Despairing into Gehenna: Manis, Kierkegaard, and the Choice Model

For over fifteen hundred years, the dominant Christian understanding of hell has been one of everlasting punishment. Zachary Manis summarizes the traditional position (particu­larly as taught in the Western Church): “The purpose of hell is retribution: one’s consign­ment to hell is a punishment, selected and imposed by God, as requital for the evil deeds committed during one’s earthly life” (Sinners in the Presence of a Loving God, p. 17). Theologians have debated the nature of this punishment (physical fire? separation from God? torment of conscience? demonic abuse? divine energies?), but that there will be deserved suffering has long been the consensual position. Over the past two centuries, though, the retributive model of damnation has come under vigorous criticism. Transgres­sions committed by finite temporal beings, it is argued, cannot merit infinite punishment. The suffering inflicted must be proportional to the offense; otherwise, it becomes unjust. Not only does justice recognize differences between crimes (theft deserves less suffering than murder, e.g.); but it also recognizes that the punishment exacted for even the most heinous crimes must be limited, because the harm caused is necessarily limited: “No matter how egregious the individual’s earthly sins might be, an infinite punishment will always be far out of proportion to the severity of the crimes committed, and thus never a punishment that fits” (p. 18). The victim of horrific violence may feel that the perpetrator can never suffer enough, but at some point the inflicted suffering does become enough, beyond which punishment becomes vengeance.

But an even more telling objection against the retributive model is the divine charity. God is not only perfectly just, but he is perfectly loving. He wills the highest good of every human being, and this highest good is nothing less than eternal communion with the Holy Trinity. Everlasting retribution, however, does not contribute to this good. Its purpose is purely punitive, intending neither the conversion nor sanctification of the offender:

On retributivist accounts, the suffering of hell neither serves nor is intended to serve a reformative function: it is not aimed at the moral improvement—or more generally, the good—of the one punished. But punishment inflicted with neither the intention nor the possibility of reform is unloving, even if it can be made to fall within some plausible account of justice. Loving some­one requires willing his or her highest good, insofar as one is able, so a perfectly good and loving God punishes His creatures only insofar as it is good for them—or, more carefully, only insofar as it is intended for and directed at the good of the ones punished. Retributive accounts of hell are unable to accom­modate this; they fail to account for divine love for the damned and so must be rejected. (p. 39)

In response to the above objections, theologians and philosophers have proposed non-retrib­utive construals of hell, the most popular being the choice or free-will model. The best known exponent of this model is C. S. Lewis. In The Great Divorce every person in hell (the grey town) is given the opportunity to take a bus ride to heaven and to remain there, if they so choose. There is only one hitch: they must give up their favorite sins and allow themselves to be purified and made fit for joy. As the character of George MacDonald tells Lewis:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened. (chap. 9)

In this model God never sends anyone to hell. The damned freely reject communion with their Creator. They get back on the bus and return to their dismal, self-burdened lives. As Lewis memorably states in The Problem of Pain: “The gates of hell are locked on the inside.” What makes the damned damned is their adamant refusal to turn the key.

But why would anyone knowingly choose the misery of hell, and how is this choice imple­mented? Manis distinguishes two forms of perditional choosing—direct and indirect—and for each turns to Søren Kierkegaard for enlightenment.

We may first imagine hell as “the explicit and direct object of choice of those who are finally lost. The damned are individuals who desire not to be in communion with God; they will to be separated from Him, no matter the cost” (p. 195). Their choice is inten­tional. They know what they are doing and they defiantly accept the conse­quences. But why? Manis proposes that at the heart of their contumacy lies prolonged earthly suffering which has generated “offense over the problem of evil that the suffering causes, which over time ferments into a psycho-spiritual condition that Kierkegaard calls ‘inclosing reserve, or what could be called inwardness with a jammed lock'” (p. 198). Captain Ahab in Moby Dick immediately comes to mind. Ahab is consumed by his hatred of the great whale and will destroy it at all costs. At the end, knowing that his quest for vengeance has failed, he casts his harpoon, crying out:

Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear! (chap. 135)

Ahab’s rage has reached Satanic proportions. It has so possessed him that it now defines his identity. He has become his hatred. He cannot but seek to avenge himself upon the levia­than. So with every person who directly rejects God. One who defies God in this way has become “so invested in the significance of his own personal suffering that he is eventually unwilling to relinquish it, and this becomes his motive for rejecting God in a direct way” (p. 199). Filled with bitterness and spite, the damned irrevo­cably commit themselves to hell “for the sake of demonstrating that they are in the right, and that God is in the wrong” (p. 200). Willing the Good becomes a temptation to be renounced. Kierke­gaard names this “demonic despair.” The reprobate freely embrace the torments of Gehenna as an abiding, and in their eyes righteous, witness to the malice and cruelty of the almighty Creator. Hence they are constitutionally incapable of finding satisfaction in communion with God. Their only delight is their rebellion. Against this final obduracy even God is helpless. All he can do is give them the perdition they demand.

Question for Dr Manis: If those who directly reject the Creator do so as a living protest against him, have they truly separated themselves from him? Their protest requires their acceptance, or at least acknowledgement, of the gift of existence. We therefore need to distinguish between the desire for autonomous existence, which by the nature of things is impossible and therefore can only resolve into a relative separation from the Creator (the outer darkness?), as Manis himself notes later in his book, and the desire for absolute separation, terminating in nothingness. The question then becomes: Would the defiantly damned have chosen everlasting suffering if the option of annihilation had been available to them?

Clearly the defiantly damned are operating under a profound spiritual blindness and delusion, which can only be described as pathological, even madness. They are irrationally convinced—irrational, that is, if the gospel is true—that their Creator is an evil monster who has brought intolerable, undeserved suffering upon them, thus making their existence an abomination to themselves. The question arises: Are the damned morally responsible for their final decision for hell? It’s important for the model that the answer be yes, but yes is not obvious. Not only are the damned enslaved to their passions, but they are basing their rejection of God on a profound misunderstanding of his character, providence, redemption. To make a sound judgment about their condition, though, we must consider the entire process of personal corruption:

What is needed is a plausible account of the means by which one’s perspective could become twisted to the point that one is blind to the most fundamental truths about God and oneself, and it must be an account that makes it clear that the process itself is something for which the individual is blameworthy. (p. 201)

Manis relies heavily here on the arguments of Kierkegaard and Jerry Walls. The key lies in the willful suppression of evident truths which we find painful and difficult to act upon, resulting in willful self-deception:

Self-deception is the ability to suppress knowledge that conflicts with one’s desire, to hide from oneself unpleasant truths—especially those revealed by conscience—and to accept in their place something else that one desperately wants to be true. For creatures like ourselves who possess this power, belief is not always entirely passive; one’s inability to perceive the truth is sometimes due to one’s unwillingness to perceive it. The immediate effect of exercising this power is the bringing about of some false belief in oneself. But there are long-term noetic effects, as well. To engage in self-deception repeatedly, and especially habitually, is gradually to form in oneself the kind of character that renders one unable to perceive the deepest truths of human existence: the ethico-religious truths and the truth about oneself in relation to God. This is the phenomenon to which Scripture refers as being blinded by sin. (p. 204)

The damned may be deemed morally culpable for the progressive corruption of their intellectual, volitional, and emotional powers and therefore culpable for its infernal denouement. “The choice of hell is indeed irra­tional,” writes Manis, “in the sense that all acts proceeding from self-deception are irra­tional, and even maximally irrational, given that it is the exercise of self-deception in its uppermost limit” (pp. 205-206)—yet the choice remains blameworthy. The lost are responsible for the formation of the vicious character and madness which grounds their rejection of God. They freely made themselves to be the kind of person who perversely prefers the misery of self over the bliss of eternal communion with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. The choice for hell may be lunacy, but it is the logical conclusion of the path freely taken. Self-deception is neither an excuse nor mitiga­tion. “Guilty!” the judge solemnly declares, as the gavel strikes the bench.

I remain unpersuaded. No matter what the historical and psychological process may have been that produced the state of despair and madness, an insane final choice is an insane final choice and therefore cannot be judged as free (see Tom Talbott “The Fatal Flaw in Free-will Theodicies of Hell”). Its irrationality undermines a fundamental plank of the choice position: God does not interfere with our decisions because he respects human freedom. All bets are off, however, once the sinner becomes totally and irreversibly enslaved to his evil nature, rendering him incapable of doing anything other­wise. So what exactly is the significance of culpabil­ity in the context of the choice model? Are free-will theorists claiming that the damned deserve to suffer because they are responsible for their condition of incurable blindness, irremediable irrationality, and incorrigible impenitence? If yes, then the theorists have slipped retribution in through the back door, and we are right back at the top of the page, wondering about the justice of infinite punishment—but now the punishment imposed is not for crimes committed but for the crime one has become. If no, then they are still left with the challenge of justifying an interminable suffering that serves no good purpose. Suffering is an artifact of the devastation. How can it be present in a transfigured cosmos in which death has been conquered and God is all in all?

We may suppose, however, that the majority of the damned do not choose hell in such a straightfor­ward fashion. There is also, Kierkegaard tells us, an unreflective despair. For such persons, life just happens. They are happy when circumstances are favorable, unhappy when they are not. They lack the strength and consistency of character to overcome the adversities, fail­ures, and disappointments they endure. Over time, Manis explains, they abandon moral effort, give in to vice and become vicious people:

Without the exertion of sustained moral effort, then, a person will eventually develop a bad character. Worse yet, the more that bad desires are indulged, the more difficult it is to resist them in the future: greater and greater amounts of moral effort are required to resist the same temptation. Worst of all, desire for the good will become weaker and weaker each time it is resisted, until eventu­ally the individual experiences no desire for the good at all. Damnation is the logical culmination of this natural process. (p. 209)

These are the kinds of persons depicted in The Great Divorce—not obdurate in direct rejection of God (the defiant would never get on the bus to begin with) but obdurate in their insistence to return to the grey town. They may not even know they have become persons fit only for hell. They only know they lack the strength to change—hence their despair. Instead of turning to God and seeking his help, they entrench themselves in despair and despair over their weakness. Their choice for hell, therefore, is indirect, yet irreversible nonetheless. Turned in upon themselves (incurvatus se—or what Kierkegaard calls “inclosing reserve”), they cannot entertain the possibility that they could be truly and supremely happy, if only they would ask the Savior to heal them. Unlike the defiantly damned, they are desperate to escape their condition, yet in their alienation and hopelessness, they will to remain in it. They have extinguished within themselves the desire for the Good and made perdition their home. God is left with only one option: to nail the damned to themselves, thus making their despair manifest and their selves an eternal torment (Kierkegaardian paraphrase).

Question for Dr Manis: If the indirectly damned remain desperate to escape their condition, does this not suggest that their desire for the Good is not thoroughly extinguished? If even a glimmer of desire for a better life remains, then self-damnation has not yet been achieved. There is still room for grace.

The choice model of damnation has many strengths, which explains why it has largely supplanted the retributive model in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and mainline Protestantism. It neatly resolves the conflict between justice and love (too neatly, proponents of double agency will protest) by positing respect for human freedom. Because God is love, he will not violently impose himself upon rational beings; he will not force anyone into the communion of his kingdom. To do so would be both unjust and unloving. Yet a problem remains, says Manis. Why would God eternally maintain the damned in everlasting suffering and torment? Why not instead annihilate them? If it is unloving for God to retributively inflict suffering on the damned, would it not also be unjust for him to permit the damned to suffer needlessly? We do not treat our pets so cruelly. While we can, perhaps (just perhaps), understand the motivation of the despairing to defiantly stand as living witnesses against the cruel and spiteful Creator, no matter the cost—and therefore understand why God would sustain them in their protest (that is, after all, what they want)—it is not clear how the suffering of hell “is freely chosen by those who do not (knowingly) desire separation from God, especially those who are ignorant that their earthly condition is even one of despair” (p. 214).

Manis explores the possibility of annihilation at length in his book, and I commend to you his incisive analysis. He believes that a free-will version of annihilationism represents a philosophically (and perhaps biblically) compelling alternative to the standard choice model. To willingly choose eternal separation from God does not necessarily entail the knowing embrace of eternal torment. There may in fact be many among the lost who would prefer absolute extinction. Why would the infinitely loving God not honor such a choice? In this sense free-will annihilationism is a variant of the choice model: God gives the self-damned the desire of their evil hearts.

In the end, though, Manis dissents from the choice model of hell. In his opinion it contra­dicts the clear Scriptural testimony that God imposes hell upon the reprobate against their will. God does not just sit back and passively watch the process of self-destruction play out, as the metaphor of giving the wicked over to their desires might suggest (Rom 1:24). In the bibical presentation God condemns the reprobate to an eschatological fate to which they have not given their consent. A punishment freely chosen hardly qualifies as a punishment. Consider Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet: the king orders an improperly dressed guest to be bound and cast into the outer darkness, even though he wishes to join in the festivities (Matt 22:1-14).

“The body of clear textual support for the idea that damnation is self-chosen is rather thin,” concludes Manis (p. 237). An alternative, biblically faithful model of hell is necessary.

(Go to “Divine Presence”)

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108 Responses to Despairing into Gehenna: Manis, Kierkegaard, and the Choice Model

  1. Jedi Scribe says:

    I also have another question for proponents of the free will model. Why assume the ability to reject God is infinite, even if one totally indentifies with his God (and self) hatred. Surely our capacity for anything other than God is finite. Why assume that to be completely consumed by hatred is irreversible? If anything, the resurrection shows that not even self chosen death is beyond God.

    Also for the idea that God intentionally gives us over to punishment, why should this not be interpreted pedadogically, as origen did? And isn’t it also possible that (as St. Gregory of Nyssa believed) that freely rejecting God and being punished by God are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin?

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  2. Hmm, lots of food for thought there! I like how the Book of Revelation speaks of death and even hell itself being thrown into the lake of fire. And it is tantalizing to ponder the idea that fire is not necessarily a bad thing, that God Himself is said to be a consuming fire, that fire purifies and refines us, that we sometimes pray to catch the fire of the Holy Spirit. I also like how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are thrown into a fiery furnace but Jesus is there with them and they are not harmed, they don’t even smell like smoke.

    I’m not quite a universalist and I don’t subscribe to the idea of purgatory, but it seems like God could easily remove the parts of us that are damaged and bring out the essence of who He originally designed us to be at birth. Since that kind of work is what He does to us in life, it would seem logical that He continues or completes the job in the next life or the afterlife. Chuckling here, but I don’t think God wastes things like we do in our throw away society, so the idea that God would just throw out the bad people into the garbage dump, doesn’t sit well with me. In our world at least, energy can’t be created of destroyed. Naturally God is free to do anything He likes, but I suspect His ways are consistent with some of the science we see around us.

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  3. Anna says:

    You might be interested in this. “The Opposite of War is not Peace

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  4. Anna says:

    Maybe a way forward is to recognize that the psychological and spiritual aspects of man are not the same, nor on the same plane. A man can be psychologically damaged and be in this space of excommunicating/isolating himself and yet this may not be a hardened spiritual state. God sees the heart which is deeper than psychological states that we see. My Grandmother experienced much suffering and became a very bitter person. At even the slightest mention of God she would snap, “Don’t preach at me!”. She eventually got Altzheimer’s and was a bear to the nurses being very mean and criticizing them etc. My sister would visit her and show love to her and also talk about Christ and pray for her, despite the fact that grandma would be cruel and demanding and critical. At some point though, about a year before her death, a complete change occurred. She still had Altzheimers and could remember nothing, but suddenly she was wanting my sister to read her the Bible and pray for her. She became gentle as a lamb. Shortly before she died she asked for a pastor to come in and see her. (My family is Protestant not Orthodox). My personal belief is that something in her heart changed, something that went deeper than her psychological state of having Alzheimers. I reject any doctrine of universal salvation for the simple reason is that it constrains God and attempts to rationalize what is essentially a mystery. I think the doctrine comes more out of either human hubris, or human pain than it does out of anything truly spiritual.

