Universalism: The Only Theodicy? A Review Essay of ‘That All Shall Be Saved’

by Shinji Akemi, Ph.D.

Or what man is there of you,
whom if his son ask bread,
will he give him a stone?
Matt. 7:9

Some scholarly works appear on the scene with such force that the intellectual landscape suffers a violent rearrangement. Well-trod paths suddenly drop off into precipitate fall, and travelers must now find new roads to reach the most recognizable landmarks—that is, if these are still accessible at all. David Bentley Hart’s new work on universal salvation is such a book. With his customary wit, vast learning, and incisive clarity, Hart guides readers through the major issues in both historical and contemporary debates about the final fate of God’s creatures. Questions of Scriptural exegesis, the metaphysics of human freedom, the nature of personhood, and the relationship between faith and reason receive sustained and careful discussion. The conclusion, as the book’s title suggests, is that universal salvation is either endemic to the Christian story or that story is metaphysically and—perhaps more importantly to Hart—morally incoherent.

Let me begin by acknowledging my agreement with the book’s conclusion. It is from this place of affinity that I offer some reflections and questions which Hart’s meditations provoked in me as I read them. As I am certain that other readers, both critical and sympathetic, will have much to say on the metaphysical arguments Hart proposes for universalism, I focus my comments on the moral side of the Christian story the book’s argument interrogates, especially in its First Meditation. The question is simple: if any sinner’s final destiny comprises eternal torments, can God in his essence be Justice or Love? Although the word is curiously absent from Hart’s book, the issue is clearly one of theodicy. In which final state of affairs, hell or universalism, can God’s Wisdom be said to be “justified in all her ways”?

This line of reasoning will be intelligible only to believers who accept the centrality of reason in a mature faith. I mean that for those who deny any analogy between our moral categories and God’s revealed actions and character, there is simply no question of the theodicy of creation to be asked. In Hart’s argument, the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo—the teaching that from His infinite plenitude, and not from any lack or need, God freely creates all things with a destiny of union with Him—entails the ultimate accomplishment of God’s purposes in creation. What if any part of creation should fail to reach its eternally deter­mined goal? God, in light of divine foreknowledge of this fate, would therefore stand guilty of damning a creature precisely in the act of bringing the creature to be. The meaningful­ness of the distinction between elective and permissive predestination vanishes instantly when we shift our perspective to this highest, divine, plane; God either predestines to salvation or damnation, but in the act of creation he predestines all the same. And predestination to anything other than salvation is not the work of the God Who is Love.

To my mind, this argument stands as the most significant of the book. Confronted with Christian revelation about God’s limitless freedom and love, the self-transcending human intellect—participating as it does in God’s very Logos—cannot but seek after the whole, cannot resist asking further questions until it reaches the limit of its horizon here, namely the moral intelligibility of the act of creation itself. Only universal salvation grants intelli­gibility to the act. If grace perfects nature, then revelation should crown reason. But as Hart ably shows, to deny the question of creation’s moral intelligibility by appeals to humility or apophaticism is simply to forfeit reason altogether and to flee into fideism. The revelation of God as Love in Christ may surpass the limits of creaturely reason, but it cannot lie below them. Otherwise we create evasive equivocations with respect to what exactly we mean by the Love which commands forgiveness “seventy times seven” but finds a limit to its own; which seeks desperately the last sheep out of the hundred until, well, time unfortunately runs out; which reconciles all things in heaven and on earth to itself—virtually, of course. Granted, to know the character of a person is far more than to possess a journalist’s knowledge of what she might do in the future, and so knowledge of God cannot be reduced to “eschatological voyeurism.”1 But can we really say we know someone if we cannot divine her goals and whether she will do everything in her power to achieve them? And the goal, as Scripture and Christ’s example teach, is nothing less than the salvation of all people (1 Tim. 2:4). God’s power, after all, is unlimited, even by the sinful will; else we should have no doctrine of operative grace. Hart accordingly poses in this book the question of fideism, apophaticism, and universalism in its starkest form: either God is capable of revealing his salvific will to us, and our reason’s openness to God’s self-manifestation makes this reception of eschatological revelation possible, or we have never received in Christ any definitive revelation of God’s heart at all, and we are left instead awaiting another who is to come—although this “other” must remain subject to the same apophatic, and ultimately fideistic, doubts as his predecessors.

* * *

This concern with distinguishing fideism from authentic, reasoned faith structures the entirety of Hart’s argument. Yet perhaps it would be simpler to say that Hart’s goal in these meditations is to spell out the implications of why we Christians call God our Father. The doctrine of hell necessarily precludes this appellation, as well as the filial feeling it nurtures in hearts tender enough to pronounce it. As Hart notes early in the book, Father is the primary image Jesus recommends to his disciples in order to understand God; it is, in fact, the first word of the Lord’s Prayer in Greek. This picture of God immediately rules out certain doctrines with which it is morally incompatible, such as double-predestination or eternal conscious torments. But this argument, it should be noted, is no shortcut for avoiding the hard work of metaphysical and biblical argumentation, ample amounts of which the reader will find in That All Shall Be Saved. It is rather to say that theology exists in the service of the ordinary believer who looks to heaven and attempts that most terrifying and meaningful of human activities, prayer. To which God does the believer pray: to the Heavenly Autocrat who has ordained the world so that a select number perish for the sake of His glory, to the Heavenly Sufferer who, despite his best efforts, failed to save every creature, or to the Heavenly Father who has destined the salvation of all his children? If any doctrine prevents prayer to the Heavenly Father, that teaching should accordingly fall under Christian suspicion, if not outright censure.

Yet the reader senses that Hart’s cogent arguments raise their own, further problems of theodicy. How far, in fact, can Christ’s analogy go? Let us take an example from Dostoevsky, on which Hart has written so brilliantly and so movingly. I mean Ivan’s plaintive meditation in the chapter “Rebellion” from The Brothers Karamazov. Can anyone conceive of telling Ivan’s little girl—trapped in the outhouse, abused by her parents, beating her breast while crying out to “dear God”—that this God is her Father, and that, though she begs for bread, he is not in fact, at that very moment, stoning her? In his earlier book The Doors of the Sea—in a significant sense the prequel to this book and its necessary conclusion—Hart addresses precisely this point:

For somehow the most vital and urgent thing to know about the God revealed in the Gospels is that (for instance) the tears of that little girl suffering in the dark of whom Ivan speaks are not a reflection of the divine will or a necessary moment in the dialectical unfolding of history—according to God’s ‘great plan’—toward the ‘kingdom’ that awaits it as a kind of immanent cosmic telos. God may permit evil to have a history of its own so as not to despoil creatures of their destiny of free union with him in love, but he is not the sole and irresistible agency shaping that history according to eternal arbitrary decrees. (87)

Distinctions between primary and secondary causality are well and good, and I do not deny their necessity and usefulness. It is indeed morally noxious to claim that God directly wills evil. Yet God clearly permits temporary evils, and horrendous ones at that. But it is precisely God’s permissive willing of evil, only in a perpetual eschatological state, that Hart considers damning for the traditional doctrine of hell. One might appeal here to the modal disjunction between infinite and finite suffering, but it is unclear that this truly circumvents the pro­blem, for why would it be morally permissible for the perfectly good God to allow even the temporary and finite suffering of innocents in order to ensure our final, free union with him?

Some might respond by claiming that there are, in fact, no innocents—all stand under the sign of original sin, and in that sense all suffering is merited, and if cooperated with in a grace-filled fashion, even meritorious. The consequences of such a view would be curious: a self-absolution from the work of relieving the suffering of the poor, or a deep skepticism towards the innocence of children à la Augustine in the first book of the Confessions. For obvious reasons, neither is a viable option.

Another, related option is presented by that other titan of early Christian history, Origen of Alexandria. More than most theologians who followed him, Origen was keenly sensitive to the diversity of fates which surround on us on this planet and to the problem of God’s justice which it raises. This concern is intimately related to Origen’s eschatology, for as Ilaria Ramelli has argued at length, theodicy is the heart of Origen’s argument for universal salvation. It is the beating center of his commitment to our pre-existence before this life and its current, grievous conditions of fallen corporeality. In the story of the primordial fall of the logika due to their diverse movements of will, Origen discovered an answer to this problem which was “consistent with the whole principle of righteousness.” But only generally speaking, of course: “for only an ignorant man would demand a special justification for every single case and only a fool would offer to give it” (De Prin. 2.IX.4). Unfortunately, here the problem is the same: all suffering is earned, even if ultimately remedial. Origen balked at diagnosing the primordial sins which procured any particular person his particular earthly fate, but does this reticence not cover over the difficulties in this view? How, for example, can this imposed penance be experienced as non-coercive—for as Origen insists, God works only through persuasion—if one does not remember having ever assumed it?

