David Bentley Hart on St Gregory of Nyssa, Universal Salvation, and the Poetic Omnipotence of God

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24 Responses to David Bentley Hart on St Gregory of Nyssa, Universal Salvation, and the Poetic Omnipotence of God

  1. brian says:

    I think one has to discern in Balthasar’s Dare We Hope? the only feasible way to present universalism in a manner that it could be considered by dogmatic Catholic theologians. My surmise has always been that Balthasar was actually far more convinced than mere hope in terms of universalism.

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  2. Jack says:

    One thing in which I don’t necessarily agree with Hart is his insistence that creatures can only exist in time. Only God can exist “outside time”. I wouldn’t dream of debating Hart on the issue, but it seems to me he is missing something here and that his thoughts on the matter are too constrained to this side of the eschaton. I understand that he believes that in the eschaton all will participate in a redeemed time beyond generation and decay, and that this is the view of Gregory of Nyssa. It seems Maximus the confessor took it further. Maximus viewed time itself as proper to creatures, and that of its essence it was the measurement of movement and distance itself. Sotiris Mitralexis brings this out in his book “Ever Moving Repose”. Maximum believed that time and distance itself are transcended in deification, or on the “8th day of creation”. Indeed, creatures in full communion with God attain “beginningless life”. The term “ever moving repose” indicated a state beyond time, timelessness, motion and immobility. It is a taking on of the Logos “to the same degree” that the Logos took on man. Ever Moving repose seems to hint at a dynamism beyond the limits of world and language. Yet Maximus can still say that even in the fullness of Communion God remains God and man remains man, but that man takes on the mode of the uncreated “in every respect save identity of substance.” Any thoughts on this from those who know their Maximus? Perhaps I am reading him wrong but I see a real difference between his thought and Gregory’s on this matter.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      I don’t think one can read Maximus to suppose chronos is the measure of eternity; while ‘time proper to the creature’, however it would be interpreted, one would be hard-pressed to use conclude it to be a substantial disagreement between him and Gregory.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Paul Blowers’s essay on perpetual progress in Maximus and Gregory Nyssen is of interest here.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes indeed. Maximus following Gregory held to the notion of epektasis as an infinite process of becoming. Hart’s point is that this process requires a succession of events, some form of time in other words. The soul is never satiated in God, ever full, yet ever reaching for more because God is inexhaustible. In contrast, as pure energy, for God there is no time in the sense of becoming, successive events, of potentiality that has not been actualized.

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        • David S says:

          Is it proper to speak of Jesus, after the parousia, as also engaging in this infinite process of becoming, growth in knowledge, and temporal succession? Or does his totally unique position as the incarnate son and Lord of Time imply that he no longer experiences this kind of succession, or at least experiences each and every ‘succession’ of future eschatological time at once?

          I would reflect that Jesus, as the visible image of the invisible God, is the means by which we know God, and will be the means by which we will continue to know God in the eschaton – perhaps it is something like as we get to know Jesus better, we get to know God better. But Jesus, being himself, presumably already knows himself and his own identity perfectly. So perhaps no room for further succession, but just an eternally fixed participation in every temporal eschatological moment.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I don’t think we can stay within the bounds of scripture and tradition to suppose that God participates, whether this would be in an experience, becoming something he isn’t already, or in temporal eschatological moments. We would run afoul of the Christian teaching of God’s perfection. The question of experience is a different matter, as perfection does not preclude knowledge. But again here we must not think of knowledge as by acquisition, gaining actuality by possession (as we do).

            Reflecting on these matters makes the Christmas tide all the more wondrous. The quote by St Gregory the Theologian in a post here elsewhere expresses this profound mystery, “The fleshless one takes flesh, the Word is made coarse, the invisible one is seen, the impalpable one is touched, the timeless one makes a beginning, the Son of God becomes Son of Man.”

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          • David S says:

            Thanks Robert.

            I think what you say is uncontroversial and clear with respect to the divine nature considered in itself. Do you think there is any tension in this when we try to apply it to Jesus, considering his human as well as his divine nature?

