is to believe in the already commenced and yet-to-come restoration of Creation as Creation. Within this belief alone, as Nietzsche failed to perceive, one can cease to be “moral.”

    Christian, I would like to recommend to you Berdyaev’s The Destiny of Man and Balthasar’s book on Bernanos. Berdyaev is occasionally gnostic, but I think he is closer to the heart of the gospel than many who are more superficially orthodox. Bernanos, in my opinion, is one of the few (maybe the only author) who carries on Dostoevsky’s mode of writing. In any even, Bernanos is the great writer on the way Christians participate in the life of Christ and the continuing significance of the agony of the Cross.

    I agree there is a problem with Victorian kenosis, but kenosis is still an essential element in theology as Balthasar and Bulgakov recognize.

    Orthodoxy likes to emphasize the primacy of the Father. There is some real value to this, but I would also note that the relations of the TriUne are each in their own way a kind of “joyful obedience” — the Father only knows himself in the Son, for instance.

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    • christianhollums says:

      Brian,

      Did you check out the comments on the blog I referenced? That may be helpful. It will take some vetting but if you work through the comments and exchange between he and I in addition to the podcast it becomes to be a little more clear. However I’m still struggling with some of what he is saying. I think your assessment of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good Evil and his comments about that are correct. The language of suffering just seems and applying it to the Trinity creates more problems and confusion in my view. What to me is so interesting about his argumentation is frankly that he isn’t arguing for intelligible suffering and understand sin in the same ontological sense I’ve seen put forward here and by DBH.

      I’ve suggested subordination in my comments and here below is his response. This is also his response to the comment I posted on this thread. I’ve invited him to dialogue here so I hope sooner than later Father Freeman will speak for himself as opposed to me speaking for him lol. I may be misrepresenting him which I’m making every attempt not to do.

      Fr. Stephen states:

      “Christian,
      I’ve not seen anyone else use the term “unfallen suffering,” either. But it works for me. Yes, subordination could be used (as could “kenosis”), and so could the term “love” (the best of all). The difficulty with the other terms, as correct and excellent as they are, is their weakness in expressing the same idea…that suffering as we know it in this life, is a distortion of something good.

      The difficulty (and it seems you come close to this) in understanding evil as “nothing” and “senseless” is to attribute to it “something” and to use its “senselessness” as its logos. This is not so. The logos of the devil is the same as the logos of any other angel. And all of the senselessness that we call suffering, is only senseless in that it moves away from its logos and does not do what it should (or what the motions or forces within it should).

      This, I think, more rightly states the consequence of creation ex nihilo. It also means that as much as we might hate suffering – we can see, even there, something that was distorted.

      And, more importantly, it allows a way to speak of the kenosis in the Godhead that, in history, is manifest as the Cross, without needing to give “evil” a role in creating the Cross.”

      Looking forward to your comments Brian and others

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      • brian says:

        Christian,

        I had not read over the dialogue on Father Stephen’s blog post and I have only glanced at it now. I probably need to spend more time with it than I presently am able to do. I have speculated in the past that even in the eschaton, there must be something like “daring,” even though the fearfulness associated with sin, death, and evil are vanquished. Adventure is part of our nature and our longing is not for a dull serenity or even a blissful “moment”. I take it that in the same manner, one is trying to “darkly” allude to “unfallen suffering” as a perduring good. Just as a static eternity is clearly not the excellent flourishing we want (so Balthasar will posit a kind of “supertime” in God; the surprise and delight of event must be part of God’s aseity, even if we habitually can only understand these things in terms of creaturely potency,) so the desire of love is to “prove” its limitless attachment by enduring difficulty. Hence, in the romances, courtship is a series of painful delay that allow true intimacy to grow and to be expressed. In this sense, “suffering” is another name for love’s fidelity, but in the ultimate sense you aim at we are mainly talking about something that transcends our fallen experience.

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