Others take a line closer to that of some contemporary Thomists, who hold that God cannot bring into being free, embodied creatures like us without the torturous process of evolution­ary history, with its leaps in intelligibility and complexity mediated through genetic mutations. But this history, as we well know, is riddled with suffering and death. The same system of evolutionary mutation which made the emergence of homo sapiens possible also generates diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Harlequin-Type Ichthiosys. In such a scheme, finitude proves identical to sin, with creation and fall simply as two sides of the same coin. Aeons of animal suffering and death, combined with millennia of human genetic disease, constitute the price God is willing to pay to allow the moral drama of free creatures to play itself out; the final product’s value alone justifies its inevitable external­ities. Given Hart’s allergy to Thomist theology in general, it is unlikely he would find this explanation compel­ling, but the reader wonders all the same: how can we avoid implicat­ing God in evil if God chose exactly this process of world history to make his love known?

And this is all without mentioning the suffering inflicted by that same human freedom purchased by God at so high an evolutionary cost. Ivan’s little girl must serve here as a sufficient example of the realities God will countenance in order to ensure the destiny of “free union with him in love.” Much like the specious distinction between double-predestination and “irresistible dereliction,” any discrimination between finite evils directly willed by God and those merely permitted by Him looks suspect in the light of God’s eternal foreknowledge. This holds true even when we take into account the New Testament’s pervasive “provisional dualism” to which Hart has rightly drawn our attention. Whether we speak of rebellious heavenly powers or finite human evil resisting God’s salvific will, all causes reduce to their first cause, and that first cause is God. From the perspective of eternity, “before” the creative act, God foreknows every discrete evil and every moment of suffering. He knows, before he pulls the trigger, that creation will mean, among other countless horrors, the Holocaust. And yet He pulls the trigger anyway.

It may be—and this is perhaps the only answer that can be given—that the “sufferings of the present time are not to be compared with the glory that awaits us.” There is no doubt that the joy of the visio Dei, shared together by all of Christ’s redeemed humanity (which is to say, all humanity), will overcome and transform every memory of unjust suffering. But from this perspective, it is difficult not to avoid the conclusion that we have arrived, by a circuitous route, right back where Hart wanted us not to go: a theodicy in which suffering is a necessary—because foreknown—moment in God’s ultimate plan for the particular history which is ours. Lest I be accused of confusing antecedent and consequent necessity, I repeat once again the point of this excursus: if God can be judged morally evil for permitting the possibility eternal suffering, even if not directly or antecedently willed, why would God not also be evil for allowing the possibility of temporal sufferings of the most horrendous and egregious kind, and then, through creating us, for ensuring that this would be the reality for all born into a world already fallen? This is not a matter of rationally refusing God in a fit of Karamazovism, deciding that deification as freedom’s goal is not “worth the risk of a cosmic fall and the terrible injustice of the consequences that follow from it” (Doors of the Sea, 69). It is instead a question of the moral coherence of the Christian story and what it says about God’s character. As Hart himself puts it in this new book:

The logic is irresistible. God creates. The die is cast. Alea iacta est. But then again, as Mallarmé says, “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (A throw of the dice will never abolish the hazard): for what is hazarded has already been surrendered, entirely, no matter how the dice may fall. The outcome of the aleatory venture may be intentionally indeterminate, but the wager itself is an irrevocable intentional decision, wherein every possible cost has already been accepted; the irrecuperable expenditure has been offered even if, happily, it is never actually lost, and so the moral nature of the act is the same in either case. To venture the life of your child for some other end is, morally, already to have killed your child, even if at the last moment Artemis or Heracles or the Angel of the LORD should stay your hand. (That All Shall Be Saved, 85-86)

The wager considered here is God’s allowance of the possibility of eternal torments. But it seems that even given universalism, the logic is equally irresistible with respect to temporal evils: God still decides it is worth the price of horrific earthly suffering to “doom us to happiness” (41). Thus, in terms of God’s foreknowledge of the fates of creation, we are predestined for pain. God has condemned all to disobedience so that he might have mercy on all, but it is God who condemns. Ivan’s protests appear unanswered, even with apocatastasis as the only theodicy.

* * *

This is a troubling conclusion. Universalism promises to safeguard the Fatherhood of heaven, to allow God’s child to pray in confidence. The doctrine cultivates in the believer a certain mood of faith, a serene confidence drawn from revelation of God’s positive escha­tological verdict. Perhaps then in the universalist framework the following constitutes the unique content of a sojourning Christian faith: that despite all earthly appearances, God is good, and that it is the heart of Christ revealed on the cross that must interpret every moment of divine abandonment, every cry of every innocent child. No Christian, in any case, thinks the character of God can be read off the face of a fallen world. On this score, Hart agrees with Catholic philosopher Brian Davies that our profound ignorance of the causes and consequences of earthly events prevents us from passing judgment on God at any particular moment. Yet would an eschatological disclosure render our earthly misery finally compre­hensible? If God could provide a morally sufficient reason for divine inaction in the face of horrendous evil, would it not further inculpate God, especially given the reality of God’s miraculous, discrete interventions in the course of salvation history? The scandal of particularity so central to Christianity makes itself felt with special acuity at this moment, when we recognize that God is present to us at every moment in the specta­cle of our suffering. But to deny that there exist any morally sufficient reasons for our concrete suffering (as Hart surely does) would not obviate the problem, for as we have already noted, divine foreknowledge of the fall and the resultant world of misery functionally and morally renders all suffering a necessary moment in the divine plan. Universalism’s celebratory mood thus subtly transforms into a marked ambivalence towards the silent and spectating God.

But perhaps in light of the universal reconciliation and healing to come there is nothing for which God must answer. Pain, after all, is not pathology—a truth psychoanalytic writers on trauma have emphasized in the last decades.3 What is determinative for the earthly well being of those who suffer tremendous pain is a safe context of receptivity, emotional attunement, and understanding so as to facilitate the transformation of initially unbearable affect into a symbolic—usually verbal—expression. Thus great pain can be borne and integrated into a life story which the individual victim can count, on the whole, as a great good to herself.3 The problem, however, is that not nearly enough of us receive that divine consolation which could contextualize and hold our suffering. When “[g]roans and wails are borne to heaven, but heaven remains mute and without answer,”4 the overwhelming character of our pain can become a permanently deformative trauma, making child-like love and trust of God as Father nearly impossible. Theologians may (perhaps must) understand this divine silence in the face of suffering as the necessary kenosis of the Father towards a free creation, but who will authoritatively interpret the cold indifference of horrendous evils to us personally and assure us they mean not divine abandonment but instead the patience of God with creaturely freedom? For victims within the fold of faith, what remains on top of the grief of suffering is the added burden of needing to justify God and His goodness in the face of their trauma, lest their faith should fail; from the perspective of eternity, it is as if God has spilt the milk and then asked us to clean it up. And for victims outside the faith, they must remain ignorant of their Father’s character and thus ignorant too of the meaning of their suffering absent explicit divine revelation (which Hart does not deny, but rightly notes is a rare occurrence). Hart captures just this predicament with a strikingly memorable image. “Anyone who plays the game of life in life’s house knows that the invisible figure hidden in impenetrable shadows on the far side of the baize table not only never shows his hand, but never lets us see the stakes of the wager, and in fact never tells us the rules” (180). Indeed, he cannot show his hand, for if he did, the game would immediately end.

There results a semi-tragic, semi-comical picture: despite his best intentions, God cannot spare us the evils he, as the perfect Good, necessarily abhors. One recalls here Nietzsche’s acrid critique of theological justifications for divine hiddenness: “Must [God] not then endure almost the torments of Hell to have to see his creatures suffer so… for the sake of knowledge of him, and not be able to help and counsel them, except in the manner of a deaf and dumb man making all kinds of ambiguous signs…?”5 In such a scenario, the “dear God” Ivan’s little girl prays to suffers as much as his creature—perhaps more so. It is difficult not to agree with Nietzsche here that a believer must feel immense pity for this “suffering god.” Shall we therefore expect a divine Thank You at the end of days for how we have endured our lot here on earth?6 So severe a kenosis none but a process theologian could perhaps accept, and that David Hart definitely is not.

* * *

That All Shall Be Saved constitutes an intervention of the highest order in an ecclesial and cultural moment when the logic of eternal damnation appears ever more incom­prehensible, both inside and outside the Church. Secu­larization in the Western world proceeds apace, and there is no coincidence in the fact that this movement runs parallel with the immense global suffering of the last century. The human heart seeks not only practical solutions to suffering (though certainly no less than these) but also an explanation for our existential lot. The moral coherence of the Christian story turns, then, on the question of universal salvation, but only because in the final analysis the question of God’s character, presence, and goodness reaches its sharpest articulation in the most extreme depths of human suffering. Hart’s new book, the complement of decades of work on the question of theodicy, draws battle lines: can universal salvation continue as merely another theologoumenon alongside the doctrine of eternal torments, or must the traditional picture of hell be supplanted as universalism assumes a more central place in Christian proclamation? After all, what is at stake in this debate, as Hart cogently argues throughout this work, is the very possibility of coherent speech about, and so also of graspable revelation about, God’s character. But if Hart’s arguments concern­ing the inseverable moral analogy between us and our Creator prove convincing (and they largely do), how can we avoid the conclusion that the Heavenly Father is responsible, at the most fundamental level, for the innocent suffering of his children? Must we not, in the end, affirm that this God who will save all is not only very good but—in what he is willing to tolerate for the sake of our eventual, eternal glory—also evil? The moral analogy works in both directions, the golden thread pulled so taut we might wish it to snap.