            Jesus experienced growth and change, in accordance with his human nature, during his time on earth. Will the same be true, as it will be for us regular humans, of Jesus, with respect to his human nature, even after the parousia? Or is that a state limited to Jesus’ descent only, such that after the ascension (or at least after the final parousia) Jesus no longer experiences any change or growth in knowledge, and so does not experience temporal succession and change, even with respect to his human nature, in the eschaton, as we will?

            I am worried that, if Jesus does not experience succession and growth, Jesus is no longer a temporal being, or at least exercises his temporality in a radically different way to regular humans, which perhaps risks doing some violence to Chalcedon and undermines Jesus’ unity with the rest of humanity, who I expect will participate and grow into the eschaton forever.

            On the other hand, if Jesus does do this, I am worried that we are not recognising Jesus’ singular uniqueness – i.e. Jesus is not just human but God in human form, why shouldn’t we expect his experience of time to end up being different from ours – and leads to a vaguely Nestorian ‘two minds’ Christology in which the atemporal ‘God the Son’ enjoys the divine timeless vision of the whole eschaton and the rest of time all at once, while the human mind of Jesus keeps plodding on forever with the rest of us, never enjoying true omniscience or full knowledge of God, always playing catchup, always becoming something he wasn’t already.

            I tend to err towards the second option, but I have tended to think that this is potentially borderline heresy given its implications for Jesus’ temporality. I am certainly interested if you think something like this view is in fact required, given that we do not want to suggest that God participates in this kind of eschatological becoming, even as Jesus, but I may have misunderstood you.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Good questions David.

            I don’t think the unity of Christ with humanity lies in his sharing our imperfections; on the contrary, the unity rather lies in precisely in his perfection of humanity, i.e. that Christ is the perfect man, the prototype, the second Adam from whom and in whom all of humanity receives its true and full humanity.

            The fathers of Chalcedon are tremendously insightful on that account, having struggled with these issues,: “we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood.” Additionally Chalcedon forestalls notions of schizophrenia by way of the four privatives marking the hypostatic union, the perichorestatic subsistence, “One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.”

            This may not directly answer your questions, but the method is to address inquiries by providing boundaries of how to think about these questions.

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        • David S says:

          I certainly agree that Chalcedon should be the framework in which we consider these matters. Could I ask if you think it ends up implying one of the two options I gave, or do you have an alternative or no view?

          I agree that Jesus’ unity with humanity does not require sharing with its imperfections – but Chacledon does seem to allow us to say that Jesus shared in our temporality during his time on earth, growing in knowledge, experiencing talking to the discipline at one moment, eating some fish the next, etc. So if the Chalcedon framework is okay with that, we might expect it to be okay with Jesus continuing to experience succession along with us even after the parousia.

          And yet, I remain uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus’ mode of experience is permanently divided. To the extent that we can say that Jesus has a divine mind, a mind that does not experience succession or have potentiality that has not been exercised, it seems that this atemporal consciousness is not the same kind of consciousness that is going on for the earthly Jesus. If Jesus’ earthly consciousness just plods along forever, without every somehow being ‘reunited’ with this divine consciousness, the split is permanent.

          But could we say that, by the eschaton, Jesus becomes that which he always was – the eternal Son – and that even the humanity of Jesus, by virtue of accompanying all humans at all moments in time, including and especially the infinite future of the eschaton, could be said to share in the eternity of God and to no longer experience temporal succession and growth? Not that the human Jesus ceases to have a temporal location exactly, but that unlike our own this temporal location is expanded to include every moment of the eschaton.

          Is there anything in Chalcedon to suggest, I wonder, that there may be some elements of Jesus’ incarnation that, while appropriate to his earthly life, may properly no longer be present by the time of the new creation, even if they remain present in ‘mere’ humans?

          I am wondering if there are any parallels here with Lutheran thought on the ubiquity of the ascended Jesus’ body. I often wonder if there is anything in the literature suggesting a parallel ‘omnitemporality’ of Jesus, but I never see it.

          And Merry Christmas!