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    • Connie says:

      Anna, it is true that one’s psychological condition can mask what God is doing at a deeper, unseen level, but to thus infer that those in whom we don’t yet see a deeper spiritual work are thus doomed to eternal torment is simply unwarranted. Also, I would think twice about charging Christian Universalists with deriving their position from hubris or pain. It is quite a stretch of the imagination to think of Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Isaac the Syrian coming to their conclusions from a lack of humility – or even from pain. And they certainly are not putting any constraint upon God. They simply expect Him to be who He is: Pure Love and pure Goodness.

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      • Anna says:

        I never said those in whom we don’t see God working are doomed. I simply said our relationship with God is a mystery. It is hubris to claim everyone will definitely be saved just as it’s hubris to claim we can know that this or that person is going to hell. The reality is we don’t know. I know that God is good and his justice perfect. What this actually means is something we, for the most part, don’t know. The universalism of today is simply an attempt to reduce God’s relationship to man to a formula that boxes God into acting according to it.

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        • I might not know what “the universalism of today” is/means, so I can’t say this last statement is false, but it strikes me that it is probably more than SIMPLY an attempt to reduce God’s relationship to man to a formula, etc. I do see your points, mostly, though – I think.

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        • Connie says:

          Anna, I apologize for implying that you were claiming to know who would be doomed and who wouldn’t. I actually didn’t mean to imply that. But I did, probably wrongly, extrapolate from what you said that you did believe that there will indeed be people who end up in an eternal hell due to their underlying spiritual state. And my point that I clumsily tried (or at least wanted) to make is that saints like St Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac the Syrian would say that the God of love who was so faithfully working with your grandmother is also working with every other person whom He loved into existence, including those in hell.

          On another note, it will always puzzle me that the simple belief that God will accomplish His will that all be saved so often meets with accusations of hubris.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Anna says:

            If it was simple belief there would be no problem. However, it was simple belief there would not be so much energy expended attempting to create persuasive arguments for it contrary to the vast majority of the witness of Church Tradition. David Bently Hart for instance directly denigrates tradition in favor of his own opinions. He approaches Scripture and Tradition in a way that picks and chooses to believe only what agrees with himself, and rejects anything that does not agree with his views as having no authority. Let me ask – since we see so much teaching on hell and eternal damnation in the Scriptures and in the writings of the saints – what is it there for? What is the context of the doctrine of hell in the overall soteriology of orthodox Christianity? Why is it that so many saints were not worried about their loved ones going to hell? Did they love their loved ones less than us? or did they see things in a way that we have not yet learned to see?

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Anna, David B. Hart’s new book That All Shall Be Saved will be published in two months. I think you will find it interesting. We will be having a lot of discussion about it here on Eclectic Orthodoxy this Fall and Winter, and perhaps on into 2020, as I have several reviewers lined up. This is going to be great fun!

          But I do want to comment on comment on your concern about a too easy dismissal of tradition. I understand this concern, but there are important theological and evangelical concerns driving the call to reconsider apokatastasis, the most important being the gospel itself. To put it as succinctly as I can: Is the love of God unconditional? If the traditional teaching on hell (whether in its Eastern or Latin versions) is true, then it is not. We can pretend that it is by repeating “God loves you” ad nauseum, but in fact what the Church ends up saying is “God has done his part. Now it’s up to you, and there is nothing anything God can do to ensure your eschatological future. He’ll help you along the way, but there’s nothing he can do if you don’t truly repent, and if you don’t repent you are doomed to eternal torment.” That is really what it comes down to. One can parse this out in any number of ways, but it all comes down to the conditionality of the divine love and the impotence of the Creator before the freedom of the human creature.

          This evangelical concern has not been dogmatically addressed by the Church catholic, which is why I and others believe that the apokatastasis, rightly formulated, is still dogmatically open. It’s not irrelevant that both St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac of Nineveh are saints. Their voices, and others—even Sergius Bulgakov’s, David Hart’s, and maybe even mine—need to be heard. Genuine debate needs to happen, because what is at stake is the gospel.

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          • Zach Manis says:

            Fr. Aiden, I agree that your remarks about conditional divine love apply to certain forms of traditionalism (Calvinism, for example), but do you think it applies to the divine presence model? On that model, it is the very love of God that the wicked experience as a source of torment. God’s love is unconditional, but it is “the inescapable love of God” (Sorry Tom!) that causes the damned to suffer. So if the divine presence model counts as the Eastern traditional view of hell, then not all traditional views of hell take God’s love to be conditional.

            Sorry if I’m getting ahead of myself. I should probably save these remarks for the discussion of the next installment of the review!

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I certainly don’t want to spoil the next installment … but the kid gloves come off. 🙂

            But yes, I do think that the traditional Orthodox view reduces to a conditionalist understanding of the divine love. Precisely at the point of rejection, God’s love stands impotent, right? Precisely at this point, he is incapable of accomplishing our salvation. How is this not a condition? This becomes clear, I think, if you translate it into first-person promise. Are we not required, according to his construal, to add the all-decisive “if”? How many sermons have you heard that always qualify the gift of salvation by “if”? God does his job and now it’s up to us to do ours! It’s all commonsensical. We preachers talk this way all the time, especially if we’re Orthodox. But what if the resurrection authorizes us to speak the gospel as unconditional promise?! What if?

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          • Zach Manis says:

            It seems to me that there’s an equivocation at work here. There’s a difference between *our salvation* being conditional on something, versus *God’s love for us* being conditional on something. Love does not require that one’s desire for the beloved is satisfied. Love requires that one desires the highest good for the beloved. But if this desire is thwarted, through no fault of one’s own, and despite one’s best efforts, surely it does not follow that one’s love was not genuine.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          “It is hubris to claim everyone will definitely be saved just as it’s hubris to claim we can know that this or that person is going to hell. The reality is we don’t know. I know that God is good and his justice perfect.”

          Anna you will have to demonstrate why the latter knowledge (i.e. that God is good and perfect) is exempted from being hubris. It is after all revealed knowledge of God as the good and the perfect upon which the universalist bases his claim.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Grant says:

        I think you Hart injustice Anna, as to anyone, to ascribe motives to him that he has not said, in terms of suggesting he denigrates tradition, I have certainly not seen that any book, article, debate or lecture, not do I think there are many theologians, including those who disagree with him here who would say such about. Not do I think charging him of picking and choosing is fair, as he does engage with a wide variety of fathers, texts, theologians (for example At Thomas Aquinas and At Augustine) who were not universalists, and engages in the Tradition in it’s diversity.

        Now, I think he sees and engages with Tradition differently then some might be comfortable with, it is not nearly so closed and certain as some would want or wish for (but that has often been the way). It is also true that his presentation style is quite forthright and he tends to advocate his views strongly. But there is nothing new here in history of the Church and it’s history of theology (including Fathers, saints and Doctors and so on).

        Whether Scriptures teach eternal damnation rather than universalism or annihilationism is very matter of debate, translation and so on. For long it has assumed to be so, many people read it in there, and equally condition the seemingly clear promises in other verses towards universalism, trained to not even really see it.

        Universalism has always been within Church tradition and for the first few centuries had wide support, this did drop off for various complicated reasons in both West and East due in no small part to political interests.

        There is no doubt it has majority support, but this in itself decides nothing, there was a time eternal torment did not have clear majority support, and that may happen again. That also tells nothing to whether it is true or not, in past times majority views have been wrong, Arianism for example.

        As for convoluted arguments I have throughout my Christian life seen far more written and deployed to convince people of eternal torment then ever that universalism. There simply isn’t an equal balance in terms of output.

        Again, both are pious opinions, they sit within orthodox dogma, and people who believe strongly will discuss vigorous but respectfully and in love. No one is demanding you give a commitment to this view, only for the legitimate freedom to hold it. And I would ask you respectfully and in love to think vary carefully about charging anyone with acting out of hubris or pain rather then geninue faith and devotion, still less of denigrating Tradition and acting cavalier with Scriptures, Fathers and saints, whether Hart or anyone else, particularly when do not know them personally. You seem to be a better person than this, though I assume internet communication being what it is, doesn’t help create an place for calm, considered responses, and we can say things of the cuff.

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    • To me, one of the greatest “arguments” for said doctrine is this: for anyone to reject God, Love Himself, crucified to forgive sins & risen in victorious love, to go on hating Him forever & ever is just an evil too abominable, too evil, too disgusting to exist.

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  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Tangential question: does Dr. Manis give any idea of how he would account for the perspective of Dmitri Lavrodopoulos in Charles Williams’s War in Heaven?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      David, in my next installment of my review I’ll be sharing Manis’s constructive proposal regarding hell. After you read it, tell us how you think Dmitri fits in.

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  6. earsofc says:

    “Worse yet, the more that bad desires are indulged, the more difficult it is to resist them in the future: greater and greater amounts of moral effort are required to resist the same temptation.”

    I have always found this an odd claim – in fact it seems the opposite is frequently true. It is oftentimes only once the bad desires *are* indulged to the full that their horrific effects are known, and thus resistance to them becomes possible, if not easier. Indeed, were this not true, one could never form a resolve “never to do that again” after having done something wrong, being more convicted than ever, after experiencing the negative consequences of one’s own actions, that they ought never to be done again. This view, in other words, seems to have no room for the phenomenon of “rock bottom.”

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      “It is oftentimes only once the bad desires *are* indulged to the full that their horrific effects are known, and thus resistance to them becomes possible, if not easier”
      This doesn’t seem to me to be incompatible at all with the idea that bad ideas, once indulged, become more difficult to resist: it is the ability to away from bad ideas under one’s own steam and without hitting rock bottom that becomes eroded. A person may, at early stages, decide they probably ought to cut back on the drinking and with a bit of luck, favourable circumstances and determination successfully do so: beyond a certain point this is lost to them, and only once they do hit “rock bottom” will the desire to reform come, and then they will generally require external help and intervention to do so.
      In the “Great Divorce” IIRC the narrator asks why none of the blessed descend to hell to bring the sinners out. He is shown a tiny crack in the ground of the garden, which is, in fact, the whole of hell, which as a result none of the blessed can enter.
      I don’t remember thinking this at the time, but that appears to be now to be entirely contrary to traditional orthodox Christianity, in that we are supposed to believe that not one of the blessed but in fact Christ himself descended into hell and walked Lewis’s imagined dark and rainy streets.
      This to my mind is the biggest hole in the “Great Divorce” and hell as choice theologies. The story lacks the harrowing of hell: Christ walking the streets, knocking on doors, sitting with the sinners, telling them they are forgiven, restoring them to their right minds and sending them off on the bus to his father. It is not Christian as it lacks Christ.
      This is the key thing: we left our drunk at rock bottom, which has led him to regret and repent of his actions, but he cannot by his own will simply stip drinking and save himself. He needs to turn to treatment or AA, or rehab, or the intervention of his friends and family to get him back on track and sober.
      Free will hell I think is partially right: where we will not and cannot repent of ourselves God will let us have our way and cast us into hell, but only so as, when we hit rock bottom and know it, we will willingly turn back to him for cure.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Did you finish reading The Great Divorce? It specifically states that only the Greatest can become small enough to enter Hell – & that He has done so, preaching to the spiris imprisoned there, in the moment which is eternal, so neither past nor future, but open to all.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Anna says:

      “It is oftentimes only once the bad desires *are* indulged to the full that their horrific effects are known, and thus resistance to them becomes possible,”

      This is true for the person who is struggling against those bad desires. For the person who gets into the habit of justifying those desires and always blaming the bad consequences on others, these are the ones who gradually fall into a state of complete blindness and hardness in sin. Adam’s sin was not so much eating the fruit, but in the real fall was in the self-justification that came after. Sin is only healed through repentance, and self-justification when it becomes a state of soul, renders such a soul completely unable to repent.

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      • earsofc says:

        “Completely unable to repent.” I wonder, how do you know such a state is possible? Do you think it’s possible for a created will to exist – a will made by God, and held in existence every moment by God – so solidified in evil it could not do anything good at all? How do you view Gods thoughts towards such a creature? How do you feel about it?

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  7. Grant says:

    While awaiting Manis’ position and argument is (as he dissents from the choice model) though I would imagine those who do ascribe to it would defend God’s withdrawal of active Presence and giving people the consequences of their choice not only would also be seen as an active judgement, that in the Scriptures it is often presented as active judgement (but I imagine he will engages these views).

    But dealing with the views presented, my response to the first, the Ahab reaction, a reaction against extreme suffering and brokeness both personal and seen in the world as a whole, is a hatred and rejection of God, a defiance to the torment they see and experience. In time, as a with the character Ahab it can even reach cruel levels, becoming cold themselves in their reaction to the pain and abuse they see and experience, broken and reacting towards that brokenness.

    However is this a rejection of God at all, is not in fact, however misguided and warped, a defiance against evil, abuse, suffering and desolation in creation, against that terrible pitiless power of fate, of death stealing and destroying all that is good and free and loving, nothing less than a choice towards the Good, towards Love, towards God in Christ. It is, even with say something like Ahab motivated and driven by a desire for, choice towards God, towards Life, and rejection of evil and of death, indeed it is to take Christ’s side against death. There is no rejection of God in this choice at all, only what is perceived to be God, but not God Himself, however misguided, warped and damaged that reaction goes, it is still at heart and orientation a choice for God, a choice for Christ and indeed is an act of faith in Him, by it’s very rejection and reaction against the evil around the person, even when it some cases it leads to a despairing fall into that darkness by acting against it in destructive ways. In it all is a prior and foundational embrace of the Light, and a reaching for it, a faith and hope in it and never goes away, the unveiling of the Truth of such, while at first no doubt glaring and perhaps painful in the sense of being trapped in a dark room and the bright light of day breaks through dazzlingly them, they eyes adjust and they see the truth of the room they in, will be a time of joy in embracing what in their hearts they have always had faith in and hoped for, and stood and reached for. To me, the biggest failing here is these cases simply do not count as a rejection of God at all, or of the Good, the Truth, of Love and of Christ but the complete opposite, at heart they are foundationally a choice for Him.

    The second situation I think offers little better, by the potion’s own admission, they dislike the situation they are in, their habits and all that afflicts them, and are afflicted by the Fall and by slavery to death in both it’s general cosmic affliction and in the specifics that apply to themselves personally, both from their own actions, others that which has been inherited, that which comes from numerous environmental causes, from cultural and social and spiritual influences and so on and so on. They desire to be free, and try for it, but lack so it is stated the will to do so, but with this we might and I would say indeed must say also the perception, agency and powers on their own to do so.