(Go to “Theodicy and Apokatastasis”)

 

Endnotes

[1] This nice phrase I borrow from Jennifer Newsome Martin, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015). 

[2] Robert D. Stolorow, Trauma and Human Existence: Autobiography, Psychoanalysis, and Philosophical Reflections (New York: The Analytic Press, 2007), 10. 

[3] This is Marilyn McCord Adams’ main condition for the vindication of God in the face of horrendous evils. Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1999).

[4] Sergius Bulgakov, trans. Boris Jakim, The Comforter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 385. 

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 89-90. Quoted in Michael J. Murray, “Coercion and the Hiddenness of God.” American Philosophical Quarterly, 30:1 (1993), pp. 27-35. 

[6] Marilyn McCord Adams quotes Julian of Norwich, to whom Jesus speaks in her vision: “Thank you for your suffering, the suffering of your youth!” Marilyn McCord Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1999), 162-163.

* * *

Shinji Akemi is a pseudonym for a theologian who, for professional-institutional reasons, prefers to maintain his anonymity.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, David B. Hart and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to Universalism: The Only Theodicy? A Review Essay of ‘That All Shall Be Saved’

  1. Maximus says:

    If Hart’s version of theodicy is true (and, forgive me, I’m not convinced it is), then a further version seems necessary: a defense against the charge of the Holy Spirit’s incompetence to reveal universal salvation to the Church as viable orthodox teaching. For apokatastasis has clearly not been the traditional doctrine. I realize I’ve just painted a fideistic bull’s-eye on myself. 🙂 However, I do think reasoning about such things is permissible, but only within Tradition’s limits. Hart seems to reason himself out of such limits. His system is compellingly internally consistent, a trait he shares with Calvinism. But, of course, this doesn’t make it true. Hart may be right, but if so, further pneumatological theodicy is necessary to show why Christ’s body, in the main, has been wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David says:

      I have had a similar nagging question. As a stubborn Evangelical being drawn to Orthodoxy, coming to terms with the date 787 is like trying to swallow an iron ball. It’s easy to assent to anything from the first two centuries, and kairos gets a pass for its latency on account of being underground until the fourth. But to think that something so important wasn’t conciliarily resolved for 700 years? REALLY? But there it is. There were apparently bishops and laypersons, perhaps legions of them throughout broad swathes of Christendom, that for generations only ever knew a Christianity without the veneration of images, something of utmost important, but unknown to them and their grandchildren.

      If that Great Day should appear apokatastatically 15,000 years from now, and be received with joy by all flesh, every tongue by the Spirit confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, what difference will this little blip of church-time have made?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        David: “There were apparently bishops and laypersons, perhaps legions of them throughout broad swathes of Christendom, that for generations only ever knew a Christianity without the veneration of images, something of utmost important, but unknown to them and their grandchildren.”

        Robert: Really, who, where, and when may have that been?

        David: “But to think that something so important wasn’t conciliarily resolved for 700 years?”

        Robert: It took nearly 60 years AFTER 787 for its resolution to be accepted – truth does not preclude struggle, effort, controversy. Delay and timing do not detract from the truth as the issue of slavery demonstrates.

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        • David says:

          Ah, Robert, forgive my failure to communicate! I see that my second paragraph did not sufficiently convey the meaning of the first.

          I have swallowed that iron ball and marched to celebrate its triumph. It merely struck me that a primarily time – centered objection to universal salvation smelled awfully familiar to my own former hang up with the veneration of icons. You have said it better than I.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Maximus says:

        David, thanks for the winsome reply. I always learn new ways of thinking by my interactions here (e.g. with Robert Fortuin). Fr Aidan seems to be a magnet for super smart folks like himself. (I don’t know how I ended up here.)

        Your apologia for the Spirit’s ostensible blunder in only lately (via DB Hart?) revealing apokatastasis as the Church’s true teaching seems to be based on two shaky hypotheticals: 1) that Christ’s coming again to judge is a long way off, and 2) that the Orthodox Church would ever dogmatize universal salvation in an analogous way to its affirmation of images.

        On 1), Scripture consistently says Christ is coming soon. It seems that we’re constrained to keep believing that. To assume that 1,500 years of is a small slice of church-time appears contra to biblical thinking. Even if Christ’s return was 15,000 years from now, however, it still doesn’t seem likely that 2) would ever occur. If it did, that would make apokatastasis the “new Traditional” doctrine—because it certainly isn’t the old one—and I’m pretty sure a more un-Orthodox term has never been spoken!

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Maximus, I believe it is a serious mistake to regard apokatastasis as an issue that can be resolved by appeal to authority and therefore ignore the important arguments that have been advanced in the past century by Sergius Bulgakov, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and now more recently David Bentley Hart, as well as by patristic scholar Ilaria Ramelli. With no disrespect intended toward you, I regard this kind of response, which I see all the time from Orthodox and Catholics alike, as irresponsible. It elides the question of truth. If apokatastasis is heresy, then its heresy must be demonstrated by returning to the gospel itself and the sources of our faith. The truth or falsehood of apokatastasis cannot be determined by simply citing Bible verses or passages from Church Fathers, as if theological truth is determined by holding a plebiscite. That is not doing dogmatic theology.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Maximus says:

            Fr Aidan, thanks for the pushback. I agree that we ought to return to the sources of our faith to answer these questions. It seems to me those sources just are “Bible verses and passages from Church Fathers,” not as a proof-texts but as windows on the consensual Tradition. I realize that dogmatic theology is more than mere citation but rather about fresh syntheses, some more faithful than others. I have personally been enriched by the works of Fr Dumitru Staniloae. As a Protestant, I was often excited to build new arguments which overturn traditional theological positions. But, as I’ve shared before, I grew weary with this. In Orthodoxy, I “rest” in the Scriptures, the Councils, and the consensus of the Fathers, as they have been passed down to the bishop. I still get excited about leveling arguments, but only from within that framework. I really don’t seek to ignore the arguments of Bulgakov, Balthasar or Ramelli. As I have time/energy, I will engage their thoughts, but, again, from within that given framework. I’ve read Hart’s articles leading up to this volume, and I simply disagree with him—not merely based on authority, but neither by reason alone. The issue of Tradition is just one reason I don’t hold to apokatastasis (though it’s an important one for me). Forgive me if my comments betrayed something else.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I don’t know how super-smart people have been brought to my blog—though I’m exceptionally grateful!—but it sure ain’t because I one of them. I’m a blogger, dammit, not a theologian. 😎

          Liked by 1 person

      • nicktachy says:

        Icons were venerated long before 787, though. The council only dogmatized it in response to the rise of the iconoclast heresy. The point was to *defend* the long-standing practice, not to create a new practice.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Maximus, I take it that your concern is that the Holy Spirit would most certainly have intervened long before now if he wanted the Church to affirm apokatastasis. 1500 years is after all, a long time to allow the Church to continue in error. Have I described your concern accurately?

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    • TJF says:

      Fr. Aidan, Maximus,I too am very interested in this question. It is the strongest reason why I would not want to accept apokatastasis. However, the only thing I’ve read on this that is even somewhat convincing is when C.S. Lewis mentioned in Mere Christianity that we are all still in the early church, but I’m not too sure about that. Also, I’m not sure how the Orthodox Church is about saying it’s been wrong for a long time in some of its hymns, the Synodikon, etc. I imagine it’s fairly resistant to that. I’m also not sure about the whole lex orandi, lex credendi thing. Any thoughts on how to make sense of this stuff?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        TFJ – for one, these are not considered dogma. Secondly, as far as I know the Synodikon is silent on the issue of the permanency of hell.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Isn’t it interesting that there is no dogmatic statement about the infinite duration of hell?

      Liked by 1 person

    • seeking99 says:

      This is a valid point. Yet this has been bothering me: Couldn’t similar charges be leveled re: the Holy Spirit’s action/inaction on other issues? Take the entire Catholic/Orthodox debate. I’ve seen many instances of people struggling to determine which one to join, even to the point of grief/despair. Historically, there were very pious and well-meaning people on both sides of the issue – so why, if the question was important, did the Holy Spirit not act to definitively “out” one of them as wrong in some way, within a reasonable amount of time, in a way that no well-meaning person could intelligently dispute? Why allow the divide to persist and confuse people for over a millennia? What greater good does that accomplish?

      Pseudo-Dionysius I think is another example of how falsehoods were able to deceive Church theology for nearly 1.5 millennia before it was finally realized to be fraudulent. Why didn’t the Holy Spirit nip that in the bud?

      I realize neither of these is quite the same situation as apocatastasis, but it does make me wonder at this hands-off approach and it all bothers me greatly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Seeking99,

        It should bother only those who give credence to an idealistic and romanticized view of God’s hand in history. Was it neat and tidy for Jesus? For Paul? For the disciples? No, no, and no. They encountered scandal, persecution, controversies, dissensions, false teachers, and so on.

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        • seeking99 says:

          I think the duration is a key difference though. It’s one thing to encounter opposition during one’s lifetime or some brief controversy in the Church. But when these things last for centuries, millennia…then they take on a scale that seems to demand a much more meaningful explanation within the context of salvation history, with the idea that it’s just “a few folks went bad” no longer sufficient.