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            “And yet, I remain uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus’ mode of experience is permanently divided. To the extent that we can say that Jesus has a divine mind, a mind that does not experience succession or have potentiality that has not been exercised, it seems that this atemporal consciousness is not the same kind of consciousness that is going on for the earthly Jesus. If Jesus’ earthly consciousness just plods along forever, without every somehow being ‘reunited’ with this divine consciousness, the split is permanent.”

            But why think that the risen Christ’s conciousness (to the extent that we can even speculate about it) is one of division, as if his deified human consciousness is in competition with his infinite divine consciousness?

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          • David S says:

            It seems to me that if there is a mode of consciousness that experiences creation timelessly ‘all at once’, and also a mode of consciousness that experiences time successively and changes from having one experience to another, then that is a kind of division. However if Jesus’ human consciousness, deified at the eschaton, ends up culminating in a kind of omnitemporal participation in every moment in time, such that Jesus’ human consciousness is fulfilled in a kind of eternal, changeless vision of every temporal moment in the eschaton, then this division dissolves. I suppose I am trying to probe whether something like this notion is coherent, and/or whether its truth would imply that every human being’s temporal experience must culminate in this way, or whether we can consider Jesus’ deified human consciousness different in some regard to our own.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Merry Christmas!

            There are two things that seem to me important to keep clearly in mind. One, is the hypostatic union – it is one and the same person in whom the diversity of the two natures are united. And, closely following up on this and in consequence of one, is two, that the ‘modes of experience’ of the divine and the human natures are experienced not isolated from each other, as if sundered, divided, or else confused and mixed; but rather are experienced by the one divine-human Subject. It don’t think I have said anything novel or profound here, apart from the Chalcedonian formula, but the point is to apply this to your inquiry; and that said, the inquiry and answers should be informed by the full meaning and implications of Chalcedon. From what you write, (e.g. “Jesus becomes that which he always was – the eternal Son”, ” the human Jesus ceases to have”) it is not evident to me that Chalcedon has been fully applied. By virtue of the hypostatic union, I conclude that indeed Christ is different from us; that unlike us, the God-Man will not experience an infinite epektasis for this would mean a progress towards Himself (which would be utterly incoherent); that the choice of on the one hand a fully human Jesus with a divided or confused phenomenology of divine vs. human, and on the other hand a fully divine Jesus whose humanity is not truly human, is a false choice by supposing a fundamental incompatibility between God and humanity, the infinite and the finite, eternity and time, being and non-being.

            So can we say that “Jesus becomes that which he always was – the eternal Son” – a resounding “no” as He never ceased to be Himself. This is the chief reason the church dogmatically insists, contra Nestorius, to understand the Virgin Mary to be (and thus to address and venerate her as) the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

            St Maximus on the gnomic will is worth looking into in regards to a significant difference between us and the Theanthropos. Check out https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/st-maximus-the-confessor-on-the-will-natural-and-gnomic/ for some initial reading if you are unfamiliar with this topic.

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          • David S says:

            Thanks Robert, and that link is helpful. I am inclined to agree with you that Jesus will not experience an infinite epektasis for this would mean a progress towards Himself – I think that is what I was trying to get at earlier when I said that if the eschaton consists of us ‘getting to know’ Jesus better – whereas Jesus obviously already has first-hand experience of, well, being Himself. So with this perfect and direct intuitive knowledge of His being God, the eschatological Jesus has no epektasis and journey towards greater knowledge of Himself, He has already arrived, always one step ahead of us.

            However I am struggling to see whether or not you think this implies that Jesus therefore no longer experiences succession of any kind (after the ascension I mean, or perhaps after the parousia, as the final end of history). Could you please clarify this point?

            I agree that there should be no incompatiblity between the divine and human, but I am worried that there would indeed be such an incompatibility if we embrace the view that Jesus permanently has a human mind experiencing succession and a divine mind experiencing things atemporally. This permanent temporal disconnect, to my mind, means that we could not describe these different temporal and atemporal experiences as being merely different ‘aspects’ or ‘ranges’ of the same one unified consciousness, or of one and the same person; on the contrary they would appear to be distinct and separate consiousnesses. Even if these two consiousnesses are perfectly open to one another and act as one, I do not see how they could be described as one entity or one person, but rather as two realities working in a kind of perfect Nestorian conjunction with one another.