    So far, this is simply orthodox Christianity, under the affliction and power of death, we cannot break free of our own accord, only by Christ and the grace of God in Him, are we both able to repent, to be broken free and choice that life. This is not a once in a time decision, but a freeing and re-orientation of our whole life but now and into eternity, to be restored, raised and resurrected in all senses to who we really are, both personally and corporately as humanity. Which brings me to the point in the first example, it is a matter of perspiration, for now they cannot see in their full selves the freedom they have and could have in Christ (as indeed happens many times in the life of Christians, whether a period of spiritual dryness comes, and time of falling into sin, or a particularly participation in the way of death we never even realized was the case, either corporately or personally, or a area we are continually struggling with) are thus remain struggling they think alone under death, feeling unable or not understanding how to break free. Even intellectually knowing is never enough, this is not true knowledge, and for all of us, struggles go on, and we often fall, sometimes for long stretches of time, I do not in this see much difference with committed Christians, even the life of the Saints, only a matter of degree. In all of it Christ is present, and the vital thing, acknowledged even here, is they desire otherwise, they are even in their increasing despair that falls towards more destructive choices, feeling trapped underneath, are even in disordered and confused ways, crying out for help, to be free, are again even in their despair choosng God, wanting Him and even in their wrong choices are not choosing them for them, but often in a contradictory desire to escape for that life, they are, as we all do, for God but in misguided and misunderstood ways. Already there is at the foundational level a move towards repentance, of the heart towards God, as they understand and apprehend Him, only being trapped in illusions and fears they run in misguided ways and are trapped by wrong perceptions, but their desire is the work of grace present in them. Even under this damage their is Christ’s healing Presence at work, and we cannot on the outside see it clearly, but with the full freedom at His unveiling of all things, many amazing and surprising things will be seen in these people, and we shouldn’t be surprised really, in the Gospel according to St Matthew we are told explicitly that Christ many such as these, and if He is will them, He will never abandon them nor can they be lost for good. But fundamentally again, we have a choice against evil, not a choice for it, and choice and desire for God, but a failure of perspective and understanding to pursue Him at this time, and simply also the struggle to participate in the Life of God in Christ, and of coming into the way of Life from the way of death, it is confusing and difficult and for us all we often personally lack power and agency and can fall sometimes without even realizing we are still under and following the ways of death in areas both personally and again corporately (with our society, what our nation does, what global humanity does to each other or creation) we can blind to all of this, but it is part of a larger call to repentance, and breaking free of us all from death in a journey in which we by our nature always desire God and are both by grace empowered to both respond and do so in our faltering ways and steps. Sometimes those steeps can take us in a misunderstandings and fears into dark and shadowy places, by Christ remains all around us, with us, and within us, and He will always being all home, to where we are all aiming towards and desiring from the beginning.

    Again, these do not amount to a choice against God, but a desire and choice, however faltering and confused, for God, so to me both of these propositions fail in what they attempt to justify as reasons for either eternal torment or annihilation, for an eternal loss of either kind.

    Also both raise an issue for me with both retributive and free choice models, like libertarian thinking generally, they tend to act as if people are atomistic existences that spring into life on their own, completely whole, and having full perception, agency, both mental, spiritual and physical, and both have at their hands and are able to apprehend the reality around them in a clear, unbiased and unconditioned manner. Therefore they should be easily able to arrive at the truth of a situation, and if they do not, that is their own fault and failure, and that any action and fault is wholly theirs. This is simply not true, and I don’t think it is Scriptural either, we are seen corporately, as being in Adam, and part of creation, we do not exist separately, man is not an island, and no one comes into existence apart from others, or apart from creation. We are completely part of wider humanity, we are formed by and inherent everything from those we are part of, both those we live with now, and those who have come before, and of the environment in which we live, but physically, spiritually and culturally. This is true both genetically, we are the sum of countless generations that have preceded us, both human and ultimately of 3.3 billion years of life, of that life in a fallen universe which conditions much of what we are, in both our physical and intellectual capacities, both generally both also specifically giving us both specific make-ups in various aptitudes and abilities but also in afflictions and vulnerabilities, both from birth and being more susceptible to things both mental and physical and both in the future. This affects many things in terms of perception and apprehension of many things, and likelihood to fall into some areas of sin more than others, or to understand, there is no even or equal playing field, (for example of likelihood to be an alcoholic, which increasingly seems to have genetic base). And then there are environmental factors, which both affect physical and genetic al development, but also influence our very mental framework, how we think, understand and respond to things, deep habits in ourselves, both at the level of parenting and families, but also more wider, in terms of culture, society, how language is used, the general and unnoticed osmosis of life, and with countless complex factions that extend of billions of years affecting each of us, with random and vagaries of chance thrown in, the abstract picture that all these models appeal to is simply not the case. Not only are we all radically different with different situations, afflictions and issues, we are also all intertwined with each other, and with creation, we are all in Adam, and are all in creation, and the complex affliction of death on us does not lead to the picture they seem to appeal to to justify free choice or retributive damnation. That situation is a fiction, and does not, or ever has, been true to real, true and embedded existence.

    A final aside, I appreciate Anna’s personal story of her grandmother (though my own experiences with my brother’s death were different and sadder in some ways than that outcome) but a challenge was raised that to advocate universal salvation is either an act of human hubris, or human pain, rather then some spiritual. This I think does require a response (otherwise I would say nothing, as I really did appreciate the personal story you shared and I’m glad to hear your Grandmother experienced freedom and peace at the end, and this is in no way an attack towards you).

    Now at a personal level, it is true, it could be the result of human hubris or pain, or indeed both, we could embrace such a doctrine for these reasons. However, this is true of any position we ever take in life, both theological or otherwise, an economic policy or position, say an economically conservative, liberal or various social models could be embraced out of human hubris. Both affirmations of and denials of the Trinity could be born from personal hubris, someone who has suffered much might embrace eternal torment because of their human pain, yet their embrace of that doctrine is not spiritual.

    However, the question is, is affirming universal salvation only ever human hubris or human pain, not surprising (as an advocate of it 🙂 ) I don’t think so. Now there is a certain amount of truth that before the mystery of God there are points we can’t as finite beings sometimes ever, and certainly now go beyond. Because it is beyond our comprehension, it is a cloud of unknowing. But we should be careful how far we push that in terms of denying investigation and thought and reflection, and into holding positions. If we held it as a ultimate principle we should of course also reject both Christian and any other revelation, Dogma and positive statements. We would hold a position of theistic agnostics, there is a God yes, but we know nothing about Him, or transcendent reality, and that it would be hubris or personal desire to affirm what he cannot know. This I do not think is tenable, even in it’s affirmation it is in fact saying a number of positive things in relation to God and reality, and about what cannot be in it (such as the possibility that God can reveal Himself to creation and we can have positive statements towards Him, creation and our own relation to Him and so on). And for any Christians we are already committed to the fact that He has revealed Himself and continues to do so in and through Christ principally, and so can say positive things about Him. This includes that God is Love, that He is the Good, and that He is God and created and creates all things from nothing, that He is it’s Ground, Sustainer and it’s Goal, that in Him, we move and have our being, and exist only by participation in Him, or we would fall into nothing (we would not be). And that in Christ death is defeated, that God has joined us to Himself and will be all in all.

    So as Christians we can say positive things, and in that there are things are Dogmatic and things that are pious options, doctrines and theological options which are orthodox but not Dogmatic, but sit within the faith as we have received it. Dogma would be say the Trinity, the ressurection of the dead and Christ’s return, Jesus Christ being fully human and fully God, having two natures but one Person and so on. But there are many at times conflicting interpreations on a number of those Dogmatic points and the life of the faith, they are in tension, but as St Paul says we see through a glass darkly and we now attempt to reach and understand. In doing that from the beginning to today they have been contrasting opinions and positions on a number of issues. Sometimes this has come a point of contention enough that it does become a matter of Dogma, say when Arianism rose and Councils get call and clarity of issues such as the Trinity or the Incarnation arise, and so positions become heterodox. We may not be saying to full and clear revelation of the truth or in the best way, but what the Church affirms on these issues is still true, and to say otherwise would not be true. However much of these disagreements do not come to this level, and though in tension they remain within legitimate orthodox and catholic thought, where we live with this disagreement (take different positions on the Eucharist, as a Protestant you might think differently, within Catholic and various Orthodox circles though the Dogma is that it is the Body and Blood of Christ, but you get different doctrines and theologies like transubstantiation that disagree with others but they all sit within what is Dogma, that it is the Body and Blood of the Lord, even if the specific further doctrines conflict).

    So it comes to universal salvation, or eternal damnation (and within that, eternal torment or annihilation), Dogma is what is said in the Nicene Creed, ‘And He will come again with glory to judge the living and the death, and of His Kingdom there will be no end’, that is Dogma and what is foundational. Anything else, the other doctrines that develop this revelation are all ultimately pious opinions or positions, to that extent they are something asserted that a Christian is personally convinced off but who acknowledges that it isn’t Dogma and could turn out despite them thinking otherwise to be otherwise. But it does sit within the Dogma that has been unquestionable been revealed (though of course proponents in this an other areas would also insist that they believe their position is revealed and on reflect is where what is revealed points to). That is the tensions of where we currently are, and even to attempt not to take a position on this or other issues, tend as in so many things to tend to take a position and even to in some ways affirm one position or another (often in saying someone cannot affirm universal salvation, someone inherently is by practice affirming that it is not so, and that others should also not act in accordance with it be so, and this goes for other areas to, and in relation to universal salvation is a coming argument, which I disagree with on this area).

    The other part of your object would be that it would constrain God, this I do not agree with either, this to me would only pertain if God either A – did not call and create and sustain us out of nothing, or B – if He is not Love and Good, indeed the Good as such. Yet fundamental Christian Dogma is that God is the Creator, that He calls and creates and sustains all things from nothing, and that He is Love, He is Good as such. This means that all things individually and corporately exist in their whole entirely, (both in terms of space and time, past, present and future – to us -) and all actions and derisions and choices because God brought that and them into being and gave that including all agencies and decisions by His act and creation. In doing so He both saw and gave the ability to act and be in all it’s specifics, all secondary causes and actions are reducible down to the Primary Cause no matter the freedom given to those secondary causes and actions, even to the maximum, they remain reducible down to God as Primary Cause and Creator, and enfolded in that creative act, and any ultimate outcome from it is one intended by God. And this is principally because He is God, not a god, not a being among beings, He is not determined by anything, constrained by anything but Himself and His Own Nature. Therefore any ultimate outcome of creation is on which He intends from the beginning. Because He isn’t constrained, if any are ultimately lost, not matter their secondary agency that would be an outcome that God intended and knowing risked and accepted, not because He had to ( as you say, He is God, nothing constrains Him) but because it is intended. That means they would be damned because He wished it, He intended them to be damned forever as His act of creation. But to accept this is to reject no matter the words you still use, the central Christian revelation and Dogma in Christ that God is Love, that He is the Good as such, because whatever secondary benevolence you ascribe to such, you cannot call such the Good nor Love, and if He is being constrained but other factors in creation, He is not God, not Being and beyond Being, but just a being among beings, no matter how powerful, obedient and subject to a higher cause and reality (like Plato’s demiurge). It also does immense violence to the salvation Christ in the Cross, as if some are damned forever, and this were intended from all creation, it would mean that all creation turns on their damnation, and everyone and everything’s salvation and joy turns on their either eternal suffering or destruction and eternal loss either way. They not the Lord, become the one that suffers in our place, the saviours, the redeemers the Christ for all, this cannot be accepted by any Christian. This I think is why at some level at least is why defences of eternal damnation are so convoluted and torturous at times it seems to me, because at some level this is realized but to me it is trying to put a square peg in a round hole, it just won’t ever fit.

    Of course the above is all only how I see it through a glass darkly, it is a pious opinion, it isn’t Dogma, it is possible that my apprehension on this as on many things, and were on things in the past are misguided or wrong (as any of our interpretations on things can be). That of course I fully accept, yet I am convinced of it at the moment but do advance as such, a convinced pious opinion, not as Dogma, which does not declare either way. It may be I’m wrong, it could be those who advocate eternal loss are wrong, but I don’t think either of us are necessarily acting from human hubris or pain, nor do such positions I think always or even regularly come from those origins, and while aspects of both and more will affect all our views and actions, they are not wholly the cause in all causes, nor are positions themselves I think ones that can or should be dismissed a priori on such grounds.

    Again, I hope you don’t feel I’m coming at you personally, but I feel you raised an issue that did require some reflection and response, and may perhaps be something a few readers feel, and so I took the opportunity to give an answer to that challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Remember, Grant, I’m just the messenger. But it’s possible that Dr Manis will visit the blog and hopefully he’ll address your concerns. But thank you for your, as always, thoughtful comment. 👍

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      • Grant says:

        Oh, I wasn’t directing it at you, so I hope you didn’t think that 🙂 , just responding to the positions as reflective of those Dr Manis outlines. And I’m not sure if those are his position either since he dissents from them in the end. So it’s just the positions as formulated I was responding to, hope you didn’t think I was attacking you personally, if so I’m sorry, it wasn’t my intention.

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    • Anna says:

      “that God intended and knowing risked and accepted, not because He had to ( as you say, He is God, nothing constrains Him) but because it is intended. That means they would be damned because He wished it, He intended them to be damned forever as His act of creation.”

      Personally I don’t accept this idea of how God’s intentions work. I believe that His ultimate will is not so logically constrained and does not operate within creation as a predetermined fate. This is where I see the doctrines of universal salvation and eternal damnation as two sides of the same coin – both see God’s will as impersonal and not personal or relational.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Anna, I’m not sure where you get this idea that the universalist hope is impersonal or nonrelational. It is grounded on the most personal dimension of the human being—our God-given orientation to the living God who is eternally drawing us to himself by his Spirit.

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      • Grant says:

        As Father Aiden says, there is nothing impersonal here, the Christian conviction is that God in love creates super abundantly from nothing, not because He needs anything but as pure love and grace, and draws all things into the love that is Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And this is deeply personal, even goes deeper and beyond it. But it is because as you say he is not bound in creation, but transcends it I see no escaping the point I raise. His loving creation is bringing into being all things, all moments and all that makes (and for us will make) finite existence. If He were bound in creation, a being alongside us, bound to a unavoidable fate, then a potential forever loss could make sense. So would Dr Manis arguments above, at least potentially as He would be bring like us, the most powerful but constrained by creation and higher and other conditions like us. But He would not be God, but a god, a creature not Creator, finite not infinite who calls things forth in love from nothing, and in whom we live, move and have our being.

        This for me makes it impossible that any loss can be anything else but intentional. All His personal giving of existence and grace, and all His interactions, redemption, all these secondary acts within creation, are part of that whole infinite dynamic dance and call to existence beyond and transcendent of all creation and purely within God’s creative freedom, power and of His love. All is part of that, so just because of the fact He is not constrained by anything and yet is personal and creates in and for Love, I personally for reasons I gave cannot accept eternal loss as true to Him or the Gospel, as it would be nothing other than His intention of so, and cannot be called Love or the Good, which would to me deny key and no negotiatible Dogma.

        But I will again say this is my pious opinion, I’m convinced of it’s truth, but it’s not Dogma, nor am I demanding you accept it, I can see where your concerns come from, so don’t feel these are pressuring you in your own journey. The position you advocate is more common I think, and one held by such as Metropolitan Wars for example. So you have good company 🙂 .

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Grant, I just want to say that I very much liked what you had to say about Captain Ahab.

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  8. Zach Manis says:

    Fr. Aidan,

    Thank you for this series of posts, and for your thoughtful and perceptive analysis. The two sets of questions that you’ve posed are incisive and important. If I could, I would like to say something by way of response to each.