          Like

      • Maximus says:

        seeking99, I was one of those who wrestled over which communion to join, which tradition to believe. I decided on the Orthodox Church, but I don’t think there’s an airtight method to make that decision. The conciliarity of the East as opposed to the papal supremacy of the West was a big deal for me. Either way, the issue of apokatastasis seems categorically different, since the traditional doctrine in the East *and* in the West has been everlasting hell. Unlike the choice between two Christian communions in schism, the Holy Spirit seems to have made Himself clear on this one.

        Like

  2. Tom says:

    Thank you Sinji for this review. Appreciate your thoughts. Thanks Fr Aidan for the great line-up!

    David’s moral argument is the most gripping for me. I agree too that it has to cast its logic over the temporal contingent evils and suffering of this world as not just eternal suffering, however exceptional eternal suffering may be. Hart writes:

    “The economics of the exchange is really quite monstrous. We can all appreciate the shattering force of Vanya’s terrible question to Alyosha…: If universal harmony and joy could be secured by the torture and murder of a single innocent child, would you accept that price?”

    The answer is “No,” obviously, but he immediately follows:

    “But let us say that somehow, mysteriously—in, say, Zosima’s sanctity, Alyosha’s kiss, the million-mile march of Vanya’s devil, the callous old woman’s onion—’an answer is offered that makes the transient torment of history justifiable in the light of God’s everlasting Kingdom’. But eternal torments, final dereliction? Here the price is raised beyond any calculus of relative goods and into the realm of absolute expenditure.”

    So as horrible as temporal evils are, they are in a different category altogether than eternal evils. An answer is offered that makes such torments justificable. I have my own sense of what the answer is, but Hart doesn’t describe his, so far as I can see.

    My complaints pertain to his last two chapters, but specifically his approach to freedom. He tends to enlist the help of human ‘liberty of will’ (gnomic deliberation) when it helps him (i.e., to account for present evils), but then virtually dismisses any necessary role it plays in personal formation/theosis (i.e., to account for God’s dealings with persons in hell). That’s a problem, because if deliberative willing is not ‘necessary’ to our movement into union with God, then why is a God-given part of the game-plan at all?

    I like MMAdams very much. My own view (presently!) is that mortality/death as such (though not as the existential enemy we make it when relating despairing to it) and gnomic/deliberative mode of willing are both the necessary (God-given, and thus temporarily good) means of getting created finite rational creatures into union with God. We can only come to union with God through embracing the truth about who and what we are, and that means our finitude and our absolute contingency – the nothing out of which God calls us into being. And I don’t see how that truth would ever be available to us out the experience of mortality.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      A friend shared a Doors of the Sea quote with me:

      “For somehow the most vital and urgent thing to know about the God revealed in the Gospels is that (for instance) the tears of that little girl suffering in the dark of whom Ivan speaks are not a reflection of the divine will or a necessary moment in the dialectical unfolding of history—according to God’s ‘great plan’—toward the ‘kingdom’ that awaits it as a kind of immanent cosmic telos. God may permit evil to have a history of its own so as not to despoil creatures of their destiny of free union with him in love, but he is not the sole and irresistible agency shaping that history according to eternal arbitrary decrees.”

      There it is right there: “God may permit evil to have a history of its own so as not to despoil creatures of their destiny of free union with him in love.” That only makes sense if the deliberative/gnomic will is necessary to the movement of created wills into union with God.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom: “We can only come to union with God through embracing the truth about who and what we are, and that means our finitude and our absolute contingency”

      Robert: You are describing our present (and only) situation and condition. Why this is necessary is left unexplained.

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      • Tom says:

        Well, ‘that’ it’s necessary is enough to distinguish it from its being ‘unnecessary’ (which is what it would be if it was a privation or corruption per se), and why it would be necessary is not that mysterious. As DBH (Doors of the Sea quote) speculates, it is “so as not to despoil creatures of their destiny of free union with him in love.” What other reason is there?

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Tom, yet it may be the case that it is indeed unnecessary, but it is what we got. And if unnecessary then we have more explaining to do. In any case, there isn’t much by the way of explanatory significance, that’s my point.

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          • Tom says:

            We can disagree. :o)

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            we can, but is it necessary LOL

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            It has some explanatory value to me!

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          • Alec says:

            The issue here is that the argument revolves around whether human-caused evil is a necessary possibility for true human freedom. But what about the billions of years of needless animal suffering or natural disasters? Ultimately, I don’t think a satisfactory theodicy exists. “I don’t know” is the only answer I can give anymore.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Alec, yes, I tend to agree. There is no rational, comprehensible reason or cause for the first willed evil, be it by angel or man. Understood as a privation of the Good, evil does not have a proper cause.

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  3. Dennis says:

    Well, most Christians throughout history (including the greatest poet, Dante) would disagree with any such notion of universal salvation. If there is no Hell, then why live a moral life? Why not just eat, drink, fornicate, and be merry, since you will go to Heaven anyway (even Hitler and Stalin, et al., apparently)?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dennis, is it the fear of everlasting damnation that keeps you on the straight and narrow?

      If you were told that if you were to continue in your sin, you would eventually find yourself in a condition, albeit temporary, of unbearable torment and suffering, would that be enough to keep you on the moral path?

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      • Dennis says:

        If temporary would it be unbearable, since there would be sure knowledge of its end? And is that not the very definition of Purgatory (yes, I know Orthodox don’t believe in Purgatory as such, but isn’t the whole “toll-house” thing similar)? Or perhaps the idea of universalism, which seems so prevalent among Orthodox, is a way of ushering Purgatory into the back door. Hell, by being made non-eternal, becomes a sort of Purgatory substitute.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Dennis try running a 5k distance @ 4 minute/mile pace. I guarantee you, temporary yet very much unbearable (well it is unbearable for me even at a 6min/mile pace!) and glaring at the finish offers absolutely no respite whatsoever. The point is it doesn’t require an endless infinity of time for something to be unbearable.

          But to me duration is besides the point really. I surmise that love is a better and more enduring motivator than is fear, the fear of punishment, regardless of duration or intensity). Do I love not being punished, or do I love God – this is the point. That Jesus considered not himself but his creature, this is what stirs my heart.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      As I understand it, universalists do not deny hell, only it’s permanence – it is an assertion that all will eventually by rescued out of hell, not a denial that any will go there in the first place.
      It is also generally based on a completely different notion of what hell is and how one ends up in it from that which your question assumes. Universalism assumes that sin is ultimately harmful in itself and leads to suffering, death and painful separation from our natural selves and from God, such that we need God for our own good to deliver us from it before it destroys us, rather than being inherently pleasurable merrymaking which we could happily enjoy for ever if only God would leave us alone to do so.

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    • Grant says:

      This is a strange comment, do you adhere to Christ out of fear and terror, is that the only reason you do good and loving things? Is not the path of love and freedom of death the point, the beauty of Christ, the beauty of love, life and our fellow beings, of joy and freedom from the dominion of death enough?

      If not, that is tragic thing to say, and bluntly good done out of terror has no love in it, no joyful faith and is both a terrible distortion to God and does the person no good, there is no salvation in it, no love that casts out fear. The person doing such remains enslaved to death, and does not walk towards love.

      The freedom from death into love and life is the point, the beauty of Him, of creation and others is the point, liberation is the point, you need no other, knowing He has overcome all things is both the confidence and the impluse to come out of dust and Egypt.

      And for those determined in some being lost, what if (insert your favourite go-to most evil person ever) repents and recieved Christ forgiveness and salvation on their death, then they would be saved in such a view inspite of a lack of moral life. All if us have fallen short and are under the affliction of death, non of us can boast of our own moral strength, if it is genuine it is the grace of God through Christ in us, not of ourselves. It is His liberating love in us, and like the labourers in the field we have no cause to feel slighted when others cone at later or even thr end and recieve the same loving gift (as our whole existence is an unmerited gift of love). Indeed we hold ourselves off from the gift like the older brother and much further away then the prodigal that has come back.

      Rejoice instead that the unique image and likeness of God, the one for whom Christ died and lives, your brother or sister, your neighbour in whom Christ is, is saved and will flourish in love and freedom for all warping of death, just as the angels rejoice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dennis says:

        All well and good, but the Universalist positions seems to say that in fact, in the end, love and goodness, etc., don’t matter to one’s salvation, as all will be saved anyway. To deny the permanence of Hell, or the possibility of its permanence, is in fact to strip goodness, love, morality, etc of all meaning.

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        • TJF says:

          Sounds dangerously close to Manicheanism to me. Are you saying that evil is necessary? That God wills evil and it must be a part of His plan?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Grant says:

          I agree with TJF, how does what I say mean that love and goodness don’t matter to salvation when I just said they are salvation and life itself (and therefore something done in fear and terror has no love, no faith and no salvation in it).

          The restoration of someone, coming out of death to liberating love, to be free in it and out of death is salvation (evil is of death and has no existence in itself). Your response mystifies me, and your insistence that death must be forever and eternal torment, that evil effect must endure forever and that it is needed for good to be good, makes death the equal and opposite of Life, something God needs or must negotiate with, evil is the equal of death, and both are intended and needed by God, and Christ will not destroy death, not is it His enemy, but something He intends, needs for the good He wants.

