Sed Contra: Apokatastasis for Thomists

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!

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7 Responses to Sed Contra: Apokatastasis for Thomists

  1. Rusty Tisdale says:

    Admittedly, I haven’t read much on this. Hell seems a real possibility, and not something I want to achieve. God’s grace help me. If it’s not eternal, however, is this fact known to Satan and the demons? There are implications there I’m sure.

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  2. Ghost Dog says:

    If anyone hasn’t watched David Bentley Hart’s talk “David Bentley Hart, “Is Everyone Saved? Universalism and the Nature of Persons”, you should.

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  3. joelrice says:

    Interesting!

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  4. Thomas says:

    I think some of these sources present difficulties in convincing Thomists, because they assume background philosophical views that Thomists reject. For example, Thomas Talbott in his essay “Providence, Freedom, and Human Destiny” seems to equate divine omniscience with knowing all true propositions and speaks of God as seeing into the future — which is tantamount to neo-theism or theistic personalism. For whatever reason it seems that universalism usually proceeds along either neo-theist lines, or, in its more classical forms, under a Platonic influence.

    I was trying to think of advocates who largely share Thomist views of the relevant philosophical issues: the nature of God, the will, etc. Balthasar and Rahner both spring to mind as being vaguely in the Thomist neighborhood, but their conclusions are more cautious. It seems to me there may be a route from Lonergan’s deduction of the total intelligibility of the world and its connection to a progressive realization of higher possibilities, but I don’t know of anyone who has made that case.

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  5. douglas says:

    ‘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.’**

    could you please expand on this so i can understand exactly what you mean.

    what are some of the central questions that that kind of book needs to address.

    thanks

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Douglas, what we do not yet have is a book that sympathetically but critically tests the universalist thesis against the New Testament. Is it really as obvious as scholars assume, e.g., that, given the diversity of eschatological beliefs in 1st century Judaism, Jesus intended to teach everlasting perdition? Is that the point of the threatening texts that speak of Gehenna? And what about St Paul? There are several Pauline texts that can easily be read in a universalist way, yet who has really explored this possibility? etc.

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