    The first question (appearing in bold type in the post) is in two parts: First: Have those Kierkegaardian characters who wish to stand as living protests against God truly separated themselves from Him? Second: Would these individuals choose annihilation instead, if it were an option for them?

    The answer to the second part is a straightforward “No”. What is characteristic of these individuals, as Kierkegaard depicts them, is that they desire to stand as living witnesses against the goodness of God. They imagine to themselves that God must *want* to annihilate them, because they are (in their minds) the evidence that He is “a second rate author” who makes mistakes in His creation. Their desire, motivated by spite and hatred, is to continue existing as the living “proof” of His failure.

    As for the second part: The characters Kierkegaard imagines have not truly separated themselves from God; nor do they wish to do so. Their identity is bound up in *opposition* to God. They are like protesters standing outside the White House, who want to be seen in their protest, and most of all want to be seen by the President and by others who witness their protest being carried out right in the President’s face.

    So the “separation” envisioned in the choice model is in no sense an absolute metaphysical separation. The orthodox doctrine of divine conservation entails that an absolute separation from God would be annihilation. The separation of the damned from God is a relational estrangement. They choose—either directly or indirectly—not to be in communion with Him. This is compatible, however, with a resentment on the part of the damned in recognizing the fact that they are dependent on God for their very existence.

    Now for the second question (in bold in the post): If those who are “indirectly” damned desire to escape from their condition, doesn’t this prove that they still have some desire for the good, and thus that they are not (yet) truly damned?

    Jerry Walls suggests that those in this position might will to bring their second-order desires (what they want to want) into alignment with their first-order desires (what they want), in order to achieve the only kind of inner consistency that is still possible for them. Put in concrete terms, they finally decide to fully embrace their evil desires, and to identify with them. Perhaps this is an accurate description of some of those individuals in this condition. But I’m not convinced that this is the only form that indirect damnation could take.

    Here’s another possibility that I think Kierkegaard suggests: There are some who desire to escape from sin, but they are determined to do it themselves, on their own terms, and by their own power. When they inevitably fail, they fall back into resentment and offense at their own weakness, rather than turning to God in repentance and admitting to Him and to themselves that they are powerless to save themselves. Once again, it is pride that motivates this attitude. But the longer the damned persist in it, the more invested they are in their project of personal salvation, and the less likely they are to give up on it.

    In sum: Part of the richness of the Kierkegaardian version of the choice model is that there are multiple forms that damnation can take, and different motivations and psychological states that are characteristic of each. Not only are there different roads to hell, there are (somewhat) different destinations, though all are rightly identified as damnation, insofar as they are all permanent states of entrenchment in sin and alienation from God.

    Thank you again, Fr. Aidan, for your engagement with my work and for your insightful analysis of it. I look forward to the remaining parts of your review!

    Blessings,
    zm

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Zach, welcome to EO and thank you for your comment.

      It sounds like I may have misdescribed the defiantly damned in one respect: I suggested that they would never get into the bus to heaven, but it sounds like they would have been the first to get on the bus, protest signs and all. And that’s what makes me hopeful about them. Their despair and rage binds them to God ever more tightly, as Ahab is bound to the whale.

      Every pastor knows one parishioner like this. Someone who seems to despise them for reasons unknown. They will not freely leave the congregation. Their mission is to destroy the pastor. It’s a horrible situation, and anything the pastor says and does only makes matters worse. Everyone gets drawn into that angry’ person’s pathology, dysfunction, and sin. But substitute Christ Crucified for the pastor, and what appears to be am irredeemable situation becomes redeemable. Christ can do, and has done, what the rest of us sinners cannot do: bear the demonic rage until it has exhausted itself. At that moment the Lord will know what to do: raise the dead!

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      • Anna says:

        Christ bore the Jews rage, but only some repented – others continued in their rage and blindness even after His death and resurrection. On what basis are we taught that demonic rage necessarily will exhaust itself? This demonic rage has been present in various people up to this day making itself felt as the demons provoke people into accepting their hate filled thoughts and persecuting Christ. Christ is being persecuted as much or more today around the world as in the first century. Certainly demonic rage is not natural to our human condition. But there is also nothing that says that everyone will necessarily repent of this state of soul.

        Earlier I mentioned the modern concern with universalism – what I meant was that the saints understand the doctrine of hell within the orthodox praxis of “Help me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.” What I keep repeating here is that this whole line of reasoning is outside our Orthodox praxis and thus outside our dogma since the two cannot be separated. We are not to judge our brother as condemned, but neither are we to judge him as saved – we are to have a holy ignorance about this and concern ourselves only with ourselves. then we would find peace. If this holy ignorance is beyond us, let us be humble about this, and not start advocating that we know that which has not been revealed. As Aslan says in The Horse and His Body – I only tell people their own story…. Shasta’s concern here for Aravis is not idle curiosity, but genuine concern and love. Nevertheless Aslan warns Shasta that real love is free in regard to others. We can love without having to know, much less determine, things for other people. This is much more selfless kind of love which doesn’t attempt to determine or judge another’s condition.

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        • Anna says:

          Just to further explain my thoughts, which hopefully offer some grist for the conversation. This understanding of the need for holy ignorance has pastoral implications too. Most of those who give spiritual guidance understand that it is not healthy for someone to believe that no matter what they do they will be saved. they need to understand there are consequences for sin, while at the same time understanding that God is our father and full of mercy and always willing to accept us back when we repent. For this we have the whole tradition of the Sacrament of Penance and how it is experienced within Church life. I believe that to separate the pastoral praxis and sacramental experience from our theology about salvation is completely unorthodox and a symptom of the fragmentation caused by Scholasticism and Rationalism.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          “On what basis are we taught that demonic rage necessarily will exhaust itself?“

          Let’s briefly think about this for a moment.

          1) We are finite beings, so everything about us is limited.
          2) We are created from out of nothing and are contingent beings. When we turn from the transcendent source of our being toward evil, we move toward nothing, because evil is absolutely nothing. So where am I going to get the fuel to power my rage?
          3) We are each created by God for God. He, and he alone, is our true desire and consummation. This must always be true for us, no matter how demonic our rage becomes.
          3) Jesus has conquered death, Satan, and sin. He is absolute and infinite life. How can the rage of any finite being ultimately stand against him?

          So yes, I think there are strong reasons to hope that Christ can win us to himself, no matter how intense our anger and despair.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Again, Anna, I think you misunderstand the universalist hope. It does not speak to the “state” of anybody’s soul, nor does it deny the dire consequences of sin, namely, suffering and spiritual death. But it does deny that the love of God can be defeated by our rebellion and evil. Precisely in this sense, it proclaims the triumphant love of the risen Christ.

          Now which message do you think is most likely to convert and transform and encourage?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      A question, Zach, about how one’s presuppositions inform psycho-pathological analyses like that of Kierkegaard. Do you see them as proving or confirming the thesis of everlasting damnation? Or to put it another way, which comes first, the dogma or the psycho-pathological analysis?

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      • Zach Manis says:

        For me, the dogma is prior. The psycho-pathological analysis is a way of trying to make sense of what the majority of Christians through the ages have taken to be revealed: that some are eternally lost. Of course, my own model of hell eventually diverges — or at the very least expands upon — the Kierkegaardian one. But it, too, is a model that seeks to *make sense* of revelation (perhaps better: the traditional way of understanding revelation), rather than a model that tries to *prove* the doctrine of hell. It’s an exercise in faith seeking understanding. That’s why there’s virtually nothing in the book by way of attempts to refute universalism. As I say in the book, if the issue had to be decided *solely* on philosophical and theological grounds, I would be a universalist. But for me, the weight of tradition is decisive. The project of the book is thus one of trying to make sense of *how* a traditional doctrine of hell could be true: that is, the project of explaining how it could be that some are eternally lost, given that God is perfectly and maximally loving and good.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          That’s what I thought, Zach. Thanks for the confirmation. We all begin with our dogmas; otherwise, how could we begin?   😀

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            This is why putting the dogma of eternal hell to question is so vitally important. What are its historical roots, adoption as formal dogma, conditions of acceptance, functions within theological and practical traditions, etc.?

            I’m still looking for it in that most catholic of creeds. 😉

            Liked by 1 person

        • earsofc says:

          Dr. Manis – by saying “dogma is prior,” do you mean that you believe in an eternal hell because you think it is a revealed dogma?

          If yes, question – your model requires true libertarian indeterminism (if I understand it.) If that is so, how can it be certainly known that some will surely be ultimately lost? Is it not a contingency; and cannot a contingency really be otherwise?

          In other words, you seem to endorse a model of hell based on what you believe is an infallible prophecy: some souls shall be damned forever. If that proposition is contingent, how can you know for sure that it will be true?

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          • Zach Manis says:

            I think the doctrine of an eternal hell is the way that the vast majority of Christians through the ages have understood the revealed teaching of “eternal punishment”. I would say that, in general, for any teaching X, the fact (assuming it’s a fact) that the vast majority of Christians through the ages have understood X to be a doctrine revealed in Scripture is strong prima facie evidence that X really is a revealed doctrine. And I don’t think this can be dismissed as a fallacy of appeal to tradition or appeal to the masses. Insofar as we hold that believers are indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit, I think it’s reasonable to expect that consensus or near consensus among Christians through the ages about a certain teaching X is good (though not indefeasible) evidence that X is a doctrine revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Church.

            Regarding the matter of libertarian freedom: there’s a difference between asking how *I* (or any mere creature) could know something about the ultimate fate of humanity, versus asking how *God* could know something about it. Of course, we can know something about the eschaton only if it is revealed to us. If we have knowledge that some are finally lost, it’s not knowledge based on a philosophical argument.

            Or is your point that even *God* cannot know future contingents? That’s the view of open theists, of course, but I’m not an open theist, and the philosophical arguments for the incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom strike me as unconvincing. So I think it’s at least possible that humans could know the truth about certain future contingents: namely, if God chooses to reveal them to us.

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          • earsofc says:

            I find that this is the only way I can reply to your comment, Dr. Manis.

            Hypothetically, if, in the next 50 years, hundreds of documents were discovered which were believed to be written by the earliest Christians in which a “vast majority” of them did not believe in an eternal hell, would you then cease believing in it? I’m not asking whether such a discovery is plausible – only if, if such occurred, would this affect your belief in God’s judgment and the afterlife? (Presumably, unless you think the above logically impossible, such a world is one an omnipotent God could bring about.)

            Do you personally find it in any way problematic to think that one’s belief in their Creator – along with one’s personal faith in his nature and existential understanding of his love – can be entirely overturned, based on the faith and/or writing of our ancestors? Do you find it in any way worrisome that you could base the very nature of God on something other than your own revealed understanding of Love as being the strongest, best thing in existence? Suppose again, hypothetically, you lived 50 years before Jesus was born; and the “vast majority” of Hebrews you knew did not believe in an afterlife. Would you then not believe in it? What if humanity endures a million more years and the vast majority of Christian thinkers (and do we really know that the vast majority of ancient Christians *did* believe in an eternal hell? For every theologian that wrote something down, and thus solidified his thought for the future, how many never wrote anything at all?) – if, I say, what you now claim as the vast majority pales into an infinitesimal fraction of Christian thinkers, would that change your opinion? Should any “majority” even be able to?

            My point about libertarian freedom is more subtle. It does not involve God’s knowledge of the future, but rather about what you apparently believe to be a prophecy – a revealed truth in time; something written down; an object of human knowledge. If a prophecy cannot be wrong, or if it cannot fail to come to pass, and that prophecy says some will suffer eternal torment, then those who suffer eternal torment cannot fail to suffer eternal torment. You assert they can fail to suffer eternal torment. As far as I can tell, you are making two contradictory statements: that this prophecy cannot fail to come to pass, and that those whom the prophecy describes as being lost, can be saved. Appeals to our cognitive weakness does not remove this contradiction. Moreover, you are making assertions and asking us to give our cognitive assent to them. This requires engaging intellectually in such a way where we trust our cognitive faculties, at least enough to adjudicate your claims – claims about the very nature of Love itself and every relation we have ever formed in our lives.

            In light of this, one would need, I think, to more fully engage with the dilemma. If a revealed prophecy said x will be, and if the prophecy cannot fail to be, then, given the prophecy, x cannot fail to be. Now, you say there is such a prophecy. How then is it possible for those who are lost, whom the prophecy describes, to really be saved? Can the prophecy be false?

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  9. Tom Talbott says:

    Not only am I not an expert on Kierkegaard; I don’t even know his work all that well. So I was totally unaware of the following quotation from his Autobiographical Journals until I read it in David Bentley Hart’s forthcoming book That ALL Shall Be Saved:

    “If others go to hell, then I will too. But I do not believe that; on the contrary, I believe that all will be saved, myself with them—something which arouses my deepest amazement.”

    I do not offer the above quotation as a substantive contribution to this particular thread. But it does suggest that in the end Kierkegaard may have agreed with Hart and me that losing forever a single one of our own loved ones—a husband, a wife, or a child, for example—would be a source of eternal sorrow and regret (and therefore a kind of damnation) for ourselves as well.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Tom says:

      That quote of SK’ came to mind as I read through this post. Many consider SK to be a universalist. But (like Maximus perhaps) there are other passages that point in the other direction, so it’s hard to say. But it’s not obvious that he was not a universalist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom Talbott says:

        Hi Tom,

        Good to hear from you again. As I said before, I make no claim to knowing Kierkegaard all that well. But I’m curious. Do you have an example of a quote that might seem to point in the opposite direction from the one that David Bentley Hart provided? No need to do my homework for me if you are too busy at the present time.

        Thanks for your response.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tom says:

          Hi Dr. T! Half way down the Wiki (not an authority I know, but it’s quick and it gives a few relevant sources) under ‘Themes in his theology’ (Faith): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology_of_S%C3%B8ren_Kierkegaard

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          • Tom says:

            I’m not expert on SK either, but I’m told by some who are big fans that his logic human freedom, being grounded in the transcendent God of love, defines the scope of that freedom; i.e., we can misrelate within it, but not outside it. … So any sort of irrevocable foreclosure of the will in despair and alienation is ruled out because the will’s grounding (God) is its possibilities, its horizon. Hence our essential openness to God(ward movement) defines us antecedent to any exercise of the will. One cannot choose one’s way out of relation to God as the possibility to which one’s being is open.

            Liked by 2 people

          • earsofc says:

            Good stuff here. To be able to unrelate oneself to God – to be able to totally negate the Good as such – would be to unmake God, to make him something other than that which all things *necessarily* desire. The one bliss of existence is – God is God; that which all tend towards; that which consummates all; the one End – the final Inevitability.

            God is God, and we are creatures. God must be God. We must be creatures. We must be God’s creatures; and he must be our God. – Thank God

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          • Tom Talbott says:

            Thanks for the link, Tom, and also for your further explanation of Kierkegaard’s understanding of human freedom. I like it; and given your explanation, Kierkegaard’s understanding accords well with that of David Bentley Hart and St Gregory of Nyssa.

            Liked by 3 people

          • Tom says:

            Ran across this interesting quote of SK’s today (trying to track down the source though): “To reflect oneself out of all illusion is not as difficult as to reflect oneself into an illusion.”