          You seem to be saying God intends and brings about evil to achieve His other goods, it is part of His inherent creative act, and everlasting torture of some is made necessary by Him. Such being cannot be called the Good or Love, nor even truly God since He needs and requires evil. It also makes those who suffer forever then ones on whom creation turns and achieves it’s purpose, they are the ones whose suffering brings creation and the goods to completion (since the view you seem to advocate requires their permanent fixture in death and twisted in evil for the good and love to mean anything, and a constant duality in creation between death and life, good and evil, they become the suffering saviours of the blessed, eternally suffering and tortured and tormented before the foundation of the Cosmos.

          That view like TJF does not sound catholic and orthodox Christianity to me, and seems to depart from the Gospel. God needs nothing, certainty not evil or death which He neither depends upon nor is He it’s author, it has not existence of it’s own, and as God is Love, the Good and the Life, death are neither His equals or opposites nor therefore are they that to love and good, and are certainly not needed for love and good to be nor have meaning or to flourish. To say otherwise strikes me as highly bizarre in a Christian conversation.

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          • Dennis says:

            I don’t understand why this concept is so difficult for people to grasp, and I stand accused of essentially being non-Christian (fine accuse me of Manicheeism, but Universalism is no less a heresy). OK, sure, goodness and love matter in that we are saved out of the goodness and love of God; but if ALL, literally ALL WILL BE SAVED, no matter what they did in life, then our own love and goodness, etc., is in fact reduced to nothing much, for no matter what one does in life you WILL BE SAVED (maybe you’ll be relieved from Hell or Purgatory a little more quickly if you were good and loving rather than a mass murderer, but in the end even the mass murderer WILL BE SAVED STILL according to the heresy of Universalism). How is that justice, and how does that make sense, in any context, Christian or otherwise?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Dennis, this reminds me of a parable which went on about unfair wages and people complaining about it.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Grant says:

            Again I bring you back to the point that in the doctrine of infernalists no less than us universalists that no matter what someone has done God’s forgiveness and love is given, and once and if they repent and receive forgiveness and turn from death into life they are saved no matter what. That is the liberty and scandal of the Gospel, the only difference being infernalists and anhilationists insist (well, unless hard-line Calvinists or Augustinians) on there being a arbitrary point of no return (say death).

            As I said above, if (insert your go-to most evil person ever) repents or repented even at the very point of death they are saved. No matter the lack of moral life, they are returned back to life. It is something for joy, the triumph of good, love and life over death, hatred, evil and destruction.

            So even in that the mass murderer is saved alongside the loving parent, the sinner with the Saint. This is the scandal of the love and grace of God, but it also reveals a conceit of ours, we are all fallen, under tyranny of death, all sinners called to unmerited forgiveness and redemption. None of use deserve anything, the only One who does forgives, saves us who are dying and lost. We are all being redeemed and healed, not because we deserve it, not for our own morality and life, but because He loves us as is and would and has done everything to see us safely back. Any geninue holiness is Him and from Him, we have no righteous to boast of, as the labourers none of us can complain or feel slighted when some come later or at the end. To be this way is to be as the Pharisee to the publican, but then one who repented and recognised his all came from God was justified, or the elder brother who remains distant from God.

            What you are seeing is the scandal of the Gospel right before you, which is true even if you reject universalism. And good and love are not opposites to death and evil, which have no existence, they are not equals. What you see in redemption just as in every act of love is the victory of good and love over death and evil, far from your fear of meaninglessness it is the redemption and reconciliation each and every time and fully at the end is the victory, vindication, triumph and fulfillment of love, good, joy, hope and life over all effects of death and evil. So at the end death already defeated will be destroyed and God will be all in all.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Dennis says:

            Grant, I don’t know why it won’t let me reply to the post below, but it seems that below you’ve brought in something I’ve not seen much discussion of with regard to Universalism – repentance. Yes, even if one repents on the point of death, he or she can till be saved regardless of one’s sins in life due to the grace and love of God (see the parable Robert Fortuin mentions). From what I understand of Universalism, however, repentance really doesn’t matter (nor even would being a Christian, for that matter). Universalism says ALL WILL BE SAVED, period. Repentance doesn’t seem to come into the matter; all will be saved, simple as that, whether one repents or desires to be reconciled to God or not.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Dennis, none of the Christian universalists I have read—and I’ve read a bunch—have ever stated that repentance and faith are not necessary for salvation. None! What they have claimed is that some form of post-mortem conversion must be available, given God’s universal salvific will. See, e.g., my just-published article on “Hell as Universal Purgatory.” Also see George MacDonald’s unspoken sermon “The Consuming Fire.” And at the heart of all of this is Jesus Christ!

            Liked by 4 people

          • TJF says:

            A quote of George Macdonald’s comes to mind. “The only judgment worth having on sin is to make the sinner himself be its executioner.” What do you think about that Dennis?

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Shinji, last week a posted a long passage from E. L. Mascall in anticipation of your review. The question of theodicy—how can God be good if he has freely created a world which contains so many horrors and so much suffering—is, I believe, the most powerful argument not only against Christianity but against belief in a good Creator. That Mascall passage has sustained me ever since i read it in seminary. If I were to ever lose my faith, I would return to the atheism of my college years.

    Hence I feel the pinch of the dilemma you have posed. At the moment, though, the distinction between redeemable evils and irredeemable evils remains convincing to me. The temporal evils we witness and experience must serve a purpose within God’s good but fallen creation—or at the very least must redeemable in such a way that they will cease to matter when God is finally all in all. On the other hand, the sufferings of hell are, by definition, irredeemable and do not serve a corrective, reparative purpose. The damned, as Hart puts it, are the eternal sacrifice upon which the Kingdom is built.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Iain Lovejoy says:

    We are outraged at Ivan’s little girl because her suffering is not ended and has the last word. In other contexts, though, we see no outrage in the suffering of a hero, even one whose heroism is thrust upon them entirely unasked, if through their sufferings they achieve some great goal and at the end their sufferings cease and their heroism has some correspondingly great reward. If we were to understand that not only were the girl’s sufferings temporary, but through them the little girl was destined to become greatest in the kingdom of God and earn eternal glory in heaven closest to the heart of the Father, would we be less outraged?

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  6. Tom Talbott says:

    While reading Shinji Akemi’s fascinating review essay on David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved, I was reminded of two remarks that a Calvinist professor I had during my own seminary days used to repeat with some degree of frequency. The first was that God has decreed not only the ends that he aims to accomplish in creation, but also the means to those ends. This seemed to be his way of defending a rigorous theological determinism. And the second was that there are no surprises for God. These are not easy issues to discuss in a short response, but over the course of my life I have come to reject both of them as resting upon several confusions. I have already set forth some reasons in Part IV of my own review of Hart’s book for rejecting the first remark. So setting aside the thought that discretion is the better part of valor, I shall here try to sketch out why, in my opinion, there are indeed surprises for God. In no way, by the way, am I offering the following remarks as a reply to the anti-theistic argument from evil, which would require far more than the baby step I will propose here.

    Let me say first that, unlike open theists, I do not deny that God has an absolutely perfect foreknowledge of the future. But if he has such foreknowledge, one will understandably ask, what room is left for anything remotely like a surprise? Right here, I believe, is where some subtle confusions are apt to arise. Consider the following quotation from the above essay: “From the perspective of eternity, ‘before’ the creative act, God foreknows every discrete evil and every moment of suffering. He knows, before he pulls the trigger, that creation will mean, among other countless horrors, the Holocaust. And yet He pulls the trigger anyway.”

    Note first that there is no such thing as a moment before time began, which is a part of creation itself. So Akemi rightly encloses the word “before” in scare quotes. From eternity God creates both time and space and all that is contained therein, and from eternity he also knows every detail of the future. It does not follow, however, either that he planned every detail of what occurs in time or that nothing he knows infallibly about the future comes as a kind of eternal surprise. That depends on some further assumptions that take us far beyond the language of the Bible. It depends, in particular, on whether God has not only an infallible foreknowledge of the future, but also what has come to be known as middle knowledge, that is, a complete knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of freedom. The latter includes, for example, a complete knowledge of what I would have done freely and what decision an indeterministic process of deliberation would have produced in a set of circumstances that will in fact never exist. Because I can find nothing in the biblical language about foreknowledge and no good philosophical reasons for believing that middle knowledge is always a possible form of knowledge, I see no reason why we must postulate in God a form of knowledge that seems to me metaphysically impossible.

    Accordingly, here is a picture of creation that differs from that of the open theists, from that of such theological determinists as Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, and even from that of many of my Christian universalist friends. God designed his creation, I believe, in such a way that that certain ends were inescapable from the beginning even though the means to those ends are quite variable. He also determined the parameters within which certain forms of reparable evils were possible, however horrific some of them may turn out to be, but he drew the line at what I have called irreparable harm: harm that not even Omnipotence could repair (or at least bring to an end) at some future time. So the God who allows certain indeterministic processes to unfold on their own, so to speak, neither planned exactly how they would unfold in every detail nor based his decision to permit them to unfold as they do unfold on some antecedent foreknowledge of how they will in fact unfold. Despite his foreknowledge, in other words, these undetermined details are analogous to an eternal surprise that God was eternally prepared to accept.