            I am wondering whether this can be resolved if we consider Jesus’ human, temporal consciousness as in some sense culminating in a final, perfect, eternal vision – the same vision which God the Son from eternity enjoys. In another post some time ago I believe I described this as being not so much as Jesus ceasing to experience time or giving up his temporal perspective, but as Jesus taking up an infinite number of such temporal perspectives. This would be a kind of movement without change, not an unblinking cosmic stare but an intuitive awareness of every temporal moment at once – functionally equivalent to omniscience, functionally equivalent to atemporalism, but considered from a different perspective. This, I think, could be more clearly described as one and the same consciousness.

            So we could say something like this: Jesus’ eschatological consciousness, considered from the divine nature’s perspective, is atemporal and has ‘always’ and eternally been the case; whereas considered from the human nature’s perspective, Jesus’ eschatological consciousness has a ‘before’ (Jesus’ earthly life), even though there is no future succession or further development to come – but rather an eternal, unending participation in every eschatological moment (as opposed to our own changing epektatic experience where we successively acquire more and more moments with God).

            I do worry that this ‘eternalising’ of Jesus’ consciousness may make his experience too different from our own, but I do try to guard against this in arguing that His eternity is not simply a negation of time but an embracing of every temporal moment at once. And I would also add that, if we are able to describe the earthly Jesus as divine despite experiencing succession and not obviously exemplifying the ‘classic’ divine properties of immutability etc., then why not describe the heavenly Jesus as human despite no longer experiencing regular temporal succession and not obviously exemplifying the human properties of mutability?

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            David, I lack the philosophical chops to even speculate on the interesting questions you have raised; but I think you may be making matters more confusing than they should be by the comparison of “all-at-once” awareness (presumably how God experiences the world) and temporal, successive awareness (presumably how human beings experience the world). How can God experience both without a division in his single consciousness? When put this way it seems like an insuperable problem; but I suspect that the problem lies with the way we are formulating it. Almost inevitably we find ourselves reducing God to the status of a finite being. A couple of unoriginal thoughts:

            1) The “all-on-once” awareness needs to be immediately qualified by the claim that God knows creatures in knowing himself (essence). It’s not as if God knows the world as a being standing outside of it, as one object over against an other. The Creator-creature relationship is too intimate for that. At St Denys writes: “Hence God knows beings by a knowledge of God, and not by a knowledge of beings.” I’m not sure if we can really understand what this means (I know I don’t), but I do think we can see why this must be true.

            2) Perhaps we should think of the incarnate Word’s temporal “experience” of the world as comprehended within the Holy Trinity’s eternal act of creation and thus within his infinite consciousness (that word “infinite” should immediately alert us to the fact that we don’t and can’t know what we are talking about). It’s not as if God needed to suspend his divine powers in order to be and live as a human being (which is the error underlying modern kenotic Christologies). Hence we should not think that Christ’s historical life in the first century put God in a state of vertigo (“wow, this is so darn confusing”), which needed to be resolved by the resurrection. Just as God is not changed by his creation of the world, so God is not changed by his inhomination. I’m not saying that we can understand how this is the case, but I think we can see why it must be the case.

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          • David S says:

            Thank you Father. You may well be right, but I continue to have difficulties with the view that Jesus’ temporal experience just goes on and on forever, without ever ‘catching up’ with God’s eternal vision. Sure, the Holy Trinity eternally comprehends and includes the human Jesus’ experience, but isn’t that true of all of us? Even if we see that the divine consiousness ‘owns’ or ‘includes’ the human consciousness in a special way, if these consciousnesses remain eternally separate, I have trouble seeing how they could be described as the same person, hence my worries about Nestorianism.