            Liked by 1 person

    • Zach Manis says:

      Tom, your argument for universalism based on the prospect of a loved one’s being eternally lost — I call it “the problem of heaven” in the book (p. 109) — is certainly a powerful one. I have a preferred response, I suppose, but it’s not one that I regard as fully satisfying, and as you know I make no attempt to refute the argument in my book. (See my reply to Fr. Aidan, above, for an explanation of why attempting to refute the best philosophical and theological arguments for universalism is not a part of my project.) Along with the problem of sovereignty and the question of why God creates the damned, I classify the problem of heaven among the “mysteries still waiting to be solved” (p. 152).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom Talbott says:

        Hi Zach,

        Good to see you posting here. Yes, I saw your reply to Fr. Aidan above, and, of course, you make essentially the same point in your book–which, as you know, I have highly recommended.

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  10. brian says:

    To enter into this conversation ultimately entails a discussion of God, metaphysics, freedom, persons, the cosmos — one cannot simply make a pithy comment and hope to leave it at that. I’m writing a long novel to hash out some of this, because story can attend to matters in ways that discursive forms of argument cannot. Nonetheless, I’m going to say a few things I will not have the time to properly defend.

    Bad metaphysics and bad theology go together. Say, in the West, voluntarism and nominalist reductions of creation to a collection of individual things beget a God of arbitrary election, a finite Self writ large with a need to exhibit “sovereignty” as a way of advancing “divine” glory. Go back a bit, and with Scotus, the essential ideas of created being subsist as possibilities, bits of finitude that a modern metaphysics requires for divine “choice” and subtly for God to realize an absolute freedom that implicitly posits the created other as an antagonist that must be “overcome” for God to be fully God. Such concepts are idolatrous and they have their own correlative understanding of grace and divine victory far from a gospel of love.

    I suppose there are versions of universalism that might be characterized as formulas, as blandly anodyne, as indifferent to created freedom, etc., but the universalism of the gospel does not equate to any of that. Hart invokes an older model of freedom whereby the horizon of creaturely freedom is intrinsically directed towards a teleological end that is also eschatological. Aquinas understood that creatures never choose evil per se. Sin is always a misdirected attempt at the Good, however vile. (I won’t discuss here why Thomists generally live with comfortable aplomb with the notion that failure to reach the Good that founds all lesser goods and thus to end in emptiness and infernal frustration is compatible with a loving God who makes a gift of creation to the Godhead and to creation itself.) Ultimately, the gospel hinges on how is love free, what is God like, what are persons and various other significant questions. Of course, one can always invoke saints, but the saints don’t all agree, so what then? Does one simply side with the majority? A saint is given personal insight for the benefit of the all, but when saints differ, one should not act as if theology is a plebiscite of the holy. One still has to discern what is best consistent with the revelation of divine love.

    In any event, Plato’s demiurge is constrained by recalcitrant matter that limits the good that can be achieved. The Triune God who creates from nothing is not constrained. The God of perfect aseity, of flourishing plenitude, is not like Hegel’s divinity who must create so that the Absolute can become god. God does not need the cosmos to realize a potential, so the creation is pure gift. Yet would creation be a gift if the divine were willing to risk that any creature should ultimately perish, that any person fail to attain beatitude? Some may say that one has to allow God that option or one is putting a constraint on God’s freedom, but I think that kind of objection is part of the modern project with modern notions of power and liberty as choice that never contemplate agapeic freedom which is utterly different. The freedom of love is not about choice in that sense or possibilities, the freedom of love is simply that God can create a good cosmos. God can nurture and sustain kenotically so that creatures participate in creation, but always, always, God does not calculate or count the cost, God does not wager, God simply heals and gives and gives again the gift until all things are brought to the omega of God’s justice, which is not indifference to creaturely evil, but the serene capacity to overcome evil from within as the dynamism of nature’s own vocation to be good. Gnomic distortion is not ignored, but penultimate, rendered limited by the infinite ingenuity and benevolence of agapeic creativity.

    And as so often, considerations of merit and individual freedom lack sufficient awareness of an integral humanity, the unity that Gregory of Nyssa discerned — I have frequently written of the requirement to recognize that our relations are not merely elective, but constitutive of our personal being. The universalism of the gospel is partly a recognition of this metaphysical truth. And of course, Scripture is not a collection of propositional truths, nor do the various strands of wisdom literature, prophets, the law, history, apocalypse, etc. bow down to a discursive reason that desires to bring everything into a uniform, univocal, stable possession as if revelation were a tame thing of the merely historical past. Spiritual acumen is needed. The New Testament itself is not a smooth presentation of “salvation facts” that can be tidily put in a nice chart. Hence, one should recognize tensions and analogical levels of meaning and the necessity to discern what statements are meant as largely pedagogical and moral in the narrow sense and what bears more deeply upon eschatology and the fundamental revelation of love. So, it is not hubris to make these judgements. One must judge or throw one’s hands up and treat it as a mystery that is actually a refusal to think and act theologically.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Tom says:

      Well stated Dr. B.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      “…the serene capacity to overcome evil from within as the dynamism of nature’s own vocation to be good. Gnomic distortion is not ignored, but penultimate, rendered limited by the infinite ingenuity and benevolence of agapeic creativity.”

      To wit the incarnation as a lived and experienced demonstration which has rendered evil impotent from within.

      Gosh dang it, this can’t be right, let’s make the gift into a condition, let’s show him who holds the trump card.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Zach I’m moving our conversation back out here in order to give us the widest space, as I really want to discuss this with you and others. You comment:

    It seems to me that there’s an equivocation at work here. There’s a difference between *our salvation* being conditional on something, versus *God’s love for us* being conditional on something. Love does not require that one’s desire for the beloved is satisfied. Love requires that one desires the highest good for the beloved. But if this desire is thwarted, through no fault of one’s own, and despite one’s best efforts, surely it does not follow that one’s love was not genuine.

    I agree, which is why our love, no matter how well intentioned, is always conditional. We may desire the best for our beloved, but there are specific limits and conditions to the fulfillment of our desire. We do not always state the conditions in the expressions of our love. No spouse, for example, wants to hear “Darling, I will love you forever (until I die, that is)”–death of course being the universal condition of our self-giving. And we can think many other conditions of this sort, like the one we are discussing in this thread, namely, the necessity of reciprocity: “I love you totally and I will your salvation (to the best of my ability),” God declares, “but you need to do a, b, and c if it’s going to to happen.” Note the consequence: the burden of salvation falls back squarely on my shoulders. Hence I suggest that when talking about love in these circumstances, it’s helpful to translate into the mode of promise (with all the hidden conditions) so we can see what exactly is being said.

    My thesis, Zach, is that the love of God is truly unconditional and that by the death and resurrection of Christ, preachers are authorized to make unconditional promises to their congregations (see my article “Preaching Apokatastasis“). That’s what makes the gospel really good news, as opposed to just another salvation project. Jesus is risen and death no longer limits or conditions the fulfillment of his salvific will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zach Manis says:

      Fr. Aidan, I appreciate the point you’re making, but I don’t see how it resolves the equivocation. Take your example: “Darling, I will love you forever (until I die, that is)”. It’s a great example to demonstrate that *our* (human) love is *always* conditional. But notice why: it’s conditional because our very existence is conditional. (Even those of us who believe in immortality must admit that we can continue to love only *if* God continues to sustain us in existence beyond death.) But God’s existence is not conditional, and neither is His love. You go on to say that “we can think of many other conditions of this sort,” but I don’t see how any would apply to God. And following this remark, you return to the conditionality of our salvation (on traditional views of hell), which seems to me to leave the equivocation unresolved.

      I think the strongest form of your argument is the way you put it at the end of your comment. It’s not really about the conditionality of divine love, but rather the way that *the gospel* is different depending on whether salvation is conditional or unconditional. The good news is only *truly* good news (I think you’re saying) if it’s reporting a guaranteed greatest possible outcome for everyone, rather than an opportunity for such an outcome for everyone (an opportunity that God will do all in His power to help each person realize). I can appreciate that theological intuition (even without sharing it), but I don’t think it demonstrates God’s *love* to be conditional on the divine presence model.

      Note, also, that there’s at least a worry that your argument proves too much. On serious universalist views like your own (and Hart’s, and Talbott’s, etc) — that is, versions of universalism in which the process of sanctification cannot be magically skipped by some divine decree, with everyone’s *immediately* entering heaven upon death, just as they are — it still seems to be the case that salvation is conditional. It’s conditional upon an individual’s completing the process of transformation that involves repentance, regeneration, sanctification, etc. The element of conditionality is still present, even if the outcome is guaranteed. (Compare with my example about immortality, above: human love is still conditional upon God’s sustaining activity, and this remains the case even if our immortality is guaranteed by God.) If this element of conditionality were to render God’s *love* for us conditional, then God’s love would be conditional on both universalist and non-universalist views. Better to hold, then, as I do, that the conditionality of our salvation in no way renders divine love conditional.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        “On serious universalist views like your own (and Hart’s, and Talbott’s, etc) — that is, versions of universalism in which the process of sanctification cannot be magically skipped by some divine decree, with everyone’s *immediately* entering heaven upon death, just as they are — it still seems to be the case that salvation is conditional. It’s conditional upon an individual’s completing the process of transformation that involves repentance, regeneration, sanctification, etc.”
        I am not sure I follow this objection. If I understand it correctly, on the view espoused by Hart, Fr Kimel, Talbott et al “completing the process of transformation that involves repentance, regeneration, sanctification, etc.” is what “salvation” actually means – the point of universalism is that there isn’t some additional requirement / process / condition that constitutes “being saved” which precedes and is necessary for that process – the process is for everyone and everyone will undergo it.
        Your objection is that salvation is conditional on being saved, which I can’t see makes sense.

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        • Zach Manis says:

          Iain: I take it that Fr. Aidan is assuming (and I agree with this assumption) that on a non-universalist view of hell, salvation is conditional upon a person’s response to God, and, assuming libertarian free will, each person has it within his/her power either to respond rightly to God or not. But notice that “responding rightly to God” is itself a part of the process of salvation. Presumably, it refers to something like accepting the gospel, repenting of one’s sins upon being convicted by the Holy Spirit, accepting Christ as Lord, etc. Since all of these are essential parts of the process of salvation, to say that salvation is conditional on a traditionalist view of hell is really just to say that salvation is conditional upon each of its essential parts. My point is that this is true on universalist views as well.

          So let me pose the question the other way: In what sense, precisely, is salvation unconditional on a universalist view but conditional on every non-universalist view?

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          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            On the universalist view, everybody is *already* saved. All of us individually and the cosmos as a whole generally are already saved and are already undergoing the process of sanctification in Christ Jesus, whether we know it or not and regardless of our apparent current trajectory. It is a process that, for all of us, will be complete at the eschatalon when heaven and earth are one and Christ is all in all. That it has not been completed yet doesn’t make it conditional, anymore than the fact it is Thursday makes Friday conditional.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Thank you, Zach, for pushing me on the notion of unconditionality of the divine love. I have found it helpful to translate my concern into the two different kinds of promise: unconditional promise and conditional promise. In light of different understandings of the gospel, what kind of promise is the preacher authorized to make in the name of Christ? I believe it is accurate to say that given your view of synergism—common to Arminianism and Orthodoxy—the preacher is never permitted to make an unconditional promise to his congregation. God has already done in Christ all that he can to make salvation possible for human beings. Now it is up to us—by our repentance, participation in the sacramental life of the Church, good works, prayer and asceticism—to realize for ourselves the offer of salvation.

        I can see why you would say that this view does not exclude the affirmation that the love of God is unconditional. God, after all, has taken the gracious initiative and done all that he can to make salvation possible. It’s not his fault if folks don’t avail themselves of the opportunity he has provided. It’s not clear to me, however, why you would want to appropriate to your model of salvation the notion of unconditionality.

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        • Zach Manis says:

          Fr. Aidan,

          I’m not sure I understand your last statement, where you write, “It’s not clear to me, however, why you would want to appropriate to your model of salvation the notion of unconditionality.” I’ve been trying to argue that salvation is conditional on any view, whether universalist or non-universalist. It’s not a matter of wanting things to come out this way; it’s just a logical consequence of what salvation *is*, on my view.

          Was there perhaps a typo in your final comment? Did you mean to say “love” instead of “salvation”? In that case, there’s a straightforward answer as to why I want to appropriate this (the unconditionality of divine love) to my model. By my lights, the perfection of love — love in its maximal form — is unconditional love. It’s crucial to my project that the divine presence model in no way compromises divine love. So it’s crucial that divine love turns out to be unconditional on the divine presence model.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I’m not sure if I meant to say “love” instead of “salvation,” Zach. 😀

            What do you see as the difference between conditional and unconditional love?

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          • Zach Manis says:

            God’s love is conditional just in case we have to do something (or not do something) in order to be a recipient of it. I contend that God’s love is unconditional: that He loves every individual perfectly and maximally, regardless of their past, present, or future actions, affections, character, etc. There is nothing that a person can do, or not do, that will render them a person whom God no longer loves. Most importantly, for the present discussion, this implies that God loves the damned — and loves them every bit as much as the blessed.

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  12. brian says:

    Hello Zach,

    Thanks for your interesting thoughts. Of course, one can broadly understand that the nature of creaturehood is that it is non-subsistent being and therefore always inherently conditional and dependent upon subsistent Being. There is something a little more complicated, I think, regarding the nature of Being. Ferdinand Ulrich points to the manner in which Being is uncaused and equivalent to nothing insofar as one never encounters the plenitude of being. Being is pure mediation, it’s fullness always already determined by finite creatures and enacted by a limiting essence. That uncaused aspect is a fine point and hard to construe, but I believe it points towards an even more mysterious eschatological dimension of being, namely the creature’s calling to theosis whereby the conditional is drawn up into the very life of the unconditional. In that respect, I surmise there is an almost unimaginable — and today hardly imagined — element of ecclesial existence.

    Much of this has to do with language. What is intended when one says to another “I love you?” Gabriel Marcel wrote once that to say to a beloved “I love you” is to intend “you shall never die.” The amen to existence is captured in delight before the very goodness of the creature which speaks the goodness of “to be.” In a liturgical context, the most powerful human expression of this is in the consecration where the sacrament raises the earthly elementals into divine, eternal life. If one takes this to be in any sense a truly metaphysical transformation, it is not a “mere symbol” in the thin sense, but a “thick” fact, drawing one symbolically and analogically into an ever greater reality. In my view, human language is far more mysterious than folks give it credit. The very origins of language and the specific capacity of humanity to represent and speak for the entire cosmos remain largely unreflected upon or dismissed with easy answers that amount to a presumptuous rationalism. Far more acute is J.G. Hamann when he asserts that “language is the tabernacle and chariot-throne of the Holy Spirit.”

    In an interesting interview concerning the philosopher William Desmond, John Milbank stated that “in the end, I think that the question we have to ask is about the entire nature of human existence. You could argue that human existence is a sort of wager on language.” Milbank then contrasts the sort of utilitarian version of man as shrewd ape manipulating the world for practical ends with what I would characterize as man as vatic priest of creation attending to the possibility that creation is disclosive and symbolic of gifted reality. Milbank further declares that “if you expect language to do more than pragmatically move about in the world, which is perhaps what animal language is, it seems to be very difficult to escape the idea that language is both a religious and political project.” He further concludes that because of the Incarnation and the gift of the Word sustained through time and given in the Spirit “we can trust our words and trust in infinite reality.” In my view, the calling of ecclesia is to speak a truly saving word. Our love is not intended to be weak and conditional as that of mere hope — or if it is hope (and of course it is) it is hope rather in the manner conceived by Charles Peguy in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, tied to divine Fatherhood which is in no way impotent or reactively dependent upon the initiative of the creature.