    Two final comments: first, the above remarks are too brief to qualify as anything more than a rough pointer to a view that requires a much more detailed defense, and second, they are not intended to provide a satisfactory reply to the following question. Why would God permit even the possibility of something like the holocaust to occur in his creation? But the above remarks are intended as a tiny baby step in the direction of any reply to that question that I would find defensible.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Tom,

      Maybe owing to my own Reformed perspective, I have a hard time seeing any meaningful distinction between knowing creation eternally/perfectly (however construed) and determining creation. How would you make this distinction?

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      • Tom Talbott says:

        Hi jedidiahpaschall,

        Thanks for your question, and sorry for my delay in replying. Yesterday, I was totally occupied with family matters.

        In any event, you asked how I would distinguish “between knowing creation eternally/perfectly (however construed) and determining [every detail of] creation.” That question, if I have understood it correctly, differs slightly from the one I addressed in my post at 5:52 p.m. on September 16th. For there I was addressing the claim of my seminary professor that there are no surprises for God. And if God should have middle knowledge, as it came to be called, then my professor would have been right, because God would know infallibly how someone would act in any conceivable set of circumstances, whether it should actually obtain or not. The whole point of this appeal to middle knowledge, however, was to explain how God could know infallibly what choice someone would make even when that person retains the power of contrary choice. For it is not God’s middle knowledge that determines what a person will do; it is instead the fact that certain counterfactuals of freedom are true that explains how God supposedly knows what a person will do even if left free in a given set of circumstances. But as I indicated earlier, I seriously doubt that there is such a thing as a middle knowledge, as opposed to a simple foreknowledge, of future contingencies.

        Be all of that as it may, you seem to be wondering whether an infallible foreknowledge of the future must entail some kind of determinism. So let’s go at this one step at a time. Suppose, to begin with, that on an exceptionally stormy day you should find yourself watching in fascination a tree bent low in the wind and should, as a result, form the belief that this particular tree is indeed blowing in the wind. In a case such as this, you would not conclude, I presume, that the belief just formed, however accurate or detailed it might be, was causally responsible for the tree’s blowing in the wind. To the contrary, you would conclude, I again presume, that the tree’s blowing in the wind is at least part of what explains why someone watching this phenomenon would form the belief just described. But this is, of course, a case of direct observation in the present and not a case of genuine foreknowledge.

        So now imagine that you have certain psychic gifts, including that of precognition in some cases. If there should be such a thing that really works, one way of thinking about it would be in a way analogous to direct observation of something in the present: someone with the gift of precognition would occasionally view or glimpse some event as it will occur in the future and do so without in any way controlling that event or determining its occurrence. But again, this would not yet qualify as an infallible foreknowledge of the future.

        So finally, consider a God with an infallible foreknowledge of the entire future of his creation, but without the middle knowledge that would eliminate any possibility of an eternal surprise, as I have called it. Once again, I believe, the best way to think about such foreknowledge, at least in the case of future contingencies—that is, future free choices, future deliberations that include some degree of indeterminacy, or even future uncaused events (on the quantum level, say)—is to think of it in a way analogous to direct observation in the present: God simply sees the entire future of his creation without either controlling or determining every detail of what he sees. Accordingly, way back in 1986 I published a philosophy paper entitled “On Divine Foreknowledge and Bringing about the Past,” in which I defended such a model of divine foreknowledge. I’m not recommending this paper, which includes some needless technicalities for our purposes, includes a possible confusion towards the end, and even includes a few unfortunate “typos” in the printed version. But the first two introductory paragraphs should help to clarify how, in my opinion, God could have an infallible foreknowledge of a future that includes some degree of indeterminism. A copy of that paper is available at the following URL:

        https://willamette.edu/~ttalbott/Foreknowledge.pdf

        Thanks again for your question.

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Maximus and TJF, a thought or two about the question “If apokatastasis is true, why has it take so long (1500 years?) for God to correct the falsehood of eternal damnation?”

    My counter-question: why think that 1500 years is an excessively long time for doctrinal correction? How long is too long? What if we are still in the early stages of Church history? What if the time simply was not right until now for the Church to be in a position to deeply and faithfully consider, and assess, the truth and evangelical implications of the eternal hell doctrine?

    I too am bothered that the Church so quickly capitulated to everlasting damnation after the 6th century. Once the 15 anti-Origenist anathemas became identified as ecumenical dogma, and once they were interpreted as repudiating every form of the universalist hope, it became virtually impossible for any Christian to seriously promote the views of St Gregory of Nyssa, St Isaac the Syrian, and others. And so years and centuries passed. But does this alone ensure the truth and orthodoxy of the damnation doctrine? If we were Roman Catholics, then we might appeal to the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium of the Church. This view has been (controversially) elaborated in some depth by Catholic theologians since Vatican II. But Orthodoxy does not have an analogous understanding of ordinary infallibility, and probably cannot develop such an understanding, given the absence in Orthodoxy of an infallible papal office. What we have, instead, are the ecumenical dogmas defined by the great seven councils: the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, the two natures of the incarnate Christ in one hypostasis, the two wills (divine and human) of the incarnate Christ, the legitimacy of the veneration of icons. There are, of course, many other doctrines that the Church holds as central and irreformable–the resurrection of Jesus immediately comes to mind. But not all teachings of the Church are irreformable. Consider, for example, the long-believed teaching that baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation? Even as late as the Confession of Dositheus we read:

    We believe Holy Baptism, which was instituted by the Lord, and is conferred in the name of the Holy Trinity, to be of the highest necessity. For without it none is able to be saved, as the Lord says, “Whoever is not born of water and of the Spirit, shall in no way enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” {John 3:5} And, therefore, baptism is necessary even for infants, since they also are subject to original sin, and without Baptism are not able to obtain its remission. Which the Lord showed when he said, not of some only, but simply and absolutely, “Whoever is not born [again],” which is the same as saying, “All that after the coming of Christ the Savior would enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens must be regenerated.” And since infants are men, and as such need salvation, needing salvation they need also Baptism. And those that are not regenerated, since they have not received the remission of hereditary sin, are, of necessity, subject to eternal punishment, and consequently cannot without Baptism be saved. So that even infants should, of necessity, be baptized. Moreover, infants are saved, as is said in Matthew; {Matthew 19:12} but he that is not baptized is not saved. And consequently even infants must of necessity be baptized. And in the Acts {Acts 8:12; 16:33} it is said that the whole houses were baptized, and consequently the infants. To this the ancient Fathers also witness explicitly, and among them Dionysius in his Treatise concerning the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy; and Justin in his fifty-sixth Question, who says expressly, “And they are guaranteed the benefits of Baptism by the faith of those that bring them to Baptism.” And Augustine says that it is an Apostolic tradition, that children are saved through Baptism; and in another place, “The Church gives to babes the feet of others, that they may come; and the hearts of others, that they may believe; and the tongues of others, that they may promise;” and in another place, “Our mother, the Church, furnishes them with a particular heart.”

    Yet how many bishops and priests today would teach without qualification the the absolute necessity of baptism? A development and correction of doctrine has in fact occurred, yet the faith of the Church is not broken.

    I commend for your consideration these three articles I wrote several years ago: “Dogma and Doctrine in the Orthodox Church, “The Dogmatic Status of Apokatastasis, and “Apokatastasis: The Heresy That Never Was.” I also want to suggest that a development of doctrine is already happening here. More and more one hears Orthodox speaking of hoping and praying for the salvation of all. Would Orthodox have spoken this way 200 years ago? I doubt it. How many sermons on eternal perdition have you heard recently in your home parish? I suppose it depends on the jurisdiction of your parish and the inclination of your pastor, but I suspect that the preaching of hell as a motivation for conversion and discipleship has effectively disappeared in many parishes–not because we have all been corrupted the secular sentimentalism but because we intuit the dissonance between the evangelical proclamation of the absolute goodness and mercy of Christ and the terrible fate of the damned. Deep in our hearts we know that the God of love does not abandon any of his children.

    So why do I write so extensively on this topic? Because I want the gospel of Jesus Christ to be heard as thrilling, transformative, liberating good news and not as a threat that terrifies and coerces. And for this reason I want the question of apokatastasis to be re-opened, discussed, and analyzed by the bishops and theologians of the Church. This cannot and will not happen if no one speaks out. And it certainly cannot happen if the question is peremptorily dismissed as contrary to the Orthodox faith.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Maximus says:

      Fr Aidan, thanks for this. The analogy you provide with baptism is a weighty one, and I don’t have an answer for it. I will certainly chew on this and try to respond when I’m able. Concerning parish life, I suppose it depends on where you are. I attend an OCA parish, and our priest gave a homily on Matthew 18:23-35 two Sunday’s ago (Church New Year). He specifically emphasized the everlasting nature of hell, pointing (rightly, it seems to me) to the fact that the wicked servant was handed over “to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.” Of course, one could read this as teaching that the servant will eventually get out of hell, but only after he “pays his due.” But as our pastor pointed out, this would be irresponsible exegesis, since the amount is the impossible-to-pay amount of “ten thousand talents,” especially impossible to pay while under duress. I definitely agree that “the God of love does not abandon any of his children.” As the parable seems to makes clear, His children are the ones who abandon Him, in this case by refusing to imitate the forgiving heart of the Master.

