My friends know that I rarely listen to podcasts. I prefer to read essays and short books. Plus podcasts just take up so much time, time I could be spending watching Game of Thrones or dreaming about life in Rivendell. Yesterday, though, I found myself listening to the latest Sed Contra podcast, “Contra Universalism.” Given that I have a lot of respect for Thomists, and given that it was a nice day to sit outside on my deck and enjoy an Ashton, I bit the bullet and hit the play button. While I enjoyed the podcast—the five men who participated are a thoughtful, bright, congenial, and charitable group of theologians—I didn’t learn anything new on the topic nor feel that they had addressed it in substantive fashion. Throughout the discussion, everlasting damnation is simply taken for granted. The question thus becomes: Given hell, how the hell can this be the best possible world? That’s when the conversation became interesting.
The podcasters noted at the beginning that they were revving up to respond to the forthcoming book by David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved. It quickly became clear that they had not read Hart’s “God, Creation and Evil,” which is available for free download on the web. I was surprised. It was in this essay, after all, that Hart first shared his universalist convictions with the world. It’s kind’ve necessary reading. But as the podcast progressed, it became apparent that our theologians have in fact read very little of the serious literature devoted to apokatastasis and the greater hope. They have read Hans Urs von Balthasar, of course, but quite frankly, he just doesn’t count. I’m not saying Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? is worthless; but Balthasar’s reflections are constrained by dogma and his conclusions timid. There are very few Catholic theologians who publicly advocate universalism. (The Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned apocatastasis, right? Everything is dogmatically settled, right?) Balthasar’s tentative hope is probably as far as a Roman Catholic can go and still be considered faithful to the magisterial tradition.
Fortunately, our Sed Contra theologians have six months to read up on apokatastasis before the release of Hart’s book. While I could just point them to my Readings in Universalism page, I thought I’d highlight the works I think they may find most helpful. What the heck, it’s the least I can do.
1) The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott
2) God’s Final Victory by John Kronen and Eric Reitan
I’m putting these two books at the top of the list because the authors are trained philosophers. They are not Thomists (though John Kronen knows the scholastic tradition), but they value clear and precise argumentation. I believe that our Sed Contra Thomists will appreciate their thoughtful reasoning and sound scholarship. Talbott in particular brings to the topic a passionate evangelical concern for the salvation of every human being. Kronen & Reitan carefully parse the principal arguments advanced against universal salvation. The two books well compliment each other.
3) “Christian Soteriology and Christian Platonism” by Ilaria Ramelli
I thought I’d be nice and not insist that our podcasters read her big book. So in lieu of The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis, I am recommending her earlier essay on Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa. It never hurts to read a sympathetic presentation of the eschatological views of these two great Church Fathers, and Gregory has been a profound influence on the work of David B. Hart.
4) The Bride of the Lamb (pp. 349-526) by Sergius Bulgakov
I hesitated before adding Bulgakov. I can almost guarantee that 99.99% of Thomists will disapprove his exposition of eschatology. Bulgakov is not an easy read. It’s like stepping into an alien universe. But he’s important. He thinks outside the scholastic box. His defense of apokatastasis is unique, vigorous, profound, visionary. Besides it’s good for Thomists to periodically read Orthodox theology.
You will note that I have not included articles or books that specifically address Scripture. Honestly, I am still waiting for a biblical scholar to step forward and write the book that I believe needs to be written. I’m hoping that Hart’s new translation of the New Testament will provoke scholars to engage the Scriptures in a fresh way. In the meantime, folks may consult Hart’s postscript and ponder his renderings of the key passages. Just remember: sometimes eternity ain’t forever.
Have fun, my Thomist friends!