    It seems to me your keen understanding leaves Agape lacking in the fullest possibility to create a good universe. It foresees an imperfect universe and so there is something rather like the Demiurge of Plato who must in the end bow to the recalcitrance of the original material. I don’t think this properly thinks through the implications of creatio ex nihilo. In my opinion, and I have learned much from Aquinas, this is also a failure of nearly all Thomists, who shrug there shoulders and say “well, not even God can compel.” They leave out the “erotics” of agape which Pavel Florensky tried to articulate in his chapter on jealousy in The Pillar and Ground of the Truth. Equally, they forget that God is a flourishing plenitude with no need to create. So the moral responsibility if you will for creation is much greater for the TriUne God than the “mere” monotheism of the Jews or Islam. On the other hand, the metaphysics of Love is revealed by Incarnation and Trinity. In sum, the pithy answer to the Thomist who asserts that “not even God” is that God is surely not compelled to create at all, and then to ask would a good God truly create under the constraints they imagine. It seems to me that such a view accepts a less than perfect cosmos as a possibility for God. Not only do I find that implausible on the face of it, I think it goes against the best reading of the gospel which I believe reveals quite the opposite.

    Naturally, none of this can be “proven” as one demonstrates a correct mathematical sum. As Luigi Giussani pointed out, precisely the most important things cannot be demonstrated. But they can be intuited, even if as the Welsh poet Waldo Williams understood “earth is a hard text to read.” I suspect the vocation of poets has always been to “read” creation and to discern these glimmers of the glory of love, which is often disguised and hidden in humble places. So I am content to speak as a philosophical poet as it were and let analytic philosophers and traditionalist religious folk object if they like. I think I know who is telling the best story and I rather doubt humanity can speak a more perfect story than God.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Zach Manis says:

      Hi Brian! Good to meet you, and thanks for your comments. There are lots of different points being argued in your post, and I’m going to be selective in my reply.

      You write, “It seems to me your keen understanding leaves Agape lacking in the fullest possibility to create a good universe. It foresees an imperfect universe and so there is something rather like the Demiurge of Plato who must in the end bow to the recalcitrance of the original material.” I think this is a version of the argument I call “the problem of sovereignty.” The point is that any anti-universalist view of hell will necessarily end up compromising either God’s love or His sovereignty (or both). In the version of the argument that you’re developing (if I’ve understood it correctly), if creatures possess the ability to finally thwart God’s good intentions for them, then they have the power to prevent God from bringing about a good world, and thus the power to bring it about that God is not truly God, but only a lesser being. But (continues your argument) this is impossible, so creatures possess no such power. God’s perfectly good and loving intentions for all must finally be realized.

      I reject the premise that if creatures possess the ability to finally thwart God’s good intentions for them, then they have the power to prevent God from bringing about a good world. A world may be good, overall, even if some of its parts are bad. In greatest possible world theodicies, all such goods much be organically connected to greater goods that *cannot* be achieved without them (think Roderick Chisholm, “The Defeat of Good and Evil”). But I would contend that a world can be good, overall, even if the world is such that it would be better if some of its parts were different. A world can be good without being the best possible. God has surely put constraints on our ability to mar the goodness of the world; we can do our damnedest, so to speak, to make the world a bad place, and still the world would be good overall because of the quantities and types of goods that God has *ensured* will be a part of it (by His willing them directly).

      Nevertheless, your point can be pressed: On the view of hell I’m defending, creatures have the ability to prevent God from bringing about the best possible world. Compatibilist views of hell (such as Calvinism) imagine that creaturely damnation somehow contributes to the perfection of the world, and thus it is God’s will that some (the non-elect) are lost. I argue that such views invariably compromise God’s perfect goodness and love. But the cost of my view — a combination of anti-universalism and an uncompromised doctrine of God’s maximal goodness and love — requires me to reject a doctrine of meticulous providence. On my view, a relinquishment of meticulous providence is one of the costs of creating free creatures. Those who equate sovereignty with meticulous providence will judge this to be a compromising of divine sovereignty. As you can imagine, I understand sovereignty differently than this, as do many — perhaps most — other Christian philosophers.

      You go on to write: “In sum, the pithy answer to the Thomist who asserts that “not even God” is that God is surely not compelled to create at all, and then to ask would a good God truly create under the constraints they imagine.” I think what you mean by this is that God surely would not create at all unless He could create the best. That’s a very Leibnizian intuition. But it’s far from self-evident. If it were logically impossible for God to *unilaterally* bring about the best possible world because the best possible world includes creaturely acts of libertarian free will (which, let’s suppose, involve agent causation), would God *necessarily* choose not to create at all? That’s not obvious to me. After all, in the imagined scenario, the world where God chooses not to create is not the best world, so God is “stuck” with actualizing some less-than-best world, no matter what He does. In such a scenario, why wouldn’t He create the best world that He can? And why wouldn’t He be praiseworthy for doing so?

      Of course, I understand that you mean to combine your first Leibnizian intuition with a second one: that God *can* in fact create the best. And sorting out our disagreement on that point would require a lengthy digression into the nature of creaturely free will — a fascinating topic, but one for another time!

      Blessings,
      zm

      Like

      • Grant says:

        This is really Brian (which is much more knowledgeable than a layman like myself) place to answer, but I would risk a few remarks myself to this post.

        With that:

        ‘But I would contend that a world can be good, overall, even if the world is such that it would be better if some of its parts were different. A world can be good without being the best possible. God has surely put constraints on our ability to mar the goodness of the world; we can do our damnedest, so to speak, to make the world a bad place, and still the world would be good overall because of the quantities and types of goods that God has *ensured* will be a part of it (by His willing them directly).’

        There is a difference between bringing into being a reality which has possibility (and then a realized reality, which is really part of the same dynamic creation out of nothing) of a limited fall towards nothing and the damage it can do as a result of a part of the nature of creation given freedom to become and be, most of all at the level of noetic being (though the rest of far from separate from it).

        But this cannot be so as far as I can see when this is taken to final, ultimate and infinite ends, that this is the creation in full the God, constrained by nothing but His own nature, in which the whole nature of of that creation, it’s framework, existence, the freedom, both that things in that creation not only has it, but how it his it, the form and nature it takes, and how it functions is also established and called so by God, if the end purpose is everlasting loss, and indeed eternal suffering and death for aspects of it, this creation cannot be called good in a true and full sense.

        With creation from nothing being what is considered here, talk of overall goods despite evil reality being a part, even arguing some evils yield some goods, which might or might not suite with a problem of evil answer in terms of temporary evil of the current age, don’t succeed as I see it when the calculus is taken into the infinite. Saying the future reality in which part of that reality involves in some manner or other the eternal loss and death of noetic beings, particularly to everlasting suffering, cannot be called good by means of some balance of overall goods, in terms of dealing with the loss of unique persons such calculus don’t succeed I think even it our level (each person is a whole world after all). But with creation from nothing, this cannot be called a good creation, a creation with a degree of benevolent intention for numerous parts but not good, nor can good or love be it’s main purpose.

        This is because God is not constrained in calling something from nothing, the entirety of His creative act, which includes all secondary actions (and what we would see as God’s reactions), it’s entire nature, framework and being is contained in Him, by Him, and framed by Him. The mediation of our very being is formed and framed by Him, far more than an author creating a story (which is still even here a being dealing with other even imaginary beings, which ultimately makes it a poor analogy for God relationship to His creation). He created the framework into which all things, including us come into being and know, and if eternal loss even as a possibility for the ends of the creation He brings into being. then that is something He wagered and intended into creation. And all risks in a wager are inherently accepted in that wager, including accepting and intending His creation and the ends intended for it would including the possibility if not necessity of evil (turn to non-being) arising but perpetuation into eternity. That it was formed into creation as a necessity to creation, that death should endure forever in some areas for blessed achievements elsewhere, that he brought beings into existence into a reality that determined that some must at least potentially be sacrificed in that complex maelstrom that also is allowed to be, and allowed to claim them to achieve the ulitmate aim. People are placed in a maze, given some clues and help, but the maze is such that it will likely, or even definitely claim such and all this is framed in this way so some develop in the intended direction (another poor analogy unfortunately).

        This means creation is in this view to me, brought into being to turn on this very fact, this is built into it, now if God were not God, but a god, a being like us, just much more powerful, such as Plato’s demiurge we could call such good, as it would be subject to matters resistance and other things outside it’s power conditioning what it could do, and how things could be formed, and by higher power and reality then itself. But God has no constraints on such creation, creation is brought into being as He wishes and intends it to be. Temporary falleness can be foreseen, but where that continues into eternity, based on reality, shape, conditions and forms of consciousness He called into being, then neither it, no can He be called Good nor Love. And creation would not be good, at best we could say there is benevolence and care, and love in a more limited sense to many parts of it. But where it is called into being only to have a limited and overall balance of goods over negative and continuing death, suffering and evil, that creation called from nothing is not good, nor can the one who called this into being be called the Good.

        And it becomes darker, and why I do not think such is praise-worthy, as the ultimate result would be a terrifying dystopia, like the Ursula K Le Guin’s story The Ones who walk away from Olemas, as in apparent utopia city powered by the perpetual misery of a single child, the age to come, the final and blessed from creation is drawn into, is one powered by the eternal suffering or loss of some noetic beings in everlasting death for the rest of creation. That this reality was brought into being for creation to achieve it’s ultimate end, that some are offered or wagered at least as potential sacrifices for this end, and some left to given up to it. This is an eternal dystopia it seems to me, and not something that can be praiseworthy at all in the ultimate. Spock might be able to say the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few or the one, but he was a in that film, one being living a fallen being living in fallen world with other fallen beings in a situation not of his own making. He is finite and did not bring it into being, and is the infinite plenitude of Being to our finite beings called from nothing, into the reality of God’s framing.

        So I cannot agree with you here Dr Manis, I cannot see such a creation as good in the full and true sense, nor that which called it out of being from nothing to be called the Good or Love either (again not in a ultimate sense, and so cannot see it as compatible with to me the most central claims of Christian Dogma and the Gospel).

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Today I learned something I did not know (actually it happens all the time) but which I’m sure all my readers do know. Take a look at the Ladder of Divine Ascent icon at the top of the page and look at the right corner. Who are the two figures celebrating at the table? Answer: Hades and Persephone!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. brian says:

    Zach,

    Thanks for your response. I led you into the Leibnizian association through language regarding a perfect cosmos, but I do not intend by that the best of all possible worlds. Indeed, I am far from taking a Leibnizian position which is already working from a modern context of choice and possibility. And it is obvious to me (and Thomas asserts this many times) that the acceptance of evil allows for many goods and in some sense a good world. Where I will differ, I suppose, is that I don’t think ultimate loss is reconcilable with a good God’s creation. Recollect that Voltaire satirized Leibniz precisely because his best of all possible worlds accommodated tragedy, just as Hegel allows for the slaughter board of history and the existential loss of singular beings so long as it contributes to the attainment of Absolute Spirit. The metaphysics behind my notion of creation is not derivative of “choosing among possibles.” God simply creates what he desires and what he desires is the Good, not a chiaroscuro, though our passage through fallen time entails such. I accept penultimate evil and the play of gnomic wills. I do not believe one should carry that forward into eschatological reality.

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    • Zach Manis says:

      Brian,

      You write: ”The metaphysics behind my notion of creation is not derivative of “choosing among possibles.”” This to me sounds very reminiscent of what a former professor of mine, Hugh McCann, used to say when he was explaining his view of divine creation, which included an acceptance of the doctrine of divine simplicity (see _Creation and the Sovereignty of God_). I confess that I have never been able to understand how the doctrine of divine simplicity could possibly be true, despite my desire (on some level at least) to find it convincing, given its pedigree. Along with many other Christian philosophers, the doctrine strikes me as logically incoherent. But I would be very grateful if you could explain it to me in a way that convinces me otherwise!

      Like

      • brian says:

        Zach,

        Yes, and David Burrell is good on this as well. I am pressed for time, but I shall try to write something on divine simplicity tomorrow.

        Like

  15. >>>> I remain unpersuaded. No matter what the historical and psychological process may have been that produced the state of despair and madness, an insane final choice is an insane final choice and therefore cannot be judged as free. <<<

    I am no longer persuaded.

    My own stance has evolved over the years. 

    First, I was a practical universalist, defending a notion of hell as an indispensable theoretic concept, necessary for a coherent account of freedom. 

    Slowly, I came to see the reasonableness of stances like that of DBH, Fr Kimel, et al, but considered them heterodox. 

    I next came to accept them as legitimate theological opinions, possibly orthodox, just not anything to which I could personally subscribe. 

    Finally, I made the leap, substantiated by my own systematic argument (perhaps idiosyncratic but certainly overlapping with folks like DBH), where I now “dogmatically” hold to a universalist posture as most likely representing the truth, theologically.

    I raised my children telling them to just forget about hell, for all practical purposes, that it should be considered a highly nuanced bit of esoterica & not a reality as popularly conceived. I'm now telling them that I'm certain I was wrong and assuring my grandchildren that all shall be saved.

    The focal point of my beliefs culminates in this universalist stance, which I've set forth here:

    https://www.academia.edu/39367925/Retreblement_-_A_Systematic_Apocatastasis_and_Pneumatological_Missiology

    Finally, thanks Father.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My universalism turns on this distinction:

    A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. ~ Lossky

    This implicates another distinction – that between our essential & secondary natures. Human freedom determines only WHETHER one chooses to will at all & not WHAT one wills (in participating with divine logoi), incrementally forming a virtuous or vicious secondary nature or various degrees of both.

    Vicious choices are privative of being, hence eternally self-annihilating as God honors human freedom. Virtuous natures are eternalized, both proleptically & eschatologically, by virtue of necessarily being joined to divine intentionale.

    Even if, hypothetically, a given person’s eternal being was, in the end, constituted only by their essential nature as an imago Dei, having developed no virtuous secondary nature whatsoever (even after all epistemic distancing has been closed, whether temporally or even post-mortem), there can be no talk of self-annihilation for an imago Dei’s not self-determined (cf Lossky’s one will). Neither would God’s perfect will annihilate such an imago Dei, amounting to a divine self-contradiction.

    What’s at stake, then, would be the nature of one’s eternal beatitude, perhaps in terms of aesthetic scope, which would be self-determinedly wider for one who’s developed a virtuous secondary nature.

    I explore the implications herein:

    https://www.academia.edu/39367925/Retreblement_-_A_Systematic_Apocatastasis_and_Pneumatological_Missiology

    I’m not here to urge my version of apokatastasis but to be transformed from image to likeness. My participation at EO in recent years has changed my views, likely few others. When Christmas comes this September w/DBH’s book release, I’m certain I will change some more. And I am grateful to Fr Al and others (Tom, Robert, Brian especially) for that, even though they share no blame for my inartful prose or theological errors.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. John H says:

    Hi Zach;

    In its most succinct form, the doctrine of Divine Simplicity is the notion that God is not compound, not composed of parts as are all contingent creatures. In Thomistic terms, His essence is his existence so there is no distinction between what he is and that he is. In addition, as Actus Purus , His eternal acts are unchanging and equivalent to His nature. Thus God, unlike us, is not merely good, but is Goodness itself.