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  8. Thomas says:

    I’m trying to determine the difference between this line of analysis, and that a “monopolytheist” like Richard Swinburne might put forth.

    For the mono-polytheist, God’s goodness is not that he is the ultimate Good to which all else is ordered. This notion of the Good is unimaginable and incomprehensible.

    The monopolytheist needs to be able to imagine God acting as a moral agent in a situation. He follows more or less the same rules we do. And his actions may be analyzed in more or less the same way. The monopolytheist affirms that God is good, that is, is well-behaved.

    The God of the classical theists may immutably know all by knowing himself, a knowledge that is inaccessible to us. The classical theist insists that we cannot know what it is like to be God, and that God’s knowledge of us is neither temporal nor discursive.

    But the monopolytheist insists that God must be able to perform intentional acts, to think about this and about that. When God acts, like us, he takes a look at a situation and assesses the outcomes. Perhaps he may be able to see into the future, or even determine the future. Perhaps God takes chances. In any case, the monopolytheist does not observe the restricted, apophatic limits adopted by the classical theist.

    God’s action, his knowledge, on this view, is something imaginable, where a metaphor is as good as an argument. Thus one has only to call to mind the specter of God thinking through what kind of world he will create, steeling himself to the suffering he will cause, and then “pulling the trigger”. One has only to “take a look” at the imaginative picture thus conjured to see the truth. (And if appeal to the imagination doesn’t do the trick, perhaps furious rhetoric will.)

    There are methodological differences too. Classical theists prize systematic understanding. Like the scientist, they move beyond the level of experience and presentation to technical categories and their verification. The problem of evil, then, is not the problem of suffering or pain. Good and evil are ontological categories without direct experiential correlates: one knows what is good and evil not by taking a look or undergoing a passion, but by informed judgment. The criterion of the good is the intelligible.

    On the other hand, if one rejects that the determinant of good and evil is intelligibility and employs instead the criteria of pleasure or pain, desires and their frustrations, one cannot adequately raise the question of the problem of evil or the problem of suffering. And without being able to do that, I cannot see the problem of universalism ever becoming tractable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shinji Akemi says:

      Thomas, I appreciate the Lonerganian perspective I detect here (or am I mishearing?) Thanks for taking the time to read and reply.

      I don’t think I’m simply ‘taking a look’ at the ‘already out there real’ of suffering and pain. In fact, while pleasure or pain are not sufficient for making a judgment about the intelligibility of a state of affairs, it seems that there must be some relation between experience of pain or pleasure and the ontological category. In any case, it’s not as simple as taking a look – to the child receiving an inoculation, the experience is bad per se, because the child cannot make the relevant distinctions and understand the intelligibility of the action. But can we say the same for horrendous evils? I find this to be the problem, and appeals to apophaticism on this point due to our lack of the ‘total perspective’ by which to gauge its intelligibility won’t work, because at that point we must begin to doubt the capacities by which we make those judgments, namely our idea that human flourishing is a good. Now, human flourishing in the face of injustice means standing up for truth, which can mean that Christians are flourishing when they die as martyrs. But this is an exception, and under other circumstances we rightly judge that human flourishing involves the absence of horrific evils.

      As to whether my argument implies a theistic personalism instead of classical theism – well, I don’t think so. The doctrine of analogy entails that we can speak truthfully, albeit analogically, of God’s will and action in history and in creation. For example, is it anthropomorphic to say that God acts for an end in creating? Of course we can’t know what it’s like to be God, but nonetheless we know *something* insofar as we are made in the divine image. Otherwise, our speech about God is pointing at the void. And thus revelation becomes truly impossible. As Hart puts it, the transcendence of God makes univocal language about God impossible, but it rules out equivocal language too, for otherwise our ‘negative theology’ simply ties God into the game of relation through negation. God’s relation to us is more transcendent and thus more immanent than that, and if theological speech has any referent, there must be, within limits, some degree of analogical predication possible. And that’s what these reflections depend on.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Shinji that is a very good point about apophaticism and analogy – the very coherence of theology, and meaning in general, is at stake. Push apophaticism too far, misuse it, and words become empty place holders. It is an instance of conflating “beyond” with “contrary.”

        Shameless plug – I have written on the doctrine of analogy in a chapter “Analogy in the Mystical Theology of Gregory of Nyssa” in the just-released volume Mystical Tradition of the Eastern Church, on sale here https://www.gorgiaspress.com/the-mystical-tradition-of-the-eastern-church

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      • Thomas says:

        Shinji:

        Nothing in my previous comment rules out analogical language. What I am objecting to, on the level of method, is the use of an imaginative picture as the basis of an argument. I had in mind passages like this:

        > It is rather to say that theology exists in the service of the ordinary believer who looks to heaven and attempts that most terrifying and meaningful of human activities, prayer. To which God does the believer pray: to the Heavenly Autocrat who has ordained the world so that a select number perish for the sake of His glory, to the Heavenly Sufferer who, despite his best efforts, failed to save every creature, or to the Heavenly Father who has destined the salvation of all his children?

        Hart relies very heavily on the imaginative approach (the child and the fire, God surveying the possibility of lost souls as he deliberates prior to creation, Ivan Karamazov’s stories). One would never find this method employed in, say, the Summa Theologiae, but it would be quite at home in Swinburne’s “Coherence of Theism”.

        The neo-theistic argument that God must suffer — for any being that could look on the horrors of Auschwitz unmoved must be a monster — is really a different application of exactly the same method.

        > there must be some relation between experience of pain or pleasure and the ontological category.

        This is the sort of question that must be asked, in my view. Pain and pleasure are not, in themselves, evils. They are positive realities. They often arise from natural evils, which, in the view of someone like St. Thomas, is only a relative evil. Natural evils occur not only in animals, but also plants, chemicals, etc.

        Evil is a privation of a good proper to a thing. Yet we rarely worry about the mercy of God when thinking about the Krebs cycle. We do find difficult the notion, tracing back to Socrates, that what one should fear is not suffering but immorality. But that we find it difficult (and thus are easy marks for rhetoric that relies on an abhorrence for suffering) is not an argument against it, and powerful arguments have been offered in favor of it over the centuries. The Lonerganian in me suspects that the reason we find suffering more urgent than vice is because of the natural bias of animality over rationality.

        Anyway, I agree that horrendous evils raise distinctive questions. But I’m not aware of this being worked out in any detail in relation to the notions of natural evil, the human person, etc. And I do think they key to grasping how horrendous evils differ lies in the notions of human flourishing. But there are powerful arguments arrayed on the other side from the likes of Augustine and Aquinas, and they are not easily dismissed.

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  9. George Domazetis says:

    Salvation is offered to all because of Christ – we must respond to this offer freely and completely. This to me appears to make universalism conditional.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      George it depends on how freedom is understood. What is makes a choice to be truly free? Page 159ff Hart goes into detail about this very issue. This post is worthwhile as well: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/02/06/hartian-illuminations-freedom-is-freedom-for-the-good/

      Liked by 2 people

      • George Domazetis says:

        Robert, the question of freedom within the context of the faith has been of great interest to me, but I would like to make the following (somewhat wordy) comment within the present very interesting discussion.

        The central question to humanity is that of sin and redemption. Yet these terms are formalisms in today’s culture. The forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Christ, however, is the centre-piece of the faith. A discussion needs to be initially ‘separated’ to show a distinction between the sacred and the material. The overall ‘meaning of Christ’ may now be discussed within the context of the first Adam and the last Adam. The sum total of (good) human possibilities may be comprehended within a context of the beginning and end of humanity. To this, I add the practical, which is to consider Christianity proper as the means by which humanity progresses (or reaches its destiny) into human beings who are like Christ. Human beings may progress from our present state (symbolised by the first Adam) into that revealed by the actions and teachings of Christ (the final Adam). This thesis would require a careful review of human attributes as they are now, and the attributes (ultimate) of Christ. Overall, it is not what I sometimes regard as a Miltonian view of Christ outwitting or ‘beating’ the Devil, nor a Dantean view of a cosmological order into which people ‘fit’ or ‘act’ so as to aspire to an end result that accords to a human ideal of good and evil that ultimately actualises into a hell for the wicked, a heaven for the blessed, and a purgatory for those ‘in between’.

        Christ ‘had to achieve’ in order to provide the forgiveness of our sins. The overall result is the change or ‘conversion’ of human beings ‘dead’ because of sin, into human beings ‘alive’ once again in Christ, with Godly attributes. Humanity is saved from Satan’s attributes, that of sin. This is a practical proposition. As a result, salvation can only be an act of Grace from God – we as finite human aspire to a Godly life as one in which sin is removed, and with this death is removed, and the result is God’s eternal life, as we are not separated from God by our sins. The question of an ‘afterlife’ is now a Godly life without death – that is eternal life.