            One thought: if a ‘person’ can be intelligibly be said to have two eternally distinct consciousnesses, then why did the Fathers go to the bother of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity at all? If it is coherent for God to have a temporal consciousness going on forever, along with an atemporal consciousness (albeit one which comprehends and in some sense includes the temporal consciousness perfectly), in one person, then why throw in another two?

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  3. Greg Sureck says:

    please print the text of videos. ty

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      If someone wishes to transcribe DBH’s talk and Q&A, I’d be happy to publish the text on Eclectic Orthodoxy (with DBH’s permission).

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        The CC closed captioned feature makes an attempt at transcription. I say just wait for the book to be published 🙂

        Most if not all of this has already been featured in previously released material as well.

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  4. David S says:

    At the risk going on and on and on (and on…) I should also say that I think your critique of my statement that ‘Jesus becomes that which He always was’ is valid. I did not mean to imply that Jesus was not truly divine until that point, but more that this marks a transition point at which Jesus takes up His more obviously divine multitemporal perspective.

    So the Son’s eternal eternal perspective condescends to give itself a ‘before’ in the form of the earthly Jesus – but this earthly perspective eventually ‘catches up’ with the divine perspective at the eschaton. A little bit like Doctor Who sending a message back in time to his past self, with the past self’s perspective eventually catching up with / becoming the present Doctor. Well, if this ‘message to the past temporal order’ was instead a ‘creation of the past temporal order’, and if the present Doctor simultaneously and eternally participated in the entirety of the future eschatological life, that is. That and I don’t expect Jesus to turn into a woman 🙂

    In a Pannenbergian sense one could perhaps say that the fact that Jesus takes up this eternal perspective is what makes Jesus divine, but not in the sense that Jesus was not divine before or that this act constitutes His divinity, but just that this proves Jesus was divine all along, because the final destiny and culmination of the life of the Theanthropos must be to find rest in the eternal present of an endless and changeless participation in every eschatological moment.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      As a general comment on these types of inquiries given towards speculation, not meant as a criticism, with Fr Kimel I would affirm the need for caution to prevent anthropomorphic/phatic projection onto the divine nature and persons (“reducing God to the status of a finite being”). For humans indeed the divine and human consciousness together (the experience of time, events, etc.) creates strange problems, however I suspect the conundrum takes the form as it does because all we have is our infinitely limited perspective and experience; it would be better therefore to yield before a genuine gap in our knowledge than to constrain the Divine by our finitude. This is not to forestall probing inquiries (as I think these can be fruitful, and should and must be undertaken!), so much as to recognize given limits. Somehow, for God, the disjunction which presents to us between the succession of time and the instant of eternity is overcome; God infinitely exceeds the finite categories of time, of the instant, of the then and there: all together and in all ways He is the hyper, the beyond.

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    • David S says:

      Wise advice. As I’m sure you can tell, I am probably naturally less inclined than others towards just accepting the mystery and recognising a genuine impasse when it is there, but I am trying! Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure that exposure to this blog is calming this tendency somewhat.

      That said, I feel that it is my wish to affirm God’s transcendence over time that is driving some of my speculation. God’s infinity demands that the gap between the temporal and eternal is overcome, absolutely – I am just trying to work out what that looks like. The dangers of anthropomorphism are especially great here, of course, but I wonder whether the dangers of Nestorianism are also great if we essentially embrace a permanent ‘two minds’ view, even if that view is coupled with an assertion that the tension between these two is in some unknown way overcome. As I mention above, I also wonder why the Fathers would have ended up embracing the doctrine of three divine persons, other than as a means to explain how two different consciousnesses (Jesus and the eternal Father) could be said to be one God: but if a single divine Person can have two separate consciousnesses, I’m not sure why they’d go to all the bother 🙂 Not that is decisive, but historically it does seem to make the disagreements leading up to Nicaea make much less sense to me.

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  5. Dave says:

    Father Kimel, Thank you so much for posting this video of Dr. Hart. This resource that you have created on Universalism is priceless and I’m sure there are a multitude who are grateful.

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  6. Dave says:

    P.S. Do you happen to know the title of the upcoming book by Dr. Hart on this subject?

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