    My question to you as a former student of Hugh McCann is how could he consistently believe in the absolute goodness and sovereignty of God and yet accept the traditional doctrine of hell as eternal conscious torment?

    Like

    • Zach Manis says:

      Hi John,

      I understand the content of the doctrine of simplicity; I just don’t see how it can be rendered plausible. For starters, it seems to require a constituent ontology in which properties are proper parts of the things that have them, which seems to me false. (I find Plantinga’s account of properties, essences, etc. — the kind of theistic platonism traceable to Augustine, often called “the divine ideas tradition” — to be much more plausible.) I don’t see how to even get the doctrine of simplicity off the ground — to say nothing of the problems that begin to multiply in attempting to reconcile it with other tenets of orthodox Christianity. But I also recognize that a lot of Christians much smarter than me have judged the doctrine to be not only defensible, but essential to orthodoxy and unrelinquishable. That makes the doctrine fascinating to me, and I cannot quite bring myself to dismiss it, even though I can’t accept it either (at least, not at this point).

      As for McCann: I argue against his view in my book on exactly the point you’ve raised. His account of how to reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom is truly brilliant, but as a version of meticulous providence, I don’t see how it can be reconciled with a non-universalist view of hell without compromising God’s perfect goodness and love. (If you get a chance to take a look at my book, it’s in the section titled “A Nonstandard View of Providence: McCann”.) I do think, however, that for universalists, McCann’s account of divine sovereignty and human freedom is the best available.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Zach, what about constituent ontology do you find objectionable ? My rational faculty, such as it is, is one of the particularized constituents of my human nature. Why is property exemplification (that my rational faculty exemplifies my human nature, but is not a constituent) more plausible in your view?

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        • Zach Manis says:

          Robert, a property exemplification view can easily account for the phenomenon of multiple instantiation, as well as that of uninstantiated properties. I’ve never heard a satisfying account of either on a constituent ontology.

          Like

          • brian says:

            Hi Zach, Robert, et al,

            Bill Vallicella’s updated article on divine simplicity is worth a perusal. He offers an overview of various attempts to explain the coherency of simplicity against objections. I find some arguments listed more compelling than others. I don’t share Stump’s analytic proclivities or her view that God is both Being and ens, for instance. In general, many who object to simplicity have in my view an inadequate understanding of analogy and tend towards equating univocal terms with the real and other usages as fabulous. William Desmond’s metaxological metaphysics is much more dextrous. The uniqueness of God is never going to be theologically coherent if subjected to univocity and a merely creaturely logic. Anyway, my life is rather harrowing and I rarely have energy and leisure to properly contribute here. I hope to have more to say anon. For now, here’s a link to Vallicella’s article (he’s solid, though I don’t agree with him on lots as well.)

            https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-simplicity/

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I sure hope my rational faculties are not instantiated in more than one person. 😉

            Like

  18. John H. says:

    In addition, Zach, perhaps the doctrine of simplicity is not supposed to be analytically comprehensible. It is really the cornerstone of the analogy of being, as Brian alluded to in his latest post. I can say the words ipsum esse subsistens but I really don’t know what they mean simply because every being that I run across in this world is contingent. As Aquinas notes, we can only know that God is but can never understand what He is. The doctrines of divine simplicity and analogy of being are elaborations of that basic insight and point clearly to God’s absolute transcendence.

    In addition to Vallicela’s entry, I would recommend God without Parts by James Dolezal and of course the portion of the Summa Theologiae where St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the doctrine of simplicity, just after the Five Ways, I think.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      In support of John’s comment on divine simplicity, I note that Brian Davies interprets St Thomas’s construal of divine simplicity as a piece of negative theology. It simply excludes that kind of creaturely composition that makes us ask the question: “Who put that thing together?”

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  19. Pingback: Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology – PARTICIPATING in the DIVINE DANCE

  20. With many of the above-contributions (thanks, all) to this discussion in mind:

    One upshot of divine simplicity [DDS] and actus purus, when understood in terms of apophatic negation, would be that one way determinate being differs from divine being is that the former can act only in relationship to limited potencies.

    The human being, constitutively, enjoys a freedom that phylogenetically (in its evolutionary lineage) presented with the emergence of symbolic language. Prior to the age of reason, where new freedoms (moral & spiritual) will emerge, ontogenetically (in its individual development), a human child already enjoys a freedom of choosing among equally optimal self-interested choices with a behavioral plasticity that differs – not only quantitatively, but – qualitatively from other primates.

    Specifically, as a child matures, its (aesthetic) scope of self-interested choices is not limited to mere abductive instincts, which many animals exhibit, but is expanded by abductive inference, an if-then calculus driven by an early imagination that’s growing exponentially. This exponential expansion of behavioral plasticity precisely results from an unmooring of the nonarbitrary range of instinctive responses by the child’s growing repertoire of arbitrary symbol conventions (a product of their learning languages).

    I emphasize this constitutive freedom of choosing among equally optimal goods per a young human’s first order desires (what they want) to note its relationship to human eros, what St Bernard distinguished in terms of love of self for sake of self and love of God and/or others for sake of self. From this eros, young (and old) humans experience imperfect contrition, i.e. expressing sorrow due to our just punishment and growing in enlightened self-interest (choosing being over nonbeing). I mention this in the context of reminding all that such an imperfect contrition is all that’s ever been required “to be saved” and to observe that I was taught that it would be heretical to suggest otherwise.

    Thus, it seems to me that, soteriologically, human beings are intrinsically constituted by all that’s both necessary and sufficient to be saved.

    If my apokatastatic intuitions are correct, our gnomic willing affects and effects, then, – not soteriological realities of our essential natures vis a vis the imago Dei, but – our sophiological trajectories as we grow our secondary natures in intimacy and beatitude, i.e. in likeness.

    I expanded on this further at the url below as the contributions on this thread evoked the above thoughts and more. They seemed a bit much to post here in their entirety.

    https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2019/06/04/retreblement-a-systematic-apocatastasis-pneumatological-missiology/

    Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Not sure I follow, or understand, the two (secondary?) natures view. This seems problematic, John. It seemed to me the old nature transformed (fulfilled, completed) into the new is more faithful to scriptural and patristic witness. But I may be misunderstanding.

      Like

      • The term “second” might have been more felicitous since it would more readily evoke Aristotle’s account of ethical character formation and its development into doctrines of “habitus” by Aquinas, Scotus & others.

        I follow Scotus’ approach, where both Aristotelian conceptions of habitus & potency play central roles in his account of free will (and, as everyone knows, its relationship to the intellect).

        To me, “old nature” refers to our second nature, including our acquired moral & spiritual dispositions, perhaps more vicious than virtuous, all which remains integrally related to but nevertheless distinct from our primary or essential or innate nature, from which they emerge in early childhood development.

        That innate substrate provides the infrastructure for our act of existence, which isn’t an isolated historical event but a dynamical product of a gratuitous creatio continua, which, John of the Cross notes, continues even in mortal sin, and as others suggest, even in eternal hellfire.

        Since the second nature refers to habitus, acquired dispositions, virtuous & vicious natures, all contrasted with innate nature, although integral thereto, I certainly invoke the distinction with conventional formative, conversion & transformational dynamics in mind.

        Much of my schema, thereafter, derives from thought experiments and not from historical, doctrinal or exegetical sources, but I do want to be faithful to the tradition when I come to conclusions. For example, I wonder what a soul looks like before the “age of reason,” before moral accountability impinges. I believe every trace of human goodness is instantaneously eternalized, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities, since such participations are realizations of – not just us, but – divine logoi, teloi, oikonomia. Why should “vicious natures” cross an eternal threshold intact, whether proleptically or eschatologically? Are they substantial or instead privations of being? Sin, however much a crimson stain, gets washed as white as snow!

        The primary challenge to my approach, which gnaws at me as much as you, perhaps, is whether or not some violence is done to our common sense appreciation of human integrity. But, the way I see it, it’s the opposite. If every time I cooperate with grace, choosing being and the good, that disposition gets eternalized, that’s the ultimate affirmation of my dignity and respect for my choice. If, however, I choose nonbeing … not eternalizing that disposition is similarly respectful vis a vis my second nature.

        What about denying my innate or essential or primary nature the choice for nonbeing, refusing annhilation? That’s not just problematic for my approach, but for the tradition, too. Thing is, I can conceive of an imago Dei, of an essential being sans a secondary moral nature. All I have to do is imagine a 6 year old dying (before the age of reason). After death, with no epistemic or axiological distance to traverse, certainly no existential threat with which to contend, who needs a moral nature to choose between willing or not vis a vis being & goodness? One’s freedom turns to only choosing among goods, among logoi, along an eternal aesthetic scope. The choice for nonbeing or evil is a moral choice. An imago Dei not masked by a vicious nature nor grown into likeness by a virtuous nature is already intrinsically good and absolutely valuable, just like my 18 month old grandson.

        Hope this helps. Thanks, always, Robert, for your steady, gentle, guidance.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. If virtue involves a settled habit of thinking, feeling & acting in certain ways ; of character traits that are meant to be exercised, they must be live out or practiced?

    Not an attitude or emotion, authentic hope expresses itself audaciously in a life lived differently in thought, word & deed?

    In every other aspect of my faith life, I affirm precisely what I hope for without being accused of presumption. Why, then, do so many make an ad hoc exception for apokatastasis, asking those of us who earnestly hope for it not to affirm it?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      “Why, then, do so many make an ad hoc exception for apokatastasis, asking those of us who earnestly hope for it not to affirm it?”

      I surmise this is due to adherence to a libertarian understanding of freedom. Freedom unmoored from a proper source and end, a volunteeristic view of freedom in which choice qua choice holds the trump card. The Imago Dei, and its fulfilment in the eschaton, is vacated of meaning.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Tom says:

    Just a thought on the (un)conditionality of God’s love. It would help to make a distinction between the reality of God’s love for us (unconditional) and our participation-enjoyment of that love (which I take to be conditional, unless we want to say God wills our misrelation to that love, which is nonsense). Certain things are guaranteed by the unconditional nature of God’s love for us – i.e., his (unconditional) loving intention for us, his (unconditionally) willing our highest good in him, his (unconditionally) pursuing our highest good in him, etc.

    None of the unconditional nature of this love alone secures the end God desires, since the personal nature of what’s willed (our highest end in God) by definition requires some minimal level of self-determination (by whatever name we wish to label this exercise of will, except to say that given the end for which God lovingly intends us unconditionally for himself ‘as persons’, we must suppose our misrelation to God to be explainable on some free will basis, even if this is not an absolutely voluntarist sort of freedom).

    If one espouses creation ex nihilo, then other essential things have to be figured in – i.e., the absolute givenness of being and thus the asymmetrical nature our relation to God as the ground of our being as well as the essentially teleological (and thus open-to-God) nature of our capacities (of perception and volition). We relate asymmetrically to the final possibility for which God called us forth from nothingness. No misuse of will, no depth of ignorance or privation, can finally foreclose upon what we are essentially, since what we essentially are precedes and grounds the scope of our possibilities.

    I’m repeating myself. Sorry.

    Admittedly these are theological/philosophical convictions, but they’re thoroughly biblically informed. They have been and can be biblically-exegetically derived. Given Zach’s insistence that God unconditionally loves even the finally damned, one has to ask how we are to conceive of God’s unconditionally loving those who are irrevocably lost to God? What’s it even mean to say God unconditionally loves them, and so unconditionally intends himself as their highest good, but knows they are irrevocably closed to even the possibility of Godward movement? God will love and intend what God knows to be impossible for all eternity? But God is the ground and end of possibilities; the unconditional nature of his love delimits the scope of metaphysical possibility. How does one imagine that as a possibility to consider?

    Perhaps it comes back to Zach’s reasons for thinking the relevant biblical passages are best read as implying the traditional view. If he’s convinced on exegetical reasons that the Bible dogmatically constrains faith in this respect, then perhaps that’s the conversation to have (exegesis, hermeneutics). But even there the wider philosophical and theological issues have to be integrated into shaping the final view.

    I should say that I’ve not yet read your book, Zach! Hope to do so. I’m just engaging what’s been said here. Maybe you address these issues. Sorry if I’m side-tracking things.

    Blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      Typo in above post: “Admittedly these ARE…” (not “and”).

      Zach, maybe somebody already mentioned this, but perhaps Hart’s upcoming book on UR will clarify the biblical/hermeneutical issues enough to make UR at least biblically conceivable. That’s the direction I would take things in. But ya’ll got the PhDs, not me. So I’m a hack. But as long as one is convinced the Scriptural (and thus Apostolic) position on so fundamental a question as the final destiny of Creation constraints belief on this to the traditional view, it’s hard for the other relevant questions (philosophical/theological/moral) to get traction. My understanding is Hart will address biblical-exegetical questions.

      Tom

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zach Manis says:

        Tom: Thanks for this post; there are lots of good thoughts here. First, let me address your question of what it would mean to say that God unconditionally loves the damned, and unconditionally wills himself as their highest good, while knowing that they are irrevocably lost. Consider this thought experiment. Imagine that you have a heroin-addicted child who has become estranged from everyone in your family, yourself included. Imagine that you have a vision in which God clearly reveals to you that your child will never be reconciled to you or anyone in your family. Can you imagine continuing to unconditionally love your child, and continuing to will their highest good, even while knowing with certainty that they will never be reconciled to you? I imagine you probably can. And this seems at least analogous to the situation we’re imagining God to be in with respect to the damned on the divine presence model. So I don’t see anything self-contradictory or incomprehensible about that possibility.

        Now for a separate issue, something you touch on towards the end of your comments. Note that there’s a difference between thinking the relevant biblical passages are best read as implying the traditional view, versus thinking that the vast majority of Christians through the ages have interpreted the biblical passages in that way. It’s the latter that I was referring to in my previous remarks about “tradition”. This is perhaps a slightly different way of thinking about tradition than most Catholic and Orthodox Christians are used to. It’s not a straightforward matter of what the ecumenical councils established, or what the magisterium has settled (though it may of course be connected to those.) Consequently, it’s not something that could be overturned simply by more nuanced interpretations of the deliverances of the councils or magisterium, or even more nuanced interpretations of Scripture. It has more to do with a historical fact that I think even most universalists would readily concede. The important question, I think, is whether that historical fact is good evidence of the leading of the Holy Spirit or not. I’m inclined to think that it is.

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        • Tom says:

          Hi Zach,

          Thanks again for the convo. Appreciate it. And thank you, Fr Aidan. Keep up the good work.

          Zach, I can’t imagine what you describe, and I’ll try to describe why. However, let me first say that you’ve entirely assumed the point of debate in your thought experiment and then secured the assumption with a question no loving parent would want to confess (i.e., that he/she would ever cease to love his/her child). The assumption you’ve hidden in the thought experiment is in proposing that God reveals that my addicted child will never be reconciled to me.

          I’m not sure if by “never” you mean ‘in this life’ or ‘in the life to come’. You’d have to mean ‘in the life to come’ if the thought experiment is supposed to demonstrate something relevant to eschatology. But if I’m to imagine God revealing that to me, then that’s simply to ask me to imagine that we’re wrong about universalism and that you’re right about eternal conscious torment – i.e., let’s say God reveals to you that universalism is false and that your addicted child will suffer eternally. Would you wake up tomorrow and still love your child? Come now, Zach.