        Salvation is the change or conversion of human beings into people with Godly attributes, as the children of God, through baptism in the death of Christ, and resurrection into life in Christ. The final change takes place at the last trumpet, or last day, and is determined by God himself.

        I suggest that universalism should be considered within this context.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      In one sense you’re right, George. If I put $1,000 into your bank account, it’s of no benefit until you start writing checks. Likewise, God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ “depends” on our response of faith and repentance. The prodigal son needs to leave his pigs and return home if he wants to enjoy the generosity of his father. But note that the Father does not put any conditions upon his son when he returns. What does he do? He throws a party.

      Where we go wrong is when we start thinking of this conditionality in transactional terms: “I will love you, if …”

      One might unpack this further by exploring Christ’s atoning work for us on our behalf.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Shinji,

    I genuinely appreciate the brutal honesty with which you grapple with the problem of evil, especially in your conclusion. Universal Salvation may be the only coherent theodicy, yet it still may fall short accounting for the magnitude of suffering under evil. Whatever a dynamic, living relationship with God looks like, it certainly cannot mean letting God off the hook on metaphysical grounds. I don’t see this at all in the spirituality of the Psalmists or the Prophets who genuinely agonized over the problem of evil, nor do I think that a good and just God would want to be let off the hook – the faithful should want to see his purposes in creation vindicated . While I trust that God’s intentions toward me are always good, this is a truth I hold in faith – often in the face of contrary evidence. To await vindication, rectification and reparation for the evils we suffer under (and even participate in) is part of the human equation of faith. Universalism might go a long way to answering some of these difficult issues, but in the present it still doesn’t yield a complete answer to the existential problem of evil.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Andrew says:

    The “apocalyptic” dimension of the belief in universal salvation rarely gets considered. The subtle shades of the theological and moral questions are plumbed to their depths but rarely the political. But the fact remains that most of are wrestling with these questions as though looking for survivors in the wreckage amid the broken pieces of Christendom.

    We all , with very few exceptions, have inherited the legacy of the marriage of the Church and the Imperial Power. It makes no difference whether we are Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. Why could a Christian of the 4th century easily “see” the universal dimensions of the Gospel when he read the scriptures but the Christian of later centuries could not see? Why does Gregory of Nyssa teach it with such ease and such freedom but Maximos the Confessor is constrained to keep it a secret (if indeed he believed it all). Is it because, as Florovsky says, the doctrine of apokatastis needed several centuries of ascetical refinement in order to reach a maturity of dubiousness? No, the answer is plain, even if no one wants to admit it. A certain emperor from the 6th century sought to subjugate the consciences of all those in his empire to his own will. There is no sugar coating it. The history has been documented so extensively, it is easy to learn about, but the implications are too difficult to stomach. Perhaps he had the best of Christian intentions, perhaps he thought it was his his prerogative even his divine duty to bring about the unity of all in Christ by violence and force of will, but oh my, none of us have been completely free since then.

    We all carry the curse of Caesars theological force of will in our conscience to a greater of lesser extent and that in my view is the great impediment to widespread acceptance of what I like many on this blog consider to be the essential truth of faith in universal salvation. The sixth century was an apocalypse of conscience in Roman Christian civilization. I’ve struggled to find an ecclesiological way out of it, but there isn’t one I’m afraid. The “shards of Byzantium” and the Holy Roman Empire and every other empire can’t be put back together like the dry bones of Israel, unless we want an even more pernicious power to bring this about. Is it any wonder that a dawn of a new light of faith after Justinian shone from outside the Empire, i.e. Persia? Is it any wonder that it came from a volcanic renewal of the uncompromising desert spirituality of 4th Century Egypt which itself was a kind provocation to the power which had newly fixed itself upon the institutional life of the Church?

    It is not true to say that faith in God’s love as faith in His will and his power to save all vanished from the Church in late antiquity and has only reappeared in our time due to the efforts of a few obstinate dreamers. It is more accurate to say that it was banished from Christendom at a very specific time in a specific way by a power irresistible to most. But it didn’t die. The vine simply bloomed again in greater blossom outside the reach of the pruners of the coercive power. Solomon of Bosrah in 13th century Iraq could quote Theodore of Mopsuestia and Isaac too in order to demonstrate that the faith was still alive. Thomas Aquinas, or any Greek or Slav for that matter, could not. And if we in the 21st century have a little freedom to discuss these things in the open air in broad daylight it is perhaps only because the coercive power is no longer with us. Unless of course the chains of the legacy of Christian Power are still spiritually wrapped around our hearts keeping us imprisoned, even if Pope Vigilius was eventually freed from his literal prison centuries ago

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    • Grant says:

      Indeed, we can see this played out in other areas of Christian history. In the early centuries all evidence indicates unanimous rejection of execution, but as secular power and Church became intertwined the Church wavered, and ultimately gave it’s support to this.

      Now the coercive power is gone it has been questioned again more openly about whether it is compatable with the Gospel with many increasingly realising it is not, though not without conflict (see, particularly in the US controversy over Pope Francis change to the Catholic catechism there). Sometimes the Church has to be freed, sometimes painfully from socio-political and economic constraints to see the truth it receives more clearly again. The end of Christendom has in many ways been the work of the Holy Spirit in this (whether papal monarchy and Holy Roman Empire or the Byzantine holy empire models of the Greek East).

      Other things such as slavery took a long time and repeated renewals of that evil to see that it is incompatable with the Gospel and it’s proclimation and we are still struggling to understand and live the full implications of this, so elsewhere sometimes social changes either prevent or drown out a full truth from being heard or understood, even when it is being said week after week. Thankfully God’s grace is greater then our ability to mess it up 🙂 .

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Bob says:

    well it took 1500 years before the reformers set the church a right.:)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. ivstinianvs says:

    Maybe, after this, it’s time for us all to return to a cosmology as exposed by Berdiaev or Boehme…
    Hart, of course, wouldn’t give it even a slightest consideration.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      ivstinianvs

      I am sure he has considered it, but such cosmologies are not tenable due to notions of necessity of evil and unrealized potential in God. Non-starters really.

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  14. Tom says:

    Alec: The issue here is that the argument revolves around whether human-caused evil is a necessary possibility for true human freedom. But what about the billions of years of needless animal suffering or natural disasters? Ultimately, I don’t think a satisfactory theodicy exists. “I don’t know” is the only answer I can give anymore.
    and
    Robert Fortuin: There is no rational, comprehensible reason or cause for the first willed evil, be it by angel or man. Understood as a privation of the Good, evil does not have a proper cause.

    —————-

    OK, I’ll go out on a limb here. Why not? It’s what I do!

    I think it’s completely mistaken to say the first, willed evil (several descriptions come to mind) has no cause, is absolutely inexplicable, unintelligible, irrational, that no account whatsoever can comprehend it, etc. For if this is true, there can be no final defeat of evil, no final end to it, for any account of its final end will rely upon rational, comprehensible means to guarantee such an end. To say the revelation of what is truly rational defeats evil cannot be true if one also admits that evil is truly/absolutely irrational. If evil is ‘per se’ unaccountable for, absolutely incomprehensible, then it follows that no rational/comprehensible realities can provide us any reason (certain no final guarantees) for believing evil will be finally defeated.

    This is not to say ‘evil’ is substantial, that it is a reality which ‘exists’ as such, as a substance exists through participation in the Good – obviously. But it is to say that even as privation, evil remains essentially comprehensible, particularly within the terms of its possibility. What real conditions constitute the possibility per se of evil? I think we have to say that such conditions are comprehensible, for in knowing there are (rationally speaking!) necessary conditions for any evil, we can know that the ‘final’ state of creation in Christ excludes such conditions and thus brings creation to a final state beyond the possibility of evil/sin. But if we refuse to say this and say instead that evil, under all the aspects we might contemplate it, remains absolutely irrational/inexplicable – then we have no grounds for hoping for its ‘final’ defeat, for one can give no ‘rational’ reasons for why what one admits is ‘absolutely irrational’ will never recur at some future point, and ‘final consummation’ become a mere truce.

    Just a thought.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom, I made myself not clear enough sorry. It is in regards to first willed evil that I made the comment on its metaphysical status, that we can not look for something more original to the first willed instance of evil to rationally comprehend a cause for it. This is not to say there is not an existential side to evil – of course it can be known (unfortunately) to some extent and as such it can be rationally explained, comprehended, and accounted for. Which is all to say that while evil is not something created by God it is very real nonetheless; likewise, while evil exists it is metaphysically deprived of real being.

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  15. Vaska says:

    I wish to express my thanks to “Shinji Akemi” both for his excellent review of David Bentley Hart’s latest and for articulating so lucidly and cogently the contradiction and tension inside Christianity that make it teeter permanently right on the edge of theistic nihilism. While DBH is, as Akemi reminds us, anything but a process theologian, both his own awareness of what the question of theodicy implies and Akemi’s essay (whose intellectual and spiritual integrity I can only admire and applaud) put me in mind of a saying (the source of which I’ve now forgotten), to the effect that it is us, his sentient creatures, that God needs to ask pardon from. And that only a saint can explain that.

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  16. Fr Michael Azkoul says:

    universalism is rationalism. anakyklosis. The Greeks, the Greeks? Plato,no?

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