          God could assure me that a longed-for reconciliation will not be realized ‘in this life’. That’s imaginable. It’s imaginable because we experience this kind of loss in this life all the time. But it doesn’t at all give us an analogy of loving those we know to be ‘eternally’ irredeemable.

          Consider the logic of intentionality. It is not rational to desire or intend what one believes to be impossible. If God were to tell me that my addicted child will not ‘in this life’ be reconciled, I would continue to love my child, certainly, but I could not rationally hope for or seek his reconciliation ‘in this life’. I would defer my hope eschatologically to God’s unceasing love. Why should God’s unceasing love justify my hope in the eventual reconciliation of my son? Because, as we’ve said, for God to love another is to desire that person’s highest well-being in him (God). And if we’re going to say God unconditionally loves the wicked in hell, we have to say God unconditionally wills himself as their highest good (for that is just what it means to love – viz., to will God as the highest good of another person). But surely to rationally will some good as the end of another whom one loves, one must believe that good to be ‘achievable’, for it is not rational to will or intend what one believes to be impossible. If God loves the wicked in hell, he must intend himself as their highest good, and that’s not rationally possible if God believes their highest good in him is not achievable.

          Tom
          (Pardon my typos)

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          • Zach Manis says:

            Tom,

            I’m afraid that either I misunderstood your original argument, or you’ve lost track of what was at stake in the thought experiment I constructed. It’s not question-beginning, because it’s not supposed to be (nor was it presented as) an argument for the falsity of universalism. It was meant to answer this argument that you lodged against my divine presence model:

            “Given Zach’s insistence that God unconditionally loves even the finally damned, one has to ask how we are to conceive of God’s unconditionally loving those who are irrevocably lost to God? What’s it even mean to say God unconditionally loves them, and so unconditionally intends himself as their highest good, but knows they are irrevocably closed to even the possibility of Godward movement?”

            Your most recent comments suggest that you took my thought experiment to be advancing an argument of the following form: We can imagine God’s revealing it to someone that universalism is false; therefore universalism is false. But that isn’t what I was trying to convey with the thought experiment at all. The purpose of the thought experiment is *only* to establish that there’s nothing conceptually incoherent or incomprehensible in the idea of God’s unconditionally loving those whom He knows to be irrevocably lost. I was inviting you to imagine the closest human analogue (that I can imagine) of what the divine psychological state vis-à-vis the damned would be like, on my model of hell. The “revelation” component of the thought experiment is meant to ground a sense of certainty (for the person “in” the thought experiment) about the fate of the beloved, which has to be in place to explore the phenomenology of the psychological state under discussion. You argued – or at least I thought you were arguing – that such a psychological state is impossible or inconceivable or somehow conceptually incoherent. I was trying to show that it’s not.

            Of course, if universalism is true, then God would never reveal to someone a proposition that entails that universalism is false (a proposition such as “Your loved one is irrevocably lost”). But that’s beside the point.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Hi Zach.

            I did think your thought experiment reduced to asking people to imagine UR’s being false. But that was farther down the line. So forget that for the moment. I took your thought experience to offer, as you say, *only* to “establish that there’s nothing conceptually incoherent in the idea of God’s unconditionally loving those he know to be irrevocably lost.” And the closest human analogue to this is, as you say, what it’s like for us to continue to love our children in spite of learning that an addicted child of mine were lost to me.

            I’ll hold my ground here and say that it is not rational to desire or will what one believes to be impossible. I take this to be fairly self-evident. God cannot will himself as the highest good of those he knows to be irretrievably lost. If the closest analogy is my abiding love for a child I know will not be reconcile to me in this life, then that doesn’t demonstrate the coherence of God’s loving the irredeemably lost, not if love entails willing the highest good of the beloved. You can’t rationally will what you know is impossible.

            A person who believes hell is irrevocable torment and who believes a beloved child of his is in such a hell may feel remorse and regret, and he may love a vision of what he believes ‘might have been’, and he may suffer the pain of wishing it were otherwise – but he *cannot* love his child, not if love is willing another’s highest good, for the parent in this case already believes his child’s highest good not possible; hence, he cannot will it for his child.

            ……………..

            I jumped on and posted this from my blog and I just now saw that you posted a follow up. I’ll check that out. Blessings!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Zach Manis says:

            Tom,
            (continuing from my previous comments)

            I do think that you really help to advance the discussion in the final paragraph of your post, where you write:

            “Consider the logic of intentionality. It is not rational to desire or intend what one believes to be impossible. … If God loves the wicked in hell, he must intend himself as their highest good, and that’s not rationally possible if God believes their highest good in him is not achievable.”

            This is a clear and succinct statement of the basic intuition that (I think) is motivating your best critique, and it really gets to the heart of the matter.

            I’m doubtful that it’s irrational to *desire* something that one believes to be impossible. I think counterexamples to that claim are fairly easy to construct. The stronger part of your claim is that it’s irrational to *intend* something that one believes to be impossible. I take it most philosophers would agree with that claim. I’m not entirely convinced of it myself, but nor am I convinced that the divine presence model *requires* one to reject the claim.

            To see why, consider (yet another!) thought experiment.

            You’re an engineer, and you know that because of recent flash flooding, a certain dam will soon break unless a significant amount of the water that the dam is holding back is released. If the dam breaks, the town in the valley below will be flooded, drowning everyone who lives there. There is a way to do a controlled release of some of the water to prevent the dam from breaking, but there are also some townspeople in the path of this water who will be drowned by it if they are not evacuated. The release valve must be activated by midnight to save the dam, and there is no other way to save the townspeople. You intend to save *everyone* in the town by (first) evacuating the part of town that is downstream from the release valve, and (second) opening the release valve at midnight to prevent the dam from breaking. You spend all of the time that you have leading up to midnight doing *everything in your power* to evacuate those in the path of the soon-to-be-diverted water. Everyone is informed of the situation, everyone is made aware of what will happen if they do not evacuate, and each person is assisted in whatever way is needed to get him/her to safety. Unfortunately, there are some who stubbornly and irrationally refuse to evacuate. Having no other way to save the townspeople, you open the release valve at midnight, thereby preventing the dam from breaking at the last possible moment.

            In this thought experiment, it is clear that, just before you open the valve, you foresee but do not intend that some will be drowned by the action you are about to take. Given the circumstances, your action is morally justified by the doctrine of double effect. But there’s something else that’s equally important to notice: not only do you not intend to drown anyone by opening the valve, you *intended* (note the past tense) for this action to result in everyone’s being saved. From the moment you set the plan in motion, you did everything in your power to bring it about that your (eventual) action of opening the valve would be an action that saved each and every citizen. It is due entirely to the irrational stubbornness of some individuals that your action will not have this intended effect.

            Now imagine a second version of the thought experiment in which you somehow know that some people will refuse to evacuate. To clarify: You understand that everyone *could* evacuate (each and every person has the means to do so, given the help you would provide), but you somehow know that some in fact *will not* do so. Everything else remains the same in the thought experiment as before, including your efforts to evacuate everyone.

            It seems to me that in both versions of the thought experiment, it is true of you that at every time leading up to midnight, you intend your (future) action to have a salvific effect for everyone, as evidenced by the extent of your efforts to bring this about, and at midnight, you foresee but do not intend that your action will cause some to perish. In both, the actions you take are benevolent and praiseworthy. But note, finally, that there is no point at which we would say of you that you intend to do something that you believe to be impossible.

            Mutatis mutandis, the same is true of God in the divine presence model.

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          • Tom says:

            Zach: I’m doubtful that it’s irrational to *desire* something that one believes to be impossible. I think counterexamples to that claim are fairly easy to construct.

            Tom: I’d be interested in see some examples. One can, of course, wish that something one believes to be impossible were in fact possible/achievable. But that’s different than desiring something one believes to be impossible. By desire here, of course, we mean a desire to realize some particular end. I don’t see that it’s rational to give one’s desires to, or set one’s desires upon, some end one believes to be impossible.

            Zach: The stronger part of your claim is that it’s irrational to *intend* something that one believes to be impossible. I take it most philosophers would agree with that claim. I’m not entirely convinced of it myself, but nor am I convinced that the divine presence model *requires* one to reject the claim. To see why, consider (yet another!) thought experiment…

            Tom: It’s similar to analogies I used in defending the traditional view. I don’t think it gets airborne, but give me a few days to get back to ya. I’m on the road and have some travel ahead of me.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Hi again Zach. I can weigh in on your thought experiment now since I’m stuck for a few hours at the airport! You could say I’m in hell!

            As far as I can tell, all your experiment shows is that our achieving the good we intend is sometimes conditional upon factors outside our control. The engineer intends that all evacuate to safety and avoid tragedy. Some choose not to heed the warning and suffer the consequences. But even here, one isn’t intending what one believes is impossible. On the contrary, in your scenario, one always ‘intends the possible’ – the achievable – so long as it is achievable. But when someone chooses not to evacuate to safety and their fate is sealed, the engineer’s intentions change accordingly and he can no longer intend (or desire, or will, or seek) their evacuation.

            With respect to God’s loving intentions for the damned, this would suggest that were God to believe the highest good of the damned to be no longer achievable, he could not will himself as their highest good.

            We’re left then with trying to conceive of ‘love’ as not essentially ‘willing/intending another’s highest good’, and at that point I’ve no idea what you mean when you say God actually loves those he knows are irrevocably lost to him, since this love does not involve God’s willing their highest good. What would it mean for the damned that God loves them? How would their existence or prospects change if God were to actually hate them? Or perhaps better, if God were actually indifferent to them? Surely we do not want to adopt of view of God’s loving the damned that is convertible in its consequence and possibilities for the damned with God’s being indifferent to them.

            Liked by 1 person

          • This all seems to turn on an implicit stipulation to an irreversibility thesis? Setting that incoherence aside, Aquinas’ view of habitus affirms the inextinguishability of divine potencies. Couple that with a Thomistic or Scotistic take on human freedom & willing, one must conclude that its impossible to conceive, concretely, that any person could eternally resist God’s unconditional love, leaving that possibility, however valid, a mere vacuous abstraction and foreclosing – not on divine teloi, but – on the possibility of any final & definitive rejection.

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          • These double effect experiments show how one can escape culpability vis a vis acts, intentions & circumstances, by not intending an ontic or premoral evil.

            Some of us define the Eschaton in terms of a radical cosmic reconciliation, where ontic evils (afflicting the present temporal order) will be vanquished.

            Hence, God’s divine will would not be thus *thwartable* eschatologically and finite human acts (efficient/will & formal/intellect) would be in potency to material & final causes, no longer hindered, externally, by a disordered cosmos & no longer crippled, internally, by disordered appetites?

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        • I’m inclined to think that a consensus gentium is a logical fallacy. Still, I would recognize that such a majority consensus view, all other things being equal, is at least weakly truth indicative even though not robustly truth conducive. Human interpretations are fallible and understandings develop through time. I believe every ray of truth that presents in every great tradition is inspired by the Holy Spirit, that every encounter of truth, beauty, goodness, unity & freedom is fostered by the Spirit. But counting heads, alone, is a perilous criterion for establishing truth, which is one reason I believe in protecting minority stances, like the Franciscans & Scotists 🙂 Or, like Christianity, itself, a superminority, 32%, of the global population!

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      • DBH succinctly observes, exegetically, “three deeply ambiguous verses that seem (and only seem) to threaten eternal torments for the wicked. But that is as may be; every good New Testament scholar is well aware of the obscurities in what we can reconstruct of the eschatological vision of Jesus’s teachings.”

        Citation by Feser: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2017/01/a-hartless-god.html?m=1

        From Hart’s intro to his translation of the NT:

        “[…] in the original Greek of the New Testament, there really are only three verses that seem to threaten “eternal punishment” for the wicked (though, in fact, none of them actually does), and many who are doctrinally or emotionally committed to the idea of eternal torment for the unelect would feel gravely bereaved if the delicious clarity of the seemingly most explicit of those verses were allowed to be obscured behind a haze of lexical indeterminacy. To these I can say only that, if they really wish to believe in the everlasting torment of the reprobate, they are perfectly free to do so, whether there is any absolute unquestionable scriptural warrant for doing so or not; but, then again, even the Greek word typically rendered as “punishment” in that verse raises problems of translation […]” (Hart 2018, p. 541f).

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    • I think it’s in the Summa, where Thomas (the Aquinas), situates habitus (virtuous or vicious) halfway between act & potency. In the case of a vicious habitus, he affirms (but I can’t remember his words) that, while it can cripple our potentialities, it can not kill them.

      As you know, due to what you call (per Feser’s account of) Aquinas’ “irreversibility thesis,” there’s some type of highly speculative eschatological anthropology (which has been reversed engineered from an archaic metaphysical angelology?) that forecloses on human choices, eternally freezing our second natures, whether virtuous or vicious.

      But, Thomas (the Belt) has expounded a Maximian irrevocability thesis, which is more internally coherent, logically consistent, experientially congruent & existentially satisfying!

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      • Tom says:

        I’d love to see where in Aquinas he lays that out, John. That would be something indeed, since it would contradict the notion that the wicked are fixed in their evil orientation.

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  23. John H says:

    Zach,

    I believe that your thought experiment misconstrues both the nature of addiction and the unlimited power and unconditional love of God. Addiction/substance abuse is not a lifestyle choice freely willed by the addict. Rather it is a disease caused by numerous social and biological factors. As a disease, substance abuse can often be successfully treated. So why would God, the all powerful creator who unconditionally loves all of His creatures refrain from curing addicts in the eschaton?

    For that matter, modern medicine now recognizes that anxiety, despair and even anger have causes rooted in the balance of neurochemicals within the brain. In short, the Kirkegardian “sickness unto death” turns out to be a biological disease that can be successfully treated by medicine and psychotherapy. So why would God refrain from curing such unfortunate individuals in the afterlife? Why leave them suffering for all eternity when the suffering that they experienced in this life was not the result of morally culpable choices in the first instance?

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    • Zach Manis says:

      John,

      I think you might have misunderstood the purpose of the thought experiment. Nothing in it is meant to suggest that substance abuse is a lifestyle choice freely willed by the addict. The purpose of the thought experiment is *only* to show that it seems possible to love someone whom one knows with certainty will never be reconciled to oneself. (Note that the thought experiment could be constructed without any reference to addiction.) There’s no need to settle the (controversial) question of the nature of addition to establish the point I was making.

      I would take issue, however, with your claim that what Kierkegaard referred to as “the sickness unto death” is a medically curable condition. He was not referring to depression. That entire Kierkegaardian work is devoted to exploring the psychology of despair, and what Kierkegaard means by “despair” is a distinctly spiritual condition. (Kierkegaard tells us that most people who are in despair don’t even know it.)

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  24. John H says:

    Zach,

    I think that the underlying problem is that I reject the model of libertarian freedom that you follow in the book. I profess the traditional notion of divine providence as defined by Augustine, Aquinas and, in modern times, by theologians like McCann and McCabe. Libertarian freedom implies it seems to me that the actor is always free to choose otherwise, the notion of choosing counterfactually so to speak. I believe that the tradition has, up until recent times, maintained that the human will is directed teleologically towards the transcendent Good, Who is God Himself. Therefore, while in our present fallen state we may certainly mistake a limited good for Goodness itself, in the eschaton that will not be possible because God does will the salvation of all and our will shall be drawn like a magnet towards its true Home, which paradoxically also happens to be the ultimate free choice!!

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